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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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The Heart of the Start

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It’s been a blast to get to know and work with Eliot Peper. His book, Uncommon Stock, is the first one that we published at FG Press. If you want to read – and comment – along with me, grab a copy of Uncommon Stock on BookShout.

I asked Eliot to write a short post about how he’s feeling and thinking about the category of “startup fiction” now that the book is out in the wild and he’s getting some great feedback.

Following are his thoughts.

Business case studies have wrestled through many different components of entrepreneurship. Bloggers and Quora have picked up the slack for the situations those case studies miss. Management books delve into every nook and cranny of strategy and tactics. Talking heads discuss the ins and outs of everything from product development to investment theory. Gurus wax lyrical about vision and lean, focused execution.

But there’s one critical piece of entrepreneurship that these experts miss. Their analyses emphasize the rational. They draw out lessons-learned from business experiences and try to share best practice with aspiring entrepreneurs. Knowledge is important and many experts are happy to share their thoughts (whether you want to hear them or not!). But they too often focus on the brain at the expense of the heart.

Building a business is a human experience as well as an institutional one. That’s why I love Brad and Amy’s frank discussions in Startup Life. In thinking about growing an organization it’s easy to forget that it’s all made up of individuals. These people lay the groundwork and set the course for the companies they found. They also struggle constantly with work/life balance, relationships, burnout, and team dynamics.

It’s a truism in venture capital that startups fail most often not because their product explodes, but because their team implodes. If you think high-school had a lot of drama, try a high-speed tech startup. Inspiration, betrayal, falling-outs and last-minute-comebacks are par for the course. Everyday I’m blown away by the incredible entrepreneurs I know and work with. Their passion fuels them through the equally challenging rational and the irrational halves of company building.

The emotional reality behind the scenes in every startup is what inspired Uncommon Stock. I thought that fiction could give an intimate peek into the minds of founders. Early readers have pointed out something that I find hugely cool: the other benefit of Startup Fiction is that its so damn accessible.

People who read non-fiction books about entrepreneurship tend to already be engaged in the startup world in some way. We’ve worked for a startup. We read Techcrunch regularly. We go to SXSW.  Living and breathing that world, it’s easy to forget anyone else is out there. But readers that aren’t engaged with tech and picked up Uncommon Stock simply because they wanted a good page-turner are reaching out to say how awesome it is to steal a glimpse into our startup boudoir.

We are blessed to live in a magical world filled with some of the most talented people on Earth. Hopefully together we can help to illuminate the heart of the start.

Uncommon Stock – The First Book From FG Press

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Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 is officially available today and can be bought online at Amazon and pretty much everywhere else. It’s the first title from FG Press and is in a category we call “startup fiction” and expect to be publishing a lot of. Think of what John Grisham did to the “legal fiction” genre. That’s what we are doing with Uncommon Stock and startup fiction.

Mara Winkel and James Chen are undergraduates at CU Boulder. Mara is pre-law, James is a computer science major. James comes up with an idea for a new machine learning technology that he creates a prototype for using the game Go as his starting point. James asks Mara to join him as his partner in the new company Moziak, which they launch against the protests of their parents but the surprising emotional support of Mara’s boyfriend Craig. Early on Mara and James start applying the technology to forensic accounting and get tangled up with some bad guys.  As Mara tries to get funding for the company, James cranks on the product, and Craig goes off the rails, endangering everyone. Then things start getting really complicated. And interesting. And then the VCs show up.

I love this book. This project started about a year ago when Eliot Peper send me a cold email. I didn’t know Eliot, but he sent me a thoughtful note and attached a few chapters of a book to read. He was upfront that this was his first book, that is was tech fiction, and that he wanted my opinion. I read it that night on my couch in my condo and I can still remember turning to Amy after I finished, saying “wow – this is really great!”

Eliot continued writing and I continued giving him feedback. About six months ago I told him about the idea we were cooking up for FG Press and asked if he wanted to publish with us as an experiment. He jumped at it and our relationship, which now included Dane McDonald (FG Press’s CEO) deepened. Eliot finished his first draft in January and over a period of a few weeks I read through the book several times, making significant edits, adding a bunch of local Boulder color, and tuning up some of the story. Eliot was amazing during the edit process – working closely with me, my wife Amy Batchelor who also provided an editing pass, and then our formal editors who did a tight copy-edit of the book.

During this period, we worked together with Eliot on the launch of FG Press as well as his book. We’ve used Uncommon Stock as the alpha test for our process and have improved a lot of things. You’ll see some obvious things from us, like a 10 chapter free giveaway (if you want to sample the book before you buy it). You’ll also see some not so obvious things, like the ability (soon) to buy the book using Bitcoins.

You’ll be hearing a lot from Mara Winkel on Twitter. She’s an amazing entrepreneur – just the kind of learning machine I love to back.

Grab your copy of Uncommon Stock: 1.0. Or, if you just want a taste first, download the first 10 chapters.

Book Cover Blurbs Should Die

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As we gear up to release Uncommon Stock, our first FG Press book, we just had an internal discussion about book blurbs. The concept of a blurb was apparently invented in 1907. The origin story of the blurb is amusing – according to Wikipedia:

“The word blurb originated in 1907. American humorist Gelett Burgess’s short 1906 book Are You a Bromide? was presented in a limited edition to an annual trade association dinner. The custom at such events was to have a dust jacket promoting the work and with, as Burgess’ publisher B. W. Huebsch described it, “the picture of a damsel — languishing, heroic, or coquettish — anyhow, a damsel on the jacket of every novel” In this case the jacket proclaimed “YES, this is a ‘BLURB’!” and the picture was of a (fictitious) young woman “Miss Belinda Blurb” shown calling out, described as “in the act of blurbing.”

While the history lesson is cute, the blurb has long since ceased to be useful. As a reader, I’m incredibly suspicious of them because as a writer, I know how they are manufactured. More on that in a bit, but for now, take a few minutes and check out some #HonestBlurbs.

Our internal back and forth on whether to include blurbs on our FG Press books resulted in the following rant from me.

I think endorsements like this are bullshit. I’m literally getting asked daily (5 times / week – sometimes more) to endorse books. I used to do it, now I say no unless it’s a friend, and even then they usually write the endorsement.

It’s an artifact of the publishing business that existed before “earned media” – blog posts, reviews, etc.

I’d love to just BLOW UP blurbs.

I think we should be focusing on real earned media, real reviews, real substantive support, rather than marketing nonsense the industry has been pushing since the early 1900s.

We had a little more back and forth but the more I thought about it, the more I have no interest in blurbs. I’ve been saying no to a lot of the requests I get recently, after having my name on probably 50 blurbs for other books in the last few years. At first, I always read the book before writing the blurb. Then, I started skimming the book before writing the blurb. Recently, I’ve been either asking the writer to send me a draft of the blurb they’d like, or I’ve just said something generically positive but non-substantive.

I’ve watched the other direction work the same way. It’s similar to press release quotes – it ends up being manufactured PR stuff, rather the authentic commentary. The idea that a static, short, manufactured blurb from a well known person as an endorsement of a book is so much less authentic than Amazon reviews, GoodReads, and blog posts from people who actually read the book.

When people send me a note that they liked my book, I ask them to put up a review on Amazon if they are game. When someone writes with constructive feedback on a book I’ve written, I ask them to put up a review on Amazon, with the constructive feedback, if they are game. I appreciate all the serious feedback – both good and bad. Sure – I get trolled by some people who say things like “Feld is a moron, this book is another stupid thing he’s done.” I ignore that kind of thing, and feel that most rational humans can separate the signal from the noise.

So, at least for now, we aren’t going to do blurbs on FG Press books. Instead, we’ll ask people to put up reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, their blog, and other sites that make sense. And, when someone requests a blurb from me, I’m going to start passing and defaulting to writing a review on this site and putting up the review on Amazon on GoodReads, like I have for many of the books I’ve read.

Introducing FG Press

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FG PressEvery year or so my partners and I at Foundry Group create a new company, or start a new project, that we believe had the potential to change the way something works in our world, while simultaneously helping the entrepreneurs we work with, and the entrepreneurs we aspire to work with.

For example, in 2006, we co-founded Techstars. At the time David Cohen, the co-founder and CEO, was unhappy with how angel investing worked. He was dissatisfied with his experience and had a hypothesis around helping a group of companies get going, surrounding them with active mentors, and accelerating their early growth. The Techstars Boulder 2007 program was an experiment – we had no idea if it would work. Looking back seven years later, I’m immensely proud and satisfied with the impact Techstars has had on the world of entrepreneurship, especially at the early stages of company creation, and look forward to our goal over the next seven years of building the most powerful and connected early stage startup network in the world.

Our 2014 project is FG Press.

I wrote my first book, Do More Faster, with David Cohen in 2010. We worked with our publisher Wiley, who took a chance on us. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and it was really fucking hard. I remember sitting at my kitchen table in Homer, Alaska in July 2010 at 2am almost crying with frustration. I was just grinding through the last bit of it and the tedium of the process was overwhelming. I kept thinking “there has to be a better way” even back then, but there was something magical about holding the book in my hands in October 2010 when it came out.

In 2011, when my partner Jason Mendelson and I wrote my second back, Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist, I had figured out the writing drill, but I was still baffled by the publishing process. It was painful and tedious, and there were many steps along the way that made no sense. But I kept writing and learning.

In 2012 I thought hard about self-publishing everything I did going forward, but I didn’t feel like I completely grokked the publishing business yet. Venture Deals was a very successful book and Wiley increased their focus and attention on me. I had an expectation that somehow things would be different, better, more impactful, and more aligned, especially around process, promotion, and economics. So I decided to do four more books, which make up the Startup Revolution series, including the most recent one  - Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors (the third in the series) – which just came out. Along the way, my long time friend Matt Blumberg (CEO of Return Path) decided to write a book so we added it on to the Startup Revolution series, resulting in Startup CEO: A Field Guide To Scaling Up Your Business.

There’s a lot more history, which I’ll cover in later posts, but all of this led to a place in fall of 2013 where my partners and I at Foundry Group started having a discussion about doing something different around the book publishing industry. We all are extensive readers and believe the long-form book is something that is very valuable, especially ones like Venture Deals that we believe will have at least a 20 year relevance, assuming we continue to update it. We also think it should be easier for more people to write and produce high quality, useful long-form books. While we think the entire process and engagement model is completely broken, that leads us to the punchline of the thing that is really wrong.

The relationship between the reader and the author has an immense amount of friction in it. And that friction comes from the publisher. It’s not just that the economics are wrong (why should the economic split between publisher and author be – on average – 85% to the publisher and 15% to the author?) but that the publisher sits in between the author and the reader. Sure – industrious writers can build direct relationships with their readers around their publisher – which is what happens today, but that’s silly. Shouldn’t the publisher be in the business of helping facilitate these relationships in addition to theoretically curating and producing the content?

We spent a morning together one day talking about this stuff. We came up with a very long list of issues, like the ones above, and then put the key question on the table: “What should we do about this.” My response was “let’s start our own publishing company.” Hence FG Press.

As with all new ideas, we started looking for patterns in things in the world that we liked. If you are familiar with McSweeney’s, O’Reilly, or Granta, then you understand where our brains were going and some of the companies that inspire us. Ultimately, we realized that the optimal model for what we were doing was Techstars, specifically the Techstars of 2006.

If you are a fan of analogies, Techstars is to “angel investing before Techstars” as FG Press is to “traditional publishing.” We are running an experiment in the first year. The experiment involves anyone who wants to participate. We expect to learn a lot and iterate very rapidly on what we are doing. And we plan to share out ideas widely, as a way of open-sourcing our learning, engaging with other people working on similar problems, while taking an author and reader-centric point of view, in the same way that Techstars took an entrepreneur and mentor-centric point of view.

Like Techstars, this is a new entity. It has a full time co-founder/CEO (Dane McDonald), just like Techstars was co-founded and run by David Cohen. It’s a self-funded entity, just like Techstars was for the first two years. Our goal is that it’s deeply complementary and integrated into everything we do and our point of view about the world of entrepreneurship, as Techstars is.

Will make mistakes. We’ll learn a lot. We’ll have fun. We hope you’ll come along for the journey with us. If you want to get a feel for one of the characters from our first book, just follow Mara Winkel on Twitter. And we’ll take Bitcoin, once we get the damn software working right.

Build something great with me