Jan 19 2021

How To Lose

In the US, we are currently getting a master class in “how not to lose.”

When I was young, my parents regularly said to me, “Don’t be a sore loser.” I was a serious tennis player between the age of 10 and 14. John McEnroe was my hero, so, not surprisingly, I had a temper on the court. I threw my racket, screamed a lot (mostly at myself), and moped around when I lost.

I also played soccer. For a few years, I was a goalie until one fateful game. I remember it being a big game – whatever our equivalent of a championship or playoff game was. I was a good goalie – quick, pretty fearless, with excellent hand-eye coordination. The game was a tie and went into a penalty kick shootout, which was a particularly cruel thing to do to a bunch of ten-year-olds. I can even remember the name of our team’s star (Scott), who missed his kick. I then missed the save on the next shot from the other team, and they won the game.

I walked off the field sobbing. I’d let my team down. If only I could have saved that goal. Why didn’t Scott make his shot? It was all my fault. I sucked.

My mom put her arm around me and said, “Don’t be a sore loser.” She hugged me. I still remember that.

When I play tennis, I still mutter to myself, but I no longer scream, throw my racket, or swear at the other player. I’ve won a lot in my life, but I’ve also lost many times. And, when I reflect on losing and tennis, I think of the two people who model losing and winning better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Following is an example from the 2017 Australian Open.

Nadal is exhausted from the tournament. And he lost. And yet, grace. Minute 1:45 – 2:00 of the video is delightful.

Winning gracefully is equally powerful. Following is Roger Federer from 2017. Minute 2:15 – 2:30 is beautiful.

This is how you lose. This is how you win. And then you get up the next day and try again.

Jan 13 2021

How Is The 54th Week of 2020 Going For You?

At lunch today, Amy said “Welcome to January 112th.”

I just got an email from a friend that included the line, “I’m writing off the first 20 days of the year, so here’s to a much different 2021 starting next week!”

I didn’t really mark the end of the year as the “end of this phase.” The Covid crisis continues. The economic crisis continues. The mental health crisis continues. The racial equity crisis continues. Economic inequity is accelerating at a crazy pace. We just had an armed insurrection in the United States. 4,406 people died of Covid in the US in the last 24 hours.

I’m a long term optimist. But I’m also from Generation X, with the typical Gen-X characteristics of being cynical and disaffected. I embrace my slacker tendencies.

We are experiencing the culmination of many things. Amy and I have been talking about them each morning over coffee. In the midst of this, we are trying to stay centered, calm, and grounded. It’s hard.

Jan 12 2021

Welcome Maëlle Gavet to Techstars

Today, Techstars announced that Maëlle Gavet has joined as CEO

When David Cohen, David Brown, Jared Polis, and I started Techstars in 2006, we could have never envisioned what it has become. Today, Techstars is a global organization with around 300 employees, invests in over 400 new companies each year, and has invested in more than 2,300 companies worldwide. In 2006, an accelerator was a new idea; today, it is an integral part of the global entrepreneurial ecosystem. Entrepreneurship, which in 2006 was just starting to become talked about again after the collapse of the Internet bubble, is a global phenomenon. 

Maëlle is joining Techstars at an exciting time. David Cohen led the growth of Techstars from inception in 2006 to about 30 people. David Brown joined full-time in 2013 and did a spectacular job of growing Techstars to around 300 people and expanding it globally. Maëlle joins us to lead us on our next 10x growth.

David Cohen is taking a new role as Chairman of the Board. David Brown and I are each board members, joined by Stephanie Copeland, John China, Shanel Fields, and Maëlle. Having talked to many great potential CEOs, we are incredibly excited about working with Maëlle.

In 2010, when the world began to emerge from the global financial crisis, Techstars started its first wave of real growth. At the time, the regular rap on entrepreneurship was, “If you are serious about starting a high growth company, you should move to the bay area.” As expressed in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, I took the opposite view, where I asserted that every city with at least 100,000 people could build a thriving startup community and needed to do this as an important component of the socio-economic health of their city. As Techstars expanded throughout the world, we helped prove this. 

Today, there are fantastic startup communities everywhere, and great companies created in many different places. Given the Covid pandemic’s impact on society, we are experiencing a new geographic distribution of people and entrepreneurs. Remote and distributed work is now a given as part of our entrepreneurial ecosystems. The need for entrepreneurship, innovative thinking, and transformation of traditional systems is more apparent than ever before.

Our society doesn’t merely need “more tech,” as evidenced by the growing backlash against Big Tech. A few days before meeting Maëlle for the first time, I read her book Trampled by Unicorns: Big Tech’s Empathy Problem and How to Fix It. I did my first call with her with an enormous smile on my face, as I felt immediate alignment with her value system before we even started talking. She reinforced our values’ alignment through our conversations and her actions while recruiting her to be CEO.

Maëlle – welcome to Techstars. I’m ready to help you in any way I can on the next phase of our journey.

Jan 11 2021

RIP Len Fassler

Gramercy Park in June 2015

After 89 years on this planet, Len Fassler passed away on Friday.

Len was my Yoda. As a paternal figure, he was a close second to my father. I loved him deeply. And I will miss him every day.

We were introduced in the spring of 1993 by Jim Galvin, CEO of Allcom, which had just been acquired by Len’s company Sage Alerting Systems. Feld Technologies worked with Allcom whenever we needed a network installed for a client. At the time, the state-of-the-art was a wired 10BaseT ethernet network, so Allcom did the wiring, and we did everything else. After Jim’s company was acquired, Len asked him who else he should talk to in the Boston area. Jim introduced us, and that led to lunch near our office in downtown Boston.

Soon after, Len called me and asked if I’d be interested in selling Feld Technologies to Sage Alerting. It took a while for me and my partner Dave Jilk to decide to do it, but we closed the sale in November 1993.

Len and I ended up working together on many things over the past 27 years. I still have the Brooks Brothers striped shirt that Len and his partner Jerry Poch gave me when we signed the documents for Feld Technologies to be bought by Sage Alerting Systems (which changed its name to Sage Technologies and then changed it to AmeriData). When I started making angel investments in 1994, Len invested alongside me in many companies, including NetGenesis, Harmonix, and Oblong. We then co-founded Sage Networks (which changed its name to Interliant) with Raj Bhargava (NetGenesis co-founder) and Steve Maggs (whose company was also acquired by AmeriData.) At Mobius, we invested in Vytek, another company Len co-founded. As an angel, I personally invested in CoreBTS, the company Len co-founded after Vytek was acquired.

There’s an enormous amount of my business history packed in that paragraph. Rather than go through a bunch of things we did together, I want to list some memories that will stay with me until the end of my life.

Len loved to smoke a cigar. I’d never smoked, but for several years, while we were co-chairs of Interliant together, we had a tradition of going for a long walk at the end of the day when we were together. We both smoked a cigar during this walk and talked about whatever had happened during the day and anything unresolved. Len’s cigars were omnipresent – I still remember his Lexus’s smell, which was pleasant because the cigars smelled like Len.

Going for a walk was a foundation of our relationship. Whenever we were in the same office, I knew we had something to figure out if Len came by my desk and said, “Brad, let’s go for a walk.” When we weren’t together, the phone call was the equivalent of a metaphorical walk. He had a remarkable talent for bringing up issues directly yet clearly, and working through them quickly.

Everything I learned about buying a company, selling a company, or doing a deal came from Len. If you’ve ever worked with me in any deal capacity, I’m channeling Len. I learned how to be a board member from Len. I learned how to complete a negotiation, walk away from the table, be empathetic, and be available. He also taught me how to move on when something didn’t work out or go my way.

From 1996 to 2001, I spent a lot of time with Len in New York, where Interliant was headquartered. I stayed in an apartment near Lincoln Center that I shared with the CEO of another company Len was on the board of, or at Len’s house in Harrison, NY. I felt safe in that house, loved by Len and his wife, Bunny, tucked in and comfortable in the upstairs bedroom, and part of their family at the breakfast table in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure I could find my way without Google Maps from the Interliant office in Purchase to Len’s house as well as from Dewey Ballantine’s office in NYC to Len’s house. That house was full of love.

The photo above is from the day before Fitbit went public in June 2015. I had breakfast with Len at the Gramercy Park Hotel, where I was staying. I told him I had the morning off and asked him what he wanted to do. He said he’d never been in Gramercy Park since it was a private park, so we got the key to the park from the concierge and walked around it and talked for an hour. We then wandered around the Baruch College buildings talking some more. We ended that morning with a big hug like we started and ended all of our days together.

I remember clearly a phone call on 12/1/2000 where Len called me from NYC. He told me that Cable & Wireless wasn’t moving forward with the acquisition of Interliant – the deal was all but done. Rather than approving the deal, the C&W board decided to stop all M&A activity given they just found out they would have their first quarterly loss in many years. That night, Len joined about 50 friends at the Greenbriar Inn in Boulder for my surprise 35th birthday party, which Amy had arranged. He had a remarkable ability to take every setback in stride.

I remember his signature. I saw it for the first time on the back of a manila envelope where he jotted down the terms we had just agreed to for Sage Alerting Systems to acquire Feld Technologies. Under the terms, he signed his name. I remember signing document after document with him at Interliant and remember sitting at the Interliant office in Purchase after the IPO roadshow, waiting for the SEC to clear our filing so we could price. We were waiting for one document, after which we’d sign one more thing, and the bankers would price the offering, and we’d go public the next morning. When the fax machine printed ten pages (instead of two) that were additional comments on our SEC filing (that same one that Merrill Lynch had said three weeks earlier “we are good to go on the roadshow – the SEC always clears this on time”), we knew we weren’t pricing that night. Our order book collapsed two days later. We went public two months later, but there was a lot of Scotch drunk the night we got that fax from the SEC. I didn’t get to see Len’s signature next to mine that night.

I loved the way Len put his arm around me. I loved the hug he always gave me. I loved his relationship with his son David, who also became a good friend. I loved how we said “I love you” when we said goodbye in person or on the phone.

Len changed my life. He gave me my second favorite quote, “They Can’t Kill You And They Can’t Eat You” (my dad gave me my first favorite quote, If You Aren’t Standing On The Edge You Are Taking Up Too Much Space“)

My parents were good friends with Len. Every time I was together with all of them, I was exceedingly happy.

Dinner in 2018 with Len, my parents, and Amy at Taste in 1 Central Park Hotel

My long publishing relationship with Wiley began with a breakfast meeting that Len arranged with Matthew Kissner, who was a Wiley board member.

If you’ve ever heard me say, “Would you buy it for a dollar?” I learned that from Len. His influence on me formed the basis of my business philosophy, now called #GiveFirst. He was one of the first lawyer-turned-entrepreneurs I worked with, which helped me appreciate the importance of law in business and the importance of business judgment in the law.

The ultimate brilliance of Len was his ability to build deep emotional and enduring relationships. The number of people he influenced and who loved him is extraordinary.

The last time Len and I talked live was in October when he called me to say goodbye. Since then, his daughter Ellen has been my conduit to him, via emails that I’d been sending a few times each week. Ellen read them to Len and then sent me back a note with his response. Ellen, thank you.

On Friday morning, when I heard that Len passed, I immediately reached out to Frank Alfano, Jenny Lawton, Bruce Klein, Steve Maggs, Jerry Poch, Raj Bhargava, and Jerry Lebow. Some of them I talk to regularly. Others, like Bruce, I haven’t talked to in a while. But when Bruce and I got on the phone to talk about Len, it was like we were together the day before, working on something at Dewey Ballantine’s office, with Len at the other end of a long conference room table working on something else at the same time.

Len – I love you. I will miss you and think about you every day. Thank you for the sensational gift you gave me of your friendship. When it’s safe to travel to New York again, know that Frank, Bruce, Jenny, and I will be having dinner at Cellini’s together with a place set for you.

Jan 10 2021

Media Archaeology Lab Virtual Tour on 1/21/21

For a long time, I collected computers (hardware, software, manuals, and magazines.) About five years ago, I donated my collection to the Media Archaeology Lab, located at CU Boulder. Also, Amy and I have made substantial gifts to MAL from the Anchor Point Foundation. And, last year, our gift enabled them to buy a vast collection from Benj Edwards.

On Thursday 1/21/21, at 5 pm, there will be a virtual tour of the Media Archaeology Lab collection. I need different things to do at the end of each day, so I’ll attend as a way to immerse myself in nerd history.

Join me. Given everything else going on right now, I think it’ll be a nice break.

Jan 8 2021

What Is Your First Political Memory?

For the past nine months, Amy and I have started our morning together. I get up, pee, weigh myself, brush my teeth, meditate for 20 to 30 minutes, and then we have “morning coffee” together.

Morning coffee lasts for two cups of coffee (one regular, one decaf). This ends up being between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on what we are talking about. After spending the vast majority of our 30 years together on the road until a few years ago, this has been an incredible joy for me. Regardless of the previous day, it gives me a clear way to Simply Being Again, each morning with my beloved.

When I woke up Monday morning, I didn’t expect so much of our morning coffee this week to discuss what was going on in politics in the United States. Today, one of the things we riffed on was our respective first political memories.

Mine was Richard Nixon being impeached. I was seven years old. We didn’t watch very much television in my house growing up – mostly PBS (Channel 13 in Dallas) and sports my dad liked to watch (mostly Dallas Cowboys football.) I remember a few TV shows like Happy Days and Gilligan’s Island, but Daniel and I were only allowed one hour of TV a day, and I often didn’t use mine because I preferred to read.

I never watched the news as a kid. Maybe my parents did in their bedroom, but it took an extraordinary event for us to watch TV news together. I remember the Iran Hostage Crisis, Oliver North, and one of the moon landings (I don’t remember which one.)

We had two TVs in the house – one in my parent’s bedroom and one in the room we called “the family room.” I remember sitting on the floor in my parent’s bedroom, watching Congress impeach Nixon. I only have one visual image of it, so my guess is there was only one day that we watched it. But whatever it was, it was a climactic moment that cemented itself in my memory.

Amy remembers it also. Her family didn’t have a TV growing up, so she remembers going to the Anchor River Inn, owned by Bob and Julie Clutts, and watching the TV at the bar. I bet that we were watching TV simultaneously, me in Dallas, Texas, and Amy in Anchor Point, Alaska.

We are each lifetime members of Generation X. The broad brush of Gen X being cynical and disaffected is probably true, unless you choose purpose, meaning, joy, and empathy.

Our earliest experience with politics is of the deep cracks in the foundations of the institutions our parents could believe in. At 55, I am experiencing that again. It’s been continual low-level noise my entire life, but the volume was just turned up to 11. Or maybe even 12.

Simply begin again.

Dec 29 2020

Book: In the Beginning…Was the Command Line

I love Neal Stephenson. I’ve read all of his books, some of them multiple times. Well, except the Baroque Cycle trilogy, which I’m saving for a special period of time to get lost in them, and from everything.

Last week I read In the Beginning…Was the Command Line. For the second time. This time I read it on my Kindle, which was fitting.

Stephenson wrote it in 1999. As we exit 2020, it’s a great reminder of the place technology was around 20 years ago. It shows how much has changed and how little has changed.

As a continual user of a wide variety of technology, I think our modern computing infrastructure is completely fubared. As we try harder and harder to make the thing we interact with as users better, the complexity increases. Some things work beautifully, while others are a complete débâcle.

After finishing In the Beginning, I decided to clean up my TV setup. I’ve got DIRECTV, Roku, and an Apple TV. I use Savant to control it. I paid a lot of money to have someone set it all up. All I really wanted to do was log in to HBO Max so I would watch WW84, which turns out to be completely not worth it, even if all I needed to do was press a button to watch it.

Ready Player One? Yup – it felt like that. Phone in one hand. Savant remote in another. Apple TV settings. I tried resetting my password a few times. 15 minutes later, I realized that I probably had the wrong username for DIRECTV. I tried a different username. Then it got really messy since Apple TV thought I was one username, and now DIRECTV thought I was another. I finally figured this out after going over to Roku and setting things up there.

Then I decided to try to go clean up all the random tiles on Roku. Of course, I’ve lost track of my Roku controller, so I did this using Savant. But my Savant controller doesn’t have an * programmed into the Roku control section, so I had to do it app by app. I made a document with all the Channels I wanted to delete. I started manually deleting them by Search Channels one by one. Some of them didn’t appear, so they were apparently undeletable, at least until I find an asterisk.

An hour later, I was ready to watch WW84. We watched it last night. It was awful. We then realized we had watched end of the world movies four nights in a row (Tenet, Greenland, Midnight Sky, and WW84). WTF. What’s the point of that anyway.

I’m spending a lot more time at the command line these days. I’ve been learning Clojure, using Zsh and Emacs, struggling with Homebrew, and trying not to be annoyed with GitHub. And my new favorite app is Roam, which is not really a command-line app but sometimes feels like it.

I know when I get back to Aspen, where there currently is no heat due to what appears to be a natural gas line sabotage where I have Xfinity instead of DIRECTV, my Roku settings won’t have synchronized. Maybe AppleTV will, maybe it won’t. At least my Kindle will be the same. That’s because I only have one Kindle.

I haven’t even started to push anything into production.

Nothing is going to look anything like this 20 years from now.

Dec 28 2020

What Is Your Biggest Hope and Your Bigger Fear?

About a month ago, I participated in a discussion hosted by the CU Boulder Conference on World Affairs titled Back to the Future: Lessons for our emerging challenges from science fiction and history.

The moderator was Phil Weiser (Colorado’s Attorney General). The guests were me, Blake Crouch (Colorado-based Author and Screenwriter), Patty Limerick (Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado Boulder), and Joe Neguse (U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District – the district I live in).

As with anything Phil moderates, he was well prepared, moved the conversation along nicely, and made sure everyone was engaged.

He ended with a classical question about the future. “What is your biggest hope and your biggest fear?”

I answered at 1:14:18 with my version of a Zen Koan.

My hope is that I can continue to maintain non-attachment to my hopes and fears.

My fear that I won’t be able to maintain non-attachment to my hopes and fears.

A month later this is still my answer. I encourage you to ponder it for yourself.

Dec 25 2020

Tenet – One Big, Hot Mess of a Movie

Amy and I watched Tenet the other night. When we finished, she turned to me and said, “That was one big, hot mess of a movie.” I sat for a moment and said, “I’m not sure it was any good, but I’m not sure.”

I just watched the trailer. While these are clips from the movie, there’s no correlation in these clips to anything that gives you a feeling for the movie—more hot mess.

Temporal dynamics are a common trope in movies. While it’s a clichéd part of the sci-fi genre, it is becoming more common in contemporary good vs. evil save the world action movies.

After sitting for a moment, I flashed back to another movie, Interstellar, another hot mess but one that I enjoyed a lot more.

After a little exploration, I realized Christopher Nolan directed them both. As I looked through his filmography, the theme of time was woven throughout.

I’ve seen most of these movies. Memento is my favorite. Interstellar, now that I’ve watched it a few times, comes in second.

As I read Matthew McConaughey Greenlights last night (excellent, well worth reading), I felt that exploring temporal reality, a core tenet of Tenet, was worth spending more time with, which means I’ll watch Tenet again.

Dec 14 2020

The Great HQ Migration

January 3, 2020, seems like a very long time ago. That day, I wrote a post titled The Future Of Work Is Distributed. I had no idea that four months later, all office workers in the world would be working from home, and within six months, the idea of distributed and remote work would be a topic discussed daily.

When the Federal tax laws were changed in 2018 to eliminate the deductibility of state income tax, I made the assertion, in the context of Startup Communities, that this would cause movement of people and companies across state lines, as this now created another layer of competitive advantage for states with no income tax. I remember most people waving this off, especially those living in high tax states like CA and NY.

In the last 12 months, there has started to be a migration of corporate HQs, VC firms, and high net worth people from high tax states. When Oracle announced that it is moving its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas, this issue hit its tipping point. We are officially on the other side of a phase transformation.

I remember the creation of Oracle’s Redwood Shores Headquarters. One of the clients of my first company was Damner Pike (an affiliate of Colliers International), a real estate firm in San Francisco that was the broker for Oracle. The Oracle / Redwood Shores HQ was a big deal at the time.

I know Oracle is not the first company to move its headquarters recently. And the same article lists both companies and individuals who have moved to either Texas or Florida recently. And many others, including a lot who aren’t being public about it (pro-tip: Ask your friendly, neighborhood VC where he or she is Zooming to you from.)

There are three states on the 0% State Tax list that I expect many corporations, VC firms, and HNW people will move to in the next 12 months. They are Florida, Texas, and Washington (State). The more adventurous will move to Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Distributed work is here. And State Taxes are now a competitive disadvantage. While many people will say “tax rates had nothing to do with our move,” I expect this is actually at the top of the list of factors for many people who now realize they can work from anywhere. And, this mobility of people and companies in the US will have significant long-term impacts on startup communities throughout the country.