Posts from Jerry Colonna

Sixteen Years Ago

1996 was the year that my career took off, the year that NYC's startup community took off, and the year that the commercial internet took off. It was a big year and an inflection point in my life.

It was also the year that Jerry Colonna and I started Flatiron Partners. We got that firm off the ground very quickly and very unconventionally. I had been working closely with SOFTBANK Corporation of Japan on an investment in a company called FreeLoader, founded by Mark Pincus and Sunil Paul. When we sold FreeLoader, SOFTBANK approached me about joining their investment team in the US.

I convinced SOFTBANK that there was going to be a lot of Internet startup activity in NYC and that backing me and Jerry to start a firm in NYC was a good idea. Jerry thought we might be better off with two backers instead of one (he was right), and we went to Chase Bank and got them to join the project. That's how Flatiron came to be. SOFTBANK, Chase, Jerry and me were the four partners in Flatiron when we got started.

SOFTBANK was just coming onto the scene in the US. Their founder and CEO Masayoshi Son was on the cover of Business Week in the summer of 1996. That same week the SOFTBANK Ventures team in the US did an offsite in Boston. We were walking through Harvard Square coming back from dinner and we saw Masa on the cover of Business Week in the newstand in the square.

I am not sure who took this picture, but it captures all of this and more for me.

Softbank crew

From left to right, you have Rich Levandov, me, Gary Rieschel, Charley Lax (up front), Jerry Colonna (in the back), and Brad Feld.

Every one of these folks is still active in the startup world.

Rich is a managing partner at Avalon Ventures and he invested in Zynga along with me and Brad (the Pincus connection lives on). Rich is also on Reece Pacheco's board and this post came out of a convo that Reece and I had about Rich in the comments to yesterday's post.

Gary runs one of the top venture funds in China. Charley runs an early stage venture firm in Boston. Jerry is the best CEO Coach in the business. And Feld is Feld.

Relationships are the currency of business. I cherish my relationship with all of the folks I worked with back than and this picture is representative of all that. It sits on the bookshelf in my office. I showed it to Reece last night. And I'm showing it to all of you this morning.

#VC & Technology

Fun Friday: Startup Creation Stories

I absolutely love Paul Graham's story of how Y Combinator started. It has all the makings of a great startup story. Paul and Jessica came up with the idea on the way home from dinner walking through Cambridge. The sand in the oyster was the fact that Jessica hated her job.

It made me think we should share startup creation stories today on fun friday. I will start with mine.

It was 1996, I was restless in my job as a Partner at Euclid (do all startup stories start with a job thing?). My friend Mark Pincus said "you should start a venture capital firm." I said, "I'd like to do that but who would be my partner?" Mark said "Jerry Colonna of course."

So I reached out to Jerry. We arranged a dinner for us and our wives. I left the Gotham Gal inside with Jerry and Barbara while I was on the phone helping with the negotiation of the sale of Mark and Sunil's first company Freeloader. It was rude, but what was I going to do? That was a big deal for me. Fortunately the Gotham Gal closed the deal with Jerry for me.

On the way home across the Throgs Neck Bridge, I asked the Gotham Gal what I should do. She said "go for it." And so we did.

That's the creation story of Flatiron Partners.

Do you have a fun startup creation story? If so, please share it with us in the comments.

#Random Posts

The Management Team - Guest Post By Jerry Colonna

This is the final post of the MBA Mondays series on The Management Team. It is my favorite MBA Mondays series so far. The guest posts in particular have been fantastic.

Back when I started this series, I outlined it and decided that I would ask Jerry Colonna to wrap it up for us. Jerry, when he was my co-founder at Flatiron, taught me the people side of the venture capital business. And now as CEO coach to a number of USV portfolio CEOs (and many others), he is teaching the people side of the startup business to some of the best entrepreneurs we work with. He is a people person through and through and management is all about people.

So with that forward, here is Jerry's guest post. It is fantastic and he even threw in a section for Grimlock 🙂

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The Crucible of Leadership

 

Work is difficulty and drama, a high-stakes game in which our identity, our self-esteem, and our ability to provide are mixed inside us in volatile, sometimes explosive ways…Work is where we can make ourselves; work is where we can break ourselves. David Whyte, Crossing The Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity.

Fred started this series inspired by Bijan who urged folks to “invest in your team, help them become better managers.” The topic, said Fred with his flair for understatement, “is very important.” Over the weeks, different people looked at the process of building the capacity to actually lead—putting the team in place, scaling people, everyone argued may be the hardest part of building the company.

To me, the hardest part of scaling people is learning to lead your self.

The Crucible

They often come to me, their coach, because they don’t have any place else to put the feelings. They’ll sit on my couch, or pace while they talk on the phone, pausing as we grapple with issue after issue after issue. The common denominator is always people. When I first take on a client I warn that I don’t have a magic wand. Nevertheless their wish for some elixir to mend their relationships is heart-breakingly visceral.

When they start, they often think the hardest part is figuring out what to do but they’re inevitably knocked on their ass by the task of leading.  And when they make mistakes–when they fail to lead–their identity, self-esteem, and ability to provide—as David Whyte notes–sometimes explode.

We all too often break ourselves in the work of becoming a CEO, a manager, a leader.

The only answer, the only balm against the inevitable existential pain of becoming the leader we were born to be is to see the lessons implicit in the practice of becoming.

“In the course of studying how geeks and geezers became leaders,” writes Warren Bennis in the introduction to his classic, On Becoming a Leader, “…I discovered that their leadership always emerged after some rite of passage, often a stressful one. We call the experience that produces leaders a crucible…the crucible is an essential element of the process of becoming a leader…Some magic takes place in the crucible of leadership…The individual brings certain attributes into the crucible and emerges with new, improved leadership skills. Whatever is thrown at them, leaders emerge from their crucibles stronger and unbroken.”

The magic, the alchemy, occurs when what we do mixes with who we are and is cooked by the heat of what we believe.

Take as an example a client I worked with intensely over the last few weeks. She and a co-founder have been killing each other (okay, I have a flair for the overstatement…still, they have both been getting sick with a host of ailments—migraines and stomach problems). The arguments had gotten so bad that neither could stand to be in the same room with the other. Even I was exasperated. During one late night call, I asked my client to forget, for a moment, whether her co-founder was right or wrong. “I don’t care who’s right,” I said with my voice rising. “The only thing we have to focus on is what are you supposed to be learning from this.”

There was a long silence. I thought, “Okay. You’ve really pushed her too far. You and your woo-woo ‘lessons in the pain’ crap.” But then: alchemy. She opened up. “This is really shameful to admit,” she began, “but I know I’m a pain in the ass because I have to be right, all the time. I know it’s wrong but I can’t stop myself.”

And with that we had something to work with. I pressed her: Given this tendency, what do you really believe? What values do you hold? What kind of company do you want to build? And what kind of adult do you want to be?

Over the next few weeks, on guard for her need to be right, we carefully went to work changing her approach to the co-founder. For her, the crucible moment came in facing her shame, acknowledging who she really has been and as a result she got to choose how she wanted to manage and who she wanted to be.

We forge our truest identity by facing our fears, our prejudices, our passions, and the source of our aggression.

The Buddhists teach that for the steadfast warrior to emerge, we’ve got to break open our hearts to what is.

Eat Me If You Wish

“One day,” begins a story re-told by Aura Glaser in the latest issue of Tricycle Magazine, “[the Buddhist saint] Milarepa left his cave to gather firewood, and when he returned he found that his cave had been taken over by demons. There were demons everywhere! His first thought upon seeing them was, ‘I have got to get rid of them!’ He lunges toward them, chasing after them, trying forcefully to get them out of his cave. But the demons are completely unfazed. In fact, the more he chases them, the more comfortable and settled-in they seem to be. Realizing that his efforts to run them out have failed miserably, Milarepa opts for a new approach and decides to teach them the dharma.

“If chasing them out won’t work, then maybe hearing the teachings will change their minds and get them to go. So he takes his seat and begins… After a while he looks around and realizes all the demons are still there…At this point Milarepa lets out a deep breath of surrender, knowing now that these demons will not be manipulated into leaving and that maybe he has something to learn from them. He looks deeply into the eyes of each demon and bows, saying, ‘It looks like we’re going to be here together. I open myself to whatever you have to teach me.’

“In that moment all the demons but one disappear. One huge and especially fierce demon, with flaring nostrils and dripping fangs, is still there. So Milarepa lets go even further. Stepping over to the largest demon, he offers himself completely, holding nothing back. ‘Eat me if you wish.’ He places his head in the demon’s mouth, and at that moment the largest demon bows low and dissolves into space.”

Surrendering to the demons that torment your organization does not mean abdicating your responsibilities to manage. You are still responsible for dealing with the reality of what is. In some cases, the demon is the wrong vision for the company. In others, it might be that you’ve hired the wrong people. In still others, it might be your own failings—like an inability to admit that you’re wrong.

But in all cases, allowing your self to be eaten by the demon that remains—acknowledging the ways you contribute to the problem without descending into pointless self-flagellation–adds to the heat beneath the crucible. Without heat, there is no alchemy.

On Becoming Your Self

When I was a young Padawan, I remember lamenting to my therapist about my own fears as a manager. After a series of infuriating questions, she got me to admit that I was trapped by my own beliefs about success. I finally admitted I would never be satisfied until I was as successful as Bill Gates.

Being myself was never good enough and, as a result, being comfortable in my own leadership was impossible.

“If you bring forth what is in you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is in you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”  Jesus, Gospel of Thomas

It was only later, after allowing myself to bring forth what is in me, that I emerged not only as a leader but a Jedi master.

Joel Spolsky, in his guest post for this series, tackled what I hear all too often in my workshops. He takes the Steve Jobs Question head on.

He writes:

“And yes, you’re right, Steve Jobs…was a dictatorial, autocratic asshole who ruled by fiat and fear.” But, importantly, he points out “you are not Steve Jobs.” Just like I am not Bill Gates.

Indeed, I think what Jesus taught was a simple truth: the only choice that doesn’t destroy you is to be the leader you were born to be. The alchemy of becoming your self is the ultimate act of leadership.

Listen close enough and you’ll hear echoes of this from every conceivable source.

Phil Sugar, tells us who he is and what he believes in the simple statement that, “My biggest legacy is the network of people I’ve hired and what they’ve gone on to do.”

Matt Blumberg, having gone through his own crucible challenged conventional wisdom (and the advice of Fred), choosing instead to invest in his team. “We consistently work at improving our management skills,” he notes adding that, “We learn from the successes and failures of others whenever possible.”

JLM writes:

“Develop a philosophy of management. Write it down. Try it out on some folks whose wisdom you admire. Put it to work…” and, my favorite, “Live it.”

I read in all these thoughts a steady, consistent wisdom: the wisdom of knowing yourself, your own beliefs, and living them.

Enduring the alchemical crucible requires developing the capacity to reflect, to turn the pain of the everyday life as a leader into lessons. Every wisdom tradition I’ve ever encountered—from Fred’s blog to the words of sages—ultimately demands the same thing: we must go inward.

That’s often the biggest obstacle to becoming your self. The frenzied, frenetic, do-it-now, answer-the-email-now-or-the-company-will-die-even-though-it’s-3 a.m. attitude is precisely the wrong process of becoming your self.

Joseph Campbell, writing in The Power of Myth, says,  “You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don't know what was in the newspapers that morning…a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.”

Call that room, at that hour, the crucible of leadership.

#MBA Mondays

Disappearing Into The Fire - The Berlin Edition

In April of this year, I blogged about the Disappearing Into The Fire Workshop. This is a workshop put on by Jerry Colonna and Ann Mehl that seeks to provide CEO Coaching "at scale." What I mean by that is for most people CEO Coaching is a one on one experience, and a very good experience which I highly recommend. These workshops take the same approach but provide it to a room full of people at a single time. If you think you might want to get a CEO Coach but aren't sure what its like, this workshop is an excellent start.

I've talked to a number of entrepreneurs and CEOs who attended the first workshop in mid May in NYC and they all were very complimentary of it.

Jerry and Ann are taking the "show on the road" and doing the Disappearing Into The Fire Workshop in Berlin on Saturday September 10th. The details are here.

Berlin and NYC are like sister startup cities. They remind me of each other in many ways with Berlin a few years behind NYC in terms of its overall development. I'm super excited to see Jerry and Ann take this workshop to Europe and I think the choice of Berlin is a great one.

Too all entrepreneurs in Berlin and Europe, do yourself a favor and check it out.

#VC & Technology

50/50 Cofounders

Mark Suster has been writing and speaking out about the challenges of a 50/50 partnership between two cofounders. He makes a ton of great points. I would like to provide the counterpoint.

I've started two venture capital firms. The first with Jerry Colonna. The second one with Brad Burnham. Both were 50/50 partnerships. Both have been fantastic experiences. I knew Jerry for a few months before I partnered with him. I knew Brad for a decade but had never worked in the same organization as him. I recognize that venture capital firms are different than companies and that a partnership model works better in VC firms than it does in companies. But these two experiences have taught me that a 50/50 partnership, like a marriage, forces the two founders to come together on all the key decisions and can lead to better decision making.

When I look through the USV portfolio, I don't see a lot of 50/50 partnerships. Of the 38 companies listed on our website, only seven started out as 50/50 partnerships. But some of our best teams were formed that way. Paul and Rony, the founders and leaders of Indeed, are the iconic version of a partnership at the top of a company. They have built possibly the best all around company in our portfolio and they have done it via a partnership model.

Two other partnership driven startups come to mind as I think back over my investment history. Gian Fulgoni and Magid Abraham at ComScore has always been a partnership and they have built a fantastic company. And Jordan Levy and Ron Schrieber, the first entrepreneurs that I worked with as a board member, introduced me to the partnership model. They were even co-CEOs.

So while Mark is right that you don't need to be 50/50 partners with your co-founder, I would say that if you feel comfortable in a 50/50 partnership, it can be a terrific way to operate and build a business. It has worked very well for me over the years and when I see a true 50/50 team show up in our office, I am always more inclined to say yes. I have a great history and pattern recognition with this model.



#VC & Technology

Disappearing Into The Fire Workshop

One of my all time favorite blog posts about entrepreneurship is the Disappearing Into The Fire post written by my former partner Jerry Colonna. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and go read it.

Jerry has been a highly successful VC, then disappeared into the fire himself, and emerged as a fantastic CEO coach who I recommend so much he can't take any more clients right now. So he's responding to that problem by cloning himself. Well actually not quite.

Jerry is starting to do workshops so he can help more entrepreneurs and CEOs. And on Saturday May 14th at General Assembly, he's doing a Disappearing Into The Fire workshop from 10am to 4pm ($200 for the session). I am sure this will sell out quickly so if you are breathing a little fast these days, try six hours with Jerry and a bunch of fellow entrepreneurs. I am sure it will be very helpful. Eventbrite ticket is here.



#VC & Technology

The Monster In Your Head

Jerry-colonnaI've written before about CEO coaches. I'm a big fan of the work they do and how they can help entrepreneurs work on things that are holding them back from being the best leaders they can be. There are a bunch of CEO coaches I can recommend. But my favorite CEO coach is my former partner at Flatiron Partners Jerry Colonna.

Jerry is a special person. He's had three careers before the age of 50. He's been a hugely successful journalist, venture capitalist, and now CEO coach. At his core he is a "people person." When Jerry and I started Flatiron, I was all about the technology and the deal. Jerry taught me to focus on the people, not only who they are and what they've done, but what makes them tick.

And now Jerry has a blog. He's tried blogging before but has never stuck with it in the past. I hope that's not the case this time because a morning dose of Jerry would be good for all of us.

He calls it The Monster In Your Head. As Cameron, founder of Blogrollr, said to me yesterday "that's a great name for a blog". Yes it is. I suggest you all check it out, not just today but on a regular basis.

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#VC & Technology