Month: September 2012

Sep 30 2012

Marathon Running and Lying Don’t Mix

Boston Marathon, mile 25, Beacon St., 2005
Boston Marathon, mile 25, Beacon St., 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Success rests in having the courage and endurance and, above all, the will to become the person you were destined to be.” – Dr. George Sheehan

When I heard that presidential VP candidate Paul Ryan said something like he had run a “2-hour-and-50-something” marathon, I knew immediately he was lying. I don’t know a single person who has ever run a marathon who doesn’t know the exact time it took him or her to do it. The 2-hour-and-50-something language didn’t ring true to me and I smiled when I read Andy Burfoot and George Hirsch’s essay in the NY Times titled The Honorable Clan of the Long-Distance Runner.

This isn’t a political post but my disclaimer is that I have no time or energy for Paul Ryan so my bias is out of the way. But I simply hate when people lie. As a kid, my parents made it painfully clear to me that lying isn’t acceptable. I remember being punished a few times before the age of 10 – once was for stealing baseball/football cards (my cousin Kenny’s OJ Simpson card and another friend’s cards – a bunch of them) and once for lying about where I had been. In each case, I was grounded, but also had to admit I had lied and then tell the truth to the person I had deceived, which was even more painful than being grounded.

Those are the two lies I remember. I’m sure there have been other white lies or lies of omission since then, but I feel confident from about age 10 forward I turned off the “it’s ok to lie” switch in my brain. It’s part of my approach to life – I am honest and direct, even if the information is painful to hear or to say. I try to say it in a soft way when it is painful, but I don’t dodge it.

If I make a mistake, which I do often, I own it and correct it. I view making a mistake as very different than lying. I used to exaggerate more and my first business partner Dave Jilk would often call me on exaggerating and we’d have long conversations about the difference between exaggerating and lying. I ultimately agreed with Dave and now I try not to exaggerate – I’ll be optimistic in the face of an uncertain outcome, but I try never to exaggerate about historical or factual data, and when I do I correct myself publicly.

I hate lying. It’s a non-starter for me. I have passed on investing in companies that I wanted to invest in because I thought the entrepreneurs had lied to me about something in the deal process. I’ve disengaged from companies I’ve been involved in because I’ve been lied to, even ones that were doing well. I’ve stopped interacting with people who I had developed a relationship with because they lied to me. I’ve ended friendships, including long ones, over deceit. The stimulus for my first divorce was a lie from my ex-wife (an affair that she had.) And I simply have no time to develop a relationship with someone who I think lies.

Marathon running is the ultimate example of this. You can’t lie about running a marathon; you will eventually get caught if you do. Every marathon I’ve been involved in (now 22 of them), including several with under 250 people in them, has a tight set of rules around finishing that are easy to understand and are recorded diligently. I think I can, without looking, tell you the time of all 22 marathons I’ve run. I can’t get it to the second, but I learned after my first marathon when I was a teenager that you get to drop the seconds – a 5:07:40 marathon (my Boston time) is 5:07; a 4:05:27 (my Chicago time) is a 4:05. But there is no such thing as a 2-hour-and-50-something marathon (which turned out to be a 4:01, which is still super impressive in my book.)

Just finishing a marathon is a huge achievement in itself. Paul Ryan’s 4:01 is faster than my PR over 22 marathons (4:05) – it’s beyond me why he would feel compelled to lie about this. He should be proud of his 4:01!

Don’t lie. It’s simply not worth it. And if you are going to lie, don’t bother wasting your time with me.

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Sep 28 2012

FAKEGRIMLOCK’s Guest Lecture At Harvard Business School

FAKEGRIMLOCK showed up recently at HBS to give a short lecture on Minimum Viable Personality. In Grimspeak, IT AWESOME.

If you want more of FAKEGRIMLOCK, go check his post on my blog from a while ago – BE ON FIRE – which inspired my book Burning Entrepreneur – How to Launch, Fund, and Set Your Start-Up On Fire!

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Sep 27 2012

Recruiting Event Hosted by Foundry Group’s Bay Area Startups

If you are looking for a cool job in the bay area, go take a look at the recruiting event happening on 10/5/12 organized by a bunch of our portfolio companies searching for amazing folks.

The neat thing to me about this is that my partners and I had nothing to do with this – it was completely self-organized by the CEOs of the companies in which we’ve invested in the bay area. We have a very active internal CEO list and I saw a thread about this that started a week ago and then generated a long thread as the CEOs decided to do it and figured it out. I’m sitting with Seth, Jason, and Ryan after a long (awesome) day together doing email and watching football and Jason said “hey – did you see the tweet about the bay area recruiting event!”

It’s another example of the power of the network that I believe is rapidly dominating the way we live and work. No one asked permission. No one had to get approval. It is a great idea – and it just got implemented fast.

If you are looking for a new gig, our friends at DataheroSifteoAwe.smSingly, MongolabAuthentic8, and Pantheon want to hang out with you. Go sign up for the event on 10/5/12 from 6pm – 8pm. It’s free and there will be food, drink, cool tech, and great people.

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Sep 27 2012

Have Every New Employee Do Customer Support For Two Weeks

A few weeks ago an entrepreneur of a fast growing consumer-oriented company told me that he has every new employee do customer support for two weeks. Their approach is they onboard the new person, given the a one week “get settled into your role / get up to speed on the company” period and then they spend weeks two and three full time in the customer support organization.

I’ve let this roll around in the back of my head and think it’s absolutely brilliant. The first week is a typical “first week at a new company” which includes a formal day of orientation on the first day. The next four days are structured around on-boarding the person and getting them involved in their role and their team, but not too deeply. This allows there to be a “break in period” where the person is learning the systems and structure of the company.

Week two is a full time immersion in the customer care organization. Total front-line stuff. The same first week any new customer care rep would get. Day one is whatever the normal orientation is followed by four days of “training wheels customer care.”

Week three is a fly on the wall from a managers view of customer care. Rather than front-line support, this is involved in all the meetings – up and down the customer support organization – to understand what people are dealing with. The last day includes a debrief meeting with the CEO.

I think a version of this process could be created for virtually any size company in any market segment. You are trying to have the person do three things: (1) be on the front-lines of the company and understand what that looks like, (2) engage directly with the product and customers, and (3) understand how the organization works from the customer point of view.

There’s a powerful second order effect, especially if every employee does this regardless or rank or title. In the first month of their tenure, they see the organization from the inside out. This creates a powerful common view that can generate an entirely different set of early actions for anyone in a new role. It also creates a powerful culture dynamic. And it does a little of what we try to do in the first month of TechStars – which is to “slow down to speed up.”

I’m curious if anyone out there is doing something similar or has suggestions to add or modify this.

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Sep 26 2012

Startup Communities is Shipping

It’s hard to describe the satisfaction of “shipping” your product. I know many of you out there have done it many times and I expect you know what I’m talking about.

Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City is officially shipping. The Kindle version is available immediately; the physical copies are still on pre-order on Amazon but I know books are flowing.

Vivek Wadhwa wrote a wonderful article in the Washington Post on Monday that highlights the Boulder Thesis. The article – This is how you build a tech community – follows up on a Bloomberg article that Vivek wrote in 2010 titled Why Boulder Is America’s Best Town for StartupsIn his latest article, Vivek does a great job of summarizing the Boulder Thesis and highlights my views on the difference between entrepreneurs (as leaders) and government (as feeders) in the effort to create a vibrant long-term entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Jerry Colonna also wrote an awesome post riffing off of Startup Communities titled The Sarajevo EffectIf you don’t know Jerry, he’s an extremely successful VC (he and Fred Wilson at USV were partners in the 1990’s at Flatiron Partners) who retired from VC in the early 2000s and is now a coach to a bunch of amazing entrepreneurs (including several who I work with). Even though we don’t spend a huge amount of physical time together, I consider Jerry to be one of my closest friends and intellectual soulmate on a number of fronts. We’ve had three great dinners in the last 60 days – two of them in Boulder (he’s living here part time now) – and we spend a lot of the last one (in NY) talking about some of the ideas underlying the thoughts in his post.

Finally, Fred Wilson put up a nice post last week titled Two Must Read Books For The AVC Community which included two books, Startup Communities and Steven Johnson’s new book Future Perfect. I’m a huge Steven Johnson fan and that one is now on my Kindle.

For everyone that has supported me during the effort of getting this book out, y’all are awesome – thank you. I’ll be blogging regularly about it up on Startup Revolution as I wander the earth talking about Startup Communities. If you are interested in this topic, I hope you read the book. Feel free to send me any comments – good, bad, or otherwise.

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Sep 24 2012

My Awesome Experience With Retrofit

When I started Retrofit last fall, I weighed 216. I’ve struggled for a decade to get below 210 – it would happen sometimes but I’d quickly end back up in the 210 – 220 range. I ran marathons so this was frustrating – I am a pescatarian and eat healthy, just too much.

I started Retrofit and within three months was down to 200. I’ve been between 195 and 200 for the past six months and have a clear understanding of how to be at 195 by simply cutting out a few things for a few weeks. My running has improved by a minute a mile, I’ve dropped from a 38 waist to a 36 waist (and could probably pull off a 34), and feel so much better.

If your have been struggling to lose weight for a long time, give Retrofit a try. It’s not a diet, it’s a complete and total reprogramming of the way you think about food. The founder Jeff Hyman is a long time friend (I was a seed investor in his first company in 1996) and is incredibly passionate about Retrofit and what he and his team is doing. I’m not an investor (it’s outside our themes), but I’m a huge supporter of Jeff and Retrofit – it’s been amazing for me as a customer.

Following is a short video that will start appearing on national TV in the next month. I’m honored to be part of it with David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars, who has lost over 30 pounds (and looks awesome) since starting Retrofit at about the same time as me.

While I feel like the guy on late night TV some times, this experience has been transformational. Seriously, take a look. I can’t rave enough about what Retrofit has done for me.

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Sep 22 2012

SkyDrive Is Great and No One Has Noticed

In July I wrote a post where I was Searching For A Collaborative Writing Tool. I got a bunch of suggestions – some people suggested their startups, some suggested Google Docs, and one person (a friend who works for Microsoft) suggested  Microsoft SkyDrive . Amy and I were deep in working on Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. We were trying to use Scrivener but that wasn’t working for two writers so I moved us to Google Docs. But I knew that wouldn’t be great because I’ve struggled with long documents in Google Docs in the past, especially since eventually we had to move to Microsoft Word for our publisher (Wiley) anyway.

Two weeks ago I decided to move everything to Word as we started the final push to getting the publisher draft out (which is due on 10/12/12). As part of this, I decided to give SkyDrive a try and see if we could both work on the document at the same time in Word.

We’ve been using it for two weeks and it is awesome. Stunningly awesome. Perfect. We can work in the browser and that’s fine for short things, but the beauty is we can download the doc into Word and it automagically keeps our edits in sync on the server. We can both work in Word – online or offline – at the same time and when we connect all the changes get updated to the server and then pushed down to our individual copies of Word. In short, it does exactly what you’d expect it to do. And – we are both using Word on the Mac – which is solid and a nice surprise to me that any of this really works on the Mac given my generally miserable Microsoft + Mac software experience.

I’m blown away. I also can’t believe no one knows about it or is talking about Microsoft SkyDrive. I can’t believe Microsoft isn’t promoting it front and center. Or maybe they are and I’m just missing it.

The only annoying thing is that it works better in Safari than in Chrome on the Mac. Somehow that doesn’t surprise me, but everything else about SkyDrive does. What a fun discovery.

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Sep 20 2012

Apply Today For TechStars Cloud 2013

This is the second year that TechStars is running a thematic accelerator in Texas focused just on cloud computing. At Foundry Group, we believe in thematic investing both as a way to organize and filter the massive number of opportunities to look at, but also as a way to build a set of muscles around a sphere of knowledge. It’s been fun to experiment with this approach at TechStars.

While we recognize the tidal wave trend of all technology becoming ‘cloudy’, we are approaching TechStars Cloud with specific focus. The companies in TechStars Cloud are the ones enabling the trend of cloud computing and providing the underlying technology, versus just the ones that are being carried along with it.

An example of just such a company is Cloudability, who is a graduate of last years TechStars Cloud program, who we subsequently funded this past summer. They are taking the pain out of managing and monitoring the dozens and often hundreds of individual cloud provider accounts that companies end up with. It’s a big need and the early success of Cloudability validates this.

Cloud computing is still an amazingly nascent field with opportunities everywhere you look. From database technologies to network, big data to analytics, security to hosting platforms, documents to video, the next wave of companies are turning cloud technology into leverage for all businesses – tech and non-tech. The world now has an API and we call it cloud.

If you are a part of that landscape, or want to be, this is a great first step -> apply.techstars.com.  Tell them I sent you.

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Sep 20 2012

Entrepreneurs Unplugged Monday 9/24 With BlogFrog

On Monday night 9/24 from 6:15 to 7:45 I’m co-hosting the first Entrepreneurs Unplugged session of Fall 2012 at CU Boulder. We’ll be at ATLAS in Room 100 and I’ll be interviewing Rustin Banks (CEO) and Holly Hamann (VP Marketing) of BlogFrog.

If you are interested in coming, please register here. It’s free, but we do have a limited number of seats. I love doing the Entrepreneurs Unplugged sessions – it’s a chance for me to interview some of the great Boulder entrepreneurs, especially up and coming ones like Rusty and Holly. I’ve known Holly since her time as VP of Marketing at Service Metrics, a company in which I was an investor in the late 1990’s and was a huge Boulder success story when they were acquired in 1999 by Exodus for $280 million. I met Rusty more recently, a few years ago when he was just starting BlogFrog. While I’m not an investor, I introduced him to a few friends of mine including David Cohen of TechStars who helped him put together his angel round.

Since Rusty and Holly started BlogFrog, they’ve create a rapidly growing company that is another Boulder success story. They raised a $3.2 million round in the spring and have gained national visibility in the past year for creating a great new approach to influence marketing.

Rusty, Holly, and BlogFrog have a great story. Come hang out with me Monday at CU Boulder and hear it.

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Sep 19 2012

Startup Communities Is Available Now On Kindle

As an author, it’s always incredibly exciting to get the actual finished version of a book I’ve written. While I still haven’t seen a physical version of Startup Communities (it’s still in pre-order), the Kindle version is now shipping.

If you don’t want to wait any longer for it, you can grab a copy on the Kindle right now. And, if you’ve pre-ordered it on the Kindle, it should be pushed to your Kindle by now (if it’s not, tell me and I’ll nudge someone.)

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