Brad Feld

Month: June 2009

As my endless effort to become skinnier continues, I carefully read Ian Rogers post “…look at me I’m skinny…” Diet, exercise, nature, and nurtureI’ve enjoyed getting to know Ian through our investment in Topspin and have had several significant substantial meals with him.  Little did I know that I was actually doing all the eating (well, I did, I was just in denial.)

Ian’s post is dynamite.  If you struggle to keep the pounds off, run (don’t walk) over to FistFulaYen, toss your Coca-Cola down the drain, and read “…look at me I’m skinny…”

As I whittle away a little bit of weight each week, I just keep telling myself “eat less, exercise more.”  As my weekly running mileage continues to creep up (I’m now steadily adding 10%+ / week to my base) it gets a little easier, but all it takes is one double large dinner and an extra big bowl of ice cream to completely wipe out the progress.

Ah, that tuna burger and truffle fries at Larkburger sure was nice today.  I guess that’s it for the week.  Thanks Ian for sharing what works for you.

I was pondering what a tiny part of the universe we are on my ride this morning into Boulder from Keystone.  The first hour of my drive was extraordinary as the sun came up over the Rocky Mountains and I cruised down I-70 at a high rate of speed in the bat mobile.

I had another reminder of this as I cruised through my Daily folder.  The Astronomy Picture of the Day has been delighting me every day since I started looking at it a few weeks ago.  Today’s is a movie of Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft’s last moments.

Kaguya crashed into the Moon last week as planned.  Amazing.  We are small.

I say “no” all the time.  I could start keeping track of the number of times I do it a day, but I’d guess it’s a minimum of 10 and occasionally over 50 times a day.  When I type that, my first reaction is “no way, there’s no possible way I say no more than 50 times a day”, but when I think a little more, it definitely happens sometimes.

One of my goals is to be accessible to anyone that reaches out to me.  Another goal is to minimize the amount of time I spend on things that I either (a) don’t have an investment in, (b) won’t have an investment in, or (c) don’t have an interest in.  Basically, I want to “optimize my accessibility”.  This ebbs and flows – when I’m in balance I’m very happy; when I’m out of balance I’m still very happy, but notice that I’m out of balance.

One of the keys to this is to “say no in less than 60 seconds.”  Given that my email address is easily discernable, I get a lot of random inbound “we are looking for money” and “do you want to have coffee” emails.  These are easy to say no to, but I also get a lot of not-random “we are looking for money” (e.g. sent from someone I know) and “do you want to have coffee” (e.g. sent from someone I know or recommended by someone I know) emails.  And it escalates in relevance from there (and morphs into all forms, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, meeting, run, …)

Somewhere between 1% and 10% of these fit my a/b/c criteria above.  I can figure this out from the first interaction at least 50% of the time and my first email response is (hopefully a polite) version of “no” that usually consumes a total of less than 30 seconds from beginning to end.  Another 25% of the time I need a little more information and request it via mail.  This has the side effect of eliminating another chunk of interactions since the person on the receiving end never bothers to respond.  For those that do respond, I can usually figure out from the response whether or not I want to spend more time or not; if not, I’m still probably under 60 seconds for saying “no”.

The rest usually end up in more email interactions, a phone call, or a meeting. I try to limit all first meetings to 30 minutes so I don’t waste either of our time if it’s not going to go anywhere, although I’m not always successful at this (the wasting time part).

Now, lest you think this is “overstructured”, remember my goal: minimize the amount of time I spend on things I don’t care about which allows me to maximize the amount of time I spend on things I care about, while still being very accessible.  While I don’t always get this right, I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the past 20 years.

The web (and the universe) is an amazing place.  My sister-in-law Laura turned me on NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” website.  I bookmarked it and put it in my Daily folder so I get a cool new picture from NASA every day. While the web site has that late 1990’s look and feel, the pictures are stunning.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

This is the June 12th eruption of the Sarychev Peak Volcano as photographed from the International Space Station (400 km above Earth).  Lest we forget, we are a very small species on a very small planet in a very large universe.  Try not to take yourself too seriously today – if you start, just ponder this photo.

Episode 4 of The Founders: TechStars Boulder is up on the web.  This week’s episode includes a special guest appearance from Greg Cohn at Yahoo, a poker party with KKO, thoughts on why startups play poker while big companies play chess, and a bunch of other good stuff.

The Founders | TechStars Boulder | Episode 4 "Skills & Persistence" from Andrew on Vimeo.

Deep Calm

Jun 23, 2009

I’m sitting in the early dawn light in a cabin in Tabernash, Colorado drinking a cup of coffee and getting ready to go for a run in the mountains. 

I’ve just spent the last 18 hours with my Foundry Group partners at our quarterly retreat.  This is an approximately 24 hour affair that includes staying overnight somewhere in Colorado within driving distance of Boulder.  We’ve been doing this quarterly since we conceived of the idea for Foundry Group.

Our retreats aren’t “portfolio review sessions” nor are they complex travel boondoggles.  They are a simple, focused, 24 hours away together to discuss our business, reflect on how we are working together, and explore ways to improve things.

In Feld Technologies (my first company) I used to do this monthly with my partner Dave Jilk.  We lived in Boston at the time so we had our retreats within driving distance of Boston.  Same drill – leave in the morning of day 1; return in the afternoon of day 2.  Spend the time talking about our business and how we were working together.  Deal with any hard issues head on and try to figure out what we were going to do about them.  Dave and I managed to do this 10 out of 12 months a year (we’d occasionally miss) but when I think back on Feld Technologies, these were some of the most important and satisfying times we spent together.

While my life is frenetic, the world around us is chaotic, and as I like to say “something in my world somewhere is totally fucked up every single day”, I generally achieve a very deep calm.  On the surface I appear to be extremely busy, but at my essence I hear the birds chirping and think of fields of golden retriever puppies.

I woke up thinking about this and realizing how incredibly powerful it can be.  The lights on one’s existence go out suddenly and often unexpectedly.  There are endless (and daily) twists and turns in the path to happy, whatever you define happy as.  I’ve often said anxiety and fear are useless emotions in most contexts; a deep calm helps counteract them when they arise.

I encourage you to ponder this as you go about your day.  Time for a run.

Last night I sent the Puttermans (the co-founders of Cloud Engines – the makers of Pogoplug) a note with a few ideas about features I’d like to see in the product.  Included were requests for drop-dead simple integration with a few other products that I use including Sonos, Boxee, and AppleTV.  As investors in Pogoplug, I’m an aggressive lead user and unapologetic fan boy – it’s just an incredible product with insane potential (how about them adjectives, eh?)

Dan Putterman sent me back a response that included words like UPnP and Rendezvous along with a link to OpenPogo – a new website aimed at “getting the most out of your Pogoplug.”  The super cool thing is that Cloud Engines has nothing to do with this site – it was created by a user / fan / hacker that is building a series of guides for getting the most out of your Pogoplug.  For example:

  • OpenPogo-Base Installation + Package Manager: You need the package manager installed as a starting point.
  • Web server: Lighttpd (and PHP): How about a Web server on your Pogoplug.
  • MySQL: Installing MySQL on your Pogoplug!

Extremely cool.

I have three major hobbies – reading, running, and collecting art.  On my run today, I realized that I occasionally blog about reading and running, but I rarely blog about art.  I’m pretty sure this idea got lodged in my head yesterday while Amy and I were looking around the web for a new piece to “buy each other” as our anniversary gift.  While looking, we stumbled upon this incredible painting from Don Coen titled Prairie Rattler.

We are huge fans of Don’s and have a number of pieces of his work.  If you’ve ever been in the small conference room at Foundry Group, you’ve seen a version of Chairman of the Board that I commissioned for us after missing buying the original.  We’ve named the cow who looks over at Kelly during the day “Bessie”.

An important thing to realize about Don’s work is that his paintings are large.  Prairie Rattler is 6’ x 7’.  We talked about buying it for a few minutes but then decided that it didn’t feel right for a joint anniversary gift.  But we still both thought it was amazing and it inspired me to start periodically posting about some of the artist we love (in addition to my mom) and collect.

I had a great week last week.  Most of the companies I’m an investor in are doing well and are having strong Q2s.  A few, like Zynga, are absolutely killing it (see the Zynga video on CBS News titled SF-Based Startup Thriving, Hiring In Down Economy.) As one might expect, I’ve got a few companies that are struggling, but that’s the nature of the beast and I’m really proud of all the folks in those companies as they work their butts off to get to a happy place.

I was on the east coast for part of the week at TechStars Boston and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.  I spent time with each of the TechStars Boston teams as well as all of the software teams at YEI.  I had a great time at both and was particularly impressed by three of the YEI companies – YouRenew, Cube Knowledge, and The Green Bride Guide.

This was my first intense set of time with the TechStars Boston companies.  They are three weeks into the program and I am super excited with most of their progress.  As TechStars is a mentor-driven program, I heard a lot about various mentor engagement from the teams, along with who their favorite mentors were, the kind of advice they were getting, and how they were dealing with conflicting advice.  After spending time with each of the teams, I noticed some patterns and thought I’d synthesize them into a few pieces of advice.  This advice applies to any first time entrepreneur who is interacting with mentors, but is especially aimed at those in programs that have organized mentor activity such as YEI, fbFund Rev, and DreamIT Ventures, all programs that I’m spending time with this summer besides TechStars.

After three weeks, decide who your lead mentors are: While you will likely have more than three mentors that are working with you, by the end of the third week you’ll be able to determine who is the most engaged and will help you the most.  While you might think you could handle “as many as you can have access to”, focusing the majority of your energy on around three will be more than adequate.  This doesn’t mean that you should blow off the other mentors – you should engage with as many as you can.  But realize that there will be two categories of mentors in your world – those that become an extended part of your team and those that are fans and help you when they can.

Don’t get whiplashed by conflicting advice: By definition you are going to get conflicting advice.  Your job is to listen, ask questions, synthesize it, and make decisions.  If you take Monday’s feedback, implement it, hear different feedback from a different mentor on Wednesday, try to change direction, and get different advice from a third mentor on Friday, you can find yourself chasing your tail.  Be deliberate in collecting information, checking for other mentors reaction to feedback, decide a path, and then hit it hard.

Close the loop with your mentors: At the minimum, communicate with all of the mentors you are working with (not just the lead mentors) at least once a week.  Make sure they know the decisions you’ve made and why, especially if they contradict some of the feedback you have been getting.  Most mentors don’t need to “be right”, but they do appreciate being listened to.

Divide and conquer: Not everyone in the company needs to go to every meeting with every mentor.  While it’s probably useful for everyone to meet with the lead mentors, a key skill to learn as a team is how to divide up responsibilities and interactions, especially between “development” and “business”.  For example, on a team of three (two developers, one business person), consider having the business person meet with the mentors while the devs stay heads down and code.  Then, have a daily meeting as a team to discuss any new things that have come up from the mentors – limit this meeting to a fixed amount of time (say, 30 minutes).  This will be massively more efficient, will help you learn how to communicate between yourselves, and will enable the devs to actually get some code written.

Be proactive: It’s your job to engage the mentors.  They are there for you.  If you wait for them to come to you, you’ll get a fraction of the value you could get by going to them.

I’ve got plenty more where these came from, but they are the ones that jumped to the top of the list after reflecting on my week.  I hope they are helpful.