Brad Feld

Month: November 2008

Mailing List Spam

Nov 06, 2008

The amount of mailing list spam I’ve been getting has been steadily increasing with a huge jump in the last few months.  I was perplexed by it – this isn’t real spam (they are all opt-in mailing lists – many of which I recognize the associated organization.)  However, I hadn’t opted-in to any of the lists!

Some were political lists, some were technology lists, and some were random things.  As the election got closer, the political ones increased.  Today, as I was hitting delete over and over again I realized that I must have been on a seed list that got passed around between organizations.  This is a pretty typical spam thing and gets 99.999% blocked by Postini (my anti-spam system), but until recently I hadn’t connected the dots on it from legitimate opt-in emails since I actually want to get the emails I’ve opted in to.

Specifically, any mailer who understands CAN-SPAM and cares about reputation won’t share their lists this way.  At the minimum, I’d get an opt-in request from the new list which – while not great – is at least tolerable.  This phenomenon isn’t limited to the political lists – I’ve been noticing it more broadly across all the tech email lists.

In addition, it appears that I’m getting added to email lists whenever I give someone my business card.  I find this particularly annoying for all the non-profit organizations that I’m involved with.  My reaction to getting email spam from them is negative, which I presume is the exact opposite of how they want me to react.  While this practice doesn’t actually violate CAN-SPAM, it’s definitely in the category of "bad email practices" in my book. 

We’ve been involved in this arena as investors for a long time with both Postini (on the email security side – now part of Google) and Return Path (on the email deliverability side).  I’m really proud of each of these companies – they’ve both created real businesses helping eliminate bad email and insure that good email gets through to the inbox. 

Fred Wilson just wrote a long post on why his firm – Union Square Ventures – recently invested in Return Path.  After thinking about my mailing list spam issue, I think we are going to have another major iteration of spam dynamics that we’ll have to address and Return Path continues to be extremely well positioned to do it.

BTW – do you want to Simplify The Season with Dell Small Business?  Unsubscribe.  Delete.

Fred Wilson has the best post I’ve read so far from the 700 of so feeds I follow on how he feels about the election.  It’s titled Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States.  Fred – like me – decided a while ago to believe in Barack Obama and I’m sure he’s as happy as I am to see him elected president of the United States.

Fred states clearly the six things he thinks we’ll get from an Obama administration. 

  1. A world class management team
  2. Honesty
  3. A steady hand
  4. Diplomacy
  5. Fairness
  6. Leadership

I won’t repeat the details of each here – go read Fred’s post.  But – I’ll add one thing.  If you are an entrepreneur, an executive in a company, or in any leadership position at any level, these same six principles apply to you.  As Fred so clearly stated, "Like everyone else, I am dying for a leader we can believe in and get in line behind and follow."  Reflect on that statement as you go about your day.

Today Gnip announced they have raised a $3.5m round that follows their seed financing .  We invested along with our friends at First Round Capital and SoftTech VC.

Gnip has made a ton of progress since we initially funded it at the beginning of the year.  I wrote about the initial financing when Gnip launched in July in my post Gnip is Ping Spelled BackwardsSince they launched, the founders (Eric Marcoullier and Jud Valeski) have build a great technical and product oriented team, launched v2.0 of Gnip, have continued to make great progress on fleshing out the initial idea into a business, and have made some important decisions about their near term product roadmap.

Gnip is part of our Glue investment theme and is one of my favorite places to invest – in the "software infrastructure layer" of the Internet.  Other companies that we’ve invested before in this area include FeedBurner and Postini.  Here’s hoping that Gnip can walk in their footsteps.

David Cohen has a detailed post up describing the types of companies that should apply to be presenters at Venture Capital In The Rockies Winter 2009.  VCIR is now in its 26th year and is the premier conference for startups in the Rocky Mountain region.  If you think you fit the bill, drop an executive summary to

I had dinner tonight at the Defrag pre-conference "Future of Email" gathering.  It was a great crowd that included a bunch of smart people working on interesting email / communication / collaboration stuff.

Around dessert, I got into a deeper conversation about features.  We were talking about one of the greatest challenges of any software company – how to decide what features to leave out of the next release of your product.  We immediately went deeper than the typical "do what your users say they want" paradigm as anyone that has sold software knows that there is a huge difference between "what your users say they want" and "what your users will pay you for".  This is especially challenging if you have a free, or freemium, model.

We concluded that there are two dimensions.  The first axis has appearance at one end and substance at the other.  The other axis has "what your users say they want" at one end and "what your users will pay you for" at the other.  Using this two by two matrix can help you prioritize features more clearly, while recognizing that you often can’t really determine what users will pay you for in advance.

As I reflect on this, it occurs to me that certain types of users are more interested in appearance while others are more interested in substance.  This will influence where your priorities will go as you have to understand what actually drives your users’ adoption behavior in the first place.

Ok – this now feels likes it trending toward being too theoretical all of a sudden, but the challenge of priorities is increasing in importance as companies operate in a more cash constrained world.

To celebrate today’s New York Marathon, I went for a hard and fast run in the mountains near my house.  There’s nothing quite like grinding your way up a hill for three miles and then turning around and running down it as fast as you can.  As I reflected on my run, I am kind of amazed at the range of thoughts that went through my head over the course of an hour.

Since I finished my run, I’ve been sitting on my couch, catching up on email and blogs, and getting ready to lose myself in Defrag for the next two days.  Following are some of the great things I came across.

  • Fire Congress: I was with Art Marks from Valhalla at a super top secret meeting on Monday night and all day Tuesday.  We were in a corner talking about the systemic failure of Congress and he suggested a bold new approach that starts with firing the entire Congress and starting over.  I told him he should blog the idea – and he did.
  • The Systemic Anomaly: Speaking of Systemic Anomalies, Eric Norlin takes a break from Defrag to watch The Matrix Reloaded and has an epiphany.  If you recall from the movie, "the systemic anomaly’s job, then, is to essentially “reboot” the whole system by choosing 23 humans to live and start over."  Eric explains how it applies to capitalism and the free markets.
  • How to be an Effective Contrarian: Fred Wilson explains that you should "Listen to everyone. Read everything you can. And then come to your own conclusions".  Yes!

I’m hopeful that on Wednesday everyone in the United States wakes up, eats a big breakfast, and gets on with life.