For some strange reason, I woke up thinking about one of my favorite things to discover in a book or an article. I know there’s deep meaning in the notion that it was the first think that floated up to my consciousness when I awoke this morning. Like any good zen koan, I’m going to let it roll around all day. In the mean time, I look forward to my digital sabbath on Saturday to put the thought into practice and just do nothing.
Several years ago I told Amy “no more three city days.” She reminded me this morning that yesterday was a three city day (Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles.) It was also a three board meeting day (Chorus, Mattermark, Nima), although Nima was a lovely dinner instead of a board meeting. And this trip has three California cities in it – San Francisco, Los Angeles (for the Upfront Summit, which is turning into one of my favorite annual work events), and then Santa Barbara for a TrackR board meeting.
As I got out of the shower, I realized I had slept in a very similar room at this hotel the week after my 50 mile race in April 2012. That was an uncomfortable shock, as I attribute a lot of physiological damage from that race as one of the root causes of the depression I ended up having in early 2013.
Which, reminded me of the first thing I thought of when I awoke today. Maybe the meaning of the koan is as simple as “Don’t forget to rest, grasshopper.”
I’m not a predictor so you won’t find me participating in the “best/worst of 2016” and “predictions for 2017” lists. But there is a trend that feels inevitable to me: “Startups everywhere.”
While Agent Smith was wrong, I don’t think I am. When the phrase “Startup Communities” started to become mainstream around 2012, I made the strong assertion that you could create a startup community in any city with at least 100,000 people. I used Boulder as a canonical example of it in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City and have been beating the drum about startups everywhere ever since.
While the meme that the only place to build a company is in Silicon Valley has softened, there’s still a strong belief that the best place to be if you are a first time entrepreneur is Silicon Valley. My argument is, and has never been, against Silicon Valley, but rather for the rest of the planet.
I saw three articles yesterday that reinforced the inevitability of startups everywhere.
- Millennial Innovators Are About to Leave Big Cities
- Here’s how small-town America is primed to beat Silicon Valley in innovation
- The Bright, Sustainable Future of Chicago’s Technology Ecosystem
When I reflect on where some of our investments are, they are in cities like Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Minneapolis, Boulder, Denver, Charlotte, Lexington, New York, and Boston. And then there’s Techstars which is now all over the world.
Sure – we have plenty of investments in Silicon Valley, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve asserted for a long time that Silicon Valley is a collection of startup communities, which includes San Francisco, Marin (the first board I was on – in 1994 – was for a company in San Rafael), Oakland, Redwood *, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park, and Sunnyvale. Or you can just call it San Francisco, Oakland, and the Peninsula. Or maybe toss SOMA in. Or, well, does it really matter?
As a bonus, I’ve been hearing Amazon referred to regularly by mainstream media (and some people in the tech world) as a Silicon Valley company. Having invested in and spent a lot of time in Seattle over the last 30 years, I smirk whenever I hear this. I love seeing articles like How Amazon innovates in ways that Google and Apple can’t which should prompt entrepreneurs to Think Different (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
As a bonus, I leave you with Amazon’s patent for a flying warehouse.
While Silicon Valley is an amazing thing, if you are in the rest of the world, you are in a special and interesting place. Don’t lose sight of that.
I’m sitting in a hotel room on the other side of the planet from where I’m usually hanging out. I just got back from a super run (4.5 miles in 45 minutes – nothing like sea level and flat to speed things up), am drinking some Mount Franklin bottled water, and reflecting on what was an intense month.
While I live a busy life, the pace ebbs and flows. The last 30 days were particularly busy, with a handful of deals (yeah – that’s foreshadowing for some announcements coming up), a final draft of the next version of Venture Deals (with Jas0n), lots of other typical stuff, and a colonoscopy. This would have been plenty except it was against the backdrop of the RNC and DNC circuses along with the amplification of what was already an emotionally complex presidential election cycle.
While I’ve had plenty of ups and downs, dealt with my share of failure, and struggled through emotionally difficult periods, I’m fundamentally an optimist. As I sit here in Adelaide, I feel incredibly fortunate to be alive in 2016. On Friday afternoon, I got in my car, made a bunch of phone calls on the drive from Keystone to DIA, got on a plane, took an Ambien, and woke up in Sydney. It’s not quite time travel, but it’s pretty fucking close.
As I was running on the river through downtown Adelaide, I mostly people watched as my mind wandered. There was a football game starting so there was a crowd at two segments of my loop. I could have been anywhere – I just happened to be here. It made me smile.
For a few weeks in July I fought with my emotions around the election. I vacillated from trying to ignore it to paying too much attention to it. I have clear opinions about it and a general ability to filter out the noise, but I found myself being drawn into it as though I was watching a slow motion multi-car pileup that never ends.
In the past few days, I came to terms with my emotions around everything. If you’ve read my last few posts, you can probably infer the internal conversation I’ve been having with myself. Fortunately, I spent the last week with Amy so I got a chance to work through some if it in conversations with her.
As I sit here getting ready for an interesting and stimulating week in Adelaide, I’m ready for August.
I thought this was outrageously brilliant. Thanks to Andrew Hyde for sending it to me.
For a long time I’ve ranted against naming your startup community “Silicon Whatever.” Instead, I believe every startup community already has a name. The Boulder startup community is called Boulder. The LA startup community is called LA. The Washington DC startup community is called Washington DC. The Seattle startup community is called Seattle. You get the idea.
I expect many people in the San Francisco startup community tire of being told they are in Silicon Valley, or maybe they enjoy the halo effect enough to overlook it.
Regardless, Christoph Sollich totally nails how to brand a startup community – in this case his home town of Berlin.
I woke up feeling subdued this morning. I didn’t know why but after talking to Amy I realized that the emotional impact on me of the horror in Nice is weighing on me. Amy described her connection to it to me – she’s been physically in the same spot that the tragedy happened – and even though we are far away, something very personal hit home about the whole thing.
We are long-time friends with Fred and Joanne Wilson. After my call with Amy, I did my daily news routine, which includes a few minutes in Feedly skimming all the blogs I subscribe to and reading the ones that catch my attention. Both Fred’s and Joanne’s did today.
I read Joanne’s post from yesterday titled Pledge 1% first. It perked me up a little and made me smile, as Pledge 1% is the evolution of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado which I co-founded in 2007. My partner Seth Levine took the lead a few years in and, with a few other people including Ryan Martens, the co-founder of Rally Software, have evolved our model into a national one. It makes me very happy to see it expanding to NYC in a significant way with Joanne supporting it. If you are in NYC and interested in learning more, attend the Pledge 1% Happy Hour on July 27th.
I then ended up on Fred’s blog. He wrote What Do You Do? What Do You Say? about Nice. In many of the recent attacks and violent situations I’ve felt emotional kinship to Fred. He’s written about things right away in words that are heartfelt and reflect my emotions. I’ve commented on the posts, supported the charities Fred has pointed out, such as the Fund for Nice, and occasionally written a post pointing at them. But I’ve definitely been more reserved about my emotions as it takes me at least a day or two to process them, and at that point the world has often moved on from the immediate aftermath of whatever happened.
Today I didn’t feel like waiting. Amy and I have a quiet weekend together and plan to have dinner with my parents and aunt Cindy/uncle Charlie on Saturday and then brunch with David and Jill Cohen on Sunday. These are all people we love deeply and we get to be with them in a very safe and comfortable context. I’m going for two long runs, will spend time finishing up the third edition of Venture Deals, and just being with my beloved.
Against the backdrop of this, the Nice events are extremely unsettling. Fred ended his post with a powerful introspection / call to action:
There is an epidemic in the world, a sickness that is spreading and afflicting more and more people. It is mental illness. We need to diagnose its cause and treat it. Until we do that, we will be facing more of these mornings. I think many of us are wondering what we can do to help with that. I certainly am.
I hear entrepreneurs use the word disruption on a daily basis and continuously hear the cliche change the world. In entrepreneurial circles, it’s clear to me that violence, hatred, and discrimination or whatever you want to label it is another category where we need to pay attention to disruption before it changes the world in ways we don’t want it to. Or that we need to change the world away from the themes that are starting to appear on a very regular basis. I don’t have answers, but I know I’ll have reflections this weekend.
I was at a Nima board meeting today and was asked by a new friend on the team about my link to Homer, Alaska. After a brief explanation, I said “McDonald’s made Homer famous around some Super Bowl by making a completely inappropriate TV ad there.” I couldn’t remember the year – I thought it was in the 1980s somewhere.
It was 1990. Google found it immediately. It’s hilarious, and completely inappropriate. This is where Amy and I live, some of the time.
And then after the game.
San Francisco destroyed Denver 55-10. Don’t ask me why I knew that.
I’m finally home after three solid weeks on the road which included Austin, Dallas, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. It’s delightful to sit in my green zebra chair in Amy’s upstairs office, with a cup of tea, the Diana Krall channel playing on Pandora, and just catch up on stuff.
The extra points from my trip was getting to spend some face time with close friends and family that I haven’t seen in a while. Amy joined me in LA and we had dinner with Fred and Joanne Wilson and then went art shopping with Fred on Sunday. I spent a weekend in Dallas with my parents and went to Dairy Queen for Blizzard’s three times with my dad (my mom tagged along and even had a Blizzard one night.) I had dinner with my Uncle Charlie, Aunt Cindy, Cousin Jon, and his son Jack. You get the picture – even though the travel was intense I got some time with humans I love and don’t get to smell as often as I’d like to.
At the end of the trip, I spent two days at the Upfront Summit in LA. This comes on the heals of Upfront managing director Mark Suster’s great post titled Embracing Your Community as a Strategy which I encourage you to read as it is magnificent.
I have a long relationship with LA. In my first company (Feld Technologies) my first large client was in LA (Bellflower Dental Group). While the company – a large 100 person dental practice – was based in Bellflower, the dentist that owned it lived in Mandeville Canyon and I usually stayed at his house when I was in LA (he was the step-father of a fraternity brother, which is how we got connected in the first place.) I drove a lot in LA and learned things like how the 10 connects to the 5 to the 605, or the 405 to the 605. I learned that if you left at the right time, each route was only 30 minutes, but if you left at the wrong time, it was over two hours. I heard about Wolfgang Puck before he was in airports everywhere. I enjoyed the non-meat dishes at Hamburger Heaven, went to The Palm when there was only one location, and hung out in Santa Monica before it was techie cool and the only thing around was Peter Norton.
Today, our current investments in LA include Oblong, Nix Hydra, and recently Two Bit Circus. In the last five years, there has been an explosion of startup activity in LA that continues to be exciting as the startup community grows and evolves. Mark and his gang at Upfront Ventures are in the middle of it and are having a huge positive impact on things.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve attended and hosted many VC annual meetings. I’m an investor in many early stage VC funds and, while I’m not a rigorous annual meeting attender, will go if one of the GPs asks me to. I always offer to be part of the content of whatever meeting / summit / dinner they do if it’s useful to them.
Since I was already in LA on Monday, I told Mark I’d stick around for the Summit if he thought it’d be useful to him and the team. He immediately programmed me into the content for Wednesday (LP/GP day) and Thursday (entrepreneur day). Mark also invited me to the Upfront annual meeting given (a) our Next strategy and (b) my new partner Lindel Eakman being a prior investor in Upfront when he was at UTIMCO.
The annual meeting was solid and consistent with high quality annual meetings. But the Summit on the follow two days was easily the best VC-driven summit that I’ve ever attended. The content was incredibly high quality, diverse, and stimulating. There was plenty of networking time organized around the content. The venues were awesome. The coordination and organization was first class. The attendee list was dynamite. My understanding is that Mark / Upfront are going to post the content online and I’d encourage you to watch many of the videos when this happens.
It being LA, the special bonus things I got to do, like the one pictured below, was about as good as it gets. Yes, Kevin Spacey is extremely smart, interesting, and extremely articulate – as I expected, but there’s nothing like getting to spend a few minutes with someone you admire (he’s always been one of my favorite actors), but have never met.
Mark, Greg, Stuart, and gang – thank you for including me in this. You are doing amazing things in the LA startup community.
In the article The biggest tech company founders from every state I win the callout for Arkansas.
“Arkansas: Brad Feld has bounced around a lot: born in Arkansas, raised in Dallas, then lived in Boston for over a decade before moving to Boulder, Colorado. He’s most known for founding Foundry Group, a prominent venture capital firm that focuses on early stage investment, but also co-founded startup accelerator Techstars.”
I was born in Blytheville, Arkansas on an air force base in 1965. My dad was in the Air Force for several years during the Vietnam War after being drafted. Once he finished his service a year later, he moved to Boston to finish out his residency at Mass General Hospital. Then, in 1969, he and my mom, with two kids in tow (me and my younger brother Daniel, who had just been born) moved to Dallas, Texas. My parents knew one person in Dallas when they moved there and they chose Dallas (over Kansas City, which was a near second) as a place they wanted to build their life. My dad’s brother Charlie followed him to Dallas a year later in 1970.
I don’t view myself as being from Arkansas even though I was born there. It’s one of those weird artifacts of one’s life. I used to be able to roll it out in big group introductions when each person is asked to say one thing about themselves that no one else in the group knows. I now have to come up with something else, like the age I was when I read The 158 Pound Marriage by John Irving (answer: inappropriately young.)
I grew up in Dallas, Texas. When I went to college at age 17, I thought I’d move back to Dallas and live there after I graduated. Within a year of living in Boston, I knew I wouldn’t move back to Dallas, even though I never really thought I’d stay very long in Boston.
Twelve years later I moved from Boston to Boulder, Colorado. While I lasted 11 years longer in Boston than my dad did, I sometimes feel like I lived in Boston for 11 years and 364 days too many. Upon serious reflection, Boston was very good for me, but it never felt like home.
When Amy and I moved to Boulder in 1995, we knew one person. He moved away several months later. Then, a year later, my brother Daniel moved to Boulder. I don’t think we realized we were following the same pattern as our parents and my Uncle Charlie, but 20 years later, we are still living near each other in Boulder and 46 years later my dad and his brother are still living in Dallas.
I’ve now lived in Boulder longer than anywhere else. So – where am I from? While I comfortably say that I grew up in Dallas, I’m from Boulder and have built my life, with Amy, around being here.
My parents, who were both born and grew up in the Bronx, are definitely from Dallas. Same with my Uncle Charlie.
Until the Business Insider article put me as being from Arkansas, I had never really pondered where I was from very much. It was easy to describe where I lived, and it often felt self-indulgent to parade around as a Texan, which at some point I got over. But I never felt like I was from Arkansas or Boston.
When I say I’m from Boulder, it feels good.
I’m running another competition for a startup to live for a year for free in my Kansas City FiberHouse.
When I bought my house in Kansas City in 2013, I announced my intentions clearly.
“I’m not going to be living in it. Instead, I’m going to let entrepreneurs live / work in it. Rent free. As part of helping create the Kansas City startup community. And to learn about the dynamics of Google Fiber. And to have some fun.”
The third year could be you! Apply today.
I’m in Telluride for the day. I drove from Aspen (where we are hanging out for the week) through some of the most beautiful mountains and countryside you will ever see and ended up in the magical place called Telluride.
I’m here for the Telluride Venture Accelerator Demo Day. This is their third program and I’m looking forward to the day. While Telluride is known for being a super high end beautiful magnificent ski town, it’s also the second home to a lot of very interesting and successful people who are committed to making sure their corner of paradise has a long term sustainable future beyond just tourism.
In addition to the accelerator, there is a fascinating entity called NextLaw Labs here. At dinner last night I sat next to Joe Andrews, the chairman of Dentons (the largest law firm in the world) and heard about why he and Dan Jansen have set up NextLaw Labs in Telluride to create the future of legal technology.
In the afternoon I went for a short hike with Marc Nager, the Chief Community Officer at Techstars, who lives in Telluride with his wife Ashley (who is the program director for the Telluride Venture Accelerator). Marc, as always, is looking trim and happy in his green Techstars shirt and sandals.
Today, I’m doing a fireside chat with Jesse Johnson (TVA co-founder and CEO) to kick things off. Then, after demo day, I’m spending 15 minutes with each company. While I know they are looking to me as a potential investor, it’s a low probability for each of them. As a result, my goal will be simple – I’ll try to do at least one thing for each of them that is helpful to moving their business along. In most cases this will be a connection (the drone company here will definitely get connected to 3D Robotics), customer feedback (I’ll become a customer), or something that is tangible that goes beyond just feedback.
And then, I’ll drive back through the mountains from the glorious place called Telluride to another spectacular place called Aspen. I so deeply love Colorado.