I spent an hour yesterday at The Corner Boxing Club. I spent an hour with Carrie Barry (the founder) learning the very, very, very basics. And I got an incredible workout that had me in bed reading – after a bath – by 9pm.
I love trying new things. Often, I only do something once if I’m not interested in it, but I’ll definitely be back to The Corner Boxing Club. I loved everything about it – the vibe, the place, Carrie, the workout, what I learned, and how it felt.
After awkwardly walking into the club with my street clothes on and a running bag full of workout clothes, Carrie found me and pointed me at the Men’s locker room (which is a bathroom in the office building they are in.) I changed into completely inappropriate, uncool, and wrong running clothes, including a new yellow LuluLemon top that I recently got and my orange Asics running shoes. Carrie pretended she didn’t notice.
Her first question to me was “how many fights have you gotten into.” My answer – two. The first was in third grade. A kid was picking on me and I turned around and punched him in the face and flattened him. The second was in eleventh grade. My friends had turned on me for a year (I don’t remember why) and one of them (Drew) was pushing me around. I turned around, punched him in the face, and flattened him. I’m a mellow happy guy but apparently there is some primal rage buried deep somewhere. Carrie’s response was to grin a big grin and say, “Cool – so you aren’t afraid to throw a punch.” I didn’t respond, as I’d never thought about it and didn’t think two childhood random lucky left hook connects counted for much.
She took me through a 10 minute warm up that had me dripping sweat and my muscles burning at the end of the backward bear crawl. My warmups at Revo are much easier – suddenly I missed them.
She then spent the next 20 minutes taking me through the basics. I learned the boxing stance, the idea that I should think of it like dancing, and how to jab with my right hand and punch with my left. Some of the motions felt familiar because of tennis and I quickly realized how much of it was in the legs.
I spent the next 20 minutes with gloves on dancing around on Carrie’s command (1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, 3, 3, 1, 1) and then doing 1, 2 combinations into her mitts. When that ended, I was physically done, but I still had more to do.
We went into a caged area, she gave me a baseball bat, and told me to hit the shit out of the hanging bag. She gave me a demo and then I went after it – probably 70 or 80 swings. Exhausting – but man it felt good.
As I got in my car, I remembered to send a quick note to my friends David Mandell and Jerry Colonna who had bought me an hour of boxing as a gift. My first hour was awesome – and – I’ll be back …
A cliche I’ve heard many times is “Wall Street Always Wins.” The first week of 2016 in the public markets has been an entertaining reminder of this.
In 1998, when I started ending up with lots of shares in public Internet companies, I came up with a formulaic approach for any public equities that are distributed to me (either from our funds or other VC funds). The approach was mathematic, dispassionate, and easy for me to execute. Over the past 18 years this strategy served me well.
In 2002, I decided not to own any public company stocks except for companies that I directly invested in as private companies. I sold whatever remaining public company shares I still had post Internet bubble and took an entirely different approach to the public markets.
While I have still have plenty of public equity, it is through either index funds, equity fund managers that I have a long term relationship with, or a few companies that I invested in when they were private companies. And, for the last category (the shares I own personally), I still use the long-term formulaic approach I came up with in 1998.
I’m a big believer in the Bogle school of thought about owning the market, rather than trading stocks. As a result, I don’t have to pay attention to the public markets on a daily basis. Or a weekly basis. Or an monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. Or basically, at all. That lets me focus all of my mental energy on what I like and what I think I’m good at (which is not being a stock picker or trader.)
The first finance course I took at MIT was 15.401: Finance Theory I and was taught by Stewart Myers. I remember the cover of the textbook, fondly called Brealey and Myers, what the Capital Asset Pricing Model is, and a few other things. Even though my future business partner Dave Jilk told me that he enjoyed the finance classes he had taken, I didn’t, and after taking 15.402 (which was required for my masters degree), I was done with corporate finance after taking the final exam.
Except – not really – since a big part of my job is corporate finance, just for startups and fast growing companies. However, unlike the evolution of the 15.4xx finance classes, and the extreme amount of financial engineering and financial innovations (both good, bad, and questionable) that came out of MIT research and MIT professors, most of the math involved for a venture capitalist can be done in one’s head, as long as you are decent at arithmetic.
But, for some reason, I occasionally like reading about Wall Street and corporate finance. Some of it is akin to watching the inevitable train wreck that surfaces in books like The Big Short. Some of it is to try to understand human motivation and behavior in a sphere that I don’t encounter often. And some of it is just to learn something that, in some parallel universe, I might be participating in.
Flash Boys was a good capstone to the last week of wallowing in the global financial crisis of 2008, which I began by watching the movie The Big Short. Once again, Michael Lewis took a hard topic and made it accessible, fun, interesting, and character heavy. After reading the book and then poking around IEX, the alternative trading system at the center of the story, I got a fun bonus by discovering that Spark Capital and Bain Capital Ventures are both investors in IEX.
I’m probably done for a while reading about Wall Street. But, once again, after reading Flash Boys, the cliche “Wall Street Always Wins” rings true in my brain.
Let’s start with my bias. I love Twitter, use it all the time (a lot more than Facebook), and will continue to love and root for Twitter.
I’ve been a Twitter for Mac user for a long time. I know it’s out of favor with all the cool kids, but it works for me.
It sits quietly on the left side of my giant screen and whenever a little dot shows up next to the second icon (I think it’s a tilted bell) I know I have something that has @bfeld in it that I should look at or respond to. And, when I feel like tweeting something, the app is right there on the left side of my screen.
Last week when Twitter for Mac was upgraded to raving from folks like Cult of Mac in their post Twitter for Mac doesn’t suck anymore I was psyched to install the update from the Mac App Store. So I did.
Here’s the problem. Suddenly refresh no longer works on the notification page (second icon). Now, when there’s a little dot there, I have to click the first icon (Home) and then the second icon (titled bell).
Sadness ensued. I presume that this has already been reported to gang at Black Pixel. I was hoping this would get fixed in version 4.0.1 which came out yesterday. But it didn’t. So here’s hoping for 4.02.
After two years of a dedicated experiment, we’ve decided to stop making new investments via our FG Angels Syndicate. We’ve learned a lot, achieved some of our goals, but ultimately have decided that the effort required to maintain our investment pace on AngelList is too great for us, at least for now. More on that in a bit, but let’s start with some history.
The Monday after AngelList announced their Syndicate product in September 2013 we decided to to jump in with both feet and start FG Angels. As a result, we were one of the very first syndicates and the first VC firm to create a syndicate.
We had several high level goals:
It took a few months for AngelList to gear up Syndicates so that they actually worked. As a result our first investment wasn’t made until early January when we invested in OnTheGo Platforms, which was just acquired by Atheer.
Our plan was to make 50 investments, directly committing $2.5m from our funds ($50k from us for each investment) through 2014. When we did a retrospective on our first year of FG Angels, we had invested in 42 companies. Seth did a nice job of summarizing what the deals and the syndicate activity for the first year looked like.
Our plan was not to generate investment deal flow for us to follow on with our main funds. Instead, we took a one time seed investor approach patterned after an angel strategy that I’ve used for almost 20 years that has now generated a realized return over 10x invested capital and still has about half the money at play.
We’ve ended up investing in three companies through our main funds that we had invested in first with FG Angels (Mattermark, Revolar, and Havenly). However, both Revolar and Havenly went through accelerator programs that we are involved with (Techstars and MergeLane, respectively), which allowed us even more perspective into working with them.
We decided to continue making FG Angels investments through 2015 at about the same pace. By the end of 2015, we had made a total of 65 FG Angels investments. We have 49 funded Backers, a 236 unfunded Backers, a total syndicate backing of $976,653, and an estimated 30 day raise of $171,058.
At the end of 2015, we revisited the goals I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Let’s see how we did and what we learned.
Goal 1: Understand how AngelList and Syndicates worked by actively participating: In addition to understanding in depth how AngelList and Syndicates worked, I’d like to think we helped Naval and his awesome team at AngelList on figuring out the legal, workflow, and UX dynamics around AngelList. We’re fans of both AngelList and Syndicates and it was important to us to give back to the platform and help them work through the dynamics involved in creating and rolling out their Syndicates product.
Goal 2: Be able to experiment with seed investments outside our themes: While we did a lot of investments outside our themes, we generated very little incremental learning on our part. While we could be very helpful in a generic early investor way, the time to value ratio was way off in both directions. While we regularly did short, quick hit help via email, whenever someone wanted to spend an hour or more with one of us, we eventually realized that our investment and ownership in the company was dramatically underweighted. And, this took time away (we each have a finite number of hours each week) from companies we had much larger investments in. We also realized that we were getting the experimentation value and learning at a greater rate from our deep engagement in Techstars.
Goal 3: Extend our network of entrepreneurs and angel investors: As we expected, our network of entrepreneurs was expanded (by about 150 people across the 65 companies.) These founders are active members of our portfolio and our goal is to be helpful to them any way we can, given time constraints. However, we have been disappointed in how we have – or haven’t – been effective at building a broader network of angel investors. We’ve made some new friends and built strong connections with a few angels in the syndicate, but we’ve struggled to build any kind of extended community. The tools for this on AngelList just aren’t there yet and we haven’t committed the resources to do this separately. And, ultimately, some face to face time is likely needed which we haven’t been willing to do.
Goal 4: Generate additional economic returns for our funds: We’ve invested about $3.2 million in FG Angels and are excited about the portfolio. However, it’s a very early stage portfolio that will take a very long time to mature. Even when you include the carry we are getting on FG Angels (15%), this total amount represents less than one fund investment on our part (our typical investment size is $5m to $15m, with this growing to as much as $40m when you include our late stage fund.) Even if we generate a huge multiple on our overall FG Angels investment (say 10x), the impact on our fund return is limited given the size of the investments we were making.
Ultimately, we’ve decided that the effort that we are putting into FG Angels is too great for us to continue on in the way that we’ve have been for the past two years. However, by running the experiment, we’ve better understood the leverage points at the angel / seed level that AngelList and Syndicates create, which for some investors, and many entrepreneurs, is very powerful. Finally, we’d like to believe that we’ve contributed to the evolution and dynamic of angel / seed investing through this effort.
While we are no longer going to be actively making FG Angels investments, every now and then we might do something out of FG Angels. We continue to believe that AngelList Syndicates is an effective platform for companies and investors. We simply felt that we needed to better balance the time and effort we were spending on FG Angels relative to the weight it has in our overall portfolio.
It’s important to all of us at Foundry Group to experiment around the edges of our industry and to push the boundaries of the venture model to find new and innovative ways to create value for our investors while supporting as broad a set of entrepreneurs as possible. We’ll continue to look for ways to do that.
Welcome to 2016. We’ve already heard lots of predictions about the late stage financing market, tech IPOs, and what is going to happen to unicorns this year. And it’s only Monday, January 4th.
Remember that these are predictions. No one really has a clue. And a year is a long time.
My simple advice for 2016 is “control your destiny.” There are lots of different ways to control your destiny. It’s dependent on the stage you are at, the size of your company, and the configuration of your investor base.
Here’s an example from an email exchange I had this morning with the CEO of an early stage company that has growing revenue and a small team.
Founder: “So far we’ve raised $1.2mm and our revenues for 2016 will eclipse that. (All software licenses sold, no services). With status quo, we can become profitable, but grow slowly. I can burn faster, and grow faster, but risk not being able to raise money. There are network effects and winning the market is important. If my end goal is to ultimately win the market and not stay a “nice little business” is there any rule of thumb for how much to burn versus keep in the coffers? Is it better to burn out, or fade away?”
Me: 1. How much cash do you have in the bank? 2. How much are you burning a month?
Founder: 1. $250K actual cash. $250K in A/R. 2. $65k / month
Me: Get profitable so you are self-sustaining. Then raise more money.
Founder: Thanks! I think you are right. Love to know your reasoning.
Me: Control your future. It makes fundraising much easier.
I’ve got plenty of different examples for different situations and stages. Look for more examples like this in the future. If there are specific cases you are looking for feedback on, feel free to leave them in the comments.
The first time I experienced someone accidentally wiped out a full set of data was on an IBM PC with a Tallgrass Hard Drive and Tape Backup. I was at PetCom Systems, my first real job. It was a Friday evening and I was the only person around. The phone rang and I answered it, “PetCom Systems, how can I help you?” It was a user from somewhere who was trying to back up for the weekend and didn’t know what to do next. I asked her what she had done. She walked me through what was on her screen, which basically said “Are you sure you want to delete all the files on your disk.” She had already pressed Enter in a panic, it had finished whatever it was trying to do, and her PetCom software (and nothing else) worked anymore. She had somehow, from within Tallgrass, wiped out all the files (except for DOS) on her drive when she was trying to make a backup.
I told her what I thought had happened. I was 17. She cried. She told me her boss was going to fire her when he found out. She cried some more. I tried to say something soothing but I didn’t really know what to say. She eventually stopped crying, told me thanks for trying to help (I think she knew I was 17) and we said goodbye.
I went into the bathroom and threw up.
Since that time, I’ve typed some version of del *.* and answered Y more times than I’d like to think. I became good friends with Norton Unerase. After deleting the wrong directory a few times in the mid 1980s, I started always typing the full path name when I wanted to delete a directory. After doing this wrong a few more times and having MS-DOS eat files I wanted, I started making a backup before I deleted a directory. At some point I became pretty paranoid about backups.
And then I got casual again. About five years ago I decided I didn’t really care about any of the data that I had and if it all went away, I’d be fine with that. Fortunately, I’m not responsible for any data at work so I can’t really do any harm there. The only data that really matters to Amy are her photos so I’m extra careful with them (and have plenty of backups).
As I started down the Great Photo Organization of 2016, I made a backup. Yay. As I fell in love with Mylio, I gave myself the illusion that it was backing things up correctly because of its “Protection” approach.
Early yesterday morning, I set up Mylio on Amy’s computer, feeling ready to get her rolling with it now that I had organized 22k+ photos and was very happy with them. I installed Mylio, set it up, pointed it at the photo directory, and hit Enter. It did something different than I thought it would (and that it had done when I added on my second computer – or at least I think it was different.)
I then tried to set it up correctly again, the way I wanted. It created a second photos folder in Amy’s instance of Mylio and started adding all the photos to the library again, doubling the photo count. I highlighted the first folder in Mylio that I had set up and hit delete. I told it to only delete from this local computer. However, I’d pointed it at the Dropbox file share of our photos.
Two minutes later as one folder was counting up and the other was counting down, I realized I’d fucked myself. My heart rate and blood pressure went up and a giant “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” emerged from my lips.
It took me about ten minutes figure out what state things were really in and how bad it was. I knew I had a backup pre-organizing folders, so my worst case was that I lost four hours of moving files around from folder to folder. Mylio grinded away for about 30 minutes synchronizing all machines to the same state, which was one where there were no photos anywhere.
Amy said soothing words to me during this stretch of time. She had only asked me 351 times the previous few days if all her photos would be ok, so I put her behavior in the heroic category. Heroic calmness. “I feel bad for Brad” was soothing said by her, instead of “You fucking asshole – you deleted all our photos!” which would have been appropriate for her to say.
After everything settled down, I went into Dropbox, clicked on Deleted Files, and clicked on Restore next to the folder that said “Photos.” Dropbox is happily doing its thing, giving me back the four hours I might have lost.
Dropbox wins today. You get huge karma points for saving my bacon without me really deserving it. Thank you.
Mylio – you need to clean up a little of the UX around Dropbox.
Brad, ok, you’ve blown it once – be more careful now.
Amy and I watched The Big Short on Tuesday with my partner Jason and his wife Jenn. We were electrified as we walked out of the theater – all four of us loved it. Jason commented that it was a particularly impressive movie given the subject matter. I couldn’t stop saying “that’s the best explanation of what created the financial crisis that I’ve ever seen.”
I remember reading The Big Short in 2010 when it came out. I’m a huge Michael Lewis fan and gobbled it down in a day or two. As we walked to the parking lot, I commented that the big four actors (Gosling, Carell, Bale, and Pitt) in the movie totally nailed their roles. I particularly identified with Pitt’s character Ben Rickert (based on Ben Hockett) who lives in Boulder in the movie.
As we got into our car, Amy said, “What do you think is happening today that no one sees?” This was the underlying theme of the movie – there were some completely obvious things in hindsight going on at the time that no one saw, or wanted to see. A few did notice and made huge financial bets, in non-obvious ways – about what they saw and believed was going to happen. Their foresight and conviction paid off massively, but it scarred each of them in different ways that the movie dramatized extremely well.
I like some time to pass before I look at history. While some people are good at reflecting on the past year and looking forward to predict the next year (one of the best in the VC world is Fred Wilson – read his posts What Didn’t Happen, What Happened In 2015, and What Is Going To Happen In 2016), I’ve never been particularly good at a one year time frame. Instead, I generally like a ten year moving window to process things. So, the lens of 2005 (history) and 2025 (future) is the one I’m currently enjoying.
The Big Short is picking up major steam in 2005. The climax happens in 2008 and the denouement continues on until 2011. So, from a history window perspective, the time frame landed directly on my boundary. Subsequently, Amy and I went on a binge the past few days of other media around this, including the movie Too Big To Fail (which is really about what happened in the fall of 2008) and Inside Job (which covers a broader time range, but focused on 2005 – 2008).
As I sit here on January 2nd, 2016, I’m pondering “what is happening today that no one sees?” When I go back a decade, we were just making the decision not to raise another Mobius Venture Capital fund. My partners and I hadn’t yet created Foundry Group. Techstars didn’t exist. Venture Capital and entrepreneurship was dramatically out of favor. Early stage and seed capital was extremely difficult to find.
I remember having deep conviction that there was an enormous wave of technological innovation coming. I knew that many of the things that had been created in the Internet bubble were great ideas, but they were just – as Jerry Colonna and I like to say – a decade ahead of their time. Today, it’s pretty obvious that was correct. At the time, talking about this stuff was a conversation stopper of the sort that Michael Burry (played brilliantly by Christian Bale) seems to generate every time he talks to someone.
Unlike Mark Baum, who is based on Steve Eisman (and played even more brilliantly by Steve Carell), I’m not angry, cynical, and convinced the world is a giant, rigged, inside game. But I do believe that the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea what is really going on, especially those who are in the middle of whatever game they are playing.
While this comes out in The Big Short, it’s even more apparent when you watch (or read) Too Big To Fail. And, while watching Inside Job, you see people lying or trying to obscure the truth in almost every interview. You can’t fake reality – it always catches up with you.
In the mean time, I’m getting ready for the next season of Game of Thrones.