Month: February 2011
Congrats to my friends at Gist for being acquired by RIM.
I met TA McCann, the CEO / founder of Gist at the first Defrag Conference when he took me for a pair of runs along the Denver Creek Path and it’s been a blast to work with him and the Gist team ever since.
Also, congrats to RIM for picking up an awesome team that’s been thinking about and building software for the intersection of social and email since before talking about it was in vogue.
My friends at Fitbit are hiring a director of marketing. If you, or someone you know, wants a director of marketing job in a fast growing, well funded company in San Francisco, go take a look at the job spec and apply.
There is a ton of hiring going on in our portfolio right now at all levels. We have a bunch of companies that are growing head count 100%+ in 2011 – much of it driven by revenue growth (vs. just a new financing). It’s pretty exciting and I’ll try to figure out a more effective way to broadcast what is going on and what the opportunities are.
In the mean time, I’ve heard of a number of jobs that have come from the Boulder CEO Jobs list that David Cohen and I are maintaining. including several exec jobs like the new CFO at Envysion, This is a reverse jobs list for all the random inbound job seekers that reach out to us for stuff in the Boulder area. If you are a CEO of a Boulder based company and you are not on this list, just email me to be added to it.
I’m at the end of day three of another very intense, but enjoyable and satisfying week. I’ve been in Seattle the past two days and am headed to LA for the next two days before finally making it home after being on the road for the past two weeks.
As I was getting ready to go to bed in order to wake up in time to make my 6:40am flight, I was rolling my one remaining priority for the week around in my head. I was thinking to myself, “two down, one to go.” And I realized I have been using a construct of “three priorities a week max” for a long time.
Now, I do a lot more than three things a week. But, on Monday mornings as I’m going through my daily information routine, I usually carve out a few minutes to make sure I have my priorities for the week firmly lodged in my brain. I limit myself to three as I don’t think you can have more than three “highest priorities” at any given time. When I start the week, I make a clear mental commitment to get these priorities (or P1’s in Zynga speak) done. Each day when I wake up, I think about what I need to do to get closure on these priorities.
Some weeks I have three, others I have one or two. I always have at least one. And they are always important. Occasionally I can’t get one done and it rolls over into the next week, but once something becomes a P1 it stays a P1 until it gets done. And I can never have more than three P1’s. And they should all be able to be completed by the end of the week. But most importantly, they are clearly defined and easily explained (e.g. if you walk up to me and ask me what my P1s are for this week, I should be able to recite them without thinking.)
While I have plenty of things that I’m working on that have a much longer arch than one week, I find this weekly rhythm to be very grounding. I have a clear sense of accomplishment on a weekly basis, I clear the decks of big priorities, and I regularly tackle hard stuff that just needs to get done. I also have many more than three things that I complete each week, including things that regularly come up that are as important (or even more important) that whatever I’ve defined as my P1s for that week. But I don’t shuffle the priorities around – by having the big ones for the week set at the beginning of the week, I have a clear set to focus on whenever I need to re-ground myself.
One more to go. I’ve got two days to get it done. And I’ve got plenty of time on my remaining two plane flights to knock it off.
On Wednesday and Thursday I spent two awesome days with my long time friend Martin Babinec (the founder of Trinet), his partner at Upstate Venture Connect – Nasir Ali – and about 1000 members of the Upstate New York entrepreneurial community.
Martin and I first met around 1991 when we were both building our first companies. We were participants in the inaugural Birthing of Giants class sponsored by Inc., Young Entrepreneurs Organization, and the MIT Enterprise Forum. It was a four day retreat at MIT’s Endicott House for entrepreneurs who were under 40 who had founded companies doing over $1 million in revenue at the time. I had barely crossed the threshold (Feld Technologies has 12 employees and was slightly bigger than $1m) and for the first time as an entrepreneur I spent a concentrated chunk of time surrounded by 50 of my peers. Looking back, it was a remarkable collection of people including my roommate at the program Alan Treffler (CEO of Pegasystems) and Ted Leonsis (then CEO of Redgate – acquired by AOL – where he was then vice-chairman for many years as he worked closely with Steve Case to turn AOL into the amazing company it was in the 1990’s.)
Enough reminiscing – when Martin came to Boulder last year to learn more about TechStars and tell me how he was planning to help rejuvenate the Upstate New York entrepreneurial community with his newest venture Upstate Venture Connect, I immediately committed to come spend a day or two with him talking about entrepreneur communities when I had some time. I don’t remember thinking hard about the early February date when we set the date last fall, but on Tuesday I found myself on a train from New York City to Albany as an effort to get to Upstate New York before the impending snowpocolypse.
Since Upstate New York had gotten so much snow so far this year, everyone was freaked out and all of the events on Wednesday were turned into conference calls that I was going to do from Martin’s house. Martin and I woke up Wednesday morning to a mild overnight snow and the gang involved hustled to get everything back on track. Over two days, I participated in nine meetings in Syracuse, Ithaca, and Rochester and met around 1000 people involved in Upstate New York’s entrepreneurial community, including entrepreneurs, angels, a few VCs, students, university people (profs, admins, and entrepreneurial leaders), more entrepreneurs, and a bunch of local and regional government folks.
When I do things like this, I don’t have a standard presentation. I hate giving powerpoint presentations – I think the world has already had too many of these, so I try to understand the audience in advance and tailor my talk to them. I try to do half talk and half Q&A so if I miss the mark there’s still plenty of time to go where the audience wants to take me. Plus I get bored listening to myself talk and want to just do random questions after a while.
Martin and Nasir arranged an incredible group of people. The two main themes were “building entrepreneurial communities” for events where there weren’t students and “Do More Faster: The Entrepreneurial Life” for the events with students. While I did plenty of storytelling about Boulder, TechStars, The Startup America Partnership, Do More Faster, and random entrepreneurial experiences I’d had, I found the dialogue and Q&A around building entrepreneurial communities to be extraordinary.
I’m a believer that there is the potential for over a hundred entrepreneurial communities across the United States. While Silicon Valley epitomizes an entrepreneurial community, there are natural resources everywhere in this country that can support continuous entrepreneurship – especially high growth entrepreneurship and innovation – over many years. I encouraged everyone to take a long view – 20 years from today – as they went about building their entrepreneurial communities. I also hammered home the point that entrepreneurs have to lead the entrepreneurial communities and that its a collaborative effort across all constituents, not a zero-sum game of one organization vs. another, and the entrepreneur has to be at the heart of it.
I came away optimistic about the potential for the Upstate New York region. I hadn’t realized that there were 500,000 students in Upstate New York universities (about 100,000 new students, or “fresh meat for the entrepreneurial community”, every year), which is a tremendous natural resource to build on.
Martin, Nasir, and everyone else who hosted and met with me while I was in Upstate New York – thank you for the hospitality. I had a blast and hope it was useful for you. As our friend Arnold once said, “I’ll be back.”
On Tuesday, I spent the day at TechStars New York. After spending Monday in Washington DC for the launch of the TechStars Network, it was really fun to spend the day and go deep with the first TechStars NY class.
By the time I got to NY on Monday night I was exhausted. My day started at 5am with email, followed by a run, a few conference calls, and then the big announcement at the White House. Several other meetings followed with a final event at the Case Foundation. David Cohen and I then hopped on a train, cranked on emails and interviews all the way to New York, and then I finished the night (after some more email) with a one hour lecture by Skype to a class of San Diego based students.
I usually have no trouble getting up at 5am, even when I’m tired, but on Tuesday I couldn’t pry my eyes open so after a few tries I just slept until I had to get up for my first call. By 10-ish I was at TechStars. I then spent 20 minutes with each company doing what I call the “top of mind drill.”
Having met with every TechStars company at least once, I’ve found that it’s not terribly useful for me to have the team members spend the 20+ minutes we have in our first meeting introducing themselves. I’m already familiar with the companies through the selection process and I just want to get into the mix with them. It’s week four so by now they’ve had tons of mentor meetings (my understanding is that at least 70 mentors have rolled through the TechStars NY offices at this point – thank you mentors!) So – I look for a quick under five minute introduction (“just explain what your business does and how it works”) and then spent the next fifteen minutes talking about whatever is top of mind.
I love the top of mind drill. It starts off with the simple question from me: “What’s on the top of your mind?” Some of the TechStars founders get it immediately and dive into a very specific issue that they are wrestling with. Others ramble around for a few minutes at which point I stop them and suggest they focus on what they think their biggest current issue is. They almost always get it the second time and we end up with ten solid minutes on one or two things that I can give them actionable feedback on.
I was planning to come back on Friday but I decided to detour to Miami Beach to spend the weekend in the sun with Amy. As a result, we cranked through all 11 companies during the day. I bought a purse on ToVieFor (don’t tell Amy – it’s a surprise), agreed to be an early alpha publisher for OnSwipe, and overall had a great time. I’m super psyched about all the teams I met – it feels like the TechStars New York program is very high quality and off to a great start.
We finished up with me giving a talk and doing some Q&A. Given that I had just been at the White House for the Startup America Partnership, we talked about that some. I gave my view of the overall cadence of the TechStars program now that the first month was coming to an end, and then I finished with a story about one of my biggest failures (Interliant) and some of the lessons that I learned from that experience.
I’m writing this from a plane Thursday night heading to Miami where I’m going to try to catch my breath after four deliciously intense days. You’ll hear about the other two – my whirlwind tour of Upstate New York – in a future post.
On Monday I was at the White House to help announce the Startup America Partnership. As part of this, TechStars announced the TechStars Network, an affiliation of TechStars-like programs across the country along with our commitment to the Startup America Partnership to help 5000 experienced mentors work with 6000 entrepreneurs to create 25,000 new jobs by 2015. For an awesome description of Startup America, please read Aneesh Chopra’s (the United States CTO) post on TechCrunch titled Startup America: A Campaign To Celebrate, Inspire And Accelerate Entrepreneurship. By the way, I think it is awesomely cool that the CTO of the United States blogs on TechCrunch!
Over the past eighteen months I’ve gotten to know a number of people in the executive brand of our government, especially at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Economic Council. In general, I don’t engage that much with government, but I have with issues that I care deeply about like the Startup Visa and entrepreneurship. In this case I’ve been blown away by the intelligence, thoughtfulness, tirelessness, and capability of folks in OSTP and the NEC. When I was first involved in discussions around entrepreneurship that later evolved into the Startup America Partnership, I was originally skeptical about what I was hearing. Nine months, and a bunch of discussions later, I think the White House has approached Startup America in a very smart and powerful way and I believe that everyone involved has a major clue about entrepreneurship, the importance of it to our economy and our country in general, and how to help celebrate, inspire, and accelerate entrepreneurship across America.
When I was first approached to talk about how the White House could help entrepreneurs, I focused most of my comments on trying to help the folks I talked to understand the difference between high growth entrepreneurs and small business people. They are both important to our economy, but have very different needs and until recently I didn’t feel like the White House, or other branches of government, really understood the difference between the two.
Fortunately, the White House listened to a number of smart people, including the amazing folks at the Kauffman Foundation. I worked closely with the Kauffman Foundation in the mid-to-late 1990’s both through their partnership with the Young Entrepreneurs Organization as well as being an “entrepreneur-in-residence” (a fancy word for “one day a month consultant”) where I worked with a team on better understanding high growth entrepreneurs. I continued to spend time with the Kauffman Foundation over the past decade, but lost touch with many of the people I’d worked with as the organization evolved. In the past few years, under the leadership of Carl Schramm, the Kauffman Foundation has reasserted itself as the most significant organization thinking about, researching, and advocating for entrepreneurship as part of its mission to accelerate entrepreneurship in America. I’ve gotten to see them in action first hand through work that I’ve done with Lesa Mitchell, Paul Kedrosky, and Bo Fishback and I can confidently say that Mr. K’s legacy is in great hands.
Along with Kauffman, Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, his wife Jean and the Case Foundation, has been working hard to help the White House craft a public / private partnership to shine a bright light on entrepreneurship and help accelerate it across the country. I’ve never worked closely with Steve but have always admired him from afar and love the leadership team of Steve and Carl heading up the Startup America Partnership.
As David Cohen and I talked about the idea for the TechStars Network over the past few quarters, it became obvious to us that it would be a natural part of the Startup America Partnership as we both strongly believe that mentorship is a core attribute of growing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. We both believe that TechStars like programs can existing in over 100 cities in the US, covering many different industry segments (not just software and Internet), and the value of coordinating the mentor, entrepreneur, and investor activity across the entire country is extremely powerful. We had already identified over 100 different accelerator programs in the US that were modeled after TechStars and had helped a number them get started, so as we put together the original members of the TechStars Network, we were psyched that 16 high quality accelerator programs joined us at launch.
It’s important to realize that each of the TechStars Network member programs will be locally owned and operated. We strongly believe in the power of a network model in the construct of expanding entrepreneurship, not a hierarchical centrally owned and controlled one. We think entrepreneurship across the US is not a zero-sum game and we want to play our part in expanding it. TechStars will still run programs that it owns and operates in Boulder, New York, Boston, and Seattle, but we’ll continue to aggressively expand the overall network across the US as well as the world.
I’m extremely excited to play my small part in the Startup America Partnership. For those of you out there questioning how government and entrepreneurs intersect, I encourage you to give the Startup America Partnership a chance. Start by looking at the 27 private organization commitments to the partnership. And, if you want to engage in any way, just email me and I’ll try to figure out how to get you plugged in.