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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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If You Can’t Explain What You Do In A Paragraph, You’ve Got A Problem

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Here’s an email exchange that I had in the past 24 hours with an entrepreneur. Remember, I try to answer all of my emails and be responsive to any inquiry – this was a random one (which I get between 25 and 100 a day).

Entrepreneur: I just wanted to touch base with you and see if you are taking on new startups right now.

Me: Can you send me a paragraph and I’ll tell you if it’s something we’d be interested in. Everyone else to bcc:

Entrepreneur: It’s difficult to accurately describe the company, myself, and everything else in a single paragraph. To write something so small but somehow include every important aspect is near impossible, if not impossible. My company is too complex to be described in a single paragraph. 

I responded politely that I didn’t think this was something I’d be interested in exploring. I did skim his longer description and took a look at the website (which was a landing page with some a vague description of the business.) I could determine from this that it’s not something we’d be interested in (it’s outside of our themes) but this entrepreneur also missed his chance to engage me more deeply since he couldn’t articulate what he was doing.

I was in Oklahoma City earlier this week with the entrepreneurs at the Blueprint for Business accelerator (it’s a member of the Global Accelerator Network). There were five companies there and in addition to the various talks I did around Startup Communities I stayed at BP4B until about 10pm doing 15 minute meetings with each of the teams. I did my typical 15 minute “top of mind drill” where I start by saying “tell me about yourself as quickly as you can and then let’s spend most of the time talking about whatever is on the top of your mind.” Several of the teams explained themselves in a minute or less and then had 14 minutes to ask me questions; several of the teams took five to ten minutes to explain themselves leaving less time for questions.

I strongly believe that a founder should be able to explain what they do in one paragraph. I’m not a believer in the “one sentence mashup approach” (e.g. we are like pinterest + groupon + facebook for dogs). Rather, I like three sentences: (1) what we do, (2) who we do it to, and (3) why you should care. Sometimes this can be two sentences; sometimes four, but never more than a paragraph.

Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes with one of the teams in TechStars Seattle that I’m a lead mentor for. They are a month away from Demo Day and wanted to practice the very rough version of the demo day presentation. I gave them a bunch of feedback – some specific, some general, including:

  • Show don’t tell
  • I hate doing the overview / bios at the beginning
  • You wasted the first 60 seconds
  • Weak explanation of what you are actually doing and why I care
  • Still don’t really know what you do

If you are an entrepreneur, you have less than 60 seconds to get an investors attention. Don’t waste it.

TechStars Boulder Gets Better Every Year

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TechStars Boulder Demo Day was today and all I can say is WOW! This is the sixth TechStars program in Boulder and I’m just blown away by the entrepreneurs, their companies, the mentors, the investors, and the Boulder community. Clare Tischer put up a TechStars Demo Day 2012 post with descriptions of the companies and links – rather than repeat that here, I’d encourage you to go take a look. There are already a handful of posts from various teams up – my favorite so far is a tribute to Nicole Glaros from the RollSale gang.

If you are an investor and missed demo day but find any of the companies interesting, it’s easy to connect with them via the TechStars Demo Day Email Intro App (ok – that’s not the official name for it, but it just reinforces that you shouldn’t let me name things.)

And – if you are interested in following the story of these teams, the Founders series is back in the fall that tracks a number of them through the program. Here’s the trailer.

I just got out of a meeting with one of the TechStars Boulder teams from the first program. They are going strong, have grown a sizable company, and are amazing people. It makes me so incredibly happy to get to hang out with and work with everything around TechStars. David – thanks so much for showing up for random day in 2006 – it continues to be an awesome journey.

TechStars Boulder Demo Day – 8/9/12

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On August 9th, TechStars in Boulder will wrap up with their annual Demo Day investment event.  If you’re an active investor and are interested in attending, send me an email and I’ll get you an invitation.

It’s always amazing to witness how the teams transform in three short months and this program has been no different.  This year, we have everything from internet-of-things companies to travel, enterprise software to consumer devices, and platforms to crowdsource plays.  There’s a strong showing out of Boulder this year and its yet another reason why my partners and I at Foundry Group continues to support the program.

I’ll be there all day so I’d love to see you.

HAXLR8R In San Francisco For Their Demo Day on June 18th

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I love software wrapped in plastic. So it warmed my heart when I heard that Cyril Ebersweiler and my long time friend Sean O’Sullivan were starting an accelerator in Shenzhen, China called HAXLR8R as part of their Chinaccelerator initiative, both which are part of the Global Accelerator Network.

Following is a guest post from Cyril about the program along with a link to their Demo Day event in San Francisco on June 18th.

Three months ago, what seemed to be a crazy idea became reality: HAXLR8R gathered 9 startups from the US, Europe and Asia in the electronics mecca – Shenzhen, helping entrepreneurs to kickstart their ventures based on physical devices.

Coming from various background (hackers, makers, academics, business) this new breed of pioneers took advantage of the convergence of several factors which have been playing in their favor across the last few years. To name a few: the ever growing computing power (and corollaries in the fields of vision, audio, and sensors), the cost drop for parts and prototyping, the higher quality in mass manufacturing, the increasing effectiveness of the logistics involved as well as the other benefits coming from the digital space such as crowdfunding (e.g. Kickstarter), communities (e.g. Thingiverse), collaboration (e.g. Upverter) and the natural viral effects of the social web. This fostered a new wave of entrepreneurs building products which were unthinkable a few years back.

But building and selling a complete hardware product is still hard. Really hard. The team needs to be composed of superstars who have a remarkable sense of market timing and vision in terms of product. The first iteration of a hardware product and its final version will have few in common, as new constrains (quality, costs, and time) are discovered by just witnessing the magic of ‘how it’s made’. Getting things done in China ensures that those needs are taken care of very early in the process, while providing a relative peace of mind to entrepreneurs after leaving the country as they now have a perfect understanding of their product but also a long-lasting relationships with their local partner.

The remaining traps to avoid are in the fields of logistics, distribution, financing and fundraising, among others. The HAXLR8R program aims at answering those very practical questions which – for the most part – have been dealt with hundreds of times by previous entrepreneurs, now turned into mentors. And they were many to come across the HAXLR8R office: the founders of MakerBot, Pebble and Sphero, an entire team from IDEO, Bunnie Huang and plenty others who have nurtured a group of people working in robotics, toys, connected devices, IOT, energy, appliances, self-quantified and medical.

The HAXLR8R team will hit San Francisco on June 18th for their Demo Day, which will be hosted at Autodesk on Embarcadero. If you are an investor and interested in witnessing a new leap in technology, I’d suggest you take a look and drop an e-mail to makeit [at] haxlr8r.com in order to register.

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