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January 30, 2007

Betting and Blogging for Charity

Thanks to Fred, here is a wiki where you can bet on the Super Bowl score, with the winnings going to your favorite charity.  Cool idea.

Boston-Power

I'm proud to say that Boston-Power had its coming out party today at DEMO in California.  I led Venrock's investment in Boston-Power in early 2006 and remain very excited about the company.  I also remain an independent member of their Board.  They have a great team and have made fantastic progress.  I look forward to their high-performance and safer laptop batteries coming onto the market during 2007.

January 29, 2007

Celtics - Is there a plan?

I love basketball and grew up during a couple of different Celtics eras.  Cowens and Havlicek and White and Bird and McHale, and Parish and DJ defined both how to play basketball as a team and how to win.  A real sports golden age.

Basketball has changed.  There are too many young, inexperienced players and team play has declined.  However, the best teams (Phoenix, Detroit, San Antonio, and Dallas, for example) play pretty good team ball.  These days, the Celtics are really struggling.

And yet, I continue to go to the games.  I like the Celtics young players, and I think that Paul Pierce has become a real leader.  In fact, I think that Pierce is underappreciated on a nationwide basis because the Celtics fail to make the playoffs.  This year, the Celtics have been decimated by injuries, so I am not too worried about their current losing streak.  In fact, I think that they should be cautious with their injured players as this season is pretty much a lost cause.  Get 'em healthy for next year.

But, when Pierce comes back from his foot injury, how much better will they be?  What about next year, when Tony Allen, who had really shown some improvement this year, returns from his knee injury?  Will their other young players mature into a strong enough team?  Or, do they have a lot of good players, but not enough great players?

Given how young they are, I think that patience is in order, at least through next year.  By the end of next season, Danny Ainge will have to make some hard decisions on which of these players will really be part of a winning Celtics team and which ones can be traded to try to improve the team.  I hope that they have the patience and choose their keepers wisely.  If they don't, we'll be back at the beginning of the rebuilding cycle, and my own patience will be wearing thin.

Pet Peeves, Part I

Maybe I am old and set in my ways, but there are some things people do that really bother me.  I guess everyone has some of these, and it certainly helps if you understand that a VC has particular pet peeves before you go pitch your company.

This pet peeve probably shows that I am not just getting old but am also old fashioned.  I hate when people are late and don't call to give me a heads up.  Running late isn't a problem.  We've all been late, and in today's fast paced world, it's hard not to run late once in a while.  But, today is also a very connected world.  Anyone in business has a cell phone.  If you are running late for a meeting with me, please call to let me know.  I won't be mad.  In fact, I'll be happy that you respect my time as much as I respect yours.

If you don't call and are more than 10 minutes late, I'll probably cancel our meeting.  If you don't call and are more than 20 minutes late, I probably will be very hesitant to meet with you again.  If you call to let me know, I'll give you as much flexibility as you need.

20 years ago when I was in sales, it was very tough when you were running late.  You had to find a pay phone and make a call to tell someone that you were late.  I did a lot of international sales, and I soon learned the vagaries of various international pay phone systems.  But, I was never late without calling ahead first.

Of course, over the years, you get a lot of creative excuses for someone being late.  Here's the all-time champ:  A few years ago, I was stewing in my office waiting for someone who was 20 minutes late for a meteing.  My assistant finally tracked them down, and they said that they were "on their way."  When my assistant said that I would cancel the meeting because they were too late, they said that they were so late and couldn't call because they had been in a building that had a forced evacuation due to an anthrax scare and their cell phone had been trapped inside the building until the evacuation was over!  I still cancelled the meeting, but get a laugh about that one every time.

January 26, 2007

Don't Program Your Kids

I've had a lot of experience working with young professionals, both as young Associates at venture firms as well as working with business school students in various projects, such as an i-Team at MIT's Deshpande Center.  These are smart, high-achieving individuals who have great potential to do a lot in the future.

However, I have been frustrated and amazed sometimes when I see that many of these people have a hard time making decisions on their own.  In many cases, these people have followed a program from the time they were young.  Their parents, teachers, and advisors have laid out a plan for them, have given them lots of additional resources, and have shown them the recipe for success.  I often have been asked by them "tell me exactly what I have to do to get promoted or to get the project done."  My reaction was that I wanted to throw them into the deep end of the pool and say "swim".

I think that it is critical for entrepreneurs to figure out what to do on their own and to not be afraid of making mistakes.  Many of these young people have never faced a setback.  They are terrified of failing and think that the consequences are monumental.  They need to learn that failing is part of learning.  Also, you can ask for advice and integrate that into a strategy without having someone tell you exactly what to do.

As a Board member, I try to do the same thing.  I advise the CEO and rarely, if ever, tell them what to do.  Most CEOs want to gather input from many sources and insist on finding conflicting inputs so they can understand all sides of an issue before they make a final decision.  As an investor, I need to trust the CEO to make an intelligent decision based on understanding all sides of an issue.  If I lose that trust, it's probably time to make a CEO change.

As a parent, I am conscious of this with my young kids.  I want to give them access to every resource and opportunity, but I don't want to dictate what they do.  I'll keep them from making really big mistakes, but they need to learn to blaze their own path and make their own decisions about what is important to them.  I certainly don't want to insist that they follow a program that meets my needs (but probably not theirs).  Instead, I'll throw them into the deep end of the pool (but will watch to make sure they figure out how to swim).

January 25, 2007

Go Bedford!

I just found out that my town, Bedford, MA, has been named one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People in the USA.  One aspect that was highlighted is the new Peer Mentoring program in Bedford High School where juniors help incoming freshmen get acclimated to the school and integrated into the various clubs and activities.  Very cool!

Startups have Freshness Dating

One concept that many entrepreneurs don't really understand is that start-ups have freshness dating.  You know, "Best if Exited by 2010."  There is no explicit schedule for any one start-up, but once the entrepreneur takes money from investors, the clock starts ticking.

There are several factors that influence the end date and how fast the clock ticks:

  • How much capital is required to get to cash flow break-even.  The more capital required, the faster the clock ticks and the less time you have.
  • The pace of development of the market.  A fast moving market (one with high growth and/or increasing number of competitors) will have a fast-ticking start-up clock.
  • The monthly burn rate.  If you aren't burning much cash each month, investors will be more patient.
  • Each investor's situation.  Is their fund looking for a quick exit to help make their fund-raising easier on their next fund?  Does the partner need to put a 'positive number on the board' to enhance their standing in the partnership?  Is the firm looking to free up board slots among the partners to have more capacity for new deals?  These are the 'behind the scenes' issues which drive decisions that often befuddle entrepreneurs and cause tension in investment syndicates.
  • The age of the deal.  As companies raise multiple rounds of financing, investors get less patient.  There are some deals that manage to have multiple lives, with recap rounds of financing and the ability to continue to raise money.  But, these are often very circumstantial.  As an entrepreneur, you don't want to count on your ability sell the dream to an ever-changing syndicate.  As an investor, I always evaluated a company on the amount of progress they had raised vs. the amount of capital raised.  I would be drawn to deals where the entrepreneurs had gotten a lot done on a little capital.

I grew up with an exposure to the grocery business, but in my family and in my high-school job.  I remember working in the produce department when we had too much lettuce.  The manager was worried that it would start to rot in the back room.  So, we had to do whatever we could to 'move the lettuce.'  Don't let your start-up begin to rot -- keep it capital efficient, nimble, and moving forward.  If you sense things stagnating, be proactive about making changes.

Avvenu - Music Remote Access

After reading about it on TechCrunch, I am trying out Avvenu.  It's a service that lets you remotely access your iTunes library from any Web browser, including a Windows Mobile phone.  You can't share files with DRM, like those bought from iTunes.  But, most of my music is ripped from CDs I own, so it's accessible.  You can also share playlists with friends, etc.  The feature I really want to try is the ability to play your iTunes music from a Windows Mobile phone, like my Samsung Blackjack.

Unfortunatley, the Windows Mobile player isn't quite ready.  When it is, I will try it out and report on the results here.

January 23, 2007

Politico

If you like national politics, check out Politico.com.  Content looks interesting.  I heard about it in an NPR OnPoint podcast today.

Which is the real Romney?

There has been a lot written about how former Massachusetts Governor Romney has shifted to the right to woo more national conservative voters who would be otherwise put off by his Massachusetts pedigree.  Although I didn't vote for Romney when he ran for governor, I didn't think he would do a bad job.  He is a venture capitalist and had done a good job on big projects, such as the Salt Lake City Olympics.  When Romney focused on something, such as the collapse of the Big Dig tunnel ceiling, he got results.  Maybe he should have had more competent people monitoring the Big Dig all along, but that project was a mess for a long time before he got into office.

Anyway, once Romney decided to run for President, he has tried to portray himself as more conservative.  The contrast in the Scott Lehigh column referenced above is very illustrative.  For me, the most important (and most elusive) trait a candidate can have is integrity.  I want to vote for someone who has some core beliefs, tells me what they are, and then follows-through on them after they are elected.  Even though I never voted for Reagan, I always felt that he told America what he was going to do, and then did it.  Pretty rare these days.

Not only has Romney pulled a major U-turn on social issues, he has tried to discredit Brian Camenker, a conservative activist who has taken Romney on.  Camenker has highlighted that Romney hasn't always described himself as a conservative.  I am no fan of Camenker.  And in this Press Release which has been removed from the index of Mitt's Web site, Romney doesn't like hearing what Camenker thinks of his record.

The funniest aspect of the Press Release is the link to this video in which the Daily Show's Ed Helms interviews Camenker and pokes fun at his stridently conservative social views.  But, are these views different than the ones that Romney is trying to embrace?  Maybe this vicious circle is why Romney removed the de-bunking of Camenker from his web site.  Even Romney is confused about whether or not he should align himself with this staunch conservative.  To the old Romney, the answer would be clear.

January 22, 2007

Pats Post Facto

OK, I am glad I don't try to make a living making football picks.  I was 0 for 2 yesterday.  My Patriots had a disappointing second half.  They couldn't hold off the Colts and were outplayed when it counted.  However, I didn't call this entry a post mortem as I don't think that the Pats run is over.  They aren't dead, but it's impossible to expect them to win it all every year.

In the Belichick/Brady era, the Pats have made it to, and won, the Super Bowl three times.  No other team has even made it to the Super Bowl more than once during this time.  The other two teams that have been the most consistent in this era have been the Eagles and the Colts.  Now they have one Super Bowl appearance each (and just about annual playoff appearances).  Although I was disappointed that the Pats couldn't hold the lead, this morning I am reflecting on how great the Pats have been over the past six years.

The salary cap era in football is a great equalizer.  Hence the turnover in Super Bowl participants.  For the Patriots to be in the playoffs and a serious contender for the Super Bowl every year makes them an elite team.  For them to have won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years ranks them among the great teams in NFL history.  I think that the credit for them being a 'dynasty' (if there is such a thing in sports these days) has to go to Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli who have constantly stocked the team with new and young players, plugging gaps left by free agency.

The Pats have two first round picks this year (Seattle's and their own).  Both are late in the first round, and the Pats should be able to get some good players to keep the train rolling.  I'd like to see them re-sign Asante Samuel and Tully Banta-Cain, but who knows.  Regardless, they have some needs at wide receiver, at linebacker, and in the secondary.  I wouldn't mind another running back as Corey Dillon is really wearing down.  But, the Patriots have to be a leading contender to make it to the Super Bowl next season pretty much regardless of what they do on these matters.

My hats off to the Colts this year.  They deserved to win yesterday and are a classy team.  Note that the game yesterday wasn't marred by over-celebration and the post-game comments were very complimentary on both sides.  These are two teams that really respect each other and play the game the right way.

As far as the future of the Patriots:  In Bill we trust!

January 19, 2007

Freedom from/or terror

Ever since September 11, 2001, we have wrestled with the issue of how much of our freedom we are willing to give up in the name of keeping ourselves safe.  This is a fundamental issue for every society.  This isn't a recent phenomenon.  Abe Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War.  The US (and Canada) interred Japanese civilians during World War II.  So, there was plenty of precedent for the Bush Administration to also suspend habeas corpus and to push for passage of the USA PATRIOT Act.

I recently saw two news articles which got me to think about this issue again.  First, we learn that antiwar protest groups were initially put on the list of terrorist threats, and then President Bush gave in to use the FISA court to obtain wiretaps on potential threats.

The tracking of antiwar protest groups as potential terrorist threats has been stopped, or so we're told.  Who knows what other types of tracking and information gathering is continuing?  Our fundamental right is our freedom of expression.  We should all rejoice in this and protect it dearly.  Who knows if the government is keeping track of this blog posting as it is negative about the Bush administration?  I'm not willing to give up on our freedom of expression in the name of safety.  We are in much more danger if we fear for what we say or who we meet with.  We need a government that values our society's freedoms, too.  I recently saw Good Night and Good Luck on DVD.  It's chilling to see how people feared the McCarthy hearings and how that changed people's day to day interactions.  The country was much weaker because of this, and thank goodness McCarthy was discredited and the witch hunt ended.  Hopefully with the Democratic Congress the tide has turned on the government's ability to quell our right of free expression.  But, I don't think that this issue is dead by any means.

The privacy issue is equally important, but more complicated.  First, with today's digital economy, we have all voluntarily given up a lot of private information, leaving us suceptible to identity theft and tracking.  You have to be very vigilent to keep your personal information under control.  There are probably some business opportunities in developing products and services which help consumers in this area.  The government also needs to refrain from gathering and tracking our private information, unless they have a warrant due to probably cause.  Some sort of check and balance system is needed, and the FISA court never seemed to be an obstacle to wiretapping potential threats before.  To me, the argument here was much more about flexing Presidential muscles and changing the balance of power rather than getting wiretap warrants fast enough.  There was already a provision in FISA to wiretap first and get the warrant immediately afterwards.  How much faster response did they need?

Terrorism is scary, and we live in a world where there are real threats.  But, isn't the compromising of our fundamental rights even scarier?  I don't think we need to choose between Freedom or Terror in order to have Freedom from Terror.  In fact, our freedom should be a beacon to counteract the negative images of us that some of our terrorist enamies use to recruit new members.

January 18, 2007

Over-celebration

There's been a lot of flack this week about the Patriots 'disrespecting' the Chargers in their post-game celebration (more in the video here).  I think that the Pats were overly exuberent, but this doesn't come out of thin air.  The taunting and celebration in football has escalated over the years.

I remember Billy "White Shoes" Johnson from the Houston Oilers in the 1970s.  He was one of the first to do the touchdown dance in football.  In recent years, this has escalated with the Joe Horn cell phone incident and the many antics of Terrell Owens.  TO's "The Bird" dance was mocked by the Patriots at the end of Super Bowl XXXIX, so the Pats have a history of reacting to this type of thing.

In the Chargers game last weekend, there was a lot of build-up.  Thanks to the ProJo PatsBlog, I found this video of Shawne Merriman leading a crowd in chanting "Brady Sucks" at a pre-game rally in San Diego.  Also, Merriman vowed that he was going to "punch Brady in the mouth" during the game.  Shawne is known for his Lights Out dance, which the Patriots mocked in the post-game.  Of course, if Merriman didn't run off at the mouth and do this dance after every sack (or even QB knock-down), there would be nothing to mock.  Once this kind of activity gets started, the actors can't complain about the reactors.  In the end, the Patriots neutralized Merriman (2 tackles, 1 sack).  He didn't do much in the second half when the Patriots passed on almost every down.

I'd prefer it if all the players toned down the celebration in the style of Barry Sanders.  He was known for just handing the ball to the official after a touchdown.  No spike, no dance.  I remember hearing Barry quoted as saying something like "act like you've been there and plan on being there again."  Ideally, the Pats should have done this on Sunday, but who can blame someone for reacting after such a hard fought victory?  The Patriots reaction came when the game was over, not during the game (such antics and over-aggressiveness cost the Chargers dearly).

I think that NFL fans, in general, like the celebration as it adds to the excitement.  It also seems to create a rivalry, as I expect that the Chargers will be looking for payback the next time they play the Patriots.

Note that these antics haven't taken place in Patriots-Colts games as far as I can remember.  Neither team starts it, and therefore neither team reacts.  Both teams have a lot of respect for the other.  Even though the series has tilted to the Patriots overall, the Colts have won the last two meetings.  I look forward to another great game on Sunday.

January 17, 2007

Right-sizing a VC fund

In my previous post on entrepreneurship in Massachusetts, I discussed the lack of 'anchor tenants' in the MA high-tech sector.  Another issue in Massachusetts and the rest of the industry has to do with the mismatch between the desired capital efficiency of a start-up and the ever increasing size of most venture funds.  It's very hard for a big fund to invest in an early stage company that may not require very much capital and may only produce a modest total outcome (although a nice multiple on invested capital).

This issue was also recently discussed on Venture Beat by Charles Moldow of Foundation Capital.  I agree with his analysis.  I think that there is an opportunity for small to medium size venture funds ($70-120M) with 3-5 partners.  Funds of this size can make investments in companies that do not require too much capital (maybe $6M from one of these funds over the life of a deal, perhaps two of these funds in the deal all the way through).  With this amount of capital, a $100M exit is a nice win.  If the amount of capital is moderated a bit with frugality, the average $72M exit on a total of $8M invested is also a very nice return.  Exits of this size can move the needle on a modest size fund, but don't get the attention of a bigger fund.

I think that there is an opportunity for funds of this size, and there are some existing and new funds which are targeting this market segment.  Venture fund limited partners are also starting to notice that they should look to smaller funds who can deliver a nice multiple on their money.  The challenge is that there is a lot of money in LP pockets, which tends to force up fund sizes (and push these types of investments out of the sweet spot).

There are other factors which have forced VC fund sizes and exist expectations so high.  I'll write about those in the future.

January 15, 2007

The State of MA Entrepreneurship

As I am out trying to figure out what to do next, I know that I will be doing something involving entrepreneurship.  Maybe I'll stay in venture capital, maybe I'll join or found a start-up.  However, it's a bit depressing thinking about the state of entrepreneurship in Massachusetts these days (at least in the high-tech sector).

There are interesting opportunities.  I think that the Web is just beginning to show its promise in enhancing communications and commerce.  Mobile communications are also just beginning to move beyond voice and simple text messaging.  Also, I believe that energy and energy efficiency will be key investment and entrepreneurship themes in the coming years.

However, it's hard to see how the typical venture capital models can be applied to some of these sectors.  There are issues of capital efficiency and timing that make it difficult.  Also, Massachusetts doesn't have the anchor tenets and feeder companies to foster some of these industries.  And, that's the subject of this post which will be ther first in a series on the state of entrepreneurship today.

Many times people ask what it would take to replicate Silicon Valley.  I don't think it's possible, but some of the key factors are technology focused universities as a source of new ideas, a business school where entrepreneurship is a focus, sources of venture capital which are willing to take chances, and established companies in the key industries that are sources of partnerships and management talent.  You can also argue that you need an established community of companies that spawn more companies, but that's hard to have at the beginning.  Perhaps the way to start with that is to have entrepreneurs and VCs willing to fund a lot of opportunities before they see any initial results.

In Massachusetts, we don't have those anchor tenant companies that can be sources of management talent and partnerships.  EMC is the closest, but they are focused in just a few segments.  Others, like Analog Devices, don't lend themselves well to spinning off talent and ideas.  There aren't a lot of others that are big enough to be candidates.  Why?

I think that there are two factors -- companies that lack the vision to capture the market in the long term and VCs who decide to cash out instead of going for the long ball.  These issues are probably linked.  In so many industries of the past, the West Coast was 'open' and the East Coast was 'closed.'  Open always wins.  Now, the West Coast is 'consumer' (and 'open') and the East Coast is 'infrastructure.'  Right now, the consumer wins.  The consumer segment is where the spending is and where the innovation is.  Also, strangely, on the Web, it's possible for consumer uptake to be rapid (hard to do offline).

So, we need feeder companies that can help us build companies in the consumer, mobile, and energy segments.  If you are in a small company that has that potential, think about playing for the long ball rather than cashing in too early...

More to come in future posts.

January 14, 2007

As good as a monkey...

I made my picks, and I got half of them right.  That's as good as a monkey would do flipping a coin.  If you have followed football this year and looked at the 'experts' making their picks, most of them have gotten less than 50% of them right.  That's the beauty of the NFL.  You really can't predict what will happen reliably.

I can't believe that the Pats came back to win against San Diego.  I thought that the Pats did not play their best game, but they made the plays when they had to.  When Brady threw that last interception, I thought the game was over.  When Troy Brown forced the fumble and the Pats recovered, I knew that they would win.  Somehow, someway.  Tom Brady didn't play his best, but he made the plays when he had to.  Wow.  I can't wait until next weekend to watch them against the Colts.  If they win, I am on to Miami.

Since I was half wrong, I'll revise my picks.  I'll take the Patriots over the Colts and the Saints over the Bears (the Saints looked great).  And, of course, the Pats will beat the Saints in Miami.

Go Pats!

Doesn't anyone ever try these things?

I wrote recently on customer service.  Another aspect of treating customers well is to give them products that work well and work as expected.  As a "product guy" in several start-ups, I spent lots of time trying to figure out what customers really want and would want from a new product.

Many times, users can't describe exactly how they want a product to work and exactly what problem they need a product to solve.  You can interview them, watch them, run focus groups, and do lots of research.  But, watching doesn't always give you what they want.  Sometimes, a new product is like pornography -- you can't describe it, but you know it when you see it.

Marketeers need to get inside a customer's head.  They need to learn to think like a customer and to understand the world the customer lives in.  This requires first hand experience, not second or third hand.  The worst thing is "zero" hand -- having a product designer do something because they can, because they think it is cool, or because it makes sense to them.

I recently helped my parents set up a digital photo frame.  It should have been an easy experience.  This is a limited function product, has software running on a PC where it should be simple to make a nice interface, and is aimed at a mass market.  Instead, the software was clunky, there was no tutorial, the documentation was sketchy and incomplete.  It wasn't obvious for me how to use this thing.  You can imagine how frustrated the average user gets.  Doesn't this lead to a lot of support calls that ruin the profitability of these products?  Didn't they actually try to use this thing first?

There is an article in today's Boston Globe on how much a company should spend on marketing vs. engineering.  Although interesting, I think that this article misses the point.  You can't solve these problems with money.  I actually think that most companies, particularly small companies, should spend more on engineering than on marketing and product management.  However, every company and product needs one or two visionaries who really get inside the customer's head and understand how the product will be used.  These couple of people can have a huge impact on a product design and can influence the work of a whole engineering team.  They are worth a lot if they are good.

Apple particularly does a great job with this.  The iPod revolutionized digital musice by creating an easy end-to-end customer experience.  No other vendor had done this.  Perhaps they will do the same thing with the iPhone, but I am skeptical.  They are still working with one of the carriers (Cingular), and they have rarely made complicated products simple.  I recently bought a Samsung Blackjack.  The actual device is great, but it is running Windows Mobile.  Windows Mobile has tons of capability and is almost easy.  But, there are little quirks that aren't documented, and synching it with some music on your PC is downright unintuitive.  Didn't anyone try this out?  What is their image of a user if they thought that this was the right way for the product to work?  I don't think that hiring even more marketeers would solve the problem.

January 12, 2007

Football's best weekend

This weekend is the best weekend of the football season.  The top 8 teams in the league are playing each other in the Divisional round of the playoffs.  All the games are at least very good, and a couple are great match-ups.

Football is my favorite sport to follow because each game matters so much.  The season is short, and a few false steps can ruin a team's chances.  Also, the salary cap structure and rotating schedule maintains parity.  Every year, there are teams that improve greatly (like the Saints) and teams that fall from grace (like the Steelers).  However, each team has a reasonable chance to improve greatly next year, so hope springs eternal.

Colts-Ravens - As much as I would like to see a Pats-Colts AFC Championship Game (just to have the Pats stymie Peyton Manning one more time), I can't see the Colts beating the Ravens on the road.  The Ravens have a great defense and a strong enough offense.  The Colts defense looked great against the Chiefs, but I think that was more due to the Chiefs being playoff pretenders.

Eagles-Saints - I think that this will be a great game.  Both teams have strong offenses, and Jeff Garcia has the Eagles playing well.  They played a close game in October, but that was pre-Garcia.  We'll see how the Saints fare in their first second round playoff game ever.  I like the Eagles, but it should be very close.

Seahawks-Bears - The worst of the 4 games this weekend.  I'm taking the Bears, but I think that they are overrated, particularly with Rex Grossman as quarterback.  I'm still mad at Deion Branch for spurning a reasonable offer from the Patriots (in the end) and forcing the trade to Seattle.

Patriots-Chargers - The best game of the weekend (OK, I am a biased Pats fan).  The Chargers have been the most consistent team in the league this year and have no real weakness.  But, the Patriots have experience, have been playing well, and should confuse Phillip Rivers and force him to make a couple of mistakes.  If the Patriots can avoid making turnovers and show some sure tackling, they'll win.  But, it will be a close game.

If I'm right, I'll take the Eagles over the Bears and the Patriots over the Ravens.  Of course, the Patriots will then beat the Eagles in a re-match of SuperBowl XXXiX (and I'll be there to cheer them on again, too!).

January 11, 2007

What ever happened to customer service?

As every market segment gets more competitive, customer service emerges as one type of differentiator.  It's why I always go to Starbucks instead of Dunkin' Donuts for coffee (or one of many reasons).  I find that I am incredibly loyal to vendors who give me great customer service.  Those who delight me with service get me as a customer for life.

My favorite ticket guy, Richie, once blew me away with customer service.  I buy concert and sports tickets from Richie.  He's not cheap, but he has access to the best seats.  A few years ago, during a Yankees-Red Sox playoff series, I was in NY for a Board Meeting and wanted to bring the founder of the company to the baseball game.  I had bought tickets from Richie and arranged to have him ship them to the company.  Unbelievably, Fed Ex lost the package.  Getting the tickets the next day was no good as the game was that night.  I called Richie, and he got me tickets to the game couriered to the company.  And, he didn't charge me!  Needless to say, I am Richie's customer for life.  If you ever need tickets, contact me at mike_feinstein@yahoo.com.  I'll put you in touch with Richie.

So, why don't VCs give good customer service?  I have heard from so many entrepreneurs that VCs are horrible to deal with.  They never give straight answers to questions.  Entrepreneurs never know where they stand in the decision-making process.  Too many VCs like to 'hang around the hoop' in case a deal they are cool on somehow becomes hot.  Also, VCs don't treat entrepreneurs well during meetings.  They don't pay attention, they read email on their Blackberry's, and they are frequently late.  I'm sure you've seen the famous Gary the Snowman holiday video from Blue Run Ventures.  Entrepreneurs tell me that this isn't too far from true.

This is a sign of the arrogance and bloat of the current VC business.  I always believed in giving entrepreneurs good customer service.  I was on time, prepared, and attentive during meetings.  I tried to ask good questions, give good, honest feedback, and let them know what the next step in the process was.  I said 'No' when I had made up my mind.  I received frequent compliments from entrepreneurs who told me how refreshing this was.  Huh?  I couldn't believe that this was so rare. 

VCs who don't treat entrepreneurs well should prepare for a rude awakening.  They will eventually not have the best entrepreneurs to choose from.  The VC business changes slowly as funds are committed for years.  But, I expect some big structural changes in the world of early stage investing in the coming years.  As in any business, when it matures, premium providers will differentiate themselves with great customer service.

January 10, 2007

ABC saves me from George Bush

I enjoyed last week's premiere of a new show on ABC, The Knights of Prosperity.  Unfortunately (on so many levels), President Bush made a speech tonight at 9 PM, which is when the show airs.  Luckily, ABC.com streams the full episode starting Thursday morning at 2 AM PST.  So, tomorrow I can watch the episode that my Tivo missed most of because of the speech.  Now, if only video streaming on the Web could get us out of Iraq...

January 09, 2007

Colbert and O'Reilly

Thanks to Rob Tunick for this one:

A colossal media event a year-and-a-half in the making will unfold when Stephen Colbert ventures into the "No Spin Zone" to make his debut guest appearance on FOX News Channel's (FNC) The O'Reilly Factor on Thursday, January 18th at 8:00 PM. Later that evening Bill O'Reilly will grab his American passport and head over to "Colbert Nation" for his debut appearance on COMEDY CENTRAL's The Colbert Report airing at 11:30 PM.

 Set up your Tivo!

Fresh start

2007 should be an interesting year.  I am embarking on a new career direction, to be determined.  Maybe I'll stay in venture capital, but I am also considering consulting to start-ups or full-time operating roles.

It's also a time for a fresh start in Massachusetts politics.  Deval Patrick is our new governor.  He seems determined to take a new approach.  I like the fact that he seems to be willing to hold back on some of his promises in the name of fiscal responsibility.  I like his visionary approach, but I hope he can match it with a tight management style.  Massachusetts voters have selected Republican governors for the past 12+ years (Weld, Cellucci, Romney) to balance off the Democratic legislature.  The Republicans have generally been moderates, although Romney is tilting hard right as he runs for President.

I'm hopeful that someone will emerge as a Democratic Presidential candidate who can be just as visionary but still a strong manager.  Bill Clinton, at his best, was able to do this.  He kept the Democratic base in the boat while he maintained fiscal discipline.  I don't think that Hillary is electable as too many Republicans have a strong negative reaction to her.  Perhaps Obama has these qualities, but he seems too inexperienced.  I liked Mark Warner, but he dropped out.  Any other ideas?

I am hopeful that 2007 (and 2008) will be a year of fresh starts.  I'm trying to get a fresh start in blogging, too...


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