Category: Things I Like

Sep 25 2004

Running with Rattlesnakes

I’m a month away from my next marathon (Duke City Marathon – Albuquerque, NM) so I thought I’d do an easy run today since I have a three hour run tomorrow.

I decided to head up Fowler Trail and check out the fire we had in Eldorado Springs last week. About 15 minutes into the run I hit a “Mtn Trail” sawhorse with a sign that said the trail was clue due to fire and trespassers would be subject to a fine or jail.

I’ve spent enough time the past few weeks at the Boulder Jail visiting my ex-running coach (yeah – it’s a little uncomfortable the first time you go to visit someone at a jail and the reception person asks you for your drivers license and social security number – at which point she types it into a computer and the only thought that can possible run through your mind is “why am I here – am I SURE I want to do this?”) So – I decided to head up the trail away from the fire thinking that I could at least explore a part of the trail I never run on. The trail eventually looped around and it occurred to me that I might be able to hook up with Fowler Trail on the other side of the burn area.

Suddenly, I was in the middle of the burn. I knew the smell since we’ve had a fire on our land and near us on Walker Ranch and I’d hiked the area extensively. It’s always amazing to be in the middle of a burn with some trees completely toast and others untouched. I kept going, thinking that if I was going to get arrested, it was kind of too late to turn around. Fortunately, I was paying attention because within a minute of entering the burn area, I heard a rattling noise. I looked toward the noise and saw a coiled rattlesnake 10 feet away (upon which I was closing fast.) I’m not sure if it’s possible to execute a 180 degree turn in mid-stride – but I came as close as humanly possible.

After my heart rate settled down, I realized that I had almost run right into a rattlesnake. I wound my way back down the trail, noticing every stray sound. I’ve run extensively in these mountains over the past two years and never seen a rattlesnake (although logically I figured they exist since one of the trails I run is called “Rattlesnake Gulch Trail.” I was daydreaming about snakes (what else would you expect me to do after almost stepping on one) when I came across another one! This one was stretched out on the road – I couldn’t tell whether it was alive or deal – but I didn’t stick around to see.

The fire must have flushed out these rattlesnakes from their normal home. When I got home, I decided it was time to cool off with a “Colorado Rattlesnake” (although I don’t drink, so I merely thought about it while I composed the following Rattlesnake Haiku.)

A rattlesnake sat
In front of me on my trail
I ran away fast

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Sep 21 2004

Welcome A Sack In Seattle

My long time friend Andy Sack has started blogging. Andy is currently CEO of Judy’s Book, a new local search startup funded by Ignition Partners.

Andy is a great entrepreneur. I first met him in Boston in 1995 when we was working with the original team at a new Internet startup called Agents (which turned into Firefly). Shortly after, he started a company called Abuzz and he asked me to join his board. Abuzz was originally considering creating an online auction site (damn) but ended up creating a complex but powerful email-based collaborative filtering product. Abuzz raised venture money from Flatiron Partners (I sat on the board with Jerry Colonna), Softbank Venture Capital, and DFJ. Shortly after releasing the product, NY Times Digital came calling and acquired the company. We had stars in our eyes about the ultimate valuation of NYT Digital (as they planned to go public in 2000) – with the dot com crash that didn’t happen, but Andy had negotiated a clever put in the event that the NYT Digital didn’t go public and we all got a nice big check for our share of the equity in the deal in 2000.

I then managed to rope Andy into helping me start up a company called Body Shop Digital, which was the dot com spinoff of The Body Shop (retail stores). We fell in love with Anita Roddick – the original founder of The Body Shop – and got caught up in the dot com / brick and mortar spinoff that was in fashion at the time. We should have known it was going to be a disaster when it took us six months to negotiate the deal with the UK-based company, including several long negotiating sessions where we struggled with things like their arcane (and very protective) branding strategy. Within three months of closing the deal, we realized it was going to be a disaster – while The Body Shop was a visionary company, they were consumed at the time with internal politics around the ownership and long term leadership of the company and we were merely a pawn in the game. Fortunately, we had negotiated a 31 year exclusive right to the online brand (31 one years because when we got push back on a perpetual licence, I decided that Body Shop Digital should hold the rights until I was 65 – which was 31 more years). At the end of the first year (when we needed to raise more money for the venture), we managed to get The Body Shop to buy our investment back and we recovered half of our capital. Clearly nothing to be proud of (although by the end of 2001 and into 2002, getting back fifty cents on the dollar was better than most of the investments going around.) However, Andy and I had some incredible experiences and learned a tremendous amount on this one (and were happy to get out of town with some of our skin.)

Andy then took a couple of years off as he enjoyed his new child, helped found and coach a few startups (including Quova and Kefta – both companies I invested in), and stewed on what to do next. A year ago, he started cooking on Judy’s Book – which is now up, funded, and in beta.

In addition to being an accomplished entrepreneur, Andy is a deep thinker with a huge emotional IQ. Look for some great entrepreneurial stories and revelations on his blog.

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Sep 15 2004

South Park – The Passion of the Jew

I’m an unashamed South Park fan (if Colorado wasn’t a swing state I’d consider writing in Cartman for president.) Amy and I watched South Park – The Passion of the Jew tonight and rolled around on the floor in laughter. The DVD included two bonus tracks – Christian Rock Hard and Red Hot Catholic Love.

If you aren’t a South Park fan, can’t handle “clearly over the reasonableness line” satire and sarcasm, or are easily offended, this is not for you. However, if you are a South Park fan, couldn’t ever figure out what was the big deal about The Passion of the Christ, or just love 90 minutes of non-stop, non-PC satire – this is it. As one would expect from the titles, each episode does actually have a moral at the end.

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Sep 10 2004

Bob Roberts

Tim Robbins is a genius.  In 1994, he made a satirical movie called Bob Roberts that documented a fictional right-wing candidate’s (Bob Roberts – played by Tim Robbins) run for senate in Pennsylvania against a 30-year incumbant democrat (played by Gore Vidal) in the 1990 election cycle.  Amy and I saw it in Boston when it came out and both “kind of remembered it.”

We watched it tonight.  We’re both tired from the week and I’m sick, so it was an easy decision to lay on the couch and melt our brains with a movie.  Oops – wrong movie.

Bob Roberts is incredibly handsome, charismatic, a son of hippies who runs away and goes to military school, makes a fortune on Wall Street, and then becomes a folk singer who decides to run for office while trading Nikkei futures (“you can always get information before everyone else – you just have to know how and work for it,”) travelling around in a campaign bus that says “Roberts PRIDE” on it, and starting each day with a fencing match of indeterminate length before hopping on his motorcycle to lead the tour bus to the next campaign stop.

It’s magnificent.  And frightening.  And depressing.  The songs are poetry (in that sick, twisted way) – Robbins performs them all.  As a character, Bob Roberts is incredible and goes to any end to get elected, including faking his own attempted assasination.  Robbins plays him flawlessly, which is deliciously ironic given how liberal Robbins is.

It’s amazing that 10 years later it’s right on the money.  Bob Roberts is a winner when you get sick of watching the CNN or Fox election coverage.

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Sep 2 2004

Welcome Jim Lejeal to the blogverse

My friend Jim Lejeal just launched his blog

Jim is a very accomplished entrepreneur.  His first company – Link-VTC – was acquired by Frontier Communications (now part of Global Crossing).  His second company – Raindance Communications – went public (I was an investor/board member in Raindance).  Jim’s current company is Oxlo Systems – I’m also an investor/board member.

In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, Jim has also been an active angel investor and board member for early stage companies.  One of his angel successes was Dante Group (now owned by webMethods), which he introduced to us and helped guide the founders through a venture financing.  He’s also on the board of a couple of my companies (Gold Systems and Rally Software).

Jim has seen the process of creating companies through many phases (initial startup, early financing, product development, growth, IPO, exit) and many angles (entrepreneur, angel investor, VC, board member). Jim’s also a great, honest soul that is very introspective (and a pretty good poker player), so I expect his blog to be full of insight for anyone interested in creating companies

Welcome Jim!

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Aug 10 2004

I’m a 14 year old boy trapped in the body of a 38 year old man

Amy and I went to our little local movie theater in Homer tonight. The two movies showing are Farentheit 9/11 and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

We saw Farenheit 9/11 on Sunday. It was as advertised and we were delighted that it made it to our town of 5,000 people. My only simple comment – independent of your politics – is that it’s a must see movie.

We saw Anchorman tonight. My only simple comment – independent of your politics – is that it was hysterical. Will Ferrell has been making the rounds of the Internet in his ACT sponsored White House West. The dude is seriously funny (in that slapstick, cheesy, stupid, juvenille, John Candy inspired, teenage boy way.) I often have to drag Amy to movies like this and I rate them based on her reaction (ranging from hysteria to leaving in the middle of the movie.) Even though she’ll never admit it in public, she was laughing so hard at moments that if she was chewing gum she would have swallowed it. Her funniest moment was an ode to F 9/11 where – at the end of the movie – the narrator did the proverbial “where are they now” voiceover and the “stupid weatherman guy” (IQ 45) had 11 children and was a senior advisor to the Bush administration.

It’s not intellectual, but it’ll crack you up. Women’s rights and equality have made a lot of progress in the last 30 years (ok – there were some not-so-subtle messages in the movie.)

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Aug 10 2004

Joggers vs. Olympian Runners

I’ve been having a good summer running in Alaska gearing up for my next marathon. I was considering doing the Salt Lake Marathon in mid-July but I didn’t manage to make it down to the lower 48. I’m now eyeing the Duke City Marathon in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the end of October.

As I’ve been running up and down the monster hills in Homer I’ve been wondering why I’m not getting any faster. I used to be a much faster runner and while I’ve adjusted for age, it’s still frustrating to feel like you are plodding along when you used to be able to cruise at three minutes per mile faster with no discernable difference in effort.

Ben Casnocha turned me on to a great article in today’s NY Times titled “Why Joggers Labor and Olympians Fly“. While the article lays out several specific reasons for my speed deficiency, I’ve decided to take a zen-like approach to it and ask “why faster?” Oh – and the Athens Marathon course looks like a bitch of a run.

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Jul 21 2004

Form Matters

I went to the gym today (we have one in Homer – it’s small, but it works) to do my semiweekly (or is it biweekly – twice a week) weight workout that my running coach makes (ok – begs) me to do. I hate weights (my standard reaction to anyone that suggests we go lift weights is that jews don’t do weights), but I capitulate to my coach.

The gym was pretty full (by Homer standards – about ten people). While I was resting between sets, I stretched and looked at the other folks working out (something I never do in a large club – I end up in with my eyes in that “glazed over not looking at anyone or anything mode.”) I was stunned by what I saw. There was a guy on a stairmaster that was literally hunched over at a 90 degree angle to his legs reading a magazine while he lifted his legs straight up. Another guys was riding a bike, but had his chest lying on the bike readout / reading stand thing – again – almost bent over at 90 degrees. Both of these guys looked brutalized after about 10 minutes of jamming their legs up and down at a weird angle to the rest of their contorted body.

In contrast, there was a woman about my age that was doing a workout that was similar to mine. Her form was perfect and it showed – her muscles were well defined, she was calm during her workout, and was moving about twice the weight I was with what appeared to be moderate effort. She noticed the hunchbacks also at some point and nodded to me – pointing at them – as we passed during a break. She was extremely aware of her form – not because anyone was watching her (I don’t give myself that much credit), but because she knew the benefit of perfect form to what she was trying to accomplish.

As I settled into another set, I consciously thought about how I was sitting, what I was doing, and how the various parts of my body were moving to accomplish the task at hand. It’s a good metaphor for so much of life – if you pay attention to your form, you get better results.

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Jul 17 2004

Robots in Connecticut

Amy agreed to move to Stepford with me tonight.

We saw the priceless remake of the classic The Stepford Wives in our little town’s theater (the other movie was Spiderman 2).

“This place does something to people – all of the women are always smiling,” said Joanna (Nicole Kidman). “That’s a problem because?” queries her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick). “That’s not normal Walter!” exclaimes Joanna.

I finally lost it when Claire (Glenn Close) says “I wondered where we could put a town of robots and no one would notice and I thought – Connecticut!”

Heh heh.

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Jul 10 2004

Welcome Steve Bayle!

Steve Bayle has appeared in the blogosphere. He made an audacious entrance into my NewsGator Online Services custom search feed for “Brad Feld” where he asserted that I don’t know jack about naming things (he’s correct – my first company was creatively named Feld Technologies, proving Steve’s point).

I’ve been involved with two of Steve’s companies. The first was Mainspring which went public in July of 2000 and then was acquired by IBM. Softbank Technology Ventures and Flatiron Partners were investors and I sat on the strategic advisory board. Mainspring had a happy ending, but I didn’t have much to do with it as my involvement was light (but hopefully appreciated).

The second was Throughline which didn’t have a happy ending, but had some useful entrepreneurial lessons. Throughline was a classic seed investment. I knew and liked Steve. We sat down one day in NetGenesis’s office in Cambridge in 1998 and he walked me through his idea for a business that was a web-based broker for services that entrepreneurs needed (real estate, HR, technology services – that sort of stuff). He had a nice handcrafted PowerPoint presentation (yes – with more than six words per slide), a lot of passion and energy for the idea, credibility with me, and a partner who I liked (Laura Ring – who had previously been executive director at the Mass Telecom Council and had been involved in starting up the PWC High Tech Services Group in Boston). We spent some time talking about the idea over the next month and quickly decided to do a small seed investment ($500,000) to see if we had anything.

Shortly after the seed investment, we started working closely with Silicon Valley Bank on the idea. Their primary customer – entrepreneurial / venture funded companies – was our target and by 1998 everying was in high energy mode in the run up to the Internet bubble. They quickly invested (I can’t remember whether it was just equity or equity and debt) and we started testing out our thesis. We did a lot of seed stage stuff (small office, small team, lots of testing the ideas, prototype of the site, building relationships, and defining the business more clearly). We then started looking for a co-investor to build out a first round (Series A financing).

I recall that the idea landed with a huge thud. We got a lot of feedback – much of it positioned as “nice idea guys, but the market is too small and it’s not a venture-financeable concept”. In hindsight we were probably lucky – by mid-1999 / early-2000 VCs were flinging money at anything and Throughline would have easily been funded with much too much money. I don’t remember too many difficult conversations as Steve and Laura were pros about the situation. We came to the conclusion that it didn’t make sense to go forward and sold the assets of the business to SVB. I have no idea what came of it from there.

An important lesson for me from Throughline is that not all seed deals should go forward. We invested (and lost) $500k. I don’t regret this one bit – I did it with an entrepreneur who I respect and trust – we tried – and we cut our losses early when we realized we didn’t have anything. I’ve lost other seed deals in my career, but all it takes is one home run (e.g. ServiceMetrics – a seed investment story for another day titled “How to turn a $500k seed / $5m total investment into $200m in 18 months”) to make up for several hundred seed deals.

I expect Steve will be full of good entrepreneurial tales – of both good and bad. Welcome Steve to Blogland.

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