Conjur acquired by Cyber-Ark

I am thrilled to congratulate the entire team @ Conjur on their successful acquisition by Cyber-Ark. Formal announcement of the deal is here.

As you know – I’m all about Founders – and I’m thrilled to congratulate Elizabeth Lawler (Co-Founder & CEO) & Kevin Gilpin (Co-Founder & CTO). Kevin and Elizabeth are not only my great friends and trusted colleagues but they are also fantastic Founders.

Thanks to my fellow seed investors @ Conjur :

  • Rich Levandov and Brady Bohrmann @ Avalon at truly exceptional. My experience with Avalon over a number of startups has been consistently fantastic. Every time Rich and Brady are faced with a tough decision – they consistently do the right thing for the company and for the Founders – Rich and Brady define the term “Founder Friendly”
  • Sunil Dhaliwal @ Amplify Partners invested in Conjur just before he moved to California – Conjur was one of his first investments @ Amplify. Sunil’s steady support – especially through the acquisition – has been greatly appreciated.

I have a passion for great software and the amazing “10Xers” that populate the best software companies. Kevin is one of the best software engineers with whom I’ve had the privilege to work. I first met Kevin back in the mid-1990’s – where we both worked @ Trilogy. Kevin’s skills @ Trilogy were legendary (the bar was insanely high). We’ve worked together many times since then and over the past 20+ years and it’s always a pleasure for me to watch the world come to recognize Kevin as truly one of the best in software.

Posted in Enterprise Software, Entrepreneurship, Financing, Founders, Information Technology, Innovation, Start-Ups, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Founder Collective

I wrote here about my decision in May 2014 to limit my focus in Koa Labs to go “all in” on Tamr, referencing it as “the best way to non-incrementally improve Cambridge/Boston’s start-up infrastructure is to create more strong, independent companies that remain independent in the long term.” As Tamr continues to grow, I believe this principle even more strongly today. My great friend Christopher Ahlberg has been a powerful role model as he’s been builing Recorded Future into the leader in cyber threat intelligence.  Christopher’s mentorship and the support of all my Tamr stakeholders (especially Rich Miner, Peter Barris, Jerry Held, Lisa Coca and Mike Stonebraker) has been a powerful inspiration for me.  
Not surprisingly, as Tamr grows it’s also naturally taking more of my time and needing even more of my focus going forward — leaving me even less time and bandwidth to support the Cambridge ecosystem directly. I’m proud of the portfolio that we’ve built at Koa, and have been looking for indirect ways to continue my support but limit the time/overhead required. Over the past 5 years, I have increasingly relied on my good friends and trusted colleagues at Founder Collective as a way for me to continue to support first-time founders and the Cambridge startup ecosystem  while preserving my focus on Tamr.  I’m thrilled to formalize this transition by joining as a “Founder Partner” at Founder Collective, a role that is ideally configured for people like me that have a full time startup gig but want to help entrepreneurs. David’s formal announcement is here.

The Koa Labs portfolio is going strong with great companies such as Recorded Future, Upstart, PillPack, Desktop Metal, Twine Health, Openbay, Kuvee and Conjur. While I’m not making direct new investments, I will continue to support these and other companies (although most of them have far outgrown the kind of founder mojo that I bring to the table).

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Financing, Founders, Start-Ups, Venture Funding | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

eShares is a no-brainer

If you are running an early stage company or if you are an employee at an early stage company – I strongly recommend that you have your CFO/Admin folks adopt eShares for equity management.  If you send them the following link – they will get a special deal for people who read my blog :

I use eShares myself @ Tamr and > 10 of the companies in my portfolio @ Koa have adopted eShares.   All of my companies that adopted eShares can’t imagine what they did beforehand.  It really is a no-brainer.

I wrote a blog post about why eShares is so important – link is here.

If you don’t believe me – then listen to Fred Wilson @ UnionSquare Ventures also uses eShares and feels the same way that I do – “no brainer” – his post is here.

Hope that you give it a try – totally worth it and I bet you’ll find you can’t imagine what you did before eShares – I know I can’t.

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I’m not a fan of convertible notes…

I’ve been asked for opinions on convertible notes in seed rounds consistently for the past 10+ years.  I’m going to just say it again.  I am NOT a fan of convertible notes in seed rounds – I will always defer to founders wishes – but I strongly prefer to avoid convertible notes in seed rounds.  The reasons are many and varied – Fred Wilson articulates them very clearly in his post here.   I strongly agree with Fred and believe that it’s time for entrepreneurs to start with default of a priced round.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Financing, Founders, Uncategorized, Venture Funding | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Gender Diversity Milestone @ Boston TechStars

The current TechStars ’17 Boston class is > 50% women.  That’s right the 2017 TechStars Boston class is more than half women Founders/CEOs.  AWESOME.  JUST AWESOME.

This fact was reported lightly at xconomy and BostonInno – but I believe this milestone deserves a bigger call out as we seem to be making progress on startup gender diversity in Boston (we have a long way to go but we MUST recognize progress when appropriate).

Most startup ecosystems are plagued with a status quo of minimal gender diversity – but many of us in Boston/Cambridge believe that our core values and talent in our ecosystem uniquely position us to achieve an aspirational 50/50 mix of men/women founders within the ecosystem over time.

Under the leadership of Semyon Dukach the gender diversity of the current TechStars class reflects the potential for diversity in great startups – and of course shout out to Katie Rae and Reed Sturtevant for setting TechStars Boston on the right path.  Of course the entire Boston Techstars team deserves kudos.  I’ve blogged about the issue of gender diversity in startups in Boston in the past here.  Psyched to see us making progress and feel encouraged to redouble our efforts on improving all forms of diversity within our startup ecosystem.

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basic business SaaS services for start-ups

Over the past 10 years I’ve tried many of the SaaS offerings that enable small companies to manage their operations as if they are much larger companies.  While many economists bemoan the loss of jobs due to productivity – for any small startup – the availability of SaaS tools which enable you to scale your startup without adding people is a huge positive.

I wanted to share the tools that I’ve found most useful in practice across my portfolio – I’ve tried to provide options – but often the cheapest tools are the best:

Every small company has it’s own needs but it’s amazing how easy and quickly you can have the basics set up for very reasonable cost.

My biggest request to each of these vendors is always the same – use Google OAuth to simplify login (thank you Expensify and Lever).  If you must have a directory service – then JumpCloud is the way to go imho.



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Concepting: Strategy’s New Best Friend

Guest post below from Christine Pillsbury Geordie McClelland @ Altr

Most of us in the world of marketing and product development are given one of two hats: strategy or creative. When talking with clients or peers, we might say “we’re on the strategy side of the business,” or that I’m “a creative.” Sometimes these separate roles manifest themselves in very physical realities, most agencies split their office’s into departments: turn left for strategy, turn right for creative.

The brief, in brief

The brief was the thing that connected us – but conversely it also kept us apart. By providing clarity on the project objectives, target user behaviors and needs, as well as opportunities and constraints that would guide “the creative process”. The brief also represented in many ways, if not a culmination, at least a pause in the work of the strategy team who maybe, might later be called upon to answer questions, confirm that the creative is “on strategy,” or implement a measurement and analysis plan.

In our experience, the “hand-off” is both premature and self-defeating. The butterfly effect of whatever you create, should not be underestimated, for it has the potential to create a new reality with direct implications for strategy. The world isn’t static and your strategy shouldn’t be either.

No longer a baton, but a bridge

That’s why we’ve increasingly shifted our understanding of the brief’s role in project. It’s no longer the hand-off between strategy and creative, but instead it’s a tool used in the cross-disciplinary process of concepting and testing. Iterating on the solution requires iterating on the definition of the problem. From the whiteboard to the marketplace, there are countless opportunities to step back and build upon or even question the reality outlined in the brief, to advance the strategy in order to be relevant in the context of the new reality you are creating.

Concepting, in our experience is no longer the activity that happens as a result of strategy, instead it has become a critical part of the strategic process.

A few examples:

Strategic development at the whiteboard: We recently completed work for a real estate firm whose core offering has been a lead-engine and CRM platform for brokers. They would acquire and serve leads using a proprietary database of residential rental listings and help brokers service those leads with a proprietary CRM platform to help them match properties against their clients needs and notify them when their clients would be back in the market.

As we started concepting the brokers’ CRM experience, we kept bumping up against the reality this tool was competing with an arsenal of other tools that brokers relied on to effectively do their jobs. In fact, the more we built out the CRM experience, the more it seemed to be in conflict with brokers’ other tools, effectively fragmenting their workflow and putting at risk the core benefits of our client’s offering. It was  our client’s product. The tool we were to design couldn’t just be a lead-engine and CRM platform, but instead it had to be a hub for all of the brokers’ work-related activities: including tracking market trends, scheduling, coordinating visits with landlords, administration of lease documents, and inter- and intra-office team development and recognition. We realized that it wasn’t about using the market’s channels better, it needed to be about bring all those channels together into one clear, and more powerful tool, so that’s what we built.

Strategic development in customer testing: Too often testing is designed to answer simple questions like: “Do you like A or B?” or “Does this thing make sense to you? Why or why not?” But testing can be more than just the final gut check before investing in building and launching something, it can be integral in determining what that thing is. We were brought in to help a B2B technology firm craft a new go to market and branding strategy. They had multiple products, serving different users in a single important, though often overlooked industry – an industry that they were poised to revolutionize with a soon-to-be launched suite of products.

Through customer and expert interviews, we began to get speculative advice on the potential risks and opportunities the company might encounter by focusing its product strategy on a single offering instead of a suite of products and by changing its name. But almost all of the feedback boiled down to the fact that people would wait and see how things turned out, leaving the door open for a number of strategic directions.

To help advance the conversations and our strategic approach, we built concepts including product screens, marketing materials, and a website homepage to help customers see where this might go. This wasn’t a test of our recommendations, none of the concepts that we used at this stage ended up being a part of what we ultimately launched in market, instead it was a test to inform our recommendation. Once people were able to see a few potential future realities they were better able to imagine how their relationship with the company might change if we pursued one, better able to advice on what we’d need to do in order to make each successful, what new risks might arise and what new opportunities might present themselves… it was this information, gathered entirely through concepting and testing that ultimately drove our in-market strategy.

Strategic development through in-market activations: Learning doesn’t stop at the usability lab. Often, targeted, in-market activations can provide the most reliable information to drive strategy. In working with a healthcare start-up to help them define their brand and launch a new marketing platform, we found ourselves in a number of long, spirited debates about what the future of healthcare meant to patients and what both excited and concerned them about it.

While everyone in the room for these debates was well-informed about the consumer healthcare market, we kept finding ourselves defending a point of view about this revolutionary new service by offering anecdotal evidence based on either competitors’ experiences or our own, budget-constrained research. The strategy at this point was grounded in projection and could easily be countered using the same, limited set of information.

In order to break the stalemate and (importantly for the start-up) start showing immediate results, we created a number of different marketing emails, each one representing a slightly different take on what the future of healthcare might mean, and the role our client could play in that future. Again, our initial concepts did not find their way into the marketing platform we finally launched, but the way in which people responded to the messages we tested directly informed everything that ultimately went to market.

We are in the business of change

If you or your clients are going to invest your time and money to create something new, a baseline expectation for that work should be that something will change as a result of it – your customers lives might get better, your business might grow, your community might improve. Too often though, strategy doesn’t reflect that change. It’s based on a retrospective view of the world before you did something. However, when you include concepting and testing in the strategic development process, you begin to account for that change and start building for the future as it will be thanks to you.
Don’t underestimate the change that is possible through your work, plan for it.

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