Why Entrepreneurs Love Endurance Sports

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If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them.
– Christopher McDougall (Born To Run)

As I prepared for my first marathon last year, people kept asking me why I was running the race. What compelled me to spend all my free time running (and at the time fundraising for CCFA). While there were personal reasons for this specific race, what was apparent is that a ton of my fellow entrepreneurs had done or were preparing to do some endurance activity themselves. From mountaineering to marathons to triathlons – it was clear that the entrepreneurially inclined also have a higher than normal participation rate in endurance sports.

What is it about pushing yourself to physical limits that appeals to us? Some say it’s the same drive and motivation to succeed that lead them to entrepreneurship in the first place. Honestly that’s just not it. Certainly the skills and character needed for professional success helps someone complete their chosen activity – but it’s not the “why”. After 6 months of reflection and a few more races, it’s become apparent that the thing I seek is myself. The voice in my head that becomes even more introspective, even more truthful. It’s a place to reconcile the decisions of my past and their results and think through the decisions I currently face in a physical and emotional place that has been stripped bare of its armor.

The startup environment is so emotionally and physically demanding that we develop protection, both from the outside world and from ourselves. There is something about bumping up against your physical limits that breaks down even the strongest armor.

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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

Have The Guts To Say No

If you love me
tell me you love me
don’t stab me man
– 50 Cent (High All The Time)

For some reason, many people seem to have been conditioned over time to choose tact over honesty. In both personal and business life this manifests itself as white lies, dropped e-mail threads, and ultimately, resentment. Why can’t we as a society be upfront with our thoughts and feelings? What is there lose?

Last week, I got an email from a friend talking about another entrepreneur: “[xyz knowledgeable entrepreneur] is totally unresponsive. To a point where I’ve written him off….all his friends believe the drop off is due to ego, he’s too good for people now”. Ugh, can you think of a worse insult for an entrepreneur (or for anyone)?

Like many of you I get a good amount of unsolicited requests, resumes and other small-asks. It’s annoying, sure, but I don’t ignore them, and usually send a polite “Sorry, but I can’t do this” response. No need to go through the rig-a-ma-roll of explaining the reasoning for your decision, just be direct and up-front. As adults, we should be accustomed to rejection (hell, entrepreneurs even more so) but I know for myself, and nearly everyone I know, hearing directly “no” is 100X better than being ignored, or worse, being lied to.

There are a million and one reasons why you may not want, or be able, to help someone. Have the decency and guts to close the loop and say what you think. We’ll be more productive, happy and successful for it.

Have The Guts To Say No

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

Who Makes The Money in 3D Printing

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.

– Sun Tzu (Art of War)

In my vision of the future, the world of manufacturing is optimized for geography rather than labor cost. In addition to in-home systems, there will also be a network of local manufacturing facilities (think Kinkos) with high end machines and trained staff. Manufacturing is one of the world’s largest industries and this shift will be seismic, disrupting traditional supply chains and opening up new business opportunities.

The question for the entrepreneurs is what part of the industry to be in and which will take the lionshare of the profits. It’s a complex question which I’m still working out in my own head. Here are some of the different models and my thoughts on each:

  1. Equipment manufacturers – How do the patent portfolios of the established players inhibit the market for new entrants? Are there new technologies that emerge that surpass the capabilities of patented technologies?
  2. Raw material suppliers – How will demand for new raw materials shift the market and distribution for commodities. Will it create new commodities?
  3. Equipment repair services – Service contracts for independent manufacturing facilities and home systems. This would likely look a lot like the classic service contracts that GE Aviation and Energy sell as add-ons to their systems. GE Energy and Aviation built their businesses by selling the machines at cost and profiting on long-term service contracts and financing deals. Will today’s equipment manufacturers monopolize this market or will there be space for 3rd parties to provide services?
  4. Equipment financiers – Will the current manufacturers offer in-house financing or be content letting a 3rd party lender (or many lenders) into the space. Personally I think they’ll create preferential partners in order to remain focused on their core competency in a fast moving space.
  5. Outsourced manufacturers (distributed versions of Foxconn) – Margins are razor thin for contract manufacturers already, will that change in the 3D printed era? If this is a game of sheer volume and efficiency you’ll need to get into the game before an Amazon (Shapeways?) monopolizes it and their efficiencies of scale are insurmountable.
  6. Real estate holdings – Will there be a resurgence in prices for industrial zoned property?
  7. Workflow software – Software packages that run the manufacturing facilities workflow that is optimized for large runs of unique products going to unique places.
  8. Glue – There will be a software layer that sits between product companies and makers and the facilities that produce their items. There is no use in a digital supply chain if the communication process is still manual!

With the market in its infancy and growing 12x over the next decade, it’s the right time to entrepreneur’s to be thinking about these different models. Some of these businesses aren’t executable until the market is more developed, so the real question is how do you build something now that is profitable and be in the right place to profit as the market evolves. Feel free to reach out to me if you have some thoughts or want to talk about these ideas.

Who Makes The Money in 3D Printing

Introducing Parts Press, Our Startup Weekend Winning Project

3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything

-Barack Obama

Last weekend I participated in Startup Weekend, a business competition where you get 54hrs to create a business from nothing. Attendees pitch ideas on Friday night, the group votes on the 10 best ideas and then teams form around those selected ideas. The ideas cannot have been worked on previously. I pitched a half-baked idea I’ve been sitting on to help companies reduce their spare part inventory balances by manufacturing parts on-demand using 3D printers throughout the world.

An amazing team came together with all the right parts: a kickass developer, an innovative designer, 3 tech strong business developers and 1 mechanical engineer with experience using 3D printers. We spent the weekend learning about the market, validating our assumptions and building a minimum viable product. As we learned about the space and spoke with people in the industry, we shifted our business model and approach a couple times. We ended up coming up with what I, and the rest of the team, see as a truly revolutionary idea. It has gotten me super excited. Here’s the basic pitch.

One of the largest problems corporations face today are high balances of inventory. This inventory ties up cash, costs money to maintain and may one day become obsolete. Companies keep inventory because it’s currently cheaper to manufacturer products in bulk and then ship it from a central location when it’s needed. 3D printing technology is going to change that, making it cheaper and easier to manufacture products exactly where, and when, they are needed. 3D printers do not require significant labor, so manufacturing facilities closest to the customer in developed countries will be competitive with overseas factories. In some cases, this is already true for high-margin, low volume products such as medical devices and aerospace parts.

Parts Press is an API that integrates with existing ordering systems and allows companies to print parts on-demand instead of drawing product from inventory. The API will route the order to one of our 3rd party printing partners based on their price, capabilities and how close they are to the end customer. The printing partner will print, pack and ship the product on behalf of the company within a given timeframe. The potential of this technology to revolutionize the supply chain cannot be understated. Reducing inventory balances in-and-of itself will free up trillions of dollars of cash for active investment, reduce lead times for manufacturing, decrease shipping costs and eliminate the vast majority of material waste.

If you know of, or are, a 3D printing company or a manufacturer that currently keeps inventory of spare parts, we’d love to talk to you. Send an email to joel at partspress dot com.

Oh, and check out this video we recorded with Paul at 23rd Studios:

Introducing Parts Press, Our Startup Weekend Winning Project

Taking Back Problem Solving

Let’s take a trip down memory lane
With the game talker, native new yorker
Gators on my feet, formerly british walker
Yes love, that’s how it was before
When you was funky fresh or down by law
Parlay with your crew at the corner store
Carrying a boom box ’til your arms were sore
We be wildin’ on the corner free stylin’
Or politickin’ ’bout doe we see piling

– Big Daddy Kane (2 Da Good Tymz)

I’m super excited about the 10-10-10 initiative that Tom Higley is planning for this Fall in Denver. The premise is that 10 entrepreneurs will spend 10 days in Denver working on 10 “market opportunities”. In other words they’ll be trying to solve big problems.  Opening up a diverse set of market opportunities to leading entrepreneur’s  from across the country under such a time constraint will unleash some amazing innovations.

It formalizes something I love most about living in a “startup city”, which is open dialog and problem solving with other creative people. It’s a really natural process, and for entrepreneurs it happens very casually. Any problem we have is an opportunity to think of a solution. We’ve done a poor job integrating this type of open daydreaming into the creative problem solving process recently. We’re in the business of getting more done, faster, and we’ve all been rushing solutions.

By flipping the traditional incubator model of selecting teams and solutions on its head, Tom and a group of entrepreneurs are recreating this natural process into something fundable (with $500,000 in seed funding on the line). Which entrepreneur reading this wouldn’t want to be part of those brainstorming sessions? Knowing that there is cash and press behind selected teams raises the stakes and focuses everyone’s attention for 10 limited days on finding the right solution.

One thing I know for sure, we’ve got a lot of solutions in need of problems, it’s about time that we have an event focused on the problems first. If nothing else, we won’t be creating another “twitter toilet paper” app.

Taking Back Problem Solving