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I’ve loved being involved in Orbotix from the very beginning. I got to know Adam and Ian, the founders, even before they got into Techstars. Their original company name was GearBox and they probably wouldn’t haven’t gotten into Techstars except that both Nicole Glaros and I said “we love these guys – fuck it – let’s try a hardware company this time.”
Paul Berberian, one of Adam and Ian’s lead mentors during Techstars joined them as the third co-founder before demo day and we led the seed round shortly after. Orbotix is now 40 people, with hundreds of thousands of Sphero’s out in the wild and being played with, and a new product (currently codenamed 2B) coming out this fall.
The company is on the forefront of a new category I like to call “connected play.” It’s not a static toy, like kids have been playing with since the beginning of time. It’s not a game on a pane of glass like an iPhone or iPad. It’s a dynamic toy that you can play with online, via your pane of glass, or in the real world, with friends, connected together online. And it gets upgraded continually, with new software and new games.
I’ve talked in the past about how I love origin stories. I bet you didn’t know that before there was Sphero, Adam and Ian made an iPhone-based garage door opener well before that was cool and trendy. Enjoy the three minute origin story of Orbotix.
Every year or so my partners and I at Foundry Group create a new company, or start a new project, that we believe had the potential to change the way something works in our world, while simultaneously helping the entrepreneurs we work with, and the entrepreneurs we aspire to work with.
For example, in 2006, we co-founded Techstars. At the time David Cohen, the co-founder and CEO, was unhappy with how angel investing worked. He was dissatisfied with his experience and had a hypothesis around helping a group of companies get going, surrounding them with active mentors, and accelerating their early growth. The Techstars Boulder 2007 program was an experiment – we had no idea if it would work. Looking back seven years later, I’m immensely proud and satisfied with the impact Techstars has had on the world of entrepreneurship, especially at the early stages of company creation, and look forward to our goal over the next seven years of building the most powerful and connected early stage startup network in the world.
Our 2014 project is FG Press.
I wrote my first book, Do More Faster, with David Cohen in 2010. We worked with our publisher Wiley, who took a chance on us. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and it was really fucking hard. I remember sitting at my kitchen table in Homer, Alaska in July 2010 at 2am almost crying with frustration. I was just grinding through the last bit of it and the tedium of the process was overwhelming. I kept thinking “there has to be a better way” even back then, but there was something magical about holding the book in my hands in October 2010 when it came out.
In 2011, when my partner Jason Mendelson and I wrote my second back, Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist, I had figured out the writing drill, but I was still baffled by the publishing process. It was painful and tedious, and there were many steps along the way that made no sense. But I kept writing and learning.
In 2012 I thought hard about self-publishing everything I did going forward, but I didn’t feel like I completely grokked the publishing business yet. Venture Deals was a very successful book and Wiley increased their focus and attention on me. I had an expectation that somehow things would be different, better, more impactful, and more aligned, especially around process, promotion, and economics. So I decided to do four more books, which make up the Startup Revolution series, including the most recent one - Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors (the third in the series) – which just came out. Along the way, my long time friend Matt Blumberg (CEO of Return Path) decided to write a book so we added it on to the Startup Revolution series, resulting in Startup CEO: A Field Guide To Scaling Up Your Business.
There’s a lot more history, which I’ll cover in later posts, but all of this led to a place in fall of 2013 where my partners and I at Foundry Group started having a discussion about doing something different around the book publishing industry. We all are extensive readers and believe the long-form book is something that is very valuable, especially ones like Venture Deals that we believe will have at least a 20 year relevance, assuming we continue to update it. We also think it should be easier for more people to write and produce high quality, useful long-form books. While we think the entire process and engagement model is completely broken, that leads us to the punchline of the thing that is really wrong.
The relationship between the reader and the author has an immense amount of friction in it. And that friction comes from the publisher. It’s not just that the economics are wrong (why should the economic split between publisher and author be – on average – 85% to the publisher and 15% to the author?) but that the publisher sits in between the author and the reader. Sure – industrious writers can build direct relationships with their readers around their publisher – which is what happens today, but that’s silly. Shouldn’t the publisher be in the business of helping facilitate these relationships in addition to theoretically curating and producing the content?
We spent a morning together one day talking about this stuff. We came up with a very long list of issues, like the ones above, and then put the key question on the table: “What should we do about this.” My response was “let’s start our own publishing company.” Hence FG Press.
As with all new ideas, we started looking for patterns in things in the world that we liked. If you are familiar with McSweeney’s, O’Reilly, or Granta, then you understand where our brains were going and some of the companies that inspire us. Ultimately, we realized that the optimal model for what we were doing was Techstars, specifically the Techstars of 2006.
If you are a fan of analogies, Techstars is to “angel investing before Techstars” as FG Press is to “traditional publishing.” We are running an experiment in the first year. The experiment involves anyone who wants to participate. We expect to learn a lot and iterate very rapidly on what we are doing. And we plan to share out ideas widely, as a way of open-sourcing our learning, engaging with other people working on similar problems, while taking an author and reader-centric point of view, in the same way that Techstars took an entrepreneur and mentor-centric point of view.
Like Techstars, this is a new entity. It has a full time co-founder/CEO (Dane McDonald), just like Techstars was co-founded and run by David Cohen. It’s a self-funded entity, just like Techstars was for the first two years. Our goal is that it’s deeply complementary and integrated into everything we do and our point of view about the world of entrepreneurship, as Techstars is.
Will make mistakes. We’ll learn a lot. We’ll have fun. We hope you’ll come along for the journey with us. If you want to get a feel for one of the characters from our first book, just follow Mara Winkel on Twitter. And we’ll take Bitcoin, once we get the damn software working right.
The deadline for applying to Techstars New York for the next program is 11:59:59pm PST on 12/31/13.
I’m extremely excited about the upcoming Techstars New York program. Alex Iskold is the new managing director. I was an angel investor in Alex’s previous company (AdaptiveBlue - also known as GetGlue) and have known and worked with Alex since 2006. Alex has been a Techstars mentor for a while and was extremely active with the most recent New York program. He got totally hooked on Techstars and everyone at Techstars got totally hooked on Alex.
We’ve talked a bunch about the new things that he’ll be doing this year. He’s bringing energy and vision to Techstars New York that is rapidly flowing over all the other Techstars programs. And he’s an incredible learning machine, picking up all the best practices from our ever expanding number of programs – in different cities and with major corporations like Kaplan, Sprint, and Barclays.
It’s time to apply to Techstars New York. But don’t wait until the very last second – Alex and Techstars is going to extend an offer to one team on New Years Eve for the program.
Barclays and Techstars are today launching a program that will give ten innovative businesses the chance to shape the future of financial services. The Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars, is a three month intensive program which will provide ten FinTech companies with funding and deep mentorship, supporting them on their journey to delivering breakthrough innovations.
Commenting on the partnership, Derek White, Barclays Chief Design Officer, said “We’ve identified technology as a key driver of innovation and it will be paramount to Barclays achieving our ambition of becoming the ‘Go-To’ bank. We’ve already had great successes using an entrepreneurial approach to future design, including the launch of our innovative Barclays Pingit app, and we’re keen to ensure we build upon these by supporting entrepreneurs and putting them in an ecosystem where they can grow and develop.”
Applications are open now at http://BarclaysAccelerator.com and will close March 21, 2014.
It’s amazing to me that Techstars is now 7 years old. We are involved in over 300 active companies who have now raised over $400 million. 27 of them have been acquired. They’ve created over 2,000 jobs. And we are just getting started.
There’s some awesome classic footage from the last 7 years in the 3:37 video below. Enjoy. And thanks to EVERYONE who has been part of the Techstars community – we wouldn’t exist without you.