Dear Boston…

Dear Boston,

The past 8 years have been the most invigorating and exciting of my life. You were my first city after escaping the suburbs of central Pennsylvania to attend Northeastern. We were together for the wild rides of the Red Sox playoff runs in 2003, 2004 and 2007 and all the other championships that have made this the city of champions that such a rabid sports town deserves.  Many of my favorite memories with friends involve Boston sports playoff games. You’ve also been a big part of my life’s ups and downs.  Nothing calms my mind better than a walk down Boylston Street on a busy day or a quiet night of reflection by the Christian Science Center reflecting pool.

When I walked onto Northeastern’s campus for the first time, I knew it was where I’d spend the next 5 years. After graduation, I still felt a strong connection as I excitedly got my start at E Ink.  Later, your startup community welcomed me thanks to the amazing DartBoston community and helped shape me into the person I am today: better, faster, smarter, stronger.

All of this is what makes what I’m about to say so hard.

From almost the beginning of my time here, I’ve known I wanted to be an entrepreneur more than anything else in the world; it was a presentation by one of your leaders, Russ Wilcox, when I was a freshman that convinced me of this path. It was later other entrepreneurs that helped me get my start and make me who I am today: from Tim Rowe and Scott Kirsner helping encourage me to start Greenhorn Connect to John Prendergast giving me my first job in the ecosystem as a customer development intern to Laura Fitton being the one person willing to give me a shot at a full time job. Countless others have helped along the way as I’ve needed advice, friendship and a helping hand.

I left oneforty in April 2011 to finally build the great company I’ve always dreamed of.  I wanted to take all the lessons I’ve learned and build the next great anchor company here. Unfortunately, despite trying many different ways to get a company started, nothing has worked.

While I struggled to find the cofounder for my dream company for a multitude of reasons, I was equally failing at finding the right startup idea. Many have told me it’s a spiritual quest; the right idea will grab you and you’ll just “know.”  I know they’re right. That’s how Greenhorn Connect happened, but it doesn’t make the pursuit any easier.

As I continued my quest, I felt I had to start expanding my efforts. That’s why in December, I took a trip to visit your brother out west, San Francisco.  I needed to spend some time away from you to gain perspective and see if the next step could actually be anywhere but here.

I thought I’d never take another job after oneforty. I’m an entrepreneur at heart and felt like my time was now. But after getting perspective out West and having the right person say, “why don’t you come work for me?” I realized I had the perfect opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

There are certain people in the startup world I’ve grown to admire greatly. They’re all on their way to, or already have built great companies. They’re thoughtful leaders with big visions. They understand the pay it forward mentality. And when one of them not only offers you the opportunity to join their team, but in an ideal role, where you get to work directly with them and the company is still at a small enough stage to your liking, you have a too-good-to-pass-on opportunity.

In this perfect storm, the leader is Hiten Shah, the company is KISSmetrics, and my role is Product Manager with the responsibilities to make them a great customer-focused, lean startup with a product their customers love.  I’m both punching above my weight class and bringing all of my skills to the table for this role. I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities and challenges ahead. At the same time, it hurts greatly to leave Boston to join this San Francisco-based company.

After all the memories, all the great friends inside and out of the startup community and all I’ve built here, I know it’s hard to believe I can pack my bags and leave, but I know this is the next step I must take.  It is far from easy, but a move that makes sense as I work to get closer to my dream of building an achor company.

Your first question is probably, “What happens to Greenhorn Connect?”  Do not worry. Greenhorn Connect is in *great* hands with Paul Hlatky and Pardees Safizadeh.  They are two of the best young people I’ve met in Boston and I’m honored they’ve accepted the ongoing challenge of keeping Greenhorn Connect serving the Boston startup community.  I’ve been working with Paul for months to prepare him to be my successor and I know that he is not only up to the task, but will take Greenhorn Connect to new heights.  He was the driving force behind the Boston Tech Talent Fair and the buses that brought students to #RubyRiot. This is just the beginning of what he can and will do.

While I’ll be handing the reigns to Paul and moving out West, know that Boston and my many friends, mentors and colleagues will not be forgotten. Technology is folding space and time which means that Twitter, Skype and the occasional flight will still keep us connected.  I care so much about our startup community and all the friendships I’ve made along the way, I can’t imagine just forgetting about it.  I’m still planning events in the community like RamenCamp in May and I wouldn’t miss the unConference for anything. I hope to be a bridge between my new home and those here in Boston.

This is the beginning of an exciting and scary new adventure for me and the Greenhorn Connect team. I hope I can count on your support as I set out on my new journey, and more importantly, that you’ll help Paul and Pardees succeed in having Greenhorn Connect continue to support the Boston startup ecosystem.

Thanks,
Jason

West Coast Differences – Non Startup Edition

I just took a trip to the Valley for the first time. I’ve had a lot to say about it from the perspective of an entrepreneur (see on Greenhorn Connect here and at OnStartups here). I also noticed quite a few things that have nothing to do with startups that I found culturally interesting.

1) Everyone is nice

Boston can be a cold place, and no I’m not talking about the weather. In general, you just don’t find people being friendly walking down the street, and you definitely don’t see it on the road.

One event really tipified this for me: I had just made it out of a parking garage before close. Because of this I didn’t have time to set my GPS before hitting the road. There was no where to park so I pulled off blocking a driveway. As I was engrossed in entering my destination address into my Garmin, an SUV started honking at me; they needed in the driveway. I of course complied.

What happened next shocked me. The woman parked her car, got out and walked over to where I had pulled off slightly up the street. When I put down my window, she apologized for honking her horn at me. 

2) Everyone weighs 15 pounds less

It’s hard to believe until you see it. Everyone is just in slightly better shape than I see them in Boston. It’s a visual average I noticed after a few days.

I think the cause of this is pretty simple. Nice weather = more time outdoors = more exercise. What kills us (even a gym rat like me) are these brutal winters. It’s really hard to get enough cardio in under those circumstances which means every winter you’re putting on a little weight. Add that up over a winter or two and you quickly get those 15 pounds.

3) The Valley has safer drivers

I’ll be totally honest: after not driving for 7.5 years, I’m a pretty terrible driver. Luckily, people in the Valley drive slower on the highways (around 65 instead of 80) and well, they aren’t MassHoles. They actually use things like turn signals and let people over when they do signal. It was refreshing and the only reason I got back to Boston in one piece.

4) Parking is a breeze outside SF

There’s easy parking in Mountain View and Palo Alto. Even downtown. And it’s free. I was terrified when I forgot to bring quarters with me on my trip and was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t need them.

5) Their public transportation is good, but flawed too

We all have our gripes with the MBTA but it gets you where you need to go….usually. The SF system is the same. Their buses are slightly unreliable, but have some drawbacks: the stops often smell of urine and the back part of every bus is covered in graffiti. Meanwhile, the CalTrain is incredible. Like a well oiled machine, the trains fly through the Valley right on schedule.

The best part of their system is they’ve tied it all together on one master card (their version of the Charlie Card). The Clipper Card, as they call it, was the only thing I needed and was easy to pick up at a station.

6) They have a serious homeless population

I found out while I was there that SF has the largest homeless population in the country and for some ridiculous reason they give each of them $400 a year (as if the year round good weather wasn’t attractive enough for the homeless).  I think this is a likely contributor to the bus stop urine smell.

These are just a few of the random differences I noticed in comparing the cities of Boston and SF and the Valley vs. New England.  Have you been both places? What have you noticed as a difference?

Does Boston Have Too Many Startups? A response to Kirsner’s Sunday Globe Article

This post originally appeared on Greenhorn Connect and has a boatload of comments. See here: https://greenhornconnect.com/blog/does-boston-have-too-many-startups-response-kirsner-s-sunday-globe-article

In the Sunday Globe this week, Scott Kirsner posed the question, “Does Boston Have Too Many Startups?”  The article seemed to try to make the argument that all our little startups should just be employees at bigger startups (disregarding how bigger startups, start out…).

The article is really best summed up in the quote in the article by Craig Driscoll, “companies that hope to grow need to do more than complain about how tight the talent market is.” I find it fitting that coincidentally, Ryan Durkin, COO of CampusLive (and mentee of Mr. Driscoll as a Highland Capital portfolio company) writes about attracting talent today:  http://www.ryandurkin.com/blog/2011/10/how-to-hire-dudes-showers-kitchens/

I’ve spoken with a number of friends about the article and had some interesting Twitter conversations as well and wanted to highlight some of the key points that came from them.  (Note: Kirsner sought out some thoughts which you can see on his Globe blog here.)

1) We don’t talk about logical career paths enough

Quick: explain, with examples, a logical career path for someone to evolve to be a successful entrepreneur.  Stumped? I know I am. Most examples I think of fit in the “Zuckerberg” files of folks who didn’t have much of a startup pedigree before launching their monster success (think Matt Lauzon, the many TechStars companies, etc).  I look at the titans of our community like David Cancel, Dharmesh Shah, Jeff Bussgang and know very little about “how they got here.”

It’s easy to tell people “go work for a startup first,” but you need to show them examples of people that have succeeded in doing that, and if you didn’t as a founder, then you have to acknowledge you have some hypocrisy on your hands.

2) We don’t have enough serial entrepreneurs and mafias

We are all familiar with the Paypal Mafia and some of the many startups the former employees spawned, but where are Boston’s Mafia’s? There was a great Bostinnovation series covering some of them, but it seems like there are fewer and certainly less celebrated.

These mafias are exactly what would convince someone to *join* a startup instead of start their own: join a team and have a great exit and then have peers and valuable experience to start another.  Maybe an offshoot of Eric Paley‘s Founder Dialogues needs to be “Mafia Dialogues” and bring in a few people from a successful team to share their combined story. We also need to think about whether it’s good for a CEO of a billion dollar company to be proud that all of his first 10 employees are still working at his now billion dollar company.

I think Rob Go was also on the right track highlighting the power team of Brian Balfour, Aaron White and Ariel Diaz teaming up for Boundless Learning (and also happens to talk about the importance of “more shots on goal,” not less startups as Kirsner suggests).

3) We don’t take enough chances on Greenhorns

I am very lucky. What few of you remember is that no one was interested in hiring me when I came into the tech scene. John Prendergast was the first to give me a small shot doing some work for him, which then led to the opportunity to pitch Laura and the oneforty team on joining them (John was on their board).  That was a 6 month journey to get that full time offer from oneforty.  If I didn’t live as lean as possible and have the luxury of a little savings, I may have never made it.

Just like our investors are often criticized for wanting too much traction before they invest, many of our companies only want to hire people that have done a role before.  I know too many young, eager people who want to work at startups, and yet there doesn’t seem to be many roles available to them.  I get asked about Janet Aronica, who I hired at oneforty, a few times a month it seems and the irony is, I doubt anyone else would have taken a chance on a young, eager talent coming from the low rungs of a PR firm.  I also look at Kristin Dziadul, who once made videos trying to get HubSpot’s attention and was smartly hired by Rob May and Backupify.

This is not to lump everyone together. Matt Lauzon and the Gemvara folks have taken chances, and I know Diane Hessan has been an awesome advocate for some of the truly hungry Gen Y folks. Unfortunately, the rest of the community hasn’t caught on yet.

4) We don’t take recruiting seriously

It bears repeating via Craig Driscoll, “companies that hope to grow need to do more than complain about how tight the talent market is.”  Vinod Khosla went as far as to say “New CEOs should spend 50% of their time recruiting.”  I’ve seen the aggressiveness of Sequoia firsthand as they held an event the night before Startup Bootcamp for their founders who were speaking to tell a bit of their stories, answer questions and meet people. I know Dropbox has spoken at at least 3 Boston area schools in the last 6 months.  How many schools have you spoken at in your own back yard?

Maybe we need an event or two to talk more about recruiting talent (One of my favorite events ever was a fireside chat with Akhil of MassChallenge and Paul English talking about recruiting).  I think it’s a competitive advantage for some companies while others throw money at it, but it certainly seems like it might help.  More awesome posts on the subject like Brian Balfour’s and David Cancel’s would help too.

5) Complaining about funded startups is an insult to entrepreneurs

The funding climate in Boston has improved, but it’s still hard to raise money.  As the opening to the Bloomberg TV show states, TechStars is more selective than Harvard. If you manage to raise money, that’s quite an accomplishment, as David Friend says in his message to Kirsner.  If you have an idea that goes far enough to funding, you have an at bat and need to go try to execute. The amount you’ll learn with your small team will be tremendous and put you in a great position to contribute to another company.

Now, living off of savings, is obviously a big risk and so if someone is risking financial ruin to keep their fledgling startup alive, it most likely makes sense to go work somewhere. Then again, the Valley wouldn’t have Airbnb if those guys weren’t relentless.

6) We need to clarify what a startup is

Wayfair is a $350Mn+ company. HubSpot has over 300 employees.  Are both of them still startups? Neither? I worked at E Ink when they went from about 90 employees to 165.  From my experience, the Dunbar number is very real.  The culture really started to shift at that point and more HR rules and regulations hit, not by choice, but out of necessity.  Few companies are really like Google and provide the independence and opportunities similar to startups, and even there, I don’t think you get the same thing.

I’ve heard about HubSpot’s education classes that try to teach some business and entrepreneurial lessons, but I have a feeling they’re the exception, not the rule. I also wonder how they’ll be able to maintain it as they grow further.

7) What motivates an entrepreneur or early stage employee?

Another great quote from Craig Driscoll on advising companies was, “They need to figure out how to recruit and create jobs that are attractive for entrepreneurial people.”  An entrepreneurial person cares much more about working with other smart people, having flexibility and independence in their role and a feeling of true contribution and influence in the big picture of what they do.

When I worked at E Ink, everyone looked forward to their quarterly meetings where Russ Wilcox explained the state of the company.  It lifted the covers on how the company was doing and especially during the wild ride that was the exploding popularity of the Kindle, you could feel everyone having a renewed sense of purpose after work as they were a part of the amazing opportunity to replace paper books with E Ink technology.  I think that same sentiment is happening now with Gemvara as Matt hammers home the vision to change jewelry and e commerce on the web.  Entrepreneurial employees want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, while feeling like they’re really making a contribution.

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I’m glad Scott brought this conversation out for discussion, but feel like it missed the mark on what really matters in this ecosystem developing.

Fall Accelerator in Boston?

I’ve been helping a friend with his startup recently who shows a lot of promise: early (paying) customers, solid key elements of a product and a logical business model he’s validating.  He’s in a perfect position to join an accelerator and take his company to the next level. The combination of great mentors, a structured program to plan and move the business forward and modest financing represent the things he needs most right now.

Unfortunately, every accelerator program is done this year or currently going on. In fact, unless he had applied by May, he’d have been out of luck for all of 2011.

We have a number of great programs already in place, but they’re all in the spring and summer:

Spring: TechStars

Summer: MassChallenge, Summer at Highland, BetaSpring (Providence)

…but nothing for the Fall or Winter.

This leads me to a few questions:

What would you tell someone in his situation?

Can Boston add another accelerator?

Would TechStars go twice a year like it has in NYC?

A few added thoughts for the Globe piece today…

I’m sure some of the old folks woke up this morning and said, “ugh…another discussion on young entrepreneurs leaving.”  I know some of you are tired of it and I know things have gotten a lot better over the last year and a half or so, but the fact is that we’ve solved only a handful of the challenges that do exist. And like the little brother in a big family, our accomplishments will always be compared to our big brother in the Valley.

The important thing to remember is: talking about this and not taking action is called complaining. Talking about this and doing something about it is healthy (and necessary) discourse. Great sports teams watch and learn from what other teams do, so we should be no different.

With all this in mind, here’s a couple of things I’d like to add to the great article in the Globe today and supporting pieces by local young entrepreneurs:

1) DartBoston is missed.

Yes, Dart still does Family Dinners, which Victoria Song is doing an absolutely amazing job on. And I also realize that the pace that Dart worked at in the beginning was completely unsustainable (and financially unsupported). I’m also very happy for where Cort and Jake are both crushing it at startups.

That being said, the comaraderie and friendships formed at DartBoston events like Pokin Holes and Capitalize are what energized me when I first started Greenhorn Connect and few people cared. That energy also drew in new students in great numbers (as I wrote about in the Globe piece)

I’ve actually been talking with Fan Bi recently about how we can resurrect elements of it in a less demanding fashion for the organizers.  So far, we’ve done a few dinners and poker nights, but there’s an intermediate step between small dinners and huge parties that is missing for young people.

2) How can we get more mainstream press?

One of the reasons that New York City has picked up so fast is that they have major press there, which has given great attention to the startups making things happen there.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a Mashable, Times or Wall Street Journal, but we do have press that would allow locals to see us: the Globe, the Herald, the Metro and the Improper Bostonian.  Now obviously those 4 Boston press arms are VERY different from one another, but they all reach different audiences that might just include some people who should join our startup community.

Imagine if some of the cool startups such as some of the ones Kirsner wrote about got small features in the Metro every week? I take the T every day and believe it or not, a lot of people read them.  It might just get us a better early adopter crowd (the other half is playing angry birds, so maybe they’ll download that app written about) and at the least will make people aware of the startup scene, which has ancillary benefits like rescuing more talented, experienced folks from big companies (another thing we could work on in Boston).

3) You have to remember what it was like to be a student

I spent 6 great years at Northeastern University. Unlike many “Boston” schools, we’re literally right in the city. They even send us out on co-ops to work at 3 places to get us off campus. I even got an entrepreneurial degree in that 6th year (a Master’s in Technological Entrepreneurship).  I had no idea that the startup scene existed except for a few off-hand mentions until I graduated and then created Greenhorn Connect.

When you’re in college, you have student groups, intramural sports, classes, parties and tests.  Each university is a contained ecosystem that students rarely poke their head out of unless it’s to do something fun in the city. That’s why you have to go to them.  Once you get them excited and can point them to a few good things (maybe one of the upcoming startup parties like RubyRiot or Binno de Mayo (this week!) plus Greenhorn Connect and Web Innovators) and they’ll be on their way, but it starts with us providing some of the activation energy.

4) I’m tired of young people leaving

A couple weeks ago we had a #startupdinner of 13 young entrepreneurs. 4 were planning on leaving (Tim Chae and Evan Morikawa amongst them) and Fan Bi predicted 10 would be gone by next year.

I want what’s best for young entrepreneurs and frankly, I don’t have a lot of good answers for them. Right now, I don’t feel comfortable looking them in the eye and saying, “No. Don’t go. You should stay here. Trust me.” Maybe I’m just a little tired from all the things I do. Maybe my vision is foggy. Maybe that’s what I should be telling them, but when I get emails from friends now in the Valley that say things like this, it gives me pause:

I’d get out here as fast as you can. Capital aside, the level of access you get out here is like night and day from Boston. I know the people who run the APIs for [all of the big players in his industry], and just about anyone else we have an interest in working with is just a tweet or email away. They’re all accessible, they’re all responsive, and since they don’t know who’ll end up the next Google, they’re pretty darned helpful.

 

Just the parties alone — there are tech parties with 400-500 people attending. It’s wild. Kegs are allowed at events. Journalists attend them, meet you, and write about you the next week, sending tons of traffic. Companies get acquired regularly, making even more parties, new angels, and feeding the whole system.

I’m excited for Ruby Riot, Binno de Mayo (this week!), the forthcoming Playtime Party and DartBoston‘s party that will blow the roof off (trust me). We need this. 4 big parties gets you on that track. So anyone grumpy about that Globe post…dust off your dance shoes and come out and remind everyone why they’d be a fool to leave.

And if you want to leave a comment that can give me some ammo next time a young person asks me about leaving, I’d much appreciate it…

Lessons Learned from Observing the OnSwipe Investment Announcement

I really enjoyed seeing the explosion of stuff for local Jason Baptiste and his startup OnSwipe. To really see how this all works, you need to read all the articles surrounding the events of the last 24 hours:

This morning:

TechStars NYC Announces their companies in their first class with one Mystery company:

BostInnovation: “NYC TechStars Companies Announced”

note the allusion: “And a mystery company focused on building a “Platform for Tablet Publishing and Advertising.”  I immediately thought of PadPressed (the old name for OnSwipe) for a lot of reasons I won’t go into, but couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t be announced.  Then it was cleared up…

Tonight:

1) TechCrunch Announces the Funding:

OnSwipe Raises, Like, A Million Dollars

2) Jason’s take on the OnSwipe Blog:

“The Road Ahead: Why Tablet Publishing Is Transforming The Way We Consume Media”

3) And Boston Angel Wayne Chang talks about his investment in OnSwipe:

“Proud To Be a Part of OnSwipe”

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So what to learn from this? A few quick lessons and observations:

1) A mystery breeds intrigue

Being the mystery company…of the first TechStars…in tech hotbed and media mecca New York City…is a heck of a way to start things off with a bang.  TechStars tries to help companies make more noise and this is huge for OnSwipe.  On top of the buzz the other companies get, OnSwipe gets a huge extra magnification as people were looking to see what that 11th company was up to.

Lesson: If you can create some intrigue…definitely do! People love a good mystery.

2) Announce it and be AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE!

So we’ve got the source for Startup Tech News aka- Tech Crunch, writing about your funding announcement, a brilliant manifesto on the company blog by a truly gifted writer and the Angel investor that was the first to commit all writing about it at the same time.  Now that’s how you burn up Twitter and the social webs!

Lesson: The more ways you can get your message out, the wider the reach and the greater the buzz you can create.  Buzz = ongoing press attention, easier recruiting of employees and plenty of opportunity for serendipity.

3) The First Commit Came from BOSTON and was a new Angel

I’ve heard more than I care to about what it’s like to try to raise angel money in Boston and so it’s thrilling to hear that the first commitment for investing in OnSwipe was a Boston Angel (see Wayne Chang’s blog post).

Lesson: Boston.is.not.dead. There’s good people and if you show you have the right idea, the right team and the right skills, you can get funded around here.

4) Jason is the PERFECT choice to execute on this idea

Jason is a truly gifted writer/blogger both on his own blog: http://jasonlbaptiste.com/ as well as for the past few months Dharmesh Shah’s widely read OnStartups Blog: http://onstartups.com/ So when you take someone who is reaching tons of people because of his gift of writing…and happens to be giving tons of great advice on being an entrepreneur, that’s a perfect fit for someone that wants to lead a company that wants to change the way content is consumed.

Lesson: If you’re pursuing an idea, think about why you are the PERFECT choice for the idea. Then make sure the investors you pitch know why.

5) Jason has the BIG VISION investors love

So besides solid domain expertise, a solid personal brand to leverage and an initial product that is apparently already impressing investors, you have a guy ready to take on a big vision of how to transform an industry.  In his post on OnSwipe, he says it all:

“…50 billion dollars of traditional media spend needs to shift online.  Our belief is that it’s in a holding pattern and can’t. There’s a disconnect between award winning beautiful ads found in print and tasteless spam ads that litter the web. We think touch enabled devices can let this change by providing advertising people actually enjoy with the best of the web layered on- mobile, local, social, and more.”

Lesson: Think BIG, but be grounded in understanding the macro trends and opportunities.  Share that vision with the world and execute.

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So to me, this is a home run all around at this stage. Yes, they still have to execute, but they’ve got an exciting and awesome set of pieces in motion.

This is the first of what I’m sure will be many more major steps in the future of OnSwipe.  I wish Jason and the rest of his team all the best and look forward to using it on my iPad soon.

Book Review: 10 Powerful Personas By Kevin Vogelsang

Ever wonder what makes a leader great?  Ever spend time thinking about what the strengths are in your personality or how you might be able to become more like great people around you? Kevin Vogelsang has and he’s written a book to help you answer those questions.  In his just released book “10 Powerful Personas, Kevin examines key attributes of 10 different qualities found in leaders. I learned a lot from the book and I’d like to share a few of the lessons here:

1) Leaders come from everywhere

One of the most interesting things about Kevin’s book is the balance in people he uses as examples of different leaders.  He uses everyone from General Patton to his football coach to his mother as examples of the different powerful personas to great effect.  Because of his wide variety of examples, it made me think about who around me, both famous and friend, that exhibited the traits he describes; it was an excellent reminder that you can really learn from anyone around you if you simply raise your awareness and look for it.

<Click here to read the other reasons at GreenhornConnect.com>

Book Review: Mastering the VC Game by Jeff Bussgang

As a young entrepreneur, it’s not easy to understand how venture capital really works. There are tons of horror stories that spread through the community like urban legends and phrases like “Term sheets” and “Down Rounds” can sound foreign.  Amidst all of these questions is an aura of uncertainty about how the whole system really works. Fortunately, there’s Jeff Bussgang’s book, Mastering the VC Game to help.

This book should be a must read for any young entrepreneur who thinks they may ever want funding. It’s that good. Here’s a few reasons I love the book:

It Answers My Questions:

For a long time, I’ve had a million different questions about how it all works from start to finish and why certain aspects of the investment process are they way they are.  In Mastering the VC Game, Jeff breaks it all down in simple terms that have immeasurably raised my understanding how it all works. He’s also fair to both entrepreneurs and VCs alike, in explaining on how varying motivations can lead to all those conflicts and horror stores we hear about.

Thanks to this book, I now have a basic framework and understanding to build off of should I ever pursue funding.  I thought I was going to have to go to a ton of events about funding to understand venture financing, but this book is much clearer than putting together piecemeal information from events.

Read the other reasons at Greenhorn Connect…

8 Resolutions in 2010

With the turning of the new year, it’s that time when people make resolutions. Yes, most people make them and soon break them, but I’m hoping to be different.  These are issues I’ve recognized and was already working to improve before the New Year. I’m simply using the turning of the year to make these goals public; I think by putting them out there for the world to see, you put a bit more pressure on yourself to deliver.  So, below are my resolutions and a few items for how YOU can help me make these all happen.

8 Resolutions in 2010

1) Improve my Punctuality: I’ve had many meetings over the past few months and unfortunately, I’ve had a bad habit of not making it on time to many of them. Sometimes it’s a beyond my control like when the T didn’t run for an hour while Obama spoke at MIT, but often, I’m just not giving myself enough time to get places.

How You can help me: Hold me accountable for punctuality. I’m open to creative ideas. Currently Cort, who films GreenhornTV for me, has it that I owe him a beer for every 5 min late I am. So far, I haven’t been late yet since we made that arrangement.

2)  Improve Time Management: As I launched Greenhorn Connect, I took the approach of doing everything all the time. That’s not a good strategy. I’ve gotten better as time has gone by, but I still find myself losing some days to doing things, but not Getting Things Done.

How You can help me: Any suggestions on how I can become more effective and efficient (books, articles or tips) are much appreciated. Thanks Apollo and Mike for your help already!

3) Get Back to the Gym: For my first 6+ years in Boston, I was a regular at Northeastern’s awesome gym, the Marino Center.  No matter how busy I was through undergraduate and graduate school, I always made time for the gym every other day.  Since I launched Greenhorn Connect, I’ve watched my gym attendance dwindle to not having made it since before Thanksgiving.  Fortunately, I have a pull up bar in my apartment and I’ve been getting creative by creating quick 20 minute workouts in my apartment, but it would be much better if I got back to my old workout routines that are a bit more diverse.

4) Get back to Running: I was a pretty good runner in high school on my cross country and track teams. I racked up a few thousand miles in that time and really look back at it as some of my favorite memories from high school. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to hammer out a routine in Boston that compared and so I’ve progressively lost my endurance.  I can’t run on concrete (not that I think anyone really can without injury) and this isn’t suburban PA so I can’t run on the roads.  This means I need to get out and take advantage of the 2 great locations near me: the Esplanade and Jamaica Pond.  This one will probably wait until spring when weather improves.

How You can help me: I think having the team really helped me stick to my running, so if anyone lives in the Back Bay area and is looking for a running partner or knows of any running groups, let me know.  I think I’d be running in the 7-8 min mile pace right now, looking to run 3-5 miles a day.

5) Read a Book per Week: I saw this come across the Twitter scape and thought it was great: Read a Book a Week for a Year. At first I said to myself, “I’m so busy! I don’t have time to read THAT much!” Then I read that post…and I realized, that’s like 30-40 pages a day. That’s not so bad. I can do that! So, I just started this on Jan 1st and am 3 for 3 as of this writing for getting my pages knocked out each day. As I hopefully progress on this I plan to also write reviews on Greenhorn Connect for the books I like best.

How You can help me: Two ways: 1) Recommend any books you suggest I read. 2) Loan me a book. Yes, I know I can go to a library, but if I borrow it from you, I bet you’ve read it and could then compare thoughts on the book briefly.

6) Post More Often: Keeping the Greenhorn Connect Blog going became my priority over the past couple of months, but now I think it’s starting to stabilize. I like the idea of having things I write here and on Greenhorn Connect (much like there are New Years Resolutions at both places). I’m going to try to commit to posting more often. To help that, I’m going to try adopting a new Seth Godin-like style here where I just write a couple paragraphs about a thought I have and leave it open for continued thought by you and I.

7) Keep learning: Since I started grad school in September 2008, I feel like I’ve been drinking from the fire hose in learning about entrepreneurship. I look at everything I do as a learning experience and that’s led to zero regrets in my somewhat unorthodox journey.  I hope to keep that mindset in 2010 and continue to leverage past experiences to develop future success.

How You can help me: Give me constructive criticism. I really take all the advice and feedback I get from people to heart. I find many are apprehensive to give feedback, but it’s the only way you can truly improve. So please…share your advice, suggestions and criticisms…I’m listening, and more importantly, acting on them.

8.) Pay it forward: One of the things I’ve learned over the past few months is that often, you can’t help those that are helping you. Instead, the best thing you can do is pay it forward and help others regardless of what they can do for you.  I’ve met with a number of people to share what I’ve learned from Greenhorn Connect and other recent experiences and look forward to helping when and how I can in the future.

How I can help You: Ask! You don’t know unless you try. If I can help you I will.

To me, these are more than resolutions; they’re part of my evolution. I think they actually all tie together as there’s a greater theme of curiosity, learning and organization.  Success in one is likely help success in the others.   Please comment or contact me if you can help with any of those or I can help you.

Startup Weekend Report: Friday

I should be asleep right now….but I’m too excited about my team and our idea to sleep right now. I’m also inspired to share the experience for those of you that can’t make it:

Friday was a really fun night.  Pizza, beer and good networking started off the night.  After a healthy hour of that , we all sat down for some introductions by the founder and some key people in the audience.  Marc Nager, the organizer of the event, went through all the great sponsors (yes, Greenhorn is one…but the help I gave is nothing compared to the amazing donations by Microsoft, Sun,  and some others) and talked a little about how the event would go.  Then, he introduced us all to Shawn Broderick of TechStars and gave awesome State official, Jason Schupbach, a chance to speak. Jason was kind enough to give a plug to Greenhorn Connect as the resource hub for local entrepreneurs.  A lot of people approached me at the next open portion of the event, specifically because of what he said, so thanks, Jason! After all those intros, we got into the ideas…

It started with about 20 people raising their hands saying they wanted to pitch ideas, but by the end, 31 ideas were pitched.  We had everything from a yard/garage sale app to a meeting scheduling tool to plug in to emails to a custom, crowd-sourced label maker for alchohol to a video game, that according to the presenter, gets you “high”.  After all those pitches, we had to narrow it down, so we were given 30 minutes to go talk to those that pitched before “voting.”

In true entrepreneur fashion, we voted with our proverbial “wallets.”  Marc gave us each $2 we could put in any envelope(s) we chose (each idea had an envelope).  Money was then tallied and given to the pitchers.  With the money in hand they were congratulated for getting “your first investment.”  People were then instructed to find their team.  I started out talking to a team that had a couple of my friends and fellow Darties on it that was related closely to the interests of Greenhorn.  However, the lure of the idea that really stood out as the only one totally meeting my criteria was too much and I jumped over to work with them.

My criteria for picking the company to work with was very simple:
A) Clear way to make money from the start
B) An idea that could be broken down enough to create a nice demo/alpha in the weekend

So the idea that worked best for that I felt was the Media Release Date Aggregate. Their pitch was simple, yet brilliant: We all have favorite movies, artists and authors whose release of their work we anticipate greatly. It’s a chore to manage and stay aware of when those are coming out (I currently manually input them in a special google calendar, which is tedious).  So, their solution is a site that pulls it all together in one place. You just mark what you’re interested in and they let you know when it’s out.  Revenue can come from 2 great channels: 1) big studios and labels can promote their items on the site to targeted customers and 2) Users will be given links to buy their movie tickets, go to amazon and buy the book/cd, etc (landing a sweet referral fee).  Appreciating the simplicity and definitely being a potential customer has me sold.

Our team was on fire as soon as we met; we formed a team quickly and ran off to chat and eventually took over a white board and started ironing a lot out in just a little time.  We  have a great spread of talent too…4 developers, 3 business/social media people and a lawyer.  I can’t wait to see what we do.  As I write this, I just got a sample home page mock up from one of the developers. That’s when you know you have a great idea…you can’t help yourself but pour in ideas.

I’ll try to tweet out a few things as we progress tomorrow and write a report tomorrow night, so stay tuned. You can follow my tweets @GreenhornBoston and @Evanish.