Brad Feld

Month: May 2008

Fred Wilson has a great post up today titled Can We Live In Public?  If you go back in time to May 4, 2004 when I started blogging, you’ll see that Fred was one of the key inspirations with his post Transparency to my question of To Blog or Not to BlogAt the time, my interest came from a very simple place.

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 just wanted to learn how this stuff worked.  Blogging, RSS, user generated content.  All the corresponding web-based tools and technologies that were emerging in 2004.  To me, learning how this stuff worked wasn’t just reading about it and observing, but actually participating.  UGC was a big part of it – I believed that I wouldn’t really understand it unless I was a content creator.  So, while my blogging was motivated by transparency, my meta-goal was ultimately a selfish one – to learn.

I massively underestimated the value of this to me.  When I reflect on the last four years of my blogging, it’s been one of the most interesting, enlightening, stimulating, and – ultimately – rewarding things that I’ve done professionally.  It’s resulted in new investments, new friends, lots of stimuli I doubt I ever would have encountered, plenty of healthy conflict that has caused me to think through things I otherwise wouldn’t have thought much about, and an outlet for my desire to write that is clearly aligned with what I do every day for work. 

The notion of living in public is an unintended side effect of this.  It’s part of the package if you really want to engage with this stuff.  I’ve had my share of bad moments; like Fred the worst is when I piss off my wife Amy with something I write.  It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I get an email saying approximating "please delete that tweet".

Over the past year or so, the ideas swirling around my head have coalesced into a construct that at Foundry Group we are calling Digital LifeAs I continue to live in public, the friction and overhead associated with it increases geometrically since I am both a generator and consumer of content.  I’m continuing to work on understanding (and investing in) the tools, technologies, and services on both sides of this equation, but I also want to knit it all together at a higher level.

I’ve got a long way to go.  I learn a little every day.  By doing.  Thank you for helping.

I love three day weekends – there is something magical about the complete change of pace a three day weekend has on the United States.  I really wish we’d take a page from some other countries and turn these into four day weekends (that go from Friday to Monday) but I’ll savor my delicious three day weekends anyway.

I’m getting ready to head out for a two hour run but thought I’d leave you with some interesting reading from my morning (yes – even when I’m enjoying a three day weekend I go ahead and do my morning routine, albeit a little later then the normal 5am slot.)

What’s The Greatest Software Ever Written?an oldie but a goodie via Tim O’Reilly via Twitter!  Microsoft, Apple, and Google only have one each in the top 12.  IBM has two, Bell Labs has one, and Sun has 1.5.  Great, provocative list.

Why can’t you create a calendar from your email?Pete Warden’s rants and thoughts on email are super.  We tried this once in the late 1990’s with a company called Neomeo which wasn’t successful as a standalone, but it was acquired by Postini shortly after our investment in Postini, which subsequently became a huge success.  It’s insane that it’s 2008 and I’m still dragging emails onto a calendar icon to manually create a calendar entry.

How to read a business book – Even though I find all business books to be 50% to 75% too long, I still read some.  Seth Godin has some fantastic tips for how to actually read a business book and get value out of them.  As a special bonus, Seth tells you how you could have a chance to be on the cover of (his) new book.

– Business Development in a Web 2.0 World – Micah Baldwin has been kicking ass running business development at Lijit.  His ideas are worth reading.

If you are in the US, happy memorial day.  Don’t twitter to much – make sure you go to a bbq instead.  If you are running the Bolder Boulder, I’ll see you there along with 52,998 of our friends.

Nerd or Geek?

May 23, 2008

As we all head into the long weekend, I thought I’d give you something to ponder other than what your friends will twitter about this weekend.

While in Italy last week, David Cohen and I got into yet another discussion about whether it was better to be a nerd or a geek.  I generally use the word nerd to describe myself whereas David was all about geek. 

During our fundraising for Foundry Group last year, we had a due diligence session with two of our investors where we got into the same debate.  The conclusion from our discussion (no alcohol was involved) was that "nerds are geeks who make money."

David Brooks takes a different position in today’s NY Times in his Op-Ed titled The Alpha Geeks.  Brooks does an awesome job of detailing the history of nerd and geek from the original 1950 Dr. Suess "If I Ran the Zoo" (the first known published mention of the word nerd) through Happy Days, through the nerd ascendancy of the 1980’s (led by Bill Gates and Paul Allen), finished with the recent shift of geek to a position of prominence in the past decade.  He tosses in a little political commentary along with a few serious literary analogies.

So – which is it?  Nerd or Geek?  What’s the difference? 

As David Brooks says, "the last shall be first and the geek shall inherit the earth."

Success Pending

May 23, 2008
Category Technology

Josh Kopleman at First Round Capital has an excellent post up titled Depending on pending…  I’m going  out to lunch at the Rio today and having a margarita to celebrate the issuance of the original patent (#7,373,317) that was just issued.  8.5 years after Josh filed for it.  And 7 years after eBay acquired

To my great joy, Josh states "I believe there is little-to-no value in depending on pending patents for a "barrier" to entry. "   He then adds a line that I love in the never ending "patents are like nuclear bombs" debate: "But if you’re fighting a war today, it’s better to count on weapons you have at hand today — don’t rely on a nuclear program that could take five years to come to fruition."

As an early stage company, saying that your patents pending are a defensible barrier is equivalent to saying that your success is pending.  Yeah – maybe.  But don’t count on it.  However, I can guarantee that the margarita I’m having at lunch in the sunshine is going to be very tasty.

I don’t write much about politics on this blog.  Like father, like son – politicians (and politics) give me a headache.  However, I love to pimp my father’s blog and he’s got a great post up today titled John McCain Describes His Health Plan; In Reality A Non Health Plan. 

For the past few months, my dad – a retired endocrinologist and now healthcare pundit – has been inspecting, dissecting, and commenting on what the various presidential candidates have been saying about healthcare.  He’s got plenty of stuff on Obama, Clinton, and McCain.  It’s a compendium of uniformly dismal, sad, and disappointing non-solutions. 

While he doesn’t write short posts, if you are interested in original thinking in this area from someone who has a lifetime of experience practicing, thinking about, helping to reform, and experience the healthcare system, you should spend some time with Stan Feld’s Repairing the Healthcare System

As a special bonus, if you are involved in the Obama campaign and want some tips, I know Stan is game to help.

Yes – I’m back from vacation.  But you probably figured that out already.  The next six weeks are pretty intense ones for me in my annual rhythm of things – I love the time period of memorial day weekend through July 4th.

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Reena Jadhav on on how to get funding.

Other than my excessive hand gestures, it’s a good look inside my brain about how I think early stage entrepreneurs should think about funding, especially first time entrepreneurs.

No API? You Suck!

May 22, 2008
Category Technology

I have a long documented love of APIs.  Ever since I started programming in the late 1970’s the idea of writing software that interacted with other software was a cool idea to me.  Abstractions 30 years ago weren’t very sophisticated, but when I look back at some of the Apple II documentation in my own personal computer museum I am amazed at what you could peek and poke, even back then.

The API has been a long time staple of established companies.  It has morphed around plenty – having a long run as the SDK (software development kit) as popularized by Microsoft in the 1980’s.  The API in all its naked glory made a nice comeback in the 1990’s and has subsequently become firmly established as an integral part of the Internet.  While occasional arguments about REST, SOAP, and XML-RPC appear, most of the time we are happy with whatever API abstraction layer we get.

Many of our Internet-based portfolio companies – such as NewsGator, FeedBurner, and Technorati – have built APIs to their services.  However, the API isn’t limited to consumer companies – we’ve had great success with our friend the API at enterprise software companies like Rally Software. 

Recently Twitter reminded us just how powerful an API could be.  Twitter’s well documented API resulted in an explosion of Twitter add-on applications which have been key to propelling its adoption.  FriendFeed followed suit and launched an API shortly after its service was available.  It’s no surprise that the founders of Twitter and FriendFeed have a Google heritage – nor is it a surprise that Google’s API machine continues to crank out a remarkable set of APIs for a wide variety of Google services.

Today there is no excuse if you launch a consumer web service without an API.  If you do that, to you I say "you suck".  Ok – it’s not trivial to scale an API up, but why not design it in from the beginning?  If you wake up in a situation where your service (or API) suddenly becomes popular, you have options like Mashery that you can outsource your API to.  According to Oren Michels, the CEO of Mashery, a base API package will including – in addition to the actual API code:

  • Documentation
  • Great examples of what people can do with it (I’d rather steal and modify your examples then start from scratch)
  • Self-provisioning (I want to play with it at 3am – don’t make me wait until you are awake to get started)
  • Path to success (If I’m using it a lot, don’t throttle me.  Give me a way to pay you to use your API more)

I believe we are once again at the beginning of another conceptual shift.  The enterprise software world has been talking about SOA’s while the parallel universe of the consumer Internet has been implementing web services and APIs galore.  However, now one has really worked through broad API scale issues on an Internet-wide basis.  Imagine the following scenario:

You create new a web site called "CoolNewSite".  You create an API for CoolNewSite.  You want to connect CoolNewSite (via the API) to the other 531,177 other web sites that have APIs.  Yes – you realize that only 1,753 of them actually matter, but you’d like to be able to interoperate with all of them, no matter how large or small.  So – you get to work writing 531,177 connectors between your API and all the other APIs out there.  13 years into this process, CoolNewSite becomes popular and suddenly you are overwhelmed with traffic.  Your solution – start throttling the number of calls that another service can send you in a given time period so that you don’t continually fall over.

Sound – er – familiar?

There are at least two interesting businesses that come out of this problem.  Mashery is one; a company we have funded called Gnip is the second.  I’ve got a third one in me, but I’m going to think about it a little more and see if it’s really a business or just a feature of Gnip or Mashery.

In the mean time, this is one case where sucking less doesn’t work.  Get going on your API.

My Q2 vacation came quickly on the heels of my Q1 vacation (since I didn’t manage to take my Q1 vacation until April).  Amy and I spent a delightful week in Positano, Italy with David and Jil Cohen.  This was their big vacation before David goes heads down all summer on TechStars so it was great fun to hang out, relax, and enjoy the magic of some of the best Italy has to offer.



After a week of vacation bliss, we took the train from trash-filled Naples (what a dump) to Milan where we met up with Jeff and Judy Herman for a week on Lake Como.  We arrived to a two day monsoon.  While Lake Como is beautiful when the sun is out, we all quickly got cabin fever.  Amy and I decided to bail and come home a few days early; everyone else decamped to Milan to wander around the city.



Since I had just been on a week off the grid, I stayed connected this trip.  I got plenty of downtime yet kept up with everything going on.  I did take a vacation from blogging which was nice.  Hopefully it will translate into more pith and creativity.  I ran a ton, played tennis and swam every day in Positano, so I’m officially feeling ready for my June marathon.  I did manage to counterbalance any potential weight loss with the omnipresent gelato.


Great, inspiring video on failure.

(thanks Scott).