Holidays Can Be Hard

I’m feeling fine today. But I know many entrepreneurs who aren’t. They are under intense pressure, worrying about an endless stream of things coming at them, suffering under the weight of imposter syndrome and other sources of anxiety. And, in some cases they are depressed, but trapped by our own culture which stigmatizes depression.

Earlier this week Biz Carson wrote an excellent article titled There’s a dark side to startups, and it haunts 30% of the world’s most brilliant people. It started with Austen Heinz’s suicide (Austen was the founder of Cambrian Genomics) and then built into a wide ranging discussion about depression among entrepreneurs.

It highlighted a recent study by Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at UCSF and an entrepreneur, which is the first to link higher rates of mental health issues to entrepreneurship.

Of the 242 entrepreneurs surveyed, 49% reported having a mental-health condition. Depression was the No. 1 reported condition among them and was present in 30% of all entrepreneurs, followed by ADHD (29%) and anxiety problems (27%). That’s a much higher percentage than the US population at large, where only about 7% identify as depressed.

I’ve been very open about my struggles over the past 25 years with depression and anxiety and am quoted in the article. But after dinner last night, Amy discovered on Facebook that the son of a childhood friend of her’s had committed suicide. It reminded me that depression and other mental health issues are widespread and are often extremely challenging around the holidays.

I used to struggle mightily with three day weekend and holiday weeks. While the rest of the world slowed down, I felt like the pressures on me were speeding up. I wanted everyone to get off their butts, stop relaxing, and respond to my emails. I was impatient and didn’t want to wait until Monday to try to address whatever issues were in front of me. I felt disoriented, which just made me more anxious. And when I was in the midst of a depressive episode, time just strung out endlessly in front of me, in a very bad way.

I used to be especially cranky around Christmas time. I’m jewish and didn’t grow up with Christmas, I always thought Hanukkah was a stupid holiday, made up to assuage sullen jewish kids when all of their friends had gift orgies. I felt isolated and different, which just made my general anxiety and impatience around holidays even worse.

In the last decade this has eased. I now give myself up to the slower pace, I give myself space to feel however I want to feel, I rest a lot, and I hang out with Amy. I’m social, but not overly so, and avoid big gatherings which crush my soul. I read, spend time outside, and nap. I let my batteries recharge and I don’t try to get caught up on everything, but instead just do what I feel like doing.

The July 4th weekend is always one that is joyful on the surface. It’s summer. The weather is warm. People do outdoorsy things. Email slows to a trickle.

For an anxious, stressed, or depressed entrepreneur, this can be extremely uncomfortable and exacerbate whatever issues are going on.

If you are one of these entrepreneurs, try my approach this weekend. Just shut down all the stimuli. Get off your computer. Take a digital sabbath. Go outside. Lay on a couch with a book and fall asleep reading. Blow off the 4th of July party that you don’t really want to go to and just stay home and watch TV in the middle of day. Let your energy go wherever it takes you. And recognize that all the emails, all the stress, all the anxiety, and all the people will be there on Monday ready to go again.

If you are the significant other of one of these entrepreneurs, take a lesson from Amy. Be patient. Be loving. Don’t let it be all about your partner, but don’t make it all about you. Just chill. And be together. Have a vacation – from everyone and everything else.

And for everyone else, recognize that holidays can be hard. And that’s ok.

A Demo Day in Telluride

I’m in Telluride for the day. I drove from Aspen (where we are hanging out for the week) through some of the most beautiful mountains and countryside you will ever see and ended up in the magical place called Telluride.

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I’m here for the Telluride Venture Accelerator Demo Day. This is their third program and I’m looking forward to the day. While Telluride is known for being a super high end beautiful magnificent ski town, it’s also the second home to a lot of very interesting and successful people who are committed to making sure their corner of paradise has a long term sustainable future beyond just tourism.

In addition to the accelerator, there is a fascinating entity called NextLaw Labs here. At dinner last night I sat next to Joe Andrews, the chairman of Dentons (the largest law firm in the world) and heard about why he and Dan Jansen have set up NextLaw Labs in Telluride to create the future of legal technology.

In the afternoon I went for a short hike with Marc Nager, the Chief Community Officer at Techstars, who lives in Telluride with his wife Ashley (who is the program director for the Telluride Venture Accelerator). Marc, as always, is looking trim and happy in his green Techstars shirt and sandals.

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Today, I’m doing a fireside chat with Jesse Johnson (TVA co-founder and CEO) to kick things off. Then, after demo day, I’m spending 15 minutes with each company. While I know they are looking to me as a potential investor, it’s a low probability for each of them. As a result, my goal will be simple – I’ll try to do at least one thing for each of them that is helpful to moving their business along. In most cases this will be a connection (the drone company here will definitely get connected to 3D Robotics), customer feedback (I’ll become a customer), or something that is tangible that goes beyond just feedback.

And then, I’ll drive back through the mountains from the glorious place called Telluride to another spectacular place called Aspen. I so deeply love Colorado.

Oracle’s Java API Suit Against Google – Five Years Later

Five years ago, in August 2010, I asked the question Have We Reached The Software Patent Tipping Point?

Oracle sued Google over a series of Java-related patents they got when they acquired Sun.

My favorite line from the whole thing was James Gosling’s (who was one of the authors of one of the original patents and a key creator of Java) when he wrote The shit finally hits the fan.

“The shit finally hits the fan…. Thursday August 12, 2010
Oracle finally filed a patent lawsuit against Google. Not a big surprise. During the integration meetings between Sun and Oracle where we were being grilled about the patent situation between Sun and Google, we could see the Oracle lawyer’s eyes sparkle. Filing patent suits was never in Sun’s genetic code. Alas…. 

I hope to avoid getting dragged into the fray: they only picked one of my patents (RE38,104) to sue over.”

Oracle also got copyrights to the Java APIs. Remember, Java was theoretically Open Source, but like so many things in our world when lawyers get involved “it’s complicated.” Stack Exchange regularly has commentary about this. See Is Java free/open source or not? and Is java an open source programming language?

It’s not as messy as the Greek debt crisis but directionally similar. And it’s far from over. I was hoping the Supreme Court would take this on and help put an important issue around copyright to bed. But the Supremes passed, deferring to the need for a lower court to rule on the appeal.

“The justices, without comment, declined to disturb a May 2014 appeals court ruling in Oracle’s favor that reinvigorated the company’s case against Google. The appeals court, overruling a trial judge, said 37 packages of prewritten Java programs, known as application programming interfaces, were entitled to copyright protection.

Oracle has sought more than $1 billion in damages. A jury originally held that Google infringed the Oracle copyrights, but it deadlocked on Google’s defense that its copying amounted to fair use. That issue will have to be retried in a lower court.”

Patents and copyrights are different. And the courts know that. Unfortunately, it’s getting even more tangled up, especially around the critical concept of fair use. This continues to be a very important case, especially as interoperability between software has become a fundamental tenant of how software systems function, and I’m glad Google is fighting it.

At least we got the right to marry anyone we want from the Supremes.

Weekend Video Fun From Big Omaha

This weekend you can catch up on Halt and Catch Fire, Mr. Robot, or the talk I gave at Big Omaha in May.

I tell stories about my favorite investment (Harmonix), an investment we clearly missed and why (Twitter), and my worst and most heartbreaking investment (Interliant), along with lawsuits and eating babies.

I then go on a riff on Startup Communities and Fundraising, where the phrase “Any rich people around here?” popped out and got some applause.

I covered the inevitable question about dragicorns and big financings, went on my culture – competence rant, and then answered whether entrepreneurs are born or made.

I had fun at Big Omaha. While I think Halt and Catch Fire and Mr. Robot are way more interesting than me, this was a pretty good interview.

How We Think About Values Versus Deeply Held Beliefs

Matt Blumberg, the CEO of Return Path, has an outstanding post up this morning titled The Difference Between Culture and ValuesGo read it, I’ll be here when you get back.

If you liked that, go get a copy of Matt’s book Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your BusinessIt’s one of the books on my list of books all CEOs should read.

Matt distinguishes between culture and values. His punch line, which he reveals early, is:

Values guide decision-making and a sense of what’s important and what’s right. Culture is the collection of business practices, processes, and interactions that make up the work environment.

At Foundry Group, we have a slight modification to how we think of values. Supporting our values are a set of “deeply held beliefs.”  These deeply held beliefs tangibly define our values and give us a frame of reference to operate.

For example, one of our deeply held beliefs is that “we will never grow.” Each of our funds is $225 million, we have four partners and no other investment staff, and we work out of the same office we’ve worked out of since we started in 2007. We’ve had opportunities to raise much larger funds and have considered it in the past given a variety of factors. But, we kept coming back to this deeply held belief and realized that raising a larger fund would violate our brand promise of only raising $225 million funds.

Our deeply held beliefs are fundamental to our values, although we are comfortable challenging them regularly to make sure they are deeply held, and make modifications on occasion when we learn new things but only after a lot of thought and discussion, among ourselves and with several of our very close limited partners.

For example, when we started we said “we’ll make around 10 new investments a year.” This came from a belief around the importance of time diversity of investing – we have a three year time horizon for making the 30 or so initial investments in the companies we want in each fund.

Until 2013, we made between 8 and 14 a year, which is close enough to 10 (although the year we did 14 was a year where we all said “too much – slow down.”) But at the end of 2013, when the JOBS Act became official and AngelList created Syndicates, we decided to understand the phenomenon better by participating in it. So, rather than sit on the sidelines, observe, and prognosticate about angel / seed investing, we created the FG Angels Syndicate on AngelList and have done around 60 seed investments in the last 18 months.

Another example of a re-evaluation of a deeply held belief was our decision to create our Foundry Group Select Fund. Until we created this fund, we limited the amount that we could invest in a company to $15 million. We would occasionally go a little higher (the most we have invested in a company from one of our funds, other than Select, is $17 million) but, especially with successful companies, we were limited to what we could do in the later rounds. During a particularly challenging financing for Fitbit, which we believed deeply in at the time as an unambiguously successful company, we were frustrated that we couldn’t write a big check in the financing. We talked to our LPs about what we were thinking, quickly raised a late stage fund to invest on in our later rounds for our portfolio companies, and made our first investment from that fund in the last round Fitbit did in 2013. With Select, we are no longer limited to investing $15 million per company.

Matt states in his post:

“A company’s values should never really change. They are the bedrock underneath the surface that will be there 10 or 100 years from now. They are the uncompromising core principles that the company is willing to live and die by, the rules of the game.”

I strongly agree with this, although I have one nuance. It’s hard to be absolutely correct at the beginning of the journey. So, instead of being dogmatic about values you created when you were three founders in a cafe somewhere, make sure you have one layer of abstraction about how you implement them, that can be tuned over time. For us, these are our deeply held beliefs, which support our values, but can be tuned as we learn new things. But, because they are deeply held, they can only be slightly modified, rather than torn up and replaced.