« swipe left for tags/categories
swipe right to go back »
I woke up to an email today from Aaron Schwartz, founder of Modify. I don’t know Aaron other than our email exchanges but he thanked me for Venture Deals which he said has been very helpful to him. His note went on to say:
A close friend of mine, and one of my best friend’s co-founders just passed away after a 15-month battle with non-smoker’s lung cancer. I thought the below article was incredibly revealing about how meaningful a partner and leader can be for a start-up. If you think it would be useful to other entrepreneurs, I hope you’ll take a moment and share it.
I went on to read Farewell Hansoo, We’ll Miss You, a beautiful tribute by Bhavin Parikh, the CEO and co-founder of Magoosh. At the end, I had tears in my eyes. Hansoo is 35 and just died of cancer, which was discovered a year ago. I have several friends fighting cancer right now and had one die last year and this story really touched me – of the intimacy of the relationship between co-founders, the beauty of spirit of Hansoo, and how rapidly loved ones and partners can be taken from us.
I just made a donation to the The Hansoo Lee Fellowship to support entrepreneurs. The fellowship will provide a stipend and mentorship to help Berkeley-Haas MBA students pursue their venture full-time for their summer internship, as Hansoo did. MBA students will receive a summer stipend of $5 – $10K, Mentorship from Haas alums focused on entrepreneurship, and office space.
I’ve spent the past two days at the Global Entrepreneurs Congress in Rio. It’s been really powerful for me as it’s shown how broadly the message of Startup Communities has taken hold across the world. At the point I can see that the Startup Communities movement is in full swing, the language and principles that I introduced in the book are being talked about, dissected, and improved on, and many entrepreneurs around the world are leading the development of the startup community in their city.
In a discussion with my long time friend Paul Kedrosky, we talked about a paper he’s writing about the number of “important companies” that get to $100 million in revenue. Our discussion shifted to the magic number – was $100m the right number for “important”, or was it $50m, or $25m, or even $10m. At some point we both realized it wasn’t about a magic number, but about the concept of “scaling up” a business once it had started up.
I’ve been hearing the phrase “scale up” a lot lately. The first time I noticed it being used was in Daniel Isenberg’s post Focus Entrepreneurship Policy on Scale-Up, Not Start-Up. While I didn’t agree with the tone of Daniel’s article, the meta-point, that we need to put more attention into focusing on scaling up businesses, range true with me.
I view the concept of startup and scale up as linked. You have to have a vibrant “startup community” to get to the point where you have enough interesting companies to “scale up.” Many geographies haven’t had enough focus on “startup.” That has dramatically shifted and entrepreneurs around the world understand what “startup” is, are learning and doing it, and a phenomenal amount of activity is happening around it.
So, I’m shifting my focus for the balance of 2013 on “scaling up.” Fortunately, I’ve got a great laboratory for this – the Foundry Group portfolio. Of the 55 active companies we’ve got in our portfolio, more than half are solidly in the “scale up” zone – some scaling very rapidly. In the same way that I used Boulder to form my thesis on Startup Communities, I’ll use our portfolio, and my activity with it, to form my thesis around scaling up. That’s where I’m going to turn my intellectual attention over the balance of the year.
This is consistent with the next three books in the Startup Revolution series – Startup CEO (written by Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path), Startup Boards (written by me and Mahendra Ramsinghani), and Startup Metrics (written by me and Seth Levine). Each of these are a lot more about “scaling up” than “starting up.”
As part of this, I’ve shut down all my travel for the rest of the year (starting in May, as I’ve got some commitments for the next six weeks that are too close in to cancel.) But I’m going to spending a lot more time in one physical place (Boulder), going deep on the notion of scaling up, while continuing to support the incredible energy around startups that has a wonderful and amazing life of its own.
Today appears to be government day on Feld Thoughts. This morning I wrote about the Colorado PUC trying to shut down Uber in Colorado (bad). Now I get to write about Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) re-introducing the Startup Visa Act of 2013 (good).
Mark – thank you – you’ve been an awesome supporter of this and leader of the effort since the first day we discussed it in 2009. Senator Flake – thank you for showing leadership on this issue.
Yesterday, as part of his Comprehensive Immigration Report plan, President Obama explicitly listed the Startup Visa as one of the initiatives.
Obama: “Create a “startup visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs. The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.”
He also supported stapling green cards to diplomas, something I’ve been advocating since my OpEd with Paul Kedrosky in the Wall Street Journal on 12/2/09 titled Start-up Visas Can Jump-Start the Economy.
Feld/Kedrosky: We also think science and engineering graduates should get visas stapled to their diplomas. You complete your higher education here, you get to stay so that you can get out and create jobs, innovate, and grow the economy. Uncle Sam wants you, if you’re a prospective entrepreneur.
Obama: “Staple” green cards to advanced STEM diplomas. The proposal encourages foreign graduate students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to our economy by “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States. It also requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in STEM careers.
Fred Wilson, who has also been a vocal leader for these initiatives, expressed his appreciation that these issues are now part of the national immigration reform discussion in his post The Startup Visa.
Wilson: The President announced yesterday that he was in favor of a Startup Visa. Hallelujah. … It’s a shame that it takes almost four years before a good idea gets the President’s support. And its a greater shame that there are many in Congress who will still vote against this idea.
Fred and I are both paranoid optimists – we both hope this gets done this time around. Our country deserves it. Senators Udall and Flake – thank you for the leadership here.
This first appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Accelerator series.
A few our entrepreneurial heroes work on more that one company at a time. Steve Jobs (Pixar, Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX), Jack Dorsey (Twitter, Square), and Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn, Greylock). And we regularly hear of entrepreneurs who are working at companies that acquired their first company who are now working on new companies while still at their acquirer.
It’s takes an extraordinary talented entrepreneur to be able to do this. So, should you try to emulate this? “Mostly” no.
If you are working on your first company or you don’t have a clear track record of success, put all of your energy into your first venture. Go all in, unambiguously. Your employees will expect, and respect this. Your customers will hope for this. Your investors will require this. And, the likelihood of your success will increase.
That said, I encourage every entrepreneur to have their own equivalent of Google 20% time, where you spend 20% of your time on something other than your primary company. If you are a first time entrepreneur, invest this energy in things that directly benefit your company. Find a peer group like Entrepreneurs Organization and invest time and energy in learning from and giving to your peers. Invest some of your 20% time in your local startup community, taking lessons from my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, which will have immediate positive impacts on you and your company’s reputation in your local ecosystem. Or invest actively in your own personal development as an entrepreneur through reading, spending time with other entrepreneurs, and actively engaging with accelerators like TechStars.
Once you’ve had some success, even if you are still running your first company, start expanding the definition of what “mostly no” means. I encourage every CEO I work with to serve as a director on another entrepreneur’s board. If you’ve made some money, don’t be afraid to make some angel investments in other companies. But stay focused on your business or else you might find yourself in a position where you suddenly don’t have the success you think you do.
Once you’ve sold your first company, or taken it public, you can start diminishing the definition of the word “mostly.” Some entrepreneurs love to be involved at the inception stage but don’t want to run companies. Others like to have a portfolio of companies they are working on at the same time, with one being the primary company. An example of this is my long-time friend and entrepreneurial collaborator Rajat Bhargava. We’ve now done nine companies together, with four of them currently active. Rajat is CEO of one of them (StillSecure) and a major shareholder and board member of three others that he’s helped co-found that I’ve funded (Yesware, MobileDay, and SafeInstance.) But this is an exception, build on a collaboration between entrepreneur (Rajat) and investor (me) over almost 20 years.
While it’s often tempting to start multiple companies, especially as you start to have some early success with your first company, resist this temptation, mostly.
This post first appeared in the WSJ Accelerators series titled The $100,000 Experiment in response to the question “When should you make a substantive change to one or more parts of your business model?”
During the past few years, the word “pivot” has become one of the most overused words with regard to startups. For some, it means a tiny incremental change in the business. For others, it means killing off whatever path you are on and rebooting the business, creating something entirely different. For others, it means everything in between.
A long time ago, I realized that every successful business was a continuous process of small experiments that operated in the context of a long-term vision. When an experiment worked, you did more of it. When it didn’t, you ended it and moved on.
The magnitude of these experiments are dependent on the stage and resources of the company. If you are a three person startup with very little money in the bank, your experiments are tiny ones. As you get bigger and have more success, your experiments can get larger.
I was once on the board of a company that was cash-flow positive early in its life. The entrepreneur decided to raise more money, even though he didn’t need to. I was perplexed and asked him why he was raising the amount of money he had decided to raise. His answer was that when he had no cash in the bank, he was willing to run $1,000 experiments. When the company was cash-flow positive, he was comfortable running $10,000 experiments. He now wanted to feel comfortable running $100,000 experiments, and this financing enabled him to do this. If he ran a $100,000 experiment and it failed, it wouldn’t tank the business.
When an experiment works, do more of it. So the $10,000 experiment that pays for itself in three days by generating $4,000 of gross margin on a daily basis is worth doubling down on and running at the $20,000 level. If this generates $8,000 of gross margin on a daily basis, double down again.
But if the first $10,000 experiment generates nothing, study the data that results from it. Make sure you measure your experiment. Create a hypothesis about what a successful outcome would be. Try to control as many variables as you can while you are testing something new, so you understand what is actually going on. If you find yourself devolving into a qualitative discussion about all elements of the experiment, you won’t learn much.
If your successful experiments are pushing you in a direction that is different from your long-term vision, or from the existing core business you are running, step back and think hard about what you are learning. Are your experiments conclusive enough to cause you to change your strategy? Do they reveal surface problems in your existing business or strong suggestions about better approaches?
If your successful experiments are doing this, then consider a serious shift in your business. But in the absence of this data, be very careful about defaulting into a mode of constantly and aggressively yanking on the steering wheel of your business. Instead, do small experiments, often.
If you want another perspective on this, go read the WSJ Accelerator article by David Cohen (TechStars CEO) titled Use Your Head, But Trust Your Gut.