The Tao of Brad

Last week I was on a long mountain bike ride and wound up spending a few hours grinding away on a particular difficult situation one of the CEOs I work with was going through, when some advice Brad Feld gave me years ago popped into my head and I knew it was just what my friend needed to hear. I pulled off the trail, sat down in the dirt and called the CEO. As you’d expect, the idea was well received and I got a call the next day saying he’d already implemented it and how helpful it was.

It struck me how many often I’ve used something I’ve learned from Brad and I began to imagine how many times others have done the same; call it the Brad multiplier effect. I decided to reach out to folks I know who have benefited from a relationship with Brad and see what the most valuable insights they’ve gained from knowing him. What you’ll see here are the responses from a broad spectrum of entrepreneurs, CEOs, angel investors, venture capitalists and friends who’ve spent time with him. I can’t imagine how many more people have similar anecdotes and hope anyone who does will share them in the comments below. 

I’ll start with my own. Years ago, I was wrestling with a significant life decision that while incredibly important to me, didn’t have a sense of urgency attached to it. I reached out to Brad and the next time I saw him we went for a walk (another jewel I’ve learned from him; deep conversations seem to always have more value when away from desks, conference rooms, and other distractions). He listened carefully and when I was finished, he took a deep breath and said “You can’t process when you’re processing.” What he was telling me was that you can’t force a big decision and that the more you let go of it, the clearer it will become to you over time. Of course he was spot on and sure enough, when I stopped squeezing the decision, I ultimately arrived at (in hindsight) one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’ve shared this wisdom with so many others over the years and it’s had as big an impact on them as it did for me.

Below, you’ll find all of the responses I received. Instead of giving attribution, I thought it would be more impactful if they were anonymous. Knowing Brad, he’ll have fun trying to connect the dots.

 

As an investor, I’ve learned from Brad that just as you can’t time the public markets, you can’t time the private markets either. I learned from him to invest the same amount of capital year in, year out, in roughly the same number of investments. Ignore the macros. Sometimes you’ll pay too much, sometimes you’ll get a deal and sometimes your investments will be priced fairly. If you do this over a couple of decades, it will all smooth out.

Don’t optimize on price. It never, ever pays off if you’re playing the long game.

Do or do not. There is no try.

I was talking with Brad about angel investing and he shared with me the importance of a portfolio approach and how anyone angel investing should plan for a minimum of 10 investments. “Take the money you have allocated to this asset class and divide by a number 10 or larger.  If you are not going to make at least 10 investments you should make zero.” I took it to heart, made 28 angel investments and have given that same advice dozens of times.

The long game is the only game worth playing

“Give First” — obvious? Yes, but you asked.  This is not something that he has ever said directly to me, but rather it has been my personal true north as it relates to giving first being one of life’s greatest journeys. Brad’s generosity of giving first is fundamental to his personal and professional ethos.  He gives first of himself as a friend, as a mentor, and with his wisdom. He gives first one the most special level philanthropically, not just in dollars, but with time and most tremendous impact.   Brad also gives first by “going first”— in one example, his openness of his own challenges makes him such a special friend in his empathy and understanding. Giving first has become a personal mantra — and it’s through Brad that I’ve fully understood that it’s not a business lesson nor a personal lesson, but a way of being that has created such a fulfilling life. This lesson has had the greatest impact on me in literally every aspect of my life.

Don’t ask me what I’d do. Do what you’d do.

To respond to everyone, no matter who it is or how big or small the ask is because you never know when you may encounter that person again. After 15+ years of working for Brad’s companies, I still don’t know how he does it!

The best advice and insights I’ve received from him came through his use of the Socratic method in our discussions. Two questions he asked me a long time ago still inform my journey in life: “Is this what you want to be doing 5 to 10 years from now?” and “Are you having fun?”

The best advice I have gotten is from simply watching him and I’m lucky to have had so much time with him.

While not advice, I think of the “Dairy Queen Lesson” a lot — one of my favorite things about Brad is how much emphasis he puts on meaningful time and deep dedication to his loved ones.  Meaningful doesn’t equate to big events, hallmark holidays, or occasions, but rather simply investing time with those who are the most important to us, even on the most simple level of sharing an ice cream.  The way he talks about his partnership with Amy and the tremendous respect and love he has for her.  This has helped shaped my own view of marriage and communication with my wife.  I call it the Dairy Queen lesson because of the photos of Brad and his dad through the years, each and always with tremendous smiles and ice cream 1, ice cream 2, and on even ice cream 3 in a day. Those smiles and that mutual love and admiration know no bounds.  This lesson has had a powerful impact on me and have informed my own approach to life as a husband, a father, and a son, a brother, and of course, a friend.

Be intellectually honest with yourself.

So much. However the one that sticks out is right before I became CEO of (xxxxx). I was struggling with maybe it was time to move out of Boulder. I just had my second failure as a CEO and I felt like I needed radical change – and he said “You can move, but that isn’t going to fix your issues – they are inside of you and they will travel with you wherever you go. Stay where you are, get super involved with Techstars and become the most engaged mentor ever and maybe something good will happen when you give more.” Of course I don’t recall his exact words and this is more like my recollection of an entire conversation is summed up in that one quote – but the essence is the same. So far it’s turned out pretty good 🙂

Strangely the best piece of advice I ever got from Brad didn’t actually come from him telling me something.  It came from watching him.  Brad’s willingness to help people without ever expecting anything in return really impacted the way that I think about giving my time to people I don’t know.

I owe my morning routine to advice I got from Brad and it’s had a major impact on me. I’ve found having a routine for getting yourself out of bed is a key part of being able to wake up early. Other wisdom he’s shared with me that I value include establishing a cadence to your life (weekly, quarterly, yearly) and his matrix on cultural fit.

Spend your time with A players if you want to become an A player. Watch them, study them, learn from them.

Doing something for myself on a regular basis. Not my company. Not my wife. Not my kids. Do something that nourishes me or I’ll be useless to everyone else. Took that to heart. Changed my life.  

That’s a hard one Mark – so much good advice from Brad over the years. The best may be something he actually said to someone else, which was the way to best help your community is to do what you’re awesome at (he was responding to someone asking him: “what can I do for you?”).

The good thing about venture capital is you can only lose 1x your money!

So much of the advice that I get from Brad is situation specific. I can’t say that I actually recall him ever giving broad advice vs highly specific advice. One generalization that I will make that I’ve noticed him do often though – when someone will come to him and ask about a tough decision where they are torn between various paths for all these intricate and complex reasons, he’ll cut through the fog and ask some incredibly simple question like “what do you actually want to do?” and then the rest of the discussion is about what if you just did that. He naturally challenges the assumption that these sorts of decisions have to feel heavy, and that’s been a valuable perspective for me to absorb.

To believe in myself.

Hmmmm. I think it’s the concept of taking care of yourself and being healthy; being true to yourself, as well. He’s always been a great supporter of doing what’s best for me even when it’s wicked hard.

Back when I was leaving (xxxxx), I barely knew him, but he took the time to go back and forth with me over email to help me think through some of the things in front of me and I think that email exchange was a big reason I didn’t go do another big corporate exec job. He talked with me about an offer I had at (xxxxx) to move to (xxxxx) and run (xxxxx) and their (xxxxx) business and how I’d spend my time dealing with their legacy tech and fixing old shit that other people broke and how depressing that probably would be, which really resonated with me.  It was the last time I ever considered any sort of bigco exec role.  We talked about viewing opportunities on a disruptive scale. I ended up choosing the “middle path” with that decision and joined (xxxxx), eschewing xxxxx which was on the more disruptive path. Of course, I ultimately joined (xxxxx) to be on the much more disruptive path 🙂

Guilt is a worthless feeling.

The importance of unplugging and being present.  In a fast-paced and sometimes frenetic world, the lesson of unplugging for a digital Sabbath, for time off the grid, and for time with family has been advice Brad has imparted on me.  In one instance, I shared with Brad that I was using social media more than I had wanted to, that I didn’t feel good about it, and I then riffed on a million excuses of why I still did it when I didn’t feel good about being “always on.”  Brad simply said, “why don’t you just stop? Take a break from it for a few months — honestly, what’s going to happen?”  Simple, to the point, and spot on.  The bigger lesson here was being present for our loved ones and for ourselves.  To enjoy life’s special moments. He was right. Stepping away helped me gain an entirely new perspective about letting technology be a tool and not a master.

Don’t get in over your head.  Figure out what you don’t know, and find someone that knows. Don’t fuck it up. Do the thing you love. The simple ones are my favorite.

Nobody stays here by faking reality in any manner whatsoever.

Gosh.  I feel like in so many ways he is another father figure for me. Our interactions over the years have been laden with advice and perspective that I have completely woven into my life. The introduction of the Socratic method into my life is probably the most significant impact he has had. It has changed how I process the world and how I interact with others. He has really shown me how my black/white tendencies can get in the way. Living with buffer around the edges makes things so much better. If you think you can sell something at $10 per unit, yet someone is offering 9.5, stop and think about whether or not a bunch more effort is worth the 0.5; 99% of the time it isn’t, and it’s ego that’s driving you to do silly things just to get exactly what you want. I find his advice is hidden… it rarely comes out as “advice.”

Give first with no expectation for anything in return. Good things always happen.

I have to pick just one? Brad and I went for a walk years ago. I asked him for advice/feedback on trusting myself as an investor. The gist of the advice was “figure out if you even like being an investor before you worry about your performance as one.”

“You would really enjoy mentoring at Techstars.” Brad gave me this advice during the first time we spent time together, on a walk with smoothies through Boulder Creek Park, many years ago.  This suggestion has changed my life in some of the most powerful ways possible. Many programs of mentorship later, I’m so lucky to be part of the Techstars family; from the people, to the companies, to the incredible friendships across the board. For that suggestion, I will be forever grateful to Brad, who plugged me into the Techstars ecosystem.

He told me I was lonely and didn’t seem to realize it. First time it occurred to me that you could be married and lonely.

I actually don’t think it’s anything specific he says but rather how he thinks about the world. He can look at situations intellectually, acknowledging the emotional charge, but not impacted by it. And he can tackle difficult subjects in non-confrontational ways. That’s pure art. He can, more rapidly than anyone I ever met, identify a situation’s biggest asset and also biggest liability, and reorient a path forward around its asset and minimize the liability.  I’ve seen him do this so many times in so many different situations in under 10 minutes. It’s mind blowing. He comes from a place of love and acceptance and generosity. Which is huge given the demands on his time and resources.  He’s probably the least religious person I know who most successfully embodies the teachings of most religions. He’s a philosopher stuck in a VC’s body. He is always asking why, about everything, helping to easily identify what’s important and what’s not. He’s curious about the world, and the space he puts between stimulus and reaction is what enables this curiosity and philosophy. It’s powerful and something I try hard (and often fail at) emulating. He inherently trusts people, which cause them to trust him, which leads to the attainment of their individual highest potential self.  Brad trusts the PERSON, not the outcome. So because he gives them that power of “I’ve got your back” they try risky things, and when combined with his ability to identify the assets and minimize liabilities rapidly, he and a founder is often a winning team. He lives his values. Most people I know speak their value, but act so differently. The hypocrisy has made me so negative on so many levels. But Brad is a breath of fresh air there and gives me faith that people in positions of influence, leadership, and wealth can and do act in the best interests of others. To sum it up, from my perspective, he has transcended the elusive barrier between knowledge and wisdom. I know a lot of smart people. Brad might be the only wise one I know. Wise, but still human. This email was fun to write and think about. If he ever decided to run for office or start a religion, or even start a country, I’d drop everything and support him. And I’m not the groupie type.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helping An Entrepreneur See His Work Come To Life

This summer, I had the privilege of spending time with my friend Chris Burkard in the remote Westfjords of Iceland which I wrote about here. Yesterday, Chris announced a Kickstarter campaign for his film “Under An Arctic Sky.” Here’s the trailer:

If you’re an outdoor adventure junkie like me, you’re surely familiar with Chris and you’re already stoked to see this epic adventure come to life on the screen. If not, take a few minutes to enjoy Chris’ work and join the over two million people who follow his Instagram account, I promise you’ll find some inspiration there.

I hope you’ll consider joining me and contribute to Chris’ Kickstarter campaign to help bring this mind-blowing adventure to life.

 

A Beautiful Continuum

The first time I met Natty Zola was in the old Techstars bunker back in the summer of 2009. He and his co-founder Nate Abbott had recently started a company called Everlater and were going through the Boulder Techstars program. They told me their story about chucking their Wall Street jobs, traveling around the world together and moving back home to Boulder (where they’d been best friends since kindergarten) to start Everlater.

The origin story of Everlater (anagram for Traveler) was that Nate and Natty grew frustrated during their travels that there really wasn’t a good platform to share travel experiences in real time with friends and family back home. They taught themselves how to code, built an elegant site which encapsulated areas for journaling, photos, maps etc., and started building the company.

I knew during our first meeting that I wanted to invest. Their enthusiasm was infectious and Natty & Nate were learning machines. The experience of being involved in building Everlater with these two is one of the truly memorable and gratifying chapters of my career. Ultimately, AOL acquired the company and Nate & Natty took on senior product roles at Mapquest. Here’s a fantastic short video of their journey from inception to acquisition.

 

Two years ago, we were looking for a new Managing Director of our Techstars Boulder program and Natty immediately jumped to mind. He’d been through the gauntlet as an entrepreneur, spent a few years at a large tech company working on product, was born and raised in Boulder and most importantly, he’s an incredible human being with a huge empathy gene. It was the perfect choice and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have Natty running the Techstars program at our original location.

We encourage all of our Managing Directors to become board members or observers at some of the companies that graduate from their classes. As fate would have it, Pana (an incredible on-demand mobile travel agent) went through one of Natty’s classes and recently Natty joined their board of directors. His experience in the travel industry is the perfect fit and Natty’s now in the ideal position to mentor founder Devon Tivona. Where the continuum comes full circle is that Devon was a summer intern at Everlater.

At the 2005 Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs said something that’s become my favorite quote of all time.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.”

When Nate called Natty back in 2008, urging him to quit his high-paying Wall Street job and come join him on the adventure of a lifetime, little did they know where it would take them, but something in their gut told them to trust the universe and just do it. Nate’s gone on to become the Product Manager of Airbnb’s recently announced Trips and together, he and Natty can now look back and connect the dots that brought them to this point in their lives.

A Little Grace In The Middle Of Some Mayhem

I’ve spent the last eight weeks in a heavy-duty sling after surgery to repair an old injury and getting freed from it a few days ago feels like I passed “Go” and received my “get out of jail free card.” The surgery was a little more intense than I had imagined it would be and my two months in the penalty box started out a bit rough. To begin with, I did a really poor job of setting my expectations around how long it would take me to get back to functioning somewhat normally and when I failed miserably at that (for the record, I gave myself five days), my first two weeks found me fighting through some storm clouds. More than anything, the evil pain meds they give you after surgery put me in a foggy mental state and left me in no shape to bring my best to work even though at the time I believed I could. It took me a little while to figure out how off I was (it didn’t help that I was one-armed and using dictation software).

After about a week I started weaning myself off the meds and by the week after that the cloud had lifted. I settled into a routine that didn’t vary much until a few days ago. I sat at my desk in my home office and did as much work as I could handle. Despite what I had hoped for, voice-to-text for more than short messages (while pretty incredible when you think about it) still has a lot of ground to cover to become ubiquitous and no matter how many hours I sat talking to my computer, it felt like I was falling further and further behind. I knew that sleep would also be difficult as I’ve had shoulder surgery before and had experienced how much sleeplessness accompanies it. Knowing it and dealing with it are two different states of mind though, and no matter what, having 2-3 hours being the longest stretch of sleep I could put together for a couple of months took its toll.

Two bright spots during this stretch made the ordeal a little easier to handle. First, being around Pam and the kids for two straight months without being allowed to get on a plane was a real treat. Family card games made a big comeback at the kitchen table (euchre and hearts and they didn’t make me shuffle once) and the kids indulged (and even began enjoying) some of dad’s Spotify playlists (with a strong dose of the 60’s and 70’s). The other source of inspiration for me was our dogs Ruby and Maggie. Ruby’s our 10 month-old puppy (yellow, golden & poodle mix) and Maggie’s our 14 1/2 year-old yellow lab. Being home all the time, I found out just what a busy life my wife leads as some days it was the three of us, but Ruby enjoys bopping around town in Pam’s passenger seat so most days it was just Maggie and I. Anyone that knows me well knows that I enjoy a very special relationship with her. For years she was my companion as we explored the hundreds of miles of trails out our back door together and it’s been a little tough for me seeing her slow down so much over the last year. The best Maggie can muster these days is a walk around our neighborhood for about 15-20 minutes.

I’ve begun to cherish our strolls together more than ever these last few months. Whenever I needed a break, I’d find her (napping at my feet mostly) and she’d build up a head of steam going down the ramp we’d built for her and off we’d go. She can’t hear anymore and only two legs work well, but she lights up and her tail wags like she’s a pup when we get outside. I’ve been walking Maggie around the neighborhood since she had to give up the trails last year, but since my surgery, I’ve noticed myself being more patient than ever with her as I just wasn’t in any particular rush anymore. What a sight we’ve been. The guy in the sling trying to pick up poop with one hand and his nonagenarian dog (I looked it up here – 14 1/2 year-old 70lb dog = 90 human years). My daily strolls with Mags have provided me with a lot of quiet time and for some reason lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of grace. It began as the word kept reverberating around my brain as I watched Maggie during our walks. Her back right leg gives out pretty regularly now and she falls once in a while, but she always lifts herself up and manages to keep going, tail wagging. I’ve been saying to myself that I hope I can accept aging with as much courage and grace as she is.

For some reason though, I can’t seem to get the word out of my head lately. Perhaps it’s the mounting evidence when we watch this election cycle how our country’s losing its grip of the concept these days. Grace once again made an appearance in my head on our walk tonight so when I came inside, I decided to look it up. Turns out there are a handful of definitions, but in Western Christian theology, grace is defined as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.” Despite not considering myself religious, this is nevertheless my favorite definition. I think it’s because I understand that’s exactly what Maggie has been giving me all these years; she’s given me love not because I’ve earned it, but because she wants me to have it.

Spring has sprung and our walks are getting a little longer. It’s seems there’s more dogs to greet and lots of new things to smell. With my arm free now I know I’m going to get busier and I’ll have to remind myself to make sure we have time for our long walks.  I don’t know how much longer we have together (we thought we lost her two years ago), but I’m cherishing each of our neighborhood excursions. Maggie’s name is borrowed from the song Sugar Magnolia by the Grateful Dead and she’s reminding me these days (as Jerry used to sing) that “once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look for it right.”

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Maggie on one of our neighborhood strolls a few months ago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking The Plug Out Of “Unplugged”

Over the years, my wife Pam and I have developed a great system together: I plan our vacations, and she plans everything else. There’s no ambiguity. When we’re at home, I do what I’m told, go where she tells me and try my best to keep up with her. I love planning our vacations though, and the more “off the beaten path” the better. I spent the first 30 years of my life living in and around big cities. When I met Pam and started spending time in Idaho with her, it sparked the embers of a love affair with the outdoors that’s continued to burn brighter for over 20 years now. In large part, Outside magazine became fodder for my wanderlust. I’ve torn and stored pages, bookmarked links and spent a good deal of time daydreaming about remote places that I want to experience with my family. Lucky for me, Pam’s been up for it from day one.

 

The highlight for us (so far) is when I took a three month sabbatical five years ago and we spent three memorable summer months traveling by backpack throughout Southeast Asia and Africa. For a long time now high on my list has been trekking in Patagonia. We waited until the kids were old enough (15 & 17) to handle the long and arduous days with heavy packs, and last year I began planning our adventure in Chile & Argentina for Christmas 2015. We talked about it all year and the anticipation grew. Alas, two weeks before we were set to depart, our daughter Sophie threw out her back riding and was clearly in no shape for a trip like this. After some hard family discussions about canceling, we decided that our son Cameron and I would go and that Pam would stay home to care for Sophie (Happy to report that she’s on the mend and riding her horse again). The trip was so spectacular that we’re planning on doing it again as a family.

One of the things I cherished most about our time in Patagonia was that for almost the entire duration of the trip, we couldn’t be plugged in, even if we wanted. No Wi-Fi. No Internet. No digital connection to the outside world at all. Occasionally we would pass through a small town like El Calafte or El Chaten where we could find a signal strong enough to drop Pam and Sophie a voice text to share a tidbit about our latest adventures and let them know we were ok. We weren’t “off the grid” figuratively, it was literal.

We all talk about taking breaks and “unplugging.” Unfortunately, it’s becoming almost impossible these days for people to truly unplug. We take our phones on our unplugged vacations, sneaking and checking Instagram, Facebook, the news, or whatever our favorite flavor of digital distraction might be whenever we need a fix. As someone who does a fairly good job disconnecting on a regular basis, it was still a jolt to spend almost 3 weeks completely unaware of anything happening in the world that I couldn’t see with my own eyes.

What was that like? Pure bliss. Cam and I had long meandering conversations while we hiked, which twisted and turned like the rivers we were following. We talked about everything under the sun. Before the trip we each picked a book (Cam chose Fearless and me, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance) and brought two copies of each and talked about those as we read them together. Obviously, we hiked and we hiked and we hiked. We averaged between 12 and 18 miles a day and 3000 to 5000 feet of climbing. Sometimes we’d talk. Sometimes we’d have long stretches of silence, hearing nothing but the wind and lost in our own thoughts. And sometimes we’d sing. Actually, we sang a lot. In fact, we spent an entire morning hiking to Mount Fitzroy singing and trying to remember all of the lyrics to the Beatles When I’m 64. “When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now…”

In Torres Del Paine, we enjoyed a new friendship with Omar, our guide. Born and raised in Porto Natales, Chile – his father was an accomplished mountain climber and instilled a love of the mountains in his son. Omar went to university, but after a few years of a 9 to 5 job, he quit to become a guide so he could spend all his time in the mountains. He’s climbed many of the most challenging peaks in the region and regaled us with tales of those exploits, some of them quite harrowing. Despite guiding in the area for 15 years, Omar made us feel like every step was special. He took great pride in explaining all of the geological history of the region, had a vast understanding of the fauna and wildlife and loved pointing out all of the birds by their individual songs. Most of all, Omar kept us on pace. We’d start hiking between eight and nine in the morning, and if we didn’t make camp by nine, there was no dinner. We’d snack along the way and savor every calorie in our bagged lunches. Nothing went to waste.

The scenery was simply breathtaking. I hope you watch all or some of the video because there’s no way to really describe how truly beautiful and inspiring the region is and do it any justice. In fact, the hardest part of describing Patagonia is simply conveying the scale. We live in the mountains of Idaho and have visited so many vast places. I’ve never visited the Himalayas (for now) but I’ve never felt as small as I did there. Patagonia is also home to some of the most accessible glaciers in the world and it seemed like we saw a new one every time we made it around another mountain. Trekking across the Perito Moreno Glacier in Santa Cruz, Argentina was an experience I’ll always remember. We crossed the bluest rivers and streams I’ve ever seen and saw glacial lakes as turquoise as the Caribbean. I’ve never seen a full-blown avalanche in person, but when we were in the French Valley, we saw saw five in one day, and we even captured one on film (you’ll have to watch the video). We saw condors with 12 foot wingspans and we ate the most mouth watering lamb I’ve ever tasted.

In Torres Del Paine, we slept in refugios (wooden huts with three or four small bunk beds in a room) with different people from all over the world. It was fun to see a few familiar faces on the trails and also to share meals with new people at the wooden picnic tables each morning and evening. We also stayed at a few “estancias” (sheep and cattle ranches) that had been handed down from generation to generation for over 100 years. The family’s hospitality was always special and the food spectacular.

Of course, Patagonia is a photographer’s dream and I hope the pictures in this video inspire you to go visit. A big thanks to our friends Peter and Pam Horan for giving us such great advice in planning our trip and the biggest thanks in the world to my assistant Denise for helping us put it altogether. Now go watch the video (in full screen mode!), turn up the volume and get lost in Patagonia with us.

Oh, and get comfortable, it’s long 🙂

 

 

Maggie

I just drove back to Boise after a terrific family vacation in the mountains. If you’ve never driven along Highway 55 in Idaho, it’s one of the most scenic stretches of asphalt you can imagine. I’ve driven it countless times over the years but this was the first time I had a chance to experience it in my “new” 1986 Jeep with the top off. The beauty and magnitude of the mountains and rivers was the perfect setting for reflection on some blissful time on a lake with family and close friends.

The most profound moment of our time away for me however came in the form of our dog Maggie. Two days ago, Pam and I awoke to the sound of Maggie crying (both Maggie and her sister Rosie slept on the floor of our bedroom in the cabin) and I jumped up assuming she was letting us know that nature was calling. I knew right away though that something wasn’t right. She was struggling to get up and I saw that she wasn’t able to use her hind legs. Her eyes grew wide and I got down to hold her. Within a few seconds I could tell she was in real distress and I yelled to Pam to get a vet right away.

I held Maggie while Pam found an amazing gentleman to rush to our cabin at 7am on a Saturday in a sleepy mountain town. The fifteen or twenty minutes it took him to get there (we feel remarkably lucky) felt like hours to me. They certainly felt like the last moments I was going to be spending with her and I wasn’t prepared for that. I’ve grown really close with her and I always imagined I’d have the opportunity to say goodbye to her like Owen Wilson did in Marley and Me – a sloppy affair with me sharing some well-thought out vignettes of our time together. This was sudden and real and all I wanted to do was end her suffering.

Maggie’s seizure was still happening when the vet showed up. After examining her, he told us that she’d had a stroke and was coming out of it, though there was no predicting yet how it would affect her but it was clear to him that she was going to survive. He shared stories with us that had both tragic and heart-warming endings. As she started to relax, he gave us instructions on how to care for her for the next day or two and to call him if things turned for the worse.

After about 90 minutes she calmed down enough to lay on the bed and take a nap with me. We both woke about 30 minutes later and she was looking better. I lifted her down to the floor and while as wobbly as a drunken sailor, she made her way down the hall and onto the porch where she staggered around for 15 minutes or so, falling down and dragging herself back up. Each time she got up, she did so with a little more confidence and she eventually got to the point where she could stand for a couple of minutes. We gave her some food and she happily ate it – a good sign for any Lab. We decided to take her down the steps to the lake shore and her tail started wagging – more good signs – and we watched her spend an hour walking in and out of the water’s edge – staggering, falling and standing over and over again on the warm soft beach.

Miraculously, by afternoon Maggie was about 90% of normal. We threw her tennis ball a few feet into the lake and she eagerly fought off Rosie to win the short swimming races – we were stunned. The next morning, Maggie was back to herself. She bounded up when I awoke, ate a hearty breakfast and resumed swimming activities with her usual vigor. 24 hours after thinking we were losing her, she was back to normal.

I spent a good deal of time in the jeep today thinking about her and the profound effect she’s had on me. Maggie’s the first animal that I’ve had a deep relationship with. I’ve had pets in and out of my life but I never connected with an animal the way I have with her. While a little late in life to finally experience that, I feel grateful for the twelve years I’ve had with her and fully recognize how lucky I am for each of our remaining days together. I told her this morning that she’s on bonus day number three now and the sparkle in her eye and the wag of her tail told me she gets it. We went down to play in the water one more time and I got in the jeep and left for home with a new appreciation for the special bond that we share.

Advice to my 37 year-old self

Last night, as I was having my second serving of dessert at a board dinner in New York City, the 37 year-old COO of the company asked me how I could eat as much as I do and stay fit. I told him that it was much easier for me at 47 than it was at 37. Counterintuitive, right? I asked him how old his kids are (2 & 6) and how much he travels (often). He said he seems to carry an extra 10-15 lbs that feels impossible to shed. I explained that at 37, I had the same issues. My kids were 3 & 4, I traveled a ton, and I was in the first couple of years of starting Highway 12 Ventures. Instead of the 150-155 I weigh these days, it was impossible for me to get out of the 165-170 range back then. I see pictures of myself from that time period now and can’t believe it was the same person.

Fact is, if your kids are under 10 years old and you have a demanding job (exacerbated by travel and the nutrition challenges that go along with business travel), I think it’s extremely difficult to be be great at your job, be a great spouse and parent, and maintain the level of fitness that we all dream about. That’s a three-legged stool that’s really difficult to manage and you’re probably not going to do a stellar job at one of those. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing people who are able to accomplish it. My friend Seth Levine at Foundry comes to mind. Amazing parent to young kids and a terrific husband, incredibly bright and successful and fit as a fiddle. For most of us however, we chose fitness as the weak link and I believe that’s the right move at that stage of your life. However, there’s a few things I’ve learned over the last decade which would have helped me feel better at 37 than I did:

  • When you travel, whatever you do, exercise in the morning. 30 minutes on the crappy elliptical or bike in the hotel is better than nothing. No excuses. You’ll feel better.
  • I love ice cream and eat it almost every night. However, I’ve made it a rule that I won’t eat dessert if I didn’t exercise that day. Period.
  • I really didn’t understand how the makeup of today’s bread affects the body. I’ve largely eliminated it from my diet. If you eat a lot of bread, do your research. Nothing has had a bigger impact on keeping weight off for me than this.

I can go on with more suggestions but there’s mountains of advice on this subject and I’m not Tim Ferris. I really believe if you simply commit to these three things, you’ll see a huge difference. The fourth and most important piece of advice I have is this: Lose the guilt. Being a great parent and spouse is the most important thing your can do for yourself and will increase your happiness more than anything else. Don’t skimp there. Job and fitness come next. You have to choose which you want to be better at. If we’re intellectually honest with ourselves, there aren’t enough hours in the day to excel in all three areas. Carrying around an extra 5-10 lbs isn’t the end of the world. Working out for 45 minutes on Saturday morning and seeing your kids soccer game vs. the epic four hour bike ride with your pals should be an easy decision. If you must do the four hour ride, wake up earlier. Before you know it, your four year-old will be 14 and you’ll know what I mean.

Now that I’ve built some real discipline around nutrition and my kids are teenagers and are embarking on their own lives, I’ve been able to focus more on fitness. In fact, at 47 I’m in the best shape of my life and ran an ultra-marathon this past fall. But I’ve got to be honest: I loved having young kids and I just can’t believe how fleeting it is. I miss scooping them up and holding them and the feel of their skin on mine. I’m glad I chose family and job as my priorities when the kids were young. I can’t remember the extra 10 pounds I carried around but feel like the investments I made in my family and career back then were the right choice for me. If you’re in your 30’s, have young kids, a challenging career and are able to maintain a high level of fitness, please share your hints liberally…

We Are All Complicit

Like everyone else, I was shocked, saddened and outraged at the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT last month. The aftermath was predictable. Paid talking heads and everyone with an opinion took to the airwaves and social media to vent, opine and debate the merits of gun control and the dear price we pay for mental illness in our society. What surprised me though was the relative lack of attention given to what I believe is the single biggest root cause of these tragic events: The glorification of violence in our society.

Over Christmas break, I took my 12 year-old son to a matinee movie. We sat through the obligatory previews and I was dismayed that we sat through six previews and nearly 20 minutes of massive gratuitous violence. Every single preview was filled with graphic and glorified violence – each with smartly crafted and glib one-liners for kids to repeat over and over again with their friends. No preview was more offensive to me than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Stand (no link provided because I’m not going to promote it). Consider yourself warned that if your kids go see it when it opens this weekend you’ll be hearing “Consider yourself deputized,” “Nice shootin’ Sheriff,” & “You effed up my day off” for weeks to come.

What’s so disturbing about Arnold’s latest is that he was a Governor for cripes sakes. He knows what’s going on. He’s been privy to the dark side of violence. Yet the first thing he does is make a film that is a two-hour homage to gun violence, all for a buck. I think he should be ashamed.

Look, I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve enjoyed a good deal of violent films in my life. I also don’t think my 12 year-old son is going to go postal some day because he likes this stuff. He’s a mentally healthy, thoughtful kid and we have regular conversations about the glorification of gratuitous violence in our society. What worries me is how many kids out there that don’t have engaged parents. Impressionable kids that might have undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues. Kids that play killing games for hours and days on end on their computers and TVs.

I don’t remember films and games with nearly the degree of gratuitous violence when I was a kid, and I surely don’t recall killings like Virginia Tech, Newton, CT or Columbine back then either. Call me crazy but I believe in my heart that there’s a connection. So I’ve decided to take a stand. I think that every time we go to one of these movies, or buy our kids another shoot ’em up game, we become complicit. Every time we buy a ticket, watch a TV show or play or a game which glorifies guns and killing, we’re telling Hollywood and the gaming companies that this is what we want – more guns and more killing. The feedback loop is simple: we stop buying and they’ll stop making – I can promise you that.

I’m not getting on a soapbox here. I subsequently took my son to see Lincoln – plenty of violence but certainly not glorified – quite the opposite. I’m not even forbidding my son to see these movies or play these games. I won’t buy him the games or play them with him but I believe forbidding a kid to do something is the surest way to get them to do it. All I can do is stay engaged and teach him to make good decisions. The rest is up to him.

I can do one more thing though. I can vote with my wallet. I’m done with gratuitous violence in my life. There’s a plethora of alternative movies and games out there. If enough of us do that, I really believe we can turn the tide.

A New Chapter

When I announced that we were not going to raise a third fund at Highway 12 Ventures eighteen months ago, I was fairly certain that the next chapter in my career would be something quite different from what I’ve been doing since 1995. Committed to managing our portfolio, I didn’t give much thought to that future, but when I did I imagined a real change in direction. Different opportunities began to present themselves and at the behest of my close friend Scott Caruso (who had recently reached a similar crossroads in his career), I began a journal to record my thoughts about the future. He suggested I commit to write down and define the things that would be most important to me and then apply that filter as different opportunities appeared.

Concurrently, shortly after our announcement my good friend David Cohen (founder and CEO of TechStars) reached out and asked me to consider joining him at TechStars. Incredibly flattered (I have enormous respect for David and his passion for helping entrepreneurs) but focused on Highway 12, I told him that I was ready for a fresh new chapter when my responsibilities ended here. Nevertheless, he’d occasionally prod me as I see and talk to him often.

Believing that being a part of the TechStars community has been one of the primary reasons for our success as a firm, I’ve increased my long-time role as a mentor over the last year, coaching founders who have graduated from various TechStars programs around the country regarding their financing strategies for raising venture capital. I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know many of the alumni founders and it’s been very gratifying for me to see them successfully raise follow-on rounds.

Working more closely in an advisory role with these bright young entrepreneurs has reminded me how much I enjoy this work, and their positive feedback has reinforced to me that the sum of my experiences is worth sharing. If you’ve read my blog (here or at Highway 12 Ventures) over the last few years, you know what a tremendous fan I’ve been of TechStars since it’s inception. As a long-time mentor to the Boulder program and investor in a handful of TechStars companies, I’ve had a front row seat to what I believe is the greatest phenomenon that’s occurred for startups in this country since Al Gore invented the Internet.

Let’s go back to my journal. I decided that in a perfect world, the next chapter in my career would afford me (among other things) the opportunity to:

• Work with people I really like and respect
• Work on something that helps make the world a better place
• Allow my work to expose my teenage children to something that could positively impact how they shape their lives
• Allow me to contribute to my community

The longer I spent time working closely with the team at TechStars and the incredible entrepreneurs who go through the programs, the more apparent it became to me that all of my boxes were being checked. My wife Pam has instilled in our family a notion that you have to “trust that the wind knows where it’s going” and it was becoming quite clear to me that this breeze had turned into a jetstream.

Therefore after a great deal of introspection (along with the support of my family and my partner Phil Reed), I’ve decided to join David and the entirely awesome TechStars team in helping them to pursue a vision of providing the promising startup entrepreneurs with world-class, community-driven mentorship programs. My role as a general partner at TechStars will focus largely on capital formation for the network; specifically for alumni companies, the individual programs, and raising and managing investment capital for TechStars itself.

Emphatically, I will continue my role as Managing Partner of Highway 12 Ventures as we wind down our firm. With the recent acquisitions of Vico Software, Max-Viz and Everlater, we are executing on our goal of producing handsome returns for our investors. I also believe my role at TechStars will allow me to bring more resources than ever to our startup community in Boise, a role that I’m deeply passionate about. I will not be moving and our office in Boise will stay open until the end of our fund. Phil, Derek, Denise and I will function exactly as we have for the last decade, there will not be any changes.

I am grateful to David for the opportunity to be part of such an exciting and important endeavor, and am truly inspired to work alongside the entire TechStars team, a group of very special people who have dedicated themselves to helping entrepreneurs everywhere. I also can’t thank my partner Phil enough. Working side by side with him over the last decade has forged the most meaningful relationship of my entire career. He’s been a brother, father and mentor to me and I love him dearly for the patience, support and encouragement he’s so freely given me. Thank you Phil.

I’m excited about both my new role at TechStars and continuing to help manage the growth of our portfolio at Highway 12 Ventures along with Phil and Derek. I’m looking forward to the busy days ahead.

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…