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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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Mix Strong Opinions With Big Open Ears

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Gluecon’s early bird pricing ends Friday, April 4th and I wanted to make sure you got the chance to register prior to the registration rates going up. When we started Gluecon with Eric Norlin six years ago, I don’t think any of us really had any idea about the true size of the wave of innovation that we were catching. Glue started out like a lot of tech conferences do, with a “business track” and a “technical track,” but we quickly realized what a mistake that was. Since then, Gluecon has transformed into a conference of what I assert is the  deepest technical content available around the topics of cloud computing, mobile, big data, APIs and DevOps. The agenda is shaping up to be something really special. Use “brad12″ to take 10% off of the early bird registration

One of the things I love best about my Foundry Group partners is that they each have strong opinions. Another thing I love about them is that they each have big open ears.

I know a lot of people who have strong opinions. I know a lot of other people who are excellent listeners. The venn diagram of the intersection of the two is uncomfortably small.

As I’ve written before, I love working with learning machines and silent killers. The best entrepreneurs are the ones who combine these traits.

I know a lot of people with strong opinions who think they are good listeners, but all you need to do is listen to a conversation between them and someone else to watch them talking all over the other person. Or asserting the same point over and over again, often using slightly different language, but not engaging in a process of trying to actually learn from the other person’s response. This is especially vexing to me when the person with strong opinions claims to have heard the other person (as in “I hear you, ok, that makes sense”) but then 24 hours later Mr. Strong Opinion is back on his original opinion with no explanation.

In contrast, I know a lot of strong listeners who won’t express an opinion. The VC archetype that I describe as Mr. Socrates is a classic example of this. I expect most entrepreneurs can give many examples of them being on the receiving end of a stream of questions without any expressed perspective, null hypothesis, or summary of reaction. I hate these types of board meeting discussions – where the VCs just keep asking questions but never actually suggesting anything. There’s not wrong with inquiry and I definitely have my moments of “I don’t get this – I need to ask more questions” but in the absence of a feedback loop in the discussion, it’s very tiresome to me.

Big open ears doesn’t mean that you just listen. It means you are a good listener. An active listener. One who incorporates what he is hearing into the conversation in real time. You are comfortable responding with a modification to an opinion or perspective as a result of new information. You are comfortable challenging, and being challenged, in the goal of getting to a good collaborate answer, rather than just absorbing information but then coming back later as though there was never any information shared.

I’ve always had strong opinions. I can be a loudmouth and occasionally end up in lecture mode where I’m just trying to hammer home my point. My anecdotes and stories often run longer than they should (I blame my father for teaching me this particular “skill.”) But I always try to listen, am always willing to change my opinion based on new data, or explain my position from a different perspective after assimilating new data. When I realize I’m bloviating, I often call myself publicly on it in an effort to shift to listening mode. And I always try to learn from every interaction I have, no matter how satisfying or unenjoyable it is.

Do you have strong opinions AND big open ears?

Defrag 2013 – Year 7

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Defrag is entering its seventh year of existence. That’s kind of amazing to me. What started as a simple email exchange between myself and Eric Norlin almost eight years ago resulted in a conference that has grown in importance, had meaningful impact on my thinking (and that of many others), and spawned other shows, most notably Gluecon. Most tech conferences don’t last seven years, and they certainly don’t get better with time. Defrag has and is.

Eric has been outlining his thinking for this year’s agenda here, but let me point out a couple of things of note:

  1. Defrag is 3 days long this year, as we’ve rolled the Blur content into the overall Defrag agenda. This means that if you register for Defrag, you’re registered for 3 days (not 2, as in previous years). By the way, we did not increase the price as we did this.
  2. We limit Defrag to 325 people (25 press/analysts; 300 attendees) on purpose, as the primary goal of the Defrag conversation is intimacy. All of which is to say, don’t delay in grabbing a spot - it will sell out.

This year’s Defrag is covering everything from drones to robots to the cloud to APIs to big data. The full Defrag 2013 agenda is here (and it will continue to evolve) but topics will include the following:

  •  The History and Future of Calm Technology (Amber Case)
  • The Identity Manifesto: Seven Points On The Future of Identity (R Ray Wang)
  • Great, Software Ate My World. Now what? (Oren Teich)
  • Industrial Entropy and the Future of Work (Chris Devore)
  • The Coming Digital Dark Ages (Maggie Fox)
  • The Girl Geek Imperative (Lorinda Brandon)
  • How to make Skynet User Friendly (Bret Tobey)
  • Security in the Cloud for the API Economy (Andy Thurai)
  • Healthcare After The Deluge (John Wilbanks)
  • Existence as a platform: Quantified Self meets the internet of Things (Chris Dancy)
  • The Future of Flying Robots (Chris Sanz)

Jerry Colonna and I are also going to have a special fireside chat about surviving the startup life.

Use “brad12″ to take an additional 10% off of the early bird pricing (which ends September 20th).

See you there!

Less Than Three Weeks To Gluecon 2013

Comments (2)

Enterprise development is once again white hot. More evidence is this year’s Gluecon. Not only does Gluecon have the usual raft of amazing startup/early stage sponsors, but this year, the “big guys” are showing up (SAP, Intel, HP, Google, IBM, General Motors, Rackspace). And, I also know (because Eric’s told me) that we’re seeing a leap in the number of enterprise developers that are registering for the show.

Is it cloud computing adoption that’s driving this? Or mobile? or Big Data, or APIs? I’m not sure if it’s one topically-driven thing, but it sure does seem like the little developer conference that we helped to start just over five years ago is turning into *the* place to be if you’re looking for technical content.

The most recent agenda is here. Click on the link and you’ll see loads of juicy, technical content. I don’t know of anywhere you can go to get this depth of content.

So, I hope to see you at Gluecon (in just under 3 weeks). I’ll be there  - absorbing everything that I can along with the rest of you. Use “gluespring” to take 10% off of the registration price.

Gluecon Year 5

Comments (4)

As we enter the 5th year of Gluecon, I’m very excited to see it come together. Eric Norlin has been saying year after year that his goal is to make Gluecon “the most technical, developer-focused conference” out there and I love watching him try.

You can check out the most recent agenda here, but some of the sessions that are indicative of what Eric’s talking about include:

  • Building a distributed data platform with Node.js, Storm, Kafka, and ZeroMQ
  • An Enterprise Mobile Reference Architecture
  • Building using Netflix’s Open Source Architecture (a 4 hour workshop)
  • Using Swagger to Build a Great API Interface
  • The Pros and Cons of Choosing Go
  • Availability During Cloud Outages: Multi-Regional, Self-Healing MySQL
  • Node.js is for APIs

Beyond the content, I can personally testify that you’ll find an amazing group of people to hang out with, a truly welcoming atmosphere, and the best conference wifi you’ll find anywhere. Plus, it’s in Boulder at the beginning of summer!

Be sure to grab the early bird price (which ends April 7th) while you can — and use “brad12″ to take an additional 10% off.

The Best Tech Conference Of The Year Happens In Boulder Next Week

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The Glue Conference is next week – 5/25 and 5/26 – in Boulder.  When Eric Norlin and my partner Seth Levine first cooked up the idea for glue, they built it around our Glue theme – namely integrating (or “glueing”) together web applications.

We’ve invested heavily in the area with great success, but have only just begun. Our activity around Glue + AdTech generated our Adhesive theme. We’ve been thinking a lot lately about “ecommerce glue” and expect to learn some things at Gluecon on this front.

To get a feel for Gluecon, take a look at the Agenda. The concentration of companies and executives around this topic is awesome. The format is short keynotes surrounded by lots of networking, a hackathon, and a few short, interactive panels. Having been to and participated in many of Eric’s conferences, they are an extremely high concentration of relevant people talking real tech and product – no marketing garbage allowed. Eric has worked hard this year to bring Gluecon to a new level and set a new bar for all tech conferences – I believe he’s got it wired.

If you want to spent two days with 500 of your best friends talking about technology that integrates web services, APIs, web meta-data, and the rapidly evolving new data economy, there is still time to register for Glue. I’ll be there along with my partners, a few other VCs like Mark Suster, and a whole bunch of key tech entrepreneurs hanging out and talking with you.

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