Month: March 2012

Mar 23 2012

A Postcard A Day

I’ve described this magic approach to staying connected with family when you are far away three times in the past few days. The first time was to a set of entrepreneurs in TechStars New York who were from Vancouver and have spouses and significant others back home. The second time was to an entrepreneur at the NewMe Accelerator who has a spouse and kids in Atlanta. The third was last night to a team of entrepreneurs we are in the midst of closing a financing with. Since it came up three times in rapid succession, I decided it was time for a blog post describing it.

If you find yourself in this situation, where you are deeply engaged in something for an extended period of time (say – an accelerator) and your significant other – and kids if you have them – are somewhere far away, I expect you’ll do the equivalent of a Skype call each day. There will be periodic emails, texts, and phone calls as well. While these are all good, in many cases they increase the loneliness factor. You are deeply immersed in what is going on and no matter how hard you try to be present, will often be distracted during your Skype time. And you’ll get off the phone, or video, feeling more homesick then when you got on. No matter how homesick you feel, the people on the other end, who are immersed in their life, but often not having the same kind of deeply intense experience you are having, will be missing you more.

Go to the drug store – Wallgreens, CVS, or whatever the nearby equivalent is. Buy a large package of 3 x 5 index cards and some Avery labels that you can print out. Swing by the post office and pick up some stamps for post cards. Go back to the office and print out the mailing address for your sweetie and kids at home on the labels. Put the labels and stamps on each of the index cards. When you go home at night, put the stack next to your bed with a pen.

Each night, before you go to sleep, take five minutes and write a short note on an index card. Write about one special thing that happened to you that day. Draw a doodle or a picture. Tell your family that you love them. During this five minutes, think about one thing that is special about them, why you love them, and why they are important to you. Now, go to sleep. In the morning, read the card when you wake up. On your way back to the office drop the card in the mail.

After a few days a steady stream of cards will start showing up at your house far away. If you have kids, they’ll run to the mailbox to see if something new came today. Rather than a single Skype at the end of the day, there will now be something special that shows up in the middle of the day. And – it’ll be from the past – talking abut something that happened a few days ago. The connection will be through both space and time, using a media (postcard) that current generations rarely use any more.

It’s magic. I did this in college with my parents who I missed a great deal. Several years ago my mom sent all of the postcards from my freshman year to me. It blew me away that she’d kept them and I relived a bunch of past moments sitting down and reading through them with Amy. Some are awesome, some are silly, and some are totally crazy, but they were all a part of me and what I was thinking at the time.

If you like this idea, don’t wait. Go do it right now. And tell me how you like it. Or feel free to drop a post card in the mail to me every now and then.

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Mar 20 2012

Apply For The Glue Conference Demo Pod By Friday

The Glue Conference is happening again this year on May 23rd and May 24th in Boulder, CO. This is the awesome conference that Eric Norlin puts on around our Glue theme. 500+ people obsessed about mobile app development, cloud computing, and big data are going to be there this year.

As part of the conference, Eric provides 15 early-stage startups with FREE exhibit space. Did I say FREE? Yes FREE! Alcatel-Lucent acts as the Community Underwriter for Gluecon and funds this activity.

The demo pods are designed specifically for the event that have lit signage included, hard wired internet drops included, space for your laptop (to demo) included, passes to the event itself included — basically everything you need to come show your early wares to developers, customers and venture capitalists. All you have to do is get to Boulder, which I’ve discovered through experience isn’t very difficult.

I’ll be there both days as will be my partners at Foundry Group. If you are an early-sage startup (pre-funding or seed funding) in mobile app development, cloud computing or big data, this is a great way to get some face time with us.

Did I say the demo pods were free? Apply now – the deadline is Friday.

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Mar 19 2012

The Monastic Startup

Last week at our Yesware board meeting, we talked about the idea of “the monastic startup.” This was a phrase that Matthew Bellows, Yesware’s CEO, came up with, and it characterizes the culture they are creating at Yesware. It embodies two concepts:

The monastic startup is a place where engineers do the best work of their lives. This place involves work with long stretches of uninterrupted time.

This idea sung to me. As I sit here in front of my 30″ monitor, working away in the peacefulness of my office in Boulder, surrounded by 10 of my favorite people (the gang I work with), listening to Lady Gaga, and connected to thousands of others via the computer in front of me, I realize that I long for more “monastic startup” time.

When I think about the culture of many of the companies we are an investor in, the definition of the monastic startup rings true. Oblong immediately comes to mind for me. Kwin Kramer, Oblong’s CEO, wrote an awesome guest post on TechCrunch over the weekend titled The Next, Next Thing. Oblong is one of the most monastic startups I’ve every encountered (using the definition above) – even Kwin and his partner John Underkoffler still spend long stretches of time writing code as they do the best work of their lives.

In my networked world (vs. hierarchical world) a monastic approach works amazingly well. I’ve started experimenting with more non-in person tools to increase the quality of communication across my network, while preserving a level of “monasticness.” The Yesware guys use HipChat for persistent chat. I’m looking for others – suggestions? I’m especially interested in things that work well across organization and communities.

If the phrase “monastic startup” rings true to you, what are the other characteristics that you’d expect to have in this environment? And what tools would you use?

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Mar 17 2012

Happy 74th Birthday Dad

My dad is one of my best friends. His birthday is on Saint Patrick’s Day and it has been a bright green celebration for as long as I can remember. He turned 74 today and we had dinner tonight at Oak at Fourteenth with Amy, my mom Cecelia, my sister-in-law Laura, my brother Daniel, and their daughter Sabrina. We had a wonderful evening and it reminded me once again of the importance and delight of family.

I’ve learned many things from my dad during the 46 years I’ve been on this planet. Following are a few pivotal ones that have shaped my life.

Age 10: I told my dad I didn’t want to be a doctor like him. I didn’t like how hospitals smelled, I was bored when we did rounds together (I just wanted to sit in the corner and read), and I didn’t like being around sick people. He told me that I could do anything I wanted to do.

Age 12: I hated learning Hebrew and thought being Bar Mitzvah’ed was stupid. My dad didn’t fight me on how I felt, but he told me tradition was important and this was a seminal jewish tradition. I procrastinated as long as I could and then crammed over the last few weeks. He sat with me, coached me through it, and was patient with me when I continued to fight the process. My Bar Mitzvah was a powerful learning experience, and, while I eventually became an atheist, am glad that I participated in the key jewish tradition.

Age 17: After two months at MIT, I was ready to quit. All of my friends had gone to UT Austin, including my girlfriend, and I was homesick and lonely. As we wandered around Concord, MA on a beautiful October day, he told me to give it a year and if I still didn’t like it, I could go somewhere else. But he told me I’d be short changing myself if I didn’t give it a year. By spring time I had fully embraced MIT and never looked back.

Age 21: Dave Jilk (another Saint Patrick’s baby) and I started Feld Technologies. My dad was our third partner, sat on our board, and contributed continuously as a mentor to us as we figured out how to create and build a company. He personally guaranteed a $20,000 line of credit with his bank which was our beginning working capital (which we stupidly used up immediately, although that made us realize we had to be profitable and cash flow positive from the beginning because there was no more money to tap.) Almost every year Dave, my dad, and I would go away somewhere for an annual meeting. I remember these weekends fondly as they shaped the path of our business. My favorite line from this period that I remember from him was “if you aren’t on the edge you are taking up too much space.”

Age 24: My father resisted the easy temptation to say “I told you so” when I got divorced. When I dropped out of a PhD program, he told me he supported any decision I made. When I was feeling sorry for myself, he’d remind me cheerfully that “everyone pees in the shower.” His unambiguous support of me, at a period of darkness in my life, was priceless.

Age 29: When Amy and I decided to move to Boulder, the first words out of my dad’s mouth were “that’s a great idea.”

There are many more like this, but this should give you the sense for it. In addition to being one of my best friends, he’s been an incredible mentor, business partner, and supporter. I love his sense of humor, his joie de vivre, and his endless curiosity. He always lights up any room he’s in, is always learning, and keeps on trying new things.

Dad – happy birthday. You are awesome. Green suits you.

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Mar 16 2012

50 Miles Is Too Many

Some time last year Katherine McIntyre, my partner Ryan’s wife, asked me if I wanted to do a 50 mile race with her. I think she was expecting me to say no, in which case she could have decided it was a silly idea. But my reaction, without thinking about it, was “sure – that sounds cool.” So we both signed up for the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run on April 7th in Sacramento.

Yesterday, I told Amy that this is the only 50 miler I’m going to do again for a while. It’s simply too much training while I work and travel the way I am. I’ve had several 50+ mile weeks in the last month and my weekends are consumed with running. For example, last weekend I had four separate runs totaling seven hours and this weekend I’m doing a double 18 – an 18 mile run on Saturday and an 18 mile run on Sunday.

I love the running. And the double 18s are fun. But for my current 46 year old body, there’s a two day recovery time. During this two day recovery time, I’d love to get 12 hours of sleep a night. That doesn’t work when you get on a plane Monday at 8:15pm to go to Chicago to have a 9am board meeting the next day.

This week I’ve been exhausted every morning when I wake up. My normal wake up time is 5am – I’ve been finding myself getting up at 5, wandering around for a few minutes disoriented, and then going back to bed until 8am. Even then, I’m still tired. I’m not staying up late (I’ve been getting to bed by 10:30pm) and I’m sleeping well, so it’s clearly just the cumulative effect of the training.

I’m easily in the best running shape I’ve been in a decade. I’ve dropped 20 pounds and weighed in at 195 this morning, partly due to the help from my friends at Retrofit. Regular massage has kept me feeling fine, and I’ve even tossed some light swimming and biking into the mix.

Suddenly, a marathon seems really trivial. Katherine and I will put this 50 miler behind us and I’ll be back to my friend, a well understood distance of 26.2 miles. In the mean time, I’ve learned a lot about my physical limits and – with the life and pace I live – feel like I’ve started to bump up against them.

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Mar 14 2012

The Acceleration of TechStars

It dawned on me last night that as of tomorrow TechStars will have three programs running at same time with about 40 companies actively engaged in programs in Boston, New York, and San Antonio. Last week David Cohen, the co-founder and CEO of TechStars announced that he had raised a new $28 million seed fund called Bullet Time Ventures II. The final companies are being selected for The Kinect Accelerator.  The TechStars Boulder applications for this summer’s program close on Friday March 16th.

Not including the active programs, 126 companies have gone through TechStars since we ran our first program in Boulder in the Summer of 2007. We publish all of the results – as of now 110 are still active, 8 have been acquired, and 8 have failed. 772 people are employed by these companies. The percentage of companies getting funded at the end of a class has increased from 70% in 2007 to 90%. When we started, companies received $12,000 to $18,000 depending on number of founders. Today, they receive that, plus $100,000 in the form of a convertible note.

I’m most proud of the mentor network that has been created, the engagement from TechStars alumni in new companies, and the community involvement of local angels and VC investors in each geography where the programs occur. Whenever I visit one of the programs, the energy level is off the charts, whether it’s the first day or the 73rd day of the program.

In 2007, the idea of an accelerator was a new concept. Today it’s mainstream, as evidenced by the proliferation of accelerators around the goal and exemplified by the Global Accelerator Network.

The number of things in play at TechStars in 2012 is awesome. I’m incredibly proud of the entire team for what they’ve created, and where they are going with it.

If you are an entrepreneur, don’t miss out. Apply for TechStars Boulder now. And be part of the awesomeness being created in 2012 by TechStars.

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Mar 13 2012

Games Where The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play

By now the blogosphere, twitterverse, and even mainstream media is abuzz with the absurd decision that Yahoo has made to sue Facebook over ten software patents with the assertion that Facebook’s entire business is based on Yahoo’s patented inventions. My partner Jason Mendelson called this on 2/28 when he wrote his post Goodbye Yahoo! It was nice knowing you and Fred Wilson weighed in this morning with his post Yahoo! Crosses The Line.

My personal view is well known – I don’t think any of these patents are actually valid. Take a look at the analysis on PaidContent of The 10 Patents Yahoo Is Using To Sue Facebook, read the plain English descriptions, and then look at the filing dates. Now, try to make the argument that these are novel, useful, and non-obvious inventions of the part of Yahoo. For a less nuanced view, now read TechDirt’s post Delusions Of Grandeur: Yahoo Officially Sues Facebook, Laughably Argues That Facebook’s Entire Model Is Based On Yahoo.

I’m hopeful this is the beginning of the endgame of massive patent reform around software. It’s time for the entire industry to recognize that we are quickly shifting from a cold war (patents are deterrents) to a nuclear war that – like the one in War Games – the only winning move is not to play.

I’ve decided to let a week pass while I think about what the right response to this is. Software patents have the same polarizing dynamic that SOPA/PIPA had . Our government is, through laws and regulations – many of which make no sense, has created a construct with the legal industry that is untenable. Once again, we see an incumbent (Yahoo – and yes, I recognize the irony of calling Yahoo an incumbent) attacking an innovator (Facebook) with irrational weapons that have huge collateral damage, all in the name of “enhancing shareholder value.”

This is not a winnable game for Yahoo, the Internet, innovation, or society. Like nuclear war, the only winning move is not to play. However, Yahoo has now played. The next few moves are critically important.

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Mar 11 2012

An Interview With A CU Boulder Engineering Student

I love talking to, meeting with, and teaching college students. A few weeks ago I sat down to do a 30 minute interview with a young woman from CU Boulder who is an engineering student. She did a great job of capturing my essence, and that of Foundry Group, in our interview. I particularly loved her conclusion, which I asked if I could repost (she said yes). It follows – I hope it’s as inspiring to you (about the next generation) as it was to me.

For Any Young Entrepreneur: My interview with Brad Feld was encouraging to me as an engineer with a passion for innovation. Brad described how he is intrigued by the array of problems that he is faced with everyday. This is especially relatable to me because I fear spending the rest of my life bored by monotony when there are so many problems to be solved. It was enlightening to hear Brad discuss how to conduct a business. I expected to hear trade secrets or how to be the next great thinker, but it really came down to focus, determination, clarity, and inspiration. Feld is another who really believes that the way to survive, as an entrepreneur, is to be open minded to new experiences instead of just being “lucky”. I appreciated seeing the business method that less is more. Yes it is the dream of many to be the most world renown business with 100% return on investment, but it can be just as rewarding to be the successful yet small venture with no need to own a market. Observing the office reminded that an entrepreneur could have a business, enjoy art, and even find time to exercise, instead of engrossing oneself in work at all times. The entrepreneurial lifestyle actually seems like a sustainable one. This opportunity has helped me realize that the life of an entrepreneur can be accomplished simply by merging the things you love with what you are good at.

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Mar 10 2012

Don’t Be Gunshy Because You Dealt With Bucketheads The Last Time Around

For all of you out there who are wondering, Amy is doing fine. We’re in Boulder, she’s happy, in some pain, but enjoying the delightful impact of Percocet, and making her way through MI-5 Season 8. Thanks for all of the support, emails, and kind words.

I’m about to head out for a five hour run (broken into three separate segments) in preparation for the 50 miler I’m doing in April after I help her take a shower (which ordinarily I would be excited about), but first I thought I’d write some thoughts about a call I had with an entrepreneur yesterday.

The call was about a potential financing he is considering. I’ve gotten to know him some from a distance over the past year and am impressed with what he’s created. He originally just called me for advice on his financing strategy but I started the call by telling him I was interested in exploring leading a round, would be willing to give him advice also, and would quickly tell him if I was dropping out so he could flip me into “advice only mode” if we weren’t going to end up being a potential investor.

We had a wide ranging conversation over an hour about the current state of the business and how he’s thinking about the financing. Several times over the course of the hour he sounded defensive about a particular issue – well – not defensive, but uncertain. He’d frame what he thought was a negative in the context of the way he’d heard it from a previous potential investor (let’s call them BucketHead Ventures) who hadn’t gotten to a deal with the company in the past.

One of these was around churn – he asserted that one of the clear weaknesses of the business was the high churn rate. I pressed him on what he meant and we went through some numbers. He didn’t have a high churn rate at all – in fact, his churn rate after a customer was paying for three months was minimal. The problem – described by BucketHead Ventures as “high churn” – was a combination of what happened in the first three months and BucketHead’s inability to do cohort analysis, so BucketHead looked at absolute churn on a monthly basis rather than on a cohort basis.

In my head, I thought to myself “bucketheads – they pretend to understand businesses like this but have a total miss at a basic level.” The entrepreneur understood the miss, but had internalized BucketHead Ventures feedback and was letting it color his view of his business. And, more importantly, it was making him gunshy. Instead of articulating a powerful story about low customer acquisition costs with minimal downstream churn, he lead with “the worst problem with the business is our high churn rate.”

I see this all the time. While some entrepreneurs think all VCs are bucketheads (they aren’t), other entrepreneurs think all VCs understand this stuff (they don’t). Even ones who seem to be experts, or should be experts, or claim to be experts. Especially the ones who claim to be experts. Often, they are just bucketheads. Listen to their feedback, but don’t let it make you gunshy if you think they are wrong.

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Mar 7 2012

Life Gets In The Way – Punting on SXSW

This morning I was taking a break between meetings in San Antonio at TechStars Cloud to check my email when I saw a note from my wife Amy with the header “I just broke my wrist.” The email said “Fell on stairs. At urgent care. Got x ray. Have “dinner fork” type fracture. Pam and Ryan will get me home. Not hurting too bad. Right wrist so also lucky.”

I called Amy immediately and got her voice mail. There isn’t anything more disorienting to me than hearing that my beloved is in distress and not being able to jump into action to help her. I sent her a note that said “I just tried to call. Call when you have a chance” and then tried to get my mind back into my next meeting. She called about 30 minutes later and we had a short tearful conversation but then she went into some room at urgent care where she couldn’t talk on the phone. I didn’t hear back for two hours, but in that period of time decided that I was heading home first thing tomorrow morning to be with her.

My awesome magical assistant Kelly dealt with the 20-ish SXSW meetings and panels I had set for Thursday through Sunday. The notes back from people were very supportive of me choosing to go home to Amy, even though I’m sure I’ve inconvenienced or disappointed a few of them. By the time Amy and I finally connected, she was doing ok but glad I was going home. By about 1pm I settled down and wasn’t thinking about her every two minutes and feeling helpless as I went through my meetings.

I had a super day at TechStars Cloud. The gang down here is doing great stuff, there are some really neat companies that are developing nicely (and quickly), and the vibe is dynamite. While part of me was excited about SXSW, the introvert in me was dreading it. This was the first leg of the trip and I was gaining energy from the focused interaction with the TechStars Cloud folks which I hoped would sustain me through four days of SXSW extrovertness.

Life got in the way. Being with Amy is infinitely more important to me than four days of nerd craziness. As I sit here in my hotel room wound up and unable to sleep I long for a teleportation machine that would get me home in 30 seconds. I’ll be home in 12 hours, but that feels like a long time. I know Amy is fine, but the magnetic pull of what matters to me overwhelms my patience right now.

Yesterday at TechStars for a Day in Boulder, I gave a short talk about obsession. As part of it, I focused on the importance of taking a long term view and being obsessive about what you do in a way that you can sustain over a lifetime. I made the comment that unexpected things will happen continually throughout life and you have to be flexible enough to react to them, especially when they are difficult, painful, or tragic in a non-work dimension. I had to live with those words today and it was easy. So while I’ll miss a bunch of friends at SXSW, I’ll be spending those four days with the person who matters the most to me on this planet. And that feels good.

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