Mexican Food and Entrepreneurship for Lunch in Dubai

Amy and I are spending the week in Dubai on the annual Wellesley Art Trip. I’ve been doing some of the art stuff, visited one of our LPs, and have been getting together with local entrepreneurs and investors.

Yesterday, I had a magnificent two and a half hour lunch with three guys from BECO Capital – Dany Farha, Amir Farha, and Sorusch Amiri. It started ten days ago with an email from Sorusch in response to a tweet I wrote asking for a recommendation of a book on the history of Dubai.

“More than 3 years ago, we had this brief email exchange and to this day I’m telling friends and colleagues what a kind and responsive person you are. Since then I ended up at a venture capital firm in Dubai called BECO Capital.

Now it turns out that you are visiting Dubai and looking for a history book. I may not have a good recommendation on that but we at BECO would love to tell you all about this city’s history in person because the family of our founders have been living and working here for four decades.

If you have the time, we would absolutely love to take you out for lunch. :)”

We met at my hotel at 11:30 and rode over to Tortuga. After a few days of Italian and Middle Eastern food I was desperate for some TexMex. Dany, Amir, and Sorusch indulged me.

They then spent the next two hours answering questions that I had about Dubai, its history, entrepreneurship in the region, and the geopolitical dynamics with other UAE states, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran. Each answer begat several more questions as a I wandered into a wonderful new area of discussion I knew almost nothing about.

Magically, in addition to English, we shared a common language – entrepreneurship. At some point, I realized I had a huge grin on my face as Dany was talking about his family history in Dubai and how his own entrepreneurial journey has unfolded. While we touched on plenty of specific investment-related things, what was most fascinating to me was the energy, inspiration, and forward looking vision around entrepreneurship embodied in Dany, Amir, and Sorusch.

The region is tightly connected. On Monday, I had breakfast with Fadi and Fares Ghandour who run Mena Venture Investments and are co-investors with us in littleBits. Dany spoke fondly of Fadi, especially of his success and generosity around the current new generation of VCs like the team at BECO. My philosophy of inclusiveness and #GiveFirst was front and center in this conversation, and Dany, Amir, and Sorusch felt deeply aligned with my approach to investing and company creation.

At the end of lunch, Dany gave me three books.

  • Rashid’s Legacy: The Genesis of the Maktoum Family and the History of Dubai (Graeme Wilson)
  • Poems From The Desert (Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum)
  • Those Were the Days: Journals of Dubai (Shahnaz Pakravan)

Without knowing it, Dany, Amir, and Sorusch gave me the gift that I most treasure – knowledge. I learned more in two hours about Dubai and entrepreneurship than I could any other way. I have a lasting gift of a hand selected set of books that I’ll use to learn more. I had two hours of intense conversation with three guys I expect I’ll have an ongoing relationship with. I have a new thread of inquiry into a part of the world I know very little about.

Most of all, I had yet another moment of reinforcement of the power and importance of entrepreneurship around the world.

Dany, Amir, and Sorusch – thank you for the time today. I hope to see each of you again soon.

Creating Unexpected Joy

Values matter. A lot.

Sure, every company has a set of stated values. But the great companies live these values, which permeate the culture and drive every company decision. Moz and Gnip are two such companies. GiveForward is another.

GiveForward is a medical crowdfunding community that helps friends and family rally support around their loved ones during times of need. At their core they believe that no one should have to face an illness alone. They have derived a mantra, “Create Unexpected Joy” (CUJ), from this core belief which they describe as “surprising people with unexpected gifts of humor, compassion, and humanity.”

If you visit their office you will see CUJ written on their walls and you will hear the words C-U-J come up repeatedly throughout the day. But what I love about GiveForward is that CUJ isn’t just something they paint on their walls. It’s not simply a slogan or contrived corporate branding.

It’s something they do. Every. Single. Day.

For everyone at their company, CUJ is a way of life. Every decision from customer service to product development to whom they hire and fire is filtered through the lens of CUJ. They put their money where their mouth is – every employee at the company gets $500 per year to create unexpected joy for others with no strings attached.

I’ve been involved with GiveForward since 2012 because their values deeply resonate with my own.  The concepts of #GiveFirst and random acts of kindness are integral parts of my value system that overlap almost entirely with the concept of CUJ.

So when GiveForward reached out to me recently and asked me if I’d be the first money in for a new CUJ program they were launching called the GiveForward Community Fund, I decided to take them up on their offer to do a test run.

They said, “Brad, put in $1,000 and then give us a week to deploy the capital. We’ll send you the results after a week and if you are not impressed, we’ll make a $1,000 contribution to NCWIT.”

I’m a sucker for offers like this.

About a week later, they sent me an email with the results. They distributed $500 of the first $1,000 to a campaign for a father fighting late stage colon cancer.  The campaign goal was originally $40,000, but the $500 had a ripple effect. The random donation from the Community Fund inspired others to do the same and the campaign quickly exceeded its $40,000 goal. That night, the man’s daughter, who started the campaign for him, posted an update to their GiveForward page that read:

“I have personally never felt so much love and kindness in my entire life.”

Reading this update sealed the deal for me. I signed up on the spot for $1,000 a month.

I’m looking forward to being part of GiveForward’s Community Fund.  This is a company that leads with its values and I think they’re onto something here.  All it takes is one person to give forward randomly to someone they don’t know to set off a chain reaction of generosity that extends to thousands of people.

I’m delighted to help start this chain reaction and excited to see where it goes.

Three Startup Books To Buy Today

As a huge reader, I love the recent plethora of startup / entrepreneurship books. I’m involved in three new ones – one that I’ve co-authored, one that FG Press has published, and one where I’m part of a Kickstarter campaign. I encourage you to grab each of them.

The first is Startup Opportunities: Know When To Quit Your Day Job. I wrote it with Sean Wise, a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto. It’s aimed at the first time entrepreneur or soon to be entrepreneur who is asking herself the question, “Is this a good idea?” or “Is this an opportunity I should dive all in on?” I’ll be writing a lot more about this on my blog in the coming weeks. For now, go get a copy of Startup Opportunities.

The second is Bend The Curve: Accelerate Your Startup’s Success, written by Andrew Razeghi and part of the Techstars series of books. Andrew is a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is involved in Techstars. Bend The Curve includes a huge amount of information useful to any existing startup and I’m excited about what Andrew has put together. I’ve got a section in the book on board of directors and you’ll recognize many other contributors to this book.

The last is Eric Ries’ new project, The Leaders Guidewhich just launched on Kickstarter. One of the award levels is a day in Boulder with me, time with Techstars, several of my portfolio companies, a night at the St. Julien Hotel, and dinner with me at Kasa Sushi (my favorite sushi place in Boulder.) Oh, and you get a bunch of other stuff, including a ton of Eric’s Lean Startup work, access to the new community he’s creating, and special bonus lean startup content.

When I started my first company in 1987, there was almost no information on being an entrepreneur, starting, or scaling a company. While there were business biographies and lots of ego books, almost everything was about management and leadership of large companies. It’s awesome to see how that has changed and I’m glad to be a tiny part of it.

AppDirect Is Hiring After Closing a $50 Million Financing

Earlier this year, we took part in a $50 million Series D investment round in AppDirect. Headquartered in San Francisco, AppDirect makes it easy for businesses to find, buy, manage, and monitor cloud services from a central location. They also give providers and developers an easy way to distribute, sell, and market cloud services.

That last part is particularly interesting from our perspective. Many of our portfolio companies are those types of cloud services and the ecosystems that AppDirect powers can help them get to market faster, reach more users, and drive more revenue.

That might seem counterintuitive, since everybody knows where to find apps, right? Well, not always, and the process of managing multiple cloud services can be a mess. AppDirect takes all of that complexity, such as purchasing, billing, and provisioning, and makes it straightforward for each player in the ecosystem.

It’s radical simplicity at its finest and it’s one reason why we have been big supporters of AppDirect and the team going back to 2013. We first met the founders of AppDirect – Daniel Saks and Nicolas Desmarais – when they acquired Standing Cloud, a Boulder-based portfolio company of ours. A few months after the acquisition, they raised a Series C round led by Mithril which we participated in.

AppDirect’s innovative technology leads the industry, and the company’s values – humility, true north, intensity, ownership, and positive mental attitude – have helped shape a unique culture which continues to drive the company’s success.

AppDirect is growing like crazy and they plan to open more offices, in Silicon Valley and around the world, in the coming months. If you are interested in working in the emerging cloud service commerce market, check out the available AppDirect jobs.

Waking Up On The Other Side Of The World

Amy and I are spending the week in Dubai together. Today was our first day here and it reminded me of a great quote by Cayce Pollard in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.

“Jet lag is your soul catching up with you.”

That perfectly describes today. So, I’ll leave you with a bird’s eye view of Dubai starting from the Burj Khalifa, which is pretty epic at multiple levels.