Jun 7 2021

The Power of Giving Away Power

I don’t often write book reviews here on VC Adventure, but occasionally I read a book that I feel so strongly about that I feel compelled to write about it. The Power of Giving Away Power is exactly that kind of book – it’s exceptional.

I’m fortunate enough to be friends with the author, Matthew Barzun, who has a fascinating and varied background. He was an internet entrepreneur, the US Ambassador to the U.K. and Sweden under President Obama, and was the National Finance Chair for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. More importantly, he is an incredibly thoughtful and compelling person. He puts all of these qualities and more into his new book, The Power of Giving Away Power, where he debunks some of the myths of classic management theory and hierarchical thinking in eloquent, humorous, and compelling ways. The book resonated with me deeply. As I thought about various leaders that I’ve known over my career, I realized that many shared the leadership traits that Matthew talks about in the book. I would strongly recommend picking up a copy. Whether you are managing just yourself or thousands of people, everyone will find useful lessons in this breakthrough book.

May 25 2021

You Need More Nietzsche in Your Life

Nietzsche has so many famous quotes it’s sometimes hard to choose just one (most have heard that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger although I suppose few realize that it was the German philosopher who first penned it). My favorite, perhaps, is: there are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth. I like it in particular because in many ways it describes Nietzsche himself. His writing is often beautiful, but with a depth that sometimes takes time to fully recognize.

In their new book, The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors, Brad Feld and David Jilk pick out some of their favorite Nietzsche quotes and form chapters around business lessons from them. It’s a brilliant construction and one that adds context and meaning to Nietzsche and his writing. You’ll recognize many of the contributors to the book – Reid Hoffman wrote the introduction (I didn’t realize that Reid studied philosophy before turning to technology as a career), and many entrepreneurs contributed chapters (I wrote one as well, in fact).

There are many lessons to be learned from the last year – of the importance of connections to those around us; of how fragile our economy is – especially in certain sectors; about what’s really important. One of the most important to me was the power of slowing down. I’ve always known this – and strove to create space in my life to do it (often failing). But Covid forced it in ways that were unexpected. Especially from this perspective, the timing of The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche is perfect. I’ve had a pre-release copy for a few weeks now and it’s how I start my day: quietly contemplating a Nietzsche quote and considering its meaning for my personal and work life. Thank you to Brad and David for this gift.

I hope you’ll consider buying the book and trying a similar routine. Nietzsche isn’t a philosopher to be devoured. Rather, his writing is meant to be contemplated and considered. The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche is a wonderful, guided way to do just that.

You can purchase the book on Amazon and other sites. The book’s website with more information can be found here.

May 14 2021

Supporting Small Businesses – A Political Perspective

I’m really excited about an upcoming event that my partners at Foundry have put together that will build upon the discussion we’ve been having around New Builders in some critically important ways.  and will join Denver entrepreneurs , Founder of and , Founder and CEO of . We plan to dig deeper into why politicians like to talk about small businesses but rarely enact meaningful policies to help them (and increasingly seem to be favoring policies that support larger businesses at the expense of smaller enterprises). 

The event is free and will be held on Tuesday, May 18 at 1pm MTN / 3pm EDT / 12pm PDT. You can register . And, of course, if you haven’t read the book, it will be a great primer for the event. You can find information on how to pick up a copy here.

I hope you can join us!

May 12 2021

Older Entrepreneurs Leading the Way

We had the opportunity to talk with many great entrepreneurs doing research for our book, The New Builders. I was struck by how thoughtful, determined, and gritty they were. As most readers know, the book focuses on entrepreneurs from a diverse set of backgrounds – people that truly represent the next generation of founders in the United States.

One of the trends that we observe in the book is that the rate of entrepreneurship among older Americans is actually quite high. In fact, across all age groups, the fastest-growing group are entrepreneurs 55 and older. There are a number of interesting reasons for this that we talk about in the book. And we tell the stories of handful of older American entrepreneurs to help highlight these trends. One of my favorites was Fred Sachs who founded and eventually sold a lumber company as well as a commercial door and hardware company. He’s also my wife’s cousin, once removed (that’s her dad’s first cousin)!

Fred Sachs on Grapewood Farm in Virginia

Initially, Fred planned on retiring but his hobby of growing wheat on his farm near Alexandria, VA turned into a new venture selling flour to regional bakers. Grapewood Farm now produces a variety of organic small grains and stone ground flour to customers across the Mid-Atlantic region.

We highlight his story and the importance of older Americans in business in a piece in nextavenue that we just released this week. I hope you’ll check it out and see why our nation’s focus on Silicon Valley being the seat of innovation is not entirely on the mark.

May 10 2021

Some Great New Builder Events This Week

It’s Boulder Startup Week and there is a great lineup of events happening all week. I was really grateful when Dave Mayer from Technical Integrity suggested I consider an event during BSW to highlight some of the trends around diversity that we write about in The New Builders. Makisha Boothe from Sistahbiz (who is featured in the book) is going to join me for a wide ranging discussion about who is actually starting businesses these days and how we can and need to better support them. I hope you can join us for it, Tuesday May 11 at 1pm MTN. You can register here. And, of course, check out the other great Boulder Startup Week events taking place all week.

Also tomorrow – 11am MTN – my TNB co-author Elizabeth MacBride and I will be doing a live feed on Instagram with Camelback Ventures, an accelerator that works with early-stage, underrepresented entrepreneurs with the aim to increase individual and community education, and generational wealth. This is another great example of a support network that’s so critical for the new economy. Follow Camelback to join this event live, ask questions, and participate in this important conversation.

Next Tuesday, May 18, VentureCrush is going to host, Maya Horgan Famodu of Ingressive Capital, Kathryn Finney of Genius Guild as well as several other notable guests from business and venture (and me!). Given the deep diversity of this panel, it will undoubtedly be a fascinating conversation around the future of small business in the US and abroad.

Lastly, Foundry is hosting Elizabeth MacBride and me along with Senator John Hickenlooper, Congressman Joe Neguse and some amazing local New Builders to talk about infrastructure for small business and how government can better support our small business owners (from both a practical and a policy perspective).  This event will be held on May 18th at 1pm MTN. I’ll be writing more about this later in the week so keep an eye out for further details.

May 6 2021

Making a Better World – Uncharted’s Economic Equality Initiative

Uncharted is about to launch applications for their new Economic Inequality Initiative to support teams working on radical ideas to address economic inequality. I have a long history with the Unreasonable Institute (renamed Uncharted in 2017) and the work they’ve been doing around empowering entrepreneurs from many different backgrounds who are working across the globe on some of our world’s most important problems. Since 2010, they have helped an amazing set of entrepreneurs raise over $250 million, created impact in 96 countries, and benefited 37 million lives around the world. Amazing!

Seeing extreme economic inequality as one of the biggest threats to America in the next 30 years, they’re launching their most ambitious program ever. I hope you can help get the word out. I’m really excited to be participating in this program.

The Initiative

The Economic Inequality Initiative focuses on supporting early-stage organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) with the clarity, connections, and capital they need to scale their solution, technology, pilot, or initiative that is addressing extreme economic inequality in the US.

Each participant gets:

  1. $25,000 unrestricted grant
  2. Access to world-class mentors
  3. Financial and Investment Experts to help teams prepare to raise capital. For every $1 that goes to Uncharted, we turn it into $8 of additional capital our portfolio takes on within two years

The Ideal Participant

  1. Type: Pre-incorporation, nonprofits, for-profits, pilots, partnerships, and policy experiments
  2. Stage: Completed a pilot or has proof of concept
  3. Geography: US-focused

I encourage anyone interested in social enterprise to check this out, even if you’re not looking for funding. Unreasonable is doing amazing work and they’re worth paying attention to. You can sign up for notifications and tips here.

May 3 2021

Fortune: Tech entrepreneurs grab the headlines, but COVID relief should target grass-roots small businesses

With the fate of many small businesses remaining up in the air, after over a year of Covid related restrictions and challenges, my New Builders co-author, Elizabeth MacBride and I just authored a piece for Fortune that talks about the importance of saving America’s more Main Street businesses. We titled it Tech entrepreneurs grab the headlines, but COVID relief should target grass-roots small businesses I hope you’ll check it out.

Carmen Portillo and Priscilla Williams of Cocoa Belle Chocolates

The article talks about the importance of small business and tells the story of one New Builder – Carmen Portillo – who is the first certified chocolatier in the state of Arkansas. We tell Carmen’s story in more depth in the book, but the highlights are important to add texture and color to the debate around why small businesses are so important to our economy and to our communities. Small businesses are critically important to our overall economy. Together, small businesses employ nearly half the labor force and generate nearly 40% of annual GDP. They also provide a certain connection to their communities that is both hard to put into words, but impossible to replace. But there is a huge disconnect between today’s entrepreneurs and the largely white men who control our systems of finance (and whose energies focus on high growth companies and hunting unicorns). Some 80% of small businesses don’t receive any formalize form of financing as they get their start (either from venture capital or similar sources, or from a bank).

The Covid crisis put an entirely new angle on what was already a growing problem for America’s Main Street entrepreneurs and we knew it would be important to capture the true impact of the pandemic on our nation’s small businesses. The fast growth promised by tech is mostly an illusion, because it’s narrow. We need a broad-based recovery, not one that only boosts a handful of companies.

I hope you’ll check out the full Fortune article and, if you’d like to learn how we can solve problems facing today’s small businesses, pick up a copy of The New Builders – it’s available tomorrow, May 4th.

Apr 27 2021

More New Builders Events! Tattered Cover Bookstore (and more!)

A few upcoming events to let you know about. First, we’re taking over the Instagram account for Commonplace Books in Oklahoma City for the entire day today (4/27/21, but the archive will remain there if you’re reading this later). We’ll be live on the account to answer questions about The New Builders and to talk with readers at both 1:00PM and 4:00PM MDT (that’s 2:00PM and 5:00PM in OKC). We’ll be telling the stories and introducing some of the entrepreneurs working in Oklahoma City that we write about in the book. Drop in and join us!

Also, a reminder that tomorrow night, we’re hosting an event with Black Lab Sports that will focus on New Builders working in sports and performance technology. I was just reviewing our plan for the evening – it will be a very interesting discussion. More details through the link above.

Last event to tell you about is one that’s close to home for us – a forum we’re hosting along with the Tattered Cover Bookstore. I’ve been visiting the Tattered Cover since I was a kid, coming to Denver to visit my grandparents each summer. Tattered is an icon of Denver and a wonderful local resource for our community (as so many local bookstores are). I was fortunate to be able to participate in the purchase of Tattered that was led by new CEO Kwame Spearman a few months ago.

Next Friday, May 7th, Tattered will be hosting an online discussion about The New Builders at 6pm MTN. The event will be moderated by Summer Nettles of Greater Purpose Media and will feature some New Builders from the Denver area: Lorena Cantarovici of Maria Empanada, Toti Cavadid of Essencialize, and Mowa Haile of Sky Blue Builders. Maria’s shop was recently visited by Vice President Biden.

The event is mostly focused on this amazing group of business owners as we talk about women and BIPOC business owners and how to better support them. My co-author, Elizabeth, and I will talk briefly at the end about how the themes these entrepreneurs talk about are reflected nationally.

You can register for the event via Eventbrite. We hope you’ll share this with others – it’s going to be a special evening (and those from anywhere in the country – or the world – are welcome to join!)

Apr 22 2021

New Builders | Black Lab Sports Forum

Black Lab Sports is hosting a great event on Wednesday, April 28 from 6pm – 8pm that will focus on the intersection of themes from our upcoming book (The New Builders) and diverse founders working in sports and performance technology. The event will be hosted by Black Lab Sports CEO JP O’Brian and Cody Burkhart of NASA and, along with my co-author Elizabeth MacBride and me, will feature some amazing guests working at the forefront of human performance:

Dhani Jones, former NFL linebacker for the Giants, Eagles, and Bengals. After football, Dhani turned his attention to entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and activism as well as hosting the Travel Channel’s Dhani Tackles the Globe, VH1’s Ton of Cash, and CNBC’s Adventure Capitalists.

Marques Anderson, former NFL safety who played for the Packers, Raiders, Broncos, and the 49ers. Marques then went on to found the World Education Foundation and to become Head Coach for the Norwegian American football organization, Oslo Vikings.

Krissa Watry, Founder and CEO of Dynepic and Dynepic Sports. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Krissa was in the USAF and worked at Andrews Space. She also sat on the boards of Marshall Communications and Mission Solutions Group.

We’re incredibly excited to bring this amazing group of entrepreneurs together to talk about their experiences as New Builders and the future of entrepreneurship. It’s going to be an eye-opening discussion with an innovative group working at the leading edge of human potential. This is an online, free event and we’d love to have you join us (Eventbrite registration link). And please share with your networks as well!

Apr 22 2021

Bolster’s Board Benchmark Study | Shout-out to Execs Looking for Independent Director Roles

As we’ve recognized the need to diversify our networks to better diversify our companies and company boards, Foundry has been working with a number of firms such as HimforHer, Valence, ReadySet, and others. We’re also partnering with Bolster – a company that, although we’re not direct investors, we have strong ties to through several of our partner funds who are investors as well as through our long, long time relationships with Bolster’s CEO, Matt Blumberg (who was CEO of Return Path in the Foundry portfolio) and Micah Mador (former Foundry Network and Community Catalyst and now Partnerships Manager at Bolster).

Today, Bolster released their Board Benchmarking survey analyzing the diversity, composition, and compensation of 250 private company boards (including over 50 Foundry portfolio companies who participated) and 650+ individual board members. The data show just how much work we still have to do in diversifying our boards. Overall, the data showed that 85% of directors on Foundry portfolio company boards are white but that 57% of our companies currently have open board seats. This presents a great opportunity to build more diversity at the board level. Since Foundry’s network spans 38 partner funds and over 1,500 companies, if half of those companies also have open board roles, our slice of the universe has more than 750 potential open board seats.

Foundry is committed to positive change on a bigger scale and this means diversifying our networks as a collective. To help us do this, we’re partnering with Bolster to invite each Foundry Partner Fund and their portfolio companies into a new type of talent network: The Foundry Collective.

We also recognize that there is inherent bias in the networks of our own company leaders and fund managers. So we’ve also decided to open source this initiative and surface Foundry Partner Fund board opportunities to the broader tech ecosystem, with a particular eye toward boosting access to individuals traditionally under-represented on boards. If you are an executive interested in independent board roles or know someone who would make a fantastic independent board member, fill out a member profile on Bolster using this link. In addition to board opportunities across the Foundry Network, a Bolster member profile will also unlock access to their broader ecosystem of hundreds of startup and scaleup CEOs, as well as content and resources to help you on your journey to the boardroom.

The data show that diverse companies perform better, and through our collective efforts, we can do our part to influence the way board rooms look in 2021 and beyond. This, of course, is in addition to the initiatives we have in place to continue to diversify the executive ranks (and overall ranks) of the businesses we’ve invested in.

You can read Bolster’s full report here and see some highlights below.

Key findings:

    • Only 32% of private company boards have independent directors. Half of boards have open independent director seats they expect to fill in the next 12 months. 
    • Compared with investor or management directors, independent director seats are 3 times as likely to be held by women. 86% of director seats overall are held by men, and 56% of early stage private company boards have no gender diversity at all. 
    • Four out of five seats on private company boards are held by individuals who are white, and 43% of boards are completely homogenous with regard to the race/ethnicity of their directors. 
    • CEOs are broadening their searches to diversify their boards. Two-thirds of CEOs are open to bringing on first-time directors, and 41% of independent directors have either some college or an under-graduate degree only.
    • Board composition tends to over-index on investors and management directors. 59% of boards have more than one management or founder director and 59% of boards have 2 or more investor directors.
    • Men seem to have a slightly higher average earning potential (measured in basis points per year and grant value) compared to women directors at like companies.