Category: Books

Aug 30 2019

Midlife and the Great Unknown

I don’t know whether it was Jerry Colonna or my therapist who recommended this to me, but I listened to David Whyte’s Midlife and the Great Unknown yesterday on my evening run.

As part of my acceptance of midlife, which I define as the transition into the stage where you know you have fewer days to live than the number of days you have already lived, I’ve been exploring a bunch of different things. One of them is poetry, which has always been extremely difficult for me to read.

So, I decided to try a combination of poetry, memoir, and reflections by David Whyte on Audible. I usually run without headphones, but I’m trying to reacclimate to the roads around my house in Boulder after spending the summer on the trails in Aspen, so I thought I’d listen to a book on tape. I’d downloaded Midlife a few months ago and it was at the top of the Audible list on my phone, so I just rolled with it.

About two miles up St. Vrain, as I was approaching the left turn on 47th, I settled into a groove where everything fell away. Whyte has a beautiful voice and I realized that listening to poetry is a lot easier for me than reading poetry. And, as I transitioned into the flow state that is a good run after the first 20 or so minutes, a smile crossed my face.

When I finished my eight miles, I was almost done with the two-hour-long Audible recording that I listened to at 1.25x speed. Amy was downstairs watching the US Open so I made my recovery smoothie, got in the hot tub, and had a wonderful half-hour phone call with my dad where we just talked about life as the sun went behind the Flatirons.

As I get comfortable with midlife, I see more poetry in my future.

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Aug 29 2019

Sell More Faster

When we started Techstars in 2006 we had one core goal in mind – helping entrepreneurs succeed. While it started as an experiment with one accelerator in Boulder, we now have about 50 accelerators annually around the world funding 500 startups a year. We also run Startup Weekends and Startup Weeks in over 150 cities globally, have a venture capital fund that invests in companies after they go through the accelerator program, and have a set of corporate innovation and ecosystem development programs that help bridge the gap between large enterprises, cities, and startups. 

A key part of the ethos of Techstars is to always look for more ways to help entrepreneurs succeed whether or not they are part of the Techstars network.

Recently, we decided to start publishing the best content we have in the Techstars network. David Cohen and I came out with the 2nd Edition of Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup. Jason Mendelson and I are releasing the 4th Edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist next week.

A new book in the Techstars Series is Sell More Faster: The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups written by Amos Schwartzfarb, the Managing Director of Techstars Austin. 

Amos has been the Managing Director of Techstars Austin for four years and was one of the top mentors in Austin for the three years prior to him taking over MD role from Jason Seats (who is now Techstars’ Chief Investment Officer.) Prior to Techstars, Amos spent almost 20 years working at or founding startups including HotJobs.com, Work.com, Business.com, and Blacklocus where his job was always to figure out product-market fit and then build and scale the sales and client service organizations. These companies grew collectively to well over $200 million in revenue and had nearly $1 billion in exit value combined.

When Amos started his work mentoring at Techstars, he became a high demand mentor because virtually every company going through the Techstars Austin program sought him out for advice on figuring out sales. When he took over the role of MD for Techstars Austin, he quickly became one of the go-to resources for other MD at Techstars for sales related advice.

Amos decided to write Sell More Faster because he realized building early-stage sales organizations had become intuitive to him based on a simple but effective process he created back at Business.com called W3. This process stood for WHO is your customer, WHAT are they buying, and WHY do they buy it. However, he realized that of all the thousands of founders he speaks with each year, almost no one has a grasp on what it means to do “sales” in a startup. While they might understand sales in a mature company, it’s very different in a startup. In addition, as he looked around for books on sales for the founders going through Techstars Austin, while he found plenty of sales in general, he couldn’t find a great one addressing the tactical and operational side of building your sales strategy and process from day zero.

So he wrote it.

Sell More Faster: The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups is an awesome and straightforward playbook that takes you step by step through what you need to do from before you even start developing product all the way through to where you have found repeatability in your sales organization and are scaling the business. It’s a recipe that you’ll be able to refer back to throughout the life of your company and is the only sales book I’ve encountered for startups that address the “how-to of selling” from an operational perspective.

If you are a founder or responsible for sales in an early-stage company, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Sell More Faster: The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups right now. It officially hits the stores on September 4th and you can pre-order yours now on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

Finally, Amos will be doing a 20 city book tour this fall including a workshop on selling that accompanies the book. Watch the Sell More Faster website to see the dates when Amos comes to a city near you.

Enjoy – and don’t forgot to Sell More Faster!

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Aug 26 2019

Do More Faster, 2nd Edition on Give First

In 2010, David Cohen and I wrote a book titled Do More Faster. It was filled with stories and advice from founders, investors, and mentors from around the first two years of Techstars.

This was the first book I wrote. David and I learned the joy and pain of writing a book. We were lucky to get to work with Bill Falloon, who has been my long-time editor on all the books I’ve written. Bill guided us through the process and helped us understand what was required to put together a real book.

Last month we released Do More Faster, 2nd Edition. We’ve freshened it up with new content, some new stories, and updates on where everyone is from the first edition.

We just released an episode of the Give First podcast with some behind the scenes back and forth on the book. Enjoy the Give First Do More Faster podcast episode and go grab a copy of the new and improved 2nd Edition of Do More Faster.

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Aug 14 2019

Book: Recursion, Permutation City, and Fall

I didn’t read much last month, but I got an email this morning from someone who mentioned that I’d like Greg Egan’s Permutation City. I read it in April when I was in Japan on my Q219 Vacation with Amy but never really blogged much about it.

When I got the email today, I thought of two novels that I’ve read this year that are in the same vein. They are Blake Crouch’s book Recursion and Neal Stephenson’s book Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.

All three of these books are outstanding. They are all near term science fiction, with extraordinary world-building dynamics, and complex time narratives.

While Neal Stephenson is possibly the best world builder in the entire fiction genre today, both Blake Crouch and Greg Egan are in the same category. Some people find Stephenson’s world-building overwhelming, but as a fast reader, I’ve learned how to skim through parts while absorbing the essence of what is going on. Interestingly, this technique isn’t required for Crouch but occasionally is needed with Egan.

All three books incorporate the concept of recursion in very foundation ways. Everyone studying computer science learns the magic of recursion very early on, often through the factorial example, listed below for fans of Scheme, just to bring back memories of 6.001.

(define (factorial x)
   (if (= x 0)
      1
      (* x (factorial (- x 1)))))

While Crouch hits you over the head with it in the beginning, Egan spends about 100 pages getting you ready for it. Stephenson probably takes about 200 pages before you start getting a feel for it. But, by the last quarter of each book, you are deep, deep, deep, deep, …

I thought each book ended extremely well. For all three, I found myself staying up late reading, which is always a sign the book has grabbed me since my bedtime since I was ten has been 10 pm.

While summer reading time is almost over, you’ve still got a few weeks for one of these if you want to explore the literary equivalent of a Sierpiński triangle.

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Jun 24 2019

Book: Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up

Jerry Colonna has written a “must read for everyone on planet earth book” titled Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up.

Seriously, go buy it right now. I’ll be here when you return.

Regular readers of this blog know that Jerry and I are extremely close friends and have been for 23 years. I first met Jerry when he was beginning his partnership with Fred Wilson at Flatiron Partners. But, I didn’t meet him through Fred. I met him through NetGenesis, a company I was chairman of at the time that had been started by Rajat Bhargava (who we still work with as CEO of JumpCloud), Matt Cutler (who we still work with as CEO of Blocknative). I won’t repeat the story of Brad, Jerry, eShare, and NetGenesis, but it makes me incredibly happy to reflect on 23 years of friendship, which nicely lines up with my 23 official years of marriage to Amy.

If you want to get a feel for Jerry, listen to one of my favorite Reboot podcasts, where we flip the script and I interview Jerry.

Jerry has been on the road promoting the book the past few weeks. Dip into a few of the podcasts and interviews or get a taste on the CNN interview that he did.

Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up is extraordinary. It’s 100% Jerry, on every page, and is the book he was put on this planet to write.

If you are an entrepreneur, investor, leader, or human being, do yourself a favor and read Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. I’m serious – it will change how you think about yourself, leadership, and life.

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Jun 14 2019

Women Who Venture

I recently met Renata George through a referral from Katie Rae (MIT Engine CEO, previously Techstars Boston MD). Renata told me about a book she was working on called Women Who Venture and asked me if I’d write the foreword.

I was honored to be asked to do this. The foreword I wrote follows. The book is out and available now in hardcover and on the Kindle.

As an avid writer and reader, I feel that a book is a unique medium that serves a different purpose than the other written media that we consume regularly. A book can display a variety of perspectives at once, providing enough details on the subjects it explores, while giving us space to contemplate.

When Renata George told me she was going to write a book about Women Who Venture, featuring around a hundred female investors of different generations, I immediately said I’d be supportive. Renata told me that she wanted to do in-depth individual interviews, to both learn and explain the true state of affairs in the venture capital, while celebrating women who best reflect this industry.

The existing bias in the venture capital industry is multidimensional and implicates career challenges not only for women, but also for other underrepresented groups. Many of the investors interviewed for this book, offer advice and solutions to address this issue. Their ideas are bold, opinions are candid, and the narrative sometimes goes against what we are used to reading in popular media.

Having unconventional perspectives to consider is helpful in understanding what true diversity looks like. By being exposed to it, we can identify particular actions that each of us, male or female, can take to generate positive change. It’s the critical mass of all the tiny changes that we can each make daily, that will eventually change the perception, and reality, of diversity in venture capital.  

This book is an essential read for aspiring female venture investors who want to be inspired by the life stories of women who made it all the way to the top in venture capital. It is also a valuable resource for male investors interested in increasing diversity. Institutional investors can benefit from learning more about their investees, as well as find new general partners to consider investing in. Finally, entrepreneurs can benefit from the book by learning how the investors featured in it make investment decisions.

Fixing the diversity problem in venture capital will take a long time and require a continuous and steady pace of activities and changes. With Women Who Venture, Renata is helping us all along that journey.

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Jun 4 2019

Book: King of Capital

One of my guilty pleasures is reading biographies about financiers and their companies. On Saturday, I gobbled down King of Capital, which is the story of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone from inception through 2011.

While I’ve never met Schwarzman, I’ve had a handful of experiences with Blackstone, mostly with the Blackstone Foundation and the head of it, Amy Stursberg. The two most notable are the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network Colorado and the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars. Both have been great and impactful organizations and Amy has been a delight to work with.

King of Capital was a really useful book to read on a number of levels. One thing it reminded me of was to read histories of contemporary organizations that were written in the past. While 2011 is only eight years ago, it’s a lifetime in the world of finance, private equity, venture capital, and business. And, the history, stretching back to the 1970s is literally a lifetime (at least for me, who was born in 1965.)

Numerous quotes stood out, but I’m highlighting a few that I thought were spectacular for various reasons. The first is from David Rubenstein (Carlyle Group co-founder – one of Blackstone’s competitors) in 2006.

“Inevitably when people look back at this period, they will say this is the golden age for private equity because money is being made very readily,” Carlyle’s cofounder David Rubenstein told an audience at the beginning of 2006. It was indeed private equity’s moment. That year private equity firms initiated one of every five mergers globally and even more, 29 percent, in the United States. Blackstone’s partners, though, had decidedly mixed feelings about the bonanza. They began to worry that the market was overheating.

2006 was still the pits for venture capital, although a number of legendary companies (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) were in their early phases of getting started. If you were a seed or early stage investor during this time (+/- two years) your returns over the next decade would be epic. However, existing venture investors were massively withdrawn and LPs were piling money into PE firms, not VC firms. And, as we all know, the future for PE and the global economy was about to get really scary.

By early 2007, “we told our [investors] that, notwithstanding the fact that everyone else thinks it’s a fantastic time, the economy is rocking, there are no problems, we’re pulling back,” says James. “We’re not going to be investing, we’re going to be lowering the prices, we’re going to be changing the kinds of companies that we’re going to buy, because when everything feels good and you can’t see any problems, historically you’ve been near a peak.”

That’s a quote from Tony James, who was the #2 at Blackstone for a number of years. I’ve had one meeting with him and he was incredibly impressive.

“It’s not that you see problems coming. You never see problems coming at that point, or no one would be giving you ten times leverage,” James says with hindsight. “There are no clouds on the horizon. What you see is too much exuberance, too much confidence, people taking risks that in the last 145 years wouldn’t have made sense. What you say is, this feels like a bubble.”

And then, a year later, the global finance crisis was in full bloom. Two years later (2009) there were predictions that all of capitalism would fail, every financial institution would be nationalized, and life as we know it would be over.

That obviously didn’t happen. But it was a rough period for a number of years, in which VC and PE swapped places for a while (VC became trendy), but are both now synchronized again in being extremely successful asset classes, while everything seems great and there are no clouds on the horizon.

Hmmm …

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May 20 2019

Book: The Moment of Lift

I had surgery recently and a few friends, including Chris Moody and Sarah Ahn, gave me some books as gifts. They knew I’d be spending a lot of time on the couch either napping or reading, so my pile of infinite books to read became more abundant with a few good ones including The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates.

While I’ve met Melinda’s husband Bill a few times, but I’ve never spent any time with Melinda. I know plenty of people who know her or work for her and have overlapped with a few organizations that we both support. However, after reading The Moment of Lift, I feel like I now know her. And, she is awesome.

The book is a combination of a memoir, a manifesto, a case study, and a roadmap. While it uses the backdrop of empowering women as the framework, it genuinely addresses how empowering women can change the world.

In the current entrepreneurial climate of “changing the world” and “making a dent in the universe”, this is the first book that I’ve read in a while that really hit home on these issues. I’ve felt discouraged recently by the tenor of the entrepreneurial discussion, where phrases like “changing the world” have become cliches and are really an entrepreneurial proxy for “making a lot of money.” While I don’t object to that, I get tired of the optimistic language as a shield, rationalization, or misdirection for the real underlying motivation.

Melinda turns this on its head in The Moment of Lift. The examples she gives are real examples of changing the world through foundational activities for women, mostly led by women, and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She devotes a chapter to each of the following topics:

  • Maternal and Newborn Health
  • Family Planning
  • Girls in Schools
  • Unpaid Work
  • Child Marriage
  • Women in Agriculture
  • Women in the Workplace

Buried in the middle of the book is an intensely personal chapter about Melinda’s own journey. Her level of self-awareness, humility, and discovery reinforced her awesomeness, and created my own moment of lift while reading the book.

Melinda, both personally, and through her work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation inspire me. It was a perfect book to read while healing. Thanks Chris and Sarah for the gift.

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May 19 2019

Book: Everything Is Fucked

Yesterday, I started my day by finishing A People’s History of American Empire: The American Empire Project, A Graphic Adaptation and ended my day by finishing Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope.

In between Amy took me to see John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (or maybe I took her to see it.)

All three experiences were satisfactory.

Mark Manson is a phenomenal writer. While the book is about hope, it’s not in the way you might think. He mixes philosophy, literature, opinion, self-help, inappropriate jokes, and thought experiments. His footnotes are in the spirit of David Foster Wallace. He has mastered when to include the word “fuck” in a sentence, although his publisher is apparently afraid to use it in unmodified in the book title.

The first half of the book is a setup for the really good stuff in the second half. He defines what he calls “The Uncomfortable Truth”, navigates the reader through an excellent explanation of the Thinking Brain vs. the Feeling Brain, and does a great job summarizing this with his theoretical protagonist “Emo Newton” in the chapter titled “Newton’s Laws of Emotion.” He ends the setup with “Hope is Fucked” which lands with a nice, violent explosion.

Against the backdrop of our current existence, Manson makes Einstein, Kant, and Nietzsche accessible. I particularly loved his section on Nietzsche, since I’m in the midst of writing a book about Nietzsche and entrepreneurship. AI plays a part in Manson’s future view, and he does a good job of summarizing it in the chapter “The Final Religion.”

After spending the day consuming these three inputs, I went to bed feeling that all was ok with the world. It is as it should be, has always been, and will always be. “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”

Game of Thrones ends tonight. I think Daenerys melted the Iron Throne (physically and metaphorically) and no one sits on it. But we will see soon enough.

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May 17 2019

Book: Machines Like Me

If you are looking for a great book to read this weekend, I recommend Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me. I read it last weekend and am still thinking about it.

McEwan is a magnificent writer. When the hardcover ended up on top of my infinite pile of books to read, Amy said, “Wow, you’ll love Ian McEwan’s writing.” Whenever Amy says something like that, I know I’m in for a treat.

The setting is London in 1982. But it’s a parallel universe. Alan Turing chooses jail over chemical castration, lives, and has created massive innovations that are 40 years ahead of their time. Lennon and JFK didn’t die. Jimmy Carter wins a second term. Margaret Thatcher gets booted after botching the Falklands War.

That’s the backdrop for the introduction of our protagonists Charlie and Miranda. Charlie uses his inheritance to buy an Adam, one of 25 first production models of artificial humans (13 Eves, 12 Adams are available – the Eves sell out immediately so Charlie ends up with an Adam.)

I love the narrative feature of a parallel universe. Amy and I started watching Season 2 of The OA last night which aggressively jumps to an alternative universe. Some of today’s best near term sci-fi writers are using this as a basis for their writing, although they are often less explicit about how they are twisting current reality to the alternative universe.

McEwan isn’t subtle about the twists, which makes the book awesome. You quickly feel that this 1982 is the real 1982 and things take off from there. Every time McEwan drops another new reality fragment, more pieces fall nicely into place.

The result is a very provocative journey through the introduction of an artificial human into the evolving relationship of two existing real humans.

If you are a reader, especially one who likes (a) sci-fi and (b) literary fiction, you’ve got a fun weekend ahead of you if you grab Machines Like Me.

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