Brad Feld

Month: October 2015

I spent the day yesterday doing Denver Startup Week stuff. I was on a bunch of panels and during one of the Q&A sessions someone asked something to the effect of:

“Now that things are moving faster than ever before, how do you deal with / keep up with them?”

I thought about it for a second and responded that I wasn’t sure the assertion was correct. I don’t think things are moving faster than ever before. I paused to make sure I believed that. Then I continued with my answer.

I was a freshman in college in 1983. It felt like things were moving at an extremely fast pace. I started my first real company in 1987. The pace of things was incredible. After I sold my first company, I started a company called Intensity Ventures to make all my personal investments from. The name kind of says it all. When I started making venture capital investments in 1997, the pace of things, and the amount of work I did, was massive. In 1999 things were moving so theoretically quickly that everything was a total blur.

After riffing on this for a while, I suggested we approach it differently. It’s not that things are moving faster, it’s that information is much more available and there’s much less friction around communication. My communication mechanisms in 1983 were a landline telephone, letters, newspapers, magazines, and an airplane. The only constant in that equation 32 years later is the airplane, and as far as I can tell it takes about the same number of hours (six) to get from Boston to San Francisco that it did in 1983.

By 1987 I was regularly using faxes and Federal Express (the only overnight mail I was aware of), but a mobile phone and email didn’t really show up until around 1993 for me. The web appeared in 1994 and a completely different method of communication started its long march into integrating in our universe.

While all of this was different, the pace of things – at least the intensity of how work got done – didn’t feel much different. I was young and had a huge amount of energy and ambition, so 100 hour work weeks were typical. Redeyes were the norm for me as I wanted to spent the least amount of waking hours on airplanes. By 2001 when the Internet bubble burst, I was completely exhausted, and then I began a relentless grind for several years of cleaning up the mess I had created, followed by another relentless grind of working to get Mobius Venture Capital into a steady place and ultimately starting Foundry Group.

I never once felt that things were moving slowly. Instead, as time passed, my approach to communicating with people changed, although lots of humans in my world still want to get together face to face or fly to meet me for 30 minutes when a video conference would be perfectly adequate.

But more significantly, when I calmly observe the world around me, we want to feel, like every other generation, that what we are facing right now is more complicated, more important, and changing faster than ever before in human history.

On an absolute basis, it might feel this way because of communication mechanisms. But if you take the first derivative, I think you’ve got a flat line, as the relative pace (when normalized for communication mechanisms) feels constant to me, at least during the 1983 to 2015 time period that I’ve experienced as an adult.

Remember – All this has happened before and all of it will happen again. Ponder this the next time you get on an airplane, even if it has WiFi.

Agree or disagree?

Pioneer Square Labs (PSL) launched today. We led the round and I’m joining the board. PSL, based in Seattle, is a not a VC firm, accelerator, or incubator, but instead is a startup studio, which is a company that creates companies.

The co-founders are Greg Gottesman, Geoff Entress, Mike Galgon, and Ben Gilbert. Greg is a co-founder of Madrona and long-time VC. Geoff worked with Greg at Madrona for a decade and is one of the most prolific and successful angel investors in the Pacific Northwest. Mike was the co-founder of aQuantive which was acquired by Microsoft for $6.2 billion. Ben was a co-founder of Madrona Labs with Greg.

PSL was announced today at GeekWire’s conference and there’s an extremely comprehensive post explaining how it works at Top Seattle investors raise $12.5M for new ‘startup studio’ Pioneer Square LabsMarcelo Calbucci, who is part of PSL, explains in his post Next Chapter: Pioneer Square Labswhy he joined and what’s unique about the approach.

At Foundry Group, we’ve experimented with lots of different things around company creation and early stage investment. In addition to our direct investing, we co-founded Techstars which has had a profound impact on company creation around the world. Techstars now owns Startup Weekend and Startup Week, which extend Techstars impact on and support of the Entrepreneurs Journey. We’ve made over 60 investments through FG Angels – our AngelList syndicate – and are one of the most prolific investors on that platform. We’ve invested in over 30 VC seed funds and emerging managers, supporting even more investors and founders at the early stages.

We have a lot of investments in Seattle. Currently active ones include, Spare5, Moz, Glowforge, Cheezburger, and Impinj (via our Mobius funds). Previous investments include Gist (acquired by RIM) and BigDoor (which failed). Mattermark, which is based in San Francisco, just opened an office in Seattle. Techstars has a big presence there, including much of the team from Startup Weekend. And we have another new investment based in Seattle that should close mid-October.

We’ve known and worked with Greg Gottesman for over a decade. We consider him one of our closest friends and most trusted partners in the VC world. We’ve had ups and downs together, which is critical to building a real relationship in this business (if everything is good, it’s bullshit, and if everything is bad, it’s no fun.)

When Greg started talking to us about the idea for Pioneer Square Labs, we were immediately interested. Two of our Seattle investments – and Spare5 – came out of the Labs effort that Greg created at Madrona. While preceded Labs (and was actually a Startup Weekend project that Greg led the team for), it was the prototype for Labs so we understood the concept well. Both and Spare5 are doing great and validated the premise of the Labs concept for us.

The last piece of the puzzle was how to fund something like this. I encouraged Greg to have an extensive syndicate of VCs and angels as the goal was to build an engaged, invested community around PSL. The result is a magnificent group of 13 VCs and over 50 angel investors.

When we saw the opportunity to invest even more in Seattle, working with three of the strongest leaders we know in the early stage market with an amazing collection of VCs and angel investors, jumping in with both feet was a no-brainer.