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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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.

Be a DataHero!

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Be a DataHero!

I’ve been fighting with creating charts and data visualizations – well – forever. Anyone remember VisiPlot and VisiTrend? Harvard Graphics? Eventually Excel dominated for a while, but it was always sheer misery for me. Eventually I figured out how to make rows and columns of data look like a chart in my mind, and I just stopped making charts for myself.

Last year we made a seed investment in a company called DataHero. We loved the founders and their vision to make it trivial to turn rows and columns of data into charts. They’ve created a magical product that just works and includes the concept of Live Charts. You simply connect to whatever data source you want, go through their hero-like wizard to set up the visualization you want, and your charts automatically update.

The data I want to chart lives all over the place. In Excel spreadsheets in Dropbox. In my Google Drive. In apps like SurveyMonkey and Salesforce. DataHero connects to each service and just does the right thing. No more exporting and importing data, reformatting it, and tearing your hair out.

Try DataHero. Tell me what you think.

 

Foursquare and Gnip Form A Powerful Partnership

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Our investment in Gnip keeps getting better and better.  While the company is growing like crazy and the financial results would make any investor giddy, what really gets me excited is to see how Gnip is disrupting how business decisions are made.  Gnip believes that someday every significant business decision will include social data as an input and they’ve been working hard for the last five years to make this vision a reality.

Last week, Gnip made another significant step forward towards their ultimate vision. Foursquare and Gnip just announced an exclusive partnership that allows Gnip to provide full coverage of anonymized Foursquare check-in data to Gnip’s extensive network of customers.  Gnip is delivering over four billion social activities to their customers every day and their distribution network is delivering insights and analytics to over 95% of the Fortune 500.   As much progress as they have made, location-based activity is one area of social data where the ecosystem has lacked significant coverage.  Companies wanting to analyze geo-based activities around locations have been begging for more location-based activity.  With the partnership between Foursquare and Gnip, the entire social data ecosystem gets a big win with this key signal of physical presence.

I’ve been a user and believer in Foursquare from the earliest days. It will be fascinating to see what types of analytics are built upon this new data.  Both Foursquare and Gnip discuss some examples in their blog posts. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about how businesses can capitalize on this unique data set.  And with this partnership, we no longer have to imagine!

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