Month: December 2017

Dec 31 2017

John O’Donohue: For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing

At the end of another intense year, after two weeks fighting a difficult cold, surrounded by snow, light, and quiet, this poem by John O’Donohue made its way to the surface, sent to me by my beloved soulmate. Happy new year.

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

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Dec 26 2017

A Cold Reboot

I’m on day 8 of a cold, which in retrospect has been possibly the harshest cold I’ve ever had. I felt worse when I had salmonella poisoning in Adelaide in 2016 and I remember a childhood flu over the holidays that had me throwing up for days. But, on Friday, when I had some existential dread, I realized I was really sick and crawled back in bed for the rest of the day.

I woke up this morning still sick but feeling on the mend. I’ve been at home for a week and haven’t been doing much other than sleeping, reading, responding to email, eating mac and cheese, and sleeping some more. I’ve been a sub-optimal companion for Amy, but Brooks and Cooper have filled in pretty well for me.

I’m glad the world is taking a break for the holidays. 2017 was an intense year in many dimensions. Our society changed in ways that feel extremely uncomfortable to me, but I’ve tried to process it with a long view. Long-simmering conflicts that were just under the surface explosively broke through and forced us to confront them and our collective behavior, and reactions, to them. I’ve continued to do what felt important and right to me while listening and learning. I worked hard to eliminate the noise and concentrate on the signal. To do this, I withdrew on several dimensions, especially via social media and online channels, which diminished my experience, but allowed me time and space to think.

I’ve been metabolizing my emotions at a new level. I’ve always been able to handle a huge amount of stress and anxiety, and part of my role has been to absorb the stress in the system, stay calm, and help the people around me work through whatever we are confronting. I’ve learned that when this gets to a certain level in me, it can trigger a depressive episode, so I’ve been working on understanding my limits better and how to address them more effectively. The broader cultural challenges of 2017 have just piled onto this, so I had to learn a new set of skills around this. If anyone is curious, the magic gateways for me have been meditation and therapy.

This cold forced some downtime on me. As I’m recovering, I’m going to savor the rest of the week and prepare for 2018. It feels like a cold reboot is in order.

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Dec 22 2017

Defy Colorado – Feb 8th With Me and Governor Hickenlooper

As we start spinning up Defy Ventures in Colorado, we are doing a Business Coaching Day at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway, Colorado. It’s one of our first Defy Colorado events and Governor Hickenlooper will be joining us for the day.

There will be around 80 Entrepreneurs-in-Training. While we were planning on having spaces for 50 volunteers, we’ve already filled over 40 of them before even talking about the program so there are only a few spaces left.

If you are interested, the event is happening on February 8th, 2018 from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm. Contact Melissa O’Dell to sign up or get on the list for the next Defy Colorado event.

For a taste of what the experience is like, watch the video above or go to my post Understanding Privilege – My Experience in Prison.

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Dec 21 2017

Book: The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living

This book was a delight. I started reading it earlier this year, caught up quickly (I started in July), and then mostly read a page each day when I was in the bathroom in the morning. I let it unfold slowly, reading the daily quote and Ryan Holiday’s (and Stephen Hanselman’s) thoughts on the quote, and then rereading the quote.

I was near the end so I finished it off last night. I smiled when after I read the December 31 meditation.

Stoicism is fascinating to me. While I don’t categorize myself as anything and try to resist being put in boxes, I like to take elements of different philosophies, religions, approaches, and styles and weave them into the fabric of me. As I was reading The Daily Stoic I found many ideas that spoke to me.

I’ve known Ryan from a distance for a while. We ended up at a dinner together at either SXSW or CES a number of years together and I remember an interesting and engaged conversation. For a while, I subscribed to his monthly Reading List email but in a fit of unsubscribing from everything, I unsubscribed.

I just re-subscribed.

Several times a year, I send a book (or two) to all the CEOs in our portfolio. I sent this one out this fall. I’ve heard back from a few that they enjoyed it, and I’m hoping that most of the CEOs are at least dipping into it.

If you’ve heard any of the names Zeno of CitiumChrysippusCato the YoungerSenecaEpictetusHierocles, or Marcus Aurelius, then you’ve heard of at least one of the famous Stoic philosophers. If you’ve studied any of them, you are in for a treat with this book as it presents Stoicism in a unique and very accessible way.

For a taste of the kind of quotes Holiday and Hanselman riff off of in the book, take a look at the fun Brain Quotes pages for Marcus Aurelius and Seneca.

The book starts with a quote every day on January 1st. You’ve still got a few days to grab a copy from Amazon and start the year out with a daily dose of Stoicism.

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Dec 18 2017

Book: Am I Being Too Subtle?

While I enjoy a good biography of a historical figure, I love autobiographies of living people. They are hit or miss – either awesome or awful.

Sam Zell’s autobiography Am I Being Too Subtle? was awesome. I was sent a copy by an editor at Penguin Group who sends me books, presumably that he thinks I’ll like. While this was in my infinite pile of books, I grabbed it randomly last night and polished it off tonight.

If you’ve never heard Sam Zell talk, here’s a recent short clip of him talking about entrepreneurship and a few other things.

I don’t know Sam Zell. While I only have second-degree connections to him, I’ve known of him for a while and I spent an afternoon touring his apartment in Chicago as part of a Wellesley Art Tour that he graciously opened his house for. So I had a little sense of him.

Whenever I read an autobiography, I’m always curious about the tone the person takes when talking about themselves and what they’ve learned over their life. When it’s consistent with the view I have of the person from a distance, I value the content more, regardless of what the content is. In this case, Zell’s personal reflection mapped pretty well to my impression of him over different short snippets of content from the last 20+ years.

I loved hearing the history of his entrepreneurial evolution, from his origin story in his early 20s to current time 50 years later. He’s had massive successes, but also some very big blunders along the way. While he’s gotten lots of criticism for specific failures like the enormous take private (via a leveraged buyout) – and subsequent bankruptcy a year later – of the Tribune Company, he doesn’t dodge his mistakes in this book. He takes the good with the bad and has a mantra of never taking himself too seriously, which he calls “the Eleventh Commandment.”

“… the Eleventh Commandment acknowledges that we’re all human beings who inhabit the world and are given the gift of participating in the wonders around us – as long as we don’t set ourselves apart from them.” 

Of course, he followed this section by talking about the two stately, well-fed ducks that have their own heated pool and live on a deck outside his office in Chicago.

His love of his early partner, Bob Lurie, who died in 1990 at age 48, really stuck with me. It had an emotional tenor that is similar to my feelings for my partners.

Most autobiographies have some self-deprecation in them, but it often stands out as awkward – almost like the writer was following the autobiography-101 script which says “make sure every now and then you sprinkle in some self-deprecation so you feel more authentic to the reader.” While there were plenty of self-deprecating and even cringe-worthy moments in the book, Zell wove them in with style.

I read autobiographies for the stories, not for historical truth. The stories in this one were great.

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Dec 18 2017

Feld.com Automagically Upgraded To HTTPS By Pantheon

Use of HTTPS (which stands for HTTP Secure) has grown from 13% of the top one million websites to 19% in the past year. With major media sites such as NYTimes.com joining the movement, now over half of all web requests are served securely to the browser.

Two years after the launch of Let’s Encrypt, this is fantastic progress. In this new era of state sponsored hacking and fully professionalized cybercrime, it is heartening to see engineers get seriously organized and tackle something on the scale of securing the entire web.

Even a few years ago I would have been skeptical this would be possible. Until very recently, setting up HTTPS meant purchasing and managing certificates and configuring them correctly to work with your web server. This is a non-trivial effort and many people and companies didn’t bother with it. This was especially true with the long tail of websites, but also included many major ones.

The drive to HTTPS the web did not happen by accident. It is akin to an old-fashioned barn raising but on a global scale, organized by engineers with good intentions to protect users, and ensure that the web remains a vibrant and trusted ecosystem into the future.

A few things had to come together for securing (HTTPS’ing) the web to become reality:

  1. The global internet security community had to get serious about this problem. With Google now stiffly penalizing the SEO of non-HTTPS sites, and Chrome and Firefox escalating browser warnings, website owners are rapidly supporting security.
  2. Certificate management had to become cheap and easy. We have Let’s Encrypt to thank for that.
  3. Website technology providers had to make HTTPS a turnkey experience. This is happening now.

When you bring up Feld Thoughts in your browser, you should see something like the following:

Pantheon, one of our portfolio companies, hosts my website and made this happen, in zero clicks. With Pantheon, HTTPS just works out of the box and they are now providing HTTPS (powered by Let’s Encrypt) for all 200,000 of their websites, free of charge. Even better, it is powered by their new Global CDN, with over 30 points of presence and the most sophisticated Drupal and WordPress caching technology available on the market.

I am happy with what the Pantheon team has built. They didn’t cut any corners:

  • HTTPS is available for free as a turnkey service for all plan levels
  • Because this feature is deeply integrated into their CDN, you don’t pay a performance penalty for deploying HTTPS
  • Their CDN speeds up pageloads by 50% to 300% by caching full page content (traditionally almost impossible to achieve with dynamic CMS systems)

When you load your website, do you see the happy green box of Secure “https”? If so, nice work! If you don’t, do your website visitors a favor – email your website developer and ask them to help you set it up.

If they tell you it is too much work and/or too expensive, then you should look into changing hosts. Email me if you’d like an intro to the gang at Pantheon.

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Dec 17 2017

Mental Fitness, the NFL, Active Minds, and the Competitive Workplace

There aren’t many similarities between the workplace of an NFL football player and that of a tech entrepreneur. My body doesn’t get pounded each week. Decisive critical thinking and typing speed are valued more than the last time I ran 40 yards in under five seconds. In both places, though, competitiveness and operating at peak performance are prized.

But what if someone falters? Or a friend or family member needs help? Over half of all humans will experience a major mental health challenge in their lifetime. This includes the VC listening to a pitch or the linebacker staring down a receiver.

Few of us show this in the workplace. Even though many of us struggle at one time or another, needing help is not part of our cultural norms as founders, entrepreneurs, and investors.

This is why I took notice when the NFL Players Association recently spoke up for mental health.

Last month, each player in the league received a “The World Needs You Here” bracelet as part of the NFLPA’s partnership with Active Minds around their Your Mind, Your Body, Your Health initiative. Some of the fittest men on the planet are now wearing it to acknowledge that everyone – their friends, family, even themselves – struggle with depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue.

I was recently introduced to Active Minds by my friend Jeremy Shure and then introduced to the Executive Director, Alison Malmon by another friend, Chris Schroeder. Alison recently moved to Boulder from the east coast, so we got together. Endorsements by Jeremy and Chris mean a lot so I wasn’t surprised when I had a spectacular first meeting with Alison. I’m delighted that she’s now living in Boulder.

Active Minds is a premier nonprofit working with young people to change the way mental health is talked about. The NFL players are sharing the message that mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness. And just like an NFL player who has an ACL injury that needs expert treatment and time to heal, the same is true for a mental health issue.

When people with a platform – celebrities, football players, me, you – are open about mental health, the stigma lessens. In the more than 500 high schools and colleges where Active Minds works, this has been happening for the last 15 years. Students with influence are changing the conversation about mental health among their peers and networks.

It takes only a few people, and then a few more people, to be open, authentic, and transparent. If you are interested in joining the #NeedYouHere movement, drop me an email and I’ll introduce you to Alison.

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Dec 16 2017

Ending My Service On Non-Profit Boards

I’ve decided to stop serving on non-profit boards.

I used to have a rule that I’d only serve on three non-profit boards at a time. I let this get out of control and found myself on eight non-profit boards with a commitment to join a ninth one.

During our Q4 vacation last month, Amy and I talked a lot about this. I realized that I wasn’t enjoying the non-profit board service, even though I deeply enjoy my personal engagement and support of the organizations I’m on the boards of.

There was an intellectual conflict here that Amy and I spent a lot of time discussing. Our philanthropic work is important to us. However, the actual board service part of it, while fulfilling to Amy, is not fulfilling to me.

It’s also very time-consuming. While most of the boards only meet four times a year, each board meeting is three hours long. If I include another two hours for reviewing materials in advance and travel, that’s 20 hours per year per board. For eight boards, that’s 160 hours/year. If I only worked 40 hours/week, that’s four weeks of work. While I work a lot more than 40 hours/week, the five hours per board meeting is probably low, especially if I physically travel to a board meeting.

My conclusion was that I could be just as impactful to the non-profits we support – and in some cases even more so – without being on the boards. Instead of consuming my time with board meetings, I’ll engage directly with the CEOs and Executive Directors of these non-profits in ways that are specifically helpful to them. I’m already doing this in many cases, so it’s not a direct re-allocation of time, but rather a huge time saving on my part, which allows me to more focused – and more enthusiastic – about the work I’m actually doing.

I’ve now talked with all the CEOs/EDs of the non-profit boards I used to serve on. They all understand my perspective and, in most cases, are supportive and excited about the change in my involvement. As my goal is not to withdraw from the things I’m involved in, but to increase my impact by shifting my focus and activities, the feedback was good positive reinforcement to me.

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Dec 14 2017

My Goodreads Year In Books

Amy and I love to read. For a number of years, I’ve recorded everything I read on Goodreads. When I write a blog post reviewing a book, I usually (but not consistently …) repost it on Goodreads and occasionally remember to post it on Amazon. Regardless, the definitive log of what I’ve read is on my Goodreads Bookshelf.

Last year Goodreads started doing a fun compilation of all that a user read in the past year with their Year in Books summary.

Brad's 2017 Goodreads Year in BooksMy goal for this year was to read 100 books. I’m at 73. The year isn’t over yet and I typically read a dozen or so books in the last two weeks of the year so we’ll see where I actually end up.

I’ve always been a high rater of books. Instead of 1 to 5, I almost always rate in the 3 to 5 range. I do this because if I don’t like a book while I’m reading it, I stop, and don’t log it.

Not surprisingly my three top genre’s are non-fiction, fiction, and biography. In the fiction category is a lot of science fiction. I’m not sure where the categories came from but in 2018 I’ll do a better job of shelving my books by actual category.

22,201 pages is a lot of pages to read. For perspective, that’s about 60 pages a day of reading. My reading between Kindle and physical book is probably 75% Kindle / 25% physical. When I reflect on Amazon’s impact on my reading (which includes Goodreads), it’s pretty remarkable.

My goal in 2018 will again be 100 books.

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Dec 13 2017

Did Tech Companies Ever Have Our Best Interests At Heart?

An adapted essay from Noam Cohen new book The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball showed up several weeks in the New York Times in the article Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend. It’s an important one to read slowly and carefully as there are several key points in it.

In the last week, two early Facebook execs made remarkably critical statements about what they were involved in helping create. It started when Sean Parker talked with Axios about how Facebook exploits human psychology.

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Then, the other day, Chamath Palihapitiya gave a talk at Stanford Graduate School of Business where he said:

“I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”

A decade ago at my MIT Sloan 20th Reunion, I gave a lecture where I said that “privacy was dead, we just don’t know it yet.” I had no idea how prescient that statement would be, but even in 2008, I had a deep unease that we had no real idea what the next decade would bring.

It’s here. When Web 2.0 began in the mid-2000s, there was incredible enthusiasm about how technology was going to change everything. Google’s “Do No Evil” mantra was on everyone’s lips as a rallying cry for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to “change the world” and “make a dent in the universe.” Twitter was becoming the world’s town hall and helping facilitate revolutions like the Arab Spring.

Amy and I were sitting in front of our computers on Sunday working on some stuff. During a pause, we started talking about how different things are from when we first started dating 28 years ago.

I woke up thinking about that this morning. Now that the five most valuable companies in the world are tech companies (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook with Tencent and Alibaba coming on strong) and the total market cap of cryptocurrencies also being in that league, it’s hard to deny the extreme influence of these companies on our society. As I sit at my desk, typing on my Apple Computer into WordPress in a Chrome browser, listening to music I asked Amazon to play throughout my house, well, you get the idea.

The blog post title is a rhetorical question, so I’ll let you answer it in the comments if you want …

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