Tag: Technology

Feb 27 2011

Signal vs. Noise

At the end of each day, I encourage you to reflect on whether you spent your day on “signal” or “noise.” Let me explain.

Recently, I wrote a post titled Managing Priorities. In it I talked about the idea of P1’s. My weeks start on Monday morning so my P1 for the current week (which ends in about 20 hours since I usually get up at 5am on Monday morning) is to get a draft of the new book I’m writing with Jason Mendelson to our publisher (Wiley). That’s it – one P1 for the week. Of course I did a ton of other things last week, including spending two days at Blur doing an HCI brain soak, working on closing a new investment, working on two M&A deals, having a few board meetings, giving a few talks, meeting with a bunch of people, and having a few enjoyable dinners with friends. But every morning when I woke up I thought about my P1 (the book) and every night before I went to bed I thought about whether or not I had made progress on it.

I committed to myself to spend all day Saturday and Sunday on the final edit push. Now that I’m on my second book, I know my limits and know that six hours is the most I can work productively on the book in one day. So yesterday I slept in, did email and my normal Saturday morning info scan, and then settled in for six hours of editing. Every 30 minutes I took a short break – did email, had lunch, took a nap, talked to Amy, and did a 15 minute phone call with another VC who was struggling with an issue in real time. But I got my six hours in and then went out to dinner with Amy and a bunch of friends. Today I’m going to catch up on email until about 11, head to my condo in Boulder, and spend a good solid six hours on the final pass before hitting send on the draft. I’ll reward myself with dinner with some friends, although I have no idea with whom at this point.

So, while I let a little noise drift into my weekend, I’ll have spent the majority of it on signal (my P1).  This morning as I was doing my morning infoscan (Daily Web Sites, Twitter, RSS Feeds) I noticed a ton of stuff that I’d put in the noise category. There were apparently a few debates that blew up yesterday – I’ll use the one around Angellist as an example of noise.

I love Angellist and think it’s a remarkably interesting thing. However, it’s of relatively little direct utility to me – of our 35 investments made from Foundry Group, none have come from Angellist. Regardless, it has had an undeniably huge impact on angel and seed investing in the past few years. At the minimum, it’s interesting to watch the social dynamics of it. Will it impact a new generation of successful entrepreneurs and angel investors or will it result in a big money pit? Who knows – check back in ten years.

However, I saw a bunch of tweets about it (including some hostile ones followed by some conciliatory ones from the same people) linking to a handful of blog posts, comments, and more tweets. After reading a few of them, I’m not actually sure what the debate is actually about. I thought it was about “is Angellist helpful or not”, but it quickly evolved into something else.

As I was pondering this, I saw a tweet from Paul Kedrosky that said “I have had more than a few entrepreneurs complain lately about VCs/angels tweeting/blogging up storms, but ignoring emails.” While I’m not 100% sure Paul was building off of the Angellist noise, I know Paul pretty well and am going to guess that at the minimum it inspired his tweet. And his tweet is on the money – I know plenty of VCs who are making a ton of “content noise” these days but don’t seem to be able to respond to their signal-related emails. And if entrepreneurs think VC to VC email is somehow special, I’m included in that category (there are plenty of emails I’ve sent to my VC friends with specific stuff in them that are never responded to.)

Now, this is not criticism of the Angellist discussion or VCs not responding to emails. Rather, it’s an effort to give an example of noise overwhelming signal. In this case, Angellist is the signal. The discussion around it in the last 48 hours is mostly noise (I’m sure there’s some signal in there, but it’s a lot of work to pull it out, which results in a bad signal to noise ratio.)

In my little corner of the universe, signal matters a lot. I can’t consume signal 100% of the time (or my head would explode) so I let plenty of noise creep in, but I’ve got very effectively tunable noise filters. Anyone involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem should ponder this – I encourage you to focus on amplifying signal, not noise.

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Feb 18 2011

My Increasing Love Affair With Google Apps

At Foundry Group, we have now completely switched to Google Apps. This started in August when I decided to Try Gmail For A Week. Five months later I am ready to declare this experiment a complete success.

As every day passes, I find a new magic happy thing that ties my life together better. Today it was Google rolling out a bookmark importer for Delicious.  Amy and I have been heavy delicious users, although I stopped a while ago when it was uncertain what delicious’ future was. Amy kept asking me what the long term solution was now that we are on Google Apps – it turns out that the answer is “import your Delicious tags into Google Bookmark and keep on going.”

About once a week I’m stymied by something, but the +1 each day nets out to +6 for the week. That’s fine for me – I figure out a work around and usually, voila, as if the $GOOG could read my mind, the thing that didn’t work right or didn’t exist suddenly appears.

Yesterday’s magic was finally connecting up my Youtube account (which was connected to my personal Gmail account) to my Google Apps account. Ahem – it did exactly what I wanted it to and now my Youtube life is smooth and happy again.

And even when I publicly criticize Google, they react amazingly well. A month ago I wrote a post titled Time For Google To Get Serious About Enterprise Tech Support. Within an hour of it going up, I got an email and a call from the head of Google Enterprise support. We talked through the issues, he acknowledged certain weaknesses, talked about what they were doing to improve things, and listened carefully to my very specific feedback on a few things. He connected up with our IT guy (Ross) and they spent some time going through our experiences. Again, he listened to the feedback. And we’ve seen real improvements based on what we told them. Oh, and now that we are through the migration, we almost never need support.

If anyone still doubts Google’s intention in the enterprise, you shouldn’t. Count me impressed.

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Jan 22 2011

The Wave of iPad Purchasing Has Just Begun

It’s fascinating to me when a new product aggressively shifts from early adopters to the mainstream. It should be no surprise that the day the iPad came out a bunch of them appeared at the Foundry Group offices. At the next board meeting I was at, I think every VC had one and was using it in the meeting presumably to view their board package (although I caught at least one checking his email throughout the meeting.) When the Kindle for iPad app appeared, I started toting my iPad around with me everywhere until I kept forgetting to charge it, at which point I went back to my Kindle for reading.

At my birthday on December 1st, I gave everyone that attended (including Amy and my partners) an iPad. I was surprised how much everyone loved them – I know that for some of them it was the jedi master trick of giving your birthday party attendees a gift, but for several, including the non-technologists / non-nerds at dinner, there was real delight with this newfangled device.

I repeated the trick at the Foundry Group holiday party and gave everyone at Foundry Group an iPad. Well, I started out by giving them an iTunes card for $50 which everyone seemed to like, but then went back to the gift well a few moments later for the real gift.

Today, I read that the city of Boulder is mulling iPad purchases for all council members in order to save paper, staff time, and money. A college that I’m familiar with is considering getting an iPad for every board member to go paperless on board packages and other communication. I got an email from an exec (and friend) at a major software company who is rolling out their product on the iPad which should dramatically improve the iPad’s ability to interact with legacy enterprise systems.

At CES, there were 60+ tablets. One was from RIM, the other 59 were built on Android. The only one that impressed me was the RIM tablet – the Android ones all were slick but materially inferior to the iPad. As a result, I made a mental note to myself a few weeks ago that I thought Apple had very clear sailing in front of it for another year, although as with smart phones, there is no question that Google / Android will grind away hard at this market and given the incredible hardware distribution and amazing software talent at Google, will make real inroads.

Microsoft was no where to be seen. Yeah, there was a little chatter and a few demos of Windows on tablets, but if you remember how poorly this has gone the past two times Microsoft tried to put Windows on a tablet, I think you are probably in the same boat that I’m in which is that Microsoft is going to have to take an Xbox or Windows Mobile like approach to their tablets (e.g. completely new software OS stack and UI than “Windows”) if they want to get in the game.

My conclusion – the wave of iPad purchasing has just begun. The iPad 2 is expected soon (maybe this quarter, certainly next quarter) – I think it’s going to be an absolute monster success.

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Jan 4 2011

I Love Starting The Year Off With CES

After a two-fer of deeply annoying arrogance demonstrated by two different VCs on the first business day of 2011 that I’m still pondering (a mix of conflict avoidance behavior and passive aggressive behavior) I’m really looking forward to CES.

Several years ago, my partners and I started going to CES together.  Jason and Ryan had being going for a while.  I’m not a trade show guy although I diligently went to Comdex for several years in the 1990’s as part of Softbank (which owned Comdex at the time.)  Generally, I’m completely overwhelmed by the people and the stuff and the idea of spending a few days in Las Vegas playing trade show monkey makes me tired just thinking about it.

But there’s something deliciously seductive to me about CES.  When combined with an attitude change (rather than fighting the crowds, I just roll with it and pretend like I’m in the ocean, swimming around, not really noticing all the dirt and animals), I’m really enamored with wandering around, looking at, and playing with all the new stuff on display.  Rather than target specific stuff, I just spend two days looking at everything.

It helps that we have two really fun dinners with a bunch of friends (it’s my year to organize – actually, that means Kelly has done all the work – thanks Kelly).  An early morning run, followed by eight hours of walking around playing with technology, followed by three hours hanging out with good friends and colleagues at a great Las Vegas restaurant.  Ok – that’s a good day.

In the past we’ve discovered new investments (such as Cloud Engines) and seen lots of companies we are investors in make good progress (e.g. this year I expect both Sifteo and Orbotix to get a lot of airplay based on what they are announcing.)

I’m heading out a day early for a BigDoor board meeting.  It seems appropriate that we’d kick of our 2011 gamification of the universe with a meeting in Las Vegas.  So make that three great dinners with friends.

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Dec 23 2010

I’m Creating A Platform For Platforms Of Platforms

I nominate “platform” for overused tech word of 2010.  Yeah, I whined about this a few months ago in my post Your Platform Is Not In My Space.

I hear the word “platform” in over 50% of the short pitches I get.  A friend of mine who is working on a new startup that isn’t even funded yet (and he’s grinding on the financing) described his goal of “creating a platform for a-phrase-that-only-73-early-adopters-will-userstand.)  Entrepreneurs everywhere describe the first release of their MVP (“minimum viable product” – for those of you that haven’t intersected with the Lean Startup movement) app as a “platform”.  The first three pages of a google search on “platform” are 33% tech, 33% politics, and 34% other.  At least Google image search is more accurate, for example:LEGO City 4210: Coast Guard Platform - View 4.jpeg

Ahem – give me a fucking break.  Yup – I get it – it’s great to be a platform.  I give you Facebook and Twitter as examples.  But real platforms are few and far between.  And creating “a platform” is not necessarily the right first move for your brand new consumer facing application.  Why don’t you start by being super useful to a bunch of consumers first.

I know I’ve been overusing the word “platform” lately – it’s like a weird brain infection that is hard to diagnose and then eliminate.  I’ve found it – now it’s time to remove it from my vocabulary.

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Dec 19 2010

Just Make It Faster

As a user, how often have you thought “I wish this web service was faster.”  As a CEO, how often have you said “just make it faster.”  Or, more simply, “why is this damn thing so slow?”

This is a not a new question.  I’ve been thinking about this since I first started writing code (APL) when I was 12 (ahem – 33 years ago) on a computer in the basement of a Frito-Lay data center in Dallas.

This morning, as part of my daily information routine, I came across a brilliant article by Carlos Bueno, an engineer at Facebook, titled “The Full Stack, Part 1.”  In it, he starts by defining a “full-stack programmer“:

“A “full-stack programmer” is a generalist, someone who can create a non-trivial application by themselves. People who develop broad skills also tend to develop a good mental model of how different layers of a system behave. This turns out to be especially valuable for performance & optimization work.”

He then dissects a simple SQL query (DELETE FROM some_table WHERE id = 1234;) and gives several quick reasons why performance could vary widely when this query is executed.

It reminded me of a client situation from my first company, Feld Technologies.  We were working on a logistics project with a management consulting firm for one of the largest retail companies in the world.  The folks from the management consulting firm did all the design and analysis; we wrote the code to work with the massive databases that supported this.  This was in the early 1990’s and we were working with Oracle on the PC (not a pretty thing, but required by this project for some reason.)  The database was coming from a mainframe and by PC-standards was enormous (although it would probably be considered tiny today.)

At this point Feld Technologies was about ten people and, while I still wrote some code, I wasn’t doing anything on this particular project other than helping at the management consulting level (e.g. I’d dress up in a suit and go with the management consultants to the client and participate in meetings.)  One of our software engineers wrote all the code.  He did a nice job of synthesizing the requirements, wrestling Oracle for the PC to the ground (on a Novell network), and getting all the PL/SQL stuff working.

We had one big problem.  It took 24 hours to run a single analysis.  Now, there was no real time requirement for this project – we might have gotten away with it if it took eight hours as we could just run them over night.  But it didn’t work for the management consultants or the client to hear “ok – we just pressed go – call us at this time tomorrow and we’ll tell you what happened.”  This was especially painful once we gave the system to the end client whose internal analyst would run the system, wait 24 hours, tell us the analysis didn’t look right, and bitch loudly to his boss who was a senior VP at the retailer and paid our bills.

I recall having a very stressful month.  After a week of this (where we probably got two analyses done because of the time it took to iterate on the changes requested by the client for the app) I decided to spend some time with our engineer who was working on it.  I didn’t know anything about Oracle as I’d never done anything with it as a developer, but I understood relational databases extremely well from my previous work with Btrieve and Dataflex.  And, looking back, I met the definition of a full-stack programmer all the way down to the hardware level (at the time I was the guy in our company that fixed the file servers when they crashed with our friendly neighborhood parity error or Netware device driver fail to load errors.)

Over the course of a few days, we managed to cut the run time down to under ten minutes.  My partner Dave Jilk, also a full-stack programmer (and a much better one than me), helped immensely as he completely grokked relational database theory.  When all was said and done, a faster hard drive, more memory, a few indexes that were missing, restructuring of several of the SELECT statements buried deep in the application, and a minor restructure of the database was all that was required to boost the performance by 100x.

When I reflect on all of this, I realize how important it is to have a few full-stack programmers on the team.  Sometimes it’s the CTO, sometimes it the VP of Engineering, sometimes it’s just someone in the guts of the engineering organization.  When I think of the companies I’ve worked with recently that are dealing with massive scale and have to be obsessed with performance, such as Zynga, Gist, Cloud Engines, and SendGrid I can identify the person early in the life of the company that played the key role. And, when I think of companies that did magic stuff like Postini and FeedBurner at massive scale, I know exactly who that full system programmer was.

If you are a CEO of a startup, do you know who the full-stack programmer on your team is?

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Oct 18 2010

Brad Feld’s Amazing Deals

I’m officially in the daily deal business. Check out my new “Brad Feld’s Amazing Deals” store and shop online for some outdoor gear from Giantnerd.com.

Rather than simply observe new things, I like to use them.  I’ve been keeping an eye on the daily deal phenomenon and have had an opportunity to explore it in more detail mentoring Deal Co-op, a TechStars Seattle team. Deal Co-op is in the program via Alabama and has been running a profitable online deal company for the last three years. During one of our weekly mentoring meetings, they told me they could turn anyone with good business contacts and an online audience into their own Groupon. They asked me if I knew anyone that fit the bill, and I told them I did… me!

Deal Co-op thinks that daily deal marketing is best served at local levels, with more targeted distribution. I’m interested to see if they are right. My first deal features $50 in credit from Giantnerd.com for $25. Giantnerd is a Boulder based company that specializes in “Social Shopping” for outdoor apparel and gear. You can shop online at Giantnerd.com, so anyone reading this blog can taking advantage of the offer.

I’ll have more offers coming up soon, so sign up for the email alert list, and keep an eye out for more Amazing Deals.

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Oct 1 2010

New Email Newsletter on Work-Life Balance

While at the amazing Tahoe Tech Talk, I heard Dave Morin mention a new service called Letter.ly.  It’s a great example of brilliance through its simplicity.

In my never ending quest to use all the things I find interesting, I’ve started an email newsletter called Feld On Work-Life Balance.  While I periodically post on Work-Life Balance, Amy and I are working on a book called The Startup Marriage.  There is also a chapter on Work-Life Balance in the book David Cohen and I just wrote called Do More Faster.  This is a topic that’s long been important and interesting to me, especially as I travel around explaining to my completely unbalanced friends how they are actually balanced and they just don’t realize it yet.

In the mean time, I’ll do some longer pieces on my Feld On Work-Life Balance email newsletter.  It’ll also help me better understand yet another vector of media (in this case microsubscriptions) that I think is going to be increasing interesting and important in the future.

BTW – if you missed the Tahoe Tech Talk, we are about 66.7% of the way done and it has been unbelievable.  The talks have been from Chris Sacca, Ben Kaufman, Dave Morin, Travis Kalanick, Kevin Rose, Dave McClure, and Alexia Tsotsis.  Gary Vaynerchuk who organized it is up on stage doing his piece now talking about his goal of trying to humanize a conference. He’s also trying to say “Fuck” more times than McClure did.  Great crowd – powerful stuff – well worth the 36 hours.

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Sep 26 2010

Gmail Has Won Me Over

About a month ago I wrote a post titled Trying Gmail For A Week.  I haven’t thought about Outlook, Entourage, or Mac Mail for a month and I don’t think I’m ever going back.  It took about a week to rewire my brain for how conversations worked and what the keyboard shortcuts were, but not that I’m there it’s just awesome.

A few weeks ago Fred Wilson wrote a post titled Inbox Zero.  In it he mentioned two Gmail services he found indispensable – Priority Inbox (from Google) and Unsubscribe.com (from James Siminoff who created Phonetag, another great service.)  I agree with Fred on both of these, but have discovered a few extra things that are killer.  I’ll list them below and for balance talk about a few shortcomings.

Priority Inbox: I’ve seen numerous tweets and blogs about how Priority Inbox doesn’t really do much.  These are wrong / misinformed reactions.  The trick to Priority Inbox, like many other things, is to actually use it for a few weeks.  Part of using it is training it by quickly marking things up to “important” (by clicking +) or down to “everything else” (by clicking -).  A small configuration change can make Starred emails (for quick follow up) a different category.  I found that it only took about three days of this before I saw benefit and now (a month later) Priority Inbox gets it right 99 out of 100 times.  I get over 500 emails a day – there is a long list of them that fall in “Everything Else”.  I used to have to check / clear email obsessively throughout the day to stay at Inbox Zero.  With Priority Inbox I’m finding solid email stretches a couple of times during the day are more than enough for me to stay on top of everything.

Unsubscribe.com: Like many people, I’m stuck in the endless “unsubscribe from email lists” infinite loop.  I get vigilant for a few days and do the annoying unsubscribe drill one by one and knock a few off the list, but within a few weeks I’ve got even more.  I’ve never seemed to be able to eliminate all the stuff I don’t want, especially around an election when it all escalates like crazy.  With Unsubscribe.com, I simply click the Unsubscribe button in Gmail and the service gets rid of it.  Don’t bother with the trial – trust me and just pay $19 for the service for a year if endless mailing list email that you don’t want is a problem for you.

Google Voice: I’ve had a Google Voice for a long time but I never fully switched over to it.  The Google Voice integration with Gmail has tipped me over.  I’ve been dreaming about getting rid of my desktop phone for a while – I now find myself almost exclusively doing every call from my computer except when I’m not online (where I have to use my cell phone.)  More importantly, video chat and text chat is completely integrated within Gmail so from one screen I have email, my phone (inbound and outbound calling) Skype-equivalent video chat, and text chat.  While I still use Skype extensively (I’m bradfeld) I find I’m using it much less as I end up using brad.feld@gmail.com instead.

Gist: I’m an investor in Gist and use it for my unified contact manager.  Google Contacts is ok, but has a long way to go.  But Gist integration with Gmail at a data level is superb.  I’m still using Gmail’s consumer service so the integration is primarily at a data level, but I’m now playing around with a full switch over to Google Apps and the Gist + Google Apps integration (via the Google Apps Marketplace) just rocks.  In addition, there’s a new browser-based Gist add-on coming out shortly (hint hint) that will provide direct integration into the consumer version of Gmail.

GooTasks: Since I am an Inbox Zero guy, I don’t keep anything (including paper), but I do have a short task lists of things like blog posts I’m going to write.  I went through an Evernote phase recently but it’s overkill for me.  Google Tasks is perfect, but I didn’t have an obvious way to sync with my iPhone.  Now I do.

There are a handful of annoying things.  The biggest one is that I have multiple accounts on Google (brad.feld@gmail.com as well as brad@feld.com) and they aren’t tightly integrated across all services.  The other is the weak / inconsistent iPhone integration which keeps pushing me toward using an Android phone full time (I’m now carrying both an Android phone and an iPhone.)  My dad’s recent story on the Samsung Fascinate has me seriously considering a full time switch over to Android.

My “while I’m working” migration from a full Windows / Outlook / Exchange / Office world to an almost completely non-Microsoft world has been fascinating.  I’m in Seattle next week including a 24 hour stretch at Microsoft for some stuff – maybe it’ll come up and be an interesting discussion that my friends at Microsoft can learn from.  In the mean time, I think the next big switch will be an organization one completely over to a Google Apps infrastructure.

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Sep 6 2010

My Quest For The Perfect Smartphone

Now that my Apple and Google experiments have been huge successes, I thought I’d try an Android phone one more time.  I like my iPhone 4, but it’s pretty weak with all the Google apps.  Specifically, I badly want better contact integration, clean email sync, and Google voice.  Plus, AT&T still blows in Boulder.

Any suggestions out there for the “best Android out there today.”  I was using a Sprint EVO for a while (and liked it a lot) until it was stolen by my assistant Kelly.  So, I open to any choice – suggest away.

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