Tonight I’ll be interviewing Phil Weiser, currently the Dean of CU Law School, on his experience serving in the Obama Administration. We will be doing this in the Wittemyer Courtroom, Wolf Law Building, University of Colorado from 6:30 – 7:30 pm. Admission is free, but please register here.
Phil has been instrumental in the development of the Boulder entrepreneurial ecosystem as the founder of and motive force behind Silicon Flatirons for many years before going to DC. Phil and I also served as co-chairs of the Governor’s Innovation Council under Government Ritter (I don’t think we accomplished much, but I learned a lot about how government works). We’ve had plenty of interesting experiences together and I find Phil to be one of the deepest and funnest thinkers I get to hang out with, even though he’s a lawyer.
While Phil was in the Obama Administration, he served as the Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation to the National Economic Council Director. Prior to that post, he served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International, Policy, and Appellate Matters in the United States Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.
Come hear Phil talk about his experiences at the White House. As a bonus, you’ll get to hear me publicly give Phil a nickname that I hope follows him around for a long time.
In the “if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at” category, I present the video I’m A VC. The formal press release, Foundry Group Premiers Documentary Film About Secret Lives of Venture Capitalists, explains things more fully.
My partner Jason Mendelson created, composed, wrote, sang, and produced the whole thing and explains the back story of I’m a VC on his blog. It’s awesome working with incredibly talented people who have a sense of humor and a willingness to make fun of themselves while letting me make fun of myself. And no – I can’t dance for shit, nor can I sing.
Entrepreneurs – you make our world go around. This is dedicated to you.
I’m back in Boulder after living in Paris for the month of July and Tuscany for the month of August. I had an incredible time in both places, got a lot done, enjoyed being with Amy continuously, and had a very successful experiment of “working in some other place for a month” that I intend to repeat many times over the course of the rest of my life.
David Cohen (TechStars CEO) and his wife Jil were two of our many visitors in Tuscany. We stayed at a magical place called Casetta run by Xenia Lemos who we now consider a lifelong friend. David did a ThisWeekIn TechStars segment with me while we were together at Casetta in which you get to see the place, watch me swim laps in a pool while David interviews me about Occipital, the book Venture Deals, volatility in the stock markets and how entrepreneurs should think about it, and then some thoughts at the end of work-life balance.
I had an awesome time, but I’m glad to be back in Boulder.
I was reminded of the importance of starting with the customer experience while I was watching this brilliant video from WWDC 1997 of Steve Jobs. In the video, Jobs appears to be responding to attack by a troll, but is actually doing something much more interesting. Rather than take the bait and react, he thinks carefully in real time and makes a critical philosophical point about his – and Apple’s – approach to creating new products.
The punch line happens early when he says “you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology.” It’s five minutes long and worth watching, if only to see how incredibly durable Jobs’ philosophy has been over the past 15 years.
When I think about the companies we’ve invested in, some of them embody this philosophy deeply in their culture. Oblong, MakerBot, Orbotix, Fitbit, and Cloud Engines immediately come to mind. The entrepreneurs running these companies are completely and totally obsessed with the consumer experience of their products, even though their products embody an incredible amount of technology (in each case, both hardware and software innovations.)
As an investor, I often lose sight of this, especially when I’m working on non-consumer facing companies (e.g. enterprise software companies). But I believe very strongly in the consumerization of IT – namely the notion that innovation in software is now being driven by consumer applications, and correspondingly by consumers, not by enterprise IT organizations and enterprise software vendors. If you accept this, it means that if you are working on enterprise applications, you also need to be obsessed with the customer experience.
When I think about this abstractly, especially in the context of “software eating the world” or my view that the machines have already taken over and resistance is futile, I completely buy the premise that the consumer experience trumps all technical decisions in any context. Apple has proven this throughout the entire customer experience, including being exposed to the product, buying the product, implementing the product, upgrading the product, and getting help with the product. And I think it’s going to get a lot more important going forward.
A few months ago Suzy Kendrick of CanvasPop reached out to me after I wrote a blog post titled What’s Your Product Cadence. She had some comments relevant to her business and offered to put together a Twitter word cloud print for @FoundryGroup.
It came out great and is now hanging in our office. The CanvasPop team was super to deal with – they offered us the first print for free. It was nice but after staring at it we wanted to tweak it a little. I offered to pay for this one (they didn’t ask – but it was the right thing for us to do) and they did an excellent job of making the changes we wanted.
Even though Amy and I are huge art collectors, this is the first time I’ve ever done a piece of personalized corporate art. CanvasPop totally nailed it for us and gave us something that we could finally use as our entry way sign.
If you are interested in something like this, drop an email to Chris – the Corporate Art Guru at CanvasPop. Suzy – thanks for reaching out!
As Finance Fridays continues, we are introducing the concept of the Cap Table. We recognize that we are still at the very early basics stage, but as we are taking a case study approach to this we feel like we have to set up all of the pieces before we get into the messy guts. Hopefully you are staying with us and finding this useful – feedback welcome!
Jane and Dick, our fearless cofounders of SayAhh, have set up an accounting system and created their first set of financial statements. This week they set out to create their cap table and hire a CTO.
The founders each have common shares that will vest over four years. The vesting schedule protects each of the co-founders in case one gets hit by a bus or decides to drop the project after a short period of time. Also, there is an important tax election called an 83(b) election that they made which allows them to recognize and pay taxes for very small income of the value of the shares. Later, if they sell, the low tax basis and capital gains tax rates result in a lower tax liability than if they didn’t file the 83(b) election.
Equity is split 55% and 45%, but where is that officially recorded? It is not in the three primary financial statements (the Balance Sheet, Profit & Loss, and Cash Flow Statement.) Rather, it gets recorded in a document called the Capitalization Table (or “Cap Table”), which shows the ownership stake each person or entity has in the business.
Below you can see Jane and Dick own 55% and 45%, respectively. As first time entrepreneurs they did not create an employee options pool; we’ll fix that in a little while.
Jane and Dick want to bring in their friend Praveena as CTO, but they don’t know how to structure the compensation. They come up with two options:
The benefit of hiring Praveena is they think they could keep more equity and control of the company. But, Praveena hails from the land of big paychecks and is not ready to leave that without considerable equity. With the funds Jane and Dick have, a big salary is not possible. Praveena wants to invest $20,000 and get 20% equity.
After several discussions (and more beer), Jane and Dick agreed with Praveena to bring her on as a cofounder where she invests $20,000 and also gets 15% equity. Praveena is just like the other two founders, where her equity will vest over 4 years. Time to update the cap table.
When you read the cap table, think of it as a series of events that add new columns to the right. Now there are two events: the initial issuance of founders common shares, and then issuing new founders common shares along with creating an options pool. In this manner, you can see both the current equity distribution of the company, as well as historically what the equity holdings looked like.
If the full pool were to be given out, the dilution is fairly significant to the founders. They would own from 55% and 45% down to 36% and 29%, but until options are exercised they are not diluted. Jane and Dick contemplated a small option pool because they had read about the risk of an option pool shuffle, but ultimately decided to make it 20% based on feedback from their friend Josh, a Boston-based venture capitalist.
Our (now three) co-founders begin building out their product. The co-founders have savings to live off of and cash will be conserved by not having any salaries. Next week we will fast forward to when they have a beta product and they build a model to pitch to investors.
Glassboard, a new mobile app for sharing privately with groups, just launched from my friends at Sepia Labs. They’re seeing some good initial coverage from ReadWriteWeb and Macworld and twitter is abuzz with people setting up private groups (which I find oddly amusing – but since there is no way to discover a “private board” – it makes sense.)
Glassboard highlights an interesting dynamic in the market that I’ve referenced before namely that collectively, as the creators and early adopters of technology, we still haven’t figured out the right balance of what information should be public and what should be private, and how this information should be used in the social graph.
Take location information as an example. One of the things Glassboard allows you to share with a group is your location, but they make it just as easy not to share it. You may recall that in March I had a foursquare checkin scare whereby someone tracked me down at a restaurant and called me on the phone to spook me because they knew my location. It worked – that interaction then led to me rethinking how I use my social graph – and, more specifically, how and with whom I share my location.
Location is one of those uniquely personal data points that, when used inappropriately, can leave you (or the people you care about) hugely vulnerable. And even though this vulnerability exists, your location is casually being used by advertisers to send you geo-ads and its being attached to all your photos. On one hand, its a great piece of data that can be really helpful when you need to tell people where you are or where you were, but on the other hand, the ways it can be used inappropriately are innumerable.
The Glassboard folks have recognized the sensitivity of location data and have implemented the strict end user controls over how, when and with whom to use it. They’ve also done a bunch of other interesting and important things in their group sharing app – I encourage you to check it out if you are on iPhone, Android, and Windows Mobile 7.