Brad Feld

Month: April 2014

My meditation experience continues. I’m currently meditating almost every morning immediately after I wake up and sitting for 20 minutes with GetSomeHeadspace.com. I’ve internalized the idea of “practice”mode – I’m not trying to get a good grade, do it well, or excel at it. I’m just practicing.

I slept late yesterday and when I woke up I didn’t feel like meditating. I felt odd about it for a few seconds, acknowledged the thought (“I wonder why I don’t what to meditate today” – ok, that’s a thought: odd), and then let it go.

This morning while meditating my mind wandered to the notion of a narrative. Several times I had a random thought that described my interpretation of something going on in my life. When I realized this, I labeled the thought with “thought: narrative” and went back to focusing on my breath.

When I was finished, I walked upstairs and realized the word “narrative” was still floating around in my head. I’ve let it sit there for the past hour as I responded to all the email that came in yesterday while I was taking a digital sabbath.

In the past week, during dinners, meetings, and hanging out with friends, I’ve been observing the narrative that gets created around specific situations. When I’m in business contexts, I’ve been listening to the narrative being told and comparing it with my interpretation of reality. When I read what others are writing on the web (blogs, articles, tweets), I’ve been paying attention to the narrative they are creating. The narrative from others and the narrative in my head are often divergent on subtle, but important points.

This isn’t an issue of fact vs. fiction. It’s not that one party is lying or consciously obscuring the truth. Rather, they are interpreting what is happening, or has happened, and creating their own narrative around it.

For the past 30 years, I’ve found myself reacting to these narratives of others. They impact my narrative, and my interpretation, of what has happened, and what should happen. In many cases, especially stressful ones or where there is conflict, I’ve tried to rationalize someone else’s narrative with mine, struggling to believe that we could interpret the situation so differently.

I have some deeply held beliefs that I adhere to. Amy and I are deep in Game of Thrones (Season 3 at this point) and the notion of a “code of conduct” or the idea of a “man of honor” keeps jumping out at me. My deeply held beliefs are analogous – they are the values on which my behavior, decisions, and actions are built.

But these deeply held beliefs are mine – they don’t map directly to others. They impact my narrative and how I respond to the narrative being told by someone else about a particular system. I can expose my deeply held beliefs to others but I can’t force them to adhere to them.

In the last two months this has come into sharp focus for me through meditation. I realize that many of the narratives I create are irrelevant. When I ask myself “will anyone care in 150 years”, the answer is a definitive “NO!” When I ask myself whether this narrative actually will impact the outcome of the situation, the answer is often “no”, although not necessarily as definitive.

Yesterday, I read Biz Stone’s book Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind. I like his narrative of the story of Twitter much more than Nick Bilton’s in Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal. I’ll write more about Biz’s book in another post, but it’s a great example of the power of a narrative combined with a set of deeply held beliefs.

The next time you get wrapped up in a narrative about something, ask yourself the question “will this matter in 150 years from now?” And then, contemplate the implication of the question and how it impacts what you do about the narrative.

Oh – and Daenerys Targaryen is a total badass. I’m rooting for her as the one true king.


Yesterday, Kauffman Foundation released a study that provided empirical support for the Boulder Thesis that I came up with in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. The study is excellent if you are interested in this topic and can be read at ad “Think Locally, Act Locally: Building a Robust Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.”

Kauffman did a study of 1 Million Cups, a program that was launched at Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City and is expanding rapidly around the US with it now in 33 communities in 21 states. Colorado has two – a 1 Million Cups in Denver and 1 Million Cups in Fort. Collins. 1 Million Cups Denver was also a recipient of one of the first Startup Colorado Community Fund grants.

The study found:

  • Entrepreneurship is a local phenomenon.
  • Entrepreneurs follow local entrepreneurs.
  • Local networks thicken over time.
  • Entrepreneurial demand is high for peer-based learning and networking.
  • Different programs reach different entrepreneurs.

In the report, Kauffman lined this up clearly against the Boulder Thesis, which, if you don’t know it, is:

  1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
  2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
  3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
  4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.

Or, if you are a video person and want to go a little deeper, take a look at the great StartupVille video Kauffman did when I released the book as part of their Sketchbook series.

I gave a 30 minute interview on this and other topics at the Atlanta Tech Village yesterday – nice summary from David Cummings. And there was a good student survey at  showing Chicago and the Midwest as an Evolving Hub for Entrepreneurship.


FSA (Feld Service Announcement) – my version of a “public service announcement”: Moz is on the hunt for a VP of UX and Design. This role is one of our most crucial hires this year. The ideal candidate will come to us with experience and examples to show of very complex, technical projects that s/he made simple and fun. I would love for you to share this job description with your network or if you have anyone in mind I would love for you to send them our way.

Yeah, it’s been kind of busy the last week. Congrats to my friends at Gnip on becoming part of the Twitter flock. I have a great origin story about the founding of Gnip and the first few years for some point in the future. But for now, I’m just going to say to everyone involved “y’all are awesome.”

Last week Manu Kumar had a spectacular post titled The New Venture Landscape. While it’s bay area centric, I especially agree with the punch line:

Pre-Seed is the new Seed. (~$500K used for building team and initial product/prototype)
Seed is the new Series A. (~$2M used get for building product, establishing product-market fit and early revenue)
Series A is the new Series B. (~6M-$15M used to scale customer acquisition and revenue)
Series B is the new Series C.
Series C/D is the new Mezzanine

Today at 5pm I’m doing a fireside chat with Eliot Peper, the author of Uncommon Stock, the first book published by FG Press. Join us for some virtual fun and a discussion about fiction, books, and startups.

And – if you miss that, Eliot is doing another event on Friday at 5pm at Spark Boulder.


Two big proposals from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today. First, he’s proposing to ban non-competition agreements. He’s also proposing an incredibly clever and innovative approach to immigration reform applicable only to Massachusetts.

I lived in the Boston-area for twelve years (Cambridge for four years and Boston for eight years. ) Even though I often say that was 11 years and 364 days too many for my “non-big city, non-east coast” personality, Boston still has a sweet spot in my heart. I had an amazing (and often excruciating) experience at MIT which was foundational to my personality, thought process, and character. I started and sold my first company there (first office – 875 Main Street, Cambridge; last office 1 Liberty Square, Boston). Techstars Boston was the first geographic expansion for Techstars. I’m not a sports fan but I always root for the Red Sox. I think I have more close friends in the VC business in Boston than in the Bay Area. Two of my closest friends – Will Herman and Warren Katz – both live there. And I know my way around downtown Boston – even after the Big Dig – better than any other downtown in the world.

The Massachusetts non-competition situation has always been stupid. In 2009, my partners and I at Foundry Group joined a coalition of VCs to try to eliminate non-competition agreements in MA. It’s awesome to see Governor Patrick take action on it since it’s one of the major inhibitors of the MA entrepreneurial scene.

The immigration report proposal is even more fascinating. It’s a great example of creative and innovation public-private policy at the state level to encourage and enhance entrepreneurship. Jeff Bussgang from Flybridge explains it succinctly in his post so I’ll just repeat it here.

“The idea is a simple one:  create a private-public partnership to allow international entrepreneurs to come to Boston and be exempt from the restrictive H-1B visa cap.  How is it possible to do this?  The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Department (USCIS) has a provision that allows universities to have an exemption to the H-1B visa cap.  Governor Deval Patrick announced today that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will work in partnership with UMass to sponsor international entrepreneurs to be exempt from that cap, funding the program with state money to kick start what we anticipate will be a wave of private sector support.” 

Brilliant. As our federal government continues to struggle to make any real progress on immigration reform, I love to see it happening at the state level. In addition to being good for innovation, it’s the kind of thing that dramatically differentiates states from one another on a policy, business, and innovation dimension that actually matters and likely has significant long term positive economic impacts on the region.

Governor Patrick – kudos to you. Governor Hickenlooper – I encourage you to roll out exactly the same thing in the State of Colorado. I know exactly the people at CU who would be happy to lead this, as would I. And since one of our Senators (Michael Bennet) is leading the immigration reform effort in the US Senate and our other Senator (Udall) has been a strong supporter of the Startup Visa and immigration report from the first discussion about it in 2009, I expect you already know your broad constituents support it.

Oh – and to my friends in NY who have been helping on the immigration reform front, let’s crank this up in NY also! Why should MA have all the fun?


I’m bouncing around between a bunch of stuff and have a two board meeting day so I thought I’d just toss up a few interesting things I read this morning along with my thoughts.

Don’t let the regulatory past be the prologue for Uber: Phil Weiser, the Dean of CU Law and head of Silicon Flatirons has an excellent OpEd in the Denver Post about Uber in Colorado and the regulatory activity around it. I’ve been vocal with our state government to not behave in “incumbent protection mode” by over regulating Uber, Lyft, and other innovative new companies. It continues to be painful to watch our state government – which is so enthusiasm about innovation and entrepreneurship – keep stepping on their toes, and occasionally in shit, as they try to balance the incumbent / innovator dynamic. I’m glad Phil said what he said so clearly – it needed to be said.

Venture funding goes ballistic: VCJ: Some people are starting to call the top of the current cycle, at least in the context of flows of LP funds into VC firms. We had our LP Annual Meeting yesterday and I had a vibrant conversation with a few of our LPs about this topic at lunch. My view on the world continues to be simple – have a strategy and a set of deeply held beliefs. Evolve your strategy thoughtful and carefully, but never change your deeply held beliefts.

Understanding the Drivers of Success: Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path, reminds us that a rising tide raises all boats. He speaks from his own experience about some of the cycles he’s been through with Return Path over the past 12 years and how that masks potentials issues. Greg Sands from Costanoa, who’s been on the Return Path journey with me, Matt, and Fred Wilson from the beginning, weighed in with an email on the past that finished with a great punchline: “Finally, when the slow down comes, figuring out how to separate market dynamics from team team and know whether you have the mgmt team you need for the next part of the journey is *really* hard.”

How Cheezburger Recovered From Their Hiring Blunder: Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger, has an outstanding and very open article about some very hard decisions he had to make a year ago, how and why he made them, and how he and Cheezburger have recovered from some bad choices. I love working with Ben and especially enjoy how honest and internally consistent his brain is with what happened.

Heartbleed: What Is The Correct Response? I was going to write a post yesterday on Heartbleed but didn’t get to it. Fred Wilson wrote a great one this morning including searching for the correct response for him personally. There’s lots in the comment thread – go weigh in if you have thoughts or suggestions.


Raj Bhargava (CEO of JumpCloud) and I have been talking about how startups can leverage DevOps and Agile more. We created a conference on DevOps last year for our portfolio companies and it was a huge hit.

DevOps is a movement that we are deeply interested in from multiple perspectives. It’s integral to almost all of the companies we invest in and many, especially in our Glue and Protocol themes, are DevOps driven companies.

In addition to investing in these companies, we are promoting DevOps concepts throughout our portfolio, encouraging learning activities such as the conference, and involved with initiatives such as DevOps.com that is a site to educate the IT community about DevOps.

When Raj asked me to do a Q&A with him on my views around DevOps to help more people understand why I am excited about it, I immediately said yes. If you are interested in hearing my thoughts around how companies can leverage Devops, head on over to JumpCloud’s Q&A with me on DevOps and SaaS and let us know what you think.

And – if you are a VP of Marketing, JumpCloud is looking for a great one.


I spent the last few days at CEO Bootcamp – Leadership Reboot. It’s run by my close friend Jerry Colonna with an awesome team of four. The next one is going to be in Tuscany, Italy from 6/4/14 – 6/8/14 and I expect it will be amazing. I encourage you to explore it and apply – the deadline for applications is 4/20/14. I arrived at Devil’s Thumb Ranch on Wednesday afternoon.

The first evening was a wonderful dinner and introduction to each other (about 20 of us) along with an evening session with a taste of what was to come. I attended as a special guest (I’m the only non-CEO / entrepreneur here) but participated as a peer.

Thursday was extremely intense with the focus on what a CEO does and the five challenges of a CEO. Everyone opened up, the discussion was incredible, and emotions were high, and yes, there were tears, as  one of Jerry’s superpower’s is getting the tears to flow.

If you need a taste of Jerry and haven’t seen him in action before, the following TWIST Interview on The 6 Biggest Mistakes Founders Make is dynamite. By Thursday evening, we were deep into it. Some people were tired (I ended up taking a nap for 90 minutes during the late afternoon break), others were confused, and some were inspired. A word that was repeated regularly was grateful. Grateful to be with peers. Grateful to realize one wasn’t alone. Grateful to be able to be human in the midst of a group of other entrepreneur/CEOs.

A magical thing happened after Thursday dinner. The gang from Playback Theatre West came and spent two hours with us. I’d experienced Playback Theatre West last year at Boulder Startup Week. I was one of the stories they performed – I shared my story of moving to Boulder with Amy and they re-enacted it – interpreting things in real time – magnificently. Since I knew what we were in for, I knew that once things started happening the collision of improv and entrepreneurship would be a wonderful capstone to the day.

After a warm up, Rebecca asked for volunteers. Sam, who had been with us all day (as he’s one of the CEO Bootcamp founders as well as a member of Playback Theatre West), was one of the actors.There was a lull – everyone was unsure what to do next. So I stood up and went first.

When I stood up, I had no idea what story I was going to tell, so there was some meta-improv going on. By the time I sat down next to Rebecca to start telling my story, I decided I’d tell the story of my 50 mile race. The emotional fallout from the race, which I only mildly understood two weeks after I finished it, has had a profound impact on how I’m currently living my life given the deep depression that set in for me about seven months after the race and then lasted six months.

I told the story of the race. Rebecca and the gang asked questions along the way, pulling out pieces of my motivation for the race, along with the implications of the race. Some of the questions were simple, like “Why”, but set me off on a tangent that had nothing to do with the race. Then I sat back and watched them perform for five minutes. I laughed. And then I laughed some more. And then I had tears in my eyes. And then a wave of emotion flowed over me as I made a connection to something I hadn’t realized before. And then I settled down and smiled as they tied together some threads around my own motivations that had eluded me.

They did several more performances for different CEOs in the room including one about a hiring story that was happening and was unresolved and one about starting a company. Each was a hilarious and absolutely beautiful interpretation of the story told. After a super heavy and intense day, it was a perfect way to wrap things up. To realize we are all humans, by acting out the reinterpretation of our human stories.

I’ve become a huge fan of Playback Theatre West. I hope to do a lot more with them in the future.


In the #GiveFirst spirit, Techstars supports those who have served our country by hosting Patriot Boot Camp. PBC is an intense three-day program that educates and mentors active service members, Veterans and their spouses to innovate, build technology companies, and create jobs. Essentially, they get a mini Techstars experience.

The next PBC will be held at the Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York City from May 16th to 18th. You can learn more about the program at their website or check out this video from last year’s event.

Patriot Boot Camp alumni are building great business. A couple great examples are Dave Cass and Dave Parker with Uvize (accepted into the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, powered by Techstars and recently funded by FG Angels), and Gregory Coleman with Nexercise (accepted to the Techstars Chicago).

Do you know a Veteran, active service member, or military spouse who could benefit from a miniature Techstars experience? Please encourage them to apply here. The deadline to apply is April 4th, 2014, tonight, at midnight Eastern time.


Gluecon’s early bird pricing ends Friday, April 4th and I wanted to make sure you got the chance to register prior to the registration rates going up. When we started Gluecon with Eric Norlin six years ago, I don’t think any of us really had any idea about the true size of the wave of innovation that we were catching. Glue started out like a lot of tech conferences do, with a “business track” and a “technical track,” but we quickly realized what a mistake that was. Since then, Gluecon has transformed into a conference of what I assert is the  deepest technical content available around the topics of cloud computing, mobile, big data, APIs and DevOps. The agenda is shaping up to be something really special. Use “brad12” to take 10% off of the early bird registration

One of the things I love best about my Foundry Group partners is that they each have strong opinions. Another thing I love about them is that they each have big open ears.

I know a lot of people who have strong opinions. I know a lot of other people who are excellent listeners. The venn diagram of the intersection of the two is uncomfortably small.

As I’ve written before, I love working with learning machines and silent killers. The best entrepreneurs are the ones who combine these traits.

I know a lot of people with strong opinions who think they are good listeners, but all you need to do is listen to a conversation between them and someone else to watch them talking all over the other person. Or asserting the same point over and over again, often using slightly different language, but not engaging in a process of trying to actually learn from the other person’s response. This is especially vexing to me when the person with strong opinions claims to have heard the other person (as in “I hear you, ok, that makes sense”) but then 24 hours later Mr. Strong Opinion is back on his original opinion with no explanation.

In contrast, I know a lot of strong listeners who won’t express an opinion. The VC archetype that I describe as Mr. Socrates is a classic example of this. I expect most entrepreneurs can give many examples of them being on the receiving end of a stream of questions without any expressed perspective, null hypothesis, or summary of reaction. I hate these types of board meeting discussions – where the VCs just keep asking questions but never actually suggesting anything. There’s not wrong with inquiry and I definitely have my moments of “I don’t get this – I need to ask more questions” but in the absence of a feedback loop in the discussion, it’s very tiresome to me.

Big open ears doesn’t mean that you just listen. It means you are a good listener. An active listener. One who incorporates what he is hearing into the conversation in real time. You are comfortable responding with a modification to an opinion or perspective as a result of new information. You are comfortable challenging, and being challenged, in the goal of getting to a good collaborate answer, rather than just absorbing information but then coming back later as though there was never any information shared.

I’ve always had strong opinions. I can be a loudmouth and occasionally end up in lecture mode where I’m just trying to hammer home my point. My anecdotes and stories often run longer than they should (I blame my father for teaching me this particular “skill.”) But I always try to listen, am always willing to change my opinion based on new data, or explain my position from a different perspective after assimilating new data. When I realize I’m bloviating, I often call myself publicly on it in an effort to shift to listening mode. And I always try to learn from every interaction I have, no matter how satisfying or unenjoyable it is.

Do you have strong opinions AND big open ears?


For those of you that missed my note yesterday, I’m going to start using the first paragraph of my posts with an announcement about something in my world. Today’s is the launch of a new product from Orbotix called Selfiebot. My Orbotix friends are masters at creating amazing robots and are hard at work on the next generation of what we are calling “connected play.” Selfiebot is an autonomous flying robot that shoots HD photos of you, freeing you from the limitations of a handheld startphone when taking selfies. Check out Selfiebot today

While we are on the topic of Orbotix, let’s talk for a little while about expectations for outside board members. Yesterday I met with an outside board member of another company I’m on the board of. He’s been on the board for about six months and is feeling uncomfortable with his contribution. He’s a very experienced CEO with a large exit under his belt, a founder/investor in several other companies, and an excellent operator. But he hasn’t been an outside board member much. He wanted to get feedback from me on how he was doing and whether his expectations for his own engagement were correct, and what he could do to work with the CEO and leadership more effectively.

I’m an enormous believer in the value of outside directors relatively early in the life of a company. I like to keep boards small and weighted toward outside directors as the companies grow, rather than just a cadre of VCs sitting around the board torturing the CEO with conflicting advice and opinions. I’ve written about this extensively in Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors.

I generally see three types of outside board members getting recruited to a board of a VC backed company.

  1. The friend of the VC: This director is really a proxy for the VC and not an independent thinker. Danger danger.
  2. The friend of the CEO / entrepreneur: This director is really a proxy for the entrepreneur and not an independent thinker. Danger danger.
  3. An independent director. Now, this person can be a friend of the VC, or a friend of the CEO / entrepreneur, but is an independent thinker. Or they might be someone from industry that is known to one of the investors or the entrepreneur, but is recruited specifically by the CEO to join the board. Or it might be someone lightly known, or even unknown, but again is an independent thinker.

Note the emphasis on independent thinker. It doesn’t matter who the relationship originates from. There is a unique role for an outside director in a startup company and it’s one that can be profoundly helpful to the CEO. But that person needs to be operating from a headspace of an independent thinker, not a proxy for one of the other participants on the board.

The person I was talking to yesterday is definitely #3. While I’ve known him for a long time and was an investor / board member in his successful company, he most definitely is not my proxy. I learn an enormous amount from him about the particular dynamics of the specific business since he knows it so well, so when he talks, I listen carefully. I have no interest in being in between him and the executives of the company or hearing about what comes up in his operating level discussions, unless he feels like it’s a board level issue and discussion. But most importantly, I want the CEO to learn from this outside director and his experience by developing his own deep, personal relationship.

Back to Orbotix. We’re recruiting at least one outside director to Orbotix as part of the continued scale up of the company. Paul Berberian, the CEO, wrote a magnificent short overview of his expectation for a board member that he’s sharing with everyone he’s talking to. I asked his permission to reprint it here – it follows. If you are considering adding an outside director, I encourage you to prepare a similar document, and make sure it’s for all of your directors, including your investor directors.

Orbotix Board of Directors Expectations

Orbotix is a startup company and our expectations for board members can be summed up with the following statements:

  • Be True
  • Be Prepared
  • Be Present
  • Be Available
  • Be Supportive
  • Be A Player

Be True: No bullshit or tap-dancing on any subject. Be honest with your thoughts and opinions. Our time together as a group is limited and holding back or sugar coating any issues or concerns you have with the business is simply wasting time in trying to get to the real discussion. If you don’t have an opinion or relevant experience to make an informed decision – say so. No one knows everything. And of course all the other table stakes for serving on any board such as always act in an ethical manner and in the best interest of the company.

Be Prepared: We put a lot of time into preparing the board book – read it in advance. We do not review the board book at the board meeting unless there are questions. The first few minutes are open for questions, approval of standard business items and then we dive into a deep discussion on one to three key subjects. These subjects will we outlined in the board book but additional material may be presented at the meeting. Try to come to each board meeting with one big question or insight you’d like to be addressed during our strategic discussions. Each board meeting will end with an executive session where the directors can give feedback to the CEO as well as talk privately without management present. The lead director will then follow up with the CEO to provide any final thoughts on the meeting.

Be Present: We have four board meetings a year and expect board members to be physically and mentally present. Board meetings are typically 3 hours or less. If you cannot attend physically getting access to a high quality video conference system can be a substitute. We take great care to plan BOD meetings around your schedule so please make them. Missing one board meeting can happen, but it should be rare. If you miss multiple board meetings we assume that something else is taking priority and you should evaluate ongoing participation. When at the board meeting turn off you phone and laptop and participate in the discussion. We will take breaks to allow you to check messages. If you are highly distracted due to other pressing matters, please let us know in advance so we don’t question your willingness to participate. We have a “small group meal” in advance or after the board meeting – typically a dinner the night before. The meal will have 2 to 4 people and will include an equal number of board members and management. This is the opportunity for the board to get to know management and each other at a deeper level – groups will be different for each board meeting. They are not designed to conduct the board meeting in advance. An Orbotix exec will coordinate the meal in advance.

Be Available: One of the key roles a startup board member can provide is to act as a coach or sounding board for the CEO. These interactions typically occur between board meetings. Making time on your turf to have these interactions is invaluable. The expectation that these meetings will not exceed more than a few hours per quarter. Often approvals are needed in short order – board members are expected to be responsive on emails / calls that clearly declare action needed in the title or message.

Be Supportive: As a board member you are expected to support the company and CEO. If you support the company but not the CEO you have three options 1) coach the CEO 2) replace the CEO or 3) resign. Unless there is some unusual circumstance, options #2 and #3 should not be without warning as it is expected feedback will be shared with the board in the executive session. An engaged and supportive BOD member will use their best efforts to help Orbotix succeed. Examples include leveraging your network for creating meaningful partnerships and introductions, and freely sharing your expertise and insights on strategy, products and performance. Additionally we expect every board member to speak about the company favorably in public and share their enthusiasm for our work with others.

Be A Player: We make fun things. That is why before each BOD meeting starts we begin with a play session to highlight our accomplishments and developments since our last meeting. We want our BOD members to embrace their inner child and play with our creations, offer feedback and most importantly share with their friends and family to help us shape our products and experiences. We cannot build fun things unless we are all having fun – so let’s play!