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Feb 6 2019

Mentors 17/18: Be Challenging/Robust, but Never Destructive

I wrote 16 posts detailing each item of the Techstars Mentor Manifesto. However, there were 18 items and, for some reason, I never got around to writing the final two.

Jay Batson, a long-time Techstars Boston mentor, nudged me several times to finish this up. I kept saying “I’ll get to it” but never did. So, he did it for me, with the added motivation of getting it up prior to the kickoff to this year’s Boston program. Following is item #17 of the Techstars Mentor Manifesto, in Jay’s words.

This item on the list might sound very similar to #4, “Be Direct. Tell the Truth, However Hard.” But, it’s different. This item (#17) has to do with you, not the companies.

You have been asked to be a mentor at Techstars because you’ve been successful as an entrepreneur and/or a leader. The managing director for your cohort trusts that you’ll help the founders. And those founders are betting – with stock in their company – that you’ll be good for them.

Because of your expertise, you are likely to quickly spot areas in their businesses that need work urgently.

Because you’ve read all the posts here about the Techstars Mentor Manifesto, you dutifully start by being socratic and digging into the fundamental thing that is broken. You are direct, telling the hard truth that you are deeply concerned about some area.

But at some point, you sense the entrepreneur isn’t simply following your lead. They aren’t changing some element of their business to align with your direction. So, you are more direct. You push harder and more forcefully because you think it’s important. But the entrepreneur continues to “not get it”.

And, just like that, you’re irritated. You shut down, you quickly end the meeting, or you push even harder. After the meeting, you vent to the Techstars managing director that this company is in real trouble because the founders aren’t paying attention to this element you find important.

We’ve now reached the point of this post: Never Be Destructive.

The moment you go beyond trying to get your point across to the entrepreneur and do something outside that moment that is less-than-supportive, you’ve stopped being a mentor. You are now simply a judge. Or, worse, a detriment to the company.

You have let your desire to succeed as a mentor become paramount. Your actions can easily shift from being helpful as a mentor to being hurtful to the entrepreneur.

If you let this state persist, your frustration will leak outside the safe space of Techstars. It might be something you say to an investor; which means you’ve now affected the company’s ability to raise capital. If you vent to another founder, you either hurt your own reputation or the mentee’s reputation. At worst, you may end up affecting their relationships with potential partners or future hiring candidates.

Being a Techstars mentor does not mean being 100% dedicated to being a successful mentor. It means being 100% dedicated to helping founders build great companies.

So, be robust if you have to in making sure they hear what you’re trying to make them aware of.

But when you leave the room, make sure you flip the switch and remain 100% dedicated to making them successful, whether or not you think they heard what you had to say.

Jay Batson has been the founder of four companies, including two venture-backed startups, with some big success and disappointing failure. His biggest success is as founding CEO of Acquia, now an 800+ person company with offices around the globe. In 2012, Jay invented the “Mentor-in-Residence” role at Techstars. MIR’s spend near-full-time at Techstars during each cohort to help as extensively as possible with companies and help other Mentors be good at it. Jay has embraced this responsibility for every Boston cohort since then. He’s an LP in several Techstars funds and a direct investor in a selection of Techstars companies.

Oct 4 2016

Mentors 13/18: Guide, Don’t Control

It’s been a while since I wrote a post deconstructing the Techstars Mentor Manifesto. The last one I wrote was number 12 of 18: Know What You Don’t Know. Say I Don’t Know When You Don’t Know. Since I’m now working on the first draft of my next book #GiveFirst (or maybe it’ll be called Give First, or GiveFirst – I haven’t decided yet) it’s time to get my shit together and write the last six posts.

Throughout Techstars, we tell the founders that “it’s your company.” The implication of this is that they make the decisions about what to do. Everything they hear from mentors is just data.

A lot of mentors are successful CEOs. As CEOs, they are used to being in control. However, in the context of being a mentor, they don’t control anything. The best they can do is be a guide.

Interestingly, the best investors understand this. One of the lines my partners at Foundry Group use regular is that we only want to make one decision about a company – whether or not we support the CEO. If we support the CEO, we work for her. If we don’t support the CEO, we need to do something about this, which doesn’t necessarily mean fire the CEO.

In the context of being a mentor, you still get to make one decision, but it’s a different one. You get to decide whether or not you want to keep being a mentor. Assuming you do, your job is to support the founders, no matter what.

Ponder the following situation. The company has three founders. While one of them is CEO, it’s not clear that the right founder is the CEO. In addition, two of the founders (the CEO/founder and one other founder) are struggling with the third founder.

It would be easy to size up the situation and tell the founders what to do. But that’s not your job as a mentor. Instead, your job is to guide them to an understanding of the situation. The best mentors will invest time in each founder, keeping an open mind about what the fundamental problems are. You’ll surface the issues, guiding the founders to understand that there are real issues, what they are, help them talk about them, and help them work through them to a resolution or a better situation.

You won’t try to solve the problems. That’s not your job as a mentor. But you will be a guide. At some point, it will be appropriate, as a guide, to say what you would do if you found yourself in a similar situation. But, as a great guide, you won’t force this outcome, nor will you be judgmental if the founders go down a different path.

Remember – you get to make one decision – whether or not you want to keep being a mentor.

Dec 5 2018

Coach Rav’s 23 Life Choices

I saw an article about George Raveling recently in the Daily Stoic newsletter. Raveling – known as Coach Rav to many, has a pretty remarkable history. And an even better life philosophy that fits very nicely with #GiveFirst.

On his website, he has a page titled 23 Life Choices That Are In Your Control. It’s delightful and follows.

1. Be YOU, not them.

2. Do more, expect less.

3. Be positive, not negative.

4. Be the solution, not the problem.

5. Be a starter, not a stopper.

6. Question more, believe less.

7. Be a somebody, never a nobody.

8. Love more, hate less.

9. Give more, take less.

10. See more, look less.

11. Save more, spend less.

12. Listen more, talk less.

13. Walk more, sit less.

14. Read more, watch less.

15. Build more, destroy less.

16. Praise more, criticize less.

17. Clean more, dirty less.

18. Live more, do not just exist.

19. Be the answer, not the question.

20. Be a lover, not a hater.

21. Be a painkiller, not a pain giver.

22. Think more, react less.

23. Be more uncommon, less common.

If you just skimmed the list, I encourage you to go back and read it again. To slow down and really savor it, read each line out loud and then ponder what you are doing to make that choice on a daily basis.

Aug 16 2017

Book: Option B

I read Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy a few weeks ago. It’s a must read for every human on this planet.

Some of you know that I’m a huge fan of Adam Grant. His book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success is a key inspiration for the #GiveFirst moment, my own personal philosophy, and my upcoming book #GiveFirst: A New Philosophy for Business which should be out in 2018.

I’m also a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg. I don’t know Sheryl well, but we hung out a few times 15 years ago and both Amy and I thought she was awesome. It’s been awesome to watch what she’s achieved – first at Google, and now at Facebook.

It’s even more remarkable to read the clarity with which she has processed the sudden loss of her beloved husband Dave Goldberg. I met Dave a few times in the last 1990s when he was running LAUNCH Media (we were investors via SOFTBANK) but didn’t stay in touch after Yahoo! acquired LAUNCH. However, many of my Bay Area friends were close to Dave and viewed him reverently.

Amy and I have lost several close friends in the past three months to cancer and suicide. Another friend was recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. We are getting older and death is becoming a more visible part of our life experience.

Exploring how to process mortality is hard. I talked to a friend on my way home last night who is struggling with this. While these conversations are hard, I learn a little with each one.

Recently, I’ve been referring friends to Atul Gawande’s amazing book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End which is the best book I’ve read so far this year. I also send them to Paul Kalanithi’s book When Breath Becomes Airwhich was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I know “best” is a weak qualifier, so just know that they are both in the same league as Norman Cousins’ classic Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration which had a profound impact on me in my mid-20s.

I just added Sheryl and Adam’s book to this league. Life and death are complicated. If you, like me, are constantly exploring it and trying to understand it, and yourself, better, I encourage you to read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Sheryl and Adam – thank you for writing it.

Dec 8 2015

Re-entry From Sabbatical

If you play tennis almost every day for five weeks you get a lot better.

I’m back from what was an amazing sabbatical. Last year Amy and I went to Bora Bora. This year we went to Rancho Valencia – a tennis resort near San Diego.

In addition to turning 50, I had an incredible mental, emotional, and physical reset. Two years ago, Seth, Jason, Ryan, and I decided that we would each take a month off the grid each year. We’d do this asynchronously so only one person would be on sabbatical at a time. We’ve now had two cycles of this.

It serves two powerful purposes. For the person who goes off the grid for a month, it gives them a complete reset. I just spent every day with Amy since November 1. We had long stretches of time together doing vacation things rather than daily life things. We had lots of friends come visit this year. We played a ton of tennis. I read a bunch of books. We went to bed early and slept late. We watched every episode of Archer and Star Wars 1 – 5 (Return of the Jedi will get watched this week.) I feel 10 zillion times better than I did on October 31.

The second, more subtle purpose, is that by going off the grid, I handed over all of my work to Seth, Jason, and Ryan. One of our core values is that we all work on everything together. There’s nothing quite like stepping away for a month and letting your partners cover everything for you, or having one of them step away for a month and you cover his stuff. If this happened once every decade, that would be one thing, but by having this happen every year I believe we are creating another, even deeper level of trust and connectedness between us.

When I wrote my post #GiveFirst on 10/25, I planned to check out from blogging through the end of the year and just work on my next book (#GiveFirst). But, as my sabbatical came to an end, I was missing the rhythm of almost daily blogging. So, I decided to start blogging again when I feel like it, rather than wait until January 1, 2016 to start again.

Yesterday was my first day officially back. It was a busy day, but I managed to get outside and play 90 minutes of tennis. As I re-enter my normal world, I’m glad to be back, but I had an amazing time away.

Jul 16 2018

Google Boulder’s Gift to NCWIT

Google Boulder recently did a phenomenal thing. They recently gave a gift of over $2 million to CU Boulder, which included free office space for NCWIT for the next six years (valued at $1.3 million.) As of a few weeks ago, NCWIT now has a great long-term home in an older Google office on 26th Street in Boulder off of the CU Campus.

The head of Google Boulder (I think his official title in Googlespeak is “Engineering Site Director”) is Scott Green. I’ve known Scott since shortly after I moved to Boulder in 1995. He was an early employee at Email Publishing (which became MessageMedia), my very first Boulder-based angel investment. After MessageMedia, he spent some time working at Return Path (where I’ve been an investors since 2000) early in its life before moving to @Last (which we were not investors in, but were fans of since some of our friends, including Brian Makare (the co-founder of Email Publishing) and Mark Solon (then of Highway 12, now at Techstars) were investors.) While Scott and I don’t spend a lot of time together, we’ve both been part of the evolution of the Boulder startup community going back to the late 1990s.

In 2006, Google bought @Last (makers of SketchUp). That was the beginning of Google’s presence in Boulder, which is now around 1,000 people on a new, very nice, and well-integrated campus in the middle of town. Scott and the Google team have always been great corporate citizens of the startup community, offering up their larger event space on a regular basis, participating in, and sponsoring, many of the local startup events over the years, and generally just being a constructive and healthy part of the mix. Google’s continued expanded presence in Boulder is a positive reflection on the overall startup community and their new campus is a really nice addition to our little city in the mountains.

NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology) has long been a hidden gem of Boulder. I got involved shortly after it was founded in 2004 and became the board chair in 2005 (which I served as until I resigned all my non-profit board positions at the end of last year.) I’m still deeply involved and it is a major initiative of the Anchor Point Foundation (the foundation that Amy and I run.)

Physical office space at CU Boulder has always been a struggle for NCWIT. When the organization was small, it fit nicely in a corner of the CU Roser ATLAS Center on the second floor. Amy and I were appreciative of this and sponsored the bathrooms on this floor of ATLAS. As NCWIT grew, they crammed into a small space, then overflowed it, expanded a little, but then lost it in a mysterious space shuffle that I’ve never really understood. Eventually, NCWIT moved over to some old space in the engineering building, but the space was poorly configured, had no cell signal, and wasn’t secure.

At the beginning of 2017, Lucy Sanders (NCWIT CEO) and I started looking for other space in Boulder. We tried to get different space on CU’s campus but were unsuccessful. We had a few near misses with commercial space, but either the economics didn’t work out or the space wasn’t right. Last summer, Google Boulder engaged as their new campus was opening up. A few weeks ago, NCWIT moved into their new, long-term home.

I’m incredibly appreciative for what Google Boulder has done here for NCWIT. It makes me extremely happy to see a #GiveFirst approach from Google in our startup community, along with the extensive support for NCWIT. It’s always nice to be part of an organization that is on the receiving end of this kind of generosity, especially one as deserving as NCWIT.

Scott, Google, and the rest of your team at Google Boulder – THANK YOU!

Dec 2 2017

@bfeld v52.0

I turned 52 on Friday. Last year, when I turned 51, I wrote a post titled @bfeld v51.0 where I talked about several things that I wanted to change in v51 of me. This year, I enhanced my annual tradition of birthday reflection by reviewing my previous year’s blog post, writing a letter to my 52-year-old self, going for a 52-minute run, and then condensing the letter to myself into a public blog post (the letter was much longer.) I planned to do this on Friday and the day was set up nicely for it, but work got in the way. So I did this on Saturday instead.

Let’s begin by reviewing my v51 plans.

No Booze: I had a no alcohol goal for v51. Late in 2016 and early in 2017 I had several nights where I drank alcohol, but I think all but one was a special event. By the end of springtime, I wasn’t drinking at all and I’m now in a very comfortable no drinking mode. I feel like it’s one that I can continue for the rest of my life and, while it feels like a good aspiration, I’m going to only set it for v52, rather than saying “I’ll never drink again.”

Mission Sub-200: Weight loss was a big topic for v51 of me. I wanted to be under 200 pounds after weighing in at 218 on my birthday. I weighed 201.9 yesterday and 202.3 today so I’m close enough to that goal to call it completed. While my ideal weight is 190, Amy negatively reacted to me setting my goal to be 190 and suggested 195 instead, which feels much more achievable to get to and maintain.

Religious Digital Sabbath: Digital Sabbath has been hit or miss for me. While I have almost no organized work activities on the weekend, and when I do I put them on Sunday afternoon, I’m still on my computer on Saturdays. I’ve tried to isolate “on my computer” from “checking email”, but even that constraint is awkward. But, there is a difference between “spending a bunch of time catching up on email” and “just checking/responding to the stuff that came in overnight or throughout the day.” I’m going to drop the goal of Religious Digital Sabbath from my v52 completely, but be very conscious of trying to minimize work and email on Saturday while using my computer for writing and the normal life tasks that the computer pops up for (like logging my runs, or scheduling dinner.)

Focus On My 2%: Overall I feel like I did a good job focusing on my 2%. It took a while to completely shrug off the 2016 election, but by mid-year, I was engaging where I could make a difference, rather than wallowing in the daily noise and nonsense. I made some mistakes in terms of thinking about what my 2% was, such as wading into Boulder politics around the November 2017 city council election. While I thought I could have an impact on the election, I didn’t, but more importantly, I hated almost every moment of what I was doing around this. I realized I wasn’t defining my 2% precisely enough. So, I’m going to re-evaluate my 2% some with a combination of asking myself “should I be doing this?” and “do I want to be doing this?” before including something in the 2%. My default posture is going to be “no” instead of “yes” so I need to convince myself, rather than default into doing things.

Reset Social Media: I completely and successfully reset my social media interactions. While I still broadcast, I don’t consume anything. While I’ll periodically open up Twitter or Facebook, I always feel unhappy (or even “dirty”) after I do this, so there is almost no desire on my part to do it. I took both apps off my phone early in the year and, while I put them back on and deleted them a few more times, they are currently deleted and I don’t have an urge to put them back on. I’m still broadcasting regularly through my blog, Medium, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but I’m not responding to the comments and responses I get, except for occasional ones on my blog or more personal interactions via email. I like my position as a content generator and am relaxed in my lack of interest in engaging in discussions through these mediums.

More Maker Mode Expansion: Maker mode expansion and my writing in v51 on books was a failure. I had a few stretches where I wrote, but they weren’t sustained, and I didn’t really make any progress on either GiveFirst or Startup Communities 2. Instead of calling this maker mode expansion in v52, I’m simply going to write these two books this year. It feels comfortable to type that, as I want to write each of these books and can project that my emotional satisfaction around both the process and the completed product will be high.

Travel Mode Expansion: My travel changes in v51 were mixed. 2017 started off disastrously, with five consecutive weeks of travel. At the end of the fifth week, I acknowledged to myself that I was on the edge of falling into a depressive episode, so I abruptly stopped traveling, canceled a bunch of stuff, and shifted back into self-care mode. I experimented with a few other travel approaches and settled on shorter and more focused travel. I’ll travel in v52 for work, but I’ll always ask myself “why” before each trip commitment.

Reflecting on v51 as a setup to v52, I had several big functional goals that required a shift in behavior. However, I don’t feel like I had an overarching theme. I’m not sure a theme helps me, so for v52, I’m going to use nouns to describe what I’m focused on.

Vegetarian: Food has become increasingly challenging for me. While my diet has changed as I’ve lost weight, I’m struggling with more food sensitivities. I’ve been a pescatarian since I was 19, but these days I’m not enjoying fish at all, including sushi. Overall, I’m struggling a lot with food and would like to be free of what feels like regular allergic reactions to things. A vegan diet might get me there, but it feels too extreme, especially in the context of me and Amy eating together. So, v52 will be vegetarian, trending toward vegan.

Introvert: My default social posture will be more time to myself, with Amy, or with small groups (up to six people, but a preference of four people). When I do something with a bigger group, I’ll consciously engage, but know that I want to limit the length of time and the frequency of larger events.

Runner: Food, weight, and fitness are all part of my identity as a runner. I leveled up a lot in v51 and will level up more in v52, both on the physical and emotional dimension. My goal of 195 pounds continues in the right direction, which a vegetarian diet and no alcohol (which was successfully implemented in v51) will help with. I’m committing to a daily meditation of at least 20 minutes for v52, along with a nightly goal of at least eight hours of sleep. My running rhythm of at least one marathon this year will continue, but I’ll incorporate swimming and strength training into the mix.

Writer: I’m going to write GiveFirst and Startup Communities 2 in v52. To be a good writer, I believe you have to read a lot. I’ve read 72 books so far in 2017 (a goal of 100). I’m going to keep the goal of 100 books for 2018.

Coach / Mentor: My work role has shifted over the years from “doer” to coach/mentor. While there is inevitable doer activity in my work, I’m identifying more as coach/mentor. I’m going to explore this more in v52 as I think forward to future versions of me. I don’t plan any abrupt shift or specific different sets of behavior, but rather a broad and continual reflection on my role in my work.

Discriminating Wisdom: This is a great Buddhist notion that Amy pointed me at. I want to be selective about anything new that I take on and I want the overall number of things I’m working on to decrease. If I view this as an input/output model, where inputs are new things I take on and outputs are things that I finish/get closure on, I want there to be more outputs than inputs in v52 so that I end v52 with fewer overall commitments.

I learned a lot about myself in v51. Time for another trip around the sun.

Jun 5 2019

Mary Grove on the Give First Podcast

David Cohen and I just released Episode 4 of our Give First podcast.

We interviewed Mary Grove on the origins of Google for Startups & Startup Weekend among other things. Mary has been a long time friend and supporter of Techstars and is currently a partner at Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, the co-founder of Silicon North Stars, and on the Advisory Board for the Techstars Foundation.

David and I are starting to get better at the podcast thing. It’s a new medium for both of us so we are learning and iterating quickly on what makes a good podcast interview. Any feedback – good and bad – is welcome.

Jul 10 2019

Pledge 1% Today

Over the years, I’ve written about my belief in the importance of giving back to your communities and #givefirst. In this spirit, one of the key organizations my partners at Foundry Group have helped create and nurture is Pledge 1%.

In 2007, we were a founding member in the predecessor organization to Pledge 1%, called Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (or EFCO). EFCO started as an experiment here in Boulder, not unlike Techstars and Startup Week/Weekend that got their start in our backyard. In 2014, Pledge1% Global launched as a joint effort between Foundry Group, The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, The Salesforce Foundation and The Atlassian Foundation which we helped seed financially and continue to support.

Pledge 1% Colorado has now distributed over $8 million back to various organizations in our community. And, the companies that have pledged 1% globally is remarkable.

While all of the Foundry Group partners have been involved, Seth Levine has been spearheading our engagement and the transformation from EFCO to Pledge 1% (he, along with key members of the teams from Salesforce, Atlassian and Ryan Martens are the founders of Pledge 1%). At a partner offsite at the end of last year, we were reflecting on some of the gifts from Foundry Group through our Pledge 1% involvement, which included:

We had some extra money left in our Pledge 1% Colorado account from distributions over 2018 and decided that, rather than saving it up for another larger gift, we’d give a series of modest gifts to a handful of local (and one non-local but nearby) organizations as a surprise holiday gift. Those organizations were:

If you are a co-founder at a startup, leading a company, or an employee at a company and want to learn more, check out the Pledge1% (or here if you’re in Colorado). Or email me or Micah Mador if you want to get involved.

May 30 2016

Writing, Running, and Reading

Snoopy in SummertimeIt’s summertime and Snoopy is happy.

I’m happy also. Summer is my favorite season. I’ve always been at my most creative in the summer and some of the profound life experiences that influenced me happened during the summer.

When I was a pre-teen, summer meant tennis. Endless tennis. Eight+ hours a day in the Texas heat except for the three weeks I went to Camp Champions.  It was awesome. I remember one summer with over 30 days of temperatures over 100 degrees. A break for lunch inside at the North Dallas Racquet Club felt really decadent. It was always a challenge to get back outside at 1pm, but we did it. And kept playing tennis.

I spent the summer between 11th grade and 12th grade living in Knightsbridge, just outside of London, and working for Centronics at their office in South Kensington. I wrote software on an Apple ][ to design the character sets for Centronics printers, ran a lot, learned how to drink beer, got into the drama of the Falklands War, and endured a Tube strike.

In college, summer meant going back home to Dallas. I worked for PetCom for several summers, putting in 80 – 100 hours per week writing software. Then one summer I rented a house at 2430 Denmark in Garland, Texas from my mom where Feld Technologies really got its start. I drove my mom’s Mercedes 240D around that summer – it went from 0 to 60 in about two minutes.

You get the idea. Every summer is a different adventure for me. Several years ago I wrote Startup Communities and Startup Life over the summer. This summer I’m finishing up the 3rd Edition of Venture Deals and writing the first draft of my newest book #GiveFirst. I’m gearing up to be in marathon shape with the goal of running the Portland Marathon in October. And I plan to make a healthy dent in my infinite pile of books.

This summer is going to be about writing, running, and reading. While the rest of the US is playing politics, I’m going to side step that since I expect the amount of negative energy around it will be legendary this cycle. I’m in a great rhythm around our portfolio and investing so I know what that tempo will be like. And, while I’ll travel a little, Amy and I planning on spending the summer in Boulder.

I’ll see you around town, if you are here. And now, I’m off for a two hour run.