Month: June 2018

Jun 29 2018

Book: The Hard Break

Aaron Edelheit recently came out with a great book titled The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle

He interviewed me as he was writing it so I show up a few times, along with a few friends that I sent his way. The subtitle is a good hint – instead of a 24/7 life (where you are always on, especially in a work context), Aaron suggests 24/6, where there is a full 24 hour “hard break” each week.

Long-time readers and friends will know that I generally take a digital sabbath for 24 hours starting Friday night and ending Saturday night (and often Sunday morning.) I’m off my phone, email, text, vox, and other digital channels. I read hard copy books or on my Kindle, but try to stay completely off the web. I’m not religious, nor am I religious about doing this, but I’m pretty consistent. And I have a good enforcer encourager in Amy, who I’d rather spend Friday night and Saturday with instead of my computer.

Aaron does a great job challenging the conventional entrepreneurial mythology around how you have to work all the time, burn the midnight oil, grind it out, and be comfortable with the idea that great entrepreneurs work all the time. Is burnout really a right of passage as an entrepreneur? Do you actually have to push yourself to the absolute physical and emotional limit to be successful?

I believe the answer to this is no, as does Aaron. He asserts that each of us needs time away from work and technology and makes a compelling case that time away from work can actually make us more successful and productive in the long term.

Aaron weaves his own personal story into the book, which, rather than reading like a memoir, supports the points he’s making and reinforces the stories and examples of others. His own journey is one, like many, of a series of key moments of personal and professional success and failure that generates his current viewpoint. In addition to being a provocative book, it’s a personal book.

Aaron, thanks for putting your energy into advocating the benefits of taking some downtime on a regular basis. If you are an entrepreneur, feeling exhausted by the pressure of always being on, or feeling external pressure to never take a break, I recommend you grab this book, curl up on the couch tomorrow, and turn off your phone.

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Jun 28 2018

Dystopian Technocapitalist Hellscape

Mona List Overdrive has come true. And Pattern Recognition is on the horizon.

I knew that Dominos was paving America’s roads, but I didn’t realize they were branding them.

Farhad Manjoo has a good article in the NYT titled How Tech Companies Conquered America’s Cities. A key trope in sci-fi is that corporations will take over, well, everything. And, now that corporations are considered people (at least partially), why shouldn’t they take over?

Would it be weird if I sold sponsorship rights to my first name? “Dominos Feld” anyone? Or maybe “Amazon Feld.”

As usual, Neal Stephenson and Wiliam Gibson were (and continue to be) prescient about our future. I’m considering taking all the labels off of everything I own. And, if you are interested in sponsoring my first name, I’m open to offers and suggestions.

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Jun 27 2018

Book and Survey: Depression – A Founder’s Companion

Mahendra Ramsinghani, my friend and co-author of Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors, is starting work on his third book to be titled Depression – A Founder’s Companion. If this is an important topic to you, please spend 10 minutes on the survey Mahendra is doing.

After the recent passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the conversation around depression and suicide has escalated in a generally constructive way. More people are talking openly about depression, especially among highly creative and successful people. While the stigma around depression and other mental health issues in our society is still extremely significant, the leadership from an increasing number of visible people around their struggles is starting to make a dent in the stigma.

Mahendra’s goal is to publish a book that tells stories, anecdotes, triggers, advice, poetry, and support of all kinds from people who have struggled with depression. It’ll be aimed at, but not limited to, entrepreneurs who have struggled with depression. By compiling and sharing this writing, the journey can become easier and the stigma may continue to be diminished.

While I am not writing the book, I am supporting the concept and have agreed to write the foreword. I believe now is the time for us to accelerate our awareness of depression and continue to build support systems to help founders. We should not wait for yet another star to burn-out prematurely.

The data Mahendra is collecting on the Google form-based survey is anonymized. If you want to connect with Mahendra to go deeper on this topic, there’s an optional field at the end of the survey for your email address.

For anyone who is willing to participate in this project, thanks in advance.

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Jun 25 2018

NY Times Book Review of Eliot Peper’s Bandwidth

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I adore Eliot Peper. We met randomly (he sent me an email), which turned into a long-distance relationship, culminating in FG Press (our now defunct publishing company) publishing Eliot’s first book titled Uncommon Stock (and being the first book that FG Press published).

Eliot went on to publish several other books with FG Press. When FG Press failed, we revered the rights back to him (and all of the other authors) for their books, which Eliot went on to self-publish. He followed it with a number of other books, including Cumulus and Neon Fever Dream. He also wrote a clever short story about discrimination which was inspired by David Cohen.

Eliot recently signed a deal with 47North (one of Amazon’s imprints). His first book under that imprint, Bandwidth, just came out. I read an early pre-release version and loved it. So did, apparently, the NY Times Book Review.

“In a setting that could be a prequel to “Trail of Lightning,” Eliot Peper’s BANDWIDTH (47North, $24.95) is a thoughtful meditation on the ethics of power among those who broker it. Not far in our future, San Diego is a perpetually burning wasteland, the Arctic has melted and Dag Calhoun, a partner at a lobbying firm called Apex Group, helps rich people get richer from catastrophe.

But while working on behalf of Commonwealth, a company that provides internet to most of the planet, Dag is recruited by a secret organization called the Island. Their ability to hack into people’s feeds — the augmented reality through which everyone experiences the world — grants them unprecedented powers of surveillance and persuasion. But while Dag’s in the business of breaking the world, the Island’s in the business of saving it — and they want Dag to be their double agent.

“Bandwidth” is a book that savors everything: Dag dwells as much in the scents and tastes of coffee and tequila as he does in philosophical problems of means justifying ends and the limits of ethical persuasion. Peper manages a great deal of complexity without sacrificing clarity or pace, and I read it all in a single fascinated sitting.

That said, the book gives me pause where its women are concerned. A portion of the plot hinges on the premise that one’s sexual predilections can be deliberately and artificially curated, and while I could see the effort made to embed that premise in the novel’s context, it still left a bad taste in my mouth; similar logic underpins rhetoric about “turning people gay” or “curing” homosexuality. Still, the depth and vulnerability of Dag’s perspective, his loneliness and the value he places on his few real friendships, kept “Bandwidth” feeling real and urgent.

In an afterword, Peper observes that “in an age of acceleration, contemplation is power.” It’s a good note on which to end — perhaps with an exhortation to digital readers to seek this column in print, where you can linger and contemplate to your heart’s content.”

As any writer knows, it’s a huge deal to get a review in the NY Times. As my GPS often says, Eliot, “you have arrived.”

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Jun 22 2018

I’m Honored That I Get To Work With Ayah Bdeir At littleBits

I’ve been consistently public, for almost a decade, about my belief that we should significantly change our approach to immigration in the US, especially for entrepreneurs. As one of the original advocates of the Startup Visa, I continue to be bummed out that our government can’t seem to figure out why this is important or doing anything productive around it.

But, I’ve been appalled the past few days, as Amy and I spend time in Germany, to watch the Trump immigration enforcement that separates children from their parents and detain the children in separate locations. While we had a joyful anniversary yesterday, I felt a bitter emotional undercurrent that upset me.

I’m lucky that I was born an American citizen. Over the years, I’ve invested in many immigrant entrepreneurs. Amy and I have supported a number of organizations that help immigrants and refugees. But when I saw Ayah Bdeir’s blog post titled Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance on the littleBits blog, it brought tears to my eyes.

We’ve been investors in littleBits since 2013. I’ve gotten to know and deeply respect Ayah as a leader and an entrepreneur. But I especially appreciate her as a human being. Her story is an amazing one, and she continues to be brave about her experience and the values that have come from it.

In her words:

I know firsthand the strife of being a refugee. In 1982, my family fled my home country of Lebanon because they feared for our lives during the Lebanese-Israel war; we were welcomed in Canada with open arms. In 1989, a civil war broke out and my parents fled violence again to Canada, where we were again welcomed and allowed to live with dignity and respect. In 2006, a war broke out between Israel and Lebanon; my sister and I separated from my mom and other sisters to flee to Jordan, then the United Kingdom, then the United States.

I was 24-years-old, I was fully aware of what was going on, I spoke fluent English, and I had means to buy flights and hire a lawyer. Yet it was still a massively traumatizing experience. I cried for weeks afterwards and I remember every second vividly. The kids we are talking about today do not have any of the resources I had, and they will be scarred for life.”

The post is powerful and an example of the kind of intellectual leadership that makes me proud to know someone. She states clearly her view:

“History will judge us if we sit still and allow this to happen. Our kids will not forgive us if we don’t stand up for them. Our conscience will not rest if we allow something so basically human to appear partisan. We must speak out.”

Please read her entire post. In our current world of tweets and soundbites, I think it is even more important to read slowly and thoughtfully, especially from people who have direct experience with different situations that we are confronted with as a society.

And – if you want to help, here is a list of activist groups supporting families at the border that need your help right now.

Ayah – I’m honored to know you and get to work with you. Thank you for your very public leadership.

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Jun 21 2018

Happy 25th Anniversary Amy

Amy Batchelor and I have been married for 25 years today. Here’s what we looked like a long time ago on a vacation together in Cabo.

R.E.M. and Dilbert together kind of says it all.

Here’s another picture of us in our apartment at 15 Sleeper Street in Boston on Amy’s 25th birthday. Amy remembers that I took her out that night to Biba for dinner.

That keyboard is the one that almost burned down an entire fraternity building on 351 Mass Ave one night. But that’s another story. I loved Amy’s permed hair – maybe that look will come back in fashion some day.

Amy and I are in Dresden on our way to Berlin with my parents right now. They just celebrated their 55th anniversary, which is a remarkable achievement. I hope to have at least another 30 years with Amy.

Happy anniversary my beloved.

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Jun 20 2018

Do You Consider Yourself a Texan?

Did you know that 28.5714% of the partners at Foundry Group are Texans?

Recently, I was asked if I consider myself a Texan. I answered that I grew up in Texas, live in Colorado, was born in Arkansas, and went to school in Massachusetts. While I have a house in Alaska, I never lived there (that’s where Amy grew up.)

I hadn’t really thought about this before I answered the question. While Massachusetts was very good to me, I never felt at home living in Boston or Cambridge. I left Dallas 35 years ago (although my parents still live there.) I only lived in Blytheville for a year, although I just visited it with my dad a few months ago.

I’ve now lived in Colorado longer than anywhere else (22.5 years). But, I’m occasionally told by people who have lived in Boulder for over 25 years that I’m still a newbie. So, maybe I’m a Texas for a few more years, although Amy says definitively, “You are not.”

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Jun 13 2018

Capital Should Follow Talent

I love today’s post from Fred Wilson titled The Valuation Obsession. It has some good hints in it about valuation vs. ownership dynamics for founders, employees, and investors. It also calls out the silliness about focusing on the wrong things.

Go read it.

I’m even a bigger fan of a statement Fred makes in the post that William Mougayar calls out in the comments.

“I like to invest in companies that smart people are joining. Capital should follow talent, not talent following capital.

This is not just a statement on capital. It’s another hint to the importance – to a founder – of building an awesome team at every level of the journey. It matters at the beginning, as things ramp, and as a public company.

Capital should follow talent. That’s a line I know I’ll be using. I’ll try to remember to say “Fred Wilson says capital should follow talent, not the other way around, and I strongly agree.”

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Jun 12 2018

Colorado Health & Wellness Interview On Depression

Since I wrote about depression yesterday, I figured I’d highlight a long interview with Colorado Health & Wellness magazine on my history dynamics with depression titled Brad Feld’s Village.

I was interviewed by Sarah Protzman Howlett, who did a lot of research before the interview, and then spoke with a number of people close to me after we talked. She did a great job and the subsequent article captured a bunch of important things about depression. The only thing she got wrong was that I was wearing a Fitbit, not an Apple Watch.

There was a good summary of tactical things at the end of the article that a few people in my village (my wife Amy Batchelor and my close friends Dave Jilk and Jerry Colonna) suggested.

Call the doc. “Your primary-care doctor is a good place to start,” Batchelor says. “They have a much more public health component now, asking things like, ‘Are you safe at home?’ Take advantage of that access.”

Care for yourself. If you’re seeing your friend, loved one or spouse struggle, “It’s not selfish to take good care of yourself; you shouldn’t feel guilty if you need a break,” Batchelor says.

Give the gift of armor. By just showing up, you’re giving someone “an exoskeleton that they don’t themselves have or can’t create,” Colonna says.

Just be there. “You can’t really help actively,” Jilk says. “Consolation is kind of an error. It’s more about being there and listening.”

And don’t try to fix. “I see you’re struggling today” is a good jumping-off point, Colonna says, but don’t use it as a way to talk about your own experience (a common problem known as conversational hijacking).

Laugh. Or try to. “This is serious stuff, obviously,” Batchelor says, “but humor and laughter buoys the spirit and gives some relief in the moment.”

If you have a friend or colleague who is struggling with depression, I hope this is helpful.

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Jun 11 2018

The Discomfort of Depression and Suicide

While not a comfortable thing to talk about on Monday morning – or any morning for that matter – the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last week generated much public discussion. And, while the suicides were tragic, some of what people said and wrote were powerful and helpful to me.

I’ve talked openly about my struggles over the years with depression. I’ve been fortunate that suicidal ideation has not been a part of this for me. I’m also fortunate that I have a partner – in Amy – who I have a set of rules with if I ever start to go down that path. Basically, I feel safe, even in my worst distress, that someone is watching and is there for me, even in my darkest moments.

The stigma around depression in our society continues to be a huge burden for people suffering from it. This is especially true for high profile and successful people. In addition to the internal loops that get created by depression, there is external judgment, as in “You are successful – what business do you have being depressed – just shake it off!” that weighs on the depressed person. And, anyone who has ever been depressed knows that when the black dog is barking at you, it’s hard to hear anyone, or anything, else.

Several people I know wrote great posts worth reading to get more context. Each post touches on a different aspect of depression, against the backdrop of the suicides, in a very personal way.

Christopher Schroeder – Anthony Bourdain and the “Impossible” Suicide

Laura Rich – Kate Spade and Depression After Business Exit

Mike Porath – The First Person I Thought of When I Heard of Anthony Bourdain’s Suicide

If you, like me, were rattled by the suicide of either Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain, I encourage you to let yourself feel the emotions you are feeling. It’s a line Amy uses with me all the time: “Brad, feel your emotions.” Don’t suppress them. Just feel them. Process them. And then reflect on what you are feeling. Any, more importantly, explore why you felt them.

It’s probably uncomfortable. But it’s part of being human. And, while tragic, we can learn from it to help ourselves, and help others.

It’s a sunny morning in Toronto, so it’s time for a run. That always helps me clear my mind.

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