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June 29, 2008

Look Before You Give

This article in today's Boston Globe was pretty interesting.  The examples are all from the Republican side, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happens on the Democratic side, too.

The article describes how candidates hired firms to run their fund-raising.  The candidates were not very successful, but the fund-raising firms took 90-97% of all of the money raised for fund-raising expenses.  According to the article, 30% is a more typical number.  Even more surprising, some of the firms kept on raising money nationally for candidates that had dropped out of the race.  They were playing on people's emotions -- "Defeat Liberal Barney Frank" -- even when his opponent had only garnered 147 votes statewide and couldn't qualify to get onto the ballot.

This is a year when more people than ever have paid attention to politics.  There is a ton of fund-raising done over the Internet and via direct mail.  Our political financial system is very complicated, and people give money to causes as well as candidates.  Before you give to someone or some cause, make sure you know where the money will go.  I don't know how you could have figured out that giving money to one of these candidates would just fund the fund-raising consultants, but at least make sure your candidate is still in the race!

June 23, 2008

George Carlin

George Carlin just passed away.  He had a big impact on me.  I first heard George Carlin was I was very young.  He was the first person who showed me you could question authority and didn't have to follow the rules.

This is one of my favorite George Carlin sketches, comparing baseball to football.  His use of tone of voice and facial expressions to make his point is awesome.

I'm sure George is safe at home now.

 

June 21, 2008

Bush's Strategy Revealed

Jon Stewart figured out what Bush's strategy has been for the past 7 1/2 years....

 

June 20, 2008

Boston-Power in BusinessWeek.

Boston-Power is featured in the BusinessWeek cover story about American manufacturing.  The overall subject matter of how to reclaim American manufacturing jobs is important, but there are many factors which are beyond the realm of American cost competitiveness.  For example, Boston-Power manufactures laptop batteries.  The company may be able to make these cost effectively in the US, but the rest of the laptop supply chain is in Asia.  So, making laptop batteries in the US would still mean that they would have to be shipped to Asia to have them assembled into battery packs and laptops.  Until more of the supply chain shifts to the US, it doesn't seem likely that laptop batteries will be made here.

However, there are many other applications for batteries where more the supply chain is here, and those would be ideal areas to re-establish some American battery manufacturing capability.

Full disclosure:  I am on the Board of Boston-Power.

June 18, 2008

Celtics Garden Party

Celtics Celebrate.jpg

I was lucky enough to be in the Garden last night for the Celtics big win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.  They won their 17th championship, and it wasn't even as close as the 131-92 score.  The photo above captures some of the excitement on the bench as the game wound down.  Luckily for me, I had a great view -- you can see me in the photo between Sam Cassell and Paul Pierce, with the baseball cap on.

The environment in the Garden was phenomenal.  The fans were cheering non-stop.  I was exhausted by the end.  I was also thrilled that they could win it in Boston, even though that meant that it was extended to six games.  Having such a blowout in Boston let the party start early in the fourth quarter when it was clear that the Lakers didn't have a run in them.  That made it the most fun for the players -- they were having a blast.

And, the best part is that the Celtics could easily have pretty much the same team next year (they need to make sure that they keep James Posey).  They could definitely be better as the young players improve and the whole team has more experience playing together.  Get ready for banner number #18!

June 16, 2008

Great Bike Ride

Bike Route 6-14-08.JPG

With the advent of warmer weather, I went on a great bike ride on Saturday.  This ride was mostly on roads, with one significant trail ride near Great Meadows in Concord after circling Great Meadows in Sudbury.  The hills weren't too bad.  This route is almost 34 miles, which is longer than my usual rides.  I really felt it when I got home.

June 12, 2008

They're Better

After one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history, there is no question that the Celtics are better than the Lakers.  It might take 5, 6, or probably not 7 games, but the Celtics have shown that they can win at home, or on the road.  And, I don't think that they've really been playing their best.  But, tonight even that was more than enough to come back against the Lakers.

Credit to Doc Rivers for putting in his small lineup to force the Lakers to spread their defense.  Maybe even some of his doubters will agree that he's done a good job after this one.

30 Days in a Wheelchair

One of my favorite TV shows is 30 Days on FX.  It's a documentary show by Morgan Spurlock, in the same vein as his movie, Super Size Me.  On every show, someone sees what it is like to live someone else's life for 30 days.  There have been some excellent episodes, such as the one where Morgan Spurlock spent 30 days living on minimum wage, or the one where someone whose job was outsourced to India went there to try to get his job back.  I like the show because its goal is to break down barriers and increase understanding among people.

This week's episode had former NFL player Ray Crockett spending 30 days in a wheelchair as if he was a paraplegic.  The show is sad, funny, and uplifting.  Here's an excerpt:

Hulu has several full episodes and a bunch of clips from 30 Days.  The full wheelchair episode is not yet posted there, but I imagine it will be soon.

June 10, 2008

What a difference a Board makes

I recently caught up with a couple of CEOs I know.  Both are at companies that are about the same vintage and have spent about the same amount of money over that time.  They have different amounts of progress, but both companies are at least somewhat behind the plans that they had pitched to investors when they last raised money.

However, at one company, the Board is very supportive of the business and, although concerned about some of the progress issues, is sticking with the company and working hard to make it successful.  At the other company, at least one member of the Board has lost patience and is pushing for an exit at a pace that doesn't feel natural to the CEO.  Of course, there are always two sides to each of these stories, and I am just hearing from the CEO in each case.

The CEO of the company under pressure was wondering why their Board member had changed his attitude about the company so quickly.  I don't really know, but one issue that most entrepreneurs overlook is internal firm dynamics.  It can be hard to tell from the outside, but many times decisions at VC firms are influenced by the status of the particular fund the investment is in, the status of the partner at the firm, and partner-to-partner dynamics.

If a particular fund won't return all of its capital to investors, or the deal in question can't make a big difference one way or the other, the VC firm may be ready to give up on a deal just to free up the partner time.  This can happen with an older, small deal in a big fund.  The outcome just won't move the needle, and the VC firm is probably focused on newer funds that can generate carried interest income for them.

If a deal has lost its initial sponsor, or a partner at a firm sees some other deal as being the key for his or her ascendancy, it's possible that deals can get ignored by the partner on the Board.  Also, if partners are being tough on each other over deals in internal discussion, there may be retaliation where other deals are targeted to get even, rather than to maximize returns.

The fundamental issue is with deals that don't turn out to be as large as first thought.  However, these can still make some money for the firm and the entrepreneurs.  This kind of deal may not matter in some cases to the VC firm, but will matter a lot to the entrepreneur.  This misalignment of interest can cause problems.

What can an entrepreneur do about it?  First, do your best to know the people who will be involved in the deal, as well as to know the reputation of the firm.  Some people and firms can separate internal dynamics from how they manage deals.  Others can't.  Second, keep communications open so that if you sense these types of problems coming up, you can try to bring them into the open.  Most VCs won't acknowledge internal issues, but may be willing to minimize their time by appointing someone outside their firm to their Board seat.  This isn't ideal, but is better than getting pushed prematurely to the exit.

Also, you may be able to use other Board members and investors to keep each other honest.  No VC wants to look like the one who is the weak member of the syndicate.  Don't let a VC ringleader emerge if you can help it.  Instead, keep everyone engaged and have a lot of one on one conversations so that each person has to express their own opinion.

VC deals are like marriages, except that it is even more difficult to get out.  So, choose your partners very carefully!

June 09, 2008

Takin' Care of Business

The Celtics beat the Lakers last night to go ahead in their Finals series 2-0.  The photo above is about the nadir for the Lakers in the game -- Leon Powe (one of my favorite Celtics) went the length of the court uncontested to dunk over the Lakers as they all watched.  Leon works hard every play, and the Celtics outworked the Lakers for most of the game.

I was actually glad that the Lakers cut the Celtics 24-point fourth quarter lead to 2-points by the end.  I think that having the Lakers make that come back and fall short hurts them more psychologically than a pure blowout.  Everyone knows that the Lakers were going to get hot at some point.  The key is that the Celtics withstood the 3-point shooting barrage and pulled it out in the end.

Now they go to LA for games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary).  The 2-3-2 format, decried by Bob Ryan of the Globe today, is a great equalizer in the Finals.  It really minimizes the benefit of home court advantage and makes it critical that the home team win both of the first two games, as the Celtics did.  I'm hopeful that the Celtics can win at least one of the three, which would put them in a good position coming back to Boston for Game 6.

I don't think that Doc Rivers gets enough credit for how he is coaching the Celtics.  He keeps making adjustments to counter what the Lakers are doing and to take advantage of what is working for the Celtics.  In last night's game, Leon Powe provided the spark.  Doc kept his rotation pretty short -- Sam Cassell hurt his wrist and only played 6 minutes.  With Kendrick Perkins's ankle still sore, he only played 14 minutes.  I wouldn't be surprised if Doc goes to Eddie House or Glen "Big Baby" Davis at some point in LA.  He has a deep bench (which didn't get enough credit from the national media), and Doc takes good advantage of it.

June 06, 2008

Acceptance

xlii.png

Oh yes, the sad memories remain from Super Bowl XLII.  The Patriots lost, dashing their up-to-then perfect season.  I was there, which made the feelings worse.

I have been forcing myself to deal with this.  I now accept the result and can think about the experience.  I am pulling my Super Bowl XLII T-shirts out of the closet and can wear them without too much pain.  I don't think of them as bad luck or representing a bad time.  We've been so spoiled in Patriot Nation that a lot of people think that Super Bowl XLII should be forgotten.

It certainly wasn't as good as the Super Bowls that they won, but it was a great year.  You can't win them all.  And, the team had to work so hard and perform so well just to get there, let alone to get there with an undefeated record.  Adding to the irony was the catch phrase for Super Bowl XLII -- Who Wants It More?

So, as a loyal Pats fan who is following this week's minicamp in preparation for next season, I can smile about last year.  It was a good season, and almost great.  It hurt at the time, but I have finally accepted it for what it was.  A chance for a lot of excitement and enjoyment, until the last 2 minutes...

Perspective

Now that Senator Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, there is a lot of interest in him picking Hillary Clinton as his VP.  Since the battle between them was so close, people think that teaming them up will give the Democrats the best chance to beat John McCain in November.

I don't get that.  One reason why the race between Obama and Hillary was so close was that their positions are not that different.  Certainly, they have different levels and types of experience and have different styles.  I like Obama but would have been willing to vote for Hillary had she been the nominee.  Strangely, there are many Hillary supporters who say that they'd rather vote for John McCain than Obama.  Huh?

Maybe they are bitter that Hillary lost.  The press was tough on Hillary, particularly the conservative pundits.  It may not have been fair and may have been misogynistic.  But, I don't think that Obama showed her anything other than respect.  And, if you support Hillary's positions, you can't be that disappointed with Obama.  There are some differences, but mostly those of degree.

Meanwhile, if Obama wants to build a strong ticket, he needs balance.  Someone with more Washington experience.  Someone with some complementary positions who is willing to support Obama.  Maybe from the South or West or a state he's got to carry.  And, dare I say, an old white guy may not be a bad selection.  Race does matter, although Obama's nomination shows that progress is being made.  I don't know enough to suggest anyone, but Jim Webb from Virgina is mentioned a lot (he says he's not interested).

It would be easy to rush to a decision to put Hillary on the ticket, appease her followers, and strive for unity.  But, time and perspective will lead to a better decision.  This is often the case, and big decisions should only be made when they need to be, after sufficient time and consideration.  Anyway, Hillary is going to support the Democratic ticket no matter what.  She doesn't have to be on the ticket to endorse Obama.

DoGood at Boston.com

A company I advise, Good2gether, has just crossed a major milestone.  If you go to the Lifestyle section of boston.com, you can click on DoGood.  This will bring you to the DoGood channel which connects you with non-profit causes around Boston.  This is the first of a series of roll-outs for Good2gether around the country. 

Good2gether connects people to causes and makes money from sponsors who want to attach their brands to these connections.  As is the case with any web service, the business model only makes sense if you can get some meaningful traffic to your site.  It's very difficult and expensive to establish your own new brand in the mass market.  Start-ups need a business model that lets them leverage existing destination sites, like boston.com, that have their own traffic.  This has to make business sense for sites like boston.com as well. 

By going live with boston.com, good2gether has shown that they have a nice working product and that boston.com thinks that this makes business sense for them, too.  Hopefully, this will be the first of many roll-outs around the country.  Very few start-ups get a good partnership with such a large portal.  If you live in the Boston area and are looking for information and volunteering opportunities at a non-profit, check out the DoGood channel at Boston.com.

June 05, 2008

This one's better - Go Celts!

Sorry, VCMike, but this is the all-time Celtics playoff steal highlight.

"There's a steal by Bird..."

 


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