They Can’t Kill You And They Can’t Eat You

It’s the summer of 2001. The NASDAQ peak is in the rear view mirror. Many Internet companies are struggling. I’m sitting at the breakfast table at Len Fassler’s house in Harrison, New York drinking a cup of coffee and chewing on a bagel.

Len and I co-founded Interliant (originally Sage Networks) with Steve Maggs and Rajat Bhargava in 1996. We took Interliant public in 1999 on the second attempt (the SEC didn’t clear the filing until a week after the end of the first road show, our first of many misfires with Merrill Lynch, who was our lead banker.) At the peak in the spring of 2000 Interliant hit $55 / share and was worth over $3 billion. By breakfast in the summer of 2001, the stock was trading under $1 / share.

I was exhausted. In addition to my role as co-chairman of Interliant (Len was my co-chairman), I was also a partner at Mobius Venture Capital, sitting on over 25 boards, including five non-US companies. I was on three other public company boards, including being co-chairman of MessageMedia with Jerry Poch, who was Len’s partner in their previous company (AmeriData Technologies – which had bought my first company – Feld Technologies – in 1993). I’d known Len and Jerry for almost eight years and was deep in it with each of them in parallel universes, as MessageMedia was also trading at under $1 / share that summer after reaching a high of $15 / share (and a $1.5 billion market cap) in the spring of 2000.

Back to breakfast. I’m chewing on my bagel staring out the kitchen window wondering what new version of a fucked up shit storm I was going to experience during the inevitable long day that would unfold. I no longer remember why I was at Len’s house that day, but I often stayed at his house when I was spending time at Interliant’s headquarters which was in Purchase, NY. I do remember that the coffee was hot.

Len walked in with a bounce in his step like he had every time I saw him. He stopped, looked at me, and said “what’s wrong?”

I looked up at him and said, “I’m tired. I didn’t sleep well last night. I know today is going to suck. I don’t feel like I can catch a break.”

He looked at me, walked over slowly, stood behind me, put his hands on my shoulders, and said, “Suit up. They can’t kill you and they can’t eat you. We’ll get through it.”

He then gave me a hug from behind. He patted me on the chest and went to get a cup of coffee. I sat there silently for a moment, stood up, turned around, and smiled at Len.

“Thanks,” I said, from the bottom of my heart.

This time he gave me a real hug.

That was the moment when everything changed for me. Len had already had an extremely successful business career. His last company – the one he built with Jerry Poch that had acquired my first company – was bought in 1996 by GE Capital for $500 million. He didn’t have to co-found Interliant with me, Steve, and Rajat. He certainly didn’t have to get up every day and go to the office, which by the summer of 2001 was a real business battle on multiple fronts.

But he did. With a smile. Not just for him, but for everyone he worked with.

Since I’d first met Len in the spring of 1993, he was beloved by almost everyone around him. Sure, every now and then someone didn’t fall head over heals for him, but the number of people who would follow him anywhere, do anything for him, and work tirelessly for whatever he was involved in were endless.

I was one of them.

In that moment, I realized why. Ever since I had met Len, he gives more than he gets. The amount of energy he put into me, and his relationship with me, was unexpected by me when he bought Feld Technologies in 1993. I immediately felt a connection to him and his partner Jerry, which is part of what caused me to ultimately agree to sell Feld Technologies to them. As time passed, I felt loyal to Jerry, and learned an enormous amount from him, but I loved Len.

In the summer of 2001, I felt guilty about dragging Len into the mess that had become Interliant. When I’d mention this to him, he’d tell me to let it go – it was his choice to get involved. As the shit got deeper, there was no time to feel guilty as all our energy was aimed at trying to save this company that was clearly failing.

There wasn’t a single day that Len didn’t give it his all. Even after the point at which he knew there was no way he’d see a dime from Interliant. We had both invested money up front along with a huge amount of time and personal credibility into the company. We had each hired friends, bought companies from people we knew (and had gotten to know), and spent late nights doing unnatural acts to get the company to the point where, in 2000, it was doing $50 million of revenue a quarter and seemed to be a very successful Internet business.

One year later we were on a steep downhill slope to a failed business. But Len kept showing up every day and doing everything he knew how to do for all the people still involved. Including me.

As we got in his car to drive to Purchase, with the ever-present smell of cigars that Len smoked on walks and the end of the day, I once again told him thanks. I didn’t realize it yet, but that morning fundamentally shaped the way I would think about the rest of my working life.

They can’t kill you and they can’t eat you.

And, if that’s true, why do you do it? And how do you do it?

The $100K Award At The CU Boulder New Venture Challenge

In the fall of 2007, my friend Phil Weiser, Executive Director of CU Boulder’s Silicon Flatirons Center, convened 25 leaders from CU Boulder and the Boulder / Denver startup community. We spent an afternoon talking about the idea of an entrepreneurial university. Phil called the meeting a Roundtable, even though the table was long and rectangular.

The discussion that day was heated. Some in the room that day questioned whether entrepreneurship should – or even could – be a significant part of CU Boulder. Others made the case for entrepreneurship. Few of us anticipated the level of follow up from that discussion and the report that emerged set the stage for a lot of activity at CU Boulder over the ensuing decade.

One of my suggestions at the 2007 Roundtable was to borrow some ideas from the MIT 100K competition, which was started in 1989 as the MIT $10k. I got involved as a judge in 1993 and was active through 1997 with occasional visits to the finals in subsequent years when I was around Boston. When I reflect on my investment activity, including companies that went through the MIT 10K (NetGenesis, Harmonix, abuzz, and a bunch of others), I probably should have just invested $25,000 in every finalist company over the last 25 years.

In 2008, a group of student and faculty volunteers from CU Boulder launched the CU New Venture Challenge. Nine years later, the CU NVC today provides a platform for anyone – faculty, staff or student – who wants to start a company. The NVC integrates the campus by including all schools and departments. Mentors from the Boulder / Denver startup scene are deeply involved and many companies are emerging from the NVC, including Revolar, Pana, and Malinda.

Amy and I have decided to help take the NVC to the next level. Our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) is teaming up with the Caruso Foundation (Dan & Cindy Caruso) to offer a $50,000 investment prize offered to the “Most Fundable Company” at the 2017 NVC 9 Championships. This is in addition to the $25,000 prize money that the NVC already has available. Jason Mendelson will select and announce the Most Fundable Company winner, who can elect to take investment in the form of a convertible note, at the NVC 9 Championship.

So, the CU NVC is now is $75k competition. Next step, $100k … Finals are Thursday, April 6, at 5:30pm.

iOS Border Crossing Mode

Now that US Border agents are aggressively asking for your cell phone and passwords when you cross the border, it’s time for Apple and Google to add a new feature to iOS and Android. The feature is needed because it’s not enough to just lock your phone, or turn it off before you go through the border.

A while ago, to make it easy to comply with FAA regulations, which many believe to be unnecessary,  iOS airplane mode and Android airplane mode were created. I’ve always been mildly fascinated with the feature because it’s a good example of Apple and Google doing something clever to make the use of their product super easy in a particular context.

I’ve read a few articles that say you should delete all of the apps on your phone before you cross the border. Since most of your data is likely in the cloud, this isn’t a big deal in terms of data. But, it’s a huge hassle to delete the apps, reinstall, and then log in after they’ve been installed.

Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a button that turned on iOS Border Crossing Mode? When you clicked this button (liked iOS Airplane mode), iOS would upload any local data to your iCloud account, delete all the apps on your phone, and lock your phone to only be used with your password. Even if border control forced you to enter your password, they would now be confronted with a phone that didn’t have any data on it.

Then, after you crossed the border, you could turn iOS Border Crossing Mode off and all of your apps and any local data would be restored.

Theoretically, you could be forced at the border crossing to deactivate iOS Border Crossing Mode. I have a feeling the ACLU would have a field day with this.

#EarthMatch – Supporting Earthjustice Because Our Planet Needs a Good Lawyer

Planet Earth needs a good lawyer.

If you are as appalled as I am by the hostility of the Trump Administration to climate change, clean energy, and what appears to be a systematic effort to dismantle the EPA, then please support this month’s #EarthMatch fundraiser that JoanneFred, Amy, AlbertSusan, and I are matching up to $30,000.

This month we are funding Earthjustice, which started in the 1960s as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. Since then, Earthjustice has been the legal backbone for thousands of environmental organizations. They leverage their expertise and commitment to fight for justice and advance the promise of a healthy world for all. Earthjustice’s courtroom fights remain the last lines of defense for many of our crucial public health protections and the nation’s cornerstone environmental laws.

What Earthjustice does – go to court to force government action, make polluters clean up their messes, and hold dirty energy industries accountable – is now more important than ever.

Here is how #EarthMatch works:

  1. Go to our EarthMatch page on Crowdrise and give any amount (minimum is $10).
  2. After you complete the donation, tweet your donation out using the blue Tweet button on the post donation page. That will register it for our match.
  3. If you don’t use Twitter, you can forward your email receipt by following the instructions on the post donation page. Tweeting is much better though as it will amplify the campaign.

Please join us in doing that to get the word out. And please donate to Earthjustice. We will match your donation up to $30k of total donations this weekend.