Jun 28 2019

Did Abraham Lincoln Invent Pancakes?

I love weird Internet memes.

Recently, I plumbed the depths of this one with my friend Quinn. Go to your Google browser and type “did ab” and see what comes up for you.

If it’s “Did Abraham Lincoln Invent Pancakes” then the Internet is working as expected.

Of course, our next move was to go see if there was a website at https://didabrahamlincolninventpancakes.com/. A week ago there wasn’t, but there is one there now. Bwahahahahahahaha.

Did Abraham Lincoln Invent Pancakes? is now a permanent part of the web. I wonder what Google is going to do with it now?

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Jun 27 2019

The Chernobyl Podcast

When I wrote the post Every Lie We Tell Incurs a Debt to the Truth I expected to get some feedback. I got more than I usually do (mostly by email vs. blog comments) and much of it was thoughtful.

One person pointed to the video I embedded, which I thought was great. It’s an extensive explanation of things in HBO’s Chernobyl that were either simply wrong or exaggerated. The video is entertaining as well as substantive, so it’s a good addition to the content from the show.

Separately, I listened to The Chernobyl Podcast on my drive up to Aspen about two weeks ago. If you watched the HBO Chernobyl docudrama, the accompanying podcast is a must listen. Peter Sagal (host of NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!) interviews Craig Mazin (Chernobyl Series Creator and Executive Producer.) Peter is an awesome host and he pulls out a ton of interesting, useful, and curious information from Craig.

Next up for me is reading Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster which is near the top of my pile of infinite books to read (right after I finish Black Crouch’s Recursion.)

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Jun 26 2019

A Short Recent History of the Colorado Startup Community

Colorado Public Television takes an in-depth look at Colorado’s thriving startup scene in its new 5-part season called Street Level Startups.

The first episode, which is above, includes me and Jared Polis reflecting on some fun Techstars founding history, Dan Caruso talking about Zayo and the bridge between Boulder / Denver, and a great segment at the end with Brad Bernthal talking about fundraising and #GiveFirst. And, plenty of other stuff.

It was fun to watch a bunch of the old video from the last dozen years in one place. I love living and working here.

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Jun 25 2019

Boulder Community Health Takes On The Mental Health Stigma

This first appeared in the Boulder Community Health Foundation Summer 2019 Magazine in an article titled Taking On The Mental Health Stigma.

I started the second week of 2013 in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show. Within two hours of arriving, I was in my hotel room, the shade closed, the door locked, and in bed with a pillow over my head. I couldn’t deal with anything at all. Having been here before, I knew I was in a deep depression.

From all external perspectives, my life was going great. I was healthy, my business (Foundry Group) was successful, I had an excellent marriage to Amy Batchelor, was surrounded by numerous friends, and I got to live in Boulder, Colorado. But I was physiologically exhausted from 2012. I’d run an ultra-marathon in the spring that I never recovered from, had a near-death bike accident, and squeezed a marathon in October when I had no business running one. I was on the road 75% of the time, working constantly, dealing with the explosive growth of several of our investments while struggling through the challenges at others while writing two books. Ending up with a kidney stone in November that required surgery and a month of rest should have been the warning I needed to slow it all down and take care of myself.

I’m fortunate that my wife, business partners, family, and friends are helpful to me when I’m depressed. I’m in a privileged position of having the financial resources to do whatever I need to do. I have a job that provides me a lot of flexibility. And I’m no longer afraid of being depressed or ashamed of being public about my struggles with depression and anxiety.

I had my first major depressive episode in my mid-20s. While I probably had been depressed prior to that, I never really processed it as depression. I was one of those kids who was successful at almost everything I tried, loved by my parents, and comfortable growing up. One day I found myself in the middle of a divorce, being kicked out of a Ph.D. program, and bored of my work at my first company, even though it was successful. I was lucky to have a Ph.D. advisor who was able to recommend a psychiatrist to me. I was quickly diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and again lucky to have a psychiatrist who was able to combine CBT and medication to help me overcome OCD while providing a safe space for me to explore my underlying anxiety disorder and the root causes of it.

At the time, I was incredibly ashamed of everything around my depression. I was ashamed that I was depressed. I hated that I took medicine. I was terrified that someone would find out that I was going to a psychiatrist. I was afraid to tell anyone I worked with, other than my business partner, that I was depressed. I thought CEOs and leaders had to be strong and show no weakness.

Again, I was lucky. My business partner Dave was supportive, even when he didn’t really know what to do. My new girlfriend (now my wife) Amy didn’t view me like a broken toy she needed to fix but rather acknowledged that I was going through a difficult time as we began our relationship. I had several friends and family members who showed up for me.

During my 2013 depressive episode, I blogged openly about my struggles and what I did. Since I was no longer ashamed of being depressed, I thought it might be helpful to talk about things. I had a large audience of readers and quickly ended up interviewed by a number of national business publications, including Inc. and Fortune. Several high-profile entrepreneurs had recently committed suicide and mental health was starting to be talked about in entrepreneurial circles, so I became a visible example of a successful entrepreneur who struggled with depression but was willing to discuss it.

The combination of these experiences and my liberation from my shame surrounding depression helped me realize how pernicious the stigma around depression is in our society. I ended up talking with hundreds of entrepreneurs about their own experience with mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and mania. In many cases, I was the first person, including family members, that they had ever discussed their struggles with.

I decided that part of my mission on this planet would be to help destigmatize the issues surrounding mental health. I won’t be done with this until we have achieved parity between prioritizing mental and physical health. Instead of being a stigmatized health issue, we need to talk about and treat mental health as we would any other physical health challenge. Cancer used to be a death sentence; now many cancers are treatable. Smallpox and polio were deeply misunderstood and mistreated; now they are largely eradicated. Diabetes, once a mysterious and crippling disease, is well understood and easily treated in most cases. Destigmatizing mental health issues and removing the barriers to care are critical to addressing and treating mental health diseases.

I’m incredibly moved by the community’s support of the Bolder Community Health initiative to expand critical mental health services. When Amy and I first heard about the effort to raise money for what is now the Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion, we immediately committed to getting involved. We are honored to be able to provide funding in support of the medical pavilion and for the establishment of the Anchor Point Mental Health Endowment and I’m thankful that my partners at Foundry Group have also provided a significant gift through our Pledge1% Fund.

Most importantly, I’m proud of everyone in our community who has supported this initiative, both functionally and financially. We are a special community at the forefront of many things in our society. Providing excellent care for people suffering and taking action to destigmatize mental health issues are important steps that we are pursuing in Boulder. Thank you to everyone who is helping us find our voice around this issue, elevate the conversation, and help destigmatize mental health.

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Jun 24 2019

Book: Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up

Jerry Colonna has written a “must read for everyone on planet earth book” titled Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up.

Seriously, go buy it right now. I’ll be here when you return.

Regular readers of this blog know that Jerry and I are extremely close friends and have been for 23 years. I first met Jerry when he was beginning his partnership with Fred Wilson at Flatiron Partners. But, I didn’t meet him through Fred. I met him through NetGenesis, a company I was chairman of at the time that had been started by Rajat Bhargava (who we still work with as CEO of JumpCloud), Matt Cutler (who we still work with as CEO of Blocknative). I won’t repeat the story of Brad, Jerry, eShare, and NetGenesis, but it makes me incredibly happy to reflect on 23 years of friendship, which nicely lines up with my 23 official years of marriage to Amy.

If you want to get a feel for Jerry, listen to one of my favorite Reboot podcasts, where we flip the script and I interview Jerry.

Jerry has been on the road promoting the book the past few weeks. Dip into a few of the podcasts and interviews or get a taste on the CNN interview that he did.

Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up is extraordinary. It’s 100% Jerry, on every page, and is the book he was put on this planet to write.

If you are an entrepreneur, investor, leader, or human being, do yourself a favor and read Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. I’m serious – it will change how you think about yourself, leadership, and life.

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Jun 21 2019

29/26/23 Anniversary

Amy and I are celebrating our 29/26/23rd anniversary today.

It’s the summer solstice, which is a special day for us.

29 years ago we officially started dating.

26 years ago we declared ourselves married (and eloped.)

23 years ago we signed an official piece of paper that was witnessed at the Boulder County Clerk’s Office because it was a pain in the ass to not be officially married.

When I reflect on the last 29 years of my life, it’s been a remarkable experience to get to share it with Amy. When we started dating, I was 24 years old. I lived in Boston. I was running my first company. I lived in a 24,000 cubic foot loft. I was struggling through a divorce, a failed Ph.D. experience, and a very stressful software consulting company, that, while performing well, consumed 100 hours a week of me.

As I sit typing this at age 53, at our place in Aspen, after dropping Amy off for the day at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the last 29 years have taken us to a place neither of us anticipated, planned, or expected.

For me, that’s the beauty of this relationship. I’m fortunate to have a number of very close friends who I have deep emotional intimacy with. But I only have one person who, as Amy likes to say, “shares certain things” with me, which includes a depth of love, trust, intimacy, curiosity, frankness, truth, emotion, and joy.

Amy – you are my beloved. Thank you for sharing the journey on this planet with me. I look forward to at least doubling all of those numbers in the title of this post with you.

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Jun 20 2019

We Make the Future We Invest In

Over the past few years, you’ve seen me write about Glowforge, the 3D laser printer that made history with their crowdfunding campaign back in 2015.

Glowforge launched that very campaign at a jam-packed World New York Maker Faire, where folks lined up for hours to get a glimpse at the shiny new machine. Over the next 30 days, they sold $28 million worth of pre-orders to an insatiable crowd of makers.

More recently, Glowforge was named Make magazine’s 2019 Editor’s Choice for a laser cutter. Their thousands of makers have already printed more than 3,000,000 amazing creations. And as a company, they have seen sales triple in just the last year.

So it was sobering when, last week, Maker Faire / Make Media closed their doors for good. In interviews, Make founder Dale Dougherty explains that the company wasn’t interesting to investors anymore, and that, frustratingly, it was failing as a business, but thriving as a mission.

As an investor in many businesses whose founders and customers count themselves among this maker movement, this gives me pause. I see the demise of Maker Faire and I know that an astounding 97% of seed or crowdfunded consumer hardware companies meet the same fate.

But I’m compelled now more than ever to invest in the maker movement, and I hope you’ll join me.

And in fact, now is a perfect time. This week is the kick-off to the National Week of Making, June 21-28. In 2014, the White House launched the Nation of Makers to “empower students and adults to create, innovate, tinker and make their ideas and solutions into reality.”

This is exactly why we continue to invest in new technologies that are leading the maker movement and making it accessible to schools, homes, small businesses, and many enterprises that embrace new innovation and experimentation. Companies like Glowforge, Formlabs, Sphero, littleBits, Modular Robotics, and others in our portfolio are the companies who are helping to drive this movement forward.

The team at Glowforge created an offer this week so that you could celebrate the Week of Making with us. This discount code is good for a $500 discount off a Glowforge Pro, $250 off a Glowforge Plus, and $100 off a Glowforge Basic.

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Jun 14 2019

Women Who Venture

I recently met Renata George through a referral from Katie Rae (MIT Engine CEO, previously Techstars Boston MD). Renata told me about a book she was working on called Women Who Venture and asked me if I’d write the foreword.

I was honored to be asked to do this. The foreword I wrote follows. The book is out and available now in hardcover and on the Kindle.

As an avid writer and reader, I feel that a book is a unique medium that serves a different purpose than the other written media that we consume regularly. A book can display a variety of perspectives at once, providing enough details on the subjects it explores, while giving us space to contemplate.

When Renata George told me she was going to write a book about Women Who Venture, featuring around a hundred female investors of different generations, I immediately said I’d be supportive. Renata told me that she wanted to do in-depth individual interviews, to both learn and explain the true state of affairs in the venture capital, while celebrating women who best reflect this industry.

The existing bias in the venture capital industry is multidimensional and implicates career challenges not only for women, but also for other underrepresented groups. Many of the investors interviewed for this book, offer advice and solutions to address this issue. Their ideas are bold, opinions are candid, and the narrative sometimes goes against what we are used to reading in popular media.

Having unconventional perspectives to consider is helpful in understanding what true diversity looks like. By being exposed to it, we can identify particular actions that each of us, male or female, can take to generate positive change. It’s the critical mass of all the tiny changes that we can each make daily, that will eventually change the perception, and reality, of diversity in venture capital.  

This book is an essential read for aspiring female venture investors who want to be inspired by the life stories of women who made it all the way to the top in venture capital. It is also a valuable resource for male investors interested in increasing diversity. Institutional investors can benefit from learning more about their investees, as well as find new general partners to consider investing in. Finally, entrepreneurs can benefit from the book by learning how the investors featured in it make investment decisions.

Fixing the diversity problem in venture capital will take a long time and require a continuous and steady pace of activities and changes. With Women Who Venture, Renata is helping us all along that journey.

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Jun 13 2019

Every Lie We Tell Incurs a Debt to the Truth

I watched HBO’s Chernobyl the past few nights. I finished it last night, took a deep breath, and said out loud to myself, “that was spectacular.”

One of the final quotes that stuck with me is the title of this post. The full quote is “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”

Read it again. “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.” Pause and ponder it. Think about our current world. Let the line linger a bit in your mind.

Now, watch the following ten-minute video for the comparison of Chernobyl to real historical footage. It’s incredibly powerful to watch this after you’ve watched Chernobyl, but might be even more powerful to watch it prior to watching the miniseries, which some are calling a docudrama. While some struggle with the dynamics of a docudrama and others view the techniques of Hollywood as similar to Soviet propaganda, the video below explains things well.

I was an undergraduate at MIT when Chernobyl happened. I remember reading the newspaper headlines from the Boston Globe on a daily basis (something I did most days in college at breakfast.) I didn’t have a TV and rarely went to the TV room in the basement of our fraternity to watch TV, partly because I didn’t really like TV and partly because I didn’t like the mess and smell of the TV room.

I remember being terrified almost every day as the news unfolded. The potential for nuclear war with Russia was a central theme for me growing up, especially during the Reagan years (1981 – 1989) as I went from teenager to young adult. Near the end of this period, Chernobyl was a different kind of terror – that of what was perceived by me, as an American, as a country (USSR) that had no control over planet destroying technology and was both unwilling to be clear about the reality of the situation as well as ask for help.

Today’s dead cities around Chernobyl could have been our entire planet. The map of what is known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is striking.

Map of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

While some may refer to this as a small part of our planet, it’s a dead part of our planet. Uninhabitable by humans. Sure, there may be uses for this territory, like power generating solar farms, which may serve as a backward-looking justification for how this part of our planet ends up being used. And it’s fascinatingly become a refuge for wildlife 33 years later.

While articles explain in detail Why HBO’s “Chernobyl” Gets Nuclear So Wrong, I think this line of thinking misses the idea that if a few heroic figures hadn’t made the right decisions, stayed after the problem, knowing that they were likely going to die from their own exposure to radiation, while also compelling many others to end up being exposed to extreme radiation in the crisis, containment, and cleanup effort, we might not have a planet. There’s a key moment in Chernobyl (I think in Episode 4), where it’s clear that there is now an unsolvable problem unless thousands of people are mobilized to do a set of time-sensitive and highly dangerous maneuvers to prevent a total meltdown and subsequent explosion of the other three nuclear plants in the facility. The outcome of that could have possibly been the end of our planet, civilization, and human life.

While that didn’t happen, it’s a reminder of the human ability to both create and destroy on a massive scale. It’s then presented against the backdrop of the quote: “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”

We live in a world of endless lies. It’s not just propaganda and misinformation designed to obfuscate and distract. It’s not just things being labels “fake news” whether they are or aren’t. It’s not just in government and politics, but in business, science, philosophy, relationships, and every other aspect of life. It’s just part of what humans do.

Everyone lies, whether it’s deliberate falsehoods, obfuscation, errors of omission, misdirection, denial, or a long list of other reasons or explanations of why people lie. The person who says, “I’ve never lied” is lying, even if they are a fair witness.

“Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”

The next time you are about to lie, or participate in a lie, consider whether you are willing to pay the debt from the lie in the future.

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Jun 7 2019

Deeply Vulnerable Writing on Startup Failure

Jasper Nathaniel recently wrote a long, detailed post titled When Your Startup Fails. It may be the most vulnerable and honest post I’ve read on failure, certainly in a while.

I spent the day yesterday in Grand Junction at Techstars Startup Week West Slope. After a full day of meetings, events, and talks, I ended up at dinner with a half-dozen CEOs of startups in the area (Grand Junction, Carbondale, Eagle, and Telluride.) I was pretty wiped out from the day and general bail out of dinners between 7:30pm and 8:00pm but we ended up going extremely deep on a bunch of personal and emotional stuff so when I got back to my hotel around 10:00pm I was pleasantly surprised with the tenor of the evening.

While there is endless writing about what to do to build your business, how awesome things are going, and why startups are so magnificent, I experience over and over and over again the intense personal struggle for founders and leaders around creating a business where nothing previously existed.

I wish more entrepreneurs would write extensively about their failure experiences in detail.

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