Month: October 2010
We got tired of Google having all the fun so we put up a new drawing of us on the Foundry Group home page.
Google also did a nice job with the Mystery Machine in the background.
Happy Halloween from Brad “Not your Mummy” Feld, Seth “Franken-Levine”, Ryan “El Diablo” McIntyre, and Jason “Count” Mendelson.
Last week I posted an article on peHUB titled How to Create a Sustainable Entrepreneurial Community. Here it is in its entirety.
I’ve lived in Boulder for 15 years after living in Boston for a dozen. While I’ve spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley — both as an angel and venture capital investor — I’ve never lived there. While the firm I’m a partner in — Foundry Group — invests all over the United States, I regularly hear statements like, “The only place to start a tech company is in Silicon Valley.”
When David Cohen (CEO of TechStars) and I co-founded TechStars in Boulder, Colo., in 2006, we had two goals in mind. The first was to energize the early stage software/Internet entrepreneurial community in Boulder. The second was to get new first-time entrepreneurs involved more deeply in the Boulder entrepreneurial community. Four years later, we feel like we really understand how entrepreneurial communities grow and evolve.
First is the recognition that Silicon Valley is a special place. It’s futile to try to be the next Silicon Valley. Instead, recognize that Silicon Valley has strengths and weaknesses. Learn from the strengths and incorporate the ones that fit with your community while trying to avoid the weaknesses. Leverage the natural resources of your community and be the best, unique entrepreneurial community that you can be. Basically, play to your strengths.
Next, get ready for a 20-year journey. Most entrepreneurial communities ramp up over a three- to five-year period and then stall or collapse, with the early leaders getting bored, moving away, getting rich and changing their priorities, or just disengaging. It takes a core group of leaders — at least half a dozen — to commit to provide leadership over at least 20 years.
But these two things — playing to the strengths of your community and going on a 20-year journey — are table stakes. Without them, you won’t get anywhere, but you need more. In Boulder, we’ve figured out two critical things for creating a sustainable entrepreneurial community.
First, do things that engage the entire entrepreneurial community. Over the years I’ve been to many annual entrepreneurial award events and I’ve gone to endless cocktail parties for entrepreneurs. These are nice, but they get boring quickly. More importantly, these types of events don’t actually engage anyone in anything functional — you end up seeing the same old people and saying the same things to each other.
You need to take the next step and create real events that have entrepreneurs work together on a regular basis. Meetups and Open Coffee Club type events that occur on a regular basis are a great start. Hackathons, Startup Weekend, and Open Angel Forum events are the next level. Events at the local university, such as CU Boulder’s Silicon Flatirons programs, including Entrepreneurs Unplugged and Entrepreneurial Roundtables, involve the entrepreneurial community with students who are the future entrepreneurs in the community. And programs like TechStars — which engage the entire entrepreneurial community for 90 days a year — are the icing on the cake.
Next, you have to continually get fresh blood into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. It has to be easy for a new entrepreneur to emerge in your community and get connected with the experienced entrepreneurs and investors. If someone moves to your community, it has to be easy for him or her to engage. Experienced entrepreneurs and investors should want to work with new entrepreneurs and new entrepreneurs should have their minds blown when they move from their otherwise dull and disengaged community to your exciting, welcoming and engaging community.
We are in the midst of an entrepreneurial revival across the United States (and the world) right now. Hopefully we’ll learn from the past cycles and do things to keep things going this time around so that in 2025 there are numerous strong entrepreneurial communities throughout the United States. My partners and I at Foundry Group look forward to helping nurture many of these communities with investments and our engagement over the next 15 years.
My TEDxBoulder presentation on The Quarterly Week Off The Grid was recently posted on YouTube. I participated in TEDxBoulder on August 7th and it was an awesome Saturday evening in Boulder. Most of the talks were dynamite – the worst ones were merely good. If you are interested in work-life balance, this is one of my favorite algorithms for it. The video of my presentation follows.
If you’ve heard me talk about this before, you’ll recognize some of my schtick. You’ll also recognize this from the first chapter of Theme 7 of Do More Faster (Work-Life Balance). And if you were at Chicago’s Startup Mixology today you’ll recognize pieces of this discussion. But there are a few new gems in here that I had forgotten I’d used.
On my next Quarterly Week Off The Grid I’m going to eat less and exercise more. Man that belly looks unflattering in this video.
As part of our Do More Faster book tour, we’ve been having a pitch session each day called “Pitch More Faster.” During the hour, we hear four pitches that are five minute each and give direct feedback / suggestions on the pitch itself (not the content or the business, but the pitch.)
In my experience, most people suck at the five minute pitch. It’s really hard to do well. There are lots of variants of suckage, including cramming a 30 minute pitch into 5 minutes, doing a 5 minute pitch for the first time (and having no comfort with the material), or talking at 732 word per minute and being impossible to follow.
We’ve done Pitch More Faster in about ten cities now and it’s been really interesting. I think we’ve been helpful and have found that when everyone is in the room (e.g. all four companies that are presenting) the conversation becomes even more impactful and robust as by the fourth presentation everyone is weighing in with feedback.
I’ve noticed one consistent thing in virtually every presentation. It’s what I call the “read vs. listen” problem. Most of the presentations have slides with lots of words on them. Since the presentation is only five minutes long, the stuff being said is important. Most presenters know not to simply read their slides, so they say things that are not necessarily on the slides. And that’s the essence of the problem.
I learned a long time ago (probably junior high school) that I learn by reading, not by listening. In college, I was a “go to the minimum number of lectures that I can get away with but read everything” guy. As an adult, I’d much rather read and write email that talk on the phone. When someone wants to explain something to me, I’d much rather they just email me. And when I want to really understand something, I need to sit quietly and read it (or about it).
Furthermore, when you talk to me, if you don’t keep my attention, or if I don’t purposely focus on you, I drift quickly. If you’ve ever interacted with me, you may have noticed the look in my eyes when I drift. It’s sort of the equivalent of my eyes rolling up into my head. It’s definitely a me problem, not a you problem – it’s just hard for me to process a lot of verbal information for a continuous time.
Now, map this to the five minute pitch context. I can concentrate on you for five minutes. But if there are words on the screen, I go straight to the words and start reading them. And then I can’t hear anything you are saying. If there are a lot of words, I spend all my time on it trying to read everything and absorb it. And I hear nothing.
It turns out there are a lot of people like me. Many of them don’t realize it. When you are presenting, you probably have a mix of “readers” and “listeners” in the audience. In a five minute pitch, you want me to listen the entire time since your goal is to get me to engage and want to spend more time with you. So the words on the slides are a distraction.
I’ve long been a fan of minimalist slides – a few words and/or a picture to use as a guide for whatever is going on. I never completely understood why – now I know. If I close my eyes the next time you are presenting to me, it’s because I’m trying to concentrate, not because I’m falling asleep.
David Cohen and I will be hanging out at the Boulder Book Store from 1pm to 5pm on Thursday 11/4/10. Come see us, buy a copy of Do More Faster (and we’ll sign it), and ask us any questions you want. It’ll be a chaotic version of my Community Hours – instead of having 15 minute slots I’ll just talk to whomever shows up.
If you are based in Boulder, come support your local community bookstore and have some fun with us.
I’m at Newark Airport waiting for my plane to take me to Quebec for the Quebec City Conference where I’m being interviewed at the end of the day by Rob Cox of Reuters Breakingviews. Yesterday Rob and I had a short call so he could get to know me a little better.
As he was probing me about Foundry Group and what makes us tick, we started talking about what we refer to as “deeply held beliefs.” In my first company (Feld Technologies) we referred to these as “precepts” As we were talking through them, I realized that they defined us, and how we work, extremely well.
We will never raise a fund larger than $225 million. We just raised our second fund. It was exactly the same size as our first fund. Assuming we are successful, our next fund, which we expect to raise in three or four years, will be $225 million.
We will never add anyone to the team. I have three partners (Seth Levine, Jason Mendelson, and Ryan McIntyre). We’ve worked together for a decade. We’ve committed to each other to work together as partners “until we are done investing as VCs.” We work extraordinarily well together and have no interest in ever introducing someone new into the mix.
Entrepreneurs want to work directly with us, not through junior people. The manifestation of this deeply held belief is that we don’t have principals, associates, or analysts.
We all work on the same things. While we each have different strengths and weaknesses, we only invest in areas and companies that all four of us have expertise and affinity for.
We have plenty of other deeply held beliefs but these should give you a feel for how we think about it. It’ll be interesting to see how the interview goes today at the conference and if these come up – if I end up on a long riff about it I imagine another blog post on this topic may be forthcoming.
The ten teams that are going through the program will each be presenting their companies using the TechStars eight-minute pitch format. If you are near Copenhagen on 11/9/10, register now.
On Saturday, I spent the day with my MIT fraternity (the Lambda Phi Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi) at the Microsoft NERD facility in Cambridge next to MIT. We did a full day entrepreneurial retreat called “ADPrentice 2010.” This is the second time we’ve done this – the last time was ADPrentice 2005.
My frat at MIT has spawned numerous startups that I’ve written about in the past, including my post on 351 Massachusetts Avenue (home of the first office for my first company – Feld Technologies). I’m extremely proud of the legacy of entrepreneurship from MIT’s ADP chapter and am happy to continue to play a role in helping encourage it.
Several ADP alums, including Sameer Gandhi (Accel Partners), Mark Siegel (Menlo Ventures), and Eran Egozy (founder/CTO of Harmonix) came and participated. Sameer, Mark, and I were judges for the three ADPrentice contents, which included creating an elevator pitch, creating a marketing plan, and running a startup simulation Dungeons and Dragons style (yes – we used six-sided dice.)
Alex Moore, the founder/CEO of Baydin (a TechStars Boston 2009 company that was recently funded by Dave McClure as a result of a taxi ride) was the ringleader along with a few other alums and undergraduates who all did an amazing job with the day.
Once again, I was blown away by the intensity and intelligence of the MIT undergrads that I spent the day with. It’s hard to believe I was one of them a mere 25 years ago. At some point Mark leaned over to me and said “I don’t think we could have gotten into MIT if we applied today.” While he was being cute (Mark and Sameer are both off the charts brilliant), the message was a powerful and inspiring one as the current generation of MIT undergrads are incredible.
As week two of the Do More Faster book tour winds down (with a full day at MSNerd doing the 2010 version of ADPrentice with Sameer Gandhi from Accel Partners and Mark Siegel from Menlo Ventures), I’m starting to feel like Caine from Kung Fu.
Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?
Week three begins in New York on Monday, home of the newest TechStars program. David Cohen and I have a series of events throughout the day, starting with Pitch More Faster, TechStars for an Hour, and Angels in the Architecture being hosted at Cooley’s office. In the evening, we are having a TechStars party at The Hill from 6pm – 8pm being hosted by David Tisch, the Managing Director of TechStars New York.
I then travel to Quebec to give one of the keynotes at The Quebec City Conference. Yes, I brought my passport.
On Wednesday I join up in the DC area with David Cohen to do the Pitch More Faster, TS4AH, and Angels in the Architecture Drill again at Cooley’s offices in Reston, followed by a party there.
I’ll be back in Boston for Friday for an NCWIT board meeting and a bunch of other stuff, followed by what I hope is a very chilled out weekend.
On a more serious note, Andrew Warner has a great interview with my co-author and TechStars CEO David Cohen up on Mixergy.
Oh – and if you haven’t already, go buy a copy of Do More Faster.