On 2/12/19, Brian McPeek (President, The Nature Conservancy) and I are doing an AMA about the Techstars Sustainability accelerator.
It’ll be at 1 pm MT and last for an hour. This will be the second year that Techstars is running an accelerator in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. I had high expectations when we announced the partnership in November 2017. The year one program far exceeded my expectations!
Brian and his team at TNC are a substantial force for good in our ever more complex world. Join us to hear more about how TNC and Techstars are working together to help companies get started to address some of the most challenging issues facing our planet.
And, if you are one of those companies, applications for the accelerator are now open. Please apply!
The brain in sleep state is a fascinating thing.
I have been awake for 30 minutes and the dream is lingering. While it’s not as vivid as when I woke up, the details are still there. Maybe it is a result of the Super Blood Wolf Moon. Or maybe its because I’m traveling today.
I’m in an airport casually talking to someone who has stopped me to ask me a question. I realize it is
That won’t work because my meeting starts at 10:30am. I’m meeting Person L and Person F there at Company B to pitch Company B on something. I’m wearing my normal work uniform (jeans and a Robert Graham shirt) but I’m nervous that I should be wearing a suit given Company B’s culture.
I try to figure out a solution with the gate agent. She’s nice, but she doesn’t have a solution for me other than the 10:30am flight. I start to get my bags and try to go to another airline, but both my Filson bag and my laptop bag are missing. My phone was on top of one of the bags so it’s missing also. I start to panic and ask the gate agent to help me find the bags. She points at a bunch of different bags that are just lining the gate area, but none of them are mine. I try to walk out the doors to the plane to find my bags but some burly guy stops me.
I go back to the gate agent to make sure she has my information in case she finds my bags. She says she does but I’ve never given her anything so I try to give her a business card. When I put it on the desk, I see it is for Person E. I try to write my phone number on the card but my writing is illegible. The gate agent isn’t paying attention to me anyway.
I remember that the document that I was working on is stored in Google Docs so it’s automatically backed up. But my suit is in my bag so I can’t wear it to the meeting. And I can’t call Person L to tell him that I can’t make it to the meeting. I decide to punt and go buy another phone.
I wake up feeling very unresolved.
I sometimes wonder what my computer is dreaming about when it’s in sleep state.
Amy’s favorite poet, Mary Oliver, just passed away at 83. In her honor, following is Amy’s favorite Mary Oliver poem White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field.
out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
it was beautiful
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings –
five feet apart – and the grabbing
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow –
And then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes,
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows –
so I thought:
isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us –
as soft as feathers –
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking, and shut our eyes,
not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow –
that is nothing but light – scalding, aortal light –
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.
By Mary Oliver, From House of Light copyright © 1990, Beacon Press
If you like Mary Oliver, other favorites include Wild Geese and The Summer Day.
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves”
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
While some poetry ends, the poems last forever.
Today, Techstars announced a new initiative called Techstars Studio which will allow Techstars to source new company concepts from Techstars alumni founders, community leaders, venture capitalists, mentors, and corporate partners. The Techstars Studio will then build prototypes, test market adoption, and select the most promising concepts for launch. Techstars Studio will then launch new startups and source talent and capital from the Techstars worldwide network to run the new companies.
The goal of each Techstars Studio is to launch four new companies annually. The first Techstars Studio will be in Boulder, just like the first Techstars accelerator was in 2007. As with the expansion of Techstars Accelerators around the world (Techstars will run 41 accelerator programs in 31 cities and 11 countries in 2019), expect Techstars Studios to follow a similar expansion path.
At Foundry, we have a lot of experience with the Studio model. We are investors in PSL (in Seattle) and High Alpha (in Indianapolis). We are also investors in the venture funds associated with the studios (PSL Ventures and High Alpha Capital) as well as Techstars Ventures.
Over the past five years, we’ve looked at potentially investing in numerous studios. We think the studio model, while very attractive with the right team, resources, and network, is very difficult to execute well. We’ve been deliberate in our choices and the leaders of both PSL and High Alpha have been helpful with Techstars as they’ve gone through their thought process on how to build out a studio.
We are especially excited about the founding team of Techstars Studios. Along with the leadership of David Cohen (the co-CEO of Techstars) will be Isaac Saldana, founder of SendGrid and Mike Rowan, former VP of SendGrid Labs. We’ve worked closely with Isaac and Mike over the years and are psyched to have another chance to create something with them from the ground floor.
A number of the most successful Techstars accelerator alumni are participating as founders in residence and advisors to Techstars Studio. In addition, more than 25 corporate partners of Techstars are involved in the initiative at launch.
If you are interested in the Techstars Studio, drop me an email and I’ll route you to the right folks.
While there have been many words written about gender bias in the context of entrepreneurship and funding, I thought the following TED Talk from Dana Kanze presented one of the best frames of references, supported by a real research study, that I’ve seen to date. In addition, she has some clear, actionable suggestions at the end of the talk to help eliminate the bias.
Her research emerges from her own exploration of a social psychological theory originated by Professor Tory Higgins called “regulatory focus.” This theory explores the different motivational orientations of promotion and prevention.
While listening to Dana’s explanation and examples in the video, I had a deep insight – around how to ask questions of an entrepreneur – that hadn’t occurred to me before. Here are her direct definitions of promotion focus and prevention focus.
“A promotion focus is concerned with gains and emphasizes hopes, accomplishments and advancement needs, while a prevention focus is concerned with losses and emphasizes safety, responsibility and security needs. Since the best-case scenario for a prevention focus is to simply maintain the status quo, this has us treading water just to stay afloat, while a promotion focus instead has us swimming in the right direction. It’s just a matter of how far we can advance.”
Dana’s punchline is that investors approach female entrepreneurs with a prevention focus and male entrepreneurs with a promotion focus. Interestingly, she finds this is consistent regardless of the gender of the investor!
The talk has a clear recommendation for female entrepreneurs in it. Basically, if you get a prevention question, reframe the answer in a promotion context.
“So what this means is that if you’re asked a question about defending your start-up’s market share, you’d be better served to frame your response around the size and growth potential of the overall pie as opposed to how you merely plan to protect your sliver of that pie.”
Dana also has a suggestion for how investors (both female and male) can help eliminate this implicit bias.
“So to my investors out there, I would offer that you have an opportunity here to approach Q&A sessions more even-handedly, not just so that you could do the right thing, but so that you can improve the quality of your decision making. By flashing the same light on every start-up’s potential for gains and losses, you enable all deserving start-ups to shine and you maximize returns in the process.”
Her talk is only 15 minutes long and well worth it. Or, if you are a fast reader, take a look at the transcript.
I read Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister recently. It was recommended to me by Tami Forman, the CEO of Path Forward and I was immediately cheered on by Amy when I started reading it.
It was extraordinary. Every man I know should read it. I’m now officially a Rebecca Traister fan. I learned a lot, was forced to think about a bunch of uncomfortable stuff, and formed some new ideas about how to address some gender-related issues in our society.
And then I read the Bloomberg article Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost and got mad at some men.
The article starts strong.
“No more dinners with female colleagues. Don’t sit next to them on flights. Book hotel rooms on different floors. Avoid one-on-one meetings.”
It then goes on and references this as “The Pence Effect.”
Call it the Pence Effect, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In finance, the overarching impact can be, in essence, gender segregation.
I thought the idea of the Pence effect, as stupid as it is, had come and gone. But I apparently am wrong.
“For obvious reasons, few will talk openly about the issue. Privately, though, many of the men interviewed acknowledged they’re channeling Pence, saying how uneasy they are about being alone with female colleagues, particularly youthful or attractive ones, fearful of the rumor mill or of, as one put it, the potential liability.”
Then I came upon a quote that was advice for men which seemed fitting and was a solution that I expect Rebecca Traister could be supportive of.
“Just try not to be an asshole.”
If you are living in fear around the #MeToo issue, go read Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. Confront your fear. Examine any guilt you have. Get real with yourself about the issue. Change your behavior. And just try not to be an asshole.
One of our favorite VC firms to work with is True Ventures. I’ve made many investments over the years with both Jon Callaghan and Tony Conrad, and I love being a co-investor with them.
Recently, Tony told me a great Jon Callaghan quote.
“Money Doesn’t Solve Problems. People Solve Problems.”
I’ve learned this lesson 7,345,123 times.
Every successful company I’ve been involved in had a least one near-death experience. Most of the successful companies I’ve been involved with have had at least one stall period, where growth slowed dramatically for some time. Lots of successful companies I’ve been involved in were tight on cash for extended periods. Some successful companies I’ve been involved in looked like they were doing well if you looked at their top line revenue and growth numbers, but were a disaster below the surface.
Note that I repeated “successful companies I’ve been involved in” for each sentence. Each of these companies that I’m referring to ultimately were successful. I’m separating them from companies I was involved in that failed.
In all of these cases, Jon’s statement is correct. The solution was not to throw money at the company and hope things at the company got better. Instead, the successful companies had a functional leadership team and board that was able to figure out the problems and solve them. While the issues often included some members of the leadership team (including occasionally the CEO), in each case, it required focusing on what wasn’t working, where the problems were, and taking aggressive and decisive action to address them.
Assuming the people addressing the issues were the right people, and the extended team (management and board) focused on the correct problems, and then the team gave each other enough time to see whether or not what they were doing addressed the issues, more often than not things ended up in a happy place. While sometimes the issues were intractable, or the dynamics between the people were ineffective, most of the time the focus on people solving the problems resulted in spending less money.
I have a corollary to Jon’s statement which is: “When things break or stall, slow down your spending.” The momentum of growth often results in expense growth regardless of what is happening in the rest of the business. A lot of this expense growth is headcount but also includes a substantial (and often surprisingly large) mix of variable and discretionary spending. While cutting headcount can be part of the approach, taking a hard look at all expenses, eliminating what is unnecessary or ineffective, and communicating clearly with everyone in the company, can often have an immediate and dramatic impact.
It’s scary to tell everyone in the company exactly what is going on when you are in distress. We recently had a long thread on our CEO list titled Surfacing runway: yes or no? It was brilliant and full of great examples, but one, from a company that had stalled but then went on to be extremely successful, stood out to me. The CEO of that company said that during their stall period:
We shared with all employees both income statement and balance sheet (including cash position) to make clear that we needed to better control our expenses so that we could control our own destiny re runway (it was also in context of decelerating growth rate – our rule of 40 was in the teens). We slowed hiring considerably and created programs called “Save to Reinvest” to drive home a sense of fiscal discipline. We showed the company at each monthly All Hands how the financials were changing from our collective activities.
The solution here was people. Not money. Like it usually is.
I used to be chronically late to everything, both personal and professional. In my twenties, before cell phones, I was one of those people that others referred to as having “Brad time” which did not correlate with the actual time in the world. My calendar and schedule was a rough sketch, not even a guide.
My lack of attention to time finally imploded on me around age 35 when Amy said she’d had enough on multiple dimensions of our life. The foundational issue for us was that my actions didn’t match my words, and by being late all the time, I wasn’t honoring my priorities (which I would regularly say was Amy over everything else …) If you ever get us together at a meal and want to hear some epic “Brad was late” stories, ask her about the Postrio dinner of 2000.
Since then, I’ve gotten a lot better at being on-time. I’m not a “five minutes early to everything” person, but I’m rarely more than a few minutes late to anything. I’m very scheduled throughout the week, so it’s often hard to transition between the thing that ends at 2:30 and then be on time to the thing that starts at 2:30 and get it exactly right each time. And, throughout the day, when I end up going until 2:35 for whatever reason, the 2:30 call then goes a little long, and everything backs up a little so that I’m 15 minutes late for the last meeting of the day. And now I know to always say “I’m sorry for being late” whenever I’m late.
Over the years I’ve tried many different approaches to
Today, I use a different approach. I try manage the clock better during a meeting when I’m in charge, and prompt others when I’m not. That works a little, but it’s annoying.
I find this particularly challenging on calls that are an hour long with multiple people. Or, in three hour-ish board meetings with a lot of people. I don’t control the agenda in those meetings, so clock management is up to someone else. And, most people are painfully bad at it.
There are a few tips for anyone who wants to do this well.
Next, front end load the meetings. Do the stuff you need everyone on the call or at the meeting for up front. Some things need you to build into them, but don’t leave them “for the end” – build deliberately to each deeper discussion or decision you want to have. Leaving the critical discussions and decisions for the end of the meeting is a guaranteed way not to get to them.
Send out materials well in advance (at least 48 hours) and assume everyone can read. If they don’t, that’s their problem, not yours, and they’ll get the hint pretty quickly. Instead of going page by page through your materials, or using the materials as a crutch to “review” things, summarize they key points and focus on discussion and debate, rather than review.
Finally, build in buffer. Almost everyone needs to go to the bathroom during a three hour meeting. At the minimum, it’s good to stand up and stretch your body. All video conferencing systems, no matter how good, continue to have weird friction at the beginning of the meeting, so have a front-end start buffer, rather than anxiety around the inevitable five minute delay. And, when the meeting goes off the rails and you get ten minutes behind because someone (e.g. me) can’t shut up about something and your time enforcer was daydreaming about Dali paintings, use the buffer to catch back up.
This is a problem that has been persistent in my life for over 30 years. If you have magic tricks that have worked for you, I’m all ears.
James Oliver, Jr. has written a fun book that is part memoir, part advice, for what he calls Parentpreneurs (entrepreneurs who are trying to raise kids.) He’s got a website with a bunch of history about him, his journey, and the book. It’s also got some pictures of his twins, which even I, as a non-kid kind of person think are pretty adorable (although they are apparently
I’ve had an email correspondence with James going back to 2015. In November, I got an email from him that, among other things, said:
“Brad, I think I mentioned I’m raising money for a WeMontage relaunch, which is taking a while-as expected.
In the meantime, the way I’m taking care of my kids is mostly via book sales. The book reviews have been wonderful-someone called it the
realestbook about being an entrepreneur they ever read. And the amazonreviews are fantastic.
In order to provide for my kids, I need to sell 300 books this month via my website (www.themoreyouhustle.com – because
amazondelays royalty payments by two months); that’s only 10 sales per day. “
I read it during my Q418 vacation. It was a quick read, fun and interesting, and game me perspective on James’s life as an entrepreneur and parent. The book also made clear how awesome his wife is and how important she is to his entrepreneurial journey.
If you still have some holiday spirit left in you, grab a copy of James’ book The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get. You’ll be doing James a solid by helping him get WeMontage back up and running and get some valuable perspective and lessons along the way.