Graeme Thickins on Tech

Reflections & analysis about innovation, technology & startups, with a focus on Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes

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Former MN Serial Entrepreneur Lief Larson Has Yet Another New Venture

Many of my readers remember Lief Larson. He was known and respected widely in the startup community here in our state as a longtime entrepreneur. He had a successful exit with an interactive kiosk company before going whole hog into a software startup. A few years ago, he moved to Seattle after handing over the CEO reins at that VC-backed software company, Workface Inc. I miss him, and I’m sure others do, too. Not only was he a ball of energy, a smart developer and product guy, and a helluva salesman, but a really fun guy, too. He began life in Seattle living on a boat with his wife in the trendy Fremont section. And he’s definitely loving life out there in the Pacific Northwest.

But his entrepreneurial endeavors hardly stopped. Soon, he’d launched Engage.co, and not long after a sideline called Sportzy, a leisure sports and activity site. Always one to spot a new opportunity, Lief recently told me he and a colleague launched a new site called Planning to Retire.

“My buddy and I both have parents entering retirement and they keep asking us all these questions, so we decided to build a site to help them,” said Lief.  “We’re trying to capture 1,000 members in 30 days.”  So, friends, tell all your parents and relatives who are approaching that magical age about this great new site. It’s a really helpful resource for them!

Gettin’ old? Sign up now!

My Background With Lief

A little history: I was lucky enough to do some consulting work for Lief back in his Workface days — including traveling with him twice to big events in California. I really enjoyed the experience and found myself writing about him several times on this blog. Those posts go back more than five years, covering his journey with Workface (which he founded in 2006), his ties to Marissa Mayer (they grew up together in Wisconsin), and how he took on an educational effort for entrepreneurs all by himself here in Minneapolis called “SaaS Camp,” which I attended. Here are all those posts.

In one of them, I told the following story, which still makes me laugh today every time I think of it. Not only is Lief an amazing, hard-working entrepreneur, but the man knows how to have some fun!

Lief and I traveled to Palo Alto a couple years ago for a conference where Lief was pitching to the Silicon Valley VC community, along with a bunch of other hot startups, and sharing the stage with speakers like the founders of Salesforce and SuccessFactors. We stayed in a funky old, ’60s-vintage Travelodge motel — about as low-priced as we could find in Palo Alto. After we checked in to our respective rooms, we both went online to work. First thing I see is an email from Lief with a photo attached of this gorgeous, expansive hotel room, saying, “Wow, I hope your room is as nice as mine.” I never laughed so hard, because I could hardly turn around in my dinky little room, and I knew he couldn’t either… :-).

I haven’t had an opportunity to get out to Seattle since Lief moved there, but you can bet I’ll be meeting up with him the next time I do. Go, Lief!

My Live Blog of the 10th Annual Defrag Conference…

defragx-logodates

Once again, I live-blogged the Defrag Conference in Denver. This is the tenth year of this great annual tech event, and I’ve attended them all. The original idea was to get together to defrag our brains and stop to think about where technology is headed — what’s coming next. I’ve met and interviewed so many great people at this event over the years: Brad Feld, Seth Levine, Fred Wilson, David Cohen, T.A. McCann, and tons of other tech leaders, investors, authors, and more.  Not to speak of many fellow tech observers, analysts, writers, bloggers, PR people, and notable geeks who’ve come to be frequent collaborators and friends. I’ve also connected with old buddies, like the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and shared some huge laughs. Attending this conference is almost like going to camp each year. I just wouldn’t miss it! (Especially when I was one of only three guys who had perfect 10-year attendance records.) Eric and Kim Norlin and their team do such a great job putting on Defrag.

So, what was on tap for discussion at the 10th annual? Lots of topics: AWS Lambda, microservices, blockchain, APIs, machine learning, AI, insights about developer marketing, bare-metal cloud, and other geeky stuff — presented by an impressive band of speakers… founders, CTOs, rock-star developers, tech evangelists, and other crazy folks. Always a fun event. And what you don’t learn in the big room, well, you can learn in the Tap Room each night till the wee hours. (Oh, and we talk a lot about sports, too!)

My play-by-play updates are posted below, now in archived chronological order, from Wednesday morning November 16th through Thursday afternoon November 17th — all posted live, in real-time from the Omni Interlocken Resort, in beautiful (warm and sunny!) Colorado… well, until it snowed in the final hours.

What’s the Future for MedTech Startups? Reasons to Be Worried (and a Ray of Hope)

[NOTE: This post first appeared at Minnov8.com. My friends at Rochester Rising in southern MN also ran a version of it later.]

Living and working here in Minnesota, as I do, you constantly hear about how wonderful our state’s medical technology industry is. After all, we’re the No. 1 Global Medtech Cluster, as I was reminded again here at the AdvaMed 2016 conference.  We all think we’re sitting on this huge industry that will just keep growing forever and bring bountiful riches to our state. Well, it turns out things are not all that rosy.futureatrisk-cover280w

I learned today about a new report, “A Future at Risk: Economic Performance, Entrepreneurship, and Venture Capital in the U.S. Medical Technology Sector.”

Here’s the gist:

“The American medical technology industry has been suffering from a steady decline of entrepreneurship for more than two decades…”

What? Yes, it’s a fact: the numbers associated with this engine of innovation (and jobs) have been declining quite markedly.

We can relate to the medtech startup engine very well here in Minnesota, with our own giant Medtronic having been started by Earl Bakken in a garage in Northeast Minneapolis. (I worked for the company early in my career and got to be taken out for a welcome lunch by the man himself.)

Two charts from the report, shown here, will surprise many. (Click for larger view.) startupdensity-chart-kauffman

newcoformations-chartHere’s more from the report’s executive summary:

“The (medtech) industry is increasingly concentrated in a shrinking number of large players. All of those companies are scouring the globe for medtech innovation. With fewer startups in the system, the industry’s dominant companies recognize the long-term threat to innovation represented by fewer companies fueling the industry’s pipeline of innovation. All these factors represent a present and future threat to American leadership in the industry, to medical innovation and, ultimately, to patients.” Continue reading

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