TechStars Ep. #2: Naming and Gaming and Rookies, Oh My!

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Don't read if you don't want to know who's zooming who on the TechStars series.

I watched the show live but DVR'ed it as well so I could watch it again. As you probably know already, TechStars feels like family to me so seeing their name on my DVR list rocks. These guys make the me even more proud to be a member of the tech startup community. The show is really well done and pretty realistic. Props to Bloomberg.

As for my list of shows--yes, I am a romantic at heart who loves romantic comedies and Glee. Who doesn't love a little singing and dancing? Now that that's out of the way. On to my thoughts on the second episode of TechStars on Bloomberg TV.

Let's focus on themes from tonight's show. As the program gets started, this show focused a bit more on some of the potential pitfalls the companies might fall into. So, the themes reflect that. In case you haven't seen the show here it is.


1. Rookie Confidence

The show highlighted this theme nearly from minute one. Many entrepreneurs have tons of confidence when they start their first entrepreneurial venture. You need to have this in order to push through the tough times and take the risks required. Confidence is good, cockiness can get you into trouble at times as the episode shows. As the mentors said a number of times, having humility is super important. Having humility keeps you grounded, realistic and helps you build strong relationships with others. All of the TechStars graduates I know are really humble and down-to-earth so I'm betting some humility will show up soon in these teams as well.

2. Names Matter

Wiji was praised having "great product, humility, boundless passion and energy and something that's really fucking cool" according to mentor Roger Ehrenberg. Which is absolutely true. They're great guys who are wicked smart and created cool technology (I've seen it in action). And, everyone universally hated their name. David Cohen put it on his Top 5 All-Time Worst Names list while Ehrenberg thought it sounded like a disease "Oh, my Wiji."

Yep. Names matter. You've seen all the brouha-ha about the name of Netflix new spin-off Qwikster right? Getting the name right can be tricky but critical. Luckily, the team recognized this and went back to their original name which is pretty solid. Based on the amount of research I had to do to locate these companies using their current names I'm pretty sure we'll see a number of  name changes along the way as well.

Bloomberg Fact: A third of the companies change their name at some point during the program.

3. Know Your Market

Team Home Field was contemplating a switch from a focus and passion for sports to building a media business--an industry they don't know--on the advice of their mentor Fred Wilson. I hear they're doing well so I'm curious to see where they go with this. By the way, eats Reece Pacheco (the CEO of this team) the screen like it's for dinner. He's very compelling to watch.

Both Urban Apt and To Vie For (who has a great name by the way) were also facing the challenge of working in an industry they didn't know well. Being an outsider to an industry can definitely allow you to find fresh new approaches to old problems because your lens isn't jaded or rigid. But if not careful, you can shoot your business right in its bottom line. Thinking you can change an industry from the outside sometimes comes from naivete. Other times it's more arrogance. And sometimes, you really can. You have to learn the balance between a fresh perspective and relevant knowledge of the market. I think some of these teams have the chance to do this.

I love what David Tisch (loosely) said about this: You have to know how to do it and why you're the one to do it."

4. Gaming is a BIG Trend

At least two of the companies talked about it tonight (To Vie For and Socrated). Although they knew adding this dimension would help their company, neither was very experienced with it. This prompted Gary Vaynerchuk to really, really, really, really, really, really highly suggest Socrated get an advisor on their board who has experience with companies like Zynga. That was 6 really's if you're counting. One of my favorite moments of the show. I asked Tisch what he thinks about this trend on the Facebook chat after the show





His answer is spot on. Looking forward to see how these companies use gamification to support their overall goals.

Front Runner So Far?

Wiji. Just to reinforce that? They got to visit their dream mentor and were featured on ABC News today for their Minority Report like view of the future. Super proud of these guys. Looking forward to seeing some of these other companies really start to rock. Although it's not the same as being at the Boulder Theater with everyone, I'll be on my couch next Tuesday cheering at the TV whenever Jason and team comes on the screen.

Props Go To...

All of the teams. I applaud these teams for allowing a camera to follow them around documenting their TechStars experience. Startups are hard at their foundation. Add a challenging program like TechStars and a camera on top of that? That's gotta be a pretty intense experience. I'm grateful they were willing to put themselves and their companies out there so we can learn from them. Well done all.

Remembering Your #1

Honesty was on my mind a few weeks ago. It stuck with me. Turning it back on myself I realize there's a confession I should make. Now, I'm not Catholic so I've never really done this before. Bear with me.

The thing is...

I'm an idealist. One of the things that drives me the most is impact. Empowering people is a huge part of my life. I'm an idealist that wears a business blanket around her. I love making people and organizations more effective, happier and just better people. Or groups of people. I love taking this mushy stuff like intuition, empowerment, learning and making it tangible and accessible so that things happen.

You know, strong companies, more effective people. All that stuff that lives in the real world. 

My end game? Results. I am driven by tangible things like deadlines, results, impact and anything you can count. I just start with a bit of good old fashioned idealism.

Now the confession starts to get really good
Somewhere between worrying about makin' the donuts and paying those bills there was a time when I lost a little of that part of myself. Not "I'm gonna die in the jungle lost." Just enough to make me a wee bit well, less me. And I believe we're all our most effective when we're truly ourselves. It's actually ironic given one of my favorite quotes:

If you ask me what I came here to do I will tell you. I came to live out loud.

                                                                                                              Emile Zola

The slow leaking away of this part of myself wasn't obvious for a while. Over time I just became a bit stiff. And unlike myself. I started focusing only on results--not the way to get there. Misalignment starting showing up in my life at times. Things got harder and just didn't seem to work as well as they had before.

Why did I lose it? There are the usual suspects but the biggest reason is that I focused on the wrong goal. I had this idea that my main goal in life was to make money and pay my bills. Yes, those are realities. But focusing on them for me were akin to being on a hamster wheel where the object became keeping that cycle going. It was a gradual slipping away and a gradual awakening. Then there was a day when I just decided it was time to change my focus. I chose a deeper, more sustainable goal. That focus? To be myself. Idealist and all.

Allowing my natural preferences and my vision to guide me actually helped me find better opportunities are truly aligned with who I am. It's also given me much more stability in the good old financial department. Huh. Fancy that.

We all lose our way sometimes

There's lots of pressure around results and that sometimes means we drop a little part of ourselves along the results highway. We
forget that it's actually one of the fastest ways to results.

I see startups do this all the time as they grasp for their early clients. Growing companies can fall into this trap as they seek to keep the ground they've gained. As a CEO of a scrappy little startup it can be easy to get caught up in all those darn logistics and lose sight of your vision. For me, finding my way back wasn't like waking up on pile of soft pillows and I had to make some real choices but once I got there it felt amazing. To live any other way is well, just kind of crazy.

So tell me.

What part of yourself or your company have you dropped off on the side of the results highway? 

And how will you pick it back up?

On My Mind Monday (3rd Ed.)

Yep. It's Tuesday in the real world. But on this blog--it's On My Mind Monday.  Here are your links for the week. Enjoy.

bg Blog: My Week Alone on the Internet Why: I saw the author, Grant Blakeman speak recently at TedxBoulder about minimalism. (That's him in the photo to the left.) He continues the good work here with a post on being distracted with what he calls CRS aka Constant-Refresh-Syndrome. This post details his experiment to circumvent this and what he found was that there are distractions everywhere. Insightful read.

The Daily Beast: Is There a Gender Divide in Startups? Why: After a flurry of articles about where all the women are in tech startups the author herself a tech startup veteran gets to the point about what we should be focusing on. "I could keep writing about the lack of women in tech, but starting a new company sounds like a lot more fun."

Seth's Blog: The Fear Tax Why: Ever the provocateur, Seth Godin does it again with this post. Simply? Fear is one of the biggest things that holds us back from success in business and in life.

Good Boundary. Good Boundary.

Boundaries are very good things. They delineate what's ok and what isn't. I always like to say that everyone (adults, children, dogs) needs boundaries. It lets them know where the line is for what's acceptable. It makes them feel safe. And in some cases, actually makes them safe. In my work I see many companies with organizational and/or business issues where the lack of strong, articulated boundaries were the culprit. In some cases they didn't have enough business experience to know what kind to set. In other cases, they had boundaries they wanted to set but didn't for fear of losing clients or valued staff. Or worse? They set boundaries but then didn't enforce them. This eroded their credibility and built distrust because others didn't know what to expect of them. This = not good. The founders became frustrated. Left to the whims of others. And? The business was less profitable.

An epic fail.

When Boundaries are Bad I'm having a hard time coming up with a time when at least some basic boundaries aren't good. One of my friends, thinks that not all boundaries are good. Especially in extreme sports.

I think what he's actually talking about are limits. These, I think, are different than boundaries. You set limits for yourself but boundaries for others. When I've been in extreme situations I still have limits. For example, on my first hike up two 14ers in a day my limits were mostly around altitude issues.

If my lungs rattled, down I went.

If I started getting sick to my stomach, it meant stop.

Getting a little frustrated or scared meant I still continued forward. That's how I got to the top of the mountains safely. I saw some people coming down the mountain who were just wrecked. They either didn't have limits or, had pushed way past them. I kept thinking we might see a Medevac on the mountain. Not good. Note: The fabulous jumpers in the photo are my friends Betsy Doughty and Emma Nicoletti participating in the Warrior Dash, an extreme running/obstacle course event. Their limit was sticking together through the entire course. They did and both came through the course with their well-being intact.

Although these examples are from the sporting world, it applies to the professional as well. An example is having a limit around how much money and time you're willing to pump into your business as a new entrepreneur. As I mused on this topic there was a pretty furious volley going on about boundaries on Twitter. Here are some of the juicy tidbits:

@iamkendal: area of life tends to reflect others. Even in the extreme sports context, there's more going on.

@heizusan: I keep my boundaries very broad, but iron-clad steel. You get lots of wiggle room, but 0 tolerance for "leaving the premises".

@campsteve: People who say they don't have boundaries don't know themselves.

I agree with @campsteve's comment. And? It's also true about limits. You have to know yourself. Know what's ok. And...what's not. To know that you actually have needs that need to be respected in your business, your relationships and with yourself.

If you don't have boundaries and limits you'll get hurt in life--metaphorically and literally. The lack of the them can breed frustration and conflict with others if they're not well set AND articulated.  Pretending you don't have boundaries or repeatedly ignoring them will raise your cortisol levels. Otherwise known as the stress hormone, elevated levels of cortisol are associated with a weakened immune system, impaired brain function among other yucky stuff you don't want.

Save yourself from inner and outer conflict and just set some boundaries and limits. Your business will thank you. Your friends, family and colleagues will thank you. Your soul will thank you.

The Equation

Being an engineer, my dad's pretty much a math genius so even though I'm not I like to express things in terms of equations. So for the math nerds out there here it is:

Boundaries = well-articulated external rules for others

Limits = clear internal rules for yourself

Boundaries + Limits = a well-articulated business and life that supports you. And that = happiness in my book. Without boundaries and limits, life is just a roll of the die.

What kind of boundaries do you have?

What limits do you set for yourself?

On My Mind Monday (2nd ed.)

Ok, ok. I know for most of you it's not Monday. Even though it's Tuesday I'm posting this because I was away in Santa Fe this weekend and just got back yesterday so today is my Monday.  On to the stuff I found interesting this week... Chris Brogan: Not Time Management Why: This is actually a vlog post. I included it because he makes a simple but really important point about the biggest key to managing our time.

Reuters: If Women are Good at Running Businesses Why Does it Take Them Longer to Start One? Why: As a female entrepreneur I'm always fascinated with this topic. And? It points out how the "system" can adjust to suit potential entrepreneurs just a tad outside the traditional profile.

New York Times: But Will it Make You Happy? Why: Happiness is always a fun topic. It also talks indirectly about a topic I'm very interested in: simplicity vs. minimalism.

Home Grown: Earthship Biotecture Why: This weekend I had the opportunity to visit the original Earthship community just outside of Taos. When I was going to get my PhD I studied environmental risks and community response to it so sustainability is a topic that's always close to my heart. The photos below are of completed and still in the works Earthships.