Brad Feld

Category: Entrepreneurship


Jul 13, 2004

I was in the middle of responding to an email and I used Visicalc as an example to make a point (remember Visicalc?). I couldn’t remember how to spell Bob Frankston’s last name (I’ve been friends with Dan Bricklin, the co-investor of Visicalc since I lived in Boston – but I’ve never met or talked to Bob) so I did a quick Google search on Visicalc.

I hit the jackpot. Dan has a copy of Visicalc that you can run on a PC. I downloaded it and three minutes later I was staring at the Visicalc screen from my childhood (the first time I ran Visicalc was when I was 13). The MS-DOS version is 27,520 BYTES. That’s 27k. Not 27MB. 27k. Smaller than most GIFs and JPEGs.

I poked around on Dan and Bob’s sites. Dan has a bunch of great stuff on his site (hey Dan – your hair isn’t gray). Bob has some long essays on it on his site.

Amy (my wife – who still pines away for the days of Lotus Agenda) just walked in and – after seeing Visicalc up on my screen – said “What was wrong with DOS anyway – wasn’t it good enough – at least I could find all of my files.”

Dan / Bob (who I still don’t know, but feel a special character-based and forward slash bond to) – thanks for the memory. / S Q Y.

Every now and then, a VC runs across an entrepreneur that has enormous vision, the mental agility to tune his idea to the market reality, and the chutzpah to pull it off. Randy Adams from AuctionDrop is one such guy.

I met Randy for the first time when he came in one Monday to our partners meeting to pitch us on the idea for AuctionDrop. At the time he had a average looking powerpoint presentation that pitched a big idea – a national chain of drop off centers for eBay. The premise was that it’s a pain in the ass for the average Joe to sell something on eBay, that people would pay to have someone else do all the work for them, and that eBay would embrace this as one of their continued growth constraints is “supply of goods”.

We bit on the premise and my partner Heidi Roizen led a seed investment. Heidi had known Randy for a long time and had worked with him several times in the past. “If anyone can figure out how to pull this off, it’ll be Randy,” said Heidi.

That was over a year ago. After a few months, AuctionDrop had several company-owned stores up and running in the bay area and was doing a meaningful number of auctions each week. Within a year of being founded, AuctionDrop had five stores and had run over 14,000 auctions. AuctionDrop had focused obsessively on pleasing its customers – which is one of the keys to success on eBay – and had a superb rating. This has enabled it to be the first (and currently only) eBay Drop Off Center to receive Titanium PowerSeller status.

This wasn’t nearly enough for Randy. We all agreed that this was working and wanted to go national. Randy wanted to go national. eBay wanted us to go national. We wanted to swing for the fence with this investment and go national. Randy had two approaches – build out a national footprint ourselves or create a franchise model. For a variety of reasons, neither of these were compelling – building a national footprint was incredibly expensive (“That’s a scary as shit amount of money required,” said one of my partners) and would take too much time; a franchise model seemed marginal from a financial perspective and lacking from a quality control perspective (which we continue to believe is key to success on eBay).

About four months ago, I got an email from Heidi saying “Randy is talking to UPS about doing a deal where all UPS stores will be AuctionDrop enabled. We’d be national overnight and it’d be a huge deal for UPS since they want to continue to expand services through the stores.” This is the essence of the kind of thinking a VC wants. Goal = be national. Overcome all barriers – figure it out – then do it.

A month later Randy had a signed deal with UPS. Today the deal was announced (although it was covered in depth last week after the WSJ broke the story on it – an article even showed up in The Denver Post, one of my local papers.).

AuctionDrop is now live with UPS. If you’ve never sold anything on eBay, grab last years digital camera (you know – the one you replaced with this years model), find the nearest UPS store, and give it a try.

I’m an MIT grad. We are all geeks at heart. After I graduated, I was involved in a number of things around entrepreneurship at MIT. One of the guys who was in the middle of everything was Joost Bonson. Joost was one of the co-founders of what has become the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition. If you take a look at Joost’s website you’ll see confirmation that he’s been involved in – well – most everything around entrepreneurship at MIT.

I was reading Technology Review – MIT’s magazine – and came across How-To Howtoons Appeals to Kids. This is Joost’s newest project (along with Saul Griffith) and is “a cartoon that provides one-page, easy-to-follow, story instructions on how to build enineering and science projects from readily available materials.”

Awesome idea – and lots of fun. Check out Howtoons.

I had a great experience with Buzz Bruggeman and his company ActiveWords this morning. Here’s the story.

I was reading through my new feeds this morning and ran across Marc Orchant’s The Office Weblog post on Buzz Bruggeman / ActiveWords. I’ve been looking for a macro recorder that I like (they all suck) and ActiveWords sounded interesting. So – I went to the site and downloaded a trial (30 days). I played around with the trial for 30 minutes and couldn’t figure out how to do what I wanted to do (although it had some neat functionality). I finished up reading my feeds and started grinding through email.

Ten minutes later I get an email from Buzz Bruggeman that says:

From: Buzz Bruggeman []
Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2004 9:20 AM
To: Brad Feld
Subject: ActiveWords

Hi Brad:

Just saw your download. Would love to show you our stuff.

I am also happy to unlock a copy for you. Below is the canned E-Mail that will do it. I would suggest that you beat on ActiveWords for a few days, and then let me walk you through some ideas. I use , which works well, and will cut your learning curve way back. I would like to believe that ActiveWords would not only benefit everyone on your team, but perhaps would benefit products from your portfolio companies.


So – Buzz has gotten my download info, looked me up, figured out I’m a venture capitalist, and decided to make sure I’m happy with his stuff. I respond:

From: Brad Feld
Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2004 9:31 AM
To: ‘Buzz Bruggeman’
Subject: RE: ActiveWords

Buzz – I played around with it for 30 minutes – it’s cool, but it wasn’t obvious how to do what I’m looking for. I’m mostly interested in a “super macro recorder” that can do things interactively with web sites (e.g. bring up page, click on specific field, click on another field, close window). It looks like ActiveWords can do most of this, but it wasn’t at all obvious how to do the “click on specific field” or how to do the equivalent of “record a macro”.

Give me a clue.

Buzz responds:

From: Buzz Bruggeman []
Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2004 9:47 AM
To: Brad Feld
Subject: RE: ActiveWords

I am about to be interviewed . Where are you going to be in say 20 minutes…


It’s a Saturday morning. Now – I get the irony that I’m sitting here with no life catching up on work (my excuse is that Amy is sitting near me at her desk catching up on stuff also). Buzz is all over me.

We hooked up 15 minutes later and spent 30 minutes with Gotomypc going through a demo of what I wanted to do. Buzz helped me configure a few other advanced features, and was geniunely effusive about how his product could help me with my life.

His committment to me and passion for his product convinced me to give it a serious try for a week or so (something that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t gotten all over me – I would have likely punted after fiddling around with it one more time).

Buzz is doing this the right way – he loves his product – believes in it – and is willing to be shamelessly aggressive about getting folks to try it. Our call was great – he wasn’t pushy in any inappropriate or off putting way – he really wanted to help. He recognized that I’m an influencer and wants me to be a user, get excited about ActiveWords, and help him spread the word.

Nice start Buzz. CEO’s – pay attention!

Mark Cuban has a new post in his Success and Motivation series. Fun stuff, including good Michael Dell and Bill Gates history.

We Suck Less

May 27, 2004

I was in an upbeat board meeting yesterday for one of my growing companies that is having a good year. While our business is in good shape, one of the older product lines from one of our partners is struggling. So far our partner’s product line’s sales are down 25% year over year. We have some market intelligence on some of our competitors and their sales for this product line are also down over 20% yoy. In comparison, our sales for this product line are only down 10%.

“We suck less” gleefully chanted one of the executives in the meeting.

I smiled. It’s always pleasant when your stories make the rounds and lives to be a teenager.

In 1992, it was 7:30 AM and I was already having a shitty day. It was a typical early winter morning in Boston – cold, dank, dark rain. I was still drying out from my ride in to my office on the T trying to warm up with a cup of stale coffee wondering why I still lived in Boston. The web wasn’t around yet, so I was reading the Wall Street Journal (which was coming off on my fingers) waiting for my first meeting to start when my phone rang (we had recently installed direct dial at my business).

I picked up. The person calling said, in a not so happy, 7:30 AM cold, dank, dark, Bostonian voice “Can I talk to Mr. Feld?” (I’d made the mistake of naming my first company Feld Technologies – since we had installed direct dial, I had gotten a sudden spate of unwanted phone calls.

“This is he – what can I do for you”, I said in as optimistic a voice as I could muster.

“You guys suck. I’ve been her since 6 AM trying to reindex my files. I’m pissed off, things aren’t working, they never work, and I’m not paying your bill.”

“Um – who’s this”? I asked.

“Mr. Angry,” said the person on the other line. “You’re the fourth computer consulting firm we’ve hired in the last six months and no one can get our stuff to work. I’m sick of paying for this. Computers suck, you suck, your systems suck, and your bills suck.”

Mr. Angry and I were off to a good start. i’d been here plenty of times before (although I preferred to have finished my first cup of coffee before diving into the intellectual stimulation of trying to solve this type of problem.) An hour later, I’d gotten Mr. Angry’s files reindexed, his system running, and his temper cooled. He had gotten to know me well enough to call me Brad, although I was not quite ready to call him Mr. Happy.

“Wow – thanks Brad. That was really helpful. I’ve got to run because people start showing up here at 9 and I’ve got to go put paper in the printers, change all the toner cartridges, and hide the floppy disks so people have to come find me if they need one. Go ahead and send me the bill – I’ll pay it.” (Excellent, another $125 successfully earned…)

I got up and wandered down the hall. Most of the folks in my company had trickled in and were settling into their morning routine. I stretched, let out a big groan, and chortled loudly “Now that sucked!” I paused, smiled, and realized that while it had sucked, we had actually sucked less than the three companies that had messed things up before us.

Inspired – I called a 9 AM company meeting and announced our new motto – “We Suck Less.” I explained to my bewildered team that computer consulting (well – actualy – anything having to do with computers) is difficult, most people suck at it, and we can succeed simply by sucking less than everyone else. This was a lot more palatable, interesting, and achievable then some idealistic and corny mission like “We’ll be the best computer consulting firm on planet earth.” (C’mon – there is no such thing.) Over the next few years, we often set our prospects back on their heals when we told them “Our goal in working with you is to suck less than the last guy that was here” – but after we explained it, had a collective laugh, and re-affirmed that we intended to do our best for them, we often won their business while setting a much more achievable goal and tone.

12 years later it still applies.

Jerry Colonna has a great post on being a CEO.

The trailer for the new Pixar movie The Incredibles is out. While we have to wait until Nov 5, 1994 for the movie, you can get a peak of it on the Pixar (and Disney , and other) sites. Check out the teaser also for an overweight (“maybe just a salad and some rice cakes”) and somewhat frustrated Mr. Incredible.

It was such a brilliant move when Steve Jobs bought Pixar from George Lucas for $10 million in 1986. Now that’s guts.

I remember watching Luxo Jr. and Tin Toy in the mid-late 1980’s and thinking how amazing it was.

Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, and Pixar – thanks for all the entertainment!

During the Internet bubble, it was easy to forget how most companies are created. I remember endless presentations where the punch line from two guys and a powerpoint presentation was “all we need is a seed round of $10m and we’ll be able to get going.”

I occassionally get a chance to tell the story of how my first real company – Feld Technologies – was funded by me and my co-founder Dave Jilk with $10 (yes – 10 one dollar bills) of equity (we had 10 shares of stock – $1 / share – that’s all the money we ever raised). There was an interesting constraint – at the time – it was basically all the money we had and it never occurred to us to go try to raise money from venture capitalists (we did eventually get a $10,000 bank line that my dad personally guaranteed with us).

Since many of the companies I fund are raw startups, I often think about the best way to get from an idea to a business. I keep coming back to the value of sweat – which has been perverted in the sweat equity cliche – which is fundametally different than sweat (you know, the stuff that rolls down your back on a hot summer day – or the stuff coming out of your pits when you are about to pick up the phone for that critical call.)

Mark Cuban has a great rant going on his blog (Success and Motivation Part 1, S&M almost p2, S&M p2, S&M p3) about starting up his first company – MicroSolutions. Some of you may know Mark as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks or the founder of which had a huge IPO and then was bought for over $5 billion by Yahoo!. I remember Mark’s articles in CRN in the early 90’s when I was running Feld Technologies thinking “man – this guy has his shit together.” Perspective is everything – he had it together because he was obsessed with succeeding. Now – I’m sure Mark doesn’t remember me – but the one time we met, I sat in a big red chair in the middle of his Audionet (’s early name) office – which was just an old warehouse on the edge of downtown Dallas with a bunch of tables, computers, and whiteboards everywhere and listened to him tell me about how amazing Audionet was going to be. I was just starting to work with Softbank at the time (I think I was described as a “Softbank Affiliate” or something silly like that) and since I grew up in Dallas, I stopped by when I was visiting my parents for Thanksgiving. Mark was raising a round and wanted the outrageous valuation of $80m pre for his business (ok – that would have only been a 50x on an investment at the Yahoo price). Charley Lax was at Softbank and was the guy I was working with most closely at that time and when we talked about it on the phone, he completely gacked on the valuation so it was a short exploration. I remember leaving thinking “This Cuban guy has balls”. Duh.

One of my new companies – Newmerix – is sweating it out the right way. I’m incredibly proud of the founders of this company – Niel Robertson and Ed Roberto – for starting this business up the right way. There was a nice article about them in the Boulder Daily Camera yesterday. Niel and Ed embody everything I love in entrepreneurs – they sweat every day, all day, never relent, and are determined to succeed no matter what.