Brad Feld

Month: June 2008

I will never be as good a writer as Amy.  It’s always fun for me to read her view of a shared experience we have had.  She’s got a lovely post up titled Bella Italia about our Q2 vacation to Positano and Lake Como that includes a bunch of fun pictures include breadsticks and a scorpion.   If you want to live vicariously through us and get a sense of what one of the Q vacations is like, wander over to her blog and take a look.

The Bear Blogs

Jun 12, 2008

When I ask someone what animal they visualize themselves I am often surprised.  Not so with Dan Caruso – he is unambiguously a bear (That’s my animal also – you’ll understand this if you ever see me and Dan standing next to each other.)


Since October, Dan has been doing a great job of blogging at BearOnBusiness and now has a must read entrepreneur blog.  If you don’t know Dan, he was an SVP at MFS (bought by WorldCom), went on to be part of the founding team at Level 3, with a group of investors acquired, turned around, and sold ICG, and is now doing another telecom infrastructure consolidation called Zayo Group (one of the best recently funded / founded companies in Colorado.)  He’s also an investor in a bunch of companies, including folks like Envysion (who also happen to have a good blog.)

If you are looking for a new / fresh entrepreneur blog to add to your blogroll, give BearOnBusiness a try.

I was going to call this post "Private Beta is Bullshit" but then I realized I might be wrong.  Rather than decide, I’m looking for reasons to change my mind.  Please help me.  In the spirit of thinking out loud on my blog, I’m going to go through a history lesson from my perspective to frame the problem.

When I started writing commercial software in the 1980’s, there was a well-defined "beta process."  Your first beta was actually called an alpha – when you had your friends and a few lead users play around with your stuff which was guaranteed to break every few minutes.  But they were a good source of much needed early feedback and testing.  Then came beta – you shipped your disks out to a wider audience,  including a bunch of people you didn’t know but who were interested in your product, and they banged away looking for bugs.  You had a bug collecting and management process (if you were really cutting edge you even had a BBS for this) and while there wasn’t a code freeze, you spent all of your time fixing bugs and hardening / optimizing the code.  If you had a complex system, you started shipping release candidates (RCs); less complex went straight to a release (GA).  Inevitably some bugs were found and a bug fix version (v x.01) was released within a week or two.  At this point you started working on the next version (v x+1.0); if there were meaningful bugs still in v x you did small incremental releases (v x.02) on the previous code base.

This approach worked well when you shipped bits on disks.  The rise of the commercial Internet didn’t change this approach much other than ultimately eliminate the need to ship disks as your users could now download the bits directly. 

The rise of the web and web-based applications in the later 1990’s (1997 on) did change this as it was now trivial to "push" a new version of your app to the web site.  Some companies, especially popular consumer sites and large commercial sites, did very limited testing internally and relied on their users to help shake down the web app.  Others had a version (or equivalent) where limited (and often brave) users played around with the app before it went in production.  In all cases, the length of time of the dev/test/production loop varied widely.

At some point, Google popularized the idea of an extended beta.  This was a release version that had the beta label on it which is supposed to indicate to people that it’s an early version that is still evolving.  Amazingly, some apps like Gmail (or Docs or Calendar), seem to never lose their beta label while others like Reader and Photos have dropped them already.  At some point, "beta" stopped really meaning anything other than "we’ve launched and we probably have a lot of bugs still so beware of using us for mission critical stuff."

With the rise of the Web 2.0 apps, beta became the new black and every app launched with a beta label, regardless of its maturity (e.g. a whole bunch of them were alphas.)  Here’s where the problem emerged.  At some point every beta got reviewed by a series of web sites led by TechCrunch (well – not every one – but the ones that managed to rise above the ever increasing noise.)  When they got written up, many of them inevitably ran into The First 25,000 Users Are Irrelevant problem (which builds on Josh Kopelman’s seminal post titled 53,651which might be updated to be called 791K.)  During this experience, many sites simply crash based on the sudden load as they weren’t built to handle the scale or peak load.

Boom – a new invention occurred.  This one is called "private beta" and now means "we are early and buggy and can’t handle your scale, but we want you to try us anyway when we are ready for you."  I’ve grown to hate this as it’s really an alpha.  For whatever reason, companies are either afraid to call an alpha an alpha or they don’t know what an alpha is.  For a web app, operational scale is an important part of the shift from alpha to beta, although as we’ve found with apps like Twitter, users can be incredibly forgiving with scale problems (noisy – but forgiving).

So – why not get rid of the "private beta" label and call all of these things alphas.  Alphas can be private – or even public – but they create another emotional and conceptual barrier between "stuff that’s built but not ready for prime time" (alpha), "stuff that getting close but still needs to be pounded on by real users and might go down" (beta), and "stuff that’s released" (v x.0).  That seems a lot more clear to me than "private beta", "beta" (which might last forever), and ultimately v x.0. 

In the grand scheme of things this might simply end up in "Brad Pet Peeve" land, but recently it’s been bothering me more than my other pet peeves so it feels like there’s something here.  Call me out if there isn’t or pile on if there is.

There is some TechStars love this morning from the gang at FriendFeed (thanks guys!)  They added two of last years TechStars class – IntenseDebate and BrightKite – during their FriendFeed Fix-it Day.  I know this was one of the often requested features from IntenseDebate users and – while it could be hacked into FriendFeed through the magic of RSS – native support is sweet (and trivial to use.)  No surprise – like most other services, I am bfeld on FriendFeed.

Some idiot (me) scheduled a 7am breakfast meeting on a day when he had a six mile run scheduled.  Have you ever tried to get up at 4am (after going to sleep at 11:30pm) to get ready to go for a six mile run.  Nope – it doesn’t happen.  So – I gave up on the idea of a run and just did my morning email / web / blog routine.  I’m running a marathon next weekend anyway so I’m supposed to be tapering (ahem).

As a result, I have some morning reading for you.

Law Firm 2.0 – Why can’t financings be easier and cheaper? My partner Jason has been writing a great series he calls "Law Firm 2.0".  He holds no punches with his provocative thoughts.  The feedback has been amazing – entrepreneurs love it, some lawyers publicly hate it but privately love it, and some lawyers just hate it.  He keeps going and – IMHO – keeps nailing important issues.

Google visits TechStars: David Cohen put up a nice summary of Google Day and Andrew Hyde has one of my favorite segments of Kevin Marks talk on How Not to be Viral up on video. Kevin shows some subtle (and not so subtle) brilliance in this segment.  While you are at it spin over to the TechStars Community Site and join and take a look at the great early TechStars coverage from Monday in the Daily Camera (TechStars’ second coming) and the Rocky Mountain News (Looking for the next tech star)

iRobot enters the undersea robot market: In the unfortunately long category of "damnit – I should have made that investment" comes a cool new product from my friends at iRobot. 

Google Co-Founder Books a Space Flight: Seriously awesome.

Foundry Group Themes

Jun 10, 2008
Category Foundry

Over the past few months we’ve been posting about the "themes" we invest in at Foundry Group over on our Foundry Group blog.  I thought – with the most recent announcement of our investment in Smith & Tinker (our most recent human computer interaction (HCI) investment) – it was worth reviewing our current themes.

For a view on how we think about themes, start with our post What Is "Thematic Investing?"  We then cover four of our current themes:

  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Implicit Web
  • Glue
  • Digital Life

We also put up a post titled Did Darwin Skip Over Email? explaining our desire to find another investment on our long standing theme around email (and SMTP).  We are also continuing to scour the world for RSS-related stuff (yes – we love protocols – ad hoc or otherwise).

While we don’t limit ourselves to only investing in these themes, we rarely wander outside them and will usually only do so with someone we’ve worked with in the past.  We are always working on a set of new top secret themes that intrigue us.  Some of these will see the light of day; others won’t.  In all cases, they keep our brains busy.

Fail Harder

Jun 10, 2008

A reader (thanks Austin) sent me two great failure links today.  The first is from BoingBoing and is titled J.K. Rowling on the power of failureIt’s an excellent short segment from her excellent Harvard Commencement Address titled The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.

The next is a sign made entirely out of push pins that says "Fail Harder".

I spent the afternoon at TechStars meeting with five of the ten teams.  They are all dynamite, although some of them will fail at their current incarnation.  Just remember – fail hard, fast, and then get up and try again. 

My partners Ryan and Jason are playing a gig with their band, Soul Patch, June 21st at Redfish Brewhouse in Boulder.  They start at 930pm – sharp.  It’s a onetime event, as the band resides in Boulder, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  They’ll also be releasing their new album.

I told them that I’d pimp their gig on my blog as payment for missing it.  I’m taking my awesome wife to Duluth, Minnesota to run Grandma’s Marathon for our wedding anniversary.  I’ll be running it and she’ll be cheering me on.  I don’t know how I managed to convince her that this was an appropriate thing to do for our anniversary, but I’ll take it.

Please come and rock the redfish with Ryan and Jason.

It’s another raining day in Boulder (weird) – maybe I’ll go to Boston tonight.  Oh – I heard it was raining there also.  I bet they don’t get hail in June.  Today’s reading is sponsored by Ted – the airline that never made any sense to me and is finally going away.

– The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article on Gates-Ballmer’s history including the headliner Gates-Ballmer Clash Shaped Microsoft’s Coming Handover.  The subarticles and videos also provide some great context on the past and current reality.

– My dad tells the story going to Yankee Stadium in 1948 during on a Saturday that was underwritten by the Herald Tribute Fresh Air Fund.  He snuck his six year old brother Charlie in and had a blast. If you have kids, read the article and answer the question my dad asks at the end – "Can any of you imagine giving your kids the opportunity to do all that at the new Yankee Stadium next year in 2009?"  I was excited about the idea of going to the Red Sox game on Friday night (thanks Don Dodge) – now I’m all in.

– Another friend – Doyle Albee – talks about Living with the Kindle: 30 Days Later.  It’s a good short strength / weakness summary.  I continue to love my Kindle with my affection growing with every use.

– Brilliant (but long) article in Vanity Fair about Inventing the InternetAl Gore is included in it.

– If you comment on my blog and are a twitter user, you can now Twitter Your Comment as a result of the IntenseDebate integration with Twitter.  If you have a blog and are not using IntenseDebate for your comments, give it a try.  While you are at it, install Lijit on your site for search (including integration with IntenseDebate, so you can include your comments in your search results on your blog.)  Send me an email when you’ve done this and I’ll send you some virtual love.