Month: October 2017
My partners Chris Moody, Seth Levine, and Lindel Eakman are all blogging right now. My other two partners, Ryan McIntyre and Jason Mendelson have blogged in the past, ut took a break in 2017. Also, the Foundry Group blog is always active, with occasional thought pieces but mostly updates on initial financings both for companies and other funds that we invest in.
So, I thought I’d point you at Moody, Seth, and Lindel’s blogs (and some posts) in case you are interested in following more of what we are doing at Foundry Group.
Seth has started a Friday series named Friday Fun because the world needs more fun. His longer thought pieces like The Feature -> Product -> Company Continuum, How to value your SaaS company, and Reading Your VC Pitch Meeting are must-read posts for me – and for every founder and company executive. Also, Seth’s not afraid to be very personal and open, as he shows in his post Drowning.
Lindel is getting into a grove with posts like Saying “No” too often is part of being a good investor, Mi Casa Es Su Casa – How we seek to interact with our family of GPs, and Venture Risk and Return circa 2017. Very few LPs blog, so it’s neat to add Lindel’s perspective as a fund investor into the mix.
If you are following and reading me, I encourage you to follow and read my partners to get the full view of how we think about things at Foundry Group.
On October 19th, Engage Boulder is hosting a breakfast with me from 7:30am to 9:30am to discuss the past, present, and future of Boulder. I’ve lived and worked here since 1995 so I’ve seen, and be involved in, a lot of the evolution of our city over this period of time. I’m hoping to have a thoughtful and open conversation about a lot of the issues that are coming up around our local election. If you are interested, please join us.
Recently, the Daily Camera did an excellent series of profiles on the fourteen candidates running for the five open Boulder City Council positions. I recently endorsed five specific people: Jan Burton, Eric Budd, Jill Grano, Mark McIntyre, and Bill Rigler. Following are excellent profiles from interviews with each of them that I encourage you to read to get to know them, and their viewpoints, better.
Our local election, like our recent national election, has had some extreme animus creep into it. It’s not my nature to engage with what I view as irrational and ad-hominem hostility, especially when I view it as disingenuous. So, I was happy to see the Editorial by Dave Krieger, for the Daily Camera editorial board, call some of this out in a measured way. It’s worth a read, but listed are a few of the key statements.
“We came away convinced that Boulder will be in capable hands no matter which five of the 14 are elected. We think some of the fear-mongering that has already appeared in the campaign verges on the ridiculous.”
“We think today’s Boulder is a vibrant, bustling small city known nationally for the cutting-edge research of its university, federal labs and high-tech sector, but struggling to maintain its historically funky feel due to soaring property values and creeping gentrification. So we endorse forward-looking candidates seeking innovative ways to keep Boulder from becoming a gated community of wealthy white folks. We think this is what “progressive” means in the 21st century.”
“We do not share the view that Boulder is going to hell in a handbasket. There is no question it has undergone a growth spurt since the last recession, in part based on pent-up demand from that slowdown. It could have done a better job encouraging creative design of new buildings that better fit their surroundings. We have high hopes that a new planning director, in concert with a new council, may improve this process.”
“Colorado’s growth appears to be slowing, which may allow everyone to take a breath and lower the civic temperature. Boulder has too much going for it to engage in a divisive war choosing among a strong slate of City Council candidates.”
If you are game to have a calm and constructive conversation around this, please join me for breakfast on 10/19.
I was in Atlanta yesterday for Techstars Atlanta Demo Day. I’ll be here again today for Venture Atlanta and then I’m on to Kansas City for Techstars Kansas City Demo Day.
Rule #1: Don’t eat the bugs on the window of the 23rd floor of your hotel.
I’m being a lot more deliberate about my travel these days. I’m also being more careful about how I do it. I’m eating a lot smarter, not drinking at all, and making sure I get at least seven hours of sleep a night. While I hate shaking hands, I’ve given up trying to do fist bumps because I end up with numerous awkward semi-handshake-hand-grab moments. And I’ve stopped staying up late trying to get all my email from the day responded to like I did for 20 years.
I like Atlanta. I haven’t been here in a while but it’s pretty awesome to see how the startup community has grown in the past five years. While hot and humid today, it’s different from my norm so it’s an intriguing but easy adventure. While the bugs aren’t as big as the ones I grew up with in Dallas, they remind me of my childhood.
I had dinner with my brother Daniel and my cousin Kenny (who lives here) last night at the original Ted’s Montana’s Grill that’s on the corner of Luckie Street and Ted Turner Drive. We sat in the booth next to the one Ted frequents. The conversation was intense and wonderful. Something about all that made me smile just now.
Rule #2: Keep a sense of humor through all the absurdity. And, there’s a lot these days.
The physical world will be the reference coordinates for the fleets of robot cars of our imagination. We’re living through the transformation from digital to virtual, and Softbank leading today’s investment of $164 million in Mapbox accelerates this even faster.
I’ve posted about the massive founder crush my partners and I have on Eric Gundersen, the CEO of Mapbox. When we led Eric’s first financing — a $10 million round and the first capital into the bootstrapped team — we believed mobile location and mapping would be big. Four years later to the week, our vision is dwarfed by the reality that location is at the heart of everything from ride-sharing and autonomous driving, to IoT and AR/VR. We are excited to again participate in this round.
It is no surprise that Eric and Masa both have this bold vision. Both share an exceptional way of dreaming and executing. I remember Eric showing me the maps from his time with the World Bank and UN. There was no AR or autonomous back when he was in Afghanistan, but there was a need for location data and a better mapping platform. In the years since, with massive customer launches like Snapchat and the Weather Channel, the horizontal scale of Mapbox’s platform is now much more obvious.
Knowing Eric and the team, this idealistic passion will not only scale as a company grows, it will set the trajectory for building a product and a company that changes how we experience the world. When I asked Eric a couple years ago about how far he wants to take this he responded:
“It simply would be a mistake to stop building right now — it’s too early. We’re going to be inside of everything.”
We’re long on the team at Mapbox, and it’s obvious to me why Softbank is also enthusiastic. I’m very loyal to my friends at Softbank and love any opportunity to work with them. Back in 1997, Softbank Technology Ventures (which became Mobius Venture Capital) was the first VC fund I helped raise. Ron Fisher, the Vice Chairman of Softbank, was responsible for watching over us, is one of my favorite people on the planet, and has been an incredible mentor to me.
This team and our world are at a unique moment in time. It’s is going to be incredible to watch Eric keep building.
I finished marathon #25 today and checked South Dakota off the list. I ran it with ten friends (nine of us did the marathon, two did the half) who were all part of my Chorus team that I started in June.
While this was one of the most enjoyable marathon weekends that I’ve had, it was a rough marathon for me. I finished it in a personal worst of 5:58:26 (gun time right at 6:00:00 – the clock said 5:59:59, but the website says 6:00:00.)
Things went wrong almost from the beginning. The weather was in the low 30s so I couldn’t decide whether to wear pants or just run in shorts. I was hot in the first mile and my stomach was rumbling. At mile three, we looped back around to the start so I went into the Crazy Horse Visitor Center, took my pants off, and took a five-minute bathroom break to make sure I was empty. The Visitor Center was warm, so when I went outside to start running again I immediately stiffened up. At least my gut felt better.
I caught up with my friend Mahendra (co-author with me of Startup Boards). I had planned to run the race alone, but I settled into a nice pace with him as we comfortably cruised through a long downhill section (that we knew we’d have to turn around and come back up later, but well – that was later.)
Around mile 8 I had a sharp pain in my left calf. I never get cramps, so this startled me and I limped on it for fifteen or so seconds. When I realized that it was seizing up, I stopped to stretch it out, but the damage was done. I didn’t have a pain free step on my left leg for the rest of the marathon.
Mahendra was awesome. Instead of going ahead, he waited with me for a minute while the cramp subsided. We walked for a few minutes until I felt like I could run again. We then ran side by side for the remaining 18 miles. A marathon typically gets difficult for me between mile 15 and 20. Today’s was hard for the last 18 miles. That’s a long way to be uncomfortable.
The downhill segment went from mile 4 to mile 10, where there was a turnaround point. Amy was at the turnaround and as she saw me coming she asked if I was ok. Apparently, my gait was off enough that it was noticeable.
For a moment, I thought about calling it quits. I’ve finished every marathon I’ve started and given the Chorus team activity, I quickly got over my doubt about staying on the course. Mahendra (standing to the right of me) and I said goodbye to Amy and started back uphill.
After seven miles, we crested the hill. By mile 17 we were both pretty done and were just shuffling through each mile. The course was extremely well crewed, which was great, but the snow started around mile 17 and by the end we were cold, wet, and mildly manic. When we turned the last corner and saw 5:59:00 on the clock, I told Mahendra to get moving since I didn’t want the clock to hit 6:00 (even though we had 90 seconds or so banked from the start.) We crossed the line right at 5:59:59.
The amazing thing was the performance of Team Chorus in this race. The marathon winner, Jason Burke, was on our team, as were #5 (Winter Mead) and #6 (Gary Ditsch – my coach). On the women’s side, one of our teammates Lou Anderson came in 14th.
Everyone else turned in impressive times. Ryan Martens finished (his first marathon!) in 4:14:37 (with Lou). Christina Sollenberger also finished her first marathon in 4:35:02. And Donna Miller finished her first marathon in 5:04:52. Bryan Oki finished his first half marathon in 2:00:02 and Davis Godbout got his first half marathon done in in 1:47:11.
As we had a post-race meal and told race stories, we all agreed how much Chorus had helped us on both our training and motivating us for the race. I have some new friends for life. While not a great marathon for me, it was a great weekend.
And Amy – you are the most awesome marathon sherpa ever!
Among all the distressing news of the world, I heard today that AOL Instant Messenger is shutting down on 12/15/17.
AIM was the first instant messenger I used. My AOL account handle was bfeld, which stuck and is generally my handle for all things (like Twitter) unless someone else grabbed it, in which case it’s bradfeld.
On 9/11/01, I was in NYC. I had taken a redeye the night before so I took a nap in the hotel room after I checked in and slept through the first World Trade Center tower collapse. When I woke up I was disoriented from my redeye and totally confused (like many) as to what was going on. I called Amy and caught her on the way to the airport (she was heading to NYC) and had been trying to reach me but couldn’t. There were tears but we figured out enough that she turned around and went home.
That was the last phone call I was able to make for a while. I was in the Benjamin Hotel and the phone wasn’t able to dial out. My cell phone couldn’t get a signal. As a last resort, I turned on my computer to see if I could connect to the hotel Internet.
That worked just fine. All of my IM apps opened up (AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, and ICQ). Email worked fine also.
So for the rest of 9/11, until I went to Jenny Lawton’s house in the evening with Paul Berberian and Nick Cuccaro to get Jenny’s car and drive home to Boulder, I hovered over my computer.
AOL IM was probably 10x more active than the other IM apps combined. Amy and I went back and forth in real time throughout the day. My Mobius partners were equally distributed across AOL and Yahoo and a few randoms were on Microsoft and ICQ.
The little yellow AIM man was burned into my brain that day. I can’t imagine getting through 9/11 without him – and AIM.
AIM – you served me well for many years. Thank you. May you rest in peace for all of digital eternity.
I had a long conversation with a friend last night that included a segment about men, sex, and power. I had just finished Ellen Pao’s book Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change which I thought was phenomenal (more in a separate post soon) so there was a lot in my mind about this topic.
I woke up to several articles this morning that reinforced a simple concept that so many people miss. Sexual harassment – while it includes sex – is also about power.
Let’s start with Harvey Weinstein. For a preview, read the shorter article titled Another man behaving badly in Hollywood — this time, Harvey Weinstein. What a shocker. This line about narcissism is reflected in the behavior of many prominent men.
“I have always argued that power, particularly the Hollywood strain, infantilizes. Success in Hollywood frequently reduces fully grown adults to narcissistic babies. Babies have no self-control. They scream and cry when they get mad. Their needs are uninhibited. Gratification must be instant. Weinstein may be a talented moviemaker. But he is also just another overgrown Hollywood man-baby.”
The longer article in the New York Times that kicked this off, Decades of Sexual Harassment Accusations Against Harvey Weinstein, is worth a complete read. As you put the pieces together, Weinstein’s public response is similar to many self-reflective apologies that come out of this situation when things finally become public.
Back to the first article, here is another great section from Robin Abcarian.
“Weinstein’s behavior is also an excellent example of the hypocrisy that is so rampant in Hollywood — and politics, for that matter. He is a liberal Democrat who publicly champions women’s rights and professional advancement but demeans and exploits them in private. (And yes, I do include Bill Clinton on that list.) The conservative equivalent is the anti-abortion crusader who privately urges his mistress to abort an inconvenient pregnancy or the “devout” Christian who ditches his sick wife to marry his mistress.”
Power. And that led me to the second story I woke up to, which is the anti-abortion crusader, Tim Murphy, who privately urges his mistress to abort an inconvenient pregnancy. The article Inside Tim Murphy’s reign of terror shows very clearly how power is at the root of this. The statement from Congressman Tim Murphy is another typical one, which basically says “I’m resigning, I’ll spend my time remaining working on important things, I’ve accomplished a lot, and please leave me alone.”
At least Harvey Weinstein said, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.” But, this was his fourth paragraph. As my mother taught me, the way to apologize is to start with the sentence “I’m sorry.” You can write anything you want after that, but start with the apology – that’s the lead – don’t bury it.
I’m really hopeful that we are at the tipping point of sexual harassment being completely unacceptable. I have a profound appreciation for the women coming forward with their experiences. I know there are many multiples of these stories being suppressed by non-disparagement clauses that were signed and sealed with money to keep people quiet. That’s just another form of power being used in this situation.
Last week Rover launched on-demand dog walking in Denver. They’re enhancing their existing marketplace experience by adding an assignment option, similar to Uber and Lyft, and bringing it to Colorado. It’s another exciting move by the company, and their Denver announcement caused me to me reflect on my five years as an investor and board member at Rover.
Three thoughts came to mind.
Rover executes. I can’t believe that Rover has rolled out an entirely new way to purchase dog walking in three cities, with their fourth on the way, and we’re not yet three months on the other side of the DogVacay integration. That integration – a result of Rover acquiring DogVacay, both started and ended in Q2, and surpassed the best-case-scenario metrics that the team presented to the board. While we talk about the power of “just executing” in the startup world, Rover is a case study of execution in action.
Rover is completely obsessed with its customers. Only an absolute determination to get the customer experience right would drive this team to build two separate versions of a new product, given the complexity of their overall business. But Rover shares this common trait of product-obsession with other great teams that I’ve known as an investor and board member, and it’s inspiring to watch. This is yet another instance of a team that knows what it’s doing, listens carefully to its customers, and, like my dog Cooper, jumps all over things to make sure that it gets its experience right.
Rover is an old-school example of how great companies drive customer loyalty. Their monthly new customer LTVs have increased steadily every year as a result of customer loyalty for six years in a row, without a single counter-example. While some increases can be accomplished through branding or marketing initiatives, Rover has done it the old-fashioned way, which is through careful and thoughtful sequencing of product launches and improvements to the marketplace.
If you live in Denver, give Rover’s on-demand dog walking experience a try and let me know what you think. I’ll pass it on to the team at Rover, as I know they will be very interested in your feedback.
Amy and I have always believed in this value and importance of voting. If there was any doubt about how this can impact our society, that doubt was obliterated in the 2016 election.
Boulder has an odd-year election cycle so our local elections are happening between October 16, 2017 (ballots get mailed) and November 7, 2017 (the last day to vote). Historically, less than half of the registered voters in town have voted in our local elections. A group of us, led by Engage Boulder hope that meaningfully increases (both the registered voters and the ones who choose to vote) this year.
Having lived and worked here for almost 22 years (longer than I’ve lived anywhere else by a wide margin), I now feel like I understand the strengths and weaknesses of Boulder. I get the difference of opinions about the long-term view of the city. I think we are living in an amazing place, but we have a lot of work to do to both keep it amazing and have it continue to evolve in a healthy, productive, and successful way.
As a result, I believe that our city council election is critically important. In the past, I’ve voted but I have not been public about my endorsements, nor have I put much energy into helping the candidates I endorse get elected. This election feels different for me, partly because I’m now thinking a lot about the long-term health of Boulder, but also because I feel like the low voter turnout in past elections shows that the broader population is not necessarily being represented.
We have chosen to endorse these five candidates because of their commitments to bring visionary and practical strategies to:
- Create more housing and transportation for all Boulder residents;
- Make our streets and paths safer;
- Meet Boulder’s carbon reduction goals;
- Keep Boulder open for entrepreneurs and the ecosystem that encourages them;
- Make Boulder attractive for creative people, in the arts, research, and elsewhere;
- Maintain a balance of conservation and recreation access on our open space.
While I don’t necessarily agree with every position of each of these candidates, I strongly believe they are all smart, thoughtful, willing to engage, and capable of thinking long-term about what is good for our city and community.
Voting in Boulder is easy. If you haven’t registered to vote, please register now. And, Engage Boulder is having voter-oriented events several times a week between now and the election – get involved!
Recently, my friend Ross Baird came out with a new book, The Innovation Blind Spot. In the book, Ross outlines and diagnoses a problem that I’ve been exploring for over a decade: our innovation economy neglects many people and ideas.
Ross kicks off the book with some pretty stark statistics: despite the fact that promising startup communities (such as my hometown of Boulder) are thriving, in most communities in America, firm creation is the lowest it’s been in a generation. With women making up less than 10% of new startups that are funded and African-Americans and Latinos making up less than 1%, it’s obvious we’re not seeing the best ideas in our innovation ecosystem.
Ross’ book is important because he focuses on solving this problem through HOW we invest, not just WHAT we invest in. It’s not enough for tech firms to say “we need more diversity – let’s go find different founders!” The design in how we find companies, perform diligence and make investments have unintentional side effects that cut many people out. One example highlighted in the book is that the very act of “pitching” a business tends to favor men (a Wharton study showed that men were 60% more likely to raise money pitching the exact same business as women.)
I’ve been thinking about ways to design startup communities to be more inclusive. A classic investor problem is a tension between wanting to be accessible to new founders while at the same time giving existing portfolio companies the time they deserve. When you’re getting a thousand pitches a year, you often tend to gravitate towards the people you already know and ideas that are familiar. Techstars has been a key part of addressing this issue for us as we’ve met thousands of companies we wouldn’t have otherwise and have invested – both directly and through our investment in Techstars – in a wide variety of founders all over the world.
Ross’s book also explores ways to build a stronger pipeline of different types people. As I’ve dug further into the problem, I’ve seen consistent ways that many people are excluded. For example, entrepreneurs go to conferences and network in order to find customers and investors. If you don’t have personal savings or family members who can help support you, you can’t afford that plane ticket. Organizations like the Techstars Foundation are working on addressing problems like this.
My favorite part of the book is when Ross talks about how places and communities can support their own founders. Ross’ final section is titled with one of my favorite words: “Topophilia“, or “love of place”. It’s a phrase I’ve embraced as we’ve built our startup community in Colorado and have tried to share with other communities around the world, both in my travels and through my book, Startup Communities. Whether you live in Cincinnati or Jakarta, you are far better able to help the entrepreneurs in your hometown than I am. I think that in order for us to ensure that entrepreneurs flourish everywhere, communities need to embrace them, and I’ve enjoyed being part of a community of folks like Ross who are trying to help communities do this worldwide.
Ross’s book is a quick, entertaining, informative read that diagnoses how we can do better as a startup community, and more importantly, focuses on the HOW. I encourage everyone in the innovation economy to read it.