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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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How Does A Small Company Make A Big Company Successful?

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Every single day I have multiple conversations and emails from CEOs and people at companies I work with about how to work with Big Tech Companies. You know – Google, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce, SAP, LinkedIn, Cisco, Yahoo, HP, AT&T, Verizon, Icouldkeepgoingforalongtime.

But this conversation is not limited to just the gigantic tech companies. They include all the up and comers andtheabunchmoreyouprobablydontthinkarethatbigbutare, including a long list of newly public companies or still private but mega-funded companies.

This conversation comes from two different directions.

- BigCo reaches out to LittleCo and has a classic “happy ears meeting” where BigCo talks a great game about all the great things the two companies can do together and how it’s going to be awesome and LittleCo hears what they want to hear, not what has been actually said. And then the giant black time suck hole of the “let’s work together dance” begins. In the typical case, this goes one for months and months without any resolution or action. Eventually everyone gets tired of each other.

- LittleCo reaches out to me and says “Hey – I really think we could be strategic to BigCo. Can you make an introduction.”

My response to each of these is NO NO NO NO NO NO. After I say NO a few more times, I state “You are thinking about it wrong.”

Instead of expecting BigCo to react to you in any way, start from the perspective that if you want a relationship with BigCo, your only goal in life should be to help BigCo be successful.

Start by coming up with a hypothesis about what you are going to do to help BigCo be successful. Then, test this hypothesis. The Lean Startup approach is super helpful here. Test, ship, iterate – just keep trying and keep learning. Use what you are creating to get the attention of BigCo. Don’t spend six months developing a business development relationship. Don’t spend months trying to get the decision maker on the phone before you’ve done anything. Don’t wine and dine endlessly the people you know, or get connected to. And never, ever go single threaded with one person at BigCo, or one BigCo, hoping something good will happen.

Simply go do some shit for BigCo. Be precise. Execute well. Communicate it to the people you know at BigCo. Do it without any formal arrangement. Show BigCo why they care and why you are the one that will move the meter for them.

Then you can start having the business conversation.

As a bonus, this works for sales also. But you probably figured that out already.

After Failure, What’s Next?

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Recently, I wrote a post titled After Your First Big Success, What’s Next? The comment thread was powerful and fascinating, as was the direct email feedback I got, including the following note:

“I think it would be interesting to hear your perspective on how an entrepreneur should approach “what’s next” after coming off a failed business. How should one manage their own emotions and their own perspectives post failure? It’s easy to play the blame game and it’s easy to be extremely hard on ourselves. There has to be constructive ways to move forward rather than destructive ways that could lead to lack of confidence, or depression.”

Having failed at a lot of things, I’m completely comfortable tackling this. But let me establish my bonafides first. My first company, Martingale Software, failed (we returned $7,000 of the $10,000 we raised.) My second company, DataVision Technologies failed. I didn’t have success until my third company, Feld Technologies. While my first angel investment was a success, I resigned as the chairman after the VCs came in and left the board after the CEO was replaced. In the late 1990s, what looked like my biggest success at the time, went public, peaked at an almost $3 billion market cap, and then went bankrupt three years after the IPO. And the second VC fund I was part of, which raised $660 million in 1999, was a complete disaster.

As the cliche goes, I learned a lot from these failures.

I’ve had many more. I remember firing my first employee, which I viewed as a failure on my part, not hers. I remember the first CEO I fired and staying up all night prior to doing it because I was so nervous and miserable about the decision I’d made to back him. I remember the first company I funded as a VC that failed and struggling to figure out how to shut it down after everyone else fled from the scene. I remember the first time someone threatened to sue me for doing a bad job for them (they didn’t.) I remember the first time I was sued for something I didn’t do (I eventually won.) I can keep going, but you get the idea.

What’s next is simple. It’s whatever you do next. In some cases this will be easy – you’ll already be on to the next thing before the previous thing you were working on failed. In many cases it won’t be easy – you’ll be wallowing in the quicksand of the failure well after the other bodies have been sucked below the surface.

How you deal with your own emotions, and perspectives, is an entirely different matter.

I love the approach of Jeremy Bloom, the CEO of Integrate (we are investors) who I have immense respect and adoration for. In 2006 at the Winter Olympics, he was the best freestyle mogul skier in the world. On his last run, he was expected to take gold. Halfway down he missed a turn and placed sixth. As Jeremy told me, he gave himself 24 hours to be angry, depressed, upset, furious, frustrated, confused, and despondent. I imagine him in his room in the Olympic Village systematically destroying all the furniture. One minute after 24 hours, he was on to the next thing, with the failure solidly in his rear view mirror.

Now, 24 hours is a short amount of time. I’ve often carried my failures around for longer, but never much longer than a couple of days. I separate how I feel from failure from how I feel about life and what I’m doing. Interestingly, for me, failure isn’t the thing that gets me depressed, it’s boredom combined with exhaustion. But that took me a long time to figure out.

I’ve found that talking to people about my failures is helpful. Rather than hold them inside, I talk to Amy (my beloved) about them. I talk to my partners about them. I talk to my close friends about them. I don’t ignore the failure or try to bottle it up somewhere. Rather, I set it free, as quickly as I can.

In our book Do More Faster, we have a chapter on the the wonderful story of the failure of EventVue. After it failed, some of Rob and Josh’s friends from the Boulder Startup Community had a wake for EventVue. We celebrated its life, buried it, and moved on. I loved this idea and have done it a few other times for failed companies. It’s important to remember that even in death you can celebrate the wonderful things that happened during life.

But ultimately, you have to know yourself. There is no right answer or magic salve for getting past failure. If you are going to be an entrepreneur, you are going to experience it a lot. It’s just part of the gig. Start by understanding that, and asking yourself what you are really afraid of. And, after you fail at something, let yourself experience whatever you want to experience, remembering that it’s just another small part of the journey through life. And then go on to whatever is next, in whatever time you are ready for it.

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!

I Am Not My Stock Price

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If you are an founder or employee of a public company, repeat after me:

I am not my stock price.”

This is one of my favorite Jeff Bezos quotes.

It’s easily to get bummed out when your stock price drops. I believe the emotions follow the +1/-5 rule. Each time it goes up, you get one unit of happiness. Each time it goes down, you get -5 units of happiness.

Think about that for a second. If you look at the stock price every day the market is open, you’ll look at it about 250 times a year. Let’s assume that your stock is higher at the end of the year, but that on 125 days it goes up, and 125 days it goes down. You’ll have +125 happiness for the up days and -625 happiness for the down days. Even though your stock price is higher at the end of the year, you’ll have -500 happiness points.

Now, in the above case, if you only look at your stock at the end of each month, you’ll have 6 up days and 6 down days. That’s +6 – 30 = -24 happiness points. Still unhappy, but less so.

If you look at the stock only one time at the end of the year, you’ll have +1 happiness points.

Lesson: Don’t look at your stock price. Run your business. Work in your business. Do amazing things. Build value. Derive your happiness from the amazing things you are doing for your customers, the great people you work with, and the mission that you are on. Oh – and all the great things in the rest of your life outside of work.

Remember: You are not your stock price.

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.

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