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Earlier today, I got a note from Andy Sautins, CTO of Return Path, about the four year anniversary of the Boulder / Denver Big Data Meetup. Andy is a good friend and one of the really strong CTOs in Boulder. It’s pretty cool to see what he and his gang have created around Big Data.
While Big Data is often an overused buzzword, this meetup is about helping people solve data problems in new ways that allow them to build and scale their business faster than ever before. Over the past four year over 1,850 people have joined our group with over 100 routinely attending the monthly meeting.
For the upcoming meeting, Ted Dunning will be talking about machine learning with Mahout.
Pre-orders for the new book Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business by Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path, are available now on Amazon. Matt, who writes the awesome blog Only Once (which stands for “you can only be a first time CEO once”) has put a herculean effort into writing an amazing book while running a very large company.
This is the latest book in the Startup Revolution series of books that include Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, and Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist.
I’ve worked with Matt since 2001 when I joined Fred Wilson and Greg Sands on the board of Return Path. At the time I was an investor in a company called Veripost that was a direct competitor with Return Path. Fred was an investor in Return Path. Each company was about 20 people. The founders knew each other well and were in a brutal competition in a market that didn’t yet exist. They decided they wanted to join forces, Fred and I cut a deal over the phone in 5 minutes, and Greg Sands (at Sutter Hill at the time) led a financing round that set a price for the combined company.
Twelve years later Matt is still Return Path’s CEO. George Bilbrey, one of the Veripost founders, is the President. They are incredible partners and Matt is still a first time CEO, but now running a 400 person company that dominates its market.
The book is broken up into five parts:
- Part I: Storytelling
- Part II: Building the Company’s Human Capital
- Part III: Execution
- Part IV: Building and Leading a Board of Directors
- Part V: Managing Yourself So You Can Manage Others
Matt has the entire outline of Startup CEO up on his blog. As with all books in the Startup Revolution series, it combines practical experience with advice with stories with commentary from other experts.
I think Startup CEO is going to be a must read for any CEO. Do Matt a solid and go pre-order it today.
Over and over again people talk about transparency. Many people assert they are transparent, or are being transparent. Few actually are.
I was thinking about this last night while watching the last few episodes of Revenge: Season 2 with Amy. Suddenly the word “transparent” started being thrown around by the Grasons, referring to their new found desire to be transparent. In this case, it was simply disingenuous - they are transparent only when it suits their purposes and usually as a setup of some other nefarious act they were about to perform (or had performed).
Whenever a word makes it into a TV show like Revenge, you know that it’s lost all meaning. And, as I’ve observed in the world of tech and startups I play in, transparency is used all the time to justify something, but rarely actually supported by behavior.
In the “everything that is old is new again” category, the master of transparency, and likely the originator of “open book management“, is Jack Stack. I remember meeting Jack and hearing him talk at the very first Birthing of Giants event created by Verne Harnish in 1991. I read Jack’s book – The Great Game of Business: Unlocking the Power and Profitability of Open-Book Management – about his experience at Springfield ReManufacturing Corp - and was blown away by his thinking. My first company – Feld Technologies – was definitely not run with an open book and Jack’s ideas were very provocative to me.
Over the years, several CEOs I’ve worked with have been incredibly open book, or – if you want to use today’s lingo – transparent. My two favorites are Matt Blumberg of Return Path and Rand Fiskin of Moz. Matt shares his entire board book after the board meeting with everyone at the company (now over 400 people). He’s been doing this since the beginning, and only redacts specific compensation information and occasional legal stuff. Rand shares – well everything – including one of the best, most detailed, and completely transparent posts about a private company financing in the history of private company financings.
When an entrepreneur says he’s transparent, I now ask “do you publish your board book to your entire company?” I view this as a benchmark for transparency. If the answer is “no”, then I ask the entrepreneur what he means by “I’m transparent.” If you can’t be open with your company about the information you report to your board, how can you actually be transparent?
Today, Return Path launched three new products and reframed its business as “email intelligence.” Matt Blumberg, Return Path’s CEO has an excellent post up titled Email Intelligence and the new Return Path.
Return Path is an extraordinary company that I’m proud to have been involved with for the past 12 years. At our board meeting last week, Matt gave me and Fred Wilson our 12 year anniversary gift – a pair of red Return Path-branded Adidas sneakers. I still vividly remember the phone call Fred and I had where we cut a deal to merge two nascent companies – Veripost and Return Path – in what became Return Path. We cut a deal in 10 minutes – I offered up a 50/50 merger and Fred suggested he wanted a little more since Return Path had raised 3x the money Veripost had. I responded with “how about 55/45″ and Fred said “it’s a deal.”
Twelve years later Return Path is company with over 300 people, major offices in New York, Boulder, and the Bay Area, and other offices around the world. It has created and leads an entirely new category we call Email Intelligence. In 2008, after plenty of forward progress as well as some twists and turns, we finished divesting several older lines of business and focused the company entirely on a new category we created called “Email Deliverability.” As we grew, we expanded the definition to the point where the word “deliverability” only covered a subset of what we did, hence the creation of the category of “Email Intelligence.”
Matt says it extremely well in his post:
“Our solution to these problems is email intelligence. Email intelligence is the combination of data from across the email ecosystem, analytics that make it accessible and manageable, and insight that makes it actionable. Marketers need all of these to understand their email performance beyond deliverability. They need it to benchmark themselves against competitors, to gain a complete understanding of their subscribers’ experience, and to accurately track and report the full impact of their email programs.”
I’ve been investing in and around email since my first email-related investment in 1994 in a company very creatively named “Email Publishing” which was the very first email service provider. Since then I’ve had a number of investments in email companies including Critical Path, Postini, and SendGrid. I’m psyched with the success and leadership of Return Path to date, love working with everyone at Return Path, and look forward to continuing the journey as we work to ensure that inboxes contain only messages that users want.
I love this time of year. I get up at 5am, catch up on email (holy shit – is it already 6:37?), write a blog post, go for a run, and then have a completely jam packed day full of working with amazing people. Some days are awesome, some days have crushing challenges, all of them are stimulating.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve run incredibly hot from Labor Day through Thanksgiving. The boundaries seem to be the holidays and the bookends are Amy‘s birthday (9/14) and my birthday (12/1). We often find ourselves in New York around Amy’s birthday and in some exotic warm beach place (like Mexico) on mine. Between the two is complete and total chaos, which is delicious when I give myself up to it rather than fight it.
Here are a few of the things going on this fall.
- We just closed Foundry Group 2012 – a new $225 million fund. We’ll start investing out of it before the end of the year.
- Companies we’ve invested in are doing major launches. Fitbit launched two new products yesterday (Fitbit Zip and Fitbit One), Return Path launches three today (Email Intelligence!), and MakerBot launches several magical things on Wednesday. Who needs Christmas – every day is Christmas around here.
- My fourth book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City comes out at the end of the month.
- The Startup Revolution has begun. If you wonder why this matters, take a look at this Kauffman Foundation research on The Ascent of America’s High Growth Companies.
- I’m running a marathon in Utah (St. George), Vermont (Burlington), and Michigan (Detroit) in October. This is the first time I’ve done three weekends back to back (I’ve done two before).
- Amy and I are traveling all over the United States like nomads – San Francisco, Boise, Oklahoma City, St. George, Chicago, Des Moines, Burlington, Seattle, Detroit, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Lexington (KY), and Palm Desert. I love this country (and Canada). I’ve learned how to ship my clothes to different places – that makes the travel a lot easier.
- Amy and I are finishing up the next book in the Startup Revolution series – Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur which should be out by the end of the year.
- A second edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist – which I wrote with my partner Jason Mendelson comes out, along with a teaching guide that Jason and Brad Bernthal (CU Boulder) wrote.
- I’m spending all of my extra time with my three partners at Foundry Group, who I love working with, including a top secret two day retreat, time together at Defrag and Blur, and a few magic meals along the way.
As my dad likes to say, “if you aren’t living on the edge, you are taking up too much space.” I’m enjoying the edge this semester.
If you happen to talk to Kelly along the way, tell her thanks for putting up with me. Or send her flowers. Or chocolate.