Brad Feld

Category: Relationships

Recently, a friend of mine told me about the experience of giving his kid his first cell phone (I think around age 11.) As part of the experience, he decided to write up a contract with rules of engagement. He went through it with his kid in detail and they both signed it.

I had stored this away to blog and thought of it yesterday as I was walking to dinner from Harvard Square to Central Square. The number of people walking down the street staring at or typing on their phones blew my mind. While many of them were college-aged (given Harvard and MIT), some were older. I know some of this is the density of the city (vs. where I live), but the dynamic surprised me, especially since it was a beautiful early fall evening.

My walk ended up being more of a “dodging people who weren’t paying attention” kind of drill which could be some bad video game that an AI is using our universe to play. Regardless, it feels like a cell phone contract like the one below might be helpful to kids, and their parents, and everyone else.

I, ______________, understand and agree to the following:

This phone is provided to me by my parents for my responsible use. It belongs to my parents and they may take it away any time, and for any reason they deem appropriate. They have the right to see anything and everything that I do on it.

The reason my parents have provided me this phone is that they believe that I endeavor to act and interact responsibly and that I have worked for and deserve more independence at this point in my life. This phone will primarily be used for: (1) Reasonable communication with loved ones, friends, coaches, and other people in my life; (2) To help me[1] feel safe and act safely as I strive to increase my independence; and (3) as a lifelong and passionate learner, help me better educate myself on the go.  Excessive use of this device for activities outside these three listed could result in the confiscation of my phone and digital privileges.

Possession of this phone carries with it a great responsibility. It is a powerful device that can enhance my life if used properly but has the ability to cause serious problems as well if used irresponsibly or in an unhealthy manner.  I promise to use it with caution and thoughtfully. To aid me in doing so, I promise to be guided by the principles below and to follow both the letter and the spirit of the rules below. My parents have the right to amend these rules at any time.


  1. I will ensure that my phone is charged at all times.
  2. I will take proper care of my phone.  If I fail to do so, I will pay for repair or replacement.
  3. I will ensure my phone is with me (and charged see #1) when I am out of the house so a family member can reach me.
  4. I will immediately get off or hand over my phone if a parent tells me to.


  1. There is no such thing as privacy online.  Anything I type into my phone can be copied, read and spread.  So, I understand that my parents (and possibly government agencies) have the right and ability to review the contents of my phone at any time.
  2.  I will not text, email or post anything that I would not be happy being on the front page of the NY Times tomorrow.
  3. I will not take or receive inappropriate photos/videos. If something is sent to me that I think may be inappropriate I will hand my phone to my parent immediately. If I am not near a parent, I will close out the app and call a parent immediately.
  4. I will not add any app without a parent’s consent.


  1. When walking in public, my phone will be in my pocket.
  2. I will not listen to music or look at my screen while I am walking or biking.
  3. If I have to do something on my phone while out in public, I will stop moving, move to the side of the sidewalk, take care of it, then replace my phone in my pocket before I start moving again.
  4. I realize that this smartphone makes me a target for thieves, and I will make a point of being aware of my surroundings when I use it.
  5. I will never give out personal information to anyone online without talking to one of my parents first.
  6. I will never answer or ask questions about sex online.
  7. If I ever receive information or messages on my phone that are upsetting to me in any way I will let my parents know about it.
  8. I will not give anyone outside my family the password to my phone unless it is urgent. If I do give such a person my password, I will change the password as soon as it is convenient.
  9. I will always have “Find my iPhone” (or other tracking mechanisms) turned on so that my parents can see where I am at all times.
  10. If I am pressured by anyone to use the phone in a way that violates any of these rules or my own sense of what is appropriate, I will refuse to the best of ability, blame my parents and their rules, and report this to my parents promptly.


  1. I will acknowledge someone’s presence when they enter a room, even if I am on my phone.
  2. At mealtimes, the smartphone and all other devices are out of sight, both at home and at restaurants.
  3. I will always pick up the phone if a parent calls, provided it is safe to do so. I will always answer a text immediately if they text, provided it is safe to do so. If it is not safe, I will call back or text as soon as it is safe to do so.
  4. When talking face to face with another person I will not be on my phone.
  5. I will not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.
  6. I will never involve myself in conversations that are hurtful to others. If I am unsure whether something might be offensive or hurtful to someone else, I will NOT text, email, post or otherwise communicate it digitally.
  7. I will never share inappropriate photos, jokes, or websites with others.  If I am not sure whether something is appropriate or not, I will NOT share it without speaking to a parent.
  8. I will not text, email, or say anything through this device I would not say in person.
  9. I will not text, email, or say anything to someone that I would not say out loud with their parents in the room.
  10. At important life moments – for myself or others – the smartphone is out of site so I can be present.
  11. I will not take a zillion pictures and videos. I will live my experiences without feeling the need to document them.


  1. Technology is compelling and addictive. I recognize this and will not allow it to crowd out the things which are important in my life.
  2. I will never keep my phone in my room overnight.
  3. I will adhere to the screentime limits set by my parents which count across all devices.
  4. I will not use my phone while doing homework unless it is to collaborate with a peer on a specific assignment.
  5. I will not be on social media of any kind.
  6. If I feel that I am becoming too involved in online activities I will ask for help, knowing that I will not be judged or blamed for this.


  1. Before I pick up my device, I will pause and think about whether I need to or whether I could be doing something else more useful or enriching.
  2. Before I hit ‘send’ on any email or text, I will pause and reflect on whether I’m being as thoughtful, respectful and constructive as I can be, and I will reflect on whether I am being true to my beliefs and our family values.

I acknowledge that having a cellphone is a privilege, not a right. I promise to use it with good judgement and to let you know when I make mistakes.

My Signature: _________________________________________ DATE___________________________________

Mom’s Signature: ______________________________________ DATE___________________________________

Dad’s Signature: ________________________________________ DATE__________________________________

[1] And of course, my parents

I love the concept of Binary Stars. Ian (my co-author) and I are using it in our upcoming book The Startup Community Way which should be out in the second half of 2019.

Amy gave me a New Yorker article titled Binary Stars: The Friendship That Made Google Huge. It’s the story of the partnership between Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat whose pair programming approach in the early 2000s changed the course of the Google and the Internet.

It’s a magnificent and delightful story. If you are a programmer, engineer, creator of any kind, or are interested in Google history, you’ll love it.

If, like me, you alternate between solo efforts and partnerships, it’s also wonderful.

Some of my best work has been done with a partner. While what I’ve done with Amy is the most visible example of this, collaborations with Dave Jilk, Jason Mendelson, David Cohen, Lucy Sanders, and many others come to mind. And, most recently, I’m excited about my work with Ian Hathaway.

Binary Stars can be magical, and not just in space.

In a vox with my partner Seth recently, he said something that stuck with me.

“Relationships are 100/100, not 50/50.”

He was referring to a business dynamic between two people, but it applies to any relationship and any number of people.

It’s a simple idea, but a great one. When I consider my relationship with Amy, it’s 100/100. Sure, we have plenty of conflicts, but we are both 100% all in on the relationship.

When I consider my relationship with my partners, it’s 100/100. We refer to our relationship as one of business love. We communicate with brutal honesty delivered kindly. We argue, disagree, and get frustrated with each other. But we own our actions – good and bad. And we learn and evolve together.

We are best friends. Our relationship is 100/100.

When I talk about my relationships with a CEO in a company that I’m an investor in, I describe it as one where I only ever want to make one decision, which is whether or not I support her. As long as I do, I work for her. If I don’t, it’s my job to do something about it, which does not necessarily mean “fire her,” but instead try to get back to a place where I support here. Again, I’m all in on the relationship, and I expect it to be 100/100.

Thanks Seth for the concept. I hope never again to say “relationships are 50/50.”

To all the lovers and soulmates out there, today is a great day to reflect on your partnership.

Amy and I have been together for over 26 years and she’s sitting next to me as I type this. Whenever I’m near her, I feel amazingly grounded on this planet, regardless of my mental and emotional state.

A few months ago, my long time friend (and founder of my very first VC investment – Career Central) Jeff Hyman asked me if I’d do another video interview with him for his Strong Suit interview series. I did a very early interview in the series for him (Jeff thought it was #1 – it looks like it was #4). I was quick to agree, especially when he asked if I’d do one on Love, Relationships, Entrepreneurship.

In this interview, we cover:

  • How to stay in love
  • Small ways to show your partner that they come ahead of your work
  • Making sure that work travel doesn’t kill the magic
  • How to build a cadence into your relationship
  • Keeping a healthy, vibrant relationship despite the stresses of entrepreneurship

I talk about Amy a lot and build of some of the things we wrote about in our book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.

Happy Valentines Day.

I’ve had a powerful exchange via email with Mario Cantin over the past few days. He pointed me to a post he recently wrote titled Empathy is feeling *with* others and an amazing three minute RSA Short video on The Power of Empathy by Dr Brené Brown. It’s stunning crisp and enlightening.

Amy and I are huge believers in empathy. In our book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur we come back to this idea over and over again as one of the biggest challenges in communication between people.

Thanks Mario for sharing this with me.

After spending most of the day at littleBits yesterday, I finished it with an annual tradition that is one of my favorites.

At 6:45pm Amy and I met Joanne Wilson, Fred Wilson, Matt Blumberg, and Mariquita Blumberg at Marea for dinner. Fred and I are both on the board of Return Path, the company Matt has been running since he co-founded it in 1999. For over a decade, we’ve been having an annual dinner as a group when Amy and I are in NY, usually in the fall.

Joanne generally picks the restaurant and Amy and I are happy to defer to her excellent taste. We are staying at Columbus Circle so this year Joanne picked something within walking distance for us. As Amy and I were walking home around 9:30, we each commented on how wonderful this tradition is.

I woke up this morning thinking about annual traditions. I’m not a Hallmark holiday person, I don’t like Christmas (although I’ve learned not to be grumpy about it), Thanksgiving crushes my soul, and I’ve never really understood Easter. I’ve learned how to give awesome presents on Valentine’s Day, but I think that’s more because I’m uxorious and well-trained. So I like annual traditions that are out of step with everyone elses.

When I reflect on our dinner, and the conversation, the six of us are enjoying marking the passage of time with this tradition. We are all getting older together, a little softer looking (at least me and Matt),  greying at the temples and in the beard (again for me and Matt). We started doing this before Matt and Mariquita had kids and when Fred and Joanne’s kids were pre-teens. All three of Fred and Joanne’s kids are now out of the house and they are starting the empty nest phase of their life.

While it’s amazing to watch time pass, it’s even more powerful to experience the passage of time together. While we all interact regularly, this annual dinner, which is a deeply engaged three-ish hour meal, gives us a chance to really be together, in the moment, and share what is going on. When you link it together over a decade of more of three hour slices, along with all of the other interactions, it allows us to know each other in a uniquely intimate way.

I felt real love and real joy last night. Joanne, Fred, Matt, and Mariquita – y’all are awesome friends. Thanks for being part of my life.

Amy and I take a week off the grid every quarter. It is one of the things that has kept me sane and us together over the past 14 years.

This morning I saw a great short clip from the Today Show that got forwarded around on the US becoming a no vacation nation. They include an interview with Bart Lorang discussing FullContact’s Paid PAID vacation policy. It also shows an iconic picture of what stimulated this, which was Bart checking his email on his iPhone while riding on a camel with his then girlfriend / now wife in front of some pyramids.

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Everyone in my universe works incredibly hard. But the really great ones know the value of disconnecting for periods of time to recharge their batteries and refresh their brains. If you want more on this, grab a copy of the book Amy and wrote called Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.

Nope – Amy and I aren’t moving to Homer. While we have a home in Homer, where we will be for the next three weeks, we still call Boulder, Colorado our home. But we came very close to moving to Homer in 1995.

We were living in Boston at the time. I’d sold my first company, Feld Technologies, in 1993. By the end of 1994 I had a staff job, reporting to the co-chairmen of AmeriData where I travelled all over the US helping with acquisitions and generally causing trouble. At some point Amy and I realized we could live anywhere and we knew that Boston wasn’t home. During one of the long conversations we had at the time about our future, we started talking about calling it quits and moving to Homer, Alaska.

Amy grew up until she was eight years old in a town called Anchor Point, 20 miles north of Homer. If Anchor Point rings a bell to you, it’s because it’s the name of our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) and we’ve done some really fun things with it such as the Anchor Point Fellows Program at Wellesley College.

We did the math and realized we had enough money to live in Homer for the next 30 years if I made no more money. I wasn’t worried about that since I knew I could make at least $100,000 a year just consulting, even from a distance, so the conversation was about how we wanted to live the rest of our life.

At 29 years old I thought very hard about whether or not I was done. After selling my first company, I’d invested as an angel investor in a bunch of companies, was a non-executive Chairman / co-founder of a few, and had lots of ideas for new things to do. But I had also recently come out of a very deep depression and was very open to changing things in my life pretty dramatically.

Ultimately, we decided to move to Boulder, Colorado. We didn’t know anyone there and I didn’t have any business there, but it was a lot more centrally located in the US than Homer, Alaska. I figured we’d make a life in a beautiful place, but I wouldn’t have to drop out of what I was doing since the bay area was a two hour plane flight and the east coast was a four hour plane flight. We moved to Boulder in November 1995 and never looked back – it’s been amazing.

After moving to Boulder, we continued to spend a few weeks in Alaska each summer. The two week trips turned into three week trips and we ultimately bought a house in Homer in 2002. We spent between four and six weeks a year there in the summer until 2010, but haven’t been there in the past three years.

It feels like coming home to be back in Alaska. Landing in Anchorage was natural. Renting a car and driving to the Sheraton to spend the night felt totally normal. The low hanging cloudy gloom and light all through the night is just as we remember it. Things feel a lot slower here, which is both good and bad.

Our weekend in Anchorage is with a bunch of friends, including celebrating our close friends Jon and Doug’s recent marriage and  spending time with Amy’s sister, her partner, and niece. And just hanging out as we get ready to head to Homer on Monday.

I’ll be working as normal for the next three weeks, just remotely from Homer. I hope to finish the final draft of my next book, Startup Opportunities (co-authored with Sean Wise), while I’m up here. And I’m going to read a lot since we don’t have a TV.

I’m glad I didn’t drop out at 29 and move to Homer – it was way too early in my life for that. But I’m equally glad we bought a house here in 2002 and have made Homer, and Alaska, part of where we live and spend our time.

I just got back from a much needed vacation – the sort of vacation you kind of think you need and then on day three of 14 hours a night of sleep you realize you really needed it really badly. We got home yesterday after a solid week off the grid and I was having trouble sleeping so I got up early to spend some quality time with my computer.

In the middle of a bunch of email I came across a gem from Elke Govertsen, the CEO of Mamalode. I met Elke in 2012 the weekend I was in Missoula to run the Missoula Marathon. She, along with some of her colleagues, were awesome hosts and while our relationship has been email only since then, I always smile when I get something from her.

The gem of an email was a link to a TEDxWhitefish talk that Elke just gave. Her note said is was on “self esteem, perspective and some of my struggles and solutions.” I fired it up and sat back to watch.

Fifteen minutes later I felt I needed to share it with you. Elke starts off strong and asserts that 85% of the world at any given moment is struggling with low self-esteem. Whether you agree with the 85% number of not, she analyzes self-esteem in a unique way. And then goes on to tell an extremely poignant story. Her story which includes a really shitty 2013, during which she completely wore herself out and then almost destroyed herself. During this time, she had to slow down, lie really still, and think a lot.

She came up with tiny little trick. Rather than try to “fix” your worst, she started to think about worst and best as a circle of goodness. Your best is your worst, and your worst is also your best. Instead of focusing only on your best, or trying to project a world to others that is your best, be authentic and actually explore both your best and your worst.

A line at 10:45 that I loved was “At a dinner party, instead of asking ‘what do you do’ ask what’s your best quality and how at some point has that been your worst?”

Elke continues to make the circle between best and worst, rather than have them on a line from best to worst. She has some powerful moments near then end, where she suggests we all “forgive and believe” and “live in the inverses where your best is your worst and your worst is your best.”

Enjoy 15 minutes of Sunday inspiration which will make you think a little differently today. Elke – thanks for sharing this with us.