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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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Failure Comes From Not Following Your Additive Rules

Comments (4)

The cliche “rules were meant to be broken” is a common one in the world of entrepreneurship.  Paul Berberian – a great entrepreneur (and dear friend) almost died yesterday when flying his airplane because he broke three of his rules of flying in a row.  Paul got lucky and I very glad he’s alive.

As an investor, I’ve developed some rules.  These are not absolutes – I break individual rules on a regular basis.  These are not “ethical”, “moral”, or “legal” rules; rather they are functional guidelines for helping create companies that I’ve developed over 20+ years of doing this with 100+ companies.  If you are an entrepreneur or executive at a company that I’m an investor in (or a co-investor with me) and have ever had to listen to me blather on about a story of something that has happened at another company to illustrate one of my points, you understand what I mean by “a rule.” 

While my rules evolve over time, the core principles don’t.  Paul’s post illustrated a point that I hadn’t ever really thought about.  When you have a set of rules, it’s ok to break one of them, but it’s probably not ok to break two in a row and it might be fatal to break three in a row.  In some recursive parallel universe, I guess that’s a rule.

As a result there are two concepts in play: one of “rules” and one of “additive rules.”  (Rule_1 or Rule_2 or Rule_3) is very different from (Rule_1 and Rule_2 and Rule_3).  The second case is the one that will get you intro trouble.

Being rigid and slaveishly following rules is stupid.  Being flexible and breaking three of your rules in rapid succession might be fatal.

  • http://gpmb.wordpress.com Laura Athavale Fitto

    Rules should be well-defined and personally specific. IMHO, the value of rules is not in the knee-jerk breaking or following of them. I say learn them, so that when you do break them, you know EXACTLY why. I like how that works together with your “additive” point. If you know exactly why you're breaking a rule, you'll ideally know not to break closely related,interdependent ones. Glad your friend is ok.

  • http://gpmb.wordpress.com Laura Athavale Fitton

    Rules should be well-defined and personally specific. IMHO, the value of rules is not in the knee-jerk breaking or following of them. I say learn them, so that when you do break them, you know EXACTLY why. I like how that works together with your “additive” point. If you know exactly why you’re breaking a rule, you’ll ideally know not to break closely related,interdependent ones. Glad your friend is ok.

  • http://www.w3w3.com Larry & Pat

    Web 2.0 + 3.0 suggests, even mandates that we must 'think out of the box' if we are to survive let alone thrive. The word 'rules' reminds me there is a time we need to 'think inside the box'. I'm glad Paul is okay…the last time we interviewed him is when he was still at Raindance.

  • http://www.w3w3.com Larry & Pat

    Web 2.0 + 3.0 suggests, even mandates that we must ‘think out of the box’ if we are to survive let alone thrive. The word ‘rules’ reminds me there is a time we need to ‘think inside the box’. I’m glad Paul is okay…the last time we interviewed him is when he was still at Raindance.

  • http://nivi.com/blog Nivi

    But what are the rules?!

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