Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review - The ART of the START

Recently, I have been assisting a start-up in preparation for raising Venture Capital.  At the recommendation of a friend, I bought The ART of the START The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything by Guy Kawasaki.  Mr. Kawasaki is a venture-capitalist.  Prior to becoming a VC, Mr. Kawasaki worked at Apple. 
Mr. Kawasaki set as his goal for the book to help entrepreneurs and others starting enterprises reduce the preparatory time and move straight into development.  (Prep time including visiting with various experts to collect ideas, learn potential problems that can be avoided, etc.)
Mr. Kawasaki writes with style, verve and an appealing since of humor.
He starts with a summary of five things that each new effort should include.  One of the intriguing concepts is to avoid developing a mission statement, but instead develop a very short mantra.  Having been in some very unproductive, long, painful, meetings where mission statements were being hatched, I can appreciate the recommendation.  As an example, he uses the famous “Think” from IBM as an example (I have one of the paperweights from years gone by that IBM used to give to customers that has the Think motto engraved).
Another recommendation from Mr. Kawasaki is to move straight to product development and selling.  Product testing in his view is the realm of big established businesses – not start-ups.  Build and modify in response to customer reactions.  If customers use the product differently from your, plan, celebrate it and see if you can spread that utilization to create more customers.
Chapters roughly follow the development cycle of start-up formation, product development and refinement, capital raising, partnering, brand development and growth phase.  The book concludes with a chapter on “The Art of Being a Mensch”, a treatise on being nice to everyone you meet, regardless of their circumstance.
Each Chapter has an FAQ section, with very useful questions and answers, presumably culled from questions the author received during speaking engagements.  I found those contained immense practical advice and good common sense.  I give Mr. Kawasaki extra credit for his quotes.  While opening chapters and adding the occasional quote is a technique widely used, he found a variety of really cool, totally appropriate, quotes.
This book isn’t new – it’s been around for a while.  But if you are involved in a start-up, or doing a new venture inside an existing company, I think you will find something of both interest and value.
Highly recommended.



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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dulles District Blog

Dave Scarangella writes about sports in VA - Hokies, Skins, etc., none of which I really care about.  However, when he covers high school and local sports, he writes from the heart.  Here is a recent post: http://www.dullesdistrict.com/?q=blog

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: Graceful by Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a publishing machine.  He deserves credit for (to use Tom Peter’s term) re-imagining publishing.  I’m not aware of anyone else close to his skills at channel- linking: Kindle books, hardcover books, free books, blogs, Twitter.  And most recently with Kickstarter.  Very inventive indeed.

Graceful follows the style of many of his books, that is, very short chapters, each making a single point to support and develop the theme of the book.

One of George Gilder’s recommendations in the early days of the Internet and the PC explosion was to determine which resources are scarce and which are abundant.  Then design to exploit the abundant resource.  Mr. Godin updates that concept with gracefulness being in short supply, along with leadership.  In his view, in the new economy is based on abundance.   I would label that a network effect.   From his chapter on Abundance and scarcity: “If I benefit when everyone knows my idea, then the more people I give the idea to, the better off we all are”.

Mr. Godin’s books are always encouraging.  He encourages the reader to think, create and most of all to act.  Again, in his view, the digital economy and network effects have altered the course of the economy.  In the new economy, “…safe is risky”.  His recommendation to the reader is to avoid anxiety, face fears and take risks.  Only by moving to the edge of one’s risk profile will one do his best work.
One of the shortest chapters - Deniability – particularly caught my attention.  In it he notes that it isn’t difficult to take or assume responsibility.  Once you’ve asked for it – people are more than willing to hand it off to you.  A different way of looking at it.

At an Internet business I’m involved with, we say large networks win.  Mr. Godin notes “ideas that spread win”.
Nice little book.  Quick read.  As always, some provocative material.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Partagas Coronas Senior

English: Box of Partagas Coronas Deutsch: Kist...
English: Box of Partagas Coronas Deutsch: Kiste Partagas Coronas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Courtesy of friend Eduardo Fertman, I enjoyed a delecious cigar from famed cigar house Partagas.
It was a Coronas Senior.  First, I'll admit to being a fan of Partagas.  In the great cigar boom, it seemed to me that they maintained their quality standards, even as new entrants bid up tobacco prices, and in some cases purchased entire crops, limiting the availability of tobacco to older, longstanding firms.
The Coronas Senior makes my short list of cigars that I'll continue to purchase.  A new favorite!
Thanks Eduardo!

 
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Greenberg's Latest

For those of you who are interested in social media or CRM, here is the latest from guru Paul Greenberg: http://the56group.typepad.com/pgreenblog/2012/06/a-guide-to-influencers-chapter-2.html

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dear Mr. Bernanke:


Dear Mr. Bernanke:
I hate to be critical of Fed policy.  Really.  Because  the fiscal policies of both the current and prior administrations, and eleven consecutive years of totally feckless behavior by Congress, has done more than tie one hand behind the Fed’s back; it’s tied both hands, shackled a leg and blindfolded it.

But the time has come for the Fed to face its egregiously destructive policies and change them. 
Deflation was a threat.  In some ways it still is.  Housing went from a bubble to decline to free fall.  Millions of jobs have been lost, fueling deflation.  Your response was to attempt to create inflation and thereby resurrect housing.  Reasonable theory.  The supply chain for housing is gigantic; if it were to be restored millions of jobs would return: not just sheetrock hangers, cabinet installers, plumbing contractors, roofers, electricians, tile layers, carpet layers, carpenters, HVAC installers, landscapers and window installers, but also factory workers in plants that make insulation, wiring, tile, carpet, faucets, sinks, tubs, showers, sheet rock, hardwood flooring, furnaces, roofing shingles, plywood, PVC pipe, fuse panels, windows, air conditioners, water heaters, brick, studs, nails, cooktops and refrigerators.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked and still isn’t working.  Gold has soared, silver has soared, all kinds of commodities have soared, but house prices are flattening at the bottom in some towns, still falling in others.  And anyone attempting to live on their savings, or save for a down payment on one of those foreclosed houses, has been brutally punished as the interest rates on anything close to a safe investment plummet to zero. Please pay close attention to that comment: it is harder to save for a down payment when savers get no interest income.
If interest rates had been allowed to rise 23-36 months ago, all of the holders of interest-bearing investments would be far wealthier, and the economy would be enjoying the benefits of the wealth effect, pumping billions into consumer spending and investment, powering the economy forward, instead of the listless recovery we are experiencing.

This is also a brutal attack on the elderly.  Note that yesterday (June 18) the Department of Census released the latest Net Worth and Asset Ownership tables, containing a trove of data.  http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/income_wealth/cb12-108.html
What group has the highest percentage of ownership of CD’s?  Those over 75.  What group has the second?  Ages from 70-74.  The Fed isn’t just punishing savers and investors in favor of borrowers, it is punishing the elderly.  The press release notes that older households (households over 65) also suffered the greatest loss in net worth in the period from 2005 through 2010: almost $26,000, or 13.2%.  And that excludes the likely decline in their home value.  We can assume that loss did not occur in savings bonds (which this group also holds) or CD’s.  It was their riskier investments.  The Fed remedy for the economy?  Push savers and investors into riskier assets.  Bill Gross of PIMCO has correctly labeled this financial repression.

I feel like a character in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist:  Come on Mr. Bernanke, let us have a little more interest.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: Take the Lead

Take the Lead by Betsy Myers with John David Mann, is her treatise on leadership.  The byline is “Motivate, Inspire and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You”.
Ms. Myers has an underlying concept: that there is a need for a new kind of leadership.  Changing times, the Internet, the mobility of society has erased the prior, up the organization ladder method of leadership development.  Her statement: “The emerging need is not simply for a better leadership but a new kind of leadership…”  (Italics are hers). 

The book takes the reader through the experiences that gave her a point of view on leadership.  Those experiences, while varied, are heavily weighted to public service.  That includes stints in the Clinton administration, working in the Obama campaign and at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard.  All of these led to contact with famous and successful people, whether cabinet level or contributors to Harvard or political campaigns.  Not a bad group to use to develop leadership mdels.
Her leadership model consists of Authenticity, Connection, Respect, Clarity, Collaboration, Learning, and Courage and she devotes a chapter to each.  While the direction of each of these is rather obvious from the titles, some of the specific content is nonetheless good, and in one particular case, surprising to me personally.  As an example of how Respect is an element of leadership development, she uses something Jerry Rossi did.  I know Jerry, not well, but have met him on many occasions.  He is an executive with TJX Corporation, which owns Home Goods, Marshalls and TJ Maxx.  The Jerry I know is a somewhat gruff, no-nonsense retailer.  However, her story shows a very different Jerry Rossi, taking time to notice that a woman in the corporate office had been abused, having the TJX organization help her, and moving from that one incident to personally taking up the cause of abused women nationally.  Ms. Myers, and eventually President Clinton, also worked to shine a spotlight on that festering evil.  By doing so, Jerry illustrated the Respect component of leadership.
I should have realized earlier, but didn’t, that Betsy Myers is the sister of De De Myers, former press secretary to President Clinton.  Obviously the political connections run deep, and most of the examples of leadership are drawn from the public sphere as opposed to private enterprise.  Nonetheless, it is a reasonably good work with some provocative material.

As an aside, as a political conservative, I noted two things.  First, how the Obama campaign out-maneuvered, out-teched, and generally out-thought the McCain campaign.  And second, as I read through her examples of meetings with the interagency group on this, or the council on that, just how much overhead exists in Washington that we simply can’t (at least in my view) afford.
Political differences aside, I enjoyed the book.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reaching Influencers

Paul Greenberg is one of, if not the, leading voice on CRM.  And a social media guru.  He is also a no-holds-barred, long-copy blogger.  Here is his treatise on reaching influencers.
http://the56group.typepad.com/

The New Conservative Spokesman

Chuck Woolery is emerging as the new conservative spokesman. Humorists, edgy writers and comedians have long been influential in shaping the trend of thought.  Mark Twain, H.L. Menken from prior generations.  Carl Hiaasen and preservation in FL.  A Dennis Miller rant. The impact of Saturday Night Live skits.
But I didn't expect a former game show host.  However, I'll admit I support every single thing in this video.
http://www.youtube.com/embed/KV-RqPtT2PU


Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: Escape Velocity by Geoffrey Moore

Geoffrey Moore is a very successful author and has also started multiple consulting and speaking businesses.  He is also a partner in a venture capital firm.  Mr. Moore writes extensively about strategy and marketing, particularly in technology markets.

In Escape Velocity Free Your Company’s Future from the Pull of the Past Mr. Moore sets up circumstances in which businesses struggle with a transition from existing products and services to the products and services that will replace them. 

I have two quick observations: first, this book is clearly about business-to-business marketing.  If you are in the B2B space, there are some lessons here, but this book clearly is not aimed at you.  Second, since Mr. Moore is involved with tech companies, his examples are almost exclusively tech examples.  Not so narrow as not to be interesting, but perhaps limited for readers who are in, say, insurance or construction.

Moore’s theme is that there is a hierarchy of strategy, which he labels powers.  (It is my interpretation that these are strategy equivalents).  Specifically and in order: Category Power, Company Power, Market Power, Offer Power and Execution Power.  He sets up his argument with examples of enterprises where strong legacy products exist and the enterprise gets the majority of its cash flow from those.  Some more forward-thinking members of the firm envision the next generation product and begin scratching for resources to advance those.  In his view as presented in this book, far too many firms are too reluctant or at least too slow to free up the best people and adequate capital to support the new.  The old-world firm that I would point to as the exemplar of the opposite is Gillette, which has steadily and relentlessly pushed its lead in razors and razor blades, cannibalizing the old product. 

The chapters after the set-up describe each of the five “powers” with prescriptions on how to fight organization inertia and obtain adequate funding to identify the most promising new products and harvest the old.

Overall, I would describe this as a useful management book.  More relevant for tech space readers, and most relevant for B2B tech space readers.