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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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SEOmoz Acquires Followerwonk – A Perfect Small Acquisition

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When I saw this graph I was hooked. If you are a Twitter user and you don’t use Followerwonk, go try it now – I’ll be here when you return.

Yesterday, SEOmoz announced that it had acquired Followerwonk. The acquisition closed about six weeks ago and the Followerwonk product has been fully integrated into SEOmoz. And the Followerwonk team is now fully part of the SEOmoz team. And it’s awesome.

Rand Fishkin (SEOmoz’s CEO) blogs openly about how the deal happened. It’s instructive for anyone in a startup – either one that is acquiring someone else or being acquired.

If you know me, or have worked with me, you’ll recognize this as a common part of my startup playbook. I think it’s incredibly powerful to accelerate the growth of a company via targeted acquisitions. Fred Wilson once referred to this as a “venture rollup” which, while many are allergic to the word “rollup”, is probably as good a label as any for this. Another recent example from my world just to see what I mean is Rally Software’s acquisition of Agile Advantage.

Doing this well is hard. I’ve been fortunate to work with several amazing CEOs who I’ve learned a lot about how to do this with, including Matt Blumberg (Return Path), Tim Miller (Rally), Mark Pincus (Zynga), and JB Holston (NewsGator). And I learned the basis of everything I know about acquisitions from Len Fassler and Jerry Poch, who acquired my first company. Each has used the strategy skillfully and effectively.

I think Rand, who is using this strategy as part of continuing to build out SEOmoz, is going to be a master at it. If you read his post carefully, you’ll see that he has immense respect for the people behind Followerwork. His behavior pre-deal is consistent with his values and signals his behavior post deal. The entire company embraced Followerwonk and made them part of the SEOmoz gang immediately. He, and the entire team extended trust up front, unambiguously, and without hesitation or reservation.

Peter, Marc, and Galen – welcome to the team!

An Amazing Deal On SEOmoz Pro

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Today on Brad Feld’s Amazing Deals you can get three months of SEOmoz PRO for only $99 dollars. Normally three months of PRO service is $198, so this deal saves you $99.

If you’ve been wondering about how to effectively manage your SEO and monitor your social media, today’s Amazing Deal will get you going and at low, low, price (ok – I couldn’t resist – I just love to say low, low price.)

Seriously, my experience as an investor in SEOmoz has been extraordinary so far. I love working with this gang and I’m psyched to be able to provide you a low cost way to give their PRO product a try.

In-Text Links Are Just The Tip Of The Iceberg In Web Publishing

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Today one of our portfolio companies, LinkSmart, has come out of stealth mode and unveiled its product, Total Link Management and $4.7M in financing led by Foundry Group. My partner Seth Levine sits on the board and wrote about his view of LinkSmart. The investment was an obvious one for us as it fits squarely in our Adhesive theme given the deep relationships LinkSmart has with big media and web platforms as a provider of analytics and traffic management software.

The Internet was founded on our ability to link between things. We all distinctly remember the days of the primitive HTML pages we’d surf in our early browsers — gray page backgrounds and purple links. We clicked. And the Internet grew. This blog, your site, and how search engines like Google and Bing rank you and your relevance were all dependent upon links.

Even though the Internet and web has evolved since the mid-1990s, the most prolific web properties on the Internet all generally follow the same process: advertiser relationships are created with a publisher. This publisher then runs a never-ending fire drill with their sales, SEO and yield management teams to fulfill those obligations with their advertisers. More ad units are inserted on pages, marginally better eCPMs negotiated for, but yet the profit margins continually come under pressure as publishers scramble to generate even more traffic to support the advertising expectations.

LinkSmart has built a system that fixes part of this challenge. The technology LinkSmart’s founder Pete Sheinbaum and his team have assembled is analogous to many of the solutions we’ve seen and invested in for search engine optimization (SEO) such as SEOMoz. However, while SEO directs visitors from the open web — via search engine results — to a publisher’s site, LinkSmart takes those same readers and provides the publisher team with the means to use hyperlinks to more deeply engage the visitors, keep them on site longer, or send them to the properties the publisher wants them to visit.

If it costs a dollar to bring a reader to a site and they bail after the first page, that’s a dollar not optimized or even wasted. If that same dollar is spent and LinkSmart moves the reader three pages deeper on the site, triggering more revenue or visits to affiliate or partner site, the cost per acquisition has dropped dramatically and in many cases will improve the RPM geometrically.

Beyond the link optimization, there’s an enormous amount of valuable data generated by LinkSmart’s system. The data answers questions such as what are readers clicking on? What is their path while on site? What is the optimal number of links 100 words of written content should have to guarantee highest click-engagement? How many readers are leaving your site in a single click and where are they going? LinkSmart helps a publisher look deeply at that data to surface many things including the real-time intent of a reader when on-site.

We are psyched about what LinkSmart is launching today. If you are a publisher, check it out — it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Power of TAGFEE and Just Executing

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So far I’m pleased with my shift to Maker Mode this summer.  I’ve managed to get in a solid four hours of writing on my Startup Communities book each day and will have a full draft to circulate to a small group of people on Saturday. I chose deliberately to skip TechStars New York Demo Day (which looks like it went great) this year, which was a hard choice for me but I just didn’t want to break the flow of what I’m doing. And I’m still running on inbox zero and – other than physical proximity – haven’t heard any concerns about my responsiveness or availability. As a bonus, I’m getting to spend 24 hours a day (except when I’m out running) with my amazing wife Amy.

Yesterday I saw a post from Gnip titled You Are What You Do. Gnip is one of the companies we’ve invested in that I refer to as a Silent Killers - they are building an amazing company by just doing things that customers care about, not hyping themselves, and delivering what they say they are going to deliver, ahead of and beyond expectations. No hype – just substance – and execution.

This was coincidentally followed a few minutes later by an email exchange between Ben Huh (Cheezburger CEO) and Rand Fishkin (SEOMoz CEO). Rand and SEOMoz run on a set of principles called TAGFEE (Transparent, Authentic, Generous, Fun, Empathetic, Exceptional) and if you want to see this in action, take a look at the post Rand wrote recently about the financing we led titled Moz’s $18 Million Venture Financing: Our Story, Metrics and Future.

Ben (to:Rand, Brad): Just a random thought… Maybe I don’t have the balls to do it, maybe I just think that I want to run my biz differently, but the more I do this, the more I converge on TAGFEE. Thanks for putting it out there in the world.

Brad (to:Ben, Rand): I am 100% convinced TAGFEE is right. It’s so unbelievably liberating. 

Rand (to:Ben, Brad): This email put a huge smile on my face. That said, it’s fucking hard. So hard I can barely believe it. Being TAGFEE yourself when there’s always pressure not to sucks bad enough. But working with a large team and getting managers and individual contributors to act this way (and figure out when/where/how/whether it’s being broken) is the toughest challenge I’ve ever had. Thankfully, it’s incredibly rewarding, too. Oh – and there’s a missing “H” in TAGFEE. For humility. In fact, empathy and humility in potential hires are the best predictors that they’re going to fit with our team and be TAGFEE.

In contrast, I got an email from a VC earlier this week who said “aren’t you worried that one of your LPs will see your post about spending the summer at your place in Keystone?” My immediate reaction was to point him to TAGFEE and say that we try to be 100% TAGFEE with our LPs so I hope they see what I’m doing and appreciate why I’m doing it. I know unambiguously what my job for my LPs is – they give me a box of money and my job is to give them back – over time – a much bigger box full of money. I’m never confused this and I always try to do it in a way that maximizes the size of the box I give them back.

If you line up You Are What You Do, TAGFEE, and Silent Killers you start to get a feel for the type of entrepreneurs we love to work with. An awesome part of it is watching them learn from each other and learning from what they are learning. It informs everything I’m thinking about and the last 24 hours once again reinforced for me the power of TAGFEE and just executing.

SEOMoz TAGFEE and Me

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Today SEOMoz announced that Foundry Group has led an $18 million financing and I’m joining the board. Rand Fishkin (The Wizard of Moz) has an incredibly detailed post up titled Moz’s $18 Million Venture Financing: Our Story, Metrics and Future describing the financing process and company history in great depth. In it, he includes all kinds of numbers that people writing articles about financing are always asking for but never getting – it’s an extraordinarily (in my experience) transparent description of what, why, and how it went down. My partner Seth Levine also has a nice post up about our previous miss on financing SEOMoz titled Getting It Right The 2nd Time. And the official press release has a bunch of Internet Memes (thanks to Cheezburger) along with the liberal use of the word fuck.

Instead of going through the history of the financing, which is amply covered in the other posts, I’m going to talk about TAGFEE. What’s TAGFEE? It’s the tenents of SEOMoz. From the SEOMoz website:

Our goal is to have everything we create and cultivate – be it software, content, corporate culture, or professional relationships – live up to these tenets. We acknowledge that we are entirely responsible for SEOmoz’s reputation; the level of success we achieve, the brand image we create, and the contributions we make to the marketing industry are a direct reflection of our ability to uphold the TAGFEE code.

At my first company (Feld Technologies) we had a set of precepts and at Foundry Group we have a set of deeply held beliefs. When I first saw TAGFEE I immediately flashed to these two concepts. As I got to know Rand, Sarah Bird (COO), and other Mozzers, I realized they lived by TAGFEE. I loved it and it was one of the big factors that attracted me to the company. Following are my observations of how TAGFEE works in practice at SEOMoz.

Transparent and Authentic: Just go read Rand’s post Moz’s $18 Million Venture Financing: Our Story, Metrics and Future. The next time someone says that they are being transparent, call bullshit on them and point them at Rand’s post as an example of real transparency.

Generous: Everyone I talked to about SEOMoz reinforced that the company consistently goes above and beyond the expectations they set with customers, partners, and each other and hold themselves to an incredibly high standard in terms of interacting with and giving back to the industry that allows them to exist.

Fun: When I showed up at the company a week before the financing closed to say hi, everyone was gathered with margaritas and cupcakes. We did a 30 minute Q&A thing where Rand and Sarah went through in detail the deal that was happening and how it impacted everyone. The cupcakes were yummy and there was much laughing after everyone realized I wasn’t the homeless person that Sarah suggested I was (as in “Brad isn’t here – this is just some homeless person who wandered in.”)

Empathetic: I saw this in my interactions with Mozzers, Rand, Sarah, and people near to the company. I also see it in the Moz community. Amazingly direct, clear, and emotionally enlightened responses and interactions to everything, regardless where on the spectrum of “awesome” to “shitty” an issue lands on.

Exceptional: This is one exceptional company, in everything they do. They aspire to build something incredibly important and durable. And exceptional.

I’ve watched Rand and SEOMoz from a distance for a while. I know many people who have worked closely with the company. And I’ve been able to spy into Rand’s life a little through the lens of his wife Geraldine (who we call the hilarious cupcake blogger woman in my house). It’s one big TAGFEE universe and I’m spinning around in circles chasing my tail in happiness that I get to be involved in it.

Build something great with me