The Best Time To Invest In Something Is …

At 18 minutes into this awesome talk that Fred Wilson did at MIT a few weeks ago, he finishes the statement “The best time to invest in something is ...”

… when nobody wants to invest in it but you.” He adds “And – you have to believe in it and know why.

Truer words have never been spoken about investing as, or in, VC. Just don’t forget the phrase “and – you have to believe in it and know why.”

Fred is one of my closest friends in the VC business and someone I’ve learned an amazing amount from him since first meeting him in 1996 when he was just starting to work with one of my male soulmates Jerry Colonna.

Watch the video. Listen carefully. Learn from his experience.

Fred – thank you for everything you’ve done for and with me over the years.

True Stories of the NCIS with Oblong Mezzanine

If you are an NCIS fan, you are probably excited about the upcoming 48 Hours: NCIS which premieres on Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 10pm ET/PT. I like NCIS, but I’m especially excited about Oblong’s Mezzanine product being a central part of the show.

John Underkoffler has been showing us – through Hollywood – the future of user experiences since Minority Report (where he was the science and technology advisor.) It makes me smile to see him, and his gang at Oblong, continue to lead the way.

Mentors 15/18: Be Optimistic

Last month I took two weeks completely off the grid. As part of it, I spent some time working on my next book, Give First. As part of that, I finished up the sections on Deconstructing the Techstars Mentor Manifesto. While I wrote a draft of this post over a month ago, It felt appropriate to publish this, and the next few Mentor Manifesto posts, after a wave of Techstars Demo Days that just happened.

#15 is “Be Optimistic.” It sounds simple, but it can be incredibly difficult.

As a mentor, your job is not to solve a founder’s problem. It’s to help. It’s to listen. It’s to provide feedback and data from your experience.

You can do this from many different perspectives. However, given the stress on a founder, it’s best to do this from an optimistic frame of reference.

Here’s an example of the challenge. You are a mentor to Maria, who is struggling with her co-founder Stephan, who has become unpredictable, inconsistent, and subdued. Maria feels alone, both on a day to day basis as well as in dealing with Stephan (there are only two founders in this case.)

As a mentor, you had a difficult co-founder experience in your last company. While the dynamics were different, it ended poorly with your co-founder leaving the company. While you haven’t spoken since you split up, your business was successful and acquired for a life-changing sum of money for each of you.

Your co-founder struggle is one that didn’t work out between you and your co-founder but was ultimately financially rewarding for each of you. You carry around this conflict in your head. On the one hand, you are pessimistic about where things between Maria and Stephan will end up. On the other, you know that even if their relationship fails, the company can still be a success.

You also learned a lot from your experience with your co-founder. Each of you made mistakes in approaching things during your conflict period. This hurt both of you and negatively impacted the company for a while. Your struggle with each other was public, and it ruined several other relationships with people who felt like they needed to choose sides.

Being optimistic in this context is difficult. But it can be done. Start from a positive frame of reference. Talk openly with Maria about the things that you and your co-founder did wrong as you tried to address your conflict. Be clear about how things could have turned out differently. Be introspective in your discussion and speak from experience, instead of giving advice. Remember to reinforce that even though your relationship with your co-founder ended up failing, your business was successful.

Let Maria have her experience as she tries to resolve things with Stephan. Try to be a positive influence in the mix to encourage her to do the work involved, even if they end up parting ways.

Introducing Our New Partner – Chris Moody

We are excited to announce that Chris Moody is joining Foundry Group as a partner.

When we started Foundry Group in 2006, we were very clear that we were not going to build a legacy venture capital firm; one meant to outlive its founders. There would be no generational planning, no transitions to younger partners, and no senior partner hold-outs who would hang onto economics well after they had stopped working. Simply put, when we are done investing, we will drop the mic and shut off the lights.

In 2014, Seth, Jason, Ryan, and I had the first of many conversations about our long-term plans for Foundry Group. These discussions resulted in the creation of Foundry Group Next, the addition of Lindel Eakman to our team, and our first Foundry Group Next fund which we closed in 2016.

The conversation that we started in 2014 has continued on a regular basis, both formally at our quarterly off-sites but also pretty much every time the four of us were together. As part of this, we started an exercise of explicitly looking forward a decade and talking about what Foundry Group looked like from each of our perspectives at that time. With each new fund we raise, we are making at least a ten year forward commitment to each other, our investors, and the founders whose companies in which we invest. For the first seven years, this was easy, since we each had a 20-year view of Foundry Group when we started it in 2006. But as time passed, we realized we needed to start to think more deeply about the future of Foundry Group and how we evolve our investment activities.

The venture business is an inherently challenging one to scale. Leverage – of time, capacity, and capabilities – is hard to achieve. As Foundry Group raised more funds, we realized that our ability to continue to manage our business effectively was becoming limited by our individual time and capacity. Recognizing this, we started to make a list of people we would consider adding as partners, as one of our deeply held beliefs was never to have associates, venture partners, or EIRs as part of our firm.

For a while, the only name on the list was Lindel’s. It took us several years to get our mind around adding someone, but once we did, we added a few more names to the list. It probably won’t be a surprise to anyone reading this that it is a very short list.

Back to Chris Moody. Chris was most recently VP & GM of Data & Solutions at Twitter, running a multi-hundred million dollar enterprise business unit. In addition to running one of Twitter’s fastest-growing business unit, Chris was responsible for leading Twitter’s developer platform and ecosystem involving hundreds of enterprise partners and one of the world’s largest active developer communities. We’ve known Chris since 2007 and worked extremely closely with him when he was the CEO of Gnip and well as a leader in the Boulder Startup Community. Over the years, we also became very close friends with Chris.

After we had raised the first Foundry Group Next fund last September, we started having a serious conversation about having Chris join us at Foundry Group. This was driven by our reflection on our current workload, how we were adjusting what we were doing based on the addition of Lindel to the team – which had re-energized us a lot, and how we were thinking about the next ten years of Foundry Group.

In addition to working closely with Chris as a CEO (I was on the board of Gnip), we all worked with Chris through Techstars (he was one of the original mentors in the 2007 program). After Twitter acquired Gnip in 2014, Chris joined the boards of two of our portfolio companies (Pantheon and mLab) and worked closely with Ryan on these boards as an outside director.

We knew Chris was an extraordinary board member as well as an extremely seasoned CEO. We had a great affinity for each other, and he shared our value system. When the five of us sat around talking about Chris, after each conversation we got more excited about having him join us, especially as we learned about his personal view for the next decade of his life.

For those of you who don’t know Chris, I encourage you to watch this short video of Chris’ commencement address at Auburn University last spring. I think you’ll get a small glimpse of what he is about and why we’re so excited to have him as our partner.

Chris has been burning the candle at both ends for 27 years without ever taking a meaningful break. We insisted that he take the summer off to recharge his batteries and spend focused time with his awesome wife Sarah and his three delightful kids. He’ll officially join us at the end of the summer.

Welcome, Chris!

Just Finish It

An exec at a company I’m an investor in sent this to me this morning. Does this feel like your life at your company?

I’m an enormous fan of Eric Ries and The Lean Startup. His, and Steve Blank’s, thinking and writing changed how we approach startups. However, the bright shiny object syndrome is alive and well in StartupLand and, when conflated with MVPs and fail fast, often results in misery.

Finishing a product and shipping is extremely challenging. It’s different for hardware, as there is a physical instantiation of a product that you have to put in the proverbial box and send out the door. With software, you can ship a buggy piece of shit and keep updating it daily (or continuously) to improve it. But when the product includes some hardware, once it’s out the door you’ve got to live with it.

But, for both hardware and software, the lack of focus on finishing is toxic. When you read Jeff Bezos’ annual letter and internalize “customer obsession” you realize that if you view the world from the perspective of the customer, everything in your business hinges on getting your product into their hands, and then totally delighting them.

At my first company, we did releases of software for multiple clients each week (we were a custom software company.) In some ways, this process has the same characteristics as a weekly sprint, except for it was the early 1990s, and we often had to ship floppy disks by Fedex to our clients. I knew the exact time I had to walk out the door of my office to walk to South Station (in Boston) to get in a cab to go to the Fedex depot at Logan Airport to make the FedEx cutoff. Whenever I did that, I always had a euphoric feeling when I got back in the cab, sat back, and headed home for the night. We’ve come a long way from that dynamic in the last 25 years, but the awesome feeling of shipping hasn’t changed.

This may sound simple and trite but think about it for a second. If you are a CEO or a founder, are you creating an illusion of shipping, but creating a cycle of bright shiny object syndrome?

And with that, this post is shipped …