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August 31, 2007

Actually, you can hire a CEO

Marc Andreessen has written a great series of blog posts about startups.  But, his most recent about How to Hire a Professional CEO is too cute or just wrong.  To save you the trouble of clicking, here is what Marc says about How to Hire a Professional CEO for your startup:

Don't.

If you don't have anyone on your founding team who is capable of being CEO, then sell your company -- now.

I don't agree, although I will concede that it is far better to already have a great CEO than to have to go hire one.

I think that most start-ups are in a more nuanced situation than this.  Here are the most common scenarios:

  1. There is an experienced CEO with the right market experience on the founding team.  You are done and can pass Go and collect your first VC investment check.  Maybe.
  2. There is a strong manager on the founding team who can run things for a while as you get the company off the ground.  For many high-tech startups, this can be someone who ends up being a strong CTO, VP of Engineering, or VP of Marketing.  The risk is that, as an investor, you know you'll have to remove this person from the job of running the company at some point.  Even if the Founder agrees up front, when the moment of truth comes for them to help hire a true CEO, they may resist or, even worse, become obstructionist.
  3. You have a great technical founder but no business person to get things going.  Usually, as a VC, I'd try to match up this great technical founder with a start-up CEO from category 1 above.  If you can't get one of 3 or 4 qualified CEOs to bite on the opportunity, perhaps there is some fatal flaw with the idea or the founder.  Think very, very hard before you go ahead and fund this kind of company without the CEO in place.
  4. Even scarier is the situation where you have a person with the CEO title on the founding team, but you don't think that this person is qualified for the job or should even have a role at the company.  There is no way you should fund this opportunity until you get the right person in the CEO slot.  Anything else is just asking for trouble.

In some of these scenarios, you may need to hire a CEO, either at the beginning of the company's life, or after it has grown and matured a bit.  It is very, very common for start-ups to outgrow the initial management and have to add more experienced management as it progresses.  In these cases, you'll have to hire a 'professional' CEO, as Marc calls it.

I've had some luck finding CEOs through my own network of contacts.  It is definitely worth doing this at the start of a search, but don't delay for too long.  I'd recommend trying up to 4 people from your network that you think would be a good fit.  Beyond that, hire a recruiter.

I've had good success with professional search firms.  I prefer smaller, boutique firms that focus on particular market segments.  The partners at these firms are hungrier and tend to do all the work themselves, rather than delegating it to less experienced associates.  Although the best search firms do a good job on referencing checking and thinking about fit within the organization, I think you have to really do that job yourself.  Make sure you spend hours and hours with the candidate, in both business and social settings.  Make sure you do many, many reference calls (at least 20), including many people not on their formal list. 

I always go out of my way to talk to what I know will be negative (or less positive) references to hear their perspective.  We all have people that we have crossed at some point who won't be glowing in their feedback on us.  They may be biased, but I want to hear what the biased people say.  Find someone who decided not to promote the potential CEO sometime in their career.  Find someone whom the CEO had to fire.  Find the investor who passed on their previous deal because of concerns about the CEO's experience.

You have to have the management team be part of the CEO interview process, but don't let them be obstructionist.  In the end, the Board hires the CEO.  You want the new CEO to fit in with the company.  But, I have seen situations where the existing management, which may be weak, fears the new CEO being brought in because they know that some or all of them will soon be out of a job.  In addition to just hiring the wrong person, this is probably the kind of situation that Marc is wary of.  And, rightfully so.  But, as an investor, you have play the cards you are dealt.  And, sometimes there is some breakage in these management changes.

It's definitely possible to hire an experienced CEO later in a company's life.  It is an element of risk.  But, you also need to match the CEO to the stage of the company.  A boot-strapping start-up won't be able to attract the CEO who can run a $50-100M business.  As you go from one phase to the next, you'll have to make changes.  Proceed with caution.

August 28, 2007

Business Social Networking

A few days ago, I wrote about being a Social Networking Stowaway, particularly on sites like Facebook.  I find that most social networking sites are interesting, but not necessarily useful.  LinkedIn is an exception, which is indispensible for business connections.

In today's Wall Street Journal, there is an article on vertical social networks in various business categories.  They use an example of a Boston company, Sermo, that is a social network for doctors to exchange information about patient diagnoses in a confidential environment.

Inmobile is an online community for wireless executives and investors that I have participated in.  There are very useful discussions about industry and technology trends in the wireless space.  The site is open by invitation only.

It seems like one business context for social networking is the closed networking function where you can interact with colleagues and counterparts.  These sites have to be moderated and closed to keep the quality of the participants up and the discourse on track.  Also, they have to be on subject matters where users feel they can share ideas without giving away secrets to competitors or violating company privacy rules.

The WSJ suggests that these sites are useful in industries where people work alone much of the time, such as medicine.  That may be true, but I find that technology forums, such as Inmobile, are also interesting to hear people's views on trends.  I have also made some professional contacts through Inmobile that I wouldn't have made so easily in a pure offline setting.

I am not yet convinced on the business models for these businesses.  Sermo has an interesting model where they charge hedge funds and drug companies for access to sanitized versions of the discussions between doctors.  Inmobile charges some money for promotion to their users.  Neither of these sites can scale to be a huge size without jeopardizing the quality of the interactions.  So, I think that they can be very useful, but wonder if they have to be a labor of love, rather than money.

What other business social networking sites do you like?

There he goes again

Marc Andreessen has written another great post in his series on startups.  This one is on hiring, managing, promoting, and firing executives.  This is a must read for any CEO or Board member of a startup.

Although I agree with everything Marc writes, some key takeaways for me:

  • Most startups hire executives too early.  You can often get a function started with a manager or director level person.  This saves some money and also means you hire an executive when there is something to manage, which is their strength.  Very few executives are strong at doing the work themselves, building an organization AND managing an organization.
  • Don't be afraid of managing your executives with 1:1 meetings, specific goal settings, and performance evaluations.  Everyone needs this.
  • Ruthlessly gather data from all levels of your organization.  Don't be afraid that you are "going around" the executive.  A strong executive will be happy to have you talk to everyone in their organization.  A weak executive will be terrified.
  • When it comes to the decision to fire the executive, go with your gut but gather data to back up your feelings.  And then, move quickly.  In my experience, once an executive is fired, everyone else in the organization asks the CEO "What took you so long?"

If you haven't already, I suggest you read Marc's whole series on startups.  They are all to the point and very well written.  And, he knows from experience.

August 27, 2007

Interview on Intruders.TV

Bruno Langlais interviewed me recently in intruders.tv, a video blog. 

They've had a recent theme about the Boston VC scene and the differences between Boston and Silicon Valley.  Given my 'years of experience', I tried to give a bit of a historical perspective.  I also highlighted two of the start-ups I work with in the Web 2.0 space, Geezeo and Good2gether.  You may have figured out that I am an unabashed shill for the companies I work with!

I like the video blog concept.  You get a lot out of watching the video versus reading an article or even hearing a podcast.  I've never been comfortable watching myself speak, but I've reluctantly gotten used to it.  I hope you like the content, and I'd appreciate seeing your comments here.

Heading to the Big Ballpark in the Bronx

My son and I are heading to NYC for the Red Sox/Yankees series on Tuesday through Thursday this week.  When I bought the tickets originally, I had hopes that the Yankees would have continued to narrow the gap with the Red Sox and that the series would be critical for both teams.

But, the Yankees have flattened out lately while the Red Sox have been red hot.  The Red Sox laid a historical whupping on the Chicago White Sox over the weekend.  I'm not surprised that the Red Sox have picked it up.  They have a very good team with strong pitching.

While the Yankees were woefully underachieving for the first two months of the season, they have been very, very hot for the past couple of months.  They were bound to hit a cold spell.  Their pitching isn't as strong as Boston's, but their offense is unbelievable.  Unfortunately, when they don't score 6 or 7 runs, they don't win very often.

The Yankees have one more game with Detroit tonight.  Since Mussina is pitching, I'll be watching with my hands over my eyes.  He's been horrible.  There are rumors of him being sent to AAA!  Not sure if they can do that contractually, unless he agrees.  After that, the Yankees and Red Sox play three in the Bronx.  Like every game, this is a huge series for the Yankees.  They are still very much in the wild card race.  But, I don't think that they can catch Boston, barring a Red Sox collapse (which doesn't seem to be in the cards).

This isn't critical for the Red Sox.  Even if they are swept, they have a multi-game lead over the Yankees.  And, there are great pitching match-ups in the series (Pettite vs. Matsuzaka, Clemens vs. Beckett, Wang vs. Schilling).  The games and series is likely to be close.  And, all the pressure is on the Yankees.

Although the tension won't be as high as it would be if the teams were closer, it's always fun to be in the Bronx for a Red Sox-Yankees series.  Finally, we can wear our Yankees caps with fearlessly!

Entrepreneurs can step up, too

I've written regularly about how Boston-area VCs need to step up and take some risks in order to foster some market segments, such as Web 2.0 (posts here and here).  Many entrepreneurs have told me that VCs in the area aren't willing to back them unless they have a team that has done it before with a site that has a lot of traction and already generating revenue.  That doesn't sound like real early stage investing to me.  And, I hope to see it change.

But, entrepreneurs have to be willing to take some big risks, too.  There are other ways to fund a start-up besides a VC.  Maybe venture capital is the only way to raise millions at once, and that kind of investment can only be justified in something that has a chance to scale rapidly and build significant value.  But, plenty of start-ups have gotten going with other forms of financing:

  • Angel investors -- in Boston, the angel groups are very active.  They don't move any faster than VCs, but they are willing to fund riskier ventures than typical 'early stage' VCs.  Also, there are many entrepreneurs who can find individual angels from their industry who are willing to back their ideas.  Geezeo and Good2gether are examples of this.
  • Friends and family -- this is probably the most common way that start-ups get going.  Who knows the entrepreneur better than their family and friends?  While not every entrepreneur has friends and family with the resources to back them, a scrappy entrepreneur can do a lot with a modest amount of capital.  Earlier in my career, Cayman Systems started this way.  Also, CircleLending has formalized many business loans between friends and families to get businesses off the ground.
  • Do some other work for funding -- a lot of companies get started with the team doing related work for pay (consulting work, licensing software, selling something related, etc.).  This may divert some attention from the core business, but it does keep people paid.  This will require extra effort on the team's part to do the revenue generating work as well as the 'new business.'  But, it gets you going.  Not many people know that one of my former companies, Shiva, was originally funded by doing driver work for a hard disk company.
  • Fund out of your own pocket.  This is the riskiest form of financing for the entrepreneur, but it is done.  Some people have some resources from previous success that can provide them a financial cushion.  Others are willing to make a big bet on themselves and their idea.  GateRocket and MyDesignIn are examples of this.  GateRocket went on to raise formal angel funding afterwards.

Many times when I meet with entrepreneurs, they won't get going unless a VC gives them money.  Now, for certain businesses, this is wise.  A business that has to compete with venture-backed direct competitors who are ahead of it, or one that will need millions of dollars for R&D (like a semiconductor start-up) may very well have to raise venture capital to get going.  But, most Web businesses don't need large amounts of capital to get going.  Some money is needed, but a lot of work can be done on more of a bootstrap basis.

Although the most committed entrepreneurs are willing to do whatever it takes to get their business off the ground, others are too willing to accept a 'No' from a VC.  This is a good test of commitment.  I am always impressed by entrepreneurs who have pulled off amazing things on modest amounts of capital because they were determined to get it done.  So, don't let a VC's 'No' slow you down.  Find another way to fund your business and prove the VC wrong.

If you don't have the guts and determination to do this, maybe the VC was right after all...

August 24, 2007

OK, Cheney isn't right too often

Earlier this month, I blogged about a video where Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense in 1994, correctly assessed all the problems that would occur in Iraq if we had invaded during the first Gulf War.  If he had stuck to such sound analysis, we would not have started the second Gulf War.

Last night, the Colbert Report showed a video of Cheney in 2002, describing how sure he was about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.  The phrase "No Doubt" was hammered home.  Why is it that only Comedy Central has the guts to us how our politicians said one thing before and now say something else?  This seems to be the easiest, most unbiased type of news analysis you can do.  And yet, you rarely hear that in the news media.  They are always onto the next new story, with a short attention span.  I'll take my news from "fake news" any day.

August 23, 2007

Social Networking Stowaway

I've spent quite a bit of time on various social networks over the past few months.  I've been trying to figure out if they are interesting, useful, or both.  Of course, I've got the perspective of a 46 year old business person whose musical taste hasn't changed much in 20 years.

LinkedIn:  This has been by far the most useful.  It's really a business network much more than a social network.  I use it to both capture my contacts as well as to leverage their contacts.  By seeing who knows whom I have been able to extend my own network and introduce people to entrepreneurial teams.  During 2007 LinkedIn reached some sort of critical mass where many skeptics, including me, started to see the value.  I think that LinkedIn is essential for any business person who needs to network with others.  You can use it for background checking, sales prospecting, recruiting, and other research.

MySpace:  I haven't spent much time on MySpace.  I think that it is really great for independent music artists, but I haven't been too focused on that.  A couple of start-ups I know do some marketing on MySpace because their target market includes MySpace users.  But, overall, MySpace is all about hooking up.  It's very seamy to my 46-year old eyes.  I would only keep a MySpace account to keep an eye on my kids if they have one.  For me, it's neither interesting or useful.

Twitter:  Twitter is the most interesting (but not necessarily useful) of all these services.  It's a blog of 140 character posts.  You can easily post to it from your cell phone.  People use it to comment on what they are doing right now, what they had for lunch, where they are, and how they feel.  I've really tried to get into it, but I can't believe that the few people who follow my posts really get much out of it.  And, nothing personal to the people I follow, but I don't get much out of their posts.  I feel very current by using Twitter, but it is squarely in the interesting category, rather than useful.  If you want to get a sense of Twitter, check out TwitterVision.  You can see the random things that strangers post.  If you are really bored, you can follow me on Twitter here.

Facebook:  On Facebook, I feel like a social networking stowaway.  Facebook started off as a social network for college students, first at Harvard and then nationwide.  I set up a Facebook page as soon as they opened it up to university alumni (through my @alum.mit.edu email address).  High school students started to use it, too.  If you go to a Facebook page, you can see multiple modes of self-expression, photos, links to friends, messages, etc.  If all your friends are on Facebook, it's a great way to keep in touch.  If you go to college, you can easily keep in touch with your high school friends who are elsewhere.  The content and discussions are generally very social and light.

College students have felt safe on Safebook because they felt that only students at their university or their friends friends could contact them.  It's nowhere near as seamy as MySpace.  But, there is still plenty of content inappropriate for younger kids.  And, too many college students portray themselves in ways that they would hate to have their future employers see.

Some of my adult contacts are on Facebook.  And, I have had several activities that have brought me in touch with college students.  So, we are all 'Friends' on Facebook.  But, other than tracking some of their daily comings and goings, or seeing what videos they are interested in, I don't find a lot of use for Facebook.  There are hundreds of new applications, but nothing that has really caught my interest beyond self-expression.

I think that I must seem like a 'spy' to these college students.  I don't fit into their social interactions, but I am privvy to all of it.  I am committed to continue to use Facebook because 1) this type of social interaction is the future and 2) my young teenage kids will be on there before I know it.  So, I try to act like a kid, joining Facebook groups, posting videos I like, posting graphics of my favorite sports teams, tagging people in photos, updating my status regularly, and actively 'Friending' new people I meet.  Very, very interesting.  So far, not useful.

Maybe more of my adult friends will join Facebook, and we'll use it as a true social network.  If this continues to happen, the kids may move on to something else.  Kids like being separate from adults, and once adults adopt something, it's no longer cool.  Maybe, in a few years, my friends and I will be using Eons, a social network for people over 50.  I have to say that I am skeptical.  I think that social interaction styles are formed when we are young and change slowly.  Some people can change, but the masses change VERY slowly.  50 year olds aren't likely to quickly adopt social networking vs. phone and email (and email was already a change).

I met someone today who was 30 years old.  He told me that he was too old to understand Facebook.  Wow.  How does that make me feel?

August 21, 2007

Geezeo video

One of my favroite start-ups, Geezeo, is in a video on Intruders.TV, a nice video blog based in Boston.  Shawn Ward, one of Geezeo's founders, explains the company's focus and has an interesting anecdote on how easy it is for college students to get A LOT of credit cards.

Boston - Interview: Shawn Ward co-founder of Geezeo

Social Networking for Charity

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article (subscription required) about how social networking is changing how young people identify with and support charities.  An exceprt:

Young donors and volunteers, snubbing traditional appeals such as direct mail and phone calls, are satisfying their philanthropic urges on the Internet. They're increasingly turning to blogs and social-networking Web sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, to spread the word about -- and raise funds for -- their favorite nonprofits and causes. They're sending Web-based fund-raising pitches to their friends and families, encouraging them, in turn, to forward the appeals to their own contacts.

At the same time, a growing number of charities -- ranging from start-ups to established names such as the Salvation Army -- are launching profiles on popular social-networking sites, hoping that young people will link up to the pages. Some are also encouraging bloggers to mention the causes on their sites, raising thousands of dollars in small donations from readers.

Many of the nonprofits that have embraced social networking are themselves run by people in their 20s and 30s, who already spend a good portion of their lives online. Some of them also appeal to donors by offering them tangible results of their gifts by directly linking contributors with recipients.

Social-networking sites, for their part, are offering new tools to help attract nonprofits and contributors. In May, a social-action start-up called Project Agape launched a new program on Facebook called "Causes," in which users can create online communities to advocate for various issues, charities and political candidates. Since then, the program has attracted more than 2.5 million Facebook users, raising some $300,000 for nonprofits and politicians, says Joe Green, 24, the project's co-founder.

This trend is exactly what Good2gether is going to take advantage of.  While still in stealth mode, Good2gether is building some great momentum with non-profits, large online media properties, and big consumer brands.  They hope to pull all that together with a social network to connect people to causes.  Stay tuned for more.  For a steady stream of teaser information, check out the Good2gether blog.

August 20, 2007

Rove's first appearance on CBS News

Thanks to the Very Short List, here's a video of a young Karl Rove on the CBS news in January, 1972.  Rove was working to re-elect Nixon (remember CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President?).  His focus then was on college students, but he clearly had some keen insights then.  I don't like the guy, but he's damn good at what he does.

PS - Do you also remember when the news would have 5 minute long feature pieces like this?  Our news coverage on TV suffers from short-attention span problems, just like most of the viewers.

 

A good leader can take a vacation

This article in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required, excerpts below) made me think about bosses who just can't unplug to go on vacation, even for a week.  Some highlights from the article:

It's vacation season -- but many executives not only limit themselves to breaks of just a few days, they also continue to check in with employees and issue directives from yachts, beaches and mountain resorts. Their refusal to turn off their cellphones and BlackBerrys means they are never relieved of work pressures no matter how remote or luxurious their vacation destinations. In addition, those executives who can't disengage from the office and delegate authority undermine employees' confidence to make decisions and be creative.

"The most successful executives presume that employees will act in the best interests of their company and to their full potentials -- and don't need to check in with them all the time," says Michael Mankins, a partner at consultant Bain & Co. "Those who can't step away and trust that decisions can be made without them never get the best work out of subordinates."

Also,

Michael Bonsignore, retired chief executive of Honeywell, thinks executives should fear being indispensable a lot more than fear not being needed. "Executives go to all this trouble to recruit and train people, so they should be able to really get away sometimes and nurture the management structure they've created by leaving decisions to others," he says.

He sought to do this when he was CEO at Honeywell -- by taking off three days at a time several times a year to pursue his hobbies of saltwater fly fishing and boating.

"My view of vacation was leaving work behind -- and trying to preserve the essence of my inner self," says Mr. Bonsignore. And because he maintained his interests outside of business throughout his career, he believes he can now enjoy his retirement more than other former CEOs who focused only on work.

He acknowledges that technology is making it increasingly difficult for executives to separate themselves from work and from their staffs even for a day. On fishing trips to remote areas in British Columbia, Mr. Bonsignore has observed executives. They "step off the float plane onto the dock, and the first thing they do is make sure their cellphone and BlackBerry are working," he says. The fact that they can connect so easily to their offices and staffs from anyplace in the world makes it harder to choose not to engage.

I also find it hard to unplug (my wife would say that I find it impossible).  I think that it is a requirement, however, to be able to recharge your batteries.  And, your subordinates need to know that they can be trusted to get the job done for a period of time.  Of course, emergenices will come up.  I think that the boss always needs to have a way to be reached in case of an emergency.  And, sometimes vacations come up at inconvenient times, such as in the middle of a big business deal, a merger, or a financing.

Part of being in a start-up means that you have to make sacrifices.  Speedy action is one of a start-up's advantages versus bigger competitors.  So, even a week-long vacation can make a difference at a critical time.  However, most start-ups do routine business most of the time.  There are always customers and partners to meet, engineering schedules to track, and candidates to be hired.  Usually, this work can be rearranged around a week-long vacation. 

If the thought of being behind is too scary, I'd suggest planning to come back day early from vacation so you can catch up on email before you head into the office.  That's far preferable than keeping up with your email every day while traveling.  Also, be sure to put an 'Out of Office' message on your email and voice mail so people contacting you know that they'll be a delay before they hear back from you.

Now, I wish I actually did all the things I recommend.  I know that it is tough to unplug.  But, the times I have done it have been great.  And, the people who worked for me were happy to have a chance to show that they could carry on just fine without me.  At least for a while.

August 17, 2007

Maybe Bill is the one?

A few days ago, I wrote about my disgust at the government's misuse of power.  I also said I would vote for the first candidate who convinces me that they will lead with strength, peace, and ethics.  Maybe Bill Richardson is that guy.

Thanks to my brother, Chuck, I read this article by Richardson in the Harvard International Review.  It's not a surprise that Richardson is very qualified on foreign policy matters as he is a former UN Representative (as well as former Energy Secretary, Congressman, and current Governor of New Mexico).

The article describes the six trends he sees changing the world:

  • Fanatical jihadism
  • Growing power and sophistication of criminal networks
  • Rapid rise of Asian powers
  • Re-emergence of Russia
  • Global economic interdependence and financial imbalance
  • Globalization of urgent health, environmental, and social problems

Yikes!

Richardson lays out his New Realism approach to foreign folicy:

  • US must repair its alliances
  • US must restore commitment to international law and multilateral cooperation
  • US must be impeccable in its own human rights behavior
  • US must be a leader on environmental issues, including reducing greenhouse gas emmissions and developing and commercializing clean, alternative engery technologies
  • Engage directly with other nations, including Iran and North Korea
  • Focus on real security threats, including building international cooperation to do so
  • Lead the world in opening an ideological front in the ware against jihadism, including living up to our own ideals (no prisoner abuse, torture, secret prisons, and evasion of the Geneva Convention.  Close Guantanamo).  Lots more on this in the article.

I don't know if Richardson can win because politics has become such a money game.  But, I'll be studying him further.  I like what he has to say on the international side, and we have gone so wrong there in the last 7 years.

August 16, 2007

VC Customer Serivce

Jeff Bussgang had a good post today about the tension between VCs and entrepreneurs which sometimes lead to VCs being branded as arrogant.  There is no question that many VCs treat entrepreneurs poorly, which is why things like this really resonate.  And, if web sites like thefunded.com help increase transparancy in the VC-entrepreneur interaction, then I am all for it.  Unfortunately, sites like this tend to capture much more of the negative feedback than the positive.

However, I don't agree with Jeff that brusque interactions are important for VCs so that they don't waste time that can be spent on more productive projects.  I see no reason why you can't treat entrepreneurs with great 'customer service.'  At Venrock, we actively discussed customer service and how we treated entrepreneurs when they came in to pitch us.  I thought that this was very healthy.  Part of good VC customer service is not wasting the entrepreneurs' time, in addition to not wasting our own.

But, every interaction with an entrepreneur can be a value-added one.  You can always give feedback, make an introduction, and offer advice.  You don't have to extend the meeting to do this, and you should always be direct about your reasons for saying No.  Saying No should be done live (in person or over the phone), but a direct email or voice mail is still far preferable than radio silence.  And, you can cut short debates about whether your feedback is right before they get out of hand.  I usually did this by starting with "I never change my mind about these decisions once made."

I always got feedback from entrepreneurs about the direct communications I had with them.  Giving them a clear No and some good feedback can help the entrepreneur.  I found that many times these entrepreneurs came back to me with updated plans or with their next plan.  And, they referred other entrepreneurs to me, too.

In poking around thefunded.com, I was happy to see that entrepreneurs took the time to post positive comments on some VC interactions.  I hope that these positive comments become a nice benchmark for other VCs to aim for.

August 15, 2007

Cheney Used To Be Right

He'll never answer the obvious question about what changed between 1994 and 2003, but it's clear that the idea that Iraq would be a quagmire if Saddam fell is not a new one.

Cheney Video

August 14, 2007

Holy Cow!

Phil Rizzuto died today at 89.

As a kid, I listened to Phil Rizzuto do the Yankee broadcasts.  He was one of the most unique announcers I ever heard.  He told stories, had lots of funny nicknames, and kept you entertained throughout the game.  He also always said "Holy Cow!" on a great play and called his fellow announcers "huckleberry", among other things.

He also did the play by play for Meatloaf's Paradise By The Dashboard Light, one of the great long rock songs ever.

Here's a tribute to Scooter.

August 12, 2007

More Misuse of Power

Regular readers of mine know that I am very concerned about the government trampling our rights.  I don't buy the anti-terrorism argument for widespread infringements on our liberties.

I also think that the US needs to be a beacon for ethics and human rights throughout the world.  This doesn't mean that we have to be soft on our enemies.  I think that we can lead with peace, human rights, and ethics, and then come down hard when us or our allies are attacked or aggressively threatened.  Something like "speak softly and carry a big stick."  An old-time Republican said that (although he also ran for President as a third-party candidate).

Today's Globe has a story about how the US imprisoned an Afghani warlord in Guantanamo because he wouldn't cooperate with us, after being a supporter of our Afghani invasion.  I am not saying that this warlord is a good guy.  He sounded corrupt and was removed by the Afghani government.  But, why imprison him in Guantanamo?  Why not just try him in Afghanistan?

Guantanamo was defended as being for enemy combatants who were so dangerous that they couldn't enjoy the Geneva Conventions.  Instead, it is just a bad place for us to put people we don't like.  This type of abuse of power makes it impossible for us to build an international coalition to get ourselves out of this mess in Afghanistan and Iraq.  This type of activity fuels the insurgency, and it's hard not to blame them.  We are bullies.

I'd love to vote for the first candidate in this election who convinces me that they will lead with peace, human rights, and ethics.  It seems to run against the tide of the electoral momentum, but I think that the right message, coupled with a commitment to running an efficient government and strong security, would be a winner.

Co-operative Development

I was away this weekend, so I just now caught up on my regular reading of the Boston Globe.  An article in Saturday's paper described some people I know at the Betahouse, a co-operative development loft in Central Square, Cambridge.

This co-operative development effort is interesting.  The engineers work on their own projects, but also collaborate on bigger projects, including Good2gether.  They share information on interesting start-ups and technology strategies.  They also attend OpenCoffee in Cambridge where they can interact with other entrepreneurs.

This kind of open sharing and collaboration is great for entrepreneurship.  It's one of several examples I see now of entrepreneurs openly collaborating in order to build the community and not just for a short-term benefit.  I love it.

August 10, 2007

Would You Put Up With This?

From today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required, some excerpts below), this article describes a man who is so obsessed with Second Life that he often spends 6-10 hours PER DAY in his virtual world, including having sex with his virtual wife (much to the chagrin of his real wife!).  I think she should throw him out on the street.  She's obviously enabling his addictive behavior.

I have some first hand experience with the effect of addiction, having lost one of my closest friends to alcoholism.  I learned that you have to stop enabling addicts to let them hit rock bottom.  Sometimes, that's what it will take to get them to turn themselves around.  You can't do this for them.

Obviously, virtual worlds like Second Life can be a fine distraction from the real world, in moderation.  But, as they become more immersive and realistic, it may be hard for a lot of people to pull themselves away.  That sort of addictive behavior is as bad as alcoholism or drug abuse and needs to be treated.

Some scary excerpts from the article:

A burly man with a long gray ponytail, thick sideburns and a salt-and-pepper handlebar mustache, Mr. Hoogestraat looks like the cross between a techie and the Grateful Dead fan that he is. He drives a motorcycle and wears faded black Harley-Davidson T-shirts around the house. A former college computer graphics teacher, Mr. Hoogestraat was never much of a game enthusiast before he discovered Second Life. But since February, he's been spending six hours a night and often 14 hours at a stretch on weekends as Dutch Hoorenbeek, his six-foot-nine, muscular, motorcycle-riding cyber-self. The character looks like a younger, physically enhanced version of him: a biker with a long black ponytail, strong jaw and thick handlebar mustache.

In the virtual world, he's a successful entrepreneur with a net worth of about $1.5 million in the site's currency, the linden, which can be earned or purchased through Second Life's Web site at a rate of about 250 lindens per U.S. dollar. He owns a mall, a private beach club, a dance club and a strip club. He has 25 employees, online persons known as avatars who are operated by other players, including a security guard, a mall concierge, a manager and assistant manager, and the "exotic dancers" at his club. He designs bikinis and lingerie, and sells them through his chain store, Red Headed Lovers.

........

Mr. Hoogestraat's real-life wife is losing patience with her husband's second life. "It's sad; it's a waste of human life," says Mrs. Hoogestraat, who is dark-haired and heavy-set with smooth, pale skin. "Everybody has their hobbies, but when it's from six in the morning until two in the morning, that's not a hobby, that's your life."

The real Mrs. Hoogestraat is no stranger to online communities -- she met her husband in a computer chat room three years ago. Both were divorced and had adult children from previous marriages, and Mrs. Hoogestraat says she was relieved to find someone educated and adventurous after years of failed relationships. Now, as she pays household bills, cooks, does laundry, takes care of their three dogs and empties ashtrays around the house while her husband spends hours designing outfits for virtual strippers and creating labels for virtual coffee cups, she wonders what happened to the person she married.

............

By 4 p.m., he's been in Second Life for 10 hours, pausing only to go to the bathroom. His wrists and fingers ache from manipulating the mouse to draw logos for his virtual coffee cups. His back hurts. He feels it's worth the effort. "If I work a little harder and make it a little nicer, it's more rewarding," he says.

Sitting alone in the living room in front of the television, Mrs. Hoogestraat says she worries it will be years before her husband realizes that he's traded his real life for a pixilated fantasy existence, one that doesn't include her.

"Basically, the other person is widowed," she says. "This other life is so wonderful; it's better than real life. Nobody gets fat, nobody gets gray. The person that's left can't compete with that."

 

August 09, 2007

Will Web Entrepreneurs Stay in Boston?

Scott Kirsner wrote about the Y Combinator event today in Cambridge.  I wasn't there, but I've been to similar events.

Scott pointed out that several of the entrepreneurs planned to move to Silicon Valley to get funded.

Now the bad news... several of the enterpreneurs I talked to who have connections to the Boston area are planning to move their companies out west. The Y Combinator network is perceived to be stronger out in the Valley (the firm does a winter program in Mountain View). The VCs more adventurous. The partnership opportunities more plentiful. The potential for generating buzz better.

Is it hopeless to think about trying to change some of these dynamics?

I think that the only way that this trend changes is if the VCs start backing some first-time entrepreneurs in this segment.  The VCs are going to have to roll up their sleeves to find some business talent to help get the companies going.  The VCs are going to have to help the companies get some partnerships done with the Big Guys in Silicon Valley.  But, the payoff will be worth it.  We'll create some 'been there, done that' CEOs and VPs of Marketing who can start and run the next wave of companies.

I've met several interesting entrepreneurs over the past six months who can't get the time of day from Boston VCs but get lots of attention from West Coast VCs.  As Scott said, we need more adventurous VCs to break this cycle.

August 08, 2007

Hank has class

Yesterday, Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's all-time baseball home run record, hitting his 756th.  Barry is a controversial figure -- he is accused of using steriods, including the detailed account in Game of Shadows.  Barry is also a man with an acerbic personality.  This makes it so much more difficult for people to even try to like him.

Hank Aaron, the previous home run record holder, is a man of great class.  He has tried not to comment on Barry's pursuit of the record in order to avoid commenting on Barry's alleged steroid use.  After the record was broken, a video was played of Hank congratulating Barry.

I think that Bonds used steroids, but he was far from the only one.  But, the reaction to him is so much stronger.  Is it because of race?  I don't think so -- Gary Sheffield also is accused of using steroids, is African-American, is even somewhat controversial.  But, he is a nice guy, a good teammate, and speaks to the press.  So, there is very little ire directed to him.

Barry's pursuit of the record certainly puts a much bigger spotlight on him.  But, if he played nice with his teammates and the press, he would probably be given a much lighter treatment.  Athletes love the big paychecks, but they also need to realize that they are in the entertainment business, and the press is part of it.  The smart athletes learn how to get along with the press, and they have a much more positive image portrayed to the public.

Almost no one in baseball likes Bonds and can defend his attitude.  So, he deserves what he gets.  There is no question that Bonds is an amazing talent.  He probably cheated, along with many, many others.  There is no way to carve out the statistics from the steroid era, so Bonds deserves the record in addition to the fans' scorn.

August 06, 2007

Taking down the white flag

Yankees Flag

Back in May, I raised the white flag and surrendered as a Yankee fan.  I have to take it back now.

With a win this afternoon, the Yankees are currently tied with Detroit for the wild card lead, one-half game ahead of Seattle.  I don't think that the Yankees can catch the Red Sox for the Eastern Division, where they trail by 6.5 games.  But, they obviously have a good shot at the playoffs.

Their bullpen, beyond Rivera, is shaky.  But, their offense is unbelievable.  Not many teams can slug their way through the playoffs successfully, but this team may be able to.

Back on the bandwagon!

Texting to converge with email (not replacing it)

I don't agree with Fred Wilson on his post today on texting beating email.  There is no question that short messages (texting, Twitter, etc.) are a big change in communications over the past few years, I don't see them replacing email.  Instead, I see a convergence.

Email is still far bigger than texting and has many advantages, including:

  • Complete interoperability across all carriers and platforms
  • Support for long and short messages, attachments, rich formatting, archiving, and access from all types of platforms
  • The ability for companies to have private messaging platforms for broader security while still connecting to the outside world
  • Far broader usage than texting

Instead, I see a convergence between texting and email.  Most texting users have an email address from their carrier (for example, if you have a Verizon cell phone, your email address is cellnumber@vtext.com).  I think that users will still prefer to have their messages in one place, and a 12 button cell phone isn't the right platform for retrieving and managing all your email.  So, I see email as the backbone, but much more intelligent clients coming out that allow better access to and integration with texting.

For example, you could direct or mirror your text messages to email for archiving, if you prefer.  And, you could forward your emails (or the first 140 characters) to a texting client.  Your email client will make it much easier for you to send text messages via an email UI.  And, texting could be expanded to include some email-like features on richer client platforms.

Fred cites that texting doesn't have a lot of noise today.  That's because it isn't widely used compared to email.  But, if texting 'beats' email, you can expect it to get as noisy.  Instead, texting should remain a way to keep in closer touch with your closer contacts.  And, it should integrate with email for better overall messaging management.

August 01, 2007

More on Lumpy VC Fund-Raising

VentureBeat has some updated numbers on VC fund-raising.  I agree that you can't read much into these numbers on a year to year basis.  VC funds are raised once every 3-4 years at each firm.  So, the fund-raising can be pretty lumpy.  And, some firms raise very large funds which skew the numbers.  I think it is good that fund-raising has slowed down as there is a lot of money in the market right now chasing VC deals.

As for China, that feels like a bubble to me.  There certainly are plenty of opportunities in China, but the large volume of dollars raised now is mostly late-comers to the market.  As in the Internet bubble, those who got in late lost their shirt.  I don't know if it is already late, but the clock is certainly ticking.

Scott Kirsner Makes My Point

I wrote previously about how the iPhone was over-hyped.  I thought it was a cool product, but not a must-have.  Today, Scott Kirsner writes about how Cool People have iPhones.  To quote Scott after he lists his iPhone who's who:

None of these people say that the iPhone is very good as a phone, or an e-mail device, or as a Web access device when connected to AT&T's 0.005 G data network. But it's good for two things: surfing the Web when connected to a WiFi network, and showing off to jealous people who don't have an iPhone.

The iPhone is clearly the Rolex watch for techies.

I agree that the Web browser is very cool on the iPhone, making it easy to zoom in and out on Web pages and letting you do landscape or portrait views seamlessly.  But, I can't get used to the keyboard for real mobile email.  Two other things I don't like -- the slow data network and the hard-wired battery.

I am sure that Apple will continue to improve the product, and I may get one eventually.  But, I don't think that it is the 'second coming' type of product that people claim.

No End In Sight

I heard an interview on NPR's On Point with the Director and Producer of the movie No End In Sight.  If you are feeling a bit short on rage with the Bush Administration, watch the preview of the movie below.  If you want your rage to boil over, listen to the interview on the On Point site.  I haven't seen the movie, but I plan to.

The bottom line from the On Point interview:

In the suburbs of Washington and all around the country today, there's a small army of civilian and military experts and soldiers who did their time in Iraq and are now back, brooding, ashamed and angry.

They are angry about how badly wrong their mission went, about how they might have done it better, but mostly about how virtually all their best ideas and direst warnings were steadfastly ignored by the handful of men who led them.

There was one example cited in movie of a report written on how there would likely be a bloody civil war in the aftermath of invading Iraq.  The report was summarized in a one-page memo.  President Bush never even read the one-page summary.  In fact, according to those cited in the movie, he was disengaged during the first 18 months of the invasion and aftermath.  Hey, it was only a war.  He must have had other things to worry about.

 


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