Category: Books

Mar 9 2020

Book: Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine

If you are looking for information on the public markets, this is not the blog you should be reading. Instead, I encourage you to go read Fred Wilson’s post Market Meltdowns or Howard Lindzon’s post Momentum Monday – A Panic For The Ages.

Rather than watch the news tonight, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Alan Lightman’s book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. I’ve loved Alan Lightman’s writing and the idea of a human that behaves like Alan Lightman since I read his first book Einstein’s Dreams when it came out in 1992.

Lightman is an astrophysicist, novelist, essayist, and educator. He’s been foundational at MIT around all of their creative writing endeavors and is currently Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

I don’t know him, but when I think about evolving human journeys, his appeals to me as much as his writing does.

The book starts out strong with a chapter titled “Longing for Absolutes in a Relative World.” For a taste, I loved this paragraph:

On the one hand, such an onslaught of discovery presents a cause for celebration. In fact, the wonders of Einstein’s relativity and the idea of the Big Bang were the engines that propelled me into science decades ago. Is it not a testament to our minds that we little human beings with our limited sensory apparatus and brief lifespans, stuck on our one planet in space, have been able to uncover so much of the workings of nature? On the other hand, we have found no physical evidence for the Absolutes. And just the opposite. All of the new findings suggest that we live in a world of multiplicities, relativities, change, and impermanence. In the physical realm, nothing persists. Nothing lasts. Nothing is indivisible. Even the subatomic particles found in the twentieth century are now thought to be made of even smaller “strings” of energy, in a continuing regression of subatomic Russian dolls. Nothing is a whole. Nothing is indestructible. Nothing is still. If the physical world were a novel, with the business of examining evil and good, it would not have the clear lines of Dickens but the shadowy ambiguities of Dostoevsky.

If you open up any news based website, you are going to get efforts of describing the world in the clear lines of Dickens. Just remember that we are living in the shadowy ambiguities of Dostoevsky. I’m going to happily carry that one around for a while.

Lightman has a long rant on something he calls the Central Doctrine of Science.

Without ever hearing it spoken out loud, we budding scientists simply embraced a principle I call the Central Doctrine of Science: All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws hold true at every time and place in the universe.

He then unfolds this, using the concept of Absolutes and Relatives, and takes us into an endless, parallel universe of mostly empty space.

I’ve been reading plenty of “things to read after you are 50 about the meaning of life”, which feels like a cliche even as I type it. It’s not the only stuff I’ve been reading (e.g. over the weekend, I finished Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights) but I look forward to gobbling down Lightman’s In Praise of Wasting Time soon.

If you accept that the rest of 2020 will be insane, that a year is a tiny portion of the 13.8 billion years since the big bang, that no one really knows what happened before the big bang, that there might be an infinite number of parallel universes, and that most of everything is just empty space, things might be a little less stressful today. Or not …

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Feb 4 2020

Book: Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build The Life They Want

Claudia Reuter, now the Techstars GM Americas East (and previously the Techstars MD for the Stanley+Techstars Additive Manufacturing Accelerator), has a new book coming out called Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build The Life They Want.

I read the final page proofs while I was in Mexico and it is an excellent book. It’s a combination of a memoir, startup guidebook–especially aimed at women, exploration of gender dynamics in the workplace, and inspiration for women who are considering starting a company. It covers topics such as how to:

  • develop and share your vision
  • deal with stereotypes and unconscious bias
  • leverage perceived weaknesses and turn them into strengths
  • balance life at high speeds and avoid burnout
  • cultivate the confidence to move from idea to creating a company with the culture and rules you want

Claudia includes a story of a half-dozen fictional people that unfolds throughout the book, bringing many of her points to life with tangible examples of how the conversations and dynamics unfold in the real world.

As I read through the book, there were multiple points where I thought, “Every man in any startup or fast-growing business should read this.” As a man in technology, I took away a number of new ideas, along with examples that were explained in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do prior to reading Claudia’s book.

This is the fourth book in the Techstars Press series, following Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup, 2e (Cohen/Feld), Sell More Faster: The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups (Schwartzfarb), and No Vision All Drive: What I Learned from My First Company (Brown). Look for more from (and about) Techstars Press coming soon!

Claudia – congrats on shipping the book!

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Feb 3 2020

Book: Walking: One Step at a Time

The Nan Madol

Erling Kagge’s book Walking: One Step at a Time was delightful.

On Friday night I had dinner with John Underkoffler. John and I lived together at college and have been friends for over 35 years, working together for the past 13 or so. Our conversation rambled on a variety of topics, as is usually the case when we spend 1:1 time together.

After getting after-dinner gelato at Gelato Boy (amazing gelato, terrible name) we wandered down the Pearl Street Mall and then circled back to The Boulderado where John was staying. After dropping him off, I headed back to my car with a short stop in the Boulder Book Store, where browsing and buying a few books is one of my guilty pleasures.

Kagge’s book jumped off the shelf into my hands, along with C.S. Lewis’s The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Others’ Eyes. Two of my favorite things to do are reading and walking (or running), so I devoured Walking on Saturday and savored Reading on Sunday.

One section in Walking really stuck with me. Kagge, Arne Næss and a few others, including a professor of archeology, took a trip to Nan Madol. While observing one of the structures, the professor of archeology said, “It is impossible, impossible, impossible.”

Arne Næss responded:

“It is completely possible but, when considered with our conventional calcuations, extremely unlikely. Philosophically, there is a chasm between the imposssible and the fantastically unlikely.”

Now, the legend of how Nan Madol was constructed, according to Wikipedia, is:

According to Pohnpeian legend, Nan Madol was constructed by twin sorcerers Olisihpa and Olosohpa from the mythical Western Katau, or Kanamwayso. The brothers arrived in a large canoe seeking a place to build an altar so that they could worship Nahnisohn Sahpw, the god of agriculture. After several false starts, the two brothers successfully built an altar off Temwen Island, where they performed their rituals. In legend, these brothers levitated the huge stones with the aid of a flying dragon.

Fantastically unlikely, but not impossible. This concept reflected nicely throughout much of The Reading Life, which contains Lewis’s essays on things like “Why Children’s Stories Are Not Just for Children”, “Literature as Time Travel”, and “On the Dangers of Confusing Saga with History.”

In the future, whenever someone tells me, “That’s impossible!” I’m going to respond with “It’s fantastically unlikely but not impossible.”

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Jan 29 2020

Distilled Moments: Poems By Dave Jilk

Dave Jilk was my first business partner (we co-founded Feld Technologies). The photo above is from Dave’s office at 155 Federal Street around 1991. We worked closely together for seven years before selling the company in 1993 to a public company called Sage Alerting Systems, which renamed itself Sage Technologies and then finally AmeriData Technologies. Well, at least the “Technologies” survived that naming transition …

Dave recently published a book of poetry titled Distilled Moments. I read it Sunday night and it’s delicious. If you are into poetry, a friend of Dave’s, or just want a taste of something different from your normal reading stuff, grab a copy.

If, when I met Dave in 1983, you had told me that he would become a poet later in his life, I would have spit out whatever food or drink was in my mouth at the time and rolled around on the ground laughing for a while. I think the only time I ever associated poetry and Dave in my mind is when he would use a phrase like “Physics for Poets” to describe a class at MIT I was considering taking.

Dave and I met on my second day in Cambridge in 1983. I spent my first day alone, feeling very confused and lonely as I wandered around MIT trying to figure out where I was. I crossed the Mass Ave bridge into Boston, had dinner by myself, and went to back to my assigned room in Baker House with three other guys, two of whom immediately got stoned and smoked pot for the rest of the evening (not my thing.)

The next afternoon was the MIT Freshman picnic. On a beautiful fall Cambridge day, Paul Gray (then president of MIT) gave a welcoming speech where, in typical MIT fashion, he said something like:

Look around. Your fellow freshmen are the best and brightest from around the world. Never forget that it is simple math that 50% of you will be in the bottom half of your class.

After talking for a few minutes, he ended by shouting “Let the Rush begin!”

Suddenly, hundreds of people descended on us with signs for their fraternities and living groups (there were no sororities at MIT in 1983.) Two guys I didn’t know – Mark Dodson and Ramanujam Manikkalingam – grabbed me and said, “Come with us.” I jumped in a van, was driven to ADP at 351 Mass Ave, and never left.

I met Dave that first night and we have been best friends ever since. He was a senior when I was a freshman, so we didn’t live together for that long, but we spent a lot of weekend time together. I became close with his first boss, Will Herman, and with Warren Katz (who we met through our seventh employee, Ilana Katz), continue to be extremely close friends.

Now that you’ve got the backstory, I’ll finish this post off with a few teasers from Distilled Moments that I loved.

Following is Twenty-Three, a poem about the morning after a night out together.

This one is my favorite business-related one, titled The Elephant in the Room.

I’ll end the teasers with the beginning of Take the Gloves Off, which is awesomely creative and full of business cliches.

There are many more. Support a friend, a Boulder-based poet, someone who I never expected would be a poet, or just a dear, dear friend by buying a copy of Distilled Moments.

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Jan 27 2020

What’s New In Venture Deals, 4th Edition

Jason Mendelson and I recently published the 4th Edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist.

The book now has three forewords – one by each of Fred Wilson (USV), James Park (Fitbit), and Dick Costolo (now 01 Advisors, then Twitter).

The 1st edition had 13 chapters. We are now up to 19.

  1. The Players
  2. Preparing for Fundraising
  3. How to Raise Money
  4. Overview of the Term Sheet
  5. Economic Terms of the Term Sheet
  6. Control Terms
  7. Other Terms of the Term Sheet
  8. Convertible Debt
  9. The Capitalization Table
  10. Crowdfunding
  11. Venture Debt
  12. How Venture Capital Funds Work
  13. Negotiation Tactics
  14. Raising Money the Right Way
  15. Issues at Different Financing Stages
  16. Letters of Intent: The Other Term Sheet
  17. How to Engage an Investment Banker
  18. Why Do Term Sheets Even Exist?
  19. Legal Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know

The new chapters in this edition are 11. Venture Debt (with help from SVB), and 17. How to Engage an Investment Banker (with help from Golding Partners).

We also significantly updated Chapter 2: Preparing for Fundraising and Chapter 19: Legal Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know (with help from Cooley).

As with each edition, we cleaned up stuff throughout the book.

Finally, we updated the website which is now at VentureDeals.com.

For everyone who has read the book, given us feedback, used it in a course, or recommended it to someone, thank you!

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Jan 20 2020

My January Holiday Vacation Reading

Amy and I didn’t feel like taking a Christmas or New Year’s vacation this year so we just hung around Boulder, worked, and did our thing. We then decamped to Mexico last week for warmth, sun, beach, and books. News flash: there are a lot fewer people at a fancy resort in Mexico in the third week of January.

It was a good reading week.

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success: We don’t have kids, but a friend recommended this. I decided to read it to see if any of it applied to being an investor or board member in a company. Yup – a bunch of it was spot on. After reading it, I’m still glad I don’t have kids.

The Heap: A Novel: This one ended up on my Kindle because of my weekly perusal of the NY Times Book Review. The premise intrigued me. A 500 story tall building collapses in the desert and a community develops around it to excavate it. Once it got rolling, it moved quickly, but the interwoven historical backstory became a little tedious. But, for a first novel, it’s a great effort.

Veil: I got to read a draft of Eliot Peper‘s new book. Wowza. Elliot has turned into an incredible writer who totally dominates a near-term science fiction novel.

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima: Yum yum. Todd Vernon pointed me at this one. It was long, chewing, and spectacular. After watching Chernobyl on HBO, I’ve become fascinated with nuclear energy. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get a short course on it and I’ve thought about going back to MIT to get a degree in Course 22. While that’s a pretty steep hill to climb, I’m just enjoying a bunch of books for now. And yes, count me on the side of more nuclear.

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir: Loved it. Fantastic. Go get it right now. I particularly enjoyed how the author called people and companies out without naming them. This book nourished my inner Silicon Valley cynic.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. This one was recommended by Katie Elliott. I was hoping it was about nuclear energy, but it wasn’t. Amy looked over my shoulder while I was reading it and said, “James Clear’s book. You don’t need to read it because you do all that stuff already.” I read it anyway, one page at a time.

I sense an annual mid-January off-the-grid vacation in a warm place for the rest of my time on this planet.

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Dec 31 2019

Book: Lost and Wanted

I stayed up late last night finishing Lost and Wanted. If you are a reader, get this book in physical form. It’s worth savoring.

Amy bought this book for me last week. When I asked her why, she belted out a stream of words: “MIT, female professor, the afterlife, sexual harassment, physics, racism, women.”

She then said, “Fiction is a good way to access complicated topics.” This is a recurring dynamic in our relationship, as we often use shared fiction to discuss complex topics. Amy hasn’t read the book yet, so it’s now on the top of her infinite pile of books to read.

Whenever we overlap reading books, even if they are separated by time, I have to be careful about what I say. The other day, as Amy was grinding through the first 100 pages of The Three-Body Problem, she said, “I’m not sure I’m going to finish this.” I asked a simple question, “Have you reached the Trisolarans and their eleven dimensions.” She responded, “AEEEEEEEKKKK are you ruining it for me?” I said, “Hang in there – the first 100 pages are hard.” She finished it that day and the next day I heard her utter, “Holy Shit – the Droplet!”

Amy’s going to love Nell Freudenberger‘s writing. It’s remarkable to me that Freudenberger didn’t know any of the physics in this book before she wrote it. It’s beautifully done, extremely accessible, and very meta to the underlying story.

My reading in 2019 took me far and wide. I’m happy with my shift to the infinite pile of physical stuff when I’m home, and my Kindle when I’m on the road, as I feel like I’m getting a better variety this way.

Happy almost New Year.

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Dec 29 2019

Book: One Base at a Time

29 years of nightmares. Over 10,000 nights in a row. That’s hard to fathom.

David R. Mellor, the Senior Director of Grounds for the Boston Red Sox Baseball team, experienced this. His eloquent memoir, One Base at a Time: How I Survived PTSD and Found My Field of Dreams, takes the reader on a very complicated journey, with extremely obvious physical pain intermingled with less apparent emotional pain.

David describes it amazingly well in the summary on his website.

For 29 years, every night I had one to five night terrors/nightmares and was scared to go to sleep. During that time in my life I was also having flashbacks often triggered if I heard a revving car engine, squealing tires, the smell of car exhaust, or the aroma McDonald’s french fries. At the time, I didn’t understand what my symptoms were or how best to treat them. I was too ashamed and scared to ask for help.

A chance reading of a magazine article set the course for treatment of my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was at my doctor’s office to receive acupuncture for pain management and looking for something to read during the treatment. A Smithsonian magazine caught my eye because it contained an article about a new facility treating veterans with PTSD (see article here). My oldest daughter was studying psychology and interning at the newly formed Home Base Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and I thought the article might give me some insight into what she was learning. As I read the article I realized I suffered from most of the symptoms it described as relating to PTSD. No doctor had ever asked me or my wife about PTSD. I always thought only active duty military members or veterans could have PTSD from the horrors of war. Now I know that anyone can get PTSD from a life threatening trauma. As a result, I don’t want other people who are dealing with PTSD to suffer in silence like I did. I tried my best to protect my family: I tried to keep my symptoms a deeply guarded secret because I didn’t want to burden them. Now I know that I wasn’t able to protect and shield them from my PTSD symptoms, as through treatment I have learned that PTSD affects the entire family.

A tragedy of his story is that it took him many years before realizing he had PTSD. Soon after he started getting treatment for PTSD, his nightmares stopped.

After finishing the book, I went down the David R. Mellor rabbit hole on the web. This ESPN video segment with his dog Drago is powerful.

As is this one.

David’s story is incredibly inspiring for anyone, but especially powerful if you suffer from PTSD or any related mental health issues.

I love how David ends his bio:

Many people have told me they think I’m one of the most unlucky people in the world since I’ve been hit by a car 3 times and had 43 surgeries and PTSD to name a few things. But I strongly disagree; I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. It’s up to us how we turn our challenges into opportunities to not only help ourselves but help others too.

In my book, there is no stigma here. Only life.

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Dec 2 2019

Book: No Vision All Drive

I love origin stories.

David Brown, Techstars CEO and co-founder, just updated his and published a new edition of No Vision All Drive. It’s the story of Pinpoint Technologies, his first company with David Cohen, one of the other co-founders of Techstars.

As an origin story, it’s a detailed autobiography of what David learned from the experience of his first company. In this edition, he’s added some linkages into Techstars, and how his learning around entrepreneurship and leadership has evolved since the experience of Pinpoint.

I’ve read the book three times (for each edition – the self-published 1st edition, the FG Press 2nd edition, and the Techstars Press 3rd edition) and I learned lots about David Brown – and David Cohen – each time. In addition to plenty of fun little anecdotes, my current experience with the David(s) nicely intertwined with what I was reading, as I was able to time travel back to them during their formative entrepreneurial experience.

No Vision All Drive is particularly fun for me since the time frame overlapped with my first company – Feld Technologies. There are great overlaps like incorporating with The Company Corporation (for $99), remembering the joy of Btrieve, struggling with Microsoft Access with significant simultaneous users and endlessly rebuilding the database (Rome was lost for a simple reindex), and working through the endless issues around growth for a self-funded business.

As a bonus, I finished Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint by Robert Gaskins. This was the origin story of PowerPoint and Forethought, the first acquisition Microsoft ever made. It’s long, but as Gaskins rolled through the Forethought history in the mid-1980s and then his time at Microsoft from 1987 – 1993, I was able to once again time travel back to Feld Technologies, which was an independent company from 1987 to 1993 (when we were acquired by Sage Alerting Systems, which became AmeriData Technologies.)

While I’m not inspired to write the Feld Technologies origin story at this point, it’s a lot of fun to remember it, against the backdrop of what others were doing at the time. And, I know David Brown a little bit better today than I did yesterday.

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Nov 30 2019

Book: Stillness Is The Key

Ryan Holiday’s newest book, Stillness Is The Key, came out at the beginning of October. I ended up with two copies and thought I’d read it over the weekend after they showed up at my house. The weekend slipped by and I didn’t pick it up until mid-day on Thanksgiving.

It was pouring rain in San Diego all day so it was a perfect laying on the couch reading afternoon. I just finished and, once again, Ryan delivered with this book.

Ryan divided the book into three sections: Mind, Spirit, and Body. He has a thorough exploration, broken up into about a dozen chapters, for each category. As is his style, there are many detailed and powerful examples.

He leads with Seneca, a friend of all Stoics and a frequent visitor in Ryan’s writing. He tells a short story around apatheia, or upekkha, or aslama, or hishtavut, or samatvam, or euthymia, or hesychia, or ataraxia, or aequanimitas – a word that finally comes closer to translation into English.

That word is stillness. In the intro to the book, Ryan says,

To be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear only what needs to be heard. To possess quietude—exterior and interior—on command.

Buddhism. Stoicism. Epicureanism. Christianity. Hinduism. It’s all but impossible to find a philosophical school or religion that does not venerate this inner peace—this stillness—as the highest good and as the key to elite performance and a happy life.

And when basically all of the widom of the ancient world agrees on something, only a fool would decline to listen.

I thought the chapters in each section were extremely well-titled and are listed below. Like reading a poem, slow yourself down and, instead of skimming the next three paragraphs, read them aloud.

Mind: The domain of the mind, Become present, Limit your inputs, Empty the mind, Slow down think deeply, Start journaling, Cultivate silence, Seek wisdom, Find confidence avoid ego, Let go.

Spirit: The domain of the soul, Choose virtue, Heal the inner child, Beware desire, Enough, Bathe in beauty, Accept a higher power, Enter relationships, Conquer your anger, All is one.

Body: The domain of the body, Say no, Take a walk, Build a routine, Get rid of your stuff, Seek solitude, Be a human being, Go to sleep, Find a hobby, Beware escapism, Act bravely.

If even one chapter in each section strikes a chord with you, I encourage you to grab a copy of Stillness Is The Key.

Ryan – thanks for adding another phenomenal book to my bookshelf.

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