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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Mentors 5/18: Listen Too

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As I’m about to head down to Austin for Techstars FounderCon (the annual meeting of all Techstars founders), I figured I crank out a few more Mentor Manifesto items this week.

Item 5 is “Listen Too.”

Pause and ponder for a minute.

Do you talk too much? I do – it’s one of my weaknesses. I often try to make my point by giving examples and telling stories. I’m not afraid to be wrong so often I’ll toss out and idea and talk through it. I don’t go so far as to “think out loud” like some people I work with, but I regularly find myself talking too much and have to consciously ratchet it back to listen.

There’s an old Irish proverb “God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we ought to listen twice as much as we speak” that is useful to consider in the context of being a mentor. My friend Matt Blumberg reminds me of this regularly and any great salesman knows that the ability to listen is a very powerful sales tool.

In a mentoring situation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of asking a bunch of questions (being socratic) but then immediately give an answer. While some people are excellent at listening to the answers, many people don’t listen carefully, as they are already starting to think about the next question. This is especially true when the answer is vague or fuzzy, as it’s easier to move on to the next question rather than to use something like the 5 Whys to get to the root cause of the answer.

The next time you ask a question, empty your mind after the question and listen to the answer. Look the person you are talking to directly in the eyes and concentrate on what they are saying. Don’t feel an urgency to move on to the next question, or even to respond. Just listen – and let them talk. When silence eventually comes, let a little space happen before you go on to the next question.

Now, don’t be non-emotive. Make sure the person sees you listening. Give them whatever clues you can from your body language. Nod your head. React appropriately if they generate some emotion. Encourage them to “go on” if they stall out in the middle of what they are saying.

But listen. Really listen. And make sure you are hearing what they are actually saying.

Being Adult In A Relationship

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I was with my close friend Jerry Colonna for dinner last week. We sat outside at the Boulder Teahouse, our favorite place to eat together, and shared a meal, some heavy conversation, and some love.

I love Jerry. I learn something every time I’m with him. He’s one of the first VCs I ever worked with and is my favorite other than my Foundry Group partners. We both struggled openly with depression. I think we have helped each other, and many others, through our openness. I consider him one of my closest friends.

We talked about a couple of heavy, conflict filled situations we were each involved in. He said something profound to me that I’ve been carrying around since we had dinner.

To be adult in a relationship is not to be conflict free. It is to resolve conflicts mindfully.

- David Richo – How to Be an Adult: A Handbook on Psychological And Spiritual Integration

Most of the conflicts in my life are in business. Sure – Amy and I have them occasionally, but I grew up in a pretty conflict free home. My parents disagreed on things but talked through them. When I disagreed with my parents, they listened to me and we tried to work things out. Sometimes I ended up being disappointed or unhappy in the moment, but they taught me to move on to the next thing.

My first marriage has lots of conflict in it, which I’d put it in the passive aggressive category. I think that’s why I find passive aggressive behavior so distasteful – it reminds me of the failure of my first marriage. Of course, we are surrounded by this throughout of lives, even when people have the best of intensions, so I try to bash through it when I see it happening, turning passive aggressive dynamics to conflict, which has to get resolved.

In business, I’ve worked with a wide range of people. I’ve experienced the full spectrum of conflict many different times. When I see conflict emerging, I try to confront it directly, calmly, and thoughtfully. “Mindfully.” I rarely lose my temper. I try to listen carefully. I try to incorporate a wide view of what is going on, rather than just jump into a particular position. I try express my position clearly without excess emotion. I listen and incorporate more feedback. When the conflict is intense, I put myself in the position of driving a resolution, especially in ever-present sub-optimal situations where the “perfect” answer is elusive.

I really love the notion of mindfulness. Wikipedia’s buddhist definition is the one I understand the best.

Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”, which can be trained by meditational practices

My experience this year with meditation has surrounded me with this word. At least half of the stuff I’ve been reading on meditation talked more about mindfulness than meditation. The practice I’m getting from Headspace is opening up a whole new dimension for me of how to think about work, life, and relationships. And when Amy says, “Brad – be present” she is reminding me to be my best, mindful self.

I don’t enjoy conflict, nor do I seek it out, but I’ve never been afraid of it. I just confront it and deal with it the best I can. And now I have a word for how I do it, which is “mindfully.”

Do You Want To Understand How Accelerators Work?

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Accelerate: Founder Insights Into Accelerator ProgramsFG Press recently released its third book, Accelerate: Founder Insights Into Accelerator Programs.

If you want to understand how an accelerator program works from the inside or are considering applying to an accelerator, this is the book for you. Luke Deering interviewed 150 entrepreneurs who have been through a variety of accelerator programs to get their insights. He originally did this as a Kickstarter campaign which I supported and wrote the foreword for.

When I saw the Kickstarter version, I asked if we could add to it, edit it, and publish it via FG Press. It’s out and I’m really proud of it. It has feedback from entrepreneurs who have gone through accelerators all over the world.

The book is divided into sections that cover topics such how to come up with an idea, advice on applying to an accelerator, tips for marketing and user acquisition early on, approaches to fundraising, and what the accelerator experience is actually like.

There are a number of case studies, longer form essays (but never too long), and lots and lots of short (one to three paragraph) real-life anecdotes. While I acknowledge the case studies are a little Techstars heavy, I think Luke did a nice job of getting a wide variety of examples from many different accelerators.

There’s also an accelerator directory, a good overview from Pat Riley, who runs the Global Accelerator Network, and lots of other goodies.

When we started working on the book, our goal was to make the hardcopy a beautifully designed book that could sit on a coffee table as well as being able to be used as a reference guide. The team at FG Press did a magnificent job.

You can order Accelerate from Amazon. If you run an accelerator or want to support something around accelerators and want to explore a bulk purchase along with a presentation, just email me.

Is The US A No Vacation Nation?

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Amy and I take a week off the grid every quarter. It is one of the things that has kept me sane and us together over the past 14 years.

This morning I saw a great short clip from the Today Show that got forwarded around on the US becoming a no vacation nation. They include an interview with Bart Lorang discussing FullContact’s Paid PAID vacation policy. It also shows an iconic picture of what stimulated this, which was Bart checking his email on his iPhone while riding on a camel with his then girlfriend / now wife in front of some pyramids.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Everyone in my universe works incredibly hard. But the really great ones know the value of disconnecting for periods of time to recharge their batteries and refresh their brains. If you want more on this, grab a copy of the book Amy and wrote called Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.

Who Would You Miss The Most If You Weren’t Here

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This morning’s question during my Headspace meditation session was “Who or what would you miss the most if you weren’t here.”

Over the last few months, my meditation practice has been spotty. Something indeterminate happened and I just fell out of the routine. I’ve been told by my meditating friends that this happens often and not to worry about it, but rather just to start practicing again when you feel like it.

I’m feeling very maxed out right now. I know there’s some cliche about VCs taking it easy in August but that never seems to be my reality. For the past 45 days I’ve pretty much been saying “no” or “I don’t have any time” to anything new that has come up. I don’t really see that changing – I feel full – so this morning I sat down to meditate for 20 minutes.

As I sat down and got comfortable, I realized how incredibly tense I was. Not just physically tense, but mentally and emotionally tense. I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and when there was a big pop, it was more than physical. I settled into the meditation session and a few minutes in was confronted with the question “Who or what would you miss the most if you weren’t here.”

Amy and Brooks immediately came to my mind. Bing bing bing – I got the right answer. But I know it’s not about that so I just let the thought float away.

Robin Williams came into my mind. I was sad that he was in such distress that he took his own life.

A friend who is going through a divorce surfaced. The pain from my first marriage and divorce jolted through me.

Amy and Brooks came to my mind. I held them there for a few moments.

A work issue that is front of mind intruded. I observed that I was having the thought and let it float away.

Amy and Brooks again.

I felt the tension leaving my shoulders. I sat a little deeper. I listened to what Andy from Headspace was saying, but I didn’t really hear it.

I tried on the feeling of what it would be like to not be here. I wasn’t hear, but was somewhere else, observing here. That became really uncomfortable, so I let it go.

Amy and Brooks.

As I finished the session and stretched, I felt everything soften. My shoulders are less tight. My gaze is softer. I’m clear about who I would miss the most and am going to go spend a little time with them before the day starts in earnest.

Who would you miss the most if you weren’t here?

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