Some thoughts on competition (and non-competition)

I love to compete. In fact, there are lots of times when I love it a little too much - over the years there have been lots of times when I’ve taken my love for competition too far on an early morning bike ride or a late night card game, and unfortunately there have been several bonehead alpha male moments with my colleagues at SVB, too. Sorry guys!

But for the most part, competition is a good thing. While there are isolated instances of abuse, the fact is consistent and responsible competition produces a more balanced field of play and higher standard for all of the players. This is as true in business as it is in sports, as true in the market as it is on the field of play. 

My favorite blog post of the year was when Ash Ashutosh, CEO of Actifio, welcomed EMC to the copy data management market and to "responsible competition". We should all embrace competition like this; we have our competitors and the competitive forces of a free market to thank, at least in part, for who we are and how successful we are.

So, this brings me to the issue of the day and the point of this blog post. We need to do away with the enforceability of non-competes in Massachusetts, and for all of us in the innovation economy, this is the moment to act. The Governor has put forth a good proposal that mirrors the legislation that has long been in place in California. We are at a point when our Massachusetts-based hyper growth tech and life science companies are growing quickly, going public and transitioning from fledging startups to major employers. Our sector is creating real value and building for the future - the freedom to recruit the talent they need is vital for keeping this going! 

As a business person, I’m constantly thinking about employees, clients and shareholders. My philosophy is that you have to earn each of these three every single day. Unlike intellectual property and other corporate assets, there are no fences here: these three groups are free to walk and invest their time, energy, talent, networks, resources and capital elsewhere. You don’t have an enforceable right to any of them, so you set about every single day to earn their confidence and loyalty. 

So, let’s take a leap of faith together. Most of the startups in our community are already on board with this. I know because I hear it all the time - “we just hired our new VP from XYZ company” which is inevitably another client of ours. Non-competes would abruptly halt this flow of talent, so it’s obvious that many startups have already abandoned them, notably at a time when our startup community is thriving

Our goal now is to get our legislators and the bigger companies on board. EMC is a great example. I know it’s a scary thing for these big employers to give up the control that comes with enforcing non-competes, but the tides are changing and soon enough (if not already), this is going to affect the talent that big companies are able to hire and limit innovation within the broader ecosystem. Those are both bad outcomes for Massachusetts and for any tech company doing business here, regardless of size. 

I’m including several links below including a recent Mike Troiano blog post on this subject as well as some research the Silicon Valley Bank has done on this and other employment related topics. Most importantly, there is a link to the New England Venture Capital Association to assist you in contacting your state legislators on this topic.

Let’s get this done, and keep innovating and COMPETING to our full potential in Massachusetts! 

Mike Troiano blog post on non-competes

NEVCA link to get involved by contacting your legislators 

Silicon Valley Bank 2013 Startup Outlook Report - a few employment related stats from the report:

  • 87% are hiring
  • 46% have at least one founder born outside the US
  • 87% say it is somewhat or extremely challenging to find workers with the skills they need to grow the business
  • 82% say STEM skills are the most critical job skills for their 2013 new hires



I was at a dinner last night where an accomplished entrepreneur said the brand “didn’t matter.” I almost popped a blood vessel.

He wasn’t referring to the brand, actually, just using the term indiscriminately to refer to what was really a kind of tagline. But it’s emblematic of an ignorance…

#boston #bikes (at Downtown Crossing)

Thx to Elk Cove Vineyards for pouring its reserve wines at the SVB event in Boston tonight #elkcove #willamettevalley #oregon

Winter sunrise, South Boston #morningrun #southie #boston #nofilter

I love my team! #LifeAtSVB (at Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille)

Lots of great new music this year. Here are 13 of my favorite songs of the year along with some brief commentary. Hope you enjoy it!

"Most People" by Dawes: I love this band from Los Angeles. They put out their new album Stories Don’t End in early 2013, and I actually had a really hard time picking a favorite song for the playlist. Great album.

"The Man Who Wants You" by Amos Lee: One of the great voices in music today. New album is worth a listen if you like this style.

"Shake" by The Head and The Heart: Unique sound from this band. I loved the last album, and this new one has some good tracks, too, especially this song.

"Gangsta Girl" by Michael Franti: Go ahead…try not to dance.

"Like You Mean It" by The California Honeydrops: It was a big year for the throwback big band sound, and these guys nailed it with their new album, including this title track.

"Walt Whitman" by Trampled By Turtles: Technically released in 2012, but this is the studio version of the best live performance I saw all year, so it makes the list on that basis.

"You Make It Easy" by Brett Dennen: If you like Brett Dennen, then you’ll love the new album Smoke and Mirrors.

"No Place for My Dream" by Femi Kuti: Nigerian musician Femi Kuti makes my list for the second year in a row. Great song: African music with lyrics that ring true worldwide.

"Lost in the Light" by Bahamas: My wife turned me on to this Canadian band over the summer. When was the last time you heard a rock band that prominently featured backup singers? Really cool.

"No Matter Where I Am" by Jesse Dee: More throwback big band sound. This Boston kid has an incredible voice.

"Ones and Zeros" by Jack Johnson: New stuff from an old favorite.

"Grace for Saints and Ramblers" by Iron & Wine: The new album is much more upbeat than what I’m used to hearing from Iron & Wine. Check it out.

"The Clearness Is Gone" by The Avett Brothers: I was reaching for my guitar the very first time I heard this song. This is, hands down, my favorite song of the year.

Thanks for listening. Hope you enjoy it. Happy New Year!


Putting the Bike in #SVB. These two gentlemen invited me to their midday meeting.

Italics Awards 2013

I emceed the 2nd edition of the Italics Awards on 9/16/13. I was asked to speak about why I think Boston is great and why the award winners were so deserving. Bob Mason also encouraged me ahead of time to issue a call to action to everyone in attendance, so I did that as well. These are the notes from the talk I gave to kick-off the program that evening.

Really excited to be here. I’m a huge fan of Aaron O’Hearn and Startup Institute. As much as I appreciate them giving out awards tonight, they should be getting one themselves!

There are so many awards programs:

  • most celebrate what people have done in the past, 
  • but one of the driving forces of entrepreneurship is optimism, so an award that celebrates the future makes so much sense. 
  • The Italics Awards are all about pattern recognition. 
  • They focus on the people who are doing the things today that will make all of us successful in the future.
  • I love that.

The longer I’m around entrepreneurs, the more I realize that much of entrepreneurial success is about having MOJO, 

  • it’s about having the confidence to apply leverage, 
  • and to even understand when you have that leverage in the first place. 
  • Reid Hoffman often quotes Archimedes when he’s advising entrepreneurs: 
  • "Give me a lever big enough and a place to stand, and I can move the world."
  • Being an entrepreneur is about finding that lever and using it to 
    • move big objects, 
    • to manipulate the status quo, 
    • to change markets, 
    • and to create value out of seemingly nothing.
  • Now, that’s MOJO.

Tonight we are at a place where we can say that Boston has MOJO, so let’s celebrate that!

Let me give you a little bit of my own story to explain to you why I’m so excited about Boston and so excited about tonight. 

  • I have been with Silicon Valley Bank today for 11 years today, and during that time I’ve fallen in love with entrepreneurs and with their ability to build things. 
  • I’ve been in Boston for almost 7 years. 
  • I moved here in 2007 to start the Bank’s Accelerator practice for banking, advising and lending to technology startups. 

What did I find when I arrived in Boston almost 7 years ago?

  • I found a significant gap in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. 
  • Lots of legacy and success in telecomm and biotech. 
  • Lots of wealth creation in established venture capital firms, but mostly concentrated with partners who had done bulk of investing in late 90s. 
  • There were small but very strong proprietary networks. 
  • Essentially, it was very clubby.
  • Life inside these small networks had been so good for so long 
    • that there was not much motivation to change, 
    • not much motivation to seek out new levers to move new objects. 
  • This created a big gap between the legacy of successful entrepreneurs and investors and those who were emerging 
    • to engage in innovation, 
    • to solve new problems 
    • and to create new value, jobs and wealth.
  • First-time CEOs could not get funded, 
  • new business models or distribution models were not well understood, 
  • market risk was a risk not worth taking, 
  • and experimentation was frowned on. 

If you were an experienced entrepreneur with a track record and network into big customers and financial resources, then you were in good shape. 

If you were not, and most were not, then it was best to look outside of this ecosystem for your traction.

So, what changed? 

You showed up. 

  • A new generation of leadership emerged. 
  • No one claimed to be a new leader, 
  • no one initiated a formal regime change.
  • But I know you were new leaders because we all followed you. 

Look at the winners of last year’s Italics Awards. 

  • Matt Lauzon is a great example. 
    • He organized RubyRiot which had a central theme of Paying it Forward. 
    • We all showed up with the aim of meeting a lot of people and figuring out what we could do to help them. 
  • Sean Lindsay organized Founder Mentors to bridge the gap between experienced founders and those were doing it for the first time. 
  • Sravish Sridhar emphasized the elusive importance of being “mentor-backed” over the brass ring of being “venture backed”
  • Jennifer Lum leveraged her prior experience as a team player in several companies to become not only a founder & team leader in her own company but also a community leader for all of us.
  • And of course, my hat is off to Aaron O’Hearn and everything he and his team have done 
    • to invest in individuals as a means to building a better community 
    • and therefore a more vibrant and more successful startup ecosystem.

And look at this year’s winners. 

  • What a phenomenal group! 
  • I won’t talk about each one now as we’ll hear a lot about them later on. 
  • But let’s do stop and recognize that the greatest thing about these winners is that none of them are done with building value in the Boston community. 
  • Tonight is not a lifetime achievement award where we look back
  • This is a lifetime potential award where we all look forward to how we can lean in with these leaders 
    • and build even greater value for them, 
    • for ourselves, 
    • and for our entire Boston community.

What do these leaders do? I think each of these people has done three things really well. 

  • First, each one of them has identified an area where they have some differentiated advantage that gives them unique leverage. 
    • For some it’s industry expertise - Ben Einstein with hardware. 
    • For some it’s functional expertise - Sarah Hodges with marketing or Colin Raney with design. 
    • For some it’s access to resources or network or whatever. 
    • The key is that each of these people has thought through what they do better than most other people 
    • and they’ve put it to work.
  • But it doesn’t stop there. 
    • The second thing these people have done is figure out how to leverage their skills beyond their direct personal benefit. 
    • They have thought beyond their own companies and their own shareholders to invest in 
      • employees, 
      • students 
      • and others.
      • Essentially they have created the future for Boston.
  • The third thing these people have done is really important and often overlooked in feel-good talks like the one I’m giving you right now. 
    • The third thing these people have done is execute
    • There is always a lot of talk about what companies are "crushing it"
    • but these winners are people who just consistently execute. 
    • We care about all of their initiatives in the community primarily because they’ve earned their credibility first and foremost as operators. 
    • Look at tonight’s winners: 
      • people like Bob Mason and Greg Selkoe have earned our respect because of what they’ve respectively done at Brightcove and Karmloop, 
      • so when they speak in the community, we listen;
      • when they lead in the community, we follow.

So, what does this mean for all of us? I’d like to leave you with three specific calls to action:

  • First, figure out what you’re great at and go make it count. 
  • Maybe you’re like tonight’s winners and you can leverage these skills to have a significant impact on our community in the near term. 
  • But even if you’re not in that boat, 
    • there is something that YOU do better than most other people, 
    • and as a community, we need you to do that thing.
  • Second, lean into the Boston community. 
    • Your resources are probably a lot greater than you think they are. 
    • For some of you, it’s your network. 
    • For some, it’s your time. 
    • For some, it’s your creativity. 
    • For some, it’s your industry knowledge or your functional expertise. 
    • For some it’s your money. 
    • Whatever it is, put it to work and have a "give before you get" outlook on life
    • Investing yourself in the community is one of the few investments where you’re almost guaranteed a positive ROI
  • And third, tell the world about what we have going on in Boston
    • Mojo is nothing to be silent about! 
    • Use your networks - social, virtual, physical and otherwise - to tell the world about the value being built in Boston
    • about the problems being solved in Boston
    • about the leaders who are making a difference in Boston
    • If someone says something negative about our community, 
      • then either correct them if they’re wrong, 
      • and if their comment is factually correct, then tell them about all the things we’re doing to make the future different. 
    • We have so much to be proud of - past, present and future - let’s all commit to telling Boston’s story, 
    • not just to ourselves but the rest of the world.

Finally, one more call to action…this one is immediate. Raise your glass and let’s toast 

  • tonight’s winners 
  • and the greatest city in the world!


We recently received approval for our first H-1B visa. It was a complex process that is challenging for any company, but particularly burdensome for resource constrained early-stage startups like ours. A quick Quora search shows many questions about the process, including “Can a startup…