Month: November 2011

Nov 29 2011

I Can Has A VC

My friends at Cheezburger Networks have been rolling out what we have internally been calling Cheezburger 3.0. It’s called Cheezburger Sites and lets anyone create their own humor channel on the web.

In my never ending effort to poke fun at myself – and other VCs – I’ve created a site called I Can Has A VC. It’s just getting started – feel free to send me videos and photos of VCs doing stupid things, or stupid things masquerading as VCs.

And – if you has a sense of humor, go for it!

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Nov 29 2011

Teaching Entrepreneurial Finance Using Venture Deals

Over the past six years, Jason Mendelson and I have heard from over 100 professors who have used our Term Sheet Series of blog posts in college (undergraduate and graduate) programs on on entrepreneurship. Since the publication of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist we’ve started hearing from professors who have used our book in their course.

Jason and Brad Bernthal have been teaching a class at CU Boulder Law School called VC 360. They’ve recently open sourced the syllabus and we’ve put up a page on AsktheVC for anyone teaching a course using Venture Deals.

If you are teaching a course using Venture Deals and want to be included, simply email me.  If you are looking for ideas on a course about entrepreneurial finance, take a look. And, if you’ve got suggestions, please offer them (yes – we are working on a teaching guide.)

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Nov 28 2011

Are You An Internet Entrepreneur In Colorado? Oppose PIPA!

If you are a entrepreneur in Colorado who is working on something related to the Internet, please consider signing the following letter to Senator Udall and Senator Bennet opposing the Protect IP (PIPA) Act. I’ve written why I believe PIPA is effectively censorship and an incredibly dangerous and destructive bill to our economy, entrepreneurship, the Internet, and free speech.

After several discussions with various Congressional staff members, I’ve drafted the following letter to deliver to Senator Udall and Senator Bennet. I want to make sure they are hearing directly from entrepreneurs in Colorado, who I view as a much more important constituency of theirs than the folks in Hollywood who are trying to jam these bills through Congress. I’ve tried to make this letter substantive around the issues so the Senators understand the fundamental issues with the bills.

If you are a Colorado entrepreneur and want to be signed on to this letter, please either email me or put your name, company name, and title in the comments. The letter follows:

To: Senator Udall, Senator Bennet

As entrepreneurs in Colorado, we are writing because the Protect IP Act, now moving through the Senate (along with its House counterpart), poses a significant risk to the innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation that has characterized the Internet’s development.  We urge you to take a critical view of this legislation, calling for a greater effort to balance its focus on addressing piracy with its unintended consequence on technological development and innovation.  In short, we do not dispute that piracy on the Internet is a valid and important policy concern worth addressing; we do, however, object to the approach taken in this proposed legislation, which does not take seriously the interests of and impact on Internet companies.

Over the last twenty years, the Internet has enabled entrepreneurial upstarts to establish new companies, creating enormous amounts of wealth, jobs of the future here in the United States, and improving the lives of consumers and the productivity of businesses.  This success story rests on an architecture—both technical and legal—that has allowed for innovation without permission.   Most notably, sound regulatory and legal policy creates an environment where Internet companies can grow without the need to navigate difficult legal requirements, face entry barriers, or be at the mercy of larger companies’ business decisions.   Without such an environment, Google, Facebook, and other successful Internet companies would not exist, or would not have been founded here in the US.

In the area of intellectual property, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) constitutes a sound model of an Internet policy regime that allows for innovation and Internet-based entrepreneurship.  Under the DMCA, Internet companies are not required to architect their offerings in any particular manner to prevent possible copyright infringement; rather, they enjoy a “safe harbor” from secondary liability provided they comply with a “notice-and-takedown” provision that operates after-the-fact.  The DMCA also requires Internet companies to develop and enforce “repeat infringer” policies to address those individuals who do not respect copyright.
The Protect IP Act (PIPA) reflects the concern that the DMCA has allowed for significant amounts of piracy to take place on the Internet and that more can and should be done to prevent it.  But this concern alone cannot justify support for PIPA, as the proposed legislation takes four critical steps that, taken together, risk undermining the Internet’s architecture for innovation.

The most crucial and fateful flaw in the proposed legislation is its stance that not only the Department of Justice, but also private firms, should be able to sue Internet companies to invoke the remedies available in the bill.  In so doing, and in combination with its conclusion that certain remedies should be available on an ex parte basis—without the essential due process safeguards of offering the affected party notice and an opportunity to be heard–it subjects companies to the potential risk that they will be subject to extreme measures in error.

Three other aspects of the law bear notice and significant concern.  First, the bill imposes no accountability on private firms that invoke PIPA’s provisions in bad faith or even recklesslessly, despite evidence that firms have issued notice and take down requests in the DMCA in this manner (and despite the presence of such a provision in the DMCA).  Second, the bill sets out a standard that potentially subjects Internet providers to liability without clear, specific limits that can be readily be understood and followed ahead of time.  Third, the bill goes beyond the very sensible and effective remedy of preventing the use of credit card payments, ad networks, and other sources of funds to “rogue websites” and includes provisions that not only authorizes the seizure of domain names (which the DOJ can do under current law), but also the blocking of the Domain Name System address by ISPs.

The economic impact of the Internet and growth of Internet companies, here in Colorado and across the United States, is powerful success story that reflects the ingenuity, entrepreneurial spirit, and wise policy environment that the United States enjoys.  The innovators of tomorrow are ill-equipped to hire lobbyists and thus it is crucial that enlightened political leaders, like you both, take the time, effort, and care to engage with the technology community to ensure that an environment that supports innovation remain in place.  A sound regime for both protecting intellectual property rights and protecting companies against undue liability and legal traps for the unwary is part of that environment.

PIPA does not accomplish this and we strongly encourage you to take the concerns of the Colorado entrepreneurial community seriously, lest you overreach unnecessarily to protect intellectual property rights and undermine Internet-based innovation as a result.

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Nov 27 2011

The Machines Will Keep Us Warm

I’m a big believer that the machines have already taken over. I recently gave a talk at the Defrag Conference titled “Resistance is Futile” where I made the point that we don’t know whether – in the future – we will be machine-enhanced humans or biologically-enhanced machines, but that it doesn’t matter. In either case, I’m optimistic about the future and think the machines will be our friends.

In today’s New York Times, Randall Stross has a great article titled Turn On the Server. It’s Cold Inside. In it he talks about a paper The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing. The abstract follows:

“In this paper, we argue that servers can be sent to homes and office buildings and used as a primary heat source. We call this approach the Data Furnace or DF. Data Furances have three advantages over traditional data centers: 1) a smaller carbon footprint 2) reduced total cost of ownership per server 3) closer proximity to the users. From the home owner’s perspective, a DF is equivalent to a typical heating system: a metal cabinet is shipped to the home and added to the ductwork or hot water pipes. From a technical perspective, DFs create new opportunities for both lower cost and improved quality of service, if cloud computing applications can exploit the differences in the cost structure and resource profile between Data Furances and conventional data centers.”

As data centers become a more significant part of our universe, I think this is a fantastic idea. In the Matrix, humans were used to power the machines. That’s a classical dystopian view of the machine / human relationship. How about turning it around and having the machines warm the humans.

Think about it. Would you be game to have a data center in your basement if heating for your house was free as a result?

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Nov 25 2011

Books On Entrepreneurship

I love books. I love to read. I realize I’ve had a dry spell – I’ve hardly been reading books at all this fall. That hasn’t stopped them from piling up as my infinite pile of books to read remains – well – infinite.

I gobbled down some entrepreneurship books in the last week. There are a number of great ones coming that seem to have been kicked off by Eric Ries’ dynamite The Lean Startup.

The first one is Walter Isaacson’s incredible biography of Steve Jobs. While I knew many (but not all) of the stories, Isaacson is a total master at putting together a fast paced, thorough, yet extremely readable biography. Jobs is a fascinating, incredible, and extremely complex person – Isaacson captures his essence. While this book is about more than just entrepreneurship, Jobs has had such a huge impact on the computer industry that anyone interested in entrepreneurship must read this book. If you love biography, are intrigued by complex heroic figures, love your Apple products, or are anyone else, I put this book in your must read pile. Yes – I loved it.

The next is Startup Weekend: How to Take a Company From Concept to Creation in 54 Hours. I recently joined the board of Startup Weekend, which I describe as a weekend-long simulation of entrepreneurship. I was at the very first Startup Weekend in Boulder in 2007 and was blown away by what Andrew Hyde – and the Boulder entrepreneurial community – did while creating Vosnap. Four years later Startup Weekend is an international phenomenon that I believe is one of the key activities required in any entrepreneurial community that aspires to grow and develop of a 20 year period. This book helps you understand what Startup Weekend is, how it works, and is filled with stories of people who have gone through it, what they learned, and why it matters.

The last two books are ones that won’t be out until the spring but I had a chance to read galleys of each. Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn cofounder / chairman) and Ben Casnocha (who I’ve now been friends with for almost a decade – eek!) have written an important book titled The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career. I believe this will be the contemporary version of What Color Is Your Parachute (which – unfortunately – now seems to be a whole series of books – which I put in the “very tired” category.) Reid and Ben take a fresh approach to how one thinks about “career” with a book I expect will be atop the NY Times Bestseller list for a long time.

Finally, Jason Baptiste (OnSwipe CEO – TechStars New York 2011 class) demonstrates his awesomeness with his new book The Ultralight Startup: Launching a Business Without Clout or Capital. This puppy is packed with very specific advice about launching a business that come from Jason’s experience with OnSwipe and Cloudomatic. Jason is a great writer – the book is direct, clear, actionable, and fast paced – just like Jason.

Finally, I’d be remiss in my job as a book salesman for Wiley (our publisher) if didn’t mention the book I wrote with David Cohen last year titled Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup as well as the book I recently wrote with Jason Mendelson titled Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. Hopefully you have them and are giving them to every entrepreneur and aspiring entrepreneur you know.

It’s Black Friday. Buy some books!

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Nov 23 2011

gmail iphone exchange password incorrect

This is a note from your Gmail tech support person (my life in a parallel universe) just trying to help with whatever frustration you are having today.

Over the weekend I noticed that my iPhone (which had recently upgraded to the latest iOS (5.0.1) was now regularly giving me an error from within the native email app. A little box would pop up and tell me that my Exchange Password was incorrect. I use Gmail, but use the Exchange connector on the iPhone (as recommended by Google). Until recently, this was working just fine.

I entered my password 100 times or so in a fit of stubbornness. It worked every now and then. However, when my iPad started borking with the same error message, I decided to figure out the problem.

My search “gmail iphone exchange password incorrect” turned up some interesting stuff. I quickly figured out the problem what the Google Captcha. Apparently the Microsoft connector logs in but then borks on the Captcha which is never surfaced in the connector. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to unlock (or disable) the Captcha in Google Apps.

It seems like Google could fix this on their end without waiting for Apple. Just don’t toss up the Captcha whenever an iOS device hits Gmail. My guess is a recent push on Google’s side broke this as I didn’t notice a real iOS upgrade correlation. While at first I thought it might be iOS 5.0.1, I realized there was a few day delay, pinning the issue most likely back on Google.

Either way, my near term frustration has once again vaporized and I can resume ferociously emailing on my iOS devices.

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Nov 23 2011

PBS Newshour on Accelerators

PBS Newshour has a neat eight minute segment on accelerators. TechStars is featured, along with several others. This makes me happy as part of our goal when we started TechStars was to “open-source” the mentor driven accelerator process. It’s been awesome to be part of this incredible (and – in my opinion – incredibly important phenomenon).

The punch line from the interview is in the first 30 seconds.

“The Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship, recently found that startups create about 3 million new jobs a year.”

I really wish every member of Congress would read this over and over and over again. Whenever I see stuff like Protect IP and SOPA making progress through Congress (both bills – which if passed – will have a chilling effect on entrepreneurship and job creation) I get frustrated. It’s easy (but incorrect and uniformed) for people in Washington to dismiss accelerators, and entrepreneurship, as a small part of our economy. But when there’s as much focus as there is on creating jobs, it seems like our friends in Washington should be turning everything else upside down to be supportive of activities that create jobs, especially when the job creators (e.g. entrepreneurial companies) aren’t asking them for anything. And remember that these are only direct jobs – think of all the indirect jobs that get created by the payrolls, wealth, and taxes generated by these entrepreneurs.

If you don’t understand what an accelerator is, or just want a nice eight minute overview, watch this video. And repeat to yourself “startups create about 3 million new jobs a year.”

Near the end, Vivek Wadhwa makes the comment that “other countries like India and China are learning our secret sauce. They are learning what made America what it is.” I’d add Europe to that – following is a picture of me talking to a group of entrepreneurs in Copenhagen this moving via Skype as part of Startup Bootcamp, a TechStars Network partner with accelerator programs in Copenhagen, Dublin, and Madrid. This is a worldwide phenomenon – and it’s awesome.

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Nov 22 2011

Is Astroturfing Coming To Social Media?

I hate astroturfing. I think think it’s the lamest form of promotion and advocacy possible. It’s the opposite of authenticity and the antithesis of the brilliance of Twitter.

Last week I tweeted about one of my investments and a number of people replied. After each reply, the founder of a competitor tweeted out his own message to the @replies that responded to me. After a few I became annoyed since his @replies were both (a) unwelcome and (b) cluttering up my stream. I considered blocking him but then decided to think about it some more.

I’ve seen this strategy a few times. A competitor tries to piggyback on another company and intersect the stream and inject “look at me – my thing is good also” into the mix. I haven’t decided if this is brilliant or stupid, but after chewing on it a little it felt like a derivative of astroturfing to me.

Now, unlike astroturfing, it’s merely a low grade tactic to get attention one by one in the Twitter stream by intersecting existing interactions. In some cases, I’m sure people will be intrigued by it. In others it will feel spammy. And in others it will be ignored. I also think it’s a stupid competitive approach, which reminds me that I have a bunch of posts to finish up about competition which are sitting patiently in my drafts folder.

My concern isn’t the one off dynamic, which I don’t think has much real impact. It’s when this becomes a social media strategy. It’s inevitable that this will scale up and pollute the conversation, changing the signal to noise ration. The awesome thing about Twitter is anyone can follow you. But they can also @reply to you. Of course, they have to follow the other person copied for them to see the message, but that’s an easy thing to do. Once someone builds this into a social media dashboard and automates the “identify-keyword, add, @reply-message” function, it’ll get yucky fast. Especially when political campaigns get hold of the idea and really start astro-twitter-turfing.

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Nov 21 2011

Philadelphia Marathon

Marathon #21 is done. I ran the Philadelphia Marathon in 4:28:46 yesterday. Of the 21 marathons I’ve run, it was my third fastest (I did the Dallas Marathon in 4:28:00 when I was 17 and the Chicago Marathon in 4:05:27 in 2003.) And yes – I was surprised, as this was my fourth marathon in the past eight weeks.

When I got to Philadelphia on Friday I was tired and mopey, as evidenced by the post I wrote on Saturday titled The Last Marathon of the Year. When I talked to Amy she gave me some encouragement and told me that I’d get it done no matter what. Nonetheless I just felt flat and listless. My partner Ryan and his wife Katherine joined me for dinner Saturday night (Katherine ran the marathon also) and we had a nice Italian dinner at a local place called Giorgio on Pine. The food was tasty but the vibe was off and the service was slow so we sat around and worried about the race.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling good. The hotel (I stayed at the Four Seasons near the start) did an awesome thing I’d never seen before – they had a special breakfast for marathoners consisting of oatmeal, toast, a banana, a bagel with cream cheese, coffee, and a gatorade. I gobbled everything down but the cream cheese, met Katherine in the lobby 30 minutes before the start, and walked to the starting line.

The marathon and the half marathon had 27,000 runners, which is a ton of people. I made my way back to the second to last corral (where the 5 hour runners hang out) and settled in to wait for the start. They did wave starts so I didn’t cross the start line until about 7:25 (the marathon started at 7:00).

The weather was perfect. Cool but not cold, almost no wind, and a light cloud cover so it was light but not sunny. I had decided to run without any time queues so while I had RunKeeper broadcasting my race live, I had turned off all the audio notifications. This was the first time that I’ve run a marathon without knowing my pace at every mile split. So – I just ran.

As with all marathons, the first three miles were uncomfortable as I settled into a rhythm. We were pretty clogged up so there was a lot of dodging people, but things eventually settled down. I missed a mile marker somewhere and was at mile six before I realized it. I felt great so decided to run a little harder from mile six to the half marathon point. I didn’t overdo it, but kept a solid pace. I passed a surprising number of people (remember – I started in the back at a 5 hour pace) so I knew I was solidly ahead of a 5 hour marathon.

I went through the half way point feeling great. As I turned a corner, I saw finishers coming my direction. This turned out to be inspiring – from mile 14 to mile 16 I ran opposite the faster runners. I just zoned out, watched them, and picked up my pace. At mile 16 I was still feeling good and passing people so I kept cruising. I had no idea what my actual pace was, but I knew I was doing 10 minute miles since they had clocks at each mile and each time I passed one the minute ended in a six (e.g. 3:16:21).

I finally hit the wall at mile 21. I knew it would eventually happen – I literally felt my legs downshift. I went through that mile at about 11:30 and decided I’d just cruise at this pace until the end. But at mile 23 I got a second wind, could smell the finish line, and picked it up again. By mile 25 I was running as hard as I could – I’m sure my form was hilarious, but I continued to pass people as I headed for the finish.

When I crossed the finish line I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket and ended the run. I saw 4:29:02 on my phone and was completely surprised – I had no idea I was under 4:30:00.

Philly – I’ll remember you fondly.

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Nov 21 2011

Planet Earth Is Amazing

Turn of your lights, close your door, and full screen this five minute video. It’s an incredibly time lapse video of the journey of the International Space Station (from one of my favorite random sites – NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day)  around Earth. It’ll put whatever you are working on in perspective.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

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