Brad Feld

Month: November 2013

It’s amazing to me that Techstars is now 7 years old. We are involved in over 300 active companies who have now raised over $400 million. 27 of them have been acquired. They’ve created over 2,000 jobs. And we are just getting started.

There’s some awesome classic footage from the last 7 years in the 3:37 video below. Enjoy. And thanks to EVERYONE who has been part of the Techstars community – we wouldn’t exist without you.


I’m totally sick and exhausted with our federal government. Boehner’s statement yesterday on immigration, where he said “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill” was the last straw for me. Idiotic and totally broken.

I could rant for a while, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll encourage you to watch this amazing video that Jennifer Bradley just showed at the Startup Phenomenon conference. She totally nails it – people at the top, then metros, then states, and then federal government following their leads.

I just bought Jennifer’s book The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy and plan to read it this weekend.


As a part of Startup Phenomenon, I’m going to spend a half hour with Jason Illian, the CEO of BookShout!, on Thursday, November 14th at 4:30pm. It’ll be at the Boulder Public Library, which is right across Boulder Creek from the St. Julien and downtown Boulder.

We’ll be talking about the Startup Revolution book series (which include Startup Communities and Startup Life), as well as the wonderful platform that Jason and his team have built.

I’ve been a fan of BookShout! for a couple of years now.

As an author, I’m always looking for ways to connect with my audience. I spend time with the people from the local startup scene all the time but connecting with aspiring entrepreneurs from around the country, and around the global, is an entirely different beast. Comments on Amazon are one-directional, and definitely do not encourage reader-to-reader interaction. Buying a book in a bookstore is an individualistic experience. Getting a book at a conference means reading it after the conference is over, which doesn’t leave any time for in-person discussion or engagement.

Enter BookShout!. First glance, it’s nothing special. Simple but effective distribution of books. All the goods when it comes to commenting and rating. Where BookShout! really shines is how it brings an audience and an author together, on the same page – both literally and figuratively – and allows them to have an unfiltered conversation around the content of the book.

It’s a powerful tool for authors and an interesting site for readers. If you’re either, check it out.

And if you’re in Boulder tomorrow afternoon, for Startup Phenomenon or not, come on by the Boulder Library and hang out with me and Jason.

See you there!

RSVPs are requested. Please do so here. While you’re there, check out some of the Master Classes that Startup Phenomenon is offering.


While I have nothing against receptionists, I’ve always felt like it was a thankless job that should be able to easily be replaced by the machines. Many of the people I know who are receptionists spend their time doing lots of other things and I’ve always felt like it would dramatically improve their life if they could focus on all the other things, rather than split their attention between those and being a receptionist.

We’ve never had a dedicated receptionist at Foundry Group but our office was oriented so the people “in the line of fire” were constantly interrupted whenever someone came in the office. So, we asked a local startup, TextUs.Biz to solve this problem for us.  They came up with an iPad app called “Receptionist” which freed up anyone from having to pay specific attention to the front door. As a result, we redesigned the entrance to our office with “Receptionist” front and center, a new lobby, and a Mezzanine room.

The team at TextUs.Biz hasn’t slowed down. They have taken the idea to market and recently launched TextUs.Biz Receptionist for the public (it’s available in iTunes now.) The functionality and feature set of the app are intuitive. Visitors can ping who they are here to see and can directly interact with the person or their assistant. It also has some fun tricks like taking a picture of the visitor and storing it automatically in the visitor log for future reference.

We like the gang at TextUs.Biz – they did great work for us. The machines have taken over the world anyway, so why not let them help check people in? Check it out the app here and their AngelList profile here.


David Cohen (Techstars Founder) and I are doing a Google Hangout On Air that is open to anyone on 11/13/13 (what a prime day for something like this). It’s part of a Google Enterprise series on Colorado pioneers driving the local economy and culture. We’ll be talking about Techstars, Colorado, tech, and anything else that comes up.

This came out of a series of interviews with Google recently where we explained why Foundry Group takes venture capital to the cloud with Google Apps and how Techstars assists tomorrow’s entrepreneurs with help from Google Apps.

Come join us! Register here if you want to hangout.


I was in a reading mood this weekend so I read Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal after reading No Better Time on Saturday. I finished it just before I walked the dog and then went to bed.

I slept very poorly last night and woke up thinking about the book. I woke up several times in the night (I’m getting older – that’s part of the drill – anyone over 45 knows what I mean) and each time I had something about the book in my brain.

When I woke up this morning, the first thought I had as I was brushing my teeth was “the characters in the book weren’t right.” When I read history, especially of a technology company, I often know a few of the people pretty well. When the writer captures their essence, it lends credibility to all the other people I don’t know. When the writer misses, it detracts from the whole thing.

In Hatching Twitter, Nick Bilton (the author) captured a dimension of the people I know. But it was only one dimension. And it missed – completely – in capturing the whole of the people. The dimension he highlighted made the story more dramatic as he focused on a dimension of conflict. As I sit here writing this, trying to process how I feel about the book, I realize this tactic – by focusing on only one dimension of a person – created incredible tension in the story.

I love Ben Mezrichand his books. I realize that Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal is written in the same style as Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. The title is even in the same style. The big difference is that Mezrich doesn’t pretend that he’s not sensationalizing the situation. That’s his gig – and he’s not apologetic about it in any way. Note the phrases after the colon – “A True Story” (Bilton) and “A Tale of” (Mezrich).

A puzzle piece just clicked into place for me. I read Hatching Twitter (Twitter story) the day after I read No Better Time (Akamai story). Both were dramatic. No Better Time was history; Hatching Twitter was sensationalized history. No Better Time created real depth around one character – Daniel Lewin. Hatching Twitter tried to do this around the story of Twitter but had to do this at the expense of the depth of the characters to fit into the 300 pages that a non-fiction book like this ends up being due to publishing industry constraints so it has a chance of ending up on a best seller list.

I wonder what Bilton could have done with 900 pages instead of 300 pages. I’ve got to believe – given the extensive interviews he did – that he has a much deeper view on many of the characters in the book. Or, instead of using 300 pages to rush through parts of the story, he used 900 pages to go deeper on the whole story, instead of picking out several of the dramatic highlights.

I’m clearly still processing this. I had hoped to love this book. Instead, it disturbed me. Something felt deeply off, but even after writing this, I’m not sure what it is. If you’ve read Hatching Twitter, and you have an opinion, please weigh in as I try to sort this out in my mind.


Stack of recently read booksI’ve been reading a lot lately. On an almost daily basis, someone out in the world sends me a physical book, which I love. While I have something like 500 unread books on my Kindle, I still love laying on the couch reading a physical book. So the stacks of books that show up keep me company and I chomp through them whenever I need a break from everything else.

Yesterday I read No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet. It was awesome and I recommend it for any entrepreneur out there either working on a company or thinking about starting a company.

If you don’t recognize the name Danny Lewin there are two big things to know before you dive into this book. First, he was the co-founder of Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM – currently valued at $8 billion.)  Second, he was likely the very first person to die in the 9/11 attack.

There are lots of other interesting and unexpected things to know about Danny before you start the book. He was born in Denver. His parents made aliyah to Israel when he was a young teenager. He was built like a tank and was a member of Israel’s Sayeret Matkal. He longed to be at MIT.

Akamai’s original name was Cachet Technologies. They entered, but didn’t win, the MIT $50K competition in 1998. As a judge for the MIT $50k until 1996, there were always a lot of VCs hanging around. In this case, however, the only VC who truly had conviction to get behind Akamai was Todd Dagres – then of Battery Ventures, now of Spark Capital.

Akamai was an amazing pre-Internet bubble story. From nothing to IPO in less than 18 months, a market cap of > $20 billion, followed by a 99% decline in the stock price post-bubble. Over the last decade, however, they’ve demonstrated that they have a real business, now valued at $8 billion with Q313 revenue of $396m, Q313 GAAP Net Income of $80m, and cash flow from operations in Q313 of +$158m. Not bad for a company that was written off completely a decade ago.

This is the story of the creation of that company. And the people behind the creation, mostly notably Lewin. The author, Molly Knight Raskin, writes beautifully, deeply, and thoughtfully. She combines an origin story (for Akamai), a coming of age story (for Lewin), and a tragedy (for Lewin, his family, his extended family, and Akamai.) While the tragic ending, which comes much to early, is the end of the book, it’s short (less than 10% of the book), appropriate in its level of drama, and helps us process the amazing life that Lewin lived.

I’m tired of the classic boom bust popular media story arc of “hero emerges from nothing, the hero does amazing things, bad things happen and the hero crashes, watch how the hero is no longer a hero, the hero fights and claws his way out of the cellar and rises again to be a hero.” This is not one of those books. Instead, it’s a great biography of an entrepreneur, his company, and his all too short life.


I was fired from my first two jobs. Here’s the story of one of them, which first appeared as part of LinkedIn’s My First Job content package.

“You’re fired.” Those were the last two words I heard from my boss after working for six months at Potatoes, Etc., my first real job. I smirked, immaturely threw my apron at her (I was 15 years old after all), and slammed the door on my way out.

My final three words, preceding hers, were “you’re a bitch.” In hindsight, her response was predictable.

I remember riding my bike home the three miles from Prestonwood Mall where I worked. I had no idea what I was going to tell my parents, but I decided I’d just tell them what happened and see where the chips landed. I felt ashamed of myself for being so disrespectful to my boss, even though she had constantly demeaned me, and all the other people that worked at Potatoes, Etc. I didn’t have any respect for her, but my parents had taught me better and I was proud of my ability to suck it up and not lose my temper.

Potatoes, Etc. was one of those local fast food restaurants in a giant shopping mall from the 1980s. Remember Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Yup – that was us, except Potatoes (as we liked to call it) was staffed by the “honors kids.” I think the Greek souvlaki place was staffed by the jocks and the Corn Dog place was staffed by the stoners, but it all blurs together 30 years later.

In hindsight, the Potatoes, Etc. supply chain was pretty cool. Idaho spuds appeared magically in 50 pounds boxes and ended up in a dank, gross storeroom. Each shift, one person was responsible for getting them, cleaning them, putting them on trays, covering them with industrial grade salad dressing, and racking the trays. Another person was responsible for putting them in the convection oven and making sure there were enough potatoes cooking at all times to handle the spikes in demand. Another person manned “the bar” – cutting open the potatoes and filling them with whatever goop and toppings the customer ordered. And the last person worked the cash register. After we closed, we were all responsible for cleaning up.

Since we were honors kids, we had a lot of fun with the supply chain. We did a good job of load optimization. We figured out process improvements to cut, fill, and serve the potatoes. We ran a parallel process on cleaning and closing up, so we could be done in ten minutes. We were never, ever short on cash.

Our boss was a young woman – probably in her early 20s. I remember the smell of smoke and alcohol on her breath. I remember Saturday morning shifts where she would come in at 1pm, clearly hung over. She liked to yell at us. Her favorite form of managerial shame was to call someone into the back “room” (there was no door) and dress them down randomly so everyone in the food court could hear.

We were good kids. It took a lot to get a rise out of us. Sure – we’d complain to each other about her, but we bonded together and did a good job regardless of her antics. Every now and then she’d do something that she thought was motivating, like bring a case of beer into the back of the store and offer up cans to us (we always declined – remember, we were good kids). But I can’t remember a single time she praised us – or at least me – for anything.

I had been racking potatoes all day on the day I got fired. I was cranky – I wanted to work up front but today wasn’t my day. I was tired – lifting 50 pounds of potatoes and washing them one by one is a drag. And I was bored out of my mind.

My boss probably noticed I was in a bad mood. A kind word from her would have made all the difference in the world. Instead, she came over to the full rack of potatoes, started pulling them off the racks, and without even looking at me dumped them one by one in the sink.

“You suck at washing potatoes.”

“You’re a bitch.”

“You’re fired!”

My parents were gentle with me. They made sure I understood the lessons from the experience, which included the power of respect and not losing your temper with a superior.

But most importantly this was a key moment that I think back to whenever I consider motivation. My boss never did anything to create a context in which we were motivated. It wouldn’t have taken much. And, if she had, respect – and motivation – would have followed. At 15, I learned what it was like to be on the receiving end of a boss who had no idea how to create an environment in which the people that worked for her were motivated. I’ve carried that experience, and the resulting insight, to every subsequent thing I’ve been involved in.


One of the companies I’m an investor in, Modular Robotics, just launched a Kickstarter campaign around its new product MOSS. It’s amazing.

Definitely a “show not tell” so I encourage you to watch the five minute video and then back the MOSS Kickstarter campaign if you, your kids, or your loved ones dig building things.


Last week Fred and Joanne Wilson announced that they are helping create a $5m seed fund to invest in computer science education in the NYC public school system.

A few weeks ago Fred sent me a note and asked if Amy and I would make a contribution from our foundation. We’d previously contributed to another project Fred and Joanne spearheaded for the Academy of Software Engineering last year. It was easy to say yes for two reasons.

– The Warren Buffett / Bill Gates Rule: Remember that Warren Buffett gave all of his money to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation because Buffett trusted Gates judgment and ability to allocate his massive philanthropic gift wisely and intelligently? We completely trust Fred and Joanne’s judgment and easily support whatever they do in areas Amy and I are interested in.

– Computer Science Education: This is one of the areas Amy and I support significantly. Two weeks ago Wellesley unveiled their new Human-Computer Interaction Lab which we underwrote. I’m chair of the National Center for Women & Information Technology. And we have a few more fun things coming soon. So the Computer Science Education Venture Fund was something that was right up our alley.

Fred and Joanne are doing this with The NYC Foundation For Computer Science Education (the executive director, Evan Korth, is a total star.) If this is interesting to you, they are hosting an event at USV on Monday, November 18, 2013 for 6pm to 8pm for those who can consider making investments of $5,000 and above due to space constraints. Separately, there will be a crowd-funded campaign to allow donations of between $50 and $4,999 for those who can’t participate at these levels.

This is another great example of private philanthropic support to help transform something really important that public funding just isn’t getting done. If this is an important area to you, I encourage you to support Fred, Joanne, Evan, and this effort. If you are willing to consider contributing at the $5,000 or great level and can attend the event at USV on Monday, November 18th, register here.