Category: Entrepreneurship

Aug 31 2020

Endless Meaningless Words in Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital

I read On Truth and Untruth: Selected Writings by Nietzsche yesterday. It was chewy, but soaked me in an interesting set of ideas about what words mean, along with a bunch of stuff around the concept of truth.

I get a lot of inbound random email where I get asked a lot of questions, so I see lots of questions repeat or get asked in different ways. For example, I continually get asked some version of “How do I get a job as a VC” and point everyone at my partner Seth’s post How To Get a Job In Venture Capital.

This morning, as I was grinding through email, I saw a few questions that could be generally categorized as “Are we in a bubble?” There were different flavors, but if I summarized, it would be:

  • Is the public market in a bubble?
  • Is VC in a bubble?
  • Are SPACs a bubble?

Whenever I see the word bubble, the phrase “Bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble” comes into my mind, which I know is not how the Macbeth Song of the Witches goes, but that’s just how my brain works.

Oh – you want a brief interlude for the Song of the Witches? Ok – here it is.

Round about the cauldron go:
In the poisoned entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Sweated venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing.
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witch’s mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat; and slips of yew
Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

If you enjoyed that, now you know why I think of this phrase every time I hear the word bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

My answer to the bubble question is, “I have no idea, and I don’t care.” I’ve never tried to time the markets. I am not going to ever try to time the markets. Instead, I’m going to keep working on what I’m obsessed about and try to improve each thing regardless of the macro-dynamics.

I went looking for Baboon Blood on Amazon to make my charms firm and good. I didn’t find anything other than a song from Art Zoyd. I did, however, find (and buy) a Baboon Blood flask via a Google search.

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Jul 23 2020

The Goal Should Not Be The New Normal

For the last several months, I’ve heard or read the phrase “the new normal” 7,354 times. I’ve steadily grown tired of it and now I believe it is an invalid concept.

There is no new normal. We have move forward and get better.

Steve Case wrote a great OpEd recently titled There’s no going back to the pre-pandemic economy. Congress should respond accordingly.

This week, Congress will likely take up the next steps in the economic response to the covid-19 pandemic. If the package is like previous efforts, it will focus on trying to turn back the clock to February 2020: treating the economy as if it were Sleeping Beauty, merely needing to be awakened to be fully restored. This strategy is a mistake: Congress needs to stop solely backing efforts to restore the old economic reality and focus on how to develop a new one.

The Kauffman Foundation recently came out with a mission to Rebuild Better.

Comprised of more than 150 entrepreneurship advocates across the country, the Start Us Up coalition is working to elevate the voices of entrepreneurs so policymakers reverse decades of misplaced priorities that have made it far easier for big businesses to grow than for new businesses to start at all. Our goal is not just to restore the economy, but to rebuild better by ensuring all Americans — especially female, minority, immigrant, and rural entrepreneurs who have historically been marginalized by investors and lenders — can turn their ideas into businesses.

The goal should not be the new normal. The old normal didn’t work for many Americans. The old normal had incredible income inequity, racial inequity, gender inequity, and many other inequities. When I wrote that I’m Fast-Forwarding to 2025, I had this in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t articulate it.

Change is unpredictable, bumpy, impossible to predict, challenging, stressful, and non-linear. But, as humans, all of these things make us incredibly uncomfortable. Often, we want to go back to “the way things were” since that felt safe, or predictable, or even if we didn’t really like it, was at least something we understood.

Going back to the way we were, with some adjustments, is how I interpret the phrase “the new normal.” I don’t think it will work. I don’t think it’s desirable. I don’t think it’s progress.

So many of the leaders I respect like Steve Case and The Kauffman Foundation are being clear about this. They may use different words, but I feel completely aligned with their vision.

I have no interest in a new normal. I’m only interested in something much better across our society that what was the old normal.

I encourage leaders to embrace change. Embrace complexity. Embrace uncertainty. I certainly am.

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Feb 18 2020

Venture Deals Online Course – Spring 2020 Registration Is Open

We are running the Venture Deals Online Course again. Registration is now open and it runs from March 8, 2020 – May 1, 2020. It’s produced by Techstars and Kauffman Fellows.

We’ve run the course six times now and have had over 25,000 people take it.

It’s free, although it’s recommended that you have a copy of our book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. The 4th Edition is out with plenty of new and improved stuff.

The course runs for seven weeks with the following syllabus.

  • Week 1 – Introduction of key players/Form or join a team
  • Week 2 – Fundraising/Finding the Right VC
  • Week 3 – Capitalization Tables/Convertible Debt
  • Week 4 – Term Sheets: Economics & Control
  • Week 5 – Term Sheets Part Two
  • Week 6 – Negotiations
  • Week 7 – Letter of Intent/Getting Acquired

If you are interested, sign up now and tell your friends who are interested in venture deals.

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Feb 13 2020

The Challenge of Being an Excellent Board Member

When I started blogging in 2004, there weren’t many VC bloggers. I followed Fred Wilson and David Hornik’s lead and just started writing what was on my mind about, well, anything that was on my mind.

Today, VC content pieces are everywhere. I’ve become less interested in writing this kind of stuff so my blog has evolved into whatever is on my mind, but a lot less “VC stuff.”

Every now and then I come across a spectacular VC blog post (or article in Techcrunch, or one of the other places VCs now put their content pieces.) As I was procrastinating from what I was working on, I noticed an article titled Mike Volpi on the art of board membership.

It’s a spectacular article. Go read it now. I particularly like the topics he went after.

  • Nature of the relationship
  • The mirror
  • Context
  • Network
  • What happens in between
  • Availability and relevance
  • Delivering a message that can be heard

When I wrote Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors with Mahendra Ramsinghani, we tried to include constructive thoughts about how venture-backed boards work and how to improve them, along with plenty of examples. As I’ve been on some great, ok, and terrible boards (and have been an effective, mediocre, and ineffective board member), I find clear articles like Mike’s powerful as I reflect on how I act as a board member.

I ever get around to writing a 2nd Edition, I plan to reach out to Mike and see if I can include some of this. In the meantime, I leave you with his powerful, and well said ending.

Board membership is a privilege and a nuanced responsibility that can have a transformational impact on businesses. Sometimes investors, independents and entrepreneurs forget this. Entrepreneurs should expect a great deal from their boards — not as blind supporters but as true copilots. Likewise, board members should not view board membership as a list of icons on their LinkedIn profile, but as a subtle yet massively impactful role they play in the creation of great businesses. When these relationships function properly, the two parties become true partners in the entrepreneurial journey.

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Jan 9 2020

Present From The Head Of The Table

I’ve noticed a degradation in presentation styles when displaying slides on a screen. This is starting to become a pet peeve of mine, so feel free to ignore me or tell me to get over myself if you disagree with this advice.

Assume a conference room with a large screen TV (or two) on the wall at the “front” of the room. The conference table – often a long rectangle – has chairs along the side perpendicular to the TV. The classical “head of the table” is at the far end facing the TV.

Why in the world would the presenter sit anywhere other than in one of the chairs at the end of the table closest to the TV?

Assume the TV is just showing slides. Don’t you want everyone in the room looking at you and the slides?

Assume there is video conferencing. In most cases, the slides will dominate and the video conferencing participants will be in small windows on the screen anyway. And, when they are looking at their computer while you are presenting, they will mostly see the slides anyway.

The only time this doesn’t apply is when there isn’t a presentation. When you are trying to engage the people on the video conference in the room during the meeting, and there is nothing being presented on the screen, the pet peeve that I have doesn’t apply.

In the world of paper presentations with no video screens, it made sense for the presenter to sit in the middle of one of the long sides of the table to engage the whole room. But, when there is a screen with stuff on it, position yourself near the screen so the people in the room can look at you and the screen at the same time.

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Jan 7 2020

Frog in a Blender

The phrase “frog in a blender” was in my head all afternoon. Earlier in the day, one of my partners described a situation as the cliche-ish “boil a frog slowly” and I responded with “We’d all be better off if we just put the frog in a blender.”

That generated grimaces.

I couldn’t find any “Will it Blend” for frogs, but I found the next best thing – Pickled Pigs Feet.

It doesn’t have quite the same rhythm, but you get the idea. As I hummed the song I made up to the phrase “Frog in a Blender“, I figured there must be a real song named this. There is, it’s awful, and the lyrics are horrifying, but whatever. My song is much better.

As I was driving home, working on the second verse, I flashed to a conversation with a friend I had a few months ago.

He said, “How do you eat a shit sandwich”? I responded with “Gross – no idea.” He said, “Quickly.” After I chucked, he said, “Ben Horowitz told me that.” So, I’m going to attribute that one to Ben Horowitz, which fits nicely with some of his anecdotes about shit in his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

I like to be as deliberate as I can about decisions. I try to make them quickly, but with a reasonable amount of data and critical thinking. Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t. When I reflect on the things that have caused me the most pain, it’s when I let a shit sandwich sit in my refrigerator for a while, looking at it every day when I get a kombucha. Or, when I wake up one day and realize that I’m the frog that has been boiling slowly.

I wonder if eating a shit sandwich quickly is the same as putting a frog in a blender. Both are pretty awful, but it seems like the best approach is to get it over with quickly.

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Jan 3 2020

The Future Of Work Is Distributed

I’ve been a remote worker for 24 years. While I have an office in Boulder, I’m physically in my office for a small amount of time.

For many years, this was a function of travel. My investments have always been geographically distributed across the US and I spent the majority of my time between Monday and Friday on the road.

I learned how to work in hotel rooms, in other people’s offices, in conference rooms, at coffee shops, and in houses (mine and friends.) In 1995, at the dawn of the age of the commercial Internet, this involved landlines, answering machines, pagers, and fax machines. Today, my bet is that most 25-year-olds have never used one of these things.

In the past few years, there have been several high profile examples of scaled companies that have a completely distributed workforce. Automattic (WordPress) is my favorite, as it’s been organized that way by design from inception. Zapier is another one that has gotten a lot of press lately around its distributed workforce approach. In a moment of delicious self-reference, Zapier put up a blog post titled 25+ Fully Remote Companies That Let You Work From Anywhere.

Many companies in our portfolio have multiple locations and increasingly distributed workforces. There’s a profound difference between “two locations” and “distributed”, but they are part of a similar phenomenon where the constraint of the physical is lowered.

As I reflect on my own work patterns, they are less and less connected to any particular physical space. This doesn’t mean that physical spaces are eliminated from my life, but that my work isn’t actually dependent on any of them. As I type of my laptop, in a room at my house in Longmont, with Amy sitting next to me, it’s easy to see how my day is going to unroll with a shower, followed by a video conference, and then an in-person meeting with someone coming to spend some time with me.

When I look at my schedule next week, I’m in my office on Monday for my partner meeting, but there’s literally no other reason I need to be in my office next week. I have some in-person meetings, but if the weather is nice, they will be walks outside. Any of them could be video conferences instead of face to face meetings.

In the past five years, as I’ve limited my travel, I’ve gained back a lot of time not spent moving from point A to point B. When I’ve chosen to travel as I did recently on a multi-day trip to Seattle, I’ve been able to be deliberate about where I was and who I spent time with, and none of it required me having a physical space.

I continue to strongly believe that place matters for the development of sustainable startup communities. But, this is different than physical office spaces. I’m going to explore this more over the next year as I continue to embrace the lack of constraints around physical space in my world.

If you have good or bad experiences with distributed work, I’d love to hear them. I know there is an increasing number of technologies in use for helping manage organizations that are distributed – I’m interested in real stories of what works, vs. marketing hype. And, given that humans are intensely social creatures, I’d love to hear stories about how you maintain the appropriate level of physical interaction in a distributed workforce.

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Nov 13 2019

Laser Engraved Personalized Chocolates

I love chocolate. I love lasers. So it would be logical that I’d love chocolates that are engraved with personalized messages with lasers.

I met Jennifer, the founder of Noteworthy Chocolates, in Boston at the Authors & Innovators event. She handed me some chocolates engraved with “Authors & Innovators” we talked a while and she sent me a long story about how she figured out how to laser engrave chocolates.

A week later a special box of laser engraved chocolates arrived at my office for me and Amy.

They were clever and delicious. Jennifer won me over and I expect that laser engraved chocolates will be on my gift rotation (for gifts I give my friends) in the future.

If you like chocolates and lasers and want to give some customized laser engraved chocolate gifts for the holidays, Noteworthy Chocolates has you covered.

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Oct 28 2019

Pandere Shoes, Anchorage Startups, and Techstars

Pandere Shoes is an Alaskan founded and women-owned startup that creates expandable footwear that accommodates a host of conditions such as edema, diabetes, and neuropathy. 

I met the co-founder Laura Oden when I was in Anchorage last month to speak at the Accelerate Alaska event. She came up to me after I gave my talk and told me that her company wouldn’t exist without Startup Weekend and Techstars.

While that caused a big smile to cross my face, I asked her to tell me more. She described how she met her founders at Techstars Startup Weekend in 2016.

Laura struggled for 40 years to find shoes to accommodate her lymphedema which caused one foot to be chronically swollen. Off the rack shoes only fit one foot and she needed a shoe that would expand to accommodate her swollen foot. Over time, the team realized that millions of people all over the world were struggling with a similar problem.

This was the idea she brought to the Startup Weekend. At the end of the 54-hour event, Pandere won the top slot and the company was born. The event fostered confidence that buoyed the team through enough contest wins to develop a prototype.

When you think of Alaska, you probably do not think of it as a popular location for producing shoes. The founders loved where they lived and put together a support team of shoe experts and designers in Boston, France, and Portugal. They were able to obtain early capital from prize winnings, along with mentorship from fellow entrepreneurs and investors. While Alaska is not a shoe capital, it is now headquarters to a shoe company addressing a global problem.

Pandere launched publicly on Nov 2018 and has produced five unique styles that accommodate wide and extra widths for men and women who cannot fit into traditional footwear, with more styles to come. Their shoes are made in Portugal. Every shoe sale generates a donation to the Lymphatic Research and Education Network (LE&RN). 

When I got back to the hotel at the end of the day I bought a pair of Pandere Saturday Shoes to give them a try. I have wide feet and they are often annoyed with me from all the running I do. The Pandere’s are wonderfully comfortable and have replaced my OluKai’s, which replaced my Allbirds, which replaced my Vans as my daily kicks.

The team at Pandere continues to #givefirst by giving back into the ecosystem that fed them. They have stayed involved in the community by volunteering as coaches, hosting dinners, and offering advice to budding entrepreneurs.

And hopefully, I’m helping them out a little by highlighting them here. I love origin stories that link to Techstars, and this one combines Techstars, Alaska, women-entrepreneurs, and shoes that I’m loving.

Give them a try at the Pandere Shoes online store.

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Oct 10 2019

JOMO – The Joy of Missing Out

Recently, I discovered a neat new acronym, JOMO, which stands for the “Joy Of Missing Out.”

While FOMO is an endless part of all things technology, entrepreneurship, and investing, I’ve actively tried to ignore and avoid FOMO across all dimensions of my life. On balance, I’m more successful than not on this dimension, but it’s an endless challenge.

I find it entertaining to turn FOMO upside down, backward, and inside out and actively experience JOMO instead.

When I’m depressed, I describe the feeling as “the complete absence of joy.” In general, I self-identify as a “joyful” person. I smile, a laugh, I’m entertained, I’m playful, and I’m generally happy. Even whenever I’m under incredible stress, I still feel, at my core, joyful.

When I think about missing out on things, my joy meter goes to 10. One of my favorite things in the world is reading on a couch in the same room as Amy. For hours. And hours. Or running, alone in the mountains, for hours. Or sitting in front of my computer and writing. For hours. And on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, if I can get in a 90-minute nap, that’s extra joyful.

When I’m doing these things, I’m missing out on a lot of other stuff. And that’s just fine with me since I’m getting enormous joy from the things I’m doing.

I realize that by this description I’ve made JOMO apply to me. I imagine others can apply JOMO in many different ways, depending on what they do that brings them joy. Ponder this for a while.

Not surprisingly, there’s a book on JOMO titled The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World. As is my way, I’ve bought a copy, if only to support the author, but I expect I’ll read it soonish.

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