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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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My Gradual Shift From Skype to Google Hangouts

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I’ve tried to aggressively shift to video conferencing instead of audio conferencing for anything longer than a 15 minute call. I’m also giving a lot of talks around the world, especially on Startup Communities, so rather than travel and burn a day (or more), I’m doing 30 minute videoconferencing things remotely. And, as anyone who has ever asked me to speak to a class of students knows, I have a huge weakness for always saying yes to this so I’ve been doing this via videoconferencing as well.

After exploring a bunch of different options last year, I decided to use Skype everywhere since it was “good enough”, simpler, and portable. I equipped my desktops with HD cameras, took my MacBook Air on the road, and didn’t look back, until recently.

I noticed that twice last week I had horrible Skype connections. One was a US call and one was for a 30 minute presentation to a group of about 200 people in Barcelona at the Silicon Valley Comes to Barcelona event. In the US case I was using my Verizon 4G MiFi, in the Barcelona case I was tethered to my AT&T iPhone.

Skype completely failed in each case. Audio worked but we couldn’t get a sustained video connection. Each time we tried Google Hangouts as a backup. It worked flawlessly on exactly the same connection.

This was a classic A/B test. Yesterday, when I was on a Skype three way call, where one of the callers kept freezing and the other kept getting higher resolution focus, all I could think was “I wish we were on Google Hangouts.” After talking to a friend at Google who said that Hangouts is now pervasive at Google, I’m going to try it more frequently.

Any feedback from any of you about performance / quality of Skype vs. Google Hangouts?

Doing Conference Keynotes And Lectures Remotely

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I get asked to talk at a conference on a daily basis. I’m flattered by the interest, but it’s impossible for me to accomodate even a small percentage of the requests. I don’t charge anything to speak so I can’t use that as a filter, so I end up using geography and type of participation as my filters.

A while ago I wrote a rant against panels and decided I would no longer participate in them. I hate them, I hate being on them, and I hate listening to them. Every now and then I’ll agree for a friend, like I did for Howard Lindzon at the Thunderbird Global Business Dialogue in Phoenix on 11/10, but only because I know that Howard and I will simply have a blast talking about whatever we want with our poor, unsuspecting co-panelists. Plus I wanted to spend a weekend in Phoenix with Amy. So – that’s an easy filter – no to panels.

My geography filter has become refined to “I’ll do it if I’m already planning to be nearby.” Again, I make a few exceptions, but since I already travel so much it turns out that this works out ocassionally. But this is a frustrating filter for me as there are a lot of things I’m invited to talk at that I’d like to – often in conjuction with students or groups of entrepreneurs (who I love to talk to) – but doesn’t pass the geography filter.

Recently, I decided to try doing conference talks and lectures via Skype. If it’s a keynote, I figure 15 – 30 minutes is plenty. If it’s a class, an hour seems to be the appropriate length of time.

The early response has been awesome. I’ve gotten great positive feedback from the conference organizers who appreciated my involvement. The technology infrastructure is really easy – all that’s typically needed is already there given the A/V requirements of the other speakers. For me, it’s a physical dream – I can do it from my office, from the road, from a hotel room, from my house, or from Tuscany. Suddenly, I feel very untethered in the conference context.

While I don’t get the benefit of participating in the conference, nor do the people at the conference get to spend time with me, this wouldn’t happen anyway since I’m not an avid conference goer. However, if the content that I’m providing is really valued, this approach seems to work really well.

The double bonus of this working in a classroom setting is really appealing to me. I’ve always been a huge fan of incorporating guest lectures into undergraduate and post-graduate education. I love some of the revolutionary things going on in the field of education around Khan Academy, SkillShare, and our new investment Sympoz. However, for now, the traditional university classroom still exists and to the extent that I can participate regularly with students and professors who want me involved, I now have a way to make it work that let’s me relax geography as a constraint.

Remote Board Attendance Via Skype

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I’ve been on a number of board calls this month while I’ve been in Paris. About half of them have been via Skype; the other half have been standard audio conferencing. I’ve also had a bunch of other meetings, discussions, and pitches via Skype.

The quality of the meeting and interaction – when all attendees are in person or via videoconference (in my case Skype on my laptop) – was 10x better than the ones via audio conference only.

I’ve been vacillating between a “physical attendance at all board meetings” approach or “video conference at all board meetings approach” to life. It’s impossible for me to physically attend all board meetings, but there’s no reason why I can’t attend by video conference. I’m now encouraging everyone I work with – as well as everyone that has a board meeting – to have a physical + video conference approach. It is so much better than having people on audio conference.

In several of the meetings, we simply set up Skype on a laptop and put the laptop at the end of the table. It’s a simple, low cost (free) solution, that works awesomely well. In one case, there was more than one person on Skype. Rather than try to do a Skype three-way (which works well also), the company simply set up two laptops with a separate Skype session on each. Skype audio seemed to work just fine in all cases but one, so we did an audio conference for voice and Skype for video.

While there will always be adhoc conference calls on short notice for boards that need to ratify something, for any meeting over an hour, or any scheduled meeting, putting the effort into getting everyone either physically there or on video makes a huge difference.

I know it sounds trite, but it’s remarkable how much better – even in a one on one conversation – the discussion is when it’s video instead of just audio. The calls are higher impact, body language is apparent, and people pay full attention rather than “minimally acceptable attention + email”.

We’ve been waiting for and talking about video conferencing for a long time. I think it’s really ready this time.

Four Minutes In The Morning

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Amy and I created a tradition about a decade ago we call “four minutes in the morning.”  We try to – fully clothed – spend four minutes together every morning 100% focused on each other.

I’m an early bird – usually getting up around 5am regardless of the time zone I’m in (except on the weekends – then I sleep until I wake up – sometimes 1pm.)  Amy sleeps a little later (usually 6:30am).  So – I often have around 90 minutes alone every morning, which I treasure.  I have a well defined morning routine that includes a cup of coffee and 85 or so minutes in front of my computer.

When Amy gets up, I try to remember to jump up from my computer and start our four minutes.  Sometimes I forget and notice it when she thumps me on my head or clears her throat loudly.  But I eventually remember.  We then leave the office area, go to our living room, or outside on our porch, and spend our “four minutes” together.

Of course, the “four minutes” is metaphorical.  Sometimes it’s 15 minutes.  A few times a year it turns into an hour when we end up in a discussion about something.  But it’s always 100% bi-directional attention, except for our dogs who often want in on the discussion.

I travel a lot so this often translates into a phone call in the morning.  We recently started using Skype instead and it makes an amazing difference.  This morning, as Amy was in Keystone and I was in Boulder, we caught up with each other in our un-showered goodness.  Now, if we only had smell-o-vision, the experience would have been complete.

I miss Amy a lot whenever we aren’t together.  We’re lucky that we get to travel together a lot and that each of our work experiences have lots of location flexibility.  Skype has helped in a surprisingly nice way with one of our routines.

My recommendation to all my guy friends out there – try the “four minutes in the morning” routine with your significant other.  It’ll pay many dividends.

The PicturePhone Has Arrived

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picturephone.jpg

While I still don’t have my jetpack, I do have my picturephone.

I was four when the AT&T PicturePhone appeared on the scene. This dude went through a lot of iterations over the year – my favorite is in this Western Electric ad.

westerndigitalphone.jpg

This morning as I was drinking my coffee, waking up, and trying to get motivated to go running in the rain (I think I’ll go swim instead), my dad called on Skype.  I answered and we had a nice video chat.  I heard about my mom’s newly rediscovered Corvette lust (go mom!) and the hike they were going to do.  I saw the study in my Keystone house where they are staying which made me smile.  And then I said a quick hello to my mom.

I really hate the phone.  I always have – and spend much too much time on it.  But for some reason I like the videophone.  Maybe it’s the novelty of it, maybe it’s a different way it grabs my attention because I really engage fully with it.

Regardless, the future is catching up with my childhood in interesting ways.

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