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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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Do You Want To Build Robots?

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One of the companies I’m an investor in, Modular Robotics, just launched a Kickstarter campaign around its new product MOSS. It’s amazing.

Definitely a “show not tell” so I encourage you to watch the five minute video and then back the MOSS Kickstarter campaign if you, your kids, or your loved ones dig building things.

Cubelets at CES 2013

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A bunch of the companies we’ve invested in were at CES 2013. Modular Robotics, the makers of Cubelets, were at the Eureka Village (where Startup America was). The first thing I had to do when I got to CES was a panel for Startup America so the Modular Robotics booth was literally one of the first places I stopped after getting to Las Vegas.

It was mobbed. I came back around a few other times and it continued to be mobbed. They were showing Cubelets (which are for sale now) as well as a few new spicy connector things that they are about to release that let you connect Cubelets up to anything you can build with Legos.

TechCrunch did a nice three minute video interview that shows how Cubelets work. We invested last fall – I’m excited to be working with Eric Schweikardt and the team to create a robot construction kit that can really go mainstream.

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Founder Market Fit

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We constantly hear about “product market fit.” But my post yesterday about The Power of Passion When Starting Your Company was about “founder market fit.” And I’ve come to believe that – especially among first time entrepreneurs – founder market fit is much more important than product market fit at the inception of the company.

I stumbled on the phrase a few times over the past year and it’s been rolling around in my head a lot since. The first time was on Chris Dixon’s blog Founder / market fit which led me to a guest post by David Lee of SV Angel on More Thoughts on What Makes Great Entrepreneurs Great.

I’ve seen this over and over in TechStars. Founders come in with something they are super excited about. As they get exposed to mentors and feedback, they quickly start moving around within the market (or domain) as they search for a clearer focus, which could be defined as product market fit prior to getting a product out there and doing any real testing. This search is usually qualitative – it involves real feedback from potential customers and users, but it’s not a measured, tested approach.

In parallel, there’s often a Lean Startup methodology going on that does more quantitative tests of the specific product. But in a lot of cases, the qualitative feedback at the very formative stages is just as, if not more, important to make sure you end up in the right zone to test.

Underlying all of this is the regular shift away from something the founders are passionate about. The Orbotix example in my post is a great one – it would have been easy for Adam and Ian to decide to work on something that had a better product market fit, like iPhone enabled door locks, instead of something that not only hadn’t been invented yet, but also wasn’t obvious what market would really want it (a ball controlled by your smartphone – ok – that’s cool, but who will buy it?)

They, and their co-founder and CEO Paul Berberian had a vision for who would want a ball controlled by a smartphone. And Adam and Ian were obsessed with the idea. The three of them had extraordinary founder market fit, well before they figured out the product market fit.

We’ve got lots of other examples of this in our portfolio. I can’t tell you the number of times I get asked “what would someone ever use a personal 3D printer for?” But Bre Pettis at MakerBot is completely and totally obsessed with bringing 3D printers to the masses. While product market fit is getting clearer with each new product release, the founder market fit in this cases was awesome. Or Isaac Saldana of SendGrid, who initially named the company SMTPAPI. He has a great chapter in Do More Faster where he wrote about how he “Looked for the Pain” as a developer, found it in sending transaction email, and created SMTPAPI (now SendGrid) to address it. Or Eric Schweikardt who is unbelievably focused on creating the next generation robot construction kit at Modular Robotics. Sure – the “market comp” in this case is Lego Mindstorms, but Eric’s vision for the market goes well beyond this, and the product follows.

I’m not suggesting that product market fit isn’t an important concept. It is. But at the very beginning, especially with first time entrepreneurs, founder market fit is even more important.

Modular Robotics – More Robots In Boulder

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This morning we announced that we have just led a $3m investment in Modular Robotics. I’ve joined the board and am psyched to now be an investor in two Boulder-based robotics companies – ModRobotics and Orbotix. In the spirit of “show” vs. “tell” (which everyone in TechStars has driven into their brains over and over again) here’s a short three minute video that shows how ModRobotics first product – Cubelets – works.

Dan Primack at Fortune has a nice article up about ModRobotics titled ‘Robotics for kids’ start-up raises $3 millionFor a little history of the rapid progression of the robotics movement in Boulder, take a look at my post titled Boulder is for Robots. And – if you are in Boulder and interested in robots, join the Boulder is for Robots Meetup Group.

My partners at Foundry Group and I are psyched to be working with Eric and team on creating the next generation robot construction platform. I believe the machines have already taken over and are just patiently waiting for us to catch up with them. As part of this, every kid should learn how to program, create things, and work with robots. ModRobotics plans to be an integral part of that.

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