Graeme Thickins on Tech

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

Tag: VC (page 1 of 16)

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.”

SXSW Adding Great New Wrinkle for 2012: ‘Startup Village’

StartupVillage-logoYou've likely heard of the "SXSW Accelerator," which has been a feature for several years at the huge, annual South By Southwest festival, held every March in Austin, Texas. Well, here's something new for 2012: SXSW has announced the creation of a home base for startups, VCs/investors, media, and other entrepreneurial-minded attendees to gather, mix, and mingle during the Interactive portion of the event. It's called SXSW Startup Village.

The 19th annual SXSW Interactive Festival takes place March 9-13, 2012. Startup Village will include the Accelerator program, targeted panels, meetups, lounges, and mentoring/coaching sessions, and will primarily be located on the fourth floor of the Austin Downtown Hilton, making it easy for the startup crowd to find the programming and networking opportunities most important to them.

Want to hang out with startups of the quality of Siri (which won the Accelerator's web category in 2010, then was acquired by Apple) and Hipmunk (the 2011 winner)? Then this is the place for you!  I'm sure planning to attend.

I spoke recently via Skype with Chris Valentine (photo), coordinator of the SXSW Startup Village, and asked him some questions.  ChrisValentine-croppedHow big is SXSW Interactive?  He told me about 10,000 people attended the last one. And he noted it has an "international scope."  How many startups applied to last year's SXSW Accelerator?  About 400 in various categories, and that was narrowed down to 40 who were invited to present at the event.  Who were the winners last year?  Here's a link announcing the seven winners in 2011, which includes two that were music-related (there's also an Accelerator program for the music portion of the festival, which follows the interactive event). For the 2012 Accelerator, Valentine said 56 companies will get to present, due the the fact that new categories have been added, including Mobile and Health.


[Timeout for a Minnesota Connection: At last year's SXSW Accelerator, Minnesota gaming startup OONQR was a finalist in the Entertainment category. Cofounder and CEO Justin Peck told me that his company's SXSW experience "exceeded our expectations." He was impressed that the Accelerator program "made room for a tiny midwestern startup in their lineup of successful, well-established companies." He said their trip to Austin wouldn't have been possible without the two free tickets they got to SXSW as a result of being accepted to present at the Accelerator. "I'm glad to see they're expanding it. Startup Village sounds like promising addition to the program."]

UPDATE: Chris of course remembered the QONQR guys and spoke highly of their startup. Then I brought up how many Minnesotans have been attending SXSW Interactive for years — hundreds went last year. Many gang up in cars and drive down, and some even rent houses to save on accommodation expenses! Chris seemed surprised when I told him we have one of the largest interactive marketing communities in the entire country. The Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) has more than 1300 members and holds the largest annual event of its kind, right here in MInneapolis: the "MIMA Summit." It attracts more than 1000 attendees every fall. My coverage of the recent event, with my colleagues at, is here, here, and here.


SXSW_2012-logoThe SXSW people define the purpose of the new Startup Village as "uniting the startup, entrepreneur, and investor communities under one roof for focused programming and networking opportunities during SXSW Interactive."

Valentine explained: “Over the last few years, startups and the entrepreneurs who nurture them have become a vital part of the SXSW Interactive festival." He said SXSW wants these attendees to learn, network, and share their experiences, and to foster an environment of innovation and collaboration. "We’re magnifying that atmosphere by converging startup-specific programming, events, and the SXSW Accelerator program in one dedicated location.”

Startup Village panel programming will consist of discussions and workshops specifically designed to educate budding and current entrepreneurs on best practices and lessons learned. Startup Village will also feature mentoring/coaching sessions, lounge areas, and designated meetups for attendees to network with some of today’s up-and-coming startups, seasoned entrepreneurs, and investors.

The 2012 SXSW Accelerator competition kicks off its two-day Interactive showcase on Monday, March 12, while the SXSW Music Accelerator, which spotlights the latest in music technologies, takes place on Wednesday, March 14. For companies wishing to participate in the Accelerator program, applications are being accepted through November 18. To apply for the Interactive Accelerator, visit, and to apply for the Music Accelerator, visit

Startup Village programming will be open to SXSW Interactive, Gold, and Platinum registrants. SXSW music registrants will be admitted to Startup Village programming and events on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. For more information, visit

Startups: Apply for Your Free #Gluecon Demo Pod (Deadline March 24)

Can the Glue Conference get any better? This will be the third annual, and I can honestly say this year's event will blow the roof off. Listen: if you're a developer or tech startup founder, get your ass to Denver, May 24-26. You will kick yourself over and over in said ass if you don't! The quality of the programming and attendees is the best of any cloud/developer/big data/mobile conference out there. Trust me — I go to a lot of conferences. I know these things. And the #Gluecon crew is making it even easier for a bunch of startups to get visibility there this year…

Glue-DemoPavilion-banner How? Thanks to the main event underwriter, Alcatel-Lucent (and its OpenAPIservice), the Glue Conference is awarding 15 startups with a free demo pod at the event. Here's the post on the great Gluecon Blog that will tell you all about this oportunity.  You have till March 24th to apply, so go for it!

What will the conference program offer?  Well, that's taking even more shape as we speak, but check out this post on the Gluecon blog for juicy details about just some of the Gluecon sessions.

A quote from event organizer Eric Norlin: "We're working our butts off to make sure that Gluecon is the single most impact-filled conference for cloud/API developers this year. I hope you'll choose to join us."

[UPDATE: In a previous post, I wrote this: 'Glue' is a Cloud Conference That's Different – It's for *Developers* (and some interesting new twists on the next one)]

For basic details on this year's event, hit this register page and read the summary. Omni-BroomfieldThen register while the price is the lowest! (Try this code and see if it still gets you an even lower discount: alu12.)  And make your hotel reservation. The venue is a very cool place called the Omni Resort in Broomfield, and the rate is quite reasonable. Gonna be tons of great learning, killer networking, and it's always lots of fun, too!  See you there.


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