I’m fascinated with first offices. I’m not talking about the bedroom, the dorm room, the garage, or the apartment. I’m talking about the first real office. Here’s mine.
Bill Warner took this picture of me standing in front of 875 Main Street in Cambridge, MA last year. My first real office – for Feld Technologies – was the fourth floor. The building is a narrow five story building (three windows on the front) – long and skinny – 1600 square feet total. The elevator opened directly into the office, the front of the building (that you see) was to the left; the bulk of the space was to the right. I vaguely remember a cave like office near the back along with the bathroom and lots of open space in the middle. When we moved in all of the left over shit from Pegasystems was still there – they were the previous tenant.
While I had offices in my bedroom at my fraternity (351 Massachusetts Avenue) and in my bedroom at my parents house in Dallas, this was my first real office. We had to take out the garbage and the place always smelled like damp, sweaty, anxious nerds. We had some great times and some awful times, but this was where it all really started for me.
Where was your first real office?
There’s a huge profile of my mom (Cecelia Feld) in this month’s Texoma Living Magazine. She’s one of the five highlighted artists for their third annual art issue.
If you’ve ever been in my office or in my house, you’ve seen a lot of my mom’s art. As a kid, I was completely surrounded by art. In addition to my mom being an artist, both of my folks have an incredible nose for collecting and have built an amazing collection. Whenever we travelled, a big part of our trips were visits to art museums and galleries. As an eight year old, this often got really tedious and boring, but it sunk in and today one of my favorite things to do is stroll quietly thought a museum or gallery.
One of the things I’ve always loved about my mother’s art was how she used colors. She’s got a great line in her interview that reflects this – “I have a sense of how color works with color.” I’ve never really thought hard about this, but I love colorful stuff and would always rather be surrounded by colors than by black and white. I guess I’ll start attributing this to my mom!
If you are interested in art and want to see more of her work, take a look at her online gallery at Studio 7310.
A few years ago, several friends started a company called Evergreen IP to help inventors commercialize their consumer innovations. I participated in the financing as an angel investor (it was during the period of time between funds where I was once again making angel investments) and since then they have commercialized several products and spun off several companies, including my favorite, TrashCo, which makes a product called Flings.
First off, how could you NOT love a company named TrashCo? Seriously, what a great name. While my talent around my obsession with the product is limited to products made out of bits, I can appreciate a good product made out of atoms.
In this case, Flings’ Pop-Up Recycling and Trash Bins are sweet. And they are available at most Safeway stores in Seattle, Portland, and Northern CA; at most Vons in Southern CA; at most HEB’s in Texas; and at all Price Choppers in New York State/Western CT. And, of course, on Amazon (enter coupon code EARTHD25 and get 25% off through the end of May.)
Do my friends at TrashCo a solid and try ‘em out. I wonder if they know that one of the early names (at least in my head) for Foundry Group was VentureCo.
For some reason I’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately. In many of them I get asked similar questions, including the inevitable “what makes a great entrepreneur?” When I’m on a VC panel, I’m always amused by the answers from my co-panelists as they are usually the same set of “VC cliches” which makes it even more fun when I blurt out my answer.
“A complete and total obsession with the product”
The great companies that I’ve been an investor in share a common trait – the founder/CEO is obsessed with the product. Not interested, not aware of, not familiar with, but obsessed. Every discussion trends back toward the product. All of the conversations about customer are really about how the customer uses the product and the value the product brings the customer. The majority of the early teams are focused entirely on the product, including the non-engineering people. Product, product, product.
And these CEO’s love to show their product to anyone that will listen. They don’t explain the company to people with powerpoint slides. They don’t send out long executive summaries with mocked up screen shots. They don’t try to engage you in a phone conversation about the great market they are going after. They start with the product. And stay with the product.
When I step back and think about what motivates me early in a relationship with an entrepreneur, it’s the product. I only invest in domains that I know well, so I don’t need fancy market studies (which are always wrong), financial models (which are always wrong), or customer needs analyses (which are always wrong). I want to play with the product, touch the product, understand the product – and understand where the founder thinks the product is going.
I don’t create products anymore (I invest in companies that create them), but I’m a great alpha tester. I’ve always been good at this for some reason – bugs just find me. While my UX design skills are merely adequate, I’ve got a great feel for how to simplify things and make them cleaner. Plus I’m happy to just grind and grind and grind on the product, offering both detailed and high level feedback indefinitely.
How a founder/CEO reacts to this speaks volumes to me. I probably first noticed this when interacting with Dick Costolo at FeedBurner when I first met him. I am FeedBurner publisher #699 and used it for my blog back when it was “pre-Alpha”. I had an issue – sent firstname.lastname@example.org a note – and instantly got a reply from Dick. I had no idea who Dick was, but he helped me and I quickly realized he was the CEO. Over the next six months we interacted regularly about the product and when he was ready to start fundraising, I quickly made him an offer and we became the lead investor in the round. My obsession with the product didn’t stop there (as Eric Lunt and many of the other FeedBurner gang can tell you – I still occasionally email SteveO bugs that I find.)
I can give a bunch of other examples like FeedBurner, but I wrap up by saying that I’m just as obsessed with product as the founders. And – as I realize what results in success in my world, I get even more obsessed. Plus, I really like to play with software.
Over the years, I’ve occasionally thought about writing a book about how venture capital actually works. I no longer have to contemplate doing this as Jeff Bussgang has nailed it with his book Mastering the VC Game: A Venture Capital Insider Reveals How to Get from Start-up to IPO on YOUR Terms.
If you are an entrepreneur who wants to understand how venture capital works, how VC’s think, and read some great stories about entrepreneurial arcs, this book is for you. When Jeff told me about this project a year or so ago, I gave him lots of encouragement, made a few introductions, and offered to do anything I could to be helpful. I did two meaningful proofreading cycles so I’ve effectively read this book twice – it’s just spectacular.
Jeff has a particularly deft touch on the balance between entrepreneur and VC. Some of this comes from him previously being a successful entrepreneur, but some of it comes from his effort in striking a balance between writing a VC-oriented book and an entrepreneur-oriented book. The result is a much better book than the other “how VC works” type books.
Jeff also does something important – he uses long stories to frame his points. Rather than little sound bites, he actually tells great entrepreneurial stories, in real detail, that I hadn’t heard before to underscore what he is trying to get across. For an example, take a look at the book except of When Jack Dorsey Met Fred Wilson, And Other Twitter Tales.
If there is one book about entrepreneurship and venture capital that you buy this year, make it Mastering the VC Game.
Andrew does a nice interview. We covered plenty of ground, including failure, when to really call it quits, the concept that “life is a fatal disease”, global vs. local failure, working on things that matter, what I think “fail fast” actually means, how to evolve your business (using Return Path and NewsGator as the examples), my obsession with product, how we decided to invest in Pogoplug, more on product and release tempo, a story about my grandfather, a story about Laura Fitton and why I care about OneForty, why it’s so important to always give more than you get, how the Defrag and Glue conferences came about, some book recommendations, and why fear and anxiety are emotions that have zero value to an entrepreneur.
Business Tips via Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart!