Overhead

Yesterday, I didn’t leave my house.

I was supposed to be in San Francisco for a board meeting but I was forced to cancel the trip suddenly. It left me with a rare day with only that one meeting (which I had to attend remotely) on my calendar. Otherwise, my calendar was wide open. I can’t remember that last time my calendar looked that way. I ended up doing that meeting online, and putting it on my big screen TV in my basement. It was really as good as being there. I caught every nuance because of the big display. It felt great. Obviously I missed the personal interaction with the management team, but that was really the only drawback.

I then realized that the entire rest of the day would have been spent traveling.  I would have missed bedtime stories with my son, but because I didn’t have the overhead I got to do that too. Sure, I probably would have gotten a ton of email done on the plane. Maybe a call on the way to the airport. But really, the travel was pure overhead. Leaving my house would have been overhead too. I didn’t go out to lunch either, I just ate a quick sandwich at home.

Because of the lack of overhead, it was easily the most productive day I can remember. It was pure maker time, except for that one meeting. I crushed my task lists and caught up on several very important projects. I did a couple of urgent calls (this happens daily – something is always urgent when you have a large portfolio of companies). I went to bed feeling energized and great about what I had accomplished.

My only regret was that I bothered to shower or put regular clothes on. That cost me a couple of minutes. But my wife was OK it, especially the shower. And I’m pretty sure the other board members appreciated not having to witness my pajamas.

I highly recommend you have one day in your life with zero overhead. Doing this will help you think about which of the overhead items you want to add back in and which you want to try to reduce or eliminate. You may be amazed by what you find. I sure was, and it’s leading to a few changes.

 

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A better professional network

Techstars is an amazing network of over 3,000 entrepreneurs, mentors and investors. Being part of the network is a lifelong benefit for the companies we fund. One of the most important (but often undervalued) assets a startup needs to create is a strong and supportive network around itself.

For me personally, making connections among people that can help each other is a big part of what I do. I want to put the right people together at the right times so that all of the companies I’m involved in can do incredible things.

Professional networks like LinkedIn don’t help me do this. They’re inaccurate because they don’t understand the difference between someone I met briefly at a cocktail party and someone I’ve worked with for 10 years. And they force me to manually send and accept connection requests in order to keep up with changes to my network. At the end of the day, they don’t actually understand my network or anyone else’s.

What I want a professional network to do is help me navigate my network and find the best ways to connect people. Conspire, a company we’re investors, does this well. Based on email communication patterns, it understands the strength of relationship between me and each of my contacts, along with the strengths of millions of other relationships. The result is a professional network that finds the strongest path of connections between me and any person or company.

When I need to reach out to someone, Conspire finds the best person in my personal network to make an introduction. But, more importantly, it helps my extended network know when I can help them with an introduction, or when someone else in their network is in a better position. Always knowing who to ask for help is powerful.

Conspire’s network has grown to reach more than 37 million people already. Historically, it has only been available to Gmail users. But today they are opening up access to anyone with an email account that supports the common IMAP protocol, so it now works with Outlook, Exchange, etc as well.  I’m excited to see the network grow and become an even better resource for me and everyone else.

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Hanging at Techstars

Hanging at Techstars

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!

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