Tag: Foundry Group
Foundry Group has now been around for over seven years and I’ve been working with my partners for 14 years. We’ve started to develop some traditions.
One of my favorites is exit gifts. When a company has an exit that generates a return for us, we give a gift to the partner who served on the board. These gifts are generally tuned to what the partner loves such as musical stuff for Ryan and Jason, bike stuff for Seth, and art for me. They are modest, but very thoughtful and something the partner wouldn’t have just gone out and done for himself. They are often self referential, such as the Makerbot sculpture of me created by an artist and printed on a Makerbot after Stratasys acquired MakerBot.
A few weeks ago Seth, Jason, and Ryan corralled me in our small conference room. Whenever they do this, I’m never sure if it’s going to be a happy thing or an intervention. Ryan was holding the following 2′ x 3′ framed print.
To get a better sense of this masterpiece, let’s zoom in on the G and the N.
This is a list of every tweet I made at @bfeld from the day of our investment in Gnip to the day that Twitter acquired Gnip. This first one is from 2/29/08.
The last batch is from 4/14.
Ryan told me that Gnip was used to generate the tweet list for the poster. And Postertext was used to print it. Thanks guys – this one made me smile a huge smile. I love this tradition.
There is a moment during the exploration of a new relationship where a switch flips and the answer is “I want to do this.”
With Mattermark, I remember the moment clearly – I was at The Kitchen in Boulder with the founders (Danielle Morrill, Kevin Morrill, and Andy Sparks) and my partner Seth. I had just put a garlic french fry in my mouth (if you’ve never had them at The Kitchen, they are epic) and looked over at Seth. He looked at me and gave me that “yeah – we should do this” look. And that was it.
As an investor for the past 20 years, I’ve had this happen many times. When I first started investing as an angel investor in 1994, I was focused on a very simple set of criteria. First, did I care about / have affinity for the product? Next, were the entrepreneurs obsessed about their product? Last, did I want to be a long term partner with the entrepreneurs?
With a slight diversion in the late 1990’s when everyone (including me) lost their mind for a few years, I’ve held to this algorithm for all my investing. If you look at the boards I’m on, including companies like Fitbit, FullContact, Oblong, Orbotix, littleBits, Yesware, and Return Path, this pattern should be pretty clear. And if you ponder how I originally got involved in Techstars, and how my role has evolved, those three criteria loom large.
I’ve been interested in private company data since I started Feld Technologies in 1987. Well before the web existed, I was physically tearing articles out of industry magazines and sending them to customers, prospects, other entrepreneurs, and my partner Dave, who probably got tired of the stack of paper with notes scribbled on them that landed on his desk each day. I’ve been through multiple iterations of competitive databases, endless applications for trying to keep track of companies I’m either an investor in or compete with, and every different type of alerting system you could imagine.
During the first decade of my experience with this, I couldn’t afford to subscribe to anything. Every now and then I’d get a free trial and realize how shitty the underlying data was. For the past almost 20 years, I’ve been able to afford the subscriptions, but the data is still shitty. There have been several efforts to crowdsource this kind of data, or make it publicly available, but none have resulted in anything magnificent.
So, regarding the question of “do I care about / have affinity for the product of Mattermark”, the answer was a strong, unambiguous yes. I know how hard the problem is, how wide open the opportunity is, how far it will scale in multiple directions (not just the data set, but the use case, target market, and ultimate product family.) My affinity in this case borders on obsession, just like it does with the Contact Management problem.
Now, let’s shift to #2: “Are the entrepreneurs obsessed about their product?” If you know Danielle, Kevin, and Andy, you know the answer is yes. But there’s nothing quite like experiencing it. Over the past year, as I’ve gotten to know Danielle, I’ve seen her obsession and focus, not just on the short term Mattermark product, but on the long game she and the team is playing. During dinner at The Kitchen, which was the first time we were face to face since we’d met at the beginning of the year, and the first time I’d interacted with Kevin and Andy, all I had to do was sit there, prompt every now and then, and I got another layer of product vision. Obsession. Endless intellectual exploration of where this could go. When I challenged ideas, there was no defensiveness, just more exploration. When I suggested things, there wasn’t blanket approval or rejection, but rather a socratic inquiry as Danielle, Kevin, and Andy tried to understand what I was suggesting. I watched Seth do his thing and the gang continue to engage the same way. At some point, Seth and I had the look I referred to at the beginning of this post.
I’ve always been impulsive about #3: “Do I want to be long term partners with the entrepreneurs?” For the first decade of my investing experience, I made a lot of mistakes on this dimension. Howard Diamond, a close friend and entrepreneur I’ve worked with since 1996 (now the CEO of MobileDay), regularly criticized me as been too trusting, too willing to see the good in people, and too patient with people. This kicked me in the ass very, very hard between 2001 and 2004. While it didn’t make me cynical, I calibrated my filters as I slogged through three more very long years between 2004 and 2007. I like to believe that I brought a new frame of reference around this to Foundry Group, informed by Howard’s constructive criticism, feedback from lots of other friends, learning from my mistakes, and all the long-term positive relationships that I now had as a frame of reference.
I also have a lot of people in my world who know me well, know what I like, and know who I will work well with. This includes a small set of VCs, such as Jon Callaghan at True Ventures and Greg Gottesman at Madrona who know me so well that they only approach me with companies and founders they know I will love. But mostly I use the many CEOs and entrepreneurs I have developed a long-term relationship with to help me calibrate what Amy likes to refer to as my “poor impulse control”, sort of like Raven’s from Snow Crash.
The combination of my own experience and feedback from my universe – both good and bad – made it clear that I wanted to be long term partners with Danielle and team. Recognize that I’m not looking for unambiguously good feedback – we are all flawed in different ways, make mistakes, and have endless and enormous opportunities to learn. An understanding and appreciation of that by the entrepreneurs I work with is deeply important to me.
Back to dinner. Seth eventually had to leave and we kept at it for a while. Driving home, I rolled around what was left in my mind as questions and concerns I had about making an investment. When I got home 20 minutes later, I had none. When we got together the next morning for more discussion, it was easy to look forward and pretend I was already an investor, which felt good. At some point, we shifted to a mode where I asked Danielle, Kevin, and Andy what they wanted, expected, and demanded from an investor. I let them ask me whatever they wanted for a while. But by this point I was all in, as long as they wanted to work with me.
Sure, we did some more up front work and some formal legal diligence, but in that moment at The Kitchen, Seth and I knew that we wanted to be investors in Mattermark.
And that was that. Last week we led a $6.5 million round in Mattermark. I’m delighted to finally be an investor in a problem I’ve been obsessed about for 20 years. We are at the beginning of the journey – check back in a decade from now to see whether or not we are successful. But, regardless, this is a team I hope to work with for the rest of my investing career.
If you’ve been following along at home, you know that we recently created an AngelList Syndicate called FG Angels. Our goal is to make 50 investments through AngelList before the end of 2014. We’ll contribute $50k to each investment; our FG Angels Syndicate will contribute up to $450k.
Shortly after doing our first few investments, I got a really nice email from a member of Impact Angel Group, a Colorado-based angel group that organized an investment in the FG Angels syndicate. It shows a second order effect of what we are trying to accomplish with FG Angels. I thought it was worth sharing.
I just wanted to say thank you for all of your work in breaking through the red tape to put together FG Angels. I believe all of our committed members have completed their investments as individuals and we have made our first investment through the LLC we put together.
We really appreciate the time you spent to answer our questions and work through the details. I thought it might be helpful for you to see the positive impact you are making for our small group, which I’m sure can be multiplied a hundred times over. As you all know, herding angels and getting new angels to actually pull the trigger is not an easy task. FG Angels has helped us address all of our major angel-herding challenges through the following:
- FG Angels increased the amount of capital our group has committed since our official founding in 8/13 by 103% which will certainly help us with deal flow, member acquisition etc.
- 18 of our 37 angels pledged to participate and 14 are actually participating. Our members have a variety of different backgrounds and interests, so this is the largest participation rate for one deal that we’ve seen to date.
- 15 of the 18 had never visited AngelList prior to researching FG Angels.
- 6 of the 18 who pledged and 4 of the 18 who participated are never-ever angels.
- 7 of the 18 are making their first investment as Impact Angel Group members.
- 2 angels are considering creating their own AngelList syndicate as a result of their experience.
- We created an LLC of 145k to allow some of our newer angels to participate at smaller amounts. 1% of the carry will go to the Entrepreneur’s Foundation of Colorado. 1% of the carry will go back to us to help us support angel investing in Colorado.
- I learned an incredible amount about SEC regulations, crowdfunding and the logistics of AngelList.
A few weeks ago we had a summit for the women execs in our portfolio. About 40 women attended. Overall we identified about 70 women in our portfolio in leadership positions, which I estimate is about 15% of the exec positions in our portfolio.
The event was organized by three of the women – Joanne Lord (until recently CMO at BigDoor, now at Porch), Nicole Glaros (Techstars Boulder Managing Director), and Terry Morreale (NCWIT Associate Director). Like many of our internal summits, the agenda was organically developed and the event was a lightly structured, high engagement day. It was an all female event until 4pm, when I joined for a 75 minute fireside chat followed by a nice dinner at Pizzeria Locale.
This morning I’m heading over the NCWIT annual employee retreat and participating in the first session, which is a retrospective on the past year and current state of NCWIT. I’ve been chair of NCWIT for nine years and am amazed and what Lucy Sanders and the organization has achieved. Personally, I’ve learned an incredible amount about the issues surrounding women in technology and have a handle on what I think are root causes of the challenges as well as long term solutions.
Last night I gave a talk at Galvanize on failure for Startup Summer, one of the Startup Colorado programs. About 10% of the people in the room were women. After almost 90 minutes of talk and Q&A, the last question was an awesome one about the women in the room and what we could do to encourage more engagement by and with women in the startup scene.
About a year ago, we realized that none of our active companies had a female CEO. Today, three of the 58 do: Moz (Sarah Bird), littleBits (Ayah Bdeir), and Nix Hydra (Lina Chen). If you are looking for a percentage on that, it’s 5%.
5%, 10%, and 15% are low numbers. But at least we are looking at them, measuring them, talking about gender dynamics in tech, and taking action around it.
Every year or so my partners and I at Foundry Group create a new company, or start a new project, that we believe had the potential to change the way something works in our world, while simultaneously helping the entrepreneurs we work with, and the entrepreneurs we aspire to work with.
For example, in 2006, we co-founded Techstars. At the time David Cohen, the co-founder and CEO, was unhappy with how angel investing worked. He was dissatisfied with his experience and had a hypothesis around helping a group of companies get going, surrounding them with active mentors, and accelerating their early growth. The Techstars Boulder 2007 program was an experiment – we had no idea if it would work. Looking back seven years later, I’m immensely proud and satisfied with the impact Techstars has had on the world of entrepreneurship, especially at the early stages of company creation, and look forward to our goal over the next seven years of building the most powerful and connected early stage startup network in the world.
Our 2014 project is FG Press.
I wrote my first book, Do More Faster, with David Cohen in 2010. We worked with our publisher Wiley, who took a chance on us. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and it was really fucking hard. I remember sitting at my kitchen table in Homer, Alaska in July 2010 at 2am almost crying with frustration. I was just grinding through the last bit of it and the tedium of the process was overwhelming. I kept thinking “there has to be a better way” even back then, but there was something magical about holding the book in my hands in October 2010 when it came out.
In 2011, when my partner Jason Mendelson and I wrote my second back, Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist, I had figured out the writing drill, but I was still baffled by the publishing process. It was painful and tedious, and there were many steps along the way that made no sense. But I kept writing and learning.
In 2012 I thought hard about self-publishing everything I did going forward, but I didn’t feel like I completely grokked the publishing business yet. Venture Deals was a very successful book and Wiley increased their focus and attention on me. I had an expectation that somehow things would be different, better, more impactful, and more aligned, especially around process, promotion, and economics. So I decided to do four more books, which make up the Startup Revolution series, including the most recent one – Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors (the third in the series) – which just came out. Along the way, my long time friend Matt Blumberg (CEO of Return Path) decided to write a book so we added it on to the Startup Revolution series, resulting in Startup CEO: A Field Guide To Scaling Up Your Business.
There’s a lot more history, which I’ll cover in later posts, but all of this led to a place in fall of 2013 where my partners and I at Foundry Group started having a discussion about doing something different around the book publishing industry. We all are extensive readers and believe the long-form book is something that is very valuable, especially ones like Venture Deals that we believe will have at least a 20 year relevance, assuming we continue to update it. We also think it should be easier for more people to write and produce high quality, useful long-form books. While we think the entire process and engagement model is completely broken, that leads us to the punchline of the thing that is really wrong.
The relationship between the reader and the author has an immense amount of friction in it. And that friction comes from the publisher. It’s not just that the economics are wrong (why should the economic split between publisher and author be – on average – 85% to the publisher and 15% to the author?) but that the publisher sits in between the author and the reader. Sure – industrious writers can build direct relationships with their readers around their publisher – which is what happens today, but that’s silly. Shouldn’t the publisher be in the business of helping facilitate these relationships in addition to theoretically curating and producing the content?
We spent a morning together one day talking about this stuff. We came up with a very long list of issues, like the ones above, and then put the key question on the table: “What should we do about this.” My response was “let’s start our own publishing company.” Hence FG Press.
As with all new ideas, we started looking for patterns in things in the world that we liked. If you are familiar with McSweeney’s, O’Reilly, or Granta, then you understand where our brains were going and some of the companies that inspire us. Ultimately, we realized that the optimal model for what we were doing was Techstars, specifically the Techstars of 2006.
If you are a fan of analogies, Techstars is to “angel investing before Techstars” as FG Press is to “traditional publishing.” We are running an experiment in the first year. The experiment involves anyone who wants to participate. We expect to learn a lot and iterate very rapidly on what we are doing. And we plan to share out ideas widely, as a way of open-sourcing our learning, engaging with other people working on similar problems, while taking an author and reader-centric point of view, in the same way that Techstars took an entrepreneur and mentor-centric point of view.
Like Techstars, this is a new entity. It has a full time co-founder/CEO (Dane McDonald), just like Techstars was co-founded and run by David Cohen. It’s a self-funded entity, just like Techstars was for the first two years. Our goal is that it’s deeply complementary and integrated into everything we do and our point of view about the world of entrepreneurship, as Techstars is.
Will make mistakes. We’ll learn a lot. We’ll have fun. We hope you’ll come along for the journey with us. If you want to get a feel for one of the characters from our first book, just follow Mara Winkel on Twitter. And we’ll take Bitcoin, once we get the damn software working right.
While I have nothing against receptionists, I’ve always felt like it was a thankless job that should be able to easily be replaced by the machines. Many of the people I know who are receptionists spend their time doing lots of other things and I’ve always felt like it would dramatically improve their life if they could focus on all the other things, rather than split their attention between those and being a receptionist.
We’ve never had a dedicated receptionist at Foundry Group but our office was oriented so the people “in the line of fire” were constantly interrupted whenever someone came in the office. So, we asked a local startup, TextUs.Biz to solve this problem for us. They came up with an iPad app called “Receptionist” which freed up anyone from having to pay specific attention to the front door. As a result, we redesigned the entrance to our office with “Receptionist” front and center, a new lobby, and a Mezzanine room.
The team at TextUs.Biz hasn’t slowed down. They have taken the idea to market and recently launched TextUs.Biz Receptionist for the public (it’s available in iTunes now.) The functionality and feature set of the app are intuitive. Visitors can ping who they are here to see and can directly interact with the person or their assistant. It also has some fun tricks like taking a picture of the visitor and storing it automatically in the visitor log for future reference.
We like the gang at TextUs.Biz – they did great work for us. The machines have taken over the world anyway, so why not let them help check people in? Check it out the app here and their AngelList profile here.
Time for a new Foundry Group video. If you want the backstory, go take a look at the post Foundry Group Announces Major Shift In Investment Strategy. If you just want a break from reality and hopefully a few laughs in the process, enjoy.
The video has over 100 easter eggs referring to either portfolio companies of ours or other things in our lives. Some are obvious (like the tshirts), some are very obscure. If you find one, list it in the comments. The best, most obscure one will win a special treat.
The lyrics follow.
Man, things are so hard these days
Tell me about it. I wish we could go back to when things just worked
You know, those old guys don’t know lucky they had it with all their technology 30 and 40 years ago
Y’all, you straight. Let me drop a story on you
I’m king of email, I craft a witty header
Anywhere, any time, life is so much better
Ninety unread emails. Inbox zero, hashtag #FAIL!
Life was better when we licked and stamped our letters
Gonna hit a new club with my favorite homie
Got GPS Satellites watchin’ over me
They got me to the spot, but they were off a block
Life was better when we trusted Rand McNally
Took 28 pictures of my gourmet dinner
I want to post them for all the world to honor
I shared on Instagram. No likes, I got no fans
My life was better with photos made of paper
I need a fact so I do a search on Google
All these results man, are giving me an eyeful
I see Viagra ads, That shit’s for older dads
My life was better using Dewey Decimal
Chorus: These are the worst of times (repeat)
So many videos, I could waste away my years
I’m rockin’ Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake has me in tears
Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, I got no time for you
Life was better with my TV and rabbit ears
Check out my new phone. Global connectivity
3G, 4G, I even got my LTE
So then I phoned my pop But still the damn call dropped
Life was better with faxes and a rotary
I found a website. Amazon, they sell it all!
Silk boxers, gouda cheese, they even got robotic balls
Addicted to “One Click.” Right to my house they ship
Y’all life was better fighting traffic at the shopping mall
I got my choice of every album ever made
iTunes, Spotify, anywhere I want it played
I just can’t choose between, Iron Maiden, Beiber, Sting
Life was better with my vinyl and mix tapes
Chorus: These are the worst of times (repeat)
This morning my partners at Foundry Group and I announced that we are going to make 50 seed investments of $50,000 each on AngelList between now and the end of 2014. We’ll be doing this via AngelList’s new Syndicate approach through an entity called FG Angel where we will create a syndicate of up to $500,000, allowing others to invest $450,000 alongside anything we do. For now, we are using my AngelList account (bfeld) which I’ve renamed Brad Feld (FG Angel). We are working with Naval and team at AngelList to get this set up correctly so that a firm (e.g. Foundry Group) can create the syndicate in the future, at which point we’ll move the activity over to there.
For years, we have had people ask if they can invest alongside us at Foundry Group at the seed level. We’ve never had an entrepreneurs fund, or a side fund, so we’ve encouraged people to invest in Techstars and other seed funds that we are investors in. As of today, we have a new way for people to invest alongside of us – via AngelList’s syndicate. The minimum investment is $1,000 per deal, so if you make a $1,000 commitment to our syndicate, you are committing to investing $50,000 alongside of us between now and the end of 2014 in the best seed investments we can find on AngelList. Simply go to Brad Feld (FG Angels) and click the big blue “Back” button. Special bonus hugs to anyone who backs FG Angels today (as I write this, the first backer has come in – from Paul Sethi – thanks Paul – awesome to be investing with you.)
This is an experiment. If you know us, we love to experiment with stuff, rather than theorize about things. We are huge believes in seed and early stage investing and through a variety of vehicles, including Techstars and our personal investments in other early stage VC funds, have well over 1,000 seed investments that are active. This has created an incredible network that adds to our Foundry Group portfolio. With FG Angel, we are taking this to another level as we begin a set of activities to amplify this network dramatically.
So there is no ambiguity, the investments come from our Foundry Group fund. All economics, including the syndicate carry, go to our fund. We are calling this FG Angel because we are approaching this the same way we do with any angel investment. I’ve written extensively about my own angel investing strategy in the past – you’ll see this reflected in what we are doing here. Over the years my angel strategy has been very successful financially and our goal with FG Angel mirrors that.
We expect we’ll learn a lot about this between now and the end of the year. When we learn, we’ll share what we learn. We believe deeply that the best way to learn about new stuff is to participate. So – off we go. We hope you join us – both in the syndicate and the ensuing network.
Today, my partners at Foundry Group and I are contributing $100,000 to the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) to help with the Boulder Flood Relief Effort. This is our second gift to the EFCO – we previously contributed a portion of our carry across all of our funds.
The floods in Boulder and the surrounding area the past week have been devastating. I went for a run last night around town just to get a feel for things – the water is still at dangerously high and fast levels in Boulder Creek and the damage near the creek in downtown is visible. I smelled smells that I’ve never smelled in Boulder before and saw water in places it simply didn’t belong.
But downtown Boulder is quickly getting back to normal. That’s not the problem. If you’ve ever been to Boulder, you know we are surrounded by incredible mountains. It’s part of the magic of the place, but also part of the challenge. A friend told me recently, “think of the mountains as giant slanted roofs and Boulder as the basement of the house.”
There are two natural forces here that can be massively destructive. The first, which have made the news the past few years, are wildfires. Amy and I have endured these for the past 17 years – we’ve been evacuated from our house twice, once for three days during my brother’s wedding. The massive Lefthand Canyon Fire destroyed a huge neighborhood. Awful, terrifying stuff.
But that just set us up for what looks like the real disaster. The entire mountain area around Boulder is wrecked. Roads are destroyed. Towns in the “basement” – including Lyons – are literally wiped off the map. Major parts of Longmont are now submerged. The water ran downhill, destroying everything in its path as gravity did it’s magic, and then just sat at the bottom wherever it ended up.
My partners and I are lucky. None of our lost our houses. We all have roofs over our heads. And we have plenty of resources.
But many of our friends and neighbors were not so lucky. The stories are endless – the friend who lost her house and has no place to live. Another friend who made a mad dash off the mountain with his family and has no idea what the status of his home is. The entrepreneur who worked out of his basement, which is now a swimming pool. The business owner who’s office is now cut in half – and destroyed – by a mudslide. The tech leader who recently had a major back injury, just got out of the hospital, and had to evacuate his house. The people stuck up in the mountains who can’t get out. And the people stuck down in the foothills that also can’t get out.
The magnitude of this hit me yesterday afternoon when I heard estimates of $100m – $150m to fix the “infrastructure damage.” I have no idea what that really means, but for a region of a couple of hundred thousand people, knowing the range is low, and it’s only “infrastructure”, this is going to be a long, hard mess to dig out of.
I’ve always felt a strong responsibility to the community I call home. Boulder has been and continues to be very good to me. And it’s my responsibility, especially in times like this, to be good back. This is not the only financial support we’ll be giving to the Boulder Flood Relief Effort. In addition, we’ll give plenty of functional support. But it’s a step – and one we hope can have direct impact.
My partners and I encourage every entrepreneur in the area who has had a meaningful financial success to consider giving something through EFCO to the Boulder Flood Relief Effort. If you are an entrepreneur who hasn’t yet had a financial success, consider joining EFCO and contributing 1% of the equity in your company today, to help build the endowment for the future. And, if you are a venture capitalist or an angel investor in – or with investments in – the Boulder area, please consider joining EFCO and contributing directly to the relief effort today. Just email me and I’ll get you connected.
Finally, if you are a reader and part of the Feld Thoughts community and you want to help out, please contribute directly to the Foothills Flood Relief Fund. We greatly appreciate any support you can give.
Sean Wise, a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, has an awesome web interview series called The Naked Entrepreneur Show. Sean is the interviewer for a 45 minute studio show that is entirely produced by students at Ryerson.
When I was in Toronto in the fall, I did an episode with him – it’s definitely in the top 10 of the interviews I’ve done.
David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars, also did an interview on The Naked Entrepreneur.
Enjoy. And it’s going to be fun to see what happens with the SEO on this.