Month: April 2021
It’s time for the 2nd annual Emerge Virtual 5k Run produced by Rise Against Suicide (formerly Second Wind Fund of Boulder County). It’ll be from 8:00 am to Midnight MT on Sunday, May 2, 2021. Amy and I are helping underwrite it as we did last year and I just signed up to run it.
Rise Against Suicide provides access to funded counseling services for at-risk youth struggling with suicidal ideation in the geographic areas included in Boulder Valley School District and St. Vrain Valley School District. Youth up to the age of 19 who are at elevated risk for suicide, uninsured, or underinsured are eligible for funded counseling services through Rise Against Suicide. The organization receives referrals from private and public elementary, middle and high schools, community social workers, psychologists and mental health professionals, hospitals, and mental health facilities. Within hours of receiving a request for help, at-risk youth can be connected with qualified, private therapists. This immediate response is unique to Rise Against Suicide.
The mental health crisis has been dramatically accelerated as part of the Covid crisis. Now, more than ever, communities need to engage with and help support organizations that provide mental health related services. Recently, this challenge has been particularly acute with children our community given the unique stressors of the Covid crisis.
Dear Discord: Please go public and stay independent instead of being acquired. Love, Brad.
I’ve become a huge Discord fan and user of the past year. I’ve got many daily reference points from products that I use for real-time communication channels: Slack, Telegram, Signal, iMessage, Zoom, Voxer, Mighty, and of course, email.
An increasing number of my group communications is on Discord. There was a ramp-up on Slack several years ago across organizations, but I find it noisy, not terribly easy to navigate, and tiresome for various reasons.
In contrast, Discord is much easier and feels much more vibrant for dynamic communities. This then leads to lots of 1:1 comms across organizations, which until recently was really difficult with Slack, which is now sort of, but not completely, fixed since Slack rolled out Connect.
I stopped using Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn for any real-time comm stuff a while ago. While my iMessage is noisy, it’s calmed down a lot given wiring up some other stuff to the right channels.
I continue to believe that Zoom has a massive disruptive opportunity to obliterate Slack. Still, it’s clearly not a priority for them, and all that might now be irrelevant given Salesforce + Slack along with the Salesforce / Zoom relationship.
That brings me back to Discord. While it would be a smart move for Microsoft to acquire Discord, it would likely pin Discord into a particular segment of Microsoft given Teams along with Microsoft’s functional separation between their gaming business and their corporate business. I know nothing specific about the Microsoft / Discord discussions, but I expect it was primarily, if not entirely, on the gaming side of Microsoft. This would eliminate what I expect is Discord’s most interesting current vector, which is cross-organization collaboration within either affinity groups (communities) or for corporations with their customers.
I fantasize about having one app that deals with all the different sub-apps. Right now, that’s called “my computer” since I have to deal with many different apps. If the promise of APIs really came true, or if XMPP had worked out, or if Trillian had become a thing, this might have happened. But, as with most things in tech, the walled garden takes over when the revenue and profit imperative takes over in the context of monetizing users.
Real-time everything is broken right now. Yeah, it works at an application and network-level (quite brilliantly, and much better than 20 years ago), but it sucks at a user level.
There is so much to do here. Ironically, at least from my perspective, we need more companies (e.g., Discord – stay independent) rather than fewer companies working on this right now.
The best businesses are data-driven and metrics-driven. Instead of simply tracking top-line metrics, every person in the organization understands their role, how they impact the business metrics, and how this impacts its larger goals.
One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is fooling themselves into thinking they are metrics-driven because they are good at reporting high-level and often lagging metrics. Companies that achieve breakout success and longevity have a much deeper and richer understanding of their business’s nuances.
This work is hard, and while there are endless short-form posts about this on the web, there are few in-depth, comprehensive resources to help business builders figure this out.
Consequently, I’m excited about a new book called LEVERS – The Framework For Building Repeatability into Your Business, a collaboration between Amos Schwartzfarb, Trevor Boehm, Cody Simms, and Troy Henikoff. The book is a play-by-play series of frameworks that any company can use to become data and metrics-driven.
I love how the book takes the mystery out of finding repeatability by putting forward simple-to-follow instructions. However, even though the instructions are easy, the work isn’t.
Each of the authors has experience both as a founder and an investor. Amos Schwartzfarb is currently Managing Director of Techstars Austin, before which he’s helped to build six companies to nearly $1B in exit value. Cody Simms is presently SVP of Climate and Sustainability at Techstars, before which he was a Partner and SVP on Techstars’ investment team and was Techstars’ first Managing Director in Los Angeles. Trevor Boehm was formerly Program Director at Techstars Austin and Impact and then Managing Director at the Techstars Amazon Alexa Next program. And Troy Henikoff was formerly the founding member of Techstars Chicago and is now General Partner at Math Ventures.
Every entrepreneur and CEO should read LEVERS. It’s stage agnostic and will help you with at least the following things.
- Create clarity and alignment across the leadership team and the entire organization
- Provide a straightforward way to communicate to all stakeholders
- Give the leadership team more control over the destiny of the company
- Explain a clear and data-driven plan on how to build a long-term and sustainable business
I highly recommend getting your copy of LEVERS – The Framework For Building Repeatability into Your Business today.
On my run to Boulder on Saturday, I listened to The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. My run was about four hours long, which was roughly the time it took to listen to this spectacular book. The quick summary from Wikipedia follows:
Kaku explores the history of unification theories of Physics starting with Newton’s law of universal gravitation which unified our experience of gravity on Earth and the motions of the celestial bodies to Einstein’s general relativity and quantum mechanics and the Standard Model. Kaku dubs the final Grand Unified Theory of relativity and quantum gravity The God Equation with an 11-dimensional String theory as the only self-consistent theory that seems to fit the bill.
I knew a bunch of the history Kaku covered, but he did it in a clear and beautiful way that built up to a bunch of contemporary theory that I couldn’t have explained prior to listening to the book. M-theory is still a complete mystery to me, but at least I understand the linkage to Trisolarans and their sophons a little better.
Explanation: Light rays from accretion disks around a pair of orbiting supermassive black holes make their way through the warped space-time produced by extreme gravity in this stunning computer visualization. The simulated accretion disks have been given different false color schemes, red for the disk surrounding a 200-million-solar-mass black hole, and blue for the disk surrounding a 100-million-solar-mass black hole. That makes it easier to track the light sources, but the choice also reflects reality. Hotter gas gives off light closer to the blue end of the spectrum and material orbiting smaller black holes experiences stronger gravitational effects that produce higher temperatures. For these masses, both accretion disks would actually emit most of their light in the ultraviolet though. In the video, distorted secondary images of the blue black hole, which show the red black hole’s view of its partner, can be found within the tangled skein of the red disk warped by the gravity of the blue black hole in the foreground. Because we’re seeing red’s view of blue while also seeing blue directly, the images allow us to see both sides of blue at the same time. Red and blue light originating from both black holes can be seen in the innermost ring of light, called the photon ring, near their event horizons. Astronomers expect that in the not-too-distant future they’ll be able to detect gravitational waves, ripples in space-time, produced when two supermassive black holes in a system much like the one simulated here spiral together and merge.
You know nothing Jon Snow.
I listened to Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times on Audible over the past week. It was spectacular.
Danielle Morrill recommended it to me. We had an intense up and down journey together with Mattermark, which was doing great until we made a fundamentally bad decision around the company’s strategic direction. The ride down, especially against the backdrop of what I expect would have been a success if we hadn’t made that strategic decision, was extremely challenging. We both learned from it, and it’s been awesome to see the journey that Danielle has been on since.
While I often run without listening to anything, I’ll occasionally listen to a book on Audible on long runs. I started Wintering last week during a run at Hall Ranch. I did another run at Hall Ranch the next day and listened to some more. I run a long loop from my house around McIntosh Lake in the dark and almost finished it two nights ago. Yesterday, I did a few miles in a classic Boulder spring snowstorm at the end of the day and finished it up.
Danielle recommended that I listen to it rather than read it, which turned out to be a great recommendation. The narrator (Rebecca Lee) was incredible. There was so much emotional impact and resonance that I thought it was the author (Katherine May) for a while until I looked it up.
Our entire species has been wintering since the Covid crisis hit. We are just starting to emerge from a literal winter, although the four inches of snow that fell at my house yesterday one of the last gasps of winter trying to hold on. Of course, whether we want to or not, personal winters often appear out of nowhere, even in the summertime.
There’s a paragraph from an NPR interview that sums up whatever review of the book I could write.
Wintering is refreshingly free of self-pitying navel-gazing and trite exhortations to buck up. In fact, May complains about a culture in which we are “endlessly cheerleading ourselves into positivity while erasing the dirty underside of real life…The subtext of these messages is clear: Misery is not an option.” Although she agrees that “Happiness is the greatest skill we’ll ever learn,” she insists that it’s also important to learn about sadness. What she calls wintering is “the active acceptance of sadness.”
I love the phrase “the active acceptance of sadness.” It’s a thing. It’s part of life. I can be for an hour or years. Passively accepting it or actively denying it makes it worse. Actively accepting it is profound.
Amy and I watched Bridge of Spies over the weekend. We enjoyed it, but particularly loved one interaction between the lawyer (James Donovan) and the accused Russian spy (Rudolf Abel).
Donovan: You don’t seem alarmed?
Abel: Would it help?
At multiple climactic moments, the line “Would it help?’ got rolled out.
It had the same kind of resonance with us to one of our favorite movie lines ever (from Argo).
For the past two days, each of us have done call and response using this line about multiple things.
Brad: Are you worried?
Amy: Would it help?
It’s so powerful.
My partner Chris Moody recently sent around a note on a concept he refers to as Leader Leverage. I encourage every CEO to read and consider it. His rant follows.
Many of you are probably tired of hearing me rant about some form of what I often refer to as “leader leverage”. If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid these rants, the quick summary is that your biggest lever as a board member is the CEO and your biggest lever as CEO is your direct reports. I learned this lesson the hard way running a very decentralized business with 70 offices in 17 countries at Aquent.
A critical learning about a company’s leadership is whether or not employees trust and respect their senior-most manager. Yet, asking this question directly often doesn’t get a great answer. However, asking it indirectly can be magical.
Using an NPS approach, the example below asks the question, “The company is in a position to really succeed over the next three years.” The different answers are by department.
The average employee believes the Company is in a position to succeed over the next three years. The exception is the employees in one particular department (the red box) who all believe the company is completely fucked. This perfectly illustrates the point that the collateral damage of having a bad leader goes far beyond that leader’s ability to perform their technical job because a bad leader will usually poison a team’s perception of the entire company.
We’ve known for a long time that we needed a new leader in that department for the Company. However, we’ve always viewed the issue with the current leader to be an issue around technical skills. It turns out the ramifications of not having a leader that people can trust and respect goes far deeper.
At Aquent, we found similar results around crazy specific things like compensation where people would go from feeling grossly under-compensated to feeling like they were compensated fairly simply because we made a change in the leader of their market.
If you found this useful and want more of Moody on topics like this, I encourage you to go watch his vlog Venture Kills. For example:
Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase of people from across the business and political spectrum join the fight against climate change and pledge to support a greener, more sustainable future. Investors are seeking both financial returns and environmental impact and looking for opportunities to partner with ventures that are working to tackle our world’s biggest energy and environmental challenges.
Enter Cleantech Open, the world’s largest and oldest cleantech accelerator for cleantech, climate tech, and sustainability startups. Through Cleantech Open, startups can build their entrepreneurship skills and professional networks, access expert mentorship, and connect with potential investors, partners, and customers. Cleantech Open is currently accepting applications for its 2021 cohort, and you can learn more and apply here by April 18.
Beth Zonis, the Director of Cleantech Open Northeast, and my wife Amy Batchelor met through a mutual connection. They are both Wellesley College alumnae (Amy is a Trustee of Wellesley College, and Beth is Vice President of her graduating class.) They hit it off right away and found a lot of common ground, especially in their shared passions for Wellesley, the environment, and innovation. This led to our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) partnering with Cleantech Open Northeast, the northeast region of Cleantech Open, managed by NECEC as the on-the-ground affiliate.
Cleantech Open is like a mini MBA for startups. Its mission is well aligned with ours, as Cleantech Open is focused on combating climate change, growing the green economy, and improving Environmental Justice through innovation and entrepreneurship. We are staunch advocates for the environment, and we believe that innovation is critical to addressing many of the world’s challenges.
Cleantech Open has a particular focus on incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) values into its program. It is working to increase the diversity of startups, mentors, and partners engaged with the program. In 2020, 63% of the startups in the Cleantech Open Northeast cohort were founded by women or BIPOC leaders. This year, the accelerator plans to offer programming to educate startups on incorporating DEI values into their ventures.
Cleantech Open Northeast is also creating new curriculum content for this year’s cohort to enable startups to measure their greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint to help them build a measurement mindset from the beginning. This is an effort in collaboration with NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Over the years, many Cleantech Open alumni have progressed to be accepted into other accelerator programs, including Techstars. A few examples of recent Techstars alumni who have participated in both programs are Virimodo, Sunthetics, and SparkCharge.
Virimodo is reducing greenhouse gas emissions in cities by making it simple for buildings to become carbon neutral. Virimodo was a 2018 Cleantech Open Northeast Winner and a Cleantech Open National Finalist and participated in the 2020 Techstars EnergyTech accelerator in Birmingham, Alabama.
Sunthetics is developing software in tandem with electrochemical equipment for more sustainable and efficient chemical manufacturing. Sunthetics was a top 10 team in the 2020 Cleantech Open Northeast accelerator and a participant in the Techstars Heritage Group Accelerator for hard tech.
SparkCharge is making the world’s first mobile and intelligent on-demand EV charging network with a portable, ultrafast charging unit for electric vehicles. SparkCharge participated in the 2016 Cleantech Open Northeast accelerator and Techstars Boston in 2018 and recently had a chance to pitch on Shark Tank, where the company signed a $1 million agreement with Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner.
Cleantech Open is a nonprofit accelerator that takes no equity in its participating startups. This year, Cleantech Open Northeast will award $50,000 in cash prizes, including $10,000 for a carbon sequestration startup that completes the accelerator, and more than $300,000 in goods and services, including incubator and co-working spaces, consulting services ranging from marketing and communications to accounting to assistance on special projects, software packages for startups, and even financial assistance for startups participating in certain states.
To learn more, register for a Cleantech Open kickoff event between now and the April 18 application deadline. These are great opportunities to meet the Cleantech Open team, entrepreneurs, and mentors. Startups will have a chance to pitch!
Cleantech Open Kickoff Webinar 11, April 13 @ 7:00 PM Eastern, Register here
Cleantech Open Kickoff Webinar 12, April 16 @ 12:00 PM Eastern, Register here
My partner Chris Moody came up with a great idea he’s calling #BoulderStrongTableMesa. This is in response to the mass murder that happened at the King Soopers in Table Mesa on Monday, March 22nd.
What if the Boulder community doubled down on #BoulderStrong to show support for the small businesses located in the Table Mesa Shopping Center directly impacted by this tragedy? After an extremely challenging year trying to keep their businesses running through a global pandemic, the small shops and restaurants of the Table Mesa Shopping Center are now facing the near impossible task of trying to return to business-as-usual. I visited a few of these shops this week and have heard stories of employees hearing gunshots and being forced to shelter-in-place. The parking lots adjacent to King Soopers are occupied by police vehicles and mourners visiting the site. “Trying to hang in there, was a response I heard from one store owner when I asked how things were going. He looked exhausted.
Moody’s proposal is simple.
- Put on a mask and go shop at the Table Mesa Shopping Center this weekend (April 10-11).
- While you’re shopping/eating, let the employees know you are thinking of them and that you appreciate the service they offer our community.
- Consider leaving a bigger-than-normal tip!
His post has a comprehensive list of all the stores in the shopping center. Help everyone who works there get some energy from the community. And – spread the word.
I sort of took a Q1 Vacation last week.
2021 didn’t really feel like it started for me until January 21st. Yeah, I took a company public on January 4th, but then January 6th happened. It was a cold, dark, and anxious stretch where January felt like it had about 51 days in it. Then I was deep in SPACland and lots of deals and financings. I definitely had some “I just need to get to March 26th, and then I get a break” in my head.
We got back to Boulder on a Friday, settled into our house on Saturday, and I sort of kind of tried to disconnect (but failed) on Sunday. Monday, I had a full day of work, and a couple of things had landed on Wednesday, so I decided “fuck it” and just worked Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before going dark from Thursday to Sunday.
It is delicious to be back in Boulder. The weather is perfect, the birds are singing, and our meadowlark is back in our meadow, chirping away. We missed Cooper (we don’t take him to Aspen), so it has been a fun adjustment to get used to him again (and for him to get used to us.)
I had a monster week of running – mostly on trails. 65 miles with almost 4,300 ft of elevation. That’s the most I’ve done in a long time, and my body absorbed it pretty well.
When I wasn’t running, napping, or eating, I read. A lot. And there are some themes in what I’ve been reading.
Lighten Up!: A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking: I knew of ultralight backpacking (and have heard the phrase a bunch recently in marketing stuff), but I didn’t really know the parameters or the style. This was a great intro.
Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book: Traveling & camping skills for a wilderness environment: Recommended by the previous book. Some new stuff, some repetition. Some ultralight. Some normal backpacking.
Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping: Again recommended by the first book. I fell into the Kindle content market trap and clicked on links. Mostly repetitive, but good reinforcement on a few things.
Ask Your Developer: How to Harness the Power of Software Developers and Win in the 21st Century: Jeff Lawson and Twilio are awesome. This book is phenomenal, both as the story of Twilio with the underpinning of Jeff’s management philosophy. If you ever use the Marc Andreessen phrase “software is eating the world,” but you haven’t read this book, go read it to understand what the phrase really means. I’m going to host Jeff for two book events: one with Techstars and one with our portfolio. Yes, every entrepreneur and would-be entrepreneur should read this book.
Guantánamo Diary: Now published as The Mauritanian. Amy and I watched the movie a few weeks ago in Aspen when it came out. It was powerful. The book was even more powerful. I wish Guantanamo never existed – it’s a massive negative on American values. I wish Obama had followed through on closing it down. I hope Biden closes it down. If you disagree with me, read the book.
Lost in Startuplandia: Wayfinding for the Weary Entrepreneur: I recently did a talk for a class Ted Zoller teaches at UNC, and he recommended this book. I had it on my Kindle but had never read it. It was a fun memoir-like story of Keller Fitzsimmons’ entrepreneurial journey. Having read hundreds of these by men, I always learn a lot more now when I read one by a woman. It’s excellent.
Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet: Another one that had been lingering on my Kindle since 2017. Another recommendation. Hilarious, awesome, fun, and inspiring. I guessed that Seal was David Goggins pretty early on based on what I knew of Goggins. But I had no idea who Jesse Itzler was (now I do.) So, the next book I read was …
Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds: Goggins is an epic specimen of a human. But I didn’t really know his story beyond his ultrarunning. It’s an incredible story at many levels. It’s not as fun as Itzler’s book but still awesome and much more inspiring. And it led me to read Itzler’s other book …
Living with the Monks: What Turning Off My Phone Taught Me about Happiness, Gratitude, and Focus: Still funny (Itzler is hilarious and writes well about his own hilarity), somewhat inspiring, but lots of fun. Not as powerful as Living with a SEAL, but now I know Itzler even better.
The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth Book 3): I listened to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy on Audible while I’ve been running. This series deserves its own blog post and will get that at some point. I think Jemisin may have moved to the top of my contemporary sci-fi writer list. I realized all I was reading were books by white men, so I found a few non-white women sci-fi writers. Jemisin is a world builder at the level of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson and may even be better than them at this point. It was an incredible series.
Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The rise and fall of Sierra On-Line: I still remember playing Mystery House on my Apple ][ and being blown away. I spent hours and hours playing Ultima. I felt naughty when I bought Softporn as a teenager, even though the game wasn’t really porn (or even very salacious.) I didn’t know Roberta and Ken Williams, but as an early Apple ][ aficionado, I bought or pirated everything Sierra On-Line did when I was a teenager. And played them all. Choplifter and Olympic Decathlon got more playtime, but Sierra On-Line had a special place in my heart. I loved this book – Ken Williams doesn’t pull any punches anywhere about Sierra On-Line’s rise and fall. It’s a great entrepreneurial software tale from the 1980s and 1990s.
Too Old to Ultra: When a marathon is just not enough: A quick jolt of inspiration from a bunch of storytelling and some advice from a serious ultrarunner who is older than me.
I wish I’d really taken the beginning of last week off. I feel fresher, but after a very busy Q1, I didn’t get the full vacation I needed. Oh well – such is life. At least it’s springtime.