Month: August 2013
A few weeks ago I did an event with Built In Denver where I interviewed Tim Miller and Ryan Martens, the founders of Rally Software, on their journey from a startup to a public company (NYSE: RALY). As part of the event – held at Mateo in Boulder – the gang from Built In Denver announced they were rebranding as Built In Colorado.
The attendance at the event was roughly 50% Boulder entrepreneurs and 50% Denver entrepreneurs.
The past two days the Colorado Innovation Network held it’s 2nd annual COIN Summit. As part of it, Governor Hickenlooper rolled out a new brand for all of Colorado, an effort led by Aaron Kennedy, the founder of Noodles & Co. The focus was on Colorado, not on Boulder, or Denver.
Powerful startup communities start at the neighborhood level. They then roll up to the city level. And then cities connect. Eventually it rolls up to the state level.
It’s a powerful bottom up phenomenon, not a top down situation. And inclusive of everyone. This is one of the key parts of my theory around Startup Communities.
Export the magic of the Boulder tech community to Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs by expanding New Tech Meetups, Open Coffee Clubs, and Community Office Hours to these cities.
When I look at what is happening in Denver, and the connective tissue between Boulder and Denver, I’m incredibly proud of what has been accomplished in less than two years on this front.
When I see questions on Quora like Should I start my start-up in Boulder or Denver? and then read the answers, my reaction is “poorly phrased question” and “wrong answer!” It’s not an either / or – the two cities are 30 minutes apart. They are both awesome places to start a company. It depends entirely on where you want to live – do you want a big city (Denver) or a little town (Boulder). If you choose Boulder, when you reach a certain size, you’ll end up with offices in both like Rally and SendGrid.
I’m psyched that Built in Denver is rebranding to Built in Colorado. I’m going to spend most of the week for Denver Startup Week in Denver, and CEOs and execs from most of our portfolio companies are converging on Denver in the middle of the week for a full day session together.
You’ll note that we have deliberately named things like The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) with “Colorado” in their name to be inclusive of all entrepreneurs in the state. And we we do things to celebrate the startup community, like The Entrepreneur’s Prom that EFCO and Cooley are putting on September 7th at the Boulder Theatre, we focus on the entire startup community.
Innovation and entrepreneurship is off the charts right now. Let’s make sure we work together to continue building a base for the next 20 years.
I’m spending the new two days filming the content for a MOOC on raising venture capital. The content is based on my book with Jason titled Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. After exploring a few different MOOCs for this, I think NovoED is the most interesting platform.
I’ve been impressed with the quality of the courses that currently exist. Several of my friends have done courses, including Chuck Eesley, a professor in Stanford University’s Management Science & Engineering group. Among other things, he’s got a great NovoEd course starting in a month titled Technology Entrepreneurship as well as a superb reading list for anyone interested in entrepreneurship.
Matt Blumberg finished filming the course around his book – Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business – a few weeks ago. I got a preview of a few segments – it’s excellent and exceeded my expectations for what NovoED was planning to do.
I’m looking forward to yet another experiment in content creation, this time around a MOOC. In addition to creating the content, I’ll be an active participant / teacher in the course when it comes out.
I’ve often talked about how I learn things by doing them. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m fascinated with what I perceive will be a radical transformation over the next decade in how education works. I’ve been participating in it already through experiments like Techstars, which has completely changed how I think about entrepreneurial education. Creating – and participating – in MOOCs in another step in my learning process as I form a view about what is really interesting here.
Join the Application Developers Alliance at a Boulder Developer Patent Summit August 28 at 6 PM at FUSE Coworking. The event is a chance to share stories of demand letters and lawsuits from trolls, discuss legal strategies and litigation costs, and share ideas for software patent reform.
DATE: August 28th | FREE | 6pm
LOCATION: The Riverside (FUSE Coworking) | 1724 Broadway | Boulder, CO 80302
6:00pm Welcome (registration, drinks, food, and mingling)
6:30-8:00pm Brief Presentation, Panel Discussion, and Q&A
8:00pm Enjoy food and drinks, meet the panel, and network
I can’t make angel investments in tech companies anymore because of my Foundry Group fund agreements. So I’ve been making angel investments in food companies. Justin’s Nut Butter, Rick’s Picks, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Quinn Popcorn are some recent examples. I figure if things don’t work out at least I can eat some of the inventory.
I ran into the guys from Barnana at an event in San Diego a few months ago. Matt and Nikk came up to me with a Box of Barnanas and said Brad we’re in the banana business, and we think you’ll like our banana snacks. They literally handed me a box of bananas, filled with these delicious organic banana snacks called Barnana. They have since vanished into my stomach. They are insanely good.
I’ve stayed in touch with Barnana guys as they have continued to grow into new channels and regions. They are now launching the Rocky Mountain region with Wholefoods and Natural Grocers Vitamin Cottage. More Barnanas for me.
Interestingly, a majority of the Barnana team is comprised of tech guys. It seems more and more people are entering the fast growing natural foods space from other high growth industries like tech. I asked Matt why he feels natural foods world is so appealing to techies.
“We are transitioning from a price based economy to a meaning based economy. Not only meaning for your customers, but meaning soup to nuts throughout the entire organization. The notion of meaning is supported across multiple verticals, from the maker revolution to local and organic foods, to the various kickstarter campaigns. It’s simple – people want meaning. And bananas.”
The Barnana guys passion for bananas is beyond belief, and their story is just as good. And – as a runner – I’d rather eat chocolate covered bananas as a snack instead of Hammer gels on a medium run.
As many of you know, mentoring women in startups and STEM careers is important to me, so I’m very pleased to be a part of the Startup Phenomenon: Women program, a one-day event in Macky Auditorium at CU-Boulder.
The speaking line-up for the day is really outstanding. It includes author Amanda Steinberg, founder and CEO of DailyWorth; Margaret Neale, management professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business; and Michele Weslander Quaid, chief technology officer (federal) and innovation evangelist at Google. If you’d like to see all the speakers scheduled, you can check out the website.
We’ll be covering topics of interest to entrepreneurs like startup financing, mentoring by and for women entrepreneurs, alternative business models and resources available for women-led businesses.
The conference is open to the public, and and a line-up like this doesn’t come along every day. Tickets start at $25 for students and $100 for the general public. I’m looking forward to an informative and inspiring day, and I hope you’ll consider attending.
I shipped off the publisher draft of Startup Boards last night. For those of you who haven’t written a book that means I’m in the home stretch “pre-production” – I’ll have the final draft done by 9/3 and it’ll be published by December.
This has been – by far – the hardest book I’ve written so far. If you like my writing and want to do me a solid, pre-order a copy of Startup Boards today. That’ll make me smile.
The book was originally planned to come out this summer. My co-author Mahendra Ramsinghani wrote a good first draft. We got together in Miami for a week in February to work on it together. I was pressing for an end of February deadline for the publisher draft. While we made progress that week, I knew I was struggling. And not just with the book – I was depressed but I hadn’t yet acknowledged it.
By the end of February I just didn’t care about the book. I didn’t want to work on it anymore. And I knew I was depressed and just struggling to get my normal work done. So I told Wiley (my publisher) that I was punting until the fall. We reset the schedule with the goal of having the book out by the end of the year.
Mahendra was patient with me. I didn’t pick the book back up until a month ago. I’ve been working on it since the beginning of August and I made a hard push over the weekend to get it out to the door.
Saturday was a grind. I finally hopped on my bike at the end of the day and rode out to our new house in Longmont and then wandered over to my partner Seth’s house (a mile away) for a party he was having. On Sunday morning I knew it was in good shape. I spent all day Sunday in front of my computer except for lunch with Amy. I gave myself until 5pm, at which point I was going for a run. I had a superb, book fueled 75 minute run, had some dinner, spent one more hour on what I was now referring to as “the fucking book” and then sent it off via email to Wiley.
Man – this one has been hard. I hope it’s helpful.
On Sunday, 8/11 Amy and I had dinner at Brasserie 1010 with our long time friends Bill Ritchie and Andrea Barthello. We’ve known Bill and Andrea since the mid-1990s – we met through Young Entrepreneurs Organization. Bill and Andrea have a super cool company called Thinkfun (it used to be called “Binary Arts” – a name I really loved) and are a great example of a husband and wife entrepreneurial team. Bill and I spent many hours working on the early YEO web site, back before anyone had web sites, and the four of us enjoyed lots of time together at YEO events in unexpected places like Barbados.
I remember dinner at their house near DC many years ago with their son Sam. He was young – I can’t remember his ago – but somewhere between 5 and 9. We had a lot of fun, and I had a lot of hair. Somehow I ended up with the nickname “Scary Man” which stuck for a little while.
Over the years we lost touch. Bill and I would connect on something every now and then, like in 2011 when his brother Dennis Ritchie died. But we hadn’t seen each other in at least a decade.
You know that moment when you see someone you haven’t seen in a long time and your brain floods with serotonin. The smile you have almost rips a hole in your face, your heart rate rises 20 BPM, and you just want to jump up and down and do a happy dance? That’s how I felt when Bill and Andrea walked into Brasserie 1010.
And then there was Sam. He was genetically undeniably the product of his parents. 25-ish. Crazy smart, articulate, fun, and totally engaging. He pretended to remember me.
We had a blast. They were here a week early to acclimate to the altitude since Sam was going to run the Leadville Trial 100. Stud. We talked about a lot of different things, but kept coming back to Leadville. Sam works at Twitter so we talked about that a little, and then we were back to talking about Leadville. And ultras. He was clearly excited, a little anxious, and trying to get his head into it.
Dinner ended with big hugs. We went to my office and I got a Fitbit One for Sam as I wanted to see what happened when it crossed over 100,000 steps in one day (the most I’ve done is 97,000). I gave Sam a copy of Venture Deals, which Dick Costolo (Twitter’s CEO) wrote the forward to. We hung out with Pat Minotaur and just kept talking, not really wanting the evening to end. Eventually we sent them on their way back to the hotel.
Sam ran the Leadville 100 last weekend. I just read his amazing post on the experience of running – and surviving – the Leadville Trail 100. It is mind blowing. It’s no surprise that Sam is a spectacular writer, but his journey on this ultramarathon was pretty awesome. He literally “came back from the edge of death” halfway through to grind it out in 26:15:12.
If you want to hear an amazing story of perseverance, love long distance running stories, are fascinated with ultramarathons, wonder what Twitter engineers do in their spare time, or just want to revel in a great story, go read Sam Ritchie’s Leadville 100 post right now.
Oh – and the Fitbit worked perfectly – at 100,001 steps, that’s what the screen showed!
Last summer, Amy and I spent a long, wonderful lunch in Paris with Cliff Shaw and Christy Clark. Cliff is CEO of Mocavo, a company that went through Techstars that we’ve funded, and I deeply enjoy our friendship, even though we don’t see each other that often. I remember our lunch with great pleasure, so when Christy and I had a brief conversation about her reaction to Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, in encouraged her to write a guest post with her thoughts on the entrepreneurial couple and when it’s time for couples counseling.
Christy is a licensed professional counselor with a private practice focused on intimate relationships and sexuality based in Boulder, Colorado. Her post absolutely blew me away with its power, clarity, and intimacy. She’s brave to put her and Cliff’s struggles – and their solutions – out there. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.
Navigating an intimate relationship is never simple; doing so with an entrepreneur adds a whole additional layer of unique challenges. I’ve come to think of it as a somewhat advanced maneuver: the triple axel of relationships, if you will.
This is a subject I am particularly passionate about. Not only have I been partnered with an entrepreneur for the past eighteen years, but I am also a psychotherapist with a practice focused on intimate relationships and sexuality. Much has been written on the topic of entrepreneurs and their partnerships, including “Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.” Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor, a couple I know and respect tremendously, packed their book with great information and ideas about navigating your partnership in the context of a startup. I imagine many couples are able to incorporate the thoughtful ideas and tips on their own with great success.
However, I want to talk about the couples who cannot.
Every couple has different standards and agreements for their relationship including frequency of sex, need for communication and expectations of time spent together. Running a startup will undoubtedly test the boundaries of these agreements. When one or both partners steps outside the shared expectations, problems might occur. From both personal experience, and years of working with people in crisis, I recognize that it can be difficult to assess when it is time to seek outside help. It seems simple enough. You are having problems, things have changed, you get help. The reality is much more complicated. I think our personal story best illustrates this dynamic.
It was 2005. I was finishing my last year of my masters in a counseling program and my partner Cliff was working on his second startup, Pearl Street Software. High school sweethearts, we had been together for nine years and were both deeply committed to one another. I woke at 3:30 in the morning to find the space in the bed next to me empty, as usual. The feelings of helplessness and frustration rose in me immediately and then came the thoughts: “He’s working himself to death, he didn’t sleep, AGAIN!” “He’ll be exhausted all weekend and we won’t spend time together, AGAIN!” “He promised me he would be to bed by 1am.” “He broke his promise, AGAIN!”
I walked down the stairs to find him sitting alone in the dark on the couch. “I’m so scared,” he said. “All I can think is what if everything I’m doing isn’t enough?” The “everything that he was doing” was working seven days a week, sixteen plus hours a day. He had zero self care, existing on caffeine, adrenaline and fast food. Between his work and my graduate school we were becoming virtual strangers. As was our pattern, I moved immediately into the role of soother. “It is enough,” I said. “How could you possibly do more?” Secretly, I was wishing that he would show me even one percent of the attention he gave his work. I was deeply and profoundly lonely. He was beyond unbalanced and rapidly coming unhinged. We were up to our eyeballs in debt. Cliff wasn’t taking a salary. We were living off royalty payments from a previous company, leveraging every cent we had to keep the company afloat and pay the employees.
The fear and panic bubbled up between us, and the fight began. The same fight we had over and over. It was filled with anger, hurt and tears. I yelled, he yelled. He told me I was filled with resentment. I was. He explained, that he was doing this for us. “How can you not see that?” he raged. I told him he was neglectful. He was. We sat in our living room in the early hours of the morning and tore the seams of our relationship apart with words. The threads keeping us together became thinner and thinner.
It hadn’t always been this way. But now, most anything could trigger a fight like this: a perceived slight by one of us, his failure to help me around the house, any unmet expectation. I used words as weapons, sarcasm and eye rolling. He became defensive and iced over. We had almost no quality time together. He had no boundaries around his work. Any agreement we made to do things differently lasted less than two days. I was emotionally wrung out from being his cheerleader, advisor and sole emotional support. I was also filled with contempt, which I often directed at him. Our combined anxiety was so great it felt as if it could swallow us whole. We were in trouble.
Several weeks later, after another particularly bad fight, Cliff came to me with an ultimatum: we go to therapy or we end the relationship. We had kicked around the idea of therapy a few times that year, but we always seemed to come to a resolution after a serious fight, even if it only lasted for a few days. One or the other of us would often reject the idea of getting help. We both used it as a threat, a last resort. It was the gold standard for personal failure. “Do we really need therapy?” I lamented. The irony of this statement is not lost on me. “We can do this ourselves,” I told him, not only because I was wrapped up in my identity as a budding therapist, but because I really thought we could. I’ve come to learn since that no woman is a prophet in her own land, regardless of degree or title. He just stared at me blankly. “Alright,” I finally said, “I’ve heard about someone good through friends at school. I’ll call him on Monday.”
While we continued to see our therapist off and on for years, what ensued after just a few sessions can only be described as miraculous. It was clear that we needed a third party. We needed his objectivity and his challenges. We were able to hear what the other was saying for the first time when someone else didn’t allow us to interrupt. We managed to stick to our agreements when we knew we would be held accountable the next week. It became easier to table recurring and unresolved arguments until we could be in the presence of a supportive mediator. It was hard work. It was painful. It saved us.
I think our story illustrates the primary reasons why couples in a startup relationship might wait too long to seek support. It helps to start by looking at the common personality traits of a startup CEO. These are people who come up with and pursue ideas that sometimes change the world. Passionate self-starters, they inspire and motivate others. As modern day pioneers, most have a mentality of rugged independence. They are trailblazers who can be single minded in their pursuit of success. The entrepreneur’s sense of self-worth can be completely tied to the success or failure of their company. The thought of failure can feel like dying or drowning.
The above traits, while amazing, don’t always lend themselves well to asking for help. Even if you have positive feelings about therapy, the simple acknowledgment that you need support, or your relationship is in trouble, might feel like an admission of personal failure. In the mind of an entrepreneur who spends every waking moment ensuring their company lives to see another day, it can feel like there isn’t room for failure in any corner of life. People in this position often push the limits of their relationship to avoid such feelings. In our case, while Cliff was ultimately responsible for getting me to make the call to a therapist, it took him a long time to acknowledge that his lack of boundaries and balance were not only failing our relationship, but he was failing himself as well.
For other people entrenched in the startup world, it can seem like taking any time from work at all, let alone time to sink into an emotional space with a partner, could derail them from their goals completely. Every day, entrepreneurs suit up in their own personal armor and head to the office to the fight the battle. What happens if they remove the armor and focus on their emotions? The soft underbelly becomes exposed. It’s vulnerable. It’s common for entrepreneurs to feel that there is no time for personal vulnerability when other people’s money and livelihoods are at stake.
Finally, for most people, whether or not they seek outside help is directly tied to their knowledge of and ability to notice the signs that their relationship is in trouble. Relationships rarely go bad overnight. It is generally a slow progression of little deaths perpetrated by both partners. Add to this that when we are in regular conflict with our partner we move into a “fight, flight or freeze” mindset. This is a primal and deeply physiological place that does not lend itself well to objectivity for either partner. We ignore or simply don’t notice the red flags. When the adrenaline is pumping one or both of you might feel as if you can save the sinking ship if you just try harder. This fight, flight or freeze mindset is often mirrored in the entrepreneur’s work environment, compounding the problem.
One of the factors which impacts the efficacy rates of couples therapy is the amount of time a couple waits to get support. Even the most skilled therapist can’t always help salvage a relationship where the resentment, anger or neglect has been building for years. By that point, one or both members of the couple has often emotionally or physically exited the partnership.
Here are some signs that you might need outside help. If you and your partner are struggling, find a moment to review this list.
- Recurring or unresolved conflicts that tend to revolve around the same topics
- A marked decrease in your sexual relationship
- Frequent feelings of resentment
- A sense of loneliness or distance from your partner
- Staying stuck in entrenched patterns of interactions (ex. you always pursue, your partner always flees)
- A general sense that your relationship has changed and not in a positive way
- Unfair fighting: treating your partner with contempt or using insults, shutting down or icing over, globalizing (you always, you never), bringing past fights up during current arguments, interrupting, defensiveness
- Avoiding your partner
- Considering an emotional or physical affair
If you recognize these red flags in your own relationship you might benefit from some outside support.
These days Cliff and I navigate challenges on our own 95% of the time. However, when we can’t, we acknowledge it quickly and we make an appointment with our therapist. He has seen us through the sale of Cliff’s second startup, our wedding, the birth of our child and the birth of Cliff’s current company Mocavo, all major life transitions. Just like running a startup, being in relationship with another human being can be one of the most rewarding and challenging life experiences. When difficulties arise, find and access the support that is right for you and your partner. It can make all the difference.
*In a relationship where there is emotional or physical abuse, couples therapy is not always indicated, due to power dynamics. If you suspect you are in an abusive relationship seek help immediately
I was having a conversion on Friday with Brad Bernthal, an Associate Professor at Colorado Law School who directs the Silicon Flatirons Center’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. Brad and I – in addition to sharing a first name – are close friends. We were talking about the recent amazing Techstars Demo Day that we had just had in Boulder, and Brad – in a professorial tone – started hypothesizing about the importance of Techstars in the Boulder startup community. We went back and forth a little and I encouraged him to put it in writing so I could use it as fodder for a blog post. He did me one better, and wrote a guest post. It follows.
It is time to consider the following question: When we look back, where will Techstars fit into the narrative of Boulder entrepreneurship history?
This question will not keep many of the entrepreneurs in Boulder up late at night. Looking forward – not back – is the Boulder startup community’s natural disposition. But sometimes we need to understand where things fit in and what they mean in the bigger scheme. During Techstars 2013 Boulder Demo Day, led by Managing Director Luke Beatty – who skillfully took the baton from Nicole Glaros – it occurred to me that reflection is now warranted.
Full disclosure: I am a Techstars mentor as well as a CU Associate Professor of Law, which makes me a weirdly situated participant/observer, and I’m admittedly rooting for Boulder. I am also not a historian and, from time to time, my prognostication skills are suspect. (Indeed I five years ago predicted the return of short shorts – 1980s style – in the NBA. No players appear to have received that memo.) With that, here some thoughts on how Techstars will be viewed in Boulder startup history.
Is it time to think about Techstars as historically significant in Colorado? Yes, it is. Techstars was one of the pioneers of the mentor-driven, time limited, entrepreneurial supercollider known as the Accelerator. Techstars now belongs in the company of other Front Range pioneers who helped craft an industry, a list which includes natural foods leaders folks – who built companies such as Celestial Seasonings, Wild Oats, and Alfalfa’s – and early movers in the disk storage industry, most notably StorageTek and its progeny. The first Techstars class matriculated in 2007. Six years later, TechStars is a global operation and, more fundamentally, the accelerator model is among the decade’s most important entrepreneurial innovations. Irrespective of what happens to Techstars ahead, development of the accelerator as a global industry ensures that Techstars will remain historically relevant.
How important is Techstars’ economic impact? TBD, but traditional metrics won’t capture its benefits. It is premature to say where Techstars will rank, in terms of regional economic impact, on a historic scale in Colorado’s Front Range. Techstars is a magnet for creative class talent. But it is not itself a huge employer relative to other area homegrown companies like Level 3 or StorageTek, or even rising companies like Zayo, Rally, LogRhythm, and SendGrid. Techstars’ geographically dispersed structure shares the wealth across multiple startup communities spanning Seattle to London. As a result, as Techstars scales up, its direct local economic benefits– unlike a Microsoft in Seattle, Google in Mountain View, or Dell in Austin – are realized in several locations, not primarily one.
My bet is that the geographically networked aspect of Techstars will emerge as its long term gift to Boulder. Traditional metrics of employees and annual revenues won’t capture Techstars’ most important impacts. In reputational benefits to Colorado, the near term impact is already outsized. Long term, as Anno Saxenian explains, the value of cross-regional connections – whereby one location is closely tied by personal relationships to other geographic startup locations – is a crucial advantage for 21st Century innovation hubs. Boulder is comparatively not well situated to have large scale immigration ties a la Silicon Valley or New York. But Techstars generates tremendous cross-regional connectivity for Boulder to other startups communities. My prediction is that cultivation of cross-regional networks will be Techstars’ biggest economic impact.
What will TechStars mean? Intergenerational connections in entrepreneurship. Techstars as a movie script pitch: company attract wicked smart next generation talent and pairs them with their elders. Mr. Miyage / Daniel with mouse clicks. Sparks ensue. Like many successes, this formula seems obvious in the rear view mirror. But building trusted networks is hard work that takes a deft touch. And the intergenerational network at the heart of Techstars sets a community norm that those who have success should pay it forward to the next generation. This resonates as Techstars’ long term significance.
R/GA is part of Interpublic Group of Companies, one of four global ad holding companies, and is the most award-winning agency in the digital world today. R/GA creates advertising and marketing products based in technology and design and has earned countless accolades over the years, including Advertising Age’s “Digital A-List” and “Agencies of the Decade.” They are the force behind the opening title sequence for 1978′s Superman to 2006′s Nike+ platform to 2010′s HBO Go connected device.
The Internet has rapidly expanded beyond desktop, server, laptop, and mobile computers and connected itself to many of the different devices in our everyday life. We’ve been investing in this area since we started Foundry Group in 2007 through our human computer interaction theme and recently added an investment in Dragon Innovation into the mix. It’s super exciting to me to do an accelerator program specifically around connected devices with Techstars.
Founders accepted into the program will have access to the Techstars mentor network and executives from R/GA’s team as well as $120K in funding, co-location space provided by R/GA in NYC, design and development support from talented designers and devs, and the opportunity to pitch to an invite-only launch presentation in Austin at SxSWi and at a demo day for angels and VCs in NYC.
If you’re a founder or startup focused on an innovative idea for a product and/or service in the connected devices space, please consider applying. Applications are open today and due October 11th. Apply now at rgaaccelerator.com.