I’m David Billstrom, and like many entrepreneurs I love a challenge and I’m driven by my curiosity.
Because so many topics and challenges interest me, I’ve built several careers over the past 35 years: (in no particular order of importance) venture capitalist, company founder, software engineer, sales manager, two-way radio expert, supercomputer product manager, international marketing manager, and teacher, along with EMS and firefighting.
I was not initially ‘educated’ for any of these careers. But with the foundation of a classic education by Jesuits in high school, the benefit of the academic rigor of a leading small liberal arts college, the opportunity to audit a few graduate school classes in computer science, and a childhood growing up in a family of voracious readers — combined to give me a few advantages along my path.
Markets & Scale
Although the majority of my experience is in high technology software and hardware manufacturing, I have earned both success and painful lessons in a variety of other domains including traditional retail, consumer brands, publishing, advertising, and social networks.
I have also worked in a variety of settings, from the structured and disciplined environment of Intel Corporation and Disney, to the scrappy startup team working from a dining room table.
I’ve been involved with 45 companies. So far.
A selected list of my companies and my background can be found on my LinkedIn profile.
Success & Failure
And my role has varied: angel investor, organizer of syndicates of angel investors, and a venture capitalist. I’ve also served on both public company and private company boards of directors, as well as on the boards of non-profit organizations.
In 2007, I testified in the U.S. Senate as a subject matter expert to a full committee meeting on Commerce, and I’ve seen tremendous return on several of my investments. Many of my clients have achieved their initial goals, and then moved on to exceed these goals and set new audacious goals. I’ve taken great satisfaction in these accomplishments.
But we should note that my experience also includes failure.
My failures include poor investments, failed products, negotiations gone off the rails, and terrible hires. Sometimes these have been laughably obvious in tactical error, my lack of relevant experience, and of course hubris bred by previous success. I have missed opportunities, caused hurt feelings, and I’ve even damaged my reputation from time to time.
Other times the failure was a somber recognition of the sheer challenge faced by entrepreneurs and executives as they move through their day, their week, their life. When it feels terrible and impossible, often the reason is because… the situation is terrible and impossible. Yes, it can be very hard.
It is a cliche but true: I’ve learned more from my failures than my successes.
Sadly, in a few situations I had to learn the lesson several times before it “took”. Even today, there are certain negative patterns that I’m aware of, and so I strive to be mindful and anticipate these in all that I do.
Size Up & Triage
It isn’t just office and boardroom experience that I use in coaching.
I often combine this with one of my other passions — I’m a firefighter and EMT. I’ve worked in both urban and rural settings, and was once a fireboat operator.
The first step of any emergency scene is called the “size up” — or the “360”. This is when the responder spends a few moments taking in the whole scene, the specific needs, notices dangers and then formulates a systematic plan for what to do next (and what others should do next).
Years of doing initial patient surveys, sizing up car accidents, fighting fires and handling marine emergencies have honed my skills for analysis, decision-making and tactics… under pressure.
I’m not just about the theory.
Love & Life
I also love life.
And I love my wife, our dog, my family, and my brothers and sisters in emergency service.
I also love music, creating tasty food, exploring the outdoors, experiencing foreign cultures, appreciating the light at the end of the day, the magic of books and the depth of good friends.
I have seen enough tragedy to appreciate that indeed, life is too short.
I’m committed to making the rest of my time here matter.
Curious about the name Flashing Red Light? Read this.