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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Amazing Day At The Glue Conference

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Man does Eric Norlin know how to put on a conference. And, as a bonus, he’s got an awesome soundtrack and mindblowing trailer for the Glue Conference that Fake Grimlock would love.

Here’s a taste of what’s saturating my brain.

  • Shit My Cloud Evangelist Says, Just Not to the CSO by Chris Hoff, Juniper Networks
  • Foragers, Farmers, Forks & Forgers: On Software, Patronage and Craft Brewing by James Governor, Redmonk
  • Using APIs and Infrastructure by John Musser, Programmable Web
  • NoSQL Smackdown: Cassandra, MongoDB, and Neo4J by Tim Berglund
  • The Badass Beyond Hadoop: Percolator, Dremmel, Pregel by Mike Miller, Clouant

And then it was lunchtime. Breath deeply.

Gluecon Is Less Than A Month Away (And Special 10% Bonus Code)

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Gluecon is now slightly less than a month away, and if you’re not going, you should. Gluecon is a phenomenal gathering of developers working in the big data, mobile, and cloud computing arenas (where the topic of the API comes up continually). Yet, Gluecon is not “expo-big,” so you’ll be able to actually interact with everyone there, and not feel like you’re drowning in a sea of people amidst a concrete hall full of vendor booths.

The sessions that are assembled for Gluecon are done the right way — namely, there are no panels (zero), and they’re technically deep. Sessions like:

“The Badass Beyond Hadoop: Percolator, Dremmel, Pregel”
“Why MongoDB + Node.js is the new server-side stack”
“Architecting for Performance in the face of Mobile and APIs”
“Building the best mobile libraries to consume all kinds of backend APIs”
“Scaling Mobile Services on Diverse Networks”
“Big Pipes: Architecting for High-Volume Realtime Social Data”
“Securing Your Pocket to The Cloud: OAuth and Mobile Devices”
“Model-Driven Deployment: The Best Practice Successor to Virtual Appliances”

Beyond the sessions, there are three, 4 hour long workshops being presented. They cover:

“Constructing Cloud Architecture the Netflix Way”
“Developing polyglot applications on Cloud Foundry”
“Inside the DevOps PaaS Toolshed”

And there’s a hackathon. And there’s a CloudCamp.

No matter where you live (east coast or west coast or anywhere in between), you should get to Gluecon. And if you’re a developer that lives in Colorado, it’s an absolute must.

Use “brad12″ to take 10% off of your gluecon registration. See you there!

So Many Conferences – How Do I Choose?

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At this point I’m literally getting invited to a conference a day. I’ve never enjoyed going to conferences so I pick them carefully and am particular about the kind of things I go to. I regularly get asked how I choose which conferences to go to and I rarely have a good answer. So, after getting asked for the 4,317th time, I sent an email to Eric Norlin, who puts on three conferences that we have helped create and participate in (Defrag, Glue, and Blur) how he thinks about it. Eric’s thoughtful analysis – aimed at startups (and the entrepreneurs at startups) follows.

One of the natural consequences that comes with being in an “up” part of the tech boom/bust cycle is that there are an almost overwhelming amount of tech conferences, trade shows, and events that a startup could attend. These events offer opportunities to network with potential business partners, users, venture capitalists and customers, but they can also place a huge demand on a startup’s always scarce resources of time and money. So, the natural question is: which events should you attend and/or sponsor?

First, let’s understand the landscape (hat tip to Phil Becker for discussing this bit at length with me back in 2005): Imagine the entire range of tech trade shows and conferences on a spectrum. On the left hand side of the spectrum is the pure “expo/tradeshow” – you know the type — held at Moscone or in Las Vegas, hundreds of exhibitors on a concrete floor – think CES or Dreamforce. Sure, there’s often content at a “pure expo/trade show,” but normally the “expo floor” is something you can walk on to for free or very cheap ($100 bucks – usually less if you snag a discount code). The easiest way to identify an expo is to ask: who is the event organizer’s customers? If you’re walking around for free or nearly free, then it sure isn’t you (the “attendee”) — it’s the exhibitors. That’s important to note.

On the far right end of the spectrum is the “pure conference.” The purest conference format I’ve ever seen (and, unfortunately, it doesn’t exist anymore) was PC Forum. PC Forum was Esther Dyson’s legendary event. 500 people, ZERO sponsors (and zero sponsor dollars), one room full of keynotes — and at it’s height, you had to have an invite. And – oh yea – every single attendee paid. PC Forum was not cheap. But, the model was very clear: Esther didn’t want any sponsor dollars involved, and thus, the attendees were the only customer.

Between those far, end points of the spectrum, you get a mix of stuff. The three shows that we run (Defrag, Glue, and Blur) are at various points along the spectrum. And in truth, most shows are a blend these days. But the spectrum is useful because it can help a young startup understand what *kinds* of shows to think about attending.

So, with that in mind, what do you attend?

Let’s start with your “industry.” Are you a big data infrastructure company? Then write down all of the big data events. From this list, I’d begin with your goals. Are you seeking funding? Customers? Brand awareness? Business partnerships? Press? It’s really hard to find all of these in one event, so you’re probably going to have to pick and choose.

Next consider the type of interaction you’ll need to accomplish your goals. Example: if you’re a very early startup (seed/Series A), and you’re in enterprise software, then you’re most likely going to need more “hands-on” time with a customer prospect, as your product won’t be developed to the point where you can simply have people walking themselves through demos at a kiosk. That is to say that, in this case, quality of interaction outweighs quantity of leads. You’ll then seek out events that offer you intimacy of atmosphere over the sheer bone crushing flow of attendees on an expo floor. As you grow, you may find this dynamic changing, and thus you’ll change the type of shows you attend. (Sidenote: I run Gluecon – which is a smaller, more intimate show when compared against expos. I’m in no way suggesting that you shouldn’t attend expos – they absolutely have their place. It’s simply a matter of where your startup is in its lifecycle.) On the other hand, if you’re a consumer facing app that’s trying to make a splash ala Twitter, then you may forgo the smaller event in favor of trying your luck as SXSW.

Once you’ve a) created a list of events in your niche; b) considered the goals that you’re trying to accomplish with your event attendance; and c) considered the *type* of interaction you need to accomplish those goals, your list of events should be down to – say – 15-20 possibles.

So, how do you choose? First, ask around. Who do you know that’s been to what? What’s the reputation? Second, give yourself some geographic “spread.” If you have 12 events on your list and none of them are outside of Silicon Valley — well, maybe take a look at something in New York, or Boston. Third, break your list down into quarters — as a startup you have to balance how much time you spend on events versus on building your company. In the early days, you just won’t have the resources. I’d argue that a seed stage startup should be doing no more than 1 or 2 events per quarter (not including local meetups, hackdays , etc) MAX.

Checklist: Industry, Goals, Interaction, Reputation, Geography, No more than 1 or 2 per quarter (for Seed Stage; 1 per month for A/B round) — and you’re down to roughly 4-6 events for a seed stage company and roughly 10-12 events for an A/B round company.

“But aren’t there some conferences that I should just avoid?” you ask. Rather than speak badly about my competitors, I’d rather turn it around and say “which conferences should you always consider?”

I have always found the gang over at O’Reilly to be “straight-shooters” that put on awesome events. Start there. Throw in the company-run events that are specific to your case (Google I/O, Dreamforce, Microsoft’s events, Oracle OpenWorld, Adobe, etc), and then add in some independently run events (BigOmaha, Glue/Defrag, 360 Conference events). If applicable, add the monster shows (CES, SXSW) and the networking/startup shows (Launch, Disrupt). And, if you want an international flair, toss in LeWeb for good measure. There’s your starting point.

“Should we sponsor?” This is a tough question. If you have the resources and can make a clear case, then it can be very beneficial. If you do sponsor, avoid the larger expo events, you won’t have the dollars to throw at it to get noticed (attend those and take people out for drinks instead.) Stick with smaller venues where you can be seen and truly interact. And seek out conference organizers that will customize their packages for you (discounting, creating speciality packages, etc) — you shouldn’t simply be buying off of an inventory list like you’re shopping at Wal-mart.

That’s the beginning primer on picking conferences to attend if you’re a startup. Maximizing the value of attending or sponsoring is a whole other post for a whole other day.

Resistance Is Futile – Come To Defrag

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This year marks the fifth anniversary of Defrag.

What started as a blog post (and email exchange with Eric Norlin) I did about “intelligence amplification” in 2006 has morphed into a conference about the larger topics of social and big data and is now a wide-ranging conversation about technology and what’s over the horizon.

If you check out this year’s agenda, you’ll find everything from mobile to cloud computing to tech policy in DC to my own keynote on Resistance Is Futile.

Defrag has become one of the cannot-miss events of the tech conference world. Every year it increasingly feels like a family gathering, as more than 300 people journey to Boulder to basically hang out and expand their thinking for two days. This year, Eric decided to cap attendance at 325 to make sure that the quality of interaction stays high.

You simply will not find a better forum for making in-depth connections that will change your business and career in technology. There are still about 25 seats left – sign up before they are gone. Use the discount code “brad12″ for $200 off the price.

The list of confirmed keynote speakers includes:

Paul Kedrosky, Kauffman Foundation
Roger Ehrenberg, IA Ventures
James Altucher, The Altucher Confidential
Robert Stephens, CTO, Best Buy
Adrian Cockcroft, Cloud Architect, Netflix
Tim Bray, Google
Phil Weiser, Dean, CU Law School
Hal Stern, CTO’s Office, Juniper Networks
Lili Cheng, Microsoft R&D
Jeff Lawson, Twilio
Wendy Lea, Get Satisfaction
Pete Warden
Dave Gutelius, Chief Scientist, Jive Software
Tim Young, Socialcast
TA McCann, Gist
Duncan Watts, Author, “Everything is Obvious *Once You Know The Answer”
Sam Arbeson, Kauffman Foundation
Me

and I know that Eric is still adding more surprises on a weekly basis.

Brews and Views – Deciphering What The $@%@$ Entrepreneurs Really Need to Know About Investors

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Our friends at Dorsey & Whitney are hosting me and Jason Mendelson this Thursday, October 20th from 4pm to 6pm to drink beer together and discuss “what really matters” in a venture deal. While the event requires registration, I’ve been told that copies of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist will be given to whomever shows up (until they run out) and that the beer will be a collection of yummy local microbrews provided by Devil’s Canyon Brewery Company in Belmont.

Jason and I will sign any copy of our book that appears at the event. We’ll also drink a few beers with you. Plus, who could resist a title of an event sponsored by a law firm that says “What The $@%@$” in the title.

Thursday 10/20
4pm – 6pm
Dorsey & Whitney
305 Lytton Ave.
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Register here!

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