Category: Crisis

Apr 16 2020

Leadership is Pulling Together, Not Tearing Apart

Our Colorado governor, Jared Polis, displayed an amazing act of leadership in his response to what I consider a question posed in an extreme and divisive way yesterday.

The question asked was:

We are hearing a lot of reports around here … about neighbors reporting on other neighbors for not following the orders … rebellion out here against your orders which have been called tyrannical, against local health department orders being equated to Naziism. How do you react to that? What do you say to those people who are clearly getting frustrated with this stay at home order?

I thought Jared’s response was incredible. It included:

As a Jewish American who lost family in the holocaust, I’m offended by any comparison to Naziism. We act to save lives. The exact opposite of the slaughter of six million Jews and many gypsies and Catholics and gays and lesbians and Russians and so many others.

Ok. Pause and consider that for a moment. When you watch the video (which I hope you do), pay attention to Jared’s behavior as he starts to lose his composure, but then regains it.

He follows with:

It’s not a contest to see what you can get away with. It’s a contest to see how well you can stay at home. By not staying at home, by having parties, by congregating, you are not sticking it to the government. You are not sticking it to Jared Polis. You are sticking it to yourself because you are putting yourself and your loved ones in jeopardy and you are prolonging the economic pain and difficulties your fellow Coloradans face.

He finishes with:

Now is the time for us to act with unity, to act together, to do the best that we can …

This is leadership in the time of crisis. This is how I want my leaders to lead and to react to challenging questions, divisive and ad-hominem attacks, and analogies to things that are personally offensive.

Notice that in the midst of a question that clearly provoked an emotional reaction, Jared answered the question incredibly clearly with a positive, thoughtful, and unifying, rather than divisive and hostile, response.

Jared – thank you for your amazing leadership in this crisis. Fellow Coloradans, let’s all pull together in this crisis, no matter what.

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Apr 14 2020

Taking Care of 2 Million Essential Ears with Glowforge

We are all looking for ways to help during the COVID crisis. The most important thing most of us can do is simple: stay home. Taking social distancing seriously is our best collective measure against the pandemic right now.

But we need to help the people who can’t stay home.

Glowforge has launched the 2 Million Essential Ears initiative. The goal is to print 1 million Ear Savers on Glowforge printers across the US and get them for free to the essential workers who need them.

An Ear Saver is a small adapter that prints in less than a minute. It lets a front line worker attach their mask comfortably and safely. The hooks let the wearer use a mask of almost any size, which is important when not every sized mask is available to every worker. Fit is crucial for forming a safe seal on a surgical or N95 mask, and the Ear Saver makes a correct fit much easier.

With essential workers spending entire days wearing their masks, the elastic straps can cause discomfort which can lead to painful ear damage. The ear straps take this pressure off of the ears of the wearer.

If you have a Glowforge printer, join the Ear Saver printing team now.

Or, go register to get some free Ear Savers if you need them for yourself, those taking care of you, or those in your community.

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Apr 12 2020

Digital Sabbath in the Time of Covid

I usually do a digital sabbath from Friday sundown to Sunday morning. No email. No meetings (except urgent ones). I used to do no phone, but the text dynamic to coordinate getting together has made that difficult (even in the world of Covid) so I check the lock screen on my phone a few times a day and deal with anything important.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t had a digital sabbath since 3/14. I also hadn’t had a day off since 3/14.

Friday night I crashed. My last call ended around 6:20 pm. My inbox was still full of stuff, but I had no energy to even look at it. We had a Zoom dinner with Ryan and Katherine, although it didn’t involve food since they eat late and I blew it by not being ready for dinner until three minutes before dinner was supposed to start … After dinner, Amy and I went downstairs and watched a little more Hunters, which I think we’ve decided to stop watching after episode two.

We went to bed around 10 pm. When we crawled into bed, I committed to Amy to have a digital sabbath. I knew she was worried about me and I hit a self-aware point that I was on the edge of good vs. not good emotionally and physically.

I woke up around 10 am. I had a strong green recovery score on my Whoop for the first time in a while (I’ve had plenty of red, some yellow, and an occasional green, but never very strong …). I went to the bathroom, meditated, and had a cup of coffee on the couch with Amy.

I then went for a run. I’m very out of shape relative to my norm because of a January back injury (muscle) combined with no consistency in exercise the last month. That ended a week ago as I started running again with some swimming tossed in.

I then ate a little and finished reading Facebook: The Inside Story by Stephen Levy which I had started on March 8th. I hadn’t opened a book since mid-March and as I read the second half of it, I realized I wasn’t very interested in it.

I then broke digital sabbath and did a Zoom call that I noticed showed up on my Zoom Room calendar. I’m glad I did it as it helped resolve some outstanding issues on a project that is launching this upcoming week.

I read a little more (Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different by Chuck Palahniuk), had some leftovers (thanks Amy for cooking so much!) and then went downstairs and watched 93 Days.

I was in bed by 9:30 pm. When I woke up this morning, I felt very refreshed.

Digital sabbath will simply begin again for me.

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Apr 10 2020

Community in the Time of Covid

When Amy and I had life dinner on March 1st, we were both tired after a three-week trip to Boston, Miami, and Atlanta. As we discussed the potential impact of Covid, we talked about the current state of things in the US. The stock market had already had a 15% or so drop but there were less than 10 deaths (all in Seattle) from Covid in the US.

I remember us having an anxious evening that included the statement “I’m really glad February is over and we are back home in Boulder.” Prescient, but not really what we meant.

Life dinner on April 1st was very different. While the Colorado stay at home order went into effect on March 26th, Amy and I had already been in a stay at home mode starting March 11th. The last time I left my house was on March 10th for a board meeting and dinner with Mike Platt for Indian food at Jaipur.

Today is the first day since March 11th that I’ve felt any semblance of space to actually think, rather than react.

While there is a huge amount of intensity everywhere and the Covid crisis rages on, many of the things I’m involved in are now fully operational, the leaders are leading, and everyone I’m working with is focused on solving problems. I have much more situational awareness and perspective than I had even a week ago. While I don’t have answers to many things, I have hypotheses, am involved in trying lots of things, and am focused on being proactive, rather than just reactive.

Notwithstanding the stress and anxiety in the system, I felt a real emotional shift in the last few days among the people I’m involved with. There is less confusion, randomness, speculation, denial, and fear.

For much of my non-work work, I have built several teams of volunteers. I have been amazed at the willingness of people to volunteer, especially in a time of crisis that is impacting and disrupting so many of them.

The leaders have been remarkable and I continue to learn about leadership by working closely with them.

But even more remarkable is the large number of volunteers pitching in. Some are people I know while many are people I’ve met for the first time during the Covid crisis. The level, quality, and commitment of the work being produced is mindboggling. This seems to be true in both validating hypotheses and implementing stuff, as well as invalidating hypotheses and deciding not to continue to pursue a particular path any further.

I’ve written several things that have been rapidly implemented by volunteers in this crisis. Many direct benefits are wired into the local community, so there is a powerful feedback loop around feeling good about helping by actually helping.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the next few months, especially around the intersection of community with a complex system, which is the thesis at the core of my new book with Ian Hathaway called The Startup Community Way. I never expected to be living what I just spent three years with Ian coming up with and writing a book about.

To all the volunteers in Colorado that I am getting to work with right now, thank you for everything you are doing during this Covid crisis.

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Apr 9 2020

Understanding Social Distancing

While many people are taking social distancing seriously, there are plenty who are not.

I’m hearing regular stories of packed public parks, too many people on trails, lots of people crowded into Home Depot picking up home repair things, and strange parties that I can only rationalize as civil disobedience gone awry.

While it’s tough to stay home all the time, wear a mask in public, and keep a real physical distance from anyone outside your home, it’s really important right now. A large number of people on the front lines are literally risking their lives and working incredibly hard to get ahead of the health impacts of this disease. Simultaneously, a correspondingly large number of people, both in government, private industry, and volunteers, are working behind the scenes to get to whatever “the new normal” is going to be in our society.

Please be safe and healthy. Take social distancing seriously.

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Apr 8 2020

HumanKind: CU Boulder Helping with the Covid Crisis

For over a decade, I’ve worked closely on a number of entrepreneurial initiatives with my friend Brad Bernthal, an Associate Professor at Colorado Law and the Silicon Flatirons Center.  The past few weeks unexpectedly resulted in a new project with Brad B. and CU’s entrepreneurial community.

On March 19, Bart Temme, and entrepreneur in Holland, reached out to me and Brad B. The next day we jumped on a call. Bart shared notes about how the startup community in his area of Holland mobilized in response to COVID-19. Bart provided grim notes about the reality of the contagion and the needs of their area. Yet Bart also spoke about the possibilities for entrepreneurial networks, accustomed to taking action and helping each other, to make an impact.

On that call, we hatched an idea to harness the power of university students. The vision: match an army of student age volunteers to COVID-19 response needs. Brad B. agreed to see if our university entrepreneurial network would build out this effort. 

In just two weeks, they created something powerful. I encourage you to read the update from Brad B. about HumanKind below and, if interested, get involved.


FROM BRAD BERNTHAL

I’ve been humbled to join a team that, over the past two weeks, built and launched HumanKind, a program to mobilize university students to help during the COVID-19 crisis. The platform bridges the gap between community needs and university-age volunteers.

To make this happen, volunteers jumped in from all corners of the campus – and beyond – over the past two weeks. A core team of about 20 volunteers – students, staff, and faculty –  divvied up roles, joined Zoom meetings, and even pulled me into the Slack universe (I think I was the last holdout).

HumanKind just went live last night. A two-minute explainer video (created by my 8th grade daughter, Quinn, who got involved in the effort) summarizes what we’re up to.

HumanKind is a matchmaking platform between (1) university students, and (2) individuals and organizations in the community who need help. Areas in which HumanKind hopes to drive volunteer efforts include (i) remote social interaction with isolated elderly populations, (ii) support to front line medical providers (potentially things like dog walking and remote tutoring for their kids), and (iii) connection to existing networks that would welcome university student help.

We intentionally created HumanKind to be inclusive. We welcome university-age students who go to school out of state, but are now back at home in Colorado during the crisis, to join the effort. We also welcome the use of HumanKind at other universities throughout Colorado. We’ve branded this in a way that, hopefully, feels like student and entrepreneurial leaders at other schools can make use of the platform.

We’d now love to have the startup community push to (1) inspire university-age students in Colorado to join the COVID-19 response, and (2) identify organizations and networks that need university-age volunteers. Here are actions that you can take:  

  • If you are a university-age student in Colorado, and you’d like to raise your hand to get involved, please register here.
  • If you have an organization or network looking for university-age volunteer help to serve community needs, please reach out here.
  • If you are a small business seeking help navigating the COVID crisis, please see available resources here.
  • If you would like to use HumanKind to drive university-age volunteers at your university or college in Colorado, please reach out to me.

I’ve always wanted to build new things as part of a startup. I did not expect the chance to create something new to come under these circumstances. I have been inspired, and humbled, to see volunteers on our team use their entrepreneurial tools in the service of COVID-19 response impact. Across campus, we teach the value of entrepreneurial skills and mindsets. It is now amazing to put these skills to work at the most important of times. I am optimistic that this platform could make a real impact over the coming months.

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Apr 8 2020

SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Estimator

Unsurprisingly, numerous SBA PPP Loan calculators have appeared on the web. Many of them are tied to a specific bank and have various complexity (or simplicity) in determining the amounts available. We’ve tried a few of them for comparison and found the calculations to be inconsistent.

So, we created our own and validated it with a number of accountants and lawyers. As the rules changed (and they continue to change), we updated it so we believe that it is current as of 4/8/20.

I’m going to refer to it as the Mostly Simple, Super Clear, SBA PPP Loan Estimator. It’s a Google Sheet, so if you want to use it, just click the link above, make a copy, and do whatever you want with it.

Please note the Disclaimer: this simplified model is meant to provide a quick, rough estimate the size of potential PPP loans and forgiveness amounts for planning purposes. Actual loan and forgiveness amounts will be determined by your bank based on federal law, regulations and bank implementation policies. Please consult your bank’s calculator and program paperwork to determine actual loan and forgiveness amounts.

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Apr 8 2020

Thoughts For VC Backed Companies Considering SBA/PPP Loans

My partner Seth Levine recently put up an extremely thoughtful post titled SBA PPP Loans Aren’t for Everyone. Go read it now – I’ll be here when you get back.

Seth references two other posts to read and consider. The first is by Albert Wenger at USV titled VC Backed Startups and PPP: Do You Really Need It? The other is an OpEd for CNBC written by Seth and Elizabeth Macbride titled Stampede for emergency loans is crushing lenders, putting millions of small businesses at risk. Here are steps to fix the system.

The complexity around both the PPP loans and the implementation of them is staggering. I can’t begin to estimate the number of hours spent collectivity just across our portfolio on trying to decode the rules, figure out how to comply, decide on a company by company basis if they should apply, and work through all the legal dynamics around them. On top of that, the mismatch between the expectations of dollars flowing quickly to the reality of the application process is dramatic.

We believe that many VC-backed companies will look at their businesses and determine that there is a clear and real need for the funds offered through PPP. But we’re encouraging all of the companies in our portfolio to pause and consider whether they truly qualify for the program and whether their participation in the program will save jobs and result in their business being less threatened by the crisis.

We understand that there will be many companies that fall into a grey area, have no way of predicting how serious the economic downturn will be, and how much it will impact their business. Hard calls will need to be made but we’re encouraging companies to make them with thought and compassion.

We sent the following email to all the CEOs in our portfolio last Friday. After discussing internally, we felt it was relevant to share publicly.


First of all, we can’t begin to tell you how impressed we’ve been with the leadership that you have all exhibited over these last several weeks. These are very challenging times both personally and professionally and these are the moments where true leadership is demonstrated. We sincerely thank you for the thoughtful and compassionate approach you have all taken during this crisis so far. 

We had over 70 participants on the CARES Act/SBA/PPP call last night and we’ve had countless one-on-one conversations on this topic with many of you over the last few days so we know there is a lot of anxiety around the application process at the moment. The high anxiety levels appear to come from a mix of excitement and uncertainty which is certainly understandable because both components are clearly at play here. Although we can’t immediately relieve the anxiety, we strongly encourage you to take a few deep breaths and step back for a moment of reflection.

As you reflect, we think it is important to start by asking yourself “Was this relief package created for my company?” We’ve heard many of you talk about how attractive the economics of the loan could be for your company. The term “free money” has been tossed around more than a few times. We’ve also heard plenty of excitement around how simple it could be to qualify in part because the qualification requirements are both broad and ambiguous. However, the reality is that receiving a loan for your business means it isn’t going to another business that might also deserve the money so receiving a SBA loan does come at a cost to the broader small business community. Given the already mentioned ambiguity, we can’t, unfortunately, rely purely on the letter of the law to make this qualification decision for us. We all have to apply our social conscience and good judgment to come to the right answer. From Foundry’s perspective, we believe PPP was designed to accomplish two things:

  • Save jobs
  • Stop businesses from failing that are gravely threatened by the current crisis

No doubt that all of our companies would benefit from more cash with attractive loan terms on the balance sheet so it isn’t surprising that the majority of you are considering applying for the loan. At the same time, we know that many of you have not eliminated jobs or have no immediate plans to eliminate jobs at the moment.  If you aren’t definitely planning to eliminate jobs, should you apply? Will your business likely fail without this loan?  

As the application process is currently written, you (and perhaps your affiliates) will have to certify “Current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the applicant.” This statement is highly ambiguous and could be interpreted in numerous ways. We’re sure most of you could easily rationalize this statement to be true. At the same time, providing false information in this application is a federal crime that includes jail time. In addition to your social conscience, you should have real conviction and certainty that you qualify in your own hearts and minds. 

If you have a strong balance sheet, have recently raised money, or have some certainty around a near-term capital raise, we think you should reconsider applying.  Although things are chaotic at the moment and it might be possible to take advantage of a lack of controls in the system, that doesn’t mean we should necessarily do so.  Imagine for a moment that three years from now, the WSJ or FBI does a deep forensic analysis on the small businesses that received loans during the crisis. Would you feel good about the details of your situation being revealed in that process?

You are all proven leaders who have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to take a thoughtful and compassionate approach to decision making.  While we all sort through the details and logistics of the loan application process, we encourage you to take a step back and remember to consider the big picture.

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Apr 4 2020

Please Wear a DIY Cloth Mask in Public

The CDC finally issued guidance to Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19. If you go out in public, please wear a “Cloth Face Covering.”

I’m using every ounce of energy that I have to avoid talking about the politics of any of this. Rather, I’m focusing on actionable things with clear reasoning for them.

Before I explain why this is so important, here are two websites that clarify the types of face coverings I’m talking about. Specifically, these are homemade (or DIY) cloth face coverings.

CDC: Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19

Colorado Mask Project: Provide all Coloradans with DIY masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

You do not need an N95 mask. You do not need a surgical mask. You do not need a mask you buy in the store. You just need a cloth face covering that you can make yourself at home.

There has been endless discussion about the efficacy of masks in general, and more specifically for “the public.” There are plenty of recent credible discussions about this from sources like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Would everyone wearing face masks help us slow the pandemic?). Feel free to wade through all that stuff, but here’s the punch line.

The Main Benefit: If you are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, you can spread the virus to healthy people. This means that even if you don’t have symptoms, you are sick and can spread the virus to others. When you are wearing a mask, it helps prevent you from spreading the virus to others. The virus spreads through droplets coming from your mouth and nose. If your mouth and nose are covered, the cloth mask catches the droplets when you sneeze, cough, breathe, and talk.

Secondary Benefit: We touch our faces thousands of times a day. The virus lives on surfaces for a long time (possibly up to 72 hours) and in the air for an indeterminate amount of time. We are constantly touching things the virus settles on. Then, when we touch our face (especially our eyes, nose, or mouth), we infect ourselves. A mask lowers the propensity for us to touch our own face (it’s an interesting psychological phenomenon).

Tertiary (and unclear) Benefit: A debate rages on about whether a cloth mask acts as an effective physical barrier to breathing in the virus. If it does, with any level of efficacy, this is merely a bonus to the first two benefits.

I think the best paragraph from the Science article Would everyone wearing face masks help us slow the pandemic? is:

But the greatest benefit of masking the masses, Cowling and others argue, likely comes not from shielding the mouths of the healthy but from covering the mouths of people already infected. People who feel ill aren’t supposed to go out at all, but initial evidence suggests people without symptoms may also transmit the coronavirus without knowing they’re infected. Data from contact-tracing efforts—in which researchers monitor the health of people who recently interacted with someone confirmed to have an infection—suggest nearly half of SARS-CoV-2 transmissions occur before the infected person shows symptoms. And some seem to contract and clear the virus without ever feeling sick. 

Right now, you have no way to know if you are infected when you aren’t showing symptoms, and given that it’s springtime in the US many people will have allergies so it’s even harder to tell who is sick. Given the completely inadequate testing activities right now in the US, along with lack of contact tracing apps, effective isolation for people who are sick, and the overall challenge of getting everyone to actually stay at home, by wearing a mask in public, you are protecting other people from you in case you are infected.

Finally, please do not buy or use medical-grade masks. There is still a huge shortage of these in the health care system and it’s expected that the shortage will continue. You’ll hear phrases like “surgical masks” and “N95 masks.” You do not need to wear one of these – they are needed for our front line medical workers.

Instead, make your own mask. And wear it whenever you leave your house.

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Mar 31 2020

The Three Crises

While everyone I know feels the weight of being in the midst of the Covid crisis, we are actually dealing with the overlap of three linked crises. Understanding this, and putting it in historical context, has been helpful to me as I process real-time inputs and prioritize my activities.

The three crises are (1) a health crisis (Covid-19) that has generated a (2) financial crisis, each of which has generated massive societal disruption which will generate a (3) mental health crisis.

In addition, these are both localized (in a community), at a state level, a national level, and a global level.

Yeah – that’s a lot.

Very few people alive today have experienced a health crisis like Covid-19. The closest one that people seem to reference is the 1918 Spanish Flu. That was 102 years ago. Assuming that you have to be about 8 years old to even remember this, that puts the age of people alive who remember this at 110. There are only around 100 people alive on the planet today who are 110 or older.

I’m 54. The closest analogy I have to this is HIV / AIDS, which broke out when I was in college (I was an undergraduate from 1983 – 1987). I lived in Boston, one of the cities where HIV / AIDS was visible, and the social dynamics, politics, and stigma around it were front and center. I had several close friends with HIV and my fraternity big brother died of AIDS in 1990. Around 700,000 people have died of AIDS in the US since it emerged in the early 1980s, which is a large number. However, in contrast to Covid-19, it was a very slow-moving virus, so the experience has echoes for me, but it’s not equivalent.

I’ve been through multiple financial crises. I remember Black Monday in 1987 (I was running my first company – Feld Technologies – in Boston.) I was decimated in the collapse of the Internet bubble and had an extremely rough business experience from 2001 – 2006 (which I lovingly refer to as “The Grind”). We started Foundry Group and Techstars just prior to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 – 2009 and when I look back, was the moment in time our business world shifted from massive hierarchies to a different long term system that included networks, entrepreneurship, and the democratization of innovation. Oh, and the emergence of startup communities around the world.

I’ve been through many of my own mental health struggles and learned many things about how to manage my own issues, as well as being sensitive, empathetic, and understanding of others.

That said, we are in a moment when all three are colliding against a backdrop of fear, uncertainty, and isolation. Historical rules about things are being thrown away daily as we all try to adapt and adjust to an extremely fast-moving disease that is impacting every nook and cranny of our lives.

If your level of disorientation and anxiety feels extreme relative to what you’ve experienced, understand that we are – collectively as a society – trying to deal with three crises at the same time.

I’m involved in many things around this and am trying to help wherever I can. But, as several of my partners have reminded me, you have to take care of yourself first to be able to help anyone else. I’m fortunate to have Amy by my side, working hard also, but paying attention to what we both need to sustain our energy and focus through this.

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.

This rant was meant to be pragramatic, not alarmist. I’m fundamentally optimistic about humanity, and especially optimistic about the United States over the long-term. But, I believe acting aggressively and with urgency today, and having an expectation that this will last for a while, is a healthy way to approach all three of these crises.

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