Month: January 2011
I had never heard of the organization called Downtown Boulder, Inc. until I was asked to keynote at the annual meeting which I did a few weeks ago where I talked about “entrepreneurial communities and why Boulder is such an awesome one.” I got plenty of positive feedback and met a number of owners of businesses – most of them retail – based in downtown Boulder.
A week or so later Dave Jilk, the CEO of Standing Cloud, forwarded me a newsletter where Downtown Boulder was endorsing HR 5660 – Main Street Fairness Act which is yet another poorly thought out Internet-related tax aimed at online retailers not operating within the state asserting the tax. I’ve written about the stupidity of these types of taxes before in posts like Amazon Fires Its Affiliates in Colorado Because of Colorado HB 10-1193. I blew this off (incorrectly, I might add) because I’m just so annoyed by all of this sort of stuff since it’s just evidence that organizations like Downtown Boulder, Inc. don’t really understand the actual business economics of having a vibrant entrepreneurial community in their downtown.
Dave ignored me and sent out a note to me and a dozen other Boulder-based entrepreneurs. This started a very engaged conversation between us (up to 35 emails in my Gmail conversation as of right now) and eventually looped in the folks from Downtown Boulder, Inc. They acknowledged that it is important for them to better engage and understand the “Second Floor Businesses” (e.g. non-retail) in downtown Boulder and how they impact downtown Boulder.
Independently I had a meeting set up with Sean Maher, the Executive Director of Downtown Boulder, Inc. in a few weeks. Niel Robertson, the CEO of Trada (now occupying the Daily Camera building) rallied and put up a database to collect information about any downtown Boulder technology company (name, address, contact, # employees, and # sq. feet occupied) where downtown Boulder is defined (by DBI) as 8th Street to 21st Street, Pine to Arapahoe.
I then suggested that we all join DBI since my experience is an organization like DBI takes you a lot more seriously when you are members. Their fee is only $149 / year, which is affordable for most tech startups. Jud Valeski, the CEO of Gnip, suggested that everyone give me the application form and check for me to deliver in one big thud (sound of pile of checks landing on desk) to Sean Maher when we meet.
So – if you are a downtown Boulder-based tech company, I have three requests:
1. Please fill out the Downtown Boulder Technology Company Impact Survey (it’ll take 60 seconds).
2. Consider joining Downtown Boulder, Inc. If you are game, drop off a check for $149 made out to Downtown Boulder, Inc. at my office (1050 Walnut Street, Suite 200) along with the information on their application form.
3. If you aren’t willing to join Downtown Boulder, Inc., that’s fine, but please do #1 AND consider leaving a comment why you don’t want to join (or send me a separate email with this information.)
Help us make Boulder an even better entrepreneurial community by linking us up with the downtown Boulder business community more directly.
I feel strongly that the one of the important elements of building a sustainable entrepreneurial community over a long period of time is for the entire existing entrepreneurial community to be extremely welcoming to young college graduates. For the folks with a knee jerk reaction to call me ageist, please note that I said “one of the important elements …”
There was a solid article yesterday in the Northern Colorado Business Reporter titled College grads make their own jobs. If you follow this blog, follow TechStars, or have read Do More Faster, you know that I have put a lot of energy into the Boulder entrepreneurial community, but have also spent a lot of time helping other entrepreneurial communities that I invest in (such as Seattle, Boston, and New York.) And, like Caine from Kung Fu, I’ve recently been wandering around the US (next week – Upstate New York) spreading my views, philosophy, and advice on creating and sustaining entrepreneurial communities. I continue to study and think hard about the dynamics of entrepreneurial communities around the US and believe that there are at least 100 cities in the US that can have strong, significant, healthy, 20 year plus sustainable entrepreneurial communities.
In the short term, welcoming young college graduates into your entrepreneurial community has a huge impact on local economies. If young college grads start up new companies rather than take jobs at existing companies, they create obvious short term job growth. If any of these new companies grow, they create additional job growth. In addition, it keeps smart, well educated people (college graduates) in the local community.
This is not a zero sum game – these recent college graduates are not taking jobs away from other companies, especially entrepreneurial ones. Instead, they are creating entrepreneurial job expansion in the local community. As a result, existing experienced entrepreneurs and everyone around the local entrepreneurial ecosystem should welcome the young college graduates into the entrepreneurial community, mentor them, give them low cost excess resources (such as let them camp out in your office if you have extra space), and help them by being an early customer or partner. Namely – make a bet on them of whatever kind you can.
I’ve seen this play out in Boulder for over 15 years. It’s just awesome to watch it build – there is a strong cumulative effect. Many of the 22 year olds that I met in the mid 1990’s are now in their mid to late 30’s and are playing key roles in the Boulder entrepreneurial community. And the folks like me who were in their 30’s in the 1990’s are now in their 40’s and 50’s and are continuing to play it forward aggressively to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Oh – and it’s a ton of fun. Don’t ever forget that. As a 45 year old, while I might not be able to stay up until 2am anymore, I love hanging out, working with, learning from, and mentoring 22 year olds.
If you want to participate in building a long term entrepreneurial community in your city, spend a few minutes right now figuring out one thing you are going to do for one upcoming college graduate in the class of 2011 and put it in motion today.
It’s always fascinating to me to actually be interviewed on live radio – in this case on Wall Street Shuffle in Dallas on CNN Radio 1190 AM. I’ve never listened to talk radio but have done a lot of interviews over the years. The folks who are the publicists for Do More Faster have been lining up some radio interviews around entrepreneurship recently and I’m always happy to hop on the radio and talk about the entrepreneurial revolution in the US and entrepreneurial communities.
In this case, the interview was in a Clear Channel studio in a building in Dallas. I was in town for a day hanging out with Tech Wildcatters, a TechStars-like program in Dallas that was co-founded by my cousin Jon Feld (a successful Dallas-based entrepreneur – Hitachi acquired his company Navigator Systems several years ago.) They are in year two of their program and Tuesday was their preview of the finalists for their second class. I gave a talk to the mentors, watched some of the presentations, and did a big entrepreneurial social event that evening sponsored by Microsoft BizSpark where we gave away copied of Do More Faster to everyone that attended after they listened to me talk and answer questions for a while.
In the middle of the day, Paul Ford (the VP of Marketing at Softlayer) chauffeured me to Clear Channel and back. We had a great talk (Paul is a blast – smart, fun, and super creative.) When we arrived at 14001 North Dallas Parkway, I realized that it was the location of the office of my first real job – a company called PetCom Systems. During the summer of my senior year in high school (1983) I was their first non-founder employee (two founders – husband and wife) and proceeded to spend the next two years writing a couple of their products (PC Log – a well-log analysis system for oil exploration and PC Economics – an oil exploration economic simulation system.) I remember 14001 North Dallas Parkway really well – we were on the seventh floor and I felt like a real grownup sitting in my office coding for $10 per hour and a 5% royalty on all sales of the two products I wrote.
The radio interview was fun and I think it was pretty good – Dan Cofall did a solid interview, asked really good questions and kept things moving along nicely. It’s not embeddable, but you can listen to it here.
If you are a fan of Californication, you’ll recognize my homage to Hank Moody. As a marathon runner, I regularly encounter one of the mildly unpleasant aspects of long distance running. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. And it’s not always straightforward.
This morning I had a great 80 minute run in Boulder starting on the Boulder Creek Path downtown. Wednesday night I had a sushi orgy with Dave Jilk, CEO of Standing Cloud. We’ve been overeating sushi for 27 years together going back to when we were in school in Boston when sushi was referred to as “Japanese food.” We spent a couple of hours together talking about Standing Cloud while consuming a lot of sushi and saki. Yum.
This morning I got up at 4:45 hoping that after a couple of cups of coffee I’d be moved to do something useful in addition to responding to all of my email. At 6:30 I’d waited as long as I could (I had an 8:30 phone call and a board meeting starting at 9) so I hit the road.
At around 29 minutes into the run, the deeply uncomfortable feeling that every runner knows of “I have to go – and right now” predictably came over me. I had just crossed under the bridge at Foothills and had turned left. I spotted the CU Foundation building and figured it would be open at 7 and anyone inside would be friendly. As I approached the entrance, a person was going inside so I grabbed the door after them, went in, and starting hunting for a bathroom. As any runner knows, once you shift from running in the cold to walking in a warm building, the time you have to find the bathroom decreases even further.
I couldn’t find the fucking bathroom. I wandered around on the first floor, found the weight room, found some showers, found the cafeteria, found some locked doors, but couldn’t find the bathroom. In a mild state of panic, I found a person sitting at a desk and meekly asked “can you point me at a bathroom.” She looked at me like I was a terrorist – granted, I was in running clothes and a blue knit hat – but I can’t imagine I looked like anything other than a runner who desperately needed to take a dump.
Her: “Do you work here?”
Me: “No – I’m just on a run and I need to use the bathroom”
Her: “That’s not allowed here”
Me: “C’mon, your not serious, pretty please?” (followed by my best hurt puppy dog look)
(Silence for about five seconds as we stare at each other and I hop from foot to foot)
Her: “Ok, but if we let anyone use the bathroom here, hundreds of people would come and trash our bathrooms”
Me: “Thanks so much – I really appreciate it”
Of course, the bathroom was 10 feet from the front door – I had walked right past it in my desperation. I did my thing and felt 1,427,523x better. As I exited the bathroom, I saw my new friend standing by the front door with another person.
Me: “Thanks – I really appreciate you letting me use the bathroom”
Her: “How did you get into the building”
Me: “The front door was open – I just followed someone in”
(She fiddled with the door and looked perplexed)
Me: “By the way, I’m a donor to the CU Foundation and have a bathroom named after me in the ATLAS Building“
Her: “Well thank you!” (I could swear I saw her roll her eyes)
The rest of the run was uneventful. Fun, but uneventful.
I have a simple request for all humans out there. If a runner asks to use your bathroom, let him (or her). If I’m on a trail run in the middle of nowhere, I reluctantly have an effective “shit in the woods” method. But if I’m in a city, while I can pee in 30 seconds anywhere by just pretending I’m a dog, it’s not so easy to jettison the alien in the middle of the street.
I find three hour “reporting board meetings” where everyone sits around and goes through a 50 page PowerPoint deck to be tedious. When I first started investing in 1994, this was the norm. I put up with it even though it wasn’t my style because (a) I didn’t know better and (b) I didn’t have any better ideas.
27,351 board meetings later, I know there is a better way. I’ve encouraged everyone I work with to try different approaches. I’ve written about some of my favorites in the past, such as doing an entire board meeting off of one slide with a list of “top of mind” items that the CEO has (this assumes that all the board material – appropriate data about the business, financials, and any department updates, have been previously circulated and consumed by all board members.)
Another one of my favorites is to start a board meeting off with a demo. Today, we had the Orbotix board meeting at our office. We spend the first 15 minutes playing with Sphero, the robotic ball that is Orbotix first product (and available for pre-order now.) We then spent the rest of the board meeting talking about the key issues. Paul Berberian, the CEO, had an agenda which we generally covered, but we were able to have real discussions about real things, rather than just a bunch of “arm crossed people starting at a PowerPoint presentation on the wall.”
This stood out in contrast to another board meeting I had later in the day. I attended this one by phone. It was for a company that is doing superbly, but was a very old school style meeting. 54 slides later the meeting ended. There was plenty of information covered and the management team presented everything really well (as usual – it’s a gang that has their act together), but there were only a few parts of the meeting where we had space jams (think of the Grateful Dead on a 25 minute riff that is the best part of the concert.)
Yup – there are plenty of different ways to skin a cat. Or play with a robotic smart ball. If you are a CEO, don’t be afraid to try different things. And, if you want to see who the real fan of a robotic smart ball is, take a look at the video below (and if you like it, vote it up on LOLDogs.)
I’ve now put together eight great weeks of running in a row. On Sunday, I finally had a long run to town (from Eldorado Springs to Boulder). This has been a long tradition of mine and Amy’s – I run to town early in the morning and she drives in later, we have brunch with friends, and then get massages in the afternoons. I also use this as a marker to measure my running – once I cross the “run to town barrier” I can start thinking about marathons.
2010 sucked for me. I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans and was optimistic about the year but then hurt my back in March lifting a box when in Dallas for my dad’s birthday. It was a perplexing injury – it seemed to get better but then I re-injured myself a month later and spent then next 60 days having trouble standing up. I thought I’d rest and work through it during July when I was in Alaska but that didn’t work out either. After an MRI and some vicodin, I ruled out the really bad stuff and then relaxed enough to get a massive self-adjustment in September which seemed to fix the problem. I’ve been pain free since then.
So I’m optimistic about 2011. Following is my current schedule:
- April 3 – Knoxville, TN – Covenant Health Marathon
- May 1 – Cincinnati, OH – Flying Pig Marathon
- May 29 – Madison, WI – Madison Marathon
- Sept 18 – Bismarck, ND – Kroll’s Diner Bismarck Marathon
- Oct 23 – St. Louis, MO – Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Louis Marathon
I don’t have any particular time goals, although I’d optimally be in the 4:00 to 4:30 range as 5+ hours for a marathon is a long time and I’m getting tired of being slow. If I can drop another 20 pounds I’m confident I can comfortably run in that zone.
If you are a runner and want to tag along on any of these, feel free to reach out to me. While I like to train alone, I always enjoy having marathon weekends with other folks, even if we are doing them at very different paces.
Last summer, my long time friend Martin Babinec and his colleague Nasir Ali asked me if I’d come spend a few days in Upstate New York talking about TechStars and entrepreneurial communities. I first met Martin around 1990 at one of the very first Birthing of Giants events and we were both early YEO members together. At the time, Martin had recently started a company called Trinet which today is a large and successful PEO. We’ve been friends for 20 years so it was easy for me to say yes to spend two days with Martin in Upstate New York and help him further his mission of expanding the entrepreneurial communities throughout the region.
Martin’s organization, Upstate Venture Connect, is hosting me on February 2nd and 3rd in Ithaca, Rochester, and Syracuse. The full agenda is on the website and the public events include:
2/2/11: 4:30p – 5:30p: Sage Hall Room B9, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
2/2/11: 6:00p – 8:30p: UVANY Capital Forum, Ithaca Country Club, 189 Pleasant Grove Road, Ithaca
2/3/11: 11:30a – 1:30p: Somewhere in Rochester (TBD, hopefully by 2/3/11!)
2/3/11: 3:00p – 4:30p: Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester
If you are interested in getting together, go check out the agenda which lists who to contact and how to register for the various events. If you bring a copy of Do More Faster, I’ll happily sign it. And yes, I realize that it is very cold in Upstate New York in February. Hopefully we’ll generate some entrepreneurial heat together.
We are in the final stages of completely switching Foundry Group to Google Apps. This began as an experiment in August 2010 when I decided to Try Gmail for a Week and evolved into an actual plan after Gmail Won Me Over in September 2010. We took it slow to make sure it was actually possible to easily switch from a legacy Microsoft Exchange environment where everyone’s brains were hard wired with Outlook and Windows and shared calendars managed by multiple assistants were a critical business function for a relatively small number of people who travelled constantly.
It’s been a huge success. Oh, and a bunch of Mac’s crept into the organization at the same time. I’m now 100% Mac and am amused by myself whenever I try to do something on a Windows machine (after using Windows or DOS for my entire professional life.) And the integration / proliferation with iPhones and iPads is entertainingly sweet.
For all of the success with the migration to Google Apps, there is one very big obvious thing missing. Google doesn’t have an enterprise support approach. We are lucky in that we have lots of friends at Google so when we need to do weird things (like – ahem – port my Google Voice number from my Gmail account to my Google Apps account) we are able to find someone to do the magic for us. Or when the Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Exchange tool crashes in the middle of the night on a mailbox migration that is 10 hours into its conversion, we can find our way to someone that actually works on this tool who makes some changes to the backend processor that fixes the problem. And, when this happens on another mailbox migration, we can get to them again to help us fix the problem while they debug the tool for our error case.
Now, there is a Google Enterprise Customer and Partner Site and there is plenty of Google Apps enterprise level help on the web. But that’s not the issue. At 7am, when the guy doing the migration checks in and sees a error message that says something like “Failure: While migrating Email for firstname.lastname@example.org to Google email@example.com Error:80041065” you kind of want to call 1-800-HELPMERIGHTNOWBEFOREANYONESHOWSUPATTHEOFFICE.
There are nice, well proven pricing models for either (a) per instance support or (b) per user annual support. And, if Google wants to be price disruptive, just charge 10% of whatever Oracle or Microsoft charges. Or be like WordPerfect and charge nothing. But put a real enterprise level support organization behind this with humans to call.
The really cool thing about Google Apps is that once you are migrated, there doesn’t seem to be any need for support. I’ve been using Google Apps for four months and I don’t believe I’ve had a single issue that I couldn’t figure out myself. I’ve seen a number of new features automagically roll out and I’ve just started using them. Basically, the post conversion / deployment experience has been superb. And, someday, when Google finishes a real single sign on approach between my Gmail and Google Apps account and finishes their migration to their new infrastructure so I can really use things like Youtube on my Apps account without having to log out of apps / log into gmail / logout of gmail / log into apps to save stuff, I probably won’t even notice that there is any complexity.
Regardless of if and when Google ever gets around to this, I want to thank all of my friends at Google for their help whenever issues came up. You guys are awesome.
It’s fascinating to me when a new product aggressively shifts from early adopters to the mainstream. It should be no surprise that the day the iPad came out a bunch of them appeared at the Foundry Group offices. At the next board meeting I was at, I think every VC had one and was using it in the meeting presumably to view their board package (although I caught at least one checking his email throughout the meeting.) When the Kindle for iPad app appeared, I started toting my iPad around with me everywhere until I kept forgetting to charge it, at which point I went back to my Kindle for reading.
At my birthday on December 1st, I gave everyone that attended (including Amy and my partners) an iPad. I was surprised how much everyone loved them – I know that for some of them it was the jedi master trick of giving your birthday party attendees a gift, but for several, including the non-technologists / non-nerds at dinner, there was real delight with this newfangled device.
I repeated the trick at the Foundry Group holiday party and gave everyone at Foundry Group an iPad. Well, I started out by giving them an iTunes card for $50 which everyone seemed to like, but then went back to the gift well a few moments later for the real gift.
Today, I read that the city of Boulder is mulling iPad purchases for all council members in order to save paper, staff time, and money. A college that I’m familiar with is considering getting an iPad for every board member to go paperless on board packages and other communication. I got an email from an exec (and friend) at a major software company who is rolling out their product on the iPad which should dramatically improve the iPad’s ability to interact with legacy enterprise systems.
At CES, there were 60+ tablets. One was from RIM, the other 59 were built on Android. The only one that impressed me was the RIM tablet – the Android ones all were slick but materially inferior to the iPad. As a result, I made a mental note to myself a few weeks ago that I thought Apple had very clear sailing in front of it for another year, although as with smart phones, there is no question that Google / Android will grind away hard at this market and given the incredible hardware distribution and amazing software talent at Google, will make real inroads.
Microsoft was no where to be seen. Yeah, there was a little chatter and a few demos of Windows on tablets, but if you remember how poorly this has gone the past two times Microsoft tried to put Windows on a tablet, I think you are probably in the same boat that I’m in which is that Microsoft is going to have to take an Xbox or Windows Mobile like approach to their tablets (e.g. completely new software OS stack and UI than “Windows”) if they want to get in the game.
My conclusion – the wave of iPad purchasing has just begun. The iPad 2 is expected soon (maybe this quarter, certainly next quarter) – I think it’s going to be an absolute monster success.
The next Eric Norlin conference is Blur and is happening in Orlando, Florida (yay – warm) on February 22 and 23. I’ll be there along with my three Foundry Group partners Seth, Ryan, and Jason exploring the future of human computer interaction.
If you are a entrepreneur working in the area of HCI, this inaugural Blur Conference will be a special event. Eric has done an amazing job of curating two other conferences: Defrag (just finished its fourth year) and Glue (about to have its third year). I’ve been to every one and they are amazing experiences.
While the full conference price is $1,495, early bird registration lasts through February 4th and is $995. Plus Eric just gave me a 10% off discount code – if you are a reader of this blog use “brad12” to get another 10% off. And, if you are student or in a Pre-Series A startup, there are still a few Kauffman Scholarships for Blur left.
Finally, since I’ll be there with Seth, Ryan, and Jason and all four of us will be fully engaged the whole time, it’s a perfect chance to pull us into a corner somewhere and show us your latest HCI ideas.