Brad Feld

Month: January 2009

I view it as a good thing when people start writing about solutions rather than problems.  Here are several good ones for you today.

Remain Aggressive: Will Herman is a long time friend (we’ve known each other since 1984), a fantastic CEO, and a dynamite board member.  He’s also a huge Patriots fan so his Belichick quote: “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse” is expected.  He also reminds us of the old Warren Buffet standard: “Be fearful when others are greedy.  Be greedy when others are fearful.”  If you are a CEO, read carefully.

Focusing the Organization: I got to know Bill Flagg pretty well through the sale of RegOnline to Active.  I wish I’d gotten to know him earlier – he’s got a great brain for business.  He also makes a very strong case for “short, sweet, focused, and achievable” quarterly goals.

What is school for? I’m a daily reader of Seth Godin’s blog and a huge Seth fan, even since I met him at Yoyodyne in 1996.  #15 is especially charming (“defang the proletariat”) as is #27 (“make sure the sports teams have enough players”).  It’s vintage Seth in the path in which it takes your brain.

And – to end with some humor, here’s mega-endurance-man Dean Karnazes with When All Else Fails…

I weigh 209.4 this morning.  That’s down from 220 when I Declared A Jihad on My Weight on 10/27/08 although it doesn’t look like I’ll make my Anti-Charity goal of 200 by 1/31/09 (more on that in a post on 2/1/09).

I was thinking about my weight this morning as I entered it into the online system at GoWear.  I thought about it again when I entered it into Gyminee.  And then into Daytum. I’m going for a run in a little while so I’ll enter it again into TrainingPeaks

Here’s what I’m doing:

  1. Go to the appropriate web site.
  2. Choose the appropriate place to enter the data.
  3. Type 209.4 and press return.

Four times.  Every day.  Pretty ridiculous.  If you reduce the data to its core elements, they are:

  1. Web site id [GoWear, Gyminee, Daytum, TrainingPeaks]
  2. User Id (almost always bfeld)
  3. Timestamp (or two fields – date, time) – automatically generated by my computer
  4. Weight

The only actual piece of data that I need to measure is weight.  I measure this by standing on a scale each morning.  The scale is a fancy one – it cost about $100, looks pretty, and has a bunch of extra things I don’t look at such as BMI.  I have an identical scale in my house in Keystone (although the battery is dead and needs to be replaced.)

Some day, in the future, I’ll be able to step on the scale.  And that will be it.  My weight will automatically go into whatever online systems I want it to.  I won’t have to do anything else. 

Of course, one of the assumptions is that my scale(s) are “network compatible”.  While you may joke that this is the age old “connect my refrigerator to the Internet problem” (and it is), I think it’s finally time for this to happen.  As broadband and wifi become increasing ubiquitous and inexpensive, there is no reason that any electronic devices shouldn’t be IP connected, in the same way that microprocessors are now everywhere and pretty much everything has a clock in it (even if some of them still blink 12:00.)

So, accept this assumption.  Then, I’m really only taking about a “Brad-centric” data payload.  While I’ll have a lot more data than simply weight that I might want in my payload, let’s start with the simple case (weight).  Right now, we are living in a system-centric world where data is linked first to a system and then a user.  Specifically, you have to operate in the context of the system to create data for a user.

Why not flip this?  Make things user-centric.  I enter my data (or a machine / device collects my data.)  I can configure my data inputs to feed data into “my data store” (which should live on the web / in the cloud).  Then, systems can grab data from my data store automatically.  All I have to do is “wire them up” which is a UI problem that – if someone is forward thinking enough – could also be solved with a single horizontal system that everyone adopts.

Right now there is a huge amount of activity around the inverse of this problem – taking widely diffuse data and re-aggregating it around a single user id.  This deals with today’s current reality of how data is generated (system-centric) but doesn’t feel sustainable to me as user-generated data continues to proliferate geometrically.

Enough.  As I said in my tweet earlier today, “thinking about data.  thinking about running.  thinking about thinking.”  Time to go run and generate some more data.

I received the following email earlier this week from an exec at a company that I am on the board of.  He sent it out to his entire company.  I thought it clearly described the different between panic and urgency and explains why – in a business context – panic is useless, but urgency is critical.  I don’t think I could have said this better if I had tried.

In recent weeks, many of my business contacts have discussed the economy and the pressure we are all feeling on a daily basis. They all have a sense of pressure. I am sure many of you can relate. If you are not feeling the pressure these days, then you may want to step outside or turn on the TV, or read a newspaper.

It has brought up a topic to me that has always been a challenge for me. The difference between panic and urgency. Panic is a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior, and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons. We have all seen what panic looks like. Panic has no sense of purpose. Panic makes us run away from the problem. Panic gives a sense of hopelessness. Panic says there is no way out. For example, I am claustrophobic. When I feel trapped, I panic.

On the other hand a sense of urgency is different. John Kotter, Harvard professor, stated that true urgency may sometimes involve moving fast. But the most important aspects of true urgency are relentlessness, steadiness and the purposeful pursuit of a goal while “continuously purging irrelevant activities to provide time for the important and to prevent burn-out.” Go back and read that again and let it sink in.

Kotter gives a few suggestions to organizations and leaders:

  1. Create a sense of urgency: he believes that organizations need a sense of urgency if they are going to change and be successful. I believe we need a culture of urgency. NOT PANIC. But urgency. We need a relentless, steady, purposeful culture that is pursuing our goals, purging irrelevant activities, and spending time on the important things.
  2. Team Members must behave with urgency every day. Anxiety, panic, or anger are bad responses – team members should transmit their urgency in meetings, emails and in everything else they do each day
  3. Look for the opportunities that are obscured by emerging crises. Fear can paralyze a business and prevent us from taking necessary action. A sense of urgency can carry us successfully through to success.
  4. Deal with the NoNos – those “relentless urgency-killers” who would rather that their complacent existence was left undisturbed. Basically, Kotter is saying that complacency is a feeling that a person has about his or her own behavior, about what he or she needs to do or not do. “This point is also extremely important, because it is possible to see problems and yet be astonishingly complacent because you do not feel that the problems require changes in your own actions. So, we become complacent and lose the sense of urgency.”

Panic makes things worse. Urgency should make things better. I hope you can see that our leadership team is communicating a sense of urgency. Let me be clear, we are not in panic mode. I refuse to panic at work or at home. I hope you see us focused on pursuing our goals. I hope you see us purging irrelevant activities which include expenses, etc. I hope you see our relentlessness and steadiness. I hope you see our sense of determination to achieve our goals.

My challenge to each of you is that you wake up each day and have a sense of urgency both at work and in your personal life. I challenge you to evaluate your surroundings and look for opportunities to drive revenue and to make a difference in your clients. Look for ways to be productive for yourself and for our company.  One key ingredient I know without a doubt you all have is talent unlike some of the singers in the last few weeks on American Idol. I know each of you have the talent for this business. So…

Don’t panic…but be urgent!

Two weeks ago, one of the companies I’m on the board of – Rally Software – announced that they have acquired a company called 6th Sense Analytics.

I’ve been involved in Rally since the very beginning and it has been incredibly rewarding to see them grow from an idea that the founder/CTO Ryan Martens had to the market leader in Agile application lifecycle management.  Rally updates quarterly their “by the numbers page” which gives a nice overview of the scale of Rally.

In Q4 of 2008 we started getting some inbound calls from other software companies that were in related markets to Rally.  These calls were from companies that had developed significant software assets, but hadn’t really had much market success.  In several cases they were companies that had worked with Rally; in other cases they were from folks that thought they might be complimentary to Rally.

In response, Rally’s leadership team identified a number of areas on their roadmap that they could accelerate (or bring forward) by acquiring a small company.  They’ve used this to quickly decide whether or not it is worth spending time with the inbound inquiries they were receiving.

One of them – 6th Sense – fit great.  Rally has a significant amount activity on their product roadmap in 2009 around development metrics and analytics.  Rally and 6th Sense engaged in a serious discussion and within 45 days had closed an acquisition.  Internally, Rally went through a detailed build vs. buy analysis; adding the 6th Sense folks to the overall team and incorporating their software into the mix was a no-brainer decision for us.

I’m seeing this pattern with a number of the established companies I’m an investor in.  Having gone through this cycle several times and had success and failure with acquisition driven strategies, I’ve got a clear view on when and how it can work successfully.  I’m not interested in garbage truck mergers (two crappy companies that get jammed together to hope something good comes out of it) – all of my energy is focused on having a market leader pick up a complementary technology or market “asset” that helps accelerate the product or market roadmap.

Look for a lot more of this in 2009.

I’ve always enjoyed Greg Galant’s interviews on Venture Voice.  He interviewed me early on (Show #10) and the list of folks he has interviewed is dynamite.

Greg just interviewed David Cohen on TechStars.  The show notes give you a great outline of the interview content where David answers a lot of questions about TechStars, why it exists, how it works, and why you should care.

Don’t forget – TechStars applications are now open. 

Yet again an article in the New York Times bemoaning the demise of venture capital – this one is titled Maybe We Should Call Them Venture Pessimists.Optimism is in short supply”, “the quarterly Silicon Valley Venture Capital Confidence Index has reached its fifth consecutive quarterly low”, “there is understandable concern over the pressures on the VC business model”, and “the venture community should expect substantial structural changes to occur” are some of the snippets.

Whatever.  I’m not going to put any energy into debating the structural dynamics of the VC industry.  I’ll leave that to other people as that’s not my thing. 

Several years ago I decided to spend the rest of my professional life (I’m 43 – so let’s say 20 years) dedicated to advancing innovation in the domain of software / Internet.  I do that by being a VC – investing early in new technologies and markets that have long and broad arcs and creating market leading companies that transform the way we use this stuff.  My “job” – in its most crass form – is simple – take a box of money and turn it into a much bigger box of money.  The essence of my job is much more complex, extraordinarily challenging, and extremely satisfying.

The basic fuel for all of this is entrepreneurs.  Period.  VCs are an small piece of the overall ecosystem.  A highly visible piece, but just a piece.

So the contrarian in me is delighted by the spreading pessimism.  Fewer VCs?  Fine – that just means that the people that stay with the business believe in it, are good at it (since if they aren’t they won’t be able to raise the capital they need to participate), and all the people that become VCs to simply “manage assets and make money” will disappear over time.  Or evolve into something else that maybe someday isn’t called a VC anymore.

I think the next 20 years of innovation around software and the Internet will make the last 20 years look like child’s play.  And while the vector of negativity and pessimism continues to follow a steep upward slope, it’ll eventually crest.  In the mean time I don’t see an endpoint to the human animal’s desire to innovate.

I wake up each day delighted to be alive.  Delighted to be involved in creating new things.  Thankful that I’m an American and – in Warren Buffett’s words – drew a great ticket in the ovarian lottery.  And I’m optimistic.  Very optimistic.

Howard Lindzon produced 4 minutes of fucking poetry.  Episode #2 of the Fly.  I’m not even sure I can spell all of those words.  Hilarious.

Remember – turn off the TV – especially CNBC, MSNBC, and CNN.  They aren’t doing you, your brain, or your soul any good unless Paul Kedrosky is on and is ranting about something.  Paul – when are you going to start your own Youtube channel?

One of the really fun things about working with Eric Norlin, the creator of Defrag and Glue, is watching how he evolves the agenda from a conference from idea to reality.  It’s a very fluid process that Eric handles masterfully.

Eric’s post The Glue agenda starts to get sticky summarizes some of the latest highlights on the ever evolving agenda.   The headliner: Mitch Kapor is going to be giving the keynote on Wednesday, May 13th. 

While I’ve never worked with Mitch, he’s one of my heroes as the creator of several of the most amazing pieces of software products ever.  If you guessed Lotus 1-2-3, you are only partially correct, as the real mind-bender was Lotus Agenda.  I was an undergraduate at MIT between 1983 and 1987 in Lotus’ heyday as emerging company (IPO in 1984, 1000+ employees in 1985) and watched as Lotus buildings were erected along the Charles River.  I had a number of interesting meetings at Lotus for a variety of things between 1985 and 1993, including several visits with my Uncle Charlie during the Lotus OS/2 – pre-IBM days.  I also had a really groovy fight with the GC at Lotus at an MIT event during the Borland / Lotus look-and-feel lawsuit (which Borland thankfully won.)  I still refer to 55 Cambridge Parkway as “the Lotus building” even though I only go there to visit VCs these days when I’m in Cambridge.

Mitch joins other great speakers recently announced, including David Heinemeier Hansson (the creator of Ruby on Rails) and Kevin Matheny (the head of Best Buy’s Remix API initiative.)

Registration for Glue – which is happening in Denver on 5/12 and 5/13 – is open now.  It’s only $395.  Come to Denver and stretch your brain.

I’m been fighting through one of the worst colds I’ve ever had.  I started feeling crummy on Friday, spent the entire weekend in bed, suffered through work on Monday, and had the entire experience crest with the worst headache and one of the longest pain filed and sleepless night ever.  I finally am feeling better today, but man that was a nasty 27 headed viral monster.

I’ve never been a fan of handshakes.  While I get the formality of it, I hate germs and – in a parallel universe – would probably spend all my time with my extremities wrapped in saran wrap.  I’ve had a running joke of it with some friends, including Paul Kedrosky, who also thinks handshakes are stupid.

Today, Paul and I decided to start a movement – “No More Handshakes in ‘09"’.  Fist bumps, elbow bumps, and hugs are fine – just no handshakes.  Join us!