Mar 26 2019

A Boundless Decision

Life often involves tough tradeoffs. I love running marathons but I’m less happy about the body soreness and longer recovery cycles as I age. I’m excited about every investment Foundry Group makes, but I know not all of them are going to pan out. Entrepreneurs talk about “changing the world”, but the companies that emerge often ring hollow against this backdrop. And, when confronted with a for-profit company that has a strong social mission, many founders and investors struggle with the profit motive.

Sometimes, life gives you an easy decision. Investing in Boundless Immigration was one of those. We originally invested a small amount in Boundless’ seed round in 2017 and just led a $7.8 million Series A financing. This is a case where there isn’t a tradeoff between making a profit and making an impact.

Boundless Immigration aspires to be the leading brand around legal immigration in the United States. They take an incredibly time-consuming and expensive process – immigrating to the U.S. and securing a marriage green card or naturalization – and make it easy and available for anyone who wants to legally immigrate. Boundless’ CEO and founder, Xiao Wang, immigrated to the U.S. as a child, and vividly remember his parents paying five months of rent to afford immigration attorneys and filing fees.

Boundless saves applicants time and money by automating a process that used to involve immigration attorneys filling out endlessly redundant forms. Everybody I talk to who has gone through the immigration process is stunned when they hear Boundless provides an end-to-end service for 20% of what most people currently pay for immigration services.

Every year 2.5 million families apply for immigration services in the U.S and there are about nine million people eligible to apply for naturalization. Boundless has put together a talented and diverse team (a majority has an immigrant background) resulting in a company with unique perspectives and empathy for anyone who wants to immigrate to the U.S.

Current dynamics around technology companies, especially around privacy, has people discussing the challenge that making a profit may require moral compromise. In this case, the opposite is happening, as I think it’s a moral imperative to help improve legal immigration. In the U.S., legal immigration is a foundational activity that keeps America fresh and helps our country maintain its edge on a global stage. As an American, I want anyone who wants to build a life for themselves, contribute to U.S. society, and make this a stronger country to be able to become a U.S. citizen.

This an emotional issue for me. One set of my Jewish grandparents were first-generation Americans. If America hadn’t been there for them, they might have perished in concentration camps during WWII. Another Jewish grandparent fled Russia in the 1910s. If America hadn’t been here for him, he would have also likely been annihilated.

If there were no America, there would be no me. If America made immigrating as difficult then as it does now, I might not exist. My grandparents fleeing a shtetl didn’t have vast sums of money lying around to spend on lawyers and fees, but were welcomed into this country. They, their children, and their grandchildren have all worked hard their entire lives to be productive and contributing members of American society. I like to think America is better for us having called this country our home.

I’m not shy about my opinions on immigration. And I’m not the only partner at Foundry Group who feels this way, as my partner Jason Mendelson testified in front of the House of Representatives in 2013 when he was on the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) board about the importance of legal immigration to the U.S. innovation economy.

Life is full of difficult decisions. The last two years haven’t been easy for those of us who believe immigrants help make America great. It’s nice to have an easy decision like investing in Boundless – to make a profit, but also to remind everyone that we’re a nation of immigrants, and proud of that fact.

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Mar 25 2019

Startup Communities Everywhere in the World

Amy and I are in Knoxville, Tennessee all week. We are with Ian Hathaway (my co-author of an upcoming book titled The Startup Community Way) finishing up the draft of the book.

My plan was to end the week with the Knoxville Marathon on Sunday (marathon #26) but I had a crummy long run on Saturday in Boulder and woke up this morning with a cold. While it could merely be pre-race hypochondria, I feel lethargic enough to consider downgrading to the half marathon. Plus, my resting HR is 60, vs. my normal low 50s, so it’s another indicator that I’m worn out and need to take care of myself. So, we will see.

Recently, Ian and Richard Florida did a large study that culminated in an extensive report on the Rise of the Global Startup City. In addition to the report, there’s a website with a digital story and a lot of data to play around with.

Ian and Richard wrote an OpEd in The Wall Street Journal titled Can the U.S. Keep Its High-Tech Edge? and Ian wrote a threaded summary with reflections on his Twitter feed.

If this is a topic you are interested in, it’s worth spending some time reading all the links.

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Mar 23 2019

Software for Affinity Networks

I’m been looking around for software to help me manage an increasing number of affinity networks. These are networks that I’ve created around different topics, such as the books I’ve written – like Startup Communities and Venture Deals – as well as topics I’m exploring with small to medium sized groups of people.

So far I’ve tried a bunch of stuff and have ended up back at email groups, which is the least common denominator. I’ve tried a few different products for email groups and always end up back at Google Groups, which is fine, but extremely uninspiring in terms of anything beyond “creating the group” and “sending around emails.”

I’ve tried Facebook, LinkedIn, and Slack. None of them work. I’m now completely off Facebook, so that’s not really an option anymore. LinkedIn is way too LockedIn and has serious limitations. Slack is a messy nightmare that has a geometric decline curve of activity.

Any suggestions out there?

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Mar 22 2019

Gluecon 2019 Diversity Scholarships

Amy and I are underwriting the Gluecon 2019 Diversity Scholarships through our Anchor Point Foundation.

Kim and Eric Norlin, who run Gluecon, have had a simple goal around diversity at the Gluecon for many years.

The goal is quite simple: to create as diverse and welcoming a conference environment as we can.

The diversity scholarships are one approach to this. The Gluecon code of conduct is another. Kim and Eric have always been deliberate about inviting a diverse set of speakers and panelists and Gluecon has always been a favorite conference of mine when I’ve been around for it.

If you are interested in applying for a diversity scholarship, send an email to enorlin AT mac.com with the following:

  • a quick biography
  • a short paragraph explaining why you’d like to attend, and how you feel you’ll contribute to gluecon

And, if you are interested in Gluecon separate from this, reach out to Eric or sign up online. It’s May 22nd and May 23rd in Boulder. The topics include things like APIs, DevOps, Serverless, Edge Computing, Containers, Microservices, Blockchain-driven applications, and the newest tools and platforms driving technology.

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Mar 21 2019

How To Deal With People Asking For Intros To Me

I got the following note from a friend this morning.

Hey. Over the past 6 to 12 months, I seem to be getting more requests from individuals in the City-1, City-2, and City-3 asking for introductions to you.
Curious as to your preference in how to handle some of these.

Many words on the web have been written about double opt-in email intros. This is the best and simplest way when you know the person asking for the intro and think the intro would be a good one.

To make the double opt-in easy for you to do:

  • Have the person send you something to forward to me.
  • Forward it to me and say “I vouch for this person” (or any other context you want to provide). Game for an intro?
  • If I say yes, then connect us.

But, how about the situations where you don’t really know the person. In that case, someone is asking you to do work and use some social credibility in a situation where you don’t really know how much to provide.

If you don’t know much about the person, simply say “I think Brad is pretty easy to reach – his email is public – just send him a note.”

If you think the person is interesting and want to help, simply give out my email. I already get hundreds of random emails a day. I like getting them because there’s occasionally magic in them, so rather than fight it I just let it be part of my life.

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Mar 20 2019

Do You Love Your Job?

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?

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Mar 19 2019

Birth of An Entrepreneur

In the past 24 hours, I’ve gotten a bunch of emails with positive feedback about my 81st birthday tribute to my dad and the Storyworth history I posted on how we ended up in Dallas.

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.

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Mar 17 2019

Happy 81st Birthday Dad

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 Storyworth history book with my folks. For my dad’s 21st entry, he told the story of Why We Moved to Dallas. I thought it was delightful and a fun bit of Feld family history to post on his 81st birthday.

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.

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Mar 16 2019

A Robot, A Puppy, and An Arduino

Happy National Arduino Day from Misty Robotics.

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Mar 15 2019

What If Your Future Was Determined By The Color Of Your Eyes

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.

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