Month: August 2016
Recently I wrote about how I think about private company acquisition strategies using FullContact as the example of one where it is working well.
Last week I was at a board meeting for a different company which did an acquisition a month ago. I heard a fantastic line from the founder of the company that had been acquired.
It’s business as usual except better.
Now, it’s only a month in. But this is what an investor loves to hear after a month.
Usually, the first three months post acquisition are up and down. The acquirer and the acquiree are trying to figure out how to interact. The founders of the acquiree are usually tired from the deal process and adjusting to their new reality. The acquirer is trying to be helpful, which is often precisely not helpful, especially as the acquirer integrates the acquiree’s people into its structure and processes.
I know a lot of companies that have a very well defined post-acquisition process. However, many of them don’t take into consideration the dynamics and personalities of the acquiree. Instead, they assume that everyone will happily be assimilated.
Other companies have a very hands off approach for a period of time, sometimes up to a year. But, after that period of time, the mechanical integration often begins. In situations where there has been little to no interaction, followed by too much interaction, pain often follows.
There’s something in between. This is especially important when younger private companies (50 to 500 employees) acquire another smaller (1 – 25 employees) private company. There is no one way. But your goal should be simple: “It’s business as usual except better.”
On Friday, the USCIS proposed The International Entrepreneurs Rule. While this is a proposal subject to a public comment period, I expect it will go into effect in about 45 days. We finally will have a startup visa!
The best summary I’ve seen so far is from Tahmina Watson titled International Entrepreneurs Rule (Obama’s Startup Visa Alternative)- Detailed Summary by Tahmina. If you want to see a detailed summary from someone who read and analyzed all 155 pages of the rule change, go read Tahmina’s post.
This journey started for me about seven years ago on 9/10/2009 when I wrote the blog post The Founders Visa Movement. Paul Kedrosky and I wrote an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal on 12/2/2009 titled Start-up Visas Can Jump-Start the Economy.
A group of us, including Dave McClure and Eric Ries went to Washington.
I talked about the Startup Visa at conferences.
Bills were proposed but not passed. Lots of articles were written. Many tweets were tweeted. Even a book was written about it by Tahmina Watson. Canada created their own Startup Visa. The UK created an Entrepreneur Visa. But in the US, Congress continued to be unable to create a Startup Visa, under the guise of the failure of comprehensive immigration reform.
In response to the non-action from Congress, I co-founded the Global EIR Coalition with Jeff Bussgang and Craig Montuori. We’ve launched in four states (MA, CO, NY, AK) with a bunch more coming before the end of the year. I finally felt like some progress was being made.
After all the efforts of Congress to do something failed, the White House determined that a Startup Visa could be created under the existing law with a rule change. Tom Kalil and Doug Rand of OSTP worked tirelessly on this (they understood the importance of this from the beginning) and, as part of the announcement on Friday, wrote a great post Welcoming International Entrepreneurs.
It’s been a really long journey but I’m thankful for the support and encouragement of this effort from many people. I’ve learned a lot about our federal government as part of this process and expect that the learning will continue. Hopefully this rule change will survive a new administration (I’m told by a number of experts that it will) and foreign entrepreneurs who want to start companies in the US will have an easier time of it.
In case you are curious, based on the feedback I got to Is Republishing To Medium Worth It?, the answer, at least for now, appears to be Yes. So, if you are reading this on Medium, enjoy!
I’m a huge Tracy Kidder fan. I read The Soul of A New Machine as a senior in high school and, even though I don’t include it in the reason I went to MIT, I’m sure it played a part. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite books, although I haven’t read it in many years. I just kindled it (and several other Tracy Kidder books I’ve decided to re-read) and expect it’ll be in my near term reading list.
About a month ago Paul English sent me an email asking me if I wanted to read an ARC of Tracy Kidder’s new book A Truck Full of Money. Paul and I haven’t worked together, but I knew him from a distance because of Kayak, the Boston startup community, and a few interactions we’d had over the years, including a long conversation via videoconference where we talked about depression and his new company Blade.
My answer was a rapid yes after his mention of Tracy Kidder. But what really got my attention was the line in his email that follows:
“The book deals with my bipolar stuff, and your writings on depression have been meaningful to me.”
That’s about as vulnerable a sentence you will see from an entrepreneur. The idea of exposing oneself around this topic to a writer like Tracy Kidder was incredibly brave to me. So now I was doubly interested.
I read the book the day after it arrived at my office. It was five stars – off the charts awesome on many levels. I asked Paul if I could blog about it and he asked me to hold off until his publisher said it was ok to do it. It’s now ok to do so.
Tracy Kidder wrote an amazing book. Paul like many entrepreneurs, is a complex person. Kidder doesn’t dwell on the good or the bad. He shifts effortlessly between the past, present, and future. Paul is the main character, but it’s not Paul’s biography. Kayak plays a role, but so does Blade, as does Paul’s childhood and early jobs. Interleaf makes an appearance (if you remember Interleaf, you just dated yourself. If you don’t remember Interleaf, you need to go learn about it because it was a really important pre-Web and then Web-transition company.)
The book isn’t about mental health and biopolar disorder. But Paul’s struggle with it is woven throughout and by the end of the book you have a good understanding of how it has been both a positive and a negative force in Paul’s life and career. Kidder does a magnificent job of teasing out moments that create the example of bipolar disorder without pounding the reader over the head with it. All of this makes Paul a complete human rather than just an entrepreneurial machine.
In the absence of a spectacular writer, Paul’s story is a fun one to read. But Kidder brings out another layer to the story, the person, the personality, how bipolar disorder impacts Paul and everyone around him, and how they respond, adjust, and calibrate to it.
Ultimately, it’s an incredibly intimate book. While I’m very open about my life, it takes an absurd amount of courage to hand yourself over to someone like Kidder. Paul did it in the context of his own struggles with bipolar disorder, against the backdrop of a complex entrepreneurial journey, at the beginning of his next act.
The only thing I disliked about the book was the title. It’s catchy, but it doesn’t capture the complexity of the book, or the protagonist. But that’s ok – titles are hard to get right and are really just a pointer to the content of the book.
Paul – thanks for being brave enough to let yourself be the subject of a Tracy Kidder book. Tracy – while I don’t know you, know that you have a mega-fan out in the world who has read all of your books. And, if you are an entrepreneur, investor, or curious about the intersection of mental health and entrepreneurship, or just love a great non-fiction book that reads like a novel, A Truck Full of Money should be the next book you read.
If you are reading this on Medium and have seen other posts of mine in the past month, tell me if you think it’s been worth it for me to republish what is on Feld Thoughts to my Brad Feld channel on Medium.
I’ve been using the Medium WordPress plugin to republish my posts automatically. It’s generally not much effort, although there are a few bugs. The most annoying is that when I publish something on WordPress, update it, and then publish it again, it doesn’t update on Medium.
Yesterday my WordPress database automatically updated and published a pile of posts from 2006 and 2007 to Medium. It also filled up my drafts on Medium, which eventually caused Medium to rate limit me (it seems like that happened around 100 posts). I didn’t want the old posts up on Medium so I went through and deleted them. That was a pain in the ass as Medium doesn’t have a bulk delete feature and I had to do it one by one. That prompted me to ask the question as to whether this has been a useful experiment.
While Medium says I have 51,000 followers, it looks like I get about 1,000 views per post and between 10 and 50 likes. So – that’s a little incremental exposure, but a very low percentage of the people who follow me, which is interesting.
I’ve had a lot of trouble engaging in comments and feedback on Medium. Some of it is the UI, some of it is time, and some is modality. I do almost all my responses to comments on WordPress via email, which Disqus handles extremely well. Medium, on the other hand, doesn’t have a reply by email feature.
Any thoughts, especially from the Medium side? Feedback welcome.
I’ve done a number of video interviews lately. This seems to be the norm for a live event today. I start with a short one from when I was in Adelaide, then a longer one from Sydney, and wrap it up with what is one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done – this time in Minneapolis with my partner Seth.
Facebook can be a magical thing. I’m often frustrated about how to engage with it (I’m more of a Twitter person) but every now and then something happens that reminds me how awesome Facebook can be.
For a variety of silly reasons, I had lost touch with my best friend in high school (Kent Ellington) about 30 years ago. Last year, when I was in Austin with my college fraternity gang – about 20 of us that span three years who go someone every few years (whenever someone gets their shit together and organizes it) – Kent reached out to me and asked if I wanted to get together.
Kent and I had friended each other on Facebook a few years ago after another high school friend had died suddenly. I knew a little about what was going on in his life and expect he knew a little about what was going on in my life. But neither of us connected.
We squeezed in an hour of hanging out, which included meeting his pre-teen daughter after her ballet class. We caught up, in the way friends from long ago occasionally do, without a lot of ego and mostly just enthusiasm and empathy for the ups and downs of each others’ journey over 30 years. Not surprisingly, questions how parents and siblings were doing took up about half the discussion.
We’ve gone back and forth about a few things over the past year. I woke up this morning to a Facebook message from Kent that said “Brad – Got these photos from my endocrinologists office. His diploma is from when your Dad was President of the College of Endocrinology.” The photo follows.
I remember when my dad was president of the American College of Endocrinology. I remember the 1998 Orlando meeting and talking to him about it. I remember being extremely proud of him then. And, this morning, as I roll into my day, I’m going to carry around with me how proud I am of him for all the things he’s done, including for me, in his life.
I love you dad. Thanks Facebook. And – Kent – thank you!
When we invested in FullContact in 2012, they were a small team with a big vision to create One Address Book To Rule Them All. Over the past four years, they’ve systematically executed on their vision, building a contact management platform that touches all aspects of the problem. Along the way they built a sizable business.
I love using a targeted acquisition approach in conjunction with a business that has a clear strategy and strong organic growth. My first company (Feld Technologies) was acquired by a company doing a rollup (AmeriData – acquired 40 companies between 1992 and 1996 when it was then acquired by GE Capital.) I learned a lot from that experience and then proceeded to try to use the rollup strategy with several other companies, including Interliant, my biggest failure of all time.
By 2002 I realized that what was classically called a rollup strategy was not generally effective, at least not for me. But by reflecting on which particular acquisitions worked, why they worked, and when they worked, along with understanding the opposite (what failed, why, and when they failed) I started to develop a clear view around a targeted acquisition strategy.
Today, I’ve got a clear view of how this can work. I’ve learned a lot from my partner Seth and his own experiences around M&A. While a few acquisitions don’t work out, with the right strategy, approach, and clarity on what success is, it can be a very powerful approach.
At the essence of the approach is a focus on two things – acquiring people and product. The classically rollup strategy was much more focused on acquiring revenue. In my world, historical revenue is the least interesting thing to consider in an acquisition strategy. The goal is to acquire technology that is on your product roadmap or people that fit culturally within your organization and help you execute on your roadmap faster. The phrase acquihire emerged from this, but many acquihire’s, especially by large companies, are not particularly well thought out or integrated into an existing roadmap.
Ultimately, the goal is to use acquisitions to compress time on product development and get people on the team, especially in senior roles, who can help build out areas of the company they have experience in. Interestingly, many technology assets don’t need a lot of people. At the same time, many people are interested in working on things other than the technology they’ve been focused on.
In FullContact’s case, the team, led by Bart Lorang, has figured out their own strategy around this and is executing well on it. In the absence of any of the acquisitions they’ve done, FullContact has a strong business. But our acquisitions of Cobook, nGame, Brewster, and now Conspire and Profoundis has accelerated our business in powerful ways.
I’ll start with my bias – I’m very optimistic about the superintelligence.
Yesterday I gave two talks in Minneapolis. One was to an internal group of Target employees around innovation. In the other, I was interviewed by my partner Seth (for the first time), which was fun since he’s known me for 16 years and could ask unique questions given our shared experiences.
I can’t remember in which talk the superintelligence came up, but I rambled on an analogy to try to simply describe the superintelligence which I’ve come up with recently that I first saw in The AI Revolution: Our Immortality or Extinction. I woke up this morning thinking about it along with one of the questions Seth asked me where my answer left me unsatisfied.
I’ve been reading most of what I could get my hands on about current thoughts and opinions about the superintelligence and the evolution of what a lot of people simply refer to as AI. I’ve also read, and am rereading, some classical texts on this such as Minsky’s Society of the Mind. It’s a challenging subject as it functions at the intersection of computer science and philosophy combined with humans efforts to define and describe the unknown.
My ants and the superintelligence rant is a way for me to simply explain how humans will related to the superintelligence, and how the superintelligence will relate to humans.
If I’m a human, I am curious about and study ants. They have many interesting attributes that are similar to other species, but many that are unique. If you want to learn more in an efficient way, read anything written about them by E. O. Wilson. While I may think I know a lot about ants, I fundamentally can’t identify with them, nor can I integrate them into my society. But I can observe and interact with them, in good and bad ways, both deliberately as well as accidentally. Ponder an ant farm or going for a bike ride and driving over an ant hill. Or being annoyed with them when they are making a food line across your kitchen and calling the exterminator. Or peacefully co-existing with them on your 40 acres.
If I’m an ant, there are giant exogenous forces in my world. I can’t really visualize them. I can’t communicate with them. I spent a lot of time doing things in their shadow but never interacting with them, until there is a periodic overlap that often is tragic, chaotic, or energizing. I get benefit from the existence of them, until they accidentally, or deliberately, do something to modify my world.
In my metaphor, the superintelligence == humans and humans == ants.
Ponder it. For now, it’s working for me. But tell me why it does work so I can learn and modify my thinking.
I’m in Minneapolis with my partner Seth. We had a meeting at Best Buy headquarters, met with a gang from the Mayo Clinic who drove up from Rochester, spent the afternoon at the Techstars Retail Accelerator which is at Target headquarters, and had dinner with Revolar. We are at the Techstars Retail Accelerator again today, then at Leadpages for a board meeting, and wrapping up with an internal Target event and an external startup community event put on by Beta.MN.
It’s two full days of immersion in the Minneapolis startup community. As I crawled into bed last night after jamming through my email, I smiled and thought to myself that Seth and I had a good day with a bunch of people talking about the power of entrepreneurship – and how the entrepreneurs are the leaders – while getting to work with a bunch of entrepreneurs.
I woke up to Fred Wilson’s post Understanding VCs and nodded my way through it. I particularly loved how he started.
VCs are not heroes. We are just one part of the startup ecosystem. We provide the capital allocation function and are rewarded when we do it well and eventually go out of business when we don’t do it well. I know. I’ve gone out of business for not doing it well.
If there are heroes in the startup ecosystem, they are the entrepreneurs who take the biggest risks and create the products, services, and companies that we increasingly rely on as tech seeps into everything.
What Fred said.
VCs – go read his post and reflect on it.
Entrepreneurs – go read his post and take it to heart.
Fred – thanks for saying it so well in your inimitable direct style. Understanding VCs is one for the books …
An annoying thing about Twitter Search is that it’s not good enough to help me find who tweeted at me that Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is something I should read. I scrolled through my @mentions until I was annoyed after trying to search but not being able to figure out how to scope the search so I could only search @mentions = bfeld (or maybe my problem is that it should be @mentions == @bfeld).
Whoever it was – thank you! Dark Matter was awesome. It’s the first book I read Saturday as part of my decompress from the week and feel better from trying to eat yogurt maneuver that I ended up playing out throughout the day.
I love near term sci-fi. I especially love right now sci-fi – stuff that happens in current time but incorporates a scientific breakthrough that is currently being explored.
Dark Matter is all about the concept of an infinite number of parallel universes. The scientific breakthrough is the notion of quantum superposition easily explained by the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment.
The book is a magnificently fast romp that includes kidnapping, research institutions, love, family, death, religion, the nature of the universe, psychological intrigue, really complex relationship dynamics, and a whole bunch of other stuff that makes a novel irresistible to put down. There were a few plot twists that I anticipated or figured out before they came, but generally I rode the wave of the book.
If you are a sci-fi fan or just like a great action adventure novel with nerdy underpinnings, this is for you. And if you are wondering whether we are actually just part of a computer simulation, this book will help you understand that theory better.