Brad Feld: On Not Mourning Your Failures & Overcoming Burn-Out

As venture capitalists go, Brad Feld doesn’t play the part. With shaggy hair and the occasional f-bomb, he’s known for his openness and generosity. His blog and numerous books are required reading for any entrepreneur living through the roller coaster of building a business.

Currently, as a VC partner at Foundry Group, he’s helped numerous companies like Fitbit and MakerBot come to life; as well as cofounding the startup accelerator, TechStars. We recently caught up with Brad to discover how he fights burnout, coaches young entrepreneurs, handles failure, and still ships on time.

As a co-founder of TechStars and from your work with young entrepreneurs – what do they struggle with the most?

The most challenging thing for a young entrepreneur is to think long-term. When you are 22 years old, it’s hard to think in 22-year increments since that’s as long as you’ve been alive. But it’s really important to view your life as an entrepreneur as a long journey that consists of many short-term cycles. It’s relatively easy to focus on the short-term cycle, such as the 90 days of an accelerator program; it’s a lot harder to think about the next decade and how what you are doing today impacts where you want to be ten years from now.

You’re often heard saying “quit what you suck at” – Any tips on how to figure out if you’re simply going through a rut or if you truly do suck at something?

If you are doing something poorly AND you don’t enjoy it, then you probably suck at it. If you are doing it poorly, but it’s important to you, or you want to get better at it, or it fascinates you – keep trying.

You usually know when you hate something – that’s a leading indicator that it’s not worth doing, unless you have no other choice.

It’s really important to view your life as an entrepreneur as a long journey that consists of many short-term cycles.

How do you deal with failure?

I give myself 24 hours to mourn a failure. When something fails, I wallow in it for a day. And then I move on. I never let it stay with me for more than a day. But I give it its one day.

You write books, blog, travel, mentor, invest and still give back – How does Brad Feld still stay focused and ship?

I definitely burn out – I recently wrote about it in a post titled Wow – That Was Intense. I turned 47 on December 1st, 2012. So “version 46.9″ was awesome; version 46.10 – version 46.12 had an endless set of problems. I tried to push through them and instead of being OK, I completely and totally wore myself out mentally and physically. I booted up version 47 on December 1st, 2012 and tried to incorporate everything I learned from version 46.

I’ve been working on this for many years – continuing to learn new things. My wife Amy Batchelor and I just wrote a book called Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur that has a lot of our experience, advice, strategies, and things we’ve learned in it.

You are unbelievably generous with your email address: How do you manage the resulting task of an ever expanding inbox?

I spend a lot of time responding to email. Most of my responses are short but focused – and I try to make them helpful. But I try to respond to everything and never feel oppressed by it.

What habits/tactics do you try to keep yourself fresh?

The most impactful thing I’ve done is to take a week off the grid every quarter. Amy and I head to the airport on Saturday to go somewhere. I leave my computer at home and give her my smart phone at the airport. She gives it back to me the following Saturday when we return home. We always go somewhere – usually a relaxing place, but it’s always a trip rather than a staycation. I then spend 100 percent of my time relaxing and being with Amy. I usually read a book a day on these trips, we talk a lot, have plenty of adult entertainment, and sleep late every day. Whenever I return, I’m always refreshed.


TEDxBoulder video explaining the “Week Off The Grid” concept.
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You’re known as an iconoclast compared to most VCs – based in Boulder, Colorado, you drop f-bombs in talks, – basically just being yourself – Did you always have this mindset and approach?

Yup. I’ve always been my own person and my parents encouraged this from a young age. I’m motivated by learning over everything else. I don’t care what people think of me – I just try my hardest to do good things, learn, and help the people I care about.

How does Brad Feld define a great life?

I wake up each day thinking “let’s get going” and when I go to sleep at night I think “that was fun.” Amy reminds me regularly that a great life is a happy life. There are lots of ups and downs – life is hard and complicated – but if the sum has more good than bad, then I am satisfied.

More insights on: Interviews, Well-being

Jake Cook

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Jake Cook is an entrepreneur, professor, and writer. A co-founder at Tadpull, he also teaches Online and Social Media Marketing at Montana State University. He’s fascinated by the intersection of design, technology and creativity. Follow him at @jacobmcook.
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