Dec 11 2018

The Moment Your Realize You Aren’t Comfortable With What You Wrote

I just spent the last 30 minutes writing a blog post around a simple phrase that I like. I built out my thought process around it, used a handful of examples, and then filled in some additional ideas. I was proofreading it when I decided to go try to find the original source of the phrase.

The first page of Google’s results surprised me. There was nothing on the phrase I liked, but there was a wall of vitriol and controversy around a phrase that is close but had a few different words in it. When I read a few of the articles, I quickly was able to tie it back to something someone at Breitbart said. And then I vaguely remembered the controversy around the phrase.

I realized that it would be easy to misinterpret the phrase I liked as the phrase that had all the controversy around it. I said them both out loud and slowly a few times, and concluded that the post needed a lot more work if I were to publish it. Basically, if someone read what I wrote and thought about it, they’d likely separate what I was saying from the other quote that I found objectionable. Or, if they didn’t know about the other quote, they’d just be tracking what I said.

But, if they knew the other quote, the controversy, and they felt strongly one way or another about it, then what I wrote would likely be lost is the soup of the previous controversy.

Normally, when I write, I just hit publish after I’m done. I learn a lot from writing and it helps me work out my thoughts and ideas, which is the main reason I do it. I don’t try to get everything right the first time through (if you are a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll notice the iteration of lots of stuff as I refine it with different examples, evolve my thinking, or respond to other challenges and stimulus.)

In this case, I was worried that my thoughts would be judged because of the linkage to the controversy around this other phrase. Given the two phrases, this is deliciously ironic (kind of like capers, which I despise.) So, I hit save draft instead of publishing the post, wrote this post instead, and am now heading out for a run to contemplate what just happened, since I think this may be the first time in about 5,000 posts that I experienced this hesitation to just publish something I wrote.

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Dec 10 2018

Category Collapse

It’s the second week of December, which is about the time that all of the predictions for 2019 start occurring. Last week’s announcements of the confidential S-1 filing of Lyft, Uber, and Slack helped prime the pump for some of these. By the way, did anyone other than me think it was a strange turn of events that companies are now announcing their confidential S-1 filing?

Fred Wilson’s post Thinking Ahead To 2019 is worth reading. Unlike the endless stream of predictions that are about to come out, it’s an analysis of the spread between the public market and private company valuations. Fred is not predicting anything in particular but makes several useful observations, including the following:

“And yet storm clouds are on the horizon for the capital markets in 2019. Rates have risen significantly in the last eighteen months, pulling capital out of the equity markets and into the fixed income markets. There are some leading indicators that suggest a business slowdown is on the horizon, which would be the first one in the US in a decade. And, of course, the situation in DC is getting dicey and that will weigh on markets as well.”

Last week I was talking to a friend who is a growth investor. He and his firm see most of the bay area growth deals (e.g. the unicorns stampede to their front door). He made an observation that a number of deals he’s now seeing are for flat rounds with companies that need to raise more money to keep going and he’s feeling the slow down of investor interest at this level. This dynamic is reflected in the article Scooter Firm Chases Funding to Staunch Losses about the current Lime and Bird financings.

Any student of history knows that there is a linkage between the push to the public markets, demand dynamics of the public markets, and the availability and attractiveness of capital in the private markets. If you lived through the Internet-bubble between 1999 and 2002 you know this cycle well. And, you know that the companies that survived it were the ones with very strong fundamental businesses (e.g. Google), regardless of whether they were private or public at the time.

At the same time, entire categories collapsed. The web hosting business – lead by Exodus – almost entirely went bankrupt or was restructured. Out of this mess came several long-term companies and a huge number of pennies on the dollar type acquisitions. If you were on the winning side of this, it was incredibly lucrative, because even in a massive collapse there is a huge long-term opportunity. But you had to be thinking about the economics and capital structure of the business, versus just chasing growth with more equity dollars.

I have no interest in predicting anything, including how any specific category or company will perform. I also have no idea what the timing of anything is. I do know that if you are an entrepreneur or investor, you should pay attention to the context but be very focused on building a durable long-term business. And this moment in time is one that feels like you should be aware of how much capital you have, how you are spending it, and when (or if) you will need to raise more.

Remember – it can all go to zero (a post I wrote when Bitcoin was at $12,000.)

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Dec 7 2018

Colorado Magic on a Friday

I’ve been in San Diego with Amy for a while but we are returning to Boulder in a week. San Diego has been great, but I miss my dogs, my friends, and the Colorado vibe.

When people ask me about the Colorado vibe, I often talk about GiveFirst. Soon there will be a book (by me) on this, but for now there’s an increasing amount of content on the web building up to explain it. This article in the Colorado Sun – How Techstars’ “GiveFirst” mantra became a road map for the startup community in Colorado and beyond – was excellent and had numerous short examples of how GiveFirst works and influences a startup community.

Next up is a fun article by my co-author of Startup Communities Way (my new Startup Communities book – coming up mid-year 2019) Ian Hathaway. A few days ago he cranked out a post titled Colorado is for Founders. I love that phrase and he led off the post with this great tweet from Phil Weiser.

He goes on to explain Jared and Phil’s huge accomplishments and impacts around startups and the startup community. The punch line in the post is:

“By many measures, Colorado is the most entrepreneurial state in the country, a fact that I discovered in 2013 when studying high-technology business formation around the United States. I was struck by just how many places across the state had a high proportion of startup activity occurring—a finding that has been extended to looking across other types of high-growth entrepreneurship as well. Something special is happening there, and it has been for many years.”

I’ll end with the Holiday Gift Guide from Techstars. If you want to give someone you know the gift of something from a Techstars company this holiday season, here are the choices all in one place.

Happy Friday Colorado. See you in a week.

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Dec 5 2018

Coach Rav’s 23 Life Choices

I saw an article about George Raveling recently in the Daily Stoic newsletter. Raveling – known as Coach Rav to many, has a pretty remarkable history. And an even better life philosophy that fits very nicely with #GiveFirst.

On his website, he has a page titled 23 Life Choices That Are In Your Control. It’s delightful and follows.

1. Be YOU, not them.

2. Do more, expect less.

3. Be positive, not negative.

4. Be the solution, not the problem.

5. Be a starter, not a stopper.

6. Question more, believe less.

7. Be a somebody, never a nobody.

8. Love more, hate less.

9. Give more, take less.

10. See more, look less.

11. Save more, spend less.

12. Listen more, talk less.

13. Walk more, sit less.

14. Read more, watch less.

15. Build more, destroy less.

16. Praise more, criticize less.

17. Clean more, dirty less.

18. Live more, do not just exist.

19. Be the answer, not the question.

20. Be a lover, not a hater.

21. Be a painkiller, not a pain giver.

22. Think more, react less.

23. Be more uncommon, less common.

If you just skimmed the list, I encourage you to go back and read it again. To slow down and really savor it, read each line out loud and then ponder what you are doing to make that choice on a daily basis.

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Dec 4 2018

The Launch of Adero

I’ve watched a pretty remarkable thing unfold in the past year that culminated yesterday in the launch of a new product from Adero. For a one minute overview, watch the video below. For a longer overview, read the Hello from Adero post from Nate Kelly, the CEO.

Adero is shipping now. As a reader of my blog, you can get 20% off a purchase using the code FOUNDRY20. I’ve been using the production product for 30 days and it’s dynamite.

Adero is what has emerged from our investment in TrackR and is a very long story for another blog post. After a very difficult Q4 last year, we reset a number of things on the business, including the leadership team. Nate Kelly, who had been hired as COO, took over as CEO and in February decided to effectively start from scratch with the hardware, software, and long-term product vision.

Nate and the team have – in nine months – designed, built, and shipped an extremely impressive next-generation product. The amount done in that period of time has been mind-blowing to me after having worked with many hardware-related companies. It’s not just the creation of the product, but the quality of the total product – hardware, software, brand promise, and organization to support it – that is impressive.

I’m really excited about the next phase of this company. We’ve had many successes emerge from companies that stalled or had major problems. Every successful company of ours has had at least one near-death experience. The last year has been extremely intense for this company, and I have enormous respect for the effort of every person there.

Help me on the next journey of Adero by becoming a customer and giving me feedback – of any type – to pass on to the team. They are a learning and building machine that is as impressive as any that I’ve gotten the pleasure to work with over the years.

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Dec 2 2018

Happy Bohemian Chanukah Queen Fans

Queen was one of my favorite bands as an adolescent. The movie Bohemian Rhapsody was delightful. And this is even better.

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Dec 1 2018

@bfeld v53.0

I turned 53 today. Each year on my birthday I write a letter to myself reflecting on the previous year and pondering the coming year. I also go for a run – this year for 53 minutes. The past few years, I’ve started publishing them on this blog – if you are interested in what I’ve written in the past, take a look at @bfeld v52.0 and @bfeld v51.0.

When I review my goals for v52.0, they are all statements of what I want to do. Vegetarian, Introvert, Runner, Writer and Coach / Mentor. The phrase Discriminating Wisdom was tossed in as a bonus. When I reflect on v52, I wasn’t that successful at some of these. I started eating fish again in the spring. I didn’t run a marathon, was injured or sick for big parts of the year, and weigh in near my normal high of 220 today. I didn’t finish writing any of the books I’m working on.

On the other hand, I did get more time by myself last year and I feel that more of my work is in coach or mentor mode. I was very selective about adding new things to the mix. I traveled selectively rather than continuously. Overall, other than having some real struggles with physical health, v52 worked out well. I felt mentally healthy all year, feel surrounded and loved by good friends, and got to spend another year with Amy-my-soulmate.

I’m going to try a different approach for v53. Instead of statements about what I want to do, I’m going to focus on what I want to be. My long-time friend Dov Seidman wrote a book in 2011 titled How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything that I think is even more important today than it was eight years ago. When I chew on it, I feel like all of the statements of what I want to be can be subsumed by how I want to be, which are Curious, Healthy, Calm, Present, Supportive, and Boundless.

Curious: The essence of my existence has been an endless curiosity. When I was young, it was far-ranging. In the last 20 years, my curiosity has been more constrained by the work I do, where I’ve gone extremely deep in several areas, mostly bounded by entrepreneurship and technology. While I feel like one of my strengths (and a joy of mine) is the ability to synthesize things across multiple domains, I’ve recently felt the constraints of my exploration tighten. Some of this is based on age (e.g. I don’t feel like investing the energy in getting up to speed on something new) and some are based on responsibility (e.g. I’m too busy to invest the time needed.) While I’ll still be selective about what I go deep in, I’m going to let myself range more broadly again in v53.

Healthy: v52 was a bust on this front. I ended the year 16 pounds heavier than I started the year. In August, I got a serious bacterial infection (E. coli) and was borderline sepsis. I fell down the stairs and am – five months later – still healing from a bone bruise. My back hurts. And no, I didn’t run a marathon. I am running again, have seen my resting heart rate get back down into the high 50s, and hired a nutritionist so I’m eating smarter. Rather than endlessly measure and track my weight and food intake, I’m just going to focus on the behavior and habits that I know result in me being healthy. We’ll see where that leads me.

Calm: I don’t have much of a temper. I do carry around and absorb a huge amount of stress and anxiety, especially that of other people. I’m come up with a metaphor in therapy that I refer to as “metabolizing stress and anxiety.” As long as my metabolizer is working, I can handle an immense amount. When it’s not, I tip into depression. The notion of being calm incorporates a lot of activity for me (meditation, sleep, running, single-tasking, time alone, and time with Amy) that keeps my metabolizer working well.

Present: In v52 I deleted my Facebook account. I stopped consuming daily news, Twitter, and the endless random noise in our society. While I still get sucked into it occasionally, I am aware when I do, and it’s usually because my metabolizer isn’t working well enough. Going forward, when I’m on a video conference (which is multiple times a day between Monday and Friday), I’m 100% focused on the video conference. When I’m doing email, I’m doing email. When I’m writing, I’m writing. When I’m reading, I’m reading. When I’m with someone, I’ll be with them. My professional world prides itself on its ability to multitask. While I can do this with the best of them, v53 will be about being present.

Supportive: While an element of my work life is to be a leader, I have enjoyed moving into a coach and mentor role. When I think of the leadership I provide, it’s thought leadership, not functional leadership. Around v35, I decided not to be a CEO (or chairman) anymore. Today, I have no desire to be the boss of anything or anyone, but instead, want to have a supportive posture in the majority of my work activity.  Every year I appreciate my friendships more, both old and new, and I’m going to continue to put supportive energy into those relationships.

Boundless: I finished Stephen Hawking’s book Brief Answers to the Big Questions last night. He’s one of my heroic figures and I’m sad that he’s no longer instantiated in human form. Even with his immense physical constraints, his mind – and where it went – was as unconstrained as any. It’s a beautiful thing to reflect on, and something to aspire to.

v53.0 booting up now.

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Nov 7 2018

Unintended Consequences of the Upcoming Drone Apocolypse

On Monday, I wrote a post titled Look Up and Don’t Give Up that included the 2:48-second video of a mama bear and her cub struggling across a steep cliff covered with snow. 20+ million people have also looked at it and, I expect, found inspiration from it as I did.

I didn’t think very hard about this until this morning when I read The Atlantic article titled The Problem Behind a Viral Video of a Persistent Baby Bear: What appears to be a life-affirming triumph is really a cautionary tale about drones and wildlife.

As I was reading the article, I flashed back to several books from two different authors – William Hertling and Daniel Suarez – that included autonomous drones (and drone swarms) as part of their plots. I remember being incredibly anxious during the sections on killer drones controlled (or programmed) by bad guys, and then even more anxious when the drones appeared to be completely autonomous, just carrying out whatever their mission was while coordinating with each other.

And then I felt pretty uncomfortable about my enthusiastic feelings about the cub and the mama bear. I remembered the moment near the end of the video where the mama bear swats at the cub and then the cub falls down the snow-covered mountain for a long time before stopping and starting the long climb up again. I had created a narrative in my head that the mama bear was reaching out to help the cub, but the notion of the drone antagonizing the mama bear, which responded by trying to protect the cub, rings true to me.

My brain then wandered down the path of “why was that idiot drone pilot sending the drone so close to the bears?” I thought about how the drone wasn’t aware of what it was doing, and the pilot was likely completely oblivious to the impact of the drone on the bears. I thought about how confused and terrified the bears must have been while they scrambled over the snow to try to reach safety. Their dash for cover in the woods took on a whole new meaning for me.

I then thought about what encountering a drone swarm consisting of 100 autonomous drones would feel like to the bears. I then teleported the bears to safety (in my mind) and put myself in their place. That most definitely did not feel good to me.

We are within a decade of the autonomous drone swarm future. Our government is still apparently struggling to get voting machines to work consistently (although the cynical among us expect that the non-working voting machines are part of a deliberate approach to voter suppression in certain places.) At the same time, we can order food from our phone and have it delivered in 30 minutes, no matter what the food is or where we are located. Humans are still involved in the delivery, but that’s only a temporary hack on the way to the future where the drones just drop things off for us.

When I talk to friends about 2030 (and yes, I hope to still be around), most people extract linearly from today. A few of my friends (mostly sci-fi writers like William and Eliot Peper) are able to consistently make the step function leaps in imagination that represent the coming dislocation from our current reality. I don’t think it’s going to be visitations from aliens, distant space travel due to FLT drives, or global nuclear apocalypse. Sure, those are possible and, unless we get our shit together on humans on several dimensions, we’ll continue our steady environmental and ecological destruction of the planet. But, that kind of stuff is likely background noise to the change that is coming.

It’s the change you can see through the bears’ eyes (and fear) while at the same time the joy that humans appear to get – mostly – from observing them, but not really thinking about the unintended consequences. While the killer AI that smart people scarily predict could be front and center, I think it’s more likely our inability to anticipate, and react to, unintended consequences that are really going to mess us up.

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Nov 6 2018

Seth Levine’s Designing the Ideal Board Meeting Blog Series

My partner Seth Levine is writing a blog series on Designing the Ideal Board Meeting.

Seth and I have each attended over 27,367 board meetings. Ok, I don’t know the actual number, but it’s a lot. We’ve both been on good boards and bad boards. Boards that have helped companies and boards that have sunk companies. Boards that know how to resolve conflict and boards that have multiple passive-aggressive actors engaged in a complex dance that serves no one, especially the company.

So, I’m totally digging Seth’s new series. Not surprisingly, since Seth and I have been working together for over 17 years, there’s a lot that is the same as my board approach. But, I’m also learning something from each post which I plan to incorporate into my board world going forward.

The first four posts are up. In order:

  1. Designing the Ideal Board Meeting
  2. Designing the Ideal Board Meeting – Before the Meeting
  3. Designing the Ideal Board Meeting – Your Board Package
  4. Designing the Ideal Board Meeting – The Board Meeting

If you are a founder, CEO, investor, or outside director who is on a private company board, this is a must-read series. And, if you want to go deeper on how boards work, grab a copy of the book I wrote a few years with Mahendra Ramsinghani ago titled Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors.

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Nov 5 2018

Look Up and Don’t Give Up

This is how I think about my work and my marathon running.

My spirit animal is a bear. Generally, I think of myself as a big polar bear, but I’m going to spend the day relating to my little friend. And, when the day is done, I’m going to go run into the woods.

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