I had a very interesting meeting yesterday with an MIT Professor who I’ve known for a long time. He is anti-software patent, as am I. However, he suggested something I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about, namely that patents slow down innovation. Some very credible folks have been talking about this for a little while, including James Bessen and Michael Meurer in their excellent book Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats, and Lawyers Put Innovators at Risk.
In my conversation Friday, I heard a very interesting example. Regularly, patent advocates tell me how important patents are for the biotech and life science industries. However, there apparently is academic research in the works that shows that patents actually slow down innovation in biotech. The specific example we discussed was that there is increasing evidence that when a professor or company gets a patent in the field of genetics research, other researchers simply stop doing work in that specific area. As a result, the number of researchers on a particular topic decreases, especially if the patent is broad. It’s not hard to theorize that this results in less innovation around this area over time.
I’m just starting to read some papers about this stuff, including those by MIT Professor Fiona Murray. If you are interested, Stuart Macdonald’s paper When means become ends: considering the impact of patent strategy on innovation frames the discussion nicely. And Stephan Kinsella’s excellent essay Reducing the Cost of IP Law absolutely nails this.
I’m still obsessed with my mission to “abolish software patents” especially after receiving yet another email from a new startup that claims to be a “Patent Insurance Company.” A number of these have popped up recently in the past few years, including several that are funded by VCs. Their pitch is that you pay them an annual fee, license any patents you have to them, and they will “protect you” against any patent litigation. Whenever I hear this pitch, all I can think about is Al Capone walking the streets of Chicago going door to door offering “protection” to all of the local businessmen if they will pay his vig every week.
Steve Bell of Startup Trek came to Boulder about a month ago and did an interview with a bunch of Boulder people, including me. Following is part one (12 minutes) of the interview where I talk some about my history, my first company Feld Technologies, and the Feld Technologies’ motto (“we suck less.”)
I also spend some time talking about how I first learned how to do deals, acquire companies, and make angel investments. You get to learn how I met Fred Wilson, Rich Levandov, and Jerry Colonna. And, as a special bonus, you get to see a reasonably tired version of my avatar sitting in one of the chairs in my office.
Over the past eighteen months I’ve gotten to know Bill Warner through my work with the Boston program of TechStars. Bill was a well known entrepreneur when I lived in Boston between 1983 and 1995 – he’d founded Avid which is one of the famous MIT software companies to come out of the 1980’s and the subsequently founded Wildfire Communications with Rich Miner, now of Google Ventures and another great entrepreneur in Boston that I’ve gotten to know over the past year.
When I met Bill I was captivated by his deep desire to see the Boston entrepreneurial scene – especially around software and Internet – get re-energized. He was clear that the history of Boston was rich with entrepreneurial success and was sick of all of the anti-Boston bias coming from folks, especially on the west coast. I’ve watched Bill step up and take a huge leadership role in this effort and in one short year see it paying dividends already.
Yesterday, Bill wrote two great blog posts that should be required reading for anyone in the tech economy in Massachusetts and anyone in a city that aspires to have a long term growing innovation economy.
I encourage you to go read them and then have dessert with Scott Kirsner’s article You can’t tell how the innovation economy is doing without a scorecard. These guys just get it and are doing great things for the Boston innovation economy.
And – while you are thinking about entrepreneurial communities, take a look at the new article in the Fast Company series titled Why You Should Start a Company in… Seattle. Andy Sack, an long time entrepreneur, partner in Founders Co-op as well as the Managing Director of the TechStars Seattle program, has a great interview up.
But wait, even though I’m not announcing a new tablet computer, there’s more – this time in Boulder. Andrew Hyde announced Project Boulder Connect, a new initiative he’s putting together for a variety of user groups in Boulder.
It’s time to hop in the shower and then head over to do Community Hours at the Bunker.
I heard this phrase at about 75 minutes into my run this morning. It’s from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I’ve read a half dozen times over the years. I decided to listen to it on my iPhone while training for an upcoming marathon, just to see what different things I’d pick up from listening to it read to me rather than reading it myself.
The actual paragraph is in the middle of Chapter 11 as the narrator is discussing Phaedrus’ lateral drift. He shifts back to the present time and talks with some trepidation about heading up over mountain beyond Red Lodge.
‘We walk past ski shops into a restaurant where we see on the walls huge photographs of the route we will take up. And up and up, over one of the highest paved roads in the world. I feel some anxiety about this, which I realize is irrational and try to get rid of by talking about the road to the others. There’s no way to fall off. No danger to the motorcycle. Just a memory of places where you could throw a stone and it would drop thousands of feet before coming to rest and somehow associating that stone with the cycle and rider.”
They finish their coffee and, after puttering around, get going.
“The asphalt of the road is much wider and safer than it occurred in memory. On a cycle you have all sorts of extra room. John and Sylvia take the hairpin turns up ahead and then come back above us, facing us, and have smiles. Soon we take the turn and see their backs again. Then another turn for them and we meet them again, laughing. It’s so hard when contemplated in advance, and so easy when you do it.”
At 75 minutes into my run, I was in a very happy groove. This was not the case 76 minutes earlier, nor was it the case 24 hours earlier. On Sunday, I had planned to do a 135 minute run. This is a medium long run for me (a really long run is 180 minutes) but nonetheless generated some pre-run anxiety. I’d had a busy week, travelled home on Saturday afternoon from Seattle, and was tired. I had a few beers on Saturday night which was probably a mistake, went to bed at about 11pm, and mentally prepared to go for my long run on Sunday. I woke up at about 5:30am to the sound of my condo vents rattling – I’m on the top floor and when the wind blows it’s noisy. I got up (earlier than I’d planned but I was wide awake). I did some email, had a cup of coffee, and then went outside to see what it was like. Cold, windy, gloomy, and dark. Whatever motivation I had to do my long run immediately vaporized and I convinced myself a better path was to go run on the treadmill at the health club down the block for 135 minutes. I eventually went to the club, grinded through an hour on the treadmill, and then bailed out of complete and total boredom.
I hadn’t done my run on Saturday (too tired) so I rationalized that my Sunday run was going to be my Saturday run and I’d do my long run early on Monday. To make this happen, I had to be out the door by 5:15am given some stuff I had to do Monday morning. I woke up this morning at 4:15am – wide awake – and geared up for my run. I was exactly the same cold, windy, gloomy, and dark that it was the previous morning. But this time I just decided to go do it.
About an hour into my run, as I was the shoulder of Highway 36 heading to Lyons after Broadway dead ends into Highway 36, I was totally blissed out. The wind was probably gusting up to 40 miles per hour, it was pitch black, but there were no people anywhere. A car would fly by every few minutes, but there were long dark stretches of nothing.
I heard the line “It’s So Hard When Contemplated In Advance And So Easy When You Do It” at about 75 minutes. I physically felt the smile break out on my face. I’ve continued to think about this line all morning long – not just with regard to running, but with regard to everything I do.
While the rest of the US is watching football, I thought I’d sit quietly at my house and catch up on some writing, most notably what David Cohen, Entrepreneur Magazine, and a few other special people are waiting for from me. However, before I dig into that, I thought I’d procrastinate by catching up on some reading from the week and, motivated by a few interesting things I came across, stall a little more by writing this blog post summarizing the interesting things I came across today.
More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Let’s start out with an absolute must read Op-Ed by Thomas Friedman. Read it to find out why we should start calling 2010 the year of innovation, or more cleverly – the year to “Start-Up America.”
My Dad and the Story of the Stolen Stamp Collection: My dad and I are writing a series of letters to each other on our blogs. His second one is up and it’s the story of what happened to my stamp collection in sixth grade and how we addressed it together. I remember this like it was yesterday – it was a very formative experience for me that heavily influenced my view on directly confronting bad actors as well as the importance of honesty.
Bill Gates is blogging: When he first launched his blog, there was no RSS feed. There is now.
5 Minutes With OpenView Venture Partners: Mark Solon at Highway 12 Ventures has a nice Q&A up on his blog with Scott Maxwell and George Roberts at OpenView Partners. I’m good friends with Mark and Scott; Highway 12 and OpenView are co-investors in Balihoo, and I’m a small investor in OpenView Partners. Good stuff.
We Believe in Magic: Last week Memeo (we are investors) released Memeo Connect for Google Apps. You can now access your Google Apps docs from the desktop as well as sync them to the cloud. Automagically. Like Magic. Memeo explains why and how. If you are a Google Apps (Docs) user, this is for you!
Open Angel Forum Colorado – Feb 3 FAQs: OAFCO is heating up – all five sponsorships are sold out, the list of angels coming is great, and we are sorting through a nice list of companies that we are inviting. If you are interested in attending as an angel or presenting as a company, just wander over to the FAQ.
What I really feel like doing is laying on the coach, eating a mango popsicle, and reading some mental floss. Fortunately I downloaded Stuart Woods latest book Kisser yesterday.
My friends at NewsGator had a great 2009 – enterprise social computing came into its own and they were at the front of the pack. If an organization uses SharePoint and is interested in social computing, NewsGator Social Sites is a must have product.
Yesterday, NewsGator acquired Tomoye. The two companies are highly complimentary – Tomoye adds a set of SharePoint related community and social computing products to the mix as well as a fantastic government-centric customer base including organizations like the Federal Reserve Bank, The United States Army, Defense Acquisition University, The United States Air Force, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and U.S. Agency for International Development. Eric Sauve, the founder/CEO of Tomoye, has built a really nice business that I’m excited to welcome into the NewsGator family.
CMSWire has a nice article summarizing the deal. If you are interested in enterprise social computing and want to get connected to the folks at NewsGator, feel free to drop me an email – I’d be happy to introduce you.
I recently turned 44. As I was driving in to the office the other day, I was talking to my dad and we were reminiscing about something. He’s one of my closest friends and I’ve learned such an amazing amount from him over my 44 years on this planet. He’s been blogging for a while about Repairing the Healthcare System and periodically tosses in a personal blog post about one of his life experiences.
Suddenly, during the call, I suggested that we write letters to each other on our blogs. We talk by phone a few times a week, email regularly, and video Skype at least once a week. But I learn the most from him when we have our long annual father / son weekend, or when we end up on a 45 minute call (like we did today) talking about the Senate and healthcare. And I thought about a picture that was recently sent to me of him when he was a little older than me (about 47 I think). I’m the skinny kid on the left; my first business partner Dave Jilk is on the right.
I’ve got a long list of “Stanley-isms” that I’ve incorporated into my life. They pop out randomly in various contexts, but always influence the things I do on a daily basis, how I act, and how I treat other people. I still learn a lot whenever I ponder them and thought they’d be great fodder for this blog.
While I don’t have kids, I’m watching some of my close friends raise their children. Most of the kids are between the age of 5 and 10; the parent / child relationships in my circle of friends are uniformly excellent. At a pre-board meeting dinner tonight, we spent some time talking about kids, especially in the context of how the parents (every one of them very smart and accomplished) are thinking about the transition of their kids from pre-teen through teenage years.
I’m not going to experience this as a parent, but I certainly experienced this as a kid. And when reflect on the influence my father had on me, how he interacted with me at that age, and the way it has shaped my character, I smile. A very big smile. So I thought I’d share some of that with you.
I don’t know how often I’ll write Letters to My Dad but I hope to be able to keep up with one of my favorite tweeters, ShitMyDadSays. Oh – and my dad is still wearing that NY Yankees shirt and baseball cap to this day.
Amy Cosper, the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur Magazine, swung through Boulder recently and interviewed me, Scott McDaniel & Christian Vaneh of Survey Gizmo, Ari Newman of Filtrbox (recently acquired by Jive Software), Todd Vernon of Lijit Networks, and Tim Enwall of Tendril Networks. Unlike my two hour TWiST interview with Jason Calacanis, these are all short (less than three minutes each), punchy, and give you a great feel for some of my favorite Boulder entrepreneurs.
A few weeks ago Fast Company published an interview between me and Laura Rich titled Why You Should Start a Company in… Boulder. This morning I woke up to Fred Wilson’s discussion of his article Why You Should Start a Company in… New York.
Fred and I did our interviews separately – there was no coordination between us. I was struck by a common theme – startup hubs take a while to develop. Fred says:
“we’re into the second decade now, and what the second decade is really turning out to be is serial entrepreneurs who’ve done it one, two, three, sometimes four times now, who can bring teams together very quickly, often teams that have worked together very quickly, can get on opportunities fast, can get money raised fast, can build companies pretty fast.”
Compare that to what I said:
“You have a lot of those entrepreneurs that had a success. Wasn’t necessarily their first company, but they had a success. And then, they had a failure between the 1998 and 2003 timeframe. So they started another thing or made some investments that got caught up in the bubble. So they had both a success and a failure in that time. So some set of those people started companies from 2004 forward. They were very mature entrepreneurs. They’re entrepreneurs that had success AND failure and understand what was required to both win and also were humble enough to recognize that you could lose.
Then, we both talk about mentors and the engaged cycle of old and new entrepreneurs in building and sustaining the entrepreneur ecosystem. This – as I’m sure you know if you’ve been reading this blog – is a core thesis behind the TechStars program now running in Boulder, Boston, and Seattle. Again – first Fred:
“And now you have role models. So the first time entrepreneurs can find angel investors. It’s exactly what has been going on in Silicon Valley for three, four decades now. Marc Andreessen becomes hugely successful, makes a bunch of money, becomes an angel investor, backs a bunch of people, mentors them, becomes a VC. That migration path is now playing out here in New York, and so most of the investments we do at the first angel-round stage is ourselves and a bunch of serial entrepreneurs in New York who are now making twenty-five- to fifty-thousand dollar investments as angels in these companies, sometimes acting as informal advisers and mentors to the first-time entrepreneurs.”
So you had that against a backdrop of, everybody here is at most two degrees of separation away from any other entrepreneur, because there’s only 100,000 of us, right? And that then is great because what you have is this easy access to everybody. And even though there’s competitive dynamics and occasionally friction, and there’s plenty of personalities. More generally, you tend to see that people try to help each other here, especially around the thing that I think is the generator of new entrepreneurial activity, which is young, first-time entrepreneurs.”
Finally, even though both Boulder and New York are actively in the midst of an entrepreneurial renaissance, it requires continual effort to sustain this. I’ve committed the balance of my professional life to this (hopefully at least 20 years) – not just in Boulder, but in other entrepreneurial communities around the United States, including New York (which I love to both spend time in and work in.) See my parting comment:
“I think there’s been a ton of energy by entrepreneurs in energizing Boulder in the last four or five years. And that has to continue. There’s no such thing as resting on your laurels. There’s no such thing as being complacent. The entrepreneurial beast is hungry. And if you want to have a great entrepreneurial ecosystem you have to keep feeding the entrepreneurial beast. And it has to be fed all up and down the chain, from some entrepreneurs who are young to experienced entrepreneurs, and they have to keep caring about the place they live in, their community, and the dynamics amongst them, the people in the community.”
I’m curious to see if Laura picks up similar themes in her other interviews. Knowing some of the people and cities involved, I expect she will.