Month: November 2013

Nov 26 2013

What Are You Going To Stop Doing in 2014?

Sometimes you have to stop doing things to make more progress.

2013 was a complicated year for me. Lots of things have gone well, but I struggled with a deep depression from January to May. My running has been erratic (no marathons this year) and I’ve struggled a lot physiologically, which at this point I think I’ve been able to determine is some version of what is called adrenal burnout or cortisol deficiency.

As part of trying to get back to a happy place, I decided to stop traveling. I haven’t been a plane for work since the middle of May. Yesterday was the first time I got on an airplane since June (when I went to visit my parents for their 50th anniversary). I’m on a two week vacation (one week completely off the grid) – something I do every year around Thanksgiving since my birthday is on December 1st.

My annual rhythm tends to run from 12/1 to 11/30 due to my birthday. It’s a much bigger marker for me than January 1st, especially since I still have some grumpy jewish kid behavior around Christmas. So – with a week to go in my version of this year, I’m starting to think about what I’m going to do differently in 2014.

I immediately flashed to no business travel. Waking up in my own bed at home for the past six months has been transformative for me. So I decided to continue to not do business travel in 2014.

But that’s an easy one, since I’m already doing (or not doing) it. So I’ve begun thinking about the next things I’m going to stop doing. Some are work related and some are personal. I’ve always been an abstainer instead of a moderator so things like “no alcohol” pop up to the top of the list quickly. But that’s less interesting to me at this point than things that are more profound in a business context, like “no travel.”

As I work on my list of things to stop doing, I’m curious about what, if anything, is on your list.

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Nov 25 2013

It’s An Agile World

My post on How to Fix Obamacare generated plenty of feedback – some public and some via email. One of the emails reinforced the challenge of “traditional software development” vs. the new generation of “Agile software development.” I started experiencing, and understanding, agile in 2004 when I made an investment in Rally Software. At the time it was an idea in Ryan Martens brain; today it is a public company valued around $600 million, employing around 400 people, and pacing the world of agile software development.

The email I received described the challenge of a large organization when confronted with the kind of legacy systems – and traditional software development processes – that Obamacare is saddled with. The solution – an agile one – just reinforces the power of “throw it away and start over” as an approach in these situations. Enjoy the story and contemplate whether it applies to your organization.

I just read your post on Fixing the Obamacare site.

It reminds me of my current project at my day job. The backend infrastructure that handles all the Internet connectivity and services for a world-wide distributed technology that was built by a team of 150 engineers overseas. The infrastructure is extremely unreliable and since there’s no good auditability of the services, no one can say for sure, but estimates vary from a 5% to 25% failure rate of all jobs through the system. For three years management has been trying to fix the problem, and the fix is always “just around the corner”. It’s broken at every level, from the week-long deployment processes, the 50% failure rate for deploys, and the inability to scale the service.

I’ve been arguing for years to rebuild it from scratch using modern processes (agile), modern architecture (decoupled web services), and modern technology (rails), and everyone has said “it’s impossible and it’ll cost too much.”

I finally convinced my manager to give me and one other engineer two months to work on a rearchitecture effort in secret, even though our group has nothing to do with the actual web services.

Starting from basic use cases, we architected a new, decoupled system from scratch, and chose one component to implement from scratch. It corresponds roughly to 1/6 of the existing system.

In two months we were able to build a new service that:

  • scales to 3x the load with 1/4 the servers
  • operates at seven 9s reliability
  • deploys in 30 seconds
  • implemented with 2 engineers compared to an estimated 25 for the old system

Suddenly the impossible is not just possible, it’s the best path forward. We have management buy-in, and they want to do the same for the rest of the services.

But no amount of talking would have convinced them after three years of being entrenched in the same old ways of doing things. We just had to go build it to prove our point.

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Nov 25 2013

In The Future, Everyone Will Have Some littleBits

We recently invested in littleBits. It’s another of our investments that traces its roots to the MIT Media Lab. It’s also another investment we are making with our friends from True Ventures. It’s another one that mixes hardware and software in a delightful way that is part of our human computer interaction theme. And yet another investment in New York.

But it’s the first company we’ve invested in that did a promotional video for their product (the Synth Kit) with Reggie Watts.

Ayah Bdeir, the CEO of littleBits, has blown my mind with her vision of where she is going to take this company. Phase 1 of littleBits was, in the company’s words, creating a “library of electronic modules that snap together with tiny magnets for prototyping, learning, and fun.” Today there are over 50 different bits that you can buy right now, individually or bundled in different kits.

This, by itself, is awesome. But the next phase of where Ayah is taking the company is just awesome. And, as a result, I predict you will have some littleBits somewhere in your world before you realize it. And, since Thanksgiving is just around the corner, we’ve got a kit to make a programmable lazy susan for your table if you need one.

Remember, the machines have already taken over. Get on board if you want to be able to play with them.

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Nov 24 2013

Bitcoins Bitcoins Everywhere

Bitcoins Bitcoins EverywhereI woke up this morning to several articles about Bitcoins. From Dave Taylor’s explanation in the Boulder Daily Camera to a paywall article that you can’t buy with bitcoins (ironic) in the NY Times (A Bitcoin Puzzle) to Fred Wilson’s blog (A Note about Bitcoin), I was surrounded by words about them.

We have an awesome CEO list that covers plenty of topics. Early in the week I posted a link to Fred Wilson’s post Buying Your Holiday Gifts With Bitcoin. That generated a fun discussion including lots of “what are bitcoins and why do I care”; “here’s what they are” kind of things. And then Kwin Kramer of Oblong weighed in with a phenomenal essay. It follows.

I’m with Seth; I think bitcoin is interesting on several levels, including as a real-life experiment with a semi-decentralized currency.

Bitcoin is a software engineer’s implementation of money (as distinct from, for example, a politician’s, banker’s, or economist’s).

There’s a lot of overlap between bitcoin fans and folks with strongly libertarian views. Many of bitcoin’s most vocal proponents see bitcoin as a currency, a replacement for currencies that are created and managed by governments. These folks tend to view bitcoin as a sort of electronic version of gold, a new currency that’s not a “fiat” currency.

I’m deeply skeptical of this set of ideas. First, and very generally, I don’t tend to think that dis-intermediating government institutions is a useful goal in and of itself. I would describe a well-run central bank like the United States Federal Reserve the way Churchill described democracy: the worst solution to the problem of managing a monetary system, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

In addition, core design decisions in the bitcoin spec make bitcoin a pretty terrible store of value and unit of account, which are two things we expect from a currency.

As has been noted in this thread, the total number of bitcoins is capped at 21,000,000. Currently there are about half that number of bitcoins in circulation. The rate at which new bitcoins are mined is designed to decrease over time. This means the bitcoin market behaves more like a commodity market than like a currency market, prone to volatility and some specific kinds of market pathologies. In my view the fact that the money supply can’t be “managed” by a central bank that is able to turn various “knobs” (interest rates of several kinds, the amount of money in circulation) is a bug, not feature!

The cap also means that a bitcoin-denominated monetary system will be a system built around deflation — the opposite of how the monetary system we use today is constructed. Over time, prices will fall, rather than rise. Economists generally view deflation as a problem. If prices get cheaper over time, all the time, people have strong incentives to delay purchases and to save money. If everyone saves, rather than spends, economic growth is impossible.

Economists have lots of tools for talking about this stuff. And, while economists often disagree violently with each other, the collective knowledge in the field is important and valuable. To draw an analogy, non-programmers can and often do have very insightful things to say about digital technology. But it’s definitely worth talking to experienced programmers when trying to understand a particular platform, protocol, or application.

I’m not an economist, but I find convincing the economists’ consensus that deflation is “bad.” At the very least, I’d argue that we don’t know how to build a stable monetary system on top of a currency that is fundamentally deflationary.

On the other hand, even if bitcoin makes for a poor currency, it may well be a very useful payment mechanism. The original bitcoin paper focuses heavily on this aspect of the system design.

To explain this a little more, we can think about how we use US dollars in normal, every-day life. I usually keep some printed dollar banknotes in my pockets. These banknotes — these “dollars” — are a store of value. (They’re worth something in an economic sense.) The banknotes are also a unit of account. (Lots and lots of things I encounter every day have prices denominated in dollars.) Finally, each banknote is a payment mechanism — a transaction mechanism. I can hand over a banknote to most people I might want to buy something from. They’ll accept it. We’ll both know what that means.

But physically handing over a “dollar” isn’t the only payment mechanism I regularly use. I have credit cards, and checks (sort of — that’s kind of changing), and now some other electronic payment mechanisms like PayPal and Amazon points.

It’s possible to separate the functions of value store, unit of account, and transaction mechanism. They fit together neatly and are systemically related, but they’re three different things.

The bitcoin peer-to-peer transaction protocol is pretty cool. It’s basically strong cyptography, good timestamps, and a consensus protocol for blessing transaction reporting.

Which boils down to a way to “hand someone cash” electronically. With no trusted third party having to broker the handover. And, theoretically, anonymity for both the payer and the payee.

As a software person, I think of this as a platform. A new electronic payment platform that may have significant advantages over most of the existing ones. To get broad adoption, platforms need killer apps. So far, there aren’t killer apps for bitcoin. But there are some possible raw materials for killer apps. Cheaper international payments. Completely anonymous electronic payments. But the great thing about platforms is that it’s often quite hard to predict early on what the killer apps might be. Particularly for the really disruptive ones.

A couple of final caveats. It’s not clear (at least to me) whether it’s possible to separate the currency aspects of bitcoin from the transaction platform aspects. If bitcoin does turn out to be a flawed currency, that could be a problem even if the transaction platform stuff is really useful.

Also, the bitcoin platform is pretty new and there may be some fatal flaws in the design of its anonymity features and its transaction log. For example, the transaction log is a global, permanent thing. To verify any bitcoin transaction you have to have a full record of every bitcoin transaction ever. That’s okay now; the system is small. Our computers and networks will keep getting faster as bitcoin use increases. But a broadly used currency will have to be able to support a lot of transactions. Maybe the design can be patched, either in a technical sense or in a social/institutional sense. But we don’t really know.

Some links:

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Nov 22 2013

Hidden Boulder Gem: The Media Archeology Lab

IMG_0019_2This is a picture of me completely and unapologetically engrossed in a game of Space Invaders on a VIC 20. Here’s an early commercial for it, featuring the one and only William Shatner.

Several weeks ago the team at the Media Archeology Lab (MAL) celebrated their accomplishments to date by hosting an event – called a MALfunction – for the community. Attendees include founders of local startups, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Colorado, students that are interested in computing history, and a few other friends. The vibe was electric – not because there were any open wires from the machines – because this was truly a venue and a topic that is a strong intersection between the university and the local tech scene.

Recently, Amy and I underwrote the Human Computer Interaction lab at Wellesley University. We did so not only because we believe in facilitating STEM and IT education for young women, but also because we both have a very personal relationship to the university and to the lab. Amy, on a weekly basis, speaks to the impact that Wellesley has on her life. I, obviously, did not attend Wellesley but I have a very similar story. My interest in technology came from tinkering with computers, machines, and software in the late 1970s and early 1980s, just like the collection that is curated by the MAL.

Because of this, Amy and I decided to provide a financial gift to the MAL as well as my entire personal computer collection which included an Apple II (as well as a bunch of software for it), a Compaq Portable (the original one – that looks like a sewing machine), an Apple Lisa, a NeXT Cube, and my Altair personal computer.

Being surrounded by these machines just makes me happy. There is a sense of joy to be had from the humming of the hard drives, the creaking of 30-year old space bars, and squinting at the less than retina displays. While walking back to my condo from the lab, I think I pinned down what makes me so happy while I’m in the lab. An anachronistic experience with these machines are: (1) a reminder of how far we have come with computing, (2) a reminder to never take computing for granted – it’s shocking what the label “portable computer” was applied to in 1990, and (3) a perspective of how much further we can innovate.

My first real computer was an Apple II. I now spend the day in front of an iMac, a MacBook Air, and an iPhone. When I ponder this, I wonder what I’ll be using in 2040? The experience of the lab is one of true technological perspective and those moments of retrospection make me happy.

In addition, I’m totally blown away by what the MAL director, Lori Emerson, and her small team has pulled off with zero funding. The machines at MAL are alive, working, and in remarkably good shape. Lori, who teaches English full time at CU Boulder, has created a remarkable computer history museum.

Amy and I decided to adopt MAL, and the idea of building a long term computer history museum in Boulder, as one of our new projects. My partner Jason Mendelson quickly contributed to it. If you are up for helping us ramp this up, there are three things you can do to help.

1. Give a financial gift via the Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor Fund for MAL (Media Archeaology Lab).

2. Contribute old hardware and software, especially stuff that is sitting in your basement.

3. Offer to volunteer to help get stuff set up and working.

If you are interested in helping, just reach out to me or Lori Emerson.

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Nov 21 2013

Building Startup Communities to Last

One of my heroes is Jim Collins. Of all books that I’ve ever read about business, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies and Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t are two of the most important ones I’ve ever read. While I read Built to Last first, I didn’t really get how important it was until I read Good to Great. I went back after, read Built to Last again – and slowly – and realized how powerful Collins’ research and thinking was.

So it was an incredible honor to interview Jim for 45 minutes last week at the Startup Phenomenon event about Startup Communities. We spent the time applying the ideas from Jim’s books and research to the idea of Startup Communities.

I learned a lot. I also had a lot of fun. And I came up with a few new ideas as Jim tossed out a few absolute gems during our 45 minutes together.

If you are interested in Startup Communities, or are a Jim Collins fan, I think you’ll like this a lot. Enjoy!

Startup Phenomenon | Brad Feld talks with Jim Collins from 23rd Studios on Vimeo.

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Nov 19 2013

It’s Award Season At Occipital

Structure-Sensor

Just under two months ago, Occipital launched their new Structure Sensor on Kickstarter. Over the course of 45 days, it raised more than $1.2M to become the 6th most funded tech-category project ever on the site.

Kickstarter backers aren’t the only people who are enthusiastic about Occipital’s new creation. Two of the technology world’s biggest names have now added the Structure Sensor to their roster of award-winning new technology products for 2013 and 2014.

Every year, Popular Science chooses 100 products they consider to be the “Best of What’s New.” This year, they chose the Structure Sensor as one of 8 products in their “Gadgets” category to receive this honor, alongside other products like Google Glass. Check out Popular Science’s “Best Of What’s New” for 2013 here.

The 2014 International CES show in Las Vegas is just two months away. Along with organizing CES, the Consumer Electronics Association also runs the annual CES Innovation Awards to recognize those new consumer electronics products that are outstanding in their field. For 2014, the Structure Sensor is one of 11 products to be named a CES Innovation Design and Engineering Honoree in the “Tablets, E-Readers & Mobile Computing” category, alongside others like the new Sony VAIO Flip PC. See the CES Innovation Awards for 2014 here.

If you missed the Kickstarter campaign but want to get a sensor, Occipital just launched pre-orders today at structure.io.

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Nov 19 2013

Focus Focus Focus

In my mid-20s I was part of an amazing experience called Birthing of Giants. It was a gathering of 60 entrepreneurs over four days (for three years) who were all under 40 and founders of companies with more than $1m in revenue. It was the first time I discovered my peer group and while I was young (24 years old) and small ($1m in revenue) I felt like I immediately fit in.

One of the guys in the group from from Brazil. He had this delicious accent and intense passion whenever he spoke. I remember being across from him in some conversation when he pounded on the table in reaction to something and said “focus focus focus.” But it came out as “fuck us fuck us fuck us.” And I’ll never forget that moment.

The message has stuck in my head. I was in several meetings the past few weeks where I wanted to bang on table and scream “focus focus focus.” In each case, I restrained myself and tried to be constructive. Each situation had differences, but fundamentally there was a vector where the company had no focus. Each company has an amazing core technology. Each one has a clear mission. But in one case, they don’t know what “word” they own, in another they are serving two entirely different customers that had no relationship to one another, and in the third they were going after three completely different markets with different products.

Now, there are plenty of cases where it makes sense to have two threads going at the same time. If you’ve got an API business and an end-user business that deal with the same core data and feed off of each other, you can effectively combine them as long as you own a single word or concept. If you’ve got enough scale, you can go after different market segments. As you get bigger, you can expand your product line.

But early on, especially pre or early revenue, lack of focus is the death of so many companies. Sure, there’s a point where you are still thrashing around looking for “the thing.” You are using all the Lean Startup and Lean Launchpad techniques to find your product-market fit. You are iterating and pivoting. You’ll want to use a freemium model to capture the low-end customer while selling directly to a high-end customer. How’s that – I just used a bunch of buzzwords to help rationalize the “search for focus” – clever, eh?

But at some point you have to focus. What word do you own? Who is your customer? What are you selling them? How are you selling them it? Why are they buying it?

This is especially true when something is working. You’ll feel like hedging your bets. But don’t – go all in on the thing that is winning. Do it over and over again. And build scale quickly with it so that you can start experimenting with more things.

Focus focus focus. Or you will end up saying “fuck us – it’s over.”

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Nov 18 2013

Little Colorado Company MobileDay Finds Big Hole In Enterprise Bucket

I’m a seed investor in MobileDay, a Boulder-based company that has helped its users make over two million mobile-based conference calls in the past few months. Its popularity comes from One-Touch Dialing where users press a big green button that shows up on their phone just before a conference call and they’re in. I use it every day – for every call – and am no longer in conference call hell on my iPhone as I go from my calendar to my dialer back to my calendar back to my dialer as I try to remember what the next number in the conference call sequence is. But – this is a show vs. tell type app – just go try it on MobileDay iPhone or MobileDay Android.

When MobileDay wanted to figure out how to make money, they went on the road to talk to big companies. They already knew who has lots of users of MobileDay, so they visited them and said,  “You already have hundreds of employees using our product – how can we work together?”

MobileDay quickly  found out that mobile had disrupted the control that companies used to have over the cost of conference calls. People moved away from land lines and toward mobile, but conference calling hadn’t caught up.

MobileDay knew that they could save time. One-Touch Dialing proved that. But here was a chance to save money also. If MobileDay could make their big green button also dial the cheapest number automatically, companies could save an enormous amount of money.

Enter Least Cost Dialing (LCD). With LCD enabled, the MobileDay app automatically inserts the company’s lowest-cost conference phone numbers. Every dialing sequence is based on the employee’s location, and LCD can reroute calls through the company’s internal voice or data network. MobileDay will provide the same capability for international calls which will create awesome savings opportunities.

While LCD is in the background saving money, One-Touch is up front making conference calls simple. It’s a great victory for both users (ease of use) and the CFO (massive cost savings for a small monthly fee.)

As MobileDay tackles this huge opportunity, they are hunting for senior mobile developers (iOS and Android), enterprise sales experts, and a great product/support person. If you want to be part a pioneer in the mobile enterprise game, email me and I’ll pass on your resume.

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Nov 18 2013

Create Structure out of the Gate and You’ll Thank Yourself Later

Ari Newman is an entrepreneur, mentor, investor, and a friend. He works at Techstars where his responsibility is to ensure that the connections between alumni, mentors, and staff are as robust as they can be – helping entrepreneurs “do more faster” day in and day out.  His most recent company, Filtrbox, participated in the inaugural Techstars class (Techstars Boulder 2007) and was a win for all parties involved; Filtrbox was acquired in 2010 by Jive Software (NASDAQ: JIVE).

I’ve worked closely with Ari for a while and love his candor. He talks, from an entrepreneur’s perspective, with recent first hand experience. Following is his advice to early stage entrepreneurs for creating structure in their company.

Here’s the punchline: if you run your company as if you have closed a VC equity financing round even though you actually closed a convertible debt round, you’ll be in much better shape when it comes time to raise your Series A financing. Specifically, I am talking about putting a board in place, running formal board meetings, and making sure you have people at the table who act as  the voice of reason and sanity. One of the key benefits of doing this early on is that when it comes time to raise that next round, the people you’ll need the most help from are already involved and engaged.

Convertible debt financings have become an increasingly attractive approach for seed rounds because it delays the valuation discussion, costs less from a legal standpoint, and is an easier financial instrument to “keep raising more small amounts of money” on. There are two different cases, with shades of grey in between: (1) there are only a few investors or (2) it’s a “party” round, with $1M+ raised and  many investors. This second kind of seed financing can be a double-edged sword for the entrepreneur and company if not very carefully managed. This post is not about the economic implications of debt rounds versus priced rounds – there has already been plenty written about that including this great one from Mark Suster. Rather, this post is a call to action for entrepreneurs who have successfully raised a debt round and must now turn their idea into a serious business.

So why would you treat your debt investors (somewhat) like equity investors? This may seem counterintuitive, even even a pain in the ass. So, I’ll explain my reasoning through the story of ASC, a fictitious company that has a combination of characteristics I’ve seen across a number of early stage companies.

Acme SaaS Corp (ASC) was started by two entrepreneurs; they have a big vision and if they can execute on it, the business will be a clear home-run. One of them used to be a lead developer at [insert hot consumer tech company here].  They need to raise money before building anything substantial after determining that they needed a little dough to follow the Lean Startup methodology.

They decide to go out and raise money on a convertible note – several angel investors have signaled interest in participating in the note and they don’t feel ready to pitch VCs yet. Fundraising goes better than expected and they quickly find themselves with a $750k round consisting of several VCs and a bunch of angels. The investors, founders, and “community” are all super excited about ASC. They close on the $750k, hire a buddy or two, buy some Macs, and get to work.

ASC starts building product, but as they get into the thick of it, the team realizes executing on their vision is going to be extremely hard. Things start to get a little fuzzy in terms of priorities, but not to fret, the new office is coming along really well with all of the hiring! For the first the months, the team meets often and strategizes on what they want to build while some code gets written. Early customer development talks are going great which keeps the team really excited. Three months in, the burn is now at $70k/month.

Two more months go by and the team is continuing to iterate, but every two-week sprint results in some re-factoring and re-thinking. No updates, screen comps, or metrics have been publicly shared yet. It’s too early for that shit. Heads down on product, they say. Every now and then, investors are told things are going great and the founders are really excited about what they are doing. Soundbites from potential customers are encouraging. Eventually early product demos start happening but they’re rough and the product looks very alpha. At month six, one of the early hires leaves, a developer who turns out wasn’t a good fit. There is $350k left in the bank.

Seven months in, there is a beta product. It’s better than before, but not by miles. The people on the sales side don’t feel they can charge for it yet because who’s going to take out their wallet for something that isn’t perfect. A bunch of potential customers are kicking the tires on the product but it seems that every engaged beta customer needs something slightly different or feels as if the product is not ready to be truly used in production. “This is all a part of the normal product and customer development process,” the CEO tells the team. The burn is now at $90k/month as they had to hire a “customer delight” person to handle the beta process. The team thinks their investors still love them and that they are still a hot company. The first material update goes out to the investors, with lots of positive quotes from VPs at potential customers, and they all indicate future product acceptance if a bunch of other stuff gets in place. Investors are dismayed that there are no real customers yet. There is no discussion of burn, runway, and more financing yet. The team wants to make a little more progress first.

A month later, another email update goes out to the investors – the team has decided to pivot based on feedback and they are super excited about the new direction and once they have the product updated to capture the new, bigger opportunity, it’s going be great. Oh, and the email says the founders will be in touch to discuss another round of funding since there are only 2 months of runway left.

Sound familiar? I could continue but the odds are that this story isn’t going to end well. The company flames out and the team gets aquihired. The investors get nothing.

While you may think ASC is an extreme case, it happens all the time. I’ve observed too many companies that have some or all of these elements in their story. I’m not saying, under any circumstance, that the debt round was the catalyst or sole reason for the company’s missteps but there are a number of times in this story where good company hygiene, good governance, and a properly utilized board would have helped to positively affect the outcome. Following are a few ways that a board would have helped out.

Easy Debt Round Lasting A Year – Even if the raise wasn’t that easy, the company was able to raise enough to buy a year or more of runway. In startup time, that feels like forever. It’s enough time to hang yourself if you are not careful. Had the company created a board and run it properly, they would have ratified a budget, reviewed compensation plans, and agreed on spending levels during early product development. The year would have been a full year, not just 7-9 months.

Real Product and Market Focus – This company lost 3-6 months of execution because they got lost building towards a high level vision. That high level vision was a beast to tackle, and being younger founders, they they didn’t realize they were in over their heads. With advisors or a board, the founders could have opened the kimono and asked for guidance. There are about a dozen corrective actions, best practices, or methodologies that could have been applied during this critical time. It’s up to the team to be able to execute them, but they had their heads in the clouds for too long and no one else at the table with them.

Don’t Pivot in a Vacuum – Had ASC properly used its board, advisors, and investors, it would have brought the pivot strategy to the table early on. A discussion around overall business viability, time to market, and capital impact would have ensued. A review of the cash position, burn rate, and execution plan would have revealed there was not enough cash on hand to nail the pivot while leaving 3-6 months of time in market before raising again. The plan would have to get way tighter, way faster. They didn’t keep the investors up-to-date, then pivoted without engaging or validating whether there was going to be follow-on support. They took a right turn into a brick wall. Investors do not own the company or its strategy. I often say “it’s your company” when I’m bluntly asked what direction a company should take, especially if I’m wearing my investor hat. While that is true, if you rely on outside capital to reach escape velocity, keep the cockpit talking to the engine room.

Use The Smart Money or Lose It – Almost every investor I know makes investments because they want the return, but they also believe they can be helpful to the company in some way. When teams don’t communicate and engage with their investors, the void is often filled with skepticism, doubt, and (often false) assumptions about the business or the team. You borrowed money (or sold a portion of your company) from these folks – they want you to be successful. Leverage them for the better of the company, whether that means using their wisdom or their rolodex. They also can create major signaling problems for your next round if you allow the radio-silence void to be filled with doubt and distrust. Who would blindly give ASC another big check after what occurred above?

Company Hygiene Matters – One of the responsibility of a Board of Directors is to regularly discuss financials, burn rate, and cash management. Had ASC created a board, the company would have potentially managed their cash more conservatively and had the wherewithal to initiate the shift of the company sooner, whether it be through M&A talks, raising more capital, or making the pivot earlier.

I bet that some of you reading this post are entrepreneurs who are in this situation. I beg of you, treat your debt holders like equity holders, and utilize their expertise to help further your business. One easy way to do so is to act as if they are board members. In the super hard, fuzzy, pivot-happy early days of a company, a little structure, accountability, and organizational discipline can be all the difference between running headlong into a brick wall or creating a meaningful, well-operated company.

Follow Ari on Twitter at @arinewman or ask him about the power of the Techstars network at ari.newman@techstars.com.

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