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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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Hit Reset, It’s 2013

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Fred and Joanne Wilson Looking HappyMy long-time friends Fred Wilson and Joanne Wilson each had powerful posts about saying goodbye to 2012 and welcoming in 2013 yesterday.

Fred’s is titled Putting 2012 To BedI know many people who don’t know Fred other than via his online presence, public actions, and reputations. I expect that 99% of them, when asked if Fred had an awesome 2012, would say ”of course – he has an amazing life.” But my answer would have been more nuanced based on the time Fred and I spent together. I would have said “some great things happened but it was a tough and complex year for him.” Fred’s response was characteristically blunt.

“I’ve wanted to write a year end post for days. I actually wrote one and stored it as a draft. But it comes across as a whiny complaint about the shitty year that 2012 was. And it was in many ways a shitty year for me. But the reason I couldn’t publish that post is it didn’t capture the greater picture that 2012 represents for me.”

The entire post is well worth reading. As is Joanne’s titled See ya 2012. Two big stressors from Joanne’s perspective were the damage to their house with their subsequent displacement from Hurricane Sandy and the shift to being empty nesters as their third kid gets ready to go to college. Her punch line is as powerful as Fred’s.

“This year I am hoping for a constant. I just want to live our lives under our own roof with no major disruptions. I could go for a real year of normalcy. 2013 is going to be a year for moving forward. Reflecting on the past and using that to move me forward. Not sure what that means but I will find out. The last few months we have lived out of more than 7 hotels and it is seriously thrown me off. Where it throws me, I will see. 2012 has taken me out of my game. I am hoping 2013 brings me back.”

My dad (Stan Feld) reminds us in his year end post that life is inches with a wonderful story of his from January 1, 1957.

All three of these posts brought me back to my December 3rd post titled Wow – That Was Intense which summarized a really tough period I went through last year between the start of September and the end of November. My dad’s post was especially poignant since if he had died on 1/1/57 I wouldn’t be here. And I so empathize with Fred – it’s hard for me to complain since overall my existence on this planet is awesome, but I had a really shitty three months at the end of the year.

I hit reset every year on my birthday (December 1) and describe it as “booting up a new version of myself” – in this case, v47. A month later I get to reflect on the reboot as everyone rings in the new year with hope, optimism, and renewal. If you had an Apple II, you know that hitting Reset rebooted the computer, so I’m not of the Ctrl-Alt-Del generation, but rather the Reset PR#6 generation. Either way, use whatever method you fancy and hit reset.

Welcome 2013. I’m looking forward to getting the most I can from the experience.

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I Give You Permission To Hate My Feedback

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Last night Amy and I had an awesome dinner at Perla with Fred Wilson, Joanne Wilson, Matt Blumberg, and Mariquita Blumberg. Fred and I have been involved in Return Path for a dozen years and this has become an annual tradition for us when Amy and I are in NYC. At 12 years of service, Return Path gives a six week sabbatical and a pair of red Addidas sneakers as a “get ready for your sabbatical” gift. Fred and I got the sneakers, but not the six week sabbatical.

I sat across from Joanne and since the restaurant was noisy our table ended up having two separate conversations going. Joanne is awesome – if you don’t read her blog, you should start right now, especially if you are interested in NY entrepreneurship, women entrepreneurs, food, and the thoughts of an amazing woman. I still remember meeting her for the first time around 1995 and thinking how dynamite she was.

Oh – and if you are a seed stage company in NYC looking to raise money, you are an idiot if you don’t immediately reach out to Joanne and try to get her involved. She is one of the most thoughtful angel investors I’ve ever met.

We talked a lot about seed stage investing during our part of the conversation. Joanne has done about 25 investments in the past few years and has a very clear strategy for what she invests in. She works incredibly hard for the companies she invests in, is deeply passionate about the products and the entrepreneurs, and clearly loves what she does.

During the conversation we had a moment where we were talking about feedback. I told her about my approach of saying no in less than 60 seconds. She told me a story about giving entrepreneurs blunt feedback in the first meeting, which I always try to do also. And then she said something that stuck with me.

Joanne will often start a meeting by saying something like I give you permission to hate my feedback. You can decide that you want to tell me ‘fuck you’ after the meeting. But I’m going to tell you what my direct and honest reaction is.

Now Joanne is a New Yorker through and through. Aggressive, direct, and clear. But never hostile. Ever. And a deeply loyal supporter. So this feedback, while direct, is incredibly powerful. It’s often extremely hard for someone to hear, especially if they are in “I’m trying to convince you to fund my company mode.”

I play the same way. At Foundry Group, one of our deeply held beliefs is that we always be intellectually honest, no matter how difficult it may be. At TechStars we pride ourselves on providing direct feedback, but always saying “this is only data”, letting the entrepreneur make their own decision about what to do.

These are versions of Joanne’s permission to “hate her feedback.” It’s a powerful way to frame any discussion. And I know I’ll be using the phrase “I give you permission to hate my feedback” many times in the future.

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