Category: Entrepreneurship

Apr 4 2018

CU Boulder’s New Venture Challenge 10th Anniversary

Tonight, the New Venture Challenge at CU Boulder is having its 10th anniversary. It’s happening at the Boulder Theater from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm and is open to the public. Register here to attend if you are interested.

My partner Jason is leading the judging panel, which includes:

  • Abby Barlow, partner and director of Investment Research at Crestone Capital
  • Stephanie Copeland, former president of Zayo Group and current executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade
  • Anthony Shontz, managing director of Private Equity at Partners Group

Dan and Cindy Caruso and Amy and I contributed the prizes, which total $100,000.

A decade ago the creation of the NVC was inspired by the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. I was involved in the early years (1992 – 1996) as a judge and funded a number of companies that went through the MIT $100K (which was called the MIT $10K at the time.) The entire experience was foundational for me, both as an entrepreneur and an early angel investor (I started investing in 1994 after I sold my first company at the end of 1993.)

Over a decade ago, Brad Bernthal and Phil Weiser were putting real energy into Boulder Startup Community. I discuss their efforts, and impact, in my book Startup Communities (which was published in 2012). One of the things I suggested was doing something like the MIT $100K. I remember a longish discussion with Brad Bernthal and my partner Jason about the history of it and how it unfolded over the first decade.

Bernthal and Jason grabbed this and ran with it. A decade later, that discussion now seems like ancient history. But, for anyone who knows my rant about having a long-term view around startup communities (at least 20 years), we are now 10 years into the NVC journey. And, it has really hit its stride.

I’m excited about tonight’s event and am really looking forward to seeing the companies compete! I hope to see you there if you are in Boulder.

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Mar 8 2018

International Women’s Day #StartWithEight #MovingForward

Today is International Women’s Day (“IWD”) which dates back to 1909, although the UN did not start celebrating IWD annually until March 8, 1975.

With the current global movement for women’s rights and equality, IWD 2018 has spawned numerous initiatives including #PressForProgress and #TimeIsNow. While the hashtags vary, the common theme of 2018 is action. For many organizations, the goal is for these initiatives to launch on March 8th but continue throughout the year and beyond. At a minimum, IWD and the organizations and individuals celebrating it will spark action, continue existing conversations, and force new ones.

At Foundry Group, as part of our efforts to help build a more inclusive tech industry, we’ve joined two initiatives as part of IWD 2018: #StartWithEight and Project #MovingForward.

#StartWithEight addresses the gender disparity in venture capital funding by asking participants to commit to taking eight meetings with women from outside their existing networks during the month of March. The idea there is that “the dynamics will change when capital flows equally to any talented founder, no matter his or her gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic.” For many VCs, deal flow is extremely network driven and often our networks look a lot like us. At Foundry Group, we’ll do at least eight new meetings with women looking for funding who we’ve never met with before in the month of March.

Project #MovingForward is building an open-source directory that pools diversity, inclusion, and anti-harassment commitments from VCs. We (along with 35 other VC firms) shared information (now public on the site) on how we’re #MovingForward. At Foundry Group, in addition to adopting new policies, we’ve created a portal for internal and external stakeholders to report sexual harassment.

There’s a ton of work to be done to achieve gender equality and inclusivity in tech, but these action-oriented initiatives are a good start. I hope the momentum continues to build and we start to see some real change. K9’s Project #MovingForward submission really sums it up: “Actions speak louder than words.”

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Feb 26 2018

Interviewing Jerry Colonna About Heart – His!

If you are a regular listener of the Reboot Podcast, you’ve heard Jerry Colonna masterfully interview many people. And – if you aren’t a regular listener, go sign up and give it a try.

In Episode 78: When Did You Start to Listen to Your Heart, I turned the tables on Jerry and interviewed him. We’ve been close friends for 22 years and I felt like it was time someone interviewed him on his podcast. I suggested it to him and his team, who either rolled their eyes or jumped for joy. Either way, it is now up.

I listened to the final version during my run yesterday. I smiled a lot, snickered a little, and grimaced a few times. If you want a taste to entice you to listen, here are a few of the quotes from the show highlights that jumped out at me.

  • “What I’m trying to do right now is pull myself into the present and be really real.” – Jerry Colonna
  • “I have always given a shit about people.” – Jerry Colonna
  • “Things are fucked up all the time like every day, continually. You can either just react to it, or you can deal with it.” – Brad Feld
  • “I think that there are two things that I would get excited about as an investor. People and product.” – Jerry Colonna
  • “Better humans make better leaders.” – Jerry Colonna
  • “I don’t want to spend minutes with people who I don’t feel are good humans.” – Brad Feld
  • “Good people do shitty things all the time.” – Jerry Colonna
  • “If you’ve got that inquiry process and you remain curious about human beings, you can, with compassion, understand and therefore protect yourself from the bad things that even good people do.” – Jerry Colonna
  • “Men at 40 learn to close softly doors to rooms they will not be going back to.” – Jerry Colonna
  • “This idea that people are fundamentally willing to work on themselves and that they’re there for each other especially when there’s a struggle.” – Brad Feld
  • “When I’m dust and dried up, and I’m dead and whatever, please just keep paying it forward.” – Jerry Colonna

It’s all Jerry for an hour with a little bit of me nudging the discussion along. None of it is scripted. We didn’t discuss anything in advance. Just two guys, who have known each other, worked together, and have had a deep emotional intimacy together – for 22 years – talking about some things that come to mind about what they think matter.

If you are a reader instead of a podcast listener, the transcript for Reboot Podcast 78: When Did You Start to Listen to Your Heart is also available.

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Jan 15 2018

Colorado Startup Summer

Every entrepreneur starts her journey somewhere.

Colorado is a premier location for entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers. This is why I co-founded and commit a portion of my time to Startup Colorado; an organization that empowers and sustains startup communities across Colorado. One of the programs that Startup Colorado runs – called Startup Summer – cultivates and engages undergraduate entrepreneurs looking to get involved in the Front Range startup community.

Startup Summer is an immersive 10-week program that includes weekly seminars from local entrepreneurs who teach the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. The student entrepreneurs form teams and build companies while receiving coaching and mentorship from alums of the program and local entrepreneurs, culminating with a pitch competition. The program admits 50 student entrepreneurs from around the country, bringing together different backgrounds while exposing them to the Front Range startup ecosystem.

Startup Summer is now in its sixth year. All internships are paid. If you are interested or know a promising student who wants to take advantage of this opportunity, the application is here and closes on January 31st.

Oh, and if you’re a company in Boulder or Denver that wants to participate and host an intern, email me and we’ll see if we can fit you in this year.

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Nov 13 2017

Zebras Uniting at DazzleCon

Yesterday, I wrote about the upcoming CO Impact Days. In it, I pointed to a Medium post titled Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break, which turns out to be the Zebra Manifesto.

Per the manifesto, a Zebra (unlike Unicorns) are real:

  • Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the other.
  • Zebras are also mutualistic: by banding together in groups, they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in stronger collective output.
  • Zebra companies are built with peerless stamina and capital efficiency, as long as conditions allow them to survive.

Yesterday afternoon, I got a text from Mara Zepeda, one of the founders of the Zebra Movement and authors of the manifesto, saying that we should talk. We had a great discussion where I learned more about Zebras, the Zebra Movement, and the upcoming DazzleCon Conference in Portland this week. Over 200 Zebra founders, funders and friends from around the world are gathering to co-create the community of companies that are building the goods and services we need for the society we want.

Mara also pointed me at the article Can “Zebras” Fix What “Unicorns” Break? on The Long Now Foundation website, one of the sponsors of DazzleCon along with the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and several others.

Amy and I signed up to support the Zebra Movement and decided to also sponsor DazzleCon through our Anchor Point Foundation. I’m excited – and fascinated – with what Mara and her colleagues are doing as they extend the perspective and engagement around 21st century entrepreneurship well beyond Unicorns.

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Sep 24 2017

Emotional Lessons From the Collapse of the Internet Bubble

My friend Dave Jilk recently shared the following Robert Frost poem with me.

Lodged
by Robert Frost

The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.

That perfectly describes how 2001 felt to me.

We now have at least one generation of VCs and entrepreneurs who didn’t experience the collapse of the Internet bubble. Fred Wilson wrote a great post this morning titled Diversification (aka How To Survive A Crash). Fred does a great job of covering the financial dynamics around a crash.

But he didn’t really address the emotional dynamics.

In 2001, I was on the board of four public companies (and was co-chairman of two of them which I had been a co-founder of.) Sometime in the spring of 2000, all of them hit their peak stock price. By mid-2001 I think all of these were sub-$1 stocks and – if they weren’t – they would be soon.

The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’

I knew my work world was totally fucked. I was working as hard as I knew how to work, dealing with a steady stream of failures. Amy and I were in a better place than the one I talked about in the beginning of our book Startup Life where we almost split up, but everything was still very rough around the edges.

My moment of capitulation came sometime in the early summer of 2001. For months, I was going to bed each night with the thought “tomorrow will be better.” By summer, it was warmer, but one night, as I was crawling into bed, I realized that each day had been worse, and often much more punishing than the previous one. The cumulative impact of what by that point was over a year of an intense, downward spiral in every aspect of my work world, was undeniable.

Forget about the paper money, much of which had vaporized. I was just completely exhausted hoping that something would break my way.

They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.

That night, I changed my perspective. Instead of hoping the next day would be better, or easier, I went to bed thinking, “Fuck it – let’s see what the world will throw at me tomorrow…” If you’ve read my post from 2015 titled Something New Is Fucked Up In My World Every Day, you will recognize this philosophical shift.

I know how the flowers felt.

Eventually, it got better.

I wasn’t dead. Someday I will be, but I wasn’t then. The pelting eventual stopped. Lots of things I was working on were smote, but the sun came out and I kept at it.

Every successful entrepreneur I’ve ever met has stories like this. Every successful long-term VC has had these moments, sometimes for extended periods of time.

Just like Fred suggests you diversify financially, you should diversify emotionally. I have no idea how I would have survived this period without Amy. When I reflect on my relationship with Seth, Jason, and Ryan much of the intense loyalty between us was forged in the period during and after the debacle that was the collapse of the Internet bubble. Some of my lifelong friendships, with people like Len Fassler, Dave Jilk, Rajat Bhargava, Jenny Lawton, Will Herman, Ilana Katz, and Warren Katz were solidified by the intensity of this time frame.

Until that day in the summer of 2001, my emotional well-being was much too connected to my financial well-being. The day after, not so much …

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Sep 22 2017

Last Chance to Sign Up For The Fall 2017 Venture Deals Course

Kauffman Fellows and Techstars are running another cycle of the Venture Deals course with me and Jason Mendelson. Signups close tomorrow as the course runs from 9/24/17 – 11/13/17. The course is free to everyone.

The seven-week course, which is about five hours of work each week, has the following agenda.

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

Over 10,000 people have taken the course at this point. We’ve gotten universally strong positive reviews and have made plenty of new friends from people who have gone through the course and connected with us.

If you are interested in raising venture capital, I encourage you to sign up and take the course. I hope to see you online.

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Sep 21 2017

Seattle Screenings of For Here or To Go?

Amy and I have been big supporters of a movie about immigration called For Here or To Go?

With our friends at Boundless, we are sponsoring a week of screenings in Seattle. We are supplying a bunch of free tickets and – when they are used up – will still have a set of paid tickets available.

It’s playing at the Landmark Theaters Crest Cinema Center from Friday 9/22 to Wednesday 9/27. If the topic of immigration is important to you, this is a great, powerful, thought-provoking movie.

If you want to bring a big group or spend some time with Rishi, the creator of the movie, just email me.

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Sep 6 2017

My Early Entrepreneurial Heroes

I woke up from a dream about being in my early 20’s. It was a complicated one that included struggling to finish my graduate degree (yup – that’s clearly an anxiety dream) along with meeting with Bill Gates and trying to sell him my company (something that never happened but clearly has some fantasy element to it.)

As I was brushing my teeth, parts of the dream stuck with me, as some do. In my waking haze, I inhabited some of my memories from my early 20’s. The fantasy meeting with Bill Gates led to the Microsoft / Lotus battle for #1, which reminded me of several Lotus meetings I attended with my Uncle Charlie when I was in college and he was CIO for Frito-Lay (I can’t remember his exact title – I think it was something like VP MIS, but he was what we would call a CIO today). Mitch Kapor loomed large there and at MIT, even after he left Lotus and started On Technology.

I flashed to a meeting in my late 20’s with Dan Bricklin at a restaurant in the Boston suburbs where I met with him and the founding team of Trellis when I was considering joining them as president or CEO (I can’t remember what the title was going to be – but Dan and I were going to be partners.) This was during a phase after Feld Technologies when I was making lots of angel investments and considering being founding-CEO of a company for a year at a time and then hiring a CEO and becoming chairman. This led to a memory of meeting Lisa Underkoffler, the aunt of John Underkoffler (close friend and CEO of Oblong) in the kitchen of my fraternity. I think Lisa ran product for TK Solver, the product from Software Arts (Dan’s company) product that came out after VisiCalc was a monster hit (the first killer app for the Apple II.)

Lotus 1-2-3 was the killer app for the IBM PC, so there’s Mitch again. By this point, the dream was merely wisps as I thought about the early entrepreneurial heroes of mine. Steve Case then popped into my mind, and I remembered how central AOL was to my life at the time. The “bfeld” moniker that I use came from my AOL address, long before I was using it anywhere else.

Robert Merton’s On the Shoulders of Giants was a powerfully important book that I read in graduate school. As we fetishize today’s entrepreneurial heroes in the software industry, let us not forget that we are standing on the shoulders of many giants. Mine include Bill Gates, Mitch Kapor, Dan Bricklin, and Steve Case. There are many more, but these four shaped my entrepreneurial path and shone a bright light of inspiration that lit the way.

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Aug 28 2017

Effective Networking

Adam Grant has a superb essay in the New York Times this weekend titled Networking is Overrated.

I enjoy Adam’s writing immensely (his book Give and Take is a huge inspiration for my upcoming book #GiveFirst). Early in the essay, he has a strong lead in.

“It’s true that networking can help you accomplish great things. But this obscures the opposite truth: Accomplishing great things helps you develop a network.”

He finishes the essay with a great punch line.

“If you make great connections, they might advance your career. If you do great work, those connections will be easier to make. Let your insights and your outputs — not your business cards — do the talking.”

Now, great connections can result in special things. I’ve always believed in being open to random connections and for years I would do a random day once or twice a month, where I’d meet with anyone for 15 minutes. Some magnificent things have come out of this, including Techstars and my relationship with NCWIT. As I’ve gotten older, and more visible, it’s been harder to maintain any rhythm around random day, but it shifted to something else that’s congruent with what Adam is saying.

While I still try to respond to all of my emails, I now have very little available face time or phone time. So I allocate whatever is free to people who are doing interesting things. Instead of having random days, I have “react and spend time with people doing interesting things” days.

Remember, I’m an introvert. In Adam’s sequel to his NYT article titled To Build a Great Network, You Don’t Have to be a Great Networker (enjoyably / ironically on LinkedIn), he says:

“It’s possible to develop a network by becoming the kind of person who never eats alone, who wins friends and influences people. But introverts rejoice: there’s another way. You can become the kind of person who invests time in doing excellent work and sharing your knowledge with others.”

Get to work. Seriously – just go do some stuff. You’ll be amazed at what happens as a result.

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