In February, we announced our investment in Gig Wage. After some entertaining back and forth, I encouraged Craig Lewis, the founder/CEO of Gig Wage, to write up a quick story of how things unfolded, as he remembered them, and I’d post it here. I love founder stories, and origin stories, and always learn something from reflecting on them. So, in Craig’s words …
Two tech guys from Dallas walk into a bar…
Before I met Brad in person, I had known about him because he’s pretty much startup-famous from his books and from co-founding Techstars, but I didn’t know much about Foundry Group. I hadn’t even read any of his books at the time, but I knew I was interested in meeting him.
Brad and I first met at an event two years ago at UTD (University of Texas at Dallas), where he would be speaking. We met at the bar, I had my favorite go-to drink, the “Black American” (my concoction, inspired by a White Russian), and Brad was having water since he doesn’t drink.
My first impression of Brad was that he’s freaking brilliant. You can tell when someone’s done a lot and is smart from their experience. I figured, ‘this guy’s seen it all from A to Z and has probably seen it from Z to A and then back again.’ And he could have easily been not cool, but he was totally humble and down-to-earth, and we just kind of vibed. When we spoke, it didn’t seem like an investor-entrepreneur thing, just two guys from Dallas talking tech.
Fast forward to about a year later, we had recently received an investment from Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Revolution. Entrepreneurs who are part of his portfolio take part in a quarterly book club, where we all read a book and one entrepreneur is chosen to interview the author of the book. I happened to be able to interview Brad when we got an early look at the latest edition of his book Venture Deals. Between meeting Brad and interviewing him, he had set up a few introductions for me, which was cool of him, and when we got to the interview, it was casual, like we knew each other from around and had kind of been in touch before. We did a live webinar Q+A for all of the entrepreneurs in the book club. After getting through all my questions about his book, we ended up talking about entrepreneurship, technology, and venture capital.
That’s when I started to realize that he’s a prolific investor, and I started to understand the Foundry Group a little better, although it didn’t fully click for me until we went through Techstars and I met Jaclyn Hester. She was able to quickly get up to speed on the company we were building and my vision for Gig Wage. Funny enough, we still didn’t think we were going to do anything, but the managing director for Techstars (who I later ended up hiring) told me that Foundry Group is super legit. Eventually, we connected the dots and realized that my relationship with Brad was just organically building up to an investment from Foundry Group. As it was happening, these events just seemed like different moments, but looking back, it’s obvious that every piece of it mattered and eventually led us to where we are today.
When looking for an investment, it’s more about who wants to invest in us and what steps they take to invest in us than the other way around. We typically aren’t going around reaching out to see whose investments we can secure. What happened with Brad and the Foundry Group came down to them showing excitement for Gig Wage, not by me strategically or intentionally pursuing them by any means. I realized our goals aligned, and that’s pretty much how it happened.
I woke up this morning to another Storyworth history from him, this time titled Birth Of An Entrepreneur: Brad Feld. I read it and loved it, especially since it reflected so significantly on how integral he was to the entrepreneurial path I ended up on.
As a tribute to my dad turning 81, I thought I’d share another experience from my childhood in Dallas when he was 46 and I was 13.
I know I have been incredibly fortunate to have the parents that I have. I appreciate and love them both more than words can express. Hopefully this story gives a little flavor of the basis for the depth of that appreciation.
Birth Of An Entrepreneur: Brad Feld
by Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
Brad Feld’s Bar Mitzvah in 1978.
Many boys receive presents of cash when they celebrate their Bar Mitzvah. Gold coins were hot in 1978.
Many Of Brad’s Bar Mitzvah friends exchanged their new found fortune for two gold Krugerands. Gold was being predicted to increase to $1400 an ounce in the coming year.
Not Brad. His cash gifts totaled $1300. He wanted an Apple II Computer. The Apple computer company released the Apple II computer in 1977. I was delighted that he wanted to invest his Bar Mitzvah money in himself and not gold.
At age 13, he was certain that he could learn to program the Apple II computer. I asked him how much an Apple II would cost. He said about $1300.
The following Saturday, after his soccer game, we went to the computer store on Coit Rd and Beltline Rd in Dallas to buy his Apple II computer. Brad convinced me during the preceding week that “we” needed an Apple II.
He spent his $1300. We spent $3100. After spending $3100 for the Apple II computer and all the necessary peripherals, “we” walked out of the store with all the pieces “we” needed to “create the future”.
As we were walking to the car I had an “aha” moment. Brad’s willingness to spend all his Bar Mitzvah money on his future convinced me to spend an additional $1800. I was sure he had all the characteristics of an entrepreneur. He told me the future was in personal computing. He was correct. “We have to spend the money on the future”. This was a pretty profound statement for a 13 year old boy in 1978.
He was right. Not only did he learn how to program the Apple II himself, he started a business. He taught boys and girls in the neighborhood how to program in Basic for a fee.
In 1982 he was tiring of the Apple II. I needed a program to print out laboratory reports generated in my office chemistry laboratory. Brad volunteered to write the program, design the pretty printout and sold the Apple II computer and all the peripherals for $1600. The laboratory program he created was a bargain to me.
Brad monetized his asset for a profit. He added value to my practice while he leveraged his acquired talent.
The moral to this story is many of our children are very perceptive. We should listen to them.
We have to create the environment for them to want to learn and be excited about learning. We have to make them responsible for their actions. They have to then put “skin” in the game.
Our country’s greatness was built on this entrepreneural spirit. It is parents’ responsibility to help promote the tradition of entrepreneurship.
I am convinced that by creating an environment in which my sons can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them, than I have taught them.
Both Brad and Daniel understood my goal for them. I am very proud of both of them.
My dad turns 81 today. He’s one of my best friends. He loves the color green. And, a few of my other friends have a birthday today (happy birthday Dave.)
Lots of people don’t realize that I grew up in Texas (did you know that 33.3% of the Foundry Group partners are from Texas?) My parents have been living in Dallas since 1969.
I’ve been doing a
Why We Moved To Dallas
by Stanley Feld M.D., FACP,MACE
Cecelia and I lived in Great Neck, N.Y. during my internship and first year of internal medicine residency. We loved Great Neck. It was an upscale suburban town just outside Queens. Its public parks, library and entertainment facilities were excellent.
I had decided that I was going to be a practicing clinical endocrinologist before the completion of my first year of internal medicine residency. The chief of medicine at Long Island Jewish Hospital decided to have me become LIJH’s first chief of endocrinology.
Then the trajectory of our life changed. President Johnson expanded the Viet Nam War. I was drafted into the U.S. Airforce. My Berry Plan deferment meant nothing when America was at war. I was assigned to Blytheville, Arkansas.
Cecelia and I had to go to the library to get a map and find Blytheville, Arkansas. I did not try to pull any strings to avoid going to Blytheville. I was afraid I would be reassigned to Viet Nam. The Viet Nam war was a war I did not understand, nor did I want to be involved in.
Blytheville, Arkansas turned out to be a glorious experience for two kids that had never lived outside of New York City and its environs.
The chief of medicine at LIJH helped me get a clinical endocrinology fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston when I completed my two years of Air Force Duty.
At the time a fellowship at MGH was the most highly rated clinical endocrinology fellowship in the country.
The two years at the MGH were great. I not only learned a lot of endocrinology, I became comfortable around famous endocrine physicians.
In October 1967 Boston had a tremendous snowstorm. Large snowstorms were called nor’easters. The drive home during the storm took 8 hours. The trip usually took 20 minutes. Cars were left stranded on Storrow Drive. I had my 1963 Dodge Dart 170. It had a great air conditioner, but the heater was broken. It was fifteen degrees outside with no heater. I had a thin winter coat on and was freezing the entire time.
I could not get on any of the bridges crossing the Charles River to get to the other side of the river. Finally, I made it across the Watertown Bridge.
A driver in front of me skidded and made a 360 degree turn. He just missed me. Thankfully it did not end in an accident. When I got home and got out of the car I kissed the ground.
When I got into the house, I asked Cecelia if she would go to the library after the storm and figure out where we should go to settle. I did not want to have anything to do with cold, snowy weather.
She picked a few cities that had the right demographics for a clinical endocrinologist in 1969. Dallas was one of the cities.
In the summer of 1968, I was selected to give a paper on acromegaly in Mexico City. My preceptor, Bernie Kleiman, knew Cecelia and I were considering Dallas, Texas as a place to settle. He said he would to happy to introduce me to some of his friends at Southwestern Medical School.
Bernie set up a lovely dinner in a restaurant in a park in Mexico City. Dan Foster, Norman Kaplan, Jean Wilson and Marvin Siperstein were there. We had a great time. We liked each other.
I decided to stop in Dallas on the way home to Boston. It looked like a great town. It was easy to get around. The hospitals were modern. The medical school had excellent teachers led by Donald Seldin.
Norman Kaplan set me up with some hospital job interviews. They were all very encouraging, but nothing came of them.
I called Cecelia the first night I was in Dallas and told her Dallas was the place. The only thing missing were hills and trees. After fifty years there are plenty of trees. There aren’t any hills yet.
We made the decision to come to Dallas on very little information except Norman Kaplan saying the town needed a clinical endocrinologist.
We have never doubted our decision or looked back. Cecelia and I have had a fabulous life in Dallas, Texas.
This is not a post about a bubble, real or imagined. It’s a lesson from when I was 20 years old.
I showed up at MIT as an eager freshman. I was 17, from Dallas, with a nice pair of cowboy boots and long hair. On my first day, at the freshman picnic, I heard that 50% of us would end up in the bottom half of our class. Fifteen minutes later I was whisked away in a white van to ADP, the fraternity I ended up pledging and living in for four years, next to WILG and across the street from The Mandarin (no longer there), Mary Chung (still there and still awesome), and Toscanini’s (still there and even more awesome.) That night I met Dave Jilk, my first business partner and one of my best friends.
Dave was a senior and I was a freshman. He took me under his wing and we became thick as thieves. He was Course 6 and easily one of the best coders around, even though we didn’t call them coders there. I was pretty good also, but limited to BASIC and Pascal, which were the two languages I used to write the commercial software I was working on for Petcom. Dave was into business, read Forbes cover to cover each time it came out, and hung around with some Sloan people. We’d go to Mandarin, Mary Chung, or somewhere in the North End, eat and drink way too much, and talk about computers and business. Ok – we talked about other things that 18 – 22 year old young men talk about, but there was a lot of computers and business in the mix.
Petcom, the company I worked for, wrote PC-based oil and gas software. They had one competitor – David P. Cook and Associates (which, in a twist of irony, morphed into Blockbuster – if you don’t know the story, Wikipedia has a fun history snippet.) In addition to getting paid $10 / hour (which quickly taught me that if I worked more hours, I got paid more money) I received a 5% royalty on gross sales of the two products I wrote (PC Log and PC Economics).
In 1983 the oil business was booming and Petcom was growing quickly. As a freshman, I’d get a monthly royalty check – sometimes $1,000, sometimes $2,500, and once $11,000. I never knew what it was going to be, so I was always very excited when the blue Petcom check showed up at 351 Massachusetts Avenue in my mail cubby. I’d often grab a bunch of frat brothers for lunch, go to Mandarin, and pay for whatever we ate.
The graph gives away the punch line.
While the price of oil more than doubled between 1978 and 1979, from $14 to $31 / barrel, it had been slowly drifting down from a high of almost $37 in 1980 to $29 in 1983. But that drift was seductive since it was so much higher than the $14 / barrel in 1978 and created this sense that it would once again go much higher.
In the summer of 1985, I was working full time at Petcom. Things for the company were absolutely rocking. We had grown from three people (the two founder + me) when I started to over 20 people. We had fancy offices on the 7th floor of a building across the street in the Dallas from the beautiful Galleria Mall. Software was being sold, my royalty checks were huge (I think I made around $80,000 in 1985, but that’s just a vague guess), and life was grand.
I went back to school in the fall. That’s when I uttered a deeply stupid phrase to Dave.
“Oil Prices Will Go Up Forever”
Dave challenged me. We argued. We probably went out to dinner somewhere in the North End, ate a huge amount of pasta and red wine, and then went to The Parker House in downtown Boston and drank scotch until we eventually stumbled back to 351 Mass Ave.
In December, 1985, Saudi Arabia flooded the market for oil and by the end of 1986 the price of a barrel of oil was around $10.
I didn’t work at Petcom that summer. Their phones stopped ringing. Customers went out of business right and left. The company shrunk back down to the two founders who then started the first CD music store in Dallas, repurposing their software for the CD business, just like David P. Cook had done for the video business. My royalty checks had stopped, but fortunately I had started Feld Technologies and 1986 was the summer of 2430 Denmark in Garland, Texas.
The oil and gas business wasn’t the only one that got slaughtered by this. Texas real estate was booming, until it wasn’t. My dad, a doctor, was a small partner in a bunch of real estate partnerships. By 1990 he was a large partner in a small number of the real estate partnerships that hadn’t failed, as he was one of the few partners who could keep writing checks. I don’t know exactly how it turned out for him, but since he had staying power I expect he broke even or even made some money. But I remember the stress around the dinner table when I was home in the summer and over the phone when we talked as he was fighting through what was likely a very similar mess to the one I would encounter several times later in my life.
I learned a powerful lesson that laid some fundamental groundwork for how I think about business. In the Internet bubble, while I kept this lesson in the back of my mind, I ended up suspending disbelief, like so many others, in 2000 and into the spring of 2001. I learned this lesson again, but in a more profound way.
Through each of these aggressive down cycles, amazing companies were created. Some of the great real estate fortunes emerged from the rubble of Dallas in the 1980s. You don’t have to look very far to see some remarkable companies that survived and transcended the Internet bubble collapsing in 2001. And for many, 2008 and 2009 seems very far in the distant past, even though it still massively impacts others in a very negative way.
Oil prices do not go up forever. Neither does anything else.
In the article The biggest tech company founders from every state I win the callout for Arkansas.
“Arkansas: Brad Feld has bounced around a lot: born in Arkansas, raised in Dallas, then lived in Boston for over a decade before moving to Boulder, Colorado. He’s most known for founding Foundry Group, a prominent venture capital firm that focuses on early stage investment, but also co-founded startup accelerator Techstars.”
I was born in Blytheville, Arkansas on an air force base in 1965. My dad was in the Air Force for several years during the Vietnam War after being drafted. Once he finished his service a year later, he moved to Boston to finish out his residency at Mass General Hospital. Then, in 1969, he and my mom, with two kids in tow (me and my younger brother Daniel, who had just been born) moved to Dallas, Texas. My parents knew one person in Dallas when they moved there and they chose Dallas (over Kansas City, which was a near second) as a place they wanted to build their life. My dad’s brother Charlie followed him to Dallas a year later in 1970.
I don’t view myself as being from Arkansas even though I was born there. It’s one of those weird artifacts of one’s life. I used to be able to roll it out in big group introductions when each person is asked to say one thing about themselves that no one else in the group knows. I now have to come up with something else, like the age I was when I read The 158 Pound Marriage by John Irving (answer: inappropriately young.)
I grew up in Dallas, Texas. When I went to college at age 17, I thought I’d move back to Dallas and live there after I graduated. Within a year of living in Boston, I knew I wouldn’t move back to Dallas, even though I never really thought I’d stay very long in Boston.
Twelve years later I moved from Boston to Boulder, Colorado. While I lasted 11 years longer in Boston than my dad did, I sometimes feel like I lived in Boston for 11 years and 364 days too many. Upon serious reflection, Boston was very good for me, but it never felt like home.
When Amy and I moved to Boulder in 1995, we knew one person. He moved away several months later. Then, a year later, my brother Daniel moved to Boulder. I don’t think we realized we were following the same pattern as our parents and my Uncle Charlie, but 20 years later, we are still living near each other in Boulder and 46 years later my dad and his brother are still living in Dallas.
I’ve now lived in Boulder longer than anywhere else. So – where am I from? While I comfortably say that I grew up in Dallas, I’m from Boulder and have built my life, with Amy, around being here.
My parents, who were both born and grew up in the Bronx, are definitely from Dallas. Same with my Uncle Charlie.
Until the Business Insider article put me as being from Arkansas, I had never really pondered where I was from very much. It was easy to describe where I lived, and it often felt self-indulgent to parade around as a Texan, which at some point I got over. But I never felt like I was from Arkansas or Boston.
When I say I’m from Boulder, it feels good.
I spent the day yesterday as Cookie Monster and by the time it got dark I’d had enough of Halloween so Amy and I watched Parkland last night. The reviews were so-so but we both thought it was outstanding. Paul Giamatti was perfect as Abraham Zapruder and I seem to like Billy Bob Thornton better and better as he ages (he’d be one of the two people I’d pick to play my dad Stan in his biography – the other is Alan Arkin).
I grew up in Dallas – I lived there from 1968 to 1983 when I moved to Boston to go to college. I’ve only lived in a few other places – Blytheville, Arkansas from 1965 – 1966, Boston in 1967 and again from 1983 – 1995, and Boulder since 1995. So Dallas looms large over my own personal development.
The Kennedy assassination happened two years before I was born. But once I was old enough to hear about Nixon and Vietnam, I started hearing about how the most loved president ever was murdered in Dallas. I rarely spent any time in downtown Dallas as a kid and never really knew my way around until I started running the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving as a teenager. I still can’t find my way around downtown Dallas even with a GPS, but if you ask me the radio station and TV call letters KRLD and KERA immediately pop into my brain.
Parkland Hospital was one of the hospitals my dad made rounds at. I don’t remember going there with him, although I’m sure I did. I hated being in the hospital – I hated the smells, the lights, the noises, and most of all the sick people. The hustle and bustle. The quiet moments followed by chaos. And I never, ever wanted to touch anything. I didn’t realize I had OCD at the time, but it makes perfect sense to me in hindsight how uncomfortable I was whenever I was on rounds with my dad. I stopped around age 10 – I just told him I didn’t want to do it anymore and that was that.
Watching the movie last night was deeply immersive. The hospital scenes – first of Kennedy, then of Oswald, were extremely uncomfortable for me. It wasn’t sensationalized ER or Grey’s Anatomy tripe – it was intense, real, and very bloody. And hopeless. We knew Kennedy was going to die, but we kept rooting for him and hoping for a miracle. The helplessness, sadness, and hopelessness of the situation oozed through every scene.
The historical moments felt just right. Today, there aren’t as many cowboy hats in Dallas, but when I was a kid everyone wore one. And in the movie, there were plenty of them. Parkland felt dark, industrial, and dingy – just like I remembered hospitals feeling when I was a kid. Lots of turquoise. Anger popped out at unexpected times – sometimes with incredibly velocity. Everyone smoked all the time. And when the sky was blue, it was a bright blue – one that made you want to shade your eyes with your hand.
When I moved to Boston in 1983, I didn’t really connect that Kennedy was loved by Boston and “those hicks in Dallas killed him.” By the time I’d lived in Boston for four years, my identity as being from Dallas – and growing up in Texas – had faded, but there was a period of time the first few years when I was very aware of a tragedy that defined the city for many people who didn’t live there for 20+ years after it happened.
Fifty years later, the day still feels oddly familiar. Dealey Plaza. Jackie Kennedy. The Zapruder film. Lee Harvey Oswald. And Parkland Hospital. All phrases that are associated with the Kennedy Assassination. Powerful.
On May 28th I’m going to swing through Dallas on my way to New York. I’m going to see some of my family, hang out with my cousin Jon Feld and the companies at Jon’s Tech Wildcatters program, and do a Beers with Brad event on Friday night from 6pm to 8pm at Lotus on 2900 McKinney Ave in Dallas. If you are in Dallas on Friday, come drink a beer with me, meet my cousin Jon and Gabriella Draney who runs Tech Wildcatters, and hang out with a bunch of great entrepreneurs.