Month: April 2013

Apr 26 2013

Paper Signatures Are Obsolete

I closed a large transaction yesterday without signing a single piece of physical paper. It was painless. The entire negotiation was done using email and DocuSign.

I’m doing this at least once a week at this point. Either with DocuSign or EchoSign, the two services that seem to be most popular. I generally hate paper and have almost no paper in my world anymore so being able to eliminate the “print out the signature pages”, “sign the signature pages”, “scan the signed document”, and “email the signed document” step is a joy.

There are a few obvious other benefits. The first is workflow. Signing a doc is part of my workflow, no matter where I am. There is virtually no hassle – I just bring up the doc in the web, read whatever I need to, and sign where required. In addition, I see who else has signed, or hasn’t signed, which is helpful in the context of other investors and board members. When the sigs are completed, a PDF is emailed back to me and I can toss it in the company folder in Dropbox where we store all signed docs. Trivial workflow.

I also have an archive of everything I’ve signed. With the electronic signatures, there’s no more hunting down a doc. I just go to the doc stored in my account. I have another version in Dropbox, but I don’t even have to fight through finding the right one.

Now, every time I have to physically sign something I’m mildly annoyed. I’m going to push everyone I work with to go all electronic.

Unfortunately we aren’t investors in any of these companies. I remember being pitched several in the mid-2000s and just never engaged. That was a miss on my part. But at least I can benefit from them!

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Apr 25 2013

Book: Playing For Pizza

I needed some mental floss one night in New York last week when I was having trouble sleeping so I read Playing for Pizza: A Novel. My mom had recommended this one – I can’t remember why – but I usually read whatever she recommends. Put it in the “good son” category (although she helped me develop my love of reading and she’s almost always on target with recommendations for me.)

I grew tired of John Grisham and his legal thrillers over a decade ago. But I always enjoyed his writing so it was fun to dig into something completely different. I love Italy, pizza, and food, so that made sense. Football, however, is low on my list of things I care about. I decided to blow off caring about the football stuff and just get lost in the book.

Grisham has always written a book I can read in one sitting. I turned off my iPad at about 1:30am NY time and smiled. The Italy stuff was good. The pizza stuff was good. The food stuff was good. And the football stuff was even good.

If you are looking for something light, clever, engaging, and written in typical fast moving Grisham style, grab it. Solid mental floss.

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Apr 24 2013

TechStars London approved for UK Entrepreneurs’ Visa

Last week TechStars London was approved for the UK Entrepreneurs’ Visa. If you are accepted to TechStars London, you now automatically get the UK Entrepreneurs’ Visa.

The approval will allow TechStars London teams from outside of the EU to work in the UK for up to three years. After the three years, they can apply to extend their stay by a further two years if they want to continue living here.  Furthermore after three years teams have the right to apply for permission to settle in the UK if their business has created at least 10 new full-time jobs in the UK. Partners and children of the teams can also apply for settlement.

As you likely know, I’ve been advocating for something like this in the US since 2009. Fred Wilson wrote a good post yesterday on the current state of Immigration Reform in the US which includes a summary of the recently introduced comprehensive immigration reform bill. It includes a bunch of things I’ve advocated for since I started paying attention to this in 2009, including a Startup Visa and a STEM Visa (or – in my language – “a Visa stapled to the diploma of every college graduate.”)

I hope we finally get something done in the US. In the mean time, Canada and the UK are being very forward looking about their immigration policy in the context of immigration. The US doesn’t have a monopoly on innovation – it’s time for us to get our act together on the immigration front. In the mean time, TechStars London applications are open!

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Apr 23 2013

Book: Worm – The First Digital World War

I’ve been reading a lot more lately – mostly on the weekends – but I’m getting back into a good book rhythm. I can feel it helping my brain and my soul – I’ve always been a huge reader and when I go through phases where I’m not reading something is clearly off.

The second of the three books I read this weekend was Worm: The First Digital World War. It was crap in your pants scary in that real life, cyberwarfare way. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a DDOS attack, you have to read this book.

The author, Mark Bowden, does a great job of telling the story of the Conficker worm in English. Even if you aren’t technical, you’ll enjoy this book as it borders on cyberthriller while telling a real live story that unfolded over several months in late 2008 / early 2009. I was vaguely familiar with Conficker (as in I remember the hoopla about it) but I didn’t know the backstory.

Now I do. And it’s terrifying. And amazing. At many different levels.

We continue to visibly see the impact of physical war and terrorism all the time. But we are just beginning to see cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism. On one of the participants, Paul Vixie, is quoted near the end brilliantly in his “one command away from catastrophe” rant.

These problems have been here so long that the only way I’ve been able to function at all is by learning to ignore them. Else I would be in a constant state of panic, unable to think or act constructively. We have been one command away from catastrophe for a long time now. . . . In a thousand small ways that I’m aware of, and an expected million other ways I’m not aware of, the world has gotten dangerous and fragile and interdependent. And that’s without us even talking about power grids or the food stocks available in high population areas if rail and truck stops working for a week. AND, in a hundred large ways that I’m aware of and an expected thousand I don’t know of, ethically incompatible people out in the world have acquired and will acquire assets that are lethal to the industrial world’s way of life—criminals and terrorists using the Internet for asymmetric warfare is the great fear of our age, or at least it’s my great fear. But I’ve lived with it so long that I have lost the ability to panic about it. One day at a time, I do what I can.

We are just at the beginning of this.

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Apr 22 2013

Book: Tech and the City: The Making of New York’s Startup Community

On Digital Sabbath #5, I read Tech and the City: The Making of New York’s Startup Community. I got through half of it on my flight home from New York on Saturday morning; the balance laying on the couch next to Amy on Saturday evening.

I gave a talk with Alessandro Piol on Tuesday night at the Apple Store on Prince Street that was sponsored by the Women Innovate Mobile accelerator. We had a fun hour long talk with Q&A, a lot of it about Startup Communities. I hadn’t read Alessandro’s book in advance (but I did have it on my Kindle) so I was inspired to gobble it down this weekend.

It was excellent. If you are involved in the New York startup community, this is a must read book. If you are interested in startup communities in general, it’s a substantive history and current explanation of what is going on in New York.

One thing that jumped out at me that Alessandro segmented the New York startup community into six neighborhoods.

  • Flatiron / Union Square: The Heart of Silicon Alley
  • The Meatpacking District and Chelsea: Tech and the City
  • East Village, Soho, and Lower Manhattan: The Boheme of the Third Millennium
  • Brooklyn: The Do-It-Yourself Revolution
  • The Bronx: Sunshine Fortress
  • Long Island City in Queens: The 3D Generation

If you’ve heard me talk about startup communities, you’ll recognize this as the same approach I take when talking about larger communities like New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Boston/Cambridge. In these cases, the startup neighborhoods look similar to a startup community like Boulder – there is an incredible density of startup activity in a small geographic area. In a city like New York, rather than having everything in one place, you have a series of neighborhoods that have this entrepreneurial density, but are connected together to form the overall startup community.

I experience this all the time in New York. But I got a new taste of it on Thursday. I went to Brooklyn after an early meeting near Greeley Square Park. I started off at 20 Jay, saw NYU Poly Incubator, went for a long walk around DUMBO with Charlie O’Donnell, had an awesome lunch with Chad Dickerson (Etsy CEO), and then walked to MakerBot and hung out with the team there for a while. I did all of it on foot – including the back and forth from Manhattan.

The last third of the book is forward looking, talking about where things can, and are, going in the New York startup community. Finally, while there are plenty of VCs and government folks involved, it’s very clear that this is an entrepreneur led phenomenon, and Alessandro does a good job of balancing all the players.

Oh – and Digital Sabbath #5 was excellent. Even though I was on a plane for four hours, I woke up Sunday once again feeling refreshed and as though I had a weekend stretching out in front of me.

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Apr 18 2013

Kids Learn to Program with Sphero Robots Saturday in Boulder

Teaching kids to program is not an easy task – their attention span is short and what they are able to accomplish in a brief period of time is often uninspiring which results in them losing attention quickly.

Robots help a lot with this!

The Orbotix team has turned their Sphero into a fantastic programming aid to introduce coding to kids as young as 4th grade.  In about an hour kids will be commanding their robot to drive geometric patterns while also learning a bit about angles, degrees, time and distance calculations, loops and conditional branching. If your my age, you might remember Logo and turtle graphics. It turns out to be really cool to toss a robot into the mix, instead of just a computer screen.

Coding is done via a simple app on either Android or iOS devices and sent to the Sphero via Bluetooth.  The younger kids learn to program using a simple scripting language developed by Orbotix called MacroLab – the older kids learn BASIC which Sphero can interpret to do some complex tasks.

Orbotix is hosting a “Sphero Rangers” event at the Google offices here in Boulder this Saturday from 11am to 2pm.  Robots and programming devices will be provided – but bring your smartphone if you want to use your own.  Attendees will also be able to get a Sphero at a discounted price. If interested sign up here: https://www.meetup.com/sphero-rangers/events/114025302/

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Apr 17 2013

The Feld Fiberhouse Is Now The Handprint House

Handprint HouseThe winners of the Feld KC FiberHouse competition, that I’ve done in conjunction with the Kauffman Foundation, is a company called Handprint!

Handprint is working on some amazing 3D printing and editing technology. We had plenty of applications for the competition – many of them very interesting – but Handprint really captured our imagination.

As winners of the competition, they’ll get to live in the house rent free for a year. I’ll pay for Google Fiber and the house; they cover their own expenses. There are no strings attached – I don’t get any equity and there are no downstream obligations for them.

Google Fiber was installed last week so when they move in they’ll immediately have access to 1 gigibit Internet.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m doing this as an experiment around Startup Communities. I’m fascinated about what is going on in Kansas City around Google Fiber and rather than observe, I decided to participate.

Thanks to Ben Barreth for inspiring this project with his Homes for Hackers discussion with me when we met at Thinc Iowa. And thanks for Lesa Mitchell at Kauffman Foundation for all of her support. Both Ben and Lesa have done all the hard work on this project – I’m deeply appreciative of their help. Also, thanks to Scott Case of Startup America for helping judge the competition.

A huge congrats to the Handprint team which consists of Mike DemaraisAlexa Nguyen, Jack Franzen, and Derek Caneja. I look forward to getting to know you better over the next year. Welcome to the Fiberhood!

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Apr 16 2013

The 2013 Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon 2013At 3:55pm yesterday I cried.

I was getting ready for a Google Hangout back to my office with my partners and I noticed something about an explosion at the Boston Marathon on twitter. I did a quick scan of Twitter, clicked through to a few links, and realized a bomb had gone off near the finish line.

I went blank – just stared at my computer screen – and then started crying. I called Amy – she hadn’t heard about it yet and told her what had happened. I collected myself and called in to my Hangout. My partners were all shaken also – Seth lived in Boston for many years, Ryan has done several marathons, and Jason just did his first marathon last year in Detroit.

During our Hangout I sent some emails out to friends in Boston. Four close friends were on the third floor of the building above the first explosion. They were ok – but shocked and very shaken up. Emails continued to flow with me checking in on people and people checking in on me since they knew I was a marathoner and on the east coast.

My emotion shifted from sadness, to a wave of being horrified, to temporary anger, back to a very deep sadness. At the NJ Tech Meetup, before I started talking I asked for a moment of silence to recognize the people who were at the Boston Marathon, especially those who were injured. I can’t remember exactly what I said – I just know that I teared up again before my talk.

On my way back to Manhattan, Amy and I talked. We were both incredibly sad. And lonely – she’s home and I’m in NY. She was supposed to go to Boston yesterday for a Wellesley board meeting – she decided not to go because of some stuff going on. She would have stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, just down the block from the explosion. It’s all too close for comfort.

Lying in bed, I couldn’t fall asleep. I tossed and turned until 1am. I kept thinking about being in NY on 9/11, about running the Boston Marathon, about the bike accident I had in September where a turn of the wheel a different direction would have meant lights out for me. It was some combination of PTSD, sadness, obsessions, and contemplation of mortality. I finally fell asleep.

This morning on my run with Reece Pacheco we talked about it a little more. I haven’t even begun to really process this. Brent Hill sent out a tweet to me and a bunch of friends to commit to running Boston in 2014. I’m in.

I just contributed to the Boston Tech Communities fundraiser for the Boston Marathon victims. All proceeds will be donated completely to programs working with victims of the attacks including Red Cross, Children’s Hospital, and others.

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Apr 15 2013

Government Shouldn’t Be In The Accelerator Business

This article originally appeared online at Inc.com in an article titled Government Shouldn’t Be In The Accelerator Business. I talk more about this and lots of other topics in my recent book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City

As a co-founder of TechStars, I’m a huge believer in the mentor-driven accelerator model. But I don’t think government should be funding these accelerators, nor do I think they need to.

A good accelerator can be run in any city in the world for $500,000. Entrepreneurs with a compelling track record and approach should be able to easily raise, or even provide this capital. As evidence of this, there are already hundreds of accelerators in the U.S., without government funding, being run as entrepreneurial ventures for profit by entrepreneurs.

When we started TechStars in 2006, the idea of an accelerator was brand new. We funded the first TechStars program in Boulder in 2007 with $230,000. There were four investors – me, TechStars CEO David Cohen, David Brown, and Jared Polis. All four of us had been successful entrepreneurs and we decided to try TechStars as an experiment to help create more early stage start-ups in Boulder. We figured out the downside case was that we’d spend $230,000 and end up attracting 20 or so new, smart entrepreneurs to Boulder.

That first program went great and has already returned over two times our invested capital with several of the companies still having future value. We ran the second program in 2008, expanded to Boston in 2009, and adopted a funding strategy for each local program which we continue to use to this day. TechStars surpassed our wildest expectations and now runs over 10 programs a year for over 100 start-ups around the United States. We’ve begun expanding internationally with our first program running this summer in London. And there are many other accelerators around the world using the TechStars mentor-driven model that are members of the Global Accelerator Network.

All of this is privately funded. We’ve never taken a dollar of government funding, nor do we plan to.

While the amount of money required to run a program has increased from the original $230,000, it’s still well under $1,000,000 per program cycle. As a result, the amount of capital we need to raise to run a TechStars program is modest, and since we run it to make a financial return, it is actually an investment, rather than an expense. And, by being focused first on the financial return as well as playing a long-term game (we expect to be running TechStars accelerators for a long time), we are very thoughtful about how we allocate capital.

If entrepreneurs can’t figure out how to fund it, why should the government do it? That just seems like a situation where capital is going to be allocated poorly and the incentives won’t be tightly aligned.

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Apr 14 2013

Book: Let Your Life Speak

I did Digital Sabbath #4 yesterday. I spent the day on Coronado with my dad at Lindzonpalooza, the annual retreat put on by Howard Lindzon. We had a nice time hanging out Friday night as people arrived and then spent Saturday morning hearing short pitches from many of the companies Howard has invested in. I went for a two hour run in the early afternoon and then read Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer while my dad took a nap and practiced his snoring.

I haven’t been reading much the past six months. Usually I’m a voracious reader – 50 to 100 books a year is not unusual for me. But for some reason I haven’t felt like reading lately. I know some of it is my general mood and some has been the mental exhaustion from writing two books, but I’ve decided to start reading again as part of Digital Sabbath.

My good friend Jerry Colonna recommended Parker Palmer’s book to me. Jerry and Parker are doing a seminar in Boulder on 4/19 called Surviving the Startup Life: The Toll of Merging Identity and Work and, while I’ve heard of Parker numerous times, I’d never read anything by him.

Let Your Life Speak was really good. I read it at a good time for me as I continue to struggle with a depressive episode. Parker covers a lot of stuff but goes deep in one chapter about his own struggles with depression. It’s powerful – and very helpful to me – to read the first person stories about other people who sort through a real clinical depressive episode. Parker covered it bravely – and openly.

I had an excellent talk on Friday afternoon with my dad about what I’ve been struggling with since October. My dad is one of my heroes and closest friends. It’s hard to really connect deeply about this stuff over the phone so we sat for two hours in the sun outside a gelato store, ate our chocolate gelatos together, and talked. I’ve been processing a lot of the root cause of what’s going on and feel like I’m getting underneath some of it, and our conversation helped me get deeper into some of the issues. Parker’s book was a good reinforcement of several of the things I was struggling with.

We finished last night with a nice dinner with everyone overlooking the water and a very lit up San Diego. I just got back from a short run on the beach and am heading out for breakfast with my dad. Then, I’m off to the airport to spend a week in New York.

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