#GivingTuesday: Donate to Path Forward

When I woke up this morning, I wondered which non-profit that I should highlight today on #GivingTuesday.

After reading Sallie Krawcheck’s article in Fortune titled A Letter to My Daughter, Post-Trump, I immediately decided the organization of the day is Path Forward.

Path Forward began as a program at Return Path, a data-solutions company with more than 500 employees in 12 offices around the globe. The company’s CTO, Andy Sautins, came up with the idea of an internship program aimed at women who were interested in returning to work after a career break. The program began in 2014 with just one participant. Under the leadership and guidance of Cathy Hawley, VP of People, the company brought in six women in January 2015, four of whom were hired. The program expanded later that year to include a larger cohort at Return Path and also to bring in partners who also wanted to create return to work programs. The first partners were PayPal, SendGrid, ReadyTalk, Moz, and MWH. Along with Return Path, these companies assembled a cohort of nearly 40 women and men. From this, the idea to create a nonprofit focused on bringing return to work programs to even more companies was born.

If you want to support an organization that supports women (and men) who want to return to the workplace after an extended absence for any reason (health, children, aging parents, or caregiving of any nature), consider making a #GivingTuesday gift to Path Forward.

Book: Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America

Wow.

My weekend reading was Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. I can’t remember who recommended it to me but it was on my Kindle and my random next-book-to-read selection process brought it up. When I finished it a few minutes ago, I only had one word for it – “wow.”

I knew a little about Thurgood Marshall, such as he was instrumental in the NAACP, desegregation, and was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. But that’s about it.

I now put him in my category of amazing people.

While the book is primarily about a case referred to as The Groveland Boys, it uses the story of this case to explore the deep racism, illegal behavior, lawlessness, violence, discrimination, corruption, and political deceit that existed in the United States in large parts of the South in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At the same time, it covers the efforts of Marshall and his colleagues at the NAACP and the Legal Defense Fund around a number of key civil rights cases that were the basis for desegregation.

The story and the book are remarkable. The author – Gilbert King – won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. I won’t try to summarize it – that won’t do it justice – but if you are interested in what was going on in our country a mere 66 years ago, it’s powerful and worth the time.

John Lilly On The Role of Simplicity and Messaging

Yesterday I talked briefly about taking a break from media. However, I wasn’t precise, as the one thing I read each week is the New York Times Sunday paper. When Amy and I lived in Boston we started reading it every Sunday morning and continued whenever we travelled. Several years ago I started having it delivered to our house on Sunday morning and it is a delightful Sunday morning ritual for us.

Some Sundays I read it quickly – other Sundays I savor it. I generally spend most of my time in The New York Times Book Review, Sunday Business, Sunday Review, and The New York Times Magazine. I turn all the other pages, only stopping when I find a headline that interests me. For example, I learned today from “Jogging the Brain” that running increases neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells, which is good for recovering from a night of too much drinking. I’m not drinking alcohol right now so this doesn’t apply, but it reminded me of something that I know from experience for some day in the future when I drink too much.

One of my favorite sections is the Sunday Business Corner Office by Adam Bryant. I read them all and almost always learn something or have an idea reinforced. I also learn about people I often know – either directly or by one degree of separation.

Today’s Corner Office is with John Lilly, a partner at Greylock Partners, is titled Simplify the Message, and Repeat OftenI’ve only met John once in person (for breakfast at the Hotel Gansevoort in NY) but have long followed him on Twitter and occasionally exchanged messages with him. From this near distance, I respect his thinking a lot.

Under the question “Early leadership lessons for you?” he reinforced something I strongly agree with.

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

I think it’s worth repeating.

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

Did you see what I did there?

When we raised the first Foundry Group fund in 2007 we took over 100 first meetings. We told our story several hundred times. As part of it was a slide called “Strategy.” I still repeat the elements of that slide regularly, a decade later, as our core strategy has not changed. Sure – we’ve modified the implementation of parts of the strategy, and learned from what has worked and what hasn’t worked, but the fundamental strategy is unchanged.

When I wrote Startup Communities in 2012, I came up with a concept I call The Boulder Thesis. I have described it in similar language over 1,000 times in various talks and interviews I’ve given since then. If you want the three minute version, just watch the video below.

While I’ve learned a lot about startup communities over the past four years, my fundamental thesis has not changed. When I come out with the book Startup Communities – The Next Generation (or whatever I end up calling it) in 2018, it’ll incorporate all of these new ideas and things I’ve learned, but will be built on a simple message that I expect I’ll say another thousand times.

I regularly see leaders change what they say because they get bored of saying the same thing over and over again. It’s not that they vary a few words, or change examples, but they change the message. As John says so clearly,

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

Enough said, for now.

Book: Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice

After the election, I took a break from social media. Prior to this election cycle I rarely read online news and almost never watched news on TV, so that was easy to stop as well. I needed some emotional distance from the election and decided I wanted some intellectual distance as well. So, I went back to writing and reading books during all the time that I had previously occupied myself with what passes in 2016 for real time news and current events.

Some of that writing has appeared on this blog – and will continue to appear here and on two other blogs – Venture Deals and Startup Revolution, both of which have lain fallow for a while. The third edition of Venture Deals comes out on December 12th and I feel like Jason and I made some strong updates to it. I’m working on a second edition of Startup Opportunities, which will come out sometime in Q117 and be published by Wiley since FG Press is defunct. And, I’ve started on my next book, Give First, which should come out in Q417 (again published by my friends at Wiley.)

I’ve used the past month to refocus myself on areas that I feel like I can impact. One of the primary ways I develop this frame of reference is by reading books (for the current list of what I’m reading you can always take a look at my Goodreads page.) I’m not a particularly good book ranker – so I just give five stars for “must reads”, four stars for “read if you like the topic”, and three stars for “meh – some interesting stuff here.” If I start something that I find completely uninteresting, I stop reading it and don’t post it.

In the past 24 hours I’ve read a must read. Bill Browder’s Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It reads like a John le Carré novel, except it is non-fiction. It starts out as the autobiography of Bill Browder and his creation of a massively successful hedge fund (Hermitage Capital Management) that was one of the first non-Russian investors in Russia in the mid to late 1990s. It then shifted into an incredibly complex story of intrigue, corruption, lawlessness, injustice, and murder all at the hands of the Russian political system.

I know that was a mouthful, but if you want a little taste, just read the Wikipedia page for Sergei Magnitsky which is central to the second half of the book, where Browder shifts from successful financier to international human rights activist. If you want a taste, watch the following interview with Browder.

Amy and I just finished watching The Night Manager on Amazon, which was based on John le Carré novel by the same name. I’m an optimistic person and I tend to bury my cynicism in what I read and the movies I watch. My optimism holds that the good guys eventually come out on top. I’m going to keep holding onto that notion while doing the little bit I can to help impact that outcome, especially when it means supporting people like Bill Browder. While I don’t know him, if he ever called and asked for anything, I’d be immediately responsive.

If you are looking for a powerful read over the holidays, I’d put Bill Browder’s Red Notice at the top of the list.

Update: I came across the article The Need To Read today and thought it was very appropriate for this post.

#GivingThanks: David Cohen and the Techstars Foundation

Today’s #GivingThanks is to David Cohen, one of the founders and co-CEO of Techstars. If David has done something that has touched your life is a positive way and you want to give thanks to him, make a donation online to the Techstars Foundation.

I met David on one of my random days in 2006. I can’t remember who introduced us, but David reminds me that it took him four months to get a meeting with me. He knew he had 15 minutes so he got right down to it as is his nature. We were in my old Superior office (the one about the liquor store where I met Lucy Sanders and so many other great people for the first time.) We said hello, David introduced himself to me, and we sat down. David then slid something across the table and sat silently while I read it.

It was a folded piece of paper that looked liked it had been printed on a color printer at a Kinkos. I opened it in its three-fold glory and read an overview of a thing called TechStars (yes – I immediately noticed the CamelCase) with a logo at the top that closely resembles today’s logo. I had an immediate positive reaction.

When I looked up, David gave me a little more background. He told me we were co-investors in a few companies as angel investors. He then explained why he wasn’t enjoying being an angel investor the way he was then doing it. Remember, it’s 2006 and angel investing is not trendy. In fact, early stage investing in general is in the dog house for many investors, both angels and VCs, as they are still remembering the pain from the collapse of the Internet bubble. While we had at least two angel groups in the Denver/Boulder area in 2006, they were more of a combination of a cocktail party combined with an entrepreneur torture chamber. Founders came in, pitched a bunch of angel investors, got ask a bunch of questions, went away, but rarely ended up with any investment. David had participated but realized that very few angels were writing checks and, when they did, the entrepreneurs didn’t get engaged investors.

David had a vision to change that. He said he wanted to raise about $200,000 to get it started. He was personally putting in $80,000. At about the ten minute mark, I told him that as long as he wasn’t a flake or a crook, I was in for $50,000. He then told me that David Brown (now co-CEO of Techstars), who had been his partner in their first company (Pinpoint Software), would likely do $50,000. I said that was awesome and I’d make a few phone calls and see if I could round up the rest.

After David left, I called Jared Polis. I had met Jared a decade earlier (via an introduction from my first business partner, Dave Jilk) and we had become good friends and co-investors in a handful of companies. I told Jared I was investing $50,000 in a new thing called Techstars that I’d like to see if he wanted to invest in with me. He responded, “Sure, count me in for $50,000. What is it?” And, like that, we had raised the money for the first Techstars Boulder program which ran in 2007.

A decade later, I’m comfortable asserting that Techstars has had a significant positive impact on entrepreneurship around the world. It’s been one of my greatest life pleasures to be involved in it.

David, thank you for showing up in my office and inviting me to be part of Techstars. Here’s the first promotion video, which reminds me how far we’ve come.

But we have only begun. Techstars, which now runs 25 Techstars accelerator programs around the world each year, also runs over 1,000 Startup Weekends a year and 40 Startup Weeks a year. As part of our experience over the last decade, we became immersed in the issue of diversity in entrepreneurship. My work with the National Center for Women & Information Technology informed and inspired this, along with our creation of programs like Patriot Boot Camp and Rising Stars. And, the Techstars mantra of #GiveFirst, which builds on the philosophy I talked about in Startup Communities of “Give Before You Get”, has become deeply embedded in our value system.

At the end of last year, we took this to another level by creating the Techstars Foundation. The foundation mission is straightforward – to improve diversity in entrepreneurship. Our initial funding was provided by the Techstars founders and a few other people close to Techstars. Since then, we’ve done a major matching campaign that Amy and I funded, a partnership with BetaBrand that generated $85,000 in contributions, and several other fundraisers. We are closing in on the foundation having $1 million in the bank, which is an exciting start for us.

We made our first round of grants earlier this year to five organizations: AstiaPatriot Boot CampDefy VenturesChange Catalyst, and Gaza Sky Geeks. I personally adopted Defy Ventures, went to prison for the day, learned an enormous amount about myself in the process, and subsequently made a significant commitment to Defy.

David is now one of my closest friends and my experience working with him and the team at Techstars is one of the most professionally rewarding things I’ve done. David – thank you.