Category: Books

Jun 15 2020

Book: The Blacker The Berry

As I begin to work my way through the NY Times Antiracist Reading List (by Ibram X. Kendi), I thought I’d start with The Blacker The Berry by Wallace Thurman.

I started with the Wikipedia page for Wallace Thurman.

Langston Hughes described Thurman as “…a strangely brilliant black boy, who had read everything and whose critical mind could find something wrong with everything he read.” Thurman’s dark skin color attracted comment, including negative reactions from both black and white Americans. He used such colorism in his writings, attacking the black community’s preference for its lighter-skinned members

I didn’t know the phrase colorism nor had I ever thought about bias around it. Over the weekend, Lucy Sanders pointed me at an NCWIT article on Colorism Bias in the Tech Industry. I then went down a rabbit hole on colorism, which caused me to realize how oblivious and ignorant I was to this type of discrimination.

Emma Lou Morgan, the protagonist of The Blacker The Berry, geographically follows Thurman’s life, from Boise, the USC, to Harlem. The book is beautifully written and deeply engrossing as Emma’s story unfolds. Some of it is a coming of age story, but also a continual struggle, from a Black woman’s perspective, on dealing with discrimination from all sides, since she is darkly colored and subject to endless colorism.

The book was written in 1929. It was Thurman’s first novel. Per Wikipedia:

The novel is now recognized as a groundbreaking work of fiction because of its focus on intra-racial prejudice and colorism within the black community, where lighter skin has historically been favored.

Thurman died in 1934 at age 32 of tuberculosis. He only wrote two other books: Infants of the Spring and The Interne. I just purchased Infants of the Spring but couldn’t find The Interne.

Next up – Rodney Sampson’s Kingonomics: Twelve Innovative Currencies for Transforming Your Business and Life Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Jun 12 2020

Book: It’s About Damn Time

My digital sabbaths are often running, reading, and napping days. That’s tomorrow for me as I’m feeling fried from another week. I’ve ordered (and received) most of the books from the NY Times Antiracist reading list along with a number of other recommendations. Most are physical books and will be my digital sabbath reading this summer.

A month ago, I read Arlan Hamilton’s book It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage. It’s been on my to blog list since, which is kind of lame on my part since I usually write about books right after I read them, so I’m just going to own that I missed here.

Arlan’s book is outstanding and everyone should read it, especially if you are in tech as an entrepreneur, investor, or aspiring entrepreneur.

Arlan is also outstanding. She first emailed me in January 2013, I was an early investor in her first fund, and have tried to be available anytime she’s reached out. I’ve been an avid listener to her, especially when she’s called me out on something I missed, was stupid or ignorant about, or just needed to change my perspective on something around gender, race, or sexual orientation.

That said, I haven’t invested in any of the Backstage Capital companies. I’ll own that. I’ve committed to Arlan to get to know her portfolio better and try to be helpful with some of them. I understand that ultimately investing in them is the key goal, so I’ll engage with that perspective.

Back to It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage. I love books that combine memoir with personal philosophy with life lessons with deep and personal experience. I prefer storytelling over lecturing or prognosticating. And while straightforward biographies can be informative, I prefer autobiographies (which I often refer to as memoirs.)

Arlan completed rocked it. Like Jerry Colonna’s book Leadership and the Art of Growing Up and Melinda Gates’ book Book: The Moment of Lift, Arlan navigated the challenge of an autobiography and wrote something that will stand the test of time. It’s her story, but it’s a story that everyone can learn from. It’s not a linear biography, but a book full of experiences and lessons, including for the reader. It’s crisp and easy to read with endless moments that stopped me in my tracks, even though I knew some of Arlan’s story.

I count Arlan as a friend and mentor. I hope she does also, as peer mentors (where both people learn from each other) is my favorite type of relationship. And, I look forward to doing a lot more with her over what hopefully will be a long future for both of us.

My book recommendation for this weekend, if you haven’t read it yet, is Arlan Hamilton’s It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage.

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May 26 2020

Q2 Vacation Reading

I took an off the grid vacation last week. I needed it as I was pretty fried feeling on May 15th when I checked out.

Amy and I went … nowhere. We stayed at home. I slept late each day. I exercised. I read. I napped. We finished watching Breaking Bad. I played with my Glowforge and made a bunch of Ear Savers. I wrote a little, but not too much, on my next book (The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors.)

I read two great memoirs, both by women I respect a lot.

Madeline and Arlan are each incredible leaders, brave people, and women that I have learned a lot from. I’ve been fortunate to spend time with both of them and be involved in things that they created (in Madeline’s case, The Albright Institute; in Arlan’s case, Backstage Capital). I loved reading these books and recommend them for everyone, especially if you are interested in leadership.

I also read two books that are pertinent to this moment in time.

They were also each excellent and gave me useful perspective on our current reality, along with how our government responded during two other major crises (one health, one economic.)

It’s a beautiful day in Boulder today. I’m glad to be back from what was a much needed vacation.

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May 3 2020

Book: The End of October

I took a digital sabbath yesterday. I ended up doing three things.

  • Read The End of October by Lawrence Wright
  • Took a nap
  • Watched three episodes of Breaking Bad

I feel so much better than I did at the end of the day Friday. After I finish this blog post, I’m going to participate in the Emerge Family Virtual 5k.

The End of October was intense. It’s the story of a modern day pandemic. It’s fiction, but deeply researched. I have no idea how much was modified to suit the actual reality, but given the time frame for publishing most books, my guess is “not that much.”

I was shocked by how close the ramp-up was to what has actually happened during the Covid crisis. The pandemic movies have similar ramp-ups, but other than Contagion have happy Hollywood endings. In contrast, many books do not. There is no happy ending in The End of October.

Wright did an amazing job of showing the collision of politics and science, economics and health, and top-down control vs. distributed collaboration. Some authors spend too much time “telling.” Wright just used his story to show, and show, and show.

We are still early on in the Covid-19 pandemic – probably 25% of the way through Wright’s book. The darkness in the last 75% is a fundamental warning for us in one way this can go. While I’m ultimately optimistic, I’m not at all comfortable with or confident in much of anything right now.

The End of October is a dose of heavy medicine for anyone who thinks “this is no big deal” or “this is all over” or “this is heading on a good path that can’t be derailed.” I’m not suggesting any of these things are true or false, but rather recommending the book as perspective on the bad path that might be in front of us.

It’s a beautiful day in Colorado. The animals are everywhere, enjoying spring. Amy and I are in our pajamas, experiencing a typical Sunday morning. But, we are aware that the overall context we are living in is very different than what we are used to.

My next book is The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

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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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