March 30, 2020

State of Colorado COVID-19 Innovation Response Team, Part I – A Different Kind of Startup

(This is going to be an interesting week.  I expect in a couple days, a group of friends and former Return Path colleagues and I are going to officially start a new company once initial funding closes.  I will write about that down the road, but first, this message brought to you by COVID-19.)

I just returned from spending an intense two weeks in Denver.  On March 15, my long-time friend and Board member Brad Feld called me with an interesting idea.  His friend, Colorado Governor Jared Polis (who I’d met a briefly couple times over the years), had an idea of starting and rapidly scaling up a task force in the state government and wanted to tap a private sector entrepreneur to lead the effort.  After some back and forth over 36 hours, and strong encouragement from Mariquita to go help despite the pending lockdown at home in New York, I decided to jump on a plane and go do it. Here’s the description of the group, called the Innovation Response Team (IRT) that I wrote up on LinkedIn:

Governor Jared Polis established the state of Colorado’s COVID-19 Innovation Response Team (IRT), and I was its initial leader to get it off the ground. The team is responsible for pulling together rapid-response creative programs as part of the state’s response to the pandemic that require entrepreneurial, out-of-the-box thinking and deep connections to the private sector (as well as cross-agency within various levels of government), integrated with the state’s Emergency Operations Center. Along with two key deputies from state government, I was responsible for starting the group, both the public sector and private sector sides; recruiting the state team, a leader for the private sector side, and a long-term replacement for myself; and leading the development of the group’s structure, workstreams, and initial plans along with the rest of the team. In the first two weeks, the team grew from 0 to over 200 people (including an army of private sector volunteers) and started to make a significant impact on the state’s response to the crisis.

At Brad’s suggestion out of the gate, I took daily notes as the project unfolded.  I thought the most interesting way to present the experience here on OnlyOnce (because you *definitely* Only lead a COVID-19 state emergency task force Once) would be to share the daily chronicle, a few days at a time, along with a couple photos I took along the way.  So I’ll do that here, then at the end, I’ll do a wrap-up post that compares the work to running a private sector company.  Because the pace of news around COVID-19 is moving so fast, I’ll post a few days’ worth of daily notes at a time.

Sunday, March 15 – Day -1

  • Brad text/call to ask me if I’m interested in doing this
  • Lukewarm – not excited about leaving home for 2-4 weeks
  • Mariquita encourages me to do it – “when else are you going to get an opportunity to have an impact like this?”
  • Jared (Governor) called (spoke a mile a minute), outlined his vision and a couple potential workstreams and discussion ends with “talk tomorrow”
  • Can’t sleep – started a Google doc in bed with notes on the first workstreams

Monday, March 16, Day 0

  • More back and forth with Jared and his team – Lisa (Chief of Staff) and Stan (supervising cabinet member)
  • Officially invited to come at 3 pm
  • Kids bummed but supportive
  • By 6 pm, packed, cleaned up odds and ends at home and was in a car to Kennedy
  • 8 pm flight and airport both still ⅔ full 
  • Feeling full of purpose
  • Worked on more reading and enhanced doc and Day 1 goals
  • Texted Brad:  “Thank you. Wish me luck. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. Fortunately I never have and that’s usually been ok.”  Brad LOL.
  • Notified parents…a bit shocked
  • Good to see and surprise Khalid, the driver we used for years at Return Path
  • Crashed in extended stay hotel

Stay tuned for more tomorrow! Apologies if any of these notes or posts aren’t quite right…anyone who was there doing the work with me, please send me any corrections you’d like me to post!