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TechVibe Radio Talks to Techstars Founder Brad Feld


We talk to a true rockstar of the technology and entrepreneurial world -- Brad Feld, CoFounder of Techstars. Brad has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur since 1987. Prior to co-founding Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and, prior to that, founded Intensity Ventures. Brad is a writer and speaker on the topics of venture capital investing and entrepreneurship. He's written a number of books as part of the "Startup Revolution" series and writes the blogs Feld Thoughts and Venture Deals. 

He will talk about his new book "The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem." It explores what makes startup communities thrive and how to improve collaboration in these rapidly evolving, complex environments. It also offers practical advice for entrepreneurs, community builders, government officials, and other stakeholders who want to harness the power of entrepreneurship in their city. 

Sponsors Keep the Conversations Flowing on TechVibe Radio:
321Blink, Chorus Call/Compunetix, C-Leveled, Huntington Bank, My Benefit Advisor/PTCBenefits, Savvior, SDLC Partners, and PNC.


This is Techvibe Radio broadcasting from the Huntington Bank Our sponsors help us geek out a special thanks to sea level at C hyphen PNC My benefit benefit 321 blink at 321 chorus called sdlc partners at sdlc Tech five radio is hosted by the Pittsburgh technology Council's Audrey Russo and Jonathan Kersting. Buckle up your seat belts. Here's your front row seat to Pittsburgh tech sector and beyond.

Hard to believe Audrey very, very pumped to be on 970 ESPN bringing you tech vive radio every Saturday morning. You know, it's just so much fun to tell the stories what's happening Pittsburgh's tech sector and beyond. Because our show now goes beyond Pittsburgh to Yeah, we're just telling the world about what's happening here. That's all apps. It's not about just talking about Pittsburgh. It's just what's happening here. Exactly. Changing the world.

We're trying our best, that's for sure. And you're the one that we've been trying to change the world has been our business as usual webcast. We spun up six months ago, the whole COVID thing broke out when I say six months ago that kind of like it blows my mind. All Seasons. I know exactly.

Right. Two full seasons. Yeah. I think you might be Pittsburgh's most busy like media people this point. is a prime and I don't know, our Yeah, it's nuts. But our businesses usual webcast, I think I've been just absolutely amazing because it's allowed us to talk to people, literally from around the world about all sorts of things, whether it's COVID related, or whether it's tech related, whatever that is. And when your favorite people came on a few weeks ago, Brad Feld.

Yeah, it was great to dial in from Boulder. It was great to hear from him. He's Listen, you can you can spend, at least I can, I could spend hours listening to him just because of his expertise, his personality, his whole style, the amount of knowledge the the number of companies is invested in who he is as a person. He's He's a special guy.

He's a super special guy. And he was on the show actually promoting his new book, the startup community way evolving an entrepreneurial ecosystem. And I know you're an avid reader Adriene, this is one of these things that you love to nerd out on. out on it too, but not as much as you do. But I definitely find his interesting and

great, it was great. He partnered with a researcher who has a lot of expertise in innovation and economics and etc. So it was great. It sort of brought it grounded, you know, applied thinking with some real knowledge in terms of, you know, everyone, you know, this, you and I have been around long enough to know, people are like, oh,

we're gonna be great.

No, not really, I really want to be kind of, that's not what we want to do. So it's just thrilling to be able to talk to Brad about that, because he has experience with tech stars cropping up in so many different areas around the world. So his expertise is, you know, comparable to none.

Absolutely. And I love his honesty. So today, we're gonna play some clips from that business as usual. Because he's such a cool, dude. So bring this thing. I think people can learn a lot from Brad. And just I think it's a great way to kind of get things going here on tech five. So we're gonna check out our first clip, which I'm excited about it really it's him talking about his new book and why he did it and some of the key things you're going to get from reading the book. So let's give that a listen right now. Adrienne, see what happens. I think it's pretty cool.

So listen, I started talking about your book. I read it in its entirety. It's all highlighted. I wrote all over it. I think I've read almost everything that you've written. And we are going to jump in. Okay. I want to talk about the stock this book, okay. The startup community way, which you actually I was thrilled about, that you included COVID. You were able to weave in COVID and book out by July. So let's talk about this. Like, first of all, the book is really once again, I think pretty provocative and for those of us who are living in Pittsburgh and trying to build these ecosystems, I want to jump in you base this book, which was written with the Anne Hathaway which is good job on getting Eat in because he's a good researcher. He's also an investor. And I think in an entrepreneur, he's been thinking a lot about writing about cities. So talk about the book, like in terms of the premise around complexity.

So we ended up building the entirety of the book on complexity theory, and the idea of a complex system. And I'm going to define it with an example. So we all have the same starting point. So there are three primary types of systems a simple system, a complicated system and a complex system. A simple system is making a cup of coffee, you put beans in, you could coffee out, machines might be a little different beans could be different, maybe of milk and sugar, but it's coffee might not be good coffee, but you get coffee out. That's a simple system. A complicated system is doing your monthly financials. Lots more steps don't have to be done in a particular order. In the end, you get a balance sheet income statement, cash flow. Making a Boeing 777 is a complicated system. Once you've figured out how to design in what you want to do, you have a playbook you have recipe, you have a plan, bunch of inputs in 777 out. Raising a child is a complex system.

Tell me about really, we've all been children or we have children. And on the day your child is born, if you say, a 25, my child will be and then a list of attributes. And then you try to manage the child to get to those attributes. By the time they're 25. Probably all you're doing is going to generate a lot of need for therapy for that child. It's complex system. startup community is a complex system. I'm one of the discussions I was in in this podcast. We'll see how much of it he cuts that just kept going was this idea that a round when you got together with your friends in Boulder in 1996? Like, what was your plan for the boulder startup community? And the answer was, the plan was to help each other succeed. Right, we didn't realize it was a complex system at the time. But the goal of a startup community is to help entrepreneurs succeed. That's it. And in the book, we and hopefully Adria like what we did we separate between a startup community and an entrepreneurial ecosystem, right. And we define again, very clearly that in the startup community, the goal is to help entrepreneurs succeed. In the entrepreneurial ecosystem, you have other goals, because a lot of the participants a lot of the other participants in this in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, have goals beyond just helping entrepreneurs succeed. It's one of their goals, but it's not their only goal. And that's good, that's healthy. That's the dynamic and the differentiation between the two. And so this notion of a complex system that's so important is that it's bottom up. Instead of top down and controlled, it's emergent. Instead of planned, the outputs become inputs into the next phase of the systems. It's constantly changing and evolving. All the principles of startup communities that I wrote in the first book apply, right leaders need to be entrepreneurs. You need to have a long term view, you need to be inclusive, anyone who wants to engage, you have to have activities and events to practice entrepreneurship together, all those things apply. But using this notion of how complex systems grow and develop an introducing language around complex systems, like contagion, which we're all now very familiar with, because of covid, which can have positive and negative contagion, positive negative feedback loops, nonlinear behavior, behavior that looks geometric, on delays, again, we've learned from COVID, you know, just because you're infected doesn't mean you have symptoms, but you can infect other people. And that delay, which could be five to seven days is really impactful on the spread of the disease, um, phase shifts or phase transformations, lots of little things happen. And then suddenly, you're in a new place, and you weren't counting on being in a new place, and you weren't planning for the new place. You're just doing these lots of things that we're all impactful on each other. So this kind of language that comes from complexity theory, we've now applied to how startup communities grow and develop.

Well, you know, you said something that I think really resonates with me in regards to Pittsburgh, is that don't celebrate the incumbents. You talk about the incumbents, meaning the incumbent companies and organizations Instead, focus on those entrepreneurs and get out of their way and support them based on some pinnacles. So what describe that because we're we are you might not notice For what we do, we used to be like number three, in terms of, you know, fortune 100 companies that, you know, it was insane, and we're not. And you talk about the old economic theories of driving the smokestack approach towards attracting big companies, and you did a little bit of sarcasm around Amazon, in terms of their quest a little bit, was a brilliant marketing campaign on Amazon's part. And it was, it was, it was stupid of every city on the planet to fall into it. And I wrote a, I wrote a post in that time period, which is what Denver should do when they lose the Amazon bid. And basically, I said, Take all that money you're going to give to Amazon and just give it to all the startups. And, you know, of course, no, but you know, as a sort of important thing. So I've thought more about incumbents with this book than I had before. And Ian and I ended up talking about a lot I, I've always kind of not paid much attention to incumbent behavior and come and dynamic in the context of entrepreneurship, because most of the companies that I funded over the years, might have had an incumbent that they were displacing, but they often did it not head on, not directly at the incumbent. But what I started to really think about was the massive amount of incumbent behavior across our society, it was really amplified by COVID. For me, and I'll just give two quick examples. One was, in January 2020, if I had made the prognostication that everybody that worked in an office would be working from home very effectively, you would you said, you know, give me some of your drugs. That's what you would attack. And of course, here we are, and, you know, the infrastructure didn't collapse. Yeah, we made zoom, an incredibly valuable company in a place where, you know, Google, Microsoft, you both own this, like what happens in a bit a bigger fumble.

But okay, right. I mean, zoom, has zoom has a great product, and they executed extraordinarily well, in this moment. Um, anybody know, Amazon chime? Even Amazon has a video conferencing version system, right? Um, the the next version of incumbency that collapsed was telemedicine. telemedicine made 10 years of progress in four weeks, because the incumbents not just the incumbent health providers, incumbent insurance companies, but also government just got out of the way. Because the worst place in the world do you want it to be in unless you had COVID was the hospital. And if you were a doctor, you couldn't see patients because you weren't allowed to go to your office to see patients. And people still get sick people still have, you know, you'd see a doctor. So I started to think more about the incumbent behavioral dynamics and how how stultifying they are, that's, that's a fun word word of the day. I'm just demonstrating that for an MIT kid, I have a decent vocabulary, the the dynamics of an incumbent is to protect its position. This is not new. I mean, Clay Clay Christensen, you know, the innovators dilemma from the 1980s. And like all of Clay Christensen work, talked about, you know, this notion of, of protecting, you know, the income to protecting its position. And, you know, obviously, with technology, we've seen massive dislocation here. But we're seeing dislocation in this moment across all elements of our society.

See, I told you, that was pretty cool. Brad is the man. I'm so glad you got to talk to him the way you did.

Yeah, it was it was great there. Listen, I totally if you're interested in startup ecosystems and understanding what makes communities thrive, getting ready for the New World, which we already have been in for the last six months. I recommend startup community way and it's evolving an entrepreneurial ecosystem by Brad Feld and his colleague, Ian Hathaway.

 We're taking a quick break. We're coming back with more tech vibe radio. We're coming back with more Brad Feld. This is Jonathan Kersting and Audrey Russo.

Don't forget everybody. We're from the Pittsburgh Technology Council learn more about us at PGH The Pittsburgh Technology Council has been helping our region's tech companies succeed since 1983. The Pittsburgh Technology Council helps its members meet new customers, hire top talent, make headlines and have a strong voice in government. From startup to multinational. The PTC helps tech companies and advanced manufacturers of all sizes, see how we can help your venture grow at PGH That's PGH

You're listening to tech vibe radio coming at you from the Huntington bank A tech five sponsors include c leveled PNC Bank, my benefit advisor, 321, blink, of course called compumedics and sdlc. Partners. Here are your hosts, the Pittsburgh technology Council's Audrey Russo, and Jonathan Kersting. Getting ready to geek out with you as AP. So glad you're listening to tech by radio, I told you be back and we got a lot more Brad Feld coming away, Audrey, I'm just I love talking to this guy. I find this conversation so fascinating. In this next segment is where you start talking to Brad a bit more about types of companies that he invests in. And then he also starts going more into the realm of what it means to stay mentally healthy. He's kind of like one of these guys where like, he's got to take a break, because he's running at a high level. And you really kind of pride him on that, which I think is really cool.

Yeah, he, I mean, he's been very candid about his own, um, I don't want I guess you could label it mental health issues, but really taking care of himself and what it meant to be a good partner, and really confronting some hard things about himself. Yeah, we don't know Brad Feld, we've been talking to an early stage investor and entrepreneur for over 30 years. He's the co founder of tech stars. He has written books, he has invested in lots and lots of companies and is now on another round of the large investment, you know, fund. So it was always, it's always great to check in with him because he has just such practical understanding about what it means to build an economy around innovation and entrepreneurial ism.

In Audrey, one of our goals is we're going to get Brad Feld to come to Pittsburgh, PA, it's going to happen, run.

When he gets here, you might want to stay a little longer. So I'm just thinking, you know, you might wanna have that extra bedroom of yours, like ready to go. So he's got a place to stay.

His goal is to run a marathon or at least a half marathon and every state in the United States. I don't know how far along is in that, in that he did say on on the show, he promised he would come to Pittsburgh.

Right? He said he would so let's just get rid of the code of COVID. Yeah, good luck. COVID.

The COVID of where we are right now.

And let's let's move on, mate, when is the great race every year is sually like in May. Okay, marathon, the marathon, the great races and a half, he's gonna do a half marathon. He's gonna do the marathon side. Okay.

We're getting back. So let's listen to this next clip. And Brad, I think some great stuff here. I know everyone's gonna enjoy it.

Do you have an act of fun now? Do you have an active fund that you're investing in?

Yeah, so foundry group, which is a venture firm I'm part of is investing a fund we raised in 2018. To $750 million fund, we're probably halfway ish. invested, I think we'll raise another fund to 2022. Um, that's my primary investing activity. TechStars, which I'm a co founder of also has makes about 500 investments a year has very active funds. And those investments are made through the the accelerator programs, but also in companies that come out of the accelerator programs make investments in companies that don't come out of the accelerator program.

TechStars does not foundry does.

So if we had deals here in Pittsburgh, but we would love for you to know about email me, Brad Feld com, okay, and just start to throw this things at you. So

I'm very good at saying no, I say no, 100 times a day. So I'm quick at saying no. And if it's interesting, I engage and if it's not interesting, for whatever reason, you know, I try to be responsive to everybody.

That's great. That's great. So before we wrap up, and I'm actually going to tell everyone they need to read this book, anyone who's in this world that we're in really needs to read this. It's very timely. There's a bunch of frameworks that I think are very, very helpful for me and the role that I'm in. So I really thank you for that, Brad, and turning my head upside down. But But you also take care of yourself. Can you just talk a little bit about, you've been very candid over the years about how important it is to take care of yourself. So as an entrepreneur, as an investor, as someone who works maniacal hours, you have opened the door for people to have healthier conversations around their own mental health status. And I applaud you for that. I've been following that for a long time. And your candor has served as great role model. Can you share anything I know you go off the grid. I know you've done some things that are very intentional. But the more you talk about that, the more you help all of us.

Thanks. Well, I do I do. Go off the grid once a week for a quarter. I just got back if you go to fel calm my link my blog posts from today is the books I read.

When I go just specifically what I try to do when I go off grid for a quarter, or for a week, is it No, no phone, no email, no work. So I've been doing this since for 20 years, took me about four years to be able to do it without freaking out. And now, I I decide I'm off grid. And then when I come back, I come back and super easy. Um, probably I had an argument with a guy that was I was doing a podcast with was because like, too many podcasts in the morning, back. Um, so I've been married for me, I've been together for 30 years of marriage for 27 years. I'm about 10 years in, we almost split up, she asked me for divorce. And I had married my high school girlfriend, I got divorced from her without kids and Amy and I didn't have any kids. And I'm like, you know, no, you're, you know, you're the person for me. And she's like, you're the person for me, but I just don't want to do this anymore. And her her zinger was you're not even a good roommate. Um, because I was, you know, I was constantly working, I was always away, I would come home on the weekends. And that was it. And then when I was at home, on the weekends, I was exhausted. And so it turned out that the big glitch in our relationship was my words didn't match my actions. And when I say that, it's not an issue of fidelity or behavior, you know, in ways where, you know, I was I was crossing boundary lines that were that were, you know, could be viewed as inappropriate. But I would say things like, you're the most important person in the world to me. And then my phone would ring and I'd say, hang on a sec, I had my phone. I was 30 minutes late to everything, because I just had one more, one more phone call one more email, one more whatever. Um, and so I wasn't prioritizing her over everything else. And so, you know, we started down this path I we wrote a book together in 2013, called the startup life. And so I won't torture you with with our history. And then I just did a podcast recently with Tim Ferriss, I heard where he is the master of long form, class. And, you know, like, 30 minutes in I'm like, come on, Tim, give me like something fun to talk about the challenges of my relationship and depression. But for a long time, I've struggled with anxiety, my clinical disorder as obsessive compulsive disorder. And as part of struggling with anxiety, I've dipped into deep depression a number of times, against the backdrop of a very successful, very privileged, very comfortable life. And at some point in I got very depressed in 2013, when I was 47. And I blogged about it very openly, I wrote about I was blogging regularly at the time, as I just wrote about it a lot. And I realized that there was enormous stigma associated with with mental health, I knew that but like, I felt visibly, but in that moment of time, I just didn't give a shit. And several entrepreneurs had committed suicide the previous year. So it was sort of in the discussion a little bit. And what I found was many, many, many people in the world of tech and entrepreneurship struggled with anxiety and depression was often referred to as stress. Um, but the stigma was so high, they didn't talk to anybody. And, you know, I, I had a number of namebrand entrepreneurs, people who do recognize I was the first conversation they'd ever had about their struggles with depression. And so I decided that one of my goals was to do to eliminate the stigma associated with with mental health issues. And so I, you know, that's part of why I've been open about it. For me, what I've learned is that if I, I can work and sleep for a period of time. And I enjoy working intensely for a period of time, but if I don't give myself space and time away from it, it catches up with me and I get exhausted and that and generates anxiety that generates depression. I've also become I'm not a religious person, I grew up Jewish, but I'm not I'm a secular Jew, identify as a Jew, but I don't I don't have any religious elements of my life. Um, but I became very interested in in Buddhism, not as a religion, not as a spiritual practice, but as a philosophy A number of years ago, and many of the characteristics of that also are very applicable is that we end up in this world where we have attachment, endless attachment to outcomes and to things we're doing and for me, that attachment, and then when when the thing happened, I wanted more when the thing didn't happen. I felt bad or when the bad thing thing happened that I was now attached to, I didn't want any more like that whole cycle was another part of my own not taking care of myself, I would, I would see my behavior like that when I would be tired. And so I learned how to deal with that through a bunch of mechanisms, some of its, you know, mechanisms that I became me and I came up with like, a week off the grid, every quarter, which by the way, if you can't take a week off to do a long weekend, if you can't do a long weekend, do a two day weekend, if you can't do a two day we can do one day.

Um, I now take Saturday off I do digital, I call digital Sabbath every Saturday, no phone, no email, generally no computer, although sometimes I do something online. If I feel like doing something online online, I find that when I do I regret that I do. I'm like, why did I do that I shouldn't do anything online that day. Um, and I just try to take care of myself. And you know, kind of allow myself to have not all of the things that are suppressing me emotionally so that when I'm encountering, which I kind of regularly things that are hard things that are disappointments, things that don't work, things that are challenging, I have the resilience to deal with them. And I again, say that from a position of recognizing that I've got tons of resources. I mean, I talk about this dissonance all the time in the context of COVID. Like it, there is an element of, you know, Oh, woe is you, Brad, whenever I would complain about something, or I would articulate you know, that I was feeling stressed about something or worn out about something. And there becomes this syndrome, where you were, one can feel guilty about the pressures that one is feeling we all, I mean, this is what I have learned. We all as humans have different kinds of pressures. And we all respond to them in different ways and how you respond to them and how you help others with their pressures. And how you engage with each others. For me, at least, has a lot of can have a lot of positive impact on my pressure. So when I'm feeling more pressure, engaging with others, to try to help others and support others to actually relieve some of that pressure for me, versus, you know, what might have been my behavior before, which was when I'm struggling with something to just dive deeper into the thing I'm struggling with, like, Okay, I'm gonna fix that. Well, that makes it worse for me. This is really learning that about yourself becomes important. And I'm really lucky to have Amy because she helped me. As she learned about herself, she helped me learn about myself and she as part of our relationship made that a high value for us to continue to work on that or else the relationship wasn't worth having, at least from her frame of reference, and then subsequently from mine.

In Dr. Audrey, I think Brad is a cool dude, I'm so glad we got to give a little snippet if you want to actually listen to the whole interview, just go to our website at PGH. Tech. org on the drop down under our programs. We have our business as usual webcast series there and just search for Brad Feld because you can do like another 30 minutes of him in there just giving us some great stuff.

Always great. Always great.

I always find it a pleasure Audrey hanging out with you to bring these conversations to the people. So much fun doing this. I'm so excited to be on this new channel. I want to encourage everybody keep on hanging out with us. geek out with us. Every single Saturday morning. If you need to geek out on your own schedule. You can do that. Go to the I heart app. We are right there. Go to any major podcast platform. We are there. You can learn more about Pittsburgh and beyond because we are Pittsburgh tech but we are tech everywhere you want to go this is Jonathan Kersting

This is Audrey. So well said JK I try my best to try my best. Remember PGH and you can get us right there. The Pittsburgh tech Council.

Thanks for listening to tech vibe radio coming at you from the Huntington bank studios. And thanks to our sponsors see leveled PNC Bank, my benefit advisors 321 blink chorus call copy genetics and sdlc partners with us each and every week.

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