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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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Hope Is Critical To A Strategy

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There has been a cliche going around the last decade or so that goes “hope is not a strategy.” It inspired a book titled Hope Is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale and is repeated often by VCs in boardrooms when they are confronted with companies that are flailing, especially when trying to reach their revenue goals. I’ve been guilty of saying it a few times although it always left a funny taste in my mouth and I didn’t know why until this morning when I read a great essay (unpublished at this point) by Dov Seidman, the the Founder and CEO of LRN. In it Dov has a great punch line.

“No doubt you’ve heard the old business cliché that hope is not a strategy.  During the recent presidential election one candidate in fact said this very thing in an attack ad against the other. It’s an expression usually used to belittle someone and to exhort them to deliver a linear plan.  And while they are right that hope is technically not a strategy, inspirational leaders understand one final thing:  that without hope there is no strategy. “

He is so absolutely correct.

I’m an optimistic, hopeful person. I think things will turn out ok. I don’t deny reality and I live by the words of John Galt when he said “It’s not that I don’t suffer, it’s that I know the unimportance of suffering.” I suffer plenty, I have plenty of things fail, and I’m sure I disappoint a lot of people. But I never give up hope, never give up trying to do better, and never give up learning from my mistakes.

We are coming to the end of a calendar year that has had a lot of crazy, bizarre, hostile, and negative stuff in it, especially in the past two months. I measure my years by my birthday, so my new year started on 12/1 when I booted up v47 of me. I was in pretty rough shape physically and emotionally because of the preceding few months but I was on the mend and optimistic. Other than struggling through a nasty cold (which is clearly linked to a completely trashed immune system from a pile of antibiotics and the past few months of system stress) I’ve had a great few weeks with Amy, some friends, and very little travel.

As I look forward to the next year, I have a clear strategy – both for my work, my personal life, and my health. A bunch of friends have said mildly cynical things like “you say that every year” or “I just read the annual ‘Brad broke himself” blog post” – mostly in an effort to be supportive, but clearly with the view that no matter what I try differently each year, the outcome will be the same and I’ll melt down somewhere in October or November.

Part of the beauty of an annual cycle is the opportunity to try again. To revisit your existing strategy or to create a new strategy. To shift your mindset from “this is inevitable” to “having hope for a different outcome.” Now – if you only have hope, but no strategy, you won’t make any progress. But if you have a strategy, but no hope, you are dooming yourself to failure before you begin.

So take advantage of this time of year. Do whatever you need to do to hit reset. Purge your brain of all the angry, negative, cynical, defeatist crap. Accept that context in which we are living. Then, create a new strategy for yourself – for work, for yourself personally, for your relationship, for whatever, and inject a good dose of hope into the mix.

Do something new. And be extraordinary at it. Remember Yoda – do or do not, there is not try.

Wow – That Was Intense

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Fuck You Kidney Stone

As they wheeled me into surgery, I thought to myself “If this is the end it has been pretty amazing.” This is a photo my brother Daniel took of me just after they wheeled me out of the recovery room and back into my little cubby hole where Amy and Daniel were hanging out. While I don’t remember any of this, probably due to being under the influence of Versed (a truly amazing drug) at least I had the right attitude in response to Daniel saying “take that kidney stone!”

I had an 8mm kidney stone removed using Laser Stone Surgery using Flexible Pyeloscopy on Friday 11/16. While not a major surgery, I still went under general anesthesia for two hours for the first time as an adult. Amy describes this as “they take you to death’s door, open it a crack, let you peer in for a while, and then pull you back and close it.” I probably didn’t need her to tell me that description prior to the surgery.

On Sunday 11/18 I went to Cabo San Lucas for a two week vacation which included my 47th birthday. I don’t remember much of the first week – I was stoned on Vicodin and in a happy, warm, cuddly, very constipated, fields of golden retriever puppy haze. I stopped taking Vicodin on Thursday 11/22 but it still took a few more days to start feeling normal. I dropped off the grid entirely for the week of 11/8 but resurfaced to do some email and writing the week of 11/25. By 12/1 (my 47th birthday) I felt about 90% and was very relieved to have the surgery, and the prior three months behind me.

This period started off on 9/5 in Kobarid, Solvenia with a bike accident. I broke a tooth, got some stitches, and badly bruised my ribs. It was entirely my fault and my partner Ryan McIntyre, who I crashed into, saved me from much more severe damage. I then proceeded to spend the next three weeks on the road, totaling a month away from home. That was mistake #1, as I underestimated how tired I’d get from it. Mistake #2 was underestimating the damage from the bike accident. I ended up running the Detroit Marathon on 10/21 and did fine, but I was completely wiped out physically by the end of October. I continued to spend a lot of time in October and November on the road and found myself exhausted and depressed by the end of it. And then our dog Kenai died.

Oh – and Amy and I wrote the bulk of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur during this time period (it’s done – we submitted the final page proofs over the weekend.) I recognize the irony of completely burning myself out during the writing of this book – fortunately we talk about this challenge plenty in the book and we communicated extraordinarily well as a couple during this time frame about what was going on. Finally, I do have a full time job and spent the bulk of my time working on that, so all of this other stuff was the extracurricular activity that filled in the cracks around the 60+ hours a week of VC work I was doing during this time.

I had a lot of time to reflect on this last week after I came out of my Vicodin-induced haze. At 47, I realize, more than ever, my mortality. I believe my kidney stone and depression were linked to the way I treated myself physically over the 90 days after my bike accident. While the kidney stone might not have been directly linked to the accident, the culmination of it, the surgery, and my depression was a clear signal to me that I overdid it this time around.

I’m back in Boulder and very refreshed. I’m also determined to learn from this experience. Amy and I spent a lot of time last week talking about changing the tempo on some things, including adding in some new daily habits like yoga that prioritize higher than other things. And I’ve accepted that part of my travel pacing has to include being home over the weekends to so I can recharge my extrovert.

Thanks everyone who gave me well-wishes and support the past few weeks. It means a lot to me. I leave you with the sunrise from Cabo that I saw each morning during the past two weeks.

Smile - it's the morning

Resetting My Priorities

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If you’ve been following along at home, you know I’ve had a tough fall. It started with a bike crash in Slovenia, followed by a few weeks in New York where I physically felt awful. Fortunately I was with Amy for her birthday (we celebrate her birthday for most of September), but I underestimated how long it would take me to recover. I ended the three week trip in San Francisco for my mom‘s 70th birthday, which was wonderful until I got a terrible stomach virus on Sunday morning. I can’t remember the last time I threw up – and as I somehow managed to get home that day, I’m sure I looked like warmed over shit. After a week at home I hit the road again around the release of Startup Communities and spent almost all of October on the road, reaching Boise, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Des Moines, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Lexington, and Louisville. While I had a great time, ran a marathon in Detroit in the middle of it, and met a lot of awesome people, I totally shredded myself.

I got depressed. And then my dog Kenai, who I loved more than almost all the humans I know, died.

I turn 47 in a few weeks. I’m extraordinary lucky to be married to an amazing woman for 22 years. We’ve figured out how to have an awesome relationship in the context of an entrepreneurial life, and we are wrapping up a book on it that will be out in January. I have extremely meaningful work with three partners who are my best friends. I get to work with incredible companies and entrepreneurs every day. And I get to define how I spend my time.

But I’m totally and completely fried. And I did it to myself. I already spend 60+ hours a week working with the companies I’m an investor in. So – all of the stuff I’m doing around Startup Communities is extracurricular activity. Writing Startup Life, while super important to me, is an extra curricular activity. Travelling all over the place is part of my work, and I have a lot of fun doing it, but plenty of the places I’m going are extracurricular activities. I feel like I’m getting all of my primary work done, but I’m neglecting one big thing in the mix – me.

I’ve found myself in a similar position every year. This is nothing new for those close to me – I run extremely hot and often up to the edge of my capacity. I keep adding stuff on top with some fantasy that my capacity for new stuff is unlimited. There is so much I want to do and I just keep going after it. I have a good internal algorithm for making sure I get all the “urgent / important” stuff done and I’m very aware of what work to prioritize over other things. When I start reaching my capacity, I focus more on the important stuff – both urgent and non-urgent, and insert a tighter hierarchy around my work, making sure my partners and the companies I’m an investor in are at the top of the stack.

But I neglect me. And that’s what has happened again this year. My extrovert is completely used up. While I’ve got a few more commitments between now and the end of 2012, I’m resetting my priorities for the balance of the year and focusing internally, on me, my health, my physical self, Amy, my partners, the companies I’m an investor in, and the writing I want to do.

I’ve been through this before – well – about once a year for the past 25+ years, so I know how to deal with it when it happens, although I clearly don’t know how to prevent it from happening. Maybe I’ll figure that out in my 48th year on the planet.

Kenai – RIP

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Our beloved dog Kenai died Wednesday at 10:20 am. He was at our house in Eldorado Springs with Amy and our other dog Brooks. It was sudden and unexpected – he went quickly and painlessly. He was 12.

My last moment with him was the day before when I left the house to go to the office. I had my bags with me as I was heading out for an overnight trip to Oklahoma City. He always followed me to the door whenever I left town (he knew what my Filson bag meant). This time he was lying on his dog bed near the door downstairs. He looked up at me with one eye – in that magical way he sort of doggie-winked at me all the time – and I patted him on the head as I walked by and said “goodbye old man – see you soon.”

Kenai was a magnificent dog. 110 pounds. Beautiful. Extremely well tempered. He loved to be with us and he loved to run wild in both Eldorado Springs and Keystone. We’d let him out and he’d run off for 30 minutes, or an hour, or sometimes a few hours. He’d always come back, sometimes with a deer bone and a big smile, and demand his treat with his signature “rrrr-rrrr-rrrr” bark. It made me laugh every time – he knew what he wanted and damnit he was going to get it.

Until a few years ago we regularly went to the Reservoir. This was one of my standard short runs when I was home and a walk that Amy and I often do together. Kenai has this drill mastered – he’d cover about twice as much distance as us as he’d jog ahead 100 yards, turn around and come back to us, and then jog ahead again. When we got to the Reservoir, he’d always be in it already, going for a swim, chasing the ducks which he never caught, and just enjoying being a dog alive in the wilderness.

Like me, he was an excellent sleeper. I remember waking up late on many Saturday and Sunday mornings with him still asleep, often where Amy used to be in the bed. On weekend days after I’d worn myself out from the week, he’d just hang around close to me, doing nothing but keeping me company.

When we got Brooks, Kenai was six. This was the same age his older brother Denali was when we got him. There was something beautiful about the symmetry of this and, after a short adjustment from being the young dog to the old dog, Kenai played his role as older brother perfectly. He taught Brooks how to run around on our land, chase deer, elk, and squirrels, bark at the occasional bear, sleep through pretty much anything, and give us golden retriever eyes in an effort to get just one more treat. They played rough with each other – just up to the edge of too much – and Kenai would always back off when he knew it was getting out of hand. He loved Brooks, just like he loved Denali, just like we loved him.

Kenai – you were an amazing companion. I didn’t think I could love a dog as much as I loved you. I’ll miss you dearly. Thank you for making my life a better one. Enjoy the giant treat yard in the sky.

Blood In The Streets

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It’s never is ok to have a brain fog slowly lift and realize you are bleeding all over yourself. It’s a calm moment when you are in that state where it takes another five seconds to realize what just happened. No pain, no panic, but no understanding. Just observation. “Something just happened. I’m bleeding. What happened? Where am I?” followed by “Oh shit I just had a nasty bike crash.” A terminator style system check begins to ascertain damage when all hell breaks loose.

In my case it was a very controlled chaos. One of our guides – Marko – was whatever the Czech version of an EMT is. By the time I realized who I was and where I was, he was in my face, telling me not to move, stabilizing my head as he directed someone else to untangle the bikes from me. As the fog lifted, I felt ok, could talk, and he realized my jaw wasn’t broken. He commanded me not to move yet as he emptied his emergency kit. He looked in my eyes and made sure they responded. He asked me a few questions which I presume I answered correctly. He made me move my jaw around more. He did a scan of the rest of my body, especially my legs, and then started taping up my still bleeding chin.

By this point the fog had completely cleared and I knew what had happened. I was on vacation for a week in Slovenia celebrating my partner Seth’s 40th birthday. Seth is a huge cyclist so his wife Greeley gave him a wonderful present of a week bike trip with seven of his cycling buddies and his three partners. We were on day four of an outstanding life experience together.

Until this summer I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was in high school other than a few random times on vacations. I’d never done any serious cycling and had completely missed the cycling craze of the last decade. Six months ago Seth helped me buy a bike – I’ve been mixing it in all summer with my marathon training, discovered Strava, learned how to shift gears properly, had started to learn what gear I should be in, experienced several back to back 30 mile training rides, and started to learn about how doping worked since that seems to be the central theme of many cycling conversations right after detailed descriptions of accidents.

The rides in Slovenia were awesome. The first day was 70 km – mostly flat. I took the second day off and then had another great 70 km day – by this point I was in a groove. On day 4 we had a huge 20km 2500 climb and descent, so I decided to run the hill which ended up being just about a half marathon. I started before the cyclists and finished 15 minutes before they did.

The first crash happened about 1 km from where I was waiting. Seth got a flat tire on a steep downhill and bit it immediately. He was ok beyond bruised hip and severe road rash – he shook it off and at this point I rejoined the group and got on my bike. I started off tentatively and was in the back of the pack as everyone else took off.

In hindsight there was no way I should have gotten on the bike. The next 1.5 km was a steep downhill and as I picked up speed to 40 km / hour I thought to myself something like “wheee this is fun” as I caught up with everyone in front of me. I then noticed a bridge coming up that corresponded with a sharp left turn. At this point, I have very little recollection of what happened. I’m sure I started braking but I knew I was going too fast. My partner Ryan was directly in front of me and I was coming up on him fast – I remember him saying, in a very calm, rational voice, “what are you doing?” The next thing I remember was blood dripping from my chin.

Those that observed what happened tell me that Ryan let out a blood curdling scream, I crashed into him as I was trying to make the turn, my bike got tangled up in his, and I went over the handlebars. The visor on my bike helmet was broken, so I clearly landed on my head – probably first since my chin only needed four stitches and my jaw wasn’t broken, although a molar was.

Thankfully Ryan was fine. He broke my fall and ended up with a few scrapes but other than being shaken up by his partner attempting to mate bicycles, he was ok. I had a daydream the next day about the two of us going over the side of the bridge tangled up together which just reinforced how glad I was that I hadn’t caused him to be injured.

Marko and Ron – the leader of our tour were awesome. Marko got me cleaned up and Ron tossed me in the van and took me to a local clinic in the next town (we were several hours away from a major hospital.) The doctor saw me in 30 minutes and stitched up my face in five, charged me 52 euros, and sent us on our way. We went to our hotel where I found out there was a dentist who had an office behind the hotel. Remember – this is a tiny little town in Slovenia (Kobarid). The dentist was amazing – he had better equipment than I’ve ever seen in the US, used a laser scanner to reconstruct my tooth, printed a new tooth on a milling machine in a back room, and within an hour sent me on my way with a new tooth for a mere 250 euros. From now on, I’m doing all my elective dental work in Kobarid.

All of that was on Thursday. I’m back in NY where Amy and I are planted for the next ten days. Other than stitches, a pair of nasty road rash cuts, and bruised ribs, I’m fine. I’ll be back on the bike again – I was having a lot of fun until suddenly I wasn’t, but the memory of that moment will fade with the scars. I guess I’ll be growing that beard I’ve been avoiding for a while.

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