#91 Brad Feld

Brad Feld (@bfeld) joined James Altucher to talk about work-life balance, how to take care of yourself, and what the best entrepreneurs look like. To start, James apologizes for having to do another interview to which Feld replies he’s, “not pissed at all.” He says, “I’ve lost plenty of data in my life.” This reminded me of the very measured tones that Sam Shank (episode #78) said he saw Wes Craven exhibit. It would be easy to yell at the person who messed up, but what does that do? Not a lot.

James and Brad remark about the decreasing latency in communication. Even since each of them began working, communications have gone from overnight via FedEx to instantaneous via fax and now digital messages. It’s an interesting observation that as recently as 100 years ago, wireless communication didn’t exist. In the wonderful Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the story about the invention communication via radio waves and the obstacles. People didn’t believe they could travel in anything but a straight line and certainly not through physical obstacles. Reading Reddit in your basement is still inconsistent, but this discovery has taken a long time to take hold. In 1902 Guglielmo Marconi finally sent a message from Glace Bay to Poldhu in 1/13 of a second. A decade earlier the greatest scientific minds of the time would have called this impossible.

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The bulk of the conversation between James and Brad is about finding the right sort of balance in your life. James says that “if I don’t focus on my wife and kids, something is subtracted out of my life.” Feld says that this is a good perspective to have and that we would be wise to remember that “at the end, all the lights go out.” In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote something similar (about 2,000 years ago):

Survey the records of other eras. And see how many others gave their all and soon died and decomposed into the elements that formed them.

But most of all, run through the list of those you knew yourself. Those who worked in vain, who failed to do what they should have- what they should have remained fixed on and found satisfaction in.

Wait, what should we remain fixed on? A moment later Marcus writes, “the famous dead as well: Camillus, Caeso, Scipio and Cato. Everything fades so quickly, turns into legend, and soon oblivion covers it.” What then do we work for? Aurelius suggests – and I would guess that James and Brad agree – “proper understanding; unselfish action; truthful speech.”

For James, it’s been a transition from a life of ambition to a life of meaning. As I listened to this part I wondered if it’s wisdom and time that bring this along like a horse might pull a cart, or if it’s success. James has been financially very successful and I wonder if a life of meaning comes from that. My guess is the former, watch this Patagonia video, and make up your own mind.

The people in that video are living out their bucket list and Jack Canfield (episode #90) told James that people wait too long to make up their bucket list. Make that list now he says. Feld echoes this idea telling james that he’s 49 and might have 30 good years left, but there’s also a chance he could die tomorrow. Another quote from Marcus Aurelius:

Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow “or the day after.” Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was-what difference could it make? Now recognized that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as small.

A lot of this reflection comes after Feld went through three periods of serious depression. He failed to take care of himself physically and find the right stimulus until, “my inner introvert threw a shit-fit and said enough already” he tells James. This brought along a period of enlightenment where Feld explored his own motivational structure and learned what depleted his energy stores and what built them up. Feld found that he needed time alone to recharge where other might want to be in a group. Then he gives advice that many don’t, that we all need to find the thing that works best for us. We won’t always get it right he says, but we can keep experimenting to find what is right for us.

Another revelation for Feld was that he didn’t need to swoop in to solve every problem, and often the swooping was bringing more swooning than saving. He tells James that “traveling on a plane to a meeting rarely accomplishes anything.” Feld suggests that people need two things for solving problems, clarity to think clearly about the ideas and time to collect more data.

This all comes in part of the conversation where both James and Brad admit that travelling takes a lot out of them and they need time to recharge. Feld says that another perk of traveling less is having to deal with fewer gatekeepers. There are no junior partner he and his venture firm need to navigate, they just speak to whoever they need to speak to.

Feld tells James that his firm invests in certain themes like human-computer interaction and protocol systems. From their site:

Our themes tend to be horizontal in nature and are often based on an underlying protocol, standard, or market trend that we believe is on the cusp of widespread adoption that has the potential to drive a cycle of innovation and company creation for at least a ten year period. We try to focus on themes and their underlying technologies that are ready to be rolled out to consumers or the enterprise and are well beyond the science-experiment phase.

His Foundry Group portfolio isn’t flashy with a lot of popular companies but each has passed the Feld filter.

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For each investment Felt and his team ask:

  1. Is the product interesting to us?
  2. Are the entrepreneurs obsessed by it?
  3. Is this a good long-term partnerships for both sides?

Each of those questions need to range from a weak to firm “Yes.”

Besides the investments, Feld helped start FG Press, the publishing arm of Foundry Group. They are responsible for publishing Ben Mezrich’s (episode #84) Q. Feld tells James that this is an experiment. Besides upcoming FG Press books, James asks what else an entrepreneur should read. Feld suggests:

Before the interview closes, James shares two books that he thinks Brad will like.

  • The Martian by Andy Weir, which Brad says was “one of my favorite books of 2014.”
  • How to Fight Presidents by Daniel O’Brien, a past guest on the James Altucher show.

Thanks for reading. As always, you can let me know how smart/stupid this post is/was on Twitter/Text.

One note, after listening to hundreds of hours of these shows I’m pulling out trends and themes. You can click on the “Products Pages” here or in the upper left to see more. Right now there is a 21 day plan for building your idea muscle. This is a pay-what-you-want plan designed specifically for people who have failed to maintain a daily idea list and are willing to take one small action every day for three weeks.

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