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Foundry Co-Founder on Personal and Professional Sides of Entrepreneurship

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John C Head III Dean David Schmittlein and Brad Feld, SB ’87, SM ’88, had a candid conversation about the rewards and challenges of entrepreneurship during a fireside chat at MIT Sloan Reunion 2023.

Feld is a partner and co-founder of Foundry, a venture capital firm that provides early-stage funding to new startups and connects them to one another for collaboration and learning. A longtime early-stage investor and entrepreneur, Feld has also co-founded Mobius Venture Capital, Intensity Ventures, and Techstars. He has authored and co-authored several books about entrepreneurship.

Feld and his wife, Amy Batchelor, are longtime supporters of MIT Sloan. Their philanthropic activities include supporting innovation at the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, establishing the Feld-Batchelor Fellowship, sponsoring the MIT Sloan Women’s Conference, and donating to the MIT Sloan Annual Fund.

At the beginning of the conversation, Feld was quick to point to how his MIT Sloan education prepared him for his current work.

When speaking about his MIT experience, Feld said, “I had these things that were sort of different but linked together. That was really profound for me in terms of my own experience, that I could be in an environment where I could do that. Because if you think about my world today, I’m an investor in a bunch of different companies and I help create a bunch of different companies.”

Mental health in entrepreneurship

Dean Schmittlein asked Feld about the challenges he encountered during his professional trajectory. Feld explained that he experienced many highs and lows during his early career. He sold his first successful business and made a large number of lucrative investments that propelled his current career as an early-stage investor.

Despite his professional success, Feld struggled with his mental health. He gave a detailed explanation of the first of three major depressive episodes in his life.

The dean applauded Feld for his honesty about his mental health, saying “You’ve written and talked about mental health and mental health challenges, especially in the context of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. This isn’t just a story. It is a story about you and the truth about you, but so many others as well.”

Feld went deeper into his work to spread awareness about and destigmatize mental health for entrepreneurs. While experiencing another depressive episode, he blogged about it and heard from many entrepreneurs going through similar struggles.

“When I came out of this depression, what I realized was the problem was not the depression. The problem was the stigma,” explained Feld.

The power of relationships

Feld discussed approaching his personal and professional relationships in similar ways.

He spoke about how he and Batchelor implemented strategies such as a monthly life dinner and a daily morning coffee together to balance their marriage with professional commitments. He believes that leadership teams in companies function similarly in that they implement behaviors and strategies to create their organizational culture.

Dean Schmittlein and Brad Feld addressing the crowd during their fireside chat.

Credit: Barry Hetherington

 

Feld has also found that well-performing startups are built on relationships that are reciprocal instead of transactional. Professionals enter into these reciprocal relationships without a specific expectation of what they will get from the other person.

In these relationships, “You’re willing to enter into a relationship without knowing what you’re going to get out of it. It’s not philanthropic ... You expect to get something from the relationship, but you don’t know what or over what period of time and what consideration from whom and in what magnitude,” Feld explained.

Thoughts on venture capitalism

During the question and answer session, Feld shared more specifics about his work as an angel investor. When discussing how he chooses his investments, he explained that he has always considered his collaboration with the intended company.

“Even if I was going to be an angel investor and own 1.3% of the company or whatever tiny amount of the company I owned, I viewed that as a partnership. I want to work with them today,” he elaborated.

Feld believes that the venture capital industry will evolve within the next few years in a way that mirrors the dot-com bubble during the late nineties. There will be fewer venture capital firms that fund early-stage startups. Large venture capital firms will still exist, but they will become smaller in terms of staffing.

“It won’t contract back to the same place,” he said when discussing long-term changes in the industry. “It has grown as an industry and the number of companies getting funded every year has grown significantly.”

Creativity and entrepreneurship

The session concluded with Feld sharing his thoughts on creativity and business ventures. He believes that founders should be ambitious and creative when starting a company, but also be open to making changes along the way. He compared the process to one that The New Yorker uses when editing articles.

“It’s like constantly editing what you’re working on but recognizing that when you start working on a new idea, you’re starting with nothing. You have got to let it go wherever it goes,” he said.

For more info Haley Bierman Development Writer (617) 253-7318