How To Send A Haunted VC/Startup Newsletter

As you may or may not know, I have a newsletter I’ve been sending out since May 2016 on a roughly weekly basis. If you want to keep up with what I write at the day job and the most interesting links I find while procrastinating at my day job, consider subscribing: Rowley.Report.

Considering it’s Halloween and all, I figured I should share some of the tips and tricks I use to produce that content.

You have to understand that to produce something like that every week, an elaborate conjuring ritual is involved. Trick or treat?

  1. Start by arraying five beeswax candles in the shape of an upside down star on the floor. Light the candles.
  2. Fashion a miniature boat out of cocktail bar coasters and glue, and use one of the heavy metal pens they give you to sign your bill at the Rosewood as a mast.
  3. Print out the most recent leaked term sheet and fashion it into a sail, affixing it to the makeshift boat.
  4. Anoint the small boat with samples of billionaire founders’ blood, sweat, and tears.
  5. Place the boat in the middle of the inverted star on the floor.
  6. Burn and scatter the ashes of one of the last remaining hard copies of Georges Doriot’s Manufacturing class notes into and about the small boat.
  7. For safety, blow out the candles in your house and take your boat to the nearest body of water, ideally while riding a Bird or Lime scooter.
  8. Short-circuit one JUUL e-cigarette battery such that it begins to heat up, and place it in the boat.
  9. Also place a USB stick containing the weekly output of charts and all items, read and unread, from my RSS feedreader.
  10. Push the boat into the open water. If timed correctly, the short-circuiting JUUL battery will light the whole thing on fire, resulting in a kind of viking funeral effect. Like this: 🔥⛵
  11. Summon the Owl by hooting vigorously toward the blackness of the woods. Speak of phenomenal risk-adjusted returns with it, in tongues, until sunrise.
  12. Go home, and sleep.
  13. Kind of all in one fell swoop: Merge accumulated notes in iA Writer & Drafts 5 into a new document; edit markdown in iA Writer; in iA Writer, left-swipe with two fingers to reveal well-rendered and semantic HTML; copy; paste into new Mailchimp email campaign.
  14. Press send.
  15. Wait.

My Grandfather’s Ghost In The Watch

Earlier today, Apple announced a raft of new phones, which no doubt will excite a lot of people. Apple also announced a new version of its Apple Watch today—Series 4.

One of the watch’s new features is very near and dear to me: the conductive pads on the back which help the watch capture electrical activity and display it as an electrocardiograph.

Image credit: Apple

Back in the late 1950s, my grandfather, Donald Rowley, co-invented the gel electrode alongside fellow pathologist Seymour Glagov. From his 2013 obituary published by the University of Chicago’s news office:

At the time, there were no tools to monitor heartbeats over long periods; so they invented one. They worked with an undergraduate student at UChicago and a watch repairman to convert a spring-wound pocket watch into a portable pulse counter and built tiny electrical sensors that could be glued reliably to the chest—the first gel electrodes. The gadget later would be scaled up with help from the Elgin National Watch Co. and Illinois Bell Telephone.

This simple device, no bigger than a deck of cards, accurately could record the electrical activity of the heart for more than 24 hours. It heralded the birth of ambulatory cardiology. Rowley and colleagues described their counter in a report to Science in 1959. They performed additional studies on 100 volunteers, showing enormous variation in daily heart rates.

They didn’t patent their invention because, as my grandfather put it, it was “simply not part of the academic culture.”

No longer a wind-up device made of watch parts, a descendent of my grandfather’s ticker-tracker lives on in watch form, which I think is pretty wild.

Links: September 5, 2018

Links: September 4, 2018

News’s Future Formats Favor Fortunate Incumbents

As a somewhat accidental member of the industry, I spend a fair bit of time thinking about media.

It’s for this reason I was so happy to come upon a two-part series from Tristan Ferne of the BBC’s research and development group.

Part 1 of the “Beyond 800 words” series, published back in September 2017, opens with the following:

The 800-word article is still the dominant form of online news from most publishers. This largely seems to be a legacy from printed newspapers and to a lesser extent this is true for online news video online too, with much of it still produced in traditional made-for-TV formats albeit shorter.

And in Part 1 Ferne identifies and briefly discusses a number of new formats like listicles, live blogs, and structured news.

Part 2, published last week, covers recent research work at the BBC around how Gen Z (18-26 year olds) wants to consume the news. The article discusses some of their methodology and research findings, and it presents examples of prototype news formats and interaction models that appealed to Gen Z audiences.

The thing about those formats – which include scrollable video, swipe to view reactions/polls, a section-by-section “choose your own format” model, and others – is that they are really nice, but also incredibly resource-intensive to produce at scale. For that modular format one, imagine having to:

  • Write a long version of the article
  • Write a short version of the article
  • Break each version into modular sections
  • Produce video for each section
  • Edit, view, and test the multiple formats to ensure they form a cohesive narrative
  • Ship the damned thing

That’s difficult for a small or medium-sized newsroom to do more than once a month. A dedicated team – bare minimum: a researcher, a writer, a video and sound editor, and an editor/production lead – could probably push something out once a week.

It’s all to say that if there’s a format race, it’s likely to be between bigger, well-resourced newsrooms. There’s definitely room for small newsrooms which are built around a novel format. Ferne references Circa as an example. But that’s a high stakes bet, because you’re wagering on both your ability to find and report on important and interesting stories and, moreover, that the fancy new format stays relevant among a fickle and increasingly fast-moving audience.

That’s going to be a tall order.

You can subscribe to my newsletter, the Rowley Report, at Rowley.Report.

Three Markdown Tools I’ve Known And Loved

There have been many programs that build upon Markdown’s principle of readability in pure-text formatting, and I wanted to share a couple of them here.

Since issue #2 of my newsletter, I’ve written almost everything in Markdown, the text-to-HTML conversion software originally written by John Gruber, the Daring Fireball himself.

It’s shockingly easy to use when you get the hang of its syntax. Fortunately, there are a number of “cheat sheets” available to help you get started if you’re not familiar with it. I personally prefer writing in Markdown (specifically MultiMarkdown) on a plaintext editor to writing in a WYSIWYG environment these days because it’s a little closer to the metal and gives me a lot of options for how I want to share my work.

Since the original release of Markdown, a lot of developers have built Markdown editors into their software to excellent effect. Since Markdown was originally built by and for writers, it’s no surprise that it’s used as the markup language of choice for Github pages, blog posts on Ghost and other blogging platforms, and other places where text is written and published on the web.

What I find most interesting about Markdown is the design philosophy. First and foremost, as Gruber says in the original spec:

“The overriding design goal for Markdown’s formatting syntax is to make it as readable as possible. The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions.”

There have been many other programs that build upon Markdown’s principle of readability in pure-text formatting, and I wanted to share a couple of them here.

Dillinger.io

Dillinger.io is a simple, web-based Markdown editor with a pane that renders your Markdown as formatted HTML in really-close-to-real-time. It’s a great site for playing around with Markdown for the first time.

(It’s kind of like Codepen for text.)

iA Writer

iA Writer, is a minimalist and un-opinionated Markdown editor for MacOS and iOS, and it’s been my Markdown editor of choice basically since it launched. I first used it on my first generation iPad with that amazing keyboard dock, and continued to use it as iA built the Mac app and built out the feature set.

One of my favorite features of iA Writer is its syntax highlighting. Unlike with a code editor, iA Writer lets users highlights English words based on the part of speech they represent. So, if I’m working on a sentence that’s lexically dense, I’m able to visualize its bits and pieces to ensure that I’m not veering too deeply into run-on territory.

It also features easy integration with Dropbox and iCloud Drive, full-screen editing, metadata support by way of MultiMarkdown, a range of export modes, easy image/file embedding, and custom document templating for PDF exports, a feature near and dear to my heart.

There are other Markdown-driven editors out there, including Ulysses and Scrivener, which are geared toward toward users who want more software-based assistance with project management and organizational structure. I’ve tried Ulysses and quite liked it, but I still prefer iA Writer’s somewhat hands-off approach.

At time of writing, iA Writer is still my tool of choice for writing my weekly-ish newsletter. It’s one of the best pieces of software I use and can’t recommend it highly enough.

Marp

Marp is an open source, cross-platform editor for making presentations using Markdown. It utilizes Github-flavored Markdown’s syntax and a simple text editor with more traditional syntax editing and so-called “directives” for how Marp’s rendering engine treats pagination and aspect ratios. To that end, using Marp, you can set aspect ratios for standard paper sizes in A and B 0-8, as well as other popular aspect ratios.

For now, the software is still in a pre-release beta, and it lacks some of the features of more fully-developed Markdown presentation apps like Deckset or the Remark.js library, but it’ll be interesting to see where the project goes.

Closing thoughts

I am a big, big fan of Markdown, and since it’s become the default plain-text input syntax for extremely popular websites like Github, reddit, Hacker News, StackExchange and others, it seems to have cemented itself as the default standard on the web.

However, like anything that isn’t purely WYSIWYG, Markdown still feels like a thing for programmers, power-users and professionals. This reputation, to me, feels somewhat undeserved because, again, it’s really freaking easy to pick up.

So, if you’ve never tried writing in plain text like this, give a Markdown editor a spin. There are literally hundreds of great options out there.

April 18, 2017

Cook, Steven A. “RIP Turkey, 1921 – 2017.” Foreign Policy, April 16, 2017. https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/16/rip-turkey-1921-2017/.
Fitzpatrick, Brad. “Thoughts on the Social Graph.” Personal Site. BradFitz.com, August 17, 2007. http://bradfitz.com/social-graph-problem/.
Honan, Mat, and Alex Kantrowitz. “Here’s What Mark Zuckerberg Told Us About The Wild Things Facebook’s New Camera Will Do.” BuzzFeed, April 18, 2017. https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexkantrowitz/mark-zuckerbergs-next-big-bet-making-the-real-world-an.
Kantrowitz, Alex. “Meet The Man Who Makes Facebook’s Machines Think.” BuzzFeed, April 17, 2017. https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexkantrowitz/meet-the-man-who-makes-facebooks-machines-think.
Knight, Will. “There’s a Big Problem with AI: Even Its Creators Can’t Explain How It Works.” MIT Technology Review, April 11, 2017. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/604087/the-dark-secret-at-the-heart-of-ai/.
Ortiz-Ospina, Esteban, and Max Roser. “Trust.” Our World In Data, 2016. https://ourworldindata.org/trust.
Shaw, Mike. “From OpEx back to CapEx.” HPE, April 17, 2017. https://insights.hpe.com/articles/from-capex-to-opex-and-back-1704.html.

Refs: April 14, 2017

Ethan Kurzweil, “An inside Look at Bessemer Venture Partners’ Investment Process for Twilio,” TechCrunch, April 11, 2017, http://social.techcrunch.com/2017/04/11/an-inside-look-at-bessemer-venture-partners-investment-process-for-twilio/.

Jeff Bezos, “Exhibit 99.1,” Shareholder Letter, (April 13, 2017), https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1018724/000119312517120198/d373368dex991.htm.

Yinmeng Zhang, “How to Measure User Retention and Track Improvement,” Apptimize, July 28, 2016, https://apptimize.com/blog/2016/07/measure-user-retention-track-improvement/.

josephg, “Josephg’s Comment on ‘How We Built r/Place,’” Comment, Hacker News, (April 14, 2017), https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14112085.

Bruce Booth, “Of Abundance And Scarcity In Venture Capital,” LifeSciVC, March 13, 2017, https://lifescivc.com/2017/03/abundance-scarcity-venture-capital/.

Ty Magnin, “The 4 Customer Retention Metrics You Need to Measure Now,” Appcues Blog, accessed April 15, 2017, https://www.appcues.com/blog/the-4-customer-retention-metrics-you-need-to-measure-now/.

Colin Dickey, “The Elements of Bureaucratic Style,” Longreads, April 12, 2017, https://longreads.com/2017/04/12/the-elements-of-bureaucratic-style/.

Eric Newcomer, “Uber, Lifting Financial Veil, Says Sales Growth Outpaces Losses,” Financial News, Bloomberg.com, (April 14, 2017), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-14/embattled-uber-reports-strong-sales-growth-as-losses-continue.

Alex Wilhelm and Katie Roof, “Uber Shares Growing Financials to Distract from Negative Publicity,” TechCrunch, April 14, 2017, http://social.techcrunch.com/2017/04/14/uber-shares-growing-financials-to-distract-from-negative-publicity/.

Refs: April 13, 2017

American Bar Association, ed., Fund Director’s Guidebook, 4th edition (Chicago, Illinois: ABA, Business Law Section, 2015).

Kurt J. Berney, Mitchell S. Presser, and David H. Wasserman, eds., Private Equity & Venture Capital Investing: Legal, Financial & Strategic Techniques for Successful Investing, Corporate Law and Practice Course Handbook Series, no. B-1276 (New York, N.Y: Practising Law Institute, 2001).

Danah Boyd, “Toward Accountability: Data, Fairness, Algorithms, Consequences,” Data & Society: Points, April 12, 2017, https://points.datasociety.net/toward-accountability-6096e38878f0.

Justin J. Camp, Venture Capital Due Diligence: A Guide to Making Smart Investment Choices and Increasing Your Portfolio Returns, Wiley Finance Series (New York: Wiley, 2002).

John Henry, “Mastodon Is Dead in the Water,” Hacker Noon, April 5, 2017, https://hackernoon.com/mastodon-is-dead-in-the-water-888c10e8abb1.

Ilya Pestov, “How PCs Were Advertised in the 1990s,” freeCodeCamp, February 11, 2017, https://medium.freecodecamp.com/how-pcs-were-advertised-in-the-1990s-cdaee59f2555.

M. G. Siegler, “The Squid,” 500ish Words, March 27, 2017, https://500ish.com/the-squid-218be9939cdf.

Andy Sparks, “All the Venture Capital & Fundraising Bloggers You Should Be Following,” Medium, January 25, 2017, https://medium.com/startup-grind/all-the-venture-capital-fundraising-bloggers-you-should-be-following-6ea9817039c4.

Rick Turoczy, “An Open Source Guide for Building the Startup Accelerator of Your Dreams,” Medium, April 4, 2017, https://medium.com/portland-incubator-experiment/an-open-source-guide-for-building-the-startup-accelerator-of-your-dreams-8ff931d8c3a.

Alex Wilmerding, Term Sheets & Valuations: An inside Look at the Intricacies of Term Sheets & Valuations (Bedford, MA: Aspatore Books, 2001).

“How We Built r/Place,” Upvoted, April 13, 2017, https://redditblog.com/2017/04/13/how-we-built-rplace/.