VC:VC Immense Egos

This is the first panel of a 1999 Dilbert cartoon about doctors. Written a year later it might have targeted Venture Capitalists, endowment managers or philanthropists, all of whose egos were inflated by the tech bubble of that time. How the mighty have all fallen.


Of course, now, it would have to be about bloggers :)

A tangentially related recent article in the Economist (Ivory-Towering Infernos) looks into the latest questions being raised about the symbiotic relationships of large university endowments and the private equity (including VC) funds in which they invest.

Energy Flow

Thanks to a recent pitch by an entrepreneur, I saw this amazing chart from the US Government Energy Information Administration. The diagram shows sources and uses of energy in the USA in 2007.

In these times of nationalizing everything, finding out we have such a soviet-sounding bureaucracy is little comfort. However, this may be worthy of Tufte (or at least, in the right direction), so enjoy. Click on the picture to see the full size.

The units are quadrillion BTUs. Those Brits are everywhere (BTU = British Thermal Units).

Britain, uniquely

Britain, uniquely, has power consumption habits related to tea and TV...

How I miss the BBC.

Bostonian of the Year: vote for the Bike Czar

Boston Globe Magazine is soon due to name a Bostonian of the Year. All of the contenders probably deserve the accolade (as do many more)... but the great work of Nicole Freedman, the wonderful Boston Bike Czar, is something new for Boston. Previously one of the worst cities in the USA for cycling, Nicole's work is moving us towards being a "future best city" (both according to Bicycling Magazine).

So I vote for Nicole as Bostonian of the year.

Click here to vote for Nicole.

The Sunday Brunch that nobody expects

With a tip of the hat to my favorite philosopher, Gregg Stern, for pointing me to the Python Online website, here is my favorite Python song.



I saw, this week, the best explanation of the financial crisis that I have ever seen. Read it and weep.
Dilbert.com

On a more serious note, and in the work field, I think Brad Feld pointed me to a great post on Boomerang Founders. This is where one or more of the original founders, who never really get involved past the thinking-about-it-stage, suddenly want to be included in the big bucks when things get going (or get sold). At Phase Forward we partially suffered from this syndrome with one of the "gang of four" (most people think there were only two), so, founders, beware!

Finally for today, in my work at Sigma, we often get coincidental waves of business plans that overlap significantly. In the last few months we have seen several music technology deals, ranging from systems that recognize what you sing to them, to platforms for independent musicians to manage their businesses. It turns out this is not quite as much of a coincidence as I thought. Boston has a music technology cluster, possibly the leading cluster, as reported last year by Xconomy here and here. Borrowing the words of the immortal Monty Python: "Nobody expects the Boston Music Technology Cluster."

Healthy Sunday Brunch

How healthy was your Sunday brunch today?

This morning, while working out, in lieu of biking, I finally finished reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. It is a great book and was previewed in his NY Times article which I wrote about almost two years ago. The subtitle is An Eater's Manifesto, and the manifesto is, repeating my precis:

Eat food: what your great-grandmother would recognise as food (and nothing with a health claim or more than about five ingredients on the box)

Not too much: most of the US national eating disorder is about eating too much - don't

Mostly plants: plants come to us as whole food, with a balance of goodness we evolved around - most of the other stuff is either bad for us in and of itself, or is bad for us the way we process and eat it

By the way, eating mostly plants should be aimed at leaves rather than seeds.

Having started on the subject of healthy eating, I have a few items for today's brunch about the US health care system ... a favorite, if tragic, topic.

  • Charlie Baker, CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare (a very well respected HMO here in the Boston area), has a great post on The Five Myths of Healthcare. His post is actually commentary on a Washington Post op-ed of the same name. I particularly like reminding people of myth number one: that America has the best healthcare system in the world. It doesn't.
  • Last month, John Halamka (CIO of Harvard Medical School and of Beth Israel Deaconess medical center) forecast his list of winners and losers in IT (health IT in particular) in 2009. John subsequently reported on a milestone for Personal Health Records (PHRs). The Federal Government's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), opened their systems up for Utah and Arizona Medicare members to use a select number of consumer PHR systems to access their own records.
  • Earlier in the year, Xconomy, a new digital news source for the high-tech world, reported on Boston's status as a hub for a cluster of Health 2.0 companies. This is probably only been strengthened in the intervening times.

Finally, a little dessert ... a 50%-off coupon for first time customers at ScanCafe. ScanCafe scans your photos, slides or negatives at high res and sends you images back. You can send your entire shoebox, and then once scanned you get to look at the low-res scans on-line and choose which images you want to pay for the hi-res version (at least half). When ordering on the company website look for "Add discount" on the order form and enter 50DEC2008.

Each photo gets 2 – 4 minutes of a real human working in photoshop to do touch-up. They did a great job on mine. Apparently the automated touch-up found on many scanners and photo-editors still cannot compete with the human eye in deciding the best moves for many photos. Hence customers like the touch-ups from ScanCafe better... They have more in-depth restoration capabilities as well including for existing digital photos.

Full disclosure: Sigma Partners is an investor in ScanCafe.

Snowy Sunday Brunch

Another season of cycling seems to have come to a close. In anticipation of one last ride this morning in temperatures below 40 degrees (F), I bought a cyclists balaclava (to fit under my helmet). Perhaps I should have suffered the cold (out! damned superstition!), because this morning the weather forecast had changed from a cold but clear morning to one with a likelihood of snow/rain. We called off our ride, and indeed by the time the temps were above freezing the snow had started. I have some small hope of one or two more rides this year, but those hopes are fading.

This has been a millennial year again for me. If a "century" for a cyclist is a 100 mile ride, then a millennial year is one in which I bike at least 1000 miles. My trusty Garmin GPS tells me I have indeed reached that milestone.

On the work front, this week I have a fun video to share for those interested in what is happening in the world of virtual goods. (What, don't all leave now.) One of the Sigma investments is in Viximo, who produced this video to encourage artists to join the company's creators community and earn a chance of fame and fortune.


In another area of high-tech brilliance (not one in which we have invested, but which allows me include the food tag for this posting), let me introduce OnLatte. This company has modified ink-jet printer heads to use caramelized sugar to print detailed designs (logos, words, pictures) on Latte foam, and yes, even beer foam. I have seen it work.

Also on a food related topic, Anna Lappe (of the Small Planet Institute) suggests to President-elect Obama that he "create a Food Corps, modeled after the Peace Corps, that would inspire and support a generation of young people to dedicate a year or two of their lives to engage with ending needless hunger in a country of plenty and the squandering of fossil fuels, water, soil, and other precious resources through chemical agriculture. " This is part of Grist's series asking a cohort of sustainable food and agriculture activists to present elevator pitches for the new administration.

Engage with Grace


[GUEST POST: This post was written by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team.]

We make choices throughout our lives - where we want to live, what types of activities will fill our days, with whom we spend our time. These choices are often a balance between our desires and our means, but at the end of the day, they are decisions made with intent. But when it comes to how we want to be treated at the end our lives, often we don't express our intent or tell our loved ones about it.

This has real consequences. 73% of Americans would prefer to die at home, but up to 50% die in hospital. More than 80% of Californians say their loved ones “know exactly” or have a “good idea” of what their wishes would be if they were in a persistent coma, but only 50% say they've talked to them about their preferences.

But our end of life experiences are about a lot more than statistics. They’re about all of us. So the first thing we need to do is start talking.

Engage With Grace: The One Slide Project was designed with one simple goal: to help get the conversation about end of life experience started. The idea is simple: Create a tool to help get people talking. One Slide, with just five questions on it. Five questions designed to help get us talking with each other, with our loved ones, about our preferences. And we’re asking people to share this One Slide – wherever and whenever they can…at a presentation, at dinner, at their book club. Just One Slide, just five questions.

Lets start a global discussion that, until now, most of us haven’t had.

Here is what we are asking you: Download the slide and share it at any opportunity – with colleagues, family, friends. Think of the slide as currency and donate just two minutes whenever you can. Commit to being able to answer these five questions about end of life experience for yourself, and for your loved ones. Then commit to helping others do the same. Get this conversation started.

Let's start a viral movement driven by the change we as individuals can effect...and the incredibly positive impact we could have collectively. Help ensure that all of us - and the people we care for - can end our lives in the same purposeful way we live them.

Just One Slide, just one goal. Think of the enormous difference we can make together.

(To learn more please go to www.engagewithgrace.org.)

Sunday Brunch

I think I may make a habit out of a Sunday morning brunch posting (especially now it is too cold to bike here in Boston). Like my Sunday morning cornucopia of a few weeks ago, here is a smorgasbord to catch up on items of note.

Many of you know one of my favorite (food related) sayings is "Life is uncertain, eat dessert first", and so we start brunch today with this excellent looking, geek inspired, dessert.


Told you so...
On July 10 I wrote about Facebook third party apps, suggesting Facebook should charge app developers. Later that month, Facebook announced their Application Verification process, with a charge of $375 per year. It just rolled out this week. (Another scoop for your intrepid correspondent.)

Startup Survival...
Lists, and lists of lists (or, lists and lists, of lists)

The end is nigh... (?)
I happen to disagree with almost everything that is said on "The Funded", but I did happen to wonder about this data contending that the VC model is broken (click on picture to get to Techcrunch report).


And to finish off today's brunch, from the incomparable XKCD...

Hazon pride

This week, Nigel Savage, the founder and Executive Director of Hazon was named to The Forward's annual "Forward 50" list. Listed under Food (an interesting category - worthy of discussion itself), the report stated:


Remember the summer blackout of 2003 in the Northeast? Lots of people used it as an excuse not to leave home, but about 100 hardy souls schlepped their bicycles to Long Island to kick off a four-day bike ride at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, thanks to Nigel Savage. Savage, who hails from Manchester, England, is the environmentalist impresario behind Hazon, a Jewish outdoor education group formed in 2000. Not only does Hazon hold annual bike rides to raise money for Jewish environmental projects, it runs community-supported agriculture programs (support for small farmers = fresh produce for urban Jews!) throughout the United States, Canada and Israel. Recent entries on the organization’s food-politics blog, "The Jew and the Carrot," run the gamut from a warning about pesticide-covered etrogim to a recipe for warm barley salad to an advice column by "The Shmethicist." Hazon threw itself into the debate over ethical kashrut last December when it publicly slaughtered a goat at its annual food conference to raise consciousness about meat production. Savage helped found the New York chapter of the British-based Jewish educational group Limmud, and even had a previous life as a Wall Street-type in England. According to his Web site, one of his proudest accomplishments is that he may be "the first English Jew to have cycled across South Dakota on a recumbent bike."

Congratulations, Nigel - well deserved!

While talking about Hazon, there is still time to register for the 2008 Hazon Food Conference ("Think before you Eat") at Asilomar in Northern California over Shabbat Chanukah (which happens to be the holiday weekend for the other half of the Judeo-Christian community).



Finally, perhaps you might think about signing up for the Spring 2008 Hazon-Arava Institute Israel bike ride celebrating, among other things the Tel Aviv centennial.

A falling tide...

A rising tide raises all boats.

A falling tide reveals who has been swimming naked.

With thanks to Warren Buffet for the swimming naked metaphor, and for those who have not already noticed the tide falling, look over at the startup world and you will see a bunch of naked swimmers right now. (Of course, GM doesn't look too great either right now.) Being caught naked, to explain the metaphor, is operating without enough cash, leading to cuts, layoffs or even shutting down.

Swimming naked is, however, a fairly standard strategy for entrepreneurial organizations. Usually (in a stable or rising tide), no-one can see you are naked, swimming serenely, well covered by the sea.

When a VC firm invests, we are buying shares in the company. The more money we invest, the more shares we buy, and leave fewer shares in the hands of the founders and management. Since we all want the founders and management to do well if the company does well (alignment of incentives), both sides have an interest in the right balance between too much investment and too little. The general plan is for a startup to take "just the right amount" at each step. As the company grows and progresses, the price per share goes up (reflecting the higher value and valuation of the company), allowing for more money to be invested later without taking so much away from the founders and management. For better or worse, this means that young companies, in particular, have "just enough" money to get them to the next stage, plus a little padding, but often not enough to deal with more than usual turbulence. Hence, it doesn't *look* like anyone is naked in usual times. News flash: the current financial crisis is more than usual turbulence.

Hence, seeing all those naked swimmers (startups without enough cash) is actually a sign that the VC investment model is working ... but it is tuned for usual times, not unusual times. Customers have stopped buying suddenly and completely. Investors have turned pessimistic, making it difficult to get a new round of financing. Banks have stopped lending.

The best startups can survive this by reacting fast enough to conserve their cash and hunker down until customers start buying again. This may mean some cuts, but if you don't need to find new sources of outside funding during this period and are able to stay in business, you will certainly be stronger when the tide starts to turn, and you may well be the leader.

In the non-profit world, things are similar in some ways. Non-profits that to not have endowments (and hence "guaranteed" income underpinning their budget), rely on fundraising from year to year. Operating with a significant proportion of your budget dependent on annual fundraising is as close to swimming naked as I can imagine. This is made doubly hard because donors like to give to a cause that is doing something now ... they are not so interested in helping top up the rainy day fund or build an endowment. Hence non-profits grow with current fundraising from year to year in good times and are more exposed than they would like when a downturn arrives.

And so here is the punch line ... please support your favorite charities ... especially now (before the end of the year) to help them close their books, and then re-up in January to give them a solid foundation for the new year. If you can afford it, this is the time to make larger donations, not smaller ones... and consider donating to the endowment as well.

Support your local farmer


Regular readers of this blog know we are proud members of the CSA at the Newton Community Farm, the last working farm in Newton, owned by the City and managed by a local non-profit. The annual benefit dinner is approaching, which is always a fabulous affair. Please consider attending (or otherwise supporting) this worthwhile cause ... and the food at Lumiere is always marvellous.

You are cordially invited to attend a dinner to benefit educational programs and site improvements at Newton Community Farm

Wednesday Evening, November 5, at 6:30pm

Lumière, 1293 Washington Street, West Newton

This four course dinner with wine pairings will feature locally grown produce from area farms prepared by award-winning chef Michael Leviton; vegetarian option available for each course


$150 per person

Sponsor tickets ($500 for 2 seats) and Patron tickets ($1000 for 4 seats) are also available

Please reply to Jon Regosin at
berkowitz.regosin@verizon.net.

Please respond promptly as seating is limited.

The financial and economic crisis explained

My previous post was about the current economic crisis and its impact on the VC business. However that begs several questions... how did we get into this mess to start with?

Some very smart people have provided some help explaining how the finance crisis has become an economic crisis, and how it all started. To remind us, if we need it, of the gravity of the situation, I can't resist repeating this graphic that Guy sent me a few days ago.

Start with this great cartoon slideshow "A Subprime Primer" (adult language) explaining how the sub-prime mortgages made by some banks in the US spread financial toxicity all over the world.

Next listen to this episode of the This American Life with Ira Glass. This covers:
  1. the proximate cause of the bail-out: the seize-up of the commercial paper market (and why that happened)
  2. credit default swaps (CDSs) - like "buying insurance in a house you don't own"
  3. regulating (or not regulating) CDSs
  4. is the $700 billion bailout a good idea
To keep up with daily updates to what is clearly a fast-moving situation, subscribe to NPR's Planet Money blog and podcast.

What is going to happen?

Everyone is asking everyone: what kind of impact does the financial market mess have on your business? Certainly everyone is asking me what kind of impact it has on my business ... does it effect the VC world?

The answer is that it does, albeit not in the way many people think. At least I think that people think that somehow our money is running out, like all the banks; mostly that is not the case. Some VCs will have trouble when they make capital calls (asking their investors to send the next tranche of the investment money that they are contractually bound to send) ... some investors will not send their funds, despite the contracts, and those VC firms will have a major headache to manage.

Also, for VC firms who are raising new funds, especially from a broad base of investors, this is a tough time. (Think of a VC firm as similar to a mutual fund firm; every few years they start a new fund and need to "raise" - get those contracted commitments - for a certain aggregate amount from their investors. Those commitments are drawn down in the form of the capital calls I mention above.)

However, *all* VC firms have dropped any expectations, for a significant time, of any good exits. Even more immediately we worry about the ability of our portfolio companies to keep going through tough times. These startups will be trying to sell their products and services to consumers or businesses who are loathe to spend a single penny they don't absolutely have to spend.

Sequoia Capital, one of the most respected and well known VC firms in Silicon Valley very recently called a summit of all their company CEOs and ran through a doom-and-gloom presentation, now available online. It is well worth reading. There are others sharing similar thoughts all around the VC world.

There is at least one person offering what he considers an antidote to all this fear, and since he quotes my favorite Sci-Fi book (Dune), I provide this link to his thoughts here (tip of the hat to Greg Gretsch for the reference).

Certainly, pretty much any company that makes it through this tough period will emerge as a leader once the tide turns. We hope (and work hard to ensure) that some of those companies are in our portfolio, and that we can benefit when the time is right. We do not need a full-blown recovery to reap the benefits, just some semblance of normalcy in the markets. Industry or sector consolidations driven by difficult times can result in good outcomes for startups who are in the right place at the right time. Don't get me wrong, however, a full-blown recovery would be nice, too!

A little humor ... and bad Starbucks news

Starting off with the bad news: my favorite Starbucks is closing (despite my protests) in a week or two. I guess I will have to start frequenting Pie Cafe (nothing will get me regularly into the other Starbucks, or the Petes ... sorry).

Here are a couple of humorous items I have been saving up (with a tip of the hat to my step-father Michael Lewin, for a couple of these).

An updated version of Abbott and Costello's Who's on First is doing the rounds ... all about buying a new computer ... and don't call me Mac.

A few new definitions in this new economic climate:
P/E RATIO -- The percentage of investors wetting their pants as the market keeps crashing.
BROKER -- What my broker has made me.
STANDARD & POOR -- Your life in a nutshell.
INSTITUTIONAL INVESTOR -- Past year investor who's now locked up in a nuthouse.
PROFIT -- An archaic word no longer in use.

... and on the same note ... next week's Economist cover (thanks Guy!):


My daughter Hannah, sometimes (like many Hannah's I am sure) called Hannah Banana, is actually fond of said fruit, and will let us know that when there is only one left.


Finally, two fun tee-shirts I saw for sale on Venice Beach this summer.


Big Ideas are not rare

We all, but perhaps especially VC types, are always in search of "the next big idea." The next big idea is brilliant, simple (or complex) and original (or perhaps a slight twist on something familiar). Think AOL crossed with Wonder Bread, or Facebook crossed with automatic car washes.

I have a new idea: think video conferencing crossed with fine business dining.
A hotel chain (or perhaps an international celebrity chef like Todd English) should take this up immediately. Each restaurant in the chain, in business cities around the world, should install a high-end video conferencing system in a private dining room for up to 6 or 8 people. The system would be at one end of the room, and the dining table would be placed right up against the very large screen. When connected to one of the other private dining rooms through the magic of video-conferencing you see the table in the other location as if it were an extension of your own table.
Now you just go ahead and arrange to have a business meal with colleagues (or customers) in distant locations without anyone having to fly anywhere. In such a setup you can have optimal lighting and sound systems because you know people will sit down (and sit still), because they are eating. You can be having lunch in London with colleagues having breakfast in New York. Given the two locations are part of the same business you can arrange for the food to be served at the same moment in each location, and certainly you (as host) can pay for the meal in both locations with one credit card slip.
The current high-end video conference solution is Cisco's Telepresence. I understand it costs about $250,000 per location (including network costs). Assuming this is a good proxy for the costs of a great system, a restaurant chain would need to charge say $5000 per event (assuming an event is two cities only - not sure of the logistics for multiple cities), and ensure at least 100 events per location (on average) each year to cover costs. Given you could be using the facilities for a couple of meals a day, this seems doable, and much cheaper than business class air fares (no-one using this system flies coach).
I will surely make millions from my brilliant idea. I made it up a while ago, and am just waiting for the check to arrive in the mail. After all, big ideas are what we need... or are they?

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great article in the New Yorker earlier in the year (In the Air, 5/12/08) documenting the counter-intuitive fact that big ideas are not, in fact, rare. Get a group of creative people together and they can generate lots of good ideas, some great ideas and even a few brilliant ideas. Even the big inventions of the industrial revolution were more about hard work by people who knew what was needed than about a brilliant idea occurring to someone one day, according to the later chapters of The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World by Tim Harford.

What is really hard is that hard work: what the VC world calls, in shorthand, "execution" (executing the plan, not the entrepreneur!). The ability to actually deliver on a great idea is in much shorter supply than ideas themselves. That ability starts with mere willingness ... am I ready to drop everything to put my video-conference-dining-experience into action? The next factor is relevant experience ... even if willing to do so, do I have experience in video-conference businesses, or restaurants? Next on the list is a good team ... if willing and able, do I have a team of folks with the right specialty knowledge to be able to conceive, produce, package and sell a product and service that meets market needs? Does the team have what it takes to respond to market changes, competitive pressures, problematic partners? Finally we need resources ... can I find someone willing to invest so I can pay my team, buy the equipment, set up the system and so forth? Execution demands willingness, experience, energy, resources, and commitment from many people over an extended period, and the ability to conduct the orchestra invariably involved when executing on a great idea.

This is just as much the case in my life as a venture cyclist and a volunteer in the non-profit world (last chance to support my participation in the 2008 NY Jewish Environmental Bike ride). There are a million great ideas out there for any non-profit. The issue is the ability to execute... the professional staff, the volunteers, the resources, the plans, the follow-through... the hard work!

If you are involved in a non-profit, you know this already.
If you want to be involved in a non-profit, then go right ahead, but don't just expect to contribute great ideas ... I am sure yours are fabulous, but they will go into the pot like everyone else ... no, you have to get involved with your commitment to do the hard work of making ideas into reality.

High tech sales

With a tip of the hat to Brad Feld, here is Sales 101, an article about High Tech sales which seems funny, especially if you are not involved in the High Tech industry. Feld comments, in the post on his blog that brought this to my attention, "Yup - this pretty much sums up the dark underbelly of high tech sales." For industry insiders, however, Sales 101 is sure to be disquieting, and then quickly forgotten because that is a lot less discomfiting than admitting to its almost universal truth.
This is kind of like facing up to your own mortality for a moment and then deciding that "it won't happen to me".

A Sunday morning cornucopia

A few things to mention today, in lieu of more regular postings, I suppose... from theater to spelling to economic crisis to health care politics to the constitution.

Last night, Dorit and I went to see "We won't pay! We won't pay!" staged by the NORA Theatre Company in the new Central Square Theater (on Mass Ave in Cambridge, almost opposite Main St). We know one of the cast members, the amazing Stephanie Clayman (our kids are in school together), and because of that we got to hear about the show. It is great evening of comedic entertainment, mixed with a frisson of social commentary relevant (coincidentally) to our very recent times, but written in the early 1970's by Dario Fo, commenting on the parlous economy and fragility of the State in Italy at that time. It is playing for another week; more details at the CST website.

Did you notice that the play was staged by the NORA Theatre Company at the Central Square Theater? Living in Newton Centre (near Centre Street), and being a Brit in America, this stuff is either pathetic or laughable, or both.

With thanks to Ethan Fener, I got to read a great mini-briefing from the Freakonomics blog of the NY Times on what is going on in the economy and Wall St, and what does it have to do with me? I recommend reading it.

You may have noticed my ongoing interest in the US health care industry (and the IT angle in particular). Recently I have been challenged to think about why I am in favor of more government involvement in health care. Here is a thesis, and I welcome comments or challenges. No-one seems to argue against the fact that it is appropriate for government to "own" national defense, and spend large amounts of taxpayer money on the military etc. I suggest this is because we all agree that a key role of government is keeping its population safe against belligerent external threats. This also manifests in the local government provision, through taxes, of police, fire, and rescue services. I assert that the same logic should apply in health care. Germs, disease and illness are belligerent threats to my safety and well being. If the government spends so much on bullets to keep me safe, why not spend proportionally on another threat to the public safety and well being, perhaps just as pervasive and destructive, and get properly involved in health care? Is this logically consistent? It seems so to me, but I am just a Venture Cyclist and no policy maven. What do you think?

Finally, last night driving past the gun control lobby billboard on the Mass Pike prompted a thought on the constitution (and the second amendment). Prompted by the approach our friend Eileen McDonagh brings to complex constitutional matters, I wondered whether we (those, like me, who believe in gun control) should use some judo tactics here. I propose a constitutional amendment that specifically protects certain kinds of gun ownership, but allows for strong state regulation, and explicitly prohibits the crazy stuff (eg automatic machine guns and armor piercing ammunition). It would provide for state's rights to regulate usage, storage and licensing fairly strongly through the state legislatures or state ballots. An explicit protection (so much better than the ambiguity of the second amendment) would preclude the NRA knee-jerk "thin end of the wedge" opposition to regulation and possibly split off the all-guns-all-the-time nuts from a more rational majority. As above, I am sure there are logical fallacies hidden here but, what the heck, I am a Venture Cyclist, not a constitutional lawyer... help me out.

Finally, back to venture cycling; fall is coming, get out on your bike - it is the perfect time of year to ride.

Chrome is the new pink

Google recently announced and released its very own web browser, known as Chrome. The Economist wrote this up under the headline The Second Browser War.

The first browser war was Microsoft Internet Explorer vs Netscape. I was a close observer in that war, having been at Vermeer Technologies when Microsoft purchased us for our single product, FrontPage. That was at the leading edge of the Microsoft surge into the internet. They were late, and a little lumbering, but they won the first browser war.

At about that time I wrote a piece called "Microsoft and the Death of Groupware" which contended that Microsoft wanted to kill groupware (at that time embodied in Lotus Notes) because it was a network hosted application, in favor of its own suite of PC centric applications which could sort-of do the same things.

Now Microsoft is fighting another threat of a similar sort where Google (and many others) are providing web centric applications which threaten the same PC centric Microsoft world. The Chrome browser is recognized to be the latest shot in this war in that it pushes the browsers towards more speed and capability thus strengthening the ability for network applications that live "in the web" to usurp the position of PC based programs like MS Office. Many think Microsoft cannot win this war, being unable to cannibalize its own PC centric business to move into a web-centric world. This is the now conventional wisdom drawn about disruptive technologies from the classic Innovator's Dilemma by Christensen. I am not so ready to count Microsoft out.

Microsoft is a little late again, but is lumbering onto this field of war with initiatives like Silverlight and Live Mesh. Especially if Google stumbles, perhaps even (and ironically) into anti-trust problems, then Microsoft may yet retake the high ground.

Microsoft has never been the master of the future - it is always a follower, and not a very fast one. But Microsoft has often been the master of the now, with its no-longer voiced but ingrained notion of "embrace and extend". Don't count Microsoft out yet, whether or not Chrome is the new pink.

Recumbent riders do it lying down

Today on my regular 40 mile Sunday ride (fastest of the season), new riding pal Josh Elkin commented on the very comfortable seat on my recumbent bike. This reminded me that a couple of months ago the lovely EcoVelo blog posted a very worthwhile piece about Seats and Saddles.

For those who care to think about this for a moment, my recumbent bike seat allows me to sit on my sitting bones ... what does your upright bike ask you to sit on (especially guys!)? I also get to hold my arms and neck in a neutral position... unlike those racing bikes.

Yes, I am slower on the hills ... I can't move my weight forward (or stand up) on the pedals for those arduous grades... but that is something I am prepared to manage, and I certainly am more aerodynamic on the downhills and even the flats.

With all that said, if you are not happy with your bike saddle, or think you could be happier, you don't have to get a recumbent, although I am happy to encourage you in that direction. Check out that Seats and Saddles article ... you may find some of its suggestions useful.

Happy riding!

Killer Hills

I am back from my third annual Hazon NY Jewish Environmental Bike Ride. This year the routes on both days were very hilly. The route briefing on Saturday night for the Sunday route included the term "killer hills" ... and this is from an organization that likes to put a positive spin on everything.


Here is the elevation chart. The not-so-killer hills at 30 miles were before lunch ... I made it up those (thanks Elisa!)... after lunch, around 40 miles, I walked most of the "killer" hill (thanks Hannah!).

Unfortunately I was fighting a bug and after more-or-less successfully completing day one, and eating and drinking enough (I thought) I ended up completely exhausted. I woke up "wobbly" on day two and decided I should not ride. This was probably the right approach (day two was pretty hilly too!), as it has taken me another few days to shake whatever virus I was fighting.

Hannah rode much of the day two route with Elisa, Nigel and Sammy and got to enjoy the spectacular experience of cycling into Manhattan over the GW Bridge. I look forward to that myself in future years.

Despite the bug, I had an amazing time riding with many good friends whose appetite to try something new, and have fun doing it, is an inspiration. Thanks to all of you - you know who you are!

Many thanks also to those of you who sponsored me. I am getting close to my $10,000 goal and the fundraising remains open for a few more weeks ... please consider a donation to support Hazon's amazing work.

Click here to donate

Biking by the sea

As promised yesterday, I drove down to Hingham and went for a fabulous ride by the ocean with my daughter Hannah. Here is a graphic of the 30 mile route we covered ... click here, or on the graphic, for a link to the route on Bikely.

This was inspired initially by looking at Ride 22: Cohasset Coastal Ramble in Road Biking Massachusetts by Tom Catalini, with variations derived from this existing Bikely route from user jba.


Here are some photos taken by cell phone camera.

It's a great weekend for biking coming up ... go for it!

Biking bad for environment

A tip of the hat goes to Jason Glasgow who pointed me to this Wall Street Journal article about biking trouble in San Francisco. An activist there contends that bike lanes restrict auto traffic and hence increase congestion which in turn increases pollution from longer trip times and more time idling while stuck in traffic. Hmm...

Compare that to Tom Friedman's recent NY Times op-ed noting that in Copenhagen, Denmark "... you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles." The piece was about Denmark's response to the 1970s oil crisis that has resulted in the country becoming energy independent.

I think I previously mentioned the interesting math (discussed here) that, traffic jams aside, cyclists do not save carbon or other environmental burdens because, being healthier, they live longer and consume more energy in the home, at work and elsewhere in those extra years.

Similarly, look at the argument over whether New Zealand lamb has a lower carbon footprint when eaten in the UK than local UK lamb, or the argument over whether air freighted flowers from Africa to the UK have a lower carbon footprint than flowers shipped by boat from Holland.

All in all, it was never as simple as we had all wanted it to be, and grandstanding on the issue without being prepared to face well-formed scientific questions will help no-one.

On that note I am planning to put my bike on my car and drive for an hour to enjoy a serene, nature-loving, seaside bike ride. How's that for environmental footprint?

Want to make a difference? Then please support my upcoming participation in the 2008 Hazon NY Environmental Bike Ride.

20 amazing years


Last night Dorit and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a celebratory dinner at Mistral in Boston.

A note in the reservation on OpenTable asked for a romantic table for our anniversary dinner. They put us at a corner banquette and we sat close, like newly-weds, and reminisced about our life together when we were newly-weds. That note also produced the "Happy Anniversary" notes on our dessert plates.

It is easy to be sappy at these moments, and my emotions all fall into that category. It has been an amazing twenty years, and I look forward to at least 40 more.

Back on the chain gang

I got my bike its annual tune up last week at Wheelworks. I mentioned my gears were slipping but they don't seem to have fixed this yet. I am wondering whether I just need to get a new chain (like last time). Yes, I measured the chain, as did the mechanic, and it seems fine. Since it is three times longer than a chain on an upright bike, the individual links only get hit with the stress of the cogs a third as much (which means you get three times the life out of it). I have ridden about 1500 miles on this chain which should be good, therefore, for at least another thousand. However it is a cheap fix and one I may pursue.

It was about this time last year Lee Goldfinch first got a mention on this blog ... and how times have changed! Lee is now a very strong cyclist and out ahead of all of us when he wants to be. He has become a regular member of the riding group and it is great to find a shared pastime brings such pleasure and such opportunity for strengthening friendships. We were chatting yesterday, and I found myself thinking of Bob Dylan songs that speak to cycling... here goes (and please add yours in the comments):
  • How many hills must a man climb up, before he knows he's a man?
  • The [traffic] lights, they are a changin'
  • Lay lady lay [I'm a recumbent rider, remember!]

Oh yes, and thanks to The Pretenders for the title of this post.

VC:VC It's not about the hands you don't play

VC Truism: Like poker, it’s not about the hands you don’t play, it’s about the hands you do play. No-one went broke folding before the flop.
I have been twittering over the last few months, and am enjoying just laying out VC truisms, aphorisms, or even stupid-isms. You can catch this on my twitter feed http://twitter.com/rdale.

Entrepreneurs understandably, and to some extent correctly, take away a message that their startup isn't "good enough" if we turn down the opportunity to invest. Clearly if some of the problems we see in the deal were absent we might well do the deal. On the other hand, sometimes it really is a matter of our own workload, or interest areas, or geographic constraints, or any number of factors which have more to do with us than with the deal at hand.

Coming back to today's truism, Venture Capitalists are like poker players. We are not playing directly against others, but we get to decide when to invest, like a player decides when to bet on a hand. And just as poker players don't go broke on the hands they don't play, we VCs don't go broke on the deals we don't adopt.

We try to see the best potential in the deals to which we are introduced, and we try to be rational and reasonable about our decision making, but we are much less emotional about a no decision than we are about a yes decision. Saying yes means investing considerable time and money in a deal and this incurs all of those deal-specific risks as well as the opportunity costs related to spending our resources here and not elsewhere. Once we say yes, that is when we are in the game and playing to win, with all our emotional energy as well as everything else we try to bring to support the company. To entrepreneurs this often seems backwards: a no decision is a let-down and more, and a yes decision is clearly rational and appropriate!

On the venture cycling (philanthropic) side of my VC:VC life, we have other dynamics at play. Here, the choice of philanthropic or social justice causes which we do not support may be just as important as those we do. Without our support, or our voice, will a moral imperative fail? Will our silence (on the environment, on Darfur, on civil rights, on human rights) mean that someone is made homeless, beaten, imprisoned, tortured, or will die? Will we "go broke" 0n a hand because we don't play?

My 3rd Hazon NY Jewish Environmental Bike Ride

It's that time of year, and already a few friends have shown great generosity in sponsoring me for what will be my third annual outing in the Hazon NY Jewish Environmental Bike ride. I am riding again with my daughter Hannah. You can read about my 2006 and 2007 rides to get a flavor for the fun (better than sponsoring me would be to register as a rider or crew member yourself).

Click here to donate

There are lots of ways to describe the importance of Hazon ... my personal favorite is that Hazon brings Jewish voices to the environmental movement and environmental voices to the Jewish community. Over the years the Jewish people have tried to be on the right side of big issues, and I think this is one of those times.

You can click here to sponsor me or if you prefer, you can click to sponsor my daughter, Hannah.

From laid back to laid forward

I love the Bicycle Bell Curve from a recent post on the EcoVelo blog.


I am just drawn in by the design of this graphic and how it magically puts all bikes on a continuum. This simple diagram shows so much, I guess the artist is a disciple of Edward Tufte.

On another note, sad to say *my* Starbucks did show up on the list of stores to be closed, as Chris noted in a comment on my previous post. If anyone has any ideas on how to reverse this please let me know!

Do not close *my* Starbucks

Today I sent the following letter to Starbucks HQ... let's hope they listen.
Starbucks Coffee Company
PO Box 3717
Mailstop R-CRI
Seattle WA
98124

July 15, 2008

Dear Sir or Madam

I am a regular customer at one of your two Newton Centre, MA stores. This is the store at 70 Union Street, Newton, Massachusetts 02459, in the fabulous old station building. I am writing to implore you NOT to close this store. When I asked the staff at this store if it was one of the stores to be closed, they were cagey enough to make me feel very concerned which is why I decided to write.

Did you know a nationally best-selling author writes her novels in this Starbucks?

This store, “my” Starbucks, really is my “third place”. I often work from home (nearby) and have business meetings in this Starbucks. As well as buying for myself, I am buying drinks for one, two or three others … generally several times a week.

This store has much more character than any other Starbucks I have visited. It is in an old station building, and has amazing wood paneling, and lots of room to sit. If you are truly committed to returning to quality and to the tenets that made Starbucks great, you will not close this store. I even created a special Google map to show folks how to get to my Starbucks (see http://tinyurl.com/66t47u).

The other store in Newton Centre is much smaller, and has much less character. I guess it might have “more sales per square foot” but that is because it is smaller! If you closed that other store, I bet most of the traffic would move to “my” Starbucks.

I have no plans to spend time in your other store in Newton Centre. There is now an independent coffee shop in the area (“Pie Bakery and Cafe”) and if you close “my” Starbucks, I would encourage all my friends and my blog readers to go there instead. Newton residents are an “ornery” lot and remember fondly the Coffee Connection chain you bought many years ago. My Starbucks on Union Street is one of those original Coffee Connection locations, and has a loyal following. Please do not disappoint us.

Yours sincerely

Facebook to remove all third party apps?

I heard a rumor "from a usually reliable source" that Facebook is about to announce that they will be removing all third party applications, and only providing Facebook apps to users from now on. No more Causes, Friendwheel, Superpoke, Funwall, Bookmooch, ... and thousands of other third party apps.

Supporting this rumor is weird behavior of Facebook disabling third party apps for no clear reason as reported regularly by Techcrunch. Also, there is some belief that the Facebook folks are clueless, and that the new management there is desparate to try anything.

I don't believe it. I don't believe it because it would be moving Facebook back to being a walled garden, would remove fabulous functionality (along with lots of silly functionality), and would make the platform significantly less interesting to users. Evidence for a continuing robust support for third party apps is the Facebook developer website and conference, and Facebook's stated commitment to open access.

However, the mere fact that such a rumor is out there is an interesting comment on the tech industry and Facebook itself. Why would we even believe such a possibility? Do we really believe there may be some sane reason for such a move? Could there be? That frisson of possibility keeps the rumor alive, just like the possibility that Exxon will switch from oil wells to renewable sources such as algae.

Here is my conjecture: if Facebook is really looking to do something shocking and possibly ground breaking, they will start charging third party apps for access. If I was doing this as Facebook, I would charge per user per month. I would give each app six months free up to 50,000 users (ie if you reach 50,000 users before 6 months the free period is over). Upon reaching the end of the free period I would charge you some number of cents per user per month, and then leave it to you, the app developer, to come up with a monetization strategy.

F8, the developers' conference is in a couple of weeks... let's see what happens.

A window into VC work

Brad Feld's blog pointed me over to a posting by Rick Segal, 3 VC questions you should not answer, on which I commented. For those who want a reasonably accessible window into some aspects of VC work, have a look at Rick's article and the comments.

My 1st 2.0 30 4 bike ride

Some relatives are visiting on Sunday, so I wanted to take advantage of low traffic on the roads (for the July 4 holiday) and ride today. My regular riding partner, Guy, was otherwise occupied and so I made plans with Lee, Sammy and Elisa to do the 30 mile Lincoln loop bike ride.

Since it was not clear if everyone would be up for the full ride, I made up a route and cue sheets for everyone which would allow for some to go ahead and some to cut the ride short if needed. I used the Bikely website because it allowed for me to create a route by "drawing" on a map or downloading a file from my GPS. Once the route was in place, you can add notations on the route (mostly at turns) and then it creates a cue sheet - with distances calculated automatically - for you to be able to share turn-by-turn instructions. Here is the route, click the title bar to see the ride and cue sheet on the main Bikely site.


Also, I should mention, that Guy is normally the guide, and although I was pretty sure of the route, this time I would be the navigator and I wanted to be sure I didn't lead anyone astray.

We started around 9am; it was cool, misty and cloudy. However, the weather forecast showed it clearing up at the latest by 10am. The clouds were not reading the forecast, because it rained for about 20 of the 30 miles, sometimes pretty hard. However, despite this, or even because of it, we all had a blast on the ride. The route is beautiful, even in the rain, and we were all thrilled to be out enjoying the elements, and the physical activity. The pace was a little slower than usual given the weather and the fact a couple of the group were newer to this length of ride, but it was still a blast and a work out for all of us.

So this is my first Web 2.0 bike ride (using Bikely), and as a 30 miler with 4 of us riding together we have the 1st 2.0 30 4 bike ride.

P.S. It also happens to be my 2 year biking anniversary. I bought my bike on July 3, 2006 and started riding, training up for the Hazon ride, on July 4 of that year. I did not realise this until I was chatting with Sammy half way through today's ride but I know am still enjoying it all as much now as when I started.

A flask of electrolyte enhanced water, a simple energy bar, and thou

The Rubbayat of Omar Khayyam as translated by Edward Fitzgerald includes the lovely quote "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou", extolling the virtues of the simple pleasures. As a venture capitalist, my translation is related to how I look at business plans that come in:

A Jug of Wine -- a heady vision, a well structured flavor complicated enough to stand on its own, but simple enough to understand, and never causing a hang over.

A Loaf of Bread -- real substance, probably a strong technology base, with a great recipe to produce something that smells good right out of the oven and will bring customers back again and again

And Thou -- yes you, the most important part of any business plan: the entrepreneurs - energetic, passionate, hungry, and willing to live on energy bars and electrolyte water until the first round of funding closes.

As a venture cyclist I can close out this circle:

A Jug of Wine -- a flask of 365 brand electrolyte enhanced water from Whole Foods ... this tastes like water and gets a TEN out of ten on my search for the perfect electrolyte drink.

A Loaf of Bread -- a YouBar ... the nirvana of energy bars ... putting the others to shame ... not cheap, but really worth it. YouBar allows you to make up your own recipe for energy bars. You get to choose which base, protein powder, nuts, fruits, sweeteners, seasonings, grains and infusions go into the bar. Most ingredients are organic. There are no preservatives, so the "use by" date is pretty close... but they freeze fabulously... just put them in your bike bag straight from the freezer and they will be ready to eat by the time you are getting peckish. The company will even answer the phone and help you make up a recipe that will work.

And Thou -- yes, you ... I love company on bike rides, although even riding alone is great. Join me on the Hazon NY Jewish Environmental Bike Ride this Labor Day weekend.

Critical Mass

The phrase "critical mass", as the name of an article in Wikipedia, references critical mass bike rides. At the end of the Hazon NY ride each Labor Day weekend, we have a mini critical mass ride from the boathouse in Riverside Park, up a few blocks to the JCC. A couple of hundred cyclists all riding together in Manhattan is something to be seen. It is always a highlight of the ride, and lots of fun.

Using the more, shall we say, pedestrian use of the phrase, we have certainly reached critical mass for registration this year, as usual, but because we are in a larger venue, there is still room to join us. Please consider it ... check out all the details at the Hazon NY Ride website, and feel free to send me questions directly or in the comments section of this blog posting.

This morning we did not really have a critical mass, but we did have the first ever Hazon training bike ride in the Boston area. Aaron Desatnik led a great ride from Alewife to the Charles, down to Jamaica Pond and the Arboretum and back through Brookline. Seven cyclists started in misty cool weather a little after 9am and 26 miles later returned in burning sun. Our pace was very comfortable and everyone seemed to have fun, and enjoy the fact that if they could do this, the NY ride itself would be easy to build up to in a couple of months. I look forward to more of these in the weeks ahead, and would also welcome anyone to join us. Again, contact me to be put on the list!

Doctor or Farmer

Today I rode 41 miles with Guy Sapirstein and Lee Goldfinch ... we did our "standard" route out through Weston and Lincoln to Concord and back. It was a glorious ride on a beautiful spring morning. We made amazing time; my moving average speed was 13.8mph, pretty much as fast as I have ever cycled that route ... and today was my first 40-miler of the year, so I feel great.

At the Dunkin' Donuts at our half way point I met a the daughter of a friend who has been working at Drumlin Farm over the last few months, having decided to take some time away from medical school.

I was struck that, despite Jewish parental instincts, this is not a crazy career move right now (without commenting on this particular person's long-term plans).

Health care is in crisis right now. That exact phrase garners nearly 5,000 entries from Google and without the quote-marks it gets millions! Being a doctor is no longer a sure way to a big income, professional frustrations are many, and the entire US health care system always seems on the brink of seizing up entirely.

On the other hand, food prices are suddenly on the upswing, and farming can now include non-food products as well: from bio-fuels to bio-tech drugs. Whether participating in industrial agriculture or in local, organic farming, farmers are doing better now than they have for years.

"My son or daughter, the farmer" may no longer be a lament.

Drinks for bikes

What do bikes drink? At the recommendation of Scott Chamberlain at Wheelworks, mine drinks T9 bike lube from Boeshield. After cleaning my chain for the first time earlier this year, I decided to lube regularly (didn't do so for the last two years ... hmm). So far the T9 seems to be great, but what do I know? Of course, I will report on any interesting artifacts of actually keeping my bike in shape more proactively. Watch, as they say, this space.

More importantly, what does a cyclist drink? I mostly drink water on rides, but know I need to keep my electrolytes up. I tried OJ and other fruit juices but even diluted those are a little acidic. I thought I would try some of the sports drinks available at Whole Foods locally. Here is the first of my reviews - this one of Function Shock Sports Lemon-Lime Calamansi.

My first impression was of the lemon lime flavor ... not unpleasant. However it was quickly superseded by the slightly salty, mineral taste of what, electrolyte drinks, swimming pool water? It sat fine in my system (no burps or feeling of acid), and was drinkable, but was not a pleasant experience. I think a FIVE out of a possible 10 for this one. Watch out for future reviews over the next weeks.

Knowing what to look for

I cycle past things that I don't notice all the time. I know this because when I am sensitized to looking for something in particular, there it is.

A little while ago, I read another of Jon Regosin's great Natural Newton blog postings, this one about tent caterpillars. I have never (knowingly) seen tent caterpillars before, but during my very next bike ride, I looked up when huffing and puffing up a hill, and there were several such tents, right there above my head.

Of course, this is the same in many parts of my life.

In my venture capital world it is often my partners at Sigma, or an entrepreneur at a portfolio company, or even a lawyer working on a transaction for us who will mention to look out for a particular issue, and there it is, all around me. We develop checklists for all the things to look out for, and then we don't see the next (often important) thing, because we have not been sensitized to that.

Someone once said that an executive makes four important decisions each year, but the trick is knowing which four, of the many to be made, are the important ones. We can be sensitized to the issues which have been important in the past, but still not see the next issue, the next opportunity, because we have yet to really learn of its importance. Within a little while its importance becomes apparent. That learning sometimes comes at a cost, and sometimes brings a smile, as with tent caterpillars.

Did it really happen?

Sad to say, when I turned on my Garmin Edge 305 GPS this morning it complained it had no charge in it. Since I charge it after every ride I know this is a sign of its age (and not mine). However, the question is whether, if I go out on my bike without my 305 recording the data, did it really happen?

Of course it did... and the experience of cycling is very real with or without the electronic note-taker. However, once back in my air-conditioned home, perhaps a few days later, can I really be sure that my memory is correct? Luckily the "Training Center" software allows me to enter rides manually (even though it doesn't show the track, the speed and the heart rate data).

This morning I rode just 15 miles because I had to be back in time for a complicated carpool switch off with Dorit. However, it was strenuous enough in the 80 degrees and humidity we are experiencing right now. Guy rode to the half way point with me and then took to complete a 30 or 40 mile loop ... I may not be too jealous of him today given the heat. I think I made reasonable time -- but without that 305 data, how do I know?

At about mile 10, friend Paul Gompers steamed past me on his triathlon bike... I am instantly recognisable on my recumbent with my Hazon jersey, so he yelled out "hi Richard" and disappeared into the haze ahead of me. I have a feeling he was towards the end of a longer ride, having already swum, and perhaps still planning to run.

Paul is the epitome of an iron-man... I on the other hand, am made of chocolate.

Bikes and Food

There was a time, a simpler time perhaps, when I could describe Hazon (a Jewish environmental non-profit whose board I chair) as being about Jews, Bikes and Food.

Jews: we do aim to mobilize the Jewish community and Jewish participants, but, as one of our ride taglines puts it, "Jews on Bikes ... and you don't have to be Jewish" ... in fact most Hazon events include Palestinian Muslims (through our partnership with the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies) and other non-Jews regularly join us as well.

Bikes: our series of environmental bike rides, from cross-USA, to the Israel Ride, to the annual NY ride (and others) ... and this area has now expanded to include Hikes and Goat-packing trips in our "Outdoor Adventures" area.

Food: Hazon created and sponsors nearly 20 CSA (community supported agriculture) projects, aka Farm Share schemes, in Jewish community centers, and Synagogues, as well as hosting the leading Jewish Food Conference each year, and publishing curricula for schools and adults.

So imagine my delight when someone else put bikes and food together, and then topped it off with an environmental bike ride. The very beautiful and well written EcoVelo blog yesterday had a great post on CSAs (and why they are related to bikes), and today shouted out to Liza Stoner, a 14 year old planning a long distance ride this summer to promote electric vehicles as good for the environment.

Interestingly, today also saw another of my favorite bloggers taking a detour to discuss CSAs. John Halamka, an ER doc and chief information officer of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center writes a great blog called Geek Doctor, about his life as a healthcare CIO. On Thursdays he blogs about his hobbies and passions, and today he has a post on CSAs and their health benefits.

All this makes me hungry for some local fresh food, and this month our very own Newton Community Farm CSA (of which we have been members each year since its inception in 2006) will begin its weekly distributions, and I can't wait!

Bike 2.0

Yet more web 2.0 intrigue... this time bike related. It starts with Twitter and ends on a personalized Google map, going via tinyurl.

Today I read a tweet (Twitter posting) from ctanowitz who noted: "One day while biking to work a car is going to hit me here http://tinyurl.com/45e94w. Even if I give a hand signal they don't care."

What is that "tinyurl" thing? It is a free service where you copy and paste a long unweildy URL (web address) and it gives you a tiny URL like the one in the message. This is great for many uses, especially for twitter with its 140 character limit on each posting. Someone is now going to ask me how the tinyurl service makes money ... I have no idea!

Setting aside someone else's money worries and click on that tinyurl link to get a fabulous map where he marks the spot about which he is so worried... a small rotary in Waltham which I use pretty frequently. As a cyclist myself (although not on that rotary), I think I am a reasonably thoughtful driver around bikes ... I sure hope he's not complaining about me!

On a related (bike 2.0) note, I wrote yesterday that my GPS elevation change readings differ significantly from those on Guy Sapirstein's GPS. I felt sure I could easily get an elevation chart based on proper surveys (rather than consumer GPS barometers) for any route by looking on Google Earth or some other web 2.0 site ... so far no good - anyone care to make suggestions?

Five minutes - big difference

Since last posting I have cycled a 27m Needham-Dover route with Guy Sapirstein twice - once on Memorial Day and again just this morning. Last week my Garmin 305 tells me we did this in exactly two hours of cycling time at an average of 13.7mph. This week we did the same route (plus .2m for a slight detour) in 1' 55" - just five minutes faster, and an average speed of 14.4mph. I like that math - makes me feel good to see the improvement over the week.

I also got an eight mile ride with Baruch Krauss during the week on the carriage lane of Comm Ave in Newton. That was also as fast as I have ever done that loop at 12.3mph. That is a hillier route (and more traffic). My GPS gives completely different ascent/descent readings than Guy's GPS... but for comparison purposes: the 8 mile Comm Ave route involves 600 feet of ascent and descent; the 27 miles through Needham/Dover is about 1400 feet. Clearly the shorter route has more hill per mile!

Last Monday's 27 miler with Guy was very hard work for me. It was a windy day and my legs felt leaden - especially after the short break we took at the half-way mark. The following day I also felt knocked out ... and this made me realize I may not have eaten enough before/during the ride and just starved my body of the energy it needed for a ride of this length so early in my training season. This week was a world of difference ... it was a less windy day certainly, and that contributed to the faster time I am sure ... but I also felt better all the way through, and some of that is the extra food at breakfast and in my bike bag.

Guy reminded me we are doing longer/faster rides this year than we did at the same time last year, and my GPS data shows the difference to be more significant than I would have guessed. That, plus the five minutes I made up this week, is a good foundation for a fun season of cycling ahead.

Jericho on my mind

Jericho is a city in the Palestinian Authority and is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is east of Jerusalem near the banks of the River Jordan and close to the Dead Sea (the lowest point on the earth's surface).

Many will remember the biblical story of the Children of Israel entering the Promised Land by way of Jericho. The story is told in the Book of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible. After a small espionage story we read that the marching of the Israelites, and their loud trumpets, caused the walls of the city to fall... I believe there is a Spiritual that tells the story this way: "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down".

Imagine my surprise when I recently heard that a global group (possibly the leading group) of information security professionals is called The Jericho Forum. Jericho, as you (now) know from the story, was open first to espionage and then to a complete failure of its main security mechanism, the city walls.

The website does clarify the reasoning for the name, however. It states "the Jericho Forum began in 2003 when a group of global corporate CISOs [Chief Information Security Officers] came together informally to discuss an issue that no one was addressing –de-perimeterization – the erosion of the network perimeter."

Aha! De-perimeterization (that word alone deserves its own lengthy blog posting) - I suppose Jericho suffered seriously from de-perimeterization and hence is the archetypal security failure the analogs of which these CISOs are bound to prevent in the future.

Erosion of the network perimeter is an interesting topic in enterprise information technology world. No longer do people connect to the company network only from inside, from their desks. Now we all want our computers to talk to the corporate email or applications when we are on the road or at home. Our customers and suppliers need access, to say nothing of our offshore software development teams. What used to be the city walls, our network perimeter, is no longer so relevant, however strong it is. We ourselves are creating so many holes or gateways through the perimeter to allow for all this inside-outside communication, that IT security has to learn to create security in this new world dominated by, yes, de-perimeterization.

So, kudos to The Jericho Forum for remembering the mother of all de-perimeterizations, and allowing me to tie my modern VC life back to a biblical story and a dusty city in the desert.

Working (biking) off the stress

I have been looking forward to a bike ride this morning with my now long-time cycling friend Guy Sapirstein. We met at 9am and decided on a 15m ride since it is still early in the season. This makes me smile thinking of friends, including Marty Oppenheimer and Nigel Savage who are about to embark on the Hazon Israel ride (250m over a week)... good for them.

Guy and I both felt a little unsteady at the start... Guy has done even less cycling than me so far this year, and I have been feeling stressed from lots of stuff on my plate. Howver, as I had first noted in October 2006 (if not before), and clearly no secret to most who exercise, the first hour when warming up leads to a much more pleasant ride for the rest of the way, in our case only another short ride home.

Back at home, rehydrating and cooling down, I certainly feel more relaxed and am enjoying the feeling of having burned off some of those stress hormones (or replaced them with the good kind - whatever the bio-chemistry is).

If only I could enjoy such a low-traffic, great weather (60's, sunny) ride every day.

Cleaning a dry erase board

My good friend Paul Bleicher marched into work one day, early in Phase Forward history 11 or more years ago, with whiteboard cleaning spray and car wax. Whiteboard cleaner made sense ... the whiteboards in our new office space were a mess; but car wax?

After cleaning off the whiteboard with the cleaning solution, Paul proceeded to polish the pristine whiteboard with the car wax. He left it to harden overnight, buffed it off in the morning and, voila, we had a almost-good-as-new whiteboard which dry erased just great.

The car wax was important because over time the surface of whiteboards deteriorates (often by using those cleaning solutions). The car wax provides a new dry-erase surface that is almost good as new. The worst case is that you will have to go through this same procedure two or three times a year.

Some places on the internet recommend variants on this process, and others warn against it. Your mileage may vary, but Paul and I thought it worked great.

The 'eart of the deal

In the Venture Capital world we often talk about the art of the deal. We are always negotiating something: a new financing with a startup, employment conditions for a new executive, a complex commercial contract between a startup and its customer, a merger deal, an employment severance agreement, a CEO's annual compensation agreement, etc... In fact, looked at through this prism, I would say I spend a good proportion of my time each week just negotiating.

At our recent CEO Summit we invited my good friend Moshe Cohen from The Negotiating Table to run a one hour introduction to "advanced negotiating". This was so successful that Moshe ran a one-day class for managers from our portfolio companies in early March which also received rave reviews. One of the key take-aways from Moshe is to work to understand the interests of the counter-party in a negotiation. That way you can find a way to provide for their interests in a way which is consistent with meeting your own. By the way, this requires you to understand your own interests properly as well, as opposed to negotiating from a zero-sum mentality where "giving up a point" is emotionally traumatic even if it doesn't matter to you!

The Economist recently published a short article "Inside a deal" about just this topic, and outlined some research that shows getting inside the head of your counter-party is much more important than getting inside their heart. Emotional empathy might help in the tenor of the negotiations, but cognitive resonance is more likely to generate the best individual and joint gain.

This matters in the non-profit world (my venture cyclist identity) as well, most notably in fund-raising. Donors give money because it makes them feel good and meets their inner needs to "give back", but they have real interests to meet as well, and if we understand those needs we can possibly increase the donations they make at that moment or over time.

What are those needs a donor might have? Inner feeling of making a contribution, obligation to community norms, standing in the community, desire to make an impact, desire to leave a legacy, desire to prove a point, desire to spread the word, obligation to family or friend or institution, reciprocating for others' gifts to their own favorite cause, and so on.

As we negotiate for how much a donor might give, how they will give it and to what purpose, if we can understand what their needs are in making the gift, we can increase the chance of making the gift happen and increase its amount.

OK, now I'm off to do some negotiation on behalf of JCDS and Hazon. Let me know if you want to be a counter-party!

Kosher Starbucks

I had an interesting meeting this morning with Jill Smith who is doing some research into the sociology of "eco-kosher" (see: good coverage of this topic in Wikipedia). As always such meetings were as much fun for the interviewee (me) as the interviewer, and I came away with one new nugget of information ... a reference to the Kosher Starbucks website... who knew the Caramel Sauce was such a problem?

Slow biking

Slow food is supposed to be a virtue (the opposite of fast food)... so perhaps a slow start to the cycling season is not too terrible. I got out just once last week for a nine-mile ride on the Carriage Lane in Newton. I may, in fact, be ahead of last year at this time, but I am not feeling patient with myself and am feeling out of shape and looking forward to more regular riding. I have been on a new exercise regimen recently (thanks to Adam Poock) and am developing some strength in my hips, core and shoulders. I am hoping the hips and core work will pay off with better hill-climbing, but the first couple of outings this year have been overshadowed by lower general stamina than I remember from the end of last summer. Oh well!

My bike chain seems to have survived its cleaning however, although my trusty Garmin Edge 305 did not keep its charge last week... however it recharged for a long time so I hope it is back to good behaviour on my next outing.

A couple of new friends have signed up for the 2008 New York Hazon ride ... please take a look and consider doing so yourself. I am happy to answer any questions - just leave a comment or send me an email.