Month: October 2012

Oct 31 2012

Depression and Entrepreneurs

Amy and I wrote a meaningful amount about entrepreneurs and depression in Startup Life. Since we finished the final draft a few weeks ago, I’ve given several talks where depression came up as I’ve woven my own experience with depression into the short (less than 15 minute) version of my story. I’ve received a surprising (to me) number of emails from people thanking me talking about it publicly, along with my discussion of the anxiety disorder (obsessive compulsive disorder) that I’ve struggled with my entire adult life and that was severe during the serious depressive episode I had in my early to mid 20s.

So the idea of depression has been on my mind. It doesn’t surprise me that I feel down and flat as I sit here in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport on my way to Lexington, Kentucky on day 16 of a 19 day trip. I’m tired, strung out, missing home, missing Amy, and running out of extrovert energy. I’ve had a great time with all the people I’ve been with and the events I’ve had around Startup Communities. I’ve had several extraordinary experiences like dinner last night in Toronto with a dozen fantastic entrepreneurs who I hope to have continuous involvement – as a friend and potential investor – in the future. But as I sit here, I’m surrounded by a lot of grey, and it’s not just the clouds outside that are the remnants of the storm.

I’ve reached out to most of my friends in New York to check in on them. They are all doing fine even though a few were hit hard and are now effectively homeless as lower Manhattan gets cleaned up. I picked a spot in the airport far away from the TV – I couldn’t stand the endless news cycle that mixed Sandy with Romney with Obama. I had some extra carbs hoping that would help – it just made me feel sleepy. Yup – I know what this feeling is.

I know many entrepreneurs who deal with different levels of depression. My close friend Jerry Colonna is extraordinarly eloquent about this and how it impacts entrepreneurs. Ben Huh, the CEO of Cheezburger, wrote a powerful post about his struggle with depression titled When Death Feels Like A Good Option. And I’ve had many conversations with other entrepreneurs about my, and their, struggle with depression.

For some reason we’ve embraced failure as an entrepreneurial trait that is ok, but we still struggle with acknowledging and talking about depression. Entrepreneurs function with a wide range of stresses and emotions that often have overwhelming intensity. In many cases, we are afraid of admitting depression, and are often highly functional when we are depressed. But that doesn’t deny the fact that entrepreneurs get depressed. To deny this, is to deny reality, and that’s against my value system.

I just went back and read what we wrote in Startup Life about depression and it made me smile. I’m really proud of the work that Amy and I did on that book – I think it is the best book I’ve been involved in writing (Venture Deals, which I wrote with Jason Mendelson, is a close second) and I’m hopeful that it has a lot of impact and value for entrepreneurs and their partners.

Just writing all of this makes me feel better. Thanks for listening. Time to get on the plane and go to Lexington.

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Oct 30 2012

Looking For A Design HackStar for Startup Revolution

I’m starting to integrate a bunch of new stuff into the Startup Revolution site now that I’ve finished book #2: Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.

I’m looking for someone with web design chops who has experience with WordPress to work with me on some stuff. I’m using the TechStars HackStar model – I’ll pay a modest amount of money for a full-time or part-time and will plug you in aggressively to the TechStars and Foundry Group portfolio after three months if your work is awesome.

If you are interested, send me an email along with links to examples of what you’ve done. You don’t have to be in Boulder, but it’s an advantage if you are in or near one of Boulder, Boston, New York, Seattle, or San Antonio as it makes it easy to plug you into the network.

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Oct 29 2012

Changing How We Think About Education

On Friday I spent three hours at Tufts University meeting with Chris Rogers and a few of his colleagues at the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.  We had an awesome, wide ranging conversation about what they are doing, how the accelerator model could apply, and how education, especially around engineering and computer science needs to radically change, as well as some concrete suggestions about how to change it. I also got a tour of the research lab which had an enormous number of legos everywhere as one of their key sponsors is Lego.

James Barlow, the Director of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program for The Gordon Institute at the Tufts School of Engineering was also in the meeting. He was as awesome as Chris and was able to speak from experience around a lot of accelerator activities, especially in Europe.

Yesterday, he emailed me a brilliant RSA Animate talk by Sir Ken Robinson on Changing Education Paradigms. I just watched it and found myself nodding my head up and down for most of the 11 minutes it took to watch the video.

I encourage you to invest 11 minutes of your life and watch it right now if you are interested in getting an insight into why much of our current approach to education is broken (the “why”) along with some of how it can be fixed (“the what”).

I believe strongly that accelerator programs like TechStars have become a very effective “education program” for entrepreneurs. While we’ve figured out pieces of it, we are now taking it up a level by trying to figure out the longer term arc around multi-year programs, along with additional programs linked to entrepreneurship, but not necessarily for entrepreneurs, such as Boston Startup School. Academic accelerators, like the one that MIT ran this summer called the MIT Founders Skills Accelerator, are introducing and experimenting with this in an academic setting. Finally, my friends at Startup Weekend are working on something called SW Next that they’ll be rolling out soon – we talked about it extensively at our board meeting ten days ago.

When we look back in 40 years, I expect another dramatic impact of the Internet and the web will be a massive shift in the way education is packaged and delivered. And that’s a good thing.

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Oct 28 2012

Standing Ovation Before The Speaker Begins

A few weeks ago at Thinc Iowa I noticed the tradition they had of giving a standing ovation to the speaker when the speaker took the stage. I had never seen that before and thought it was awesome. Speakers also got a standing ovation after their talk. As someone who does a lot of public talks, the first sixty seconds of warming up a room are often awkward (even if well executed) and the standing ovation at the beginning eliminated all of this for me.

I just spent an awesome day at the EO Entrepreneurs Masters Program 20th Anniversary. This program started out as Birthing of Giants 20 years ago and had a profound impact on me when I was 25 years old and running Feld Technologies. We were 12 people at the time and were just at the $1 million annual revenue minimum for applying. It was the first time I had really found my peer group and it helped me understand the value of peers and mentoring at a very young age. It also resulted in me getting involved in Young Entrepreneurs Organization, starting the Boston and Colorado chapters, and serving on the YEO board for several years. As icing on the cake, I met Verne Harnish, who became a good friend, was the only person I knew when Amy and I moved to Boulder, and has continued to have an amazing impact on a huge number of entrepreneurs over the 20 years since I first met him.

I was on a panel with a few of my colleagues from that first Birthing of Giants class that graduated in 1992. The room was full of warmth and there was no awkwardness, plus I was the last person on the panel to talk. Our assignment from Verne was to discuss several profound life moments and try to work the notion of “a billion” into the examples as one of the themes of this year’s class was “a billion.” The audience of 500 was engaged for our entire panel (which is a big deal for anyone who has ever sat on a panel as they can be soul crushing experiences to sit and watch people disconnect in the audience – well – reconnect with their iPhones – while disconnecting from the panel.

We got a standing ovation and the end which caused me to flash back to the Thinc Iowa event and made me wonder why the tradition of giving a standing ovation at the beginning hasn’t taken off. I hope Eric Norlin incorporates it for Defrag and Blur – it so changes the ton of the transition from speaker to speaker in a powerful and positive way.

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Oct 27 2012

Play Offense When Predicting Revenue

I got an email today from an exec at a company who I was with at a recent board meeting. I thought it was a powerful summary of part of our discussion, specifically around the sales pipeline for Q4 and overall sales execution. I’ve been in something like 91,293 pipeline reviews in my life and it continues to baffle me that experienced sales execs manage to snow the CEO and the board with “probability weighted sales pipeline.” I hung in there in this case and continued to make my point about playing offense on sales forecasting.

Rather than trying to summarize it, I got permission to just reprint the email. It follows.

One of the larger take aways for me was your insight on our attitude towards how we were predicting revenue. Prior to our meeting, we thought we were doing a good job of predicting revenue. We are working on 10 deals and we explained to you that we thought that 75% of these deals would close within the next 60 days or so.

You asked specifically, “which of those deals would close?”

Our answer, was “we feel confident that each of these deals has a 75% chance of closing”.

You pushed us and asked “which of these 10 deals has a 100% chance of closing?”

Our exec team looked at each other in silence.

We were hard pressed to answer that specific question. We couldn’t answer that question.

The takeaway for me was that we need to take the offense when it comes to predicting revenue. We need to change our mentality from Defense to Offense.

Defense was: Us allowing FATE to play a large factor in whether or not a deal closed. We accepted the fact that 75% of these deals will close, but couldn’t point to WHICH 75%. We were in “wait and see” mode and allowing fate to decide our monthly revenue.

Offense is: We feel good about these 5 specific companies signing and we are going to commit to them closing as a sales team and a company. We are going to keep on top of them, be proactive, and make sure they close. Fate will have VERY LITTLE to do with whether these deals close or not.

It is a subtle adjustment, almost semantic, but one that will make a very large difference in how we act, how we talk, how we think, and ultimately how much revenue we book.

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Oct 25 2012

Dealing With Business Cards

Update: Cards@fullcontact.com is no longer available as FullContact has integrated this into all of their consumer applications. The simplest approach to doing this is now FullContact CardReader.

There are some things I wish would just go away forever. Business cards are one of those things. I stopped carrying them several years ago and simply give people my email address (brad@feld.com) as my primary contact data. But at the end of every day I have a handful of cards to deal with. Sometimes it is one or two; often it is a big pile.

Yesterday I was at the Xconomy Big Data Conference in Boston. I was the lead off keynote speaker so I decided to spend my 30 minutes doing a rant on Big Data that I started off with the line “Big Data is Bullshit.” It was fun for me and I hope useful for the 500 people in the audience.

I ended up with 20+ business cards from people who I talked to in between sessions. During the afternoon, I took a photo of each of them with my iPhone, emailed the photo to cards@fullcontact.com, and then tossed the card in the trash. I now have a photo of my card on my iPhone and due to the magic of the FullContact CardShark API the data was automagically turned into a vCard and a Google contact. I got emails back with each card, clicked one button on the email, and voila the contact data was in my Gmail Contacts data.

My friends at FullContact talk about how they do this in their post If Only CardMunch Were An API… Oh Yes We Did!. When CardMunch first came out I was a happy user. I struggled some with quality, but put up with it because it was better than the alternative. I stopped using it about six months ago due to reliability and the overly tight integration with LinkedIn at the exclusion of other approaches.

@mattdelliott and @travis_todd created a replacement for me (and for you) at HackDenver in 6 hours of codings. Literally all you do as an end user is:

  • Take a photo of a business card (two photos if it’s a two sided card)
  • Email the image(s) to cards@fullcontact.com
  • Wait a few minutes for the reply email

Boom.

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Oct 24 2012

Detroit Free Press Marathon

Marathon #23 is complete. On Sunday, I finished the Detroit Marathon in 4:41:39. The two smiling faces next to me in the picture are Matt Shobe, who I’ve now done three marathons with, and my running coach Gary Ditsch. They ran with me in Detroit and it was super helpful to have them.

The most exciting thing for me about the Detroit Marathon was that my partner Jason Mendelson completed his first marathon! The whole notion of this is pretty awesome as Jason had major hip surgery eighteen months ago. It was brave of him to take on the training for this and powerful that he got it done.

We had a big party – Becky Cooper, Ryan McIntyre, and Jill Spruiel from Foundry Group also ran Detroit, as did Andrew Tschesnok of Organic Motion, my long time friend Warren Katz (this is his second marathon), and a few other friends.

The day was perfect for a marathon – sunny and cool. I had very low expectations for myself – my goal was simply to finish. I haven’t run much at all since my bike accident in Slovenia in early September and my ribs and left elbow still hurt a little. While I’d done a couple of 10 mile runs, I think I’d run a total of five times since I got back. So my goal was to rely on muscle memory and just get through 26.2 miles.

Matt, Gary, and I went out slow – doing a 2:26 pace for the first half. We were probably on a 2:30 pace through 10 but then picked it up a little after we got through the mile long tunnel that connects Canada and the US. One of the interesting features of the marathon is that miles 4 through 7 are in Windsor Canada – you head from Detroit to Canada over the Ambassador Bridge and then come back to Detroit via the tunnel between the two cities. As a bonus, I learned that South Detroit is actually Windsor, although my guess is that the people of Windsor refer to Detroit as North Windsor.

I turned my left ankle heading into the tunnel and was nervous for about a half a mile but it was fine. I was also claustrophobic in the tunnel – I really hate running in enclosed spaces for any length of time. But we started to cruise once we got back on America soil.

I did the second half in 2:15:13 – another solid negative split.We had been using an 8:2 run:walk pattern up to about 20 and then shifted to 9:1 for the balance. There was a point were I thought we had 4:39 in our sites but we just couldn’t quite make up enough time. But given that my goal was to finish, it was very satisfying to turn in another sub 4:45 marathon.

I had a blast in Detroit from Friday until I left on Tuesday. I spent all day Monday with entrepreneurs and the activity in the core of Detroit around the emerging Detroit Startup Community is really exciting. Look for a longer post on Startup Revolution from me in the next few days about my thoughts on what’s going on there.

If you see Jason this week, give him a high five for his amazing achievement.

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Oct 23 2012

Announcing a Free Startup Communities Online Workshop From Cojourneo

When I wrote Startup Communities, my mission was to provide a framework for building a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in any city in the world. I am excited to announce that I have partnered with Cojourneo to take this mission to the next level by launching a free online workshop for Startup Communities.

By participating in this workshop, you’ll receive exclusive videos I created that expand on the content in the book. You’ll also be able to interact with me directly via “Office Hours” and “Ask the Guide.” Even more importantly, you’ll actually begin the process of building startup communities by connecting and collaborating with fellow entrepreneurs near you and taking steps together towards making this book a reality in your city.

I’m very excited about this partnership with Cojourneo. Their mission, ”help people to help people,” is at the heart of this book and what entrepreneurship is really about. So, if you’re interested in building (or growing) a startup community in your city, I encourage you to register today for the workshop before it fills up.

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Oct 22 2012

Colorado – Entrepreneurial By Nature

Some time ago a group of entrepreneurs including my partner Seth Levine came together to talk about how to promote entrepreneurship in Colorado and celebrate the fact that entrepreneurship has become a huge part of the Colorado business ecosystem. The result of that discussion was Colorado Entrepreneurial By Nature – a grass roots branding campaign whose goal is to get Colorado entrepreneurs to rally around their shared love of our state and our entrepreneurial culture.

Colorado – Entrepreneurial by Nature is officially launching today in conjunction with Denver Startup Week. I’m awesomely proud of both efforts – they are great examples of how a Startup Community can be led by entrepreneurs. Both efforts are grass roots, totally network based, and driven by entrepreneurs. Denver Startup Week looks completely awesome – the schedule of events is just tremendous.

Go get the badge and fly it proudly on your site if you are a Colorado entrepreneur!

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Oct 21 2012

The Disorganized Mess of Shipping

Amy and I shipped the final draft of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur yesterday. “If you are interested in this book, go pre-order it now on Amazon to help our pre-order numbers“, said Brad the Book Salesman.

The backlog of things on my to do list is at an all time high. I’m normally super responsive to everything and have zero backlog. That is not the case right now.

The only thing in front of me for the next seven hours is the Detroit Marathon which I’m going to go suit up for after I finish writing this blog post. I don’t expect this to be a pretty marathon – I haven’t been running very much, or consistently, since my bike accident six weeks ago, but I’m running to support my partner Jason Mendelson who, along with Jill Spruiell and Becky Cooper from Foundry Group, are running their first marathon. Our partner Ryan McIntyre is also running today, along with Andrew Tschesnok of Organic Motion. I think it’s pretty cool that 36% of Foundry Group is running this marathon.

While my backlog is huge, I’ve been focused on making sure I’m responsive to all the top order stuff. In my hierarchy this is Amy, my partners, the CEOs of companies I’m an investor in, anyone else who works for a company we are investors in, and our LPs. That’s it – everything else is in “the next bucket.” I’ve gotten plenty done outside of this, but all my excess available time over the last thirty days has been allocated to shipping this book. If you check with Kelly and ask about my schedule, she’ll suppress a laugh as she tries to fit you in somewhere.

Every time I ship something I have new respect for all the entrepreneurs and people who work for the companies we are investors in. I’ve had a lot of time (almost 30 years) to work on my “prioritization algorithm” and feel like I’ve got it well tuned. I’ve always had a continual overcommit problem – where I take on slightly too much and then have to back off on some optional stuff – and this cycle repeats itself regularly in my life. However, when you commit to shipping something, like a book, you have a deadline and suddenly have to execute against it. The high order priorities come into clearer focus. The separation between them, and everything else, become crisp. When I’m sitting in a hotel room at 11pm after a day that started at 5am, I no longer am thinking that I’m going to get through all of my email. Instead, I’m learning the brilliance of using Google Circles to search my inbox for circle:”foundry ents” label:inbox and make sure I get all of those done before I go to sleep.

While I’ve got a ton of other things I want to get to that are interesting and relevant to me, none of them are either timely or important, at least to me. I realize they are timely and important to the person on the other end so I’ll eventually get to them, but the prioritization filter gets tight and the first constraint to enforce is timeliness. I try not to spend any time on stuff I don’t think is useful. As Amy likes to tell me “I’ll be the judge of that” – and I am the judge of what I want to spend my time on, and I’m sure I get this wrong some of the time.  If you aren’t in the “inner circles” (yes – Google really got this right) then you have to wait. I’ll eventually get to it, but it won’t be first.

Everyone I know talks about how busy they are. And I’m sure they are. But if you haven’t shipped a product lately, I encourage you to configure something you are working on to look like a product that you are shipping. If you don’t have an external deadline, give yourself one. When you are working on something that has to ship in two weeks, you realize how much stuff is trying to get your attention that isn’t a priority, or even relevant to your mission on this planet. It’s a good way to remember how to prioritize. And it’s an excellent reminder to me about the pressure the people I invest in are under who continually ship products.

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