Something New Is Fucked Up In My World Every Day

In The Cave of DemonsThis is one of my favorite lines to use to explain the business life I live. When asked what it’s like to be a partner in a VC firm, be on a bunch of boards, and have a continuous stream of random interaction come my way, I like to level set my reality.

It’s simple. Something new is fucked up in my world every day.

Now, just because something new is fucked up, doesn’t mean I’m unhappy. Quite the opposite – I’m usually happy, although when the pile of fuckedupness gets high enough I get tired. And day after day after day of 12+ hour days also make me tired. I used to be able to work through the weekends – now at 49 years old I need them to recover, get patched up by Amy, and get ready to go back out there.

Jerry Colonna at Reboot.io tells a wonderful story about the crucible of leadership on Fred Wilson’s blog with a section titled Eat Me If You Wish (read the whole post but the parable is about half way through.) It’s worth repeating here. Take your time reading it.

“One day,” begins a story re-told by Aura Glaser in thelatest issue of Tricycle Magazine, “[the Buddhist saint] Milarepa left his cave to gather firewood, and when he returned he found that his cave had been taken over by demons. There were demons everywhere! His first thought upon seeing them was, ‘I have got to get rid of them!’ He lunges toward them, chasing after them, trying forcefully to get them out of his cave. But the demons are completely unfazed. In fact, the more he chases them, the more comfortable and settled-in they seem to be. Realizing that his efforts to run them out have failed miserably, Milarepa opts for a new approach and decides to teach them the dharma.

“If chasing them out won’t work, then maybe hearing the teachings will change their minds and get them to go. So he takes his seat and begins… After a while he looks around and realizes all the demons are still there…At this point Milarepa lets out a deep breath of surrender, knowing now that these demons will not be manipulated into leaving and that maybe he has something to learn from them. He looks deeply into the eyes of each demon and bows, saying, ‘It looks like we’re going to be here together. I open myself to whatever you have to teach me.’

“In that moment all the demons but one disappear. One huge and especially fierce demon, with flaring nostrils and dripping fangs, is still there. So Milarepa lets go even further. Stepping over to the largest demon, he offers himself completely, holding nothing back. ‘Eat me if you wish.’ He places his head in the demon’s mouth, and at that moment the largest demon bows low and dissolves into space.”

I put my head in a demon’s mouth every single day. Often, it’s a different, or new, demon. Sometimes it takes me a few days to get ready for this so the demons back up. Other days two or three new demons appear and I can only deal with one of them so the others hang around.

I learned how to deal with this in 2001. That year started out miserable with companies I was involved failing all around me. I did everything I knew how to do to help. I’d go to bed at the end of the day thinking, “Ok, that totally sucked, but tomorrow will be better.” It wasn’t – each day was worse. By about June I realized that every single day of 2001 had been worse than the previous day. I finally metaphorically threw up my hands and internally said, “Fuck it, let’s see what the world can bring on today.” That’s when I started to sit with the demons.

Up to that point, I was fearful of what the day would bring. I would fight against it. I would thrash around looking to solve every problem, chasing the demons around my cave trying to get them to leave. And then 9/11 happened, on a beautiful morning in New York, while I was fast asleep in a hotel room in midtown Manhatten at The Benjamin Hotel after taking a redeye from San Francisco. As the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, Amy frantically called me from the road as she was driving to the airport to come visit me in New York. I had turned off my phone so I expect I snored happily away as the first tower fell. When I finally woke up I to whatever station the clock radio was on, I thought it was all a joke. For about a minute, I struggled through the post redeye haze that enveloped me, along with the existential fatigue I was feeling from nine months of companies failing everywhere, people being angry, unhappy, depressed, stressed, scared, and under immense pressure, and then I realized it wasn’t a dream.

When I finally woke up enough to turn on my phone and call Amy, I was lucky enough to get through. She pulled over to the side of the road and cried. She was sure I had been on one of the planes that had crashed. After a few minutes, we realized a trip to NY was silly so she turned around and went home. I then took a shower and tried to process what was going on and figure out what to do next.

There’s a lot more from that day that shaped me, like it shaped so many others, but suddenly many of my demons just disappeared and went to torture other people. I realized that as fucked up as my world was, it was trivial compared to what was going on 60 blocks away. While I was terrified and trapped in The Benjamin for a while, I had at least four hours before I took action to just sit and process things.

Dealing with the particular set of demons in my cave at this point to another three months. That period was my second of three clinic depressions that ended around my birthday on December 1st. I spent these three months sitting with all of my demons, welcoming more into my world, and just learning from them.

When the really scary ones showed up, I didn’t fight. I just placed my head gently in each of the scary demons’ mouthes and said “eat me if you wish.”

Just like with Milarepa, it worked. And it’s now how I live every day.

Trying Something New On Immigration In Colorado

I’ve been working on the Startup Visa since I first wrote about it on 9/10/2009 in my post The Founders Visa Movement. While there has periodically been improvement on the margins on the issue, I think our federal government has broadly failed us on this front.

So, I’m going to try something different. Yesterday, CU Boulder announced a new Entrepreneurs in Residence program to be administered by the Silicon Flatirons program. While the program is open to any entrepreneur, including those in the US, we are particularly focused on international entrepreneurs.

Through extensive work with Craig Montuori and leadership from Phil Weiser, the Dean of CU Law and head of Silicon Flatirons, we’ve come up with a neat approach that follows from the work that was done in Massachusetts, led by Jeff Bussgang and others, and originally approved as a major state initiative, only to see its funding pulled back after the recent election cycle.

The program in Colorado follows a similar approach with one major difference. It’s privately funded and doesn’t rely on anything from the state. My wife Amy Batchelor and I are putting up most of the funding for the first year program. It’s a major gift from us and more of me trying to put my money where my mouth is on issues I care about.

In the next 12 months, we’ll have four EIRs as part of the pilot program. They will be employed by CU Boulder for 20 hours per week and will receive a stipend of $25,000 per academic year (which starts in July). We’ll cover the cost of the H1-B visa if necessary, which is easy to acquire because H1-B visas for universities are uncapped.

Importantly, consistent with university policy and applicable law, entrepreneurs in the program will be free to work on their existing entrepreneurial ventures or start a new company.

We have a broad model for engagement in Boulder for new entrepreneurs. Between Techstars, Galvanize, Silicon Flatirons, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, and many other accelerators, there will be significant mentorship opportunities. In the summer time, they’ll be part of Startup Summer (run by Startup Colorado in conjunction with Silicon Flatirons) along with being paired with a new MIT MBA Summer Internship in Boulder that I’m about to roll out (ah – foreshadowing…) And, with our broad #GiveFirst attitude across the startup community, they’ll be welcomed with open arms.

I’ve gotten worn out on the federal level immigration fight. I’m happy to continue to participate in advocacy for change around visas for entrepreneurs, but I’ve decided to focus my energy, and money, on exploring and experimenting with state-oriented solutions.

If you are interested in applying for one of the four EIR slots, just drop me an email and I’ll plug you in.

Book: The Intel Trinity

As of today The Intel Trinity,The: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World’s Most Important Company wins my award for best business book of 2015.

I got an Apple ][ for my bar mitzvah in 1978. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated with computers and the computer industry. I obviously missed the 1950s and 1960s, but the history of that time period has deeply informed my perspective, especially the definition of Moore’s law by Gordon Moore in 1965.

I work with many first time and young entrepreneurs who know the phrase “Moore’s Law” but know nothing about the origin story of Intel or the history of how Moore’s Law built the base of an industry that we continue to build on. I also know many experienced entrepreneurs who seem to have forgotten that the phenomenon we experience around innovation, disruption, innovators vs. incumbents, and radical shifts in the underlying dynamics of markets is nothing new.

If you fall into this category, as hard as it may be to acknowledge, get a copy of The Intel Trinity and read it from cover to cover.

Michael S. Malone has written another excellent book (he’s one of my favorite tech history writers) that does more than document the history of Intel and its impact on the universe. The best part of this book is understanding the characters of Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove, especially how they worked together as early co-founders (Noyce / Moore), an initial management troika (Noyce/Moore/Grove), and the subsequent leadership of Intel for 30 years. It’s a powerful example of founding entrepreneurs and their leadership of a company from inception, through several near death events, to sustainable market dominance.

It also gives anyone who says “this time is different” some perspective. Just remember, “All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.”

2430 Denmark, Garland, Texas

As Sean Wise and I roll through the Canadian edition of our tour for our latest book, Startup Opportunities: Know When to Quit Your Day Job, we’ve been talking a lot about the starting point of one’s entrepreneurial journey. I’ve talked about mine intermittently but was reminded recently about a summer that really started me down the entrepreneurial path.

2430 Denmark, Garland, TXAnyone out there recognize the house on the left? If your name is John Underkoffler, Pat Ruekert, or Mike Barron, you may remember one fine summer in 1986 when you lived there with me while I rented the house from Cecelia Feld for our home and office.

We worked on three different projects that summer. Pat and I worked on the software for the first major Feld Technologies customer, Bellflower Dental Group. Mike and I worked on DOSBox, which rolled into a Feld Technologies project for a while in 1987 but never went anywhere. And John and I worked on DataVision Technologies, another company I co-founded, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

While I count the real start of Feld Technologies as 1987, which was the year that Dave Jilk became my partner and we formally started up, Feld Technologies actually dates back to 1985 when I was using it simply as a consulting company for work I was doing. My first client was Petcom, a startup in the oil and gas industry where I wrote two software products – PCLog (for Well Log analysis) and PCEconomics (for economic analysis of oil and gas projects). Both were for the early IBM PC (each actually run on a dual-floppy disk 8088-based PC). Another early customer was AEC, which was a division of IHRDC (a long-time Feld Technologies customer). I can’t remember what I did for AEC, but I remember the name.

The Bellflower Dental Group project came via Kevin Parent, a fraternity brother and close friend for many years. Kevin invited me out to LA for Christmas break in 1984 and I met his step-father, Peter Wylan. Peter had a gigantic dental practice in Bellflower, CA (hence Bellflower Dental Group). He’d figured out how to be the dentist for all the union workers in the area and had something like 100 people working for him, cleaning teeth, doing bridges, putting on braces – that sort of thing. It was entirely manual – paper and insurance forms everywhere. Over a three year period I wrote, with Pat, software in Dataflex which resulted in a 100 user+ PC-based network that Bellflower ran their practice on until the early 2000s. The Y2K issue is a story for another day.

I can’t remember how Mike and I met but he was a DOS hacker and we decided to try to make a Norton Utilities like thing for all the different PC-based interrupt drivers. C was just becoming popular and most people were struggling with the linkage between C and the DOS-based interrupt schemes that let you do a bunch of things with the PC that weren’t in the higher level languages.

DataVision came out of a relationship with one of Petcom’s customers, a guy named Gabriel Prieto, who wanted to start a business around a science called Cephalometric analysis. I no longer remember Gabriel’s link to that, but it was pretty cool stuff at the time and John and I thought we could write some software to automate what was then a very manual process that included Xrays, drafting paper, rulers, and protractors.

In hindsight, all three of these projects were at the beginning of a very long arc of automation. One – the Bellflower project – was very successful. While the software that John and I wrote for DataVision (mostly John – I did architecture / design work) was “jaw dropping” (sorry – I couldn’t help myself), it turned out that there was no market for it so the company failed. And DOSBox, while neat, went the way of so many other things that were very neat hacks but had a short duration of relevance.

But the summer was special. It was the first time we were living in a house away from parents or college. We must have had four bedrooms in the house, although looking at it makes me think the bedrooms were very small. I know we each slept with a computer in a our room. They were all connected with a Netware network (something I was the master of – we were probably running Netware 2.10 – which was a beast to keep happy.) John had the coolest hardware because of the special graphics boards we needed (I think they were from Matrix but I can’t remember now – they might have been STB.)

Regardless, we were in post-adolescent nerd heaven. We kept the place clean since my mom owned it. We were far enough away from my parents that they didn’t bother us much, but it was easy to visit. I’m sure our neighbors wondered what we were doing with all the lights on at 3 am, but no one ever asked.

In some ways, it feels like yesterday, even though it was 30 years ago. And, as a bonus, I get to work with John Underkoffler on a regular basis since he’s the CEO of Oblong and we are his largest investor. We’ve both come a long way from cephalometric analysis.

Boulder Startup Community Members: Help Fund the Code for America Fellowship

If you are a founder or employee of a startup in Boulder and want to increase the overall effectiveness of our local Boulder government, please help us fund the Code for America Fellowship in Boulder.

We are raising a total of $75,000 to match the $75,000 being contributed to this effort by the City of Boulder. So far $30,000 of the $75,000 has been funded by my partners at Foundry Group, Rally Software, and the Anchor Point Foundation (the foundation that Amy and I run). If you’d like to contribute, either email me or donate online at the Code for America site.

Through the foresight of Liz Hansen and Jane Brautigam (the Boulder City Manager), Code for America is working on a project with the City of Boulder to help the city increase its engagement with stakeholders in Boulder around civic issues, including the city’s housing plan. As Jane mentions in her guest opinion piece, she believes this is the year for Boulder to be at its best. As she clearly states:

“It is my commitment to you, the community, that we are listening and that the city team is putting in place a number of new tools and work efforts to support inclusive, respectful and meaningful conversations in 2015, and beyond. These include the hiring of a new neighborhood liaison, a position that was approved last year by council as part of the 2015 budget; a new partnership with Code for America and local volunteers to develop better tools for online engagement and information sharing; and robust community participation processes for the work related to affordable housing, design excellence, our climate commitment, and our community’s comprehensive plan.”

This project resulted in us bringing Becky Boone, last year’s fellow with the City of Denver, to Boulder to spend seven months working with the city. Part of Code for America’s approach is that the city funds half and the community funds half, hence our call for action to support our half of the funding for the program.

Boulder is internationally recognized as a very successful startup community and this entrepreneurial approach fits Colorado well. However, with success comes challenges, including growth and issues of density. Today, Boulder has a population of about 100,000 and about 100,000 jobs. 60% of these job holders commute into Boulder for work while 40% live and work in Boulder in one of the 44,000 housing units.

With population and jobs estimated to grow to about 115,000 each by 2035, Boulder has a success problem. This is exacerbated by design constraints developed for the city in the 1960s and 1970s. The result of these “success problems” is in an increased tension around the discussion of the future of our city in the editorial pages of the Daily Camera, City Council meetings, and conversations around town.

In the search for simple solutions, almost every group in town has been blamed. Lately, the success of the entrepreneur ecosystem has started to become the target for criticism around these issues. As a result, a number of the leaders in the startup community, including myself, have recognized that we need to engage in the discussion to continue to evolve Boulder and make it even better than it is today, rather than simply exist in our own parallel universe.

While the Code for America project is only one activity in the midst of a bunch of different things, it’s a powerful way for the Boulder startup community to show that it’s serious about constructively engaging in talking about and working through our success problems. Help us raise the balance of the $45,000 of our side of the commitment by contributing today.