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I love origin stories. Yesterday at the kickoff of Techstars FounderCon, I stood on stage with David Cohen and David Brown as we went through the origin story of Techstars, followed by a build up of what has happened over the past seven amazing years. As the 50+ people working for Techstars stood on the stage at the end, I got chills. Afterwards I got feedback from a number of the 500 people in the audience that it was extremely useful context for them, many of whom joined the extended Techstars network in the past two years.
A few weeks ago, FG Press released the first book in its Techstars series titled No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur. It’s written by David Brown and is the origin story of David Brown and David Cohen’s first company Pinpoint Technologies.
If you recognize David Cohen’s name, but not David Brown’s, you have a new David in your world. Brown was one of the four co-founders of Techstars (with Cohen, me, and Jared Polis). A little over a year ago, he joined Techstars full time as one of the three managing partners – the other two being David Cohen and Mark Solon. Brown runs the organization day to day and Solon manages all the fund and capital formation activity.
While I’ve known Brown for seven years, Cohen and Brown have worked together for 25 years. Pinpoint was a self-funded company that was their first entrepreneurial endeavor. Like many other startups, it had many ups and downs but the David’s created a very successful, profitable business that was acquired by ZOLL (a Boston-based public company) in 1999. Brown stayed at ZOLL for a while, left, and then came back and ran ZOLL Data (the division based on Pinpoint) until last year when he finally left for good.
When I read the first draft of No Vision All Drive I immediately realized this was a powerful origin story. It shows the personal and professional development of Brown and Cohen as they grew from two guys trying to figure out how to start their business to leaders of a real company. Brown’s reflections on the experience are detailed and demonstrates his incredible talents as an operator. If you know Cohen, after reading this book, you understand why they are perfect partners and have worked so well together over the past 25 years.
It’s a delight to get to work with both of these guys. No Vision All Drive gave me deep insight into Brown and how to be effective working with him, as well as what to expect in the context of his leadership and management style. And it made me even more optimistic about the future of Techstars.
Our goal with the Techstars Series is to get out a series of books applicable to all entrepreneurs at an affordable price. So, instead of doing the default Kindle $9.99 price, or tying the Kindle price to the hardcover price, we are charging $4.95 for the Kindle version. We know there is no marginal cost to each incremental e-book so we want to provide it at a price that entrepreneurs won’t think twice about, which we pegged at the equivalent of a Starbucks Venti Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino .
If you are interested in origin stories or just want to better understand the guys behind Techstars, I encourage you to grab a copy of No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur.
As many of you know, I have a keen interest in the future of digital publishing.
One of the reasons we started FG Press was to give control and transparency back to the authors. Specifically, at FG Press the author gets 50% royalty on all books sold (up from the traditional 15%) and we employ the latest technologies, promotions, and marketing efforts to help the author build a personal audience who they have a direct relationship with. Ultimately, we want to create the foundation for how future long-form content (e.g. books) will be created and consumed as well as how the connections between reader and author will be established and managed.
But what about sales and distribution? It’s not enough to create great content. It’s equally important to get the content into the hands of avid readers. And, from our perspective, link the readers to the authors.
Right now, most readers purchase their ebooks from Amazon. But as Amazon battles Hachette and others, this could change. Amazon has no incentive to move away from their centralized online store where they own the consumer/reader and the data.
As an author, I’ve found Amazon’s lack of transparency on data to be frustrating. I can blame some of this on the traditional publisher, but given what could be possible, everyone falls short. As a reader, I find the lack of connection with the author infuriating. I know some authors don’t want to be bothered, but for the one’s who do, I’d love to interact with them directly. And, as an author who loves to hear from and interact with his readers, I often want to scream when I am confronted with the wall that is “the publishing industry.”
We’ve explored many different approaches. There are hundreds of startups working on a wide variety of things, many of which we are systematically incorporating into our infrastructure at FG Press. I’ve used some of them for my Startup Revolution series with many more coming now that we have a manageable way to deploy them, and a team to make it happen, versus just me in my spare time, which is basically non-existent.
One of these approaches is BookShout, a technology platform which can allow “any site to become a bookstore.” With iOS, Android, HTML5, and web apps, BookShout has created technology to power the sales and distribution of ebooks from nearly any site. It allows authors and retailers to do things that are difficult to do in the current publishing ecosystem, including:
- maintain brand identity
- generate more revenue
- build direct consumer relationships and like-minded communities
BookShout has also taken the additional step to make sure the content is connected and the distribution is social. As BookShout CEO Jason Illian often says, “Content is king, but viral, connected content is King Kong.”
BookShout’s unique implementation allows every brand or author to use Twitter, Facebook, and other technologies to build audience and naturally stimulate re-occurring purchases and interaction. As an example, not only could Ben Horowitz sell his great book The Hard Thing about Hard Things from the A16Z site (beyond just a banner ad that clicks through to a landing page with a link to Amazon and other places to buy the book), he could also leave notes and create conversations with readers, allow those readers to invite others into the fold, and create new offers and promotions for his next book.
If an e-retailer wants to sell ebooks alongside any of their products on their own site, they can now do so with Bookshout. If a media company wants all of their largest brands to provide ebooks, each brand can build its own community and stay connected around ebooks. If a bestselling author wants to sell her next book from her own site, she now has the tools to generate more revenue and build an audience. Ebay, Urban Outfitters, Nike, James Patterson, NPR, Walmart, Alibaba – they can now each control their own future.
I’m not an investor in BookShout, but I’m a fan and I believe they are on to something big. Look for more from them, and more from us with them.
Around the Foundry Group Offices we’ve been referring to Jane as “Sheryl Sandberg meets Chelsea Handler.” If you happened to catch my interview with Jane during Boulder Startup Week, you know exactly how smart, funny, and authentic Jane is. She’s a great CEO (who just sold Rudi’s Organic Bakery) with an incredible amount of experience on the front lines building and guiding businesses. Her writing style is funny while packing a serious punch.
I first met Jane on a street corner in Boulder in the rain. It’s not that random – my partner Seth Levine knew her and was talking to her when I ran into them. Jane sent me over a draft of the book – I read it in one sitting and loved it. We had just started FG Press and I told her immediately that this is the kind of book we want to publish. Fortunately, she was game to take a chance on us.
We’ve had a great time working together to get the book finished and launched. If you want a taste of the Sleep Your Way to TOP launch party at eTown, take a look.
Get your copy of Sleep Your Way to the TOP here, http://bit.ly/sywtbook, or buy it directly below.
And, if you want to learn a little more about Jane, in her own words, here you go!
Amy and I were going to have a bunch of friends over to our house today but we got rained out. So, I read Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State instead.
It was outstanding – 5 stars.
Let’s start with the punchline from Warren and Brandeis in their 1890 Harvard Law Review article The Right to Privacy where they assert that the right to privacy is primarily a “right to be left alone.”
Ponder that for a moment.
It’s a hot topic in my household since Amy did her thesis at Wellesley on the right to privacy. At the same time, I’ve been very open with my belief over the last decade that there is no more privacy, that the government tracks everything we do, and if you build your worldview around the notion that you have privacy, you are going to be disappointed. I guess I’ve been watching too much 24.
Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t think one should have a right to privacy. If I believed that, the philosophical arguments in our house would escalate dramatically. Rather, I gave up my own belief that I have privacy. And, I’ve felt for a long time that society is in a very unstable situation with regard to data, data privacy, and personal privacy. And I think this is going to get much, much worse as the machines further integrate themselves into everything we do.
So I view the problem of privacy at a meta-level. And as a result, I find books like Greenwald’s fascinating, powerful, and deeply insightful into the cause, effect, reaction, and second-order effect of humans trying to process what is going on, defend their position, and advance their perspective.
I thought Greenwald did a particularly good job of three things in this book:
- Painting a clear picture of Snowden, his character, and Greenwald’s experience interacting with him.
- Addressing the actions of the NSA that should cause outrage, or at least a deep, thoughtful conversation about what the appropriate boundaries for government surveillance in the United States.
- Demonstrating the tactics of the US government, especially through media which is sympathetic to the US government, in shifting the story from the main event (the NSA disclosures) to a continual campaign of discrediting the participants (Snowden and Greenwald).
It doesn’t matter which side of the issue you are on. If you feel like calling Snowden, and possible Greenwald, a traitor, you should read this book carefully. If you believe they are whistleblowers, or even heroes, you should read this book carefully. If you believe the government never lies, or always lies, you should read this book carefully. If you believe journalists aren’t caught up in the game, are objective, and have integrity, you should read this book carefully.
I’ve felt for a long time that it’s a real cop-out to call Snowden a traitor or just react to the surface of what is going on here. There are some really profound forces at work that will impact the United States, our notion of democracy, and privacy, for many years. And the second order effects, including how other nations view the United States and the other four of the Five Eyes or the implications on global companies headquartered in the United States, will impact us for many years.
And, as a bonus, there are lots of revealing PowerPoint charts in the book from the NSA documents which, in addition to driving Snowden and Greenwald’s points home, demonstrate that the US Government needs some courses in making PowerPoint slides nicer.
Wow. I needed a vacation. Amy reminds me that I say that on day three of each of our quarterly weeks off the grid. It doesn’t seem to matter how I try to pace myself or how recent my previous week off the grid was. On day three, when I’m not looking at email, anything on the web, or checking my phone, I just breathe deeply and say “wow I needed this vacation.”
Oh – and I decided to get over my fear of horses. I’ve been afraid of horses since I was a teenager. As a kid growing up in Dallas I rode a lot, but my brother had a nasty fall when we were riding together and that was that for me. Amy loves horses and has started riding regularly now that we live in horse country outside of Boulder so I decided it was silly for me to continue to be afraid of horses. So we spent a week at Miraval where I could ride every other day and do a few of their horse specific activities.
For example, here’s me painting a horse. Bonus points if you figure out what I painted on him (his name is HeartWind). Hint – count the vertical lines carefully.
As with most of my vacations, I read about a book a day. Here’s the list, in order, with short commentary.
Red Bang: I wanted to love this book. From the review it felt like a current day version of Microserfs: A Novel or JPod, two tech culture masterpieces by Douglas Coupland. While some of that came through, “The Company” (a thinly designed version of Microsoft) was too over the top ridiculous and many of the satirical moments fell flat for me. It was ok, but not great.
Sting of the Drone: I’ve devoured all of Richard Clarke’s fiction and they are all well written, incredibly relevant, and better than what a modern day Clancy treatment of the topic would be. The only issue I had with this one was the ending – it was too contrived, too many good guys died while the bad guys got shut down, and the neat tidy bow that wrapped everything up consisted of almost all of the protagonists dying in a fireball ending. Boo – more reflection after the climax needed, but otherwise outstanding.
The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph: I don’t know Ryan Holiday, but I heard of this book from Tim Ferriss and was intrigued by the description so I decided to dose myself in some stoicism. Dynamite book – I’m glad I put the time in. Holiday covers the topic well in a very accessible way.
Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising (APenguin Special from Portfolio): I figured I’d read the cannon on Holiday so this was next. If you don’t know what “growth hacking” means, this is a good intro. But if you do, this is a waste of time.
Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises: This was the heavy one of the trip – it took three days. Geithner has always been a cipher to me so I figured his autobiography and memoir on the financial crisis would help me understand him better. He did an amazing job with this book, both explaining what happened while explaining himself. The depth of his own introspection and understanding of his own being came through in the midst of incredible pressure and crisis. Once you realize he’s a deep introvert in a context that begs for extrovert energy, a lot of the puzzle pieces about him slide into place. After reading this book, I’m glad he was at the head of the NY Fed and the Treasury for the past decade. Regardless of your position on what went down during this time, this is a book worth reading for a clear perspective from Geithner’s point of view.
Sleep Your Way to the TOP: *and other myths about business success: I finished my trip by reading the final version of the second book from FG Press, our new publishing company. I’ve probably read the book a half dozen times during the edit cycle, but I hadn’t yet read the final version on a Kindle. More soon, but I love this book and Jane Miller is an absolutely star.