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.

The Future Is A World Of Robots And Drones

Thanks for the all notes of concern about my bike accident on Thursday. I’m doing a lot better – still a little fuzzy and tired feeling – but on the mend. I’ve gotten confirmation that it wasn’t a hit and run – I clearly lost control of the bike during a turn, crashed into a curb, went over, and landed on my head. Lights out for a while.

I’m done biking. I’ve never really been a cyclist – I’ve always been a runner. Given that I’ve now had two single bike accidents that were 100% my fault, I’m clearly not cut out for being on a two-wheeled vehicle. So – back to running.

Over the weekend I took it easy and just let my mind drift around. A lot of friends came over to visit us which was nice. We hung out in our backyard by the pool, enjoyed the sunshine, and I let my mind drift around.

I had some weird dreams – some were clearly PTSD – but some were stuff I’ve read recently. I listened to Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion on Audible over the past two months on my bike rides and runs and lots of weird associations with it came up in my dreams, which, if you’ve read the books, is delightfully recursive.

All of this kept leading me back to robots and drones. We are investors in a number of companies in this arena, including Sphero3D Robotics, and Modular Robotics, and I think we are just at the beginning of a decade long revolution that has been a long time coming.

My friends at Techstars agree and last week launched – with Qualcomm – the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, powered by Techstars. I mentioned it on my blog last week when writing about Mentors 8/18: Adopt At Least One Company Every Single Year. Experience Counts and I realized I missed a key nuance in the post, which was about engagement with new things.

It’s nice to talk about robots and drones.  But if you don’t engage with them right now, you aren’t going to understand them, and the amazingly rapid trajectory they are going to be heading on. Reading science fiction can give you a sense of where they are going, but getting a drone right now from 3D Robotics, buying the new Ollie robot from Sphero, or grabbing the ModRobotics MOSS robot will change your understanding of these things. Oh – and these things are amazing fun.

Techstars and Qualcomm aren’t fooling around in this arena. Qualcomm gets this market – they’ve already been focused on it with their Snapdragon processor and work with Brain Corporation – and their participation in the program will be invaluable. The Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, powered by Techstars, is another big leap forward for Qualcomm as they establish themselves as a leader in this market.

And – if you are an entrepreneur and want to go deep here along with hanging out in San Diego, check out the robotics revolution.

Yesterday Was The End of My Biking Career

First off – I’m ok. But here’s the story.

“Ouch”

“You’re in an ambulance. I’m just putting an IV in your arm,” said a disembodied voice.

I had no idea where I was. I had a vague recollection that I had been on a bike.

“You’re in ambulance. You are ok. Stay calm.”

I realized I was tightly strapped to a board and couldn’t move if I wanted to. My legs hurt. My ribs hurt. My shoulders hurt.

I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I couldn’t process where I was. I felt like I was coming out of a dream, but I couldn’t remember the dream. I couldn’t open my eyes.

The doctor asked, “What day is it.”

I responded, “I have no idea.” I forgot to say that I usually have no idea what day it is.

Patiently, the doctor asked, “Who is the president?”

I thought to myself “George Bush” but I paused, knowing that wasn’t correct. After a short time, I answered “Barack Obama.”

“What is your name.”

“Brad”

“Good. You seem ok. Do you know what day it is yet?”

I responded, “I generally don’t know what day it is.”

The next thing I remember was hitting a bump and opening my eyes to see a woman pushing me through some doors.

“Hang on – we are just wheeling you into the emergency room.”

Some time must have passed. I felt someone pick me up and put me back down on a bed. I felt myself being slowly pushed. I opened my eyes again.

“We are doing a CT scan to check your brain.”

Some more time passed. I remember someone doing something with my left hand, which hurt like hell. I must have said something since once a disembodied voice said, “Stay calm. I’m just checked your thumb to see if it’s broken.”

More time passed. A police officer woke me up.

“Brad, I’m with the Boulder Police. I just want to ask a few questions. In case you don’t remember this, I’ve put my card in your jacket pocket.” (It turned out the officer was Chris Burke, who was awesome, efficient, and very patient with me. Amy called him later to get more information and he was incredibly helpful, including giving her details on the six 911 calls that people made when they saw me on the side of the road and the fact that he didn’t think I was unconscious at all, or for very long, just completely out of it.)

I don’t remember our conversation at all.

The next thing I realized was that my partners Jason and Seth were in the room. I vaguely remembered sending an email to Amy and my assistant Colleen somewhere between getting to the hospital and being in the room I was in. It was so powerful to see them. I suddenly felt safe again, knowing that people I knew were around. I have no idea what we talked about, but then Amy showed up.

Finally, I was starting to feel a tiny bit lucid. Amy took over and Jason and Seth went back to their lives. I told Jason I had a fireside chat event with Frank Gruber about his new book and could he step in for me (he did, and did great.) Amy called Colleen and told her to cancel my day. The CT scan checked out clear and the hospital released me. Amy and I stopped at Jamba Juice for a giant Peanut Butter and Chocolate Moo. I went home and promptly slept until dinner, which was Noodles Mac and Cheese that Seth picked up for us.

Reflecting on this, it’s amazing to me how little of the first 60 minutes I can remember. According to the police office, I was conscious the entire time. But I have no memory of what actually happened. The last thing I remember, after much prompting, was turning left onto Iris from Broadway. While the 911 calls were all for a hit and run, there’s no real evidence of that since my bike is generally fine and nothing, including me, looks like it was hit by a car. At this point, I’m guessing that I took the turn too wide and must have hit the curb and lost control of the bike. Maybe I squeezed my breaks and went over my handlebars. Or maybe I crossed over into a parallel universe for a little while and when I came back landed on my face.

I’m doing ok today. Nothing is broken and according to the hospital I don’t have a concussion. I’ve very banged up. I’ll probably have two black eyes, I have a sprained thumb, and lots of cuts and bruises everywhere. My face is very swollen and my head is very bumpy and weird from all the swelling. I have a persistent headache, no matter how much Advil I take. My glasses are destroyed so I’m wearing some old ones, which probably isn’t helping.

I slept well last night (although Amy woke me up every few hours to make sure I wasn’t dead) and feel perky right now, but expect I’ll run out of gas later today.

My biking career, short as it was, is officially over. I’ve had two accidents in three years – the first in Slovenia left blood on the streets. It was much more serious in hindsight than this one, but I remember much less about this one. Both were when I was making a sharp left turn so part of the problem may be that I don’t have the right spacial orientation on that side. I don’t have great depth perception, especially at night, so maybe this is part of the problem.

I had a fantasy for a few weeks about taking a bike tour across America next year.  I was even planning to get a sweet Trek Domane 5.9 this weekend just to get the feel for it. But, no more. I now have three nice bikes for sale (two Specialized and one LeMond) in case anyone out there is looking for a bike.

Thanks for all the Facebook notes, tweets, emails, and checkins. I feel really lucky to have so many in the people watching out for me.