Month: December 2012

Dec 31 2012

Book: Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5)

Wool Omnibus EditionI received a bunch of great scifi suggestions from my post The Best Science Fiction Books of All Time. One of them was Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) which I gobbled down the past two days. The writer, Hugh Howey, has an inspirational arc which, if I ever get into writing scifi, I hope I follow.

I love post-apocalyptical Earth stories that just dump you into the middle, take off like a shot, and leave it to you to catch up as you slowly piece together what is going on. After a while, you get caught up to the current time and start trying to figure out how we got there. In the case of Wool, Howey stays one step ahead of you, feeding a little big of history a few pages before you need it, which gets you thinking down a new path for a while until just before you need a little more history, at which point he gives it to you.

After a hundred pages, I couldn’t put it down. We had friends staying over and I ended up on the couch, in a discussion, but sneaking pages when the conversation shifted away from me.

As I like to write no-spoiler book reviews, I loved the metaphor of the silo. If very effectively grounds the reality of the world that its citizens inhabit, while leaving open a series of horizontal questions about what the entirety of the world actually is. This doesn’t get answered in the first five books (which is what you get with the Omnibus edition) but the world does expand well beyond the silo.

I especially love the juxtaposition of politics (the mayor and the sheriff), IT, and mechanical in the arc of the story. Each of the three of these categories of people play critical roles and Hugh mines them extraordinarily well.

I’ve got book 6 and 7 on my Kindle. I’m going to read them after I read Rainbow’s End.

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Dec 30 2012

Ignore Trends and Predictions

This first appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Accelerator series last week under the title Don’t Believe the Hype.

Every year, at this time, I get a flurry of requests for my “predictions for 2013” or “exciting, hot, new trends for 2013 that I’m looking at.”

I respond with “I don’t care about trends and my only prediction is that one day I will die.”

This is usually not a particularly satisfying response to whomever sent me the request. One of two things happen: They either ignore my response and drop me from their prediction request list for whatever article they are writing. Alternatively, they press a little further, usually with something like “c’mon, you’re a venture capitalist — you must have an opinion about what is going to be hot next year.”

Actually, I don’t. I have never been a short term investor, and I don’t think entrepreneurs should be short term thinkers. Creating a company is really hard and it almost always takes a long time. Sure, there are occasional short term success stories — companies founded two years ago that get bought for $1 billion, but these are rarities. Black swans. Things you don’t see in nature and can’t count on.

So don’t. If you are an entrepreneur and following a trend, you are too late. You want to be creating the trend that other people are following. And then you need to work your butt off to stay ahead of them. Every single day. For a very long time. Through many product cycles and multiple trends.

As a VC, I feel exactly the same way. At Foundry Group, we have a set of well-defined themes. We believe there will be investment opportunities in these themes for the next ten to 20 years. We are constantly tuning the themes, learning from our investments, and exploring new themes. But these themes aren’t trends and we don’t predict anything around them, other than they are constructs in which we think great companies can be created and built.

So I don’t really care about the predictions for 2013. I don’t care about hot new trends. I don’t care that some people think the world is going to end on 12/21/12. I take a much longer view. And I encourage you to as well.

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Dec 29 2012

The Mess of a Second Edition Book

Venture Deals: 2nd EditionThe Second Edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist just started shipping. It’s new and improved, fixes a bunch of little mistakes that we listed on the Ask the VC site, and adds a chapter on Convertible Debt which builds on the posts on Ask the VC. I’m happy it’s out, but really annoyed by the mess that is created by the second edition.

Before I bash Amazon and the traditional publishing industry, I want to give Amazon some love. I bought a Kindle Paperwhite 3G a month ago. Every time a new Kindle comes out, I buy it. After struggling to like the Kindle Fire HD, which now sits dormant in my laptop bag, I am absolutely in love with the Kindle Paperwhite– it’s stunningly good for a high volume reader like me.

Ok – back to the mess of a second edition. Writing the second edition is pretty easy – you get the final Microsoft Word files from the publisher. I would have loved to fix the mistakes earlier in the ebook, but that wasn’t part of the process. So Jason and I just tossed up an Errata page on the website and pointed people at it when they found a new, or old, mistake. We wrote the new sections (the chapter on convertible debt and a few appendices), fixed some other stuff we felt could be improved, and sent it back in to the publisher.

Given the success that we’ve had in academic settings, where Venture Deals is now being used by over 100 undergraduate and graduated courses as a textbook, we also created a teaching guide. Jason and Brad Bernthal wrote this as a completely separate book which we expected would be published. Instead, it’s ends up being on Wiley’s Instructor Companion Site which I just spent 10 minutes trying to get a login for an failed (grrrr). In addition, we are now working on an Inkling edition version of it which is desynchronized from the release of the book – mostly due to miscommunication about what was required to create it.

The normal copy-edit production loop ensued that I’m now used to. Jason and Brad Bernthal submitted the teaching guide separately – the first pass of the copy-edit loop happened, but had more gear grinding as we struggled to understand what was actually going to be produced. We eventually figured it out and everyone ended up happy. Then we got the new cover designs since apparently a second edition gets a new cover design. We are going to put this into the Startup Revolution series so it’s got the little Startup Revolution logo on it.

A few weeks ago I noticed that Amazon had Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist (2nd Edition) available for pre-order. I was perplexed that it was an entirely new page on Amazon with a different ISDN number. None of the 123 reviews moved over with it and the work we put into the page for the first edition was gone. I checked with Wiley on this and quickly found out that Amazon considers 2nd Editions to be completely new books.

So – here I sit on 12/29 with a new Amazon pages for the 2nd Edition in physical and Kindle form, excitingly with zero reviews on a book that has a 4.8 of 5.0 on 123 reviews, light weight Amazon pages, and no access or links to the Instructor Companion Site. Remember, writing these books is a hobby for me, not my full time role in the world, so when I see this I immediately think “there must be a better way.”

In this case, I’m perplexed by Amazon. It seems like they should be focused on making this stuff awesome from a user perspective and and author perspective. Even if there is a new ISBN number, wouldn’t it be so much better to have Venture Deals all connected together, with all the history, made beautiful and awesome for everyone involved? Who cares that the traditional publishing industry has a new ISBN number for 2nd Editions – end users don’t really care about this. And authors who want to spend all of their time writing and as little time as possible fighting with this crap must want to blow their brains out when this happens.

Fortunately, all of this amuses me. I enjoy the people at Wiley I work with – they are working their butts off on many different fronts to be successful. They are dealing with a complex environment that is changing quickly on them. And they are working as hard as they can to stay relevant in this environment. I respect them a lot for this. But it’s still a completely mess.

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Dec 28 2012

Will 2013 Be Harder For Startups Than 2012?

tl;dr: Fuck, I don’t know. I’m not in the prediction business. But plan for it. And behave accordingly.

A lot of people have been talking about how 2013 will be harder for startups and fast growing companies. Tiresome things like the endless discussion about the Series A crunch, more conservative behavior from VCs due to the performance of Facebook, Groupon, and Zynga in the public market, and overall concerns about the economy dominate. Counterarguments prevail as different people try to predict and justify what’s going to happen.

All I know is that I have no idea what is going to happen. The macro is exogenous to me – I can’t impact or control it. So rather than try to predict what is going to happen, I’m going to assume a tougher 2013 for startups until I have evidence that it’s not.

I sent Fred Wilson’s post Advice for 2013: Deliver On Your Promises out to our CEO email list. I felt like Fred’s punch line was powerful.

“So if I can give entrepreneurs a single piece of advice for 2013 it would be to deliver on your promises. Not just to your investors but also to your team and ultimately to yourself. This is no time to be in denial. That is a lethal attribute in times like these.

That generated a response on the email thread about actionable advice. So, I responded with two examples:

1. Recognize that your expense plan will be linked to your promises. Tighten the time frame – do what a lot of successful companies have done in the past. Rather than having an annual 2013 plan, have a 1H13 and 2H13 plan. Lag your headcount growth behind what you need by a quarter, running “hot” on all fronts as you try to get the growth you expect. Hire only when this growth materializes. Then, replan 2H13 and 1H14 at the end of 1H13.

2. Make sure you know exactly how much money your EXISTING investors have reserved for you and are willing to fund you in 2013 independent of any new outside investors. Don’t ever be in a position where you need a new outside investor to continue operating your business.

I’ve got a bunch of others, but I’m curious what you think. Operate under the hypothesis that 2013 will be harder for startups than 2012. What are you going to do different in 2013?

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Dec 26 2012

Christmas Isn’t Awesome For Everyone

This is a tough time of year for a lot of people. I used to be one of them. And I’ve gotten over it, and myself, which I attribute 100% to Amy helping me figure it out and not being willing to put up with my nonsense. But it’s a useful reminder for those who think it’s awesome for everyone.

While the Christmas and New Year’s holidays can be a restful, restorative, wonderful family time, it can be excruciating for those who are depressed. It can be oppressive rather than restorative to those who are exhausted and worn out from the year. And for those who feel pressure from being immersed in their family, or who feel unresolved tension in their relationships, it can be a nightmare.

My struggle with this time of year is simple – I never had Christmas as a kid. I’m Jewish and my parents didn’t embrace the “ok – we’ll pretend like Christmas isn’t supposed to be about Jesus being born” so we never celebrated it. I recall existing in this parallel universe, where all my friends had this crazy gift foreplay for the month of December, talking about what they were going to get, running around with the parents getting things for their friends, and planning for the main event. It culminated in gift orgies on December 25th, wrapping paper flying, and endless gifts piled up to be played with, inspected, eaten, and traded.

I attended a few of these gift orgies at the invitation of my friends. I always brought over a nice gift for my friend and his or her parents. I always got something – usually one thing that was generic (that everyone got), or a book, or sometimes a piece of clothing. Occasionally, out of last minute mercy, the mother of my friend would scrounge up whatever extras they had, put it in a leftover stocking, and give it to me.

As I got older, I got crankier about it. My first wife celebrated Christmas so we did it at her house, with her family. They were polite, but they never liked me very much, so the whole think was this awkward charade, which just made things worse. I refused to have a Christmas tree in my apartment, so my ex-wife and I fought every year around Christmas for the few years that we were together. And that sealed the deal for me – Christmas sucked.

I then went through the “why isn’t everyone working” phase of Christmas. I was resentful that everyone took two weeks off. C’mon – there’s work to be done! I’d grind through my work, being newly productive, cleaning up all the cruft I hadn’t gotten to, as everyone else partied and had fun.

I can’t remember what Amy and I did for Christmas for the first few years of our relationship, but after we moved to Boulder we started spending it with her family in Western Colorado. They were extremely nice to me and included me in everything they did, but I still felt like an alien in the midst of a strange human ritual. I recall spending hours huddled over a laptop trying to figure out the cheapest way to get a dial-in connection to check my email, even though no one was sending me email because it was Christmas.

At some point I just accepted that I was grumpy at this time of year. Disoriented. Confused. Sometimes a little depressed. Usually just bored. Amy put up with it, but kept nudging me to try different things.

A few years ago I finally turned a corner. We started spending the last two weeks of the year at our house in Keystone. We’d invite a variety of friends up for a few days. The only Christmas celebration we had was Jewish Christmas, where we went out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas eve. We’ve recently augmented that with sushi and a movie on Christmas day night. Instead of being grumpy, I just chill out. I enjoy hanging out with whomever comes to visit. I read a lot, sleep a lot, and catch up on a bunch of stuff – mostly writing – that I get behind on. And I get rested and ready for the year ahead.

It took me a very long time to figure this out. Maybe I’m slow when it comes to decoding Christmas, but I’ve got a bunch of friends who also struggle with this time of year. I watch from a distance as couples bundle up their kids, stick them on a plane, and make a painful, stress-filled visit to some distant city where one of them grew up. Or my single friends searching for something – anything – to do other than a trip to their parents. Or others, just defaulting into a trip to where they grew up, knowing it’s going to suck but feeling powerless to do anything about it.

It’s ok not to love Christmas. But that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable for the last two weeks of December every year. If you aren’t loving the game, change it.

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Dec 25 2012

Hope Is Critical To A Strategy

There has been a cliche going around the last decade or so that goes “hope is not a strategy.” It inspired a book titled Hope Is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale and is repeated often by VCs in boardrooms when they are confronted with companies that are flailing, especially when trying to reach their revenue goals. I’ve been guilty of saying it a few times although it always left a funny taste in my mouth and I didn’t know why until this morning when I read a great essay (unpublished at this point) by Dov Seidman, the the Founder and CEO of LRN. In it Dov has a great punch line.

“No doubt you’ve heard the old business cliché that hope is not a strategy.  During the recent presidential election one candidate in fact said this very thing in an attack ad against the other. It’s an expression usually used to belittle someone and to exhort them to deliver a linear plan.  And while they are right that hope is technically not a strategy, inspirational leaders understand one final thing:  that without hope there is no strategy. “

He is so absolutely correct.

I’m an optimistic, hopeful person. I think things will turn out ok. I don’t deny reality and I live by the words of John Galt when he said “It’s not that I don’t suffer, it’s that I know the unimportance of suffering.” I suffer plenty, I have plenty of things fail, and I’m sure I disappoint a lot of people. But I never give up hope, never give up trying to do better, and never give up learning from my mistakes.

We are coming to the end of a calendar year that has had a lot of crazy, bizarre, hostile, and negative stuff in it, especially in the past two months. I measure my years by my birthday, so my new year started on 12/1 when I booted up v47 of me. I was in pretty rough shape physically and emotionally because of the preceding few months but I was on the mend and optimistic. Other than struggling through a nasty cold (which is clearly linked to a completely trashed immune system from a pile of antibiotics and the past few months of system stress) I’ve had a great few weeks with Amy, some friends, and very little travel.

As I look forward to the next year, I have a clear strategy – both for my work, my personal life, and my health. A bunch of friends have said mildly cynical things like “you say that every year” or “I just read the annual ‘Brad broke himself” blog post” – mostly in an effort to be supportive, but clearly with the view that no matter what I try differently each year, the outcome will be the same and I’ll melt down somewhere in October or November.

Part of the beauty of an annual cycle is the opportunity to try again. To revisit your existing strategy or to create a new strategy. To shift your mindset from “this is inevitable” to “having hope for a different outcome.” Now – if you only have hope, but no strategy, you won’t make any progress. But if you have a strategy, but no hope, you are dooming yourself to failure before you begin.

So take advantage of this time of year. Do whatever you need to do to hit reset. Purge your brain of all the angry, negative, cynical, defeatist crap. Accept that context in which we are living. Then, create a new strategy for yourself – for work, for yourself personally, for your relationship, for whatever, and inject a good dose of hope into the mix.

Do something new. And be extraordinary at it. Remember Yoda – do or do not, there is not try.

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Dec 24 2012

Book: Ender’s Game

My post The Best Science Fiction Books of All Time from a few weeks ago got 100+ comments with some amazing suggestions. I’d read a bunch of them, but I discovered a lot of new things to read.

One that appeared over and over again that I hadn’t yet read was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I gobbled it down last night and this morning while trying to shake the holiday cold that decided to inhabit my body.

Awesome. It exceeded my expectations. As I got into it, I saw threads of lots of other writers, including Asimov and Heinlein, woven through the book. But Card took the story and made it his own, combining it with a classical coming of age story that reminded me of plenty that I read when I was a kid. He wasn’t bashful about mixing young with old, kind with brutal, human with non-human, with a dash of politician in the mix. If you’ve read Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games Trilogy you can see where a lot of her ideas came from.

I calibrate scifi with the date published. Ender’s Game was published in 1985 so the PC was already out in the world. Card did a good job with the computer tech, although there was still too much paper communication for critical things. His computer gaming / war simulation stuff was fascinating and well done, in a way that was very accessible to a reader of any age. And his space travel – like most science fiction – was fine, but still a fantasy for the human race in 2012.

I just downloaded Speaker for the Dead and expect I’ll get to it in a couple of days after I read Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, another often recommended book that for some reason has slipped through my fingers so far.

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Dec 23 2012

Maxims To Chew On From My Interview With 33voices

A month or so ago I did an interview with Moe Abdou of 33voices. I do a lot of interviews, but this one stood out to me as Moe did a great job of moving the conversation around and pulling some great stuff out of me.

Because it was a longish interview, Moe broke it into Part 1 and Part 2.

If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, Moe compiled some of the maxims and one-liners into a nice slide deck.

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Dec 22 2012

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Boulder Startup Community

David Cohen just put up The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Boulder Startup Community. It’s a short presentation that you can look at below and is a great way to get a lay of the land in the Boulder Startup Community.

This will be an organic document so if you are doing something that you want us to add, just leave a note in the comments and we’ll update the doc.

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Dec 21 2012

Angry, Hostile, and Bitter Is Not A Winning Strategy

We are sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas in a country that is recovering emotionally from two disasters named Sandy – one natural (Hurricane Sandy) and one man-made (Sandy Hook). Our politicians in Washington are playing a zero-sum game around the Fiscal Cliff. The CEO of the NRA just held a press conference and said “we should be able to afford to put a police officer in every school” and he called on Congress “to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school in this nation.”

I get 500 emails a day – sometimes more. Many of them are from people I don’t know looking for advice and funding – I try to respond to them all. Every single day at least one of them goes off the rails as a result of my simple and direct feedback, often that I’m not interested in what they are doing. Here’s an example from a few minutes ago.

well if you ever come across investors who give a fuck the business plan is there online, recently updated this morning.

I did clicked your link, it’s just internet plays, you can’t swing a cat without hitting an investor investing there. Like I said if that meant anything there would be no talks of a fiscal cliff. We been investing in the internet for decades and worst for it.

If you in a hole you stop digging but if you are an internet investor you invest in an app that digs a bigger hole.

Brad you live in the same country I do, so where ever you are on the socioeconomic ladder, you in the same fucking hole. Except you investing in shovels and telling me you an expert in that. Oy vey.

This was in response to me passing because the business was something outside software / Internet and I stated that it was outside my area of expertise and pointed the person at our themes.

If this was a once in a while thing I wouldn’t call it out. But it happens every single day. I suppose if I ignored all the random emails I got, this wouldn’t happen, but then I’d be “one of those VCs that isn’t responsive.”

Fortunately this is 1 out of 500. The vast majority of stuff I get from people I don’t know is positive. The ad hominem attacks I get – either from people I don’t know or people I try to be responsive are part of the drill. But every time I’m on the receiving end of one, I think to myself “that’s not a winning strategy.”

Everyone is allowed to feel how they want to feel. But recognize that if you are an entrepreneur, trying to create a business, raise money from investors, sell products to customers, and hire employees, that angry, hostile, and bitter is not a winning strategy. And – if it hasn’t been working for you, maybe try something different in 2013.

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