has completed several marathons, and not just in terms of building a company. The entrepreneur, investor and startup advisor set a goal of running a marathon in each state in the U.S., and has finished 15 to date with another on the agenda in early May.
Feld says there are several running lessons that can also be applied to growing a technology company, most importantly that pacing matters. “While ‘consistent pacing’ isn’t the answer, understanding your pacing, conserving your energy so you can use it over a long period of time, and knowing that there will be really sucky points that you just have to work through,” Feld says. He says it’s important to have a clear goal in mind, and that you can’t start out too fast and keep up that momentum.
Feld knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur when he was about 15, thought he didn’t use that word to describe it. “I just loved hacking on the computer (an Apple II) and creating stuff from scratch,” he says. While in high school he started an SAT tutoring business and made $30/hour. “I made the same amount of money in four hours that my friends made working 40 hours a week, had control over my time, and could work on whatever I wanted.” His senior year in high school and first year in college he worked for a startup software company called Petcom as the first employee (they grew to 20 employees). “I got paid $10 / hour + 5% of gross sales of the software products that I wrote. As checks for $5,000 – $10,000 came to me each month when I was in college, I decided I liked that a lot better than working for a salary somewhere.”
While at MIT in 1985 he started Feld Technologies with a business partner, a company that specialised in custom software applications. Feld says their lack of experience was their biggest challenge. “While we had plenty of business from the beginning, we didn’t really understand the dynamics of our cost structure until we lost money a few months in a row and then realised we had no money to lose,” he says about the bootstrapped business. “So we had to get rid of all the people we had hired, hit reset, and grow more slowly and profitably. We subsequently were profitable and cash flow positive every month from that point forward for the seven years we ran the business.” He says they also had a few great mentors (including his dad) who spent time with them, were great sounding boards, and helped them stay out of trouble.
Feld and his business partner sold the business in the fall of 1993 to Ameridata, where he then served as chief technology officer. Since the acquisition he has started Mobius Venture Capital and Intensity Ventures, as well as Foundry Group, a venture capital firm focused on investing in early-stage technology companies. The company’s portfolio includes SimpleGeo, Fitbit and Gist, which was recently acquired by RIM. He’s also the co-founder of TechStars, a mentorship-driven seed stage investment program with programs in NYC, Colorado, Boston and Seattle. Several of the companies in the TechStars and Foundry Group portfolios have been acquired, and Feld himself is no stranger to the acquisition process. He advises entrepreneurs to be patient and not lose their cool if they have acquisition interest. “The acquisition process is maddening, frustrating, distracting, and full of twists and turns,” he says. “I’ve been involved in hundreds of acquisitions – they each have their unique path. Just stay cool during the process. The magic properties of scotch can often be very helpful with this.”
As an investor and advisor to companies including Zynga and Cheezburger Networks, Feld meets and works with a lot of entrepreneurs, and says passion is the quality that indicates to him that an entrepreneur will be successful. “Incredible passion for their product, regardless of what that product is combined with a bias toward action and getting things done,” he says. In fact his biggest piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to make sure the thing you are working on is something you are intensely passionate about. He also says that advice, connections and mentorship are important, and says he had several mentors at Feld Technologies.”The most active was my dad, who was the third member on our board. He coached us, cajoled us, helped send business our way, was a customer, and prompted us to keep thinking about where our business was going,” he says. “And – he was always available to us.” When you’re as busy as Feld, having any extra time available is rare. But he says he doesn’t have a structured approach to time management, he just prioritizes. “My wife comes first. Then my family. Then my partners. Then the CEO’s of the companies I’ve invested in. Then all of the other entrepreneurs in companies I’ve invested in. Then my investors. Then everyone else. Somehow it works.”
As for what’s next for Feld other than running marathons across the U.S., he says he’ll continue to support entrepreneurs. “I’ve committed to spending the next 15 years continuing to do what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years – investing in early stage startups and helping amazing entrepreneurs create important products and companies,” he says. “In a decade, I’ll start thinking about ‘what’s next’ after that.”