Graeme Thickins on Tech

Reflections & analysis about innovation, technology & startups, with a focus on Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes

Category: Books (page 1 of 2)

Brad Feld On When to Quit Your Day Job

(Note: This interview first appeared at — “Your Source for Local Innovation” in  Minnesota: Innovation, Startups, and Tech.)

Brad Feld, one of the most admired VCs, talking at event

Brad Feld, coauthor, “Startup Opportunities: Know When to Quit Your Day Job”

Few VCs have the success record of Brad Feld of Foundry Group in Boulder, Colorado, and even fewer as many writing credits. That includes several best-selling books. Well, now he’s uncorked another title, this time with coauthor Sean Wise, the subtitle of which addresses that vexing question most every would-be entrepreneur faces: when do I know it’s time to go all in and quit my day job?

I first met Brad in 2007, the year I began attending a tech conference he helped launch in Denver called “Defrag.” (And I reported on it every year for 10 years.) That was also the year Brad cofounded Techstars, and I was lucky enough to sit next to him at dinner and get the download on those plans. I so tried to get Minneapolis to become one of the Techstars cities, but, alas, it wasn’t to be back then. Eventually, of course, the accelerator found its way to Minnesota as our startup community strengthened, launching Techstars+Target and smaller programs at Mayo Clinic and Land O Lakes. Also, after years of encouraging Brad and his partner Seth Levine to look at investing in Minnesota, Foundry Group led a Series A in a startup they discovered called LeadPages, and they continue to watch what’s happening here.

When I got a look at Brad’s new book, and loved it, I immediately wanted to know more.

Q: Brad, were you surprised this book so quickly hit the list of top five best-selling business books on Amazon?

Yes. While I was confident that it would be popular, especially at a discounted price for a short period of time, I was overwhelmed and excited by the number of people who grabbed a copy.

Q: The original version of the book was published in 2014. Why did you and your coauthor decide to publish a second edition?

The first edition was published by FG Press, a publishing company that my partners and I at Foundry Group started. FG Press wasn’t successful so we shut it down, but we were proud of “Startup Opportunities” as a book. I had previously (and am currently) publishing with Wiley. They were enthusiastic about doing a second edition of the book. We added a few chapters, cleaned stuff up, and had Chris Sacca write a foreword.

Q: While the title of book is somewhat bland, the subtitle — “Know When to Quit Your Day Job” — is certainly not. Tell us about that came about, and why.

My coauthor Sean came up with it. He is quick with a one-liner and often talked to his students about the key to starting a new business was to identify the right opportunity. He often said that “friends don’t let friends pursue bad opportunities,” and one day the line “Know When to Quit Your Day Job” popped out.

Q: You make it very clear the book is intended primarily for first-time entrepreneurs. But it’s no secret they have a hard time getting attention from VCs. Is the book your way of trying to help the many thousands you have to say “no” to? I’m of course alluding to your famous blog post in 2009, “Saying No In Less Than 60 Seconds.”

When I look at the hundreds of companies I’ve funded (well over 500 at this point), greater than 50% of them were started by first-time entrepreneurs. However, even if I’ve invested in 300 companies started by first-time entrepreneurs, I’ve probably said no to 10,000 or more. I often get asked for feedback after telling someone no. Given that volume, there is no way to give people deep feedback. So, I thought a book around Startup Opportunities would be helpful to be able to point at.

Q: Of all the things this book tries to teach entrepreneurs — the realities of doing a startup — what’s the one thing you find is the hardest for them to understand or accept?

That the idea is useless. Ideas are cheap. Ideas flow freely. Lots of people have the same idea at the very beginning. The idea is not what matters. It’s what you do with the idea that matters.

Q: Are millennial entrepreneurs different? What would you say about their expectations? Are they coachable?

I work with entrepreneurs born between 1950 and 2000. Everyone – each entrepreneur – is different. I wouldn’t categorize them by the generation they belong to.

Q: Why are early-stage investors so focused on “the team”?

It’s really hard to be a solo entrepreneur. Having a great, effective, and well-functioning founding team makes an enormous difference. And, the greatest killer of startups is team issues.

Q: Knowing you have, in fact, invested in first-time entrepreneurs in your day, have many of those been financial winners? And will you continue to invest in first-time entrepreneurs?

Yes and yes. Many of the successful companies that I’ve been an investor in have been started by first-timers. And, if you look at my last few investments, I think each of them has at least one first-time entrepreneur on the team.

Q: You’ve written or cowritten so many great books for entrepreneurs. How do you keep it up? Do you have a writing schedule? You’re also a prolific blogger. How many hours per week do you devote to writing?

I try to blog daily, but I go through phases where I need a break because I don’t feel like my writing is fresh. I’m in one of those modes now and have taken a few weeks off from blogging and am getting ready to start again. Regarding my books, I go through phases. I’ll have very productive periods where I can write for two or so hours a day. I then have long stretches, often many months, where I don’t work on any books. My general pace right now is about a book a year, but it’s lumpy. I don’t really segment my time carefully, so I don’t really know how much I write each week. And, I spent a ridiculous amount of time writing email – does that count?

Thanks, Brad. The new book is fantastic. Congratulations to you and your coauthor, Sean Wise. We’ll continue here in Minnesota to practice the things you recommend in another of your great books, “Startup Communities.”

The Book That Rules in Marketing & PR, Now In Its 2nd Edition

NewRules-Mktg+PR-2ndEd Without a doubt, David Meerman Scott is one of the people I most respect in this business. He's also my favorite author and speaker, and a great friend. (Heck, he's even a surfer, and sends me cool pix of some of the beaches he visits in his world travels!)  David is the guy that inspired me to finally realize that what I am is a "content marketer" and "brand journalist." He's the ultimate champion of people like me — and my hero, for sure.

I was lucky enough to get David to speak at the October 2008 meeting of our Social Media Breakfast-Twin Cities (which, by the way, has grown to be the largest SMB group in the country). We offered a free copy of the first edition of his book The New Rules of Marketing & PR to all those attending, thanks to a generous sponsor.  David packed the house, was a huge hit, and the Twin Cities became an even hipper PR and social media town than it already was… 🙂

So, I was delighted to hear that the Second Edition of the book is now available. "It's gone through an extensive rewrite," said David. "Of course, I've checked every fact, figure, and URL. DavidMeermanScott But I've also listened. In the past two years, I've met thousands of people like you who have shared stories with me, so I've drawn from those experiences and included many new examples of success." 

He said these new stories and examples are even more valuable and timely than the original ones. Thus, even if you've read the first edition, he promises you'll find many fresh ideas in the second edition.

"When I was writing the first edition of the book back in 2006," said David, "Facebook was only available to those with a .edu email address (students and educators), so I didn’t feature Facebook. And Twitter didn’t even exist at the time I was researching the first edition. So I have added extensive new information and examples on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites." Since the term social media has become so strong in the past few years, it's not surprising to now see it in the book's subtitle.

The power of the ideas David talks about in The New Rules of Marketing & PR propelled the book to the BusinessWeek bestseller list and kept it there for six months. Another stat that blew me away is that it's been the number one public relations book on Amazon for approximately 910 days. My gosh, that's more than two and a half years!  David still says he's stunned.

(A few links: David's blog, Web Ink Now, is ranked in the AdAge Power 150 as one of the top marketing blogs. Also, here's the direct link on Amazon to the Second Edition of "Rules"… and a page with links to all the online bookstores where David's books are available.)

When David launched the first edition of The New Rules of Marketing & PR (via Wiley), he pioneered a tactic that attracted the attention of hundreds of bloggers, typically overlooked by marketers at the time. Since then, the book has garnered numerous awards, been adapted at universities and in politics, has been translated into 24 languages, and even sparked the idea for a series, "The New Rules of Social Media." More importantly, as his Wiley publicist points out, the book has provided a hands-on manual for new marketing. "Marketing campaigns have never been the same, and a new decade brings new opportunity to connect online with buyers and communities."

The New Rules of Marketing & PR explains how to harness the power of the Internet, how to identify the right audience, create compelling messages, and get those messages directly to your targeted community — with powerful new tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and more.

David says the underlying message of the book remains the same: "The tools of the marketing and PR trade have changed. The skills that worked offline to help you buy or beg or bug your way in are the skills of interruption and coercion. Online success comes from thinking like a journalist and engaging as a thought leader."

Right on, David!  I can't wait to dive into my copy of the second edition.

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Cluetrain Green-Room Convo, Defrag09: The Bootleg MP3

So, it's the second and final day of the Defrag Conference (see Twitter search: #defragcon), and I jump out into the hallway during the afternoon break, rarin' to mingle through the crowd and find some unsuspecting CEO to interview next by shoving my whiz-bang Olympus LS-10 handheld digital recorder in his face… and then I hear it.  Hey, that's Chris Locke's laugh! 

I knew the "Cluetrain at 10" panel was coming up in an hour or so — and I was greatly anticipating that. Chris+Steve-attable I quickly look to my left and see Chris, aka "Rageboy" (blog, Wikipedia page) and some of his Cluetrain Manifesto compadres already gathered around a table off to the side — the green room, as it were — and deep in conversation.  Oh my god, I'm thinking — I can't miss this!  (Background: I've been lucky enough to know these guys long before they were famous, going back to '97 or '98, mainly through my buddy and former client, Steve Larsen — who just happened to be right there in the middle of this green-room gabfest. He goes back even further with Chris, which is definitely worth reading about here.) Steve+Chris-smiling

So I switch on my recorder, and think — could I? dare I? — record this session?  "Hell yes!" I immediately say to myself.  I walk over, shake hands with Chris (hadn't seen him in two years), and set the recorder down in the middle of the table.  Instantly, I catch both Steve and Chris' eyes as they notice the recorder is flashing "Record," and we all kinda get it at the same time, without saying a word.  Yeah, we're gonna capture this fun little moment in time!   After all, how often do we get a chance to all be gathered around the same table together?  And I just happened to have the technology in my hot little hand to do so….

Some guy from The Motley Fool (whose name I didn't catch) had just pulled away, and Rick Levine, another Cluetrain coauthor, was about to jump back in, followed closely by JP Rangaswami of BT, all the way from the UK, who met the Cluetrain guys starting in 2000, and helped them spread their message worldwide. Chris+Doc Then, soon after, Doc Searls (web site, Wikipedia page) joined us.  The only one of the four Cluetrain coauthors missing this day was David Weinberger (blog, Wikipedia page), who couldn't make Defrag because he had another commitment.

So, here's that conversation, all 43 minutes worth — the complete, uncut, uncensored  MP3 of this totally unplanned and unrehearsed session, F-bombs and all. Warning: there's a major amount of laughing here… we were having waaay too much fun!  It's a completely free-form, free-association conversation, largely reminiscing about the "old days" (hell, it was only the '90s, but seems so long ago) — with more than a few inside jokes mixed in.  Sure, it loses something without the visual, like at the end when Doc starts showing us the slides he plans to use in the panel to follow, and you just hear all of this laughing as each one comes up on his Macbook screen.  And many of you may not know who's talking at any given time.  But, hey, that's what makes it fun — you get to guess who's talking!  It's fresh and it's real… just like you were there.  I'm so glad I could be, so I could capture it all for you.

Download or listen to the "Cluetrain Defrag '09 Green Room MP3".

Cluetrain-panel (The photos in this post I shot before and after the recording. For more, here's my Defrag '09 Flickr set, which includes some of Doc's funny slides, which are towards the end.  And here's my complete liveblog archive of Defrag '09, right up to the final session, the "Cluetrain at 10" panel.")

To connect with this great cast of characters, to whom I really feel we owe a ton as early Internet community and social-media thinkers, here are some more links:

The Cluetrain authors:
– Chris Locke: Twitter and Facebook
– Doc Searls: Twitter
– Rick Levine: Twitter
– David Weinberger: Twitter
And two of the biggest Cluetrain supporters out there:
– Steve Larsen: Facebook and a great video interview
– JP Rangaswami: Twitter

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