Category: Books

Jul 12 2020

Book: Tulsa 1921

I heard the phrase “Greenwood” a few days after George Floyd was murdered. I’d never heard of it, or of the Tulsa race massacre before.

It’s 2020, so I went looking around on the Internet. The more I read, the more upset I became. Amy and I then watched the first few episodes of The Watchman, and I suddenly had a desire to get a full picture of what happened.

I do this by reading a book. I’m not a history buff, so I don’t spend a lot of time going deep on a particular historical event. Most of the surface level history I know comes from high school in Dallas (where, of course, we began with Texas history), a lifetime of museums, occasional TV documentaries, Wikipedia, or conversations. And books.

When I’m interested in something, I read a book on it. Since I’m reading one book on racial injustice each weekend this summer (and, given the pile of books I’ve accumulated, I expect I’ll continue into the fall), I decided to make my Saturday book Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre.

I chose it carefully after reading the backgrounds of a few other books. I was looking for a reporting of the event, which I expected would be challenging given both the time frame (99 years ago) along with what I expected to be a lot of historical bias. I chose this book because the author, Randy Krehbiel, has been a reporter for the Tulsa World (Tulsa’s daily newspaper since 1905) for over 40 years and a Tulsa native. I figured, if anyone, he’d be able to mine the history from a reporter’s perspective, while balancing the topophilia he had for Tulsa, against the backdrop of a horrific event in the city’s history. Finally, Karlos K Hill, the Department Chair, African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, wrote the foreword and endorsed the book, giving it more credibility in my eyes.

I lost myself in Tulsa in 1921 yesterday afternoon and into the evening. The Tulsa race massacre was an injustice on multiple levels. It included the willful destruction of what at the time was one of the most successful Black communities in America. In addition to the 24-hour destruction of the Black community by a variety of White Tulsans in pogram-like fashion, the ensuing several years of efforts to relocate the community, rather than allow the Black property-owning residents to rebuild, was deeply disturbing. Alongside this was a continual denial of any sort of meaningful redress or compensation by the White leadership of Tulsa.

During this period, the KKK had a new resurgence, which reinforced many aspects of systemic racism, both related to this period in Tulsa, as well as across the entire United States. Black leaders, with a few White allies, fought for justice for the residents, victims, and families of Greenwood. They also fought against the corruption, blame-shifting, and systemic racism that existed at the time in Tulsa. The Black Tulsans of Greenwood eventually prevailed and rebuilt their community.

Krehbiel handled this story exceptionally well. There are many ambiguities and unknowns. Rather than rendering an opinion, he tried to acknowledge the biases, the potential perspectives, and citied whatever he could find in history. Rather than tell the reader what to think, he painted a full story, incorporating many voices from different frames of reference, and allowed the reader to form a view and decide when the record was ambiguous, what had happened.

While an emotionally challenging book to read, I ended my day Saturday with another layer of understanding of how systemic racism is and has worked, for many years, in the U.S.

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Jul 8 2020

Book: The Startup Playbook

If you are working on your first startup, this is the book for you. Hopefully, the Foreword I wrote reflects my belief in the quality and importance of this book.

My friends @willherman and @rajatbhargava put their hearts and souls into the creation of the first edition of The Startup Playbook, and it paid off. Over 13,000 people bought the book, it’s a 4.8-star review book on Amazon (with 100 reviews), and it sold out.

I’ve known Will since 1984 and Raj since 1993. Will and I made our first angel investment together in 1994 – in Raj’s first company NetGenesis (which went public in 1999). Since then, Will and I have made many investments together (including most of Raj’s company). Raj and I have done seven companies together, including his most recent company JumpCloud which is one of the fastest-growing B2B SaaS companies in our portfolio (and in Colorado.)

The book is Will and Raj’s how-to guide for building your startup from the ground up. It has a collection of the major lessons and shortcuts they learned starting 11 companies between them – a lot of successes, but some nasty failures too. They wrote the book to shift the odds of success in your favor. They share their tips, secrets, and advice in a frank, founder-to-founder discussion with you.

The Startup Playbook is not a recipe; it’s not a template; it’s not a list of tasks to do. It’s their insider’s guide to starting a company and running it successfully in those critical early months. It’s full of our advice, guidance, do’s, and don’ts from their years of experience as founders, investors, mentors, and advisors.

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Jul 7 2020

Expanding My Perspective

I’ve become aware that my existing network creates and perpetuates systemic inequities. Rather than abandon my existing network, I’m investing time and energy in expanding my perspective and network through the various things I pay attention to and get involved in.

Today’s post covers two things I love to do: run and read. When I reflect on my running and fitness heroes, they are mostly men. If you asked me to name ten world-class marathoners, it would be mostly men. And when I think of people who I go running with, which is rare since I prefer to run alone, it’s men.

A year ago, I decided I needed to permanently change my diet and hired Katie Elliott as my nutritionist. She’s become a good friend and has been extraordinarily helpful with changing my diet and helping me permanently lose some weight. She’s also an outstanding athlete, so I’ve gotten bonus coaching from her.

Next week Katie is leading a day-long online symposium called Women.Thrive. Amy and I sponsored it, and I have ten free tickets, so if you want to attend, email me (the first ten get the tickets.) Or, if you wish to attend and don’t need a free ticket, please sign up as all proceeds go to Covid relief. I’ll be attending some of the sessions to learn and expand my perspective on women athletes and health. Plus – Martina Navratilova – one of my childhood tennis heroes – is speaking about motivation.

Next, I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff that is outside my normal reading zone. Each weekend I read at least one book from my now very large pile of books by Black authors about a wide variety of topics. Saturday night, I chose a memoir and read White People Really Love Salad by Nita Mosby Tyler, Ph.D.

I love memoirs. I separate this category from “autobiography” because I’m not that interested in autobiographies (I prefer biographies). Memoirs are more than just a person’s history. They interweave one’s history and experiences with personal philosophy, advice, reflection (both the author’s and mine), and inspiration.

Nita wrote about her experience growing up in Atlanta as a Black girl. Each chapter ended with her reflections about race, diversity, equity, and equality that related directly to the story she had just told. I read it from beginning to end, realizing that almost every experience was new to me.

Last night, I read Piloting Your Life by Terri Hanson Mead. Terri wrote about her experience shifting into, exploring, and getting used to midlife as a White, professional, happily married woman with a husband and two kids in the bay area. Oh, and she’s a helicopter pilot (so cool) so she uses a lot of flying metaphors to structure the book (hence the title). She includes stories and interviews with many other women going through the transition from “pre-midlife” to “midlife,” along with endless, direct, and compelling examples of the struggles relative to men going through a similar age transition.

I’m in my mid-50s (wow – when did that happen?) Many of my transitions are completely different from Terri’s. As I read the book, in addition to getting to know Terri better, I also ended up with a bunch of insights, from a woman’s perspective, about midlife.

Every time I finish a book like one of these I think “I should read more books like this.”

When people, who are roughly the same age as me (or at least the same generation) write about completely different life experiences and from an entirely different perspective, they give me a lot to think about and help me ponder my strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and biases. And, in this case, these books were different but beautiful complements to read one after the other.

I appreciate the energy that Nita and Terri have put into these books. Now that I’ve written a bunch of books, including one very personal one with Amy (Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur), I understand how much work it is to write a book like this.

And, most of all, I appreciate their willingness to put their story out into the world, which helps me expand my perspective.

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Jun 29 2020

Book: So you want to talk about race

I’m continuing my weekend reading goal of a book on racial equity. Last week was Kingonomics: Twelve Innovative Currencies for Transforming Your Business and Life Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Rodney Sampson who I’m partnering with on the #RacialEquityEcosystemPledge.

Yesterday I read Ijeoma Oluo’s So you want to talk about race. It was excellent.

My goal with reading these books is to bring a beginners mind to racial equity, allow myself to feel uncomfortable while reading, and let the impact of what I read over the summer accumulate, with a hope that I can personally eliminate many of my unconscious biases, unhelpful behavior, while unlearning (or challenging my own) perspectives that I’ve built up over my 54 years as a White person in America.

Several of my Black friends recommended Ijeoma’s book as one that I should read early on. As book #3 on my weekend reading, I’m glad I put this at the front of the list. It has 17 chapters – each which answers a very specific question about race. Following is the list.

  • Is it really about race?
  • What is racism?
  • What if I talk about race wrong?
  • Why am I always being told to “check my privilege?”
  • What is intersectionality and why do I need it?
  • Is police brutality really about race?
  • How can I talk about affirmative action?
  • What is the school-to-prison pipeline?
  • What can’t I say the “N” word?
  • What is cultural appropriation?
  • Why can’t I touch your hair?
  • What are microaggressions?
  • Why are our students so angry?
  • What is the model minority myth?
  • But what if I hate Al Sharpton?
  • I just got called racist, what do I do now?
  • Talking is great, but what else can I do?

A day after George Floyd was murdered, I called a Black friend and asked, “what are two things you are involved in that I can immediately support with time and money.”

He had a response that I then heard echoed in slightly different ways in several conversations. The composite is below:

Thank you so much for approaching things this way. I’m so tired of explaining to White people what I’m going through, what I go through every day, and why so many things in America are horrible when you aren’t White. It’s not my responsibility to do that anymore, and I’m glad you are trying to get involved, rather than ask me to explain what’s going on.

Ijeoma’s book was extremely clear and enlightening on all of these questions. Near the end, there was a paragraph in the chapter “Talking is great, but what else can I do?” that really hit home.

“Talk. Please talk and talk and talk some more. But also act. Act now, because people are dying now in this unjust system. How many lives have been ground by racial prejudice and hate? How many opportunities have we already lost? Act and talk and learn and fuck up and learn some more and act again and do better. We have to do this all at once. We have to learn and fight at the same time. Because people have been waiting far too long for their chance to live as equals in this society.

I strongly recommend Ijeoma Oluo’s So you want to talk about race.

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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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