Month: September 2008
I’ve got a little end of day advice for everyone out there that is getting whipsawed around by all the craziness in the financial markets. While this is aimed at entrepreneurs, it applies to everyone.
Focus on things under your control.
When I was a teenager, my dad said something to me that has stuck with me and informs many of the decisions I make and things I decide to spend my time on. He said something like "Brad – if you want to change the world, start with the 2% you know best."
Now, this doesn’t mean "don’t be curious." It doesn’t mean "don’t learn new things." And it doesn’t mean "don’t try new things." However, it does mean "don’t get distracted by all the things you don’t know, or can’t influence."
This is especially important when confusing and chaotic things are happening all around us. Since I’ve returned from vacation in England, I’ve been asked numerous times what I think of the current financial crisis, how it impacts entrepreneurship and venture capital, and what the government should do about it. In general, my answer has been "I have no clue." Now – I have some very specific ideas about how it might impact some of the companies we are investors in – especially if the macroeconomy continues to deteriorate. But I know enough to know that I can’t actually predict what’s going to happen nor can I influence the macro stuff at all.
As a result, rather than get all spun up about what’s happening minute by minute in Washington or in the financial markets, I concentrate on making sure that the companies I’m an investor in are thinking through the issues that will directly impact them – either because of exposure to certain customers (e.g. the financial services market) or a broad macroeconomic downtown. These are things I understand (in my 2%) and can influence.
Fear and anxiety comes from lots of places, including fatigue, misinformation, and the endless blathering on of talking heads on the television. If you start feeling your anxiety level increase because of things you have no ability to influence, step back and reconsider how you are spending your time. Go for walk around the block and enjoy a nice October afternoon. Take your best friend out to lunch at a restaurant you’ve never been too. Get a good night’s sleep. Take a deep breath and – as my dad once told me, focus on things under your control.
Tomorrow is October 1st. I love the first day of every month as it starts the monthly cycle anew. Amy and I go out for "life dinner" almost every month on the 1st, exchange gifts with each other (I have a great one for her this month), reflect on the previous month, and talk about what we are working on and going to accomplish in the new month.
Tomorrow night we were going to have a nice dinner at Black Cat and just chill out. However, I just found out – via a tweet from Jeff Herman – that Neal Stephenson is in town for a talk and book signing (for Anathem) at the Boulder Book Store. Since Stephenson is one of our favorite contemporary writers, our plans have now shifted to a quick sushi dinner before hand followed by a Stephenson-worship session.
Come join us (at the book store – not at sushi) at 7:30pm at the Boulder Book Store on the Pearl Street Mall. Watch as Amy asks Stephenson when he decided to stop doing email (if you don’t get the reference, there is a fabulous Stephenson essay on his blog titled Why I am a Bad Correspondent.)
In May I made a request for images for a presentation I was doing at my 20th MIT Sloan School reunion. The presentation – titled Software Innovation — Do You Think the Last 20 Years Were Exciting? The Next 20 Years Will Blow Your Mind is now up on the web. If you don’t want to watch it, read the summary below:
In a trip down memory lane, Brad Feld regales us with the pre- and recent history of electronic innovation, with a rapid-fire delivery that achieves vaudevillian pitch.
Via a slide-laden PowerPoint presentation — and, by the way, Feld claims to hate PowerPoint, because as a venture capitalist “I’ve only received about 6,723,000 of them” — he narrates landmark moments in the evolution of the computer age. He touches on the room-size ENIAC computer, and pays tribute to the Jetsons cartoon as embodying his view of the future as a child. He cites his first programming language (APL, 1976), and first computer (Apple II, 1978). Feld speaks sentimentally of the familiar A> prompt as a quaint relic of the DOS operating system era.
Jump to the late ’80s, when Hypercard on the Macintosh was a pre-web foreshadowing of distributing data through multiple applications…“a major breakthrough.” Windows 3.0 heralded the ’90s and subsequent leapfrogging of Microsoft and Apple on the personal computer frontier. He cites the renegade Linux operating system (1991), then the ignoble Michelangelo virus (1992)…“the first time the mainstream media got crazy about computer security.”
Feld detours from history to recount naming his software consulting firm Feld Technologies; whenever anything went wrong “people called up and asked for Mr. Feld.” Therefore, he warns “lesson #1 of entrepreneurship is don’t name your company after yourself.”
In the mid-’90s, the emergence of the Internet in mass culture made ubiquitous such terms as Mosaic, Yahoo!, Java, Explorer, and other iterations of web browser, search engine, and email protocol. In 1999, E-commerce and the Y2K scare entered common parlance. Around 2000, OS X and iTunes burst on the scene, in spite of post-Internet bubble depression. Feld credits Apple with changing “the way we think about digital content.” Catching up to recent times, he invokes social networking, the astronomical Google IPO, and the notion of Web 2.0.
As a venture capitalist, Feld seeks new paradigms in software development as investing prospects for 10 to 20 years – “the next big thing.” He is interested in “immersive experience” that alters human interaction with the computer. His attention is also drawn to decoupling mouse and keyboard from control of the computer toward methods requiring no tactile input. Lastly, he speaks of “cloud computing” where “everything is disconnected from what is on your desktop” and “you don’t have to worry about…data storage and equipment.” Then, elliptically, he reprises a slide of a 1960s room-size computer, suggesting it resembles a latter-day incarnation of a server farm. Full circle.
As a special bonus, the speaker who preceded me – Professor Roberto Rigobon – did an incredible job on his lecture The U.S. and the World’s Recession which feels particularly relevant and prescient today.
I’ve lived in Boulder, Colorado since 1995. Six months after Amy and I moved her, we realized this would be our home for the rest of our life. When I moved here I had no expectation that I’d ever do any work here as most of my entrepreneurial and investing activity up to that point was in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Between 1996 and 2000 the Boulder software / Internet scene grew. A lot. The crash of the Internet bubble slowed things down some but they came roaring back starting in 2003. Boulder is rocking today and – once again – there is way more demand for super amazing software developers than there is supply.
A bunch of local companies – including Aegis Analytical, EventVue, Filtrbox, Fuser, Gnip, HiveLive, Me.dium, Printfection, Rally Software, Return Path, and socialthing! – have gotten together to create a job fair on October 27-31.
This is not your ordinary job fair. If you think you are a rock star developer, apply here. The top 100 will be chosen and flown out to Boulder – all expenses covered – to interview with all of the companies involved, get wined and diner (and hiked and biked) around Boulder.
If you are really bold, stick around over the weekend and come to Defrag 2008 in downtown Denver and use the discount code foundry1 for a $300 discount. I promise you that you’ll never think of Boulder/Denver the same way again.
The "start-up challenge" is emerging as the new platform marketing initiative. Amazon has just launched the AWS Start-Up Challenge. If you are into Amazon Web Services, think you might be, or just want to be part of a contest, go check it out and sign up. $50k of cash and $50k of AWS credits are on the line.
Once a year I go on a long weekend trip with the men in my family (my dad, his brother, my brother, and my two cousins.) We hang out, see a baseball game, eat, talk about our lives, and discuss the future.
This year we went to New York City. My dad and his brother grew up in the Bronx and we decided to see one of the last Yankee games at the old Yankee Stadium. Before the game, we spent three hours touring the Bronx where my dad and his brother grew up. I don’t remember the Bronx at all; my world view of it was shaped by a combination of my dad reminiscing about his childhood in the Bronx in the 1940’s and 1950’s and Tom Wolfe describing the bombed out Bronx of the 1970’s and 1980’s in The Bonfire of the Vanities.
As we drove around the Bronx, we talked about the natural cycle of life from birth to death. Against the backdrop of their childhood, we talked about the current economic cycle in the United States and the chaos we were seeing in the financial markets. We talked about the growth of China and India, especially in the technology business where most of us are involved. We talked about what makes people, companies, and countries great, and what happens when they stop being great. At some point my uncle tossed out the line of the weekend – “If You Aren’t Growing, You’re Dying.”
We kicked around the idea of growth for a while over dinner. When we talked about growth with regard to people, we didn’t just mean physical size. When we talked about companies, we didn’t really mean only growing headcount or revenues, but included skills, experiences, product lines, and geography. When we mapped this idea to a country, we included economic expansion, job creation, company creation, and innovation.
As a long time entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I have strong opinions about the critical importance of innovation to society. To me, growth is all about experiences. As an entrepreneur, you learn from every success, but I think you learn even more from your failures. Since it’s both socially and legally acceptable in the United States to fail, some of the best entrepreneurial successes come immediately after entrepreneurial failures. It’s one of the pieces of the equation that I think makes the United States so great at innovation.
The world we live in today is much more complex than the world my dad and his uncle grew up in. Yankee Stadium was the center of their universe. TV was a new idea. The computers and the Internet we use every day had not yet been invented. Entrepreneurship existed, but it wasn’t the mainstream.
As we drove around the Bronx, we were all amazed by the incredible amount of growth we’d experienced. We decided that much of it had come from the endless efforts of entrepreneurs. Some resulted in success while some resulted in failure; all of it contributed to growth.
We concluded that every entrepreneur has an opportunity to grow, to create new businesses, new jobs, new industries, and change the way we think about things. In fact, I think that if you are an entrepreneurs, part of your responsibility is to do everything you know how to do to grow.
Or else you are dying.
Amy and I were talking about the election process during our vacation. Both of us dislike the electoral college process and have concluded that the cycle is way too long, the primaries are stupid, and the amount of money being spent is totally obscene. We are also deeply tired of all of the endless partisan crap.
So I came up with a new process. How’s this?
- There is one election. No primaries. No parties. As many people can enter as they’d like.
- The winner is whomever gets over 50% of the votes.
- The election is a multi-day process. On day one, all voters vote from the entire pool of candidates. If someone gets more than 50% of the votes they win. If no one gets > 50%, then anyone with > 10% of the votes gets to be on the ballot for day two. Repeat – this time only people that get > 20% of the votes get to be on the ballot on day 3. If day 3 doesn’t have a winner, the ballot is now between anyone with > 30% of the votes. Yes – there’s a slight risk that no one will get over the minimum threshold on day 1, but assuming someone does, it should work.
- The winner of the most popular votes is president. #2 is vice president.
It needs more work, but you get the idea.
The tschotske at the Microsoft Venture Capital Summit was a spiffy blue Zune. I managed to figure out how to open the box – it’s pretty cute. I followed the "Start" directions which sends me to www.zune.net/setup to install the Zune software. I created an account and downloaded the 28mb file. I ran it to install it.
I’m running the most recent version of Vista on a Lenovo X300 and downloaded through IE 7. Gack.
As I live my Digital Life theme, I realize that sometimes I need to take a step back to take a step forward. This happened today when I was in the shower.
When I switched to an iPhone, I lost the ability to synchronize Outlook/Exchange Tasks. I’m a heavy Task user and a zero inbox person, so I spent a few weeks trying to find a good workaround. I didn’t find it yet. So – I started typing my tasks into a page in the Notes application on the iPhone and emailing the page to me at the end of each day. I then cut and pasted the individual entries into my task list. Stupid, but it was the best option up to that point that still integrated with my Outlook workflow (yes – I tried Evernote and a bunch of other similar things.)
For the past two weeks, I’ve been carrying around a little moleskin notebook that my friends at WordPress game me and scribbling down notes in the notebook. I’ve had fun with this approach and realized that having the freedom to just scribble down my thoughts as "items" liberated me some from the more task oriented view I have taken for the past N years.
In the shower this morning, I realized that this was exactly what I was doing in Notes on my iPhone with a few minor tweaks to the formatting. I was resisting Notes because I really thought I wanted Tasks and this was blocking my ability to see that the Notes approach actually worked better. Of course – if I could automagically have selected Notes go into my Task list, that would be even better, but I’ll live without it.
By working on paper for a few weeks, I made a minor behavior modification to my own workflow that I think will be more effective for me. Interesting.