Turning the Camera on Chris Dixon

Posted on Jul 12, 2011 | 21 comments


Chris Dixon is one of my favorite people in tech and writes one of the few blogs I read religiously. If you don’t read it and you care about tech & entrepreneurship, you should.

He’s thoughtful about markets, investors, products and is always very well reasoned in his arguments. I’ve also found him to not be dogmatic either. He and I once took different sides of an debate about whether “VC signaling” in early-stage deals is a serious problem or not. We had a very sensible debate on the topic on VentureHacks sponsored by Nivi and including Naval Ravikant. If you haven’t checked that out you really should.

He is the CEO of Hunch, company that I believe is solving a very big problem that I have been telling entrepreneurs needs to be solved for the past 2 years. If he implements it well I think it will be a very big business.

Chris runs a popular web interview series on TechCrunch so is used to being the guy asking the questions. So it was fun to turn the cameras on him for 45 minutes for a special “NY edition of This Week in VC” and hearing his views. I think you’ll really enjoy this video, but as always I have summary notes for those with less time. Hopefully it will entice you to come back and watch the show at a later time!

These notes graciously provided by Adam Besvinick, who is a summer associate at ff ventures run by the affable John Frankel, who will also be on the show soon. If you like the quick summary notes, please check out Adam’s blog on tech, entrepreneurship & VC as a thank you.

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This week I sat down with Chris Dixon, co-founder / CEO of Hunch and Partner at Founder Collective in the most recent installment of This Week in Venture Capital.

1.     We discussed Chris’ background as a philosophy major and how that has contributed to the way he works now. Such that during that time, Chris “learned how to learn.”

2.     Chris then discussed his time as founder and CEO of SiteAdvisor, his first venture-backed startup. He explained how users at the time were encountering “social engineering threats” rather than “technical threats” and that his company took an “East Coast” approach to the problem as they built an automated system that rated websites. This method was in deference to a riskier, more crowd-sourced way (i.e. “West Coast”).

3.    We then addressed competition in the context of SiteAdvisor and how it is important for journalists, customers, and the companies themselves.

4.     This mention of journalists and how they frame stories led to a quick discussion of how it is important to build meaningful, real relationships with the press (i.e. “be the guy that provides them quotes”).

5.    We then went back to talking about how to choose the space in which your startup is operating. When starting SiteAdvisor, Chris believed there was inherent value in the security space despite it not being “hot” or “sexy.” They agreed that it makes sense to “scratch your own itch,” or start a company that solves a problem that you have. I commented that this concept may be what has led to the market being overweight in music and restaurant/bar apps, as a lot of young founders have gravitated toward these spaces. I went on to say that the ideal position for a startup is at the intersection of an underserved market and something about which you can be passionate for 6 years or so.

6.     Chris then discussed his current approach to angel investing in that he tries to do everything through Founder Collective (FC), unless it is out of the purview of the firm’s investment thesis, then he’ll do it on his own. The firm focuses on early stage companies in the Northeast but occasionally invests in California startups. FC has a policy of not doing follow-ons because they don’t want to signal, and they’d prefer to specialize in a particular stage. Prior to starting FC, he was co-investing with David Frankel and Eric Paley as individuals.

Regarding the NYC market, Chris says there are lots of companies being started, and a good amount are interesting, adding that he hopes that the trend is here to stay and not just run-off from Wall Street or overall frothiness of the tech market. He added that current Internet trends favor NYC, given the reliance on creativity, design, and the importance of consumers – all areas in which NYC excels. Lastly, he touched on the distrust of equity following the bubble in 2000, and that, particularly on the East Coast, people need to see good exits and good exits that reward employees.

7.     After McAfee bought SiteAdvisor, Chris worked there for 15 months. Then he thought something dealing with artificial intelligence could be a cool space to operate in and that was the beginning of Hunch, a recommendation system that is a consumer-facing application and an API with commercial relationships. He believes that Hunch is great for e-commerce because it can help to remedy the “cold start problem,” as the product is great with taking a sparse amount of information and coming up with a targeted recommendation.

Chris feels that all sites will become more personalized through either behind-the-scenes cookie-ing (i.e. an opt-out method) or through an opt-in method like Hunch, which stores users’ taste profiles. He believes that users would rather control their personalization, adding that there is an active contributor community at Hunch.com to improve the API and keep it fresh. Chris went on to talk about how Hunch does a lot of correlation analysis to provide recommendations, such that “Likes” are actually more predictive than your friends. Lastly, he touched on a product that they are working on which can reorder Yelp reviews based on who is most relevant to you.

8.    In closing, Chris said he believes in the future there will be a data services layer to the Internet, and he hopes that Hunch is the one predicting people’s preferences.

  • http://www.websterisk.com Josh Webb

    I hadn’t heard that Venture Hack interview before, I dug it! It is funny how the market is divided in to good guys and the evil empire. TheFunded tried, but damn, it really would be entertaining for people to name names :)

  • http://twitter.com/V_xklsv Vineeth Kariappa

    Thank you.

  • http://www.taxlawpro.org Property Tax Law

    As Always Great Article!

  • http://paramountessays.com/ write my essay

    Thanks for the video

  • Anonymous

    extrapolation!

  • http://wwww.tariqrauf.com Tariq Rauf

    I saw the video a couple of hours ago on youtube; great interview! Chris’s belief of the data layer will more than come true. Unfortunately, I think it’ll be more from established social networks where you’ve keyed in your preferences/likes, and not from one-off recommendation services like Hunch.

  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com awaldstein

    Good one Mark, thanks.

    I’m a reader of Chris’s blog so this was fun to watch.

    Didn’t know he was a philosophy major so as I thought I was the only english/philosophy major out here in the tech/social web world, I guess I’ve found community…

    Hunch is interesting. In communities that work, there is the play between implicit and explicit input that makes it magical and dynamic. Putting that into an algorithm is such a broad way as Hunch is doing is a notable task with big implications if it can be done.

  • Robert Thuston

    I’ve been patiently waiting for your next video.  I can only re-watch all your other videos so many times before I just need a new one.  Thanks to you and Chris for the wealth of knowledge with your videos and blog postings.

  • http://twitter.com/FSGriffiths Steve Griffiths

    Thanks for sharing — great stuff as usual.  You mention Chris writes one of the few blogs you read religiously.  Are there others you’d recommend your readers add to their lists as well?  

  • http://www.clubvision.tv Doug Wulff

    The bar space is saturated because there is a large unmet need. The
    need to reproduce is the core of Maslow’s pyramid…lust is one of the seven
    deadly sins. It is why even if you are married, your wife doesn’t get dressed
    up to go to an empty bar.  

    The fact is coupons for bars and nightclubs lack sex appeal for the
    masses. The same is true for pin pricks on a map showing guy-to-girl ratios.
    We go to bars and nightclubs for an experience.

    The startup that helps people get around other people, creates a
    direct channel to a buyers-only audience, helps venues go from ad placers to ad
    takers, funnels national ad dollars from spirits suppliers back to local
    retailers by sponsoring content people want to consume, complies with state alcohol
    advertising laws, can partner w/ F500 brands to create new real time technologies
    for a pure entertainment experience, and acts as a hub where the entire
    ecosystem has a stake in the success of that startup–will mine Gold.  (Got an intro from A.W. 7/1)

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Appreciate the text conversion as always, thanks Mark for making it happen and Adam for writing it up.

    Didn’t know Chris was a philosopher major, I had a great time a half a dozen or so courses but was dead set on understanding the laws of the universe at the time (Physics undergrad).

  • http://thesistown.com/writing/basics/dissertation-proposals dissertation proposal

    very interesting! thanks for the post

  • http://twitter.com/addroid_com Addroid

    That was an awesome interview. Chris is an exceptionally smart and articulate person who’s really down to earth. I wish there there was a part two!

  • http://twitter.com/NickyChips Nik Souris

    like how Suster took the early jab at Dixon on his Facebook intro prompted Naval’s LinkedIn version.. What happen to the elevator pitch? haha

  • http://twitter.com/NickyChips Nik Souris

    like how Suster took the early jab at Dixon on his Facebook intro prompted Naval’s LinkedIn version.. What happen to the elevator pitch? haha

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewKorf Andrew Korf

    What does everyone think? is consumer internet “over” or does it simply need an injection of real creative thinking and equally creative start-ups that are solving real problems with new emerging technology?

    more:
    http://www.quora.com/What-will-be-the-killer-startup-of-2011-Why#ans553675

  • Mat Tyndall

    Perfect timing, I’d been meaning to check up on Cris Dixon and Hunch were doing. I know you’ve been dying for a product that can solve your recommendation problems but it didn’t seem like you were entirely convinced that Hunch was the company to solve that problem once and for all. If only there were a company that could overcome the normalization problem…

  • http://www.taxlawpro.org Property Tax Law

    That’s an impressive detailed interview. Added a lot to my knowledge.

  • http://www.princetonfamilyphysicians.com Family Physicians

    A Very Detailed but really really helpful interview, enjoyed reading it.

  • http://www.adela.vn/dich-vu/thiet-ke-logo.html thiet ke logo

    Thanks. Very detailed

  • http://twitter.com/AndySack Andy Sack

    I am right there with you in that I read Chris Dixon posts everyday!

    You both have great insights, thank you!