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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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The Return of Random Day

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I woke up late today (yay – 12:06 hours of sleep) to the last 15 minutes of the elite women in the NYC Marathon. Watching them finish and then watching Mutai crush the men’s field over the last six miles was pretty inspiring. I haven’t run a marathon since October 2012 when I ran the Detroit Marathon but after a year of struggling to get into a rhythm I’m once again motivated – and interested – in doing another marathon. I’ve committed to being one of the 14 in 2014 that run the Boston Marathon – there’s a gang of well known tech entrepreneurs and investors that are doing this together as part of a big fundraiser. I’ll definitely try to get at least one marathon in before then just to be confident that I’ll get it done.

Last week I added back in something I used to do regularly, but had stopped for a year or so given my schedule and then ensuing depression. I did a full day of random day meetings on halloween. I sat at Amante Coffee all day, mostly in my cookie monster outfit, had random meetings, drank coffee, and ate cookies. I had a blast.

If you’ve never heard of random day, I’ll meet with anyone who signs up for 20 minutes. I’ve been doing this for almost a decade – it’s part of my “give before you get” philosophy that’s deeply embedded in the Boulder Startup Community psyche. I have no expectation of what I’m going to get out of these meetings, but some pretty magical things, including the creation of Techstars, have occurred as a result of them.

During the course of the day I had 12 meetings, three cups of coffee, a yogurt, a burrito, and two cookies. I met with the following people.

  • Friend starting a COO / CEO search
  • Attorney in town thinking of starting a seed fund
  • Founder of a non-profit I recently supported
  • Person looking for a new BD gig
  • Founder of a natural foods company I just invested in
  • BD person looking to get into the VC or Boulder scene
  • Tech entrepreneur I hadn’t seen in a decade describing his new thing
  • Content marketing person looking to be plugged into Boulder
  • Founders of non-profit looking to expand outside of Boulder
  • Partners in a non-profit looking for support for a robot competition
  • New VC in town in the natural foods market
  • Two entrepreneurs just starting their tech business looking for feedback

I was immediately able to help at least six of the 12. I have no idea what will come from the other meetings, but that’s part of the fun of random day.

I plan to do this again six times in 2014. So that’s about 80 random meetings – people I wouldn’t have met with – and who wouldn’t have had some time with me. If one powerful thing comes out if it, then it’s worth it. Regardless, I had a good day on Thursday and feel like I did something that contributed to the glue in the Boulder Startup Community.

Startup Phenomenon: Women – Event in Boulder – 9/3

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SP-Women-Banner

As many of you know, mentoring women in startups and STEM careers is important to me, so I’m very pleased to be a part of the Startup Phenomenon: Women program, a one-day event in Macky Auditorium at CU-Boulder.

The speaking line-up for the day is really outstanding. It includes author Amanda Steinberg, founder and CEO of DailyWorth; Margaret Neale, management professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business; and Michele Weslander Quaid, chief technology officer (federal) and innovation evangelist at Google. If you’d like to see all the speakers scheduled, you can check out the website.

We’ll be covering topics of interest to entrepreneurs like startup financing, mentoring by and for women entrepreneurs, alternative business models and resources available for women-led businesses.

The conference is open to the public, and and a line-up like this doesn’t come along every day. Tickets start at $25 for students and $100 for the general public. I’m looking forward to an informative and inspiring day, and I hope you’ll consider attending.

Startup Communities Are Up To The Entrepreneurs

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Startup CommunitiesAs I continue to talk about Startup Communities, I say over and over and over again that the leaders have to be entrepreneurs. Everyone else – who I call the “feeders” (government, university, non-profits, big companies, VCs, angel investors) – have an important role, but the leaders must be entrepreneurs. Now – members of feeder organizations can play a leadership role, but in the absence of a critical mass of entrepreneurs, the startup community won’t ever develop into anything meaningful.

I was interviewed recently in MIT Technology Review in an article titled It’s Up to You, EntrepreneursIt’s part of a series they are doing titled The Next Silicon ValleyIt was a long interview by Antonio Regalado who boiled my rambling down into a bunch of coherent answers to specific questions.

For example, when he asked,  “What’s the most important step an entrepreneur can take to create a startup community?” I answered:

“Just do stuff. It’s kind of that simple. It’s literally entrepreneurs just starting to do things. If you’re in a city where there’s no clear startup community, the goal is not raise a bunch of money to fund a nonprofit, the goal is not get your government involved. The goal is start finding the other entrepreneurial leaders who are committed to being in your city over the next 20 years. Then, as a group, get very focused on knowing each other, working together, being inclusive of anyone else who wants to engage, doing things that help recruit people to that geography, and doing selfish stuff for your company that also drives your startup community.”

He got underneath some great key points about startup communities with his questions, which follow.

  • People talk about technology clusters. You talk about entrepreneurial communities. What’s the difference?
  • What’s the most important step an entrepreneur can take to create a startup community?
  • Let’s say you are the mayor. Would you rather bring Boeing to your city or have a startup scene?
  • You seem to think a top-down approach is pretty toxic.
  • What’s the evidence that startup communities can happen outside of traditional technology hubs?
  • In your book, you say entrepreneurs need to make a 20-year commitment to a place. Does anyone really think in those time scales?
  • How would you measure the success of a startup community?
  • In Kansas City you bought a house and handed it over to some programmers. What’s the idea?

If you want the answers, go read It’s Up to You, Entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurial Density and Venture Capital

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Richard Florida continues to write amazing stuff about Startup Communities in The Atlantic Online. Two of his latest articles talk about entrepreneurial density and venture capital.

For a long time I’ve suggested that an interesting measure of entrepreneurial density would be ((entrepreneurs + employees of startups) / total population). I asserted in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City that I thought Boulder had the highest entrepreneurial density in the world. I qualified this by staying I had no real empirical data – it was merely an assertion based on my experience.

Richard took this notion a step further in his article High-Tech Challengers to Silicon Valley and actually did some math. In it, he looked at Venture Capital financing (total dollars and number of deals) on a per-capital basis. Boulder came in third, behind “San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA” (what most of us think of as “Silicon Valley”) and “San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA” (what most of us think of as San Francisco.)

Venture Capital investment per capita

 

The comments are fascinating and generally miss the point. One in particular, called Richard unethical, although it was from “WithheldName” (also known as Anonymous Coward).

“It’s totally unfair to make Boulder separate from Denver. Combine Boulder and Denver. It’s called the Denver-Boulder Metropolitan Statistical Area for a reason. Was Cambridge separated from Boston? Of course not. The author was from Boulder. This data was slanted to Boulder. It was totally unethical.”

This particular person doesn’t understand that Boulder and Denver are separate startup communities. In contrast, Cambridge and Boston are one startup community, consisting of six startup neighborhoods (three in Cambridge, three in Boston, all within a 15 minute drive of each other, even in traffic.)

More importantly, the author of the article wasn’t from Boulder. I’m from Boulder. I didn’t write the article – Richard did. And – he was pretty clear about all of that, so our friend needs to rethink his definition of the word “unethical.”

That said, the more interesting study is by zip code, not by city or MSA. Mixing MSAs and cities creates a comparison that isn’t precise. And Richard acknowledges this:

“I’ll continue to track the evolving geography of start-ups and venture capital in future posts. Next week, I’ll look at the economic, demographic and social characteristics of metros that are associated with venture capital and start-up activity. In future posts, I’ll delve more deeply into all of this, using detailed data by area code and zip code level to tease out the changing geography of venture capital and start-up activity and its distribution across cities and suburban areas.”

I think the real magic in the analysis around entrepreneurial density will happen at the zip code level on a per capita basis. Look for 80302, 02139, and 10003 to show up high on the list along with some starting with 94xxx.

Announcing UP Global

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A global partnership that connects entrepreneurs with their communities and the resources they need most.

Startup Weekend and Startup America Partnership are joining forces to create UP Global.  In addition to Startup Weekend, UP Global also runs Next, StartupDigest, and NYSE Big Startup. Marc Nager, the CEO of Startup Weekend, will be the CEO of Up Global. Steve Case, the chairman of Startup America Partnership, will be the chairman of Up Global.

I’m extremely psyched. I’ve been involved in both organizations since inception. The first Startup Weekend happened in Boulder in June 2007 and have been on the board for the past few years. I was at the White House for the launch of Startup America, which included launch of the privately funded Startup America Partnership. NCWIT and TechStars were founding members. I’m the co-chair of Startup Colorado. Many of the ideas in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City have been informed by my experience with both organizations, and they’ve each incorporated many of these ideas into what they are doing.

I’ve made many new entrepreneurial friends on this journey so far. I’ve been absolutely delighted and blown away by the leadership of Marc Nager and his team in the growth of Startup Weekend around the world. Scott Case and Steve Case, along with their team, have done an outstanding job at Startup America Partnership mobilizing broad startup community initiatives across the United States and elevating the understanding and importance of entrepreneurship at a national level. And the Kauffman Foundation – who I continue to have immense respect for – has been an incredibly strong supporter of both organizations.

UP Global is a logical next step in the creation of vibrant entrepreneurial communities around the world. I’m a huge believer in consolidating efforts in the non-profit between complementary organizations. This one was a natural and logical one and I’m excited about what’s coming up.

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