Union Square Ventures and a new kind of Venture Capital firm.

Yesterday’s, NYTimes article on Union Square Ventures (USV) entitled “A New Kind Of Venture Capital Firm” is an interesting read and I’m glad to see the media beginning to pick up on this.

I’ve been following USV for a whlie now and actually interviewed Brad Burnham in preparation for a session at the Open Everything Retreat on Investing in Open. They seem to have a knack for investing in webtech ventures like Twitter and Wesabe that have models that can be deeply disruptive to the systems they are taking on and where the question of how they are going to make money from them is far from answered. And now they’re turning more of their attention to conventionally ‘social’ issues including education and the environment.

Coming off my latest exploration of the social venture capital sector, I’m looking forward to seeing USV coming into this space – and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch. Investments like Twitter and Wesabe are not too dissimilar from making investments in social change and innovation. Both are venturing toward systems level change – and come with a high degree of complex ambiguity.

At the same time, we are beginning to see a new mode of organization taking shape that challenges how ventures are built and therefore how we invest in them. Where all of these things come together is where I’m betting we are going to find some deep innovations on the new kind of venture capital firm I think USV and others are all working their way towards.

In the meatime, if you’ve encountered – or are thinking of – any innovations in this area please pop them in the comments or over in the public wiki on ‘Investing and Open‘. I’m playing with some ideas myself and will be adding them in there and here on this blog as they develop.

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People, this is the front desk – It’s time to WAKE UP!

alarm clock, bought from IKEA
Image via Wikipedia

The chaos of the financial markets is a major break in conventional structures and systems of our society. The intensity of it along side the growing crises in energy, food, and water coupled and the associated geo-political instability is really shaking things up. Oh, and mother nature is giving it’s own share of kicks amounting to what I hope is one big wakeup call.

So what could we wake up to?

Robert Paterson has an interesting post positing that 2.0 world will emerge from the ashes of the Financial Capital World.

We cannot know in any detail what the future will now bring.

All we can know is that the nimble and the smart will do better than the clumsy and the unthinking. All we know is that any model based on large amounts of capital will not make it – so forget nuclear as an option for energy.

The new of course exists in proto form today as it did when the dinosaurs roamed. The new will be based on network models. It will use the network effect and it will use social capital to do big things. It will use its distributed intelligence to “see” what to do and to undersatdn the chaos that we will be living in.

The time for a world based on a model that is itself based on nature itself rather than a machine is dawning.

Understanding the “natural economy” , the “natural organization” and social capital will be the key to your survival. Not just in business but in every part of our lives.

For we as citizens of the “machine world” gave up all control to the “System”. We became isolated and helpless. We lived in the Matrix. We did not even know what we had given up.

Umair Haque also talks about the opportunity ahead of us.

Now is the time for revolutionaries to step up and build something better, something more real, and something greater.

There will probably never – at least in our lifetimes – be an opportunity for total economic reinvention this tremendous.

Or this meaningful. Because that’s what it’s really about – not shareholder value, money, or “competitive advantage”.

But doing something that means something.

I’ve also written about it before as the ‘Great Remix‘ (and here).

What’s different now than in the Great Depression for example is that we are globally at the limits of what our societies and planet can handle. We can’t get produce and consume our way out of this one. People and the planet have no more to give in that model.

What I’m focused on is helping whatever emerges to come from the common values and mindset that unite the ‘open’, sustainability, and social justice movements. Organizationally it will have profound effects – some of which I’ve posted on here and in the Open Organization exploration on the OpenEverything wiki (jump in if you are interested).

The time is now – if we don’t pay attention to this wake up call we risk falling asleep again until it’s too late – or at least we can be sure that the next call will be even more forceful. I know I don’t want to sleep anymore.

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Reflecting on OpenEverything: the rereat, the movement, and the meaning.

Reflections at Hollyhock

It’s been almost a week since the OpenEverything retreat and the reverberations continue. Heading into it, not having any roots in the open-source community, I was technically the biggest noob on the convening team. At the same time, what drew me into the meme and the event was a sense that something bigger was going on and that that something was rooted in a set of ideals and a drive for the practical that resonated with my core and my life experiences.

On the other side of the event I’m more clear than ever that ‘open’ is not something new but rather is reflective of a powerful shift in our culture, driven by technology and circumstance, that is fundamentally restructuring the systems of our society. A shift that is also at play in the social change and ecological sustainability movements as much as it is in the Open movement.


David Eaves talks about ‘open’ as a social movement which it certainly is. What excites me is that at it’s core it’s also part of the movement of our society toward a more just a sustainable state – a movement that’s based on a common set of ideals that transcends meme, sector, or method. A movement that works the tensions between ideals and practical. A movement of people that recognize themselves as interdependent parts of everything from their project to their community to humanity etc.

This is what has me so interested and where I hope people rally – around the thing that is unifying – the thing that represents the change in course our society so desparately needs. For me, this is coming out through contributions to the wikiOpen Organizations and Investing and Open – and a continuation of my work ‘venturing on the frontiers’ (which I’ll be sharing more on this site in the weeks to come.

And what about you? Do you feel this shift underway? How’s it showing up? How’s it changing you? What does it mean for you, for us, for humanity?

Exploring Open – Investing and Organizations

Well the OpenEverything Retreat turned out to be great event with over 30 participants and some great output. The Investing in Open Session brought together Helen King from the Shuttleworth Foundation, Joel Solomon from Renewal Partners, and Paul Biondich from OpenMRS. For the highlights check out the notes from the session and for those who want to dig a little deeper and contribute to the conversation there’s now a open exploration on Investing and Open in the Mapping Open section of the OpenEverything wiki.

Dive in and help shape this space.

The OpenEverything retreat is coming up and in prep I’ve setup a wiki to begin exploring attributes and examples of Open Organizations and practices for/what’s different with Investing in Open.

Have some thoughts? Jump in here.

An open quote from Michael Edwards

Cross posted from my tumblog.

Open: “more radical innovations in ownership and production that change the basis on which markets currently work”

In the conclusion of “Just Another Emperor” by Michael Edwards, he poses the above quote which I think is a great description of what ‘open’ is actually playing at. Full context here: “Philanthrocapitalism offers one way of increasing the social value of the market, but there are other routes that could offer equal or better results in changing the way the economic surplus is produced, distributed and used: the traditional route that uses external pressure, taxation and regulation; the philanthrocapitalist route that changes internal incentives and gives a little more back through foundations and corporate social repsonsibility; and the more radical innovations in ownership and production that change the basis in which markets work. We don’t know which of these routes carries the greatest long term potential, though all of them rely on civil society as a vehicle for innovation, accountability, influence and modified consumption, and especially for getting us from reformist to transformational solutions.”

OpenEverything opens today!

Well, it was only a few months ago when Jason Mogus, Mark Surman and I chatted on this concept of the event series that is now underway. It started as an exploration as to a new Web Of Change event at Hollyhock this year and Mark has taken it to what is going to be an amazing series that is going to push our thinking and the thinking of the ‘open’ community even further.

For more information, check out Mark’s opening post here, and the openeverything wiki.

Today, Toronto kicks off Open Everything: a global series of six (or more?) events about the art, science and spirit of open. We’ve got 60 amazing people registered who come from computer programming, community development and everywhere in between. It’s gonna rock.

There are going to be a few bloggers and hopefully a few twitters going live today and putting their follow-up thoughts out shortly thereafter… and I’ll do my best to link to them as they come available.

Forces at play in the The Great Remix

The final piece from this work on The Great Remix (see also) are a couple of presentations that explore the forces at play. I’ve yet to add annotated detail but here they are nonetheless.