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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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Digital Paralysis

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I heard a great phrase from Jenna Walker at Artifact Uprising yesterday. We had a Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network Colorado meeting with her and her partner and in the middle of the discussion about their business Jenna used the phrase “digital paralysis” to describe one of the things she thinks is driving the incredible engagement of their customers.

Her example was photography. Artifact Uprising came out of her original experience with photography, the dramatic shift to digital photography on iPhones and picture storage on Dropbox and Instagram, and the massive overwhelming feeling of having zillions of digital photos. In Jenna’s case, it’s caused a slow down of her photo taking (digital paralysis) because she’s overwhelmed with the massive numbers of photos she now has, doesn’t really have the energy to deal with them, and resists taking more because they’ll just end up along with the other zillions in Dropbox.

I totally identified with this. Amy and I have a huge number of digital artifacts at this point – with our enormous photo library being just one of them. The feeling of paralysis in dealing with them is substantial. After a brief tussle the other day over “hey – just share the photo stream with me of the stuff you are going to take today” followed by a struggle to figure out how to do it the way we wanted to do it and still have the photos end up in the same place, tension ensued and digital paralysis once again set it. I sent myself an email task to “spend an hour with the fucking photos on Dropbox” this weekend which I’ll probably end up avoiding dealing with due to digital paralysis.

Yesterday, my friend Dov Seidman wrote a great article in Fast Company titled Why There’s More To Taking A Break Than Just Sitting There. It’s worth a long, slow read in the context of reacting to being overwhelmed digitally as well as in the general intense pace of life today.

As I sat and thumbed through some of the beautiful photo books that Artifact Uprising creates, I could feel my brain slowing down and being less jangly as I settled into observing and interacting with something not-digital. Try it this weekend, and ponder it while you are taking a break. Pause, and explore why you are pausing, how it feels, and what you are doing about it. And see if it impacts your digital paralysis when you end the pause and go back to the computer.

After Your First Big Success, What’s Next?

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As exits have been flowing nicely again the past few years, many of the entrepreneurs I work with have experienced their first big exit. I refer to this moment as when you find that you have life changing money in your bank account, which I like to call “fuck you money.” You now can do whatever you want with the rest of your life.

I was on a walk with an entrepreneur recently who was wrestling with this when we ran into another entrepreneur I had backed who had an exit a while ago and had wrestled with the question of “what’s next.” We chatted briefly and then he hopped on his bike and continued his ride.

Later in the day, I got the following magnificent note in my inbox from my bike-riding successful friend.

I was thinking about the ‘what’s next’ conversation. I’m sure you’ve seen everything and are all over it, but in my more limited experience, for some people it’s harder than the what’s first conversation (i.e. should I start a company or not?).

I find, unfortunately, that a reasonable percentage of people chase their tail endlessly looking for the next big win, but they can never catch it because they have no idea what they are chasing. Their life spirals inward as they get more unsure of themselves, more frustrated, more unhappy.

I think this state of uncertainty and self doubt causes more depression, divorce and addiction for some people than starting and running a company. Especially if they’ve never felt failure before. Now they fail all the time and they can’t figure it out.

I think it’s mostly because they never find passion again, or they look for it in the wrong places. There are a million things they can do in the world, but the spend most of their time looking for the next great technology company that sells a better widget, but doesn’t necessarily change their life in any meaningful way.

They have grand opportunity because they are unbound to do something they truly love. If you love mentoring, mentor, if you love the environment, help it. If you love children, teach them. If you love your family, share with them. Give back to everyone who gave to you on the path to success, and then give more broadly to everyone who seems deserving.

To me, that’s the real grand victory.

Totally brilliant. And so simple.

I had my first exit when I sold my first company (Feld Technologies) at age 28. After the dust settled and I had sold all the stock I’d received, I’d made somewhere between $1m and $2m after tax. When Amy and I talked about “what’s next” when I was 29.5 (about the time I finished working for the company that bought mine) one of the options for consideration was to retire and move to Homer, Alaska. I was making plenty of money consulting and, while I was investing much of the money I made from the sale into new companies as an angel investor, the idea of living in Homer was attractive. We figured we could easily live for the rest of our life on consulting income and what we’d managed to save, even if none of the angel investments I was making turned into anything. When one of them was acquired a few months later and we had another $1m after tax, we realized that we could easily live on $40k / year of cash in Homer, which would last us about 25 years if we made no other income.

We were deeply in the “should we just call it quits and go live a different life conversation.” But at almost 30, I just didn’t feel done, and in many ways I felt that I was just at the beginning of a new journey (which turned out to be true.) So we packed up, moved from Boston to Boulder, and decided to build a life in Colorado, while I continued to invest. This was 1995 and the path from there has been powerful and dramatic. By 1999 I had to ponder “what’s next” again after a number of my angel investments returned more money to me than I ever thought I’d have, and then again in 2002 after getting massively crushed by the collapse of the Internet bubble and losing even more money on paper than I expected I’d make cumulatively in my lifetime.

I’ve been through the “what’s next” discussion with Amy several times, including in 2004 when I doubled down on Mobius Venture Capital (instead of packing it up and calling it quits), in 2006 when we decided to start Techstars and Foundry Group, and again in 2013 after spending six months being extremely depressed.

Each time, I’m adjusted how I spend my life in the way my friend talks about in his final paragraph:

They have grand opportunity because they are unbound to do something they truly love. If you love mentoring, mentor, if you love the environment, help it. If you love children, teach them. If you love your family, share with them. Give back to everyone who gave to you on the path to success, and then give more broadly to everyone who seems deserving.

If you’ve recently had some success, as you go into the weekend, take some time out to ponder how you are you thinking about this. And share if you have any insights!

Mixing Startups and a New Baby

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Nope, Amy isn’t pregnant. But Bart Lorang’s (founder/CEO of FullContact) wife Sarah is. And Bart has started a new blog called Startup Baby. Well – it’s sort of a blog, or a Medium thing – whatever those are called.

His first post is awesome. It’s titled Holy Shit! I’m having a Startup Baby! Here’s a taste.

Now I would soon have a child added to the long list of ‘things I’m responsible for.’

Hugo assured me: “There are plenty of books available. There are plenty of mentors available. People have done it before. You are not unique. “

Still, I was scared shitless.

I was scared I’d be a bad father.

I was scared that I’d let down my wife.

I was scared that I wouldn’t be simultaneously a good father AND a good CEO.

And you know what? It’s a few months later, and I’m still scared.

Bart is an awesome writer – and prolific. It’s the one part of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur that I feel like we really missed. I’m psyched Bart is filling in the details!

This is going to be an awesome blog. And I expect it’ll be an awesome journey for Bart and Sarah.

Love and Knowledge Conquer All

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As we head into the weekend (which I need very badly), I thought I’d toss up a fun video that the gang at Name.com made recently. They’ve done some funny videos as part of their promotional campaigns (they are our domain registrar – good folks) and asked if Amy and I would do one that references our book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.

It’s short and I get a silly grin on my face every time I watch it. There are a handful of inside jokes and in the spirit of never taking oneself very seriously, we execute this spirit well. And, as every good salesperson should say, “If you like the video, you’ll love the book – grab your copy of Startup Life now.”

My Day1 Talk For Endeavor

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When I was in Rio a few months ago for the Global Entrepreneurial Congress, I did a talk called “Day1” that Endeavor puts on. It’s a 20 minute presentation about “your day 1″ – a profound moment that impacted your entrepreneurial journey.

I decided to talk about a number of Day 1′s that I’ve had. I’ve always felt that with the dawn of each day is a new chance to “try again to be the best that I can be.” So my Day 1′s vary a lot – some good, some bad, but all full of lessons for me. They include:

  • Me deciding not to be a doctor
  • My first real job
  • Hating MIT as a freshman and almost leaving
  • Deciding to sell my first company
  • Having Amy tell me I was a lousy roommate
  • Learning they can’t kill you and they can’t eat you
  • The power of a random day

I mention plenty of characters – some you’ve heard of on this blog and some new ones. My dad (Stan), Chris and Helena Aves, Dave Jilk, Len Fassler and Jerry Poch, Raj Bhargava, Steve Maggs, my partners Seth, Jason, and Ryan, David Cohen, and of course Amy.

When I give a talk like this I never really know where it will go when I start. I don’t prepare – it’s 100% extemporaneous. I was the second person to present a Day1 so I had 20 minutes to listen to someone else’s as I rolled around some stories in my head. Amy and I just listened to it together and it made us both smile and chuckle a lot with memories.

What’s your Day1?

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