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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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Decluttering My Computer Network

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A few days ago, Amy and I came up to our  house in Keystone. We haven’t been here for about two months; we’ll be here through the end of the first week of January.

The first few hours were predictable. We “turned” everything on. We unpacked the car. We got settled in.

And I got frustrated. The Internet was slow. The Sonos wasn’t working correctly. Everything was trying to update itself. It was like a giant machine was trying to boot up, but was stuck in an initialization loop.

I wandered around the house tweaking things. One by one I got things working. As I reset things, I kept thinking to myself “I wonder why we need that.”

We bought this house in 2006. The network infrastructure is a cumulative build since then – a NetGear router connected to the cable modem, Cisco WiFi access points on each floor, default Sonos configuration, a Cisco phone that isn’t used anymore acting as a wired network repeater, USB hubs with one device connected, power extension cords, cables, and a bunch of other crap. The last time I was up here I installed an Apple Airport Extreme (which needed an update) but I left everything in place.

I decided to rip it all out yesterday and replace it with the Apple Airport Extreme. The result is a giant box of crap.

For an hour or so I continued to be frustrated. Things were better, but still choppy. I’d set all the computers up to use Google’s public DNS server (the magic 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) but the network performance was still choppy – fast, then slow, then fast, then slow. At some point I realized I hadn’t set the Airport Extreme to use Google’s public DNS and it was defaulting everything to Comcast.

I made the switch. Boom – everything was fast again. As expected. Pandora played all day long without dropping. Video and audio calls were fine again.

As I looked at the giant box of crap this morning, I thought about the idea of decluttering. We have all this gunk in our lives that just slow us down. Just like my network. As the year comes to an end, I’m going to keep decluttering, the physical and the virtual.

A Confusing Social Media Birthday

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I turned 48 on December 1st. I took a week off the grid (from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving until the Wednesday after my birthday) – part of my quarterly off the grid routine with Amy. We had a very mellow birthday this year, spent it with a few friends who came to visit us in San Diego at the tennis place we love to hide at, and basically just slept late, played tennis, read a lot, got massages, ate nice food, and had adult activities.

I returned to an onslaught of email (no surprise) which included a long list of happy birthday wishes. I had 129 happy birthday wall posts and about 50 LinkedIn happy birthday messages.

As I read through them, I was intrigued and confused.

  • The Facebook wall posts were nice – almost all said either “happy birthday” or “happy birthday + some nice words.” I received one gift via Facebook (a charitable donation – thanks Tisch, you’ve got class!) Ok – that felt pretty good.
  • The emails were mixed. Many of them were like the Facebook wall posts. A few of them were online cards. But about 10% of them asked me for something, using the happy birthday message as an excuse to “reconnect.”
  • About 50% of the LinkedIn messages were requests for something. The subject line was “Happy Birthday” but the message then asked for something.

I decided not to respond to any of them. There were a few emails with specific stuff that I wanted to say, but the vast majority I just read and archived.

I found myself noticeably bummed out after going through the LinkedIn ones. I woke up thinking about it again today, especially against the backdrop of reading Dave Eggers awesome book The Circle (more on that coming soon.)

I’m an enormous believer in the idea of “give before you get.” It’s at the core of my Boulder Thesis in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City  and how I try to live my personal and business live. Fortunately, many of the people I am close to also believe in this and incorporate it into the way they live.

When processing my birthday wishes, especially the LinkedIn ones, there was very little “give before you get.” That’s fine – I don’t expect that from anyone – it’s not part of my view of an interaction model that I have to impose it on others. But I was really surprised by the number of people that used my birthday as a way to “get something” without “giving something” other than a few words in a social media message.

This confused me. The more I thought about it, the more I was confused, especially by the difference between email, Facebook, and LinkedIn. When I tried to organize my thinking, the only thing I could come up with was that email was “variable”, Facebook was “generic”, and LinkedIn was “selfish.” I didn’t love these characterizations, but this prompted me to write this post in an effort to understand it better.

Oh – and the best thing I got electronically for my birthday was from Andrei Soroker via a different channel – Kato.

I’m going to ponder the “culture of different communication channels” more, but I’m especially curious if anyone out there has a clear point of view on the different cultures between email, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Feel free to toss Twitter in the mix if you want.

Getting a New Receptionist with TextUs.Biz

Comments (25)

While I have nothing against receptionists, I’ve always felt like it was a thankless job that should be able to easily be replaced by the machines. Many of the people I know who are receptionists spend their time doing lots of other things and I’ve always felt like it would dramatically improve their life if they could focus on all the other things, rather than split their attention between those and being a receptionist.

We’ve never had a dedicated receptionist at Foundry Group but our office was oriented so the people “in the line of fire” were constantly interrupted whenever someone came in the office. So, we asked a local startup, TextUs.Biz to solve this problem for us.  They came up with an iPad app called “Receptionist” which freed up anyone from having to pay specific attention to the front door. As a result, we redesigned the entrance to our office with “Receptionist” front and center, a new lobby, and a Mezzanine room.

The team at TextUs.Biz hasn’t slowed down. They have taken the idea to market and recently launched TextUs.Biz Receptionist for the public (it’s available in iTunes now.) The functionality and feature set of the app are intuitive. Visitors can ping who they are here to see and can directly interact with the person or their assistant. It also has some fun tricks like taking a picture of the visitor and storing it automatically in the visitor log for future reference.

We like the gang at TextUs.Biz – they did great work for us. The machines have taken over the world anyway, so why not let them help check people in? Check it out the app here and their AngelList profile here.

Make Your Calendar Event Titles Useful

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Put this in the protip category. When you create a calendar event and invite someone to it, make it useful.

For example “Board Meeting” is not helpful. But “BigDoor Board Meeting” is very helpful.

Don’t invite me to a meeting that says “Meeting with Brad Feld.” Make it something like “Smith / Feld – UX for BigDoor” meeting.

For bonus points, use the “Where” field. Put the full address in it. If it says “Foundry Group – 1050 Walnut Street, Suite 210, Boulder, CO 80302″ your iPhone or Android phone can automatically map the directions. If it just says “Foundry” well – that’s not really very helpful. Or put your phone number instead of “Phone”. Or your Skype handle instead of “Skype”.

At some point in the future, our calendars will be really smart. Right now they still generally suck, but a few simple things can make them a lot better.

Flickr is Back!

Comments (12)

I had a shitty website day on Friday. But an awesome Flickr day today.

It was my anniversary and I wanted to post an anniversary tribute to Amy. I ended up writing a post titled Happy 20th Anniversary Amy. I dug up a bunch of old pictures (hosted in our very large photo archive on Dropbox), crafted a WordPress blog, uploaded the photos in the media center on WordPress, and published the blog.

I brought it up, admired my work, and send Amy an email with the link.

She responded five minutes later saying “I can’t get to the link – something is wrong with your blog.”

I took a look. My blog was down. This happens every now and then when I post something and I get a burst of traffic. Usually all it takes to fix it is a server reboot. This time we couldn’t even get in to the website to reboot. No ssh for me. No chance to sudo su -; reboot. The server needed a hard reboot. We finally got our hosting provider to do this, it came up for a few seconds, and immediately fell back over.

My partner Ryan (who was helping me remotely) concluded that the issue was that I had uploaded 4MB files and every time the website came up there was a 40MB burst of traffic. When 10 people hit it at the same time my poor little webserver just fell over.

Oops.

I trimmed down the photos to 600k. I rebooted and sat waiting for the site to come back up. I somehow managed to get into WordPress, turn the post into a draft, and change the photos to the 600k ones. I published and held my breath, while having a meeting with a very indulgent friend.

It worked fine.

But then I was mad at my site. Amused that my webserver couldn’t handle whatever traffic it got. Annoyed with myself for uploading giant pictures. Aggravated that I had interrupted Ryan’s time on vacation at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival because I needed Unix help. And I was busy so I didn’t get to revisit it until this morning.

As sat down to write a new post, I decided to try uploading the photos to Flickr and using embeds. I hadn’t used Flickr in a long time. Sure – I knew it was the new and improved Marissa Mayer endorsed Flickr, but I still hadn’t played around with it.

So I did. I logged in using my Facebook account. My old Flickr photos were there with the pretty note saying I had ONE FREE GIANT TERABYTE OF STORAGE. I easily uploaded my files. I easily embedded them into the post. I published. Happiness.

I looked at my old Flickr photos and realized I really missed Flickr. I guess I’ll be using it again!

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