Brad Feld

Month: March 2009

Several months ago my friend Ben Casnocha sent me an article from titled How the city hurts your brain… And what you can do about itThe article starts out strong and continues all the way through.

“Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.”

Regardless of how calm and centered you are, the first quarter of 2009 was a stressful time for most people.  These stressors came from lots of different places, but were especially evident to me whenever I was in a major city or an airport where I’d always try to take a few minutes, sit quietly, and watch the look on people’s faces as they walked (or hustled, or ran) by.

The article isn’t anti-city – in fact is concludes with:

“Recent research by scientists at the Santa Fe Institute used a set of complex mathematical algorithms to demonstrate that the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory — the crowded streets, the crushing density of people — also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways. It is the "concentration of social interactions" that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists. The density of 18th-century London may have triggered outbreaks of disease, but it also led to intellectual breakthroughs, just as the density of Cambridge — one of the densest cities in America — contributes to its success as a creative center. One corollary of this research is that less dense urban areas, like Phoenix, may, over time, generate less innovation.

The key, then, is to find ways to mitigate the psychological damage of the metropolis while still preserving its unique benefits. Kuo, for instance, describes herself as "not a nature person," but has learned to seek out more natural settings: The woods have become a kind of medicine. As a result, she’s better able to cope with the stresses of city life, while still enjoying its many pleasures and benefits. Because there always comes a time, as Lou Reed once sang, when a person wants to say: ‘I’m sick of the trees/take me to the city.’”

This is seriously interesting stuff to me as I live my life in many different places including (a) a small city (Boulder), (b) the mountains (Eldorado Canyon and Keystone), (c) a tiny remote town (Homer, Alaska), (d) on the road in large cities (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles), and (e) on vacation in a variety of places large, small, central, and remote.  I never ever get tired of being in Eldorado Canyon, Keystone, Homer, or Boulder.  Nor do I ever get tired of the stimuli from New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.  I end up with short intense bursts (one to five days) in the big city followed by regular time away from it.  While I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the interplay between all of the different places I spend time in, there is no doubt in my mind that the time away from the big cities helps me stay fresh, mentally agile, and restored.

It’s starting to get light outside so it’s time for an hour run – all by myself – in the mountains.

From April 30 to May 2, the 10th annual Nantucket Conference is happening on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.  I haven’t been to a Nantucket Conference, but I’ve heard of it and have considered going in the past.  This year Scott Kirsner invited me to be on a panel and I happily accepted as I was already going to be in Boston for the TechStars Boston Mentor Dinner on April 30th before heading to Cincinnati to run the Flying Pig Marathon on May 3rd. 

I’m on a panel on Friday afternoon titled “How is the Venture World Changing” with Josh Kopelman (First Round Capital), Jo Tango (Kepha), and Paul Ciriello (Fairhaven).  Dan Primack, the creator of peHUB Wire will be moderating, so it’s guaranteed to be spicy.

The agenda and list of participants look great.  The conference is limited to around 150 people so rather than a 700 person noisefest it’ll be a neat opportunity to catch up with some long time east coast colleagues while meeting plenty of new smart people.

I’ve been told that there are only a dozen or so invitations left – if you are interested, feel free to request one.


Ever type that into a pop up box on your computer when installing software?  If not, you’ve never installed anything from Microsoft (or many other companies) – at least not legally. 

This morning I was copied on an email from my partner Ryan McIntyre to a company we are talking to about funding that said:

“I use Pro Tools and other pro audio software regularly and since the SW is quite expensive, the SW vendors go to great lengths to use copy-protection, and most audio plugins and applications (and there are dozens) have some sort of authorization code scheme, ranging from friendly to downright byzantine.  It drives me nuts, but my constant exposure to it means I’ve formed some opinions about what is “easy” when it comes to entering authorization codes.  The easiest plug-ins (authorization-wise) in the audio world use alphabetical codes broken up into strings of words, so instead of the longs strings of numbers, you get long strings of words, which are much easier for a human to enter without a mistake.  A couple code examples might be:


You get the idea.  I’m assuming third-part auth-gen packages must exist to generate codes like these that give you a big enough address space yet also make guessing authorizations relatively difficult.  And that you could relatively easily change your process at the manufacturer for associating MAC addresses with device IDs.”

I prefer auth-codes that are haikus.  I wonder if there’s a patent on this?

I’m psyched that my friends at Spark Capital have launched Start@Spark, their new seed program.  In their post Why are we doing this? they explain:

“So, this must be a terrible time to fund a start-up company. Correct? Au contraire. This may be the best time in the last 8 years to start a company. While capital is scarce, the tectonic plates continue to shift creating major rifts. The walls are coming down and the barriers to entering new markets are falling along-side.

We don’t expect the economic woes to evaporate soon; however, we are long term investors. We are looking forward to what will happen in 4 years rather than in the next 4 months. We see a clear opportunity to partner with talented entrepreneurs who possessing the vision and commitment that transcend current market conditions. We have prided ourselves on being aggressive and funding disruptive, early stage companies.”

The program provides seed stage investments in early stage Boston and New York based companies that fit Spark’s areas of interest.  They have a simple application process and – if they decide to fund you – provide a straightforward deal (convertible loan of up to $250,000 that converts into equity in the next round at a 20% discount; Spark has the right to invest up to 50% of the next round.) 

This is not new behavior for Spark – our co-investment with them in AdMeld was a seed stage investment (although we structured it as an equity financing.)  They are excellent early stage VC investors and it’s neat to see them formalize this type of program in Boston and New York.

Spark has also been super helpful in bringing TechStars to Boston.  The TechCrunch article Spark Capital Launches Seed Funding Program Start@Spark mentions this affiliation but concludes “… undoubtedly they’ll be competing for the same investment sooner rather than later.”  This is an incorrect conclusion.  While TechStars is looking for great pre-seed companies to help get to a stage where they are ready to raise a seed or first round financing, if Spark wanted to invest in one of them prior to them entering TechStars, we’d be all for it (and if that caused the company to decide not to participate in TechStars, that would be fine.)  And – optimally – one or more of the companies coming out of TechStars will be interesting to Spark – either for a full first round investment or a seed investment.

The notion that these efforts are fundamentally competitive perplexes me.  I think it’s awesome that the Boston region is getting more seed stage focus and energy for software, Internet, and media companies.  In my world view, the more options for entrepreneurs, the better.

I was in a board meeting yesterday with a company planning a major commercial release of their product “at the end of summer”.  We managed to turn this into 8/31/09 at 11:59:59pm pacific time (since I don’t believe you can release something unless there is a time/date stamp associated with it.)  As part of this discussion, we spent some time discussing the notion of a daily / weekly / monthly rhythm for both the CEO/CTO as well as the product team.

This morning, I read through an interview I recently did with Brian Roger (I’m the MyVenturePad Blogger of the Week.)  Why my mom assures me that she’s proud of me for accomplishing this status in life (i.e. “Blogger of the Week”), I was intrigued by the amount of “rhythm” Brian incorporated into his interview.  While some of the quotes make me sound like an overly rigid tool (e.g. “Each day he’s up at 5 a.m. – ‘regardless of the time zone I’m in’ – to begin ‘a two-hour information routine.’”), I’ve always felt that the notion of a strong rhythm was a critically important part to how I operate.

When I think of rhythms in my life, they break down into daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, and decadal.  Here are some examples of how I think about it.

Daily (M-F): Get up at 5am every day.  Spend the first two hours of the morning in front of my computer (a) consuming info and (b) catching up on any email.  Exercise (usually a run.)  From 9am on, follow my calendar until the day is over (which my assistant Kelly manages – it’s very dynamic – and I try to schedule every phone call and meeting.)  When I fly somewhere, I try to do it either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day and I try to sleep on the plane from take off to landing.

Weekly (S-Su): Sleep until I wake up.  Hang out with Amy. Go for a long run.  Catch up on email.  Stay off the phone.  Go to a movie.  Read a book.  Relax and rest.

Monthly: Life dinner with Amy (on the night of the first day of every month) – exchange gifts, review the previous month, and talk about goals for the next month.

Quarterly: One week vacation completely off the grid (no phone, no email) with Amy.  36 hour offsite with my Foundry partners (both backward and forward review as well as 2x / year facilitated performance reviews of each other).  Deep review of all financials (personal and for every company I’m involved in.)

Annually: Once a year three day weekend trip with my dad.  Once a year “Feld Men’s Trip” with my dad, his brother, my brother, and my two cousins. 

Decadal: Personal review of my life (usually happens over a few months.)  I’ve done this at age 30 and age 40 and expect to keep doing it.

Now, these are not complete (e.g. there are plenty of other specific things that happen in each rhythm interval), but they should give you a feel for what I mean.  While this won’t work for everyone, I find that it has a huge impact on me and helps me focus on what is important, gives me plenty of time to reflect and process what is going on, and allows me to have plenty of rest and recovery time.

Wilson Sonsini puts out a quarterly Entrepreneurs Report.  The Winter 2008 issues is titled Private Company Financing TrendsThey asked me if I’d contribute an article around the topic of hints for pitching VC’s so I wrote an extended version of Perfecting Your Pitch.

The other articles in the Winter 2008 Entrepreneurs Report include:

Recently, I’ve been fielding a lot more requests to write for publications as well as for permission to resyndicate content from Feld Thoughts and Ask the VC (e.g. the republishing of this content on the MIT Technology Review’s Blogs page.)  As I come up on the fifth anniversary of writing this blog, I’m finding myself intrigued by the dynamics of how user generated content has evolved.

In February, I did a “Beers and Boulder with Brad” event in Seattle.  Local Seattle-based entrepreneurs Dave Schappell of TeachStreet and T.A. McCann of Gist put the event together and I was blown away by the response. Several hundred people showed up; I had a great evening of talking about entrepreneurship, local entrepreneurial communities, and the dynamics of startups.  I also got to hang out for a few hours with a ton of Seattle entrepreneurs who looked like they were having as much fun as me.

Greg Huang summarized the evening and some of my messages very nicely in his Xconomy Seattle post titled VC Model Is Not Broken: Insights from Brad Feld of TechStars and Foundry GroupFollowing are Greg’s bullet points from my talk – click through to the article to read the detail behind them:

  1. Entrepreneurs are king
  2. Entrepreneurial communities need to focus
  3. It’s not the economy, stupid
  4. Web 2.0 and online advertising models aren’t dead
  5. The VC model is still strong

Danny Robinson, a Vancouver based entrepreneur who runs Bootup Labs, invited me to do a similar event in Vancouver on April 22nd.  Since I’m already in Seattle for a board meeting that day, I agreed to pop up to Vancouver and do it again (although I’m sure the content and questions will be different.)  Danny put up a description and registration page post – it’s going to be April 22nd at the Steamworks Brewing Company.

There has been a lot of activity around entrepreneurship at CU Boulder lately, especially in computer science and engineering.  This is encouraging to me as I believe that a strong culture of entrepreneurship at “your local university” is important to the long term health of any entrepreneurial ecosystem.

TechStars recently coordinated with CU Boulder to create five summer internships.  Each of these internships will enable a CU Boulder student to work as a software engineer at TechStars for the summer.  The overall dynamics are:

  • $2,000 tax deductible sponsorship to CU.
  • Gives the students deep exposure to the entrepreneurial community and ecosystem in Boulder.
  • Students report monthly to you (their sponsor) on their experiences and progress.
  • All sponsored students visit each sponsoring company at the end of the summer to report on their experience.
  • Great way to encourage CU engineering students to think more entrepreneurially.
  • Great potential recruiting mechanism for your company.

To get things started, I’m going to sponsor one of these.  We are looking for four three (thanks Microsoft for sponsoring one!) more Boulder-area software / Internet companies to participate in these sponsorships.  And – as a special bonus – I plan to host an event at the end of the summer for all five interns, the TechStars founders they worked with, and the execs from their sponsoring companies.

If you are Boulder-based, I encourage you to jump in now.  Email me or Nicole Glaros to get involved.

I’m really enjoying writing my print column for Entrepreneur Magazine.  It’s a different kind of writing than my blogging and exercises different mental muscles.

This month’s article A VC’s Biggest Flaw: Arrogance is out (both on the newsstands and the web).  Amy told me this is her favorite one so far as it includes a number of people she’s met: Mr. Know-It-All and several of his cousins. 

I hope you enjoy reading the articles as much as I enjoy writing them.

Sunday Morning Reading

Mar 22, 2009
Category Books

I usually sleep in on Sunday’s but I’ve got a 16 mile run and want to meet Amy at the end of it at 10:30 for brunch.  So – good morning 5am and my normal daily reading routine.  I ran across a lot of intriguing stuff this morning that I thought I’d share with you.  I encourage you to trade your TV watching time for a handful of clicks.

Will Google’s Purity Pay Off?  If you have engaged in the “yes Twitter is cool, but how will it make money” conversation I encourage you to read this BusinessWeek article from Pearl Harbor Day in 2000.  And I quote: “LIMITED BUSINESS.  But how will Google ever make money? There’s the rub. The company’s adamant refusal to use banner or other graphical ads eliminates what is the most lucrative income stream for rival search engines. “

Are We Home Alone? Sometimes Thomas Friedman nails it and sometimes he doesn’t.  Today, he nails it.  I completely agree that Obama (who I voted for) completely blew it on the AIG bonus thing.  Per Friedman:

“President Obama missed a huge teaching opportunity with A.I.G. Those bonuses were an outrage. The public’s anger was justified. But rather than fanning those flames and letting Congress run riot, the president should have said: “I’ll handle this.”  He should have gone on national TV and had the fireside chat with the country that is long overdue. That’s a talk where he lays out exactly how deep the crisis we are in is, exactly how much sacrifice we’re all going to have to make to get out of it, and then calls on those A.I.G. brokers — and everyone else who, in our rush to heal our banking system, may have gotten bonuses they did not deserve — and tells them that their president is asking them to return their bonuses “for the sake of the country.”  Had Mr. Obama given A.I.G.’s American brokers a reputation to live up to, a great national mission to join, I’d bet anything we’d have gotten most of our money back voluntarily. Inspiring conduct has so much more of an impact than coercing it. And it would have elevated the president to where he belongs — above the angry gaggle in Congress.” 

Dov Seidman, the CEO of LRN (I’m an investor) summarizes it well: “Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.”

Tit for tat: TomTom sues Microsoft for patent infringement:  The Microsoft / TomTom patent suit battle is heating up.  This is an important one to watch for a variety of reasons including it’s one of the few offense patent litigations from Microsoft to date.

SpringStage goes live: A year ago, David Cohen (TechStars co-founder and author of the ColoradoStartups blog) told me about the idea he had with Alex Muse for creating a national network of startup blogs. SpringStage now has over 30 startup blogs in its network.  Pretty cool – take a look.

Concur’s stock sinks after CEO admits he didn’t earn degree: I have never, ever understood why people lie about graduating from college.  The reputational effect (and general ease) of getting caught – especially today – far outweighs any benefits.  For the record, I have an S.B. (bachelors degree) and S.M. (masters degree) in management science from MIT and was in the Ph.D. program for three years before I got kicked out.  I do not have a Ph.D.  My dad is Dr. Feld, but I am not.

Investing in open source hardware: Eric von Hippel – my MIT advisor and professor that I worked with (before getting kicked out of the Ph.D. program) has been researching user driven innovation since the 1970’s.  He invited me to come talk at his annual MIT Innovation Lab seminar last week about open source hardware from a VC perspective.  I wasn’t able to make it to Boston, but suggested Bijan Sabet from Spark Capital talk, as Bijan is an investor in BugLabs and Boxee and has a point of view about this stuff. 

What Is A Good Venture Return: Fred Wilson digs a little deeper into what makes a good venture return on the heals of the PE Hub article asserting that the $590m acquisition of Pure Digital by Cisco was a decent return for a middle-of-the road VC firm, but “for big name backers Benchmark Capital and Sequoia Capital that’s pretty much a dud.”  Fred decomposes this more and concludes “It’s an investment that worked out well for the investors and I am sure they are quite happy they made the investment and with the returns.” 

Try, Try Again, or Maybe Not: I guess I have to go read this paper by Harvard professor Paul Gompers, Anna Kovner, Josh Lerner, and David Sharfstein.  In it, they claim to have determined that the answer to the question “Does failure breed new knowledge or experience that can be leveraged into performance the second time around?” is “In some cases, yes, but over all, he says, “We found there is no benefit in terms of performance.”  Mark Pincus and Zynga (I’m an investor) are highlighted in the article.  I’ve been an investor in two of Mark’s successes and missed one of his failures; my experience is that the lessons he learned from his failure have been extremely well integrated into his brain.  My own anecdotal experience runs counter to the study – I love working with entrepreneurs that have both success and failure.

Ok – I’ve stalled long enough.  Time to go run.