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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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Raving Fans – How Our Themes Evolve

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We had our Foundry Group annual meeting yesterday. I enjoy our annual meetings – we get to spent a focused chunk of time with our investors. We have a straightforward meeting – a dinner for our advisory board the night before, drinks after for all LPs, our advisory board meeting first thing in the morning, and then the full meeting until lunch time. There’s no crazy party, no big events – just substance on our part and direct interactions with the investors supporting us. Our goal is simple – provide a clear update about what is going on in our funds, talk about what we are thinking about, and get direct feedback from our investors.

We spend the day before the meeting as a team putting the final touches on our presentation and reflecting on the previous year. We always talk about our key principles that we established when we started Foundry Group in 2007. One of these key principles is a “thematic investing approach.” An important part of our themes is that they are continuously evolving (if interested, we publish details on how we are currently thinking about themes on our Foundry Group website.) Our LPs understand this well and always like to hear how we are currently thinking about themes at our meeting.

On Tuesday, we realized that we have made several investments yesterday that have a concept in common – that of raving fans. I first thought of raving fans when I read Ken Blanchard’s book by the same name in 1993 when I was CEO of Feld Technologies (my first company). The message rang true for me then and still does today. The tl;dr version is “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better. Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create Raving Fans.”

Our investment in Sympoz (owners of Craftsy) is an example of a company built on raving fans. Craftsy is a community of people who love to make things  - knitters, quilters, sewers, jewelers. If you know a knitter (I do – Amy is a fanatical knitter as is my mom Cecelia) you know that knitters are “raving fans of knitting.” We invested in Sympoz in our Distribution theme, but it has this special characteristic around its community that felt a little different to us.

We classify our investment in SideTour as “Other”. We say that we aren’t slaves to our themes – we’ll occasionally do something outside of a theme if we love the entrepreneurs and have a special connection to them. In the case of SideTour, they were one of our favorite companies in their TechStars New York class and we were infatuated with the types of experiences they were talking about providing in their marketplace. As we were talking about Sympoz (which is doing extraordinarily well) and SideTour, we realized that the “raving fans” concept applies to each of them.

I had a call yesterday with another entrepreneur running a company that we passed on the seed round. We all like the entrepreneur a lot, but the company didn’t feel like it fit in any of our themes and was too vertically oriented for us. The company is doing great and as we were talking about it a week or so ago we said “it feels a little like Sympoz, but has some characteristics of SideTour.” Yesterday, when I was talking to the entrepreneur, I realized it also was about a community of raving fans.

I love raving fans as the phrase for this theme since it sets an incredibly high bar of the dynamics of the people in the community these companies appeal to. These aren’t “vertical social networks” or “vertical exchange marketplaces” – there is something deeper going on in the relationship between the people and the company, and the people and community. And it’s something that is magically enabled by the current state of technology – mobile, video, real-time social – a bunch of things have come together than make this work.

Look for more on raving fans from us as it evolves. For now, you have a little bit of a window into how we think about themes.

Update – My partner Seth reminded me that our investment in CrowdTap (in our Adhesive theme) is all about helping brands interact with their raving fans, Todd Sawicki said “dude – how about Cheezburger” (in our Distribution theme) and Jeff Malek, the co-founder of BigDoor (in our Glue theme) said “ahem!” So it seems like we’ve got a lot companies involved in the construct of raving fans!

Our Awe.sm Investment

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Last week we announced our investment in Awe.sm. It’s squarely in our Glue and Protocol themes and is similar to investments we’ve made in SendGrid (for transactional email infrastructure) and Urban Airship (for push notification infrastructure). Oh – and the founders – Jonathan Strauss and Laurie Voss are – well – awesome.

We love things that wire the web together and believe Awe.sm is the company to do that for the construct of “sharing.” Specifically, Awe.sm’s goal is to become the key infrastructure provider powering quantitative performance marketing across the social sharing channel.

If you are a developer of a web app, take a look at how Awe.sm’s platform can help you.

I’m A VC

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In the “if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at” category, I present the video I’m A VC. The formal press release, Foundry Group Premiers Documentary Film About Secret Lives of Venture Capitalists, explains things more fully.

My partner Jason Mendelson created, composed, wrote, sang, and produced the whole thing and explains the back story of I’m a VC on his blog. It’s awesome working with incredibly talented people who have a sense of humor and a willingness to make fun of themselves while letting me make fun of myself. And no – I can’t dance for shit, nor can I sing.

Entrepreneurs – you make our world go around. This is dedicated to you.

@FoundryGroup Twitter Word Cloud Art From CanvasPop

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A few months ago Suzy Kendrick of CanvasPop reached out to me after I wrote a blog post titled What’s Your Product Cadence. She had some comments relevant to her business and offered to put together a Twitter word cloud print for @FoundryGroup.

It came out great and is now hanging in our office. The CanvasPop team was super to deal with – they offered us the first print for free. It was nice but after staring at it we wanted to tweak it a little. I offered to pay for this one (they didn’t ask – but it was the right thing for us to do) and they did an excellent job of making the changes we wanted.

Even though Amy and I are huge art collectors, this is the first time I’ve ever done a piece of personalized corporate art. CanvasPop totally nailed it for us and gave us something that we could finally use as our entry way sign.

If you are interested in something like this, drop an email to Chris – the Corporate Art Guru at CanvasPop. Suzy – thanks for reaching out!

The World Is Just A Bunch Of Pixels

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Yesterday, we announced that we have invested in Occipital. You may know them as the creators of the popular iPhone app 360 Panorama, the creators of Red Laser (acquired by eBay), or just a gang of the smartest computer vision guys you’ll come across. And when I say “computer vision”, I don’t just mean the technical part, but also a vision of where it’s going. For example, from the Occipital blog post announcing the investment:

“Your smartphone’s computational reach into its surroundings ends at its touchscreen surface. To your device, the real world isn’t a canvas of interactivity. Instead, it’s little more than a grid of pixels that might as well be random. We’re changing that. We’re using computer vision to make real world environments computationally interactive and fun, thereby extending the computational reach of your device into the visual space around you.”

I met Jeff and Vikas in 2008. They are brilliant and have always had a huge vision. In Do More Faster, they wrote that you should Be Tiny Until You Shouldn’t Be. Red Laser was step 1. 360 Panorama was step 2. 360verse is step 3. And we are really psyched to invest and to help out with step 4.

Just for perspective, with my iPhone, I was able to create a pano of where I’m staying in Tuscany. It took 7 seconds and I’m a pretty mediocre photographer.

We now have three investments, starting with the letter O, in teams that just blow my mind with what they can make a computer do. We’ve talked about Oblong many times in the past. And our friends at Organic Motion just released an amazing new version of their markerless motion capture system.

Our good friend Manu Kumar from K9 Ventures joined the board as did Gary Bradski of Willow Garage.

Here’s to the letter O, as well as the machines getting a little bit smarter, every day, and in every way.

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