Brad Feld

Month: February 2010

Videos like this one remind me that I live in a very tiny corner of the universe.

Only 8% of the people interviewed (out of a sample of over 50) correctly defined a browser.  It also shows how effective Google has been in their approach to branding, especially given that they just aired their first TV commercial a few weeks ago.

If you support the Startup Visa and have a blog or a website, put the Startup Visa Twitter Widget up on your site.

And – on March 2nd at 12 noon Pacific / 3 pm Eastern – we are going to do a Tweet Hall for the Startup Visa.  All you need to do is tweet @2gov supporting #startupvisa exactly at Noon Pacific on Tuesday March 2nd.  We’ll collect your Tweets and deliver them during our visit to the White House on March 4th.

I love the Pogoplug.  We’ve been investors in the company for about a year and it has been a blast working with the team.  Pogoplug is in our Digital Life theme and has a lot of conceptual similarities to our previous investment in Sling Media (now part of EchoStar).  We love products like the Pogoplug and the Slingbox “software that ships with a little plastic box that does magic stuff” that, in Pogoplug’s case, provides you access to any of your external hard drives from anywhere in the world on any device.

Today, there was a great review of the Pogoplug in Walt Mossberg’s column in the Wall Street Journal titled Get Your Storage Out of the Cloud.  WSJ’s Katherine Boehret also has a nice short video review below:

I have several Pogoplugs – one at each house and at my office in Boulder.  They are remarkable – they just work.  If you have an external hard drive or are considering cloud storage for any meaningful amount of data, you owe it to yourself to grab a Pogoplug.

Today, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced the StartUp Visa Act of 2010.  The group of us behind the Startup Visa project have been working closely with key members of each Senators’ staff on this and we are incredibly pleased with the proposed bill. 

Following is the text from the press release announcing the bill:

“Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today introduced legislation to drive job creation and increase America’s global competiveness by helping immigrant entrepreneurs secure visas to the United States.

The StartUp Visa Act of 2010 will allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two year visa if he or she can show that a qualified U.S. investor is willing to dedicate a significant sum – a minimum of $250,000 – to the immigrant’s startup venture.

“Global competition for talent and investment grows more intense daily and the United States must step up or be left behind,” said Sen. Kerry.  “Everywhere Dick Lugar and I travel for the Foreign Relations Committee, we see firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit driving the economies of our competitors.  Creating a new magnet for innovations and innovators to come to the United States and create jobs here will offer our economy a double shot in the arm – robust job creation at home and reaffirmation that we’re the world’s best place to do business.”

“Our country should strive to attract to the United States the most talented and highly skilled entrepreneurs.  We should channel the power of innovative thinkers from around the world and American investors towards creating jobs and encouraging economic growth and future prosperity,” said Ranking Member Lugar.

The StartUp Visa Act of 2010 would amend immigration law to create a new EB-6 category for immigrant entrepreneurs, drawing from existing visas under the EB-5 category, which permits foreign nationals who invest at least $1 million into the U.S., and thereby create ten jobs, to obtain a green card.  After proving that he or she has secured initial investment capital and if, after two years, the immigrant entrepreneur can show that he or she has generated at least five full-time jobs in the United States, attracted $1 million in additional investment capital or achieved $1 million in revenue, then he or she would receive permanent legal resident status.

More than 160 venture capitalists from across the country have endorsed the senators’ proposal.  That letter of support is attached.”

The support from the venture capital and super angel community has been fantastic.  Now that we have both a sponsored house bill (HR 4259 – sponsored by Jared Polis (D-CO)) and a sponsored senate bill, it’s time to crank up the grassroots support.  Look for a few specific things to do in the next few days on both this blog and the Startup Visa blog.

Jon Hansen has started interviewing me periodically on his show on BlogTalkRadio as part of his Thought Leaders Series.  Yesterday’s interview focused on my experience of investing in Rally Software and included short discussions on how Rally got started, how and why I decided to invest, and the role various factors play in my decision making process.  Jon does a nice interview. 


I’m very proud of my friends at Rally – they’ve created a company that is well on its way to being one of – if not the – most significant software company in Boulder.

My folks stayed at my condo in Boulder the last few nights with me so I was inspired this morning to write a quick post in the Letters to my Dad series that I’m writing with my father (he’s calling his posts “Father and Son.”) 

In my dad’s last post, Father and Son #3, he wrote about our overthrow of the administrative regime in my high school at the start of my senior year when they botched the AP course schedule because of a “computer glitch.”  He calls it a “lesson in leadership and self reliance” and tells a great story of how we (him and I) quickly mobilized about 60 parents and students in 24 hours to get together, proposed a solution to the problem, presented the case the superintendent and principal, and then fixed the problem.  We all got to take more than one AP class (even though school was over for me my senior year at lunch time since there were no other classes to take) and I even wore a tux to prom.


But that’s not today’s story.  When I was young, my dad regularly took me on rounds with him at the local hospitals.  He was the most experienced endocrinologist in Dallas (and one of the first doctors to specialize in clinical endocrinology) so he was in high demand.  He was also extremely respected by his peers, loved by his patients, and adored by the nurses and hospital staff.  Looking back, I like to say that he was the doctor that we all dream of having – engaging, funny, 100% focused on you and in the moment, extremely responsive, and extraordinarily competent. 

I loved going on rounds with my dad.  I’d bring a book, sit at the nurses station, and read while he saw patients.  Occasionally the nurses would let me look through charts (this was well before HIPAA) or play around with the medical equipment (in the 1970’s there were a lot of beeping noises and flashing lights – perfect for an eight year old.)  Hospitals were big places which seemed huge to me at the time.

However, there were two things I didn’t like.  I hated the way hospitals smelled and was always afraid of touching things.  I didn’t realize what this was at the time, but looking back on it I realize it was an early instantiation of OCD which I’ve struggled with throughout my life.  I’m sure the linkage between the environment and the events in the hospital (sick people, dying people) reinforced something around this at a deep psychological level. 

More obviously, I disliked a lot of the doctors.  I thought my dad was amazing and loved listening to the nurses talk about “Dr. Feld” when they thought I couldn’t hear them.  I’d have my head buried in a book in the corner and they’d be chatting about how amazing (where amazing is a proxy for a wide variety of great attributes) he was.  In the mean time, they’d bitch about virtually every other doctor.  I learned the word “asshole” at a relatively early age as that was the most common descriptor I remembered.  Most of the other doctors were assholes – they were arrogant to the nurses, short with patients, and many of them seemed genuinely uninterested in what they were doing.  Now – a few of them were like my dad, but only about 10%.  The rest turned me off.

When I was about 10, I grabbed a thin green book on endocrinology off of my dad’s shelf in his study.  I discovered a lot of books in his study over the years (including Atlas Shrugged and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).  The endocrinology book wasn’t titled “Endocrinology for Dummies” but it could have been – it was an introduction to endocrinology presumably aimed at a first year medical student.  By 10 I was devouring ever book I could get my hands on so I’m sure I laid down on a couch in our house and started reading.  The only thing I remember is how unbelievably bored I was by the book.  I’m sure it was way over my head, but this wasn’t a unique experience for me – even when I didn’t really understand very much of what I was reading I usually sucked it down anyway and went back and tried again at a later time.  I remember finishing this book and thinking something like “I never want to read about endocrinology ever again.”

My dad tried to be home for dinner every night.  He’d often head back to the hospital after dinner to go do more rounds.  At dinner we’d go around the table and talk about our day.  We alternated who went first – there was no rhyme or reason to the order that I could tell although my parents might have had a secret sequence that I didn’t know about.  A few days after I put the book back on the shelf, I went first.  I was really nervous so I just blurted out what was on my mind “I don’t want to be a doctor!”  It probably came out more as a plea or a shout, but I remember it sounding like a scream in my head.

Once I had said it, I felt so much better.  I’d been carrying around the thought for a few days terrified of what my parents would say.  All of my relatives were already asking the typical jewish “is he going to be a doctor when he grows up” question every time they saw me with my parents.  I hadn’t realized how much this was weighing on me – now it was out in the open.

I remember a short moment of quiet followed by my father quickly saying “you can be anything you want to be.”  We then spent most of dinner talking about this and when dinner was over I had a bunch of different possible careers in front of me to explore.  None of them were being a doctor.  And – I felt great because I’d learned that a huge lesson that day – that I could be anything I wanted to be.

I love the stuff that ya’ll email me (or comment) after I write a post that challenge my thinking.  While occasionally the notes are hostile (which is mostly just entertaining), they are usually really thought provoking even when I disagree.  And, when they give me a new way to think about something, they are really satisfying.  For all of you out there that read this blog – you guys are great – thanks for helping me think!

Last week I got an interesting proposal to deal with the problem of patent trolls.  Here it is. 

“It seems to me as though the solution to patent trolls is a pricing issue.

If patents were to get progressively more expensive over time, a patent holder would have to weigh the financial return of a patent against the cost of maintaining it. For example:

Patent Fees
Year 1 — $1,000
Year 2 — $10,000
Year 3 — $100,000
Year 4 — $1,000,000
Year 5 — $10,000,000
Year 6 — $100,000,000
Year 7 — $1,000,000,000

The model above protects really valuable patents and sets patents that aren’t valuable free. Pharma could live with the fee schedule above, and software companies which have patents that are really core to a business would be protected for 4-5 years, an eternity on the Internet.”

What do you think?  What’s the fundamental flaw in this?

Every day I get emails from folks either raising money or telling me about their new idea and asking for feedback.  The conventional wisdom is that VCs rarely invest in things that reach them randomly (or “over the transom” in someone’s VC vocabulary – I can’t for the life of me figure out why that phrase hangs around.)  However, this isn’t the case for us as 10% of the companies we’ve funded in the past two years were initially from “cold call” email inquiries (Brightleaf and Organic Motion).  So – I’m very happy to get a steady stream of random emails – keep them coming!

I’ve noticed a trend toward more video presentations lately.  I looked at one this morning and it reminded me of the old writers adage “show don’t tell.”  This applies nicely to every pitch you ever do.  Specifically, I don’t want to hear you describe what you are going to do, I want to see it.  Or – if it’s not built yet, see an example of it.  It’s always better to point me at a URL, even if it’s a very rough prototype, as I can usually get a much quicker view of what you are doing by simply playing around. 

The video I watched today was a two minute segment of the entrepreneur looking into the camera and describing his business idea.  The idea was fine although I could tell within 15 seconds that it wasn’t something we’d invest in given the market he was going after.  I ended up watching the full two minute video to see if he ever shifted from “tell” mode to “show” mode.  He never did – the two minutes ended and the whole video was the entrepreneur describing his idea. 

In my book, this was a wasted opportunity.  I could have read one paragraph that contained the same content.  The entrepreneur didn’t take advantage of the medium (video) in any way.  While he did a nice job on the monologue, he wasn’t trying out for a TV commercial, a TV show, or a movie.  He missed the goal – get my attention and hopefully get me to engage to the next level.

For most of the great VCs I know, the way an entrepreneur makes a connection when there is no pre-existing relationship is to generate an immediate interest with the product.  That’s what happened for us in the case of Brightleaf and Organic Motion.  The entrepreneurs were highly credible, but more importantly we immediately got excited about their products, which caused us to be more interested in going deep and exploring an investment.

This is a repeating theme that for some reason isn’t said strongly enough.  The great entrepreneurs (and sales people) “show”.  Just think of how Steve Jobs does it.  Show me!