Month: September 2014

Sep 30 2014

A Mixer for Startup Mixology

Frank Gruber, a long time friend, recently released a book, Startup Mixology: Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success.

The book is filled with a bunch of great stuff for any entrepreneur.  Each section has a story, actions to take, the harsh reality, and suggestions for how to enjoy the journey. For a sense of the book, take a look at how it is structured and the table of contents.

Frank is going to be in Boulder in a couple of weeks and I’m hosting a book launch party for him. I’ll sit down with Frank for the better part of an hour to talk about our views on how to celebrate the act of entrepreneurship. We’ll then hang out for a while.

The event is on 10/16 at 6:00pm. Pick up a ticket here.

The ticket costs a few dollars and every single one of those dollars goes to Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado. Everyone who attends is getting a copy of the book, which I’m covering.

If you are not in Boulder or can’t make it to this event, grab a copy of Frank’s book here. It’ll be worth your time.

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Sep 29 2014

The Tucked And The Untucked

Last night I gave the kickoff talk to the West Michigan Policy Forum. I did my riff on Startup Communities and followed it up with a short Q&A on issues specific to Michigan’s entrepreneurial scene.

Afterwards, Amy and I went for a walk to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to buy a Lighting to HDMI adapter so we could watch Print the Legend on the TV in our hotel room. We succeeded in surviving the 24×7 madhouse that is the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, got the right cable, but were unable to hack our hotel TV which refused to do anything other than respond to a hardwired magic box. So we watched Jaws on TV instead (amazingly, neither of us had ever seen it.)

The juxtaposition of the two experiences (my talk vs. the casual madness of the Apple Store) combined with a line from Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future reminded me of another line that I heard at the UP Global Annual Summit in Las Vegas over the summer. Thiel’s line was about uniforms and how his firm Founders Fund immediately rejects any entrepreneur who dresses in a suit and tie. Instead, his firm believes in the Silicon Valley uniform of jeans and a t-shirt and he gives a visual example of Elon Musk wearing an “Occupy Mars” t-shirt compared to Brian Harrison, the CEO of Solyndra, looking very dapper in his classical suit and tie. I’ll let you guess which entrepreneur created several multi-billion dollar companies and which entrepreneur saw his extremely well funded company go bankrupt.

The line I heard in the context of startup communities was “the collision of the tucked and the untucked.” This referred to the startup community entrepreneurs in untucked t-shirts interacting with the startup community feeders (government, academics, big companies, investors, and service providers) who tend to have their shirt tucked in, even if they aren’t wearing ties.

The magic in growing the startup community is to get the tucked and the untucked to hang out. Your goal should be to generate endless collisions between different perspectives, ideas, peoples, and culture. Rather than segmenting things into the old guard and new guard, mix it up. Get everyone working together.

Don’t let parallel universes evolve – you want one big, messy network continually changing. Make sure you are creating situations for the tucked and untucked to get together, be together, and work together. Have some fun with it, including formally reversing roles at a Sadie Hawkins like event, where the tucked wear t-shirts and the untucked wear suits.

Tonight I’m at a dinner with the Blackstone Foundation and several executives at the Blackstone Group talking about startup communities and entrepreneurial ecosystems. The invite says “business attire” which I expect for many will be “tucked.” I’ll be in my standard uniform – jeans, Toms, and a zany Robert Graham shirt, that will most definitely be untucked. It should be fun.

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Sep 26 2014

Mentors 6/18: The Best Mentor Relationships Eventually Become Two-Way

I spent the day yesterday at the Disney Accelerator meeting with each of the teams and then had dinner with the CEOs and a lead mentor for each company. While I’m proud of all the Techstars programs, some of what I heard yesterday, especially around mentor engagement in the Disney program was remarkable. Our premise when we started doing branded accelerators with large companies was that we’d get deep mentor involvement from execs at the company we are partnering with. In Disney’s case, the access, exposure, and support of the Disney executives as mentors for the 11 companies in the program has been extraordinary.

As I continue my series on the Techstars Mentor Manifesto, which I’m planning to turn into an book called “Give First” that FG Press will publish early next year, I come to Manifesto Item #6: The Best Mentor Relationships Eventually Become Two-Way.

When I reflect on my best mentors, they are very long term relationships where I hope they’ve now gotten as much from me as I’ve gotten from them. I call this “peer mentoring” and – while it can start as an equal relationship, it’s magical when it evolves from a mentor – mentee relationship.

Following are two examples from my own life.

Len Fassler is one of the most amazing people I’ve had the honor of knowing. Len and his partner Jerry Poch bought my first company in 1993. I still remember the first time I met Len, sitting in a restaurant in downtown Boston, wondering to myself “who is this guy and what does he want?” After Len and Jerry bought my company, the two of them took me under their wing and exposed me to doing deals. In addition to having my company acquired, I worked with them on the diligence team for a number of other acquisitions. They were both incredibly patient with me since I knew nothing about M&A or investments, and when I started making angel investments a few months after my company was acquired, they followed on, invested with me, and invited me into some of the companies they were investing in. After I left AmeriData, my relationship with each of them blossomed, but in different ways. Jerry and I made some VC investments together, but Len and I started several companies together. One of them – Interliant (where we were co-chairman) – was a huge success for a while, reaching a peak market cap of about $3 billion on NASDAQ. The company was decimated by the collapse of the Internet bubble and ultimately went bankrupt. Len and I spent  thousands of hours together during this time and the amount I learned from working side by side with him can’t be quantified or categorized. We continued to work on other stuff together after Interliant, and enjoyed some successes that were sweet and satisfying after the ending pain of the Interliant experience.

If someone said I was a vessel for perpetuating and evolving Len’s business approach and personal philosophy to people throughout time and space, I’d accept that.

At the same time, I’ve heard Len say many times that’s he’s learned a huge amount from working with me. I know I am the key reason he no longer wears a tie at work, but the dance and intermingling of our experiences, personal philosophies, joys (highs), miseries (lows), and shared time has shaped both of us. Len’s 82 and I’m 48, so he’s definitely the mentor and I’m the mentee in the relationship. But after over 20 years of working together, we have a deep, intimate, peer relationship.

Charlie Feld is my dad’s brother / my uncle. I referred to him as Uncle Charlie the other day in my post From Punch Cards to Implants. He introduced me to my first company when I was 11 and allowed me to tag along with him for many years into my mid-20s. I sat in executive meetings at DEC and Lotus that I had no business being a part of, learned about EIS’s when I was a teenager, got early access to Compaq portables that hadn’t been released yet, and generally got exposed to how IT and MIS worked in large companies. Charlie started his own company, The Feld Group, in 1992, when my company (Feld Technologies) was five years old. Suddenly, Charlie and I were having peer discussions about our respective consulting businesses. After I sold my company and started investing in companies in 1994, Charlie and I talked regularly about the Internet, which was just emerging as something that large companies should pay attention to. At the same time, Charlie exposed me to what he was doing to re-architect and modernize enormously complex and disastrous legacy systems at places like Delta and Burlington Northern. In addition to helping me understand a number of fundamental things about technology at scale, I got exposed to the complexity of very large organizations, both from the top down and outside in.

In 2000, I invested via Mobius Venture Capital in The Feld Group and joined the board. This took our relationship to a new level. While I was now investor / partner / board member, the intellectual and emotional intimacy of our relationship increased. The Feld Group grew rapidly during this time period until it was acquired in 2004 by EDS. While aspects of my universe during this time were excruciating due to the bursting of the Internet bubble, my experience with Charlie and The Feld Group was grounding and enlightening as it gave me a window into the success and importances of enterprise IT while all the startups around me were melting down.

As with my relationship with Len, I feel that my relationship with Charlie is a peer relationship today. While he’s 25 years older than me, we learn from each other in every interaction. We continue to work closely together – Charlie’s newest book “The Calloway Way” is being published by FG Press and we are going to do some book events together to help both executives and entrepreneurs understand the magic of Wayne Calloway and his management approach.

Each of these relationships are long term ones – Len and I since 1993 and Charlie and I since I was born in 1965. I treasure every moment I have with each of them. Sure – we have conflict, disagreements, and disappointments, but they have been profound in shaping my development as a business person and a human. As mentors, they gave first in every sense of the word. And I hope they feel like I’ve given back at least as much.

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Sep 25 2014

Venture Deals – Online Class – 3rd Edition

Jason and I are once again doing the Venture Deals online class as part of the Kauffman Fellows Academy. The course begins on Monday (9/29/14) so sign up now if you are interested.

This will be the third time we are doing this course. We are having a lot of fun with it and love the dynamics of working with the Kauffman Fellows Academy. The feedback has been generally excellent and we’ve tried to take into consideration all the suggestions we’ve heard about what we can do better.

We’ll be actively involved with hangouts during the course as well as on the message boards. If you are interested in really understanding how venture deals and startup financings work, please join us for the course.

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Sep 25 2014

The Rapidly Growing Chicago and LA Startup Communities

I’m not a big city guy, so one of my favorite things to do when I find myself in a big city is get up early, before the city wakes up, and go for a run. There’s something about the silence echoing throughout a vast developed physical space such as LA that calms me down and builds up some reserves for me for the day.

I was in LA all day yesterday – starting with a Fireside Chat organized by David C Murphy. It was a full room of entrepreneurs and what I hope was a stimulating and useful conversation for them. I got in an Uber and traveled across town to Nix Hydra, a company run by two remarkable young women that we recently invested in. I got in another Uber and returned to Santa Monica where I attended the Innovators Collective Dinner, hung out with some old friends, and met a few new ones. Today I’m at the Disney Accelerator and tomorrow I’m at Oblong.

At dinner, I sat with my long time friend Matt McCall. Matt and I were on the FeedBurner board together and he’s got a powerful connection between LA and Chicago – another city with an incredibly thriving startup community. Matt’s part of Pritzker Group Venture Capital which has offices in Chicago and LA as a result of where JB Pritzker and Tony Pritzker call home (Chicago and LA respectively). While they invest nationally, they have deep roots in both cities and are key players in the respective startup communities, along with the cities at large.

As I was talking to Matt, it rolled around in my head that there are a lot of similarities in the growth of both the Chicago and LA startup communities. Our engagement with each is similar – we have Techstars programs in each (Techstars Chicago and Disney Accelerator), we’ve made investments in each over the years, and they are each cities that I have personal affinity for and have spent a lot of time in, even though I’m not a big city kid.

I came back to an email in my inbox from Troy Henikoff, the Managing Director of Techstars Chicago, which closed the loop on this thought for me. Troy has been a key part of the development of the Chicago startup community and we’ve been good friends from the moment he first reached out to me about developing an accelerator in Chicago.

Troy reminded me about the Chicago Venture Summit, which is coming up on 10/14 and 10/15. The lineup looks incredible and includes keynotes from folks like Travis Kalanick (Uber), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco Chief Technology & Strategy Officer), Ted Leonsis (Revolution Partners and previous AOL CEO), and Peter Thiel. Not surprising, JB Pritzker is one of the leaders of the event. In the note that Troy sent me, there are confirmed attendees from VC firms such as Founders Fund, DFJ, NEA, GE Ventures, Motorola Ventures, Accel, Revolution, First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. Yes, it’s a serious event worth attending if you can.

Since I started thinking about Startup Communities in 2010, a few years before I wrote the book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, I believed the discussion about entrepreneurship would spread far and wide. If we could have the amazing things going on in Boulder that we were experiencing at the time, there was no reason every major city in the world couldn’t have a vibrant startup community. It’s a joy to see this developing fast, and in a powerful and sustainable way, in cities like Chicago and LA. Sure, there’s always been significant entrepreneurial activities in both cities, but the essence of the startup community in both places feels different – and more powerful – this time around.

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Sep 23 2014

From Punch Cards to Implants

While watching </scorpion> last night, Amy made the comment that we are the bridge generation. I asked her what she meant and she responded that we are the generation that will have gone from punch cards to implants. I thought this was profound.

BTW – </scorpion> was pretty good, although it’s getting crappy reviews according to Wikipedia. It’s not lost on me that the name of the show appears to be “end scorpion” so either someone in Hollywood is being too cute for their own good or they are clueless about HTML.

The first program I wrote was in 1977 in APL on an IBM mainframe (probably a S/360)  in the basement of a Frito-Lay data center in downtown Dallas. My uncle Charlie sat me down in a chair in front of a terminal, gave me a copy of Kevin Iverson’s A Programming Language, and left me alone for a while. He checked on me a few times, showed me the OCR system he’d helped create, and gave me some punch cards which I promptly folded, spindled, and mutilated.

My second program was on a computer at Richland College shortly thereafter. My parents got me into a community college course on programming and I was the precocious 12 year old in the class. I remember writing a high-low game, but I don’t remember the type of computer it was on. My guess is that it was a DEC PDP-something – maybe a PDP-8.

Shortly after I was introduced to a TRS-80 and then got an Apple II (the original one – not an Apple IIe – I even needed an Integer Card) for my bar mitzvah and was off to the races.

Almost 40 years later I’m still at it, but now investing rather than programming. When I think of what interests me right now, it’s all stuff that is in the “implant” spectrum – not quite there yet, but starting to march toward it with a steady pace. I believe in our AI future, think the Cylons are a pretty good representation of where things are going, am deeply intrigued with Hawking drives and the Shrike, and am ready to upload my consciousness “whenever.”

Assuming I live another 30+ years, I’ll definitely have experienced the bridge from punch cards to implants. And I think that’s pretty cool.

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Sep 22 2014

Fostering a Startup and Innovation Ecosystem

UP Global just released a great new white paper titled Fostering a Startup and Innovation Ecosystem. As you might know, I’m on the board of UP Global and think they are doing amazing things for startup communities around the world.

Our friends at Google for Entrepreneurs helped with this and I’m doing a hangout with Mary Grove (Director, Google for Entrepreneurs) and Marc Nager (UP Global CEO) on Tuesday September 23rd, 2014 11am PDT for 40 minutes.

Join us as we discuss thriving startup communities and creating alignment and not just density in your community.

Enjoy the white paper and join us for the hangout.

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Sep 21 2014

The Deep, Dark, Emotional Challenges of Being a Leader

I got to spend a lot of time with my close friend Rand Fishkin the past few days. The first was at Denver Startup Week, where we did a panel discussion with Ben Huh and Bart Lorang where we discussed the pact between CEO and Board, the pact between Founder and Investor, and how to be transparent and direct.

The next day, Rand led a full day offsite for a number of CEOs in our portfolio.

In between, he wrote an epic blog post titled A Long, Ugly Year of Depression That’s Finally Fading. Go read it now – I’ll wait.

I love Rand – not in that surface “I love you man” kind of way. Ever since I met him and his wife Geraldine, I’ve adored them as a couple and each as individuals. I often develop deep personal relationships with the people I work with which can be challenging when businesses struggle and difficult decisions have to be made. I’ve had a few friendships fail as a result of the pressure, stress, and intensity of working through certain situations, but far more have strengthened as a result. It’s a risk I decided to take a long time ago and I’ll continue to do it, even when I have to cope with my own anxiety, emotional struggles, and even depression, as a result.

We invested in Moz in April 2012. Rand wrote so extensively about it in his post Moz’s $18 Million Venture Financing: Our Story, Metrics and Future that almost all of the major tech blogs declined to write about it “because all the news was covered in the post.” Whatever.

The first nine months were great – the business grew as planned as I started to get to know everyone and how things worked at Moz. The company was working on a major rebrand (from SEOMoz to Moz) as well as a huge software expansion which was started before I invested. But by mid-year 2013 things were not going as planned. Rand has written extensively about it, but when he and Geraldine visited us in Boulder for a few days around that time both Amy and I thought Rand was depressed.

By the winter time, Rand had decided to hand the CEO roles to his longtime partner and COO Sarah Bird. Shortly after, he acknowledged his depression in his post at the end of 2013 when he wrote Can’t Sleep; Caught in The Loop. Regardless of his struggle, he continued to work incredibly hard, but we started having a different conversation, this time as friends rather than investor / board member and CEO / founder. I was more concerned about Rand’s mental health than his activity at Moz, and our conversations were generally around this. At the same time, Sarah grabbed the CEO reins firmly and has done an outstanding job, which I knew would ultimately be helpful to Rand.

Rand looked better in the past few days than I’ve felt he looked in several years. I was thrilled to see his post come out between our rambling Denver Startup Week discussion and the full day of the CEO offsite.

Most of all, I’m delighted that my friend Rand’s depression is finally starting to fade. Rand – you are amazing – and loved by me and many. Carry that with you all the time.

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Sep 16 2014

Where I’ll Be At Denver Startup Week 2014

This week is Denver Startup Week 2014. Seth, Ryan, and I are spending all day Thursday in Denver doing startup week stuff.

If you are looking for me, I’ll be hanging out all day at Basecamp, which is sponsored by Chase.

Following are the events I’m participating in.

8:00 – 9:00: Building Great Entrepreneurial Communities

1:00 – 2:00: Feld and Friends

2:00 – 4:00: Mentor Hours (special Foundry/Galvanize/Techstars Edition). People can sign up here (sorry – they don’t have this organized by day, just by mentor).

4:00 – 5:30: Practice Pitch with Techstars

5:30 – 7:30: Beers at Basecamp, Foundry/Galvanize/Techstars edition (Seth and Ryan only – I’ll be doing a talk at Condit about creating innovation spaces.)

I hope to see you sometime during the day.

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Sep 5 2014

No Vision All Drive

I love origin stories. Yesterday at the kickoff of Techstars FounderCon, I stood on stage with David Cohen and David Brown as we went through the origin story of Techstars, followed by a build up of what has happened over the past seven amazing years. As the 50+ people working for Techstars stood on the stage at the end, I got chills. Afterwards I got feedback from a number of the 500 people in the audience that it was extremely useful context for them, many of whom joined the extended Techstars network in the past two years.

A few weeks ago, FG Press released the first book in its Techstars series titled No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur. It’s written by David Brown and is the origin story of David Brown and David Cohen’s first company Pinpoint Technologies.

If you recognize David Cohen’s name, but not David Brown’s, you have a new David in your world. Brown was one of the four co-founders of Techstars (with Cohen, me, and Jared Polis). A little over a year ago, he joined Techstars full time as one of the three managing partners – the other two being David Cohen and Mark Solon. Brown runs the organization day to day and Solon manages all the fund and capital formation activity.

While I’ve known Brown for seven years, Cohen and Brown have worked together for 25 years. Pinpoint was a self-funded company that was their first entrepreneurial endeavor. Like many other startups, it had many ups and downs but the David’s created a very successful, profitable business that was acquired by ZOLL (a Boston-based public company) in 1999. Brown stayed at ZOLL for a while, left, and then came back and ran ZOLL Data (the division based on Pinpoint) until last year when he finally left for good.

When I read the first draft of No Vision All Drive I immediately realized this was a powerful origin story. It shows the personal and professional development of Brown and Cohen as they grew from two guys trying to figure out how to start their business to leaders of a real company. Brown’s reflections on the experience are detailed and demonstrates his incredible talents as an operator. If you know Cohen, after reading this book, you understand why they are perfect partners and have worked so well together over the past 25 years.

It’s a delight to get to work with both of these guys. No Vision All Drive gave me deep insight into Brown and how to be effective working with him, as well as what to expect in the context of his leadership and management style. And it made me even more optimistic about the future of Techstars.

Our goal with the Techstars Series is to get out a series of books applicable to all entrepreneurs at an affordable price. So, instead of doing the default Kindle $9.99 price, or tying the Kindle price to the hardcover price, we are charging $4.95 for the Kindle version. We know there is no marginal cost to each incremental e-book so we want to provide it at a price that entrepreneurs won’t think twice about, which we pegged at the equivalent of a Starbucks Venti Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino .

If you are interested in origin stories or just want to better understand the guys behind Techstars, I encourage you to grab a copy of No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur.

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