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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My Plan to Master Video Conferencing

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I’ve decided not to travel for the rest of 2013. There are a lot of inputs into this decision, including the fact that I’ve been travelling 50% – 75% of the time for the last 20 years and I’m just tired of it. I also have realized that my endless travel introduces a lot of friction into my world that I believe is both unnecessary, is shortening my life, and starting to have a material impact on my creativity.

It’s amazing to me that in 2013 – with all the choices we have – real video conferencing is still chaotic, messy, and underused across many organizations. Getting it set up within a single organization generally works ok, but across organizations continues to be painful.

There are lots of different cases to consider. The simple one, like a one to one video conference, works fine with Skype, Hangouts, or Facetime.. It’s trivial to initiate and I find video to be much more effective and powerful than a phone call. Eye contact matters.

As it gets more complicated, such as a multi-person video conference that is analogous to a typical audio conference call, there are more options. For example, you have two to ten locations connecting. Most are a single person but one is the center of gravity. There might be a presentation. I’ve found Hangouts to be the best and easiest to deal with for this, although there are lots of other options, such as GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, WebEx, and Fuze.

But then you descend into the typical morass of a weak link somewhere. Someone connects with a low speed connection. Or is calling in without headphones from a crowded coffee shop. Or a group is in a big room with a laptop at the end of the room with an 11″ screen that no one really sees and eventually gets aimed at one particular person, rather than the whole room. Or the audio in the main room is weak, and it’s hard to hear the conversation unless the person is right in front of the speakerphone or computer mic.

I’ve recently done many presentations to large groups – 100 – 500 people – using video conferencing. This works well as long as there is good audio and video on the receiving end. Ironically, these are often easier to do and work better than the smaller video conferences, since someone is actually paying attention to it.

My current goal is to train “my world” to use video conferencing effectively. A small investment in the right hardware and configuration makes all the difference. While I have real preferences on software, I can live with different choices given our hardware setups.

For example, I used Fuze for the first time last week for my Yesware board meeting – it was flawless (easy setup, sharp video, great screen share. solid everything.) I’m on an UP Global board meeting right now using GoToMeeting – it’s working fine, although I’m staring at one person (instead of the room) since the video is on a laptop on the end of the table. But last week, my GoToMeeting experience with Moz was a disaster (in direct contrast to the actual meeting content, which was great), until we separated the audio stream to a separate dialin number.

At the high end, we use Oblong’s Mezzanine. It integrates directly with a Cisco system so you get the Mezzanine experience virtualizing the Cisco high end video conferencing. Plus we then have a very high def H323 system in our office.

Look for more on this from me over the rest of the summer as I work hard to master this stuff.

I’m interested in what you are using – toss it in the comments.

Paper Signatures Are Obsolete

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I closed a large transaction yesterday without signing a single piece of physical paper. It was painless. The entire negotiation was done using email and DocuSign.

I’m doing this at least once a week at this point. Either with DocuSign or EchoSign, the two services that seem to be most popular. I generally hate paper and have almost no paper in my world anymore so being able to eliminate the “print out the signature pages”, “sign the signature pages”, “scan the signed document”, and “email the signed document” step is a joy.

There are a few obvious other benefits. The first is workflow. Signing a doc is part of my workflow, no matter where I am. There is virtually no hassle – I just bring up the doc in the web, read whatever I need to, and sign where required. In addition, I see who else has signed, or hasn’t signed, which is helpful in the context of other investors and board members. When the sigs are completed, a PDF is emailed back to me and I can toss it in the company folder in Dropbox where we store all signed docs. Trivial workflow.

I also have an archive of everything I’ve signed. With the electronic signatures, there’s no more hunting down a doc. I just go to the doc stored in my account. I have another version in Dropbox, but I don’t even have to fight through finding the right one.

Now, every time I have to physically sign something I’m mildly annoyed. I’m going to push everyone I work with to go all electronic.

Unfortunately we aren’t investors in any of these companies. I remember being pitched several in the mid-2000s and just never engaged. That was a miss on my part. But at least I can benefit from them!

The Incredible Unevenness of Internet Connectivity

Comments (22)

I’m at the The Athenaeum at Caltech which is the alumni club / hotel on Caltech’s campus. I’m on Caltech Guest WiFi and am getting speeds of between 2 and 10 Kbps (e.g. miserably slow). My Verizon phone has one bar and is flickering between 3G and LTE, but is mostly 3G.

I have no expectation that I get a certain level of infrastructure and connectivity in my life, so this isn’t a rant about that. In fact, I’m amazed on a regular basis that any of this shit actually works. Rather, I’m intrigued by the disparity between the top and bottom speed of connectivity I experience on a daily basis with my laptop and  my iPhone.

Last week in Kansas City I experience the 1gig internet speed that is provided by Google Fiber. I was in a house next door to mine – my Google Fiber was being installed yesterday.

Google Fiber is Fast

The gap isn’t a little – it’s orders of magnitude. And it’s fascinating to think about the impact of this unevenness. In my house slightly outside of Boulder we have an old T1 line that gets 1Mbps to it via a CenturyLink connection – this is the fastest connectivity I can get where I live. In my condo in Boulder, we are on 50Mbps Comcast connection (although I rarely see more than 20Mbps). I get no cell service at my house outside of Boulder; I get strong cell service and LTE in my condo in town.

I realize that the typical speed I first got when using a computer was 2400 baud (actually – my first modem was 110 baud) – that was only 35 years ago. It’s remarkable the difference between 110 baud and 811.02 Mbps over 35 years, but it’s even more dramatic that within a week I’ve used the same devices and applications at 1Mbps, 20Mbps, 800Mbps, and then get stuck in a place where you are happy when things spike to 20 Kbps.

Richard Florida talks about the power of the world being spiky. It’s interesting to ponder in the context of Internet connectivity.

LazyHusband at SXSW

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I’m not at SXSW this year. I sort of miss it, but not really. Last year I cancelled at the last minute (the day before – I was already in San Antonio at TechStars Cloud) to come back to Boulder after Amy fell and broke her wrist. This year I just didn’t feel like I had enough extrovert reserves in my tank to deal with it. I stayed home and am hanging out at my house in Eldorado Canyon enjoying what looks like at least 12 inches of snow in the last 12 hours. And yes, I’m heading out later for a very quiet and transcendent run.

I got an email this morning from Ethan Duggan who is at SXSW in the #VegasTech booth with his dad Rick. I met Ethan when I was in Las Vegas in January for CES – he came up to me at the VegasTech event I did and showed me the beta of LazyHusband. It’s a cool app, but what’s even more awesome is that Ethan is 12. I met his dad Rick the previous year at CES at a breakfast we had talking about the Las Vegas tech community and how they could use some of the principals I was working on at the time around building Startup Communities that have since shown up in Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.

I loved Ethan’s demo energy. He literally forced me to go through all the options while a crowd of people were waiting patiently, and respectfully, to talk to me. I think they were just as amazed as I was that a 12 year old was so enthusiastic about he app he’d created. And, out of the corner of my eye, I saw his proud dad smiling and thought of my dad. I started programming at the age of 12 (my first language was APL on an IBM mainframe in the basement of a Frito-Lay datacenter) and my dad – and my uncle Charlie (who was the VP MIS at Frito-Lay at the time) supported my enthusiasm for computers.

Ethan – I’m psyched for you. I just downloaded LazyHusband. Enjoy SXSW. And for all you out there at SXSW, go check out #VegasTech and see what Ethan is up to. If you are a husband (or a boyfriend) it’ll help you out!

A Problem With Gmail When The Machines Take Over

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In general, I love Gmail. While Amy likes to complain to me about how ugly it is, I don’t even see the UI anymore as I just grind through the endless stream of email that I get each day. My biggest struggle is figuring out how to keep up, without the email ending up dominating everything I do. In the past year, this has gotten a lot harder, but I continue to try new things.

That's a lot of email young man

Fortunately, spam is almost non-existent for me. We invested in Postini, which Google ended up buying, and it’s been a joy to have flipped a switch almost a decade ago and had spam go from “overwhelming” to “almost nothing.”

Every now and then, I get a flurry of spam from a new attack before Gmail figures it out. Today was one of those days – I had about a dozen things that looked sort of eBay notification like but with Arabic characters. So I hit ! and marked them each as spam as I was going through my inbox. Suddenly, my inbox reloaded and I got the following message.

But but but it's me!

I expect that by the time I finish writing this post I’ll have access to my inbox again. But stuff like this makes me physically uncomfortable – my morning routine was just interrupted and the machines decided I don’t get to access my email for a while.

While plenty of folks complain about the ambiguity and lack of precision around many of the issues surrounding Google apps, and more specifically the general lack of support, I usually don’t worry about this much. However, in the last month I’ve had two issues that caused me to remember that I’m increasingly less in control and the machines are increasingly more in control. This is one of them; the other was that I noticed an incredible slow down of performance of Gmail – just for me. After a week of pressing on it, the response from Google enterprise tech support was “you have too many things hitting IMAP – disable all of them.” A quick look at my Google Dashboard showed around 100 different apps that I’d authorized to access my account. I cut it down to about 30 – and got rid of several that I knew were high traffic that I liked, such as the awesome new Mailbox app – and things sped up again after 24 hours.

I recognize that if as we hand over control to the machines, they will make mistakes. That’s ok. But it’s jarring when one doesn’t have control over it, even for a little while. And yes, my Gmail is back up.

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