Working with Brad Feld

Brad Feld is a managing director at the Foundry Group, one of the venture firms that invested in Cheezburger. If you are a person in the startup world, you already know him as a venture capital rock star thanks to his track record and his openness.

I just spent a day in Boulder, presenting to our investor’s investors, and I wanted to memorialize my interactions with Brad here as honestly as I can. And if you have the good luck of getting a term sheet from Foundry and/or Brad, this should help you understand what it’s like.

I’ve been fortunate to have him on our board and he’s helped us even before we took funding. In start-up lingo, he’s my number one value add, even on a board studded with greatly helpful and wickedly smart people.

The funny thing is, I would describe my interactions with Brad as slightly weird. Yup. Weird. Not in the creepy WTF? kind of way, but good, like whoa-I’m-being-transported-to-another-planet kinda way.

Working with Brad is like working with a combination of the three Ghosts of Christmas from A Christmas Carol, Warren Buffet (with more hair), and Yoda (with more hair). And those are traits that I want to emulate as I advise others.

He’s unlike any VC I’ve ever met.

Brad The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future:

One of the first things you realize when you start working with Brad is that he won’t just tell you to do something. He’ll show it to you.

In many a conversations with Brad, I found myself floating outside of my company, looking at it from angles that I couldn’t see before. It’s sometimes unnerving as it feels like he’s testing you. Asking you questions where he clearly knows the answers. But that’s not what he’s doing.

The right answer is the one the works for your company and the situation. Brad’s job is to make sure you’re seeing the world correctly, and therefore see your company correctly in the context of the situation. Only you can live your life. The only thing the ghosts can do, is give you context.

Brad The Warren Buffet

In 2008, I was able to attend the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha to listen to Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. In an arena filled with shareholders and the powerful, Buffett sat on stage eating his candy and drinking his coke, dispensing plainly worded advice.

He was an unassuming man, living an extraordinary life, through a few uncomplicated principles.

Brad produces a lot more passion and off-color jokes, but I can see that he lives an uncomplicated life, doing what he loves, and trying to keep things simple and true. He works from a deep well of patterns and rules that he’s learned over the years, much like Buffett, and has the discipline to rarely, if at all, break them.

And in our financing, he has been very fair in the terms he’s given to us – a pattern you see a lot with Buffett.

Brad The Yoda

Brad believes in people. Not all of humanity, per se, but in you, the entrepreneur. He picks people and invests in themes. If you are the right person in the right theme, that’s pretty much the entire discussion.

I’ve seen this over and over again from many founders he’s worked with – several of them have never made money for Brad, yet it seems, he keeps investing in the people.

The Yoda side has some drawbacks. It may seem like he’s not around you much. He’s by no means cryptic in his words – if anything, he’s a velvet hammer. But you, as the entrepreneur, need to maximize your time with him. It’s not his fault if you’re not asking for help – you know your business the best.

I probably spent no more than 90 minutes talking to Brad while I was in Boulder for a day, but even in those few minutes, I was reminded that he was genuinely interested in my success, completely knew where our business stood, and took time to make sure I was welcome in Boulder. Oh, and I learned some really powerful things.

The Reality

Now, I’m not out of touch with reality. Having presented to the investors of our investors before, I know that this is business. Brad needs to show superior returns to his investors to justify the existence of Foundry Group. Foundry and others invested in Cheezburger because they believe we have a chance at becoming very valuable.

I also have the advantage of being perfectly aligned in my goals with Brad’s – to create a great company, not just a good one.

So the next time you see Brad, don’t keep pitching, get to know him a little. Maybe this will help.


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