The Leadership Lattice: Brad Feld
The Leadership Lattice, an interview series designed to cultivate conversation about building strong leadership in the public and private sector, presents: Brad Feld, Co-Founder at Foundry Group, a Boulder based venture capital firm. You can view the video of this interview by going to YouTube and searching “Leadership Lattice”
When you are looking at a potential investment, what qualities do you look for in the management team of that company?
When we evaluate a company, we spend as much time as we can with the leadership, not just the founder entrepreneur, but also the team around them. We look at how the team relates to the product they are building. The linkages are important. It’s not just the raw intellectual horsepower of the leader but the way that this person interacts and focuses on the people and product for the business they are trying to create. Their passion needs to be focused on the business rather than the excitement about having a business. We want to know what their view is of their role. The leader of a start up is very different from the leader of a 3000 person company. How does the entrepreneur think about this evolution? Also, we want them to choose us as much as we choose them. There isn’t a check list. All of the partners here have to be affirmative and positive at every stage of the evaluation process.
What were some important leadership lessons for you early in your career?
I had to learn how to be a strong supporter of everyone who worked for me while at the same time being clear and critical about where we needed to improve. Early on at my first company, we had a very friendly environment. We were young and had little turnover. There were many relationships and friendships that were built that transcended the workplace. I had to learn how to give feedback to friends and colleagues that was constructive and positive and yet direct and blunt. I also had to be accessible to them when I wasn’t performing, so that they could give me that same feedback. This lesson has carried forward even to today.
Did you have a mentor early in your career? If so, what was it about that person that impacted you in the biggest way in your career?
I had several mentors that had a huge impact on me at many stages in my career. My earliest mentors were my father, who was an advisor in my first company and my uncle, Charlie Feld, a very successful CIO. Charlie took me to meetings and taught me how companies adopted and took advantage of technology. They spent lots of time advising me and were very accessible to me. Later, I had a couple of customers who in addition to being great customers, were there for us as we sorted out how to grow our business. Then, when I sold my first company to Ameridata, the Co-Chairmen of that company helped me get to the next level. I learned how deals were done- acquisitions and investments.
Mentorship is also the essence of Techstars. Early in the Techstars program there is kind of ‘mentor dating’ where the mentors and mentees have lots of interaction. At about week three, we encourage the companies to pick just a few mentors and invite those mentors to spend real time with them for the balance of the program. We also encourage the mentor to match up with one specific company and go deep. Most mentors have regular meetings with the company. There is a mindset for a mentor which is important. As a mentor, you have to have no expectation of getting anything, you are just mentoring – helping. A mentor can’t come in with the goal of selling services or getting equity.
There are hundreds if not thousands of books on leadership. What is the first book you would recommend to a young leader?
David Cohen and I recently wrote a book called Do More Faster, Techstars Lessons to Accelerate your Start-up. It’s a series of 2-5 page vignettes written by us, mentors and entrepreneurs that have gone through the Techstars program. We wrote the book because there are many books out there that fall into two categories- the first is an ego book written by an entrepreneur talking about their singular success and second is a book written by a consultant- a ‘How To’ but they have rarely been successful entrepreneurs themselves.
The other book I recommend is older book on philosophy called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This book is powerful because of its focus on obsession with quality and the exploration of building something of lasting importance.