How connected are we, really?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word connectivity.

 

In tech, we use the word ‘connectivity’ to talk about our devices – how our devices connect to the internet and to each other.  As one who travels a lot, connectivity is my tether to work and home.  I can survive without my cell connection, but sever my data connection and much is lost.  I can’t check my email, I can’t work, I can’t see if that company’s round is closing or what startups we decided to invest in or sign that board agreement.  I can’t FaceTime or text with my kids, can’t see the news, can’t check in on Twitter or Facebook. I have no idea what’s happening in the world around me.  Being connected to the internet helps me support not just a few investments and Techstars programs – but hundreds.  Being connected to the internet broadens my reach from what’s immediately around my physical person – to the global reach that Techstars has across 5 continents, 500+ cities, 100+ countries.  Connectivity helps me scale my productivity.

 

But as I ponder connectivity, I wonder when the cultural meaning of the word shifted from ‘the connection between individuals’ to the ‘connection to the internet’.  And more importantly, I wonder if internet connectivity has inadvertently developed into the antithesis of human connectivity.

 

Now, I realize that connecting to the internet does connect us to people.  After all, the internet lets me FaceTime with my kids, slack my colleagues, email our CEOs, Facebook with my college friends.  But in all these cases, software has become the intermediary of my relationship with them.  And since software has let me go wide in my relationships, let me scale the number of relationships beyond what I could otherwise handle without software, I’m beginning to believe it’s sacrificed the depth of relationships I could have.  After all, in an hour on my laptop, I could easily ‘connect’ with 100+ people.  But an hour deep conversation with someone face to face or over the phone?  That’s only one person.  And I’ve probably connected more deeply with that one person than I have with the sum of all the connections with the 100+ people.  The art of the intimate conversation has been replaced with 140 character blurb.

 

This was punctuated recently in a conversation with my mom who told me “we never talk anymore”.  And she’s right, we don’t.  We don’t ‘talk’ a lot.  Rather, we text a lot.  Short texts, often involving emojis to gain even more efficiency from our already short texts.  I remember spending hours on the phone with my mom, telling her details about my day, my life, my plans.  Mostly small talk, always bookended by the occasional big talk.  But it’s been a long time since we’ve done that.  Do I spend less time talking to my mom because I’m busy?  Maybe.  Maybe the 100+ conversations with others have replaced the 1 deep conversation I could have with her.  Or do I spend less time talking to my mom because our text messages sum up all the details with a couple of emojis?  I don’t know.  The small talk is largely gone, but with it, the big talk has gone too.

 

I was reminded of it when I went to a birthday party for one of my daughter’s friends.  Many of the parents knew each other, but since I’m the working parent and don’t usually take my kids to these events, I didn’t know that many people.  I sat in the corner and awkwardly checked my email, rather than putting myself out there to connect with the other humans in the room.  My email was safer and more comfortable. Plus I’m being productive on a Saturday! Bonus!

 

I’m reminded of it in public places, like airplanes. Man I HATE it when the person sitting next to me strikes up a conversation.  But before my device was connected, it didn’t used to bother me.  In fact, I loved conversations with strangers, they were always so interesting, if not awkward.   It was a way to get exposure to people outside of my normal operating bubble.  Now – leave me alone, I’ve got a board deck to review.

 

I am reminded of human connectivity every time I’m with a bunch of friends or colleagues and no one is talking because everyone is on their devices.  Sometimes I’m right there with them, on my device, not talking to anyone.  Then I look up and chuckle thinking “good thing we’re spending quality time together”.  Other times, when I present enough to think about it, and I’m eagerly waiting for my peers to finish making out with their devices, I think “hey man, I’m right here, right now.  Look at me.  Talk with me.  Life is right here, not out there.  Email #324 or Facebook friend #718 can wait.”

 

And I wonder – is all of this me? I admit, I’m a busy person.  I travel a ton, have a pretty hectic work life with a ton of relationships, and 2 small kids and husband at home.  So maybe my busyness has created this situation, where I’m trying to cram productivity into every moment.  But hasn’t the connectivity of my device enabled this situation?  Or am I just using busyness as an excuse when really it’s just that relationships are hard and take work?  It’s a lot easier to check on how my high school friend is doing on Facebook, than to call her up.  Have I traded authentic depth and closeness and intensity for brevity and volume and convenience?  As David Gilmore so eloquently says “…did you exchange…A walk on part in the war…For a lead role in a cage?”  Probably.

 

As I look around, everyone seems to be retreating to the sanctity of their devices.  I don’t know if it’s because we’re busy, or it’s because it’s easier.  My guess is we use busyness as the excuse, but the truth is that hiding behind our devices is easier.

 

I think the repercussions of this exchange of internet connectivity with human connectivity is gigantic.  People have forgotten how to ask for help. Worse, people have forgotten to even notice when someone looks like they need help.  We used to pay attention to each other, our social cues and facial expressions; the flash of doubt or fear or cynicism or sadness that would cross someone’s face in a conversation – that would drive us to dig in a little further on what was going on. But now we aren’t engaged in face to face conversation long enough to see those cues.  I had a founder in my office recently who was telling me how great everything was going, sales are up, board is happy, investors are happy, but his smile was so… so… fake.  I took a leap and told him I thought he was lying, and he laughed at me.  Laughed right in my face, meanly.  Then his laugh devolved into tears and told me that he hated his life and wanted out.  He confessed he hadn’t told this to anyone, hadn’t even admitted it to himself yet and was confused as to why it was coming out now.  I don’t think I could have gotten that from him if we had just been exchanging emails or texts, or even a 10 min watercolor conversation.

 

I’m old enough to remember what life was like prior to my iPhone.  Man I loved my Motorola Razor.  It was small, folded nicely to fit in my pocket, had tactile buttons that actually pushed, took pictures and let me text message.  If it had Google maps, it would have been the perfect device.  So I remember how often I used to connect with others back then.  It was definitely fewer people as compared to today – but those connections were more meaningful.  I bet if someone plotted cell phone minutes over time, starting in 1995 through today, we’d see a precipitous drop-off in number of minutes “connecting” to one another right around the time smart phones came online.

 

The thing that scares me is the younger generations don’t know that time period. While my generation knows but we have just developed bad habits, the younger generation has a new normal. These are kids that when life gets uncomfortable, or worse, it gets downright hard, many don’t turn to someone for help, guidance, and connectivity.  They turn to their device for situation avoidance – and they don’t even realize they’re avoiding the situation.  We have all been guilty of handing our kid a device when the situation gets rough.  Shit it’s easier than listening to them complain of boredom or yell and scream.  But this is disconnecting the kid from their emotion, not teaching them to deal with hard situations or people.  Not only are they not learning the art of connecting to someone else, they are not learning the art of connecting with themselves.  And together we are losing the art of navigating emotionally charged situations.

 

Mental health issues are running rampant.  Bullying is running rampant.  Lack of empathy is rampant, bigotry and racism are rampant, hate is rampant, and the art of the intimate conversation is dwindling.  Are these things related?  Is our reliance on the easy/quick fix of our devices a shortcut to connecting with who we are, how we feel, and how others around us are doing? Is our internet connectivity inadvertently eroding our human connectivity?

 

Last year I went to a conference and heard Dr. Dean Ornish speak.  He deals with heart disease patients that are given less than 3 months to live and has found a miraculous way of saving their lives by actually reversing heart disease, without the use of drugs, IN 30 DAYS!  His technique uses 4 key themes – 3 of which are not surprising.  Diet (yep), exercise (yep), stress management (obviously).  But the fourth I found fascinating – and it was intimacy.  Not sexual intimacy, or at least not that alone. But emotional intimacy.  Making sure the patient has people emotionally close to him or her.  The Ornish technique has been shown in scientific studies to reverse heart disease, and some indications that it works on prostrate cancer too.  Whoa.  Depth of relationships matter so much, your life could depend on it.

 

I was recently at a three-day Techstars Ventures retreat in the middle of the Colorado Rockies with 21 CEOs and the partners at TSV.  We all stayed in this one dark, musty, old hunting lodge featuring buck heads hanging off the walls and a huge stone hearth.  It had internet, but our guess is that it was a satellite connection that shared it’s limited bandwidth with the few neighboring buildings.  Try putting 21 tech CEOs on a single crappy internet connection that crawls like a slug for three days and it’s a recipe for sheer panic.  At first everyone was panicking.  In fact, one of us (who shall remain nameless but you know who you are!) actually took the locked door off it’s hinges to access the closet housing the wifi router.  One of the founders was literally trying to close his round that day and could barely get enough bandwidth to download the docs to sign.  The gnashing of teeth was audible. Lack of internet connectivity was a bug in our retreat.  But by the end, it was a feature.  21 CEOs, most of whom didn’t know each other, became pretty close by the end of it. We talked about some hard, personal, deep shit there.  I don’t think the impact would have been nearly as great if everyone could have been on their devices.

 

I don’t believe our devices and the internet connectivity of them are inherently bad.  Like any tool, it can be a weapon if not used properly.  And my connected devices let me get more done, faster. So I don’t blame the internet on our social issues.  But I have spent time trying to understand what the balance is – how to scale my productivity while maintaining the intimacy of existing relationships and connectivity with those around me.  How do I use my resources responsibly? How about this for a radical social rule – anytime a device is within 5 feet of another device, don’t use the device.  Human near human?  Engage with human.  Human alone?  Engage with device. Yes, even in public settings where you don’t know anyone.  I know it would never work, but a human citizen can dream.

 

There isn’t an answer here, nor is it really a complaint.  It’s simply a reflection and an attempt to be conscious about when and how I use my connected devices.  It’s a reflection on when the word “unplug” came to be something you did only on vacation.  It’s a realization that device connectivity is both a feature and a bug.  It’s a curiosity around whether our connected devices are causing interference in our emotional processing.  And it’s a little bit of a plea – if I’m not present with you, please, have a difficult conversation with me about being present when together.  I want to know the real answer to “How are you?”.  My email can wait.

CTEK to grant over $600K to non-profits helping entrepreneurs – deadline 11/30!

The TLDR version:
If you are a non-profit with a mission to help entrepreneurs, apply for a grant from CTEK by November 30, 2017 for grants up to $600K!

 

The longer version:
Before Techstars even existed, I got plugged into the entrepreneurial scene in Colorado through a small accelerator called CTEK.

 

I was fresh off a startup and didn’t want to replicate the errors I had previously made.  I was (and am) “unemployable” meaning there’s no real job description that fits me and I wasn’t used to working for others.  But I found a small and local org named CTEK, who claimed to help entrepreneurs through an advisory model, and thought I could learn what NOT to do my text time around the startup block.  I applied for a VP of Marketing job there that I had no business getting, so was understandably rejected for the role.  I’m not one who takes no for an answer, so I decided to stalk (not creepy stalk!) the CEO – a woman named Lu Cordova.  I saw her speak at an event in Boulder, cornered her afterwards and gently informed her that while I understood why I was rejected for the role, I wasn’t going away, so she might as well find something useful for me to do, even if unpaid.

 

So I started hanging around CTEK which eventually turned into a full-time gig and a lifelong friendship with Lu Cordova and many others who were involved in those days. Together, we grew that office from 1-4 across the state and started Colorado’s first organized angel investor network called CTEK Angels.  We scaled from helping a dozen or so companies a year to over a hundred.  We had a great portfolio of companies, held events, and utilized an advisory model to help the companies get to the next level.  It was through CTEK that I met David Cohen & Brad Feld, and I distinctly remember the day that David Cohen came into CTEK to pitch us the idea of Techstars. I loved CTEK, it was a springboard for me and put me squarely in the middle of the embryonic tech scene in Colorado.  But CTEK had issues with it’s model, and the idea that David Cohen pitched us for Techstars was a tweak on the CTEK model that eliminated all it’s issues.  I left CTEK not long after that to join another startup, and then started hanging around Techstars in 2008. The rest is my history at Techstars.  Much of what Techstars is today is from what I learned at CTEK – so while the two companies aren’t necessarily related, they hold me in common.

 

Fast forward to today – CTEK is a non-profit who’s mission was to help entrepreneurs in Colorado succeed.  It’s funding came from sponsors and government dollars (and the tireless effort of Lu Cordova) – but also through an investment model where we invested resources in exchange for a small monthly fee and a convertible debt note in each startup we supported.  Over the years we built a very healthy portfolio – and the exits from that portfolio has sustained the organization to this day.

 

But last month, the board of CTEK has decided that it’s mission has been fulfilled – that there are other organizations (like Techstars!) who now carry that torch in Colorado.  So CTEK is officially shuttering it’s doors.  Those of us in the scale years of CTEK (including people like Lu Cordova, me, Mark Feuer, Stephen Miller, Mike Murphy, and others) have come together to help ensure the assets of the organization land with a non-profit that carries the same mission – to help entrepreneurs.

 

For us, it’s a happy end of an era, where we look back at the seeds we have sown and are proud.  When we compare where Colorado was when we started, and where it was today, we know that we’ve played a big hand in diversifying Colorado from ranching and mining into the next century. And we’ve made great friends along the way.

 

I’m proud and honored to sit on the board that will help CTEK allocate it’s existing cash balance to a non-profit that can continue to carry the torch of CTEK.  For me, this is no easy feat because I’m close with many non-profits that support entrepreneurship – including the Techstars Foundation, Pledge1%, and Patriot Boot Camp.  But fear not, I will recuse myself of voting for organizations of which I have a conflict.

 

If you are a non-profit that supports entrepreneurship and has an element of scale, I invite you to apply for a grant between $10k-$600K. Deadline for applications is November 30 – apply today.

Shel Silverstein’s boundless genius and the eclipse

Shel Silverstein is a hero of mine, his writing always speaks to me with its multi-layered meanings, rhyme, and rhythm.  I think it’s hard enough having to write something with substance, but when you add rhythm and rhyme to it, it becomes genius.

Given today’s eclipse, it would be àpropos to share his poem “A Battle in the Sky” which comes from his famous book Falling Up.  I read this book regularly to my children and find the same amount of joy in it that they do.  If you haven’t read any of his poetry books recently, I highly recommend it, for adults and children alike.

A Battle in the Sky

It wasn’t quite day and it wasn’t quite night,
‘Cause the sun and the moon were both in sight,
A situation quite all right
With everyone else but them.

So they both made remarks about who gave more light
And who was the brightest and prettiest sight,
And the sun gave a bump and the moon a bite,
And the terrible sky fight began.

With a scorch and a sizzle, a screech and a shout,
Across the great heavens they tumbled about,
And the moon had a piece of the sun in its month,
While the sun burned the face of the moon.

And when it was over the moon was rubbed red,
And the sun ha a very bad lump on its head,
And all the next night the moon stayed home in bed,
And the sun didn’t come out ‘til noon.

Shel Silverstein, Falling Up

We bought a bed.

Today marks a monumental day in Mark (husband!) and my life.

We bought a bed.

Now, I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. Our mattress has been sitting on plastic-wrapped box springs, on the floor, for 5 years. Prior to that, our old mattress was on one of those free frames that comes with the mattress when you bought it, and I think it was the same frame I got in college.

The bed represents the first piece of furniture we actually *bought* in our adult lives. You know, something that we didn’t get on Craigslist, or Ikea, or was a hand-me-down or gift of some sort. In fact, the Ikea furniture that’s currently in our master bedroom replaced a used, falling-apart dresser that I literally bought for $20 FROM THE CLASSIFIED SECTION OF THE NEWSPAPER when I was a sophomore in college. It was that old.

As a 42 year old professional woman, grown adult, and mom, the fact that we didn’t buy a *real* piece of furniture until we were in our 40s, juxtaposes 3 conflicting emotions. Pride, envy, and embarrassment.

Mark and I are surrounded by people with more money than us. They have nicer houses, nicer cars, nicer gear, nicer clothes, nicer appliances, nicer STUFF, and people who actually afford things like interior decorators. Some of them are more ‘successful’. Some of them inherited it. Some were just damn lucky. And I admit I allow it to affect my sense of self-worth. The ‘keeping up with the Jones’ effect. I feel myself often apologizing to friends for the beat up dining room table, or the front steps that are falling apart, or the kitchen that desperately needs upgrading. I certainly have my moments of envy that my furniture is mis-matched and hand-me-down, or that my yard wasn’t designed by a landscape architect, or that a color specialist didn’t match my wall color to my throw pillows?—?and I do envy these Houzz-perfect friends and neighbors and magazine articles. (The lesson in here is “live in a shitty neighborhood well below your means” and you won’t fell pressure to keep up with anyone!).

However, there’s huge freedom in NOT GIVING A F*CK. Spilled wine on the sofa? Whatever. Big scratch through the dining room table? That’s cool. Broke the front-porch chair? No problem. Our house could burn to the ground and there are 3 objects I would be sad to lose. A pillowcase that was in my grandmother’s dowry, a lamp my father made out of a bowling pin when he was in his 5th grade shop class, and an antique guitar amp in Mark’s music studio. The rest could burn. I am not owned by my stuff, and I love it. In fact, I was reminded of this today as I drove to pick up the new bed in our 20 year old truck with 120K miles on it. The paint has totally peeled off the hood down to the metal, the dashboard is cracked like the Grand Canyon, and you have to detach the battery from the truck every time you stop it because some electrical poltergeist drains the battery to zilch in an hour. But you sit up high, you have to drive slow, and it makes the most phenomenal throaty bass 8-cylinder growl when it idles. It’s like an old man who’s history included decades of undefeated world fighting championships. He moves slow but WILL CRUSH YOU if you mess with him. I LOVE driving this truck, I could mow over 10 fire hydrants and would only feel joy that the truck could pull it off without dying. I am not owned by my stuff.

But when I let myself, I AM owned by that feeling of ‘keeping up with everyone else”. I have to work hard at not letting it bother me. Like somehow I’m not as worthy because my house doesn’t feature the latest seasons fashion (or really, any season’s fashion). It takes effort to push the feelings of inadequacy away, and to be my own reference point, rather than use someone else’s situation as my reference point.

Today, when I was unpacking the pieces from the bed that I a) picked up to save the $199 delivery fee and b) assembled myself to save the ‘white glove service’ fee?—?I was staring at the photos that hang on our dining room wall, and I was reminded why I’m okay with not owning nice stuff. The pictures on our wall are large photos I took while Mark and I traveled. 2 of them are from our trip to South America, where we blew the down payment we were saving for a house. That trip was 3 months long. We were in 5 countries, and featured epic backpacking the “W” in Torres Del Paine National Park, a 5 day trek through Incan trails to end at Machcu Picchu, and a huge mountain bike ride down the Worlds-Most-Dangerous-Road in Bolivia. The other pictures were of Aleka and Jackson when we took a 2 month sabbatical to go surfing in Costa Rica. Jackson turned three on that trip, Aleka learned to swim, and I surfed every. single. day. In short, we save our money for travel. I’d happily go into debt for an adventure. But go into debt for a sofa? Or a new retaining wall for the planter out front? Barf.

The other thing our lifestyle has afforded us is the ability for Mark to stay home full time with our kids. And while it’s a huge sacrifice he’s making, and honestly his job is harder than mine, I know our kids will reap the reward of our thrift for their entire lives. They are emotionally well grounded and get the attention they need to help them become productive, happy adults.

I don’t write this post to brag, or to judge, but rather to say that life choices are complex and often come with conflicting emotions. Honestly, I’m envious of my neighbor’s perfect landscaping and their design eye (they have the cutest little container on their front porch that stores umbrellas! It looks like a pair of rain boots. How sweet!) I feel embarrassed that our house is “that house” on the street, bringing the average price down. Sorry! But on another hand, I’d trade a monthly lawn service for a trip to the Egyptian pyramids any day of the year.

And at the end of the day, the fact that I even have these thoughts to begin with is a sign of the abundance Mark and I have in our lives and that all of these so-called-problems are manufactured, privileged, first-world problems. We are blessed with the stuff we do have, the lives we live, the opportunities that surround us, our health, our families, and our love for eachother…

So Mark, here’s to our first piece of furniture, that I bought ON SALE!. (And if you know anyone who wants to buy 2 twin box springs, still in the plastic wrap, ping me! We’re saving for Panama…)

We need more people like Phil Weiser

Phil Weiser is running for Colorado Attorney General and he is a man we should all support with our time, money, and voices.
I’ve known Phil for nearly a decade. Phil has demonstrated, time and time again, his commitment to the best interests of our community.  Among other things, he’s worked on Governor Ritter’s Innovation Council, was critical to bringing the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network to CO, and when he was Dean of the CU Law school, he successfully pioneered an entrepreneurial program at CU that successfully integrates the local business community.  (Imagine that, law and entrepreneurship!)  More importantly, he’s already working to transform the government from the inside out through the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator (of which I am a quasi-mentor) which takes motivated individuals inside of the government and gives them resources to make big changes with civic issues.
Through his list of accomplishments, you can see that Phil knows how to execute.  But looking more closely, you can see that Phil is phenomenal at navigating complex situations between powerful institutions and groups that result in a mutually beneficial outcome for all.  He knows how to drive positive change and collaboration among people because Phil’s values and motives are in the right place.  He is one of the best humans on the planet, and individuals like Phil will be the catalyst to getting our government on the right foot.  With Phil in a leadership role in our government, great things can and will happen.
When Trump was elected, I vowed to get more involved in our government.  For me, this means supporting individuals that I know bring the right qualities to office and that I trust to make hard decisions.  Phil is that guy.
Consider donating your time, voice, or dollars to help Phil’s campaign.

Learn the art of the venture deal

If you’re an entrepreneur looking to raise capital – understanding the terms in venture deals is critical.  Having legal counsel is important, however it’s your startup, so you’re ultimately responsible for the outcome of any deal.  Given VCs and investors have a lot of practice because they do many deals a year, you generally will be outgunned because you just don’t have the same level of experience.

Brad Feld & Jason Mendelson helped level the playing field when they published the book Venture Deals.  But if you want to practice – if you want to really turn information into knowledge, then take the Venture Deals course (it’s free!).  You’ll build a team and work on elements of a venture deal with your teammates.  The course runs about 6 weeks long and starts on May 14th.  It’s great for both the novice and experienced entrepreneur (and investor) – I took the class last time and will be auditing it again just as a refresher!

Thanks to Brad & Jason for creating the content, and thanks to Techstars, Kauffman Fellows, & NovoEd for providing the resources necessary to make this course free and available to the general public.

Techstars Anywhere

Because Techstars helps entrepreneurs succeed, we’re committed to our own innovation efforts (just like companies in our portfolio).  So in January I took a new role as Chief Innovation Officer at Techstars – and I’m excited to share with you the first project we’re launching out of the Innovation team.  Techstars has a long-held belief that startups should be able to build their companies anywhere they choose to live – but a limitation of our accelerator programs is that you have to temporarily relocate to the program.  We lose out on helping many great startups who simply cannot relocate for 3 months.
This week, alongside Ryan Kuder & Karina Costa, we launched a BETA effort called Techstars Anywhere, which brings the program to the startup, instead of the other way around.  It’s a virtualized version of our existing program, and with 4 companies located in 4 different locations – we’re testing how well we can bring the network to the companies, rather than the companies to the network.
We’re excited to learn how to best support entrepreneurs, no matter what city or country they live in.  Read more about the program on the Techstars blog here!

The lost art of a constructive debate

Because I was so surprised when our country elected Trump, I’ve been on a personal campaign to get out of my information bubble. In order to achieve this, I’ve been deliberately exposing myself to media sources I wouldn’t otherwise read, and most importantly, diving into the comments sections of these channels to attempt to understand people’s perspectives.

In reading comments – I thought I would discover why people think building a wall is a good idea, or why banning muslims is a sound move, but what I discovered was much worse.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone where you stated an opinion, and the other person took such an antagonistic stance that you ‘fought back’? In fact, it became more about the fight than about the topic you’re fighting about, just to win?

Almost every single comment thread I read devolved into throwing insults. I honestly don’t recall a single thread where the individuals engaged in a healthy debate. Rather, it quickly got personal, people insulting others’ intelligence, with the original topic being lost in a sea of vitriol. Don’t believe me? Go head and read into almost any comments thread in political news right now. The anger people feel is downright terrifying.

And it strikes me – maybe this is the core of our problem today. The core of our problem isn’t that we all have different opinions, or that we elected Trump, or Dems Vs GOP, or any of the issues people are fighting today. It’s that we, as humans, have forgotten how to treat each other with respect when we disagree and stakes feel high. And because we’re treating each other with such antagonism, the fights keep getting more and more vicious. If we continue on this trend, pretty soon we’ll forget what we’re even fighting about, we’ll just be focused on winning regardless of what we’re winning. Then, we all lose. IMHO, electing Trump was merely a symptom of this underlying problem in the US.

My ongoing goal is to never attack someone for a differing opinion, rather try to understand their orientation and perspective, and help them try to understand mine in a constructive, non-antagonistic way. If you’re looking for skills on how to do this, I loved Difficult Conversations – it helped me improve all my relationships at work and at home, and really helped me identify how I was shaping the world around me.

An unusual place to have a transformational experience

Last year I purposefully and deliberately got punched in the face, multiple times. Let me explain.

I had been looking for inspirations in my workouts, and a friend of mine David Mandell convinced me to sign up for a charity boxing match called Founder Fights. It was designed for tech founders who had never boxed before. “C’mon” he beckoned, “It’s for charity, and no one will know what they’re doing. Worse case, you spend 3 months getting yourself in shape and learn something new”. I’m not a violent person, and have no real interest in boxing. However, I painted a picture in my head of goofy, silly boxing, with oversized gloves and lots of laughing.

I agreed, making the mistake of committing publicly on Twitter.


My first trip to the Corner Boxing Club, I panicked. No, this was not going to be goofy or silly. This was serious business. These are real boxers! They’re tough as hell! I”M GOING TO DIE!!! WHAT THE HELL DID I GET MYSELF INTO?!?! I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!!! But I had committed publicly, everyone knew I signed up for this, so I’d look like such a quitter if I backed out. Clearly my ego is stronger than my sense of self-preservation. So instead of quitting, I threw myself into it. I figured the only way to make this work was to WIN. Game on.

Turns out that a boxing workout doesn’t actually consist of boxing – it mostly consists of boxing conditioning. You punch things. Not people. In order to punch a person, you have to spar. So the workouts weren’t as scary as I had imagined. Also turns out that the workouts are absurdly hard. Spoken from someone who’s used to doing triathlons, road biking up steep hills, and hiking 14000 ft mountains in Colorado, a boxing workout will kick your ass. Go ahead and try to punch a pillow with a pound on each hand as hard as you can for 1 straight minute. Boxing uses every single muscle in your body. Your arms, your shoulders, your core, your legs… I’ve never gotten so winded so quickly in my life. Often at the end of the workouts, everyone would be laying down on the floor drenched in sweat and exhaustion, with that blissful, light feeling you get after a great workout. No part of your body goes un-touched.

Here’s the catch though, when competing in biking or running or hiking or swimming or basketball or tennis or whatever your chosen sport is, if you get tired, you simply slow down. You’ll lose, but you just slow down. In a boxing match, if you get tired and you slow down, YOU GET PUNCHED IN THE F’ING FACE! This is a huge motivating factor in a boxing workout. Huge. Whenever you get tired in a boxing workout, you push yourself harder. Do not slow down.

This is reason 1 of why I discovered I love boxing. It’s one of the best workouts on the planet.

In addition to a killer workout, sparing is also mental strategy. It’s not just about punching, it’s about not getting punched. There are moves, and countermoves. Offense, and defense. Often at the same time. You have to read your opponent and decide how you’re going respond, in a split second. They drop their left? You throw a right hook. They throw their right? You dodge LEFT. Do you let them throw and get tired? Or do you attack? Are their arms longer than yours? Then you have to play a short game. You’re constantly thinking, and that can be hard when you’re used to an individual sport like biking when you clear your mind and just go blank. Boxing keeps you present, conscious, and focused like a laser. And Coach Carrie has great sayings, like “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” – a saying I use to this day in non-boxing situations.

This is the 2nd reason why I love boxing. You’re practicing strategy under pressure.

However, the real reason that boxing stands apart from any sport is that you’re getting a great body workout, a great mind workout, WHILE YOU’RE SCARED SHITLESS. Honestly, when sparing and fighting, I’ve never been so scared in my whole life. Climbing glacier-riddled mountains? Not that scared. Scaling the 3rd pitch of a gnarly exposed climb in Leavenworth? Not that scared. Swimming with sharks? Not that scared. But with sparring, I WAS SCARED TO DEATH. Even when I wasn’t working out or sparring, I was thinking about it. But here’s the catch – the likelihood of getting hurt is really low, and you’d be surprised how little it hurts getting punched in the face. Really, it doesn’t hurt that bad. It more shocks you than anything. You’re wearing a head guard, so the fear of getting punched in the face is much worse than actually getting punched. I wonder why I was so scared when the repercussions are low, but I was. My heart was in my throat, I often felt like I was going to vomit. Every cell in my body was telling me to run. But yet, I still got in the ring. This is an incredibly empowering experience. When your body is telling you one thing, and your mind decides to override it, you realize that you are truly in charge of your behaviors and actions.

This is the third reason I discovered I love boxing – the physical, the mental, AND the emotional, all simultaneously. No other non-fighting sport will give that to you. Imagine for a moment that you’re in the ring – you can’t catch your breath, you have to THINK about what you’re doing, and you’re scared shitless, all at the same time. Boxing was powerful for me because it had the combination of 3 key factors that I haven’t experienced simultaneously before.

I spent 3 months training at the Corner Boxing Club. The owners Carrie and Kirsten created a gym unlike other boxing gyms because it’s less of a gym and more of a community. In those 3 months, I did get into great shape. I sparred maybe 8-10 times before getting into the ring for my official match. The night of the match was a great one. Almost everyone I knew and loved in Boulder was there. This was an official USA Boxing sanctioned event, complete with ring-side doctors, referees, the whole works. The crowd was rowdy, loud, energized and added to the adrenaline of the evening. The girl I fought is taller than me, but just as new to boxing. We both wanted to win – I could see it in her eyes. I respected her fighting, as we both trained at the same gym.

2016_12_29_21_00_39When I got into the ring, it felt like I was going to have a heart attack, and every instinct was telling me to RUN!!! But when the bell rung, I didn’t hear anything else except for the sound of my breathing as I repeated to myself “storm of punches” and “breathe”. We fought 3 rounds, 1 minute each, and each minute was an eternity. (I’ve never been so happy to be in the masters level!). I remember almost nothing of the fight. I just remember it being over – and – I lost. When the fight ended, I hugged my opponent in the biggest bear hug I could muster. However, I I didn’t really lose, because went all the way through with it. I got into the ring. I stood up against my fear and did it. And I got into great shape over it.

Fighting in a boxing match was the last place I thought I’d find inspiration, confidence, and power. And yet, I did. It was transformational. It wasn’t my opponent that I fought. It was myself. And I won.

Huge thanks to David Mandell for getting me there in the first place, and to Carrie and Kirsten who own the gym – you’ve created one of the most special communities I’ve experienced in a while. Thank you for all you’ve done for me and for boxing.

If you’re interested in having a similar experience, the next Founders Fights is being planned for May of 2017. Start training now with The Corner Boxing Club for an experience that will define who you are.

Become a diversity leader in tech

Techstars and Chase for Business just launched a new project who’s goal is to increase diversity in tech. With over 700 founders of tech startups surveyed, we posted data, resources, an infographic and more on how you can become a leader.  And because reading about diversity isn’t nearly as good as taking steps on becoming a diverse company, there are great actionable and tactical things you can do to become a more diverse and inclusive tech startup.

Check it out!