Category Archives: Entrepreneurs

The Importance of Special

I was having a conversation the other day with one of our portfolio CEOs, shortly after having had a very similar one with another with whom I’ve just begun working.

The discussion was about hiring, building culture and setting organizational tone.

Even more to the point, the importance of establishing and driving high team standards into every function and operation of a company.

To put a target on the point, the criticality of discipline in sticking to those high standards when recruiting and selecting teams.

People are the most important asset of a company, in case you’ve not heard.

In plowing through the J-Curve of a startup’s growth, it can become all too-easy to compromise on a tough hire.

A few scenarios:

  • Thinking, for example, that it’s taking too long to find the “perfect” CMO, so “let’s back off a bit” on expectations. After all, the thinking goes, there’s an urgent organizational need to get things done. Urgency is a key cultural value of this company.
  • Thinking that a particular candidate may not be is a “slam dunk” chemical fit with the rest of the team, but can be an absolute rockstar individual contributor.
  • Thinking that hiring a “name” talent from a big company is what’s needed to help bring the company attention.
  • Thinking that a candidate may not have ALL of the skill sets & experiences necessary to be extraordinarily successful, but “perfect is the enemy of good enough”.

Deadly risks, all.

The key ingredient to building a great team is having an uncompromising company principle — central to the cultural backbone of a company — to not hire ANYONE who’s not special.

  • Hiring someone who may be on the upswing of her or his career and lacks some of the experience for a role can be great.

As long as they are truly special.

  • Hiring someone who’s a “name” from a successful company that’s successfully plowed through the J-Curve can be great.

As long as that individual helped contribute to the plowing.  Has the chops to roll up her/his sleeves and get things done as a contributor and leader. No matter what the role.

As long as an exec has proven to be a leader who leads by contribution, collaboration and iteration. Not by hierarchy.

Young companies can’t be managed and led by heirarchy. It’s the toxic killer of early stage culture.

Heirarchy’s not collaborative.  It feeds personal agendas & ego. It discourages learning through risk-taking & mistakes. It’s antithetical to a culture of rapid, iterative decision-making & team growth.

Special sounds like hyperbole and subjective buzz jive, but it’s not.

Special means superior in as many dimensions as possible. It’s more than intellect.

Many CEOs and BoDs equate intelligence with leadership. And live to regret it.

Special = Deep, proven knowledge in an area critical to the success of the company + Work ethic + Integrity + Teamsmanship + Passion + Ability to manage, lead and contribute by influence, energy, and passion – (ego + individual agenda)

Special can be that proven Growth Hacker, having all of the above, who may only have 3, 4 or 5 yrs of total experience. But those 3, 4 or 5 yrs featured adaptive, iterative learning.  And real impact on her/his last company.

It’s also Attitude. Make-it-happen-as-a-world-class-TEAM attitude.

I in team

So how to find special?

Through connecting with special people and people-collecting. Always. Networking even when a specific hiring need is down the road.

By finding the mentors and protégées of special people.

By doing deep diligence on each and every person brought into a company.

By making certain that candidates have truly-superior abilities.

And desire to both yearn — as well as to learn.

To find special, CEOs and BoD members need to be architects of team composition.

They need to encourage each and every team member to hold their teammates up to the highest standards. And they need to drive that ethos into the keystone of a company’s culture.

Special loves special.

Special people want to work with special people. And are driven away when they feel that leadership has compromised.

dan fouts ball

Passion. Character. Commitment. Excellence in an applied area.  Words that describe what “special” is all about.  Whether building a young company team —  a football team.

If the “perfect” candidate for a given phase of a  company’s growth not found —  if a candidate surfaces who is slightly more junior, or lacks one or two of the skills outlined in the aspirational description of the “perfect’ candidate, it might still be OK.

As long as that person is really, truly special.

The @CoderDojo Movement

polaris-blog_hwf_james-001coderdojo2

Today, Polaris announced our support for The CoderDojo Movement – the effort begun by James Whelton in Dublin 2 1/2 years ago.

CoderDojos are free volunteer-supported coding clubs for young people, aged 6 to 16.

At Dojos, young people learn how to hack, code, build websites, apps, games and more – all in a fun, social and collaborative environment.

And they learn how to teach these skills to other young people.  As well as how to mentor, lead and present their ideas and work to others.

CoderDojo is supported by The Hello World Foundation James founded, which in turn, is supported in part by Polaris as its founding donor. My partner Noel Ruane, who first met James three years ago, sits on the HWF Board.

Since James began in June 2011 with the first CoderDojo held in County Cork, Ireland with 40 kids participating, over 215 CoderDojos have introduced over 10K children in 27 countries monthly to the wonders of coding.

In August 2011, just after James met Noel, he also met Tom Preston-Werner from GitHub.  It proved to be a seminal meeting, as Tom so resonated with the CoderDojo movement’s values that he helped James set up the first US Dojo in GitHub’s offices.

Which led to Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Engine Yard, Cisco and others jumping onto the team to help set up ad-hoc CoderDojo events with James.

The Hello World Foundation and Polaris’ support of it is all about helping to accelerate and scale these first U.S. beachhead events into a continuous, self-sustaining global movement.

And about building on James’ vision of an interconnected, self-sustaining, collaborative community of Dojos throughout the U.S.

Why Coderdojo?

  • Industry: CoderDojo’s meeting an industry need.  There’s a global technology skill shortage which isn’t being addressed. Millennials and their children will form the talent pool for the next generations of great start-ups.
  • Education: Code education is not readily-accessible for children wishing to learn.  Coding teaches creative and logical problem-solving skills. And helps to reveal confidence, self-esteem and leadership abilities.
  • Society: Not only is there a major gender imbalance within the tech sector (less than 10 % of developers worldwide are women), but there’s also a lack of community, recognition and platforms for young coders.
  • CoderDojo aims to help fill the voids left by traditional and mainstream education systems.
  • CoderDojo really does turns hacking into a social hobby!

The Foundation’s goal is to scale to over 1,000 Dojos by 2015, resulting in over 50,000 new coders (with the objective of 40% female) to be created and inspired.

Its over-arching goal is to create a self-sustaining, global, interconnected & collaborative Dojo community.

Hello Boston & Cambridge:

Polaris today announced that we’re partnering with Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino and his staff (led by Chief of Staff, Mitch Weiss) to bring CoderDojo to the children of Boston.

First, in the Innovation District’s new District Hall facility across the street from our new office-to-be in Seaport on Saturday, November 23.

After that, to the neighborhoods themselves in communities throughout the city.

boston strong

And Cambridge will not be far behind.

The first Boston Dojo session will teach how to create and style a website with HTML & CSS, including how to embed YouTube Videos, Twitter feeds, Google Maps and more. At the end of the session, all attendees will have the opportunity to put their site up on the internet. Future sessions for more advanced coders will teach the basics and intermediate drills of Ruby, Python, Java, HTML5 and Node.js.

You can follow @CoderDojo on Twitter, and @CoderDojoBOS as the Movement starts to begin here in Boston/Cambridge.   And the CoderDojo.com events page to find out more about the first Boston event on November 23.

James Whelton, Polaris Entrepreneur Out-of-Residence:

As above, my partner Noel Ruane and Polaris have been working closely with James for several years now, as he described today on the Polaris blog.

James is a special, unique, truly-extraordinary talent, who’s joined us as Entrepreneur-Out-of-Residence.

“Special.” “Unique.”Extraordinary.”  Words we use to describe the repeat entrepreneurs with whom we’ve built enduring relationship for over the past 17 years.  And a big part of Polaris’ success over that time and in the future.

James qualifies.  Having never attended university, James has lived his life with a passion for coding and innovation.  And has captured the minds and excitement of a generation of young, aspiring developers.

And he’s achieved.  He’s been named the youngest-ever Ashoka Fellow, named to Forbes’ “30 under 30″ for his work as a Social Entrepreneur, and as the 2013 Irish Internet Association’s Person of the Year.

james whelton circle

Why “Out-of-Residence”, you might ask?

Simple.  James, in addition to working on his own start-up ideas, will be taking to the U.S. to help spread the gospel of CoderDojo.

He’s a living, breathing example of a truly-special talent who has benefited from opportunity to be exposed, at a nascent point in his life, to the wonders of coding. And to the power of innovation.

We’re thrilled to have him on board.  And stoked to help him change a piece of the world through advancing The CoderDojo Movement.

As we said in our press release today, our support of The Hello World Foundation is the latest phase of our efforts to help build and support the technology ecosystem and community in the Boston/Cambridge market.

Imagine the entrepreneurial power of a new generation that can thrive technologically in the same manner that our generation did in areas such as athletics and the arts.

We’re supporting something very special here.

Innovation is a journey.  And that journey is a continuum.

You’ll see Polaris’ innovation supportive efforts continue – and continually re-invented to support points all along the continuum.

Some Obvious Things about Healthcare Data

Some musings from a panel I was on the other day @ Xconomy’s Healthcare Summit.  It took place in Lincoln, MA, a suburb of Waltham :).

The Topic was the “Healthcare Innovation Pipeline” – a subject worthy of days of discussion, but wisely relegated by Bob Budieri to 30 minutes,  Joining me were Joe Kvedar, Founder/Director of Partners’ Center for Connected Health, Jill Seidman Director of Healthbox, and our moderator, Richard Dale, COO of Optum Labs.

Some takeaways:

I was glad to cut to the chase of  the “Obvious Things” w/r/t to the current state of Healthcare change:

  • Providers and Payers: It’s nearly impossible for them to maintain their operations while attempting to comply with regulatory deadlines.  Meaningful Use-2, HIPPA Omnibus, the Affordable Care Act itself – each place enormous pressure on the Healthcare system. Yet each continue to create incredible opportunities for disruptive technology solutions to help them cope with the urgent, tectonic pressure of compliance.
  • For docs, Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements are decreasing, private insurance payments are flat, and costs are increasing.  It’s getting incredibly-challenging for hospitals to maintain their operations while preparing for massive change.  And near-impossible for practices large and small to run effectively.
  • MU-2: while software is still being certified, hospital IT has no choice but to run non-certified apps.
  • ACA: while the transition from episodic sickness care to continuous wellness care is accelerating, the progress of building private patient data exchanges and outcomes registries plods on.
  • Some say that if system doesn’t move fast enough, even more regulations will increase, causing all stakeholders to move faster. Or not. Haste makes waste.

hpe & change

Still more “Obvious Things” result:

  • As Denny Ausiello challenged the group from the audience, we need to move away from the buzz term of “big data”, as the label implies that healthcare operation solutions lie only in mining large, broad pools of patient information.

We at Polaris wholeheartedly agree.  Unlike the commercial enterprise, the healthcare enterprise as a whole hasn’t had the benefit of 35 years of structured, workflow-derived data aggregation.

Real disruption will occur only with the accessibility of the deep, patient and cohort-level data that’s only beginning to emerge – not just the slicing and dicing of holistic population data.

While the healthcare industry may not be in a position to reclassify the moniker that has become the über buzz phrase across the commercial enterprise, we are in fact well-positioned to identify opportunities that lie across a healthcare system in obvious need of fixing.

  • The tremendous opportunity to standardize and integrate multiple sources of information on behalf of a single patient.

Only with this improved quality flow of information comes the ability to conduct predictive analytics across larger pools of patient populations which significantly improve outcomes.

  • The increased availability of data, and the ability to integrate this massive volume explosion into standard and usable forms is key. Among other things, this means integration into clinical workflows.

Clinical, claims, patient history, and genetic profiling data – in workable formats – integrated into clinical workflows – enables benchmarking of patients and care levels against population levels that can truly inform.

The prospect for disruption in the healthcare system has perhaps never been greater.

  •  But effecting and managing disruption is an art form – not a science.  And having the technology to disrupt is not enough.
  • Disruption best occurs when technology, urgency and at the same time, metered patience converge.

As Joe Kvendar put it, creating new models of care delivery, by developing innovative strategies to move care from hospitals and doctor’s offices into the day-to-day lives of patients, is a level of disruption which requires value to, and patience by, both patients and caregivers.

The rate of both clinician AND patient adoption of healthcare technology – and their motivations – will in many ways meter the adoption of innovation within the system.

Logentries: Actionable Insights from Big Data

We’re super-excited to publicly announce our Series A investment in Logentries, which we seeded over a year ago out of @dogpatchlabs Dublin.

We’re thrilled to lead the round, which also includes Mike Maples & Frontgate Fund, as well as our partners from the Seed round, RRE and Frontline Ventures out of Dublin.

Logentries’ vision is a big one:

Extracting valuable information from the noise of big data in order to offer actionable insights into every phase of a company’s operations.

It’s a big data company that enables users to make sense of unstructured data.  Machine data. Log data. Application data.

The problem with this kind of data is that it’s not easy to access nor to understand.

Logentries’ platform crunches through the huge data files that applications generate.  Then it provides information and data on performance and relevance.  Usable in a form upon which developers and IT operations users can digest, analyze and act.

And ultimately, making enterprise applications more accessible to business users.  Individual log entries for a medium or small startup application can generate between 2-3 million events a day.

With virtually no marketing and no outbound selling effort to date, Logentries has assembled over 1,000 customers and 10,000 users in over 100 countries, processing over 20 billion events a day.

We first worked with co-founders Trevor Parsons and Viliam Holub after my partner Noel Ruane met them shortly after the company was founded in late 2010.  Logentries’ core technology came out of research that Viliam & Trevor did while post-graduate students at University College Dublin, while part of its “Performance Engineering Laboratory” in concert with IBM.  Viliam and Trevor built a service that could consume huge quantities of machine data and was unlike any existing alternative.

Since then, Noel has worked closely with Trevor and Viliam in Dublin to help blueprint and develop the company’s vision.

We’ve been thrilled to attract Doug McNary & Bob Preble, both of whom I’ve worked with in the past, as Chairman and VP Engineering, respectively, as the center of business gravity for the company shifted to Boston Seaport.

And most of all, we’re stoked that another great guy I’ve worked with in the past, Andrew Burton, has joined us as CEO to lead the journey in building what we believe will be a significant company,

Andrew has an incredible blend of product vision, market insight and operational chops, having made his bones for over the past seven years as SVP Products @ LogMeIn, and having done big things at IMLogic and Groove Networks before that.

And small world, He did his Masters at University College Dublin, giving him another common bond with Trevor & Viliam.

logentries

As Andrew has put it:

Your average app generates 2-3 million events a day. But inside those events, maybe less than a tenth of a percent may contain error codes that prevent your app from functioning properly.  When a developer logs in we present them with just those events that they need to know.

There are several big things going on here.

First, is our ability to pre-process log data, in real-time, so that finding the most valuable data is easier.   Users see & digest data without having to learn a programming language.

Second, when massive amounts of data are being pre-processed, the most critical information is tagged and identified, using our collective intelligence model.

What this means is, for a developer, rather than having to figure out what you are looking for and querying millions of events, we pre-process and identify events based on our own knowledge of the log data.

We do the digging so that we can show users the less than 1% of the data that’s most valuable.

So those events can be acted upon.

Big solution. Hard to do. Incredibly valuable.