It’s a gray and rainy early summer day in Cambridge. As I was walking home from dinner last night through Kendall Square, I had a thought as I passed the Otto Piene designed Galaxy Earth Sphere sculpture. “I will never be lost here.”
I lived in Cambridge for four years when I was an undergrad at MIT. I then lived in Boston for eight more years after moving across the river to downtown while running Feld Technologies. Twelve years as a young adult in one city will cement the place in one’s brain.
While I only lived in Cambridge for four years, the essence of it is woven into the fabric of me. I immediately think of Toscanini’s Ice Cream, a place I at which I ate chocolate ice cream at least four times a week for the better part of four years. Gus’s smile is imprinted on my brain as he hands over the cone with the evening treat in it. Or the greatest food of all for a 170 pound 20-year-old – a giant scoop of chocolate ice cream with hot fudge generously poured over it.
While Kendall Square is all grown up with gleaming glass buildings, as I peer down Main Street to Mass Ave, I can almost see Tosci’s to the right, across the street from the U-Haul place. And then I remember my first real office, at 875 Main Street.
On the drive from the airport, we passed Rogers Street, and I immediately thought of NetGenesis’s first office. The Lotus building loomed large, the Royal Sonesta Hotel was still there, and the zig from First Street to Third Street remained the same. Amy and I were starving so after we dropped our bags off at the hotel, we wandered over to Legal’s for some food
Tuesday I could be anywhere, as I’ll be holed up in my hotel room on an endless stream of conference calls. On Wednesday, Amy and I are spending the day at Wellesley College. I’ve got a fun dinner with old friends each night and will run a few bridge loops if I can shake the time zone fatigue tomorrow and Wednesday.
It feels very comfortable here. And I like that.
I spent the last month in Arizona. I missed Boulder and thought I might need a refresher on what it’s like.
Dave Jilk, my first business partner and one of my closest friends, wrote the following Ode to our Keystone house. For the poetry nerds out there, Dave informed me that this is a villanelle.
Recently, Amy and I decided to sell our Keystone House. We bought it a decade ago and have had a wonderful time with it. But, we’ve decided to spend the next 20 years in a different mountain town. Dave and his wife Maureen were frequent visitors and I recall many delightful Saturday mornings where I’d slowly wake up in the bedroom while listening to Amy and Dave discussing something from downstairs.
Dave – thanks for the Ode. It’s beautiful. And thanks for all the great times together in Keystone.
A structure, nothing more, where once we played:
Will memories we made there long endure?
The spirit of that house will never fade.
Four golden beasts, their role through years relayed,
Here welcomed family, friend, entrepreneur —
A structure, nothing more, where once we played.
Upstairs were puzzles solved and books displayed;
Below buzzed films or sports or Rock Band tour.
The spirit of that house will never fade.
Great field of snow, or sage, with hill and glade
Beside, two rocky peaks beyond, contour
A structure, nothing more, where once we played.
Each day we skied or hiked, or napped and stayed
Near fireplace communing themes obscure;
The spirit of that house will never fade.
O house at Keystone Ranch, be not dismayed
To cede this post, your history secure!
A structure, nothing more, where once we played,
The spirit of that house will never fade.
For some strange reason, I woke up thinking about one of my favorite things to discover in a book or an article. I know there’s deep meaning in the notion that it was the first think that floated up to my consciousness when I awoke this morning. Like any good zen koan, I’m going to let it roll around all day. In the mean time, I look forward to my digital sabbath on Saturday to put the thought into practice and just do nothing.
Several years ago I told Amy “no more three city days.” She reminded me this morning that yesterday was a three city day (Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles.) It was also a three board meeting day (Chorus, Mattermark, Nima), although Nima was a lovely dinner instead of a board meeting. And this trip has three California cities in it – San Francisco, Los Angeles (for the Upfront Summit, which is turning into one of my favorite annual work events), and then Santa Barbara for a TrackR board meeting.
As I got out of the shower, I realized I had slept in a very similar room at this hotel the week after my 50 mile race in April 2012. That was an uncomfortable shock, as I attribute a lot of physiological damage from that race as one of the root causes of the depression I ended up having in early 2013.
Which, reminded me of the first thing I thought of when I awoke today. Maybe the meaning of the koan is as simple as “Don’t forget to rest, grasshopper.”
I’m not a predictor so you won’t find me participating in the “best/worst of 2016” and “predictions for 2017” lists. But there is a trend that feels inevitable to me: “Startups everywhere.”
While Agent Smith was wrong, I don’t think I am. When the phrase “Startup Communities” started to become mainstream around 2012, I made the strong assertion that you could create a startup community in any city with at least 100,000 people. I used Boulder as a canonical example of it in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City and have been beating the drum about startups everywhere ever since.
While the meme that the only place to build a company is in Silicon Valley has softened, there’s still a strong belief that the best place to be if you are a first time entrepreneur is Silicon Valley. My argument is, and has never been, against Silicon Valley, but rather for the rest of the planet.
I saw three articles yesterday that reinforced the inevitability of startups everywhere.
- Millennial Innovators Are About to Leave Big Cities
- Here’s how small-town America is primed to beat Silicon Valley in innovation
- The Bright, Sustainable Future of Chicago’s Technology Ecosystem
When I reflect on where some of our investments are, they are in cities like Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Minneapolis, Boulder, Denver, Charlotte, Lexington, New York, and Boston. And then there’s Techstars which is now all over the world.
Sure – we have plenty of investments in Silicon Valley, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve asserted for a long time that Silicon Valley is a collection of startup communities, which includes San Francisco, Marin (the first board I was on – in 1994 – was for a company in San Rafael), Oakland, Redwood *, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park, and Sunnyvale. Or you can just call it San Francisco, Oakland, and the Peninsula. Or maybe toss SOMA in. Or, well, does it really matter?
As a bonus, I’ve been hearing Amazon referred to regularly by mainstream media (and some people in the tech world) as a Silicon Valley company. Having invested in and spent a lot of time in Seattle over the last 30 years, I smirk whenever I hear this. I love seeing articles like How Amazon innovates in ways that Google and Apple can’t which should prompt entrepreneurs to Think Different (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
As a bonus, I leave you with Amazon’s patent for a flying warehouse.
While Silicon Valley is an amazing thing, if you are in the rest of the world, you are in a special and interesting place. Don’t lose sight of that.
I’m sitting in a hotel room on the other side of the planet from where I’m usually hanging out. I just got back from a super run (4.5 miles in 45 minutes – nothing like sea level and flat to speed things up), am drinking some Mount Franklin bottled water, and reflecting on what was an intense month.
While I live a busy life, the pace ebbs and flows. The last 30 days were particularly busy, with a handful of deals (yeah – that’s foreshadowing for some announcements coming up), a final draft of the next version of Venture Deals (with Jas0n), lots of other typical stuff, and a colonoscopy. This would have been plenty except it was against the backdrop of the RNC and DNC circuses along with the amplification of what was already an emotionally complex presidential election cycle.
While I’ve had plenty of ups and downs, dealt with my share of failure, and struggled through emotionally difficult periods, I’m fundamentally an optimist. As I sit here in Adelaide, I feel incredibly fortunate to be alive in 2016. On Friday afternoon, I got in my car, made a bunch of phone calls on the drive from Keystone to DIA, got on a plane, took an Ambien, and woke up in Sydney. It’s not quite time travel, but it’s pretty fucking close.
As I was running on the river through downtown Adelaide, I mostly people watched as my mind wandered. There was a football game starting so there was a crowd at two segments of my loop. I could have been anywhere – I just happened to be here. It made me smile.
For a few weeks in July I fought with my emotions around the election. I vacillated from trying to ignore it to paying too much attention to it. I have clear opinions about it and a general ability to filter out the noise, but I found myself being drawn into it as though I was watching a slow motion multi-car pileup that never ends.
In the past few days, I came to terms with my emotions around everything. If you’ve read my last few posts, you can probably infer the internal conversation I’ve been having with myself. Fortunately, I spent the last week with Amy so I got a chance to work through some if it in conversations with her.
As I sit here getting ready for an interesting and stimulating week in Adelaide, I’m ready for August.
I thought this was outrageously brilliant. Thanks to Andrew Hyde for sending it to me.
For a long time I’ve ranted against naming your startup community “Silicon Whatever.” Instead, I believe every startup community already has a name. The Boulder startup community is called Boulder. The LA startup community is called LA. The Washington DC startup community is called Washington DC. The Seattle startup community is called Seattle. You get the idea.
I expect many people in the San Francisco startup community tire of being told they are in Silicon Valley, or maybe they enjoy the halo effect enough to overlook it.
Regardless, Christoph Sollich totally nails how to brand a startup community – in this case his home town of Berlin.
I woke up feeling subdued this morning. I didn’t know why but after talking to Amy I realized that the emotional impact on me of the horror in Nice is weighing on me. Amy described her connection to it to me – she’s been physically in the same spot that the tragedy happened – and even though we are far away, something very personal hit home about the whole thing.
We are long-time friends with Fred and Joanne Wilson. After my call with Amy, I did my daily news routine, which includes a few minutes in Feedly skimming all the blogs I subscribe to and reading the ones that catch my attention. Both Fred’s and Joanne’s did today.
I read Joanne’s post from yesterday titled Pledge 1% first. It perked me up a little and made me smile, as Pledge 1% is the evolution of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado which I co-founded in 2007. My partner Seth Levine took the lead a few years in and, with a few other people including Ryan Martens, the co-founder of Rally Software, have evolved our model into a national one. It makes me very happy to see it expanding to NYC in a significant way with Joanne supporting it. If you are in NYC and interested in learning more, attend the Pledge 1% Happy Hour on July 27th.
I then ended up on Fred’s blog. He wrote What Do You Do? What Do You Say? about Nice. In many of the recent attacks and violent situations I’ve felt emotional kinship to Fred. He’s written about things right away in words that are heartfelt and reflect my emotions. I’ve commented on the posts, supported the charities Fred has pointed out, such as the Fund for Nice, and occasionally written a post pointing at them. But I’ve definitely been more reserved about my emotions as it takes me at least a day or two to process them, and at that point the world has often moved on from the immediate aftermath of whatever happened.
Today I didn’t feel like waiting. Amy and I have a quiet weekend together and plan to have dinner with my parents and aunt Cindy/uncle Charlie on Saturday and then brunch with David and Jill Cohen on Sunday. These are all people we love deeply and we get to be with them in a very safe and comfortable context. I’m going for two long runs, will spend time finishing up the third edition of Venture Deals, and just being with my beloved.
Against the backdrop of this, the Nice events are extremely unsettling. Fred ended his post with a powerful introspection / call to action:
There is an epidemic in the world, a sickness that is spreading and afflicting more and more people. It is mental illness. We need to diagnose its cause and treat it. Until we do that, we will be facing more of these mornings. I think many of us are wondering what we can do to help with that. I certainly am.
I hear entrepreneurs use the word disruption on a daily basis and continuously hear the cliche change the world. In entrepreneurial circles, it’s clear to me that violence, hatred, and discrimination or whatever you want to label it is another category where we need to pay attention to disruption before it changes the world in ways we don’t want it to. Or that we need to change the world away from the themes that are starting to appear on a very regular basis. I don’t have answers, but I know I’ll have reflections this weekend.
I was at a Nima board meeting today and was asked by a new friend on the team about my link to Homer, Alaska. After a brief explanation, I said “McDonald’s made Homer famous around some Super Bowl by making a completely inappropriate TV ad there.” I couldn’t remember the year – I thought it was in the 1980s somewhere.
It was 1990. Google found it immediately. It’s hilarious, and completely inappropriate. This is where Amy and I live, some of the time.
And then after the game.
San Francisco destroyed Denver 55-10. Don’t ask me why I knew that.
I’m finally home after three solid weeks on the road which included Austin, Dallas, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. It’s delightful to sit in my green zebra chair in Amy’s upstairs office, with a cup of tea, the Diana Krall channel playing on Pandora, and just catch up on stuff.
The extra points from my trip was getting to spend some face time with close friends and family that I haven’t seen in a while. Amy joined me in LA and we had dinner with Fred and Joanne Wilson and then went art shopping with Fred on Sunday. I spent a weekend in Dallas with my parents and went to Dairy Queen for Blizzard’s three times with my dad (my mom tagged along and even had a Blizzard one night.) I had dinner with my Uncle Charlie, Aunt Cindy, Cousin Jon, and his son Jack. You get the picture – even though the travel was intense I got some time with humans I love and don’t get to smell as often as I’d like to.
At the end of the trip, I spent two days at the Upfront Summit in LA. This comes on the heals of Upfront managing director Mark Suster’s great post titled Embracing Your Community as a Strategy which I encourage you to read as it is magnificent.
I have a long relationship with LA. In my first company (Feld Technologies) my first large client was in LA (Bellflower Dental Group). While the company – a large 100 person dental practice – was based in Bellflower, the dentist that owned it lived in Mandeville Canyon and I usually stayed at his house when I was in LA (he was the step-father of a fraternity brother, which is how we got connected in the first place.) I drove a lot in LA and learned things like how the 10 connects to the 5 to the 605, or the 405 to the 605. I learned that if you left at the right time, each route was only 30 minutes, but if you left at the wrong time, it was over two hours. I heard about Wolfgang Puck before he was in airports everywhere. I enjoyed the non-meat dishes at Hamburger Heaven, went to The Palm when there was only one location, and hung out in Santa Monica before it was techie cool and the only thing around was Peter Norton.
Today, our current investments in LA include Oblong, Nix Hydra, and recently Two Bit Circus. In the last five years, there has been an explosion of startup activity in LA that continues to be exciting as the startup community grows and evolves. Mark and his gang at Upfront Ventures are in the middle of it and are having a huge positive impact on things.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve attended and hosted many VC annual meetings. I’m an investor in many early stage VC funds and, while I’m not a rigorous annual meeting attender, will go if one of the GPs asks me to. I always offer to be part of the content of whatever meeting / summit / dinner they do if it’s useful to them.
Since I was already in LA on Monday, I told Mark I’d stick around for the Summit if he thought it’d be useful to him and the team. He immediately programmed me into the content for Wednesday (LP/GP day) and Thursday (entrepreneur day). Mark also invited me to the Upfront annual meeting given (a) our Next strategy and (b) my new partner Lindel Eakman being a prior investor in Upfront when he was at UTIMCO.
The annual meeting was solid and consistent with high quality annual meetings. But the Summit on the follow two days was easily the best VC-driven summit that I’ve ever attended. The content was incredibly high quality, diverse, and stimulating. There was plenty of networking time organized around the content. The venues were awesome. The coordination and organization was first class. The attendee list was dynamite. My understanding is that Mark / Upfront are going to post the content online and I’d encourage you to watch many of the videos when this happens.
It being LA, the special bonus things I got to do, like the one pictured below, was about as good as it gets. Yes, Kevin Spacey is extremely smart, interesting, and extremely articulate – as I expected, but there’s nothing like getting to spend a few minutes with someone you admire (he’s always been one of my favorite actors), but have never met.
Mark, Greg, Stuart, and gang – thank you for including me in this. You are doing amazing things in the LA startup community.