My dad’s posts over the past two days put me in a reflective mood about work.
I’ve been working hard around computers and entrepreneurship since the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year at MIT. That first real job was as the first employee of Petcom, a company started by a husband and wife team that grew to about 20 people before the oil and gas market for software evaporated in 1985.
Since then, I’ve been a founder of a number of companies, a CTO of a public company that acquired my first company, an angel investor, a VC in two different firms that I helped start, and an LP in a bunch of VC firms. I’m also a writer, run a foundation with my wife Amy, and do a lot of random things that support entrepreneurship.
I’ve tentatively explored a number of different activities that are adjacent to my daily work world, including academia and politics, neither of which are interesting to me in any meaningful way.
Whenever I reflect on my work over the last 36 years (going back to that first summer at Petcom when I was 17 years old), I end up thinking about which parts of my work I love. As I get older, I’m trying to spend most of my time on things I love, even if they are hard or unsuccessful, and with people who I enjoy being with. There’s always a non-zero percentage of my time that I have to spend on stuff I don’t like and with people I don’t like, but I’ve tried to structurally minimize that.
While it’s easy to make decisions around people, especially given all the mistakes I’ve made (and hopefully learned from) in the last 36 years, it’s been harder for me to figure out the specific work activities and cadence that bring me sustainable joy. I’ve had this come up in a number of conversations in the past few years with other entrepreneurs, especially ones who have either gone through a transition in their company or are burned out and exhausted from the intensity of their work.
In these conversations, the question of how I shifted from “operator” to “investor” inevitably comes up. One of the concluding lines in my dad’s Birth of an Entrepreneur post stood out to me.
“I am convinced that by creating an environment in which my sons can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them than I have taught them.”
I had one of those tingly moments where I realized I was able to trace the roots of my philosophy of #GiveFirst back to my dad. If you are familiar with the concept of servant leadership, the sentence above will resonate with you.
I was president of my first company (Feld Technologies). My partner Dave was vice president. We didn’t use the CEO title because we didn’t know to, think to, or really care. We were partners and the titles demarcated something that might have been useful, but I remember that we behaved like partners.
While Feld Technologies was a successful company, and I was an effective president for seven years, with the benefit of hindsight I realize that I didn’t like my job very much once we had more than a few people working for us. At the time, I didn’t have a sense of what I wanted to do, I just worked incredibly hard.
After I sold my company, I went on a journey that included working for a public company, being part of the M&A deal team for a very acquisitive business, making a bunch of angel investments, starting a number of companies, and being chairman or co-chairman of several of these companies.
I straddled the operator / investor world until 2001 when the Internet bubble burst and my work world exploded into tiny pieces that collected into a huge mountain of shit that I had to work through. I finally realized a limit, and choose to abandon my operating roles and just be an investor.
Even then, there we many periods of time where I couldn’t answer “yes” to the question “do you love your job?” Instead, I just worked as hard as I knew how to work, independent of my emotional state around what I was doing.
Throughout all of that, I maintained that I was fundamentally motivated by learning. When I got depressed in 2013, I realized that I needed to modify the statement to say that “I am fundamentally motivated by learning and teaching.” That brings my back to my father’s quote.
“I am convinced that by creating an environment in which my sons can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them than I have taught them.”
If you substitute “entrepreneurs” for “my sons”, you get the part of the job the I love.
“I am convinced that by creating an environment in which entrepreneurs can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them than I have taught them.”
If you are familiar with servant leadership, you’ll recognize this concept. While my environment extends beyond just entrepreneurship, the construct of “creating an environment where <x> can be creative and innovative” has become foundational to my way of being. When I’m doing that, I love my job.
My dad clearly helped put me on this path, as did Len Fassler, who bought my first company and has continuously modeled this behavior for me. And, I often think of my uncle Charlie Feld (my dad’s brother), who taught me a lot and who still loves his job every day at age 76.
Do you love your job?
I woke up this morning to another Storyworth history from him, this time titled Birth Of An Entrepreneur: Brad Feld. I read it and loved it, especially since it reflected so significantly on how integral he was to the entrepreneurial path I ended up on.
As a tribute to my dad turning 81, I thought I’d share another experience from my childhood in Dallas when he was 46 and I was 13.
I know I have been incredibly fortunate to have the parents that I have. I appreciate and love them both more than words can express. Hopefully this story gives a little flavor of the basis for the depth of that appreciation.
Birth Of An Entrepreneur: Brad Feld
by Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
Brad Feld’s Bar Mitzvah in 1978.
Many boys receive presents of cash when they celebrate their Bar Mitzvah. Gold coins were hot in 1978.
Many Of Brad’s Bar Mitzvah friends exchanged their new found fortune for two gold Krugerands. Gold was being predicted to increase to $1400 an ounce in the coming year.
Not Brad. His cash gifts totaled $1300. He wanted an Apple II Computer. The Apple computer company released the Apple II computer in 1977. I was delighted that he wanted to invest his Bar Mitzvah money in himself and not gold.
At age 13, he was certain that he could learn to program the Apple II computer. I asked him how much an Apple II would cost. He said about $1300.
The following Saturday, after his soccer game, we went to the computer store on Coit Rd and Beltline Rd in Dallas to buy his Apple II computer. Brad convinced me during the preceding week that “we” needed an Apple II.
He spent his $1300. We spent $3100. After spending $3100 for the Apple II computer and all the necessary peripherals, “we” walked out of the store with all the pieces “we” needed to “create the future”.
As we were walking to the car I had an “aha” moment. Brad’s willingness to spend all his Bar Mitzvah money on his future convinced me to spend an additional $1800. I was sure he had all the characteristics of an entrepreneur. He told me the future was in personal computing. He was correct. “We have to spend the money on the future”. This was a pretty profound statement for a 13 year old boy in 1978.
He was right. Not only did he learn how to program the Apple II himself, he started a business. He taught boys and girls in the neighborhood how to program in Basic for a fee.
In 1982 he was tiring of the Apple II. I needed a program to print out laboratory reports generated in my office chemistry laboratory. Brad volunteered to write the program, design the pretty printout and sold the Apple II computer and all the peripherals for $1600. The laboratory program he created was a bargain to me.
Brad monetized his asset for a profit. He added value to my practice while he leveraged his acquired talent.
The moral to this story is many of our children are very perceptive. We should listen to them.
We have to create the environment for them to want to learn and be excited about learning. We have to make them responsible for their actions. They have to then put “skin” in the game.
Our country’s greatness was built on this entrepreneural spirit. It is parents’ responsibility to help promote the tradition of entrepreneurship.
I am convinced that by creating an environment in which my sons can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them, than I have taught them.
Both Brad and Daniel understood my goal for them. I am very proud of both of them.
My dad turns 81 today. He’s one of my best friends. He loves the color green. And, a few of my other friends have a birthday today (happy birthday Dave.)
Lots of people don’t realize that I grew up in Texas (did you know that 33.3% of the Foundry Group partners are from Texas?) My parents have been living in Dallas since 1969.
I’ve been doing a
Why We Moved To Dallas
by Stanley Feld M.D., FACP,MACE
Cecelia and I lived in Great Neck, N.Y. during my internship and first year of internal medicine residency. We loved Great Neck. It was an upscale suburban town just outside Queens. Its public parks, library and entertainment facilities were excellent.
I had decided that I was going to be a practicing clinical endocrinologist before the completion of my first year of internal medicine residency. The chief of medicine at Long Island Jewish Hospital decided to have me become LIJH’s first chief of endocrinology.
Then the trajectory of our life changed. President Johnson expanded the Viet Nam War. I was drafted into the U.S. Airforce. My Berry Plan deferment meant nothing when America was at war. I was assigned to Blytheville, Arkansas.
Cecelia and I had to go to the library to get a map and find Blytheville, Arkansas. I did not try to pull any strings to avoid going to Blytheville. I was afraid I would be reassigned to Viet Nam. The Viet Nam war was a war I did not understand, nor did I want to be involved in.
Blytheville, Arkansas turned out to be a glorious experience for two kids that had never lived outside of New York City and its environs.
The chief of medicine at LIJH helped me get a clinical endocrinology fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston when I completed my two years of Air Force Duty.
At the time a fellowship at MGH was the most highly rated clinical endocrinology fellowship in the country.
The two years at the MGH were great. I not only learned a lot of endocrinology, I became comfortable around famous endocrine physicians.
In October 1967 Boston had a tremendous snowstorm. Large snowstorms were called nor’easters. The drive home during the storm took 8 hours. The trip usually took 20 minutes. Cars were left stranded on Storrow Drive. I had my 1963 Dodge Dart 170. It had a great air conditioner, but the heater was broken. It was fifteen degrees outside with no heater. I had a thin winter coat on and was freezing the entire time.
I could not get on any of the bridges crossing the Charles River to get to the other side of the river. Finally, I made it across the Watertown Bridge.
A driver in front of me skidded and made a 360 degree turn. He just missed me. Thankfully it did not end in an accident. When I got home and got out of the car I kissed the ground.
When I got into the house, I asked Cecelia if she would go to the library after the storm and figure out where we should go to settle. I did not want to have anything to do with cold, snowy weather.
She picked a few cities that had the right demographics for a clinical endocrinologist in 1969. Dallas was one of the cities.
In the summer of 1968, I was selected to give a paper on acromegaly in Mexico City. My preceptor, Bernie Kleiman, knew Cecelia and I were considering Dallas, Texas as a place to settle. He said he would to happy to introduce me to some of his friends at Southwestern Medical School.
Bernie set up a lovely dinner in a restaurant in a park in Mexico City. Dan Foster, Norman Kaplan, Jean Wilson and Marvin Siperstein were there. We had a great time. We liked each other.
I decided to stop in Dallas on the way home to Boston. It looked like a great town. It was easy to get around. The hospitals were modern. The medical school had excellent teachers led by Donald Seldin.
Norman Kaplan set me up with some hospital job interviews. They were all very encouraging, but nothing came of them.
I called Cecelia the first night I was in Dallas and told her Dallas was the place. The only thing missing were hills and trees. After fifty years there are plenty of trees. There aren’t any hills yet.
We made the decision to come to Dallas on very little information except Norman Kaplan saying the town needed a clinical endocrinologist.
We have never doubted our decision or looked back. Cecelia and I have had a fabulous life in Dallas, Texas.
If you are looking for something powerful, creative, provocative, and beautifully done, go look at True Blue by Eliot Peper and team.
In 2017, I wrote a post titled A Clever Short Story About Discrimination about the short story that Eliot had written. It was an idea that David Cohen had. He shared it with Eliot, who then wrote the short story. David then funded a project for Eliot to turn it into an “internet public art project.”
Eliot describes how they made True Blue. It’s a fabulous integration of story, illustration, and design on the web.
Independent of the beauty of the project, the story is a critically important one for today’s society. While a cynic will say “same as it ever was“, consider if eye color (instead of skin color, or gender, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or …) was a key “categorizer” in our society.
Happy Pi Day everyone. If you love dogs, or robots, or dogs and robots, you’ll love the video below.
Two companies we are investors in – Rover and Sphero – have teamed up on Pi Day. Sphero is in the last week of their Kickstarter campaign for their new robot named RVR (pronounced “rover”) and, well, it loves dogs. There’s also a new Pi Day Tier on the Kickstarter that’s available for 24 hours and limited to 314 people.
While the RVR belly rubbing and behind-the-ear scratching APIs need some work, you can also get a $40 gift certificate from Rover to have a human do this.
Don’t forget to eat some pie today. What would Pi day be without pie?
The level of histrionics yesterday about the weather on the front range that is coming has been epic. I’ve lived here since 1995 and the amount of fear, anxiety, discussion, preparation, and public commentary is higher than I can ever recall (and yes – I’m now contributing to it.)
As I sit here at my computer looking out my window in Longmont, it’s cloudy and raising episodically (hard a few minutes ago, but it has now stopped.) The clouds are dark and heavy to the east, low and snowy to the west, and light to the south. It’s just weird and made me think of what the eye of a hurricane must feel like.
Everything in Boulder is closing in advance of the storm. I had two meetings in person today – one canceled and I went ahead and canceled the other one just for flexibility. I expect DIA is going to be a total mess although the status is pretty normal right now.
I wonder what this would have been like 30 years ago, pre-commercial Internet and World Wide Web. How much of this is excitement amplified by immediate transmittal of information of an extremely wide variety of accuracy?
Or maybe a snowpocalypse is really coming. I guess we’ll know in a couple of hours (it’s now predicted to start around noon.)
He handed out copies of his recent book Do Better Work: Finding Clarity, Camaraderie, and Progress in Work and Life. His talk discussed his journey around writing the book, motivation for doing it, how it is integrated into the mission of Lessonly, and why he decided to self-publish it.
I read the book on the plane home. It’s short but full of great stuff for any CEO. If you are a CEO of a Foundry Group investment, you’ll have a copy from me as part of our “book of the almost every month club” on your desk soon.
The Kindle version looks like it ships today. If you are a CEO, go grab a copy. It will inspire and teach you a few key things that will immediately help with your business.
We’ve run the course four times now and have had over 15,000 people take it. Both Jason and I make several guest appearances (online) and I always get lots of email (and try to respond to all of them) with questions during the course.
It’s free, although it’s recommended that you have a copy of our book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist.
The course runs for seven weeks with the following syllabus.
- Week 1 – Introduction of key players/Form or join a
team Week2 – Fundraising/Finding the Right VC
- Week 3 – Capitalization Tables/Convertible Debt
- Week 4 – Term Sheets: Economics & Control
- Week 5 – Term Sheets Part Two
- Week 6 – Negotiations
- Week 7 – Letter of Intent/Getting Acquired
If you are interested, sign up now and tell your friends who are interested in venture deals.