Month: February 2007
Business 2.0 has a good article titled A startup’s best friend? Failure. on how to succeed by paying attention and responding to failure. Dogster, Google, and Riya (Like.com) are profiled. I got plenty of chuckles after I made an investment in Dogster. I look forward to the day when I can say “look who’s barking now.”
I owe David Cohen a cross-post on widgets in our Big or Bullshit series. This isn’t it – I’ll get to it. But – my hint is that while they are big, it’s more bullshit than big (think application packaging – we’ll talk more later.)
In the meantime, a number of my companies continue to crank out stuff in and around the world of widgets. FeedBurner just integrated their Headline Animator widget into their publisher engagement metrics (stats for us nerds.) Lijit just started crawling blogrolls while Bijan simultaneously noticed that the Lijit Wijit (er “widget”) just started reporting some interesting stats on what people were searching on his blog. Todd Vernon reminds us how important measuring everything is and put up a screenshot of a huge Raindance milestone from Monday when Raindance crossed the 5 million / day of audioconferencing minutes (I remember how excited we were when this metric crossed 100,000 / day. Finally, Eric Lunt of FeedBurner spent some time having fun with User-Agents, once again showing how hard it actually can be to accurately measure stuff.
Widgets are big, but they are also bullshit. Coincidentally I just saw a GigaOm article titled Widgets Don’t Age Well. More coming soon.
I am often asked “what the state government in Colorado should do to help promote entrepreneurship and innovation.” My answer is consistent – “education, education, education.” I went to school at MIT and saw first hand how one of the best “communities of higher education” in the world (Cambridge / Boston) directly impacted Massachusetts activity around entrepreneurship and innovation. While I’ve gotten stuck in the “public university / government / private university” discussion loop many times around this, I always suggest that we “take the discussion up a level” since the core question is “how can state government help?”
Today, Roger Fillion of the Rocky Mountain News wrote a damning article summarizing the new Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation which showed Colorado falling to #9 from #3 over the past five years in “adapting to the new economy.” When this study was done in 1999 and 2002, Colorado was #3. Colorado is now #9 (the top five spots are Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington and California.)
I haven’t studied this report, but I think Roger nails it in his article. The key quote is from Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation: “Other states have made major investments in expanding higher education, particularly research centers related to their state economies and specialties. My sense is that Colorado didn’t do that as much in the last decade.”
There are other issues, like the crash in the telecom industry, that impacted Colorado. But – fundamentally – the issue seems to come back to higher education.
There is some good news – Colorado continues to rank in the top three in several categories including education level of the work force, companies selling stock to the public for the first time, high-tech jobs, and patents. Plus, I believe the quality of life in Colorado is #1 in the country – notwithstanding yet another snow storm that we are having today.
Atkinson ends with the following: “It has such a great quality of life, and it’s a wonderful place to live. It’s this mecca for college-educated workers. And it has a lot of high-tech firms. [But it has] failed to combine these with a policy that spurs innovation – one, for example, that boosts the role of colleges and universities in promoting innovation and growth.”
Governor Ritter – you have a fresh shot at it. Let’s reverse the slide that your predecessor helped create.
Yesterday a group of us announced the creation of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado. This is a project I’ve been working on since last fall that I’m especially proud of. The press release is a good overview, as is the short article in today’s Rocky Mountain News titled Young firms urged to give helping hand.
The founding member companies are Collective Intellect, Me.dium, NewsGator, Rally Software, and Tendril. I want to thank the leadership teams, the employees, and the investors in these companies for their great support and help in figuring out a lot of the details of how this should work.
The founding trustees are me, Tim Connor, Sequel Venture Partners, JB Holston, NewsGator, Kyle Lefkoff, Boulder Ventures, Ryan Martens, Rally Software, Mike Platt, Cooley Godward Kronish, and Bill Roberts, Hogan & Hartson.
The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado is a “sub-fund” of the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County. We’ve already built alliances with the two primary Denver-based Community Foundations – The Denver Foundation and Rose Community Foundation – and hope over time to have alliances with all of the Community Foundations in Colorado. Thanks to Josie Heath and the great folks at the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County for their enthusiasm, support, and help.
Finally, a special thanks to my assistant Kelly Collins for being the ringleader of all of the people involved.
Look for more coming soon – please follow our progress on the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado web site. If you are part of a company in Colorado that is interested in finding out more about participating, please email me.
Just a reminder that the MIT Enterprise Forum will be having an event tomorrow night in Boulder called “Ask the VC: Venture Capital Outlook for 2007.” The Forum will start with a 40 minute digital presentation from MIT/Cambridge with a panel of Boston VCs discussing the trends that ended 2006 and what they forsee for 2007. This will be followed immediately with a live panel of Colorado VCs ready to answer you questions and compare the scenes in Boston and the Front Range.
The live panel includes me, Jason Mendelson (Foundry Group), Catharine Merigold (Vista Ventures), Kyle Lefkoff (Boulder Ventures), and Chris Scoggins (Sequel Venture Partners).
I love my NewsGator and Technorati key word search feeds – they help me find the most interesting things. A NewsGator key word search on “Ryan McIntyre” picked up this post by Chan Chaiyochlarb titled If you are going to launch a startup, how many friends would you need?
It’s a neat table of the number of founders for Microsoft, Google Youtube, Yahoo!, Overture, eBay, PayPal, Skype, Kazaa, Hotmail, Ask.com, Excite (where Ryan’s name showed up), Napster, Lycos, Amazon, Apple, MySpace, Facebook, Netscape, AOL, Mirabilis, and Digg. The average number of founders – 2.09.
My first company – Feld Technologies (1987) – had two founders (me and Dave Jilk). The first company I funded as an angel investor (NetGenesis: 1994) had six founders that quickly dropped to four. The second company I funded as an angel investor (Thinkfish: 1994) had four founders. Another early angel deal I did (Harmonix: 1995) had two founders as did Email Publishing (1996). The range from 1994 – 2000 seemed to be solidly between two and four.
I just looked through the companies I’m currently on the board of. The number of founders range from 1 to 4 with a concentration of 2 and 3. The few companies that have single company founders paired up with an experienced entrepreneur as CEO early in their life.
When I look at the list of my successful companies, the distribution is very similar. Lots of two founder companies, a few threes, and a few fours. I can’t think of a success case that I’ve been involved in with greater than four founders (although my partner Ryan can since Excite weighs in as the exception with six.)
Nick Harris – the author of NewsGator’s Inbox product – has a detailed post up explaining the boundary condition he just ran into that forced him to do a quick release (2.6.7) of NewsGator Inbox. If you didn’t guess already, it has something to do with 2^31.
I just spent the last four hours lying on the couch reading Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software. I’ve been dragging this book around for a couple of weeks and finally tackled it.
It was simultaneously depressing, anxiety producing, and inspiring. I’ve been involved in thousands of software projects over the past 20 years – my first company wrote hundreds of custom applications – ranging from short projects that took weeks to long projects that stretched out over years. I’ve been involved in numerous different approaches to building software, have worked with amazing teams that struggled to produce anything and average teams that shipped on time and on budget (and all permutations therein.) While my experiences have been all over the map and my level of deep engagement in the design and development process has lessened dramatically over the years, I never forget the joy of shipping a release.
One of my favorite pieces of software of all time was Lotus Agenda. I used it for many years after I started using Windows – I think Agenda was the final DOS-based application that I stopped using. So, when Mitch Kapor (the vision behind Lotus Agenda) announced the creation of the Open Source Application Foundation and the vision of their product Chandler some time in 2002 I was intrigued.
Dreaming in Code chronicles the agonizingly slow creation of Chandler. The book ends in late 2005, well before Chandler is released. It’s 2007 and Chandler is still on version 0.7 with the preview release targeted for April 2007. The vision for Chandler 1.0 is “an open source Personal Information Management (PIM) client application with innovative design and ambitious plans for sharing, extensibility and cross-platform support.”
I stopped paying attention to Chandler several years ago – I’d lost interest around version 0.4 since it basically didn’t do anything usable. I just downloaded and installed version 0.7 and the pain from the book washed over me again. Chandler has a long way to go before it’s useful, and then it’s not clear to me that it’s relevant any more.
Notwithstanding the incredible challenges this project has had, Kapor’s brilliance, patience, vision, and leadership shines through and inspires. My favorite paragraph was when the author – Scott Rosenberg – asks the question “With all the dispiriting delays, had he ever considered shutting Chandler down?” Kapor replies:
“No. There were times when I felt horrible depressed. But I’ve learned in my life, not just there, that if I have very powerful feelings of hopelessness, I should sit with them. I should refrain from taking action – because those feelings tend to be transient; they tend to be triggered by circumstances. Instead, just personally, take some time out, whether it’s an hour or a few hours or a day or two. And that’s as long as it’s ever been with this process to regain perspective. And every time I’ve come back, saying I believe we can find a way to accomplish the long-term vision by adapting how we about about doing it.”
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Dune – “fear is the mindkiller.” Kapor shows us how he copes with it.
In addition to telling a poignant story of a software project, Rosenberg does an outstanding job of providing a survey course in the evolution of software development. If you are involved in a company that builds software for a living and want additional perspective on it, Dreaming in Code is worth your time.
Our regional event – Venture Capital in the Rockies – was excellent this year. I’m usually good for a half a day at something like this – I managed to last almost 30 hours. I started off by participating in a press roundtable, had a few meetings, enjoyed a packed cocktail party, and then had an outstanding dinner at Anderson’s Cabin with the folks from Square 1 Bank.
I woke up early the next day and sat through most of the presentations in one of the software / IT / Internet tracks. David Cohen has an excellent summary of many of them – so I’ll be lazy and just link to him. Dan Primack also put up a post of the cliffnotes of who is raising what along with his explanation that VCIR isn’t a skiing boondoggle – really – it isn’t – really!
David Cohen also has a nice summary of his experience as this is the first VCIR he has been to. David is an active angel investor and co-founder / CEO of TechStars – we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the past year and I loved his conclusion.
“Above all, my biggest takeaway was simply the fact that I met a great number of amazing people. Sure, it was cool to network with these very talented VCs from Colorado, Silicon Valley, Seattle, and elsewhere. But it was fantastic to meet many of the great entrepreneurs in the area that I had not met in person before, as well as the people supporting and encouraging them. It was said several times at VCIR that the VCs simply go where the entrepreneurs are. Luckily for all of us, entrepreneurs and therefore the ecosystem that develops around them, are alive and well in Colorado.”
As the climax, Tracy Kerr – a partner at Meritage Funds and the Chairman of the Colorado Venture Capital Association (CVCA) announced that the CVCA was becoming the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association which now includes Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada. I’ve always viewed this area as the “Rocky Mountain West” (as evidenced by my investment in New West) and am delighted that there is more integration between the various VC firms in this region. Of course, I’m the guy that used to think that “New England” was a state before I moved to Boston.