Month: May 2017

May 30 2017

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Following is a beautiful and brilliant TED talk by Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU. It’s definitely worth 12 minutes of your life to watch.

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May 26 2017

Phil Weiser For Colorado Attorney General

Over the past fifteen years, Phil Weiser and I have worked together to make Colorado a stronger, more collaborative, and more innovative entrepreneurial community. Together, we co-chaired Governor Bill Ritter’s Innovation Council, worked to launch the Startup America Partnership (when Phil worked for Obama in the White House), started Startup Colorado, brought the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network to Colorado, and helped CU become a first-class entrepreneurial university (which I discussed in a chapter in my book Startup Communities). Phil is a rare entrepreneur who can bring innovation to the government, which is just the sort of leadership we need now. I strongly encourage everyone to do what they can to help elect him as Colorado’s next Attorney General, including donating your time and money to his campaign.

Phil and I both share a background as Jews whose families came from Eastern Europe. That background, which involved a history of religious persecution, imprinted in each of us a deep appreciation for the constitutional rights and civil liberties that many Americans take for granted—the freedom of religion, the freedom of press, and a commitment to the due process of law (that is, people cannot just arbitrarily be rounded up). In Phil’s case, his mom was born in a concentration camp and came to the US when she was six. So protecting those freedoms at a time when we cannot take them for granted is a job that Phil will take seriously as Colorado’s next Attorney General, just like other State Attorneys General, who are already standing up to the Trump Administration to protect our constitutional rights.

Through hard work, his parents set up Phil for amazing opportunities, including the chance to serve as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and work for President Obama in the White House. In the spirit of paying it forward, Phil’s concern and caring for others is powerful and plain to see for all of those who worked with Phil during his time as the Dean of the CU Law School. During his time as Dean, he set up a range of innovative partnerships around the State, including a program that placed recent law grads as assistant district attorneys in rural areas. As our Attorney General, I know that he will be a leader for all Coloradans. I am personally excited to work with him in how to support entrepreneurial opportunities across our State, including in more rural parts of Colorado. While that might not sound like a traditional role of a state Attorney General, when it comes to fighting for access to broadband Internet technology and building partnerships that support economic success, Phil is unique. Consider, for example, his leadership as the founding Board Secretary of the CareerWise Colorado Initiative that supports apprenticeship-based learning across the State to create opportunities for skilled jobs for those without a college degree.

To have an Attorney General with an innovative mindset will mean that the Colorado AG’s office will become an engine of policy development and new thinking on a range of issues. Take, for example, criminal justice policy where some states around the country—often with leadership from the AG’s office—are taking a hard look at whether they are getting a good return on the social investment in our criminal justice system. Today, we put more people in jail than any nation in the world. Nonetheless, we are not aggressively enough addressing alternatives to incarceration that cut down on prison sentences. We are not investing enough yet in programs that make it less likely that inmates end up back in prison after they are released, such as Defy Ventures. We continue to make bail decisions in a way that keeps people in jail who are not flight risks just because they cannot afford to pay a bail bond. To ensure Colorado a leader in moving towards a criminal justice system that keeps us safe and is smarter, we need an AG like Phil.

Finally, when Phil talks about protecting our quality of life and our environment, he is someone we can count on. The whiplash from President Obama’s commitment to fighting climate change issues to today’s situation where we have Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier as the head of the EPA, is hard to take. Closer to home, our current Attorney General joined Scott Pruitt in challenging President Obama’s leadership in this area. As our next Attorney General, Phil will be a leader on environmental protection—like Governor Hickenlooper, who created a national model for rules restricting methane emissions by working collaboratively with the oil and gas industry and environmentalists. If we fail to elect officials like Phil who will stand up for our environment, future generations will ask us how we stood by and failed to act.

A core lesson I took from Trump’s election last fall is that we must be active in supporting candidates who we believe in. It’s not often that I have an opportunity to support a leader like Phil. So when I do have that opportunity, I feel the need to make the most of it. As a consequence of a SEC rule under Dodd-Frank, I am not allowed to donate to Phil’s campaign, but I am free to use my voice to encourage others to do so.

From my long relationship working with Phil, I can assure you that it will be a great investment in Colorado’s future and will help Colorado continue to be a model for the nation. So I strongly encourage you to donate your time and money to his campaign.

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May 25 2017

Sphero’s Ultimate Lightning McQueen

If you’ve been in our office recently, you’ve seen me fiddling around with one of my newest toys – Ultimate Lightning McQueen by Sphero. It’s now available for the world.

Based on what I know about robotic toys, I believe it’s the most advanced robotic toy ever made. Owen Wilson is even included in it (well – his voice – as LMQ …).

It started shipping yesterday so it’ll probably sell out quickly as Sphero ramps production. If you are into RC cars, amazing robots, or you have children who like the movie Cars (even grown up children like me), you can buy it online from Sphero or Amazon.

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May 24 2017

Techstars AMA With Me On Mental Health – 5/25 @ 4pm EST

On Thursday 5/25 at 4pm EST, I’ll be doing an AMA with Techstars titled Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community.

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May 24 2017

Shifting To Maker Mode For The Summer

My favorite and most productive time of the year is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Basically, summertime.

Normally I’d declare this the Tuesday after the Memorial Day weekend but I’m just getting over a cold so fuck it, summertime starts today.

During maker mode, I try to only do meetings and phone calls in the afternoons between 1 and 5. There are some exceptions – mostly board meetings – but I try to give myself lots of space to work on the longer term stuff. While this is mostly writing, it also includes deeper work for specific companies, especially around product and product strategy. Essentially, things that take more than 30 minutes of concentration.

Last weekend Amy and I shifted into reading mode over the weekend (we were both sick so couldn’t do much other than lay on the couch, read, fall asleep, and complain about feeling crappy.) It continued into the week – the TV hasn’t been on for a while and evenings are spent on our couches with the dogs and our Kindles. Heaven.

In addition to turning off the TV, I’ve turned off all the continuous interrupts. I’m not looking at social media (although I am still broadcasting.) I’m not looking at news (I figure anything I really need to know will find its way to me) other than my continuous stream of tech news in my a Slack channel. My Sunday New York times habit will be banished until after Labor Day. Podcasts – forget it – for a while.

While I fantasize that I can be in maker mode all the time, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to sustain throughout the year. For some reason, the tempo of the summer makes it easy. Maybe it’s because the days are longer. Or it’s warmer and more people melt away. Or after 40+ years of behaving a certain way, summer is just different for me than the rest of the year.

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May 22 2017

Maps for Unity: Location Based Games and Mapbox

This morning’s launch of Maps for Unity brings the full stack of location tools to the world’s most popular game development platform and shows that location and maps are the new building blocks for AR and VR games.

We think the maps look amazing and are insanely fast.

Bringing location and maps to game developers is a big deal. Pokemon Go had maps because Niantic, the game’s creators, started as part of Google and the company is run by John Hankey — the former CEO of Google Maps. The maps in Pokemon Go were customized because John secured special access to Google’s proprietary datasets. No one else could have maps like that, until now.

Today’s Mapbox release is not about just maps but is about location and how the gameplay matches the real world around you.

“In this one, the spaceships are different sizes, so we built an API that only lets spaceships in parks where green areas are big enough. Using our traffic endpoint, we see all the walking paths in the park, so when you land the ship, it spins so the door faces the paths where people walk.”

Ryan and I have been trading emails like this with Eric, the CEO of Mapbox, talking strategy around the SDK since last Summer when Pokemon Go launched. Stuff like this just wasn’t possible before — we think game studios are going to go crazy for it.

Unity, with its massive user base and comprehensive tools radically decreased the time to market for game makers. But until today’s release, doing anything with real-world maps in Unity was virtually impossible. The Maps SDK gives Unity developers the kind of ready-to-use tools Mapbox has already brought to mobile and the web.

Looking at the beta demos, we think the games built on this will look amazing. Not only can designers change the look and feel of the map, they can now access open APIs for searching local places like coffee shops and stores, elevation data and satellite imagery, and turn-by-turn directions to guide people through the game and the real world at the same time.

Design is everything for gameplay and in the last year, Unity has radically invested in its core rendering tech to the point where it’s now hard to tell what has been filmed versus rendered in real time.

Eric and the team at Mapbox have built an incredible platform. Mapbox now has more than 750,000 registered developers with maps used by 250 million end users each month — including National Geographic’s city guides, AirBNB’s service in China, and Doordash’s real time directions.

Adding a Unity SDK alongside SDKs for iOS and Android opens up Mapbox to one billion more monthly active users. Game on.

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May 19 2017

YPO Innovation Week

In March, YPO and Techstars launched a partnership to support high-growth entrepreneurship and innovation. As a kickoff to that, Techstars co-sponsored YPO Innovation Week.

I did a one hour interview with Kate Rogers from CNBC last Friday. It was a fun interview for me and I felt like we covered a lot of good stuff.

Steve Case kicked off YPO Innovation Week with an interview, also with Kate Rogers. I listened to it in advance of my interview and thought it was extremely well done.

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May 18 2017

The Dissonance of Snow in Boulder in May

Amazingly, I still haven’t conditioned myself to turn my phone horizontally when I take a video. I feel old.

I’m sitting in my condo downtown, drinking coffee, listening to Soundgarden, and contemplating the dissonance of so many things. I just got off a Facetime saying good morning to Amy and talking to Brooks and Cooper.

Both Chris Cornell and Roger Ailes died in the past 24 hours and I saw both alerts within 15 minutes of each other this morning.

I love Soundgarden, but I try not to listen to the lyrics too carefully. Unlike Pink Floyd, where I’ve got most of the albums memorized, I hang on to individual riffs. For me, Like Suicide is a love song, rather than an appeal for help, but it rattles me this morning as the snow comes down. I replace it in my head with all that you touch, all that you taste, all that you feel, all that you love, all that you hate, all you distrust, all you save, all that you give, all that you deal, all that you buy, beg, borrow or steal …

Things are amazing. Things are awful.

Life is complex. Dissonance abounds. And the Dude abides.

Strikes and gutters. Ups and downs.

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May 16 2017

Mentors 16/18: Provide Specific Actionable Advice

There’s a tenuous balance between telling someone what to do and giving advice. It’s especially difficult as a mentor, especially if you’ve previously been a CEO and are used to being “the decider.”

As a mentor, you aren’t the decider. The CEO you are mentoring is the decider.

This dynamic is also true for many board / CEO relationships, where the board wants the CEO to make the ultimate decision. As I’ve often said, my goal as a VC is only to make one decision about a company – whether or not I support the CEO. If I do, I work for the CEO. If I don’t, it’s my job to do something about the CEO.

While this is nice in theory, it’s difficult in practice. One of my strengths is that I tell a lot of stories. One of my weaknesses is that, according to my wife Amy, my stories go on 20% too long (she is correct.) Here’s an example.

I’m at a board meeting. The CEO, which I love working with, is trying to figure out what to do about a particularly thorny issue. I tell a story. He reacts with a little more data. I tell another story. Another board member asks a question. I tell another story. This one goes on a bit too long.

The CEO looks directly at me and says, very firmly, “Will you just tell me the fucking answer for once?”

I tell him the answer.

He was looking for specific, actionable advice. I was telling him stories. If he spent enough time processing the stories, he might be able to come up with the right answer. Or, since they are stories, he might draw the wrong inference and decide to do something different from where the stories were leading him. This CEO was aware of that and, in real time was having trouble processing the point of the stories in his context.

Fortunately, this CEO was self-aware enough to ask for specific, actionable advice in a moment where he needed it.

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May 15 2017

Book: All Over The Place

I’ve written this post in the style Geraldine used in her book. As you read this, assume that I’ve failed miserably at it and Geraldine is 1000x funnier and more clever than I am.

I had a weekend of books. Amy’s cold drifted over into my part of the world so I slept a lot, ran a little to try to clear out the goo in my head, and read until I feel asleep again. And I ate nachos, several times, which I never do at home.

Last week I ordered 51 hardcover copies of Geraldine DeRuiter‘s new book, All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft, from Amazon. I did it to celebrate that my 51st year on this planet coincided with the publication of Geraldine’s first book. I brought two of the books home – one for me, and one for Amy. I think I’ll make a chair out of the other 49.

Geraldine writes a popular travel blog called The Everywhereist. Amy has characterized it as “pee in your pants funny” which I’ve never actually experienced, but I think I understand. Geraldine’s book doesn’t disappoint, as I wandered to the bathroom several times while consuming the 274 pages on Saturday. I laughed out loud a lot, but I also drank two bottles of Pellegrino in an attempt to stay hydrated.

All Over the Place is a memoir masquerading as a travel book. Geraldine starts off strong with a disclaimer which points you at what the journey of this book will actually be.

“So, if there is any advice I could dispense, it would be this: it’s absolutely incredible, the things you can learn from not having a clue about where you’re going – lessons that emerge after making a wrong turn, or saying the wrong thing, or even after accidentally doing something right. And in my case, this was all undertaken not in the company of a new love, but one that has enough miles on it to circle the earth three, maybe four times, is now sufficiently jet lagged, and lost its pants somewhere over Greenland.” 

If you know Geraldine’s husband Rand Fishkin, you may recognize him as the not a new love. I learned a lot about Geraldine and Rand in this book, including their experience with poop and toilets, but is gender reversed from the experiences Amy and I have had (hint: Rand and Amy are the heroes of those particular stories.)

The chapter titles give you a feel for what you are in for:

  • Marry Someone Who Will Hel You Deal with Your Shit (see above paragraph)
  • Home Is Where Your MRI Is
  • The Contents of My Mother’s Carry-On Look Like Evidence from a Prison Riot
  • Life Lessons from a Three-Hundred-Year-Old Dead Guy and His Boring Clock
  • Gelato Is an Excellent Substance in Which to Drown Your Sorrows

I think y’all know I’m a big fan of chocolate gelato. Which is what I went out and got after I had an extremely uncomfortable phone call with Geraldine after realizing that she’d found out that FG Press wasn’t going to publish her book by noticing that we’d taken her off the FG Press website as a future author. Of course, this was totally my fault, as I’d told the FG Press gang a month or so earlier that I’d call Geraldine to tell her we were shutting FG Press down and, as a result, wouldn’t be publishing her, or any other, books. I apologized 49 times, went out and found a chair to sit in, and had a chocolate gelato. I think she eventually accepted my apology, kept working on her book, and found a serious publisher (PublicAffairs/Hachette) who did an awesome job with All Over the Place.

I’m extremely proud Geraldine. Her first book is extremely true to her writing, her soul, and her soulmate. I learned a lot while reading it, and not just about Geraldine and Rand, but about life.

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