Category: Things I Like
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.
Amy and I saw a double feature tonight. Our place in Alaska is in a small town (Homer) and we have one movie theater that shows two different movies a day (one at 3 and 6, one at 9). The two movies change every Friday so if we wanted to catch the ones from this week, tonight was the night.
6pm was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was what you’d expect.
9pm was The Chronicles of Riddick. It was an awesome bad movie. Vin Diesel was fantastic – I want to be him when I grow up.
About a year ago, Greg Prow (one of my partners) introduced me to a guy named Ben Casnocha. He said something to the effect of “Hey Brad – next time you are in California – you’ve got to meet this kid – he makes me think of what you must have been like in high school.”
A few weeks later I hooked up with Ben late on a Monday. I was pretty fried from our normal partner meeting, but immediately engaged when we sat down in a conference room and started talking. I thought I was meeting Ben but his dad and the president of his company – Comcate – were there. Fortunately, the conversation focused on Ben and what he was up to so we spent a good hour getting to know each other.
I walked away intrigued and impressed. I started getting involved in computers when I was a teenager (my launching off point was the Apple II with an Integer card that I got for my bar mitzvah) and my dad had hooked me up with patients of his that were “computer people” by the time I was 15. Ben made me think of this during our meeting and I fondly recalled several of my early mentors like Gene Scott and Chris / Helena Aves. I also remembered plenty of bad experiences and my complete naivete (for example, writing a letter to Stephen Jobs and copying everyone I could think of about how crappy the Lisa / Mac development environment was and how useless the Mac Developers program was, while thinking that anyone would care what an 18 year old thought who wasn’t clueful enough to know that it was “Steve Jobs”).
I was energized by Ben’s passion for the company that he had created. Comcate was a credible business, with real customers, and – while it was living off of angel financing – was gradually generating real revenue. Ben carried himself extremely well for a 16 year (maybe he was even 15), was articulate, and was willing to engage in a real conversation. Ben represented his company well, did a nice job of letting the meeting flow (while clearly showing maturity beyond his years), and even asked for the sale (“Are you willing to keep talking to me and provide on-going advice, mentoring, and introductions?”). I answered with a resounding yes and early the next day fired off a series of email intros to other friends of mine who had accomplished significant entrepreneurial feats at a young age.
Over the next couple of weeks, my meeting with Ben rattled around in my brain. Something bothered me. After talking to a few of the folks that I hooked Ben up with, a consistent theme came back. Ben was a neat guy, had accomplished a remarkable amount of business stuff for someone his age, and had strong opinions. Some of them were the strong opinions of a 16 years – granted – a 16 year old that already had plenty of miles on him in the business world, but were still “unseasoned by life” (yeah – I was 16 once – and I was pretty clueless about a lot of things. I’m 38 now and am still clueless about a lot of things). I realized I didn’t know much about “the non-business Ben” and – given that I lived over 1500 miles away and was unlikely to have much more than an email relationship with him, I didn’t feel it was my place to provide critical feedback to him beyond the domain(s) that he engaged me in.
So – I smiled yesterday when I got a note from Ben telling me that he was beta testing a personal blog. The part of me that was concerned – but didn’t really know why – and didn’t feel like I had any place to comment freely since I didn’t really know Ben – now had a chance – through his blog – to understand him better and learn more about him.
Ben – go for it!
Finali provides next generation customer care outsourcing services. I’ve been an investor since they were founded in 1999 – co-funding the company with Sequel Venture Partners and Boulder Ventures. Dan and his brother Bob – the CEO of Finali – have built a call center outsourcing and analytics company that has significant relationships with customers such as Western Union and Cendant.
Given Finali’s focus on outsourcing, expect Dan to provide lots of interesting thoughts and ideas around the issues surrounding offshoring labor, working in a cross-border environment, and building and growing an entrepreneurial company.
Welcome Dan to the blogland.
My wife Amy – who is a writer – decided she wanted to try blogging (both reading and writing). She’s intrigued by my fascination with blogging and thought it might be easier than trying to get her novel published, especially since she’d have to finish it first.
I decided that rather than set her up, I’d watch while she went up the learning curve. Amy’s comfortable with computers (she’s no luddite), but she lusts for the days of DOS and WordPerfect (“DOS was good enough – what was wrong with F7 to exit WordPerfect – Lotus Agenda was so cool!”). So – this would be an interesting experiment and would be insightful for anyone who is a non-techie and is thinking about creating a blog.
We sat down in front of her computer at 11:15am this morning. I suggested that she start by setting things up to be able to get RSS feeds and read blogs. I recommended NewsGator since she spends much of her time in Outlook doing email or in Word writing stuff.
From the NewsGator site, she went to download the trial software. NewsGator determined that she needed to update her Windows configuration (she’s still running Windows 2000 Professional), so we started that process. The magic Microsoft technology ground away for a while updating “critical” things and eventually rebooted her computer (boy – her computer is slow – Ross – defrag, more RAM!)
Back to the NewsGator site to download the trial (11:40am). Lots more downloading (.NET Framework, NewsGator, etc.). “So far this hasn’t been super-exciting,” says Amy. Finally, it’s done.
(11:50am) We open Outlook. The NewsGator trial page comes up and Amy digs in. She got about halfway through the NewsGator tutorial and decided that was enough and it was time to start using it.
“How do I find blogs about writing?” asks Amy. I suggested she try searching Google. “You won’t believe this, but I don’t think I’ve ever used Google.” Google gets another new user and Amy immediately finds a bunch of things that are potentially relevant. We surf around writingblog.org and writtenroad.com. “I have a hard enough time keeping up with the stuff I’m already reading,” ponders Amy.
She’s got it (12:25pm) – time to go create a blog.
I showed Amy some Typepad sites and some Blogger sites. She chooses Typepad because it both looked nicer and had a bunch of list options (she loves lists). “Will this mean that anyone can see my blog?” Amy asks with trepidation. After I respond yes, she says “well – then I won’t put anything interesting on my blog yet until I decide whether I want my thoughts to be public.”
We go to Typepad (12:40am) and set up a trial account (we chose Basic for $4.95 / month rather than Pro at $14.95/ month, even though Amy wanted “the best one”). There is a little agony over the name – she settles on anchorpoint.blogs.com (“It feels so permanent to have to choose this now.”).
The first obvious option is “Create a Weblog”. Amy decides to name the blog “Thoughts in Random Patterns“. Weblog folder stymies her for a while as she thinks of something better than “thoughts_in_random_patterns”. She settles on “amythoughts”.
It’s time to create a post – she titles it “First Thought, Best Thought”. She creates a category called “Writing”. “This is kind of fun”, says Amy (the first time so far this morning that she has used the happy Amy voice). Her first blog is a typical “hello world / testing” type of post. She hits publish (and the anticipation of the blog taking shape).
We “View Site”. “How do I change my colors and stuff?” I suggest she try “Design”. “I’m going to spend more time messing around with formatting than writing.” She settles on Classy. Amy notices the “Email me” link. “I don’t want people to email me – what if they send me horrible stuff?” We go to Design->Contents and delete the “Email me” link.
I suggest she gets rid of the “Powered by Typepad” link (“It’s a stupid link”). “But doesn’t it help them?” says Amy (ok – she’s a girl and I’m a boy).
We struggle with category archives a little. Eventually, she figures out that she needs to go to Configure->Archives. She also changes from Monthly to Weekly archives.
Amy starts playing with Typelists (“What’s a Typelist – I like lists”). Being a writer, she immediately starts playing around with book lists. (1:00pm). “Cool – let’s create a new list”. She now has “First Novels” and “Good Books” as lists.
We finally get to “Ordering” the page. She understands this immediately (having looked at a few blogs) and moves stuff around to put in it in a nice layout.
I get up to go to the bathroom and when I come back Amy is editing her first post to make it a little deeper than “Hi – here I am”.
“How do I put in the HTML stuff?” I describe why she’d want to create a link which she figures out quickly (she once helped write a book on HTML), gives it a shot and says “got it – that’s fantastic” – as she links to Jerry Colonna’s blog.
It’s 1:20pm. She’s madly typing away at the first blog entry – editing it, twirling her hair as she thinks – staring pensively at the monitor. I power up my Movable Type page and edit my “Blogs I Read” list to include Amy’s new blog.
At 1:25pm, she hits Save. After reading the blog after it’s published, she decides to make some changes and fiddles around a little more. By 1:30pm, she’s done.
Welcome, my love, to the world of blogging.
I’m gearing up for my next marathon on my goal of running 50 (one in each state) by the time I’m 50 (I’ve done 4). I’ve decided on the Deseret Morning News Marathon in Salt Lake City on July 24th. While it’ll be a hot day at altitude, the course starts at 7500 ft. and drops to 4500 ft., so with the exception of two stretches (each two miles), it’s – as they say – “all downhill“.
As part of my training, I’ve begun swimming at least twice a week for an hour. I grew up in Dallas and spent the summers at the neighborhood pool, so I thought I knew how to swim. After a couple of hard one hour swims, I realize that I suck at swimming. I get through the water fine, but the 60 year old grandmother swimming in the lane next to me is faster at the freestyle and seems remarkably less winded than I do.
I asked my friend JB for a swimming lesson – JB is a good swimmer and his son is an up and coming champion (according to the proud dad). We met at the Golden Community Center this morning. JB spent an hour with me, teaching me how to swim like a real person (vs. someone who learned in the mid 1970’s and never thought about it again).
As I was driving home, I pondered how much there is to learn. I am a real novice at so many things and it’s a blast to go up the proverbial learning curve. There’s nothing like sore muscles and getting passed in the pool by a six year old to give one (ok – me) humility. I know it’s cliche-ish – but this experience made me smile today.
My mom (Cecelia Feld) is an artist. As kids, my brother and I were forbidden from bothering her from 9am to 5pm – time that she spent in her studio (“Mom’s working”). I imagine this has something to do with my love (and collection of) contemporary art.
Cecelia is having a new show at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, Colorado. The show is called Out of Context and deals with the familiar seen in a different light. A partially obscured, rusted sign on an old chain link gate seems familiar, and yet, not. Cecelia Feld explains, “We recognize and identify objects in certain contexts. When a familiar object is seen close up so that only part of it shows or a detail from one object is juxtaposed . . .it takes on a new meaning.”
The show opens on Friday June 18th from 5pm to 7pm. If you are in Boulder, come join me, my brother Daniel, our families, and a hundred of our closest friends in celebrating the opening (yes, we’re proud of our mom).
A good friend of mine – Jenny Lawton – just started a blog called As Yet Unpublished. Jenny is a retired technology executive and fanatical reader (and writer) who decided a few years ago to buy a bookstore in Connecticut called Just Books. Given her entrepreneurial compulsions – one store wasn’t enough – so now she has two.
My wife Amy and I had a fabulous day. We spent the morning with Theresa Chong, an artist who Amy went to high school in Alaska with. While hanging out in Teresa’s studio, Amy noticed The Death Artist by Jonathan Santlofer. It turns out that Jonathan’s studio is adjacent to Teresa’s and he was there working on his third book (he proudly showed us the galley proof of Color Blind, his second book). Only in Gotham – two hours, full immersion with two artists – one of which is also a best selling author who Amy randomly read recently.