Category: Business

Help us test T.A.G. on Facebook (it’s fun!)

My company play140 has just put live our game T.A.G. The Acronym Game on FACEBOOK! If you can spare a few minutes to poke at it and give us feedback (it’s definitely still “alpha”) that’d be stupendously helpful.

Blog post:Β

More info:Β

The Facebook App (if you have no patience!):Β


Changes at TechStars Boston

As most of the people around me know, this fall has been nothing short of insane for me. Good insane, but insane. I’ve been trying to hire an EA for the last three weeks – but haven’t had the bandwidth. That’s what it’s come to! Oy!

This spring I started a new company play140 which has now raised seed funding, is growing to five employees, and launches formally in a few weeks. I started teaching this year in a new masters program at Boston University, which has been rewarding, but certainly time consuming. Of course once TechStars Boston 2010 wrapped, I started working on preparations for TechStars Boston 2011. Oh – and I have a wife and two kids and a house and some consulting clients πŸ˜‰ .

Something had to give.

When applications opened last week for TechStars Boston 2011, the reality of the 24-hours-in-a-day constraint started settling in. David Cohen, CEO of TechStars, and I had a number of back-and-forths and we’ve come to the conclusion that I should bow out of TechStars.

David has asked me to stay on as a mentor in Boston, which I, of course, plan to do! We do not have a new Managing Director for Boston sorted out, but are obviously working feverishly on that now. If you know someone you think could be a good fit, let us know!

Obviously this is a sad transition for me. However, I am immensely proud of what I have been able to accomplish getting TechStars setup, running, and now firmly-established in my home town. Go Boston! To whoever takes over for 2011: please don’t fuck it up! πŸ™‚ .

The last two years of running TechStars Boston have been an incredible incredible experience. I have to thank a bunch of amazing people without whom the two programs wouldn’t have been a success. First, the 19 stupendous TechStars Boston companies from the 2009 and 2010 programs, who continue to kick ass. Second, the AMAZING Boston mentors, whose dedication and willingness to help the next generation of entrepreneurs appears to know no bounds. Thank you thank you thank you. Third, the bold investors who were willing to make TechStars a reality in Boston. Fourth, the stellar interns, advisors, and Diane & Elizabeth – all of whom kept the wheels on the car as it careened along its way! And last, but certainly not least, David Cohen who created TechStars and made the whole thing possible; and Brad Feld who thought I might really dig this – you were right, dude – thanks!

Ready to Hire = Ready to Fire

Jeff Bennett of incredibly cool service (and a TechStars Boston mentor) posted a deck on hiring for startups he used in helping out with the Mass Challenge companies. If you’re a startup and you’re thinking of starting to hire your first employees, you’d be well-served to give it a once-through (if not a twice-through or thrice-through!).

One thing I wanted to add to the discussion is the notion that if you’re “ready to hire” then you also must be “ready to fire.” All too often, entrepreneurs put tremendous thought, time, and care into the hiring process (as we should!) but fail to be as diligent when it comes time to let those same employees go if the fit isn’t right.

Layoffs driven by lack of cash are one thing – they happen and your decision process to let people go is largely out of your direct control. So that’s straightforward. But the more problematic situations are when you have hired wrong (and it WILL happen!) and you need to terminate that person.

Entrepreneurs are hopeful, optimistic people. QED. We couldn’t do what we do without being somewhat irrational πŸ™‚ .

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, bad employees are often like a cancer. Their bad attitudes, their bad cultural fit, their bad work ethic – and whatever else makes them bad for your organization – will impede the rest of your company. Your good employees will question your judgment the longer you keep bad employees around. They’re not stupid (or you wouldn’t have hired ’em and kept them around!!). These bad employees WILL slow your business down. In case you haven’t had your morning coffee yet: slow = bad.

Firing people is hard. It should be hard. You’re fucking with their livelihood and probably their families. That’s why we try so hard to hire right. But you will have to fire people and you must be able to do it. The smaller your company is, the less bandwidth you have to “fix” a bad hire. Cut them loose. Have a good cry and/or a stiff drink. Move on.

My friend Will Herman has put together some useful thoughts on the firing/layoff process that’s worth checking out.

Net-net: don’t hire unless you’re also ready to fire.

A Letter to Entrepreneurs

Dear Entrepreneur:

It has recently come to my attention that you are making some rookie mistakes raising capital. I’m told some of these have been expensive mistakes, sucking hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of dollars out of your moth-eaten pockets. As it is in the best interest of the entrepreneurial ecosystem for all parties to be educated, I am writing to you today to address one error you are committing.

That error is the sin of paying to pitch to investors. Please, for the love of all that is good in the world, just stop doing it. It rewards shitty behavior. It props up lame investors. It makes you look like a fool. It propagates bad behavior throughout the ecosystem.

If you really have something cool to pitch, I promise you that investors really really want to hear from you. Trust me. Pick up the phone and make some calls. Talk to your mentors and co-workers and professors and friends and family and make some connections. Do your research. Get in touch with the right investors. You don’t have to pay to get a meeting.

In fact, if you walk up to an investor and tell them “Hi, my name is Bob and I just paid thousands of dollars to pitch to you!” I promise you the investor is going to think: “Wow. Bob’s a moron. I’m sure as shit never gonna fund Bob.”

If you want to pitch investors, make a connection to them. In the world of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and more (and don’t forget the old standby: the telephone!) anybody with a pulse and useful brain cells should be able to make connections to meaningful investment groups. A few emails and calls are a LOT cheaper than some of the whack things I see going on out there. Let’s stop the insanity.

Of course it is a free country. If you must flush your money down the toilet, then that is absolutely your prerogative. Just don’t expect caviar and wine to spew out when the toilet backs up.


Open Office Hours – Tuesday 02/09 1300-1500

If anybody would like to sync up with me to talk startups, entrepreneurship, or anything else semi-related, please sign up for a slot at my open office hours happening at Andala Cafe on Tuesday February 9th from 1300 to 1500 ET.

I’m using Meetlie to manage the process:

Hope to see you there!!

< 12 Hours to Apply to TechStars

We are in the final stretch for TechStars applications. Less than twelve hours remain until the deadline (at 23:59:59 ET tonight).

I’ve heard lots of folks make lots of excuses as to why they haven’t applied yet. Most of the reasons are crud.

Here’s the thing. The application is dead-simple. You can put a decent one together in 15 minutes if that’s all the time you’ve got. Nobody gets selected ‘cuz of their application – they get selected because of what comes after the application:Β  demos, emails, phone calls, progress, meetings, et. al.

What’s particularly cool about submitting an application is that it infinitely increases your chances of getting in!!!

Over the last three years, we’ve seen well into four figures of applications. Yours won’t likely be the best one we’ve seen and neither will it likely be the worst. We’ve selected all sorts of weird companies with weird ideas that have done stellarly. Your start-up though just might be the one we think can knock the ball out of the park this time! But we won’t know unless you apply.

In the words of Nike, just do it! Β

Cultural Revolutionaries

The inimitable Scott Kirsner put together a fun group of twenty Boston area innovation troublemakers for a dinner last night at MS NERD to talk about what we can all do to maintain and accelerate innovation in MA. I was honored to be invited and thrilled to spend a few hours eatin’ BBQ, downin’Dew, and kickin’ ideas around with these great folks.

Here’s a manual photo stitch from a bunch of phone snaps – you can click on it to see a bigger version:

From left to right, we had Bijan Sabet, Nabeel Hyatt – leaning back, behind Scott Kirsner, Jon Pierce, Tim Rowe, Jason Schupbach, Jason Evanish, Bill Warner, Gus Weber, Shawn Broderick (YT), Bobbie Carlton, Kate Imbach, Doug Levin, Cort Johnson, David Beisel (hiding behind Cort), Jeffrey Bussgang, Brian Halligan, and last but not least, Joost Bonsen. Tim Hwang and Mike Hirshland were too busy being revolutionary to join us for dinner last night πŸ˜‰ .

Bobbie and Jason both did nice write-ups on what was discussed, so I’ll happily let them tell that part of the story!

The Importance of Co-Founders

Although some folks are renaissance guys or gals who can do everything, the statistical rates of success for sole founders of tech companies are not attractive. TechStars has been helping fledgling tech companies for over three years now, and we’ve found that the magic number of founders seems to be 2.6 or so. Yeah, it sucks to be the .6 guy πŸ˜‰ .

Finding co-founders however is tough. Really tough. These relationships are more like marriages than work relationships. I’ve certainly spent more hours with at least one of my repeat-offender co-founders than I have with my wife!

Recently, a program called Founder Dating emerged in CA. A group of smart folks here in Boston decided we needed something like that in our local ecosystem, and are making it happen. The first event is behing held next week Wednesday 12/16 at 1800 ET at MS N.E.R.D. You can learn more and sign up here.

So if you have a great startup you’re working on and you need a technical co-founder, or a marketing co-founder or a bizdev co-founder, sign up! If you’re co-founder material and are looking for a new startup to sink your teeth into, we want to hear from you!

The Constancy of Start-Up Stress

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel at the Foley Emerging Technology Conference entitled “Prospering in a Volatile Market: an Investor Perspective” along with way smarter investors than myself, including Paul Maeder, Nina Saberi, and Michael Skok. If you’d like to listen to the session, it’s archived on that first page/link.

As we were putting the panel discussion together our intrepid moderator Gabor Garai broached the topic of whether economic downturns create particularly more stressful times for entrepreneurs. The question made me stop and think for quite a while.

The topic came up again earlier this week when I was addressing the Northeastern University ACM chapter as we talked about, among other things, “what to expect” when starting a start-up.

Here’s the thing: start-ups are inherently risky, and risk creates stress. There’s no way around those two facts.

Sometimes risk creates fun stress – like when you’re about to bungee jump off a bridge. Mostly though, risk creates garden variety “stress stress”. Are you going to be able to make payroll next week? Is some competitor about to crush your nuts? Are you going to make the quarter’s numbers? Is the product going to work? Is your top engineering team looking to leave? And so on and so forth.

Some things are absolutely “more stressful” in a downturn, such as raising money, and closing sales. QED. However, while I won’t argue it’s a zero-sum game, there is a yin-and-yang as it concerns the stressors created by the economic environment.

Successful technology start-ups usually exist longer than the peak or valley period of most economic cycles. If you were crazy enough to start a newco in the early 90s, you had a tough time raising money and getting going. Once you hit the late 90s, the economic world was nearly inverted. Now you were frustrated you couldn’t hire great people or find decent offices or keep track of the dozens of copy-cat businesses VCs were funding daily! Your stress level didn’t materially change between those two time periods – the types of stress just changed.

The nice thing about economic cycles is that you get to pick when you start your company – you can effectively “pick your poison” πŸ™‚ .

Start-ups are stressful. No way around it. If you don’t like stress, go find a nice 9-5 at the RMV or something.