Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff


Labor Day Means It’s Time to Pay the Piper

I’m fortunate in that during the summer months here in New England (which translates to, “a short period of time”), I can generally kick back and move at a slower speed than I do during the rest of the year. During this summer, I took this switch to an extreme. Yeah, I got some stuff done – I answered phone calls when they came in, I responded to email eventually and I raised some money to fight cancer by riding in the PMC. Looking back on it, though, I think I got less done this summer than during any other period in my life.

I’m not just talkin’ about the business-oriented stuff either. I cycled less, I played less tennis, I read less, I exercised less, I played golf only once (and that was only 9 holes) and I didn’t blog at all. All those projects around the house? They’re still there. Bills need to be paid? Not today. Stuff needs to be cleaned? It doesn’t smell that bad. Computer needs to be fixed? What’s wrong with pen and paper?

I guess there are some things I did more. I ate more, I drank more and I found myself cruising the web more. Check out my waistline for proof.

I have no excuses. This summer, the gods of weather smiled down upon us here in the northeast corner of the US. We had an incredible summer, weather wise, and for some reason I did my damndest to not take advantage of it.

I’m worried that this is my new status quo; that I’ve become lazy and slow; that I may have to rename this blog “1-Speed” or even “no-Speed.” So, I’m treating the advent of Labor Day as a kick in the ass. The bell has rung and the round has started. It’s time to get back to my fighting weight, step into the ring and throw some punches (OK, maybe I need to cut back on the boxing analogies). It’s time to start getting stuff done. My time as the least productive member of society is over . . . for now, anyway.

 September 7th, 2010  
 Misc Thoughts  

How We’ve Screwed Up Parenting – Reason #243

My good friend Dave sent this to me this morning. I laughed so hard I almost went into convulsions.

Source: SMBC

 July 26th, 2010  
 Misc Thoughts  
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Still a Father, But Not a “Daddy” Any More

When recently watching a father play with his small child, it occurred to me that while I’ll always be a father and hope to remain a “dad,” I’m not a “daddy” any more and I kinda miss that. My kids will turn 20 and 18 this year. They’re adults. They rely on me still, of course, but don’t really need me. No more seeking protection by my side; arms thrown skyward indicating a need to be picked up or climbing into bed between my wife and me during a thunderstorm. Their love remains unconditional, but it’s much less overt and obvious than it used to be. They have real, established lives that don’t involve me and, in some sense are more important than the decreasing portion of their lives they share with their father.

Nothing too sad, here. This is how happy and successful lives as parents work. I’m really, really lucky. My kids have grown in to terrific people and I have a blast spending time with them. I love them and I’m tremendously proud of both of them. My relationship with them is different now, but in its own way, it’s just as rewarding as it was at any time of our lives together. I’m going to work at remaining “dad” to them and relish every minute of it. Someday – hopefully a while from now – the need I have to be “daddy” will be fulfilled when I become a grandparent (yikes!).

For all of you that are still “daddies,” have a blast on Daddy’s Day today. Personally, I’m going to enjoy my Dad’s Day.

 June 20th, 2010  
 Misc Thoughts  

Yes, the US “Won” the Winter Olympics

Apolo Ohno - Flag

37 medals, count ‘em. More than the US has ever won in the Winter Olympics (the previous US record was 34 in 2002 in Salt Lake); the first time the country has won the medal count since 1932 in Lake Placid; and more medals than any other country in the history of the event (Germany won 36, also in 2002). It’s sports. There are winners and losers. That’s the way it works. The US won. Celebrate it, America, you deserve to.

Americans are a funny bunch. For the most part, we want to obnoxiously demonstrate our leadership and strength, but in the end, we spend more time questioning and even regretting our exercise of the same than we do celebrating our success – any success. It seems that as a nation, we’re stuck between the polar extremes of being the ugly Americans and being the most stoic, self-deprecating, politically correct, wussiest humans to walk the planet.

The litany of commentary – both print and digital – discounting the performance of the US Olympic Team at the 2010  Winter Olympics is shocking and disappointing to me. Why is the US so afraid of admitting to itself that it won these Games? It’s not like we would be declaring world domination in sports or anything like that. The timers reported and the judges declared that the American athletes were better in more of the individual events than any other country during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Isn’t that simply the fact?

Speaking of facts . . . for those in the US who feel the need to downplay the US victory, here’s an arrow for your quiver.  According to nationmaster.com, little Norway has kicked our ass in the Winter Olympics, as well as everyone else’s, during the history of the Winter event. The US isn’t close to being the all-time leader in the Games. Now do you feel like you can celebrate a little more? We’re not dominant. In fact, for most of the years that the Winter Olympics have run, the US medal count was only in the single digits.

All-Time Winter Olympic Medals by Country - Source-Nationmaster.com

I think the problem here is that we believe that the correct behavior for the world leader is one of introspection and humility. We’re afraid that if we show hubris, other countries will look down on us as not acting appropriately or as a leader should. While I question whether or not anyone should look at things that way and, for the most part, don’t really support it, I certainly understand the position and concern. I believe, however, that this neglects an internal need for certain behaviors. A need that is stronger now than it has been in over a century in this country.

Americans need to celebrate who we are and what we do. Most Americans barely know how the country leads in many scientific endeavors, in entrepreneurialism, in giving aide to foreign countries. These, of course, are the important things to celebrate, but they’re not visible. For some reason, the governing bodies of the US choose not to make a big deal of them – to make Americans feel proud of what they do. Any CEO worth his or her salt knows the value of helping their employees feel great about what they do. The tangible and intangible benefits are profound. The same thing needs to be done for the citizens of a country.

While sports are clearly less noble than other endeavors, they are visible to all and almost always black and white in terms of success and failure. They are a great tool for creating and celebrating success, especially when the stage is a worldwide one. We should use this year’s victory in the Olympics as a platform to declare success for Americans – admittedly, a minor one – to help us feel good about a real achievement. This is about celebrating within the country, not about bragging outside of it.

Before you blow me off here, let me give you two thoughts. We seemed to have no trouble accepting that the success in this year’s Super Bowl of the New Orleans Saints would be a good thing for the city of New Orleans, right? That one’s easy. No one is afraid of pissing off Indianapolis (the Indianapolis Colts lost in teh Super Bowl) residents by celebrating the success of another city in sports. Is there a reason that winning the Olympics is any different? And to those who are fixated on the idea that countries shouldn’t celebrate the success of sports teams, I ask you to look at the World Cup (soccer). If you want to see patriotic declarations of success that dwarf anything America could possible demonstrate, check out how European and South American countries celebrate when they beat other countries in World Cup games. Whew!

Sorry, I know this is a rant and a long one at that, but while I’m on a roll here, I’d like to rebut various arguments discounting America’s victory at the 2010 Olympic Games.

  • While the US won the most medals, it did not win the most gold medals and gold medals are what really count. First, let me congratulate the Canadians who, with 14 gold medals, dominated the top tier of the podium more often than any other country. Second, the number of golds is not a good indicator of the best team at the Olympics, it is most often a better indicator of the team with the greatest genetic anomalies, seriously. If you look at medal counts over the vast majority of previous Olympics, it’s easy to see that a single athlete is the cause of a high number of gold medal wins. Think Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt in the last summer Olympics. It’s simply not a good indicator of team performance.
  • The US only wins because of events created since 1990. Yes, it’s true that Americans have tended to be better at the higher risk sports added to the Games since the early 90’s. At least up until this winter’s Games. In this year’s games, Australians, Chinese, German, Norwegian, Belarus and certainly Canadian athletes often outperformed the Americans. In fact, the reason the Americans won the Olympics is more because of their performance in classic alpine events and even in some nordic events that have been in the games from the beginning.
  • The US does better in judged events (figure skating, half-pipe, freestyle skiing, etc.) than it does in strictly timed events (slolom, super-G, speed skating, etc.). Statistically this has been true, historically. Most US medals in the past have been in skating and most of those in figure skating. But what does this statement imply – that judged events are somehow invalid and shouldn’t be part of the Olympics? Should style and athleticism not be part of the Olympics? Whatever your take on that question, it is part of the Games. The fact that the US wins its fair share of those events shouldn’t discount the country’s overall achievement.
  • The US Olympic team is larger than most other teams and has an unfair advantage. If a country sends a huge number of non-competitive athletes, does it affect the number of medals it gets? There is almost no effect. One country having more athletes does not keep another country from having more. A country enters its best athletes in an event. If the country doesn’t have a competitive entry, fewer athletes are entered. Simple as that. There is no penalty for having either more qualified athletes or more unqualified ones, it just makes sense to only bring qualified ones and the US has more than many countries. The only potential advantage for a country with more athletes is that when an injury occurs, they are more likely to still be in a position to take a medal in an event. That only happens, of course, of when the replacement athlete is qualified enough to win.

I could go on and on. They’re simply reasons to take a victory and discount it to make it modestly meaningless. We don’t have to be assholes to celebrate and there is huge upside to celebrating successes, even ones this trivial.

Just one final thought. For those of you still desperate to somehow discredit the US victory at the Olympics here’s a reasonable, IMO, way of doing it. One can argue that the only appropriate measure of success at the Games is the number of medals won per capita – that is, the number of medals won in relation to the number of citizens of the country winning them. Let’s face it, at the level of athleticism required to be the world’s best in any sport, the size of the genetic pool is really a factor. With that in mind and, again according to nationmaster.com, Liechtenstein is far more successful at the Winter Olympics over time than any other nation on the planet. The US falls to 17th place. There you go. We suck after all.

 Per Capita Winter Olympic Medals - Source-Nationmaster.com

 March 1st, 2010  
 Leadership, Misc Thoughts  

Startup Visa – Time to Wake Up, America

Don’t even get me started about the sorry state of American technological and economic competitiveness and our complete ignorance of what really made the US a great and growing country since it’s inception. We are so caught up with balancing what is politically correct, what is politically achievable and not disrupting paths to reelection that we have forgotten what it’s like to have dreams and to work towards a significantly better or, at least different, future.  Because we, as a nation, are so stuck dealing with the present, we have found ourselves mired in a tar pit of legislative nonsense that is slowly killing our chances to be competitive with the rapidly expanding world around us. And yes, being economically competitive is, in fact, necessary if we want to maintain our current societal dreams and values.

Because of the work of a variety of smart and dedicated people, including Paul Graham and my good friend, Brad Feld, one small, but critical cog in the complex machine of government regulation has been given a chance to turn. Yesterday, Senators John Kerry (D) and Richard Luger (R), the two ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee proposed legislation to create a Startup Visa. Simply put, anyone from anywhere who starts a company in the US and is able to reasonably capitalize it can get a visa to stay in this country to develop their business here, on American soil with American employees, paying American taxes. That’s a no-brainer you say? You might be surprised to learn that the country is routinely kicking entrepreneurs out, telling them to start their businesses elsewhere.

These aren’t people who are taking away American jobs. They’re entrepreneurs – people who are creating new technologies, services, products and . . . wait for it . . . jobs. It’s a meritocracy, folks, the best stuff wins. Anyone is allowed to play. That is, for now, if you live here.

The new legislation is supported with over 100 signatures from leading venture capitalists and angel investors throughout the country.  I’m honored that my name is included on the list. Not because I’m an investor looking for more deals, but I’m an American with an insanely strong desire to see this country continue to set the pace for the rest of the world when it comes to opportunity and leadership. Relatively speaking, the streets of the US are, in fact, paved with gold. I’d like to see us keep it that way and to provide opportunities for even more Americans to be able to mine it.

BTW, if you want to poke at Congress and have your voice heard on the issue, please yell and scream through your favorite channel or feel free to tweet congress using the Capitol-Dome shaped widget on the left of the page.

 February 25th, 2010  
 Misc Thoughts  

Different Perspectives. Marital Bliss.

Dominican Republic - 11-2009A few days after my wife and I recently celebrated our 21st anniversary we spent about a week in the Dominican Republic with our kids and some friends.  One night, I found myself mesmerized by this fountain (blurry picture above).  As I sat with a drink in hand staring at it, I was spellbound with . . . how it worked.

With the streams so consistent in volume, arc and distance, I pondered if there are separate pumps for each stream.  Or, perhaps, there is a single pump for the entire fountain with the diameter of the piping varying to control the water pressure at each nozzle.  Or, maybe even, there is some air-pressure system that regulates each stream to guarantee all are consistent.

As I was deep in thought considering this critical-to-the-state-of-the-planet problem, my wonderful wife joined me and said, “this fountain is beautiful, isn’t it?”  I responded with an answer directly out of the well–trained husband handbook, “yes it is, that’s what I was just thinking.”  In a sense, this was completely true.  I just saw the beauty of the fountain in a different way. 

I spent the rest of the evening thinking about how lucky I am.  I love the fact that my wife and I have different, but very compatible perspectives on things.  She, of course, rolled her eyes when I explained how I was thinking about it, but she was more than happy to have us both enjoying the view of the fountain each in our own way.  Me too. Turns out our entire relationship works that way.  Different views of life that the other appreciates and respects.  A key to marital bliss?  Who knows, but it works for us.

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 January 24th, 2010  
 Misc Thoughts  

Forget Esperanto, the Village People are the True Int’l Language

I spent the commencement of the new decade with my family and friends on the beaches of the Dominican Republic.  We had a terrific time.  Not only because it was 85 degrees instead of 25, as it was back home, but because of the surprising variety of interesting people who stayed at the place we stayed.  Roughly, 50% of the guests were Russian, 30% were Latin American and the rest were a mixture of Europeans, Canadians and Americans.  While not profound, there were clear cultural differences to observe and it was fun and interesting (impressive, actually) watching the Russians communicating with the Spanish-speaking natives in English.  Once again reminding me how Americans are among the least internationally oriented people on the planet – a rant for another post.

At no time were the cultural differences and similarities more visible than at the New Year’s eve celebration on the beach.  When we got to the beach, people were standing around, talking in small groups and drinking, of course.  A local band was playing but, otherwise, it was all pretty mellow and independent.  That was, until the Village People’s YMCA was played by a DJ.  The beach came alive – people danced with strangers, old Cold War enemies were high-fiving and people who otherwise had no clue how to ask each other the time of day were playing air guitar in their spontaneously formed bands.  Everyone, regardless of where they came from or what their native tongue was knew every word of every verse and, of course, could all spell YMCA with their arms over their heads.

It was great to see and a total blast.  The fun and communication continued when the DJ moved on to Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana but faltered immediately when they shifted back to some very upbeat, but unknown local tunes.  It wasn’t the music, after all, that brought the disparate group together, it was shared experience.   Songs from the Village People and Michael Jackson broke through international barriers long ago and became part of the culture of billions of people worldwide.  Meaningful songs, no, meaningful channels, absolutely – a true international language.  Besides, like most things, the more fun they are, the faster they’re adopted.  Watching the reach and the commonality of those songs was totally fun.  Hearing “It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A” with a heavy Russian accent made the whole trip for me.

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 January 9th, 2010  
 Misc Thoughts  

Hey Service Providers: I’m Givin’ You One Chance to do the Right Thing

Is service continuing to go downhill or am I just getting more picky?  You’d think in a problematic economy, service – just about the easiest thing to quickly improve and adapt – would be great almost everywhere one turns.   After all, it’s an easy differentiator.  I just don’t see it.  In fact, even considering that I’m feeling like a kinder, gentler and more understanding kinda’ guy these days (don’t laugh, compared to 10 years ago, I’m downright mellow), I’m routinely astonished with how bad service has gotten from sectors ranging from corporate professional services to the guy who plows my driveway.

There are many, of course, who after getting poor service immediately punt on the provider.  I can’t fault this tactic since there often are few excuses for poor service and there are other providers to reward with one’s hard-earned cash.  In the past, I was usually in this camp.  More people, however, roll their eyes, keep quiet and continue to use the service provider regardless of the quality of their performance.  Many of us have just come to expect bad service and assume that it’s bad everywhere.  I’m afraid that there are times when I have been in this camp as well.  Just too lazy to make a change or educate the provider to help improve the service for me or others.

A couple of months ago, I decided to take a new and more consistent tack.  Everyone makes mistakes, so if a service provider I’m using makes one, I give him/her a break – exactly once.  I simply inform them of the mistake they made and leave it up to them to do the right thing.  What’s the right thing?  Well, it varies, but at a minimum, it includes a sincere apology and some additional ass-kissing like having the service rendered for free or at a time/place/price that benefits me in some way.  That’s it, you get one shot.  If you choose not to deliver or you’re just too ignorant to, I’ll go elsewhere.  I think it’s a comfortable and fair model that I can implement without hesitation in all circumstances.

This got me thinking about entrepreneurs with service components in their offerings.  Is service seen as a necessary evil or is it part of the differentiating strategy?  When you think of yourself as a product company alone, for example, the services you provide – yes, including basic training and support – can be treated as ugly stepchildren.  Even great products can be completely derailed in the market with something as small as crappy support forum response times.  Services are often the most visible part of the company.  Getting them right can mean the difference between corporate success and failure.  Are you delivering them well?  If you screw them up, are you doing the right thing?

 December 18th, 2009  
 Customer Focus, Misc Thoughts  

My Life Has Changed Forever

I was completely blind-sided.  I thought I was prepared, but I was so very wrong.  It was just going to be another step like any of the infinite others that define parenting and the relationship between a parent and a child.  A father and a son.  I’m so naive.  A few weeks ago and like a million other parents, we dropped our son off for his first year of college.  Moving in was stressful.  Loads to do and everything so new to all of us.  When the cars were unloaded and the new roommates met, we all gathered for the usual orientation stuff.  Parents and their sons and daughters listening to the college president talk about their choices and the next four years.  Then he said it . . . “it’s time to say good bye.”  What?  But . . . but . . . but, the schedule says that’s not for a couple of hours.  Then it all came down on me like a ton of bricks.  Nineteen years of hand-holding, watching his every step, waiting up for him at night, worrying if he was happy, was he going to make the team, was he working hard enough, how was he getting along with his girlfriend . . . it all flooded in.  Tears welled up and, when I hugged him, I completely lost it.  I told him I loved him, would miss him and how proud I am of him.  I bawled.  And then he walked away.

As it turns out, he is completely ready.  It’s me who isn’t.  I was worried about how he would take it and how my wife would deal with it all, but it’s me who came apart at the seams.  I’m already missing him desperately.  I feel lonely and incredibly sad without him.  Stuff around the house reminds me of him or of something we did together.  I know this seems silly.  After all, I saw him just a few weeks ago and I’ve certainly been away from him many times in his life, even for prolonged periods of time.  But this is different.  My son has been my friend, my cohort, my sharer of common interests for so many years I can’t remember it any other way.  I’m just not ready for this change.  A permanent change.

Of course, he’s still my son and he and I will spend loads of time together in the future.  I’m even looking forward to our relationship maturing and being taken to a new level.  Man-to-man, adult-to-adult, responsible individual to, well, you get the idea.  But I’m already missing what we have had.  The spontaneous discussions of why one football player is better than another, how a single crease in the bodywork of a car defines the entire design or what the impact of the latest technology release will be.  I’ll miss our Sundays sitting in the stands at Gillette Stadium watching the Patriots and in a funny way, I’ll even miss only sleeping lightly until I hear his car pull up the driveway late on Saturday nights (well, early Sunday mornings, anyway).  And who am I going to watch Bond movies with?

Some of my angst surely comes from the fact that I want to make the diving catch to rescue him when he’s in a stressful or difficult situation.  I know that I’ve been an overly protective parent at times, but it was really obvious as I left him at school.  How is my 19 year old son going to do it all himself?  Stupid question of course.  He really hasn’t needed to be bailed out in ages.

I jokingly told my daughter (the younger of my two children) that I’m not going to let her go to college.  I don’t think I can take this level of emotional upheaval twice in my life.  But that’s still two years away.  I’m going to go and start preparing myself now.

Taylor, if you’re reading this, which I’m sure you’re not, I love you.  You are a terrific person and you will do great in college.  Always know that your mom and I are here for you.  But, while we’re not around, be safe and make smart decisions.  Have fun and work hard.  That’s the sum of everything I’ve ever wanted to teach you.

 September 18th, 2009  
 Misc Thoughts  

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  
 Misc Thoughts