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Amy and I collect contemporary art. If you’ve been in my office, or my house, or many of the companies in Boulder we’ve invested in, you’ve probably seen some of it. We ran out of wall space long ago and now have a bunch of it in storage. So we started collecting sculpture a few years ago.
Sculpture is a lot harder for us – we know what we love when we see 2d art so it’s a quick decision. But we have different tastes in sculpture and struggle with “do we like it” or “do we love it.” We subscribe to the “buy it if you love it and want to live with it” approach and don’t really care what the future value potential is. Some of our art has gone up a lot in value, so I suppose we are probably considered good value collectors, especially since we often buy early in an artist’s career and then keep buying deep when we find artists we love. But that’s not why we do it.
One of our favorite places to hang around in New York is the Chelsea gallery district. Many of the galleries are priced out of our zone, but we’ve made friends at a few like Danese and have bought regularly from them. Others, like Bertrand Delacroix, are regular stops for us when we are into.
Yesterday we wandered into Bertrand Delacroix. I immediately fell in love with two pieces by Beth Carter – the red Horsechild above and the Minotaur below. We now own both of them – the Horsechild will keep me company in my office and the Minotaur will guard my office door.
We had our Foundry Group annual meeting yesterday. I enjoy our annual meetings – we get to spent a focused chunk of time with our investors. We have a straightforward meeting – a dinner for our advisory board the night before, drinks after for all LPs, our advisory board meeting first thing in the morning, and then the full meeting until lunch time. There’s no crazy party, no big events – just substance on our part and direct interactions with the investors supporting us. Our goal is simple – provide a clear update about what is going on in our funds, talk about what we are thinking about, and get direct feedback from our investors.
We spend the day before the meeting as a team putting the final touches on our presentation and reflecting on the previous year. We always talk about our key principles that we established when we started Foundry Group in 2007. One of these key principles is a “thematic investing approach.” An important part of our themes is that they are continuously evolving (if interested, we publish details on how we are currently thinking about themes on our Foundry Group website.) Our LPs understand this well and always like to hear how we are currently thinking about themes at our meeting.
On Tuesday, we realized that we have made several investments yesterday that have a concept in common – that of raving fans. I first thought of raving fans when I read Ken Blanchard’s book by the same name in 1993 when I was CEO of Feld Technologies (my first company). The message rang true for me then and still does today. The tl;dr version is “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better. Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create Raving Fans.”
Our investment in Sympoz (owners of Craftsy) is an example of a company built on raving fans. Craftsy is a community of people who love to make things - knitters, quilters, sewers, jewelers. If you know a knitter (I do – Amy is a fanatical knitter as is my mom Cecelia) you know that knitters are “raving fans of knitting.” We invested in Sympoz in our Distribution theme, but it has this special characteristic around its community that felt a little different to us.
We classify our investment in SideTour as “Other”. We say that we aren’t slaves to our themes – we’ll occasionally do something outside of a theme if we love the entrepreneurs and have a special connection to them. In the case of SideTour, they were one of our favorite companies in their TechStars New York class and we were infatuated with the types of experiences they were talking about providing in their marketplace. As we were talking about Sympoz (which is doing extraordinarily well) and SideTour, we realized that the “raving fans” concept applies to each of them.
I had a call yesterday with another entrepreneur running a company that we passed on the seed round. We all like the entrepreneur a lot, but the company didn’t feel like it fit in any of our themes and was too vertically oriented for us. The company is doing great and as we were talking about it a week or so ago we said “it feels a little like Sympoz, but has some characteristics of SideTour.” Yesterday, when I was talking to the entrepreneur, I realized it also was about a community of raving fans.
I love raving fans as the phrase for this theme since it sets an incredibly high bar of the dynamics of the people in the community these companies appeal to. These aren’t “vertical social networks” or “vertical exchange marketplaces” – there is something deeper going on in the relationship between the people and the company, and the people and community. And it’s something that is magically enabled by the current state of technology – mobile, video, real-time social – a bunch of things have come together than make this work.
Look for more on raving fans from us as it evolves. For now, you have a little bit of a window into how we think about themes.
Update – My partner Seth reminded me that our investment in CrowdTap (in our Adhesive theme) is all about helping brands interact with their raving fans, Todd Sawicki said “dude – how about Cheezburger” (in our Distribution theme) and Jeff Malek, the co-founder of BigDoor (in our Glue theme) said “ahem!” So it seems like we’ve got a lot companies involved in the construct of raving fans!
I am so psyched about the launch of Sphero. I’ve got mine (one of the first 10 made) and the line is gearing up to start shipping them out soon. Today I saw some of the new things getting cooked up to add on to the product and they are super amazing fun.
Today is Finance Friday and post #2 has been drafted by the Finance Friday team from University of Chicago Booth and is waiting for my edits. I’m procrastinating so I thought I’d write one of my periodic public service announcement for entrepreneurs. This one is more specific than “ignore the macro economy” – instead, it’s “ignore the Dow and the stock market and get back to work on your business.”
Tom Evslin had a post up this morning titled Don’t Watch The Dow! that caused me to say “right on.” In 1999, 2000, and 2001 I had a my.yahoo.com page up with a bunch of stocks, including a number of companies I was an investor in, as my home page. I’d hit refresh 5,321 times a day, generating plenty of CPM-based revenue for Yahoo. I’ve written about the emotional ups and downs in the past so I won’t repeat myself here other than to say this activity had zero impact on the stock market (I couldn’t do anything about it), it didn’t change my short term decision making (I’m not a trader), and all it resulted in was sucking a huge amount of emotional energy out of me.
When the market went down, I felt sad. When it went up I got the emotional equivalent of a sugar high. When it went back down again, I was bummed. Up – smile. Down – depressed. Up – happy. Down – cranky. And this was all before lunch time. Maybe it was too much coffee or not enough sleep, but it got even worse when the market shifted from 1/8s too 0.01s.
As an entrepreneur, this was all noise. As a long term VC investor, it was also all noise. Sure – the broad cycles had impact, although lots of people disagree on what they actually mean (e.g. do VCs actually benefit long term from down cycles, are the best companies started in recessions when everything is cheaper and more available).
Over time, I’ve learned that none of the short term moves in the stock market matter at all in my life. It’s occasionally entertaining to turn on CNBC and see my friend Paul Kedrosky in the octobox telling all the other people that they don’t actually understand macro-economics, but it’s no different than watching McEnroe when he’s announcing a Nadal – Federer match. It’s just sport.
So – for all the entrepreneurs in my world, take Tom’s great advice. Don’t Watch The Dow! And if you think Scott Kirsner is being sarcastic in his post titled How the players in the innovation economy rationalize away stock market dives, take a deep breath and consider whether the use of the word rationalize is correct or not.
Now, get back to work on something you can have an impact on!
Today on Brad Feld’s Amazing Deals I’m bringing you another offer from the online academy Udemy.com. A few months ago, Udemy was responsible for one of my most popular deals to date, a suite of deals relating to startups. Today they are offering your choice of two courses for $75 (normally $250). Pick either Learn to Develop an iPhone or iPad application in 4 weeks or Learn Python the Hard Way. Both courses include multiple videos, lectures, and code examples.
If you were one of the 100+ people that bought the last Udemy deal, I’d love to hear your feedback on the course.