We create narratives about ourselves that become deeply entrenched in our minds and ways of being. Many of them are useless and counterproductive.
One of mine is that I am bad at learning languages. This is an artifact from junior high school. I took two years of French and, while I did ok, I didn’t love it. I hated my French III teacher, fought with her, called her an inappropriate name one day, and got kicked out of class. That was the end of my French language experience.
I have no recollection of why I chose to learn French instead of Spanish. I grew up in Dallas and now live in Colorado, so Spanish would have been a much more useful language to learn.
I recently spent two weeks in Mexico. While I was there, I realized that I was tired of not being able to say simple things in Spanish. More importantly, I was endlessly anxious whenever I said buenos dias, buenas tardes, or buenas noches since I always got them mixed up.
I had a similar childhood narrative around horses. My brother had a horse accident when we were little kids and I decided I was afraid of horses. He went the other direction and got a horse and became a great rider. Amy loves horses, so this has been an inhibitor in our time together since I never want to do anything involving horses. A few years ago we did a week-long vacation at a place that had a program to get comfortable with horses.
I painted a horse, I groomed horse, and I rode a horse. After a week, I was able to delete my self-limiting narrative about my relationship with horses.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been spending at least ten minutes a day on each of Duolingo and Busuu. They are different but both good. While a few hours on an app is a tiny beginning to learning a language, I already feel more comfortable just being around Spanish, saying a few words (mostly greetings), and am recognizing some of the things others are saying.
These days, when I catch myself repeating a self-created narrative, I’ve begun questioning each one of them. So far, none have held up to scrutiny as an actual thing.
I continue to be a strong supporter of legal immigration to the United States. A fundamental belief of mine is that entrepreneurs should be able to start their companies anywhere they want. A corollary to that is some of the historical success of the US as an entrepreneurial ecosystem has been being the place that entrepreneurs want to start a company.
Today, it’s hard to get a visa to start a company in the US. Our legal immigration system is complex and expensive to navigate, and there are few choices for entrepreneurs, especially aspiring entrepreneurs, who haven’t already managed to get a visa.
For the past five years, I’m been involved in an effort called the Global EIR program. It’s a national effort, led by Craig Montuori, that is modeled after an extremely successful program in Massachusetts, led by William Brah at the University of Massachusetts. The roadmap for starting a company on a visa is now well defined.
The results in Massachusetts have been extraordinary. Over the past five years, As of today, 66 Initial H-1B visas have been approved with 100% visa success rate. The companies founded by these entrepreneurs employ 940 people and have raised over $500 million in venture capital.
Imagine if we had this level of activity in all 50 states?
Dave Jilk was my first business partner (we co-founded Feld Technologies). The photo above is from Dave’s office at 155 Federal Street around 1991. We worked closely together for seven years before selling the company in 1993 to a public company called Sage Alerting Systems, which renamed itself Sage Technologies and then finally AmeriData Technologies. Well, at least the “Technologies” survived that naming transition …
Dave recently published a book of poetry titled Distilled Moments. I read it Sunday night and it’s delicious. If you are into poetry, a friend of Dave’s, or just want a taste of something different from your normal reading stuff, grab a copy.
If, when I met Dave in 1983, you had told me that he would become a poet later in his life, I would have spit out whatever food or drink was in my mouth at the time and rolled around on the ground laughing for a while. I think the only time I ever associated poetry and Dave in my mind is when he would use a phrase like “Physics for Poets” to describe a class at MIT I was considering taking.
Dave and I met on my second day in Cambridge in 1983. I spent my first day alone, feeling very confused and lonely as I wandered around MIT trying to figure out where I was. I crossed the Mass Ave bridge into Boston, had dinner by myself, and went to back to my assigned room in Baker House with three other guys, two of whom immediately got stoned and smoked pot for the rest of the evening (not my thing.)
The next afternoon was the MIT Freshman picnic. On a beautiful fall Cambridge day, Paul Gray (then president of MIT) gave a welcoming speech where, in typical MIT fashion, he said something like:
Look around. Your fellow freshmen are the best and brightest from around the world. Never forget that it is simple math that 50% of you will be in the bottom half of your class.
After talking for a few minutes, he ended by shouting “Let the Rush begin!”
Suddenly, hundreds of people descended on us with signs for their fraternities and living groups (there were no sororities at MIT in 1983.) Two guys I didn’t know – Mark Dodson and Ramanujam Manikkalingam – grabbed me and said, “Come with us.” I jumped in a van, was driven to ADP at 351 Mass Ave, and never left.
I met Dave that first night and we have been best friends ever since. He was a senior when I was a freshman, so we didn’t live together for that long, but we spent a lot of weekend time together. I became close with his first boss, Will Herman, and with Warren Katz (who we met through our seventh employee, Ilana Katz), continue to be extremely close friends.
Now that you’ve got the backstory, I’ll finish this post off with a few teasers from Distilled Moments that I loved.
Following is Twenty-Three, a poem about the morning after a night out together.
This one is my favorite business-related one, titled The Elephant in the Room.
I’ll end the teasers with the beginning of Take the Gloves Off, which is awesomely creative and full of business cliches.
There are many more. Support a friend, a Boulder-based poet, someone who I never expected would be a poet, or just a dear, dear friend by buying a copy of Distilled Moments.
Amy and I driving to dinner with Ben Einstein and Grace Livingston a few months ago. Amy generally dislikes podcasts so she was annoyed with me as I fiddled with my iPhone and Carplay which kept opening my podcast app.
Ben said, “Have you listened to The Anthropocene Reviewed?”
I responded, “The what what?”
Amy said, “Put some music on.”
Ben tried again. “Put on The Anthropocene Reviewed Scratch ‘n’ Sniff Stickers and the Indianapolis 500.”
15 minutes later Amy said, “Not bad” and I was hooked.
Several of my favorites have been Notes App and Sports Rivalries, Hot Dog Eating Contest and Chemotherapy, Gray Aliens and Rock Paper Scissors, and Teddy Bears and Penalty Shootouts.
If you are looking for a new podcast, give The Anthropocene Reviewed a try.
Jason Mendelson and I recently published the 4th Edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist.
The book now has three forewords – one by each of Fred Wilson (USV), James Park (Fitbit), and Dick Costolo (now 01 Advisors, then Twitter).
The 1st edition had 13 chapters. We are now up to 19.
The new chapters in this edition are 11. Venture Debt (with help from SVB), and 17. How to Engage an Investment Banker (with help from Golding Partners).
We also significantly updated Chapter 2: Preparing for Fundraising and Chapter 19: Legal Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know (with help from Cooley).
As with each edition, we cleaned up stuff throughout the book.
Finally, we updated the website which is now at VentureDeals.com.
For everyone who has read the book, given us feedback, used it in a course, or recommended it to someone, thank you!
I’ve always been a vivid dreamer, but I’ve been getting a lot more REM sleep due to the combination of a CPAP machine and the prostate reduction surgery I had last year (solving a “getting older” problem.)
Following is the doozy that I had on Tuesday night, written down shortly after I woke up on Wednesday.
I’m being tossed around in the passenger seat of a car with a blindfold on. As I shout out to the driver, “Where are we going?” I’m met with silence, then a very loud version of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell playing on the radio.
The car abruptly stops. The blindfold is off. I’m at my house. I run inside and pack my bags, grabbing all my computer stuff and tossing it in with my clothes. We drive away to a plane that I get on alone which flies while I read a book. We land in the mountains.
A car, without a driver, drives me to a big mountain house with a giant construction ditch in front of it. My parents are there and say hello. I run inside, dump my bag, and race around in my underwear for no apparent reason.
People start showing up.
I can’t find my phone or my computer, but I know I have a conference call starting to finalize the shutdown of a company. I race outside and start screaming, “Where is my phone?” My cousin Jon is there and we run around the construction ditch. There are lots of dead, old mobile phones around the edge, but none are mine. I find one that looks like mine, feel relieved, and then realize it’s not mine. I’m screaming at my parents about my phone, my computer, and they are just staring at me. I run in the house to try to find a computer to log in to Google and figure out the dial-in number. All of the computers in the house are too old to use a web browser. I run around some more but can’t find my phone or computer and start smashing keyboards randomly.
Agitated, I walk into a big room full of people. They are just sitting down to get ready to listen to me about something, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to talk about. I go to the refrigerator and try to open it, but the door sticks. Eventually, I get it open and get a yogurt. Everyone is staring at me, waiting for me. I’m still in my underwear.
I go to the front of the room, sit down, and start describing how in 1992, a small group of us got together in Burlington, Vermont and came up with the idea of the Montana future, where no one would want to live in big cities anymore so everyone would migrate to the west, set themselves up on big pieces of land, and work from their houses. We called this event a Chautauqua and my business partner at the time (Dave) came up with the idea for “The Wall” which was a video wall of TVs that you interacted with.
Lots of bugs started racing around the floor. They were exotic with lots of colors, different body shapes, and multiple segments. Everyone ignored them as I became increasingly agitated by them. I finally said, “It’s time for dinner” and everyone got up and went to another room.
I run out of the room and started squashing the bugs. I got to a bathroom where the water in the sink is running and try to turn it off, but can’t quite get the tolerances right. My parents were in the next room, so I went in there to look for my computer some more. There was a giant scorpion-like color bug on my bag and I asked my dad to get rid of it. He grabbed a tennis racquet and started swinging at it, bouncing it off the wall and then smashing it into pieces on the ground.
My computer and phone were on the top of my back. I had ten notifications in the Messages app with requests to join the phone call that I had missed.
I wake up.
I wonder why we ended up in Colorado even though the Montana future seems deeply imprinted on my brain …
“Like so many others I just sucked it up, grinded away and punted, hoping for relief down the road. That strategy of denial and repression worked until it didn’t. My founder stress and burnout couldn’t be contained despite my best efforts. In fact, my mental unhealthiness impacted my physical health, by causing debilitating sleep apnea, as diagnosed by UCSF and missed by Stanford (but that is another post). I sold my 2nd company, Crackle, and vowed to leave the high anxiety of being a founder for the relatively easy life of venture, not that it’s actually easy. I was lucky to have exited Crackle before my situation worsened and ultimately found the relief I desperately needed to feel whole again.“
More importantly, he talked about his fear of discussing it with his investors.
“Unsurprisingly, my investors, back then, never once inquired about my mental state and certainly didn’t offer any resources I could tap. In fact if I’d shared my actual state of mind, I would probably have been fired or at the very least encouraged ostensibly to take time off. Those were the times.“
Thankfully, this is changing, in part to leadership by firms like Freestyle. The partners, Josh, David Samuel, and Jenny Lefcourt have announced an initiative initially focused on their portfolio founders in an effort to break down the barriers to better mental health for all in our industry.
I’m fortunate that I have a strong, long-term relationship with a psychologist who works with entrepreneurs. However, he, like many others in the field, is extremely busy so even though he is open to referrals from me, he is limited in who he can take on as a client. Part of the challenge here is the time delay that a referral takes, and Meru Health is an impressive approach to providing rapid response care in a specialized way with an economic model that can work in entrepreneurial contexts.
The Hoffman Institute was new to me, but after spending some time on the website, I went and signed up to attend one of the week-long retreats. While I feel like I’ve explored – in therapy – some of the things they talk about, I know that I’m still struggling with a bunch of this, especially as I shift into the next phase of my life.
As an LP in Freestyle, I’m extremely excited to see their leadership in this area. While they are not the first firm to announce an initiative like this – last year Felicis Ventures gifted Founders 1% Of Every Invested Dollar To Spend On Coaching And Mental Health – I’m hopeful that this is addition momentum in an area that needs a lot more attention, support, and help.
Josh, David, Jenny – thank you!
When David and I started doing the #GiveFirst podcast, I was told by a long-time podcaster that it takes about 20 episodes to hit your stride. Since then, several other podcasters have told me that the number is actually closer to 100. Given that hurdle, David and I are 20% of the way there.
In Episode 22, we review the last dozen podcast guests including Josh Hix, Rajat Bhargava, Elizabeth Kraus, Jason Mendelson, Jannet Bannister, Heidi Roizen, Marc Nager & Dave Mayer, John China, Sherri Hammons, Rebecca Lovell, and Harry Stebbings.
I’m enjoying co-hosting the #GiveFirst podcast with David. I hope you are enjoying listening to it.
As I was reading The Atlantic article Silicon Valley Abandons the Culture That Made It the Envy of the World I kept flashing to the end of Anna Wiener’s awesome memoir Uncanny Valley. And it was no surprise to see this article in the Boulder Daily Camera titled Big tech in hot seat at congressional hearing at CU Boulder.
Readers of this blog and my book Startup Communities know that I’m a huge fan of AnnaLee Saxenian. She has a great quote in The Atlantic article.
This is a full reversal of the language that tech promoters used to sell Silicon Valley–style innovation and competitiveness for decades. Saxenian has noticed the change in how the Valley describes itself, or at least in how the dominant firms do. “Advocacy of the small, innovative firm and entrepreneurial ecosystem is giving way to more and more justifications for bigness (scale economics, competitive advantage, etc.),” Saxenian wrote to me in an email. “The big is beautiful line is coming especially from the large companies (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple) that are threatened by antitrust and need to justify their scale.”
Margaret O’Mara, who wrote The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, also has a good reminder.
“The story the Valley told about itself has been very much a small-is-beautiful story since the 1970s,” O’Mara told me. “It has a politics—this Vietnam-era rejection of the military-industrial complex, rejection of the mainframe, Big Business, Big Government, big universities.” This led people to take risks and launch new projects and firms. Entrepreneurs from all over the world migrated to a place where people understood why they wanted to start companies. And the idea even embedded itself right near the heart of the Valley, at Google. The company’s slogan, “Don’t be evil”, had a particular meaning when it was adopted around the millennium. In the classic Valley mind-set, “evil is bigness of all kinds,” O’Mara said.
The techlash is in full bloom and Silicon Valley is in the center of it. Ironically, of the three public companies that have > $1 trillion market caps, one of them (Microsoft) is headquartered in Seattle, which is definitely not part of Silicon Valley. Oh, and Amazon … Nonetheless, it’s part of the pending mess that is going to hit all of society very hard in the next few years, as the collision between the various factors—and factions—around innovation are going to be profound.
I expect historians will look back on this time with curiosity. They will wonder why there is such a huge disconnect between what is said. what is wanted, and what is done. Here are a few recent artifacts to ponder.
And, in case you thought the government was the solution, here are a few more to read.
Every time someone tells me they are going to “change the world” or “put a dent in the universe”, I think to myself, “For better, or for worse?”
Amy and I didn’t feel like taking a Christmas or New Year’s vacation this year so we just hung around Boulder, worked, and did our thing. We then decamped to Mexico last week for warmth, sun, beach, and books. News flash: there are a lot fewer people at a fancy resort in Mexico in the third week of January.
It was a good reading week.
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success: We don’t have kids, but a friend recommended this. I decided to read it to see if any of it applied to being an investor or board member in a company. Yup – a bunch of it was spot on. After reading it, I’m still glad I don’t have kids.
The Heap: A Novel: This one ended up on my Kindle because of my weekly perusal of the NY Times Book Review. The premise intrigued me. A 500 story tall building collapses in the desert and a community develops around it to excavate it. Once it got rolling, it moved quickly, but the interwoven historical backstory became a little tedious. But, for a first novel, it’s a great effort.
Veil: I got to read a draft of Eliot Peper‘s new book. Wowza. Elliot has turned into an incredible writer who totally dominates a near-term science fiction novel.
Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima: Yum yum. Todd Vernon pointed me at this one. It was long, chewing, and spectacular. After watching Chernobyl on HBO, I’ve become fascinated with nuclear energy. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get a short course on it and I’ve thought about going back to MIT to get a degree in Course 22. While that’s a pretty steep hill to climb, I’m just enjoying a bunch of books for now. And yes, count me on the side of more nuclear.
Uncanny Valley: A Memoir: Loved it. Fantastic. Go get it right now. I particularly enjoyed how the author called people and companies out without naming them. This book nourished my inner Silicon Valley cynic.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. This one was recommended by Katie Elliott. I was hoping it was about nuclear energy, but it wasn’t. Amy looked over my shoulder while I was reading it and said, “James Clear’s book. You don’t need to read it because you do all that stuff already.” I read it anyway, one page at a time.
I sense an annual mid-January off-the-grid vacation in a warm place for the rest of my time on this planet.