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April 29, 2007

Patriots Rehab?

As has been well chronicled, the New England Patriots have had a very active offseason, acquiring players like Adalius Thomas, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, Sammy Morris, and others.

But, in yesterday's NFL Draft, the Patriots selected Brandon Meriweather from the University of Miami.  And now, the Patriots have traded for Randy Moss.  Both these players have troubled pasts.

Meriweather was a key stomper in the Miami-FIU brawl this past season.  Look for #19 in this video stomping on a FIU player.  Moss is one of the best receiving talents in the NFL, but has a long list of controversies in his wake.

So, can the Patriots, with their well-documented focus on character, keep these players in line?  Things worked out very well with Corey Dillon.  He had always been a malcontent, but as a Patriot he was both a model citizen and strong performer.  He set personal and team rushing records in his first season.  His production dropped off as he aged in the last two years, and he was released/retired this offseason.  But, worth a second round pick (although he probably didn't last as long as the Patriots would have liked.

It will be interesting to see if the Patriots core of high-character players can keep these guys in line.  My guess is that they will.  The lure of winning a championship and the peer pressure from the Patriots players is pretty powerful.  A guy like Moss can ressurect his reputation with a strong season with good behavior.

Also, it seems that the Patriots are able to attract people who are willing to take 'below market' deals in order to come to the team.  Both Dillon and Moss reportedly restructured their contracts to help faciliate a trade.  Supposedly, the Patriots were the only team Moss was willing to do this for.  This kind of built-in discount is a huge strategic advantage for the Patriots.  Kudos to Kraft, Belichick and Pioli for getting this done!

April 28, 2007

The Carter Center

For the past couple of days I have attended an Executive Briefing at The Carter Center in Atlanta, GA.  I've been a long-timer supporter of The Carter Center, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

I started supporting the Carter Center shortly after it began.  I was inspired by the fact that President Carter was willing to work on behalf of those less fortunate.  At that time, the ex-Presidents I knew of (Nixon, Ford) mostly played golf.

I continue to support the Carter Center because I am in total agreement with its mission -- Wage Peace, Fight Disease, Build Hope.  On the Peace Front, President Carter has a long history of mediating disputes and monitoring elections.  I am happy to see that they are working closely with the Chinese government to help them figure out how to transition to a democracy.  I see this area as one with long-term risk to the world.

On the health front, the results are stunning.  They started by tackling some of the Woirld Health Organization's Neglected Diseases.  These diseases were not tackled previously because they were considered very difficult to combat.  The biggest issue is that treatments have to be brought to the most remote villages of Africa.  The progress has been fantastic.  Check out this video, Carter vs. the worms.

The Carter Center is very efficient.  89% of the funds they raise go to programs, with only 5% for administration and 6% for fund-raising.  And, the staff are very dedicated.

Regardless of what you thought of Carter as a President, take a look at what the Carter Center has done.  Both President and Mrs. Carter have been absolutely inspirational in their commitment to making the world a better place, particularly for those who have it the worst.

If you are inclined to support The Carter Center, you can donate online here.  By the way, if you were upset about President Carter's last book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, you may be interested in this discussion with Madeline Albright.  I think that President Carter caught a lot of flack for the choice of the word Apartheid in the title, but his description of what the Israeli government is doing in the Palestinian territories is accurate.

April 26, 2007

Final Word on Mike Daisey

The Globe wrote an article on the Mike Daisey incident (which I wrote about here and here).  I guess that the principal of the school apologized, which was the least he could do.  The whole thing was pretty weird.

April 24, 2007

Update from Mike Daisey

I wrote about The Mike Daisey Incident earlier today.  Mike just posted an update on his blog, including an encounter with the person who poured water on his notes from the show.

Based on Mike's comments, I doubt I'll hear back from the high school principal.  Too bad for his students.

Mike Daisey Protest

I've spent some time thinking about an incident that happened on April 19th at the Zero Arrow Theater in Cambridge.  A performer, Mike Daisey, was doing a monologue called Invincible Summer.  By the way, see this if you can before Mike leaves town.  It's great.

As captured on this video, students and teachers on a field trip to Boston walked out of the show en masse.  One of the chaperones defaced Mike's script by pouring water on it.  Watch the video to see Mike's reaction.  He was incredibly mature and tried to engage them in a discussion, to no avail. Note that this video contains some significant profanity.

In reading news reports of this incident, particularly this one on Backstage, it seems that this was a school trip where the organizers decided to attend this show.  They were told by the ART that the show included profanity and adult subject matter.  They decided to attend anyway, but the chaperones became uncomfortable and decided to leave.  How do 87 people leave a performance in a 300 person theater without causing a scene?

What weighed on me was how to educate these students about the right way to handle this situation.  Leaving en masse is their choice.  Defacing the hand written notes of the performer is not acceptable.  An apology or a response is in order.

I wrote the following email to the principal of the school in southern CA.  We'll see if he responds.

Principal Johnson,

I’m a subscriber to the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA and have seen Mike Daisey’s Invincible Summer (and enjoyed it).  I was quite disturbed by the recent walkout your teachers and students did during the show on April 19th.  I’m guessing that you’ve been inundated with all sorts of hostile emails and phone calls relating to this.

I think that if you are committed that your students “make the most of his/her life through education” [Note: from the school web site], you should turn this situation into a learning opportunity.

I believe that your teachers and students have every right to leave a play if they are offended by (or just not enjoying) the show.  However, as citizens, we should not disrupt the experience of others.  And, pouring water on the hand-written notes in dramatic fashion is a sign of protest that is over the line in such a forum (no one made them buy tickets to this show).

No matter what your opinion is on this action, I think that you should take this opportunity to teach your students something about citizenship and leadership.

If you believe that the teachers and students’ actions were a justifiable protest against objectionable material, then you should encourage them to make a public statement which describes their protest and justifies their actions.  If they feel strongly about their position, they should make their position known so that it will have more of an impact.  Perhaps their thoughts will educate Mr. Daisey or other audience members.

If you or they believe that this was a big mistake and their simple act of leaving has been blown out of proportion, you should encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and apologize.  Again, they could explain why they decided to leave but, in this case, also take responsibility for disturbing the performance for the rest of the audience and damaging Mr. Daisey’s manuscript.

Remaining silent and avoiding commentary may make this situation go away, but your students and teachers will be worse off than if they take responsibility for what they did.  Too often today people try to blame others for their actions.  Taking personal responsibility is a key aspect of citizenship and leadership.

Best regards,

Mike Feinstein

April 23, 2007

Catch and Keep

Josh Kopelman has a good post today on Redeye VC on the interaction models of social networks.  Josh calls these business models, but this post isn't about monetization.  It's about how you interact with a site and how that predicts ultimate value.

The more valuable model is 'catch and keep' (vs. catch and release).  This means that once you start interacting with a site, you keep coming back and deepening your interaction.  Obviously, this is worth a lot more than a less regular access pattern.  When you become a significant part of a user's life, you have their attention on a regular basis.  This is worth money.

What attributes determine whether a site is 'catch and keep' vs. 'catch and release'?  Some thoughts I have:

  • The site needs to move an existing regular user action online.  You are much more likely to communicate with your current friends than your high-school classmates every day.
  • The site needs to provide you value on a stand-alone basis with information that is important to you.  You should have a reason to go there beyond just checking in with your friends.
  • The site should build value as the numbers of users grow, delivering leverage from the aggregate information.  The site should be able to allow the user to act on the aggregate information rather than just on their own information.
  • The site should provide easy links and access to other related sites, becoming a portal for a whole host of user conduct in this area.
  • The area of interaction needs to stand on its own rather than being a subset of something covered in an existing broad site.  For example, Geezeo will build a social network around personal finances.  This isn't something you are likely to put on your My Space page.

What other attributes do you think make a site 'catch and keep'?

April 13, 2007

J'ai pêcher allé

According to Google, the title of this post is the French translation of "I have gone fishing".  Blame them if it's wrong.  Off to France for vacation.  Posting will be very light to none at all...

Au revoir!

April 11, 2007

Hook Mobile

Another company I have been advising is Hook Mobile.  I've been tracking this company for more than a year.

Hook is banking on the acceptance of collectible and unique mobile content.  Think of various offline models like trading cards, collect-to-win games, card games (like Magic the Gathering) where there are unique and valuable cards.  Hook believes that all of these models will move to the mobile phone environment.  Their infrastructure allows carriers and big brands to deploy these types of models in the mobile environment.

Hook has had great traction and interest from big media properties.  For example, Hook enabled a collectible trading card promotion for Survivor.  And, Hook recently announced a deal with Warner Music where they will power a mobile trading card collect and win promotion for rap artist Yung Joc.

I find Hook's application interesting.  As they work with more brands, they hope to refine the user experience and build more awareness for this type of unique content.  If they are successful with this, they will be in the lead to power many interesting mobile marketing programs.

April 10, 2007

Be careful what you blog

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article about how blogging can help you get a job.  The article also mentions how your blog can be used against you in the interview process.  The article is here (subscription required, but may be available for free).

Russ Glass of Zoominfo is mentioned several times in the article.  Russ writes about how he made an unsolicited job offer to a Product Manager because he was impressed with the candidate's blog.  He also says that he cut short the candidacy of a potential sales person because he found that person's blog offensive.

We are all leaving digital trails in this world.  Hopefully, it reflects well on us and can lead to new opportunities.  But, if you aren't careful, your ranting can cost you a job.  I think that many people would pay for a service that would erase our wild, young digital identity from the Web before we hit the job market.  And, disparaging your interviewer in your blog on the night after the interview is a really, really bad idea.

April 07, 2007

Is There Hope for Boston?

The Boston area has really been falling behind in terms of venture-backed activity.  If you click through some of the other reports on the site, you'll see that outside of biotechnology and later stage deals, the amount of early-stage IT investment activity in New England is a small fraction of Silicon Valley.

The Boston area was always some fraction of Silicon Valley, but I think that the environment in Boston is even more depressing than the numbers would indicate.  Several VC firms that had been very active in Boston have fewer active investment partners than they had previously.  And, very few VCs are interested in investing in some of the more interesting new market sectors (clean energy, Web 2.0 apps).  Some quotes I have heard from New England entrepreneurs when they try to raise money in Boston:

  • It's impossible to raise $2M in Boston.  It's too much for most angel groups, but too small for most VCs that are looking to put much more money to work.  But, it's exactly the right amount for my early-stage business.
  • My deal won't appeal to Boston VCs.  But, I am getting more interest from NY and definitely Silicon Valley VCs.  They get it.  I guess I have a Silicon Valley deal.

So, what will it take for the Boston area to become more vibrant in the venture business:

  • We'll have to work harder to build up deals in more interesting spaces.  They won't just be able to ride on market momentum.
  • Team building will require significant effort, particularly on sales and marketing
  • VCs will have to dip their toes in to the water in some new market segments.
  • CEOs will have to work hard to expand their skills into new market segments
  • Web 2.0 companies will have to work hard to stay relevent to the Silicon Valley Web giants.
  • Work harder to leverage outsourced technical talent from Eastern Europe.  I know several companies doing this successfully now.

Also, one challenge for Boston is that there are virtually no 'anchor tenant' big companies that provide a solid base for the high-tech community.  Most of our big exits have been companies acquired by Silicon Valley companies.  I am regularly working on convincing entrepreneurs to stay in Boston rather than move to California.  If they all leave, the environment will just get worse.

I am committed to the Boston area for myself and my family.  So, we need to rally all the stake holders in the area to make sure that Boston remains a key market for innovation in venture-backed companies.

This is a topic I'll write about from time to time.

April 05, 2007

What's In a Name?

As I've gotten more involved with several companies, I've tried to figure out what to call myself.  Companies are listing me as an Advisor on their presentations, and they have to put down something.  As a title, I've called myself "Investor and Entrepreneur".  That certainly is what I've done, and will likely be some sort description of what I will do.  But, I don't plan to do any angel investing at this time, so I wouldn't want my lack of investment in any of these companies to reflect badly on them.  In reality, I'm a venture capital investor and will be making these types of investments in the future.

As for a Company name, that's been trickier.  I don't have a company.  I've just been working as an individual.  Some people have listed The Fein Line as my company, but it's not.  I like the name as a blog name, but it definitely isn't a company name.  I've always felt that company names need to be more clever (but not cute) and need to be easy to spell correctly.  I like the name of the blog and don't plan to change it.  But, I'll probably have to come up with some company name to better describe what I do.

One new firm name I really like is .406 Ventures.  They should give the derivation of the name on their Web site.  But, the founders told me that, although they aren't necessarily big baseball fans, they like the idea of emulating Ted Williams's hitting approach.  Ted was the last baseball hitter to hit over .400, hitting .406 in 1941.  Ted was selective and focused as a hitter, and was also an American Hero with a distinguished war record in World War II and the Korean War.  Also, as a Boston focused firm, .406 Ventures has a name with a real Boston flavor.

So, it's time to come up with a name that I can use now and in the future to give some personality to what I do.

April 02, 2007

1 down, 161 to go

The first full day of the baseball season is over.  But, it's a very long season.  It's impossible to draw any conclusions from the first day.

I thought it was ironic that the Yankees won exactly they way you'd expect them to, but the Red Sox lost in an unexpected fashion.  The Yankees had shaky starting pitching, a bullpen that kept in them in the game, and the strong offense to overpower the other team, particularly after their starter was finally knocked out.

The Red Sox starting pitching, which should be their strength, allowed them to get behind.  Their bullpen made matters worse, and their offense never got going.  You'd certainly expect that to be the exception this year.  It's also ironic that the Boston sports talk radio crowd of yahoos was critcizing the Royals signing of Gil Meche and he ended up being the one who silenced the Sox today.

The beauty of baseball is that it's a long season.  It will probably all be different by the next game.

Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand. 
Leo Durocher
US baseball manager (1906 - 1991)

April 01, 2007

Spring Confessional

I can't believe that baseball season is about to start.  I've been distracted by other sports -- the Celtics, Final Four, and Patriots offseason moves.  I'm still optimistic about the future of the Celtics (and praying that they get the first pick in the college draft).  The Final Four is always compelling, and this year any of the four teams are good enough to win.  The Patriots have been much more aggressive than usual in the offseason.  They have to be one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl again.

But baseball was always my first love in sports.  Now for the confessional.  I'm a Yankees fan.  This won't surprise people who know me, but many people who meet me assume I'm a Red Sox fan because I'm such a big sports fan of other Boston teams.  But, I grew up in Western Mass (Longmeadow).  In Western Mass, there were a lot of NY sports fans, including Yankee fans.  Thanks to my older brother, I grew up a Yankee fan.  And, in the early 70s when I really got into sports, the Yankees were horrible.  But, I stuck with them.  Steinbrenner bought the team and started spending money (he hasn't stopped).  They've always been interesting, and, of course, they've won quite a bit over the years.

Now with the Red Sox/Yankee rivalry in full swing, it's actually fun to be a Yankee fan in Boston.  I love going to Fenway Park, and can enjoy the rivalry from the enemy's point of view.  Since the Red Sox came back against the Yankees and won the World Series in 2004 (as the NY Post said, "Hell Freezes Over"), the rivalry has toned down a bit.  And the Red Sox are spending money about as fast as the Yankees.  It's more fun when both teams are champions, but the Red Sox fans still need to get over their persecution complex.

It bugs me to see the Yankees Suck paraphernalia outside Fenway (and much of it is much more vulgur).  My kids don't need to see this when we go to a game.  You don't see this in NY.  Yankees expect to win.  Red Sox fans should expect the same these days.  Have some class.

Anyway, that's all part of the rivalry.  Still proud to be a Yankee fan.  Their starting pitching worries me this year, but I am sure they'll be in the mix for the Division title and in the playoffs.

By the way, MLB.com has great online content.  You can watch games on MLB.TV, listen to radio broadcasts, watch highlights, get updates and audo on your cell phone, and can also buy highlights on iTunes.  Between that and DirecTV's MLB Extra Innings, I should be watching a lot of baseball this year.  Not to mention my son's Fantasy Baseball obsession...

Play Ball!

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