Hard Is The New Patent

This post was published originally on Medium

“The only protection you have from me copying you, is doing something really really hard”
– CEO of Major Technology Company

Last week, a bill containing key pieces of needed patent reform was killed in the Senate. The legislation was aimed at reducing patent trolls by preventing them from bringing baseless lawsuits to extract concessions from companies without the financial strength to take the issue to court. There is another side to the patent reform debate that gets talked about less, it’s the side where small companies aren’t really even protected in many cases by patents. We all file them, we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for them, but it feels like we’re checking the box, not really adding real protection.

Last year when we were raising money for SOLS a CEO of a large publicly traded technology company asked us how we would protect our technology from competitors. The first thing out of our mouth was “oh, we filed patents” — without hesitation he chuckled and told us that the only protection we had from him not taking our idea was to do something really difficult. That statement stuck with me for the last year and haven’t asked a company how they plan on protecting their IP since — either what they are doing is hard or it’s not.

Brad Bernthal from the University of Colorado once told me that a patent is only as strong as the willingness to enforce it. It seems to me that our patent system has figured out a way to both screw the little guy by enabling fraudulent patent trolls and at the same time taken away protection from the innovators that need it most — small cash strapped companies. In the current environment it has become painfully obvious that the only protection is the difficulty with which someone could copy what you’ve created whether that be a technology, community or process.

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Hard Is The New Patent

Female Boss, Same As The Male Boss

 

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

– The Who (Won’t Get Fooled Again)

In the past few months, I’ve been getting asked about whether it’s strange to work for a female CEO and move out of the CEO role for my second company. Back in June when Kegan asked me to start this company with her, neither of these potential issues even entered my mind. After a few months of operation, and tons reflection, I’ve got a much better understanding of both issues.

Let’s start with the easiest issue, working with a female CEO. Kegan is a badass whether you compare her to other girls or to guys. I don’t see any specific traits that make her better or worse at being a CEO because of her gender. Maybe her ability to deliver hard messages with compassion is one, but that’s it, and I’m sure many guys have that skill too. The biggest change seems to be the differentiation we automatically get and the outsized interest from press.

On the issue of not being the CEO, it’s really not a big deal. As co-founders, we’ve shared major decision making worked towards a decision through debate and influence and have resisted striving for compromise. We’re both really willing to see different perspectives and go with what makes the most sense. There has only been one decision where we just disagreed and she made the final call. Technically I’m working for Kegan, but it doesn’t feel that way and importantly that’s the point. It’s not management by consensus or autocracy, it’s a culture built on management by influence.

So basically, not being the CEO is fine because of our culture and management style and a female CEO is no different than a male CEO except we get more attention.

Female Boss, Same As The Male Boss

Children Born Today Won’t Know Non-Custom Clothing

Children Born Today Won’t Know Non-Custom Clothing

A recent post that I wrote on Medium

Link

Not Everyone Needs To Take The Same Risks

When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.
–Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist)

Last week I read a couple posts about hiring MBAs into startups by Ed Zimmerman and Phin Barnes. They took a thoughtful look at hiring and funding MBAs, with both largely ending up on the “it ultimately depends – but I’m usually extra cautious about it” answer. My view is a little more nuanced view, in that I think that most MBAs should ignore the startup hype and go after the big roles at corporates that they dream about. Much like a Rabbi telling the wannabe convert to get stuffed 3 times before welcoming  them into the fold, founders should push the limits of potential MBA candidates.

If they don’t do the startup thing, it’s totally ok! Other people do not need to define success, or their life, the way that a startup founder does. It makes me extremely upset when I see startups poopooing other people’s career goals as not valiant. It is perfectly acceptable, and more logical, to make a conscious effort to de-risk career choices. Hell, in the depths of the dark days there isn’t a single startup founder who makes it past the “just messing around stage” that doesn’t rethink their own huge risk taking. Over the past year I’ve had more than my share of dark days, many of which had me thinking how to seriously de-risk.

When an MBA decides to take on the extra risk, they can be a huge asset. Many MBAs have an element of unrestrained ambition that makes them a force when deployed in the right way. They will give up all other aspects of their life for professional success, throw personal relationships out the door and maybe even sacrifice their own health. They also usually have the intelligence and attitude to be a key contributor to the team. The problem, as both Phin and Ed point out, is that they are usually wired to take safe bets and seek out status, security and prestige. As a founder, you question their motives for wanting to be involved, worse you fear that they’ll jump ship when something shinier comes along.  If you can find one that truly wants to be involved, they usually have something to prove and that kind of fire translates into an employee that will be very hard to stop.

So when an MBA comes looking for startup opportunities as their modern “safety school” equivalent, they get shown the door.  If you put up every roadblock and they knock them down one by one and are relentless because either your idea or your team is something they need to be a part of, then open up and use their fire to your benefit.

Not Everyone Needs To Take The Same Risks

Ode To Colorado

For Purple Mountain Majesties
Above the fruited plane

– America The Beautiful

It’s been about a month since I left Colorado and I wanted to reflect on the things that I miss the most about Colorado and Boulder in particular. It is one of the most beautiful and amazing places that I’ve ever been, it was home for longer than nearly every place besides the city in which I grew up. So without further ado, let’s get into a top ten 15 list:

1 – People – After traveling for years, being in one place showed me the power of really deep relationships. I’ve formed friendships that will last the rest of my life with people who I can be myself with and who inspire happiness. You know who you are.

2 – Access to the backcountry – It’s no secret that the outdoors is my main jam, it’s my haven away from the intensity with which I live. The stress just melts away, and no where else has quite the same backcountry access (while still maintaining an awesome city life) as Boulder. Having a bad day, it’s about as easy to get away as it is to get to Brooklyn from Manhattan. Maybe easier.

3 – Cool mornings & evenings – Mmmmm, so nice to wake up to cool mountain air.

4 – Sunny days – All 300+ of them per year.

5 – The 2 main emotions of mountain biking (terrified and exhausted) – Actually, you can say that about a lot of the sports that I like, and Colorado boasts.

6 – Small mountain towns – There is something intoxicating about the atmosphere of a Colorado mountain town that is hard to explain. It’s not just the pot.

7 – Learning to love Blue Grass music

8 – Good food – I’m not just talking about how it tastes

9 – Commuting by bike without true existential fear of dying in a horrible motor vehicle accident

10 – Competitive nature of people – Only in Boulder can you be pushing yourself to run up a mountain at your top speed only to be passed by a 13yr old girl or a 75yr old guy.

11 – I usually hate homogenous communities, but Boulder’s self selects for my human personality Kryptonite (adventurous, smart, successful)

12 – Hike meetings –

13 – Hike dates

14 – Nearly every moment is photogenic – Thanks to Instagram I relive the beauty, and foster jealousy, everyday.

15 – Being able to work outside in the middle of town (not even close to possible in NYC) – Ah conference room park 🙂

There are more reasons, but my nostalgia has been satisfied, for now.

Ode To Colorado

Moving To NYC

Case I wake up in the morning and it’s all gone
Best believe I’ma get it right back
Thats the hustler in me I know you like that

– Young Jeezy (Leave You Alone)

With 4th of July upon us, I felt it was time to be a little more public about my next moves. As many of you know, I’m in the process of moving to NYC to launch a new company. There is a deep love in my heart for Colorado, and Boulder in particular. In many ways, my closest friends and family have found it hard to believe that I’d leave a place that I love so dearly. At the end of the day there are 3 reasons that I’m going: 3D printing, a new startup opportunity, and family/friends.

For many years, I’ve had a fascination with the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. How do things we create digitally get manifested in the real world. Card Gnome was my first experiment. Over the last couple years, and more intensely over the last few months, 3D printing has become an obsession. NYC is the epicenter of this new technology. Not just for the US, but for the world. Makerbot, Shapeways and 3D Systems are 3 of the largest players in the space and all have headquarters in the NYC metro area. Stratasys, the other behemoth from Israel, recently acquired Makerbot to be it’s consumer brand and they aren’t moving from NYC. Makerbot and Shapeways even have their manufacturing facilities within the city limits. 3D printing changes the manufacturing cost calculus, allowing producers to optimize for geography rather than labor costs. What better location than metro NYC to show the world that labor cost optimization is dead.

About 1 month ago I was doing due diligence on a company that I was interested in and met Kegan Schouwenberg. She is an amazing entrepreneur and the former head of US operations for Shapeways, a true thought leader in 3D printing. She had this crazy idea that she could use 3D scanning and printing to create custom orthotics that aren’t just functionally better, but are better looking and easier to buy. She’s an industrial designer by trade and was looking for a business partner to handle distribution and business operations. I was really intrigued and after about a month of thought have decided to join full time as a founder and COO for the new business we’re calling Sols.

Lastly, my family and many of my friends still live in the tri-state area (Philly, NJ, NYC) and I’ve been neglecting those relationships for many years. I can’t remember a time when I was close enough to home for casual visits since I left for college and I’m looking forward to being closer. My heart is stil in the outdoors and NYC and its environs just cannot fulfill that need (although I’m still going to try). My hope is that in the future I’ll be able to move back to Colorado (or California) where I’ll have easier access to the backcountry adventures that I love.

At the end of the day, I’m not “leaving Colorado”, I’m just living in New York for a little bit. If you are around Boulder next week on the 11th I’ll be doing happy hour drinks at the West End Tavern starting at 4pm. Come say hi.

Moving To NYC