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Staff Picks

  • Total Posts: 75
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  • 1 min read
  • Staff Pick

For Silicon Valley the Hangover Begins

For Silicon Valley, the Hangover Begins


Not long ago, employees at Practice Fusion Inc. reveled in the technology boom, munching daily on free healthy food, enjoying "Phenomenal Friday" gatherings and racing around the office on tricycles. Today, the Silicon Valley extravaganza is waning. The San Francisco electronic medical-records company has booted its founding CEO, laid off a quarter of its staff and cut back on projects to save costs.

  • 4 min read
  • Staff Pick

The Story of BioCarbon Engineering: Drones for Reforestation

Atmospheric CO2 levels have risen from 280 to 400 parts per million since the advent of industry. Carbon emissions aren’t the whole problem, though. During the same period, humanity has eliminated almost a third of the world’s forest cover. 

Greenhouse gases + depletion of natural filters = bad news.

The good news is that the world’s entrepreneurs are hard at work solving the problem. Lauren Fletcher is one of them. A NASA engineer of 20 years and now founder and CEO of [BioCarbon Engineering](, Lauren is changing the conversation of conservation by aiming to plant **1 billion new trees a year -- with drones**. Fighting industrial-scale deforestation requires industrial-scale reforestation, and that’s exactly what Lauren aims to do.

While a master’s student at Stanford University, Lauren was at the nexus of environmental science and emerging technologies. It was there that he first understood the rapid pace of deforestation and its role in climate change, but he didn’t see an existing way to rebuild ecosystems quickly and at scale. But then he had a crucial insight:

*I was studying scalable, emerging technologies and recognized that remote sensing and drones could be combined to revolutionize and automate tree planting for global-scale ecosystem restoration.*

The concept is simple: map a region of terrain, generate a seeding plan, and shoot seed pods into the ground from hovering drones. This unique method can plant about 36,000 trees per day, far more than previously possible and often in mountainous regions human planters can’t reach.


Venturing into the new terrain of engineering and environmentalism, BioCarbon sports a multifaceted 6-person team with experience in forestry, international policy, finance, and robotic space exploration. With a truly compelling mission, BioCarbon has been getting attention around the world. They’ve won the Skoll Venture Award and the grand prize at the 2015 Hello Tomorrow competition. They’ve spoken at the United Nationals Solutions Summit and had tens of thousands of articles written about them in over 20 languages. 

There is still much to do, but BioCarbon is working quickly towards their goal of planting 1 billion trees every year. Global reforestation commitments amount to about 300 billion new trees by 2030: we are going to need better solutions. BioCarbon plans to be at the front lines of these efforts by offering end-to-end planting services for the first 4 years and then offering their technology itself to other organizations, whose combined efforts can scale to potentially tens of billions of trees a year. 


BioCarbon’s journey is especially instructive for young entrepreneurs who want to create change on a global scale. When we first got to know Lauren and his team last March, they had a fantastic idea, but needed a detailed strategy to make it come to life. In the past year, they have done just that -- using the OGSM challenge, they mapped out their goals with clear strategies of getting there.  In Lauren’s words:

*"It simply isn’t enough to have a great idea, a great team, and money. You have to have a strategic plan and execution to make a great idea into a great company. The 8D program is exactly what we needed to organize our ideas and experience into a structure and execution plan."*

With a clear plan for moving forward, the BioCarbon is effectively tackling all aspects of scaling their company. They’re engineering innovative technology, developing relationships with a diverse array of stakeholders, and defining the cutting-edge of reforestation.

With his experience working in emerging fields, Lauren understands that entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful ways to change the world. He sums it up:

*"Learning how to be an entrepreneur is more important than having a great idea…. A good entrepreneur can make a mediocre idea into a good company. So just imagine what a good entrepreneur can do with a great idea."*

**Learn more about [BioCarbon Engineering here.]( BioCarbon Engineering is a Class of 2016 company.**

  • 1 min read
  • Staff Pick

The Journey of Product Development

###Many of our founders are now at a stage of creating their first products. It's a tricky road to navigate, so we asked some of our teams for their tips regarding the JOURNEY OF PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT.  Enjoy this short and powerful video, thanks to Pramod, Founder of LocoRobo who shares insights about listening to your customers at every stage!   .
  • 3 min read
  • Staff Pick

How One Founder Is Electrifying Europe- One Bike at a Time

*“You really don’t want to bike up that hill. You always leave five minutes late and end up arriving to your meeting covered in sweat. Imagine if you could turn your bike electric in mere seconds."* Gediminas Nemanis, founder of [Rubbee](, explains that these were the thoughts going through his head as a student who was biking to class daily. 

Like everyone, Gediminas (who goes by Nemo) wanted to go faster, further, and arrive at his destination feeling fresh. An electric bike was the obvious solution--but leaving an expensive electric bike out all day was just begging for theft, no matter what security measures you take. 

That’s where Rubbee came in: Rubbee Drive is a portable motor. It weighs a mere 14 pounds and boosts your speed up to 20 mph. The motor powers a roller that propels the back wheel, and you, forward. Best of all, it attaches and detaches to the rear wheel of your bike in 15 seconds, allowing for portable electric conversion. 

##The Start


Nemo took his idea and partnered with Elinta, a company building electric vehicle components. They soon financed Rubbee’s early seed round. Nemo also met his CTO, Laurynas Jokužis, through Elinta. In short order, Nemo recruited an engineering team with a background in software development, mechanical design, and hardware electronics. 

To date, Rubbee is rapidly expanding to bring the product to the majority of bike shops in Europe. Most recently, the company unveiled Rubbee 3.0 at Eurobike 2015. Among the awards, Nemo cites his biggest milestones as Rubbee’s partnerships with companies on a global scale, including Baltik Vairas, the largest bicycle manufacturer in Northern Europe, and Hyundai. Rubbee also works with multiple universities to carry out scientific research on electric bike health benefits, ergonomic design and technological advances in electronics. Nemo is supported in his efforts from bullish bike manufacturers, continental distributors, and local investors who fuel enthusiasm for the company’s future.

##Product Focus


Many of Rubbee’s breakthroughs have come from hitting barriers in materials and components. Among these are a new modified polyurethane compound for the friction roller, custom motor, battery packs and controller. Nemo explains that “making a more intuitive, user-friendly and smarter product is always on [Rubbee’s] agenda twenty-four seven.” 

As a member of’s Class of 2016, Rubbee dove into the OGSM challenge to hit their quarterly goals and set into motion their plans for expansion. Nemo explains, “We’ve learned to look at the markets with a different perspective and actually judge them more realistically. In particular, we value the enormous network of’s industry and business contacts as well as the other startups [in the class].” 

##Advice for first time founders

**Nemo gives three simple pieces of advice to first time founders:**

“Be patient. Be persistent. Be open. Nothing gets done overnight, obstacles are lurking behind every corner and you never know when you are going to meet the people who change the course of your life forever. I believe that these things are what make innovators immune and agile when it come to global shifts in consumer behavior and technology. Don’t ride the wave—create the wave!”

**[Learn more about Rubbee]( Rubbee is a Class of 2016 company.**

*Thanks for edits and collaboration with Andrea Wen-Yu Lim.*
  • 3 min read
  • Staff Pick

Staying Fully Charged as a Startup Founder

Company founders are passionate about what they do. They have their why and will bust their butt to make it happen. While I’m not a founder myself, I do come out of a background of working until there is nothing left to work on. (I'm just kidding, there's always more work to do!). But this sounds like your startup right? More hours, more accomplishments, more work. Repeat again and again. Caught in this cycle, you can certainly expect sleep and energy to nosedive as you go. But that’s not so bad, you can just load up on your favorite caffeine and you’ll be just as productive right? Wrong.

You learn a lot pushing yourself to your limits. For a stretch in public accounting, I gave work everything I had and excelled. Late nights, early mornings, odd hour sleep stunts, full work weekends. “It’s a weekend, but it’s not a work-end for me” I would joke with co-workers. So what’s wrong with that? Several months went by and I hit my promotional milestone early, and began to reflect. When I gave everything I had to work, I gave very little to myself. I didn’t exercise much because I was too exhausted. I hardly touched a basketball, my first love, for the same reason. I didn’t keep up with my personal and professional networks. Months after reaching peak performance, I burned out after losing the vigor I had when I started. For me, burnout was annoying and unpleasant. But, as a founder, when you burn out, the company dies. Although the company comes first, you need to be aware of your own needs too if you want the company to excel. 

I’m not at all saying that everyone should drop their work ethic and hardly work. I am saying that founders need to be *smart* about working hard so they can sustain it for the life of the company. Here are some things you can do to stay sharp and avoid burn out.

1.     Take care of yourself to take care of your company. Eat, Sleep, and Move well. Eat healthy, and if you don’t know anything about nutrition, start learning. Sleep enough to function at a high capacity. Move and exercise to keep your mind and body fit.
2.    Keep an eye on the big picture. Individual responsibility and delegation of work is crucial, but tying tasks, even the boring ones, to the big picture provides a sense of meaning and purpose for the whole team.
3.     Create positive interactions. There is a multiplier effect on both positive and negative interactions in your daily life. Startups are stressful or super stressful at times, and positive multipliers go a long way. All the ups make the downs worth it. 

For more on the topic, check out the Wall Street Journal Best Seller Fully Charged by Tom Rath.
  • 1 min read
  • Staff Pick

Valuations: Investors are Pulling Back

If you are raising money now (and who isn't), its good to be in touch with the macro statistics at your stage, in your geography and industry for fundraising.  With global stock indices down 10%+ only a few weeks into the new year, investors are nervous.  We've seen this movie before.  Public markets exhibit substantial volatility and eventually the private equity and venture capital markets follow suit.  In the past five year seed stage investing and valuations have been somewhat immune to gyrations from above, but this seems to be cooling off too.  The sheer inflow of money into angel investing over the past decade has had much to do with the immunity.  But now that angel investing growth has leveled off we're seeing the effects nervous public market investors can have on seed stage investing.  

Yes you need to raise money and you need to do it according to your business plan.  Putting off fundraising is usually not an option.  But what you can do is be flexible.  Flexible on valuation. I've preached this in the past - you need to let the market determine the valuation you receive. Now more than ever its important to be flexible.  
  • 3 min read
  • Staff Pick

What Founders Can Learn from the Birthplace of Punk

With the passing of actor Alan Rickman last week, I’d like to talk about a film of his that I saw over the holidays, CBGB.  I bring it up here not because it’s a cinematic masterpiece (its Rotten Tomatoes score is 8%), but because it is, at its heart, the story of a founder’s journey.  Viewed through that lens, it can be inspiring and instructive.

For those of you unfamiliar with CBGB, it was a legendary dive bar/club known as a launching pad for punk and new wave bands such as the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie in the 70’s.  The owner, Hilly Kristal, is played by Rickman.  When we’re introduced to Hilly at the beginning of the film, we see a 41-year old misfit who has declared bankruptcy twice as a result of failed launches of musical venues.  

Like many founders, he is undaunted and moves forward with attempt #3, raising money from family to launch CBGB in 1973.  Beyond appreciating the perseverance and scrappiness that we know is essential for success, innovators can take away some interesting lessons from Hilly’s story:

###Know and be responsive to your market

Hilly's original concept was a venue for country, bluegrass, and blues artists (hence the moniker “CBGB”).  However, the club’s East Village location was home to a lot of young, starving musicians trying out new forms of expression.  In true visionary style, Hilly saw the opportunity and got ahead of the trend by booking groundbreaking artists who drew crowds, and ultimately cemented CBGB’s place in musical history.

###Experiment, but don’t let an expensive side project put your core business at risk

Once CBGB developed its reputation, record execs and producers would show up to sign new acts.  After realizing that he was developing a pipeline of opportunities for others, he tried his hand at managing one of the bands.  Given his personal strengths and weaknesses, and the fact that he attempted to do this essentially on his own (see next bullet), he ended up sinking a lot of money into this effort with near catastrophic results. 

###Know yourself (and bring in a team that complements you)

At, all of the founders and team members complete the Thinking Style Challenge, which assesses how individuals approach their work, make decisions, and solve problems.  It’s a valuable tool we use to provide insight into team dynamics and to help cofounders understand each other and how their approaches impact others.  This understanding ultimately helps them work better as a team.  Hilly is no doubt strongest on the Visionary dimension of the Thinking Style map - he has big ideas and likes to take risks.  He doesn’t have a good understanding of the Operational dimension, in that he really dislikes getting into the details of planning and process.  As an example, he is perpetually late on paying bills and in fact keeps the club’s cash at home in his freezer.  Though resistant at first - Hilly likes to fly solo - he does ultimately bring in someone who’s highly operational on his team.  This is his daughter, Lisa, who complements his skill set and becomes a strong right hand to Hilly in the film. 
Given that today's true innovators continuously question the status quo and push boundaries, it's not surprising there are lessons to be learned by the punk rockers starting out 40 years ago, and the man who created a stage for them.   
  • 1 min read
  • Staff Pick

Landing Your First Customers as a Startup

Tony Ayaz, Chief Business Development Officer at describes the most important things that startup founders need to know when landing your first customer. He describes what it really means to satisfy customer demand, find first customers, and leverage partners. 
  • 3 min read
  • Staff Pick

A Tale of Two Meetings: Why Single Founders are the Exception

Last week I had a call with a CEO I consider a brilliant technologist and a well-rounded leader.   We had much to talk about since he has a lot on his plate right now: an upcoming product release, a major fundraising effort, and some very large customer opportunities.  All of these can be considered full-time activities by themselves, and unfortunately, he does not have a cofounder to share the workload with right now.  Fortunately, though, he recognizes this as suboptimal, and is looking at bringing someone in as a cofounder.  Given what he’s already accomplished, I have no doubt he will be able to join forces with someone just as passionate about the business as he is, and willing to make the same level of sacrifice I’ve seen him make.  In the short-term, though, he does not have someone next to him every day with the same level of responsibility and commitment to help meet the company's milestones. 

Now, contrast that conversation with a meeting I had today.  Two of the three cofounders of [Shortcut Labs]( were in town from Stockholm, and stopped by the []( office.  They had a highly successful [Indiegogo campaign]( last year (and have since successfully delivered the units to their happy backers, I should add) and were updating me on how their flic wireless buttons are now offered at major retailers like Selfridges in London, and Target’s Open House concept store in San Francisco.  When I first met the trio a year and a half ago, I was so excited that they had applied to  I really liked their idea, but what truly stood out for me was that all three cofounders had equally impressive technical backgrounds; they were all articulate; and their skills complemented each other.  We’re used to seeing teams of two strong cofounders, but three is exceptional.  They were all equally committed to building a great product from the get-go, and I believe that having two other like-minded partners has helped each of them through the ups and downs of startup life.  (In fact, the third cofounder was sick and stayed back at the hotel, so the other two handled all their meetings today… if he had been a solo founder, those meetings probably wouldn’t have taken place.) 

It’s no secret that building a company is extremely hard.  The enormity of the task can be daunting to any one person, but when you have another cofounder or two, you’re able to share the physical and mental burden that is part and parcel of the startup experience.  Having a like-minded cofounder helps you divide and conquer to move faster, and keeps you from feeling like you have to make every single big decision alone.

There’s a reason why single founder companies are the rare exception and not the rule at   So if you’re looking to start a company and you're a solo founder, spend some time looking for a cofounder with a complementary skillset.  It may take a while to find the right partner(s), but it will be time well spent.
  • 6 min read
  • Staff Pick

An Interview with Serial Founder Michael Baum on Young Innovators

This week, I got a chance to interview serial founder Michael Baum on his thoughts on the next generation of young innovators. Michael started his entrepreneurial path while a student at Drexel University. Having studied computer science, he became curious about solving problems and pushing possibilities. Since then, he has sold companies to AT&T, IBM, Yahoo!, Thompson Reuters, and Disney. In 2012, his company [Splunk]( IPO'd. With his early start as a student and now decades of company building experience, Michael has long been a supporter of student entrepreneurs. I interviewed Michael on his thoughts on the future of entrepreneurship. 


###What makes a new generation leader? 

**MB:** For me, next generation leaders have a balance of three characteristics.:   

1. First they have to have a deep desire to change the status quo of something in the world.  This could be a passion for solving a problem, creating a new experience or exploring a new approach to existing ways of doing things. But all leaders start with their own desire to change the world in some way. Without this leadership is just an empty suit or a power hungry politician. 
2. Secondly, leaders need to be somewhat delusional in order to continue on every day with their quest.  There are many naysayers along the way and without a bit of delusion (or some call it vision) its simply not possible.  I believe the most effective leaders actually see the world (or their part of it) in a way that they believe it can and should be and the thing that drives them every day is the frustration that things are not already that way. 
3. Finally, these next generation leaders must be audacious.  Communicating one’s vision to change the status quo is never easy and you are always selling. But the best next generation leaders know how to sell and be bold without being arrogant or condescending. The combination of these three traits is the magic in their personalities that makes others want to get on board for the journey with them. 

###Can you give a few examples of people that you would classify as young innovators? 

**MB:** Well, our program at is full of great examples.  

Jenny Broutin, CEO of [SproutsIO]( and [MIT Media Lab]( graduate is a prime example.  Jenny grew up in suburbs of Detroit where she grew fresh fruits and vegetables in her garden with her mom.  When she went on to study architecture at Columbia University and then focus on Smarter Cities research at the MIT Media Lab, she became frustrated with the huge amounts of waste and lack of taste and choice provided by our global agricultural system. This has become her life’s passion.  SproutsIO is developing consumer and professional produce appliances that will enable anyone to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables in confined spaces using hydroponics. Her vision is bold, audacious and a bit delusional as she imagines us controlling our own personal produce growth right from our smart phones.  

Another example of a young innovator in our program is Connor Landgraf, CEO of [Eko Devices]( Connor was the president of the UC Berkeley undergraduate student body for three years.  When he graduated last year and was starting his company, he recruiting more than a dozen other undergraduate students to help him build it. Eko is developing a digital stethoscope system which enables primary care doctors to digitize the heart and lung sounds from patients and in real time compare them to thousands of known arrhythmias. Connor was told by many people that he couldn’t build such a product nor compete in this market with the big players.  But this new generation of digital leaders, don’t see the obstacles, they see they possibilities and they expect to get there faster than traditional businesses. He is currently undergoing a trial of his system with Stanford Hospital in California.

###How are they different to so-called “old school” business Warren Buffet?

**MB:** There is a lot of talk in Silicon Valley and the entrepreneurial community today about “changing the world.”  And while it is true some of these pioneers are in it for the money, many of them begin with their own passion for changing the status quo.  They are truly inspired by building, creating and changing.  This, digital generation  rowing up now are also intolerant of obstacles and believe they can get there through rapid iteration. Maybe it's because digital technologies make rapid iteration more possible.  Software is eating the world.  Perhaps it’s because information technology has made the world a much smaller place and we witness the world’s challenge first hand every day. Whatever the case, it is clear that this next generation of leaders have the desire and the means to make a real difference - much more than any generation that has come before them.

###Which industries are most affected by new leaders?

**MB:** These digital next generation leaders will affect all industries.  Our student founders are innovating in a broad range of industries all over the world.  The strongest concentration we see, however, is in healthcare, medical devices, agriculture, aquaculture, industrial systems and what we’re calling trash to gas or the ability to turn waste into energy with high levels of output.

###Are younger leaders like Mark Zuckerberg better or is it about having a certain attitude, a willingness to embrace change and forward thinking? What is your experience in working with young startup founders?

**MB:** Younger is always better. But it takes a certain level of smarts and experience to fully understand the alternate futures we can create with the technologies and trends playing out in front of us. We started because we believe the potential for a better world in terms of economies, ecologies, quality of life and new possibilities exist with our young people.  But these young leaders need guidance. None of them have build scalable companies before.  We guide them through the process of doing that. Our goal is to dramatically increase the number of university students who graduate and start companies, but to also ensure that more of them thrive to positively transform our world. 

###Did you seek advice from "old school" leaders when setting up Splunk or did you forge your own path?

**MB:** At Splunk, we were out to disrupt an old industry in information technology systems management.  So we needed to forge our own path.  But we were also not in our 20’s, we were in our 30’s and 40’s and already had some company building experience.  A lot of the advice we got from “old school” leaders was just plain wrong.  They wanted us to take a traditional route to market and include all kinds of features in our product that would clutter the real reasons customers viewed us as disruptive.  A few of them even wanted us to change our name, claiming Splunk was too cute and simple for such a serious business.