This Is The Droid You Are Looking For

One of the most enjoyable things I get to do in my job is to be involved in creating amazingly fun products. If you hang around in our office at Foundry Group you see plenty of Makerbots, Fitbits, an Oblong Mezzanine, an Occipital Structure Sensor, ModRobotics Cubelets, littleBits, 3D Robotics drones, and Spheros.

Now we’ve got some BB-8s (from Sphero) in our office. And if you want one, you can buy one right now.

The story of Sphero and BB-8 makes me smile a huge smile. I’m a massive Star Wars fan and saw the first Star Wars movie in 1977 when I was 11. I had a digital LED Star Wars watch from Texas Instruments that I wore proudly every day. Recently, I’ve been wearing Star Wars Vans. Yoda adorns lots of spaces in my world and “Do or do not, there is no try” is one of my mantras.

Sphero was originally known as Gearbox when it entered Techstars in Boulder in 2010. It’s origin story is summarized in the Techstars Founder Stories series and our journey with Ian Bernstein, Adam Wilson, Paul Berberian, and the team they subsequently assembled has been awesome.

Shortly after we led the seed round the company changed its name to Orbotix. It released its first product – Sphero – a little over a year later and was off to the races.

Last year, Orbotix did an unusual thing. With two successful products under its belt (Sphero and Ollie), the team was working on the next product concept. At the same time, Techstars had partnered with Disney to create the Disney Accelerator. While Orbotix was now a substantial company (with around 50 people), Paul, Ian, and Adam decided to go through the Disney Accelerator to create their next product. They had no idea what it would be, but they just wanted to isolate themselves from the rest of the company and invent the next thing. Paul spent 50% of his time in LA and the other 50% of his time in Boulder. Ian and Adam spent 100% of their time in LA and went through the first Disney Accelerator program.

The story of how BB-8 came out of this has been talked about plenty of times including an article in Wired and this morning on the front page of the Denver Post. It’s a great example of the power of a prepared mind, magical technology, and the Techstars corporate accelerator dynamic.

Today, Orbotix is called Sphero. The latest product from Sphero is BB-8. And, as a Star Wars geek, I couldn’t be happier to have a tiny part in bringing BB-8 to life.

Email Conventions and Why Email Clients Suck

There are two common email conventions in my world that I use many times a day in Gmail. I don’t remember where either of them came from or how much I influenced their use in my little corner of the world, but I see them everywhere now.

The first is +Name. When I add someone to an email thread, I start the email with +Name. For example:

+Mary

Gang – happy to have a meeting. Mary will take care of scheduling it.

Now, why in the world can’t gmail recognize that and automatically add Mary to my To: line? If I needed to do “+Mary Weingartner”, that would be fine. Gmail is supposed to be super smart – it should know my address book (ahem) or even my most recently added Mary’s and just get it done.

The other is bcc: Whenever I want to drop someone from an email chain, I say “to bcc:” For example:

Joe – thanks for the intro. To bcc:

Pauline – tell me more about what you are thinking.

Then, I have to click and drag on some stuff in the address field to move Joe from the To: line to the bcc: line.

Dear Developers Working On Email Clients Of The World: Would you please put a little effort into having the email client either (a) learn my behavior or (b) Add in lots of little tricks that are common, but not standard, conventions?

 

Why This Labor Day Weekend Is So Important

I like Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend a lot. They are my bookends for summer and kick off the official “back to school” fall cycle. I realize that kids are back at school already, but even when I was in school I viewed Labor Day weekend as the official market.

I’m noticing an enormous amount of anxiety in the air. When I reflect on what’s causing it, I suspect some of it is the public market gyrations along with the endless discussion around it. Some of it is the Republican Primary circus and the crazy and apparently unwanted popularity (at least by the Republican establishment) of Donald Trump. Some of it might be that it’s just been really hot outside for a while and it’s time for the cooler, softer tones of fall. And some of it might be all of the construction everywhere, which is at a fevered pitch right now.

I’m in a consistent conversation with a lot of entrepreneurs. “Is my burn rate too high?” “Will I be able to raise the next round?” “Are valuations going to go down?” “What should I do about the coming _fill_in_the_blank?”

Fall is coming. I don’t know what the public markets will do, nor do I know what the private markets will do. But the weather, at least in much of the United States, will cool off and the leaves will turn different colors. And, if 49 years of life on this planet is any guide, there will be an emotional shift from summer to fall.

Let your body, soul, and mind reset this weekend. Turn off the electronics. Don’t try to “catch up” before things get crazy. Watch a movie with your sweetie. Eat some ice cream. Sleep late. Go for a long walk in the mountains somewhere. Read a book. Take another nap. Have a long, slow dinner. Play with your dogs. Or do whatever you like to do to relax.

The fall is always intensely busy. Charge up your batteries and get ready for it.

The Twenty Minute VC Podcasts

I don’t listen to that many podcasts, but I like ones that are a short (< 45 minute) interview format. I can listen to one of these on a run or a drive to/from my office.

Until recently, the only one I was listening to regularly was the Reboot.io podcast. Jerry Colonna, the co-founder of Reboot.io is a dear friend and his interviews are often magical.

A few months ago I noticed The Twenty Minute VC by Harry Stebbings. I can’t remember which one was the first one I listened to, but I thought his style and interview approach was great. It was fast, started with an origin story, but quickly moved on to the present and then ended with a set of short questions.

Jon Staenberg, a long-time friend from Seattle who did an interview with Harry on episode 034, dropped me the following email at the end of April:

He seems like a good guy, want to be part of his podcast?
U good?
Ever in seattle?

I told Jon I’d be game. Harry responded immediately and we did a podcast together six weeks ago. I’d been listening regularly since Jon introduced us and heard several great podcasts, including mentions of me in 055 with Jonathon Triest and 059 with Arteen Arabshahi.

Last week Harry releases two episodes 065 with me and 066 with my partner Seth Levine. I had fun doing mine but absolutely loved listening to the one with Seth, especially around his version of the Foundry Group origin story.

Harry promises to interview our other two partners – Ryan McIntyre and Jason Mendelson – so he’ll ultimately have a triangulation (or maybe a trilateration) of our origin story.

In the mean time, enjoy the interviews with me and with Seth if you are looking for a podcast to listen to.

Doing The Right Thing In A Recap

Six weeks ago I wrote a post titled The Silliness Of Recapping Seed RoundsI described a situation that occurred in one of our FG Angels investments that I thought was short sighted on the part of the VC involved and the CEO of the company. I characterized the situation as “silly” and specifically didn’t call out the people as my goal was to be instructive around the startup landscape, not to complain (we are big boys and will deal with whatever) or to try to generate a different outcome. I accepted what happened, wrote my post, and moved on.

Over the next few days I had a few emails and phone calls with the VC and the CEO. I was told that my post generated some attacks, both professional and personal, and plenty of thought and reflection on the situation.

I was willing to engage (even though I said I was done in my post) due to my “fuck me once” rule. If you aren’t aware of it, I wrote a chapter about it in Do More Faster (although Wiley made me call it the “screw me once rule.”) While the exchanges had a little emotion in them, they were generally calm and rational.

At some point, I was asked directly by the CEO what I would have done in the situation. My answer was simple – I would have given the early seed investors some percentage of the company as part of the financing. Given the amount raised, the new financing, and the cap, I would have asked the seed investors to waive the terms and instead accept a smaller percentage of the company than they would have otherwise gotten. Instead of pricing the new round at $100,000 pre-money (effectively wiping out the several million dollars of seed money already raised and spent), I would have set a higher pre-money but sized it to be reasonable given all the other dynamics.

When asked what the range I would give to the seed investors post financing, I said 10% – 15%. I didn’t do spreadsheet math to get there – I just figured that the economics of the round ended up with the seed round getting about 33% (the max I think most seed rounds should end up getting) and then take meaningful dilution from there.

The CEO committed to doing something here, which I told him I respected. Yesterday, I got the docs giving the seed investors, which included the FG Angels group, 12% of the post money cap table.

I’m glad the CEO and the VC investors did the right thing. I also appreciate it as it sets an important tone in the seed stage ecosystem. And, most of all, I’m happy to give them all another chance in my book.