Brad Feld

Month: February 2010

As the Startup Visa initiative continues to pick up momentum, we are now collecting stories from immigrants who have either started or tried to start their company in the US.  We are interested in any aspect of your story and – while we’d like to be able to have your contact info – recognize that some people will want their story to be anonymous (which is ok with us.)

We’re looking to collect as many stories as we can by February 27th (11pm) so that we’ll be able to put them together in an appropriate format for the Geeks on a Plane trip to DC on 3/4/10 – 3/6/10 which will include a delegation of folks (including me) talking about the Startup Visa.

If you have a Startup Visa story about your immigration challenges to tell, please help us out!

Whenever a TechStars company is acquired, they get a yellow shirt with their number on the back.  Last month Fitrbox, a TechStars Boulder 2007 company, was acquired by Jive Software.  The yellow shirt presentation is in the short video below:

FiltrBox #4 TechStars Company to be Acquired from TechStars on Vimeo.

On Tuesday, February 9th at the Denver Athletic Club (1325 Glenarm in Denver) Filtrbox’s founders Ari Newman and Tom Chikoore are going to do a presentation titled Filtrbox – A Case Study from Start-up to Exit on the story of Filtrbox.  I expect this will include everything from the very start of the company, to their experience with TechStars, to their first financing, through launching a product, seeing early customer growth, and ultimately being acquired by Jive Software. 

This event is being hosted by the Rockies Venture Club and the discussion will be facilitated by Mark Weakley from HRO who was Filtrbox’s outside counsel and involved from the beginning.  Ari and Tom have a great story that’s instructive for any early stage entrepreneur – I encourage you to attend.

Vivek Wadhwa has a strong article in BusinessWeek today titled Addressing the Dearth of Female EntrepreneursHe makes the argument that “There are too few women running high-tech companies; that’s too bad, considering evidence shows female-led businesses outperform those run by men” and concludes “[I] hope that when I revisit this topic in subsequent years the percentage of women launching IT companies rivals the percentage of women going into law, medicine, and higher education. The outcome would benefit us all.”

Vivek worked with the National Center for Women & Information Technology – an organization that I’ve been chairman of for five years – to analyze data on the background and motivations of 549 successful entrepreneurs that he had previously published research on in the article Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and MotivationOnly 8% of the sample was female and there were some very interesting conclusions from it that Vivek summarizes in his BusinessWeek article.

The fundamental assertion that Vivek makes – that the dearth of female entrepreneurs is a societal issue – is consistent with the ideas I’ve developed around this over the past five years of my involvement with NCWIT.  My assertion around the importance of this issue is simple – in the US we need more women involved in computer science, IT, and entrepreneurship to maintain our country’s long term leadership position in innovation.

When I sit in a room, like I did last night at the Colorado Open Angel Forum (which was spectacular), and see only one woman out of about 30 people, this issue is just reinforced.  It’s not that the event wasn’t open to women, or that we filtered against women, it was just that very few applied.  As we like to say at NCWIT, “it’s a pipeline issue.”  As a society and a country we’ve got to start working today to get more women into the pipeline for 20 years from now.

While there will always be people who say this is a gender equality issue (and come out either for or against this dynamic as a result), I think they are missing the real issue.  This is about innovation, competitiveness, and entrepreneurship. I’m glad Vivek highlights this issue and am especially proud of all the work that NCWIT is doing.

Sometimes a person says one sentence that just sticks with you and is so perfect that it defines a whole category of behavior.  Mark Pincus, the CEO of Zynga, riffed on the phrase “be the CEO of your job” in a board meeting a year or so ago.  It stuck with me and I’ve thought about it many times since.

On Sunday, the NY Times did a great “Corner Office” interview with Mark titled Are You a C.E.O. of Something?  Among other things it explored the idea of being the CEO of your job.  Fred Wilson – also an investor in Zynga – wrote a post on Sunday titled Empowering Your Team which talks about one aspect of this.  But Fred left out a great example from one of Mark’s earlier companies ( which really nails this concept.

“We had this really motivated, smart receptionist. She was young. We kept outgrowing our phone systems, and she kept coming back and saying, “Mark, we’ve got to buy a whole new phone system.” And I said: “I don’t want to hear about it. Just buy it. Go figure it out.” She spent a week or two meeting every vendor and figuring it out. She was so motivated by that. I think that was a big lesson for me because what I realized was that if you give people really big jobs to the point that they’re scared, they have way more fun and they improve their game much faster. She ended up running our whole office.”

Think about the conceptual progression.  First, the CEO (Mark) had to have to courage to make the young, motivated, smart receptionist “be the CEO of her job.”  Then, when the problem was put to him (“Mark, we’ve got to buy a whole new phone system”), Mark resisted doing something so many entrepreneurs (and executives, and managers) do – namely to “manage” the problem.  Instead of spending a lot of his time solving the problem, or setting up a committee to spend a month figuring out the phone system, or asking someone more senior to the receptionist to figure it out, he gave her the responsibility of solving the entire problem.  He anointed her “CEO of her job” – as the receptionist, she was the one that felt the most pain from the inadequate phone system and was probably in the best position to figure out a solution.

In this case, the notion of “be the CEO of your job” was in the culture of the organization so the receptionist – who was in Mark’s words young, motivated, and smart – took this seriously, spent real time figuring out the solution, and then solved it.  I’m sure the early culture of was “don’t spend a lot of money” so the financial constraint, while vague, was probably understood.  While there’s plenty more behind the scenes in the story, the young reception clearly “leveled up” (it’s impossible not to use game-speak when talking about Zynga) and ended up running the whole office.

I work with CEO’s every day.  So I’m naturally wired to encourage them to be CEO of their own job.  While this is pretty meta, it’s an important starting point as I already think this way all the time.  I’m certainly not perfect and have moments where I just jump in and try to solve a specific problem, but most of the time I let the CEO’s be CEO.  However, when I contemplate this, I realize I haven’t done a good job of encouraging the CEO’s to make everyone in their organization CEO of the job.  Some CEO’s do this naturally and – not surprisingly – these are generally the highest achieving companies. 

Pause and ponder the idea.  Assuming you are in an entrepreneurial organization, are you being the CEO of your job?  Is this culturally (and functionally) acceptable?  Do you get rewarded for taking risks and succeeding (or failing) like your CEO does?  If not, would you be more effective if you did? 

Now, if you are the CEO of an entrepreneurial organization, do you encourage everyone in the company to be CEO of their job?  Is this culturally (and functionally) acceptable?  Do they get rewarded for taking risks and succeeding (or failing) like you do?  If not, would they be more effective if they did? 

If you applied the lens of “be the CEO of your job” to you job, would you behave any differently?