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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Help – I’m in Email Group Hell

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Lately, I’ve been struggling to figure out the best way to have expanding email groups. I’ve tried all the obvious stuff and nothing is satisfying to me.

Historically, I’ve just used Google Groups. That’s great for things like the Foundry Group CEO list, where we control the list, but then we have to host it at a @foundrygroup.com domain.

For the Colorado CEO Jobs list, we were using Yahoo Groups for a while. Even with the new upgrade last year I find the UX to be terrible so I recently moved it over the Google+. Now I’m hearing complaints about not getting the emails which usually results from notifications being turned off, but you wouldn’t know that unless you were paying attention. And, if you don’t have a Google+ account, you can’t be on the list.

I tried Facebook Groups for another group – it had zero engagement.

What do you use? Any suggestions for me getting out of hell?

Corporate Bad Activity Against Innovators

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There’s an amazing amount of bad activity going on in the world of tech right now. It’s predictable – when things start going well the switch flips from fear back to greed and all sorts of craziness ensues. One of the things I see appear is a steady stream of crap aimed at innovators. Patent trolls are an easy one, but heavy handed regulatory activity by incumbents and random lawsuits around acquisitions are also part for the course.

I was going to write about how the FCC’s potential action on net neutrality could seriously jeopardize Internet innovation, but Fred Wilson beat me to it (he’s got an east coast time advantage over me) with a phenomenal post titled The Fast Lane, The Slow Lane, and The No Lane. I love the phrase “permissionless innovation” as well as the way Fred describes the issue:

“But that period of “permissionless innovation” is likely to come to an end soon if we all let it. The FCC has responded to a court ruling by proposing a convoluted set of rules that will allow fast lanes, slow lanes, and what’s even worse, no lanes. The FCC’s proposal will allow the telcos and cable companies that provide the last mile connection to your home or office to prioritize some bits over others. That’s how they create the fast lane and the slow lane. It also allows discrimination in which they can decide not to allow your bits through at all, creating a “no lane”.”

Go read Fred’s post The Fast Lane, The Slow Lane, and The No Lane and then hit the back button to continue here. I’ll wait.

If you wonder who is driving this, it’s the telcos and cable companies who control the last mile. Please don’t pretend that you are surprised.

But that’s just one category of bad activity that falls in the “incumbents trying to use government regulation to control their industry and suppress innovation.” Nothing new here – it’s been going on since the beginning of time.

A different version of this popped up last week. If you recall, a month or so ago Facebook announced that it was buying Oculus Rift for an eye popping $2 billion. Amazing and congrats to everyone involved in Oculus Rift. I’ve long been a John Carmack fanboy since I first played Doom and realized id Software was based in Mesquite, TX, near where I grew up. I’ve always loved his hacker spirit, amazing ability to do things no one else could envision, and willingness to open source a lot of his work to lead the way for others. So I thought it was pretty awesome when he went to be CTO of Oculus Rift to pursue the next generation of virtual reality software.

Now, I don’t know John, I’m not an investor in Oculus Rift, or Facebook, or Zenimax, but I wasn’t particularly surprised when Zenimax decided to assert that it owned part of Carmack’s brain. You can read an enormous amount of chatter about the situation, and form your own conclusion, but mine is that Zenimax is a bad actor here. Given that Zenimax wouldn’t let Carmack pursue any virtual reality work while at Zenimax resulted in the logical conclusion that he’d leave and do something else. Asserting that whatever was in his brain while employed at Zenimax belongs to Zenimax is nonsense. There’s a phrase for that: “intellectual slavery” and it’s not one I support.

If you are interested in this situation, here are some good links to understand what is going on and being asserted.

Now that I’ve been clear about what I think, I’m curious what you think.

A Confusing Social Media Birthday

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I turned 48 on December 1st. I took a week off the grid (from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving until the Wednesday after my birthday) – part of my quarterly off the grid routine with Amy. We had a very mellow birthday this year, spent it with a few friends who came to visit us in San Diego at the tennis place we love to hide at, and basically just slept late, played tennis, read a lot, got massages, ate nice food, and had adult activities.

I returned to an onslaught of email (no surprise) which included a long list of happy birthday wishes. I had 129 happy birthday wall posts and about 50 LinkedIn happy birthday messages.

As I read through them, I was intrigued and confused.

  • The Facebook wall posts were nice – almost all said either “happy birthday” or “happy birthday + some nice words.” I received one gift via Facebook (a charitable donation – thanks Tisch, you’ve got class!) Ok – that felt pretty good.
  • The emails were mixed. Many of them were like the Facebook wall posts. A few of them were online cards. But about 10% of them asked me for something, using the happy birthday message as an excuse to “reconnect.”
  • About 50% of the LinkedIn messages were requests for something. The subject line was “Happy Birthday” but the message then asked for something.

I decided not to respond to any of them. There were a few emails with specific stuff that I wanted to say, but the vast majority I just read and archived.

I found myself noticeably bummed out after going through the LinkedIn ones. I woke up thinking about it again today, especially against the backdrop of reading Dave Eggers awesome book The Circle (more on that coming soon.)

I’m an enormous believer in the idea of “give before you get.” It’s at the core of my Boulder Thesis in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City  and how I try to live my personal and business live. Fortunately, many of the people I am close to also believe in this and incorporate it into the way they live.

When processing my birthday wishes, especially the LinkedIn ones, there was very little “give before you get.” That’s fine – I don’t expect that from anyone – it’s not part of my view of an interaction model that I have to impose it on others. But I was really surprised by the number of people that used my birthday as a way to “get something” without “giving something” other than a few words in a social media message.

This confused me. The more I thought about it, the more I was confused, especially by the difference between email, Facebook, and LinkedIn. When I tried to organize my thinking, the only thing I could come up with was that email was “variable”, Facebook was “generic”, and LinkedIn was “selfish.” I didn’t love these characterizations, but this prompted me to write this post in an effort to understand it better.

Oh – and the best thing I got electronically for my birthday was from Andrei Soroker via a different channel – Kato.

I’m going to ponder the “culture of different communication channels” more, but I’m especially curious if anyone out there has a clear point of view on the different cultures between email, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Feel free to toss Twitter in the mix if you want.

Evidence of Google Winning The Generational Shift Over Microsoft

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An email was forwarded to me this morning that had the following text in it (I’ve anonymized “The College” but it’s a large, well-regarded four year university.)

The College is Going Google! What does this mean? How will it impact teaching and learning at The College? Many K-12 school districts are using Google Apps for Education, providing their students with access to Google productivity tools as early as primary school. Students coming to The College in the next five years may never have opened Microsoft Word, but will be familiar with sharing, collaborating, and publishing with Google tools. Are you ready?

I spend time at a few universities, including MIT and CU Boulder. I’m teaching a class this semester at CU Boulder with Phil Weiser and Brad Bernthal called “Philosophy of Entrepreneurship.” We had our first class last week – Brad Bernthal led so Phil and I sat in the back. I noticed a bunch of students with their email open during class – almost every one of them was using Gmail.

A meme went around a few years ago that kids using Facebook would never use email and that Facebook would replace Microsoft Outlook and Gmail. This never really made sense to me, especially since I’d already heard that text messaging would replace email, and then I heard that X would replace email, and now it was going to be Facebook. As much as email frustrates us, it’s still by far the most ubiquitous comm channel.

But as someone who switched completely from Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps a few years ago, it seemed clear to me that Microsoft was going to come under incredible pressure on this vector. Office 365 was one of Microsoft’s reactions to this, but I still haven’t met any company that uses Office 365 as it’s primary infrastructure, although Microsoft has a nice site called NowOnOffice365.com that lists a bunch.

Now, it appears that Google is taking a page from the Apple playbook and focusing on higher education. Apple did this magnificently in the 1980′s when I was in college and did this again in the past decade. Jobs was always focused on universities – I still remember “computers are bicycles for the mind” and the 50% discount off of retail promotion that MIT had in 1984 or 1985.

I don’t focus on market share dynamics (I’m sure there are teams of people at Microsoft and Google focused on this) but the anecdotal evidence I’m seeing is powerful. And when The College switches to Google Apps because the students coming to The College are already well steeped in it and “may have never opened Microsoft Word”, something really interesting is going on.

If your organization is on Office 365, I’d love to hear from you in the comments to understand how you are using it. Are you using document collaboration via SkyDrive, or just Office 365 as the backend service for Email instead of Exchange?

If you are a college student using Microsoft Outlook instead of Gmail, tell me why.

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The Google+ Long Game Is Brilliant

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I’m finding myself using Google+ more and more. I recently decided that the long game Google is playing is absolutely brilliant. They are being understated about it but doing exactly what business strategists talk about when they describe the long game as the one to play.

Rather than making a bunch of sweeping pronouncements, struggling to jam together a bunch of random crap in a big bang release, and then worry about staying involved in a feature race with a competitor, Google is continually experimenting with new functionality, rolling it out broadly in a fully integrated fashion on a continuous basis, and providing it as a core part of an ever expanding thing that is getting more and more useful by the week.

By now I hope you are saying something like “What the fuck is he talking about – Facebook is crushing Google+” or something like that. Yeah, whatever. That’s why it’s the long game that they are playing.

Here are some examples.

I live in GmailSuddenly, I found this magical thing called Circles to be useful. When I get behind on my email, I simply go through a few of the circles (Foundry, Foundry Ents) and clear the email from my partners, my assistant Kelly, and the CEOs I work with. I have persistent chat up – I find that 80% of my chats now go through Gchat (the other 20% are Skype, and they are almost always requested by someone else.) And now that there are Hangouts integrated, many of these are videos.

Google Voice is my Phone NumberI used to have desktop phones. I don’t anymore – I have a Google voice # and an iPhone. I give everyone my Google voice #. It works everywhere. I never think about what phone I’m using anymore. And I do many calls via the computer.

Google Hangouts is my new Calendar Invite. I hate the telephone. Hate hate hate. But I don’t mind chat. And I don’t mind a Google Hangout / video call. All of a sudden I can make invites from Google Calendar that are Hangout invites. Done – every phone call / conference call is now a Hangout.

I live in ChromeI have several computers. I never notice the difference between them. I’m downstairs at my place in Keystone right now on my Macbook Air. When I go up into my office, I’ll be on my treadputer with a different Macbook Air (an older one) connected to a 27″ monitor. I switch regularly between the two throughout the day and don’t even notice.

Now you are thinking “Ok Brad, but other than the Hangouts, Circles within email, and Hangouts within Calendar, what are you using Google+ for?” Just those three things have completely changed my workflow massively for the better. And they just showed up for me one day – I didn’t have to do anything.

In 2012 I used all the normal Google+ stuff. I reposted content there. I followed people. I occasionally chatted, commented, or +1ed. Facebook-like features. But I didn’t care that much about that stuff – yet.

All of a sudden I’ve got Communities. I’ve got Events. I’ve got Pages. And Hangouts, and Circles integrats seamlessly with each of these things. And they are nicely integrated with Gmail and Calendar. And suddenly I can do On Air Hangouts. And, I can record them automatically and save them to my Youtube channel. Keep playing for another few years, user by user, company by company, integrated feature by integrated feature.

Yeah, it drives me batshit that Google still things I’m brad@feld.com, brad@foundrygroup.com, brad@startuprev.com, and brad.feld@gmail.com. Some day they’ll integrate these. And as I approach 25,000 contacts, I’ll probably start bitching about how this limit is ridiculous, just like I did at 10,000. But I can deal with all of that.

Google – thanks for playing the long game here. I wish more companies, especially other tech companies, did this especially when they have massive resources. Sure – some think they are playing the long game, but they are really playing the short game with a bunch of things that take a long time for them to get out the door. Different game.

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