Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community: A Chat with Brad Feld

We held an AMA with Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars, where we discussed Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community.

This post is the first in a series, which includes a transcript of Brad’s answers to these questions in this AMA

Mental health issues can be considered a huge liability – to investors, customers, partners, co-founders, employees, etc. Should entrepreneurs disclose these issues to build trust and understanding, or is it wiser to keep them private and hope that they do not manifest?

I think it varies a lot, based on the company, the culture, your investors, and the dynamics between you and your investors. When I was running my first company and I had my first depressive episode, I was in my mid-twenties. We didn’t have any investors. The business was owned by myself, my partner Dave, and my dad.

During that period of time, not only was there a huge stigma around mental health issues in general, but people weren’t really talking about depression much, and there was a lot of stigma in my own family around it. I had an enormous amount of shame that I was depressed, so I went to a psychiatrist and then I took medication.

Essentially, there were two people I could talk to besides my psychiatrist. One was Dave and the other was my wife, Amy. As I fast forward 25 years later, I think the stigma and shame associated with depression is lower, but people’s reaction to depression, especially in a work context is very challenged.

If I was your investor and you came to me as a CEO and said, “I am depressed,” my reaction to that wouldn’t be to tell you that you’re unqualified to be CEO. It would be to spend time with you and talk about what is going on, and try to figure out how to get you help in the same way that I would react if you came to me and you had broken your arm or leg, and you couldn’t travel for three months. I wouldn’t say that because you had broken your leg you couldn’t be CEO, but let’s talk about how to configure things around your leadership team and around the company so you can be effective.

I put myself at one end of the spectrum, and then you have people at the other end of the spectrum. I had a conversation with a group of people that included some investors and some very well-known entrepreneurs earlier this year. One of them was adamant that if you’re depressed, you shouldn’t be CEO.

Another person’s view was that the board should give you a six month leave of absence for you to come back as CEO in six months. This doesn’t make sense to me, and this isn’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. The short version is that there’s no easy answer. You as the person who is depressed, or as your partner or co-founder is struggling with depression, figuring that out becomes a better part of your own journey as a founder versus looking for the one answer.

You can listen to the answer here.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

Finding Harmony: Managing Work & Life as an Entrepreneur

We held an AMA with Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars, where we discussed Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community.

This post is the second in a series, which includes a transcript of Brad’s answers to audience questions in this AMA. To sign up for our next AMA, check the schedule here.

Work-life balance is a beast of a thing. Most entrepreneurs I know are heavy on work, less on life. What’s the key for startup entrepreneurs to find more balance? Furthermore, how can we balance the trend that startup founders and their teams are expected to burnout to realize success?

I think the word ‘balance’ is the wrong word. I think the starting point is readjusting how you’re thinking about the issue.

I like to use the word ‘harmony’ instead of ‘balance.’

The reason I like to use the word ‘harmony’ instead of balance is that if you think about improv jazz, it approximates how a startup works. You don’t have a predetermined set of things that you’re going to be playing. You’re working with a group of people, your team, and things are changing constantly.

If you try to get harmony between work and life, that actually feels achievable. It’s not that there has to be a balance, it’s that they have to be intertwined, playing off of each other, and feeding off of each piece. As a result, I now try to use the phrase ‘work-life harmony.’

There will be periods of time as a founder where work totally dominates and there will be periods where life totally dominates. You can’t schedule when those things will happen. You can build your own rhythms as a founder in how you work and in your personal life, but lots of exogenous things that you will have no control over will happen, and they will fuck with whatever those rhythms are. 

The ability to be flexible and adaptive by striving for harmony versus balance is so much more powerful. There is no measurement.

I think with work-life balance, people think it’s objectified. With harmony, you’re not thinking about it that way. You’re just kind of trying to have this generally positive experience even when the shit is hitting the fan and things are really difficult.

You’re allowing it to evolve with you, rather than trying to force it into something.

You can listen to the answer here.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

[VIDEO] Quotes for Entrepreneurs: Brad Feld

I’m a huge Battlestar Galactica fan and think Commander William Adama has amazing leadership lessons for any entrepreneur. If you don’t know what “rolling the hard six” is, it’s a classic example of a high risk / high reward scenario. Per Urban Dictionary:

“Rolling a hard six has a probability of about 3% whereas rolling six by any other combination has about a 14% chance. A hard six pays 7 to 1 whereas a regular six pays only 7 to 6″

I’m not a craps player, but I love the metaphor. As an entrepreneur, you often have to combine luck with the right call at the right time. You can make the right call and be unlucky, or you can make the wrong call and be lucky. But when you find yourself in a jam, you often need to make the right call AND be lucky.

My imitation of Adama is pretty lame however.

Techstars is also on Instagram and you can subscribe to the channel on YouTube.

Don’t Forget to Bootstrap

I recently spent some time with a long time friend and entrepreneur who I’ve funded in the past. He’s working on a new company which I think is really neat and I’m already a user of. He called me for feedback on his fundraising strategy as well as to see if it’s something that we’d be interested in investing in.

It’s outside our themes and different than the type of business we invest in. Given our long relationship and the fact that he’s an awesome entrepreneur, I squinted hard at one of our themes, turned my head sideways, and decided to take a look. We spent a few days applying our process to it (each partner touches it and we give each other real time qualitative reactions) and quickly realized that it really wasn’t something for us as it was far outside anything that we felt like we could help much with beyond money and moral support (which my friend is going to get from me anyway.)

So – I sent my friend a note with my explanation for why we are passing. I offered to help with introductions because (a) he’s an awesome entrepreneur, (b) it’s a very fundable business – just not by us, and (c) I have a lot of confidence that he’ll build a successful business and there are several VCs who I know that I think would like what he’s working on.

His response was dynamite. It was

No sweat. I knew it was a longshot, so I appreciate you even considering it. I know how many deals you have to pick from.

I’d like to take you up on your offer to help us get funded, but I have a better idea … help us avoid the need for funding (700 clients gets us to profitability).”

He then went on to detail a handful of things he’d like me to do assuming that I’m a happy user of his product. All of them are easy, low maintenance for me, and in several cases actually benefit me.

I love that my friend is much more focused on ramping up his customers than raising money. It’s easy to get lost in the soup of “X company raised $Y” and forget that it’s not about fundraising, but building a business. When I think of some of my favorite Techstars companies, such as Occipital, they bootstrapped for several years before raising any money (well documented in the book Do More Faster) and even then could have easily built their business without raising any money.

Don’t forget to bootstrap.

The Making Of The Bloomberg Techstars Show

David Cohen, the CEO of Techstars, is doing a weekly show called This Week In Techstars. Episode 3 – which is now up – is the story of the making of the Bloomberg show “Techstars” which premiers on September 13th.

David interviews Elizabeth Gould, the Bloomberg Executive Producer for the show. I’ve gotten to know Elizabeth over the past few years and she’s really incredible. While I’ve been interviewed for TV plenty of times, I’ve never participated in a long form show. In this case, the Techstars show will be seven episodes that are each 30 minutes long. While I play a small part, watching the process unfold, the work required to put together a show like this, and the effort that Elizabeth and her team put into this was remarkable and really cool to see and experience.

The interview with Elizabeth is a chance for David to turn the camera on her for once. Watching the interview makes me even more excited to see the series when it comes out. As a bonus, David also interviews David Tisch, the Techstars New York Managing Director, for his feelings on the experience of being filmed 24 hours a day for three months. While it’s all it a little meta, it’s good meta.

View all the past episodes at our ThisWeekIn page or subscribe below.

Calling All Angels in Boston

I’ve been spending some time with the current Techstars Boston class. This feels to me like the strongest class we’ve had in Boston so far and might be the one of the strongest Techstars classes overall. This class of companies in Boston is thinking big and is very diverse.

It’s been incredibly energizing watching each of the four Techstars cities (Boulder, NYC, Seattle, and Boston) up their game every single year. In Boston in particular, Katie Rae has done a great job engaging many great new mentors. I was lucky enough to have the chance to meet many of them on my last trip to Boston, and they all seemed very excited to be involved. They were feeding off of the energy of the companies in the program, just as it should be.

If you’re an angel investor or would like to become one, there’s a great two-for-one coming in Boston soon. June 15th is Techstars Demo Day, where the new crop of companies there will show their stuff for the first time in front of several hundred investors. If you’re an angel investor or a VC and you’d like an invitation, just drop Techstars a note. If you’ve never been to a Techstars Demo Day event before, you’re really missing out on something special. The day before, on June 14, Jon Pierce has put together a great event called Angel Boot Camp where those interested in learning more about angel investing can spend the day learning from those who do it well. It’s a great opportunity to learn and then see some great new Techstars companies the next day as well. Oh, and just in case you want to be really cool, don’t miss Coolio at the Techstars after-party on June 15th.

The Do More Faster Book Tour – Week 2

Well, week 1 of the Do More Faster book tour was a blast, but I’ve contemplated renaming it the “Do More Faster And Then Sleep All Weekend to Recover Book Tour” based on the empirical data from my 24 hour sleep session from Saturday at noon to Sunday at noon.

The book tour is in Boulder on Monday and Tuesday, then Denver on Tuesday night, and then Boston on Thursday. If you haven’t yet signed up and want to come, there are still some slots open as follows:

Monday Night – 10/18 – Two Guys and a Book – Beer with Brad and David. We’ll be at the Dairy Center for the Arts (2590 Walnut Street) from 7pm to 9pm tonight handing out books, drinking beer, and having fun.

Tuesday – 10/19 – We have two events during the day at the Techstars Bunker. If you are interested in Techstars, come to Techstars For An Hour from 2:30pm – 3:30pm. Then from 4pm – 5pm we’ll be having an event called Angels in the Architecture where we will discuss the local angel and VC landscape with co-panelists Howard Diamond, Brad Bernthal, Dave Carlson, Ray Crogan, Ari Newman, and Paul Berberian. Howard, Brad, Ari, and Paul also contributed to the book so come and get them to sign your copy! You need to register for each event – Techstars For An Hour or Angels in the Architecture.

Tuesday Night – 10/19 – We are having the big Boulder / Denver event at the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup on Tuesday night. As of now 425 people are coming so don’t miss out. We have a bunch of the contributors from the book attending – maybe I’ll make them read their chapters.

Finally, on Thursday, I’ll be in Boston. We are doing an Angels in the Architecture event from 2:30pm – 3:30pm and then heading over to the MASS Challenge from 5pm – 9pm.

-Brad Feld

The First Week of the Do More Faster Tour

With the release of our book “Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup“, my co-author David Cohen and I are taking the show on the road. Next week is Palo Alto on Tuesday, Los Angeles on Thursday, and Seattle on Friday.

In most cities, we are doing four separate events:

Pitch More Faster: Several emerging local companies will present their companies to me and several other local VCs. They will provide direct and specific advice to each company on how to improve their pitch and/or their business. This is an invite only event.

Techstars For An Hour: If you’re interested in learning more about Techstars or possibly applying, this is a great chance to come and learn about the program from me and David Cohen (Techstars CEO). We’ll talk about the results so far, what it’s all about, how it works, and much more. The event is also great for angel investors and venture capitalists who would like to learn more about how the Techstars program works, and how to get involved. These are open but limited attendance events – you need to pre-register on Eventbrite (links below).

Angels In The Architecture: A group of local angel investors, me, and a few angel backed entrepreneurs will discuss the role of angels investors in the VC / angel ecosystem. This is an invite only event.

Evening Entrepreneurial Meetup: We will have a party at night – venues will vary by city. These will be open events – sign up on Plancast (links below).

The tour is being sponsored by Cooley, Silicon Valley Bank, Microsoft, and Rackspace Cloud. We’ll be holding most of the day time events at one of their offices and we deeply appreciate all of their support. We’ll have plenty of good stuff to give away along with interesting people to meet and spend time with, including many of the people that contributed to Do More Faster.

If you are interested in attending, get sign up info via the Do More Faster Plancast, the Do More Faster Facebook page, or the Do More Faster Twitter account.

In the mean time, the sign up links for next week’s events follow. Since space is limited, please don’t sign up unless you are planning to attend.

Palo Alto: Tuesday October 12

3:30pm – 4:30pm: Techstars For An Hour

7:00pm – 9:00pm: Do More Faster Book Tour Kick Off: Gordon Biersch Brewery

Los Angeles: Thursday October 14

3:30pm – 4:30pm: Techstars For An Hour

7:30pm – 9:00pm: Do More Faster Evening Meetup (also knows as Two Guys and a Book and Beers): The Den of Hollywood

Seattle: Friday October 15

3:30pm – 4:30pm: Techstars For An Hour

7:00pm – 9:00pm: Do More Faster Evening Meetup (aka The Easy): Techstars Seattle

Of course, if you bring a copy of the book, David and I will happily sign it.

Introducing Do More Faster

About a year ago David Cohen and I were having a beer together talking about ways to capture all the different things we’d learned about early stage entrepreneurship from running the Techstars program. In a moment of insanity, we decided to write a book. The result is Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup.

Over the next six months, we worked with many of the mentors and entrepreneurs that have participated in Techstars. Our goal was to write a unique book full of useful information for any early stage entrepreneur. Rather than give advice or simply tell an entrepreneurial success story, we decided to blend the experience of the Techstars entrepreneurs and the Techstars mentors in an organized fashion. As a result, we ended up with seven themes (Idea and Vision, People, Working Effectively, Product, Fundraising, Legal and Structure, and Work / Life Balance) and about eighty separate lessons and stories.

We were on the verge of self-publishing it when we were introduced to a senior editor at Wiley who embraced the project. When I reflect on things, getting Wiley in the mix has been awesome as they have helped us materially improve the quality of the book.

My professional career – since I was 19 – has been focused on entrepreneurship either as an entrepreneur, angel investor, or venture capitalist. I’ve spent a lot of time since 2005 thinking about the “science of entrepreneurship” as well as the “dynamics of entrepreneurial communities”, especially as I’ve helped bring Boulder to the forefront of entrepreneurial communities in the US. I’m extremely excited about Do More Faster and hope it lives up to my expectations. But most of all, I’m really grateful to everyone who has participated in Techstars and has contributed to the book.

The publication date is 10/4/10 and it should be in bookstores around the US by 10/20/10. David and I are doing a 12 city book tour starting in Palo Alto on 10/12/10 – all the info is up on the Do More Faster Plancast. And of course, you can follow Do More Faster on Twitter or join the Do More Faster Facebook Page.

Finally, Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup is available for pre-order on Amazon as of right now. If you are interested, go grab a copy.

Startup Visa Interviews at O’Reilly Gov 2.0

I spent the previous 36 hours in Washington DC, primarily at the O’Reilly Gov 2.0 conference. I did a ten minute speech on the Startup Visa and a ten minute interview about entrepreneurship, innovation, and the Startup Visa. The conference was well attended – about 700 or so folks – and I enjoyed a number of the talks that I sat through.

Following are the two segments – first my keynote and then the interview. In both, I talk about the two Techstars companies that inspired me to get involved.