Archive for the ‘Observations’ Category

Loss of a Friend

This post is probably more for me than readers of this blog, but today I lost one of my best friends.  She was my cat Sammie.

We met each other while she was a stray that hung around the neighborhood. One day, she was injured in a fight (presumably a raccoon) and had one door step to choose in order to get emergency medical help.

Imagine my surprise when I left one day for the law firm to find a bleeding cat on my doorstep.  I had been working hellish hours and was only a junior associate, but decided to take the cat to the vet and call in sick.  (Sorry Uncle Cooley, I guess that I still owe you a vacation day).

The vet told me that the cat needed major surgery to survive and that they would put the cat to sleep as they didn’t expect a perfect stranger to spend $2000 on a cat whom he didn’t know.  (In fact, I didn’t even know the sex of the cat, thus the name “Sam” that I called her on the way to the vet figuring I’d be good either way).

Something hit me when the vet told me that a financial issue would likely be the demise of this soul.  At the time, I had no money.  It was before the Gunderson salary wars and I was struggling to pay a mortgage.  But something told me that in the grand scheme of things I’d never remember the money, but always remember my decision.

And I did remember my decision.  Every day.  Until today, she greeted me at the door every time I came home.  She went to sleep in one of my arm pits most nights and certainly every weekend nap.  She made herself the host of the house and welcomed in pets and people where she could entertain (and get some rubs in as well).  She converted many a cat-hater to cat admirer.  She managed to find that perfect spot of sunlight to lie in no matter how many homes we’ve had since.

Through all the good and bad days, she was always concerned more about me than herself.  I have never seen an animal behave so selfless that way.  In fact, I think she secretly liked when I had surgeries so that she would have me to tend to.  She took care of me much more than I did of her.

And even today, after she had a clot that paralyzed her back legs and caused her tremendous pain, she waited for me to wake up until she meowed for me to help.  Once again, she was thinking of me.

I’ll miss you dear Sammie.  Here are some of my favorite pictures of her.

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December 20th, 2010     Categories: General, Observations    

Want an Introduction to one of our Portfolio Companies? Here is what NOT to Do

I’m asked all the time to play matchmaker between folks and companies that we’ve invested in.  Sometimes it’s someone looking for a job, sometimes it’s one company looking to partner with one of our investments and other times it’s something completely different.  I’m always happy to do so long as I think it could be a mutually beneficial relationship.

Lately, however, I’ve seen an increase in behaviors that do nothing but turn me off.   I feel almost silly writing this post.  These should be obvious.  Perhaps this will help someone?  Or at least, I’d love to hear some other stories which will make me laugh.

Poor behavior #1:  Expect me to do all the work.  This is the person who wants an intro to a company, but it is like pulling teeth trying to get them to write something that I can send along to the company.  First, the askee should have a better idea than I do why there is a good reason to connect.  Second, if I’m going to take time to make an intro, then why would you want to wait for me to get around to writing an email?  I could end up getting so busy that I never get around to it.  And it’s just nice etiquette, too, I think. 

Poor behavior #2:  Be overly aggressive to get directly connected to the company.  This is the person who wants me to introduce them to an executive at a company, before I check in the with the company to see if they are interested.  Our companies are really busy building businesses and if they don’t have an interest, I’m not going to force them (or guilt them, as an investor) to meet with someone.  When I say that I’ll make the intro if the company is interested and the askee becomes aggressive wanting a direct intro, it really turns me off.  Remember, it takes me more time to check in with the company and then get back to the person than an instant intro, so it isn’t like I’m not trying.  I’m just attempting to be respectful of our portfolio companies’ executives time. 

Poor behavior #3:  Insult my company in an attempt to show your worth.  This is my favorite.  This is the person who tells me that the reason our portfolio company needs to meet with them is because our company sucks in some capacity.  Insults will get you nowhere.  This isn’t the case where a person says “Hey, I can help your company do X better.”  This is the person who says “I can fix your company’s debacle” or “Your company has no idea how to monetize.  They suck at revenue.”  (I am very lightly changing actual quotes sent to me).  Every startup company has issues.  Actually, every company has issues and can be better at some things, but acting as a know-it-all and being arrogant and thinking that an outsider is smarter than anyone inside one of our companies is probably a bad strategy.

Okay, rant over.  Am I missing any good ones?

September 12th, 2010     Categories: Company Running, Foundry Group Investments, Observations, Venture Capital    

Control Your Most Important Asset – Your Brand

Last week I wrote a blog about Atomic PR and their illegal spamming of folks trying to generate buzz for their clients.  [Note: they’ve since apologized and have agreed to stop doing this and let folks opt out – see the comments area for the CEO’s reaction post].

One of the most interesting things to come out of the post, however, was an article by Mike Melanson on Read Write Web entitled “Does your PR Firm Need a PR Firm?”  It’s a really thoughtful piece and had one piece of advice that is critical: 

“Remember that allowing a PR firm to run free with your brand is essentially allowing it to have control over how your startup comes off to the rest of the world.”

In other words:  Control your brand.  Always.  It’s your most important asset.  Your brand is made up of your goodwill, reputation and public perception.  It’s hard to have a good brand and it’s very easy to have a lousy one.  It’s also easy to have a good one ruined and very hard to go back the other direction. 

One can come up with many examples of companies with good brand equity who have made missteps with products and have lived to fight another day (although you can’t have too many mistakes).  But companies with bad brand equity seem to always be behind the eight ball.  For instance, Microsoft, which allowed Apple to rebrand themselves with the “I’m a Mac” commercial series, can’t buy a break despite Windows 7 being a really good product.  And my bet is that Toyota, which had tremendous brand equity figures a way out of its quagmire as well. 

And startups, which have even more fragile brands, hire PR firms at prices that are equivalent to executive salaries and basically hand over the keys to their brand.  And some do the same with their lawyers who interact with their VCs. This also holds true for all service providers that companies hire that deal with the outside world.  All of this can build or damage a startup’s brand.

Even in AtomicPR’s case, they outsourced their brand to a email database called Cision.  They claimed that they don’t spam because they subscribe to a database that gives them contact information of journalist and bloggers in the technology space.   From the word’s of Andy Getsy, CEO of Atomic PR:

“Jason has an active blogger profile on Cision, which lists him as a VC covering venture capital topics. He blogs on tech products and companies from time to time. I suspect that this is partly how his info popped up again”

AtomicPR decided to blindly trust a database that claims it contacts bloggers for inclusion on their lists.  Well, for at least two of them – myself and my partner Brad, we’ve never heard of them or been contacted.  And I’m not a blogger or reporter who “covers” technology, as Cision claims.  I’m just a dude with bad grammar that occasionally writes things that people read. 

And while their intent might not have been to spam, that’s what they did.  They outsourced their contact list and then furthered outsourced their brand to junior associates who did not respond to my polite pleas to be taken off the list.  So in the end, AtomicPR’s brand was tarnished by their outsourcing and eventually one person who took issue (me). 

Morale of the story:  Be hyper careful about your brand and reputation.  It’s your most important asset.  And it’s a bitch to fix.  If you don’t believe me, Google “AtomicPR” and see what comes up on the first page. 

June 9th, 2010     Categories: Entrepreneurship, Frustrations, Observations, Technology, Venture Capital    

Refine Your Own Personal Elevator Pitch

Every day I meet new folks.  What this means is several times a day, I listen to someone’s life story (in abbreviated form) and I reciprocate.

In short, we are giving each other our own personal elevator pitches.

Lately, I’ve noticed people who are seemingly unaware of how "their story" is playing with me, or others that I’m meeting with.  Sometimes 20% or more of the time is spent listening to background.

I think everyone needs to practice their elevator pitch.  Have several versions – the short one (30 seconds or less,) a one or two minute version and then the long version.  Most importantly, err on the side of the shorter version and let a person ask you questions about what interests them. 

I keep hearing "to make a long story short" and then 5-10 minutes later the person is done.  That is actually making a really really long story still long, in my opinion.

It’s not that I don’t want to get to know people, rather, a short summary is just as effective and we can explore what interests us most as the conversation naturally takes us.  Plus you don’t risk losing my attention (or others who are there) which really isn’t an exciting way to start a relationship.

I’m going to take my own advice here, too.  So if any of you catch me not heeding it, call me out.

June 4th, 2009     Categories: Observations, Venture Capital    

What Boulder Means to Me

The folks over at Boulder.me are soliciting folks to write about what living in Boulder means to them.  They are going to be collecting them and posting on their site.

In case you haven’t seen the site, Boulder.me is for folks that are interested in the Boulder startup ecosystem with a bent toward wooing great folks to move here.  Having lived here just under three years after 10 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and way too many years outside of Detroit, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on my life in Boulder.

Last April, Ryan and I posted a blog on the Foundry Group website about "What We Learned By Moving To Boulder" which was a venture capitalist’s perspective on the advantages of being located in Boulder.  In short, we found Boulder to be a vibrant, supportive and well-located geography for a national investing platform.  Furthermore, we thought being away from the Silicon Valley actually sharpened our focus on the region.

Today’s post is more a personal nature that I didn’t feel qualified to write a year ago.  For whatever reason, it was quite apparent (quickly) that Boulder was great location for business, but how about life?

Pretty simply – Boulder rocks.  I’ve never lived anywhere that has such a strong amount of intellect (Boulder was recently ranked the smartest city in the country) that is focused not only on professional endeavors, but hobbies, sports, outdoor activities and life in a way that I’ve not had the pleasure of previously experiencing in my other hometowns.  In other words, it’s really nice to see people’s energy and passions allocated to things outside of work.

Furthermore, the supportive community on the business end also trickles over into the personal end.  After less than 3 years here, I feel a closer sense of community than I ever did back in California.  My neighbors actually seem genuinely interested in what is going on in their community and the people who live there.  Maybe it’s a little too Wisteria Lane, but I like it.  Of course, nothing is perfect, there are a few who I wish were a little less concerned, but overall it’s a positive.

Lastly, I would say the ability to walk out my front door and either:

1. Go for a hike;

2. Walk to work;

3. Walk on over to TechStars and hang out with the next generation of great entrepreneurs;

4. Walk to the Boulder Theatre and see a world class show; or

5. A combination of all of the above couple with a great Belgium Brew from The Kitchen

means that while my world is a bit smaller than was before, most everything I want is within a short non-motorized commute.  It’s highly addictive.

So, that’s a short post on what Boulder means to me.  Thanks Boulder for having me.

March 7th, 2009     Categories: Entrepreneurship, Observations, Venture Capital    

The Sky Is Falling. It’s All Over. Oh Yeah, and Lawyers Want to Profit From It.

If you are a regular reader of the this blog, you know that I don’t ascribe to much of the doom and gloom that everyone wants to wallow in.   

This isn’t to say that I have my head in the sand.  I realize that many people are losing their jobs and that companies need to run their businesses extra efficiently, but this isn’t exactly "R.I.P" for the good times, despite anything other venture firms may say.  The sky is not falling and it’s not "game over."  The economy will bounce back. 

Also, if you are a regular reader, it’s possible that you’ve picked up my issues with many law firms’ billing practices.

What do these two topics have in common?  Where there’s a crises, there is always a lawyer willing to make some money on it.  Today’s candidate:  Proskauer Rose

I just read that Proskauer has created an "Economic Crisis Response Group" to deal with the uncertainty we face.  I’m not sure who in the marketing department came up with this, but I about fell off my chair laughing.

According to the press release, the group:

- Includes lawyers from different practice groups;

- Who quickly respond to clients affected by the current turmoil; and

- Who monitor, analyze and disseminate information on new developments as they arise.

Uh, isn’t this what ALL law firms do?  In fact, if you weren’t doing this before, what exactly where you doing?  I’m sure that with all specialty groups, they’ve found a way to bump up their hourly rates for this elite group, but maybe this is just marketing gone really wrong.  

Do they get to wear cool super hero uniforms?  If so, I’m down with that. 

Sigh, just more noise being added to the system.  Not exactly what we need right now.

October 30th, 2008     Categories: Frustrations, General, Law Firm 2.0, Observations, Venture Capital    

The Most Useless Button Ever

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So, the blogosphere was helpful explaining to the me the necessity of Hell having a guard dog, so maybe y’all can help me with this one:

Why do elevators have a "door close" button?  While I’ve been pretty satisfied with the performances of door open buttons on most elevators that I’ve ridden in, it occurred to me today that most, if not all, door close buttons simply don’t work.  What gives?  What can we save on elevators if we forgo this useless button? 

July 28th, 2008     Categories: Frustrations, Just For Fun, Observations    

Bernanke versus Bush – Winner Bernanke

This from my new friend Alfred Levitt…

He was watching CNBC today and noticed that they elected to carry Bernanke’s remarks to the Senate Banking Committee rather than President Bush, who was addressing the nation about the economy. 

While a obvious choice in some respects, I believe it says something very important about what the country is thinking, not merely CNBC or its editorial choices.

I think it says that most people see the current economic situation as much more grave than previous economic downturns.  It’s starting to make the Internet bust look pretty tame in comparison. 

Dollar cratering, inflation at 27 year highs, credit markets decimated…. what next?

This one is getting scary folks.  Hang onto your life jackets.

July 15th, 2008     Categories: General, Observations    

Why Does Hell Need A Guard Dog?

While at lunch today with Ryan, we began a discussion about the debt markets (not good) and how this might affect private equity shops.  I had heard rumblings from my hometown of Detroit that Cerberus Capital might be a little light in the cash flow department with respect to its investment in Chrysler. 

It was at that point that I admitted to Ryan that I really didn’t know how to correctly pronounce the name "Cerberus" and asked for a little guidance.  Ryan, being the ultra-nerd that he is (and I love him for it) began to tell me that Cerberus was the name for the Hound of Hades.  Cerberus stood at the gates of hell with its three heads and guarded the place.

Which led me to the question of "who exactly are they trying to keep out of Hell?  If there was one club that I thought would always offer me membership, it was that one."

Ryan didn’t know the answer.  Now I know how his son, Quinn, must feel.  :)  If you know the answer, please let us know.

July 14th, 2008     Categories: Just For Fun, Observations