in Boulder

Standing room only
It’s a standing-room-only crowd at CU Boulder to hear Brad Feld tell his life story

Listen I’ve been saying that I think my son picked Boulder rather arbitrarily, after all we’d never visited, but that’s where he says he wants to go to college: CU Boulder, so visit we must. But when? I know it’s likely to be chilly in April, but Spring Break means travel and Boulder’s a contender. When I find out my old friend Howard Blitz has left Santa Monica for Boulder all other venues go out the window; we’re heading to Colorado.

on Pearl St with Howard BlitzHoward’s a friend from the old days of Plaid Brothers, my company of the 80′s and 90′s when I wrote software for retail stockbrokers, guys like Howard. Yesterday, just before Howard meets us for a 23-mile bike ride around the city I have a chance to tell my son what a pivotal role Howard played in Plaid’s success. I met him when he worked at DLJ in Century City, but in a short while he was working at Oppenheimer in Westwood. His fellow stockbrokers were jealous of his personal computer, remember, this is the 80′s, and so one-by-one more and more of his peers bought PCs and my software to run their business. After awhile discontent develops; the brokers lamented the manual data entry, surely the home office could create an interface to the mainframe. I was about to learn that the Westwood office was well regarded at the home office on Wall Street, not only would they hire Plaid to write the interface, they would buy a license for every person in the firm. The rest, as they say, is history. Within 90 days of signing Oppenheimer I closed enterprise-wide licenses with AG Edwards, Fidelity Investments and CIBC’s Wood Gundy and my fledgling software company would be changed forever. Thank you, Howard.

Turns out Howard’s a big cyclist and here in Platinum Boulder (rated by the League of American Bicyclists) he gets to ride almost every day, and it shows; he’s healthy and lean and he’s quick to rattle off all the benefits of his Colorado cycling lifestyle; yes, he’s preaching to the choir. He tells me of all the great possibilities for interviews, “Bikes Belong is headquartered here,” and the next day I have an interview lined up with Bikes Belong President Tim Blumenthal (look for it at cdmCyclist). Then a bonus: the Foundry Group‘s Brad Feld will speak on campus, registration is free.

When in Boulder, I ride my rental bike to hear Brad speakI saw Brad speak on a panel in Atlanta a couple of years ago at the ACA Annual Summit. I came away with a distinct impression of the man: never agree to be on a panel with Brad! He’s so articulate, so quick with a pertinent story; I could see and feel the misery of his fellow panelists that morning; he dominated the discussion. I would start following his posts from then on. Brad’s a prolific blogger; he must write something several times a week. I’m a fan; I read the books he recommends, including his Do More Faster which tells the stories of lessons learned through Tech Stars.

As the program kicks off I learn that Brad is usually the one asking the questions, but tonight he’ll be the subject. And so the story begins with tales of his Apple II and his early programming efforts; how at age 12 he’s enrolled in a Community College programming class and it makes me think of how things have changed – today kids play XBox where everything is already programmed for them, what an advantage it was to have a computer with nothing on it. His early years at MIT and how he learned to cope, and his knack for making money. He described how he’d regularly get monthly royalty checks of $5-10,000 per month while in school; making money came easy. The life story won’t fit in the time allotted for this evening; we learn of his early venture capital successes, but equally important his failures, “failure is transitory,” and a great learning experience for him in those early years; he picks himself up and moves on.

There’s so much the moderators can’t squeeze in; he could easily talk till dawn, but they adjourn with the promise of Brad Feld, Part II. On my way back to the hotel, as I pedal along Boulder’s fabulous off-road bike paths, there’s the commentary he saved for the end of the night, during the Q&A, that echoes in my head. “How do manage balance with your personal life? What’s next in life?” And his remarks put a spell on the audience. “To live a great life,” means leaving it all on the field for Brad and I instantly get that he’s doing exactly that. He’s an inspiration for the assembled entrepreneurs of Boulder’s future. And how lucky this city of 100,000 and this university are to have this billionaire venture capitalist calling Boulder home.
moderators Brad Bernthal, left, and Jill Van Matre interview Brad Feld
Usually it’s Brad who asks the questions, but tonight moderators Brad Bernthal, left, and Jill Van Matre interview him

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