Brad Feld’s @Techstars Talk on “Work Life Harmony”

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One of Techstars’ co-founders (and current hero of Foundry Group’s limited partners due to the spectacular success of his investment in Fitbit) is Brad Feld. Brad took some time today to answer questions from the current Boston Techstars, with the theme being “Work Life Balance”. Below are my rough notes on the topics. I’m not trying to accurately portray his talk as a reporter, but more give people a sense of what it’s like to be in Techstars.
Brad called in via videoconference, and first addressed the concept of “Work Life Balance”, explaining that if there are two extremes along the spectrum, he had failed at both of those extremes in the past. Rather, he framed it as a continual exploration of “Work Life Harmony”, which is more of an exploration, figuring out what notes work best given everything else that goes on.
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While I live blogged the event on our internal Slack channel (we also tape such presentations for those who are out of the office or want to revisit it), here’s just a sample of some of the highlights.
Brad started by destroying the myth of the Superman or Superwoman who can do it all, without a crack in their facade. (He referenced his blogpost “Be Vulnerable“.
We are told that leaders must be strong. They must be confident. They must be unflinching. They must hide their fear. They must never blink. They cannot be soft in any way. Bullshit.
He went on to discuss that the best leaders (as well as partners) are those who can be honest, and that means vulnerable at times. And that same vulnerability and honesty carries through to the other significant relations in your life. He specifically talked about stories from his marriage, and strategic hints he and his wife Amy came up with to make sure their actions resonated with their words and desires, some of which are in their book “Startup Life“.
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Brad went into some specific tactics “the Postcard drill”; “the 4 minute morning talk”, like a “Daily Standup” with your significant other; “One hour a day for yourself”, turning off the phone, doing email in batches without letting it rule your life.

But Brad warned it’s not just touchy-feely hacks. Rules #1: Don’t Bullshit Yourself. And things are going to go wrong, so you might as well expect it and not try to fake it. 

Feld Thoughts
This is one of my favorite lines to use to explain the business life I live. When asked what it’s like to be a partner in a VC firm, be on a bunch of boards, and have a continuous stream of random interaction come my way, I like to level set my reality. It’s simple…. “When faced with your demons, confront them and address them, and they’ll go away.”
Brad took questions from the crowd, and talked about how he has found ways to keep his relationship going in spite of a schedule which may explode at anytime. Some solutions are easy: warning his wife that he is expecting an important call that may come during dinner–1) acknowledging her; 2)being clear if he is going to need to be interrupted; and 3) setting expectations appropriately. On to some of the Q&A.
“How can I unwind?” Brad talked about taking a “Digital Sabbath”–the seemingly impossible turning off of the phone for 24 hours during the weekend, and also taking time “off the grid” for a week each quarter as a rigorous disconnect. Both to me seem near impossible; Brad acknowledged  that it was hard to learn to disconnect, but doable.  Doing startups are not sprints, but marathons, and learning how to turn it off is necessary to going the distance.

“What role models should I look to?” Brad rejected the idea of a single archetype of “success”. What counts is looking inward to understandyour OWN motivation. Some of the best leaders can be introverts, not extroverts, in spite of the stereotypes. So, don’t try to emulate others, start by learning yourself. When you know that, you can find correct role models.

“I used to be interesting, but now all the books I read are about entrepreneurship. How do I not become boring to my spouse?” 1) Recognize that when you’re together with your significant other, he/she is the most important person in the room, and you’re no longer the CEO. Start with the framework of letting them bring their issues to you, not vice versa. Let THEIR work be at least as important to your relationship as your work. 2) Stop reading the same old BS. “Take the 10 business books on your nightstand and throw them in the trash.” If you like biographies, just go pick a random biography about someone that inspires or interest you. That can be your hour a day to yourself, to keep yourself from being so one-dimensional.
Brad’s secret hack on how to have an awesome experience at during the 3 months at Techstars? As a sci-fi aficionado, he is a huge fan of the 80 episodes of Battlestar Galactica, at 45 minutes each. “Watch 1 a day, and at end of Techstars you’ll have watched the most epic television series ever.”
“How do you process your email?” Brad gets 500 emails a day and tries to respond to all of them. Brad uses OtherInbox to help him power through, as well as unsubscribe to a bunch of the lists. Tries to touch every email no more than 2x, but almost always it’s just a fast 1 and done. At end of day or beginning to clean things up, he is down to a hundred or so responds from the bottom of the list up and bangs them out in 30 mins to an hour. Which makes it 20 seconds to scan and 10 seconds to reply. He isn’t obsessed with Zero Inbox, but doesn’t get behind more than 24-48 hours.  (Author’s note: Brad lives by this. I copied him on some of the pictures I took on my cellphone before uploading them to WordPress, and he responded with in 30 minutes with a 1 word reply. That’s efficient.)

Doesn’t use email as a todo list. He puts the big things in a separate list, not to rule his day. Makes it work for him, not the other way around. If you don’t put aside time to process email, you’ll feel you never catch up. Just carve out some time to go through inbox. “Don’t stop whatever you’re doing to always be checking your email. Do it in batches, it’s much more effective.”
As for me, I believe in the same thing on cranking out blogposts. Just get through them, then back on what’s important. That’s why this is called “Insufficiently Edited.”
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Thanks, Brad!


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