Load Balancing Between VC Partners

I woke up this morning in Fort Worth, Texas. For the first minute I wasn’t really sure where was I but it eventually snapped into focus. This happens to me periodically when I travel.

I’ve got a stretch where I’m on the road a lot. Fortunately, I’ve got amazing partners. I was reflecting on this over a cup of stale coffee this morning.

One of our deeply held beliefs at Foundry Group is that all four of us work on, and are responsible, for every company we are investors in. We don’t have silos where there are “Brad companies” or “Ryan companies” or “Seth companies” or “Jason companies.” In about 90% of the companies we are investors in, two of us are actively involved. In about 50%, three of us are actively involved. But in 100% of the cases, we all know what is going on, have relationships with the founders and CEO, and can quickly engage and help wherever and whenever we bring something to the mix.

As a result, we’ve always been active at moving primary responsibility for a company (which we define as a board seat) between partners. This is, in effect, a simple form of load balancing that we are all technically aware of from our early investments in some companies that generated, or used, very visible load balancing products before some of these technologies started to become absorbed into the core Internet infrastructure (anyone remember early DNS round robin approaches?)

We have a full day offsite every quarter. One of the things we do is a full portfolio review. Part of that is a load balancing exercise. In addition, we do this exercise as each partner returns from their one month annual sabbatical, as the other three partners have already been handling that partner’s primary responsibilities.

The load balancing process is collaborative. We aren’t randomly moving companies around between us, but rather thinking hard about where a particular partner can help – both in terms of the specific company as well as reducing cognitive load on another partner.

We recently load balanced the companies I was primarily responsible for as (a) my load was excessive and (b) we knew I’d be on the road a lot in Q1. We made a few changes just before I went on sabbatical, talked about it a little more when I returned, and then made a few more changes two weeks ago.

As I sit here a little bleary eyed from the past few days, I realize how powerful this process is at many levels, most importantly eliminating any ego dynamics across the four of us when we think about the portfolio (as the load balancing includes a full range of companies – from those doing extremely well to those struggling.) And, I feel intense relief and satisfaction that I work with three partners who I trust as deeply as I do.

Fear Is In The Air

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 11.08.06 AMOr at least on the blogs and in the mainstream media. It’s kind of amazing to me how two shitty weeks in the public markets can impact how every one thinks and talks about things.

I know the early presidential campaign is impacting this. The amount of vitriol, hatred, and fear that is coming out of the mouths of the various people running for president always surprises me. I know it shouldn’t, but it does.

As 2016 kicks into gear, I have simple advice for founders that I offer up every time things get noisy – in either direction (good or bad).

Focus on what you can impact. Tune out the noise. Concentrate on things that matter. Have a long term view. 

I know it’s simple. And I know it’s hard, because it’s the distraction that creeps into every conversation. It’s the discomfort of an uncertain future that lurks around every corner. And when it gets amplified and whipped into a frenzy, it seduces you to focus on the wrong things.

As Yoda likes to say, “Calm you shall keep and carry on you must.”

Book: Open (Andre Agassi Autobiography)

Last week was full and intense, so I woke up tired yesterday and decided to take a digital sabbath. I had breakfast with Amy, continued reading Open by Andre Agassi (which I had started one night earlier in the week before going to sleep), napped, read some more, napped, went for a run, watched the end of the Patriots game, finished Open, and watched the end of the Cardinals game.

I enjoy biography and read a lot of them. I generally don’t like autobiographies as they never feel fully authentic to me, but Agassi’s had been recommended by a number of friends, especially one’s who play tennis.

I was mindbogglingly amazing. Fucking awesome. Incredible.

Agassi does what I wish more people would do in autobiography. He starts with his origin story and takes us on a full ride through his life while undergoing his own caamora while sharing it with us.

I am a big Agassi fan. I always loved his tennis style and after reading Open understand it a lot better. His philanthropy, especially around education, is inspiring and the motivation for it is clear after reading Open. His personal style and relationships were always curious, but make a ton of sense after reading Open.

When I crawled into bed last night, I was rested and happy. And, when I woke up this morning, I was ready for a nice Sunday with Amy, a run, watching the Broncos game with Dave, Amy, and Maureen, all in preparation for two weeks on the road.

Running With The CEO

I’m a solo runner. While I regularly get asked to go on runs with other people, I almost always decline, as one of my great joys is to run alone.

There is one exception – I love to run with CEOs and founders of companies. There are some great stories about the outcomes from these, like my runs with TA McCann that resulted in our investment in Gist. I’ve run marathons with TA, Matt Blumberg (Return Path CEO), Matt Shobe (FeedBurner co-founder), Herb Morreale, and a bunch of people including my partners Jason and Ryan.

My favorites runs are the impromtu ones with CEOs like the one I did last night with Matthew Bellows (Yesware CEO). Earlier this week, Matthew sent me a note to see if I wanted to go for a run just before a dinner we were having together with Bart Lorang (FullContact CEO). My running goal this week is “three runs of any duration” and by Tuesday I knew the dates were going Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. So I said yes and we scheduled it at 5pm – after my last meeting, but just before dinner at 6pm.

We met at my office at 5pm. The sun has gone down in Boulder by then at this time of year, but Matthew looked ready to go in his red running jacket and sweatpants. We walked down the stairs to Walnut and were blasted with a gust of cold wind. We headed up the Boulder Creek Path leading up to Canyon and out of town, straight into the cold wind.

We talked non-stop. He had a few things on his mind and I gave him feedback. As the minutes unfolded, I noticed I was doing a lot more talking as I told a few stories to underline my points, but it could have been that he was enjoying just plodding along at my slow pace, enjoying the run.

At the turn around point where the Creek Path starts really heading up the canyon, we stopped for a moment and looked around. Matthew has spent a lot of time in Boulder, including a two year period earlier in his life, and he emits the glow of someone who was touched by living here and always loves to be back.

The trip downhill with the wind at our backs felt a lot faster and before we knew it, we were back at my office. Matthew was going to head back to the hotel, shower, and change but I reminded him we were in Boulder so instead we just walked over to Bramble & Hare and hard dinner with Bart, which was awesome at many levels.

Matthew – thanks for another great CEO run!

All My Comm Channels

I realized yesterday, as I was driving to Denver, that my comm channels shifted again after I returned from sabbatical in December. This happens periodically, mostly as a result of me taking some time away and changing things up on re-entry.

The largest change is that I’m batching my email. Rather than reading and responding to email on my phone throughout the day, or using slack time in my calendar to check and catch up on email, I’m doing a pass in the morning, another pass late in the day, and then finishing up at night. While grinding through 200 emails at a time in 90 minutes isn’t awesome fun, it’s enhanced by having some Nine Inch Nails playing loudly while I’m doing it. So – instead of an always or or interrupt channel, my email has turned into a more periodic (several times a day) comm channel. This feels good so far.

That shifted my real time channels to a few different things since there isn’t a single unifying answer. The active set is Voxer (audio), Slack, and iMessage, probably in that order. Techstars runs on Voxer as do several companies I’m involved in and my partners use it for longer discussions. We use Slack internally for short stuff and I’m in eight other Slack instances for companies I’m on the board of. iMessage ends up being the least common denominator for everyone else for real-time messaging.

Of the three, I find Voxer by far the most satisfying and convenient. I went through an intrigued phase with Slack when I started engaging with the Slack instances for several of our companies, but I quickly found the noise overwhelmed the signal for me so I use it for specific things and periodic scans of a channel I’m particularly interested in (say – the FullContact Chrome 2.0 channel since I’m obsessed about the new version coming out), but mostly it’s now a direct message channel to the CEOs and a few other people on various leadership teams.

Interestingly, Skype is completely absent from my workflow. I’ve also largely eliminated Twitter and Facebook from my daily information flow given the high distraction characteristics. I do monitor Twitter for DMs and @bfeld’s via Twitter for Mac, but it mostly hangs out quietly on the far left side of my screen. Facebook gets my attention once a day when I scan it as part of my “daily routine“, but that’s about it.

I also find that I’m spending much less time looking at shit on my iPhone, which I think is likely a result of cutting Twitter, Facebook, and email out of the always on / interrupt flow. The result is that I feel much calmer and focused throughout the day, and able to concentrate on what is in front of me, rather than what is flying at me.

I’m curious if anyone out there has discovered, or is using, something that effectively unifies different channels. We are investors in Sameroom and I’ve used it effectively in some cases, but mostly to integrate across different Slack instances, since Slack doesn’t handle that very well.

And, if you have other favorite comm channels, weigh in on them and I’ll react to how I have, or haven’t used them in the past.