Brad's Books and Organizations

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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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Book: Sailing an Alien Sea

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I love reading books written by friends. Knowing how incredibly hard it is to write a book, I enjoy fiction even more, since it’s something I’ve never tried to write.

My friend Cindy Gold wrote Sailing an Alien Sea about a year ago. I read it last month and loved it.

I’ve known Cindy and her husband Terry Gold since 1996, shortly after I moved to Boulder. I was an early board member, then angel investor, and subsequently VC investor in Terry’s company Gold Systems. Terry worked incredibly hard at Gold Systems, along with many people who worked for the company through the years. It went from an idea and a few founders to an almost $10 million revenue company, before growth peaked about a decade ago. Over the past five years, the company had a steady, but slow decline, being close to break even every year, but never becoming solidly profitable or generating additional growth. After numerous painful layoffs and several near misses to sell the company, Gold Systems finally shut down early this year. Throughout the entire process, Terry was a tireless leader who never gave up and, even after two acquisitions feel apart at the end, he still tried to find a home for the remaining employees. While my investment in Gold Systems returned $0 to me, I’ll have lifelong respect for Terry and will always consider him a close friend.

Ok – that paragraph should put you in the mood for this book. Cindy is a genius writer. Her story likely has some autobiographical parts, as most first novels do. She writes the story of two teenage girls growing up in Santa Fe. They are an unlikely pair of friends and they travel down different paths as they get older. Much of the book is through the eyes of Sylvie, who is expect is channeling some of Cindy’s wit, style, and personality, which is sharp and deliciously direct. This is no romanticized story of coming of age – it’s complicated, challenging, often disappointing, and sometimes heartbreaking. But against this challenging backdrop, these girls are amazing. I’m not a reader of “chick lit” and this doesn’t fall in that genre, but rather something I enjoy to read, which I refer to as “human fiction.”

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. Relationships aren’t easy. Life isn’t easy. And writing a first novel is really fucking hard.

Cindy – well done. Gang, if you want some a great first novel to chew on, grab Sailing an Alien Sea.

Book: Things A Little Bird Told Me

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There will be a lot of books written about the story of Twitter. As far as I know, there have now been two, but there are probably 71 more coming out soon.

Biz Stone’s new book, Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind is outstanding.

I’ve read two really awesome books in the past month that combine first person startup accounts with personal philosophy and advice. Biz’s is the second. Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things is the other.

Ok – enough effusiveness. There is a simple reason these two books are outstanding. They both mix the author’s direct and very relevant experience with their personal philosophy and lessons learned from the experience. While moments of Ben’s book are dramatic, Biz tells the story of Twitter in an understated way. He’s fun and playful while covering enough of what happened so you have a feel for it. But it’s not overwrought with drama.

Instead, Biz focuses on highlighting critical moments, and key experiences that he had, which help the reader understand the path of a remarkable company. I’ve heard most of the stories before, although a few were new to me. Biz drills into the essence of what matters and not the noise surrounding it. As a result, I felt like I could really process the experience and understand the lessons he learned, rather than be distracted by stuff around the edges.

While I don’t know Biz, I immediately related to him. He drew me in. He’s a guy I’d like to hang out with. Someone I’d like to know, who I’d be happy to go into battle with, or just have a long playful dinner. Basically, he’s real.

If you are an entrepreneur, or a student of entrepreneurship, Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind is another must-read on my list.

Empirical Support for the Boulder Thesis

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Yesterday, Kauffman Foundation released a study that provided empirical support for the Boulder Thesis that I came up with in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. The study is excellent if you are interested in this topic and can be read at ad “Think Locally, Act Locally: Building a Robust Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.”

Kauffman did a study of 1 Million Cups, a program that was launched at Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City and is expanding rapidly around the US with it now in 33 communities in 21 states. Colorado has two – a 1 Million Cups in Denver and 1 Million Cups in Fort. Collins. 1 Million Cups Denver was also a recipient of one of the first Startup Colorado Community Fund grants.

The study found:

  • Entrepreneurship is a local phenomenon.
  • Entrepreneurs follow local entrepreneurs.
  • Local networks thicken over time.
  • Entrepreneurial demand is high for peer-based learning and networking.
  • Different programs reach different entrepreneurs.

In the report, Kauffman lined this up clearly against the Boulder Thesis, which, if you don’t know it, is:

  1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
  2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
  3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
  4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.

Or, if you are a video person and want to go a little deeper, take a look at the great StartupVille video Kauffman did when I released the book as part of their Sketchbook series.

I gave a 30 minute interview on this and other topics at the Atlanta Tech Village yesterday – nice summary from David Cummings. And there was a good student survey at  showing Chicago and the Midwest as an Evolving Hub for Entrepreneurship.

Books I Read On My Q114 Vacation

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I’m going to start doing something new on my posts. Rather than having separate posts promoting stuff I’m up to, I’m going to begin including a short header in each post with either a thing I’m involved in or something I read recently that I think is particularly germane. For now, I’ll style these in italics – at some point I’ll come up with some new CSS to set it apart more clearly. Feel free to offer any/all feedback on this. Today’s tip is from Alex Iskold, the Techstars NY Managing Director and is 7 Calendar Tips for Startups. If you struggle with your calendar, it’s highly recommended.

Last week Amy and I went to our favorite place in Cabo San Lucas for our Qx vacation. We went off the grid (no phone, no email). I ran a lot, slept a lot, and ate a lot. I watched all of Orange is the New Black and almost all of Caprica thanks to hotel WiFi and Neflix on my iPad. But most enjoyably, I read a lot. Following is a summary with links.

Is Amazon Bad For Books?: What a yummy article that gives a lot of history about what has been going on between Amazon and the traditional publishing industry. Highly relevant for a lot of our thinking around FG Press.

The Science of Battlestar Galactica: I listened to this on Audible while running. If you are a BSG fanboy like me, this is a must read.

How To Defend Against Patent Trolls Without Breaking The Bank: Ken Bressler has been super helpful in one of the more vexing and annoying patent troll cases I’ve been involved in. As the Supreme Court once again has a chance to do something about software patents and patent trolls, I remain cynical and pessimistic that this gigantic tax on innovation will get resolved anytime soon.

The Underwriting: More Startup Fiction – this time in a weekly serialized format. I paid for it before I left but for some reason I only had two episodes. I just paid for it a second time so hopefully they’ll start coming in a steady stream. It’s pretty fun – a little too much sex and investment banking for my tastes, but we’ll see where it goes.

Battlestar Galactica Series Bible: The original series bible written by Ronald D. Moore. Another BSG fanboy must read.

The Secret of Raising Money:  Seth Goldstein and Michael Simpson have written a really strong book on how to raise money from angels and VCs at the early stage. I’ve known Seth since the mid-1990′s and think he and Michael did a great job of capturing the essence of this very hard and often complex process.

Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: I hadn’t read this since it first came out a year or so after Lou Gerstner retired as IBM’s CEO. This is his memoir of his experience at IBM and was a fantastic history lesson. While some of the strategic advice felt a little dated and “big corporate”, there were endless gems throughout the book, including a clear view on key decisions that Gerstner made relatively early which dramatically changed IBM’s downward spiral into the depths of mainframe doom. I’ve felt for a while that Microsoft is having its “IBM moment” that occurred for IBM in the early 1990s and to date have been uninspired with how they have approached it. I don’t know Satya Nadella but I hope he’s read this book.

Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World: Amy and I plan to give away all of our money while we are alive. We’ve been active philanthropists since the late 1990s and are always trying to learn more. Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen’s book is a wonderful combination of personal history, advice, and storytelling about what other people are doing. I was especially pleased to see a long chapter on our friends Linda Shoemaker and Steve Brett’s efforts in Boulder around their philanthropy.

The Trial: I’ve been describing our annual fund audit process as “Kafkaesque” to whomever I talk to about it. I realized I had never read The Trial so I grinded through it. I thought I knew what I was in for, but the copy I read fortunately had a Kafka history as well as a history of The Trial with a short summary at the beginning, so it made a lot more sense as I read it. And yes, the audit experience is still something I believe is Kafkaesque. Hopefully they won’t kill me like a dog at the end.

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison: I randomly watched Season 1. I figured I’d bounce after a few episodes but found myself deeply engaged in it. So I grabbed the book and read it. The book was even better than the show. Piper Kerman blew my mind – both with her experience and her writing about it. So powerful, depressing, upsetting, and enlightening, all at the same time.

Neuromancer: I read Neuromancer my in college shortly after it came it. I loved it then. I haven’t read it since so I decided to listen to it my iPhone while running, just like I did earlier this year with Snow Crash. Like Snow Crash, it somehow felt richer when I listened to it during my long runs. Case, Molly, Wintermute, and the Dixie Flatline still delight, as does Gibson.

The Heart of the Start

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It’s been a blast to get to know and work with Eliot Peper. His book, Uncommon Stock, is the first one that we published at FG Press. If you want to read – and comment – along with me, grab a copy of Uncommon Stock on BookShout.

I asked Eliot to write a short post about how he’s feeling and thinking about the category of “startup fiction” now that the book is out in the wild and he’s getting some great feedback.

Following are his thoughts.

Business case studies have wrestled through many different components of entrepreneurship. Bloggers and Quora have picked up the slack for the situations those case studies miss. Management books delve into every nook and cranny of strategy and tactics. Talking heads discuss the ins and outs of everything from product development to investment theory. Gurus wax lyrical about vision and lean, focused execution.

But there’s one critical piece of entrepreneurship that these experts miss. Their analyses emphasize the rational. They draw out lessons-learned from business experiences and try to share best practice with aspiring entrepreneurs. Knowledge is important and many experts are happy to share their thoughts (whether you want to hear them or not!). But they too often focus on the brain at the expense of the heart.

Building a business is a human experience as well as an institutional one. That’s why I love Brad and Amy’s frank discussions in Startup Life. In thinking about growing an organization it’s easy to forget that it’s all made up of individuals. These people lay the groundwork and set the course for the companies they found. They also struggle constantly with work/life balance, relationships, burnout, and team dynamics.

It’s a truism in venture capital that startups fail most often not because their product explodes, but because their team implodes. If you think high-school had a lot of drama, try a high-speed tech startup. Inspiration, betrayal, falling-outs and last-minute-comebacks are par for the course. Everyday I’m blown away by the incredible entrepreneurs I know and work with. Their passion fuels them through the equally challenging rational and the irrational halves of company building.

The emotional reality behind the scenes in every startup is what inspired Uncommon Stock. I thought that fiction could give an intimate peek into the minds of founders. Early readers have pointed out something that I find hugely cool: the other benefit of Startup Fiction is that its so damn accessible.

People who read non-fiction books about entrepreneurship tend to already be engaged in the startup world in some way. We’ve worked for a startup. We read Techcrunch regularly. We go to SXSW.  Living and breathing that world, it’s easy to forget anyone else is out there. But readers that aren’t engaged with tech and picked up Uncommon Stock simply because they wanted a good page-turner are reaching out to say how awesome it is to steal a glimpse into our startup boudoir.

We are blessed to live in a magical world filled with some of the most talented people on Earth. Hopefully together we can help to illuminate the heart of the start.

Build something great with me