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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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Books I Read On My Q114 Vacation

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I’m going to start doing something new on my posts. Rather than having separate posts promoting stuff I’m up to, I’m going to begin including a short header in each post with either a thing I’m involved in or something I read recently that I think is particularly germane. For now, I’ll style these in italics – at some point I’ll come up with some new CSS to set it apart more clearly. Feel free to offer any/all feedback on this. Today’s tip is from Alex Iskold, the Techstars NY Managing Director and is 7 Calendar Tips for Startups. If you struggle with your calendar, it’s highly recommended.

Last week Amy and I went to our favorite place in Cabo San Lucas for our Qx vacation. We went off the grid (no phone, no email). I ran a lot, slept a lot, and ate a lot. I watched all of Orange is the New Black and almost all of Caprica thanks to hotel WiFi and Neflix on my iPad. But most enjoyably, I read a lot. Following is a summary with links.

Is Amazon Bad For Books?: What a yummy article that gives a lot of history about what has been going on between Amazon and the traditional publishing industry. Highly relevant for a lot of our thinking around FG Press.

The Science of Battlestar Galactica: I listened to this on Audible while running. If you are a BSG fanboy like me, this is a must read.

How To Defend Against Patent Trolls Without Breaking The Bank: Ken Bressler has been super helpful in one of the more vexing and annoying patent troll cases I’ve been involved in. As the Supreme Court once again has a chance to do something about software patents and patent trolls, I remain cynical and pessimistic that this gigantic tax on innovation will get resolved anytime soon.

The Underwriting: More Startup Fiction – this time in a weekly serialized format. I paid for it before I left but for some reason I only had two episodes. I just paid for it a second time so hopefully they’ll start coming in a steady stream. It’s pretty fun – a little too much sex and investment banking for my tastes, but we’ll see where it goes.

Battlestar Galactica Series Bible: The original series bible written by Ronald D. Moore. Another BSG fanboy must read.

The Secret of Raising Money:  Seth Goldstein and Michael Simpson have written a really strong book on how to raise money from angels and VCs at the early stage. I’ve known Seth since the mid-1990′s and think he and Michael did a great job of capturing the essence of this very hard and often complex process.

Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: I hadn’t read this since it first came out a year or so after Lou Gerstner retired as IBM’s CEO. This is his memoir of his experience at IBM and was a fantastic history lesson. While some of the strategic advice felt a little dated and “big corporate”, there were endless gems throughout the book, including a clear view on key decisions that Gerstner made relatively early which dramatically changed IBM’s downward spiral into the depths of mainframe doom. I’ve felt for a while that Microsoft is having its “IBM moment” that occurred for IBM in the early 1990s and to date have been uninspired with how they have approached it. I don’t know Satya Nadella but I hope he’s read this book.

Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World: Amy and I plan to give away all of our money while we are alive. We’ve been active philanthropists since the late 1990s and are always trying to learn more. Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen’s book is a wonderful combination of personal history, advice, and storytelling about what other people are doing. I was especially pleased to see a long chapter on our friends Linda Shoemaker and Steve Brett’s efforts in Boulder around their philanthropy.

The Trial: I’ve been describing our annual fund audit process as “Kafkaesque” to whomever I talk to about it. I realized I had never read The Trial so I grinded through it. I thought I knew what I was in for, but the copy I read fortunately had a Kafka history as well as a history of The Trial with a short summary at the beginning, so it made a lot more sense as I read it. And yes, the audit experience is still something I believe is Kafkaesque. Hopefully they won’t kill me like a dog at the end.

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison: I randomly watched Season 1. I figured I’d bounce after a few episodes but found myself deeply engaged in it. So I grabbed the book and read it. The book was even better than the show. Piper Kerman blew my mind – both with her experience and her writing about it. So powerful, depressing, upsetting, and enlightening, all at the same time.

Neuromancer: I read Neuromancer my in college shortly after it came it. I loved it then. I haven’t read it since so I decided to listen to it my iPhone while running, just like I did earlier this year with Snow Crash. Like Snow Crash, it somehow felt richer when I listened to it during my long runs. Case, Molly, Wintermute, and the Dixie Flatline still delight, as does Gibson.

Why I’m Off The Grid Today To Reset My Brain

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If you are reading this on Friday, 1/18/13 I’m probably  doing one of a couple of things right now. The three most likely are sleeping, laying on my couch reading next to Amy, or just hanging out with her. There’s a chance I’m on a run or having some adult entertainment with Amy (different than hanging out). Or drinking something from my Vitamix monster smoothie maker. And – if it’s in the evening, I’m probably watching a movie with Amy.

One of the things Amy and I discuss in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur are strategies we use as a couple to reconnect and reset on a regular basis. Since Monday 1/7, we haven’t been together very much. I spent last weekend with Amy at our Keystone house (where she’s been since mid December) but I spent 10 hours on Saturday and 10 hours on Sunday in front of my computer while she watched football, read, and took care of me. We had nice dinners together, but not much time to really connect. We’ve been Facetiming multiple times a day, but these are generally short hit connections.

On Tuesday morning, she asked me how I was doing. She could hear fatigue in my voice. I wasn’t in a bad place, just really tired and feeling off balance from how quickly 2013 started. Since I hadn’t really had a weekend, I hadn’t had a material shift in my weekly cadence, which works for a little while for me, but isn’t sustainable. And I mostly just missed hanging out with her.

I’ve got a lot to do this weekend as well and have the special bonus of a Monday holiday. So – instead of working all day Friday, trying to squeeze in some rest and relaxation in between the stuff on my plate to work though this weekend, I’m taking a day of the grid today (through the magic of time travel – and computers – this was written on Thursday morning) to do a full reset on my brain.

I regularly hear people tell me how amazing the idea of our “quarterly week off the grid” is. They then tell me there’s no way they could do a week each quarter – they don’t have enough vacation, kids get in the way, they can’t imagine a full week disconnected. So – I suggest they do a day instead. Like I am today.

Gone Fishing

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I’ve always wanted to say that but don’t think I ever have, especially since I don’t particularly like to fish. But I’m going fishing, at least metaphorically, for a while. It’s time to recharge my batteries.

I’m taking one of my Qx vacations and going off the grid through 11/26. I’ll still be on vacation through 12/3, but I’ll be checking email daily during the second week. But I won’t be blogging, tweeting, or enjoying any other kind of online interactions.

I’ll talk to you when I return.

What I Read On Spring Break

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Amy and I just spent a week off the grid in Hawaii with my partner Ryan, his wife Katherine, and their son. It was a much needed break – I was once again totally fried – from work, travel, and all the training for my upcoming 50 mile race. Amy is about halfway through the mending process for her broken arm so it was nice for her to just relax and be ministered to, especially by her man servant – me!

I read nine books on this this trip. I was with an eight year old boy so we had plenty of Percy Jackson and the Olympians in between the more serious stuff. I had a lot of business books that I’d been avoiding reading so I decided to take my medicine and read some of them so at the minimum I could delete them from my Kindle.

The full list of reading (not including People, US, Vanity Fair, Time, and Glamor) follows:

How They Started - Carol Tice and David Lester: This was a bunch of short essays about the founding and development of various companies, including LinkedIn, Zynga, Twitter, Groupon, Etsy, Dropbox, IBM, RIM, eBay, Microsoft, Pixar, Chipotle, Jamba Juice, KFC, Coca Cola, Pinkberry, Zipcar, and SPANX. The mix of companies was fun, although like most business history I was amazed at the missing info and the rewriting of important moments around the founding of the company. The authors did a good job but, given that I knew a few of the stories in detail, missed some important points.

The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan: This was my first Percy Jackson book. It had a similar formula to Harry Potter (and many other heroic children coming of age books) but with a fun mythology underpinning. Perfect for a smart eight year old who loves to read along with a 46 year old who still likes to think of himself as in his early teens.

The New Road to Serfdom – Daniel Hannan: My uncle Charlie told me to read this. Hannan is an MEP who is outspoken about British, Europe, and America’s economic and political problems. He believes in the theory of localist and giving strong power to local government and weak power to national / federal government. I enjoyed some of the book and found myself nodding in parts, but found others unnecessarily polarizing and tone deaf to the continually evolving macro scene, at least from my perspective. I wouldn’t have read this unless Charlie put it in front of me – I now understand his (and my Dad’s) political position more clearly.

Into The Forbidden Zone – William Vollman: Easily the best non-fiction book of the week. Last year on spring break we cancelled a trip to Hawaii (with the McIntyres) because of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan. This is a well written short travelogue by Vollman who spent a few weeks in Japan after things had settled down and wrote about his experience and observations as a westerner traveling through some of the impacted areas. Not a “fun” book, but an interesting and thought provoking one.

The Sea of Monsters - Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson book #2. Better than book #1 – more fun, better characters, faster pace.

Who – The A Method For Hiring: I wasn’t looking forward to this book – I find books like this excruciating to read and generally hit “skim” by about page 30. I found this one to be really good – it drew me and and ended up being a very practical guide to how to hire great people. I’d recommend it to anyone in an entrepreneurial company who is responsible for interviewing and hiring people. I rarely send out book recommendations to the Foundry Group CEO list – I sent this one the day I got home.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Josh Lerner: The subtitle summarizes the book nicely - Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed–and What to Do About It. As I continue to grind through writing Startup Communities: How To Create An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City, I’m trying to maintain a steady diet of complementary books. Lerner does a good job of dissecting government efforts and involvement around the stimulation of entrepreneurship and does a thorough job. This is a negative leaning book, but there is some positive and constructive stuff in it.

The Titan’s Curse - Rick Riordan: Book #3 of Percy Jackson. Not as good as Book #1. I’m not bored of this yet – I’ll definitely read book #4 and #5, but that might be it.

The Design of Business - Roger Martin: Ugh. Given the subtitle (“Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage”) I was hoping for something amazing and magical about design and how important it is in the context of creating great companies. Instead, I got a handful of boring stories about big companies including a long section on how amazing innovative RIM is and how their strategy around design in the consumer market will blunt the iPhone’s entrant into the enterprise. Ok – whatever.

I expect Q2 to be much more about writing than reading, and then this summer will be about both. Either way, the infinite pile of books I have is easy to carry around due to my Kindle (well – the Kindle app on my iPad) so I always have plenty of them with me at all times.

Great Week Off the Grid in Keystone with Books

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Wow – I needed that vacation.  Sometimes it just catches up with me and I don’t realize how tired I am.  Amy and I were going to go to Paris but both of us just needed to chill out so we went to our house in Keystone and just hid out for a week.  I only had a few things that I had to pay attention to and the goddess of my schedule Kelly made sure I was available when needed. 

In addition to chilling out, I got obsessed with swimming (swam every day) and my back is finally feeling almost better.  I managed to get Amy to watch Ironman 2 (yummy), War Games (held up great), War Games 2 (did not hold up), Living in Public (gave me flashback chills).  And I read – a lot – a dozen books this time.  As is my tradition when I come back on the grid, here are short book reviews with grades of what I read.

Bright Boys: A+: This is how a computer history book should be written.  It’s an amazing history of MIT in the 1940’s and 1950’s around the invention of the computer.  Some other places place an ancillary role (like the Moore School at U Penn and Harvard), but MIT and Cambridge are front and center. 

The Man Who Japed: B: I’m continuing my grind through all of Philip K. Dick’s books.  While not one of his best, it was fun.

Caught: A: Harlan Coban remains at the top of my Mental Floss chart.  Anything he writes, I read immediately.

Start With Why: C: After loving Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on The Power of Why, I was massively disappointed with this book.  The 18 minute talk I blogged about recently was outstanding – no need to read the book unless you want to be bashed over the head with the message over and over again.

Douglas Adams Starship Titanic: F: This wasn’t written by Adams (who I love), but was styled after him.  It sucked.  I bailed 20% of the way in.

Regional Advantage: A+: I’ve read bits of Annalee Saxenian’s seminal book about the differences between the evolution of Silicon Valley and Route 128, spent a tiny bit of time with Annalee at a Silicon Flatiron event, and have thought hard about this, but I had actually never read her book.  It’s awesome – anyone that cares about how entrepreneurial communities work must read this.

Cyberkill: B+: Not as good as Daniel Suarzes’ cyberthrillers, but in the same zip code.  Very enjoyable.

Thoughts from TechStars (RC2): This was a release candidate but didn’t make the cut.  But, it’s very very close – just some formatting and very light editing.  We are also talking to publishers so trying to figure out the best way to get this out there far and wide.

Opening Skinner’s Box: A+: Another dynamite book – this time about the great psychology experiments of the last century.  I knew of a few of them but loved the detail, the story telling, and the things it made me think about.

The Magician of Lhasa: A: It started out a little slow but picked up speed.  It’s published by Trapdoor – the same folks that published Cyberkill, which happens to be based in Lyons, CO.  I need to pay more attention to these guys.

What Would Google Do: B+: Jeff Jarvis wrote a very good book on Google.  The first half is a lot of stuff anyone that knows Google well will know, but Jeff did a nice job of putting all of the pieces together.  The second half was the really interesting part where we “googlized” a bunch of non-tech industries.  It was a little on the long side for me, but I’m sure Jeff’s publisher made him make it longer so it would be over 200 pages.

The Race for Perfect: C-: I was really bummed about this one.  It’s the story of the creation of the Lenovo X300 (which I love) combined with the backstory of the history of portable (and mobile) computing devices.  I read the BusinessWeek excerpt by Steve Hamm when he first published the book.  It turns out the excerpt was one of the most riveting sections.  The book felt like a 200+ page BusinessWeek article, which was just too long.

I’m glad to be back and am excited to go to Google I/O tomorrow.

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