Brad Feld

I just IMed a colleague who recently completed a Herculean task.  I asked him how it felt to be done.  He responded “About like a fish feels as he passes through the shark’s teeth on its way to the digestive tract.”  Meditate on that for a while.  Wait – is that a metaphor or a simile?  Where is Amy when I need her?

A short spot on National Public Radio today titled Computer Science: Calling All Women does a super job explaining why I’ve been working with Lucy Sanders on the National Center for Women & Information Technology.  In three minutes and thirty seconds, you’ll hear what the issue is, why we care, and a few of the things we are doing.

ePartners – one of my larger portfolio companies – announced today that they have closed a $25 million financing led by Needham Capital Partners.  As part of this financing, Howard Diamond became the CEO.  I was a (very happy) investor with Needham in Howard’s prior company – Corporate Software (now Software Spectrum) – which was acquired by Level 3 in 2002.

ePartners is one of the largest Microsoft Business Solution (MBS) partners and my investment was the result of a merger between EYT and ePartners in mid-2004.  With this financing – which Howard has been working on for several months – ePartners is well capitalized and positioned for another major round of growth.  We like to think that our timing is good as many of the investments that Microsoft has made in MBS over the past few years is starting to pay off – and our strong second quarter results reflected this.

Since I had an homage to Btrieve in an early post, I’d be remiss if I didn’t reminisce about the old Great Plains logo (ah – the relaxing wheat fields blowing in the wind on a white background, trips to Fargo North Dakota in December, and a calmer (well – maybe not) world.)  And – of course I’d also be remiss if I didn’t tell you to drop me an email if you have any ERP / accounting, CRM, or Sharepoint needs, especially if you are tired of huge total cost of ownership associated with being an Oracle, PeopleSoft, or SAP customer (yes – plenty of folks are replacing their expensive ERP systems with Microsoft MBS products.)

Part of the beauty of the contemporary Internet application is the notion of an open API (Application Programming Interface).  NewsGator released their NewsGator Online API today.  FeedBurner released their Feed Management API last week and their Feed Awareness API several weeks ago which are both documented in depth on the site under FeedBurner for Developers.  Last week, Technorati released their Technorati Blog Post Tags API.

APIs have been around forever, but they historically have been complex, proprietary, difficult to use, and require tight coupling with a desktop application.  Back when I first started writing commercial software, I used Btrieve (made by SoftCraft at the time) as my database engine and spent a lot of time messing around with the API to figure out how to make it work the way I wanted to.  Of course, whenever I upgraded my programming environment, I had to wait for the API library upgrade, which never worked correctly with my legacy applications, which then caused me to waste even more time messing around with the API library.

One of the famous early PC APIs was the MS-DOS BIOS API.  Quick – without looking – what did INT 19h do?  By the time the Win32 API came along, I was done programming, but I hear it was a lot of fun to work with.

Today, virtually every popular web application has (or is rolling out) an API.  Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and eBay have led the way, but newer web apps such as Flickr, EVDB, and are right there with them.  Of course, in classic Internet fashion, each large company has their own name for them (web services anyone?) but API captures it for me.

As part of the NewsGator Online API release, NewsGator has created a sample application that uses their API.  I’ve seen several posts recently about how “easy” it is to create an aggregator – we’ll – yeah – a simple one is easy.  NewsGator has a sample 3–pane aggregator with full sync support that was created in a couple of hours.  If you have a NewsGator Online account, give it a whirl – when you play with it, recognize that all the back end activity is done using the NewsGator Online system.  FeedBurner has several good examples up, including the Podnova FeedBurner 40 top podcasts (by subscribers) and the number of subscribers on a each feed on that uses FeedBurner.

Click on the appropriate link for the complete NewsGator API, FeedBurner API, or Technorati API.

I can’t remember who recommended Planetwalker to me (if it was you – thanks – please post a comment) – but I bought it immediately after finishing Slavomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk which was a truly remarkable book that I read in July.

There’s a forest fire nearby so Homer has been “smoked in” all day (there’s basically a complete white out at our house – like heavy fog but with ash mixed it) so we sat around reading in an agitated state all day since we didn’t really want to be outside.  My day was tinged with irony as I read about the amazing journey of Dr. John Francis, Ph.D., the founder of Planetwalk.

I’ve long been fascinated with acts of extreme human endurance and discipline.  Francis’ is up there – he spent 22 years on foot walking around the world and 17 years without speaking.  During this time, he traveled widely, became a well recognized environmental thinker, and earning degrees through a Ph.D., all without talking.  This was inspired when – in January 1971 – he witnessed the effects of an 840,000 gallon oil spill beneath the Golden Gate bridge that was a result of a collision between two oil tankers – the Arizona Standard and the Oregon Standard.

Francis’ journey takes him from a confused young man who is trying to sort out what to do with his life to a powerfully developed thinker and “environmental practitioner” (his desired phrase – rather than environmentalist).  Planetwalker – his first book – is an extremely vibrant telling of his story.  Francis’ does a great job of letting the journey lead and his philosophy follow which makes the book both subtle and more enjoyable than if it had been the other way around.

I hadn’t heard of Planetwalk prior to this book, but Amy and I will certainly add it to the list of environmental organizations that we support.  If you’re looking for a good adventure that you can have from your couch, give this book a try.

Over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about Agile development methodologies as a result of my investment in Rally Software.  Today – Tim Wolters – CTO of Collective Intellect and previously co-founder / CTO of Dante Group (we were investors – webMethods acquired Dante Group for a nice price six months after we invested) has a great post on how he thinks about Agile software development.  I know Tim’s been playing around with Ruby on Rails, so my fascination there also continues to grow.

I just got a phone call that a close friend has cancer.  This is the fifth time this year that this has happened.  Two breast cancers, one prostate cancer, one cervical cancer, and one Burkitt’s lymphoma.  Both of the women with breast cancers are fully recovered as is the man with prostate cancer – the other two are at the beginning of dealing with things. Three of the five people are under 40 years old.

I’ve definitely got a little “numb mind” right now.  It’s a partly sunny day in Homer, I woke up feeling happy, looking forward to seeing some friends from Anchorage who are visiting this weekend, my weekly massage from the amazing Megan (this afternoon), and getting to see two new movies this weekend.  This phone call definitely slowed me down and shifted my brain into a more reflective mode.

I just heard Amy tell one of her friends – the one with cervical cancer (carcinoma in situ – boy that’s a “really scary” phrase) – that “whenever someone says the ‘C’ word your heart skips a beat.”  I’m eavesdropping on her conversation – it’s good bi-directional energy between these two women that have been best friends for 20 years. Friends are everything and it warms my heart that Amy is on the phone talking about this.

One of our friends – the one that had breast cancer earlier this year – was unbelievable during the experience.  She was beyond inspiring – her attitude was extraordinary, she went after her disease with gusto, was completely “open source” about the whole thing (she had a double masectomy and was perfectly happy to talk about how excited she was to get new perky breasts, followed by several “nipple free” months – which is weird to write about – but powerful to experience).  There is no doubt that her extreme positive attitude had a huge impact on her recovery.  We already adored this woman before her ordeal – she’s now a touch point for dealing with anything negative.

When I was a kid, my dad would often say “live every day like it is your last.”  It’s a well worn cliche, but it rings true every time I think about it.

I’ve read eight books since my last book review – none were notable enough for me to write about (although What the Dormouse Said came close, but Fred Wilson covered it.)  I just finished Wayne McVicker’s book Starting Something: An Entrepreneur’s Tale of Control, Confrontation & Corporate Culture.  It was fantastic.

Wayne was the co-founder of Neoforma – a pre-bubble startup that was one of the early 2000 B2B IPO’s.  It’s peak market cap was over $3 billion – today it is a publicly traded company with a $150m market cap, $3m / quarter of revenue, negative gross margins, a $15m loss last quarter, and about $25m of working capital – basically, a small-cap Internet bubble survivor that has a questionable future.  Wayne left Neoforma in 2001 and spun out a new company called Attainia

Starting Something is Wayne’s story starting at the inception of the concept for Neoforma.  It’s deeply personal and autobiographical – Wayne writes beautifully about his experience.  Each chapter is a month in the story, is artfully titled, typically has one key concept, and has two metrics at the beginning (# employees and valuation) to help you keep pace.  While Wayne changes some names to protect the “innocent” (or not so innocent), the characters are easily recognizable if you are either in the venture business or were in the bay area frenzy at the end of the century.

Unlike so many other “Internet bubble biographies”, this one is full of awesome lessons.  Wayne is clearly a thinker – he’s been able to reflect on his experience and built a coherent narrative that teaches something while telling a great story.  While there are some gossipy sections, they are woven into the story so they actually add rather than subtract from the lessons (yeah – I’ve had enough boom and bust titillation at this point.)

I deeply identified with several stories, both from the perspective of an entrepreneur, angel investor, and a VC.  Wayne tells his tale with a nuance that is precise without being annoyingly insider-ish.  And – in the end – it cycles back around to people and relationships – which is ultimately much more interesting storytelling.

This one – like MouseDriver Chronicles – is a must read for every entrepreneur (both aspiring and practicing).

Greg Galant – who does the Venture Voice podcast – just posted an interview he did with me on Monday.  We did it over Skype which – while noticeable – was really effective. 

Greg gives good interview – we covered a lot of ground which Greg did a nice job of summarizing in the show notes.  We had a short discussion about the difference between a consulting business and a product business and the corresponding challenge of transforming a consulting business to a product business. We also talking about the transition I made from entrepreneur to investor and I found – as I listened – that these situations were eerily analogous.

While the first half was about entrepreneurship; the second half was about venture capital.  Greg probed around how to think about and evaluate VCs as well as issues surrounding raising money.  We covered some deal stuff and I even said something nice about lawyers about 27 minutes in.  At the end, I talked some about life before email and voice mail (egads – that feels like forever ago – but it was just 1991).  I also talk about the critical importance of listening to one’s wife (at least mine).

Verbal tick alert: “Ya know” seemed to creep deeply into this podcast.  As least it wasn’t “honestly, to tell you the truth…” 

Entertainingly, as I was writing this post, I got an IM from Jeremy Hague at Skylook who had just been talking to Greg (I’ve been playing with Jeremy’s Skype Outlook plugin) and Jeremy mentioned that he’d recently been interviewed on Venture Voice also.  “Small” world.