Harry Stebbings just released a new episode with me on the 20 Minute VC. I love how Harry uses all caps to title the episodes.
I adore Harry. I did an interview with him early on (#65) so it’s particularly fun to do an interview number that is great than this year.
We cover the following topics, among others. Plus, there is a special book giveaway and a few other gems buried in the episode.
1.) How Brad made his way into the world of venture following 40 angel checks and how that led to his co-founding Foundry Group? Why did Brad find the transition from angel to VC in the early days such a challenge? What 2 core things did he focus on when writing angel checks? How has that changed now as a VC?
2.) How did seeing the boom and bust of the dot com impact Brad’s investing mindset today? How does Brad think about investing through market cycles and the right way to think about investment cadence? Why does Brad believe that to be successful as a VC you have to be fundamentally optimistic?
3.) Where does Brad believe we are today in the cycle? Does he agree with Bill Gurley on the biggest challenge being the “oversupply of capital”? What must entrepreneurs understand with regards to market cycle dynamics and how they can and need to future-proof their business?
4.) From analysing his best investments, why has Brad come to the conclusion that TAM in the early days is really not helpful? What are the commonalities in how Brad’s most successful companies approach experimentation?
5.) What does Brad mean when he says, “don’t have fake CEO or fake VC days”? What does he mean when he often says, “run your fucking business”? What in Brad’s mind would constitute a “fake day” vs moving the needle for your business? What does Brad think is the best way for VCs to truly get to know one another? Why is, “hey let’s do a deal together one of the most hollow and fake statements in venture?”
6.) Brad has sat on some of the most meaningful boards of the last 2 decades, what have been Brad’s biggest learnings on what it takes to be a great board member? How does that change with the progression of your career? What advice would Brad give to me, having just gained my first board seat? If the VC does not support the CEO, what is the right process? Why does Brad believe the VC should work for the CEO?
7.) What is Brad’s biggest advice when it comes to learning how to say no? What advice does Brad hear most often that he commonly disagrees with? Why does Brad feel we are in a moment of peak noise in the ecosystem today? To be a great leader, what 2 skills does Brad believe you need to have?
I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Kraus, Sue Heilbronner, and the work they do through MergeLane.
Recently Elizabeth started a platform for the next generation of venture capitalists called Fund81. It includes a podcast, which has both a public section for everyone and a private section for the Fund81 members.
Elizabeth recently interviewed me for Episode 13 where we talked about maintaining mental health in the fast-paced venture capital world while supporting portfolio companies, colleagues, friends, and family wrestling with mental health issues. The public section follows.
Elizabeth and Sue – thanks for everything you and the team at MergeLane do for entrepreneurs and now other VCs.
The interview ended up being two episodes and, while listening to it in the car, I felt like it was one of the better recent interviews that I’ve done. Hadley and I talked for about an hour and then he edited the discussion down into two ten minute podcasts, so he pulled out the good stuff and left all the garbage on the cutting room floor.
Episode 1 includes advice I’d give to a much younger me and discusses why I think it is important to build long-term fund strategies with conviction and consistency.
Episode 2 covers what makes an excellent board member, the biggest reasons startups fail, and the three machines that must work together in order for a company to scale.
It’s 20 minutes on the Boulder Creek Path. We talk about Leadership, Obsession, Battlestar Galactica, Techstars, Privacy, The Wire, and a few other fun things, including whether the machines have taken over (or rather, when they took over.) Enjoy!
In Episode 78: When Did You Start to Listen to Your Heart, I turned the tables on Jerry and interviewed him. We’ve been close friends for 22 years and I felt like it was time someone interviewed him on his podcast. I suggested it to him and his team, who either rolled their eyes or jumped for joy. Either way, it is now up.
I listened to the final version during my run yesterday. I smiled a lot, snickered a little, and grimaced a few times. If you want a taste to entice you to listen, here are a few of the quotes from the show highlights that jumped out at me.
- “What I’m trying to do right now is pull myself into the present and be really real.” – Jerry Colonna
- “I have always given a shit about people.” – Jerry Colonna
- “Things are fucked up all the time like every day, continually. You can either just react to it, or you can deal with it.” – Brad Feld
- “I think that there are two things that I would get excited about as an investor. People and product.” – Jerry Colonna
- “Better humans make better leaders.” – Jerry Colonna
- “I don’t want to spend minutes with people who I don’t feel are good humans.” – Brad Feld
- “Good people do shitty things all the time.” – Jerry Colonna
- “If you’ve got that inquiry process and you remain curious about human beings, you can, with compassion, understand and therefore protect yourself from the bad things that even good people do.” – Jerry Colonna
- “Men at 40 learn to close softly doors to rooms they will not be going back to.” – Jerry Colonna
- “This idea that people are fundamentally willing to work on themselves and that they’re there for each other especially when there’s a struggle.” – Brad Feld
- “When I’m dust and dried up, and I’m dead and whatever, please just keep paying it forward.” – Jerry Colonna
It’s all Jerry for an hour with a little bit of me nudging the discussion along. None of it is scripted. We didn’t discuss anything in advance. Just two guys, who have known each other, worked together, and have had a deep emotional intimacy together – for 22 years – talking about some things that come to mind about what they think matter.
If you are a reader instead of a podcast listener, the transcript for Reboot Podcast 78: When Did You Start to Listen to Your Heart is also available.
In March, YPO and Techstars launched a partnership to support high-growth entrepreneurship and innovation. As a kickoff to that, Techstars co-sponsored YPO Innovation Week.
I did a one hour interview with Kate Rogers from CNBC last Friday. It was a fun interview for me and I felt like we covered a lot of good stuff.
Steve Case kicked off YPO Innovation Week with an interview, also with Kate Rogers. I listened to it in advance of my interview and thought it was extremely well done.
Last month I had dinner at Pizzeria Locale in Boulder and did a long interview with Nick Chirls and Alex Lines of Notation Capital for their podcast. Dinner was about them and as they learned, if you trek out to Boulder, dinner is on me.
Their podcast series is called Origins and is unique among podcasts as they go deep into the formation history of venture funds, especially from an LP perspective. I was their ninth interviewee following some really great ones including Beezer Clarkson (Sapphire), Naval Ravikant (AngelList), Chris Douvos (VIA), Michael Kim (Cendana), and Judith Elsea (Weathergage).
They walked me through multiple origin stories, including how I started making angel investments (1994), the origin of Mobius / Softbank Venture Capital (1996-1997), the origin of Foundry Group (2007), and the creation of Foundry Group Next (2015-2016).
Each quarter Cooley does a VC market update. This quarter they interviewed me as part of it on Quarterly VC Update: Brad Feld on the State of Venture Capital Investing. The full Cooley Q3 report includes a bunch of data and trend graphs which I encourage you to go take a look at. The interview with me follows.
Based on Cooley data for the quarter, how does your experience in the market compare? Similar/different?
The tone of Q3 felt like a continuation of Q2 with summer vacations tossed in. The existential freakout that occurred in January and February seemed like the distant past with the lingering hangover being a clearer focus on valuation and overall funding needs from new investors. While there are a few clear trends in the data, such as lower valuations for Series A through C rounds and more flat rounds, the overall changes from Q2 is not dramatic.
As far as deal terms, is the pendulum favoring companies or investors? Will this continue through the year?
It continues to be highly dependent on company, stage, and location. At the early stages, raising the first $2m tends to be straightforward in most geographies that have meaningful startup communities. At the same time, if you are a clearly successful growth company, there is a huge amount of capital available once you’ve reached a point of clear success (often after $20m – $40m has been raised). The stage in between – what used to be called a Series B or Series C – continues to be extremely hard to raise unless you are clearly on a very rapid growth trajectory.
So – for early stage companies (Pre-Seed, Seed, Series A), the terms tend to be clean and simple, and valuation is in a modest range that probably has a median around $5m. For growth companies (usually Series D or later), there are pretty clear market comparables based on growth rate, revenue, gross margin %, and type of company. For everything in between, good luck and be flexible.
Any current trends that stand out to you that are changes from the 2015 environment?
The word unicorn was used about 1000 times more often in 2015. There is much less focus on a $1 billion private valuation (thankfully) as both entrepreneurs and VCs have again shifted much of their discussion to what needs to be done long-term to build a successful company. There’s a lot less whining about the public markets, although there continues to be many opinions as to whether going public is a good thing along with whether it’s smart or stupid to delay the decision as long as possible. I’ve already forgotten what the trendy things of 2015 were since AI, machine learning, bots, and autonomous cars are all the rage, although it’s almost 2017 so it’s time for something new. M&A activity on one hand seems very lively, although it’s less in everyone’s face. Most importantly from my frame of reference, the amount of activity at the early and seed stage seems to be extremely robust.
How many deals do you expect to make in 2016? Are you a bull or bear?
We make around ten new investments every year. We’ve made seven so far this year and have three more that are in process, so we are right on track. I expect we will make around ten new investments in 2017. Since we are early stage investors, it simply doesn’t matter if we are a short term bull or bear. We are long-term extremely optimistic about the opportunity to invest in and help build important, new, innovative technology companies.
For a couple of years commentators in the market has talked about a “Series B” problem. Do you see evidence of that issue, and if so it is the problem getting larger or smaller?
It’s the same. There is a huge capital supply gap for companies that are in between early startups and companies that are successful growth companies. As a result, the “Series B” problem is simply calling out something that has always been around – it’s tough to get the mid-stages funded. Early is a lot sexier, exciting, and easier – you are selling your future vision. Late-stage is more straightforward to evaluate. Mid-stage is when you are now selling reality and are often too early to show that you will be a large, long term successful business.
What is your advice to a company seeking its first capital?
Yoda was right – do or do not, there is no try. Decide to do it. Then do the work. If you want hints, my partner Jason and I wrote 200 pages of them in our book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer or Your Venture Capitalist* (*unless they are from Cooley…)
Do you see a substantial uptick in private and growth equity in the market?
If so, how does that influence the venture market or your investment strategy? This is mostly impacting the later stages. In 2015, there was a huge influx of hedge fund, crossover, and private equity investors doing late stage rounds. Clearly the moonbeams the unicorns were riding attracted them. This vaporized at the end of the year and in Q1 as the public markets corrected. Private equity investors seemed to shift primarily to acquisitions of these companies rather than investing while large amounts of international capital suddenly showed up. For us, none of this really matters as it tends to be short term in nature driven by a variety of often conflicting forces. We try to keep our heads down and just help finance our companies continuously through all stages.
What other “macro” trends do you see affecting the rest of 2016 and 2017?
Well, there’s this thing called an election which hopefully will be over soon. In addition to creating some certainty about the dynamics in our government going forward, it’ll also result in a decrease of political advertising in all media, which I generally think will enhance my life although some adtech and media companies will be bummed out about it. Beyond that, I have no real clue about the macro.
I attended the 20th Reunion of the Kauffman Fellows on Monday and Tuesday. I’ve recently joined the board of directors and enjoyed spending two days in Kansas City immersed in things with the Kauffman Fellows, a bunch of friends, and a number of LPs and GPs that came to the event.
As part of it, I gave a talk and did Q&A with Lesa Mitchell (now the Managing Director of Techstars Kansas City). We covered a lot of ground around startup communities, investing, government, multi-turn games, and other things I can’t remember anymore. Buried in the middle is a story of my experience with Startup Weekend Tehran and a long rant on transcending geographic borders.
If you are looking for a Saturday morning video to run in the background, enjoy.
I’ve done a number of video interviews lately. This seems to be the norm for a live event today. I start with a short one from when I was in Adelaide, then a longer one from Sydney, and wrap it up with what is one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done – this time in Minneapolis with my partner Seth.