Unhappy Meals

I am sure I will not be the only person linking to this great article from the NY Times by Michael Pollan. The article is called "Unhappy Meals" and the headline is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants."

I hope Mr. Pollan will forgive me for my very brief precis:

Eat food: what your great-grandmother would recognise as food (and nothing with a health claim or more than about five ingredients on the box)

Not too much: most of the US national eating disorder is about eating too much - don't

Mostly plants: plants come to us as whole food, with a balance of goodness we evolved around - most of the other stuff is either bad for us in and of itself, or is bad for us the way we process and eat it

Reward: health and long life.

There is a motif in there about maintaining a traditional, community approach to food as a means to healthful eating. I wonder if the Jewish and Kosher approaches have such benefits ... somehow I am doubtful!

VC:VC East vs West

I had the privilege of attending the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council annual meeting this morning. Governor Deval Patrick spoke: "what a breath of fresh air" was a common refrain, followed by "I hope he can make it stick."

The final speaker was Dave Girouard, VP & GM, Enterprise, Google. At the end of his talk, Dave spoke about his bi-coastal job search in 2003. He noted that in the Boston area VCs and executives seemed to be hiring for "someone who has done it before", while on the west coast the interviews was for "someone who could do it". He also noted the Boston VCs expected more sweat equity (ie below-market salaries) from founding teams, while on the west coast there was a better recognition of the competition for talent and the need to pay at market rates.

I think this commentary is absolutely valid and we East Coast VCs should take it to heart. (Whether a leopard can change its spots, or an old dog learn new tricks is yet to be determined!)

Dave had other commentary, which I will chat about in another posting. However, now consider how this applies in the non-profit world. When I was involved in the search committee for a new head of school at JCDS, the Board specifically recognized that if we found someone who had done it before, we would be looking at someone with no interest in growth. The best candidates would be looking for a challenge, and so someone who had "done it before" would by definition likely not be of the caliber we sought. Instead we had to look at likely capabilities - can she or he do it? And, yes, several months on, we absolutely feel we made the right choice hiring someone who had not headed a Jewish day school before.

Dave's comments generalize the entire geographic region, and we think at Sigma that we seek out first time executives pretty aggressively, just as JCDS did. In the end, this is a firm by firm (and organization by organization) behavior... but we have been warned.


The Ultimate Israel Bike Ride

Ori Devir has been the driving force behind the creation of the Israel National (hiking) Trail. When he heard that Todd Balf wanted to cycle the length of the trail on his mountain bike, he said "You know, if you do that I will have to shoot you."

This is reported in a wonderful article by Balf in Bicycling magazine, passed to me by my friend Gregg Stern, about cycling on the Israel Bike Trail which overlaps closely with the hiking trail.

The Hazon 2007 Israel ride is now only three months away, and Jerusalem to Eilat on roads looks pretty simple compared with Balf's ride. However, nearly 300 miles in a week is a tough ride, and although I am not participating this year (nor have I done so in the past), I will be supporting many friends through sponsoring them. The ride supports Hazon and also the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, where Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians study and work together on the regional environmental issues that know no borders.

Please consider making a general donation if you don't have specific friends to support.

Eve, the apple and the omnivore's dilemma

I have the privilege of studying Torah every other week with a group of dads at my kids' school. We have been going two or three years now and have reached the beginning of Genesis chapter 3 in which Eve is faced with the choice about eating a new kind of apple...

In a close reading of this (which is the only kind we do) we wonder aloud about many meanings of the story. One of the participants noted that only humans have doubt ... should I eat it or not? This reminded me of The Omnivore's Dilemma (which I have mentioned many times). The title of the book is drawn from the dilemma that humans and other omnivorous species (such as rats) all share about whether to eat something unfamiliar which looks possibly tasty.

I think we could suggest that Eve was the first human to suffer from this omnivore's dilemma. Had she chosen differently perhaps she would have been the only one (assuming all her descendants would have inherited her restraint)...

VC:VC Hibernation

It is tough for your venture cyclist not to hibernate in the sour winter. I am not a hardy cyclist and so you will not often see me on the roads during this season, if at all. However, cycling is not far from my thoughts, as Dan Victor, the first of my friends asking me to sponsor him on the Hazon Israel bike ride sent me a note of his plans. Also, the Hazon 2007 NY ride registration is now open, much earlier than in previous years. Hannah and I plan to ride again (cue the music). Have you thought about spending Labor Day weekend on this excellent adventure with us?

Last weekend was the Hazon board retreat - a six hour meeting during which reviewed the past year and looked ahead to the next. One area of board focus this year will be how we can measure our progress and success - not just program by program, but with respect to our mission and vision. More and more we are talking about our vision as "Hazon seeks to promote a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community, as a step towards a healthier and more sustainable world for all." Does that resonate well (or not)? Your comments are welcome.

In the other part of my VC life, the venture capital side, this is generally a busy time of year - not a time for hibernating at all (perhaps this is why VC bloggers do appear to hibernate). The sloth of the "holiday season" is behind us and we are all working to catch up. As are most VCs, I am working with my companies on very serious reviews of 2007 plans. A couple of them are working towards follow-on financing which adds to the fun. We all get out of the office for another reason as well: different sub-permutations of the partnership also visit all our LPs (outside investors) once we have closed the books for the year, starting next week.

On one last note, I spent a little time this week thinking about the art vs the science of venture capital investing. I am a great believer in the Sigma approach to investing as an art. Early stage companies success is mostly about the people who lead them (at least in our opinion), and so we focus on that far more than market sizing or other financial models. However, my partners also know I am interested in whether hard data can help us think about our portfolio investment decisions. With that in mind I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Gompers this week. Paul is a professor at Harvard Business School who specializes in entrepreneurship and the VC world. Many of our areas of interest overlap, and he recommended a book (Venture Capital and the Finance of Innovation, by Andrew Metrick) which reviews the current intersection of practice and academic thinking around the science of VC investing. Now reading such a book comes close to the sins of sloth or lust, according to Bob Davoli's seven deadly VC sins, but it is now on order, and I look forward to seeing what application, if any, I can make of its ideas.

White Rabbits

I grew up with my mother's superstition that the first thing you should say on the first of a month is "White Rabbits". My mum got it from her mum ... I see from the internet that its origins are obscure. However, every time I say it I get to think about my mum who lives in London, and my dear grandma who died in 1989 and whom I still miss.

I did manage to remember to say "White Rabbits" yesterday morning when I woke up, and here I am saying it first on the blog in 2007.

The reason for the recent quiet on the blog is having been in London for 10 days with family ... lots of fun (plus a fair amount of fog, mist, rain etc). The highlight of the trip was a day in London with Hannah ... here we are at the top of the London Eye.

This is the time of year for predictions ... I predict one dozen white rabbits, of which one has already been spotted.

Happy 2007 to all.