Archive for February 2011
Last year, I had the priviledge and honor of being a Global Teen Leader (GTL) by the We Are Family Foundation (WAFF). WAFF, founded by musician and producer Nile Rodgers, created its Three Dot Dash GTL program in honor of the life of peacemaker Mattie JT Stepanek. Mattie, who died right before his 14th birthday, was a child prodigy and peacemaker, writing a book with Jimmy Carter. According to Mattie, each one of us has a heartsong, or a special gift within us that is meant to be shared with the rest of the world. Each of the GTLs, now at 90 worldwide, shared Mattie’s committment to making the world more peaceful.
Yesterday, I received an email on the Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leader listserv that went something like this:
Our brother Mahmoud Jabari – 2008 GTL – from Palestine was arrested by the Israeli troops two days ago during the Hebron Protests!
The GTLs have launched a global campaign, including a petition to free him. He was chosen by the United Nations to deliver this message to the Security Council in a few months, and we have thus reached out to Ambassador Susan Rice to notify her and ask for her guidance to ensure minimal pain.
Mahmoud, a peacemaker, journalist, and founder of Lens for Change, represents what the Middle East needs. As the generation of those who were not alive, and whose parents were not alive, during the creation of Israel about 60 years ago begins to enter their early 20s, people like Mahmoud will be critical to bringing peace to the region. As the stories of the aftermath and the atrocities become more and more distant and as Israel becomes remembered as something that has always been there, the window of peace will crack open a little bit more. When it does, I hope the globalized Generation Y, led by people like Mahmoud, feel the breeze of peace rather than shut the window completely.
Update (3/3/11): Mahmoud was cleared of all charges and released. Thrilled and deeply inspired by the tremendous effort of the PBSNews Hour, Seeds of Peace, The Daniel Pearl Foundation, iEarn, Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, Relief International, the We Are Family Foundation, and the GTLs!
The digital world and the physical world have merged in tremendous ways over the past three years. Computing power has become nearly ubiquitious, mobile phone usage is often more pervasive than access to clean sanitation in the developing world, and technologies like Sixth Sense, GPS, and Red Laser are moving us that much closer to eliminating the line between what’s digital and what’s physical. They are also making us that much more dependent too, with many formerly tangible services (phone books, travel agents, journals, and even financial transactions) being moved completely online.
But one connection that still hasn’t mobilized or changed in a meaningful way is printing from computers or mobile phones. Dominated by large, public, dominant companies of the early 2000s (HP, Compaq, etc.), printing hasn’t changed much. Color printing, laser printing, and wireless printing have all happened within the last 5 years, but the actual hardware has remained the same: large, stagnant, and immobile.
Beign able to take laptops and iPhones on trips and into meetings are revolutionary, but if we need to print something and aren’t in our home or office, they are pretty useless. Often, the only time college students, who study all over campuses, need to come back to their room’s desk is to plug their USB cable into their laptops to print.
We need laptops or iPhones with the ability to print small amounts of paper directly out of the laptop or phone itself. Although this may slightly bulk up the design of laptops and be impossible in products like the Macbook Air, I bet cartridges and other components could be designed cleverly enough to make the change hardly noticable.
Mobile printing could be a small addition that could disrupt the printing industry completely. In fact, it could almost eradicate it like cell phones have done to landlines.
I’ve been closely in touch with Adam Leibsohn over the past year as he has developed Voyurl. Adam is the passionate founder and former designer, which explains the eye-popping look of the current interface. He sent me an email this morning updating me on the progress and I was impresssed yet not surprised.
Blippy allows you to broadcast your credit card transactions and purchases to the public and to your friends. Voyurl goes a step further: allowing you to broadcast in real time, to your friends and to the public, your site history. In other words, when you’re visiting a website, it isn’t just the website host or your ISP who know. But everyone.
You can also choose to go anonymous or not broadcast certain websites. Certain destinations, like online bank accounts, are also off limits.
There is clearly a business in the information. It could allow advertisers to target precisely down to the very person, combining their Facebook profile data (if they use FB Connect) with every site they visit. It could gather data on the very patterns of behavior of website usage amongst different demographics. And, it could serve as a direct referrer for online purchases and unique deals, similar to Facebook’s newsfeed.
But who would ever use it? Well, it seems like a lot of curious people. They’re about to hit 1,000,000 links shared in three weeks in their private alpha. With some more controls on what one can share and a prioritized list on what people are seeing, Voyurl could become a wacky, but relevant and widely-used product.
So go ahead. Take a peek inside. As Voyurl’s tag line goes, it’s okay to look.
But don’t forget, people are looking at you too.
I met with a friend, the CEO of a very cool Internet startup in San Francisco who had just closed his Series B. In the current “bubble” of Internet company valuations, I was surprised at the valuation of his growing, hot, revenue generating company. As someone who generally thinks prices are too high in today’s Internet deals, his wasn’t as high as I thought it should and could have been.
As a comparison, a new competitor in the same space just closed their Series A. This competitor is doing less than 1/10 the revenue of this CEO’s company, doesn’t have as developed of a product, yet raised their Series A at the exact same price as the Series B of the first company.
So what happened? Was the competitor’s price too high? Almost definitely. Why? Apparently, they had one of the best pitches most investors have ever seen and had created an amazing hype around the business, engaging two top VCs in a bidding war. But was the CEO’s company undervalued? Almost definitely too.
It turns out that this CEO had gone out to raise the follow on financing too late. He was presenting to firms only six weeks before his company was going to run out of cash. In fact, the price would have been even lower if another VC had not come in and bid up the price to the current level. Generally, with the exception of the stories of VCs not letting CEOs leave pitches without taking a check, it takes VCs at a minimum at least 3 weeks from beginning to money in the bank. And that’s assuming the company is perfect, the valuation is spot on, and nothing goes wrong.
The lesson: it may seem obvious, but seems to be forgotten when CEOs are heads down trying to run their companies. CEOs generally want to start fundraising as late as possible so they can show as much progress as possible, which should value the company higher. But sometimes they start too late. CEOs of young companies should be sure to start fundraising at least 3 months before money is going to expire, with a target of closing at least 1.5 months before, or else risk getting hit on valuation to save the company.
As part of a group, I was invited to a lunch discussion with Stanford President John Hennessy earlier today. He is on the boards of Google, Cisco, Atheros, and the Daniel Pearl Foundation; was the founder of MIPS; and just sat down with President Obama last week.
Key takeaways/viewpoints of his that I found interesting:
- One thing that makes America great is that failure is not fatal. However, it can also be its weakness, as that is fundamentally what caused the financial crisis.
- Politics have moved away from the Jeffersonian ideal of it being a step away from your “normal”career. It has become a full time career for people and that is troubling.
- Authoritarian leadership doesn’t work in any great company.
- One of the most important character traits of his that made him President was that he was always honest, but gentle, especially when delivering bad news.
- Reputation is critical. It is like a flame: easy to build up, but once extinguished, it is tough to light again.
It seemed like the past five years, all we heard off the field was sports athletes in jail, getting arrested for alleged rape, dog fighting, taking steriods or drugs, and sending lewd photos.
Michael Vick. Ben Roethlisberger. Brett Favre. Plaxico Burress. Maurice Clarrett. Mark McGuire. Kobe Bryant. And the list goes on and on and on. It seemed life half of the NFL or NBA was on probation, in a lawsuit, or at some point had a run-in with the police. And it felt like half of the MLB was on steroids after the Mitchell Report came out.
Professional athletes, once role models to almost every kid who dreamed of playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden or in the snow at Soldier Field, suddenly became the definition of crime, thuggery, and poor values.
But as I’ve started to recently hear more stories like the Eagles flying from LA to NYC to get the back of a bullied kid or Mark Sanchez befriending an 11 year old with rhabdomyosarcoma, I’m starting to believe that the trend may be reversing. The NBA Cares initiative, the MLB teaming up with the Susan G. Komen foundation to swing pink bats for breast cancer, and the NFL’s Tribute to the Troops are examples of the organizations’ focus on restoring league-wide images of peace, goodwill, compassion, and benevolence.
Small actions, but they speak volumes for the return of the professional athlete role model. And while there is a ways to go, I’m optimistic and very happy to see these steps.
I have been following the European debt crisis closely and decided last May to put money in Greece’s largest bank and top 10 employer, National Bank of Greece (NBG). I cashed out for a small profit in early August, and then bought the stock again a little too early in September as it slid.
I also bought Allied Irish Banks (AIB), one of the Big Four commercial banks in Ireland, in October. AIB was against my thesis of investing in only too-big-to-fail debt-ridden European banks, so I preserved what was a (lucky) profit after a month of it being in the red and sold it in December. Indeed, two weeks later, the government nationalized the bank and the stock plummetted.
I should have bought Bank of Ireland (IRE) instead. In fact, if I didn’t have my current position in NBG, that is the first stock I would buy.
I could be completely wrong, but IRE and NBG feel like history repeating itself and strong buys. They are:
- The largest banks in their countries and huge employers
- Have a diverse set of assets in different markets (especially in the case of NBG)
- Trading below book value and close to their ten year lows
- Have been bailed out by the EU
- Will probably require additional capital or a government buyback of debt
Sounds a lot like Citigroup right after the financial crisis, which went from $1.03/share in March 2009 to over $5/share in August 2009. And although the situation in Europe today is considerably different than the US situation in 2008 and 2009, I’m betting on one thing.
Too big to fail.
A hundred years ago, New York City had a manure problem. The average horse produced between fifteen and thirty-five pounds of manure and it piled the streets. It was a huge health hazard due to the disease, it was a large nuisance, and it was growing. People began thinking of better manure removal and cleanup solutions, even trying to burn it.
Meanwhile, Henry Ford, in southeastern Michigan, produced the Model T. He revolutionized transportation and eliminated the manure problem.
I see the the future of transportation as similar. Part of the current hype is around cleaner, more efficient transportation systems: perhaps we need cleaner vehicles, electric vehicles, and hybrid vehicles. Perhaps the right fuel isn’t our current natural gas, but some sort of cellulosic based ethanol. Perhaps we need narrower cars to fit more on the road, similar to Commuter Cars.
Or, perhaps, our transportation system, once again, has become outdated. As our populations continue to increase, we will continue to see more traffic jams and gridlocks, perhaps even more to the extent of last summer’s 60 mile long gridlock in China.
Dirt roads became paved roads after the Model T. In 50 years, perhaps the paved roads could be upgraded once again: to include powerful magnets. Perhaps the future of transportation is not in cars, but in some sort of magnetic levitation system that can cleanly, safely, and quickly transport a large number of people.
It’s something to think about, especially as large cities known for their traffic problems—Mumbai, Jakarta, Beijing, and Sao Paulo—continue to experience population growth with limited infrastructure change.
I’ve finally begun! The main purpose of this blog is to spare my loved ones incessant Skype messages, text messages, phone calls, or emails about various articles or topics I find interesting and instead to post them here. If you derive some value out of this, then even better.
Investing. Venture Capital. Inspirations. Social Change. Development. Sports. Gambling. Music. Hotels. Chipotle. Everything.
Hope you enjoy!