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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 Juxtaposition of Humility and Arrogance

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I woke up this morning at 5am this morning determined that – if nothing else – I’d get a run in today. After procrastinating until almost 7am, I got out there and got it done. It was cold but I’ve now strung together three days in a row. Tomorrow will be four.

During my procrastination, I read two blog posts – one that made me happy and one that made me sad.

First the happy one. Tim Ferriss and I have a long distance relationship. We’ve physically been together twice – once at a SXSW dinner well before SXSW was trendy and once at Emily and Rob Lafave’s apartment. That’s it. But I’m a huge fan of Tim’s. I love his books. I love his irreverence. I love his art of self promotion. I love his endless experimentation on himself. And I love his humility.

Read his post “Productivity” Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)It starts out strong and gets better:

I originally wrote this post months ago, but I’ve been too self-conscious to publish it until now. This quote convinced me to put on my big girl pants:

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
- Neil Gaiman
University of the Arts Commencement Speech

So, here goes, and I hope it helps at least a few of you.

Yeah – there are some good tips in there. But he also talks about his own constant struggle in the context of doing a ton of amazing stuff. He calls it “manic-depressive” – I call it “functional depression.” Regardless – it’s super complicated and observing the humility of being able to acknowledge the struggle in the context of a very public and successful life always makes me happy.

And then I read Silicon Valley Has an Arrogance Problem: It’s Too Proud, Too Self-Centered, and That’s Not Good For AnyoneAfter I read it, I wanted to unread it. Oh – it had all the typical Silicon Valley self-aggrandizing crap in it. But it also has a tone of “watch out Silicon Valley – your arrogance is going to backfire on you.” For example:

“This is Silicon Valley’s superiority complex, and it sure is an ugly thing to behold. As the tech industry has shaken off the memories of the last dot-com bust, its luminaries have become increasingly confident about their capacity to shape the future. And now they seem to have lost all humility about their place in the world.

Sure, they’re correct that whether you measure success financially or culturally, Silicon Valley now seems to be doing better than just about anywhere else. But there is a suggestion bubbling beneath the surface of every San Francisco networking salon that the industry is unstoppable, and that its very success renders it immune to legitimate criticism.

This is a dangerous idea. For Silicon Valley’s own sake, the triumphalist tone needs to be kept in check. Everyone knows that Silicon Valley aims to take over the world. But if they want to succeed, the Valley’s inhabitants would be wise to at least pretend to be more humble in their approach.”

Go ahead – substitute whatever you want for “Silicon Valley.” And when someone is telling the arrogant to be more humble, well isn’t that just arrogance writ large?

My suggestion – behave however you want to behave. Be as arrogant, or humble, as you want. Humans will sort over time based on how they act. And it won’t really matter in 40 years when the machines have taken over. But remember – the machines have a store of everything we’ve done and said (which we are aggressively helping them populate and search) and are watching us carefully.

Racism in Tech

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There was a huge kerfluffle over the weekend about racism in Silicon Valley which tried to end when Michael Arrington wrote a post titled Oh Shit, I’m A Racist. But it didn’t end – on Monday there were stories by CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien defending herself with an article titled Michael Arrington is right (about one thing) and then a well reasoned post by Mitch Kapor titled Beyond Arrington and CNN, Let’s Look at the Real Issues. And I’m sure there will be more posts, including this one.

If you don’t know me, I’m white, Jewish, third generation American, born in Arkansas, grew up in Dallas, lived in Boston for 12 years, and I now live in Boulder, Colorado. My great grandparents emigrated from Russia and Germany – there were people in those countries trying really hard to kill them before they managed to emigrate to America. I say this not because I’m going to prognosticate about racism, but rather I’m going to tell a story. Of something that happened last week. Just to remind all of us that racism is alive and well in the US and in tech.

On Thursday, I got a call from a CEO of company I’m on the board of. He was very upset as he relayed a story to me. He had just heard from one of his employees who had been at a customer site for the past three days with another employee. The first person (person A) is white; the second is Indian (person B). The customer site is a government owned military installation.

Upon arrival, the customer would not shake hands with B. The customer would not acknowledge B’s presence directly. Over the course of the three days, the customer made endless racial and ethnic slurs directed at B. While it was extremely uncomfortable, A and B did their work, put up with the nonsense, and were professional.

While the CEO was relaying this to me, I was pacing outside a room that I was about to give a talk in. I was furious at the customer. I was sad that A and B hadn’t called the CEO immediately – I know he would have told them to pack it up and come home right away and he’d deal with the customer situation directly. The notion that B, and A, had to put up with racist behavior for three days was appalling to me. Especially at a government facility. In the United States. In 2011. In the tech business.

Everyone on this planet gets to believe what they want to believe, but I’ll assert that racism is alive and well in the US. I’ve seen it many times, including in Silicon Valley. Rather than get into arguments about the existence, or lack thereof, I’d encourage anyone who cares about this to listen to some wise words from Mitch Kapor.

“Being meritocratic is a really worthy aspiration, but will require active mitigation of individual and organizational bias. The operation of hidden bias in our cognitive apparatus is a well-documented phenomenon in neuroscience. We may think we are acting rationally and objectively, but our brains deceive us.”

When you see racism, don’t tolerate it. Take action. And don’t deny reality.

That Was The Best Tuna I’ve Ever Had

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I had a really fun night in Montreal at the opening dinner for the C100 Conference that I’m speaking at tomorrow. The dinner was put on by Accelerate MTL and included some friends as well as a bunch of new people I met tonight.

Dinner was really well done. I sat next to Howard Lindzon who teased and entertained me all night long. Dinner was a pre-set menu so I ordered the non-meat choices and didn’t think twice about it.

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 19. I eat fish, so I guess I’m a fishetarian or pescatarian or whatever you want to call me, but no beef, chicken, or pork. Once a year I end up accidentally eating some meat (usually on nachos, soup, or something Italian) and I always realize it around 3 am.

The first course was yellowfin sashmi, which was excellent. The second course was some kind of red tuna like thing which I dug into without a second thought. It was easily the best tuna I’ve ever had. Snarf – and gone. I then made fun of my tablemates who were eating a beet salad (which also looked really good.)

Brad: “You guys made the wrong choice – this tuna tartare was awesome.”

Howard: “That’s not tuna, that’s steak.”

Brad: “Howard – you know I’m a vegetarian – quit giving me shit.”

Howard: “No seriously, look at the menu, you just ate a plate full of stake tartare.”

I looked. In fact, they’d served me “Tartare de boeuf epice, truffe, parmesan, citron.” Yes – it was the best tuna I’ve ever had because it was in fact steak tartare. And it was awesome.

Much mockery of me ensued. It’s not quite 3 am, but my stomach is doing the once a year “you just ate meat” rumble.

Community Hours – Trying Something New for Random Meetings

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I’ve been a long time practitioner of having “random meetings” where I meet with whomever wants to get together with me.  Some amazing things have come out of this over the years, including my first meeting with David Cohen which turned into TechStars.

I’ve decided to try something different for the next few months.  Rather than having random days in my office, I’m going to have “community hours” in the Bunker (the TechStars office) once a month.  The TechStars space is big enough for people to hang out and mingle (unlike my office) so it’s easier for groups to hang out and meet each other, in addition to spending time with me.  I’ve always loved the idea of “professors office hours” – this is the closest I could come to simulating it in my little section of the universe.

We’ve set up a self-service wiki for my Community Hours.  The rules for signing up are simple – just set up an account and then pick a date and time slot.  Put your name, email address, and a brief description of the meeting.  Given my ever changing schedule, there’s always a chance that we’ll have to move one of the dates around so having a valid email address is critical for us.  More extensive instructions are on the wiki.

My partners Seth Levine and Jason Mendelson are also giving this a try, as is David Cohen.  If it works, we’ll do more.  Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

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Ancient MS-DOS Tricks

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I had a dream last night.  In it, I was sitting in front of an old PC.  I typed:

c:
cd\
copy con config.sys
files=255
buffers=32
<ctrl-z>

I can’t remember much more of the dream.  But – I do remember typing this.  My dream must have been about something in 1991.

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