Thursday, January 19, 2017

Why Trump

What does supporting Donald Trump say about YOU?  If you are a proud trump supporter, I have some questions for you that I would like answered.  The underlying theme is: WHY?

Is it the sexual assault and rape allegations? because his own ex-wife detailed how he raped her on 60 minutes AND in her book.  Plus, there is audio tape of him describing how he likes to sexually assault women and nearly a dozen women who have accused him of the EXACT kind of behavior he described around the time that he said it.  He doesn't dispute any of this. All the women who have accused Trump of sexual assault

Is it the cozy relationship he has with a Russian dictator? Because he actually said that he hopes that Russia hacks the DNC (which they did) and interferes in the election, which they did.

Is it his overt racism? (So many examples that there is no need to post just one)

Is it his mocking behavior of the disabled?  Because if it IS your assertion that he DIDN'T make fun of a disabled reporter, there is video proof.

Is it that his various forms of communication have been amassed and analyzed to reveal that his words, in totality, are known to have resulted in the lowest Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test scores, (when applied to all of his various forms of communication), for anyone ever to have been elected president.  He also appears to be, in my opinion, the president in the last 120 years with the lowest level of emotional intelligence?

Is it that he seems to have zero regard for or understanding of the constitution, the bill of rights or the most obvious and ubiquitous laws-of-the-land?  Trump disregard for constitution

Is it that he has defrauded tens-of-thousands of people during his career, including more than six thousand students?  If you are proud of him DESPITE him having done this because you simply don't believe it?  Are you not aware that he recently settled a lawsuit, for having done exactly that, for more than $25 million. That is a FACT.

Is it that he doesn't pay taxes like you and I do, leaving us to foot-the-bill for all of the things that he rails against? Trump doesn't pay taxes

Is it his constant vitriol and ridicule aimed at men and women who have the unenviable task of reporting on the thousands of lies he has told?  By the way, the story that he told in this clip was proven to be an outright lie.  He hadn't to that point, raised any money for vets and hadn't given a dime to anyone.  The result of which is that his foundation was investigated and sued by the New York Attorney General.

Is it that he has repeatedly  called for violence against reporters, those in the media whose job it is to fact-check his statements and protesters?  In fact, he has defended those who resort to violence, both on TV and by offering to pay for their legal defense.

Is it his malicious and capricious use of the legal-system to intimidate anyone who criticizes him? Trump's long history of frivolous litigation

Is it that he has a long history of not paying his debts? Trump doesn't pay his debts

Is it his six bankruptcies?  Because if you are saying that it ISN'T a fact that he has declared bankruptcy 6 times, I can assure you that he has, because bankruptcy is a legal proceeding which is part of the public record.

Is it his reportedly bogus military deferments, that he used to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War?  By the way, is it ok with you that somebody who was declared unfit for the military is now going to be commander-in-chief?

Is it his complete disrespect for war heroes and prisoners of war... acting as if it was their fault that they were captured? Because it is a FACT that he made fun of John McCain for being a prisoner of war? (There is video proof)
Is it that his cabinet is shaping up to be the most corrupt, most inept, most ignorant, least experienced in the history of the republic?

Does he share your "Christian" values of "Fuck the homeless, Fuck the poor, Fuck the elderly, Fuck the unhealthy, Fuck the immigrants?"

I could keep going down the list and provide evidence of every single one of my assertions except, maybe, for the lowest IQ claim which is based on qualitative analysis and studies of his speeches, writings, college transcripts, high school transcripts and thousands of interviews that are all cataloged.

I can provide (or already have) indisputable video evidence of many of my points above and there are, literally, thousands of pages of sworn testimony, in the public record, to back up many others.
You can watch pool footage from Fox News to hear him talk about wanting people to resort to violence against those who criticize him and you could have watched the news in the last week to see one of the guys who was convicted of punching a black guy at a Trump campaign event right after Trump told the crowd to do so.

I have come to a conclusion that I feel is adequately supported with sufficient evidence.  I am not pretending that I didn't already have a negative opinion regarding Donald Trump, but the exercise of actually viewing video and reading quotes, really put things in perspective for me.  It turns out that most, if not all, of the bad stuff that is said about trump is true.  There is no need for fake news when the real news is so sensational and paints such a horrifying picture.

Therefore, I truly believe that you must possess one or many of these qualities, or at least respect them in others, in order to actually attest that you are proud to call him your president.  You must be stupid, hateful, racist, misogynistic, a liar, a criminal, xenophobic, homophobic, sociopathic, narcissistic and/or some other manner of truly disgusting human being.  Hardcore Trump supporters, in my opinion, offer no tangible benefit to society and seem to have no discernible understanding of economics, finance, history, culture, sociology or anthropology. Worse than that, Trump and his supporters seem to lack empathy and humility... It seems obvious to me that only the worst of us actually still support Trump, despite ALL of the obvious reasons to abandon his rhetoric and actions for saner , more humane choices..

Throughout history, the same types of people who now support Trump have supported Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin and Pol Pot. These are the willfully malicious, or woefully uneducated masses that make it IMPOSSIBLE to ever "make America great again," because they are too deliberately ignorant to contribute to that cause and there are too many to overcome.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why the most important word in my world is "WHY"

This is the single best presentation of any kind, about any topic, that I have ever seen.

I wish I was a smart as this guy.  He somehow codified what the difference between successful and failed leadership and inspiration is, and I find that amazing all by itself.

I have been saying for years that the most important word in my world is "WHY."  "Why" has always been intuitive for me.

  • "Why" challenges the status quo 
  • "Why" is the single most important factor in leadership, while "what" and "how" are only important as management tools.
    • "Why" is to Strategy as "What" and "How" are to Tactics
    • "Why" is the question that always comes before every inspiring idea, invention or movement.
    • "Why" is the setup; "Because..." is the punch-line

    My favorite line from this Ted Talk is  

    "Martin Luther King Junior said 'I have a Dream' NOT 'I have a Plan.' "

    Note to entrepreneurs... If you want to impress me, answer all of the "why" questions.

    I had no idea that I was using this part of my brain (insert your own joke here) but I am glad to have found validation for having done so.

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    Startups, Focus and Monetization.

    Somebody posted a question on the Startup Weekend Linkedin group about whether a focus on monetization is something that you do more when you have been through the process of building a comany before and how it changes with experience.  The answer to this can't really be addressed until we tackle the broader topic of, "When should you start worrying about monetization?"

    The answer to the first question: "Does this change with experience?" is an emphatic YES.

    As to whether folks with more startup experience tend to consider monetization more or earlier than those starting a company for the first time, it made me reflect back to my first startup, back in June 2000.

    Background: I am now working on my 6th software/web startup; I am fairly non-technical; I have had a couple of successful exits; my company is angel-funded and is about to close an "A" round.  Also, as a consultant, founder, executive-for-hire, contractor or investor-side mercenary, I have worked on, for or with 33 startups since 1999.

    So, back to what has changed since I started...

    Maybe because I can't write my own code, I have always thought that the point of starting a business is to make money. Therefor I have always been focused on how a company would do that, from the very beginning.  However, I have learned over the years to focus on the "why."

    • Why would someone buy it
    • Why would they buy it instead of a competitor's product
    • Why would they buy instead of doing what they have always done
    What it comes down to is a simple physics analogy; specifically Newton's Laws of Motion. (at the risk of sounding pretentious and all esoteric)

    It is really hard to get someone to do something that they have never done (An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.) Based on all of the questions that I have been asked by customers and potential investors over the years about how the company is going to make money; now, whenever I look at an idea, the first thing I do is try to figure out if the founders have considered how they are going to sell it/gain adoption. (an idea is "an object at rest" and the first goal is to provide the unbalanced force which sets it into motion)

    We have seen that it is way more important to get an installed user-base first, than it is to try to figure out how to make money. Getting an installed user-base for your idea is akin to taking an object at rest and putting it in motion. If you were to go out to your driveway, put your car into neutral, turn the wheel all the way to on side then start to push, you would probably find it difficult to get it moving and to make it go where you want it to go. However, if that same car were traveling forward already, even slowly, it gets easier to steer. (an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.)

    Same thing with monetization; If you start off by immediately worrying about pointing your company in the exact direction you think you need to go to make money, you end up focusing on the wrong thing first. However, if you start out knowing where you want to go, but focus all your energy on just getting the damn thing moving, it is WAY easier to steer it toward the money once it gets moving.

    So, I would say, it is important to have a broad idea of where you are headed, otherwise you just end up crashing into things and getting stuck, but don't kill yourself trying to point your business directly toward that goal at the beginning... just get it rolling and worry about how to make make it to your destination later.

    It'll be is easier to maneuver and apply that unbalanced force once you already have momentum.

    Saturday, April 16, 2011

    This time it is personal

    Yesterday, a friend forwarded this email (see below) to me.  It hit me at a time when I was vulnerable to the message.  I have been trying to figure out how I am going to find enough coders, and operations people to grow my company as fast as it seems to be ready to grow.  Plus, every early stage company CEO in Town seems to be running up against the same dilemma; there just isn't enough talent in town for all of the available jobs that we currently have.

    (addressee deleted)
    You were more prophetic than I gave you credit for. Don't know if you remember saying to the VC on the phone to give me money right away before you lose me to San Francisco. 

    I dismissed it at the time.  Turns out you were right. This town has been amazingly receptive to both my business and my wife's. With our kids grown - and one already living here as of July, it made huge sense for us to move. So we did

    Many thanks for bringing me into Project Skyway. I wish you huge success and I hope RT can come through with some real support.

    When you are in San Francisco, please let me know. It would be great to connect - and if there is any way that Pipeline Manager (the name of his company) can help you or your startups with a properly managed market development process, let me know.


    I am not mad that they chose to leave; I am pissed that we did nothing to try to stop them... and I am even more pissed that people think that there is a better reason to move across the country than there is to stay here and grow their companies.

    Plus, I have tried to talk two other people from going out there, this week! 

    I am serious when I say that I am going to start an all-out assault on this issue.  It is already too damn hard to get funded and to find talent here without all the good companies and awesome people going other places.  We are WAY too damn easy-going about this issue and I am going to personally put an end to it. 

    I am going to plan a damn summit-meeting with all the folks who have told me recently that they might be leaving, to tell us why.

    Then I am going to also invite investors, the people from JumpStart, the governor, the mayors, CEO’s, legislators, the folks from Light Bank, some folks from Madison, and anyone else I can get, to come to help us figure out how we are going to get them to stay.  This is going to kill us if we don’t act right now!

    I am SICK OF THIS.  We need to move on this because it not only directly affects the viability of Project Skyway, but it sucks the entrepreneurial talent out of the Twin Cities.  It doesn’t even matter if they all go out there and fail.  We all know that they probably will fail at their first attempt… but after they have failed, and learned what it takes to succeed, they are no longer here to start a new, better, company …or to come to work for mine, yours or anyone else’s.  Instead, they are 1800 miles away helping some other company build jobs, wealth and an even better, more welcoming, place for our talent to land when they can’t get their company off the ground here.  You know that these folks are going to continue to recruit their friends from Minnesota and the Midwest once they have laid a foundation.

    We are almost at the disaster point;  the point at which all of our resources, coders and entrepreneurs are getting driven out of town by the lack of risk capital and the lack of a concerted organized effort to stop it.

    The “Real Entrepreneurs of Minnesota are about to start kicking some ass and taking some names.

    By the way…from now on, I am ABSOLUTELY SERIOUS NOBODY EVEN MENTIONING THAT PLACE AROUND ME.  I am going to snap the next time someone mentions any city, municipality or region even remotely close to the 101 corridor… DO NOT DOUBT ME!

    Monday, April 04, 2011

    Minnesota High Tech Association and Itasca Project Should Coordinate Calendars

    Recently I have been privileged to have been invited to, what I consider, important events that offer fantastic networking and learning opportunities.  these events are all pushing for participation from the same core audience, and they are all doing their own part to move the region toward its goal of returning to its former glory as the preeminent entrepreneurial and economic development hub of the Midwest.  In fact, in the next two weeks, there are three such events on my calendar. (though only two are listed on the Tech.MN calendar... The only event calendar that really matters to me.)

    April 6th is the Start Up America forum(Invite Only), hosted by Medtronic and, ostensibly, sponsored by the Whitehouse.  It was a complete cluster #@%$#, from a planning standpoint, having been slapped together by the local SBA, while (I guess) trying to coordinate with the feds.  Either way, they initially gave local folks about 24 hours to respond with their interest in getting an invite, then told everyone "we'll let you know if you get in."  It was only after some pressure exerted by the Minneapolis mayors office and our friends at the Science and Technology Authority that they extended the deadline a couple of days.  I was lucky enough to snag one of the coveted spots, so I guess I'll have to put on a suit Wednesday morning.

    I am excited to get to be in the room with some pretty powerful folks (or so we were led to believe) from DC, like:

    • Teresa Rae (Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office)
    • Winslow Sargeant (Chief Counsel for Advocacy for the US Small Business Administration)
    • Michael Fitzpatrick (Associate Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs)

    I'm not sure what the point of all this is, other than a big photo opportunity (for us and them.)  and I don't know what can be accomplished other than just talking about issues that everyone already knows about.  However, one thing I will commend them on; at least they picked a day when there wasn't much else going on.

    The same can't be said for the folks at the Itasca Project.  Getting an invite to participate in the Itasca Project's "Minneapolis - St. Paul Regional Economic Development Forum" was, for me, a huge deal.  It represents another step in my ultimate strategy of total regional, (and, eventually, Global) recognition/domination for CaSTT.  I hope to someday have CaSTT be on par with more conspicuous local companies, who's leaders are also the (seemingly secret) leaders of Itasca.

    The Itasca Project's membership list reads like a who's-who list of local CEO's, business leaders and political dignitaries. (that is if you can piece together its membership from old news articles and word-of-mouth accounts of its actions)  It's obvious influence is as unassailable, as its membership-list is closely-guarded.  It is kind of like an exclusive fraternity of prominence and power for which there is no application, no secret handshake and no defined procedure to follow if one wishes to join.  One day, you just get an email saying your are invited to an Itasca Project event, then... (well... I don't know what happens then, but I'll let you know).

    Unfortunately, the invitation that I received from Itasca is for an event on April 14th, the same day as the MHTA is having their Annual Spring Conference; arguably the biggest, most important event that they sponsor each year.  The Minnesota High tech Association represents the preeminent group of companies in the world of technology in our region and many of whom are members of various Itasca Project Task Forces. These folks are the  players in the world of Minnesota business and their influence is undeniable. 

    With this as a backdrop, I wonder how it is even possible that the folks planning the Itasca Project event didn't consult someone at MHTA, or at least check the calendar on Tech.MN to find out if there was anything else going happening on the 14th, that might jeopardize the attendance at their own event.

    So, I am calling on the organizers of the Itasca Project event to at least find out if the MHTA can pull some strings and squeeze the Regional Economic forum into its agenda, or at least into the same building (It's at the Minneapolis Convention Center, so there is probably room). this would enable those of us who would like to attend both events, which seem to have complimentary goals, to do so.

    I am truly appreciative of the opportunity that I have to represent Minnesota Tech Startup Entrepreneurs at important events such as these, but the failure to communicate, and coordinate represents that which is broken in our economic development ecosystem.  It will be awesome if, someday, a group like Launch.MN figures out a way to herd all of these cats and get them to coordinate their efforts under a single umbrella-organization, so we can finally start working together instead of duplicating efforts and wasting opportunities.

    Oh, and Itasca...Update your website.  I know you are important people with busy lives and everything... but the newest info is from three years ago.

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Eating Crow and Loving It - 24 hours after REoMN

    On January 21st, I wrote a scathing blog post about my disappointment in not seeing very many tech entrepreneurs in the crowd at a couple of the Jumpstart Community Advisors meetings that I had been involved with.  Because I grew up in Minnesota, I am as good as anyone at living up to the theory that
    It's not whether you win-or-lose; it's how you Lay the Blame.
    I blamed a bunch of folks from Cleveland, who keep coming to Minnesota in the middle of winter to do an utterly thankless job,  for the problems that I saw effecting the tech startup crowd, here in the land of the single-digit daytime-highs.  I ranted and raved about how we tech entrepreneurs were being overlooked and how unfair that is, to a group of people that I know to be committed to building great companies.  I wanted to know just why-the-hell those of us that are trying to build tech companies, and some of us who already had, weren't being appropriately represented in the building of the Regional Entrepreneurship Action Plan.

    It turns out that, like so many other times in my life as an entrepreneur, picking a fight was more a self-motivation tactic than a reasonable or appropriate way to handle my frustration.  BUT, also like so many times in my life, by creating an enemy, (whether real or perceived) I forced myself to make sure I hadn't just written a check with my mouth, that my ass couldn't cash.  I don't know why I seem to always do this; maybe it is immaturity or maybe it is just so I don't have to take a long hard look in the mirror and confront the real problem... ME.  I think we are all a little bit guilty of doing this from time-to-time and, in this case I may have struck a nerve.  Let's face it, none of us wants to admit that maybe there is a reason why our companies don't get funded, though that thought is always lurking in the back of our collective Midwestern, self-loathing, minds.  Of course the issues that we ultimately started to address last night, at REoMN, are more complicated and nuanced than that, but it is always easier, as entrepreneurs, to blame the investors, rather than take personal stock and even (gasp) responsibility for our own situation.  It is really tough to get yourself to the point of self-awareness, at which you can say, "ummm.... I guess maybe the problem doesn't HAVE to be them."  Maybe the reason we feel ignored is that we do a shitty job of presenting ourselves as a unified group.  Even worse; maybe the problem isn't in the presentation, maybe we really aren't interested in becoming a collective.  And maybe it is safer and easier to deal with the humiliation of failure, if we aren't around others when it happens.
    When a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it... Do all the other trees stand there and laugh at it?
    So, first let me start by saying, publicly, that I was wrong about the willingness that Mike Mozenter, Beth Fitzgibbons, Mark Smith and Jack Ricchiuto, the awesome team from Jumpstart, showed to engage the community that I knew existed here but that I felt, before yesterday, wasn't always heard.  I really didn't think that someone from another city, a contrasting community and a completely different set of shared experiences, could adopt our plight as their own and help us, with true sincerity; to work through the issues we face, here in Minnesota, so that we can build our own path to chase our dreams and reach heights that we haven't even begun to imagine yet.

    I am sure I offended Mark, Mike, Beth and Jack, when I popped off and, if I am being honest (and when am I not?), I have to admit that pissing them off was as much my intent as revving up the folks here.  I guess I figured that if I challenged them to a fight, so to speak, they would, at least, have to prove me wrong.  Well, not only did they prove me wrong, but they did so in such a completely professional, intelligent and obviously caring manner, that I am utterly embarrassed to have used this cave-man method at all.  What I know now, that I didn't know then, is that these folks aren't doing this for any other reason than they truly want to apply their talents and experience to situations where they can be helpful.  They went completely out of their way to accommodate my little tantrum and never treated me, the group I helped assemble, or the event itself, like the pain in the ass that I am sure it was.  They cheerfully, gracefully and with dogged determination, rose above it and truly listened to what we had to say.  I am not sure that, if someone had busted my chops the way I busted theirs, I would have been as classy as they were.

    About the previous Jumpstart meetings, I had written:
    ...I can't help but wonder what is the point of doing a "regional survey," holding meaningless meetings and getting a whole bunch of bullshit input, from a group of folks who want someone else to do the hard work.  
    Why don't we demand that they (JCA), instead, act like real entrepreneurs.  They should have just come in, started working and made something happen.  They aren't acting like entrepreneurs; they are waiting for all the lights to turn green at the exact same time before they pull out of the driveway.

    Yeah, I know, "what an asshole."  It was unfair for me to have ascribed nefarious motivations to the Jumpstart team, without first having given them the opportunity to rectify the situation.  This is a hard lesson to have learned at 41 years old; and in public no less.  I felt immeasurably worse last night, when they got to Joule and immediately started moving heavy furniture, attacking the job-at-hand and basically kicking ass the way I would expect any "Real Entrepreneur" to do it.  It was at that moment that they became, in my eyes, not hired guns, but people with whom I felt I had something in common.  Seeing people work hard always makes me feel better about them - maybe that's just my Midwest sensibility or maybe its just having spent so many years grinding away as an entrepreneur, but I have a ton of respect for folks who just roll up their sleeves and get to work, instead of waiting for others to do it for them.  Either way, they showed their true stripes throughout the night and I think we were all impressed.

    So, now let me tell you a little bit about my experience over the past couple of weeks, leading up to the event.  within 24 hours of me ripping them, I was contacted, individually, by several members of the JCA team to immediately start planning a new, separate and decidedly different event.  Wisely, they let me take the lead on inviting people, using my network and organizing the gathering.  This was brilliant on so many levels that I can't begin to address them all, but most importantly, because they know that if we begin to take ownership of our own problems then we will be miles further down the road toward devising our own solutions.

    After telling them that I was going to hold my own event, and them being surprisingly accommodating to that notion, a different member of the Jumpstart team sent me a personal message At least every couple of days,, to inquire about details, without ever making suggestions about what I should do.  they let me own it.  the brilliance of this is something that I actually do know quite a bit about, and began to recognize during this process.  The best managers are those who allow others to use their talents in the way that they are most comfortable.  In this case, by allowing me to take the lead, they were allowing for one of two possible outcomes, whether they realized it or not.
    1. If I started shouting from the rooftops about how we in the tech startup community were all getting screwed and nobody showed up to rally against this egregious slight, then they would be able to point out that I was just some crackpot with a big mouth (something that I could still probably be accused of) to whom no attention need be paid.  Put another way, they gave me enough rope to hang myself.  OR...
    2.  We could actually come out, in force, like we did last night, and take our place among the other entrepreneurial institutions of our state, alongside the med-tech, bio-tech, agriculture and bio-science folks, who seem more adept at grabbing headlines and scarce investment dollars.
    In the end, there was really no possibility for a disaster to occur because either way the outcome would prove a point.

    So now it is time for me to offer up some of the real, measurable and completely exciting outcomes from the first gathering of the "Real Entrepreneurs of Minnesota"  As I communicated to the Jumpstart team earlier today:

    • I am pretty sure that a company got funded last night at the event
    • My company hired a designer today whom I met last night
    • 3 people have contacted me to tell me that they found new co-founders for their companies
    • 2 others in attendance were hired on-the-spot
    These occurrences alone, tell me that we need to do more stuff like this!

    So, before I finish up, I need to share a an email that I got very early this morning.  In the interest of privacy, I am not going to tell you who sent it, but I will say that it was sent to the Jumpstart folks and I was merely copied on it.

    Driving home last night it occurred to me why I was smiling.  I recalled saying “that’s a great idea” at least 8 times.  To an idea geek and serial entrepreneur that is as good as it gets. And I wasn’t alone, I could see the little light bulbs going off over everyone’s head all night long.

    It also reinforces to us that this is the secret to a good E and startup environment. Shared ideas, shared passion, shared success. The opportunity for networking, connecting and mentoring are the precious capital.  Do that and capitalism efficiently takes care of the rest, anywhere.
    Darren, thanks for the leadership.

    Team Jumpstart, thanks for humoring Darren.

    Let’s go start something,

    I can't take any credit for the success of the event last night.  I was simply the guy with the big mouth that got folks pissed off enough to show up.  That doesn't make me a leader, that makes me a gadfly.  In fact, the success of last night's event can't be measured at all; not right now. we will only be able to truly recognize and quantify whether we moved the needle at all by continuing the discussions that were begun in our small groups.

    I have a heartfelt belief that we started something important last night; that we will all be increasingly proud of our roles in starting something amazing for the future of Minnesota entrepreneurship, as time passes and we build a new archetype for ourselves and those who follow us into the galaxy of possibilities that await.  Although, I have to admit, I am a little scared that when the buzz from the evening wears off, we will revert to our individual goals and our independent voices. But I will commit right here, in a public forum, that I will do whatever it takes to serve my community; my friends; my incredibly innovative, Tech Startup Tribe.

    At least I will do it, if you will do it with me.

    Sunday, January 30, 2011

    All Time Best Songs for Start-Ups

    This is a list of the best song titles ever, describing what starting a tech company is like. You can read the list from top to bottom or bottom to top. I don't think it matters.

    Add yours to the list!

    1. You May Be Right (I may be crazy) - Billy Joel

    2. American Idiot - Green Day

    3. Can You Help Me - Ape Hangers

    4. Crazy Life - Toad the Wet Sprocket

    5. Crazy Train - Ozzie Osbourne

    6. Dancing With Myself - Billy Idol

    7. Fly Me to the Moon - Frank Sinatra

    8. I Can Dream About You - Dan Hartman

    9. I Know There's Something Going On - Frida

    10. If I Had a Million Dollars - BareNakedLadies

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Silicon Valley Envy

    Because I am a regular at the Minneapolis BootStrapper's Breakfast, I am a member of the Bootstrapper's Breakfast Yahoo group which is, understandably, dominated by entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, where the group originated.  I receive a lot of unreadable spam from this group, but once in a while there is a provocative discussion that get's me going (like that is super difficult?)

    A couple of days ago, someone posted a question that made me cringe because I knew what would happen next.  The question was,

    "If new and/or traveling into Silicon Valley, what was the one most surprising thing you found about our region?"

    Based on the responses that came flooding back in, apparently, though not surprisingly if you have ever spent time there, this question was interpreted to actually be asking...

    "What makes Silicon Valley so much better than everywhere else in the world?"

    A group member named Sashaov responded with:

    "The fact that literally everybody in the computer technology field is located here, with just a few exceptions.”

    I'm not a coder, so I'm not sure why this pissed me off to the degree that it did, but this kind of thinking and mindset is what I remember most about living out there, and why any entrepreneur who has lived there, then left to start their business somewhere else in America, throws up in their mouth a little, when you say “Silicon Valley.”

     The complete self-absorption, lack of perspective, rampant hyperbole and irrationality run-amok, that made me want to run screaming from “The City,” is exactly the kind of drivel that drives entrepreneurs from other parts of the world, to the 101 corridor.  The cultrepreneurs out there are their own self-perpetuating PR machine and in many cases, their own worst enemy.

    I freely admit that I lived there during the absolute worst time to get an objective view of the scene; during the dot-com boom.  However, each time I go back to visit, I get a disgusting booster-dose of entitlement and self-sycophancy.  The attitude that there is "no place else on earth better than Silicon Valley" and there cannot possibly be a concentration of smart, capable entrepreneurs anywhere else on the globe, that could ever rival the Sand Hill Road coffee-house-crew, is so insular and narrow-minded that it even makes me yearn for the horribly frigid winters of the Upper Midwest. 

    At least here, while we freeze our collective asses off, we have the common sense to be cognizant that the rest of the world (including SF & Silicon Valley) may indeed house a few people who are smarter than us. (which they prove by being smart enough not to live anywhere that the temp routinely drops to 15-below-zero for days-at-a-time.)

    There are SO MANY people here in the Midwest, and in the Twin Cities in particular, for whom the Dream of Silicon Valley is so strong, that they think the streets of Palo Alto are littered with $50 million term sheets, where entrepreneurs get to keep 90% of the company they started 2 weeks ago.  Most of the local “entrepreneurs” that have this terminal case of “SV Envy,” have never even been there. (and usually have only talked about starting a company) 

    We all sit here in our networking meetings and start-up bitch sessions, whining about how much better off we would probably be if we were in SV.  But what we choose not to acknowledge, or simply don’t know, is that the mortgage on a 3 bedroom house in the suburbs here, is about the same amount you pay for 150 sf. of roach-motel out west.  We don't seem to care that driving 7 miles to work in "The Valley" takes about an hour-and-a-half, instead of ten minutes.  We don't recognize that folks in Palo Alto are paying $0.40 more for a single gallon-of-gas, than we are here, and that a cup of coffee at one of the vaunted Mountain View coffee shops where, supposedly, all the cool entrepreneurs hang out and talk about the millions they are making, or going to make, costs twice as much as the same cup of coffee bought in Minneapolis (and here it is usually served by someone who you might even be friends with)

    So I encourage the folks from Silicon Valley to keep on thinking that it is such a special place that it would be impossible for someone to be successful anywhere else.

    After all, it would be ludicrous to think  that a kid from Pittsburg, who had gone to Northwestern to study music, then dropped out of grad school to build a start-up in, of all god-awful places (gasp), Chicago, could make it work.  It would be a certifiable miracle, if that company raised $165 million from VC’s in Silicon Valley (and Moscow), hired more than 1,000 people and turned down $6.5 BILLION from Google because they knew they could make a lot more by waiting to go through an IPO.

    NAH, that could NEVER HAPPEN; nobody in the Midwest becomes successful.  Nope, not in a million years, because...

    "Literally everybody in the computer technology field is located here, with just a few exceptions.”

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Where the Hell are the Entrepreneurs?

    I have been to two different "JumpStart Community Gatherings" and have come away from both with the same overriding question:

    Where the Hell are all the Entrepreneurs?

    There is something seriously wrong with a process that is supposed to be gathering information about how to fix the broken entrepreneurial and investment climate in Minnesota, but in a room with 50+ people, there were 9 entrepreneurs.

    I sat at a table that was supposed to be dedicated to software and business services and there was a professor, a low-level Chamber of Commerce employee and two State of Minnesota workers.  There were two of us that are actual software company entrepreneurs, a developer from South Dakota, and a woman who owned a small business that sells financial management services to other small businesses (not exactly someone capable of going out and raising equity investment.)

    I looked around the room and I would estimate that there were no more than 3-4 people who were younger than me... I am 41 years old.  I had met every single entrepreneur in the room at some time over the last 5-6 months and maybe half of us have ever done an investor pitch.

    I recognized five people who had gone to Minnedemo; two of them were sitting at my table, two others have never started anything but their car and then there was Ernest Grumbles, who is an outspoken IP litigator and community agitator, who all of us entrepreneurs know well and greatly appreciate, for his work with MOJO Minnesota.  Now, Ernest deserves for his opinion to be heard, because at least it comes from interacting with entrepreneurs.

    What I didn't see were:

    • 23-30 year old men and women who are constantly struggling to get their start-ups noticed by investors in the local community.
    • Anyone who has attended a Bootstrappers Breakfast or a KickStart meeting since October.
    • A single Angel Investor or VC (I take that back; Harlan Jacobs was there representing the entire local investment community)  There may have been some others there, but I go to as many networking events as anyone and I didn't see any other investors that I recognized.

    There were a couple of people who are on the outer fringes of the Project Skyway lexicon, but nobody, besides me, from the core group. (although I know that Cem Erdem, at least, was at the session the night before)

    I am disappointed that there weren't at least 30 desperate, cash-starved entrepreneurs, who live the actual day-to-day life, that all of these other folks are supposedly trying to help make better.

    I was also disappointed that there weren't a whole table full of well-known local investors, (you know who you are) who could have come to the event and listened to the issues first hand.  Instead they'll end up reading some sanitized report, boiled down to a couple of bullet points, put together with input of the, mostly wrong, crowd.

    Finally, where the hell are the politicians and lawmakers who are always up the ass of the local research university, talking about what a horrible job it is doing transferring technology to industry?  Did they not think it would be a good use of their time to come and find out, in person, what their constituents think are the real issues.  Do they really think they are going to get all the information they need to make Minnesota a better environment for entrepreneurs and a more free flowing system for investors, from a bunch of folks who fly in once every couple of months from Cleveland?

    I am impressed and astonished by the great work that the JumpStart folks have been able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time in Northern Ohio.  But I can't help but wonder what is the point of doing a "regional survey," holding meaningless meetings and getting a whole bunch of bullshit input, from a group of folks who want someone else to do the hard work.  Why are we so resigned to let someone else carry the water for us.  Why don't we demand that they, instead, act like real entrepreneurs.  They should have just come in, started working and made something happen.  They aren't acting like entrepreneurs; they are waiting for all the lights to turn green at the exact same time before they pull out of the driveway.

    So, I call on the entrepreneurial community to demand our input be heard, separate from all the well-wishers and wannabe's.  I am going to ask Jeff Pesek, Ben Edwards, Luke Francl, Casey Allen, Mike Bollinger, Kevin Spreng, John Roberts and Harold Slawik  to help me put together a truly representative group of "Real Entrepreneurs" to meet with the folks from Jumpstart, so they can get constructive, accurate and representative input from the woefully under-represented (and apparently under-appreciated) start-up community, who never got invited to participate in a community forum that is supposed to be designed to gather opinions that will help us.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    117 Tech Start-Up Questions from a Dumbass Entrepreneur

    Hi, I'm Darren and I'm a dumbass.  I work in a world where there are almost no questions that can't be answered without first saying, "Well...It depends!" But doing what I do, starting tech companies, is one of the only things I am really good at.  So, with that said...

    I have been an entrepreneur/start-up junkie/ Dot-Communist for half of my adult life.  Many things have changed in the world of tech start-ups since I worked in SV more than a decade ago.  Everyone is so much more sophisticated and there is a much higher level of nuance than when I first started out.  There is also a much larger community of folks who have been-there-and-done-that.
    With all that said, I started taking stock of just what I know for sure (or at least think I know, anecdotally) and what I still wish I had a better understanding of.  Then I started to write.  I came up with page- and-pages of questions that I wish I could have asked back in the beginning of my career and a whole bunch that I wish I could get answers to, today.

    I am even thinking about getting a group together, which will include a pool of successful entrepreneurs, lawyers (both IP and start-up), early stage accountants and/or start-up CFO’s, Angels and VC’s.  I want to ask them all the questions that I think most newbie tech entrepreneurs would want to know the answers to. 

    I figure if I could ever get a few of each, from the aforementioned group, to answer all of these, then add answers from the founders of some prominent tech accelerators like Y-Combinator, Tech Stars and/or Founder’s Institute, I could easily write some kind of “Tech Start-Ups for Dummies” book.

    Obviously, there are too many questions to ask in one session, but here are all the questions that I thought to ask.  I could have kept going, but honestly, what good would that do.  I am sure I am missing a bunch of really important topics, especially around valuation, preferred vs. common stock, liquidation preferences, sub-debt, funding sources…

    Enjoy, and feel free to send me additions!

    Questions For Investors
    1.    Have you ever founded a tech start-up and, if so, what was your role and how did it turn out?

    2.    What can we, the Twin Cities start-up/entrepreneurial community, do to get more Angel/Seed investors interested in investing in pre-revenue tech start-ups?

    3.    Do you ever invest in companies, when you have serious doubts about their ability to raise more money if they should need it or if they come right out and say that the don’t ever want to raise more money?

    4.    What does it say about an entrepreneur, when they say they want to raise $1 million on a pre-money valuation of $1.5 million and does it ever seem weird that everyone throws around such large round-numbers, so casually?

    5.    Do you ever invest completely independently or do you ever fully fund a round, without other investors; Why/why not?

    6.    Have you ever funded an “idea?”

    7.    Have you been so impressed with a team or an individual, that you funded what you considered a terrible idea? (how did it turn out?)

    8.    If you could describe your favorite quality in an entrepreneur that leads a company that you have funded, and is (or has) provided exceptional ROI, what would it be?

    9.    How do you figure out whether an entrepreneur knows the difference between an opportunity and a problem.

    10.    When you meet an entrepreneur for the first time, someone who may have been successful in something they have done or started in the past, do you care or even think about whether they were good at what they did or just lucky?  How do you tell the difference?

    11.    Is it important for entrepreneurs to know the difference between prepared and over-prepared or do you find that the majority of entrepreneurs are underprepared so it is actually refreshing to meet someone who is over-prepared?

    12.    What are the signs of an entrepreneur who is over-prepared what message does that send to you, as an investor?

    13.    What are the two-or-three due diligence things that you do, every-single-time, before you invest in a company?

    14.    What are ways or examples, that you have consistently seen start-ups waste time on things that don't matter.

    15.    If a founder, founders, need to be paid some kind of salary, does that affect whether you will invest?

    16.    What is an acceptable salary for a CEO, CFO, or CTO if their company isn’t profitable yet?

    17.    Are founders allowed to get raises in salary or do bumps like that always come in the form of stock?

    18.    Since we all start somewhere, and none of us has any experience until we just jump in and start doing something, what are a couple of important lessons you have learned since you made your first investment?

    19.    From both a business and personal standpoint, what is the best thing about investing in Start-ups?  The worst? 

    Questions for Entrepreneurs

    20.    Aside from your own company, or companies where you have been an employee, have you ever invested in a tech start-up?  If so, what was your role (board seat, etc.) and how did it turn out?

    21.    Now that you have been through it, what is the most important element to choosing the perfect investor.  In other words, if you could choose one thing that an investor would bring to the party, what would it be?

    22.    When you know you have a hard deadline or some really important event coming up that could make or break the success of your startup, should you tell potential investors?  If so, how do you communicate it so you don’t look desperate or pushy?

    23.    Why is it important to be patient and when is it ok to push an investor to take action?

    24.    When you meet an investor for the first time, do you care or even think about whether they have been successful in their past investment activities?  How do you tell the difference between a successful investor and just someone who has a lot of money?

    25.    What are the dangers of hiring too quickly?

    26.    What are the dangers of firing too slowly?

    27.    What are the areas where you “Under-budgeted” for critical elements/expenses in your business plan?

    28.    What hurt your start up more, making decisions too fast or too slow?

    29.    What helps/hurts a startup more: Looking for answers from other people or Looking for approval from other people

    30.    Before beginning to build your product, is it possible to get too much input or listen to too many points of view and, if so, which group is it more important to seek advice from; potential customers or potential investors?

    31.    Following up on the previous question, is it more important to seek advice from those who already serve your industry or those who have built a company with a similar business model?

    32.    If, as a founder, you have responsibilities and financial commitments that make it absolutely impossible to work for free; should you go into deep debt, threaten the financial security of your family, or be expected to, to “Prove” your commitment to your company?

    33.    From both a business and personal standpoint, what is the best thing about founding a Start-up?  The worst?

    34.    Have you ever fired an investor or had to figure out a way to remove them from the mix?  Why/how? 

    Questions for all

    35.    Besides getting customers and revenue, what is the one thing you would tell someone to do to really get your attention?

    36.    What is the dumbest mistake you have ever seen an entrepreneur, who eventually got funded, make?

    37.    What is something that you hear from entrepreneurs/investors that makes you say to yourself “Well, I can cross them off the list of people I would ever consider investing in/taking money from?”

    38.    What is the difference between important and urgent and how do you decide which is which?

    39.    Is it more important for an entrepreneur to be seen as smart-as-hell or obsessively driven?

    40.    Thinking back on start-ups you have funded, how do you gauge whether the team understands the difference between focus and activity and, as an investor, how do you help steer them toward more productive activities.

    41.    Is it more important, for someone who is looking for funding, to be better at generating publicity or confronting reality and can one overcome the other?

    42.    What are the areas where you consistently see entrepreneurs “Under-budget” for critical elements/expenses in their business plans?

    43.    What are the tell-tale signs of an entrepreneur who has let getting funded go to their head?

    44.    What are the most common things, as an entrepreneur that you found yourself Overspending on and how did you figure out that you were doing so?

    45.    What is worse; Under-communicating or over-communicating?

    46.    What are the kinds of critical events that happen during a start-up’s early stages that breed overconfidence?

    47.    What is worse for the long-term success of a company: Not shipping fast enough or shipping a crappy product?

    48.    If a start-up hasn’t filed legal documents, which designate them as a C-Corp or an LLC, does that send a message to investors and, if so, what is that message?

    49.    How do you decide what the percentages are that each founder gets?

    50.    For multi-member founder teams, who or what kind of founder usually gets screwed or at the very least, under-valued for their contribution.  Who’s contribution is overvalued?

    51.    If you had to choose just one, is it more important to have a great accountant or a great lawyer?

    52.    When is it time to bring in an experienced CEO

    53.    What are the characteristics of a good start-up CEO and how do they differ from the characteristics of a good CEO of a company that has 25 employees and/or 5 million in revenue?

    54.    When should you no longer be considered a Start-up?

    55.    In general, would you say it is more important for a start-up, in its infancy,  to have a long-term strategy for self sustainability, so that they can minimize the amount of outside investment they need to take, or a well-defined path to becoming a good acquisition target?

    56.    Do you think IPO is a reasonable goal for a start-up to even consider from the beginning?

    57.    What is the difference between a start-up friendly lawyer and an investor friendly lawyer and how does an entrepreneur know the difference?

    58.    (This question for all except entrepreneurs) Are there lawyers, accountants, developers, other common types of vendors that you will not, or maybe prefer not to, work with, all thing being equal?  Does this ever become part of the equation when you are considering investing in or working with a start-up?

    59.    Should a start-up have an advisory board? why?

    60.    How many people is about the right size for an advisory board and when is it just too big?

    61.    How should an advisory board differ from a board of directors/governors?

    62.    What is the most appropriate level of compensation for a Board of Directors/Governors? Does this include cash as well as stock?

    63.    Is it appropriate to have a completely independent voice on the Board of Directors?

    64.    What is “smart money” and is it so important to have smart money, that you should turn down “dumb money” no matter what?

    65.    What is the worst way for a start-up to spend money?

    66.    What is the most cost effective way for a start-up to spend money?

    67.    Do investors ever get pissed or think you are losing focus if you spend time mentoring someone else or participating in activities that don’t bring tangible value to your company?

    68.    Other than stealing or some other criminal activity that directly affects the company, what is the one thing, above anything else that should trigger immediate removal from the team/company/ board, etc…? 

    69.    In what percentage of start-ups are one or all of the founders removed from their initial role’s by the board?  Do they usually stay with the company, long-term, or is that a signal that they should probably leave?  Is that usually the message that the board is trying to send?

    70.    Out of every ten start-ups that get funded, how many start-up CEO’s are equipped to handle that job, long-term, through multiple rounds of financing or through a successful exit?

    71.    How often do founder teams split up, and why?

    72.    How do you go about firing a founder?  When should that happen? What are the signs or triggers for this to occur?

    73.    What are the worst case-scenarios you have seen for a company that had to get rid of a founder? (not naming names, just situations)

    74.    From a company culture and morale perspective, what is the best way to deal with a founder leaving the company?

    Networking - I am often intimidated by networking events filled with people who could probably help me or teach me something, but might also be WAY ahead of me in the experience life-cycle.

    75.    What is the importance of networking for an entrepreneur? 

    76.    Do investors ever consider how networked an entrepreneur is when they are thinking about investing?

    77.    What are some of the most important groups that an entrepreneur can get involved with, that signal that they understand the importance of networking?

    78.    For each group, what is the one networking event that you would never consider missing? Why?

    79.    For each group, what is the one networking activity that you think some entrepreneurs waste their time participating in or that they participate in, to the detriment of their goals.

    80.    What are some great networking behaviors that impress you? For entrepreneurs, talk about investors; for investors, talk about entrepreneurs; for legal, talk about all; for accountants talk about all.

    81.    Is it more important to network with others in your same industry and/or your relative level of influence or social stature, or should you risk looking like an idiot or worse, feeling like an outsider in a room full of people who already know each other?

    82.    Is networking more or less important after you have been funded?

    83.    What are the characteristics of a good mentor?

    84.    Should mentoring be a formal relationship.  In other words, should I say to someone, “would you be my mentor?” or “would you mentor me in this X area?”

    85.    Is mentoring a business relationship?

    86.    What should an entrepreneur be trying to get from a mentor?

    87.    What should an entrepreneur never ask of or try to get from a mentor?

    88.    What’s in it for the mentor?

    89.    How many mentors is too many?

    90.    How much time is too much when it comes to networking?

    91.    Is it a mistake to become so focused on your business that you don’t have time to network or mentor, even if your business is wildly successful?

    Would you rather have:

    92.    An awesome, charismatic, leader who can communicate the vision OR an awesome, super-organized and empathetic (people) manager, running a start-up?

    93.    A principal founder/start-up CEO with Undying Passion for the idea OR Real World Experience

    94.    Founder/CEO who is Confident OR Pragmatic

    95.    Founder/CEO : Street smart OR book smart

    96.    Founder with a technical background OR Founder with sales background in target industry

    97.    Founder with a technical background OR founder with operations, finance and HR background

    98.    Founder with sales background in target industry OR operations, finance and HR background

    99.    Founder/CEO: MBA with 2 years at McKinsey OR BA in English and 8 years in sales to target market

    100.    Investor with personal net worth of $200 million but no experience in your industry OR Investor with net worth of $5 million, but can introduce you to lots of customers.

    101.    Investor who is super-supportive of your company and helps any way they can, but likely can’t/won’t invest in follow-on rounds OR a micromanaging investor who doesn’t really offer much besides money, BUT can help you raise a ton of money, as you grow.


    102.    What can a good accountant do for you and is it important that they have experience working with start-ups?  Why?

    103.    In general, for entrepreneurs looking to raise money, should they file as a C-Corp, an LLC or should they wait to see what their investors want them to do?

    104.    What is the best thing about working with entrepreneurs?

    105.    What is the most difficult thing about working with entrepreneurs?

    106.    Why do you think it is so hard for entrepreneurs to understand the concept of pre-money and post money.

    107.    If an entrepreneur has a good accountant and a good attorney, is it still important for them to understand the minutiae of pre-money and post money valuations.  Why?

    108.    How do you value a company that hasn’t produced revenue?  Are there any indicators or benchmarks that one should look for?
    109.    For a pre-revenue tech start-up with no patents or tangible IP, what is the top end of the valuation-scale and what makes some companies, in similar situations, more valuable than others?


    110.    What is the difference between legal representation that is used to working with startups and those who aren’t?

    111.    Does a good start-up lawyer need to have a lot of knowledge and experience in issues surrounding IP?

    112.    Is reputation a factor that entrepreneurs should consider when they hire a lawyer?

    113.    What is the best thing about working with entrepreneurs

    114.    What is the most difficult thing about working with entrepreneurs

    115.    What are the most important things to get right from a legal standpoint, when forming a company?

    116.    What should an entrepreneur do if they don’t have the money or good fortune to have access to a good attorney?


    117.    Finally, For an entrepreneur who needs:

    1. A co-founder or two - Who bring skills, experience and a solid background/reputation of providing specific key elements to other successful businesses
    2. Investors - who inevitably will want them to keep the company as lean as possible in the early stages, to reduce the burn rate
    3. Market validation – to show both investors and potential co-founders that the opportunity is worth the risk
    Would you be better off spending your time networking with potential partners, potential investors or potential customers?

    Darren Cox

    Darren Cox
    Founder and Chief Evangelist - CaSTT - Commerce and Search for Technology Transfer