‘Damsels in Distress’

Sep 18

In: Fly fishing, Personal, Politics

I don’t know about you, but the thought of our nation re-engaging in Iraq has me torn. It’s clear that something has to be done to stop the horrific killings of children, but I don’t think air strikes will be enough. I’m also of the mind that our soldiers have already paid a huge price on the ground there.

So, I wanted to lighten up your mood, and mine, and share a cool nature video. If you like the outdoors and/or fishing, the video is above (or, click here). It is called “Damsels in Distress.” A storm prevented some fly fishermen from fishing. Instead, they stumbled upon, and then filmed, a wonderful scene.

Truly incredible footage and the case of good stuff coming from a disappointing outing. We’re supposed to make lemonade out of lemons. That video there is some amazing lemonade.

A Good Evening with NEVCA

Sep 16

In: Entrepreneurship, Personal

 

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I had a good time last night at my last New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) Board gathering.

I ran into some prior colleagues, and it was great to see them (fun to catch up with you, Dan, Bob and Sean). I also had a chance to meet up again with C.A. Webb and Kitt George, who run the group, as well as the many VCs and entrepreneurs on the Board. Plus, they gave to me a cool fleece with the group’s logo (see above).

I think volunteer work is often a mixed bag. Decision-making can happen at a slow pace, although intentions are nearly always good. That has not been the case with the NEVCA Board. I really like how the group focused on impact and positive change. There was a sense of urgency.

I feel that I helped accomplished some things. Will miss working with C.A. and Kitt, though. I’ve always wanted younger sisters, and it has been a privilege to hang with them.

‘Priceless Pieces of Crap’

Sep 15

In: Entrepreneurship

I caught up recently with Patrick Morley of Bit9 (I was a Series A investor there while at a previous VC job).  He and Tom Erickson of Acquia are the independent directors at our portfolio company VoltDB.

We started talking about the start-up life. Patrick has been a CEO of multiple start-ups and is quite savvy. I remarked to him how the CEO job is really one of the hardest (prior blog post here), and I’ve long admired how he has done so well for so long.

He told me it’s key for a CEO to have a peer group. “It is challenging job,” he said. “And, here’s why: some days, you have to work with ‘priceless pieces of crap’.” What he meant is that the issues that fall into the CEO’s lap tend to be the really thorny ones.

It’s something an engineer or a sales rep couldn’t solve and was then escalated to a senior executive. And, when that VP cannot solve the problem, it gets escalated to the CEO. So, it’s the CEO’s job to resolve the issues and to transform some cruddy inventory into something that sings and works.

I think the CEO job is incredibly fun, impactful and empowering. But, I encourage all of our CEOs/founders to have a peer group with whom they can bounce ideas, vent and get calibrated. I particularly encourage our companies when we invest to bring onto their Boards other entrepreneurial business leaders.

I think that peer group is something that should be in place long before you need it. Thanks for the words of wisdom, Patrick.

Re-Post: On This 9/11

Sep 11

In: Personal

I woke up early this morning and am surprised to find that it’s 9/11.

I won’t ever forget that day. It was a beautiful fall morning with bright-blue skies. I had just finished a breakfast meeting and there was a TV nearby. There were images of a burning building in NYC. I looked at it for a few seconds and thought what everyone else did: “An accident.”

When I arrived at the office, people started to talk to each other about “a second crash.” Everything changed from there.

I started to call my b-school friends who were based in World Trade. I started to call portfolio companies in NYC. Nothing. The lines were jammed.

One of my colleagues was at Logan airport that morning. We were highly anxious that he was on one of the planes. It turned out that his flight was not one of the ones hijacked, but he had departed from a gate one over from a plane that was. He later wondered if he walked by the hijackers.

In the office, we tried to do work, but we gave up.

That night, the roar of F-15 patrols was continuous. It was very hard to fall asleep.

In the ensuing weeks, everyone felt a need to do something. My business school section donated a good-sized amount to the surviving families of NYC first responders. Two friends made dramatic career switches.

And, for a long while, it was a time of uncertainty. For a long time, The New York Times published pictures and stories about the 9/11 victims, called “Portraits of Grief.” The journalists doggedly tracked down family members and friends to profile each person. It must have been a daunting labor of love.

Today, my heart is at Ground Zero in NYC.

Our Family’s Yard Sale

Sep 7

In: Family life, Personal

stuffed animals

It’s been a busy Sunday. We had our first-ever family yard sale. I ran into a lot of people with whom I almost never come in contact. It was great for our children. Let me explain.

Over the years, we’ve accumulated a lot of things, including hundreds of children’s books and stuffed animals (see photo up top). So, with the help of neighborhood signs and Craigslist, we had a good crowd today.

My wife did all of the planning, and we all chipped in with the prep, hauling, and monitoring. I have to say this: our children worked very, very hard today and were a great team. They displayed awesome customer-service skills.

We priced everything to move quickly; for example, really good kids’ books were priced at 20 books for $2, and I think people really liked the value they were getting. Stuffed animals were free.

Frankly, it was a bit weird to handle again books, toys and stuffed animals that meant so much to our children during their younger years. Lots of memories came flooding back. Still, I was happy that other children can enjoy those items now, which were sitting idle in people’s bedrooms and in our basement.

The people who came today represented an interesting mix of folks:

– 20% retired folks looking for “deals” for grandchildren

– 20% young couples with very young children

– 60% folks in need of good and cheap stuff

Regarding the last group, I chatted for a bit with a taxi driver. There also were many recent immigrants. They were really pumped when we gave them massive discounts and free stuffed animals for their children. It made me feel great.

I think the most difficult situation I witnessed involved an elderly woman, with two very young boys in tow. She said that their father had died, and she was looking for a way to cheaply furnish a new apartment she was setting up.

All this reminded me of how my milieu of colleagues and friends is pretty specific. As I’ve written in the past, as a VC or tech entrepreneur, you really can live in a Bubble. People went mostly to the same 30 colleges (and, they actually went to college), we live in the same areas, we carry smartphones with the latest cool apps, we drive nice cars or ride Uber without a second thought, and we don’t think about whether we have enough to eat.

Our children run in select circles and attend amazing public schools in leafy towns or selective private schools. Their friends’ parents are super-accomplished. And, when they get a driver’s license, their parents buy them a car, I suspect. They vacation at great locales. They don’t have to work to pay for living expenses.

It was a good Sunday today. It was good for our children to interact with people who need a helping hand on occasion.

A new dose of reality. A new mindfulness.