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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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What Really Matters About Being Human

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As we roll into the weekend, and I start another digital sabbath, I’ve got the question “what really matters about being human” rolling through my mind.

I spent the afternoon at the Silicon Flatirons conference SciFi and Entrepreneurship – Is Resistance Futile? I thought it was phenomenal and remarkably thought provoking. I came back to my office to find Dane and Eugene playing TitanFall on my 75″ screen. In a few minutes I’m heading out to dinner with my parents, Amy, and John Underkoffler of Oblong who was in town for the conference. The juxtaposition of another intense week rolling into the weekend and a day off the grid intrigues me.

The first panel was a fireside chat between me and William Hertling. William is one of my favorite sci-fi writers who I think has mastered the art of near term science fiction. If you haven’t read any of his three books, I encourage you to head over to William’s website or Amazon and grab them now.

At the end of our fireside chat, we were asked a question. I heard the question as about mortality so I went on a long space jam about how I’ve been struggling with my own mortality for the past 18 months since having a near fatal bike accident (one inch and it would have been lights out.) Up to that point I felt like I had come to terms with my own mortality. I would often say that I believed that when the lights go out, they go out, and it’s all over. And I’m ok with it.

But last fall I realized I wasn’t. And during my depression at the beginning of 2013 I thought often about mortality, how I thought about it, whether I was bullshitting myself for the previous 25 years about being ok with it, and what really mattered about being alive, and being human.

I then handed things over to William. He  proceeded to answer the question that had been asked, which was about morality, not mortality.

Oops.

When he finished and I’d realized what had just happened, I emitted a gigantic belly laugh. And then for the next couple of hours I kept applying the lens of “what really matters” to the discussion about science fiction, entrepreneurship, and the human race.

From the meditation I’ve been doing, I’m definitely exploring “listening to my thoughts” rather than obsessing over them. I’m recognizing that the narrative I’m creating in my brain is just my narrative and doesn’t necessarily have any real meaning, or importance, at all. 150 years from now, I don’t believe any of it will matter. And then, suddenly, the great John Galt quote “It’s not that I don’t suffer, but that I know the unimportance of suffering” comes to mind.

Sometime during the fireside chat, the statement popped out that “I believe the human species dramatically overvalues its importance to the universe.” I think this is going to be a radical point of conflict with the evolution of machines over the next 50 years. At this stage, it’s a part of what gives our lives meaning. There are so many complicated things that happen on a daily basis that create stress, conflict, controversy, and emotional responses. All of them theoretically generate meaning, but when I “listen to my thoughts” I recognize the unimportance of them.

And then I start searching for what really matters. Both to me, and about being human.

See you Sunday.

The Heart of the Start

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It’s been a blast to get to know and work with Eliot Peper. His book, Uncommon Stock, is the first one that we published at FG Press. If you want to read – and comment – along with me, grab a copy of Uncommon Stock on BookShout.

I asked Eliot to write a short post about how he’s feeling and thinking about the category of “startup fiction” now that the book is out in the wild and he’s getting some great feedback.

Following are his thoughts.

Business case studies have wrestled through many different components of entrepreneurship. Bloggers and Quora have picked up the slack for the situations those case studies miss. Management books delve into every nook and cranny of strategy and tactics. Talking heads discuss the ins and outs of everything from product development to investment theory. Gurus wax lyrical about vision and lean, focused execution.

But there’s one critical piece of entrepreneurship that these experts miss. Their analyses emphasize the rational. They draw out lessons-learned from business experiences and try to share best practice with aspiring entrepreneurs. Knowledge is important and many experts are happy to share their thoughts (whether you want to hear them or not!). But they too often focus on the brain at the expense of the heart.

Building a business is a human experience as well as an institutional one. That’s why I love Brad and Amy’s frank discussions in Startup Life. In thinking about growing an organization it’s easy to forget that it’s all made up of individuals. These people lay the groundwork and set the course for the companies they found. They also struggle constantly with work/life balance, relationships, burnout, and team dynamics.

It’s a truism in venture capital that startups fail most often not because their product explodes, but because their team implodes. If you think high-school had a lot of drama, try a high-speed tech startup. Inspiration, betrayal, falling-outs and last-minute-comebacks are par for the course. Everyday I’m blown away by the incredible entrepreneurs I know and work with. Their passion fuels them through the equally challenging rational and the irrational halves of company building.

The emotional reality behind the scenes in every startup is what inspired Uncommon Stock. I thought that fiction could give an intimate peek into the minds of founders. Early readers have pointed out something that I find hugely cool: the other benefit of Startup Fiction is that its so damn accessible.

People who read non-fiction books about entrepreneurship tend to already be engaged in the startup world in some way. We’ve worked for a startup. We read Techcrunch regularly. We go to SXSW.  Living and breathing that world, it’s easy to forget anyone else is out there. But readers that aren’t engaged with tech and picked up Uncommon Stock simply because they wanted a good page-turner are reaching out to say how awesome it is to steal a glimpse into our startup boudoir.

We are blessed to live in a magical world filled with some of the most talented people on Earth. Hopefully together we can help to illuminate the heart of the start.

Rover Cuddles Up to $12 Million

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Today, Rover announced that Menlo Ventures has led a new $12m round of financing. As is our style, we participated, but we’re excited to have a new partner to join us, Madrona, and Petco in this fast growing adventure.

Lots of VC firms are once again talking about online marketplaces. Some get it; many don’t. Being systematic about what it takes to build and scale a marketplace effectively and make it an enduring enterprise is difficult.

We learned this dynamic in the early 2000’s with our investment in ServiceMagic. We invested in the company in 1999 during the ascension of the Internet bubble. We loved the two founders, Michael Beaudoin and Rodney Rice, but knew very little about marketplace businesses or the home improvement category. But a lot of people were funding marketplaces and other online “things” in this arena – well over $500 million of VC capital went into the home improvement market alone.

It was an unmitigated disaster for almost every company except ServiceMagic. In 2000, Michael and Rodney cut the business drastically, changed the business model to a lead-fee system, which they pioneered online. By 2003 nearly all of their competitors had failed, the companies that went public pre-bubble were trading sub-$1 / share, but ServiceMagic was growing like crazy and was very profitable.

Before ignoring vanity metrics became trendy, ServiceMagic ignored them. Michael and Rodney were data obsessed, getting hourly reports with key metrics. They understood the different dimensions of the business and were laser focused on drivers of supply and demand in each market they operated. They eschewed slick marketing, were systematic about growing headcount, learned how to master local expansion models, and stayed obsessively focused on the quality of transactions, instead of simply the quantity, moving through the marketplace.

We invest early in the life of a company. While we weren’t the first investor in Rover, when Madrona partner Greg Gottesman called and told me that I had to meet Aaron Easterly, the co-founder of Rover, I happily obliged on my next trip to Seattle. In ten minutes I knew I wanted to back Aaron as he had the same characteristics as Michael and Rodney. And, while after 10 minutes I knew nothing about the dog sitting market, as a dog owner I instinctively understood and appreciated the problem.

So – our first order sort in the case of Rover was Aaron and the team. We loved what we saw. No bullshit. Total quants. Deep domain love. Complete lack of interest in marketing nonsense and overpromotion.

And yes – after a little more exploration it was clear that Rover had a huge addressable market. Current commercial solutions are generally despised and the opportunity for a two-sided marketplace is enormous. Best of all, there are very obvious RAM (remnant asset monetization) dynamics to the marketplace.

Sure enough, a year after our initial investment, our premise for the investment in Rover shows clearly in the data. All of the underlying marketplace metrics – including activation, fill rates, and repeat usage – are accelerating rapidly. Dogs owners trying the service now will spend twice as much monthly as those trying the service 18 months ago. Sitters joining the marketplace now will earn 50 times more money in their first three months than those signing up 18 months ago.

Oh – and Michael Beaudoin from ServiceMagic joined the board last year as one of our outside board members.

If you are a dog owner, or want to be a dog sitter, try Rover out today.

A DevOps Tent Big Enough for Everyone

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My partner Ryan McIntyre says that any company doing business on the web should be practicing some form of DevOps. One of the biggest trends in tech today is DevOps, which is closely tied into Agile, Cloud, PaaS, and SDN.

If you remember Gene Kim’s guest post on the importance of DevOp post, or recognize some of the investments we’ve made in our Glue and Protocol themes that are focused on DevOps, such as JumpCloud and VictorOps, this will be a familiar topic.

Last fall, JumpCloud and Softlayer/IBM hosted a DevOps Conference in Boulder for the companies we’ve invested in.  At this conference, I heard of an effort to put together a new community site that would pitch a tent big enough for anyone interested in DevOps. This would be a place where technical folks could learn and communicate, where novices could find out more, and where business people could understand why and how DevOps matters.

Alan Shimel, who I have known for over 15 and has been writing for Network World and a bunch of other places was heading up the effort.  In typical Shimel fashion, Alan simultaneously put together a top flight collection of content providers while doing a deal and partnering  with Martin Logan who had a blog over at the domain, DevOps.com. If you are going to have a DevOps community media site, it is hard to imagine a better domain to for it to live at.

Since that time Alan and Martin have been working hard retooling the old blog into a full-fledged online community e-zine.  They launched the site this week with SoftLayer and JumpCloud as founding sponsors.  Another one of our portfolio companies, VictorOps is a sponsor and VictorOps CEO Todd Vernon has a regular blog on the DevOps.com site.

The list of contributors to DevOps.com reads like a who’s who of the DevOps world with a goal of having over 100 unique content pieces a month at DevOps.com. But media content is not the only mission.  Alan, Martin and team are planning to help amplify the DevOps grass roots efforts around the world through conferences and community events.

I am jazzed to see what Alan makes of it, but I am even more excited to watch the continued growth and influence of DevOps.

Book: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

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If you haven’t yet bought Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, go get it right now. It’s one of the best books you’ll ever read on entrepreneurship and being a CEO.

If you are a CEO, read this book.

If you aspire to be a CEO read this book.

If you are on a management team and want to understand what a CEO goes through, read this book.

If you are interested in entrepreneurship and want to understand it better, read this book.

On Friday, I spent the entire day with about 50 of the CEOs of companies we are investors in. Rand Fishkin of Moz put together a full day Foundry Group CEO Summit. It used a format Rand has used before. We broke up into five different groups and has sessions on about ten total topics throughout the day. The groups were fluid – people were organized by category (alpha and beta) but then went to the topic they were interested in. There was a moderator for each session – the first five minutes was each CEO putting up one “top of mind” issue in the topic, and the then balance of the session (75 minutes) was the entire group spending between 5 and 15 minutes on each topic.

It was awesome. We finished with a fun dinner at Pizzeria Locale. I drove home with my mind buzzing and arrived around 8pm to see Amy laying on the couch reading a book. So I grabbed my iPad and looked to see what was new on it.

I’d pre-ordered Ben’s book so it was in slot number one. It felt fitting to start reading it.

At 10:30 I was finished with it. The Hard Thing About Hard Things was the perfect way to cap off a day with the CEOs of the companies we invest in.

Trust me on this one. Go buy The Hard Thing About Hard Things right now.

Ben – thanks for writing this and putting 100% of your heart into it.

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