Month: August 2011

Aug 31 2011

The Best Vacation Responder Ever

I go off the grid four times a year for a week at a time. During these weeks I put up a vacation reminder that says I’m off the grid, not checking email or phone, but if it’s an emergency I can be found by my assistant Kelly. While I leave her email and phone info in the vacation responder text, she still checks my email to make sure that nothing critical is going on. While this works well, Josh Kopelman blew my mind with his awesome vacation responder a few weeks ago.

I am currently out of the office on vacation.

I know I’m supposed to say that I’ll have limited access to email and won’t be able to respond until I return — but that’s not true. My blackberry will be with me and I can respond if I need to. And I recognize that I’ll probably need to interrupt my vacation from time to time to deal with something urgent.

That said, I promised my wife that I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our vacation as much as possible. So, I’m going to experiment with something new. I’m going to leave the decision in your hands:

  • If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I’m on vacation, please resend it to interruptyourvacation@firstround.com and I’ll try to respond to it promptly.
  • If you think someone else at First Round Capital might be able to help you, feel free to email my assistant, Fiona (fiona@firstround.com) and she’ll try to point you in the right direction.

· Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return…

Warm regards,
Josh

From now on, I’m going to set up an account at interruptyourvacation@foundrygroup.com and leave this in your hands. Powerful – and fucking brilliant.

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Aug 30 2011

The Lean Startup Amazing Deal Bundle

Today on Brad Feld’s Amazing Deals, we’ve got another great offering from our friends at Udemy. For $49 you can get The Lean Startup, The Lean Startup Ignite, and The Lean Startup SXSW by Eric Reis.

These three courses contain over 9 hours of content and 60 talks from people like Eric Ries, Dave McClure, Steve Blank, Hiten Shah and many more. That’s a lot of knowledge for 67% off.

In addition to the courses, you get a hardcover copy of Eric Ries’ awesome new book The Lean Startup. Eric – congrats on converting all of that digital content to ink on dead trees!

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Aug 30 2011

Vote For My SXSW Panel – An Inside Look at BigDoor’s Venture Funding

I’ve thrown my hat into the SXSW Panel Picker this year – please click here to upvote my panel titled An Inside Look at BigDoor’s Venture Funding.

I’ve never presented at a SXSW panel because I usually like to stay flexible and check out whatever’s interesting, but we came up with an idea that got me excited enough to commit. An Inside Look at BigDoor’s Venture Funding is going to be me, Keith Smith (BigDoor CEO), and Andy Sack (Lighter Capital, Founder’s Co-op, and the TechStars Seattle Managing Director). Both are good friends of mine and have really interesting philosophies about startup funding.

I think Keith was once quoted as saying “I’d rather give up my left nut than give up equity in my company” and having gotten to know him over the past couple years, I don’t think that’s far from the truth. Keith has over a decade of experience running startup companies and is extremely passionate about BigDoor, which made him aggressive in any discussions involving giving up a stake to both Founder’s Co-op and Foundry Group.

Andy’s a serial entrepreneur who has spent the past few years working on ways to make the funding process better for entrepreneurs. He led the first round of funding for BigDoor through Founder’s Co-op, but used a creative structure, partly because Keith is such a stickler on valuation. Andy and Keith will discuss this more on the panel, but they used a RevenueLoan approach to bridge the gap on price.

The RevenueLoan structure is something new Andy’s been working on at Lighter Capital, where instead of making an equity investment, they get a set percent of the company’s revenues over time. It’s a cool idea that worked out well for Andy and Keith, since it got Keith the funding he needed on terms that Andy was comfortable with.

As a side note, Lighter Capital is the leader in a new funding approach called revenue based finance which is an interesting alternative for entrepreneurs to fund growth in their small business. I may write about this more in the future, but in the meantime Lighter Capital is funding an “explosive” company in August (you’ve got two days left to apply), a fun idea to keep small business funding interesting and worth checking out if you need 100K to 500K right now.

During the panel, I plan to bring Keith and Andy water to support them, as is my typical role. I actually didn’t like Keith’s business when I first came across it but as we got to know each other he did an awesome job keeping me in the loop, listening to my feedback, and iterating, so after about six months, I came around especially to Keith but also to BigDoor’s business. I’ll be giving my thoughts on how Keith convinced me to invest by just running his company and interacting with me over an extended period of time rather than by pitching me.

If you are into this, upvote our panel. Either way, I’ll see you at SXSW.

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Aug 29 2011

The TechStars Mentor Manifesto

When David Cohen and I first talked about TechStars in 2006, the concept of a “mentor” was front and center. Early on, we defined TechStars as a “mentorship-driven seed stage investment program” and have held deeply to that concept from the beginning. Today, the vast majority of accelerators use a mentorship model, which is something we are really proud of and thinks serves entrepreneurs everywhere extremely well.

When I was in Cambridge, England at the end of July for the Springboard Demo Day, Jon Bradford (the Springboard Managing Director) talked elloquently about how mentorship was a key part of the program. Springboard is a member of the TechStars Network and subsequently uses the same mentorship model that TechStars uses. During the day I got to meet a bunch of Springboard mentors – they were superb and also incredibly enthusiastic about the Springboard program that Jon had created. Jon then took me for a meeting at 10 Downing Street and on the way suggested that David and I write up a “Mentor Manifesto.” I thought it was a great idea, suggested it to David, who published his Mentor Manifesto yesterday. It follows:

  • Be socratic.
  • Expect nothing in return (you’ll be delighted with what you do get back).
  • Be authentic / practice what you preach.
  • Be direct. Tell the truth, however hard.
  • Listen too.
  • The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way.
  • Be responsive.
  • Adopt at least one company every single year. Experience counts.
  • Clearly separate opinion from fact.
  • Hold information in confidence.
  • Clearly commit to mentor or do not. Either is fine.
  • Know what you don’t know. Say I don’t know when you don’t know. “I don’t know” is preferable to bravado.
  • Guide, don’t control. Teams must make their own decisions. Guide but never tell them what to do. Understand that it’s their company, not yours.
  • Accept and communicate with other mentors that get involved.
  • Be optimistic.
  • Provide specific actionable advice, don’t be vague.
  • Be challenging/robust but never destructive.
  • Have empathy. Remember that startups are hard.

If you’ve read Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup, you’ll recognize many of these. David’s added a few more concepts and synthesized / evolved a few. In typical TechStars fashion, view this as an evolving manifesto – comments are welcome (and encouraged!)

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Aug 29 2011

Bre Pettis’ Survival Guide to a Hospital NICU

Congrats and good karma to my friend Bre Pettis on being able to take his new child – Nika – home from the NICU.

Over the last few months as we were working together to close the MakerBot financing, Bre and his partner Kio Stark had Nika prematurely, which resulted in a bonus six week stay in the NICU. I talked to Bre a number of times during this period, often when he was camped out at the NICU, and he was remarkably calm and engaged during this period.

He’s written a very detailed, thoughtful, and intense post about how to survive the NICU. While I don’t have any kids, nor do Amy and I plan to, I expect all of my obsessive behavior would come out with a vengeance if I ever ended up in a similar situation to Bre’s. My guess is that his rules apply to the hospital stay of any loved one and are well worth reading.

Bre – thanks for taking the time to write up your survival guide. I’m glad everyone is home, safe, and healthy.

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Aug 28 2011

Reinvent Vacations For a Global Mobile Era

Rosabeth Moss Kanter has an excellent post up on the HBR Blog titled Should Leaders Go on Vacation? Recently, I’ve seen plenty of commentary in the popular press (especially Fox News articles) about the inappropriateness of leaders taking vacation. Kanter does a nice job of dissecting the dynamics around leaders going on vacation and suggests the leader address five questions in the context of the vacation.

  • What is the vacation narrative?
  • What is the vacation timing?
  • What is the rest of the team doing?
  • Are there continuity, backup, and contingency plans?
  • What is the vacation symbolism?

I’m a huge believer in the importance of vacations for leaders, entrepreneurs, and everyone else. I work extremely hard – usually 70+ hours a week. This is simply not sustainable, at least for me at age 45, over a period of time longer than about three months. I eventually burn out, get tired and cranky, become less effective, and get sick. Vacations are a way for me to recharge, build my energy back, explore some different things, spend extended and uninterrupted time with the most important person in my life (Amy), and just chill out. This vacation usually takes the form of a Qx Vacation that is off the grid which is now well known to everyone who works with me.

Amy and I ordinarily spend the month of July at our house in Homer, Alaska. While this isn’t “a vacation”, it’s a change of context that has become a very important part of our routine. I work while I’m there, am completely connected and available, but have a very different life tempo. And – most importantly – zero travel.

This summer we spent July in Paris. We both love Paris and went there to just “live.” We rented an apartment in the 8th, ran in the local park, shopped at the Monoprix down the block, ate lunch at all of the nearby restaurants, and had some amazing meals out. But mostly we just hung out, worked remotely, and spent time together.

I’ve had a fantasy about renting a house in the Tuscan countryside and spending a month in Tuscany for many years. We decided to do it this summer and we turned our month in Alaska into two months in Europe. However, rather than travel around and be tourists, we just lived. We had plenty of friends visit, but we spent the days exercising (I ran a lot), reading, writing, and working.

I plan to write at least one post about what I learned in my “summer in Europe” after I return to the US next week. It has been an amazing experience, especially since I was completely connected to my regular work, yet was able to observe a lot of activity from a distance and reflect on what I really thought was going on.

In the mean time, if you are a leader, entrepreneur, or anyone else, I hope you read Kanter’s post and think hard about both the value of time away and the expectation setting around it. Life is short – make sure you live it.

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Aug 26 2011

Come To The TechStars Documentary Launch Parties!

On September 13th the Bloomberg TV Show TechStars launches.

TechStars will be having launch parties in Boulder, New York, Boston, and Seattle. If you are an entrepreneur, or part of the entrepreneurial community in any of these cities, sign up now to participate.

I’ll be in Boulder and am really looking forward to an evening celebrating entrepreneurship and hanging out with a bunch of my favorite people.

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Aug 26 2011

Overview of Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows

When we were last with our SayAhh cofounders, they had implemented an accounting system and Jane had contributed $50,000 for a 55/45% equity split. This week we introduce two of SayAhh’s key accounting documents: the Balance Sheet (BS) and Statement of Cash Flows (SCF) showing how this investment is accounted for.

The investments by the founders created two transactions. Since SayAhh is a C corporation that is incorporated in Delaware, they decided to have a very low non-zero par value for their shares, set at $0.00001, to prevent higher franchise stock taxes. Thus for the 10M shares issued to the them, Jane invests $55 and Dick invests $45. Jane also invests $50,000 as previously agreed. These deposits increase the checking account balance and also the equity accounts, and results in a solvent company and a decent starting bank balance.

Below is the Balance Sheet as of 8/21/11. Fred Wilson’s MBA Mondays series shows how to think about the balance sheet – namely as a picture of the company at a point in time.

The Balance Sheet respects something called the Basic Accounting Equation. The Basic Accounting Equation states that Total Assets always must equal Total Liabilities plus Equity. In SayAhh’s case, you can see that the assets (cash in a checking account) equals liabilities (zero) plus equity. Assets = Liabilities + Equity.

If you use spreadsheets to keep track of your books, you could accidentally violate the Basic Accounting Equation, but not in accounting software program. This is one of the reasons that Dick and Jane chose to use QuickBooks, even at this very early stage, as it guarantees that their books will conform to double entry accounting.

Equity is comprised of two things. The Ordinary Shares equity account represent the par value paid by Jane and Dick for their 10M shares ($100). The Paid-In Capital account shows Jane paid in an additional $50,000. Combined these two amounts equal total equity, or $50,100.

The other accounting document we are introducing today is the Statement of Cash Flows (SCF). The SCF breaks down how changes in balance sheet accounts and income affect cash. When presented in the SCF, these transactions are broken down into three categories: operating, financing and investing activities. Note the interconnected nature between these statements. The net $50,100 from financing activities all went into equity on the Balance Sheet.

Currently, SayAhh’s financials are very straightforward – even boring, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Next week we will introduce the Cap Table, and show how it changes when adding a co-founder.

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Aug 25 2011

A Better Way To Play Golf With Your iPhone

Play golf? Just watch the video. Then go pre-order a Sphero.

Office Golf with Sphero the robotic ball from GoSphero on Vimeo.

If you want to see the app behind this, Orbotix has a longer description on their website.

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Aug 23 2011

Foundry Group Invests In MakerBot Industries

Today we announced that we’ve led a $10m round for MakerBot Industries and I’ve joined the board. I’m super excited to be working with Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer, Zach Smith, and the rest of the MakerBot gang to create consumer-grade 3D printers.

When I first met Bre, Adam, and Zach at the Botcave in Brooklyn, it was love at first sight for me. The entry way to the BotCave has a series of Thing-O-Matics (the current MakerBot 3D printer) printing out all kinds of things. A display space of 3D things sits next to a vending machine with 3D parts in it, which all open up into a warehouse space full of tiny little parts neatly arranged and being put together in kits to be shipped. At the back were a bunch of people banging away on computers.

I took a deep breath and at that moment thought “I have to invest in this company.” I spent a few hours with Bre, Adam, and Zach and came away even more excited. I knew I had a massive nerd crush on them, but I also felt like if anyone was going to create a self-replicating machine that my father would buy, these were the guys. It’s well known by now that I believe the machines have already taken over – investing in MakerBot seems like another way to help them out.

Fortunately my partners loved the MakerBot gang as much as I did. But, rather than just theorize, I bought a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic and Jason, Ross, and I put it together. It’s been busy printing out all kinds of things for the past few months. The day we signed the term sheet, I made some Foundry Group coins (with the Foundry Group logo on the front and a $ on the back) and fedexed them to Bre. I wonder what he’ll make and send back to me now that we are investors.

I believe that we’ll look back in 20 years and 3D printers will be as ubiquitous as laser printers are today. We aren’t yet at the point that is equivalent to the first HP Laserjet in 1984, but I think we’ll see a comparable product from MakerBot within a year. In the mean time, I’m going to keep downloading 3D things from the Thingiverse and keeping my Thing-O-Matic busy.

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