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!



An entrepreneur loving on strangers

A friend of mine (and a Techstars company), Jackie Ros from Revolar, emailed me a few days ago with a fantastic offer.  Revolar makes a personal security device – it’s like a little button that you can ‘wear’, and if you feel unsafe, it will call for help on your behalf.

Jackie’s email said “My Muslim friends are telling me they are having their hijabs ripped off, one was told to hang herself with it because it is no longer allowed here. My Latino friends are being yelled at to stop speaking in Spanish and told to go back where they came from. One of my female friends on Facebook was told to “shut up (b word I won’t type)” because she is a woman and “our country has spoken.”

To combat this hate, Jackie & Revolar are offering the Revolar device for $59 – which is normally $99, to anyone that currently feels unsafe.  If you feel like you’re at risk because of the election, Revolar wants to get it’s device in your hands to help keep you safe.  Enter discount code #givefirst in the shopping cart, and if you’re REALLY broke and can’t afford the $59, and you really are in danger, please email and she’ll find a way to get you a device.

Thanks Jackie for loving on people that need it right now.



Moving forward post election

While I do vote at every election, I have always stayed out of public conversation around politics.  As a child, when the extended family dinner conversations turned to politics, it always resulted in anger and yelling, ruining the evening for everyone and dividing the family.  I don’t remember constructive, curious conversations, only defensive and offensive ones.  And with the proliferation of political rhetoric on Facebook, I deliberately opted to keep my opinions to myself, wanting to preserve the relationship with my family and friends and not wanting to add to the political raging in people’s feeds.  I believed (wrongly) that, in this case, silence could keep us together.
This last election was no different for me.  I did vote.  I voted for Hillary, with confidence that I selected was the right one “given the options”.
But I kept silent on why I voted for Hilary b/c I didn’t want to invite argument.  At the time, it didn’t feel like it mattered anyway, most everyone I knew were voting for Hilary.  My twitter feed was full of Hilary supporters, ditto on Facebook.  The news was basically mocking Trump for his last imbecilic contradiction.  I went to Lisbon for WebSummit mildly nervous for being out of the country during the elections, but predicting that Hilary would win by a landslide.
Wow.  Was I wrong.  Horribly, terribly wrong.  I was blindsided. My bubble, and my silence, was a huge part of the problem.
My initial reaction to Tuesday was total disbelief. The election was rigged!  It HAS to be rigged!  Trump yelled so loudly and often that the elections were rigged, of COURSE he’d rig them!  Then I was convinced we needed to move to a different country and honestly thinking about where we would go.  Basically I’ve spent the last 5 days feeling scared, angry, and betrayed.  Scared because what does this mean? Trump likes to hurt anyone who speaks negatively about him, does that mean my first amendment rights are at risk if I speak negatively about him now?  Angry at myself mostly – how I could be this  insulated from how the rest of the country feels??!  Realizing the thickness of my bubble, and the insulation I have from the rest of the country was a harsh and painful awakening.  And I feel betrayed, betrayed that the media led me to believe (or I let myself be led to believe) the rest of the country felt how I did.  Betrayed that my fellow Americans don’t have the same set of values that I have.  I’m not talking about position on political issues, I’m talking about values.  Values like respect for one another, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status.  Values like truth.  Values like modesty.   Values like respecting our planet.  Because to me, this election wasn’t about political issues.  It was about values.
As I’ve slowly started to accept what has happened, I’ve talked to a handful of Trump supporters (to get out of that bubble I mentioned above), I hear that their election wasn’t about values, but it was about change.  Hilary meant more of the same to them, while Trump represented radical difference.  It was less about his stance on issues (although some did believe his stance was better), less about what he thought about building a wall, or his position on global warming, or disrespecting women – it was about the radical shakeup he’d bring.  Trump was, as Norman Lear said in his talk at #SummitAtSea, the proverbial middle finger of America’s right hand.
In America, I don’t believe we’re having the same conversations, which is why nothing ever feels like it’s moving forward.  And I think the only way we’re going to start having the same conversations, is to get back to the basics of values.  Let’s all get on the same page about values, because until we can all agree that “all people are created equal” and “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” and “religious freedom” that our constitution and history declares – we can’t ever agree on the political issues at stake today and we will continue to have subpar candidates, on both sides of the aisle.
So today, in order to become a more active participant in the shaping of our futures, I uncomfortably  and publicly commit to 2 opposing actions:
1) Actively seek out and listen to others who don’t share my beliefsfor a genuine attempt at understanding those outside of my community.  We can’t move forward if we don’t understand.  Understanding doesn’t mean agreeing, but it does mean hearing and embracing and respecting those who disagree with me.
2) Speak out about the values I hold to be self-evident, not to preach but to invite conversation, and to  help shift media’s attention from negative hate mongering, to positive attributes like love and trust we share as humans.  As Seth Levine has just said, “…the US needs a strong and vocal counterbalance to the hate and bigotry we just empowered”.
I hope you join me in both actions.