Why We Invested In Wevorce

Four years ago Michelle Crosby sat down in my office and told me about her plan to completely disrupt the divorce industry. Her story was fascinating: A child who watched her parents go through a brutal divorce becomes a divorce lawyer and winds up going through a divorce herself. She certainly checked the box for domain expertise, didn’t she? The most compelling part of Michelle’s story for me though was the fact that when the law firm she was working for offered her a position as partner, she had an existential crisis and decided to resign instead and that’s when she set out on her mission.

I’ve always been drawn to mission driven entrepreneurs. Folks who lay awake night after night grinding away on how to solve a particular problem. It consumes them and they’re driven by something far greater than money or recognition. Michelle fit the bill to a T. She had grown so disillusioned with an industry extracting obscene amounts of money from people going through a great deal of pain with no other options, that she turned down the brass ring she had been working so hard to earn and set out with not much more than a burning desire to reinvent the very broken process of divorce.

Michelle and her team have built an elegant and easy to use platform designed specifically to keep lawyers from running up bills by playing the middleman and escalating drama instead of avoiding it. Even more importantly, the entire Wevorce experience focuses on the well-being of the children who almost always suffer the most during the divorce process, and it works. Over 98% of the hundreds of Wevorce customers have avoided court and the company’s customer satisfaction metrics are through the roof.

I stayed close with Michelle during the last four years and have enjoyed watching her grow into the amazing entrepreneur she’s become. We participated in the seed capital rounds and when Michelle told me that she was ready to raise her Series A, I didn’t waste any time in getting my partners to spend some time with her. They came away as enthusiastic as I’d hoped they would and we couldn’t be more excited to become the lead investor in such an important company.

Equally gratifying for me is the fact that Wevorce is based here in my hometown of Boise. I’ve been passionate about our startup community for a long time now and I’m thrilled to be joining the board of directors and help Wevorce reach its full potential and become one of Boise’s iconic companies. Michelle has been able to recruit some fantastic talent here and it’s yet another sign that Boise’s rising!

 

Boise Rising

As usual, I woke up early this morning, poured my coffee and started scrolling through my streams to start my day. I was really happy to see that my friend Jeff Reynolds launched Built-In-Boise today, his labor of love to showcase Boise’s terrific entrepreneurs.  I shuffled off to the gym and as I sat on the bike, the miles rolled away as I reflected on all the great things happening in the startup community here in my hometown and then it struck me, they’re all being led by entrepreneurs!

It wasn’t always that way. Over the last couple of decades, plenty of effort has been made by various committees and organizations to kick-start our startup community. Groups led by various members of the ecosystem started well-intentioned efforts to make things happen here, all with the same results; a lot of fanfare & hand waving with little to show for it.

What’s really cool is that it’s starting to feel different around here. Jeff’s launch of Built-In-Boise is just latest of a handful of entrepreneurial-led efforts and the vibe is beginning to change as a result. Recently, my friend Raino Zoller launched The Trailhead, a non-profit community effort to connect entrepreneurs with each other, mentors and capital. Raino’s a successful serial entrepreneur who has been through venture financing, exits, mergers as well as disappointments. As an experienced tech entrepreneur himself, he’s the perfect person to lead an effort like this and I know The Trailhead is going to have a fantastic impact on our startup community.

One of the most innovative ideas I’ve seen anywhere in the country is Boise State University’s Venture College, which is teaching students to launch startups while still in school. Of course, Venture College wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of Kevin Learned, an entrepreneur who co-founded Idaho’s first software company and its first angel investment group. Another person leading the way is Jess Whiting, who has brought Startup Grind to Boise. Jess grew up in Silicon Valley and has deep ties to the venture community there. She’s leveraged her network to begin building bridges to the valley for startups in Boise. In fact, she’s bringing Scott Kupor (COO of Andreesen Horowitz) to Boise for Startup Grind on March 9. I’ll be there, you shouldn’t miss this. You can get tickets here.

Boise’s startups are thriving too. Terrific companies like Balihoo and Cradlepoint (which I’m proud that we financed both Series A and subsequent rounds at Highway 12 Ventures) are doing tens of millions of dollars in revenue and growing fast. Other new and exciting startups include TSheets, Wevorce and Meal Ticket (which the latter two we’ve financed through our funds at Techstars Ventures). Boise’s also becoming a hot cultural scene as well. As events like SXSW seemed to have grown so large that they’ve eaten themselves, Boise’s Treefort Music Fest is quickly becoming the most talked-about music event in the Northwest.

While my work at Techstars is taking me all over the world these days, nothing makes me happier than being here in Boise. I really believe it’s the most livable city in the country. Our trail system is second to none, we’ve got world-class skiing right here in town at Bogus Basin, and we’ve got a burgeoning startup community that feels a lot to me like Boulder did a decade ago. If you’re looking for the next great startup town in the country, come visit and I’ll show you around.

Yup, Boise. It’s surprisingly cool…

“Where” Is Just As Important As “What”

Every spring, many college and MBA students from around the country reach out to me to inquire about the startup community in Boise and any internship/job opportunities that might be available.   Perhaps it’s the success in recent years and subsequent national exposure of our incredible Boise State football team or that the secret is getting out as to what an amazing place Boise is to live. Nevertheless, the last couple of years have been particularly busy in this vein, none more so than this year. I try to always take the time to talk to everyone who asks because 1) the business leaders in Boise were incredibly accommodating to me when I moved here 12 years ago and I enjoy being part of that continuum and 2) I love hearing the unbridled enthusiasm of young people ready to take on the world.

These conversations inevitably end up being more of a coaching session than anything else. I had some great mentors at that age and the wisdom they shared with me helped me make the most important decisions in my life, none more so than deciding to leave my partnership in Boston in 2000 and move to Idaho. It’s my belief that where you live is even more important that what you do. Now of course, this is a broad generalization. If your career ambitions are intricately tied to a certain locale (marine biology, professional musician or athlete, etc.) then this notion doesn’t have a lot of merit. However if you’re like the vast majority of us, it’s never been easier to create a life for yourself in a town or city that speaks to you.

I grew up in New York and until I was 35 I lived in Chicago, San Francisco & Boston; four pretty amazing cities. However, no place I’ve ever lived or visited has ever felt more like home than Boise to me. I find it easier to recharge my batteries here than any place else. For me, the lack of traffic, ridiculous access to a multitude of outdoor activities, climate and dozens of other reasons make this the ideal place to live. Does Boise have its shortcomings? Of course, depending upon your perspective, there are many. Given that there’s only 200,000 people living here, it’s obviously not for everyone. Personally, there are many places where being a venture capitalist would have been easier for me. However, I believe down to my toes that I’m better at what I do BECAUSE of where I live, not despite it.

For me, Boise lets me regularly recharge my batteries more than anywhere else I've been

I believe it’s important for young people starting their professional lives to realize that geography matters in your happiness quotient. It far outweighs the highest paying job opportunity. My advice to everyone pondering these important life questions is to figure out where you can best recharge your batteries regularly, whether that’s outdoor activities, health and fitness opportunities, museums and other cultural attractions, climate, having local professional sports teams, etc. Then consider things like population challenges, prevailing ideologic sentiment, ease (or challenge) of travel, demographics, and dozens of other factors.

Then you can start investigating how to create a life for yourself there. It’s never been easier to connect your career aspirations with where you want to live. Many have written about the importance of doing what you love in life and I couldn’t agree more with that notion. However, doing it where you love to be makes life all the more richer.

March 13 – An Important Day For Boise’s Future

In 2000, Pam and I decided we wanted to move west to raise our family. My mother recently retired after 40+ years as an eighth grade science teacher in the New York and Boston public school systems and despite her chagrin at having us move so far away, her research and subsequent findings about the quality of the Boise School District was one of the key determining factors in our decision to make Boise our home. In the twelve years we’ve been here, the quality of public education in Boise has only gotten better. There’s no disputing that Boise has a school district that is recognized as one of the finest in America.

Examples include:

  • The Boise School District is among just 20 school districts in the country with four or more high schools that placed all of their traditional high schools on the Washington Post’s list of America’s Best.
  • 83% of Boise School District graduates who go on to college advance from freshman to sophomore year in college – a rate higher than any state in the U.S.
  • The Boise School District consistently outpaces the nation on the ACT and SAT, outperforms all other Idaho school districts in the National Merit Scholarship Program, and exceeds the nation on Advanced Placement exam scores.

In one week (on March 13) Boise voters will be asked to approve a temporary, five-year levy to keep class sizes low, preserve critical college and career readiness programs and maintain the high standards Boise Public School District have established. This levy will cost the average Boise homeowner about $7 per month. Without this needed investment in our local schools, 15% across-the-board cuts to District staff (230 teachers) will be made, increasing class sizes. This would be the deepest cuts to academic programs and teaching staff that Boise’s schools have ever suffered and the negative impact would be substantial.

During the past three years, state funding cuts have forced our local schools to make $22 million in budget reductions. Boise School District has responded by scaling back administrative and operational spending, shielding the classroom and preserving academic excellence. There remains a projected $14 million annual deficit beginning in 2012-2013. Our schools need our help. We are being asked very directly to help maintain the critical programs our children and grandchildren need to graduate ready for college or a good-paying job.

It is worth noting that 100% of revenue from the levy will go toward keeping class sizes low and preserving the critical college preparedness and career readiness programs, not a dollar will go towards administrative costs.

I understand that any increases in taxes during a tough economy is a difficult proposition. I also subscribe to the tenant that communities need to invest in their future during both good times and bad. Having spent the majority of my career working closely with hundreds of startup companies, I am convinced that an educated workforce is the single most important ingredient necessary to foster and maintain a healthy economic ecosystem.

Look around you Boise. Micron, HP, Albertsons, Boise Cascade are all considerably smaller than they were a decade ago. Thousands of high paying jobs have been lost and they aren’t coming back. A vibrant startup community is critical for the future of our city. If young growing companies can’t recruit the majority of their employees locally, they will either move or wither and die. If Boise fails to pass this levy, I believe it will begin a malignant cycle which will have significant negative implications for our local economy in the next decade and beyond.

Whether you have kids or not, whether you’re a member of the tea party or a you’re a tree hugger, whether you’re in your twenties or your eighties; if you live in Boise the outcome of next Tuesday’s vote will affect you. Despite where one’s ideological philosophy falls, the decision to support this levy is not a political one. It’s a decision to preserve one of the key components which make Boise (in my opinion), the best small city in America to live and raise a family.

This is a defining moment for our city. How we vote on March 13 will have a significant impact on the community we all love and feel so strongly about. I urge you to A) make sure you vote next Tuesday and B) please take a few minutes and learn more:

Visit the Yes For Boise Schools Facebook Page

Visit their website

Please join me in voting Yes For Boise Schools on Tuesday March 13 to keep our schools and community strong!

Jumping To Conclusions

For all the wonders and magic of the internet’s ability to disseminate information in real-time, with it comes the unfortunate consequence of the media’s (both traditional and social) need to jump to conclusions and cast blame regarding newsworthy events before facts are uncovered and time has had a chance to reveal something that resembles the truth.

So it goes with the recent frenzy over the firing of Boise State Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier by BSU President Bob Kustra. Like everyone else in Boise, I’ve read the articles and observed folks in the social media stream give Kustra “the business” over firing the man who we all know has done so much to build the Boise State athletic department into what it is today.

I don’t claim to understand what happened to precipitate the firing of Gene Bleymaier, nor do I suspect we’ll ever really know. I know however what kind of man Bob Kustra is. I’m fortunate that I’ve gotten to know him well over the last decade and for my money, no one has had a greater positive impact on Boise and the State of Idaho in the last ten years than he has. I feel lucky to call him my friend.

In just eight years, he’s led BSU through its greatest period of dynamic growth in its history. His administration has been marked by an emphasis on research, upgrading admissions standards, improving the undergraduate experience, and increasing the number of graduate and doctoral programs (especially in the increasingly important science and engineering disciplines). Faculty awards and grants for research at Boise State have nearly tripled during his tenure to $50 million. Bob also led the most ambitious fundraising campaign in university history that reached its goal this year. Destination Distinction raised more than $175 million in private support for faculty, student scholarships, programs and campus infrastructure. Most importantly, he’s been able to do this during a period of declining State revenue and difficult economic climates. Few people have an inkling of the complexity and difficulty of negotiating on behalf of education with our State Legislature. I shudder to think of where we’d be today if not for his efforts.

I also know Gene Bleymaier and he is a very good man, a true legend in the Boise community. Unfortunately, there’s no graceful way to fire a legend. That doesn’t negate the fact that sometimes, legends need to be fired (see Bobby Knight). Those that know Bob know that he wouldn’t do something like this if he hadn’t done his homework before taking action. I think Bob Kustra has earned our respect as a community enough to give him some benefit of the doubt on this one.