Upfront and the Power of Startup Community in LA

I’m finally home after three solid weeks on the road which included Austin, Dallas, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. It’s delightful to sit in my green zebra chair in Amy’s upstairs office, with a cup of tea, the Diana Krall channel playing on Pandora, and just catch up on stuff.

The extra points from my trip was getting to spend some face time with close friends and family that I haven’t seen in a while. Amy joined me in LA and we had dinner with Fred and Joanne Wilson and then went art shopping with Fred on Sunday. I spent a weekend in Dallas with my parents and went to Dairy Queen for Blizzard’s three times with my dad (my mom tagged along and even had a Blizzard one night.) I had dinner with my Uncle Charlie, Aunt Cindy, Cousin Jon, and his son Jack. You get the picture – even though the travel was intense I got some time with humans I love and don’t get to smell as often as I’d like to.

At the end of the trip, I spent two days at the Upfront Summit in LA. This comes on the heals of Upfront managing director Mark Suster’s great post titled Embracing Your Community as a Strategy which I encourage you to read as it is magnificent.

I have a long relationship with LA. In my first company (Feld Technologies) my first large client was in LA (Bellflower Dental Group). While the company – a large 100 person dental practice – was based in Bellflower, the dentist that owned it lived in Mandeville Canyon and I usually stayed at his house when I was in LA (he was the step-father of a fraternity brother, which is how we got connected in the first place.) I drove a lot in LA and learned things like how the 10 connects to the 5 to the 605, or the 405 to the 605. I learned that if you left at the right time, each route was only 30 minutes, but if you left at the wrong time, it was over two hours. I heard about Wolfgang Puck before he was in airports everywhere. I enjoyed the non-meat dishes at Hamburger Heaven, went to The Palm when there was only one location, and hung out in Santa Monica before it was techie cool and the only thing around was Peter Norton.

Today, our current investments in LA include OblongNix Hydra, and recently Two Bit Circus. In the last five years, there has been an explosion of startup activity in LA that continues to be exciting as the startup community grows and evolves. Mark and his gang at Upfront Ventures are in the middle of it and are having a huge positive impact on things.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve attended and hosted many VC annual meetings. I’m an investor in many early stage VC funds and, while I’m not a rigorous annual meeting attender, will go if one of the GPs asks me to. I always offer to be part of the content of whatever meeting / summit / dinner they do if it’s useful to them.

Since I was already in LA on Monday, I told Mark I’d stick around for the Summit if he thought it’d be useful to him and the team. He immediately programmed me into the content for Wednesday (LP/GP day) and Thursday (entrepreneur day). Mark also invited me to the Upfront annual meeting given (a) our Next strategy and (b) my new partner Lindel Eakman being a prior investor in Upfront when he was at UTIMCO.

The annual meeting was solid and consistent with high quality annual meetings. But the Summit on the follow two days was easily the best VC-driven summit that I’ve ever attended. The content was incredibly high quality, diverse, and stimulating. There was plenty of networking time organized around the content. The venues were awesome. The coordination and organization was first class. The attendee list was dynamite. My understanding is that Mark / Upfront are going to post the content online and I’d encourage you to watch many of the videos when this happens.

It being LA, the special bonus things I got to do, like the one pictured below, was about as good as it gets. Yes, Kevin Spacey is extremely smart, interesting, and extremely articulate – as I expected, but there’s nothing like getting to spend a few minutes with someone you admire (he’s always been one of my favorite actors), but have never met.

Kevin Spacey with Fanboys

Mark, Greg, Stuart, and gang – thank you for including me in this. You are doing amazing things in the LA startup community.

Introducing The Dial Telephone

If you are over 80 years old, you experienced the transition from the non-dial telephone to the dial telephone, which included the magic “finger stop.”

If you are 30, imagine what you will be reflecting on 50 years from now.

Is History A Guide In Business?

I was at a fascinating dinner with a bunch of founders and investors last night. Until I was 35, I was often the youngest guy in the room. While this was a seasoned crowd, much of the experience – both around creating companies and funding companies – started around the mid-2000s. As someone who has been doing this since the late 1980s (I started my first company in 1987) I definitely felt like one of the old guys in the room.

At some point, the conversation turned to the current state of things in the broad entrepreneurial ecosystem – both company-side and investor-side. It rambled around for a while but kept locking down on specific issues around the current state of financings and exits, alignment between founders/investors/acquirers, cultural norms that were front and center in today’s startup communities, and a bunch of other issues that tied back to the wonderful Game of Thrones line “winter is coming.”

Throughout the evening, I was regularly reminded of my favorite BSG quote. “All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.”

Another one of my favorite quotes is the one attributed to Mark Twain, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.Phil Weiser, Dean of the CU Law School and a good friend, often pulls this one out to remind us to look to the past to understand the future.

While we’ve been in a particular strong part of the startup / entrepreneurship cycle for the past four years, many people are nervous, talking about it, reacting to it, and getting confused, frustrated, and scared by what is going on. Others are in total denial of reality, which never works out well in the long run. Whether you follow the BSG theology or subscribe to Mark Twain, or are somewhere in-between, you recognize the value of understanding the past to exist in the present and deal with the future.

I came out of dinner with about 20 topics for blog posts, many which reflect on lessons I’ve learned multiple times over the past 30 years, which can be applied to today, and tomorrow, and the next few years, regardless of what actually happens. Until last night I wasn’t particularly motivated to blog around this stuff, but the discussion, and people in the room, really stimulated me to put some energy into this. So I plan to.

But remember, all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. So if you are impatient, I encourage you to go look at posts from me, Fred Wilson, and David Hornik from 2004 – 2007 for a taste of what I would characterize of “the re-emergence from winter.”

Computer Science For All

This morning, President Obama and the White House made an awesome announcement of a new initiative called Computer Science for All. The goal is to empower a generation of American students with the computer science skills they need to thrive in a digital economy.

NCWIT (where I’m the chair of the board) is deeply involved in this. Rather than try to recreate Lucy Sanders (the CEO of NCWIT’s) message to the extended NCWIT community, I’m just republishing it below.

This morning the entire NCWIT community has reason to celebrate. President Obama just made an historic call to action that provides all students access to computer science education through policy and financial support. We encourage everybody to amplify and support this announcement within your networks using the hashtag #CSforAll. You can also follow updates from @whitehouse on Twitter, as well as the NCWIT social media channels.

This moment comes after a long journey of advocacy and work by the entire NCWIT change leader network. Those of you that have been around since the early years of NCWIT may remember the first time President Obama spoke publicly about computer science at the 2006 NCWIT/NSF Innovation & Diversity Town Hall at the National Academy of Engineering. We are grateful that he has continued to support computer science education throughout his presidency and look forward to seeing what is ahead in the final months of the administration.

Universal access is a critical element when working toward inclusion for all underrepresented students in computing. In addition to the growing library of NCWIT research-based resources for K-12 educators, families and girls, today NCWIT joins many other partners in making additional commitments to the #CSforAll initiative:

NCWIT will equip 1,400 school counselors with tools for advising high school students on computer science education and career pathways. NCWIT Counselors for Computing (C4C) helps counselors paint a new picture of who is right for computing and supports their strategic action toward increasing access to computer science education and career pathways for all students. Through a $1 million commitment, NCWIT will scale up its Counselors for Computing initiative to equip 1,400 new school counselors with training and resources, increasing access for more than half a million students to the growing and lucrative careers in technology.

NCWIT, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Google will collaborate to expand CS options for more than 400 girls living in HUD-supported housing by extending the NCWIT AspireIT outreach program to local HUD partners. NCWIT AspireIT enlists high school and college women to lead computing outreach experiences for K-12 girls using a novel approach in which near-peer role models teach younger girls fundamentals in programming and computational thinking in fun, creative environments.

NCWIT will host a series of roundtables aimed at increasing access for girls from underrepresented groups. NCWIT will partner with Intel to host a convening on Native American students’ and tribes’ access to technology careers, and will host with Google a conversation on the image of African-American girls in technology. Also with Google, NCWIT will bring together leaders of peer-led computing-outreach programs to identify promising practices, collaborate on evaluation and outcomes measurement, and build strategies for scaling-up programs for students nationwide.

We look forward to continuing our work with the entire computing community on the important mission of inclusion and diversity. We can’t wait to see what problems get solved, and what solutions emerge, when diverse people are inventing the technology upon which we all depend. We welcome your thoughts and collaboration, and don’t forget the NCWIT Summit is coming right up, May 16-18, 2016.

The first time I met President Obama was at an NCWIT event in 2006 when he was a senator. It was the first time he spoke publicly about computer science.

With the endless vitriol going on in the US political world right now given our election cycle, it’s wonderful to see President Obama and his staff (including the amazing Megan Smith, our U.S. Chief Technology Officer) focus on things that really matter for the long term health of our country and society – and get them done.

Are You Interested In The Blockchain?

If you are interested in the blockchain or bitcoin, go support William Mougayar’s new Kickstarter The Business Blockchain Books.

William is writing two books on the blockchain. We had early discussions with him about doing them via FG Press, but since we’ve decided to shut down FG Press (more on that in a later post) we encouraged William to explore different options. He chose to launch on Kickstarter, which I think is an awesome place for an domain expert like William to do this instead of going the traditional publishing route.

I’ve gotten to know William over the past seven years. I originally met him through his previous company Engagio. We weren’t investors, but I was an early and active user and fan. We get together ever time I go to Toronto and I’ve enjoyed watching him engage deeply in the Toronto startup community, while building deep expertise around the blockchain (and corresponding technologies). He also publishes a really useful blog called Startup Management and has been making seed investments in a number of companies, especially around the blockchain.

I just supported his Kickstarter. Fred Wilson did also – and wrote about it at Let’s Give William A Big Advance.

I agree with Fred – let’s support William’s new books and learn a lot more about the blockchain in the process.