Monday, October 29, 2007

Where the money is

I was cemented in a meeting the other day, volleying product, segmentation and pricing ideas to and fro. Enjoyable exchange, but our rallies (thinking) stagnated – where to go, what to sell, for how much, how to go to market, etc. As yet another thought hit the net (or soared beyond the baseline; I forget), I thought about a bank robber and his sage advice.

Willie Sutton liked to rob banks. Lots of them. In a career spanning from the late 1920s to Sutton's final arrest in 1952 -- with a number of prison terms in between – Slick Willie robbed more than 100 banks. When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton opined, "Because that's where the money is."

Sutton shared, with pride, how the medical profession adopted "Sutton's Law"--the idea of looking for the obvious, before going further afield, when diagnosing. The "law" was coined by a medical professor who recalled that Sutton, when asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, had answered with his famous line.

Except it never happened that way. As he later admitted:

"The irony of using a bank robber's maxim as an instrument for teaching medicine is compounded, I will now confess, by the fact that I never said it. The credit belongs to some enterprising reporter who apparently felt a need to fill out his copy...

"If anybody had asked me, I'd have probably said it. That's what almost anybody would say. ...it couldn't be more obvious.

"Or could it?

"Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I'd be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that's all."
It couldn’t be more obvious. Back to our ideation. The answer – what to sell and to whom – crystallized. Follow the money.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

SFOTW: H2O

I seem to encounter more and more mouth-opening, head-shaking facts, mostly about the environment. Initially, my lens is remorseful – Wow, that’s too bad. Eventually (if I reread or re-ponder the thought/fact), my lens is opportunistic: That’s too bad … wonder what we can do to remedy it?

Hence, our SFOTW (sobering factoid of the week) commences with this post. My inspiration this week comes from Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. I just finished his autobiography (with thanks to my sister, Jess, for the gift), Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. Before I get to the SFOTW, here’s an excerpt from the book encapsulating Chouinard’s mantra to “lead an examined life”:

I don’t really believe that humans are evil; it’s just that we are not very intelligent animals. No animal is so stupid and greedy as to foul its own nest – except humans. We are certainly not smart enough to foretell the long-term results of our everyday actions. The brilliant scientist or entrepreneur businessman who invents or develops a new technology is often incapable of seeing the dark side of his ideas, whether it’s atomic energy, television, or farmed salmon.

The problem is a failure of the imagination. In the sycophantic biography of George W. Bush, The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush, by David Frum, the worst thing said about him is that he was “uncurious.” Uncurious people do not lead examined lives; they cannot see causes that lie deeper than the surface. They believe in blind faith, and the most frightening thing about blind faith is that it in turn leads to an inability, even an unwillingness, to accept facts.
He’s singing our tune; no wonder I love his gear and apparel. Which leads me to our sobering factoid of the week from Maude Barlow, National Chairperson, Council of the Canadians, one that tempts the thirst of examined life living entrepreneurs (unless you’re an uncurious, parched, fact-fearing Republican):
Global consumption of water is doubling every 20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth. If current trends persist, by 2025 the demand for fresh water is expected to rise 56% above the amount that is currently available.

POTW: A New Prediction Market for the Masses

Prediction markets are fascinating, real-life extrapolations of The Wisdom of Crowds. Of late -- inspired in part post-absorption of The Black Swan and Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age -- I've been pondering peer-to-peer, opinion-of-the-masses business models, be it through personal wagering, stock picking, or private company investment. There's a lot of there there, though I'm not sure where (yet). For this week's POTW, Freakonomics (again!) checks in with a thought-provoking post: A New Prediction Market for the Masses. Quick take:

For those of you who love prediction markets, there’s a new site that looks to be as vast, inclusive, and user-friendly as anything I’ve seen: Predictify.
Predictify is very compelling and quite powerful. You can either submit a question or predict an outcome. Poke around ... I think you'll enjoy.

Luck II

I wrote about luck – reminiscing about my late grandfather Sody – back in June. Every accomplished entrepreneur I know cites luck as a tenet of their success. I believe things do not happen for a preordained reason; people and teams make it happen. Further, it’s tiresome when people lament, “He/she got lucky,” as if his/her success was not well earned. Those who bemoan luck are sedentary in their actions, staid in their thinking. Think Eyeore.

But, if entrepreneurs unite in their belief of luck, what is it, how does it happen, and how can you create an environment that permeates luck? Unsure, I turned to a few sages, eventually honing in on Marc Andreessen’s perspective, specifically Luck and the entrepreneur, part 1: The four kinds of luck. For starters:

Luck is something that every successful entrepreneur will tell you plays a huge role in the difference between success and failure. Many of those successful entrepreneurs will only admit this under duress, though, because if luck does indeed play such a huge role, then that seriously dents the image of the successful entrepreneur as an omniscient business genius.
Okay, but how and why and when? Andreessen references Dr. James Austin, a neurologist and philosopher who wrote an, according to Andreessen, outstanding book called Chase, Chance, and Creativity. Dr. Austin believes there are four kinds of luck, interchangeable with chance. First, his definition of chance:
Chance... something fortuitous that happens unpredictably without discernable human intention.
Dr. Austin then frames the four varieties of chance, escalating in their efficacy:
In Chance I, the good luck that occurs is completely accidental. It is pure blind luck that comes with no effort on our part. Chance I is completely impersonal; you can't influence it.

In Chance II, something else has been added -- motion. A certain [basic] level of action "stirs up the pot", brings in random ideas that will collide and stick together in fresh combinations, lets chance operate. Chance II favors those who have a persistent curiosity about many things coupled with an energetic willingness to experiment and explore.

Chance III involves involves a special receptivity, discernment, and intuitive grasp of significance unique to one particular recipient. Chance III favors those who have a sufficient background of sound knowledge plus special abilities in observing, remembering, recalling, and quickly forming significant new associations. [He provides a terse summary of Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin … great stuff.]

Chance IV favors the individualized action. Chance IV comes to you, unsought, because of who you are and how you behave. [It] favors those with distinctive, if not eccentric hobbies, personal lifestyles, and motor behaviors.
Andreessen wraps with his roadmap for getting luck on our side:
  • How energetic are we? How inclined towards motion are we?
  • How curious are we? How determined are we to learn about our chosen field, other fields, and the world around us?
  • How flexible and aggressive are we at synthesizing -- at linking together multiple, disparate, apparently unrelated experiences on the fly?
  • How uniquely are we developing a personal point of view -- a personal approach.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Radiofree

I scribed last month about Chris Anderson’s upcoming book, Free. Hopefully the ink in his new tome’s not too dry to include a morsel or three about Radiohead’s new album (or is it CD, or music release, or digital delight? Not sure what we call contemporary music releases given the increasing lack of a tangible product …). As you’ve probably read – and hopefully experienced – you can download the entire album for whatever you’d like to pay. Nothing (me). Two pounds (my friend Craig; he called me a cheap bastard!). You choose. Go to Radiohead’s site for a taste.

Freakonomics has an interesting post here. Anderson checks in here, claiming early estimates put the average price paid at $5-$8, and approximately 1.2 million people have downloaded the album from the site and at least another 500,000 got it for free from BitTorrent.

If you’re a major label making a living manufacturing and distributing CDs and rights-protected digital downloads, whadya do when one of the (if not THE) major artists flips a double-Elvis (two middle fingers skyward) to you and your livelihood? Anderson:

Regardless of what the average consumer decides to pay, this is another example of a business model enabled by FREE. They only way Radiohead can enter into this with no idea of what people will pay is because they have a product whose marginal cost of manufacturing and distribution is close to zero.
Pretty cavalier. Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke told TIME:
I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say ‘F___ you’ to this decaying business model.
Reminds me of a lesson I learned in my early 20’s, with thanks to the great Corley Phillips: It’s good to have f___ you money in your pocket. Radiohead: It’s gotta feel grand to have f___ you talent in tow too.

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Post-script (27 Nov. 07): Anderson engages five common confusions/questions about "free":
  1. So nobody's going to make any money?
  2. Does any of this go beyond simply paying for things with advertising?
  3. You don't mean actually free, do you?
  4. This is just online, right?
  5. Is this some sort of trick?
Quality take, including: "You can make loads of money by giving things away. The key is who you're making money from."

The Laws of Simplicity

Know the feeling when you see, sniff, hear, feel – simply sense – something that's cool (or, to paraphrase Outkast, Something cooler than being cool: Ice cold)? I opened my eyes tonight to John Maeda’s site, The Laws of Simplicity; given my rants about simplicity, clarity, focus and design, it resonated.

To steal from the Freakonomics folks, I bleg (beg via this blog) you to enjoy, absorb and apply Maeda’s 10 cooler-than-being-cool mantras. Here’s an encapsulation:

Law 1: REDUCE
The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

Law 2: ORGANIZE
Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.

Law 3: TIME
Savings in time feel like simplicity.

Law 4: LEARN
Knowledge makes everything simpler.

Law 5: DIFFERENCES
Simplicity and complexity need each other.

Law 6: CONTEXT
What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.

Law 7: EMOTION
More emotions are better than less.

Law 8: TRUST
In simplicity we trust.

Law 9: FAILURE
Some things can never be made simple.

Law 10: THE ONE
Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

POTW: Go Sox?

My good friend Craig is a rabid Red Sox fan, in addition to boisterously backing Michigan and the Vikes. (BTW, he grew up in Lodi, CA ... go figure.) Craig is also a quanthead finance pro. To wit, he'll get a chortle out of this week's timely -- given the Sox game-seven victory -- POTW courtesy of Freakonomics: Here’s Why Yankees Fans Aren’t the Only Ones Rooting Against the Red Sox.

The scoop: Earlier this year, a Massachusetts furniture chain unveiled a could-be-quite-costly marketing gimmick: if the Sox went on to win the 2007 World Series, all furniture sales made between March 7 and April 16 of this year would be refunded. No joke.

The chain, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, sensibly bought an insurance policy to cover the possibility (probability?) of a Sox victory. The full cost of the promotion -- total sales are somewhere in the $20 million ballpark -- reportedly amounted to the “license fee paid to the Red Sox to use their name, advertising spots, and a little bit of insurance.”

Talk about fanatical dissonance.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ode to VC

One of my best friends can't stand VCs. His judgment and character trump his VC sample size (one fat head); I trust his instinct. Our relationship has three challenges: symptomatically searching for a cure to my duck hook, constantly craving time to grab a beer and catch a game, and patiently tempering his temptation to smash the VC. The latter is similar to coaching Lenny in Of Mice and Men: Resist the urge to crush the mouse in your pocket. Unfortunately, the said VC is quite mousy; fortunately, my friend is smarter than the VC.

My amigo's temptation reminded me of a quote from one of my dad's best high-school friends, Joe West, circa 1964 in their days roaming San Carlos High School. "If you continue to have the audacity to doubt my veracity I will subsequently be compelled to horizontalize your perpendicularity."

Not sure if I ever met Joe West, but I do have a somewhat entrepreneurial, curiously creative story authored by my dad 13 Sept 94, Ode to Joey West, which reminds me of two pseudo groups we formed in college: the Cal Poly Coed Naked Lacross Club (created solely to sell CPCNLC t-shirts at Poly Royale; my friend Craig and I cleared nearly two grand in one weekend) and the San Luis Academic Regulatory Advisory Commission Authority (or SLARCA, fictitiously formed to mess with one of our roommates, Einstein, who was on the brink of expulsion).

Here's Ode to Joey West (grab a libation; this one’s meaty):

Joey figured that if we were going to start a new club, it had to have a catchy name. I don’t recall he saying why it had to have a catchy name; maybe he had read an article on marketing in Boys Life, the National Geographic, or the Harvard Business Review. He was the kind of kid who’s three-digit IQ drove him in strange directions; first, in high school, toward perilous albeit harmless deeds; later toward a plethora of felonious acts; but all of it rooted in an inescapable impatience which constantly festered into instantaneous boredom. When I first met Joey (we were sophomores; how we engaged, I can’t recall), we would go to his house after school and play chess. Well, actually he played chess and I moved the pieces around the board in a downward spiral of desperate defensive moves. So after a while, he would spot me a few pieces, and win. Then he would give me two moves to his one, and win. And for the final match at the end of the chess phase of our relationship, I think he started with only his King and half his Pawns, and gave me four moves to boot, and played blindfolded. We quit chess not because I was humiliated or beat into submission, but because he was bored. Big surprise.

The new club was eventually sanctioned by the high school authorities due to Joey’s clever use of some obscure section of the School District Regulations, and so it was listed in the Principal’s office right along with the Ski Club and the Glee Club and the Spanish Club. There must have been fifty clubs, all run by the appropriate authorities, each of whom was never able to join a club when he or she was a kid in high school. The authorities were, therefore, reliving those years of frustration in the spirit of full and complete retribution. Take the drafting teacher, Mr. Tomasio, the founder of the Drafting Club (I took two years of drafting, was quite good, and used this trade to successfully put myself through college; but I was unable to join the Drafting Club due to constant prior commitments) who was never admitted into his school’s Home Economics Club, the federal laws which would allow (require?) this, having been enacted only in quite recent times. Same with the Spanish Club, run by a guy who might have wanted to be in the Auto Mechanics Club in Costa Rica or wherever he was raised.

Well, this new club would not be run by a frustrated teacher seeking power and glory and the bylaws-given-rights to make up all the rules and administer the funds without audit and veto the admission of an applicant upon a whim. No, WE were going to do all those things and therefore appointed ourselves Generalissimo and Vice Generalissimo (Joey might have been in his two-hour Hemingway Spanish Civil War phase when we were discussing appropriate titles). You will correctly guess whom was who.

While the club was to have no purpose (and, proudly, it never did), it did have to have a name, and a snappy one at that, according to the Generalissimo. So we sat down one day at his house with a dictionary and created IBODINAE: the International Betterment Organization for Disestablishmentarianism And Epistemological Servitude. One of us thought up the words, and the other checked the dictionary. The other might have been me.

Next, we had to draft the Bylaws. Now, this took some time because Joey was faced with the dilemma of all organizations pre and post ours: how do you simultaneously get people to join, make them pay dues, and not let them do anything. We studied his family copy of Robert’s Rules of Order (Joey’s mom was President of the PTA), we researched through thick tomes on the family bookshelf, and we pondered and debated. In about 10 minutes, hitting the familiar wall of boredom, the Generalissimo decreed the following: (1) interested parties had to give me (I was the Treasurer, although Joe graciously kep the funds safely in his room in a miniature aluminum vault) one dollar, non-refundable, to become applicants; (2) applicants could move forward to full membership if they could correctly say, and then spell, the full club name; and (3) full members could move further forward into retirement (we should have entitled it “emeritus member”) by a majority vote of the Membership Committee, which consisted solely of we two. Needless to say, this club would not obtain 501c3 tax-exempt status from the IRS if it was formed today.

Finally, we had to hustle-up members. Using vague but persuasive promises that the dues would be pooled and invested prudently so as to earn interest equivalent to a case of Hamms Beer per Saturday night (doubtful math wizards were convinced the interest would compound at least into a case for every home football game), we sallied forth. If a guy had a buck but stumbled over the correct pronunciation of IBODINAE, we had the authority, as vested in us through the Bylaws, to make an exception. In fact, while it was not widely known (the Bylaws also required that no one except a duly appointed officer could read the Bylaws), we officers could meet our fiduciary responsibility to the Organization by admitting a member for less than a buck, and without the applicant ever getting past saying “IBO…”, and then even if he pronounced the “I” as if it was an “e”. That was one of the features of the club most successfully exploited in our marketing campaign: IBODINAE was very accommodating of its members’ needs and skills.

By Thursday lunch (I neglected to mention that the club was conceptualized, organized, named and officially by-lawed on a Wednesday afternoon), we had a full compliment of members eagerly awaiting the first club meeting, and anticipating the financial magic which the officers would perform, creating a case of Hamms out of interest only. Ben Franklin was a hero to us both, and he would have been proud of our liberal interpretation of his famous statement about the beauty of compounded interest.

On Friday night, the officers met in an emergency, closed session. Funds were counted, calculations were compiled, budgets were forecast. Alas, it appeared that the club was nearing a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy (Joey’s older brother, a first-year law student, was an invaluable consultant to the club) and we had but two legal options: return the members their dues or pay the founders and officers their due. As often occurred on Friday nights, the trusty trio of our pal Mike Smith, his phony ID, and the near-sighted liquor store owner were engaged, and Joey and me remarked how the Hamms had never tasted so good.

The IBODINAE club lived on, according to the official records in the Principal’s office, for the entire school year. The yearbook staff, faced with the absence of any members willing to stand on the gym steps for the traditional club picture, chose – wisely, I believe – to skip to the next club, which was – as I recall – International something. On the pre-bar advice of Joey’s brother, we had resigned the morning after the case of Hamms (OK, so it might have been late afternoon) as IBODINAE officers at an official IBODINAE meeting attended by all the members who had shown up after the requisite five-minute notice (via a written announcement posted on Joey’s bedroom door). I am proud to this day of the strict adherence to the rules that me and Joey showed. Them other clubs could have learned a few things from us, no doubt about it.

So that afternoon, the closing gavel still echoing through his house, Joey turns and says, “What-do-you-wanna-do-now?” And our minds were off and running into the next adventure.

Like I said, Joey’s brain went off and running a little too far later in life. Like in collecge, where scoring a case of Hamms with your (temporarily ex-) friend’s money was not much of a charge. Told me once that his fraternity used to drive to The City and roll winos for fun. Met him years later when he was dealing for some guys in South Shore, disguised as the executive director of a modest non-profit art center in Davis. Didn’t show up at the recent 30-year class reunion. Could be dead, could be brilliantly successful in some venture requiring impatience, high IQ (perhaps ameliorated for lack of completely functioning brain cells). In fact, he could be Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist. If not in fact, in awe.

I myself have a streak of easily obtained boredom, which I solve by modest imbibing and poor – but self-amusing – story writing. Maybe I should start another club: The Joseph West Memorial Association. Nope, it will need more vowels, how about The …

Stories v. facts

Parked at a venture conference last week, I had a flashback. A good, vivid recall which resonated with the day's events (semi-committed entrepreneurs contemplating commitment in their quest for cash).

One of the conference presenters commenced his pitch with a story. It was not too long, not too short, just about perfect to engage the audience. While the preceding company pitches were littered with facts (noise), the aforementioned entrepreneur got it. He told a story, turning noise into signal. We -- the audience -- related; the frequency registered.

People love stories -- we remember them and they're effective. Unfortunately, the science of fact-telling is prevalent and apathetic, while the art of story-telling is dormant. It's easy to regurgitate lyrics, but tough to harmoniously sing a tune.

Which brings me to my flashback. For six or seven consecutive years we pilgrimaged to the AT&T golf tourney on the Monterey Peninsula. Our wives would troop around Spyglass and Pebble, typically battling inclement weather with a you owe me one roll of their eyes. Saturday night was their reward: Eastwood's joint (Mission Ranch), a mob scene, two-hour dinner wait in the sardine tin of a bar. An Andy Garcia siting or two helped pacify our better halves.

One year we bumped in to Chris O'Donnell, fresh off his pro-am round. My friend Nick's then girlfriend (and now wife), Kari, grew up with Chris. Following a round of cordial introductions and reminiscing, Chris asked Kari (and Nick): How long've been dating? Kari replied -- too long -- as Nick white-nuckled his libation. Reminds me of a movie I just finished called the Bachelor. It's about a guy like you who needs to shit or get off the pot.

Kari laughed. Nicked blushed (and guzzled). Chris moved on.

I cannot recall a single winner of the AT&T, nor a single round/score, six-to-seven years of facts. But I fondly recall the interaction (the story) at Mission Ranch, and the make-a-commitment-or-move-on moral resonates to this day.

++++++++++
Post-script (18 Feb 08): I just enjoyed part of a presentation by economist Robert Frank speaking at Google. Good stuff. In particular -- and somewhat related to the above post, but also tip-toeing on adolescent creativity -- he digs in to the narrative learning theory, with two most-compelling slides:

The Narrative Theory of Learning
"At its core, the narrative perspective holds that human beings have a universal predisposition to 'story' their experience, that is, to impose a narrative interpretation on information and experience."

[children] ... turn things into stories, and when they try to make sense of their life they use the storied version of their experience as the basis for further reflection. If they don't catch something in a narrative structure, it doesn't get remembered very well, and it doesn't seem to be accessible for further kinds of mulling over.

Friday, October 12, 2007

10-minute stand-up

If I could impart one word of wisdom to an entrepreneur – let alone anyone endeavoring to get something done – it would be focus. Particularly in today’s always-on environment; time-killing, focus-waning distractions are candy-like, at-the-fingers temptations.

As an undergrad at Cal Poly, our school mantra was Learn by doing. At Venture Lab, our calling was Create, innovate, accelerate. We learned while doing and, along the way, made a lot of mistakes while accomplishing much.

One of my colleagues, David Hahn, instituted an amazingly simple and highly productive practice: Twice-daily stand-up meetings. Inspired in part by then entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg’s two meeting rules (no meeting shall last more than 15 minutes, and meeting organizers were required to create and follow an agenda), here’s how our stand-ups transpired:

Every morning we would corral the bleary-eyed team into a circle. No sitting down. Brevity ruled. Each team member had a minute or so to relay two things: Here’s what I’m going to accomplish today, and here is where I need help. We would then set out to, hopefully, individually and collaboratively accomplish what we preached. At day’s end – aided, if desired, by a 12-ounce libation – we would reconvene and carousel our accomplishments: Here’s what I planned to accomplish, this is what I accomplished, and this is what I need to get done. No notes. No agenda. No criticism. Full accountability and visibility. In short: A wonderfully productive and terse exercise to focus the individual and collective energy of the team to proactively do what’s important, versus reactively executing what’s apparent.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

POTW: Making Sense of a Million Voices

This week's POTW, Making Sense of a Million Voices, strikes a cord. It digs in to an emerging Web 2.0 company, Wize, and their democratization of Consumer Reports. I've yet to poke around the site, but the theory is wonderful: It's part Long Tail, part Wisdom of Crowds, part Paradox of Choice.

Wize gathers user and expert reviews to make product research easier, quicker and more relevant for you. At Wize you can research tens of thousands of products by price, brand, WizeRank and buzz.
As one of the most disdainful shoppers on the planet, amen.

Mining metaphors

I’d wager that in the last week you've been engaged in a conversation that’s stuck in park. Could be a sales pitch, a company presentation, or a casual coffee-in-hand soccer game sideline chat. Regardless, you do not connect; to quote R.E.M., you can’t get there from here, and you don’t know what or where there is (if there’s a there there).

If there’s a there there, the e-brake can be disengaged with a metaphor, assuming the driver (communicator) can metaphorically communicate (unlock the brake). Several recent experiences reminisced a great read: Metaphors We Live By. A quick take:

We understand experience metaphorically when we use a gestalt from one domain of experience to structure experience in another domain.
Well said. It reckons the challenge entrepreneurs face in articulating their story. Most fail to break through – to effectively communicate, and therefore to accomplish their objective [e.g., make the sale, raise money, sire the partnership] – oftentimes because they fail to get their audience to relate. Back to Metaphors We Live By:
Metaphorical imagination is a crucial skill in creating rapport and in communicating the nature of unshared experience. This skill consists, in large measure, of the ability to bend your world view and adjust the way you categorize your experience.
Entrepreneurs are imaginative by nature. Great entrepreneurs – presuming they are harnessing, to paraphrase Scott Adams for the second time tonight, something rare and valuable – relate. They communicate through imaginative rationality. Metaphors We Live By:
It (imaginative rationality) permits an understanding of one kind of experience in terms of another, creating coherences by virtue of imposing gestalts that are structured by natural dimensions of experience. New metaphors are capable of creating new understandings and, therefore, new realities.
New understandings and new realities: Sounds like the de-park challenge for entrepreneurs who seek to foster rare and valuable propositions.

Garden capital

I’m feeling kinda grey and green. Grey: Flurries of let’s go anywhere (San Luis Obispo, Ireland, Scottsdale, Black Butte) to celebrate our 40ths emails from amigos. Green: It’s the eve of the CleanStart conference at UCD. Alternative/smart/green/clean energy is, alas, heating up, which is kinda cool; it’s an opportunity to do good while fertilizing prospectively big and important companies. And if you can have fun doing it, you’ve nailed the (my) business triad: Have fun, make money, and do something important.

As I’ve explored in previous posts, companies and entrepreneurs are similar to gardens and gardeners. Venture capitalists – vis-à-vis gardening – may be a better analogy. Here’s how …

Gardeners spread seeds in fertile grounds to grow and cultivate plants in gardens. VCs spread money through investments in promising companies in fertile markets with similar ambitions (i.e., that products will emerge and prosper, and companies will be harvested to produce a return). The antes, or necessary elements, in gardening are seeds and soil, sunshine and water, fertilizer and fields, gardeners and their tools. For VCs, its ideas and embryonic companies, energy and capital, stewardship and big markets, entrepreneurs and execution.

Which leads me to Dilbert. Yep, Scott Adams’ brilliance: Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. Mechanical VCs mitigate risk and neuter harvest returns by investing in established gardens with mature plants and tendered by seasoned gardeners. What a bore; it’s not rare and the value is limited. Great VCs invest in seeds and as-yet-untilled gardens; they’re not sure if plants will crack the soil but, when they do, it’s a beautiful and bountiful thing.

I know a handful of plant geneticists and a few green capitalists, but I’ve yet to meet a true GC (garden capitalist), sans a handful of professional farmers. Sounds like a cool vocation.