Brad's Books and Organizations

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Books

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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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Book: How Will You Measure Your Life?

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While FAKEGRIMLOCK and all of the humans he has let survive are hanging out at the TechStars SXSW party, I’m at home with Amy, buried in a snowstorm, reading. I haven’t read much this year – I’ve been overwhelmed with work and writing and haven’t had much energy for reading. Which is dumb, since I love to read, and it’s an important way I discover new things and think about things I’m interested in.

A copy of Clay Christensen’s new book How Will You Measure Your Life? ended up finding its way to me. It’s signed by Clay and his co-authors James Allworth and Karen Dillon so I assume someone sent it to me. I read it tonight. It was timely and excellent.

One of the chapters in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur that was especially challenging for me and Amy to write was the one about children. We don’t have any, so we enlisted a bunch of friends to write sections of it. I’m proud of what they wrote and think it hits the mark, but it is an area I struggle to understand since we made a deliberate decision not to have kids. So I dug into the middle section of the book where Clay spends a lot of time talking about children in the context of measuring one’s life. I learned a lot from it that I think I can apply to my interaction with children that are not my own.

Clay very deftly uses business concepts to set the stage for a deep discussion of how to think about your life, your values, and how you operate. The one I liked the most was his discussion of the theory of good and bad capital. It’s very nicely linked to the Lean Startup methodology (without realizing it). The theory is that early in their life, companies should be patient for growth but impatient for profit. Specifically, they should search for their business model, and long term strategy, before stepping on the gas. This is good capital. Bad capital early on will be impatient for growth ahead of profit.

When companies accelerate (search for growth) too early, they often drive right over a cliff. However, once the business model and strategy is figured out, then companies should switch modes to be impatient for growth but patient for profit. Invest like crazy when you’ve got it figured out.

The section that follows is awesome. You need to read it to get it, but imagine the notion of how you invest in friendships, in your children, and in yourself. At any particular time are you focused on growth or profit? Do you have them sequenced and allocated correctly? Clay’s punch line is:

“There are two forces that will be constantly working against [your investments in relationships with family and close friends.] First, you’ll be routinely tempted to invest your resources elsewhere – in things that will provide you with a more immediate payoff. And second, your family and friends rarely shout the loudest to demand your attention… If you don’t nurture and develop these relationships, they won’t be there to support you if you find yourself traversing some of the more challenging stretches of life.”

I’ve just had one of those stretches – I spent the past three months struggling with depression after having a bike accident, wearing myself out travelling for two months, and then ending up in the hospital to have surgery to remove a kidney stone. I’d made the right investments in my relationships so it was easy to cash in on a bunch of them, and I appreciate greatly everyone who invested energy and support in me. I came out of the depression around February 14th and I appreciate more than ever the value of investing in these relationships. I now have a powerful business analogy – that of good and bad capital.

There’s a lot more in How Will You Measure Your Life? It’s a great companion to Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur and very easy to recommend to anyone who is trying to live the best life they can.

 

Book: Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5)

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Wool Omnibus EditionI received a bunch of great scifi suggestions from my post The Best Science Fiction Books of All Time. One of them was Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) which I gobbled down the past two days. The writer, Hugh Howey, has an inspirational arc which, if I ever get into writing scifi, I hope I follow.

I love post-apocalyptical Earth stories that just dump you into the middle, take off like a shot, and leave it to you to catch up as you slowly piece together what is going on. After a while, you get caught up to the current time and start trying to figure out how we got there. In the case of Wool, Howey stays one step ahead of you, feeding a little big of history a few pages before you need it, which gets you thinking down a new path for a while until just before you need a little more history, at which point he gives it to you.

After a hundred pages, I couldn’t put it down. We had friends staying over and I ended up on the couch, in a discussion, but sneaking pages when the conversation shifted away from me.

As I like to write no-spoiler book reviews, I loved the metaphor of the silo. If very effectively grounds the reality of the world that its citizens inhabit, while leaving open a series of horizontal questions about what the entirety of the world actually is. This doesn’t get answered in the first five books (which is what you get with the Omnibus edition) but the world does expand well beyond the silo.

I especially love the juxtaposition of politics (the mayor and the sheriff), IT, and mechanical in the arc of the story. Each of the three of these categories of people play critical roles and Hugh mines them extraordinarily well.

I’ve got book 6 and 7 on my Kindle. I’m going to read them after I read Rainbow’s End.

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The Mess of a Second Edition Book

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Venture Deals: 2nd EditionThe Second Edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist just started shipping. It’s new and improved, fixes a bunch of little mistakes that we listed on the Ask the VC site, and adds a chapter on Convertible Debt which builds on the posts on Ask the VC. I’m happy it’s out, but really annoyed by the mess that is created by the second edition.

Before I bash Amazon and the traditional publishing industry, I want to give Amazon some love. I bought a Kindle Paperwhite 3G a month ago. Every time a new Kindle comes out, I buy it. After struggling to like the Kindle Fire HD, which now sits dormant in my laptop bag, I am absolutely in love with the Kindle Paperwhite- it’s stunningly good for a high volume reader like me.

Ok – back to the mess of a second edition. Writing the second edition is pretty easy – you get the final Microsoft Word files from the publisher. I would have loved to fix the mistakes earlier in the ebook, but that wasn’t part of the process. So Jason and I just tossed up an Errata page on the website and pointed people at it when they found a new, or old, mistake. We wrote the new sections (the chapter on convertible debt and a few appendices), fixed some other stuff we felt could be improved, and sent it back in to the publisher.

Given the success that we’ve had in academic settings, where Venture Deals is now being used by over 100 undergraduate and graduated courses as a textbook, we also created a teaching guide. Jason and Brad Bernthal wrote this as a completely separate book which we expected would be published. Instead, it’s ends up being on Wiley’s Instructor Companion Site which I just spent 10 minutes trying to get a login for an failed (grrrr). In addition, we are now working on an Inkling edition version of it which is desynchronized from the release of the book – mostly due to miscommunication about what was required to create it.

The normal copy-edit production loop ensued that I’m now used to. Jason and Brad Bernthal submitted the teaching guide separately – the first pass of the copy-edit loop happened, but had more gear grinding as we struggled to understand what was actually going to be produced. We eventually figured it out and everyone ended up happy. Then we got the new cover designs since apparently a second edition gets a new cover design. We are going to put this into the Startup Revolution series so it’s got the little Startup Revolution logo on it.

A few weeks ago I noticed that Amazon had Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist (2nd Edition) available for pre-order. I was perplexed that it was an entirely new page on Amazon with a different ISDN number. None of the 123 reviews moved over with it and the work we put into the page for the first edition was gone. I checked with Wiley on this and quickly found out that Amazon considers 2nd Editions to be completely new books.

So – here I sit on 12/29 with a new Amazon pages for the 2nd Edition in physical and Kindle form, excitingly with zero reviews on a book that has a 4.8 of 5.0 on 123 reviews, light weight Amazon pages, and no access or links to the Instructor Companion Site. Remember, writing these books is a hobby for me, not my full time role in the world, so when I see this I immediately think “there must be a better way.”

In this case, I’m perplexed by Amazon. It seems like they should be focused on making this stuff awesome from a user perspective and and author perspective. Even if there is a new ISBN number, wouldn’t it be so much better to have Venture Deals all connected together, with all the history, made beautiful and awesome for everyone involved? Who cares that the traditional publishing industry has a new ISBN number for 2nd Editions – end users don’t really care about this. And authors who want to spend all of their time writing and as little time as possible fighting with this crap must want to blow their brains out when this happens.

Fortunately, all of this amuses me. I enjoy the people at Wiley I work with – they are working their butts off on many different fronts to be successful. They are dealing with a complex environment that is changing quickly on them. And they are working as hard as they can to stay relevant in this environment. I respect them a lot for this. But it’s still a completely mess.

Book: Ender’s Game

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My post The Best Science Fiction Books of All Time from a few weeks ago got 100+ comments with some amazing suggestions. I’d read a bunch of them, but I discovered a lot of new things to read.

One that appeared over and over again that I hadn’t yet read was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I gobbled it down last night and this morning while trying to shake the holiday cold that decided to inhabit my body.

Awesome. It exceeded my expectations. As I got into it, I saw threads of lots of other writers, including Asimov and Heinlein, woven through the book. But Card took the story and made it his own, combining it with a classical coming of age story that reminded me of plenty that I read when I was a kid. He wasn’t bashful about mixing young with old, kind with brutal, human with non-human, with a dash of politician in the mix. If you’ve read Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games Trilogy you can see where a lot of her ideas came from.

I calibrate scifi with the date published. Ender’s Game was published in 1985 so the PC was already out in the world. Card did a good job with the computer tech, although there was still too much paper communication for critical things. His computer gaming / war simulation stuff was fascinating and well done, in a way that was very accessible to a reader of any age. And his space travel – like most science fiction – was fine, but still a fantasy for the human race in 2012.

I just downloaded Speaker for the Dead and expect I’ll get to it in a couple of days after I read Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, another often recommended book that for some reason has slipped through my fingers so far.

Nexus: Awesome Near Term Science Fiction

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Nope – I’m not talking about an Android phone. I’m talking about an amazing book titled Nexus by Ramez Naam.

Ramez sent me a pre-release version last month. I read it over my holiday in Mexico while I was recovering from kidney stone surgery. I saved it for the end when I was reasonable rested and cogent – it was amazing.

One of my favorite forms of science fiction is what I call “near term scifi.” It’s stuff written two to ten years in the future, usually linked back to current stuff. In Nexus‘ case, Ramez sets it 20+ years in the future, but I’m going to argue that he’s talking about stuff that’s within a decade. My guess is he chooses 2040-ish given the singularity dynamics – I prefer his post-human definition when man and machine merge into one.

Ramez combines science, technology, and a thriller in a very accessible and page turning way. If I ever decided to write fiction, my hope is that I could master the craft of scifi the way Ramez, William Hertling, and Daniel Suarez have. I put him firmly in their league.

If you are looking for a powerfully stimulating book to read over the holidays about where things are going, with a complex hero / protagonist / antagonist structure, plenty of twists and turns, and great scifi that intersects with our reality, go get a copy of Nexus right now.

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