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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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A Quality Benchmark for Accelerators: The Global Accelerator Network

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Global Accelerator NetworkWhen David Cohen and I came up with the idea for the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) in 2010, we counted roughly 100 accelerator programs around the US that were founded following the Techstars model. We labeled Techstars a “mentor driven accelerator” and reached out to others who were using the same approach to create what became GAN. From that initial outreach, 16 high quality accelerator programs joined us to launch the network.

Since then, accelerators have appeared all over the world. Some accelerators are incredibly high quality. Others are not. Some are major contributors to their startup communities. Others are detrimental to it. As with everything new that grows quickly, it’s a chaotic system with lots of innovation, creative destruction, and rapid change and learning that – if done well – is a great example of the power of the Lean Startup approach to entrepreneurship.

Today, the Global Accelerator Network is a worldwide organization of 52 accelerators located in over 60 cities around the world. We’ve maintained a high quality across the membership while expanding the network by being selective. Not every accelerator is/could be/would be a member in GAN, nor is it designed that way. To become a member, each accelerator must meet the following strict criteria:

  • Operate a 3-6 month long program.
  • Provide some sort of seed capital to their founders.
  • Take a small amount of equity (usually ~6%) and overall have terms that are favorable to entrepreneurs.
  • Take no less than 5 and no more than 12 companies at a time.
  • Surround those companies with 40-80 mentors.
  • Have funding for a two-year runway of the program.
  • Have physical space available for their program.
  • Have a strong management team who are typically proven entrepreneurs

In addition to these eight criteria, all members follow the established ethos (give before you get; put entrepreneurs first) of accelerators in  GAN, including a thorough review of an accelerator’s term sheets and numerous conversations to vet accelerator founders’ intentions and operational practices. We also review their leadership and mentor pool to ensure value.

Becoming a member in the GAN is not easy, but neither is operating a quality accelerator program. Feel free to drop me an email if you want to learn more about joining GAN.

Built In Colorado

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A few weeks ago I did an event with Built In Denver where I interviewed Tim Miller and Ryan Martens, the founders of Rally Software, on their journey from a startup to a public company (NYSE: RALY). As part of the event – held at Mateo in Boulder – the gang from Built In Denver announced they were rebranding as Built In Colorado.

The attendance at the event was roughly 50% Boulder entrepreneurs and 50% Denver entrepreneurs.

The past two days the Colorado Innovation Network held it’s 2nd annual COIN Summit. As part of it, Governor Hickenlooper rolled out a new brand for all of Colorado, an effort led by Aaron Kennedy, the founder of Noodles & Co. The focus was on Colorado, not on Boulder, or Denver.

Powerful startup communities start at the neighborhood level. They then roll up to the city level. And then cities connect. Eventually it rolls up to the state level.

It’s a powerful bottom up phenomenon, not a top down situation. And inclusive of everyone. This is one of the key parts of my theory around Startup Communities.

When we started Startup Colorado in 2011 as part of the Startup America Partnership (now Up Global), the first of our six initiatives was:

Export the magic of the Boulder tech community to Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs by expanding New Tech Meetups, Open Coffee Clubs, and Community Office Hours to these cities.

When I look at what is happening in Denver, and the connective tissue between Boulder and Denver, I’m incredibly proud of what has been accomplished in less than two years on this front.

When I see questions on Quora like Should I start my start-up in Boulder or Denver? and then read the answers, my reaction is “poorly phrased question” and “wrong answer!” It’s not an either / or – the two cities are 30 minutes apart. They are both awesome places to start a company. It depends entirely on where you want to live – do you want a big city (Denver) or a little town (Boulder). If you choose Boulder, when you reach a certain size, you’ll end up with offices in both like Rally and SendGrid.

I’m psyched that Built in Denver is rebranding to Built in Colorado. I’m going to spend most of the week for Denver Startup Week in Denver, and CEOs and execs from most of our portfolio companies are converging on Denver in the middle of the week for a full day session together.

You’ll note that we have deliberately named things like The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) with “Colorado” in their name to be inclusive of all entrepreneurs in the state. And we we do things to celebrate the startup community, like The Entrepreneur’s Prom that EFCO and Cooley are putting on September 7th at the Boulder Theatre, we focus on the entire startup community.

Entrepreneurs Prom

Innovation and entrepreneurship is off the charts right now. Let’s make sure we work together to continue building a base for the next 20 years.

The Reputational Damage of Non-Responsiveness

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VCs love to say things like “we are entrepreneur friendly.” It’s trendy, catchy, and looks good on a blog post. But, as I’ve said in my post Your Words Should Match Your Actions, one can “damage their reputations by having their words not match up with their actions.”

Now – this post isn’t about responding to emails. Nor am I trying to be preachy. I’m not trying to explain a new behavior. Rather, I’m making an observation about something I’ve experienced – both as an entrepreneur and investor – since my first angel investment in 1994.

Here’s the situation, as reported this morning by an experienced CEO of a company we are investors in.

“We’re raising money.  I have a good intro session.  Prospective investor wants to meet in person, see a demo.  We have a good 2nd meeting.  We agree on action items.  I go away and follow up.

Radio silence.

Follow up again.

Radio silence still.  

The first time it happened I was inclined to think it was the investor and that they just couldn’t find the time to send an email response saying, “sorry – no longer interested”.   Then, it happened again this month.”

Now – initial non-responsiveness – whatever. Lots of people don’t respond to emails, intros, or requests for meetings. But after two in-person meetings, to be non-responsive is just plain rude.

How hard would be it be to say “Hey – great spending time with you – but this isn’t something I want to pursue.” Or maybe “Sorry for being slow – I’ve been swamped – I don’t have time for doing this right now.” Or – well – anything.

I’ve had this situation come up so many times that I’m immune to it. I assume that the VC isn’t interested. But I’m amazed at how the reputational damage follows the person around. And then – at some point in the future – that VC is looking for a response for something. Hmmm …

I’ve had this happen with LPs. When we went and raised our first fund in 2007, plenty of people wouldn’t meet with us. That’s fine. Lots said they weren’t interested after a first meeting. Totally cool. But some met with us but then were completely non-responsive after the meeting. Ok – whatever. But when those non-responsive LPs call me today asking for something – whether it’s to get together to “get to know me better”, or to get a reference on someone else they are looking at, or to learn more about what I think about the market for hardware investments, it’s really hard to get on the phone and spend time with them. I do – because that’s my nature – but I always remember their non-responsiveness.

I hear – and say – “No thank you” all the time. Every day. 50 times a day. That’s just part of the role I play in business. But I always try to say “No thank you.” It’s just not that hard. Especially when I know someone, or have engaged with them in some way.

Are you the guy the experienced CEO just encountered? How would you feel if your name – and your firm’s name – just went out via email to 60 CEOs attached to this story? Maybe you don’t care, but if your message is “we are entrepreneur-friendly VCs” you just undermined the reputation of your firm in a major way.

Special Boulder Event – Bill Aulet from MIT and Me on Friday 7/19

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disciplinedent

On Friday July 19th, I’ll be hosting Bill Aulet in Boulder to discuss his new book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Lessons To A Successful Startup.

Bill, the managing director for the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, is a close friend and amazing thinker on entrepreneurship. The book is a result of many years of his work and thinking on creating and scaling startups.

The event will take place at Rally Software in Boulder, CO from 9am – 12pm. Seating will be limited to 150 people which means you better get your tickets NOW!

Tickets are free and you can register for them on our Eventbrite page found here.

Bill’s book Disciplined Entrepreneurship is currently available for pre-order, but will officially go on sale August 13th.

I hope you will join us!

Your Words Should Match Your Actions

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Over the past few months I’ve watched several powerful and successful VCs and entrepreneurs damage their reputations by having their words not match up with their actions. I think this is especially true in the context of a long term relationship.

This is a deeply held value of mine and of my partners at Foundry Group. I occasionally screw up and when I do I own it, apologize, and learn from it. But it stuns and amazes me when others assert strong style / values / culture and then consistently have their actions not line up with their words.

Here are a few VC examples:

VC asserts he’s “founder friendly”: This is currently in vogue across many VC firms. Very experienced VCs are talking about how they are focused entirely on supporting the entrepreneur. But then, when something goes wrong, they act randomly and capriciously. Or they simply disengage without warning. Or they try to retrade an earlier deal just because they think they can. Or they threaten to veto a deal unless they get something more than they are entitled to.

VC asserts certain followup behavior with every entrepreneur they meet with: In the vein of “we are holding ourselves to a high level of interaction”, the VC suggests a certain behavior pattern in their deal evaluation process or interaction with entrepreneurs. They do this sometimes, but are inconsistent.

VC suggests that the deal is firm and will happen: Then, two weeks into “due diligence” which, based on the previous evaluation, should be a proforma exercise, abruptly pull out of the deal because “some of my partners aren’t supportive.”

This, of course, isn’t limited to VC behavior. I see it all the time with entrepreneurs. For example:

Entrepreneur suggests he’s “radically transparent”: Nice, and popular, but do you tell your employees exactly how many months of cash you have left? Or do you keep the fact that you and your partner are having a major conflict from your investors? Or how about that your business isn’t doing very well and you are working every backchannel you know to try to have an acquihire happen for you that will have a negative impact on your investors.

Entrepreneur asserts he isn’t shopping the deal: And then he does. It’s ok to shop a deal, just don’t assert you aren’t!

Entrepreneur inflates his relationship with another entrepreneur or VC: It’s fine to be connected on LinkedIn or say you worked at the same company in the past, but don’t say you are best friends if you haven’t interacted with the other person in over a year.

I could keep going. It’s similar to what Amy and I wrote about in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur when we talk about your words having to match your actions. When I tell Amy that she is the most important thing in my life, and then am 30 minutes late to dinner because “I’ve just got to get something done” my words aren’t matching up with my actions. Or, when we are together, the phone rings, and I automatically answer it rather than asking if it’s ok for me to take the call. Or, when she gets hurt if I don’t drop everything I’m doing and go help her out.

Words matter. And having them match your actions matters matters even more.

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