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Sunrise through second story windows


By Life

Today is a strange anniversary for me. One year ago I had open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve.

I needed a replacement because of a birth defect—one I didn’t know about until I was 43 years old. With that diagnosis I was told that “someday” I would have to get the valve replaced. After a scare in July 2021, “someday” turned out to be September 8, 2021. 

I’ve been through life-saving surgery before. I survived cancer in 1997, which included two operations. Despite the major surgery being minimally invasive, it was still scary. In 1997 I was 22. No one was relying on me for anything. I had my whole life ahead of me and not a care in the world… except to beat cancer. 

In 2021, things were different. At 46 years old with an amazing wife, two wonderful kids, and a career that fulfilled me, I had everything to lose. Fear crept into my thoughts too frequently: would my children grow up knowing their father or just stories about him? Would I be just another blip in the cosmos?

Thankfully, the time between prognosis and surgery was short. During that time, I had one major decision to make: artificial or biological valve? Each came with their own risks and benefits. After doing our own due diligence, my wife and I chose the artificial valve. I mean, who doesn’t want to be part cyborg?!

The surgery went well. The recovery sucked. But this story isn’t about that. This story is about the valve.

The amazing thing about the artificial valve is that it clicks when it closes. It opens to let the blood out. Then… click …it closes. When it’s quiet around me, I can hear it. It’s a deep, sensory type of hearing, almost a feeling. 

It’s the most wonderful thing.


It’s a constant reminder to focus on what’s truly important in life.


When the world is still, I can breathe and connect with this.


Whether my mind is racing, raging, distracted, lost in thought…


This is the part of the story where I offer you life-changing advice, isn’t it? Only, I’m not quite sure how to do that.

I can tell you that I often reflect on the fragility of life as I listen to my click. In that fragility, I connect to the vastness of humankind. All the humans that have ever lived and (at least for the near future) ever will live, all contained on this little rock spinning through spacetime, orbiting an unremarkable G-type star in a less fashionable part of the Milky Way Galaxy. In that moment, I feel deeply insignificant.

When I was younger, recovered from cancer and living in NYC, I think I also felt that fragility and insignificance. I reacted differently then. I was reckless and care-free, a consequences-be-damned risk-taker. Maybe I was leaning into life’s insignificance. Maybe I was trying to bury it, hide from it or run from it. Maybe I was just a 20-something in New York. Probably all of the above.

As a father, husband (and 40-something living in the suburbs in Colorado) my perspective is different.

Insignificant to the cosmos? Yes.

Insignificant entirely? No.

Our significance is the impact we make on others, with every click.

Whether with my wife, my children, parents, sisters, extended family or close friends, when I connect with those that I love, I can be significant to them. Even better, that it’s on a consistent basis.

When I contribute something positive to someone’s day, in that moment—in that click—I can be significant for that person. And that person is significant for me. 

In these moments, in these clicks, we are significant to each other. And that gives me meaning and purpose. That reminds me to focus on what’s truly important: the difference I can make in people’s lives, whether fleeting or consistent.

In its simplest, purest form, we can give gratitude to one another. That gratitude creates significance.


It’s not a click that gives my life meaning.


It’s what I do between each one.


You don’t need a click to find meaning in your life.


But a reminder helps. My reminder…


What does yours do?

VC Minute: VC Validation

By Startups

Let’s talk about venture capital and validation.

Lack of venture investment does not invalidate your business.

The purpose of a business is to sell goods or services. The purpose is to create something of value that people or companies will give you money for.

The purpose of venture capital is to pour rocket fuel into your business to accelerate your growth. That rocket fuel may cause your business to explode—in the “explode into a million little pieces and leave nothing behind but a smoldering hole in the ground” sense of the word.

That smoldering hole in the ground that contains the ruins of your startup hopes and dreams, is an accepted outcome of the venture capital business model.

Venture capital is a very specific financial instrument. It just so happens to be the one that the media is absolutely obsessed with and covers extensively. Generally speaking, that rocket fuel pairs well with SaaS and other hyper-scalable business models. But not all and not always.

Venture capital does not necessarily validate your business. Lack of venture capital absolutely does not invalidate your business. If and when you choose to take venture capital, remember, it’s just fuel. It has to be the right fuel at the right time for the right machine. And even then, you still have to build a business that serves its customers. 

Listen to the whole episode here:
Startup of the Year Podcast Episode #0054 – Jason Barsema Talks About Changing The Way We Invest With Halo Investing

On this episode of the Startup of the Year Podcast, Frank Gruber talks with Jason Barsema, the Co-founder and President of Halo Investing ( Halo is the first multi-issuer technology platform for protective investment solution. Halo was founded in 2015 with a mission to provide access to impactful investment opportunities previously unavailable to most investors and is changing the world of investing by democratizing the protective investment marketplace through transparency and efficiency with the help of technology.

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VC Minute: Work with a Startup Lawyer

By Startups

Let’s talk about working with a startup lawyer. 

I’ve heard many stories of inexperienced or predatory investors ruining companies by putting non-standard terms in the term sheet. These startups could raise much-needed capital because the prior investors put in bad terms and refused to give them up.  I’ll give you a few examples.  

Occasionally a corporate investor will try to include a Right of First Refusal, a ROFR, on sale. This unnecessarily limits the exit options of the startup and with venture investors being in the exit business, any reduced optionality is a bad thing.  

In another case, I heard of an angel group that had an overreaching right to approve or deny future investments, and actually prevented a startup from raising much-needed capital. 

In both cases these were materially different clauses from a typical Right of First Refusal, which usually has to do with common stock sales.

Another case I heard recently was an investor asking for a discount on the next round of financing, which is ridiculous. 

The expectation is that every investor puts money in on the same terms in the same round. The next round gets negotiated separately. 

There are more insidious terms to avoid, too many subtleties to list here. The single best piece of advice I can offer you is to hire a law firm with experience writing startup term sheets. This is NOT your cousin that just got his JD nor is it your aunt who has practiced real estate law for 30 years. Neither are qualified to represent you in a financing round. 

Find a good startup law firm. It doesn’t have to be a big national name like Cooley or Wilson Sonsini. The startup practice at Michael Best in the Midwest is stellar, as are many local law firms. Ask around to the startups in your community for a good startup law firm, and avoid these major pitfalls that will sink your company if you don’t.

Listen to the whole episode here:
Startup of the Year Podcast – #0053 – How Startup Founders Should Pitch a TechCrunch Reporter with Natasha Mascarenhas

On this episode of the Startup of the Year Podcast, we hear an interview from our 2020 Summit, when our Director of Strategic Operations, John Guidos, talked with Natasha Mascarenhas, a reporter at TechCrunch. Natasha covers seed and early stage founders, as well as the networks they take to get their first check. She also focuses on education amid COVID-19. Before TechCrunch, she was at the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Crunchbase News.

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VC Minute: Tell an Investor You’re Interested

By Startups

Let’s talk about telling an investor you’re interested. 

It may seem to you that after spending the last 30 to 60 minutes pitching your business to a venture fund that you obviously want them to invest in you. It may not be obvious. 

I heard of a case last week where a startup nearly missed out on getting a lead because the fund didn’t think the startup was keen working with them. 

I’ll share with you a story I heard somewhere along the way in my sales career. A local guy was running for a local political office. He ran a good campaign but lost. Afterwards he’s talking to his neighbor and as he’s bemoaning the loss he says, well at least you voted for me. The neighbor looks down sheepishly and says, well the other candidate asked me to vote for her and you never asked me to vote for you.

How are you going to get the sale if you don’t ask for the close? How are you going to get the investment if you don’t ask for it? 

Tie it in with why they’re a good fit for you. It can be as simple as, we think you’re a great fit for our business because of your investment in XYZ and your expertise in marketplaces. We’d like to have you involved and welcome your investment. What are the next steps in your process? 

Listen to the whole episode here:
Startup of the Year Podcast #0052 – Dave Dworschak of Kamana Explains How to Build a Startup For Acquisition

On this episode of the Startup of the Year Podcast, Frank Gruber talks with Dave Dworschak, the Co-founder and CEO of Kamana (, about their recent acquisition by Triage Staffing in 2020.

Kamana is an alumni of the Startup of the Year program and was an Established Ventures portfolio company. More specifically, Kamana is is customer-centric, feedback-driven software for the healthcare staffing industry and it enables the healthcare workforce to manage their credentials and careers from a single place, and staffing agencies to hire and collaborate with the workforce far more efficiently.

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VC Minute: Your Fundraising Competition

By Startups

Let’s talk about your fundraising competition. 

I’m not talking about your direct competitors in your industry. I’m talking about the half a dozen or so other startups I have in my diligence process at the same time as you. When it comes to securing a commitment, that may also be your competition. 

You’re not necessarily going to lose out on an investment just because a VC has a lot in their pipeline. But like you, we only have 24 hours in the day and only so many hours that we can spend working, so we want to always be sure we’re working on the funding rounds that are the highest priority for us. In other words, we’re constantly ranking companies internally to reprioritize and refocus our efforts. 

If you’re getting the SHITS from an investor it may be that they have a backlog of diligence and you’re somewhere in the middle of the stack. The danger is that the longer you stay in the middle of the pack, the more likely you are to move down or possibly never hear back. 

You benefit from staying top-of-mind with your potential investors. You can do this by sharing updates. Updates about your round, for example, that you got a commitment from another firm. Or sharing wins such as, you just landed a new client or that new hire came on full-time.

Keep the communication flowing. If enough has changed since you last spoke, offer to set a 15-minute update call. And don’t be afraid to ask questions about where that fund is in their diligence process on you. 

Keep your investor process moving forward because when it stalls, it dies.

Listen to the whole episode here:
Startup of the Year Podcast Episode #0051 – Tim Draper Tells Stories From His Life As A Venture Capitalist – Startup of the Year Podcast

On this episode of the Startup of the Year Podcast, we listen to Frank Gruber’s interview with Tim Draper at the Startup of the Year Summit in the fall of 2020. Tim is a top global venture capitalist, founder of Draper Associates, DFJ and the Draper Venture Network, a global network of venture capital funds.

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