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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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How’s That No Travel Thing Working For You?

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I stopped travelling mid-May (I arrived home in Boulder from San Francisco on 5/17). I’ve decided not to travel at all for the rest of 2013, except for three personal trips (my parents 50th anniversary, Amy’s birthday, and my birthday.) After travelling 50% – 75% of the time for the last 20 years, I needed a break.

It has been awesomely mindblowingly great to not travel.

I’ve had three other periods of extended no-travel in the last 20 years. I stopped travelling for three months after 9/11. Two summers ago Amy and I spent 60 days together in Europe (half in France / half in Tuscany) just living (no travel). Last summer we spent 90 days at our house in Keystone. It’s clear I had a taste of this, but nothing like where I am right now.

Even though it has only been seven weeks, when I look forward to the rest of 2013 I feel huge amounts of open space and time in front of me. I know this has helped me come out of the depression, which I just wrote about in an article in Inc. Magazine, that I struggled with for the first part of this year.

But it’s more profound than that. In a few short months, I’ve changed my work pattern a lot. I feel so much more rested and alert. When I’m doing something, I’m in the moment. The companies I’m an investor in are all over the place, but I feel like they are actually getting more of my attention because I’m not being torn in a zillion different directions.

I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to jam in the “work” around all the friction time – in airports, in taxis and cars being driven to things, before I head out to yet another dinner on the road, or late in my hotel before I go to sleep. My environment is familiar and comfortable and things just flow.

I’m mastering video conferencing – I’ve now got every configuration a human could need. I figured out three big things that solve for 99% of the strangeness of it.

  1. Make your video conference full screen – don’t have ANYTHING else going on your computer other than what is in the meeting.
  2. Use a BIG monitor – seeing heads that are normal size makes a huge difference.
  3. Make sure your audio and video are on channels with enough bandwidth. Shift to a conference call for audio while keeping video up if you are having performance issues.

I’ve also started using my Mezzanine video conferencing system extensively – it’s just incredible. More on that in a separate post.

I love Boulder and I’m finding myself running a lot again. It’s hard to run as much as I’d like when I’m on the road – early morning meetings, fatigue, and being in random places gets in the way. But here, I just put on my shoes and head out the door for one of my favorite trails. With or without Brooks the wonder dog.

On that note, I think I’ll go for a run right now.

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.

Problem Solving Versus Empathy

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A classical relationship problem is the dichotomy between solving a problem and providing empathy. If you really want to understand this, spend two minutes and watch the awesome “It’s Not About The Nail” video below.

Amy and I have figured this out extremely well in our relationship. We talk about it in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur using the example of the scene from the movie White Men Can’t Jump to frame the situation.

There’s a delightful scene in the movie White Men Can’t Jump. In it, Billy Hoyle (played by Woody Harrelson) and Gloria Clemente (played by Rosie Perez) are in bed together. Gloria says to Billy, “Honey, I’m thirsty.” Billy gets up without saying word, goes to the kitchen, fills up a glass of water, brings it back to the bed, and gives it to Gloria. As Billy is crawling back into bed, Gloria tosses the water in his face. Startled, Billy says, “What?!” A long conversation ensues, which can be summarized as, “Honey, when I say I’m thirsty, I don’t want a glass of water. I want empathy. I want you to say, ‘I know what it’s like to be thirsty.’”

But this isn’t limited to personal relationships, or the difference between men and women (lots of men need empathy, even if they don’t know how to ask for it.) I see this all the time in my interaction with entrepreneurs and CEOs. I see it in the board room. And I see it in the way a CEO works with her leadership team.

The natural reaction in many of these cases is to immediately jump in and solve the problem. Granted, this is male-centric, as the ratio of men to women in these meetings at startups and entrepreneurial companies is very high. But it’s also CEO and entrepreneur-centric behavior; most CEOs and entrepreneurs are heat seeking problem solving missiles.

If you are an entrepreneur, CEO, or VC take a moment and think. Do you ever focus on “empathy” rather than “problem solving.” If you want to see an example of this in action, watch Jerry Colonna’s brilliant interview with Jason Calacanis. There’s a lot of incredible things on display in this interview, including plenty of empathy.

Floating In An Isolation Tank

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Yesterday I floated for an hour in an isolation tank at Cloud Nine Float Center. It was awesome.

When I was in college, I spent a summer floating. I had recently seen the movie Altered States and was fascinated by it, but uninterested in drugs. I found an isolation tank in Dallas where I was living with my parents and working 100 hours a week at Petcom writing oil and gas software. Twice a week I’d go spend an hour floating. I loved it and it helped me chill out and recalibrate my brain which was deep in code most of the time.

After I’d float, I’d have this incredible calmness for the rest of the day. I generally floated at the end of the day and then took the evening off. Sometimes I’d go out to dinner with my girlfriend, sometimes I’d lay in my parents hammock and read a book, and sometimes I’d go for a run. When I crawled into bed a few hours later I would always have an incredibly deep sleep.

For some reason that I can’t remember why I stopped doing this after the summer. I think I never found a float center in Boston and just let it slip away.

Yesterday I rediscovered something that I did 27 years ago and loved. I floated from 5pm – 6pm. It took about five minutes to settle down – I had 55 minutes of extreme bliss and calm. I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go and whenever I started thinking about something too deeply I’d just listen to my breathing until I stopped focusing on something. I have no recollection of what I was actually thinking of during that hour. When I got out, I was in a calm state unlike anything I’ve felt recently.

I went home and spent the evening with Amy. I was very quiet and it was hard for her to pry words out of me. I ate a light dinner, did a little end of day email, and then watched a few more episodes of Revenge. I walked Brooks twice. And I fell into a very deep sleep around 10pm.

I will be floating a lot more.

Abstainer vs. Moderator

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I love summer – it’s by far my favorite season of the year. While the summer solstice (6/21) is the official beginning of summer, I always view summer as being bookended by Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. So – for me, summer has begun.

As I was walking Brooks this morning for his early morning poop, I pondered the dynamic of “abstainer” vs. “moderator” which Amy pointed out to me comes from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. I’ve never known how to moderate particularly well, in any aspect of my life, so I’ve always been an abstainer. For example, I’m afraid of drugs, so I simply don’t do them – I abstain, since I’m concerned that if I started I wouldn’t know how to moderate.

Another example is my struggle with eating. I’ll use sushi as an example. If I’m part of a group sushi experience, I don’t know how to moderate. I’ll eat whatever is in front of me until it’s gone – sometimes a legendary amount of sushi. So – the only way for me to control myself is either to have a separate order to myself (e.g. abstain from the group plate) or use extreme effort to moderate and only have a reasonable amount. Same with bread or tortilla chips – if they are on the table I eat them all. My only way of not doing this is to abstain completely.

This applies to my work. I’ve always struggled to moderate – that’s part of why I chronically have gone through my annual boom / bust cycle where I completely wear myself out by the end of the year and have to abstain for a while. My Qx vacations – quarterly weeks off the grid – are a version of abstaining. My daily schedule is another example of this – and something that I’ve recently started approaching very differently as I’ve grown weary of being schedule from early morning to the end of the day.

Most recently, Digital Sabbath is another example of this for me. I’m now shutting down completely from Friday night at sundown to Sunday morning. I’ve been doing this for few months and think it will become a rest-of-the-life habit. It’s been fantastic for me and Amy. No phone, no email, no work. Just living for a day a week. Yesterday we slept late, wandered around Boulder a little, had brunch at Snooze, binge watched the rest of Season 1 of Revenge, had dinner with friends, and just lived.

I know that I don’t know how to moderate, whether it’s food, work, relationships, sports, communication, or something new. I’m all in and the only way for me to manage the total load is to abstain from some things and create specific times where I abstain from most everything.

Are you an abstainer or a moderator? How do you think about this?

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