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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What Do Tijuana and Minneapolis Have In Common?

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3D Robotics Iris Quadcopter

We believe great companies can be created anywhere.

When we started Foundry Group, we hypothesized that 33% of our investments would be in Colorado, 33% would be in California, 33% would be “everywhere else”, and 1% would be on Mars.

We still haven’t done the Mars one, but we remain optimistic about the possibility.

Today we’ve announced that we’ve made new investments in LeadPages (a company in Minneapolis) and 3D Robotics (a company in Tijuana, San Diego, and Berkeley). They were joined by our friends in Boulder at VictorOps (across the street from our office) who just raised a $6.5m financing.

Need a drone? That would be 3D Robotics.

Need split-test landing pages, launch pages, sales pages, and other conversion pages? That would be LeadPages.

Need your DevOps life to be less hellish? That would be VictorOps.

I love what we do.

Scaling Up Yesware

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Yesterday Yesware announced that Battery Ventures led a $13.5m round that we participated in. A few days ago Xconomy wrote a great article about the very first Yesware board meeting on April Fools Day, 2011. When I reflect on the journey of Yesware over the past 2.5 years it’s a pretty awesome example of a company going from a seed investment with three founders (Matthew Bellows, Cashman Andrus, and Raj Bhargava) to a rapidly growing 40 person company.

On 4/1/11 Yesware had a vision, a crappy prototype (that we threw away immediately after the financing), and a huge obsession around a vexing problem that no one was addressing effectively. Today they have over 300,000 users, a broad product set that includes a recently released deep integration with and between Gmail and Salesforce, and a leadership team and culture that is clear about what it is trying to accomplish and is true to itself.

In March, I wrote a blog post about Shifting My Focus To Scaling Up. When I look at our Foundry Group portfolio of over 60 companies, I see many of them in two distinct scaling up phases. The first are companies like Yesware that are rapidly growing revenue and customers, are in the 30 to 100 employee range, are dealing with balancing resources to accomplish their goals, but have an incredible amount of open ground in front of them. The second are companies like Fitbit that are clear leaders in their market, are on the 100 to 500 person ramp, and pacing the innovation in their market segment. Many of them are companies that aren’t overhyped because they are Silent Killers, a particular type of company we love to fund and work with.

Yesware has now shifted from the startup phase to the scaling up phase. There’s an entirely new level of organizational development, different set of challenges, leveling up of leadership and management skill sets, and massive opening of new opportunities given the resources that the company now has.

I find this a particularly exciting time in the life of a company. And a very challenging one. Fortunately, Matthew continues to surround himself with amazing people, such as his first outside board member, Dave Girouard, who recently ran the entire Google Apps business and is now CEO/founder of Upstart and his newest board member Neeraj Agrawal from Battery Ventures.

Plus, Matthew has a bunch of peers in our portfolio to talk to. We are together with many of them today in another Foundry Group summit – this time for full executive teams across our portfolio right in the middle of Denver Startup Week. Like all of our internal events, our goal is an extremely high signal to noise ratio. We leave the pomp and circumstance to others.

The enormous and powerful conversation around “startups” will continue. But as I turn more of my attention to “scaleups” I believe the next phase is even more powerful.

Can Your Mobile Device Understand The World In 3D?

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I love being involved in magical stuff. One of our portfolio companies, Occipital, just announced their newest product, the Structure Sensor. It’s available for purchase right now on Kickstarter – they blew through their $100k goal in the first four hours of being up. But this is a “show don’t tell” classic, so take a look at the video below and prepare to have your mind blown.

So awesome. Jeff, Vikas, and team – you guys are amazing.

Structure Sensor from Occipital on Sketchfab.

One Real-Time Communication System to Rule Them All

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We just led an investment in Kato and I’ll be joining the board.

If the headline sounds familiar, it’s because it’s similar to the one I wrote a year ago when we led an investment in FullContact. The headline then was One Address Book To Rule Them All.

Like the contact management problem, the real-time communication problem is a total mess. In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of efforts to address real-time communications in the enterprise. New collaboration systems, such as Microsoft SharePoint and Lotus Connections emerged. This evolved into enterprise social computing systems, such as NewsGator (which I’m on the board of) and Jive. Lightweight approaches that tried to emulate Facebook, such as Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) became visible, chat got integrated in broader messaging systems like Skype and Google Hangouts, which in turn were subsumed by larger messaging systems at Microsoft and Google, and the result is that the default continues to be the soul-crushing and mind-numbing least common denominator known as email.

The problem has accelerated in the past two years. We now use multiple communication products across our portfolio of over 60 companies. Some use Jive. Some use Yammer. Some use HipChat. Some use Flowdock. Some use Campfire. Some try to use Google+. Some still use IRC. And some have simply given up and just use email.

When I try to get in the real-time communication streams, I have to use the specific system that each company uses. With many of them, I have to have a unique login for each company. I log in with one account (usually with an email address that company #1 gave me), check it and respond, log out, log in to the next account (with a different email address specific to company #2), check it and respond, and repeat. This is fun for about three minutes, at which time I just start getting the daily email notices of activity and periodically click on a link, login, and try to respond to something, assuming my login works correctly and I can remember the login / password for that particular company.

While the individual systems work – with different levels of happiness – they just suck across organizations. My world is a network, not a hierarchy, and I want to, and need to, communicate across many different organizations. Ultimately, I want ONE place to centralize all of this. Unfortunately, the only answer today is email. And that just sucks.

My email habits changed significantly when I started using Gmail. Search, across my entire email corpus, eliminated the need for me to use folders and store anything. I didn’t have to remember stuff. Conversations threaded everything.

Kato has similar powerful features that change the way I use real-time messaging. Each “room” (which can include people from Foundry Group, other organizations, or anyone I invite to that specific room) are searchable across the entire corpus. Search works everywhere – I don’t really have to remember anything other than a hint to I’m looking for. I can skim when I want, the same way I use Twitter. Or I can read every message in a room. I can integrate any third-party service I want into a room (currently 25 – adding about one a week). Soon I’ll be able to synchronize data with other real-time systems.

Oh – and there’s an API so you can do whatever you want with it. For example, during a hack day, the gang at FullContact did a bi-directional sync with Campfire. So now I can see everything but don’t have to deal with Campfire. And I get my Asana stream in a room – consolidated across the four different Asana organizations that I’m a part of.

Andrei and Peter have had Kato available for early adopters six weeks after they wrote the first line of code. They have a Support room for every customer that they participate in (in real-time) and drive their product based on real-time customer feedback. It’s amazing to watch and participate in.

While we are still very early in the process, I’m absolutely blown away by what these two guys did over the summer at Techstars. And I’m looking forward to working closely with them to attack a problem that has vexed me every day for the past 20 years.

Tech Guys Go Bananas

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I can’t make angel investments in tech companies anymore because of my Foundry Group fund agreements. So I’ve been making angel investments in food companies. Justin’s Nut Butter, Rick’s Picks, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Quinn Popcorn are some recent examples. I figure if things don’t work out at least I can eat some of the inventory.

I ran into the guys from Barnana at an event in San Diego a few months ago. Matt and Nikk came up to me with a Box of Barnanas and said Brad we’re in the banana business, and we think you’ll like our banana snacks. They literally handed me a box of bananas, filled with these delicious organic banana snacks called Barnana. They have since vanished into my stomach. They are insanely good.

I’ve stayed in touch with Barnana guys as they have continued to grow into new channels and regions. They are now launching the Rocky Mountain region with Wholefoods and Natural Grocers Vitamin Cottage. More Barnanas for me.

Interestingly, a majority of the Barnana team is comprised of tech guys. It seems more and more people are entering the fast growing natural foods space from other high growth industries like tech. I asked Matt why he feels natural foods world is so appealing to techies.

“We are transitioning from a price based economy to a meaning based economy. Not only meaning for your customers, but meaning soup to nuts throughout the entire organization. The notion of meaning is supported across multiple verticals, from the maker revolution to local and organic foods, to the various kickstarter campaigns. It’s simple – people want meaning. And bananas.”

The Barnana guys passion for bananas is beyond belief, and their story is just as good. And – as a runner – I’d rather eat chocolate covered bananas as a snack instead of Hammer gels on a medium run.

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