Brad Feld

Month: October 2005

Clive Thompson has an outstanding article in today’s New York Times called Meet The Life Hackers.  He describes the problem that affects so many people today – the complete overload of digital information and interruptions that makes it difficult to get immersed in any project for an extended period of time.

Rather than simply describe the problem (which is where so many articles like this end), Thompson frames the issue as one that has been popularly called the need for “continuous partial attention” (coined by Linda Stone in 1997).  He then goes on to describe great research by Mary Czerwinski and Eric Horvitz that directly address this issue.

I’ve ranted in the past about how stupid my computer is.  We’re going to see a dramatic transformation in the way our computers “help us” over the next 20 years as more of this research begins to be embedded in the core technology that powers our “personal computing infrastructure” (pci).  In the same way that information systems and computer technologies have increasingly developed layers of abstraction, I predict we’ll start to see a similar abstraction layer between us and the rest of the universe that is trying to communicate with us digitally.  Instead of forcing us to be the ultimate router and arbiter of the priority of information (and interruption), our pci will learn how we work, gradually augment how information gets to us, and ultimately automate much of the information flow and our response.

We’re already seeing this in some very simple applications.  An extremely useful example is the automated elimination of spam.  Now – if we could turn these same spam elimination systems – which work automatically in the background (e.g. I use Postini and spam simply disappears – I never think about it anymore) – into “email prioritization systems” (e.g. spam has priority=null, email from Amy or my mother has priority=immediate, email from my partners has priority=high) where the priorities are automatically tuned by my pci based on my behavior things become more interesting.  Finally – add one more layer of abstraction – my pci knows when I am ready to received different priorities and presents them to me only when I’m ready (e.g. I always get interrupted by Amy or my mom, I sometimes get interrupted by my partners depending on the thing I’m working on, but it always comes at the top of the queue, etc.) – and you’re really getting into an interesting zone.  Of course, delivering it one time on the appropriate device (computer, cell phone, television, carrier pigeon) in the right location is a key part of this.

Once you extend this construct to all digital communication and interaction, you start to get some interesting things happening.  Which – of course – is only the beginning of the real transformation.  It’s going to take a while, but the way we do things today – and the way our pci works – sucks.

Today must be my day to catch up on “friends blogging.”  I was at Microsoft earlier this week for my three times a year “Microsoft Emerging Business Team (EBT) technical advisory meeting (my co-conspirators were Scott Maxwell – Insight, Chris Pacitti – Austin Ventures, and Vladimir Jacimovic – NEA).  We had a great (and very fun) meeting.

If you are running a startup company that uses any Microsoft technology, you should know about EBT and the other Microsoft programs for early stage companies such as Empower and the Microsoft Partner Programs.  In addition, several of the EBT members are now blogging regularly, including Cliff Reeves, Don Dodge, and Sam Ramji.

While the irony that they are all using Typepad is not lost on me (or them), their blogs are outstanding resources to get insight into how Microsoft thinks about partners, how EBT works, and other things these guys are thinking about.  All of them are well worth the time if you touch the Microsoft ecosystem in any way.

Peter Rip (Leapfrog Ventures managing director) – who has just started his blog – has yet another warning on “problematic behavior” that is emerging around the Web 2.0 frenzy and is likely to cause plenty of unhappiness.  He takes in on from both a VC – but more importantly – entrepreneur point of view.  I haven’t seen Peter in a long time, but remember him fondly and expect his blog to be on the must read list if you are interested in what VCs think.

My long time friend Alan Shimel, Chief Strategy Officer at StillSecure, has started a blog.

I first met Alan in NY when I was co-chairman of Sage Networks. We had started to acquire web hosting companies in 1997 and Alan’s was one of the first that we talked to.  At the time, he and his partners were running a very rapidly growing shared web hosting company.  We had our first meeting at a GE office in Manhattan that I was camping in that day – me in my long hair and jeans; Alan is a lime green jacket (looking like he’d rather be wearing jeans).  We connected immediately and were able to put together a deal quickly.

We then proceeded to go through plenty of ups and downs, but became good friends in the process.  When Raj Bhargava started StillSecure, he recruited Alan to join him – it’s been great to work with Alan again.

Alan has been spending a lot of time thinking about open source, especially in the context of security software and some of the actions of several of the companies that have been formed around popular open source projects.  Among other things he’s got a strong and well reasoned point of view that’s worth listening to.  Of course, if you are interested in security software, Alan is a great guy to talk to about it.

I was at a company the other day that I’m considering investing in.  They walked me through their v2 web design and we did a detailed review of it.  While it’s much improved over v1, there were still plenty of things that could be improved.  One of the people in the meeting suggested everyone review the list of Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005.

In addition I’d recommend everyone click through the following links and look carefully at the page design.

Forget about the content – just concentrate on the design.  Is that [blue black green] thing the Google standard, Yahoo standard, or Microsoft standard?  Given that this is what people look at 90% of the time they search, why would you present search results in a different way?

And – in case you are wondering – there are great examples of Flash.  Take a look at this IKEA site (thanks Eric D) – make sure you pan left and right.  When Amy and I bought our house in Alaska, we went online and bought an entire house full of furniture at in an afternoon.  Unfortunately, the didn’t have a “buy a house full of furniture button” at the time – if they had, our online experience would have been that much easier.

I got a Verizon BroadBand Access card (formerly known as “EVDO”) 12 days ago.  I’ve been on the road non-stop since then.  I can’t imagine life without it.  As I sit in the Seattle airport waiting for the redeye to Boston, I haven’t had to sign up for Internet, struggle with any weird logins, wander to another part of the terminal to try to get T-mobile, or anything else.  It’s flawless – fast – totally effective – and trivial to deal with.  I’ve already saved the monthly subscription fee ($60) through not having to pay $10 / night for Internet access in my hotel rooms and I’ve managed to squeeze in some online time at random spots waiting for things (e.g. the 15 minutes I had to wait for a cab at Microsoft today).

Now, if I could just get my bluetooth headset to work with my laptop and Skype I’d be in geek heaven.

Web WooHoo.0

Oct 13, 2005
Category Technology

Kevin Maney at USA Today was in fine form yesterday with his article titled “Tech People Appear Hyped About Their Industry Again.”  It’s worth a read if you are struggling with whether it’s Web 2.0 or Bubble 2.0.

Not surprisingly, Fred Wilson and Brad Burnham have turned their corporate website (Union Square Ventures) into a blog.  If you follow the venture capital business, it’s a “must subscribe” site.

Hard Driving is the story of John DeLorean and DeLorean Motor Company (DMC) through the eyes of William Haddad.  While it’s a 20 year old book that I found at the Strand Book Store, it was better than most murder / intrigue / terrorist / thriller books of today.  And – best of all – it’s non-fiction.

As a teenager, my dad had a good friend – Dr. Casey (a pediatrician by day) – who had a hobby of fixing up smashed up sports cars.  He went through phases – for a long time he was into Corvettes (we had two of his – a 1975 and a 1978 that I got to drive in high school), then TR-7s, then Porsches.  At one point he got into DeLoreans – I still remember the first time I saw one.  Teenage boys were always hanging around the Casey’s house – I could never figure out if it was the cars or his three very attractive teenage daughters.  Nonetheless, there was plenty of car repair action to be had – day and night. 

The stainless steel DeLorean always stuck in my mind.  When DeLorean was busted for dealing coke (proportedly to try to save DMC) and then acquitted because he was entrapped, all I could think was that I’d never end up with a DeLorean.

Of course, the end game of DeLorean’s failure never really scratched the surface of the story.  Haddad – who was friends with DeLorean going back to DeLorean’s GM days, and then went to work for DMC as VP Communications and Planning, tells an incredible entrepreneurial tale set in a very different time then today (the late 1970’s and early 1980’s).  The pacing and interaction is radically different then we deal with in business today, but the underlying issues, problems, interactions, and opportunities feel very similar.

Fundamentally, DeLorean comes across as a completely self-centered, manipulative, semi-delusional person that is gifted with immense charisma, vision, and desire yet struggles with right and wrong.  The line between success and failure for him is narrow and he almost pulls it off, but doesn’t quite get there, at which point everything implodes.   

There are many lessons in this book, both about entrepreneurship and ethics.  Haddad is an excellent writer and does a great job of injecting his own emotions at the appropriate points while hanging back and telling the story at others.  Refreshingly, he lets DeLorean’s actions tell the story rather than feel the need to moralize. 

This was a powerful and enjoyable book.

Now that the Red Sox and the Yankees are out of the playoffs, there doesn’t appear to be any reason to pay attention to baseball anymore (unless, of course, you live in Chicago like my friends from FeedBurner and StartSampling do).  I’ve never been a huge baseball fan – the most memorable part of the Texas Rangers games I used to go to as a kid was the traffic jam on the drive home.  I lived in Boston for 12 years – within a five minute walk of Fenway for the last three – and while I’d occasionally catch a game, I never got sucked into the Red Sox Nation (although I admit to watching last years Red Sox / Yankees series and rooting for the Red Sox.)

I was in Dallas at a board meeting a few weeks ago and Howard Diamond – a close friend and CEO of ePartners – decided that the best way to introduce me to a few members of his leadership team that hadn’t met me before was to tell the story of Brad, the book, and the baseball.  It goes something like this (oh goody, I get to practice writing in the third person and taking some editorial liberties that I’m sure Howard would be ok with.)

Brad’s wife Amy loves to go to live sporting events – especially baseball, football, and hockey.  Brad would rather stay home and play with his computer, but he usually tags along just to be in Amy’s presence. 

Several years ago, Amy decided she was going to go to a bunch of Rockies games.  Now – Amy doesn’t do anything half assed.  So – she found someone that would sell her a dozen tickets to several games which included two seats behind the first base dugout.  I mean directly behind the first base dugout – row one – right in the middle of the dugout.  Perfect seats.

Now – Rockies games are like football games – you rarely have the winner score less than 10 runs due to the thin air.  So – these aren’t dull games.  However, Brad knew he’d be bored out of his mind by the third inning, so he brought a book.  I think it was a biography of Howard Hughes.  Stimulating stuff.

After a few innings, Brad tucked into his book.  Coors Field has a special feature – a bunch of guys in the stands wearing funny outfits that act like security guards / policeman in between innings.  They wander up and down the stairs, making sure people like Brad don’t put their feet up on empty chairs or their beer on the dugout.

In between innings, one of these guys (let’s call him Joe) wandered up to Brad and said, “Sir, it’s very dangerous to be reading a book here – you might get hit by a fly ball.”  Brad looked quizzically at Joe and responded, “Huh?  If a fly ball is going to hit me, it’s not going to care whether I’m reading a book.”  Joe harrumphed and wandered back up the stairs.

Another inning (and another chapter) passed.  Joe wandered back down the stairs to try again.  “Excuse me, but you really shouldn’t be reading here.  It’s very dangerous.  I’m just looking out for your safety.”  Again, Brad was confused.  “But you don’t even know me – why do you care?  Plus – I feel very safe here – I’m sitting next to my wife Amy.”  Joe grimaced and wandered off.

Joe realized this approach wasn’t going to work – apparently Brad had a risk profile that was different than other baseball fans.  At the next break, Joe decided to try to something different.  “Sir, you are sitting in fantastic seats.  I’m sure that if you don’t appreciate them, someone else up a little higher would love to switch with you.”  Once again, Brad tilted his head and responded, “Huh?  I appreciate these very much – they cost about the same as my running shoes and – while they aren’t as comfortable, I’ve got a great view of the sky, there’s no shade so I’m getting a nice tan, and it’s really easy to read since there’s such good light here.”

Once again, Joe stomped off.  This time, Brad turned to the baseball fanatic sitting to his left who – by now – was laughing his ass off every time Joe departed.  “Dude – what’s going on with this guy?” asked Brad.  Our friend, Mr. Fanatic, choked down some of his beer and said, “Look – this game is on national TV.  Every time a lefty gets up to bat, you’re on TV reading your book.  I’m sure Mr. Big Man Upstairs told Joe to get down to row one and get that asshole reading a book to either put the book away or move.”

“National TV huh?  I wonder if my dad’s watching.  He’d be proud of my reading skills.”

Next time you see me, feel free to ask me about the time I fell asleep in Howard’s box at a Bronco’s game.