Sep 17 2018

Book: How to Meditate

Over the past few years, I’ve incorporated meditation into my daily routine. I started by using Headspace, shifted to using Insight Timer, and now do whatever I feel like doing.

A week ago, while proofreading a draft of Jerry Colonna’s upcoming book, I noticed a few sections where he mentioned Ani Pema Chödrön. When he referenced her book How to Meditate, I went on Amazon and bought a physical copy to read.

Last night, as Amy and I laid on our respective couches reading, I flowed through How to Meditate. With Brooks the Wonder Dog at my feet, I relaxed into what was a wonderfully written book on Meditation. It’s less about the mechanics of meditation (although there are some described) but more about the philosophy of meditation. And, as a human, how to relate to what meditation is, and what it can do, for and to you.

The book reinforced a lot of what I’ve experienced with meditation while giving me some new thoughts about it. Recently, I’ve been doing the Headspace pack on Pain Management as I work through all the pain linked to my summer of misery. Ani Pema’s book gave me the insight to try doing the 20-minute Headspace pain session first thing in the morning while sitting in my hot tub, outside, with my eyes open (but with a soft gaze.) I did this for the first time this morning and it was glorious. I’ll be doing it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day …

If you meditate, are curious about meditation, are interested in mindfulness, or notice that your mind is all over the place these days, How to Meditate is worth a quiet two hours of your life.

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Sep 16 2018

Book: A Gentleman in Moscow

“How did your book end?” asked Amy from her position reading on the couch across the room.

“Perfectly,” I answered.

A Gentleman in Moscow was magnificent. While there’s still a chance I’ll read something better in 2018, for now, I’m declaring it the best book I’ve read this year.

I started A Gentleman in Moscow earlier this week after finishing Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House, which was also excellent, but of a very different nature. Several people had recommended it to me (including, I think Maureen, so this may count as a women’s book club recommendation). According to Amazon, I’ve had it on my Kindle since I purchased it on 9/5/16. After consuming it two years later, it seems fitting that I let it age a little.

I didn’t really know what to expect, so I was startled to begin in Moscow on June 21, 1922. After the first few pages, we spent almost the entirety of the book in the Hotel Metropol. If I ever visit Moscow, I think I’ll stay in Suite 317.

I won’t ruin this one for you. If you like novels, especially with tasty historical backdrops, this one is delicious.

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Sep 12 2018

Acknowledging The Value of Coaching and Therapy for Founders

I’ve long written about the stigma around entrepreneurship and depression / other “mental health-related issues.” I was delighted to see two articles in the last day about others addressing this.

First, Felicis Ventures is committing 1% on top of every check the firm writes in non-dilutive capital earmarked for “founder development” in coaching and mental health. I love the way Aydin Senkut has characterized what they are doing and why they are doing it.

“Felicis’ bet is that by making such resources available and publicly known, founders won’t feel too proud, or too much pressure to seem successful, to address personal and team issues. Tactical marketing help can only go so far, Senkut says, when founders aren’t telling their investors that they’re unable to sleep from anxiety, or not speaking to their cofounders.”

Next, Mahendra Ramsinghani has a long article in Techcrunch titled Investors are waking up to the emotional struggle of startup foundersIn it, he references a bunch of stuff, including work that Jerry Colonna and the team at Reboot have been doing around this issue. He also points to the survey he is doing for his new book titled Depression: A Founders Companion.

If any of this resonates with you as a founder, (a) go complete Mahendra’s survey, (b) connect with Reboot, or (c) send me an email to connect you with Mahendra or Reboot.

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Sep 10 2018

Book: Uncensored

A few months ago Andy Sack got me a subscription to The Next Big Idea Club. Every quarter, a box with two books in it shows up. These books were chosen by Adam Grant, Susan Cain, Malcolm Gladwell, and Daniel Pink – several of my favorite contemporary writers and thinkers.

A box showed up at the end of last week. On Saturday, I read one of the books in the box – Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America by Zachary Wood. I was pleasantly surprised that it landed squarely in the memoir category even though Zachary is only 22.

While Zachary is clearly an incredible human, his story is even more remarkable. The first 75% of the book is his story of growing up in poverty, with an abusive mother, an emotionally distant father, with time split between Detroit and DC, while – at a very young age – falling in love with books, reading, learning, and ideas. Against an extremely challenging backdrop and even more challenging odds – ones that many people grow up in – Zachary developed discipline, grit, and determination that caused me to be awestruck.

When I took the backdrop of his childhood out of the equation, many of his intellectual pursuits and academic achievements were similar to what I experienced growing up. To do this though, I had to delete at least half of the time and energy he put against just surviving day to day, getting to school, having enough to eat, finding money to do pretty much anything, and avoiding endless emotional and psychological pits. Then I had to delete another 25% of the stress he faced being different – both from his academic peers and the kids he lived around. Then I had to delete some more, which was the result of my nurturing parents, in the comfortable middle-class neighborhood, with the safe house, in my own bedroom, surrounded by friends who looked like me and acted like me. There’s a lot more that I kept unfolding as I turned each page, getting a feeling for an entirely different type of struggle than the one I had growing up.

Halfway through the book, Warren Buffett’s famous phrase about winning the ovarian lottery was echoing in my head. While I’ve worked hard all my life, I know I had an enormous head start being born in America, male, white, in the 1960s, healthy, with a good brain, to two loving parents who were both well educated, surrounded by lots of resources.

If Zachary and I were racing in a marathon, I got to start at mile 25 with clean clothes, a Clif Bar, and a water bottle. He started at mile 0 without shoes, wearing jeans, after having stayed up all night.

The last 25% of the book is about his time at Williams College, with a particular focus on his journey with the Uncomfortable Learning organization. To get a sense of the intensity and intellectual commitment of Zachary, take a look at his Senate Testimony from June 2017 titled Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses. To process any of this stuff, you have to put all of your biases (of which we all, including me, have many) on the shelf, in a box, and hide them in the corner. Then, while pondering what Zachary is doing, reflect on the intense negativity, anger, hostility, and ad-hominem attacks that are endlessly directed at him. And, rather than fight them, he embraces the conflict, while trying to elevate the discussion so that learning occurs, even though it’s uncomfortable.

I went to bed Saturday night with a lot of new thoughts in my mind. My dreams were strange, which is always a signal that I’m processing something new.

Andy – thank you for the gift. It’s a perfect one.

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Sep 6 2018

Reading Memoirs

I’ve always included a steady mix of biography (and autobiography) in my reading diet. Recently, I’ve added in memoirs, which I’ve always felt was easily distinguishable from autobiography.

“an autobiography is a chronological telling of one’s experience, which should include phases such as childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc., while a memoir provides a much more specific timeline and a much more intimate relationship to the writer’s own memories, feelings and emotions.”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve read Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White HouseLisa Brennan-Jobs Small FryMark Epstein’s Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself, and Gail Honeyman’s fictional Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

While it can be argued that each of these (other than Small Fry) belong in a category other than the memoir, reading each of them resulted in a lot of self-reflection on my part. Front and center was the notion of “an intimate relationship to the writer’s own memories, feelings, and emotions.”

Each had something special in it for me. While I was struggling with my bacterial infection, I had a heightened sense of my own mortality. While I only had one 24 hour period of existential dread, Amy was there beside me and let me talk openly about how I was feeling. I was reading Mark Epstein’s book at the time that I had this feeling, and many of the messages in it became more precise – and poignant for me.

As I sit at home, on a sunny day in Boulder, I realize how incredibly fortunate I am on many dimensions. It’s a cliche, but the human condition is extremely complex. Reflecting on other people’s struggles, especially in comparison to my own, generates enormous perspective for me. It is in this way that I find memoirs different (and more enriching) than autobiography.

For me, it’s not about the meaning someone else ascribes to their life, or the history a third person tells about someone, but how one’s self-reflection helps inform, enhance, and evolve the meaning I give to my life.

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Sep 5 2018

Entrepreneurs Unplugged – The David(s) on 9/13/18

One of my favorite public events is the CU Boulder Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurs Unplugged series. I was the co-host for the first couple of years, sharing the interview job with another Brad (Bernthal) who now is generally on his own.

On Thursday, 9/13/18 at 5:30pm, Bernthal will be interview David Cohen and David Brown, the co-CEOs of Techstars (who we often fondly refer at Foundry Group as the “the David(s).” The event will be held at the CU Boulder Law School.

If you know the David(s), I expect this will be a treat as I know Bernthal will start with their early entrepreneurial career (Pinpoint) and stick with it for a while. While many people know the Techstars story, the PinPoint story is much less well known but equally fascinating. And, if you need any hints on Q&A (which Bernthal always leaves time for), just drop me a note.

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Sep 4 2018

Two Weeks Ago …

On the afternoon of 8/21, I had a Foley Catheter put in. I didn’t think I was going to die (that was the afternoon of 8/22), but I did think I was going to explode.

I feel better today. Not 100%. But on the mend. But two weeks ago I was in the midst of a blooming E. Coli infection that started Sunday 8/19 and probably came from some fruit and vegetables I bought at the Aspen Farmers Market on Saturday. Note to self – always, always, always wash your fruits and vegetables carefully.

By Thursday, 8/23 I was very sick. So I canceled everything on my calendar through yesterday. I addition to my dance with E. Coli, I am healing from a bone bruise I have on my left tibia and something miserably wrong with my right shoulder – both which came from a tumble down the stairs on July 16th.

Yeah – it’s been a physically shitty summer. Not just for me, but for lots of people in my world. A friend with liver cancer. Another friend in the ICU for a few days. Another friend with a messed up knee from a fall. Several big marital struggles. Lots of “we are 45 – 55 and stuff is starting to break” going on. No one close to us died this summer, but we had a few days of real uncertainty in the mix.

My worst day was the one where I had borderline sepsis. I always thought the acronym for sepsis was telling, but it’s not until you are on the edge of it that it really hits home.

S – Shivering, feeling very cold or having a fever
E – Extreme pain or discomfort
P – Pale or discolored skin
S – Sleepiness, difficulty rousing
I – “I feel like I may die,” a feeling like you’ve never felt before
S – Short of breath

Fortunately, all of that passed within a few days after they bombed me with IV antibiotics, but then I was completely exhausted for a week. For whatever reason, my shoulder pain intensified during this time period and between my new friend Foley and the pain, I couldn’t sleep. Within a few days, it was pretty easy to see the struggle one goes through with chronic pain or illness, something I’ve been spared my whole life.

Yup – it was a miserable two weeks.

Amy was incredible. I playfully tease her about her school motto, Non Ministrari sed Ministrare (Not to be ministered unto, but to minister), but it is remarkably accurate. She’s always been amazing in a crisis – any crisis – and shows up fully for whomever is in need. For two weeks, I got her continual, endless, and wonderful attention. I’m not sure how I would have handled the two weeks if I was alone.

A friend recently said, “Your real friends are the ones who show up in a crisis.” I count myself lucky – a lot of people showed up the past two weeks. While Foley is gone, I have plenty of healing to do in front of me. We are heading back to Boulder for the rest of September and I’m just planting myself in one place, doing only what I have to do, and getting healthy.

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Aug 21 2018

Will Someone Please Tell Me Exactly What a Looking Glass Can Do?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the launch of the Looking Glass, a desktop holographic display made for 3D creators. Since then, over a thousand people have purchased a Looking Glass for their desks. I think part of the reason for this attention is that the Looking Glass is filling a much-needed hole in the REPL for Hardware flow alongside additive and subtractive desktop 3D printers and laser cutters. It also helps that the Looking Glass works without a VR or AR headset.

If you have ever used a 3D printer, has Unity, Maya, or Blender on your computer, or isn’t scared by terms like “volumetric video” and “light-field photography”, you should probably have a Looking Glass. For 48 more hours, you can get one of your own for 25% off here.

It’s right around this point in the post that I can hear the skeptics asking themselves (reasonably), “But what can the Looking Glass do right now”? It’s a question that comes up a lot in the area of new human-computer interfaces, one of my favorite Foundry Group investment themes particularly because it lives on the edge of the comfort zone. The same question famously came up repeatedly for the personal computer back in 1983, answered by this Apple ad.

Rather than waiting for a killer app on the horizon, the crew at Looking Glass Factory are taking a page from the early-Apple playbook and answering this challenge with a daily flow of new holographic applications. They’re aiming to get to 100 practical (and in some cases not practical but joyful) things a 3D creator can do with their Looking Glass by the time most of the units ship in December. Here are just a few that have come out over the past few weeks:

WYSIWYG preview of 3D models before 3D printing.

Exporting 3D scenes directly from Autodesk’s Maya – and soon supporting a live viewport direct from Maya into a Looking Glass.

Ramping up other integrations for other 3D creation programs like Blender.

Voxatron in the Looking Glass: this is a voxel-based engine that was developed by an indie game developer Joseph White in Tokyo. What’s remarkable about this is that Joseph started to develop Voxatron back in 2004 on the belief that one day a holographic display would exist to house it. I really like how in this example a tiny bit of code generates a holographic app in a Looking Glass.

Display of 3D architectural models.

Photogrammetry drone scans of a terrain.

And this completely impractical but joyous sloth captured with an iPhone X.

I have a feeling this is just the beginning and I believe this team and the community of 3D creators coalescing around the Looking Glass are going to blow past 100 holographic apps and integrations very quickly.

To see for yourself, head over to the Looking Glass Kickstarter launch. The Standard Looking Glass is normally $600, but you can pick one up for $450 if you grab one of the last units in the next 48 hours.

And as the Looking Glass founders Shawn and Alex say, thanks^3.

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Aug 16 2018

Deleting Facebook

Yup. I’m done with Facebook. However, it’s tough to delete your account. Read the message above. I exited out of this screen, suspended my account instead, but then went back 15 minutes later and actually deleted it. Well – I started the deletion process. I don’t know what day I’m on, but I think I’m close to 14 days. So, I’m still “deleting” apparently.

The only inconvenience I’ve noticed so far are all the sites where I used Facebook as the sign-on authenticator (rather than setting up a separate email/password combo.) I think I’m through most of that – at least the sites I use on a regular basis. For the first few days, I accidentally ended up on the Facebook login screen which was pleasantly filled out with my login beckoning me to log back in. I resisted the siren song of restarting my Facebook account before the 14 days was up.

I have never been much of a Facebook user. About once a year, I try to get into it, but I always stall out and use it as a broadcast-only network for my blog and links that I find interesting. I went through a phase of tightening up my security, pruning my friends, using it more frequently from my phone, deleting it from my phone, checking daily in the morning (as part of my morning routine – which has evolved a lot since I wrote this post in 2007), and then giving up again and never looking at it.

Recently, I decided to rethink Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Facebook was the easiest. While it had already become a walled garden, I suddenly noticed that the walls we were going up very high, being justified by Facebook’s new effort to get all their privacy and data issues “under control.” For example, you can no longer automatically post your Tweets to your Facebook profile.

And, Facebook recently killed automatic WordPress publishing to Profiles. So, my one (and only) current use case for Facebook, which is to broadcast from my blog, disappeared. Sure, I could create a public page, go through all the authentication stuff, and theoretically post to my new public followers, but who cares. If they are really interested in what I write, they can subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter (at least for now, until I figure out how I’m going to engage with Twitter long-term.)

Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now tipped me over into thinking harder about this. Now that I have decided how to deal with Facebook, at least for now, it’s time to move on down the road to Twitter and LinkedIn. I’m about a month into a different way of engaging with LinkedIn and we’ll see if it sticks. When I reach a conclusion, I’ll definitely write about it.

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Aug 15 2018

RSS: The Persistent Protocol

One of our themes is Protocol. We’ve been investing in companies built around technology protocols since 1994. One of my first investments, when I moved to Boulder in 1995, was in a company called Email Publishing, which was the very first email service provider. SMTP has been very good to me.

We made some of the early investments in companies built around RSS, including FeedBurner and NewsGator. RSS is a brilliant, and very durable, protocol. The original creators of the protocol had great vision, but the history and evolution of RSS were filled with challenges and controversy. Like religious conflict, the emotion ran higher than it needed to and the ad-hominem attacks drove some great people away from engaging with the community around the protocol.

And then Facebook and Twitter took over. RSS Feed Readers mostly vanished, and the feed became the “Twitter feed.” After a while, Facebook realized this was a good idea, and created the “Facebook news feed.” I think it’s hilarious that the word “feed” is still in common usage – The Dixie Flatline is amused.

Over dinner, after he had become the COO of Twitter (but before he was the CEO), Dick Costolo (who had previously been the founder/CEO of FeedBurner) told me that he viewed Twitter as the evolution of RSS. At a protocol level this wasn’t true, but at a functional level (providing another way to get access to everything going on any website that was publishing content) this became true. Our investment in Gnip (which Twitter eventually acquired) helped extend this, by allowing companies to build products on top of the Twitter firehose (which was the name for the entirety of everything being tweeted on Twitter.)

Time passed. Facebook and Twitter gobbled up all the direct attention of end-users. Publishers pushed their content through Facebook and Twitter, not realizing the control over the user they were giving up to these platforms. For some reason, there was more focus for a while on Google, and how they were aggregating content. The beauty, and brilliance, of the web, started to become the walled garden of Facebook. For those of us who remembered AOL’s walled garden vs. the web (and Microsoft’s failed attempt as MSN as a walled garden), there were echoes of the past all over the place.

Some smart people started talking extensively about decentralization and lock-in right around the time that the Facebook privacy stuff became front and center. As it unfolded, and the dust settled, there was nothing new, other than a continued schism between the effort to control (and monetize) users and the effort to create broadly democratized and decentralized information. Oh – and privacy. And legitimacy (or authenticity) of information, much of which is wholly subjective or imprecise anyway.

In the middle of all of this, Wired’s Article It’s Time For An RSS Revival caught my attention. I’ve been using RSS continuously for over a decade as my primary source of information. My current feed reader is Feedly, which I think is currently the best in class. It’s one of my primary sources for information that informs me, is private, and allows me to control and modulate what information I look at.

While RSS has disappeared into the plumbing of the internet, there’s still something fundamental about it. Its durability is remarkably impressive, especially in the context of the lack of the evolution and perceived displacement of the protocol over the past few years.

The tension between walled gardens (or lock-in, or whatever you want to call it) and a decentralized web will likely never end. But, it feels like we are in for another significant turn of the crank on how all of this works, and that means lots of innovation is coming.

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