CU Boulder’s New Venture Challenge. Come Join Me

I’ve seen the “Transactional IQ” – i.e., the level of understanding around startup deal making – rise at CU over the past five years.  This fall I finished teaching a Venture Capital course at CU for the fifth time.  And in recent years I’ve helped coach CU’s Venture Capital Investment Competition team.  It is fun to see what involvement with students over a five year trajectory can accomplish.

I’ll be involved in another five year milestone on Wednesday.  CU-Boulder’s New Venture Challenge Fifth Annual Championships are Wednesday 5:00 – 7:30 p.m. in the Wittemyer Courtroom at Colorado Law.  I am a judge.  Free registration available at http://cunvc.org/

It is fun see the NVC go from “let’s make up a competition” to, five years later, something that feels like an annual CU-Boulder institution with over 60 teams involved.

In 2008, several groups across CU-Boulder banded together to launch a cross-campus entrepreneurship championship, which they coined the New Venture Challenge.  In year one, the CU NVC set out to answer the question, “I’m interested in entrepreneurship.  But where do I start?”  Buoyed by a grassroots group of student volunteers, the NVC aimed to inspire students and “collapse the campus” (i.e., encourage people to build startups in interdisciplinary teams).   It helped that, from the start, the NVC involved all parts of campus, with the Silicon Flatirons Center, Deming Center, ATLAS, BDW, eShip, and the Entrepreneurship Center for Music involved.  About 75 or so people trudged through a foot of snow to see the inaugural NVC Finals, which my partner Ryan McIntyre helped judge, in 2008.

Five years later, the snow is back, but the CU NVC otherwise appears to be scaling well.  A robust mentorship program now connects CU NVC teams with Front Range entrepreneurs.  The NVC increasingly emphasizes action over endless business planning.   Several experiential classes have popped up across CU-Boulder that build companies that participate in the CU NVC.  Audience interest is up, too.  The NVC Finals are now held in the 250 seat Wittemyer Courtroom at Colorado Law School.

Check out the NVC on Wed night.  I’m looking forward to it.

April 16th, 2013     Categories: Education, Entrepreneurship    

You Love API’s? Here is something for you Boulder / Denver

If you are involved in tech and entrepreneurship, there are two upcoming events that you can’t miss, called APIs & IPAs. The events, hosted by SinglySendGrid and FullContact (all Foundry Group portfolio companies), are on March 27th at Rock Bottom Brewery in Denver and March 28th at Bitter Bar in Boulder.

APIs & IPAs is a tech community happy hour, with drinks and appetizers covered by the host companies. We hope to see you there!

APIs & IPAs Denver (3/27): http://denverapis.eventbrite.com/

APIs & IPAs Boulder (3/28): http://boulderapis.eventbrite.com/

March 19th, 2013     Categories: Uncategorized    

My “First” Rock and Roll Video (a.k.a “Come to VentureScape 2013!)

For those of you who know me, I have always loved being a musician.  For a while, I thought that I would make my living as a drummer, but the world conspired against me.  That being said, I couldn’t be grateful enough that I ended up as a venture capitalist.

Last year, I spearheaded the Foundry Group “I’m a VC” Video.  It was as ton of fun and I’m certainly proud of it, but musically it’s a parody song and I don’t have the same emotional attachment that I do with the real music that I create, especially those songs that I co-write with my business partner Ryan McIntyre for our band Legitimate Front.

Completely separately, I’m on the Executive board of the National Venture Capital Association, where I’m the Chairperson of the 2013 annual meeting, now called VentureScape 2013.  (Plug:  Sign up for the event!).  When I was drafted to come up with a different format than past years I knew that I wanted “fun” to be part of the event.

We decided to throw a huge party the night before the main event and thanks to Silicon Valley Bank, we are going to have a great event that revolves around….. wait for it….  MUSIC!  For the first time ever VCs are going to get together with their favorite folks and listen to world class music headlined by Pat Monahan of Train fame!

As part of the new format of the event (it’s not just the party, either, check out the agenda!), Emily Mendell, V.P. of Communications at NVCA created some great videos to promote the event.  Today’s video:  VC Rockstar Dreams and it features the music of Legitimate Front!  I love that Ray Rothrock and Marc Cadieux, both of whom will be performing as well, were in the video as well.

This is probably the closest that I’ll ever come to making a real video of my music, but it was a wonderful experience.  Check it out for yourself below.  And oh, yeah…. Come to the event, May 14th at the Great American Music Hall!

Notes:  Yes, that is really me lying on the street outside in San Francisco.  And yes, I was told that a person once died in the exact spot that I “performed” in.  All for the love of art.  Special thanks to Long Haul Films for a GREAT job.

 

February 26th, 2013     Categories: Hobbies, Just For Fun, Music, NVCA, Venture Capital    

Colorado Law – Teaching In-House Lawyers How to Run Lean

It’s clear that in-house law departments are going through a major paradigm shift. In the same way that manufacturers are testing out technologies that are allowing them to keep up productivity while cutting costs, CEO’s are asking law department leaders to trim as much as possible.

Throughout the world, law departments are using manufacturing theories such as Six Sigma to get more from less. On April 8, The University of Colorado Law School will hold a three-day executive training program for Chief Legal Officers and in-house counsel where they will learn from professionals about how to navigate in the “new normal.” The program will cover topics such as measuring performance, leadership, talent management and using technology to run a law department.  The presenters are great and I’m looking forward to being one of them, as well as learning from folks much smarter than me.

If you are interested in “The Executive Lawyer”, go to www.colorado.edu/law/execlaw or call Harry Horowitz at 303-492-9044.

February 7th, 2013     Categories: Uncategorized    

It’s the Hours, not the Rate – Why Most People Focus on the Wrong Thing When Choosing a Lawyer

Given my background as a recovering lawyer, I’m often asked by portfolio companies, friends, other VCs, etc. for attorney referrals.  I don’t get asked too often on routine matters, but the really important “bet  the company” stuff where counsel selection is critical.  Fortunately, I’ve had the pleasure to work with a lot of good folks which soothes my inner zen master, as so many lawyers are average at best.

However, literally every discussion I have is similar to this:

Me: “Hey, you should check out X, Y and Z for what you need.”

Them: “I did, thanks for the recommendations.  They are all great, but X is $500 and hour, Y is $650 and hour and Z is $850 an hour.  Therefore we are going with X.”

Me: “You realize that hourly rate is largely irrelevant?”

Them: “Huh?”

And thus a discussion ensures on why hourly rates are largely irrelevant.  Why is this the case?  Simple math: Total Bill = Hourly Rate X Hours billed.

In all my years of auditing lawyer bills, it’s the hours that always stand out.  The hours, in any complex matter are what spiral out of control.  In these big issue situations (litigation, patent stuff, M&A, IPOs, etc.), the amount of hours that an efficient and creative lawyer will save you far, far outweigh whatever hourly rate they may charge.  In fact, the higher hourly rates seem to have little or no effect on overall lawyer bills as I look across multiple companies, it’s all about the knowledge, experience and efficiency.

One simple decision, for instance the decision to not file a particular motion, response, fight an irrelevant issue, etc., will impact the total fees way more than an hourly rate.

So when you are shopping, do your diligence on the creativity, efficiency and deep domain knowledge the lawyer has.  The amount of hours you will save far surpass any difference in rate.

(***Caveat:  This doesn’t pertain to simple matters like company formation, typical venture financings, etc.  Also, at some point hourly rates DO matter, but I’m thinking of a lawyer who is  $1000 an hour and I would stake my reputation that his overall bills are lower than any of his peers for similar matters.)

January 20th, 2013     Categories: Law, Venture Capital    

Startup Summer! Find your great summer internship here!

Of all the projects Startup Colorado initiated in its first year, one of the most successful was Startup Summer, a summer internship program that combined a ten-week internship at a Denver/Boulder startup with a series of evening events focused on teaching the student-participants the fundamentals of entrepreneurism.  Last year 18 students worked with 14 companies in a variety of roles, from web developer to marketer.

Startup Colorado is now accepting applications for the second year of the Startup Summer program, which will be open until March 1st.

The program includes:

  • A paid ten-week internship with a Front Range startup; the internship will include frequent interaction with the company founders and management team
  • The Startup Summer seminar series, featuring prominent entrepreneurs teaching classes on entrepreneurship
  • A weekly social event with business leaders in the community
  • A close-knit community with your peers in Startup Summer
  • An opportunity to interact weekly with a personal mentor experienced in startups and entrepreneurship

Like last year, Startup Summer is looking for students at colleges or universities who are aspiring entrepreneurs and want to accelerate their development by getting plugged in to one of the hottest startup scenes in the nation.  Unlike last year when the program was limited to students in Colorado, we are opening the program up to any student actively enrolled at a four-year program in the United States.

If you are a student at a four-year college with a passion for entrepreneurship, or know a student who would be interested, you can get more details and apply to Startup Summer here.

January 6th, 2013     Categories: Education, Entrepreneurship, Venture Capital    

Venture Summit | West: Wrongly Charging Entrepreneurs to Pitch VCs

What is old is new.  Entrepreneurs  are stil being asked to pay to pitch.  It’s WRONG.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post about a Boston group trying to charge entrepreneurs $4500 to pitch venture capitalists at an event.  Many in the startup community were appalled by this especially folks like Jason Calacanis who created the Open Angel Forum specifically to create an event where entrepreneurs could gain free access to investors.

To quote my partner Seth:

image

THERE IS NO CIRCUMSTANCE IN WHICH ENTREPRENEURS SHOULD PAY TO PITCH THEIR BUSINESS TO PROSPECTIVE INVESTORS.

PERIOD. END OF STORY.

 

Microsoft, who had been a sponsor of the Boston event, terminated their relationship after the pay-to-pitch arrangement was publicized.  I thought all of this activity would die, but it’s 24+ months later and it looks like the idea has been resurrected.  And it makes me just as sick today as it did then.

Venture Summit | West, being held February 13th is an event looking to make money off of entrepreneurs who need to raise money.  The price?  $1585.00.  I suppose the good news is that if you apply and don’t make the cut, they don’t charge you.  But $1600 bucks to pitch VCs?  This is completely backwards and distasteful. They also offer startups a ticket for $400 if they just want to come and network with the VCs at the event.

They are charging the VCs to attend ($500) and they have a bracket for “others” at ($700).  So at least the investors are not getting a free ride on the backs of the entrepreneurs, but can we finally be done with trying to make money off of startups that don’t have any cash?  Come on folks, create a business model where you can make some money but NOT charge the entrepreneurs.  My bet is that many of the VC attendees have no idea this is even going on.

Lastly, if you are trying to raise money, do you homework.  You have many other outlets to meet VCs, including OAF, and simply going to VC websites and finding email addresses.  There are events all over the place where you can network and / or pitch.  Even online.

I hope that companies aren’t taken in by their slick marketing materials.

 

December 12th, 2012     Categories: Company Running, Entrepreneurship, Financings, Frustrations, Venture Capital    

Boulder It’s Time to Get Serious About Our Energy Situation – Call City Council

As many of you know,  Ballot Measure 2C, to “explore” municipalization, passed by 1.8% of the vote in November 2011.  The idea is that Boulder would investigate taking over responsibility for our energy needs and terminate the relationship with Xcel.

I can’t claim that I’m an expert on all such energy matters, but it sounded like a bad idea.  The notion that a town with less than 100,000 people would be able to efficiently provide electrical service (especially when service interruptions occur) seemed unlikely.  Of course the issue became more political than analytical quickly.

When the measure passed, City Council promised a publicly-available decision plan with decision “off-ramps” to terminate proceeding with municipalization.  These off ramps would be for things like financial feasibility, electric power rate equivalence, and equivalent reliability to existing Xcel service.

This Thursday, on November 15, 2012 the City Council will vote on these off ramp metrics.  In other words, this is the framework they will rely on to determine whether or not Boulder is going to go-it-alone on power.  And I feel these metrics are very flawed and bias the decision to separate, rather than unbiased to get us to the correct decision.  I’ve spent time with several folks in the community who are experts on these matters and who are spending their own time and money analyzing these metrics.  They are convinced they are flawed and I’m convinced their scientific method is sound.

Make no mistake about it.  If Boulder screws this up, the city probably goes bankrupt in my opinion.

From independent analysis and reference, the “off ramp” decision metrics currently proposed do not represent the financial risks, potential reliability impairments, or increases in electric power rates that would result from a city municipalization of Xcel’s assets.  Alternatives have been provided by knowledgable citizens, a city council member, and the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.

We seem to be speeding past the OFF RAMPS in the drive toward municipalization.  Backing up on this busy highway is unlikely.

What should you do?

Write your Boulder City Council an e-mail or letter stating that you do not support a vote for adequacy of the “off-ramp” decision metrics proposed by Heather Bailey (which are the current metrics).  They do not represent our risks of greatly increased electric rates, reduced reliability, and unsupportable bond debt due to creating a Boulder municipal power enterprise. 

Please vote NO on proceeding with inadequate decision criteria November 15.

council@bouldercolorado.gov

Call council members who have supported proceeding with the current recommendations:

Matt Appelbaum          303-499-8970  appelbaumm@bouldercolorado.gov  

KC Becker                  303-218-8814  beckerk@bouldercolorado.gov   

Macon Cowles            303-638-6884  CowlesM@bouldercolorado.gov   

Suzanne Jones           720-633-7388  joness@bouldercolorado.gov   

Lisa Morzel                 303-815-6723  morzell@bouldercolorado.gov   

Tim Plass                   720-299-4518  plasst@bouldercolorado.gov   

I remain convinced that we can achieve transparent governance and a rational outcome for the municipalization movement – but only if we get concerned citizens and businesses involved in our local democracy. This is worth taking time out of your day and making your voice heard.  

 

 

November 12th, 2012     Categories: Frustrations, General    

Sympoz Launches Programs on Starting Companies

One of our portfolio companies, Sympoz has announced the launch of their programs targeting startup entrepreneurs.  Even better, the series stars some of my favorite people in startup land:  my partner Brad Feld, along with Brad Bernthal of the University of Colorado Law School and Mike Platt , partner at Cooley LLP.  We teach you everything that we know in this comprehensive video series.

Thinking about doing your first startup? Perhaps you’re a startup veteran, who has the bumps and bruises to prove it, looking to jump back in?

Let us help you maximize the opportunity and do it right.

Brad’s class, How To Light a Spark & Set Your Startup on Fire, is FREE for a limited time.  Brad has lived the startup story over and over. He offers straight-shooting advice: Does your idea have market potential? Is it the right idea for you? Brad’s raw and pragmatic advice will lead you to consider the competition, examine your motivation and be honest about your level of passion and commitment.

Brad Bernthal and I, who have for several years taught an oversubscribed course at the CU Boulder Law School, are joined by Mike in teaching, The Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Company. In this class, which includes over 4 hours of instruction for just $29.99, we join forces to teach you things your lawyer and venture capitalist may not want you to know. How to turn an idea into a company. Who to partner with. How to seek out money and what to do with it when you get it. You’ll learn what to put in your pitch deck, what not to say to a VC, and 15 common mistakes that will kill your startup before it gets off the ground.  And a lot, lot more…

For those of you who have read Venture Deals, consider this a great summary of some topics in the book, but more heavy on the business side of equation, with the benefits of interactivity between you and the instructors.

Sympoz classes are perfect for busy people; you can watch the professionally produced, HD videos anytime, anywhere on the planet, from any Internet-connected device, as often as you want. The Sympoz learning platform seamlessly blends discussions into the class experience, enabling you to ask questions of, and participate in conversations with your class community, including your instructors.

So, what are you waiting for? Join us in class!

Flinja Helps University of Colorado – Boulder Students Find Jobs, Pay off Student Debt

As a venture capitalist and a professor of law at University of Colorado – Boulder, it is tough to see how many smart students are having trouble finding jobs after graduating.

The Atlantic reports that 53% of recent college grads are either un- or under-employed, especially in a market flooded with degree-holders. In Boulder, CO alone, there are now 11,041 unemployed people, and although that number is better than the 2009 peak of 12,835 unemployed, it’s still 820 more since January 2012.

There are tons of job sites out there all promising the help, but few actually do.  However I recently saw a model that I haven’t seen before.  Last week I was a sage panelist at DEMO and Flinja was one of the over 20 startups presenting in the Social Products category. They were one of my favorite teams.

What do they do?  Simple.  They capitalize on school spirit to get students hired.  Yep, if you are a fan of CU, you will soon be able CU students.  If you are a Michigan alum, soon too, you’ll be able to focus your hiring ecosystem on folks that share your background.  While simple, this could be very powerful.

Launched last month at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles to much fanfare, Flinja allows an exclusive network of students, staff and alumni to hire and be hired within the site. I constantly come across companies who are eager to hire local CU Boulder students but have no one at the companies who are alums. You can connect with CU alumni and find companies hiring within our community. And trust me, it is exclusively for students and college networks—you can’t even register without your “.edu” email. In an extremely competitive job market, it looks like a welcome relief for CU Boulder students, letting them get directly in touch with alumni and potential employers. And in light of the recent jobs numbers, the Flinja platform seems like a great way to take advantage of whatever momentum there might be. Just my two cents.

They are launching at CU and will take some time to get a lot of people on the system, but I’d encourage students look for jobs to give it a shot.

 

 

October 9th, 2012     Categories: Education