Book: Innovating Women

Suddenly, there’s a lot of constructive conversation about women in technology and entrepreneurship. I’m glad, as there is a continuous mess of sexism, misogyny, hatred, anger, specious assertions, and general weirdness. This mess is from men to women, from women to women, from men to men, and from women to men. Basically, there’s gender equality in the awful parts of this.

As chair of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, I’ve seen all sides of this, including plenty aimed at me. I’m an enormous believer in the power of being a male advocate so I’ll continue to be outspoken, supportive, and thoughtful on the issues and engagement of women in technology.

I was very excited to get a chance to read the book Innovating Women by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya. It’s an excellent combination of stories from powerful female innovators, along with analysis and research supporting the context. I enjoyed the book a lot, heard some new stories, and got a few new ideas.

As I read through some of the Amazon reviews and threads that spiraled out from them, I once again saw a continuous mess of sexism, misogyny, hatred, anger, specious assertions, and general weirdness. This mess is from men to women, from women to women, from men to men, and from women to men. Basically, there’s gender equality in the awful parts of this.

In my fantasy, humans would learn how to be constructive participants in a conversation. I recognize this is a fantasy, but I’ll keep trying, especially around this issue.

Boulder Shouldn’t Municipalize Its Energy Utility System

I’ve sat in the background and expressed my opinion privately on the energy utility municipalization issue in Boulder. It’s been one where the debate and exploration so far has been much more emotional, at least in my opinion, that rational.

Beth Hartman recently reached out to me with an extremely clear point of view that parallels mine. It was stimulated by a recently announced spending increase of 18% for the 2015 budget, borrowing $4 million from the general fund for the municipal utility effort. I’ve long felt that the city of Boulder could take a much more innovative approach to this problem, but everyone I’ve suggested this to who is an advocate of municipalization had said “but we can’t spend the money on that.” Now that the city has demonstrated that they’ll take money from the general fund to spend on municipalization, I encourage everyone in Boulder to rethink the path we are taking.

Following is the OpEd and Beth and I had published in the Boulder Daily Camera today. I’m certain it will generate plenty of emotional response, which I put in the “whatever” category. I’m much more interested in the rational, thoughtful responses that discuss what we could be doing around our energy future that’s actually progressive as well as innovative.

The original article is at Boulder’s budget: Our best bet?, but the Daily Camera took all the links out, so if you want the backstory, they are in the post that follows.


Boulder’s Budget: Our Best Bet? By Brad Feld and Beth Hartman

Boulder recently announced a spending increase of 18% for the 2015 budget, borrowing $4 million from the general fund for the municipal utility effort – in addition to the money that the city has already spent. With the utility business model currently under pressure around the world from disruptive forces that many in the industry refer to as a “death spiral,” the city’s assertion that this money will soon be repaid should be carefully examined by every citizen and business leader in town.

Citizens and businesses would be wise to scrutinize this investment not just because of the millions that are being spent now, but more importantly because of the serious impact that potentially higher electricity prices could have on this community in the coming years. While Boulder is currently building a strong reputation as an entrepreneurial ecosystem to rival Silicon Valley and is consistently voted among the top cities to live in the country, there is almost nothing more fundamental to quality of life and competitive business than affordable energy.

A municipal utility may be able to provide electricity that is cheaper or about as affordable as our current utility offers – or the city may waste millions of dollars trying, just as communities in Florida, California, and New Mexico have done recently. Although the city is hoping that rates will be lower and Boulder will actually earn money, the fact that Barclays recently downgraded the entire utility sector indicates that this is not currently a business model with strong growth opportunity for new entrants. In addition to uncertainty about costs, there are several big legal questions pending that must be answered before we know if the plan will even work, over which the city has little to no control.

Why are we taking this considerable risk? Instead of buying a bunch of old poles and wires, we could be spending the money on more innovative initiatives that would have a real impact on saving energy and reducing carbon emissions, such as solar panels, an electric vehicle car sharing program, or installing Nest thermostats the way Airbnb is doing.

There are many innovative energy companies right here in Boulder, offering an opportunity to support solutions that can be rapidly replicated in other cities around the world. Instead of spending so much on a 20th century business model, the city could focus more on coordinating efforts between local energy entrepreneurs, the university, research labs, and consulting companies, providing thought leadership on new energy solutions. This would also offer amazing economic benefits to our own community, through helping to create more jobs at Boulder-based organizations. The city could start offering this support now, without waiting to see what happens with the uncertainty of forming a utility.

Another important question is what else our community could be doing with the millions of dollars we are spending on this effort, whether it’s schools, roads, affordable housing, open space maintenance, or any other initiative that our city needs. If you are a citizen who is concerned about the city’s new budget, please reach out to city council and ask them what else we could be doing with so much money. We could also ask for more details on how exactly they plan to deliver an energy service that is at least as good as what we’re getting now.

If you understand the difference between renewable energy and efficiency, distributed generation and demand response, and net metering and decoupling, please reach out to city council and have a conversation with them about their plans to start a utility during this time of disruption for an incredibly complex and challenging industry. Finally, if you are a business owner and you rely on affordable energy for your company to run every day, please reach out to city council and ask them how they are going to support your needs.

Getting into the utility business now is in many ways akin to starting a land line telephone company right when the internet and cell phones were really starting to get popular. Our community needs to question the wisdom of our city investing in this industry right now, with so many real risks.

 

Victims and Leaders

In a recent board meeting, at a particularly challenging part of the conversation, I did a retrospective of the past five years as a lead up to making a point. I prefaced it by saying “I need you to take a leader approach, not a victim approach.” I realized no one knew that I meant by this, so I told a quick story, which I first heard from Jeremy Bloom, the CEO of Integrate, retired pro-football player, retired Olympic skier, and someone I adore.

Jeremy’s summary is:

“I’ve learned that there are two types of people: leaders and victims. Leaders are those who see a complex problem and figure out a way either individually or collectively to solve it. These are the people who build successful businesses, become C-Level execs and start their own companies. Victims look at problems and instantly blame everyone else when they can’t solve it. They are the finger-pointers and can rarely admit when they make mistakes. I’ve seen firsthand in football and business how victims can bring down the morale of an entire team. It’s impossible to build anything with a victim mentality.”

In the longer version of the story, he talked about his experience on the Philadelphia Eagles (amazing talent, victim mentality) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (mediocre talent, leader mentality.) He also has a great cross-over line from his experience in athletics to being an entrepreneur:

“My journey in athletics provided me with numerous lessons I apply every day in business. In athletics, for every gold medal that I won I failed 1000 more times. I became conditioned to handle the emotional swings. Possessing the mental ability to stay even keeled during the highs and lows is one of the most important skills one can possess to increase the likelihood of long term success. Any entrepreneur will tell you that there are days when they are 100% confident that they are going to change the world and other days when they aren’t sure if the company will be around in a few months. Managing the emotional swings in business comes easier to me because of my experience in athletics.”

The retrospective with the company was powerful. The company is a real company with significant revenue and over 100 employees. They’ve had numerous challenges along the way, including many disappointments with larger partners who have behaved in ways that could easily cause anyone to be cynical and take a victim approach to the world, as in “we are a victim of the capriciousness and bad behavior of our much larger strategic partner.”

The core of the company is strong. The team, especially the leadership team, is dynamite. The customer base is incredible. The technology and products are very deep. The optimistic view (the leader view) of their prospects is strong. The pessimistic view (the victim view) is one of fatigue and frustration, especially of broken promises of others.

I led with the punchline. The business was profitable in Q3. It was cash flow positive after debt service. The Q4 pipeline is solid. The new product family looks great and is off to a strong start, even though it’s early in the cycle. The broad market for their new product line is exploding. The leadership team is dynamite and very, very tight knit. The employees are smart, committed, and a good mix of long-timers and relatively new folks.

We talked for a while. One of my comments was “Fuck your historical big company partners – you know how they are wired and what their behavior is going to be. Don’t depend on them and don’t worry about them. Work with them in a collaborative, friendly way, but don’t count on them. Be a leader and create your destiny, rather than be a victim to whatever their whims are.”

As I was going through my emails this morning catching up after a long day, I was pondering the tone of entrepreneurs I work closely with, most of whom behave like leaders almost all the time. This is in comparison to a lot of other entrepreneurs I interact with but don’t work with, some who behave like leaders but a surprising numbers who behave like victims. And then I pondered this in the context of my interactions with VCs and co-investors, where again I realized that there is a lot of victim mentality in the mix.

Are you a leader or a victim?

A New Look for Feld Thoughts

Every few years I update the look and feel of my blog. This year is a significant upgrade, both on look and feel as well as the entire back end infrastructure.

In the past six months, I’ve started to notice complexity creep into everything in our world. While design is still front and center for many developers and entrepreneurs, I’ve gotten tired of the overwhelming UIs, confusing UXs, and immense complexity under the hood. It’s kind of like a calendar that just keeps getting stuff added to it – all of a sudden you are busy for all of your waking hours with meetings, and have no time to really get any work done.

We took a completely bottoms up approach this time and started from scratch. We tossed everything out and rebuilt everything – the infrastructure, the blog, and the design – from the ground up.

A thing you probably won’t notice, but is the starting point, is that we’ve moved feld.com to Pantheon. We are investors and love the company. The only thing you should notice is lightning fast response all the time, regardless of traffic load. If you ever notice anything different, please tell me.

Next, we approached the design from a minimalist perspective, which is coming back into vogue in a lot of places. My blog was starting to feel like a Geocities site to me, with all kinds of additional crap on it beyond my writing, and I decided I just wanted it to focus on my writing and my community in the comments. I copied Fred Wilson in this regard as he made this shift a while ago. After looking at many popular blogs, I kept coming back to his approach.

We’ve tried to do this in a way that keeps the writing front and center but still has easy access to other things on feld.com. On the left is site specific stuff, such as additional feld.com content (About, Investments, and Marathons), clear discovery (Search, Categories, and Tags). On the right is post specific actions (Comments, Category for the Post, Tags for the Post, and Sharing options.)

If you want to subscribe to anything or follow me anywhere, that’s on the top right.

We’ve also rebuilt the data underlying things from scratch. We’ve gotten rid of a ton of plug-ins that either weren’t being used or didn’t add anything (other than slowing the site down). We worked hard on a site that could be viewed on any platform, regardless of browser or mobile device. And we’ve tried to keep the principle of clean, minimal, and readable – with the focus on the content – throughout.

I’m sure there are many, many things we could improve. As I roll into 2015, we are going to finalize this theme with your feedback, and then apply it to all the other active sites in our universe, especially StartupRev.com which desperately needs an overhaul.

So – comment with any feedback you have – good, bad, and other. Constructive or flamey. In the comments, or via email to me. And, if we blew it, we’ll keep iterating.

The Calloway Way Book Tour – 10/28 and 10/29, Boston

Next week, I’m spending some time in Boston with my uncle Charlie Feld talking about his newest book, The Calloway Way: Results & Integrity.

Alongside some private events with EMC, MIT, HBS, and the N2 Conference, we’re doing a few public events which I would like to invite you to. On Tuesday night (10/28) we’ll be at Techstars Boston and on Wednesday night (10/29) we’ll be at Yesware.

10/28 – RSVP for the Techstars Boston event

10/29 – RSVP for the Yesware event

Charlie and I will be onstage talking about the importance of results and integrity – me from an entrepreneurial perspective and Charlie from his perspective as one of the most accomplished Fortune 1000 CIOs in the world. It’s a dynamic that isn’t often combined and I’m looking forward to exploring the similarities and differences with someone I consider one of my closest mentors and friends (as well as my uncle.)

A big thanks to Techstars Boston (with Foley Hoag) and Yesware for picking up copies of the book for all who attend each event. The book isn’t due to be released until mid-November but book tour has some early release copies of the book which is super fun.

If you’re not in Boston or can’t make it out to the events, here’s a brief overview to whet your leadership literature appetite.

The book is a perspective on leadership disguised as a biography of Wayne Calloway and his time at PepsiCo. Calloway served as an executive at Frito-Lay and PepsiCo for over twenty years and managed to put up some serious numbers. Year-on-year double digit growth for over 20 years which translates to doubling revenue and profit four times over that time frame. The numbers are amazing but the book is about both the leadership vision and nitty-gritty tactics that led to these results. A plus is that the book reads like an oral history of PepsiCo during that time due to the interview based format of the book. A second plus is that this book is the fifth title from FG Press, the publishing house that I co-founded with my Foundry Group partners.

You can pre-order The Calloway Way here.