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I love being involved in magical stuff. One of our portfolio companies, Occipital, just announced their newest product, the Structure Sensor. It’s available for purchase right now on Kickstarter – they blew through their $100k goal in the first four hours of being up. But this is a “show don’t tell” classic, so take a look at the video below and prepare to have your mind blown.
So awesome. Jeff, Vikas, and team – you guys are amazing.
In 2007 when I co-founded Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado with a bunch of folks our mission was to create wealth that we could give back to the community that has been the foundation for so many of our entrepreneurial endeavors. We envisioned that this would be a long term build, just like the creation of many of the companies we are involved in. Over the last six years we’ve now generated gifts of over $500,000 that have gone back directly to our community, with the most recent one being from Intense Debate, a company that went through Techstars Boulder in 2007.
Today my friends from GoodApril, who went through the Techstars Boulder 2013 program, just gave $20,000 to EFCO to help with the victims of the massive Boulder-area floods. In addition, Eric and Kim Norlin from the Defrag Conference offered to give $250 to EFCO for everyone who register for Defrag this week.
I asked Mitch Fox and Benny Joseph from GoodApril to write up their thoughts on why they did this. It follows.
A month ago, the sun was shining in Boulder, Colorado as my co-founder, Benny Joseph, and I as we announced the biggest news of our lives. Our startup, GoodApril, had been acquired by Intuit (maker of TurboTax) in the final days of the TechStars Boulder accelerator program.
In this last week, rain clouds have overwhelmed Boulder and several other Front Range towns. We’ve been distressed by the devastation, and inspired by the Boulder community’s resilience.
While we were a part of the Techstars program, Benny and I pledged our support to the Boulder community through the Entrepreneurship Foundation of Colorado (EFCO), a program that enables startup founders to give back through the contribution of equity in their companies. In light of the flood and its impact on Boulder, we have agreed to accelerate that gift.
Startups cannot succeed in a vacuum. They are as much the product of the sweat and tears of their founders as they are of the mentors, customers, and investors that shape them.
This summer, we experienced the power and generosity of the Boulder community as we built GoodApril. The Techstars program matched us with phenomenal local business leaders like Vijay Bangaru, JP O’Brien, and Brett Jackson, who helped us find both the strengths and weaknesses in our business plan. We were welcomed into Boulder’s tech scene, and quickly connected with dozens of potential customers who shared their expectations and excitement for our product. As we progressed, the Techstars leaders, especially Luke Beatty, David Cohen, and Brad Feld, guided us through many tough decisions, including finally whether to accept Intuit’s acquisition offer.
We are extremely appreciative for what Boulder has given us, so we hope our donation to EFCO can help the community recover from this flood.
Thank you Boulder. Here’s to seeing that sun shine again,
Mitch Fox and Benny Joseph
We just led an investment in Kato and I’ll be joining the board.
Like the contact management problem, the real-time communication problem is a total mess. In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of efforts to address real-time communications in the enterprise. New collaboration systems, such as Microsoft SharePoint and Lotus Connections emerged. This evolved into enterprise social computing systems, such as NewsGator (which I’m on the board of) and Jive. Lightweight approaches that tried to emulate Facebook, such as Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) became visible, chat got integrated in broader messaging systems like Skype and Google Hangouts, which in turn were subsumed by larger messaging systems at Microsoft and Google, and the result is that the default continues to be the soul-crushing and mind-numbing least common denominator known as email.
The problem has accelerated in the past two years. We now use multiple communication products across our portfolio of over 60 companies. Some use Jive. Some use Yammer. Some use HipChat. Some use Flowdock. Some use Campfire. Some try to use Google+. Some still use IRC. And some have simply given up and just use email.
When I try to get in the real-time communication streams, I have to use the specific system that each company uses. With many of them, I have to have a unique login for each company. I log in with one account (usually with an email address that company #1 gave me), check it and respond, log out, log in to the next account (with a different email address specific to company #2), check it and respond, and repeat. This is fun for about three minutes, at which time I just start getting the daily email notices of activity and periodically click on a link, login, and try to respond to something, assuming my login works correctly and I can remember the login / password for that particular company.
While the individual systems work – with different levels of happiness – they just suck across organizations. My world is a network, not a hierarchy, and I want to, and need to, communicate across many different organizations. Ultimately, I want ONE place to centralize all of this. Unfortunately, the only answer today is email. And that just sucks.
My email habits changed significantly when I started using Gmail. Search, across my entire email corpus, eliminated the need for me to use folders and store anything. I didn’t have to remember stuff. Conversations threaded everything.
Kato has similar powerful features that change the way I use real-time messaging. Each “room” (which can include people from Foundry Group, other organizations, or anyone I invite to that specific room) are searchable across the entire corpus. Search works everywhere – I don’t really have to remember anything other than a hint to I’m looking for. I can skim when I want, the same way I use Twitter. Or I can read every message in a room. I can integrate any third-party service I want into a room (currently 25 – adding about one a week). Soon I’ll be able to synchronize data with other real-time systems.
Oh – and there’s an API so you can do whatever you want with it. For example, during a hack day, the gang at FullContact did a bi-directional sync with Campfire. So now I can see everything but don’t have to deal with Campfire. And I get my Asana stream in a room – consolidated across the four different Asana organizations that I’m a part of.
Andrei and Peter have had Kato available for early adopters six weeks after they wrote the first line of code. They have a Support room for every customer that they participate in (in real-time) and drive their product based on real-time customer feedback. It’s amazing to watch and participate in.
While we are still very early in the process, I’m absolutely blown away by what these two guys did over the summer at Techstars. And I’m looking forward to working closely with them to attack a problem that has vexed me every day for the past 20 years.
I was having a conversion on Friday with Brad Bernthal, an Associate Professor at Colorado Law School who directs the Silicon Flatirons Center’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. Brad and I – in addition to sharing a first name – are close friends. We were talking about the recent amazing Techstars Demo Day that we had just had in Boulder, and Brad – in a professorial tone – started hypothesizing about the importance of Techstars in the Boulder startup community. We went back and forth a little and I encouraged him to put it in writing so I could use it as fodder for a blog post. He did me one better, and wrote a guest post. It follows.
It is time to consider the following question: When we look back, where will Techstars fit into the narrative of Boulder entrepreneurship history?
This question will not keep many of the entrepreneurs in Boulder up late at night. Looking forward – not back – is the Boulder startup community’s natural disposition. But sometimes we need to understand where things fit in and what they mean in the bigger scheme. During Techstars 2013 Boulder Demo Day, led by Managing Director Luke Beatty – who skillfully took the baton from Nicole Glaros – it occurred to me that reflection is now warranted.
Full disclosure: I am a Techstars mentor as well as a CU Associate Professor of Law, which makes me a weirdly situated participant/observer, and I’m admittedly rooting for Boulder. I am also not a historian and, from time to time, my prognostication skills are suspect. (Indeed I five years ago predicted the return of short shorts – 1980s style – in the NBA. No players appear to have received that memo.) With that, here some thoughts on how Techstars will be viewed in Boulder startup history.
Is it time to think about Techstars as historically significant in Colorado? Yes, it is. Techstars was one of the pioneers of the mentor-driven, time limited, entrepreneurial supercollider known as the Accelerator. Techstars now belongs in the company of other Front Range pioneers who helped craft an industry, a list which includes natural foods leaders folks – who built companies such as Celestial Seasonings, Wild Oats, and Alfalfa’s – and early movers in the disk storage industry, most notably StorageTek and its progeny. The first Techstars class matriculated in 2007. Six years later, TechStars is a global operation and, more fundamentally, the accelerator model is among the decade’s most important entrepreneurial innovations. Irrespective of what happens to Techstars ahead, development of the accelerator as a global industry ensures that Techstars will remain historically relevant.
How important is Techstars’ economic impact? TBD, but traditional metrics won’t capture its benefits. It is premature to say where Techstars will rank, in terms of regional economic impact, on a historic scale in Colorado’s Front Range. Techstars is a magnet for creative class talent. But it is not itself a huge employer relative to other area homegrown companies like Level 3 or StorageTek, or even rising companies like Zayo, Rally, LogRhythm, and SendGrid. Techstars’ geographically dispersed structure shares the wealth across multiple startup communities spanning Seattle to London. As a result, as Techstars scales up, its direct local economic benefits– unlike a Microsoft in Seattle, Google in Mountain View, or Dell in Austin – are realized in several locations, not primarily one.
My bet is that the geographically networked aspect of Techstars will emerge as its long term gift to Boulder. Traditional metrics of employees and annual revenues won’t capture Techstars’ most important impacts. In reputational benefits to Colorado, the near term impact is already outsized. Long term, as Anno Saxenian explains, the value of cross-regional connections – whereby one location is closely tied by personal relationships to other geographic startup locations – is a crucial advantage for 21st Century innovation hubs. Boulder is comparatively not well situated to have large scale immigration ties a la Silicon Valley or New York. But Techstars generates tremendous cross-regional connectivity for Boulder to other startups communities. My prediction is that cultivation of cross-regional networks will be Techstars’ biggest economic impact.
What will TechStars mean? Intergenerational connections in entrepreneurship. Techstars as a movie script pitch: company attract wicked smart next generation talent and pairs them with their elders. Mr. Miyage / Daniel with mouse clicks. Sparks ensue. Like many successes, this formula seems obvious in the rear view mirror. But building trusted networks is hard work that takes a deft touch. And the intergenerational network at the heart of Techstars sets a community norm that those who have success should pay it forward to the next generation. This resonates as Techstars’ long term significance.
R/GA is part of Interpublic Group of Companies, one of four global ad holding companies, and is the most award-winning agency in the digital world today. R/GA creates advertising and marketing products based in technology and design and has earned countless accolades over the years, including Advertising Age’s “Digital A-List” and “Agencies of the Decade.” They are the force behind the opening title sequence for 1978′s Superman to 2006′s Nike+ platform to 2010′s HBO Go connected device.
The Internet has rapidly expanded beyond desktop, server, laptop, and mobile computers and connected itself to many of the different devices in our everyday life. We’ve been investing in this area since we started Foundry Group in 2007 through our human computer interaction theme and recently added an investment in Dragon Innovation into the mix. It’s super exciting to me to do an accelerator program specifically around connected devices with Techstars.
Founders accepted into the program will have access to the Techstars mentor network and executives from R/GA’s team as well as $120K in funding, co-location space provided by R/GA in NYC, design and development support from talented designers and devs, and the opportunity to pitch to an invite-only launch presentation in Austin at SxSWi and at a demo day for angels and VCs in NYC.
If you’re a founder or startup focused on an innovative idea for a product and/or service in the connected devices space, please consider applying. Applications are open today and due October 11th. Apply now at rgaaccelerator.com.