Month: September 2019
Harry Stebbings just released a new episode with me on the 20 Minute VC. I love how Harry uses all caps to title the episodes.
I adore Harry. I did an interview with him early on (#65) so it’s particularly fun to do an interview number that is great than this year.
We cover the following topics, among others. Plus, there is a special book giveaway and a few other gems buried in the episode.
1.) How Brad made his way into the world of venture following 40 angel checks and how that led to his co-founding Foundry Group? Why did Brad find the transition from angel to VC in the early days such a challenge? What 2 core things did he focus on when writing angel checks? How has that changed now as a VC?
2.) How did seeing the boom and bust of the dot com impact Brad’s investing mindset today? How does Brad think about investing through market cycles and the right way to think about investment cadence? Why does Brad believe that to be successful as a VC you have to be fundamentally optimistic?
3.) Where does Brad believe we are today in the cycle? Does he agree with Bill Gurley on the biggest challenge being the “oversupply of capital”? What must entrepreneurs understand with regards to market cycle dynamics and how they can and need to future-proof their business?
4.) From analysing his best investments, why has Brad come to the conclusion that TAM in the early days is really not helpful? What are the commonalities in how Brad’s most successful companies approach experimentation?
5.) What does Brad mean when he says, “don’t have fake CEO or fake VC days”? What does he mean when he often says, “run your fucking business”? What in Brad’s mind would constitute a “fake day” vs moving the needle for your business? What does Brad think is the best way for VCs to truly get to know one another? Why is, “hey let’s do a deal together one of the most hollow and fake statements in venture?”
6.) Brad has sat on some of the most meaningful boards of the last 2 decades, what have been Brad’s biggest learnings on what it takes to be a great board member? How does that change with the progression of your career? What advice would Brad give to me, having just gained my first board seat? If the VC does not support the CEO, what is the right process? Why does Brad believe the VC should work for the CEO?
7.) What is Brad’s biggest advice when it comes to learning how to say no? What advice does Brad hear most often that he commonly disagrees with? Why does Brad feel we are in a moment of peak noise in the ecosystem today? To be a great leader, what 2 skills does Brad believe you need to have?
I heard this phrase at a board meeting today from another board member.
What are the 30% of your activities that you should spend 100% of your time on?
You’ve got 30 people in your company. You have nine months of cash in the bank. You are making progress. But it’s not clear if you are making enough progress fast enough to raise money from new investors before you run out of money.
Of course, the word “progress” is completely open for interpretation, subjective, and varies dramatically by company.
What do you do? A natural reaction is to cut costs to extend your runway to give you more time to make progress, whatever progress means.
At 30 people, that’s probably the wrong answer. It might not be, but I like the answer of “fierce prioritization” a lot better.
Focus your 30 people on the 30% of things that will really matter. Stop doing the 70% that don’t matter. Right now. Don’t wait.
Fierce prioritization applies to many things in life, not just business. Fiercely prioritize fierce prioritization.
I love the phrase.
Amy and I have been in Homer, Alaska for the last ten days. Above is the view from the parking lot at the ocean in Anchor Point, which is literally “the end of the road on the western side of the US.”
Amy grew up here and it’s one of the places I go when I want to get some distance from everything. When we started coming here in the mid-1990s together, we’d literally have to disconnect in a lot of the places we hung out at. Today, you can only figuratively disconnect, as the internet will find you almost everywhere.
I’ve managed to turn off a lot of the distractions in the world over the past two years. Some, like Facebook, were easy. Others, like Google News, were harder. But even with the noise turned way down, it’s often hard to have perspective.
A 13 mile run to the end of the Homer Spit and back helps. Doing it two days in a row helps even more.
I took the weekend completely off from the computer. I read a lot, napped after my long runs, and talked to Amy. That was about it for the entire weekend.
As I settled into the Monday work rhythm, albeit four hours behind the east coast, I felt like my ten days in Homer has re-established some perspective.
Amy just said out loud, “We both seem cheerier than we did ten days ago.” True that.
I’m excited to share a unique Startup Weekend opportunity for the Colorado community. Startup Weekend has grown up quite a bit from its humble beginnings here in Boulder in 2007. The latest stats, which are likely already out of date, are; 23,000+ teams formed, 193,000+ alumni community members, happening in 150 Countries.
Google for Startups – along with some help from Techstars, Startup Colorado, and Foundry Group – is hosting a Startup Weekend at Google’s new(ish) office in Boulder Oct 25 – 27. In this 54 hour event, attendees will experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup and be connected with mentors from Google and the greater Colorado startup community.
In this Startup Weekend, the team is trying to pull together participants from beyond the Boulder tech bubble, to promote diversity and inclusion in all of the founder teams. Within the weekend, the focus will be on accessibility in tech. So basically, inclusion in multiple parts of the ecosystem.
Feel free to reach out to me or firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved or just RSVP to attend here (discount code: Google). Please share with folks outside of Boulder – especially in more rural parts of Colorado. If you are a regular Startup Weekend attendee, try to bring someone outside your usual sphere and make sure you are coming with ideas relating to accessibility in tech.
As Amy and I settle into our time in Homer, we spent a lot of last weekend (and the evenings) reading. We don’t have a TV up here, so our lying around entertainment is reading with some bonus knitting time for Amy.
I’ve been working my way through the books at the upcoming Authors and Innovators Business Ideas Festival and got through three of them so far. I also read a near-final draft of John Minnihan’s upcoming book and The Impossible Long Run: My Journey to Becoming Ultra by Janet Patkowa.
But, the best book of last weekend was Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac. It’s the first major book about the story of Uber, by a New York Times writer who has covered tech (and Uber) for a long time.
It’s incredibly fast-paced. It’s in the same category of a number of other “first major book about an emergent important company by a journalist” including Bad Blood (Theranos) by John Carreyrou and The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick.
While I knew over 80% of the content in the book, having it strung together in a time sequence, with emphasis on key activities that happened at the same time, or influenced other future actions, was critical to the narrative and extremely well done by Isaac. While some of it had a reporter flavor, most were non-judgmental and let the activities stand on their own. Periodically Isaac would nudge you toward a conclusion, but most of the time he let you take your view where you wanted from the context provided.
It’ll be interesting to see where Uber is in a decade. In the meantime, reflecting on how it got to where it is today is fascinating.
Amy and I arrived in Homer this evening for some time in a different place. We are TV-free up here, so that means, well, books.
She fell asleep early so I finished off The Bookish Life of Nina Hill which I had started several weeks ago but got distracted and read a few other things. The distraction was more a function of being in Boulder, surrounded by physical books which I read, in contrast to being in Homer with my Kindle, where I simply picked up on the last thing I had been reading.
This was a fun book. The protagonist, Nina, loves books, schedules “nothing” for Thursday nights so she can go home and read, and works in a bookstore. While she gets along with people, her favorite thing in the world is to be home alone reading a book. Sound like someone you know?
It covers Los Angeles, books, romance, endless book and movie references, trivia quiz competitions, books, a cat named Phil, a recently discovered family, and David Hasselhoff. Like good contemporary fiction, it moves quickly, the protagonist (Nina) is super-awesome-hilarious-complicated, and time disappears for a while and then suddenly the book ends.
But the backstory of the book is even more entertaining. The author, Abbi Waxman, shares the last name with David Waxman, who is a partner at TenOneTen Ventures. Oh, and they are married. While I’ve never met Abbi, I’ve known David since the late 1990s when I was on the board of PeoplePC and he was a co-founder. Foundry is an LP in TenOneTen and it’s been fun to work with David again after a long hiatus.
I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that David’s wife, like my wife Amy, was a writer. It popped up a few times over the years, but it never stuck in my brain. Over the summer, when Amy and I were having dinner with Nick Grouf (David’s co-founder at PeoplePC) and Shana Eddy, it came up again when one of Nick or Shana (I can’t remember which) recommended The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Dots were again connected, and the circle now included Amy.
On the plane today, as Amy was reading my Kindle over my shoulder, she said “didn’t someone recommend that book to us?” which then prompted a fun conversation about Nick, Shawn, David, and the mysterious Abbi who I hope to someday meet.
While that backstory was merely a lame approximation of the fun tangling of characters in Abbi’s book, it seemed fitting to unroll it that way.
If you like fiction, books, Los Angeles, stories about interesting characters, and a few plot twists, go grab The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.
And, just like that, I’m off to bed …
As I was typing this, I thought maybe I’d call them T and H. But, growing up they were referred to as “T Boone” and “Perot.” I didn’t know either of them personally, but they loomed large over the business community in Dallas where I grew up (from 1969 – 1983.) Over time, I had a number of second-degree connections to each of them, but I never ended up directly in either of their orbits.
I was giving a talk about entrepreneurship recently and alluded to the amount of information there is today about the topic. I riffed off a few current examples of famous entrepreneurs and reflected that when I was a kid, the only books available were biographies about guys with names like Iaccoca and Walton.
All of the rest of my childhood (and early college) business education came from three places: (1) word of mouth from my dad, my uncle Charlie, and a few of their friends, (2) magazines – specifically Business Week, Forbes, and Fortune, and (3) newspapers – specifically the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the business section of the Dallas Morning News (and eventually the business section of the Boston Globe.)
Occasionally, a book like On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett would come out and would captivate me, but that was atypical. More often, I was just gobbling down books on T Boone, Perot, and others when someone got around to writing a biography.
While the information available today is much more diverse and accessible, I fondly remember being curled up on a couch learning more about the day by day (and month by month) actions of some of my early business heroes.
With their passing, I’m reminded that in the end, we all die. It’s a good reminder to spend one’s time today on what you want since it’s all finite.
I’m keynoting the Authors and Innovators Business Ideas Festival on 10/24/19 at the UMASS campus in Newton, MA.
As a writer, I’m excited to see events like this happening. When I got the invite from Larry Gennari, I was delighted that it overlapped with a Wellesley College board meeting that Amy was attending. So, while we won’t be together (she’ll be in Wellesley and I’ll be in Newton), we’ll be near each other.
The other authors presenting are:
- Donna Hicks (Harvard Univesity): Leading with Dignity
- Gerald Kate (Boston College): The Technology Fallacy
- Dan Albert (Cox Automotive): Are We There Yet?
- Tom Davenport (Babson College): The AI Advantage
- Gary Pisano (Harvard Business School): Creative Construction
- Jonathan Gruber (MIT): Jump-Starting America
- Karen Mills (Harvard Business School): Fintech, Small Business & the American Dream
- Jules Pieri (The Grommet): How We Make Stuff Now
I just bought all the books on Amazon so my Kindle is extra loaded up for my trip to Alaska at the end of the week.
I attended a Silicon Flatirons Artificial Intelligence Roundtable last week. Over the years Amy and I have sponsored a number of these and I always find the collection of people, the topics, and the conversation to be stimulating and provocative.
At the end of the two hours, I was very agitated by the discussion. The Silicon Flatirons roundtable approach is that there are several short topics presented, each followed by a longer discussion.
The topics at the AI roundtable were:
- Safety aspects of artificial general intelligence
- AI-related opportunities on the horizon
- Ethical considerations involving AI-related products and services
One powerful thing about the roundtable approach is that the topic presentation is merely a seed for a broader discussion. The topics were good ones, but the broader discussion made me bounce uncomfortably in my chair as I bit my tongue through most of the discussions.
In 2012, at the peak moment of the big data hype cycle, I gave a keynote at an Xconomy event on big data titled something like Big Data is Bullshit. My favorite quote from my rant was:
“Twenty years from now, the thing we call ‘big data’ will be tiny data. It’ll be microscopic data. The volume that we’re talking about today, in 20 years, is a speck.”
I feel that way about how the word AI is currently being used. As I listened to participants at the roundtable talk about what they were doing with AI and machine learning, I kept thinking “that has nothing to do with AI.” Then, I realized that everyone was defining AI as “narrow AI” (or, “weak AI”) which has a marvelous definition that is something like:
Narrow artificial intelligence (narrow AI) is a specific type of artificial intelligence in which a technology outperforms humans in some very narrowly defined task. Unlike general artificial intelligence, narrow artificial intelligence focuses on a single subset of cognitive abilities and advances in that spectrum.
The deep snarky cynic inside my brain, which I keep locked in a cage just next to my hypothalamus, was banging on the bars. Things like “So, is calculating 81! defined as narrow AI? How about calculating n!? Isn’t machine learning just throwing a giant data set at a procedure that then figures out how to use future inputs more accurately? Why aren’t people using the phase neural network more? Do you need big data to do machine learning? Bwahahahahahahaha.”
That part of my brain was distracting me a lot so I did some deep breathing exercises. Yes, I know that there is real stuff going on around narrow AI and machine learning, but many of the descriptions that people were using, and the inferences they were making, were extremely limited.
This isn’t a criticism of the attendees or anything they are doing. Rather, it’s a warning of the endless (or maybe recursive) buzzword labeling problem that we have in tech. In the case of a Silicon Flatirons roundtable, we have entrepreneurs, academics, and public policymakers in the room. The vagueness of the definitions and weak examples create lots of unintended consequences. And that’s what had me agitated.
At an annual Silicon Flatirons Conference many years ago, Phil Weiser (now the Attorney General of Colorado, then a CU Law Professor and Executive Director of Silicon Flatirons) said:
“The law doesn’t keep up with technology. Discuss …”
The discussion that ensued was awesome. And it reinforced my view that technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate that our society and existing legal, corporate, and social structures have no idea how to deal with.
Having said that, I feel less agitated because it’s just additional reinforcement to me that the machines have already taken over.