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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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Is The US A No Vacation Nation?

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Amy and I take a week off the grid every quarter. It is one of the things that has kept me sane and us together over the past 14 years.

This morning I saw a great short clip from the Today Show that got forwarded around on the US becoming a no vacation nation. They include an interview with Bart Lorang discussing FullContact’s Paid PAID vacation policy. It also shows an iconic picture of what stimulated this, which was Bart checking his email on his iPhone while riding on a camel with his then girlfriend / now wife in front of some pyramids.

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Everyone in my universe works incredibly hard. But the really great ones know the value of disconnecting for periods of time to recharge their batteries and refresh their brains. If you want more on this, grab a copy of the book Amy and wrote called Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.

Books I Read On My Q214 Vacation

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Wow. I needed a vacation. Amy reminds me that I say that on day three of each of our quarterly weeks off the grid. It doesn’t seem to matter how I try to pace myself or how recent my previous week off the grid was. On day three, when I’m not looking at email, anything on the web, or checking my phone, I just breathe deeply and say “wow I needed this vacation.”

Oh – and I decided to get over my fear of horses. I’ve been afraid of horses since I was a teenager. As a kid growing up in Dallas I rode a lot, but my brother had a nasty fall when we were riding together and that was that for me. Amy loves horses and has started riding regularly now that we live in horse country outside of Boulder so I decided it was silly for me to continue to be afraid of horses. So we spent a week at Miraval where I could ride every other day and do a few of their horse specific activities.

For example, here’s me painting a horse. Bonus points if you figure out what I painted on him (his name is HeartWind). Hint – count the vertical lines carefully.

As with most of my vacations, I read about a book a day. Here’s the list, in order, with short commentary.

Red Bang: I wanted to love this book. From the review it felt like a current day version of Microserfs: A Novel or JPod, two tech culture masterpieces by Douglas Coupland. While some of that came through, “The Company” (a thinly designed version of Microsoft) was too over the top ridiculous and many of the satirical moments fell flat for me. It was ok, but not great.

Sting of the Drone: I’ve devoured all of Richard Clarke’s fiction and they are all well written, incredibly relevant, and better than what a modern day Clancy treatment of the topic would be. The only issue I had with this one was the ending – it was too contrived, too many good guys died while the bad guys got shut down, and the neat tidy bow that wrapped everything up consisted of almost all of the protagonists dying in a fireball ending. Boo – more reflection after the climax needed, but otherwise outstanding.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph: I don’t know Ryan Holiday, but I heard of this book from Tim Ferriss and was intrigued by the description so I decided to dose myself in some stoicism. Dynamite book – I’m glad I put the time in. Holiday covers the topic well in a very accessible way.

Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising (APenguin Special from Portfolio): I figured I’d read the cannon on Holiday so this was next. If you don’t know what “growth hacking” means, this is a good intro. But if you do, this is a waste of time.

Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises: This was the heavy one of the trip – it took three days. Geithner has always been a cipher to me so I figured his autobiography and memoir on the financial crisis would help me understand him better. He did an amazing job with this book, both explaining what happened while explaining himself. The depth of his own introspection and understanding of his own being came through in the midst of incredible pressure and crisis. Once you realize he’s a deep introvert in a context that begs for extrovert energy, a lot of the puzzle pieces about him slide into place. After reading this book, I’m glad he was at the head of the NY Fed and the Treasury for the past decade. Regardless of your position on what went down during this time, this is a book worth reading for a clear perspective from Geithner’s point of view.

Sleep Your Way to the TOP: *and other myths about business success: I finished my trip by reading the final version of the second book from FG Press, our new publishing company. I’ve probably read the book a half dozen times during the edit cycle, but I hadn’t yet read the final version on a Kindle. More soon, but I love this book and Jane Miller is an absolutely star.

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.

The Real Paid PAID Vacation Policy

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Last week my friends at FullContact announced a new paid vacation policy and wrote a post about it titled Paid Vacation? That’s Not Cool. You Know What’s Cool? Paid, PAID Vacation.

FullContact will now pay an employee $7500 to go on vacation. The rules are simple:

  1. You have to go on vacation.
  2. You have to disconnect entirely (no phone, no email).
  3. You can’t work.

If that whets your appetite, take a look at the presentation about the new policy.

It was fun to watch this go viral and get picked up nationally on programs like Good Morning America and Fox News with Neil Cavuto.

Hiring great people is intensely competitive in my world. While part of this is around recruiting, a bigger part is creating an environment where these great people can periodically disconnect and recharge their batteries. I love the creativity of FullContact’s approach to Paid PAID vacation. And yes – FullContact is hiring.

Reinvent Vacations For a Global Mobile Era

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Rosabeth Moss Kanter has an excellent post up on the HBR Blog titled Should Leaders Go on Vacation? Recently, I’ve seen plenty of commentary in the popular press (especially Fox News articles) about the inappropriateness of leaders taking vacation. Kanter does a nice job of dissecting the dynamics around leaders going on vacation and suggests the leader address five questions in the context of the vacation.

  • What is the vacation narrative?
  • What is the vacation timing?
  • What is the rest of the team doing?
  • Are there continuity, backup, and contingency plans?
  • What is the vacation symbolism?

I’m a huge believer in the importance of vacations for leaders, entrepreneurs, and everyone else. I work extremely hard – usually 70+ hours a week. This is simply not sustainable, at least for me at age 45, over a period of time longer than about three months. I eventually burn out, get tired and cranky, become less effective, and get sick. Vacations are a way for me to recharge, build my energy back, explore some different things, spend extended and uninterrupted time with the most important person in my life (Amy), and just chill out. This vacation usually takes the form of a Qx Vacation that is off the grid which is now well known to everyone who works with me.

Amy and I ordinarily spend the month of July at our house in Homer, Alaska. While this isn’t “a vacation”, it’s a change of context that has become a very important part of our routine. I work while I’m there, am completely connected and available, but have a very different life tempo. And – most importantly – zero travel.

This summer we spent July in Paris. We both love Paris and went there to just “live.” We rented an apartment in the 8th, ran in the local park, shopped at the Monoprix down the block, ate lunch at all of the nearby restaurants, and had some amazing meals out. But mostly we just hung out, worked remotely, and spent time together.

I’ve had a fantasy about renting a house in the Tuscan countryside and spending a month in Tuscany for many years. We decided to do it this summer and we turned our month in Alaska into two months in Europe. However, rather than travel around and be tourists, we just lived. We had plenty of friends visit, but we spent the days exercising (I ran a lot), reading, writing, and working.

I plan to write at least one post about what I learned in my “summer in Europe” after I return to the US next week. It has been an amazing experience, especially since I was completely connected to my regular work, yet was able to observe a lot of activity from a distance and reflect on what I really thought was going on.

In the mean time, if you are a leader, entrepreneur, or anyone else, I hope you read Kanter’s post and think hard about both the value of time away and the expectation setting around it. Life is short – make sure you live it.

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