Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff


Vista ReadyBoost is Kewl

This week I made the decision to move my production machine entirely over to Vista.  “Isn’t it still pre-production?” You might ask, or perhaps, “are you a moron?”  On the former, you’d be wholly correct.  On the latter, I hope the jury’s still out, but you’re probably right on that one too.  I’d like to say that I’m a real man and that’s how real men do things – no holds barred, pedal-to-the-metal sorta stuff.  In reality, though, the decision was made for me when the mirrored RAID array that is my C: drive trashed its master boot record in some unknown unrecoverable fashion.  All data was saved, but I could never get the RAID array to boot again.  RIP.  Why install XP again?  I’m only going to be removing it when Vista ships anyway . . .

As I mentioned before, Vista is visually terrific.  I love the visual effects, the gadgets on the desktop, the ease of moving between windows and a real, working desktop standby function.  I can’t do without the search function (think Google Desktop Search, but better) now that I’ve used it and configurability is much improved as well.  Like Microsoft has done at each release of its operating systems, it has included even more utility programs and made the ones already there, like its picture viewer, far better than ever before.

It’s far from a rosy situation right now, though.  Almost half the programs I use don’t run on Vista.  For the most part, the problem seems pretty straightforward.  It looks like the security layer between applications and the file systems is screwing with file I/O from some applications.  I can’t get them to write files even when I run in XP compatibility mode with administrative privileges.  BTW, I’m running RC1 build 5728.  The latest and greatest.

One very cool feature that I just started using is ReadyBoost.  ReadyBoost allows you to use some USB flash devices (I’m using a 4GB SD card inserted in a multi-card, USB 2.0 reader) as a write-through cache for Vista’s page file.  Everything is still written to disk, but seeks are first done on the cache version.  Even though I already have 2GB of memory on my machine, I can feel the difference.  The more windows I have open and the more applications I’m running, the bigger the relative speedup I experience.

Basically, a random 4KB read from flash is about 10X faster than the same read from a hard disk.  Hard drives are way faster for big linear data, but seeks are slower.  By using the flash memory for the seek, big speedups can be had as long as the hit rate is high.  In any event, they shouldn’t be any slower.

Not all USB flash devices are compatible.  Vista does a speed check when you insert a new device and tells you if it’ll work or not.  A list of devices known to be compatible is here.

More information can be found in this Q&A by Matt Ayers, Program manager for this sorta thing at Microsoft – http://blogs.msdn.com/tomarcher/archive/2006/06/02/615199.aspx

Very cool.  Very simple.  Pretty damned inexpensive.  Certainly not a reason to upgrade by itself, but a great addition to what’s looking like a very nice OS upgrade.

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 September 28th, 2006  
 1 Comment

Applying Military Strategy and Tactics to Business – Intelligence

[If you read either of the last two posts in this series, Focus or Indirect Approaches, you may want to skip the next couple of introductory paragraphs and branch, jump or goto Intelligence in boldface, below.]

This is the fourth of a six-post series that discusses how, when, why and why not apply military strategy and tactics to business.  For the sake of some brevity, I won’t repeat my introduction to this topic but, if you’re interested, you can find it here in the preamble.  There are also a few more introductory words in the second post, here

In short, I’ve always had a difficult time mapping military strategy to business, although I’ve always been compelled to.  It seems so natural to take stories of great military exploits and use what was learned from them to advance a business idea or improve on its execution.  Among the many problems in doing this, though, are questions about when to apply a particular strategy; does the organization have the competence to execute against that strategy; and can one correctly interpret what actually made a particular military strategy or tactic successful, especially once applied in a business context with its inherently slower feedback.

That said, the legends of military successes and failures are great teachers.  Not so much for the direct application of what a military leader did at some time, but in presenting a palette of potential actions.  The stories and analogies are also good because they are easy to remember and are great tools for leading others.

In my view, there are a small set of profound lessons to be learned from the great military commanders and their exploits through the ages of warfare.  Lessons is the key term here, not specific strategies or tactics.  In my effort to communicate what I believe that some of these lessons are, I’ll try to toss in a few military stories that indicate to me why these particular lessons are so important and can be readily applied to business.  The lessons are:

Today’s episode of applying military strategy and tactics to business is . . .


Among Webster’s definitions for intelligence, two primary ones directly apply to both military and business matters: 1) you need to be smart or, at least, be able to think and, 2) you need to have knowledge of what the enemy/competition knows and thinks.

Main Entry: in·tel·li·gence
Pronunciation: in-‘te-l&-j&n(t)s
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin intelligentia, from intelligent-, intelligens intelligent

  • The ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations; also : the skilled use of reason.  The ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria.
  • Information concerning an enemy or possible enemy or an area; also : an agency engaged in obtaining such information.

In military engagements, intelligence is often more important than the size of the force, how well it’s armed and who it is led by.

A perfect example of this is in the military strategies employed by Mao Zedong as he led the Red Army in its 20+ year rebellion against the Kuomintang government in China.  After the start of the rebellion, the Red Army, for the most part, got it’s butt kicked whenever and where-ever it engaged the vastly superior government army forces.  For the most part, the Red Army was out-manned, had many fewer weapons and was isolated into parts of the country that made it difficult to get tactical advantage in widespread warfare.

Recognizing his deficiencies, Mao turned to strategies that involved actively collecting intelligence about his opponent.  He had spies throughout the government who gathered information about their plans and actions.  Perhaps even more importantly, he designated soldiers dressed in civilian clothing to be stationed throughout the country to monitor the movement of the government’s troops and supplies.  By gathering this information and extracting trends from it, he learned what his opponent was doing and, over time, understood what type of moves that they made in response to his own.  Ultimately, having this knowledge, Mao was able to gain the upper hand and to ultimately defeat the government troops, exiling Chiang Kai-Shek to Taiwan in 1949. 

Prior to World War II, while most of the rest of the world was relatively ignorant to the value of keeping secrets, well . . . secret, the Germans invested heavily in cryptography.  The efforts of the German government and military agencies to make sure that communications were secure resulted in the adoption of the Enigma Cipher machine – an electro-mechanical device that encoded and decoded messages.  The German Navy, in particular, relied heavily on the secrecy of their communications and had the most complex Enigma machines and processes surrounding them.

It took years for Germany’s enemies to break the Enigma.  The huge value in breaking the code was well understood, though, and a concerted effort was mounted to break to do so as part of the strategy to defeat the Germans.  At first the Polish made headway, then the British took over the main effort.  Through the work of a huge number of scientists and mathematicians, mostly stationed at the famous Bletchley Park in England, and a stolen Enigma machine here and there, the Allies were able to read many of the top-secret messages being sent by the Germans.  Using this information, the Allies were able to change their tactics and even much of their strategy in the battle of the Atlantic.  Each action took on more significance with less effort.  The knowledge of what the enemy was going to do let the Allies stay one step ahead and to focus their efforts on the singular end goal of winning battles, without having to spread their forces out too far.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you engage in any kind of industrial espionage.  Merely that knowing what your competition is up to is critical to your business or, at the very least, critical to how you run your business.  Spies aren’t required.  You just need to be aware.  Your sales channel will be able to tell what’s going on (if it’s not a completely automated channel) and anyone that engages with your customers will discover what the competition is doing if they listen well.

If you’re among the group of people that claims to have no competition – WAKE UP!  Every business has at least one competitor, even if it’s the choice your customer has to keep doing what they’re doing.  The infinitely low barriers to entry in virtually all product or service areas these days also guarantees that you’ll have more competitors in the near future if your target market has any real value.  There’s simply no excuse for not knowing what your current and emerging competition is up to.  This knowledge not only helps you differentiate your product or service right out of the gate, but also helps you keep your costs lower because you waste less time with a more focused approach.

Of course, no business that just focuses on what their competitors are doing is going to be successful.  True success can only come from using the other kind of intelligence – that which only comes from using your head.  In my experience (and I’m at least as guilty as anyone I’ve ever known) there are too-many knee-jerk reactions in business.  Managers often make quick decisions in a situation without extensive knowledge of what is really going on.  In an environment where everything is moving fast, it’s a natural mistake to make.  Additionally, the fear of the consequences of not answering a challenge or looking like one is in control often encourages half-baked reactions.

Every manager needs to keep in mind the value of looking before they leap.  Or, as I like to think about it – responding instead of reacting.  The difference between responding and reacting is thinking – one involves it, the other doesn’t.  I know, I know, this is where you’re saying to yourself: “I don’t have time for long, drawn-out planning sessions.  My business is go, go, go and if I slow down, I’m dead.”  In most cases, taking a step back, drawing some pictures on a white board, talking to a few people or getting together with your team to ponder the paths ahead only involves hours or perhaps a few days.  Not weeks and months.  Of course, at times, it does take longer.  In my experience, though, whatever it takes to make an informed (note that I say informed – not perfect or correct or even low-risk) decision on how to respond to the challenge that you face is worthwhile and will save you loads of time and energy later.  Think about the situation, at least a little, then move.  Don’t move slowly, but move deliberately.

As with successful military campaigns, the more intelligence you have – both kinds – the more likely it is that you’ll set your business on the best possible path to success.  Increased knowledge of what your competition is up to and, more importantly, considered thought put in to your overall strategy and to any response to changes improves your likelihood of success while helping to reduce effort that might be wasted in areas unnecessary or even unrelated to the optimal path of the business

Next up, the final installment in this series: Deception.

 September 28th, 2006  
 General Business, Leadership, Management  

Why Free Trials are Rarely Actually Free

Dharmesh Shah, fellow member of Feedburner’s My Way network, has a terrific post titled Selling Software: Why Free Trials Aren’t on his OnStartups blog.  In the post, Dharmesh makes excellent points about how free trials are far from a zero-cost decision from the customer’s standpoint.  He also points out that the success of a free trial depends on the developer putting extra work into both the product and its support.  Thus, the word, free, is a misnomer for both sides of the table.

In my experience, I have also found that free trials or, free products for that matter, are often perceived to have value equivalent to what was paid for them – nada.  Most people have a deep-seated belief that you get what you pay for and will often not invest the time or energy into making the implementation of a product successful if they did not pay for it. 

This is not to say that free trials or products are bad.  It just means that to make such a distribution device successful, you need to think of what your end-goal is – upgrades, add-on services, unseating the competition, seeding the market, or whatever.  The “free” part needs to be a piece of a much bigger strategy – one which includes making the customer successful with the “free” trial or product and a path to eventually getting revenue from that customer.  You’re just not going to make it up in volume.

Check it out.


 September 25th, 2006  
 General Business, Marketing, Selling  
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Not a Site You See Every Day

A B-2 bomber flying over Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA (home of the New England Patriots) on opening day.  The non-reflective surfaces of the plane combined with the fact that most of the light was coming from above it prevented the visibility of any real detail.  Even the close-up pix I took look like I glued a triangular piece of construction paper on a photo of the sky. 

I love fly-bys.  Truly awe-inspiring.

 September 23rd, 2006  
 Misc Thoughts, Patriots  
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A Day with Vista RC1

I took the plunge yesterday and installed Vista RC1.  My goal was to see if I could switch to it as my primary OS.  I had played with previous beta releases, but gave up on them quickly as they became too difficult to test.  After hours of loading the latest release and the applications I use everyday and subseqently trying various combinations of activities, I concluded that while it has come far and is a very good step up from XP, it’s not ready for prime time yet.

First, installation was a snap.  Completely unattended and when I came back ALL the drivers for my hardware had been found and loaded.  Others may not have such luck, but it’s not like I’m running totally run of the mill equipment.  Vista even found audio and video driverrs for an old television tuner that I have in my machine.  Easy installation continued when I loaded up the latest beta of Office 2007, too.  A few clicks and I was up and running (OK, after some install time, of course).  Obviously, Office worked great with Vista.  Something I can’t say for all applications.

I next tried to install Directory Opus, my can’t-do-without file manager and Explorer replacement.  Pictures and icons might be good for some, but I’m so used to thinking about directory structures as trees, there’s nothin’ like a good textual file manager.  It wouldn’t install.  It seems others have gotten it to work, but not without some registry hacking that I’m not willing to do right now.

Next, I tried to copy saved files from a USB memory stick (Corsair Flash Voyager).  I backup all critical files on my system to a USB stick.  When I tried to restore them to the new Vista installation, Vista didn’t want to work with the encryption program needed to read the data from the device (the standrad Corsair encrytion program).  All kinds of installation problems.  Some of these were attributed to InstallShield, but after applying InstallShield’s patch, nada – still couldn’t get the encryption program running and, therefore, couldn’t read the data.

So now I didn’t have the data I needed and I was missing my favorite way to see that data.  All with workarounds, of course.  I copied the files from XP (on the same dual-boot machine in another partition) to my server then down to the new Vista partition – all requiring several re-boots of the machine they shared.  Using the built-in Explorer, I saw the files and could manipulate them.

Testing an even higher hurdle, I installed several audio and video editing programs next.  Happily, they all installed.  Several refused to run or gave spurious errors while trying to run.  I spent some time playing with compatibility modes, but that didn’t seem to change anything. Some worked.  Others didn’t.

My last test was with the installation of the latest release of the ACDsee Photo Manager, my favorite photo organizing software.  I had several hiccups during the installation, but it did install.  Once installed, though, it ran pretty slowly.  I’m not sure if that was because certain components didn’t load correctly, or there is still a ton of debug code in RC1 that’s slowing it down.  There were other functions, outside of ACDsee, that also seemed slow to me during my testing.

I’m afraid that after those strikes, I lost my ambition to keep throwing more applications at it.  I was impressed with the look and feel (blown away at points, actually) and the way a lot of the built-in functions of the OS worked seemlessly.  Graphically, it looks fantastic.  I think a lot of what is under the covers is more intuitive and readily accessible for those who are interested in playing or manipulating.  It’s easy to see options and functions taken direclty from UNIX and MAC OS – selectively chosen features that work nicely in the Windows context.  Even though my tests showed me that it’s not ready to leave Microsoft’s hands, my playing has turned up my interest in the release of Vista a notch.  I think there’s a lot to look forward to in the new OS.

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 September 20th, 2006  

Really, Really Bad Timing

It’s September 19, 2006 and the Thai military have just staged a coup to overthrow the Prime Minister.

Settling down into my evening routine, I casually cracked open my fresh-off-the-press copy of this month’s Conde Nast Traveler.  The big story in the magazine:

“Wish You Were Here?  35 Thai Beach Hotels Under $200”

Something tells me that better bargains can be found now . . .

 September 19th, 2006  
 Misc Thoughts  
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Gadget Review – Garmin Edge 305

I admit it, I’m a data junkie.  I’m a firm believer in the fact that you can’t improve what you can’t measure.  So, I measure everything I can – it’s much cheaper than getting professional help with my obsession.  In cycling, my favorite activity, there are loads of things to measure in the hope of improving performance – power (wattage), heart rate, speed, cadence, ascent/time, elevation, temperature, wind speed, etc.  I’m constantly on the lookout for tools to help me capture this data.  For a few years now, I’ve relied on my trusty HAC4 cycling computer to collect this information.  This spring, though, Garmin delivered its second generation of cycling GPS devices that looked to add even more information gathering capabilities to my cycling experience.  I had to have one.

The Garmin Edge 305 is first, a GPS device.  Unlike previous Garmin cycling computers, though, it adds many other functions in addition to its GPS capabilities.  It is larger than most cycling computers, but it’s not too large to mount on your stem.  Unlike most computers, it is completely wireless, too.  The speed/cadence sensor is mounted on the rear wheel and are a combined unit.  I purchased the combo (package pictured above) – it includes the head unit, the speed/cadence sensor and the heart rate strap, but you can buy the head unit by itself or separately with just HR or cadence.

When combined with the included Garmin Training Center software (runs on your PC), it is a nice data gathering system that lets you capture data on speed, cadence, ascent/descent, elevation, HR as well as drawing a map of your journey using Garmin’s own mapping software.  When combined with Garmin’s MotionBased online service (free for basic use), you also get a very nice implementation of Google Maps to show your ride route.

HR vs. Elevation from Garmin Training Center

Because of an injury earlier this year, I haven’t gotten in nearly as many miles as I usually do.  I did, however, have a chance to use the Edge 305 in Europe for a week (without HR or cadence) and on several rides in the last few weeks (used as a whole system).  Here are my observations:


  • Very small device for so much functionality
  • GPS locks onto satellites quickly (uses new SiRFstarIII receiver)
  • No wires!
  • Atmospheric altimeter – previous devices used GPS triangulation to calculate altitude which was usually wildly incorrect.  This is much better, although is never completely accurate (my HAC4 was much better at this)
  • Speed sensor takes over for GPS in measuring speed when GPS loses signal – required for the type of rides I do where many of the streets are densely tree-lined
  • Stores track and elevation data so that you can use it to race against yourself or just use it for navigation (no visual map, just the path)
  • Configurable displays – a huge number of choices for what data is displayed on each page of the display
  • Garmin Training Center and MotionBased are very easy to use with a quick and easy USB connection between your PC and Edge 305


  • Heart rate measurement issues – you can’t see it in the graph above, but my heart rate was, apparently, >240 bpm for a while.  I have a high max HR, but it obviously isn’t that high.
  • When the GPS is blocked and the unit is relying on the speed sensor, it seems to be reading the speed a couple of MPH too low.  This may be a calibration issue – it judges the diameter of the wheel with a GPS reading.
  • Both my HR strap and my speed/cadence sensor were DOA out of the box.  After no response from Garmin customer support when I sent multiple emails, I stuck it out on the phone for a while and they agreed to send me new units.  These worked as advertised.
  • Batteries – the batteries in my HR strap and speed/cadence sensor were dead when I got them.  The battery in the speed/cadence sensor has drained on me twice in my limited use already.  This thing clearly suck a lot of power.  Expect to replace them often (standard CR23032 batteries)
  • Head unit battery life is not great – about a century worth.  Depending on how you use it, I wouldn’t expect more than 8 hours at the max.
  • MotionBased doesn’t accept an upload without GPS data – can’t capture information for a ride on a trainer, for example.  Garmin Trainer Center works fine for this.
  • No temperature (minor nit – MotionBased looks temp up when you upload)

While the cons outnumber the pros, I still like this device.  It’s not hugely better than my HAC4 was, though. Of course, if you’re in to the GPS data, there is no comparison – there are loads of things you can do with the GPS data that simply wasn’t even available on other devices.  Consider the price, which is high, along with your real need or desire for GPS data as part of your data-gathering before you jump to this unit.  It’s cool . . . just not a slam-dunk.

 September 17th, 2006  
 Cycling, Gadgets  

My Day at the Track in a Family Sedan

After years of being badgered (well, encouraged may be a better word) by friends about attending various club track events, I recently succumbed to their tempting descriptions and attended my first driver education event at NHIS (New Hampshire International Speedway). My tried and true excuses about time, distance and not having the appropriate vehicle had virtually all been addressed with some early planning, my proximity to the track and my relatively recent acquisition of a four-door Mercedes sedan.

“What? You’re taking that car out on the track?” is a refrain I heard frequently as I prepared for my first real driving experience. While a friend involved with the Club (the New England Region, NER, if the Porsche Club of America, PCA) told me it would be cool, the few comments I got from others combined with the staring and pointing as I arrived at the track added to the nervousness and apprehension I already had concerning the day. I was already worried that I might hurt myself or someone else or perhaps, and more likely, bend my car. Now, people that know way more than me were implying that I might be a few cards short of a whole deck. They had the look of people about to watch a dare-devil about to perform a death-defying stunt – there’s entertainment value in success or failure. Maybe a bit more in failure . . .

To be fair, the family sedan I refer to is a 2006 Mercedes CLS55 AMG. While it’s certainly not a huge car, it needed most of its 460+ horsepower to motivate its 4,500 pounds of girth around the track. It also didn’t hurt that the car has front brake discs the size of large serving platters to slow the beast when needed. While it certainly was far from as nimble as the Boxters, Caymans or even 911s on the track, it had capabilities well ahead of those of its driver (me) and was a lot of fun.

The Porsche fanatics at the event didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t driving one of their babies.  In fact, there were a few Miatas, BMWs and even an Acura and a Mustang.  The event was strinclty about learning how to drive a high perfrmance car fast, and everyone was there for the same purpose.  Newbies like me spent the day with an instructor in the passenger seat.  My instructor was terrific – just another car nut – and he made the experience a blast. 

In the end and, as usual, all the energy wasted on nervousness and concern about my car turned out to be silly. The entire experience was great. I didn’t hurt anyone, at least not physically, and my car’s frame and sheetmetal have the same creases and bends they arrived at the track with. The people of the NER of the Porsche Club of America were all great – not only nice, but incredibly interested in making high-performance driving more accessible and safe to anyone interested.

If you have the desire and get the chance to do it sometime (check for local clubs), it’s really hard to beat for what amounted to about $160 for the day.  About as much legal fun as an adult can have.

 September 17th, 2006  
 Stuff with a Motor  
 1 Comment

As a Company Evolves, So Must Its Leadership

Daniel Scocco over at Innovation Zen has written a great post titled, Innovation is a 2-Level Game.  The post discusses how the leadership, management, structural and innovational needs of a company change over time and how those changing needs are often ignored.  From the post:

“For example take the Forbes 100 Index between 1917 and 1987; out of the 100 companies ranked in the starting year 61 ceased to exist and only 18 managed to stay in the list, of those 16 underperformed the market average (7.5%). Only General Electric (7.8%) and Eastman Kodak (7.7%) managed to generate returns above the average.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Daniel and have seen (and been involved with) companies that have made this mistake, especially after experiencing early success.  It’s easy to think that the skills and capabilities that got the company to the successful execution of its first stage are going to be the same ones required to achieve equivalent success in its subsequent stages.  That assumption is, generally, wrong. 

Most often, new skills and strengths are needed because the fundamental needs of the business change.  This is not to say that there needs to be a new management team, although sometimes this is exactly what’s needed.  It does mean that the management team must understand the changing requirements of the company and needs to adapt their efforts and capabilities to meet them.

I would make one small change to Daniel’s statement, though.  I don’t think it’s a 2-Level Game.  In my experience, it’s an n-Level Game, where n is dependent upon the amount of time the company exists, the fluidity of the market(s) it serves and the breadth of the capabilities of the management team.  The bottom line remains the same, though – long-term success takes a different set of skills, strategies and often, resources, than those needed to achieve initial success. 

 September 16th, 2006  

So, You Want to be Wealthy?

As a parent of quickly-growing teenage kids, I find myself thinking about the difficult time the next generation is going to have in keeping up with their parents financially.  Eventually (I hope), my kids will find their passion – something they love to do and want to spend the rest of their lives doing.  Whether or not they’ll be able to make money at whatever they choose, though, makes me a bit nervous.

Yes, I believe money does sorta buy happiness.  Or, as I heard someone recently say, money at least lets you rent it for a while.  It’s not that I think that true happiness comes from money; money is not sufficient for happiness.  It is greatly necessary for it, though.  Assuming that this blog is blocked in China (I’m sure the Chinese government could care less about my drivel, I’m thinking more about blanket censorship), most of the rest of us live in capitalistic societies.  Let’s face it, it’s just harder to be happy without money when you’re among practicing capitalists. 

To be clear, the problem isn’t capitalism, which I love and believe in, it’s simply my belief in the prospects for future economic growth and expansion versus the same historically.  In my view, there’s just no way that we’re going to see the same rates of positive change we saw in the last 100 years in the next 100.

So, what do I advise my kids to do?  How do I steer them toward their futures?  The mere fact that I ask this question implies that I believe that I have the power to do this.  I’m sure this is a naive concept (they are teenagers, after all) but one I’m not going to give up without a fight.

With these thoughts running through my head frequently these days I jumped on a link in a post by Jeff Cornwall that referenced an article in the Dallas Morning News titled, Are You Wealthy?  It’s all Relative.

The author of the article states many interesting facts and figures about the definition of wealth these days, but more interesting to me were his thoughts on the sources of wealth.  From the article:

“Citing data from other sources, Mr. Murphy observed that 50 percent of all households with a net worth of $1 million to $10 million were business owners. But 76 percent of those with $10 million to $50 million owned a business, and 89 percent of those worth more than $50 million owned a business.”

If this holds up over time my parental urging needs to morph into something like: find the set of pursuits in the intersection of what you love to do and what others are willing to pay for you to do.  Then, build a business around it.

Or, after college, they could always just move back in with their parents.  Yikes!  I love you, but how can I miss you if you never go away.

 September 15th, 2006  
 Misc Thoughts  
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