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September 29, 2007

We're Spolied

As Pats fans, we're pretty spoiled by how well Belichick and company manage the team through shrewd drafting, targeted free-agent signing, and salary cap management.

Compare that with this opinion piece on the Pat's next opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.  The Bengals are at least close to being a good team, but, with better drafting, could easily be better.  I think that as Pats fans we take for granted how well the Patriots do in the draft and how they end up keeping most of the players that they have drafted.  Even though they have a good team and have drafted relatively low, they have made very few mistakes.

Got this link from the Reiss' Pieces blog of the Boston Globe.

September 28, 2007

Sling Customer Service Doing Something Right

I wrote recently about my recent customer experience hassles with DirecTV and Dell.  Bruce Temkin of Forrester is leading the charge on improving customer experience, but I am an ardent follower.

I wish I had more positive experiences to point out.  Unfortunately, I couldn't think of much.  The best customer experience I have had recently was when I was dealing with a technical issue with my original Slingbox Classic from Sling Media.

I had upgraded satellite receiver and found that the Slingbox couldn't control this new box properly.  I consulted the active Slingbox online community, but my first problem didn't seem to match anything there.  I called Sling support.  The person on the phone was pretty junior, but did help me identify that my infrared cable was bad.  Although this unit was years out of the warranty period, they sent me a new one for free.

When I got the new cable, I still had problems.  The online community included information about someone else having the same problem I did.  They had a very old Slingbox, like mine.  They were told that these original units had an IR chip problem that was changed.  This problem kept it from controlling the new sat receiver.  I called Sling support.  I had to struggle for a bit to convince the tech that I knew what I was talking about.  I got the support person to go onto the Sling community site and showed him the post about my issue.  He had never heard of this, but could now check very quickly.  They ended up swapping out my old Slingbox for a new one, again at no charge.

I liked the fact that the Sling techs actively accessed the online community, and sometimes participated directly.  This made them more efficient in solving my problem.  And, the no charge swaps were very much appreciated.

Sling was recently bought by Echostar, the owners of the Dish Network.  I hope that their responsive support doesn't get diluted in the future.

What vendors have done a great (or poor) job with customer experience for you?

September 27, 2007

No Surrender This Time

I figured that the Yankees had no chance to make the playoffs when they were 14 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East and 8 1/2 games and tied for 8th for the Wild Card on May 29.  Too much of a deficit to make up against a very good team (Boston) and too many teams (Wild Card).

Yesterday, the Yankees clinched a playoff spot.  They won't catch Boston (3 back with 4 to play).  But, they made the Red Sox very nervous.  And, they showed they can beat them head-to-head, winning 5 out of the last six in the last month.

The Yankees bullpen is thin, but the stretched out playoff schedule will help them.  They can hit off of anyone.  They play hard and don't give up.  And, you only have to win 3 out of 5 or 4 out of 7 to win a playoff series.  They've been playing playoff baseball for four months as their season teetered on the brink.

Going into the playoffs as a Wild Card has worked for the past three champs.  Maybe that's what the Yankees need to win another World Series.  If they do, it will be Joe Torre's best managing job.  He dealt with lots of injuries, rookie pitchers, and a team that could have given up.

How do these companies hold onto customers?

I wrote a couple of weeks back about the positive impact that providing great customer experience has on your business.  That just seems obvious.  But, so few companies do it well.

I have had some recent experiences with Dell and DirecTV.  Both did a poor job, which cost them some money and my long-term loyalty.

With Dell, whom I have bought many PCs from over the years, I wanted to order two new desktop PCs for my home.  I found what I liked and got them configured.  When I was ready to check out, I got a message saying that Dell was offering 12 month financing with no interest.  Hard to turn that down.  I filled out the credit application.  I got approved for $5,000.  Great.  Except my 2 PCs and software added up to $5500.

At the suggestion of the message on the Dell shopping cart, I called their credit department and asked them to review my application to see if they could approve a higher credit line for me.  My credit history is very good, and I have minimal debt.  I figured that if someone took a look at my credit report, it would be a no-brainer.  But, I was told that company policy was that $5K was the max for an inital line.  And, I couldn't put the extra $500 on my credit card in order to finance the remaining $5000.  I had to reduce my total order size to $5000 or less.

So, I took a bunch off stuff off my order and thought I had it right.  Unfortunately, the total came to $5009.55.  I got another notice during checkout saying that I should ask to have my credit line increased to cover the difference.  So, I called again.  Again, I was turned down.  For just $9.55.

I reconfigured what I was buying so that it cost $4998.76.  And, put through the order.  But, if I had more time, I would have shopped elsewhere.  I was too far down the process to turn back.  And, I have been happy with their machines.

The lack of letting a human being make a policy exception cost them about $500 in revenue as well as two calls to live humans who were just going to tell me 'No.'  And, it was their web site that said I should call to check on getting a higher credit limit!  I'll say that was probably $175 in gross margin and another $175 in costs for my calls.  $350 out the door.  On an order where their margin was probably only about $1250 anyway.  Bad business.

DirecTV was worse.  I upgraded to their newer equipment to get their new HD channels.  It took 4 truck rolls for them to get it right.  Their customer service reps don't know anything.  They outsource they field techs to a company that also isn't up to speed.  I learned more about how to make the stuff work through great online forums run by users.  Their own people don't even read these forums and claim that they are 'all wrong.'  Completely off base.  Their four truck rolls (due to poorly trained staff) probably consumed months and months of their profit from me.  Bad business.

However, I stayed with these vendors.  I stayed with Dell out of inertia.  I stayed with DirecTV because they have the best HD selection, including NFL Sunday Ticket.  But, I am ripe for the picking for someone new who can meet my needs.

Hopefully soon I'll be able to write about a vendor who gets it right.

September 23, 2007

Scott Krisner Column on VC Blogging

Scott Kirsner of the Globe has a great column today on VC blogging.  He also has a blog post and video.  The video includes interviews with VCs and entrepreneurs, including me.

Scott's column does a good job capturing all sides of this discussion -- the views of VCs who blog, those who don't, and the view of the entrepreneur.  In the end, I think that a VC has to do what fits with their personal style.  Blogging doesn't necessarily give you an advantage over those who don't.  But, if you don't blog, you need to figure out what other means you will use to stay connected to the Web community.  One thing is for sure -- the market is changing and historical methods for marketing a venture firm and connecting with entrepreneurs won't continue to work in the future.

September 22, 2007

Very Cool Facebook Marketing

Saw this first on Techcrunch.

In order to promote a new Bob Dylan album, you can add a movie to your Facebook profile with a modified video of Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues.  Techcrunch has the original video on their page.

The Facebook app is here.

If you want to send a stand-alone video to a friend via email, you can do it from DylanMessaging.com, which also promotes the new album.

If you're on Facebook, you can see my current video on my profile here.

This is one of the best web marketing campaigns I have seen because you can customize the message, the result looks professional, it leverages known content, and it is very viral.  Plus, I love Bob Dylan music.

May all your messages be Dylan messages today!

I sent the video below to some friends who don't read my blog...

September 21, 2007

More on the end of the baseball season

After writing last night on the Sox and Yankees records throughout the season, Bob Ryan of the Globe had a column with some of the same information in the Globe this morning.  The online version doesn't include the table from the paper that shows the records before and after May 29.  Bob Ryan ranks the AL playoff teams this way:

1. Cleveland

2. New York

3. Los Angeles/Anaheim

4. Boston

I think that what really matters is head-to-head records.  Usually, Los Angeles/Anaheim plays the Yankees very tough, regardless of overall records.  The match-ups dictate this.  So, here are the head-to-head records:

New York vs. Boston -- Yankees won season series, 10-8 (3-6 before May 29, 7-2 after)

New York vs. LA/Anaheim -- LA/Anaheim won, 6-3, with most of the games AFTER May 29

New York vs. Cleveland -- Yankees swept Cleveland, 6-0, including 3 wins in April!

Boston vs. LA/Anaheim -- Sox won the season series, 6-4

Boston vs. Cleveland -- Sox won the season series, 5-2, including back-to-back 1-0 games (win and loss) in July

For completeness, LA/Anaheim vs. Cleveland -- Series split, 5-5

So, based on this, it's hard to say that Cleveland is the best if there was a round-robin.  The match-ups won't be determined until the AL East is decided and the best record is decided (all pretty close right now).  But, I think that the match-ups favor the Red Sox more than Bob Ryan gives them credit for.  The Red Sox beat LA/Anaheim and Cleveland.  And, any Red Sox-Yankees series has got to be a toss-up, despite the Yankees winning 7 of the last 9.

If the Yankees have to play LA/Anaheim, they are in for a struggle.  If they have to play Cleveland, they should have the upper hand.  LA/Anaheim can only play Cleveland in the ALCS as the Yankees and Red Sox can't play each other in the first round since they are in the same division.

If the Yankees win the East, I want LA/Anaheim to have a better record than Cleveland, forcing them to play the Wild Card Red Sox.  If the Red Sox win the East, I want Cleveland to have the better record so that the Yankees get to play them.

September 20, 2007

Baseball is a strange game

OK, I already admitted that I was very wrong.

On May 29th, I posted my now infamous 'Surrender' entry.  At that time, the Yankees were 14 1/2 games behind the Red Sox:

 W        L        Pct.         GB

Boston          36        15       .706         -

New York       21        29       .420        14.5

At that point, Baltimore and Toronto were ahead of the Yankees.  The Yankees were tied for last in the division with Tampa Bay.

By August 6, I was already amazed with the Yankees come back.  They had tied Detroit for the wild card lead and clearly had a great chance to make the playoffs.  But, the division still looked too far off.

 W        L        Pct.         GB

Boston          68        44       .607         -

New York       62        50       .554        6

Note that in this stretch of almost 10 weeks, the Red Sox played just 3 games over .500.  The Yankees were 20 games over .500, almost matching the red hot start that the Red Sox had at the start of the season.

Now, the Yankees have a 5 1/2 game wild card lead over Detroit and have narrowed the division race to just one game in the loss column.

 W        L        Pct.         GB

Boston          90        63       .588         -

New York       88        64       .579        1.5

The Red Sox again just played 3 games over .500 and the Yankees were 12 games over.  So, since the nadir of the season, from my point of view, the Red Sox have been 54-48 .529 and the Yankees have been 67-35 .657.  Teams have been this hot for a whole season, but it's hard to imagine that a team has had a bigger turnaround after such a bad start.  And, making up so much ground against such a good team is even tougher.

I think that the Yankees have played well, but it's really puzzling to me why the Red Sox have just won 54 out of their last 102 games.  With their line-up and their pitching, they should be doing better.  This has been somewhat hidden by their fast start, but I don't hear enough Red Sox fans asking this question.  The Yankees vastly underperformed for the first 50 games of the season.  But, the Red Sox have underperformed for more than 100 games.

As we saw last year with the Cardinals, you just have to be hot during the playoffs to win the World Series.  And, the Red Sox still have a small lead in the division.  So, it's not over.  But, the Red Sox need to find that early season magic if they want to have a good postseason.

By the way, according to my son's research, if the Red Sox and Yankees finish tied at the end of the regular season, the Yankees will win the division (assuming that the Red Sox are in position to win the wild card) due to the Yankees winning the season series vs. the Red Sox.  Good thing the Yankees won 5 out of the last 6 games between the two teams.

September 19, 2007

The Power of Citizen Journalism

F Minus

F Minus usually gets it right.  Sorry to steal the graphic, but they have no option to embed.

September 18, 2007

Boston VC Partners and Networking Events

I wrote recently about the small number of Boston VC Bloggers.  I received some comments from some Boston VCs (who preferred to remain anonymous and to respond to me directly).  The consensus I heard from them was that they weren't comfortable blogging or posting public comments.  They preferred to communicate one on one to control their communications.  There was also a theme that many blogs (not mine, I hope!) included a lot of personal ranting which wasn't that useful.

I don't agree with this, but my view is shaped by the positive feedback I get from entrepreneurs who discover me through my blog (or from a friend who reads my blog).

Another form of participating in the Boston entrepreneurial community is to attend some of the networking events which happen regularly around town.

Some events are sponsored, like Web Innovators Group (sponsored by Venrock).  Although this event is open to all, perhaps some VCs stay away because they feel it is Venrock's event.  Other events become associated with a firm, perhaps because a partner at that firm started it or promotes it.  An example here is OpenCoffee Cambridge, with Bijan Sabet of Spark as one of the founders.  Although Bijan is welcoming, perhaps some VCs stay away because they want to do their own thing.

There are even big, occasional events like Tech Cocktail, where North Bridge was one of the sponsors.  I've gotten a lot out of attending all of these events, so thanks to all the sponsors!

Like blogging, I don't see enough of the senior people at the big Boston VC firms at events like these.  Now, maybe I'm going to the wrong events.  But, in general, I see a lot of the more junior VC people at these events that are primarily aimed at the emerging Web 2.0 world.  I like the junior people, so don't get me wrong.  They are smart and high-energy.  But, you can't delegate your interest in a new market to your junior VC staff.  Many of the firms around town which claim to invest in Web 2.0 companies don't have senior partners who show up at many of these events.

If you want to understand a new market, you have to participate directly.  So, I hope to see more of my senior VC friends at some future events.

September 17, 2007

Wireless data not for the masses

Last night I was at the Patriots-Chargers football game.  As was the case with most of the fans there, I also wanted to keep track of the Red Sox-Yankees baseball game at the same time.  You don't often get two sporting events of such magnitude going on at the same time in the same city.

With almost 70,000 people there checking their cell phones (mostly through Web or WAP access), the wireless data network ground to a halt.  I had Cingular, which, in an informal poll of the fans around me, seemed to be the worst.  Verizon was working better, but was still pretty slow.  I don't have enough data points to talk about Sprint or T-Mobile, but I think that it was interesting that the two largest carriers had capacity problems in a spot with so many people.

Granted that these situations are unusual.  You don't often have so many people all accessing the Internet on the cell phones at the same time in such a small geographic area.  But, when it does happen, the carrier networks didn't seem capable of handling the crush of data requests.

After seeing business plans for people who want to power wireless services that are focused at large events like concerts and sporting venues, it makes me wonder if the carriers' networks are really ready for this.  The carriers build for normal usage rates and some level of peak capacity.  The Patriots play in their venue about 10-11 times per year, counting pre-season and playoff games.  And, there aren't usually that many people on their phone checking other scores.  So, the capacity in Foxborough is fine for almost every day of the year.

But, last night was a chance for the data network to shine.  And, it didn't.

September 14, 2007

Great Dilbert

Dilbert91307.gif

I really liked yesterday's Dilbert.  Sorry to rip off the graphic, but they should have an embed.

I remember the dark days of a start-up where it really felt like fraud was all we had.  I quit the next day.  I was, indeed, in Marketing at the time.

Why Don't More Boston VC's Blog?

As entrepreneurs give me feedback on my blog, they often ask me why more Boston VCs don't blog.  Of course, there are quite a few who do (these are the ones I read most often and is not a complete list):

Jeff Bussgang

David Aronoff

Mike Hirschland

David Beisel

Bijan Sabet

I wish there were more.  There are some firms that have no one who blogs, but they still claim to invest in the Web 2.0 market.  I don't get it.  I don't see how you can do that without being part of the community.  Without that, you just won't be able to understand these deals.

Some possible reasons why many VCs (particularly more of the 'older' ones, like me) don't blog:

1) They are very busy.  Hey, who isn't.  That's not a good excuse.  If you thought it was important, you'd find the time to do it.  This reasons is really 'I don't think that it's important.'

2) They don't want to be wrong.  I think it is risky putting opinions out there.  You may be wrong, or someone important may disagree with you.  So what.  As long as you are not confrontational, it's just a discussion.

3) They don't want their LPs to find anything that isn't totally buttoned up when they do their diligence.  Smart LPs will know that you can't invest in this space if you don't participate.  Just keep your sick hobbies out of your work blog...

4) They don't want to share their opinions with the rest of the world and lose their competitive advantage.  Come on.  Most VCs are pretty smart, but there are very few unique thoughts in this world.  By participating in the conversation, you'll have better opinions.  Of course, you have to be careful in talking about new spaces and companies you are looking at, but I think that blogging helps your deal flow so that you'll see more new things anyway.  And, we need to collaborate more in the Boston market anyway.

5) They have nothing to say.  I don't think that this is true, but if they really don't understand the space, then maybe they'd learn by trying.  See #2.

It took me a while to commit to doing a regular blog.  And, it's hard to carve out the time to write something sometimes.  But, I get so much great feedback from people who read The Fein Line that it's addictive.  I'd like to not be Boston's oldest VC blogger much longer...If there is someone else out there who deserves that title, let me know.

September 13, 2007

Good thing the Celtics didn't get the #1 pick

I'm very excited about the Celtics season as their new 'Big 3' and some of the supporting cast they have assembled make them real contenders.

Meanwhile, today it was reported that #1 pick Greg Oden may miss the whole season with a significant knee injury.  Oden is young, so he'll probably be back.  But, a microfracture problem is significant.

I am sure that Portland hopes that they don't end up with another Sam Bowie, whom they picked over Michael Jordan in 1984.

September 12, 2007

Barack is LinkedIn

There are lots of examples of Web 2.0 having a big impact in the 2008 Presidential race.  The latest I noticed today is Barack Obama asking a question on LinkedIn.  He asks "How can the next president better help small business and entrepreneurs thrive?"  In 10 hours he has more than 800 answers, including mine.

I think that this is a great strategy.  I even figured out how I was linked to Barack through his LinkedIn profile.  Getting to hear from people directly is a great research tool.  I think that Barack also build support just be being 'out there' in cyberspace.  I am sure he's got staffers who are doing this for him, but it's good PR.

I'd encourage you to interact with the campaigns through these mechanisms.  I am not ready to decide who I am going to vote for based on their Facebook profile, but I think that some people will.

 

September 11, 2007

Geez, are the Patriots cheaters, too?

According to ESPN, the NFL Commissioner has determined that the Patriots did indeed violate league rules about videotaping opposing coaches signals.  The idea is that they could figure out the signalling methods and take advantage of knowing what defense was being called.  The league had sent out a stern warning about this before the season.

The Patriots will have their chance to plead their case, but if this is all true, they should be ashamed.  It is an insult to their great players if they have stooped this low.  Although I am a huge Pats fan, they would deserve harsh punishment, including losing multiple draft picks, if this is indeed true.

Too much cheating in sports nowadays.  I was giving the Patriots the benefit of the doubt on this issue, but it seems like they let me down.

TypeKey now fixed

Great support response from TypeKey.  For some reason, my configuration had always worked but shouldn't have.  Minor configuration changed fixed everything.  Comments now must be authenticated again.

Great Customer Experience is Free

Bruce Temkin of Forrester wrote a great post entitled My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free.  Like Philip Crosby's classic Quality is Free, Bruce makes the case that you can't afford NOT to have great customer experience for your product or service.

I remember reading Crosby's book as well as Tom Peters' Thriving on Chaos in the 1980s.  They both had a big impact on me in terms of how I thought about business. 

Both books focus on the idea that you can't afford not to get things right the first time.  Build the product right, with great quality and meeting all the specs.  Delight the customer with great features and a fantastic experience in dealing with your company.  If you get something wrong, handle it with grace and aplomb.  Companies that do this build long-term relationships with their customers.

I remember one start-up experience I had with a Beta customer.  We had really tried to build the product right the first time.  We had well thought out features, good documentation, strong software quality process, and a real customer focus.  We shipped our beta product out to one customer, and they were so happy with it that they offered to buy it without wating for the release version.  They were so excited about the product that they took their picture holding our product and sent it back to us, thanking us for doing a good job.  I guess we were solving an important problem for them. 

Getting it right the first time meant that we spent less time on support and QA, less time explaining to the customer how they should be using our product, and more time selling and celebrating our wins.

Web Inno 14

Last night was the most recent meeting of the Web Innovators Group (#14) in Cambridge.  It was a great turnout (maybe 400 people).  Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe posted a video that includes the brief introductions of each company that presented.

There aren't enough of these type of broad networking events in the Boston area.  David Beisel has done a great job of organizing this event, and now it has real critical mass.  I got several emails today from people that were at the event and couldn't find me there due to the large scale!  However, the event remains high quality, with most of the attendees being engineers and entrepreneurs.  If you haven't attended one of these, you really should.  The next one is November 6.  Keep an eye on the Web Inno blog for registration information.

TypeKey trouble

Christoph pointed out to me that TypeKey was no longer working on my blog to authenticate commenters.  Until I get this figured it out, I have turned off authentication.  This means that I have to approve all comments in order to avoid comment spam, so please be patient if it takes a bit before your comment appears.

September 10, 2007

You can own too much

I was getting an update on a company I know recently when I realized that the investors owned too much of the company for their own good.

Now, as an investor, you might think that you want to own as much as possible.  And, of course, the entreprenur wants to hold on to as much ownership as they can.  If the VCs do own too much, you can run into several problems:

  • The more commonly known issue is that if the investor owns too much of a company, there isn't enough equity left to properly motivate the entrepreneurial management.  If you are asking management to work start-up hours and forego market rate salaries and compensation, you probably have to offer them reasonable equity stakes so that they can share in the upside that they help create.  If the investors own too much of the company (maybe more than 80%), there is no way to have enough equity left to motivate the team except in very rare situations (companies that have raised huge amounts of cash where everyone agrees that the outcome is also very huge).
  • A separate issue has to do with large investor ownership getting in the way of follow-on financing.  A mature company (in terms of investment and age) that is a bit behind in terms of company development (maybe because a business model was switched one time along the way) may be in the situation where the investors own too much.  In this case, the investors own enough of the company (and probably at too high of a valuation) that it is hard to attract outside capital.  If there is investment interest, it may be at a lower valuation than the previous round.  The existing investors won't be happy about that.  However, if the investors do an 'inside round' and invest in the company without a new investor coming in, their ownership may not go up a commensurate amount because they hit the ceiling where they dilute management's upside too much.  Nothing is worse than doing an inside round at a company and, due to option pool expansion, owning less after the round than you owned before.

These types of situations often lead to companies being sold 'before their time.'  As a VC, you may prefer to sell the company rather than do one of those inside rounds where your ownership drops.  The only thing which may keep you from this is if you believe that the future upside is so big that it is worth the short term hit on ownership.  But, you have to convince your skeptical partners of this as well.

Tough time dealing with a VC?

Once again, Ask The VC has a great post on the VC business.  This one is Why are Venture Capitalists So Hard to Deal With?  I direct people to Ask The VC all the time as I think it is a great resource.  I also like the model of submitting questions to be answered by the authors.  If you have a question about venture capital, ask them!

One additional comment I have on the content of this post is that VCs often behave badly because entrepreneurs let them get away with it.  If you behave like a jerk and entrepreneurs continue to come see you with new business ideas, then you get positive reinforcement on behaving like a jerk.  So, check the reputations of the VCs you want to approach and avoid those that are hard to deal with.  Check out The Funded for more (probably biased) feedback on how VCs treat entrepreneurs.

September 06, 2007

Starting a Social Network

I've looked at a lot of social network companies over the past few months.  Many of the ideas sound great once there are a lot of members.  But, getting to a lot of members is really, really hard.  So, I tend to think about strategies for getting a social network started.

As an entrepreneur in this type of company, you have to ask yourself why the first person, or first 100 people, would join your social network.  Since you don't have a lot of users yet, it can't be because they'll interact with a lot of users.  Perhaps you have some unique content that gives them benefit as an individual.  Perhaps you have an application that is useful to them stand-alone.  Maybe you have a functionality that is so unique and cool that people will try it just to see it.  If you think you are in this category, you are probably fooling yourself.

I've given several entrepreneurs advice lately about micro-targeting their initial user acquisition.  Since these social networks only have value to users if the users have something in common, make sure that your initial target ensures this.  Maybe you should target a very small geographic area (like a neighborhood in a city).  Maybe you should target specialized clubs or existing special interest groups.  But, think small, smaller, smallest.

Targeting a very small group and trying to get deep penetration into that group will give you valuable feedback about the true virality of your social network.  Most entrepreneurs greatly overestimate how viral an application will be.  It really has to be in a user's interest for them to invite their friends in order for them to do so.

If you can't get an existing group with quite a bit in common to use your social network, why would the masses find it useful?  And, now you have to compete with the massive social networks like Facebook and MySpace.  A new social network has to be more specialized and targeted.  Grow it from the bottom up rather than targeting things widely.

Another benefit of this is that you can get started on less capital.  You can spend a small amount of money very wisely on guerrilla tactics (like handing out paper flyers on the street, attending a special interest group meeting in person, or becoming a live participant in an existing online community).  You won't prove scalability with this approach, but you will find out exactly what real users want, how they use your application, and why it does or doesn't work.  Once you have some real data on this, it should be easier to raise more money to broaden out your approach.

I was thinking about social networks as I developed this, but it applies to lots of different businesses.  You need to get very close to your initial customers.  Most companies which target enterprises don't hesitate to have a very small initial beta customer set.  They want to dig deeply into each customer and learn how to get it right.  I just haven't seen enough of the social networking start-ups think about this the same way.

September 04, 2007

The End of Two Summers

Today is the first day of school in our family.  As such, it marks the end of summer.  By 7:15 AM, both of our kids were out of the house.  As our kids are now both out of elementary school, this was the first year that we didn't bring anyone to a bus stop.  They insist on walking there themselves now.  So, it was awfully quiet at 7:15 AM.

Rather than the end of one summer, this felt like the end of two summers.  During the summer, I stick mostly to a regular work schedule, of course.  I continue to get up at 5 AM to work out before my morning meetings and phone calls.  However, my wife and kids sleep late.  They have summer activities, but generally nothing that starts too early.  And, my kids have become night owls, often staying up later than my wife and I.  My wife and kids were having one summer, with a very flexible schedule.  I had my own summer, on a more typical schedule, with a bit more free time.

There were many days this summer when I was up at 5 and my family would be up at 9:30, 10 or 11 (ah, being a teenager).  I ended up getting an office outside my house so I wouldn't bother my family while I worked in the morning.  Since I was up early, I was also tired before everyone else at night.  I have had a great summer and played much more tennis and went on more bike rides than previous years.  But, I was still working.  And, my family was mostly on a vacation schedule.

During the past week (and through the Labor Day weekend), my family started to shift their schedule.  They were dreading having to get up a 6 AM today to be ready in time to go to school at 6:45 and 7:15 AM.  We all ended up getting up early through the weekend so that today wouldn't be such a shock to the system.  It didn't seem too bad to me, but it was tough on them.  It worked, however.  They made it up and out today without incident.

Now, my wife is out early, too, gearing up her usual school year volunteering.  And, I'm working at home where it is empty and quiet.

September 01, 2007

Is Rodney a cheater?

rodney

I was really surprised about Rodney Harrison's admission that he used HGH to help his recovery from knee injuries.  For this violation of the NFL's banned substance policy, he is suspended for the first four games of the football season.  This is a blow to the Patriots as Rodny Harrison is a physical leader of their defense.

I always admired Rodney Harrison.  His 'us against the world' attitude, with no excuses, has been a mantra for the Patriots.  He has excelled for them since the San Diego Chargers let him go 4 years ago as being washed up.  He has come back from some serious, career-threatening injuries.  His commentary to the media is always candid.

To his credit, Harrison has taken the same approach in this case.  He is admitting guilt publicly, offering apolgies, with no excuses.  He made a mistake in taking HGH, supposedly to help his recovery from injury.  I am sure that many Patriots fans are sympathetic and will cut him a break.

But, these are the same people who are so much against Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield's supposed use of steroids in baseball.  Those players are branded as cheaters, and I think that they are.  In the case of baseball, Giambi was the only one who said the right thing, acknowledging that he used steroids but also pointing out that the whole baseball establishment silently condoned the use of steroids to help the game recover fan support after the mid-90s strike.  The home run chase of 1998 was exciting, even if it was steroid-fueled.

So, if those baseball players are cheaters, isn't Harrison?  He violated the rules and is being punished.  So, by definition, he cheated.  As much as I like Harrison, I have to admit that he is a cheater. 

When a player I like cheats, it makes me more sympathetic to the players I don't like, such as Bonds, who also cheated.  We are all complicit in the blind acceptance of steroid and illegal substance use in sports.  The drive to compete and win, to recover from injury, to make the big money (which we fund through our support of the teams) makes it hard to resist using these substances.  We can all be high and mighty about not cheating, but I doubt many of us would pass up the chance to switch places with Rodney Harrison and probably make the same choice he did.

Sports leagues need to strictly enforce these rules, and perhaps the cheating will stop.  Harrison's penalty is strict, and repeat offenders should be banned.  If he is stupid enough to do this again after being caught once, he gets what he deserves.

I don't like writing this about one of my favorite players, but I think that it's more important that sports get cleaner than they are now.


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