Coach 2 Player (C2P)

I have a saying, “the lifespan of a mentor’s advice is the same as milk.” In a world that is moving as fast as as ours is, what worked last year is highly unlikely to work this one. It is only those who constantly seek to have new experiences who can have lasting value to those that they advise.

Time on the Bench

I have been fortunate enough to hang around the startup world for two(?) bubbles and close to two decades.  I have been the person writing checks, helping others get checks and working with founders fix problems that checks don’t.  I have spent countless hours on in coffee shops, bars, conference rooms and airplanes talking to founders and offering whatever perspective, experience and advice that I could.  I have no illusions about the wisdom that I “dropped”.  All I can hope is that it was a net positive.


For the last 14 months I have gotten myself back into the ring.  Yes, I know I shifted my sports metaphor, but I really don’t care and if you think that growing a company is not similar to getting punched in the face then you haven’t done it. As CEO for VL Group I have become the very leader that I have been advising; passionate, idealistic, visionary, action-focused…and stupid.  Really.

One of my most recommended authors is Ryan Holiday.  His two books, The Obstacle is the Way and The Ego is the Enemy, are now on my annual re-read list.  In Obstacle he outlines three core pillars; perspective, action and will. As mentors we often focus on the steps that our mentees need to take (action) or how they should be prepared for a marathon not a sprint (will).  Sometimes we forget that our very perspective is different from theirs.  This is a benefit but also a curse. It is easy to suggest cutting features from a MVP when you hold no emotional attachment to them. It is fine to suggest a team change when you haven’t spent weekends working with someone to make the company come to life.

Spoiled Milk

As mentors we should really all work to remember the perspective of the founder.  Like an Instagram filer it is is easy to remember our times as founders and business leaders in a more beautiful way.  Building a business isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty.  Remember firing a friend, being embarrassed in your community or having your mortgage company call?  Now talk to a founder about why they didn’t have time to build a pitch deck or build a financial model.

I am fortunate to have known the pool which I chose to jump into the deep end of.  Many don’t. Being a player (not in the rap “you go playa” sense, just in the continuing sports metaphor sense) has reminded me how I can be a better coach.  Perspective, the founder’s, can almost always be a better place to start than from yours.


The Story Of Joe


My biological father died on Friday morning.  Before you pass judgment or offer condolences know that we were estranged for much, if not all, of the last three decades.  Combined with the decade following his divorce from my mother, when I was seven years old, it has been a long time since he has actually been any part of my life.  That said, he represents 50% of my DNA and his passing offers a odd moment of reflection.

I am the product of a mother who was a math teacher and Joe, an art teacher. This combination has both served and limited me. I wouldn’t have it ay other way.  My chosen profession, working with early stage companies, requires both.  Building a strategy or company is an art informed by data.  Something I am very comfortable with. So while Joe was not around to teach me to shave or talk to girls he has likely contributed to whatever value I have brought to the companies I have had the privilege to work for/with/around.

This is not meant to be a eulogy.  Our relationship passed long ago.  Rather this is meant to be a reminder to myself that for all the things that were either bad or missing there were parts that weren’t.  And in any in any case, they all make me what I am today. I am numbers and pictures, art and science, all combined in a mind and heart both divided and stronger for it.

Rest in peace Joe.

Simply Press Play


We ain’t never going back, but the path forward ain’t clear.”                                                    

– some country song, (I think)

By some account the music industry has been “decimated” by the digitization of music.  Piracy, freemium models and the consumer’s unwillingness to pay for music are often cited as the villains in this fairy tale.  While you can go to any of the multitude of music conferences and hear someone or even a panel of someones bemoaning the current fate, few are talking about what comes next.  Maybe in the point solution way, block chain can “fix” complicated licensing labyrinth or algorithms can solve the problem of new music discovery.  But not in a holistic way that looks at the industry and envisions the “new” industry.  In part, this is because the ones doing the crystal ball gazing are existing insiders with vested interests.  We can talk about block chain but can’t talk about the fact that in a block chain world the massive infrastructures that are rights organizations would be reduced to authenticators, a role that requires many fewer people.  We can talk about the direct-to-fan movement but can’t acknowledge that this could cause the current label system to collapse (making them well-funded barriers to change). But the real driver of the current lack of vision for the industry is that we just don’t know.

Unknowns to knowns

There is a species of organization purpose-built to thrive in a world where the “unknowns” outnumber the “knowns”…startups.   That is why I, and VL Group are focused on this critical market of mass innovation.  I don’t know where the innovation will come from but I know it will come from startups.  That is why, from our API, to our pricing, to our collaborative approach we are making music startup ready.  How do we use music to drive enhanced user engagement and user experience?  How do we help fans find the next sound that they are going love? How do we help artists monetize their work, their audience and their brand?  The answers to these and other questions will emerge in the coming years and we are betting it won’t come from inside the industry.


We have just started and there is a lot more to do (this shit is hard).  But we are moving.  From our API to our artist stores to label relations, we are working on every front to ensure that we enable startups to explore and experiment.  So put on your headphones, set your sights high and build something amazing.  Our industry is counting on it.

Making The Most of NOEW

I have been telling myself I need to get back to blogging. The kickoff of NOEW this Friday seems to be a good jumping back in point.  So here are my Top 5 tricks for making your NOEW experience even better (it’s already going to be good).

5. Go To Sessions

This seems pretty straightforward.  However, I am not just talking about the ones you circles on the agenda.  Go to random ones as well.  You never know who will inspire you, what you will learn or even who you will be sitting next to.  There are a lot of great sessions  regardless of your interest.  Take this week to stretch yourself.  “Audit” a few classes and I am sure you will come away with some lagniappe.

4. Introduce Yourself

Networking 101, say hi to the person you are sitting next to.  NOEW is always full of pitch competitions and showcases.  Take a minute and prepare your own personal pitch.  Be able to answer the question, “why did you come?”  Make your goals known and you will be happy to se that people are eager to help you achieve them.  Practice the, “what do you do?” question as well.  Make sure that it is short and makes the questioner say “that’s cool.”  Also no apologies.  No, “I am just a…” or “I am a X but I don’t really like it.”  You are not your job.  You are what you love to do. The goal of entrepreneurship is to make them one in the same.

3. Wear Something Unique

IRL connections are made easier when you can tell someone that you are the person in the bright red dress or the Johnny Cash trucker cap (that’s me).  In a town where everyone has a costume collection don’t worry about going too far.  There is a reason that startups all wear the same logo t-shirt at these types of things.  People can’t help/meet/connect you if they can’t find you.

2. Takes Notes

Not just in sessions.  Take time between sessions and throughout the day to jot down ideas, learnings, people you meet.  There will be not shortage of great ideas and inspiration.  Be ready to catch them.

1. Be Grateful

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely pursuit.  It doesn’t have to be.  NOEW is a great place to find kindred spirits.  Making it happen each year is a lot of work.  Having worked with Idea Village for year now on their accelerator program I have had a inside peek.  So when you see a staffer from Idea Village say thank you.

See you there.

“You Can’t Knock The Hustle”- JayZ

Uppenteaux Da Rite


“Everything in New Orleans is a good idea.” – Bob Dylan

Yesterday I had the opportunity to do the first-ever AMA for on Slack. We covered a wide range of topics but much of the thread focused on on the growing startup scene here in the Crescent City.  Having spent a lot of time in the East Coast startup scene, first in Boston during Web 1.0 and then in the 95 corridor between D.C. and Philly, I tried to sum up my experience on the 3rd coast.  While cost of living, tax credits, and a growing investor community definitely play a part of the rationale for startups to come to New Orleans there are 3 other less quantifiable reasons.


Successful founders and investors know that without passion the trials of a startup are often insurmountable.  So what if you were in a city where almost everyone was chasing their passion.  Rather than being the outlier you were  surrounded by musicians, bartenders, teachers, artists, chefs, and other founders all chasing their dream.  New Orleans is not only tolerates your quest but in fact requires it.  You can do a lot of things here but you can’t do anything half way.


From the Mardi Indians to the multitude of Krewes that populate the colorful floats in the parades New Orleans is full of groups of people supporting a common cause.  You may find yourself feeling alone in many places but here all you need to do is look around to find others that are going through a similar experience.  Need proof check out the 610 Stompers, Pussyfooters or NOLA Meetup.  Being a founder can be a lonely job and sometimes it is the community around you that makes the difference between staying the course or stopping too soon.


The culture and resiliency of New Orleans are two of the characteristics that make a startup successful.  You can’t swing a daiquiri in this town without bumping into examples of these critical factors. From the school system to the neighborhoods to the loose coalition of crews that come together every year to make Mardi Gras the celebration that is known around the world culture and resiliency are always on display.

That’s My Pitch

This is a city where being in the high school marching band is very cool and the Scrabble score for the word that sounds like “go” is a minimum of 13 points. I encourage all founders to find the place that is best for them not just the place that is closest to them.  And in that search, I suggest everyone to “Geaux to New Orleans”.

F*#ked It Up…Now Fix It


We all make mistakes sometime.  As individual we are taught to apologize and hopefully the transgression will be forgiven.  However research shows us that the a mistake can impact trust and my friend Ed Trolley used to say that with trust, “you take the elevator down but have to take the stairs back up.”  Some research shows negative stories are more than 4x more viral than positive ones and that it can take 10+ positives to overcome a negative.  Perhaps this is why roses come by the dozen.

This is not to say that the effort required to recover is not worth it. Especially as a startup.  Loyalty to a brand has been shown to INCREASE after a mistake is recovered from.  This is especially true when the recovery exceeds the expectation of the impacted.  Think Zappos, Nordstrom and others that are storied as “over-recovery” companies.


You start by admitting it.  Tell your users, clients and team that something went wrong.  Don’t ever try to ignore it.  This is the time to channel your inner Stoic warrior.  Focus on what is not what you wish it was.


Missteps often have a strange gravity on us, turning our focus to the past rather than the future.  Acceptance does not mean internalizing it.  You and your team are not the mistake.  You remain a smart, focused, execution machine.  You just had a bad day.  The key is to not let that day become a week.


Now it is time to get to the fixing.  There are plenty of resources, such as root cause analysis, to help you here.  My contribution to this is simply to go back to where your startup began…focused on the problem to be solved and user to be delighted.

We all try not to make mistakes.  But in a world where we are also required to constantly be trying new things, it is inevitable.  The key is to focus on the recovery and the learnings that come from the process.  In doing so, you may be creating even more loyal customers.  And that is no mistake.

NOEW 2015

Last week New Orleans officially added a new season to the calendar…Entrepreneur Season.  The annual New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, NOEW (pronounced “no-ee” since nothing down sounds like it looks) is in the books and this year was one that may go down as the tipping point, not just for New Orleans but perhaps even the regional ecosystem.

Last year I wrote about my views on NOEW 2014 and stated that I thought that Idea Village and the ecosystem were at a point where roles and responsibilities needed to change.  As entrepreneur-in-residence this season I had a ringside seat to watch those changes begin to take place.

Uppenteaux Da Rite

Jim Coulter’s keynote provided the perfect left-brained showcase of the growth and impact of NOEW, balancing out the stubborn, perseverant right-brained passion that is Tim Williamson.  With attendance, start ups and partner organizations rapidly growing it was a set of charts that every startup should aspire to.

Friday’s Demo Day pitches were another example of the growing strength of the ecosystem.  My co-EIR Hank Torbert and I had the privilege of working with 15 amazing companies ranging from a freshly launched app to an industrial technology led by a former EIR. What all these companies had in common was quality.  Many of them were announcing new partnerships, accelerating progress and even funding. From the founders to the traction they were getting these were all companies that had earned the right to be in the room.

And what a room it was.  Over one hundred investors both local and national crammed into a conference room to get a look at what many across the nation have overlooked.  Our goal as EIR’s was to create a sense of FOMO for those that were not in that room and based on the buzz, business cards and emails we may have succeeded.  This year’s room was filled by the hard work of Alex Rawitz and his tireless networking.  My guess is whomever has the job next year will have a much easier time of it.

One Festival.  Many Tents

The partner organizations pitches were a joy to see as well.  Leveraging the NOEW platform to elevate their efforts both locally and regionally they brought energy and passion to the party.  Idea Village’s open platform has become a Jazz Fest for entrepreneurship and festivals are what we do best down here.  The Delta Regional Authority brought startups from the many states within its domain and once again New Orleans served as the gateway to the Mississippi. This time for new ideas rather than barge loads of goods.

Second lines, cocktail parties, celebrity chefs on panel, Saints announcers and brass bands reminded everyone that this was not your typical conference but this was a truly a New Orleans style festival.  One that is not only for the locals but one that can and should draw entrepreneurs from everywhere. If you want to read a great piece on this check out this post.

My Mission

The 300th anniversary of New Orleans is only a couple of years away and I think it is time to go back to where it all began.  I want the upcoming NOEW’s to be made up of the same crazy gumbo that started it all.  I am looking for French, Spanish and Caribbean entrepreneurs and ecosystems to partner with the Idea Village and to see NOEW and New Orleans as the perfect platform for highlighting their accomplishments and journey.  So if you are one or know of one please let me know.

Yeah You Rite

The team at Idea Village did an amazing job and I will add my voice, applause and gratitude to the multitudes that have already shown their appreciation.  I would especially call out the team that worked with Hank and I and the 15 demo day companies; Alex Rawitz, Amelia Lane Johnson, Leilah Bundesen-Magier and James Arney.  Without you guys Hank, me and all the companies would not have made it.

I am not sure what my role in NOEW 2016 will be but I am sure I will be there.  I hope to see all of you there too.IMG_0268