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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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If You Aren’t Standing On The Edge You Are Taking Up Too Much Space

Comments (17)

I thought I’d start off father’s day with a tribute to my dad. I’ve learned an amazing amount from him and to this day he’s one of my best friends.

When I was a teenager, I remember a number of Stanley-isms that stuck in my mind. One of my favorites was “if you aren’t standing on the edge you are taking up too much space.” As I type this, I can remember being in my bathroom at home taking a shower thinking about this, which is part of how I remember I first heard it as a teenager.

My dad pushed me, firmly but gently. As a kid I did very well in school, loved to read, and played sports (tennis and then running). When I was 13, I bought my first computer (an Apple II) with my Bar Mitzvah money (and a little help from my dad). I was a typical nerdy, inquisitive teenager – I hung out with “the honors gang” but also liked plenty of time alone to read and explore new things. I sucked at anything mechanical so almost everything I explored was “in my mind.”

Before I could drive (so I must have been 15) my dad introduced me to a patient of his named Gene Scott. Gene had been a technology executive in the 1960′s and 1970′s and – when I met him – was running a technology startup with his son Brian called Scott Instruments. Gene and Brian had created one of the first consumer voice recognition systems – it was called the Scott Instruments VET-2 (for “voice entry terminal” – I think the 2 was because it worked on an Apple II.) Gene was my second mentor (my dad was my first) and he introduced me to the wonders of technology entrepreneurship.

One day when driving home with my dad from lunch in Denton, TX with Gene, I was overflowing with ideas. Gene had given me a VET-2 and I was bringing it home to plug into my Apple II and create all kinds of stuff with it. I’m sure medical dictation was one of them because my dad was always using his business – that of running a thriving endocrinology practice – to give me business and software problems to work on.

I don’t remember exactly what prompted him to say the line, but I remember him saying “if you aren’t standing on the edge you are taking up too much space.” Thirty years later that line continues to be a defining characteristic for how I live my life. I’m constantly pushing, looking for the edge of whatever I do. I’ve internalized this as an endless quest for learning and virtually everything I do is motivated by my desire to learn something new, understand something better, or experience something completely.

Dad – thanks for so many things, but most of all thanks for being my dad!

  • http://MeetInnovators.com Adrian Bye

    thats a good quote

  • http://twitter.com/jeffreyhedge Jeffrey Hedge

    I grew up just south of Denton.  There weren’t a whole lot of choices for places to eat lunch back then.  Where did you go?  My Dad and I used to go to the old Denton County Independent Hamburger Company on the Square a lot.  Anyway – cool seeing Denton, TX in your post today!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      It was too long ago – I can’t remember. Maybe my dad does – I’ll ask him

      • Stan

        It is still there. I think people in Lewisville would rather go to  In and Out in Frisco in 2011

        Stan feld

  • Mac Waggett

    Thanks, Brad.  This took me back to time spent with my dad….one of the last small town doctors in South Carolina who made house calls into the late 60′s.  I can remember riding with him late into the night as he tended to his country patients who were too sick to get to town.  He always seemed to enjoy visiting with these families. He said you learn more about your patients when you are in their surroundings and not yours.  He seemed to get more from these house calls than the patient.   I learned something very important from him on those nights: about people who didn’t have a lot to give, but gave a lot of themselves.  This is my first Father’s day without him.  Continue to treasure your time with your dad.

  • http://reecepacheco.com reecepacheco

    great line.

    i’ve got a few of them from my dad as well.

    most notably, “do the right thing.” 

  • http://avc.com fredwilson

    awesome post brad. i also went for a fathers day thing today
    http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/06/subconscious-information-processing.html

    the thing about standing on the edge is it’s hard to stay balanced. i’m like you, always trying to push the envelope. at times it ends up being exhausting. i know you struggle with that too

    • http://twitter.com/michaelschade Michael Schade

      First of all, great posts both of you.

      I agree that standing on the edge and pushing the envelope can sometimes become exhausting, but as long as you know when to rest and pull back a little bit, knowing that you must always continue stretching your own boundaries is a great thing, I think.

      Once you stop pushing the edge, both your own and society’s, you stagnate, and that’s like letting your copy of a software get really outdated: once you get behind, it’s so much harder to catch up, be productive, learn something new.

      • http://avc.com fredwilson

        Right

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Back at ya – loved your post also.

      Yup – I’be struggled my whole life with backing off at times so that I don’t
      melt down. I’ve gotten a lot better at it – and Amy has helped me an
      enormous amount, but it’s a continuous struggle.

  • http://www.sixstringcpa.com Geoffrey

    I took my dad to breakfast this morning and we talked about some “isms” his dad (my grandfather) used to say. I liked your story. This quote really resonated with me though.

    “ I sucked at anything mechanical so almost everything I explored was “in my mind.” “

  • http://www.w3w3.com Larry

    Brad…your dad is very special…years ago when I interviewed him for w3w3.com talk radio…he said a number of insightful things including, “if you aren’t standing on the edge you are taking up too much space.”  Larry

  • Irada

    Nice post, Brad.  Unexpectedly so on this not-so-sunny Northwest Sunday, your writing reminded me of the conversations with my father who passed away a few years ago. He gave me almost the same advice when I was still a teenager and it has become quite apparent that my life will be a rebellious one.  Miss his wisdom… Thanks for filling this void for a precious moment.

  • http://kontrary.com Rebecca Thorman

    I love that quote and it’s a similar theory that I think a lot of us in this space subscribe to. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great line, thanks for sharing it. I’ll Be stealing it to tell my son in a few years :)

  • Rich

    That’s a neat phrase.

    You could flip that around and say “If you want to stand on the edge stay small.” Smaller companies have always been able to stay cutting edge better than larger companies. Except for large companies that constantly “aquire” innovation.

  • http://www.totaltab.com Nick Reuter

    Great post Brad. I lost my dad in 2006 from Lou Gherig’s disease, but I think about him a lot and when making some decisions in life I still think to this day, what would he have suggested?

    One thing my dad never did that he always talked about was start a company. He was a German and always wanted to do a German restaurant. His flaw (which I think I have inherited somewhat :) ) is that he had a typical German stubborness to him. It was both endearing and brutally aggravating at times. For one thing, he always thought he would never fail. I dunno if it’s blind optimism or not but I try to walk a line on that life outlook – staying positive and strong headed but trying to avoid being blind to realities at the same time.

    Miss ya dad. Happy father’s day.

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