Month: February 2011

Feb 28 2011

Crowdsourcing The Title of My Next Book

My partner Jason Mendelson and I are in the final stretch of writing a new book. The project started as an extension of our Term Sheet series and Letter of Intent series that we wrote on this blog in 2005 and 2006. It’s evolved into a much broader book covering financings, acquisitions, how VC firms work, and a bunch of other random things we think are important to entrepreneurs.

We’re working on finalizing the title. If you have 30 seconds, can you choose which of the following three titles is your favorite and leave the answer in the comments? If you have other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments as well.

A. Venture Financings: How To Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and VC

B. The Venture Deal: How To Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and VC

C. Venture Deals: How To Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and VC

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Feb 27 2011

Signal vs. Noise

At the end of each day, I encourage you to reflect on whether you spent your day on “signal” or “noise.” Let me explain.

Recently, I wrote a post titled Managing Priorities. In it I talked about the idea of P1’s. My weeks start on Monday morning so my P1 for the current week (which ends in about 20 hours since I usually get up at 5am on Monday morning) is to get a draft of the new book I’m writing with Jason Mendelson to our publisher (Wiley). That’s it – one P1 for the week. Of course I did a ton of other things last week, including spending two days at Blur doing an HCI brain soak, working on closing a new investment, working on two M&A deals, having a few board meetings, giving a few talks, meeting with a bunch of people, and having a few enjoyable dinners with friends. But every morning when I woke up I thought about my P1 (the book) and every night before I went to bed I thought about whether or not I had made progress on it.

I committed to myself to spend all day Saturday and Sunday on the final edit push. Now that I’m on my second book, I know my limits and know that six hours is the most I can work productively on the book in one day. So yesterday I slept in, did email and my normal Saturday morning info scan, and then settled in for six hours of editing. Every 30 minutes I took a short break – did email, had lunch, took a nap, talked to Amy, and did a 15 minute phone call with another VC who was struggling with an issue in real time. But I got my six hours in and then went out to dinner with Amy and a bunch of friends. Today I’m going to catch up on email until about 11, head to my condo in Boulder, and spend a good solid six hours on the final pass before hitting send on the draft. I’ll reward myself with dinner with some friends, although I have no idea with whom at this point.

So, while I let a little noise drift into my weekend, I’ll have spent the majority of it on signal (my P1).  This morning as I was doing my morning infoscan (Daily Web Sites, Twitter, RSS Feeds) I noticed a ton of stuff that I’d put in the noise category. There were apparently a few debates that blew up yesterday – I’ll use the one around Angellist as an example of noise.

I love Angellist and think it’s a remarkably interesting thing. However, it’s of relatively little direct utility to me – of our 35 investments made from Foundry Group, none have come from Angellist. Regardless, it has had an undeniably huge impact on angel and seed investing in the past few years. At the minimum, it’s interesting to watch the social dynamics of it. Will it impact a new generation of successful entrepreneurs and angel investors or will it result in a big money pit? Who knows – check back in ten years.

However, I saw a bunch of tweets about it (including some hostile ones followed by some conciliatory ones from the same people) linking to a handful of blog posts, comments, and more tweets. After reading a few of them, I’m not actually sure what the debate is actually about. I thought it was about “is Angellist helpful or not”, but it quickly evolved into something else.

As I was pondering this, I saw a tweet from Paul Kedrosky that said “I have had more than a few entrepreneurs complain lately about VCs/angels tweeting/blogging up storms, but ignoring emails.” While I’m not 100% sure Paul was building off of the Angellist noise, I know Paul pretty well and am going to guess that at the minimum it inspired his tweet. And his tweet is on the money – I know plenty of VCs who are making a ton of “content noise” these days but don’t seem to be able to respond to their signal-related emails. And if entrepreneurs think VC to VC email is somehow special, I’m included in that category (there are plenty of emails I’ve sent to my VC friends with specific stuff in them that are never responded to.)

Now, this is not criticism of the Angellist discussion or VCs not responding to emails. Rather, it’s an effort to give an example of noise overwhelming signal. In this case, Angellist is the signal. The discussion around it in the last 48 hours is mostly noise (I’m sure there’s some signal in there, but it’s a lot of work to pull it out, which results in a bad signal to noise ratio.)

In my little corner of the universe, signal matters a lot. I can’t consume signal 100% of the time (or my head would explode) so I let plenty of noise creep in, but I’ve got very effectively tunable noise filters. Anyone involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem should ponder this – I encourage you to focus on amplifying signal, not noise.

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Feb 26 2011

Disabling Horizontal Scroll on the Mac

I love when the combination of Google Search and the a great discussion board quickly solve something that has been driving me batshit for a while.

I finally stopped procrastinating and started the final two day edit push on Venture Financings: How To Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer And VC. However, for the last month I’ve become increasingly annoyed by the horizontal scrolling thing that happens within Microsoft Word 2011 on the Mac when I accidentally brush my fingers horizontally on the magic mouse. In an effort to continue procrastinating (which I clearly have succeeded at) I went looking for a solution this morning.

Two minutes later I found it after typing mac word 2011 horizontal scrolling with mouse into Google. The post is on the Apple Discussions board and titled “Topic : Magic Mouse – Disable horizontal scrolling ?” The solution is:

Run Terminal (in your Applications/Utilities folder)

Paste the following command into the Terminal window:

defaults write com.apple.driver.AppleBluetoothMultitouch.mouse MouseHorizontalScroll -bool NO

Turn off your magic mouse with the power switch and wait until it disconnects

Turn your magic mouse back on

I have now banished horizontal scroll from my life and exhausted my last good reason to procrastinate right now.

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Feb 25 2011

Dear Google, I Have More Than 10,000 Contacts

I just received the “amusing email of the day” from Google. I feel like I’m in one step forward / one step back with Google Enterprise Support. If you read my two recent posts on this, you saw that I started by saying that it’s Time For Google To Get Serious About Enterprise Tech Support and I followed up with My Increasing Love Affair With Google Apps.

A few days ago, I realized that Google was no longer allowing me to enter new contacts. When I checked Contacts in Google Apps, I saw I had exactly 10,000. That triggered some neuron in my brain to fire at which point I did a – ahem – Google search and quickly found that the Apps limit is 10,000 contacts. I complained to Ross (our IT guy) who sent Google the following email:

One of our users has hit some sort of limit of 10,000 contacts – we need this increased as this user needs more than 10,000. Can you let me know how to increase this limit?

Early this morning Ross got the following response.

Hello Ross,

Thank you for your message. I understand that you are inquiring about the Contact limit per user for a Google Apps for Business account.

This is expected functionality at the moment and we suggest that you remove some of the contacts that you don’t use to free up some space on your account. You are not able to increase this amount, however if you would like you can submit a feature request for increasing the amount of Contacts each user has. To do this please follow these instructions

1. Login to your Google Apps account.

2. In your dashboard, scroll down to the very bottom on the screen and you will see a link called ‘Suggest a Feature.’

3. Click on this link and you will be able to fill out a feature request.

I hope you found this information useful, Ross and thank you for your understanding.

Dear Google, no, this is not helpful. While part of me fantasizes about never meeting anyone again in the future that I’d want to put in my Contact database (that’s the introvert part of me), my business dictates that I meet lots of new people every week. And CardMunch is relentless about munching their business cards and putting it in my Address Book (or – well – Contact Database). And – you are now the source repository for all of these dudes and dudettes!

I can’t imagine any particularly good reason why 10,000 would be the limit, or that I couldn’t simply pay you money (I will!) to get 20,000. Yeah, that seems like plenty – how about 20,000? Yeah, I know, we’ll never need more than 64K of RAM in a computer.

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Feb 25 2011

Why A New Startup Shouldn’t Have a Marketing Budget

As my partners at Foundry Group know, every time I hear the word “marketing” I throw up a little in my mouth. I hate traditional marketing and have always resisted it early in the life of a new company.

Fred Wilson has a phenomenal blog post up this morning titled Marketing. Among other things he demonstrates his mastery of marketing by sending me an email this morning pointing me to the post and saying that he’s channeling me knowing that it’ll likely inspire me to blog something about it and link to his post, increasing the chance that he’ll be the first Google result for the search “Marketing” (he’s already #6 for marketing VC).

When I think off all of the companies in our portfolio that are growing like crazy, they all spend money on marketing. However, it’s driven by an obsessive focus on the customer and the product, rather than a “marketing budget” or “marketing initiative.” And phrases like “social media marketing” and “marketing spend” rarely surface in discussions, and when they do I vomit a little in my mouth.

Of course marketing is a key part of the success of these companies. However, it’s wired into the DNA of the business, not an extra thing that is attached on, like it used to be in the 1980’s and 1990’s as “marketing”, “PR”, “marcomm”, etc. were a key part of every startup plan.

I’m currently in a world of conservation of words as I drive to finish the draft of “VC Financings: How To Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and VC” due to Wiley on Monday at 5:59am so I’m going to stop now, go brush my teeth again, and remind you to go read Fred’s post on Marketing right now.

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Feb 22 2011

TechStars Boulder Applications Are Open

It’s TechStars Boulder application time again. If you apply by Thursday (February 24th) you will be considered for TechStars for a Day, a great way to get introduced to the TechStars program as well as increase your chance of getting selected for the program.

When TechStars first started in Boulder, most of the applicants were what we like to call “pre-seed”.  They were typically a couple of smart co-founders with a rough prototype who probably hadn’t even formed their company yet.  Today the average TechStars company looks much different.  They range from pre-formation to profitable businesses with real revenue and investment.  This is a true testament to TechStars world class mentors; companies at all early stages can benefit from the intense and deep focus of mentorship.

It’s been awesome to watch TechStars grow from one office in Boulder to four offices across the country, a book called Do More Faster, and the recent TechStars Network in just a few short years.  TechStars Boulder’s Managing Director Nicole Glaros tells me applications are rolling in quickly and are shaping up to be the best we’ve ever seen.

Apply now – you can always update your application prior to the final deadline on March 16th.

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Feb 21 2011

Distribution – A New Foundry Group Theme

We’ve put up a post on the Foundry Group site about a new theme of ours we are calling Distribution. We’ve been investing in this theme for a while but have continued to formulate exactly how we think about it.

I’ve talked about our thematic approach to investing many times in the past.  Every now and then it feels like it’s worth a quick post on our current themes. They are:

Human Computer Interaction: The way humans interact with computers 20 years from now will make the way we interact with them today look silly. Sample companies include Oblong, Organic Motion, and Fitbit.

Glue: Computers love to talk to one another. The amount of “computer to computer interaction” is increasing at a dramatic rate. There’s a software layer that “glues” this together. Sample companies including Gnip and Standing Cloud.

Digital Life: We believe that people own their digital assets and should be able to access them anytime from anywhere. Sample companies include Cloud Engines and Memeo.

Protocol: Many protocols – both formal and informal ones – support extensive software ecosystems. We’ve been investing in protocols like SMTP, RSS, XML, and SMS for years and expect to continue doing this. Sample companies include SendGrid and Urban Airship.

Distribution: Giant existing online markets can be completely disrupted by new distribution methods like Facebook, Twitter, Mobile, and User-Generated Content. Sample companies include ZyngaTopspinStockTwits, and Cheezburger.

We’ve got one additional theme that we’ll be talking about shortly. We’ve decided to split our Glue theme into two different themes as we’ve realized a particular pattern in our investment dynamics around this theme. Look for another post on this shortly.

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Feb 20 2011

Linking Around On A Sunday Morning

Periodically I get backlogged with “stuff I want to blog” that I never get to along with a handful of “links from today that are great.” So – today you get a bunch of things that I’m involved in and turn me out. Click through to whatever interests you.

Jilted in the U.S., a Site Finds Love in India: Ignighter was in the TechStars Boulder 2008 class. Daniel, Adam, and Kevin have pivoted around a few times and ended up creating the fastest growing dating site in India – from their office in Manhattan. The New York Times tells how it came together.

The Fiction of 20%: This is a classic post from Fred Wilson that came up over the weekend in the midst of a negotiation on a deal I’m working on. Every entrepreneur should read it. I’d also encourage every VC and angel investor to read it. Bottom line – there is a difference between “want” and “need.”

Gnip Is Hiring: Sales people and engineers in Boulder.

Shiny Things: Amy and I had dinner with our long time friends Paul and Renee Berberian (Paul is CEO of Orbotix). Renee is in film school and doing amazing work. Her latest project is a short film called Shiny Things and is a two morticians uncovering a dead mans secrets in a small mountain town. She’s raising $1,500 on IndieGoGo – I just contributed $100. Help Renee get this cool film made.

F.lux is Awesome: F.lux automatically adjusts the brightness on your computer based on your lighting conditions and time of day. I noticed it from a tweet from @jvaleski – it’s just killer.

RoundPegg Raises $1.27 Million To Be The eHarmony For Jobs: RoundPegg was in the TechStars Boulder 2010 class. I’ve backed Tim Wolters, one of the founders, in a previous company (Dante – acquired by webMethods). I’m a huge Tim fan and am psyched to see what Tim and his partners are accomplishing at RoundPegg.

The White House Innovation Report Has Been Published: My good friend Phil Weiser was on a team that put this together. It’s a fascinating and very coherent report on the power, impact, and importance of innovation on our society.

Kauffman Foundation Provides $200,000 of Funding for the TechStars Network: This money will be used to standardize seed accelerator application and reporting processes. While it will be built for the TechStars Network, it will be available to anyone that wants to use it. Thanks once again to my friends at the Kauffman Foundation for stepping up and funding an important infrastructure piece of the broad entrepreneurial ecosystem.

A Movie I Helped Fund – The Kite – Gets A Good Early Review: I’ll occasionally toss money at random non-tech things my friends are doing (movies, restaurants, art galleries – stuff like that.) I never have any economic expectations, but I love seeing the projects get done. The Kite is a labor of love for Prashant Bhargava, a relative of Raj Bhargava who is an entrepreneur I’ve been working with for almost 17 years. When Raj asked me to play, I said sure – and it’s fun to see The Kite out in the world.

Ok – time to stop stalling and go back to grinding on the latest draft of Venture Financings: How to Look Smarter than Your Lawyer and VC which is due to the publisher by – ahem – next Monday.

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Feb 18 2011

My Increasing Love Affair With Google Apps

At Foundry Group, we have now completely switched to Google Apps. This started in August when I decided to Try Gmail For A Week. Five months later I am ready to declare this experiment a complete success.

As every day passes, I find a new magic happy thing that ties my life together better. Today it was Google rolling out a bookmark importer for Delicious.  Amy and I have been heavy delicious users, although I stopped a while ago when it was uncertain what delicious’ future was. Amy kept asking me what the long term solution was now that we are on Google Apps – it turns out that the answer is “import your Delicious tags into Google Bookmark and keep on going.”

About once a week I’m stymied by something, but the +1 each day nets out to +6 for the week. That’s fine for me – I figure out a work around and usually, voila, as if the $GOOG could read my mind, the thing that didn’t work right or didn’t exist suddenly appears.

Yesterday’s magic was finally connecting up my Youtube account (which was connected to my personal Gmail account) to my Google Apps account. Ahem – it did exactly what I wanted it to and now my Youtube life is smooth and happy again.

And even when I publicly criticize Google, they react amazingly well. A month ago I wrote a post titled Time For Google To Get Serious About Enterprise Tech Support. Within an hour of it going up, I got an email and a call from the head of Google Enterprise support. We talked through the issues, he acknowledged certain weaknesses, talked about what they were doing to improve things, and listened carefully to my very specific feedback on a few things. He connected up with our IT guy (Ross) and they spent some time going through our experiences. Again, he listened to the feedback. And we’ve seen real improvements based on what we told them. Oh, and now that we are through the migration, we almost never need support.

If anyone still doubts Google’s intention in the enterprise, you shouldn’t. Count me impressed.

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Feb 15 2011

Blur In A Week

If you are a VC and interested in human computer interaction and you aren’t going to Blur, you’re about to miss the most important and interesting HCI event of the year.

If you are an entrepreneur working on something HCI related, you are also missing out if you don’t come to Blur. I’ll be there as will my three partners at Foundry Group. We will be fully engaged for two days in one of our favorite themes that has spawned investments like Oblong, Fitbit, Organic Motion, Sifteo and Orbotix.

In case you wonder how a conference like Blur can impact the trajectory of a young company, just take a look at the backstory of how we (Foundry Group) ended up meeting and investing in Gist. TA McCann, Gist’s CEO, came to Defrag (another conference like Blur that Eric Norlin runs and we participate in), hunted me down, and took me for a few runs. TA got me hooked on the product and a few months later we lead the Series A financing with Vulcan. This particular story has a very happy ending as RIM acquired Gist yesterday for an amount that put big smiles on everyone’s faces.

The agenda at Blur is awesome. Eric Norlin is an absolute master at putting on highly relevant conferences around a theme (his other two are Defrag and Glue.) Once again my friends at the Kauffman Foundation have provided some great scholarships for Blur and – like all of Eric’s conferences – there will be lots of time for people to spent together talking about and playing with the great stuff they are working on.

Oh – and for anyone tired of winter, it’s in Orlando. Sign up and come hang out with me, my partners, and a bunch of amazing HCI stuff for two days next week.

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