Along with my partner Jason Mendelson and our friends Brad Bernthal (University of Colorado Law School) and Mike Platt (partner at Cooley LLP) we have launched a series of courses in conjunction with our portfolio company Sympoz on starting a company. This is a bidirectional experiment for us – we are helping Sympoz launch their new set of programs for startups and entrepreneurs while continuing to experiment with new forms of media around education on a topic we know well.
My class, How To Light a Spark & Set Your Startup on Fire, is FREE for a limited time. It’s aimed at someone either thinking about starting a business, or just getting going. It’s a casual format – these should be easy, inspiring lessons – each of the three segments is about 30 minutes long Following is the outline of the content.
- Identifying the Right Idea: Is It a Relevant Idea? Does It Solve a Specific Problem? Is It A New Idea? Reduce Unnecessary Complexity! Are Your Great?
- Identifying the Right Idea for You: Are You Obsessed? What Do You Know? Are You an Infection Machine? Are You Consumed?
- Picking the Right Time to Start: If Not Now, When? Risk vs. Reward. The Idea Is the Easy Part! Resources for Startups.
Jason, BradB, and Mike’s class is a subset of the class that Jason and BradB teach at the CU Boulder Law School which has consistently been one of the most popular law and business school classes around startups, raising money, and venture capital. In the Sympoz course, The Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Company, they build on our book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist to help you turn your idea into a company, who and how to partner with, how to raise money, and what to do with it when you get it. There’s plenty of practical advice for interacting with VCs during the financing process along with lots of tips about what can kill your startup before you get it off the ground. The four hour course costs $29.99.
Sympoz classes are perfect for busy people; you can watch the professionally produced, HD videos anytime, anywhere on the planet, from any Internet-connected device, as often as you want. The Sympoz learning platform seamlessly blends discussions into the class experience, enabling you to ask questions of, and participate in conversations with your class community, including your instructors.
Join us in class – and give us feedback on what you think about it.
We had our Foundry Group annual meeting yesterday. I enjoy our annual meetings – we get to spent a focused chunk of time with our investors. We have a straightforward meeting – a dinner for our advisory board the night before, drinks after for all LPs, our advisory board meeting first thing in the morning, and then the full meeting until lunch time. There’s no crazy party, no big events – just substance on our part and direct interactions with the investors supporting us. Our goal is simple – provide a clear update about what is going on in our funds, talk about what we are thinking about, and get direct feedback from our investors.
We spend the day before the meeting as a team putting the final touches on our presentation and reflecting on the previous year. We always talk about our key principles that we established when we started Foundry Group in 2007. One of these key principles is a “thematic investing approach.” An important part of our themes is that they are continuously evolving (if interested, we publish details on how we are currently thinking about themes on our Foundry Group website.) Our LPs understand this well and always like to hear how we are currently thinking about themes at our meeting.
On Tuesday, we realized that we have made several investments yesterday that have a concept in common – that of raving fans. I first thought of raving fans when I read Ken Blanchard’s book by the same name in 1993 when I was CEO of Feld Technologies (my first company). The message rang true for me then and still does today. The tl;dr version is “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better. Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create Raving Fans.”
Our investment in Sympoz (owners of Craftsy) is an example of a company built on raving fans. Craftsy is a community of people who love to make things – knitters, quilters, sewers, jewelers. If you know a knitter (I do – Amy is a fanatical knitter as is my mom Cecelia) you know that knitters are “raving fans of knitting.” We invested in Sympoz in our Distribution theme, but it has this special characteristic around its community that felt a little different to us.
We classify our investment in SideTour as “Other”. We say that we aren’t slaves to our themes – we’ll occasionally do something outside of a theme if we love the entrepreneurs and have a special connection to them. In the case of SideTour, they were one of our favorite companies in their TechStars New York class and we were infatuated with the types of experiences they were talking about providing in their marketplace. As we were talking about Sympoz (which is doing extraordinarily well) and SideTour, we realized that the “raving fans” concept applies to each of them.
I had a call yesterday with another entrepreneur running a company that we passed on the seed round. We all like the entrepreneur a lot, but the company didn’t feel like it fit in any of our themes and was too vertically oriented for us. The company is doing great and as we were talking about it a week or so ago we said “it feels a little like Sympoz, but has some characteristics of SideTour.” Yesterday, when I was talking to the entrepreneur, I realized it also was about a community of raving fans.
I love raving fans as the phrase for this theme since it sets an incredibly high bar of the dynamics of the people in the community these companies appeal to. These aren’t “vertical social networks” or “vertical exchange marketplaces” – there is something deeper going on in the relationship between the people and the company, and the people and community. And it’s something that is magically enabled by the current state of technology – mobile, video, real-time social – a bunch of things have come together than make this work.
Look for more on raving fans from us as it evolves. For now, you have a little bit of a window into how we think about themes.
Update – My partner Seth reminded me that our investment in CrowdTap (in our Adhesive theme) is all about helping brands interact with their raving fans, Todd Sawicki said “dude – how about Cheezburger” (in our Distribution theme) and Jeff Malek, the co-founder of BigDoor (in our Glue theme) said “ahem!” So it seems like we’ve got a lot companies involved in the construct of raving fans!
We recently invested in an exciting company called Sympoz. They are searching for a great head of marketing.
Sympoz, based in Denver, was founded in May 2010 by an experienced team. They are growing rapidly, generated over a million dollars in revenue in their first year, and are now looking for an experienced VP of Marketing to join the founders as an integral member of the executive team to lead all aspects of marketing.
If you are interested and think you fit, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.