I always enjoy hanging out with Jason Calacanis. We first met in the mid-1990s when Jason was hanging out in NY doing Silicon Alley Reporter. I can’t remember who initially introduced us – it was probably Fred Wilson.
We covered a lot in the hour+ interview for This Week In Startups. Things like why I didn’t retire at age 30, what Amy’s ring tone is, Startup Communities, Boulder, what motivates me, the different between mentors and advisors, my biggest failures in the Internet bubble, the Foundry Group investment strategy, my angel investment strategy, why Fred Wilson and USV has been so successful, why the objective of a VC is a straightforward and how to define success as a VC, why the answer to “how is a VC fund doing” is “check back in a decade”, hiring for culture fit vs. competence., why entrepreneurs get to – and should – define their culture, why you can’t change people (and how my first marriage blew up), why investors are like D&D characters, examples of bad behavior of VCs and entrepreneurs, more stuff about VC and entrepreneur interactions, what the best board meetings are, a reminder that people lie, Lance Armstrong and ego, CEO coaches, the first person I ever fired, and a bunch of other stuff.
Jason – you are the Internet’s Charlie Rose. Well done.
Historically, most of my writing has been either on my blogs or the books that I’ve written. Occasionally I’ve written for magazines, like a year-long stretch I did for Entrepreneur a few years ago, and longer form articles of mine appear in different places every now and then. But pretty much everything I write ends up on Feld Thoughts at some point.
I’m going to experiment with some different channels this year. The two that I’ve already gotten into a regular, once a week rhythm with are LinkedIn Influencers and the Wall Street Journal Accelerators. I’m putting up a lot more content on the Startup Revolution site and I’ll be adding at least one more channel in the next 30 days. Finally, I’m doing more guest posts, such as the article I wrote for Amazon Money & Markets titled Startups Are Everywhere.
Up to know I’ve been generally reposting these on Feld Thoughts. But in the next 30 days I plan to change the landing page for feld.com to include all the different channels, and I’ll also do my best to splice up a single feed for everything I write.
Like all things, this is an experiment. I haven’t figured out whether I like this or not, but I’m enjoying playing with different channels, different audiences, and engaging with an audience and other thought leaders around a specific topic.
For example, this week’s WSJ Accelerator question was “Is it possible for a startup founder to work on two or three products (or startups) at once?” Some posts include mine, which was “No, Mostly“, Steve Blank saying “Don’t Confuse Science Experiments With Commitments“, and Joanne Wilson stating “Choose One Company and One Company Only.” Each different article adds to a broader thought, which is part of the joy of “mentor whiplash” we talk about all the time in TechStars. Ultimately, you have to make your own decision as an entrepreneur – we are just providing data for you.
I’m at CES this week. If you want to see why, check out my LinkedIn post titled Why I Go To CES. And, if you are at CES and want me to stop by your booth, leave a comment here.
If you’ve figured out a great way to be a multi-channel content publisher, I’m all ears. Or, as a reader of this blog, if you have a strong opinion about what I’m doing, please weigh in. Remember – this is just an experiment.
I’m so sick of how – as a country – our authorities treat people as though they are criminals. A month ago a successful Boston entrepreneur who has been incredibly engaged in the Boston startup community was thrown in jail for three days after a CPB agent decided she didn’t have a valid visa (she did have a valid visa, and she was from that extremely dangerous country of Canada.)
A few days ago, Laurie Voss, a co-founder of a company we are investors in was detained for three hours at the board because he stated his job was “software developer” instead of “web developer”. He had recently gotten his green card and went on to describe the harrowing experience he endured, along with the unceremonious release a few hours later.
While I’m happy that USCIS continues to try to education its workforce as well as entrepreneurs via programs like A New Front Door for Immigrant Entrepreneurs, the words at the top and the actions in the field are completely disconnected. I hear a story about it almost daily and I’m now having someone I’m directly connected to or involved with impacted at least a month. It seems to be getting worse, not better, which just sucks.
If you care about this issue, I once again refer you to to Vivek Wadhwa’s excellent book called The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. Tom Friedman has also written a number of really clear OpEds on this topic in the past year or so. With all the talk about innovation, entrepreneurship, and the need for job creators in the US, our immigration policies are directly at odds with the concepts our politicians are telling us are critical for our economy to grow.
The conversation in Washington DC has shifted back to “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” I’ve now had several people I know in the White House tell me this is the new immigration priority as in “let’s fix the whole problem with comprehensive immigration reform” over the next four years. In the last week, I’ve heard from several that “there’s no way we are going to be able to get anything done on immigration reform anytime soon because of all the fiscal crisis issues and partisanship in Congress.”
Awesome. We continue to be functioning in a delusional context. The Democrats think they have magic political power because of the results of the election and the Republicans are focused more than ever on not letting the Democrats “win.” And President George W. Bush, who I disagree with on so many things, recently asserted that immigration reform is needed to boost the economy and specifically said, “”Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they help invigorate our soul.”
While the entire situation is ridiculous, I’m continually upset by the way entrepreneurs like Laurie Voss are treated by CBP and USCIS. I’ve asked for apologies before and I’ll ask for them again. CBP / USCIS, or someone in the White House – please call Laurie and apologize to him. Then figure out the real root cause of the behavioral problem. And start respecting immigrants, not treating every one like a bad guy until you confirm they aren’t.
The second book in the Startup Revolution series, Startup Life: Surviving And Thriving In A Relationship With An Entrepreneur, is shipping in the next week or so. My wife Amy Batchelor and I wrote this one, with contributions from about 20 other entrepreneurial couples.
Amy and I have been friends since we met in college in 1984. We have been together as a couple since 1990. We got married in 1993. Our marriage almost ended in 2000. Today, I am ecstatic in my relationship with Amy. We’ve worked hard over the past 11 years to figure things out, get it right, and build a long-term, sustainable relationship.
Startup Life explores the unique challenges that exist in the context of a relationship with an entrepreneur. Like my other books, there’s a lot of personal stuff in it – in this case, from both of us. We include lots of stories and wisdom from our entrepreneurial friends, especially in areas where we have no experience, like that of having – and dealing with – children in the relationship.
Amy and I have been talking about writing this book since 2007. It was an awesome experience to write it together – all of the expected collaboration dynamics appeared. For example, when we started, I wanted to simply split up tasks and write chunks separately; Amy wanted to collaborate on every word. After a laugh together about the clicheish male / female gender stuff at work here, we quickly figured out how to make progress together.
Of all the books I’ve written, I’m most proud of this one. We dug deep into our own life, experiences, and personalities. We bared our souls a lot. We’ve got a lot to learn still about relationships, but we feel like we covered a lot of ground in this book.
Several early readers have told us this is a great broad relationship book that applies to any couple. While we hope that is the case, we especially focused on the special stresses that we’ve experienced in an entrepreneurial life. Either way, we hope there’s a lot here that can be helpful.
If the topic appeals to you, pre-order a copy of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship today. Engage with articles you find interesting about this topic on the Startup Revolution Hub. And look for a lot more on the Startup Life blog in the coming weeks.
Last night Amy and I watched the movie Something Ventured: Risk, Reward, and the Original Venture Capitalists. This was my reward (I got to choose) since she watched both football games yesterday (and today). We have a 15 minute and 30 minute rule on any movie – after 15 minutes the chooser asks “still into this movie?” If the answer is no, we stop. This question gets asked by the chooser again after 30 minutes. If the answer is yes, we go for the duration, even if someone falls asleep. For example, after 15 minutes the other day, Amy said “still in” on my choice of The Hebrew Hammer. After 30 minutes, we were both “no’s” and that was the end of that.
I figured Amy would veto Something Ventured after 15 minutes. I’d heard from a number of VC friends that it was really good, but the idea of watching a documentary on the history of the creation of the venture capital industry doesn’t sound like an awesome Saturday night movie choice. But after about ten minutes, Amy said, “Wow – this is great!”
As I’m deep into writing book three of the Startup Revolution series (titled Startup Boards: Reinventing the Board of Directors to Better Support the Entrepreneur) I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a great board of directors, and what characteristics of different VCs contribute to this. It ended up being super helpful to see direct interviews with a number of legendary VCs, including Arthur Rock, Tom Perkins, Don Valentine, Dick Kramlich, Reid Dennis, Bill Draper, Pitch Johnson, Bill Bowes, Bill Edwards, and Jim Gaither. They covered a wide range of experiences, but were all there at the beginning of the VC industry and shaped many of the fundamental structures of venture capitalists, VC firms, how they interact with entrepreneurs, how the companies (and investments) are structured, and how boards work.
The entrepreneurs who were in the documentary were equally awesome. They included Gordon Moore (co-founder of Intel), Jimmy Treybig (founder of Tandem), Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari), Dr. Herbert Boyer (co-founder of Genentech), Mike Markkula (president/CEO/chairman of Apple for many years), Sandy Lerner (co-founder of Cisco), John Morgridge (early CEO of Cisco), and Robert Campbell (founder of Forethought). The interplay between VC and entrepreneur as the story of the founding and funding of their companies was told was very powerful.
After 30 minutes, when asked if she was still in, Amy emphatically said “yeah – definitely.” While I thought I knew all of the history, I learned a few things I’d never heard before, but more importantly I got the nuance of the stories directly from the participants. And all of it was rolling around in the back of my head this afternoon as I spent three solid hours on Startup Boards.
If you are a VC, or aspire to be a VC, do yourself a favor and watch Something Ventured right now. And, if you are an entrepreneur who is interested in how the VC industry got started, I think you’ll also find this fascinating. The film ended with all of the VCs echoing the powerful reminder that without the entrepreneurs, there would be no VCs. It made me happy that it ended on that note.
I’m finding myself using Google+ more and more. I recently decided that the long game Google is playing is absolutely brilliant. They are being understated about it but doing exactly what business strategists talk about when they describe the long game as the one to play.
Rather than making a bunch of sweeping pronouncements, struggling to jam together a bunch of random crap in a big bang release, and then worry about staying involved in a feature race with a competitor, Google is continually experimenting with new functionality, rolling it out broadly in a fully integrated fashion on a continuous basis, and providing it as a core part of an ever expanding thing that is getting more and more useful by the week.
By now I hope you are saying something like “What the fuck is he talking about – Facebook is crushing Google+” or something like that. Yeah, whatever. That’s why it’s the long game that they are playing.
Here are some examples.
I live in Gmail. Suddenly, I found this magical thing called Circles to be useful. When I get behind on my email, I simply go through a few of the circles (Foundry, Foundry Ents) and clear the email from my partners, my assistant Kelly, and the CEOs I work with. I have persistent chat up – I find that 80% of my chats now go through Gchat (the other 20% are Skype, and they are almost always requested by someone else.) And now that there are Hangouts integrated, many of these are videos.
Google Voice is my Phone Number. I used to have desktop phones. I don’t anymore – I have a Google voice # and an iPhone. I give everyone my Google voice #. It works everywhere. I never think about what phone I’m using anymore. And I do many calls via the computer.
Google Hangouts is my new Calendar Invite. I hate the telephone. Hate hate hate. But I don’t mind chat. And I don’t mind a Google Hangout / video call. All of a sudden I can make invites from Google Calendar that are Hangout invites. Done – every phone call / conference call is now a Hangout.
I live in Chrome. I have several computers. I never notice the difference between them. I’m downstairs at my place in Keystone right now on my Macbook Air. When I go up into my office, I’ll be on my treadputer with a different Macbook Air (an older one) connected to a 27″ monitor. I switch regularly between the two throughout the day and don’t even notice.
Now you are thinking “Ok Brad, but other than the Hangouts, Circles within email, and Hangouts within Calendar, what are you using Google+ for?” Just those three things have completely changed my workflow massively for the better. And they just showed up for me one day – I didn’t have to do anything.
In 2012 I used all the normal Google+ stuff. I reposted content there. I followed people. I occasionally chatted, commented, or +1ed. Facebook-like features. But I didn’t care that much about that stuff – yet.
All of a sudden I’ve got Communities. I’ve got Events. I’ve got Pages. And Hangouts, and Circles integrats seamlessly with each of these things. And they are nicely integrated with Gmail and Calendar. And suddenly I can do On Air Hangouts. And, I can record them automatically and save them to my Youtube channel. Keep playing for another few years, user by user, company by company, integrated feature by integrated feature.
Yeah, it drives me batshit that Google still things I’m firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com. Some day they’ll integrate these. And as I approach 25,000 contacts, I’ll probably start bitching about how this limit is ridiculous, just like I did at 10,000. But I can deal with all of that.
Google – thanks for playing the long game here. I wish more companies, especially other tech companies, did this especially when they have massive resources. Sure – some think they are playing the long game, but they are really playing the short game with a bunch of things that take a long time for them to get out the door. Different game.
This post first appeared in the WSJ Accelerators series titled The $100,000 Experiment in response to the question “When should you make a substantive change to one or more parts of your business model?”
During the past few years, the word “pivot” has become one of the most overused words with regard to startups. For some, it means a tiny incremental change in the business. For others, it means killing off whatever path you are on and rebooting the business, creating something entirely different. For others, it means everything in between.
A long time ago, I realized that every successful business was a continuous process of small experiments that operated in the context of a long-term vision. When an experiment worked, you did more of it. When it didn’t, you ended it and moved on.
The magnitude of these experiments are dependent on the stage and resources of the company. If you are a three person startup with very little money in the bank, your experiments are tiny ones. As you get bigger and have more success, your experiments can get larger.
I was once on the board of a company that was cash-flow positive early in its life. The entrepreneur decided to raise more money, even though he didn’t need to. I was perplexed and asked him why he was raising the amount of money he had decided to raise. His answer was that when he had no cash in the bank, he was willing to run $1,000 experiments. When the company was cash-flow positive, he was comfortable running $10,000 experiments. He now wanted to feel comfortable running $100,000 experiments, and this financing enabled him to do this. If he ran a $100,000 experiment and it failed, it wouldn’t tank the business.
When an experiment works, do more of it. So the $10,000 experiment that pays for itself in three days by generating $4,000 of gross margin on a daily basis is worth doubling down on and running at the $20,000 level. If this generates $8,000 of gross margin on a daily basis, double down again.
But if the first $10,000 experiment generates nothing, study the data that results from it. Make sure you measure your experiment. Create a hypothesis about what a successful outcome would be. Try to control as many variables as you can while you are testing something new, so you understand what is actually going on. If you find yourself devolving into a qualitative discussion about all elements of the experiment, you won’t learn much.
If your successful experiments are pushing you in a direction that is different from your long-term vision, or from the existing core business you are running, step back and think hard about what you are learning. Are your experiments conclusive enough to cause you to change your strategy? Do they reveal surface problems in your existing business or strong suggestions about better approaches?
If your successful experiments are doing this, then consider a serious shift in your business. But in the absence of this data, be very careful about defaulting into a mode of constantly and aggressively yanking on the steering wheel of your business. Instead, do small experiments, often.
If you want another perspective on this, go read the WSJ Accelerator article by David Cohen (TechStars CEO) titled Use Your Head, But Trust Your Gut.
My long-time friends Fred Wilson and Joanne Wilson each had powerful posts about saying goodbye to 2012 and welcoming in 2013 yesterday.
Fred’s is titled Putting 2012 To Bed. I know many people who don’t know Fred other than via his online presence, public actions, and reputations. I expect that 99% of them, when asked if Fred had an awesome 2012, would say “of course – he has an amazing life.” But my answer would have been more nuanced based on the time Fred and I spent together. I would have said “some great things happened but it was a tough and complex year for him.” Fred’s response was characteristically blunt.
“I’ve wanted to write a year end post for days. I actually wrote one and stored it as a draft. But it comes across as a whiny complaint about the shitty year that 2012 was. And it was in many ways a shitty year for me. But the reason I couldn’t publish that post is it didn’t capture the greater picture that 2012 represents for me.”
The entire post is well worth reading. As is Joanne’s titled See ya 2012. Two big stressors from Joanne’s perspective were the damage to their house with their subsequent displacement from Hurricane Sandy and the shift to being empty nesters as their third kid gets ready to go to college. Her punch line is as powerful as Fred’s.
“This year I am hoping for a constant. I just want to live our lives under our own roof with no major disruptions. I could go for a real year of normalcy. 2013 is going to be a year for moving forward. Reflecting on the past and using that to move me forward. Not sure what that means but I will find out. The last few months we have lived out of more than 7 hotels and it is seriously thrown me off. Where it throws me, I will see. 2012 has taken me out of my game. I am hoping 2013 brings me back.”
My dad (Stan Feld) reminds us in his year end post that life is inches with a wonderful story of his from January 1, 1957.
All three of these posts brought me back to my December 3rd post titled Wow – That Was Intense which summarized a really tough period I went through last year between the start of September and the end of November. My dad’s post was especially poignant since if he had died on 1/1/57 I wouldn’t be here. And I so empathize with Fred – it’s hard for me to complain since overall my existence on this planet is awesome, but I had a really shitty three months at the end of the year.
I hit reset every year on my birthday (December 1) and describe it as “booting up a new version of myself” – in this case, v47. A month later I get to reflect on the reboot as everyone rings in the new year with hope, optimism, and renewal. If you had an Apple II, you know that hitting Reset rebooted the computer, so I’m not of the Ctrl-Alt-Del generation, but rather the Reset PR#6 generation. Either way, use whatever method you fancy and hit reset.
Welcome 2013. I’m looking forward to getting the most I can from the experience.
This first appeared in my LinkedIn Today column titled Give Before You Get. I post unique content on LinkedIn a few times a month (I ultimately reblog it here) but if you want to get it when I first publish it and you are a LinkedIn member, simply follow me on LinkedIn.
As 2013 begins, I encourage you to adopt one of my deeply held beliefs, that of “give before you get.”
I’ve lived my adult working life – first as an entrepreneur, next as an angel investor, and now as a venture capitalist and a writer – using this credo. It’s a core tenant of the Boulder Startup Community, which I discuss extensively in Startup Communities: How To Build an Entrepreneur Ecosystem in Your City. And it’s at the heart of how I live my personal life and is part of the glue that holds together the awesome relationship I have with my wife Amy Batchelor.
In order to give before you get, adopt a philosophy of helping others without an expectation of what you are going to get back. It’s not altruistic – you do expect to get things in return – but you don’t set up the relationship to be a transactional one.
In a business context, my favorite example of this is the difference between a mentor and an advisor. The word “mentor” has become very popular and trendy recently, yet few people really understand what it means, and many mentors are actually advisors. To understand the difference, here’s an example. An advisor says “I’ll help you with your company if you give me 1% of the equity” or “I’d be happy to spend up to a day a month advising you if you give me a retainer of $3,000.” A mentor says, simply, “how can I help?”
As a partner at Foundry Group, I interact with hundreds of entrepreneurs each week. I’m an investor in a few of their companies, but many of the people I intersect with are entrepreneurs whose company I’m not currently invested in. While a few of these companies are potential investments, the vast majority of them are companies I won’t end up being an investor in. Yet I try to be helpful to everyone who crosses my path, even if it’s an answer to a simple question, feedback on their product, or simply a response to their email that what they are working on isn’t something I’d be interested in investing in. Sure, I’m not perfect at this, but the number of entrepreneurs who have helped me in some unexpected way because of my approach to them dwarfs the energy I’ve “given.”
I believe that I’m playing a very long term game in business, and that my actions today will impact me in 20+ years. I feel the same way about my non-work life. My goal is to life as happy an existence on this planet as I can and, by giving before I get, I maximize my chance of this.
As you begin 2013, consider adopting a give before you get approach. It might surprise you what you’ll get!