I’m getting sick of the bullshit

I love the start-up world. I love working with founders and young companies. I love the excitement of working on business ideas that are new and different. I love seeing the success that often comes from this hard work. I’ve never before in my professional life seen a time of such innovation and creativity. At Foundry we see more business plans now than we ever have. And what’s more, more of those business plans are really interesting (and fundable).

It goes without saying that I love the business of venture capital. I love helping entrepreneurs work on their ideas. And I love helping companies figure out how to become as successful as possible. I love the challenge of trying to figure out the next great investment and the energy that comes from working with amazing and creative people.

But I’m worried and I wanted to get it out there.

I’m worried that in all the hype, in all the “we launched our company” events, and “we changed our name again” parties, and “we redid our website – come celebrate!” shindigs, and the SXSW parties, and the hoodies, and everyone who is “killing it!”, that we’re losing sight a bit of the really hard work that is creating and building a business.

I’m worried that in offering term sheets after a single 60 minute meeting, and in pricing early stage deals like they were already late stage successes and most egregiously by constantly running around self promoting and self aggrandizing, VCs are falling prey to a cult of personality about themselves and forgetting that their jobs are to help companies be successful. And as far as I can tell, very few seem to believe what I hold as a fundamental tenet of the venture industry, which is that entrepreneurs come first, not VCs.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good party (not to mention a good hoodie!). And I recognize the reasons to celebrate important company milestones and in going to industry events like CES and SXSW. And in bringing a bunch of customers, prospects and partners together at a social event. But I feel like I’m hearing less of “did you see XYX company’s great new product” and more “are you going to so and so’s party at ad:tech:”. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I’ve received 30 invites to SXSW parties but not a single invite to a panel session at the conference. And when someone tells me that someone is “killing it” (a phrase I think I hear 10 times a day these days), more often than not they mean “doing the job they were hired for”.

I hear more and

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Apple’s secret iPhone lock-in feature

If you’ve been following my twitter feed you’ll know that about a month ago I finally made the switch from AT&T to Verizon (brief conclusion: what took me so long? from my experience this month, the VZ network is vastly superior). At the same time I decided that I’d give Android a real try (I’d played around with it in the past, but never adopted it as my primary device). Enter the Galaxy Nexus. The slightly over-sized, slightly too much of a battery hog, but generally pretty well executed device from Samsung which at the moment is the only Android device running Ice Cream Sandwich (for those of you wondering why I didn’t just get another iPhone, the quick answer is that having paid $450 to “upgrade” to the 4S, I just couldn’t bring myself to take my total wasted spending on that device to almost a grand). I’ll drop a full post on my iPhone to Android experience in the near future.

My transition was going reasonably well until I started hearing from people that I was no longer responding to their text messages. And with my iPhone still sitting in its stand plugged in at my desk, I noticed a few texts showing up on my old device. Strange. I had ported my number and couldn’t figure out why there were texts still showing up on my old phone (or from a network perspective how they could have even gotten there). I took the SIM card out of my iPhone. I noticed that I could send a text from my Galaxy and the response would come back to my iPhone. I borrowed my wife’s phone and manually typed in my phone number to text myself a test message and it would show up on my iPhone and not my Nexus. None of this made any sense, but it was seriously annoying.

Finally Ross, our director of IT, figured out what was going on. Users with iPhones were having their texts directed through iMessage. And the kicker is, that short of people actually turning off iMessage completely on their phones, there was no way to prevent this from happening when they were sending a “text” to me. TechCrunch wrote a story about this in early January and suggested a work-around where I could deauthorize my phones through Apple. But unfortunately this didn’t work either (at least it didn’t for me). It’s an incredible bug and hard to believe that Apple hasn’t already figured out a fix to (clearly the problem is on their side – they intercept the messages on the sender’s device and decide to route them through iMessage; in my case that means anyone who has iMessage

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Let’s agree to disagree

Is there much disagreement in your company? I’m not talking about where to head for lunch – I mean real, passionate, fundamental disagreement on product, marketing, operations, etc.

I hope so.

Even more so the earlier you are in your business. Running it is a messy business. There are tons of decisions to be made and each decision is amplified by factors such as your short runway of cash, new competitors entering the market and new team members joining your company. So a healthy amount of disagreement and discourse is not just a good thing, it’s inevitable. In fact I’d venture to say that if there’s not disagreement at your business, you’re not encouraging enough debate and people don’t feel free to speak their minds. Of course after listening to this robust debate you’ll ultimately have to make a decision and move forward (end of debate – don’t let it

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Let’s agree to disagree

Is there much disagreement in your company? I’m not talking about where to head for lunch – I mean real, passionate, fundamental disagreement on product, marketing, operations, etc.

I hope so.

Even more so the earlier you are in your business. Running it is a messy business. There are tons of decisions to be made and each decision is amplified by factors such as your short runway of cash, new competitors entering the market and new team members joining your company. So a healthy amount of disagreement and discourse is not just a good thing, it’s inevitable. In fact I’d venture to say that if there’s not disagreement at your business, you’re not encouraging enough debate and people don’t feel free to speak their minds. Of course after listening to this robust debate you’ll ultimately have to make a decision and move forward (end of debate – don’t let it stretch on after the decision has been made), but I’d encourage you to create an environment at your company where differing opinions are both valued and encouraged. You’re hiring great people after all. Make sure you give them the space to speak their minds.

2012 Planning / Working Together

It’s been way too long since my last post. I was going to jump in with a post on not blogging, but thought better of it. Better to actually do than write about whether to do or not do. So much for my resolution to write/blog more this year… Hopefully this was just a January hiccup with too much travel and work to fit in regular blogging.

If you’ve read this blog you know I’m a pretty deliberate guy. I like to know where I’m headed and I like to be explicit about where that is, what’s working and what’s not. To that end, towards the end of last year I went through an exercise with each of the companies I work with to lay out both top level goals for this year as well as get some feedback on the interaction pattern between the company and me. I’ve always done some version of this, but this was the first year I was this explicit about it (and the first time I included a request for specific feedback on my working relationship with the CEOs that I work with). The email looked like this:

I’ve been thinking a lot about feedback loops recently and thought it would be helpful to touch base on how we worked together in 2011 and think a bit about anything that we need to change about our interactions in 2012 (talk more; talk less; more concentrated time together; etc.). And overlay onto that the key priorities/challenges for 2012.

With that in mind can you send me your thoughts on:
– what worked best working together in 2011
– what didn’t work (either specific situations where we weren’t on the same page or some overall interaction pattern that just didn’t work)
– what should we do differently in 2012
– what do we together need to focus on in 2012
– where can I be most impactful to the business in 2012

I appreciate your spending some time thinking about this. I’m doing the same and will respond to your thoughts with some of my own.

In terms of how I’m thinking about 2012 for Spanning I think about a couple of key ares of focus:
– [bulleted list for each company of the top 4 or 5 things I felt would really move the needle in 2012]

Obviously there are a million other things that are going to take place in the business in 2012, but these are the general areas as I’ve been thinking about it (would love your feedback on these as well).

This turned out to be a more positive exercise than I ever imagined it would be. While I’ve always

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The impact of mobile growth on web advertising. Is Android bad for Google?

alternate textGoogle and Facebook can’t turn off the mobile deluge
I just posted on TechCrunch. The article focuses on the Facebook S1 filing and in particular on the risks section that covers the growth of the mobile internet and its potential impact on the web business model. Facebook itself has been very clear that its advertising revenues are exclusively derived from its web site, and also that an increasing amount of its usage comes from mobile in general and smart phones in particular. Buried in the article is this point:
Google’s present – and Facebook’s future – involves the painful fact that the very success of mobile platforms in helping human beings be productive, on the go, has a negative impact on the desktop-based advertising programs of the past 10 years. Mobile growth impacts web advertising revenues, except of course for Apple who make money from hardware and software and so Continue reading "The impact of mobile growth on web advertising. Is Android bad for Google?"

What entrepreneurs can learn from Jeff Spicoli

I know I may be dating myself here, but over the past few weeks I couldn’t help but think about the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High and one of the standout characters, Jeff Spicoli.  When asked by Mr. Hand, his teacher, why he keeps coming late and wasting his time, Spicoli answers, “I don’t know.”

 

In several meetings with entrepreneurs during the past few weeks, they would have been better off answering like Spicoli rather than giving me some hollow bull shit answer.  I want to make it very clear that I don't expect entrepreneurs to have all of the answers to my questions.  In fact, many questions I have may not have an answer today so "I don't know" will be your best answer. My one caveat is that the "I don't know" is followed by a how might you figure out the answer or a when might you figure it out.  This line of questioning is really just another way to test how you think and determine how our working relationship might be were I to invest.  I would rather have the honest "I don't know but I'll figure it out" then a made-up answer that will never allow you or your investors to really understand what is driving your business.

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