I have never liked being asked to predict things. I try not to prognosticate, especially around things I’m not deeply involved in.
At this moment, people everywhere make continuous predictions and endless prognostications. At some level, that’s not new, as the regular end of year media rhythm for as long as I can remember is a stream of famous people being asked their predictions for the next year. There are entire domains, such as economics, that are all about predictions. Near term predictions drive the stock market (e.g., future quarterly performance, what the Federal Reserve is going to do in the future.)
As humans, we want to control our present, and one way to do that is to predict the future.
I think the Covid crisis has turned that upside down. As I was reading How Pandemics Wreak Havoc – And Open Minds last night, a few paragraphs at the end hit home.
The first comment is from Gianna Pomata, a retired professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine, at Johns Hopkins University who is now living in Bologna.
Pomata was shocked by the direction that the pandemic was taking in the United States. She understood the reasons for the mass protests and political rallies, but, as a medical historian, she was uncomfortably reminded of the religious processions that had spread the plague in medieval Europe. And, as someone who had obediently remained indoors for months, she was affronted by the refusal of so many Americans to wear masks at the grocery store and maintain social distancing. In an e-mail, she condemned those who blithely ignored scientific advice, writing, “What I see right now in the United States is that the pandemic has not led to new creative thinking but, on the contrary, has strengthened all the worst, most stereotypical, and irrational ways of thinking. I’m very sorry for the state of your country, which seems to be in the grip of a horrible attack of unreason.” She continued, “I’m sorry because I love it, and have received so much from it.”
It’s followed by a comment by Lawrence Wright, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992 and author of the incredible and timely book The End of October.
I understood her gloomy assessment, but also felt that America could be on the verge of much needed change. Like wars and depressions, a pandemic offers an X-ray of society, allowing us to see all the broken places. It was possible that Americans would do nothing about the fissures exposed by the pandemic: the racial inequities, the poisonous partisanship, the governmental incompetence, the disrespect for science, the loss of standing among nations, the fraying of community bonds. Then again, when people confront their failures, they have the opportunity to mend them.
These paragraphs reflect the reality that I’m observing in the US right now. However, you can see Wright’s human optimism creep in as he “[feels] that America could be on the verge of much needed change.” While not a prediction (thankfully), it raised the question at the end of the paragraph, which is:
“[W]hen people confront their failures, they have the opportunity to mend them.“
As I worked on The Startup Community Way and got my mind into how complex systems work, I concluded that change has to come from the bottom up, not the top down. While in the book, we apply it to startup communities, I’ve internalized it across any complex system.
We are living in the collision of a series of complex systems that are beyond anything I’ve experienced in my 54 years on earth. It’s happening against the backdrop of instantaneous global communication, which allows anyone to distribute and amplify any sort of information.
In a crisis, anger and fear generate irrational behavior, especially given the need to control things. History has taught us this, but all you need to do is watch the bad guys in popular movies implode to be reminded of it.
Consequently, predicting the future is not just impossible; it’s more irrelevant than ever. Fantasizing about what the future will look like, while comforting, is pointless. And anchoring hopes around the future (e.g. “schools will open up in the fall”) simply generates even more anger and fear if it doesn’t come true.
For many years, I’ve tried to avoid predicting the future or prognosticating about it. My answer, when asked, is often some version of “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
I think this crisis has shut that off entirely for me, as I’m shifting all of my energy to the present. I’m focusing on doing things today that I believe in, want to do, and that I think has the potential to impact positive change. But I know I can’t predict the outcome of any of it.
Seven years ago this week, I posted about a new book in our Startup Revolution series called Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business, by my friend Matt Blumberg, then CEO of email marketing company Return Path in the Foundry portfolio. Today, with more around 40,000 copies sold all over the world and in multiple languages and formats, Matt and our publisher Wiley & Sons in partnership with Techstars have published a Second Edition of Startup CEO, which you can pre-order here.
Matt and I originally conceived of Startup CEO when I was writing Venture Deals where Matt organically ended up writing a sidebar for many of the chapters which we called “The Entrepreneur’s Perspective.” At the time, we talked about him writing a full “instructional manual” for first-time CEOs, and that’s what Startup CEO became, with over 50 short chapters with practical “how to” advice on everything from Fundraising, to People issues, to Board management, to Self-Management.
In the Second Edition, Matt, who led the sale of Return Path last year, added six new chapters on Selling Your Company, which really rounded out the book.
I have given or recommended Startup CEO to hundreds of CEOs over the years. Matt has been very generous with his time in mentoring other entrepreneurs or bringing his book to life in online education and webinars. Today, he posted one of the new chapters from the Second Edition of Startup CEO on Techstars’ blog, TheLine, on Preparing Yourself for An Exit: How Do You Know It’s Time to Sell? which is a great example of the new material in the book.
Manufacturing, agriculture, retail, and tech. These are just a few of the many industries in Colorado led and supported by local businesses. But what are we doing to support them through the current health and economic crisis?
West Slope Startup Week (WSSW) launched last week (this year in a virtual format) — a full month of online programming open to businesses across the state. Programming includes sessions from people such as Energize Colorado (EC) CEO Wendy Lea and myself.
Equally innovative is the new element of digital mentorship. Led by Energize Colorado’s Mentorship team, we have brought together more than 45 mentors with expertise in finance, tech, sales, and more. This mentorship program is an opportunity for organizations, including EC and Techstars, to nurture Colorado’s rapidly growing talent on the Western Slope and throughout all of Colorado.
Helping Colorado’s economy recover is about more than just a return to normal – it’s preparing for a fundamental transformation. Our future economy is one driven by a belief that equity and empathy are key strategies for inclusivity and long-term success.
Energize Colorado, a non-profit founded by many of Colorado’s business leaders, including myself, is here to lead this transformation. There are three key steps in Energize Colorado’s plan for economic recovery and growth:
- Foundational Support: Access to mentorship, mental health resources, and research about reopening a business in the time of Covid.
- Financial Access: EC’s Gap Fund (launching at the end of July) is a $25m+ fund that mixes grants and low-interest loans to assist rural, women, and BIPOC-owned businesses.
- Fortitude: Providing the thought leadership Colorado needs to increase inclusivity, help small businesses remain competitive, and lead the nation in innovation.
During times like this, I am reminded why I, and many others, became entrepreneurs – to satisfy a never-ending curiosity and drive to learn. This is, in part, why mentorship is so valuable to me and integral to EC and Techstars’ startup week programming.
Regardless of your age or expertise, there is always something to be learned and gained. Now more than ever, we have to come together across the state to support each other and lead this transformation. I am calling on all of you to recognize the value mentorship has had on your journey and participate.
My new book with Ian Hathaway, The Startup Community Way, comes out on 7/28. We’ve begun the pre-order campaign. Since every author loves pre-orders, so if you want to do something that will make me smile today, pre-order your copy here.
To give you a sense of the book, following is the Table of Contents, in detail.
CHAPTER ONE: Introduction
– The Next Generation
– Our Approach
– A Deeper Motivation
– The Boulder Thesis
– Startup Communities are Complex Adaptive Systems
– Where We Were in 2012
– Where We are Now in 2020
– Using Complexity Theory to Explain Startup Communities
– Evolving the Boulder Thesis to the Startup Community Way
PART I: INTRODUCTION TO STARTUP COMMUNITIES
CHAPTER TWO: Why Startup Communities Exist
– What Entrepreneurs Do
– The External Environment Networks over Hierarchies
– Networks of Trust
– Density and Agglomeration Quality of Place
CHAPTER THREE: The Actors
– Leaders, Feeders, and Instigators
CHAPTER FOUR: The Factors
– The Seven Capitals
CHAPTER FIVE: Startup Communities versus Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
– Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
– Alignment of Actors
– Different, but Mutually Reinforcing, Purpose
– Systems within Systems
– Entrepreneurial Success
– Community/Ecosystem Fit
PART II: STARTUP COMMUNITIES AS COMPLEX SYSTEMS
CHAPTER SIX: Putting the System Back into Ecosystem
– Introduction to Systems
– The Whole System
– Simple, Complicated, and Complex Activities
– Moving from Activities to Systems
CHAPTER SEVEN: Unpredictable Creativity
– Synergies and Nonlinearity
– The Study of Interactions
CHAPTER EIGHT: The Myth of Quantity
– More of Everything
– Outliers, Not Averages
– Entrepreneurial Recycling
– Leaders as Supernodes
CHAPTER NINE: The Illusion of Control
– Not Controllable
– Not Fully Knowable
– Feedbacks and Contagion
– Getting Unstuck
– Letting Go
CHAPTER TEN: The Absence of a Blueprint
– Initial Conditions and Basins of Attraction
– The Narrative Fallacy
– Building on Strengths and Learning from Failures
– Cultivating Topophilia
CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Measurement Trap
– The Fundamental Measurement Problem
– Actor and Factor Models: A Categorical Approach
– Standardized Metrics Models: A Comparative Approach
– Network Models: A Relational Approach
– Dynamic Models: An Evolutionary Approach
– Cultural-Social Models: A Behavioral Approach
– Logic Models: A Causal Approach
– Agent-Based Models: A Simulation Approach
– Applying the Different Models
PART III: FROM THE BOULDER THESIS TO THE STARTUP COMMUNITY WAY
CHAPTER TWELVE: Simplifying Complexity
– The Boulder Thesis
– The Rainforest
– Applying Systems Thinking
– Looking Deeply
– Leverage Points
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Leadership is Key
– Be a Mentor
– Entrepreneurs as Role Models
– Key Leadership Characteristics
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Think in Generations
– Progress is Uneven and Often Feels Slow
– The Endless Long-Term Game
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Diversity is a Feature, Not a Bug
– Cultivate Diversity
– Embracing Diversity
– Think Broadly about Entrepreneurship
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Be Active, Not Passive
– Self-Similarity and Replication
– Don’t Wait or Ask Permission
– Play a Positive-Sum Game
– Continuously and Actively Engage
PART IV: CONCLUSION
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Conclusion
– Summary of the Book
– Final Thoughts
It’s 2020, so I went looking around on the Internet. The more I read, the more upset I became. Amy and I then watched the first few episodes of The Watchman, and I suddenly had a desire to get a full picture of what happened.
I do this by reading a book. I’m not a history buff, so I don’t spend a lot of time going deep on a particular historical event. Most of the surface level history I know comes from high school in Dallas (where, of course, we began with Texas history), a lifetime of museums, occasional TV documentaries, Wikipedia, or conversations. And books.
When I’m interested in something, I read a book on it. Since I’m reading one book on racial injustice each weekend this summer (and, given the pile of books I’ve accumulated, I expect I’ll continue into the fall), I decided to make my Saturday book Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre.
I chose it carefully after reading the backgrounds of a few other books. I was looking for a reporting of the event, which I expected would be challenging given both the time frame (99 years ago) along with what I expected to be a lot of historical bias. I chose this book because the author, Randy Krehbiel, has been a reporter for the Tulsa World (Tulsa’s daily newspaper since 1905) for over 40 years and a Tulsa native. I figured, if anyone, he’d be able to mine the history from a reporter’s perspective, while balancing the topophilia he had for Tulsa, against the backdrop of a horrific event in the city’s history. Finally, Karlos K Hill, the Department Chair, African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, wrote the foreword and endorsed the book, giving it more credibility in my eyes.
I lost myself in Tulsa in 1921 yesterday afternoon and into the evening. The Tulsa race massacre was an injustice on multiple levels. It included the willful destruction of what at the time was one of the most successful Black communities in America. In addition to the 24-hour destruction of the Black community by a variety of White Tulsans in pogram-like fashion, the ensuing several years of efforts to relocate the community, rather than allow the Black property-owning residents to rebuild, was deeply disturbing. Alongside this was a continual denial of any sort of meaningful redress or compensation by the White leadership of Tulsa.
During this period, the KKK had a new resurgence, which reinforced many aspects of systemic racism, both related to this period in Tulsa, as well as across the entire United States. Black leaders, with a few White allies, fought for justice for the residents, victims, and families of Greenwood. They also fought against the corruption, blame-shifting, and systemic racism that existed at the time in Tulsa. The Black Tulsans of Greenwood eventually prevailed and rebuilt their community.
Krehbiel handled this story exceptionally well. There are many ambiguities and unknowns. Rather than rendering an opinion, he tried to acknowledge the biases, the potential perspectives, and citied whatever he could find in history. Rather than tell the reader what to think, he painted a full story, incorporating many voices from different frames of reference, and allowed the reader to form a view and decide when the record was ambiguous, what had happened.
While an emotionally challenging book to read, I ended my day Saturday with another layer of understanding of how systemic racism is and has worked, for many years, in the U.S.
I was going to take a week off the grid next week, but I’ve got a bunch of podcasts and media recordings to do for my upcoming book The Startup Community Way. I also want to continue spending time in the new Startup Community community, which now has over 2,000 people in it and is growing and self-organizing at a rapid clip. And I have a few Foundry things to do.
So I’m going to try something I’ve never done before. I’m going to have a No Scheduled Meeting week. The recordings are on my calendar, but nothing else is.
When I ponder this, it amazes me that I’ve never tried this before. I often feel oppressed by my calendar and I’ve tried lots of different approaches to managing it. However, I’ve never had a week of no scheduled meetings.
Rather than take a week off the grid, I’ll work all week. It’ll just be almost entirely unscheduled work. I have no idea how it will go, but that’s the nature of endless small experiments.
If you are working on your first startup, this is the book for you. Hopefully, the Foreword I wrote reflects my belief in the quality and importance of this book.
My friends @willherman and @rajatbhargava put their hearts and souls into the creation of the first edition of The Startup Playbook, and it paid off. Over 13,000 people bought the book, it’s a 4.8-star review book on Amazon (with 100 reviews), and it sold out.
I’ve known Will since 1984 and Raj since 1993. Will and I made our first angel investment together in 1994 – in Raj’s first company NetGenesis (which went public in 1999). Since then, Will and I have made many investments together (including most of Raj’s company). Raj and I have done seven companies together, including his most recent company JumpCloud which is one of the fastest-growing B2B SaaS companies in our portfolio (and in Colorado.)
The book is Will and Raj’s how-to guide for building your startup from the ground up. It has a collection of the major lessons and shortcuts they learned starting 11 companies between them – a lot of successes, but some nasty failures too. They wrote the book to shift the odds of success in your favor. They share their tips, secrets, and advice in a frank, founder-to-founder discussion with you.
The Startup Playbook is not a recipe; it’s not a template; it’s not a list of tasks to do. It’s their insider’s guide to starting a company and running it successfully in those critical early months. It’s full of our advice, guidance, do’s, and don’ts from their years of experience as founders, investors, mentors, and advisors.
I’ve become aware that my existing network creates and perpetuates systemic inequities. Rather than abandon my existing network, I’m investing time and energy in expanding my perspective and network through the various things I pay attention to and get involved in.
Today’s post covers two things I love to do: run and read. When I reflect on my running and fitness heroes, they are mostly men. If you asked me to name ten world-class marathoners, it would be mostly men. And when I think of people who I go running with, which is rare since I prefer to run alone, it’s men.
A year ago, I decided I needed to permanently change my diet and hired Katie Elliott as my nutritionist. She’s become a good friend and has been extraordinarily helpful with changing my diet and helping me permanently lose some weight. She’s also an outstanding athlete, so I’ve gotten bonus coaching from her.
Next week Katie is leading a day-long online symposium called Women.Thrive. Amy and I sponsored it, and I have ten free tickets, so if you want to attend, email me (the first ten get the tickets.) Or, if you wish to attend and don’t need a free ticket, please sign up as all proceeds go to Covid relief. I’ll be attending some of the sessions to learn and expand my perspective on women athletes and health. Plus – Martina Navratilova – one of my childhood tennis heroes – is speaking about motivation.
Next, I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff that is outside my normal reading zone. Each weekend I read at least one book from my now very large pile of books by Black authors about a wide variety of topics. Saturday night, I chose a memoir and read White People Really Love Salad by Nita Mosby Tyler, Ph.D.
I love memoirs. I separate this category from “autobiography” because I’m not that interested in autobiographies (I prefer biographies). Memoirs are more than just a person’s history. They interweave one’s history and experiences with personal philosophy, advice, reflection (both the author’s and mine), and inspiration.
Nita wrote about her experience growing up in Atlanta as a Black girl. Each chapter ended with her reflections about race, diversity, equity, and equality that related directly to the story she had just told. I read it from beginning to end, realizing that almost every experience was new to me.
Last night, I read Piloting Your Life by Terri Hanson Mead. Terri wrote about her experience shifting into, exploring, and getting used to midlife as a White, professional, happily married woman with a husband and two kids in the bay area. Oh, and she’s a helicopter pilot (so cool) so she uses a lot of flying metaphors to structure the book (hence the title). She includes stories and interviews with many other women going through the transition from “pre-midlife” to “midlife,” along with endless, direct, and compelling examples of the struggles relative to men going through a similar age transition.
I’m in my mid-50s (wow – when did that happen?) Many of my transitions are completely different from Terri’s. As I read the book, in addition to getting to know Terri better, I also ended up with a bunch of insights, from a woman’s perspective, about midlife.
Every time I finish a book like one of these I think “I should read more books like this.”
When people, who are roughly the same age as me (or at least the same generation) write about completely different life experiences and from an entirely different perspective, they give me a lot to think about and help me ponder my strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and biases. And, in this case, these books were different but beautiful complements to read one after the other.
I appreciate the energy that Nita and Terri have put into these books. Now that I’ve written a bunch of books, including one very personal one with Amy (Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur), I understand how much work it is to write a book like this.
And, most of all, I appreciate their willingness to put their story out into the world, which helps me expand my perspective.
In response to my post, Contemporary Mentors, a female reader of this blog who often sends me notes when I fall into a pattern of highlighting cis-het-white men, responded directly to the post with:
I hope that you add more women and more diversity to your contemporary mentors. Otherwise you are in the same fucking echo chamber.
I responded with:
I have many women mentors. Here’s some: Lucy Sanders, Heidi Roizen, Madeleine Albright, Amy Batchelor, Wendy Lea, Nicole Glaros, Arlan Hamilton, Freada Kapor Klein, Lesa Mitchell, Jean Case … And many women who I learn a ton from that I wish I had a mentee relationship (or contemporary mentor relationship with) – (e.g. Melinda Gates, Susan Cain, Brené Brown).
I forgot a few in my quick response, including Joanne Wilson, Robin Hauser, and my mom (Cecelia Feld.) And even as I write this, the list continues to unfold in my brain, which makes me smile. But I also realize that most of these women are white, so I have work to do to find some non-white female mentors.
The reader is not a fan of Tim’s and went after my affection for him with the following:
I can’t listen to Tim’s podcasts because it’s the white bro-show…the very thing that led me to start my podcast in 2017. After he released the episode a few years ago on bitcoin and blockchain (which was brilliant) I tried to listen to him but his world is truly a distorted echo chamber. I don’t understand people’s fascination with him. Then again I don’t understand folks’ fascination with Gary V or Jack Dorsey…the list goes on and on.
I struggled with her view on Tim, but I don’t want to try to convince her otherwise. Instead, I’m more interested in listening and learning, which led to this comment of her’s.
True allies / accomplices see these things and call them out. It’s exhausting when we have to call it out for you cis-het-white bros. And yes, I have this convo with my husband on a regular basis.
Embedded earlier was the comment:
If you really are into helping out with diversity, calling this stuff out would be really helpful. Otherwise you perpetuate it.
I’ve been learning about how to be an ally / accomplish since 2005 when I was first introduced to the concept by Lucy Sanders at NCWIT. I’ve learned a lot about this from Robin Hauser through her film Bias (Amy and I are executive directors of Bias, Code, and Robin’s upcoming film $avvy) and have been going even deeper with some of my work recently around racial inequity.
But there’s almost more to learn.
The phrase “contemporary mentors” popped into my head on loop number six of eight on my morning run. I’m training for a Covid marathon, which is 27 loops around my property.
My pace is tentative as I’m still gearing up after a long break due to a back injury, but I’m letting the miles and the time on my feet build on the weekends.
Running in circles for hours is different than running in the mountains in Aspen during the summer. But, I’m afraid of going to Aspen right now because of Covid, and I’m afraid of leaving my property and running on the roads or the trails near Boulder.
So, I’m embracing the circles. Amy likes it because she can keep an eye on me and let Cooper come out for the last couple of loops. While I think he could run with me forever, she worries about him when he goes for more than three loops, which is about six miles for him given all the back and forth he does.
I’ve decided that I’m going to approach the second half of 2020 differently than I approached the first half. This weekend, I turned off a bunch of inputs. I had several long conversations with Amy, right after I meditated, but before I did anything else, including one today where I acknowledged that the organizing principle I’ve been operating with for the last year isn’t working for me. I spent a lot of time outside, but without feeling tethered to anything. I allowed myself to feel what I was feeling, instead of trying to catch up or get on top of the stuff. I laughed at the few absurd things that crossed my path, rather than letting them aggravate me. I thought some more about what I wanted to spend my time on and what I was going to delete.
None of this is new for me – it’s a regular repeating cycle. Sometimes it’s part of my burnout loop or a boom-bust work cycle. Other times it’s a function of not knowing my limits and getting depressed. Once it was a function of a self-induced depressive episode because I stupidly took Ambien for two weeks on an international trip. And sometimes it’s just random.
A little more than a year ago, I came up with a new organizing principle for how I was going to address my work. I thought it was clever, was proud of myself for coming up with it, and tried it for a while. About a month ago I realized that it was a failure and that I wasn’t happy with it. While several aspect were working, several weren’t, but most importantly I realized that my frustration with it and my determination to try to make it work, even when it wasn’t, was making me unhappy.
So, about a month ago, I threw it away. I didn’t stop any of the activities I was doing, but I threw away the organizing principle.
This morning, I told Amy that I had thrown it away. It was the first time I was able to articulate this clearly. I don’t have a new organizing principle yet, but I knew the one I was using wasn’t working.
When my running loops increased, I realized I needed to listen to something while I’m running. Usually, I run “naked” (without headphones), especially when I’m in the mountains or on trails. But, after a few 0.95-mile loops, I want some stimuli other than “another loop.”
I decided to go through some Tim Ferriss podcasts and listen to some of my friends that he interviewed. I think the world of Tim and have learned a lot from him, even though we haven’t spent a lot of time together. And, whenever I listen to any of his podcasts, I learn at least one thing, and they often cause me to think about a few things.
In order, over the past few longer runs, I’ve listened to:
- Secretary Madeleine Albright — Optimism, the Future of the US, and 450-Pound Leg Presses (#437)
- Jerry Colonna — The Coach with the Spider Tattoo (#373)
- Ryan Holiday — How to Use Stoicism to Choose Alive Time Over Dead Time (#419)
- How Seth Godin Manages His Life — Rules, Principles, and Obsessions (#138)
- Jim Collins — A Rare Interview with a Reclusive Polymath (#361)
It was in the middle of Seth’s interview that the phrase “contemporary mentors” popped into my head.
I was searching in the background for a phrase different than “entrepreneurial heroes.” I started my first business in the 1980s and my entrepreneurs heroes include Bill Gates, Mitch Kapor, Steve Case, and Dan Bricklin.
But Seth, Jerry, Ryan, Tim, Madeleine, and Jim are in a different category. They are mentors of mine, in a long list of mentors. Some – like Jerry – are soulmates. Others, like Madeline and Jim, are people I know a little bit but respect enormously. And Ryan and Tim are contemporaries on a different vector entirely.
Aha – “contemporary mentors.” The ideal mentor-mentee relationship is when the mentor and mentee become peers and learn from each other. But peer mentorship has never become an easy category for me to explain as it implies an evolution from a mentor-mentee relationship. What if that’s not what happened.
Tim and Seth – thank you. As I listened to you today on my run, I learned from each of you, while having a close emotional connection from my own relationship with each of you. And from it came a new phrase for me: “contemporary mentors.”