Author Archive

Rule of Awesome

Posted: December 28, 2014 by Micah Baldwin in Culture, Leadership, People

Micah BaldwinFor years I have struggled with the concept of “hiring only A players.”

After all, what is an “A player?” Is there a test? Is there a list of characteristics that outlines the specific nature of an A player?

On top of that, the concept of an “A player” extends beyond just the skill set into the ability of that employee to engage and comfortably integrate into a set company culture.

The famed Facebook and Google interviews don’t always expose top notch employees. It certainly is a process that scares off a fair number of folks, but it doesn’t guarantee that the new employee is that unique combination of skills, personality, drive and compassionate intelligence necessary for the perfect fit within your organization.

About eight months ago I started to recognize a commonality among the employees at my startup and others that clearing indicated “A player”-ness.

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What Makes a Great VC

Posted: November 29, 2014 by Micah Baldwin in Culture, Ecosystem, Money, Startup

Micah BaldwinEvery year as the Newly Minted VCs begin to settle in and blog/tweet, there is a bevy of posts about how venture capital as it stands today is broken, and they, with their new insights and operational histories are going to fix it.

Of course, most of them become what they rail against over the course of the next few years.

As I have started to think more and more about jumping the fence full force into the investing side of the entrepreneurial equation I keep asking myself two questions:

What makes up the perfect VC, and can I be that.

For many, it seems that for founder/CEOs the answer has been distilled into three key components:

  1. Keep money in the bank.
  2. Recruit amazing talent.
  3. Articulate the vision.

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Yoga is Judgmental

Posted: September 21, 2014 by Micah Baldwin in Leadership, People, Startup

Micah BaldwinThe next time someone says to me “Don’t worry it gets easier,” I am going to punch them in the face. They call yoga a practice, which by definition means that not only will I not be perfect, but that I will also improve over time.

As an entrepreneur, this is a powerful concept. It’s not about perfection, but about the pursuit of perfection. Startups are our practice. We never are able to create the perfect startup, but we can improve them over time.

The most perfect you are is right now.

Being present is a concept that is often thrown around as a practice of focus on what you are doing, and worrying less about what came before or after. For me, the idea that I am doing the absolute best I can in that moment, that regardless of my previous success or perceived future success, I am accomplishing everything I can in that moment, blows me away.

Less is more (more…)

Getting Back on the Field

Posted: July 6, 2014 by Micah Baldwin in Culture, Leadership, People, Startup, Technology

Micah Baldwin6One thing that people don’t know about me is that I played lacrosse for 18 years, and coached for 15 of them. Coached all kinds of players from 3rd grade to college; even spent a year coaching women (which is an unsurprisingly unique experience).

As I started companies, it was easy to believe that as CEO, I would be something of a “player-coach.” I would get my hands dirty when needed, but mostly would run the team and be a leader for the players.

Turns out, being CEO is none of that.

Over the past three years or so, I have been CEO of Graphicly. Until a few months ago when I walked into our Board meeting and informed the board that it was time for me to step down.

It was time for me to remove the “CEO” part of “player-CEO.”

Why? The simple, truthful answer is that it was the right thing for the company and, frankly, the right thing for me.

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Chasing the Gleam

Posted: July 14, 2013 by Micah Baldwin in Ecosystem, Leadership, People, Startup

Micah BaldwinEntrepreneurs have something in common with coal miners and gold prospectors.

We have all chosen occupations that are actively shortening our lifespans.

River miners crush fingers, toes and even teeth shoving aside huge boulders to reach the gleam beneath. “I’ve been buried under the water three times,” says Bernie McGrath, a prospector and former pipeline worker. “It’s a treacherous way to make money.” From: Smithsonian Magazine

We destroy our health, relationships and (some) sanity with an extremely small chance of success. We are chasing the gleam, and (some) are willing to almost die to get it.

Founders that work 24 hours a day, that outwork everyone, that put it all on the line for their companies are our heroes. We are taught that we should be living as close to the poverty line as possible (when Next Big Sound gave their Techstars Demo Day pitch, one of their lines that got the biggest laugh: “…we are young and cheap to keep alive.”)

But what if I told you that all these years we have been lied to? What if the concept of working yourself to the bone was an antiquated as the Model T, and as effective in a remake of Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift?

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Your Early Adopters Don’t Matter

Posted: January 6, 2013 by Micah Baldwin in Innovation, Startup, Technology

Micah BaldwinIn Colorado, every year Liberty Media has a day-long program where prominent startup people get together to hear interesting talks from interesting people and eat a solid lunch.

One year, a super smart dude, whose name i have forgotten, talked about product design.

In the world of the internet, he said (I’m like 95% sure it was a dude), we have a culture of catering to our early adopters, and its one of the worst mistakes we make.

He went on to tell the story of the Toyota Prius. The darling of the tech set, early adopters demanded that the central interface gave data on things like energy to individual wheels, battery usage, etc.

As Toyota implemented these features, early adopters rejoiced.

But, the funny is, there are only so many early adopters. As time passed, the primary purchaser of the Toyota Prius was the soccer mom, and when asked, the soccer moms said, “Just give me a tree that has leaves that grow so that I can see the positive effect I am having on the environment by driving a Prius.”

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The Curse of BS

Posted: July 29, 2012 by Micah Baldwin in Leadership, People

How are you?

In your head, how did you respond? Did you automatically blurt out “fine”?

My freshman English teacher, Mrs. Carter, once told me that answering the question “How are you?” with anything other than “I’m fine” was a waste of breath.

People don’t really care how you are.

It’s the same with honesty. People don’t want honesty.

“How’s it going with your company?”

“We’re killing it.”

Shut up.

I’ve taken to answering that question with “It’s interesting.”

Blank stares and fear that I am eliciting a response flow over faces.

We have been cursed by a belief that being anything other than [BS] is helpful to whomever we are speaking with. Don’t burden them with your problems, let them enjoy a false sense that your life is better than theirs (after all we all know how sucky our own lives can be). Don’t blog about pain, confusion or doubt (unless you are Dave McClure, but you know, that dude is crazy!). Don’t use any other colors than happy to paint a picture of your life.

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The Power of No

Posted: May 13, 2012 by Micah Baldwin in Leadership, People

In startupland, which is full of Hackers and Hustlers, the Hacker spends their effort on excluding potential issues, features, product paths, partners, technologies, etc., while the Hustler focuses on including, well, everyone.

It is in the DNA of the Hustler to work towards getting a ‘yes.’ It’s what drives them. Getting users, investors, partners and the like to say yes to their vision and passion is the penultimate effort for a Hustler. For most, it creates the appearance of a lack of focus (for some) and a complete lack of focus (for others).

This is the primary rub between Hackers and Hustlers and the #1 reason that founders divorce. Hackers demand focus. Hustlers demand ‘yeses,’ which, by definition, require a high level of flexibility that leads to a lack of focus.

I am a Hustler. Yes, a Hustler with a capital H. And because of that, my #1 fault is my apparent inability to realize when I am being unfocused.

I love the word yes. Who doesn’t?

Hackers.

Yes means work. Yes means shifting priorities. Yes means roadmap adjustments. Yes means late nights and frustration. Yes means a loss of faith.

I hate the word no. Passionately hate it. It doesn’t compute. How can we become a better company because people are saying no. When I raised my Series A, 37 potential investors said no. That’s more than enough no to last me a lifetime.

No.

About eight months ago, I realized this very dynamic. To help a Hacker be successful, they need the space to focus on problems and solutions, and to do that, everything that is not core to that mission has to be thrown away.

The Hustler has to learn to say no, and by doing that gives the Hacker the ability to build awesome things, because they aren’t spending time in meetings or thinking about how to “just make it work,” or make “that deal that is going to make the company” work. They are just building.

Eight months ago, I started to force myself to say No multiple times per day. I started with my dogs. And, yes, those punks didn’t listen, but at least I learned I could say the word and not feel bad. Then I took our product roadmap, and every time an idea or potential deal was brought to the table, I weighed it against that roadmap, and as a default, I said No.

No. Not right now. And the quality of our product and the speed at which it was developed – and more importantly, the ease at which it is selling – has accelerated.

The power of no.

Saying no for the Hustler is a learned skill. It seems like a simple thing, but it’s really the antithesis of a Hustler’s core value.

Does that mean a Hacker should learn to say yes?

No.

Micah is CEO and Chief Community Caretaker of Graphic.ly in Denver, Colorado, is a mentor at TechStars Boulder and is the Skypenote speaker at the UpTech Accelerator session in Northern Kentucky on June 4.

 

Why an Accelerator?

Posted: March 25, 2012 by Micah Baldwin in Money, Startup, Technology

This a.m., I got an email from Nicole who runs Techstars Boulder reminding the mentors that Friday (March 16) is the last day to apply. “Cool,” I thought, “I’ll just tweet that out.” But right before hitting send, I got an email from an entrepreneur with the title “Why an accelerator?”So, I figured a-bloggin’ I would go.I get asked this question a lot. In the explosion of startup accelerators, it makes sense. Raising money is hard. Really hard. Doesn’t matter what the tech news blogs say, its hard.

Especially if you aren’t in New York or San Francisco.

As a young entrepreneur, applying to YC or Techstars or 500startups or looks like free money. If you can get it. Thats really hard too. Well for some of the accelerators. For others, its super easy.

Oh, and mentors, lots and lots of mentors. Some great; some not so good. Some are pains in the you know what; some are super cool.

Space to work, a group of other companies to work with, and the ability to join a network of founders that understand the difficulties that you face.

So why wouldn’t you join an accelerator?

The most common comment I hear is age. Yes, there is a belief that accelerators are for the young. And, more so, for the inexperienced.

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Hackers and Hustlers Essential for Startups

Posted: January 1, 2012 by Micah Baldwin in People, Startup, Technology

This week “THE ENTREPRENEUR” team is taking a holiday break.  We have invited  Micah (pronounced Me-Ha) Baldwin, a Silicon Valley startup veteran and author of the blog, “Learn to Duck: Sometimes the Best Way to Learn is to Get Punched in the Face.” to share wisdom of essential talent for tech startups.

JULY 6, 2010 BY 

Every year when people start applying to Techstars (now in 3 cities!), I get emails and phone calls asking for my advice.

I always ask the same question, “Do you have a Hacker and a Hustler?”

Sometimes, I get the response, “I’m both.”

To which I suggest that they rethink their application. It’s nearly impossible for a single founder to have much success building his startup, let alone getting through a program like Techstars (or Y-Combinatoror any of the dozens of others). One person can not do it all. It’s really that simple.

What do I mean by a Hacker and a Hustler?

A Hacker is more than a code monkey, who can quickly build software and find interesting ways to hack together code. That’s a developer. That’s someone who is definitely an important part of a startup, but not critical to its success. A Hacker is someone who looks the problem, and solves it in a unique and special way. A Hacker finds the process of problem solving exciting and interesting, and spends the majority of their time looking at the problem in multiple ways, finding many potential solutions.

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