Halt and Catch Fire Decimates Silicon Valley

There are two great fictional TV series about technology and the computer industry that each have now had three seasons. The one everyone knows about is Silicon Valley. The lessor known one is Halt and Catch Fire. They are both dynamite but for different reasons. And, after three years and some reflection on my part, HCF decimates Silicon Valley (which is mostly a challenge to my friends who have writing credits.)

The foundational difference is that HCF is about the history of the personal computer industry (starting in the early 1980s) while Silicon Valley is a contemporary satire of today’s Silicon Valley.

While contemporary satires can be awesome (like Silicon Valley is), there is no sense of perspective. Since you are generally watching it unfold in real time, after three years you don’t get the historical arc, unless you go back and watch from the first episode. And, when you do, the first few episodes fall short, for a variety of reasons including the writers are getting their satire in gear while figuring out all the other pieces. Basically, it’s really challenging to get started – so in a lot of ways Silicon Valley has it harder than HCF.

Even just the titles tell you this. We all know what Silicon Valley is (or at least we think we do). But, without looking it up, do you know what Halt and Catch Fire refers to? I’ll give you a hint – notice my TLA for it (HCF). I’ll give you another hint – it has something to do with Motorola. And Intel. And the IBM 360. Go read the Wikipedia page on HCF – it’s got the whole story – but the punch line is “The mnemonic HCF is believed to be the first built-in self-test feature on a Motorola microprocessor”

Silicon Valley’s version of this is Hooli. But if they wanted to get it really right, it should have been something like Hooley since the better name would have six letters in it.

There are 100s of these embedded in each show. Watching the opening of Silicon Valley, with the animated Uber and Lyft balloons muscling each other out, is fun. The Twitter golden parachutes are cute. But even though it gets regularly updated, there are quickly artifacts that are out of place. It’s the challenge of current verses history.

Ok – pesca-pescatarian stays with me and I’ve told Dick Costolo that every board meeting at Chorus should include this option.

Shows like these get an awesome chance to have characters that are either direct historical references, historically inspired references, syntheses of historical characters, or completely fictional characters. Each has both, but HCF does the synthesis character much better. And, as part of it, they took on some gender stereotypes in an extremely powerful way through two of the lead female characters.

Finally, as someone who lived in Dallas in the time frame that the first two seasons of HCF unfolded (full time as a senior in high school and then in the summers when I was going to MIT) they just fucking nailed it. While Dell and CompuAdd were in Austin (anyone remember PCs Limited) and Compaq was in Houston, another clone maker (Five Star Electronics) was in Dallas and at least one of the Compaq early players (Kevin Ellington) came from TI in Dallas where he was previously the head of the team that created short lived but excellent TI Professional Computer.

In contrast, while I’ve spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley over the last 20 years, I’ve never lived there and don’t feel an emotional attachment to it. I’m a participant, but it’s not “of me”, whereas Dallas is.

All that said, they are both awesome shows that now have enough time in them (three years of episodes) to be worth a watch from start to finish! And, for bonus points, watch the documentary Silicon Cowboys.

Why Goliath Should Be One Season Only

Amy and I watched the Amazon series Goliath last month. It was deeply awesome. Deeply deeply awesome. We also watched The Night Manager which we loved almost as much. And, at the end of each, I said to Amy, “They should end this now and not do a Season 2.”

Goliath captured my attention more.It had amazing character development. Bill Bob Thornton, who I’ve always liked, was at his best, William Hurt was excruciatingly delicious, Nina Arianda made me root for her every time she said something, and Molly Parker had mastery over the role of ruthless, hateful, and utterly self-centered, manipulative lawyer.  The filming, while against the standard LA backdrop, was rich and unique. There were many tense moments that just kind of hung on for an extra few beats, which I loved.  Each of the eight episodes had at least one unexpected twist and turn. The backstory was complex and finally all came together in the last episode, which was magnificent.

I thought the climactic moments were breathtaking. In the back of our minds we knew we were watching the last episode. And then the screen went black and it was over.

I expect it’s easy for Hollywood to crank out a Season 2. Take the complex characters, subtract a few, add a few new ones, put in a new current story, continue to unfold pieces of the backstory, and keep going. Hollywood knows how to do this.

But wouldn’t it be special if this was it? Just one season. An eight hour movie, instead of an annual TV show.

I have no idea what the economics of the movie business is, especially with all the new Amazon, Netflix, Showtime, AMC, SyFy, and HBO series. But I am intrigued with what feels like a new type of show – the six to eight hour movie. It’s a little too long to watch in one setting but you can watch it over a three to five day period. It becomes immersive without taking over everything. It doesn’t drag you out week by week with mildly unsatisfying endpoints. And it doesn’t end up being a 13 hour bingfest, which can be done (ala House of Cards) but doesn’t stay with you (or at least stay with me) as much.

I let this idea sit for a few weeks (I wrote the headline for this post three weeks ago after we finished Goliath.) When I saw it this morning, it still felt right to me. I wonder if, as the tech to deliver content continues to evolve, we will start seeing the one season / 6-8 hour show that ends at a peak moment, rather than is cancelled because it sucks.

Joining the Kauffman Fellows Board

In September, I joined the board of Kauffman Fellows.

If you aren’t familiar with the Kauffman Fellows Program, it recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. I was around at the beginning, spending a day a month in Kansas City with the Kauffman Foundation as an entrepreneur-in-residence when the program was originally created by a team at the Kauffman Foundation to identify, develop, and network the next generation of global leaders in the venture capital industry using a two-year apprenticeship program. In 2003, it was spun out of the Kauffman Foundation into a separate non-profit but, at the 20th reunion in Kansas City, the Kauffman Foundation made a new gift to the Kauffman Fellows Program to accelerate the midwestern venture capital ecosystem.

Kauffman Fellows now has almost 500 Fellows in 40 countries across the world. The power of the network and how it impacts both the venture capital industry and the startup ecosystem is profound. Some of the early Kauffman Fellows are now leading major firms. Consider a few people from the first three classes, including Jason Green (Emergence), Rob Coneybeer and Ravi Mohan (Shasta Ventures), Susan Mason (Aligned Partners), Jennifer Fonstad (Aspect Ventures), and Bryan Roberts (Venrock).

As someone who is now 20 years into his own journey as an investor in companies as well as other VC funds, when I was approached about joining the board by Jeff Harbach, the CEO, it was an easy yes for me. After spending some time with Jeff, who recently took over the CEO reins from long time CEO (and now Chairman) Phil Wickham, I realized that by engaging with Jeff and the board I could support a new CEO running a non-profit organization to train the world’s future VCs. Jeff blew me away with his vision and energy, which is the primary driver for me – beyond the mission of the organization – when I engage with a non-profit.

In one of our longer conversations, Jeff focused on the non-investment activities that he viewed as critical to the success of investors. We talked about topics like authenticity and mental fitness. We talked about a common paradox – the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know – and how difficult it is to acknowledge and process this concept in whatever context it appears. I’ve experienced this many times in my career and have deep empathy and understanding around the challenges. I believe that peer-mentorship, one of the key activities of Kauffman Fellows, is essential here.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a strong advocate for diversity across all dimensions. This is not new for me in business – when I was at the Kauffman Foundation, I heard it, among other values that I cherish, as being attributed to Mr. Kauffman. When I looked around the room at the Kauffman Fellows Reunion, it was easy to see why they are having a huge impact on diversity in venture capital, with over 30% of the most recent class being women, 11% being African-American, alongside numerous participants from all over the world.

Kauffman Fellows is not necessarily for people just entering the venture industry but for experienced VCs looking to accelerate their growth. The program is centered around established innovation leaders – if you are looking to grow and become a better investor you should think about doing this program.

I talk often about being intrinsically motivated by learning. It’s the primary driver of most of my activity. When I struggled with a depressive episode in 2013, I realized that I had a glitch in my thinking about my own motivation. I had separated learning and teaching into different concepts. As I have gotten older, I am spending a lot more time teaching, which was taking away from time I had previously spent learning, and that was bumming me out. When I thought harder about this (with the help of my therapist), I realized that I learn an enormous amount in contexts where I’m also teaching. Consequently, I was able to repair the glitch by linking the concepts of learning and teaching as the core of my intrinsic motivation.

By joining the board of  Kauffman Fellows, I get to do both. I’m now a node on another network – one shared by 20 years of experienced VCs around the world as they work together to help identify, nurture, and develop the next generation of VCs. I expect I’ll teach a lot, but as with many things in life, will learn even more.

Jeff – thanks for asking me to be a part of things. I’m honored.

Alexa, What’s Your Favorite Accelerator?

I love Alexa. Of all the various tech things I’ve bought in 2016, Amazon’s Alexa has become the most consistently used new thing in my world. I’ve even had a breakthrough on the home front as Amy now regularly says “Alexa, play …” We’ve got them everywhere and the Echo Dot that showed up in October is centrally located on my office desk at Foundry Group.

On Wednesday, Techstars and Amazon announced the Alexa Accelerator, powered by Techstars. Applications will open in January and the first program will start in July 2017.

Amazon, through their Alexa Fund, has been investing in companies that are using Alexa Voice ServiceAlexa Skills Kit, or companies working on the science behind voice technology, including text to speech, natural language understanding, automatic speech recognition, artificial intelligence and hardware component design. Several companies we’ve invested in, including TrackR, Rachio, and Dragon Innovation now count the Alexa Fund as investors.

It’s exciting to me to see Amazon and Alexa take it to the next level with their partnership with Techstars. I expect that will add another reason for me to spend even more time in Seattle.

@bfeld v51.0

I turned 51 today. I’ve been telling people I’m 33 (since that’s my age in hex) and when I feel like having people say “whoa – you look a lot younger than that” I say I’m 63 (since that’s my age in octal). I like to look forward on my birthday instead of backwards, so when I woke up this morning I had a handful of things in my head for the next version of myself. So, here’s what I’m going to try to incorporate into v51.

No Booze: I’ve never been a big drinker (my parents don’t drink so other than awful Manischewitz wine on the jewish holidays I rarely saw booze as a kid. I don’t really like wine or beer that much so my go to drink is scotch. I have a moderator problem with all things in life – I’m either off (abstainer) or on (all in) so it’s a lot easier for me to abstain. I go through long no-drinking phases and I feel like v51 should be one of them.

Mission Sub-200: I weighed in this morning at 218. My weight fluctuates between 205 and 220 depending on how much I pay attention to it. My adult low weight is 192 and I feel really good around 200 so in v51 I’m going to figure out a combination of food and exercise that gets me permanently below 200. Fortunately, I have an awesome coach (Gary Ditsch) who can help me with that and I expect the no booze feature will help.

Religious Digital Sabbath: When I take Friday night through Saturday night off the grid (Digital Sabbath) I always feel a lot better on all dimensions. I’ve been inconsistent about this in v50. For v51 I’m going to be religious about it.

Focus On My 2%: I’ve written about this many times in different ways. On a daily basis, I pay almost no attention to the macro. When I was a kid, my dad once said to me “focus on the 2% you can impact and spend all your time there.” That’s generally how I live my life, although like many others I got swept up into the most recent election madness and found myself spending a non-trivial amount of time paying attention to the macro, even when I knew I couldn’t impact it. I’m recommitting my energy to my 2%, recognizing that my whole world is a network and my activity is almost entirely bottom up engagement rather than top down. v51 is recommitted to that.

Reset Social Media: While I’ve always been a broadcaster on social media (primarily Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn), my consumption and engagement patterns ebb and flow. For v51, I’m going to select ebb. So, while I’ll still be broadcasting, I won’t be engaging or reading the streams. Email remains the best way to get me, although I will continue 1:1 interaction via whatever channels find their way to me (SMS, txt, FBM, LI, DM).

More Maker Mode Expansion: v51 will include more travel and more maker mode. I’m writing daily again and working on several books (the 2nd Edition of Startup Opportunities and the 1st Edition of Give First.) I get so much emotional and intellectual joy out of the process that I’m just going to let it be a bigger part of v51.

Travel Mode Expansion: I’ve been traveling more and feel like I’ve figured out a comfortable way to do it. The biggest shift is that I spend my traveling time “in the moment”, I don’t over schedule when I’m somewhere and instead focus on longer time with less people. I also give myself plenty of me time on the road. I’ll take longer breaks from any travel or settle in one place for longer stretches with Amy. v51 will try this again, but will be careful not to over do it.

Those are the big features I am modifying or expansion packs I’m adding. As today is day 0 of version 51, I expect I’ll iterate on plenty of these – and others – on my way to v51.365.

For those of you who have wished me happy birthday on Facebook and Twitter, thank you (per my reset social media, don’t expect a reply on my wall …) For my one friend who called me on the phone to wish me happy birthday, I treasure what is now a 34 year (in decimal) friendship. And, for everyone else, v51 looks forward to engaging with you.