Brad Feld

Month: November 2017

The word “platform” used to mean something in the technology industry. Like many other words, it has been applied to so many different things to almost be meaningless.

Yesterday, when I started seeing stuff about the MacOS High Sierra blank root password bug, I took a deep breath and clicked on the first link I saw, hoping it was an Onion article. I read it, picked my jaw up off the floor, and then said out loud “Someone at Apple got fired today.”

Then I wondered if that was true and realized it probably wasn’t. And, that someone probably shouldn’t be fired, but that Apple should do a very deep root cause analysis on why a bug like this could get out in the wild as part of an OS release.

Later in the day, I pulled up Facetime to make a call to Amy. My computer sat there and spun on contacts for about 30 seconds before Facetime appeared. While I shrugged, I once again thought “someone at Apple should fix that once and for all.”

It happened again a few hours later. Over Thanksgiving, I gave up trying to get my photos and Amy’s photos co-managed so I finally just gave all my photos to Apple and iCloud in a separate photo store from all of Amy’s photos (which include all of our 25,000 or so shared photos.) I was uninstalling Mylio on my various office machines and opening up Photo so that the right photo store would be set up. I went into Photos to add a name to a Person that I noticed in my Person view and the pretty Apple rainbow spun for about 30 seconds after I hit the first name of the person’s name.

If you aren’t familiar with this problem, if you have a large address book (like mine, which is around 20,000 names), autocomplete of a name or email in some (not all) Mac native apps is painfully slow.

I opened up my iPhone to see if the behavior on the iPhone was similar with my contacts and it wasn’t. iOS Contacts perform as expected; MacOS Contacts don’t. My guess is totally different people (or teams) work on code which theoretically should be the same. And, one is a lot better than the other.

At this point, I realized that Apple probably had a systemic platform layer engineering problem. It’s not an OS layer issue (like the blank root password bug) – it’s one level up. But it impacts a wide variety of applications that it should be easily abstracted from (anything on my Mac that uses Contacts.) And this seems to be an appropriate use of the word platform.

Software engineering at scale is really difficult and it’s getting even more, rather than less, challenging. And that’s fascinating to me.

I’ve spoken openly about how I don’t care about the idea of legacy. When pressed, I’ve struggled to describe the reason why I don’t care.

My long-time friend and first business partner Dave Jilk sent me the following Percy Bysshe Shelley poem to help me understand my perspective better.


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Look up at the sky and ponder how far the sands actually stretch. Infinity is far away.

As I continue my exploration of feminist literature, I’ve become much more aware of pronoun usage.

I realized my default pronoun for writing and speaking has been male gendered. If I thought about pronoun usage in advance, I could alternate and use female gendered pronouns, but when I wasn’t paying attention, my default went back to the male pronoun.

I also noticed that much of what I read used male-gendered pronouns as a default. When referring to a specific person, pronoun usage was linked to the person, but whenever the writing referenced a non-specific person, the pronouns were usually male.

I’ve given several talks in the past few months where I consciously decided to use only female-gendered pronouns, except when referring to a specific person (where I then matched the gender of the person.) After these talks, I regularly got positive notes about this, from both women and men, thanking me for doing this.

Some of these talks were about gender issues in tech, but others were about something entirely different, so the positive reactions were instructive to me. I started mentioning this approach, including to several women I respected a lot for their views on gender issues. I specifically asked if my behavior around this was useful. All gave me a resounding yes.

So I’ve decided to try to use female-gendered pronouns as my default in writing and talking for a while and see how it goes. I’ll still occasionally use male-gendered pronouns, but by having the female as the default, I hope to have “her” appear more frequently.

All of this notwithstanding, I think it’s important to recognize that there’s an entire generation that is moving quickly past binary pronouns to epicene (or gender-neutral) pronouns. I write this way also and in lots of situations, it works well. But I’m not ready to shift to it, especially since I have a massive deficit of female-gendered pronouns in my historical writing.

Looking Glass, a Brooklyn-based company we recently led the Series A investment in, just released HoloPlayer One, the world’s first interactive lightfield development kit. This is a new interface that lets groups of people see and interact with floating 3D scenes without VR or AR headgear. While it’s an early release dev kit, it’s still as close to achieving the dream of the hologram shown in Blade Runner 2049 as I’ve seen.

This is relevant in my world because an investment theme we think a lot about is Human Computer Interaction. While it’s dangerous to try to predict the future, I think it’s a safe bet that in 20 years humans won’t be interacting with computers in the same way they are now. Amazon Echo is an example of one massive HCI shift that will impact our lives for years to come. Looking Glass is betting that another HCI shift will be related to how people interact with 3D content, like how a doctor will show a patient a CAT scan or how a 3D modeller will rig a Pixar character or design a rocket engine.

There are a lot of people who see this interface shift on the horizon with billions of dollars flowing into AR and VR companies evidence of this general interest. But what if there was a way to do it without the cost and constraints of a VR or AR headset.

The Looking Glass founders Shawn and Alex have been obsessed with chasing this dream since they were kids. Now they’re betting deeply against the headgear-based VR/AR trend by saying that holograms will be the next shift in human computer interaction. And they want fellow hologram hackers along for the ride.

I just got one (well, another one – we already have two HoloPlayer prototypes in the office with Structure Sensor scans of all the Foundry partners).

You can pre-order your Holoplayer dev kit here. Save $50 with code TOTHEFUTURE.

There’s a magnificent exercise that I like to do for myself on a periodic basis. I’m sure it has a more formal name but I call it “Good Bad Like Dislike.”

I create a two by two matrix that looks like this:

I then go through my calendar for the next few months as a starting point to stimulate things to put in each box. I’m careful not to put specific items in the box, but concepts. For example, “Managing Other People” often ends up in “Bad – Dislike” box when I realize, through my forward calendar review, that I have a set of activities where I’m managing others. Or, instead of Good-Dislike: Company X Board Dinner, I end up writing “Board Dinners” in the Good-Dislike Category.

To be more specific, I deeply dislike managing others. While I might have been good at it a long time ago, and I could also likely be good at it if I worked at it, since it’s in the Dislike category, I don’t want to work on it. In contrast, I like “Leading Other People” and am good at it.

Part two is a personal reflection. Instead of being prompted by my calendar, I sit quietly and think about the things I’m doing that I dislike. I’ll often talk to Amy about this as she knows my Good Bad Like Dislike better than anyone on the planet. This is a particularly hard exercise for me because I often rationalize that I should be doing things in the Dislike category. I often overrate my ability on certain things that I feel that I should be good at, so they land in the Good category instead of the Bad category. Having a Fair Witness in one’s life helps with this.

Part three of the exercise is to take specific action around the high-level categorizations. Since I used my calendar to stimulate the review, I have my next three months in the front of my mind. I can then take specific actions. For example, I systematically decide not to do any board dinners in the future. Or, I change the management structure around the project that I’ve ended up managing so that I’m a participant in the project instead of the manager.

I just did this over the weekend as I was considering what 2018 was going to look like for me. I’m also sneaking up on v52 of myself, so it’s a good time for me to think about these kinds of things.

The NYSE recently published a book – The Entrepreneur’s Roadmap – From Concept to IPO that I’ve been involved in. I wrote a chapter and made a number of introductions to the team working on the book that resulted in a number of other chapters.

The book covers a variety of stages of company development, including:

  • The Seed Stage: Starting a Company
  • The Growth Stage: Scaling the Business
  • Late Stage: Preparing for the next chapter
  • The Exit: Strategies and Options
  • Corporate Governance and Other Considerations

It’s free to download in PDF, EPUB, or Kindle.

Mark Cuban had a great line a few weeks ago at the interview I did with him and Charlie Ergen at Denver Startup Week. He said:

“I like to invest in people who reduce stress and avoid people who increase stress.”

As I was dealing with something yesterday, this reappeared in my brain but slightly modified.

“I like to be the person who reduces stress and avoid people who increase stress.”

My world is filled with people who increase stress. It’s particularly true around negotiations, but it is also prevalent in board level interactions, relationships with founders, dynamics with leaders, and everything else that has to do with companies. And this is just in my business world. When you wander into other areas, like politics, news, and even social situations, the level of stress (which often masquerades as drama) is remarkable.

One of my meditation routines from Headspace that I like is on Anxiety. Another favorite is on Stress. In both cases, the goal is not to eliminate anxiety or stress but to acknowledge it and be more effective in interacting with it.

The word I’ve anchored on in the past few years around this is equanimity. It’s at the essence of my own personal approach to things. Given the work and larger world context I live in, I’ve accepted that I can’t eliminate stress. I also can’t avoid it. And, while I can avoid people who increase stress, they will still appear and I will need to interact with them.

So, by turning an element of this around 180 degrees, I’ve been able to change my relationship with stress. I accept that stress is everywhere. I don’t try to eliminate it. However, through my behavior, I try to be the person who reduces it. I do this through my approach to all things, carrying the notion of equanimity as a core principle.

This doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I know I generate stress for others in some situations. I know I can always get better at this. Whenever I realize I’ve created stress for someone else, I try to learn from it and improve.

The science fiction of the last 30 years is rapidly becoming reality as technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence are becoming more real and present with each passing day. While my jetpack still seems ponderously far away and cars are becoming self-driving instead of flying, we are making progress.

In medicine, progress is methodical and incremental. As lives are literally at stake, it’s imperative to move forward in a logical and data-driven manner. The resulting regulatory requirement of clinical trials may sometimes be seen as an innovation-stifling burden, but lengthy clinical trials protect patients by ensuring safety and efficacy of therapies. The result? As real advancements are being made in biotechnology, such as engineered cells to fight cancer or using stem cells to regenerate the spine, news and hype eventually quiets during decade long timeline for these technologies to clear trials. There is a bright horizon of therapies that many of us are unaware of.

While I’m not a biotech investor, I ran into a company in Techstars Class 92 (Seattle 2017) called Silene Biotech that fascinated me. The founder, Alex Jiao, has been focused on regenerative medicine for the past decade, an area of research that still feels strongly like science fiction. The idea is to use our cells outside the body to regenerate or regrow lost tissues and organs. A buzzword in this space is “stem cells” and nowadays most people are familiar with the general concept. Stem cells can self-renew and turn into other cells, so their potential is incredible for regenerative medicine.

Currently, there is a lot of mythology and misinformation surrounding stem cells. Unlike newts which can regenerate their limbs, our bodies have limited repair mechanisms and our stem cells can only do so much. However, there are businesses purporting that a simple injection of unmanipulated stem cells can work miracles. The FDA disagrees, and without any compelling data from a clinical trial, most scientists would disagree as well.

I learned from Alex that not all stem cells are the same. Different stem cells have varying abilities to regenerate and turn into other tissues. Furthermore, we are also realizing that it takes guidance and manipulation to coax a stem cell into the correct cell or tissue for regeneration. And new technologies allow us to reprogram adult cells into more “potent” stem cells. These factors have now led to stem cell-based clinical trials to treat diseases such as macular degeneration and heart disease, with some early promising results.

There are still limitations to stem cell technology. One major limitation is that we are realizing age and environment can have a profound effect on stem cell function and even safety. Essentially, the older we are, the older all of our cells (including stem cells) become, and as a result, our bodies’ natural repair mechanisms deteriorate or stop.

Given these factors, I was excited about Alex’s notion that “backing up” our cells and stem cells could be a valuable tool for improving and extending our health in the near future. We can stop the biological aging of our stem cells by putting them in a deep freeze at an earlier age, when they have fewer mutations and damage. Banking our stem cells will then allow us to eventually generate and bank other tissues for self-use, like a population of heart cells for cardiac repair or a population of liver cells to diagnose drug toxicity. As technology moves towards a future where it’s technologically possible to engineer tissues and organs from our own stem cells, backing stem cells up today can give us the best opportunity to use them when we need them.

I love the idea of backing up my stem cells. Alex and his team are coming to Boulder to do this for me on 11/29. If you are interested in backing up your stem cells, Alex has offered to do it for a few others in Boulder when he is here. If you are interested, just email me and I’ll connect you with Alex.

The audiobook version of Startup Opportunities: Know When To Quit Your Day Job is now available on Audible.

Unlike the Audible version of Venture Deals, this one was read by Stephen Hoye.

If you like audiobooks, grab a copy, give it a listen, and tell me what you think.

Yesterday, I wrote about the upcoming CO Impact Days. In it, I pointed to a Medium post titled Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break, which turns out to be the Zebra Manifesto.

Per the manifesto, a Zebra (unlike Unicorns) are real:

  • Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the other.
  • Zebras are also mutualistic: by banding together in groups, they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in stronger collective output.
  • Zebra companies are built with peerless stamina and capital efficiency, as long as conditions allow them to survive.

Yesterday afternoon, I got a text from Mara Zepeda, one of the founders of the Zebra Movement and authors of the manifesto, saying that we should talk. We had a great discussion where I learned more about Zebras, the Zebra Movement, and the upcoming DazzleCon Conference in Portland this week. Over 200 Zebra founders, funders and friends from around the world are gathering to co-create the community of companies that are building the goods and services we need for the society we want.

Mara also pointed me at the article Can “Zebras” Fix What “Unicorns” Break? on The Long Now Foundation website, one of the sponsors of DazzleCon along with the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and several others.

Amy and I signed up to support the Zebra Movement and decided to also sponsor DazzleCon through our Anchor Point Foundation. I’m excited – and fascinated – with what Mara and her colleagues are doing as they extend the perspective and engagement around 21st century entrepreneurship well beyond Unicorns.