Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Venture Money, now and in the near future

One of the things I am doing these days is working with young companies. From Linked In to old friends, to guys who read this blog I routinely get contacted for ideas and advice. I am looking very hard for my next opportunity and one of the the things I am struggling with is should I go start up, or should I go back to my roots in the supply chain world. Be that as it may I am keeping my ear very close to the smart people in the web venture world these days for a variety of different reasons.

Brad Burnham, partner at Union Square Ventures in Manhattan is a really bright guy who is about as dialed in on web now and web future as you are going to get. If you are an entrepreneur or an operator, you should listen to what he has to say. The above interview is about 5 minutes long. I highly recommend it.

No 1 of Consequence

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hope springs from the pools of Beijing

My best man and I fancy ourselves intellectuals. Much of our youth was spent pontificating on the state of the world. Lately our conversations have centered around an apathetic public that has allowed itself to be spoonfed lie after lie, a complicit press corps, and the overall fragmentation fo the attention of the American public.

The basic contention is that there is so much information and distraction available for the population we have collectively lost our ability to focus on what's important. Our economy is in shambles. Despite the most advanced health care system in the world, we prevent those in the greatest need from having access to it. Last but not least we are mired in an ill conceived, fraudulent war that is crippling our ability to defend ourselves and our position on a global stage.

America has lost focus. We are all so busy struggling to survive we stopped caring about each other. We haven't had a thing to come together about in a long time. 9/11 was seven years ago and the aftermath became a twisted heap of collective grief and not something we could all look to as something positive.

Last night I played poker at the Marietta Billiard Club in Marietta, GA. I play there quite often and have marvelled at the odd cross section of humanity that joins me at the tables. From a demographic perspective you cannot find a more diverse group. With a group that diverse you will find a variety of interests and opinions. Last night however, there was a singular focus. That focus was on the far wall where a projector usually shows the Falcons, Braves or NASCAR. Last night the massive picture showed 6'4" half human, half dolphin Michael Fred Phelps and when he and his band of reknown hit the screen everything stopped.

No cards were dealt. No pots were splashed and no one complained of the infamous bad beats you take when you play free poker. The focus was on the 22 year old human fish from Baltimore and his quest for the improbable. The crowd roared when Aaron Piersol hit the water. Piersol's leg was strong and Hansen, who has had a rough Olympics really held his own giving Phelps a real opportunity to pull ahead. Phelps first 50 meters was just ok and for a moment he fell behind the Australian. Then, in the second 50 he surged ahead, each stroke pushing him further and further in front. When the American anchor, Jason Lezak hit the water the crowd's individual chants had morphed into a continuous repetitive cheer. GO! GO! GO! When his outstretched hand touched the wall and Phelps and America were once again champions the crowd erupted as one.

Michael Phelps' excellence unified a bouillabaisse of people last night, bringing their focus to something positive and helping people that have little in common connect. It was beautiful and in a small way gave me hope.

No 1 of Consequence

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What don't I know?

That question might be the most important question you can ask yourself when starting a business venture. Obviously, before starting any enterprise you should have a great understanding of both the industry and marketplace you are getting involved in. You have asked yourself, what is the lifespan of this business? What can I add to the market? What problem am I solving? (Unless of course, you are me, in which case you flush a whole pile of money down a toilet mainly because you didn't ask yourself any of those questions) How is my business different than other businesses trying to solve the same problem? Eventually you will get to questions you don't know the answer to. When you get to those, how you address them will very often be the key to the success or failure of your enterprise.

Fred Wilson over at A VC gave some public kudos to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook. Zuckerberg hired a professional operator to take what was recently a very small company, international. Wilson cites the successes of other similar young executives at suddenly massive companies bringing in top notch operatives to keep things moving forward as the reason Zuckerberg gets a pat on the back. What he doesn't address is why this is an important indicator that Mark Zuckerberg (MZ) is a good bet to lead Facebook for a long time.

It seems that MZ has a genuine lack of arrogance. He understands what he doesn't know. He accepted he needed help at the highest level and acted swiftly and effectively to bring in a serious operator to help him through the unknown waters. So I too, tip my hat to MZ, and hope that this incredibly important business lesson is not lost on me in the future.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hear No Evil

The Supreme Court of the United States of America declined to hear a case the ACLU filed against the NSA. They declined to hear the case without comment.

Why is this important?

The details of the case are simple. The ACLU is challenging the legality of the warrantless wiretapping that is currently going on in this country.

The court will not hear the case.

If the court heard the case they would be forced to rule against the NSA. Warrantless searching in this country is a Constitutional violation.

The 4th Amendement says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It states unequivocally that the government can't look, listen to or seize anything without a warrant. No warrant can be issued without specific evidence of wrongdoing and the warrant itself must contain specific things to be seized. The language could not be more clear. Written in an age of tyranny, nothing was more important to the framers than personal liberty.

Now, in the name of expediency and fear, our government chooses to use the excuse that they are protecting us by abrogating our freedoms and liberties. Our Supreme Court is silent rather than speak the truth aloud. This simple truth. Ignoring civil liberty under the guise of protection is facism. To be a truly free society our government must take the more difficult path and protect its citizenry without forcing the sacrifice of liberty. Anything else was unacceptable to our founding fathers and should be unacceptable to the American people today.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, "Those who would give up essential liberty for temporary safety or security, deserve neither safety or security."

The courts are the last line of defense of the people. They are empowered to stand up and say, "If the United States is governed by the rule of law, this is wrong and MUST cease." If the courts are silent and refuse to act when our organizing principles are ignored then we are no longer a nation governed by laws.

I am frightened for us all.

No 1 of Consequence

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Asking the right questions

I have an idea for a product. How can I get it made?

I can't tell you how many times I see e-mails like this. I was even approached for a consulting gig this week by someone who has a product idea he wants to produce. Is it a good idea? It all depends on whether he asks the right questions before moving forward. Also before I invest my time and energy into someone else's entrepreneurial idea they are going to have to answer some very hard questions from me on the topic of their commitment to the idea.

That's really all it takes to get a product produced. Commitment. It takes a commitment of time and a commitment of money. Time to find the right people to fill the knowledge gap where yours wanes. Time to make sure you know what you want to do with the product once it is produced. Money to pay the people who can fill the knowledge gap and money for the prototype phase and initial production runs of you product. It is as simple as that. Any other challenge you think you will face can be shoved under those two umbrellas, time and money.

Getting it made is the easy part if you identify the knowledge gaps and are willing to pay to have them filled. The hard part is what do you do when you are holding "it" in your hand.

No 1 of Consequence

Friday, February 15, 2008

Social, semantic, 2.0, 3.0, what is the web these days?

The brilliant boys over at Freakonomics put together a group of top minds to debate the benefits and challenges of social networking. Why has social networking exploded?

Some possible reasons:

Reason 1:

Social networking changes the way business is done. I am currently doing some consulting work for a web start-up. They are two young guys with a very interesting idea. How did I meet them? One of them showed up as part of my fraternity networking group on Linked In. I was interested in his company because I am seriously considering leaving mine. However, they have not received funding yet and aren't realy sure how to seek it. I have given them advice and pointed them in the right direction, but at the end of the day they need a veteran to help them through. I am not in a position to lead that charge for them. However, I knew the perfect guy. I used Linked In to introduce them. They've had a very productive meeting and my veteran friend is most likely going to sign on with my young friends in a mentoring-interim CEO capacity to help them through the funding process. Before Linked In was a story like this possible? No, because it is unlikely I ever would have met the young entrepreneur.

Reason 2:

A serious desire to connect with other people in an increasingly hostile world? It is harder and harder to make friends the older you get and I think it is a daunting task at any age once puberty hits. Social networking gives people the ability to reach out there and find people they really have common ground with, allowing them to connect on a different level than normal. Normal being, "I work with this guy and he isn't a complete ass so let me go to lunch with him." Occasionally those relationships turn into real friendship. Most of the time they disappear as soon as one or the other changes jobs.

Are there more reasons? Yeah, without a doubt, but these are two big ones in my opinion. I started to write this post a long time ago about how fragmented society has become and how that is hurting television ratings. What I am starting to realize is social networking is becoming as fragmented as society at large. MySpace rose, and then Facebook, Friendster, Linked In and more and more. It has gotten so crazy someone started a social network search engine called YoName.

Look at all the networks it searches:

26... I am pretty dialed in webwise and I haven't heard of some of those. I am 100% sure that isn't all of them, because one of my favorites is Ning, and Ning is not included on the list.

What does any of this mean? I am really not sure, but when looking at sociological interactions of the human race, social networking is a very interesting twist in the way we touch each other.

No 1 of Consequence

Yes we can

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jericho returns

I haven't written about TV this year. Work has been so busy I have barely had time to watch nay much less write the kind of critique and opinion you expect of me. However, since Jericho returned to the air tonight, I wanted to tell you about it in the hopes you will watch all 7 episodes and keep it going into 2009.

Jericho is a different kind of show. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic America that is trying to put itself back together, two towns in Kansas went to war last season. The last word spoken in the last episode of last season was Skeet Ulrich, captain of the Jericho, KA town militia shouting, "NUTS!" into a field radio to the captain of the evil New Bern, KS town militia who were attacking them.

Then CBS cancelled the show.

The battle would never take place.

New Bern would never receive their due for the evil they perpetrated on beacon of hope Jericho.
Then the fans got involved. The people were sick and tired of imaginative, well written and well acted shows getting decimated before they got a chance to take root. Fan sites sprung up everywhere and CBS was sieged with e-mails and calls demanding Jericho be picked up for a second season. CBS' response, unsurprisingly, was that they appreciated the fans passion, but we could go collectively jump in a lake.

Did the fans of Jericho give up? Nuts to that!!

The fans of Jericho began shipping peanuts in massive quantities to CBS headquarters in New York City. Box after box, pound after pound of peanuts bombed CBS HQ until finally, the programming executives relented and ordered a limited run for 2008. That run premiered tonight and in the opening scene, as one of the Jericho's citizens recovered from the battle in a hospital, he ate shelled peanuts, as an homage to the power of the fans and the power of the internet.

Jericho is the best TV show most of you have never seen. It is uniquely crafted covering the micro and macro views of what America could become following a catastrophe. I highly recommend it.

No 1 of Consequence

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr.

It's a long video. If you have the time watch it. If you've never read King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, please take an hour and read it. It demonstrates a compassion and understanding for humanity that have rarely been seen in this world. This passage moves me every time.

"Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."

I encourage my loyal few to embrace that understanding of collective responsibility and let it live on through your hearts and actions.

No 1 of Consequence

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why do many people fail?

I got a call from a recruiter last week who wanted to engage me in a contingency contract to fill open positions I might be recruiting at my current company. I, at the moment, do not have any open positions and even if I did, this particular recruiter does not specialize in representing the kind of candidates I would be evaluating for hire. However, I gave her the go ahead to send me her contact information and invited her to send me an invite on LinkedIN, a business networking site I am involved with.

Did she follow up?


Will she get referred to the person I know hiring exactly the kind of people she reps?


Is this a major failure for her and her company?

You better believe it.

Lack of follow up is a leading cause of failure in business. The worst part about this for me personally is I am as guilty as the next person. There are so many things I really want to be doing, but I am working so hard right now it is very hard to spend the extra energy to follow up and follow through on the things I want for myself. I don't really have it to spend. Of course that is excuse making, no need to point it out to me.

If there is one thing I want to do in 2008, it is to be better, in all things. Now I just need to follow through.

No 1 of Consequence

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary - A hero for the ages

Sir Edmund Hillary passed away yesterday at the age of 88 years old. In my opinion Hillary's greatness did not come from being the first to reach the top of Mt Everest. His greatness wasn't defined by being the first man to lead a mechanized expedition to the South Pole. His greatness is defined by his willingness to try. He stood up and said "I will strive for the untouchable." The attempt to do the impossible is great all by itself.

In addition to being perhaps the greatest adventurer of the 20th century Hillary was supremely generous. His founding of the Sherpa Trust in the 1960's changed Himalayan life. Hillary worked tirelessly for the Sherpa community, building schools and hospitals. His will to give back to the world was as great as his desire to experience what few men have.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Sir Edmund Hillary personified the man in the arena. He knew the triumph of high achievement and in the attempt as much as the achievement inspired the world for generations.

No 1 of Consequence

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Further evidence Georgia, well, sucks

The Georgia Supreme Court is currently discussing the constitutionality of banishment. This is far more important of course than discussing the in effectual, illegal, and un-Constitutional teaching of abstinence only curriculums in the schools. Apparently crossing into Georgia immediately transports you back to the time of Napoleon I. I always wanted to visit Elba.

No 1 of Consequence

Monday, January 07, 2008

Twitter will figure it out

Fred Wilson a venture capitalist from New York, is an early stage investor in a an upstart social media company called Twitter.

For the blissfully unaware Twitter has been the subject of much debate in the tech community as of late because no one can really figure out how they will make money long term. They are a company that launched without a business model and are hoping that somewhere along the way they will figure out how to make money. I think they will.

Twitter is a service that allows users to deliver quick messages (tweets) to the community of people who follow that particular user. The tweets can be delivered in various ways. It is catchy because in addition to it being incredibly easy to use it is kind of fun. It is stream of consciousness micro blogging. It is also a lot more.

How do you monetize it?

Well the first thing they can do is make it a "freemium" service like Yahoo or countless others. It is free for the basic service, but if you want more complicated features, it costs X dollars a month/year.

Advertising. Web ad spending is expected to double between now and 2011. If this is true it means a LOT of new potential revenue for a company like Twitter to capture and they have interesting ways they can do it. Basic text ads attached to tweets and contextual advertising (Google-ish) based on tweet content are two very simple and possible ways that Twitter could start generating some significant advertising revenue.

Here is something I consider more interesting. They could partner with communities that already exist and brand their service to those communities. ESPN tweeting customized score updates through the twitter engine with the ESPN branding and Twitter collecting revenue from ESPN each time. ESPN pays the freight, they give an interesting service to their fans, and the brands expand. I know there are similar sports services out there already, but you can apply to any business, especially some that DON'T already have services like that. I know there is interest, because at my company we have already talked about trying to do something with Twitter. I also made a suggestion to a friend who works for a daytime talk show and he was intrigued about some possible ways to put Twitter to use.

None of these ideas even touch on the potential monetization of Twitter's open API which allow other applications to be developed on the Twitter engine. Twitter is a relatively young company and look at all these different applications that have been built!! Pretty impressive stuff.

Good social media tools become good marketing tools and end up being profitable marketing tools as long as they have good management, technology and support backing them up. I believe there are some smart people working on the monetization of Twitter and they will figure it out. I spent 20 minutes working on it and look what I came up with.

No 1 of Consequence

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The bell rings... or maybe tolls for America.

The Iowa Caucus takes place soon and the starting bell for the next presidential election will ring loudly across the land. Does the election matter? Is it possible for anything to change for the better? Daunting questions, to be sure, but hope springs eternal in my mind that we can achieve something as a united American people.

Meanwhile the disenfranchisement of the American voter continues. (I apologize for the USA Today link) Here is an article about how the caucuses actually prevent participation from interested Iowans because of the stringent voting restrictions.

This is a great piece of writing from Michael Moore. It sounds like Moore will endorse John Edwards if Gore doesn't get into the race. In my opinion if Gore doesn't get into the race soon it will be too late. The former VP recently accepting a partnership at Kleiner Perkins (a leading investment bank)makes me think he isn't running.

I am currently reading a book that was written to scare the living daylights out of Americans. Maybe that wasn't the intent of the book, but it is scaring me pretty badly. I will be delving into it in greater detail as I get further into it. The book is call The End of America, A Letter to a Young Patriot, by Naomi Wolf. I am about 25% through it. I recommend it highly.

No 1 of Consequence