Brad Feld

Month: May 2004

During the Internet bubble, it was easy to forget how most companies are created. I remember endless presentations where the punch line from two guys and a powerpoint presentation was “all we need is a seed round of $10m and we’ll be able to get going.”

I occassionally get a chance to tell the story of how my first real company – Feld Technologies – was funded by me and my co-founder Dave Jilk with $10 (yes – 10 one dollar bills) of equity (we had 10 shares of stock – $1 / share – that’s all the money we ever raised). There was an interesting constraint – at the time – it was basically all the money we had and it never occurred to us to go try to raise money from venture capitalists (we did eventually get a $10,000 bank line that my dad personally guaranteed with us).

Since many of the companies I fund are raw startups, I often think about the best way to get from an idea to a business. I keep coming back to the value of sweat – which has been perverted in the sweat equity cliche – which is fundametally different than sweat (you know, the stuff that rolls down your back on a hot summer day – or the stuff coming out of your pits when you are about to pick up the phone for that critical call.)

Mark Cuban has a great rant going on his blog (Success and Motivation Part 1, S&M almost p2, S&M p2, S&M p3) about starting up his first company – MicroSolutions. Some of you may know Mark as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks or the founder of which had a huge IPO and then was bought for over $5 billion by Yahoo!. I remember Mark’s articles in CRN in the early 90’s when I was running Feld Technologies thinking “man – this guy has his shit together.” Perspective is everything – he had it together because he was obsessed with succeeding. Now – I’m sure Mark doesn’t remember me – but the one time we met, I sat in a big red chair in the middle of his Audionet (’s early name) office – which was just an old warehouse on the edge of downtown Dallas with a bunch of tables, computers, and whiteboards everywhere and listened to him tell me about how amazing Audionet was going to be. I was just starting to work with Softbank at the time (I think I was described as a “Softbank Affiliate” or something silly like that) and since I grew up in Dallas, I stopped by when I was visiting my parents for Thanksgiving. Mark was raising a round and wanted the outrageous valuation of $80m pre for his business (ok – that would have only been a 50x on an investment at the Yahoo price). Charley Lax was at Softbank and was the guy I was working with most closely at that time and when we talked about it on the phone, he completely gacked on the valuation so it was a short exploration. I remember leaving thinking “This Cuban guy has balls”. Duh.

One of my new companies – Newmerix – is sweating it out the right way. I’m incredibly proud of the founders of this company – Niel Robertson and Ed Roberto – for starting this business up the right way. There was a nice article about them in the Boulder Daily Camera yesterday. Niel and Ed embody everything I love in entrepreneurs – they sweat every day, all day, never relent, and are determined to succeed no matter what.

As I got out of my car at home after dinner last night, my wife Amy was snickering. “My jedi mind trick worked – I got those guys to back up their car by thinking you will back up your car.”

To get to our house in the mountains, you have to drive through a state park and up a narrow dirt road wide enough for one car. Our friends that run the state park have kindly put up a sign that says “Only authorized vehicles past this point” at the beginning of the one lane road. Daily, there are a number of people that either can’t read, ignore the sign, or decide they are in an authorized vehicle. At the end of the road, they reach what we hope is an unpenetrable gate (unless you know the magic code), turn around, and have to retrace their steps. It’s exactly in the middle of this route when we inevitably reach these morons.

During this whole escapade (which added about five minutes to my otherwise idyllic drive home), I was thinking to myself “what idiots, can’t they read the sign, they will back up now”.

As Amy is snickering, I’m grousing about these annoying people, the lousy drivers on 93 on our way home, and the fact that people just don’t get the economics of offshoring.

“What was that phrase we used to use at Feld Technologies – Thinly Disguised Contempt?” says my tranquil wife.

This shuts me up quickly. While running my first company (aptly and very creatively named Feld Technologies – after my father), I attended the inaugural year(s) of the Birthing of Giants program. I roomed with a great guy named Alan Trefler, who at the time was running a fast growing private company called Pegasystems (PEGA). Late one night, Alan started telling me about TDC (Thinly Disguised Contempt). At Pegasystems, they’d decided that respect for the customer was one of their highest values. Consequently, they created the notion of TDC – basically thinking or saying something negative about a customer. If I remember correctly (and I probably don’t) acts of the management team generated a $1,000 fine, which went to pay for some joint leadership event in the future.

When I got back to my office after the Birthing of Giants weekend, TDC was echoing in my mind. We were a software consulting company at a time when creating working custom PC database applications for businesses was hard (I mean really hard – remember dbase II and Novell Netware 2.0a)? Our clients were usually great, but it always hard to be on the other end of the phone telling someone for the 17th time “Ok, type f colon backslash public” as you got ready to go through yet another troubleshooting session over the phone (since no businesses had Internet connections back then (I guess Al Gore hadn’t created it yet – is that TDC or sarcasm?) and the Carbon Copy remote control software crashed more often then it was worth using).

We decided Alan was right and TDC is bad. TDC is toxic. It lingers. It spills out over everything. Your friends and colleagues notice, but don’t really understand, as you send them mixed signals. TDC is dangerous – it gets inside, around, and all over everything.

Be blunt. If you don’t like something, say it. If someone does something stupid, say it. If stuff needs to change, say it.

Stomp out TDC.

The endless reconfiguration of the blog has begun. I’ve always been a nerd – ever since I was 13 and got my first computer for my bar mitvah (instead of – say – a car). Yes – it was an Apple II with an Integer card (now – wasn’t that an ironically named device).

So – after screwing around with the Typepad configuration for a hour yesterday while on a less than interesting conference call, I figured there must be a way to post effectively online. Since I’ve been using Newsgator as my RSS aggregator (it’s an Outlook plug-in – a much better idea than a standalone app since I live in email) and read most things offline, I went looking for an offline poster. Voila – MoveablePoster.

In the 5 minutes I gave myself to configure Moveable Poster (note to all software developers – a VC’s install / configure attention span is 5 minutes – maybe 15 minutes if he is really interested) I managed to figure out how to get it running as a standalone, but couldn’t figure out the Newsgator / Outlook configuration. I guess I’ll have to beg for support from Greg Reinacker (the guy behind Newsgator) for help here.

Ok – time to post and see if this actually works.

I’m a professional emailer / phonecaller / meeting taker (aka a venture capitalist). Much of my time is spend writing, reading, thinking, talking, and learning. As a result, I’ve been fascinated (and deeply involved) with the evolution of email and web-based communication and technologies.

I noticed blogging when Dan Bricklin turned me on to it. I’ve been following many of my VC collegues blogs (Fred Wilson, Jerry Colonna, Jeff Nolan, Martin Tobias) and others for some time.

I’ve struggled with whether the world needs yet another set of musings from a VC. Fred’s blog Transparency inspired me to think harder about this. Jerry’s blog Boomtime, Part Three pushed me over the edge.

I’m still not sure if the world needs my musings, but because you have complete control over whether or not you decide to read this, here goes.