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: Tech and the City: The Making of New York’s Startup Community

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On Digital Sabbath #5, I read Tech and the City: The Making of New York’s Startup Community. I got through half of it on my flight home from New York on Saturday morning; the balance laying on the couch next to Amy on Saturday evening.

I gave a talk with Alessandro Piol on Tuesday night at the Apple Store on Prince Street that was sponsored by the Women Innovate Mobile accelerator. We had a fun hour long talk with Q&A, a lot of it about Startup Communities. I hadn’t read Alessandro’s book in advance (but I did have it on my Kindle) so I was inspired to gobble it down this weekend.

It was excellent. If you are involved in the New York startup community, this is a must read book. If you are interested in startup communities in general, it’s a substantive history and current explanation of what is going on in New York.

One thing that jumped out at me that Alessandro segmented the New York startup community into six neighborhoods.

  • Flatiron / Union Square: The Heart of Silicon Alley
  • The Meatpacking District and Chelsea: Tech and the City
  • East Village, Soho, and Lower Manhattan: The Boheme of the Third Millennium
  • Brooklyn: The Do-It-Yourself Revolution
  • The Bronx: Sunshine Fortress
  • Long Island City in Queens: The 3D Generation

If you’ve heard me talk about startup communities, you’ll recognize this as the same approach I take when talking about larger communities like New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Boston/Cambridge. In these cases, the startup neighborhoods look similar to a startup community like Boulder – there is an incredible density of startup activity in a small geographic area. In a city like New York, rather than having everything in one place, you have a series of neighborhoods that have this entrepreneurial density, but are connected together to form the overall startup community.

I experience this all the time in New York. But I got a new taste of it on Thursday. I went to Brooklyn after an early meeting near Greeley Square Park. I started off at 20 Jay, saw NYU Poly Incubator, went for a long walk around DUMBO with Charlie O’Donnell, had an awesome lunch with Chad Dickerson (Etsy CEO), and then walked to MakerBot and hung out with the team there for a while. I did all of it on foot – including the back and forth from Manhattan.

The last third of the book is forward looking, talking about where things can, and are, going in the New York startup community. Finally, while there are plenty of VCs and government folks involved, it’s very clear that this is an entrepreneur led phenomenon, and Alessandro does a good job of balancing all the players.

Oh – and Digital Sabbath #5 was excellent. Even though I was on a plane for four hours, I woke up Sunday once again feeling refreshed and as though I had a weekend stretching out in front of me.

Book: Let Your Life Speak

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I did Digital Sabbath #4 yesterday. I spent the day on Coronado with my dad at Lindzonpalooza, the annual retreat put on by Howard Lindzon. We had a nice time hanging out Friday night as people arrived and then spent Saturday morning hearing short pitches from many of the companies Howard has invested in. I went for a two hour run in the early afternoon and then read Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer while my dad took a nap and practiced his snoring.

I haven’t been reading much the past six months. Usually I’m a voracious reader – 50 to 100 books a year is not unusual for me. But for some reason I haven’t felt like reading lately. I know some of it is my general mood and some has been the mental exhaustion from writing two books, but I’ve decided to start reading again as part of Digital Sabbath.

My good friend Jerry Colonna recommended Parker Palmer’s book to me. Jerry and Parker are doing a seminar in Boulder on 4/19 called Surviving the Startup Life: The Toll of Merging Identity and Work and, while I’ve heard of Parker numerous times, I’d never read anything by him.

Let Your Life Speak was really good. I read it at a good time for me as I continue to struggle with a depressive episode. Parker covers a lot of stuff but goes deep in one chapter about his own struggles with depression. It’s powerful – and very helpful to me – to read the first person stories about other people who sort through a real clinical depressive episode. Parker covered it bravely – and openly.

I had an excellent talk on Friday afternoon with my dad about what I’ve been struggling with since October. My dad is one of my heroes and closest friends. It’s hard to really connect deeply about this stuff over the phone so we sat for two hours in the sun outside a gelato store, ate our chocolate gelatos together, and talked. I’ve been processing a lot of the root cause of what’s going on and feel like I’m getting underneath some of it, and our conversation helped me get deeper into some of the issues. Parker’s book was a good reinforcement of several of the things I was struggling with.

We finished last night with a nice dinner with everyone overlooking the water and a very lit up San Diego. I just got back from a short run on the beach and am heading out for breakfast with my dad. Then, I’m off to the airport to spend a week in New York.

Book: How Will You Measure Your Life?

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While FAKEGRIMLOCK and all of the humans he has let survive are hanging out at the TechStars SXSW party, I’m at home with Amy, buried in a snowstorm, reading. I haven’t read much this year – I’ve been overwhelmed with work and writing and haven’t had much energy for reading. Which is dumb, since I love to read, and it’s an important way I discover new things and think about things I’m interested in.

A copy of Clay Christensen’s new book How Will You Measure Your Life? ended up finding its way to me. It’s signed by Clay and his co-authors James Allworth and Karen Dillon so I assume someone sent it to me. I read it tonight. It was timely and excellent.

One of the chapters in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur that was especially challenging for me and Amy to write was the one about children. We don’t have any, so we enlisted a bunch of friends to write sections of it. I’m proud of what they wrote and think it hits the mark, but it is an area I struggle to understand since we made a deliberate decision not to have kids. So I dug into the middle section of the book where Clay spends a lot of time talking about children in the context of measuring one’s life. I learned a lot from it that I think I can apply to my interaction with children that are not my own.

Clay very deftly uses business concepts to set the stage for a deep discussion of how to think about your life, your values, and how you operate. The one I liked the most was his discussion of the theory of good and bad capital. It’s very nicely linked to the Lean Startup methodology (without realizing it). The theory is that early in their life, companies should be patient for growth but impatient for profit. Specifically, they should search for their business model, and long term strategy, before stepping on the gas. This is good capital. Bad capital early on will be impatient for growth ahead of profit.

When companies accelerate (search for growth) too early, they often drive right over a cliff. However, once the business model and strategy is figured out, then companies should switch modes to be impatient for growth but patient for profit. Invest like crazy when you’ve got it figured out.

The section that follows is awesome. You need to read it to get it, but imagine the notion of how you invest in friendships, in your children, and in yourself. At any particular time are you focused on growth or profit? Do you have them sequenced and allocated correctly? Clay’s punch line is:

“There are two forces that will be constantly working against [your investments in relationships with family and close friends.] First, you’ll be routinely tempted to invest your resources elsewhere – in things that will provide you with a more immediate payoff. And second, your family and friends rarely shout the loudest to demand your attention… If you don’t nurture and develop these relationships, they won’t be there to support you if you find yourself traversing some of the more challenging stretches of life.”

I’ve just had one of those stretches – I spent the past three months struggling with depression after having a bike accident, wearing myself out travelling for two months, and then ending up in the hospital to have surgery to remove a kidney stone. I’d made the right investments in my relationships so it was easy to cash in on a bunch of them, and I appreciate greatly everyone who invested energy and support in me. I came out of the depression around February 14th and I appreciate more than ever the value of investing in these relationships. I now have a powerful business analogy – that of good and bad capital.

There’s a lot more in How Will You Measure Your Life? It’s a great companion to Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur and very easy to recommend to anyone who is trying to live the best life they can.

 

Book: Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5)

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Wool Omnibus EditionI received a bunch of great scifi suggestions from my post The Best Science Fiction Books of All Time. One of them was Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) which I gobbled down the past two days. The writer, Hugh Howey, has an inspirational arc which, if I ever get into writing scifi, I hope I follow.

I love post-apocalyptical Earth stories that just dump you into the middle, take off like a shot, and leave it to you to catch up as you slowly piece together what is going on. After a while, you get caught up to the current time and start trying to figure out how we got there. In the case of Wool, Howey stays one step ahead of you, feeding a little big of history a few pages before you need it, which gets you thinking down a new path for a while until just before you need a little more history, at which point he gives it to you.

After a hundred pages, I couldn’t put it down. We had friends staying over and I ended up on the couch, in a discussion, but sneaking pages when the conversation shifted away from me.

As I like to write no-spoiler book reviews, I loved the metaphor of the silo. If very effectively grounds the reality of the world that its citizens inhabit, while leaving open a series of horizontal questions about what the entirety of the world actually is. This doesn’t get answered in the first five books (which is what you get with the Omnibus edition) but the world does expand well beyond the silo.

I especially love the juxtaposition of politics (the mayor and the sheriff), IT, and mechanical in the arc of the story. Each of the three of these categories of people play critical roles and Hugh mines them extraordinarily well.

I’ve got book 6 and 7 on my Kindle. I’m going to read them after I read Rainbow’s End.

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The Mess of a Second Edition Book

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Venture Deals: 2nd EditionThe Second Edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist just started shipping. It’s new and improved, fixes a bunch of little mistakes that we listed on the Ask the VC site, and adds a chapter on Convertible Debt which builds on the posts on Ask the VC. I’m happy it’s out, but really annoyed by the mess that is created by the second edition.

Before I bash Amazon and the traditional publishing industry, I want to give Amazon some love. I bought a Kindle Paperwhite 3G a month ago. Every time a new Kindle comes out, I buy it. After struggling to like the Kindle Fire HD, which now sits dormant in my laptop bag, I am absolutely in love with the Kindle Paperwhite- it’s stunningly good for a high volume reader like me.

Ok – back to the mess of a second edition. Writing the second edition is pretty easy – you get the final Microsoft Word files from the publisher. I would have loved to fix the mistakes earlier in the ebook, but that wasn’t part of the process. So Jason and I just tossed up an Errata page on the website and pointed people at it when they found a new, or old, mistake. We wrote the new sections (the chapter on convertible debt and a few appendices), fixed some other stuff we felt could be improved, and sent it back in to the publisher.

Given the success that we’ve had in academic settings, where Venture Deals is now being used by over 100 undergraduate and graduated courses as a textbook, we also created a teaching guide. Jason and Brad Bernthal wrote this as a completely separate book which we expected would be published. Instead, it’s ends up being on Wiley’s Instructor Companion Site which I just spent 10 minutes trying to get a login for an failed (grrrr). In addition, we are now working on an Inkling edition version of it which is desynchronized from the release of the book – mostly due to miscommunication about what was required to create it.

The normal copy-edit production loop ensued that I’m now used to. Jason and Brad Bernthal submitted the teaching guide separately – the first pass of the copy-edit loop happened, but had more gear grinding as we struggled to understand what was actually going to be produced. We eventually figured it out and everyone ended up happy. Then we got the new cover designs since apparently a second edition gets a new cover design. We are going to put this into the Startup Revolution series so it’s got the little Startup Revolution logo on it.

A few weeks ago I noticed that Amazon had Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist (2nd Edition) available for pre-order. I was perplexed that it was an entirely new page on Amazon with a different ISDN number. None of the 123 reviews moved over with it and the work we put into the page for the first edition was gone. I checked with Wiley on this and quickly found out that Amazon considers 2nd Editions to be completely new books.

So – here I sit on 12/29 with a new Amazon pages for the 2nd Edition in physical and Kindle form, excitingly with zero reviews on a book that has a 4.8 of 5.0 on 123 reviews, light weight Amazon pages, and no access or links to the Instructor Companion Site. Remember, writing these books is a hobby for me, not my full time role in the world, so when I see this I immediately think “there must be a better way.”

In this case, I’m perplexed by Amazon. It seems like they should be focused on making this stuff awesome from a user perspective and and author perspective. Even if there is a new ISBN number, wouldn’t it be so much better to have Venture Deals all connected together, with all the history, made beautiful and awesome for everyone involved? Who cares that the traditional publishing industry has a new ISBN number for 2nd Editions – end users don’t really care about this. And authors who want to spend all of their time writing and as little time as possible fighting with this crap must want to blow their brains out when this happens.

Fortunately, all of this amuses me. I enjoy the people at Wiley I work with – they are working their butts off on many different fronts to be successful. They are dealing with a complex environment that is changing quickly on them. And they are working as hard as they can to stay relevant in this environment. I respect them a lot for this. But it’s still a completely mess.

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