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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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Save UberDenver Rally On Monday

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UberDenver and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick are hosting a rally at Galvanize after the Colorado Public Utilities Commission holds a public hearing on proposed rules changes that could shut UberDenver down.

I’ve had a number of private conversations since I wrote my post The Colorado PUC Trying to Shut Down UberDenverI continue to think the whole situation is insane especially given our state government’s strong position on advancing innovation in Colorado. The PUC’s behavior is clearly protectionist, anti-innovation, and undermines many of the efforts of entrepreneurs in Colorado to advance and amplify innovation here.

Apparently, the FTC agrees. I just read the FTC comments on the proposed rule changes and they do a very direct job of addressing 6001(ff), 6301(a), and 6309(d) which are the things I called out in my original blog post on 1/30/13. The punch line from the FTC memo is “FTC staff is concerned that these three proposed changes may significantly impair competition in passenger vehicle transportation services, including innovative methods of competition enabled by new software applications (“applications”) that allow consumers to arrange and pay for services in new ways that they might prefer, and thus harm consumers.”

Given that the PUC’s stated mission (on their website) is to “serve the public interest by effectively regulating utilities and facilities so that the people of Colorado receive safe, reliable, and reasonably-priced services consistent with the economic, environmental and social values of our state” I’m hopeful the PUC comes to its senses and serves the public interest in this case, rather than try to create new rules that protect entrenched and incubent companies.

I’ve been told in the private conversations that I’ve had that this will be resolved soon in a way that makes sense. Until then, I continue to encourage anyone in Colorado who is pro-innovation to support Uber’s efforts here and, if you are around Monday, head down to Galvanize between 6pm and 9pm for an UberRally.

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The Colorado PUC Trying to Shut Down UberDenver

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In yet another insane move by government against entrepreneurs and job creators, the Colorado PUC is proposing a new set of rules that would shut down Uber in Colorado. This is protectionism and misuse of power in an egregious form. Government supporting powerful incubants (the taxi industry) that are threatened by disruptive innovators through regulation. Yuck.

As a Colorado entrepreneurial community, we shouldn’t stand for this. As citizens and tax payers in Colorado, we shouldn’t stand for this. And as innovators, looking forward, we shouldn’t stand for this. My call to action is at the end of this email – if you do nothing else, go sign the petition right now. And tell everyone you know.

I think our governor, John Hickenlooper, is awesome. I hope he focuses on this quickly and demonstrates his own background as an entrepreneur, as an innovator, and as a proponent of innovation. Given the launch of his new effort to rebrand Colorado for the next 20 years, I hope he focuses his brandCO effort on innovation, entrepreneurship, and the future, rather than protecting incumbents in regulated industries through the misuse of power, especially in areas – such as the taxi industry – where the service, at least in Colorado, is uniformly poor. Colorado’s new brand shouldn’t be “backwater protectionist state” – yeah – that doesn’t sound very good to me.

The Uber story has already played out in a number of other states. The regulators quickly back down from the powerful lobby / industry groups that are influencing the new regulations. In some cases, it’s a simple misuse of power. In others, it’s a lack of understanding of what is going on. And in others, it has been a backward looking regulator, or government, that momentarily forgets that it serves its citizens, not a small constituent of incumbents.

The PUC rule changes are extensive, but there are several cleverly woven in that effectively shut down Uber if implemented. Read the following examples and be appalled.

- Section 6301: Uber’s pricing model will be made illegal: Sedan companies will no longer be able to charge by distance (section 6301): This is akin to telling a hotel it is illegal to charge by the night.

- Section 6309: Uber’s partner-drivers will effectively be banned from Downtown — by making it illegal for an Uber car to be within 200 feet of a restaurant, bar, or hotel. This is TAXI protectionism at its finest. The intent is to make sure that only a TAXI can provide a quick pickup in Denver’s city center.

- Section 6001 (ff): Uber’s partner-drivers will be forced out of business — partnering with local sedan companies will be prohibited.

These rules are not designed to promote safety, nor improve quality of service. They are intended to stop innovation, protect incumbents, hurt independent drivers, and shut down Uber in Denver.

There are several things you can do right now.

1) Contact Gov. Hickenlooper and tell him, “Save Uber in Colorado! Withdraw PUC Rules Changes to sections 6001, 6301, & 6309.”

Email Gov. Hickenlooper

Write on Gov. Hickenlooper’s Facebook Wall

2)  Contact the Colorado PUC Directly:

Email Joshua Epel, Chairman

Email Doug Dean, Director

3)  Sign the petition that shows the PUC your #UberDENVERLove.

Disclosure: I am NOT a direct investor in Uber, although I have personal investments in several VC funds that are invested in Uber. However, my ownership is tiny and the amount I’ve spent on Uber services since they launched several years in the bay area dwarfs the amount of money I’d ever expect to see from my indirect investment. I’ve written this because I love the service, love the company, and love their innovation. Society improves when innovators like Uber are able to do their thing – it’s a deeply held belief of mine – that’s why I’ve written this post.

The Declaration of Internet Freedom

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I started off my morning by reading the Declaration of Independence. I never get tired of reading it or pondering what was going on at the time. It’s hard to transport myself back to July 4th, 1776 but it’s pretty remarkable to think about what was going on that caused 56 people to sign this brilliant document and in one moment start our country on amazing course over the next 236 years that have had a profound impact on the history of the world.

If you haven’t read it in a while – go read it. I’ll be here when you get back.

On Monday, a group of people including me and my partners at Foundry Group signed on to the Declaration of Internet Freedom. I found the preamble and the declaration itself to be powerful and profoundly important. Following is the preamble.

We believe that a free and open Internet can bring about a better world. To keep the Internet free and open, we call on communities, industries and countries to recognize these principles. We believe that they will help to bring about more creativity, more innovation and more open societies.

We are joining an international movement to defend our freedoms because we believe that they are worth fighting for.

Let’s discuss these principles — agree or disagree with them, debate them, translate them, make them your own and broaden the discussion with your community — as only the Internet can make possible.

Join us in keeping the Internet free and open.

Here is the Declaration of Internet Freedom. If you support this, either sign up your company or sign up as an individual. It’s open source so if you have comments or suggestions for improving it, please weigh in on GithubCheezburger, reddit, or TechDirt. The Internet needs you.

Compromise vs. Problem Solving

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I spent all day Sunday at Silicon Flatirons’ Digital Broadband Migration Conference. This is a key national conference held in Boulder at the intersection of technology and public policy with a particular focus on the Internet. This year’s conference subtitle was “The Challenges of Internet Law and Governance.”

I was pondering something all morning that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. My close friend Phil Weiser (who is now the Dean of the CU Law School and hosts the conference) kicked it off and then handed things over to Vint Cerf (now at Google and one of the original architects of the Internet). A great panel full of engineers titled Tech Tutorial Backdrop: An All IP Network and Its Policy Implications came next, followed by a talk from Colorado Senator Michael Bennet.

I’m a supporter of Michael’s and even though he originally co-sponsored PIPA, he eventually understood that it was flawed legislation and got behind the effort to oppose it. As a co-sponsor he had plenty of influence in the background on the process and I’m glad that he spent the time to listen to the tech community, understand why it was bad legislation, and take action. It was great to see him at this particular conference given its national perpective on a key intersection of technology and policy.

After Michael came a panel I was on titled The Digital Broadband Migration in Perspective. David Cohen (EVP of Comcast), Larissa Herda (CEO of tw telecom inc.), and I were the loud mouths on this one. David and I had very different perspectives on many things which reached a head when he asked what my reaction to all of the major TV and cable channels blacking out for three hours and putting up messages that said “this is what TV would be like without SOPA/PIPA” (basically – the opposite of the Internet blackout that occurred on January 18th). While he asserted this would be an abuse of corporate power and responsibility, implying that the Internet companies participating in the Internet blackout where behaving inappropriately, my response was that “it would be fucking awesome – they should do whatever they want – and better yet no college kid in the world would notice.”  There was plenty more in that vein, but this was tame compared to what came next.

The panel after lunch was a debrief on what just happened with SOPA/PIPA. Mark Lemley (Stanford Law Professor) and Gigi Sohn (President of Public Knowledge) explained things from an anti-SOPA/PIPA perspective; Jonathan Taplin (Annenberg Innovation Lab, University of Southern California) and Michael Fricklas (General Counsel of Viacom) took a pro-SOPA/PIPA perspective, and Michael Gallagher (CEO of Entertainment Software Association) and Judge Stephen Williams (U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit) took a third perspective that I couldn’t quite parse. After everyone got a chance to give a 7 – 13 minute presentation, the conversation degenerated quickly into a very polarized argument where, in my opinion, facts were left at the doorstep by several of the participants. As the fact vs. fiction dynamic escalated, emotions ran hot and the discourse degenerated to a point of near uselessness. With every moment, the conversation became even more polarized, even though the anti-SOPA/PIPA folks would say things like I’m not going to defend SOPA/PIPA as it was bad legislation, we need to solve the problem of … in reaction to the pro-SOPA/PIPA folks saying If you assert that there are only 50 bad sites that represent 80% of the illegal content in the world, and we already have tools too take those sites down, what exactly are you talking about.  While there were hugs and handshakes after the panel ended, it definitely felt like there was plenty of grinfucking going around.

After this panel I ducked out for an hour to go meet Julius Genachowski (chairman of the FCC). We’ve crossed paths a few times but never spent any thoughtful time together. We had a nice 30 minute meeting where we talked about the dynamics going on at the conference and in Washington DC. He gave me one phrase which caused me to stop, ponder it for a minute, and respond with “that’s exactly right.” He said:

“What you are observing is the difference between compromise and problem solving.”

My brain is an engineers brain. I’m focused on learning and solving problems. Over the past few years I’ve been completely baffled by my experience interacting with politicians and their staffers. When I present a solution to a problem (e.g. the Startup Visa) I immediately watch a negotiation begin to ensue. Three years later, even non-controversial, obviously beneficial things like Startup Visa are still stuck in a discussion.

When I talked to folks about how bad the SOPA/PIPA legislation was, they would respond “what’s the counter proposal?” My first response was usually “What do you mean? It’s horrifyingly bad legislation that shouldn’t even be considered.” The response to this was “Yes, but if I am going reject it, I need to come with a counter-proposal.”

Julius explained to me that Washington runs on a compromise mentality. You propose something and then begin negotiating from there. Innovative companies, where I spent almost all of my time, run on a problem solving mentality. You have a problem – you solve it. When I reflected on the panels during the day, the engineers and engineering heavy panels were problem solving and the policy / lawyer heavy panels were fighting over polarized positions which, if they converged, would be a convergence based on compromise rather than problem solving.

This generated a breakthrough insight for me. I’ve been increasing frustrated with politics and public policy discussions that I’ve been part of. It’s because I’m in a problem solving mode. While some of the folks I’m interacting with are also in this mode (which causes me to stay engaged), many are in a compromise mode. They don’t care whether or not we actually solve the root cause problem – they just have an agenda that they want to get into the mix legislatively and are negotiating for it with the goal of reaching a compromise.

We ended the day with a wonderful talk from Senator Mark Udall. I’m a huge fan of Mark’s – he’s one of the most thoughtful people in government I’ve gotten to interact with. Colorado is lucky to have him as he listens to his constituents here and acts on their behalf, rather than some other agenda. He discussed his views on innovation and PIPA (which he opposed early) and then made a strong appeal for the Startup Visa, increased STEM education, and a long term focus on innovation as the base for job creation. He then took another 90 minutes to meet with a smaller set of entrepreneurs and public policy folks from the conference to hear what was on their mind. Mark definitely was listening and trying to understand what issues he should be looking out for that had similar negative impacts like PIPA.

We need a lot more problem solvers like Mark in the mix, especially in positions of power in government. And, the problem solvers should insist that the path is problem solving, not compromise.

New Course: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Public Policy

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For a number of years, my partner Jason Mendelson has been teaching an extremely popular course at CU Boulder Law School with Brad Bernthal titled Venture Capital – A 360 Degree Perspective. While it’s a course taught in the law school, it’s (not surprisingly) become popular with the MBA students at CU Boulder.

Brad Bernthal, Phil Weiser (the Dean of the CU Law School), and I have been talking about a new course to complement VC 360 called Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Public Policy. We’ve decided to take a crack at a cross-campus course (law, engineering, and business) that focused on contemporary issues around entrepreneurship, would be a great introduction to any student who wants to immerse herself in entrepreneurship, and would enable us to create some unique content around this topic.

We envision a two hour a week course (over seven sessions) that has a heavy reading, class participation, and writing component. Our goal will be to put this up on the web as well to provide content (and potentially interaction) to a much wider community.

Following is a first draft of a syllabus. I’m looking for two types of feedback: (1) comments on the syllabus and (2) suggestions for web services to use to package this content up for broader distribution.

This one credit course, available to first year law students in their second semester as well as a select number of graduate students in the Business School students and School of Engineering, will explore a set of cutting edge questions around entrepreneurship.  Students in the class will be required to write a ten page paper as well as participate actively in the course (including on a class blog).  Since class participation is a core part of the course (counting for 20% of the grade, with the other 80% based on the paper), any missed class must be made up by writing a 1 page reaction paper.

1. Being an Entrepreneur. Reading: The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career (Hoffman, Casnocha). Five Minds for the Future (Gardner).

2. Leadership and What Makes a Great Founding Team. Reading: Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup:  (Cohen, Feld). Leadership Lessons From the Shackleton Expedition (Koehn).

3. Building and Scaling A Business. Reading: The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses (Ries).

4. Entrepreneurial Communities. Reading: Startup Communities: Creating A Great Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City (Feld). Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity 1996 – 2010.

5. Financing Entrepreneurial Companies. Reading: Venture Deals: How To Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer (Mendelson, Feld). Improving Access to Capital for High-Growth Companies (Department of Commerce – National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship)

6. Entrepreneurial Leadership in Government. Reading: Alfred Kahn As A Case Study of A Political Entrepreneur (Weiser). Start-up Nation:  The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle (Senor and Singer).

7. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Policy: Reading: Accelerating Energy Innovation: Insights from Multiple Sectors (Henderson, Newell).

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