Snowy Sunday Brunch

Another season of cycling seems to have come to a close. In anticipation of one last ride this morning in temperatures below 40 degrees (F), I bought a cyclists balaclava (to fit under my helmet). Perhaps I should have suffered the cold (out! damned superstition!), because this morning the weather forecast had changed from a cold but clear morning to one with a likelihood of snow/rain. We called off our ride, and indeed by the time the temps were above freezing the snow had started. I have some small hope of one or two more rides this year, but those hopes are fading.

This has been a millennial year again for me. If a "century" for a cyclist is a 100 mile ride, then a millennial year is one in which I bike at least 1000 miles. My trusty Garmin GPS tells me I have indeed reached that milestone.

On the work front, this week I have a fun video to share for those interested in what is happening in the world of virtual goods. (What, don't all leave now.) One of the Sigma investments is in Viximo, who produced this video to encourage artists to join the company's creators community and earn a chance of fame and fortune.

In another area of high-tech brilliance (not one in which we have invested, but which allows me include the food tag for this posting), let me introduce OnLatte. This company has modified ink-jet printer heads to use caramelized sugar to print detailed designs (logos, words, pictures) on Latte foam, and yes, even beer foam. I have seen it work.

Also on a food related topic, Anna Lappe (of the Small Planet Institute) suggests to President-elect Obama that he "create a Food Corps, modeled after the Peace Corps, that would inspire and support a generation of young people to dedicate a year or two of their lives to engage with ending needless hunger in a country of plenty and the squandering of fossil fuels, water, soil, and other precious resources through chemical agriculture. " This is part of Grist's series asking a cohort of sustainable food and agriculture activists to present elevator pitches for the new administration.

Engage with Grace

[GUEST POST: This post was written by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team.]

We make choices throughout our lives - where we want to live, what types of activities will fill our days, with whom we spend our time. These choices are often a balance between our desires and our means, but at the end of the day, they are decisions made with intent. But when it comes to how we want to be treated at the end our lives, often we don't express our intent or tell our loved ones about it.

This has real consequences. 73% of Americans would prefer to die at home, but up to 50% die in hospital. More than 80% of Californians say their loved ones “know exactly” or have a “good idea” of what their wishes would be if they were in a persistent coma, but only 50% say they've talked to them about their preferences.

But our end of life experiences are about a lot more than statistics. They’re about all of us. So the first thing we need to do is start talking.

Engage With Grace: The One Slide Project was designed with one simple goal: to help get the conversation about end of life experience started. The idea is simple: Create a tool to help get people talking. One Slide, with just five questions on it. Five questions designed to help get us talking with each other, with our loved ones, about our preferences. And we’re asking people to share this One Slide – wherever and whenever they can…at a presentation, at dinner, at their book club. Just One Slide, just five questions.

Lets start a global discussion that, until now, most of us haven’t had.

Here is what we are asking you: Download the slide and share it at any opportunity – with colleagues, family, friends. Think of the slide as currency and donate just two minutes whenever you can. Commit to being able to answer these five questions about end of life experience for yourself, and for your loved ones. Then commit to helping others do the same. Get this conversation started.

Let's start a viral movement driven by the change we as individuals can effect...and the incredibly positive impact we could have collectively. Help ensure that all of us - and the people we care for - can end our lives in the same purposeful way we live them.

Just One Slide, just one goal. Think of the enormous difference we can make together.

(To learn more please go to

Sunday Brunch

I think I may make a habit out of a Sunday morning brunch posting (especially now it is too cold to bike here in Boston). Like my Sunday morning cornucopia of a few weeks ago, here is a smorgasbord to catch up on items of note.

Many of you know one of my favorite (food related) sayings is "Life is uncertain, eat dessert first", and so we start brunch today with this excellent looking, geek inspired, dessert.

Told you so...
On July 10 I wrote about Facebook third party apps, suggesting Facebook should charge app developers. Later that month, Facebook announced their Application Verification process, with a charge of $375 per year. It just rolled out this week. (Another scoop for your intrepid correspondent.)

Startup Survival...
Lists, and lists of lists (or, lists and lists, of lists)

The end is nigh... (?)
I happen to disagree with almost everything that is said on "The Funded", but I did happen to wonder about this data contending that the VC model is broken (click on picture to get to Techcrunch report).

And to finish off today's brunch, from the incomparable XKCD...

Hazon pride

This week, Nigel Savage, the founder and Executive Director of Hazon was named to The Forward's annual "Forward 50" list. Listed under Food (an interesting category - worthy of discussion itself), the report stated:

Remember the summer blackout of 2003 in the Northeast? Lots of people used it as an excuse not to leave home, but about 100 hardy souls schlepped their bicycles to Long Island to kick off a four-day bike ride at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, thanks to Nigel Savage. Savage, who hails from Manchester, England, is the environmentalist impresario behind Hazon, a Jewish outdoor education group formed in 2000. Not only does Hazon hold annual bike rides to raise money for Jewish environmental projects, it runs community-supported agriculture programs (support for small farmers = fresh produce for urban Jews!) throughout the United States, Canada and Israel. Recent entries on the organization’s food-politics blog, "The Jew and the Carrot," run the gamut from a warning about pesticide-covered etrogim to a recipe for warm barley salad to an advice column by "The Shmethicist." Hazon threw itself into the debate over ethical kashrut last December when it publicly slaughtered a goat at its annual food conference to raise consciousness about meat production. Savage helped found the New York chapter of the British-based Jewish educational group Limmud, and even had a previous life as a Wall Street-type in England. According to his Web site, one of his proudest accomplishments is that he may be "the first English Jew to have cycled across South Dakota on a recumbent bike."

Congratulations, Nigel - well deserved!

While talking about Hazon, there is still time to register for the 2008 Hazon Food Conference ("Think before you Eat") at Asilomar in Northern California over Shabbat Chanukah (which happens to be the holiday weekend for the other half of the Judeo-Christian community).

Finally, perhaps you might think about signing up for the Spring 2008 Hazon-Arava Institute Israel bike ride celebrating, among other things the Tel Aviv centennial.

A falling tide...

A rising tide raises all boats.

A falling tide reveals who has been swimming naked.

With thanks to Warren Buffet for the swimming naked metaphor, and for those who have not already noticed the tide falling, look over at the startup world and you will see a bunch of naked swimmers right now. (Of course, GM doesn't look too great either right now.) Being caught naked, to explain the metaphor, is operating without enough cash, leading to cuts, layoffs or even shutting down.

Swimming naked is, however, a fairly standard strategy for entrepreneurial organizations. Usually (in a stable or rising tide), no-one can see you are naked, swimming serenely, well covered by the sea.

When a VC firm invests, we are buying shares in the company. The more money we invest, the more shares we buy, and leave fewer shares in the hands of the founders and management. Since we all want the founders and management to do well if the company does well (alignment of incentives), both sides have an interest in the right balance between too much investment and too little. The general plan is for a startup to take "just the right amount" at each step. As the company grows and progresses, the price per share goes up (reflecting the higher value and valuation of the company), allowing for more money to be invested later without taking so much away from the founders and management. For better or worse, this means that young companies, in particular, have "just enough" money to get them to the next stage, plus a little padding, but often not enough to deal with more than usual turbulence. Hence, it doesn't *look* like anyone is naked in usual times. News flash: the current financial crisis is more than usual turbulence.

Hence, seeing all those naked swimmers (startups without enough cash) is actually a sign that the VC investment model is working ... but it is tuned for usual times, not unusual times. Customers have stopped buying suddenly and completely. Investors have turned pessimistic, making it difficult to get a new round of financing. Banks have stopped lending.

The best startups can survive this by reacting fast enough to conserve their cash and hunker down until customers start buying again. This may mean some cuts, but if you don't need to find new sources of outside funding during this period and are able to stay in business, you will certainly be stronger when the tide starts to turn, and you may well be the leader.

In the non-profit world, things are similar in some ways. Non-profits that to not have endowments (and hence "guaranteed" income underpinning their budget), rely on fundraising from year to year. Operating with a significant proportion of your budget dependent on annual fundraising is as close to swimming naked as I can imagine. This is made doubly hard because donors like to give to a cause that is doing something now ... they are not so interested in helping top up the rainy day fund or build an endowment. Hence non-profits grow with current fundraising from year to year in good times and are more exposed than they would like when a downturn arrives.

And so here is the punch line ... please support your favorite charities ... especially now (before the end of the year) to help them close their books, and then re-up in January to give them a solid foundation for the new year. If you can afford it, this is the time to make larger donations, not smaller ones... and consider donating to the endowment as well.