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Every year or so my partners and I at Foundry Group create a new company, or start a new project, that we believe had the potential to change the way something works in our world, while simultaneously helping the entrepreneurs we work with, and the entrepreneurs we aspire to work with.
For example, in 2006, we co-founded Techstars. At the time David Cohen, the co-founder and CEO, was unhappy with how angel investing worked. He was dissatisfied with his experience and had a hypothesis around helping a group of companies get going, surrounding them with active mentors, and accelerating their early growth. The Techstars Boulder 2007 program was an experiment – we had no idea if it would work. Looking back seven years later, I’m immensely proud and satisfied with the impact Techstars has had on the world of entrepreneurship, especially at the early stages of company creation, and look forward to our goal over the next seven years of building the most powerful and connected early stage startup network in the world.
Our 2014 project is FG Press.
I wrote my first book, Do More Faster, with David Cohen in 2010. We worked with our publisher Wiley, who took a chance on us. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and it was really fucking hard. I remember sitting at my kitchen table in Homer, Alaska in July 2010 at 2am almost crying with frustration. I was just grinding through the last bit of it and the tedium of the process was overwhelming. I kept thinking “there has to be a better way” even back then, but there was something magical about holding the book in my hands in October 2010 when it came out.
In 2011, when my partner Jason Mendelson and I wrote my second back, Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist, I had figured out the writing drill, but I was still baffled by the publishing process. It was painful and tedious, and there were many steps along the way that made no sense. But I kept writing and learning.
In 2012 I thought hard about self-publishing everything I did going forward, but I didn’t feel like I completely grokked the publishing business yet. Venture Deals was a very successful book and Wiley increased their focus and attention on me. I had an expectation that somehow things would be different, better, more impactful, and more aligned, especially around process, promotion, and economics. So I decided to do four more books, which make up the Startup Revolution series, including the most recent one - Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors (the third in the series) – which just came out. Along the way, my long time friend Matt Blumberg (CEO of Return Path) decided to write a book so we added it on to the Startup Revolution series, resulting in Startup CEO: A Field Guide To Scaling Up Your Business.
There’s a lot more history, which I’ll cover in later posts, but all of this led to a place in fall of 2013 where my partners and I at Foundry Group started having a discussion about doing something different around the book publishing industry. We all are extensive readers and believe the long-form book is something that is very valuable, especially ones like Venture Deals that we believe will have at least a 20 year relevance, assuming we continue to update it. We also think it should be easier for more people to write and produce high quality, useful long-form books. While we think the entire process and engagement model is completely broken, that leads us to the punchline of the thing that is really wrong.
The relationship between the reader and the author has an immense amount of friction in it. And that friction comes from the publisher. It’s not just that the economics are wrong (why should the economic split between publisher and author be – on average – 85% to the publisher and 15% to the author?) but that the publisher sits in between the author and the reader. Sure – industrious writers can build direct relationships with their readers around their publisher – which is what happens today, but that’s silly. Shouldn’t the publisher be in the business of helping facilitate these relationships in addition to theoretically curating and producing the content?
We spent a morning together one day talking about this stuff. We came up with a very long list of issues, like the ones above, and then put the key question on the table: “What should we do about this.” My response was “let’s start our own publishing company.” Hence FG Press.
As with all new ideas, we started looking for patterns in things in the world that we liked. If you are familiar with McSweeney’s, O’Reilly, or Granta, then you understand where our brains were going and some of the companies that inspire us. Ultimately, we realized that the optimal model for what we were doing was Techstars, specifically the Techstars of 2006.
If you are a fan of analogies, Techstars is to “angel investing before Techstars” as FG Press is to “traditional publishing.” We are running an experiment in the first year. The experiment involves anyone who wants to participate. We expect to learn a lot and iterate very rapidly on what we are doing. And we plan to share out ideas widely, as a way of open-sourcing our learning, engaging with other people working on similar problems, while taking an author and reader-centric point of view, in the same way that Techstars took an entrepreneur and mentor-centric point of view.
Like Techstars, this is a new entity. It has a full time co-founder/CEO (Dane McDonald), just like Techstars was co-founded and run by David Cohen. It’s a self-funded entity, just like Techstars was for the first two years. Our goal is that it’s deeply complementary and integrated into everything we do and our point of view about the world of entrepreneurship, as Techstars is.
Will make mistakes. We’ll learn a lot. We’ll have fun. We hope you’ll come along for the journey with us. If you want to get a feel for one of the characters from our first book, just follow Mara Winkel on Twitter. And we’ll take Bitcoin, once we get the damn software working right.
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.
Time for a new Foundry Group video. If you want the backstory, go take a look at the post Foundry Group Announces Major Shift In Investment Strategy. If you just want a break from reality and hopefully a few laughs in the process, enjoy.
The video has over 100 easter eggs referring to either portfolio companies of ours or other things in our lives. Some are obvious (like the tshirts), some are very obscure. If you find one, list it in the comments. The best, most obscure one will win a special treat.
The lyrics follow.
Man, things are so hard these days
Tell me about it. I wish we could go back to when things just worked
You know, those old guys don’t know lucky they had it with all their technology 30 and 40 years ago
Y’all, you straight. Let me drop a story on you
I’m king of email, I craft a witty header
Anywhere, any time, life is so much better
Ninety unread emails. Inbox zero, hashtag #FAIL!
Life was better when we licked and stamped our letters
Gonna hit a new club with my favorite homie
Got GPS Satellites watchin’ over me
They got me to the spot, but they were off a block
Life was better when we trusted Rand McNally
Took 28 pictures of my gourmet dinner
I want to post them for all the world to honor
I shared on Instagram. No likes, I got no fans
My life was better with photos made of paper
I need a fact so I do a search on Google
All these results man, are giving me an eyeful
I see Viagra ads, That shit’s for older dads
My life was better using Dewey Decimal
Chorus: These are the worst of times (repeat)
So many videos, I could waste away my years
I’m rockin’ Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake has me in tears
Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, I got no time for you
Life was better with my TV and rabbit ears
Check out my new phone. Global connectivity
3G, 4G, I even got my LTE
So then I phoned my pop But still the damn call dropped
Life was better with faxes and a rotary
I found a website. Amazon, they sell it all!
Silk boxers, gouda cheese, they even got robotic balls
Addicted to “One Click.” Right to my house they ship
Y’all life was better fighting traffic at the shopping mall
I got my choice of every album ever made
iTunes, Spotify, anywhere I want it played
I just can’t choose between, Iron Maiden, Beiber, Sting
Life was better with my vinyl and mix tapes
Chorus: These are the worst of times (repeat)
This morning my partners at Foundry Group and I announced that we are going to make 50 seed investments of $50,000 each on AngelList between now and the end of 2014. We’ll be doing this via AngelList’s new Syndicate approach through an entity called FG Angel where we will create a syndicate of up to $500,000, allowing others to invest $450,000 alongside anything we do. For now, we are using my AngelList account (bfeld) which I’ve renamed Brad Feld (FG Angel). We are working with Naval and team at AngelList to get this set up correctly so that a firm (e.g. Foundry Group) can create the syndicate in the future, at which point we’ll move the activity over to there.
For years, we have had people ask if they can invest alongside us at Foundry Group at the seed level. We’ve never had an entrepreneurs fund, or a side fund, so we’ve encouraged people to invest in Techstars and other seed funds that we are investors in. As of today, we have a new way for people to invest alongside of us – via AngelList’s syndicate. The minimum investment is $1,000 per deal, so if you make a $1,000 commitment to our syndicate, you are committing to investing $50,000 alongside of us between now and the end of 2014 in the best seed investments we can find on AngelList. Simply go to Brad Feld (FG Angels) and click the big blue “Back” button. Special bonus hugs to anyone who backs FG Angels today (as I write this, the first backer has come in – from Paul Sethi – thanks Paul – awesome to be investing with you.)
This is an experiment. If you know us, we love to experiment with stuff, rather than theorize about things. We are huge believes in seed and early stage investing and through a variety of vehicles, including Techstars and our personal investments in other early stage VC funds, have well over 1,000 seed investments that are active. This has created an incredible network that adds to our Foundry Group portfolio. With FG Angel, we are taking this to another level as we begin a set of activities to amplify this network dramatically.
So there is no ambiguity, the investments come from our Foundry Group fund. All economics, including the syndicate carry, go to our fund. We are calling this FG Angel because we are approaching this the same way we do with any angel investment. I’ve written extensively about my own angel investing strategy in the past – you’ll see this reflected in what we are doing here. Over the years my angel strategy has been very successful financially and our goal with FG Angel mirrors that.
We expect we’ll learn a lot about this between now and the end of the year. When we learn, we’ll share what we learn. We believe deeply that the best way to learn about new stuff is to participate. So – off we go. We hope you join us – both in the syndicate and the ensuing network.
Today, my partners at Foundry Group and I are contributing $100,000 to the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) to help with the Boulder Flood Relief Effort. This is our second gift to the EFCO – we previously contributed a portion of our carry across all of our funds.
The floods in Boulder and the surrounding area the past week have been devastating. I went for a run last night around town just to get a feel for things – the water is still at dangerously high and fast levels in Boulder Creek and the damage near the creek in downtown is visible. I smelled smells that I’ve never smelled in Boulder before and saw water in places it simply didn’t belong.
But downtown Boulder is quickly getting back to normal. That’s not the problem. If you’ve ever been to Boulder, you know we are surrounded by incredible mountains. It’s part of the magic of the place, but also part of the challenge. A friend told me recently, “think of the mountains as giant slanted roofs and Boulder as the basement of the house.”
There are two natural forces here that can be massively destructive. The first, which have made the news the past few years, are wildfires. Amy and I have endured these for the past 17 years – we’ve been evacuated from our house twice, once for three days during my brother’s wedding. The massive Lefthand Canyon Fire destroyed a huge neighborhood. Awful, terrifying stuff.
But that just set us up for what looks like the real disaster. The entire mountain area around Boulder is wrecked. Roads are destroyed. Towns in the “basement” – including Lyons – are literally wiped off the map. Major parts of Longmont are now submerged. The water ran downhill, destroying everything in its path as gravity did it’s magic, and then just sat at the bottom wherever it ended up.
My partners and I are lucky. None of our lost our houses. We all have roofs over our heads. And we have plenty of resources.
But many of our friends and neighbors were not so lucky. The stories are endless – the friend who lost her house and has no place to live. Another friend who made a mad dash off the mountain with his family and has no idea what the status of his home is. The entrepreneur who worked out of his basement, which is now a swimming pool. The business owner who’s office is now cut in half – and destroyed – by a mudslide. The tech leader who recently had a major back injury, just got out of the hospital, and had to evacuate his house. The people stuck up in the mountains who can’t get out. And the people stuck down in the foothills that also can’t get out.
The magnitude of this hit me yesterday afternoon when I heard estimates of $100m – $150m to fix the “infrastructure damage.” I have no idea what that really means, but for a region of a couple of hundred thousand people, knowing the range is low, and it’s only “infrastructure”, this is going to be a long, hard mess to dig out of.
I’ve always felt a strong responsibility to the community I call home. Boulder has been and continues to be very good to me. And it’s my responsibility, especially in times like this, to be good back. This is not the only financial support we’ll be giving to the Boulder Flood Relief Effort. In addition, we’ll give plenty of functional support. But it’s a step – and one we hope can have direct impact.
My partners and I encourage every entrepreneur in the area who has had a meaningful financial success to consider giving something through EFCO to the Boulder Flood Relief Effort. If you are an entrepreneur who hasn’t yet had a financial success, consider joining EFCO and contributing 1% of the equity in your company today, to help build the endowment for the future. And, if you are a venture capitalist or an angel investor in – or with investments in – the Boulder area, please consider joining EFCO and contributing directly to the relief effort today. Just email me and I’ll get you connected.
Finally, if you are a reader and part of the Feld Thoughts community and you want to help out, please contribute directly to the Foothills Flood Relief Fund. We greatly appreciate any support you can give.