Category: Books

May 11 2021

The New Builders: Discussion on 5/18/21

My partner Seth Levine and his co-author Elizabeth MacBride recently wrote an important book called The New Builders: Face to Face with the True Future of Business. It is out and available.

Foundry Group is hosting an open virtual event to discuss the book. Seth and Elizabeth will be moderating the discussion with special guests Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper, Makisha Boothe of Sistahbiz, Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse, and Lorena Cantarovici of Maria Empanada.

Sign up here for the virtual event at May 18, 2021 12:00 PM PT; 1:00 PM MT.

Seth and Elizabeth have spent the past year talking to entrepreneurs all over the United States as they’ve developed their thesis around The New Builders. The Covid crisis has accelerated the growth and development of many high-tech companies, including the largest companies that were recently young, entrepreneurial businesses. But, unfortunately, the Covid crisis has decimated many local businesses and dramatically impacted communities everywhere.

The New Builders are the future of business that will emerge from the Covid crisis, and the book argues for the future of American entrepreneurship. That future lies in surprising places and will rely on the success of women, Black, and Brown entrepreneurs. However, our country hasn’t yet recognized the New Builders’ identities, let alone developed strategies to support them.

Join the conversation about The New Builders with Seth, Elizabeth, John, Makisha, Joe, and Lorena on May 18th.

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May 4 2021

Book: The New Builders

My long-time business partner Seth Levine has written a book with Elizabeth MacBride titled The New Builders: Face to Face with the TRUE Future of Business. It’s extraordinary – buy a copy now!

For many years, Seth has been frustrated about the entrepreneurial narrative around the White male tech founder. He’s been active as an investor and philanthropist around entrepreneurship in rural Colorado and with organizations, such as Entrepreneurship for All, that are focused on accelerating economic and social impact in communities nationwide through inclusive entrepreneurship. He’s been exploring this and investing both in the US and other places globally, including Africa and the Middle East.

Pre-Covid, he started working on The New Builders with Elizabeth MacBride. They made good progress, and I remember saying hello to Elizabeth in our conference room after she and Seth had taken it over for a few days of writing, back when we met in conference rooms. As the Covid crisis began, they started writing a series of OpEds that got a lot of play, including To save the US economy, policymakers need to understand small business 101, and Communities across America rush to save Main Street as federal relief for small business stalls. These articles foreshadowed what they were digging into as part of their research for The New Builders.

Seth and Elizabeth obliterate the myth of the White male tech founder. Through detailed history, current stories, and many interviews, they bring life to new businesses started by Black, Brown, Female, and Older people. These entrepreneurs, including immigrants, are the next generation of business owners. Post-Covid, they will be key to redefining our economy.

While this group of founders and business owners may not get the same press that tech entrepreneurs get, they profoundly impact their local communities. Their efforts are foundational to the health, development, and growth of American cities, enabling a future where people have the economic freedom to pursue their passions. 

Seth and Elizabeth have issued a powerful wake-up call for America with The New Builders. It’s time to see, understand, and value the next generation of business owners.

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Apr 20 2021

Book: LEVERS – The Framework For Building Repeatability into Your Business

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.

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Apr 19 2021

We Know So Much. And So Little

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.

This morning, I had an email from Tom Keller pointing at a recent APOD from 4/16/21. It was additive to my experience running on 4/17 and listening to Kaku’s book.

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.

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Apr 16 2021

Book: Wintering

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.

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Apr 6 2021

Partial Q1 Vacation – Books and Running

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.

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Mar 26 2021

Book: Generation X

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture is weekend reading for anyone who wants to understand me and my generation.

I was born in 1965 – right at the beginning of the transition from “Boomers” to “Xers.” I’m glad my parents had me in 1965 instead of 1964, where I’d spend my life arguing (maybe with myself) that I’m not a boomer.

A millennial friend of mine didn’t know anything about Generation X, so I sent her a copy of the book. I suppose I was teasing her too much about being a millennial, which was just me mostly being a typical ironic Gen X slacker.

I reread Generation X a few weeks ago, and it held up. The definitions in the margins made me flash back to phrases we used in my early 20s. Douglas Copeland’s brilliant imagination shines throughout. And, at 55, I’ve become comfortable saying “Kids today …” which is what I’m sure my parents (and the boomers) said about me and my generation.

This week sucked emotionally. The Boulder shooting on Monday took the wind completely out of Amy and me. It’s Friday, and I’m winding down for the weekend. Work was intense, so I didn’t have a lot of time to feel my feelings. We were in the car for a while this morning driving back to Boulder from Aspen, so I let myself settle into how I felt. Now that I’m not shocked anymore, the best word I can come up with is “sad.” Very sad.

Grunge is my music. Pessimism abounds in Gen Xers. I’ve adopted the mantle of “paranoid optimist,” which I first heard from Madeleine Albright. At 55, I prefer to be happy and optimistic, but underneath it all is cynicism.

I’m glad to be back in Boulder.

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Mar 24 2021

Book: The Business of Venture Capital

Today’s book recommendation, for anyone interested in venture capital, is The Business of Venture Capital: The Art of Raising a Fund, Structuring Investments, Portfolio Management, and Exits by Mahendra Ramsinghani.

A decade ago, I got a cold email from Mahendra. He was investing in Detroit and eager to write a book about the art and science of venture capital. At the time, Jason and I were just finishing up the 1st edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer And Venture Capitalist and I was enthusiastic about helping anyone else working on a book that demystified venture capital investing.

I immediately introduced Mahendra to a bunch of Foundry Group LPs, partners, and entrepreneurs. He made progress quickly, and I fondly remember the first edition with the green cover.

Mahendra and I kept in touch. During a book tour for the 1st Edition of Venture Deals, Jason and I visited the University of Michigan. Mahendra cornered me in a hallway and pitched the idea of doing a book together around how a board of directors works at a startup. A few months later, we started working on it.

Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors was released in 2014. Soon thereafter, Mahendra started to work on the second edition of the Business of Venture Capital. Given our recent collaboration, he asked me to write the foreword for the second edition, which was an easy yes for me. The 2nd edition had a blue sky cover and was also released in 2014. In the foreword, I wrote that “VC is a business where each investment teaches you something new – the book provides only a basic framework but each one has the ability to carve a different path in this universe.”

Mahendra recently came out with the 3rd edition of The Business of Venture Capital: The Art of Raising a Fund, Structuring Investments, Portfolio Management, and Exits. It’s now 500 pages and includes much-needed frameworks for culture, diversity, and values that are timely topics when we look at the challenges we have seen in venture capital around gender, race, diversity, and sexual abuse. This time the foreword is from Scott Kapor of A16Z who in 2019 wrote an excellent book on venture capital titled Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It.

 

If you have suggestions for the fourth edition, please reach Mahendra at mr “at’ secureoctane.com.

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Mar 2 2021

Movie: My Octopus Teacher

After my blog post Book: The Soul of an Octopus I received a flurry of emails telling me I needed to watch the movie My Octopus Teacher on Netflix.

I watched it last night and it was beautiful.

I’m fascinated by which blog posts generate email responses. Sometimes is zero. Sometimes it is a lot. This one was a lot.

Octopuses are crazy interesting. And Craig Foster is pretty awesome.

Thanks everyone for the email with the recommendation.

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Feb 28 2021

Book: The Soul of an Octopus

My favorite animal is a polar bear.

For some reason, I have always related to polar bears. When I’m reincarnated, I hope I come back as a polar bear.

I’ve always like octopuses but never thought much about why. After reading Sy Montgomery’s incredible book The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness, I now know why. It’s simple – we don’t understand how they think.

While a quick throwaway thought is, “Brad, we don’t really know how animals think” or some other assertion around that, there’s such an enormous gap between this question when applied to a dog versus an octopus. This lives in Sy’s subtitle: “A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness.”

I read the book over a week and had several incredibly complicated dreams, especially around processing stimuli. I had magic superpowers in my hands, arms, legs, and feet in one of them. I remember waking up thinking, “that would be so cool.” And then the dream slipped away.

One of my favorite movies of the last decade is Arrival. We’ve watched it a few times, and I think I’ll watch it again.

Time and language play key roles in the film. As humans, we have a very linear view of time and a constrained view of language. Sci-fi plays with time a lot, and Arrival plays with both time and language.

That leads me back to octopuses. Humans often anthropomorphize everything, where we apply our concept of time and language to other species. As I read The Soul of an Octopus, I kept flashing back to Arrival. The book itself is linear through time, but the octopuses in the book don’t feel like they are necessarily operating in a time-linear fashion. The protagonist (the author Sy) hints at this but doesn’t fully embrace it. I wonder what she would have written differently if she approached the experiences she had with octopuses as ones where the octopuses weren’t experiencing things in a time-linear fashion.

Sy embraced the difference in language processing more fully. The octopus brain has around 500 million neurons (similar to a dog) – the most of any invertebrate. However, two-thirds are in their arms. The eight arms appear to process information independently of each other, resulting in octopuses being incredible multi-taskers. Their non-verbal communication has many levels, and they seem to be taking input simultaneously in multiple dimensions.

Combining this with non-linear time is fascinating to me. Other than sci-fi, the only other non-linear time entity I consciously engage with is a computer. It also uses a different approach to language.

And then the rabbit hole gets deep, twisty, and really fun.

Octopuses are now my second favorite animal.

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