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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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Help Me Support Senator Mark Udall For Congress

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I believe that Senator Mark Udall is doing a superb job for Colorado. I’d like to encourage you to support Mark’s re-election campaign by joining me for an event at BMOCA in Boulder on June 17th. I’m co-hosting the event with a bunch of folks who have been very involved in the Boulder startup community, including Dennis Arfmann, Libby Cook, Howard Diamond, Brad Feld, Jim Franklin, Marc Graboyes, Don Hazell, David Huberman, Roger Koenig,  Nancy Pierce, Jason Mendelson, Bill Mooz, Michael Platt, Beau and Lucy Stark, Phil Weiser, and Joe Zell. Please come join us for a fun evening of discussion, networking, and a chance to talk to Mark about what’s on your mind.

I’ve been a supporter of Mark’s for many years and have always been blown away by his willingness to engage thoughtful in any issue he is presented with. Most recently, Mark took a leadership role in defeating SOPA/PIPA and was one of the first Senators to come out publicly against PIPA. During this process, Mark and his staff put real effort into understanding the issues and, rather than sitting on the sidelines and seeing what would happen, leaned in, took a stand, and had a big impact helping shift the tide in the Senate against PIPA.

I believe the Boulder startup community is extremely lucky to have Mark Udall as one of our Senators. I don’t often make political appeals on this blog, but in this case I feel that it’s critical that we continue to have intelligent, thoughtful, and independently minded representatives who are willing to actually understand what is going on with issues, rather than succumb to lobbying pressures. Mark is one of the good guys – let’s make sure he knows we support him.

I’ll be at the BMOCA event all evening so it’s a chance to spend some time with me also if you’d like. I’ll make sure I’m available to anyone who shows up about anything that’s on your mind. So join me on June 17th to support Senator Mark Udall.

Compromise vs. Problem Solving

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I spent all day Sunday at Silicon Flatirons’ Digital Broadband Migration Conference. This is a key national conference held in Boulder at the intersection of technology and public policy with a particular focus on the Internet. This year’s conference subtitle was “The Challenges of Internet Law and Governance.”

I was pondering something all morning that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. My close friend Phil Weiser (who is now the Dean of the CU Law School and hosts the conference) kicked it off and then handed things over to Vint Cerf (now at Google and one of the original architects of the Internet). A great panel full of engineers titled Tech Tutorial Backdrop: An All IP Network and Its Policy Implications came next, followed by a talk from Colorado Senator Michael Bennet.

I’m a supporter of Michael’s and even though he originally co-sponsored PIPA, he eventually understood that it was flawed legislation and got behind the effort to oppose it. As a co-sponsor he had plenty of influence in the background on the process and I’m glad that he spent the time to listen to the tech community, understand why it was bad legislation, and take action. It was great to see him at this particular conference given its national perpective on a key intersection of technology and policy.

After Michael came a panel I was on titled The Digital Broadband Migration in Perspective. David Cohen (EVP of Comcast), Larissa Herda (CEO of tw telecom inc.), and I were the loud mouths on this one. David and I had very different perspectives on many things which reached a head when he asked what my reaction to all of the major TV and cable channels blacking out for three hours and putting up messages that said “this is what TV would be like without SOPA/PIPA” (basically – the opposite of the Internet blackout that occurred on January 18th). While he asserted this would be an abuse of corporate power and responsibility, implying that the Internet companies participating in the Internet blackout where behaving inappropriately, my response was that “it would be fucking awesome – they should do whatever they want – and better yet no college kid in the world would notice.”  There was plenty more in that vein, but this was tame compared to what came next.

The panel after lunch was a debrief on what just happened with SOPA/PIPA. Mark Lemley (Stanford Law Professor) and Gigi Sohn (President of Public Knowledge) explained things from an anti-SOPA/PIPA perspective; Jonathan Taplin (Annenberg Innovation Lab, University of Southern California) and Michael Fricklas (General Counsel of Viacom) took a pro-SOPA/PIPA perspective, and Michael Gallagher (CEO of Entertainment Software Association) and Judge Stephen Williams (U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit) took a third perspective that I couldn’t quite parse. After everyone got a chance to give a 7 – 13 minute presentation, the conversation degenerated quickly into a very polarized argument where, in my opinion, facts were left at the doorstep by several of the participants. As the fact vs. fiction dynamic escalated, emotions ran hot and the discourse degenerated to a point of near uselessness. With every moment, the conversation became even more polarized, even though the anti-SOPA/PIPA folks would say things like I’m not going to defend SOPA/PIPA as it was bad legislation, we need to solve the problem of … in reaction to the pro-SOPA/PIPA folks saying If you assert that there are only 50 bad sites that represent 80% of the illegal content in the world, and we already have tools too take those sites down, what exactly are you talking about.  While there were hugs and handshakes after the panel ended, it definitely felt like there was plenty of grinfucking going around.

After this panel I ducked out for an hour to go meet Julius Genachowski (chairman of the FCC). We’ve crossed paths a few times but never spent any thoughtful time together. We had a nice 30 minute meeting where we talked about the dynamics going on at the conference and in Washington DC. He gave me one phrase which caused me to stop, ponder it for a minute, and respond with “that’s exactly right.” He said:

“What you are observing is the difference between compromise and problem solving.”

My brain is an engineers brain. I’m focused on learning and solving problems. Over the past few years I’ve been completely baffled by my experience interacting with politicians and their staffers. When I present a solution to a problem (e.g. the Startup Visa) I immediately watch a negotiation begin to ensue. Three years later, even non-controversial, obviously beneficial things like Startup Visa are still stuck in a discussion.

When I talked to folks about how bad the SOPA/PIPA legislation was, they would respond “what’s the counter proposal?” My first response was usually “What do you mean? It’s horrifyingly bad legislation that shouldn’t even be considered.” The response to this was “Yes, but if I am going reject it, I need to come with a counter-proposal.”

Julius explained to me that Washington runs on a compromise mentality. You propose something and then begin negotiating from there. Innovative companies, where I spent almost all of my time, run on a problem solving mentality. You have a problem – you solve it. When I reflected on the panels during the day, the engineers and engineering heavy panels were problem solving and the policy / lawyer heavy panels were fighting over polarized positions which, if they converged, would be a convergence based on compromise rather than problem solving.

This generated a breakthrough insight for me. I’ve been increasing frustrated with politics and public policy discussions that I’ve been part of. It’s because I’m in a problem solving mode. While some of the folks I’m interacting with are also in this mode (which causes me to stay engaged), many are in a compromise mode. They don’t care whether or not we actually solve the root cause problem – they just have an agenda that they want to get into the mix legislatively and are negotiating for it with the goal of reaching a compromise.

We ended the day with a wonderful talk from Senator Mark Udall. I’m a huge fan of Mark’s – he’s one of the most thoughtful people in government I’ve gotten to interact with. Colorado is lucky to have him as he listens to his constituents here and acts on their behalf, rather than some other agenda. He discussed his views on innovation and PIPA (which he opposed early) and then made a strong appeal for the Startup Visa, increased STEM education, and a long term focus on innovation as the base for job creation. He then took another 90 minutes to meet with a smaller set of entrepreneurs and public policy folks from the conference to hear what was on their mind. Mark definitely was listening and trying to understand what issues he should be looking out for that had similar negative impacts like PIPA.

We need a lot more problem solvers like Mark in the mix, especially in positions of power in government. And, the problem solvers should insist that the path is problem solving, not compromise.

Colorado Senator Mark Udall Opposes PIPA

Comments (294)

On Saturday, Colorado Senator Mark Udall publicly opposed PIPA. I’ve been talking to Mark and his team for about a month about this and I’m incredibly proud of him for taking a stand on this issue. I’ve been a supporter of Mark’s for many years and his willingness to listen to his constituents, think about and understand the specific issues, speak his mind, and take a leadership role continues to impress me.

This is not random opposition to bad proposed legislation. Mark and his team spent the time to understand what is really going on. Some specific points of opposition, from his blog post, follow:

“Three significant parts of PIPA particularly concern me: (1) the provision requiring Domain Name Service blocking (which could make it more difficult to implement cyber-security measures), (2) the censorship of Internet search results by the government, and (3) the fact that it encourages lawsuits by private parties – in addition to government enforcement. Coloradans and the high-tech community also have raised related concerns about an overbroad definition of affected websites (sweeping in legitimate companies as well as foreign rogue website operators), unfunded mandates, and legal risk and uncertainty – not only for lawful websites but for consumers. It’s no wonder that Coloradans are contacting my office in increasing numbers – voicing their objections to PIPA.”

To all of my friends in Colorado’s tech community I encourage you to express your support for Mark – both now (comment on this blog, send his office an email or a letter, write your own blog post, or give him a hug the next time you see him on the street) and in the future. While he and I don’t agree on everything, from my experience, Mark is listening, thinking, and taking action.

Mark, thank you taking a strong position on this horrible legislation.

Senator Mark Udall Co-Sponsors The Startup Visa Act of 2010

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I’m extremely excited that Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), the senior senator for Colorado, has signed on as a co-sponsor of The Startup Visa Act of 2010 that was originally proposed by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lugar (R-IN).  Senator Udall joins his Colorado colleague in the House, Jared Polis (D-CO), who has proposed Startup Visa legislation as part of his EB-5 reform bill.

In addition, our friends at SVB Financial (the parent of Silicon Valley Bank) have also formally endorsed the Startup Visa.  My partner Jason Mendelson wrote a post about a roundtable that Silicon Valley Bank hosted for members of “the new Democrat Coalition” which included Jared Polis.  Shortly after this meeting, SVB formally endorsed the Startup Visa.

I’m really proud that two of Colorado’s members of Congress are leading the charge on the Startup Visa.  I have deep respect for both Mark and Jared, their understanding of the importance of entrepreneurship, and their vision for innovation in our country.  I’m also grateful that SVB – which has been an integral part of the entrepreneurial activity throughout the US – for their support as well.

We are working on a few additional major announcements and endorsements in the next sixty days.  I’ve received a number of requests for ways to help.  At this point, if you are part of an organization that you think would be supportive of the Startup Visa, please drop me an email and let’s talk about ways to get a formal endorsement.

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