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.

Why Isn’t PGP Built Into Gmail?

An increasing number of companies that I work with are using PGP to encrypt certain email. While they are comfortable sending a lot of email unencrypted, there are periodic threads that different people want to have encrypted for a variety of reasons, some rational and some not.

Each company is dealing with this a different way. Suddenly I find myself managing a bunch of public keys in different PGP tools on different computers. I started by going with the recommendation of each company and predictably found myself managing multiple solutions that sort of worked some of the time.

Last night I was on a hangout with one of the CEOs trying to troubleshoot the problem we were having with the implementation his company was using. After 15 minutes of fighting with a Chrome plugin, we gave up. Of course, when I went to a different computer, it worked just fine.

This seems like such a simple thing for Google (and Yahoo and Microsoft) to build into their email clients, especially the browser based ones. Keep the keys locally (or even in Dropbox or iCloud). Encrypt and decrypt from within the browser. Only transmit encrypted email. Only display the decrypted email.

Why hasn’t this been done yet? Am I missing something obvious?

Sleeping With My Dad

I love to sleep. I’m at La Guardia heading to Aspen for the weekend. I got up at 4am to make my flight and I feel like the guy on the left.

Brad and Stan sleeping at airport 1990

The guy on the right is my dad. I don’t know when or where this picture was taken, but my mom sent it to me a few months ago. One of my super powers is to be able to fall asleep anywhere I am almost instantly. This is especially true on airplanes, where the pre-flight ambiance puts me immediately to sleep.

I clearly got this from my dad, who is also a champion sleeper. Whenever we are together, we eat chocolate ice cream at least once a day. And we take a 90 minute afternoon nap, which I have always felt was once of the most delightful experiences a human can have.

The Building Blocks for Location from Mapbox

This morning, Mapbox announced a $52.55 million Series B financing. We’ve been on a wonderful ride with them ever since we led their first financing – a $10 million round – in October 2013.

Let’s start with the simple stuff. My partners and I have a massive founder crush on Eric Gundersen, the CEO of Mapbox. My partner Ryan McIntyre was introduced to Eric by another CEO we’ve backed, Zack Rosen of Pantheon. I remember Ryan raving about Eric and pushing me to squeeze in a meeting before I had to run out of town one day.

Zack is also a total star who I connected with immediately so his referral carried a lot of weight. I first met Eric in the summer of 2013 on a trip he took to Boulder to buy imagery from a satellite company in the area. I remember feeling super rushed at the end of the day and wasn’t in the mindset to sit through a presentation. Eric clued on in this immediately, or maybe Ryan warned him, so rather than drag me through slides Eric just started showing me stuff that Mapbox did.

He started with an algorithm that made clouds go away. He then launched into a custom map design tool which Foursquare had just used to switch out Google Maps. By this point my jaw was on the floor. Words kept tumbling out of Eric’s mouth and amazing maps kept appearing on our large conference room monitor. I looked over at Ryan and he gave me that “yup – I wasn’t kidding – this is fucking awesome, isn’t it” look that we share between ourselves when we see something beautiful, incredibly hard to do, presented by an entrepreneur who is completely and totally obsessed by what he is doing.

I knew Gnip was doing some Twitter data visualizations with Mapbox, so I asked Jud Valeski, the technical co-founder of Gnip, to see what he thought. Jud responded with something akin to “Mapbox is amazing.”

Even better, Eric and team had been at it for several years bootstrapping development and had just decided to raise their first outside capital. They had done this amazing amount of stuff with no investment. No hype. No bullshit. Just crazy deep tech abilities.

In 2013, the mapping space was in yet another wave of turmoil. Waze had been snatched up by Google for over a billion dollars just a few months earlier, further consolidating a space dominated by a few giants. Those giants were investing billions a year in maps. And we were still getting over our fresh scars that confirmed how hard the geo technology was after our failed investment in SimpleGeo (acquired by Urban Airship). Mobius, our prior firm, had been a long time investor in deCarta (now owned by Uber) and had been mostly recapped out of the investment after years of struggle. So mapping didn’t feel natural to us.

But in 15 minutes of watching and listening to Eric, I realized something Ryan already knew. Mapbox is an API company, not a mapping company. The map simply was the output of the API. And, like the best API companies we’ve been involved in, such as Gnip (now part of Twitter), it was right at the intersection of our Glue theme and our Protocol theme.

Seth and Jason had similar reactions. So we invested. Since then Eric and team have built an incredible company that is the foundational building block for any developer, large and small, who wants to include mapping in their product. In case there is any question about scale, MapQuest, which still has 40 million active users, confirmed it was switching all of their maps to Mapbox.

Eric and gang – we are buckled up and ready for the next part of the ride!

Techstars and UP Global Join Forces to Support the Entrepreneurial Journey

Today Techstars announced that it has acquired UP Global, including the organization’s Startup Weekend, Startup Week, Startup Next, and Startup Digest programs.

This is great news for entrepreneurs everywhere.

Both organizations have a deep seated community-centric ethos that aims to accelerate the pace of innovation through community-focused, entrepreneurial-led business creation. UP is now in 600 cities, 120 countries and six continents. Techstars now has over 18 programs worldwide and counting.

Together, Techstars and UP Global create a powerful union which will strengthen the global entrepreneurial ecosystem and bring even more support to the entrepreneur’s journey. The two organizations are stronger together because of the efficiencies gained from meeting in the middle of this journey: UP Global focuses on grassroots, community-led inspiration and getting founders started on their path, while Techstars helps to make that dream a reality by helping founders establish solid, sustainable and successful companies.

I’ve been involved in both organizations since the beginning – as one of the founders of Techstars and as a board member for UP Global. Both organizations started on the entrepreneurial journey together and share a similar vision of entrepreneurship. The first Startup Weekend took place in Boulder in June 2007 and I’ve been on the UP Global board since it was formed by the merger of Startup Weekend and the Startup America Partnership. Many of the ideas in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City have been informed by my experiences with these organizations and they have incorporated many of the ideas from the book into what they do.

When David Cohen, David Brown, Jared Polis, and I founded Techstars back in 2007, our vision was to make entrepreneurship accessible to everyone. By bringing UP into the Techstars family, this helps to bring this vision even closer to reality.

Together, UP and Techstars have built programs and resources for every stage of the entrepreneurial journey – from community catalysts who are focused on early stage grassroots community development to entrepreneurs looking for more formal opportunities that provide education, experience, acceleration, and funding.

The merger of these two great organizations is a logical next step in the expansion of vibrant startup communities around the world. I’m a huge believer in consolidating efforts between complementary organizations. This one was a natural one and I’m excited about what’s coming UP!