Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Day In The Life Of Chris Yeh

Here's a peek behind the curtain for anyone who's curious about life as a father, blogger, startup guy, and the world's poorest angel investor....

6:00 AM
Awakened by the children, who immediately lobby for 1) hot cocoa, and 2) watching our new Pokemon DVD. They're effective lobbyists.

6:15 AM
Start the morning routine by plugging into the holy trinity of information: Email, RSS, and Twitter.

6:30 AM
First Tweet of the day, triggered by SLAM's ridiculous decision to rate Shaquille O'Neal ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the list of all-time greats. I love Shaq, but there's no way he comes out ahead of a 6-time MVP and 6-time champion.

7:00 AM
Make breakfast for the family: Buttered toast for Jason, Honey Nut Cheerios for Marissa, Hot Pocket for my wife, Alisha. I opt for Honey Nut Cheerios as well.

7:13 AM
First blog post of the day (Parenting Hack: Pick Your Kids Up From School), on one of my favorite topics--parenting and work-life-balance for entrepreneurs. Definitely something that's on my mind a lot!

7:38 AM
Second blog post of the day (Business Idea: Offshoring to Detroit). While changing in the bedroom, I flipped on CNN and saw that Detroit's median home sale price last month was $5,000 (due to lots and lots of foreclosures). That idea combines with a conversation I had at the SDForum event I hosted on Monday, where an outsourcer told me his company was contemplating building a US development center to house overseas developers, due to the US government's increasing tendency to encourage buying American.

Bingo--Detroit is the new Bangalore. I decide to blog the thought before I forget it. Most people don't notice that my Tweet about the post labels it a "Modest Proposal."

7:45 AM
Take my dog Kobe for a walk. PBworks' CEO and VP Sales are on a tour of major customers around the country, but I noticed before I left the house that they had both sent me a number of emails, so I figure they're not in a meeting. Call up the VP Sales and get an update on the trip, which I learn is going very well.

8:10 AM
Drive the kids to summer camp. Mini-van = Maxi-fun!

8:30 AM
Finish the drop-off, hop onto a phone call with an entrepreneur that was referred by a friend. He's a first-time entrepreneur, but a videogame industry vet. He's got a killer idea with a lot of business model possibilities. As a drive into the PBworks office, I provide him advice on business model, focus, and how to structure his financing. I'll definitely talk with him again. We finish the conversation around 9, after I've already reached the office.

I usually try to spend my commute time on the phone. I hate driving, and talk radio isn't much better. The folks I'm an advisor for all know that I'm on the road at 8:30 and 5:30 every day, and that whoever gets through first has first claim on my time (unless I've made a specific commitment). People really should take more advantage of this. I learned this trick from Anthony Soohoo when an advisor to one of my companies.

9:00 AM
Another advisory call, this time with a company that's working on an innovative (but practical) communications tool for schools and the surrounding community. They've got a special twist that makes the product a compelling sell. The call is disrupted by Citrix' GoToMeeting...the call had been delayed a day, so the original GTM coordinates no longer work. Ugh. The good news is that the company is making good progress, and process issues that had previously slowed development seem to be ironed out.

Naturally, I type up the meeting notes on the company's PBworks workspace while the call is going on. Every interaction is a chance to model best practices and evangelize!

9:20 AM
Time to start the workday in earnest. Deal with the usual email overload, including responses for an article mentioning PBworks that's going to run in an HR magazine (about the company's innovative practices), and arrangements to interview two job candidates later in the day, one at 10:30 AM, the other at 2 PM.

10:00 AM
Meet with Alexandre Lebrun, the founder and CEO of VirtuOz, an exciting company recently founded by my buddies at MDV. The company uses AI to replace customer service people with chat bots. The thing is, the chat bots are really good--in most cases, better than a real person. I try out the product live on Chegg (click on "Ask Nina"), and am really impressed. Whenever a demo impresses me, the company almost always goes on to be a major success. Liking the first demo is how I ended up investing in PBworks (then PBwiki) and Ustream.

VirtuOz started in France, where they had the good fortune of being adopted by the country's leading e-commerce site. The founders have moved the business operations of the company to the US to pursue the Silicon Valley dream. Alexandre tells me that he doesn't miss Paris at all.

VirtuOz has major customers like eBay, and is approaching 8 figures in revenue. The founders are are technical, and they're looking for a VP or Director of Marketing who can work with a blank canvas. I promise to do some poking around in my network for them. I really like this company. It's got great technology, and a very clear value proposition. The only issue will be convincing VPs of Customer Service to replace their people with robots. But I can tell you that CEOs and CFOs will be *very* interested. VirtuOz charges a few cents per chat session; a human operator might be able to handle 10 or so sessions per hour. That means VirtuOz is about 2 orders of magnitude cheaper.

(More on potential candidates for VirtuOz later; if you are interested in the position, let me know!)

10:30 AM
Interview a candidate for PBworks' SE/Major Accounts Manager position. We might end up filling the position in our New Hampshire sales office, rather than in the San Mateo HQ. Makes sense if the person is going to work closely with Sales, and with major customers on the East Coast. Also, New Hampshire is considerably cheaper. I love cheaper.

11:00 AM
Check whether or not I've been called in for jury duty. I've been forced to check in twice a day for the entire week, but it turns out America won't be requiring my services this year. Remarkably enough, I'd never even been required to check in before this. Moving around for school and switching coasts several times will do that for you, I guess. I proclaim to the office, "Once again, I have been able to shirk my duties as an American citizen!"

I also confirm to my PR team that I will have time today to write an article for Chief Learning Officer. How hard can it be to write a 800-word article on bottom-up learning?

11:01 AM
Weekly 1:1 with my marketing manager at PBworks, who is doing an awesome job. I'm sure tons of people would love to steal him from me, but I'm working hard to keep him.

He represents a classic example of my hiring philosophy, which goes all the way back to my days at D. E. Shaw & Co., L.P.: Hire for talent rather than experience. You can't afford both talent and experience; given the choice, I'll take talent 99% of the time. Thanks Charles!

Using PBworks Project Edition makes it very easy to go over his work...we just review all the open and recently closed tasks, and any comments or changes get added to each task as comments or links.

Since we have a little extra time before the company meeting, we also discuss whether or not the Lakers will be able to re-sign Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza. My guess is that the crappy economy will depress the free agent market, and that the Lakers will end up re-signing both of them. Go Lakers!

11:41 AM
Get a call from another entrepreneur I'm advising. The good news is that she's been able to get a bridge in place to last her company until her Series A in the Fall (we spent quite a few conversations on the strategy for accomplishing that). Now the question is what to do about an investor who wants to invest in the A, but doesn't want to contribute to the bridge. I advise her to point out to the investor that if they want to participate in the A, they're going to have to be on the lead investor's good side, and that lead investor isn't happy about their unwillingness to participate in the bridge.

12:00 PM
Our weekly company meeting and lunch. Today it's Mexican food. I've lost 35 pounds in the past year, so I continue my low-carb strategy by eating fajitas with black beans, guacamole, and salsa, but no tortillas or rice. We discuss the company's progress with a special focus on the Project Edition launch. The good news is that prospects who view a custom demo are likely to buy immediately. Hence the need to hire an SE, since right now, I'm doing most of these demos!

1:00 PM
After the lunch, our CTO leads an optional session where he presents the results of the work he's been doing on completely overhauling PBworks' core architecture. Some of the details are beyond me (several times, I preface my questions with the statement, "Bear in mind that I never went beyond CS106A, so please forgive my ignorance..."; in my defense, I did get an A+ in that class) but what I take away is that once the overhaul is done, the performance of PBworks' infrastructure will improve anywhere from 10X to 200X. That sounds good to me.

The only downside is that I ruin my low-carb efforts by munching on three of our CTO's mother's homemade chocolate chip cookies. Oh well, I'll be going to the gym later anyways.

2:00 PM
Another interview with an SE/Major Accounts candidate. I'm calling her on her drive home from work. I think our CEO is talking with her on Saturday. No rest for the wicked!

2:30 PM
Back to regular work.
  • Confirm an interview with "Inside Counse" regarding the PBworks Legal Edition.
  • Send an email to our CEO and VP Sales with my impressions of the two candidates I interviewed.
  • Review the resume of a potential intern and send her a note asking for a meeting.
3:15 PM
Okay, time to turn my attention to the article for Chief Learning Officer. Discover to my horror that my memory was faulty, and that CLO wants a 2,000 word article. Which I promised to deliver to my team today. Crap, there go my plans to hit the gym for a run.

Remember, I haven't even started doing the research for the piece, let alone writing it!

Within 15 minutes, I've conducted a series of Google searches on "open source education" and related terms. Time to find some good quotes. Long ones, preferably!

5:25 PM
2 hours and 10 minutes after starting the research, I put the finishing touches on the article. 2,200 words. I celebrate with a Tweet: "Just finished writing a 2,200 word piece on the future of corporate learning. 2 hours. Damn, I'm good." Time to shut down and head out the door.

5:30 PM
As I hit the road, call an old HBS classmate. We celebrate the fact that both PBworks and her company were named to BusinessWeek's "Fifty Tech Startups You Should Know." Then we gossip about all the companies that shouldn't be on the list. She's a former VC who recently made the shift back to the entrepreneurial side. VCs always have all the best gossip.

I also describe what VirtuOz is looking for, and she comes up with two other classmates who might be a good fit. I'll reach out to them and see if they're interested.

The conversation continues through the drive home, and as I put away the fresh fruit and produce that my wife picked up at the market. As we talk, I rinse and put away the fresh strawberries, cherries, and grapes. The family also arrives home from the park.

6:25 PM
After my previous call ends, I discover that I've received a message from another entrepreneur for whom I'm an investor/advisor. I call him back. By now, it's 9:25 PM on the East Coast where he lives, but fortunately his wife is on a girl's night out, and won't be back until 1 AM. "I've got a full night of coding ahead of me," he gloats.

We discuss the priorities for his company, which is tackling a major problem that's facing a hot space. It's actually a problem space that's needed a solution for years, and the problem has just kept getting worse and worse.

My advice is to keep focused on the product; in my opinion, if you build a phenomenal product that clearly makes people's lives better, it dramatically simplifies the go-to-market. In the case of this company, once the product is ready, we should be able to take it around to a few influential players, and pretty much get unlimited buzz overnight--the problem is that big and that important.

6:50 PM
Dinner time! Rotisserie chicken drumsticks for Jason, scrambled eggs for Marissa, and chicken salad for Alisha and I. I also have my usual weight-loss gazpacho (in line with my strategy of "pre-eating" before meals).

7:20 PM
Receive a report of possible system slowness from one of my PR consultants. I try the site myself, and encounter slowness, but that might be due to the simple fact that I'm stuck on the lowest possible speed of DSL thanks to the location of my house. Fiber to the home, where are you?

I call up PBworks founder David Weekly, and he kindly troubleshoots. This is pretty cool on his part, especially considering he's just had the maddening experience of getting his car towed.

We run some ping tests and traceroutes, and conclude that it's the fault of my DSL. Maybe it's time to consider Comcast?

7:35 PM
Okay, enough work for one day. After all, it's Friday night. Though I'll bet that the kids wake me up before 6 AM tomorrow morning.

Saturday, 5:40 AM
Yep, I was right.

Appendix: Tweets and Blog Posts

Blog posts:

  • NBA Debate: Top 50 Ballers. Shaq over Kareem? Big O over Magic? Travishamockery! See comment 97 for my thoughts.
  • @nordsieck All munitions are "suicide bombers." Asimov riffed on this masterfully in "The Feeling of Power"
  • Blogged: "Parenting Hack: Pick Your Kids Up From School" Addendum to @sgblank's post, "Epitaph for an Entrepreneur"
  • @sgblank's "Epitaph for an Entrepreneur" is another must-read. "I looked at my kids and never went back."
  • Blogged: "Business Idea: Offshoring To Detroit" My modest proposal for turning Detroit into an offshoring center.
  • Just finished writing a 2,200 word piece on the future of corporate learning. 2 hours. Damn, I'm good.
  • 17-yr-old girl electrocuted while Tweeting in the tub. Her battery was low, so she tried to plug in. deathbytwitter#
  • @peterpham They need to dedicate Red Dawn remake to Swayze. "Avenge me, son! Avenge me!"
  • @thetrystero My wife tells me that while I was full of myself before HBS, I was insufferable during and afterwards.
  • RT @seanpaune: Pixar grants girl's dying wish to see 'Up' Very sweet and touching.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Business Idea: Offshoring To Detroit

Fact #1: As the U.S. government begins to impose more "buy American" provisions on the economy, companies will be pressured to stop outsourcing to China and India.

Fact #2: The median home price in Detroit has dropped to $5,000. That is not a misprint.

I smell an arbitrage opportunity. Why not buy up Detroit real estate and use it to create the American equivalent of Bangalore's corporate campuses? Create an autarky where you bring over Chinese and Indian engineers on H1Bs, house them in corporate housing in Detroit, and still pay them overseas rates.

It shouldn't matter to the employees whether they live in an American hellhole or a foreign one, as long as their needs are provided for, and they get paid the same or more.

Motor City is dead. Long live Bangalore on the Erie!

Parenting Hack: Pick Your Kids Up From School

One simple hack that can help you balance your work with your family is to take on the primary responsibility for picking up your kids from daycare/aftercare.

I’ve always picked up the kids before 6 PM, which forces me to leave the office.

Anyone who wants me to stay later, I simply tell them, “I get charged $4/minute for every minute I’m late.”

Erecting a hard, consistent boundary trains the other people in your company to respect your schedule.

This post started as a comment on Steve Blank's post, "Epitaph for an Entrepreneur" which is well worth reading.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

USAF Continues Its Push Towards A Terminator Future

Longtime readers know that I fear the inevitable robot rebellion. Mere flesh and bone has little chance against the tireless steely grip of malevolent AIs and their murderous legions of cybernetic minions.

So it is with some trepidation that I read this recent Esquire story on the US Air Force's plan to build an army of flying mechanical suicide bombers:

If a squadron of low-flying drones and their micro-munitions don't provide a clean kill in those packed communities, the Air Force Research Laboratory has a more point-blank Plan B: tiny, biologically-inspired micro air vehicles (MAVs) that can flap through alleys and inside buildings.

Like most UAVs, these robots would most likely be used for surveillance and reconnaissance. But in an animated clip released by the Air Force late last year, a MAV lands on an enemy sniper, and, without so much as a prayer to its machine god, detonates itself.

Yeah, this is going to end well. I guess the only thing I can say is this:

I for one welcome our Cylon overlords.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Need Your Advice

Time to test to value of the hive mind!

This summer, I'm taking my family to Disneyworld. I'm going to need two things to make the trip a success:

(1) Some kind of handheld device that lets me do email and browse the Web
(2) Some kind of pocket camera/camcorder that can take decent digital photos and video

Here are some of the parameters around my decision:
  • I'm a long-time T-Mobile customer
  • I love the iPhone for browsing the Web, but I can't stand trying to use the touch screen to write emails
  • The 2nd-generation Android phone, the Bigfoot, looks really cool, but doesn't launch until the month *after* my vacation
  • I'm a cheap bastard, so price is a *major* object
For (1), it seems like some kind of smartphone with a physical keyboard is the right choice. For (2), my impression is that it's better to get a camera that can shoot video than to get a camcorder that can shoot pictures.

So here are my questions:

1) What smartphone should I get for my long run use?

(iPhone? Blackberry? Android? Pre? Something else?)

2) What should I do for the two weeks in August that I'm on vacation?

(@dweekly has suggested that I find an Android developer who got a free G2 at Google's developer event and borrow it for the two weeks I need it--if you know someone who can help, please let me know!)

3) What digital camera will best meet my needs?

(@dweekly recommends the Canon Powershot; @PBKrissy likes the Sony Cybershot)

All thoughts, advice, and free gear welcome!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Workaholism Is A Choice (Usually The Wrong One)

People throw themselves into 100-hour work weeks because they are afraid to make choices that others might not understand.

If you work 100-hour weeks, no one (investors, co-founders, employees) can blame you if things don't work out, right?

I had a moment like this during my first startup, when I was held late at a meeting, and didn't have time to pick up my wife for a dinner were were supposed to attend.

I dashed off to the dinner about an hour late, and discovered that she wasn't there, because we were on a trip, and I had forgotten that she didn't have a car.

So I drove off to pick her up. She was furious, and rightly so. That never happened again.

Back in the 90s, there was a movie called "The Paper". Michael Keaton stars as a workaholic newspaper man who neglects his pregnant wife, Marisa Tomei.

At one point, he tells her that she's more important to him than his job, and that he'd choose her without hesitation.

She replies that life never presents us with a single big question, that every day, he's being asked to choose, and that each time he misses an appointment or doesn't make it home, he's making his choice.

I thought about that scene the day I left my wife alone in a hotel room, and I still think of it from time to time.

And I like to think I've worked a lot smarter since then.

The life of an entrepreneur can be rough, but at least it's a life of your choosing. The same can't be said for your family. Give then a chance to make their own choice.

(This post inspired by Steve Blank's "Lies Entrepreneurs Tell Themselves."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why Teachers, Professors, and Presidents Have Affairs

My buddy Ben Casnocha has written an excellent summary of the book, "Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters".

It's well worth the read. Here are two of my favorite paragraphs:

"Male high school teachers and college professors in the United States (but not their female colleagues) have a higher-than-expected rate of divorce and a lower-than-expected rate of remarriage, probably because they are constantly exposed to girls and women at the peak of their reproductive value."

"To ask why the President of the United States would have a sexual encounter with a young woman is like asking why someone who worked very hard to earn a large sum of money would then spend it. The purpose of earning money is to spend it. The purpose of becoming the President (or anything else men do) is to have a larger number of women with whom to mate."

I've also added Ben's summary to the Book Outlines site; feel free to edit the summary if you have something to add.