The Toughest Person I Know

Two years ago, our dear friend (and my incredible assistant) Denise shared that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. It had metastasized to other organs and she would have to undergo very aggressive treatments immediately. We were all stunned. Everyone except Denise that is. She took it in stride and simply wouldn’t entertain the notion that cancer was going to win. She educated herself, converted to a completely plant-based diet and set out to whip cancer’s ass.

The fact that she was declared in remission by her doctors 8 months later was nothing short of miraculous, except to Denise. She never believed for a second that she wasn’t going to beat it. She also never asked for a day off during the entire episode. Determined to keep her mind active and busy, she’d stroll in for chemo with her laptop under her arm and keep my partners and my world’s humming along as if she was battling a head cold. Never once in the last two years have I ever heard Denise complain for a second about this card she’s been dealt. She’s inspired all of us with her toughness and attitude and sunny disposition every single day.

This past winter, the cancer reappeared in her liver and the doctors decided to treat with radiation which culminated in another declaration of remission. Unfortunately, Denise’s latest scans have shown small growth on some of the tumors in her liver, which once again, she will tackle with a second full round of chemo. She begins an aggressive treatment plan beginning next Friday, August 26th. The plan calls for treatment infusions every two weeks for six months.

Those close to Denise have have been incredible with support for her but we’ve decided to reach out to our friends to be there for her in the same way she’s always been there for us. Pam’s cousin Julene, herself a cancer survivor, has set up a gofundme page here to help Denise with some expenses to pay for things like housecleaning, dog care and other things so she can focus 100% of her effort on beating this once and for all. If you know Denise or simply want to help an amazing woman get through her battle, I know that every penny will help.

Startup Life

pi4dca7bf13f7b9a28@largeI just finished reading Startup Life by Brad Feld who collaborated this time with his lovely wife Amy. Pam and I contributed a section to the book and it’s a great collection of wisdom from folks who have navigated the tricky waters of running a startup while trying to maintain a healthy relationship.

Whether you’re considering working for a startup or already work at one, I’m confident you’ll find some great ideas about how to do a better job giving your family the love and attention you know they deserve.

You can pre-order the book now on Amazon by clicking on the link above.

 

The Charles River And A Bit Of Nostalgia

I’m in Cambridge, MA to spend a couple of days with the Boston Techstars crew and this morning I went for a run around the Charles River before a full day of meetings. I wasn’t on my run for very long before my thoughts drifted to my wife Pam and our very first date.

I met Pam in the South End of Boston in October 1994, eighteen years ago this month. It was a beautiful indian summer Sunday morning and I was waiting for a table for breakfast at Mildred’s, my favorite corner bistro. She walked in with a girlfriend and they sat down on the bench to wait with me where we chatted for a minute. When my friend Jib (the owner of Mildred’s) told me my table was ready, something moved me to ask her if they wanted to share a table for breakfast. Luckily for me, she jumped up and said yes before her girlfriend had a chance to answer. We spent the next couple of hours having the slowest breakfast in history. When we couldn’t eat any more muffins or drink any more coffee, I asked for her phone number and we both left.

I felt like I had been struck by lightning. When I had dinner with my family that night, I told them that I met my future wife that day which was met with the usual family banter around my dating habits. When I woke up, I resisted the temptation to call her immediately. I went to work and spent the next few hours thinking about how long I needed to wait to call her without seeming too anxious. I lasted until just after lunch when I couldn’t wait a minute longer. My heart pounded when she answered and after some small talk I asked her if she could take the afternoon off and go roller blading (it was 1994, that’s what we did back then) around the Charles River. To my amazement, she said she’d love to and gave me her address to meet her.

We set off on our blades and made our way around the entire river – over to Harvard, past MIT, around the Museum of Science past the Hatch Shell and back towards the Back Bay and South End. We agreed to go home and change and met at the Elliot Lounge for drinks and sushi. It was as magical a first date as there’s ever been.

It’s been a long time since I made my way around the Charles River and as I ran this morning, I was overwhelmed by how strong the memory of my first date with Pam still is and how grateful I am that fate brought us together for a minute on that Sunday morning at Mildred’s. The flame burns brighter than ever and I love her more every day of my life.

Oh, there’s one more thing to add about our first date. To this day, she loves to tell everyone that I had spandex shorts on that day we went rollerblading. What can I say sweetie except that the strategy seemed to have worked…

The End Of The Road – One Year Later

It dawned on me this weekend that exactly one year ago we announced that Highway 12 Ventures (the venture capital firm I co-founded over a decade earlier), would not be raising a third fund and that we would be winding down the firm. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since I made that most difficult decision of my career.

Being more reflective that outward-looking the last year, I haven’t felt particularly inspired to keep this blog very active. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I know in my heart it was the right decision for me and today I find myself at the most exciting and rewarding period of my professional life. Everywhere I go, friends ask me “what have you been up to?” and “so what’s next?” so I decided to put pen to paper (figuratively) and answer those two questions.

What have I been up to? Well, contrary to popular belief, I haven’t retired. More than anything, I’ve been working closely with Phil and Derek at Highway 12 Ventures. We still have close to twenty portfolio companies (though that number is waning as two have signed LOI’s to be acquired in the last month and a third is in discussions with multiple potential partners) and there’s a mountain of work to be done over the coming years to harvest our portfolio. We’re fortunate to be investors in a handful of companies that have scaled dramatically and while there’s an awful lot of wood to chop, we are well positioned to create very handsome returns for our investors. There are also some very exciting earlier-stage companies we’re involved with which could amplify those returns.

Over the last year, I’ve also committed more time to family, fitness and photography. I’m lucky to be the dad of two amazing young teenagers that I’m marveling at watching turn into young adults. It’s been very rewarding to engage deeper with them than I ever have. It was also very gratifying to watch and support Pam chair the levy campaign for the Boise School District this year (landslide victory!), and fade into the background of cooking the meals and driving our kids to their various events while she committed close to a year of her life to ensuring that our nationally-ranked schools maintain the budgets necessary to remain so.

I’ve also stepped up my commitment to exercise and nutrition – determined to model for my kids that there are choices you can make about what you put in your body and how you maintain it into middle age. I’ve also been inspired by Pam’s new-found love for running and the amazing endurance efforts of friends like Brad Feld, Jim Franklin, Decker Rolph, Seth Levine, Ian Rogers and so many others – so I’ve stepped up my efforts in this area to see what I’m made of.

Lastly, I’m devoting more time to photography, the first artistic passion I’ve discovered in my life and it’s been deeply rewarding to learn and pursue an art. I find it both terrifically stimulating and very relaxing. I now try and carry my camera with me most of the time and use my business travel as an excuse to get out and see the world through my viewfinder.

On to the second question – What’s next? In a nutshell, it’s still too early to tell but things are getting clearer. I have a huge responsibility to our investors and our latest fund is only 5 ½ years into a 10-year life cycle so I’ll still be primarily focused on that for the foreseeable future. In the year leading up to my decision, I felt my career in venture capital was likely over after we wound down the firm. When this fund runs its course, I’ll have spent 20 years investing in and working with startups and I’ll be fifty years old. It was during my sabbatical two years ago where I started contemplating a new career and I’ve kept a journal for the last year of things that excite me. I’ve filled dozens of pages in a journal with ideas (both big and small) about pursuits like minor league baseball (ownership, not playing – I’m no Michael Jordan), film school, a local bike shop, and a host of other ideas that have been circling around my head. I grab them when they appear and wrestle with them for weeks.

However, one thing that has remained constant is my zeal for working with startups. Once you’ve spent time working with young, eager entrepreneurs, there are few things that can replace that energy. Given that we’re no longer making any new investments at Highway 12 Ventures, I’ve been looking for ways to share what I’ve learned over the last 17 years with young entrepreneurs that might benefit from my experiences.

One of the ways I’ve been able to do that that is to engage deeper with my friends at TechStars. If you’ve followed me over the last five years, you know by now how special I think TechStars is and I’ve had the good fortune to be involved almost since its inception. We’ve invested in a handful of terrific TechStars companies over the years and I continue to be a huge fan of David Cohen and the amazing phenomenon he’s fostered. I’ve been working closely with David on a strategy to offer alumni companies more resources for success once they graduate from the program. I’ve also been assisting a bunch of alumni companies from around the country with their financing strategies as they mature. It’s been some of the most gratifying work I’ve done in my career and I feel lucky to be in a position to work with such bright, passionate entrepreneurs. I’m having more fun than ever.

I’m also working with a small handful of exciting local Boise startups as they navigate the early-stage waters. While there’s still a lot of work to be done to create a sustainable startup ecosystem here in my hometown, it seems to me that there’s more interesting startups on the scene today than at any other time since I moved here in 2000 and I’ll continue to work with my friends here to move that needle.

So that’s what I’ve been up to and how I’m thinking about the future. I’m incredibly grateful to have such a wonderful and supporting family, a partner like Phil, outstanding friends at TechStars and to live in this beautiful state of Idaho, the place that feels more like home than anywhere else I’ve ever been. I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream and bought a 30 year-old Jeep CJ7 and I’m intent on getting onto more back roads, taking the top off and seeing even more of it with my family.

I’m looking forward to adding some velocity to this blog as the future slowly comes into more focus. Thanks for sharing the journey.

“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.