Month: May 2018

May 31 2018

In The End She Was Vulnerable To Facts

I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup last week on my Q2 vacation. In my post talking about the various books I read, I wrote the following about it.

“Every entrepreneur and VC should read this book. John Carreyrou has done something important here. Maybe this book will finally put a nail in the phrase “fake it till you make it”, but I doubt it. The amount of lying, disingenuousness, blatant and unjustified self-promotion, and downright deceit that exists in entrepreneurship right now is at a local maximum. This always happens when entrepreneurship gets trendy. Carreyrou just wrote a long warning for entrepreneurs and VCs.”

This morning, Amy emailed me a link to an article by Matthew Herper titled Elizabeth Holmes’ Superpower. He strongly recommends Carreyrou’s book and talks about his coverage of Theranos and how he was snowed over the years, partly through his interactions directly with Holmes. In contrast, Holmes never talked to Carreyrou, leaving Herper to reflect:

“Holmes never did talk to Carreyrou, leaving her greatest weapon, her weird charisma, holstered. Now his portrayal of her, put together from other people’s recollections, will define her in the public memory, especially if the planned movie starring Jennifer Lawrence gets made. For those of us she did talk to, at least to me, the book presents a humbling puzzle. Why was what seems so visible now invisible when Holmes was in the room?”

While this is all complicated stuff, Herper’s self-reflection is helpful. At a meta-level, it’s just another example of the challenge of promotion vs. substance. Or, aspiration goals vs. what’s actually going on. Or fantasy vs. reality. Or what you hope to create being articulated as what you have created.

Entrepreneurship is incredibly difficult. Among other challenges a founder has is balancing the vision of what is being created compared to what exists today. At the very beginning of the journey, this is easy because it’s obvious that it is all aspirational. But, as things progress, the substance of what has been created so far starts to matter, especially as the founder needs to raise more money to continue to fund the aspiration goals.

The best founders that I’ve worked with combine a mix of their aspirational goals with a real grounding in the current reality of where the business is. They know that their aspirational goals are goals – not current reality. And they know that there isn’t a straight line to the goals. If they use their reality distortion field as a charismatic founder, it’s to motivate their team to build something, not deceive investors or customers into believing it has been built.

Because, after all, in the end, we are all vulnerable to facts.

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May 30 2018

FullContact Connect 2018 – June 6 – 8 in Denver

My friends at FullContact are having their 2nd annual FullContact Connect Conference. If you are interested, you can get a 50% discount on the ticket price by using the code “Foundry” on the registration page.

Connect ‘18 is bringing together thought leaders and experts – from across industries and verticals – who are experts in the world of data-driven customer intelligence and marketing. At a time when the data industry is under the magnifying glass, Connect ’18 will deliver a mixture of thought leadership and actionable sessions from a range of excellent speakers, to equip marketing leaders to create authentic and lasting relationships with their customers.

The conference schedule has four themes:

The Art and Science of Creating Authentic Connections – how to grow your business by combining the latest technology with the lessons of exceptional customer service

Human to Human Connections – how and why companies need to throw away the traditional B2B and B2C playbooks and focus on building authentic H2H relationships

The Rise of Augmented Humanity – the role artificial intelligence is capable of playing in creating deeper customer connections

The New Dimensions Of Privacy – how can companies thrive and continue to create compelling customer experiences in the new era of data privacy

Some of the speakers include:

  • Niraj Deo, VP Product, Oracle DataCloud
  • Sarah Bird, CEO, Moz
  • Tom Marriott, Principal, Marketing & Communications Leader, Deloitte
  • Beverley Jackson, VP Social Portfolio Strategy, MGM Resorts International
  • Steve Mateer, Data Channel Executive, Pitney Bowes
  • Carley Brantz, VP Revenue Marketing, SendGrid
  • Bryn Weaver, Chief Privacy Officer, Wiland

The weather in Denver is amazing this time of year. So, as a bonus, you can enjoy a delightfully long evening at the Clyfford Still Museum and magnificent early mornings in the mountains.

Remember, if you are interested, you can get a 50% discount on the ticket price by using the code “Foundry” on the registration page. And, there are a few sponsorship opportunities remaining, so reach out to Scott Axcell if you want to be even more engaged.

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May 28 2018

Q218 Vacation Reading

Amy and I took a much needed 10 days off in Aspen.

The first five months of the year was intense for both of us. Lots of travel, work, and stuff. Not a lot of self-care, time alone, or reading. And very little running since my calf was injured.

The last 10 days were lots of together time, running, reading, and sleeping. I gobbled up a bunch of books, all of them worth reading.

Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear: I started with a short book by Carl Hiaasen. I’m a fan of his fiction, so this caught my eye in Explore Booksellers (the local Aspen bookstore where we always load up whenever we come here.) It was cynically wonderful, and great advice.

Adjustment Day: Ever since Fight Club, I’ve been a Chuck Palahniuk fan. His fiction is cloudy, complex, challenging, contemporary, and cynical. He’s basically the C-Man of fiction (go Chuck, go …) Adjustment Day was the perfect fictional setup for the next book I read, which was …

Fascism: A Warning: Amy and I have been fortunate enough to get to know Madeleine Albright through our collective relationships at Wellesley. Amy knows her better, but I had an amazing dinner sitting next to her one night where I walked away thinking “I wish she had been born here so she could run for president.” The word “fascism” is once again being used so often as to mean nothing, so Albright spends 250 or so pages walking the reader through real fascism, how fascists behave, what they do to their countries (and societies), and what – as a citizen in a democratic country – to pay attention to. She covers the famous ones, but also some not so famous ones, especially those who came to power in the context of a theoretically democratic society.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup: Every entrepreneur and VC should read this book. John Carreyrou has done something important here. Maybe this book will finally put a nail in the phrase “fake it till you make it”, but I doubt it. The amount of  lying, disingenuousness, blatant and unjustified self-promotion, and downright deceit that exists in entrepreneurship right now is at a local maximum. This always happens when entrepreneurship gets trendy. Carreyrou just wrote a long warning for entrepreneurs and VCs.

Imagine Wanting Only This: I love graphic novels. I don’t read enough because – well – I don’t know. Amy bought me this one because she loved the cover. Kristen Radtke wrote a beautiful, provocative, at times extremely sad, but also uplifting story that is auto-biographical. I wish I could write this well. And, when I read a book like this, I really wish I could draw.

The Painted Word: The world lost a great writer recently when Tom Wolfe died. So I bought the Five Essential Tom Wolfe Books You Should Read. I hadn’t read The Painted Word so I started with it. It’s a deliciously scathing criticism of modern art, circa 1975. I loved it.

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto: If you read one book from this list, read this one, especially if you live in Boulder. Alan Stern, the PI on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, wrote – with David Grinspoon – a riveting story that spans around 30 years. Both Alan and David are at CU Boulder, which plays a key role in the exploration of the last planet in our solar system (there – I said it – Pluto is a planet, the IAU be damned.) This book is a page tuner and will cause you to fall in love with Pluto. And, in late breaking news, Pluto may actually be a giant comet (ah – clickbait headlines …)

Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger: I’m a huge Charlie Munger fan. For some reason, I’d missed this biography of him. I learned a few things I didn’t know and got to travel back in time to a book written in the context of Charlie Munger about 20 years ago.

It was a great vacation. I’ll be back in Boulder tomorrow …

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May 18 2018

Misty II Teardown

The Misty II pre-order campaign is in full gear, with Misty II selling at a discount of 50% of its retail price. It’s 90% of the way to the stretch goal, which unlocks some fun goods. So, if you want the Apple ][ of home robots, pre-order now and get another $100 off by using my referral code!

Ian Bernstein, the co-founder of Misty (and co-founder of Sphero), has a great teardown of Misty II. He walks through all the hardware components and then opens up Misty’s brain and body so you can see the hardware inside.

Kids love Misty II also. Here are six reasons why Misty II is perfect for education along with a short video of some kids playing around with and explaining why Misty II is awesome.

If you are a kid, have kids, or are a grown-up kid, you’ve got a few more weeks to get Misty II as part of the pre-order campaign. Discounts, goodies, and a chance to be part of creating the first real, usable home robot.

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May 16 2018

Step Into The VC Time Machine

One of the things humans are bad at is remembering the past and incorporating the lessons they learned from difficult experiences. I’m sure there’s a philosophical word for this, but I’ve now heard the phrase “this time it is different” so many times that it doesn’t register with me as a valid input.

I woke up this morning to Howard Lindzon’s post R.I.P Good Times (Said Sequoia in October, 2008) and Nobody Knows Anything pointing to David Frankel’s tweet:

All of this ultimately led to me reviewing Sequoia’s classic slide deck from 2008.

I remember reading it in 2008. We were about a year into our first Foundry Group fund, which we raised in 2007. That now feels like a very long time ago.

I encourage everyone to review the deck. It would be awesome if an economist (Ian Hathaway, are you out there?) made a new deck with an update to 4 through 38 that extended the time frame (and analysis) to 2018.

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May 14 2018

Boulder Open Weekend for Mental Health

For the second year Amy and I are supporting the Open Weekend – a celebration of neurodiversity in the startup community – through the Anchor Point Foundation. If you or a loved one have a mental health condition or just want to learn more or help out, I encourage you to check out the event.

Friday, May 18th starts off with the Brain Crawl at Boulder Startup Week. My good friend Jerry Colonna and I spoke at this part of the weekend last year. Saturday, May 19th is the alternative hackathon being held at Techstars. You can RSVP here to attend, mentor as a behavioral health specialist or specialist in some other area like marketing, PR, or engineering, or just jump in to learn more. Sunday will wrap up the weekend with a social day of outdoor games, meditation, and more.

Here is a click to tweet if you want to spread the word or RSVP to the Open Weekend Boulder 2018.

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May 11 2018

Boulder Startup Week 2018 Non-Profit Pitch Contest

It’s awesome how Startup Week and Weekend have grown from an experiment here in Boulder into a global set of events that are now housed under the Techstars umbrella.

I’m not doing my usual crazy schedule of running around to panels and events as I’ll be out of town for most of the week but wanted to highlight a few events I’m especially excited about.

Amy and I supported the Pledge 1% Colorado Nonprofit Pitch contest last year with a $10,000 grant through our Anchor Point Foundation and are happily doing it again this year. This and other Social Impact Track events are working to engage the broader startup community and expand Startup Week beyond just high-tech startups.

You can view the schedule and RSVP for the Social Impact Track events and P1% Nonprofit pitch contest 5/15 here and here. And, if you’re so inclined, you can promote with a click to tweet as well!

If you are around Boulder next week or want to see the Boulder community at it’s finest, check out the BSW schedule and join in on the fun.

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May 10 2018

The Legend of Mike and Mary

I was at dinner several weeks ago with Amy and two close friends who are 20 years younger than us. We were talking about what they were currently doing and they categorized their activities as “adding to” or “not adding to” the legend of mike and mary. I’ve anonymized them, but you get the idea.

The legend they were referring to was their internal legend as a couple. Neither of them could give a shit about the external legend, or what the world thought of them. This wasn’t about fame, ego, recognition, or acknowledgment. Fame and fortune didn’t play into the construct.

Instead, it was about their life together. Their journey. What they did together. It was the label for their narrative as a couple against the backdrop of a finite amount of time on this planet. Many of the activities in their legend where individual ones, but supported by the partner. And many others were ones they did together.

It was a beautiful approach. During the conversation, we went deep on the work one of them was doing, which they concluded was not adding to the legend of mike and mary. I got a note the next day that, as a result of the conversation, mike was going to leave his job and pursue something else that was much more important to him and that they thought could add to the legend of mike and mary.

I loved this construct. Since that dinner, Amy and I have used it a few times when talking about something we were considering doing. The question “Does this add to the legend of Amy and Brad?” provokes a different type of conversation about a specific activity or decision, especially when the activity or decision is significant, requires a long time commitment, or takes a lot of energy.

Remember – it’s internal, not external. Assume you write the legend at the end the end of your life but no one else ever reads it. It can be for you as an individual, or as a couple.

The next time you are pondering something, ask yourself the equivalent of “Does this add to the legend of mike and mary?”

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May 9 2018

Alex Iskold Startup Hacks

I’ve been friends with Alex Iskold for over a dozen years (I was an angel investor in GetGlue, which USV funded.)

Alex has been the Managing Director of Techstars NY for a number of years and I think he’s now run seven programs and built an impressive portfolio of around 80 companies.

I’m a huge Alex fan and love his writing. Recently, he put together a bunch of great blog posts on his site under a heading Startup Hacks. He has divided them into the following topics: Fundraising, Managing Investors, VC and Business Intros, Metrics and KPIs, Product and Marketing, Productivity, Founding Team, and Accelerator.

I’ve read them all. Some of my favorites include:

Alex – thanks for taking the time to write all of these! And, if you are a regular reader of this blog, I encourage you to go read all of Alex’s posts.

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May 8 2018

Return Path’s Partner Platform Solution

I was an early investor in two of the first email service providers (Email Publishing and Mercury Mail). My experience with ESPs goes back more than 20 years and, since the mid 1990s, I’ve seen the ESP ecosystem evolve from its infancy, with just a few startups blazing a trail, to today’s robust industry populated by mature marketing technology platforms. And yes, they are now called email marketing platforms, which seems much more grown up and sophisticated.

Deliverability first became a hot issue in the early 2000s, and our portfolio company Return Path emerged as an innovator and leader. Since then, deliverability has remained one of the most important levers for email marketers.

Consequently, the role of the ESP’s deliverability specialist (a job, like many others in our industry, that is extremely challenging and not well known) has become increasingly difficult. Today’s deliverability specialist is tasked with managing more clients, across more geographies, with ever-changing parameters by individual mailbox providers. And of course, like any industry, they face greater and greater client expectations.

Most deliverability specialists have cobbled together their own solutions (such as MTA logs and response metrics) and leveraged solutions like Return Path – although admittedly these solutions are based on the same platform any email marketer would use. In short, deliverability solutions for ESPs could have – and should have – been better.

Recently, Return Path launched their innovative new Partner Platform solution, the first deliverability platform built exclusively for ESPs, with extensive input from their longstanding ESP partners. When I first heard of the development of this product, I was delighted that Return Path had committed to investing in an ESP/super-user platform to address the unique needs of the ESP and their deliverability specialists.

Return Path’s Partner Platform puts deliverability data all in one place, allowing deliverability specialists to see what’s happening across their entire client ecosystem. Information is layered together to provide meaningful metrics and insights across all clients’ programs.

The vast data assets Return Path has invested in, coupled with the ability to slice and dice data, is a game-changer for deliverability specialists.

This is a huge step for the email marketing industry and something that’s long overdue. I’m glad to see that an 18 year old, independent company can continue to make big innovations while growing their business.

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