Saturday, April 12, 2008

Is McCain a Cylon?

I couldn't stop laughing when someone pointed out the similarities between Senator John McCain and Colonel Saul Tigh of Battlestar Galactica.


Both are balding, gruff, tortured war heroes with gravelly voices and younger blonde wives. Of course, I don't think McCain is also an alcoholic who had to poison his own wife when she betrayed us to genocidal intelligent machines, so there are at least a few differences.
But if McCain starts authorizing the construction of autonomous killer robots, you'll have to wonder....

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"One Pair of Glasses": FSJ Nails Valley Arrogance

Is there a better blogger than Dan Lyons' Fake Steve Jobs?

Today's post obliterated the fatuousness of how the Valley believes it can solve the world's problems.

"Bob Metcalfe thinks we'll solve global warming if we take our cue from the Internet." At some show in Boston he "laid out his vision of the `EnerNet,' the concept of applying the lessons of building the Internet to the energy business."

Um, right. The way to solve global warming is to follow the example of the Internet. Just like Andy Grove says the way to fix the pharmaceutical industry is to follow the example of the chip industry. And Nicholas Negroponte thinks the way to solve poverty is to hand out laptops.

I call it the "one pair of glasses" theory. You see it all the time. People know one thing and they think that this one thing can be applied to every problem, because it's the only way they know how to look at the world. They've got one pair of glasses.

Usually the results are just silly but this stuff can be dangerous in the hands of guys who've become fabulously rich with their one pair of glasses and now have too much free time on their hands. (eg, Metcalfe and Grove.) Experience has convinced them that their one pair of glasses is a super-duper magical pair that never fails. And now they've piled up enough money to make themselves into a huge pain in the ass.

But wait, it gets better:

But the fact that some guy invented some computer networking protocol thirty-four years ago doesn't exactly make him an expert on anything else. In fact I'd say Bob has no more standing on global warming or climate science than he does on brain surgery or black holes or the mating habits of silkworms. Nevertheless he'll go on making investments in greentech and giving speeches and mucking around and fucking things up for a while alongside Richard Branson and the rest of his dream team, which includes veterans of Google, Paypal, and Wikipedia, who will of course tell you that the way to solve global warming is to copy Google, Paypal and Wikipedia.

I'm reminded of a conversation that a friend overheard, during a particularly heated school board meeting. One of the VCs present stood up and beseeched the others, "Look, why don't you just let *us* fix it. We're smart people. We know how to ask the right questions."

You simply have to marvel at the egomania of someone who thinks that VC experience or a Harvard MBA qualifies you to answer any question.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Mind of an Angel Investor

Here's a couple of quick hits on how I view my charter as an angel investor. Originally posted as a comment on Infectious Greed.

1) My #1 job as an angel investor is to help the company raise money. That means introductions and coaching, but it also means not doing anything to screw up the financing once the VCs are interested.

2) If I wanted to run the company, I'd start it myself. My goal is to avoid getting involved in operations. I'm there to provide advice and contacts.

3) If a company can raise VC money without any help from me, I'd certainly love to invest, but I can't see why they'd want me in the deal. It's my job to find those diamonds in the rough that can, with some intelligent polishing, become VC funded deals.

4) Conversely, that means that I have to be extremely careful in bringing deals to VCs. Reputational capital is hard to come by, and it's all too easy to blow it with a couple of dumb deals.

The Medici Summit

Last month, I was one of the speakers at my friend Frans Johansson's Medici Summit. It was truly an honor to meet so many fascinating people. I think I got more out of my short time there than any other conference I've ever attended.

At any rate, the highlights video for the Summit is now up on YouTube, including an uncredited cameo from yours truly. But to change things up, I wore a *different* blue shirt from the one in the famous Internet bubble video.

Cool Investing/Finance Site Looking for Internet Marketer

I was recently contacted by a new startup that's doing very cool things in the investing/finance space. I've seen a demo, and while I can't tell you what it is, it blows the kind of information available on Yahoo and Google Finance out of the water. Truly innovative stuff.

They've got a great team from the tech and finance side, but they need someone with Internet marketing chops. If you think that might be you, contact Manish at: msjhuns@alum.mit.edu

Quote of the Day: Work, Love, and Money

"The man who does not work for the love of work but only for money is not likely to make money nor find much fun in life."

--Charles Schwab (the founder of Bethlehem Steel, not the pioneering discount broker)

Quote of the Day: Spike Lee on the Clintons

"The Clintons, man, they would lie on a stack of Bibles. Snipers? That’s not misspeaking; that’s some pure bullshit. I voted for Clinton twice, but that’s over with. These old black politicians say, “Ooh, Massuh Clinton was good to us, massuh hired a lot of us, massuh was good!” Hoo! Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins—they have to understand this is a new day. People ain’t feelin’ that stuff. It’s like a tide, and the people who get in the way are just gonna get swept out into the ocean."

--Spike Lee

Is the Blogosphere Changing the Way We Debate? (The Obama-ization of Discourse)

Thesis:
The blogosphere is fundamentally changing the nature of public debate. In this new regime, the way to successfully shape the debate is with supported facts, rather than striking claims.

Argument:
In an interactive and Google-ized world, the old propagandist's strategy of anchoring the debate with extreme claims and ad hominem attacks is more likely to rebound on the propagandist than to succeed.

When every claim can and will be fact-checked by an army of bloggers, and any mis-statement likely to be magnified by hundreds of posts and thousands of comments, any possible benefits of "kitchen sink" strategies are almost certainly outweighed by the strategy's tendency to turn off undecided members of the populace.

Examples:
Hillary Clinton's campaign has practiced the old style of debate--bludgeoning attacks, striking (and often unsupported) claims, ad hominem practices. This style would have worked beautifully in 1992 or 1996, but fails miserably in 2008.

In the old days, these attacks and claims would have been picked up in the media and undergone some level of scrutiny, but largely be allowed to pass.

Today, an army of bloggers examines every fishy statement, and posts every incriminating bit of video to YouTube. If this were 1992, things like Bosnia would likely have been buried.

In contrast, Barack Obama's campaign recognizes the new reality, and rarely attacks Hillary Clinton unless its claims have near-ironclad support. Hillary doesn't support NAFTA? Guess what, there are plenty of eyewitnesses and records to back up the claim.

The same holds true when defending oneself from attack--don't overreach, or the punishment may be severe.

Examples:
Pioneering blogger and writer Shel Israel was the subject of satirical attacks from prankster Loren Feldman. Feldman made a series of videos (using a hand puppet) that satirized Israel's videos for Fast Company and painted him as an incompetent interviewer.

This might have died quickly, except that Israel went on the attack against Feldman and overreached. The facts were already clear--Israel was doing his job, and people could view the videos and judge for themselves. Furthermore, Feldman had registered ShelIsrael.com and posted the videos there--a harsh move that would hardly win him sympathy.

However, Israel did go on the attack, and criticized Feldman with ad hominem attacks. As a result, the blogosphere ended up criticizing the *victim* of harrassment rather than the attacker.

Conclusions:
In this new world, the way to win a debate is with the Joe Friday/Jon Stewart approach. Just the facts, ma'am, but with a dose of humor to make it clear that you can take a joke, and don't take yourself too seriously.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

3 Questions, 3 Answers on AskTheHarvardMBA.com

My first set of questions and answers are now up on AskTheHarvardMBA.com. Here's a quick preview:

Should an aspiring entrepreneur take a part-time job?

The danger in keeping your job, or taking a part-time job, is that you’ll end up neglecting your startup, but in my experience, an aspiring entrepreneur who can’t maintain his or her focus while working a part-time job probably doesn’t have the discipline it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.


Where can I find the best real estate bargains on single family homes?

Armed with these principles in mind, there’s a simple way to find housing markets that are truly bargains. What you’ll need are historical data on housing prices, transaction volumes, median income, and median rent. The ideal time to buy is when:
* Transaction volumes are rising rapidly
* The ratio of home prices to incomes is historically low
* The ratio of home prices to rents is historically low



What should I say when a job interviewer asks me to name my weaknesses?

Both you and the interviewer should be trying to figure out if you are the company’s type, and if the company is your type.

That’s why it’s important that interviewers ask about weaknesses, and that you provide an honest and thoughtful answer. If you abhor math, and the sight of Excel gives you hives, it’s probably not a good idea for Goldman Sachs to hire you. Conversely, it’s probably not a good idea for you to apply for a job there.

Want your question answered? Go to AskTheHarvardMBA.com and submit your question for next week.