Brad Feld

Month: September 2009

Yesterday morning I spent the day at my semi-annual MIT Sloan Executive Advisory Board meeting.  During breaks, I got into two separate conversations about a book I read last week called Breakpoint by Richard A Clarke.  Clarke was chief counter-terrorism adviser for Clinton and Bush and – among other things – has become a superb science fiction writer. Breakpoint – like Daemon – is an absolute must read in the cyber-thriller category (BTW – thanks Kwin for the recommendation.)

The conversations started out around the book, but quickly evolved in the work that I do and how I think about investing.  As part of that, I explained that I learn an enormous amount by both thinking about the future, but also reading science fiction from the past that maps to the present time.

For example, I decided this would be “the summer of Dick.”  I bought all of Philip K. Dick’s books (about 60 of them), put them on a shelf in my Keystone house, and have been systematically working my way through them whenever I’m in Keystone (I’ve read about 15 of them).  I’m completely fascinated by how Dick – in the 1960’s – thinks about computers and travel in the early part of the 21st century.  Some of his projections of what computers will be like completely miss (Auxtape, Magtape, or some other variation of “tape” is the storage device", computers have sexy voices) while others are a lot closer (computers have evolved into learning machines that are self-correcting).  Travel, on the other hand, is a complete miss – you can get from Europe to the US in five minutes in Dick’s worlds.

When Kurt Vonnegut died, I did the same thing as tribute to him – I bought all the Vonnegut books and read them in order (I still have a few left).  As I read Dick, I recalled that I felt Vonnegut sometimes got computers right and sometimes got them wrong, but also completely missed it on travel.

After seeing the latest Star Trek in the theater, Amy and I Netflixed Star Trek Season 1 and started watching it from the beginning (I’ve seen most of them, but I was never fanatical about Star Trek so there are a few I missed.)  Same drill – it’s cool to see Spock’s “bluetooth-like ear implant communicator thingy”, but why the fuck does the elevator take so long to get between levels on the Enterprise?  And what’s with the sexy computer voices and all the flashing lights?

When I think about all of the information I synthesize both by going backward in time and reading forward (Dick, Vonnegut, Heinlein, Asimov) as well as starting today and going forward 5 – 30 years (Clarke, Suarez, Stross, Banks, Stephenson, Gibson, Sterling) I realize that I’m creating a subconscious framework in my brain for a lot of the stuff I’m investing in.  Sometimes it maps directly; sometimes it’s the stuff that misses that it so interesting.

Oh – and it’s really fun!  BTW, where is that jetpack I was promised (still my favorite West Wing moment of all time):

Leo McGarry: My generation never got the future it was promised… Thirty-five years later, cars, air travel is exactly the same. We don’t even have the Concorde anymore. Technology stopped.
Josh Lyman: The personal computer…
Leo McGarry: A more efficient delivery system for gossip and pornography? Where’s my jet pack, my colonies on the Moon?”

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For those of you that are regular readers, you know how excited I am about Gist, an investment we made earlier this year.  On Tuesday Gist launched their open beta program making Gist available to everyone.

The coverage of the launch was extensive with articles describing how Gist works and what it is useful for in sites including GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb, Forbes, Mashable, Cnet, eWeek, NetworkWorld, WebWorkerDaily, TechFlash, and Microsoft StartupZone.  Some of my favorite articles were FilltheFunnel (hint – iPhone screenshots) and MarketingProfessor (hint – what they like, what they don’t like – much of which is on the product roadmap.)

On a phone call with the Gist team last week, I reminded them that they only get to “open up to the world once”.  The company has been operating under a “closed beta” since we invested as they simultaneously built out the product functionality while insuring that their architecture scaled up to handle a huge amount of data (which it is already.) 

I’m super impressed by the Gist team – this is a gang that knows how to build and ship software.  At my first meeting, they put the date of 9/15/09 on the board for the launch of the service.  Over the last 60 days, they’ve been obsessed with performance, functionality, the first time user experience, and software quality.  I think they should be incredibly proud of what they’ve launched.

While this is still a very early step in the business, it’s an important one.  The Q4 roadmap is very full and – if the last six months is an indicator – will be filled with many steady releases of new functionality to the service. 

I use Gist every day and have found it to be immensely helpful when tightly integrated into my work and information flow.  I encourage all of you to give it a try and give me as much feedback as you are willing to give as we try to extend it to be useful to all business professionals.

The Huffington Post launched their Denver channel today (but I’m going to call it the Boulder/Denver channel because it’s really both.)  And they launched with a bunch of great, substantive stuff.  Following is a sample of some of the entrepreneurial articles.

Boulder: You’re Not in Kansas Anymore …:  Kimbal Musk, the CEO of OneRiot and co-owner of The Kitchen has a great essay reflecting on what’s he has learned about Boulder in his seven years living here.

Why I Love Startups: Holly Hamann, the co-founder and VP Marketing for TheBlogFrog, talks about why she loves working in the Boulder startup community.

Boulder/Denver New Tech Meetup Helps Entrepreneurial Community: Brett Green, the Chief Marketing Officer for Oxstein Design Labs, explains the Boulder Denver New Tech MeetUp (BDNT) phenomenon that was founded by and is stewarded by Robert Reich, one of the co-founders of OneRiot.

And, as a special bonus, the old school Denver Business Journal has a fun article that I’m in titled Down on the FarmVille about my addiction to FarmVille.

When I was last on the grid, I was returning to NY from Boston on the Acela Express after the first TechStars Boston Investor Day.  It was a tremendous experience and a great first year for TechStars in Boston that was captured nicely by Xconomy, Mass High Tech, TechCrunch, and  There’s currently a ton of software / Internet entrepreneurial activity in Boston these days and it’s fun to be in the mix.

I’m back on the Acela Express – this time from NY to Boston after spending four days off the grid with Amy.  We spent the weekend immersed in the US Open, spending the full day Sunday at the semi-finals and Monday at the finals.  I think the experience was enhanced by being off the grid – I was able to focus 100% of my energy watching the tennis (which was amazing) and being with my wife as she celebrated another birthday (she’s a prime number again – which also means “she’s in her prime.”)

For those in Boston who emailed me about getting together, I’ve got a jam packed three days in Boston before heading back home to Boulder for the weekend.  However, I will be back in Boston on 10/1 for the MassTLC Innovation 2009 Unconference.  Bill Warner (the founder of Avid and Wildfire) – who was the motive force behind bringing TechStars to Boston – is at it again as this is the second year for the Unconference that Bill founded.

The event takes place from 7:30am – 5:00pm on 10/1/09 at the Sun Microsystems Conference Center in Burlington, MA.  The list of “experts” (experienced entrepreneurs, VCs, and service providers) is extensive and includes a wide variety of Boston’s well known entrepreneurs.  As with any Unconference, the attendees get to shape the agenda in real time.  The focus is getting first time entrepreneurs together with the “experts” and see what kind of magic emerges.  From the registration page:

“Four generations of entrepreneurs will gather on October 1, 2009 with the focus on early stage entrepreneurship and driving innovation.  Unlike the planned sessions and passive audiences of typical conferences, MassTLC’s Innovation 2009 is an unConference where the agenda is formed organically by all attendees the day of the event. No podiums. No stages. Just small interactive sessions taking a deep dive into issues that drive innovation and the success of your company. A professional facilitator helps make it happen.”

So – if you are a first time entrepreneur in the New England area – come join us and apply to be a sponsored entrepreneur.  And – if you are one of the people that reached out to me to get together “on my next trip to Boston”, I’ll be there all day.

In April, Paul Graham wrote an inspired post titled The Founder Visa.  In it he proposed the idea of creating a US Visa for founders of startup companies – 10,000 / year for founders of companies that are started in the US.  There was some chatter around this at the time (I think it’s a brilliant idea) but then the discussion died down.

I sent the link to Paul’s essay to a few congressmen (congresspeople?) that I know with an offer to discuss it further and give some substantive examples.  I just got off the phone with a senior staff member of one of my congressmen who had read the essay and was interested in hearing more.

This issue has come up over and over again – in 2008 I wrote a post titled Solving the H-1B Visa Issue where I suggested that “the US should grant permanent residency to anyone who graduates from a qualified four year university with a computer science degree.” I didn’t put any energy behind this at the time (beyond a blog post) because of where we were in the election cycle.

Now I’m ready.  I was hit squarely in the face with this over the summer.  Two of the ten TechStars Boulder teams were comprised of non-US founders – two from Canada and two from the UK.  Both lived in Boulder for the summer and want to relocate here and build their businesses in the US (and – specifically – in Boulder).  Over the summer we struggled to figure out ways to get them Visas – all of the proposed approaches were expensive, risky, and tiresome.  Both companies are still trying, but each are now seriously considering returning to their home countries to build their businesses.

I cannot come up with a single reason why this makes any sense from a US perspective.  These are young, talented entrepreneurs that have come out of a three month program with amazingly interesting startups.  They are in the final process of raising their first rounds of financing. Post financing they will be creating US based high tech jobs.  If they are successful, they will create a lot of jobs.  Plus, they are young so they will do this multiple times in their lifetime.

It should be trivial for them to stay in the US.

In an effort to flesh out this thinking, a few questions came up on the call.

How Do You Determine If Someone Is a “Founder”? Two easy approaches: (1) set up a non-government board consisting of credible VCs, entrepreneurs, and lawyers to vet applicants.  (2) the founder has to own at least 10% of a company that has raised $250,000 within the same year as the application for the Visa.

How Do You Deal With Failure? The founder gets to keep the Visa.  Startups fail.  That’s part of the experience.  Some of the greatest companies were not the “first” that an entrepreneur did.  If the entrepreneur doesn’t start another company with a year, then the Visa expires.

I’m looking for more feedback on this as I work with a few people to actually create a movement around this (rather than just an idea, blog post, or essay).  So – if you have positive or negative feedback, along with suggestions about how to make this more powerful as a construct, or more palatable to people in our government who will have a negative knee jerk reaction based on “illegal immigration” or “jobs to immigrants” concerns, please weigh in.

A month or so ago I got a voicemail from William Barrett at Forbes.  His message was something like “call me back – I want to talk to you about your bathroom.”  Now, I never view a phone call from one of the major business magazines as a good time.  I don’t have a publicist so most of the calls are about something negative – which is fine – but rarely something I’m looking for.

Barrett’s message intrigued me so I called him back.  We proceeded to have a hilarious conversation about my CU Bathroom gift along with a variety of other topics concerning charitable contributions.  I got off the phone thinking – if nothing else – this article will be funny.  The resulting article Cash Strapped Charities Put Donors’ Names On Just About Everything is everything you’d expect it to be.

But – it gets better.  On the call Barrett said he might want a picture of me in front of the bathroom.  I said “sure” expecting never to hear about it again.  A few days later I got a call to schedule a photo shoot at CU.  Here’s the result.


That’s my plaque on the left.  I haven’t seen the physical copy of the magazine yet (I’ve only seen it online) so I don’t know if the photo made the magazine, but if it did I now get to say that “the first time my picture was in Forbes was while I was standing in a bathroom.”

While I’m delighted that my iPhone syncs with my Exchange Server, I’ve been struggling to figure out why Microsoft licensed ActiveSync to Apple (and Google).  For a long time, I used a Windows Mobile device because of the integration with Exchange (I’ve never been a Blackberry fan).  Once the iPhone integrated with Exchange, that was it for me and I switched to the iPhone.

As I asked folks about this, I heard two reasons:

  1. The government made them.
  2. Ego: Microsoft wanted to be able to say “Apple licensed something from us”.

Neither of these is very satisfying to me.  No one said “licensing fee” – and I can’t image the magnitude of the license fee is material to either party.  Some people are speculating its a clever move by Apple but that leaves me perplexed as it is so obviously useful to Apple users that I can’t believe Apple didn’t do it years ago.

When Apple released Snow Leopard and we started talking about the upgrade for the Mac users in our office, one potential reason occurred to me.  After some discussion, we realized we needed Exchange 2007 to be able to have Snow Leopard connect to Exchange natively.  Hmmm – we have been running Exchange 2003 (very nicely, thank you very much) since – well – 2003. 

As a result, the only thing that motivated us to upgrade to Exchange 2007 is Apple Snow Leopard integration of Exchange ActiveSync.  If this is the reason, it’s a smart strategic move on Microsoft’s part.  As part of our Exchange 2007 upgrade, we are buying a two year “upgrade insurance” package so we’ll get an upgrade to Exchange 2010 for free.  Microsoft defers any discussion around switching to Google Apps for us for at least three more years.  While Microsoft runs the risk of losing desktop clients in the enterprise, I think they were going to lose these clients anyway to a Mac + Internet based solution so now they at least get to keep the server piece firmly in place.

While Microsoft has finally announced a version of Outlook for the Mac, it seems like a completely irrelevant thing at this point given how miserable and hated Entourage is (e.g. Mac users have already figured out a different email solution.)  Now with native Exchange integration into the free (and perfectly adequate) Mac email client, the discussion around this seems to be over.

Of course, I could be over thinking this.  Microsoft’s press release around this reads like “hey – look – we are licensing our IP – isn’t software IP great – aren’t we nice?” so there could be something here around software patents.  I’m struggling to reconcile Microsoft’s 2008 Interoperability Principles with the notion that they are licensing the IP to access these “interoperable software components.”  Per the press release:

“The Exchange ActiveSync IP Licensing program is another example of how we are continuing to deliver on our commitment to increased openness and collaboration,” said Horacio Gutierrez, vice president of intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft. “This technology is being sought out by our partners and competitors alike because it enhances their value proposition to their customers, and we believe that to be a testament to the innovation taking place at Microsoft.” 

It feels like there is a deep master plan going on here.  I just can’t seem to figure it out.  Now, if Apple would just implement Exchange Task sync on the iPhone, I’d be really happy.

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Sep 07, 2009
Category Places

I had a great flight home from LA on Southwest Airlines on Friday.  My boycott on United has been going pretty well, but Amy and I are flying on it tomorrow to New York as it seems to be the only reasonable way to get from Denver to New York.  I’m pessimistic.  Plus I have a nasty cold so that’ll just make it more enjoyable.

But – I digress.  When I got off the plane I went to the bathroom.  As I lined up in my little stall next to 10 of my newest friends, I noticed that five of them had either iPhone’s or BlackBerry’s out and were typing as they went about their business.  Now – I’ll admit to doing this occasionally, but in this particular case I was kind of stunned by the density of the juxtaposition of peeing and smartphones.

It dawned on me that while most were probably checking their email (it’s really super urgent you know), a few might be tweeting their location – or – better yet – checking in with Foursquare (“DIA Terminal C Men’s Bathroom”).  Yeah – that sounds kind of weird.   I’m betting there isn’t an app for that.  Yet.

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Some folks from the Boulder startup community came together last August to see who could eat the most sushi. I participated in the Sushi Regurge, but (as I promised Amy) stopped once I was full. Actually, I didn’t stop when I was full, I stopped when I couldn’t choke down piece number 55. 

While that was going on, a couple guys who met at Boulder Startup Weekend 2 were over on the side catching up and intelligently observing rather than participating in Sushi Regurge. After realizing they both started out their careers working for nonprofits, they started discussing how they hadn’t volunteered at all recently. Being good techies, they whipped out their iPhones and searched the App Store for "volunteer"  only to find only some apps for Tennessee Volunteers fans. They looked around at the startup talent in the room, busily wolfing down sushi, and said, "This should exist. I bet we could build it."

What followed was a year-long community project involving over 100 volunteers and zero budget. Applying guerrilla startup tactics, they leveraged many parts of Boulder’s startup community: they went to the iPhone Dev Camp, PodCamp, and BarCamp, got lots of help from the crew at TechStars, listened to feedback at Boulder Open Coffee, got help and direction from EFCO and the Community Foundation, and presented at the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup. The result was a supportive community who continually stepped up to help when needed and a core team of volunteers who met most Tuesday nights through the spring and summer to write code and build the "business."

The result is the SnapImpact and their iPhone app.  Their mantra – "make doing good easy" – is pleasantly consistent with Boulder’s startup community.  Great job everyone!

My friends at Rally Software continue to grow like crazy.  As the Agile software development methodologies goes mainstream, Rally continues to lead the market in providing Agile application lifecycle management (ALM) software.

One of the things Rally has been doing as part of “bringing Agile to the masses” is the Rally Agile Success Tour.  As a recent attendee at one of the events said:

"I thought this would be a Rally sales pitch… It was most definitely not that."

If you are an Agile practitioner or interested in learning more about Agile, the Rally Agile Success Tour has stops in Boston on 9/17, Seattle on 10/1, Chicago on 10/15, and London on 10/29.  The cool thing is that rather than hearing a sales pitch, you’ll hear real customer stories from the likes of AOL, Constant Contact, Sermo, BMC, Microsoft, Boeing, and Getty Images.

When I invested in Rally in 2003, I was betting on the notion that Agile would go mainstream within a reasonable period of time.  It has and I’m super proud of the company the Rally gang has created.