Complete Organizational Transparency

Just saw this on a job posting for a startup:

Complete organizational transparency: If we give you an offer, we will share all employee and founder salaries, how much cash we have, projected revenue, and the many risks we face. We will answer any questions you have about our company and prospects honestly and directly.

Totally awesome.  Imagine the impact if every company did this…..

PS – HERE‘s the posting

Daniel Epstein at UCCS – Some Quick Thoughts

Daniel Epstein Speaking at UCCS

I just listened to a talk by Daniel Epstein (Founder, Unreasonable Institute) at UCCS and wanted to get out some quick thoughts before I lose them…

His entire presentation was great but what stood out to me the most was how he answered a couple of questions about failure.  Someone asked him what his favorite failures were and he responded by first defining ‘failure’.  His definition was that failure is when:

  1. You don’t start
  2. You stop, or
  3. You do something that is against your personal ethics.

I think that perspective on failure is incredible when related to entrepreneurship and the risk that it involves.  It related perfectly to another question which was something along the lines of “How do you deal with the fear of failure?”

Daniel was very clear that, first off, he’s the type of person that thrives during times of uncertainty but that, even more importantly, the fear of failure and ambiguity and uncertainty is much easier to deal with if you’re enabled by being surrounded by a community that supports people that are willing to take that risk and a community that supports that way of thinking.

I’ve had conversations with people in the past about how Colorado Springs does not at all support people that are willing to fail and, most certainly, doesn’t support them if they do fail.  We all need to start having conversations on how to correct that negative aspect of our culture.  We won’t be successful in any way until that can happen.

GoCode Colorado Springs

Spencer Norman presents LocalSage

I just finished watching the final presentations at GoCode Colorado Springs at Epicentral and I was impressed!  For those of you that don’t know, GoCode Colorado is a state-wide coding challenge designed to have people build purposeful apps using publicly available data sets.  The challenge happened this weekend in Fort Collins, Denver, Durango, Boulder, and Colorado Springs.  The top two teams from each region go on to compete at the state event in six weeks where the top prize is $25,000.

It was great to see how some of the teams used the data.  The event attracted 30-35 local designers, developers, and other people interested in helping businesses make products to help businesses digest large amounts of data.  The overall winner was LocalSage, a product that utilizes local data ranging from demographics to proximity of local businesses to help business owners determine where to locate their new ventures.  Second place went to ConnectSpot who had the goal of connecting local businesses with other like-minded businesses, educational resources, and capital.

This event was a great way for the State of Colorado to get feedback from interested citizens regarding what data they’d be interested in and how they’d use it all.  The overwhelming feedback was:



“We need a standardized API [application programming interface] that makes it easier to access all of the different data.”

This is a great first step organized by the State of Colorado and they certainly have their marching orders for how to proceed with making data available for public consumption.  I can’t want to see what comes out of the statewide competition in six weeks and what the future holds for big data in the state of Colorado.





Community Collaboration, Not Competition

I was recently asked some questions for a feature in the Colorado Springs Business Journal (link to interview). I tried, as best I could, to shift the focus of the article onto the Colorado Springs Startup Community. After the article was published, and I read my responses, I started thinking more about an issue that is prevalent in our community (and I’m sure is just as common elsewhere): the idea of ‘competition’ within the community.

These are real quotes that I’ve heard from ‘leaders’ in our community (italics added obviously):

“I hear that so and so is starting a competing angel fund.”

“So and so is starting a community event that is going to compete with ours.”

“We shouldn’t work with that other community organization; they’re our competition.”

Let’s establish straight away that these are all absurd. The more I hear things like these from people that are so-called ‘leaders’ in our community, the more I start to realize just how incredibly toxic this mentality is to the growth and development of our startup community.


In order for a community to be truly successful and to grow incredibly quickly, everyone has to share one crucial motivation:

We must be motivated by the success of the community itself for the sake of the community itself.

For example, I am a co-founder of Startup Colorado Springs, the local chapter of Startup Colorado. I have an interest in the success of that organization. However, all of us involved fully understand that the success of that organization is directly tied to the success of the community itself. If the community progresses to a point where Startup Colorado Springs is no longer providing value and no longer operating on the leading edge of community development, then all of us involved would quickly, and without despair, close our doors (if we had any) and start helping the community in other ways (as many of us do already anyway). We’re not competing with other community organizations in town–that very idea is ridiculous. We’re motivated by the growth and progression of the community itself. This isn’t to say that we’re all completely altruistic and selfless individuals–it’s simply a minor difference in perspective that results in a HUGE difference in the way that we run the organization and view our mission.

Growing the Startup Community is NOT a Business

Unfortunately, I feel as if it’s all too common for community organizations to have meetings where the conversations revolve around topics such as ‘customer base’ and ‘market share’ and ‘revenue’ (in the form of grants, sponsorships, memberships, etc…). While it is important to make sure that the organization can stay financially afloat, discussing things in this manner is outdated and just not right. If your community organization is focused on gaining ‘customers’ then you’re doing it wrong. If you’re focused on how much of the market you control, then you’re doing it wrong. What market? “We have 30% of the community development market in our city.” That just sounds ridiculous. Stop focusing on traditional business metrics and instead focus on how much change you’re creating in your community. Be a catalyst for progress, not a business. If you can make this perspective change then the idea of ‘competing’ with other organizations will reveal itself as ridiculous as well.

The Community Benefits From Collaboration, Not Competition

We need to stop competing and instead focus on how we can absolutely best collaborate with one another. If an organization in town shares your goals, that doesn’t make them an enemy, that makes them a friend and, probably, an incredible asset to your mission. Instead of focusing time and energy on the toxic behavior of competition, figure out how to best collaborate with them to accomplish your shared mission–the community will only benefit.   

You’re Done Reading Startup Books. Go Do Stuff.

I frequently think about the fact that so many startups fail. I think we’re all blatantly aware of the fact but we seem to bury it in the back if our minds from time to time. That’s fine. It’s hard to focus on building great companies and great products if we’re constantly thinking about the great odds stacked against us.

The thing I find to be interesting is the fact that there are so many books flooding the market filled with advice and strategies on how to make you startup successful. The formula seems to be:

1. Fail at a startup (or 3)

2. Succeed at a startup (or 5)

3.  Write a book about your failures and successes

I don’t have any statistics to back this bold claim, but I feel as if this flood of information is having no affect on the failure rate of startups. It seems logical that a wealth of information and advice from successful startup people (both about what not to do and vice versa) should significantly reduce the failure rate. It doesn’t seem as if this is happening.

Prior to a startup working session yesterday I had a few theories as to why this night be the case:

1. Every startup is different

Even if I read every book out there, I might not get the specific advice or knowledge I need to be successful in my particular situation.

2. Fads

The startup world is an interesting social world just like any other and it’s filled with fads and passing trends just like any other. The majority of the advice found in the majority of the books at any given time seems to typically revolve around 1-10 main ideas. These fads will give way to 1-10 different main ideas. That is, the body of knowledge in the startup world is constantly changing and reinventing itself (as it should). However, that raises the question: why should I follow (or absorb) the latest advice and knowledge when it’s going to change and evolve shortly? That’s not to suggest that there isn’t valuable business advice that has no expiration date. There most certainly is. But, there’s also a considerable amount of “pop” startup knowledge and advice at any given time (which is far less valuable in contributing to long-term successful companies and founders).

3. The advice is not about your product

There is plenty of information available on how to build a great product. You can find information on development and market fit and design and probably even some information about your particular niche. But, you, most likely, will not find specific information about how to make your specific product a success. In fact, if you do find this information then you should drastically pivot or abandon the idea because someone else already made it successful (obviously).

 4. The people generating the knowledge (or at least publishing it) don’t have your best interests in mind

I truly don’t believe this is the case but it’s possible that all (or some) of the people that write successful startup-knowledge-related books don’t have your best interest in mind. The publishing world can be an evil place where the emphasis on selling copies can overpower a genuine desire to do good. This can result in all kinds of strange things but I’ll leave it at that (like I said, I don’t believe this to be the case).

That was pretty much the extent of my thinking on the subject until Dan MacFadyen (co-founder of Stori) and I were talking with someone who is relatively new to the startup game. We were telling him about all of the things we had learned from our failed startups so that he could (as much as possible) avoid the same mistakes as he embarks on his own startup journey. The ‘new’ entrepreneur asked a simple question:

“What are some books I can read to learn more?”

In my mind I started rattling off the (literally) hundreds of startup books I had read over the past few years trying to parse the list down to 5 or 10 that I could recommend. Luckily Dan responded before I did. He said:

“You’re done reading books. Go do stuff.”

He was absolutely correct and it was a simple response that made me think of so many things.

1. No knowledge is as valuable as first-hand knowledge (not even close).

Like I said, I’ve read almost every startup book ever written (probably not, but it sure feels that way). Even so, I still failed miserably at my first startup (making some mistakes that I very clearly read NOT to do). Why? Because reading someone telling you not to make that mistake–or worse yet, reading about someone telling you a story of someone else that made that mistake–will never imprint in your brain the same way as making that very mistake yourself. Real world experience trumps book knowledge every time.

2. Time

Like I’ve said, I’ve spent a significant amount of time reading every startup related book I could get my hands on. How many hours? Let’s assume I can, on average, breeze through a book in 2 hours (I read fast) and Iv’e read maybe 100 books over the past couple of years (probably more). That’s 200 hours spent reading startup books. I guess it doesn’t sound like a lot. But, I’d  happily forfeit all of the knowledge I’ve gained from the books to have 200 more hours digging in at my startup–especially since the quality of the experience and knowledge would be so so much better and more influential to my life (and future success).

3. Networking

 One of the biggest factors in the success of any startup is the people you connect with along the way (these stay with you even if you fail). Reading startup books does nothing in this arena. Just because I’ve read 100 startup books does not mean I can pick up the phone and call those authors and start a conversation about funding my latest venture or ask them for advice about a specific hurdle I’m facing (I mean, you could try, but it probably wouldn’t get you very far). However, by putting the books down and getting out into the real world you’re making real connections with real people (and, hopefully, real knowledge and experience). Take the example of the conversation I had yesterday with Dan and the new entrepreneur.  Not only did the new entrepreneur hear all of our stories about our failures–essentially the same knowledge he would have gained from reading 2 or 3 startup books, but he now has two direct real-world connections. He can call either one of us and ask for advice. That’s IMMENSELY more valuable than any book knowledge and only took about 1 hour of everyone’s time–well worth it for everyone.

4. Failure

No matter how many times you read about someone making mistakes and failing, you’ll never truly experience failure while reading a book. Nothing motivates someone like the potential for failure and nothing helps someone grow like experiencing failure directly. Put the book down and go fail on your own. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace the possibility and reality of failure–a book won’t do that for you.

5. You Might be Procrastinating (or Scared)

I admit, I’m guilty of this. There have been many times when I’ve picked up a book instead of working directly on my startup. It’s easy to think “I just learn something from this book real quick which will help the company, then I’ll get to work.”   That’s never a good idea. It’s easy to feel like your ‘working’ on your startup by reading books about startups. I can’t emphasize enough: You’re not. In fact, I’d argue that if you’re reading a book about startups instead of working on our startup, YOU’RE FAILING AT YOUR STARTUP. Put the book down and get to (real) work.

There is a time and place for book knowledge and I don’t want to make it seem as if I’m saying “never read a startup book” (someday maybe I’ll write a book. You should, of course, read that one :) ). But, I think that the startup community at large could benefit from a little less reading and a lot more doing stuff.

 ”You’re done reading books. Go do stuff.” – Dan MacFadyen


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