VC:VC Talk to the Hand

Talk to the Hand is an excellent book I am reading on rudeness in today's society. Rudeness is a fun topic, and Lynne Truss has lots of fun with it.

However, rudeness is also a factor in both my VC worlds: venture capital and venture cycling. As another in my series of VC:VC series, here are some musings.

In the startup world, it is no secret to entrepreneurs just how rude venture capitalists can be. This post from Mark Suster, an entrepreneur currently raising funds for his company, Koral, captures the gestalt wonderfully well. (It has the added benefit of ranting against Powerpoint as strongly as I do!)

Recently, we at Sigma decided we would publicly leave our cell phones and blackberries at the door (or with our assistants) before going into a meeting with entrepreneurs. This has a two fold benefit. First, we are not tempted to be one of those rude groups focused more on the gizmo than the guests. Second, it looks great!

Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston (one of the large Harvard affiliated teaching hospitals), recently commented on this in his blog. He challenges all of us to go cold turkey on Treos and Blackberries. As one who does not have email follow me on my wireless device, I can wholeheartedly applaud his own approach and his suggestion that the rest of the world follow suit.

Of course, these musings are equally important in the non-profit world where my venture cycling is part of my life chairing the board of Hazon. I notice that during board meetings there is far less bad Blackberry behavior than in my business meetings. People really do seem engaged and involved enough that they are happy to leave that all behind for a while. Moreover, I think that there is a respect for the volunteer nature of the engagement we all have. At those meetings we know that busy people are spending many hours involved in a cause about which we all care, and that to nurture others' passion, we should be as respectful as we can when we are in meetings. I like this (obviously) and am glad that at Sigma we are showing, at least in the form of it, that same respect for our entrepreneur visitors by checking those gizmos at the door.


Blog Tag

Jacob Ner-David tagged me in a new game that he was tagged into by Jeff Pulver. This is a game of blog-tag. Jeff started off what might be called a chain-posting by undertaking a small task and tagging five bloggers (including Jacob) to do the same, and for them to each do the same, and so on...

The task is for me to list five things about myself that relatively few people know. Here they are:

  1. My favorite author is Allegra Goodman, who I am lucky enough to know as a friend
  2. I am an avid Israeli folk-dancer, although a bit slow learning new dances, and try to go once a week with my daughter, Hannah
  3. Three productions I love, and from each of which I have memorized many quotes through repeated exposure:
    1. The Importance of Being Earnest (play) by Oscar Wilde
    2. The Blues Brothers (movie)
    3. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (radio show, TV show, books, movie)
  4. If I had time for a hobby, beyond my cycling, it would be genealogy (I found a fourth cousin living right here in Newton, MA through this hobby)
  5. When in college (at Hatfield College, Durham University) I coxed a rowing four - it was not competitive, just a group of friends going out on the river for exercise... they exercised their bodies, and I exercised my voice!
Now I get to tag five other bloggers, and I choose: Brad Feld, Yossi Abramowitz, Dan Bricklin, David Aronoff, David Harlow.

Tag, you're it.

Green gifts

Check out a green guide to gift giving, or is that a guide to green gift giving, or perhaps a guide to giving green gifts...


VC:VC Capital Efficiency

Capital efficiency is the notion that an organization uses capital wisely, frugally - that the capital is used to best effect. The ultimate measure is the amount of returns to investors as a multiple (we hope) of the capital invested, adjusted by the length of the investment. Obviously doubling your investment in a year is better than waiting 10 years for the same result. A rather esoteric calculation called IRR (internal rate of return) is used by Venture Capitalists to measure time-adjusted returns to investors.

It is conventional wisdom to note that a software company is more capital efficient than a hardware company. If that were always true in an absolute sense then no hardware companies would ever get VC investment. However, in this case we tend to mean that you need more capital to get from stage to stage. Each "spin" (or revision) of a semiconductor product, for example, costs far more than a new version of even a fairly complex software program. What we mean, therefore, regarding capital efficiency, is that the company will advance to less risky stages using smaller amounts of capital. The bets we place on software companies are generally smaller, and the company gets to delivering a product with less capital.

As a venture cyclist, how do I think about capital efficiency? Certainly, once I have bought the bike (and the bling) I have very little follow-on financing to do. However, this means that almost all the investment was made before the risks were worked out: would I make it as a cyclist, or would the bike just languish unused in the garage? I guess a bike is just like other hardware!

As a venture cyclist I also think about Hazon and other non-profit organizations... and, of course they are capital efficient (the small ones I am involved with, at any rate). They don't have enough capital to be inefficient. Of course, "returns" are a bit fuzzy in this regard, but Good to Great and the Social Sector helps there.

Ami Ayalon

Ami Ayalon is running for leadership of the Israeli Labor party, and from there, he hopes, to the Prime Minister's office. We had the opportunity to meet Ayalon last night at a reception during which he spoke about his vision for Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.

Ayalon has a distinguished military career in Israel, including time as commander of the Navy and later as director of the Shin Bet security service. Soon after the end of his government service, and during the time he entered politics, he became engrossed in the politics of pragmatism (his term) in order to find real peace for the region. The core of his argument, learned over the years, he told us, from his wife, is that Israel will have peace and security when Palestinians have hope, and a land of their own. He and Sari Nusseibeh founded The People's Voice and formulated a statement of principles on which to build such a program, which has over 400,000 signatories from members of the two peoples.

It is refreshing to hear a politician with a strong (and, yes, compelling) vision, not looking to appease his listeners, with a strong and realistic understanding of Palestinians' hopes and motivations, talking about what could be. He calls for the citizens of Israel and the putative citizens of Palestine to become activists for pragmatism, to become activists for the peace solution that everyone knows must be reached. He frames a story of Jewish peoplehood that rings out for Jews, and he demands the right for Palestinians to have their peoplehood recognised in just the same way.

My good friend Yossi Abramowitz often says "you heard it here first" in his blog. Well, you heard it here first: watch Ami Ayalon - he will make a great leader for Israel.

Seven Deadly Sins of the VC

Bob Davoli offered me a job at D&N Systems (which became SQL Solutions) in 1989 on the basis of one round of interviews. I have worked for him and with him for at least 10 of the 17 years we have lived in the USA. When he and John Mandile (and the rest of the Sigma team) invited me to join the firm in 2000 it was an easy decision to accept.

Bob is fairly well known in the venture capital industry (certainly in Boston), for his success, his direct style, and for his sharp observations of the VC landscape. Over time I distilled some of his aphorisms into this version of the seven deadly sins of Venture Capital.

I wrote this in an acrostic form using his name (RDavoli): if it escapes into the wild it will always bear his name.


Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is well described on Wikipedia as the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. Usually we are aware of the phenomenon through experiencing it. Sometimes a hint of it reminds us how much cognitive dissonance we can cope with, since it seems to be all around.

I ride a bike. When riding, my feet are higher than my butt.
Cognitive dissonance!
This picture might help. You probably knew I ride a recumbent from reading this blog.
More cognitive dissonance (at least for the worried reader): why am I not wearing a helmet in this photo? Rest assured that I always do ... this photo was my first mini-ride just on the driveway when I first brought the bike home. However, I get that cognitive dissonance feeling whenever I see a cyclist without a helmet - what are they doing!? To take it further, because of the shape of my bike seat (effectively a bucket seat), when I start on a ride I often think "seat belt ... you didn't do your seat belt".

Venture Cycling cognitive dissonance was covered obliquely in an earlier post of mine.

Cognitive dissonance is all around, and we deal with it a lot. Here are two numeric keypads:

Notice one is top-to-bottom, the other is bottom-to-top. The left hand keypad is laid out like every telephone and the right hand keypad like every calculator and computer keyboard. Somehow we manage.

How about addresses. Telephone numbers are kind of like addresses - they start with a country, then an area or city, then an exchange and then a number - Sigma Partners is at country (1), area (617), exchange (330), number (7872). Our mailing address, using this convention would be:

20 Customhouse Street
Suite 830
Sigma Partners

However, we know it is really the other way up. Why is that?

For the techies among us we know that an IP address reads like a phone number (most specific on the right): means the 12th host in the 13th subnet in the 101st net on the 27th major net circuit. However, domain names resolve the other way: (most specific on the left: computer called "www" on network "sigmapartners" in the top-level domain "com"). Most annoying in this arena is sub-domain addressing versus sub-directory addressing. We can imagine both these addresses pointing to the same webpage:

You see, we can cope with a fair amount of cognitive dissonance... So, who is buying a hannukah bush this year?

Fifth month, fifth gear, fifth century

My good friend, Jason Glasgow, and I went out for a lovely bike ride this afternoon. We covered the ground from Newton to Weston and back, a 22 mile loop in total. The last two or three rides I have taken have all made me think "this may be the last ride before the winter sets in", and yet we have been lucky enough to be riding today at the end of November.

Today is a day of fives ... all good.

I have been riding now for five months (I bought my bike on July 3rd).

Today was the second long trip with the new chain on the bike, and despite my initial skepticism it does appear to have solved my problem with fifth gear.

Also, the 22 miles I rode today makes my total riding for 2006 just over500 miles (five centuries)!

If today is to be the last ride for 2006, I have five reasons to feel great about it (the other two are more general: how I feel fitter, and my involvement with Hazon).



This post is a rant ... and for the lawyers out there Powerpoint is a trademark of Microsoft.
Powerpoint makes us all dumb ... or certainly dumber after seeing a Powerpoint presentation than before.

I am not the first person to comment on this. Edward Tufte's wonderful short essay, The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint, made a very strong case supporting this proposition several years ago, and has become a classic. For a smorgesbord of other supporting opinions check out this CNN article.

The graphical style of Powerpoint can be overcome with a strong spirit and some reasonable design. The cognitive style is, unfortunately, only overcome through strong spirits (whisky?) which bring the rest of the world into the Powerpoint league. Powerpoint's very design reduces the usable space on which to display information (headers, footers, graphic elements), and then requires such large typefaces that there is not much room for any meaning to be communicated from the slide content. From this fundamental problem flows the awful decomposition of complex thought into tiny fragments. Each fragment is presented linearly. Each fragment can appear to be true, and lulls the audience and presenter into a sense of trust that obliterates any ability to hold onto whether the train of thought itself has any validity.

The best slides have enough information to impart knowledge, but are invariably prefaced by the presenter with "I know this is a bit of an eye chart ...".

Before you know it, you have proved that one equals zero (imagine this proof spread out on a Powerpoint). Audience members who don't get the message doubt their own sanity (perhaps I missed a slide?). Presenters triumphantly bring up the final slide "Questions" or "Summary", as if covering information was equivalent to communicating information.

Before deciding on a narrative version of the Gettysburg address, Abraham Lincoln discarded this Powerpoint version. Thank goodness. Unfortunately, NASA did not discard Powerpoint when they should have (before installing). Tufte's essay includes this scathing analysis on NASA's lazy use of Powerpoint during in-mission analyses for the Space Shuttle Columbia, before making all the wrong decisions.

I live with Powerpoint all the time. Mostly I am a consumer of Powerpoint. Every meeting with an entrepreneur and every board meeting invariably comes with a Powerpoint presentation. (Interestingly, the non-profit boards I am on do not use Powerpoint ... I think I will use that distinction as a mechanism by which to choose which non-profits I support.)

The Powerpoint formula is so strong that, despite its weaknesses, showing up without a Powerpoint makes a person look unprepared. It is a brave soul who brings in financials (printed from a spreadsheet program) and some handouts (from a word processing program), and talks about the business. Instead, alas, everything is wrapped in a Powerpoint slide - even financial tables that suffer from information anemia due to the space constraints, and newsclippings reduced in size from the original to fit between header and footer to such an extent the headline is barely legible.

I, too, (Powerpoint Anonymous moment) have sometimes been known to create and present a Powerpoint. Expect me to do be trying to befuddle you, if you are ever on the receiving end.

My web page with references for entrepreneurs includes pointers to suggestions on preparing a Powerpoint presentation for a VC. I would not be doing anyone a service to suggest they stand out from the crowd by presenting without one. But, please oh please, won't someone be brave?

iPod phone to arrive early 2007

Apparently, the Apple iPod mobile phone is nearing readiness for release (according to Apple Insider). I am not normally one to just report new news, but this is interesting enough to merit comment.

The iPod itself was a bit of a sleeper when released. It was not "eagerly awaited" (certainly not by the masses), and no-one was expecting it to be such a hit. Now, we all have very high expectations for pretty much everything Apple does, including this phone, which has been expected imminently for a couple of years. Given the number of business plans that we see relating to mobile phones and mobile content (videos, songs, news, maps, contact info all on your phone), the presumptively named iPhone is the object of both desire and fear in different quarters.

In the enterprise IT world desktop PCs started with small amounts of storage. Over time they gained larger amounts as prices fell. Now we are reverting to smaller amounts again, this time relying on storing all that data on big, central servers accessible over a powerful network.

The mobile phone might be analogous to the PC, and we are in the phase of increasing the amount of storage available on the phone (hence the ability to make a phone with all that iPod stuff on it). Will this, too, be a passing phase? Will the mobile phone end up with less storage and rely on stored media accessible through a more powerful wireless network (imagine video on demand on your phone)?

In the PC world, the communications network is a cheap commodity and the prices to transfer information have fallen remarkably. In the mobile phone world, the carriers (Vodafone, Verizon Wireless etc) continue to extract high prices for mediocre service to transfer data to/from the phone (compared to wired networks). It will be interesting to see whether the wireless carriers try to avoid the fate of their wireline elders - somehow trying to avoid commodification of the wireless network. Conventional wisdom suggests they will fail to stop the tide of progress, and so I expect some of the carriers (the new or the brave) to embrace lower prices for higher quality and higher bandwidth in order to overtake the current incumbents. If Apple continues to have the brilliance of vision it has shown over the last few years, then whatever happens it will continue to lead. All that most of us consumers can do is hang on and enjoy the ride.

VC:VC 12 Angry Men

Our friends Daniel and Claudia treated us to a trip to the Colonial Theater last night, to see "12 Angry Men" starring George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) as the jury forman and Richard Thomas (John-Boy from The Waltons) as juror #8. The production is every bit as riveting for me, someone who knew the story, as the rest of us, who did not. If you are in Boston and able to see this, I recommend it highly.

Written for TV and then adapted for the big screen in the 1950s, "12 Angry Men" is a remarkable story of how personal psyche can color decisions as important as a capital murder case, and as impersonal as someone else's tragedy. The ancient Greek dramas and Shakespeare remind us that this is not a modern phenomenon, and it certainly makes for a good story.

Twelve angry men can sometimes describe the board of a young startup (although hopefully it is fewer than 12). Something has gone awry in the business plan. Executives and directors are at loggerheads as to what to do next. Just at the time when rational thinking is called for, everyone brings their own biases and prejudices: "I never thought the VP Sales was up to this", "the VP Services is blaming the customers again", "the CFO has no clue who are the most profitable customers", "can the CEO really hack it"... and worse, everyone gets to tell you so: "I told you we shouldn't have expanded so fast", "I told you we should have expanded faster" and so on.

In each case we hope the comments are drawn logically from the facts at hand. Sometimes, unfortunately, they are drawn from personal antipathies, replaying previous patterns from previous companies, or defensiveness to cover insecurity and self-doubt. When an entrepreneur is considering Venture Capital investors, making calls to some existing portfolio company CEOs and asking how the VCs behave in such situations is a very wise part of your due diligence. Of course, the VCs are doing the same about the founders.

In my Venture Cycling world, on the board of Hazon or JCDS for example, it is never 12 angry men - not least because there are women on the board. I think there is room for another entire post on the low participation of women in the startup world (on either side of the table). However, although women are just as susceptible as men to bring outside (or inside) reactions to a board issue, there is generally less anger at the table when women are present. Women seem to be a civilising force (no news here), even if only because of men's vanity (no news there either). This sounds like a setup for a Greek tragedy... but, precisely, that is where I started.

Principles 3.0

Actually, I do have principles, and I am mostly guided by the "full disclosure" principle that if you know what I am doing you can judge for yourself. I discussed this here, and promised never to take advertising on this blog and associated website.

However, as I return to the theme of Web 2.0 on a regular basis, I realised I was getting behind. Now Web 3.0 is on the horizon - in fact it has been so for a year or more (see here, here and here). Part of the power of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 has been the levelling of the publishing playing field. Anyone can be a publisher and a large industry of what are known as advertising networks (or third party advertising networks) has grown up - starting with Google, but including all the big players and some small ones too. With a third party advertising network, a two-bit publisher (like me) can easily mark out how and where advertisements will appear, and the network displays ads from its customers according to whatever recondite method it uses. The publisher does not know in advance what ads will be displayed, and doesn't have to worry about "selling space" like a newspaper or TV channel. Magically, at the end of each month a check (or PayPal payment) appears for the publisher's "cut" of the advertising revenue.

In order for me to understand this more fully I have decided to experiment with a couple of advertising networks, so you can expect to see small ads on this blog and the associated website soon. Let me know if you find them odious.

Here is my new disclosure, which is found at the footer of each blog page and web page:

This website and the associated blog accepts advertising from third party advertising networks, mostly so I understand how those work. I have no control over which advertisements are displayed, I do not accept paid sponsorships, and I am not writing for income. Any payment I receive from advertising networks is donated to charity. I write for my own purposes. However, I may be influenced by my background, occupation, religion, political affiliation or experience. The links in this blog have my affiliates code embedded in them which results in small amounts of commission payment (which I donate to charity).

Standing at the edge of the spring

I was just reminded that in Hebrew, a spring - a source of water, is called ayin hamayim, literally: eye of the water. In this week's reading from the Torah we hear about Eleazer standing at the edge of the spring waiting to find a bride for Abraham's son Isaac. The moment is full of expectation and of hope. He is about to meet Rebekah and bring her back to Isaac. She will bear Jacob and Esau, and much water will flow about them, between them, through them and down the generations to us.

Tonight, Dorit and I had the privilege to attend the installation as Dean of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School of our friend Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld. It is a remarkable moment and it drew us all in, through its joy and its moment, to the fact that we are standing at the edge of the spring, and something important is about to happen to the Jewish People.

The Hebrew College Rabbinical School is less than five years old. It is formed from the vision of Dr David Gordis, the College's President, and Professor Art Green, who was the founding Dean of the Rabbinical School and is now its Rector. It is a trans-denominational school. Students come to study the depth and breadth of Jewish text in an intense and traditional way. They come from all walks of life, from all denominations and none, and they have a vision for leadership of pluralism and inclusivity that drove them to choose this school rather than the established denominational schools (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist). These students will become Rabbis who will have a major and positive impact on our community.

As Sharon assumes leadership of this Rabbinical School we could all glimse the generations of students she will teach and lead. Sharon's students, and her students' students are still a twinkling in her eye, in the eye of the community, in the eye of the water. Water is soft, and gentle, and yet can carve through rock. Expect great things.

11 miles of bliss

My ever-patient friend at Belmont Wheelworks, Scott Chamberlain, changed the chain on my bike last night, in another attempt to fix the problems I have been having in 5th gear. I was sceptical, but I knew today was going to be a great day for a ride, and I had some time this morning. I picked up my bike and rode it round the block in Belmont a couple of times just to see if the 5th gear problems were still immediately apparent. They were not.

I drove my bike home and went out on my 11 mile route on Commonwealth Avenue ... up to BC, back to route 16, turn around and repeat up to BC and then home.

What bliss! I was a whoopin' and a hollerin' (not bad for a Brit) with the wind and sun in my face and the road flying by under my wheels.

I have found that I love cycling. I love the exercise and the fresh air and ... all the things you can imagine. I knew I was missing it the last month, but only today did I realise how much I was missing it. My next steps are to get a stand for my bike so I can exercise and train through the winter.

Previously, after a fix for my 5th gear problems it has seemed as if all was fixed, and then the problem returned. This morning, I can report 11 miles of so far so good.


VC:VC Good Question

"Tell me about how you plan to differentiate yourself from the 54 other Web 2.0 social network blogging mashup wall clock destination portals out there?" Victor Cool, the VC, asked Eric Enthusiasm, the entrepreneur.

"Good question!" answered Eric confidently, with a grin and a stab of his hand into the air. Eric went on "You see, we interviewed a large group of people who use wall clocks for social networking and we discovered that ..."

Let's leave that conversation there, and consider the oft-repeated phrase: "Good question!"

It is a generally a signal that this is a question which has been asked many times before, or one which was expected, and so there is a prepared answer. Sometimes the phrase is genuinely spontaneous, but often it is like a punctuation mark signaling to listen closely to what the entrepreneur hopes will be a great answer.

Sometimes it is annoying in retrospect because the question does not get answered properly. Perhaps the entrepreneur heard one question (the expected one) but was being asked something slightly different. Perhaps the entrepreneur has a formulaic answer to a complex question, and hopes to deflect further probing through a confident but over-simple answer.

In a way, "Good question!" is like a tell in a poker game, inadvertently giving away something about the player's hand, in this case giving away that the entrepreneur is playing a strong hand.

When I hear an entrepreneur begin an answer with this phrase I will listen a little more carefully. I want to see how an entrepreneur plays to a strong hand, because that should end with a strong result.

Many poker players say you should never let another player know if you have identified a tell, even if they are your friend. A few losses should make them wiser (if poorer). Since I have played the entrepreneur's hand more than once, I identify too strongly to let that stand. So watch out for that tell!

Contrasting this for a moment with my venture cycling life - after all, this is a VC:VC posting (comparing Venture Capital to Venture Cycling). Here, I am on the other side of the table.

As board chair for Hazon, the charity which started me on a bike again (after 30 years), I find myself saying "Good question!" fairly regularly. I am answering questions of friends and colleagues who are intrigued about Hazon's mission and programs. At other times I am talking to prospective donors who are probing before considering gifts to the organization. I find it is a welcome moment to be able to say "Good question!" and launch into a prepared answer.

Sshh! I hope they can't see my tell.

Venture Cycling through the winter

With some new readership seeing this blog for the first time, and some obvious questions hanging in the air about the content of this blog with the cycling season close to ending for the year here in Boston, I thought I would take stock and share some thoughts.

First, welcome to new readers on the Feedburner Venture Capital blogging network, which I have joined through the kind invitation of Brad Feld, the doyen of VC bloggers.

Today I was witness to a funny moment - bear with me, it is relevant. Sitting in Synagogue (not really a synagogue) one of our members stood up to give the Dvar Torah and approached the lectern. She hesitated and wondered aloud whether or not to use it because it seemed designed for people taller than her. This is a beautiful wooden lectern created by one of our members, and someone jokingly suggested, referring to the carpenter, "David's here - he can adjust it". We all laughed. The lectern is clearly not adjustable - the stand is carved to look like a tree. To make it shorter would require cutting down the tree... And then David rushed up to the front, reached under the sloped surface and to everyone's amazement, adjusted it. (Read on ... the relevance is revealed at the end.)

I have been in the VC world for six years (and on the receiving end, as an entrepreneur, for five years prior to that), but I started this blog just in June of this year, and it is about Venture Cycling as much as about Venture Capital. Venture Cycling was prompted by my involvement in Hazon, a Jewish Environmental non-profit based in NY whose board I now chair. I bought my bike in July and by Labor day weekend was at the annual Hazon NY ride - riding 120 miles over two days finishing in Manhattan. My blog over the summer reported on my training and progress towards this great experience. I have also been blogging about venture capital, and comparing the two activities.

As I bring these two elements of my life into public view on this blog I find it a gratifying experience, because it unifies two otherwise disparate parts of my life: my professional work and my community experience and involvement. Like many (most) venture capitalists, I have always brought strong values to my work, but also like many of us, the underpinnings of those values are not the focus of much attention. This blog allows me to muse and mull how intertwined these are. I am also grateful to another Jewish VC who brings these things together in his blog: Jacob Ner David, who is based in Jerusalem and was recently introduced to me by Yossi Abramowitz (himself a blogger who only has one agenda, but writes inspiringly about it). Jacob writes about his life as a Jew and a VC in a similar way, which is great, and there are others out there doing the same (whether Jewish or not, blogging encourages self reflection and a discussion of values which is refreshing and exciting).

Since this blog is centered on venture cycling, what am I going to write about over the winter? I am sure I will write about how much I miss cycling and about staying in shape to be a stronger cyclist for next year. However, I will continue writing about the VC world and my VC:VC series, about the wider environmental mission of Hazon, as I have been all along, as well as my other whimsical postings.

In the 1990s, before Microsoft was really using the internet, I heard from a Microsoft executive who reported on a finding from the product feature wishlines. These were telephone lines which anyone could call to request new features for the Microsoft products (mostly Windows and Office in those days). He reported that 25% of all requested features were for capabilities that were already available in the products. He was refreshingly self-critical about the already apparent feature bloat and the lamentable documentation, but it was nonetheless an eye-opening moment.

Like today's episode with the magically adjustable lectern in Synagogue, the features we want are often already there, and all you have to do is ask for them, or look for them.

On that note, I invite readers to contact me by leaving comments on my blog requesting any features or adjustments I might make, especially as the cycling takes a lower profile over the winter.

Microsoft 2.0 (or is that 22.0)

Continuing my foray into the world of Web_2.0, I saw a recent Techcrunch posting that talks about how fast Microsoft is moving to challenge Google's apparent superiority in this arena.

10 years ago I saw first hand how fast Microsoft can move, when they purchased Vermeer Technologies, makers of FrontPage, at which I was VP Operations. At that time, Microsoft was fighting what seemed to be a losing battle with Netscape (browser wars), Lotus Notes (groupware wars) and AOL (online wars). Bill Gates was also busily predicting the future in his not very good book, "The Road Ahead".

At that time I contended that Microsoft (and Bill Gates) was lousy (LOUSY) at predicting the future, but absolutely phenomenal at mastering the present:
  • DOS: missed predicting (or acting on) the need for good graphical user interface
  • Windows / Office: missed predicting (or acting on) the need for email/groupware
  • MSN: missed predicting (or acting on) the need for open/internet based system
  • Internet: missed predicting (or acting on) the need for good browser
In all of these areas, Microsoft caught up. There are some examples of more forward thinking (Hotmail?), but not many. However, I contend that Microsoft never had to see the future to win, and still doesn't. Microsoft has certainly missed predicting (or acting on) the need for web 2.0, but it seems to be very capable of playing catchup here as well.

We used to hear about "embrace and extend", Microsoft's approach to succeeding in established markets. This was seen as a form of judo strategy where you turn your competitor's strength to your own advantage (see the book blurb).

I contend that Microsoft remains strong at this game. Necessity, we are told, is the mother of invention. Microsoft has for years been able to see the necessity of adopting and embracing new trends, and has turned the market to its advantage by extending (or more) those trends to create a winning strategy. The only difference now is to understand how much of this was dependent on the brilliance of Bill Gates which will be lost going forward, now he is no longer active in the firm.


Green Zionism

Green Zionism? Isn't green Judaism enough?

The short answer is "no, we need green Zionism, too". The longer (but not too long) answer follows.

Quick digression: despite the connotations that the word Zionism has in many places, it simply refers to supporting the national identity of Jews in the State of Israel. There are Zionists who are doves and hawks, conservatives and liberals, religious and secular, feminist and patriarchal, capitalist and socialist, human rights activists and (terribly for the Jews) racists, peace activists and (also, terribly) warmongers.

My view is that modern green Judaism is an outgrowth of Zionism, although strongly grounded in Jewish traditions of caring for the land including the biblical requirement of leaving the land fallow every seven years. Quoting myself from earlier this year: Returning to the land of Israel and building the State of Israel has provided a physical framework for Judaism that was lacking over the prior 2000 years. During that period of exile, if Jews thought about nature or land, it was not Jewish land and therefore not Jewish nature. The State of Israel has made possible that Jews can think of Jewish land, Jewish environment, Jewish nature. In Israel, Jews now look around and see we have Jewish nature, a Jewish environment. As we look, we find that Jewish land is just a very, very small part of the planet earth, Jewish environment is just a very, very small mote in the web of the global environment, and Jewish nature is interwoven with the entire natural world that knows no boundaries.

Unfortunately, the experience of being steward with full responsibility for that sliver of land that is the State of Israel has not been a glowing example of environmental responsibility. Although the Jewish National Fund (JNF) is well known for the millions of trees planted throughout the land, its earlier actions were not always environmentally positive. For example, the JNF helped to "conquer the wilderness" for habitation and agriculture in the 1950s through actions such as the drying out of Hula Lake, which had been one of the most unique and important ecological systems in Israel. Alon Tal has written a book, the title of which tells the story Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel.

So although Jews and Israelis now understand that we do have a relationship with land, nature, the environment, we are not yet great exemplars... certainly not a green light unto the nations (see Isaiah 42:6).

All is not lost however. This year's Hazon Israel ride was held in partnership with the JNF, now a much more environmentally sensitive organization. Also, at about the time I was buying my own bike, this summer the Green Zionist Alliance (GZA) was making progress at the World Zionist Congress. The World Zionist Congress is a worldwide representative body with a fair amount of philanthropic (and some Israeli government) money at its disposal. That the GZA is now a presence in the mainstream Zionist conversation is heartening to a green Jewish venture cyclist. Long may it last.

And now... Odious 2.0... Disclosure 3.0

The latest twist in the web 2.0 world is the PayPerPost story, nicely analyzed by TechCrunch (who also has a previous posting listing other companies doing more or less the same thing). PayPerPost pays bloggers to say nice things about products, as long as they only say nice things... and they do not require disclosure of the payments.

One of the characteristics of web 2.0, as I have mentioned, is that user generated content plays a prominent role. In many cases the value lies in conversation between end users with no big corporation managing, editing or censoring. The PayPerPost approach is harnessing this in ways that seem to me to be unethical and immoral, not because of the payment, but because of the lack of disclosure. My belief is that many (most? all?) conflict of interest situations can be neatly defused by full disclosure. Who cares who spends time with Dick Cheney, as long as we all know? Similarly, who cares if I am paid to write nice things about Dick Cheney, as long as you know I am being paid. Advertising is usually required to be properly labelled as such, and I see no reason why those regulations should not apply in this case as well. There seems to be a groundswell of concern, so my guess is that this will be a dynamic situation for a while.

Meanwhile, if web 2.0 leads to odious 2.0, then here is my disclosure 3.0:

This blog does not accept any form of advertising, sponsorship, or paid insertions. I write for my own purposes. However, I may be influenced by my background, occupation, religion, political affiliation or experience. The links in this blog have my affiliates code embedded in them which results in small amounts of commission payment (which I donate to charity).

Look for this on every page of my blog from now on.

I promise not to turn my blog into a jokes page... but did you hear the one about the guy who asked a shrub what we should do about Iraq? The response was "why are you asking a bush?"


Web 2.0, Jewish Social Scene 2.0, Idiocy 2.0

Web 2.0: I just read about a new site called, which is one of many locality based sites. I mention it because the web address "" is cute (using the Indian top-level domain .in), and they are a great example of web 2.0 at work. They clearly have a mechanism to match web articles to geographic locations (known as geo-spatial mapping), based on town names. When I put in my local zip-code, it produced articles from Newton and surrounding towns. It also allows users to add content to the site: for example, restaurant reviews. So this combines clever new "mashups" (the geo-spatial mapping), plus user-generated content, plus a bit of naming whimsy (or branding hopefulness). I would say that is web 2.0.

Jewish Social Scene 2.0: My good buddy, Ilan Segev, has no blog. (Does that make him Ilan 1.0?) So lacking the forum to break his own news scoops, he passed on a viral video ad for, which promotes itself as either the first or the biggest Jewish Social Networking site. As I mentioned the other day, social networking is "big news" in the web 2.0 world. Koolanoo (a hebrew word meaning "all of us") is certainly not the first Jewish social networking site (Jewish Geography, for one, has been around since 2000), but it is the first to look like MySpace or Facebook, and I guess that for this generation, that is the comparator.

Idiocy 2.0: Google issued an idiotic posting, no doubt prompted by their lawyers who are upset at being sued now they own the YouTube copyright problems, telling everyone that "google" as an everyday word is bad, Bad, BAD. They have a trademark to protect, and it is clearly more important to them than their reputation as a smart company. Their company motto is "Don't be evil". Perhaps they should add "Don't be idiots, either".

Transparency and the New Kosher

The requirements on a restaurant that wishes to maintain a kosher certification are imposed by a local certifying authority which is either an individual Rabbi or a Rabbincal Assembly or committee. In some communities, of course, there are arguments as to whose supervision is "more" kosher, or kosher "enough" (Editorial comment: Yuck!).

One aspect of Kosher certification relates to sabbath observance. If a restaurant is kosher in all respects but opens on Saturday (thus transgressing not food rules, but rules on sabbath observance), is it kosher? Generally the given answer is no, but there are exceptions, relating to restaurants owned by non-Jews, who are not bound by sabbath rules (as long as food prepared on the sabbath is not served at other times). However, Jewish tradition is always concerned about confusion that may ensue from rules that are applied with too much flexibility. The fear is that perhaps someone Jewish sees the restaurant is Kosher on a Saturday morning, and then goes in an buys a meal cooked on the Sabbath and pays with money (both forbidden by sabbath laws)? (Editorial comment: What?)

I have been very pleased to see that in some cities, a restaurant owned by non-Jews can receive a kosher certification that reads something like: "This establishment is kosher under the supervision of except during the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish Holidays". This tells Jewish customers who care about the certification that they can eat at the restaurant because it is kosher, but not to do so when rules that apply to them (but not the proprietors) prohibit cooking and commerce (Editorial comment: Clever, if a little annoying that is necessary at all).

However, once you realize that a certification can be dependent on things not directly related to food preparation, the notion suddenly becomes really exciting, and this applies to organic food labeling as well.

What if the food is prepared in farms or factories where the workers are exposed to unsafe working conditions? Should that be kosher, or organic? Should we require a higher standard of worker treatment, that is also supervised by a certifying authority, before purchasing food?

What if the packaging and processing is wasteful, non-recyclable, energy inefficient or who knows what. Can we hope to certify that the packaging and processing meets standards of safety, environmental responsibility, and energy efficiency? Is it kosher (or organic) if it is wastefully packaged or prepared?

What if the food is shipped across the country, and so consumes huge amounts of petroleum and creates huge amounts of pollution compared to public good of having that food in our supermarket? This is a key question asked in The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Polan, and points to the growth of the movement to support local farmers and buy local produce. Perhaps, like that flexible kosher certification I mentioned, the labels on organic food should read "Organic if purchased and consumed within 200 miles of ", or "Organic if purchased and consumed in due to fuel efficient delivery fleet".

How about an interim step... some extra transparency on these issues. Instead of "Produce of USA", label produce to the county level where it was produced and processed (possibly two locations), and how it was transported. Label processed foods with the energy used to process it, the location of the factory and how it was transported. If people could see just those facts, perhaps it would change the conversation.

Jewish Social Action Month

We are now in the Hebrew month of Cheshvan – between the many fall holidays of Tishrei and the flickering lights of Chanukah in Kislev. Cheshvan has no holidays, and so has been called Mar Cheshvan by tradition, meaning the bitter month of Cheshvan. We read the story of Noah during Cheshvan, and it was during this month that the great destructive rains began to flood the world. However, an organization called Kol Dor (which translates as both “Voice of the Generation” and “Every Generation”) has recreated Cheshvan as Jewish Social Action month, now in its second year.

Jewish Social Action Month calls on Jews and the Jewish people to look beyond our own community at what needs fixing in the world, to look at these contemporary issues through a Jewish lens, to engage with a regard for what unites us, to get on the right side of these issues and to do something about them.

Please share the urgency of being involved in social action with your communities whenever you can.

VC:VC Social(ly Active) Networking

Continuing my sporadic VC:VC series of postings comparing life as a venture capitalist with life as a venture cyclist, here are some thoughts on social networking, and socially active networking.

Social networking is a term that has some academic background, but venture capital types know that it means the internet phenomenon that links people together according to something that ties them together: high school, college, employer, friend-of-a-friend, shopping preferences and so on. An early icon of this phenomenon was the six degrees of separation websites that allowed you to register and invite your friends, and for them to do the same. You could then see if you had a connection to anyone else in the network stepping through connections registered on the website. Linked-In seems to have become the most successful of the professional oriented sites that provides this service. I have over 100 contacts registered with my profile, and I can search to see, for example, if I could connect through a network of connections to a vice president at Google or a programmer at EMC. Facebook and MySpace are analagous sites aimed squarely at the hip young market with lots of features for sharing information about yourself, your favorite photos, music, videos, hangouts, friends and so on.

Many startup ideas now come with social networking features, either thinking they are de rigueur or that, no matter how irrelevant, they make it easier to get funding. Social networking is part of the cluster of ideas that have been rolled together under the banner of Web 2.0 (or for jaded commentators: internet bubble 2.0). If I had an idea to create an online business by selling accessories for cycling, I could add the ability to find other cyclists who like my kind of bike in my area, and I would have a social networking component.

In the venture capital world, we have been doing social networking without the internet for years, but it does break down beyond one or two steps. I might remember to ask my partners if anyone knows someone at such-and-such company for a background reference on an entrepreneur, but I don't know if lurking just one connection away is exactly the right person. When one VC meets another for the first time, we generally see whom we know in common based on deals we have worked on. Similarly, when one Jew meets another for the first time, we often play "Jewish Geography", looking for mutual friends (or relatives). The Jewish community is small enough (even though larger than the VC world), that we often find some connection that exists. This is yet another example of non-internet social networking (although here is the on-line version).
In her keynote address to the Hazon 2006 NY Bike Ride on September 1st of this year, Anna Stevenson concludes with a marvellous poem:

The Long Road
by Marge Piercy

Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
But they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other sane,
can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat a pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund-raising party.
A dozen can hold a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

This shows the power of socially active networking, which is similar but slightly different. When I meet you, my goal is not only to find out who we know in common, and to whom else we might connect each other, but it is also to enlist you in a cause (hopefully a good one). When I meet you, expect me to play some variant of six degrees, and also to encourage you to get on your bike and join me, join us, next year on the Hazon 2007 NY bike ride.

Think globally, think locally

Dear Newton Community Farm CSA members,

Its been an interesting year, weather wise, to start a farm. But we've made a pretty good go of it, I think. I hope you do too. Thank you for supporting the farm in our inaugural season. I couldn't have done so much without all of your help.

I'm writing to let you know that the pick ups for [this week] will be the last pick ups for the 2006 season. We've been hard hit by frosts so things are winding down quickly for the farm. Our fields are low and surrounded by the large berm, so we get frosts even when no one else does.

This is the beginning of an email sent out today from Greg Maslowe, the farm manager at our CSA program at the Newton Community Farm. I am struck by how truly local food can be. Greg starts by reminding us of the spring and summer rains (and rains) under which the first season floated into existence. He then reminds us of the micro-topography of the farm, at a low point in the surrounding landscape. Just like heat rises, cold air falls, which is why being at a low point, surrounded by rising slopes and a berm, the cold, frosty air falls into the farm fields and has nowhere else to roll down. This is a true microclimate laid bare.

Sometimes, environment is global, but it can also be really local.

The food from our CSA has been amazing this year. If you are have not considered enrolling in one before, I recommend you do so for next year.

Rejoicing with the Bike

All Synagogues share a yearly calendar for readings from the Torah (Five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Each week Jews in Synagogue read the same section from the Torah, and during the year we go from the beginning of the cycle "In the beginning God created heaven and earth." to the end "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face..."

Today was Simchat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah), the last of the fall holidays in the Jewish calendar, which marks the end of one Torah reading cycle and the beginning of the next. We read the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis. There is a lot of rejoicing (hence the name) with singing and dancing. This is reinforced with much wedding imagery. The Torah is often compared to the wedding contract between God and the Jewish people. The reading is conducted under a makeshift chuppah (wedding canopy), and the reader of the end of Deuteronomy is called the Chatan Torah (bridegroom of the Torah) and the reader of the start of Genesis is called the Chatan Bereshit (bridegroom of Genesis).

Simchat Torah is, by my count, the seventh holiday starting from Rosh Hashanah just three weeks ago. At most three of those can coincide with a Saturday (which happened this year), so we have at least four, and in other years up to seven, extra days in Synagogue. Even on a "light" year, with three overlapping Saturdays, this is lots of extra Synagogue time, and I know I am not the only one who finds this fairly exhausting.

However I was able to cap off this year's festival season this afternoon with a wonderful bike ride with my friend Hillel Bromberg. He led me on a 20 mile route out to Weston and back which was 80% overlapping with the route of the ride Jason Glasgow and I took last Monday. It was an afternoon ride, and so at the warmest time of the day, but at 60 degrees (F), about the same as last Monday at 8am. We had sun and clouds, lovely fall colors, and light traffic. I was about as out of breath at the Campion Center as I had been last week, and noticed that I really am stronger about an hour into the ride (or is it after the first hill, I still don't know). I am strongly aware that these rides are among the last I will get this year before the real cold sets in, and am grateful for each one ... Thanks, Hillel!

Furthermore, I am really enjoying extending my connections with friends by riding with them, which is structured yet relaxed, and has a route but not a goal. Venture Cycling has its rewards.


VC:VC Follow-on rounds

After receiving a venture capital investment, a young start-up will use the funds to grow and will either need further investment or will not. Very rarely, a young company becomes so profitable using just those first dollars, that it doesn't need any more funding to go on to a successful outcome. Alternatively, some young companies fail, and hence don't need any more investments.

The majority of companies which get a first round of financing do need more, called follow-on rounds, of financing. There are basically two distinctions we make regarding follow-on rounds.

First, is it an up-round or a down-round (or flat)? Second, is it an inside-round or an outside-round?

At the time of the first round of financing, the company sells shares to the VC firm(s) at an agreed price per share. If a follow-on (subsequent) round of financing involves selling shares below the first-round price, then it is a down round. Selling at the same price gives us a flat-round, and a higher price (best of all) is an up-round.

The whole purpose of VC funding is that the company uses the funds to add more value than the dollars that were added, and so if we achieve that purpose we always have up-rounds. Everytime we sell shares there is a dilution (more of the pie is given away), but if the share price more than makes up for it, everyone can feel good. Obviously we don't feel so good if it is a down round. The earlier investors have paid more for something that is now worth less. A flat round is generally a fudge to make people feel that "at least it wasn't a down round". However, if we invested several million dollars a year or two ago, and now the share price hasn't changed, we clearly have not made great use of the original money.

VCs will "protect" themselves from down rounds with what are called anti-dilution agreements, that allow them to claw back some shareholdings in those circumstances (at the expense of management and founders). This is based on the premise that management is responsible for running the company and responsible if it does not achieve its targets.

On the matter of inside vs outside rounds, the question is whether a new investor is "leading" the round. To lead a round of investing generally requires an investor to offer a significant amount of the funds and to offer a price. An outside up-round is what we all aim for. An outsider (not an existing investor) comes in, sizes up the company and the opportunity, and with no axe to grind offers their opinion as to the value of the company, and backs it up with several million dollars of their own money. Previous investors can boast that someone from the outside has validated the growth of the company and the value that has been created. It is all still on paper, since previous investors are not selling their own shares for the new cash ... rather the company is getting the new cash to fund the next round of growth.

An inside round is where existing investors take the lead, name the price, and invest the funds. No-one can say the round comes from disinterested investors. Perhaps the price was chosen to make the company seem more valuable than it really is, or perhaps to make it seem less valuable. There are situations when existing investors could desire either outcome. Sometimes investors are so excited about the promise of the company, they prefer not to let outsiders invest, and so keep more of the ownership themselves. Sometimes investors have no choice, if they believe there is any chance of success, or don't want to give up on the company (yet), and they have to do an inside round for lack of an outsider offering acceptable terms. There are lots of complicated possibilities, but this gives you the gist.

So how does venture cycling compare to venture capital in this regard?

The first round for me was the work up to the Hazon bike ride. The follow-on has been an inside up-round. I have been cycling on my own and with friends, and have enjoyed the benefits of the investment earlier: I am fitter, faster, more comfortable on my bike - but that is basically my own evaluation.

What about the next round? My venture cycling will not take me to Israel in May 2007 because in my venture capital life we will have our annual meeting at the same time. I certainly plan to be at the 2007 New York ride, and I see that will be the next "outside round" where disinterested parties can see how I have progressed (if at all). I wonder whether it will be an up-round or a down-round?

On the road to Damascus

My good friend Jason Glasgow took me up on an invitation to go out on a morning bike ride on Monday (Columbus day). The traffic was light, and we went from Newton Centre out to Weston almost to Lincoln and then came back on a parallel track, covering over 22 miles in all. Jason was a great guide ... Thanks, Jason!

It was a glorious, glorious morning. The air was fresh and crisp, the sun was shining and some of the roads had been recently repaved. What more could a venture cyclist ask for? Although I am not as fit or as young as Jason, I felt like I didn't hold him back too much (I hope to do something about one of those distinctions). Going uphill, I managed to keep up better on the second half of the trip ... I seem to warm up over the first 45 minutes or so (or perhaps after the first good climb). On the downhills, the extra weight and better aerodynamics of my recumbent meant that I was faster than Jason, with less pedalling on my part.

Jason saw my 5th gear problem first hand. Many seconds after shifting up into 5th, the chain would slip up and down, seemingly for no good reason. Oh, well, Wheelworks will keep trying.

As we completed the climb up one of the more challenging hills, we stopped in the driveway of the Campion Jesuit Center in Weston. I noted that some of the more colorful language a cyclist might use to describe how out-of-breath they feel right at that location could be considered a religious plea by a charitable Jesuit who overheard, or perhaps an epiphany.

I have no plans to cycle to Damascus.


Chain of Events

Still suffering somewhat in 5th gear, I have been conversing regularly with Scott at Wheelworks. He wondered if my gear changing technique was correct. I wonder that as well. The evidence that it is fine would be the fact that I only suffer these problems in one gear, not the other eight. He then wondered whether this happened in all of the chain rings (the front 3-gear cassette) or just one. I tested that question and found the same problems in 5th gear for each of the three chain rings.

A day or two later Scott called me and said he had woken up in the middle of the night thinking it might be the chain. I will be bringing my bike back in sometime soon to see if replacing the chain fixes the problem ... Ideally I will have Scott come out for a ride with me to see if he can observe the phenomenon in vivo.

In a second chain of events, Dorit's grandmother passed away earlier this week. Dorit and Hannah are, as I write, flying home from the funeral in Glasgow which was yesterday. Their trip to Glasgow meant that my business trip to New York was cancelled (so I could be around for Asher and Rina). This meant that I had the chance to get out for a bike ride yesterday in the beautiful fall weather, which would otherwise not have happened.

Of course, all this threw me off my blogging rhythm. If a blog post doesn't fall in the woods...?


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ... Return, Reflect, Repent

One of the action phrases for the environmentally minded is "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"... as in reduce what you use, reuse it many times, and recycle it rather than trash it if you have to discard it.

This weekend is the high point of the Jewish high-holydays. Tonight and tomorrow is the Sabbath of Repentance, and Sunday night through Monday is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On these days, in Jewish tradition, the creator of the world is sitting in judgement and we are all supplicants to be written in the book of life. Ancient words ring through the synagogue, and who cannot be moved by them:
"who shall live and who shall die, who at the predestined time and who before their time, who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast?"

The mantra for these days might well be "Return, Reflect, Repent". The word for repenting in Hebrew is actually very close to the word meaning return, and as well as repenting, we talk about returning to our best selves, returning to God, to doing the right things instead of the wrong things. Reflection is my twist on the heavy prayer quotient of these days. From before sundown on Sunday through to nightfall Monday Jews will spend several, up to 15 hours, praying. It can be uplifting, and it can be very hard going. Nigel Savage, founder and executive director of Hazon has written a beautiful piece on the prayer marathons of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which I recommend to all. The net of it all is lots of time to reflect... not a bad thing for our times.

On Yom Kippur we fast, and we seclude ourselves away from almost all of the everyday world. Many do not drive, do not shower, and we certainly don't use very much in the way of electrical goods like TVs or PCs. We reach, for that one day, the nirvana of "reduce, reuse, recycle" - our ecological footprint on the world is as small on Yom Kippur as on any other day.

This Monday will be a pretty good time to be a Jew and a Venture Cyclist: "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ... Return, Reflect, Repent".

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

Real cyclists ride recumbents

For all those who poo-poo the power of a recumbent, check out the story of Greg Kolodziejzyk who set the Human Powered Vehicle 24 hour distance record this summer on a specially designed recumbent bike with an aerodynamic faring.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

VC:VC The Long Now

In his wonderful book, The Clock of the Long Now, Stuart Brand explores the work of Danny Hillis towards building a clock that will tick once a year, chime once a century, cuckoo once a millennium, and run for 10,000 years.

The notion is that we do not spend enough time thinking about time, and when we do, we think about now, the short now. If pushed we will think as far into the past as the birth of our grandparents, and as long into the future as the lifetimes of our grandchildren... altogether a span of around 200 years. Fashion provides an ephemeral now that is gone before we fully recognize it. Societal change frames a decade or a half century, and our own lifespan is optimistically set at a hundred years. Civilizational cycles occur over centuries, and religion allows us to think in terms of a few millennia. Only those concerned with geology and paleontology, or perhaps astronomy and cosmology, think in truly long timeframes.

Hillis, as reported in Brand's book, is seeking to expand how we think about time. Our impact on this planet now spans millennia, as exemplified by our creation of nuclear waste which must be disposed of in a way that will be safe over huge stretches of time. By creating a clock that lasts 10,000 years we might learn to think about energy sources that renew on their own, mechanisms that are self-healing, effectively forever, in the face of friction and wear, climate and human action.

The book is a great read because it is entertaining and thought-provoking. It is also a great context for thinking about venture cycling and venture capital.

Even as many think of cycling as a simple "back to nature" kind of transportation, that 10,000 year clock, makes me realize how mechanically sensitive a bicycle is (remember my 5th gear problems, and Hannah's mechanical problems at the start of the Hazon NY ride?). A bike is actually as much about the short now as it is about the long now. A bike is a great way to live in the present, smell the roses, stop rushing forward. Obviously admiring nature brings us to longer view issues around caring for the environment, too, but I am just as likely to be wondering if I will be fit enough to ride in 30 years, as about any concern for 3,000 years (or more) in the future.

In the early stage venture capital world we take the long view. The trouble is that we are being compared to many other kinds of investors for whom the longest practical timeframe is a calendar quarter, and more often the issue is about price movements today, or this minute.

An entrepreneur's fear is that venture capitalists want an "exit" within a couple of years. The long view that we espouse at Sigma is that we understand companies take five or even seven years to develop. Our funds are structured with ten year lifespans, and only the first three or four years are concerned with starting investments. The balance of the time is for the companies to mature and grow.

When people ask me, as many do, whether the current stock market news is good or bad, I always reply, "ask me in ten years." This is my way of saying that at least I don't worry about current stock market price movements. Our work is about growing companies over five years or more, and although a good stock market can help with that, we need to show we can build value in companies even if the stockmarket is not a rising tide, lifting all boats. This is long term thinking for most investment professionals, but it does pale in comparison with 10,000 years.

John Maynard Keynes said "in the long run we are all dead". Yes, we are, but our descendants are not, and if we have any sense of responsibility or stewardship for the world in which we live, we should spend at least some of our time thinking about the long now.


Cycles: 1

Since returning from the Hazon NY Ride, I have been out on my bike four times for a total of around 50 miles. I notice I am faster and stronger than beforehand, and am really enjoying that. I am also aware that at next year's NY ride I will need to be stronger for the long uphills. Nigel Savage's suggestion of using a recumbent exercise bike for hour long sessions, set at the highest setting, is probably the right training for me for that.

My bike has re-developed the problems I had reported early on with slippage in 5th gear (also in 7th I notice). Last night I dropped it off at Wheelworks for them to work on - hopefully they will nail it down this time.

Cycles: 2

This evening is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Although "shanah" means year, it also comes from the word meaning cycle or repitition. The Jewish New Year is always couched in the context of cycles - the cycles of the seasons, the years, our life. We spend this time of year thinking about how we could do better and be better in the next yearly cycle, and this culminates 10 days from now with the fast day of Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). This work is called "teshuva" which means returning ... returning to God, returning to our better selves, returning for another cycle, a new cycle.

I am enjoying thinking about these cycles from the new vantage point of being a venture cyclist. Autumn is arriving in New England, and at some stage I will stop riding my bike due to the weather. I am experiencing this bicycle cycle for the first time, and will look forward to returning to riding in the spring.

I am happy to extend the traditional new year greeting for a sweet and happy new year to all who are reading.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.


From a Bike to a Chair

On September 1st, at the beginning of the Hazon New York Ride, it was announced I had been elected as Chair of the Hazon Board of Directors. It turns out I am the first Chair, since the board has been operating without one since its inception.

I am thrilled to take my participation in this organization to the next level. I think Hazon has a great deal to offer the Jewish people and the world. One of Hazon's slogans is "Jews on Bikes ... and you don't have to be Jewish". Jews and non-Jews interested in the work of Hazon should feel free to contact me (see below).
As Hazon's new chair, I am the lucky one able to work with an organization that is recognized for its leadership, its vision, its contribution. I am able to participate in an important and exciting thread of the ongoing story of the Jewish People.

At the Ride Shabbaton (retreat) I was given the opportunity to share some thoughts about the journey that brought me to this new role for me and for Hazon, and my thoughts for the context of our work. The quotes on this page are from this talk. It is now available to read on the Hazon website (with my Hazon email address at the bottom of the transcript).
The word Hazon means Vision, and my personal vision is of a Jewish People turning from a relationship with the physical world that is unsustainable, which sooner or later must collapse, to a relationship with the physical world that is uplifted through a spirituality and morality to something that is good for the land and so brings out the best of the land.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

Eating my words, but not my spinach

To mix some metaphors, I stuck my neck out in my first posting on the E.Coli problem with fresh spinach, and I now seem to be getting some egg on my face. I based my post criticizing the industrial organic food chain on early reports that Earthbound Farms, a very large organic producer, was the focus of the investigation.

There are, as yet, no firm data, let alone firm conclusions on the source of this particular problem, but it is now a non-organic subsidiary of Earthbound Farms that is under scrutiny.

The plausibility of my original thesis, that the industrial organic food chain is vulnerable to such problems, remains strong in my mind. However, this case may well turn out to be about the industrial industrial food chain, and so I stand back from my first post to wait and see.

There was a great discussion on this issue today on WBUR radio's OnPoint program - listen to it here.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

More Google Whimsy

Regular readers know about my Google whimsy (here, here, and here).

Prompted by a correspondence with a new friend, I realized that for certain, very distinguished people, there is another number one can associate with ego-surfing on Google.

This number I call your Google Coverage, and is a percentage.

The name of my lovely wife, Dorit Harverd, when entered into Google, returns 33 entries. 31 of them are about her. Her Google Coverage is 94% (31 out of 33 as a percentage).

For many mere mortals Google Coverage is beyond calculation. My name, entered as a search term in Google (no quote marks, remember), returns over 23 million entries. It is just not possible to inspect each entry to know which are about me.

Talking about my wife... Dorit asked me last night what some of the posts have to do with VC (Venture Cycling) or VC (Venture Capital). That my initial response was a guffaw makes me realize that I do tend to meander. However, in my defense, I believe that the best VCs (and the best VCs) are curious and opinionated and so you will get these digressions from time to time.

A more considered response is that I am a venture cyclist because of Hazon, and so you will get posts about bikes, food, vision and Jewish topics on a regular basis. The other stuff I put down to being a venture capitalist.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.