Month: December 2011

Dec 31 2011

My 2011 By The Numbers

I’ve been obsessively tracking data about myself since 2009. The most visible data I track is on Daytum which includes Miles Run (by location), Books Read (by type), Airplane Flights (by carrier), and Nights In Town (by city). I also track all of my running data (most recently on RunKeeper and SmashRun) and all of my health data (including what I eat) on Fitbit. I track plenty of other stuff, but those are the public / systematic things.

I started doing this in 2009 – see My 2009 By The Numbers for how I was thinking about things then. This year I’m thinking about things more categorically, based on a set of activities I do that drive what I spend my time on. Here’s where the year ended up.

Running: I had a great running year – probably the best in a long time. I ran six marathons, including four in eight weeks, and the last one of the year was the fastest since 2003 in 4:28:46. Overall, I covered 1,125.91 miles (not including the 6.5 miles I’m going to run today). 339 were in Boulder; next best was a monster month in Tuscany of 156.97 miles. I crossed 100 in Keystone and had another strong month in Paris at 94.65 miles. You can tell that I had two weeks of vacation in Tucson this year, plenty of short runs in cities I traveled to for work (SF, NY, Seattle), and then a bunch of marathons.

Weight: I started the year at 208, hit a high point of 219.4 at the end of October, and weighed in at 202.8 this morning. My goal is to be 190 on 12/31/12.

Sleep: I clearly missed a few days since I only have 354 days reported for this year. I often get asked how often I travel vs. sleep at home. Eldorado Springs is where I call home so I was there 99 nights. Boulder, which is a condo I have down the block from my office logged 40 nights. So – for the year, I was in Boulder for 139 of 354 nights, or 39% of the time. Keystone was very light this year – we were only there 25 nights (and 14 of them were the past two weeks). You can see my month in Tuscany in August and month in Paris in July, two weeks of vacation plus a little in Tucson (I guess I like Tucson), 16 nights in New York, 10 nights in San Francisco, and 10 nights in Seattle. I was only in Boston five nights this year – that will change in 2012 as I’m spending the second half of January there. While I swore off red eyes several years ago, I still ended up doing three of them this year. And if you are curious about the other 16 places, they are Los Angeles, Newport, San Antonio, Napa, Boise, Ann Arbor, Bismarck, San Diego, Orlando, Kansas City, New Orleans, Washington DC, Montreal, Portland, and Colorado Springs.

Reading: I didn’t read that much this year – only 41 books. In contrast in 2010 I read 52 books and in 2009 I read 78. Business, Biography, and Mental Floss were all even at 7 and then Philosophy, Fiction, and Sports at 4 each. I’ll definitely read more in 2012 and as you’ve probably noticed I’ll continuing blogging my reviews.

As a special bonus, I’m about to cross 6,000,000 steps logged on my Fitbit. That’ll happen today on my run. I wonder if I’ll get a badge for that.

When I reflect on 2011, I had a great year on many fronts, both personal and professional. I’m looking forward to 2012 and am doubling down on my personal commitment to myself to focus on things that matter and ignore the noise.

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Dec 30 2011

Book: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

I’ve generally ignored the mainstream media during the original US financial crisis and the more recent European financial crisis. My lack of interest in mainstream media (TV, newspaper, and magazines) – especially about non-tech related stuff – is well known. The last domino to fall was when I finally stopped listening to NPR a few years ago. I view the signal to noise ratio as terrible, I don’t believe most of the information, I often think the people talking have no clue what they are talking about, and as many things unfold in real time, the people involved have no idea what’s actually going on. Oh – and it’s part of the macro that – while it certainly impacts me, doesn’t directly affect me, nor is there anything I can do about it. So I ignore it and instead focus on things I can make an impact on.

But I like to read and learn from history. There are a number of writers who I think do a magnificent job of writing in different areas – for example Walter Issacson on Biography and Michael Lewis on Financial History. So I was excited when Lewis’ new book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, came out about the European financial crisis. I read it last night after we had dinner with some good friends who we hadn’t seen in a while.

It was awesome and kept me up well past my normal bedtime. Lewis writes like a novelist so his story completely sucks you in. In the case of Boomerang, he added in a travelogue component and went to each of the countries he wrote about. The book starts in Dallas, takes us to Iceland, to Greece, to Ireland, to Germany, and finally back to the California. Lewis covers both what happened, what’s happening, what could happen, and why in a book that gave me more history, context, facts, and personalities than watching hundreds of hours of CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg or reading the Wall Street Journal and New York Times daily could have. And I trust his synthesis – it feels very agenda-less and is written clearly from his point of view.

If you want to understand what is going on in Europe, especially Greece, Ireland, and Germany, how it happened, why it matters, and where it might go, read this book. And if you just are curious and want a good “real life is better than fiction” kind of read, you can get that also from Boomerang.

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Dec 30 2011

More On Recruiting Programmers To Your Startup

Chris Dixon had an excellent post yesterday titled Recruiting programmers to your startup. The post, and the comments, are full of super useful stuff that every entrepreneur should read carefully.

I sent the link for the post out to the Foundry Group CEO email list and it generated a great discussion thread, including one of the companies sharing their full day interview / evaluation process which includes a four hour coding exercise. Among the feedback was a great short list of four addition things that Niel Robertson, the CEO of Trada (and an amazing programmer in his own right) has learned over the years.

  1. Be careful who you pick to do the interviewing. You want to showcase your best engineers in the process balanced with those who are good interviewers (which can be wildly different)
  2. Have an awesome engineering process that you are pros at and can showcase in the interview. We lost a great candidate because our process was in flux and he sussed out our eng management wasn’t committed to the new way
  3. Program with the person live. You can do this on a whiteboard or on a computer. We’re going to move to the on a computer version. Over and over I’m hearing this is the best way to learn someone’s skills
  4. Reference check – oh man how many times do I have to learn this lesson.

Trada, like many of the companies we’ve invested in, had spectacular growth (both revenue, customers, and headcount) in 2011. They, and others, continue to aggressively search for great software developers to join their team – when I look at the Foundry Group Jobs page I see well over 100 open positions for developers across our portfolio and I know this list undercounts since not all of the companies we are investors in are listed there.

It’s an extremely tight hiring market for software developers right now. I expect this to continue for a while given the obvious supply / demand imbalance for great people. So – if you are hiring – read Chris’s post and be thoughtful about how you go about this. And, if you have comments for him, me, or Niel about how to do this even better, please offer them up!

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Dec 29 2011

Shelby.tv Is Perfect For People On Treadmills

Now that it’s winter time, I’m spending more time on my treadmill. While I run naked when I’m outside (no headphones, no music), I find running on a treadmill to be mindnumbingly dull. Pluck my eyeballs out, swallow them, then poke my fingers in my ears and pull out my cochlea, and then punch myself over and over again in the face until FAKEGRIMLOCK comes and rescues me from myself kind of dull.

My TV show this winter is Entourage. Amy won’t watch it, so I’m watching it on my iPad while running. I finished Season 1 yesterday and am loving it. Today, when I went downstairs to pound out 70 boring, excruciating, nose hair pulling, sweat all over my iPad minutes, I realized I had not yet downloaded Season 2. And, when I looked in my video folder on my iPad, I realized I didn’t have anything in it I hadn’t seen since Pan Am, which I’d started downloading on my laptop, somehow hadn’t synced over WiFi (grrrrrr).

So – I started running. My iPad was in front of me and I started poking around. I noticed the Shelby.tv app. The Shelby team was one of my favorites from the first TechStars NY program. I ran with Reece Pacheco every time I was in NY (he was always very kind to me), loved their spirt, and thought they did a great job of pivoting away from something they were interested in, but not in love with, to something they were super passionate about. While Shelby.tv isn’t the kind of thing we invest in, several of my good friends in the VC world do and I was psyched when Rich Levandov from Avalon led their round.

I hadn’t played with Shelby.tv for a while since I don’t ever just browse video on my iPad. I clicked the Shelby.tv icon. 65 minutes later my run was over and I was still watching amazing video. Shelby.tv picks up any video link in your Twitter stream or on your Facebook news feed. It then just plays them in reverse chron order. You can interact with the individual videos, skip them, tweet or like them, or just do what I did and watch them. There was only one in the stream of about 15 that I watched that I wasn’t interested in and one I had already seen. The rest were fascinating, both in what I saw, what people where curating for me, and how quickly they made the time pass on the treadmill.

Reece et. al. – nice job. I think you just solved my “I’m bored, on my treadmill, and shit I forgot to download the latest season of that thing” problem.

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Dec 29 2011

Announce Your Financing In Conjunction With Your Form D Filing

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the importance of a company announcing a financing in the absence of any other activity. “Dear World: We Just Raised $X From Investors A, B, and C.” Ok, but so what?

In my book, there is only one real reason for this – to attract new potential employees: “We’ve just raised $X and are hiring 20 people including types A through types Q – see our jobs page at jobs.companyname.com and apply now.”

Unfortunately, very few funding announcements are focused on this for two reasons. The first is the stupid one – many entrepreneurs get tangled up in the ego dynamics of a financing (“look ma – we raised money’) and lose sight of the notion that raising money is just one tiny step on the path to success. In my book, once you’ve completed a financing, take a deep breath, tell everyone in the company so they know how much money is in the bank, and then get back to work creating amazing things for your customers.

The second is less stupid, but is something I see over and over again, even with companies we are investors in (and we know better). When you do a financing, you file something called a Form D with the SEC. This process is fully automated which means it is easy for our friends like Dan Primack at Fortune to see any new filings that are made. Dan was one of the first people I knew who regularly published Form D info – it’s now spread widely across most of the VC-based publications, but I’ve give Dan credit for being the most diligent with this (and with many other things he reports on.)

Once you’ve filed your Form D, the data is available on Edgar with a simple search. There are other ways to get it as well since there are plenty of services that republish Edgar data with a better UI for searching. Regardless, the info on Form D is out there on the web.

Some VCs I know claim that you don’t have to file a Form D. Having researched this, I think it’s a dumb move. Most credible attorneys that work with corporate securities, especially those in the VC industry, will insist that you file a Form D if you have more than one investor, or if you have investors in more than one state. In our world, we just tell companies we invest in to file it and not worry about it.

This takes us back to the beginning of the post. For some reason, some companies want to keep their financings quiet. That’s fine – just file your Form D and say nothing about it. It’ll get picked up in the daily VC publications, like Term Sheet and VentureWire. Maybe it’ll end up on TechCrunch if you’ve got some famous investors that they like to write about. And, if your local paper is on the ball, it’ll show up there also. But it’s meaningless – “Joe’s Company Raised $X From Investors A, B, and C according to a filing with the SEC.” Next.

But if you are going to announce your financing, do it right – in conjunction with your Form D filing. Have your jobs page up. Make it clear that you are hiring. If you have substantive stuff to announce around the financing, say an acquisition, a major strategic partnership, or a new product release, announce it at the same time. Substance matters here – the more the better.

Make your noise for a day – and then get back to work creating amazing things for your customers.

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Dec 28 2011

The Kinect Accelerator

As someone obsessed with human computer interaction, the Kinect is an important piece of hardware. Of all the various things Microsoft is working on these days, I find it the most interesting. I’ve seen some awesome things done with it by my friends at Oblong and Organic Motion and saw a ton of neat hacks at last year’s Blur Conference.

Recently, Microsoft announced the Kinect Accelerator, a program created to incubate startups building the next generation of innovative experiences for the Kinect. Microsoft’s Kinect Accelerator is powered by TechStars and applications for the Kinect Accelerator are now being accepted through January 25, 2012. If accepted, each company will receive an equity investment of $20,000 in exchange for six percent of the company in common stock, which will be held by TechStars. While Microsoft is putting significant effort into the accelerator program, Microsoft will not retain intellectual property or equity in any of the participating companies.

From March to June 2012, the companies will co-locate in space provided by Microsoft in Seattle where they will be provisioned Xbox development kits, Kinect hardware, the Kinect for Windows SDK and space for testing and developing Kinect based applications. Microsoft BizSpark will also supply each of the companies with a full complement of Microsoft development tools and support.

The companies will interact with and have access to mentors during the course of the program including Microsoft executives, entrepreneurs, and investors. The goal is to help new startups develop both the technology around their Kinect experience as well as the business model so the resulting company can prosper as an independent entity after the program.

Some of the mentors, in addition to me, include:

  • Jeff Powers, Founder, Occipital,
  • Andrew Tschesnok, Founder, Organic Motion
  • Manu Kumar, Investor, K-9 Ventures
  • Eran Egozy, Founder and CTO Harmonix
  • David Cohen, Founder/CEO, TechStars
  • Eric Norlin, Organizer, Blur, Defrag, and Glue conferences
  • Jason Mendelson, Managing Director, Foundry Group

Some of the Microsoft mentors include:

  • Dan’l Lewin, Corporate VP, Strategic and Emerging Business Development
  • Craig Eisler, General Manager, Kinect for Windows
  • Phil Spencer, VP, Microsoft Games Studios
  • Anoop Gupta, Distinguished Scientist, Microsoft Research
  • Michael Mott, General Manager, Microsoft Games Studios
  • Rick Martinez, Executive Producer, Microsoft Studios
  • Dave Drach, Managing Director, Emerging Business Team
  • Adam Isgreen, Creative Director, Microsoft Studios
  • Jeff Matsushita, Executive Producer, Microsoft Studios,
  • Rhys Dekle, Director, Business Development, Microsoft Studios

David Malcolm, a former Microsoft executive and current TechStars mentor, will be the Managing Director of the Kinect Accelerator. Since the program is powered by TechStars, it’ll follow the standard TechStars timeline finishing up with a demo day at the end of the program.

If you are an entrepreneur working on something related to Kinect, I can’t imagine a better place to spend three months of your life accelerating your business. Apply now.

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Dec 27 2011

StartUp: Learning Entrepreneurism – New Course at CU Boulder Digital Works

As entrepreneurship in Boulder continues to grow, Boulder Digital Works is offering a new course with Robert Reich (co-founder of OpenSpace, OneRiot, and the Boulder New Tech Meetup) called  StartUp: Learning Entrepreneurism. This is the first BDW course open to anyone in the Boulder community to join BDW’s graduate students.

StartUp begins with the premise that entrepreneurship, rather than being the result of genius and magic, can be learned. StartUp takes the students through the actual conception, development, and launch of an original product or service during the semester. This course puts students inside the mind of the entrepreneur and immerses them in the daily leadership and innovation challenges of the startup environment. While its primary focus is the startup and what it demands, this course is also a clinic in thinking, decision making, and mental agility that will benefit any area of business – not just startups.

Download detailed information and an application for StartUp: Learning Entrepreneurism if you are interested.

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Dec 27 2011

Top 10 Reasons Top 10 Lists Suck

It’s that time of year again. Everyone that publishes content and is looking for link bait is publishing a top 10 list of 2011. I’m getting asked daily to contribute – I finally decided to create a blog post so I could simply refer to it instead of saying “sorry – I hate top 10 lists, count me out.”

10. They are boring as shit.

9. Extraordinary selection bias prevails.

8. Clever superlatives like splendiferous are often missing.

7. They always have 10 items. Why not squares like 9 or primes like 11?

6. Google has better things to do than index top 10 lists.

5. Time wasted reading top 10 lists takes time away from playing CastleVille.

4. Ever try to read a top 10 list on an iPhone? There needs to be an app for that.

3. If SOPA/PIPA passes, some of the sites republishing the lists might be shut down.

2. Listmakers, like @abatchelor, are food for the matrix.

1. Very few lists of 10 things fit in 140 characters.

So there.

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Dec 26 2011

Book: Hostage London

Saturday’s book was Hostage: London by Geoffrey Household. Actually, it was Thursday, Friday, and Saturday’s.

Normally I’d knock off a 240 page Crime Thriller in an evening. But this one was different. It was written in 1978, set in London, and written by a British writer. The writing style was very 1970’s British, the geography was unknown to me, the politics were bizarre and confusing, and the character development took about 80 pages before I actually understood who was doing what to whom. It was also entirely written in diary format which I generally dislike in fiction, although I realize the irony of that since blogs are essentially diaries.

I stopped twice. Once at about 60 pages and one around 120 pages. The first time I stopped I thought about bailing – I have no trouble putting down a book if I’m not interested in it. But in this case I was intrigued at a meta-level – I wanted to understand why this book was so hard for me. Someone I met with on one of my random days recently recommended it and actually gave it to me along with another Geoffrey Household book. I wrote the books down, gave them back, and then bought them on Amazon. So I was determined to figure out why my random day friend liked these books and thought I’d like them.

The second half of the book was great. Once I figured out what was going on, it moved quickly, like a Crime Thriller should. I finished it Saturday afternoon after my run, lying on the couch, with the sound of football and Amy screaming at the television downstairs telling the coaches and the quarterbacks what they should do instead of whatever they were doing.

I’ve got one more Geoffrey Household book in my pile of physical books that I’m reading while I’m here in Keystone for the holidays. Hopefully I get through the next one in a single night and everything will be back to normal in my world.

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Dec 26 2011

Be An Entrepreneur In Residence To Help Create A Startup Visa

As many of you know, I’ve been involved in advocating for the Startup Visa since the idea was first conceived in the fall of 2009. While it’s frustrating to me that some leaders in Congress are much more interested in trying to jam through bills, such as SOPA and PIPA, that fundamentally censor and undermine the structure of the Internet, rather than support entrepreneurs and the corresponding jobs that get created by creating a Startup Visa, I’m optimistic and hopeful that logic ultimately prevails. Other than that, my mentors who know how DC works much better than I do encourage me to stay patient and unemotional and to keep trying.

While Congress has been completely stalled on the Startup Visa, the White House hasn’t. Several months ago I wrote a post about the policy changes that have a material, positive impact immigrant entrepreneurs who apply for a visa. I’ve been on several email threads with Alejandro Mayorkas, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and have been impressed with his rapid response and willingness to take real action along the lines of the new White House guidelines.

Last week I was briefed on a USCIS “Entrepreneurs in Residence” Initiative. It’s an awesome idea and another example of the White House trying to move the ball forward on the Startup Visa within the current law. Here’s the crux of the announcement

“Most recently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced an innovative new Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) initiative, with the immediate goal of recruiting a small “tactical team” of business experts to work with USCIS staff to help streamline operations and enhance pathways within existing immigration law to help immigrant entrepreneurs start and grow businesses in the United States  This intensive 90-day project is a major priority for USCIS, the Department of Homeland Security, and the White House Startup America initiative.”

While this is an unpaid three month EIR (with the possible extension of another three months), I think it’s a perfect role for an entrepreneur in between gigs who is passionate about helping create a Startup Visa. Take a look at the job description and if this is you,  e-mail a resume to uscis.eir@uscis.dhs.gov before 11:59 p.m. ET on December 31, 2011.

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