A couple years ago, Brad Feld reached out to me and asked me to be a mentor to TechStars. In 2008, I joined Dick Costolo, my old boss at FeedBurner who's now the CEO at Twitter, for a two hour session in Boulder that basically told a room full of young start-up founders the story of FeedBurner.
For those who don't know, in addition to being a great CEO, Dick's also a pretty funny guy. (He was at one point a professional improv comic.) And if you're going to be sitting next to Dick for two hours, you have to go in knowing you're going to be his straight man.
By far the funniest moment of the night was when Dick recounted my early days as FeedBurner's VP of business development. As my title suggested, I was to go out and, well, develop business. FeedBurner's model was pretty simple: become a distribution hub for RSS content, give publishers insight into their feed consumption, and then monetize that consumption through an ad network. I was responsible for the publisher relationships (we later changed my title to VP, Publisher Services).
After a trip to New York in 2005, Dick asked how it went. I told him it was great - in fact, in addition to a number of successful meetings with media companies, I squeezed in a meeting with a financial services firm. Not a typical FeedBurner customer, but they were thinking about RSS in interesting ways, and wanted to pay us money to do some stuff for them. The money was non-trivial - particularly in our early days, when we were still building out the ad network - but Dick held firm. That wasn't the business we were in, so he said no, and I explained to the bewildered would-be customer that that wasn't what we were interested in.
It was a valuable lesson, and it's one all startups need to learn. The sooner they get clarity into the business they're in - and conviction about the businesses they're not in - the sooner they'll hit their stride.
But because it was Dick retelling the lesson, it was much, much funnier. Predictably, it involved me looking a bit, shall we say, comical. (It's my blog, that's as far as I'll go.)
Back to Brad Feld. He and David Cohen (TechStars CEO) have a new book out, a collection of lessons from CEOs and founders they've worked with. It's a great read - the book's broken out into sections covering People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal and Structure and Work/Life Balance. Within each section are essays by well-known startup founders, and often accompanied by commentary by David or Brad about their perception of that essay or team.
Enough of the setup. You can read a snippet from the book below, courtesy of Google Books, where you get to see how Dick spins a tale about me, RSS feeds, and rabbits. Really. Enjoy: