VC:VC Homonyms

A homonym (Wikipedia tells me) is one of a group of words that share the same spelling or pronunciation (or both) but have different meanings.

When I first came to the US as a consultant I quickly learned about homonyms and synonyms in business analysis and data modelling. When building computerised business systems you talk to various people in the business and ask them about the work they do and try to build computer systems that automate or assist or support doing those things better. The problems of homonyms and synonyms are persistent and ubiquitous. Two words are synonyms if they are different words with the same meaning (eg quickly and speedily). If you are working with a business where people are using different words for the same thing it can be confusing, and getting computer systems to work together when using different terminology is fraught with issues.

A homonym is often worse ... what happens when the word product means different things to different people in the same company. A soft drinks company had the problem that the manufacturing people defined a product by its formulation, but the marketing people defined a product by its packaging. It turns out that soft-drinks are formulated differently for different parts of the country (more sugar in one area, more vanilla in another etc), but they are all shipped in the same cans or bottles. Counting products sold becomes a problem when homonyms compete. When big companies try to integrate all their information (into things called Data Warehouses, believe it or not) they come up against pretty complicated problems of ensuring all the synonyms and homonyms are resolved so that the consolidated numbers are meaningful. This was a problem 20 years ago, and it is still a problem today. At Sigma, in my venture capital world, we are looking at yet another company trying to solve this problem, and we may yet invest in their promising approach.

What had this got to do with the Venture Cycling world (this is a VC:VC posting after all)? The venture cycling side of me is the idealistic side doing the Hazon NY bike ride, and maybe, one year, the Israel ride.

During our recent family trip to Israel I was talking with a friend, Avi, whose English is worse than my Hebrew (a rare Israeli). I was explaining in more detail than I can usually muster in Hebrew what a Venture Capitalist is and does. At one point I talked about profit, and did not know the word. I looked over to our wives (old friends from university days) and asked what is the word for "profit" in Hebrew. Both of them triumphantly told me, in unison, "na-vee"... which even I knew means "prophet" (think of Isaiah). Homonyms strike again.

For those who like recursion (all good techies, at least), the fact that it was this pair of homonyms, profit and prophet, that caused the confusion, makes this posting particularly delicious. Here I am comparing Venture Capital (following profits) with Venture Cycling (following prophets) ... now if only the words were homonyms in Hebrew, we would have the perfect story.

PS: The Hebrew word for "profit" is "revakh"

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