Archive for September, 2014

Visiting Detroit Startups with VFA

September 22nd, 2014

As a new board member of Venture for America, I wanted to meet more fellows and explore one of the destination cities. I recently had a chance to visit Detroit where VFA has the most fellows at ~40.

It was my first trip to Detroit so I was looking forward to getting a sense for the city and the startup environment. I was thankful that VFA fellow Max Nussenbaum picked me up from the airport and gave me a tour to start out.

A key part of the tour was Rebirth Realty. Max and some other fellows are “transforming an abandoned house in Detroit into a communal living and working space for Venture for America Fellows.” The house still a work in progress although you can see the potential. They got the house in a tax auction for something like $8,000 which sounds like quite the deal. Then you learn that the place was missing windows and needed a full gut rehab. Like I said, a lot of work.

I also got to hear about Castle, the SaaS business for landlords that Max started with Tim and Scott. They are early stage although looking for landlords that want in on the private beta. As they put it “We’re making land-lording simple and stress-free, starting with automatic rent payment.” One tip I picked up from Max is that he has the following in his email signature so it looks like a PS on every email he sends. “By the way—I’m working on a real estate startup and trying to talk to as many landlords as possible. If you know one, I’d really appreciate an intro!” What a way to get leads!

The next day, Brian Bosche, founder and CEO of TernPro, was good enough to lead me and some folks from VFA on a tour of a bunch of startup spaces. We got to see some great incubator, co-working, and startup spaces like Grand Circus, Bizdom and Detroit Labs (loved the two story kitchen/breakroom – I think you can see pictures on their website). And I’m sure there were other spots but we went so many it is hard to remember them all.

Alas, I did not meet the founders of the other VFA Detroit startup: Banza as they were traveling on business. They offer first pasta made from chickpeas. Since I’m a recovering pasta addict, I am totally excited for the product. I’ve tried many of the other alternatives to wheat and it is definitely better than black bean pasta, rice pasta, etc.

I had the privilege of dinner two nights with a whole mass of fellows. I must have met 20+. The passion and intelligence of the fellows I met was impressive. It was an amazing group of people and so welcoming of a visitor like me. Without a doubt, it increased my commitment to mission of VFA and I hope you get a chance to meet some fellows, too, some day.

Never Been Better for Student Hackers at Yale

September 18th, 2014

Times have never been better at Yale for student coders and those that aspire to be hackers. Want proof? Here are four examples:

One, the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute recently completed another summer of the Tech Boot camp. “The YEI Tech Bootcamp is a 10-week immersive full-stack programming bootcamp for Yale students who want to learn to code. Over the course of the summer, students with little or no experience in programming are given the skills to become capable and knowledgeable programmers who can create their own minimum viable products. By the end of the program, students will have a solid foundation to continue their programming knowledge independently.” More on their website.

Two, YHack is gearing up for a second year of the 36-hour hackathon held in West Campus. The student organizers have done an impressive job in turning out 100s of students from many other colleges and mobilizing $10,000s of corporate sponsorship.  If you’re not otherwise engaged on Halloween this year, you can still join in.

Third, HackYale is in it’s fourth year and just completed its application cycle for the fall semester. As you may recall, HackYale is a student led and taught non-credit set of courses in programming including web front end and advanced JavaScript. The effort started without administration support and now has taken root such that the student-teachers are paid a stipend by Yale Engineering. Kudos to Bay Gross, Will Gaybrick and the the original founding team and the leadership that is taking it forward.  HackYale was a real inspiration for many other efforts on campus.

Forth, if you’re really into coding and want to get some on-campus job experience, you can work for the university.  ~30 student-employees in the Yale Developer and Mentorship Program building web and mobile apps (Rails, iOS and Android, etc.) for use by other students. The team is led by Casey Watts who is also helping with the  Yale SOM software development course Kyle and I have planned for the spring. (How does Casey have the time?!)

And I should mention, these extra-circular efforts in in addition to the for-credit courses I have mentioned before.

The Personal Finance Review

September 18th, 2014

So, I’m a huge fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. I’m so into GTD that the thing that got me to switch off Blackberry phones was when they dropped support in Tasks for categories (which I used for what Allen calls “context” – and yes, I know that was late to drop Blackberry but I did like the real keyboard).

Also, I’ve read the book Getting Things Done three times and tend to tear-up towards the end. I know – pretty silly that a “mere time management” book would do that to someone. For me, the book is about how to be clear about your dreams and gives you concrete tools to get a step closer every day. Empowering people to do what is important to them is quite a noble effort.

In a recent presentation to the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute fellows, I happened to mention GTD and gave my usual plug. Apparently, a couple of folks took me up on it. I was pleased to hear from two that they read the book and felt it had impacted their lives positively.

And they asked for more “life hack” tips.

In that vein, I offer a plug for a habit you can built into your GTD system. I call it the Personal Finance or Personal Cashflow Review. I am not quite sure where I picked it up, although I recommend it.

A standard part of the GTD system is the weekly review there you take stock of where you stand and plot your next steps. The cashflow finance review is something I try to do twice a month. It is not meant to always be a full stock of your balance sheet, retirement planning or the like. Rather, it is ~20 to 30 mins to focus on cashflow first and then other matters if needed.

Like other parts of GTD, I find it works best with a checklist. First up is I check the balances in all checking, debit cards, savings accounts and credit cards and recent transactions to confirm things are as expected. Best to list out the accounts even if you only have 2 or 3.

Using online banking, I check major bills (credit primarily like home loan or credit cards) that I want to make sure are getting paid from my transaction accounts as planned. I have as much as possible on credit card recurring billing, EFT/ACH auto-debit or automatically through bank run bill pay. That said, I’ve seen billers or banks make mistakes and it is good to check.

Also, I review the upcoming bills that will be debited and make sure there is sufficient cash available in the transaction account for scheduled bills. For example, I adjust the dates for outgoing bill payments in online bill pay if required or transfer money from savings.

If there is time, I like to also review the PFM (like Mint or similar) that I’m using at the moment to better understand spending trends by category. You could in theory start here if you wanted to do so, although I prefer to go to the source first.

If you choose to adopt a system like this, the key will be consistently doing it. The exact steps, order or tools are less important than making it a habit.

Joining the Venture for America Board

September 10th, 2014

I am pleased to share the news that I am joining the board of directors of Venture for America.  I went to my first meeting last night and enjoyed meeting more of the team.  Excited to be a part of supporting and helping to build what will prove to be an important American institution.

Some of you may remember when I first blogged about Venture for America back in 2011.  The basic outlines are still the same although with growth in the number of cities and fellows.

You’ll recall: VFA is a non-profit program for young, talented college grads to spend 2 years in the trenches at a start-up in a lower cost city with the goal that these graduates will become socialized and mobilized as entrepreneurs moving forward. The tour of duty is to work for two years at a start-up in a lower cost city, train with seasoned entrepreneurs and investors and then have a shot at starting your own venture or doing something else.  The cities selected are not the famous hubs for startup activity and therefore are very happy to have the talent.
In the first batch of fellows, I was pleasantly surprised how many are continuing in their chosen city and how many are continuing on to start a venture or work at a startup.  So, I think that shows some real traction.
When I went to training camp this summer at Brown University, there were ~100 fellows.  The energy was amazing!  The quality of people attracted and their enthusiasm for having a positive impact on these cities and the country was inspiring.
The only slight disappointment is that New Haven is not yet a VFA city.   Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans and Providence are all cities, for example.  With my new found influence, I hope to continue to woo the managemet team.
Please let me know if you’re interested in helping in that regard, or otherwise.

Announcing the New Haven Startup Tour

September 10th, 2014

Who doesn’t love a good backstage tour?

I think it is time for a backstage tour of the New Haven startup community.  For those of us working in startups, how often have we seen each others offices?  For those of us interested in working in a startup, how can we get a sense of what they are like in general or what one in particular is like specifically?  And also, are there that many “real” startups here?  Where are they and how can I get a visceral feeling for the community?

The answer is the New Haven Startup Tour.

On Friday, November 14, 2014, startups (and a few former startups that have grown into larger companies) in the New Haven area will be hosting the public for ~1 hour sessions in their office.  They will be talking about the company or something closely related and offering a peak at their offices.  In either a day or half day program, participants will be able to visit one to multiple companies and get a cross section of the community.

Here are the companies we’re announcing now as participants (subject to change) and I hope to have others as we finalize the schedule.

  • AxioMx
  • Core Informatics
  • Continuity Control
  • Digital Surgeons
  • The Grove
  • Grey Wall Software aka Veoci
  • Higher One
  • SeeClickFix
  • Tangoe

The organizing committee at this point includes entrepreneurs, Yale entrepreneurship staff and student leaders, and we definitely want many others to participate.  We’re doing this for the first time and generating structure on the fly so I welcome your input.  I hope you can join us and stay tuned for details on how to sign up!