Building an Empire: TechStars’ Brad Feld

Brad Feld talks with OPEN about his sleep patterns, startup culture in Boulder, and the future of technology.
Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed
October 15, 2012

Brad Feld is arguably one of the most productive people on the planet; his day is planned down to the second. In fact, he agreed to a 20-minute interview, which ran exactly 19 minutes and 59 seconds, during which time he never showed an ounce of distraction. His demeanor is affable, relatable and easygoing—somewhat surprising characteristics considering his highbrow accomplishments and impressive number of responsibilities.

Feld is the co-founder of TechStars, one of the country’s leading seed-stage startup accelerators. He is also co-founder of Foundry Group, an early stage VC firm, based near his home in Boulder. As if that wasn’t enough, he is an active board member for more than a dozen digital companies and volunteers with several technology non-profits. Phew.

The Dallas-born MIT grad started his first tech company while still in school and sold it seven years later to a public company for a few million dollars. He stayed on for two years until he and his wife, Amy, headed west, eventually landing in Boulder and making it home in 1995. He now plans to stay forever and says the city of 100,000 is where one of the “best startup communities in the world is being developed.”

Driven by his passion for startup revolutions, he recently penned a book designed to encourage entrepreneurs anywhere to follow in Boulder’s footsteps, titled Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.

Katie Morell: Do you sleep much or are you a Donald Trump-type that only needs four hours or less per night?
Brad Feld: I don’t buy into the idea that people aren’t sleeping. I think they are either lying or dying young. I’m a marathon runner; I run 5 to 10 hours per week, so I’d really screw myself up without sleep. I typically get 5 to 6 hours per night and then binge sleep on the weekends. I never work on planes—I sleep instead. I also take one week off per quarter and go off the grid with Amy.

KM: How did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
BF: I got my first computer for my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13 years old—it was an Apple II. During my senior year in high school (1983), I worked for a software startup and created a few software products for them. They gave me royalties and I remember being a freshman in college getting checks for up to $10,000 a month from the software I had made. I knew then that I always wanted to have control of my own thing instead of working for a paycheck.

KM: What is one of the most exciting trends in technology right now?
BF: It is something I refer to as "software wrapped in plastic." Hardware used to be expensive to create and the process required a specialized processing dynamic. Today, more of the value is in software. You can ship hardware independent of the product. The idea of having a smartphone (i.e., hardware) and then having a number of applications that you can download is very interesting. We take it for granted now, but five years ago downloading software wirelessly was a novel concept.

We [Foundry Group] are investing in a few companies in this space, one being FitBit, which helps track how many hours you sleep, how often you walk, etc. The hardware is physically on your body, on your belt or in your pocket, but it connects wirelessly to your cell phone or to the Internet. This concept is fascinating.

KM: Where do you see the technology sector going in the coming years? Do you have the inside scoop on anything we haven’t seen yet?
BF: I think the rate of innovation is so rapid that I really can’t predict. As investors, we are trying to place ourselves ahead of the curve as it emerges. I do, though, believe that the way computers interact with humans will change in 20 years. The idea that we will be walking down the street, typing on a piece of glass [i.e. today’s smartphones] is ridiculous. There is nothing that limits us from someday projecting an image ahead of us through glass or something else and interact with it like Tom Cruise did in Minority Report.

Read more Building an Empire Q&As. 

Photo courtesy of Foundry Group