Brad Feld

Month: March 2010

My long time friend Alan Shimel has been blogging up a storm on Network World (if you want to hear any amusing story, ask him about the first time he met me.)  When Alan started writing his column for Network World he asked me for introductions to a bunch of our portfolio companies that were using open source.  Alan is a tough critic and calls it like he sees it so while I knew there was no guarantee that he’d go easy on the companies, I knew that Alan would do an even handed job of highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.  I also know that everyone I invest in values any kind of feedback – both good and bad – and they work especially hard to delight their customers so any kind of feedback will make them better.

Earlier today, Alan wrote an article on Standing Cloud titled Seeding the Cloud with Open Source, Standing Cloud Makes It EasyOn Monday, Standing Cloud released their first version of their product (called the Trial Edition) which is a free version that lets you install and work with around 30 open source products on five different cloud service providers.  It’s the first step in a series of releases over the next two quarters that Standing Cloud has planned as they work create an environment where it is trivial to deploy and manage open source applications in the cloud.  Alan played around with Standing Cloud’s Trial Edition, totally understood what they are doing, and explained why the Trial Edition is interesting and where Standing Cloud is heading when they release their Community Edition at the end of April.

Alan’s also written several other articles about companies in our portfolio recently, including the open source work Gist has been doing with Twitter and a great review of the Pogoplug and how it uses open source.

I believe I’m one of the people that inspired Alan to start blogging a number of years ago.  Through his personal blog Ashimmy, the blog he writes for Network World titled Open Source Face and Fiction, and the blogging he does on security.exe (his company CISO Group’s blog), Alan is one of my must read technology bloggers.  And he’s often funny as hell, especially when he gets riled up.  Keep it up Alan!

As you may have noticed, I’ve got a new blog design, as do my partners Jason Mendelson, Ryan McIntyre, and Seth Levine.  Every year or so I get bored of my blog design and we go through a nice little upgrade.  Our good friends at Slice of Lime do all the design work and Ross (our IT guy) wrangles everything. 

We’re still changing some stuff, but if you have any suggestions or notice any bugs, please leave comments so I can tune things up.

Not long after I posted about Dave Jilk’s experience with the Pogoplug, he started using the phrase “Pogoplug Simple” to describe one of the goals of Standing Cloud.  The idea is that technology products should be so easy to set up and use that the experience is vaguely unsatisfying – you feel like you didn’t do anything.  Standing Cloud – a company we provided seed funding for last year – is launching publicly this week with its Trial Edition and I think they’ve managed to make cloud application management “Pogoplug Simple.”

The Trial Edition makes it easy to test drive any of about thirty different open source applications on any of several cloud server providers.  Register with your email address, log in, pick an application, click Install, and in about 30 seconds you’ll be up and running with a fully-functioning application accessible on the web.  You don’t need an Amazon EC2 or Rackspace account, as with “appliance” providers.  You don’t need to learn about “instances” and “images” and security groups.  You don’t need to know how to install and configure a web server or MySQL, or download, install and configure software code.  You don’t even need to configure the application itself – Standing Cloud plugs in default values for you.  And it’s free.

Like the Pogoplug, the Standing Cloud Trial Edition doesn’t do anything that a motivated IT professional couldn’t do another way.  It’s just a lot faster and easier.  But for someone who is *not* an IT professional, it removes some rather high barriers to both open source applications and cloud computing.

The Trial Edition is just the beginning for Standing Cloud.  Soon you will be able to host, manage, and scale applications with the same emphasis on simplicity.  Give it a try and give me feedback.

One of our internal mantras at TechStars is to “publish your data.”  We encourage every team to do this starting very early in their life.  To this day, I still get daily performance reports (I refer to them as TPS reports) from many of the companies that have gone through the program.

Last week, David Cohen published all of the historical TechStars data.  39 companies have gone through the program to date (30 through Boulder and 9 through Boston).  The data that David published covers a lot of ground, including status by individual company.  Some of the pertinent summary data follows:

  • In three years, about $16.5 million in seed-stage funding has been raised.
  • 27 of 39 (~70%) TechStars companies have either raised outside funding after the program or bootstrapped to profitability.
  • TechStars companies currently employ 156 people.
  • Four of the first ten companies from the inaugural 2007 class have already achieved positive exits.
  • The most recent group of companies resulted in seven VC-led follow-on funding rounds and three additional angel-led rounds.

At the same time, Shawn Broderick, who runs the TechStars Boston program, just published the age demographics for the newest class of 10 companies that started the program at the beginning of March.  The numbers may surprise you as being higher than you might expect:

  • Youngest: 21
  • Oldest: 51
  • Average: 28.3
  • Median: 27

Our plan is to continue to update this data on a regular basis as we think it helps people better understand the TechStars program.  If there is additional data that you’d like to see, please feel free to suggest it.

Applications for the TechStars Boulder 2010 program are still open until March 22, 2010 at 11:59:59 PM Mountain Time.  If you haven’t applied but are thinking about it, apply now (it’ll only take a few minutes.)

If you happen to live in North Carolina or regularly attend the CED Venture Conference (the Southeast US’s longest running early stage company financing conference), come say hello to me on April 21st.  I’ll be spending the day at the conference and am speaking on a panel from 1:30pm to 2:45pm.  We don’t yet appear to have a panel title, but the other participants are Dana Callow (Boston Millennia Partners), Noel Fenton (Trinity Ventures), Todd Forrest (Hummer Winblad), and Patrick Kerins (NEA).  I don’t think I’ve ever been on a panel with any of them before (although I’m pretty certain I’ve fixed Dana Callow’s computer a few times back during my Feld Technologies days), so I’m looking forward to having some fun bwahahahahahahahaha.

Monday night, I’ll again be the co-host of Entrepreneurs Unplugged where we will be interviewing Tyler Tysdal, the Managing Director of Mantucket Capital.  We’ll start at 6pm at the CU Boulder ATLAS center.  Tyler has a neat background as both an entrepreneur and investor and I expect this will be another fun and enlightening session.  Tyler’s background follows:

Mr. Tysdal serves on the Board of Directors for the following Mantucket Capital portfolio companies: BrandJourney Capital and PRN Medical Services. His investment background includes venture capital, buyouts, restructurings, hedge funds, real estate, public equities, bonds and several entrepreneurial ventures. Prior to joining Mantucket Capital, Mr. Tysdal founded a private equity firm primarily focused on healthcare, media & entertainment and secondarily on real estate and construction services. Mr. Tysdal is also the founder of Sports Shares, a fractional luxury suite club. He began his career in investment banking with Alex. Brown & Sons, focused on corporate finance and mergers & acquisitions. Mr. Tysdal graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BSBA in Finance from Georgetown University

Register and come join us.

I know I owe everyone a follow up to my post from last week titled The Proliferation of Standardized Seed Financing Documents.  To the many of you out there that emailed me in response, thanks for all of the thought, ideas, suggestions, and offers of help.  More on that soon.

In the mean time, I noticed today that Dow Jones is running a seminar titled Negotiating an Angel Deal: What Angels, Entrepreneurs & VCs Need to KnowMy partner Jason Mendelson is one of the panelists, along with several other notable lawyers and angel investors.  If you are interested in this particular topic, I expect there will be a “robust” discussion as I know that the opinions between a few of the folks on the panel vary pretty widely.  If you are interested, sign up here.

Over the years, a number of companies I’ve been an investor in have had hackathons.  These are typically day long events where everyone in the company works on whatever cool new ideas they have.  On Monday night I got a note from a company I’m on the board of about a hackthon they just completed.  As I looked through the list of things that the various teams created, I got chills of excitement.

Most of the companies we invest in release software at least once a month.  Some release weekly, or even daily.  I’ve become a big advocate of true Agile development (partly because of my experience with Rally Software – the leader in Agile software development environments) and – more recently – the notion of trying to get to continuous deployment which has been popularized by Eric Ries.

If you are releasing at least monthly, it’s easy to do a full day hackathon at least once a quarter.  And, rather than have it be an “engineering thing”, you can (and should) make it a full company thing.  Here’s how:

  1. Pick a date during the quarter for the hackathon.  Mondays and Thursdays are best.
  2. Designate one person in charge of managing the hackathon.  This person has a budget for food and prizes and is encouraged to do whatever they want to publicize it throughout the company (easy for 10 people, not so easy for 1000 people).  The goal is to engage 100% of the company in the hackathon.
  3. Form teams.  The teams should be between two and five people.  The teams should be self-selecting.  The Hackathon manager should come up with an easy way to manage the team list (hint – wiki).  Each team should have a name and, in advance of the hackathon, should spent at least one meal together talking about what they are going to work on.  People should be encouraged to work with folks they’ve never done anything with before, although this shouldn’t be a requirement.
  4. The hackathon starts at 12:01am and ends at 5pm.  Whatever is done, is done.  Demos and awards start at 5:30pm.  Food is included.  The hackathon manager is responsible for coordinating all of this, including the mechanism for judging.

In the best hackathons, there is a wiki that is very dynamic during the hackathon.  This way all of the activity is captured and can be reviewed afterwards.  The goal is not to include everything from the hackathon in future releases; rather it’s to stimulate a bunch of ideas, generate some prototypes, end up with some useful code, but get everyone in the company thinking about all the products.

Not all of the hackathon projects need to be about code.  I’ve seen things like help systems, new web sites, better customer support processes, better management of social media activity, and lots of business process stuff created and implemented during hackathons.

After the hackathon is over, publicize what you’ve done to the world.  FeedBurner used to do a great job of this with a simple blog post that highlighted every project and the teams that worked on them.

Oh – and don’t forget to invite your board members.  If I can make it, I’ll always spend a day at a hackathon.  It’s one of the best ways for me to really engage in and help out the companies I’m involved in.  Plus it’s a blast.

Today, Amazon’s 1-Click patent was confirmed following a four year re-examination.  Amazon now has ownership of a highly controversial and very absurd patent which I hope will only be used defensively.  This a classic example of a “business method patent” that should simply not exist.  I continue to wait patiently to see what the Supreme Court says re: Bilski.

In other patent news, Google and Facebook were sued over a social network patent.  This was a patent issued in October that apparently has something to do with how people join social networks on mobile phones.  Egads.

In better news, it looks like I’ll soon be able to buy a jet pack for $86,000.

These people are way cooler than I could ever be.  At least I have something to aspire to.