Aug 31 2016

Shadow Boxing

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 12.54.59 PMThere’s nothing I value more about what we’ve created at Foundry than the relationship I have with my partners. Brad, Jason, Ryan and I are not just business partners, but best friends. This relationship affects everything that we do at Foundry and I think shows in the way we run our firm and the way we work with the entrepreneurs in the Foundry portfolio.

It’s been an interesting transition over the years to get to this point and one that we’re constantly working on (we’ve often used an organizational consultant to help with this; we also spend a day a quarter off site to work on Foundry as a firm, the portfolio and our relationships with each other).  We each have different strengths and weaknesses and over the years have done a great job of leveraging those to the betterment of our firm and the portfolio.

But I need to be honest about something – I’ve struggled over the years working in the shadow of Brad and its taken me a while not just to admit it (and that it bothered me) but ultimately to embrace it. Actually it feels good to write that down. Brad is a truly amazing human being and by an objective (and in my mind subjective) measure, an exceptional venture capitalist. He quite literally taught me the business of VC. And to the outside world he’s larger than life (I hear this from people all the time). And therein comes the shadow. It bothered me for a long time and I struggled with it for a while. We have a completely equal partnership at Foundry – in our ownership of the firm, in our decision making, in how we work across the portfolio. But Brad is everywhere (writing books, blogging, on twitter, speaking) and for a long time I felt like I was in a race to keep up (which, let’s face it, isn’t even remotely possible).

It was a breakfast I had a few years ago with Brad Burnham that really impacted my thinking about this. I asked him about this dynamic in the Union Square Ventures partnership and he essentially said: Fred does his thing; I do mine. It’s complementary, not competitive. I suppose this should have been obvious to me and to some extent I’m sure I already knew it. But hearing it from Brad Burnham directly and forcefully really caused me to stop and think about it more deeply. What I was looking for was really just the ability to be at peace with the various roles we each play at Foundry generally and specifically my own role. And really my own role as an absolute, not as compared to my partners. It was a powerful discovery for me but one that has been incredibly important in how I think about the future of Foundry.

It was actually with much of this in mind that I asked Brad to join me on a trip to Minneapolis. I’ve long had a love for the Twin Cities (I went to college there and have been on the LeadPages board now for several years in Minneapolis). The trip was really about introducing Brad to the Twin Cities startup community (as well to visit the Techstars Retail program). The highlight was a Beta.MN event that featured me interviewing Brad. It was a great way for the community to get to know him and I loved the chance to be the guide (but not the focus) of the event. In preparing for it I thought a lot about Brad, our long relationship, our respective roles in Foundry and how we are viewed externally. For me it was a real embrace of the conversation that Brad Burnham and I had had years earlier. I even got to ask Brad a few questions that I had long had in my head, but that we’d never really talked about together (for example see 4:23 in the final video, something that we later talked about at length on our trip home). The videos can be found on Tech.MN here. It was a wonderful experience.