The Music Never Stopped

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” – Plato

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Back in 2011, I walked into Topspin Media’s office for the first time and this bearded dude in a faded brown tee shirt popped out of his chair, and with a big smile stuck out his hand and said “Hey, I’m Bob, you must be Mark.” So began a special friendship which culminated in our announcement yesterday of Techstars Music and I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome Bob Moczydlowsky to the Techstars family as Managing Director of this incredibly exciting new program.

So first thing’s first. Music as a business? Let’s face it, it’s been a difficult industry for startups to succeed in. Actually, it’s been brutal. I learned that as an investor in Topspin where Bob, Ian and an insanely passionate and talented group of people created a company that was genuinely disrupting how artists connect with their fans. Yet we lost money in that investment. Simply put, the dynamics of the industry have historically made it difficult for startups to scale.

So why are we placing a bet on a rock pile where so many pick axes have been broken? Well, let’s start with the fact that more people listen to music every day than log into Facebook. Music is unlike anything else, it’s the cultural scaffolding that unites people from all walks of life. It completely transcends socioeconomics and touches every human being in a deeply unique and personal way. However, from a business perspective, the music industry is underinvested in for good reason. Less than 2% of mobile ecosystem dollars goes to the music industry and yet the average mobile user consumes close to an hour of content every day. There’s opportunity there!

We recognize that it’s going to be hard, but for the first time in history, we’ve been able to bring some of the most important players in the ecosystem together to collaborate and we’re willing to take a stand and say hey, this is important and we’re going to do this. There’s new technologies and business models emerging, as well as new delivery & consumption paradigms which lead us to believe the industry is at a tipping point.

We’ve wanted to do a music accelerator for a long time, but believed that the key to doing it well would be a consortium model where the most important players in the ecosystem were deeply engaged. That’s a tall task given the historic dynamics in the industry and there’s only a few people that could pull something like that off. Bob’s one of them. He’s universally liked and respected in the industry and that’s rare. He’s also grinded away in startups himself so he has a deep and genuine empathy for founders – perhaps the single most crucial characteristic we look for in our Managing Directors. More than anything though, like all of us, Bob never stopped being a fan. Take a moment and watch his brilliant TED Talk, Think Like A Fan.

Most importantly, there’s no way we could possibly attempt this without the leadership and forward thinking of our partners in this endeavor. I’m blown away that Warner Music Group, Sony Music, QPrime Management, Silva Artist Management, Era of the Engineer, Harmonix Music Systems, SONOS & Bill Silva Entertainment all came together to partner with us. It’s really hard to get your head around the breadth and depth of mentorship & access these startups are going to get.

There will be a lot more information in the coming weeks. LA is the perfect place for us to do this and we’re seriously stoked to launch another program in one of the most important and fast-growing startup communities in the world. Techstars is absolutely #LongLA. For startup founders who would like more information about the program or how to apply, please contact music@techstars.com.

Finally, if you’re wondering why there’s a big Stealie on top of this post, that’s simple. I’m a deadhead from way back and I’ve been waiting a long time to use one in a post. Seems like the perfect moment.

There’s a band out on the highway
They’re high-stepping into town
It’s a rainbow full of sound
It’s fireworks, calliopes and clowns
Everybody’s dancing…

 

 

 

 

Posted in Music, Startups, Venture Capital | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Toughest Person I Know

Two years ago, our dear friend (and my incredible assistant) Denise shared that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. It had metastasized to other organs and she would have to undergo very aggressive treatments immediately. We were all stunned. Everyone except Denise that is. She took it in stride and simply wouldn’t entertain the notion that cancer was going to win. She educated herself, converted to a completely plant-based diet and set out to whip cancer’s ass.

The fact that she was declared in remission by her doctors 8 months later was nothing short of miraculous, except to Denise. She never believed for a second that she wasn’t going to beat it. She also never asked for a day off during the entire episode. Determined to keep her mind active and busy, she’d stroll in for chemo with her laptop under her arm and keep my partners and my world’s humming along as if she was battling a head cold. Never once in the last two years have I ever heard Denise complain for a second about this card she’s been dealt. She’s inspired all of us with her toughness and attitude and sunny disposition every single day.

This past winter, the cancer reappeared in her liver and the doctors decided to treat with radiation which culminated in another declaration of remission. Unfortunately, Denise’s latest scans have shown small growth on some of the tumors in her liver, which once again, she will tackle with a second full round of chemo. She begins an aggressive treatment plan beginning next Friday, August 26th. The plan calls for treatment infusions every two weeks for six months.

Those close to Denise have have been incredible with support for her but we’ve decided to reach out to our friends to be there for her in the same way she’s always been there for us. Pam’s cousin Julene, herself a cancer survivor, has set up a gofundme page here to help Denise with some expenses to pay for things like housecleaning, dog care and other things so she can focus 100% of her effort on beating this once and for all. If you know Denise or simply want to help an amazing woman get through her battle, I know that every penny will help.

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This Is What The Apocalypse Looks Like?

Back in Q1, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone advising startups that the world, as they knew it, was coming to an end. Venture dollars flowing to startups had decreased from $16B in Q3 ’15 to $12B in Q4 and VCs were telling anyone who would listen that nuclear winter was in sight and funding would be drying up. The media just ate it up. Take a look at just a tiny sample of headlines from early Q1.

apocalypse

Imagine my surprise when I opened PWC’s VC Q2 Money Tree report on Friday (ok, I’ll admit that I wasn’t surprised at all). Take a look at the chart from their report below. Not exactly the apocalypse everyone was predicting, right? To be fair, while dollars have increased again, the number of deals fell by about 5% (suggesting that larger dollars were going into some later stage companies).

Q2 16

I wrote a post about all this in February and my advice to founders remains the same as it always is. Raise more than you think you need. Price your rounds to avoid the pain of stacked notes. Watch your expenses. But whatever you do, don’t pay attention to what anybody’s saying about the macro because they’re all full of shit.

Will the funding environment get worse for startups? Yes, of course it will. Eventually. Bill Gurley’s been telling us we’re in a bubble for years now. He will undoubtedly eventually be right. But there’s also logic supporting the notion that an entire generation of globally important companies will be born and go public by the time he is. We’ve now had ten quarters in a row of over $10B of venture capital flowing into the system. Venture Capital firms raised more money in 2014 than ever before in history and then they raised even more in 2015! All of those firms have a mandate to put that capital to work which means VC dollars will continue to flow liberally to startups at least for the next 3-4 years.

My $.02? I think we’re in the greatest tech innovative cycle in history and capital will continue to be available to fuel it. Technology is solving more problems for more people in more ways around the globe than ever before. I see it when I travel to our 24 Techstars accelerator programs and the hundreds of events we put on for entrepreneurs around the world in over 130 countries. Barring a global economic collapse (which certainly does seem like better than a zero percent chance given the events of 2016 and the potential fallout from our Presidential election this November), I think we’ll continue to see a healthy environment for startups for years to come.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fundraising, Startups, Technology | Leave a comment

Finding Obsession in Iceland

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to spend two weeks in Iceland, a country I’ve long wanted to visit. My trip began with Startup Iceland, the annual event run by my friend Bala Kamallakhara. It was a terrific few days, starting with the launch of Ultrahack on Sunday night. On Monday, we were treated to opening remarks by the outgoing President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson who had been in office since 1996. He delivered an impactful talk about how technology has transformed society since he took office (while Bill Clinton was President). It was a real honor for me to meet a sitting President. Bala assembled some captivating speakers including Hjalmar Gislason, VP of Data at Qlik who shared his experiences scaling a startup to scaling a product for a NASDAQ company. We also heard from Magnus Bjornsson, Sr. Director of Development at Oracle which acquired Endeca, the startup where he headed up engineering. Among many others, I was really stoked to watch Techstars CTO Jud Valeski give a great talk on data and equally excited to have Techstars Managing Director Jenny Fielding join me and Bala for a fireside chat about the impact of the global accelerator movement. We all spent the next day at Reykjavík University working with a bunch of terrific startups.

Bala

Bala  – the entrepreneur leading Iceland’s startup community

I left Reykjavík the next day in a 4WD with Jud to do some exploring in the sparsely populated north highlands. As we bounced around the dirt roads, we spent a lot of time talking about how inspiring it was to see another entrepreneur-led startup community unfolding. Bala has adopted Brad Feld‘s Startup Communities as his blueprint and it’s easy to spot the familiar pieces falling into place that will surely make Reykjavík a city that’s going to produce its share of important startups for years to come.

I finished my time in Iceland by fulfilling a dream to spend a week side-by-side with my friend Chris Burkard, who many believe to be the most inspiring outdoor / adventure photographer in the world. If you’re unfamiliar with Chris, check out his Instagram feed or better yet, take a few minutes and watch his incredible TED Talk and you’ll see why he’s motivated so many millions of people to spend more time outdoors. We spent a week with a small group of passionate photographers exploring the remote Westfjords. The highlight for me was an absolutely epic hike from 6pm to 6am in the Hornstrandir nature preserve on the northern tip of Iceland, where I captured this shot of Chris somewhere around 1am.

Chris

While the week was truly remarkable and I learned so much, the most inspiring moments of my time with him occurred on the drive back to Reykjavík at the end of the trip. Instead of taking the 30 minute flight we had booked or a 6 hour drive on the highway, Chris decided we should drive through the most remote single lane and dirt roads in search of more great frames to shoot. We jumped in a Defender with his assistant Ryan in Ísafjörður and set out on a 24 hour adventure which crystallized for me why Chris has reached the pinnacle of his field.

For context, remember that none of us had slept for more than a few hours each day for the previous week as we were in the arctic circle and the sun never dipped below the horizon while we explored the remote fjords by sailboat. We’d set out on hikes over the fingers of the fjords each “night” and Captain Siggi would pick us the following morning. We’d hike for miles and miles, stopping to take advantage of the golden light created by the sun sitting on the horizon from about 9pm to 3am.

So despite (or perhaps as a result of) some pretty intense sleep deprivation, Chris decided that we had 30 hours left in Iceland and we were going to milk it right up until we stepped on the plane. We filled up with gas and coffee and took off in search of great features to shoot that Chris had been researching. I learned how Chris leaves little to chance. He does a bunch of research about the places he visits and stores the coordinates of everything he wants to photograph in his phone. The weather turned cold and damp and armed with a series of GPS coordinates and a map, we drove for over 24 hours, stopping only for beautiful photography opportunities or to warm our bones in remote hot springs.

My biggest takeaway from that journey with Chris was how completely obsessed he is with his work. Despite the fact that we had just spent a full week shooting and talking about photography incessantly, he was in the zone the entire drive. 24 hours without any sleep! While the weather worsened and it got colder and colder, he never lost his enthusiasm. We’d reach our coordinates, pull over and he’d photograph something from every angle. After a while, I’d find myself heading back to the truck to warm up and Chris would be out there with cold wet fingers trying to capture the perfect shot. After a storied career, 25 trips to Iceland and millions of photographs taken, he’d get back in the rig and with the enthusiasm of a kid at Christmas talk about contrast, and light and what Iceland means to him.

Chris A Frame

Chris during our 24 hour adventure

Gazing out the window on the flight home, I couldn’t stop thinking about how similar Chris is to the most spectacular founders I’ve ever worked with. People like Isaac Saldana of Sendgrid, or Ian and Adam of Sphero or Brad Schell of @Last Software who turned their obsessions into some of the most important companies in their respective categories. I’ve had a front seat in watching how my partner David Cohen has seen his obsession with helping entrepreneurs emerge into the worldwide movement of #givefirst which is redefining how mentors and companies interact with startups.  Whenever I’m asked what the common characteristics of the best entrepreneurs I’ve ever been around are, I always begin with the obsessions which drove them.

It’s trite to try and articulate how challenging it is to rise to the top of any pursuit, whether it’s photography, sports, music or building a startup. Only those who have a healthy obsession make it to the top. That’s why more than anything else, I personally look for entrepreneurs who have a serious obsession about solving a problem. There’s so many obstacles to success that if you’re doing it for any reasons other than a very real obsession, the difficult periods will likely derail you. Passion’s not enough. Discover your passion and do it on weekends. If there’s a big enough problem that you’re truly obsessed with solving (I like to define obsession as the thing that makes you forget to eat and poop), give me a call and let’s talk about the startup you should be working on…

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Startups | 3 Comments