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A few weeks ago at Thinc Iowa I noticed the tradition they had of giving a standing ovation to the speaker when the speaker took the stage. I had never seen that before and thought it was awesome. Speakers also got a standing ovation after their talk. As someone who does a lot of public talks, the first sixty seconds of warming up a room are often awkward (even if well executed) and the standing ovation at the beginning eliminated all of this for me.
I just spent an awesome day at the EO Entrepreneurs Masters Program 20th Anniversary. This program started out as Birthing of Giants 20 years ago and had a profound impact on me when I was 25 years old and running Feld Technologies. We were 12 people at the time and were just at the $1 million annual revenue minimum for applying. It was the first time I had really found my peer group and it helped me understand the value of peers and mentoring at a very young age. It also resulted in me getting involved in Young Entrepreneurs Organization, starting the Boston and Colorado chapters, and serving on the YEO board for several years. As icing on the cake, I met Verne Harnish, who became a good friend, was the only person I knew when Amy and I moved to Boulder, and has continued to have an amazing impact on a huge number of entrepreneurs over the 20 years since I first met him.
I was on a panel with a few of my colleagues from that first Birthing of Giants class that graduated in 1992. The room was full of warmth and there was no awkwardness, plus I was the last person on the panel to talk. Our assignment from Verne was to discuss several profound life moments and try to work the notion of “a billion” into the examples as one of the themes of this year’s class was “a billion.” The audience of 500 was engaged for our entire panel (which is a big deal for anyone who has ever sat on a panel as they can be soul crushing experiences to sit and watch people disconnect in the audience – well – reconnect with their iPhones – while disconnecting from the panel.
We got a standing ovation and the end which caused me to flash back to the Thinc Iowa event and made me wonder why the tradition of giving a standing ovation at the beginning hasn’t taken off. I hope Eric Norlin incorporates it for Defrag and Blur – it so changes the ton of the transition from speaker to speaker in a powerful and positive way.
Some time ago a group of entrepreneurs including my partner Seth Levine came together to talk about how to promote entrepreneurship in Colorado and celebrate the fact that entrepreneurship has become a huge part of the Colorado business ecosystem. The result of that discussion was Colorado Entrepreneurial By Nature – a grass roots branding campaign whose goal is to get Colorado entrepreneurs to rally around their shared love of our state and our entrepreneurial culture.
Colorado – Entrepreneurial by Nature is officially launching today in conjunction with Denver Startup Week. I’m awesomely proud of both efforts – they are great examples of how a Startup Community can be led by entrepreneurs. Both efforts are grass roots, totally network based, and driven by entrepreneurs. Denver Startup Week looks completely awesome – the schedule of events is just tremendous.
Go get the badge and fly it proudly on your site if you are a Colorado entrepreneur!
Amy and I shipped the final draft of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur yesterday. “If you are interested in this book, go pre-order it now on Amazon to help our pre-order numbers“, said Brad the Book Salesman.
The backlog of things on my to do list is at an all time high. I’m normally super responsive to everything and have zero backlog. That is not the case right now.
The only thing in front of me for the next seven hours is the Detroit Marathon which I’m going to go suit up for after I finish writing this blog post. I don’t expect this to be a pretty marathon – I haven’t been running very much, or consistently, since my bike accident six weeks ago, but I’m running to support my partner Jason Mendelson who, along with Jill Spruiell and Becky Cooper from Foundry Group, are running their first marathon. Our partner Ryan McIntyre is also running today, along with Andrew Tschesnok of Organic Motion. I think it’s pretty cool that 36% of Foundry Group is running this marathon.
While my backlog is huge, I’ve been focused on making sure I’m responsive to all the top order stuff. In my hierarchy this is Amy, my partners, the CEOs of companies I’m an investor in, anyone else who works for a company we are investors in, and our LPs. That’s it – everything else is in “the next bucket.” I’ve gotten plenty done outside of this, but all my excess available time over the last thirty days has been allocated to shipping this book. If you check with Kelly and ask about my schedule, she’ll suppress a laugh as she tries to fit you in somewhere.
Every time I ship something I have new respect for all the entrepreneurs and people who work for the companies we are investors in. I’ve had a lot of time (almost 30 years) to work on my “prioritization algorithm” and feel like I’ve got it well tuned. I’ve always had a continual overcommit problem – where I take on slightly too much and then have to back off on some optional stuff – and this cycle repeats itself regularly in my life. However, when you commit to shipping something, like a book, you have a deadline and suddenly have to execute against it. The high order priorities come into clearer focus. The separation between them, and everything else, become crisp. When I’m sitting in a hotel room at 11pm after a day that started at 5am, I no longer am thinking that I’m going to get through all of my email. Instead, I’m learning the brilliance of using Google Circles to search my inbox for circle:”foundry ents” label:inbox and make sure I get all of those done before I go to sleep.
While I’ve got a ton of other things I want to get to that are interesting and relevant to me, none of them are either timely or important, at least to me. I realize they are timely and important to the person on the other end so I’ll eventually get to them, but the prioritization filter gets tight and the first constraint to enforce is timeliness. I try not to spend any time on stuff I don’t think is useful. As Amy likes to tell me “I’ll be the judge of that” – and I am the judge of what I want to spend my time on, and I’m sure I get this wrong some of the time. If you aren’t in the “inner circles” (yes – Google really got this right) then you have to wait. I’ll eventually get to it, but it won’t be first.
Everyone I know talks about how busy they are. And I’m sure they are. But if you haven’t shipped a product lately, I encourage you to configure something you are working on to look like a product that you are shipping. If you don’t have an external deadline, give yourself one. When you are working on something that has to ship in two weeks, you realize how much stuff is trying to get your attention that isn’t a priority, or even relevant to your mission on this planet. It’s a good way to remember how to prioritize. And it’s an excellent reminder to me about the pressure the people I invest in are under who continually ship products.
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.
FAKEGRIMLOCK showed up recently at HBS to give a short lecture on Minimum Viable Personality. In Grimspeak, IT AWESOME.
If you want more of FAKEGRIMLOCK, go check his post on my blog from a while ago – BE ON FIRE - which inspired my book Burning Entrepreneur - How to Launch, Fund, and Set Your Start-Up On Fire!