May 14 2021

Eat Your Frogs First Thing In The Morning

Each morning during the week, after morning coffee together, Amy says, “Ok, time to go eat my frogs.” She’s usually told me about the one or two or three frogs she has for the day, and her statement is a rhythmic part of our morning.

Yesterday, I asked her where that phrase came from. She pointed me at Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, a productivity book by Brian Tracey that she read a few years ago. (Note, a blog reader sourced the original quote to Mark Twain.)

While I haven’t read the book, we are using the phrase a little differently than the motivating language on the Amazon book website.

It’s time to stop procrastinating and get more of the important things done! After all, successful people don’t try to do everything. They focus on their most important tasks and get those done. They eat their frogs.
 
There’s an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re done with the worst thing you’ll have to do all day. For Tracy, eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging task—but also the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life.

Stop procrastinating is correct, but it’s mostly aimed at a task that is difficult for some reason. And, what is difficult for Amy is different than what is difficult for me, and vice versa.

If you recall my post, Something New Is Fucked Up In My World Every Day, you will see the link between Milarepa and eating frogs, even if demons aren’t involved.

Between Monday and Friday, my work as a VC includes an endless number of difficult things. I say no all day long. I give people news or feedback they don’t want to hear. I deal with conflict, angry and frustrated people, and strange situations that cause emotional pain. Often the pain is from exogenous factors that dramatically influence things, but which we have no control over.

And yes, Something New Is Fucked Up In My World Every Day. I can’t predict when it will show up, but it’s often late enough in the day that I can’t solve it before I stop working. And many of these things extend over many days and have numerous frogs contained within them.

I used to procrastinate on things I didn’t want to deal with. In my 20s and 30s, I’d carry them around with me, waiting for the right time to address them. By the time I hit my 40s, I had stopped doing this with most things and just dealt with whatever came up head-on. When I found myself procrastinating on something difficult, I realized I was avoidant, often passive avoidant, and would go deeper on why I was procrastinating which often helped me understand the thing better. Occasionally, I’d continue to be avoidant, sometimes unconsciously, but the demons eventually showed up, and I had to embrace the lessons of Milarepa to get rid of them.

I still procrastinate, but it’s on things that either don’t have a deadline or things that I’m looking forward to doing. If you’ve written a book with me, you understand this statement well (Ian, I’m thinking of you.)

The frogs? I eat them whenever they show up or first thing in the morning. And, even though I’m a vegetarian, I’ve come to get satisfaction from eating my virtual frogs. So that’s another life lesson from Amy.

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May 13 2021

The Founder’s Story of The Path To Us Investing in Gig Wage

In February, we announced our investment in Gig Wage. After some entertaining back and forth, I encouraged Craig Lewis, the founder/CEO of Gig Wage, to write up a quick story of how things unfolded, as he remembered them, and I’d post it here. I love founder stories, and origin stories, and always learn something from reflecting on them. So, in Craig’s words …

Two tech guys from Dallas walk into a bar…

(Note from Brad: that’s my dad Stan on the far left – he and I go everywhere together when I’m in Dallas.)

Before I met Brad in person, I had known about him because he’s pretty much startup-famous from his books and from co-founding Techstars, but I didn’t know much about Foundry Group. I hadn’t even read any of his books at the time, but I knew I was interested in meeting him.

Brad and I first met at an event two years ago at UTD (University of Texas at Dallas), where he would be speaking. We met at the bar, I had my favorite go-to drink, the “Black American” (my concoction, inspired by a White Russian), and Brad was having water since he doesn’t drink. 

My first impression of Brad was that he’s freaking brilliant. You can tell when someone’s done a lot and is smart from their experience. I figured, ‘this guy’s seen it all from A to Z and has probably seen it from Z to A and then back again.’ And he could have easily been not cool, but he was totally humble and down-to-earth, and we just kind of vibed. When we spoke, it didn’t seem like an investor-entrepreneur thing, just two guys from Dallas talking tech.

Fast forward to about a year later, we had recently received an investment from Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Revolution.  Entrepreneurs who are part of his portfolio take part in a quarterly book club, where we all read a book and one entrepreneur is chosen to interview the author of the book. I happened to be able to interview Brad when we got an early look at the latest edition of his book Venture Deals. Between meeting Brad and interviewing him, he had set up a few introductions for me, which was cool of him, and when we got to the interview, it was casual, like we knew each other from around and had kind of been in touch before. We did a live webinar Q+A for all of the entrepreneurs in the book club. After getting through all my questions about his book, we ended up talking about entrepreneurship, technology, and venture capital.

That’s when I started to realize that he’s a prolific investor, and I started to understand the Foundry Group a little better, although it didn’t fully click for me until we went through Techstars and I met Jaclyn Hester.  She was able to quickly get up to speed on the company we were building and my vision for Gig Wage. Funny enough, we still didn’t think we were going to do anything, but the managing director for Techstars (who I later ended up hiring) told me that Foundry Group is super legit. Eventually, we connected the dots and realized that my relationship with Brad was just organically building up to an investment from Foundry Group. As it was happening, these events just seemed like different moments, but looking back, it’s obvious that every piece of it mattered and eventually led us to where we are today.

When looking for an investment, it’s more about who wants to invest in us and what steps they take to invest in us than the other way around. We typically aren’t going around reaching out to see whose investments we can secure. What happened with Brad and the Foundry Group came down to them showing excitement for Gig Wage, not by me strategically or intentionally pursuing them by any means. I realized our goals aligned, and that’s pretty much how it happened.

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May 12 2021

427 Mondays In A Row

I was talking to a friend yesterday and he said, “Just another Monday.” But yesterday was Tuesday. I asked him what he meant. He said, “Every day feels like a Monday – I just get up and do it again.”

It has been 427 days since I mark the start, for me, of the Covid crisis (March 11th – the first day I stayed home.) As the world, at least in some places, loosens up a lot, people are anxious to get back together in physical form. I see it everywhere around me – dinners, meetings, people in Zoom in offices, background noises, air travel, and endless requests to get together in person.

Fred wrote an interesting post titled In-Person vs On-Screen that starts out:

Last week I spent three hours with my six partners in a conference room talking through what we are investing in and why. It was a terrific session and I had more “ahas” in those three hours than I have had in many many months. There really is no substitute for sitting together with your colleagues working things out face to face.

The post describes his thinking around remote, hybrid, and in-person. He talks about his, and his partners, current dynamics. He ends with a strong assertion.

Each company needs to figure this out in a way that works for their team and culture and I believe that there is no “right way” for everyone. But I also believe that in-person interactions remain critical to making better decisions, better products, better cultures, and better companies and so I would encourage everyone, including the fully remote teams, to figure out how to make in-person interactions happen on some regular cadence.

I see this in my own partnership. Several of my partners are regularly getting together in person. While I’m supportive of that, I have no interest in it and would rather continue to be fully remote for now. Fortunately, they understand. We are working on understanding and implementing our own hybrid dynamics that work for each of us and the team as a whole.

While we are privileged to be in a business and an industry where this is something we can explore, I immediately think of Susan Cain’s essential book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. When I read it in 2012, a few puzzle pieces slid into place for me.

I strongly agree with Fred’s statement:

Each company needs to figure this out in a way that works for their team and culture and I believe that there is no “right way” for everyone.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been in numerous “back to the office” conversations. I’ve participated in public discussions about remote vs. hybrid vs. in-office. I’ve talked with almost every CEO and board that I work with about this topic.

I’ve been asserting, like Fred, that this is a custom answer for each company. However, I’m adding a twist. I encourage the CEOs not to let their personal bias drive the answer. For some CEOs, that’s intolerable. For others, it has been enlightening.

I know several CEOs who are desperate to get back to the office. They hate working at home. They struggle not traveling around and being with their team. They are miserable with remote work. So, regardless of what anyone on their team says or wants, they will not have a remote work option. And, in one case that I’m aware of, there is not going to be any semblance of a hybrid option.

I know several CEOs who have let their leases end or sublet their offices. They love working at home. They have no interest in going to the airport. They deeply embrace remote work. No matter what, they are going to be a remote-first company in the future. And, in more than one case, there is no plan ever to rent any office space again.

When you suspend your individual bias, I expect you’ll find interesting and unexpected answers from different people in your company. When you ask them for approaches, you might find some that you hadn’t thought of. Knowing that there is a wide spectrum of desires among your current team, especially after 427 days of Mondays, is an important starting point for figuring out the best configuration for your company going forward.

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May 11 2021

The New Builders: Discussion on 5/18/21

My partner Seth Levine and his co-author Elizabeth MacBride recently wrote an important book called The New Builders: Face to Face with the True Future of Business. It is out and available.

Foundry Group is hosting an open virtual event to discuss the book. Seth and Elizabeth will be moderating the discussion with special guests Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper, Makisha Boothe of Sistahbiz, Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse, and Lorena Cantarovici of Maria Empanada.

Sign up here for the virtual event at May 18, 2021 12:00 PM PT; 1:00 PM MT.

Seth and Elizabeth have spent the past year talking to entrepreneurs all over the United States as they’ve developed their thesis around The New Builders. The Covid crisis has accelerated the growth and development of many high-tech companies, including the largest companies that were recently young, entrepreneurial businesses. But, unfortunately, the Covid crisis has decimated many local businesses and dramatically impacted communities everywhere.

The New Builders are the future of business that will emerge from the Covid crisis, and the book argues for the future of American entrepreneurship. That future lies in surprising places and will rely on the success of women, Black, and Brown entrepreneurs. However, our country hasn’t yet recognized the New Builders’ identities, let alone developed strategies to support them.

Join the conversation about The New Builders with Seth, Elizabeth, John, Makisha, Joe, and Lorena on May 18th.

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May 10 2021

Growing Up Boulder

Boulder has been our home for 25 years and we love it. Amy and I support numerous local non-profit initiatives through our Anchor Point Foundation. The following video captured my attention this morning and resulted in a bathroom-sized donation to Growing Up Boulder.

Bella and Mads – well done! You can call us Brad and Amy (not Mr. and Mrs.). This is a gift is in y’alls name. Vanessa Schatz – brilliant!

Happy Monday morning. Do something nice for your local community today. And, if you are a Boulder local, consider donating to Growing Up Boulder.

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May 7 2021

Another Virtual 5K in Boulder As Spring Emerges in Full Bloom

I received a lot of positive feedback on my post highlighting the 2nd annual Emerge Virtual 5k Run so …

It’s time for the 10th Annual Happy Smackah 5k Fun Run and Walk.  

This would have been the 11th Annual, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we canceled the May 2020 event. But, it’s back, this time as a Virtual 5k in 2021. You can run it anytime between May 8th and June 8th. Register online!

Amy and I have been long-time supporters of Happy Smackah – a unique “focused giving” event in our community with a unique origin story.  

Happy Smackah originated as a fundraiser for Dan Cribby, a Longmont educator who initially was diagnosed with strep, woke up days later to shoulder pain, and went to the hospital. He was becoming septic and was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis (“flesh-eating disorder”). He was air-lifted to Denver, where, to save his life, they amputated his shoulder, clavicle, and left arm, commonly known as a forequarter amputation. He was kept in a coma and required many surgeries to debride and skin graft his entire torso. 

The community came together to support Dan through his ordeal. While he was enduring his surgeries and treatment, his wide social circle of students, teachers, and parents organized a 5k.  Nearly 700 showed up that day for Dan, and Dan was there too, miraculously, fresh out of the hospital.

The event has continued over the past decade to pay it forward from the Cribby’s. The community nominates an individual facing medical hardship and provides them fundraising support to help with their situation. It also creates a powerful connection through people attending the 5k event, which generally has about 1,000 participants. 

This year’s Smackah is Kaylee Stiffler, a senior at Longmont High School. A caring, clever, and down-to-earth teenager, she was born with congenital nevus, which is essentially a mole or birthmark on any part of the body. Kaylee’s is on her face, covering her cheek, nose, and eye. Four years ago, it started growing, changing, bleeding, and impacting her eyesight. She’s had 14 surgeries in the past five years. The Boulder Daily Camera just wrote a great update on Kaylee and her amazing attitude despite her challenges.  

Together you can help us help Kaylee. Please sign up, find a great place to run or walk a 5K, get outdoors and do it, and prepare for an even better year as we continue to re-open our communities safely.

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May 6 2021

Techstars Sustainability Accelerator / The Nature Conservancy – 2021 Applications Open

In 2017 I helped get the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator off the ground in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Amy and I have been supporters of TNC for over 30 years and Amy serves on their global board of directors. The program has been running in Colorado supporting pre-seed to post-seed stage startups at the intersection of conservation and technology since 2018.

This is a unique accelerator, partnering with the world’s largest environmental nonprofit, on a mission to supercharge early-stage startups who are protecting the planet, conserving our natural resources, and creating a world where humans and nature can both thrive.

They have graduated 20 founders (see 2018 class here and 2019 class here) and are taking applications now through May 12th for their next class.

This program invests in the following areas: 

  • natural-based solutions to climate change
  • providing sustainable food and water
  • protecting land and water

You can see the full investment thesis at A Tech Revolution For Nature

Participating companies receive up to $120K in funding, personalized mentorship from Techstars and The Nature Conservancy, and much more. The program starts in September 2021. Learn more on the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator site.

Following are a few highlights that made recent press from some of the last class of alumni companies:

  • “Climate change reversal startup Nori raises $4M for its CO2 offsets marketplace” – Geekwire
  • “Propagate Ventures raises $1.5m seed round to help farmers adopt agroforestry” – AgFunder
  • “$2M seed funding round empowers AQUAOSO to further its water risk mitigation tool set for agricultural lenders and landholders” – Intrado 

The Nature Conservancy is deeply involved in giving the startups access to the expertise of the world’s largest environmental non-profit. And Techstars brings a massive network of mentors, investors, and entrepreneurs on a similar journey. 

Applications close on May 12th, so if you’re interested, apply today!

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May 5 2021

Password Insanity

My mom is extraordinarily patient.

Several weeks ago, I bought her a brand new Mac as a mother’s day present. She was using a 2010 Mac, and it was time for her to use one that didn’t have an endless spinning pinwheel of Mac slowness on it.

I had it sent to me, although there’s a whole story in just that. I set it up, downloaded and set up all the apps she used, installed all the new stuff she needed to manage her passwords from now on, connected iCloud, and tidied and buffed it. Then, I figured we could use Zoom’s remote control, so I thought all I’d need to do was ship it to her, spend a few hours with her walking her through everything, and she’d be in great shape.

I can be so naïve. And, since I’m no longer young, I don’t qualify as young and naïve.

She and my dad got it, set it up, and connected it to the new LG monitor I’d gotten her along with the Anker USB extender. Cables and connectors – lots of them. It’s kind of remarkable how hard Apple makes the transition from devices (iPad – different cable, 2010 Mac – different cable, 2020 Mac – different cable, connect old external hard drive – different cable.) So many cables.

Eventually, it worked and, after walking through giving Zoom access to the right things on the Mac (click on the little lock in the bottom left; now check the box next to Zoom; no, the one next to Zoom. Yes, Zoom in the window to the right of the lock…) I was able to connect remotely.

Day 1 was fine. We spent three hours Sunday afternoon going application by application. I copied all the files on her external hard drive (which she lovingly calls “her Toshiba”) to the new Mac. I enabled iCloud to upload all the files to the cloud, and we spent a bunch of time discussing why that would probably take a few days over their slow internet connection, but then everything would be on her computer and in the cloud. We tested all the apps to make sure they were pointed at her documents as a default so she could find them. We went through the approach with the new password manager, which means she has three different passwords, one for her Mac, one for iCloud, and one for the password manager. But, once she has these three memorized, she won’t have to keep the rest of her passwords for all her individual apps “somewhere.”

We had a short discussion Monday night to refresh a few things. Last night was the first day of working through the list she’d made during the day of issues and questions.

We spent three hours on issue #1. Passwords.

It should have been simple. I foolishly made the Mac and iCloud passwords the same, figuring that would be easier for her. But, after Apple let me do that, it eventually told her she couldn’t have them be the same (hours later) and prompted her to change the Mac password. She wanted the Mac password to be a different one, so I assumed all I needed to do was change the iCloud password, then the Mac password and all would be good.

Two-factor authentication slowed that down. She has an Android phone, and the authentication is on her iPad, but that took me a while to figure out. I think we entered a different TFA code a dozen times over the course of three hours on her iPad. Then, I thought we were all set, but suddenly the Mac password didn’t work. And just like that, we were logged out of the computer, and Zoom was disconnected.

150 minutes of misery ensued. At the two-hour mark, I said, “just ship the Mac back to me, and I’ll start again.” Mom really didn’t want to do this or have to start from scratch, so I pressed on with a full password reset using iCloud. But, of course, the iCloud password was now no longer working. I have a feeling that Apple, in the background, invalided both of them somehow, but what really happened is still a mystery to me. The big hint was the endless “You have been locked out of …” message on iCloud and the regular prompts on the Mac to use iCloud to reset your password. Um – ok.

And, you guessed it, Zoom wasn’t able to connect us while she was logged out of her Mac, so this ended up be me dictating what to type, with her taking screenshots of her Mac screen and texting them to me since she was an on Android phone and we couldn’t simply Facetime.

Eventually, I figured out that I could reset her iCloud password on her iPad, which was still logged into iCloud (thankfully, I didn’t say “log out all devices from iCloud” when prompted over and over again. So we did that (more screenshots), we then did a full password reset on the Mac using iCloud (I never knew that was possible) and re-entered a new Mac password.

Three hours later, she got back into her Mac. We were exactly back where we started. Except now she was getting a message that the Mac couldn’t log into iCloud. Launch Zoom. Connect. Grant remote access. System preferences. Apple ID. Log out of iCloud. Log back in. Reboot (oops – bye Zoom). The bad message was still there.

Well, at least she can get back into her computer.

I’ll take on that last error message again tonight. And try to get to item #2 on her list. Maybe.

We all know the current approach to passwords and security is completely busted, but I just lived three hours of how incredibly broken it is.

And, before you say “just use the Touch ID,” neither of our fingerprints work. It’s not just Apple, it’s Clear, Global Entry, and the fingerprint process for a money transmitter license, so there must be something genetically wrong with us. Plus, I’m pretty sure that would have just made it worse somehow.

Mom – thanks for not chucking the new computer out the window and going back to your old one.

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May 4 2021

Book: The New Builders

My long-time business partner Seth Levine has written a book with Elizabeth MacBride titled The New Builders: Face to Face with the TRUE Future of Business. It’s extraordinary – buy a copy now!

For many years, Seth has been frustrated about the entrepreneurial narrative around the White male tech founder. He’s been active as an investor and philanthropist around entrepreneurship in rural Colorado and with organizations, such as Entrepreneurship for All, that are focused on accelerating economic and social impact in communities nationwide through inclusive entrepreneurship. He’s been exploring this and investing both in the US and other places globally, including Africa and the Middle East.

Pre-Covid, he started working on The New Builders with Elizabeth MacBride. They made good progress, and I remember saying hello to Elizabeth in our conference room after she and Seth had taken it over for a few days of writing, back when we met in conference rooms. As the Covid crisis began, they started writing a series of OpEds that got a lot of play, including To save the US economy, policymakers need to understand small business 101, and Communities across America rush to save Main Street as federal relief for small business stalls. These articles foreshadowed what they were digging into as part of their research for The New Builders.

Seth and Elizabeth obliterate the myth of the White male tech founder. Through detailed history, current stories, and many interviews, they bring life to new businesses started by Black, Brown, Female, and Older people. These entrepreneurs, including immigrants, are the next generation of business owners. Post-Covid, they will be key to redefining our economy.

While this group of founders and business owners may not get the same press that tech entrepreneurs get, they profoundly impact their local communities. Their efforts are foundational to the health, development, and growth of American cities, enabling a future where people have the economic freedom to pursue their passions. 

Seth and Elizabeth have issued a powerful wake-up call for America with The New Builders. It’s time to see, understand, and value the next generation of business owners.

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May 3 2021

A Boundless Ally To Immigrants

Boundless Immigration, a company we’ve been investors in since they spun out of Pioneer Square Labs venture studio, raised a $25 million financing last week.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve been involved in and advocating for legal immigration since 2010, when, with a half dozen other VCs and entrepreneurs, I co-created the Startup Visa initiative. Since then, I’ve been involved in many immigration-related activities, including the Global EIR program, a docu-drama called For Here or To Go, and direct involvement in helping many immigrants to the US get their visas and green cards.

When PSL started ideating on Boundless, I was lucky to be at the PSL office and participate in one of the extended sessions. I introduced them to Doug Rand, who I’d worked with during the Obama administration on several things, including Startup America and the USCIS EIR program. Shortly after, I met Xiao Wang, the entrepreneur PSL recruited to be the founding CEO of Boundless.

Working with Xiao and the team he’s built has been incredibly rewarding. In early 2017, the US government posture toward immigration took a strong negative turn, and from that point forward, Boundless faced massive headwinds at every turn. Rather than complain or fold up shop like several of their early competitors did, Boundless focused on a long-term vision of being the best possible resource for legal immigration into the US. As a result, their business grew with extremely high customer satisfaction while navigating the endless changes and stresses coming from the US government around immigration.

Last summer, Boundless acquired RapidVisa and significantly expanded its business and types of visas that it could support. Whenever a company acquires a similar-sized business, tough choices ensue as the two companies are integrated. The teams at Boundless and RapidVisa made these choices deliberately and thoughtfully, setting Boundless up for growth from a more meaningful base.

With the new Biden administration, the US government’s posture on immigration has shifted again. As a result, Xiao now finds himself as the CEO of the largest company in its category, with huge tailwinds after navigating and surviving four years of headwinds. I’m excited to be part of the next phase of Boundless’s journey.

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