Month: April 2018
I was talking to a friend last week about demos. She mentioned the Steve Jobs iPhone demo from 2007 and I referred to Doug Engelbart’s Mother of All Demos from 1968. She hadn’t heard of it, or him, which wasn’t that surprising since she was born at least 15 years after Englebart’s canonical demo.
While it doesn’t ever surprise me that someone hasn’t heard of – or seen – Engelbart’s demo, it’s an important part of computer history.
While it’s long (over 90 minutes), it’s worth watching from beginning to end. Fire up Youtube on the big screen, grab some popcorn, and settle in.
This article, Engineers Are Leaving Trump’s America for the Canadian Dream, stimulated a simple thought for me.
Canada has a huge, near-term competitive opportunity over to the US.
I have a deeply held belief that US entrepreneurship has benefited extraordinarily over since World War II due to the desire of people from around the world to come to make their lives in the US. While this immigration philosophy started with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (and arguably before that with the European colonization of America), it transformed entrepreneurship, the US economy, and the US’s place in the world dramatically from the 1950s on.
While there are lots of issues around immigration, I believe the US’s relative permissiveness around, and openness to, people from other countries had a remarkably positive impact on the US. I wouldn’t be here other than the immigration of my great-grandparents (and my maternal grandfather) in the early 1900’s from Europe and Russia. While I feel deeply (and proudly) American, I know that my family has only been here for a few generations.
I’ve been aware of and engaged in issues around immigration for the last decade. When I saw this article yesterday, titled U.S. startup visa draws only 10 applicants as Trump throttles program, I thought to myself “duh.” I then read the article, which had a good punch line in the second paragraph.
“A big reason for the shortfall is that the year-old program has been constantly under assault since the election of President Donald Trump, whose agenda revolves around tightening immigration rules and dismantling Obama-era policies. The Homeland Security Department has twice delayed implementation of the program but agreed to leave the application process open after venture capitalists won a court challenge in December. No one has been granted a visa, and Homeland Security said last year that it’s working on a plan to kill the rule entirely.”
Yeah, well, I wouldn’t apply for one of those things either. After advocating for and working on the Startup Visa for almost a decade, it was powerful to end up with something at the end of 2016 (the International Entrepreneur Rule, which was the closest we’ve been to this) but disheartening to see the endless and continuous attack and attempt to undermine this by the current administration.
This is a gift to Canada around entrepreneurship, and I’ve already seen the impact of it in many places. The Toronto/Waterloo startup community is on fire. Many companies I’m involved in are exploring offices in Canada, especially Vancouver (for the Seattle folks) and Toronto (for the east coast folks) since it’s so difficult to get work visas in the US for employees. Other entrepreneurs from around the world are simply opting to start the company in Canada rather than the US because of all the uncertainty around visa status.
I’ve always liked Canada. There is a window in time where Canada has a massive strategic geographic advantage over the US. It’ll be interesting to look back in twenty years and see if the country capitalized on it.
While I was in Seattle last week, I had a chance to stop by the Glowforge office and talk to the team during one of their biggest weeks since their historic 30-day crowdfunding campaign. An electric energy buzzed in the air along with the familiar low hum of anticipation in advance of a big product launch. Glowforge was about to launch their 3D laser printers to the world – their entire product line – for delivery in 10 days.
Foundry led a $9 million and then $20 million financing in Glowforge, the Seattle-based 3D laser printer, as it grew from just an idea to shipping a beloved product to their customers. Along the way, they’ve faced some unique challenges, not least of which was creating an entirely new product category.
Laser cutting/engraving technology has existed for many years, but it is not at all the sleek, superpowered item you envision. Instead, it has historically been an industrial, expensive, and hard-to-use piece of factory machinery. We invested in Glowforge because we were excited by what they envisioned – a way to harness the power of lasers that could be used right at home.
The feedback around what they were doing was incredible. It doesn’t hurt that lasers are super cool, but people also really, really loved the idea. Now, Glowforge reaches yet another milestone as their produce is moving out of pre-order and into commercial sale.
During my visit last week, one of the questions Dan Shapiro, CEO and co-founder, asked me to address to the team was, “What makes Glowforge stand out from other companies?”
I’ve seen many cultures at companies, but the thing that stands out about Glowforge is their constant and relentless focus on their customer.
Every Friday, their office gets together for an all-hands meeting where Dan updates everyone on everything from financials, product, and shipping status to sharing the latest projects customers are making with their Glowforge. I get a copy of the presentation by email, so I can keep current on what’s happening with examples like this
I regularly share this presentation with my partners at Foundry, especially the projects. It’s a perfect example of customer-centric thinking: Did we make something that people actually want to use? How are people using it? And how can we make it better?
Over the course of the last three years Glowforge returned to this last question, “And how can we make it better” again and again. They refused to ship a product that didn’t meet their standards, even if it meant making customers wait longer than they planned. When the product was only good instead of great, they chose to invest more to make the product they had promised awesome.
That’s the kind of culture that produces amazing products – one that focuses every product, every meeting, and every decision around their customers. I’m excited to see where Glowforge’s focus on customers will take them next.
And if you’d like to see the results of all this so far – my referral code is good for a $500 discount off the Glowforge Pro, $250 off the Glowforge Plus, and $100 off the Glowforge basic.
Kauffman Fellows and Techstars are once again running the Venture Deals online course.
This time it runs from May 6th to June 26th. We’ve now had over 10,000 people take the online course and have been delighted to meet or email with a bunch of them over the past few years.
If you want to learn how to be smarter than your lawyer and your venture capitalist, sign up for Venture Deals now. Yup – it’s free!
To clean my palate after reading Comey’s A Higher Loyalty, I settled onto the couch on Sunday after my run and gobbled up John Scalzi’s Head On: A Novel of the Near Future. It was delicious and I gave it to my partner Ryan McIntyre at dinner last night (he and Katherine are in a nice rhythm of taking care of me Sunday night when Amy is away.)
If you don’t know Scalzi, he’s one of my favorite near-term sci-fi writers and joins a list that includes Hertling, Peper, Gibson, Suarez, Howey, Cline, and Weir. If those names aren’t familiar, and you like sci-fi (or want to get into it) that should keep you busy for a while. If you know those names and have others to add, leave them in the comments for me to enjoy!
Head On is the sequel to Lock In. But it’s a magical sequel (I think the official name for this is a “standalone sequel”, but I find them magical so there) – one that doesn’t require you to read the first book. If you want to quickly get into Scalzi, just read Head On, then go back and read Lock In. This morning, I discovered there is an adjacent book in the series called Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome which I just grabbed.
Here are a few tidbits for you.
Haden’s Syndrome results from a virus where 1% of people exposed become Locked-in and end up in a pseudocoma. The solution, in the near future, is surgery that results in a neural network implant, that connects the person’s brain to the Agora (a virtual world for Haden Syndrome sufferers) as well as a normal-ish existence in personal robotic transports (called Threeps).
Hilketa is a futuristic football-like game, but with swords and hammers. The two teams are made up of threeps and the only players – so far – are Hadens. The goal is to decapitate the “goat” (one of the opposing team’s players, randomly chosen throughout the game) and get it through the goalposts. No one has ever died yet during the game, until about page two of the book.
Just go read it. It’s awesome.
I’ve started training for my next marathon (number 26), which means its time to go running. Hopefully, this one will be a little better than the 5:59:59 last one in South Dakota.
I finished James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership last night. Everyone who thinks or cares about leadership should read it and allow themselves to process it at a meta-level.
I don’t know James Comey and other than seeing his name, photos, opinions, interviews, criticisms, and analysis of him all week, have never really thought much about him. I noticed him during the 2016 election around the Hillary Clinton investigation – both when he announced it, ended it, re-opened it again, and closed it again. I noticed when he was fired and thought everything around it was odd.
I’ve never studied the FBI, know anyone who works there, or have really thought much about its relationship to the rest of the Executive Branch (or the government in general), other than knowing that it is part of the Executive Branch and that the director of the FBI reports to the Attorney General. Beyond than that, most of what I know about the FBI I’ve learned from fictional movies and TV shows, which I know is as accurate as the Fast and Furious movies.
My sense, from all the attention around the book in the last few weeks, was that this would be an important book. I didn’t know how it would be important, but the combination of the extremely aggressive criticism of Comey, the endless ad-hominem attacks on him, the promotion of the revelations that the book held, and a latent curiosity that I had around the dynamics of the director of the FBI before and after the most recent election, caused me to pre-order the book.
I’m going to use the reaction people had to Emily Chang’s book Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley to frame my view of Comey’s book. When I wrote the post Book: Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley I was simply writing about my reactions and thoughts after reading the book. Over the few weeks following my post, I had several conversations with men, all who I respect, about the book. In most of these conversations, I was surprised that they had a different, and generally negative, reaction to the book from me. When I pressed on why they had the reaction they had, it always came back to an excerpt that was published before the book was released and the ensuing controversy around the event and whether or not it happened as Emily portrayed it in the book. When I asked the question, “Did you read the book or just the excerpt” each one answered some version of “I’ve only read the excerpt.”
The remarkable thing about some of the criticism about Comey and his book was that it occurred before the book was released. The attacks – both substantive and ad-hominem, have been amplified to a volume of 11.
Comey starts the book off strong by acknowledging his own weaknesses and goals for the book. He asserts that he is focused on defining and describing ethical leadership, using his own experiences as support for the ideas of what he believes (and I agree) is a powerful and important leadership approach. While the book uses the format of a memoir, I think he did an excellent job of putting the reader in the moment of the decisions he had to make, how and why he made them, and the legal context in which he made them. As a result, the notion of ethical leadership gets developed and defined throughout the book.
The criticism of the book that I keep seeing focuses on Comey. It talks about his self-absorption, his need for personal absolution, his inability to see things from a perspective other than “his truth”, and a plethora of other weaknesses, including using his personal descriptions of the people he was talking to at various points in the book.
This is why I encourage you to read the book and reflect on it at a meta-level. There are different ways to be a successful leader. Truth and empathy are powerful, and key traits, of many of the great leaders I know and respect. For these leaders, loyalty is earned rather than demanded. Comey casts himself as this type of leader, but also acknowledges mistakes, misjudgments, and conflicts along his journey. This is another powerful message – leaders are imperfect. And, when you reflect on the various anecdotes Comey describes, from his perspective, one can see this very clearly in all of the leaders he describes his interactions with.
As I need a break from current reality, Sunday’s book will be science fiction …
I said some version of the following statement several times in the past few weeks.
Assume aliens came down and one of your senior leaders was taken away to their home planet. Do they have a person reporting to them who could step into their role, even if it’s only temporary?
If you are the CEO, this includes you.
It’s remarkable to me, even in companies that are over 100 people, how the answer to this question is no. I get that this can feel theoretically challenging in a very small (less than 20) person company, but it should still be an aspirational goal. Once you get to 100, it should be a requirement for every leader to be able to identify this person.
This should not be viewed as a threat. If you have this conversation with your leadership team (or are on a leadership team having this conversation) and are threatening (or feel threatened), you are missing the point. Realize that things happen and people leave organizations suddenly. They die. They have a dramatic personal change. They get bored. They scale out of their role. They get stopped at the Canadian/US border by CBP agents and can’t get back into the country. The aliens show up.
Less dramatically, leaders go through stretches where they are in a doer mode. The company has a crisis in an area and a leader has to spent 100% of her time working on this area, rather than covering her entire span on control. Or, focus shifts around a product launch and a leader who covers several aspects of the company focuses all of her energy on one of the three areas she has responsibility for. Or, someone really needs a vacation and goes off the grid for two weeks.
As a CEO, a big part of your job is to work “on” the company, rather than “in” the company. At the top of this list is making sure you have the right leadership team and they are functioning in a highly effective way. Part of that is making sure everyone on the team has a backup person identified and is not afraid to have them engage at any moment.
I’m in Seattle for the next few days. I’ve built this trip around Techstars Seattle Demo, a bunch of time at PSL, and a Moz board meeting. Oh – and time with several of our portfolio companies as well as some nice social stuff with long time friends.
Today, PSL announced their new $80 million venture fund. We are significant LPs in the fund and my partner Lindel is joining the PSL advisory board. In addition to being LPs in PSL Ventures, we are major investors in PSL Studio and I’m on the board. While we don’t have an office in Seattle, I’m confident we have a comfortable place to hang out when we are in town.
Amy and I have a periodic conversation around what happens if one of us died unexpectedly. We each know that it would be impossible to keep living alone in Boulder given our deep connections to many things as a couple. So, we each have our “other place” we’d live if it wasn’t Boulder. Amy’s is Paris; mine is Seattle.
I’ve been going to Seattle regularly for business since 1990. Feld Technologies was in the inaugural Microsoft Solution Provider program that Dwayne Walker created around 1991. I fondly remember a box of happiness from Microsoft showing up at my office in Boston every month, usually full of software, books, an occasional t-shirt, or plaque. At the time, we did almost all of our Windows development using Microsoft Access, which was a remarkably effective pre-client/server app development environment.
In the mid-1990s, I made a handful of angel investments in Seattle and spent more time at Microsoft for AmeriData, which had acquired Feld Technologies. Windows NT was beginning its conquest of Novell Netware, and AmeriData was a huge Novell reseller. I was part of the championing of Windows NT, regularly suggesting to the leadership at AmeriData that we needed to get on the NT train. I wasn’t as effusive as Steve Ballmer was, but close.
By the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, I was still going to Seattle regularly for a variety of reasons, including several investments that Mobius made. At some point Dan’l Lewin invited me to join the Microsoft VC Advisory Board where I had even more reasons to hang out in Seattle. I had become comfortable with Seattle the city, Amy and I were spending more time at our house in Alaska (so Seattle was occasionally a stop on the way to Alaska), and I’d started to enjoy the rain.
When we started Foundry Group in 2007, we knew that Seattle would be a key geography for us. It’s been really fun to be involved, through many different organizations, and with many people, in the massive growth of the Seattle startup community. We expect our various investments in PSL will provide a key focal point for the next decade of our Seattle experience.
I’m really looking forward to the next three days in Seattle. Even though they are very scheduled, I’ll be with a lot of people who I enjoy – a lot.
While I’ve been writing my entire adult life, I started writing consistently on May 4, 2004, when I began this blog with my first post To Blog or Not to Blog.
I ended that first post with the sentence:
“I’m still not sure if the world needs my musings, but because you have complete control over whether or not you decide to read this, here goes.”
WordPress tells me that since then I’ve written 4,890 posts. There are 5,095 days since May 4, 2004, so I write approximately a post a day (sometimes two, sometimes none). I’ve written hundreds of articles over the years for other publications, done countless online and live interviews, and written six books.
While that’s a lot of writing, I’ve had extended periods of being stymied. During the writing of several of my books, I had long spells of boredom, which some call writer’s block, but when I reflect on how I felt, I was bored of either the process or the content of the book. I never liked the feeling of writing as “work” and there were many periods where that’s what it has been for me.
I’ve always written to think and to learn, so I know that intellectually it is work. However, I get an enormous amount of joy out of thinking and learning, so that when I’m in a mode where one of these is happening, it doesn’t feel like work.
In 2016, Foundry Group became a registered investment advisor because of our Foundry Group Next fund (and our investments in other VC funds) which created another layer of work for me. Up to that point, my partners were fine with me posting whatever I wanted on this blog. Once we became an RIA, things changed, which I described in that post from 2016.
“… Because it will affect what we can say on the Foundry Group blog and personal blogs that we write. We’ll have to be careful with statements that we make about companies we invest in. We’ll also be cautious in what we write about our funds or the industry in general. According to the SEC rules, we can no longer write anything that “promotes” our funds. While we’d argue that we never try to promote our firm, but just write anything that comes to mind and try to have fun doing it, with our new registration status comes new responsibilities.”
This compliance process slowed me down and, for some of my writing, requires me to get approval from our compliance team to publish. This changed my rhythm a lot since I could no longer just write what was in my head about a company or a fund we were investors in. If that sounds like work, it is.
I’ve carried this around recently as frustration. I’ve allowed it to feel like work. I haven’t let my thoughts flow as much, as I’ve felt constrained. But I realized over the weekend that this feeling is artificial and unnecessary since my fundamental goal for writing is to think and to learn. If I go back to first principles from that first blog post in May of 2004. As long as my writing helps me think and learn, that’s why I do it.
Look for more “different” in my writing going forward. I’m going to let myself be less constrained, as I explore new topics that I’m playing around with. I’ll go deeper on things I am already deep in, and pay less attention to things that don’t stimulate me to think or learn. I’ve always tried to be playful and very personal in my writing, so my evolution will have more joy in it, even when talking about difficult or unhappy things. I’m thinking and learning, which is what I love to do.
For those of you who have been part of my writing journey for many years, I hope there is much more to come. I expect that will be linked to the number of days I have left on this planet, since I seem to write about one post a day, and one book a year, on average.
Regardless, the feeling of Amy patting me on the back as she reads what I’m writing over my shoulder lingers pleasantly with me all the time.
“We cannot afford the advertising business model. The price of free is actually too high. It is literally destroying our society, because it incentivizes automated systems that have these inherent flaws. Cambridge Analytica is the easiest way of explaining why that’s true. Because that wasn’t an abuse by a bad actor — that was the inherent platform. The problem with Facebook is Facebook.”
The article ends with a parallel quote from Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web
“The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today. The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponize the web at scale.”
I just read the article and all of the attached long-form interviews. I think my favorite, only because it’s so provocative, is the one with Roger McNamee titled ‘You Have a Persuasion Engine Unlike Any Created in History’
There are a few mentions of Zynga (which we were investors in) in the various article chain which caused me to reflect even more on the 2007 – 2010 time period when free-to-consumer (supported by advertising) was suddenly conflated with freemium (or free trials for enterprise software). The later (freemium) became a foundational part of the B2B SaaS business model, while the former became an extremely complex dance between digital advertising and user data.
Tristan’s quote “the price of free is actually too high” is important to consider. What is going on here (“free services”) is nothing new. The entire television industry was created on it (broadcast TV was free, supported by advertising, dating back well before I was born.) Nielsen ratings started for radio in the 1940s and TV in the 1950s. The idea of advertisers targeting users of free services based on data is, well, not new.
Propaganda is not new either. The etymology of the word from Wikipedia is entertaining in its own right.
“Propaganda is a modern Latin word, the gerundive form of propagare, meaning to spread or to propagate, thus propaganda means that which is to be propagated.Originally this word derived from a new administrative body of the Catholic church (congregation) created in 1622, called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith), or informally simply Propaganda. Its activity was aimed at “propagating” the Catholic faith in non-Catholic countries From the 1790s, the term began being used also to refer to propaganda in secular activities. The term began taking a pejorative or negative connotation in the mid-19th century, when it was used in the political sphere.”
So what? Why the fuss? A cynic would say something like “this is not what the hippy-techies of the 60s wanted.” True, that. But the arch of human society is littered with outcomes that diverge wildly from the intended actions. Just watch Game of Thrones or Homeland to get a feeling for that, unless you struggle with conflating fact and fiction, which seems less of a problem for many people every day based on the information we consume and regurgitate.
I think something more profound is going on here. We are getting a first taste of how difficult it is for a world in which humans and computers are intrinsically linked. Tristian’s punch line “The problem with Facebook is Facebook” hints at this. Is the problem the leadership of Facebook, the people of Facebook, the users of Facebook, the software of Facebook, the algorithms of Facebook, what people do with the data from Facebook, or something else. Just try to pull those apart and make sense of it.
I think this is a pivotal moment for humans. I’ve heard the cliche “the genie can’t be put back in the bottle” numerous times over the past few weeks. Any reader of Will and Ariel Durant know that the big transitions are hard to see when you are in them but easy to see with the benefit of decades of hindsight. This might be that moment of transition, where there is no going back to what was before.