Brad's Books and Organizations

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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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Floating In An Isolation Tank

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Yesterday I floated for an hour in an isolation tank at Cloud Nine Float Center. It was awesome.

When I was in college, I spent a summer floating. I had recently seen the movie Altered States and was fascinated by it, but uninterested in drugs. I found an isolation tank in Dallas where I was living with my parents and working 100 hours a week at Petcom writing oil and gas software. Twice a week I’d go spend an hour floating. I loved it and it helped me chill out and recalibrate my brain which was deep in code most of the time.

After I’d float, I’d have this incredible calmness for the rest of the day. I generally floated at the end of the day and then took the evening off. Sometimes I’d go out to dinner with my girlfriend, sometimes I’d lay in my parents hammock and read a book, and sometimes I’d go for a run. When I crawled into bed a few hours later I would always have an incredibly deep sleep.

For some reason that I can’t remember why I stopped doing this after the summer. I think I never found a float center in Boston and just let it slip away.

Yesterday I rediscovered something that I did 27 years ago and loved. I floated from 5pm – 6pm. It took about five minutes to settle down – I had 55 minutes of extreme bliss and calm. I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go and whenever I started thinking about something too deeply I’d just listen to my breathing until I stopped focusing on something. I have no recollection of what I was actually thinking of during that hour. When I got out, I was in a calm state unlike anything I’ve felt recently.

I went home and spent the evening with Amy. I was very quiet and it was hard for her to pry words out of me. I ate a light dinner, did a little end of day email, and then watched a few more episodes of Revenge. I walked Brooks twice. And I fell into a very deep sleep around 10pm.

I will be floating a lot more.

Abstainer vs. Moderator

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I love summer – it’s by far my favorite season of the year. While the summer solstice (6/21) is the official beginning of summer, I always view summer as being bookended by Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. So – for me, summer has begun.

As I was walking Brooks this morning for his early morning poop, I pondered the dynamic of “abstainer” vs. “moderator” which Amy pointed out to me comes from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. I’ve never known how to moderate particularly well, in any aspect of my life, so I’ve always been an abstainer. For example, I’m afraid of drugs, so I simply don’t do them – I abstain, since I’m concerned that if I started I wouldn’t know how to moderate.

Another example is my struggle with eating. I’ll use sushi as an example. If I’m part of a group sushi experience, I don’t know how to moderate. I’ll eat whatever is in front of me until it’s gone – sometimes a legendary amount of sushi. So – the only way for me to control myself is either to have a separate order to myself (e.g. abstain from the group plate) or use extreme effort to moderate and only have a reasonable amount. Same with bread or tortilla chips – if they are on the table I eat them all. My only way of not doing this is to abstain completely.

This applies to my work. I’ve always struggled to moderate – that’s part of why I chronically have gone through my annual boom / bust cycle where I completely wear myself out by the end of the year and have to abstain for a while. My Qx vacations – quarterly weeks off the grid – are a version of abstaining. My daily schedule is another example of this – and something that I’ve recently started approaching very differently as I’ve grown weary of being schedule from early morning to the end of the day.

Most recently, Digital Sabbath is another example of this for me. I’m now shutting down completely from Friday night at sundown to Sunday morning. I’ve been doing this for few months and think it will become a rest-of-the-life habit. It’s been fantastic for me and Amy. No phone, no email, no work. Just living for a day a week. Yesterday we slept late, wandered around Boulder a little, had brunch at Snooze, binge watched the rest of Season 1 of Revenge, had dinner with friends, and just lived.

I know that I don’t know how to moderate, whether it’s food, work, relationships, sports, communication, or something new. I’m all in and the only way for me to manage the total load is to abstain from some things and create specific times where I abstain from most everything.

Are you an abstainer or a moderator? How do you think about this?

Discover Some Awe This Weekend

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It’s the beginning of summer. That is a good thing. Spend three minutes watching the amazing video below and get inspired to open your eyes and breath in this weekend.

As I come out of my depression, I’ve been systematically changing many of my tactics and habits. Simple things like deciding not to wake up with an alarm clock. Having a digital sabbath (no email / phone from Friday night to Sunday morning). Talking to Brooks the wonder dog when I take him for a walk, rather than have my thoughts wander around in my head.

This video reminded me to break that patterns that my brain has completely assimilated, in a search for awe, inspiration, and innovation. Thanks Anthony for pointing it out to me.

An Unexpected Night In The Hospital

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First things first – we are fine. Amy had an emergency appendectomy last night. She’s recovering extremely well and feeling great, albeit a little sore, this morning. We’ll be going home in a little bit once the doctor gets here.

Yesterday was a typical Monday. Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion. I went for a run. My partners and I had sushi for lunch. I did a bunch of email and phone calls. I walked 20,000 steps on my treadputer. I gave a talk with Jeff Clavier for one of our LPs (AMG) at Frasca to a bunch of their clients. Normal stuff.

While hanging out at Frasca, I got a text from Amy that said “I might have appendicitis. Getting ready for IV and scan. Can’t find vein, as usual. I’ll keep you posted.” Well – that’ll throw a guy off his game. Amy wasn’t feeling well in the morning and had gut pain – I told her to make sure she went to the doctor if she didn’t feel better by the end of the day. I headed over to CU Boulder to interview David Cohen as part of the Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurs Unplugged event, knowing that I could get textus interruptus at any time.

Five minutes after I started interviewing David, I got a text from Amy that said “It’s appendicitis. I will need surgery at Boulder Community tonight. Boo.” Fortunately, there was another Brad around (Brad Bernthal) who quickly stepped in for me as moderator as I exited stage left to go get Amy and take her to the hospital.

Amy went to urgent care at 5:30. I picked her up at 7:00. She was in surgery by 9:00. She was out by 11:00. We were asleep in our cozy hospital room by midnight, romanced to sleep (her in a hospital bed, me on a cot) by the six second repeating hum of the IV machine.

I’ve never spent the night in a hospital before. I certainly didn’t expect to do it last night. I guess there’s a first time for everything. Boulder Community Hospital and their staff is just awesome – and as the sun comes up on another day we begin again, reminded of our priorities.

Sources of Depression

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As I’m coming out of my depression, I’ve been reflecting on the hundreds of emails I’ve gotten from entrepreneurs, investors, friends, and people I don’t know talking about their own struggles with depression. It’s remarkable how much stigma is associated with depression in our society, which makes the struggle with depression even harder. 

To all of you who have written to me with your stories, thoughts, struggles, and suggestions – thank you. Many have helped me; all have been appreciated.

The other morning, I got an email from Doug Liles titled Depression – 3 sources? I thought it was excellent, insightful, and hit on a few things that I’ve identified as the sources of my most recent struggle. I asked if I could republish it and Doug said yes. If you are depressed or know someone who is depressed, it’s worth a read. Doug’s email follows.

I’ve followed you for a bit. You were extremely brave in discussing your battle with depression. I am not writing about myself, but I thought I’d offer up 3 things that might contribute. I’ve experienced the same thing. I started my practice after I got laid off from my job in October of last year. I’ve had highs and lows through that process.

I think depression is a much more common affliction with entrepreneurs and leaders than society is willing to admit. I would suggest that the affliction hits the creative class the hardest. Is it caused the constant traipsing of through between the left and right brains? I am no psychiatrist, but I know the pressure of mixing thought processes can create mental conflict.

I reflect on the movie “Koyannisqatsi” – Which roughly translates to “Life out of Balance”. What can throw you out of balance? Sometimes seeking that source deep down in our id is very difficult. Allow me to throw out a few things.

1. Inventory – As we get older, our priorities and abilities change. We see the world through a new lens. We look around and question what is “enough”. We also take stock on what we really care about. Sometimes honesty and truth battle everything we have constructed. The discipline of our prior living behaviors become incompatible with the essence of our being. As we take inventory with our achievements, we look at our new found or undiscovered missions in life. It’s half-time. What’s the next play? Probably not what it has been.

2. Blood sucking vampires – I don’t envy you being a VC. I imagine the drain of working with dreamers, charlatans, sycophants and auteurs isn’t easy. I am sure there are constant calls. In a down economy where so many need cash to jumpstart dreams and policy deferring to big business, it’s not an easy to manage a portfolio. The challenge of celebrity and notoriety is that “everyone wants something”. That constant pressure of wanting to perform, wanting to help and needing to extract value for investors isn’t simple nor does the pace slacken. While you as a VC may have rules, we know that constantly teaching others the “rules” may get repetitive. Constantly dealing with bad behavior isn’t easy…

3. End of an innovation cycle – I’ve spoken with my mentor on this topic. We may just be coming to the end of one cycle and preparing for the next. I can’t see whether it’s evolutionary or revolutionary. There’s a silly little movie, “24 Hour Party People”. The great scene in it describes the malaise when one music/art movement falls and the bumps that occur until another one rises. Maybe software and SaaS solutions have become too easy. I used to joke that ASPs (remember that term) were the mom and pop businesses of the late 90’s early 2000’s. Maybe the proliferation of tools has expanded faster than demand (One of the great cases in Ash Maurya’s book, Running Lean is defining the problem to solve and whether the problem is worth solving). I wonder if the next innovation cycle is coming from another sector. Energy, transportation, material science, food production, housing, bioscience, construction, lawncare, domestic manufacturing, etc. As a guy that’s been around software for so long, I couldn’t tell you what the next real wave is. All I do know is that innovation cycles are becoming more rapid and much shorter. The wavelength frequencies are in a different pattern and they are much harder to measure. All of our assumptions from that past don’t work in this future. Sometimes we need to exchange lenses to find that future opportunity.

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