It’s the time of year for lists…

… and so here is a short list of random lists under the headings of tech and cycling (which makes it a VC:VC post, too!)

Happy list making season to all.

I’m dreaming …

It’s that time of year folks, when Chanukah Candles glow, Christmas Trees sparkle, and some Venture Capitalists show a little self-deprecating humor in their seasonal greetings.

This year Onset Ventures has a holiday gift catalog well worth reading.

Here are a few of the items on offer:

  • Bernie Madoff Fleece-wear: Pockets Fully Lined!
  • Mattress: this year’s highest performing investment vehicle
  • Series B Knee-Pads (Series C forehead pads also available)
  • Lemming-Fur Overcoat (Every VC’s getting into one of these. Don’t be left out.)
  • Humble Pie: The season’s most popular food item. A great accompaniment to an entree of crow (sold separately).
  • Eyeballs (2 Doz): Volume discount available for internet-based businesses
  • IPO Window: This one actually opens! (Priceless!)

As a Venture Cyclist, I can’t resist mentioning the mugs, t-shirts and bike jackets available with this slogan:

Just hear those bike chains jingling
Ring ting tingling too
Come on, it’s lovely weather
For a bike ride together with you!

Finally, I forget if I shared this cartoon in previous years, but even if so, it is the right time of year to enjoy.Hanukah-VC-Cartoon

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and here’s to a great 2010.

A tale of two vehicles

First check out this amazing video of a recumbent trike, that flies! - with a tip of the hat to Elisa who first sent this to me. You may have to watch a 30 second ad first … it’s worth it. (If you can’t see the embedded video click here.)

And now, check out this David and Goliath story (if you can’t see the embedded video click here):

Monday breakfast buffet

Here are a few interesting articles to start your week…

The Kauffman Foundation (the leading foundation supporting entrepreneurship) in the US, recently published a new study, The Making of a Successful Entrepreneur which I read about in the Small Business Trends blog. The most important success factors reportedly are “previous work experience, learning from their successes and failures, a strong management team and good fortune”. I am not sure to respond “well, duh!” or to recognize that sometimes statement of the obvious is not so obvious. To the budding entrepreneurs reading this, the most important component is what is not included in the list. As I have written before, big ideas (and even good technology) do not pave the path to success. This report reinforces that truth. (Disclaimer: I have not yet read the full study, which I do plan to do, found here).

Since I am a compulsive maker of to-do lists (the only element of the GTD methodology I have adopted wholeheartedly is: if you add it to your to-do list, you don’t worry about it), I was struck by a blog posting on zenhabits. The posting opens with a quote from Taligent’s Guide to Designing Programs which is absolutely brilliant (techies will all agree): Remember that there is no code faster than no code.

Zenhabits blogger Leo Babauta opens with:

What’s the fastest way to get a task off your to-do list?
Just delete it …
or don’t put it there in the first place.

My facetious response is to ask what is the sound of one task forgotten? Answer: screams of agony. But this posting is worth a read and is challenging for me; so I shall immediately write a to-do task to meditate on this.

Finally today, a compilation of the Web’s Best Advice for Entrepreneurs from Tom Eisenmann at HBS. Of course, I think my collection is the best collection… but Eisenmann’s is a pretty good one too!

Home, sweet home

It is still (just) Thanksgiving Weekend, so here are some things for which I am grateful.
  • Thanksgiving: although England (where I was born and grew up) has public holidays (known as "bank holidays"), those are either religious (Christmas, Easter) or entirely devoid of meaning beyond the extra day off work. My favorite is the "late summer bank holiday", often synchronous with Labor Day, but not always. We adopted Thanksgiving easily and happily when we arrived in the US... it is a great, inclusive holiday with its own rituals shared by all. We love it.
  • My family: my oldest daughter (currently a high-school junior) returned home from a three-month program overseas last Tuesday. We all missed her a great deal, and it is a joy for us that she is back home. We know in a couple of years she will be off on her own, and so these moments, weeks and months we have together now are all the more precious.
  • Friends: I am blessed with wonderful friendships - you know who you are - thanks!
  • Newton, MA: apparently Newton again made the list of America's safest cities, for the umpteenth time. That's a great start, but Newton, despite being a bustling small city and a suburb of a big(ish) city, is also a village. I can't spend an hour in Starbucks or Peets without seeing at least one person I know (other than whomever I am meeting!) and often I see several friends or neighbors.
  • Cycling: this blog is often about my cycling, and my cycling buddies. Cycling has provided a way for me to get fit and enjoy nature, and become involved in Hazon ... all good things.
  • Work: I really do enjoy my work at Sigma Partners (which is good - there is a lot of it). I get to spend time with bright, creative, driven people working on developing new businesses which are often drivers of job creation and economic growth. When we do well, then our investors do well, and many of our investors are charitable and educational institutions, so despite being at the sharp, pointy end of the capitalist machine("red in tooth and claw"?), our success supports many good causes.
  • My health: 'nuf said.

Chief Common Sense Officer

Dennis Devlin is Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Brandeis University. I met Dennis a few years ago when he had the same role at Thomson Corporation. It has always struck me that a better title for Dennis would be Chief Common Sense Officer. I recently heard Dennis give a talk and wanted to share a few of his thoughts.

As CISO at a university, his group offers a "Digital Self-Defence" class. One key tenet he tries to impart is that information (or photos, videos etc) that you put on the web is like a tattoo: easier to put on display than to remove.

I have previously heard the people part of the technology equation called wetware (as in, "the problem is not in the hardware, and not in the software, it's in the wetware"). Dennis, however, uses a much more pleasant term, and a thought-provoking one, too (pun intended): know-ware. I think I much prefer to be know-ware than wetware!

I also particularly like the analogy that Dennis provides us to think about security
Security is like the brakes on your car; the function is to slow your car down, but the purpose is to allow you to go fast.

Finally, in terms of information systems security, Dennis noted that a system is secure when it does exactly what it is supposed to do, and nothing more! (It strikes me this is a good definition of quality as well as security.) Here is my take on his visual:

VC:VC Social Entrepreneurship

I have an occasional series of blog postings I call my VC:VC series in which I compare my venture cyclist and venture capital worlds. The venture cyclist in me is involved both in cycling and in the non-profit world ... so this gives me plenty of scope for interesting comparisons.

For today's note, I don't have to do any work ... I refer you to a great post on the TEDfellows blog entitled In Social Enterprise force yourself to be an entrepreneur first. The VC:VC relevance is obvious from the title. The writer, Peter Haas, lists 10 rules including
  • Clearly define what you do and stick with it
  • It costs more than you expect, get more than you need

It is not a long article - and worth the read.

Meaningful Use

The federal stimulus bill provides nearly $20 billion in incentives for physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers to adopt electronic medical records as long as they are used in a meaningful way.

The definition of "meaningful use" took a few months to even begin to crystalize (see this article from the AMA news service).

With thanks to Dr Danny Sands (@DrDannySands), check out this great definition!

Tis better to travel hopefully than to arrive

I had a great bike ride with friends on Sunday morning. With the clocks changing in favor of an early start we duly set off at 8am (yes, you crack-pots of dawners, that's early!). After about seven miles I got a flat rear tire. We found the puncture - a single pinprick hole - in the tube, but could not find a corresponding problem inside the tire or the wheel rim. We duly put it down to rubber fatigue, put in the (only) spare tube, pumped up, and headed on. Three miles later I had a flat again, and with the same pinprick hole at the same position in the tire (relative to the valve). This time a group of us all searched for the cause - and could not find anything. We took the tire off completely, turned it inside out and looked at it under the glare of the beautiful fall sunlight. Nothing. Again we searched, and the wheel rim as well. Nothing.

Meanwhile I was also working with my trusty patch kit to repair the hole. We decided to replace the tube and hope for the best ... what was the alternative?

As I reseated the tube inside the tire, when I got to the patch on the tube, I noticed a small bump on the outside of the tire. It looked like a minor imperfection caused by wear, but I tried to rub it off, and in doing so flicked out a very small grain of glass. This was the size of the period at the end of this sentence. It was lodged on the outside of the tire, and must have been impinging through the inner wall onto the tube under pressure. Without the pressure (whether from the tube inflation or the weight on the road) it did not poke into the inside of the tire which is why we could neither see it nor feel it inside.

Happy we had found and solved the problem I finished refitting the tube. We used a $1 bill (thanks Sammy) as shield for extra protection for the patched tube inside the tire where the glass had been "just in case", and went on to enjoy the rest of the ride without incident. Thanks to the early start we arrived home at the normal time, rather than significantly late. As I look back on this ride I have the same warm feelings of enjoyment of the ride, the company, the wind and the sun as I have for most Sunday rides. Puncture? Two punctures? Nooo problem.

There is a lesson here ... probably some pithy version of "be more thorough looking for the cause the first time!" Another lesson is "enjoy". It is not about arriving, it's about travelling hopefully.

1812.mobi

Who says the tech world has no soul?

With a tip of the hat to Omar Gallaga at NPR's AllTech blog, check out these three very short videos. The first is of 1000 Vodafone cell phones playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture in response to orchestrated text messages, and the others are the "making of", parts one and two.





Definition of Strategy

There is general confusion about the difference between an organization's vision, mission, long term goals, long term plans, strategy and even tactics. My approach is to acknowledge that different people use these terms in different ways but, in any given specific planning process, to require that we agree to arbitrary but shared definitions. I have, for many years, used a great working definition of strategy as "the decisions about how we will apply resources to objectives".

A strategic planning process starts with (or generates) a vision and mission, agrees on long term objectives, and identifies the resources available. It then makes decisions about how to apply resources to the objectives.

This is never as clean a process as it sounds, but working with explicit (if forced) definitions about each of these elements, really helps.

However, I now want to revise my definition, perhaps only subtly, having seen the TED Talk by Bjorn Lomborg, on setting global priorities.



In this talk he suggests that before you decide where to spend resources, you should know the cost-benefit ratio for the possible solutions. He notes that if there are a dozen key global problems, the decisions on where to spend the money should first be informed by the cost-effectiveness of the solutions, and not the size or even "importance" of the problem alone. This requires some agreement on a standardized notion of costs and, especially, benefits. In Lomborg's case he is looking at lives saved, or possibly QALYs. For a corporation, the costs and benefits are likely entirely financial, but at any given time one metric (e.g., revenue growth) may be more or less important than any other (e.g., profitability, or return on net assets). Ideally all the benefits of achieving each objective can be measured uniformly (for easy comparison) so you can show a dollar cost figure per unit of objective-achieving benefit.

Lomborg's examples are very clear (whether or not they are fashionable), and it makes sense to me to add this to my thinking about strategy ... considering the proposed approaches to achieving the objectives being considered, and the cost-benefit ratios of each - before deciding on resource allocation.

From fad to monopoly

The telephone, mainframe computers, microprocessor chips, and PC software industries have all spawned companies displaying enough monopolistic behavior to warrant penalties from the trust busters.

In England, the competition regulator used to be called the Monopolies Commission and one of my favorite comedic lines (attributed here to Nigel Rees) is "why is there only one Monopolies Commission?" Now we see the US and EU anti-trust authorities fighting over these issues, we wonder why there isn't just one!

For reasons about to become clear let me share this chart from a March '09 Fortune Magazine article which shows the adoption rate of new technology. (As Raif Barbaros pointed out, the Facebook comparison itself is misleading: Facebook is free, you have to pay for the others.)

Resolving the chain of reasoning connecting these two topics... I would love to see a chart showing the number of years from the introduction of a technology to the first investigation by competition regulators. I leave that as an exercise for the reader!

And, what, you might be asking, is the proximate cause for juxtaposing these thoughts? Just a few months after I noted cloud computing (Feb '09) as a new trend in our industry, the Economist newspaper has an editorial and feature article on the competition authorities starting to poke around the clouds. I bet this is a record!

Y chromosome genetics

With a tip of my hat to my wife and her colleague who brought this to my attention, and to the several websites who use the diagram, I bring you the latest knowledge about the genetic pre-dispositions encoded in the Y-chromosome (which we all remember is the male determining chromosome).

Saluting Techstars Boston 2009

This summer I had the privilege of being a mentor at the Techstars Boston inaugural program.

Techstars is a bootcamp for first time entrepreneurs and their startups. Participants apply and are chosen from the pool during the winter or spring. The program operated this year from May to September and participants worked in shared space in Central Square, Cambridge for the duration. As well as the benefits of learning together on the run, and the able full time leadership of Shawn Broderick, the startups had access to a large number of mentors with diverse backgrounds (entrepreneurs, investors, technology experts, marketing experts etc). Many of the mentors presented material on a huge range of subjects relevant to the group, and provided one-on-one coaching and advice to a subset of the startups.

Techstars originated in Boulder a few years ago under the visionary leadership of David Cohen and Brad Feld. Through Bill Warner's equally visionary leadership here in the Boston area, David and Brad were convinced that this was the right place for the first geographic expansion of the program.

As a mentor I got to spend time with a few of the companies and enjoyed it immensely. Although I work with startups all the time, this experience was the pure essence of young-entrepreneur and young-startup. Through the summer the teams developed their plans, their technologies and their pitches, and at the end they presented to a room full of investors at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center (yes, NERD Center) right after Labor Day.

Here is a brief paragraph and a link for each of the 2009 Boston companies. A couple already have some early funding, and I know of a few more also now deep in discussions with angel or VC investors. Congratulations to them all!
  • AccelGolf offers mobile and online apps that empower 30,000 golfers today to improve their game via personalized content.
  • AmpIdea is helping new parents by creating valuable services through a web-enabled baby monitor.
  • Baydin is is a zero-effort collaboration catalyst that uses email context to take the burden of searching for information off of employees.
  • HaveMyShift is an online marketplace for hourly workers to trade their shifts, allowing them to create the best work schedule for themselves and their employer.
  • LangoLab is the most entertaining way to learn a foreign language.
  • Localytics provides a real-time analytics platform for mobile applications. Provides iPhone, BlackBerry and Android developers with the deepest user insights available to help them make smarter business decisions.
  • oneforty is the Twitter outfitter. It's the Twitter apps and services marketplace that helps you get the most value from Twitter.
  • Sensobi is Personal Relationship Management for today's mobile professional. Sensobi turns your contacts into relationships.
  • TempMine is an online temporary staffing marketplace that finds better jobs for temps, higher quality temps for employers, and new business for agencies.

No-one knows how much health care costs

There was a thought-provoking article by David Goldhill in the September 2009 Atlantic Magazine with his suggestions about how to fix the US health care system. One of his key suggestions was to provide price or cost transparency to consumers of health care services. He noted that, crazily, consumers don't know how much stuff costs, and that some hospitals and medical offices refuse even to provide such information ahead of time.

Interestingly, I spoke to a friend last week who mentioned that his wife is a physician (working at a hospital) and, tellingly, even she doesn't know the price or cost of the treatments she recommends and delivers.

Although obvious the moment I heard it, given this crazy health care system, this is shocking. It seems that medical school never touched on these issues, and certainly her employer sees no need to share such information with the physicians. Hmmm...

Whether or not your insurance will pay your medical bills, perhaps we should all start asking our physicians about costs and prices in advance. Just as Goldhill suggested, a stronger cost consciousness for both providers and patients will itself drive new patterns of thinking, and maybe even behavior, too.

Tech goes wild

Wall Street is governed by only two emotions: fear and greed. When greed goes bust, fear takes over. After being scared long enough, greed returns. This week saw a seven IPOs scheduled, the most in two years according to Reuters. A year ago fear was the new greed... I fear that greed is now the new fear.

Venture Capital and High Tech also only have fear and greed in our emotional palette, and guess which one is driving a $1 billion dollar valuation for Twitter ... the company with no revenue model.

So, thank goodness for some sanity: a clear-headed strategy by the folks at collaboration software company 37Signals has lead to a valuation of $100 billion because of a "group of investors who have agreed to purchase 0.000000001% of the company in exchange for $1." (Tip of the hat to Jared Rosoff for pointing me at this one.)

"And that's the way it is."

Happy New Year

This week sees the Jewish new year festival of Rosh Hashanah. We are offered four new years in the Jewish calendar (look 'em up) plus we get Jan 1 as well. This offers a plethora of opportunities for new starts, and so here I am, back on my blog.

Since last writing the summer has passed. It has been a full one, including nearly 1000 miles of cycling, mostly spread over weekly 40 mile rides with friends. I have also participated in my fourth Hazon NY Jewish Environmental Bike Ride. Hazon is the leading environmental group in the US Jewish community, working in areas of education, action and advocacy to make environmental concerns important in the community, and to make the Jewish voice important to the environmental movement. This year we are proud to be one of two key partners representing the Jewish community at a global conference of world religions, on the environment, organized by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation in the UK. In other examples of our work this year, Hazon’s CSA program at sites around the USA has put nearly $1m of purchasing power into local organic farms, and we have been participating in new programs supporting bike lane construction in New York City. Please consider supporting my fundraising for Hazon.

For those interested, we have an Israel Bike Ride coming up in November - places still available - and a new Bike Ride in the California Bay Area sometime in Spring 2010. Watch this space!

The traditional food for Rosh Hashanah is honey, the reason for which is the symbolism evoked with the traditional greeting with which I will close ... wishing you a Happy and Sweet New Year!

Incidentalome looming

Sometimes I love being wrong. Fifteen months ago, here, I suggested that by 2018 the cost of obtaining a complete human genetic sequence would decline to the $1,000 level (the first one cost $3 billion).

Now, reading this MSN article, I see the true cost of a genetic sequence has already dropped to around $5,000 (look near the bottom of page 2 for this tidbit). The $1,000 sequence is now within sight, probably by the end of next year I have to guess, and possibly sooner. At this price point we will reach the tipping point, and there will be a flood of genetic data entering our healthcare system, and this can only be helpful. As reported in The Times of London, for example, DNA scan could cut cost of insurance - even if results kept secret.

We should remember that this is not yet a straight line to perfect diagnostics and treatments, because (as I reported in April) the connection between specific genes and disease is becoming less clear right now, not more. However, the availability of massive amounts of genotype data (genetic sequences) linked with phenotype data (what is happening to these bodies, as recorded in EMRs) will likely change medicine more rapidly over the next 10 years than over the last 50.

The incidentalome looms larger than ever.

The Cyclist’s Guide to the Galaxy

I recently read Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, in which Greene describes, in lay and non-mathematical terms the major themes of physics and cosmology. Catapulting from the classical physics of Newton, Maxwell etc, Greene launches first into relativity, then quantum mechanics and on into inflationary cosmology and string theory. His style is engaging, even entertaining, and, nonetheless, very informative. I even know why the physicists of the Large Hadron Collider in Europe are chasing after the Higg’s Boson and what it is, more or less.

As a cyclist, all this has direct and immediate consequences. For example, and with a tip of the hat to Douglas Adams, if we live in an 11 dimensional universe should a bicycle have more wheels?

My favorite diversion born of these considerations tells me that as well as the health benefits of cycling, the relativistic effects of riding are also keeping me younger than any stationary types. This is based on Einstein’s theory of relativity which notes that the clock of someone travelling at speed will run slower than the clock of someone stationary. I posited this when out cycling with friends on Sunday, cleverly within earshot of Kenny Breuer, a professor at Brown University, and a regular in our Sunday morning cycling group. Sure enough he rose to the bait.

On one leg (or two wheels), he suggested the following approximation, to within an order of magnitude (meaning we are only using numbers that start with a 1 and have some number of zeros – like ten, a thousand, a billion, or a tenth or a thousandth etc). As an example, and introducing scientific notation for very large and very small numbers, the speed of light is 3E+08 meters per second (spoken three times ten to the eight, or three times ten to the eighth power). This is the notation for three times the number 1 with 8 zeros, which equals 3x100,000,000 or 300,000,000 m/s. To within an order of magnitude, this is simplified(!) to 1E+08 (we ignore the 3 altogether as you are about to see).

We start with noting that we are travelling at 10 meters per second (a kilometer every 100 seconds or a mile in three minutes is a grossly optimistic approximation, but is accurate to within an order of magnitude). The speed of light, as we noted, approximates to 1E+08 m/s. Hence we are travelling at 1E-07 of the speed of light. (The negative number means this has 7 zeros before the 1 – meaning we are travelling at 0.0000001 times the speed of light).

Kenny assures me the relativistic effects are the square of the fractional speed, so the relativity impact is the square of 1E-07, meaning 1E-14. If we are riding at this speed for three hours, then this is approximately 10,000 seconds (or 1E+04 seconds). Hence the change in our clock, compared to someone stationary, is 1E+04 times 1E-14 or 1E-10 seconds. This is one tenth of a nanosecond, and as anyone who works in computers knows, nanoseconds add up. One thousand nanoseconds is a millisecond, and everyone notices when there are more than a few milliseconds of delay on a Skype video call.

I know the approximations overstate the results (the speed of light is faster, we are travelling slower), but being able to do the simple exponent-of-ten math while cycling makes up for the lost accuracy with warm feelings of satisfaction.

I was hoping Wolfram Alpha would be able to provide a complete schematic for confirming this calculation, and I typed in relativistic effects on time of travelling at 14 mph for 3 hours. Unfortunately it did not understand me. Surely this kind of thing is a commonplace(!)

The midnight ride of ...

With thanks to Gregg Stern, who brought this to my attention:

Boston By Bike at Night -- Midnight 'til dawn

Saturday, August 8, 2009
Twenty First Annual Tour of Architectural and Historic Sites
Meet at 11:15pm in front of Trinity Church in Copley Square

Bring a bicycle with a light and wear something reflective; helmet recommended.
RAIN OR SHINE (moonlight, that is)!
Commemorative T-shirts available.

Bring something for breakfast Sunday in Christopher Columbus Park.
**Please bring a spare inner tube that fits your tires.**

Sponsored by the Back Bay Midnight Pedalers

Start a Jewish CSA in your community

Hazon has a wonderful program for creating Jewish CSAs [farm share programs] including help with finding a farmer and other logistics. The Hazon program incorporates a significant amount of Jewish learning and programs for the entire family. This program, Tuv Ha’aretz (meaning both "good of the land" and "good for the land"), is now accepting applications for the 2010 season. Details can be found here.

Many synagogues and JCCs around the country are running these programs, but none yet in the Boston area. In some communities multiple synagogues are working together (some across denominational boundaries) to host a CSA.

Please consider this for your community. Pass it along to your JCC director, your Rabbi or other leader.

VC:VC Management vs Entrepreneurship

My friend and Harvard Business School Professor Paul Gompers once suggested the best definition I have yet heard for entrepreneurship. Management, he states, is the optimization of resources; entrepreneurship is the optimization of opportunity.

This is explored further in a recent HBS blog posting MBAs vs. Entrepreneurs: Who Has the Right Stuff for Tough Times? In this posting, Professor Saras Sarasvathy, is quoted as noting that MBAs (managers) live by the creed To the extent that we can predict the future, we can control it. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, live by the obverse: To the extent that we can control the future, we do not need to predict it.

As I think about my cycling hobby, up to about 400 miles so far this year, I wonder which approach is more relevant. By knowing the route ahead of time, I can prepare myself and my food/drink, to ensure I have fun and train hard. However, I am often a play-it-safe cyclist who perhaps forgoes the opportunity of an unplanned excursion, worrying whether I will have the strength to make it back without hitting the wall ("bonking"), or without becoming unpleasantly exhausted.
Yesterday a few of us talked idly about riding in the Climb to the Clouds. As regular readers know, hill climbing not my favorite, because (I insist) it is tougher on a recumbent (a prediction oriented opportunity-killer). I thought out loud that I should employ a designated hitter; Elisa made the appropriate correction: I need a designated hiller!

In the non-profit world, even predicting the future is no sure path to controlling it (although I am not entirely sure it works in the corporate world either). At Hazon we have both under-estimated and over-estimated income from various sources every year (especially this year), and it is only through the imaginative marshaling of opportunities that we have continued to expand our reach and influence.

Meet Jo Tango, the Socialist

I saw a write up of friend and venture capitalist colleague Jo Tango today in Xconomy. Worth a read if you are following the people in the Boston VC community.

Sigma Partners has a great relationship (and a couple of co-investments) with Jo's firm, Kepha Partners, so we wish him all good success!

Psychology - Cycology

On recent rides I have been pondering some of the psychology of cycling (cycology??).

I mostly ride with groups, sometimes just two or three of us, but on Monday I rode with 10. I have been thinking about the psychology of being at the back, or the front, or the middle of the group. Often I am at the back of the group of riders because I ride with stronger cyclists and I am much slower uphill. I tend to do fine on flats and downhills but the uphills, since I am on a recumbent, bring me back to the back.

I want to emphasize that I love riding, and that I am actually pretty relaxed by now about all these issues. I would say that "happy to be riding" is my experience about 99% of the time by now ... however, the not-so-relaxed feelings come and go, and here they are for all to analyze!

Here are some of the feelings I experience at the back

  1. fine: happy to blame the bike, happy to be relaxed, happy to be riding
  2. guilt: don't want to hold the others back
  3. frustration: wish my legs were stronger
  4. happy: no-one behind me to crash into me as I slow down up hill
  5. worry: am I lost? did I miss a turn-off?

When I am next to last, I feel

  1. happy: at least I am not last
  2. concerned: does the person behind me feel bad for being last? do they expect me to wait for them or do they prefer I don't wait for them? do I need to wait at the next turn-off so they don't get lost?
  3. worried: will the person behind me crash into me as I slow down on an up hill?
  4. frustrated: wish my legs were stronger (then I would be further up in the rankings)
  5. happy: happy to be riding

When I am up at the front, I feel

  1. happy: wahoo! I am at the front!
  2. uh oh: will they pass me on an up-hill?
  3. worried: am I lost? did I miss a turn?
  4. pressured: am I holding them back?
  5. happy: happy to be riding

All activities come with feelings; those are some of mine. I would love to hear yours.

One last thing ... why not join the Hazon NY Jewish Environmental Bike Ride on Labor Day weekend (and you don't have to be Jewish to join us - we always have a group of Muslim, Christian, Atheist and others). Register before Sunday and get a $50 discount on registration fees with the code "bikemonth". With short and long route options, this is a great event for anyone looking for a great retreat weekend, a diverse and optimistic weekend community and a rewarding physical challenge.

I am happy to answer questions (leave a comment), and there is a great network of cyclists of various abilities in NYC and also here in Boston with whom you can connect for riding partners during the summer as you train up. Prices go up after Sunday, so this is the weekend to register!

Incentives

As I tweeted last month: Inverse Law of Usenet Bandwidth: The more interesting your life becomes, the less you post... and vice versa. Jorn Barger, 1994.

Usenet was pretty early version of what is now the web 2.0 world of user generated content. Today's simple corollary is: The more interesting your life becomes, the less you post [on blogs]... and vice versa. This leads to wondering whether the incentive (or reward) for blogging is gratification in boring moments...

There is a question about whether Twittering follows the same pattern. Many folks note that it is so easy to tweet that interesting lives lead to more tweeting. That is for another post.

This blog has been silent for over a week exactly because I have been busy on interesting things, mostly work related, mostly our just completed annual advisory committee meeting. I considered live-tweeting the event for about one nanosecond (talk about a breach of etiquette and career-ending adventure). An example tweet might have been "Partner X now telling LPs that deal Y is going to be worth $1b", and another example would be "Partner X now telling LPs that deal Y better show progress before June 30 or it will be shut down". Last night's dinner tweets would have been interesting too, but I can't even hint at those. You can see why the public twitterstream is not ideal for this kind of commentary!

I did want to mention a couple of interesting articles I gleaned from the twittersphere recently. One talks about the very obvious (to me) comment that even *free* will not get physicians to adopt electronic medical records - see this short post on e-patients. Secondly with an eye to my non-profit volunteer work, consider this WSJ blog post on how increasing the price of membership can increase memberships. In both cases the incentive structure is non-intuitive, or at least against the classical or conventional wisdom.

Incentive compensation (bonus plans) are amongst the most complicated parts of my life as a board member on startups. CEOs and their VPs generally have bonus plans approved by the board (or its compensation committee). It is a cliche that "you get what you pay for" and we have to be excruciatingly careful not to encourage unhelpful outcomes through an inadvertent side-effect of a bonus plan. If we offer a bonus for maintaining a healthy cash balance, the CEO might fire a bunch of people and reduce sales or service levels. If we focus on revenue we may encourage profligate spending and reduce our cash cushion. It gets worse from there. Even the seeming alignment around incentive stock options can lead to problems, and not just those seen on Wall Street.

Incentives in all these areas remain intriguing and annoying because they seem to amplify unexpected behavior as much as desired behavior. Despite the concerns and contradictions, or perhaps because of them, they remain a source of constant interest for me in my venture capital (and venture cyclist) work.

Twitter; still; again

Twitter is only becoming more fascinating to larger groups of people. The possibilities are expanding even while we await an announcement about a business model.

The Singularity Hub blog posted an interesting thought about the idea of a tweetbomb which is like a virtual Flash Crowd or Flash Mob. Twitter has this possibility where blogs (and even blog rallies) do not. Repressive governments beware!

Many commentators remain mesmerized by the real time search possibilities (eg Twitscoop, Tweetmeme) in tracking what is going on in the Twitterstream. This strikes me as an amazing by-product of Twitter, but not the core of its value. My own thinking is that Twitter should learn a little from Google. It should embrace its universal nature, promise and try not to be evil, and offer premium corporate services for a fee, leveraging its universality and simplicity. I see both corporate social media revenue opportunities, and automated enterprise uses. In either case, Twitter would charge for high volume usage, and would charge for ancillary services (SLAs, security options, archive options, multi-account management etc).

To reinforce some of this, let me repeat and expand on a previous post when reporting on my presentation at Social Media Jungle Boston in March. In that presentation I posit that automated tweeting is a hidden opportunity and possible future for Twitter, alongside its very human current incarnation. In the comments of that post, I added a few examples of automated tweeting and consolidate them here.

Here is a commercial idea that is in use: a semi-automated tweet when fresh stuff ready at the bakery. Check out the video on Vimeo. I also found a (completely non-commercial) great tweeting cat door.

I also heard about Zappo's real time sales map: a real-time automated (mapped) data stream of sales made ... if sent to twitter simultaneously this would be another example of my hypothesis, and is pretty close, wouldn't you say? The a grand "now" dashboard from Sprint, is also on the same topic, showing the power of automated sharing of mechanically collected data (although this widget may in fact be "calculated" data rather than "collected" data).

Finally, here are the slides (again), and the video of the presentation.


#VCpitch: Tweeting the pitches

I am going to start a regular series of twitter posts with the hashtag #VCpitch with a focus on highlights from pitches I get as a VC.

I am not going to breach any confidences, and will not publish the identity (or even anything identifiable) about the entrepreneur or new business. I am also not going to focus on the negatives, of which there may be many.

Instead, a la appreciative inquiry, I plan to focus on the positive from the pitches I get. Today I met three entrepreneurs and heard about their businesses. Each of them happened to be related to Health 2.0, and none of us were attending the Health 2.0 conference.

My first such tweet (and first ever #VCpitch hashtag reference I think) was #VCpitch health 2.0 content; already getting expressions of interest from top payers and providers. Starting with customers always a winner.

Too big to fail

Twitter (thanks @kevinmeyers) alerted me to this chart, from the IMF April 2009 Global Financial Stability Report. Kevin's original source for the chart, NPR, reports the numbers represent how all these institutions were linked by credit default swaps. This seems to explain, because of the number of links, and values associated with them, why AIG and Bear Stearns were "too big to fail".



It's Earth Day ... here's something else too big to fail. Let's do something about that.

Health IT is not simple

It sounds so simple ... apply well-tested information technology approaches to the health-care system and watch the quality go up, costs fall and all our problems disappear.

This is not so simple. Consider the simple idea of sharing hospital system data with patients in Personal Health Records (like Microsoft Healthvault and Google Health). Ask e-Patient Dave and John Halamka CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (and Harvard Medical School). Ask David Harlow, expert on health law issues. Read the recent survey in The Economist.

Have a look at the latest news on the Human Genome ... now showing that genetic predispositions to disease are less and less clear (not more and more)!

Biking, happiness and bones

I had another great ride this morning ... we are getting back into our Sunday morning routine. We rode 26 miles (not the Boston Marathon route, although that is prepared for tomorrow); we rode out to the Campion Center (and then down and back to double the hill quotient) before heading home. The weather was perfect for a ride and I am enjoying feeling stronger this year than last. I was telling one ride buddy that I wanted to feel better each year (more than negating the effects of age)... better in what way she asked? Good question... then she supplied the answer. Happier? she asked ... And yes, that's it. Thanks Elisa.

If I feel happier on my bike each year then I will be thrilled. I don't have to be faster, stronger, bike further (although those would be great, and so far that is the pattern). What will drive that happiness? Who knows! ... but I find myself more and more impressed with the "pursuit of happiness" clause ... those founding fathers knew what they were writing. Perhaps they were cyclists too, pursuing happiness on two wheels as well as in other areas of their lives.

Even a flat tire doesn't deflate cycling happiness. Two of my ride buddies helped me when I got a flat almost at the end of the ride (thanks Mark, Guy). Such events no longer fill me with dread, but is always nice to have help. Mark also sent me this link to an LA Times story noting that cycling's low-impact nature isn't conducive to building strong bones. Adding high-impact exercises can ease the risks of injury (especially breaks). Thanks to my work with Adam Poock, I am feeling that I am paying attention (and doing some hard work) in that direction as well.

Food for Passover

We are in the middle of the Passover week, and are reminded of that at every meal and every time we open the fridge or the pantry. The theme of Passover is the Children of Israel's Exodus from Egypt and freedom... the reality of Passover is the food is way different!

Enjoy these 10 videos about Passover, including this one below which is fabulous.


For those chocolate lovers allergic to soy lecithin, rejoice in the fact that this additive is one of the foods not eaten at Passover and check out the selection of Passover chocolates ... many are soy lecithin free. Also the Passover Nesquik only has chocolate and sugar (all those other additives are banned) ... this is the hidden story for Passover - many chocolate foods have much simpler ingredient lists when formulated for Passover. Oh, and corn syrup is also banned - so Passover sodas are sugar based, with no high-fructose corn syrup ... more good news.

And now, relish the great news that chocolate makes your brain smarter (I knew it all along).

Blog Rally to Help the Boston Globe

We have all read recently about the threat of possible closure faced by the Boston Globe. A number of Boston-based bloggers who care about the continued existence of the Globe have banded together in conducting a blog rally. We are simultaneously posting this to solicit your ideas of steps the Globe could take to improve its financial picture.

We view the Globe as an important community resource, and we think that lots of people in the region agree and might have creative ideas that might help in this situation. So, here's your chance. Please don't write with nasty comments and sarcasm. Use this forum for thoughtful and interesting steps you would recommend to the management that would improve readership, enhance the Globe's community presence, and make money. Who knows, someone here might come up with an idea that will work, or at least help. Thank you.


Here is my suggestion: Publish the New York Times in New England as The Boston Globe, using a local newsroom to provide high quality local journalism for the region, and the Times' great national and international content for the rest. Repeat this in other cities to provide economies of scale and distribution for national and international content created by the central NY Times organization. Don’t hide the truth of this painful restructuring from the readers (who are not dumb), but embrace it by maintaining the best local reporting for the city, state and region.

Yes, my suggestion is to combine the Globe and the Times. Publish a vibrant New England (NE) section in a regional edition called The Boston Globe, with at least a couple of stories from this section on the front page and in the sports section. Maintain only city, state/regional and sports bureaus – do not duplicate national and international resources. Retain the highest quality journalism, investigation and writing for local, regional and sports news. Sell subscriptions on the Kindle and on the iPhone, and maybe even on the web (reducing the free stuff significantly). Charge more (there will no longer be competition between the Globe and Times). Charge premiums for out-of-area access; charge more to see the NY edition in NE and more to see the Boston content outside Boston … “ex-pats” living elsewhere and wanting home news will pay for it.

For a final step, repeat this formula in other cities. Buy other (failing) quality mastheads. Create economies of scale from the central content and use those economies to maintain the sharp local flavors in a symbiotic structure that works.

As well as a direct suggestion, let me also add some commentary. Previews of this blog rally prompted the question of why are we trying to save something that is clearly failing in the marketplace. Implicit here is inappropriate skepticism of bailouts for failing private sector concerns. However, our blog rally paragraph does not suggest any specific direction, and does not pre-suppose a non-market, interventionist response. The question is, merely, if you believe the Globe has something to offer, what might you do to save it.

If a bunch of customers wanted to save one of my companies I would certainly ask what the customers truly value. For many years the Globe has had two customers – readers and advertisers. My guess is any new ideas had better work for readers, because market forces have already shown advertisers that it no longer works for them.

I would ask customers who wanted to save my company (a) to pay more for the services and (b) to make an equity investment. My suggestion above centered on local investigative journalism, the local beat and sports reporting. These are things that a great local newsroom can provide which customers may value under a branded editorial umbrella. Despite complaints that the national and international staff are being cut, there is little (or no) additive value these provide under a Globe masthead.

That equity investment idea ... that's what a subscription is ... an upfront long-term payment for a share of whatever is produced (kind of like a CSA farm share program).

Good luck Boston Globe, and good luck New York Times, and kudos to Paul Levy for instigating another great rally.

Boiling the ocean

From time to time, we at Sigma Partners see business plans which are so large in scope that we worry the founders have overreached. We ask whether they are "boiling the ocean", the quintessential example of a task that, surely, no-one can accomplish.

Looked at from the vantage point of my involvement in Jewish environmental non-profit, Hazon, we wonder whether humanity as a whole is succeeding in boiling the ocean as part of our global warming project. Even if we don't boil it, we may well be acidifying it quite successfully.

One response to global warming is called geo-engineering -- the concept of engineering solutions for the whole planet. Any geo-engineering project, were it to be a start-up seeking funding, would indeed be accused of trying to boil the ocean, even though they would likely be trying to stop exactly that! Unfortunately, geo-engineering projects are very difficult to model, and because of their enormous scale, are risky to undertake because the unintended consequences will be of that same worrying, enormous scale. In January, the Economist magazine reported on several geo-engineering projects and touched nicely on these themes. In March they had a more detailed report on one such project, based on seeding the oceans with iron (read the story) ... and the unexpectedly disappointing results from early tests.

I wonder from time-to-time whether the venture capitalists' natural skepticism about boiling the ocean should be equally applied to the opposite problem.

Bikes and Food on iPhone

Regular readers know I am involved with Jewish Environmental non-profit Hazon. Hazon's signature programs are our bike rides and food work. I recently read of two great iPhone apps that fit our profile wonderfully. (Despite the date these are not April Fools jokes.)

First check out the Locavore iPhone app which I first read about from John Halamka's GeekDoctor blog. This app uses the location finder capability of the phone and then tell you what is in season locally and where to find it.

Secondly, and my personal favorite (as a bladder-limited cyclist), is the iPhone Have2P restroom locator.

Spring is sprung

Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz,
I wonder where the birdies is?
The birds is on the wing,
But that’s absurd...
I always thought ...
the wing is on the bird!

And here for a little light spring reading and viewing, a few choice morsels.

First Jeremiah Owyang reminds us what VCs are good for (including partying ... err umm networking).

Next, be inspired by Majora Carter.

Finally, think carefully about education and creativity.

Bittman Smitten

I too have been smitten by Mark Bittman since buying How to Cook Everything a few years ago... a great cookbook.

Bittman is walking (cooking) in the same direction as Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food) and is becoming known for wanting to change the world by changing how we eat.

If you are not familiar with Bittman, listen to this NPR Morning Edition story, or the one-hour On Point call-in show.

Catch him regularly on his NY Times "Bitten" Blog.

Bon Appetit. Bon pour le monde.

Twitter data stream redux

A couple of weeks ago I posted my slides from Social Media Jungle Boston on Twitter as a Universal Data Stream. Jared Rosoff responded with a series of thoughtful questions and let me know it was fine for me to post and answer his questions here.

Jared's questions are in this red color, and my responses are in purple, flagged RMD.

1) Centralized vs. Distributed event stream architecture

-- Unclear twitter can scale to handle the flood of data that would come with "automated publishing" from things like sensors and systems. Not sure if this is a systemic problem of this kind of architecture, or rather a twitter specific deficiency.

RMD: clearly Twitter can't scale to handle its own organic growth right now. I think this is a Twitter specific deficiency. However, putting "all the world's messages" (automated and not) onto Twitter would increase the load by several orders of magnitude. This may take the load to somewhere with real systemic problems. Hopefully this is not the case ... see Sigma portfolio company Tervela... perhaps they can help.

-- Do we really as a community want to endow any single company with all of the value that that data holds?

RMD: Great question. Google already has "all" the public data (effectively), but this goes to a new level when I suggest proprietary streams be published using Twitter as well. Answer, probably not, at least not without assurance that Twitter does not have ownership rights which they can assert. However, charging for access to such a rich *and integrated* data stream seems OK to me. If the data provider wants to charge for access, perhaps Twitter can be a pass through biller (with appropriate markup). Perhaps the source data provider would also provide other means of access to assure a competitive marketplace for the data. Then Twitter's specific value becomes the fact "all" the data is available in one place.

-- Corollary: Are companies that have valuable data going to be willing to hand over the keys to someone else?

RMD: probably not! However, if the value to their customers of integrating their own data with a wealth of other data is sufficient, then perhaps.

-- With twitter's focus on social updates, do you think a different player will emerge that will focus on more "machine readable" event streams?
RMD: very possibly ... want to pitch a startup?

2) Search / Filter methodology

-- Search on twitter is pretty limited. To do the kind of analytical reasoning you suggest in your prezo, it strikes me that you need a more sophisticated query language. Something beyond keyword search. Need to be able to deal with structured and semi-structured data as well as calculate statistics over the set of data in the streams. Do you have thoughts on what kind of search technology is needed for a system like twitter?
RMD: You are right. The 140 character limit is also terrible for this... back to "want to pitch a startup?" The character limit is probably what does this in ... a longer (or unlimited) message can be tagged (either with folksonomy based hash tags, or with references to published ontologies). Once properly tagged, the data becomes searchable, and we are back to "just" a scale problem.

-- Is analytical reasoning separate from the event stream aggregator? Or does it need to be part of it? In other words, can I plug a tool like Visual Sciences or SAS into the data I get out of the event-stream or am I limited to the analytical tools that twitter (or a twitter like business) provides me? Benefit of having the tools at twitter are that it can access the "whole data set" whereas if I'm using SAS or VS, I'm probably working on some subset of data that I've downloaded...
RMD: I definitely want to be able to use third-party tools to do the search/filter/analysis. My original assertion was based on Twitter's very simple, easy and *open* API, which (assuming volume access is allowed) enables you to use whatever tools you want. Your notion of tools built in to Twitter makes sense (another revenue idea for them). If this all ever really happened I imagine you would be able to subscribe to sub-streams from Twitter for real time analysis, as well as going back later for data exploration.

All great questions - thanks Jared!

Innovation

Innovation is often given complex definitions. We prefer the simple one: ‘new ideas that work.’
- Geoff Mulgan, Social Silicon Valleys: A Manifesto for Social Innovation, Young Foundation (Spring 2006).

This is a great definition of innovation, but suffers from the problem of survivorship bias. We only know later whether the idea works. What happens to all the innovative work that leads to dead-ends and failures? These look just as innovative in their early stages, and often help spur innovation by helping map out the topology of what works and what doesn't.

Furthermore, those of us who invest in startups have no clue whether the innovation will work when we invest. This is just as relevant in Hazon's innovative programs in the non-profit sector as it is in Sigma's venture capital portfolio. This is not to say that the engineering itself is untested. Often it is clear that the gizmo works, but we have no idea if it solves the problem: do people like it, use it, adopt it... does it scale, cause other problems, create more complexity... and does it really solve the problem? All of those things are only ascertained after a fair amount of capital is invested in packaging and promotion, and a fair amount of time is spent as well.

With this in mind, here are a couple of interesting items to read about innovation in the non-profit sector.

First, an easy read from Jumpstart on the Huffington Post, Philanthropy's New Ice Age: Will Social Innovation Survive the Freeze?, including a quote from Hazon's own Nigel Savage.

Second, check out the Intentional Innovation in Philanthropy report from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. There is an exec summary as well as the full report.

2009 Hazon NY Environmental Bike Ride

As you may know I have ridden in the Hazon New York Jewish Environmental Bike ride for the past three years. Some of you have also participated previously. I plan to be there again this year. It is a great weekend, a great challenge (whether a beginner, or a century rider with a choice of routes), and for a great cause. Please consider joining me this year.

This is great to do on your own, with family members, as a bar/bat mitzvah project or with your friends.

Click on the link to see a brief video and all the details you can imagine: http://hazon.org/rides/2009NY

The ride registration fee goes up on March 20. If you are thinking about riding, now may be a good time to register. The fees are only going up by $50, so if you decide later, it’s not too terrible.

Let me know if I can answer any questions.

Sunday, Sunday ... so good to me

For the second Sunday in a row I got to go out biking with friends, this time seven of us. We planned to do the same route as last week, but decided to add to it, on-the-wheel, given how beautiful it turned out. So we rode up to the Campion Center and a short loop around back to Weston. One of our group missed a turn and ended up taking a detour, but we found him.

It was a 22 mile ride for me (more for the guy who got lost, and the Guy who went to rescue him), and it was fabulous. I have been more disciplined about my winter exercise routine this year and that has made a difference in my strength coming back to biking, and I am loving it.

Early in last year's season (and in fact at the end of April), I was complaining that I felt out of shape. So far, this year, much better.

Thanks to the magic(??) of Twitter, and someone who tweets about recumbent bikes (@recumbentbike), I saw a retweet originating from @larrymadill who said "Think I hurt something on my recumbent bike yesterday." I want to know if Larry hurt himself or his bike.

@recumbentbike uses this as a profile image... much lower than my bike, and with front wheel drive. My 'bent has the long chain under the seat driving the back wheel. This thing looks sleek, doesn't it?

Non-profit Twitter

In the tech world, it is a little bit of wry humor to say that all twittering is non-profit. No-one really knows how to make money from Twitter (the company Twitter, least of all, it seems).

Here are a couple of links about real non-profits (charities, as opposed to early stage startups) and twitter:

I also want to highlight Beth Kanter's blog on "How Non-profits can use Social Media" which is about twitter and all the other aspects of Web 2.0 and social media for non-profits.

Report from the Jungle

I spent today at Social Media Jungle Boston, organized by Jeff Pulver. Check out the twitter stream on #smjbos, if you want to see the back-channel chatter.

The speakers mostly (and understandably) looked at the interpersonal interactions of what is, after all, social media. However when I got up for my slot, I choose to talk about Twitter as a Universal Information Stream. Slides below or here.

I included an idea from Matt Volpi (about automatically reporting point-of-sale data and also DVR data), from his comment on this blog when I first previewed this talk and asked for input. Thanks, Matt! Others may also recognise their ideas replayed here as well, so please remind me if I owe you credit.

Reclaiming my identity

Here I am blogging as Venture Cyclist and very little cycling, or even cycling related stuff, has happened for a while. However, those who follow me on twitter might have noticed the following twit this morning "Welcoming the cyclist back into my venturecyclist identity - 60 degrees in Newton today - woohoo."

A few of my friends (I know who you are) managed to get out yesterday ... another beautiful day to bike, but I was enjoying some great outside time with my family at Cold Springs Park on the Exer-trail.

Today, however, I fired up my trusty biker GPS, pumped up my tires (they held, phew) and went out with good friend Lee Goldfinch for 14 miles of spring time bliss. We cycled out on Comm Ave, through the Meadowbrook golf course and back down towards Upper Falls (a segment of our "usual" summertime route). This is pretty much the earliest in the year I have managed to get out, and certainly the earliest I have done more than a quick ride on the Comm Ave Carriage Lane. Last year I did the same ride for the first time in early May. So I am feeling virtuous, happy, not entirely unfit, happy, tired, and, did I mention, happy.

Tomorrow it's winter again (eek, just checked the weather -- 1-3 inches of snow!).
Today I had a taste of spring and summer and fall, and that will keep me going for a while.

Crowd-sourcing Jewish News

In a not particularly subtle imitation of Digg (amongst others), the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has started crowd-sourcing Jewish news.

JTA is democratizing Jewish news gathering by giving you the ability to share with our editors and community of readers the Jewish content which matters most. We believe that together, there's not only strength in numbers, but wisdom to be found.

Read all about it here, and add the bookmarklets to have your voice heard in choosing stories to highlight.

Vignettes from Tech

A couple of tech industry vignettes from Jeff Pulver's Social Communications Summit in NY last month.

Fred Wilson asked the question of all startups who purport to be offering a new platform: "Can I grow a company on your platform?" Of course, the right answer has to be yes. This is an interesting test for both Facebook and Twitter. I think the answer for both of them will be yes ... and there are strong indications that others are building companies on top of Facebook (more) and Twitter (less) already, hence answering the question in the affirmative. What startups have you heard about who are planning to create new platforms? Of our recent investments we hope and expect Viximo will meet this test.

Another speaker, whose name I did not write down (sorry), talked about the new transparent world for consumer products (or even all products). She or he said "The product is your ad. The customer is your agency." The takeaway is that all the fancy advertising and creative agency positioning in the world will be swamped by user-generated content on the internet (blogs, facebook, twitter), discussing the product and whether it matches up to its promise. If the product is good, it will be its own advertisement, and the customers will be your agency. Unfortunately the same goes for if the product is no good at all.

John Stewart takes on Twitter


Update: YouTube video pulled for copyright reasons - but can embed from Comedy Central, which is what I have now done.
(Email subscribers: click title to link to article on web to see embedded video).

Purim Spiel

Next week is Purim, another Jewish festival that falls into the category of "They hate us; We beat them; Let's Eat."

Purim is such a happy festival that the entire Hebrew month in which it falls (Adar) is considered happy. There is a tradition of humor that pervades even the annual retelling of the almost gothic story, along with an imprecation to drink enough that you can't tell the difference between the hero and the villain.

Hazon (Jewish environmental non-profit and sponsor of the bike rides that got me on my bike in the first place) has a tradition of its own ... a high production values video spoof of a current cultural phenomenon. This year "Mad Men". The Yiddish word for mad, is, of course, meshugene.


You can also see previous Hazon Purim videos.

Happy Purim!

The nine circles of philanthropic giving

The New Yorker, in a January "Shouts and Murmurs", offers a glimpse into the world of philanthropic giving levels.

The theory of giving levels is that donors either like to be identified (and published) as giving at a certain level, and/or donors like the benefits (whether public or private) that accrue to giving at a certain level. For example, donors become members of the President's Circle of an art museum with a gift of $50,000 per year which allows them to have a private museum tour, with 12 of their friends, guided by the museum director.

The theory creates a circle of action (vicious or virtuous, I am not sure which). Charities set up giving levels and encourage donors to reach into those levels. Once you are a member of the President's Circle you don't want to be demoted, and so the price increases each year are an easy way to get you to increase your gift.

You can probably sense my ambivalence to these ideas. They work, but they are hardly appealing to the purest motives within us as donors.

The New Yorker article gets it exactly right:

The Benefit Committee wishes to remind all Subscribers that the thrill for those pledging as much money as they can afford to attend this Gala Charity Event will always be outweighed by the shame felt by those pledging as little as possible.
Please consult the Subscriber categories below.
GRAND PANJANDRUM’S DIAMOND
CABAL
CHAIRMAN’S GOLDEN COTERIE
TREASURER’S SAPPHIRE COHORT
ZIRCON
CRONY
BRUSHED-ALUMINUM MOTLEY
HUDDLED MASSES

The top (Grand Panjandrum's Diamond) level includes the right to ejection of any two undesirable table companions. The lowest (Huddled Masses) level allows merely for a complimentary official event program (depending on supply at conclusion of event).

While we are at it, please consider attending Matters of Taste, the wonderful JCDS fundraiser. Watch out for those giving levels, and I look forward to seeing you on the ninth circle!

Social Shopping


NYC gets with the social media program, creating separate interest-based spaces (one for husbands, separate from wives inside) for social-shopping during full-sensory-overload accessory shopping.