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April 21, 2010 / Danny Robinson

I made mistakes. I was wrong. Lessons Learned.

You may have read in a previous post that during the last week of March, we were in the unfortunate position of downsizing of our Jan cohort from 7 to 3.  A couple weeks later, Jamie Martin, one of the founders of a company that was cut, recounted his experiences on his blog in order to help other founders avoid a similar fate. With a lot of introspection, and help of some very good friends, advisors, mentors, I can now see the critical errors I made, and wonder, how could I have been so blind!?

The top 4 lessons I learned the hard way:

  1. I should not have allowed the Jan 2010 cohort of companies to begin the Bootup Labs program until we had the money safely in the bank.  This was my gravest of errors and seems pretty obvious now. I sincerely apologize to the founders who were affected by this.  It will not happen again.
  2. I should have done a better job responding to Jamie’s concerns on this blog.  I obviously care a lot about Bootup’s reputation, but perhaps even more about Vancouver’s reputation abroad.  At the time, I felt everything we have worked for was being questioned, and I got defensive and it made things worse.  Jamie didn’t do anything wrong, and I apologize to him in particular, but also to the Vancouver tech community.  My actions were clearly not representative of the professionalism that I experience here every day.  I learned a valuable lesson that will not be repeated.
  3. I should have announced the downsizing of the cohort as soon as it happened.  We actually tried to hide it, hoping that people wouldn’t notice and it would just go away.  That was a big mistake that I should have known wouldn’t work.  We are committed to becoming exceedingly transparent in the future – including the good, bad and the ugly.
  4. I should have done a better job listening to the personal concerns of the founders who were cut.  All founders still have the ability to work out of our office at no cost, but that obviously doesn’t help Jamie and Stephen who didn’t even have the financial reserves to stay in the city.  If I had thought more about that, I would have worked harder to help them in other ways. I’ve contacted Jamie and let him know that I’m always available if there is ever anything anything I can do for him.

As I continue the post-mortem with my team, I feel that a stronger and better Bootup Labs 2.0 is emerging.  To help prevent this from ever happening in the future, new controls have already been instated at the board level with addition of Boris Wertz, and more announcements are coming soon.  I know I have a long road ahead of me, but if you give me the chance, I’ll work hard to earn your trust and respect back.

Sincerely,
Danny Robinson



In the interest of being transparent, here is the trail of links.

The one that started it:

Which he reposted here and it got ugly:

And resulted in it getting picked up here:

Our follow-up post:

Boris Mann’s personal post:

Responses from our portfolio companies.

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42 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Jason Billingsley / Apr 22 2010 4:54 am

    This post will go a long way Danny. Well done and thank you – on behalf of other Vancouver tech entrepreneurs.

  2. Steve / Apr 22 2010 7:38 am

    This sounds honest and has great integrity in the message. heres hoping your remaining cohorts go Nova!

  3. David / Apr 22 2010 9:15 am

    Danny, I'm sure you had the best intentions for this post. But I'm not sure if this post will help repair BUL's reputation as much as you would hope, and that's because even though you sound sincere, it is hard for me to believe that you are genuinely sorry. Everything you've listed here, all the lessons learned, are about what you will do in the future. They are just words, and words mean nothing to Jamie at this point. If you were truly, genuinely apologetic, then you should have done something to rectify the current situation. Take responsibility in action, not words. For example, take some money out of the bank, cut Jamie a cheque for $10K, and eat the interest. Maybe you have done something practical, but it wasn't mentioned in this post, so I have to assume that all you did was to say sorry many many times.

    On the other hand, you may not be genuinely sorry about what happened. Perhaps things were out of your control. Perhaps Jamie was not being truthful. Well then, come out and say that. Stand your ground and hold on to your integrity. Talk about facts and defend what you believe in. I would have much more respect for you and BUL. But obviously that's not the case. You are profusely apologetic in this post, therefore you know you did something wrong. And yet there is no indication of any practical action to help remedy the situation. All you have are "lessons learned" and "post mortem" and "long road ahead", all of which are just talk, and at this point in time, they mean absolutely nothing.

    If you stole my wallet, don't tell me you're sorry you stole my wallet, then turn to bystanders and promise them that you will never steal wallets again, and then walk away. That's just talk. Give me back my wallet. Hell, take the cash, but give me back my cards so I won't to call and cancel them or replace my driver's license. That's action. Tell people about what you did, not what you're going to do, and that's how you'll earn back trust and respect.

    • DannyRobinson / Apr 22 2010 11:20 pm

      Hi "David" thanks for your comment.

      You're correct in that not all of the details about what happened have been published, and they will not be. Although all the termsheets were subject to us receiving financing, we should delayed the program until we had it in the bank. That is the mistake that will not be repeated, and will prevent this from happening again. Time will tell if we can earn the trust back again. I just know that I have to work twice as hard to do it. I'm not afraid of that.

      Derek made the point in his comments here:http://bit.ly/cQQ9V0

      I have helped and am continuing to help Jamie and the other founders in different ways, but the details of that are between us.

      • Griffin / May 8 2010 12:56 pm

        You stay classy, "Danny."

  4. Roger / Apr 22 2010 9:20 am

    I live and work in Vancouver but I never even knew what Bootup Labs was and who you were until this "scandal" broke. Having read most of the discussion with awed fascination I think one conclusion can be drawn: if your credentials dont convince others to invest money in your incubator then you have no business running an incubator.

    Love your passion, love your vision — both are obvious. But this is all about execution, integrity and business acumen. Those four lessons above should not have to be learned at others expense

  5. @mattmireles / Apr 22 2010 1:37 pm

    This is a good beginning. On the internet, people are harsh critics. But they are forgiving if the forgiveness is asked for and earned.

  6. Marcus / Apr 22 2010 8:18 am

    Would you mind commenting on how you know Dana Oshiro and what you think of her article in ReadWriteWeb?

    • Ian McKellar / Apr 22 2010 10:47 am

      My guess: Vancouver's a really really small town.

    • DannyRobinson / Apr 22 2010 4:45 pm

      I have met Dana a 2-3 times at tech events. We have emailed her some announcements from time to time, but I didn't speak with her before she wrote her story.

  7. vantechguy / Apr 22 2010 6:39 pm

    VCs have become the whipping boys of the Vancouver tech community. I've met Danny a few times and I honestly don't believe he would have knowingly created such a clusterf*k. That said, his firm's reputation may be permanently sullied by such naive business decisions and the resulting PR disaster. Really feel for you Danny – you're one of the good guys and your post is reflective of your sincerity. I'd also say that if you guys have one big win, all will be forgiven.

  8. Pooya / Apr 22 2010 12:14 pm

    Making impossible decisions is what leadership is about, and you guys are definitely the leaders in Vancouver. As it is common in case of all pioneers, your mistakes get magnified and your efforts get ignored. That's why despite the mistakes and shortcomings, I believe BUL's still an Oasis in Vancouver desert of Accelerators and now that every one had their chance (some more than others) to criticize Boot Up, we need to support it and help it grow wiser and better.

  9. steve / Apr 22 2010 7:30 pm

    Well done on learning from your mistakes

  10. @stevewandler / Apr 22 2010 8:16 pm

    Every man makes mistakes but it takes a bigger man to admit it, which is why I like these guys.
    I have a high and deep respect for Danny Robinson. Danny was on my advisory board (YourTechOnline.com based in Kelowna,BC) and was involved in helping us take it to a very successful exit into the Bay Area. Thanks Danny your work and effort to making a better technology community. It does not go unnoticed. I and many others are in your corner, keep fighting the good fight!

  11. Kevin / Apr 22 2010 8:34 pm

    These are tough lessons that one prefers not to learn the hard way but sometimes it is the only way. I have linked your post on my blog, writing about struggles between business and budjets:
    http://racketbykevingreer.blogspot.com/2010/04/bo

  12. @Chad_Greenway / Apr 22 2010 10:01 pm

    I normally don't comment on anything regarding the Vancouver tech industry since I am relatively new to it and I don't have any experience working with the Boot Up team. As the founder of a local web start-up, I think Vancouver has an amazing talent pool and I appreciate all of the work that the people at Boot Up are doing to support our tech community. Sticking your neck out and making mistakes is a normal part of doing a start-up (I do it all the time) and I think that we should take the time to support the different groups in our community.

  13. Jason Bailey / Apr 22 2010 4:37 pm

    Boot Up is a start up just as much as any of the companies they are trying to support. We all make mistakes. ALL off us. Business plans evolve and improve.

    Danny's biggest mistake came from positive intent and a positive outlook on closing the funding BUL needed. Though intent it is what paves the road to hell, give him credit. It ain't easy.

    I have every confidence in Danny's ability to captain that ship and provide a fantastic opportunity for a lot of local start ups.

    Funding is only one part of the equation anyway. The mentorship and office space support is also extremely valuable, and as Danny said, is still available to these cohorts.

  14. powermatic / May 27 2010 8:05 pm

    "Let me see….they're broke, and moving back to the States, and don't have any money, and need money to get their lives going, and I was the cause of their not having any money..for god's sake, how, or what could I possibly do to assist them? I honestly can't think of a gosh darn thing-I guess all I can realistically do is make a public pronouncement that I'll help them in any way I can! I just hope they have enough money to hook up to the internet so they can know of my offer to help! Okay, that's done. What's next?"

    /Danny

  15. Simon Salinski / May 27 2010 10:06 pm

    Don't worry it wasn't you who ruined Vancouver's reputation. It was long tarnished by 60 years of financial scams. You just moved it from the mining pink sheet scams to the internet world. Good work sir.

  16. Nonya / May 28 2010 1:43 am

    One little thing that makes your apology post ring fake:
    You did not apologize to Jamie on *his* blog. You just left your initial arrogant comment on his post and after it escalated, you cobbled this apologetic post here. You say you have spoken to him in the aftermath, but we aren't privy to that. This is now a public issue and for you to possibly scrape up any integrity left, this would be one of the crucial transparent next steps.

  17. Nonya / May 28 2010 3:37 am

    Plus: creaming 50k off 150k as your fees??? That's 33% finders/mgt fee! Who the f**k does that? What entrepreneurs & investors succumb to such a setup?

    The other unsettling issue as gleaned from TechCrunch commentary: Apparently, this isn't a unique occurrence; it's happened with previous cohorts and most of your startups never get the full amount promised, even if they aren't kicked out of the office space. Aside from splashy parties & a guest talk or two, you apparently also offer next to no informal or formal support. WOW.

  18. James / May 28 2010 6:15 am

    You're a real superstar for standing up and taking your blows in such a forthright and sincere way.

    um, i mean, bullshit.

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