Here's what I was planning to say.

Those of you that know me know that I'm terrified to speak in front of groups. It is, however, an important part of my work. (And I can't very well tell all of you to get out and pitch your ideas if I'm not willing to practice what I preach.) On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to give a lighting talk at the CU New Venture Challenge kickoff event. I told myself that if I inspired just one person, it would be enough. Afterwards, just one person came up to say I'd convinced them to participate. Mission accomplished. Here's a video of what I said, followed by what I was supposed to say.

There is no better time than now for you to explore entrepreneurship. I want to say that again. This point in your life, right now, is the very best opportunity you will ever have to launch a business. I have three simple points:

First, right now, you have *nothing to lose* and *everything to gain*. Think about this for a moment. Between now and May, you have a place to live and food to eat. Most of you have not started building your kids' college funds, or your retirement funds. If you try this and fail, you still have a place to live and food to eat. You're still at the beginning of your career and your journey. And everything you learn in the process will help you launch those even faster.

While we're talking about failure, I want to reinforce something you're going to hear a lot of. It's a different message than you've heard all through school, but you'll hear it all the time in presentations, from mentors, and in every entrepreneurship book you read. Failure is fine. Failure is good. Failure is all about learning what doesn't work on the way to finding what does. As entrepreneurs we embrace failure ourselves, and, in others, we see it as a strength, not a weakness.

Second, this is the right PLACE to try entrepreneurship. Between now and April. You're going to learn how to build a startup from experts. How to pitch, how to run lean, how to raise money. The presenters and mentors here are the same people who accelerate startups at Mergelane, Boomtown, and Techstars. They are all here giving their time because they want you to share in this amazing experience of entrepreneurship. To surround yourself with these people in the future is hard. It's competitive. But right now, we are all here, waiting for you. 

Finally, I want to acknowledge that entrepreneurship isn't for everyone. It's hard. We struggle with mental health. We struggle with work/life balance. Sometimes, we drive Teslas, and sometimes we take the bus. Entrepreneurship is filled with uncertainty, and for those for whom it takes too great a toll, it's best to learn that now, in this safe and nurturing environment.

Entrepreneurship has been an amazing journey for me. I started my first of seven companies at 14. Three of them before the word "startup" or a "startup community" even existed. I'm not alone. This whole room is filled with entrepreneurs who want to help you share in this amazing way of life. 

So pick an idea, or find someone whose idea excites you, and take this journey with us.

Give First. Ask Second.

August begins month 13 in the life of Startup Services. I was born on the 13th, so I don't buy into the whole "bad luck" thing. But this month has forced a deep level of introspection, and it's left me with some questions to ask all of you. First, a little background is in order. (I'll try to be uncharacteristically brief -- mostly by linking to posts with other elements of the backstory).

In 2015, my life kind of fell apart. But after some months of deep thought, I chose the next path, which was to launch Startup Services on July 1, 2016. We did all the learning and pivoting you'd expect, and have been doing ok. There were two major milestones: by the end of 2016, the company had to be self-sufficient, and by July 1, 2017, it had to be generating enough revenue to pay us. We missed both goals, but the first by around $100, and the second by $4. Obviously, we kept going.

But it's still a struggle, and I've been troubled by that. Why aren't we turning away work? You can't set foot in a startup meetup or coworking space without someone lamenting their lack of technical resources, and here we are with an unused pool of resources and experience. Like any good founder, I explored this with both of my cofounders. With my therapist (see "My Other Co-Founder is my Therapist"), I was talking about my growing frustration and animosity towards the Boulder Startup community. For years I've been preaching and practicing "Give First." (Give before you ask for anything in return). I believe in it, but after all this giving, why wasn't I getting anything in return? He, as he often does, had me explain the idea in detail, then, also as he often does, asked an innocuous question: "When you ask for things, what do people say?" I sat silent for a minute or two (while thinking to myself that quiet introspection still costs $4 per minute), then admitted that I didn't know, because I don't ask.

So then Callan and I had a long discussion about the basic premise of the business. We stared at the Lean Canvas for a while. Everything seems to viable. We have happy customers along the spectrum from "I need a little website" through "development on our massive application was stalled." Despite constantly suffering from Imposter Syndrome, people keep doing little things that suggest that I bring some skills to the table. Either we have something great, and no one knows about it, or we've completely deluded ourselves into thinking we do something worthwhile. Either way, I realize there's only one way to find out. I need to ask. In fact, I need to ask you.

So here's my huge "ask second:"

Please take a look at all the things we do and do one of two things: If you think we're a good resource, introduce us to someone (or ten people) who need help with one of the things we do. If not (and, honestly, this is MUCH more important), please tell me why. As nice as positive feedback feels, we learn and improve by hearing what's wrong.

 

Your VC is going to do a technical audit, and you're f**ked.

I just read that a local development and consulting company is now doing technical audits for VCs. I'll just say right off the bat, that I think the world of these people and I think this is a great idea and a great service. I'm not here to criticize them at all. But I am here to tell you that when your VCs hire them as part of their due diligence... well... you're almost certainly fucked. Totally.

This isn't the first time I've talked about this. In fact, I was ranting and raving about how Technical Debt is Real Debt just a couple months ago. But, based on the kind of code I see when startups come to me looking to grow, fix, or finish their MVP, the message still isn't getting through.

So, let's walk through the journey here. You have users, traction, revenue, and a nice looking growth curve. You've been pitching left and right and maybe even gone through an accelerator. Things are finally coming together, and you've circled the investors for your VC round. Now comes due diligence. Chances are, you've been so busy being scrappy that you haven't been doing a good job of keeping track of all of the paperwork you're going to need. Now, you're going to be spending a lot of long nights pulling things together. Usually, it's about finding stuff that's lost somewhere in a box or Google Drive, or finally getting around to documenting stuff that never made it past the back of the napkin. That's pretty much par for the course.

But now... one of the VCs wants a technical audit, too. Let me say again... THIS IS A REALLY GOOD IDEA!!! But, unlike those missing employment agreements and mission statements, this one isn't easy to solve. Because this is a real audit. Someone is going to pay about $25,000 to have some experts spend a couple of person-weeks looking deep into your code. Even at first glance, as they look at the README.md file in your GitHub repo, they probably aren't going to see this:

I mean, sure, you've heard that test coverage is important. You know that a good CI/CD process is important. And you've been planning to go back and clean up some of that code you rushed through, right? But let's be honest, you haven't even been watching those metrics, right? Because you're a STARTUP, and startups are young and scrappy and pushing the envelope and all that shit.

So your README file probably looks more like this:

And even if you put in the metrics, your code probably looks more like this:

And that just the first 15 minutes of the audit. There are still another 95.75 person hours worth of auditing to come.

Breathe

Ok. so that does this all mean? What's the moral of the story? Is the deal dead? No, of course not. But here is what's going to happen:

The audit is going to find that although your code-school graduate "technical cofounder" built your MVP in nine months, the entire focus was on the "minimally" part, and, in the eyes of the professionals, almost none of it is "viable." They're going to be very nice about it. There's not going to be any blame or condemnation. They aren't going to criticize the long functions, the sloppy coding, and all the missing "best practices." They're just going to give an honest assessment of the quality of the code, measured against what a professional development house would have produced. They're going to figure out about how many developer-weeks it will take to bring the code up to industry standards. And that number is going to be big. Really big. Like 75 developer-weeks to go back and bring the code up to snuff. (They won't be bidding on the job. They're neutral and independent so there's no incentive for them to inflate the number. It will be honest and it will be accurate.) But, at an industry rate of between $10K-$25K per developer week, this code audit just reduced the value of your startup by $750K-$1.8M. Because Technical Debt is REAL DEBT!!!

The VCs still love you. It's a great product and you have a great team. But now, you have to convince them that it's worth giving you another $2M to pay down your debt.

Or, perhaps finding a million or two in unexpected debt is exactly the kind of reason good investors do due diligence and walk away from deals.

So...

So the moral of the story is: DON'T WAIT! Find a mentor or a nice person to review your code and technical practices with you. Or go hire an expert to do a mini-audit on your code. Start collecting metrics and start tracking your technical debt like it's real money. Then, as you talk to investors, make it part of your disclosure up front. Savvy investors aren't afraid of debt. They aren't afraid of risk. They are afraid of SURPRISES.

Technical Debt Is Real Debt. Left Unchecked, It Will Bankrupt Your Startup

Technical Debt Is Real Debt. Left Unchecked, It Will Bankrupt Your Startup

Too many viable companies die, bankrupt from technical debt, when it is completely unnecessary. Want to avoid their fate? Before you write a single line of code, know what the best practices and "right" way are, then each and every time you depart from them, document why and assign a dollar value of technical debt. Accumulating debt isn't a problem as long as you manage it and stay ahead of it.

Did your site crash? Blame the architect, not the foundation.

On the morning of February 28th, a typo broke the Internet. Well, to be more precise, an erroneous command dropped some critical infrastructure within Amazon's AWS S3 service in the US-EAST-1 availability zone. If you really want to nerd out, you can read about it here.

Because of this tiny mistake, a cascade of failures followed, knocking hundreds of websites and other services offline for about four hours. For the thousands of people who blamed Amazon for the sites going offline, I say "phlybbt." (That is, I understand, how one types the characters that represent the sound of a "raspberry.") Of course, it was a stupid mistake. But here's the thing... Stupid mistakes happen all the time. "Human Factor Engineering" is a very fancy term for "reducing the impact of humans' inevitable stupid mistakes." But if you design a system with single points of failure, you should be confident that your system will fail at some time.

To be honest, I architect systems all the time with single points of failure. We say that "we understand the risk, and accept the likelihood that, at some point, our application will fail and be unavailable for several hours." We do it to save money. Period.

I've also built 9-1-1 systems, and technology that sits behind the 9-1-1 network to keep it running. Downtime in 9-1-1 is a big problem because, when you drop a call, there's a chance that someone is going to die. That's pretty bad. I mean it's like almost as bad as being without Reddit for four hours. But engineering to reduce the impact of failures (because it's not that we think we can prevent them -- it's that we anticipate them) is a good part of any architecture process. If there is a buried cable, Backhoe Bob will find it. If there's a file server that's lost the "redundant" part of RAID, the tech replacing the bad drive will spill his coffee into the machine. So plan for things to break, and be ready.

The funniest thing was the incredible number of Tweets from people smugly suggesting that the mistake was in using Amazon instead of Microsoft Azure. Because, well Microsoft Azure has never had a failure of any kind, right? That's like saying "You should always fly Аэрофлот, because United Airlines had a plane crash." 

What we should be saying is "everything breaks eventually. Let's plan for it, or accept that when things break, we may just have to spend a few hours going for a hike."

Welcoming my new friend, 2017.

I think we are all pretty much in agreement that 2016 sucked. It had some good moments, of course. From a strictly personal growth standpoint, it was actually pretty fantastic for me. My relationship with myself is much better. My relationship with my daughter is stronger. Some absolutely wonderful people became part of my life over this year. So despite all the shit that 2016 pulled on us, right up to the last day, I'm going to cherish the few beautiful flowers growing through the atomic blast crater that was 2016.  

And at the same time, I'm excited for 2017. I think I have a workable business model that will allow me to do the thing about which I'm most passionate. I have the worlds greatest daughter, and the opportunity to see her grow into an even stronger, more confident young woman. I have people in my life who make me cherish both the present and the future, in ways I'd never believed possible. This is going to be a good year. 

I hope you all find the same optimism and love in your lives that we have in ours.  

Happy New Year! 

 

I'm depressed, and I'm ok.

November and December are bad months for me. November is filled with anniversaries of loss, including my father and my marriage. (And I think there was something else bad that happened this November, but I just can't put my finger on it.) December comes right after that sucker punch of a month, and brings tremendous anxiety. Will I pick the right presents so that people know I love them? Can I finish that long list of goals for the year in the last couple of weeks? I also tend to relive the tragic events from my time as a paramedic. Though tragedy happens all the time, the impact is somehow amplified at this time of year. Most of the potent memories I have are of the people who left their families behind just before the holidays. (And then, my brain being what it is, I start into a cacophony of minutia and existential crises that would make even Nietzsche shed a tear.)

The thing is, this is ok. I know that January is coming, and with it cleansing, new beginnings, optimism, and hope. My daughter and I have even started a new tradition for New Year's, in which we will celebrate in a different country each year. For her, it's still just an adventure, but for me it's an opportunity to break away from everything in my life that is transient, and focus on the two things that are permanent: my daughter, and my hope for the future.

The reason that I'm bringing this all up, besides the fact that I agreed to a challenge from my best friend Rhae to blog every week, is that now, more than ever, I want to contribute to "normalizing" the discussion of mental wellbeing. If this was a blog post about the challenging transition from summer exercise (Colorado, anyone?) to winter exercise, and how the holidays always give my smart scale liberty to be a smart-ass scale, people would empathise, or sympathise, or just laugh because even in the summer, I'm the least fit person in all of Boulder. But there would be no stigma. No short inhalation. No judgement. And, if there's any change I would love to see in the world (besides the equally important and upcoming rant about how we treat women), it's that I would like discussions about mental health to be treated the same as physical health.

My cholesterol is high, my serotonin is low.

I cannot change the underlying causes for either of these things. Genetics, lifestyle, and past choices have all contributed to these states. But I can take action to address them, and I want to draw parallels between the two approaches:

First: I see trained professionals who have studied science and learned how to help me manage these conditions. (They are both fantastic. If you need a referral, hit me up directly.)

Second: I take rosuvastatin and escitalopram. (Yes, the roots give away which is which, but otherwise they're both just chemicals). They don't fix the problems. They keep me ALIVE long enough to work on the underlying issues.

Third: I take deliberate physical actions to reduce the impact of the conditions. Specifically, I exercise. Bam! Two birds. One stone.

Fourth: I try to make intentional decisions to break the patterns of behavior that contribute to the problems. I eat another fucking carrot instead of buying that delicious looking tub of French onion dip. I'll fight the urge to withdraw and isolate, and instead recognize that those feelings can be a trigger to tell me I need to go to T|aco or Oak and be surrounded by friends.

Fifth: I remind myself that the present moment is temporary. A single point on a journey. At a future point on this journey, I'll be happy and I'll look good naked. (Or maybe I won't. But let's hold on to that dream just a little longer, shall we?)

So my point (perhaps belabored) is this: These two things are a normal part of my life. Some of them are normal parts of other people's lives. But they are both NORMAL. We should feel free to talk about both of them as such.

If you're feeling sad, shoot me a message and we'll meet at T|aco.

 

 

You can't play if you don't show up.

The downside to doing free office hours every Monday is that periodically someone signs up for a slot, but doesn't show up. This always amazes me with entrepreneurs, because until their company has customers and traction (and to a large degree even then), the most important factor in making investments is the team. Those 30 minutes you blew off weren't "free," they were my $100 investment in your company. Getting a reputation for throwing away your investors' money is a good way to kill your company before it even starts. 

How to get a free look inside 50 amazing Boulder companies.

One of my favorite events of the year is NewCo Boulder. It's a one-day un-conference in which around 50 companies open their doors and share their stories. Unlike Startup Week (which I also love), NewCo isn't just focused on Tech companies. Every kind of Boulder business is represented from tech to food to sustainable living.

There are tickets and VIP tickets, but if you really want the best possible experience, come help us out by volunteering! Volunteers receive half day access for free, in exchange for volunteering for the other half. But even more importantly, you get to make a direct connection with the hosts in companies that most appeal to you. If you're looking for a career change, a friendly contact inside a company, or the chance to ask your dream question of your local hero, volunteering at their session is the kind of opportunity that comes along only once in a while. This year, it comes on November 17th.

We talk a lot in Boulder about #GiveFirst. Although the foundation of our philosophy is that you give without asking anything in return, there's no rule that says you can't give first and fortuitously receive something great in return.

We could really use your help, and I promise you'll have a great time.

Check it out at bdr.newco.co!

Want amazing startup employees? Look for people with food service experience.

(I was at lunch at T/aco today, bidding farewell to one of the amazing servers who helped me through the past few difficult months, and was reminded that I've been meaning to write this post for a long time.) 

Over the years, among all the startups and in my cubicle jobs, I've hired many people. Over time, a set of "sorting rules" have emerged. At the very top of that list, I look for people who have wait staff experience. I think it's one of the hardest, most stressful jobs one can have (and I've been a paramedic and 9-1-1 dispatcher). Almost without exception, they are better with customers, better organized, and (obviously) the best at multi-tasking. When I ran a 9-1-1 center, there was no single better predictor of completing our one year training program than if the dispatcher had previous restaurant experience.

Remember, company culture isn't something you create (nor is it something you can change through policies or foosball tables), but is what emerges from the people with whom you choose to share the journey. Choose wisely. 

Also of note, the final step in my interview process is to have lunch or dinner with a candidate. Demonstrating (without prompting) they treat their server as a professional and an equal is an absolute requirement before the offer letter goes out.

Startup Number Seven

It usually comes as no surprise to people when I say I'm passionate about entrepreneurs. I love any opportunity to connect with entrepreneurs, particularly those who are coming into our startup community for the first time. The first part of 2016 was a time of much self-discovery and introspection (backstory available here). A couple months ago, the different ideas in my mind started to settle into a single plan, and now I'm ready to jump back in.

An important part of the startup process is conducting experiments and taking risks. The next few months will be full of those, and this post is the first one. As I officially launch startup number seven, I've decided to share the raw, unfiltered story here.

Today, I'd like to introduce you to Startup Services. Most of the wrapping is still on the package, but I'm going to peel back the corner and share the idea behind it. After launching six startups myself, and working with countless others as clients, through mentorship, and with friends, I've seen too many great ideas and passionate founders stumble and fall. It's easy to say execution is the key, but that's not the same as having someone to go through the minefield with you. (Aaron Sorkin explained this much better than I can in this clip from The West Wing, or at least this is a good excuse to share an optimistic West Wing scene in these troubled times.)

At a high level, my goal with Startup Services is to help entrepreneurs move forward. We have several ideas about how to do this, and at this point the only way to know which ideas are good are to try them and see what works best.

The first of these is called Fast Month. There are two main versions of this program, one that focuses on a single new startup, and the other which focuses on a small cohort of four or five founders. It's the cohort model that we'll test in September. For four intense weeks, we'll do all the basic foundational things that every startup (tech or non-tech) needs these days. Most importantly, we'll build good internal processes for communication, lean methodologies, agile development, and marketing. The goal of the program is to take entrepreneurs (and aspiring entrepreneurs) from idea (or more) to a viable startup that can comfortably pitch their validated idea and traction to seed investors and accelerator programs.

I'm confident in every aspect about the program except how to structure the business model. Is this best as a service offering for a fee? An investor-driven incubator? Some combination of the two? Instead of trying to answer that question without data, we're going to run the program in September first, then ask the participants to decide the value afterwards. We'll see in October what kind of idea that turned out to be. :) If nothing else, it's going to be a lot of fun!

If you know of anyone who might be a good fit for this kind of experience, please have them contact us or apply to the program.

I'd also like to introduce you to my compatriot on this adventure, Callan Miller (@CallanRose8). Besides a million essential things she is doing to help launch Startup Services, she'll be taking the role of Program Director for Fast Month. Not only is she a tenacious and energetic entrepreneur, but she's also a highly accomplished classical musician - a field that takes even more work and perseverance than launching a startup!

I'm really excited about what's coming next. I hope you'll follow the journey!

Besides this behind-the-scenes story, you can follow Startup Services' progress on:
Twitter   Facebook   Email

 

Eight things you must do before day one.

On June 4th, the third cohort of CatalyzeCU begins their nine week accelerator program. Based at the University of Colorado in the city of Boulder (home to Techstars, Mergelane, and Boomtown), this equity-free accelerator propels student, faculty, and staff startups forward.

For their reading pleasure (and perhaps to instill a little panic), I'm offering a list of things that I think each Catalyze company should have in place before the program starts. Though this is written for you, my eager young Catalysts, this list isn't exclusive to Catalyze, but is relevant to just about any kind of startup, whether it's technical or brick-and-mortar.

Although I mention a lot of brands specifically, I know there are many options for just about each item. Feel free to adjust to your needs (or argue with me in the comments section.)

A Domain Name

You have an idea, the idea has a name. (Unless you've just come from Braavos, in which case an idea has no name.) If the domain isn't available, you're not going to spend $10,000 to get it. So be creative and figure out a domain name you can use - then register it! A few years ago, we were typing domains into our browser so the name itself (and it's .com suffix) was really important. I've relaxed my position on that. I'm 1,000 times more likely to follow a link from social media than I am to remember and type a name. So get something that works. You can always change it later. There are dozens of places to register a domain. Unless you have a strong reason to go elsewhere, I recommend Google, Name.com, or Namecheap - pretty much anyone but GoDaddy is ok.

A Working E-mail

From day one, you're going to be making contacts. If you're not e-mailing me from yourname@yourcompany.com, but from CU420WeedMaster@gmail.com, well... don't ask me for money. The easiest way to get started is with a Google Apps for Business account. It's free for the first month, then only $5 per user. If you want to be really cheap, set up one account and alias everyone on the team together. But don't. Splurge. Get an account for each person on the team. Google Apps will also be great for file sharing, collaboration, documents, and a thousand other things. Just do it.

An account on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc...

If you're doing a startup in Boulder, you need a Twitter account. That's not open to negotiation. While you're at it, set up Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever hip social media things you kids use today. But us old people have the money, so you need to show up on our radar, too. Twitter is the place.

A Logo

I don't mean hiring a brand consultant to create your final "look." I mean something you can use in place of the egg, the grey face, and the yellow ghost thing. Pick a color and use your company's initials. For day one, it doesn't matter, but have something.

A Slack Team

You need to be on Slack. There are a hundred reasons why. If you won't take my word for it, Google around. It's going to help a lot later, as we start integrating every other tool and service into a single communication pipeline. Also, you might as well get used to using Slack, because the rest of us already are. I'm going to spend six weeks deeply committed to your success (and three on vacation - sorry, not sorry). If you email me, I might take a week to respond. On Slack, more likely it will be within the hour. 

A Mailing List

Updates are critical for your company. In the early stage, keeping mentors, potential investors, interested parties, and supporters in the loop is critical. Start an e-mail list and get in the habit of sending out updates. Weekly while you're in an accelerator, bi-weekly or even monthly when you're running at a more normal pace. Using a service like SendGrid or Mailchimp makes this really easy. It will also help when you start collecting e-mails from other sources (like your landing page). A good update email should have a tl;dr section at the top with a couple sentence update and your one most important ask. You can go into as much detail as you like below, but almost everyone will give you the 20 seconds for your tl;dr

A Business Card

Print a few business cards. You don't have to get super fancy. Just a piece of paper with your contact information all on one side. I'm not going to take it. I'm going to scan it with my FullContact App. But then we're connected, and I won't have to type in your website and I can follow you easily on Twitter.

A Landing Page

Remember that domain name from a few paragraphs back. Point it somewhere. If you already have a website, great! If you don't, set up a Squarespace site and build a cover page. Give it a contact button and link it to your Mailchimp account. Now, people have another easy way to know who you are and show their interest.

A Smile (free bonus item)

A startup is the best, most exciting, stressful, terrifying, wonderful, confusing, enthralling, exhausting thing you'll ever do. (Please read my post on mental health!) So when we meet on Saturday, I hope you'll show me the first eight things on this list, but if nothing else, bring a smile. We're going to have fun!

Not part of the startup community? PLEASE come to Boulder Startup Week!

Boulder Startup Week is, without a doubt, my favorite week of the year. There are many dozens of amazing events, talks, panels, meetups, parties, and more! Everything is free, and everyone is welcome. It runs from Monday, May 16 to Friday, May 20th this year.

If you're already part of the startup community, you probably already have your schedule built. But for the 80,000 some people in Boulder who do other things, I really hope you'll try to come to at least one event during the week. There's everything from taco breakfasts to discussions about entrepreneurship in the marijuana industry. No matter what you enjoy, there's probably something happening that might strike a cord. Perhaps it will even plant a seed for your own entrepreneurial idea!

The startup scene is an important force in the future of Boulder. Between growing up here and launching my first startup in 1984 (before "startup" was a word), I've seen amazing changes take place. The more that entrepreneurs and "normal people" can learn about each other, the better our shared future in this town will be.

If you're not sure where to start, drop me a line! I'm happy to suggest some events that might appeal to you.

My Lunch with Eliot Peper

I had the great pleasure of having lunch with Eliot Peper on Friday. If you haven't heard of him, you're missing out! He is the author of the Uncommon Stock trilogy of books in the new and fun genre of "Startup Fiction." You should go read them now and then come back. I'll wait.

My very favorite conversations are the ones that leave my mind running away with ideas and imagination, and this was no exception. I came away inspired in several ways, one of which is to write more, hence this post.

Most of our conversation was about getting to know each other better "IRL." Except for a brief introduction at the launch of his first book, our entire relationship had been based on his insightful and complex books, my odd Twitter comments, and the occasional online exchange. That this would turn into lunch triggered one of those "we live in amazing times" moments for me.

You see, when I was a kid, Robert Heinlein was a huge part of my life. Besides my father and my longtime friend and mentor Rick Woodsome, he probably had more influence on who I became as a person than any other man. (Several women (including authors) have also had powerful influences on my life, but that's a discussion worthy of its own post.) In any case, though his writing had a profound impact on me, the relationship was almost entirely unidirectional. I consumed volumes of his words, but our interaction was limited to a very short, kind note returned by SASE, not long before his death. Today, Twitter, e-mail, online comments, AMAs, and a dozen other platforms allow authors to cultivate a following that might start off small, but tends to be more interactive and certainly more engaged. (For an example of what this can become, look no further than the past four years of Andy Weir's life with The Martian.) As with most things, it makes me wonder what opportunities Zoey will have in her life. At 8, she's already finding her voice and her passion, and I'm thrilled that whatever medium she chooses to express her creativity, our increasingly connected world means the barriers to her finding an audience are disappearing. The problem is, of course, the signal-to-noise ratio makes the connections more challenging. How many other great stories, works of art, music, etc. are we missing because their creators can't reach the right audience?

The other theme we talked about at length was about how startups can impact in the world outside of the "startup world." I mentioned that one of the things that I wanted for Zoey (due to perhaps the only downside of growing up in Boulder) was to experience other parts of the world. I love Boulder, and it's been my home for all but 4 years of my life. For everything it has going for it, it suffers from a painful lack of diversity. Because of the nature of our company, our team is distributed around the world, and it's been an amazing few years for me working closely with people of different cultures, religions, and phiolosophies. I also lamented the fact that the "Boulder Thesis" was cultivated in Boulder while I was away. (I was between startups, working in the "real world" as it came about). Eliot pointed out that the whole world is ripe for a transition to more entreprenurial startup-focused communities, and that cities, states, and entire countries are ready to test the thesis. Just because I missed the experience here doesn't mean I couldn't have it somewhere else. The thought has been spinning in my mind for a couple of days now, and it's making me think a lot about what the next chapter of my own story will be.

Finally, I walked away from lunch thinking that those people who say our technological society is making us more isolated are just plain wrong. Our connected world has introduced me to more people and more diversity than ever would have been possible a couple decades ago. Some of my strongest friendships are with people who I've not yet met in person, but with whom I work every day.

All of this really comes around to a simple piece of advice: read a book by an independent author. Read several. When you find one that excites you, engage with the author. Take that intimate, personal gift they have made of themselves, and give something back. Tell them how it impacted you or share it with your friends. And most importantly, if the author sends you an email inviting you to lunch while they're in town, by all means, say yes! Your life will be richer for it. I know mine is.