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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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Glueing Things Together To Make Great Software

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We’ve been investing in our Glue theme and Protocol theme for a long time – well before we started Foundry Group. Many of our Glue investments and our Protocol investments are growing quickly and becoming integral parts of the Internet and web software infrastructure.

It made me smile to see a recent post from Promoboxx titled We’re Powered by TechStars CompaniesIt’s a great post about focusing on what matters for your product while leveraging great technology infrastructure from other companies. Several of the companies we are investors in are mentioned, including SendGrid and FullContact, each which are TechStars companies that we invested in after they finished the program.

For as long as I’ve been involved in writing and creating software there has always been a deep philosophy of creating building blocks that you can leverage. Something magical happened around this with the web and in the past five or so years there have been a number of amazing companies created that are easy to quickly integrate, either through a little bit of code or an API. It’s part of thing that has changed the dynamics of creating and launching a web software company, dramatically lowering the price of just getting something out there so you can start getting real feedback from users and customers.

When I reflect on this year’s Glue Conference, it feels like we’ve finally reached a tipping point where this concept is ubiquitous. I expect we’ll talk about it at Defrag and Eric Norlin’s post from yesterday titled The 20 Year Cycle hints to some of the deeper ideas about how this affects enterprise software and corporate IT, in addition to all the obvious consumer implications.

It’s a great time to be building software – the innovation curve is speeding up, not slowing down, and I expect when we look back 20 years from now we won’t recognize what we were doing in 2012.

Glue Conference Invites New Startups To Apply To Participate For Free

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Eric Norlin is a conference master organizer.  The original conference we helped Eric create – Defrag – is happening for the fourth time in ten days in Boulder (11/17-11/18).  I know of several major announcements that are happening around the conference along with a long list of amazing people that are attending that I’ll get to hang out with for two days.

In the run up to Defrag, something awesome happened last week as Eric continues to work on the two other conferences he runs – Glue and Blur.  Alcatel-Lucent signed on to be the Community Underwriter and Partner Sponsor of Gluecon 2011.

Before I explain why that’s exciting, let me describe Glue in Eric’s words:

Glue is aimed aimed at developers, The topics are far technical and because Glue isn’t defined as “a cloud computing” conference, it’s not caught in the echo chamber of “defining” this, that and the other thing. Glue seeks to explore the connective “tissue” of the web and IT infrastructure. That connective tissue can be called a lot of things: service oriented architecture, web services, APIs, cloud computing, etc. But call it what you will, developers know that it’s not the name that counts, it’s the building of the application, and the underlying infrastructure that supports it.

His goal is simple: make Glue the gathering place for developers in the API/Cloud space.  Alcatel-Lucent has agreed to underwrite 15 companies to have free demo space at Gluecon (i.e., the demo pod includes passes to the show, signage, internet — everything you need; just show up with a laptop).

The companies will be selected by merit by the following group of people.

  • Eric Norlin
  • Chris Shipley (Guidewire Group)
  • Mathew Ingram (of MESH and GigaOm)
  • John Musser (Programmable Web)
  • Laura Merling (Alcatel-Lucent)
  • Alex Williams (ReadWriteWeb)
  • Jeff Lawson (Twilio)
  • Jeff Hammond (Forrester)
  • Ian Glazer (Gartner)
  • Ben Kepes (Diversity.net)
  • Vinod Kurpad (Best Buy)
  • Seth Levine (Foundry Group)

The process will be simple: Eric will accept applications for the 15 spots, every person on the selection committee gets one vote, and the top 15 vote getters have a demo pod.

Eric is trying to change the game with this one. If you take away the company specific conferences (Google i/o, Twitter, F8), there really just aren’t that many national-level gathering spots for developers in the cloud/API space. The key word here is “developers.”

Eric’s goal (with Alcatel-Lucent’s sponsorship) is to make it easy for 15 new and exciting companies to show up and participate. If you are one of those companies, apply now for the Alcatel-Lucent Demo Pavilion at Glue.

My Quest For A Personal Dashboard

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I ingest a ton of information on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.  My process for doing it today is entirely manual.  I’m starting to look around for a way to automate this using the metaphor of a “personal dashboard”, not dissimilar to the idea from the 1980’s of an EIS (“executive information system”).  Let me explain.

  • Daily: I have an information processing routine each morning that is web-based.  I open a folder in Firefox that contains 14 tabs.  I then go through all of them – most, but not all are news related.  A few are interactive and require data from me.  I then scan through my tweets from the previous night.  I then review my “Daily” email folder – most of the items are “daily reports” from a variety of companies I’m an investor in.  Next up, my RSS feeds.  Finally, I process whatever email came in from the previous night.
  • Weekly: I have a weekly tab in Firefox.  There are only 5 tabs here and they shift around a little.  But – they reference a variety of text and numerical data that I check on a weekly basis.
  • Monthly: I get financial statements (balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement) along with board packages from all of the companies I’m an investor in along with all of my personal financial information.
  • Quarterly: Similar to monthly, but for the quarter. 
  • Annual: Similar to monthly, but for the year.  I also generate a variety of other “annual data” much of it to do with either money or fitness.

My Daily routine takes around an hour.  Weekly, which includes reviewing my upcoming calendar, takes about 30 minutes.  I don’t know how long Monthly, Quarterly, or Annual take as they are usually spread out over multiple days.

In theory, I’m using Firefox and Outlook as my personal dashboards to get to this data and then viewing it in a variety of apps including Excel, Adobe, and Word.  However, this is really unsatisfying as the data is (a) in different formats, (b) impossible to search effectively, (c) not persistent, and (d) difficult to handle or manipulate.

My guess is I need both an (a) ingestion and (b) presentation layer.  The ingestion layer seems straightforward – the software I’d use for my personal dashboard should be able to generate an XML template for each “type of data”.  I should be able to configure this (or – optimally – the ingestion layer should be able to figure this out automatically).  The ingestion layer should be able to handle different types of inputs – html files, xml files, emails, or some other quasi-API.  So – “Glue”.

The presentation layer is a little harder for me to get my mind around.  A year ago I would have said “hmtl is fine – just give it to me in Firefox via a web page.”  In some cases this is fine, but I want finer grained control over how this stuff is displayed.  Some of the web pages I look at are formatted worse and are less flexible than the DEC-based EISes I played with in the 1980’s.  In many cases we haven’t made any progress on the presentation layer not withstanding all the efforts of Edward Tufte.  So – “HCI”.

I’m hopeful that in a decade I’ll have a much more effective way of dealing with my periodic information routine.  Until then, I’m searching for companies working on both the ingestion layer and presentation layer (preferably both).  Feel free to give me a shout if this is something you are working on.

Sync is Zen Magic

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Jean-Gabriel Morard – formerly of SugarSync – has a great post up on GigaOm titled Why Sync Is So Difficult.  It was one of the things I read before my run yesterday and it was in my head the entire time.  Jean-Gabriel’s main points are:

  • Push sync is deeply asynchronous
  • Sync matches different data models
  • Sync messes with third-party applications
  • Sync is hard to test

I sent the URL to Hong Bui, the CEO of Memeo (one of our investments) who responded with “Great article. I agree. Our approach is zen-like, on one use case at a time.”

I’ve been thinking about sync for a long time. I fondly remember when “replication” first appeared on the scene with Lotus Notes around 1985.  I was fascinated with the idea then and remain fascinated with it today.  It remains a perplexing unsolved problem at the core of both our Glue and Digital Life themes and I expect there will be plenty of talk about it at the Glue Conference in Denver this week.

We have four investments that care deeply about sync: Gist, Gnip, Memeo, and NewsGator.  And – we’ve got a new one that we’ll be talking about later this week that turns the notion of sync – and cloud computing – completely on its side.

Now – before you say “yes, but cloud computing solves the need for sync”, thing about what you are saying.  Go back and read Why Sync Is So Difficult.  Try again.

Don’t Confuse a Conference and a Trade Show

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Eric Norlin has a great post up this morning titled A conference is about communityIn it, he describes clearly the difference between a conference and a trade show, what makes a great conference, and what you’ll get at a great conference.

Having been involved in Defrag since it was a germ of an idea and now watching Eric put together the first Glue Conference, he knows of what he speaks.  I won’t try to summarize – go read the post (it’ll take you two minutes.) 

If I’ve learned two things from Eric (and I’ve actually learned a lot more), the key to a great conference is (a) a superb list of presenters and (b) plenty of whitespace around them for everyone to talk.  You can see this in the Glue agenda which is pretty much locked down at this point. 

The presenters include Josh Ellman (Facebook), Aaron Fulkerson (Mindtouch), Andre Durand (Ping), Eric Marcoullier (Gnip), Peter Coffee (Salesforce.com), Tim Young (Socialcast), Mitch Kapor, Phil Wainewright, Kevin Matheny (Best Buy), Oren Michels (Mashery), Lew Moorman (Rackspace), Drummon Reed (InfoCard), and Bob Frankston.

Oh – and then there are all the folks on the panels: Steven Greenberg, Ben Metcalfe, Chris Saad, Stewart Alsop, Danny Kolke, Andrew Nash, Naveen Agarwal, Chris Shipley, Rick Nucci, Pam Dingle, George Reese, Jackson Miller, Sam Charrington, Jeff Fedor, Jeff Collins, Zoli Erdos, Peter Saint-Andre, Jack Moffitt, Seth Fitzsimmons, Jeff Nolan, Jud Valeski, Shane Pearson, Alex Iskold, Stu Charleton, Albert Wenger, T.A. McCann, Jeff Lawson, David Weekly, 
Jason Milgram, John Minnihan, Jim Reavis, Jeff Lindsay, Kevin Mullins, Kevin Marks, Mike Clymer, Randy Bias, Patrick Harding, Kyle Roche, Phil Windley, Todd Clayton, Angus Logan, Dave McClure, Andy Morgan, Jake Sorofman, and Celeste Merryman.

I hate trade shows.  But I love conferences.  When Eric and I first started talking about Defrag several years ago, I told him I wanted to get a bunch of super smart people together to talk about the Implicit Web, which was a theme we were starting to invest in.  Last year, my partner Seth Levine and Eric had a similar conversation around our Glue theme and Gluecon was the result.  I can’t wait to go hang out with the awesome people above and immerse myself in Glue for a few days.  Come join us.

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