Trying Something New On Immigration In Colorado

I’ve been working on the Startup Visa since I first wrote about it on 9/10/2009 in my post The Founders Visa Movement. While there has periodically been improvement on the margins on the issue, I think our federal government has broadly failed us on this front.

So, I’m going to try something different. Yesterday, CU Boulder announced a new Entrepreneurs in Residence program to be administered by the Silicon Flatirons program. While the program is open to any entrepreneur, including those in the US, we are particularly focused on international entrepreneurs.

Through extensive work with Craig Montuori and leadership from Phil Weiser, the Dean of CU Law and head of Silicon Flatirons, we’ve come up with a neat approach that follows from the work that was done in Massachusetts, led by Jeff Bussgang and others, and originally approved as a major state initiative, only to see its funding pulled back after the recent election cycle.

The program in Colorado follows a similar approach with one major difference. It’s privately funded and doesn’t rely on anything from the state. My wife Amy Batchelor and I are putting up most of the funding for the first year program. It’s a major gift from us and more of me trying to put my money where my mouth is on issues I care about.

In the next 12 months, we’ll have four EIRs as part of the pilot program. They will be employed by CU Boulder for 20 hours per week and will receive a stipend of $25,000 per academic year (which starts in July). We’ll cover the cost of the H1-B visa if necessary, which is easy to acquire because H1-B visas for universities are uncapped.

Importantly, consistent with university policy and applicable law, entrepreneurs in the program will be free to work on their existing entrepreneurial ventures or start a new company.

We have a broad model for engagement in Boulder for new entrepreneurs. Between Techstars, Galvanize, Silicon Flatirons, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, and many other accelerators, there will be significant mentorship opportunities. In the summer time, they’ll be part of Startup Summer (run by Startup Colorado in conjunction with Silicon Flatirons) along with being paired with a new MIT MBA Summer Internship in Boulder that I’m about to roll out (ah – foreshadowing…) And, with our broad #GiveFirst attitude across the startup community, they’ll be welcomed with open arms.

I’ve gotten worn out on the federal level immigration fight. I’m happy to continue to participate in advocacy for change around visas for entrepreneurs, but I’ve decided to focus my energy, and money, on exploring and experimenting with state-oriented solutions.

If you are interested in applying for one of the four EIR slots, just drop me an email and I’ll plug you in.

Book: The Intel Trinity

As of today The Intel Trinity,The: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World’s Most Important Company wins my award for best business book of 2015.

I got an Apple ][ for my bar mitzvah in 1978. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated with computers and the computer industry. I obviously missed the 1950s and 1960s, but the history of that time period has deeply informed my perspective, especially the definition of Moore’s law by Gordon Moore in 1965.

I work with many first time and young entrepreneurs who know the phrase “Moore’s Law” but know nothing about the origin story of Intel or the history of how Moore’s Law built the base of an industry that we continue to build on. I also know many experienced entrepreneurs who seem to have forgotten that the phenomenon we experience around innovation, disruption, innovators vs. incumbents, and radical shifts in the underlying dynamics of markets is nothing new.

If you fall into this category, as hard as it may be to acknowledge, get a copy of The Intel Trinity and read it from cover to cover.

Michael S. Malone has written another excellent book (he’s one of my favorite tech history writers) that does more than document the history of Intel and its impact on the universe. The best part of this book is understanding the characters of Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove, especially how they worked together as early co-founders (Noyce / Moore), an initial management troika (Noyce/Moore/Grove), and the subsequent leadership of Intel for 30 years. It’s a powerful example of founding entrepreneurs and their leadership of a company from inception, through several near death events, to sustainable market dominance.

It also gives anyone who says “this time is different” some perspective. Just remember, “All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.”

2430 Denmark, Garland, Texas

As Sean Wise and I roll through the Canadian edition of our tour for our latest book, Startup Opportunities: Know When to Quit Your Day Job, we’ve been talking a lot about the starting point of one’s entrepreneurial journey. I’ve talked about mine intermittently but was reminded recently about a summer that really started me down the entrepreneurial path.

2430 Denmark, Garland, TXAnyone out there recognize the house on the left? If your name is John Underkoffler, Pat Ruekert, or Mike Barron, you may remember one fine summer in 1986 when you lived there with me while I rented the house from Cecelia Feld for our home and office.

We worked on three different projects that summer. Pat and I worked on the software for the first major Feld Technologies customer, Bellflower Dental Group. Mike and I worked on DOSBox, which rolled into a Feld Technologies project for a while in 1987 but never went anywhere. And John and I worked on DataVision Technologies, another company I co-founded, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

While I count the real start of Feld Technologies as 1987, which was the year that Dave Jilk became my partner and we formally started up, Feld Technologies actually dates back to 1985 when I was using it simply as a consulting company for work I was doing. My first client was Petcom, a startup in the oil and gas industry where I wrote two software products – PCLog (for Well Log analysis) and PCEconomics (for economic analysis of oil and gas projects). Both were for the early IBM PC (each actually run on a dual-floppy disk 8088-based PC). Another early customer was AEC, which was a division of IHRDC (a long-time Feld Technologies customer). I can’t remember what I did for AEC, but I remember the name.

The Bellflower Dental Group project came via Kevin Parent, a fraternity brother and close friend for many years. Kevin invited me out to LA for Christmas break in 1984 and I met his step-father, Peter Wylan. Peter had a gigantic dental practice in Bellflower, CA (hence Bellflower Dental Group). He’d figured out how to be the dentist for all the union workers in the area and had something like 100 people working for him, cleaning teeth, doing bridges, putting on braces – that sort of thing. It was entirely manual – paper and insurance forms everywhere. Over a three year period I wrote, with Pat, software in Dataflex which resulted in a 100 user+ PC-based network that Bellflower ran their practice on until the early 2000s. The Y2K issue is a story for another day.

I can’t remember how Mike and I met but he was a DOS hacker and we decided to try to make a Norton Utilities like thing for all the different PC-based interrupt drivers. C was just becoming popular and most people were struggling with the linkage between C and the DOS-based interrupt schemes that let you do a bunch of things with the PC that weren’t in the higher level languages.

DataVision came out of a relationship with one of Petcom’s customers, a guy named Gabriel Prieto, who wanted to start a business around a science called Cephalometric analysis. I no longer remember Gabriel’s link to that, but it was pretty cool stuff at the time and John and I thought we could write some software to automate what was then a very manual process that included Xrays, drafting paper, rulers, and protractors.

In hindsight, all three of these projects were at the beginning of a very long arc of automation. One – the Bellflower project – was very successful. While the software that John and I wrote for DataVision (mostly John – I did architecture / design work) was “jaw dropping” (sorry – I couldn’t help myself), it turned out that there was no market for it so the company failed. And DOSBox, while neat, went the way of so many other things that were very neat hacks but had a short duration of relevance.

But the summer was special. It was the first time we were living in a house away from parents or college. We must have had four bedrooms in the house, although looking at it makes me think the bedrooms were very small. I know we each slept with a computer in a our room. They were all connected with a Netware network (something I was the master of – we were probably running Netware 2.10 – which was a beast to keep happy.) John had the coolest hardware because of the special graphics boards we needed (I think they were from Matrix but I can’t remember now – they might have been STB.)

Regardless, we were in post-adolescent nerd heaven. We kept the place clean since my mom owned it. We were far enough away from my parents that they didn’t bother us much, but it was easy to visit. I’m sure our neighbors wondered what we were doing with all the lights on at 3 am, but no one ever asked.

In some ways, it feels like yesterday, even though it was 30 years ago. And, as a bonus, I get to work with John Underkoffler on a regular basis since he’s the CEO of Oblong and we are his largest investor. We’ve both come a long way from cephalometric analysis.

Boulder Startup Community Members: Help Fund the Code for America Fellowship

If you are a founder or employee of a startup in Boulder and want to increase the overall effectiveness of our local Boulder government, please help us fund the Code for America Fellowship in Boulder.

We are raising a total of $75,000 to match the $75,000 being contributed to this effort by the City of Boulder. So far $30,000 of the $75,000 has been funded by my partners at Foundry Group, Rally Software, and the Anchor Point Foundation (the foundation that Amy and I run). If you’d like to contribute, either email me or donate online at the Code for America site.

Through the foresight of Liz Hansen and Jane Brautigam (the Boulder City Manager), Code for America is working on a project with the City of Boulder to help the city increase its engagement with stakeholders in Boulder around civic issues, including the city’s housing plan. As Jane mentions in her guest opinion piece, she believes this is the year for Boulder to be at its best. As she clearly states:

“It is my commitment to you, the community, that we are listening and that the city team is putting in place a number of new tools and work efforts to support inclusive, respectful and meaningful conversations in 2015, and beyond. These include the hiring of a new neighborhood liaison, a position that was approved last year by council as part of the 2015 budget; a new partnership with Code for America and local volunteers to develop better tools for online engagement and information sharing; and robust community participation processes for the work related to affordable housing, design excellence, our climate commitment, and our community’s comprehensive plan.”

This project resulted in us bringing Becky Boone, last year’s fellow with the City of Denver, to Boulder to spend seven months working with the city. Part of Code for America’s approach is that the city funds half and the community funds half, hence our call for action to support our half of the funding for the program.

Boulder is internationally recognized as a very successful startup community and this entrepreneurial approach fits Colorado well. However, with success comes challenges, including growth and issues of density. Today, Boulder has a population of about 100,000 and about 100,000 jobs. 60% of these job holders commute into Boulder for work while 40% live and work in Boulder in one of the 44,000 housing units.

With population and jobs estimated to grow to about 115,000 each by 2035, Boulder has a success problem. This is exacerbated by design constraints developed for the city in the 1960s and 1970s. The result of these “success problems” is in an increased tension around the discussion of the future of our city in the editorial pages of the Daily Camera, City Council meetings, and conversations around town.

In the search for simple solutions, almost every group in town has been blamed. Lately, the success of the entrepreneur ecosystem has started to become the target for criticism around these issues. As a result, a number of the leaders in the startup community, including myself, have recognized that we need to engage in the discussion to continue to evolve Boulder and make it even better than it is today, rather than simply exist in our own parallel universe.

While the Code for America project is only one activity in the midst of a bunch of different things, it’s a powerful way for the Boulder startup community to show that it’s serious about constructively engaging in talking about and working through our success problems. Help us raise the balance of the $45,000 of our side of the commitment by contributing today.

Resolving Conflicts in a VC Partnership

I got the following question the other day.

“If you get a chance, I’d request you to write a blog post about various business decision related conflicts or misunderstanding that might occur in a partnership and how you folks at the Foundry Group resolve it. My partners and I grapple with such challenges quite often.”

Every VC firm is different so to answer a question like this, it’s important to remember that the answer is one specific to Foundry Group. Never forget that VCs Are Like D&D Characters.

When my partners and I started Foundry Group in 2007, we created a set of deeply held beliefs that we carry around with us every day. Some of them are about our strategy and some are about our behavior.

One of our deeply held beliefs is that “We will address and resolve all conflict between us directly, clearly, quickly, and openly.”

This is easy to say but very hard to do. It means that there will be no passive aggressive behavior on anyone’s part. We won’t carry around things that bother us. Instead, we’ll put them on the table to discuss. We have to have a strong basis of trust, which we’ve extended to the notion of “business love.”

It has to be ok to be upset, to disagree, to be sad, to be disappointed, and to be unhappy. These are normal emotions. Things don’t work, they can be confusing, frustrating, or downright miserable. A partnership has to be a safe place to be open about these emotions, especially when they are being generated by someone in the partnership.

The deeply held belief is nice, but unless there are tactics and consistent action to back it up, it ends up being meaningless. There are three things we do to make sure we execute on this deeply held belief.

Weekly Time and Space for Discussion: We have a set time on Monday’s – between 11am and 1pm – where the four of us meet every week. Unlike many firms that chew up an entire Monday of “partner meeting stuff”, we do it over lunch. As part of this we have a chance to touch base with each other once a week. This is like flossing your teeth – it gets rid of the easy stuff.

Regular Dinner / Offsite: We have a full day offsite at least quarterly and as often as monthly. We spend at least an hour on the question “How are each of us doing?” In this case, “doing” means “emotionally doing” and covers what is on our mind, how we are feeling, what is stressing us (professionally and personally), and how we are doing with each other. Sometimes the discussion is balanced between the four of us; other times it ends up being focused on one person. We always end these days with a long dinner together, which allows us to spend more time on our collective relationships.

Be Direct: I wrote about this in a post last year titled Brutal Honesty Delivered Kindly. In all of these discussions, we are direct. We are kind to each other and never gratuitous in our comments, but always speak the truth. And when someone is wrong, he owns it.

Fundamentally, it’s about communication. Without the deeply held belief, we don’t have a clear context for how the communication works. But the combination of the deeply held belief and regular practice over the past eight years, has resulted in a highly efficient, trusted form of conflict resolution. Sure, we screw up plenty, but it’s easy to recognize, acknowledge, and course correct when we do.