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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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The Power of a Deadline

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If you’ve ever shipped anything, you understand the power of a deadline. It’s incredibly helpful to me as an investor to also be a maker, as I get to experience the same pressure many of the people I’m investing in feel, as I try to weave the creation – in my case of books – into a very busy life. Blending the creative / maker experience with a very full manager experience is fascinating, hard, and very enlightening.

The latest maker experience I’m having is the book my wife Amy and I are writing called Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. The deadline for the draft that “goes into production” with our publisher (Wiley) is due on 10/22. “Going into production” means the writing is done –  the next thing we get back is the copyedited version, which we can tweak, but not make major changes to. Basically, once we submit on 10/22 other than cleaning stuff up, the ship has sailed.

While the Startup Life deadline looms, it’s not at the top of my work priority stack. My top work priority is my activity as a partner at Foundry Group. This is unambiguous to me and everyone around me – I spend the vast majority of my time on this and any time an entrepreneur I’m working with needs me they get a top level interrupt on anything I’m doing. Next in line is my work with TechStars. Next is the book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your Community which shipped at the end of September. Then Startup Life. That’s it – I’ve got no capacity for anything else right now.

When I got back from “summer” – which was my return to New York from my bike trip to Slovenia – Amy and I had 15,000 words written for Startup Life. The book was put together pretty well – we knew what we wanted to write, but we had a ton of writing to do. We were together in New York for two weeks so we got a lot of writing done in between all the other stuff we did. I’ve been traveling around the country since and our weekends have been dedicated to writing while Amy writes all week as I run around and do my thing.

Last night after getting to the hotel room in San Francisco at 10pm, I spent three hours making a bunch of minor edits to the current version (we are still using SkyDrive and it has been awesome.) My assistant Kelly printed a copy out on Monday morning for me to drag around. It’s the first time I’ve read the book from beginning to end on paper and it validated that we are almost there. Last night when I went to bed we had 65,656 words. We’ve still got a few things to add in, but we are close.

The deadline dynamic is fascinating. Originally we had a “publisher draft deadline” of today (10/12/22). This is the version we submit to our senior editor and his team. They do a quick review with broad suggestions. This was due back to us on 10/17/22. We then have a “production draft deadline” of 10/22/22 (five days in this case.) While all of that feels very tight, given that this is my fourth book with Wiley, they are comfortable with my approach and I know what to expect back from them. But five days still isn’t very much.

So Amy and I beat our deadline and shipped the publisher draft early Monday morning on 10/8/12. This bought us an extra weekend of work since we’ll get the feedback today rather than on next Wednesday, 10/17/22. We now have ten days until our final deadline on 10/22/12, instead of only five.

Several people have suggested we write a book titled “Startup Author: Surviving and Thriving Writing a Book With Your Significant Other.” It’s been an awesome experience to do a collaborative project like this with Amy. I love her brain and how it works. It’s very different than mine and we each know and understand that. We complement, and compliment, each other a huge amount, and I feel this is reflected in the book, which makes me happy.

The deadline is such a powerful forcing function. I’m experiencing it again first hand and it gives me even more respect for the entrepreneurs I work with everyday. After I finished up last night, I gave myself a pre-sleep treat and watched Episode 3 of the founders. As I was watching it, I thought of the title for this post. So – count this riff inspired by all of the founders at TechStars - y’all are the really awesome ones who inspire me!

Lessons From Maker Hours

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My shift from manager hours to maker hours is officially over. I’ve learned a lot the past two months about how I work and the challenges of trying to both shift to maker hours as well as be effective in a blended manager / maker world.

I started out in June with a hard shift to maker hours. I only scheduled calls between 1pm and 4pm – the rest of my time was unscheduled. I was able to maintain this rhythm for about 30 days before my scheduled time expanded to 5pm, then 6pm, then noon. Ultimately the backlog of “other stuff” started to creep in and it was hard to ignore it.

My primary maker task was writing – I finished Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, the second edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist, and made some, but not nearly enough, progress on Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur (which I’m writing with Amy.) There was a lot of overhead associated with each book as I worked on the website (I’ll finally launch the Startup Revolution site later this week), some publisher stuff (which I knew about from before), and plenty of “edit cycle” stuff.

I discovered that I could only write effectively for four hours a day – any more than that and whatever I did was crap. If I did anything – even check my email – before I started writing, I got virtually nothing done that day. So – the ideal “writing day” was “get up early, have coffee, write for two hours, run, write for two more hours, switch into manager mode and deal with everything else.”

The magic lesson here is something I already knew – my best time for creative work is from 5am to 7am. This is my normal rhythm that I’ve had for a long time. Trying to change it was hard and when I reflect back on things I’m not sure I was any more productive than if I had simply decided to be incredibly disciplined for the past 60 days and just written every morning from 5am to 7am and then let the day be whatever it was.

As I shift back to manager mode, that’s the approach I’m going to take for August and see what it gets me.

Shifting Hard To Maker Mode For The Summer

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I love Paul Graham’s Maker vs. Manager schedule concept. At Feld Technologies, we used to call this “programmer time vs. phone/meeting time” and my partner Dave Jilk and I spent a lot of time figuring out how to make it work since we each had programming work throughout the life of the business but an increasing amount of phone/meeting time as our business scaled up. Near the end I was in almost 100% phone/meeting time, which I hated, but at least I knew why.

As a VC, I’ve created a very tight approach to dealing with my manager schedule. I get up a 5am every morning, read/write online until Amy wakes up (usually between 630am and 7am), go for a run, and then switch into manager mode until 6pm. I try to schedule everything (including phone calls) – I use 30 minute increments so I have lots of “air” in my schedule since many things never take more than 10 minutes. At 6pm, I either go out to a business-related dinner, hang out with Amy, or lay on the couch and catch up on email and other random stuff.

For the points in time when I need to be on a maker schedule, I go away for a week or two. To the outside world it often doesn’t seem different, except I’m not available to get together physically and I’m not traveling anywhere. But I still blog, do email, and spend time on the phone with companies we’ve invested in. However, I control the schedule tightly, usually giving myself a several hour block of time in the afternoon for this.

I’ve decided to spend the entire summer in maker mode. The first five months of the year have been intense – tons of travel, lots and lots of stuff going on, and very little time for me. I fucked myself up by doing the 50 mile run so I was more emotionally drained than normal and I didn’t really give myself time and space to recover from it. On top of it, I don’t feel like I’ve spent enough time with Amy the first half of this year, nor do I feel like I’ve had enough me time as I feel like I’ve been spending too much time doing things for other people rather than spending time on things I want to spend time on.

Through labor day, I’m not going to travel at all, except for a few marathon weekends and a few trips to Boulder for a few days. Amy and I are holed up at our place in Keystone and I’ve decided to only have a manager schedule between 1pm and 4pm each day. That leaves me from when I wake up until 1pm to be on maker time, followed by 4pm until when I go to bed.

This rhythm starts tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see if I can hold it for the full summer given all of the other pressures on my time. It’ll also be interesting to see the external perception of my responsiveness changes at all.

Either way, I think the only real way to learn about this type of thing is to experiment, so the experiment begins now.

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