• Twitter Persona Startup L. Jackson on Bubbles, Interest Rates, and Anonymity

    1lR6Yc8nBy Semil Shah

    Twitter persona Startup L. Jackson has published roughly 5,400 savvy startup-related tweets over the last four years, observations that have earned him roughly 50,000 followers — as well as great interest in uncovering his identity. So far, he has managed to keep it a secret, and if he can help it, his real name will remain unknown to most. Says Jackson of why he does it: “You are forced as a reader to judge the ideas rather than the speaker.”

    We talked with him recently about his strange role in the tech-investing landscape.

    Startup L Jackson seems to have the makings of a media company. Why not do the whole thing — blog, podcast, YouTube — all on the back of the Twitter account?

    That sounds like a lot of work. I have a blog (startupljackson.com), but post to it infrequently due to the time it takes to do well. The others are less anonymous and more time-consuming. (I do have a day job.) Twitter is great because it fits into my normal learning-about-the-startup-world time. I can just show up and tweet about the last person I met with, an article I just read, or ideas I’ve been kicking around for a while.

    Anonymity enables you to say things about people and topics that would otherwise be taboo. Is that a good or bad thing?

    I am somewhat provocative, but I don’t think it’s really anything you couldn’t tweet [otherwise]. And, by the way there’s a circle of people who do know my identity. I think the common assumption is that the account is for saying things I couldn’t say [in real life], but people who know me realize I don’t have much of a filter there either.

    I think the “good” thing about it — or at least the thing I think makes it interesting — is that you are forced as a reader to judge the ideas rather than the speaker. My experience is that Silicon Valley is obsessed with pattern matching and pedigree, and that makes it much harder to discuss ideas than it should be. In practice, SLJ is a great hack to get around that limitation.

    You seem to like AngelList, you take Lyft Line, and you are clearly aware of the ins and outs of investing. Can we expect SLJ Ventures to be forming anytime soon? Either way, what’s your view on the continued push toward smaller funds, micro funds?

    I can neither confirm or deny the SLJ fund. What fun would it be if you knew for certain which side of the table I’m on? I do use AngelList, and knowing VC is smart wherever you sit in the ecosystem.

    In terms of small funds, it seems to me that there are a lot of small funds because there are a lot of new funds, and funds start small. I think it’s a obviously a great thing for entrepreneurs, and probably for LPs. Big funds can’t afford to spend their time at the earliest phases of a business, especially as they get bigger. It’s not economical when a $100,000 check is out of a $100 million-plus fund. For a small fund, a $50,000 to $250,000 check is meaningful, so they can write the check that’s meaningful, and then pay attention. These VCs are hungry.

    And for the VCs/LPs, I think very early-stage investing is still inefficient in terms of discovery versus later stages, so there’s not as much of a winner-take-all dynamic, but there are still power law outcomes. I see very few Series A and B funds that I believe will beat bonds. Maybe five to ten. I think many more small funds will do well.

    What excites you most about the San Francisco-Silicon Valley startup ecosystem right now? And what most concerns you?

    Big picture, I think we’re in the second inning of the internet, and it’s defined by the other 90 percent (much of it in the U.S., by the way) of the world coming online with supercomputers in their pockets. That’s why I don’t think there’s a bubble, and why I think it’s less a question about the one to three big opportunities in the next decade and a question of where you want to focus. San Francisco is still ground zero. That’s exciting.

    In terms of industry worries, there is a question of what happens to venture capitalists if interest rates go up significantly. We could see fewer funds at all stages. But that’s a problem for the VC industry. Tech will do fine even if financing changes significantly. If I were a VC, I’d be cognizant that the current boom is at least in part a function of investors having nowhere else to put their money.

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