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:
- 30 Questions Investors Will Ask Founders
- 11 Questions Founders Need to Ask Investors
- Why NO is the Next Best Thing After YES
- Founders, Beware of Happy Ears
- 25 Epic, Must-Read Posts About Fundraising
- How to Run a Simple and Effective Board Meeting
- How to Ask Me and Others for an Introduction
- Don’t Take Intros from Investors Who aren’t Investing
- Why Product Demo is Your Secret Weapon
- Inbox 0
- 7 Calendar Tips for Startups
- Why Founder-Market-Fit is so Important
- 8 Tips for Dealing with Competitors
- How to Get the Most out of an Accelerator
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.
Kauffman Fellows and Techstars are once again running the Venture Deals online course.
This time it runs from May 6th to June 26th. We’ve now had over 10,000 people take the online course and have been delighted to meet or email with a bunch of them over the past few years.
If you want to learn how to be smarter than your lawyer and your venture capitalist, sign up for Venture Deals now. Yup – it’s free!
“Technologies that have revolutionized so many sectors of the economy have the potential to transform the way we do conservation. We’re at the front end of a new ‘nature-tech’ revolution and nature stands to win big from it.”
- Brian McPeek, Chief Conservation Officer of The Nature Conservancy
As many of you know, Techstars and The Nature Conservancy have teamed up to build a tech accelerator for the planet – Techstars Sustainability. The accelerator kicks off this July in Denver and companies from across the globe are applying now through April 8th. Considering how much Amy and I love both of these organizations, we’re excited to be supporting this effort to build stronger startup ecosystem at the intersection of sustainability, nature and technology.
From the state of coral reefs to deforestation, I’ll admit that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and the work ahead is certainly not something to take lightly. But, I’m also choosing to pursue a personal path that is rooted in urgency and action. I’m inspired by entrepreneurs like Grant Canary and his team at DroneSeed (a Techstars Seattle 2016 alumni). Grant is working to innovate the future of forestry through planting trees with swarms of drones. And then there is Liané Thompson, CEO of Aquaii, who is also utilizing drone technology to build robotic fish that gather underwater data in a way that was previously unachievable.
And that’s just drones and big data. Imagine all of the enabling technologies that can be applied to build powerful solutions in soil health, aquaculture, fisheries, water markets, climate resilience, and more. I think my friend Brian is right, we are on the forefront of a nature-tech revolution – and I want to be a part of it.
If you are interested in continuing this conversation with Brian and I, join us for a live online discussion and AMA on Monday, March 26th at 4:30pm MST. We’ll be talking about the origins of this partnership, the intersection of nature and technology and the upcoming accelerator. You can grab your seat by signing up here.
For more on how The Nature Conservancy is thinking about this, enjoy this short video.
I’ve been working on my next book, #GiveFirst, again. There’s a lot in it about the Techstars Mentor Manifesto and how to be an effective mentor.
Yesterday, I got a note from Jay Batson, longtime Techstars Boston mentor and now the Mentor-in-Residence for the program, asking if I had ever compiled the lists I posts I wrote about the Techstars Mentor Manifesto.
I hadn’t. He had conveniently done it in a Google doc so it was easy for me to list out the posts with links. They follow.
17/18: Be Challenging/Robust but Never Destructive (No post)
18/18: Have Empathy. Remember That Startups Are Hard (No post)
Jay also reminded me that I hadn’t written posts on #17 and #18. They are now on my list to do. Thanks, Jay!
The Nature Conservancy and Techstars just announced a partnership to create the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator. Amy and I were part of the public announcement this week in Denver. Both organizations are important to us so it’s a joy to be involved in having them work together.
Amy and I have been supporters of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) since we started our relationship in 1990. So has my partner Seth and his wife Greeley, who is currently a trustee on the TNC Colorado board. A key shared value of ours is protecting our planet and we are huge fans of TNC’s science-based approach.
Over the years, we’ve been personally involved in a number of projects, such as protecting the Anchor River in Anchor Point, Alaska (the town Amy grew up in until she was eight.) Amy went to Tanzania and Kenya in 2009 with TNC to increase capacity of TNC non-profit partners. We supported an Anchor Point Fellow at TNC’s Berlin office and an internship in Australia through Wellesley College. Heather Tallis, TNC’s Global Managing Director and Lead Scientist for Strategy Innovation, generously participated in our August 2017 Anchor Point Fellowship in Global Leadership Conference. Amy is currently on the TNC Global Campaign Committee and on the TNC Africa Affinity Group for Women and Girls. We also support TNC’s work with indigenous women environmental community leaders in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. TNC’s global reach makes it a very exciting organization to support.
At a TNC event at our house in June 2016, I had a conversation with Mark Tercek, TNC’s CEO, around innovation. Mark joined TNC nine years ago after a long and successful career at Goldman Sachs. One of my favorite ideas of his is that we can ensure more financial resources go toward conservation by getting the world to fully appreciate the opportunity to invest in nature. We had a good exchange about a number of creative approaches TNC taking to conservation and sustainability and I started referring to Mark as Nature’s Investment Banker.
Earlier this year, Amy encouraged me to get together with Brian McPeek, TNC’s Chief Conservation Officer, who is based in Denver. She described the conversation around technology and innovation she’d had with Brian, and suggested that I should talk to him about Techstars.
Brian and I got together with the goal of batting around a bunch of ideas around what he was trying to accomplish. Without realizing it, he was describing the domain of things that Techstars has addressed for many of our corporate partners. We left the meeting feeling like the idea of a Techstars TNC collaboration could be powerful.
Brian and his team went deep on things very quickly, understanding Techstars and how a Sustainability Accelerator would work. Even though Techstars has expanded around the world, we’ve never expanded in Colorado beyond our Techstars Boulder program, which was the very first location in which we ran an accelerator. We’ve talked about doing an accelerator in Denver, but never had a compelling reason to do it. But with Brian and TNC’s involvement, doing an accelerator in Denver became exciting to us – especially given the focus on sustainability that clearly differentiated it from what we were working on in the Boulder accelerator. It’s now a reality and Mark does a great job talking about our goals and approach in his post about The First Tech Accelerator For Sustainability.
In the tech world, founders (and investors) are always talking about changing the world, with an implication that what they want to be doing is something important, meaningful, and long lasting. In the past few years, there has been increasing dissonance between these words and what results from so-called disruptive innovations, where what we are really creating are companies that improve online ad-targeted by 1%, or create yet another mobile app that distracts our attention from the physical world. This isn’t a denigration of those companies, but rather a comment on the disconnect between the desire to change the world against the reality of working on things that time and humanity will likely forget quickly.
There’s an obvious question:“Are there opportunities to not just do good, but to have big outcomes?” I have a deeply held belief that large and successful companies can be built while solving global challenges. It’s not just a feel good thing, but a powerful approach to creating companies. And, if you take it to its natural conclusion, we ultimately are looking for for-profit companies that can be themselves sustainable and important.
For any entrepreneur interested in working on things that improve our planet, there’s now a Techstars accelerator to add to the mix of things people are doing in the world. And I’m excited to be involved in the collaboration to do this between two organizations that are extremely important to me.
A few weeks ago I was in Atlanta for Techstars Atlanta Demo Day and the Venture Atlanta Conference. I had a great time and it’s fun to see the vibrancy of the Atlanta startup community. My brother Daniel came with me and we had dinner with our cousin Kenny, who lives in Atlanta, so we got some nice, quiet, emotionally intimate family time.
My favorite keynote at Venture Atlanta was from Scott Dorsey. While our paths have intersected for more than a decade and I knew him from a distance, I’ve gotten to know Scott pretty well over the past year. I put him in the awesome category.
If you don’t know Scott, he was the co-founder and CEO of ExactTarget (2000) – one of the original SaaS companies. ExactTarget went public in 2012 and was acquired by Salesforce.com in 2013 for $2.5 billion and became the core of the current Salesforce Marketing Cloud. He was on the Salesforce.com leadership team until he left to start High Alpha in 2015.
If you are doing something SaaS related and you don’t know or follow what Scott says, you should.
At Venture Atlanta, part of his keynote was a riff on the Attributes of Great SaaS Leaders. While the web is peppered with SaaS metrics and the state of SaaS, there’s a dearth of CEO-centric qualitative information. While Scott’s attributes could be for any leader, they are particularly relevant to SaaS CEOs given the dynamic of how high-growth SaaS companies – and great leadership teams – need to work to scale.
His five attributes, which he went deeper on individually in the keynote, reflect his personality and leadership style.
1. Start with the end in mind
2. Are always learning
3. Value team and culture above everything
4. Are both optimistic and never satisfied
5. Give back!
For those of you that are Simon Sinek fans, starting with the end in mind is analogous to starting with your Why. Are always learning is the essence of being a leader in a super high growth rapidly changing world which most SaaS companies operate in. Valuing team and culture above everything is easy to say, but extremely hard to do, especially when your VCs are pressuring you to perform at a certain financial level for rational, or irrational, reasons. Are both optimistic and never satisfied is interestingly similar to Andy Grove’s “only the paranoid survive” while at the same time having a completely different tone.
If you know me, it won’t surprise you that I almost jumped out of my seat at the event and did a happy dance when Scott started talking about Give back! I know I need to train him to say “Give First”, but it’s the same concept. Scott was a leader here, with the creation of the ExactTarget Foundation (now Nextech) in 2011. Nextech works to elevate technical, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills of K-12 students, inspiring and enabling young people from all backgrounds to pursue careers in technology, so he’s been ahead of the curve on the importance of computer science and technical skills in K-12, something which is a big part of addressing many of the social and educational gaps in our country.
Indianapolis’ startup community, like Atlanta’s, is thriving. There’s no question in my mind that Scott’s leadership has contributed to this in a meaningful way.
All of this comes back to the idea that as a leader you should play a very long game. Scott does this brilliantly and it’s been hugely educational and inspiring to me to get to know him.
Kauffman Fellows and Techstars are running another cycle of the Venture Deals course with me and Jason Mendelson. Signups close tomorrow as the course runs from 9/24/17 – 11/13/17. The course is free to everyone.
The seven-week course, which is about five hours of work each week, has the following agenda.
Week 1 – Introduction of key players/Form or join a team
Week 2 – Fundraising/Finding the Right VC
Week 3 – Capitalization Tables/Convertible Debt
Week 4 – Term Sheets: Economics & Control
Week 5 – Term Sheets Part Two
Week 6 – Negotiations
Week 7 – Letter of Intent/Getting Acquired
Over 10,000 people have taken the course at this point. We’ve gotten universally strong positive reviews and have made plenty of new friends from people who have gone through the course and connected with us.
If you are interested in raising venture capital, I encourage you to sign up and take the course. I hope to see you online.
In March, YPO and Techstars launched a partnership to support high-growth entrepreneurship and innovation. As a kickoff to that, Techstars co-sponsored YPO Innovation Week.
I did a one hour interview with Kate Rogers from CNBC last Friday. It was a fun interview for me and I felt like we covered a lot of good stuff.
Steve Case kicked off YPO Innovation Week with an interview, also with Kate Rogers. I listened to it in advance of my interview and thought it was extremely well done.
There’s a tenuous balance between telling someone what to do and giving advice. It’s especially difficult as a mentor, especially if you’ve previously been a CEO and are used to being “the decider.”
As a mentor, you aren’t the decider. The CEO you are mentoring is the decider.
This dynamic is also true for many board / CEO relationships, where the board wants the CEO to make the ultimate decision. As I’ve often said, my goal as a VC is only to make one decision about a company – whether or not I support the CEO. If I do, I work for the CEO. If I don’t, it’s my job to do something about the CEO.
While this is nice in theory, it’s difficult in practice. One of my strengths is that I tell a lot of stories. One of my weaknesses is that, according to my wife Amy, my stories go on 20% too long (she is correct.) Here’s an example.
I’m at a board meeting. The CEO, which I love working with, is trying to figure out what to do about a particularly thorny issue. I tell a story. He reacts with a little more data. I tell another story. Another board member asks a question. I tell another story. This one goes on a bit too long.
The CEO looks directly at me and says, very firmly, “Will you just tell me the fucking answer for once?”
I tell him the answer.
He was looking for specific, actionable advice. I was telling him stories. If he spent enough time processing the stories, he might be able to come up with the right answer. Or, since they are stories, he might draw the wrong inference and decide to do something different from where the stories were leading him. This CEO was aware of that and, in real time was having trouble processing the point of the stories in his context.
Fortunately, this CEO was self-aware enough to ask for specific, actionable advice in a moment where he needed it.
The Venture Deals Online Course for this spring starts this Sunday May 14, 2017 and runs through July 3, 2017. The Kauffman Fellows Academy and Techstars are co-hosting the course. It’s free – all you need to do is sign up.
This is the fifth time we are running the course. So far more than 5,000 people around the globe have done it and we’ve gotten to meet and collaborate with entrepreneurs from six continents.
While our book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist is the basis for the course, we have extensive exercises, additional content, and a highly engaged community to answer questions. Jason and I make regular visits, both in the online discussion sections as well as periodic AMAs. In addition, the team from Techstars is also engaging throughout the program.
If you are interested in entrepreneurship and how startup deals work, here’s a great chance to go deep on this with me, Jason, Kauffman Fellows, and Techstars.