Month: July 2008

Jul 31 2008

Software and Failure

As Amy and run around like silly people packing up to head back to Boulder tonight, I stumbled upon two fantastic posts on the web.  Consider this your daily reading if you read nothing else.

The first is titled Five Life-Changing Mistakes and How I Moved On by Julie Wainwright.  Julie is now the co-founder of SmartNow.com but is infamous for being the CEO of Pets.com.  Her post is personal and phenomenal.  She identifies five mistakes she made leading up to and during the simultaneous failure of Pets.com and her marriage.  She then describes – point by point – how she moved on.  The mistakes follow; you’ll need to click through to her article to see how she moved on. (Thanks Heidi).

  1. Allowed others to define me.
  2. I built my image of myself on two main supporting pillars.  When those collapsed, I did too.
  3. I stopped believing in myself.
  4. I stopped taking care of myself.
  5. Allowing my head to rule my heart.

The second is titled It’s the Software, Not You in the NY Times by David Pogue.  If you’ve been following along at home you know that I’ve been deeply immersed in human computer interaction (HCI) during the past year.  Pogue gives several great examples and ends with "Why do software designers want their work to appear more complex instead of less? I just don’t get why they don’t get it. So the next time you’re frustrated by software complexity, take heart; much of the time, it’s not you. It’s them. It’s designers who have something on their mind other than software intelligence."  Right on!

Both are worth reading and savoring.

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Jul 30 2008

Brief Thoughts On How The IBM Acquisition Machine Works

The NY Times has a great short article up titled The I.B.M. Acquisition Machine: A Seller’s PerspectiveIt has several quotes from Pierre Haren, the co-founder of CEO of Ilog which IBM acquired on Monday for $340 million.

I’ve been involved in the sale of two companies to IBM.  While a brief article, the comments Haren makes ring 100% true with my experience.

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Jul 29 2008

Connecting Your Brain Directly To The Internet

It could happen before you expect it.  I read a lot of science fiction and have been fantasizing about the opportunity to jack into cyberspace for a long time.  We are getting one step closer with our latest investment in EmSense.

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Jul 29 2008

Why I Spend A Month A Year in Homer, Alaska

I wish it were as simple as "the weather."  After 27 days in a row of rain (ok – we had sun for part of two days), the sun finally came out today.

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I’ve been coming up to Alaska in the summer for about 15 years.  Amy grew up here and after we started going out together it seemed like a trip to her home state was in order.  I grew up in Texas, so after putting up with the "if you cut Alaska in half Texas would become the third largest state" jokes, I took a trip and immediately fell in love with the place. 

There are many magical things about Alaska.  Everyone here has a story.  The scale of things is unbelievable.  When the sun shines, nothing is wrong with the planet.  But my favorite is that everything here needs a power wash and I get to wear jeans anywhere I go.  We bought a house in Homer six years ago and have been coming here for about a month a year ever since.

I’ve written about my need for a periodic downshift as one way I manage the intensity level of my life.  I’m fundamentally an introvert, yet I spent much of my life in extrovert situations. Over time I reach a point where I need a break from human contact.  My month in Homer is my ultimate annual downshift.  While I’m up here I work about half time, which means a 40 hour a week schedule.  Since we don’t know many people here I end up with a remarkable amount of reading, thinking, running, and chilling out time.  We don’t have a TV – and we don’t miss it.

Over the course of the year I get tired. I get up every day at 5 am. I run 5 to 10 hours / week. I work 12 – 15 hours a day, Monday to Friday. I work on the weekends. I travel. As I get older, I’ve found I simply need some time each year to sleep until I wake up.

I want more focused time with Amy. When I die, I won’t have had enough time with her.  We take a week off together every quarter, but that’s not enough for either of us.  I want to spend more time with her and this is a way to get a lot of time together.

I periodically need to refresh / reboot my brain. I need time to think, experiment, and play with new ideas. Getting away and having a month in a totally different context does that for me.

Entertainingly, I always have plenty of deal activity that happens in July.  This year I was involved in a major financing and another transaction that should close soon.  Anyone who works with me knows I am available, but very mellow.  Ah – the magic of DSL and a cell phone.

While a month in a different context doesn’t (and can’t) work for everyone, hopefully this provides a glimpse into how it works for me and answers the question I’ve gotten over and over again this month of "what are you doing up in Homer, Alaska?"

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Jul 28 2008

The Best Advice For The Economy I’ve Heard In A While

Mark Cuban has a brilliant post up titled How to Jumpstart the Economy – Tax Free Small BusinessesHe totally nails it.  Send a copy to every politician you know.

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Jul 25 2008

A Very Good String Of Books

I had a week of "a book a day" where every single one I read was great.  I’m now slogging through an "ok" book (The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism) so I thought I’d take a break and write quick reviews of the excellent ones that I have read lately.

The Last Lecture: Wow.  Randy Pausch is just incredible.  A well known CMU professor with a great zest for life, Randy was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in September 2006.  He broke into the mainstream with his awesome lecture titled "The Last Lecture" which was the final lecture he gave at CMU.  It’s a riveting 76 minute lecture that the book was subsequently based on.  Both are worth every second you spend on them.  As of today, Randy is still alive, but according to his blog he recently "has also taken a step down and is much sicker than he had been. He’s now enrolled in hospice."  (Added the morning of 7/25: Randy Pausch passed away last night.) I don’t know Randy personally, but after hearing his lecture, reading as much of his as I could find on the web, and then reading The Last Lecture, I feel like a have a real sense for him.  He teaches – and inspires – in a way and at a high level that few other do in this world. 

The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father’s Nazi Boyhood: I had a wide range of emotions after reading The Last Lecture, but I wasn’t prepared for The Mascot.  This is easily the best book of the year so far.  Mark Kurzem writes a complex story about discovering his father’s childhood as an "adopted Nazi."  Kurzem discovers this as an adult in graduate school when his father, who has suppressed this knowledge from everyone his entire life, finally opens up to Kurzem.  As his father starts telling the parts of his story that he can remember, the two of them explore his father’s past (it turns out he’s a jew), and try to put the many pieces of the puzzle of his father’s childhood back together.  On top of it all, the relationship between father and son is complex and evolves beautifully and unpredictably through the book.  Fabulous, shocking, brutal, mysterious, complicated, sad, depressing, and intriguing at so many levels.

Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!): If you are a happily married couple living in Denver with two youngish daughters and you decided to embark on having sex every day for 100 days, what would it be like?  Yup – that’s what this book is about.  It’s extremely well written – has the appropriate amount of titillation and salacious stuff without being over the top while being an enjoyable romp through the complex life of a modern couple that I expect many people can relate to.  Equal parts brain candy, philosophy, biography, and – well – sex.

The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine: I’m not an oeniphile so I didn’t expect to love this book, but I did (thanks Frank for the recommendation.)  I learned an incredible amount about the history of wine while getting a great look into the mysterious world of high priced "rare" wines – and what appears to be a massive fraud that evolved over a 20 year period surrounding a wide range of "rare" wines.  The cast of characters is extensive and while this is clearly history (going back to Thomas Jefferson) it reads like a thriller.  Yum.

Glasshouse: After that stretch of books I needed some mental floss.  I loved the Charles Stross sci-fi book that I read last week and on a reader’s recommendation went on Amazon and bought all of his books for my Kindle.  This one was even better, and I’ve got another half dozen to go before I run out of things he’s written in the past few years.

The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crash of 2008 and What It Means: I figured Soros would be a challenge after Glasshouse.  Every other chapter (the philosophy part) was.  I always enjoy reading Soros’s books; I never completely understand them but I enjoy his blunt and cynical view about the markets and how people interact with them.

Now – this incredible stretch of great books couldn’t continue.  It doesn’t.  I read about half of The Pirate’s Dilemma tonight.  It’s ok, but all the commentary between the examples are unnecessary as the examples are the meat (and stand on their own.)  Fortunately, I know how to skim.

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Jul 23 2008

The Dark Knight

Amy insists I’m the Good Knight so we’ll call this a good night for the Dark Knight.

Brad the Warrior

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

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Jul 23 2008

My Dad’s Summer Camp Story – 1950

I love it when my dad writes about personal history on his blog.  He’s a great storyteller and is extremely articulate about living and growing up in a generation that seems very very far away from today, as well as very far away from the generation I grew up with.

His post titled Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund Summer Camp 1950 made me smile an enormous smile.  I can totally see my scrawny 12 year old dad surrounded by these huge guys from the Red Hook District in Brooklyn, being scared shitless but keeping it all inside, and winning them all over on the ball field.

Love ya dad.

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Jul 23 2008

Doubling Down

Fred Wilson – my friend and co-investor in Zynga – titled his post on Zynga’s $29 million financing Raising The Stakes so I couldn’t resist titling my post Doubling Down.  And I’ll echo what Fred said – I’m amazed with the hand that Mark Pincus (Zynga’s CEO and founder) has and am delighted to be sitting at the table playing it with him.

Zynga just announced that Kleiner Perkins has led a $29 million round that includes new investor Institutional Venture Partners and the old investors (Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group, and Avalon Ventures.)  Bing Gordon from KPCB has joined the board – Bing recently joined KPCB and was previously the chief creative officer at Electronic Arts where he had been a key executive since 1982.  The TechCrunch article has some good info in it including the news that Zynga has acquired Yoville.

When we made our initial investment in Zynga last November, the idea of "social gaming" was just starting to emerge.  Mark and the team at Zynga started with Texas HoldEm Poker (hence the poker theme in the first paragraph) but rapidly expanded into a number of other socially-oriented games on Facebook that you could play with your friends.  When I wrote about some of these games in my post Wanna Play Zynga Games With Me?  I was just starting to understand the potential power of social gaming.  Over the past six months, I’ve become an incredible believer in the appeal of social gaming as a broad idea and see it as a disrupting force in the overall gaming industry.  Oh – and as a user it’s also a ton of fun to play these games with people I know all over the world.

While gaming is nothing new (and continues to be a fantastic business), the science of social gaming – figuring out how it works, making the games compelling, and dealing with the broad platform issues that come with massive scale – is really hard.  While the popularity of Facebook seeded the social gaming phenomenon, it is now rapidly evolving onto new platforms such as other social networks like MySpace as well as connected devices like the iPhone via the iPhone AppStore. 

While I’ve had a bunch of fantastic experiences as an investor, the tempo, pacing, quality of the people, and success of Zynga has exceeded anything I’ve ever experienced.  I attribute it all to the genius of Mark and the fantastic people that he’s surrounded himself with.  And it’s cool to be doubling down with investors like Bing, IVP, my friends Fred Wilson and Rich Levandov, and the entire team at Zynga that are the real folks making this happen.

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Jul 22 2008

Glue and Comments

Since last summer I’ve been talking about comments as the Dark Matter of the Blogosphere.  I use Intense Debate* for the comment system on my blog and have learned a lot by experimenting with it. 

In the past six months comments have moved to the forefront of the discussion around user generated content.  While the various new commenting systems that have emerged have played a part in this, I think the broad activity around systems that enable small bursts of user generated content (Twitter, BrightKite*) and systems that aggregate a wide variety of user generated content (FriendFeed, SocialThing*) are playing a huge role in this and more "comment-like" data is being generated all over the Web.

One of the investment themes I’m most fascinated with right now is the one we call "Glue".  We’ve made a handful of investments in the Glue theme at Foundry Group including Gnip, AdMeld, and Topspin.  We’ve also been working with our good friend Eric Norlin – the creator of the Defrag Conference – on a Glue Conference.

I’m always looking for great, simple examples of Glue and I found one accidentally the other day.  I put up a blog post titled Brilliant Op-Ed Crushing McCain On The EconomyI posted it on Sunday morning and then went out for a two hour run.  I came back to about 20 comments on it in my inbox.  Even though the post was done on my blog, I noticed the comments were from FriendFeed accounts being emailed to me by Intense Debate.

Here’s what happened.  My blog is one of my FriendFeed services.  A vigorous debate broke out on FriendFeed between a couple of people.  I wouldn’t have noticed it until Monday when I checked my FriendFeed ego feed (I only do this once a day.)  However, Intense Debate is "glued" to my FriendFeed account so any comments that show up on a blog post of mine on FriendFeed automatically show up in Intense Debate on my blog.  It’s a small feature, but a brilliant one, as it brings the overall conversation associated with my blog post back to my blog where I actually want it.

There are now 46 comments on this particular blog post (unexpected – I don’t write that much about politics and it was a Sunday post.)  Most of them are from the FriendFeed discussion, but some are from my blog readers.  They are intermixed where I want them – on my blog.  Even though they are coming from multiple sources, they persist permanently on my blog due to a tiny feature in Intense Debate.

Now – this is all much too complex still, but it’s why the Glue is so interesting to us.  We are continually looking for unnecessary complexity in the metaverse and ways to build really large companies that (a) take advantage of the complexity, (b) simplify the complexity, or (c) both.  If you make glue, email me!

* Yes – I’m aware that each of Intense Debate, BrightKite, and SocialThing are TechStars companies from 2007 – and I’m immensely proud of the progress each has made and the fact they are in the midst of what I consider to be a very interesting and vigorous segment of our little tech universe

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