Category: Books

Mar 6 2019

Book: Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe

I read Roger McNamee’s book Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe the day it came out. While likely uncomfortable for a lot of people, it was excellent, provocative, and challenging all at the same time.

I have not, nor have I ever been, an investor in Facebook. However, I benefited indirectly from, and indirectly contributed to, the rapid rise of Facebook as an early investor in Zynga. I remember being amazed at the pace of growth of both companies and, in an effort to understand it better, went deep on how each company’s product intersected with the psychology of humans.

If you hung around me during the 2007 – 2010 time period when I was on the Zynga board, you would have heard me talk with amazement at how easy it was to manipulate people into spending huge amounts of their time tending their virtual farm on FarmVille. I spoke with pride about the data that Zynga collected on every user, much of which came directly from Facebook and had nothing to do with what Zynga was doing, but was readily accessible to them via the Facebook API. Zynga endured endless Facebook TOS rewrites as they evolved their business model and tried to capture more of the revenue from companies like Zynga, including what I have come to refer to as the Facebook-Zynga Cuban Missile Crisis which ended in detante.

All of this happened a decade ago. I left the Zynga board just before they went public at the end of 2010 (as is my, and my partners’ at Foundry Group’s approach.) I continued to be a user of Facebook, but even that drifted away from me, as I never really felt that connected to it (I was more of a Twitter person.) I wasn’t surprised when the Facebook data privacy scandals started in 2017, but I was surprised at how timid the backlash was. I stopped using Facebook in 2018 and deleted my account in August.

McNamee has a deeper relationship with Facebook, as he was a mentor for Zuckerberg early in Facebook’s life and then an investor (first personally, then via his fund Elevation Partners) while Facebook was a private company. His experience has more emotion in it than mine (both good and bad), but his journey that led to this book started just before the 2016 US Presidential Election as McNamee was concerned that “bad actors” could be using Facebook to manipulate the election.

The book is riveting. McNamee moves between Facebook, his experience as an investor, his efforts to get through to the Facebook leadership team about his concerns, and his subsequent journey to make public his views about the negative impact Facebook is having on society and democracy in general. McNamee is not taking a cynical approach, but rather takes responsibility for his own lack of foresight into the potential problem, and explains his search for understanding and solutions.

I think this book is merely a preamble for what is coming in the next twenty years. As a species, we have little understanding of the complexity that we are creating through technology. This complexity cannot be solved, as complex adaptive systems don’t have a single solution – they adapt and evolve. Instead, we can only interact with them and, when they evolve at a rate much faster than we can understand and respond to, it’s can lead to an untenable situation.

We haven’t really begun to understand the implication of what we are creating. Regardless of the long-gone “Do No Evil” slogans of progressive technology companies, profit and power motives dominate behavior. And, with profit and power comes significant defenses, including denial about second order effects that result, and then the third order effects that result from the efforts to control the profit and power.

McNamee’s book is a taste of this. Read it and start to prepare your mind for what is to come.

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Mar 3 2019

Book: Digital Minimalism

Several friends have mentioned that I’d love Cal Newport’s writing. I finally got around to reading his most recent book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and my friends were correct.

Newport is famous for being a millennial, computer scientist, and a book author who doesn’t have a social media account.

Digital Minimalism is complementary to Jaron Lanier‘s book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, but I found Newport a lot more comfortable and convincing. More importantly, it reinforced a number of changes that I’ve already made in my life over the past few years.

I’ve deleted Facebook, shifted almost all of my interactions on the few social media services that I use (Twitter, LinkedIn) to broadcast only (where I broadcast out things to anyone who cares to follow them). I’ve limited my online writing to my blog, which I’m fine being reposted in other places. My inputs are now what some refer to as Slow Media, where I can read and consider the input, rather than react to endless stimuli.

I’m an introvert in an extrovert’s world. I like to be alone, with Amy, or with a maximum of four people (usually me, Amy, and another couple.) In contrast, I spend a large portion of my work time with groups larger than four people. Figuring out how to manage this duality, while staying mentally healthy, has been a life-long challenge.

Newport’s concept of digital minimalism helps me with all of this. He refers to a distinction that MIT professor Sherry Turkle makes in her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation. In her book, Turkle draws a distinction between connection, her word for the low-bandwidth interactions that define our online social lives, and conversation, the much richer, high-bandwidth communication that defines real-world encounters between humans. I care deeply about conversation, but as an introvert and one who in intrinsically motivated, rarely get value – and often get tired – from connection.

Newport has an entire chapter on solitude, nicely titled “Spend Time Alone.” He makes the important distinction between spending time alone with other stimuli (music, podcasts, audible, streaming media) and real solitude. I immediately understood this as well, as I almost always run alone and naked (without headphones). The examples of how Lincoln used solitude was extraordinarily well written and inspiring.

In addition to the framework around digital minimalism, Newport unloads on the reader with numerous tactics. I use some of them but found a few new ones to add to my repertoire.

A big thanks to Ben Casnocha, who was the most recent person to push me over the “you must read Cal Newport’s stuff.” I’ll read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World soon, after I enjoy some sci-fi mental floss next since the last few books I’ve read were heavy-ish.

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Jan 14 2019

Book: Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger

I read Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister recently. It was recommended to me by Tami Forman, the CEO of Path Forward and I was immediately cheered on by Amy when I started reading it.

It was extraordinary. Every man I know should read it. I’m now officially a Rebecca Traister fan. I learned a lot, was forced to think about a bunch of uncomfortable stuff, and formed some new ideas about how to address some gender-related issues in our society.

And then I read the Bloomberg article Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost and got mad at some men.

The article starts strong.

“No more dinners with female colleagues. Don’t sit next to them on flights. Book hotel rooms on different floors. Avoid one-on-one meetings.”

It then goes on and references this as “The Pence Effect.”

Call it the Pence Effect, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In finance, the overarching impact can be, in essence, gender segregation.

I thought the idea of the Pence effect, as stupid as it is, had come and gone. But I apparently am wrong.

“For obvious reasons, few will talk openly about the issue. Privately, though, many of the men interviewed acknowledged they’re channeling Pence, saying how uneasy they are about being alone with female colleagues, particularly youthful or attractive ones, fearful of the rumor mill or of, as one put it, the potential liability.”

Then I came upon a quote that was advice for men which seemed fitting and was a solution that I expect Rebecca Traister could be supportive of.

 “Just try not to be an asshole.”

If you are living in fear around the #MeToo issue, go read Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. Confront your fear. Examine any guilt you have. Get real with yourself about the issue. Change your behavior. And just try not to be an asshole.

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Jan 9 2019

Book: The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get

James Oliver, Jr. has written a fun book that is part memoir, part advice, for what he calls Parentpreneurs (entrepreneurs who are trying to raise kids.) He’s got a website with a bunch of history about him, his journey, and the book. It’s also got some pictures of his twins, which even I, as a non-kid kind of person think are pretty adorable (although they are apparently eight now according to James, so I’m not sure if they qualify as adorable anymore, but they probably do.)

Zoe and Thaddeus Invite You To Click on Them to Go to their Dad’s website

I’ve had an email correspondence with James going back to 2015. In November, I got an email from him that, among other things, said:

“Brad, I think I mentioned I’m raising money for a WeMontage relaunch, which is taking a while-as expected.

In the meantime, the way I’m taking care of my kids is mostly via book sales. The book reviews have been wonderful-someone called it the realest book about being an entrepreneur they ever read. And the amazon reviews are fantastic.

In order to provide for my kids, I need to sell 300 books this month via my website (www.themoreyouhustle.com – because amazon delays royalty payments by two months); that’s only 10 sales per day.

I read it during my Q418 vacation. It was a quick read, fun and interesting, and game me perspective on James’s life as an entrepreneur and parent. The book also made clear how awesome his wife is and how important she is to his entrepreneurial journey.

If you still have some holiday spirit left in you, grab a copy of James’ book The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get. You’ll be doing James a solid by helping him get WeMontage back up and running and get some valuable perspective and lessons along the way.

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Oct 22 2018

Weekend Reading

I was really tired this weekend (from the week) and didn’t feel like doing anything other than laying on the couch near Amy and reading. She was also tired, as she spent the week in Wellesley at a board meeting and a bunch of other Wellesley related stuff, so even though the Boulder weather was magnificent, we stayed home other than a quick trip to Boulder to get our eyes checked and have sushi with some friends. Oh, and took really long naps both afternoons.

By Sunday night I was tired of reading (but Amy wasn’t) so I went downstairs and watched Finding Traction, the documentary about Nikki Kimball’s monstrous performance on the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont. While I’m limited to running marathons, I find inspiration from watching ultras …

The book list started with me finishing a book I’d started earlier in the week. I read mostly on the Kindle this weekend, but John Doerr’s book came in the mail in physical form so I read it that way.

Mastering the Market Cycle: Getting the Odds on Your Side: Howard Marks (Oaktree) is a brilliant investor (and great writer) so I read everything by him I can get my hands on (and there’s a lot of it going back to 1990.) Not surprisingly, I learned a few key things from this book and it reinforced a bunch of others I already knew.

Power to the Startup People: How To Grow Your Startup Career When You’re Not The Founder: There is an infinite number of books now aimed at startup founders and entrepreneurs, but very few aimed at startup employees. Sarah Brown is a Boulder friend (now living in SF) and this is a really good book. There are lots of Boulder stories and people in it, but Sarah does a great job of covering a lot of ground that is generally useful to anyone considering working in, or already working in a startup. It’s the second “startup employee” book that I think is really good, following Jeff Bussgang’s Entering StartUpLand: An Essential Guide to Finding the Right Job (which is referenced a few times in Sarah’s book.)

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person: In my effort to read more memoirs by women, I enjoyed Shonda Rimes book. I can’t remember who referred it to me, but it was good and added a dimension to my memoir reading that had a lot more X and no Y in it. Amy and I regularly watched both Grey’s Anatomy (at least the first four seasons) and Scandal (again – maybe four seasons) so Shonda Rimes has entertained us a lot. With this book, she helped widen my perspective on a number of things I hadn’t thought much about.

From Like to Love: Inspiring Emotional Commitment from Employees and CustomersKeith Alper is a long-time friend – we were both on the YEO board in the mid-1990s, spent a lot of time with the Kauffman Foundation when Jana Matthews was there, and have continued to connect on numerous things over the years. This book embodies everything I’d expect from Keith, is a good read and had some fun new suggestions in it. Definitely worth reading if you are a CEO and you like the word “love” in a business context. And, if the word “love” in a business context scares you, then this book is also for you.

Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x GrowthJohn Doerr is well-known as a long-time advocate of OKRs. Today, I hear the word OKR in a lot of contexts where I’m 100% certain the company is implementing them incorrectly. If you are using OKRs, please read this book. And, if you are thinking about OKRs, please read this book.

Ready for Monday? I’m going to start things off with a short run.

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Oct 15 2018

Book: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History was awesome. Given that Sears filed for Chapter 11 today, I’ll start with some perspective from 1976.

America is remarkably dynamic. Humans constantly create narratives about things and how they work. Suddenly, popular books are appearing, such as Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, that challenge the relevance of our narratives.

There is so much to reflect on when reading a book like Fantasyland or Sapiens. Pondering the meaning of life is an endless human pastime.

It’s particularly interesting in the context of the growth and development of a country, which in and of itself is a temporary construct, just like everything else.

I’ve always loved reading fantasy. And, after reading Fantasyland, I realize I’ve been living in it also.

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Oct 9 2018

Book: The Messy Middle

This summer I read the page proof version of Scott Belsky’s new book The Messy Middle. It is excellent and is now out and available. I bought 100 copies and am sending them out to every CEO in our portfolio. If you are a CEO of a fast-growing company, I strongly recommend it.

The letter I sent out to the CEOs in our portfolio (with the book) follows:

Since you are a member of the Foundry Group Book of the Almost Every Month Club (bet you didn’t know that was part of the deal when we invested), enclosed is a copy of The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky.

It’s outstanding. Many of you are either in the messy middle or aspire to be (whether you realize it or not.) And, if you don’t aspire to be in the messy middle, but hope to one day be a large company, you may as well deal with the reality that you’ll enjoy time in the messy middle.

Scott was the founder of Behance, a company funded by USV and a bunch of seed/angel investors, that was acquired by Adobe. Scott then served a tour of duty at Adobe, left to spend some time at Benchmark, but then went back to Adobe and is now Adobe’s Chief Product Officer. He’s also had a great track record of angel investments, so he’s been around a bunch of different blocks multiple times.

Rather than read from start to finish, take a look at the Table of Contents while holding a pen and circle the sub-chapters that are interesting to you. There are a lot of them, they are short, and almost all are highly relevant. But, start with the ones that call out to you as a way to get into the book more deeply.

And, if you find something particularly relevant to you, mention it, with an example (if you are brave enough to name names) and put it up on the CEO list.

Scott – thanks for putting so much energy into this book.

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Oct 1 2018

Q318 Staycation: Resting, Reading, and Little Running

I took last week off the grid for my Q318 vacation. Amy and I were originally going to Alaska to look at polar bears but canceled everything after I got sick and did a staycation in Boulder instead. I got at least 10 hours of sleep each day, did a bunch of self-care things (PT, massage, meditate), ran a few times (to the extent that 14-minute miles can be considered running), and read a half dozen books.

I’m feeling a lot better. I’m off antibiotics, feel well-rested, and have renewed energy as Q4 begins. The vacation was well timed and it was awesome to spend a full week just relaxing and recovering.

For the readers out there in blogland, here are quick summaries of the books I read.

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer: Recommended by Christopher Schroeder, I wouldn’t have ordinarily picked up a book like this. It was awesome and another great read in the memoir category. While I had a view on the Marines, I learned a lot from this book and was engaged from start to finish. I realize all the memoirs I’ve read recently were by men, so I added a few female memoirs to my Kindle to read.

Late to the Ball: A Journey into Tennis and Aging: Another memoir, this time about tennis. Gerry Mazorati started playing later in life and, in his sixties, decided to see how good he could get as a competitive tennis player. His self-reflection, both about tennis and aging, as he pursues this quest, are delicious. I played competitive tennis as a junior (age 10 – 14), stopped for many years after completely burning out, and started playing casually again around age 30. This was a fun nudge in the direction of being more competitive when I play, rather than “just hitting.”

Dietland: When I grabbed some memoirs written by women, I also grabbed some female-centric fiction, which I realized isn’t part of my regular reading diet. I just read the Amazon book summary on Dietland, which follows: “Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. With her job answering fan mail for a teen magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots begins following her, Plum falls down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House — an underground community of women who reject society’s rules — and is forced to confront the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a guerilla group begins terrorizing a world that mistreats women, and Plum becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.” It was super provocative and when I finished, I said out loud “three for three so far this week on the reading front …”

Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are: This was the best book of the week and made things “four for four.” Dave Jilk (my first business partner and, at this point, other than my brother, my longest standing friendship) and I are working on a book project currently titled Nietzsche for Entrepreneurs. John Kaag wrote a magnificent mix of a memoir and exploration of Nietzsche while spending a month with his wife and child in Sils Maria where Nietzsche wrote a number of his books. I learned a lot about Nietzsche, how his philosophy evolved and fit together, and enjoyed intellectually wandering around in mountains that I expect I will be visiting in my future.

Lying: by Sam Harris was poignant and relevant. It was short and should be read by everyone. It’s a great argument for why one should never lie. It felt especially relevant last week.

Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies: Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh’s new book showed up in the middle of the week so I tossed it on the top of the infinite pile of physical books. If you are in a fast scaling company, are curious about some details about fast-growing companies that you know, but might not have heard from, or just want a big dose of “here’s how it works in Silicon Valley when it works”, there’s a lot of good stuff in this one. Dear Reid and Chris – please tell your editor that it is “startup”, not “start-up.”

On reflection, I would have benefited from more fiction last week. I’m in the middle of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History which is incredibly awesome, so once I finish it I’ll queue up some more fiction.

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Sep 19 2018

Book: The Fixer

I enjoyed Bradley Tusk’s new book, The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics. It’s another memoir, a category which seems to be ending up on the top of my reading list a lot these days. It also was in the pile of books I get sent regularly by publishers hoping I’ll read and review them (as in “Dear Brad Feld, here is a form letter about my book, I hope you like it.”)

While I don’t know Bradley Tusk, I know of him, have heard him speak once, and like his first name. When I started reading The Fixer, I had no idea whether I’d end up engrossed, or end up turning the pages every 15 seconds as I skimmed through it looking for the good bits.

I was engrossed, at least for the first half. I started it on Monday night after dinner and got halfway through before I noticed my eyes closing as sleep beckoned. It was about 9:15 pm, which is a typical call it quits time for me on a weekday, especially since I’m still sleeping 10 or so hours a night as I recover from my two weeks of misery.

Last night Amy and I watched Sicario: Day of the Soldado. It was exactly what we were looking for, so I took a night off from reading.

Tonight, I got home at about 7 pm, ate dinner, and finished up The Fixer. The second half had a bunch of startup stories, which were shorter, but also less interesting to me in the context of a memoir. It also shifted from “here’s my story” to “here’s what my business is doing to help startups” which, while better than most memoirs that try to walk the line of self-promotion, still was less stimulating (at least to me) than the first half. Well, except for the chapter about Bloomberg almost running for president, which I loved.

Overall, it’s a winner of a book. And, if you are an entrepreneur who is doing anything that touches on any heavily regulated industry (which is a lot of you), I’d put it in the must-read category to get more context and ideas about what you are up against and how to think about it.

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Sep 17 2018

Book: How to Meditate

Over the past few years, I’ve incorporated meditation into my daily routine. I started by using Headspace, shifted to using Insight Timer, and now do whatever I feel like doing.

A week ago, while proofreading a draft of Jerry Colonna’s upcoming book, I noticed a few sections where he mentioned Ani Pema Chödrön. When he referenced her book How to Meditate, I went on Amazon and bought a physical copy to read.

Last night, as Amy and I laid on our respective couches reading, I flowed through How to Meditate. With Brooks the Wonder Dog at my feet, I relaxed into what was a wonderfully written book on Meditation. It’s less about the mechanics of meditation (although there are some described) but more about the philosophy of meditation. And, as a human, how to relate to what meditation is, and what it can do, for and to you.

The book reinforced a lot of what I’ve experienced with meditation while giving me some new thoughts about it. Recently, I’ve been doing the Headspace pack on Pain Management as I work through all the pain linked to my summer of misery. Ani Pema’s book gave me the insight to try doing the 20-minute Headspace pain session first thing in the morning while sitting in my hot tub, outside, with my eyes open (but with a soft gaze.) I did this for the first time this morning and it was glorious. I’ll be doing it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day …

If you meditate, are curious about meditation, are interested in mindfulness, or notice that your mind is all over the place these days, How to Meditate is worth a quiet two hours of your life.

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