My 10 Favorite Startup and Tech Blogs

I subscribe via RSS to way too many blog feeds, most of them in the tech/startup/VC world.  Some of the authors contribute daily, others may write once per week but provide unique and well thought out content.  I’m focusing here mostly on non-news blogs (Techcrunch, Mashable, etc. not on this list) and instead on individuals with deep experience as entrepreneurs.  For a broader perspective on popular blogs by category, check out TechStartHub.  If you run a startup, are seeking funding, beginning a company and seeking advice or simply want to stay apprised of opinions and discussion happening in the tech startup ecosystem, then here are my recommended 10 must-read blog subscription feeds, in no particular order (click on the links to subscribe to RSS feeds):

Feld Thoughts.  Daily blog by VC Brad Feld, he mixes both personal and professional insights into his writing.  Brad has been an immensely successful VC, particularly over the past few years.  Naturally, he’s enjoying life and it comes through in his writing.

Startup Lawyer.  There is a wealth of archived content by lawyer Ryan Roberts that talks about how to structure your company, approach valuation, taking in money from Angels and VCs, etc.  He’s a pretty infrequent poster, but the archived content is valuable.

A VC.  Daily blog by legendary VC Fred Wilson.  Fred is usually on the bleeding edge of technology and has a point of view on just about everything technology, particularly trends in the use of technology and startups that are emerging in line with his thesis.

Both Sides of the Table.  Daily blog by another nationally recognized VC Mark Suster.  Mark is probably the most actively engaged and networked in the tech startup community outside of Robert Scoble and spends a lot of time and energy on his blog writing.  No short posting here, usually his writing is very comprehensive and with a strong point of view on his subject matter.

Ask the VC.  Separate blog curated by Brad Feld, he scours all of the VC blogs and re-posts what he believes is the most useful information that day.  Tremendous archived content here as well.

Digital Quarters.  A pretty infrequently posted blog by Ben Elowitz, founder of Blue Nile, but although infrequent, his writing is insightful and comprehensive around whatever topic he is addressing.

Steve Blank.  A serial entrepreneur and founder of E.piphany and eight or nine other companies, Steve Blank (now a professor) has a large following and impeccable reputation in the startup community.

Blog Maverick.  Always a contrarian view on many subjects by this now famous owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban.  He’s a pretty infrequent poster, but his comments are usually pretty insightful whether you agree with him or not.

On Startups.  Blog dedicated to the entrepreneur and written by Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot and several other companies.

SplatF.  Combination news and blog site by technology writer Dan Frommer, he usually posts multiple times per day on whats going on in tech.  What distinguishes him from other writers is he injects his own point of view into news and current events.

Honorable Mention.  Robert Scoble.  Probably the most prolific and connected tech writer on the planet, so much so that its impossible for me to keep up with him and his posts.  He gets an honorable mention because he writes TOO much, but he typically is on the front lines of reporting.

Where Were You 10 Years Ago Today?

Ground Zero, taken from where the towers used to stand

Obviously today is a day of reflection for all of us, and a day of remembrance, mourning, hope and many other emotions for those closest to the tragedy.  I was in Arizona that day, just getting up to start my day when I turned on the TV to see the first tower up in smoke.  I was transfixed to the TV and at a complete loss for what to do.  It was surreal having a complete feeling of helplessness while watching it all unfold minute by minute.  I’ve spent this morning scouring social media and online news reading and absorbing countless stories from those who lost the most that day and thought I would share a few of the most impactful from my point of view.

  • The one must read story about  a town most impacted by 9/11 and events over the past decade:  “Hit Hard by 9/11, a Piece of Queens Struggles to Let Go”
  • An interactive map that lets you pinpoint and comment about where you were on 9/11.  Thousands of entries from everywhere on the planet.
  • A ten year interactive timeline of the evolution of ground zero, complete with pictures.
  • An article about the complex algorithm that was used to order all 2,983 names on the ground zero memorial.  It certainly wasn’t alphabetical, rather based on the complex relationships that existed among the victims.  Really interesting.
  • Jeff Jarvis, a survivor of 9/11, is at the memorial site today tweeting live about his observations @jeffjarvis

The Love For My Son

I’ve always heard the comment “you’ll never understand the love you can have for someone else until you have a child” and while I appreciated the point of view, I never really understood.  Now I do.

During Renee’s pregnancy, I never really had a deep bonding with this baby that I’d never seen and only periodically thought about throughout the day.  For Renee it was entirely different since she had this being growing inside her.  He was always present for her and there was a special bond developing and growing over those nine months.

It began for me in one precise moment, a moment I will never forget.  When his head first appeared in our world, that 1 second moment, I knew he was mine and that I already loved him in a protective and sacrificing way more than anything else in the world.  It really is hard to explain – unless you’ve experienced it then you know what I mean.

What’s so strange about this for me?  I don’t even know him.  I mean, even now after three weeks, he can’t talk to me, engage me or reciprocate my love in any way.  He can’t yet even look me in the eye.  All he does is sleep, eat and poop and while he is the master of all three, it’s all he can do and my interactions with him are exclusively caring for those three needs.  So why this deep, overwhelming emotional connection?  There is one attribute of a child that is unique about any other relationship or connection we can have – with pets, friends, partners, parents – that our children came from us, we made them, they are uniquely part of us and for me there seems to be an innate “protective and sacrificing” love that does not and cannot apply to anyone or anything else in exactly the same way.

There’s another new and exciting realization from this experience – a deeper appreciation, understanding and bond with my own parents, particularly my mother, for the sacrifice, commitment, guidance and love that she had and continues to have for me.  I never really even thought about what it meant to be a parent, much less having an appreciation for the 42-year sacrifice, protection and guidance that has dominated my mother’s life.

My favorite time with Jack now is when he is awake and alert while I’m holding him, usually after feeding.  In the span of one minute, his facial expressions gyrate across an entire spectrum that seems to communicate happiness, sadness, laughter, fear, constipation, joy, anger, wonderment, confusion, rage, contentment, exhaustion and anticipation.  I watch him intently seeing not only the physical features that are uniquely Renee or uniquely me, but also the emotional expressions that resemble us as well.  I think about him growing up and visualize various stages of his life when we can play together, when I embarrass him in front of his girlfriend, seeing him graduate, imagining what his personal and professional passions will be and worrying about whether he will be happy in life.

But for now I’m content to cherish each day, as every day that passes is one that he is growing up and that is forever in the past.

One thing is for sure, I love my son.

What’s Next? Part 2: Finding the Right Opportunity

In Part 1 of What’s Next?, I discussed my ideal search criteria for finding my next professional role.  In this post, I’ll talk about my process of uncovering, narrowing and choosing the right opportunity based on that criteria.

So, here’s the process I’ve been following –

Determining my ideal search criteria.  Geography, role, stage of company development, industry and cultural attributes were all important to consider during this self-assessment stage.  Part 1 of this series was devoted solely to describing in detail this first step.

Putting myself “out there”.  This step involved several activities for me, most important (and most surprising) of which has been this blog.  While I didn’t anticipate or intend it, there’s been a positive reaction to my personal and professional transparency, perhaps I’m coming across as more genuine and “knowable” than a typical candidate, I don’t know.  My original intentions for the blog were simply to enable  my close friends and family to keep tabs on me and the important things in my life, to motivate myself to form and articulate points of view on certain subjects and finally, to keep a journal of sorts.  While readership is not substantial, my blog is discoverable during the recruiting process and it has helped, not hurt my search efforts based on feedback I’ve received.

Another important component of this step was to take ownership of my personal brand – ensuring consistent, comprehensive and current information and messaging everywhere online.  Updating and staying active on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and this blog ensures that I’m easy to discover and the message I want to share is consistent across all platforms.

Firing up the network.  To be clear, this is not (yet) to target specific companies although several companies have emerged opportunistically directly from my network right from the get-go.  This step is really about a discovery process of re-connecting with folks in my existing network to 1) get introductions to others in their networks that either I want to meet or they recommend, and 2) to get perspective and insight into what is happening in the marketplace for the types of roles/companies I’m interested in.  I reached out to friends, current and former colleagues, VC’s I’d met while raising capital for TrueCar and Pricelock and tried to prioritize the initial outreach according to my search criteria in step 1.  So balancing access to both geography and to types of target companies I am seeking helped to focus the first round of contacts.

This has been the most fun part of the process for me, re-connecting with people that I’d lost touch with and also forging new and interesting relationships.  The more conversations I have, the more I notice trends in advice, perspectives and prospective company names.  Having “insider information” or knowledge of specific companies that others believe would be a strong fit really provides an efficient, targeted leg up on identifying interesting and high probable fit companies.  This outreach process started nearly 3 months ago for me and I did no real specific company targeting for the first two months.  I had conversations and/or met with roughly 100 individuals during this phase, half of which I reached out to directly and the other half came through introductions from the first half.

Creating a target list of companies, researching and narrowing.  After several rounds of networking conversations and research, I had well over 50 companies across 4 geographies that were mentioned somewhere along the way or came up in my own research.   Without getting too scientific, I matched up the opportunities first against my criteria and second where I thought I could get a personal introduction.  This trimmed the list by half to roughly 25 companies, a healthy portfolio recognizing that a portion of the remaining wouldn’t be a fit from a role perspective, meaning no senior ops leadership role is currently available.

Another important output of this step was to identify the “key influencers and connectors” from all of the prior networking activity that have credible access and can make quality introductions to the “short list” of interesting companies.  There are less than 10 of these connectors on my list, but most have provided multiple introductions or referrals.

Circling back for introductions.  Folks in my network really appreciated that I was specific when I reached back out to them for introductions.  Instead of contacting them for another general conversation or update, I asked for referrals to specific companies.  In many cases, I crafted the introductory email that they could forward to their contact with personal comment.  While I deeply appreciate the time people have invested in collaborating with me, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to this smaller group of people who have put their own personal credibility on the line by introducing and recommending me to others in their networks.

Eat your Wheaties and dig deep, time to interview!  While every conversation is ultimately an “interview”, this stage is the most grueling and requires a lot of energy – actually going through the interview process with specific companies.  I’m finding that EACH company that I enter the process with as a candidate involves 3-6 rounds of interviews and requires interviewing deeply with 5-10 individuals at the company, Board and investor group.  Total interview time alone, excluding travel time, can top 25-30 hours per company.  This is the stage where I’m spending the preponderance of my time now across a “handful” of companies, although not every opportunity is in the same stage of development.

It is important to note that my approach has been a very personal one – reaching out to my network, extending that network and getting personal introductions and referrals to companies.  I did not post my resume anywhere online or respond to any job postings through traditional channels.  My experience shows that where supply outstrips demand (limited roles available, many gunning for them) and the more senior the role, the more critical a referral and personal introduction becomes to even be considered for a role.

I hope and expect to complete the process and make a decision within the next 30-60 days and dive into the next exciting role on or around October 1.  If I’m lucky enough to find and land the right opportunity, I’ll post Part 3 and let you know who it is.  Stay tuned!

So What’s Next? Part 1: My Search Criteria

Now that the cat is out of the bag on my departure from TrueCar, lot’s of folks have been asking what’s next for me professionally.  So I thought I would share my process and how I’m thinking about what I want to do next in a series of posts.  I actually began this process several months ago, it’s been a challenging journey with emotional highs and lows but has also been rewarding having met some incredible people and re-connected with others.

Bottom line, there are a number of potential paths to take and criteria to examine – company size, role, geography, my risk appetite, work/life balance – and there are pros and cons to each of the many combinations.  The good news for me?  I’m not ready to make a decision and I’m in no hurry.  And I’ve been blessed with a unique opportunity to have a professional transition at the exact time that my child is born and I plan on taking advantage of simply being a dad and staring at my son for a few months.  I’m extremely thankful for that opportunity.

So how am I going about my search for the next big thing?  There are really two high-level components to the process.  First, being clear about my search criteria and second, executing a process for uncovering opportunities and ultimately choosing one.  I’ll talk about the first component in this post – my ideal search criteria.  Important to note that “ideal” implies a willingness to compromise and evaluate tradeoffs, which in turn requires that criteria are ranked in priority importance.  Here are mine, in order:

  1. I’m not going to start my own company from scratch.  So, I’m looking to partner with a Founder or Founding team.
  2. Chemistry with and complementary skills to the Founder(s) is an A-1 priority.  Alignment on strategy, roles, values, culture, team building among others is important.
  3. I have a strict “No Asshole” rule.  Meaning I won’t work for one, I won’t be one and I won’t participate in a culture that rewards being one.  It’s toxic and threatens both morale and productivity.
  4. I’m looking for an early stage, venture-backed business post Series A.  As opposed to a pure garage startup with limited traction and no funding.
  5. I want to build a company with balance – work / life / pursuits.  I have enough experience to know that working 80-hour weeks just because your “supposed to” in a startup is bunk.  A culture of work hard, smart and leaving some juice for personal pursuits is far more productive.  I’m also not suggesting that clocking a 40-hour week is the right answer either.  You work harder in a startup, period.  But balance is possible.
  6. I’m considering four geographies.  Boulder, Austin, Bay Area and Los Angeles.
  7. I don’t care about industry vertical, but…
  8. I want to focus on a huge industry with a large addressable market.  Even better if the industry is fragmented with limited established brands.  But it needs to be a big idea.
  9. I’m targeting CEO roles, but will consider COO roles.  This is really a function of the experience/strengths of the Founder, back to chemistry.
  10. I want to build a company that solves a real problem and helps people in some meaningful way.
So, have I narrowed myself out of sufficient considerable opportunities?  Maybe, but that’s why its important to create and priority rank a list of criteria, so I fully understand the tradeoffs to be made and which of them can be compromised to create a broader set and volume of opportunities.
These are, at a minimum, guideposts for targeting companies, roles and geographies.  In Part 2, I’ll talk about the process of uncovering, narrowing and choosing which roles to pursue.

Thank You TrueCar

As I wrote in a previous post, there are several “life events” happening for me simultaneously.  Last week it was the birth of my first child and this week a professional transition – my last week of employment with TrueCar.  As I reflect on the past 3.5 years, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have learned so much about building a company from the ground up.  Most important however, I’m thankful to have worked with an amazingly talented team of people – product specialists, statisticians and analysts, engineers and technologists, finance and accounting gurus, lawyers, PR and marketing wizards and the list goes on.  The original leadership team in particular deserves and has my deepest gratitude – Damon, Chris, Mike and Jesse – who took a risk in joining our startup and did so because they all shared a vision for building a business that had the potential for changing a huge industry.  And we did it!

While I’m excited to move on and tackle another challenge, it will be difficult to replicate the quality and cohesiveness of the team we built at TrueCar.  Building a leadership team of the best, who can also function at a high level together, is really hard to do.  It’s not just about intellect and job skills, its about personality, values and cultural fit as well.  A startup is by definition chaotic, ambiguous, uncertain, stressful and requires more time away from family than a normal “job”.  It can also be incredibly rewarding and energizing.  Its not for everyone, in fact its not for most.  But it was right for these guys and for the functional teams they built.

Finally, special thanks to Scott for giving me the opportunity to join him in building the business.  Eternally grateful.

A Week of Firsts

At 42 years old, I didn’t think so many “first” new experiences could possibly be packed into a single week.  That was before the remarkable experience of childbirth.  Renee and I welcomed our son Jack Robert Taylor into the world last Saturday, July 16.

Look at that hair!

Now that we are a week post-delivery, I thought I would share a few firsts in my life as experienced during the week.  I’m sure there are many more to come!

  • First time experiencing the miracle of childbirth.  And it is a miracle.  I was doing great helping Renee through the birthing process, really holding it together until I saw Jack’s head, then the rest of his body enter our world.  Then I lost it.  Remarkably emotional and never to be forgotten experience.  And made even more special by having my Mom and Aunt join us for the birth.
  • First time driving 20mph in a 30mph zone.  Seriously, I’ve got a bit of a lead foot and can’t remember the last time I drove the speed limit.  The drive from the hospital to our house was terrifying.  It was old lady driving at its best.
  • First time experiencing true sleep deprivation.  Now I’m a guy that needs his beauty sleep and while I’m losing some sleep, I’m actually sleeping like a King compared to Renee who is up constantly feeding.  We’ve worked out a system that in short has made our days highly efficient.  The next step?  Finding some time for each other.
  • First time there’s someone utterly dependent on me for survival.  I’ve become instantly unselfish.  There is no other way now.  It’s cool.
  • First time I felt relieved to the point of giddy by someone else taking a poop.  To be clear, the first few days are tense when the baby is losing weight and is not pooping and so when it finally came it was the best laugh Renee and I had since the birth.  Now we just laugh every time he poops because it sounds like a volcanic eruption and it scares him.  I’m laughing right now thinking about it.
  • First time I put my wife’s appointments on MY calendar.  Everything must be planned and synched between us.  If she can’t take our ESP machine (Eating, Sleeping, Pooping), then I need to care for him.
And finally,
  • First time I realized my life is really different now.  Friday night our neighbors were having a huge, blowout bash and there was a moment when Renee and I were on the couch, she was holding Jack and I was trying to figure out if the explosion I heard was Jack soiling his diaper.  Sticking my nose in his leg opening didn’t do it, so I stuck my finger in his diaper and got a creamy chocolate surprise.  So there I am, baby poo on my finger, looking at Renee and listening to the trance music and revelling next door.  I said, “Well, our lives sure changed overnight, heh?”.  It was good for another gut-busting laugh.
All you parents, what other “firsts” did I miss?

Renee on the Eve of Baby G

Renee on the Eve of Baby G. Inducing at 6am tomorrow. http://ow.ly/i/elOY

What’s Up G?

The waiting game is brutal, we are now 2 days past Baby G’s due date which normally might not be so bad, but we’ve been told for the past 6 weeks that “this baby is coming early”.  The OB/GYN said this morning that the earliest they would induce labor would be next Tuesday, putting us in week 42.  So at least we know worst case.  And we want to meet him!  The Nana’s have traveled from far and wide and are waiting here with us.  Renee has been handling everything amazingly well – including daily trail hikes, stairmaster and bumpy car rides to “encourage” the little guy to start his journey.  So what’s up G?  Let’s get this train rolling!

As for me, its been hard to get motivated to write, work, read, job search, think, exercise, you name it.   The Tour de France has been a great distractor and reason to procrastinate as it is every year for me.  This year’s Tour is particularly engaging and unpredictable.

I’ll probably continue to be off the grid for awhile with regards to any professional posts unless something comes along that I just can’t help reacting to!

My Favorite Things Right Now

Thought I would share some cool stuff thats made its way into my life most recently.  This is a random walk of technology, books, apparel and music.  Take what you like, leave the rest.  Here goes!

Books

  • Born to Run by Chris McDougall.  For those of you that count running/jogging as a hobby, this is a fantastic read.  Very well written non-fiction about the ultra-distance running phenomenon focusing primarily on the Tarahumara Indians from Mexico’s Copper Canyon Region.  Humorous, educational read that inspired the barefoot running movement in the US.
  • The Big Short by Michael Lewis.  Incredible read inside the 2008 mortgage collapse, focusing on the big Wall Street firms, mortgage banks, Moody’s and others involved in the debacle.  Also includes some individual and small firm stories that made the right bets and raked in jaw-dropping profits, in one example 3 guys trading out of their Berkeley house made $80M on a $100,000 investment.  Crazy.
  • The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.  I am just now making my way through this 600-page reference manual that is a result of Tim’s personal 10-year quest to find “For all things physical, what are the tiniest changes that produce the biggest results?”  Pretty incredible claims in this book, many of them counterintuitive but personally experienced by Tim and almost always defended by scientific explanation.  Really interesting stuff especially if you’d like to lose some weight or massively increase endurance or strength by spending the least amount of effort and time to do so.

Technology, Music

  • Vitamix 5200 industrial strength blender.  Renee and I are breakfast smoothie freaks – protein, veggies and fruit blended at supersonic speeds to produce an incredibly healthy meal.  Traditional juicers filter the fiber from the ingredients taking out substantial nutrients.  With the Vitamix, you pile it all in and let the jet engine take it from there.  For $500, this blender should create the most heavenly and healthy smoothie ever.  And it does!  Not to mention the 7-year warranty.
  • Google Reader RSS Feed Aggregator.  After getting to the point of subscribing to way too many blogs and news feeds via email, I’ve now aggregated them all into an automated RSS aggregator and have all of my reading in one view.  Since I use Google for email, calendar and contacts (Gmail), its a natural choice for me.  There’s a ton of options out there for RSS aggregation and reading.
  • Polar RS800CX Multisport w/ GPS wrist computer for running and cycling.  This is a pretty awesome device that measures and tracks just about everything – Heart Rate, Speed, Distance, Route (Google Earth), Calories, and on and on.  It’s a wrist mounted device so you can use it for both running and cycling.  The only downside for cyclists is the inability to program routes and see them before and during your ride (like the Garmin Edge 705), but that’s the tradeoff to get a non-clunky, wrist mounted device.
  • RockMelt social browser.  This product is really cool, particularly if you are an avid user of social media, Facebook and Twitter specifically.  It’s actually an entirely new browser, a replacement for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc. and it rocks!  It functions just as your current browser does, except it integrates your social media applications around the border of the browser.  No need to have a separate tab for Twitter or Facebook, you can see with a glance all of your social media feed information and which of your contacts are online.  There are mobile apps as well so you have a seamless experience no matter where you are and which platform you are using.  A friend of mine just took a leadership role at this company, which recently closed a $30M round of funding from tier 1 VC’s.
  • Turntable.fm shared music experience.  This is a brand new service where you can create your own rooms by music theme, invite your friends to join, and jam out by DJing, searching for and playing your own music.  You can also join other rooms based on the type of music you are in the mood to listen to.  This is an incredibly social music experience, with real-time chat, avatars, points system and just great music.
  • Uber car service in SF and NY.  If you travel to SF, Palo Alto or NY and want a fantastic, hassle free car service (50% premium to taxi fares), download the Uber app and enjoy the experience.  Create your profile with credit card information, then simply request a car through the app.  It will tell you precisely how far away the driver is, provide her name and ratings and when your ride is finished, you jump out no payment or tip required.  Your credit card is charged automatically and receipt emailed to you.  SF is an awful city to hail a taxi, particularly when it rains.  Uber to the rescue!  Watch out for these guys they are about to expand into Seattle, Chicago, Boston and DC.
  • Quora answers everything, and does it intelligently through crowd sourcing.  I’ve been really impressed with the quality of topics, answers and discussion on Quora – a more opinionated but real-time wikipedia.  You can follow topics or people and because answers can be “voted up” by the community, it ensures the most valuable, useful answers are seen first.

Apparel

  • (Near) Barefoot running with Vibram FiveFinger shoes.  After reading Born to Run, I gave barefoot running a go more as an experiment that a convert.  So far its been good and pointing out how under-developed certain muscles, especially calves, have become using cushioned running shoes and (arguably) improper form.  I’m still using a mix of barefoot and traditional running shoes in order to keep my mileage up as I ease into the new process and attempt to avoid injury.  Another “how to” book for barefoot running is The Barefoot Running Book by Jason Robillard.
What are your favorite things right now?
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