Category: Crisis

Oct 5 2020

Fundraiser for the Energize Colorado Gap Fund on October 8th

$135 million.

That is the amount that over 5,600 Colorado small businesses requested from the Energize Colorado Gap Fund in our first three weeks of open applications. 

According to the SBA, small businesses in Colorado employ more than 1.1 million Coloradans, almost half of the state’s private workforce. 90% of the applicant pool came from one or more of the Gap Fund’s priority groups: BIPOC, women, veteran-owned, or companies in rural Colorado. 

We anticipated that the demand for the Gap Fund would be massive and that we needed to provide a model that could offer a sustainable path through the post-Covid economic recovery. To that end, the Gap Fund provides a combination of grant and loan funds to recipients. We are using a Program Related Investment (PRI) model to offer ultra low-interest loans and guarantee repayment to our loan partners. We pair the PRI with philanthropic donations to cover the overhead and expected losses from running the ultra low-interest loan program. As a result, our financial model creates a 5x multiplier on grant dollars.

We need your help to meet the need and to maintain our commitment to rebuilding a statewide economy that is more inclusive and more resilient. On October 8th at 5:30 pm MST, I’m co-hosting a virtual fundraiser with my good friends Governor Jared Polis, Gap Fund Chair Kent Thiry, and Energize Colorado’s CEO, Wendy Lea. While we’ve raised over $25 million to date, we are looking to raise another $25 million. While we have a PRI contribution minimum of $50K, we accept donations at any level to help fuel our ability to provide loans to small businesses in need.  

If you’re available, please register here to join us as part of the effort to help small businesses in Colorado navigate and emerge stronger from the Covid crisis.

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Sep 1 2020

The Energize Colorado Gap Fund Application Process Is Open

The Energize Colorado Gap Fund is open for applications. At some point, I’ll write a blog post about the story of how this came together via a public-private partnership to fill a much-needed gap in the Federal funding for small businesses throughout Colorado due to the Covid crisis, but for now either send this to people you think it is relevant to or, if it is relevant to you, please apply for funding.

If you are a business or nonprofit with less than 25 full-time employees (including sole proprietors) you can apply for up to a $15,000 grant and a $20,000 loan for a possible combined total of $35,000 in financial assistance.

The applications and awards will be done in rounds to allow the Energize Colorado Gap Fund to provide assistance through December 2020. This is not a first-come-first-serve process, but rather one that will be focused on helping those in need receive priority access to assistance.

A detailed FAQ for the Energize Colorado Gap Fund is available, but here are a few summary points around eligibility and priority.

Who is Eligible?

  • Small Businesses/Enterprises – Colorado sole proprietors and registered small businesses including LLCs, S-Corps and other business types.
  • Nonprofits – Colorado nonprofits whose mission and/or programs directly support economic development, small businesses, or tourism.
  • Fewer than 25 employees – Applicants must have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. An employer may use its off-season employee count.
  • Impacted by COVID-19 – Applicants must be able to show the economic hardship their business is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The business’s story of hardship plus documents such as bank records, point of sale receipts, profit and loss statements, or other documents can be used to show economic harm.

Priority Will Be Given to the Following:

  • Any eligible Colorado small enterprise is welcome to apply. Priority will be given to applicants:
    • Who are majority-owned by Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Veterans, or Women
    • In rural areas with a population of less than 50,000 people
    • In the tourism sector
    • With limited or no access to capital financing or other federal, state or local grants/loans

I’m incredibly proud of the hard work of the many volunteers at Energize Colorado and the leadership of Wendy Lea who helped get this up and running. And, the Energize Colorado Gap Fund Executive Committee, under the leadership of Kent Thiry, is amazing to see in action.

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Aug 30 2020

Are You At Your Best Right Now?

I’m not.

And I know a lot of people who aren’t.

I’m trying hard, but I’m aware that there are many moments where I’m nowhere close to being my best.

Every day, I feel confused by behavior from someone I know well which is inconsistent with how I think of them. Sometimes it’s unsettling or upsetting. Often it is perplexing. Occasionally it is disheartening.

Everyone I know is some element of tired, stressed, anxious, frustrated, or just running at maximum speed trying to keep it all together. People are short-tempered, irritable, irrational, and lashing out or thrashing around.

Give yourself a break and acknowledge to yourself and your loved ones that you are not at your best right now. Understand that your loved ones, colleagues, co-workers, friends, and everyone else is probably not at their best right now. While you might not be able to give them a hug, you can try a smile, an apology, or laughter when the moment passes.

Give them, and yourself, a break for not being at your best.

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Aug 27 2020

Pondering the Commercial Real Estate Market

Since Covid started, I’ve had many conversations about office space. In April, almost all of our companies were unable to use their office space because of stay at home orders. Today, even though strict stay-at-home orders are no longer in place in most of the country, the vast majority of our companies are still in a primary work-from-home mode.

Most of these companies are locked into long term office leases. Over the past few months, they’ve all tried to negotiate some relief with their landlord. While, in a few cases, there have been small rent deferrals in exchange for tacking on a few months at the end of the lease, and in a few other cases landlords have offered “meaningful cash now to buy out the lease” deals, these have been few and far between.

Most of the time, the answer is some version of “Tough luck.” And, if you dig into the lease agreement, it usually reinforces the message of “tough luck.”

In a moment where landlords could generate enormous goodwill, especially with smaller companies, I believe they are doing the opposite. Rather than showing some flexibility, they are telling their customer (the tenant) who literally cannot use the physical space they are renting, “sorry – not my problem.”

All over our portfolio, I’m seeing CEOs increasingly asking the question, “why am I spending all this money for something I can’t use?” Since work-from-home is continuing, and these CEOs realize that remote or distributed work, rather than having an expensive, central office, is attractive both culturally and economically for many of their employees.

When we discuss this, I always ask the question, “If you could allocate 100% of your rent expense to your employees, would this be a positive or a negative to your employees?” That’s easy to answer, and when I remind CEOs that their all-in cost of being in an office is probably double what they pay in rent, they quickly realize it’s not a zero-sum game.

I think we are in a phase of total denial by the commercial real estate industry about the dynamics going on. It’s a classic example of short-term, zero-sum thinking, which is antithetical to my way of approaching things, so it grates on me.

I hypothesize that there are massive structural, cultural, and financial changes that are happening that are being exacerbated by the behavior of the commercial real estate owners. We’ll see, but I know the amount of money that we are indirectly spending on commercial real estate via our portfolio will be dramatically less in 2023 than it is today.

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Jul 21 2020

The World In A Phase Transition

We are in the midst of the most dramatic phrase transition I’ve experienced so far in my 54 years on this particular planet.

Ian Hathaway and I talk about phase transitions (also known as a phase shift) in several parts of The Startup Community Way.

Progress is uneven, slow, and surprising. Complex systems exhibit nonlinear behavior, phase transitions (large shifts that materialize quickly), and fat-tailed distributions, where extremely high-impact events are more common than a normal statistical distribution would predict. Seemingly small actions can produce massive changes that happen suddenly. There is little ability to link cause and effect, or to credibly predict the outcomes of various programs or policies.

The Covid crisis is the trigger of this phase transaction. And, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I view the Covid crisis as the collision of four complex systems – health, economic, mental health, and racial inequity. Each of these complex systems has been evolving for a long time, are never “solved”, and come in and out of focus.

The collision of all four of them simply cannot be understood from a macro perspective or addressed incrementally, and is transformative in an unpredictable way.

Easy examples of specific phase transitions include telemedicine, video conferencing, remote work, remote learning, and retail distribution. As this has been happening over the past four months, the entire US macro model around government debt was thrown out the window, resulting in a massive economic value shift (both positive and negative) across our entire economy. At the same time that unemployment is high, but the macro numbers show it “bad, but not awful”, income inequity has soared.

But this isn’t the story of the phase transition. Rather, it’s just the beginning. There are many people on our planet that are hoping things are going to “go back to normal.” The phrase “the new normal” is a hint at that, reinforcing that there is some type of “normal” to expect.

There is no normal, just like there is no spoon.

If you think it’s going to get weird, well, it’s too late. That already happened.

Since March 11th, when I realized the Covid crisis was going to generate a massive phase transition throughout society, I’ve been rethinking everything. Complexity theory teaches us that in complex systems, there is no playbook, just like there is no spoon.

Yet, in our world, we try to apply playbooks to many of the things we do. Many of the things we believe exist run off of playbooks. Take K-12 education. As our society anxiously awaits the opening of K-12 schools in the fall, educators, administrators, teachers, and governments everywhere scramble to “rewrite the playbook” for K-12 in the time of Covid.

But what if the playbook for K-12 is obsolete. Or flawed. Or unnecessary. What if it structurally reinforces undesirable things, like racism or economic inequality?

Observers of the health care system would comment that the health care system in the US has been messed up for a long time. My dad has been writing a blog on Repairing the Healthcare System for a decade. While there is plenty that he writes that I disagree with, I do agree that the healthcare system in the US is structurally broken. And, now with some hospitals in Florida being out of ICU beds, well, hold on to your masks …

We haven’t even begun talking about commercial real estate. My friends in the restaurant industry are suggesting that unless the government sends them a lot of “free money” soon, the restaurant industry as we know it will completely collapse.

Do we need more commercial real estate? Does the restaurant industry, as currently configured, really work?

Regardless of the answers, it’s impossible to predict what things will look like on the other side of this phase transition.

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Jul 16 2020

Colorado Statewide Mask Requirement

Colorado now has a statewide mask requirement.

Individuals will be required to wear face coverings for Public Indoor Spaces if they are 11 and older, unless they have a medical condition or disability. Kids 10 and under don’t need to wear a mask.  All businesses must post signage and refuse entry or service to people not wearing masks.

It is well understood that wearing a mask substantially helps slow the spread of Covid.

I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the message isn’t getting through. The mask prevents other people from you if you are infected. And, you often won’t know if you are infected, since you could be pre-symptomatic (which is often confused with asymptomatic) for 14 days.

So, let’s keep this simple. You can have Covid, not have symptoms, but be infecting other people for up to 14 days. Wearing a mask significantly cuts down on your spread of the virus if you have it, because the mask catches your spread of the Covid “droplets.”

The mask doesn’t do a lot to protect you from others. So, if you say “I’m not afraid of getting Covid”, that doesn’t matter since the mask doesn’t protect you. It protects others from you. And, you can’t know if you are infectious.

Some people will say “I’ve had Covid so I don’t have to wear a mask.” That’s not true either, for several reasons, including social convention (if we all wear masks, then it’s socially acceptable; there is still ambiguity about how long immunity lasts; there are some concerns, but not scientific evidence, that you can still be a spreader if you think you’ve recovered.)

If you wear a mask, you are respecting your fellow humans. And, if we all wear masks, we can dramatically slow the spread of Covid.

So please, wear a mask.

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Jul 15 2020

Predictions, Prognostications, and The Future

I have never liked being asked to predict things. I try not to prognosticate, especially around things I’m not deeply involved in.

At this moment, people everywhere make continuous predictions and endless prognostications. At some level, that’s not new, as the regular end of year media rhythm for as long as I can remember is a stream of famous people being asked their predictions for the next year. There are entire domains, such as economics, that are all about predictions. Near term predictions drive the stock market (e.g., future quarterly performance, what the Federal Reserve is going to do in the future.)

As humans, we want to control our present, and one way to do that is to predict the future.

I think the Covid crisis has turned that upside down. As I was reading How Pandemics Wreak Havoc – And Open Minds last night, a few paragraphs at the end hit home.

The first comment is from Gianna Pomata, a retired professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine, at Johns Hopkins University who is now living in Bologna.

Pomata was shocked by the direction that the pandemic was taking in the United States. She understood the reasons for the mass protests and political rallies, but, as a medical historian, she was uncomfortably reminded of the religious processions that had spread the plague in medieval Europe. And, as someone who had obediently remained indoors for months, she was affronted by the refusal of so many Americans to wear masks at the grocery store and maintain social distancing. In an e-mail, she condemned those who blithely ignored scientific advice, writing, “What I see right now in the United States is that the pandemic has not led to new creative thinking but, on the contrary, has strengthened all the worst, most stereotypical, and irrational ways of thinking. I’m very sorry for the state of your country, which seems to be in the grip of a horrible attack of unreason.” She continued, “I’m sorry because I love it, and have received so much from it.”

It’s followed by a comment by Lawrence Wright, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992 and author of the incredible and timely book The End of October.

I understood her gloomy assessment, but also felt that America could be on the verge of much needed change. Like wars and depressions, a pandemic offers an X-ray of society, allowing us to see all the broken places. It was possible that Americans would do nothing about the fissures exposed by the pandemic: the racial inequities, the poisonous partisanship, the governmental incompetence, the disrespect for science, the loss of standing among nations, the fraying of community bonds. Then again, when people confront their failures, they have the opportunity to mend them.

These paragraphs reflect the reality that I’m observing in the US right now. However, you can see Wright’s human optimism creep in as he “[feels] that America could be on the verge of much needed change.” While not a prediction (thankfully), it raised the question at the end of the paragraph, which is:

[W]hen people confront their failures, they have the opportunity to mend them.

But how?

As I worked on The Startup Community Way and got my mind into how complex systems work, I concluded that change has to come from the bottom up, not the top down. While in the book, we apply it to startup communities, I’ve internalized it across any complex system.

We are living in the collision of a series of complex systems that are beyond anything I’ve experienced in my 54 years on earth. It’s happening against the backdrop of instantaneous global communication, which allows anyone to distribute and amplify any sort of information.

In a crisis, anger and fear generate irrational behavior, especially given the need to control things. History has taught us this, but all you need to do is watch the bad guys in popular movies implode to be reminded of it.

Consequently, predicting the future is not just impossible; it’s more irrelevant than ever. Fantasizing about what the future will look like, while comforting, is pointless. And anchoring hopes around the future (e.g. “schools will open up in the fall”) simply generates even more anger and fear if it doesn’t come true.

For many years, I’ve tried to avoid predicting the future or prognosticating about it. My answer, when asked, is often some version of “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

I think this crisis has shut that off entirely for me, as I’m shifting all of my energy to the present. I’m focusing on doing things today that I believe in, want to do, and that I think has the potential to impact positive change. But I know I can’t predict the outcome of any of it.

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Jun 30 2020

The Unbearable Something of Q2 2020

I woke up thinking “this has been the strangest quarter of my life.”

I used to think in days, weeks, months, quarters, years, and decades. I stopped doing that around the time I turned 50 because I was exhausted from the rhythm.

I’ve been thinking about Q2 the last few days, which has been the Covid quarter. March was pre-quarter insanity as March 11th through the end of the month was completely disorienting and chaotic. I wrote the Three Crisis post on March 31st, which meant that I had gotten my mind, at least at a high level, around what was going on. Near the end of the post, I wrote:

Finally, this is not just going to “be over.” That’s magical thinking. There will be many different phases of this, but if you prepare for a long-term experience, you’ll be in a much healthier emotional place. I personally believe that April is going to be an awful month in the United States as the true extent of the health crisis finally hits in our country. The actions we are taking right now will determine whether April is the worst of it, but know that May will be rough, and the summer will be unlike “a normal summer” as, even in the best case, we being existing in the context of meaningful long-term societal adjustments.

April was awful. When it was finally over, Amy and I joked that April had 92 days in it. We ushered in May together on a Friday night with Life Dinner at home and then proceeded to have another miserable month with 57 days in it. I took a week off the grid in the middle of May, just as I was about to break.

On May 25th, George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. A fourth crisis, one of racial equity, was added to the mix, and while June only felt like it has lasted 43 days, it has been exhausting.

Unfortunately, I’m incredibly pessimistic about July. For the last 30 days, our country has engaged in the magical thinking I worried about at the end of March, and the Covid caseload has exploded. I get that it is summer, people can’t handle being cooped up in their houses, and everyone wants life to go back to the way it was before the emergence of Covid.

I simply don’t think that is going to happen. Ever.

Q2 sucked so much worse for so many people other than me. I’m healthy. Amy and I are safe. We are isolated in a comfortable place and enjoy being together all the time. I’m able to work from home without any significant challenges. Amy loves me, and my dogs love me. I’m aware of my privilege and thankful for it.

I fear July is going to be awful, just like April was awful. I hope I’m wrong. I really want to be wrong. I’m usually optimistic. I want to be optimistic at this moment. But I don’t see any signals anywhere that I should be. So, I’m emotionally prepared for a really rough month.

When I reflect on that, I realize that what weighs on me are mostly things I can’t control. So, as I’ve been doing for the last three months, I’m going to continue to put my energy into things I can impact, be available to many who I can help and support, and try to affect positive change. But, unlike the past three months, I’m going to take better care of myself.

And that starts now, with a run in circles around my 40 acres.

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Jun 23 2020

Living in the Time of Covid

Oh yeah. That Covid thing is still around. And in the US, it’s getting worse again because it never went away as much as our magical thinking hoped it did.

I’m an optimistic worrier (like Madeleine Albright, who explores that concept with Tim Ferriss in this wonderful podcast that I listened to while running in loops around my 40 acres.)

This morning I read Joanne Wilson’s post Where Are We Going? and nodded my head up and down all the way through it. She starts off with “There is so much change going on that it is hard to pinpoint where we are going? One thing is for sure, we are chartering new territories.” Then, she covers COVID-19, Trump’s Tulsa Rally, Protests, Facebook, Hydroxychloroquine, Juneteenth, Bolton’s book, Voting day as a holiday, the Senate, Healthcare, Consumption behavior, anger, incompetence and wraps it up with

“There is no doubt we are living in a changing world but the bigger question is “where are we going?”

Yup. All those same things are wandering around inside my brain.

And then CovidTennis. Djokovic thought playing unprotected and horsing around was a good idea. He’s not the only one. It will be informative to learn how well athletes recover from Covid and if there are any lasting downstream effects. Generally, I’m a big Joker fan, but c’mon.

Grigor Dimitrov, rear, plays basketball with Novak Djokovic last Thursday in Croatia. (AP Photo/Zvonko Kucelin)

If you are looking for podcasts to listen too, following are a pair from Brian Hollins, a founding board member of BLCK VC.

The first is one with me where Brian is the interviewer titled Brad Feld (Foundry Group) on never having “fake days”, how to be a better ally, the impact of second order effects, and the failure of warning systems to warn you when they are failing.

The other is from The Full Ratchet and is an interview with Brian titled Breaking into VC; Excelling at Goldman Sachs; and the Origin of BLCK VC (Brian Hollins).

Brian did a great job with both of them.

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Jun 17 2020

Fast-Forwarding to 2025

I have a few minutes each morning between when I wake up and when I go downstairs to meditate. I do two things during this time: (1) basic hygiene stuff and (2) let whatever thoughts are in my head roll around.

This morning I had the following thought.

It would be nice to just fast forward to 2025.

During some of my recent public talks, I’ve described how the Covid crisis has accelerated work and technology change in a dramatic way. While I’ve said that “when this is over, we are going to wake up in 2025”, I then have to explain what I mean by “wake up in 2025.” My idea of simply fast-forwarding to 2025 emerged from that.

The Covid crisis has generated four crises – health, economic, mental health, and racial inequity – that are intermingled. Each individual crisis is complex, not new, and ebbs and flows in the forefront of our collective societal mind.

I recently had someone question me about the idea that the economic crisis was continuous. They asked, “Haven’t we had a bull market for a decade?” My response was, “Income inequality, the occupy movement, Venezuela, European Debt” and they interrupted with “Ah, I get it.”

Usually one of these crises is front of mind for a period of time. I was on sabbatical with Amy when the Ferguson Protests occurred after the Michael Brown murder. We talked about it for several days, explored our own feelings, but didn’t take any meaningful action other than a few philanthropic contributions after the moment passed.

After I had a six-month depressive episode in 2013, I put energy into trying to destigmatize depression and mental health issues, especially in tech and entrepreneurship. While my effort here has been consistent, the impact is slow and often invisible.

Remember #MeToo? Gender inequity in tech has lessened, but it’s still a major issue.

It goes on, and on, and on. Yet, right now, these issues, and others, are all colliding in the foreground, with incredible intensity, interwoven in a way that makes an already complex system extremely difficult to navigate.

And then there’s technology. In January, no one would have said “the vast majority of the office-based workforce around the world with be working from home, doing video conferences all day long.” Or, “business travel will be largely non-existent.” Or, “the only restaurant meals you will eat will be takeout or home delivery.” Or, “telemedicine adoption will make a decade of progress in four weeks.” Each of these activities is dramatically impacted by the technology we have today and enabled in ways that technology providers might have envisioned, but that mainstream society didn’t expect to adopt broadly until it suddenly had to.

I recognize that most of us are processing an enormous amount of stimuli in real-time. That’s incredibly challenging and ultimately exhausting.

I fully expect several other crises will emerge this year. If you wonder what else could possibly come up, I’ll just remind you that it’s an election year in the US, which is just another massive input into a very complex system.

I’m not a prognosticator or a predictor of the future. Instead, I like to pretend I’m in the future, look backward, and try to figure out what to do in the present. While I’m living in the moment, I’m going to simultaneous pretend that I fast-forwarded to 2025.

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