Welcome to the Future

2013-05-26_techstars_ID_final_bug with typesetWhen I was a kid, I was always fascinated with technology and mechanics.  I could not get enough of anything that seemed complex or innovative. When I was a kid I built model planes, I built and raced RC cars, I also built and flew gas-powered RC planes for a few years. Then I shifted my focus to computers and cars as I got older. I grew up in the bay area and was surrounded with early tech and I was just drawn to it.

I also seemed to have a really hard time staying focused on just one thing for very long. I wanted to absorb as much as I could. I’ve always been interested in what’s next. Its not ADD, its curiosity (or so I tell myself).

I was still in high school when I applied for an internship for a valley tech company. My duties were split between the QA lab and writing a Investor Relations database for the CFO. Looking back, this split duty may have laid the foundation for my entire career. I’ve always found the most rewarding and challenging work to be a combination of business strategy and technical details. My early career path followed this model, now that I think about it. I’ll spare you the details but what’s relevant is that I couldn’t really figure out what to major in when I went to college. I loved tech, but couldn’t commit to being an engineer, and I loved business but didn’t love numbers enough to want to be an Accountant or Finance major (ironic, right?). I decided to split the difference and selected Marketing as a major at the CU Leeds School, and they had a brand new Entrepreneurship track that I hopped on. I haven’t looked back.

The last 15 years of my professional life has been an amazing journey across a number of different industries, markets and models. As it turns out almost every one of the companies I’ve either founded or been a part of was angel and venture backed (7 of 8 to be exact). I’ve had days where I loved VCs, and I’ve had frustrating days when I’ve hated them. For years I thought about getting into venture capital, and the idea that I could be involved in a larger number of businesses at once really intrigued me. I told myself that if I ever had the opportunity, I’d carry with me all of the lessons and scar tissue I had accumulated over the last 15 years. It had to be the right platform, the right team, and the right culture. I’m proud to say the time has come.

On Wednesday we announced a new $150M venture fund at Techstars. There has been a bunch of great press on it, and David wrote an phenomenal post that touches on how Techstars got to this point. Brad Feld also posted his thoughts on our evolution, and Mark Solon wrote a great post about his own journey to this point. I could not be more excited and humbled to be able to call David, Mark, Nicole and Jason my partners. I learn from them every day, and enjoy the unique strengths and perspectives we all bring to the table. I’m incredibly thankful to have a seat at the table.

I met David Cohen in 2006, when I was running Newman Venture Advisors. We had just sold off an early stage company I was the interim CEO of, and he casually asked me what I was going to do next. I pitched him on an idea I had been developing. Something to do with filtering the web and improving the signal to noise ratio. David pulled a two page exec summary he had written out a file cabinet. (We still used those back then). It was, almost verbatim, what I had just pitched. He suggested I apply to this new thing he was doing called Techstars. I demurred, and thought it wasn’t a fit for me. I think he said something like “just apply, it will be a good exercise”.  Always up for a challenge and immediately seeing the value of the application process, I agreed. On the way out the door he mentioned “oh, by the way…applications close in two weeks and you have to provide a functional prototype.” After the mild panic subsided, I put my head down and Filtrbox was born. Thanks for the nudge David, you changed my life!  David also introduced me to Tom Chikoore who became my co-founder and CTO at Filtrbox. We clicked quickly and although we barely knew each other we shared a huge vision for what was possible. Reflecting on how this all started,  there is something magical and serendipitous about being part of the team at Techstars today.  My future is here, and it all started almost a decade ago. There are no coincidences.

I wish I could tell you I was in constant disbelief about how this has all come about, but I’m not. I’m blown away, and at the same time not surprised. Techstars is the real deal. This organization lives and breathes its #givefirst mantra and entrepreneur-focused mission every day.  I’m constantly learning, constantly inspired, and super excited for this next chapter.

I’ll do my best to “do it right” and remember my experiences as an entrepreneur pitching other VCs. I’m not sure I agree with this Venn diagram (thanks @yoavlurie), but 15 years as an entrepreneur and operator won’t be easily forgotten.

I moved to Boulder in 2002 with my amazing wife Leslie because we wanted to find balance. I wanted to do awesome things in tech, but on my own terms. Brad Feld was a huge early inspiration and supporter (and later, we had a walk around a lake in Slovenia that had a profound affect on me). Jon Callaghan and Phil Black at True Ventures were some of the first VCs I met whose care for the entrepreneur was clear and evident.  Trevor Loy at Flywheel taught me the value of looking around the bend. Simon Khalaf, my boss and soon-after co-founder at JustOn taught me how to get shit done and execute on a vision in ways I could have never imagined.  And the day that Seth Levine said “we” in a Mentor meeting during Techstars in 2007 instead of “you guys” has stuck with me to this day, and I’m lucky to count him as a good friend.

David and Mark both talked in their posts about how the people around them have shaped their careers and personal paths, and I could not agree more. I’m so thankful to have amazing people around me, and I look forward to meeting many, many more amazing and inspirational people in my journey as an investor.

 

Book Review – Uncommon Stock: Power Play

power playLike many of you reading this, I live and breathe startups and tech. Sometimes the truth of what goes down is indeed stranger than fiction. In the case of Uncommon Stock: Power Play – the fiction is where its at. Eliot Peper’s sophomore effort in the Uncommon Stock series does not disappoint.  I reviewed the first book here (spoiler: also awesome).

I’m not sure how to really describe what’s happening in this book series without ruining it, so I’ll just encourage you to read them. Super fun, fast paced and creative.  Perfect for a longer flight or a Sunday morning. I would not recommend starting this book at night, as you’ll find yourself up for awhile!

I could get used to this startup thriller-fiction thing…its a blast and a wild ride.  The protagonist, Mara, finds herself in one crazy situation after another and the story arc is one part startup drama, one part 007, and one part Sherlock Holmes.

The author has a way of keeping you engaged and your mind racing to work out what happens next, and there are enough familiar and authentic-feeling elements layered in there to make it a lot of fun and *almost* too close to home. Given that the book is set in Boulder, this is pretty easy ;-).

I hear the third book in the series is already underway, and I’m anxious to see how Mara handles the insanity of her situation. She’s one tough CEO. Bring it!

2015 – The Future is Here

I woke up this morning with the thought “I can’t believe its 2015!”, but truthfully I can and I’m actually super excited about the year to come. In many ways, I feel like the future is here, now. We are always in a state of evolution, improvement, optimization, etc. with technology, but 2015 feels like its going to be like a tipping point.

On the personal front I’m committed to getting my body and heath put back together. My recovery from the back surgery almost two years ago is in a good place and I’m able to ride a little, swim and lift again. However I’ve put on almost 15 lbs since my bike racing days so I’ve got real work to do. I’m fired up about it though, and you can bet that technology will help keep me focused on my goals. I’m using LoseIt, Withings scale, my Garmin & Strava for starters.

On the work front I couldn’t be more excited about where we are taking Techstars next. Our recent announcements around the new Mobility Accelerator in Detroit and the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, powered by Techstars are super forward-leaning programs that aim to bring tomorrow’s tech into the hands of consumers and businesses today.  These two markets, Mobility and Robotics specifically, are places where innovation means better safety, utility and environmental responsibility.  Its going to be a big year and I can’t wait to see what the companies come up with!

When I think about the state of the art in terms of IoT, home intelligence, and just sheer cool-factor, its hard to believe where we are when you stop and think about it. A few years ago when things like Nest and Dropcam were just hitting the mainstream we knew it was all coming, but its happened fast.  Sure, we don’t have jetpacks, hyperloop, and sadly there is no light rail between Boulder and DIA yet (cough, cough), but a 3.2 second electric sedan, AI for drones, touch-surface headphones, smart HVAC vents, smart sensors for your home and the like all tell me we are hitting a tipping point where the groundwork laid over the last few years in these areas of tech-driven efficiencies are going to reach a point where we really see the benefits as consumers. In fact, you don’t have to look much further than our holiday gift guide to see some really cool innovations that are hitting the market.

What’s also got me inspired is that I’m going to CES for the 1st time next week. I’ve always wanted to go and am excited to check it out, although I know its crazy and exhausting.  A good number of Techstars companies will be there, and I’m speaking on a panel on Wednesday about raising capital for your company, alongside some great folks from Qualcomm Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and Silicon Valley Bank.

Bring on 2015! Perhaps I’ll get that jetpack after all.