Brad Feld

Month: December 2008

As 2008 winds down, Amy and I are having a traditional New Year’s Eve filled with debauchery.  She’s eating a bowl of tomato soup with cheddar cheese and crackers in it; I filled up on appetizers at our friends’ house down the block where we hung out until the late hour of 8pm so we could make it home in time for bed by 10:05pm (yes – we consider that midnight here in Colorado.)

Earlier today I had a fantastic last run of the year.  I did one of my traditional “5-ish” mile runs in Keystone, hammered it the whole way, and set a PR by about four minutes.  The high altitude and hill training of the past few weeks are definitely having a positive impact.  Since I nailed the last run of the year, I thought I’d do a twist on the traditional “year by the numbers” post (especially since no one really wants to talk about financial numbers right now) and do my running year by the numbers.

I ran 1041.83 miles in 2009.  I managed to do this over 205.23 hours.  Included in this were five marathons – the slowest in 5:47 in February in Sedona and the fastest in 4:39 in Huntsville in December.  I’m up to 14 marathons (and states) on my quest to run a marathon in every state in the US by the time I’m 50.  And – as everyone who reads this blog knows, my jihad on my weight continues.  Fortunately I’m down three pounds for the year – from 211.5 at the beginning of the year to 208.5 right now.

Goals for 2009: Six more marathons, at least one sub 4 hours, and weight below 190.

Plus I’m now a level 12 on Mafia Wars.

Happy new year everyone.  I hope you’ve enjoyed Feld Thoughts in 2008.  See you in 2009.

In response to my post The Dynamics of Full Disclosure, Jeffrey Kalmikoff – one of the co-founders of Skinnycorp (the dudes who do Threadless) wrote an add-on titled On trust, transparency and disclosureJeffrey came up to Keystone and spent Jewish Christmas with me and Micah Baldwin – we talked about a bunch of fun stuff, ate chinese food, and played a lot of Rock Band.  Good stuff Jeffrey.

Erin Griffith at PEHub has a dynamite link to a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon from 15 years ago that is a perfect description what’s going on today in the “subsidy economy.”   I love Calvin and Hobbes – it’s a close second behind Bloom County for me.

Yummy – that’s a fun tongue twister.  It doesn’t quite mean “synchronizing data”, but it’s in the same family.  I don’t have a better phrase yet for “renormalizing denormalized data”, but there is probably a construct for it that someone reading this blog can tell me (or invent – here’s your choice to replace the TLA RDD with something else.)

Two companies – Gnip and Brightkite – that I’m involved with (there – full disclosure!) made announcements today about data integrations.

  • Gnip is now supporting the Seesmic firehouse of specific user activities.  Loic at Seesmic (a company I’m not involved with, but I’m a big fan of Loic’s ever since he took me and Amy out for an amazing dinner one night in Paris) has a good post up about what Seesmic is trying to accomplish by working with Gnip (and others).
  • Brightkite just released Facebook integration.  While I wasn’t looking, they also integrated with Flickr (which I just enabled.)

Here’s a bizarre use case.

  1. I register my location with Brightkite, take a picture, and write a note.
  2. Brightkite saves this data to Brightkite and these starts putting this data out to services I’ve integrated with.
    1. Service 1: Twitter
    2. Service 2: Flickr
    3. Service 3: Facebook
  3. I’m running a Twitter / Facebook status synchronizer.  So – when I twitter something it shows up on Facebook.  When I put a status on Facebook, it shows up on Twitter.

Theoretically, Brightkite, Twitter, and Facebook should know enough about each other not to repost the same thing in cases 2.1, 2.3, and 3 (recursive).  But I don’t think it’s going to do the right thing.  Let’s try and see how many tweets we get!  I’m guessing three.

Nope – it only showed up once.  I’m guess this is either because (a) Brightkite takes care of the issue (smart people at Brightkite), (b) something isn’t set up correctly (just tried twice with two different configurations), or (c) something unknown and mysterious is going on somewhere.

I’m going to bet on (a).  However, not everyone is going to be a tuned in to the issue as the guys at Brightkite and as this dynamic proliferates, the RDD problem will get worse.  Remember that this is bad:

10 Print “Hello”
20 Goto 10

I can’t wait until integration between three services get stuck in an infinite loop, bring down the entire Internet, and suck us all into a black hole.

A meme that regularly goes around the blogosphere is “full disclosure.”  When someone blogs about something they have a financial interest in (e.g. an equity interest in a company) or something they benefit from financially (e.g. affiliate fees), should they include a “formal disclosure.”

I received the following email today:

“I appreciate all your book recommendations over the last several posts.  It’s a great service.  However, with full disclosure being the norm these days, you might want to mention that you benefit from book sales via your Amazon affiliate status.  Pardon me if you have previously done this.”

So – for full disclosure, I benefit from book sales via my Amazon affiliate status.  I don’t pay close attention to how much I get from this as I’m much more interested in the data underlying which books you dear reader actually buy and read as one of the features of the affiliate program is all the data I get from it.

My purpose of having an Amazon affiliate code is three fold:

  1. I want to understand how the Amazon affiliate program works (and evolves).  This helps me with all of my investing activity.
  2. I am obsessed with the underlying data.  All of the various affiliate / advertising programs I have on this blog provide me with a variety of data.  I learn from this and can then help the companies I’m an investor in understand what appeals and doesn’t appeal to a publisher, using me as an example.
  3. I make enough money to get a discount from all of the books I buy at Amazon each year.

Summary: #1 and #2 help me as an investor.  #3 generates a modest amount of money to me.

Let’s focus on #3 for a minute since this I think this is the core of the “full disclosure” email I received.  In my case, I buy over 250 books / year at Amazon (I don’t know the exact number, but I’m estimating five a week which, based on what is on my Kindle along with the infinite pile of unread books, is low.)  Since I’m buying a lot more on my Kindle these days, let’s use the average Kindle price of $10 which is also going to be low given the number of hardcover books in the infinite pile.  That’s $2,500 per year of books.  I expect that number is off by at least 100% – so I’m spending somewhere between $2,500 and $5,000 per year on books at Amazon.

I just ran my earnings report from Amazon for the past 12 months.  Via my affiliate code, I’ve sold a net of 666 items (eek – subtle message in that – it’s actually 675 with returns of 7 and refunds of 2.)  I’ve generated $16,247.89 for Amazon and received $1,072.89 in referral fees.

So – even if you take my $2,500 number, by buying books via my blog you’ve effectively helped me get a 40% discount from Amazon (20% if you take the $5,000 number, which I think is more realistic given my book buying habit.)

In either case, the financial beneficiary here is Amazon, not me, although I guess you could argue that I’m ahead by whatever my effective discount is.  If my “book recommendations is a great service”, presumably this won’t really bother anyone (it might not have regardless). However, if every post I put up had an italicized “summary” of this post (or a link to it), that would probably get annoying over time! 

I’m going to think more about what full disclosure actually means in the context of the evolving shift of purchasing, advertising, and content online.  In the offline world, the construct of a reseller is well established (e.g. no one ever requires full disclosure from a bookstore when they sell – or promote – a book as it is well understand that they make a margin on every sale.)  I get that there are different issues in the online world, especially around content, but as the creative destruction of the Internet starts to really take a toll on retail (and resellers), there may be new issues around the construct of full disclosure.

Finally, thanks to the blog reader who pointed this out to me.  I hope this doesn’t come across as a gigantic rationalization on my part, or a defensive argument.  Instead, my goal was to think through this out loud, in public, and in the spirit of full disclosure.  If anyone out there has anything to add, or core principles that can help me define a forward looking view on this (e.g. what this should look like from 2010 forward), please weigh in with a comment.

I’m still roughly on my “book a day diet” through the end of the year.  The last few were really good, with one exception.  Here are my quick reviews in case you are looking for something to read soon.

Things I’ve Learned from Women Who’ve Dumped Me: This was hilarious.  I’ve only been dumped a few times (since I’ve only had a few girlfriends) so I mostly got to live vicariously through the people telling these stories.  There are some good life lessons, some excellent rants, some brilliant writing, and some really nasty breakups.  I’m glad I hadn’t read this book when I was in junior high school or else I probably would have become a monk.

Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement: Bill Duggan was the keynote speaker at Defrag this year and was dynamite.  Everyone got a copy of his book Strategic Intuition; I finally got around to reading it.  The book was a good as his presentation as is one of the best “medium format” business books that I’ve read in the last few years.  Duggan’s notion of Strategic Intuition is a fresh view on how strategy works for anyone that’s been living in the Porter five forces and value chain world for the past 20 years.

Imagining MIT: Designing a Campus for the Twenty-First Century: Whenever I think of the architecture of MIT, the things that come to mind are the Infinite Corridor, The Great Dome, The Green Building, Kresge, and Building 20.  William Mitchell, who was the Dean of Architecture and the special adviser to MIT’s President Chuck Vest during the great MIT building boom of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, has written (and illustrated) a beautiful book describing the history of MIT’s architecture going back to the inception of the Institute.  He then goes deep in his descriptions of the creation and the architecture of five new buildings: Zesiger Sport and Fitness Center (by Kevin Roche), Simmons Hall (by Steve Holl), Stata Center (by Frank Gehry), Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex (by Charles Correa), and the new Media Laboratory (Fumihiko Maki).

Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska: My wife Amy is from Alaska and we spend a lot of time there.  I’ve only been north of the Arctic Circle once for a disastrous canoe trip on the John River in the Brooks Range, but I’m been north of Fairbanks a couple of times and get a sense of both the massive scale and the emptiness of Northern Alaska.  Seth Kanter has written and illustrated one of my favorite books of 2008 about his life growing up and living as an adult in the far northern reaches of Alaska.  All I can say is “wow.”  If you think you know wilderness living, buy this book.

The World Without Us: I had forgotten how this book ended up in my infinite pile of books to read until Amy reminded me that she had bought it, along with several others, for one of our Life Dinner dates earlier this year.  It has an interesting premise; what would happen to “the world” if all humans vanished overnight.  I got about half way through it and got bored with the longwinded explanations.  Another book that if was was half as long would be twice as good.

I’m definitely starting to feel the need for some mental floss between now and the end of the year.

Yup – that’s a Gandhi quote that came from Om Malik’s great post What I Learned This YearI encourage you to read it slowly and ponder it.  With it, I begin my suggested Daily Reading for you, as Om has kicked it off with a “what”.

Holiday’s and Communication: Jud Valeski, Gnip’s CTO, gives us a framework for “why” people twitter and blog.

What does the BoulderTwits graph mean: Pete Warden helps with a “who” as he does a neat visualization on Boulder Twitters based on data he’s putting together.  Boulder is aggressively pulling Pete toward it – I predict he’ll be here full time soon.

Making an IRS Section 83B election: If you are an entrepreneur, Dave Naffzinger explains the importance and process of filing an 83b election.  I was involved in an acquisition in 2008 where the founders did not file their 83b’s (even though the lawyers provided them to file – they just blew it off) and I expect they will never start anything else again, including a lemonade stand, without filing an 83b.

Florida, the Next Hotbed of Venture Capital: Ah those professional writers at the WSJ have such clever titles.  This is an article about the Florida Opportunity Fund, a $29.5m “fund of funds” that will invest in VC funds that commit to investing in Florado-based business.  I’ve learned a lot of this through my relationship with the Utah Fund of Funds (one of Foundry’s LPs) which has done the state-based fund of funds correctly (compared to a lot of other states which has done this incorrectly.)  I’ve been working, as part of my role as co-chairman on the Colorado Governor’s Innovation Council on putting together a plan for a Colorado Fund of Funds (similar to the Utah one).  It’ll be interesting to see if they get it right in Florida.

The Editor Dilemma: Fred Wilson has a good post up explaining two things.  First, he talks about why he doesn’t spend time working on spellin, grammer, and verbige on his blog.  He then goes on to describe a product (or maybe just a feature (limited wiki editing on blog posts) that he’d like to see.  In doing this, he explains (by demonstrating) how he uses his blog as flypaper to attract interesting entrepreneurs and discuss new ideas.  Gracefully done Fred.  I’ll take that feature to also.

Kevin Kelleher’s article on GigaOm this morning titled 2009: Year of the Hacker made me think back to the rise of open source after the Internet crash of 2001.  In the aftermath of the crash, many experienced software developers were out of work for a period of time ranging from weeks to years.  Some of them threw themselves into open source projects and, in some cases, created their next job with the expertise they developed around a particular open source project.

We are still in a tense and ambiguous part of the current downturn where, while many developers are getting laid off, some of them are immediately being picked back up by other companies that are in desperate need for them.  However, many other developers are not immediately finding work.  If the downturn gets worse, the number of out of work developers increases.

If they take a lesson from the 2001 – 2003 time frame, some subset of them will choose to get deeply in an open source related project.  Given the range of established open source projects, the opportunity to do this today is much more extensive than it was seven years ago.  In addition, most software companies – especially Internet-related ones – now have robust API’s and/or open source libraries that they actively encourage third parties to work with for free. The SaaS-based infrastructure that exists along with maturing source code repositories add to the fun.  The ability to hack something interesting together based on an established company’s infrastructure is omnipresent and is one of the best ways to “apply for a job” at an interesting company.

We are thinking hard about how to do this correctly at a number of our new investments, including companies like Oblong, Gnip, and a new cloud-computing related startup we are funding in January.  Of course, many of our older investments such as NewsGator and Rally Software already have extensive API libraries and actively encourage developers to work with them.  And of course, there are gold standards of open source projects like my friends at WordPress and masters of the API like Twitter.

If you are a developer and want help engaging with any of these folks, or have ideas about how this could work better, feel free to drop me an email.

Fred Wilson has a magnificent post up this morning from Berlin titled Bits Of Destruction.  In it, he nails a critical point about innovation.

“This downturn will be marked in history as the time where many of the business models built in the industrial era finally collapsed as a result of being undermined by the information age. Its creative destruction at work. It’s painful and many jobs will be lost permanently. But let’s also remember that its inevitable and we can’t fight it. Technology and information forces are unstoppable and they will reshape the world as we know it regardless of whether or not we want them to.”

Go read the whole article – he gives several real examples (publishing, banking, retailing, and auto).  Then come back here to finish up and hear my punch line.

I’ve been living and working in and around innovation and entrepreneurship my entire adult life, starting with my first company and the research I did as a masters and Ph.D. student at MIT Sloan School under Eric von Hippel.  My life experiences, along with all the history I’ve studied, come back to the same notion.

Innovation is a continual process of creative destruction of the norm.

People talk about economic cycles and waves of innovation.  These are intersecting forces that drive each other.  But innovation is not just limited to business, technology, and science – it impacts all of our existence on this planet.  Think about innovation in religion, philosophy, art, architecture, social structures, forms of government, urban planning, economic theory, expression of human sexuality – whatever you want.

In the late 1990’s, there were a bunch of people, myself (and Fred) included, who believed that the Internet would have a dramatic impact on the way our world works and we live our lives.  After the Internet bubble burst in 2001, there were a lot of people in “the established business world” who said something akin to “see – that was just a fad.”  Anyone who has clung to the idea that the Internet was a fad is in a world of hurt right now, as the premise, functions, and implications of the Internet revolution of the late 1990’s becomes deeply instantiated across the global economy. 

The next 20 years are going to be awesome.  We inevitably will have lots of challenges and pain along the way as the waves of creative destruction pummel existing norms.  But that’s just the way innovation works – and has always worked.