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February 27, 2007

Derek, Mick, and the Prez

Just saw this item on a Photoshopped picture that made it's way onto Derek Jeter's Topps baseball card.  You can see Mickey Mangle in the dugout and President Bush waving in the stands.  Maybe they can make one showing Jeter and A-Rod being friends again, too!

Time Management II - Touch it just once

Last month I started my time management series by writing about setting daily goals and making sure you get the most important things done each day.  However, we all deal with mountains of small things that have to get handled along the way.  Each one may not be high priority, but if you don't keep up with it, you'll soon be snowed under.

One technique that I use is to try to 'touch' each item only once.  Back in the world where everything was on paper, you could find yourself shuffling papers around on your desk, spending a few minutes on one pile before you moved onto the next.  However, this is inefficient because you have to remind yourself where you were on each item before you can make progress.

Instead, try to handle something just once.  If it's an email, read, resond and file (or delete).  Somethings require more review or a more detailed reply.  If so, schedule a time for you to do that and file the item until that time.  Don't keep going back to it, reading it, and saying "oh, I really need to work on that."  Instead, pick a time to do it, and stick to it.

Once you get caught up on the torrent of communications, it's easier to stay caught up.  I try to set service metrics for myself on how long I will go before responding to an email and for dealing with paperwork.  This may sound like overkill, but this is how you would do things if you were somehow able to outsource all this work (hmmm, perhaps a start-up idea).  I try to keep up with my email throughout each day.  I respond to every message within one business day (usually much faster).  If I can't really answer a question or provide a detailed response in that time, I set an expectation for when I will get it done (and then pick a time on my schedule when I'll work on it).  If something comes up that keeps me from meeting that commitment, I let the requestor know.  If I know that I will be out of touch for more than a day, I set an 'out of office' message on my email.

I treat each of these interactions as a commitment, including a commitment to myself to keep up with communications.  Keeping commitments builds trust, and trust is the foundation of great business relationships.  So, keep in touch by just touching it once.

Here are some nice time management tips, along with the obligatory Dilbert cartoon.

February 26, 2007

Lady Liberty

Lady Liberty.jpg

We spent most of the past week in New York City.  I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for the first time.  Although the boat ride out there was extremely cold at this time of year, I was in awe of the level of commitment that the immigrants had.  They were willing to carry a small amount of wordly possessions and establish a new, and hopefully better, life in the US.  The country was welcoming, and only 2% of those who passed through Ellis Island were turned away.

I think that the spirit of hard work shown by these people hasn't changed with today's immigrants.  They put up with lifestyles and working conditions that most of us wouldn't tolerate.  The country is much less welcoming, with many fewer legal paths to US residency and citizenship.

What would happen if we set up new Ellis Island-like facilities at our borders, screened everyone, and took the healthy, non-criminal immigrants who had a modest amount of means ($25 in 1912, the equivalent of $522 today)?  By screening everyone, we could deal with our terrorist concerns.  We could more effectively collect taxes from these workers.  And, we could dedicate more resources to things other than chasing illegal immigrants.

The words of “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus on the pedestal of the statue don't reflect today's view of immigration:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I remember being proud of these words when I learned them in elementary school.  Could we continue to productively absorb large numbers of immigrants now as we did in the past?

February 20, 2007

OK, now I'm old

We all have those moments when we realize that we are older than our self-image.  Beyond life's mileposts (graduation, marriage, parenthood), there are times when we figure out that people who were always younger than us who are now older.

Today I realized that, for the first time, a serious Presidential contender is younger than I am.  Barack Obama is almost exactly three months younger than me.  I don't know if he'll win, and I don't know if I would vote for him.  But, he's a contender.  And, I am no longer as young as I always thought I was.

February 19, 2007

Venture Capital Network

I'm happy to say that The Fein Line is now part of the Venture Capital Network of blogs.  This network is a service of Feedburner and is run by Brad Feld.

Some features of this network are that you can easily find and search other VC feeds and you can advertise on network feeds (but not mine as I do not currently run any ads).  I am overdue in using some of Feedburner's features on my blog, so you'll start to see them appearing here, including FeedFlares on my site and in the feeds.

I hope you enjoy easy access to the extra content.  It's good stuff!

February 15, 2007

On the road

No posting for the next few days and perhaps only very light posting over the next week as I have an out of town meeting to attend followed by school vacation.

More on energy efficiency

 The Wall Street journal reported today on a study commissioned by AMD (AMD press release).  Although AMD has focused on power savings with their processors, this study reinforces the point I made earlier today about energy efficiency being an area to focus on for new investment.

The key points:

Addressing the need for thorough, credible estimates on data center power use, the study found that in 2005, in the U.S. alone, data centers and their associated infrastructure consumed five million kW of energy, the equivalent of five 1,000 MW power plants.

The study found that in 2005, total data center electricity consumption in the U.S., including servers, cooling and auxiliary equipment, was approximately 45 billion kWh, resulting in total utility bills amounting to $2.7 billion, with total data center power and electricity consumption for the world estimated to cost $7.2 billion annually. The report also examines the growth in electricity demands since the year 2000, concluding that over the last five years server energy use has doubled.

So, there is a huge amount of money spent powering data centers.  Products which enable this to be cut should have a great market opportunity.

Local Help for New Orleans

As my friend Mike Rosenberg writes in the Bedford Minuteman, there is a group of people from Bedford going down to New Orleans to help out some schools there.  They raised money from Bedford parents to buy 5 pallets worth of books to replenish some school libraries.  Someone also donated gift cards from Office Depot to buy school supplies.

This kind of in-person local support speaks volumes.  Having people from Bedford go down to deliver the goods and work with their counterparts in New Orleans will make it a great experience.  And, this shows the power of what a small team can do.  It's much more effective than what a big government program can do, but it takes initiative to pull it off.  Kudos to all involved!

18 was more than enough

The Celtics ended their 18 game losing streak last night by beating the Bucks.  Milwaukee has suffered from similar problems as the Celtics, with key players hurt.  But, the Celtics will take any win to end the streak.  They won't be mentioned at the top of SportsCenter again for a while, but being relevant because you lose every game isn't really worth it.

I still think that the Celtics are on the right track.  They aren't as bad as their record and losing streak would indicate.  Losing Paul Pierce to injury forced them to play their young kids too much, and the NBA is still very much a veterans' league.  Look at the Pistons -- experience counts for a lot.

Some people were cheering the Celtics losing streak as they thought it would give them a chance to get a great player coming out of college at the top of the draft, like Greg Oden or Kevin Durant.  But, there are no sure things when you enter the NBA Draft Lottery.  Perhaps Durant won't come out of college yet.  Perhaps the Celtics won't get lucky in the lottery and will end up picking 3rd or 4th.  Maybe one of these players won't be as good in the pros as they are in college (not likely with these two guys, but you never know).

I think that you have to win games whenever you can.  Winning begets winning.  Teaching the Celtics current young players how to win and how to be consistent will help them as much, or more, than another young, talented player.  I'd rather that their current players mature and they send their draft pick to someone else for a very good veteran.  Maybe Danny Ainge thinks so, too.

Meanwhile, the Celtics seem to still fill most of the seats at the Garden and, reportedly, have better TV ratings than last year.  So, most fans must be at least as optimistic as I am.

Energy Time

As VentureBeat reported, there were a couple of positive financial events for some Massachusetts energy start-ups yesterday.  Celunol, a company developing a process to make ethanol from non-food plants and other waste products, was purchased (or merged with) Diversa, a modest sized public company.  Also, EnerNOC, a company which makes software to manage power grids more efficiently, filed to go public.

These may be some signs that the energy sector may be maturing sufficiently to justify venture capital investments.  I've looked at a lot of new energy deals, and many of them are still in the science project stage where they are trying to prove out the potential benefits of their technology.  Generally, technologies at this stage are too early to justify VC investment.  As I wrote earlier, VCs have a time frame that they attach to deals in order to achieve their investment objectives.  A science project will likely have a time frame that exceeds what most VCs can tolerate.  And, of course, there is an even higher level of technical risk.

There are some sectors which are maturing more rapidly, particularly energy efficiency.  The right products and services in this space can drop into existing infrastructure and designs and deliver power savings.  This can be done on a small scale or a large scale, and both areas are interesting.

Ethanol and solar power are too areas which are overheating quite a bit in the venture area.  Solar power companies have gone public with some high prices, and this drove a wave of venture investment where the valuations have exceeded in the value, in my opinion (an example of the hype being well ahead of the reality).  However, other areas in the energy space -- efficiency and storage are two of my favorites -- are able to mature on a VC time scale.

I am hopeful that Massachusetts can develop a cluster of companies in the new energy space.  That's an industry that will grow for a long time, and there is a lot of technology in our state that can be used to start some interesting companies here.

February 14, 2007

Weird Day

It's Valentine's Day.  It's snowing.  I have lost my voice due to a cold.  The weather and my laryngitis caused me to cancel my meetings today.  I'm home with my family, but can barely talk to them as I try to restore my voice for tomorrow.  Very weird day as I otherwise feel fine.  Guess I'll get some office work done and maybe watch a movie...

February 13, 2007

Separating hype from reality

Eveyrone knows that "the hype precedes the reality."  Examples are here, here, and here.  Of course, there are millons more.  The Internet bubble may have been the ultimate case (or perhaps this is).  There was so much anticipation of the changes to our business and social worlds that the Internet would cause that valuations hit frothy levels and much money was made and subsequently lost.  Now, we are starting to see the real impact of the Internet on politics (check out some candidates Web sites here and here), commerce, and social interactions.  If you don't have time for a first life, maybe you have time for a Second one?

As an investor, how do you know when the gap between hype and reality has narrowed enough to make an investment?  If you are really ahead of the curve, you may be able to make money by anticipating the next hype wave, but you can get wiped out, too.  Remember Pen Computing?  If you invested the first time in the 1990s, you definitely didn't make money.  Now, it might still be too early for a new investment, but the gap has probably narrowed.  Of course, if you wait too long, you risk being one of many who follow the herd and probably achieve substandard returns (unless you come up with a new twist).

That's why it's critical to have a portfolio of investments.  As an investor in one or two companies, you should probably focus on things where the gap between hype and reality has narrowed quite a bit.  Look for leading customers who are already adopting something new.  Wait for integration issues to get worked out.  Then, find a team that really knows the space and comes up with a great next gen offering.

If you have the resources to have a portfolio, you can mix in some swings where you try to anticipate the hype.  Hopefully, some of these bets on hype, or before the hype, will become reality in your investment time frame.  If so, you may have some big winners which cover up all your other sins.  If not, the bread and butter investments will give you decent returns overall, and you can swing for the fences again next time.

In any event, leverage the talents of people who are smarter than you in the target market segment.  If you can't find these people, then you shouldn't invest.  There are always experts who can give you their opinion, and if you get enough of these that support the hype, it's time to take the plunge.  If not, you haven't dug deep enough.  Keep digging, or keep it real.


February 09, 2007

Pet Peeve II - No attention span

I wrote an earlier post about my number 1 pet peeve, being late without calling ahead.  Here's my number 2 pet peeve -- lack of attention span.

Fred and others have written about whether or not VCs and entrepreneurs have some form of ADD that is beneficial.  I think that the ability to deal with a constant stream of interruptions can be very helpful.  The world is a very noisy and distracting place.  And, there is nothing wrong with being curious and going where your curiousity leads you.  But, that's not the same as having no attention span.

What really bugs me are people who can't pay attention to the task at hand because they are compelled to pull out their Blackberry and check their email.  Now, maybe the meeting or presentation is boring.  And, I am not talking about a large meeting room or lecture setting where any one person can not pay attention without sending a disturbing message to the speaker or other participants.  But, here are some situations where I thought people were downright rude:

  • In a meeting where a company was pitching to me for potential funding, the CEO pulled out his Blackberry and checked his email when the VP of Engineering began doing his part of the presentation.
  • At a networking dinner, someone pulls out their Blackberry whenever they are not talking in the conversation and then puts it down when they want to speak.
  • When an entrepreneur is presenting to a venture firm over a video conference, the VCs at the other end are checking their Blackberry, reading their email, or coming in and going out of the room frequently.
  • On a Board conference call, someone has their phone on mute and is asked a question.  It takes them way too long to realize that the question is aimed at them and, when they come off mute, it's clear that they never heard the question in the first place.

In each of these situations, why not just wear a big sign that says "I DON'T CARE"?  We don't wear those signs because it would be rude, and not paying attention more subtly is just as rude.

I worry a little bit about the short attention span that many kids seem to have.  Will they really be able to focus and concentrate when they need to?  But, I get real mad when the person I am with not fully present.  If you need to deal with an interruption or need to monitor your email, excuse yourself briefly and take care of it.  But, don't make it so clear that you just aren't interested in the subject at hand.  If you really feel that way, just don't show up.

Ticket Scalping

Massachusetts has been considering increasing the control over ticket resale or scalping.  The current laws are ridiculous and are completely ignored.  Ticket mark-ups are limited to $2 (that may have been more significant in 1924 when the law was passed).  A law that out of date is a waste of time, although there have been lawsuits filed about it.

You can't stop entrepreneurial activity.  StubHub is selling tickets that they don't have yet, but they know they can get them.  They are counting on the laws of supply and demand to ensure that they'll be able to make a profit on these.

I don't think that the government can do much here.  I don't like laws like the current one on the books that try to limit the mark-up you can make on tickets.  These laws are willing to short-circuit the supply and demand market forces to limit the upside that a scalper can make, but no one protects their downside.  It seems like a windfall to sell tickets way above face value.  And, Patriots and Red Sox tickets are a hot commodity in Boston these days.  If you have a source of these at face value, you can make plenty of money selling them.

However, what about other tickets?  I recently sold some of my Celtics tickets on eBay.  I don't try to make money on these, and that's a good thing.  Because, you can't.  I was only able to sell the tickets for just over half of face value.  Now, I am not worried about the money.  I view the total coast for my half-season of Celtics tickets to be an experience cost, which I get the benefit of when I bring one of my kids or a friend to the game.  Perhaps that's a rationalization for paying a high price, but that's OK.

However, if I was a ticket agent who had agreed to buy some fan's Celtics season tickets at face value, I'd be going out of business.  So, if a ticket agent can lose lots of money when a team is not in high demand, why can't they benefit from owning a hot commodity when a team is sold out?  That's supply and demand, and the marketplace has a way of making this work out.

Now, what about the 'average Joe' fan who can be priced out of a game?  I think that just about every team offers some tickets at reasonable prices, and most teams have some sort of egalitarian method of making tickets available to their average fans.  Keep in mind that these average fans benefit when the Red Sox have enough money to pay $51M just to negotiate with a Japanese pitcher.  Higher-priced tickets are an important revenue source.  The team has an obligation to maximize its revenue and good public relations will dictate that they don't totally lose the support of their average fans (they at least need them to watch the games on TV to keep the ratings up!).

Tickets (sports or otherwise) is a business.  Let basic economics drive the prices.  I'd rather see the teams benefit from these high prices as it will help hot teams earn more money to spend on better players and coaches.  But, there is no way that the government should be figuring out how to fairly mark up a ticket, and certainly not look at it once every 80 years or so.


February 07, 2007

Brave New Web

I spent the day today at the MIT Enterprise Forum's Brave New Web conference in Boston.  It was a great day of discussions and networking.  There's clearly a lot of interest in building companies in Boston leveraging the latest Web technologies and business models.

One recurring theme was whether or not Boston was a good place to start new Web businesses.  Is Boston overly disadvantaged compared to Silicon Valley?  Entrepreneurs said that local VCs tend to not be interested in Web businesses and aren't willing to take the same level of risk as their Silicon Valley brethren.  On the other hand, VCs say that they don't see enough business plans with big ideas in the Internet space.  I think that both sides are probably right.  Many local VCs aren't well-versed in the Web space and tend to stick to segments more in their comfort zone.  They don't have a deep enough rolodex to do suitable diligence and don't have a gut feel for these business models.  At the same time, very few entrepreneurs in the Boston area are well-versed in the nuances of Web marketing with a strong track record suitable for VC backing.

The solution is probably for VCs to dip their toe in the water and start funding some capital efficient Web businesses with the best teams they can find.  This will help them develop a feel for this market and will undoubtedly lead to some successful businesses.  If they watch the capital intensity, they can limit the losses from any of the mistakes.  This will also help some entrepreneurs cut their teeth in this market and develop a track record.

Jeff Taylor, CEO of Eons and former CEO of Monster.com, had the best line of the day.  When he heard an entrepreneur say that local VCs weren't interested in Web businesses, he replied that it was up the the entrepreneur to find a funding source, even if that meant going to Silicon Valley VCs.  Don't let this kind of obstacle stop you.  If you are committed to your business's success, you'll overcome challenges even bigger than this before you are done.

It was great to see such a nice turnout for this event.  Between this and the strong crowd at the Web Innovators Group meeting on January 30, there is plenty of buzz about Internet businesses in Boston.  This market is healthier than most people think!

February 06, 2007

Vicious Prioritizatoin

Focus, focus, focus.  Something I preach to entrepreneurs all the time.  The best entrepreneurs want to conquer the world.  They believe that their new product or service is going to have a huge impact and will change how many people work, play, or communicate.  They have to have this big vision in order to motivate them to put in the long hours with low pay that a start-up demands.  Who's going to work that hard to build a marginal company that will have little or no impact?  The prize has to be bigger than that.

But, entrepreneurs have to balance this vision of global domination with a focused effort that gets them started on their limited resources.  The challenge is to leverage your existing resources on the most highly leveraged activities that move things forward and keep you on the path to the big win.  If you spread yourself too thin to capture the big vision all at once, you'll fail to get the most important things done.

This is why big thinking visionaries have to be balanced by practical operating executives who can motivate and build a team to make daily progress toward a goal.  It is a very rare person who can bounce back and forth between these two roles.  And, both roles are critical.  Also, as a company starts to make positive progress, it will be presented with many more opportunities for expansion and partnering.  These can dilute what started off as a very focused effort.

As a Board member and investor, I demanded that CEOs exercise vicious prioritization.  Cut the list of tasks and cut it again.  Make sure you have sufficient resources on the most important tasks so that they are done successfully.  I use the word vicious to emphasize that most people don't want to let go of what are good ideas.  Don't let them go, just push them off to Rev 2 or next year's business plan.  If a particular idea is so fantastic, which of your committed plans would you drop to get it done?  CEOs have to be able to prioritize in this fashion to make sure they can achieve their most important goals.

Also, companies have to plan on having some slack capacity.  Product development schedules will inevitably fall behind.  Crises will emerge with key customers or partners.  Hiring may take longer than planned.  All of these situations will demand that existing staff step up their commitment to keep projects on schedule.  But, if you are already scheduling people for 14 hour days 7 days a week, you don't have any slack capacity.

One of the best Engineering VPs I ever worked with would never schedule engineers beyond 5 10-hour days per week.  That's already a heavy workload, but probably not a full start-up workload for an early stage company.  This Engineering VP was a thorough and meticulous scheduler, but he always left slack time in his schedule for critical new features, bugs that were hard to fix, or parts of the project that proved more difficult than planned.  The engineers never worked only those 50 hour weeks, but once in a while they would get a relatively easy week and a weekend off.  That kept them fresh for the start-up marathon.

If you have clear and vicious priorities, you can manage the slack capacity at your company to remain nimble and deal with the unexpected opportunities and problems that every start-up faces.

February 05, 2007

The Patriot$ Way

Here is a good post from the Providence Journal.  It describes how the Colts will have to do some significant financial gymnastics to keep a lot of their great players.  This indicates how things change so fast in the NFL.  The Colts have been great for quite a few years and certainly deserved to win yesterday's Super Bowl.  But, they are in trouble with next year's salary cap and will have to restructure contracts (tough to do) or do some house cleaning to stay under the cap.  This is one reason why there have been so few consistent winners in the NFL.  In contrast, the Patriots are in decent shape with respect to the salary cap. 

So, while the Patriots have their own free agent decisions to make, they have a lot more flexibility.  For a team that has been on a pretty good six year run, their future for the next few years looks just as bright.  And that is what is truly unique in today's NFL.

Time Management I

With so much data at our fingertips and with so many interruptions in business today, it's real tough to stay focused and get things done.  We all have many web sites we monitor, news sources we scan, newsfeeds we browse, emails we need to read and act on, telephone calls we answer, and voice messages we have to listen to and return.  Sometime after we do all that, we have to get our job done.  I struggled myself finding time to start blogging.

Early in my career, I received some great time management training.  The guy who trained me at my first start-up has moved on to other things, so I don't have any recommendations for sources of good time management training.  However, the things that Ken Hecht taught me have stuck with me over the years.  I'll publish a series of tips on time management to pass on some of my experience.

The first thing that I learned about time management was to try to guess how you spend your time, and then figure out how you REALLY spend your time.  This is a good exercise for those of you who don't think you need time management improvement.  If you already know that you succumb to interruption and procrastination, you can skip this exercise.

Try this:  First, write down how you think you SHOULD divide your time between your major categories of activity.  Then, estimate how much of your time in a week you actually spend on these major activities.  For example, how much time communicating via various channels, reading and researching, creating content, working with customers, writing code, in meetings, etc.   Just guess some rough percentages.  Then, try to keep track of this on an hour by hour basis for a week.  At the end of each hour, estimate how much of the previous hour you spent on each of your major activity categories.  You'll be amazed at how far off your estimate is and how far off your estimate and actuals are from what you think you should be doing.  Of course, you have to honest with yourself...

Once you are convinced that you have a problem, the first thing you have to do is set goals for yourself each day.  Start small.  Pick one thing you know you have to do at the start of the day.  Maybe it is work on a major project and hit a milestone.  Maybe it is write a blog post on a particular subject.  Just pick your top priority item for each day first thing in the morning (or, ideally, at the end of the previous day).  Then, make an appointment with yourself to get this item done.  Put it in your calendar and don't double-book this time.  Avoid any and all interruptions during this time.  Just get this one item done.  Once you can do this consistently, try it with two or three things each day.  If you make a good list of your To Do items, you can start to pick these off pretty quickly.

In the future, I'll write about how to manage interruptions and avoid procrastination.  If you have any questions or comments on this subject, put them in the Comments or email me at mike_feinstein@yahoo.com

February 02, 2007


As I mentioned a few days ago, Boston-Power was at DEMO this week.  I'm proud to say that CEO Christina Lampe-Onnerud was named a DEMOgod (goddess?), one of only 10 companies at the conference to be so named.  Congratulations, Kia!

 Disclaimer - I am on the Board of Boston-Power.

Make sure the truth travels fast

Like a car wreck, I have trouble looking away from the marketing campaign gone awry in Boston yesterday.  Kudos to Turner for accepting responsibility and offering to make a payment to Boston to cover the real costs of this mess.  Scorn for the marketing firm, Interference, if they did indeed tell the two guys who put up the signs to keep quiet while the situation unfolded in Boston.  That may be the real criminal offense in this complicated story.

As both a VC and an entrepreneur, I've beein involved in quite a few 'crisis' situations.  These aren't crises when people's lives were potentially in danger, but perhaps where a company's or product's reputation was in danger.  To a start-up, this kind of damage can be fatal.  I think of start-ups as fragile flowers.  Too many mishaps or mis-steps can crush them.

One thing I have learned over the years is to get the truth out fast.  There is an old saying that "Good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster."  That's definitely true, which is why you have to get the truth out fast.  This requires fast action and decisiveness by executives.  It also requires the courage of your convictions.  If you are honest, it's easy to be courageous.

The truth is very powerful.  If Interference had called the Boston Police at 1:30 PM yesterday rather than emailing their helpers in Boston telling them to keep quiet, many hours of fear and disruption would have been avoided.  They may have been scolded for causing the situation, but that was going to happen anyway.  Getting the truth out fast would have also won them praise for doing everything they could to stop the situation from escalting.  These days, the truth comes out eventually, and usually fairly quickly.  So, to be proactive, you have to push out the truth even faster.

On one corporate Board that I participated in, we had a discussion about how to handle a tricky but minor situation.  What should we document in the Board minutes?  This wasn't even a matter that had significant ramificatioins, but we wanted to have a nice, clean paper trail for the future.  One of the Board members declared that he only wanted to document what actually happened.  We had acted in good faith, and if it was a bit messy, so be it.  He also pointed out that it's a lot easier to remember the truth and we'd all have a very consistent version of that, versus something that was not quite true.  As this was a very minor matter, we of course documented exactly the messy path that got the company to their situation.  It wasn't pristine, but it was done in good faith.  And, we all didn't have to take notes on what we agreed to.  It was the truth.

I also find that giving entrepreneurs your true reading of their company and your interest in it is very much appreciated.  People prefer a fast No rather than a long string of Maybes followed by an assumed No. 

Be direct, honest, and get the truth out fast.  It's liberating.

February 01, 2007

The sound of teamwork

After writing a couple of very serious posts today, I need some humor.  Nothing like Dilbert, and today's is particularly good.

Be very afraid...

Unlike today's other story of the Boston bomb scare/hoax/marketing ploy, the story of what the CIA did to Khaled al-Masri is really scary.  If you haven't read this, you should.  Any of us could be next.

It seems like Khaled al-Masri was kidnapped by the CIA because he has a name similar to Khalid al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda.  Now, if they had detained him, questioned him with some sort of due process, and released him when they figured out that they had the wrong guy, that would be understandable.  How long would that have taken -- days, weeks?  Khaled was detained for five months after being picked up in Macedonia, beaten, drugged, and taken to an Afghan prison.  This guy is a German citizen who happened to have the wrong name! 

I am all for interrogating suspected terrorists.  But, we can't treat anyone like this.  I think that we win in the world if we show everyone our high ideals and regard for human rights (or how my ideal America regards human rights).  Even someone wrongfully detained could understand a mix-up.  But, if they are drugged, beaten, and raped, as Khaled al-Masri claims to be, then our CIA operatives are subject to arrest in Germany.

How do we get Germany to support our anti-terror efforts if we treat one of their citizens like this and then release him only after he agrees not to tell anyone of his detention.  He was dumped in Albania with no money and no apology.  It's a disgrace.

Of course, this story has played out hundreds of times over in Guantanamo Bay.  We need to put the detainees we still have on trial or release them.  Enough is enough.

Commitment to human rights and proper treatment of prisoners and suspected terrorists is one thing I'll be looking for in the next Presidential election.  I am all for being tough on potential terrorists, but we need to do this within the bounds of due process and with respect for himan rights.

I hope that there is no terrorist named Michael Finestine some day.  If there is, I could end up in an Afghan prison, too.

Trying to take this seriously

I've spent a lot of time thinking about the bomb scare/hoax/marketing ploy in Boston yesterday.  It was quite a story and had a big impact in Boston.  I really think that the police and public safety people did what they had to do.  These were suspicious looking packages, and there is nothing to say that a cute looking flashing thing couldn't also be a bomb.  Given the number of them and the locations where they were placed, you'd want the police to assume the worst and deal with it accordingly.  Better to be safe than sorry.

However, this story is an interesting confluence of guerrilla marketing and homeland security.  The marketeers want an interesting, mysterious item to be discovered to get people talking.  And, the bloggers have known about these things for a few weeks.  However, the mysterious item can easily be confused for something dangerous as these days people are always on edge.  Once that happens, you want the public safety people to act.  However, this 'action' cost Boston about $750K and caused untold people to be delayed due to closed roads and subways.

Do you think that this guy was scared when he was removing this 'bomb'?

Is this scary?

I saw this picture in the Globe today and had a hard time keeping a smile off my face.  It's such a weird story that went from terror to anger to stunned chuckling.

What should Turner have done?  They are clearly apologetic now.  But, we can't stop people from creative marketing.  And, should they have realized that these flashing signs would be confused for bombs?  If that's not a reasonable expectation, how can we arrest or penalize the people responsible.  Clearly the two individuals who hung these up in Boston shouldn't be prosecuted once we think clearly about what really happened.  It's ridiculous to go after them and not Turner and their ad agency.  Do you really think that Turner thought "let's do something reckless?"

But, we might just have to write this off as a situation that's unavoidable in our confusing times.  Turner couldn't have foreseen this confusion.  The police had no choice but to take these things seriously at first.  But, we have to avoid penalizing Turner and others for not having the foresight that none of us would have had in their shoes...at least until now.

Just try not to smile when you look at that picture again...


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