A Smarter Internet-of-Things

I love the concept of a smart home and have a number of monitoring devices. I have Nest for temperature control, Dropcam to keep a close eye on my front door and WeMo for my lights and outlets. But there is one thing I have noticed, they all feel like silos. These products have different apps, independent push notifications, and they all serve separate purposes. I receive so many irrelevant push notifications that I am beginning to wonder when I will miss a notification I actually care about. I won’t deny that they are cool gadgets, but they could be better. The IoT industry has an opportunity to make products that are actually smart. There are too many notifications and devices don’t learn fast, if at all, leaving a fragmented ecosystem of products, apps, and notifications. Few devices have settings to filter notifications or set rules, and many just send alerts about everything. UX needs improvement! Real intelligence is missing from my world of “smart things.” Notion, currently in Techstars, has a unique approach - to give me information about my home that I actually care about and only when it’s important. Notion focuses on home intelligence and just launched a Kickstarter campaign and already has $200,000 in orders as I'm writing this. The Notion team has created a multi-function sensor about the size of an Oreo that can detect light, acceleration, sound, natural frequency, orientation, temperature, water leaks, and proximity. Notion can tell you the simple things a home security system can detect, like if a door opens, a window breaks, or an alarm goes off, but it can also tell you if the temperature of a baby’s room is too hot or cold, if a pipe breaks in your basement, if a teenager is getting into your liquor cabinet or if your propane tank is low. This is cool functionality to be sure, but what I am most excited about is that it actually learns about me over time as I accept and decline alerts. I’ll be able to set my own custom rules in the app too. I don’t need to know every single time my front door opens because it’s usually my family or anticipated visitors. I’m also looking forward to calendar, weather and other useful integrations to customize the UX for my life. All of these improvements are made possible by their single sensor and innovative data technologies. I love home automation, but what I need are intelligent devices that are more than just gadgets. As the smart home market continues to evolve, the appetite for products that truly make you smarter about your home and your life will continue to grow and become more useful. I’m excited to watch Notion progress and can’t wait to get the sensors I ordered via Kickstarter.

How To Not Be Heard

For years I’ve worked very closely with two individuals who get extremely excitable, to the point of anger and frustration, when they’re expressing their point of view. These two people happen to be among the smartest people I’ve ever met. However, they often deliver their feedback accompanied by something very off-putting such as the following gem:
“Someone with a brain will eventually figure this out!”
This is what they really said to me! It was immediately followed by some very insightful and important feedback. But it's feedback most people would never be able to hear. If you were on the receiving end of this feedback, it would be pretty hard not to feel insulted. The implication that you don’t have a brain would probably distract you from any advice or insights that followed. Fortunately, I have what I consider a rare and useful skill in my line of work--the ability to cut through the emotion and still listen to the content of the message. However, most people aren’t built that way. They’re going to get hung up on the fact that you’re insulting or berating them and how that makes them feel. As a result they will never give any consideration to your actual message, no matter how amazing your insights may be. I once heard a great phrase, which I’ve since successfully passed along to these two individuals:
“The fury with which you speak undermines the veracity of your statements.”
So this is how to not be heard: Scream. Hurl insults. Unleash your fury. If you do want to be heard: Stop. Think. Breathe. Set aside the emotion in your tone. When I work with startups and give them feedback, I always try to remain even keel and tone the down emotional content. Sometimes I’m really pissed off, and sometimes I’m really excited, but I strive to make sure my message is heard and not my emotion. If you’re the kind of person who likes to scream and deliver a lot of hellfire with your feedback, recognize that many people will never hear your feedback. If you’re the rare example of someone like this who also has amazing, important insights to offer, realize that you’re undermining yourself. Your ideas will almost never be heard. If you want to be heard, you have to learn to rein it in. If you’re prone to getting excited and emotional, remember: Don’t let the fury with which you speak undermine the veracity of your statements. Tone down the emotion when you’re providing feedback, so that your brilliant insights can be heard.

Open Angel Forum #10 in Boulder

It's time to take a quick look back at companies that have presented at Open Angel Forum here in Boulder so far. There have been 9 events. Companies that participated have gone on to raise well over $100M and have over 400 employees. Pretty awesome. The full list of companies that participated in the past is at the bottom of this post. Now it's your turn! Open Angel Forum #10 in Boulder is on October 28 at 5pm. If you'd like to present there, please apply. If accepted, you get to come have dinner with the most active angel investors in our community an in informal no-BS setting. Open Angel Forum is always a great fit for companies that already have some early commitments to their rounds, and t amplifies this nicely to other active investors in the community. If you're an active angel that wants to attend, please apply here. As always, there is no cost to present or attend as an angel. Even dinner is covered. Here's what past participants have to say about Open Angel Forum.
“I've done many pitches in a variety of settings. OAF is by far the most personal I've experienced. We were able to pitch and to chat. People often say "it's business, it's not personal"..I don't buy that. When it comes to early stage investing, it's also personal. Investors want to know the people behind companies and entrepreneurs want to understand that team behind investments. It's relationship and OAF does a great job bring together both sides who are already living in the same community.“ - Dave Cass, CEO/Co-Founder of Uvize
“OAF was a great launch point for us at Given Goods. It’s an incredible way to get exposure to sophisticated angel investors within your community. We found that in Boulder if you invest in getting to know the people in the community, the community will invest in your success personally and as a company. This proved true from OAF to Boulder Beta to TechStars." - Alex, Founder at Conspire
"The entire OAF experience was great. I met some other local entrepreneurs who I'm still in touch with, and we picked up two new investors who have intro'd us around town. It was a great hand-picked crowd who were more engaged than most pitch events. Would highly recommend to early stage entrepreneurs" - Will Sacks, Co-Founder and CEO at Kindara
“The main differentiator for OAF was the fact that there were active and qualified angels there. Regardless of whether a company benefits monetarily from the event, the interaction with this group has a dynamic that was very challenging and positive.” - Sherisse Hawkins, CEO/Co-Founder at BeneathTheInk
"OAF is a great opportunity to present in front of a small group of engaged and insightful investors. It's an incredibly high value event for entrepreneurs." - Alex, Founder at Conspire
A huge shout out is due to Fletcher Richman who does all the hard work around Open Angel Forum. Thank you Fletcher, you're making a huge difference in our startup community. Here's all the past participants who have now raised > $100M and have 400+ employees in our community. I hope see you at the event on October 28!

Parents balancing Startups

The following is a guest post by Allyson Downey, founder of Weespring which is a Techstars company based in NYC that provides trusted reviews for baby products. [caption id="attachment_4376" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Hanging at Techstars Hanging at Techstars[/caption] -- Here's some good news about being both a parent and an entrepreneur: whichever hat you put on first is going to help prepare you for the other. The bad news: it's because they're both unpredictable, utterly exhausting, and (usually) thankless jobs, wherein you're making things up as you go along, constantly dealing with variables out of your control, and cleaning up crap (both figurative and literal). Sounds good, right? So unsurprisingly, doing both of these jobs at once requires some serious juggling skills. (I like to say there's no such thing as work-life balance... just work-life juggling.) As the founder of a start-up whose whole mission is to make parents' lives easier, I've spent the last couple years also trying to figure out how to make my life easier -- while still feeling like a good parent to my kids and a good CEO to weeSpring. And the truth is, all of the aforementioned headaches aside, if you get the entrepreneur thing right, you can build in tremendous flexibility for yourself -- while building a company that will attract great talent. Preach what you practice, and practice what you preach: As an entrepreneur, you're the one setting the culture for your company. Articulate your values early on both inside and outside the company, whether they're broad ("do your job where you want, when you want, as long as it gets done") or specific ("no one is expected to answer work email on weekends"). And by the way: these values are important for parents and non-parents alike. Do stuff that's just for you: It's typical to feel guilty about your kids when you're running your business, and guilty about your business when you're with your kids -- so doing neither can feel pretty awful. But if you burn yourself out, both the family and the company will suffer. Carve out a couple hours every week to do something that's a little self-indulgent: take a long solo walk, read a novel, go to a movie, or whatever else re-charges you. Embrace the second shift: Long hours are a given for entrepreneurs, but they don't have to preclude you from spending time with your kids. We allocate 5pm to 8pm as family time, for dinner, a bath, play, and tucking into bed. And then we're back online after (and often will do things like schedule conference calls at 9pm). Think in terms of quality, not quantity: This has become one of our core values at weeSpring, and we apply it to pretty much everything -- especially time. Three hours with your kids when you're checking your iPhone every 10 minutes is worth a fraction of even just 30 minutes wholly focused on them. Make use of your "found" time: We all have pockets of time that (inadvertently) get frittered away, whether it's standing in line at the supermarket or riding the subway. Have a running list of small tasks that you chip away at when you have a couple free minutes, like clearing out emails or working on blog posts (like this one). Leverage your village: I'm a big believer that it takes a village to raise a child, but you have to be pro-active about tapping into it. Childcare is an enormous headache for any working parent, but for entrepreneurs whose work can extend into the weekends and other odd hours, you need an especially solid support system. Find (or start) a baby-sitting co-op and build up a solid stable of friends, family, and sitters who understand and can help you. There's nothing easy about either being an entrepreneur or a parent, but nothing that's easy feels all that rewarding. And now a few years into both running a start-up and starting a family, I can't fathom anything more rewarding than what I'm doing. -- Be sure to check out Weespring and let Allyson know what you think about her post in the comments! Thanks Allyson!

Making Tech Stack Choices

I received this question today by email and I thought I would share my answer.
Here is my question. We are building a startup and are having to make a technology stack shift for reasons I can explain later. The startup is currently funded but we have a short time to put this together to receive more funding. Based on the skill set of the developers we have, we have chosen to go with .Net MVC 5 for a service layer, Mongo for a db, and knockout on the client side for an MVVM. One of the investors has advised us that .Net could be problematic for us when it came time for VC investors and a possible buyout later. The concern is that such investors or buyers will shy from a .Net based site. My question is simple? Is that true, has that been your experience and do you have any suggestions?
My answer was: The answer is that yes, SOME investors and SOME acquirers will not be interested in .NET. Then again, some (for example Microsoft) will think it's great! Don't make tech choices based on potential exits or investors, make them on your ability to serve your customers. Create value, and things like investors and acquisitions take care of themselves. This is more likely to be an issue in a downside case, where your'e selling the company because you have to - that's when things like tech stacks get considered as a major part of the equation. When it's because you, your products, your customers and your data add tremendous value they'll acquire you even if the code is written in MS BASIC with a BTRIEVE database. ;-) Let me know in the comments if you disagree.

Asynchronous Voice is my new BFF

I've been saying for years that I hate the phone. I keep wondering why people keep calling me on my mobile computer (which for some reason they still insist on calling a phone even though that is by far the most poorly executed capability it has). Lately, I've made good progress on cutting down on phone calls, so I thought I'd share so that together we can eventually eliminate most phone calls. Internally at Techstars, we've been using Voxer for about a year now. It's completely changed our ability to communicate easily and we love it. We use it for leaving "instant voicemail" for each other. You still get all the nuance of voice communications for important subjects, but everyone gets to listen and reply when they want to. It has cut way down on both email and the number of internal meetings we used to need. As a company, we now treat the various communication channels with the following priorities:
  • Phone call - very urgent or scheduled in advance
  • Text Message - very time sensitive (now) but less urgent than a phone call
  • Voxer - important but any time today or ASAP for you is OK.  <-- New!
  • Email - it can wait a few days, it's not a big deal.
Of course we communicate in lots of other ways (Jive, chat, twitter, etc). But most of our important internal communications are one of the four methods above, and we have a conscious prioritization of them internally so everyone is on the same page about expectations. By adding in this new third priority (Voxer in our case), it's massively cut down on the need for scheduled phone calls internally while also decreasing email which has the drawback of having no tone. Given that we're 50 or so people spread out over many geographies, it's had an even larger impact. I can't recommend it highly enough for distributed teams. Lately I've been using WhatsApp as well, and it's also excellent. I've decided to use both. I'm using Voxer for "internal" Techstars work and I'm using WhatsApp for my investments. So, if I'm an investor in your company via Techstars or my angel or venture funds, please use WhatsApp any time you want to chat! You'll need my cell number to do that - just add me to your address book and you'll see me inside WhatsApp automatically.  Please don't use Voxer or Whatsapp to reach out to me if I don't already know you. We need an existing personal or business relationship for this channel to work for me. If you do reach out to me anyway, I'll direct you to email as politely as I can (probably by linking to this post). It's important to understand that in both Voxer and Whatsapp, the conversations often turn real time. I often go back and forth with someone if they happen to catch me between meetings or while I'm walking to my office. It's just that the back and forth is 'walkie talkie' style, and there is no social contract that I have to keep it real time. If it works, it works, without any pre-planning. I hope this post helps you get more out of asynchronous voice communication and helps you avoid some of your scheduled meetings and email backlog. Friends! Coworkers! Business contacts! I'll see you in async voice land! Note: I'm not an investor in Voxer or Whatsapp, but I wish I was.