Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Three Early Lessons From My Dad by Brad Feld

Three Early Lessons From My Dad:

Last night I had the pleasure of talking at a dinner at Emily White’s house. Emily is on the board of the National Center of Women & Information Technology with me, is ex-Google, currently at Facebook, and with her husband Brian are amazing hosts. We had a fascinating group of NCWIT board members as well as a bunch of local entrepreneurs and members of the bay area entrepreneurial ecosystem who had a connection either to Emily or to me. The environment, food, and evening was delightful, and I led a discussion about a wide variety of topics after doing a 30 minute space jam in answer to Emily’s lead off question of “So Brad, what’s on your mind?”

We covered a lot of stuff around entrepreneurship, creators, the magic of doing things, the importance of asking “why”, and my belief that we are in the midst of a massive societal behavior shift. One of the questions that a long time friend asked was something like “My daughter is in high school and worries about the path she needs to be on to make sure when she gets out of college that she gets a good job. If you were me, what would you tell her?”

I don’t have kids so I don’t really feel qualified to answer this from a parents perspective, but I answered it with a story of three key things my dad said to me between the ages of 10 and 17 that had a profound impact on what I’ve done and how I live my life.

Age 10: You can do anything you want: My dad is a doctor. He came home for dinner every night but would often go back to the hospital in the evening (and on weekend) to do rounds and visit patients. Until I was 10 I’d often go with him. I loved hanging out with him, would bring a book, and plop down at the nurses station and read while I waited for him to go about his business. At 10, I decided I had no interest in being a doctor. I didn’t like the way hospitals smelled, I didn’t like the noise and the chaos, and I lost interest in all the doctors I was meeting. I remember telling my dad that I didn’t want to be a doctor. I blurted it out – think of a very nervous 10 year old just spitting out “Dad – I don’t want to be a doctor.” I remember my dad looking me in the eye and saying very clearly, “Brad – that’s ok – you can do anything you want to do.”

Age 13: We didn’t want to discourage you so we were supportive: When I was 10 – 13 I was a serious tennis play. I played all the time and was on the Texas junior tennis circuit. I was pretty good – consistently getting to the quarterfinals in singles and occasionally the semifinals. When I turned 13 I bought a computer for my bar mitzvah. I also hit puberty and discovered girls. I lost interest in tennis. Recently I was talking to dad about this and wondered what he thought at the time. He said that he and my mom were supportive of my tennis, but were relieved when I decided to quit playing. They were sick of schlepping me around Highway 80 and other places in Texas to spend the whole weekend watching me play, scream and yell, throw my racket, and then mope when I eventually lost. He said “I didn’t want to discourage you, so we were supportive, but we were relieved when you went down a different path.”

Age 17: Give it a year: My first two months at MIT were awful. I was homesick – all my friends, including my girlfriend, had gone to UT Austin. I got a 20 on my first physics test and went in my room for an hour and cried. I was completely overwhelmed by Cambridge and Boston – the people, the dirt, and the hustle of the city. The fraternity I lived in was filthy. The early winter chill startled me. And I thought Dallas, where I grew up, was the greatest place on early. My parents came and visited me in mid-October for a weekend. We were walking around on a crisp fall day in Concord, MA when I told them I hated MIT and wanted to drop out and go to UT with all of my friends. We talked to for a while – with my parents mostly listening – and then my dad said “You’ve only been here two months. Give it a year. If you still hate it after a year, switch to UT. But give it enough time to really understand it.” I ended up staying at MIT, getting two degrees, dropping out of a PhD program (I finally got to achieve my desire to drop out), and – while many of my days at MIT were brutal, I ended up loving the experience and treasure the impact it has had on my life.

I’m really lucky to have parents who have been awesome and incredibly supportive of me. When I reflect on the things that shaped the path I’ve taken, it was often short little one liners like these at a critical moment. My dad was just magical with his timing and his message. I can only hope I can be as good as he is.

Giving Feedback - By Prof Craig Wortmann

1. Be ‘present’ to every interaction you have with people

2. Square your shoulders toward the person you are talking to

3. Make eye contact

4. Don’t think it’s weird to touch someone’s shoulder or arm when interacting

5. Speak in concise sentences that you’ve thought through

Monday, October 17, 2011

How Convertible Debt Works by Brad Feld

How Convertible Debt Works:

Last night I gave a talk hosted by SVB at their Palo Alto office. It was part of the “Never Ending All Old Is New Again Venture Deals Book Tour.” I had a ton of fun talking to and answering questions from about 75 entrepreneurs who – at the minimum – enjoyed eating the great food and wine that SVB provided on a luscious evening in Palo Alto. Oh – and I signed a bunch of copies of Venture Deals.

Several questions came up about Convertible Debt. We touch on it in Venture Deals but realized that we didn’t cover it in enough depth so Jason recently wrote a Convertible Debt series on Ask the VC. The series is now complete – here are the links to the posts in order.

If you feel like we missed anything, or got anything wrong, or were confusing in our explanation, please chime in on the comments on the post. If you want to see an actual convertible debt term sheet or the actual legal documents, take a look at the TechStars Open Sourced Model Seed Financing Documents.

As a bonus to the evening, I got some direct, constructive feedback from one of the attendees via email later that night. While the “thank you” and “good job” notes are nice, I only learn when someone criticizes me (hopefully constructively, but I can handle it in any form.) The feedback was:

May I make a constructive criticism regarding your talk tonight? Your answers to audience questions tend to be overly long and rambling… “overanswer,” to invent a word. You start strong and respond right to the essence, but then your focus blurs and you keep taking verbal baby steps away from the thought stream. If you trim a minute or two off each answer, you can call on more people and hear more questions, which sends more people home happy. I think if you self-critique a video of yourself in a Q&A session, you’ll arrive at the same conclusion.

It’s a good suggestion. I often try to provide additional context to the question, but it sounds like – at least for one person – I went off on a few space jams that weren’t additive. I love the phrase “overanswer” – it’s a lesson from TV interviews 101 (e.g. just answer a question – any question – quickly). Something to ponder as I continue the Never Ending All Old Is New Again Venture Deals Book Tour.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oct 9, 2011 (yesterday) Building A Company vs Building A Business from A VC by Fred

Matt Blumberg, CEO of our portfolio company Return Path, wrote an interesting post last week about the differences between building a company and building a business.

I've been an investor and board member of Return Path for over a decade and I've witnessed the company fail with its first product/business and then through a series of acquisitions build a very strong business and company. Matt and his team built the company first then the business, which is backwards, but it worked.

Matt is right that most of our portfolio companies build the product first, then the business, then the company. And building a company is often difficult for founders because they are so focused on the product.

Roelof Botha, a leading VC with Sequoia, once gave me a great piece of advice in helping founders start to focus on company building. He said founders should think of their company as a product and build it and shape it with the same passion and care. I've taken that to heart and passed it on a few times.

No matter how or when you do it, building a company is a required step to sustainability. Positive cash flow is not enough to keep the company independent and solvent. You need a culture, systems, and processes to keep everyone happy and functioning well. That is company building and Matt and his team are among the best I've seen at it.