Month: October 2012

Oct 6 2012

If You Can’t Explain What You Do In A Paragraph, You’ve Got A Problem

Here’s an email exchange that I had in the past 24 hours with an entrepreneur. Remember, I try to answer all of my emails and be responsive to any inquiry – this was a random one (which I get between 25 and 100 a day).

Entrepreneur: I just wanted to touch base with you and see if you are taking on new startups right now.

Me: Can you send me a paragraph and I’ll tell you if it’s something we’d be interested in. Everyone else to bcc:

Entrepreneur: It’s difficult to accurately describe the company, myself, and everything else in a single paragraph. To write something so small but somehow include every important aspect is near impossible, if not impossible. My company is too complex to be described in a single paragraph. 

I responded politely that I didn’t think this was something I’d be interested in exploring. I did skim his longer description and took a look at the website (which was a landing page with some a vague description of the business.) I could determine from this that it’s not something we’d be interested in (it’s outside of our themes) but this entrepreneur also missed his chance to engage me more deeply since he couldn’t articulate what he was doing.

I was in Oklahoma City earlier this week with the entrepreneurs at the Blueprint for Business accelerator (it’s a member of the Global Accelerator Network). There were five companies there and in addition to the various talks I did around Startup Communities I stayed at BP4B until about 10pm doing 15 minute meetings with each of the teams. I did my typical 15 minute “top of mind drill” where I start by saying “tell me about yourself as quickly as you can and then let’s spend most of the time talking about whatever is on the top of your mind.” Several of the teams explained themselves in a minute or less and then had 14 minutes to ask me questions; several of the teams took five to ten minutes to explain themselves leaving less time for questions.

I strongly believe that a founder should be able to explain what they do in one paragraph. I’m not a believer in the “one sentence mashup approach” (e.g. we are like pinterest + groupon + facebook for dogs). Rather, I like three sentences: (1) what we do, (2) who we do it to, and (3) why you should care. Sometimes this can be two sentences; sometimes four, but never more than a paragraph.

Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes with one of the teams in TechStars Seattle that I’m a lead mentor for. They are a month away from Demo Day and wanted to practice the very rough version of the demo day presentation. I gave them a bunch of feedback – some specific, some general, including:

  • Show don’t tell
  • I hate doing the overview / bios at the beginning
  • You wasted the first 60 seconds
  • Weak explanation of what you are actually doing and why I care
  • Still don’t really know what you do

If you are an entrepreneur, you have less than 60 seconds to get an investors attention. Don’t waste it.

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Oct 4 2012

The Companies in the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure Program

I’ve written before about the Kinect Accelerator and Microsoft Accelerator. On Monday, the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure companies were announced. The program begins this week and ends in mid-January. Since the program is powered by TechStars, it’ll follow the standard TechStars timeline, finishing up with a demo day at the end of the program.

This is a global class. The companies included in this group hail from from Australia, Germany, San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles to join the program in Seattle. I’m psyched to see what these companies build for and on top of Microsoft Azure.

Meet the ten Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure companies that made the cut:

               
               
     

Follow the program on Twitter: @bizspark and @windowsazure.

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Oct 4 2012

Book: The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time

Verne Harnish‘s new book, The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time, is out. I’ve read the excerpt up on Fortune and I’m looking forward to reading the entire book this weekend. The short description follows:

The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time – with a Foreword by Jim Collins — is Verne Harnish’s latest book.  Author of the ever popular Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne along with some of the top writers and editors at Fortune magazine, share the inside story on 18 of the most unconventional decisions ever made in business – decisions that not only changed companies, but changed industries and even nations.   Endorsed by several top CEOs and biz authors, these decisions should spark important ideas to transform your own companies and industries.  If you want a sample, download a free chapter (GE’s key decision) and read Verne’s six page Introduction.   

I’ve known Verne since 1990. A little known fact about us is that he was the only person I knew in Boulder when Amy and I moved here in 1995 (he moved to the east coast within the next year.) While we don’t spend a ton of time together these days, I have enormous respect for him as a thinker, scholar, and teacher around entrepreneurship. His company Gazelles has long been involved in helping numerous high growth companies in all aspects of their growth.

I first met Verne at the first Birthing of Giants program in 1990. I noticed an advertisement for it in Inc. Magazine. At the time I was president of Feld Technologies, my first company. We were 12 people and slightly more than $1 million in revenue. The advertisement spoke to me and I applied. I was accepted and a few months later had one of the most incredible weekends of my life with about 60 of my peers hanging out at the MIT Endicott House. It was the first time I discovered my peer group and it led to a long-term involved in Young Entrepreneurs Organization (where I founded the Boston and Colorado chapters) and planted deep seeds for my understanding of the power of mentorship.

I’ve been a huge fan of Verne’s since the day I met him in 1990. Many other amazing people were at that first Birthing of Giants event, including Ted Leonsis, Martin Babinec, and Keith Alper. I’m participating in a reunion in October in Boston – I’m very much looking forward to it. In the mean time, I’m going to reward myself for getting the publisher’s draft of Startup Life done this weekend by laying on the couch and reading Verne’s new book.

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Oct 3 2012

One Touch Conferencing Calling From Your Mobile Phone

I’m super impressed with the progress MobileDay has made in the past six months. We are a seed investor in the company whose goal is to fix conferencing calling. Their approach is “one touch into any conference call from any conference call provider.”

The current MobileDay iPhone app is excellent – I use it multiple times a day. If you make any conference calls, give it a try and tell me what you think and what we can do better.

Also, take a look at their new one minute overview of the product and give me feedback on whether it makes sense and what they can do better.

MobileDay – Never Dial Into Conference Calls Again. from MobileDay on Vimeo.

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Oct 3 2012

Q3 Performance That Blew My Mind

Last night I got an email with a Q3 sales update from a company I’m an investor in for a while. They consistently meet or beat their plan and are an extremely well managed business. Their plan for Q3 was aggressive in my book (and they’ve managed their costs to a lower outcome) had an expectation for what they would come in at based on data from as recently as last week. I knew what they thought the upside case was and didn’t believe it so my brain had locked in on a number slightly below or around plan.

I’ve found that the Q3 number is often the hardest to make when you budget on an annual basis – Q1 is easy since you have a lot of visibility, Q2 is harder, but doesn’t have as much growth built in as Q3, then you have a heavier growth quarter with the summer doldrums (Q3) followed by the insanity that is Q4 in the annual cycle. So I usually view Q3 as “hard to beat; challenging to make.”

This company destroyed their number. They beat plan and came in at the upside case. They ran the table on new business. It was awesome to see. And it blew my mind, in a pleasant way, as this is a humble company that doesn’t overstate where it’s going.

As we enter Q4, I systematically look at the performance of every company I’m involved in for two reasons. First, I want to make sure I understand the real trajectory as they exit the year as Q4 is often an outlier, usually to the upside, as a result of end of year purchasing. I also rarely pay much attention anymore to Q4 plans as they are almost always obsolete and instead focus on the cost / burn dynamic in Q4.

It’s harder to calibrate in cases like this when a company far exceeds their Q3 plan. It’s equally hard in the other direction when a company misses their Q3 plan. And it’s really challenging when there is a big step up for Q4’s plan when you start going into the 2013 planning cycle.

I’m curious how y’all approach this, both entrepreneurs when they are thinking about their own planning as well as investors / board members when they are reacting to the early data from Q3 and thinking about Q4 and 2013.

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Oct 2 2012

Startup Weekend Edu in Boulder (10/5 – 10/7)

I’ve been involved in Startup Weekend events since Andrew Hyde held his first event in Boulder in 2007.  As you know I’ve recently joined the board and have enjoyed watching the organization flourish.  One interesting development is the growth of industry-focused events and it’s especially exciting to see Entrepreneurs and Educators collaborating Education-focused Startup Weekends.  A team of organizers in Boulder has put together a Startup Weekend Edu for next weekend (October 5th-7th) in Boulder and I’d love to see the tech community come out in support of entrepreneurship that focuses on making the lives of students, teachers, parents, and administrators better.

The judge panel is pretty impressive. Glenn Moses (Denver blended learning guru) and Dan Domagala (CIO for the Colorado Department of Ed) both signed on as judges, and Congressman Jared Polis will be joining SWedu-ers on Sunday morning. They need a few more sponsors for meals and have plenty of room for attendees. Please forward this out to your network and, if you haven’t confirmed your attendance, please do that now!

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Oct 1 2012

The Founders – Season Three

One of my favorite web tv shows – The Founders – is back. Episode 1 of Season 3 – Cave Explorer – is up. We’ll follow three of the TechStars Boulder 2012 companies through the program – Birdbox, Roximity, and Ubooly. Time to fall in love with the start of startups again.

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Oct 1 2012

Defrag Version 6 – Early Bird Registration Special

In approximately seven weeks, Defrag will be happening again. It’s the sixth incarnation of Defrag, and over time it seems to have become an annual Fall rite of passage.

This year’s Defrag is no different: an intimate gathering and great conversations. Speakers like Kevin Kelly (founder of Wired Magazine), Jeff Ma (inspiration for the movie, “21”), Bre Pettis (of Makerbot), and many, many others. Topics like mobile development, identity management, social business, big data, and APIs.

One key difference with this year’s Defrag, though, is the addition of Blur. Defrag and Blur will overlap for half a day. This means that in three days time, you can get the experience of Defrag, and then stick around for robots, 3D printing and all kinds of cool HCI stuff at Blur. Two shows in three days in one place. (Note: we’ll also be having the Boulder is for Robots meeting at Blur, and opening up some “hacking space” to build stuff.)

In short, you should plan to be at Defrag and Blur (November 14-16). Early Bird registration expires this Friday, and “brad12” takes an additional 10% off. See you there!

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Oct 1 2012

50% Off Sale on Startup Communities Online at Barnes & Noble

For the next two days (until the end of the day on 10/2/12) BarnesandNoble.com is having a 50% off sale on Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.

My understanding is that this ($13.47) is the lowest price the physical book will ever be available for. If you’ve been tempted to buy the book but have been holding off for some reason, go grab it now. I’ve been told that they aren’t limiting quantities so grab a few for other members of your Startup Community.

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