Category: Entrepreneurship

Jun 6 2018

Interview: Have the Machines Taken Over?

I did a fun interview with Jeff Martin of Collective Genius as part of his LeadByChange interview series.

It’s 20 minutes on the Boulder Creek Path. We talk about Leadership, Obsession, Battlestar Galactica, Techstars, Privacy, The Wire, and a few other fun things, including whether the machines have taken over (or rather, when they took over.) Enjoy!

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May 31 2018

In The End She Was Vulnerable To Facts

I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup last week on my Q2 vacation. In my post talking about the various books I read, I wrote the following about it.

“Every entrepreneur and VC should read this book. John Carreyrou has done something important here. Maybe this book will finally put a nail in the phrase “fake it till you make it”, but I doubt it. The amount of lying, disingenuousness, blatant and unjustified self-promotion, and downright deceit that exists in entrepreneurship right now is at a local maximum. This always happens when entrepreneurship gets trendy. Carreyrou just wrote a long warning for entrepreneurs and VCs.”

This morning, Amy emailed me a link to an article by Matthew Herper titled Elizabeth Holmes’ Superpower. He strongly recommends Carreyrou’s book and talks about his coverage of Theranos and how he was snowed over the years, partly through his interactions directly with Holmes. In contrast, Holmes never talked to Carreyrou, leaving Herper to reflect:

“Holmes never did talk to Carreyrou, leaving her greatest weapon, her weird charisma, holstered. Now his portrayal of her, put together from other people’s recollections, will define her in the public memory, especially if the planned movie starring Jennifer Lawrence gets made. For those of us she did talk to, at least to me, the book presents a humbling puzzle. Why was what seems so visible now invisible when Holmes was in the room?”

While this is all complicated stuff, Herper’s self-reflection is helpful. At a meta-level, it’s just another example of the challenge of promotion vs. substance. Or, aspiration goals vs. what’s actually going on. Or fantasy vs. reality. Or what you hope to create being articulated as what you have created.

Entrepreneurship is incredibly difficult. Among other challenges a founder has is balancing the vision of what is being created compared to what exists today. At the very beginning of the journey, this is easy because it’s obvious that it is all aspirational. But, as things progress, the substance of what has been created so far starts to matter, especially as the founder needs to raise more money to continue to fund the aspiration goals.

The best founders that I’ve worked with combine a mix of their aspirational goals with a real grounding in the current reality of where the business is. They know that their aspirational goals are goals – not current reality. And they know that there isn’t a straight line to the goals. If they use their reality distortion field as a charismatic founder, it’s to motivate their team to build something, not deceive investors or customers into believing it has been built.

Because, after all, in the end, we are all vulnerable to facts.

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May 9 2018

Alex Iskold Startup Hacks

I’ve been friends with Alex Iskold for over a dozen years (I was an angel investor in GetGlue, which USV funded.)

Alex has been the Managing Director of Techstars NY for a number of years and I think he’s now run seven programs and built an impressive portfolio of around 80 companies.

I’m a huge Alex fan and love his writing. Recently, he put together a bunch of great blog posts on his site under a heading Startup Hacks. He has divided them into the following topics: Fundraising, Managing Investors, VC and Business Intros, Metrics and KPIs, Product and Marketing, Productivity, Founding Team, and Accelerator.

I’ve read them all. Some of my favorites include:

Alex – thanks for taking the time to write all of these! And, if you are a regular reader of this blog, I encourage you to go read all of Alex’s posts.

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May 4 2018

A Workshop for Colorado Food Entrepreneurs in Hotchkiss, CO – June 21 and 22

I’ve been investing in natural food related business for a while. I do this partly because I’m interested in what we eat, but mostly because I can’t make angel investments in tech companies anymore because of my Foundry Group fund agreements. And I enjoy making angel investments …

Boulder is the starting point for the natural foods industry, dating back to the founding of Celestial Seasonings in 1969. A year ago, the New York Times had a long article titled Foodies Know: Boulder Has Become a Hub for New Producers that explains why Boulder is so popular among natural foods companies. The number of food meetups and events in Boulder (including Startup Weekend Boulder Food + Tech) as well as events and initiatives all around the state of Colorado has reached a critical mass. Our friend, Kimbal Musk, who according the the New York Times Wants to Feed America, Silicon Valley-Style is based in Boulder (and, ahem, not Silicon Valley.)

I’m also excited about the startup activity outside of Boulder/Denver. My partner Seth and I have been actively involved in the creation of The Greater Colorado Venture Fund that launched earlier this year to support entrepreneurs in smaller communities in Colorado. I’ve been involved in Startup Colorado for almost a decade now and am proud of their emphasis on supporting entrepreneurship in all shapes and forms outside the Front Range.

An event in June brings these two dynamics together. If you are an entrepreneur or investor in a food related startup, ENGAGE Delta, Naturally Boulder, and Startup Colorado are bringing the foremost experts in the food industry from across the state to help go from recipes to products and products to profits. The event is 6/21-22 in Hotchkiss. I know Hotchkiss well as Amy has family there and I’ve spent many long weekends there. It’s a beautiful spot for an event like this.

You can RSVP to the event here and make sure to enjoy some good food for me.

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Apr 26 2018

Canada Is Going To Be The Next, Great, Entrepreneurial Tech Country

This article, Engineers Are Leaving Trump’s America for the Canadian Dream, stimulated a simple thought for me.

Canada has a huge, near-term competitive opportunity over to the US. 

I have a deeply held belief that US entrepreneurship has benefited extraordinarily over since World War II due to the desire of people from around the world to come to make their lives in the US. While this immigration philosophy started with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (and arguably before that with the European colonization of America), it transformed entrepreneurship, the US economy, and the US’s place in the world dramatically from the 1950s on.

While there are lots of issues around immigration, I believe the US’s relative permissiveness around, and openness to, people from other countries had a remarkably positive impact on the US. I wouldn’t be here other than the immigration of my great-grandparents (and my maternal grandfather) in the early 1900’s from Europe and Russia. While I feel deeply (and proudly) American, I know that my family has only been here for a few generations.

I’ve been aware of and engaged in issues around immigration for the last decade. When I saw this article yesterday, titled U.S. startup visa draws only 10 applicants as Trump throttles program, I thought to myself “duh.” I then read the article, which had a good punch line in the second paragraph.

“A big reason for the shortfall is that the year-old program has been constantly under assault since the election of President Donald Trump, whose agenda revolves around tightening immigration rules and dismantling Obama-era policies. The Homeland Security Department has twice delayed implementation of the program but agreed to leave the application process open after venture capitalists won a court challenge in December. No one has been granted a visa, and Homeland Security said last year that it’s working on a plan to kill the rule entirely.”

Yeah, well, I wouldn’t apply for one of those things either. After advocating for and working on the Startup Visa for almost a decade, it was powerful to end up with something at the end of 2016 (the International Entrepreneur Rule, which was the closest we’ve been to this) but disheartening to see the endless and continuous attack and attempt to undermine this by the current administration.

This is a gift to Canada around entrepreneurship, and I’ve already seen the impact of it in many places. The Toronto/Waterloo startup community is on fire. Many companies I’m involved in are exploring offices in Canada, especially Vancouver (for the Seattle folks) and Toronto (for the east coast folks) since it’s so difficult to get work visas in the US for employees. Other entrepreneurs from around the world are simply opting to start the company in Canada rather than the US because of all the uncertainty around visa status.

I’ve always liked Canada. There is a window in time where Canada has a massive strategic geographic advantage over the US. It’ll be interesting to look back in twenty years and see if the country capitalized on it.

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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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