Month: May 2020

May 31 2020

Don’t Burn Down Your Own House

Dave Mayer pointed me at this video today. After struggling with how I was feeling all morning, during my run, and while I read the Sunday New York Times, this finally helped me put a framework around my feelings.

I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m confused. I’m appalled. I’m scared. I’m upset. And this is completely independent (and on top of) of all the challenges around the Covid crisis.

Seth wrote a great post on Wednesday titled Uncertainty.

Uncertainty provokes a kind of “fight or flight” response in the human brain. As we try to escape the idea of uncertainty, we analyze a situation in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. In other words, we worry in order to eliminate uncertainty and reassure ourselves. Frequent worry can lead to anxiety or depression and some individuals are more susceptible to it than others. 

The amount of uncertainty, on all dimensions of our lives in America right now, are at an extreme high. And, then, on top of that, another white cop murders another black man, and our president once against behaves in a way that divides rather than unites.

I woke up to Gotham Gal’s post This Picture Says It All.

I’m lucky – I’m a middle-aged white guy with lots of resources. I’m stretched on a lot of dimensions on ways I’m trying to be helpful to others, but systemic racism is another category that I can’t, and don’t want to, be passive engaged with anymore.

As with my efforts on eliminating sexism and gender discrimination, I realize that I need to learn and participate as an advocate, rather than show up as “hi, I’m a white guy here to solve the problem.” So, I’m starting right now to understand systemic racism in America better and try to get involved in a constructive way to help eliminate it.

The punchline to Joanne Wilson’s post is “When this pandemic is over, we need to find a new path to leadership and a country that cares about all of us. We are a democracy, not a regime.”

I only have one minor modification – we can’t wait for the pandemic to be over.

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May 29 2020

Contact Tracing and Technology Conference – 6/3/20

On Wednesday, June 3rd, a team led by the COVID Tech Task Force is putting on the first of several free public conferences on the topic of Contact Tracing and Technology. Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, TechCrunch, Betaworks Studios, and Hangar are also part of organizing the effort.

I’ve gone extremely deep down the contact tracing and exposure notification rabbit hole. In February, I had never heard the phrase contact tracing. Today, I not only understand it well, I have a lot of perspective on the current state of contact tracing technology, along with emerging “new tech solutions” to contact tracing, and the incredible challenge of operationalizing these new technologies.

More importantly (and thankfully), several tech leaders motivated by Harper Reed recognized that the tech community that began talking about “contact tracing” in April was creating massive confusion given the long history of contact tracing. The tech folks (me included) tried to separate it from classical contact tracing by calling it “digital contact tracing.” But, this wasn’t really contact tracing at all and needed a different name. Harper labeled it Exposure Alerting which has finally found its true name as “Exposure Notification.”

Contact Tracing and Exposure Notification are different but related. And the way contact tracing is currently implemented is on a spectrum from legacy software systems to paper/whiteboard tracking. Not surprisingly, a number of tech companies and consulting firms have “contact tracing products” coming out. Some are excellent. Many either inadequate, not contact tracing, or mostly vaporware.

Two weeks ago, on the bi-monthly call that Fred Wilson and I do with several of the leaders of the Covid-19 Task Force, we suggested that they do a series of public events – as inclusive as they could – to help convene anyone who is interested around the issues of contact tracing, exposure alerting, health care, public policy, and technology. Fred wrote about this yesterday. We are both delighted that this has come together so quickly as the public forum on this is badly needed.

This event has several key speakers along with a bunch of demos of emerging products. It’ll be three hours long and live streamed on the web.

RSVP to attend. And, if you are working on a contact tracing or exposure notification application and want to be part of the demo mix, send me an email and I’ll get you connected.

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May 26 2020

Q2 Vacation Reading

I took an off the grid vacation last week. I needed it as I was pretty fried feeling on May 15th when I checked out.

Amy and I went … nowhere. We stayed at home. I slept late each day. I exercised. I read. I napped. We finished watching Breaking Bad. I played with my Glowforge and made a bunch of Ear Savers. I wrote a little, but not too much, on my next book (The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors.)

I read two great memoirs, both by women I respect a lot.

Madeline and Arlan are each incredible leaders, brave people, and women that I have learned a lot from. I’ve been fortunate to spend time with both of them and be involved in things that they created (in Madeline’s case, The Albright Institute; in Arlan’s case, Backstage Capital). I loved reading these books and recommend them for everyone, especially if you are interested in leadership.

I also read two books that are pertinent to this moment in time.

They were also each excellent and gave me useful perspective on our current reality, along with how our government responded during two other major crises (one health, one economic.)

It’s a beautiful day in Boulder today. I’m glad to be back from what was a much needed vacation.

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May 15 2020

Reopening Your Business In Colorado

Energize Colorado, working with Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), has just released business templates that offer best practices, direction, and information on how businesses can restart operations safely and effectively.

These templates are based on OEDIT’s recommendations along with input from Kroger who has been a leader in evolving better practices as an essential business.

Next week, WorkBright and Energize Colorado are doing a four-part webinar series on Reopening Your Business.

  • Part One: Let’s Keep COVID-19 Out of Your Workplace: Best practices in screening your workers and customers and how they need to be balanced with privacy and HIPAA concerns.
  • Part Two: Let’s Not Pass it Along: Learn the underlying principles of social distancing to support creation of specific guidelines for your business and industry.
  • Part Three: Let’s Plan for When it Does Happen: COVID-19 will come to virtually every business. Learn how to limit the impact and spread through your workforce.
  • Part Four: Let’s Care for Our People: Special programs to check in frequently with workers and tools to respond to what you learn.

As businesses start opening up in Colorado, we are entering a very tricky phase of the Covid crisis. I appreciate the work that the 200+ volunteers at Energize Colorado are doing to help the companies with less than 500 employees navigate things.

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May 14 2020

Our Investment in Meru Health – and Others

We just announced our investment in Meru Health. If you recognize Meru Health, it’s because I wrote about it in January as part of my explanation of Freestyle’s Leadership on Mental Health. I highlighted what Josh Felser and his team at Freestyle were doing, which included underwriting 100% of the cost for two programs – Meru Health and Hoffman Institute, for all of their founders.

We got to know Kristian Ranta and his team at Meru Health through Josh. Freestyle is one of our 32 partner funds (where we are LPs) and most of our new direct investing activity is in conjunction with one of our partner funds.

Forbes wrote a detailed profile of the company and the investment in Foundry Group And Slack Are Backing A Virtual Therapy Startup That Raised $8.1 Million and we are excited to be part of Meru Health.

Over the past two months, I’ve been asked almost daily if “VCs are investing during the Covid crisis.” Generic questions like this are impossible to answer, as “VCs” are not a singular archetype (there are many types of VCs with different strategies, goals, personalities, and constraints.) So, I answer it from the frame of reference of what we are doing at Foundry Group.

In general, I think the best answers are examples.

For me, the Covid crisis started on March 11th. This was the first day I worked from home and haven’t left my house since then. We were planning to have our CEO Summit in Boulder on March 12th and 13th but cancelled it on March 9th. My parents were coming to Boulder on March 12th for a long weekend and to celebrate my dad’s 82nd birthday. My brother Daniel and I decided to cancel their trip and told them the night of March 11th. Bryan Leech at iBotta hosted the first “Denver Business Leaders” call the morning of March 11th. So, when I look back and mark this moment in history, it started for me on March 11th.

Since then, Foundry Group has closed three new investments.

We generally make about 10 new investments a year. While it’s not spaced out monthly (we don’t try to manage timing that granularly), if you look back to when we started Foundry Group in 2007 we’ve done a maximum of 14 new investments in a year and a minimum of 8 new investments.

When asked if we are investing, I answer “yes – on the same pace as we always have.” We have a deeply held belief that time diversity in investing matters, and the key is to keep the same pace of new investments no matter what is going on in the macro.

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May 13 2020

Techstars Entrepreneurship & Mental Health Series

Techstars just released a 4-part original video series on entrepreneurship and mental health. I’m featured in one of the four short (< 10 minute) videos.

If there was ever a moment in time that challenged our individual and collective mental health, it’s the Covid crisis. When Techstars began working on this project last year, the focus was on increasing awareness of the issues around mental health and entrepreneurship. There was no anticipation of the additional pressure the Covid crisis would put on – well – everyone, everywhere. The timing goal was simply to release it during Mental Health Month 2020.

I’ve spoken regularly since 2013 about my struggles with anxiety and depression. As a result of a depressive episode that I had, I decided that I wanted to try to lower the stigma, especially in entrepreneurship, around mental health issues. I personally no longer separate between physical health and mental health – they are both part of our existence as humans, something everyone struggles with at some level, and something everyone can work on, if they want.

I’m officially DSM-5 300.3: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. If you know me, you know that I’m a counter, arranger, and checker with some washing (mostly hands) tossed in for good measure. My magic number is 3.

Since I became public about this in 2013, I’ve met many entrepreneurs who have opened up to me about their own struggles. In some cases, I’m the first person they’ve ever talked to because of the stigma associated with mental health issues, especially around leadership (e.g. a leader can’t show weakness). Some of the people I’ve developed relationships with around this are much more visible and successful than I am, yet, very few people know that they struggle with mental health issues. While that’s their choice, I’m glad they feel safe talking to me and I hope it’s at least a little bit helpful to them.

My wife Amy Batchelor is front and center in this video. When I listen to her talk about her experience with me around these issues, I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have a partner who has supported me from the very beginning. I know how challenging I can be at times, and I don’t think I’d be here, at this point in my life, without Amy.

I also highlight my first business partner Dave Jilk in the video. Dave is still one of my closest friends and probably knows me better than anyone on Planet Earth other than Amy and my brother Daniel. Dave’s support of me during my first depressive episode – when we were partners at Feld Technologies – was profound to me. And his support during my depressive episode in 2013 (which is a story I tell in the video) was incredible.

Many of the organizations I’m involved in are increasing their focus on mental health support. For example, one of the primary initiatives of Energize Colorado is mental health support for business people during the Covid crisis. And, there’s a lot more coming in my world.

Techstars – thanks for making this a priority for entrepreneurs. And to my fellow participants in the video series – Andrea Perdomo and Matthew Helt – thank you for being brave enough to tell your stories. Finally, Tishin Donkersley, thank you for the foresight, motivation, and endless efforts to make this project come to life.

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May 12 2020

What Day Is It?

Amy just walked in to our shared office (the “Library”) and said something about it being Tuesday.

It’s gloomy in Colorado today. For the past few years, the month of May has been more like Seattle weather than Colorado weather, so while spring is transitioning into summer, heavy clouds hang over us.

I seem to have two types of days right now.

Type 1 is what happens between Monday morning and Friday afternoon. Zoom call after Zoom call. Lots of exogenous stress and anxiety. By the end of each of these days, it’s hard to shrug it off as I’m absorbing so much from other people as I try to help them navigate through whatever they are working on or struggling with. There are momentary bright spots, smiles, and statements of appreciation, but they are fleeting as the 1 Minute To Next Call message appears at the top of the screen. At the end of the day, I try to run, but only feel like it a few days a week. Amy and I finish the day staring at the TV for an hour or two and then go to sleep.

Type 2 is the weekend. I stop doing meetings and email Friday night. I use Saturday to rest, recover, read, nap, and hang out with Amy. Sunday is similar, but I catch up on email, and read a bunch more.

I love to read but the only days I seem to have the energy to read are Type 2 days.

I’m going to finish out this week this way and then take a week off the grid and try to reset. As I expect we are in for a very long haul of stress and misery around the Covid crisis, it’s clear to me that Type 1 / Type 2 is not going to be a sustainable rhythm for me.

While I don’t know where I’ll land, I do know that the mental health crisis I talked about in my post The Three Crises is real. I see it and hear about it everywhere. I feel it. And I know how lucky and privileged I am, so I can only imagine how intense, pervasive, and challenging it is for others.

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May 11 2020

Supporting the $1K Project

A month ago, Alex Iskold emailed me about a new initiative that he started with Minda Brusse and a group of 20 volunteers called the $1K Project.

The mission of the $1K Project is to help families impacted by the pandemic by connecting them directly with sponsors who are willing to gift them $1k a month for three months. This is intended as a bridge until government funding shows up, people can get back to work, or figure out another source of funding.

I committed to fund five families on the spot for three months. I just fulfilled my second set of committments to these families.

Alex told me that part of his motivation is that with all the different ways there are to gift money, families everywhere are hurting and are unable to provide food, basic necessities, rent, and utilities. Unless you know someone, it’s very hard to directly support another family you don’t know.

The magic of the $1k Project is using trusted connections to trace back to people known to the founders and other people connected to the $1k Project. Families get referred to us through friends, families, and through their former employers who are pained by having to let the employees go.

Think of it for a chain letter in CovidWorld.

If you are an employer you can nominate someone you laid off due to Covid. Alternatively, you can nominate a friend, a family member, a business owner, or someone else you know who lost their job to Covid.

In the last 30 days, over $500,000 has been given directly to families in need. Each has a story. Each has a need.

Alex and team – awesome job.

For the readers out there, if you are inspired to make a difference directly in a family’s life and you can afford $1k / month for three months, give the $1k Project a shot and sign up to be a sponsor.

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May 10 2020

Celebrate Governor Polis’s Birthday With Me

On May 14th at 5:30pm, a group of us are going to have a virtual birthday party for Colorado Governor Jared Polis. I’m co-chairing the party with my wife Amy Batchelor, my partner Seth Levine, his wife Greeley Sachs, and our friends Mo and Jennifer Siegel. Congressman Joe Neguse is joining as a special birthday guest as his birthday is the next day.

Jared always does a fundraiser on his birthday. This year, it’s for the Colorado COVID Relief Fund.

I’m on the executive committee for the fund and Amy is on the grants committee. Our gift was one of the first to the fund (I was part of the launch discussion and committed on the first committee call along with Kent Thiry and Denise O’Leary.) So far we have raised $16.5 million and have given grants of $8.4 million to those in Colorado in the most need. Our goal is to raise at least $20 million and deploy all of the money by the end of June. Over 8,000 individual donors have contributed along with organizations listed at the end of this post.

So, please join us for Jared’s birthday (yup – it’ll be by video conference.)

It’s a tough time for everyone, but I’m especially proud to be a Coloradan right now as we work together to help each other.


Some of the organizations that have contributed so far: Anchor Point, AT&T, Baird Foundation, Bank of America, Bender West Foundation, Boettcher Foundation, Bohemian Foundation, BPx Energy, Buell Foundation, Caring for Colorado Foundation, Chambers Fund, Charles Schwab Foundation, Christy Sports, Cigna, Colorado Garden Show INC, Colorado Rockies Baseball Club Foundation, Comcast NBCUniversal, Community First Foundation, Community Foundation Boulder County, Cranaleith Foundation Inc, Daniels Fund, David Altman Foundation, Deloitte, Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, Denver Broncos, El Pomar, Elana Amsterdam & Rob Katz, Empower Retirement, ENT Credit Union, First Bank, Gates Family Foundation, Gill Foundation, Good Chemistry Nurseries, Google, Greater Salina Community Foundation, Grogan Family Fund, HCA Healthcare, Hearst Foundation, Hemera Foundation, HomeAdvisor, John Elway, Ken and Rebecca Gart, Key Bank Foundation, Liberty Global, Liberty Media, Lockheed Martin, Madroño Foundation, MDC/ Richmond American Homes Foundation, Mile High United Way, Morgridge Family Foundation, Newmont, Norm & Sunny Brownstein and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Pat Broe, Patlaw Fund, Peyton and Ashley Manning, PhRMA, Pinnacol Assurance, PNC, R. Stanton Dodge, Rose Community Foundation, Santander Consumer USA Inc Foundation, Suncor, Target, Telluride Foundation, Terrapin Care Station, The Anschutz Foundation, The Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, The DaVita Village, The Denver Foundation, The Moes, The Seedworks Fund, Thiry-O’Leary Foundation, Tom Marsico, TriState Generation & Transmission Association, Twilio, VF & The VF Foundation, Walmart, Wells Fargo Foundation, Western Union, Wynne Health Group, and Xcel Energy.

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May 8 2020

Zoom Fatigue

Yup. I’ve got it. Zoom Fatigue.

But before I talk about that, thank you to everyone who emailed me about Brooks the Wonder Dog. He has a Canine Meningioma which we will treat with radiation therapy at CSU. He’s coming home from the doctor this morning (they kept him overnight for two nights for observation) and it sounds like he’s doing ok. So, thanks for all the kind emails, thoughts, and suggestions.

It’s been 58 days since March 11th, the day that I officially started sheltering in place. I’ve been doing around 40 hours of Zoom calls (with a few Google Meets and Webexes tossed in for good measure) between Monday and Friday each week.

A few days ago I thought I was just tired. I was super grumpy about a few things on Monday night. I felt better Tuesday morning but yesterday evening after my last call (at 5:30) I got up to go for a run but was just too tired to do it. So I went and watched a few episodes of Breaking Bad with Amy and then went to bed around 8:30.

I feel better this morning, but have little enthusiasm for the wall of Zoom calls that I have today.

On top of that, I’m feeling annoyed by the level of opportunism in the world around the Covid crisis. There seems to be an outbreak of it in Utah, as evidenced by a Utah-based startup says it has exclusive business rights to the use of smartphones and other electronic devices for tracing people who have come into contact with a person with Covid-19 and $67 million of State of Utah contracts for technology around the Covid crisis. As someone who personally has been shipping out a lot of money and time to help, it feels like private companies could be a little more generous about how they contract with State governments right now around the crisis, especially for things (like software) that have a marginal cost of almost zero.

Back to Zoom fatigue. I’m generally a good video conferencer. I rarely multitask, try to stay fully engaged, and have an excellent and comfortable setup. But the daily wall of video conferences has finally gotten to me. The zero latency transition (finish conference, start next conference, finish conference, start next conference, finish conference, start next conference, …) has eliminated any “catch my breath” time. Catching up on email and Slack is a huge batch process early in the day or at the end of the day (or both).

In the last week, I’ve found myself trying to scan email and Slack during video conferences when I’m not engaged. I know I’m not hearing much when I do that, which makes being on the video conference pointless.

I accept the reality that even though I’m 58 days into a wall of videoconferences, I’ve got a long stretch of this in front of me. So, it’s time to build more space into the day so that when I’m on a video conference, I’m on, and I don’t devolve into endless eight+ hour stretches of sitting on a couch wearing myself out.

Digital sabbath starts in about 12 hours. I’m ready.

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