Month: March 2019

Mar 31 2019

The Crash

I woke up this morning with my eyes glued shut. That was pretty disorienting. I wasn’t a character in a Dean Koontz novel, but I was relieved when I realized that I had conjunctivitis, as I’m not sure what I would have done if my eyes were sewn shut with fishing line.

After I sorted myself out, I remembered that I was supposed to be running the Knoxville Marathon today. I would have been just finishing up when I woke up, so I had a wave a sadness come over me. I took a long shower, letting the hot water run down my face, with a fantasy that it would wash away all the goo (both current and future) in my eyes.

It’s late in the afternoon in Boulder and I’ve taken two naps today. Neither were pretty – they were both sweaty, emotional, dream-filled messes with plenty of eye goo involved. I’m loaded up on Tylenol, but the pounding in my sinuses is unrelenting. I’m not able to take decongestants/antihistamines anymore, as they wreak unpleasant havoc on a part of me completely unrelated to what they are supposed to help with.

This cold came on hard on Tuesday. I haven’t been sick all winter and have felt good since November after a summer of physical misery that ended with a 60-day course of Cipro, ensuring that an enormous amount of bacteria in me – both the good kind and the bad kind – was very dead.

I know that I’m a whiny sick person. I also know that being sick tilts me toward depression. I’m lucky that Amy knows this also and takes amazing care of me when I’m sick.

I’ve felt a crash coming since Friday. I’ve been grinding through the work that I have, some of which has deadlines before I go on vacation in a week. I know I can tell the deadline enforcers that I’m sick and things will have to wait a few weeks, but then I’ll just have a bigger pile of backed up stuff to do, which just feels like an awful additional burden. And yes, I realize I’m procrastinating by writing this blog post, but I am also waiting for the full function version of Adobe Acrobat to download since I need to use it to edit the Adobe files I’m sending back to Wiley soon.

I know that every human being gets sick on a periodic basis. I also know that this particular cold (which I call Nev – Nasty Evil Virus), which has morphed into a cold + bacterial infection, is minor compared to what most people encounter on their time on this planet. I also know that my resources make it even easier for me to deal with something like this.

When I reflect on this, I still feel shitty, but I have context for how I feel. We all have periodic crashes of different levels of severity (and one that has ultimate finality), but that doesn’t make it any easier to work through the moment.

And yes, I’m looking very forward to my vacation.

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Mar 30 2019

Book: Catch and Kill

I wasn’t able to sleep last night, so after doing the final copy edit on Do More Faster 2nd Edition, I started reading J.D. Lasica’s new book Catch and Kill: A high-tech conspiracy thriller. My brain was toast and my head was full of dripping dead virus goo, so I hoped some good mental floss would help pass the time.

I finally crawled into bed at about 3am after reading about half of the book. Today was supposed to be the emotional warm up for the Knoxville Marathon. Instead, it has been a lay on the coach, read, doze, read some more, get up and do some work with Amy on the final copy edit of Venture Deals 4th Edition, and read some more.

Instead of a marathon weekend, this has turned into a book weekend. It’s gloomy outside and I’m still fighting with Nev (Mr. Nasty Evil Virus), so as the cliche goes, Catch and Kill has been just what the doctor ordered.

Lasica does a great job of world-building in the near future, weaving together high-tech and super evil bad guy billionaires, a mysterious fantasy island, efforts to undermine and transform the geopolitical superstructure, and authoritarians who just want more, more, more.

The protagonist, Kaden Baker, is everything one wants in a kick ass 23-year-old female character who saves the world, but almost dies trying. Several times. Oh, and she saves her half-sister (who she didn’t know about) and her dad (who she also didn’t know about), along with a bunch of other people.

There were lots of twists and turns along the way and Lasica keeps the pace up throughout the entire book. Some day, when I write a sci-fi novel, I will credit Lasica, along with Eliot Peper, William Hertling, Daniel Suarez, and many others as my inspirations.

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Mar 30 2019

Techstars MetLife Looking for Companies Addressing Mental Health

I’ve been open about my journey with depression and the importance of addressing and destigmatizing issues around mental health. So I was excited that one of our Techstars programs – the MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars – is looking closely at mental health startups for their 2019 class. If you’re a founder innovating in the mental health market, I encourage you to apply for this program.

The MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars is focused on insurtech startups. MetLife and Techstars managing director Mee-Jung Jang are defining insurtech broadly, and mental health is a key area of focus. They are looking at all types of mental health startups in their search including ones helping individuals improve their everyday mental fitness, using data to better assess and predict serious mental health conditions, and providing easier access to care at the moment of need.

Over half of all humans will experience a major mental health challenge in their lifetime. Yet, mental health still carries a stigma, and many people suffer silently including our coworkers, friends, and family. The startup journey is immensely difficult, so the quiet sufferers include many entrepreneurs. Mental health startups that take advantage of new technologies and data could have a huge positive impact by solving these problems.

The MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars recruits globally and is stage agnostic. Founders in this program have unique access to the resources of both Techstars and MetLife, a Fortune 50 company with over 100 million customers worldwide in nearly 50 countries and serving 90 of the Fortune 100 as their clients in the US.

If you’re a founder of a mental health startup, I encourage you to request office hours with managing director Mee-Jung Jang with this form and follow her on twitter to keep posted on her startup recruiting tour. Or, just apply now as applications are open until April 7th.

I’m excited to see which mental health companies get accepted into the MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars.

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Mar 29 2019

Going Home Without A Medal

Sunday is the Knoxville Marathon. My plan was to run it, collect the finisher medal that has become part of the marathon ritual, eat whatever I wanted for dinner on Sunday night, and head home Monday morning.

Amy and I are heading home today. While some aspects of our week in Knoxville have been good, I came down with a nasty cold early in the week. I hoped it would only last a day or so, but each day has been worse than the previous day so we decided to bail yesterday.

Knoxville is a neat town. We stayed downtown and mostly wandered between the hotel and the area at Market and Gay. I was heads down all week working, writing with Ian, procrastinating from writing with Ian, and sleeping, so we didn’t explore much, other than a day trip to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the ORNL Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.

The deep nerd in me enjoyed seeing the fastest computer in the world. MDF was 3D printer experimentation heaven. Everyone in Knoxville was super friendly and accommodating. There’s a burgeoning foodie scene here and even though my taste buds stopped working on Tuesday, Amy and Ian said the food was delicious.

My favorite moment of the trip was when someone asked me if I was running the Covenant or the Barkley.

In the category of “try again next year”, I may be back in Knoxville in 2020.

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Mar 28 2019

Simple, Complicated, and Complex Systems

A Simple, a Complicated, and a Complex system walk into a bar.

Simple says to the bartender, “Can I have a drink?” The bartender gives Simple a glass of water.

Complicated says to the bartender, “Can I have a Rum Martinez?” The bartender does the following:

Complex says to the bartender, “Can I have a Startup Community?” The bartender escorts Complex to the spot behind the bar where the bartender was previously standing and says, “You now have all the tools to make your own drink.”

Ian and I are in Knoxville grinding through getting our draft of The Startup Community Way (now at 65,000 words) into shape. A core part of the construct of the book is the notion of a complex adaptive system which we are using as the framework for explaining the behavior of a startup community.

To understand how a startup community evolves, you have to understand how complex adaptive systems work. SCW (our TLA for the book The Startup Community Way, as compared to SC1, which is our TLA for the book Startup Communities) has two chapters on this (currently Chapter 5: The Science of Startup Communities and Chapter 6: Practical Implications of Complex Adaptive Systems).

But even before you get to this point, it’s important to understand the difference between Simple, Complicated, and Complex systems. As a starting point, I thought I’d try to describe them in simple language, rather than dig into the extended theory around them.

A Simple system is one that has a single path to a single answer. If you want to get to the solution, there is one, and only one, way to do it.

A Complicated system is one that has multiple paths to a single answer. To get to the answer, you have multiple different choices you can make. However, there is only one correct solution.

A Complex system is one that has multiple paths to multiple answers.

When you toss in the word “adaptive”, you end up with a system that changes based on the choices that you make, and as a result of these choices, the answers change.

Startup communities are complex adaptive systems. Ian and I have been wrestling that notion to the ground for a while (I credit him with coming up with the idea) and we are getting closer, even though the answer keeps changing as we learn more about it (see what I did there?)

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Mar 27 2019

Techstars Startup Weekend New York – Financial Inclusion

If you are New York-based and interested in entrepreneurship around financial services, consider participating in Techstars Startup Weekend New York: Financial Inclusion on April 5th to April 7th at Rise on 23rd Street.

When Startup Weekend first began in 2007, it was primarily based on geography. Today, a number of Startup Weekends have a specific theme. The upcoming NY-based one is around financial inclusion.

Approximately three billion adults worldwide are underserved by the financial services industry. In many cases, they don’t even have bank accounts. Imagine your life and daily functions without some of the most basic, increasingly critical, and necessary financial services?

If you are interested in this topic and want to explore ideas that will improve financial inclusion, sign up and participate in Techstars Startup Weekend New York: Financial Inclusion.

No entrepreneurial or financial experience needed – just a desire to learn, work, and to make a difference.

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Mar 26 2019

A Boundless Decision

Life often involves tough tradeoffs. I love running marathons but I’m less happy about the body soreness and longer recovery cycles as I age. I’m excited about every investment Foundry Group makes, but I know not all of them are going to pan out. Entrepreneurs talk about “changing the world”, but the companies that emerge often ring hollow against this backdrop. And, when confronted with a for-profit company that has a strong social mission, many founders and investors struggle with the profit motive.

Sometimes, life gives you an easy decision. Investing in Boundless Immigration was one of those. We originally invested a small amount in Boundless’ seed round in 2017 and just led a $7.8 million Series A financing. This is a case where there isn’t a tradeoff between making a profit and making an impact.

Boundless Immigration aspires to be the leading brand around legal immigration in the United States. They take an incredibly time-consuming and expensive process – immigrating to the U.S. and securing a marriage green card or naturalization – and make it easy and available for anyone who wants to legally immigrate. Boundless’ CEO and founder, Xiao Wang, immigrated to the U.S. as a child, and vividly remember his parents paying five months of rent to afford immigration attorneys and filing fees.

Boundless saves applicants time and money by automating a process that used to involve immigration attorneys filling out endlessly redundant forms. Everybody I talk to who has gone through the immigration process is stunned when they hear Boundless provides an end-to-end service for 20% of what most people currently pay for immigration services.

Every year 2.5 million families apply for immigration services in the U.S and there are about nine million people eligible to apply for naturalization. Boundless has put together a talented and diverse team (a majority has an immigrant background) resulting in a company with unique perspectives and empathy for anyone who wants to immigrate to the U.S.

Current dynamics around technology companies, especially around privacy, has people discussing the challenge that making a profit may require moral compromise. In this case, the opposite is happening, as I think it’s a moral imperative to help improve legal immigration. In the U.S., legal immigration is a foundational activity that keeps America fresh and helps our country maintain its edge on a global stage. As an American, I want anyone who wants to build a life for themselves, contribute to U.S. society, and make this a stronger country to be able to become a U.S. citizen.

This an emotional issue for me. One set of my Jewish grandparents were first-generation Americans. If America hadn’t been there for them, they might have perished in concentration camps during WWII. Another Jewish grandparent fled Russia in the 1910s. If America hadn’t been here for him, he would have also likely been annihilated.

If there were no America, there would be no me. If America made immigrating as difficult then as it does now, I might not exist. My grandparents fleeing a shtetl didn’t have vast sums of money lying around to spend on lawyers and fees, but were welcomed into this country. They, their children, and their grandchildren have all worked hard their entire lives to be productive and contributing members of American society. I like to think America is better for us having called this country our home.

I’m not shy about my opinions on immigration. And I’m not the only partner at Foundry Group who feels this way, as my partner Jason Mendelson testified in front of the House of Representatives in 2013 when he was on the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) board about the importance of legal immigration to the U.S. innovation economy.

Life is full of difficult decisions. The last two years haven’t been easy for those of us who believe immigrants help make America great. It’s nice to have an easy decision like investing in Boundless – to make a profit, but also to remind everyone that we’re a nation of immigrants, and proud of that fact.

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Mar 25 2019

Startup Communities Everywhere in the World

Amy and I are in Knoxville, Tennessee all week. We are with Ian Hathaway (my co-author of an upcoming book titled The Startup Community Way) finishing up the draft of the book.

My plan was to end the week with the Knoxville Marathon on Sunday (marathon #26) but I had a crummy long run on Saturday in Boulder and woke up this morning with a cold. While it could merely be pre-race hypochondria, I feel lethargic enough to consider downgrading to the half marathon. Plus, my resting HR is 60, vs. my normal low 50s, so it’s another indicator that I’m worn out and need to take care of myself. So, we will see.

Recently, Ian and Richard Florida did a large study that culminated in an extensive report on the Rise of the Global Startup City. In addition to the report, there’s a website with a digital story and a lot of data to play around with.

Ian and Richard wrote an OpEd in The Wall Street Journal titled Can the U.S. Keep Its High-Tech Edge? and Ian wrote a threaded summary with reflections on his Twitter feed.

If this is a topic you are interested in, it’s worth spending some time reading all the links.

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Mar 23 2019

Software for Affinity Networks

I’m been looking around for software to help me manage an increasing number of affinity networks. These are networks that I’ve created around different topics, such as the books I’ve written – like Startup Communities and Venture Deals – as well as topics I’m exploring with small to medium sized groups of people.

So far I’ve tried a bunch of stuff and have ended up back at email groups, which is the least common denominator. I’ve tried a few different products for email groups and always end up back at Google Groups, which is fine, but extremely uninspiring in terms of anything beyond “creating the group” and “sending around emails.”

I’ve tried Facebook, LinkedIn, and Slack. None of them work. I’m now completely off Facebook, so that’s not really an option anymore. LinkedIn is way too LockedIn and has serious limitations. Slack is a messy nightmare that has a geometric decline curve of activity.

Any suggestions out there?

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Mar 22 2019

Gluecon 2019 Diversity Scholarships

Amy and I are underwriting the Gluecon 2019 Diversity Scholarships through our Anchor Point Foundation.

Kim and Eric Norlin, who run Gluecon, have had a simple goal around diversity at the Gluecon for many years.

The goal is quite simple: to create as diverse and welcoming a conference environment as we can.

The diversity scholarships are one approach to this. The Gluecon code of conduct is another. Kim and Eric have always been deliberate about inviting a diverse set of speakers and panelists and Gluecon has always been a favorite conference of mine when I’ve been around for it.

If you are interested in applying for a diversity scholarship, send an email to enorlin AT mac.com with the following:

  • a quick biography
  • a short paragraph explaining why you’d like to attend, and how you feel you’ll contribute to gluecon

And, if you are interested in Gluecon separate from this, reach out to Eric or sign up online. It’s May 22nd and May 23rd in Boulder. The topics include things like APIs, DevOps, Serverless, Edge Computing, Containers, Microservices, Blockchain-driven applications, and the newest tools and platforms driving technology.

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