Month: February 2013

Feb 10 2013

Trust Can Scale

Following is a guest post from Chris Moody. Chris is president and COO of Gnip, one of the silent killers in our portfolio. Once the main stream tech press starts noticing Gnip, they will be blown away at how big they got in such a short period of time by just executing. Chris is a huge part of this – he joined Gnip when they were 10 people and has been instrumental in working with Jud Valeski, Gnip’s founder and CEO, to build a mind blowing team, business, and market leadership position.

Following is a great email Chris sent me Friday night in advance of the Foundry Group “Scaling Your Company Conference”  which we are having this week for CEOs of companies we are investors in that are on the path from 50 to 500 people.

Startups that experience success are typically built upon a strong foundation of trust among the early founders/employees. This trust has been solidified through long days/nights in small offices working on hard problems together.  The amazing thing is that the founders don’t always realize that their company is even operating under an umbrella of trust or that trust is one of their core values.  Instead, they just know that it feels easy to make decisions and to get shit done.

When companies try to scale, one of the biggest mistakes they make is trying to replace trust with process.  This is rarely a conscious decision, it just feels necessary to add new rules in order to grow.  After all, there are a lot of new people coming into the company and it isn’t clear who of the new people can be trusted yet.

A startup obviously needs to add process in order to scale, but if you replace trust with process, you’ll rip the heart right out of your company.   When adding processes, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this new process help us go faster?
  • Does this new process help us be more efficient?

If the answer to these questions is “yes” you are off to a great start.

Now ask yourself “Are we adding this process because we don’t trust people to make decisions?”  If the answer to this question even has a hint of “maybe” you need to stop and really consider the cost of that process.

Replacing trust with process is like a cancer that will spread quickly and silently throughout the company.  One day you’ll wake up and think “this place doesn’t feel special any more” or ask yourself “why is it so hard for us to get stuff done.”

Trust could be one of your most valuable company assets.  As a leader, you need to fight like hell to protect it.  If you are successful protecting trust, you’ll actually grow much faster and you’ll still have a place where people love working.

I’ve seen trust work at a 700 person company.  Trust can scale.

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Feb 9 2013

The Naked Entrepreneur Interviews

Sean Wise, a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, has an awesome web interview series called The Naked Entrepreneur Show. Sean is the interviewer for a 45 minute studio show that is entirely produced by students at Ryerson.

When I was in Toronto in the fall, I did an episode with him – it’s definitely in the top 10 of the interviews I’ve done.

David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars, also did an interview on The Naked Entrepreneur.

Enjoy. And it’s going to be fun to see what happens with the SEO on this.

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Feb 8 2013

The Winners Of The Startup Life Win A Dinner

Order me, email Brad, and maybe win dinner with Brad and AmyAs Amy and I sit in the sun at South Beach eating frozen grapes and waiting for the snowpocalypse to hit the east coast, we decided to pick the Startup Life Win a Dinner winners. There are two – one of Amazon orders and one for Barnes & Noble orders.

Five times as many people entered on Amazon, so the odds were better for the B&N folks. Except, one B&N person entered 10 times (by buying 10 books). The way we chose the winner was to count up entries, use Randomnumbergenerator to pick a random number between 1 and the number of entries, and then go to that entry in Gmail in the specific label we had tagged everything with.

The Amazon winner is Bill Soistmann and the B&N winner is Kristopher Chavez. Emails have gone out to them – we are arranging dinners.

Thanks to everyone who entered – we hope you are enjoying the book. And – if you like it, do me and Amy a favor and toss a review up on Amazon or B&N – every one of them helps!

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Feb 6 2013

A Problem With Gmail When The Machines Take Over

In general, I love Gmail. While Amy likes to complain to me about how ugly it is, I don’t even see the UI anymore as I just grind through the endless stream of email that I get each day. My biggest struggle is figuring out how to keep up, without the email ending up dominating everything I do. In the past year, this has gotten a lot harder, but I continue to try new things.

That's a lot of email young man

Fortunately, spam is almost non-existent for me. We invested in Postini, which Google ended up buying, and it’s been a joy to have flipped a switch almost a decade ago and had spam go from “overwhelming” to “almost nothing.”

Every now and then, I get a flurry of spam from a new attack before Gmail figures it out. Today was one of those days – I had about a dozen things that looked sort of eBay notification like but with Arabic characters. So I hit ! and marked them each as spam as I was going through my inbox. Suddenly, my inbox reloaded and I got the following message.

But but but it's me!

I expect that by the time I finish writing this post I’ll have access to my inbox again. But stuff like this makes me physically uncomfortable – my morning routine was just interrupted and the machines decided I don’t get to access my email for a while.

While plenty of folks complain about the ambiguity and lack of precision around many of the issues surrounding Google apps, and more specifically the general lack of support, I usually don’t worry about this much. However, in the last month I’ve had two issues that caused me to remember that I’m increasingly less in control and the machines are increasingly more in control. This is one of them; the other was that I noticed an incredible slow down of performance of Gmail – just for me. After a week of pressing on it, the response from Google enterprise tech support was “you have too many things hitting IMAP – disable all of them.” A quick look at my Google Dashboard showed around 100 different apps that I’d authorized to access my account. I cut it down to about 30 – and got rid of several that I knew were high traffic that I liked, such as the awesome new Mailbox app – and things sped up again after 24 hours.

I recognize that if as we hand over control to the machines, they will make mistakes. That’s ok. But it’s jarring when one doesn’t have control over it, even for a little while. And yes, my Gmail is back up.

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Feb 5 2013

What Is Your Inner Animal Spirit?

Big BearI asked Amy to send me a picture of my inner animal spirit. She won’t let me share hers, but that’s me on the left.

I’ve always felt like a bear. A big, cuddly, nice, soft bear. Mellow. I like to sleep. I like to eat. I wander around, a little curiously larger than comfortable in my slightly oversized body.

I’m really fucking ferocious when I’m mad. Which doesn’t happen very often (maybe once a year). Don’t poke the bear.

Amy and I discovered each other’s respective animal spirit early in our relationship. I remember talking about it over a meal about 22 years ago – it was shortly after we started going out. That night I learned about all of her favorite animals. Did you know that she loves rodents – rats, mice, capybara, guinea pigs, pika, and groundhogs. When I say “pika” out loud Amy responds “super cute super cute.” (she just did that). She likes marmots also.

I love bears. Brown bears. Black bears. Polar bears. Grizzly bears. Ghost bears. Kermode bears. I love everything bear.

Do you know your inner animal spirit? Your partner’s? If not, you should.

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Feb 4 2013

Investing in and Joining the Board of Rover.com

Brooks and KenaiWoof! We just announced Foundry Group’s investment in Rover.com this morning. We led a $7m financing in the leader in digital dog boarding that connects dog owners with approved, reviewed, and insured sitters. Rover.com is part of our marketplace theme, which now includes investments in SideTour and PivotDesk. I’m psyched to be joining the board, working with my good friend Greg Gottesman at Madrona on another Seattle-based company.

Two years ago we probably wouldn’t have considered Rover.com as it would have fallen outside our active themes. Marketplace is a good example of how our themes evolve. Seth and I worked together on ServiceMagic in the 1999 – 2004 time frame (IAC acquired it in 2004 for $180m) so we had a deep understanding of how a heavily metric-based buy/sell marketplace worked. However, at Foundry Group, we didn’t start paying attention to this theme again until we made a seed investment in SideTour coming out of the TechStars New York program. In this case, Seth had been SideTour’s mentor and we classified it as “other” as we sometimes make exceptions and invest in companies outside our themes when (a) we love the founders and (b) we are interested in what they are doing.

Last summer, Jason mentored the founders of PivotDesk as they went through TechStars Boulder. At the end of the summer, we decided to invest as well as categorize SideTour and PivotDesk together in the same theme, which we originally named RAM, after Ryan’s initials, which happened to be the same as the abbreviation for “remnant asset monetization”, the key element of each of these companies that we were interested in.

Specifically, we aren’t interested in investing in any two-sided marketplace. Instead, we are looking for ones that have a very clearly defined inefficiency around “remnant assets”, or assets that expire if not used in a timely fashion. We’re also looking for ones that have huge under-accessed supply or demand, where mobile and location have an immediate impact on utilization, and where existing transaction friction – either as a result of process or trust – exists.

Rover.com was the first of over 100 companies we’ve seen in the last three months that fit these criteria. As a bonus, we loved the entrepreneurs and the domain, as three of the four of us are dog lovers (Jason, sadly, goes for cats, but we have Cheezburger for that.) Furthermore, it’s our fifth investment in Seattle, joining SEOmoz, Cheezburger, BigDoor, and Gist (now part of RIM). And it’s got two linkages to Startup Weekend (where I’m a board member) – they are both Seattle-based and Rover.com was conceived at a Startup Weekend.

I’m psyched to be an investor. And, every time I get in my Range Rover, I’ll think of Aaron. Especially when I’m with my golden retriever Brooks.

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Feb 1 2013

Startup Life Book Trailer

Simplifilm created a one minute book trailer for Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. Based on feedback from the last trailer for Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, I did the voice over this time.

Take a look and tell me what you think. And, don’t forget to enter the Startup Life – Operation Win A Dinner With Us – it’s still going on until Saturday 2/2/13 @ 11:59pm EDT.

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Feb 1 2013

TechStars Chicago Applications Are Now Open

TechStars Chicago applications are now open. Apply now.

Huh? What? You didn’t know there was a TechStars Chicago? There is now.

Techstars Chicago

Last night I was in Chicago at 1871, the amazing 50,000 square foot co-working space in the Chicago Merchandise Mart that has become the convening spot for the digital economy in Chicago and the home of Excelerate Labs. It was the mentor kickoff night for the fourth year of Excelerate Labs and I was delighted to be able to announce that Excelerate Labs and TechStars are joining forces to create and run TechStars Chicago.

Excelerate Labs is a three year old, high-quality accelerator in Chicago managed by Troy Henikoff (SurePayroll) and Sam Yagan (OkCupid, SparkNotes, Match.com) as well as Sandbox Industries’ Nick Rosa and New World Ventures’ Adam Koopersmith. In its first three years, it has already earned a place among the very best accelerators in the nation. Its first three classes of thirty portfolio companies have raised more than a combined $30M and I had the distinct honor of keynoting at their Demo Day last August.

Our relationship with Troy, Sam, and team started when Troy came to TechStars Demo Day in Boulder in 2009. Next Big Sound had gone through TechStars and Troy was a seed investor. He spent a bunch of time with me and David and suggested we start a TechStars Chicago. At the time, we weren’t ready to scale TechStars beyond Boulder, as we were obsessively focused at the time on getting things right and really working in Boulder before we tried to do a TechStars in another city. But we encouraged Troy and Sam to do their own Chicago accelerator, which became Excelerate Labs. David was a formal advisor, we both were mentors, and Troy and Sam did an outstanding job of picking our brains as they created Excelerate.

I remember showing up on one of the first days of the Excelerate program to do a mentor talk and Sam said “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing but this is going to be awesome!” It turned out he did, and it was, and Excelerate quickly became one of the best accelerators in the world.

Last fall when I was in Chicago for the Startup America Partnership regional meeting, I had lunch with Troy and asked him if he’d consider joining forces with us. Up to this point, we hadn’t expanded into a new city with another program – the TechStars programs in Boston, Seattle, and New York were created from scratch. And our vertical and powered by programs – Cloud (in San Antonio with Rackspace), Microsoft Accelerator (in Seattle with Microsoft) and Nike Accelerator (in Portland with Nike) were also started from scratch. We wanted to explore expanding by partnering with existing accelerators and based on the relationships, superb quality of Excelerate, and amazing Chicago startup community, we felt like Chicago was at the top of the list for doing this.

Fortunately, Troy, Sam, Nick, and Adam agreed and a few months later we are psyched to launch TechStars Chicago and welcome them to the TechStars family. Excelerate Labs is now TechStars Chicago. Apply today.

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