What I’m Obsessed About At Work

As the endless stream of emails, tweets, and news comes at me, I find myself going deeper on some things while trying to shed others. I’ve been noticing an increasing amount of what I consider to be noise in the system – lots of drama that has nothing to do with innovation, creating great companies, or doing things that matter. I expect this noise will increase for a while as it always does whenever enthusiasm for startups and entrepreneurship increases. When that happens, I’ve learned that I need to go even deeper into the things I care about.

My best way of categorizing this is to pay attention to what I’m currently obsessed about and use that to guide my thinking and exploration. This weekend, as I was finally catching up after the last two weeks, I found myself easily saying no to a wide variety of things that – while potentially interesting – didn’t appeal to me at all. I took a break, grabbed a piece of paper, and scribbled down a list of things I was obsessed about. I didn’t think – I just wrote. Here’s the list.

  • Startup communities
  • Hci
  • Human instrumentation
  • 3d printing
  • User generated content
  • Integration between things that make them better
  • Total disruption of norms

If you are a regular reader of this blog, I expect none of these are a surprise to you. When I reflect on the investments I’m most involved in, including Oblong, Fitbit, MakerBot, Cheezburger, Orbotix, MobileDay, Occipital, BigDoor, Yesware, Gnip, and a new investment that should close today, they all fit somewhere on the list. And when I think of TechStars, it touches on the first (startup communities) and the last (total disruption of norms).

I expect I’ll go much deeper on these over the balance of 2012. There are many other companies in the Foundry Group portfolio that fit along these lines, especially when I think about the last two. Ultimately, I’m fascinated about stuff that “glues things today” while “destroying the status quo.”

What are you obsessed about? And are you spending all of your time on it?

  • I’m sure they are already on your radar, but in case not, you should check out http://ifttt.com/ Doing really neat stuff along your “Glue” theme.

    • Yup – I know them.

  • ack’ing the title, these are just ‘work-ish’ things obv.   

    Were you to make a similar list of ‘things that interest me personally’, what wld it look like?

    I’m kinda in that space right now, as you know.

    • Writing, running, meditating, Amy.

      • Mine: the boys + Jen, writing, lifting, and tinkering

        Our lists are pretty similar.  Huh.  I wonder if this holds true for many folks?

  • Efkovar

    Obsessed? Came to Boulder to give first, didn’t I? Yes I am on a mission here in Boulder and part of that is to get advice from you. My start up is all about user generated content and integration. total disruption of norms? I’ll think about that, but it does have 3 revenue streams and an actual business model with a liquidity event in less than 3 years. Love the books…

  • New and interesting ways to structure a fund…

  • 3D printing, 3D printing, 3D printing…  did I mention 3D printing?  🙂  

  • Scott

    Two things I’ve been thinking a lot about:

    1) Mobile Sensors – I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the sensors inside iPhones and Androids are capable of. Figuring out how to better utilize sensors to augment HCI has been on my mind a lot.

    2) Pricing – Markets are markets, and they work. But I feel that manufacturers/retailers are missing a lot of opportunities because of incorrect pricing strategies. Many companies still price using required margins or overhead coverage, when I believe there are major opportunities to gather data to enable them to engage in direct-to-consumer price discrimination. 

  • freds4hb

    Total disruption of norms you say,,,

  • Disruption via crowdfunding…locked on and completely obsessed.

  • narikannan

    Obsessed about the potential of handheld systems – tablets and phones to go way beyond where laptops and desktops (tethered systems in general) were able to go in applications! Location and Accelerometers are only two of the unique things that can be in these devices. There can be many more sensors and transducers in these devices that we have not even thought of yet! They could make today’s laptop look like a toy in about ten years’ time!

  • I’ll one day find funding for this or get to fund it myself for a next generation:
    Extend life through virtualization and replication of the brain which would then allow a projection into the future of the newly-borned-computational-“beings” and then return information suitable for our own biological advancement

    As someone recently said, when it comes to robotics or massive stuff like Space X,  it’s easier to get funded if you say you’re creating virtual robots on Facebook than actual ones (I know you’ve done http://www.gosphero.com, just saying in general).

  • DJ

    At worked I’m obsessed with scalability. When pondering Big Things I’m obsessed with disrupting education.

  • I’m obsessed with answering the following “what if” question:

    What if you could create a place where people don’t just tolerate advertisements, but actually seek them out? A place where a person gains real value by simply viewing ads – and nothing but ads.

  • Being the best I can be.

  • The flip side of user-generated content is the complete disruption of “professional” content—authoring, publishing, distribution, everything. And that is where I spend all my time. What professional content remains relevant when UGC is so available? How will pro content creation change?



  • 1. Tech ed and ed tech.  What are the best ways to teach someone a skill online? (identifying different types of learners, etc) To what extent is community necessary to keep an individual motivated? 

    2. What hardware/devices really resonate with folks outside of tech? (ie, Pebble) What does the broader market look like for emerging technologies that have historically been nerdier/more niche? (ie, 3D printing, sensors used in QS, etc)  

    3. Aspirational vs. actual lifestyle practices, how these manifest on social networks, and what this means for interest/social/taste graphs and recommendation engines. 

    I do spend most of my free time on this stuff…but I’m lucky enough to have a job that lets me spend time on it, too.

  • obsessed with how to connect hardware and software to my low tech hobbies/DIY projects – especially via wearable devices and “micro-manufacturing” tools like 3d printers, laster cutters, hill billy mills etc.

    Just this morning I was yakking to a coworker about how awesome it will be to have all the tools in the trunk of my car so that I could go to a weekend hackathon (think “startup weekend”) have a prototype device ..PCB + OS + Apps Platform + Plastics + web service working at end of weekend. …and I think we’re really close to having this be a reality.



      ME LIKE.

  • – Offline social networks
    – crowdsourcing live video-streaming 

  • Free speech.
    What can we do to make freedom of expression richer and more powerful than it is today?

  • James Mitchell

    In terms of signal to noise ratio, it’s hard to think of something with less signal and more noise than Twitter. Imaging the deep thinking you could do if you got rid of Twitter.




      • Namesake.com was such a community for a time last summer, very sad that petered out.

  • panterosa,

    I obsess over the beauty of being able to take my recycling to a post office, when all US post offices have been bought by brilliant 3D printing outfit. I bring in my plastic metals etc and chuck them into the sorting funnels. I have a product I want made which is on my phone and scan the icon to the printer. It prints and sends me a notice to pick up when done. Carbon foot is negative, long haul shipping, warehousing, and ups, coding and tracking all a thing of the past. Stores could do same with many products. Custom is the new new. Massive shipping from lesser paid countries with crap labor laws and enviro shenanigans in soon to be past.
    That’s the world I want my 10 year old to inherit. Maybe she’ll be a part of creating it. She’s already reading some AVC posts with startup mom.

  • Blowing up the status quo video game [digital] acquisition model. Gluing re-creation and re-discovery of actual game content with acquiring games through location (trying to explain this idea to our industry is tough). The only thing that’s preventing me from spending all of my time on it is, well, the cost of time :-).

  • i’m obsessed about bringing strangers together to help each other. i’m spending every waking moment on it. the fruit of my labor is just about to launch. super excited: demo.favorly.com

    i normally wouldn’t plug myself here, but you asked. :o)

    i also sincerely think it’s a total disruption of norms. not-for-profits used to have a monopoly on crowdsourcing goodwill. kickstarter changed the game for fundraising. my product, favorly, is doing it for volunteering. both put more power into the hopes and dreams of the average joe, hopefully building stronger communities and turning strangers into friends in the process.

    on the startup community note, if there’s any way favorly can be used to strength the community, let me know. i’d be more than happy to help. 

    • Signed up for favorly, great idea/concept! Is there a way to search geographically to get involved in projects?

  • Mine: The convergence of Conversations and Relationships on the social web.

    I thought vertical social networks might have been on your list?

  • Glad to see you have disruption on the list, Brad. Without that, we are left with evolution, not revolution.

    For me, I’m obsessed with disrupting business applications, specifically allowing anyone to build them much quicker than a team of developers can.

  • Worthwhile exercise.  Obsession is an interesting word.   Like the connotations of projects that are compulsive, passionate, engrossing, and revealing as the process takes one deeper.  Excluding the personal, a current five:

    1.  Help CU-Boulder become the lead entrepreneurial launch pad among American public universities. 2.  Better understand neuroscience as it connects to androgogy and how to train creative class individuals through higher education, especially law schools. 

    3.  Effectively move up in the court to be aggressive with short ball backhands.  

    4.  Future models of financing and stimulating innovation, with an emphasis on the relationship between capital and expertise / management / control. 

    5.  Leave situations as good or better than I find them.  

  • cbsChicago

    Spending an inordinate amount of time convincing foreign
    clients/prospects that they don’t have to wait until the November elections are
    over to open a U.S. office, facility, etc.

    You talked about enthusiasm for startups and
    entrepreneurship.  I’ve been talking to a
    few friends at institutional money managers and they say it seems like the bulk
    of RFP searches are for alternative investment managers and they are at
    traditional equity and fixed income shops.   Can an
    asset class be over allocated? Will we have more dollars chasing fewer quality
    deals in the upcoming years?

  • Lisa O

    B – “stuff that “glues things today” while “destroying the status quo.” LOVE it! can I use this? totally describes my passion for my current venture.

    enjoyed yours and Johns interaction regarding personal introspection –  nice to hear between men. For a hilarious cynical skew on marriage watch Roman Polanski’s ‘Carnage’.

    • Of course – borrow the phrase as much as you want!

  • Creating social change through crowdsourcing!

  • odna3ra

    Business: Disrupting Hollywood, curated memories, 3D immersion, capturing personal experiences faithfully, interactive video cameras. Personal: exercise, diet, friends, family (but for real this time!)

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  • panterosa,

    My work goal is disrupting science education, through games. To take higher education in botany and zoology and bring it to the young kids learning on tablet/mobile/web apps and games. So much of science’s complexity clouds the views of it’s simplicities. Adults forget what big thinkers little kids are. Many of the concepts surrounding plants and animals are quite easy to grasp, and often profound, which kids dig. We do kids a grave disservice by patronizing their intellects and abilities, and in this same gesture we debase the education of our next generation, which will have disastrous financial and social impacts. #empowerkidsbrains

    • I’ve found there is a dearth of science apps for young kids, which is a shame because the ones I do see, like Casey’s Contraptions for example, are some of the most wonderful apps out there. If you have any apps ready to go for kids roughly in the 3-8 year old age range, we’d love to take a look at them for KinderTown. http://www.kindertown.com

      • panterosa,

        I would love to send you something. Kindertown looks great! My feeling is you’ll like what I’m working on in this space as well as previous work with the alphabet.

  • I’m obsessed with building a platform where companies and their investors can create private networks to share information, ideas and data – if it were a movie, it’d be sort of like Pinterest meets Mint.com meets AngelList.

    The current iteration doesn’t look anything like that yet but it’s getting fairly close to being something cool.

    In 2012, I’m totally obsessed with delivering something an investor in privately-held instruments (companies, partnerships, real estate, etc.) would not want to live without.

  • What I’m truly obsessed about:

    1. Family and friends
    2. Their health and well-being and mine
    3. Social justice
    4. Fun
    5. New York City (coolest place I’ve ever been bar none)

    Oh yea, and technology so far as it affects the top five. It’s hard to separate work and life.

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  • These days, I’m obsessed about:
    1. Currencies (Virtual and social and the intersection. I tried to match that obsession by going to Wall St. for a decade but eventually gave up and went back to startup land to pursue disruption there. I guess it’s a bit of a chip on the shoulder.)
    2. Making it easier for people to create and monetize digital goods (10 years ago it was blogs, today I’m focused on games, some obsessions just evolve but keep to the same core)
    3. APIs (then again, I’ve been obsessed about those for over a decade)
    4. Cheap sensors and their output via API (GPS and accelerometers)

    I’m now matching those 4 obsessions into what I hope will be a disruptive product (I can’t claim it will be, I can only be anointed that title by external parties when it is) called Keepskor. We’ll be expanding our Alpha in late May/early June and will be happy to share with people who are interested.

  • Brad- great list. On disruption:
    We are about to see massive disruption in the global supply chain as 3d printing takes flight. It has the possibility to democratize manufacturing, reduce dependency on China exports, decimate the shipping industry, improve the medical field, and create a new platform for creative innovation akin to the publishing industry renaissance following the Macintosh and other graphical computing systems.

    We’re writing about it @on3dprinting and http://on3dprinting.com – excited to be part of this movement along with @makerbot and others in the industry.

  • Great post, and i’m sure many of us feel the need to manage our focus and attention. The areas where my thoughts are these days…
    3D printing and how they create new forms of manufacturing
    Shifts in the (e)Retail business
    Wellness technology (what I call Welltech)
    eBooks and the rise of mobile reading
    Technology trends in emerging markets (e.g. Africa)
    Improving my performance using mental modeling

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  • I think sometimes we still settle for poetic license in revisions as opposed to total disruption. But at least we’re thinking about it. 

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  • Brad, this is such a great attitude. I’ve mentioned this article to friends at least three times in the ~1 month since you posted this, and I’ve tried even harder to emulate this attitude myself. Thanks.

    • Cool – glad it was helpful.

  • Just totally !

    We take Smart Meter data (energy profiles from buildings) – we correlate these to weather conditions – using World Meteroeological Org sources. Applying pattern recognition allows us to identify building control and plant mis configurations, without even visiting buildings.

    Weather / Energy / Controls and Building Plant meet Scalable Consultancy
    Disruptive – Consult without visits
    3D printing – We have some cool – “visualization = realization ideas”!

    Obsessing on this – Only five years and it still feels like no time !

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