Every entrepreneur needs an investor and every investor needs an investment. In a heart to heart conversation with Brad Feld, we learn more of a startup’s life who made it real big. Feld, tells his tale of venture, investment, risks, missions and motivations.
Believer of bootstrapping, Brad is one of the managing directors at Foundry Group, a venture capital firm that invests in early stage software and IT companies. He is also the co-founder of TechStars, a mentor-driven accelerator, author of several books and blogs, and a marathon runner with a vision of developmental enterprise.
You have a creative edge and an entrepreneurial edge, which defines you better?
I think I’m a blend of both. My mom is an artist so I’ve always been inspired by creators. I’m not artistic or musical, so at an early age I started writing computer software. I loved the process of creating something from scratch, which led directly to my role as an entrepreneur, and now a writer. I’ve also always been incredibly independent – I don’t really care what other people think. Instead, I’m obsessed with creating things I’m interested in, and learning whatever I can.
Amongst all your investments which have proven successful, which one of them was a high risk venture?
Almost all of them. I invest at an early stage in a company’s life – often when it is just a few people and an idea. My goal is to invest in entrepreneurs who can create enormous companies, and help them on the journey.
What do you look for, in a startup, which makes it worth investment?
People and product. First, I look for people who I want to be partners with for a long time. Then, I want to understand the product they are creating, and want to see that they are obsessed about the product. This obsession is critical – if it’s a neat product but not something they think about every waking minute, then it’s not going to be interesting enough to me. A great example of this is Bre Pettis and MakerBot. Bre is completely and totally obsessed with 3D printers and creating a set of 3D printers that everyone can have on their desk, just like they have with 2D printers (e.g. laser prints and ink jet printers).
What was ‘your’ first startup?
Feld Technologies. I started it when I was 19 at MIT. I had a partner, Dave Jilk, who joined me a few years later. We built a software consulting firm that was self-funded (we started it with $10). By 1993 we had a $2m company with 20 employees that we sold to a public company.
You’re associated with startups in more than one ways, what is the strengthening strategy and motivation behind it?
I love to play a strong supporting role with the entrepreneurs and management team. I like to say that I work for the CEO to do whatever he wants me to do to help him win.
One of the beautiful things about starting a company when you are young is what you DON’T know. Dave and I pretty much didn’t know anything except how to write software. We were good at it, and able to solve business problems, so our services were quickly in demand. But we literally knew nothing about building a company. We read whatever we could get our hands on, were pretty fearless in hindsight with what we tried, communicated regularly about everything, and found some great mentors early on who were incredibly helpful to us.
You have such an enthralling ladder of achievements, what is your motto in life?
Learn constantly. Give before you get. Live for today – you don’t know when the lights are going to go off. Love the people around you.
Where do you see yourself after 7 years?
I’ll be in my mid-50’s. I expect I’ll still be doing many of the things I’m doing today – investing as a VC, helping entrepreneurs, writing, running, and spending time with my wife Amy.
What is your opinion about “Bootstrapping”?
It’s awesome. Dave and I bootstrapped Feld Technologies. I have enormous respect for entrepreneurs who bootstrap.
What’s the story behind the ’50 states marathon mission’?
In my mid 30’s I gained a lot of weight and was struggling with chronic gout. I used to run track when I was a teenager so I decided to start running again. I picked a big goal – run a marathon in every state. I’ve done 23 now!
What do you think about entrepreneurship, precisely talking about the Indian space?
I don’t know enough specifically about entrepreneurship in India to have a strong perspective, but I have a deeply held belief that you can create great new companies anywhere on this planet. And it’s exciting to see – from a distance – many of the companies being created in India.
Any message to young entrepreneurs out here in India?
Just go for it!