High Technology Tell All Books

Tell All Books are nothing new and some of the most explosive ones of all time have already come from California (in and around Hollywood). Suddenly, tell alls are focusing on high tech companies instead of movie stars. So far this year two have been published with a lot of fanfare and I bet there are several others that are under contract from major publishing houses.

The first was Dan Lyons book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble which is about his time at Hubspot. I love that the very first review on the Amazon page for the book is from the Los Angeles Times and says “Disrupted by Dan Lyons is the best book about Silicon Valley today” as it is indicative of the content of the book, which I’d categorize as ironic at best and notionally confused. Why? Because, ahem, Hubspot is in Boston, where the majority of Lyons’ book was based.

The second, which I gobbled down on Friday and Saturday, is Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcia Martinez. This book actually takes place in Silicon Valley and we get to spend a lot of time at Y Combinator, Twitter, and Facebook.

Both books are classic tell alls, which is to say that they are juicy, salacious, sarcastic, nasty, critical, provocative, self-effacing, cringeworthy, and generally an effort in both education (“let me tell you how the world works”) and self-justification (“look at the injustice visited on me by how the world works.”) Each will titillate, depress, sadden, frustrate, and amuse you. Each will likely cause you to have conflicting feelings about the authors. I expect both authors view this as “the truth – at least my truth – is more important than being liked.” Or maybe they just got healthy advances from their respective publishers (Hachette and Harper).

While I have no interest in debating either Lyons’ or Martinez’s personal truth, I fell like their excessive cynicism and general loathing of most of the people they worked with undermined their stories. While big swaths of each books were fun to read, some parts of them didn’t ring true to me, especially in the case of Lyons, where I felt like I was reading the words of a sad and angry person trying to justify – in hindsight – what had happened to him. Occasionally there would be a bright spot and I’d feel like the story had turned a corner and was going to have some positive content, but in both cases they turned dark quickly again.

Having read my share of tell alls over the year, including some that were passed off as autobiographies, I mostly feel sad – sometimes for the writer and sometimes for all the people in his way. I hope that the process of writing the tell all gives some release and closure on what clearly was an unpleasant and unfulfilling life experience. Or, I’m hopeful it leads to more enlightenment, or a more satisfying role in life for the person, as it appears it has for Dan Lyons from a casual read of his blog.

I don’t know Lyons or Martinez, but I know plenty of people in each of their books. Sometimes I share their view of the people they write about. Other times I don’t. But I kept searching for some optimism somewhere in each of these books and found none. Ultimately, that is what disappointed me about each of the books.

Happy Birthday United States of America

I’m glad I get to live in the United States of America.

I started reading the Declaration of Independence every year on America’s birthday a while ago and just read it again. The famous line that always gives me chills when I read it is:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I believe that all men and women are created equal, but it took our country until 1920 to acknowledge this for women. And then it took until 1964, the year before I was born, to outlaw discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. And same-sex marriage became the law of the land in 2015. It took a while, but we have, and continue to make, progress as a country, and a species.

As we enter what most expect will be a very contentious, hostile, and nasty election cycle, I encourage everyone to remember that ultimately we are all on the same team. I think one of the brilliant parts of our democracy is how resilient it is. We are each allowed to have our own beliefs and, as long as we follow the rule of law, we can express them however we’d like. This is a unique characteristic of the best democracies and one I value tremendously.

I expect that over the next 40 years it’s going to get more, rather than less, complicated. We are currently in the middle of a confusing debate around gender identification which was presented in an easy to consume way in the New York Times Magazine article over the weekend titled The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes. We are beginning to talk about the idea of enhanced humans, and whether they should have the same rights as the un-enhanced. And, our fears of the coming AI Apocalypse are making headlines on a periodic basis.

I’d like to believe that in America, we’ll continue to be at the forefront of human society as we work through these issues. We have been since 1776 and I hope that continues at least until 2076. Happy birthday America.

The Responsibility Glitch

On Tuesday, Jerry Colonna and I had a fireside chat hosted by the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network titled Making Mental Health a Priority. We did it at DU in partnership with Project X-ITE and had a powerful afternoon.

Last night I had dinner with a CEO I like a lot where we talked about some of the things he was struggling with. I used a concept with him that I’d been mulling about and tried out publicly at the event with Jerry.

I call it the responsibility glitch.

It’s a glitch I’ve had, and have struggled with, since I was a teenager. It’s also a glitch I see in many founders and CEOs.

I started my first company when I was 19 years old. By that point I felt immense responsibility for what I did. I was at MIT working hard on school. I had spent the previous two years – part time during the school year and full time in the summer – writing software for a company called PetCom. One of the products I wrote for them (PCEconomics) was very popular in the oil and gas industry and sold a lot of copies. I got a 5% royalty on every copy sold so I was getting monthly royalty checks ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 (I think the largest one I got was just over $12,000.) I had a long distance relationship with my high school girlfriend who became my first wife. I was the treasurer of my fraternity. While I had an adequate amount of fun in college, I was very serious. And responsible.

As I drifted into my 20s, as my first business grew, I felt responsible for many things around it. I got married and felt responsible for the relationship, my wife, and her actions. I was in a Ph.D. program and felt responsible for the work I was doing there.

At some point, the glitch appeared. It was likely stimulated by a variety of things, including too much overall feeling of responsibility and no perspective on how to manage or modulate it. I had clinical OCD (although I didn’t know it at the time) and had a need to try to control everything in my environment, although my attempts to do this were often hugely irrational and often entertaining to others. For example, I came up with the notion that if every cigarette butt that I passed on the sidewalks in Massachusetts wasn’t parallel to the street then my mother would die. While I clearly had plenty of spare cycles in my brain to ponder stuff like this, the image of me wandering down the sidewalk straightening cigarettes with my sneakers still causes me to cringe even 30 years later.

Then my circuits overloaded. I got kicked out of the Ph.D. program. My wife had an affair and we ended up getting divorced. My business was fine, but the stress from it, and everything else around me was overwhelming. I suddenly started feeling responsible for things I had no business feeling responsible for. I worried about my ex-Ph.D. colleagues, how they were doing, and wondered what I could do to help them avoid my fate. I was empathetic to my ex-wife when she called to ask for help when she was having problems with her boyfriend. I felt responsible for every client we had and whatever flaws were in our software and every moment.

I felt too responsible.

This eventually overwhelmed me and was part of what trigged my first depressive episode which lasted two years. Fortunately I was in therapy so I had a good solid two years to explore the feeling of being deeply depressed and all the elements around it. While there was no joy in that, it was profoundly important to my character and who I am today.

One of the things I learned about myself during this journey was that by being too responsible, I caused a number of unintended negative side effects. Some of these were easy to identify. For example, I learned that I undermined the people working for me since I allowed them to be less responsible, since I’d overcompensate for them. I realized that I was spending a lot of energy trying to control exogenous forces that I had no influence on. As I understood and resolved my OCD, I figured out that I was exhausting part of myself by continually processing a bunch of irrelevant linkages between things that either didn’t need to be controlled, or that I had no ability to impact.

Over the last 25 years, I’ve seen many other founders and CEOs be in the trap of feeling too much responsibility. Their instantiation of this occurs in different ways. There are often elements that are powerful for short moments of time, especially in a crisis. But when the behavior persists, crazy shit starts to happen. Often, feeling too much responsibility is a destructive force to the people around the founder / CEO, the company, the founder / CEO’s family, or the founder / CEO herself.

When I’m sitting with a CEO who feels anxious or self-identifies as depressed, even when she can’t really articulate why or what it means, I often look for the feeling of being overly responsible. It’s common and comes out quickly. When I dig in, I often find the person feels responsible for everyone and everything around her except for herself. She comes last in the list and rarely even gets to herself.

This is the responsibility glitch. If you identify with this, I encourage you to be aware of two things. First, be responsible, but try to stay on the right side of the “too much” line. This is different for everyone, but there definitely is a line where your feeling of responsibility starts to become destructive.

More importantly, be responsible for yourself first. As Jerry likes to say, go on a continuous journey of radical self-inquiry. Understand yourself. Learn about yourself. Take care of yourself. Be responsible for yourself. Only then can you be constructively responsible for others and things around you.

And now it is time to go for a run.

Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation

Yesterday Hillary Clinton announced her Initiative on Technology & Innovation at Galvanize in Denver. I skimmed it quickly and was pleased with how substantive it was. I pondered what Trump’s equivalent would be and decided it is likely to be a tweet that says “Technology loves me.” Fred Wilson had a more constructive suggestion this morning, where he listed out the specific topics he felt were important to address and said that Hillary has now weighed in on them and he’d like to see Trump do the same.

I just read Hillary’s briefing carefully to understand what I agreed with, disagreed with, and thought needed more fleshing out. I didn’t fundamentally disagree with anything and was delighted to see a number of the initiatives I’ve been working on included. Regular readers of this blog will see lots of congruency with my efforts around National Center for Woman and Information Technology, Startup CommunitiesStartup Visa, Global EIR Coalition, Techstars Foundation, Net Neutrality, Open Internet, and Patent Reform.

Similar to my post yesterday on the agenda for the The Center for American Entrepreneurship I’m going to list the outline of the initiatives as an easily accessible overview. If this topic is interesting to you, it’s worth spending ten minutes and reading the full text of the Hillary Clinton Initiative on Technology & Innovation. And, in all seriousness, I hope Donald Trump puts out something similar so we can compare them.


Building the Tech Economy on Main Street

  • Invest in Computer Science and STEM Education
  • Building the Human Talent Pipeline for 21st Century Jobs
  • Increase Access to Capital for Growth-Oriented Small Businesses and Startups, with a Focus on Minority, Women, and Young Entrepreneurs
  • Attract and Retain the Top Talent from Around the World
  • Invest in Science and Technology R&D and Make Tech Transfer Easier
  • Ensure Benefits are Flexible, Portable, and Comprehensive as Work Changes

Investing In World-Class Digital Infrastructure

  • Close the Digital Divide
  • Launch a “Model Digital Communities” Grant Program
  • Connect More Anchor Institutions to High-Speed Internet
  • Deploy 5G Wireless and Next Generation Wireless Systems

Advancing America’s Global Leadership in Tech & Innovation

  • Fight for an Open Internet Abroad
  • Promote Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance
  • Grow American Technology Exports
  • Promote Cyber-Security at Home and Abroad
  • Safeguard the Free Flow of Information Across Boarders
  • Update Procedures Concerning Cross-Border Requests for Data by Law Enforcement

Setting Rules of the Road to Promote Innovation While Protecting Privacy

  • Reduce Barriers to Entry and Promote Healthy Competition
  • Defend Net Neutrality
  • Improve the Patent System to Reward Innovators
  • Effective Copyright Policy
  • Commercial Data Privacy
  • Protect Online Privacy as well as Security

Smarter and More Innovative Government

  • Make Government Simpler and More User Friendly
  • Open up More Government Data for Public Uses
  • Harden Federal Networks to Improve Cybersecurity
  • Facilitate Citizen Engagement in Government Innovation
  • Use Technology to Improve Outcomes and Drive Government Accountability

Book: Where The Jobs Are

A few weeks ago I had lunch with John Dearie to discuss a new non-profit he has started called The Center for American Entrepreneurship. Several friends and people I respect a lot are on the board, including Lucy Sanders (NCWIT), Troy Henikoff (Techstars Chicago), Bob Litan (Brookings Institute), Rebecca Lovell (Seattle’s Office of Economic Development), Monisha Merchant (formerly Senator Bennet’s Economic Advisor), Jonathan Ortmans (Global Entrepreneurship Network), Jason Seats (Techstars), Dane Stangler (Kauffman Foundation), and Vivek Wadhwa (Stanford).

When I know, work with, and respect more than 50% of the board of a new non-profit, I pay attention. I’m glad I did – the conversation with John was stimulating. He has a vision and the experience to create a non-partisan organization to engage and educate people, especially policymakers in government, regarding the critical importance of entrepreneurs and startups to innovation, economic growth, and job creation.

While that might sound like a mouthful, I’ve been railing against the limitations of the way our government thinks about entrepreneurship for a decade. I’ve had a number of meetings over the years with the Small Business Administration (SBA) whose name says it all. I’ve often encouraged them to rename themselves the High Growth Entrepreneurship Administration, or even to create a separate organization, or split the SBA in two, or, in a fit of libertarianism, eliminate the SBA altogether. But, I know that none of that is going to happen because of a number of factors, including the fundamental lack of understanding in government about the difference between small business and high growth entrepreneurial businesses. Oh, and inertia.

Over the last few years, I’ve been exploring the idea that we really have two types of small businesses: local businesses and startup businesses. Both are important, but they have very different needs and contribute to the fabric of our economy in very different ways. As John and I were talking, he slid his book, Where The Jobs Are: Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy, across the table to me. I turned the pages and then over the weekend I read it while laying on the couch after a run.

It’s a great book that every policy maker in government at any level should read. It’s the first book I’ve seen that lays out an effective set of policy recommendations, with substantiation, for the startup society that we are living in. Against the backdrop of total government confusion about economic growth dynamics, combined with endless shallow rhetoric about what to do, I found it to be refreshingly optimistic.

While The Center For American Entrepreneurship website has a series of pages describing the issues and solutions to them, I didn’t find a crisp summary of the book on the web. So I decided to create an outline of the policies and the recommendations. They follow. If you disagree with any, or have any to add, please toss them in the comments as I evolve this as a list of “ways government can help startup communities.”


“Not Enough People with the Skills We Need”

  • Incentivize STEM Education
  • Launch a Curriculum-Focused Dialogue Between Business and Education
  • Launch an Education Reform Dialogue Among America’s Educators
  • Incentivize Experienced Talent to Consider Joining Growing Startups

“Our Immigration Policies Are Insane”

  • Eliminate the Cap on H-1B Visas
  • Award “Graduation” Green Cards
  • Create a “High-Skill Immigrant” Green Card
  • Create a “Startup Visa”
  • Create CitizenCorps

“Not All Good Ideas Get Funded Anymore”

  • Make the SBA More Entrepreneur-Friendly
  • Incentivize the Formation and Commitment of Angel Capital
  • Fix Venture Capital by Fixing the IPO Market
  • Cultivate the Formation of Viable New Businesses
  • Increase Startups Access to Capital
  • Enhance the Science and Technology Capacity of the U.S. Workforce

“Regulations Are Killing Us”

  • Devise a Preferential Regulatory Framework for New Business
  • Require Third-Party Review of All Proposed Regulations
  • Create a Regulatory Improvement Commission
  • Rank States’ Regulatory Environment

“Tax Payments Can Be the Difference between Survival and Failure”

  • Establish a Preferential Tax Framework for New Businesses
  • Allow Cash Method of Accounting for the First Five Years
  • Allow 100 Percent Expensing of Business Investment for the First Five Years
  • Pass the Startup Innovation Credit Act

“There’s Too Much Uncertainty – and It’s Washington’s Fault

  • Gradually But Significantly Reduce the Federal Budget Deficit and National Debt
  • Enact Comprehensive Competitiveness-Enhancing Tax Reform
  • Increase the Research and Development Tax Credit – and Make It Permanent
  • Return Federal Funding of R&D to 2 Percent of GDP
  • Jump-Start America’s Trade Agenda
  • Negotiate a U.S.-China Free Trade Agreement
  • Combine and Modernize Unemployment Insurance and Trade Adjustment Assistance