Month: August 2020

Aug 31 2020

Endless Meaningless Words in Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital

I read On Truth and Untruth: Selected Writings by Nietzsche yesterday. It was chewy, but soaked me in an interesting set of ideas about what words mean, along with a bunch of stuff around the concept of truth.

I get a lot of inbound random email where I get asked a lot of questions, so I see lots of questions repeat or get asked in different ways. For example, I continually get asked some version of “How do I get a job as a VC” and point everyone at my partner Seth’s post How To Get a Job In Venture Capital.

This morning, as I was grinding through email, I saw a few questions that could be generally categorized as “Are we in a bubble?” There were different flavors, but if I summarized, it would be:

  • Is the public market in a bubble?
  • Is VC in a bubble?
  • Are SPACs a bubble?

Whenever I see the word bubble, the phrase “Bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble” comes into my mind, which I know is not how the Macbeth Song of the Witches goes, but that’s just how my brain works.

Oh – you want a brief interlude for the Song of the Witches? Ok – here it is.

Round about the cauldron go:
In the poisoned entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Sweated venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing.
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witch’s mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat; and slips of yew
Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

If you enjoyed that, now you know why I think of this phrase every time I hear the word bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

My answer to the bubble question is, “I have no idea, and I don’t care.” I’ve never tried to time the markets. I am not going to ever try to time the markets. Instead, I’m going to keep working on what I’m obsessed about and try to improve each thing regardless of the macro-dynamics.

I went looking for Baboon Blood on Amazon to make my charms firm and good. I didn’t find anything other than a song from Art Zoyd. I did, however, find (and buy) a Baboon Blood flask via a Google search.

Comments
Aug 30 2020

Are You At Your Best Right Now?

I’m not.

And I know a lot of people who aren’t.

I’m trying hard, but I’m aware that there are many moments where I’m nowhere close to being my best.

Every day, I feel confused by behavior from someone I know well which is inconsistent with how I think of them. Sometimes it’s unsettling or upsetting. Often it is perplexing. Occasionally it is disheartening.

Everyone I know is some element of tired, stressed, anxious, frustrated, or just running at maximum speed trying to keep it all together. People are short-tempered, irritable, irrational, and lashing out or thrashing around.

Give yourself a break and acknowledge to yourself and your loved ones that you are not at your best right now. Understand that your loved ones, colleagues, co-workers, friends, and everyone else is probably not at their best right now. While you might not be able to give them a hug, you can try a smile, an apology, or laughter when the moment passes.

Give them, and yourself, a break for not being at your best.

Comments
Aug 27 2020

Pondering the Commercial Real Estate Market

Since Covid started, I’ve had many conversations about office space. In April, almost all of our companies were unable to use their office space because of stay at home orders. Today, even though strict stay-at-home orders are no longer in place in most of the country, the vast majority of our companies are still in a primary work-from-home mode.

Most of these companies are locked into long term office leases. Over the past few months, they’ve all tried to negotiate some relief with their landlord. While, in a few cases, there have been small rent deferrals in exchange for tacking on a few months at the end of the lease, and in a few other cases landlords have offered “meaningful cash now to buy out the lease” deals, these have been few and far between.

Most of the time, the answer is some version of “Tough luck.” And, if you dig into the lease agreement, it usually reinforces the message of “tough luck.”

In a moment where landlords could generate enormous goodwill, especially with smaller companies, I believe they are doing the opposite. Rather than showing some flexibility, they are telling their customer (the tenant) who literally cannot use the physical space they are renting, “sorry – not my problem.”

All over our portfolio, I’m seeing CEOs increasingly asking the question, “why am I spending all this money for something I can’t use?” Since work-from-home is continuing, and these CEOs realize that remote or distributed work, rather than having an expensive, central office, is attractive both culturally and economically for many of their employees.

When we discuss this, I always ask the question, “If you could allocate 100% of your rent expense to your employees, would this be a positive or a negative to your employees?” That’s easy to answer, and when I remind CEOs that their all-in cost of being in an office is probably double what they pay in rent, they quickly realize it’s not a zero-sum game.

I think we are in a phase of total denial by the commercial real estate industry about the dynamics going on. It’s a classic example of short-term, zero-sum thinking, which is antithetical to my way of approaching things, so it grates on me.

I hypothesize that there are massive structural, cultural, and financial changes that are happening that are being exacerbated by the behavior of the commercial real estate owners. We’ll see, but I know the amount of money that we are indirectly spending on commercial real estate via our portfolio will be dramatically less in 2023 than it is today.

Comments
Aug 25 2020

Supporting HBCUvc’s VC Lab and Fund

Amy and I, through our Anchor Point Foundation, are supporting HBCUvc’s VC Lab and Fund. If you are interested in supporting this initiative, send a note to info@hbcu.vc or email me.

Several people pointed me at Hadiyah Mujhid, the Founder and CEO of HBCUvc. We talked a few times and I offered to support HBCUvc in any way that she wanted. She asked me to support the expansion of HBCUvc’s VC Lab and Fund.

HBCUvc is seeking to expand its VC Lab and Fund program that invests in Black, Indigenous, and Latinx entrepreneurs building technology companies. The fund is managed by university students participating in HBCUvc’s Fellowship programs. Fellows originate and execute startup investments under the supervision of HBCUvc’s investment committee, a team of experienced venture capital investors.

Currently, while there are similar funding organizations for other universities, there are no funding groups affiliated with investing or supporting entrepreneurs from the HBCU ecosystem. For perspective:

  • Dorm Room Fund (First Round Capital university fund targets Penn, Yale, Stanford),
  • Rough Draft Ventures (General Catalyst university fund targets Harvard)
  • Big Red Ventures (Student-run fund at Cornell)
  • House Fund (Fund focuses on supporting entrepreneurs from Berkeley ecosystem)

The lab and fund builds on the foundation laid in HBCUvc’s fellowship programs and provides direct investing experience for the fellows with the following goals:

  • Provide financial and technical support to emerging Black, Indigenous, and Latinx technology entrepreneurs
  • Create experiential pathways for the next generation of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx venture capitalists,
  • Close data gaps on capital allocation strategies best applicable to Black, Indigenous, and Latinx entrepreneurs
  • Create a revenue opportunity for HBCUvc to sustain educational programming through returns

Primary learnings for the fellows include:

  • Originating investment opportunities
  • Conducting due diligence
  • Syndicating transactions
  • Executing transactions
  • Supporting founders and portfolio companies

Expansion of the VC Lab and Fund will help bridge this funding gap, support more entrepreneurs, and provide venture experience to create a pipeline of Black and Brown VCs.

Comments
Aug 24 2020

Q320 Vacation and Books

Every quarter I try to take a week completely off the grid. It’s a cold reboot for me, not simply a Ctrl-Alt-Del type thing. I started doing this in 2000 and it took me about four years to learn how to just turn off the switch completely for a week and then turn it back on. Last Saturday evening I turned it off and turned it back on yesterday morning.

My one mistake was reading the Sunday New York Times first thing yesterday. It was the wrong “first new information” and it made me extremely anxious. I wrote in my post from yesterday “I think that’s the last time I’m going to read the NY Times.” Now that I don’t feel anxious anymore, I know that’s not true, but it was an extreme shock to the system to wander back into things that quickly.

I read a lot of books last week, most of which were good. If you want my full reading list anytime, it’s in reverse chron order at Goodreads. Following is what I read last week with short hints in case you are interested in any of them.

22 Minutes of Unconditional Love: I try to pick a book a week from the NYT Book Review that I would have never otherwise read (I guess this is another reason to keep reading the Sunday NYT!). I rarely read fiction relationship stories and wouldn’t have picked one up about sexual obsession except for the good NYT review. It was interesting at times, but not really my thing.

Awakened in the Future: Mario Cantin is a friend. This is his first book. I loved it, including the fictional VCs who were protagonists but modeled after real VCs (yes, one of the protagonists is modeled after me.) The easter eggs are endless, and while there are some rough edges (this is, after all, Mario’s first book) it brought me back to reading Eliot Peper’s first book Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0. Mario – good job!

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times: Pema Chödrön’s classic. Jerry Colonna has recommended it to me 71 times. Amy has recommended it to me 73 times. I think I’m going to read it every year – it exceeded my expectations.

Awareness: Tim Ferriss recommended I read this Tony de Mello book. I had never heard of Tony de Mello. This book was almost as good as Pema Chödrön’s book. And, it was followed by …

Rediscovering Life: Awaken to Reality: Also recommended by Tim Ferriss. Also by Tony de Mello. And also excellent. Halfway through the week, as I was practicing non-attachment, I went very deep on non-attachment.

I Was Told It Would Get Easier: Amy and I don’t have kids. When I read books by Abbi Waxman, I’m glad we don’t have kids. I don’t think I’ve ever met Abbi in person, but I’m long time friends with her husband David. At some point, David mentioned that Abbi was a fiction writer and I started reading all of her books. This one was a blast and, if you have kids gearing up for the infamous college tour, you’ll love it.

Portraits of Resilience: This was the most powerful book of Q320 vacation. Daniel Jackson interviewed a number of people in the MIT community (students, professors, and staff) around their experience with depression, anxiety, and mental health issues. The stories are incredible. The photographs are stunning. And the people are brave, amazing, and wonderful. MIT should give this book to every new undergraduate and graduate student as part of their welcome package.

I Am Not Your Negro: There is a lot more James Baldwin in my future. This is the script for the movie. I’m glad I read it before watching the movie – it made the movie even stronger.

Telecosm: How Infinite Bandwidth Will Revolutionize Our World: I pondered 2040 some during the week (Mario Cantin must have planted that seed in my mind) so I decided to time travel back to 2000 and read what George Gilder wrote. He got some of it really right and some of it really wrong. I loved seeing his promotion of companies that vaporized by 2003. Many of Gilder’s predictions and prognostications were correct, even if the companies he named as the leaders couldn’t pull them off.

She Proclaims: Our Declaration of Independence from a Man’s World: I’m trying to read at least as many books by women as by men. I don’t remember who recommended this one to me, but it was good. I found myself nodding along throughout much of it.

Wiser: The Definitive Guide to Starting a Business After the Age of 50: Gender inequity in entrepreneurship is a real thing. Racial inequity in entrepreneurship is a real thing. Age inequity in entrepreneurship is a real thing. I hoped this book would be about this. It wasn’t, so it turned into a skimmer. If you know of a good book around age inequity in entrepreneurship, please recommend it to me.

Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber: While I knew some of the story, I didn’t know a lot of the backstory. First-person narrative ranges in quality (my blog is an example of that – some days good, some days not so much …) Susan Fowler did an incredible job with this book and her story. She was a key part of much needed change in the tech industry that I hope continues.

The Bluest Eye: Toni Morrison’s first book. Incredible. I’m going to slowly make my way through all of Toni Morrison’s books.

Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed: I don’t know who recommended this one to me, but it was in my infinite pile below The Bluest Eye so I picked it up and read it Sunday afternoon. It was the conservative counterpart to the liberal narrative around racism. It was written in 2015 and felt dated to me. I tried to suspend my bias as I worked my way through the arguments, but many of them were hard to process. It was particularly difficult after reading Toni Morrison from 1970 …

I don’t know what’s next on my reading list, but given my schedule this week, I don’t think there will be a lot of reading until the weekend.

Comments
Aug 23 2020

Venture Kills or the Sunday New York Times

I had a really nice week off the grid. More on that in another post.

I woke up this morning with a very long run in mind. The air quality in Longmont is awful because of the forest fires and, after checking the weather on my iPhone and seeing an air quality index of 138, I decided that a run wasn’t going to happen.

So, I ate breakfast with Amy and read the Sunday New York Times.

That was an error. Breakfast was great, but the NY Times was awful. Well, the paper wasn’t awful, but it made me feel awful. I hadn’t read any news all week, including any tech news, and 15 minutes of turning the pages made me anxious.

I think that’s the last time I’m going to read the NY Times.

I needed a palate cleanser. I saw on Slack that my partner Moody released episodes two and three of his Venture Kills vlog. Since I’d finished off The Last Dance during the week, I figured watching Moody might work to shift my mood.

I should have just watched this and skipped the NYT. I feel mostly back to normal now.

Comments
Aug 13 2020

Supporting Grid110 – South LA

Amy and I, through our Anchor Point Foundation, are supporting the Grid110 – South LA program.

Austin Clements was one of the Black VCs I reached out to after George Floyd was murdered with the question, “What are two things you are involved in that I can support with time, money, and influence?” I knew Austin from his time at TenOneTen Ventures (we are an LP) and I reconnected with him when he joined the Kauffman Fellows Program (Class 25).

Among other things, he told me about Grid110 and why he was helping create and lead Grid110’s new program in South LA.

Grid110 is a non-profit with a mission is to foster the most thriving, inviting and inclusive community for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. They believe that anyone with the goal of becoming an entrepreneur should have the chance to pursue it and receive support along the way. Their work impacts individuals who are often overlooked by traditional entrepreneurial ecosystems, making the the entrepreneurial path more equitable, inclusive and accessible.

I committed to providing funding for the program at the end of the call. Since then, the program has launched with its inaugural class and has been up and running since July.

Over 90% of the selected companies are led by Black and Latinx founders, and the majority of founders are women. The companies are wide ranging — from CPG products to B2B SaaS, from early childhood support all the way to death care services, from for-profit Co-Ops to non-profit boutiques. Some are first time entrepreneurs right out of college, others have long track records of shaping business and culture.

Tonight, I’m doing a virtual AMA with the program. I’m very looking forward to it.

If you are interested in supporting Grid110, you can make a donation here.

Comments
Aug 11 2020

Masks, Distancing, Thinking, and Diversity

I got a lot of interesting and helpful feedback from yesterday’s post on The Sameness. To everyone who emailed me or commented, thank you. It felt good to write it out, and was extremely helpful to me to ponder the responses and suggestions.

I continue to be baffled by the US response to masks. Every time I write something about it, I get responses about why masks don’t work, how to talk about them differently, political comments, and some cheering.

Today, I stumbled on a great video around an experiment with masks. I was thinking about starting to run outside my property and I grabbed some of my lightweight gaiters to wear as a mask when I was near someone. Through this video, I discovered that the gaiter could be worse than not wearing anything, but at the same time wearing a cotton mask is better than not wearing anything.

Washington Post Video: Researchers create visual aid to test mask efficacy 

Nothing like lasers, an experiment, and data. It’s worth three minutes of your life to watch.

Scott Galloway wrote an outstanding post the other day titled The Great Distancing. I nodded along with pretty much all of it. Here are a few images to encourage you to go read the article.

@ProfGalloway weekly blog post on No Mercy / No Malice is a must-read for me. Want some more of him? His rant on higher education the other day with Anderson Cooper is spectacular.

Next up is Howard Marks of Oaktree’s memo from the other day called Time for Thinking. You’ll deeply enjoy (and learn) from this if you are as perplexed as am I (and apparently he is) about the public markets as evidenced by his punchline:

Also, you’ll learn why many aspects of GDP are meaningless, especially annualized quarterly-over-quarter changes in GDP.

Finally, I’ll end with Heidi Roizen’s superb post titled We aren’t going to increase diversity in the boardroom unless we’re willing to appoint first-timers. Why is that so hard to do?

I’ve made a personal commitment to getting at least one non-white board member, and preferably at least one female and one non-white board member, on every board I serve on, even if it means giving up my board seat. I’m giving myself through the end of 2020 before I measure my progress on this goal, but I’m comfortable stating it out loud at this point.

Comments
Aug 10 2020

The Sameness

It’s Monday. Again.

I have 30 Zoom meetings on my calendar this week (yes – I counted). It’s a light week for Zoom meetings since I have four board meetings this week, which each takes up a big block of time, limiting the total number of Zoom meetings for the week.

Did I say that it’s Monday?

My Whoop recovery score is yellow again. It’s yellow almost every day. I get plenty of sleep, but it’s still yellow. Sometimes it’s red. It’s rarely green these days.

On Sunday, I turned the pages of the New York Times with mild disgust. The only day I look at news is on Sunday, and then it’s only the New York Times in physical format. It now takes about ten minutes and I’m not sure why I’m doing it anymore.

Amy and I made a small change to our life algorithm this week. Instead of having the dishes pile up until one of us does them, we are alternating weeks. I’m on dish duty this week. We use the same plates over and over again.

I did my laundry again on Sunday. Every week I do my laundry on Sunday. I take my running clothes out of the sink in the mudroom bathroom and toss them in the washing machine. I grab my laundry basket from my closet and throw them in also. I set the machine for 1:06, pour in Tide Sport, and press Start. When it beeps, I put them in the dryer for 0:40 and press Start. When it beeps, I take them out, fold them, and put them in my closet. They are the same clothes every week.

I’m either running or swimming at least four days each week. Since my Whoop is always yellow, I keep thinking that taking a few days off will help. When I swim, it’s in the same pool back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. When I run, it’s in the same 0.94-mile loop – sometimes clockwise, sometimes counterclockwise. Over and over again.

It’s Monday. Again.

Comments
Aug 9 2020

Laptops for the Justice Reskill Program

Update 8/9 @ 4 pm: We just received a donation of 20 laptops for the Justice Reskill program from John Shegerian, who is exec chairman of ERI. We are no longer looking for laptops for this program but look for more from me on the front in the future. John – thank you!

Aaron Clark is leading a program called Justice Reskill. They need 20 laptops for the participants in the program.

Justice Reskill is a reskilling platform that teaches both technical and essential skills to justice-involved individuals. The first cohort-based directed learning experience launches Saturday, August 15, 2020, with the Second Chance Center of Aurora Colorado, led by Mr. Hassan Latif.  Through generous support from the Kenneth King Foundation & the Cielo Foundation, Justice Reskill is piloting a three-month technical training program with 20 justice-involved participants of the Second Chance Center. Each participant will finish this program with the necessary technical skills needed to explore new careers in tech. 

Since first meeting Aaron in April through Dave Mayer, he has had a significant impact on me. We are involved in several projects together, including the Colorado Tech Coalition for Equity and Inclusion and Energize Colorado.

If you have spare laptops (Mac, PC, or Chromebook) that you would like to contribute, you can mail them to the following address:

Justice Reskill 
4800 Baseline Road
E104 #386
Boulder CO 80303

Also, send them an email at info@justicereskill.com so they know this is coming.

Comments