Category: Writing

Jul 15 2015

Why I Don’t Call People Out By Name

Yesterday’s post titled The Silliness Of Recapping Seed Rounds generated a robust discussion. It also inspired Joanne Wilson to write a post titled Recapping a round?? which is a description of a different situation and a different company, but generated a similar negative response from Joanne. In her case, the new investor insisted that the cap on the notes (for money that had already been spent) be raised so the seed investors would get less ownership than they’d signed up for, regardless of the investment the new investor is making.

I’ll just let Joanne, who works harder than almost anyone I know, and certainly adds more value to her angel investments than many VCs do, simply speak for herself.

“How do I feel about this? I am furious. I feel like I got hosed. I took a big risk by putting money in early on and now a VC with power behind them comes in and says here is the deal or we won’t let you in to our fold. What should have the investors done? Revolt? What is the point of that? Then we all lose. So I did what I believe in first and foremost and that is supporting the entrepreneur. The one caveat I made with the entrepreneur (which is purely blowing air) is that if this VC doesn’t secure a killer Series A for you then I will personally come out to SF and make this all public and have a showdown. If you are going to screw me and all the investors who came in around me then you better make it something we can all feel good about in the long run because right now I am just holding my nose.”

In my comment thread, and in Joanne’s, a number of folks asked us to call out the various players (especially the investors and the company) by name. I have no interest in doing that and I’ve said so. I’ve gotten a number of private emails asking me about the players. Same response – I’m not interested in calling people out by name.

Someone eventually asked me why and I thought it was worth a response.

I don’t write things like this blog to attack people. I don’t do it because I need to vent when I get upset. My motivation isn’t to create public fights. It’s also not to use this blog as a bully pulpit to negotiate, as someone suggested.

Instead, I do it for the same reason that Jason Mendelson and I wrote around 30 blog posts about the term sheet in 2004 and 2005 and then followed it up with our book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. We started writing stuff like this to demystify the process for entrepreneurs.

I think stories and examples are often the best way for people to learn things, including me. By writing down my thoughts about situations, I process them. I put them out there for anyone who wants to learn from them, explore them, or match them against their own experience. I try to do it in a way that contrasts all the rah rah bullshit that goes around with the resistance, hesitation, or inability for people to talk clearly and directly about the challenging stuff. And it’s especially pertinent as time passes, as things continuously change.

Not everything I write ends up being correct. I miss nuances. I don’t understand all the pieces. I learn by putting my thoughts out there and engaging with people in their reactions to what I write.

As a result, there are many cases like this where there is no value in naming names. The actual participants are just part of the story, but not the central theme. It’s my interpretation of what happened. Whomever else is involved with this situation (the investors and entrepreneurs) can decide whether it matters to them, or not, and act accordingly.

But I’m not a reporter. I’m just trying to teach. And learn. And observe. And hopefully help a few more entrepreneurs as they continue through an endlessly challenging, complex, and stressful journey.

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Oct 23 2014

A New Look for Feld Thoughts

Every few years I update the look and feel of my blog. This year is a significant upgrade, both on look and feel as well as the entire back end infrastructure.

In the past six months, I’ve started to notice complexity creep into everything in our world. While design is still front and center for many developers and entrepreneurs, I’ve gotten tired of the overwhelming UIs, confusing UXs, and immense complexity under the hood. It’s kind of like a calendar that just keeps getting stuff added to it – all of a sudden you are busy for all of your waking hours with meetings, and have no time to really get any work done.

We took a completely bottoms up approach this time and started from scratch. We tossed everything out and rebuilt everything – the infrastructure, the blog, and the design – from the ground up.

A thing you probably won’t notice, but is the starting point, is that we’ve moved feld.com to Pantheon. We are investors and love the company. The only thing you should notice is lightning fast response all the time, regardless of traffic load. If you ever notice anything different, please tell me.

Next, we approached the design from a minimalist perspective, which is coming back into vogue in a lot of places. My blog was starting to feel like a Geocities site to me, with all kinds of additional crap on it beyond my writing, and I decided I just wanted it to focus on my writing and my community in the comments. I copied Fred Wilson in this regard as he made this shift a while ago. After looking at many popular blogs, I kept coming back to his approach.

We’ve tried to do this in a way that keeps the writing front and center but still has easy access to other things on feld.com. On the left is site specific stuff, such as additional feld.com content (About, Investments, and Marathons), clear discovery (Search, Categories, and Tags). On the right is post specific actions (Comments, Category for the Post, Tags for the Post, and Sharing options.)

If you want to subscribe to anything or follow me anywhere, that’s on the top right.

We’ve also rebuilt the data underlying things from scratch. We’ve gotten rid of a ton of plug-ins that either weren’t being used or didn’t add anything (other than slowing the site down). We worked hard on a site that could be viewed on any platform, regardless of browser or mobile device. And we’ve tried to keep the principle of clean, minimal, and readable – with the focus on the content – throughout.

I’m sure there are many, many things we could improve. As I roll into 2015, we are going to finalize this theme with your feedback, and then apply it to all the other active sites in our universe, especially StartupRev.com which desperately needs an overhaul.

So – comment with any feedback you have – good, bad, and other. Constructive or flamey. In the comments, or via email to me. And, if we blew it, we’ll keep iterating.

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Jun 22 2014

Write More Faster

I’ve been stalled trying to get through two books: Startup Opportunities (with Sean Wise) and Startup Metrics
(with Seth Levine). Dane McDonald (FG Press CEO) and my assistant Eugene Wan created a book cover recently to try to inspire me, as an homage to Do More Faster (with David Cohen).

write more faster

It worked. I’ve gotten a lot of writing on Startup Opportunities done in the last week and I expect this week to be a good one.

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Mar 18 2014

Why I Recommend Writing For At Least An Hour A Day

Last year Inc. Magazine invited me to write a quarterly article for them for both Inc. Magazine and Inc.com. I wrote three – this is my last one. I’ve enjoyed writing for Inc., but earlier this year decided to stop writing for other web sites, at least for a while, as it had become a burden with all the other writing that I’m doing. I thought it would be fun for my last article in Inc. to be self-referential, so I wrote this article about why I write. You can find it on Inc.com at The Best Way to Improve How You Think.

I set out to be an entrepreneur and then an investor. I became a writer almost by accident. Now, I can’t imagine not writing–it’s something I do daily. It’s how I problem solve. And it’s crucial to my continued learning and growth.

In the late 1980s, I started my first company, Feld Technologies, which wrote custom software for companies. This was back when personal computers were becoming popular in a business context. But they were complex. Computer salesmen hawked them speaking a language you didn’t understand, in a style that could have worked equally well on a used-car lot.

Our clients wanted to understand what they were buying. They didn’t care about RAM or CONFIG.SYS settings. So I started writing memos about how the computers and the software they were buying would solve their business problems.

I moved my writing online in the mid-1990s and eventually to my own blog, Feld Thoughts. I had become an angel investor using some of the money I’d made from the sale of Feld Technologies, and those experiences provided plenty of blog fodder. My partner Jason Mendelson and I even churned out a series on venture capital financing. This was during a time when venture funding was in the dumps, and the process was opaque. In about 30 posts, we demystified it. Finally, after almost 20 years of writing, the light bulb went on for me.

I write to think.

Forcing myself to sit down and work through these ideas in a logical sequence for an audience of readers required me to refine my thinking on how I invest in startups. How could I make the financing process more efficient? What’s the best way to structure a deal? I learned a lot, both from my writing and my readers’ responses.

As a result, my approach to VC deals changed after those posts. I simplified my deal terms. I stopped negotiating over nonsense. I had no patience for long arguments over things that didn’t matter.

My thoughts really began to crystallize when I started writing books. In 2010, I co-wrote Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup, with Techstars CEO and co-founder David Cohen. During this process, David and I nailed down many of the startup strategies that had been rolling around in our heads. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Techstars’s growth accelerated, as did the growth of the companies we worked with, after publishing that book.

This is not to say that everyone should write books. But some form of regular writing is one of the best ways to give yourself time for reflection and analysis. It could be any kind of writing. Consider Jeff Bezos’s approach to meetings. Whoever runs the meeting writes a memo no longer than six pages about the issue at hand. Then, for the first 15 to 30 minutes of the meeting, the group reads it. The rest of the meeting is spent discussing it. No PowerPoint allowed. Brilliant. (I’ve long felt that PowerPoint is a terrible substitute for critical thinking.)

As helpful as I find writing daily to be, it doesn’t always come easily. I often go through long, dry stretches where my writing is uninspired. I stare at the screen, pecking out a few words hesitantly. This used to frustrate me, but now I realize it’s just part of the process. Part of the trick is figuring out your most productive writing conditions; for me, it’s early in the morning or late at night, preferably with Pink Floyd, electronic music, or classical piano blaring.

Many people might find a blank screen with its blinking cursor terrifying. Where do I even begin? you might ask. These days, I much prefer staring at that screen to standing up in front of a crowd. I think better, and I learn much more.

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Jan 26 2014

Stopping Writing For Other Web Sites

One of my goals, and a tactic for being happier, this year is Doing More By Doing Less More Deeply. To that end, I’ve decided to stop writing for other web sites and magazines.

Over the past few years, I’ve expanded the “channels” that my original writing appears in. In some cases, I’ve written specific content for sites and magazines like Inc. and Entrepreneur. In other cases I’m participating in the grand content expansion strategies of sites like LinkedIn, Huffington Post, WSJ, and Forbes. And in others, it’s just random stuff on sites from people building up their content in a particular area.

While it’s been a fun experiment, it has become an overwhelming chore. I get a request for something new from somewhere multiple times a week. I say no a lot, but I’m constantly having to think to myself “do I want to do this or not.” I’ve never been good at moderating, so it’s much easier for me to abstain and just say no to everything.

In some cases I’ve done this to learn about the content expansion strategies of either tradition or new media companies. I feel like that learning has hit very significant diminishing returns – sure there is more to learn, but it’s not significant enough to outweigh the effort and cost.

I love to write. And I very much appreciate the opportunity others have given me to contribute content to their sites. But I’ve gotten tired of the pressure from external sites to produce material for them on a particular time frame or in response to prompted topics, which some people love but I’ve grown to dislike. And most importantly, I’ve realized that I really like three types of writing best.

  1. Short form that I completely control, such as blog posts like this.
  2. Long form, such as books like Startup Boards.
  3. Commentary on other people’s writing, such as comments on other people’s blog posts or GoodReads book reviews.

I’ve been spending a lot of my writing energy recently on a new project that we are about to unveil. I expect that by stopping writing for other sites, I’ll free up enough energy to allocate what I want to for this project. And that feels like Doing More By Doing Less More Deeply.

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Jun 18 2013

Feedback On The New Feld Thoughts Design

Every year or so I freshen up the Feld Thoughts design. This time I did it with the help of Cole Morrison, who is the Hackstar I hired at the end of last year.

I’ve gotten some feedback so far but am looking for more. And I’m happy to get whatever you’ve got for us – nice, constructive, or harsh. Whatever comes to mind – just toss it in the comments or email it.

For an example of “substantial” and “harsh” take a look at this. Like all helpful feedback, it’s very precise and actionable.

Feldthoughts feedback

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Jan 8 2013

Experimenting With Writing On More Channels

Historically, most of my writing has been either on my blogs or the books that I’ve written. Occasionally I’ve written for magazines, like a year-long stretch I did for Entrepreneur a few years ago, and longer form articles of mine appear in different places every now and then. But pretty much everything I write ends up on Feld Thoughts at some point.

I’m going to experiment with some different channels this year. The two that I’ve already gotten into a regular, once a week rhythm with are LinkedIn Influencers and the Wall Street Journal Accelerators. I’m putting up a lot more content on the Startup Revolution site and I’ll be adding at least one more channel in the next 30 days. Finally, I’m doing more guest posts, such as the article I wrote for Amazon Money & Markets titled Startups Are Everywhere.

Up to know I’ve been generally reposting these on Feld Thoughts. But in the next 30 days I plan to change the landing page for feld.com to include all the different channels, and I’ll also do my best to splice up a single feed for everything I write.

Like all things, this is an experiment. I haven’t figured out whether I like this or not, but I’m enjoying playing with different channels, different audiences, and engaging with an audience and other thought leaders around a specific topic.

For example, this week’s WSJ Accelerator question was “Is it possible for a startup founder to work on two or three products (or startups) at once?” Some posts include mine, which was “No, Mostly“, Steve Blank saying “Don’t Confuse Science Experiments With Commitments“, and Joanne Wilson stating “Choose One Company and One Company Only.” Each different article adds to a broader thought, which is part of the joy of “mentor whiplash” we talk about all the time in TechStars. Ultimately, you have to make your own decision as an entrepreneur – we are just providing data for you.

I’m at CES this week. If you want to see why, check out my LinkedIn post titled Why I Go To CES. And, if you are at CES and want me to stop by your booth, leave a comment here.

If you’ve figured out a great way to be a multi-channel content publisher, I’m all ears. Or, as a reader of this blog, if you have a strong opinion about what I’m doing, please weigh in. Remember – this is just an experiment.

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Oct 14 2012

F%^$ and f*&^%$#

As Amy and I continue to crank away on Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, I learned a funny, perplexing, and strange thing. There apparently is an editorial standard, at least at Wiley, for the words “fuck” and “fucking”.

Fuck = F%^$

Fucking = F*&^%$#

Crazy. Hilarious. Fun. Bizarre.

I discovered this yesterday as I was going through and making all the changes to the feedback from our “publisher draft” submission which we got back on Friday. We’ve got plenty of dialogue with the words “fuck” and “shit” in them because (a) that’s how a lot of humans, including us, talk and (b) when there’s conflict, which we cover a lot in the book, the words “fuck” and “shit” tend to fly.

For some reason “shit” is ok. It made it through this particular edit pass. But “fuck” did not, except in a particular phrase, “fuck you money.” Let’s see if that one survives the next edit pass. And, when the final book comes out, we’ll see if shit did as well.

Back to working on the book. The final deadline is 10/22 so if you see me in the next nine days and you want to torture me, just ask “how’s the book going.” I expect you’ll hear some variant of f%^$ in my response.

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Jul 17 2012

Searching For A Collaborative Writing Tool

I’ve finished writing the book Startup Communities: Building An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City (a solo effort) and am now deep into Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving In A Relationship With An Entrepreneur which I’m writing with Amy.

I’m looking for a great collaborative writing tool for a book. I used Scrivener on a solo basis for Startup Communities – it’s outstanding for the first draft. I eventually had to drop into Word to work with the production system for my publisher (Wiley) but that’s probably the case for any non-self-publishing experience at this point.

However, I can’t for the life of me figure out a workflow with Scrivener that works effectively for two writers. It’s a single-user product and all of my Dropbox related contortions work to share the file, but then only one person can actually work in it at any given time. So “pair programming” (or “pair writing”) might work, but we are both banging away at the book next to each other while on our treadputers (on different computers).

I’m moving everything to Google Docs for now, but I’m looking for feedback from other writers who have done books as joint projects where there were two writers. I don’t really want to pass documents back and forth (or share separate files via Dropbox) – I want a true collaborative writing solution.

Any thoughts out there?

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Jul 5 2012

The Joy Of Shipping A Day Early

Yesterday at 4:57pm I hit send in Gmail and submitted the final draft of my newest book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneur Ecosystem In Your City to my publisher (Wiley). I’ve still got two more revision cycles – one in a few weeks when I get the final copyedited version and then one last review of the page proofs but the book is done. The publication date is early October but if history is a guide it should be out by mid-September.

Startup Communities is the first book in a four book series I’m doing called Startup Revolution. I’m spending most of this summer in maker mode at my house in Keystone and doing all my normal work, but I’m not travelling at all and trying to spend as little time as possible doing random stuff. June was just awesome – I feel rested, happier, and more productive than I’ve felt in a very long time.

My deadline was the end of day on July 5th. Specifically 11:59pm on July 5th. It felt phenomenal to get done a day early. I went for a short bike ride (I have a marathon this weekend in Montana so I’m tapering), had some dinner, grabbed some ice cream and popcorn, and watched the first six episodes of Damages with Amy. Four hours later my brain was calmed down from a 40+ hour focused push to get the book out.

Today feels like a total bonus day. I’m heading out for lunch with Amy, grabbing some salt tablets for my marathon, working on random stuff this afternoon, running an hour to dinner and then eating with two good friends (and Amy). We get up early tomorrow and head to Montana.

Life is good.

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