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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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Foursquare and Gnip Form A Powerful Partnership

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Our investment in Gnip keeps getting better and better.  While the company is growing like crazy and the financial results would make any investor giddy, what really gets me excited is to see how Gnip is disrupting how business decisions are made.  Gnip believes that someday every significant business decision will include social data as an input and they’ve been working hard for the last five years to make this vision a reality.

Last week, Gnip made another significant step forward towards their ultimate vision. Foursquare and Gnip just announced an exclusive partnership that allows Gnip to provide full coverage of anonymized Foursquare check-in data to Gnip’s extensive network of customers.  Gnip is delivering over four billion social activities to their customers every day and their distribution network is delivering insights and analytics to over 95% of the Fortune 500.   As much progress as they have made, location-based activity is one area of social data where the ecosystem has lacked significant coverage.  Companies wanting to analyze geo-based activities around locations have been begging for more location-based activity.  With the partnership between Foursquare and Gnip, the entire social data ecosystem gets a big win with this key signal of physical presence.

I’ve been a user and believer in Foursquare from the earliest days. It will be fascinating to see what types of analytics are built upon this new data.  Both Foursquare and Gnip discuss some examples in their blog posts. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about how businesses can capitalize on this unique data set.  And with this partnership, we no longer have to imagine!

Bolt – Making Hardware Easier

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Over the past few decades, the most compelling engineers and entrepreneurs I’ve met have tended to be working on problems that can be solved with software. Software has some great advantages but it comes with a few big drawbacks, namely it’s tied to a few standard types of input, although we are trying to impact that with some of our investments in our HCI theme.

Along with the rest of the tech ecosystem, I’m starting to see more and more entrepreneurs with a piece of hardware in their development plan. These are not your parents’ hardware products. Instead, they are software companies that happen to have a physical component in their stack – something I call software wrapped in plastic.

Adding the plastic around the software is no short order. MakerBot, FitBit, Orbotix, Sifteo, Modular Robotics, PogoplugSlingbox, and a slew of others have taught me that even though much of the business-side is similar to a software company, the product-side most definitely is not. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s stunning how much damage one bad component on a PCB board can do to a company’s bottom line, or how different industrial design is from software design, or even how the brains of a software person and a hardware person collide in bizarre ways.

I’ve learned how critical it is to get the right kind of help for young companies with a piece of hardware, which is why I invested in Bolt. Bolt is one of the more unique accelerator programs I’ve seen. Ben and his team have designed, developed, manufactured, and financed a long list of successful products and they’ve built Bolt around best-practices for these kinds of companies. Over 6-months, accepted companies get a long list of benefits, the most valuable of which are a full-staff of senior engineers and designers at your disposal and 24×7 access to their $1M of prototyping equipment.

If you’re a startup with a piece of hardware (or plan to have one) check out Bolt and apply to be part of their first accelerator class. Applications close in two days – Wednesday, May 22nd at midnight.

Our Awe.sm Investment

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Last week we announced our investment in Awe.sm. It’s squarely in our Glue and Protocol themes and is similar to investments we’ve made in SendGrid (for transactional email infrastructure) and Urban Airship (for push notification infrastructure). Oh – and the founders – Jonathan Strauss and Laurie Voss are – well – awesome.

We love things that wire the web together and believe Awe.sm is the company to do that for the construct of “sharing.” Specifically, Awe.sm’s goal is to become the key infrastructure provider powering quantitative performance marketing across the social sharing channel.

If you are a developer of a web app, take a look at how Awe.sm’s platform can help you.

Glassboard – Private Group Sharing

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Glassboard, a new mobile app for sharing privately with groups, just launched from my friends at Sepia Labs. They’re seeing some good initial coverage from ReadWriteWeb and Macworld and twitter is abuzz with people setting up private groups (which I find oddly amusing – but since there is no way to discover a “private board” – it makes sense.)

Glassboard highlights an interesting dynamic in the market that I’ve referenced before namely that collectively, as the creators and early adopters of technology, we still haven’t figured out the right balance of what information should be public and what should be private, and how this information should be used in the social graph.

Take location information as an example. One of the things Glassboard allows you to share with a group is your location, but they make it just as easy not to share it. You may recall that in March I had a foursquare checkin scare whereby someone tracked me down at a restaurant and called me on the phone to spook me because they knew my location. It worked – that interaction then led to me rethinking how I use my social graph – and, more specifically, how and with whom I share my location.

Location is one of those uniquely personal data points that, when used inappropriately, can leave you (or the people you care about) hugely vulnerable. And even though this vulnerability exists, your location is casually being used by advertisers to send you geo-ads and its being attached to all your photos. On one hand, its a great piece of data that can be really helpful when you need to tell people where you are or where you were, but on the other hand, the ways it can be used inappropriately are innumerable.

The Glassboard folks have recognized the sensitivity of location data and have implemented the strict end user controls over how, when and with whom to use it. They’ve also done a bunch of other interesting and important things in their group sharing app – I encourage you to check it out if you are on iPhone, Android, and Windows Mobile 7.

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