Brad Feld

Month: October 2008

Tomorrow is Marathon #13 – the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Bar Harbor, Maine.  As part of my pre-marathon tradition, Amy and I relax at a movie the day before.  Today’s was Flash of Genius at the awesome Reel Pizza Cinerama.

Flash of Genius is the story of Robert Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper.  It’s a tragedy in three acts. 

  • Act 1: Invention and hopefulness that ends in betrayal.
  • Act 2: The hero encounters increasing difficulties, complications, and losses.
  • Act 3: Triumph and redemption.

While I’m deeply anti-software-patent, I’m equally pro-inventor.  The Kearns story – at least what I know of it from the great 1993 New Yorker article titled The Flash of Geniusis a complicated and provocative one.  Greg Kinnear is brilliant as Robert Kearns and plays the dedicated and single-minded investor magnificently.

If you are ever in Bar Harbor and like watching movies, definitely have dinner (and a movie) at Reel Pizza Cinerama.  The Manchurian Candidate pizza was a winner.  Now, time to get my head into the marathon.

I Prefer Extremistan

Oct 17, 2008
Category Books

This morning, I read two wonderful essays on the web – one by Warren Buffet and one by Paul Graham.

Both of these made me immediately think of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s brilliant new book – The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable– which has been making the rounds the past few months.  If you haven’t yet read it, you should stop what you are doing, buy it immediately, and read it.  If you haven’t read Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, you should read it first as it sets the stage for The Black Swan.

In The Black Swan, Taleb introduces the wonderful place called Extremistan and the much less interesting but much more often occupied place called Mediocristan.  Buffett and Graham give us more clues as to why Extremistan is a much more satisfying place to hang out.

Going On A Trip

Oct 16, 2008
Category Places

No – not that kind of trip, although it might have made watching the debates last night more entertaining.  I’m hitting the road for 10 days to travel our great country, check out main street, see some American heroes, and subject myself to more airplane travel fun.  I wonder if I’ll stay in any of the same hotels as the presidential candidates.

I start this trip in New York, where I’ll be exploring the now famous Wall Street greed and corruption people.  I then travel to Bar Harbor Maine to run a marathon (sponsor me and support Accelerated Cure).  As part of this quest, I’m going to search for main street; it seems like I should be able to find it in Maine.  Then I’m off to Boston to return to my post high school roots, have a nerd party with some wikipedia worthy entrepreneurial friends, and explore the outer reaches of 495.   A quick trip by train back to New York and then off to Virginia and Maryland to make sure the leaves are turning the appropriate colors there before they completely fall off the trees.

I’m a PC and I love this country.

An annual institution in Boulder occurred last week – the Boulder Chamber of Commerce Esprit Awards.  A bunch of my friends were winners this year and – since they were all nice enough to call me out for my contribution to them, I thought I’d reciprocate by congratulating them.

So, a big congrats to:

Y’all are great – thanks for all of your hard work, vision, and contribution to the Boulder entrepreneurial scene.

The "new VC entrants into the blogosphere" has slowed over the past 12 months.  In addition, the decay curve of many of the newest VC bloggers looks very similar to the decay curve of nuclear waste, except for it happens over a six month period instead of having a 24,100 year half life.

In contrast, the gang at RRE Ventures have both launched a new blog titled Five Years Too Late and filled it with great, relevant, and stimulating content, including posts such as:

And – my favorite so far – RRE Bikini Bottom Franchise.  Keep it up guys and don’t ever lose your sense of humor.

A well worn tradition of most venture capital firms is the Monday Meeting.  While there are several variations of it, including having it the meeting on Tuesday or Friday in an effort to be counter-cultural, most venture capital firms gather on Monday’s to review their portfolios, have companies come in and present for follow-on rounds or new investments, and ponder the state of the universe.

I expect there will be a lot of pondering today.  Given that it’s only 1:23pm and I’ve already received several missives commenting on the Sequoia RIP article (including a skeptical email from someone forwarding the VentureBeat article stating that Sequoia raised the largest new fund in Q3), it’s clear that many VC firms are sitting around today discussing ways they can "help" their portfolio companies in these "uncertain times."

Get ready for a flurry of two things from your VC.  (1) Questions.  (2) Advice.  Not necessarily in that order.  Occasionally you’ll get a demand here and there. 

If you are a first time entrepreneur, be forewarned that this is normal.  The questions and advice usually start on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning (due to the timing of a partners meeting) a few weeks (or months) after the environment has changed.  Of course, a cynic could (appropriately) ask "where were these questions last week."  Welcome to the world of VC-backed companies.

Given that you now know this is coming, my recommendation regarding the questions is to actively engage your VC(s) rather than simply either (a) answer them or (b) dismiss them.  The questions – while often annoying, redundant, or nonsensical – will cause you to think about things you might not otherwise be thinking about.  Just make sure you’ve got the whole question, think, analyze, discuss, decide loop on a short cycle so you can iterate quickly as the environment changes again (either for the better or for the worse.)

With regard to the advice, my recommendation advice is different.  "Think before you act."  This doesn’t mean sit around with your thumb up your ass.  This also doesn’t mean the advice is wrong.  But it definitely means you should apply your (and your team’s) brain(s) to the advice and see if it matches your view of reality.  This is especially true when the advice is second or third hand (e.g. I read the Sequoia presentation and here’s what you need to do.)

Don’t forget to bring your towel to work tomorrow.

Ok, by now you’ve read 3,127 blog posts either talking about the coming current downturn credit crisis recession coming reconfiguration of all things as we’ve known them.  You’ve studied Sequoia’s Get Real or Go Home presentation.  You’ve read Alan Patricof’s Chill Out memo, Ron Conway’s Get Ready For It To Suck email, Benchmark’s Adapt and Live Lean memo and John Borthwick’s Don’t Panic – Profit memo.  For some balance, you’ve read Dave McClure’s brilliant rant Fear is the Mind Killer of the Silicon Valley Entrepreneur (we must be Muad’Dib, not Clark Kent) and Ted Rheingold’s VC Gloom Means Entrepreneur and Angel Boon.  And you are carefully monitoring Fred Wilson’s blog to get a good synthesis of what he and others are thinking.

It’s Monday morning of another week.  Central banks all over the world are coordinating their activities to try to make things "get better."  Morgan Stanley got their deal done with Mitsubishi so it doesn’t look like they are going to go bankrupt, at least not this month.  The Dow is up almost 500 points so far today.  Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize for Economics.  And you realized that slide 53 is by far the most valuable one in the Sequoia deck.

But what the fuck should you do now?

Having lived through an aggressive downturn when the Internet bubble burst, I’m going to spend the next "chunk of blog posts" trying to give you – the entrepreneur, CEO, or executive of a startup – some practical suggestions about how to implement some of the advice (much of it conflicting) that you are getting from all of the experts out there. 

If you’ve been a long time reader of this blog, you know that I don’t care much about the macro stuff, nor do I believe anyone can accurately predict anything.  All I think you can do is (a) deal with your current reality while (b) envisioning what you think you want your future reality to be while (c) recognizing that your view of future reality will change on a regular basis. 

Hopefully I’ll be able to give you some useful tools and suggestions that have worked for me in the past that you can actually implement.  My first suggestion – take a deep breath and don’t panic.  More later.

And now for something completely different.  No – this isn’t going to be yet another blog post on how you, the entrepreneur, should react to the credit crisis.  That’s later today.  Instead, this is my extreme fanboy blog post for my friends at Harmonix and their amazing new version of Rock Band (very creatively named Rock Band 2).

In addition to being a magnificent video game (and a great example of what we are looking for in our HCI theme), the Harmonix story is a fabulous entrepreneurial tale.  Don Steinberg wrote a long article titled Just Play that’s in this month’s Inc. Magazine.  Yours truly makes a very small appearance in the story which is a testament to both the brilliance of Alex Rigopolus and Eran Egozy as well as their incredible perseverance (the story, not my appearance in it.)  Forget about "macro issues" – these guys show what it’s like to spend a decade where they are weeks (and days) away from going out of business before waking up one day to a blockbuster success.

Now on to the game.  I’ve had the original Xbox 360 Rock Band Special Edition since the day it shipped and have logged plenty of hours on it.  I got Rock Band 2 when it first shipped, but this is the first weekend I’ve been at my Keystone house since it showed up.  We had a full house (six adults) so all we needed was some easily procured food and alcohol to disappear into a Rock Band induced departure from reality.

Five of us had played (a lot of) Rock Band.  We all love the game, but had the same complaint – the UI for creating and managing a band was difficult.  Rock Band 2 fixed this problem – suddenly our band (the name is not work safe – please feel free to guess in the comments) was optimally set up (and modestly dressed – we all looked way hotter in Rock Band than in real life.)  Three hours of touring in Boston, New York, Montreal, and Chicago ensued.

The next morning – when I was alone downstairs – I figured out how to export all the Rock Band songs to Rock Band 2.  I also finally got around to setting up Xbox Live and bought another $200 worth of Rock Band songs (Rush, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Boston anyone?)  Our jam session continued with vigor on Saturday afternoon and into the late evening.

My partner Jason Mendelson – who is a drummer in real life – amazed us all on hard and expert level (where he managed to survive Boston’s Foreplay.)  To reward him, I just bought the Xbox 360 Drum Rocker Premium Drum Set.  I decided I was a bass guitar player and managed to graduate from medium to hard.  Another weekend and I might even be able to play expert on a song here and there.

Alex, Eran, and everyone at Harmonix – you guys are amazing.

Fred has a fantastic blog up titled Capital Efficiency Finds It’s Moment.  It – combined with his posts My Thoughts On "Startup Depression" – are full of suggestions that entrepreneurs should be thinking about and taking action on right now.  They are both completely consistent with my post Ok Entrepreneurs, Time to Step Up.

I’m not into Gloom and Doom.  I love the Warren Buffett quote that goes something like "We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful."  Part of the brilliance of this is to be harshly rational and evaluate the current situation through a realistic lens at all times.

Fred’s post help us focus on this.  He’s not shouting out gloom and doom.  Rather, he’s suggesting that the thing VCs and entrepreneurs have been talking about since the dawn of our good friend Web 2.0 – namely capital efficiency – should now be front and center in every startup company.  That doesn’t mean you should freak out, stop doing anything, and go hide under your desk.  Rather, it means that you should sit down with your management team, look carefully at your business, and decide if you are running at your optimal level and spending / investing every nickel wisely.

This is good advice in any market context.  Sometimes it takes the rough and tumble "market downtown" and a rapid approach of a "highly uncertain future" to bring this into focus and make it a priority – for all of us.

If you are interested in Social Computing in the Enterprise, NewsGator has just put up a Social Computing Best Practices & Resources on their web site.  In addition to a bunch of NewsGator generated content, it has useful links to some of the key blogs on Social Computing in the Enterprise as well as the analysts who cover this area.

NewsGator and Burton Group are also doing a webinar series on IT Best Practices for Enterprise Social Networking – check it out if you are into this stuff.