Month: September 2020
Amy has a birthday coming up. We spent some time this morning talking about her next year. Since the two of us are together all day every day, we also discussed how I’m spending my time over the upcoming year that begins at her birthday.
A few hours later, I stumbled upon Your Life in Weeks on Wait But Why, one of my favorite blogs. The following are the number of weeks (measured in boxes) that a typical 90-year-old human has on this planet.
Think you have all 90 years worth of boxes? Here’s some perspective.
Don’t want to think in weeks? Ok, let’s scope it down to months.
When you look at it this way, there aren’t that many. Go back to the weeks. When you look at the upcoming week, are you happy about how you are spending your time? How about this month (yeah, we are almost halfway through September already.)
Fortunately, Tim (who writes Wait But Why) sells a handy-dandy Life Calendar (by weeks), so you can sit down and sketch your own out thoughts. I just bought several and expect I know what Amy and I will be doing together for some of next Saturday.
Denver Startup Week, the largest startup week in the world, happens next week. In the time of Covid, it’s virtual, so I hope we attract a lot of people from all over the world.
I’m involved in a bunch of stuff this year, which I’ll list below, but I want to highlight a few specific events, including the Keynote Kickoff with Robert Smith of Vista Equity Partners who grew up in Denver. He will be doing a fireside chat with Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock.
There is a large effort around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Listen to a short overview with Dianne Myles.
Following are the specific events I’m involved in.
Tuesday, September 15th from 1:00-2:00pm MT – Startup Communities, Complex Systems, Wicked Problems, and the Entrepreneur’s Journey: Brad Feld (Foundry Group & Techstars), Cheryl Kellond (Apostrophe Health), and Tom Higley (X Genesis & 10.10.10) talk about “complex systems,” startup communities, and wicked problems – and what they’ve learned about how entrepreneurs succeed.
Tuesday, September 15th from 5:30pm-6:30pm MT – COVIDTECH: Colorado’s COVID Response
– Brad Feld, Innovation Response Volunteers
– Sarah Tuneberg, COVIDtech Executive Product Owner, CDPHE
– Christen Lara, COVIDtech Product Manager, CDPHE
– Kris Kiburz, IT Director for CDPHE
– Moderator: Stephanie Cain, Colorado Digital Service
+ Pre-recorded opening remarks by Governor Jared Polis
Wednesday, September 16th from 3:45 – 5:15pm MT – Energize Colorado – Helping Prepare Small Businesses for the New Economy
– Panelists: Brad Feld, Danielle Shoots, Erik Mitisek, & Marc Nager
– Moderator: Wendy Lea
Friday, September 18th from 10:00-11:00am MT – Mental Health Fireside with Brad Feld and Dave Morin: Dave is Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Sunrise whose mission is to cure depression, reduce suffering, and understand the brain. Focused on bringing together science, technology, medicine, spirituality, philosophy, and design to revolutionize how humanity experiences all forms of depression.
Come join us for some of these, or any of the other hundreds of events at Denver Startup Week 2020.
Daniel Jackson created a magnificent book. It’s a combination of three things: 1) Extraordinary personal stories about 2) The struggle with mental health, anxiety, and depression while 3) at MIT.
MIT is a foundational part of my life. I spent seven years there. I got into graduate school in my fourth year and got into a Ph.D. program in my fifth year. I also started three companies while I was there – the first failed after my sophomore year, the second failed after my junior year, but the third turned into Feld Technologies, which was my first successful company.
I vividly remember my first major depressive episode. It was 1990. My first marriage had fallen apart. My company was doing fine, but I was bored with the work. I knew my Ph.D. journey was doomed, but I hadn’t accepted it yet.
While I had theoretically experienced failure, none had felt very personal up to this point. When I flashback to MIT undergraduate failure, it was dropping out of courses like 18.701, which I had no business taking when I did. Or it was getting a 20 on my first 8.01 test, only to find out a few days later that class average was a 32.
But the failures in 1990 were real and personal. I had a fantasy about my first marriage, which was also my first adult relationship (which had started in high school.) My divorce obliterated that fantasy. I had created a narrative about myself, if only in my head, that I was an overachiever at the youngest possible age – my company, my Ph.D., my marriage. When the second of those, the Ph.D. blew up, a deep depression ensued.
I was lucky – I had three people in my life who showed up for me in profound ways. The first was my Ph.D. advisor, Eric von Hippel, who protected me from the worst of what could have been the emotional fallout from MIT while providing me with the best he could as a paternalist-non-parent. The next was my now wife, Amy Batchelor, who knew I was depressed, called it out, and encouraged and supported me through understanding what was going on. Finally, my business partner, Dave Jilk, showed up as a partner every day. I don’t think he understood what I was going through or what to do, but what he did was what I needed.
That was almost 30 years ago.
Depression can be a fiendishly challenging thing that some us call the black dog. Today, when it shows up, I pet it on the head, talk nicely to it, and encourage it to find somewhere else to play. But, for a while in my 20s, it took up residence in my dark, opaque box, which spent a lot of time in a 24,000 cubic foot apartment at 15 Sleeper Street and eventually migrated to 127 Bay State Road. At some point, the black dog got bored of that apartment and went somewhere else for a while.
Reading this book made me wish this book existed then. I remember feeling incredibly alone at MIT, in Boston, and the world. Once I acknowledged to myself that I was depressed, I knew I wasn’t the only person in the world who was depressed. But I was so terrified about it and felt so much stigma and shame around my depression that I built a dark, opaque box around myself and only let a few people in during that time. If this book had existed, I would have looked at the photos, read the stories, and realized both that I wasn’t alone and that I eventually could be ok.
Historically, almost everything I do uses a network model. Foundry Group runs as a network. If you take a look at the Foundry Group partner funds or talk to us about our investment strategy, you’ll immediately see the texture of a network. Techstars is a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. All of my ideas around Startup Communities incorporate network theory. If you are involved in any organizations I’ve helped create, such as Energize Colorado, you’ll immediately recognize the network model underlying them.
For me, a network is very different than a social network such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Now that my entire life has shifted to a virtual one, I’ve been playing around with a lot of new network concepts and how they apply to work.
My long time friend Matt Blumberg just launched a new company today called Bolster. It’s a new way to scale your executive team and board. Fred Wilson, also a long time friend of Matt’s, has a great detailed post up today about it titled Bolster Your Management Team And Board that goes through Bolster in detail. A key section from Fred’s post is:
The Bolster team believes that scaling a high growth company means that you need to adapt, grow, and supplement your management team continuously along the way. And a big part of doing that is accessing “fractional talent” which means people that don’t work for your company full-time and permanently. All of this is outlined in the Bolster Founding Manifesto which explains why they started this company.
Sign up for Bolster if you:
- are looking to fill executive or board roles
- are looking for a flexible executive role
- are an investor who is looking to connect your CEOs with flexible executive talent
While we are not direct investors in Bolster, we are indirect investors in three of Bolster’s investors: High Alpha, USV, and Costanoa. It’s a great example of our investment strategy around a network model.
I know the near term plans for Bolster and there’s an enormous amount of value coming quickly around executive and board hires, especially on the dimension of networks, inclusion, and diversity. I encourage you to give it a try and get involved at the beginning.
We are running the Venture Deals Online Course from September 13, 2020 – November 6, 2020.
Our summer session had over 10,000 registrants and over 2,000 people completing the course. We got a lot of feedback about things to improve, several of which we are introducing into the Fall session.
Once again, we’ll do a weekly AMA with a variety of people participating. We are also creating a new Venture Deals online community available to all past and current participants of the course. We’ll provide the link for the online community on day one (we’ll be using Mighty Networks, which I’ve loved for my virtual Startup Community.)
For now, registration is open. Please sign up if you want to take the Fall 2020 Venture Deals Online Course.
Amy and I have been collecting art since we first got together in 1990. My mom, Cecelia Feld, is an artist, and I have been around contemporary art my entire life. We prefer non-representational art from living artists. While we have paintings, sculptures, and photographs from artists who live all over the world, many of the artists are from the Western United States.
We first met Julie Maren through a gallery in Boulder on the Pearl Street Mall called MacLaren Markowitz Gallery. When the Internet and telecom bubble collapsed, the gallery ran into trouble, so Amy and I invested in it to help support it and keep it open. We met many artists in the ensuing years and expanded the Colorado artists we were collecting. MacLaren Markowitz ultimately closed, but many friendships remain.
We’ve been slowly putting new art in our Aspen house. We didn’t want to fill it quickly, but rather savor the space and get comfortable with contemporary artists from the area, along with ones from the Western United States that we already collected. We have several beautiful pieces hanging from Mark Cesark (Carbondale) and Christopher Martin (Aspen). And, when you are on a Zoom call with me, you are looking at a piece by Clay Johnson (Laramie, WY).
Julie installed her piece on Leap Day 2020, just before Covid hit. We were planning to be here for the summer but stayed in Boulder instead. We saw the installation in person for the first time a week ago, and it blew our minds. I’ve been spending a few minutes with it each morning.
Given all the stress in the world right now, I’m looking for moments of beauty every day. Art has always been a source of it for me. While I don’t have any talent as an artist, I have enormous appreciation for it and for what it takes to create art. So, I thought I’d share a moment of beauty with you today before the holiday weekend in the US.
Thanks, Mom and Dad, for dragging Daniel and me to endless museums when we were kids. And thanks, Amy, for loving art as much, or maybe even more, than I do.
Mental health has been an issue among tech entrepreneurs for a long time, but has been exacerbated by the stresses of the Covid crisis.
On March 31, I wrote a post called The Three Crises in which I suggested that the Covid crisis was the collision of three crises, each of which is a complex system. The health crisis (the disease) created the economic crisis (our economy was in strong shape before Covid), which would accelerate a mental health crisis. In the US, we have a fourth crisis amplified – the racial equity crisis – which has been going on since the inception of our country.
Since these are complex systems, they are interconnected and don’t have a deterministic outcome. There are endless unintended consequences from actions in one crisis that have long term and unexpected impacts on other of the crises.
Humans are not built to be isolated in their homes for months at a time. Founders, who are already under immense pressure from many directions, now have to contend with that dynamic for themselves in an uncertain business environment, connected only by video conferencing and email to their teams, investors, and customers. At the same time, there is no relief from the endless intensity of creating and leading a business.
It should be no surprise that the mental health part of the crisis is real and accelerating. Toss in the dissonance in our society. Some tech companies stock prices are at record highs, while established businesses are in a complete retreat or freefall. Many small businesses are on the verge of extinction – ponder all the local retail businesses and restaurants in your city. Local and state governments are under economic and functional stress. We have record unemployment and a macro communication environment (media, politics, news) that is divisive rather than unifying. We are in an election year in the US. Oh yeah, and the disease.
Fortunately, the stigma associated with mental health, especially among founders, is lessening. It’s still real, but more are talking about it. There are many more coaching options like Reboot to help founders, CEOs, and leaders through this. There are companies, like Meru Health (which we recently funded) that are working to make mental health services more broadly accessible and affordable. And, many leaders are speaking out regularly about their struggles with their mental health, making it much easier to start and navigate conversations about mental health.
In the future, I hope we are much more effective as a species around addressing and helping with mental health issues. The sooner we can eliminate the stigma around mental health, especially in entrepreneurship, the better.
My long-time friend and former MIT professor, Professor Edward Roberts, who founded and still chairs the MIT entrepreneurship program, recently published “Celebrating Entrepreneurs: How MIT Nurtured Pioneering Entrepreneurs Who Built Great Companies”.
The book is fascinating, especially its five chapters filled with in-depth interviews and background on the MIT “spinoff startups” that became the leaders of: the life sciences and biotechnology industry, the Internet, from CAD-CAM to robotics, and even “modern finance”, plus a host of other companies, including such recent successes as HubSpot, Okta and PillPack, all founded and led by MIT alums.
Chapter 11 is the one on Modern Finance. Who said professors at MIT didn’t have a sense of humor. Having known Ed for 35 years, he has a wicked one.
It has taken 50 years to transform MIT from its unique historic traditions to today’s recognition that forming new innovation-based companies is indeed the most powerful source of impact upon the world. In his praise for the book, MIT President Rafael Reif exclaims: “An entrepreneurship tornado continues to blow at MIT. The energy of entrepreneurship rises through our classrooms, labs, and centers. It is central to who we are as an institution for 50 years of extraordinary achievement.”
The first half of the book focuses upon MIT’s history of creating from scratch what they lovingly call the “MIT Entrepreneurial Ecosystem”. Much of what MIT has done has been literally copied by other institutions worldwide. Still more universities, regions, and countries have adopted MIT’s approaches as needed to fit their own surroundings.
Structured in two parts, the book first showcases how the unique atmosphere at MIT encourages its innovative entrepreneurs to thrive. Then, with in-depth coverage of the founders and companies that pioneered four industries—biotechnology, the Internet, from CAD-CAM to robotics, and modern finance—plus many other successful firms, Ed analyzes how MIT’s most successful entrepreneurs have capitalized on that environment and culture to build companies that have lasted for decades. Both internal and external to MIT, the founders of these organizations and companies tell their own stories, describing their motivations, challenges, and outcomes.
The opening cover page says clearly that all author royalties will be donated directly to endowment funds that support the MIT-wide entrepreneurship programs. Buy the book to learn more about the history and evolution of entrepreneurship at MIT while helping foster future entrepreneurs.
The Energize Colorado Gap Fund is open for applications. At some point, I’ll write a blog post about the story of how this came together via a public-private partnership to fill a much-needed gap in the Federal funding for small businesses throughout Colorado due to the Covid crisis, but for now either send this to people you think it is relevant to or, if it is relevant to you, please apply for funding.
If you are a business or nonprofit with less than 25 full-time employees (including sole proprietors) you can apply for up to a $15,000 grant and a $20,000 loan for a possible combined total of $35,000 in financial assistance.
The applications and awards will be done in rounds to allow the Energize Colorado Gap Fund to provide assistance through December 2020. This is not a first-come-first-serve process, but rather one that will be focused on helping those in need receive priority access to assistance.
A detailed FAQ for the Energize Colorado Gap Fund is available, but here are a few summary points around eligibility and priority.
Who is Eligible?
- Small Businesses/Enterprises – Colorado sole proprietors and registered small businesses including LLCs, S-Corps and other business types.
- Nonprofits – Colorado nonprofits whose mission and/or programs directly support economic development, small businesses, or tourism.
- Fewer than 25 employees – Applicants must have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. An employer may use its off-season employee count.
- Impacted by COVID-19 – Applicants must be able to show the economic hardship their business is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The business’s story of hardship plus documents such as bank records, point of sale receipts, profit and loss statements, or other documents can be used to show economic harm.
Priority Will Be Given to the Following:
- Any eligible Colorado small enterprise is welcome to apply. Priority will be given to applicants:
- Who are majority-owned by Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Veterans, or Women
- In rural areas with a population of less than 50,000 people
- In the tourism sector
- With limited or no access to capital financing or other federal, state or local grants/loans
I’m incredibly proud of the hard work of the many volunteers at Energize Colorado and the leadership of Wendy Lea who helped get this up and running. And, the Energize Colorado Gap Fund Executive Committee, under the leadership of Kent Thiry, is amazing to see in action.