Brad Feld

Category: Uncategorized

It’s inevitable.  Every year we have our “first real snow” in Boulder.  That would be – today. 

Coinciding with the first snow – 100% of the time – is an Internet outage at my house and at our office.  Since we use IP phones, are connected to our infrastructure in our California office via point to point, and my T1 line from my house is direct connected into the office, and outage is – well – a major pain in the ass (did you know you can’t make a phone call on an IP phone from your house if your network is down – duh – yeah I’ve got a land line in this server room somewhere, now where the hell is it?)

I got home Saturday afternoon from being on the road for 18 days.  I was looking forward to a mellow weekend with Amy catching up on stuff, including a bunch of random things that I wanted to get to on the web.  Wrong.  No Internet.  Qwest dispatched someone to my house Saturday night (kind of a drag, but at least they were trying) but he couldn’t do anything because no one was “at the other end of the line” to troubleshoot things.

Ok – well – that’s not such a big deal – I went to Amy’s office in Boulder with her on Sunday and we camped out there (she has a beautiful office in downtown Boulder close enough to the Rio for some awesome huevos rancheros (no – not the Ranchero/NewsGator kind.))  We punted the “Qwest: we’ll try again on Sunday night” thing and just decided to have an Internet-less Sunday at home and an early night.

Not knowing access to my email was out in my office (due to the CO – CA point to point being down), I got to the office bright and early at 7am ready to catch up on the weekend stuff I didn’t do.  Wrong again.  My poor embattled IT guy (Ross) rolled in at 8am cursing and muttering as he went after the Qwest guys to try to figure out what was going on.  Did I mention that it was snowing?

It’s 3:45pm and everything is back up.  The problem – apparently over the weekend someone ran over one of the Qwest pedistals with a car exposing the wires inside.  The solution – put a big orange bag on it. 

Now, while that’s a technical solution that will appeal to someone, apparently the bag wasn’t waterproof an the lines got “wet”.  My reaction (and Ross’s) – “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”  It only took two days to troubleshoot that one (and I don’t know how many truck rolls).

Paul Graham – founder of Viaweb (bought by Yahoo! in the late 1990s) and author of Hackers & Painters – has two new excellent essays up.  While I don’t know Paul, I do know of him, and I think his writing is great.

  • How To Start A Startup.  Paul thinks you need three things: (1) good people, (2) make stuff people want, and (3) spend as little money as possible.  All the right stuff with fun examples, lots of Paul’s trademark bluntness, and plenty of provocative questions.
  • A Unified Theory of VC Suckage.  I won’t even try to defend my VC brethern since Paul’s theory is sound in many ways.  He admits that he’s met a few VC’s that he likes, so there must be something messed up in the universe somewhere.

He’s finally put an RSS feed up on his site so you can have his thoughts delivered directly to your computer.

Five years ago, Amy told me that in order to stay married (to her), I needed to commit to going away for a week every three months for a vacation.  A real vacation.  No computer, no email, no cell phone (and now no blogging / RSS).  Five years later, we fondly refer to our “quarterly complete disconnect” vacations as “Qx vacation” (e.g. this one was Q1).

Amy has dreamed of living in Paris as long as I’ve known her and even though I’d much rather spend a week in Rome, we spent Q1 vacation in Paris helping her get settled in to a six week “intensive Paris experience” where her goal is to really learn how to speak French.  She’s been writing about her first week on her blog – if you have any interest in an American writer’s experience in Paris in 2005, check out her Postcards from Paris section.

I spent the week sleeping, reading, running, sleeping, playing with my magnificent wife (who I’ll miss a lot over the next month), eating, sleeping, and staying as far away from my computer as I could.  I turned it on for the first time today and – shockingly – it hadn’t changed much.

Over Thanksgiving (Q4 vacation – get the picture) – I maintained my typical vacation reading pace of a book a day.  I kept it up again and chewed down seven books this week – all of them worthwhile.  Following is a quick summary of each

I started the week with Long Distance by Bill McKibben.  McKibben is an awesome writer and a hugely entertaining person.  At 37, he decided to pursue a “year of the body” (instead of what he’d been doing previously – which was spending all his time writing and being a self-described wimp) as he needed a break from “failing to save the world.”  He chronicled his year of training competitively as a cross-country skier, transforming himself from a wimp to an accomplished athlete, and coping with the unexpected illness, decline, and death of his father.  If you are an athlete, aspire to be an athlete, or love beautiful, emotional, and intense writing from a master of words, this is for you.

Jack Fish was next.  This was pure mental floss – wacky, silly, fun, colorful – all the typical mental floss adjectives.  Brain candy.

In response to my On Bullshit post, one of the readers of my blog (sorry – I forgot who – I know, bad form) recommended Why Business People Speak Like Idiots.  Terry Gold had a good series of posts on Jarbarish and I don’t think I ever need to hear the words “space”, “traction”, “leverage”, “mindshare”, or “value-added” again in my life (please hit me if I say any of these stupid, meaningless words).  This book was written by some ex-Deloitte Consulting folks.  While it was predictable, it went down fast and had some entertaining moments.  While not nearly as philosophical as On Bullshit (nor as short), it helped identify best practices for more fully leveraging your value-added communication to your constituents.

The best part of The Number was Mark Cuban’s introduction – just because it was so right.  While this was yet another “post bubble – what happened – why it always happens – and why it will happen again” book, it had some useful history, completely trashed (appropriately) the accounting industry, and had some good anecdotes that I hadn’t heard before.  Oh – and it trashed the accounting industry (did I say it trashed the accounting industry – it did – and it was fun to read (and correct)).

Sapphire Sea was more mental floss – I believe it was the author John Robinson’s first novel and – although it needed a much better editor – it was fun.  I’d like to believe I learned something about Madagascar, but I think the half-life of the book has already passed.

Normally I’d fight the urge to read any book with the word “marketing” in the title (ok – I wouldn’t have to fight the urge very hard), but I looked forward to The Marketing Playbook since it was by John Zagula and Richard Tong – both of Ignition Partners (and ex-Microsoft).  This one belongs on every entrepreneur’s bookshelf – John and Rich did a great job of distilling their battle-tested marketing approaches into five different “plays”, explained them well, gave plenty of relevant examples, and only got hung up in marketing blather a couple of times.  The second edition needs a better editor (notice a pattern – it’s remarkable the different between a well edited, not so well edited, and poorly edited book) – 25% of the words could go.  But – still well worth the time. 

Touching The Void kept me up until 3am last night (which is part of the reason I’m up again tonight at 1:30am Paris time).  This is Joe Simpson’s classic book about the disastrous climb he and his climbing partner Simon Yates had in 1985 on Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Joe survived a near death experience to write an amazing book about it (and subsequently live a great life – this man did not waste his second chance).  Wow.  I never need to climb a mountain like this.

So – I’m back on line, refreshed, a little goofed up on time, and very happy to be part of the human race.  It only took a week to get back to something that resembles normal.

Trick Anything Toilet

Trick Anything Toilet,
originally uploaded by bfeld.

I love toilets. One of my primary criterias for evaluating office space is to go to the mens room and check it out – it’s a great indicator of how the landlord thinks about his building (and his tenants.)

I have one of those amazing Toto Washlet C100’s and even Amy now reveres my throne.

I came across this Trick Anything Toilet on Engaget. Something new an exciting to lust after.

Plus – a good excuse to try the flickr / Movable Type integration and see if it actually works (if this looks like a “clean” post, it did – although there is no place to put my category (oops)).

Note: Some post-Post editing required within MT Edit Entry – the flickr post works, but it’s not perfect

As I got out of my car at home after dinner last night, my wife Amy was snickering. “My jedi mind trick worked – I got those guys to back up their car by thinking you will back up your car.”

To get to our house in the mountains, you have to drive through a state park and up a narrow dirt road wide enough for one car. Our friends that run the state park have kindly put up a sign that says “Only authorized vehicles past this point” at the beginning of the one lane road. Daily, there are a number of people that either can’t read, ignore the sign, or decide they are in an authorized vehicle. At the end of the road, they reach what we hope is an unpenetrable gate (unless you know the magic code), turn around, and have to retrace their steps. It’s exactly in the middle of this route when we inevitably reach these morons.

During this whole escapade (which added about five minutes to my otherwise idyllic drive home), I was thinking to myself “what idiots, can’t they read the sign, they will back up now”.

As Amy is snickering, I’m grousing about these annoying people, the lousy drivers on 93 on our way home, and the fact that people just don’t get the economics of offshoring.

“What was that phrase we used to use at Feld Technologies – Thinly Disguised Contempt?” says my tranquil wife.

This shuts me up quickly. While running my first company (aptly and very creatively named Feld Technologies – after my father), I attended the inaugural year(s) of the Birthing of Giants program. I roomed with a great guy named Alan Trefler, who at the time was running a fast growing private company called Pegasystems (PEGA). Late one night, Alan started telling me about TDC (Thinly Disguised Contempt). At Pegasystems, they’d decided that respect for the customer was one of their highest values. Consequently, they created the notion of TDC – basically thinking or saying something negative about a customer. If I remember correctly (and I probably don’t) acts of the management team generated a $1,000 fine, which went to pay for some joint leadership event in the future.

When I got back to my office after the Birthing of Giants weekend, TDC was echoing in my mind. We were a software consulting company at a time when creating working custom PC database applications for businesses was hard (I mean really hard – remember dbase II and Novell Netware 2.0a)? Our clients were usually great, but it always hard to be on the other end of the phone telling someone for the 17th time “Ok, type f colon backslash public” as you got ready to go through yet another troubleshooting session over the phone (since no businesses had Internet connections back then (I guess Al Gore hadn’t created it yet – is that TDC or sarcasm?) and the Carbon Copy remote control software crashed more often then it was worth using).

We decided Alan was right and TDC is bad. TDC is toxic. It lingers. It spills out over everything. Your friends and colleagues notice, but don’t really understand, as you send them mixed signals. TDC is dangerous – it gets inside, around, and all over everything.

Be blunt. If you don’t like something, say it. If someone does something stupid, say it. If stuff needs to change, say it.

Stomp out TDC.

The endless reconfiguration of the blog has begun. I’ve always been a nerd – ever since I was 13 and got my first computer for my bar mitvah (instead of – say – a car). Yes – it was an Apple II with an Integer card (now – wasn’t that an ironically named device).

So – after screwing around with the Typepad configuration for a hour yesterday while on a less than interesting conference call, I figured there must be a way to post effectively online. Since I’ve been using Newsgator as my RSS aggregator (it’s an Outlook plug-in – a much better idea than a standalone app since I live in email) and read most things offline, I went looking for an offline poster. Voila – MoveablePoster.

In the 5 minutes I gave myself to configure Moveable Poster (note to all software developers – a VC’s install / configure attention span is 5 minutes – maybe 15 minutes if he is really interested) I managed to figure out how to get it running as a standalone, but couldn’t figure out the Newsgator / Outlook configuration. I guess I’ll have to beg for support from Greg Reinacker (the guy behind Newsgator) for help here.

Ok – time to post and see if this actually works.

I’m a professional emailer / phonecaller / meeting taker (aka a venture capitalist). Much of my time is spend writing, reading, thinking, talking, and learning. As a result, I’ve been fascinated (and deeply involved) with the evolution of email and web-based communication and technologies.

I noticed blogging when Dan Bricklin turned me on to it. I’ve been following many of my VC collegues blogs (Fred Wilson, Jerry Colonna, Jeff Nolan, Martin Tobias) and others for some time.

I’ve struggled with whether the world needs yet another set of musings from a VC. Fred’s blog Transparency inspired me to think harder about this. Jerry’s blog Boomtime, Part Three pushed me over the edge.

I’m still not sure if the world needs my musings, but because you have complete control over whether or not you decide to read this, here goes.