Month: October 2017

Oct 31 2017

Preview for The Weight Of Gold

Amy and I are financially supporting a new movie about mental health, depression, and suicide called The Weight of Gold. Jeremy Bloom (Olympic skier, pro-football player, CEO of Integrate, and awesome human) introduced me to the creator of the film Brett Rapkin.

THE WEIGHT OF GOLD / Sizzle Reel from Podium Pictures on Vimeo.

While the focus of the storytelling is around Olympic athletes, it highlights a challenge that one in five Americans struggles with. Our goal for supporting films like this is to help eliminate the stigma around mental health and depression. It’s an enormous challenge in our society and one that I think is worth working hard at.

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Oct 28 2017

Draft of Cat Hoke’s Upcoming Book – Second Chance

I just finished the near-final draft of Cat Hoke’s upcoming book Second Chance. It is incredibly powerful on multiple levels.

I’ve gotten to know Cat reasonably well over the past year. I first heard of her through the Techstars Foundation, where we gave her organization – Defy Ventures – one of our very first grants. I first met her a few months later in my office. After hearing her pitch for 15 minutes, I said “Cat – I’m all in – no need to sell me. What can I do to help?”

Cat, in her inimitable style, said, “The first thing you should do is to come to prison with me.”

A few months later I spent the day at California State Prison, Los Angeles County in Lancaster with Cat, 50 EITs (Entrepreneurs-in-training), and 75 volunteers. I wrote about it as one of my top ten life experiences in my post Understanding Privilege – My Experience in Prison. Amy and I made a significant gift from our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) immediately after the trip and I joined the Defy Ventures board two months later.

Since then I’ve gotten to know Cat, her husband Charles, and the Defy Ventures organization. While I’ve learned a lot about prison, the criminal justice system, and the concept and experience of privilege, I’ve learned even more about myself. And I have Cat, Defy Ventures, and all of the people around Defy (both inside and outside of prison) to thank for that.

But, as Cat so eloquently says, she doesn’t scale. When I first heard of Defy, it was about 20 employees. Today it’s over 50 going to 100. Like many fast-growing startups, the CEO (Cat) has to evolve in her role. While it’s hard, Cat is doing a magnificent job of it. It was logical that she’d write a book about herself, her own second chance, Defy, the work that it does, and how/why it matters and impacts people and society.

Writing this book must have been incredibly challenging. Cat is an extremely hard worker. She travels constantly. Her work is emotionally intense and she puts 100% of herself into it. So, when I was on about page 80 of Second Chance, I thought to myself, “This is incredible. I can’t imagine how much extra energy of Cat’s went into this.”

She had one of the best guides in the world – Seth Godin. I’ve been friends with Seth since the mid-1990s when I met him doing diligence for SoftBank in conjunction with Fred Wilson on the investment that SoftBank and Flatiron Partners (Fred and Jerry Colonna’s new VC firm at the time) made in Seth’s company Yoyodyne (later acquired by Yahoo!). I felt a deep connection to Seth from day 1 and even though we don’t spend much time together, ever interaction with him is treasured by me.

I can see Seth’s fingerprints all over this book. As an enormous fan of Cat’s, I’m so glad Seth took this project on. I expect their collaboration will have an important and lasting impact on the world.

You’ll get more specifics, and a full review, once Cat’s book is published. Until then, if you are interested in learning more about Defy Ventures or getting involved in any way, just email me and I’ll connect you.

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Oct 26 2017

Foundry Group Is Looking For A General Counsel

We announced yesterday that we are looking for a general counsel for Foundry Group. While Jason has proclaimed himself a recovering lawyer for some time now, in reality, he’s been doing the high-level legal work for us since we started Foundry Group. He also runs our fund operations and is a full-time venture capitalist, so it is time to get him some help.

When our prior fund hired Jason as our general counsel, I wasn’t even part of the decision. Back then, people would just show up and occupy various offices. I wasn’t sure that we needed an in-house lawyer, but over the years I realized the importance of this role. In fact, I’ve had several outstanding lawyers, including Len Fassler and Jerry Poch, as mentors, so I occasionally play the role of Jason’s “junior associate” on legal issues that we (and the companies we invest in) face.

One thing I will say about our business – it’s never boring. (Okay, maybe some of the board meetings are, but I’ll leave that one for another day). I think this role will be an incredibly interesting experience for someone who wants to practice in a multitude of areas both for us as a firm but also in helping out our portfolio companies. Jason has been doing this job longer than anyone I know, so getting to work alongside him will be a great learning experience.

If you are interested, email a cover page and resume to Jason Mendelson at jason@foundrygroup.com and shannon@foundrygroup.com.

I look forward to working with one of you.

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Oct 25 2017

Scott Dorsey’s Attributes of Great SaaS Leaders

A few weeks ago I was in Atlanta for Techstars Atlanta Demo Day and the Venture Atlanta Conference. I had a great time and it’s fun to see the vibrancy of the Atlanta startup community. My brother Daniel came with me and we had dinner with our cousin Kenny, who lives in Atlanta, so we got some nice, quiet, emotionally intimate family time.

My favorite keynote at Venture Atlanta was from Scott Dorsey. While our paths have intersected for more than a decade and I knew him from a distance, I’ve gotten to know Scott pretty well over the past year. I put him in the awesome category.

If you don’t know Scott, he was the co-founder and CEO of ExactTarget (2000) – one of the original SaaS companies. ExactTarget went public in 2012 and was acquired by Salesforce.com in 2013 for $2.5 billion and became the core of the current Salesforce Marketing Cloud. He was on the Salesforce.com leadership team until he left to start High Alpha in 2015.

If you are doing something SaaS related and you don’t know or follow what Scott says, you should.

At Venture Atlanta, part of his keynote was a riff on the Attributes of Great SaaS Leaders. While the web is peppered with SaaS metrics and the state of SaaS, there’s a dearth of CEO-centric qualitative information. While Scott’s attributes could be for any leader, they are particularly relevant to SaaS CEOs given the dynamic of how high-growth SaaS companies – and great leadership teams – need to work to scale.

His five attributes, which he went deeper on individually in the keynote, reflect his personality and leadership style.

1. Start with the end in mind
2. Are always learning
3. Value team and culture above everything
4. Are both optimistic and never satisfied
5. Give back!

For those of you that are Simon Sinek fans, starting with the end in mind is analogous to starting with your Why. Are always learning is the essence of being a leader in a super high growth rapidly changing world which most SaaS companies operate in. Valuing team and culture above everything is easy to say, but extremely hard to do, especially when your VCs are pressuring you to perform at a certain financial level for rational, or irrational, reasons. Are both optimistic and never satisfied is interestingly similar to Andy Grove’s “only the paranoid survive” while at the same time having a completely different tone.

If you know me, it won’t surprise you that I almost jumped out of my seat at the event and did a happy dance when Scott started talking about Give back! I know I need to train him to say “Give First”, but it’s the same concept. Scott was a leader here, with the creation of the ExactTarget Foundation (now Nextech) in 2011. Nextech works to elevate technical, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills of K-12 students, inspiring and enabling young people from all backgrounds to pursue careers in technology, so he’s been ahead of the curve on the importance of computer science and technical skills in K-12, something which is a big part of addressing many of the social and educational gaps in our country.

Indianapolis’ startup community, like Atlanta’s, is thriving. There’s no question in my mind that Scott’s leadership has contributed to this in a meaningful way.

All of this comes back to the idea that as a leader you should play a very long game. Scott does this brilliantly and it’s been hugely educational and inspiring to me to get to know him.

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Oct 24 2017

When Brad Met Manu

My partner Lindel just put a post up on the Foundry Group website about our investment in K9 Ventures. We are proud to be an LP in Manu Kumar’s third fund.

I’ve been friends with Manu since 2009 and an investor (personally) in his first two funds. I vividly remember the first time we met – we were both sitting on the floor in the back corner at the fbFund Demo Day at the Facebook office in downtown Palo Alto. A number of interesting companies were presented.

I adore Manu. I love his style, his energy, and his intellect. We’ve had many conversations over the years where he’s reached out to me with a specific question about something and it’s clear that I’m one of several people he was calling to collect data on something that would inform his decision. It’s a classic engineer / rational problem-solving approach that appeals to me. While Manu went to CMU, his style is similar to many of my MIT friends.

Not surprisingly, Manu still had our first email exchange. I love the minor “grapewine” typo in the first sentence.

From: Manu Kumar <manu@k9ventures.com>
Date: Mon, Sep 15, 2008 at 10:58 PM
Subject: TechStars Demo Day in Mountain View, CA
To: brad@feld.com

Brad,

Your posting below was forwarded to me over the grapewine. I’m actively investing in startups in the Bay Area and have been aware of some of the companies that have emerged from TechStars. Would love to attend and hear the pitches at your Demo Day in Mountain View.

You can see my full background on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/sneaker. It looks like we know several other folks in common too… look forward to meeting you.

Best regards,

-Manu

While we must not have met there, I’m glad we were both in the back of the room the following summer. Our next meeting was lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto called Mandarin Gourmet. It was during that meal that Manu told me about the fund he was raising. I made a commitment to invest at the end of lunch and we’ve been working together ever since.

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Oct 23 2017

Blade Runner 2049: Dystopia With a Happy Ending – Maybe

Blade Runner 2049 is still in the theaters and has a rotten tomatoes score of 88%. While long, it’s definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

If you have never seen the original, please see it before you go. And, if you haven’t seen the original in the past six months, please-please-please watch it again before you go. There are so many wonderful linkages and homages between the two movies that you’ll miss them if you aren’t fresh on the original.

The original is set in Los Angeles in 2019. That’s less than two years away. It was made in 1982 (about 37 years ago). We still don’t have flying cars or jetpacks. Maybe we’ll have them by 2049. Harrison Ford has aged a little but he’s still an amazing actor. The evil genius inventor is different but is still the evil genius inventor. Replicants are still the future, maybe. The visual beauty of the movie is magnificent. Atari is still around. Dystopia is still dystopic.

All the important questions are asked in the film.

  • Who are we?
  • Where did we come from?
  • Where are we going?
  • How much time do we have?

And, most importantly, Blade Runner 2049 brilliantly sets up a sequel!

On our way home, Amy and I had a long debate about whether K dies in the end or is just chilling out in the snow and is finally happy for once.

Oh – and Joi is way more interesting than Samantha (from Her).

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Oct 22 2017

Addressing KRACK

The CEO of our portfolio company JumpCloud, Raj Bhargava, reached out to me after my rant on digital security earlier this week.

Since JumpCloud plays in the world of digital authentication, they are well versed in security issues and are helping organizations with securely connecting their users to their IT resources (systems, app, storage, WiFi, servers, etc.).

He pointed me to a five-step video they put up about how IT organizations can step-up their WiFi security – not only from KRACK, but from man-in-the-middle attacks and from having poor WiFi security hygiene.

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Oct 20 2017

We Will Miss You Matt

Matt Bencke passed away yesterday. We put the above photo and note up on the Foundry Group site yesterday but I was still processing it and wasn’t ready to blog about it until this morning. His partner and co-founder at Might AI – Daryn Nakhuda – wrote some beautiful words about Matt at In our hearts, always.

You may remember Matt from his incredible article in Wired Magazine titled The Day I Found Out My Life Was Hanging From A Thread. I added on to this in It Can All Change In A Day.

Matt found out about his cancer on July 28th. The day before he, and everyone else in his world, thought he was in the peak of health. My post was on August 24th. It’s October 20th. I’m struggling to process this time frame.

I measure the closeness of my friendships with a few specific markers. The one that shifts things into another level of intimacy is to spend a few days together with me and Amy. Matt and I had been planning to have him and his wife Amy (who I only know from a distance) come out to Aspen in September and spend a long weekend with us. That obviously didn’t happen and will be a hole that I always have in my life.

Matt – you were awesome and will always be in our hearts and memories.

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Oct 18 2017

Hope Is The Consequence of Action

Last night Amy and I hosted an event at our house for the ACLU and Earthjustice, two organizations we are significant supporters of. If you told me 20 years ago that I’d be spending a lot of my philanthropic energy supporting lawyers, I would have aggressively rejected the notion. But if you had described what is going on in the US right now, I would have also aggressively rejected the notion.

Since the election, Amy has had a great tagline for me.

Action is the antidote.

She’s amazing and the energy she puts behind this is unwavering. I’m extremely fortunate to have her as my life partner – it buoys me up regularly, especially around things that I might otherwise just ignore.

Last night’s event was great. We heard from David Cole (the ACLU Legal Director) and Patrice Simms (the Earthjustice VP of Litigation). Like me, they are each long-term optimists so their perspective is not just about tomorrow (although much of their focus is on today and tomorrow).

In the middle of the discussion. David mentioned a quote that he attributed to Cornel West and Roberto Unger from their 1998 book titled  The Future of American Progressivism. The quote, which is the title of this post, is “Hope is the consequence of action.” I believe, but am not certain, that it comes from this passage:

“Change requires neither saintliness nor genius. What it does require is the conviction of the incomparable value of life. Nothing should matter more to us than the attempt to grasp our life while we have it, and to awaken from the slumber of routine, of compromise and prostration, so that we may die only once. Hope is not the condition or cause of action. Hope is the consequence of action. And those who fail in hope should act, practically or conceptually, so that they may hope.”

David deconstructed this to explain that action doesn’t come from hope, but hope comes from action. Chew on that for a bit – it’s important in every context, not just politics. Apply it to any situation – work or personal; exogenous or endogenous; positive or negative. Take action, which will generate hope, rather than use your hope to generate action.

When I think about my life and my work, it applies. I take action all the time, and that’s what creates hope and makes me optimistic.

If you are inspired by this, I’ll leave you with a recent Cornel West talk at the most recent Harvard Divinity School’s Convocation address.

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Oct 16 2017

Digital Security Is Not Working Very Well

We live in a digital world with a false sense of security. While watching Blade Runner 2049 I smiled during a scene near the end where Deckard says to K, “What Have You Done?!?!?” I expect that this false sense of security will still exist in 2049 if humans manage to still be around.

The first big piece of security news this weekend was ‘All wifi networks’ are vulnerable to hacking, security expert discovers. It only a Severe flaw in WPA2 protocol leaves Wi-Fi traffic open to eavesdropping, but, well, that’s most Wi-Fi networks. If you want the real details, the website Key Reinstallation Attacks: Breaking WPA2 by forcing nonce reuse goes into depth about KRACK Attacks. And yes, KRACK is already up on Wikipedia.

Here’s the summary, which is mildly disconcerting (that’s sarcasm if you missed it …):

The weaknesses are in the Wi-Fi standard itself, and not in individual products or implementations. Therefore, any correct implementation of WPA2 is likely affected. To prevent the attack, users must update affected products as soon as security updates become available. Note that if your device supports Wi-Fi, it is most likely affected. During our initial research, we discovered ourselves that Android, Linux, Apple, Windows, OpenBSD, MediaTek, Linksys, and others, are all affected by some variant of the attacks. For more information about specific products, consult the database of CERT/CC, or contact your vendor.

I was cruising along in my naive security bliss this morning when I saw the article Millions of high-security crypto keys crippled by newly discovered flaw. It turns out that a key RSA library that is widely used has a deep flaw in it and has been being used to generate weak keys since 2012.

A crippling flaw in a widely used code library has fatally undermined the security of millions of encryption keys used in some of the highest-stakes settings, including national identity cards, software- and application-signing, and trusted platform modules protecting government and corporate computers.

The weakness allows attackers to calculate the private portion of any vulnerable key using nothing more than the corresponding public portion. Hackers can then use the private key to impersonate key owners, decrypt sensitive data, sneak malicious code into digitally signed software, and bypass protections that prevent accessing or tampering with stolen PCs. The five-year-old flaw is also troubling because it’s located in code that complies with two internationally recognized security certification standards that are binding on many governments, contractors, and companies around the world. The code library was developed by German chipmaker Infineon and has been generating weak keys since 2012 at the latest.

I’m sure there will be a lot more written about each of these flaws in the next few days. I expect every security vendor is hard at work this morning figuring out what to patch, how to do it, what to tell their customers, and how to get all the patches out in the world as fast as possible.

The constraint, of course, will be on the user side. A large number of customers of the flawed products won’t update their side of things very quickly. And many more bad guys now have a very clear roadmap for another attack vector with high vulnerability.

Be safe out there. Well, at least realize that whatever you generate digitally isn’t as safe and secure as you might think it is.

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