Perpetual Motion

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I don’t hate Mitt Romney

I don’t hate Mitt Romney.

There, I said it.  

I am as Blue State as it comes.   A son of the liberal bastion known as the Upper West Side of New York City, a resident of the immoral, free love San Francisco.  A progressive activist in college who now makes a living in the environmental technology sector that President Obama has supported wholeheartedly.

I am a donor to Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign, and on the Advisory Board of Potential Energy, an international non-profit working in Darfur.

Yet for my all progressive bona fides, the fact that I don’t hate Mitt Romney may be enough to revoke my standing reservation at the latte liberal’s café.

I should be clear, I don’t particularly like Mitt Romney nor do I intend to vote for him, but I do think he is a decent enough human being.  As Maureen Dowd wrote today:

Even though he [Mitt] once seemed to have sensible, moderate managerial instincts, he won’t stop ingratiating himself with the neo-Neanderthals

In the words of Eminem, I wish the real Mitt Romney would please stand up.

I believe that he’s an incredibly intelligent, hard-working, caring guy.  I respect his education, his professional career, and his dedication to his family.  I may not agree with his policy prescriptions, but I think that he’s arrived at them through truly thoughtful contemplation.

I do deeply regret that he continues to pander to the neo-Neanderthals in his party, primarily those whose knowledge of Science is downright prehistoric.  The evangelical, “legitimate rape”, anti-gay wing of the Republican party is to me the epitome of evil and everything wrong with America.

It is excruciatingly difficult for me to peel Mitt apart from those that surround him with these hateful views.  But I must and we must if are going to reclaim a sense of sanity in American politics.

President Obama is not a radical, socialist Muslim who hates America, nor is Mitt Romney a mindless, heartless, Bible-beating capitalist who is going to take away your grandmother’s Medicare.

Those of us in the middle need to resist the urge to hate.  It is the only way that politicians in the center will find the strength and confidence to stand up to the Neanderthals on both sides of the aisle.

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Whack-A-Mole Week

This week was a classic, “whack-a-mole” week.  One of those work weeks where there are a million and one things to do and that the faster you knock things off the list, the faster that new ones appear.  In my old office I had hung a Mario Andretti quote, "if everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough".  I believe in it wholeheartedly.  My only caveat would be that in the startup world where stasis is death, extreme levels of busyness can easily be mistaken for positive momentum.

I think that one of the real keys to success is to understand when this frantic pace is actually contributing to building a foundation for long-term success and when it is just busyness.  If you get distracted by thinking, “I’m so damn busy, something good must be happening”, you risk whacking the wrong moles and spinning your wheels.

We’ve got an all-day management meeting this week that we do once a quarter to pull our heads-up out of the day to day.  I’m sometimes guilty of rolling my eyes at these kinds of strategy sessions as I think they can distract from the “doing”, but this is one of those times that I am thankful to be working with a business partner/friend/CEO who has far more intuition than I do about when to focus at the 100,000 foot level and can force me to come out of the weeds.

You can’t build a successful company without whacking the moles, but it pays to plan a bit about which moles to whack.

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iamnader: Google's Castle: still breachable

Could not agree more with Nader’s observation that “As powerful as Google is, it’s still a one-trick pony.  Investors beware…”

iamnader:

Warren Buffet famously describes his favorite businesses as “economic castles protected by unbreachable ‘moats.’” The Apple ecosystem is a good example of this. Apple makes money a few different ways, but its primarily from hardware. While other manufacturers might make a faster tablet, or…

(Source: iamnader)

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Even by my liberal standards of coffice etiquette, this crosses the line.  A full desktop setup including full size keyboard in The Grove this morning.  I feel particularly sensitive around this as a couple of years ago, I saw a similarly over-the-top setup carted into Snice, one of the world’s greatest spots to hang out and do work in New York City.  A week later, they had shut off wifi and clamped down on laptop use, so I saw that desktop stunt as the straw that broke the camel’s back for the store owners that had grown tired of squatters.  Demonstrates that we should be kinder to our cofficemates and more respectful of our landlords! 

Even by my liberal standards of coffice etiquette, this crosses the line.  A full desktop setup including full size keyboard in The Grove this morning.  I feel particularly sensitive around this as a couple of years ago, I saw a similarly over-the-top setup carted into Snice, one of the world’s greatest spots to hang out and do work in New York City.  A week later, they had shut off wifi and clamped down on laptop use, so I saw that desktop stunt as the straw that broke the camel’s back for the store owners that had grown tired of squatters.  Demonstrates that we should be kinder to our cofficemates and more respectful of our landlords! 

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Curious Things - Week of 03/19

In an effort to jumpstart some more personal blogging, I thought I would try a weekly “curious things” post that highlights some random news and notes that I come across during the week that stimulate the “I should blog about that” reaction, but that I never seem to muster enough energy on for a real post.  We’ll see how long I can keep this up!

BRIC nations are abstainers on Libyan no-fly resolution - I found it interesting that the world’s fast growing, BRIC countries - Brazil, India, China, and Russia - were the only nations (plus Germany) that abstained from supporting the UN’s Libya no-fly resolution.  Perhaps this should be a signal that costly foreign interventions are the anchor that continues to drag down Western economies intent on maintaining an  antiquated position as global police force while high-growth BRIC countries prefer to remain on the sidelines.

DFJ Esprit nets 5X venture return (or 15% IRR) - Rarely do you see a venture capital firm put out a press release touting a return on an investment, but DFJ Esprit did just that this week.  It cited a 5x return on its investment in call center software company TLC.  While 5x sounds like a homerun, consider that they first made this investment in 2000.  11 years to exit means that a 5x return equates to a 15% IRR.  15% annual return is by no means shabby, but it doesn’t have quite the ring as 5x!  Just goes to show how the venture world sometimes plays fuzzy math to make itself seem far more impressive.

Inside Job - I went to see the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job last night.  I had already read The Big Short (a must read), so the idea that the 2008 mortgage meltdown was the result of disgustingly greedy, deceitful, ponzi-like behavior came as no surprise.  What continues to surprise me is that absolutely nothing changes in the face of increasing income inequality and the clearly documented, widespread fraudulent behavior that many in the finance world have used to achieve this extraordinary wealth.

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There is no reason for anyone with any chops online to be remotely involved with Facebook, except to peruse it for lost relatives. So, next time you log on, remember it’s really AOL with a different layout… Welcome to the past.

-John Dvorak, PC Mag: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2375715,00.asp

Got to say that I’m beginning to agree with him.  Over a fairly computerless holiday time and first week of the year (thanks to my laptop crashing), I did a bunch of thinking about how I spend my online time, what was bringing me true professional and personal value, and I just couldn’t really see the value I was getting from Fbook relative to the time I spent sharing, commenting, and posting.  There are other online forums that seem to offer far more tangible value and I’m going to be spending more time there.

I believe that Fbook has created an incredibly powerful form of entertainment, people love and need entertainment and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone some mindless relaxation.  It’s a personal reality TV show 24 hours a day and since even I like an episode of Jersey Show now and then, I appreciate the power of this form of entertainment.  If Vinnie, Paul, and The Situation are making millions then Fbook is certainly worth billions.  That said, for me, Fbook is a reality genre that has gotten boring for me and so I’m going to turn the channel.  I may channel surf back from time to time for reruns, but I’m no longer a regular audience.

(Yes, I realize the irony that this post will appear on Fbook since my Tumblr account is linked there)

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A $100M+ cleantech deal that no one seemed to notice

It is not often that Kleiner Perkins is able to participate in a $100M+ deal in the cleantech sector without sending the cleantech media and blogosphere into a virtual frenzy. But that is exactly what happened last week.

On January 5th, Kleiner and TCV announced a $135M investment into OSIsoft, a leading developer of data management solutions for industrial energy efficiency applications. While I spotted the news in PEHub, I couldn’t find a single mention of the deal in my usual cleantech news sources.

I gave it 24 hours. Nothing. It is a week later now and still no mention. Silver Spring signs a partnership deal with Control 4 and everyone falls over themselves to get the story out, but Kleiner buys a significant stake in a highly profitable company with over 10,000 customer installations and it’s like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it.

Even more remarkable is that OSIsoft should be a poster child for the cleantech venture sector’s current theme of 2011 – capital efficiency. OSIsoft is a software business that specializes in aggregating data from disparate systems in industrial environments. The company is no startup venture. It was founded in 1980 and now employees over 500 people.

While the company doesn’t comment publicly on revenue and profitability, a 2008 corporate presentation cites $160M+ in revenue. For a business built organically that continues to invest significantly in R&D, it is a safe assumption that it is producing plenty of cash.

And where there is an established business with healthy cash flow and the potential to ratchet up the growth curve, private equity money will come knocking. While OPower may have boldly proclaimed that they didn’t really need Kleiner’s money, OSIsoft truly didn’t. This is not a venture deal and OSIsoft VP of Marketing Jon Peterson confirmed for me that the investment was primarily providing liquidity to existing shareholders and not direct investment back into the business.

The existing shareholders deserve liquidity as they have built an incredibly successful business that is poised for growth as the company begins to position itself as a leading provider of smart grid and broader energy efficiency applications. They already serve many of the world’s leading power producers and industrial manufacturers and provide a data aggregation solution that may emerge as an important development platform for third party application developers looking to build analytics and optimization packages.

I believe that this deal is an important signal of things to come. As our work for the Department of Energy on the Smart Grid Ecosystem pointed out, the majority of vendors providing solutions into the smart grid market are not startups. They are companies that have been around for quite awhile. While they may not be based in a trendy loft space, they are likely producing significant revenue from legacy product lines. With the venture model under pressure in the cleantech sector, I predict we will start to see more interesting deal activity from private equity players seeking out opportunities with established vendors.

It may not set the blogosphere abuzz, but it makes for good business.

(cross posted from http://blog.cleantech.com)

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Mortgage Collapse Completely Skews The Census

I know that this headline is riveting and that perhaps only one, incredibly wonky political friend of mine will read beyond that title (if that is you, please like this link as proof you are a nerd).

The census is serious stuff.  It happens once a decade and it drives the assignment of Congressional seats and political boundaries.  State results are out and as today’s Politico headline announced, “2010 census results show power shifting westward”.

As of April 2010, the official date of the census, the five fastest growing states were all in the West: Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Texas and Utah.  As many political commentators have pointed out, this would seem to benefit Republicans as these states gain Congressional seats.

With my new post-partisan hat on however, this is not going to be argument about Republicans v. Democrats.  This is going to be an argument that the data driving the census is quite likely entirely wrong already and we’re not even a year into the decade governed by this dataset.

As of April 2010, these “fastest growing states” were also, in parallel ranked amongst the top states for home foreclosures (in order of misery - #1: Nevada, #4: Arizona, #5: Idaho, and #8: Utah).  Recent data suggests Texas has now cracked the top 10 as well.

While it is noble that people packing up their belongings and filling a moving truck took an extra 10 minutes to fill out the census, this act of civic responsibility has likely totally skewed the data that will drive assignment of political seats.  It wasn’t enough that we had to bring down our economy with the mortgage fiasco, we had to screw up the census too!

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Support Darfur Stoves

It’s holiday time and that means year-end giving campaigns from your favorite charities and political organizations.  It’s a noisy time to make an appeal and economic times are tough (tax deductibles donations are not as helpful when you’ve got less income to deduct!) but all that aside, this one is quite personal.

Last week, I joined the Board of Advisors of Darfur Stoves.  If you’re in search of an organization to support this time of year, I’d encourage you to read more of the Darfur Stoves story.  

For all of us tech-centric folk who think technology really has the power to change the world, Darfur Stoves is putting theory into practice.  

There are two keys reason that I joined this organization and why I’d encourage you to take a look!

#1: I believe that those of us developing and promoting technology in the first world, particularly in my current field of cleantech, have an absolute obligation to find ways to transfer these technologies to the developing world.  Darfur Stoves was founded via the pioneering work of Ashok Gadgil at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. In addition to a variety of work on energy problems in the first world, Ashok has been one of the leading thinkers in the world today on adapting technologies to the realities of developing world conditions and markets.    

#2: One of the first lessons I learned in building startups was that you bet on people not ideas.  Darfur Stoves is a wonderful idea and a wonderful technology, but organizations like this are built on great people.  Andree Sosler, Darfur Stove’s Executive Director is not only a good friend, but she’s one of the smartest, most fiercely committed people that I’ve met operating in the non-profit world.  Andree and I met at Wharton where she took two years out of her life not in pursuit of personal profit, but rather in search of for-profit frameworks that would help her back in the developing world.  While most of our Wharton classmates headed up to Wall Street, Andree went straight from Philadelphia to Rwanda to consult on development issues. 

If you’ve set aside some savings to give to people out in the world using technology to fight the good fight, please consider supporting Darfur Stoves

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Flecktones at the Fox Theater in Oakland last night
When they broke into Big Country, I felt instantly transported to a very good time of life circa 1998.
Some things never change…
- Victor Wooten still turns the electric bass into an inhumanly textured instrument that leaves you shaking your head in wonder
- Future Man and his drumitar have come no closer to returning to planet Earth
- Bela, sitting by himself, on five string acoustic banjo is still simply transcendent.
Some things do change…
- Nader, one of my best friends in the world for the past fifteen years, was still sitting there next to me at the Fox (that probably should be filed under the best thing that hadn’t changed).  Our hair is much shorter now though and he is a proud father.    
- Pandolfi wasn’t there sitting in awe and plotting his course to play as fast as Bela, he is somewhere out on tour with a couple of hit albums proving that he can do it.
Thanks Flecktones for taking me on a ride in the time machine!

Flecktones at the Fox Theater in Oakland last night

When they broke into Big Country, I felt instantly transported to a very good time of life circa 1998.

Some things never change…

- Victor Wooten still turns the electric bass into an inhumanly textured instrument that leaves you shaking your head in wonder

- Future Man and his drumitar have come no closer to returning to planet Earth

- Bela, sitting by himself, on five string acoustic banjo is still simply transcendent.

Some things do change…

- Nader, one of my best friends in the world for the past fifteen years, was still sitting there next to me at the Fox (that probably should be filed under the best thing that hadn’t changed).  Our hair is much shorter now though and he is a proud father.    

- Pandolfi wasn’t there sitting in awe and plotting his course to play as fast as Bela, he is somewhere out on tour with a couple of hit albums proving that he can do it.

Thanks Flecktones for taking me on a ride in the time machine!

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Seoul and Tel Aviv

I spent the first week of December in Seoul.  It was my first trip to Korea and I left inspired by the city, its energy, and its spirit.  The country has emerged as a global innovation powerhouse and I was glad to have the chance to get a glimpse into what made it tick.  

As someone incredibly curious about the conditions (social, political, and economic) that catalyze entrepreneurial cultures, I was consistently struck by the parallels between Seoul and Tel Aviv - another city that punches way above its weight class in terms of spawning innovation.  A couple of striking similarities:

Geographic Adversity: Korea has been sandwiched between China and Japan and has, throughout history, been a theater of conflict between these two historical powers.  Seoul now sits precariously close to North Korean missles.  Korea has little in the way of natural resources and must import nearly all of its energy sources.  Israel’s geographic adversity needs no explanation.  This adversity has become a source of…

Defiance & Courage: Both cultures stand proudly defiant and courageous in the face of this geographic adversity and outright hostility.  I flew into Seoul a day after North Korea had announced that it couldn’t ensure the safety of passenger planes flying near its airspace.  Tensions were, and remain, very high on the peninsula, yet everyone I met seemed entirely dismissive of the threat and eager to criticize international media for painting the situation as far more dangerous that it was.  Israelis display the identical attitude towards threats of terrorism and potential missile attacks.  It feels heretical in Tel Aviv to display any sense of fear.  I think that this drive to succeed in the face of external threats is an incredibly powerful cultural force for entrepreneurs in both countries.

Export Driven: Both small nations (Israel far smaller than Korea) are developing world class technology, but must look abroad for large markets as domestic sales are inherently limited.  The Koreans that I met seemed particularly impressed by the Israelis ability to penetrate U.S. and Western markets and remarked that they needed to do a better job in this area.  In a world increasingly built on cross-border opportunities, both Korea and Israel are at an advantage in that export driven thinking has been a necessity and is now second nature. 

Hustle: It would be cliche and stereotypical to say that both cultures value education - they do, but I think that it is more than smarts separating the entrepreneurs in these countries.  I think that it is the combination of intelligence and hustle that is the real spark.  Israelis can be short and aggressive, but I think outsiders mistake this as an unfriendly, rather than a driving desire to get sh*t done.  The Koreans that I met were perhaps more socially tactful and gregarious than my Israeli friends, but were similarly disposed toward real actionable opportunities.  

Side Dishes: I’m not yet certain how it drives entrepreneurship, but dining in both cities features elaborate spreads of side dishes and sharing a meal feels a central part of cementing relationships.  

Perhaps it is something in the kimchi and hummus, but I truly love both these cities and hope to spend more time in both.

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Rockstars

I remember like it was yesterday grabbing breakfast with Jack and Nat at the old Bucks County Coffee shop on Locust (which seems to now be defunct and renamed Saxbys).  PlaceVine had just won the Wharton Venture Award along with the companies that these guys were starting and I was eager to hear what they were up to - the Wharton undergrads were 1000x more credible as entrepreneurs than anyone in the MBA program.

It is easy to say in retrospect, but it didn’t take longer than 5 minutes sitting with them to recognize that whatever these guys did, through sheer force of will and intellect, was going to be successful (as the WSJ article mentions, they really didn’t know what they were going to do at that point!).  They carried themselves more articulately than guys twice their age, they there were the real deal (not to mention incredibly nice guys).

Jack/Nat - you guys are rockstars and couldn’t be more deserving!