Monthly Archives: May 2008

To Palo Alto’s Police Dept. : THANK YOU!

This is an earnest, heart-felt, and public thank you to Palo Alto’s Finest.

This evening, I was working away happily in the garage (as I do).  I heard someone walking into our back yard, and I jetted out to see what was going on.  I saw two policemen from Palo Alto’s PD with our two dogs — Shatner and Scout.

We had left a door open, they’d hopped out over a fence and they ended up running out into the middle of Alma.  (This is basically a highway.)  The dogs had effectively stopped traffic, and nearly gotten themselves killed before these two men got them and led them back to our house

To the two officers who saved our dogs, THANK YOU.

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Presentation Training : “How To Avoid Death by PPT”

I’ve viewed this a few times, and every so often I return to it.

So many of the over-filled slides, 9 point font, and so on I saw in my past life. Love this deck and wanted to share.

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‘One Bad Investor Can Ruin a Company’ — A. Ressi

Adeo Ressi, Founder of the Funded, is one of my favorite entrepreneurs and people in Silicon Valley.  At a recent talk at a STIRR get-together (embedded), he puts together a bunch of practical, useful advice.  Most useful, in my view is his point of thinking carefully about who an entrepreneur takes money from.

The moral of the story–captured in this headline–is a great caution for all founders and entrepreneurs.

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A life-saving prescription for the GOP

“If you’d fought like a man, they wouldn’t be hanging you like a dog.”–last words of Anne Bonny, a female pirate, to her pirate captain boyfriend.

The Republican Party is in a crisis. It’s losing stronghold seats in Louisiana, Mississippi, and former House Speaker Hastert’s seat in Illinois. It’s only going to get worse–expect a 6 to 8 year freeze.

The key issue, at its core, is that the Republican Party cannot articulate a vision or story that is compelling or interesting at all.  They aren’t fighting ‘like a man,’ and thus had better get ready to be hanged ‘like dogs.’  The fact that their performance–particularly in the Congress, though Bush shares a lot of blame–has been marked with fiscal irresponsibility and corruption exacerbates things, of course.

The angst and anger towards Bush and the GOP is understandable–we’ve got a war weary citizenry, gas is at $4+ / gallon, and the housing crisis has the dual impact of being both massively in terms of numbers and very practical to see on Main Street.

What’s not understandable though is the response to this–basically silence. The times are urgent and the issues many. It’s time to step up, in a big, big way and articulate something exciting, something principled, something large, something bold. Instead, what we’re getting is … nothing….

My frame for thinking about politics or pretty much anything else is around what I’ve experienced in business. In business, as in any competition, when things are going badly, silence and passivity have never worked. It won’t work now for the GOP, and the politicans will get creamed.

Talk show hosts are not helping at this point. Hannity just came out with his 10 points of victory, which he proudly proclaims he wrote out himself. His prescription for what the GOP needs to win reads like he wrote it on a cocktail napkin during a commercial break. Not only is it brief, it has the crispness and detail of thought of a 10th grader’s first draft for civics class.

These trying times need more.  So here’s my attempt to articulate, at more depth, what the GOP needs to stand for and do, and why these are so important. 6 things, pretty basic. 

Global Leadership Against Terrorism. Terrorism is an insidious, game-changing threat to us and free societies everywhere. We can’t always see it. We can’t always prove that it’s there. Evidence can be hard to come by. That said, given terror’s asymmetric impact (i.e., much smaller groups) to inflict great terror, destruction, and impact cannot be minimized.  We must be aggressive.  Each and every day, Republicans should be pushing hard to find ways to ‘harden’ the global defense capacity against this threat.

Global Leadership Against Climate Change.  Similar to terrorism, global warming has the potential to be a game-changing threat to us and societies everywhere. We can’t always see it. We can’t prove (to the level that we can with terrorists) that it’s really there or how, if or when it will strike. Evidence can be hard to come by. That said, we have to be aggressive. The opportunity for Global Warming’s overwhelming impact (point of no return climate change) to inflict far greater impact than we can forecast must be addressed. I’m not asking us to start hugging trees, but we should be smart. This is a potential threat–let’s not say it doesn’t exist.  Frame it in the context of security.  We should frame it and put forth more Republican oriented, market-based approaches to it. And let’s get more evidence. What I can’t stand about this is the sense that this just isn’t worth dealing with. It’s a security issue; our current approach undercuts our strength on national security. Both threats are hard to see–we need to be the party that attacks them both.

Leadership on the US and Global Economy.  Republicans have choked on this, in particular with the spending excesses running up to the 2006 mid-term election.  Things that matter here are:

  1. Lower corporate taxes on US corporations
  2. Commitments to global free trade–specifically: the Doha Round, Free Trade Agreements with Columbia and others
  3. Thoughtful immigration policies, particularly around H1-B and guest worker programs
  4. Streamlined regulations, particularly for small business.

Global Leadership in a Changing Foreign Policy Chessboard.  The world affairs paradigm is shifting.  Eastern Europe is transitioning from Communist to market-based rule.  India and China are surging and will be the dominant economic forces of the later half of this century.  Latin America–Brazil in particular–is growing.  We have to adjust our foreign affairs and policy paradigm.  Republicans need to gain a footing on this.  Hank Paulson’s leadership of Treasury and his obvious comfort in dealing with China is the prototype here.  The GOP needs to continue forwarding this leadership here.  This is an area that can deliver solid and positive differentiation. 

Immigration Policy.  I see this as one of the topics on which the Republican party is in such disarray that it’s worth calling out separately.  Net/net, the GOP needs to come together on a policy that all elements within the party can stomach.  The anti-immigration Lou Dobbs crowd could well be so dug in that Republicans can’t dig their way out.  The bottom line however is that without H1-B visa reform, the US will not remain a super-power in terms of high tech and in terms of its economy.  We need the smartest brains on the planet in order to be the long-term economic superpower we aim to be.  If we compromise on that, to the wishes of Lou Dobbs, we are finished.  It’s that simple.  I know we wish that US-born citizens would have the education and the capacity to fill all the high tech and innovative jobs in the US, but the net is that’s not the case.  Smart hungry ambitious people exist everywhere, and we shut them out at our own risk.

Similarly we have the same need with guest worker programs.  I grew up on a farm, and the bottom line here is that there are plenty of above minimum wage jobs in farming that US-citizens don’t want to do as they find it beneath them.  If we want cheap food (we do), then we need a way for cheap labor to get it to us.  This argues for immigration reform.

The notion that we can just ‘ship them all back,’ while I understand, is impractical, and bluntly, not the best use of our time and resources.  We’ll need a policy here within the GOP that all its stakeholders can come to deal with.  Threading this needle will be hard–I had thought that Bush’s immigration policy was spot on, as did many others.  Too bad, we really missed on here.

Practical Pro-Life.  I consider myself relatively pro-life.  At the same time, I was horrified when I watched the Terry Schiavo debacle play out.  To have the US Congress and the President trying an end run around the Constitution on this was out of hand.  We talk about activist judges and states rights in the GOP all the time, and yet, when it suits us, we have no problem stomping all over the Constitution to pull off these circuses.  I wish we’d had the courage to do what was right–call this a tragedy and call for the states to change their laws for life, and let it ride.

Practical Pro-Life means to me supporting the cause of life consistently and evenly across the board.  It means the following to me:

  • Retain Roe v. Wade, pursue legislative options. Overturning RvW would be a mistake.  The proper route would be for legislation that forwarded the cause of life. 
  • Eliminate the Death Penalty in civilian criminal court.  Evidence shows increasingly that African Americans disproportionately receive teh death penatly, suggesting that it’s meted out unfairly.  Similarly, it’s pretty clear we’ve executed some innocent people in our histroy.  We should call a stop to it, on the grounds of pro-life.  It’s appropriate as a penalty only in military war crime tribunals.
  • Fund stem-cell research, but keep a very conservative eye on this.  This is a tough one, I realize.  I thought Bush’s compromise here was pretty effective.  At the same time, we need the research. 
  • Tax breaks for estate planning / living wills and so on. Incent people to get their affairs in order, to avoide the Schiavo debacle.  Make this a tax deduction.

Energy Investment.  We need to go into Alaska and anywhere else to get the resources we can — no matter how dirty — to take our country forward.  Building supply sources is in our national economic and security interest.  We need to do this PDQ.  At the same time, we need to put into place incentives to fuel real innovation in energy across the board.  This will likely take refactoring the farm bill, as right now all we seem to be doing is subsidizing the price of corn for biofuel.  I’d like to believe that there’s more, better investment we could make.

Education.  I absolutely believe that education is the civil rights issue of our day.  Republicans are not doing enough here to promote a vision of how we can drive the education system forward.  I believe in vouchers, and we need to put into place deeper, stronger commitments to making this happen.  This is a tough tough road, and one with strong opponents.  We’ll need to keep after this. 

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Free stuff for start-ups : insight from IDEO

Being an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, you get a lot of different input on what is must do in order for your business to succeed. A lot gets written about this. Here’s my short list of the most critically important must do‘s that I have experienced to date. It’s a pretty simple list:

  1. you must not run out of cash
  2. you must not give up
  3. you must build something people want

The first two are obvious: running out of cash or giving up kill the company.

The third one is where the magic of creating a customer is. And by extention, while the other two are hard, this is the most difficult, most challenging. It also is where you hear the most divergent advice.

The most useful advice I’ve gotten on how to go about building something people want is from IDEO. I did a recent tour of their facilities and got an overview spiel. I’ll write that up in a separate post.

More useful, I bought The Art of Innovation, a book by IDEO’s co-founder on how they operate. It is to building products what Igor’s guide to effective naming — a deep, obvious and useful approach that any entrepreneur could use.

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In need of caffeine–Starbucks and Schultz

Starbuck’s Founder Howard Schultz is jumping back in with both feet at Starbucks. It’s about time.

Some background… I’m a straight-up “Coffee of the Day” man–black, no sugar, no room.

Basic, elegant, unfettered, essential. Hard-core. I believe if Starbucks can’t take care of me, well, then they’ve lost it. They only earn the opportunity to serve those foo-fee Frappucino slurpees if they can deliver the goods on the <basic> <cup> <of> <joe>.

When we lived in Tokyo, the care and excellence put into making sure each and every cup of SBUX was flawless. Each cup was steaming hot and protected from spilling (they put a little plastic stopper in the mouthpiece so that as you walked around, the coffee would not spill). I literally had 4 years of Starbucks coffee in Japan that was 100% perfect.

I’ve lived in Palo Alto now for 8 months, and I now consistently get a cup of Starbucks coffee that literally tastes tired. Not hot enough (inexcusable) and weak tasting. I’ve had to send coffee back and say — do it again. So on taste and execution of the beverage, not so good in the US.

Also, presentation / last mile is faltering too. I get too many cups of coffee from SBUX that have two lids not one jammed on top. Leads to spilling and a Hoover effect (I’ve got to suck the coffee out of the cup).  The other thing with lid placement that stuns me how often it happens is putting the lid right at the seam in the cup–this leads to spilling when you drink.

My message to SBUX and Schultz is pretty simple–make a perfect cup of coffee, each and every time. That’s a starting point. With all the other stuff they’ll do, make sure they do that.

If they do that, I do think the sky’s still the limit. The international opportunity for Starbuck’s remains extraordinary. The number of town and mid-sized cities around the planet that would be open to Starbucks is huge. As globalization continues to drive apace, Starbucks is an increasingly relevant symbol for the world traveller–they want to know that wherever they are, they can grab a cup of good coffee.

I wish them the best in their revitalization. But please–for the love of Peet’s–make sure you nail making and delivering a good cup of joe.

Schultz’s Second Act Jolts Starbucks – WSJ.com

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Windows Live Writer–the best in breed blog authoring tool????

I’m getting a set of blog postings lined to publish over the next little bit, and I’m looking for the best web blog authoring and editing tool. As an ex-MSFTie, I appreciate that I’ll sometimes provide a more balanced view of Microsoft than most.

With that in mind, I’ve been pretty amazed at Windows Live Writer (available on Windows PCs only now). It’s easy to use and functional, and it’s integration into Internet Explorer makes it vastly easier to blog a web article or photo or whatever than anything I’ve seen for Mac. I literally keep a Virtual PC with Windows running so I can blog things via WLW if I see a page while I’m surfing around on my Mac.

I’d love to hear from anyone who blogs on Macs–what tools do you use and are they as good as WLW.

Update: Funnily enough, I’ve had enough IE7 crashes today that I’ve got to temper my enthusiasm for WLW.  WLW is pretty good, but it’s dependency on a browser that crashes a lot is a big flat spot.  What’s the WLW for Mac/FFox?

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