Month: March 2017

Mar 31 2017

UCLA Depression Grand Challenge

As part of the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge, I’ve been asked by them to be their first #DepressionHero.

Over 300 million people around the world suffer from depression. I’m one of them and have written extensively about my experience with it. The following 90-second video gives you a little more context on this.

April 7th is the World Health Organizations “World Health Day” and the theme of this year’s World Health Day is Depression: Let’s Talk. UCLA is engaging in a number of activities in commemoration of World Health Day. One of these activities is a social media campaign to publicly recognize a number of individuals who their campus has identified as a #DepressionHero. The UCLA Grand Challenge Facebook and Twitter accounts have been generating lots of content around this and I’m doing a public interview next week (I’ll post the details when I have the final information.)

I’m particularly tuned into this right now as I recently avoided a major depressive episode. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have picked up the tone of my increasing distress from posts in the first two weeks of February, including This Page Intentionally Left BlankGenerosity Burnout, and The Power Of A Digital Sabbath.

By Valentine’s Day, which corresponds to a low point in my depression of 2013, I realized I was heading for a bad place and I took a bunch of aggressive corrective actions, including shutting down all travel. Several of my close friends showed up quickly for me, including my partners who know me extremely well. Amy was clear thinking and awesome. We took a vacation for the first two weeks of March and by the mid-March, I knew I was fine and had dodged the depressive episode.

I’m fortunate that I’ve done the work, have professional help, incredibly supportive friends, and the universe’s best spouse to help me when the black dog shows up at my doorstep. Many are less fortunate, like the entrepreneur I didn’t know who unexpectedly to everyone around him committed suicide last week. I’m close with a colleague of his and the shock to the collective system is immense.

When I was in LA in February, I was at a group dinner with Dave Morin, a longtime friend of mine. A segment of the dinner was a discussion around depression among entrepreneurs which had some very difficult and challenging moments (on multiple dimensions). After the dinner, Dave and I had a brief conversation where he told me more about his involvement in the UCLA Grand Challenge on Depression. I told him that I’d be honored to help out in any way I could. I hope this is simply the first step of a long relationship with UCLA on this front.

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Mar 30 2017

The Generic VC / PE Reference Questions For An Executive Hire

I’m on the receiving end of a lot of reference calls. I try to be thoughtful and direct in my responses, but I’m increasingly annoyed by the generic nature of the questions. Over time, I’ve developed an approach to doing reference checks, and my approach actively avoids asking any of the following questions.

  • How did you get to know Person X?
  • What is your relationship to Person X?
  • What were Person X’s different roles?
  • How does Person X rank concerning leadership ability?
  • How does Person X rank concerning analytical ability?
  • What about Person X’s vision and ability to communicate it to others?
  • Was Person X well respected by the people he managed?
  • What are Person X’s strengths?
  • What are Person X’s weaknesses or areas for development?
  • Would you hire Person X again? If so, what size company?
  • What other questions should I have asked?
  • Are there any things you would want to know if you were me?

I don’t know which VC or Private Equity firm first came up with this list of questions, but like many elements of a term sheet, they seem to have been passed down from generation to generation.

My answer to the last question is “Do you ever get tired of doing reference checks this way?”

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Mar 29 2017

Funding All Projects on DonorsChoose in Alaska

Amy and I just funded all of the unfunded DonorsChoose projects in Alaska as part of the annual DonorsChoose #BestSchoolDay event. As part of the #BestSchoolDay program, your donation is matched. In all of the Alaska projects, Aspect Ventures matched our donation. Huge thanks to Jennifer Fonstad, Theresia Gouw, and team!

Amy grew up in Alaska and we have a house in Homer, which is what motivated us to support Alaska this year on #BestSchoolDay. As I was supporting projects, I saw one in Homer and a few Sphero and littleBits requests which made me smile.

We’ve been continuous supporters of DonorsChoose for many years. Whenever I have a shitty day, I often go to DonorsChoose and support a few projects. It’s generated some incredibly satisfying moments for me, like a connection with Monica Zamora, a fourth grade teacher in Edgewater, NJ. I funded several programs for her students including some BB-8s and some littleBits. I gave a 30 minute Skype talk to her class, where I met a budding CEO of a new company called SockWorld who pitched me on her new business around socks. Or, the time I got a note from Norma Gibson at Carr Creek Elementary in Littcarr, Kentucky. At her initiative, she pointed me to a number of projects at her school which we funded. Her appreciation – for her students – lept out through the email to me.

If you are motivated to participate, I encourage you to pick some projects on DonorsChoose in the city you grew up in.

Today, we funded 72 projects, which delights us. If you want to see a few examples, check out:

White Boards to Think It, Write It, and Share It!

Math in the 21st Century

Who, What, When and Where: Books With Answers

Building Young Architects

Geocaching Field Experience

Got Power? We Need Charging Stations

Good Women’s Hygiene

Science Books and Supplies

Iditarod: The Last Great READ

Coding Into the Future!

Maker Space For Twenty-First Century Learners

Putting the DNA in our DNA Fingerprint

Little Bits for Science Exploration

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Mar 27 2017

When One Month Of Real Time Is Three Months of Company Time

Most of us learned about dog years as children. Unfortunately, the adage that one human year = 7 dog years is not entirely correct, as dogs mature much faster than humans and the aging process depends on the size of the dogs. But the general idea works.

Recently, I was in a board meeting at a company that had increased its revenue by a factor of four in 2016. We were discussing two things: (1) the 2017 budget and (2) all the things that broke in 2016 that we needed to fix in 2017. After a long, healthy discussion, we did an AMA with the whole company.

I’ve been fortunate to be involved in some extremely high growth companies. It can be a blast, but it’s also daunting. Everyone always has this strange look in their eyes that is a combination of being exhausted while knowing they are on a rocketship ride they are supposed to be enjoying.

During the AMA, I looked around the room a had an insight that most of the people had never experienced this pace of growth before. I suddenly had a thought which I decided to try out on the audience.

“Y’all are experiencing something rare. It happens to a few companies, but not that many. You are currently in a phase where one month of real time is equal to three months of company time. It’s like dog years. You are jamming four years of company time into every year of real time. That’s why it is so intense.”

A lot of head nodding ensued.

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Mar 24 2017

Kindred Spirits – Our Investment In Founder Collective

Founder Collective

Foundry Group is best known for our investments in startups, but our vehicle currently investing in other venture funds, Foundry Group Next, is off to what we believe to be a great start and I wanted to share an update about it by talking about our new investment in a fund managed by Founder Collective.

I’ve written previously about why we created Foundry Group Next. We have been personally investing as LPs in funds of other managers for decades and found the activity to be emotionally rewarding. When we decided we wanted to expand and formalize that activity, it gave us a chance to work more closely with Lindel Eakman, who was the largest investor in our first fund through his role at UTIMCO. Lindel joined Foundry Group as a partner to lead the fund investing activity of Foundry Group Next.

We’ve made about a dozen investments in funds including funds offered by Union Square Ventures, True Ventures, and Forerunner Ventures. One of our recent investments, offered by Founder Collective (FC) – an eight-year-old manager with offices in Boston and San Francisco – is an excellent example of what we look for when we invest in funds offered by other managers.

It starts with the people. We don’t invest in managers unless we can picture working with them for decades. We’ve had the opportunity to work with Founder Collective’s partners – David Frankel, Eric Paley, and Micah Rosenbloom – over the years on several companies. We also know many of the entrepreneurs in their portfolio. From those founders, we are aware that FC takes their mission “to be the most aligned fund to founders at the seed stage” very seriously.

We aren’t a generational firm, but investing in other VC funds gives us the benefit of working with managers who challenge and enhance our thinking while sharing the lessons we’ve learned with other investors. We want to work with people who bring a focused and complementary perspective to investing and were interested in the Founder Collective mantra of being “stage-focused and sector agnostic.”

This means FC avoids trends and relentlessly questions entrepreneurs about how their product enables specific use cases and market opportunities. This approach has paid off and helped the team to identify hot sectors well outside of the current hype cycle. If you look at the Founder Collective portfolio, you’ll see many well-recognized companies that they invested in at the very first round. In general, these investments were rarely competitive at the time of their first financing.

“Founder friendly” is an overused term, but there is a big difference between marketing this as a concept and living it every day. The team at FC has structurally designed their firm around alignment to founders. They’re a rare venture fund that doesn’t exercise pro-rata rights over the lifetime of an investment, meaning they dilute alongside company founders, which they believe better aligns their interests as seed investors with the entrepreneurs.

At a time where funds are aggressively deploying capital and not considering the downsides for founders, FC is actively promoting the value of efficient entrepreneurship and helping founders maximize their outcomes and optionality. Not only are the downsides of overcapitalization problematic for founders, but FC also examined overcapitalization in upside scenarios by studying the data from the last five years of tech IPOs. The findings were surprising in that the amount of money a company raised and its success in the public markets were not positively correlated. In fact, the companies that raised less money out-performed the most funded over time. Needless to say, having investors that keep this balance in mind can be precious to founders.

It’s one thing to have a unique perspective; it’s another to generate returns with it. As an LP, I’ve had the good fortune to be an investor in many funds, including some exceptional ones. Before diving into diligence, we had a sense that Founder Collective had strong performance based on their portfolio. When we saw their financial track record, we realized how special the performance was.

We know many firms that build portfolios with great logos by buying into companies at later stages and higher valuations. FC’s portfolio is made up exclusively of seed stage investments at seed valuations.

These aren’t just paper gains – they have already returned a meaningful amount of cash to their investors. Founder Collective’s first fund has the potential to be enshrined in the annals of VC history. Their second fund is tracking ahead of the first at the same point in development.

Needless to say, we had many reasons to hope to be part of their third fund. The only problem was they didn’t have any room. We found out they were oversubscribed just from their existing Fund II investors – that’s without pitching any new LPs. But they didn’t take advantage of that demand. Instead, they stuck to their principles and kept their fund size the same as their previous fund.

We love seeing that strategy discipline as we believe it is the mark of good fund managers. When Union Square Ventures’ 2004 fund was on fire, Fred and Brad raised their next fund at the same size. This has also been our approach at Foundry Group.

In the case of Founder Collective, the partners effectively shrunk their fund regarding outside capital by increasing their personal financial commitment to their fund. This investment generates additional evidence that they are confident in their strategy while creating more alignment with their LPs.

As a GP I applauded the approach and accepted that as an LP we had to beg and plead our way into to the fund. All the same, we were honored that Foundry Group Next was the only new investor in Founder Collective III due to our long and trusted relationship.

By virtue of time and focus, we can only help so many startups, but we’re proud to be investors in funds like Founder Collective, which is deeply committed to helping enrich the startup ecosystem. We are delighted to be working alongside them and finding other managers of their caliber going forward.

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Mar 23 2017

Venture Deals 3rd Edition Available via Kindle Matchbook

If you have purchased the hardcopy edition of Venture Deals 3rd Edition, you can now buy the Kindle version also for $2.99 via the Amazon Kindle Matchbook program.

Jason and I have been asking our publisher (Wiley) for this for a while and we are psyched they’ve agreed to it. It came about after a number of you asked us if we were going to do this, so thanks to y’all for pushing us on it.

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Mar 22 2017

Relationships Are 100/100, Not 50/50

In a vox with my partner Seth recently, he said something that stuck with me.

“Relationships are 100/100, not 50/50.”

He was referring to a business dynamic between two people, but it applies to any relationship and any number of people.

It’s a simple idea, but a great one. When I consider my relationship with Amy, it’s 100/100. Sure, we have plenty of conflicts, but we are both 100% all in on the relationship.

When I consider my relationship with my partners, it’s 100/100. We refer to our relationship as one of business love. We communicate with brutal honesty delivered kindly. We argue, disagree, and get frustrated with each other. But we own our actions – good and bad. And we learn and evolve together.

We are best friends. Our relationship is 100/100.

When I talk about my relationships with a CEO in a company that I’m an investor in, I describe it as one where I only ever want to make one decision, which is whether or not I support her. As long as I do, I work for her. If I don’t, it’s my job to do something about it, which does not necessarily mean “fire her,” but instead try to get back to a place where I support here. Again, I’m all in on the relationship, and I expect it to be 100/100.

Thanks Seth for the concept. I hope never again to say “relationships are 50/50.”

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Mar 21 2017

Through the Looking Glass

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

– from Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky

Jabberwocky and the vorpal sword always makes me think of Princess Leia saying “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi you’re my only hope.”

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

I can almost see Obi-Wan swinging his lightsaber.

It delights me that we’ve invested in a company called Looking Glass who is making their own version of a vorpal sword.

Well, ok, it’s a volumetric display. But we’ll get there …

We’ve been investing in stuff around 3D since we started Foundry Group in 2007. Our first 3D-related investment was Oblong, which has reinvented the way we engage with computers (which we call infopresence) through the use of their 3D spatial operating system called g-speak and their collaboration product Mezzanine.

Well before the current generation of VR/AR/MR/XR/whateverR came about, we focused our attention and investing in the notion of a radical change in human computer interaction (HCI). We believed that in 2007 we were at the beginning of a 30+ year shift that would make the WIMP interface, which emerged in the early 1980s and was dominant in 2007, look and feel punch-card archaic in the future.

While we dig the moniker XR (for extended reality), we are much more interested in, well, reality. Our investments in 3D printing, first with MakerBot (the first successful consumer 3D printer) and now with Formlabs and Glowforge, cross the boundary between designing in 3D and making physical things. Our investment in Occipital has changed how we, and many others, think about 3D inputs and what to do with them. And life wouldn’t be much fun if you couldn’t play Rock Band in 3D, so Harmonix has you covered there.

So, why Looking Glass? After Stratasys acquired MakerBot for over $400m in 2013, we didn’t pay much attention to 3D printing for a few years. But, in 2015, when we invested in Glowforge, we realized that we had only begun to play out physical interaction with 3D. The industrial laser cutter market presented the same opportunity as the industrial 3D printer market, and hence our investment in the first 3D Laser Printer.

In 2016, when we invested in Formlabs, we had another insight that was reinforced by one of the ubiquitous Gartner Hype Cycle graphs. I think it speaks for itself.

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We are now enjoying market leadership during the plateau of productivity.

One day, I was in Jeff Clavier’s office at SoftTech VC in San Francisco. He made me sit down with Shawn Frayne, the CEO of Looking Glass. Thirty minutes later, I called John Underkoffler, the CEO of Oblong, and said “John, I finally saw what you were trying to create with your holographic camera.”

Did I mention that John was one of the inventors, in 1990, of the holographic camera?

And, as a bonus, the physical camera, which for over 20 years lived in the basement of my close friend Warren Katz’s house, now lives in my Carriage House in Longmont. It’s in several pieces, but that’s a detail that some day John will remedy.

It was an easy decision to invest in Looking Glass.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

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Mar 20 2017

Back From Vacation

Amy and I just took a two-week vacation. We were mostly off the grid, to the extent we could be given several things we were working on together. We hid from the world, caught our breath, and regrouped.

I often get asked what my rhythm is on a vacation like this. It’s simple – I have no rhythm or schedule. My days are organized around waking up when I feel like it and going to bed when I’m tired. When I look at my Fitbit sleep data, I got at least nine hours of sleep every day. My resting heart rate was 62 at the beginning of the month (down from 69 when I declared a travel moratorium) and is 57 today.

I do have a few things I do each day. I meditate first thing for 20 minutes. Amy and I three meals together. I exercise, which on this trip included ramping up my running nicely. I take an afternoon nap. And I try to read at least once book a day.

We have a few friends living near where we are hiding so we have had some fun dinners together. We went and saw the movie Logan in the middle of the day and walked around a shopping mall for a few hours. We thought about going to a sporting event but never managed to pull it off. And we’ve watched zero TV.

Usually, we take a week off the grid each quarter. This time I felt like I needed more, so we took two weeks. I’m glad I did.

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Mar 3 2017

The Magic of Dealing With Your Demons

Jessi Hempel from Backchannel just wrote an amazing profile piece on my close friend Jerry Colonna. It’s titled This Man Makes Founders CryMedium estimates that it’s an 18 minute read and I assert that it’s worth every minute.

Jerry Contemplating Something

I’ve known and worked with Jerry since 1996. I now get to call him my neighbor as he moved from New York to Boulder a few years ago. If you want a taste of our relationship, I’ve written a lot about him over the years. Following are a few recent ones.

There are a few people other than Amy and my family who I love. For example, I love my partners. I love Len Fassler, who remains to this day my most influential mentor. And I love Jerry.

There are many choice quotes in the article, but to give you a taste, here are a few.

  • “Jerry?” he responds. “That guy saved my life.” – Bart Lorang, FullContact CEO
  • “There was this moment where you admitted to each other that you were working with him. It’s not an official thing, but there is this almost secret society of people who’ve been coached by Jerry.” – Chad Dickerson, Etsy CEO
  • “Campbell had a testosterone-infused Silicon Valley kind of model. Jerry’s model is more Buddhism and less football.” – Fred Wilson, USV partner
  • “There are a lot of people you can go to who will teach you to be a better manager. Jerry understands the psychology of leadership.” – Alexander Ljung, Soundcloud CEO 
  • “Until we make the unconscious conscious, we will be dictated by it and call it fate.” – Jerry quoting Jung
  • “The Reboot team possesses an otherworldly talent for coaxing authenticity and truth out of people. They can even coax truths out of people who, like myself, have been lying to themselves for years.” – Jacob Chapman Gelt VC partner
  • “Life sucks and it’s okay. Life is great, and it’s okay. Life goes up and it’s okay; life goes down and it’s okay. If we can instill a sense of resilience in people, we mitigate suffering.” – Jerry

Go read the entire article on Jerry. And, if you want more, go listen to the Reboot podcast.

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