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October 12, 2017 | Tom Ballard

Brad Feld shares a variety of thoughts during “Venture Atlanta” forum

Venture AtlantaBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Brad Feld is one of the most recognized names in the start-up world. He’s been an early stage investor and entrepreneur on the national scene for 20 years as well as an author, probably best known for his 2012 book titled Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.

The Co-Founder of Techstars shared his thoughts on a variety of topics during a fireside chat on Wednesday on the first day of the 10th annual “Venture Atlanta” forum. He was interviewed by Michael Cohn, Managing Director of Techstars Atlanta.

In response to Cohn’s first question about his thoughts about the start-up scene in Atlanta and the Southeast, Feld quickly responded that “it’s really humid,” then praised the city for having “the energy of a dynamic start-up community that is growing very rapidly.”

He was most positive about the mix of entrepreneurs, ranging from late 1990 first-time entrepreneurs who have stayed engaged after their initial exits and new, first timers. Feld said the mixture creates a “cumulative effect” that helps the total ecosystem.

He is noted for the importance he places on diversity, and Feld said that he basically embraced that characteristic as a young person. His father was a doctor and entrepreneur, while his mother was an artist.

“I saw my parents as equal partners in their relationship,” he explained.

Before graduating from high school, Feld had developed a software program for his father’s physician practice and was working for another set of entrepreneurs developing software for their company in college.

What advice would he offer today’s aspiring entrepreneurs?

“Don’t overthink it,” Feld said. “Don’t start a company unless you’re obsessed about the product.”

Noting that there is a strong correlation between the need for achievement that successful entrepreneurs feel and their actual success, he observed that “it’s incredibly easy to fake passion, (but) it’s incredibly difficult to fake obsession.” Feld clearly wants to see obsession in entrepreneurs in whom he invests.

Cohn asked about the difference between Techstars and the Foundry Group which consumes much of Feld’s energy today. The answer was very telling.

“We invest in horizontal constructs that we believe are growth opportunities for the next 20 to 30 years,” Feld said. This is clearly different from many venture funds which are looking for quicker exits, so he offered some insights.

  • “Do we have affinity for the product,” he said, explaining this is the Foundry Group’s version of obsession.
  • “Are the Founders obsessed about what they are doing,” Feld added.
  • Finally, he said he and his partners want to ensure that the Founders want his group to be investors as much as the Foundry Group wants to invest.

Business plans are not that important to them. “For companies we invest in, the market is either non-existent or huge,” Feld explained. “Since we invest in themes, we know markets and don’t need a business plan.”

He also offered some advice to entrepreneurs looking to exit.

“You should not assume that you will sell your company,” Feld said. “You should assume you will run it forever or it will fail.”

NEXT WEEK: Mark Cuban’s thoughts from yesterday’s concluding presentation.

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