Brad Feld

Category: Productivity

At 7:52, I was upstairs having coffee with Amy. It’s a new routine that we started at the beginning of Covid. Every morning we have coffee together. Long-time readers of this blog or our book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur will recognize this as the evolution of our daily “Four Minutes in the Morning” ritual.

“Morning coffee” lasts about 30 minutes. We each make a cup of coffee in our magical Nespresso machine. Mine is simple – put a random capsule in and press the button. Amy’s is more elaborate since it involves milk, a microwave, sugar, and the Nespresso machine. We then sit together in the living room and talk about how we slept, our Whoop recovery scores, and what is to come for the day ahead. That’s the four-minute part. We then let the conversation take us wherever it goes. The last few days, we’ve talked about octopuses, the Nature Conservancy, a Zen garden we are designing, tents, the dog next door who barks hello to us, winter turning into spring, summer adventures, estate planning, friends who just had a great exit for their business, and knitting.

When I finish my first cup of coffee, I make an exaggerated “grunt.” This is a new part of the ritual that makes us both laugh. Amy loves to do acts of service, and making my second cup of coffee (decaf) during our morning coffee ritual is a daily one that makes both of us smile.

After I finish my second cup of coffee, we get up, hug for eight seconds, and then I go to the office. Which, in this case, is a 15-second commute downstairs from our living room.

This used to be a 30-minute drive from my house to my office in downtown Boulder. We’ve repurposed this 30-minute drive into our morning coffee. Not surprisingly, I enjoy our 30 minutes together a lot more than I enjoyed my 30-minute drive to the office.

So, at 7:53 this morning, I was in my office, at my desk. While I’ve worked from home part-time for 30 years, I’ve never had a continuous rhythm of this. It’s been almost a year where I’ve done this every day. My last day in an office was March 10th, 2020. My last dinner out for business was at Jaipur in Boulder with Mike Platt that night. It wasn’t really a business dinner since we talked about life and our anxiety about this new thing called Coronavirus.

While many people want to get back to an office, I don’t. I’ve found a much better rhythm. While it took a 120-nanometer virus to reinforce it for me, I embrace it.

Today, I’m helping amplify a $50,000 fundraiser for Sophie’s Neighborhood as part of World Pediatric Bone & Joint Day. Amy and I just contributed $25,000 so we are effectively matching any contributions dollar for dollar up to $50,000.

Whenever I feel exogenous stress from the world, it helps me lower it by doing something to support someone in need. The #Calwood fires just outside of Boulder that broke out on Saturday added to a pile from 2020 that is beyond anything I’ve experienced in my life.

Boulder is a magnificent city, but there are plenty of challenges for people everywhere. If you’ve eaten at Blackbelly, Santo, Jax Fish House, Dandelion, or Triana (remember Triana?), you probably know Chef Hosea Rosenberg. And you might know his wonderful wife Lauren and their delightful child Sophie.

Sophie has a rare disease called Multicentric carpotarsal osteolysis syndrome (MCTO). It is a skeletal disorder characterized by aggressive osteolysis associated with progressive nephropathy. Basically, serious stuff that is not well understood.

The Rosenberg’s have gone extremely deep on the science of the disease and are supporting a substantial amount of research, including:

  • Cell line development to study the mutation and get a readout on what is going wrong in the gene that is mutated
  • Screen existing drug libraries against the mutation to see if there is an already approved compound or small molecule (or drug undergoing clinical trials) that exists for drug repurposing 
  • Examine proteomic differences caused by the mutation and identify a target protein for the treatment
  • Development of iPS cells specific to Sophie’s variant to try and correct the error using gene-editing technology
  • Study of the molecular mechanisms underlying the disease with a genetically modified MCTO mouse model
  • Database with natural history disease tracking genotypes with disease phenotypes

It’s difficult to get sponsored research for diseases like this, so the Rosenbergs have been raising money to fund this activity.

There’s an extensive webpage if you want to learn more about Sophie’s Neighborhood, MCTO, research ongoing, and close friends supporting this like the indefatigable and remarkable Dr. Larry Gold.

Sophie is still in the “miracle window,” – the time in which her diagnosis is known, but symptoms are not yet very severe. But it is slipping away with each passing day. Funding is essential to continue the work to get closer to discovering or repurposing an effective and life-changing therapeutic.

If you are a Boulderite, have enjoyed any of Chef Hosea’s food at Blackbelly or Santo (or any of the other restaurants he’s worked at in the past), or just want to help try to figure out the cure for this rare disease, please join the fundraiser today and contribute to helping find a cure for MCTO.

Multiple times a day, someone in my network asks if I’ll make an intro to someone else. I’m almost always happy to do this and, if not, I will explain why.

I like to do opt-in intros, where I ask the person on the potential receiving end of the intro if they are open to the intro. Most of the time people say yes. Sometimes they say no. Very occasionally they don’t respond to me.

In the past, I’ve written posts about the best way to do this, at least from my perspective (and for me). However, as the number of requests of me increases, the ease and clarity by which people ask for the request has gone down.

So, here’s a new post on the topic, with simple directions that both (a) help make it easy for me, and (b) in my experience, make the ask a lot clearer and easier for the person the receiving end of the request to say yes to.

For the email title, do something like, “Intro to <company> for <mycompany>”. For example, if you are the CEO of Xorbix and you want an intro to GiantBigMonsterCompany, title the email “Intro to GiantBigMonsterCompany for Xorbix”

Write the email “to me” but make most of it about you. Start with something like “Brad, thanks for the offer to intro me to someone at GiantBigMonsterCompany.”

Then, quickly follow with the ask in another paragraph. “I’m interested in talking to GiantBigMonsterCompany about sponsoring the Xorbix conference in July for underrepresented founders.” Include a sentence describing the “why” such as “This is a great opportunity for GBMC to get exposure to an audience of diverse founders.”

Next, write up to three paragraphs, with links, about Xorbix and the specific activity you are addressing

End with whatever you want, including a repeat (in slightly different words) of the ask.

I’ll then forward it with an introduction from me to add credibility and ask if they are willing to connect with you, or ask them to forward on to the right person in the organization to make the connection.

They will either reply with Yes, forward me on to someone else in the organization to see if they are game, say No, or ignore me. The Yes / forward happens about 80% of the time, so you’ll usually get the intro and it’ll have context. And, for me, it’ll take me 60 seconds to do it, rather than a few minutes to put a thoughtful email together.

I was going to take a week off the grid next week, but I’ve got a bunch of podcasts and media recordings to do for my upcoming book The Startup Community Way. I also want to continue spending time in the new Startup Community community, which now has over 2,000 people in it and is growing and self-organizing at a rapid clip. And I have a few Foundry things to do.

So I’m going to try something I’ve never done before. I’m going to have a No Scheduled Meeting week. The recordings are on my calendar, but nothing else is.

When I ponder this, it amazes me that I’ve never tried this before. I often feel oppressed by my calendar and I’ve tried lots of different approaches to managing it. However, I’ve never had a week of no scheduled meetings.

Rather than take a week off the grid, I’ll work all week. It’ll just be almost entirely unscheduled work. I have no idea how it will go, but that’s the nature of endless small experiments.

I got the following note from a friend this morning.

Hey. Over the past 6 to 12 months, I seem to be getting more requests from individuals in the City-1, City-2, and City-3 asking for introductions to you.
Curious as to your preference in how to handle some of these.

Many words on the web have been written about double opt-in email intros. This is the best and simplest way when you know the person asking for the intro and think the intro would be a good one.

To make the double opt-in easy for you to do:

  • Have the person send you something to forward to me.
  • Forward it to me and say “I vouch for this person” (or any other context you want to provide). Game for an intro?
  • If I say yes, then connect us.

But, how about the situations where you don’t really know the person. In that case, someone is asking you to do work and use some social credibility in a situation where you don’t really know how much to provide.

If you don’t know much about the person, simply say “I think Brad is pretty easy to reach – his email is public – just send him a note.”

If you think the person is interesting and want to help, simply give out my email. I already get hundreds of random emails a day. I like getting them because there’s occasionally magic in them, so rather than fight it I just let it be part of my life.

My dad’s posts over the past two days put me in a reflective mood about work.

I’ve been working hard around computers and entrepreneurship since the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year at MIT. That first real job was as the first employee of Petcom, a company started by a husband and wife team that grew to about 20 people before the oil and gas market for software evaporated in 1985.

Since then, I’ve been a founder of a number of companies, a CTO of a public company that acquired my first company, an angel investor, a VC in two different firms that I helped start, and an LP in a bunch of VC firms. I’m also a writer, run a foundation with my wife Amy, and do a lot of random things that support entrepreneurship.

I’ve tentatively explored a number of different activities that are adjacent to my daily work world, including academia and politics, neither of which are interesting to me in any meaningful way.

Whenever I reflect on my work over the last 36 years (going back to that first summer at Petcom when I was 17 years old), I end up thinking about which parts of my work I love. As I get older, I’m trying to spend most of my time on things I love, even if they are hard or unsuccessful, and with people who I enjoy being with. There’s always a non-zero percentage of my time that I have to spend on stuff I don’t like and with people I don’t like, but I’ve tried to structurally minimize that.

While it’s easy to make decisions around people, especially given all the mistakes I’ve made (and hopefully learned from) in the last 36 years, it’s been harder for me to figure out the specific work activities and cadence that bring me sustainable joy. I’ve had this come up in a number of conversations in the past few years with other entrepreneurs, especially ones who have either gone through a transition in their company or are burned out and exhausted from the intensity of their work.

In these conversations, the question of how I shifted from “operator” to “investor” inevitably comes up. One of the concluding lines in my dad’s Birth of an Entrepreneur post stood out to me.

“I am convinced that by creating an environment in which my sons can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them than I have taught them.”

I had one of those tingly moments where I realized I was able to trace the roots of my philosophy of #GiveFirst back to my dad. If you are familiar with the concept of servant leadership, the sentence above will resonate with you.

I was president of my first company (Feld Technologies). My partner Dave was vice president. We didn’t use the CEO title because we didn’t know to, think to, or really care. We were partners and the titles demarcated something that might have been useful, but I remember that we behaved like partners.

While Feld Technologies was a successful company, and I was an effective president for seven years, with the benefit of hindsight I realize that I didn’t like my job very much once we had more than a few people working for us. At the time, I didn’t have a sense of what I wanted to do, I just worked incredibly hard.

After I sold my company, I went on a journey that included working for a public company, being part of the M&A deal team for a very acquisitive business, making a bunch of angel investments, starting a number of companies, and being chairman or co-chairman of several of these companies.

I straddled the operator / investor world until 2001 when the Internet bubble burst and my work world exploded into tiny pieces that collected into a huge mountain of shit that I had to work through. I finally realized a limit, and choose to abandon my operating roles and just be an investor.

Even then, there we many periods of time where I couldn’t answer “yes” to the question “do you love your job?” Instead, I just worked as hard as I knew how to work, independent of my emotional state around what I was doing.

Throughout all of that, I maintained that I was fundamentally motivated by learning. When I got depressed in 2013, I realized that I needed to modify the statement to say that “I am fundamentally motivated by learning and teaching.” That brings my back to my father’s quote.

“I am convinced that by creating an environment in which my sons can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them than I have taught them.”

If you substitute “entrepreneurs” for “my sons”, you get the part of the job the I love.

“I am convinced that by creating an environment in which entrepreneurs can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them than I have taught them.”

If you are familiar with servant leadership, you’ll recognize this concept. While my environment extends beyond just entrepreneurship, the construct of “creating an environment where <x> can be creative and innovative” has become foundational to my way of being. When I’m doing that, I love my job.

My dad clearly helped put me on this path, as did Len Fassler, who bought my first company and has continuously modeled this behavior for me. And, I often think of my uncle Charlie Feld (my dad’s brother), who taught me a lot and who still loves his job every day at age 76.

Do you love your job?

A few weeks ago I read Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. It helped consolidate some thinking on my part and I sent a few copies out to friends who I knew would have thoughtful and interesting responses. One that came back is very worth reading as it has a healthy critique as well as some personal reflections. The note from my friend after reading Lanier’s book follows.

He makes a reasonable case (obviously with a lot of room to dispute individual points) that social media is “bad” in general and a source of concern. Some of it is old hat but the way he puts it together is certainly helpful. It seems like it would be good if a lot of people read it.

I had two major concerns with it structurally. First, he positions the book as making arguments as to why *the reader* should delete his or her accounts. But as is common these days, it conflates reasons that are self-interested with reasons that might justify a “boycott.” Many of the arguments are not about how the use of social media affects the reader directly as an individual, but rather its systemic effects. Even the economic argument doesn’t work individually – even if I’m a gig economy person, it does not hurt my prospects to use social media, it’s that the BUMMER business model exists at all that causes the problem. It’s all the rage of course to talk about boycotting anything that has any secondary effects we don’t like, but it rarely works, especially as we realize everything affects everything else, which is why people in Boulder who are concerned about CO2 still drive up to the mountains constantly just for fun. So I thought this really weakened the argument that he does not separate the two things. It’s really Three Arguments why you should delete your social media accounts and Seven Arguments why you should Boycott them.

The second concern is that he conflates Google with social media. Last I checked, no one uses Google Plus. Yes, Google has an advertising and manipulation-oriented business model, but it’s extremely different from Facebook and Twitter. I find the ads Google gives me generally useful, and I don’t see Google making me more of an asshole than I already am. It certainly does not make me sad. Yes, search does have the effect of causing SEO and content-poaching and all that stuff, so this distinction connects to my first point. I think the book would have been better if he had made a more clear compare/contrast with Facebook. I do worry that he is a Microsoft employee and he has a Google-is-the-enemy bias. I’d be very open to hearing how Google is bad for me because I have thought about this and I don’t see it (other than the same things that happen when I pass a billboard on the highway or whatever). I also like Chrome Mobile’s news feed – it’s very much tuned to things I find interesting (cosmology, AI, poetry, etc.) in a way that a news site like the NY Times, which thinks that POLITICS is what is important (just like the MSM) – he talks about religion but does not connect the dots that the MSM have elevated politics-is-the-most-important-thing into a form of religion.

From a personal perspective, in the past year, I went through a couple of transformations regarding Facebook (I don’t use Facebook and never really have). The first was after the election I realized I had gotten caught up in the politics-is-important cycle and was posting frequently on it. At some point, I realized I had been sucked in, and mostly stopped posting on current politics. That took a month or two. Then I had a run-in with a particular individual on something controversial I had posted, and it made me realize I too had been sucked into making controversy and drama there. My approach now is only to post things I think my friends will find funny (NOT political satire) or that offer an update on my life. Yes, I mostly post positive things, but generally not competitively. Instead of commenting I just Like posts, or just read them and move on. I mostly ignore the politics or I just smirk at how absorbed and overconfident everyone is. I probably waste a little more time on Facebook than I would like, but I do find that scrolling through stupid dog and cat and political posts and all that sometimes leads me to a post I am really glad I saw. So, noise to signal is high but really what isn’t?

I’ve got a lot on my plate. I always do. Presumably, I like it this way because I’d change things if I didn’t. And yes, that’s continuous fodder for conversations with my therapist and with Amy.

I have always tried to ignore the macro, especially short-term dynamics, in the context of my work. I collect a lot of data and like to be well informed. I get this data from lots of different inputs. I regularly play around with the volume on the inputs as well as try different inputs.

One of my key inputs is reading books. I read 50 to 100 books a year (the number seems to be steadily increasing as I get older.) It’s a great joy of mine to sit and read, especially stuff friends recommend to me. I read across all categories and am game to try anything. And I’m willing to quit something I’m not enjoying.

A week ago I read Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. While it had a few annoying characteristics (I didn’t love his forced acronym for the BUMMER machine), the insights from it were right on the money. I let it roll around in my head the past week as I considered my own behavior over the last six months.

Basically, I’ve turned down the input knobs on almost all real-time social media inputs to 0. I no longer look at Facebook or Twitter. I never really got Facebook, so I was a Twitter guy, but since mid-2016 engaging with Twitter has simply made me anxious, upset, jangly, and distracted. By the beginning of this year, I was broadcast only – sending out links via Buffer when I saw something I found interesting – but that’s about it.

Until a few months ago, I still had a bunch of inputs turned on. I had a Daily folder, which I’ve opened first thing in the morning for over a decade. The contents would periodically change, but it was always something like RSS Reader, some daily reads, Hacker News, my LinkedIn messages, or Google News.

I deleted my Daily folder a few months ago from my browser bar. The inputs were distracting me instead of informing me.

I’ve been using Sanebox for two years to filter out all the noise from my email. I’ve effectively unsubscribed (or – in Sanebox terms, blackholed) thousands of email newsletters. The ones I want to read each day go into my SaneNews folder, so I don’t read them once a day. The number in that folder is now very small and don’t include anything beyond stuff from the tech industry anymore.

While I haven’t deleted my social media accounts, I have turned all the inputs way down. For work, I’m very focused on my existing portfolio, Foundry Group business, and my writing. Beyond that, I’m spending my time with books and with people.

I feel different than I did six months ago. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel in six more months.

Given my role in the world, I say no a lot.

I get hundreds of unsolicited emails a day, often asking me to get together, invest, or look at something. Lots of VCs and execs who I know simply ignore and don’t respond to these emails. I’ve always tried to at least respond to them unless they are clearly a mass email.

A long time ago I learned how to quickly identify what I don’t want to spend time on, which I wrote about in 2009 in my post titled Saying No In Less Than 60 Seconds. As time has passed, I’ve tuned this filter more, as the volume of requests has gone up.

It’s not a burden to receive the requests. It used to be a burden to say no, but it isn’t anymore. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why, how it used to affect me, and how it affects me now.

I’m fundamentally an information synthesizer. I want more, not less, data. I want it from a diverse range of inputs. My brain does a good job of storing away bits and pieces of the stuff I see, read, and hear (although I’m worst at hearing – I much prefer seeing or reading) and brings them back to the forefront connected to other things at the appropriate moment. That’s one of the reasons I read such a diverse set of books.

But I don’t need a lot of data to make a decision as to whether I want to spend time on something. I’m already extremely booked up, so if I don’t say no as often, and as quickly as I do, I can’t begin to imagine what things would look like in my world. While I’m open to lots of new things, I only want to spend time on things that interest me or that I feel like I can add something to.

The one downside of this is that a lot of my schedule is a reactive one, where I’m spending time on things because I said yes to a request. I believe this is part of my job and it can be a satisfying part of my existence. But, when it gets out of balance with all the actual proactive work I need – or want – to do, it often causes me to have lost stretches of time like I did this summer.

I’m sitting in Amy’s office with my laptop catching up on stuff today. I’ve already told about 20 people no so far as I went through my emails from yesterday and overnight that I hadn’t yet responded to. I’m sure I’ve got another 20 after I finish this post, at which point I’ll start attacking my weekly non-urgent to-do list. The music Amy chose is nice and mellow, the sun is shining, and I’m calm and contemplative after a full week.

If I say no to you, realize that it rarely has something to do with the quality of your idea or you as an individual. Instead, it’s about me and how I want to spend my time. I know there’s often dissonance in that, especially if you are a founder who is trying to get my attention because they’d like me to be an investor in their company. But realize that by saying no quickly, I’m respecting you and your time by not wasting it.