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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 Work Begins When The Milestone Ends

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Today’s guest post from Chris Moody, the COO of Gnip, follows on the heels of the amazing Big Boulder event that Gnip put on last Thursday and Friday. To get a feel for some of the speakers, take a look at the following blog posts summarizing talks from leaders of Tumblr, Disqus, Facebook, Klout, LinkedIn, StockTwits, GetGlue, Get Satisfaction, and Twitter.

The event was fantastic, but Chris sent out a powerful email to everyone at Gnip on Saturday that basically said “awesome job on Big Boulder – our work is just beginning.” For a more detailed version, and some thoughts on why The Work Begins When The Milestone Ends, I now hand off the keyboard to Chris.

We’ve just finished up Big Boulder, the first ever conference dedicated to social data.   By all accounts, the attendees and the presenters had a great experience. The Gnip team is flying high from all the exciting conversations and the positive feedback.   After countless hours of planning, hard work, and sleepless nights, it is very tempting to kick back and relax. There is a strong natural pull to get back into a normal workflow. But, we can’t relax and we won’t.  Here’s why.

As a company it is important to recognize the difference between a milestone and a meaningful business result.  Although it took us almost nine months to plan the event, Big Boulder is really just a milestone.   In this particular case, it is actually an early milestone.    The real results will likely begin months from now.   All too often startups confuse milestones for results.   This mistake can be deadly.

Milestones Are Not Results

Milestones represent progress towards a business result.  Examples of milestones that are commonly mistaken for results include:

Getting Funded.  Having someone make an early investment in your company is positive affirmation that at least one person (and perhaps many) believe in what you are trying to accomplish.  But, the results will come based upon how effectively you spend the money; build your team/product, etc.  Chris Sacca has tweeted a few times that he doesn’t understand why startups ever announce funding.  Although I haven’t heard him explain his tweets, I assume he is making the point that funding isn’t a meaningful business result so it doesn’t make sense to announce the news to the world.

Signing a partnership.  Getting a strategic partnership deal signed can take lots of hard work and months/years to accomplish.  Once a partnership deal is finally signed, a big announcement usually follows.  The team may celebrate because all the hard work has finally paid off.  But, the obvious mistake is thinking the hard work has paid off.  Getting the deal signed is a major milestone, but the results will likely be based upon the amount of effort your team puts in to the partnership after the deal is signed.  I’ve never experienced a successful partnership that just worked after the deal was signed.  Partnerships typically take a tremendous amount of ongoing work in order to get meaningful results.

Releasing a new feature.   Your team has worked many late nights getting a new killer feature in to the product.  You finally get the release out the door and a nice article runs in TechCrunch the next day.  The resulting coverage leads to your highest site traffic in a year.   But, have you really accomplished any business results yet?  Often the results will come after lots of customer education, usage analysis, or feature iterations.   If no customers use the new feature, have you really accomplished anything?

Is it okay to celebrate milestones?  Absolutely! Blow off steam for a half-day or a long celebratory night.  Take the time to recognize the team’s efforts and to thank them for their hard work.   But, also use that moment to remind everyone that the true benefits will happen based upon what you do next.

Results Increase Value

Unlike milestones, results have a direct impact on the value of the company.  Results also vary dramatically based upon different business models.   Examples of common results include: increasing monthly recurring revenue, decreasing customer turnover, lowering cost of goods sold (increasing gross margin).

Announcing a new feature is a milestone because it adds no value to the company.  On the other hand, having customers actually adopt a new feature might increase customer retention, which could be a meaningful business result.

The Work Begins When X Ends

When I worked at Aquent, there was a point in time when we were doing lots of tradeshows. We noticed a pattern of team members taking months to prepare for an event and then returning from the tradeshow declaring the event a success.   They would put a stack of business cards on their desk and spend the next several weeks digging out from the backlog of normal work stuff.  The business cards would begin to collect dust and the hot leads from the show would eventually become too cold to be useful.

In order to avoid this phenomenon, someone coined the expression “the work begins when the tradeshow ends”.  This simple statement had a big impact on the way that I think about milestones versus results.  Since that time, I’ve used the concept of this phrase hundreds of times to remind my team and myself that a particular milestone isn’t a result.    You can substitute the word “tradeshow” for whatever milestone your team has recently achieved to help maintain focus.

The most recent example?  The work begins when Big Boulder ends.

Games Where The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play

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By now the blogosphere, twitterverse, and even mainstream media is abuzz with the absurd decision that Yahoo has made to sue Facebook over ten software patents with the assertion that Facebook’s entire business is based on Yahoo’s patented inventions. My partner Jason Mendelson called this on 2/28 when he wrote his post Goodbye Yahoo! It was nice knowing you and Fred Wilson weighed in this morning with his post Yahoo! Crosses The Line.

My personal view is well known – I don’t think any of these patents are actually valid. Take a look at the analysis on PaidContent of The 10 Patents Yahoo Is Using To Sue Facebook, read the plain English descriptions, and then look at the filing dates. Now, try to make the argument that these are novel, useful, and non-obvious inventions of the part of Yahoo. For a less nuanced view, now read TechDirt’s post Delusions Of Grandeur: Yahoo Officially Sues Facebook, Laughably Argues That Facebook’s Entire Model Is Based On Yahoo.

I’m hopeful this is the beginning of the endgame of massive patent reform around software. It’s time for the entire industry to recognize that we are quickly shifting from a cold war (patents are deterrents) to a nuclear war that – like the one in War Games - the only winning move is not to play.

I’ve decided to let a week pass while I think about what the right response to this is. Software patents have the same polarizing dynamic that SOPA/PIPA had . Our government is, through laws and regulations – many of which make no sense, has created a construct with the legal industry that is untenable. Once again, we see an incumbent (Yahoo – and yes, I recognize the irony of calling Yahoo an incumbent) attacking an innovator (Facebook) with irrational weapons that have huge collateral damage, all in the name of “enhancing shareholder value.”

This is not a winnable game for Yahoo, the Internet, innovation, or society. Like nuclear war, the only winning move is not to play. However, Yahoo has now played. The next few moves are critically important.

Happy Birthday, I’m Unfriending You

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In December I wrote a post titled It’s Not About Having The Most Friends, It’s About Having The Best Friends. Since then I’ve been systematically modifying my social networking behavior and cleaning up my various social graphs. As a significant content generator in a variety of forms (blogs, books, tweets, videos) and a massive content consumer, I found that my historical approach of social network promiscuity wasn’t working well for me in terms of surfacing information.

I made two major changes to the way I use various social networks. I went through each one and categorized each on three dimensions: (1) consumption vs. broadcast and (2) public vs. private, (3) selective vs. promiscuous. These are not binary choices – I can be both a content consumer and a broadcaster on the same social network, but I’ll use it differently depending where on the spectrum I am.

For example, consider Facebook. I determined I was in the middle of the consumption/broadcast spectrum, public, and selective. With Foursquare, I determined I was closer to broadcast and private and very selective. With LinkedIn, I was 100% broadcast, public, and promiscuous. With Twitter, I was similar to Facebook, but with a much wider broadcast and promiscuous. With RunKeeper, very strong on broadcast, public, but selective.

I then looked at the tools I was using. Yesterday I noticed Fred Wilson’s email The Black Hole Of Email and it reminded me that I view email as my primary communication channel for broad accessibility (I try to answer every email I get within 24 hours – if it takes longer you know I’m on the road or got behind) and often respond within minutes if I’m in front of my computer. But I’ve worked very hard to cut all of the noise out of my email channel – I have no email subscriptions (thanks OtherInBox), I get no spam (thanks Postini), I run zero inbox (read and reply / archive immediately), and am very selective with the notifications I get via email (i.e. I check Meetup.com daily, but the only email notifications I get are for Boulder Is For Robots.) As a result, I find email manageable and a powerful / simple comm channel for me.

Tuning each social network has ranged from trivial (15 minutes with RunKeeper and I was in a happy place) to medium (Foursquare took an hour to clean up my 800+ friends to 100-ish) to extremely painful (going from 3000 Facebook friends to a useful set seemed overwhelming.) I decided to clean up the easy ones first and then come up with manual algorithms for the harder ones.

My favorite approach is what I’m doing with Facebook. Every day I go into the Events tab and look at the birthday list. I then unfriend the people whose name I don’t recognize or who I don’t want to consume in my news feed. Since Facebook’s social graph is on the public side, people can still follow me (ala Twitter follow). I view this as a reverse birthday gift which probably enhances both of our lives.

In contrast, I’ve continued to just accept all LinkedIn requests except from obvious recruiters or people who look like spambots. I know they can pay to get access to my social graph – that’s fine – I want them to have to pay someone or work a little for it, not just get it for free, but the benefit of having a wide social graph on LinkedIn for the one time a week I use it to hunt someone down somewhere far outweighs the pain of being promiscuous.

I’ve continued to find and use other tools for managing all the data. One of my new favorites is Engag.io. Rather than getting a stream of Facebook email notifications, I check it once a day and respond to everything that I see. I’ve noticed that I find comments in other services like Foursquare that I was previously missing, and rather than having a pile of clutter in my inbox, I can interact it with once a day for ten minutes.

When I reflect on my approach, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s very algorithmic. That’s how I’ve always driven my content consumption / content generation world and part of the reason it doesn’t overwhelm me. Sure – it spikes up at times and becomes less useful / more chaotic (like it did last year when I realized Facebook wasn’t really useful for me anyone.) This causes me to step back, figure out a new set of algorithms, and get it newly tamed. And yes, Facebook is now much more useful and interesting to me after only a few months of cleanup.

I’m always looking for new tools and approaches to this so if you have a great one, please tell me. For example, the “unfriend on birthdays” approach was suggested several times in the comments to one of the posts and after trying a Greasemonkey plugin, manual unfriending on the iPad while watching TV, and other brute force approaches, I just decided I’d clean it up over a year via the birthday approach. So – keep the comments and emails flowing – they mean a lot to me.

Connect to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and G+

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I noticed something when I tried out two apps (Mingly and Cobook) this morning – they each immediately asked to connect me to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter during their onboarding process. And, by using my Gmail as the starting point / authentication, they connected me to G+.

Microsoft is conspicuously absent from this. I’ve noticed this many times in the past but when you onboard yourself in two contact-related apps in the same morning and there is no Microsoft anywhere, there’s something going on that’s important. I wonder if this will change with Office 365 – I hope Microsoft is building a trivial to use oauth to O365 so it’s easy to connect to, along with a good sync API.

I was trying to think of other authentication that would be helpful to me in the context of my contacts. Almost everything else I use is based on either my email address or auth with one of these four services. Hmmm.

So far Mingly feels basically the same as Gist but Cobook seems different than anything I’ve used. I have no idea if I’ll keep using either of these, but like many things in the themes we invest in, I love to play around with new apps for a while and see if it sticks.

It’s Not About Having The Most Friends, It’s About Having The Best Friends

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Over the past month I’ve been systematically cleaning up my social graph. It took me a while to figure out how I wanted to do this, as I’m a very active user of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Google+ along with a bunch of applications that leverage these various social graphs. Historically, I’ve been a very promiscuous friender, accepting almost all friend requests.

While this strategy worked fine for me for Twitter (since I didn’t have to do anything, and could deliberately choose who I wanted to follow) this didn’t work for any of the other services. Specifically, Facebook had become basically useless to me, LinkedIn’s activity feed was pointless, Foursquare scared me a little, and Google+ was just a cluttered mess.

As I used each of these services daily, I thought hard about how I was using them and what I was doing. I realized that I was using Twitter ideally and no changes were needed. I broadcast regularly through Twitter, which connects to Facebook and broadcasts there as well. I consume content in a stream throughout the day from about 600 people who I follow. I unfollow someone periodically and add someone new periodically. The tempo works fine and I have my Twitter activity feed up on my Mac all day long.

Facebook was more perplexing to me. Ultimately I decided to orient around my activity feed and started unfriending anyone who I didn’t want to see in my activity feed. Given the current Facebook infrastructure, these folks will still “subscribe” to me (same as Twitter follow) and anyone who wants to subscribe to me can. Unfortunately, the UX for unfriending someone Facebook is horrible, so it’s a tedious and long process. I’ve decided to unfriend 10 people a day which means I’ll be done in about 200 days. I realize that once I’ve got this done I need to adjust my security settings to reflect what I actually want to share. That’ll happen at some point.

LinkedIn was easy – I just decided to ignore the activity stream. I’m remaining promiscuous at LinkedIn with two exceptions – no recruiters and no totally random people. LinkedIn continues to be the best way for me to discover professional connections to people I want to reach and the wider the network, the better.

Foursquare was the hardest to figure out. I rebroadcast Foursquare to Facebook and had a very uncomfortable experience this summer with someone pretending to stalk me on Foursquare. While it was a prank, I never found out who did it which caused me to quit Foursquare for a few months. I get too much value out of Foursquare as a historical record (I love 4sqand7yearsago) so I’ve just decided to aggressively unfriend anyone who I’m not close to. Once I get this done, Facebook done, and my security settings right, I’ll be in a happy place.

Google+ is more dynamic right now as I figure out how I really want to use it. I’m finding the integration into Gmail to be very interesting and I expect my use case will change as they roll out more features, like they did today. For now, I’m using it much more like Twitter.

As I’ve been cleaning this up, I realized that I have a bunch of awesome friends. When I look at my friends lists in apps like RunKeeper and Fitbit, I smile a big smile about who I’m connected to. Most importantly, I realize that all of this technology is enhancing my relationships, and it reminds me to be deliberate about how I use it.

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