Interview: Father of the Internet, Vint Cerf

“I Invented the Internet.”

This is something Startup Grind’s DC speaker Vint Cerf can legitimately claim. The former DARPA scientist worked on data packet technologies which led to the internet as we know it. His led internet architecting at Verizon for eleven years and and spent fourteen years with NASA taking the internet to space. Vint serves as an evangelist for our October host and Startup Grind sponsor, Google. There he continues to push the bounds of the internet as we know it, into unconnected communities and new iterations in the internet of things.

Vint defied the portrait of a geeky scientist: Tall, and impeccably dressed, he took over the stage at our fireside chat, lobbing a joke at Brian. “You shouldn’t clap before people speak – you don’t know what they’re going to say yet.”

The Pro-Primordial Internet and the Cabana Hotel

Vint’s life story didn’t let us down there: Growing up in San Fernando in the Valley, his high school boasts Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford, Steve Crawford, Jon Postel, who managed the domain name system, and Richard Carp who wrote the first implementation of TCP. It may have been fate that brought Vint just across the hill to UCLA’s campus, where the first node of the internet was being developed. There at only 17 he wrote his first piece of program, a transcendental equation, on a Bendex.

Brian fast-forwarded us to 1973 at the Hyatt Cabana Hotel in Palo Alto with Bob Con and the beginning of TCP/IP. Why the Cabana Hotel? “When you’re on a government salary, you have to choose hotels you can afford”, explained Vince. Armed with a pencil, the two had sat down to write the design for publication.

Model for the Internet: The United States Postal Service

“Aha is not quite the right notion here,” said Vince. Like any great inventors they had spent months working on the design. Like many other entrepreneurial teams, Bob and Vince had worked together previously to successfully design “archinet” in Washington, DC, a packet-switching pre-internet model that allowed for a homogenous network with heterogenous computers. Any brand of computer could host archinet, effectually democratizing internet access from its very birth.

Explaining TCP/IP protocol’s evolution very simply, he said, “no network knew how to refer to any other network, because they didn’t know there were other networks. We needed addresses.” The second problem was connecting the networks to be able to send info packets. “Since the networks didn’t know they were connected, we had to put a box in between them to be able to talk to both nets.” The “box” worked to receive info packets, unpack, repack and “ship” them to their final destination. “Simplicity was our friend,” summarized Vince.

Google Self-Driving Cars and What’s Next for the Internet








Of the internet of things, Vint sees infinite possibilities. “I think we are going to be surrounded by smart devices. There’s something really magic, to be able to assume, that any device you have that has some programmability in it could be part of a communications network, and could communicate with any other random, programmable device. When you assume that’s the norm, you have almost no limit to the kinds of ideas you can come up with.”

Asked about the “future”, Vint responded, “I’m not better at anyone else at predicting the future, but I will say this ‘Smart City’ idea is a real grabber for me”. He gave the common examples of avoiding traffic congesting, controlling resources like water and electricity based on supply and demand, and looking at waste and disposable resources. “This notion of being able to track behavior and consumption – and feed that back – this is the one thing we lack in our lives, the ability to understand the impact of what we’re doing.”

On a more specific note, Brian had to ask, what’s up with the Google’s self-driving car? “There are all kinds of potential things, including cars being to adapt to what’s going on with traffic, etc.,” said Vint. However, he also quipped, “Our new cars have not accelerator, steering wheel or break. The reason is, we discovered people are not very unreliable…You’re in the backseat sleeping, or watching a movie, and [the car would alert you] ‘take over now!’ And you wouldn’t do a very good job. So we’ve concluded we really have to make the cars to everything – and they have to do it all the time.”


By kariobrien Posted in Other

Interview: Chip Paucek and 2U’s Launch

After the 2U IPO, Startup Grind Hosts Founder Chip Paucek

It’s been a big summer for the DC community with the arrival of the much anticipated 2U IPO. Startup Grind DC was lucky to host one of the company’s founders, Chip Paucek just after the IPO and hear his experience in taking a technology start-up from a few guys with an idea, to a publicly traded company.

Like many DCites, Chip arrived in DC as a student at George Washington University. Born and raised in South Florida, he was the first person in his family to go to college, and consequently supported himself through his undergrad. Of education he says, “GWU fundamentally changed my life in every way. I wouldn’t be here without [my education].”

Bleeding Entrepreneurship

His first entrepreneurial experience was at 12, selling comic books he earned working in a store to neighborhood kids. In 1993 he founded Cerebellum Corporation, an educational tv production company, which he ran in between doing political work. He went on to be the CEO of Hooked on Phonics, while founding and running the Sylvan Learning Center.

Surprisingly, he says of 2U, “Of all my entrepreneurial experiences, 2U is the only one that’s worked.” He remembers harder lessons with Cerebellum, where he had the unfortunate experience of laying off 80% of his workforce when the company wasn’t meeting valuation expectations on its 14 million dollars of venture capital. “It was like trying to get blood from a stone.”

Stay Focused, and Treasure Good Ideas

“I look back on my Standard Deviants (Cerebellum) and Hooked on Phonics experiences as real lessons in focus,” he said to the Startup Grind audience. “Entrepreneurs, you’re bred to constantly look for the new angle. Any bright shiny new object is super attractive to entreprenuers. You can easily convince yourself any idea is one you should pursue.”

While he humbly shares 2U’s success with two cofounders and the company’s 700 hardworking employees, he “will take credit for the company’s focus”. “We put the world’s best university programs online. Period. That is it. That is what we do.”

To entrepreneurs he says, “Once you find a business you have some traction in, treasure it. They are difficult, they are hard to find.”

2U, Inc. trades on the NASDAQ as TWOU. As of this writing it is trading at $15 a share, $2 over the estimated offering price. Startup Grind does not offer investment advice….just awesome entrepreneurs.

Content originally published in October 2014 for Startup Grind.

Getting into Business School & Sorority Recruitment

As I embark on my new journey as an MBA student…(aka spend the summer at my mother’s lakehouse or with my boyfriend in Spain)…I look back on the hustle that over the past two and half years.

I always knew I was getting an MBA – I majored in business, my mother has one, and about 1 year after school I realized with a panic that social media was neither going to satisfy my cerebral nor pecuniary needs. So B school was inevitable.

Getting into a good business school reminds me of sorority recruitment. Image

I rushed freshman year, and was only invited back to two sororities I didn’t like, so I decided to “defer” a year, and “reapply”, or rush again the next year. (I ended up going to China for a full year and never re-rushed.) Now, older, wiser, and, dangran, more wordly I can share the qualities that get you into your choice sorority and business school.

1. Get Smart

Most sororities have GPA requirements; All business schools do. While I tend to think people are born smart or not, anyone can work the deriers off and get good grades or test scores. GPAs and GMATs are the first filtering criteria for business students. With a low GPA, say bye-bye to top schools. Same with a low GPA, unless you have a compelling story or daddy owns Chile.

2. Have Money

When you’re a freshman girl, having money is probably a matter of circumstance. Your parents had it, or they didn’t. Hopefully though, like with preparing for business school, you planned ahead. Summer jobs, high school savings, a campus job, you’ll need it.

Here, I will make a slightly unseemly parallel the reader may forgive: There are unmentionable ways attractive young ladies in school earn extra cash or Prada bags, which in a down economy, have become more popular. These type of “occupations” are a great way to get you blackballed from any sorority.

Just like refined young Greek ladies, business schools care where you work. From the moment you leave school, you are typing lines, blank or full, on the resume you will submit to MBA programs. The nine months you were “looking”, the first job that didn’t work out, the one you hated…or the well-known firm you interned at, the managerial job that gives you experience other students didn’t have. The company names matter. Titles matter. What you accomplished, yes that matters too.

3. Do Your Research

What is the culture like? What are the requirements? What is the “word on the street”? Yes with business schools there are a ton of rankings, but there are many other things the school is known for, just as sororities have their national standards, as well as the more unwritten campus reputations. Finding out which one best fits you, or you can best assimilate to will help you not only in targeting the place you’ll fit in, but in being able to speak to students/admissions counselors about why you would fit.

4. Get to Know Them

In Greek culture, “dirty rushing” is when a member actively recruits another member before official rush. This can also occur after rush has begun, by soliciting the potential recruit away from regular activities, offering bribes, intimidation, inviting them to private parties, etc. In business school rushing, dirty rushing is highly legal.

I’m not sure whether I would have gotten in as a regular candidate, but I like sure things, so before I “rushed” I began talking to current students at all schools. I took a part-time course at one of my choices. I talked to multiple professors, and obtained references.

5. Go to the Parties

Which brings me to the next one…go to all the parties. In sorority recruitment there are scheduled parties, and you have to be invited back to the second round, third, and so fourth. In business school recruiting, there are lunches, cocktail hours, meet and greets, class visits, pre-interviews, one-on-one with students, school tours and more.

Then there are invitational only events, like weekends for top GMAT candidates, diverse candidates, (women, military, minorities), and top recruits. There are welcome weekends after you’ve been offered admission, but not yet accepted, accepted student happy hours and webinars.

Let me add – there are also non-recruitment events. Let’s call this the “private parties”.  Things like a Women in Business “what to wear” happy hour with the women’s group. Women in Leadership conferences on campus. Even informal events, if you’re lucky enough to live in the city your choice school is in, like Meetups, where you know current students will be out in bulk.

Go there, be cool and…

6. Be Confident and Charming

The sisterhood, or network, you’re joining is going to be extremely close with you for the next two or three years…and after. This network is for life. You need to be seen as someone who will be friendly, connects with the others, has common goals and interests, and is all around fun.

Being this type of person is more than just for the sisters personally enjoyment. Sororities need to continually be able to recruit new members; So do business schools. They need to be able to get the “best frats” to party with them; Business schools need the best companies. They want to be associated with popular, pleasant, successful people; Doesn’t everyone?

7. Learn the Cheers

There are actual songs and cheers for sororities, as there are for universities. There are also the “cheers” the admissions marketing team came up with: slogans, brochure language, top reasons to attend. Know why a school considers itself awesome, just as you would a sorority. Everyone wants their “outstanding attributes” recognized. Being able to gush over what they already told you is awesome shows you listened, believed it, and are ready to put on your letters with pride.

8. Make Friends

Know from the moment you show up at your first event, be it a luncheon, a table at a fair, a party or real recruitment session, you are being documented, and watched. Working in digital marketing, I was well aware the data tracking that goes on with individual records. Did they sign up for webinar? Skip the event they signed up? Tweet about us? Who in the office actually knows them?

If you are the girl surrounded by happy other sisters and rushees, you will immediately be seen as popular, likeable, and going to fit in. If you have the opportunity to do an admissions weekend for a school you will be similarly observed. Don’t worry about winning…(yes you’re an alpha)…worry about being liked, teaching the other students something, chatting up current students, and being the kind of “team player” who will strengthen the group.

The current students also are watching you….and will also be there to vouch for you. Connect with them whenever you can. If you know them outside school, even better. In my case, I’d made friends with people from schools I never applied to early in my search. When I did select my schools, I took advantage of this with a personal note from a student who volunteered for my club. I also put in a good word for a student I’d spent time with socially. And I know for a fact it mattered.

9. Widen Your Net

This advice is something I’d like to give myself in retrospect. I’m picky – there are certain things I like, certain people I’d like to associate with. You’ll remember I didn’t complete rush because I didn’t like the chapters I received invites from – but I went to their parties. My friend however, didn’t want to rush at first, did, and ended up at one of the sororities I rejected. She was thrilled; The girls had made a great choice in her.

For business school, during your research you should be open and talk to graduates from very different schools. I was told by a top school grad I was “undervaluing” myself with my choices. I found out another school was too snobby for me. Another one, honestly kind of racist.  By talking to people I found out the “unwritten” culture, and my choices changed.

My biggest regret is not applying to more schools: I applied to three and was accepted to all. I received enough money and it was easy enough that I wish I had applied to a few “reach” schools. Getting rejected isn’t that bad – more so it tells you where your “limit” is or some parameters of where you fit in.

10. Second Round

A this point, my girl friends received our first “invitation” back to the second party. Depending on how we presented ourselves, clicked with the members, how we fit, we may or may not have the opportunity to keep going.

In business school admissions, your first “invite” is the interview. (If they aren’t interviewing you, either you’re an ibanker with a 775 GMAT, volunteer activities, a legacy, 3.9 GPA, and career goals to go back to banking….or admissions criteria is ridiculously low.) The interview signals that “hey, we like how you look! give us a chance to get to you know better.”

This is when you want to go back to the “know the cheers” and be ready to rattle off how awesome the school is. You’ll also have a well rehearsed speech about why you want to go back. The most important thing about this speech is that it sounds reasonable, rational and achievable given your abilities and experience. In my interview for a part-time program the admissions counselor leveled with me, “As a career changer going part-time is going to be very difficult. You won’t be able to interview”.

I somehow convinced him I could do it slaving away, getting a new job closer to finance, networking like a mad woman…but his advice made a lot of sense. It impacted me enough that I decided a full-time program was a safer, and way more fun, option.

Now congrats, we want you!


Congresswoman Delbene on Starting

This May DC’s Startup Grind chapter joined chapters around the world in committing to host a female speaker, Congresswoman Suzane Delbene. (Actually, this was our second female in a row, and second congressperson.) Congresswoman Debene represents the 1st district of the state of Washington, but her career began in 1989 at Microsoft.

After ten years building Microsoft’s marketing she went on to help found She was CEO for Nimble Technology, overseeing its acquisition to Actuate in 2003. She then returned to Microsoft before beginning a new career in nonprofits, and now public service.

Female Role Models Start at Home

Delbene’s life was ripe with female entrepreneurship potential. Her story hit a personal note with me, as the daughter of a working mother. She was from middle America background: the youngest of five, born in Selma, Alabama, her parents divorced when she was young. Delbene was lucky in that her “single mother” was a leader, and able to support her family: She was a pilot and became a university professor. Delbene calls her mother a “pioneer”, with a STEM background and drive that inspired her daughter.

Her mother remarried another pilot; Delbene almost ran out fingers naming the states she grew up in. When her stepfather lost his job, her mother decided the family should start a toy store in Colorado, first inspiring her entrepreneurship.

When Everyone Thinks Your Wrong

Asked about her experience as a football reference, “in a white, male dominated field”, she answered, “It was some of my best training for life. You do the best you can, and if someone doesn’t like it, you usually get a loud response – but you have to decide. You’re in the position, you make the best decision you can. You don’t always have perfect data, but you have to make a decision. This is where people often go wrong, in the legislative process too, they don’t make a decision.”

After working in biotech, Delbene made the move to technology rather surreptitiously through an MBA program: She was a Microsoft summer intern. During her career there she worked on firsts like “electronic messaging”, Windows ’95 and the first Internet Explorer. “You got to focus on products, and understanding customer needs.” She also worked on embedded devices, learning about the software products running everything from sewing machines to gas station pumps.

The Perfect Mix for Entrepreneurship Success

Speaking about her inspiration for founding she says, “At that time, folks were looking at how technology could change commerce. One of the places people go to buy things is the drugstore. It’s all one of the places people don’t want to go.

On her successes, she cites the “bubble market”, where it was easy to get financial backing and her team. “My boss and I, at Microsoft, we went together to help start, and we had a great team in pharmacy, in technology and in retail, and it was that great combination we needed.” Brian cited Aileen Li’s research on former coworkers being a factor in creating “unicorn” companies.

On funding she says, “It was a time when things were moving very quickly. It was really the concept. We didn’t even have a temporary website or anything like that. The concept was there, people understood the opportunities there, but also knew other people might think of that idea. At that time it was really who could get to market first with ideas. There was an impatience at the time.”

Asked about whether it takes an “ex-Googler, the equivalent of an ex-Microsofter at the time”, to gain credibility in today’s startup market, she answers simply, “It’s all about having great people. You don’t get a ton of people when you’re starting up a company, so you need great people.”

For the full interview, watch the video.

Ted Leonsis: From Making Money to Finding Happiness

The Ted Leonsis event blew out Startup Grind DC’s event capacity as one of the most popular speakers interviewed yet. Ted is a local hero in DC, a Georgetown graduate affectionately referred to as “Uncle Ted” by many of the young people who grew up with his kids. As the billionaire owner of the Verizon Center, he also owns the Caps and Wizards, making him one of the most popular DC residents.

Ted’s story proselytizes the classic American dream realized. “When you’re an ethnic kid, you’re raised with the idea that you can do better than your parents’ generation.” Born to a Greek immigrant, the first of his family to go to college, Ted is a self-made entrepreneur who continues to instill wisdom and work ethic not only in his children, but in hundreds of thousands of Americans through his book charmingly not on entrepreneurship, but happiness.

His choice of Georgetown was a fortuity; the alma mater of one Ted’s lawn mowing client’s saying “I like the work you do. Are you going to college?” A recommendation letter and a paper application later, and Ted would find himself on scholarship to Georgetown, and starting his first business.

The Startup Joy

“It’s a startup joy, not a grind, the joy of being independent”, espoused Ted. “I was a freshman at Georgetown University, and I had a rich roommate – dumb money, just like the kind you all want.” It was the summer of 1776, with 40 million tourists coming in for the bicentennial, he thought “gotta be something we can sell to 40 million people.” With his roommate’s financial backing, Ted was determined to spend his summer in DC.

His first entrepreneurial epiphany? Snow cones – with surge pricing. “For 0 – 80 degrees, it was 50 cents. At 80 – 90 degrees, a dollar. Over 90 degrees, and we would negotiate how bad you would want the cone,” he explained. Classmates, especially pretty coeds, and even a dog were employed to market the snowcone business. The snowcone tradition has continued with Ted’s daughter, a Georgetown senior who employed old snowcone machine to make money last summer.

Hard Work Really Matters

“You can do studies on what makes for an entrepreneur,” says Ted, citing the Kauffman Group. “I don’t buy into any of that. I think it’s an individual experience that comes from having high levels of self-expression, and really a chip on your shoulder. The best entrepreneurs that I’ve met really have a strong point-of-view, that’s powered by a belief that you can do something better than someone else.” His take more eloquently paraphrases the best quote of Startup Grind 2014 by George Zachary, “My screwed up childhood was a competitive advantage [for entrepreneurship].”

Sharing insights from one of his mentors, Congressman Paul Sangas, Ted explained “His thesis was hard work really mattered. He said [to me], ‘if you work this hard for a business you’ve started, you’ll be a millionaire by the time you’re thirty.’” Translating it to businesses today he explained, “The ability to work one on one with customers, the ability to take it to the streets, and be able to work person by person…I believe you can connect through hard work, through authenticity, through building a sense of community, and you can scale big businesses.”


Liberal Arts and Technology Come Together

Like most of Ted’s answers, his first foray into coding was a story, a story of man versus the Jesuit priest’s homework assignment.

“I was very busy,” said Ted of his youth. “I learned a lot about bandwidth. In college I got a little lazy. I discovered girls, I played sports. At Georgetown, you had to write a senior year thesis…so I went to the library to find the smallest book I could find. I was on a mission. It was Earnest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, ‘It was a good day, the sun was hot, then wind blew’. Chapter two.”

“My professor read my thesis and said ‘Why don’t you read it again?’. So I read it again, and I thought ‘I’m going to do something on Hemingway’. I went and got a second book, Across the River and into the Trees. It was 400 pages, and it was nothing like Old Man in the Sea. So I started reading other random works. ‘I said I don’t think he wrote Old Man and the Sea later in his career, I think he wrote it when he was a journalist, and started writing these novels later in life, then he took the book out from his drawer and published it.’”

“My professor said, ‘Now that’s a great idea! Let’s prove it.’ I said, ‘How are we going to do that, talk to his publisher?’ And Father Dirkin, a 76 year old Jesuit priest says, ‘We’ll use a computer’. There was one computer on the entire campus at Georgetown University…in the registrar’s office. Father Dirkin inspired me to create one of the first mashups of all time. We created the first algorithm applied to a non computer science application. They had me go at midnight some nights and input the first 500 words of a work written in 1950 or 1930.”

“It literally felt like magic to me. And we asked the computer, ‘When was Old Man in the Sea written?’ and it said ‘1933’. Father Dirkin said ‘I think is the first time liberal arts and technology have come together. Someone asked Steve Jobs once why Apple was the most valuable company, and he said ‘Apple is where liberal arts and technology come together’. Father Dirkin had said that in 1978.”

Things to Do Before You Die

Tracing his life through his first computer, to pitching his business (he was told “you could sell snow to an Eskimo), to telling his parents he was “getting venture capital”, Ted Leonsis beat Sangas’s estimate, becoming a multi-millionaire at 26 in 1983. So what do you do at 26 when you’ve made all the money you could possibly need at 26?

Flying on the wrong airplane, Ted’s plane hit turbulence. He found himself praying to an unfamiliar diety: God. He found himself “cutting a deal. Let me get through this and I will leave more than I take.”

“I said I was going to change, but I didn’t know what to do. So I made a list, ‘A Hundred and One Things to Do Before I Die’. It’s a terrible list. It was written by a young person in turmoil and stress, but I made the list. And the list became this powerful envisioning tool.”

See Ted’s full list here.

The mostly lighthearted talk ended with what seemed the perfect question, who was his favorite superhero? Leonsis said it was Superman although he could never understand why in the old TV show Superman would laugh at bullets but dodge the gun when it was thrown at him. The Startup Grind team, no doubt echoing the view of a lot of the local tech community, declared Leonsis a kind of superhero himself and presented him with a custom Ted Leonsis superhero action figure to much laughter and applause.

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By kariobrien Posted in Other

Congressman Jared Polis: Before TechStars Were Stars

There are two path to venture capitalist – the first I’m currently on as I look for a summer internship before starting an MBA in finance.

The second in a far a rockier road that starts with an idea…

In February, Startup Grind DC had the honor of hosting Congressman Jared Polis (cofounder of TechStars, ProFlowers, Often the tech and entrepreneurship community can feel overshadowed by the power and influence emanating from The Hill. While “Hill people” cloister in elegant Senate offices and old-style bars bowing off of K street, the area’s entrepreneurs coalesce in warehouses converted to coworking spaces and dive bars papered with stickers from former next-big-things.

It’s a seismic event, then, when the DC tech and Hill communities can come crashing together over a double-threat like they did last February with Congressman Polis. Rep. Polis has been serving Colorado’s 2nd district since 2009. Prior to becoming a politico, Polis founded and successfully sold three technology companies. He is now a mentor with TechStars, a startup accelerator.

Similar to our January speaker Alex Hawkinson, Polis grew up in an entrepreneurial family, learning sales from a young age. His first sell was, which he started with his parents using his father’s artwork to create online greeting cards. His second sell, American Information Systems, an internet access provider, went for $32 million. He immediately used the capital to found ProFlowers, an online florist.

It was at that point Rep. Polis moved from entrepreneur to mentor.

Before TechStars Were Stars

Brian listed Rep. Polis’ impressive cofounders: “David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brown – these are big names in the startup community. How did you meet these guys?” Ever humble, Polis explains, “We weren’t all as big back then…There wasn’t a lot of us in the late ‘90s. The community wasn’t that big up there, so we all knew each other”.

Of the early days, he says “We didn’t have as many applicants. I was really active in the early days. We knew most of the founders in tech, so we’d ask them.” He explained, “Most of them enjoy this, they said ‘Sure I’d love to do this!’. Sometimes the companies wouldn’t interest [the mentors] – other times, one or two would be really interesting and they’d do their own angel investment.”

Brian asked about mentor buy-in, a common requirement for accelerators today. “But no, there was certainly no promise that they had to do anything in particular,” said Polis, “I think a lot of the mentors were looking to have fun. Some became CEOs or board members, and got buy-in that way.”

Taking a slight dig at “Things that call themselves accelerators these days”, Jared describes TechStars as a summer camp for startups, “This was a two and half month program in summer, housed together in one place. They had regular mentor visits with the companies. It was a full time program for everyone who was there.”

“We made sure to find the right mentors for each startup. We were trying to match everyone on the personal chemistry, as well as the core competencies.”

How Mature Does Your Startup Need to Be?

“If you have a million users, you are ready for Series A,” laughed Polis. “[TechStars] has migrated slightly from mid-stage to early-stage in the first few years. There are still pre-proof of concept companies, but much of the competition has some type of beta or proof of concept, so you are up against that, but it doesn’t mean that the right team and the right idea can’t get in before that.”

Proof of concept (POC), means that a startup has demonstrated their principle or product has actual usability. This may mean a growing user base, a beta product being used by a few potential customers, or a model that has been applied and shown to solve a specific problem. Having a POC doesn’t mean a startup isn’t going to change their direction though.

“Accelerators offer the most value right in the early stage. I think a lot of the companies who have gone through TechStars have pivoted on their idea anyway.” Major pivoting may occur after realizing that burning idea doesn’t really have the customer base, or maybe a small aspect of your company is getting all the attention from potential consumers. Said Polis, about a third of TechStars start-ups undergo a major pivot during their accelerator phase.

“It Is Harder to Get into TechStars than Harvard”

“That could be,” said Polis, a little unnerved. “It depends on the city. You get 600 applications and most of them are just throwaways. You throw out more than half. There’s a big piece missing – either it is an idea that is hair-brained, or you have a team that has no potential to execute the idea.”

Asked about metrics for measuring applications, Polis responds, “Well in the application we go to the zoo, get a monkey, put all the applications on the wall, give him a dart and [the monkey] throws a dart.”

His more serious response was “idea and team”:

– Does this idea make sense?

– Do these people show they have what it takes to execute the idea?

– Do they show there is a need and a marketplace?

– Do the teammates compliment one another?

– Are there holes in the team?

– If so, are they aware of these holes?

TechStar to Politician: Why?

“This is a brand new set of challenges”, said Polis about his new career. “I had done well enough in business, I could think about what I want to do next, and I wanted to make an impact…I decided I wanted to dedicate a portion of my life to public service.”

Polis’s first foray into politics was in the education system, attempting to unseat the incumbent on the Colorado Board of Education. With 1.6 million voters, the split came down to ninety-two votes. Thanks to those ninety-two votes, Polis’s career continued to move forward, and today his reforms are impacting the startup community.

“One of the big reforms is of course immigration reform,” shares Polis. “One [reform] is a visa for founders. The other has to do with capital formation, EB5, to allow more capital for investment. And one is the high-skilled visa, so you can get the high skills in this country that you need to succeed. And my passion in public service has always been education…that’s all the way through the K-12 system to affordable access to college.”

By kariobrien Posted in Other

Traits of a Self-Refreshing Biz Dev Exec

In my last post I wrote about the potential expiration date business development execs and sales people face. My conclusion is this position is still vital in many companies, but businesses need to be careful when hiring.

Here is what I’ve observed as makes a great business development person:

  1. They are attractive.You can fill in whatever that means to you – I’m not writing about gender politics or lookism here, just stating what I’ve seen work. This can mean they wear nice clothes, tailored, well accessorized, they are genetically blessed, they own a gym membership, they smile a lot and tell funny jokes – whatever it is, they are someone people like to see more of.
  2. They are confident.
    This can be wrongly confused with egoism. It’s not about being the badass business school/Ivy league grad with high self value. It’s more about being able to enter a crowded room and not feel self-conscious. To walk about to anyone, introduce yourself, and start up a conversation knowing they will like you.
  3. They “own” your company.
    This doesn’t need to mean a literal ownership. It means they identify, believe in, and can rattle off your company’s mission, core offerings and differentiators at the drop of a hat. They are a citizen of your company before they are an “ambassador”.
  4. They like people.
    Barbara Streisand may have sung it, but the bottom line proves it. Bus dev is based on networking – and creating a “pipeline”. People who don’t like people may be able to do this job for awhile, but as Blank pointed out, they will burn out eventually.
  5. They can make the ask.

    That point when the cocktails run dry and prep school jokes segway to “in all serious though”, does your business development person have the confidence to make the ask? To look rejection from their new “friend” in the face, and to put a number on the table.
  6. They can close.
    This seems obvious, but I put all the weight on this skill as the “ring to rule them all”. What Blank pointed out about the ever pumping sales pipeline is that the number one failing of sales execs was closing a deal. If your bus devver is fresh, that first close may determine their worth. If you’re hiring for experience, my suggestion is asking them “what is the biggest deal you’ve ever personally closed?” Somewhere between the hot lead and getting a signed contract, is where your exec will add the most value.
  7. It’s about the game, not the money.

    In Wall Street 2 the main character asks the villian “What’s your number?”, meaning how much could you make and retire happily. The villian answers, “More.” It’s not about the money with people like Elon Musk of Tesla or Warren Buffet. It’s about the thrill of the chase. Your bus dev people should feel the same thrill, so even when they’ve hit their goals, made their bonus and are ready to take a well-deserved vacation, they will already be looking forward to Q3.

For more insights and help with getting your own business launched, visit me at Onertia is a marketing and business strategy consulting practice for early venture companies.

Does Your Biz Dev Rep Have an Expiration Date?

Recently I wrote a post about Alex Hawkinson, founder of SmartThings, where I quoted him as saying “I was worried I would put my shingle out and no one would show up.” A common worry for any entrepreneur is that “no one will show up” when he or she takes the big risk and goes out to start a business.

For most founders, that lovely shortened title “Biz Dev”, business development, doesn’t yet exist. They are their own business development team, leveraging their friends, family, former coworkers, gym buddies – anyone and everyone to make those first few sales that turn a company from an idea into a business. This is why VCs are evolving into “accelerators”, and startups are often more interested in a potential investors connections than their bank account.

But when the founders begin to get busier, or find they need to focus more on the core product, or “the big picture”, sales begins to be delegated out to smiley, polished, attractive talkers, with resumes reading like a New York socialite: interned at Fortune 500 company, B.A. in Liberal Arts, people skills, raised $XX, worked on Senator So-And-So’s campaign. These charming people are cheerfully willing to do a job no one else wants to do, to look rejection dead in the face and to push-push-push!

When Biz Dev People Expire

Lean Startup teacher Steve Blank has an interesting take on these people. He talks about new ventures hiring VPs of sales on high promises, only to fire them a few months later when the sales weren’t coming in. Joking about common conversations between aggressive CEO/Founders and their freshly minted VP of Sales, he said they would ask what’s going on?  The VP of Sales would answer ‘We have this and this in the pipeline’. The answer was always in the pipeline, until the CEO/founder decided they “needed to pivot. The way we used to pivot in the old days was firing executives.”

Then Where Do We Get Sales?

I’m not going so far as to imply all VP of sales/business development people are full of hot air. There are some amazing go getters out there –  I woefully turned down an opportunity to work for one DC VP of Sales who I will say is probably one of the most connected people in the U.S. But I am suggesting businesses need to reassess what qualities they are looking for in hiring for this high salaried position.

One interesting alternative to sales comes from Salesforce founder, Marc Benioff. On his blog he writes, “We did not have a formal sales organization at this time so in our quest for early customers, everyone on the team was encouraged to contact anyone he or she knew in any industry, or at any start-up.” This approach taps on the network of every employee, creating an interesting ownership for employees with the revenue being generated, as well leveraging the company’s reach.

While Marc’s view is everyone is “sales”, Seth Godin’s boldly claims in “Rework” that “Marketing is Not a Department”. As the manager of a marketing department, I’m not going to pretend that didn’t throw me off, but in practice I see his point. In a software company the customer service team is “marketing” when they resolve customer issues. In a service company the consultants are creating relationships and taking advantage of opportunities to “upsell”, adding on products or services based on needs they identify.

So Are Bus Dev Execs Obsolete?

The answer to that question is no. While it’s important to train your customer service team to be able to create sustainable relationships and inform about additional benefits and services, as well as leverage all your employee networks, having someone devoted to the constant work of prospecting and “closing” new deals is still essential to building bigger, better companies.

Mostly, in hiring business development execs I would urge businesses to be careful. Think about clear objectives for the new person, what will make you “happy”? Try to understand the needs for the position, maybe even working it for yourself, before you hire someone into it. This is something that worked well for many founders – even if they weren’t the most qualified in a position, at least by trying the work themselves, they understood the challenges and skill set the position would require.

For more insights and help with getting your own business launched, visit me at Onertia is a marketing and business strategy consulting practice for early venture companies.

A GenY Female on Zappos Versus Yahoo!

Recently Zappos was called out for “getting rid of all managers“. While this leads to some Aldous Huxley meets Ayn Rand type arguments about the structure of modern corporations, it drew attention away from a bigger discussion, the value of individual or the “results oriented” workplace.


This means moving away from working in two-by-two cubicles while filling in our select tasks assigned by the manager, and towards a project oriented workplace, where groups can “touchdown” together for a meeting and then split to work separately, culpable for the tasks decided on by the group.

Unless you suffered an internet outage last year, you know the corporate, Silicon Valley and feminist communities were up in a tizzy about Marissa Mayer’s ban on telecommuting. “We need to physically be together”, she said. She believes it’s the best way to communicate ideas and facilitate innovation. I agree.


I’d like to address the telecommuting issue with a GenY female manager’s perspective. I know I also I’m come from a rare line of women: I’m the fourth generation of females in family to hold a white collar profession, mingling with lines of house cleaners and farmers. It was never a question would I work, would my work be a “career”, but only how disciplined I would be to go far.

“Don’t call me at work unless your bleeding, someone is dying, or you set the house on fire…again.”

This was my mother’s rule, and all four of us kids knew she meant it. My mother was from the eighties/early-nineties wave of working women who played by the same rules as the old boy’s club. They didn’t have expectations for maternity leave or special benefits. We supported Planned Parenthood and most of her blazer’s had shoulder pads, but that was the only signs my mother gave there was any gender differences…or anything to be proven.

My childhood memories include waiting in the parking lot of her corporate offices late at night as she worked for a promotion. “Telecommuting” in my house meant after dishes were done and four loads of laundry finished, my mother would lock herself in the downstairs office and work on another piece of ad copy. Sometimes, she’d have to run home on a lunch break and meet the cable/plumber/lawn worker. I have no doubt that balanced with the late nights and weekends she came into the office to “get things done” or maybe to getaway from the noise four active and “creative” children provided.

I work in a very different world than my mother. My current company is so much on the edge of technology I could work from Mount Kilimanjaro, if there was decent wifi. If it’s say -30 degrees below zero with the windchill, I could feasible curl up under fleecey blankets and never leave my home. I could go weeks without seeing a single soul…


Except not really. Because I have worked in social media, I know so much more poignantly how important the face-to-face interactions are. The time to brainstorm, to let words fly across the air in conference room, grabbing a markers to draw over each others diagrams, and, most importantly, not having the inevitable awkward cat/dog/baby running across the background of someone’s Google hangout image. Talking a walk for coffee, running by someone’s cubicle to clarify an email, overhearing a conversation and jumping in, grabbing someone you forgot to include in a meeting – all this spontaneity and physical movement can only take place when we are invariable forced to be together.

CLEAR-1And yes, sometimes your manager just needs to come by your cubicle to check in on you. If we were all so self-disciplined, coaches, mentors, personal trainers, teachers, professors, all would cease to exist. So get over it, and get off Facebook.

Oh wait, that’s your job…

Trends in Tech for 2014

Video Messaging
FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, Snapchat – video chatting has taken us by storm. How do people naturally communicate? How do we prefer to “kill time”? Chatting, and video is so much more fun than text!

Music Videos
Did MTV kill the radio star? Mp3s have still owned the Internet “airwaves” for two decades since, but with music reality shows on dominating the networks and aspiring artists on Youtube, Beyonces all video album may be expected for every artist.

Twitter Visuals
To compete in this visual world with a social network that is literally a “book of faces” and others that promise real motion snippets, the tiny text platform is looking to step up its game with photos and video tech. And now it has the money for the talent. #Programmers wanted 4 @Twitter.

Netflix Rebound
After Blockbuster crumpled under the Netflix rise, they tried to quickly add their own mail service to save it. As Amazon Prime and Hulu began competing seriously in streaming video, it Netflix stock fell. But unlike Blockbuster, Netflix innovated beyond its competitors by putting out their own programs. Programs that are now competing with tv networks!

Square Everywhere
While I’m waiting with breath that’s baited for a Square IPO, I can’t see banks or credit card companies sitting quietly by while options like PayPal and besieged Bitcoin change online finance. Already mobile check deposits are ubiquitous, I suspect other mobile payment is next.

Wifi As a Right
Speaking of which, funny but not funny, was a meme of a tree saying “If Trees gave off wifi, I suspect we’d plant those everywhere. Too bad trees only give oxygen.” The point? Where there is demand there will be innovation. Not only will “free wifi” be everywhere, but telecomm companies will be making money off unlimited data instead of outdated call time plans.

3D Printers
Easy Bake Oven good bye. Barbie computer games move over. GenY, your four to fourteen year old will be building her own Barbies with 3D printing. Thinking of getting your mom a Keurig for Christmas? How about a 3D printer so she can make her own customized cups? Hello new Etsy commerce!

Facebook Mobile
Now listed on the S&P 500 and still the highest profits for a social network, I’m holding my Facebook stock and betting on new innovations in mobile. Like the first site he threw up, Zuckerberg knows launching is everything. Already video innovations has added Vine-like experience with Facebook mobile.

Tesla Batteries
Uh, cool. GenZ has hippie Baby Boomers to thank for creating the Eco/sustainability culture Millennials are now stepping into. Add in the geek-is-chic and hipster cool, and voila, Tesla gets what GM doesn’t about Millennials. We want cool things that “do things”, but take away the consumptive guilt from the wasteful world we grew up in.

Scrolling Websites
Ok, so every website is going to Drupral, and pretty pictures, and scrolling instead of hateful page flipping, making sites mobile friendly, and ADD friendly. But whats next in site innovation? Probably sites more like Pinterest and Buzzfeed where pictures and silly phrases constantly pull your attention to another story.

Zipcar to Smartcar
A spirited debate between my Startup Grind team and Gary Shapiro one night brought us to the future of transportation. Does the Millennial trend towards shared use cars mean the end of ownership? Absolutely not. Millennials are delaying having families so they stay in metro areas where Zipcar, Uber and Car2Go flourish, but we grew up with cars. We will be raising our kids in cars, just better, faster, smarter cars. Millennials are the info generation. Your cars have to be truly innovative – the hype is hollow. And car sharing? There’s a reason you avoid touching the metro handrail.

Wearable Tech
I have to give a nod to this obvious trend. I can barely go to a happy hour in DC without seeing someone wearing Google Glasses – it’s like the LV bag for the tech scene. Add in the watch rings lighting up the Internet and the Instagram gloves flying off the shelves, obviously we want what we wear to sync with our tech. Technology gives us enhanced and new senses, somewhat in the way our clothes keep us warm and protected. Wearable tech will catch on with every generation because its so “natural” to humans.

Three Longterm Trends

Death of the Written Word
I know, [sadface]. Written word has only been around for my Irish Norwegian lines for about a thousand years. Guess how people passed information before that? Similar to how news anchors, teachers and bosses do – they talked to each other! They also drew pictures. Now we have computers and video to capture us communicating the way we did it for the 200,000 years prior: Yea, talking!

Smart Homes
I asked Gary Shapiro who’s house was cooler – his or Steve Jobs? While the question was a little late in timing, he did talk about his preprogrammed home, filled with awesome automation. Smart cars are already on the market, and homes were “smarter” even in my childhood, with security systems, central vacuums and sound systems. I walk in the door at 7 and Apple’s holo projector starts showing a Netlfix episode on my wall while my Facebook friends list scrolls on left letting me know who else is watching as my microwave beeps with the dinner I voice activated during my ride home? Um, yes.

Americans Inventions
I believe the economic crisis and the popular media have scared Millennials and GenZ enough that STEM majors are taking over. Working for an honor society for college students, I can see the trends in majors that “guarantee good jobs”, like accounting, health care, engineering and science. And for those not “using their degrees”? Companies like General Assembly are filling in the education gaps for programming and design. As for China? I’ve been there, and while they are moving, I believe in America’s competitive edge in a creative culture of innovation.