Brad Feld

I read a lot. I try to make sure every third book is mental floss (or – as my mom says, “junk.”) Today’s mental floss was Reckless Abandon by Stuart Woods. As in all Stuart Woods books, it’s a fun, breezy read where Stone Barrington hooks up with someone (this time – Holly Barker – who is the main character in some other Woods’ books) to go after a bad guy with the aid of his connected police / mafiaoso-son-in-law buddy Dino.

Surprise – the good guys win in the end.

Next up – EVA: The Real Key to Creating Wealth by Al Ehrbar. The inverse of mental floss.

Mark Cuban has a new post in his Success and Motivation series. Fun stuff, including good Michael Dell and Bill Gates history.

One of my companies – Return Path – recently released a white paper called Beyond Clicks, Opens & Bounces. This white paper talked about metrics that help marketers understand email performance. This has some obvious parallels to the struggle I’ve been having to determine what my blog stats mean.

We Suck Less

May 27, 2004

I was in an upbeat board meeting yesterday for one of my growing companies that is having a good year. While our business is in good shape, one of the older product lines from one of our partners is struggling. So far our partner’s product line’s sales are down 25% year over year. We have some market intelligence on some of our competitors and their sales for this product line are also down over 20% yoy. In comparison, our sales for this product line are only down 10%.

“We suck less” gleefully chanted one of the executives in the meeting.

I smiled. It’s always pleasant when your stories make the rounds and lives to be a teenager.

In 1992, it was 7:30 AM and I was already having a shitty day. It was a typical early winter morning in Boston – cold, dank, dark rain. I was still drying out from my ride in to my office on the T trying to warm up with a cup of stale coffee wondering why I still lived in Boston. The web wasn’t around yet, so I was reading the Wall Street Journal (which was coming off on my fingers) waiting for my first meeting to start when my phone rang (we had recently installed direct dial at my business).

I picked up. The person calling said, in a not so happy, 7:30 AM cold, dank, dark, Bostonian voice “Can I talk to Mr. Feld?” (I’d made the mistake of naming my first company Feld Technologies – since we had installed direct dial, I had gotten a sudden spate of unwanted phone calls.

“This is he – what can I do for you”, I said in as optimistic a voice as I could muster.

“You guys suck. I’ve been her since 6 AM trying to reindex my files. I’m pissed off, things aren’t working, they never work, and I’m not paying your bill.”

“Um – who’s this”? I asked.

“Mr. Angry,” said the person on the other line. “You’re the fourth computer consulting firm we’ve hired in the last six months and no one can get our stuff to work. I’m sick of paying for this. Computers suck, you suck, your systems suck, and your bills suck.”

Mr. Angry and I were off to a good start. i’d been here plenty of times before (although I preferred to have finished my first cup of coffee before diving into the intellectual stimulation of trying to solve this type of problem.) An hour later, I’d gotten Mr. Angry’s files reindexed, his system running, and his temper cooled. He had gotten to know me well enough to call me Brad, although I was not quite ready to call him Mr. Happy.

“Wow – thanks Brad. That was really helpful. I’ve got to run because people start showing up here at 9 and I’ve got to go put paper in the printers, change all the toner cartridges, and hide the floppy disks so people have to come find me if they need one. Go ahead and send me the bill – I’ll pay it.” (Excellent, another $125 successfully earned…)

I got up and wandered down the hall. Most of the folks in my company had trickled in and were settling into their morning routine. I stretched, let out a big groan, and chortled loudly “Now that sucked!” I paused, smiled, and realized that while it had sucked, we had actually sucked less than the three companies that had messed things up before us.

Inspired – I called a 9 AM company meeting and announced our new motto – “We Suck Less.” I explained to my bewildered team that computer consulting (well – actualy – anything having to do with computers) is difficult, most people suck at it, and we can succeed simply by sucking less than everyone else. This was a lot more palatable, interesting, and achievable then some idealistic and corny mission like “We’ll be the best computer consulting firm on planet earth.” (C’mon – there is no such thing.) Over the next few years, we often set our prospects back on their heals when we told them “Our goal in working with you is to suck less than the last guy that was here” – but after we explained it, had a collective laugh, and re-affirmed that we intended to do our best for them, we often won their business while setting a much more achievable goal and tone.

12 years later it still applies.

One of the segments of the blogsphere that is starting to appear is analytics. I was the initial investor in NetGenesis (now owned by SPSS) and Mobius Venture Capital was an investor in I/Pro and Andromedia (now part of Macromedia) back when we were SOFTBANK Venture Capital.

So – it should be no surprise that I’m fascinated with tools to help with analytics on my site. Simple hit counters – like Site Meter – are pretty useless because of the difference between hits and feeds. I stumbled upon Feedburner a few weeks ago
(May 8th to be exact) and have been watching as my stats build daily. I’ve learned a few interesting things, such as the most popular User Agent (Newsgator – followed closed by SharpReader) and my most popular click-through (On Being the CEO – Henry V and The Cover-up.) However, I couldn’t really figure out what the actual statistics were telling me.

So – I fired off the following message to the Feedburner guys:

I’m trying to understand the actual statistics.
As of today, I have 981 new visitors
Today – May 25 – I have 69 new visitors so far.
Are the 69 new visitors my TOTAL vistors today, or do I have 69 new vistors reading my site (in addition to the other (981 – 69) that were “total new visitors as of yesterday)?

Dick Costolo from Feedburner responded immediately.

Hi Brad,

I’ll forward you an email below that I sent to another publisher with a similar question. It is long and detailed, but should shed some light on what we’re really reporting to you. We are going to be updating the statistics page in the near future to provide significantly more transparency to what you are really seeing, now that we ourselves have a more robust handle on how the feeds are accessed by the multitude of clients.

I hope this helps and doesn’t just make things more confusing…again, we will be updating the stats page to provide much more transparency to these things in the very near future. Please feel free to follow-up with any other questions,

Dick Costolo

I’ll fill you in on the story here, you’re going to get a longer answer than you might have expected. I’m taking the time to write this all out to you myself because I also want to write something up for the FeedBurner blog, so apologies for the length! There are two things going on: a) the rss space is emergent and if you read my recent posts at, you’ll see that there are a huge number of feed readers and aggregators (over 300 different pieces of software that poll us for feeds with some frequency). An issue related to this fact is that some of these readers do not send the appropriate HTTP headers in their requests. Specifically, even if they have already requested the feed once, their future requests do not implement the “If-modified-since” http request. So, our new visitors measures the number of first-time http requests we’ve received for your feed, but depending on how many of your readers are using clients or aggregators that don’t correctly implement “if-modified-since” you may see inflated numbers to some unknown degree. b) You may also see “under reported” numbers of visitors for the following reason: it is considered a sort of courtesy a la the robots.txt file for feed aggregators like Bloglines and to include the number of subscribers that they are polling on behalf of. However, som of the aggregators don’t send us this number.

FINALLY, the short answer to your question is that your total number of visitors is probably something like 2/3 of your hits number. We are going to be doing a big overhaul of the stats pages in the next month or so, and that will give you a much better picture of your visitors numbers, as we will be looking to report directly to publishers the number of “likely” total visitors they have based on a formula of “requests from different ip addresses from well-behaved clients”+”any new request from a well behaved client”+rollup of total subscribers across all aggregators that are polling on behalf of multiple subscribers and not factoring in any new requests from our known list of misbehaving clients.

Clearly we’ve got a long way to go on the analytics front, but it’s encouraging that folks with Dick and his team are already thinking about the issues. This is very similar to the early NetGenesis days – we had lots of data, but didn’t really know how to make sense of it and – as the traffic increased – the quality of our tools and analysis followed.

As I continue to play around with blogs, I’m trying to figure out what is useful stuff to post and what isn’t. My blog is obviously one way for me to publicize what is going on with my portfolio companies. So – I’m created a new category called My Companies and will post press releases when they come out with commentary if appropriate.

Logically, within very short order, all company websites should have RSS feeds in their press release / news sections. This is certainly easy enough to do an is a logical “simple” application of RSS.

Here’s the Finali news.

Finali Corporation, the premium provider of integrated analytics and business transformation services to contact centers, today announced the appointment of Ryan Pellet as the company’s new Vice President of Professional Services.

There have been a raft of Blam (blog spam) posts recently. To date, all the Blam I have seen has been in comment posts. There are lots of different approaches to this, none of them perfect, but they include efforts at IP blacklists, a MovableType blacklist plugin, and a feature in MovableType 3.0 that allows the blog manager to “accept or deny” comments. Simply turning comments off is another solution, but this seems to defeat the purpose of blogs.

I’ve had several people tell me that RSS couldn’t be used to send spam due to the unique reader / RSS feed relationship. I’ve consistently stated that this is wrong – the spammers (blammers) will find a way.

Today they did. I want to commemorate the first instance of true BLAM (not comment BLAM) that I’ve received. Apparently‘s email posting feature was hijacked this morning. I received a dozen typical spams in my RSS feed from The River (via Feedburner, into my Outlook inbox via Newsgator). So – three potential points of failure where the BLAM could have been trapped.

The BLAM was what you’d expect – see the example below.

Did you know That the normal cost for Super Vkiagra is $20, per dose? We are running a hot special!! T0DAY Its only an amazing $3.00 Shipped world wide! DISC0UNT 0RDER:

The apology from The River was nice, but only foreshadowing of worse to come.

Somehow Blogger’s e-mail posting feature on my blog was commandeered by spammers this morning, resulting in a frightening amount of pollution. I feel so… violated.

I’ve deleted the “chopper slut” deluge, but let me apologize profusely to anyone who had to deal with the excessive postings in RSS feeds. Aargh.

Today, one of my companies – Cyanea – a leading developer of software that helps companies effectively monitor and manage distributed and mainframe-based applications, announced that Cyanea/One has completed the BEA Validation Program and is now verified to integrate with BEA WebLogic Platform 8.1.

I’m at SFO waiting to take a red-eye to Dulles. You’d think T-Mobile would make it easy to take my money for wifi access in the airport, but after five minutes of trying to get logged into my account, I’ve given up and will post this tomorrow when I connect from my hotel.

In The Slowing of The Marathon, Dan Ackman discusses how the median male runner in the 1983 NY Marathon clocked a time of 3:41:49 (8:27 / mile) while the median male runner in the 2003 NY Marathon was 4:28:41 (10:25 / mile). Clearly, middle of the pack runners are going slower, although this is clearly attributed to the greatly increased number of people who are taking on the marathon.

John Cianca – the medical director of the HP Houston Marathon, calls this phenomenon “the dumbing-down of the marathon. … though a ten-minute pace arguably is not running at all … In a way, it’s an insult to the distance.”

Even though Cianca appears to be well published, he’s actually an insult to all runners. Having done it a couple of times now, 10 minutes / mile for 26.2 miles is definitely running and is not an insult to anything. Anyone who’s ever finished a marathon, independent of their pace, should be commended.