Month: September 2015

Sep 30 2015

100 Dancing Robots

I saw this video earlier today and it delighted me.

I love Sphero.

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Sep 30 2015

Price of Admission Is An Amazing Product

As I read about the unveiling of the Tesla Model X, I have two thoughts. The first one is “I want” (hint: Amy – you need to replace your red Range Rover.) The second is that price of admission is an amazing product.

Indulge me while I go on an amazing product rant from our portfolio.

  • Glowforge is turning 3D printing inside out by using a laser to cut and engrave, instead of an extruder to, well, extrude. They just crossed the $4 million mark in day five of their thirty day pre-order campaign.
  • Sphero has sold more BB-8’s in the month since they launched than even I thought possible. I have one on my desk and it gives me joy every day I’m in the office.
  • Accenture just launched their Connected Analytics Experience’s immersive environment which is enabled by Mezzanine. As a daily user of Mezzanine, it actually makes video conference and collaboration tolerable.
  • The demand for the 3D Robotics Solo drone is off the charts.
  • Rock Band 4 comes out next week. Yesterday two new U2 songs were added as exclusives. Enough said.
  • We closed an investment yesterday in a company that will announce next week. I’ve been using the product for sixty days along with their competitor’s product. Their competitor has raised 10x the amount of money so far (prior to our investment), and the product from the company we invested in, from my own head to head comparison, is amazing, compared to the “meh” product from its competitor.
  • We are issuing a term sheet today to another company that I hope accepts our offer. Your mind simply explodes when you use this particular product.

I could keep going but you get the idea. When I reflect on our successful investments, regardless of the form factor (software or hardware or both) that they take, they all are amazing products. And the founders come from a product first mindset – their goal is to unambiguously create the best product that delight users every time they come in contact with it.

I’ve heard the discussion about how important product is for over 20 years of being an investor. But it’s not important anymore. Instead, an amazing product is simply price of admission. If you don’t have an amazing product, you don’t get to play, at least in my little corner of the world.

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Sep 28 2015

Encountering Depression and What It Means To Be Well

A few weeks ago I did an interview about mental health, depression, and entrepreneurship with Samara Linton and Michelle Pamisa. They wrote it up and posted it on the Dream Nation site in an article titled Be Well – It’s Work. I thought they did an excellent job capturing what I said and they game me permission to repost the interview here.

Could you tell us a bit about when you first started noticing that you weren’t feeling right?

I was in my mid-twenties. I had a company that was doing well but at the same time I was in a PhD program that I ended up getting kicked out of, because I wasn’t a particularly effective PhD student. I was also married and ended up getting divorced. I had a series of stressors combined with my own self-identity issues. I was feeling a lot of external stress from different places [with] the normal stress of building my business on top of that. It took me a while to realise I was actually depressed. I started doing therapy and got a much better understanding of what was going on. Two years in that stage of working through it, I had moments where I was like ‘I don’t want the rest of my life to feel this way, this feels awful’.  As I came out of being depressed and felt normal again, I realised this wasn’t necessarily how I was going to feel my whole life.

I was a very functional person. Even though I was depressed, I got up each morning, I worked hard and did my thing. My business continued to do well but there was no joy in anything. I’d get home and not be interested in doing all the things I enjoyed because I had no mental or emotional energy for it. A big lesson in that first depression was the actual feeling of being depressed, this notion of a complete and total absence of joy, versus stress and anxiety.

Did being a “functional depressive” affect your ability to seek help?

It was extremely hard for me to get help. I had a very hard time even going to therapy because of the stigma associated with it. I was lucky to get into a relationship with a woman, now my wife, who is comfortable with the notion of therapy. She would encourage me to go and take it seriously; that helped a lot.

It wasn’t easy to get out of bed in the morning. There were many mornings where, even as a functional person, it took a huge amount of energy to get out of bed, in the shower, out of the house, to my office to actually work.

When I finished doing the shift, I went home and got in my bed again or lay on the couch and did nothing. It wasn’t that the functional method was easier, it was just that where I had very specific work to do, I could do the work. But all the time around it, I felt a range on a spectrum from excess of joy to helpless to completely uninterested in anything else. In the best cases, I’d describe myself as feeling flat and every now and then I’d go for a run or something like that. I could force myself to do stuff but then I would still not feel very good about anything around it.

You mentioned how therapy and the support of your wife helped you. Would you say those are the two main things you found most helpful during the time of your depression, or even now?

Yeah I think those kinds of things that are helpful. I had several other people that first time. My PhD advisor was incredibly helpful. He was a very paternalistic factor for me at that moment in time, identifying the struggle with depression, being supportive and encouraging me to explore things via therapy. I had a business partner who was very accommodating of me. Even though there were burdens on him having to deal with a business partner sometimes, he was very patient with it. I had a mental depression episode for six months a couple years ago, and this was the one that I was public about. Dave is still a friend of mine thirty years later and he was incredible this time around because he knew me so well. He was able to engage with me about being a burden and he was able to be helpful without putting additional stress. He knew what would be helpful to me based on the experience he had thirty years ago.

Knowing the warning signs is tricky because a lot of people are just exhausted and there’s this incredible stigma about depression and mental health in general. If you’re a CEO and have diabetes, you manage your diabetes and nobody cares. If you have anxiety and depression and you’re trying to manage that, there’s no signal associated with that. For a lot of people, when they find themselves in that situation, it’s difficult to even acknowledge to yourself so you encourage this shield because of this external pressure, a lot of which is just uninformed stigma.

I think that one of the things that’s hopefully not so bad is a more open conversation that’s going on to destigmatise it.  You can be a strong and powerful leader or a successful entrepreneur and struggle with mental health issues and not let it become the thing that inhibits you as an individual, but continue to explore and learn yourself.  Understand what’s going on and figure out how to take care of yourself in those situations. What kinds of things renew you? What kinds of things allow the depression to pass? I understand when I’m feeling depressed that it will pass, and there are very specific things I can do. I sleep more, I stop drinking alcohol, I cut back on my eating deliberately, I spend more time alone, I travel a lot. These are specific things that I’ve learned over the years create a renewal for me which then allows the depression to eventually pass.

I’ve been writing on my blog for around a decade and I’m very public about a lot of personal things. When I started to feel depressed, I went through a thought process of not being open about it. I very quickly realised that was bullshitting myself, because I’ve been so open about so many other things. The reason I blog is because I like to write about things.

I didn’t know whether it would be helpful to me or not while I was depressed but I knew there would be internal inconsistency if I didn’t and as somebody with an engineer’s brain that likes a very logical way of putting things together, that inconsistency is very jarring to me. I decided it was probably better for the universe if I talk about this issue, and try to destigmatise it. Along the way, several amazing people, not friends of mine directly, but people whose work I have immense respect for, have committed suicide, clearly as a result of being depressed. I thought ‘let’s put this out there and see if it can be helpful to the conversation’, to try to make more people comfortable with the idea that this is a natural part of one’s existence.

What has the response been like?

Generally very supportive and positive. I have had many extremely well known and successful people reach out, people who have struggled with depression and are afraid, unable or unwilling to talk to others about it. I think it’s been a great relief to be able to talk to me about it, because they view me as somebody they can relate to. I’ve had many people who are struggling with depression ask questions, where I can be helpful to them. Several people have attacked me because of it. I’ve had people who told me I was stupid for putting myself out there. Some people say they disagree that somebody who’s depressed should be a leader.  On a whole, I feel like it’s a very powerful thing and that’s what I want it to be, because that’s what I try to do in terms of my world and the universe.

Brad Feld on what it means to be well

To be well means to wake up each day and be interested in what you’re going to spend your time on. At the end of the day when you reflect back and even though not everything that you’ve done was fun, interesting or stimulating, you feel like it was a good day on this planet, recognising that we have a finite number of them.

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Sep 28 2015

The Neurotech Era

The 2015 Defrag Conference is happening on November 11-12. Early bird pricing ends tomorrow.

For a taste of what you’ll get if you attend, following is a guest post by Ramez Naam,  the author of 5 books including the award-winning Nexus trilogy of sci-fi novels. I’m a huge fan of Ramez and his books – they are in my must read near term sci-fi category. 

A shorter version of this article first appeared at TechCrunch. The tech has advanced, even since then.


The final frontier of the digital technology is integrating into your own brain. DARPA wants to go there. Scientists want to go there. Entrepreneurs want to go there. And increasingly, it looks like it’s possible.

You’ve probably read bits and pieces about brain implants and prosthesis. Let me give you the big picture.

Neural implants could accomplish things no external interface could: Virtual and augmented reality with all five senses; Augmentation of human memory, attention, and learning speed; Even multi-sense telepathy – sharing what we see, hear, touch, and even perhaps what we think and feel with others.

Arkady flicked the virtual layer back on. Lightning sparkled around the dancers on stage again, electricity flashed from the DJ booth, silver waves crashed onto the beach. A wind that wasn’t real blew against his neck. And up there, he could see the dragon flapping its wings, turning, coming around for another pass. He could feel the air move, just like he’d felt the heat of the dragon’s breath before.

Sound crazy? It is… and it’s not.

Start with motion. In clinical trials today there are brain implants that have given men and women control of robot hands and fingers. DARPA has now used the same technology to put a paralyzed woman in direct mental control of an F-35 simulator. And in animals, the technology has been used in the opposite direction, directly inputting touch into the brain.

Or consider vision. For more than a year now, we’ve had FDA-approved bionic eyes that restore vision via a chip implanted on the retina. More radical technologies have sent vision straight into the brain. And recently, brain scanners have succeeded in deciphering what we’re looking at. (They’d do even better with implants in the brain.)

Sound, we’ve been dealing with for decades, sending it into the nervous system through cochlear implants. Recently, children born deaf and without an auditory nerve have had sound sent electronically straight into their brains.

Nor are our senses or motion the limit.

In rats, we’ve restored damaged memories via a ‘hippocampus chip’ implanted in the brain. Human trials are starting this year. Now, you say your memory is just fine? Well, in rats, this chip can actually improve memory. And researchers can capture the neural trace of an experience, record it, and play it back any time they want later on. Sounds useful.

In monkeys, we’ve done better, using a brain implant to “boost monkey IQ” in pattern matching tests.

Now, let me be clear. All of these systems, for lack of a better word, suck. They’re crude. They’re clunky. They’re low resolution. That is, most fundamentally, because they have such low-bandwidth connections to the human brain. Your brain has roughly 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion neural connections, or synapses. An iPhone 6’s A8 chip has 2 billion transistors. (Though, let’s be clear, a transistor is not anywhere near the complexity of a single synapse in the brain.)

The highest bandwidth neural interface ever placed into a human brain, on the other hand, had just 256 electrodes. Most don’t even have that.

The second barrier to brain interfaces is that getting even 256 channels in generally require invasive brain surgery, with its costs, healing time, and the very real risk that something will go wrong. That’s a huge impediment, making neural interfaces only viable for people who have a huge amount to gain, such as those who’ve been paralyzed or suffered brain damage.

This is not yet the iPhone era of brain implants. We’re in the DOS era, if not even further back.

But what if? What if, at some point, technology gives us high-bandwidth neural interfaces that can be easily implanted? Imagine the scope of software that could interface directly with your senses and all the functions of your mind:

They gave Rangan a pointer to their catalog of thousands of brain-loaded Nexus apps. Network games, augmented reality systems, photo and video and audio tools that tweaked data acquired from your eyes and ears, face recognizers, memory supplementers that gave you little bits of extra info when you looked at something or someone, sex apps (a huge library of those alone), virtual drugs that simulated just about everything he’d ever tried, sober-up apps, focus apps, multi-tasking apps, sleep apps, stim apps, even digital currencies that people had adapted to run exclusively inside the brain.

The implications of mature neurotechnology are sweeping. Neural interfaces could help tremendously with mental health and neurological disease. Pharmaceuticals enter the brain and then spread out randomly, hitting whatever receptor they work on all across your brain. Neural interfaces, by contrast, can stimulate just one area at a time, can be tuned in real-time, and can carry information out about what’s happening.

We’ve already seen that deep brain stimulators can do amazing things for patients with Parkinson’s. The same technology is on trial for untreatable depression, OCD, and anorexia. And we know that stimulating the right centers in the brain can induce sleep or alertness, hunger or satiation, ease or stimulation, as quick as the flip of a switch. Or, if you’re running code, on a schedule. (Siri: Put me to sleep until 7:30, high priority interruptions only. And let’s get hungry for lunch around noon. Turn down the sugar cravings, though.)

Implants that help repair brain damage are also a gateway to devices that improve brain function. Think about the “hippocampus chip” that repairs the ability of rats to learn. Building such a chip for humans is going to teach us an incredible amount about how human memory functions. And in doing so, we’re likely to gain the ability to improve human memory, to speed the rate at which people can learn things, even to save memories offline and relive them – just as we have for the rat.

That has huge societal implications. Boosting how fast people can learn would accelerate innovation and economic growth around the world. It’d also give humans a new tool to keep up with the job-destroying features of ever-smarter algorithms.

The impact goes deeper than the personal, though. Computing technology started out as number crunching. These days the biggest impact it has on society is through communication. If neural interfaces mature, we may well see the same. What if you could directly beam an image in your thoughts onto a computer screen? What if you could directly beam that to another human being? Or, across the internet, to any of the billions of human beings who might choose to tune into your mind-stream online? What if you could transmit not just images, sounds, and the like, but emotions? Intellectual concepts? All of that is likely to eventually be possible, given a high enough bandwidth connection to the brain. Very crude versions of it have been demonstrated. We’ve already emailed verbal thoughts back and forth from person to person. And the field is moving fast. Just this month (after Apex came out) Duke researchers showed that one rat can learn from another, directly via implants in their brains.

That type of communication would have a huge impact on the pace of innovation, as scientists and engineers could work more fluidly together. The same Duke research I just mentioned also showed that multiple rats or multiple monkeys working together via brain implants could sometimes achieve results better than a single animal. The mind meld is here.

Neural communication just as likely to have a transformative effect on the public sphere, in the same way that email, blogs, and twitter have successively changed public discourse.

Digitizing our thoughts may have some negative consequences, of course.

With our brains online, every concern about privacy, about hacking, about surveillance from the NSA or others, would all be magnified. If thoughts are truly digital, could the right hacker spy on your thoughts? Could law enforcement get a warrant to read your thoughts? Heck, in the current environment, would law enforcement (or the NSA) even need a warrant? Could the right malicious actor even change your thoughts?

“Focus,” Ilya snapped. “Can you erase her memories of tonight? Fuzz them out?”

“Nothing subtle,” he replied. “Probably nothing very effective. And it might do some other damage along the way.”

The ultimate interface would bring the ultimate new set of vulnerabilities. (Even if those scary scenarios don’t come true, could you imagine what spammers and advertisers would do an interface to your neurons, if it were the least bit non-secure?)

Everything good and bad about technology would be magnified by implanting it deep in brains. In Nexus I crash the good and bad views against each other, in a violent argument about whether such a technology should be legal. Is the risk of brain-hacking outweighed by the societal benefits of faster, deeper communication, and the ability to augment our own intelligence?

For now, we’re a long way from facing such a choice. In fiction I can turn the neural implant into a silvery vial of nano-particles that you swallow, in and which then self-assemble into circuits in your brain. In the real world, clunky electrodes implanted by brain surgery dominate, for now.

That’s changing, though. Researchers across the world, many funded by DARPA, are working to radically improve the interface hardware, boosting the number of neurons it can connect to (and thus making it smoother, higher resolution, and more precise), and making it far easier to implant. They’ve shown recently that carbon nanotubes, a thousand times thinner than current electrodes, have huge advantages for brain interfaces. They’re working on silk-substrate interfaces that melt into the brain. Researchers at Berkeley have a proposal for neural dust that would be sprinkled across your brain (which sounds rather close to the technology I describe in Nexus). And the former editor of the journal Neuron has pointed out that carbon nanotubes are so slender that a bundle of a million of them could be inserted into the blood stream and steered into the brain, giving us a nearly 10,000 fold increase in neural bandwidth, without any brain surgery at all.

The pace of change is so fast, that every few months brings a new cutting edge technology. The latest is a ‘neural mesh’ that’s been implanted into mouse brains via a single injection through the skull.

Even so, we’re a long way from having such a device that that’s proven to work – safely, for long periods of time – in humans. We don’t actually know how long it’ll take to make the breakthroughs in the hardware to boost precision and remove the need for highly invasive surgery. Maybe it’ll take decades. Maybe it’ll take more than a century, and in that time, direct neural implants will be something that only those with a handicap or brain damage find worth the risk to reward. Or maybe the breakthroughs will come in the next ten or twenty years, and the world will change faster. DARPA is certainly pushing fast and hard.

Will we be ready? I, for one, am enthusiastic. There’ll be problems. Lots of them. There’ll be policy and privacy and security and civil rights challenges. But just as we see today’s digital technology of twitter and Facebook and camera-equipped mobile phones boosting freedom around the world, and boosting the ability of people to connect to one another, I think we’ll see much more positive than negative if we ever get to direct neural interfaces.

In the mean time, I’ll keep writing novels about them. Just to get us ready.

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Sep 28 2015

The Public Library of the 21st Century

An event about how the Maker movement is transforming the role of public libraries is happening on Friday, October 16, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. at the Boulder Public Library. I’ve sponsored ten tickets for local high school students active in the library’s teen programs.

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Sep 25 2015

Glowforge Pre-order With 50% Discount

Glowforge has started taking pre-orders with an expected ship date of the pre-orders of before the end of the year. It’s one of the most magical products I’ve ever been involved with. It’s in the “show, don’t tell” category, so spend three minutes of your life and see what you can do with it.

For the next 29 days, Glowforge 3D laser printers are available for 50% off the retail price. In addition, if you buy using my referral code, you get another $100 of the price.

There are many times when I love what I get to do. Watching a product like Glowforge come to life, and being involved as an investor, is one of them.

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Sep 21 2015

When Anxiety Attacks

Three weeks ago, Mardy Fish wrote an amazing article on The Players’ Tribute site titled The Weight. I stopped halfway through the article and took a deep breath.

“This is a story about how a mental health problem took my job away from me. And about how, three years later, I am doing that job again — and doing it well. I am playing in the U.S. Open again.

This is a story about how, with the right education, and conversation, and treatment, and mindset, the things that mental illness takes away from us — we can take them back.

Tens of millions of Americans every year deal with issues related to mental health. And the journey of dealing with them, and learning to live with them, is a long one. It can be a forever one. Or, worse, it can be a life-threatening one.

And I want to help with it.”

If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, had an anxiety attack, or know someone close who has struggled with anxiety, go read The WeightI wait (see what I did there …)

If you aren’t a tennis fan, Mardy Fish is one of the great contemporary American tennis players. He fought his way into the top 10 during the epic era of Federer/Nadal/Djokovic/Murray. A massive anxiety attack in the 2012 US Open against Gilles Simon shattered him. He beat Simon, but then couldn’t go on the court two days later against Roger Federer and withdrew from the tournament. The article and quotes are interesting – they say nothing about anxiety and are vague about the issues, referring back to a previous heart-related issue that had been discussed.

“We are not 100 percent sure what the issue is and if it is related to his previous issues,” Fish’s agent, John Tobias, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Mardy is fine and will return home to L.A. tomorrow. This was strictly precautionary and I anticipate that Mardy will play in Asia this fall.”

Three years later Marty Fish has done an incredibly brave thing. He owned his anxiety, rather than let it own him.

“And just like that, it hit me — I remember it so vividly, and so powerfully. Oh god, I thought. I’m … not going to do it. I’m not going to go out there, anxious, in front of 22,000 people. I’m not going to play Roger. I’m not going to play. I didn’t play. First, I didn’t play Roger. And then, I didn’t play at all.”

He turned a weakness into a strength.

“But I am here to show weakness. And I am not ashamed.

In fact I’m writing this, in a lot of ways, for the express purpose of showing weakness. I’m writing this to tell people that weakness is okay. I’m here to tell people that it’s normal.

And that strength, ultimately, comes in all sorts of forms.

Addressing your mental health is strength. Talking about your mental health is strength. Seeking information, and help, and treatment, is strength.

And before the biggest match of your career, prioritizing your mental health enough to say, You don’t have to play. You don’t have to play. Don’t play …

That, too, is strength.”

His fearlessness about being open about his struggle is so powerful. We are all humans. We are all big bags of chemicals. The chemicals mix in lots of different ways.

“I still deal with my anxiety on a daily basis. I still take medication daily. It’s still in my mind daily. There are days that go by where I’ll think to myself, at night, when I’m going to bed: Hey, I didn’t think about it once today. And that means I had a really good day.”

How we deal with the mixture is what ultimately matters. I loved watching Mardy Fish play tennis. It was fun to root for him. It was pretty awesome to see him drop 30 pounds and totally transform his game. And now it’s even more awesome to know that he’s playing the game of life every day, doing his best, and helping the rest of us understand that having and dealing with mental health issues isn’t a weakness, but instead it’s just part of life.

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Sep 20 2015

Who Just Raised A $225 Million Financing in North Carolina?

Last Tuesday, while I was enjoying a week off the grid, AvidXchange announced they had raised a $225 million financing led by Bain Capital Ventures. I’m psyched to be joining the board of a company co-founded and run by Mike Praeger, a friend of mine for over 20 years.

It was big news in Charlotte, North Carolina where AvidXchange announced the groundbreaking on a new headquarters complex in the N.C. Music Factory. And, Matt Harris from Bain Capital Ventures wrote a good thought piece titled Submerging Payments, Part II on why AvidXchange is such a big deal.

This was an atypical investment for us as we participated in the financing through our Foundry Group Select fund. While we do late stage investments via Foundry Group Select, up to this point we’ve only used it to invest in companies we are already investors in. AvidXchange is our first Foundry Group Select investment that we weren’t previously investors in.

The price of admission for us to make an investment like this is that we think the company is extraordinary and will be an unambiguous long term market leader. But we see lots of late stage investment opportunities like that and consistently pass on them as it’s not where we engage. And, when Mike initially called me for advice on the financing he was putting together with Bain Capital Ventures, it didn’t even occur to me that it might be something we’d invest in.

But then Mike called me about some more stuff a week later. During this call, he asked if I’d be open to joining the board of directors as part of the financing. I told him that I couldn’t as we don’t join boards for companies that we aren’t investors in. Mike then asked if we’d be willing to invest if he could get Bain Capital Ventures to give us some of their allocation (they committed to the entire round.) I told Mike I didn’t think this made any sense given our strategy and we left it at that.

A few days later, Mike emailed and asked if he and his wife Cindy could come to Boulder to spend some time with me and Amy. We hadn’t seen each other in many years and it seemed like a fun evening if they were already traveling. A week later we had an awesome dinner at Oak and then Mike, Cindy, and I stayed up until after midnight at the St. Julien talking about AvidXchange. Mike again asked me if I’d consider investing. This time I told him I’d run it by my partners and get their feedback.

Seth, Jason, Ryan, and I had a long conversation about it after going through the AvidXchange financing deck and monthly financial package. I expected that we’d decide to pass and set up the conversation with them this way. But I was pleasantly surprised that they were all interested in exploring it more. Besides thinking this was an outstanding business at first blush, there were three other things that caused us to consider breaking our rule about late stage investing.

1. My long standing relationship with Mike. We met through YEO in Boston in the early 1990s when we were each running our first company. Through YEO, I got to know Mike and Cindy (who is also an entrepreneur and was in YEO) very well. A few years after Amy and I moved to Boulder, Mike and Cindy sold their first company and moved to North Carolina. Their experience in Charlotte has been similar to ours in Boulder, as they made it their home and immediately went to work building their next business and their life. In 2000, Mike co-founded AvidXchange and has been building it ever since. While we haven’t seen each other in person for a while, we periodically go back and forth on email and have a deep emotional intimacy that comes from the relationship we built through our time in YEO.

2. We are very interested in investing in fast growing companies in different geographies. When we started Foundry Group in 2007, we stated that we would invest in companies throughout the United States. While roughly 33% of our investments continue to be in California (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a third city to be named in a week or so) and 33% of our investments are in Colorado (primarily Boulder and Denver), we have developed deep networks in many different cities, including Boston, New York, Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis through the other 33% of the investments we’ve made. And, through our deep relationship with Techstars, our reach and network is even further and includes cities like Detroit, Kansas City, Austin, Chicago, San Antonio, and San Diego. When the opportunity to invest in one of the fastest growing, and most significant tech companies in Charlotte appeared, we couldn’t resist.

3. We could do our unique thing alongside one of the best fintech investors in the industry. We have enormous respect for Matt Harris and his work at Bain Capital Ventures. While this is the first time I’m working with Matt, my partner Seth has known him going all the way back to high school and Mark Solon, one of the managing partners at Techstars, worked with him during his time at Village Ventures. While fintech is not one of our themes, we think of AvidXchange as Glue in the fintech world, which gave us a comfortable lens to view it through.

Before making a decision to invest, we talked to each member of our advisory board to get their feedback. We knew we were onto something when several of them asked if they could invest alongside us in the round. Their feedback, as one would hope from an advisory board, was direct, clear, and ultimately supportive.

With that, we decided to invest and Mike got me to join the board after all.

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Sep 19 2015

OMG I Needed That Vacation

AspenAmy and I are back in Boulder after spending a week off the grid in Aspen. We sent my mom a birthday present from the Prada store and she responded with an OMG so I figured it was ok for a 49 year old to use it publicly if his mom used it privately.

On our way to Aspen last Friday, I spent most of the time in the car asleep. I could tell I was super grumpy based on the tone of some of my recent blog posts, what was rolling around in my head, and Amy’s mildly concerned questions about how I was doing.

After a week doing nothing but reading, sleeping, eating, running, hanging out, being in the mountains, shopping, and adult activities I feel a lot better. I was just very, very tired. Fitbit tells me that I got an average of 10 hours and 27 minutes of sleep each night last week, which confirms things on the fatigue-o-meter.

I paid very little attention to the world last week. Other than watching the first hour of the Republican Debate, mostly just for the amusement factor, and the finals of the US Open, the TV was off all week, along with the computer and the phone. Yesterday I took a look at the Techmeme River and saw all the tech news I missed. I took a deep breath and archived all my email. And then I was back and refreshed.

The most enjoyable book of the week was The Quantum Door by Jonathan Ballagh. While it’s perfect for a teenager interested in sci-fi (the heroes are all kids), the concepts played around with are fun for any age. After bailing on The Girl in the Spider’s Web after 10%, I gave it another shot on the behest of Howard Morgan and enjoyed it a lot. Ironically, these were both on my Kindle, as all the “good for me hardcover books” sat on the shelf, other than Kafka which was excellent.

My favorite day was shopping day. I hate shopping and the idea of spending time in a retail store makes me need to go to the bathroom. So, I made sure I was empty and then ventured out into the mean streets of Aspen with Amy. She loves to shop so my birthday present to her this year was a day of shopping together, with me paying full attention, offering opinions, and supporting whatever purchases she decided to make.

I knew I’d scored when her first guess of what her “experience present” was the day prior was “shopping.” We had a blast together, just wandering around and being together while she lit up on a zillion different things, buying only the ones she really loved. Yes, she has a few more purses now.

When we went to Paris for our Q2 vacation, we were both exhausted. Once again, we found ourselves in a state of deep fatigue, reenergized by a week in a beautiful place away from humans (other than the friends who came to visit). And, as I return to Boulder, I’m more determined than ever to stop wasting my time on stuff I don’t care about or want to spend time on, which I know is just wearing me out in the midst of an otherwise extremely busy life.

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Sep 10 2015

Are Individual Angel Investors Starting To Get Tapped Out?

I got the following question from a friend yesterday.

“I’ve had a few conversations recently about how individual seed investors are getting kind of tapped out – for a variety of reasons, but in general it’s not that easy to find people who are still actively investing. I don’t recall your having blogged about this – are you seeing it too? Lots of talk about Series A crunch but maybe there is a seed crunch too?” 

I blasted out a response by email, which follows. If you are an active angel, I’d love to hear what you think.


I’m not seeing much evidence of this – yet …

I have seen some of the more prolific angels start to slow down because capital is not recycling as fast as they are putting it out. That’s a pretty common phenomenon. But generally the pool of angel investors is increasing and the prolific ones who have a strategy (such as the angel strategy I advocate) seem to be keeping a steady pace.

There is also a huge amount of seed capital available from seed funds. Some angels are no longer competitive as they are overly price focused (e.g. if the valuation goes above $3m pre it’s too late for me). And the convertible note phenomenon hasn’t helped as many seed deals just keep raising small amounts of convertible debt.

The supply / demand imbalance is way off. While there is an increasing amount of seed capital / seed investors, the number of companies seeking seed investment has grown much faster in the last 24 months.

Also, I think some angels are just tired of the deal velocity. You have to work at it now more to stay in the flow because there’s just so much more of it, and that makes angels, especially semi-retired ones, tired.

If there is a big public market correction and angels feels (a) less wealthy and (b) less liquid (or not liquid), you’ll see a major pullback.

I feel like we are in a sloppy part of the cycle. Everyone is suddenly nervous. There are lots of uncomfortable macro signs, but it’s hard to get a feel for where things are really heading. And, at the same time, the cycle of innovation is intense – there is a huge amount of interesting stuff being created at all levels. And there is a massive amount of capital available that is seeking real returns, vs. low single digits.

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