Jul 10 2019

Pledge 1% Today

Over the years, I’ve written about my belief in the importance of giving back to your communities and #givefirst. In this spirit, one of the key organizations my partners at Foundry Group have helped create and nurture is Pledge 1%.

In 2007, we were a founding member in the predecessor organization to Pledge 1%, called Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (or EFCO). EFCO started as an experiment here in Boulder, not unlike Techstars and Startup Week/Weekend that got their start in our backyard. In 2014, Pledge1% Global launched as a joint effort between Foundry Group, The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, The Salesforce Foundation and The Atlassian Foundation which we helped seed financially and continue to support.

Pledge 1% Colorado has now distributed over $8 million back to various organizations in our community. And, the companies that have pledged 1% globally is remarkable.

While all of the Foundry Group partners have been involved, Seth Levine has been spearheading our engagement and the transformation from EFCO to Pledge 1% (he, along with key members of the teams from Salesforce, Atlassian and Ryan Martens are the founders of Pledge 1%). At a partner offsite at the end of last year, we were reflecting on some of the gifts from Foundry Group through our Pledge 1% involvement, which included:

We had some extra money left in our Pledge 1% Colorado account from distributions over 2018 and decided that, rather than saving it up for another larger gift, we’d give a series of modest gifts to a handful of local (and one non-local but nearby) organizations as a surprise holiday gift. Those organizations were:

If you are a co-founder at a startup, leading a company, or an employee at a company and want to learn more, check out the Pledge1% (or here if you’re in Colorado). Or email me or Micah Mador if you want to get involved.

Comments
Jul 9 2019

Why Gross Profit Is More Important Than Revenue

I’ve been thinking a lot about gross profit (and gross margin) lately. Yeah, I know I can be riveting, but stay with me.

When I was in Boston a while ago (it was very cold, so it must have been January), I had a wide-ranging conversation with Eric Paley. This was before the IPO Summer of 2019 when all conventional valuation metrics have entered the land of “suspension of disbelief” which is short-term good and long-term well-we-will-see-…-eventually

One of our conversational threads was about how to value companies. We ended up talking about using Gross Profit, instead of Revenue, to do valuation analysis.

We’ve been doing this for a long time at Foundry Group. Since we invest across a number of different themes, we’ve had to deal with very different revenue and gross margin profiles since the beginning, whether we realized it or not.

For the purpose of clarity, in my world GP (gross profit) is a dollar amount while GM (gross margin) is a percentage.

Revenue is often equated with Net Sales, which is true in many cases, but Net Sales is actually more precise a measure than Revenue in situations where you have Gross Sales or Gross Merchandise Value as the “top level” revenue number. Also, I often see GM listed as GM%, which is fine. Some people also refer to GM as Gross Profit Margin.

This is regularly confused, even in accounting texts, so depending on which business class you took, you are going to call it a different thing. Oh, and if you use Quickbooks, you’ll probably refer to Revenue as Income, unless you have the current version of Quickbooks where this has finally been fixed. Isn’t accounting fun?

Even if a lot of people realize that SaaS companies have a different gross margin profile than hardware companies, many don’t acknowledge it when playing the valuation game. And, this logic – or lack thereof – applies to marketplaces where GMV is different than Net Revenue which is different from Gross Profit, or Adtech companies which have yet a different “Top Number to Gross Profit” calculation. And, it gets really exciting when a company has multiple revenue streams that include services and derivative transaction-based revenue (say, BPS in a fintech company.)

Today, I’m seeing almost all entrepreneurs and investors in growth companies talk primarily about revenue and growth rate. They tend to adjust the multiples to try to align with a group of comparison companies, but these comps rarely have a similar supply/demand economic associated with the equity of the company in question. And, when the comps are mature cash flow positive public companies, the multiple math diverges even more from anything particularly rational.

I’ve started encouraging the companies I’m involved in to focus on Gross Profit and the growth rate associated with their Gross Profit, rather than Revenue. Try the exercise and see how you compare to the companies you think you should compare to. And think about how much more value you could be creating with the same Revenue number but a higher Gross Margin percentage …

Comments
Jul 8 2019

Fund81 Podcast Interview on Mental Health in Venture Capital

I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Kraus, Sue Heilbronner, and the work they do through MergeLane.

Recently Elizabeth started a platform for the next generation of venture capitalists called Fund81. It includes a podcast, which has both a public section for everyone and a private section for the Fund81 members.

Elizabeth recently interviewed me for Episode 13 where we talked about maintaining mental health in the fast-paced venture capital world while supporting portfolio companies, colleagues, friends, and family wrestling with mental health issues. The public section follows.

Elizabeth and Sue – thanks for everything you and the team at MergeLane do for entrepreneurs and now other VCs.

Comments
Jul 2 2019

Street Level Startups: A 5-Part Series Celebrating Colorado Entrepreneurship

I’m lazy blogging this week as I get ready to go on vacation for the July 4th holiday. So, here’s another set of videos to watch, which is the entire Street Level Startups series from Colorado Public Television. I’ve watched them all now and they are a great history of how the entrepreneurship scene in Colorado has evolved recently, along with a bunch of fun highlights of people and companies.

Street Level Startups: The New Gold Rush

Street Level Startups: When an Idea Strikes – Stories of Inspiration

Street Level Startups: Three Phases of a Startup

Street Level Startups: Mentorship & Integration

Street Level Startups: Startups to Watch

Comments
Jul 1 2019

When Technologists Use Their Powers For Good

Xiao Wang, the founder, and CEO of Boundless, recently gave a speech at the 2019 convocation of UW’s Information School. It was 15 minutes long and I thought it was extraordinary.

Xiao – nice job weaving in a Mary Oliver quote at the end.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

I’m honored that I get to work with you.

Comments
Jun 28 2019

Did Abraham Lincoln Invent Pancakes?

I love weird Internet memes.

Recently, I plumbed the depths of this one with my friend Quinn. Go to your Google browser and type “did ab” and see what comes up for you.

If it’s “Did Abraham Lincoln Invent Pancakes” then the Internet is working as expected.

Of course, our next move was to go see if there was a website at https://didabrahamlincolninventpancakes.com/. A week ago there wasn’t, but there is one there now. Bwahahahahahahaha.

Did Abraham Lincoln Invent Pancakes? is now a permanent part of the web. I wonder what Google is going to do with it now?

Comments
Jun 27 2019

The Chernobyl Podcast

When I wrote the post Every Lie We Tell Incurs a Debt to the Truth I expected to get some feedback. I got more than I usually do (mostly by email vs. blog comments) and much of it was thoughtful.

One person pointed to the video I embedded, which I thought was great. It’s an extensive explanation of things in HBO’s Chernobyl that were either simply wrong or exaggerated. The video is entertaining as well as substantive, so it’s a good addition to the content from the show.

Separately, I listened to The Chernobyl Podcast on my drive up to Aspen about two weeks ago. If you watched the HBO Chernobyl docudrama, the accompanying podcast is a must listen. Peter Sagal (host of NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!) interviews Craig Mazin (Chernobyl Series Creator and Executive Producer.) Peter is an awesome host and he pulls out a ton of interesting, useful, and curious information from Craig.

Next up for me is reading Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster which is near the top of my pile of infinite books to read (right after I finish Black Crouch’s Recursion.)

Comments
Jun 26 2019

A Short Recent History of the Colorado Startup Community

Colorado Public Television takes an in-depth look at Colorado’s thriving startup scene in its new 5-part season called Street Level Startups.

The first episode, which is above, includes me and Jared Polis reflecting on some fun Techstars founding history, Dan Caruso talking about Zayo and the bridge between Boulder / Denver, and a great segment at the end with Brad Bernthal talking about fundraising and #GiveFirst. And, plenty of other stuff.

It was fun to watch a bunch of the old video from the last dozen years in one place. I love living and working here.

Comments
Jun 25 2019

Boulder Community Health Takes On The Mental Health Stigma

This first appeared in the Boulder Community Health Foundation Summer 2019 Magazine in an article titled Taking On The Mental Health Stigma.

I started the second week of 2013 in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show. Within two hours of arriving, I was in my hotel room, the shade closed, the door locked, and in bed with a pillow over my head. I couldn’t deal with anything at all. Having been here before, I knew I was in a deep depression.

From all external perspectives, my life was going great. I was healthy, my business (Foundry Group) was successful, I had an excellent marriage to Amy Batchelor, was surrounded by numerous friends, and I got to live in Boulder, Colorado. But I was physiologically exhausted from 2012. I’d run an ultra-marathon in the spring that I never recovered from, had a near-death bike accident, and squeezed a marathon in October when I had no business running one. I was on the road 75% of the time, working constantly, dealing with the explosive growth of several of our investments while struggling through the challenges at others while writing two books. Ending up with a kidney stone in November that required surgery and a month of rest should have been the warning I needed to slow it all down and take care of myself.

I’m fortunate that my wife, business partners, family, and friends are helpful to me when I’m depressed. I’m in a privileged position of having the financial resources to do whatever I need to do. I have a job that provides me a lot of flexibility. And I’m no longer afraid of being depressed or ashamed of being public about my struggles with depression and anxiety.

I had my first major depressive episode in my mid-20s. While I probably had been depressed prior to that, I never really processed it as depression. I was one of those kids who was successful at almost everything I tried, loved by my parents, and comfortable growing up. One day I found myself in the middle of a divorce, being kicked out of a Ph.D. program, and bored of my work at my first company, even though it was successful. I was lucky to have a Ph.D. advisor who was able to recommend a psychiatrist to me. I was quickly diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and again lucky to have a psychiatrist who was able to combine CBT and medication to help me overcome OCD while providing a safe space for me to explore my underlying anxiety disorder and the root causes of it.

At the time, I was incredibly ashamed of everything around my depression. I was ashamed that I was depressed. I hated that I took medicine. I was terrified that someone would find out that I was going to a psychiatrist. I was afraid to tell anyone I worked with, other than my business partner, that I was depressed. I thought CEOs and leaders had to be strong and show no weakness.

Again, I was lucky. My business partner Dave was supportive, even when he didn’t really know what to do. My new girlfriend (now my wife) Amy didn’t view me like a broken toy she needed to fix but rather acknowledged that I was going through a difficult time as we began our relationship. I had several friends and family members who showed up for me.

During my 2013 depressive episode, I blogged openly about my struggles and what I did. Since I was no longer ashamed of being depressed, I thought it might be helpful to talk about things. I had a large audience of readers and quickly ended up interviewed by a number of national business publications, including Inc. and Fortune. Several high-profile entrepreneurs had recently committed suicide and mental health was starting to be talked about in entrepreneurial circles, so I became a visible example of a successful entrepreneur who struggled with depression but was willing to discuss it.

The combination of these experiences and my liberation from my shame surrounding depression helped me realize how pernicious the stigma around depression is in our society. I ended up talking with hundreds of entrepreneurs about their own experience with mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and mania. In many cases, I was the first person, including family members, that they had ever discussed their struggles with.

I decided that part of my mission on this planet would be to help destigmatize the issues surrounding mental health. I won’t be done with this until we have achieved parity between prioritizing mental and physical health. Instead of being a stigmatized health issue, we need to talk about and treat mental health as we would any other physical health challenge. Cancer used to be a death sentence; now many cancers are treatable. Smallpox and polio were deeply misunderstood and mistreated; now they are largely eradicated. Diabetes, once a mysterious and crippling disease, is well understood and easily treated in most cases. Destigmatizing mental health issues and removing the barriers to care are critical to addressing and treating mental health diseases.

I’m incredibly moved by the community’s support of the Bolder Community Health initiative to expand critical mental health services. When Amy and I first heard about the effort to raise money for what is now the Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion, we immediately committed to getting involved. We are honored to be able to provide funding in support of the medical pavilion and for the establishment of the Anchor Point Mental Health Endowment and I’m thankful that my partners at Foundry Group have also provided a significant gift through our Pledge1% Fund.

Most importantly, I’m proud of everyone in our community who has supported this initiative, both functionally and financially. We are a special community at the forefront of many things in our society. Providing excellent care for people suffering and taking action to destigmatize mental health issues are important steps that we are pursuing in Boulder. Thank you to everyone who is helping us find our voice around this issue, elevate the conversation, and help destigmatize mental health.

Comments
Jun 24 2019

Book: Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up

Jerry Colonna has written a “must read for everyone on planet earth book” titled Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up.

Seriously, go buy it right now. I’ll be here when you return.

Regular readers of this blog know that Jerry and I are extremely close friends and have been for 23 years. I first met Jerry when he was beginning his partnership with Fred Wilson at Flatiron Partners. But, I didn’t meet him through Fred. I met him through NetGenesis, a company I was chairman of at the time that had been started by Rajat Bhargava (who we still work with as CEO of JumpCloud), Matt Cutler (who we still work with as CEO of Blocknative). I won’t repeat the story of Brad, Jerry, eShare, and NetGenesis, but it makes me incredibly happy to reflect on 23 years of friendship, which nicely lines up with my 23 official years of marriage to Amy.

If you want to get a feel for Jerry, listen to one of my favorite Reboot podcasts, where we flip the script and I interview Jerry.

Jerry has been on the road promoting the book the past few weeks. Dip into a few of the podcasts and interviews or get a taste on the CNN interview that he did.

Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up is extraordinary. It’s 100% Jerry, on every page, and is the book he was put on this planet to write.

If you are an entrepreneur, investor, leader, or human being, do yourself a favor and read Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. I’m serious – it will change how you think about yourself, leadership, and life.

Comments