Month: April 2014

Apr 28 2014

I Will Instead of We Should

While driving down Highway 36 from Boulder to Denver for a FullContact board meeting, TA McCann told me a wonderful phrase that I’ve been carrying around with me for the past month or so.

“At RivalIQ, we’ve implemented ‘I Will’ instead of ‘We Should.'”

I’ve worked with TA since we invested in Gist in 2009. TA was a co-founder and the CEO. He’s been deeply involved in Techstars Seattle since inception. When RIM acquired Gist, he ran a big software team within RIM for two years. A year ago he co-founded RivalIQ. And last fall he joined the FullContact board. So he’s been around the block.

As part of working together, we’ve become very close friends. We ran the Madison Marathon together (my 17th). We’ve fought together in the trenches over some challenging issues. We’ve enjoyed each others’ friendship, advice, and guidance on some heavy personal issues.

TA embodies the concept of “I will instead of we should.” I’ve always known him to be willing to roll up his sleeves and just get something done. He’s quick to give feedback, challenge ideas, and ask questions, but he’s never afraid to do the work himself.

At Foundry Group, there are twelve of us. I like to believe we embody the “I will” spirit – if someone suggests that something is wrong or needs to be done, they do it. Sure – we pass things around and there’s some delegation, but there’s never a willingness to criticize or give feedback without a corresponding willingness to participate in doing the work.

It’s a small but powerful mental tweak that is similar to the I / We challenge I used to have. In this case it’s the inverse. By shifting to “we” instead of “I” when I talk about what Foundry Group accomplishes, our whole team gets the recognition for the work we’ve all contributed to. This is powerful externally. But internally, by saying “I will” instead of “We should” it puts the responsibility for getting it done on the person making the suggestion. Even if they only manage the work, they are still responsible for making sure it happens, instead of the non-specific and ephemeral “we.”

TA – thanks for the phrase. I continue to learn much from you.

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Apr 27 2014

Supporting the New Museum of Boulder

Amy and I recently agreed to support the new Museum of Boulder with a substantial gift that entitles us to sponsor all the bathrooms in the new museum.

This highly interactive museum of history, science, and technology of Boulder will be located in the old Masonic Lodge building at the corner of Pine and Broadway.  The Boulder History Museum purchased that building last year and is raising money for the renovation of the building and the construction of the new exhibits and facilities.

The “old” museum is located at 12th and Euclid in the Harbeck House and, while this is a beautiful old house, it lacks the space for the exhibits and programs that are envisioned for the new museum.

The new museum (renamed the Museum of Boulder because of its greatly expanded scope) will include a permanent exhibit space exploring the past, present, and future of Boulder and  a large temporary exhibit gallery so that Boulder can host Smithsonian quality traveling exhibits.  The building will also contain a children’s museum, expanded educational facilities, and a Maker Space.  Permanent exhibits will include the overall history of Boulder and the evolution of the Food, Fitness, Science and Technology innovations, and businesses in Boulder.

Amy and I are pleased to support the campaign to build the new museum and urge others to contribute to this worthwhile cause.  For more information or to get a tour of the new building, contact Nancy Geyer, the CEO of the Museum, at ngeyer@boulderhistory.org.

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Apr 27 2014

Book: Sailing an Alien Sea

I love reading books written by friends. Knowing how incredibly hard it is to write a book, I enjoy fiction even more, since it’s something I’ve never tried to write.

My friend Cindy Gold wrote Sailing an Alien Sea about a year ago. I read it last month and loved it.

I’ve known Cindy and her husband Terry Gold since 1996, shortly after I moved to Boulder. I was an early board member, then angel investor, and subsequently VC investor in Terry’s company Gold Systems. Terry worked incredibly hard at Gold Systems, along with many people who worked for the company through the years. It went from an idea and a few founders to an almost $10 million revenue company, before growth peaked about a decade ago. Over the past five years, the company had a steady, but slow decline, being close to break even every year, but never becoming solidly profitable or generating additional growth. After numerous painful layoffs and several near misses to sell the company, Gold Systems finally shut down early this year. Throughout the entire process, Terry was a tireless leader who never gave up and, even after two acquisitions feel apart at the end, he still tried to find a home for the remaining employees. While my investment in Gold Systems returned $0 to me, I’ll have lifelong respect for Terry and will always consider him a close friend.

Ok – that paragraph should put you in the mood for this book. Cindy is a genius writer. Her story likely has some autobiographical parts, as most first novels do. She writes the story of two teenage girls growing up in Santa Fe. They are an unlikely pair of friends and they travel down different paths as they get older. Much of the book is through the eyes of Sylvie, who is expect is channeling some of Cindy’s wit, style, and personality, which is sharp and deliciously direct. This is no romanticized story of coming of age – it’s complicated, challenging, often disappointing, and sometimes heartbreaking. But against this challenging backdrop, these girls are amazing. I’m not a reader of “chick lit” and this doesn’t fall in that genre, but rather something I enjoy to read, which I refer to as “human fiction.”

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. Relationships aren’t easy. Life isn’t easy. And writing a first novel is really fucking hard.

Cindy – well done. Gang, if you want some a great first novel to chew on, grab Sailing an Alien Sea.

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Apr 25 2014

A Little Techstars Video History

I got asked today for a picture of the four founders of Techstars together (me, David Cohen, David Brown, and Jared Polis.) I did a search and came up with a few, but also stumbled upon this beauty. This is the original promotion video for the first Techstars program, filmed at the end of 2006 and apparently uploaded to Youtube on January 14, 2007.

Following are my comments on the video.

  • Look how young David Cohen looks.
  • Notice all the excellent red and white fonts.
  • Danny Newman needs a haircut.
  • Jared Polis wasn’t yet a congressman.
  • Our Donkey Kong machine worked.
  • Foundry Group wasn’t yet started.
  • Our office (and the film) was done in our old office in Superior.
  • I hadn’t started wearing Robert Graham shirts yet.
  • My Treadputer v1.0 was up and running.
  • David Brown looks exactly like he does today.
  • We didn’t have the .com domain yet.

It used to be hard to find historical artifacts like this. They lived in an attic or a basement and were covered by dust. The web is just amazing.

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Apr 24 2014

Resources for Girls Learning to Code

This morning littleBits released their Space Kit. I’ve been on the board of littleBits since last year and am just in awe of what the team, led by Ayah Bdeir, is cranking out. Ayah is an example of an amazing female entrepreneur and CEO. I first met her via Joanne Wilson who wrote about here here. I hope to work with her for a long time.

Seeing the launch inspired me to go dig up a list of resourced for girls learning to code. Ever since I first got involved in National Center for Women & Information Technology, I’ve been deep in the problem of underrepresentation of women in computer science and entrepreneurship. Lucy Sanders, the CEO of NWCIT, has taught me a huge amount about this and I’ve worked closely with her as chair of the organization to try to make a difference around this issue.

I regularly get asked for resources for girls who are interested in learning how to write software. Following is a list curated by Lucy.

While many of these apply to boys as well, it’s a great list if you have a daughter who is interested in learning more about coding. It’s by no means comprehensive – if you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

Girl and Women Specific

Concepts

Learn to Code

Intro to Computer Science

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Apr 23 2014

Pubble Q&A – #askbfeld

Tomorrow, I’m trying out Pubble‘s product – a Q&A widget that leverages the standard social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) but lives where ever you want it to live.

I’ll be answering questions live tomorrow (4/24) at 1:00pm MT. Tweet with #askbfeld to ask me a question.

Check it out below.

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Apr 23 2014

Book: Things A Little Bird Told Me

There will be a lot of books written about the story of Twitter. As far as I know, there have now been two, but there are probably 71 more coming out soon.

Biz Stone’s new book, Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind is outstanding.

I’ve read two really awesome books in the past month that combine first person startup accounts with personal philosophy and advice. Biz’s is the second. Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things is the other.

Ok – enough effusiveness. There is a simple reason these two books are outstanding. They both mix the author’s direct and very relevant experience with their personal philosophy and lessons learned from the experience. While moments of Ben’s book are dramatic, Biz tells the story of Twitter in an understated way. He’s fun and playful while covering enough of what happened so you have a feel for it. But it’s not overwrought with drama.

Instead, Biz focuses on highlighting critical moments, and key experiences that he had, which help the reader understand the path of a remarkable company. I’ve heard most of the stories before, although a few were new to me. Biz drills into the essence of what matters and not the noise surrounding it. As a result, I felt like I could really process the experience and understand the lessons he learned, rather than be distracted by stuff around the edges.

While I don’t know Biz, I immediately related to him. He drew me in. He’s a guy I’d like to hang out with. Someone I’d like to know, who I’d be happy to go into battle with, or just have a long playful dinner. Basically, he’s real.

If you are an entrepreneur, or a student of entrepreneurship, Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind is another must-read on my list.

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Apr 22 2014

A Makerbot Sculpture of Me

Whenever one of my partners has a significant exit the other partners gives him a gift. These take the form of super creative, often self-referential things that the partner on the receiving end would never buy for himself but the other partners knows he would love.

Last week I got a bust of myself printed on a Makerbot. It was made by Cosmo Wenman, who my partners found at CES last year. This is totally in the show, don’t tell category, so take a look at the 55 second “making of video.”

Cosmo – wow! And Seth, Jason, and Ryan – you rock!

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Apr 21 2014

Robots, Programming, and Education

Ever since Orbotix was founded, we’ve been talking about robots and education and how Sphero could play a role. Last week, my friends at Orbotix rolled out a new program called SPRK which stands for Schools, Parents, Robots, and Kids. They’ve already got six lesson plans up with more coming.

To get a feel for the potential of Sphero in education, take five minutes out of your day and watch the video below. At the minimum, it’ll make you smile.

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Apr 21 2014

The Great Internet Stock Correction of 1997, or 1999, or …

Yesterday I read Kara Swisher’s post What Does the Recent Tech Stock Downturn Mean? The Truth Is Nobody Knows. It’s great. Go read it – I’ll wait for you.

In the last two weeks there’s been a flurry of articles about the implications of a 25% decline in the public market value of a bunch of Internet stocks. They range from “the sky is falling” to “the IPO market window is closing” to “there will be more stupid television shows about Silicon Valley” (I prefer Game of Thrones and 24, thank you very much.)

As many of the Cylons from BSG are fond of saying, “All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.”

I remember a moment in time in 1997. We were in the middle of fundraising for Softbank Venture Capital (which became Mobius Venture Capital.) It was the first VC fund I’d helped raise. We probably had about $150m committed and were running around trying to get to $300m for what we had positioned as a dedicated Internet VC fund. I can’t remember the month, but I think it was in the summer, that all the public Internet stocks dropped a bunch (probably 25%). Suddenly every meeting we had turned cold with all of our potential LPs either asking how we were going to make money on the Internet or asserting that there was no way that we’d make money on the Internet. A few months later the public markets for Internet stocks turned around and we closed a $330 million fund which ended up doing extremely well.

In 1999 we filed an S-1 to take Sage Networks public. I was a co-founder and co-chairman. We were planning to go public in the early spring, but in February we acquired a company called Interliant which doubled our side. We had to grind through a refiling of our S-1 which cost us a month. We finally hit the road with the intention of going public by the end of April. Our underwriters (Merrill Lynch) told us not to worry that the SEC hadn’t cleared our filing yet – they always did it a few days before you went public. I spent three weeks on a road show with our president and CFO building the book. Day after day passed and we didn’t hear from the SEC. Two days before we were supposed to price, the book was 10x oversubscribed and our $9 – $11 price looked like it could move up meaningfully. They day we were supposed to price we still hadn’t heard from the SEC. “Don’t worry” said the banker at Merrill Lynch, “We’ll get it done.” The next day, when we were supposed to be trading, a fax came through from the SEC. It was 20 pages long and had about a month’s worth of work to pull together on the F-pages of the filing (we had acquired 20 companies.) That night we all drank a lot of scotch – we knew the IPO wasn’t going to happen that week and we’d just wasted a road show. I remember being completely numb the next day as I flew home from NY to Boulder, not completely understanding how we had just blown the IPO.

A few weeks later Internet stocks started to fall. I vaguely recall that eBay was one of the bellwethers at the time and I think it had a big drop. Suddenly the IPO market window closed. No one was interested in Internet stocks, let alone one that was being tortured by the SEC for accounting disclosure on a bunch of acquisitions of tiny companies.

At the end of June I went to Italy for a week vacation with my wife Amy and my parents. We did a walking trip which I remember being wonderful – 10 miles a day finished off with lots of food and wine in a beautiful Italian countryside. No phones, no email. Until Thursday, when I got a call at the villa we were staying at from one of my board members who said “you have to come home right now.” I responded with “I’m flying home Sunday and will be back on Monday.” He said, “No – now – the road show starts again Monday and you have to be at the printer on Saturday to sign off on the filing.”

I scrambled to find a flight home from the middle of Italy, got to NY by Saturday mid-day, re-started the road show on Monday, and we were public by the end of the week. We went out at $10 and traded up to $15. When I checked the market indexes, they were basically the same as they were two months earlier before things dropped.

Lots of folks are going to pontificate about what is going on in the public markets. Most have an agenda or a vested interest.

If you are an entrepreneur, ignore the pontification and go build your business. Pay attention to the dynamics in the macro, since they will impact you, but don’t get caught up in. Don’t create a narrative to justify something that is going on. Focus on the reality – your reality – and do your best operating in the context in which you can’t control.

All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

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