Month: October 2008

Oct 26 2008

Encourage The FCC To Improve the Internet

If you’d like to do something political that has nothing to do with the upcoming elections, read through Tom Evslin’s post Act Now for Better Internet Access.   Then go sign the online petition at freetheairwaves.com.

It kind of blows my mind that the National Association of Broadcasters is still fighting this stuff, especially with the impending federally mandated cutover to digital TV in February.  But hey, lots of things seem illogical – this is nothing new.

Thanks Tom for alerting everyone to this.  The deadline for comments is Tuesday 10/28 so click and comment now.

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Oct 25 2008

It’s The Ride That Counts

I spent the past 10 days on the road in a bunch of different cities (New York, Bar Harbor, Boston, Westford, New York again, Tysons Corner, Alexandria, Owings Mills) doing a bunch of different things (stuff with MIT, our LPs, our companies, some friends, my partner Jason, Amy, and myself).  As is my typical fashion, I didn’t pay much attention to the news while I was traveling – allowing myself one read through the headlines each day as part of my morning routine.  This left my brain pretty clear to concentrate on the things I was doing and pick up the nuances of how people were thinking and feeling based on what they were saying and doing.

There is clearly an enormous amount of anxiety in the system on all dimensions.  Based on the topics that came up regularly, I’d attribute this to the election + the credit crisis + the economic downtown + the massive movements of stocks, bonds, and oil + fear about the future + the endless amount of information bombarding everyone with opinions and predictions.

I arrived home last night to a pile of old stuff on my desk, including some letters that I had written 20+ years ago, as a result of Amy’s recent push to "clean out all the junk in her files."  One of them was from March 14, 1988 to my dad that made me smile since even at 23 years old, I’d figured out that it’s the ride that countsFollowing is the letter – the italics are my annotations from today.

Dear Dad:

I remember a sunny summer day about ten years ago (I would have been about 13).  We were driving to Fort Worth in a white corvette (my mom’s car – my mom was really cool, even back then).  You were about to deposit me at the Tut Bartzen tennis camp (I was a serious junior tennis player and Tut Bartzen was my summer sojourn for training).  We chatted about the upcoming week as we zipped down the highway.  I was excited about seven days of non-stop tennis; you were probably excited about seven days of not having to deal with me.  However, for that moment, we simply enjoyed the ride.

I’ve learned from you that it’s the ride that counts.  Today, I’m hanging out in my "eighties apartment" (at 23 I lived on the 19th floor of The Devonshire in downtown Boston), with my lovely wife (first wife – she turned out to be not so lovely to me), playing the academician (I had just gotten into the MIT Ph.D. program and apparently thought of myself as an academician instead of an entrepreneur at that point, even though I was both), paying my own way (always a high value in a jewish family – I was covering everything, including all my school expenses), and simply enjoying the ride.  Without you, I might actually think some of this stuff was important.  But I’ve learned from you that only the ride counts.

Its been a long strange trip, hasn’t it…  From Spring Creek (my elementary school) to M.I.T.  From Betty Wonderly (my favorite high school teacher – Biology) to Arzell Ball (a R.I.S.D. superintendent I had a huge public confrontation with my senior year because of his lack of respect for AP classes).  From E.V. Scott (my first mentor) to Richard Weinstein (one of the early Feld Technology clients).  From BAFB (Blytheville Airforce Base – where I was born) to 1 Devonshire Place (where I was living at the time).  From Apple II (my first computer) to Fiverstar AT (apparently I was very excited about my IBM AT clone, which was a 80286 based machine for those of you that don’t remember or know what AT means).  From Nike (the running shoes I wore in high school) to Reebok (the running shoes I apparently wore at age 23).  From Jack Kramer Autographs (my first tennis racquet) to Futabaya (the tennis racquet I finished up with before I retired at age 15).  From the Bowie Mustangs (back when I was a soccer player in 2nd grade) to the Dallas Marathon (my first marathon – in 1983).  From "See Dick Run" (an early read) to "The Society of the Mind" (MIT related Marvin Minsky nerd food).  What a great ride.  Thanks for being there every mile – I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without you.

Love, Bradley

Remember, it’s the ride that counts.  Get some rest and let go of your anxiety, fear, and anger.  Look forward to every minute of this interesting journey we call life.  And – if your dad is still alive, write him a letter; regardless of your relationship today it’ll make him happy.

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Oct 25 2008

Loving Brightkite for the iPhone

One of the TechStars 2007 companies is Brightkite.  Brightkite is a real time location-based social network.  I travel a lot and have always wanted an easy way to broadcast where I am at any given time.

Brightkite is the solution.  While their mobile UI is very good, when I’m traveling the general mobile performance via a web browser has been slow enough to prevent me from using it consistently.

Brightkite just released their iPhone app.  It is incredible.  It integrates brilliantly with all of the iPhone thingys (geolocation, maps, directions), is fast, and clean.

If you want to follow where I am, I’m going to start using it regularly.  I’m bfeld (like I am on most services).  If you need an invite, feel free to email me – I’ve got plenty of them.

Brightkite guys – nicely done.  You’ve been doing an awesome job but you really nailed it with this release.

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Oct 25 2008

Clouditude

A friend of mine has been going deep on the entire cloud computing ecosystem as he works through some ideas for a new company.  He coined a term "clouditude" a few days ago and send me his thoughts about it.  I found his term / definition fascinating and very relevant (look for me to start using the word "clouditude". I asked if I could republish his thoughts directly to see if anyone had any comments to add; here they are. 

I have been exploring so-called "cloud" computing recently and had a few thoughts that might be interesting to you and possibly to share with readers, who undoubtedly would have some ideas to add.

The "cloud" could be viewed as the Internet cloud or the Web cloud – I am particularly focused on the Web. In particular, I would say that a system operates in the web cloud if it can be used via a standard web browser (possibly including common plug-ins such as Flash/Flex) from anywhere with Internet connectivity. Restricted systems, such as internal corporate "clouds," are not excluded from this definition as long as they are accessible (with appropriate permissions/credentials) from anywhere.

I’ve coined the term "clouditude" as a measure of both the extent to which a system leverages the cloud and the ease with which it can be used and managed in the cloud. I prefer this term rather than "cloudiness," partly because the latter has other connotations, but also because there is an "attitude" component: is the system at home in the cloud, or has it been shoehorned to work there?

To clarify this idea, consider a J2EE application server:

– It can be used to support applications in the cloud, but to do so it requires appropriate computer systems and underlying software and configuration to operate properly; a browser-based configuration interface increases its clouditude.

– An AMI or similar virtual machine instance (created manually or using tools like JumpBox, rPath, CohesiveFT, or AppLogic) makes it easier to set up in the cloud, subsequently needing only custom configuration, so this has higher clouditude than the application server software alone.

Building the machine instances with a browser interfaces has higher clouditude than using the command line.

– Tools like Scalr, WeoGeo, and Elastra make it easier to manage the resources, including scalability, redundancy, and failover issues. This has a lot of clouditude, because here the application begins to have independence from the infrastructure architecture.

– Seamless redundancy and rate-management across different cloud infrastructure vendors is an obvious area to improve clouditude, and is in the process of getting built out. It appears that RightScale and Kaavo are aiming for this, although it does not seem to be available yet.

Now our "application server" is pretty much completely virtual. We load it onto the service, and it is available for an application to use. If volume increases, or servers go down, or prices change, we don’t really care or know – it all happens automagically.

From an application developer’s perspective, there is a next step, where I don’t need to know anything about the underlying infrastructure, including whether there is an application server at all. I just build the application and click a button to deploy it. Google’s AppEngine and Force.com both are attempts to implement a high degree of clouditude for application developers. Force.com actually has higher clouditude, because the application is developed, tested, and run in the cloud, while AppEngine has a local sandbox environment for development, then you upload/deploy to Google.

Of course, with both of these solutions, one trades off flexibility and control for clouditude. Force.com applications only operate there, and AppEngine applications, though written in Python, have to use the proprietary BigTable as a datastore. It doesn’t seem like this sort of lock-in is essential to the practical implementation of a high clouditude environment, but I don’t really know.

It will be extremely interesting to apply this idea of clouditude to whatever Microsoft announces next week at the PDC.

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Oct 24 2008

Running and My Professional Self

Yesterday, I got the following question via email: "I was wondering if you think running has had a long-term impact on your professional self? Does it help keep you focused and motivated while you work, or does it reduce the amount of time you could spend reading about business and financial trends?"

This question hit an interesting chord with me – both because of the general nature of the question as well as the "or" part (e.g. the specificity of the "reduce the amount of time you could spend reading about business and financial trends.")

Running has definitely had a long-term impact on my professional life.  I categorize it as a hugely positive long-term impact.  While I’m physically healthier, I’m also mentally healthier as I find running to be my equivalent of meditation.  I need time away from everything on a regular basis to clear my head, and running is my time for this.  While I used to run with headphones, I now run naked (no headphones) so I just let whatever is in my head wander around.  I find that after an hour, the wandering becomes either (a) very interesting or (b) non-existent. 

Those of you that know me know that I am extremely intrinsically motivated.  I’m not motivated by the external scorecard (what other people think of me, what I get public recognition for); I care entirely about the internal scorecard (what I think of myself and what I’ve done.)  Running gives me extra time to ponder my internal scorecard without distractions.

I’ve also written about my split introvert / extrovert personality.  I need time alone.  I don’t get very much of it.  Without it, I eventually start to melt down.  Running gives me regular jolts of alone time that rapidly recharge my extrovert battery.

I could continue for a while on the benefits side.  However, as I puzzled through the cost side ("what does running cost me?") I couldn’t come up with anything substantive.  With regard to the specific question asked by the blog reader, it has no impact on the time I have to read anything as I already read much more than "I need to" for business.  I also substitute other stuff quickly – I watch very little television, I don’t have kids – so running even 10 hours a week barely cuts into the time spent by others on their kids, TV, other stuff. 

There is one area that I’m trying to figure out better, which is "recovery."  This has been in my face this week – I ran a marathon on Sunday and have been on the road continuously since the previous Thursday.  Monday was a tough day – I was tired and sore from the marathon.  The second day after the marathon is always the hardest for me as exhaustion really sets in.  Usually by the third day I’m more or less back to normal.  However, during this trip I’ve been nauseous (ranging from low grade annoying to "oh shit, where’s the bathroom") regularly through the day (and night) all the way through last night.  I feel fine right now, but we’ll see how the day goes.  While this isn’t impacting my professional life (I’ve been fully engaged in all the stuff I’m doing this week), it’s definitely been harshing my calm in my downtime.  Fortunately, I get home tonight from this road trip and have a nice quiet weekend in front of me, so I expect I’ll feel 100% by Monday, but it’s been a little strange (and physically uncomfortable in an unusual way) this time around.

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Oct 24 2008

Publishers – Put Your News on the iPhone

I’m still loving my iPhone.  It’s been around two months now, so I think this thing is finally going to stick and I’ll use an Apple product regularly. 

My regular iPhone app usage is increasing to include the new version of Brightkite (wow – I’m bfeld if you want to follow me), NetNewsWire (double wow), and the NY Times app.  I’m fascinated with the NY Times app – I think it is an extremely well done specialized iPhone app.

The other day, NewsGator announced a private label version of NetNewsWire.  This is aimed at any media company that wants to do a customized app that carries their own content (via RSS of course).  NetNewsWire is battle tested – over 200,000 iPhone users and over 130 million marked items (each marked item is an "interaction effect from a user") since it was released.

When NetNewsWire for the iPhone came out, it hadn’t immediately occurred to me that it could be used / quickly repurposed by any major media company.  Instead of building a NY Times-like app from scratch, you can simply private label NetNewsWire and be up and running in days.

If you are interested in taking a look at this, drop me an email and I’ll get you connected with the right folks at NewsGator.

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Oct 23 2008

MIT Venture Capital Conference Entrepreneur Showcase

Having lived through the last major tech downturn (precipitated by our friend, the Internet bubble), one of the big lessons that I learned was to steadily play through.  Specifically, I’ve reached the conclusion that there is no right or wrong time to start a company, or build a company.  Great entrepreneurs will figure things out regardless of the macro environment.  As I’m quick to say (and it’s now becoming one of my favorite cliches), "some of the best investments I’ve ever made / companies I’ve helped start were created / funded between 2001 and 2003."

MIT is having their 11th annual Venture Capital Conference on 12/6/08.  This one is titled Reinventing Venture CapitalI’m sure that part will be stimulating for the VCs that are there, but the really good stuff appears to be the Entrepreneur Showcase 

Over 30 early-stage businesses from sectors including information technology, healthcare and clean technology will be selected to exhibit their business vision and technology prowess at the 11th MIT Venture Capital Conference.  Entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to explain their business, display their products, learn from the MIT network, and find growth opportunities.  Attendees include VCs, Angels, corporate executives, and the general public.

If you are a startup and want to apply to be part of this, the application is here and the directions for applying are here.  If nothing else, you’ll get to hear Eran Egozy talk about Harmonix.  If you ask, he might even play his clarinet for you.

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Oct 22 2008

Legal Lexicon for an Economic Meltdown

Today’s special guest post is from Sarah Reed of Lowenstein Sandler PC.  Sarah is a good friend and collaborator with my partner Jason on the NVCA Model Legal Document task force.  She also has a wicked sense of humor.  After sitting through ten days of meetings hearing a variety of VC-lingo tossed around as though it was LA-trendy-speak (seriously dude), I was amused to get the following unsolicited email from Sarah with a guest post attached. 

While Sarah’s post is on the gloomy side of the optimism / pessimism coin, Sarah’s vocabulary builder covers a bunch of words and phrases that are once again becoming trendy.  Ignore them – and their implications – at your own peril.  And don’t forget – make sure you keep your sense of humor and always carry a towel with you wherever you go.

As Brad has noted, the blogosphere is abuzz with lectures from VCs to their portfolio companies – ranging the gamut from scolding to spirit-boosting. Clearly, they are on to this much: we are in the midst of what our children’s elementary school teachers have trained us to recognize as a “teachable moment.” I’m a business lawyer, so I’m all about Brad’s message “let’s get practical.” Here then let me pile on with some vocabulary you should probably learn, if you don’t know it already – and, being a lawyer, I can’t resist the urge to equivocate a bit: while the words themselves are a bit of a buzz-kill, you can hum the lesson – “fun!” (everyone knows the ABC tune).

So come and hum along with me:

A is for “ABC” or Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors: a state law statutory remedy in which a company is liquidated by an appointed independent trustee. It is cheaper and faster than a bankruptcy court proceeding, but affords similar protections in that it insulates officers and directors from creditor claims of unfair treatment.

B is for Bankruptcy Proceedings: both kinds: chapter 7, where the company is liquidating, and chapter 11, where the company “reorganizes” in order to continue as a going concern, or position itself for a sale of the company as a whole by getting out from under burdensome contractual responsibilities.

C is for Cartage Costs: additional payments by VCs to dispose of the corpse of a company, in extreme cases, as when the company has unpaid wages for which the directors may be personally liable.

D is for Down Round: expect this to simply be a synonym for “follow-on financing” for some period of time. Oh, did you miss the metatags in the Sequoia slides? “Reset your expectations, entrepreneurs.”

E is for Escrow (of Shut-Down Costs): wages, accrued PTO, tax liabilities – if you have enough money to cover ‘em, and failure is an option, set the funds aside now. Otherwise, see “Cartage Costs.”

F is for Furlough: send the employees home for an unpaid “break” — see “Quality Time.” Find out what your state law permits

G is for Going Chapter: advice to VC directors – don’t even think about it. The bankruptcy trustee’s job is to look for assets: the company’s best asset may be its D&O policy, and so the trustee may be highly motivated to find a cause of action against the directors and officers.

H is for Hail Mary Pass: the company has 75 days of cash, no suitors, and weary inside investors. But you’ve already hired the banker, and you have not completely exhausted your rolodex of other VCs who might be willing to take a look. Are you at legal risk if you do anything other than just calling it quits now? Probably not – even a small (but legitimate) chance of an outcome that preserves some value in the company is probably worth the try.

I is for Independent Director: oh, now you wish you’d found one earlier. If you are lucky enough to have one or more, let them form an independent committee to vote on the Down Round (see above), so that the transaction, if ever questioned, will not be evaluated under the higher “entire fairness” standard of judicial review.

J is for Jerk: ok, now stop beating up on yourself. You knew when you went into this that not only is failure an option, it is a significant part of the business model of backing start-ups.

K is for Key Engineers: if your exit plan is to sell technology/IP, recognize that it may be worthless without the people who know how to deploy it, and hence you may want to provide them with some type of retention bonus.

L is for The Letter: the one that Ron Conway repurposed from 2000; Ron, let’s just hope none (editors note from Brad: I’d change this to “all” – this will happen again, and again) of us live long enough for you to have to send it a third time.

M is for Management Bonus Plan: it’s what the VCs put in place when the entire management team threatens to mutiny, upon realizing that their current stake in the company is worthless.

N is for No: brace yourself for that response if you are looking for money – from LPs, from VCs, from customers, from venture debt lenders. Start thinking of creative ways of explaining why are different (cloud computing, on-demand services, disciplined deployment of capital, blah blah blah).

O is for Oh Sh** Why Me?: When a Delaware company files for dissolution, it needs to name one director who will continue to serve for a year. Let it not be you.

P is for Peace with Honor: it’s what you get when you sell the company for just enough so that all creditors are paid and the VCs get back some fraction of their money. Declare victory, go home.

Q is for Quality Time: the silver lining in all this! Go mentor those employees you have been too busy to pay attention to these past years, take off at 4 on a weekday to see your kid’s soccer game, stop complaining and go to the gym for god’s sake!

R is for Roll-Up: tuna fish, light mayo – it’s what you will be bringing in your bag lunch for the next twelve months, and it’s what will happen to your company if it has either 1) cash and no product or purpose or 2) a product and a market, but no cash. Put the two together, and, voila, live another day.

S is for Severance: if you were a well-advised VC, you made sure the agreements with your PC CEO’s provided that it was not payable if the CEO’s employment was terminated as the result of the company ceasing to do business. While it is OK to pay (limited – e.g., two weeks) severance to employees, be aware that in a wind-down creditors may question large severance payments (and it makes directors look bad, too).

T is for Terminate: the health, 401K and any other benefit plans; the phones, the bank accounts….. make a checklist so you don’t overlook anything.

U is for Underperformer: time to identify them and ruthlessly cull them.

V is for Voting: when you vote as a stockholder, it’s OK to be selfish and mean-spirited; when you vote as a director, remember those pesky fiduciary duties. See “Down Round.”

W is for WARN Act: does the company have 100 or more employees (or, in CA, 75 or more employees at any time within the preceding 12 months)? If yes, be for
eWARNED: this Federal law will subject you to non-trivial advance notice (aka disguised severance) obligations in the case of a shut-down or large lay-off.

X is for X-it Strategy: If you never had one in the first place, it’s too late now – see “Underperformer.”

Y is for Yes: you should get off of the Board when it’s pretty clear it is no longer a good use of your time – unless you fear that the other Board members will try to pin bad stuff on you, in which case you’d better stick around to review the minutes.

Z is for Zone of Insolvency: it’s like pornography – undefinable, but you’re supposed to recognize it when it’s in your face. The case law out there on this is sufficiently complex and confusing that all I can say on this one is that, if you are really in a sweat about it, time to consult a lawyer. My direct line is 617-399-5999 and now that I’m done writing this I’m turning to updating my web bio to show my workout experience.

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Oct 22 2008

Defrag is Around the Corner

The Defrag Conference is happening on Monday 11/3 and Tuesday 11/4.  I’m totally psyched – Eric Norlin has put together a killer agenda.  The list of people coming that I can’t wait to see and spend time with is dynamite.

When Eric and I cooked up the idea for Defrag, our goal was to create a "thinking person’s" conference for exploring ideas around the Implicit / Semantic Web.  It’s evolved and – in its second year – we are planning on talking about the intersection of the following topics:

  • Enterprise 2.0
  • Online Collaboration
  • The Implicit Web
  • Collective Intelligence
  • The Semantic Web
  • Mash-ups
  • Social Networking in the Enterprise
  • Next-level Discovery

In addition, on Sunday 11/2 my partner Chris Wand is hosting a dinner for anyone interested in exploring the next generation of messaging.

There’s still time to register – use Foundry1 to get $300 off the registration.  It looks like we will have well over 300 people in attendance this year so it’s big enough to have critical mass yet intimate enough to generate a lot of deep conversations. 

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Oct 21 2008

Mount Desert Island Marathon

Maine has been conquered by the Feld Marathon Machine.  I finished my 13th marathon on Sunday – the Mount Desert Island Marathon that started at Bar Harbor, Maine.  It was hilly.

image 

Really hilly.  But beautiful, perfect weather (40 to 50 degrees), no wind, blue skies, and wonderful people along the course including the "beer girl" (a girl – probably 12 – with her mom that had a sign that said "Finish = Beer").  Did I mention the course was hilly – check out the insulting, endless, torturous climb from mile 21 to mile 25.

A few days before the marathon, I read the "mile by mile route description" and decided that it was highly unlikely that I’d break my goal of 5 hours given how difficult the course appeared.  So – I just decided to go out slow, stay comfortable, and finish.  I went through the half marathon point right at 2:30, felt great, and picked it up.  Remarkably, I did my first negative split marathon (2nd half faster than the first half) and finished in 4:57:02.  It seems like the extra training in the mountains is starting to pay off.  Yes – I’m really pleased.

This course has chip timers but the stupid chip kept falling off my shoe laces.  The third time it happened I punted and carried the chip.  Of course, I forgot to drag it across the finish line chip mats so I didn’t get an "official time."  Whatever – my Garmin has it all recorded and it’s on the web for anyone to verify.  Oh – and I have one of those snazy finisher medals.

My legs feel better than expected, but everything else is totally messed up today.  I keep reminding myself that the second day after the marathon is the hardest.

Thanks – as always – for everyone’s support and encouragement via email and twitter.  And a special thanks to my anchor sponsors – Return Path and Pixie Mate – as well as everyone else who has sponsored me – for your contributions to Accelerated Cure for each race I finish. 

Next up – the Rocket City Marathon – Huntsville, AL in Huntsville, Alabama on 12/13/08.

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