Pitch Your Company, Don’t Present About Your Company’s Pitch

At Foundry Group, we often have our portfolio companies come in to present to the four of us to work out the kinks in their pitch prior to heading out on the road to raise money. It can be very powerful to have the four of us in the room at the same time offering our perspectives, which overlap somewhat, but it also can provide unexpected insights when each of us respond from our unique point of view.

For this to provide maximum benefit to the company, it is optimal that the presenter comes in with their “game face on” and treats the presentation exactly like one they’d be giving to an investor they’ve met for the first time. Otherwise the conversation can devolve into “remedial mode”, which is better done with just one or two of us as we hone the pitch leading up to presentation day. It just isn’t a great use of our time to have four of us in the room when the pitch isn’t close to ready for prime time.

We recently had a company in to pitch to my partners whose presentation needed a few more iterations before it was ready to be shared with the broader group. Afterwards, one of my partners rightly chided me for not coaching the founders to treat their presentation to us as a “real” pitch, and counseled that I should have worked with them to improve their presentation before they came in. Mea Culpa. I did a disservice to my partners and to the founders by not insisting upon a tighter deck and story prior to the meeting.

There were numerous ways (see herehere, and here) the pitch could have been improved prior to unveiling it, but the overarching problem was the founders came in expecting to have a conversation with us rather than give a formal pitch, which was admittedly my fault. The result was that instead of being in pitch mode, they fell into the “meta trap” – they gave a presentation about the pitch they would be giving to prospective investors, instead of simply giving us the pitch.

This leads to unnecessarily awkward and cumbersome language like “and here I would say X about Y”, which levies a cognitive tax on everyone in the room. It brings to mind the quip that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” One modality of expression does not necessarily translate to another.

You can’t improve your pitch by talking about how you will give your pitch – you have to actually give your pitch.

The formality of having to actually deliver your pitch (even to friendly existing investors and advisors) forces clarity of thinking and clarity of language. You have to commit yourself to a specific narrative and flow, and you have to have to make concrete choices about what you will say. You can’t say things like “at this point in the presentation, we will talk about our market and why our product is great, and we’ve considered a couple ways to do this.”  You actually have to convince the listener that the market is huge and the product is great and differentiated.

While it certainly requires more work up front, to maximize the value of the feedback you get from “friendlies” before going to the road to raise money, give them a formal presentation. While it may seem slightly artificial to be in “pitch mode” in front of investors who know the company well and are fully up to speed, it is far more beneficial and far less awkward than presenting about your presentation.

As the wise shoe-salesmen in Beaverton say: Just do it.

January 28th, 2015     Categories: Uncategorized    

Decappuccino – Crowdsourcing a Comic

Decappuccino Version 1, by Andrew Thomas.
Decappuccino Version 2, by Mustafa Kandaz.

Last month, in the weeks before Christmas, my son Quinn coined a term for a new kind of espresso drink while I was making my morning brew – the decappuccino. We chuckled about it, and imagined what the (potentially deadly) effects might be of consuming such a drink.

As the day wore on, I found myself continuing to think about the decappuccino, and an image of a New Yorker style cartoon depicting a cafe scene with headless patrons popped into my head. Lacking the artistic skills to produce this on my own, I decided to ask the interwebs for help via Twitter.

I got a handful of responses, and two artists engaged with me, both of whom did a fantastic job making my imaginary comic a reality. Within a few days (and for less than $100), I had two high quality versions of my comic ready in time to give them to my son as a Christmas gift. He really enjoyed the present, since it was both something he had a hand in creating, and because it was completely unexpected.


January 9th, 2015     Categories: Uncategorized    

Internet History Podcast (Excite)

Last month I did an interview for the Internet History Podcast, where I tell the story of my experiences as a co-founder of Excite.com, starting way back in 1993, ancient history in internet time. There’s a ton of great interviews on this site, so if you’re interested in history of the internet, I highly recommend it!

January 9th, 2015     Categories: Uncategorized    

Worst of Times Lyrics

My partners and I released our second Foundry Group music video earlier this week.  My partner Jason wrote the music and directed the video, and he I and spent an afternoon poolside at a Holiday Inn Express (that’s how we roll) in North County San Diego (relaxing prior to dinner at the amazing Stone Brewing Company) earlier this year writing the lyrics for the song.  In case you are interested in the lyrics after watching the video (they are also accessible if you turn on the closed-captioning feature on YouTube), scroll down after the video and check ‘em out.


Spoken Intro:

Man, things are so hard these days
Tell me about it. I wish we could go back to when things just worked
You know, those old guys don’t know lucky they had it with all their technology 30 and 40 years ago
Y’all, you straight. Let me drop a story on you


I’m king of email, I craft a witty header
Anywhere, any time, life is so much better
Ninety unread emails. Inbox zero, hashtag #FAIL!
Life was better when we licked and stamped our letters

Gonna hit a new club with my favorite homie
Got GPS Satellites watchin’ over me
They got me to the spot, but they were off a block
Life was better when we trusted Rand McNally

Took 28 pictures of my gourmet dinner
I want to post them for all the world to honor
I shared on Instagram. No likes, I got no fans
My life was better with photos made of paper

I need a fact so I do a search on Google
All these results man, are giving me an eyeful
I see Viagra ads, That shit’s for older dads
My life was better using Dewey Decimal


These are the worst of times (repeat)


So many videos, I could waste away my years
I’m rockin’ Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake has me in tears
Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, I got no time for you
Life was better with my TV and rabbit ears

Check out my new phone. Global connectivity
3G, 4G, I even got my LTE
So then I phoned my pop But still the damn call dropped
Life was better with faxes and a rotary

I found a website. Amazon, they sell it all!
Silk boxers, gouda cheese, they even got robotic balls
Addicted to “One Click.” Right to my house they ship
Y’all life was better fighting traffic at the shopping mall

I got my choice of every album ever made
iTunes, Spotify, anywhere I want it played
I just can’t choose between, Iron Maiden, Beiber, Sting
Life was better with my vinyl and mix tapes


These are the worst of times (repeat)

October 18th, 2013     Categories: Uncategorized    

Coming Soon…

Just over two years ago, my partners and I released a somewhat preposterous music video.  We had so much fun with that, so we decided to do it again.  We’re not quite done with the final editing, so the full video is not quite ready, but we thought we’d put out a trailer / teaser.  Hope you enjoy!

September 27th, 2013     Categories: Uncategorized    

Startup Iceland Panel Discussion

My Foundry Group partner Jason Mendelson and I attended second annual Startup Iceland conference in June, expertly run by Bala Kamallakharan.  We had a great time meeting members of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Reykjavik and touring the other-wordly countryside.  Jason and I even got to meet the President of Iceland, who spoke at the opening session of the conference.  We also participated in a conversation about startup communities that Bala ably led.  Videos of the day’s sessions are now available, and you can see our session below:


Startup Iceland 2013 – Panel Discussion from Innovation Center Iceland on Vimeo.

July 18th, 2013     Categories: Uncategorized    

Ctrl+Alt+Compete Documentary

Last year while I was at SXSW, I stopped in to do an interview for a documentary film project called Ctrl+Alt+Compete, produced by Ten100 in partnership with Microsoft Corporation. Some background info and a clip of my interview has been posted on the Ctrl+Alt+Compete website. There’s some great interviews up on the site, which I encourage checking out. And if you just want to skip straight to me, here I am:

March 2nd, 2012     Categories: Uncategorized    

Boulder Tech Stars Application Season Underway

As many of you know, I’m a mentor and an investor in TechStars.  It’s application season for TechStars Boulder right now, and Managing Director Nicole Glaros has planned some fun stuff coming up to make it easy to get your questions answered and to apply.

Founder Dating, Feb 9th at 5:30pm.  If you want to start your own company but lack a co-founder, this is a great place to come meet people.  RSVP here.

Happy Hour, February 23rd at 6pm.  If you’re not sure if the program is for you, or you know you want to apply but just have questions, this is a great chance to come meet the staff, mentors, and alumni.  RSVP here.

Early applications close on 2/26 with final applications ending on 3/16.  Click here more information on application FAQs.

February 1st, 2012     Categories: Uncategorized    

American Censorship Day: Stop Protect-IP and SOPA

Congress is trying to break the internet.

While I mean for the above sentence to be provocative, I’m not really indulging in hyperbole.

Please join me and my partners at Foundry Group in participating in American Censorship day tomorrow, Wednesday 11/16/11. There are two disturbing and potentially quite damaging bills making their way through Congress: the Protect IP Act (PIPA – S.968) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA – H.R.3261).

Like most legislation, neither bill actually does what their titles claim they do, and both basically amount to online censorship. These bills were fast-tracked through Congress with the support of Hollywood and Big Media, and stand a very real chance of getting passed unless members of Congress hear from their constituents.

Numerous organizations that support free speech and a free and open internet have come to oppose these bills, including the EFF, the Free Software Foundation, Public Knowledge, Demand Progress, Fight For the Future, Participatory Politics Foundation and Creative Commons. They’ve organized tomorrow’s American Censorship Day, which occurs tomorrow and will protest these bills. If you run a website or blog, check out the American Censorship site to see how you can participate.

I encourage delving into the full text of these bills, but if you lack the time (or intestinal fortitude) to wade through them, here’s a short video that summarizes the potential impact and second order effects of this truly bad legislation:

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

My partner Brad Feld has written a good post on this topic, as has Fred Wilson, who appropriately writes that these bills undermine the architecture of the internet and threaten to destroy the innovation and entrepreneurship occurring on the internet, one of the few bright spots in our nation’s economy, and certainly where the future lies.

Please join me and my partners in speaking out against these terrible pieces of legislation.

November 15th, 2011     Categories: Uncategorized    

Protect Your Domain

We had a (thankfully brief) scare in our portfolio last week: one of our companies temporarily lost control of its domain. An overseas third-party “bad actor” was able to convince the company’s domain name registrar to transfer control of the company’s domain without the company’s knowledge. Fortunately, our company was able to regain control of its domain before any actual changes to its DNS settings were made.

After speaking to some people in the network security business and polling our own portfolio, it turns out that this sort of occurrence is far more common than one might suspect. In today’s world, a company’s domain name is literally its crown jewels. If a nefarious party gains control of a company’s domain, the potential damage is massive and it could literally destroy a company’s business if a cyber criminal were to implement a large scale phishing attack or simply shut down the company’s site. Every minute of downtime equates to lost revenue and an erosion of customer trust.

To further underscore the vulnerabilities around DNS, I noticed this morning an article on hackers in Brazil using a technique called DNS cache poisoning attacks on major ISPs in Brazil to redirect users headed to brand-name sites like Google, YouTube and Hotmail to malware-infected sites. DNS is crucially important to the functioning of the net, but unfortunately it remains vulnerable to various exploits, including the hardest to eradicate, “social engineering”.

Some attacks (like DNS cache poisoning) are not anything a single company can protect against, but there are internal controls and procedures a company can put into place to make their domains safer. One simple example is to conduct an audit of all your domains: are they controlled by a single individual within the company? Are there policies and procedures in place around renewing domain names, controlling DNS updates, etc.?

Many times, founders buy domains on their personal credit cards early in the life of their company. Often, this is forgotten about until there is some reason to make a change to DNS settings. Clearly this is an untenable position — a founder could depart the company, have their credit card on file with the registrar expire, simply miss the renewal emails, get hit buy a bus, etc., leaving the company scrambling to deal with this after the fact.

While many early stage companies are a bit allergic to “big company” process and procedures, this is one area where every company should exert some process discipline to make sure domains are controlled by the company, that the contact email addresses filed with the registrar are carefully monitored, that automation is in place to detect unexpected transfers of domain, etc.

I’ll follow up in a later post with a more exhaustive list of best practices around domain name management, but in the meantime take a moment to reflect on how your company controls its domains and whether your internal safeguards are sufficient to prevent what could be a catastrophic loss.

Update: turns out my partner Seth Levine also posted about this incident this morning. Read more here.

November 7th, 2011     Categories: Uncategorized