Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Introducing The Fundable Blog

Ideas for Start-ups and Entrepreneurship in Cambridge and Beyond

I love start-ups. My grandfather – Ray Schuster, started his own company - Illinois FWD - was a role model and inspired me to start companies. (That's him in the photo, fifth from the right – wearing a big smile as he and his team break ground on a new facility.)

I believe that the rugged individualism on which our country was founded and has prospered is a competitive cultural advantage for the US. I hope that during the 21st century we realize our country's destiny to become the most entrepreneurial and innovative country in the world.

We can do this. We just have to use our inherent cultural advantage proactively by making the US the best place for the smartest and most ambitious people in the world to start new, innovative companies. And we need to start right here in my adopted home town of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Cambridge has perhaps the highest density of IQ anywhere in the world and a strong entrepreneurial spirit that helped create great companies such as Akamai, Biogen, Brightcove, EMC, EnerNOC, Genzyme, Harvard Bioscience, iRobot, LogMeIn, Lotus, Staples, Vertex, and Vistaprint. It is one of the best places in the US to nourish new Internet, info-tech and biotech companies.

But I believe (along with many others) that the start-up community here in Cambridge is vastly under-performing relative to its potential. I’m not the first person to have said this – far from it – but what I believe we are missing is a radically stronger “founders culture.” Among others, Scott Kirsner of The Boston Globe and Eric Paley of Founder Collective have written about this extensively. (I will talk more about this idea in my next post.)

To net it out: I think that we have exceptional technical and scientific talent, ideas and content. But we’ve done a miserable job of attracting, retaining and motivating the right type of business-oriented entrepreneurs.

On this blog, I’ll offer my opinions about some of these strengths and weaknesses, and I won’t pull any punches. I will also offer my ideas for addressing the challenges and taking advantage of the huge untapped opportunity here in Cambridge.

My intention is not to be critical but constructive: I want to help re-invigorate the entrepreneurial culture in Cambridge. I would like to ensure that the next Facebook, Google, Cisco, Amazon or Yahoo happens here in Cambridge. I am committed not only to blogging about this but also to helping found companies that will be potential candidates. I believe that we all need to work together to build world-class independent companies that not only start in Cambridge, but also grow up and flourish here as independent entities. That is, they’re not sold to companies elsewhere (even if that would mean multi-billion-dollar windfalls for local venture firms).

If we can do this a few times, we will have established the critical mass required to sustain a world-class culture of founders who bridge the academic and commercial worlds to create economic and social value like nowhere else on earth.

On this blog I’ll share ideas, insights, and practical advice to help first-time founders and CEOs build better start-ups:

How to work the entrepreneurial ecosystem to gain unfair competitive advantage.

How to inspire, empower and develop young people who aren’t constrained by habit or artificial ideas of what’s possible.

How to create a culture of founders in Cambridge that reinforces founding as a unique skill set and role within great new companies, independent of other traditional functional roles.
How to have fun doing all this while working insanely hard, treating other people with respect, and behaving with honor.

Which brings me back to my grandfather. He loved trucks - big trucks. When I was in elementary school, one of his customers was the City of Chicago Fire Department. The Fire Department had to figure out how to support the Hancock Tower, which at the time was one of the tallest buildings in the world. My grandfather sold what was at the time the tallest fire truck and ladder in the world to the City of Chicago. Before he delivered it, he brought it to my school – Tarkington Elementary – to demo it for the kids. I had a chance to ride in it to the top. Freaking AWESOME for a fifth-grader.

Besides my grandfather making me the most popular kid at school for a day, I always looked back on that memory and thought how cool it was that my grandfather was able to do a job that let him play with trucks every day – truly doing what he loved.

This same spirit drives me today. I’m mission-driven. I work on things that I’m passionate about. The money is a means to an end, not the end itself. I'm passionate about computers, chemistry, biology, drug discovery, education and the intersection of these.

I hope you’ll let me know what you think of my blog, through your comments, questions and challenges. Please also let me know what else you’d like to read about.

See you around Kendall and Harvard Squares.

I would like to thank Mike Stonebraker, Rich Miner, Tim RoweEllen Rubin, Frank Moss, Steve HoltzmanMarilyn Matz, Remy Evard and Christopher Ahlberg for their unrelenting support and commitment to moving me and my family into Cambridge. I’m truly blessed to have you as my friends, colleagues and now neighbors.


  1. 1) Burt Rutan talks about why inspiring children is imperative to the survival of the species (fast forward to 4 minutes, 7 minutes & 11:40 for details on innovation cycles spurring progress a generation later): http://www.ted.com/talks/burt_rutan_sees_the_future_of_space.html
    2) Alan Alda has been teaching scientists to communicate technical concepts to children (without dumbing the concepts down) in order to inspire them: https://www.npr.org/2012/03/23/149231680/alan-alda-asks-scientists-what-is-a-flame
    3) You are very lucky to have had that inspiring moment in your childhood; thank you for sharing it.
    4) As a performing (voice over & acting) artist and technology and design nerd, how do I help you on your quest to inspire others and communicate the importance of technology to the uninitiated? Could a conference or summit like http://www.swiss-miss.com/2012/03/brooklyn-betasummer-camp.html, http://www.swiss-miss.com/2012/02/startupbus.html or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_camp help the Boston-area technology industry? I would happily volunteer my time/services.

  2. I agree Cambridge is a unique place for startup activity - that's what kept me there for 19 years. Eventually, seeking a more hospitable place to live led me to Austin, an area with similar aspirations but a different set of challenges to get there.

    Austin is smaller, but growing fast and very good at attracting talent. What I find it misses that Cambridge has in spades is the synergy between academics and startups. UT is a huge university, but seems more insular than Harvard or MIT.

  3. Way to go, Andy. The Cambridge tech community is lucky to have your positive energy and practical experience. I'll be reading along from afar!

  4. Andy, this blog reminded me of the early days when we had only 10 people in the company and everyone wore multiple hats. But we got a lot of stuff done. It is great to have this discussion. Boston is a great place for start-ups.

  5. Awesome, Andy. We are working to have Affectiva added to your list of great Cambridge-born companies someday!

  6. This is right on the money... I know so many brilliant folks who have/had the potential to build great companies from scratch but the first few steps involved with building a supportive network of partners, advisors, and investors appear so daunting that they shy away. I do believe the ecosystem is growing, however - the LiveCirrus team had a great experience participating in the MassChallenge accelerator this past year; the constant influx of VIP's and international startup folks really reinforced the idea that local entrepreneurship is a vital activity both for the ambitious/brillant/slightly crazy pioneers who start a company and the economy at large as many jobs get created by startups. I'm looking forward to more growth and energy in the Cambridge/Boston entrepreneurial scene in years to come.

  7. PS, any interest in doing an accelerator like Y Combinator for Cambridge? Lots out there but could put a unique spin on it. I could help with that.