Startup Fundraising in 2016

I really enjoy reading Brad Feld’s blog, Feld Thoughts.  As someone who has been following startups and the startup community for a while now, his post, “Fundraising 2016 – Control Your Destiny” was right on the money (so to speak!).  If you’re not familiar with Brad, he’s a co-founder of the Foundry Group and Techstars.



Fitbit’s Nosedive

Fitbit's stock is tanking after it unveiled its new smartwatch

Fitbit unveiled their new smart watch yesterday at CES and their stock fell 12.26% during mid day trading.  Why did the folks at Fitbit feel that they needed to chase Apple in the smart watch category? The official release of the Apple Watch was on April 24, 2015. It’s been roughly 265 days between the lackluster release of the Apple Watch and Fitbit’s new smart watch, the Blaze. Wasn’t that enough time for someone in Fitbit’s senior management to say “Hey, we need to reconsider our smart watch, Apple didn’t really pull it off”?

Fitbit is a great company and they’ve been doing really well, so I’m surprised they decided to take this route (disclaimer, I don’t own stock in Fitbit). There are plenty of other directions Fitbit could have gone, as the health IT space has really been blowing up lately. Plus, the whole watch concept (beyond just the Apple Watch) has been an issue for a while. However, Fitbit was probably knee deep in development of the Blaze during this time and would have lost millions if they had changed direction on their product. So, the question becomes, when you’re a public company is it better to lose money on the back end (i.e. scrapped work costs, etc.) or the front end (i.e. shareholders, employees, etc.)?

Unfortunately for Fitbit this will sting for a while, but it’s a good lesson for companies similar to them who have recently gone public. Regardless of what the R&D or engineering teams think, your shareholders and the court of public opinion become very important drivers.


The Machine Knows

GM and Lyft have partnered up to create a fleet of driverless cars. It’s exciting, however, let’s not get carried away just yet. What about the user experience of the driverless car? Deals and handshakes happen in boardrooms. Nuts and bolts UI / UX happens in the field, with a cast of thousands hammering it out with the help of an endless supply of Red Bull. GM and Lyft better get the UI / UX right coming straight out of the gate, or they’ll risk becoming “the machine” where cars will attempt to murder you as they did Michael Scott.

The Importance of Vendor Risk Assessments

When buying a car, do you rush right out to the dealership and purchase the first car you find online? Or, do you perform your research and kick the tires, taking it for a test drive? Most of us will conduct our “due diligence” before buying a car and this includes researching the types of cars we’d like to buy, taking several test drives and checking out the mechanics of the car.  This same due diligence should be done for each of the vendors that you plan to use within your company in the form of a vendor risk assessment, regardless of their size. In fact, current vendors within your company should be reviewed every one to two years. For example, did someone review their financials? Do you know if you can get your data back if they go bankrupt? Do you know if they’re governed by laws outside of your country?

In larger companies, vendor risk assessments are typically performed by risk analysts, technology auditors, and information security folks, working in conjunction with the vendor management and procurement departments. In smaller companies, there may be a one or two person team responsible for conducting the vendor risk assessment. In many startup organizations, vendor risk assessments can be an afterthought. If you don’t perform a vendor risk assessment on your vendors today, take a look at this Risk Assessment Toolkit from the State of California’s Department of Technology, Information Security Office to get you started. There are many other sample templates and resources available online, as well. This is a great video on assessing technology vendor risk and security from Monte Ratzlaff, Security Manager, at UC Davis Health System, as he presents “Vendor Risks: Evaluating the Security of New Technology”.

At this point, some of you may think, “well, I don’t need a risk assessment on ____ vendor (insert name of vendor), they’re huge!”. Right? Wrong. I’ve worked with technology audit professionals on the review of hundreds (if not thousands) of technology vendors and yes, some of those “huge” vendors can have red flags for you and your company. Whether it’s the fact that they’re in the middle of a merger, they’re outsourcing their development team, or they don’t have enough insurance to cover you in the event of a breach, the scenarios can vary, depending upon what your company considers a risk and how that risk is categorized. If you need a tool to understand risks associated with the project you’re considering, take a look at this post by BrightHub PM, it has a lot of great info on creating a risk matrix and how to use it.

In the end, just think of a vendor risk assessment as a way to kick the tires of the prospective vendor before buying a lemon whose carburetor is going to explode once you drive it off the lot. If you’re interested in performing a proof of concept or proof of technology with the vendor once they pass the vendor risk assessment, check out a former post that I wrote on this topic and good luck!

Managing Defects with Your Vendor

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It’s a bug, it’s a defect, it’s a flying catastrophe! How do you manage defects with your vendors? Have you breezed through User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and found few, if any, defects with your vendor’s product? Or, are you currently bogged down in a quagmire of defect identification?

Oftentimes, it’s the latter. Many customers look forward to unveiling their new product after months of design, development and unit testing. However, once the users start banging away on it, defects are found that should have been caught much earlier in the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Regardless of whether you’re using an Agile or Waterfall approach, I’ve seen this happen with both process types.

I’m a big advocate of Test Driven Development or TDD. When interviewing the vendors you will choose for the project, ask them what methodology they use when testing. This may seem inconsequential now, but it’s very important. Ask the vendor what their test plans look like, how many vendor assigned personnel are allocated to testing and what happens once UAT is over. Many times, customers are turned over to an offshore outsourced call center for defects as soon as the product is accepted by the customer. Based on this, do not accept the vendor’s product if it has defects that impact your business in any way (if it’s a nice to have, that’s another issue because it shouldn’t be classified as a defect).

From a contracts perspective, before you sign a contract with a vendor, look very closely at the acceptance language. How many days do you have to accept the product? Some vendors are tricky and will insert a ten day acceptance period. If you’re in a large organization or even an organization that takes time to make decisions, ten days (not even business days, mind you) will go very fast. Instead, counter with 90 days. If they can’t give you 90 days, go to 60 days. If they can’t give you 60 days, go to 30 days. If they can’t give you 30 days at least – well, they’re not standing behind their product and I would look at another vendor in that space. If you’ve signed a bad contract with a vendor and you’re in testing hell, check out my post on navigating this type of situation with your vendor.  Curious about Termination for Convenience? Check this post out about Termination for Convenience. 

Testing and acceptance of the vendor’s product go hand in hand. So, make sure you know your vendor’s testing approach and your acceptance time frame before signing on the dotted line.

Countdown to Boulder Startup Week

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Photo courtesy of

I’m really looking forward to attending my first Boulder Startup Week next week and have registered for as many sessions as my brain will allow! The crew coordinating it have done an awesome job of scheduling each day, making it easy to view your schedule on your phone / mobile device.

I’ll be blogging after Boulder Startup Week in order to give you an overview of the sessions that I attend, including feedback on the amazing people and startups I’ll meet along the way during my adventure.

If you’re on the fence and not sure if you want to make the drive or flight to Boulder Startup Week, my advice is to go for it! DIA (Denver International Airport) isn’t too far from Boulder, but you will need to rent a car. When you’re renting the car outside of the airport, they’ll ask if you want the Toll Road fee included in your rental. I would recommend paying for it upfront since the E-470 toll road heading to Boulder is expensive and paying upfront actually saves money (even though it doesn’t feel like it at the time!). Also, taking the E-470 toll road will save you from the crazy traffic inside of Denver.

From a lodging perspective, many hotels in Boulder are probably booked up at this point, but you can stay outside of Boulder in Broomfield, Superior or even Westminster. Staying in these areas will put you about a 10 to 20 minute drive to Boulder, taking Route 36 (not a toll road). The traffic to Boulder can get congested during rush hour, so leave early if you’re staying in these areas and want to get to Boulder by 8-9 am.

Are you heading to Boulder Startup Week? If so, let me know – it would be great to connect with you! See you there!

Make Your Next Demo a Success

product_demosVendor demonstrations or “demos” as they’re called in the industry are an important part of the technology product review phase. Unfortunately, these demos are typically despised by both business owners and vendors. Vendors don’t look forward to reciting a dry PowerPoint presentation and business owners don’t look forward to “wasting” two or more hours of their day. The funny thing is that this emotional response is what usually results in its failure. Here are a few tips for both vendors and business owners in order to make your next demo a success.

Business Owners

Prepare Ahead of Time. Prepare for the demo by collecting all of the information you’ve received from the vendor up to this point. What do you want to see in the demo? What should the vendor focus on? Reach out to the vendor ahead of time and send them your thoughts on the demo, noting what’s important for you and your stakeholders.

Ask Questions. I’ve seen many demos where business owners don’t ask any relevant questions. This is your chance to ask the vendor about their product. Prepare a list of questions before the demo if needed.

Respect the Vendor. They traveled to your site for a reason. Sure they’re salespeople and they do this all the time. However, I’ve seen business owners act very disrespectfully to vendor reps during demos. There’s no reason for that, everyone should be treated with respect.

Plan the Logistics. Make sure that the conference room is ready and that the vendors have wireless access (if needed) along with anything else required for the demo.  Reach out to the vendor ahead of time and ask them how many people will be attending. Also, think about questions like “Does the vendor need security access?”, “Do we need to serve lunch?”, or “Do we want to have coffee available?” This may seem like small potatoes now, but I’ve seen hours wasted due to poor logistical planning.

Listen. I’ve been in many demos where business owners ask the same question two or three times because they were checking their phone or weren’t paying attention. Listen so that you don’t waste your time and the time of those attending the demo.


Arrive on Time. This is especially true if there are several vendor staff members attending the demo. There’s nothing like starting the demo and having four more vendor staff members trickle in over the course of an hour apologizing for their “late flight”. If flights are that hard to come by to get to the business owner’s site, don’t come in person, instead make it a webEx.

Disregard Pack Mentality. Don’t travel in packs unless absolutely necessary. If this can’t be avoided, let the business owner know up front that you’ll be bringing multiple colleagues.  It throws a lot of business owners off when they’re expecting two people and they end up walking into Oracle World.

Ditch the PowerPoint. Don’t spend an hour on your PowerPoint presentation, get down to brass tacks and show off your product. The PowerPoint is only going to tell your customers so much since it’s a static representation of your product. The PowerPoint presentation can be 10-15 minutes, but from there, start the demo.

Schedule Breaks. The human mind can only process so much information. On top of this, folks need to use the restroom and check their messages. Don’t hold your business owners hostage for 2 hours while you take them through the XML feeds. Schedule ten minute breaks each hour to keep everyone’s blood flowing.

Prepare Ahead of Time. Similar to the advice I gave the business owners above, schedule a discovery meeting with your internal business owner(s) before the demo to understand exactly what they want to see in the demo.

Good luck!