Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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Aug
24

Using RunKeeper for Cycling

Early this summer, I promised Jason Jacobs, the founder of FitnessKeeper (the creators of RunKeeper), that I would try RunKeeper for cycling.  Well, it’s been a crazy summer and I just got around to it (sorry, Jason).  When we spoke, Jason told me that the company’s focus today is on running, although they plan to add more cycling features in the future.  For now, you can setup RunKeeper for cycling, but it lacks several features available in other cycling computers, namely, cadence, heart rate and power (the first two are widely available, power is more rare).  The lack of these features make RunKeeper less than ideal for cycling right now.

RunKeeper and Garmin 705 That said, the display is big and clear with useful speed, timing and map information.  I rode with my iPhone mounted next to my Garmin Edge 705, which I’ve tested against other cycle-computers and have found it to be very accurate.  The speeds shown by RunKeeper were generally close to the Garmin, but were sometimes a bit higher and sometimes a bit lower.  I would assume that’s an iPhone 3G issue.  The average speed for my 30mi ride was slightly below the Garmin’s reported speed, but pretty close.  Total distances were virtually identical.

I liked how RunKeeper presented the data.  Very easy to read in sunlight.  In fact, I found I was looking at the RunKeeper display more often than the Garmin’s display.  That might have something to do with the screen’s size, but it seems like the gang at FitnessKeeper has put a lot of thought into how one reads data quickly while exercising.  There was no comparison when it came to reading a map.  RunKeeper was waaaay better.  Of course, RunKeeper is online and uses Google  maps, the Garmin is not connected and has all its map info on board.  The Garmin map data is also displayed on a much smaller screen.

Even better than the application itself, the RunKeeper website (which gets its data via automatic upload from the phone – cool) is really nice.  Much nicer than Garmin Connect, Garmin’s attempt at cataloguing similar data.

RunKeeper

Mounting an expensive phone on the handlebars of a bike that vibrates on crappy roads scares people, including me.  I used the RAM Mounts RAP-274-1-AP6U to hold the phone.  The mount is very stable, holds the iPhone like superglue and is cheap (I think I paid about $15 on eBay).  On the downside, it comes with no instructions and it’s pretty bulky.  See pictures.  It wasn’t exactly rocket science to install.

RAM iPhone Mount  RAM IPhone Mount

I know that runners have been downloading the app like hotcakes.  It really is very nicely done.  For cycling, it still needs some work and some help from extra hardware for cadence, heart rate and even power data inclusion.  I don’t know if Apple has opened up the phone enough for this type of hardware to be added (a little ANT+ Sport dongle anyone?).  I’m looking forward to a real cycling version.  It sure would be nice to have ride data, phone and music all in one device.

 August 24th, 2009  
 Will  
 Cycling, Gadgets  
   
 10 Comments
Aug
21

Old School Weather Forecasting

Even though I’m a boater, I generally ignore weather forecasts.  Not they they aren’t important, but in my experience they’re frequently inaccurate or, at least imprecise.  I find myself often waiting around for the forecasted inclement weather to happen, blowing off whatever I had planned for the time.  Unfortunately, it often doesn’t show up or shows up in a much less severe fashion than predicted.  What are you gonna do?  Take the boat out into what becomes the teeth of a storm, or sit around with the boat at dock all buttoned down and everyone safe? 

Of course, like any self-respecting tech guy, I have a myriad of gadgets, web sites and applications to help me determine when the sky is going open up and the water’s going churn. None of them seem to do too much good. 

I still gotta know, though, so I’ve decided to go old school.  This month’s Boating Magazine (September edition, page 15, can’t find it online) has a list of tips to help forecast what the skies are going to do the old fashioned way.  A few ones that I hadn’t heard before are going to be very helpful and no, they don’t include “red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”

  • Smoke on the water – If you’re within site of of anything billowing smoke; a factory, big boat, etc, check out if the smoke dips below the height of the stack.  If so, it means that air pressure is low (lowering air pressure can’t support the soot in the smoke) and a storm is likely coming.
  • Moon rings – Is there a halo around the moon the night before you’re planning an outing?  The rings are caused by ice crystals in high clouds that precede a low-pressure system and rain is probably on the way.
  • Wind on land versus wind over water – Wind over water has less resistance than wind over land.  So, if the wind is blowing 10mph on the land, it’s gonna be blowing significantly harder on the water.

Very cool.  I’ll add these to the ones I know already and the telltale local signs I’ve picked up through experience.  Let’s see if the guidelines of the old sea salts are a better guide than Accuweather, Davis VantagePro, and Al Roker.

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 August 21st, 2009  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 5 Comments
Aug
19

Can Your Organization Handle A Top Notch Employee?

[Danger: football analogies used with abandon in this post.]

As the 2009 NFL season opened, Michael Vick, ex-Atlanta Falcons star quarterback and infamous dog torturer/killer, was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles after spending a short time (too short) in prison.  In my opinion, this situation is proof, once again, that truth is far stranger than fiction.  That the NFL would allow this guy to play again is one thing.  That any team would pick him up is another, incredibly absurd, one.  Of course, NFL teams conveniently ignore wife beating, late-night stabbings in bars and the carrying of unlicensed weapons so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  Alas, this is all fodder for a post on another subject.  For now, I want to discuss the related challenges of the hiring and management of top-notch employees who often know they’re the best, make it perfectly clear to everyone else that they are the best and expect to be subject to a different set of rules just because they’re the best.

Once in a while, you run across people who are not only among the smartest, most capable, and hardest working people you’ve ever met, but they’re also quiet, humble, selfless and unpretentious.  Totally phenomenal.  Think Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots or Payton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts.  In a business context, you hire those people in a minute – whether or not you can afford them.  They add incredible value not only through the specific work they do, but through their actions, reactions, leadership and participation as well.  They have a positive impact on the performance of everyone around them.

Sometimes, though, when you find a person with such talents, they can be arrogant, egotistical and, let’s face it, an asshole.  Do you hire those people as quickly?  Do you sacrifice what your gut is screaming at you to get that level of ability and talent into your company?  My short answer is no, it’s just not worth it (see my previous post, When To Get Rid Of The “Best” People Who Work For You).

But what if you’re in dire straights.  You absolutely, positively need some serious ammunition in the fight against failure.  Do you hire a famous bad boy like Terrell Owens (T.O.) or Randy Moss?  Do you convince yourself that you’re the best manager around and you can handle the wildcat or maybe even tame them?  Can you do what others have not?  Survey says . . . probably not, try to find someone else.

If, however, you are a strong leader and manager and you understand the positives and negatives of what strong individuals can bring to a team, you may have a shot.  Further, if you’ve already built a team that follows your lead and sticks together under the culture you’ve built, it may even be a slam-dunk.

Let’s take a look at the aforementioned cases of Terrell Owens, previously an out of control trouble-maker with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers and Randy Moss, now with the New England Patriots, but previously a problem child with the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings.  Both T.O. and Moss are among the best receivers in the NFL.  They both know it and believe they deserve recognition for it.  They both have a history of playing for themselves before playing for their team and being trouble-makers on and off the field.

T.O. was treated like the team savior at both S.F. and Philadelphia.  He was kowtowed to, given visibility and his demands were met.  Moss had similar experiences at Minnesota and Oakland.  Big babies who were given a free run because of their incredible talent.  What happened next is enlightening.  T.O. went on to play with the Dallas Cowboys where the owner continued the tradition of putting T.O. on a public pedestal and giving the crying baby what he wanted and Moss went to New England, where the owner and coach told him that he was just another cog in the wheel and treated him like everyone else.

Further, and maybe even more importantly, the Cowboys as a team accepted T.O.’s antics where the Patriots, as a team, wouldn’t put up with Moss’s bullshit.  The result is that Moss became a part of the Patriot team and organization, winning a Super Bowl and breaking the NFL receptions record.  T.O., well, T.O. remained T.O. and was unconditionally released (that means kicked out), once again, and was picked up by another NFL team – the Buffalo Bills.  We’ll see how that goes.

The leaders of the Patriots recognized the cost of bringing an egotistical, loudmouth, crybaby onto the team and made it clear to him through words and actions that it wouldn’t be tolerated.  You step out of line and you will be docked pay and put on the bench.  The team comes before you . . . always.  But the Patriots had an even stronger tool, the team itself.  Apparently, the already tight and focused team wouldn’t put up with any crap.  When there is no support for bad behavior and no ears to listen to out of line complaints or demands, even prima donnas get lonely pretty fast.  The team’s leaders (primarily head coach Bill Belichick) had instilled a culture in the team that was a strong bonding element.  Outsiders have to adopt the culture or the team, itself, will force them out.

So, the questions you need to ask yourself before hiring a notorious super-contributor/bad-boy(girl) are whether you’re a strong enough leader and have you built a strong enough (culturally aligned) team.  If you are and you have, you can probably bring anyone you choose in as a contributor.  If you aren’t (yet) or you haven’t, bringing such a person in will lead to big problems.  If you decide to anyway, you may want to line up that trade ahead of time.

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 August 19th, 2009  
 Will  
 Leadership, Management  
   
 8 Comments
Aug
17

Ignoring Red Flags in Investing

I’ve been an active angel investor for about 15 years now.  Like most non-professional investors, I go into each investment fully and unrealistically expecting it to return some huge multiple of my original money.  While I’ve certainly made enough investments to know better, having high expectations for every investment I make is only one of the relatively frequent mistakes I make when investing.  I’m a slow learner.  Very slow.

Don’t get me wrong, in the end, my investments have delivered relatively nicely.  Way more failures than successes (way more), but with enough successes to more than cover losses and provide a reasonable return. Some might even say a good return.  That said, I’m pretty sure that no one who knows what they’re doing in terms of investing is gonna ask me for advice any time soon.

Back to the mistakes part . . . this week, we closed down the company I most recently invested in (names will be withheld to protect the innocent, not that anyone involved is innocent).  Looking back, there were loads of signs that the company was going to fail or, at least struggle, from the beginning.  I ignored them all.  In the end, I can only blame myself.  Not for the company’s failure, of course, but for being involved in the first place.  If you have stumbled on this post via a search or have read this far and actually think you can learn something from me or my experiences, here is a list of obvious red flags that I ignored in making this investment that resulted in my losing a bunch of money relatively quickly.

  • I fell in love with the technology – this one is a classic.  I saw the technology (image processing), did a minor amount of due diligence and thought it would change the world.  My passion for photography drove me here.  That, by itself, isn’t a bad thing, but as soon as you feel love, you better find someone who knows what they’re doing to look at it and give you an objective perspective.  I didn’t.  At lest not enough.
  • I didn’t have a solid grasp on the market – while this was a software play (broadly, something I actually know a  little about), the target market was cell phones.  Cool, right?  Made sense.  A zillion devices sold every year, cell phones replacing compact cameras, more processing power moving to phones, etc.  Life looked good.  I didn’t understand what a dog-eat-dog world the mobile device ecosystem is.  Handset producers, carriers, sensor manufacturers, it’s a mess out there.  I shoulda found all this out before I wrote the check.
  • The valuation was too high – duh!  Well, I suppose that is a red flag, but there’s nothing subtle about it – it’s more like a fact.  In investing, one runs across valuations that are out of whack all the time.  Depending on the situation, you pay the price or not.  The real red flag was something more subtle.  The other investors in the deal (all with more money in it than me), who had already set the price, were all relatively unsophisticated investors.  That’s not to say that they weren’t good business people, but they were newbie investors.  Note to self, avoid deals crowded with investors who have not invested much before, especially when they’re taking the lead on terms.  Stupid, just stupid.
  • When I invested and took a board seat, the other two outside investors were from the same company as the two lead engineers, making 90% of the employees coming all from the same place –  let me be clear, each one of these people was excellent and the company never experienced the problem that I initially feared of the group steering the company’s direction.  The issue here is simply a judgment call by the CEO which I disagree with.  If you’re trying to do something new, why load up with something old?  Maybe involving one person from the other company would make sense, but four?  I questioned this when I came on board and chose to let it slide.
  • While being “recruited” as an investor and board member, the team made some claims that they couldn’t fully substantiate when questioned about them – now you’re saying, “well you’re an idiot for investing if that was happening,” and you’re right.  See the first bullet.  Shame on me.
  • The founder/CTO was unproven – A bright guy with an unremarkable credentials.  Not that every startup CTO should have cured cancer before their new endeavor, but for a guy his age (not a kid any more) he should have had a track record of successes, even if they weren’t entrepreneurial.  This one’s not a slam dunk, but it was another flag that occurred to me and I chose to ignore.
  • Company management didn’t see startup activity the same way I do – work hard, juggle lots of plates without dropping any, take pay cuts when required and sacrifice most of the rest of your life while getting the enterprise going.  From the outside, the management team seemed to treat their work in the company like a job, not a commitment.  To be fair, I really didn’t see this, and other problems like it, until after I had made the investment.
  • I had previously invested in a company founded by the CEO where I had lost a load of cash – again, itself, not a reason to avoid the opportunity, but it should have created more dissonance in my thoughts than it did.  I didn’t even spend time to consider the causes of the previous failure and how they related to the CEO.  In retrospect, it’s still a little hazy, but taken in concert with all the others, it should have been a bigger deal to me.

Yeah, yeah, I’m an idiot.  It’s not unusual to run across a red flag or two when looking at a new venture, but when the list is long enough to enumerate, well . . . In the end, it was easy for me to dismiss each of the issues individually.  I neglected to look at them as a whole.  My bad.

Obviously, the sum of the issues and their meta-meaning wasn’t quite as clear to me before I made the investment.  My point is, though, that it should have been, especially given the number of investments I’ve made.  I feel like an moron.  I suppose the only good thing about it is that I didn’t let it run its course.  The company will return its remaining capital to its investors once all obligations are paid out.  It’ll be a small percentage of the funds invested (less than 25% of what was invested), but at least it’s not zero.  I just hope I learned something from this experience.  As my good friend Brad Feld likes to say, “I’ll only make that mistake three more times.”  I’ll tell you next time if I even learn that quickly.

 August 17th, 2009  
 Will  
 Investing  
   
 9 Comments
Aug
09

My Annual Summer Injury

I spend most summers with my family on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.  This year, we haven’t spent much time at the “Lake,” but this hasn’t disrupted my pattern of yearly visits to the local hospital in Wolfeboro.  There was the summer with the broken neck (a smith machine fell over on me at a gym – long story) and another with a broken toe (kicked a door stop in bare feet).  And, last year, I fractured a couple of ribs (fell off my bike).  I’ve been there so frequently for broken bones and torn tissue that they take me aside to ask if I’m being abused at home.  No kidding.  Last year I said, “only psychologically.”  They didn’t think that was funny.

Mallet_fingerSo, for this year’s injury I ruptured my extensor tendon on the middle finger of my left hand.  The injury is commonly known as Mallet Finger.  What the hell is that?  That’s what I said too.

The extensor tendon is the tissue that basically holds up the part of your finger closest to the finger’s tip.  Without it, there’s nothing to lift that part of the finger.

I did it while cleaning, wiping down a completely flat surface.  The tip of my finger rubbed the surface, the finger bent back and I heard an audible (loud, actually) snap.  My stomach turns just thinking about it.  It grosses me out.  After the initial pain, I felt nothing.  And, this is from a guy who has the lowest threshold of pain on the planet.  When I looked at my finger, though, I saw the picture above.  Try as I might, I couldn’t lift the end of my finger.  I tried lifting it with my other hand and it moved up and down without difficulty.  Strange feeling.

The treatment is for the finger to be kept in this little sling thing for 6+ weeks.  The sling holds the tip of the finger straight so that the tendon can heal in the correct position.  Obviously, the sling has to be worn 24/7.  Pain in the ass.  There’s no real pain, but tying shoes, typing and shifting and braking a bicycle are a bit difficult.

Ya know, now that I think about it, I actually hope this is this year’s injury.  I hate to think that something worse might come along . . .

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 August 9th, 2009  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 10 Comments
Aug
04

Riding Across Italy to Cure Cancer

PMC RAI - Click to Enlarge On Sunday, I completed a 342 mile, 7-day bike ride across Italy.  I had two simple goals: to raise money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund and to survive.  Thanks to the help of many caring donors, I raised $6,400 for cancer research and care this year (so far).  Since you’re reading this, I obviously achieved my second goal as well.  The ride is an official route of the Pan-Mass Challenge, an annual ride across Massachusetts (yeah, sort of a PIC – Pan Italian Challenge – instead of PMC) established 30 years ago to raise money for Dana Farber.

The ride was orchestrated by the terrific Ciclismo Classico that put together a special PMC version of their their standard ride across Italy tour – combining their final four days into just two.  We started our journey in Fano, on the Adriatic and ended near Monte Argentario on the Mediterranean.  We had two incredible guides (Massimo and Marcello – how perfect is that?) who kept our minds off the gallons of lactic acid flooding our legs, climbing loads of steep grades in 100 degree heat while crossing the country.

The first day of the ride was really just a warm up to test out bike fit – a short loop around Fano.  The four subsequent days were made up of what would seem to be reasonable rides – 40 to 50 miles.  The last two days were setup to mimic the PMC.  Long rides both days, about 80 miles each.  All doable distances of course, aside from the fact that there were loads of really steep hills including the Apennine mountain range that added to the challenge.  We climbed roughly 25,000 feet over the 6 days of regular riding (not including the short loop on the first day).  According to my bike computer, I burned something like 22,000 calories during the week.  The food was so good though, I think I consumed about 35,000 calories (OK, I admit that more than a few of those calories came in liquid form).

In retrospect, while there were a lot of hills, some of them pretty steep, they weren’t the biggest part of the challenge.  The heat was.  Man, was it hot – che caldo!  Italian roads seem to be missing any shady spots, too.  So almost all of the climbing was done in direct sun and a lot of it in the middle of the day. 

We stopped in terrific cities and towns and generally had a chance to spend an hour or two when our legs permitted to check out where the day’s ride ended.  Gubbio, Spello, Assisi, Urbino, Orvieto and loads of small towns in between.  Simply gorgeous places.  Man, the Romans built a lot of stuff.

Anytime one is thinking about crossing Italy, one has to consider the Apennines, the spinal column of the country.  It’s a mountain range that runs north to south and is sorta in the way if you’re looking for an easy way across.  I think our route was along about the lowest altitude path available.  Not quite as flat as a billiard table, but no shear, vertical mountain faces or anything like that.

This was my sixth PMC.  Those of you who know me, know that I’m a data junkie and collect as much data about my rides as possible.  Here’s this year’s data, a lot different from my previous Massachusetts-based PMC rides:

Money Raised $6,400 (so far)
Miles 342
Hours 25
Altitude Gained 25,000 ft
Average Speed 13.9 mph
Calories 22,000

Cancer has had a bigger impact on me this year than it has at any time in my life.  My Aunt died of lung cancer earlier in the year and my mother, who is a cancer survivor, is very ill right now.  All this made it even more appropriate, in a strange way, for me to have to work my ass off in this charity event.  In a funny way, this ride was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Thanks so much to all my sponsors and supporters and to everyone on Twitter and Facebook who checked in with encouraging messages.

Oh yeah, pictures.  I almost forgot.  Most of them can be found here.  More coming later.

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 August 4th, 2009  
 Will  
 Cycling  
   
 11 Comments