Nov 7 2018

Unintended Consequences of the Upcoming Drone Apocolypse

On Monday, I wrote a post titled Look Up and Don’t Give Up that included the 2:48-second video of a mama bear and her cub struggling across a steep cliff covered with snow. 20+ million people have also looked at it and, I expect, found inspiration from it as I did.

I didn’t think very hard about this until this morning when I read The Atlantic article titled The Problem Behind a Viral Video of a Persistent Baby Bear: What appears to be a life-affirming triumph is really a cautionary tale about drones and wildlife.

As I was reading the article, I flashed back to several books from two different authors – William Hertling and Daniel Suarez – that included autonomous drones (and drone swarms) as part of their plots. I remember being incredibly anxious during the sections on killer drones controlled (or programmed) by bad guys, and then even more anxious when the drones appeared to be completely autonomous, just carrying out whatever their mission was while coordinating with each other.

And then I felt pretty uncomfortable about my enthusiastic feelings about the cub and the mama bear. I remembered the moment near the end of the video where the mama bear swats at the cub and then the cub falls down the snow-covered mountain for a long time before stopping and starting the long climb up again. I had created a narrative in my head that the mama bear was reaching out to help the cub, but the notion of the drone antagonizing the mama bear, which responded by trying to protect the cub, rings true to me.

My brain then wandered down the path of “why was that idiot drone pilot sending the drone so close to the bears?” I thought about how the drone wasn’t aware of what it was doing, and the pilot was likely completely oblivious to the impact of the drone on the bears. I thought about how confused and terrified the bears must have been while they scrambled over the snow to try to reach safety. Their dash for cover in the woods took on a whole new meaning for me.

I then thought about what encountering a drone swarm consisting of 100 autonomous drones would feel like to the bears. I then teleported the bears to safety (in my mind) and put myself in their place. That most definitely did not feel good to me.

We are within a decade of the autonomous drone swarm future. Our government is still apparently struggling to get voting machines to work consistently (although the cynical among us expect that the non-working voting machines are part of a deliberate approach to voter suppression in certain places.) At the same time, we can order food from our phone and have it delivered in 30 minutes, no matter what the food is or where we are located. Humans are still involved in the delivery, but that’s only a temporary hack on the way to the future where the drones just drop things off for us.

When I talk to friends about 2030 (and yes, I hope to still be around), most people extract linearly from today. A few of my friends (mostly sci-fi writers like William and Eliot Peper) are able to consistently make the step function leaps in imagination that represent the coming dislocation from our current reality. I don’t think it’s going to be visitations from aliens, distant space travel due to FLT drives, or global nuclear apocalypse. Sure, those are possible and, unless we get our shit together on humans on several dimensions, we’ll continue our steady environmental and ecological destruction of the planet. But, that kind of stuff is likely background noise to the change that is coming.

It’s the change you can see through the bears’ eyes (and fear) while at the same time the joy that humans appear to get – mostly – from observing them, but not really thinking about the unintended consequences. While the killer AI that smart people scarily predict could be front and center, I think it’s more likely our inability to anticipate, and react to, unintended consequences that are really going to mess us up.

Comments
Nov 6 2018

Seth Levine’s Designing the Ideal Board Meeting Blog Series

My partner Seth Levine is writing a blog series on Designing the Ideal Board Meeting.

Seth and I have each attended over 27,367 board meetings. Ok, I don’t know the actual number, but it’s a lot. We’ve both been on good boards and bad boards. Boards that have helped companies and boards that have sunk companies. Boards that know how to resolve conflict and boards that have multiple passive-aggressive actors engaged in a complex dance that serves no one, especially the company.

So, I’m totally digging Seth’s new series. Not surprisingly, since Seth and I have been working together for over 17 years, there’s a lot that is the same as my board approach. But, I’m also learning something from each post which I plan to incorporate into my board world going forward.

The first four posts are up. In order:

  1. Designing the Ideal Board Meeting
  2. Designing the Ideal Board Meeting – Before the Meeting
  3. Designing the Ideal Board Meeting – Your Board Package
  4. Designing the Ideal Board Meeting – The Board Meeting

If you are a founder, CEO, investor, or outside director who is on a private company board, this is a must-read series. And, if you want to go deeper on how boards work, grab a copy of the book I wrote a few years with Mahendra Ramsinghani ago titled Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors.

Comments
Nov 5 2018

Look Up and Don’t Give Up

This is how I think about my work and my marathon running.

My spirit animal is a bear. Generally, I think of myself as a big polar bear, but I’m going to spend the day relating to my little friend. And, when the day is done, I’m going to go run into the woods.

Comments
Nov 2 2018

A Great Example of A Professor’s Involvement With A Startup Community

I received a Silicon Flatirons email from Phil Weiser this morning in his role as Silicon Flatirons Founder and Executive Director. My partners and I, especially Jason Mendelson, have been very involved with Silicon Flatirons over the past decade. I have a chapter in Startup Communities that uses CU Boulder – and specifically Silicon Flatirons – as an example of a much better way than the traditional approach (circa 2012) for a university to engage with the startup community.

One of the key leaders in this activity is Brad Bernthal. While BradB has become a close friend over the years, I think that he doesn’t get anywhere near the recognition he deserves for his endless and tireless engagement in and across the activities of CU Boulder + the Boulder startup community. It made me extremely happy to see Phil’s email and I decided to reblog it because I think it does a great job of highlighting some of the specific things that a professor like BradB can do to impact the startup community from a role in a university.

BradB – thank you for everything you do. You are awesome. Phil’s note to the Silicon Flatirons community follows.

Silicon Flatirons continues to support a range of entrepreneurship activity. Just consider what we have done over the past month or so: Crash Courses on GDPR compliance and how startups can sell products to large enterprises; student attorneys helping area startups through the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic; a candid interview by Krista Marks with David Brown and David Cohen of Techstars (recording here); an intellectual feast in the entrepreneurship conference and academic workshop examining the concept of “#GiveFirst” (recording here); and tonight‘s kickoff for our New Venture Challenge Information Technology (IT) track.

Supporting entrepreneurs in our community is a central part of our mission. The person who leads this initiative is Brad Bernthal, our Entrepreneurship Initiative Director. After building up our leadership in this area, we formally established this initiative with Brad at the helm in 2008. It is hard to overstate Brad’s impact on campus and in the community over the last decade. In addition to events that convene entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, students, and academics to learn from one another, as well as Brad’s extraordinary commitment to mentoring, his scholarship merits notice and praise.

After seeing it firsthand, Brad was intrigued by the well-regarded entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boulder. How does it work? Why do people get involved? Why do people contribute without knowing what they might get in return? Brad’s scholarship has focused on this important aspect of our economy. Brad is currently studying finance instruments used in startup investment and has two forthcoming articles on this topic. Just prior to this, his published research focused on generalized exchange within investment accelerators, the first legal scholarship about how accelerators work.

In addition to leading the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic that aids the startup community, Brad co-teaches a venture capital course at Colorado Law, along with Jason Mendelson of Foundry Group. Brad and Jason are now in their tenth year of teaching the VC course, which attracts a cross-campus mix of JD, MBA, and engineering graduate students. The course is so valued that students established an endowed scholarship fund in Brad’s name and created a separate campus entrepreneurship gift in Jason’s honor.

Brad is one of the leaders of the CU Boulder campus-wide entrepreneurship and innovation effort. He continually strives to connect the university and surrounding startup community. He collaborated with others on campus to launch and drive the New Venture Challenge for nine years. They successfully handed over the reins to campus leadership last year, and Brad continues to support the effort through the IT track, which Silicon Flatirons hosts.

And when he’s not doing all of the above, he is, well, giving first. He averages close to 400 1-on-1 coffee meetings each year with those in their entrepreneurial journeys. He also serves as a Techstars mentor and is on the Colorado Venture Capital Authority Board, which oversees the State of Colorado’s venture capital fund.

Brad embodies the spirit of collaboration: giving to and supporting others. It’s a privilege to have him as a core member of the Silicon Flatirons team.

Comments
Nov 1 2018

I Was That Kid. Were You? #MakingChangemakers

Watch the following one minute video and ponder whether or not you were that kid (or have one of those kids.)

I was totally that kid. But, most of it was in my mind, which I why I ended up being a software version of that kid. About the only machine I played with was my Apple ][ because it was a computer. I hated the lawnmower, never worked on cars, was afraid of the Cuisinart we had (and all the sharp blades), ignored power tools, and stayed away from anything that plugged into an electrical socket on the wall.

Ironically, I have excellent hand-eye coordination which I think came from three things: (1) playing video games, (2) playing tennis, and (3) having crummy eyesight.

I still have crummy eyesight. Even though my glasses correct most of it, I know that my brain works extra hard to compensate for it. So, as a kid, even though I played a lot of sports, I often played them without my glasses on which made some things worse but forced me to work even harder to deal with hand-eye coordination.

I didn’t realize until I was an adult that I have a very difficult time with any sort of near vision stuff (I’m very nearsighted and have terrible astigmatism.) When I reflect on this, I realize that I avoided doing anything that required near-focus mechanical dexterity. So, I spent a huge amount of time in my head. You would often observe me sitting around programming the computer, or reading, or going for long runs and pondering things by myself.

I wish I’d had littleBits then. While I did fiddle around with the hardware on my Apple ][, I avoided anything else that included tools, wires, nails, bolts, and screws. That was a huge miss on my part, as I’ve found that I love to play around with physical hardware products and electronics as an adult. And, I love to invest in companies that make hardware that makes physical stuff, especially for kids.

So – if you are that kid, or have that kid, jump into things with littleBits. Post something on social media as part of their #MakingChangemakers campaign. Write a blog post about why being that kid helped you achieve what you are today. Share the video above. For every 100 RTs, shares or Likes your post receives, littleBits will donate a Code Kit to an at-risk classroom of your choice to celebrate that kid everywhere.

Comments
Oct 31 2018

Innovation and Venture Capital in New Jersey

If you are a fan of Startup Communities, there’s a lot going on around new initiatives on this front.

Ian Hathaway and I are hard at work on a book called The Startup Community Way, which is modeled after Eric Ries’ evolution of The Lean Startup to his recent book The Startup Way. I’m a big fan and long-time friend of Eric’s so I hope he’s ok with our using the same conceptual labeling approach from the evolution of the Startup Communities concept to a much broader audience than just startup communities (Eric – if you aren’t, tell me and I’ll adjust …)

One of my approaches to writing a book is to blog a lot of early content and get reactions to it. It helps me frame my thinking, connects me with people who are interested in what I’m writing, and forces me to put out content in public that I have to work hard at, but in bite-sized chunks. Ian has bought into this idea so he and I have a steady stream of content for The Startup Community Way coming on the StartupRev website.

An example is a post we put up today titled Thoughts on the New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund. If you have feedback for us (stuff you think we got wrong, or stuff you think we should reinforce, or any examples you’ve experienced directly) we’d love to hear from you either in the comments or by email.

Techstars is also hard at work on a bunch of stuff around ecosystem development (where communities and ecosystems are different things – Ian and I will have a post up on that soon.)

If this topic is interesting or important to you, either as a leader or a feeder in a startup community, or someone in government, academic, or a large company who is exploring or participating in innovation in a geographic ecosystem, give me a shout anytime!

Comments
Oct 30 2018

Time Off To Vote on November 6th #TimeOffToVote

I have felt for a long time that election day in the US (by law, the first Tuesday after November 1) should be a national holiday.

In some states, like Colorado, we now have an excellent mail in ballot system, but many people still physically show up at the polls to vote. The idea of voter suppression has never made sense to me, ever since I learned about the constitution and amendments 15, 19, 24, and 26 in elementary school civics class. I just went on Wikipedia and reviewed the timeline of voting rights in the United States, which reminded me of the awesomeness of the book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.

At Foundry Group we’ve decided to make sure that all of our employees have the time they need to vote on 11/6 by participating in #TimeOffToVote – a nationwide effort to encourage employers to make accommodations for their employees to participate in the election. While we are a small organization, as I was told in elementary school, and a believe deeply, a fundamental component of our democracy is that every citizen gets a vote, and every vote counts. Even on my most negative and cynical days, I rejoice that I get to live in a country where this is true.

We hope you’ll consider whether participating in #TimeOffToVote makes sense for your company as well.

Comments
Oct 29 2018

Disagree and Commit

One of my favorite Bezo-isms is “Disagree and Commit.” I’ve seen it in articles a handful of times recently as the adulation around Amazon and Bezos’ management reaches a fever pitch.

Notwithstanding the disappointing forecast for Q418, Amazon’s recent operating performance has been spectacular. But, more interesting is that it has been “spectacular at scale” and across a very large and complex business.

While Revenue Growth YOY has been strong,

the real story has been YOY growth in Operating Income.

Those are beautiful numbers. It’s clear that in the past few years the company has turned on the profit machine.

For many years, Amazon (and Bezos) trumpeted their focus on revenue growth. The mantra was “we are reinvesting all of our profits in growth.” This is the same thing most startups say (and most VCs push for) as growth compounds rapidly if you can keep the growth percentage (yup – it’s simple math.) This has been particularly true for B2B SaaS companies, not withstanding the notion of the Rule of 40 for a Healthy SaaS Company.

While growth in revenue is still important, Amazon’s ability to generate this kind of growth on its operating income is a reminder that turning on the profit switch at some point does matter, if only to show how much leverage your operating model has (me thinks Tesla did that in Q318 for the same reason). The AWS numbers are remarkable to me – their YOY growth is 46% and their operating income is about 30%. That’s well above the rule of 40.

I would have loved to be in the meetings during the shift from “grow at all costs” to “keep growing fast, but flip the operating income switch.” There were many moments in time over the past 15+ years where I’m sure this came up. But clearly the focus on this changed in the last few years, and the results are now front and center.

I don’t hold any Amazon stock directly, nor do I play the stock market, but the financials in public companies have a myriad of lessons buried in them for private companies that are scaling. That said, the management lessons buried underneath the numbers are even more important. “Disagree and commit” seems to be working well these days for Amazon.

Comments
Oct 28 2018

Pioneer In Skirts Sizzle Trailer

Amy and I are proud executive producers of the upcoming movie Pioneer In Skirts. It has been part of our activity supporting independent documentaries about gender diversity, especially in science and tech.

The daughter/mother leadership of Ashley Maria and Lea-Ann Berst along with their team has stayed after it and are close to the finish line. Watch the trailer and then if you are inclined toss a little money into the GoFund Me campaign to help finish off the film.

Pioneers in Skirts Sizzle Trailer from Pioneers in Skirts ® on Vimeo.

Comments
Oct 25 2018

DonorsChoose.org Book Match Day

Amy and I love to read. Growing up, one of my favorite places in the world was the hammock in our backyard with a book. As an adult, one of my favorite places is our living room, on my couch, with Amy on her couch, and the dogs laying on the floor between us, while we read.

I also love DonorsChoose. Whenever I’ve had a crummy day, I often go online and fund a project or two.

Today, DonorsChoose has a match across the entire site for any donations for books. It’s DonorsChoose Book Match Day. How cool is that?

Amy grew up in Alaska and we have a house there so I just went and funded all the book projects in Alaska. Hopefully, by the time you read this post, there won’t be any left.

If you are a reader, love books, or want to help kids around the US read more, I encourage you to go fund a project (or a few) on DonorsChoose today. Search for the city you live or grew up in and have at it. It feels good and helps the next generation of readers.

Comments