When Someone Believes in You

Something powerful happens when a person who’s not a family member — and therefore someone you perceive as more objective — tells you, with their actions or their words, that he believes in you: You begin to believe in yourself.

I’ve known Brad and Amy Feld for a decade. Technology has made it easier to stay lightly in touch with a lot of people, but it hasn’t changed what’s required to maintain close relationships over a long period of time, which is good old-fashioned face to face time. And face time can be hard to come by. People get married, have kids, get divorced, change jobs, move around, move on. People get busy. I’m busy. I’m delighted it’s worked out that I’ve known them so well for so long.

A couple weeks ago, I spent a weekend at their place, which has become a cherished yearly tradition. It’s actually pretty simple. One weekend a year, I go to wherever they are, and we talk. Recently, I arrived at their home in Colorado late Friday night after they were already asleep. We got up at 8:30am the next morning and had breakfast. We talked from 8:30am until 4:30pm. I took a nap and Brad went for a run. Then we had dinner and talked from 6:30pm – 9pm. On Sunday I slept in, and we talked from about 10am to noon. What’d we talk about for more than a dozen hours? Everything. Yes, everything.

Each year when I drive back to the airport from their house, head full of ideas and heart full of energy, I think, “I’m going to write a blog post about the visit.” This time I am.

When I got started in Silicon Valley as a student, I knew exactly one person in the tech industry: Mike. He was a neighbor and family friend. Mike worked at PwC for years. He served as my all-in-one-MBA. He taught me that everything flows through networks — information, deals, opportunities. So he made some crucial early introductions for me. One of those introductions was to a partner at the venture capital firm Mobius named Greg. That partner (Greg), in 2002, introduced me in turn to one of his other partners — Brad.

The first time I met Brad, in 2003, my business partner Dave Richmond and I were pitching Comcate. It wasn’t right for his firm, but he made some intros to friends in the Bay Area. With him living in Colorado, and without a shared project, there wasn’t a natural reason for us to stay in good touch.

That changed in May, 2004, when Brad started blogging. I took a look at his site when he launched it and knew immediately that I had to do the same. The next month I started my own blog. These were the magical bygone days when you only had 30-40 feeds in your RSS reader and could read every post – we subscribed to each other’s feeds and found a new way to stay in touch. At one point, we both started sharing bookmarks in Delicious – a way to understand the “first derivative of someone’s thinking,” as he once put it. Eventually, with the virtual connection forged, we found time to see each other in person, and I got to know his wife Amy, and the annual visit tradition began.

They mentioned, last time I saw them, that it’s been cool seeing my own transformation over the decade. Indeed, when I think about inflection points in my life, they’ve been there for many of them. For example: (1) When I was building out my first company, Brad helped me think through various questions—he introduced me to Michael Porter’s work, for example. (2) When I took some time off after high school and wrote my first book, Brad wrote a guest essay in the book on mentorship. (3) Shortly before the book’s publication, I worked on some projects for he and his partners in Boulder for a few months in 2007. There, I had the opportunity to help David Cohen as he got TechStars off the ground. (4) When I brainstormed new venues for acquiring an education, I visited them in Alaska, and they—along with Chris Yeh—were the only friends of mine who supported my unconventional plan. (5) Shortly after my first girlfriend dumped me, I remember finding myself in Keystone, CO. Brad told me the story of his first failed marriage. (6) When I began talking to Reid about doing a book with him, Brad and Reid were on the Zynga board together, and Brad was helpful in greasing the wheels. When I published my second and third books, Brad — who’s been publishing several books as well — offered important perspective and advice.

I could go on. Point is, at moments of consequence, both good and bad, they’ve been a stream of encouragement and advice. At key decision points in my life, they’ve believed in me.

Brad and Amy themselves have transformed over the last decade as well, of course. In the time I’ve known him, Brad co-founded Foundry Group, which has emerged as one of the leading venture firms in the world, and TechStars, a leading tech accelerator. Amy joined the board of Wellesley and co-authored a book with Brad about how to be in a relationship with an entrepreneur (the best book on the topic). Together, they’ve entered mid-life, confronted looming signs of mortality, and grappled with meaning-of-life questions. You can find many inspiring, honest blog posts on these topics on Brad’s blog.

Equally striking about Brad and Amy, though, is what has not changed over the past decade. Their values. Their personalities. Their intensity. Their playfulness. Amy once told me your romantic partner is going to have certain idiosyncrasies and they won’t change. You’ll love them at first, and maybe forever. But if and when they begin to annoy rather than amuse you—you know you’ve got a problem. It’s safe to say they are still eminently amused by each other’s idiosyncrasies. And they’re still committed to their deeply held beliefs.

I’m incredibly grateful that I have them in my life. I’m also grateful to have befriended some of the people in their ever generous network, such as my good friends Stan James, Wendy Lea, Dave Jilk, and Heidi Roizen. It’s their multiplier effect.

I dedicated my first book My Start-up Life, which was about my first entrepreneurial adventure, to Mike the PwC neighbor, and to my parents, who supported me mightily in the process. For my second book The Start-up of You, about how to transform your career with entrepreneurial principles, I dedicated my portion to my 6th grade teacher who inspired me to memorize Apple’s Think Different ad, which helped kickstart my entrepreneurial verve. For my third book The Alliance, my portion of the dedication reads as follows: “To Brad and Amy Feld, for believing in me.”

4 Responses to When Someone Believes in You

  1. Huy says:

    Hey Ben,

    Thanks for the answer for my question earlier and for this insightful blog post. Totally admire what you’ve done (well, I’ve followed your blog for a few years already) and be jealous of the people you have befriended with.

    Keep it up Ben. I’m learning from every post you have here.

    Huy

  2. Chris Yeh says:

    Regardless of how much you’ve gotten out of the relationship, I can assure you that your friends have gotten as much or more out of knowing you. Good for you for recognizing how Brad and Amy are special, and good for them for doing the same!

    I’m also proud that I was the only friend who joined Brad and Amy in support of your alternate education plans. That’s good company to keep!

  3. Terry says:

    And you and Brad were my model for my blog about my experience in Ghana as a business coach for small and medium businesses. 26 posts later my experience is much richer than it would have otherwise been and I’m loving it. Thank you Ben…and Brad.

  4. David Cohen says:

    I know this exact feeling, but I could never describe it as well as you just did.

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