Brad Feld

Month: March 2007

Last year, Eric Norlin sent me an email in response to my post titled Intelligence Amplification which was an attempt to put a label on the theme for companies I’d been investing in that address the Trust / Attention / Relevance problem.  Eric and I had crossed paths a few times around his involvement in the creation of Digital ID World.  He proposed that we put together a conference that addresses this broad theme and I jumped at the idea to help.

The result is the Defrag Conference which we are having on November 5th and 6th at the Hyatt Regency in Denver.  Defrag is the first conference focused solely on the internet-based tools that transform loads of information into layers of knowledge and is about the space that lives in between knowledge management, “social” networking, collaboration and business intelligence.  We’ve titled this theme internally “the Implicit Web” and have been spending a lot of time in and around it.  The FAQ has a little more background on how it came to be and what we are trying to accomplish.

We’ve got a great advisory board started including Paul Kedrosky, Andrew McAfee, Clay Shirky, and Jerry Michalski.  The Defrag Blog is up as we view the conference as self-referential – we are working with people interested in this problem to help define what the conference will actually be.  We are currently taking applications for speakers and encourage you to apply if you are interested.  We got a nice list of sponsors started – if you have interest in participating as a sponsor just fill out this form and Eric will get in touch with you. 

Of course, if you are interested in attending the conference, we’ll have registration up shortly.  In the mean time you can fill out the form on the pre-registration page. 

Someone asked me recently “why would a VC – especially one who hates going to conferences – ever get involved in creating a conference?”  I smirked and suggested that my simple goal is “to learn from the people really deep in the idea who are doing the real work.”  I’ve got lots of different ways to do this, but there were no conferences out there that were squarely addressing this area in a way that was appealing to me so I figured I just help create one.

Someone asked Eric a similar question – namely “why isn’t Defrag in the Bay Area” and his response was “aren’t there enough conferences there?  Let’s all go to Colorado and work on something new!” Come join us, learn, and play a little somewhere different with a crowd that might just be a little unique.

Earlier this week, TechStars announced that it is joining the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCo) and is pledging 1% of its equity to EFCo.  As a co-founder of both EFCo and TechStars I couldn’t be more pleased.

EFCo is an exciting project and TechStars is the sixth member company, joining the founding member companies Collective Intellect, Me.dium, NewsGator, Rally Software, and Tendril.  We have several other companies in the final process of joining which we hope to announce in April.

So there is no confusion, the equity being contributed by TechStars is of the actual TechStars organization, not the companies that participate in the TechStars program.  TechStars does receive 5% of those companies, so each of the companies that participates in the TechStars program will indirectly be participating in the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, yet the cost associated with the program is being borne by the investors in TechStars.

If you are the founder of an angel or venture backed company in Colorado and are interested in finding out more about the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, drop me an email.

Anonymous Bullies

Mar 27, 2007
Category Writing

I got back to my hotel room after a long and enjoyable day – my first day back from a glorious week off – and did a quick Techmeme check before watching 24.  The top item was a long, graphic, and upsetting story from Kathy Sierra.

I don’t know Kathy, but I think her blog is great and it almost always prompts me to think of something new.  Scoble summarized my feelings well in his post – “I’m physically ill after reading what happened to Kathy Sierra.”

I’m pretty numb to many things – especially in the context of blogging. The endless porn spam and trackbacks that I get don’t even mean anything to me any more.  The occasional nastigrams are fine and even cause me to pause and rethink my position.  I’ve managed to sidestep a bunch of potential flame wars, mostly because I find the escalation to be boring.

Until recently I didn’t think much about the difference between an anonymous comment and one where the person identified themselves.  I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about reputation and trust, especially given the geometric growth in user-generated content. 

Kathy’s story sealed it for me – reputation and trust are at a tipping point and are an issue that is going to have to be dealt with in 2007.  However, if you want to get a feel for the real issue, you have to read down to comments from “Joey” on 3/26/07 at 8:49pm.  Follow the thread from there and you’ll see the second order effect of anonymity.

I’m sad that Kathy is experiencing this.  It’s disgusting that someone is hiding behind an anonymous identity while issuing this type of attack.  For a while, lots of smart folks have been saying that these are things we are going to have to solve in this medium. 

I received a great Walt Whitman quote from a friend named Allison today: “Re-examine what you’ve been told.  Dismiss what insults your soul.”  While this activity insults my soul, I’m not going to dismiss it.  I am going to re-examine it, especially the part about the need to deal with this issue broadly across the Internet infrastructure. 

In a shameless plug for my portfolio company Rally Software, they have once again won the “Oscar equivalent” for their industry segment – the Jolt Excellence Award in the Project Management Category.

I’m not a big “award guy”, but even this one had me chanting “threepeat” since it’s highly unusual to win a Jolt award two years in a row.

Rally is the market leader in providing agile software development tooling.  If you write software for a living and either are using (or want to use) an agile methodology, take a look at Rally’s products.  If you are still programming in Cobol using the waterfall methodology, well, eh – never mind.

If you’ve been thinking about applying to TechStars but have been procrastinating, the time to do it is now as the application deadline is Saturday 3/31/07.  While we currently have over 175 quality applications, they are all on equal footing until 4/1/07 when we start the hard work of choosing the 10 finalists.  In the words of a wise young man, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

A guest blog from my partner and Ask the VC co-author Jason Mendelson.

In case you’ve ever found yourself cursing lawyers and / or the legal system (I do on a weekly basis and I am a lawyer), I have finally found the answer to the question “Is there anyone more stupid than a lawyer?” 

The answer apparently is “law professors.”

I guess this intellectually makes sense, as someone has to train the lawyers – they aren’t born this way.  Well, maybe a couple of them are.  Anyways, I digress. 

So, this all stems from a scholarly legal paper entitled “Fuck”.  Brad blogged about it here.  In short:

This Article explores the intersection of the word fuck and the law. In four major areas, fuck impacts the law: First Amendment, broadcast regulation, sexual harassment, and education. The legal implications from the use of fuck vary greatly with the context. However, to fully understand the legal power of fuck, the non legal sources of its power must be tapped. Drawing upon the research of etymologists, linguists, lexicographers, psychoanalysts, and other social scientists, the visceral reaction to fuck can be explained by cultural taboo.

The article was written by Christopher Fairman, a law professor at Emory University and The Ohio State University Law School.  It’s a great paper and no, it’s not a comedy piece or a riff on George Carlin’s prior works.  It’s a legitimate work that has some real interest to legal minds as well as casual readers.

Law Professor Brian Leiter from the University of Texas has a website that ranks all sorts of fun facts regarding law schools.  One of them is regarding the most downloaded faculty.  In this new ranking, he excludes #8 Emory & #10 Ohio State because of association with Professor Fairman’s “provocatively titled article.”The not so hidden assumption is that the “wrong people” downloaded Fuck and therefore shouldn’t count.  I guess all the “right people” are downloading articles about proposed civil procedure changes in the eastern district of Texas and how this will affect riparian water rights in Arkansas. 

Brad sent this to me with the quote “Jason, you should be embarrassed (again) to be a lawyer.”  He’s right.  If our law professors aren’t willing to keep an open mind and discuss issues from multiple points of view, than I shiver to think what types of practitioners will be released upon society upon graduation.  Leiter, who went to Michigan and got a PhD and teaches in law and philosophy should be ashamed of his arbitrary decision.  Did he even read the article?  Or is he just jealous because more people are interested in Fairman’s works than his own?  Either way, there is no excuse for this type of behavior.

For those of you keeping score at home, you’ll note that a Michigan grad (me) is supporting a Buckeye (Fairman) and denouncing another Wolverine (Leiter).  Sometimes even school allegiance doesn’t dominate sheer stupidity.

Lighten up Leiter.

Note, while I’ve done my best to criticize people connected to the legal profession in this article, there are a ton of good lawyers and professors out there, without whom I’d still be a struggling drummer in Detroit.  You folks know who you are.

I’m a huge Warren Buffett fan and have been for as long as I can remember.  Buffett has recently posted his annual blog post (also known as the Berkshire Hathaway’s 2006 Chairman’s Letter (thanks Alex for the pointer that it is up on the web.)  It should be required reading for anyone in any business.

A bunch of good blogging occurred during my Q1 vacation.  I’ve scanned through most of it and landed on a highly relevant story for any obsessive entrepreneur to start their morning with.  Will Herman – a long time friend, super successful entrepreneur, and “retired” person – has a great post up titled Work:Life Balance II – A Story.  It’s a nice follow up to his earlier post titled Work:Life Balance – It’s a Perspective Thing and nicely compliments my Discovering Work Life Balance post that I wrote in 2005 and first discussed my Qx vacation concept.

Back on the Grid

Mar 25, 2007
Category Books

Amy and I just got back from an awesome week off.  We flew to Laguna Beach for our Q1 vacation, disconnected completely, and hid from the world for a week.  Lots of sleep, running, sun, great food, that marital thing (you know – walking on the beach and holding hands), and a few movies (Deja Vu was way better than expected and Blood Diamond lived up to expectations.)  And books – lots and lots of book.

I started the week with Firing Back.  The subtitle “How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters” summarizes it nicely.  The stories were great; the analysis was tedious, tiresome, and – like all too often – needed to be edited by 0.33x.  I recommend either the Cliff Notes, a quick skim, or just keep reading Forbes.

24: Vanishing Point was much more satisfying to me than this season’s 24 has been.  I think 24 has reached the “Alias point” for me (where I know what’s going to happen before it happens so I’m not that interested anymore, although it was pretty cool when Martha stabbed Charles.)  Vanishing Point is another “in the past” books which helps build the 24 backstory.  If you are a 24 fan, read them all.

MIG Pilot was the best book of the week.  I can’t remember who recommended it to me (thanks!)  It’s the story of Lt. Belenko, a Russian MIG pilot who stole a MIG on 9/6/76, flew it to Japan, and defected to the US.  As I was reading it, Amy grabbed it and said “a real life 24, huh?”  World politics was very different before CNN and the web.

Curious and Interesting Numbers was also fantastic.  It starts with -1 and i, patiently takes us through 117 pages before breaking the number 100, and then accelerates into some really interesting numbers.  We end with 1^billion (a “gigaplex”), F23471 (the largest known composite Fermat number), 10^10^10^34 (Skews’ number – that was a new one to me) and then Graham’s number (the world champion largest number.)  After reading it, 3, 9, 27, and 42 are still my favorite numbers.

Venture Capital and the Finance of Innovation started off strong.  Andrew Metrick – an associate professor of finance at Wharton – has written 50% of a must read book for any analyst or associate at a venture capital firm (and most principals and partners, but I won’t presume to suggest what would be helpful for them.)  Part 1 and Part 2 are a superb, detailed overview of the “history, terms, and math of venture capital.”  (the first 50%.)  Part 3 is an academic section on “partial valuation” – really just finance theory on VC term and exit scenarios (not terribly practical, but probably fun for some business school students.)  Park 4 is section on “the finance of innovation” that has the practical utility of 1 over infinity.  Hint to entrepreneurs – if your VC starts talking about game theory during your term sheet negotiations, run.  Look for a deeper review on AsktheVC.  Criticism notwithstanding, the first half of this book is outstanding.

The Inmates Are Running The Asylum was ok.  Alan Cooper is a well known software designer who is also known as the “father of Visual Basic.”  If you develop software for a living and haven’t read this book, it’s worth a spin through it to rough up your brain a little.

Architecture of Happiness was brilliant – the second best book of the week.  Alain de Botton did a superb job of mixing text, photos, and concepts about architecture and the philosophy of life and happiness.  Little known “Feld fact” – I “minored” (we didn’t really have minors at MIT – they call them “concentrations”) in art and architecture (course 4) and love buildings.  I’m sure I’m an architect in a parallel universe.

I finished with my long time friend Ilana Katz’s (Feld Technologies employee #7) last book titled “Edith’s Refrain” (unpublished).  It is the best of Ilana’s writing to date and was a pleasure to settle into as I began to consider re-entry into the real world.

Amy and I returned to an absolutely glorious day in Boulder well rested, happy, batteries recharged, and very much in love.