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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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Calling All FinTech Founders: The Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars

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Barclays and Techstars are today launching a program that will give ten innovative businesses the chance to shape the future of financial services. The Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars, is a three month intensive program which will provide ten FinTech companies with funding and deep mentorship, supporting them on their journey to delivering breakthrough innovations.

Commenting on the partnership, Derek White, Barclays Chief Design Officer, said “We’ve identified technology as a key driver of innovation and it will be paramount to Barclays achieving our ambition of becoming the ‘Go-To’ bank. We’ve already had great successes using an entrepreneurial approach to future design, including the launch of our innovative Barclays Pingit app, and we’re keen to ensure we build upon these by supporting entrepreneurs and putting them in an ecosystem where they can grow and develop.”

Applications are open now at http://BarclaysAccelerator.com and will close March 21, 2014.

Sprint and Techstars Launch Startup Accelerator for Mobile Health

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Sprint AcceleratorTechstars has launched another “powered by” accelerator, this time with Sprint around mobile health. It’s based in Kansas City (Sprint’s headquarters) and is our fourth powered by Techstars accelerator, joining Nike, Kaplan, and R/GA.

I’m an enormous fan of four things about the Sprint Accelerator – what we call “PBTS” (powered by Techstars), mobile health, Kansas City, and Sprint.

The PBTS strategy is one we started working on in 2012. We knew that we would continue to expand Techstars geographically (in 2013 we’ve added London, Austin, and Chicago). At the same time we were talking to a lot of large companies with outstanding brands about building accelerators specifically around their ecosystems. It dawned on us that the dynamics of an accelerator could work as well for building innovation and new company’s around a particular company/product ecosystem as it could for a city. So far the results have been awesome with outstanding companies coming out of the Nike+ Accelerator and the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator.

As an investor in Fitbit, I’m an enormous believer in quantified self. As the son of a doctor who is obsessed with repairing the healthcare system I’m regularly subjected to hearing about the massive flaws in today’s healthcare system. My dad has beaten into my head that my healthcare is my responsibility, and I’ve become an enormous believer in consumer-driven healthcare. I’ve never been interested in investing in medical devices, but I’m very interested in the consumerization of the medical device industry. And the intersection point of many of these ideas for me is mobile health.

Kansas City has a special place in my heart. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years, going back to the mid-1990s when I was an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Kauffman Foundation. I bought a house there last year to experiment with Google Fiber in the middle of the Kansas City Startup Village. While I don’t like BBQ or the Kansas City Chiefs, I like the people a lot and think it has one of the most exciting growing startup communities in the United States.

Sprint makes me smile. Many of you know that I have a long history and relationship with Softbank, which just acquired Sprint. I’m very loyal to my friends at Softbank and love any opportunity to work with them – directly or indirectly. Sprint was my first long distance carrier – if I think hard enough I can probably remember my Sprint calling card number – and I used it many times to call my parents and my ex-wife when I was at school at MIT. And Sprint is a great US entrepreneurial story that traces its roots to the Brown Telephone Company in Abilene, KS in 1899.

This is going to be a fun one! Applications are open.

The R/GA Connected Devices Accelerator, Powered by Techstars

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Yesterday, Techstars launched another accelerator, this time focused entirely on connected devices. The newest accelerator, based in New York City, is called the R/GA Connected Devices Accelerator.

R/GA is part of Interpublic Group of Companies, one of four global ad holding companies, and is the most award-winning agency in the digital world today. R/GA creates advertising and marketing products based in technology and design and has earned countless accolades over the years, including Advertising Age’s “Digital A-List” and “Agencies of the Decade.” They are the force behind the opening title sequence for 1978′s Superman to 2006′s Nike+ platform to 2010′s HBO Go connected device.

The Internet has rapidly expanded beyond desktop, server, laptop, and mobile computers and connected itself to many of the different devices in our everyday life. We’ve been investing in this area since we started Foundry Group in 2007 through our human computer interaction theme and recently added an investment in Dragon Innovation into the mix. It’s super exciting to me to do an accelerator program specifically around connected devices with Techstars.

Founders accepted into the program will have access to the Techstars mentor network and executives from R/GA’s team as well as $120K in funding, co-location space provided by R/GA in NYC, design and development support from talented designers and devs, and the opportunity to pitch to an invite-only launch presentation in Austin at SxSWi and at a demo day for angels and VCs in NYC.

If you’re a founder or startup focused on an innovative idea for a product and/or service in the connected devices space, please consider applying. Applications are open today and due October 11th. Apply now at rgaaccelerator.com.

Mentor Whiplash About Early Board Members

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At TechStars, we talk often about “mentor whiplash” – the thing that happens when you get seemingly conflicting advice from multiple mentors. Talk to five mentors; get seven different opinions! This is normal, as there is no right or absolute answer in many cases, people have different perspectives and experiences, and they are responding to different inputs (based on their own context), even if the data they are presented with looks the same on the surface.

Yesterday, Steve Blank and I both put up articles on the WSJ Accelerators site. The question for the week was “When should you have a board of directors or a board of advisors?” My answer was Start Building Your Board Early. Steve’s was Don’t Give Away Your Board Seats. I just went back and read each of them. On the surface they seem to be opposite views. But upon reading them carefully, I think they are both right, and a great example of mentor whiplash.

For context, I have enormous respect for Steve and I learn a lot from him. We are on the UP Global board together but have never served on a for-profit board together. We both started out as entrepreneurs and have spent a lot of time participating in, learning about, and teaching how to create and scale startups. I’ve been on lots of boards – ranging from great to shitty; I expect Steve has as well. While we haven’t spent a lot of physical time together, all of our virtual time has been stimulating to me, even when we disagree (which is possibly unsettling but hopefully entertaining to those observing.) And while we are both very busy in our separate universes, my sense is they overlap nicely and probably converge in some galaxy far far away.

So – when you read Steve’s article and hear “Steve says don’t add a board member until after you raise a VC round” and then read my article and conclude “Brad says add a board member before you raise a VC round” it’s easy to say “wow – ok – that sort of – well – doesn’t really help – I guess I have to pick sides.” You can line up paragraphs and have an amusing “but Brad said, but Steve said” kind of thing. I considered making a Madlib out of this, but had too many other things to do this morning.

But if you go one level deeper, we are both saying “be careful with who you add to your board.” I’m taking a positive view – assuming that you are doing this – and adding someone you trust and has a philosophy of helping support the entrepreneur. From my perspective:

“… Early stage board of directors should be focused on being an extension of the team, helping the entrepreneurs get out of the gate, and get the business up and running. Often, entrepreneurs don’t build a board until they are forced to by their VCs when they raise their first financing round. This is dumb, as you are missing the opportunity to add at least one person to the team who — as a board member — can help you navigate the early process of building your company and raising that first round. In some cases, this can be transformative.”

Steve takes the opposite view – concerned that anyone who wants to be on an early stage board is resume padding, potentially a control freak, or the enemy of the founders.

“At the end of the day, your board is not your friend. You may like them and they might like you, but they have a fiduciary duty to the shareholders, not the founders. And they have a fiduciary responsibility to their own limited partners. That means the board is your boss, and they have an obligation to optimize results for the company. You may be the ex-employees one day if they think you’re holding the company back.”

Totally valid. And it reinforces the point we both are making, which Maynard Webb makes more clearly in his Accelerator post ‘Date’ Advisers, ‘Marry’ Board MembersWhen I reflect on my post, I didn’t state this very well. Anytime you add an outside board member, you should be reaching high and adding someone you think will really be helpful. You are not looking for a “boss” or someone who is going to hide behind their abstract fiduciary responsibilities to all shareholders (which they probably don’t actually understand) – you are looking for an early teammate who is going to help you win. Sure – there will be cases where they have to consider their fiduciary responsibilities, but their perspective should be that of helping support the entrepreneurs in whatever way the entrepreneurs need.

The power of a great entrepreneur is to collect a lot of data and make a decision based on their own point of view and conviction. You’ve got a lot of info – including some different perspectives from the WSJ Accelerators segment this week. That’s their goal – now I encourage you to read the articles carefully, think about what you want your board to be like, and take action on it.

Bolt – Making Hardware Easier

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Over the past few decades, the most compelling engineers and entrepreneurs I’ve met have tended to be working on problems that can be solved with software. Software has some great advantages but it comes with a few big drawbacks, namely it’s tied to a few standard types of input, although we are trying to impact that with some of our investments in our HCI theme.

Along with the rest of the tech ecosystem, I’m starting to see more and more entrepreneurs with a piece of hardware in their development plan. These are not your parents’ hardware products. Instead, they are software companies that happen to have a physical component in their stack – something I call software wrapped in plastic.

Adding the plastic around the software is no short order. MakerBot, FitBit, Orbotix, Sifteo, Modular Robotics, PogoplugSlingbox, and a slew of others have taught me that even though much of the business-side is similar to a software company, the product-side most definitely is not. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s stunning how much damage one bad component on a PCB board can do to a company’s bottom line, or how different industrial design is from software design, or even how the brains of a software person and a hardware person collide in bizarre ways.

I’ve learned how critical it is to get the right kind of help for young companies with a piece of hardware, which is why I invested in Bolt. Bolt is one of the more unique accelerator programs I’ve seen. Ben and his team have designed, developed, manufactured, and financed a long list of successful products and they’ve built Bolt around best-practices for these kinds of companies. Over 6-months, accepted companies get a long list of benefits, the most valuable of which are a full-staff of senior engineers and designers at your disposal and 24×7 access to their $1M of prototyping equipment.

If you’re a startup with a piece of hardware (or plan to have one) check out Bolt and apply to be part of their first accelerator class. Applications close in two days – Wednesday, May 22nd at midnight.

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