Brad's Books and Organizations

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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Book: Product Design for the Web

Comments (6)

I read a lot – somewhere between 50 and 100 books a year. I prefer long form (books) to medium form (articles, blog posts), although I read plenty of that as well. I’m a visual learner, so I learn a lot more from reading than I do by listening to a lecture or a video.

I’m always curious what my friends are reading and often grab books they recommend. Last week Fred Wilson wrote a post recommending two books including Randy Hunt’s Product Design for the Web: Principles of Designing and Releasing Web Products. I grabbed them both.

I read Randy’s book yesterday while procrastinating working on my next book, Startup Opportunities. Randy was the Creative Director at Etsy for a number of years and has written a strong, easy to read, and very accessible book for anyone interested in better understanding how to design web products. And, he does a great job of defining a “web product” as much more than just a web site – think Etsy, Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter – and all the corresponding pieces including the APIs, native apps, mobile apps, and website.

I love the way this book starts off – with a quote from Paola Antonelli, MoMA Senior Curator of Architecture & Design + Director of R&D.

“People think that design is styling. Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.”

If that sounds a little Steve Jobsian, and it resonates with you, then you will enjoy this book. Randy treats the subject simply and clearly. He does it in a way that anyone who is not a natural designer or developer will understand. It’s not about UX, UI, IxD, or any other initialisms or TLAs. It’s about product design.

Thanks Fred for the recommendation. While short, I learned a couple of things, which made my time with this book worthwhile. And, for the zillions of entrepreneurs out there who think they grok how to design things, I recommend this book as you’ll learn something that will make you even better at what you do.

Why Do We Still Have Airplanes?

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I’ve been listening to the Hyperion Cantos on my iPhone while I run/bike (it’s amazing – I’m almost done with book two) and I’ve been wondering why we still have airplanes.

We’ve already figured out how to go from analog form to digital form back to analog form. Consider the telephone.

We’ve already figured out how to go from atoms to bits to atoms. Consider the 3D printer.

We can transmit energy and information, so why can’t we yet teleport?

Who is working on this?

In Hyperion, the machines (the AI) ended up figuring this out for the humans. It feels like we are on the cusp of this as a species.

Ponder that as you board your next plan. Wouldn’t it be better to farcast to where you are going? Or would it?

DaaS – Directory As A Service – Finally …

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Several years ago, I had to go through the process of disconnecting Active Directory and untangling it from a number of services that depended on it. One of these cases was a migration off of all Microsoft services. Another was a result of a company I was involved in acquiring another company that had Active Directory deeply integrated into its infrastructure.

I hadn’t paid much attention to Active Directory or LDAP since them, but I recently found myself in a conversation with Raj Bhargava, the CEO of JumpCloud, about why there was no “Directory as a Service” product. Raj and the team at JumpCloud had begun exploring the notion of a cloud-based directory, I was intrigued and remember the first conversation well. I was driving up to my place in Keystone and Raj was explaining some of the customer feedback they were receiving on their initial product. They were getting positive feedback on the user management capabilities and when they added the ability to execute tasks on servers, the feedback was just add desktop and laptop OSs and voila you have a replacement for Active Directory. Of course, it’s not that easy, but the feedback hit us all like a ton of bricks. Conceptually it was very interesting.

I worked closely with the team over the summer to dig in and really understand the feedback. Turns out, it was more than just moving Active Directory to the cloud. We regularly heard that it was time for a new directory approach as LDAP and Active Directory have been the two dominant directories for the last few decades and there has been very little innovation around them. While Google Apps is awesome for email and apps, it doesn’t really function as a directory, at least, not in the way that IT organizations have come to view them.

As we talked to more people, it was clear that they were looking for a directory that could handle cloud and on-prem systems, variety of operating systems / device types, and the move to cloud services.

So, the JumpCloud team went to work and started executing on that concept. Given the depth of their existing product, adding directory capabilities wasn’t too challenging. Two weeks ago, JumpCloud launched the first ever Directory-as-a-Service offering.

The initial reception has been fantastic. Clearly there are a lot of companies that don’t want to deal with Microsoft Active Directory or manage LDAP themselves. And this was exactly the thesis around the need for a new directory approach that Raj and team had developed from their customer conversations.

If you are interested is using the service, you can do so for free – 10 users are free forever, and then it’s a paid offering. Drop me a note and I’ll connect you to the JumpCloud team or just go on over to JumpCloud and sign-up!

I’d love to hear what you think of the concept and the product if you have a chance to use it.

Selfies With Chris Moody to Contribute to NCWIT

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Chris Moody, the former CEO of Gnip (now VP Data Strategy at Twitter) is doing a fun fundraising drive for the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

For at least $20, you can take a picture with him. 100% of the money goes to NCWIT. He’ll then blog it.

Yeah – I know it’s a little silly, but that’s Chris. Delightfully silly and huggable Chris.

I contributed $500 to match the first $500 Chris raises for NCWIT. As the chair of NCWIT, I appreciate his, and your, efforts.

For those of you out there who have asked “hey Brad, what can I do to help you”, get your picture taken with Chris and make a contribution to one of the non-profits I care the most about in this world.

Book: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Comments (4)

Amy and I both feel lethargic and a little sick yesterday, so neither of us felt like doing anything or going anywhere. It might have been re-entry from 10 days on the road, it might have been the tuberculous ward that was the cabin of our airplane, or it just might have been the Sunday lazies.

So I read Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Someone – maybe the publisher – sent it in the mail to me and I got it the same weekend that I read a review of it in the New York Times Book Review. Something about it appealed to me and even though it was a 400 page fiction book that felt pretty daunting in hardcover, it still felt manageable when compared to a David Foster Wallace epic. It sat on our coffee table for a few weeks until I picked it up and demolished it yesterday.

It was awesome, up until the last 50 pages. David Shafer, the author, has a magical way with words. Paragraphs unfolded in delightful ways, often ending with a surprise phrase that tied into something else. The three protagonists were deep and complicated, especially against the backdrop of the twisted, complex, and steadily unfolding plot. While it was predictable that their lives would converge and tangle, it happened suddenly, after what seemed like interminable foreplay, which in fact is how foreplay like this should feel.

The backdrop for the book is corrupt enterprise and government stuff, but with a subtle tone that sets it apart from the normal thriller genre. WTF (its abbreviation) is literature, not cyber thriller, espionage tale, or spy/government/mental floss. There are plenty of WTF moments, and then some more, and then things come together, and then they separate, and then more WTF happens.

The collection of all information in the universe is part of it, along with a parallel “non-Internet Internet.” Oh – and there are plant-based computers that grow in the midst of a pot farm. Well – not really a pot farm, but that’s the disguise. So there’s some sci-fi mixed with drug and hippie themes. And lots and lots of stuff that feels very real, right now.

I was about four hours into the book, with about 50 pages to go, and I suddenly had the feeling that the plot wasn’t going to resolve. There were simply not enough physical pages in my right hand. With 25 pages to go, I was certain it wouldn’t resolve and I started to get a little annoyed. When it finished, I said to Amy, “that was awesome, except the ending.”

In the light of a new day, I am now looking forward to WTF the Sequel. I don’t want to wait a few years for it, and know that it might never come. But I hope that’s what Shafer is working on.

If you like real fiction, that is well written, and contemporary, especially first novels, go grab a copy of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot right now.

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