Brad Feld

Month: January 2014

On April 16, 2013 I wrote a post about the horrific tragedy at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Here’s how it started:

At 3:55pm yesterday I cried.

I was getting ready for a Google Hangout back to my office with my partners and I noticed something about an explosion at the Boston Marathon on twitter. I did a quick scan of Twitter, clicked through to a few links, and realized a bomb had gone off near the finish line.

I went blank – just stared at my computer screen – and then started crying. I called Amy – she hadn’t heard about it yet and told her what had happened. I collected myself and called in to my Hangout. My partners were all shaken also – Seth lived in Boston for many years, Ryan has done several marathons, and Jason just did his first marathon last year in Detroit.

A few days later Brent Hill tweeted that he was going to run Boston in 2014 as a show of strength and did anyone want to join him. Dick Costolo and Matt Shobe quickly joined in and I piled on with a commitment immediately.

This resulted in a group of us  running the Boston Marathon in 2014 as part of a team called #boston2014. The team includes a number of well known tech entrepreneurs, including Dick Costolo (Twitter CEO), Brent Hill (Origin Ventures), Matt Shobe (Angel.co), Elizabeth Weil (A16Z) and a bunch of Dick’s gang from Twitter including Chris Aniszczyk, Kelly Flannery, Taylor Harwin, Katie Haynes, Charlie Love, Dale Maffett, and Kevin Weil.

We are all running with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team In Training which has a mission-to help find cures and more effective treatments for blood cancers. Several close friends of ours have survived lymphomas and it’s a cause I care about.

As a team, we decided to make a big goal of raising $250,000 and I’ve personally committed to raising $50,000. My wife Amy Batchelor and I are kicking off my fundraising with a personal gift of $10,000 from our foundation.

Please support my, and the #boston2014 team effort, to raise $250,000 for LLS. Any amount is appreciated. And keep Boston running strong!


William Hertling is one of my favorite science fiction writers. If you are in the tech industry and haven’t read his books Avogadro CorpA.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall, I encourage you to go get them now on your Kindle and get after it. You’ll thank me later. In the mean time, following are William’s thoughts on the future of transportation for you to chew on this Sunday morning.

There’s always been a sweet spot in my heart for flying cars. I’m a child of the 1970s, who was routinely promised flying cars in the future, and wrote school essays about what life would be like in the year 2000. Flying cars are a trope of science fiction, always promised, but never delivered in real life. In fact, at first glance, they seem no closer to reality now than they did back then.

But maybe they’re not so far away. Let’s look at some trends in transportation.

Electric Cars

Hybrids vehicles, with their combination of both gas and battery power, represent 3% of the cars on the road today, up from zero just ten years ago. Fully electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla are mere curiosities, representing only 0.1% of all cars purchased in the U.S.

It might seem like a slow start, but electric cars will soon form the majority of all vehicles. Here’s why:

Except for early adopters of technology and diehard environmental customers, most people aren’t buying a fuel type, they’re buying transportation. They may want speed or economical transportation or family-friendly minivans, but how the vehicle is powered isn’t their main concern.

Examples like the Tesla have shown that electric vehicles perform on par with gas-powered cars. What limits their adoption then? Two factors: cost and range (and charging infrastructure, to a lesser extent, but that will be remedied when there is more demand).

The Nissan Leaf battery pack alone costs about $18,000 (though government incentives bring down the overall vehicle cost to the customer). When comparable gas-powered cars are about $20,000, the high cost of the battery pack alone is a huge barrier to widespread adoption, whether the cost passed on to the customer or the government, or hidden by the manufacturer.

Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, recently explained that lithium-ion batteries have a fifteen year history of exponential price reduction. Between 1991 and 2005, the capacity that could be bought with $100 went up by a factor of 11. The trend continues through to the present day.

This exponential reduction in battery cost and improvement in battery technology, more than anything else, will affect both the cost and range of electric cars. By 2025, that Nissan Leaf battery pack will cost less than $1,800, making the cost of the electric motor plus battery pack less than the price of a comparable gasoline motor. Assuming even modest increases in storage capacity, the electric vehicle will rank better on initial cost, range, performance, and ongoing maintenance and fuel costs.

With both lower cost and better performance, electric vehicles will likely overtake gasoline-powered ones by about 2025.

Autonomous Cars

Even ten years ago, most of us couldn’t imagine a self-driving car. When the first DARPA Grand Challenge, a competition to build an autonomous car to complete a 150-mile route, was held in 2004, the concept seemed audacious and it was. Of the fifteen competitors, not a single one could complete the course. The farthest distance traveled was 7.3 miles.

The following year, twenty-two of twenty-three entrants in the 2005 Challenge surpassed the 7.3 mile record of the previous year, and five vehicles completed the entire course. Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, led the Stanford University team to win the competition.

Sebastian Thrun went on to head Google’s autonomous car project, which first received press coverage in 2010 and continues to captivate our imagination. Yet despite Google’s technology proof point, and the development work now being done by many vehicle manufacturers, most people still imagine self-driving vehicles to be a long way off.

But Google has essentially shown that self-driving cars are already here: their vehicles have been accident-free for half a million miles whereas human drivers would have had an average of two accidents in the same miles driven.

The real barrier to adoption is cost. In 2010, the cost of Google’s self-driving technology was $150,000, of which $70,000 was just the lidar (a highly accurate laser-based radar). German supplier Ibeo, which manufactures vehicular lidar systems, claims it could mass-produce them as soon as next year for about $250 per vehicle. Computational processing is likely another large component of the overall price, and it has a long history of exponential cost reduction.

If costs come down, are there other barriers?

Some concerns in the media include:

  • Legislation. Will self driving cars be legal? Nevada, Florida, and California have already legalized them, suggesting this may be less of an issue than anticipated.
  • Litigation. Who will take the risks and pay up if and when there is an autonomous vehicle fatality?
  • Fear & Control. Some humans will fear self-driving cars while others will insist on their own manual control of their vehicle.

However, these oppositions aren’t unbreakable laws of physics. They are resistance to change, and they are subject to the forces advocating for autonomous vehicles, such as:

  • Fewer accidents reduce overall risk and liability, which will cause insurance companies to favor self-driving cars.
  • A reduction in the number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents (currently 3,200 people are killed every single day) makes a compelling social benefit.
  • Greater convenience and the recapture of drive time will lead to strong consumer demand.
  • As a feature differentiator, manufacturers will be eager to sell a profitable new option.
  • Reduction in drunk driving and increased alcohol consumption will make alcohol companies and restaurants strong supporters.
  • More efficient use of roads will save governments money in reduced infrastructure costs.

Simply put, the money is with the forces for autonomous vehicles. Insurance companies, liquor companies, vehicle manufacturers, customers, and governments will all want the benefits of self-driving cars.

There’s been talk about halfway solutions: semi-autonomous vehicles that are hands off but require an attentive driver, or need a human to handle certain situations. It’s both cheaper and easier to build an assistive solution than to have full autonomy, which is why we’re starting to see them show up in luxury cars like the Mercedes S-class, which has a driver assistance package (just $7,300 over the starting $92,900 price!) that can help maintain your lane position, distance from drivers ahead of you, and avoid blind-spot accidents.

But the driver is still in control and responsible.

In some ways, this semi-autonomy may be the worst of all worlds. It could encourage drivers to pay less attention to the road even though the vehicle isn’t really up to the task of taking control. As it stands, drivers don’t get much practice with emergency situations. So when emergencies do occur, our reflexes are slow or wrong. How much worse would the average emergency response handling be if drivers got even less practice, and were only called into action when they were either not ready or in a situation so bad that the AI couldn’t handle it? Under these circumstances, it’s unlikely that a human driver would respond in a correct, timely manner. If even airlines pilots fall asleep when the autopilot is on, how likely is it that regular drivers will be attentive?

So when will it happen?

One rule of thumb I learned upon entering the technology industry was that it takes seven years, on average, for new technology to go from laboratory proofs to sellable product. I’m not sure where that rule comes from, but by that measure, we should see the first self driving cars on sale in 2017.

From a cost perspective, we’ve already seen that lidar is likely to drop from $70,000 to $250. We don’t know the breakdown of Google’s other costs, but it could decrease by a factor of ten in ten years (pure computing technology falls faster – about 50x in ten years, more mechanical things slower). That would drop the total price under $10,000 by 2020, a reasonable luxury car option.

By 2030, another ten years out, the price will fall under $1,000, at which point the autonomous option will cost probably less than the annual savings in insurance.

In sum, we already see some limited assistive capabilities now, and should see partial self-driving capabilities around 2017, available as expensive options, with full autonomous capability around 2020, still at a significant cost. By 2030 or slightly earlier, all vehicles should be fully autonomous.

Dude, Where’s my Flying Car?

Now we get to the long-promised but not-yet-realized flying car.

The barrier to flying cars is not in the design or building of a viable airframe. We’ve built small flying vehicles for a while now. A quick Google search shows their amusing variety. We have manned quadcoptershover bikes, and lots of flying car-like things.

No, the real problem is that piloting is hard. Less than one third of one percent of Americans are pilots. A pilot’s license costs $5,000 to $10,000 and requires months or years of time and study. (Even if a pilot could fly a car in an urban environment, it’s not likely to be an enjoyable experience: think about the difference between a drive on a two-lane country road versus commuting in an urban grid. One is pleasure and the other utility.)

So it’s really the piloting barrier we need to overcome to see flying cars.

That will happen when autopilots, not humans, have achieved the necessary level of sophistication. Companies like Chris Anderson’s 3D Robotics have built, along with the open source community, the ArduPilot, a sub-$500 autopilot for unmanned drones. The ready availability of these consumer-grade autopilots suggests that navigation in open air by software is no more challenging (and may be less so) than navigating ground-level streets.

There will be substantial legislative barriers and not as many forces pushing for flying cars, but we should see at least see concept vehicles, prototypes, and recreational models (possibly outside the U.S.) in the late 2020s, just following the mass-market production of fully autonomous cars.

What about cost? An entry-level plane like the Cessna Skycatcher is a mere $149,000, a price point that’s lower than that of forty currently available automobile models. While entry-level helicopters are twice as expensive as comparable fixed-wing aircraft, quadcopters significantly simplify the design and add fault tolerance at a lower cost than single-rotor copters.

If the legislative barriers can be overcome, flying cars might not be as common a sight as a Ford or Toyota, but they could be more common than a Lamborghini or Aston Martin.

Trains & Hyperloops

I love the train ride between Portland and Seattle, and I’ve taken it dozens of times, including just riding up and back in a single day. Trains are relaxing and roomy, and their inherent energy efficiency appeals to my inner environmentalist.

On the other hand, they also have shortcomings. They’re locked into a track that is sometimes blocked by other trains, leading to unpredictable arrival times, and they go according to timetables that aren’t always convenient.

Elon Musk’s hyperloop may reduce new infrastructure cost, boost speeds, and reduce the timetable problem while maintaining energy efficiency, but I think the hyperloop is a stop-gap measure. That’s because we’ll soon reach an era of cheap electricity.

Photovoltaic cost per watt continues to drop (from $12 per watt in 1998 to $5 per watt in 2013, 14% annually over the long term) at the same time that we’re seeing new innovations in grid-scale energy storage. Ray Kurzweil and others predict that we’ll meet 100% of electrical needs with solar power by 2028. So while efficiency of passenger miles traveled is a key element to sustainable transportation right now, it may be less important in the future, when we have abundant and inexpensive green power.

Green power reduces the energy efficiency advantage of trains and the hyperloop. Of course, the other major benefit of mass transit is freeing the passenger from the tedium of driving, but self-driving vehicles accomplish that just as well.

Transportation Singularity: 2030

In sum, we have several key trends converging on the late 2020s: fully electric fleets, cheap electricity, autonomous vehicles, and flying cars.

Transportation will look very different by 2030. We’re likely to have many autonomous, personal-use vehicles. Since car sharing services are even more useful when the cars drive themselves to you, we may have much less personal ownership of the vehicles. Airline travel is likely to change as well, as self-piloting fast personal vehicles will compete for shorter trips, while the reduction in fuel costs may change the value structure for airlines.

And yes, we’ll finally have our flying cars.

About the Author

William Hertling is the author of Avogadro CorpA.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall, science fiction novels exploring the role of artificial intelligence and social networks in the near future. Follow him on twitter at @hertling, or visit his blog at www.williamhertling.com to learn more about his writing.


I love playing offense.

FullContact is officially in this mode and today announced that they have acquired Cobook with Pot, Ski Passes and Dogecoin. Kaspars Dancis – the awesome CEO of Cobook – has a more seriously titled (and equally serious post) up at COBOOK + FULLCONTACT.

One of my basic strategies as an investor is to use targeted small acquisitions throughout the life of a company. In 2005 Fred Wilson called this approach the “venture rollup” and said nice words about me and it in his post when he said “My good friend Brad Feld is up to his old tricks.  Brad is the master of the venture rollup.”

We’ve been investors in FullContact for about 18 months. They’ve got a real business at this point, are growing very fast, and working hard on their mission of creating One Address Book To Rule Them All. If you haven’t tried FullContact’s Address Book, you are missing out. The magic feature of “unified contacts” that they’ve been working on for over a year is up, running, and amazing.

Cobook is a perfect acquisition for us. The Cobook team has developed beautiful Mac and iOS address books. We’ve admired them for a while and decided a few months ago to join forces to have them accelerate our development on other platforms. The full team is moving from Latvia to Denver and is already hard at work integrating FullContact and Cobook.

If you’ve been watching what the companies I’m involved are up to, you saw this move in November when Yesware bought Attachments.me. And you’ll see it from companies I’m involved in again, and again, and again.


My Nexus 5 / Nexus 7 experience has been a winner so far. I’m 14 days into “Android instead of iOS” and I’m enjoying it a lot.

Almost all of the apps I use on iOS are on Android. Most are just as good / some are better.

And some of them are awesome. I’ve discovered Cover and I love it. It’s one of those things that just does what you want it to do. Another is Agent which has helped with battery life but also made it simple for me to keep my Nexus 7 in the bedroom since I just tell it to “sleep” from 9pm to 8am and as a result all the notification activity goes away and I don’t have to think about anything. Finally, the Nexus Wireless Charger is awesome.

I’ve got 17 more days before I decide whether to stay with the Nexus 5 or go back to the iPhone. Either way, I’m learning a lot.


I’ve had continual performance problems with Feld Thoughts over the past few years.

Yesterday, we moved the site to Lagrange Systems in an effort to meaningfully improve things.

How’s it doing? And, more importantly, what’s your favorite high performance, high availability WordPress configuration?


I changed my sleep pattern in October. Three months later, I feel like a completely different person. A much better one.

Since I was in my early 20’s, I’ve been getting up at 5am from Monday to Friday. I generally would go to sleep between 10 and 11. An alarm clock would wake me up. By Thursday or Friday I would often snooze or even reset it for 6am or 7am. But most of the time I pried myself out of bed at 5am.

This became a very rigorous routine in the last decade. I would get at most six hours of sleep each night during the week. Then I’d binge sleep on the weekend – often sleeping 12 to 14 hours. My world record is 15.5 hours – I’ve done that a few times.

When I was younger, I’d sleep through the night. Now I wake up two or three times in the night to pee. I fall back asleep immediately.

Three months ago I stopped waking up with an alarm clock. I use my Fitbit to track my sleep (and make my data public) so I noticed that my sleep pattern during the week naturally settled down at between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night.

It took me about a month to get my mind around this, but I now go to sleep with Amy and wake up with Amy. So – there’s a triple bonus – I’m getting a lot more sleep AND I crawl into bed with my wife, and then wake up slowly with my wife. Yeah – that’s really awesome.

I had developed this attachment to the idea that I only needed six hours of sleep a night. And, given the actual time to fall asleep and the restlessness in the night, I was only getting 4 to 5.5 hours of sleep a night. I’m able to sleep on airplanes so I had rationalized that 100% of my sleep on them counted and that’s how I was catching up. I realize that’s total bullshit – while my eyes where closed, it was unlikely that I was getting deep or REM sleep on the plane, so my sleep hygiene was lousy. I knew this, but I didn’t want to deal with it.

After three months of sleeping “they way my body wants to” I feel so much better. I’m not tired all the time. I’m in a much better mood. I’m quickly adjusting to a different work style, where rather than getting up at 5am, I’m getting up between 7am and 8am. I shifted my meeting schedule from starting at 9am to starting at 11am, so I still have the four hours of “morning time” that I crave. But I feel so much better.

It took me until age 48 to figure this out. Amy has been telling me for years that I’m not getting enough sleep. She’s also been encouraging me to sleep more so that I live longer with not so subtle hints like “women live longer than men because they get more sleep.” At least she hasn’t been turning all the milk in the house pink.

Are you getting enough sleep?


I just did a long 90 minute video interview stretch with Boulder Digital Arts that generated a number of specific videos on entrepreneurship. While they are selling them, a few are free. One of the free ones is on Founder’s Syndrome and Origin Stories. Given the last few posts I wrote on CEOs, and some upcoming ones, I thought you might be interested in this one.

If you liked that, take a look at some of the others. They include:

While they are inexpensive, if you use the discount code “Feld2014” you can get an additional 15% off.


One of the super crazy fun companies we are investors in is Betabrand. At this point, half of my new wardrobe comes from them.

They are hunting for a new amazing UI/UX developer. But – to show how much they want someone, they’ve designed an incredibly hideous new look for their site.

They’ve got blink tags, Comic Sans, spinning boxes, Nyan cat cursors, Papyrus, an on fire Under Construction prompt, and really bad color overlays. It reminds me of a Geocities page I once created.

Help our friends at Betabrand out. If you are a UI/UX god or goddess, here’s what they are looking for. And – while you are at it – buy some new disco pants.


tl;dr – If you are a CEO and want to take an amazing online course about being a CEO by Return Path’s Matt Blumberg, sign up for Startup CEO from NovoEd now.

Yesterday, I wrote about Rand Fishkin of Moz falling out of love with the CEO role. Today I read Jason Goldberg of Fab’s great post on his struggles as CEO in 2013 and what he learned from it. This topic is front of mind for me as many of the companies I’m on the board of are growing extremely fast and the demands on the CEOs are significant.

It’s really hard to be a CEO. Becoming a great CEO takes a lot of time, work, focus, coaching, and introspection. I’ve had the privilege of working with some incredible entrepreneurs who, over many years and several companies, became remarkable CEOs. Dick Costolo (Twitter CEO) immediately comes to mind. While I didn’t work with him at Twitter, I was on the board of FeedBurner and worked with him and his three founders (Eric Lunt, Steve Olechowski, and Matt Shobe), who are all still close friends. I learned an amazing amount from each of them, but especially from my time with Dick.

Another great CEO I’ve had the honor to work with is Matt Blumberg who has led Return Path since founding the company in 1999. Matt is a first time CEO and has a fun blog titled Only Once which references the idea that you can only be a first time CEO one time. In a delicious twist, he’s now been a first time CEO for 14 years. While Return Path has had countless twists and turns along the way, Matt has been CEO from inception and presides over a large and significant company that continues to be a leader in a market it helped create.

Fred Wilson, who is on the board of Return Path with me and Matt (along with the FeedBurner board, and the Twitter board) had a frank and insightful post about turning your team three times through the life of the company to meet the different challenges that face a company from its journey from sweat driven startup to massive scale. Often this process of turning the team includes the CEO; other times it doesn’t. In Matt’s case, there have been plenty of team changes along the way, but Matt has demonstrated an impressive ability to scale and adapt himself in the evolving role of a CEO of a rapidly scaling company.

As a result, when Matt started talking to me about writing a book about the role of a Startup CEO, I was super excited. I encouraged and supported this, and it resulted in another book in the Startup Revolution series that I’ve done with Wiley. Matt’s book, Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business, is a must read for any CEO.

Last summer, Matt began exploring doing an online course around the content in Startup CEO. He teamed up with the Kauffman Fellows Academy to put together a course titled Startup CEO, an online class that really drills into the important material of the book. It’s the real deal with hours of video, Q&A that Matt did in front of a live studio audience of NYC startup CEOs, as well as engagement with the teacher through the NovoEd platform.

I’m encouraging all the CEOs in Foundry Group’s portfolio to take the class, and I encourage you to take the class as well.

The class starts on January 20th on the NovoEd platform. You can learn more about it on Matt’s blog post about the Startup CEO course.


I was a CEO once. In my first real company, Feld Technologies, there were two founders – me and Dave Jilk. I was President (we didn’t use the CEO title then, but as the President, I was the “chief executive officer”) and Dave was Vice President. As we grew, other people had different titles, but the two of us ran the business.

I’ve been told that I was a good CEO, but after about ten people I didn’t like the role of CEO. But we stayed after it and built a successful company that was consistently profitable and acquired by a public company in 1993 for a few million dollars.

At the time it was acquired, we had 20 people. For the next nine months, I ran the consulting group of this public company. I reported to the two co-chairman and we quickly scaled up to 50 people in two offices. By the time we got to 50 people, I hated being the CEO of consulting group (I have no recollection what my title was, but again my role was the CEO role of this group.)

The parent company acquired a much larger consulting company – about 200 people – and I quickly handed the keys over to the new CEO (well, President) allowing Feld Technologies to become two of the branch offices of what ended up being AmeriData Consulting.

I have never wanted to be a CEO since. It’s a really hard job. Some people love it. Some people are outstanding at it. Everyone I’ve ever worked with in the role has struggled immensely at different points in time.

And some people grow to hate the role.

Recently, Rand Fishkin, the CEO of Moz, took an incredibly brave step. In his post Swapping Drivers on this Long Road Trip Together, he handed the CEO role over to his long time business partner Sarah Bird. As of January 15th, Sarah will formally become CEO and Rand will become an individual contributor on the executive team, reporting to Sarah.

We invested in Moz in April 2012. Rand wrote an epic blog on the financing titled Moz’s $18 Million Venture Financing: Our Story, Metrics and Future. It was so epic that the mainstream tech press didn’t really want to report on the financing since there was no new information they could discover, since Rand blogged every last detail.

Since that date, I’ve developed a professional love affair with Rand and Sarah. As an investor, I have no hesitancy to become close friends with the entrepreneurs we invest in. Rand and his wife Geraldine have become extremely good friends, and I have deep respect and affection for Sarah.

In the middle of 2013, Rand called me up and said “What do you think of the idea of me handing over the CEO reins to Sarah?” I reacted immediately with “That would be awesome.” There was silence – I don’t think Rand expected that reaction.

I knew Rand was unhappy as CEO. He was exhausted in his role. He had a strong senior team but carried around every ounce of stress and responsibility for all aspects of the business. He traveled constantly evangelizing Moz, SEO, and marketing. He loved certain aspects of what he was doing, but hated others. And many of the ones he hated were the ones that a CEO of a scaling business is responsible for.

I recognized this. It’s the same stuff I would hate if I ran a company the size and stage of Moz. It’s the stuff I hated when I was co-chairman of a 1,000 person public company and effectively acting CEO since the CEO we had recruited bailed after accepting the job, leaving us with a four month scramble to find a new CEO. It’s the stuff I remember hating leading a company of 50 people.

Now, Rand and I are different people. But he’s special. And magical. And amazing. And his special, magic, amazingness was being squandered as CEO, especially when he sat next to Sarah, who will be an awesome CEO while allowing Rand to be special, magical, and amazing in the next chapter of Moz.

I’m so incredibly proud of Rand for how he’s approached this, talked openly about it, and dealt with his own emotions, insecurities, and fears around this decision. And I’m extremely excited about Sarah become CEO and unleashing her talents on the new wave of growth at Moz, while Rand spends his time being true to what he loves in the context of Moz.

Building a company is hard. Being a CEO is hard. Working with people you trust, admire, and adore is a delight.