Thursday, February 28, 2008

1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars

This is just wrong.

In today's New York Times:
For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report. Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
How can the land of the free be #1 in citizens in prison globally?

China: #2. Russian #3.

USA: #1.

Hell, 5 states spend more on prisons every year than they do on higher education.

Monday, February 18, 2008

How this founder found the right CEO

During the last 9 months I've had the 'happens more than you think' founders experience of bringing in the wrong CEO, and then bringing in the right CEO. It was an incredibly enlightening experience. What I learned is obvious in hindsight, and it's pretty simple, really, coming down to one don't and one do.

1) Don't put your trust in others judgment, implicitly, of a potential CEO's fit.

I love my investors. They're great people and I continue to communicate with them regularly and several of them still regularly give me great advice. In this particular case, my investors help in hiring my first CEO didn't work out very well.

This was largely my fault.

This fellow came highly recommended. However, my initial impression of him during our first meeting wasn't positive and I ignored my instincts. It wasn't that he wasn't competent, it was just that we didn't particularly like each other all that much. We had several more meetings and, still, the click wasn't there. But he'd been recommended by folks I trust. They'd been involved in many startup companies and matchedup founders and CEO's many times. My mistake was not listening to my own instincts and saying yes, let's bring him on, before I was sure it was a good fit.

When you're working in a startup company, and assuming you're still involved in the day to day, the person you bring in to run your company has to be someone you really click with. You don't need to agree on everything (it's likely better that you don't.. that way you'll have honest debates and solve problems more quickly with multiple brains), but you need to have an honest respect for each other's point of view. If one person doesn't have equal respect for another persons POV, that's a recipe for trouble. Again: blind agreement on everything is bad, but respect is required.

I didn't do this with our first CEO hire. I'm sure he's the right guy given the right situation, but he wasn't the right guy for us.

2) Do trust your instincts & spent as much time as you need to to get a real feel for the candidate.

During the time things were going downhill with CEO #1, it was becoming clear that one of us wasn't going to stay. I had no idea if the person leaving would be me or him (he was the chosen guy my investors had brought in, afterall. I'd heard all the stories). So, I started talking to lots of people about what to do. Part of these discussions invariability turned to starting new companies.

I explored many potential options with alot of different people. One person, in particular, I really clicked with. We discussed a particular business idea and decided to explore things a little further. He brought in a third potential partner and we started fleshing out the idea in off hours. He was employed at a large local company so we met during the weekends and evenings. This went on or about 4 months with many meetings, discussions, disagreements, realizations and general getting to know each other over dinners, coffee's and beers.

During this time things came to a head at my existing company between CEO #1 and I. I came to the conclusion he wasn't going to leave and between the (perceived) support I assumed he had from the investors who brought him in and my "I'm liking this" rule falling way below 50%, I decided to make things easy for everyone and I offered my resignation which CEO #1 was quite happy to go with. My investors had a different take. To my surprise, they asked CEO #1 to resign and handed me back the keys to the car.

So, I had my company back.

Part of this process was my own realization that founders often find hard to come to and that my investors realized early on: I needed help to take the company to the next level. I'm really good at alot of things, in particular, I build great teams and great products. I'm great at getting things fleshed out and started up. I'm a good 'early early stage' CEO, but I'm not the guy who takes it to the next level. I realized that I'm merlin. But I'm not King Arthur. Maybe someday, but not now. In the meantime- every Merlin needs a King Arthur.

I brought this up with my 'other company' guys and the thought immediately entered my mind: Why not this guy I've been spending time with figuring out how to start a company? He has a deep understanding of my companies business (his bigco job was related to the same industry), he's trying to figure out how to start and run his own company, I loved the way he was going about it and, hell, I really like the guy.

The first time I brought it up with him was during a phone conversation that started out talking about the other company. I just out and out asked him: "would you consider coming on board at my current company as CEO?". He didn't even hesitate. He said he'd be honored. He's now our President and CEO.

Of course, I could still be wrong, but I really doubt it.

One really nice side effect was the growth of my circle of friends and associates that I can now call on for help and advice, and, maybe someday, as potential partners in other future ventures. This is something all successful entrepreneurs, I suspect, either know intuitively or, like me, have to have pounded into their tiny little brains through brute force. Either way, it's invaluable.

The simple and obvious lesson? Trust your initial instincts and spend the time to verify them. It may take a few months, but it's worth it. It'll save you and everyone else involved alot of headaches.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Legal spying and telco's

There is a point where you have to say: I don't care what good they did or could do, this evil they just now committed is enough of a reason to vote them out of office.

Allard helped: I expected it. He's at least doing what he thinks is right (regardless of how misguided). Still, he needs to go.

But this is wrong. Salazar ALSO helped: I didn't expect it. He really needs to go. More than Allard because he can't be trusted to do the right thing or follow his principles.

We need to swap out the congress. We start this election. It'll take a few more elections, but everyone who's there now, tainted by the stink of corruption, needs to go.

We need a fresh start.

Senate Approves Telco Amnesty, Legalizes Bush's Secret Spay Program

By Ryan Singel
February 12, 2008 | 5:59:31 PMCategories: NSA

The Senate overwhelming voted Tuesday evening to legalize President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program and grant amnesty to the phone companies that helped out with the domestic spying..

The 68 to 29 vote is a major step in radically re-configuring 30 year-old limits on how the nation's spying services operate inside America's borders. The vote also deals a severe blow to civil liberties groups that are suing companies such as AT&T and Verizon for turning over millions of American's phone records to the government, and for helping the government wiretap American's phone and internet communications without a court order.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Boulder is the smartest city (again)

According to Forbes Magazine, Boulder is (2nd time in a row) 'The Smartest City in America'.

From the Denver Post:
The rankings were based on the percentage of adults 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree. In Boulder, 53 percent of adults do. Ninety-three percent graduated from high school and 4 percent have a PhD.
Hopefully we won't get arrogant about it. I hate smart-ass cities.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Outlook? Anyone? Or: Gmail. The New Outlook?

As an experiment, I asked a bunch of people I know that are under 25 and not developers if they use Microsoft Outlook- the defacto email program of corporate america. The response I got was consistant.

U25: What?

Me: "You know... for email".

U25: "Is that new? I use Gmail (yahoo, hotmail)"- effectively: web based mail-it's all they use.

The ones who did know what Outlook was were developers and they didn't really answer when I asked the question, they just sneered.

In the startup world, everyone I know uses Google Domains and Gmail (we do).

Gmail. The new Outlook?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

To patent or not to patent......

That is the question.

Startups have a devils choice to make when they create new products and services, especially if it's a new area where the process patent's applicable.

But should we do it?

Brad Feld doesn't much care for software patents. Others, such as Jason Haislmaier, a local IP lawyer, beg to differ.

I recently went to an intellectual property crash course for entrepreneurs that Jason gave to a packed room. Most of what he talked about I knew, but much of it had been forgotten over the years. It was enlightening.

Of course, I had to take into account the messenger. Jason makes his living creating IP value by doing things like helping guys like me to create patents. But, he made some excellent points.

He relayed a few stories about how, for instance, a company without much revenue recently raised 30 million in funding based almost solely on the value of one patent they held. And, of course, he pointed out a few things like the famous Amazon one click patent that, if nothing else, got Amazon substantial attention early in it's life that helped it garner the attention it needed to help build it's business.

Brad's post about BigCo's patent machines is true. I worked for Motorola and once spent a week offsite at a retreat with 20 other technologists from my divsion and 4 lawyers. We produced about 200 patentable ideas (many completely unrelated to our area of development 'but good anyway, let's write that one up too'). This team of lawyers (one of many) does nothing but draw out patents from engineering folks. They average 10% hit rates (200 applications = 20 actual patents). They put these patents into their arsenal (their word) and use them offensively to stop competitors from entering markets and defensively to cross license with other patent holders in markets they want to enter and, finally, to create revenue (over a billion dollars a year in license fees).

So, as a small startup, how do you not apply for any potential patent you can?

It's how the game is played.

Without them you're at a distinct disadvantage if you decide to enter a market that already has big players (especially if you're goal is to disintermediate those big companies). Case in point: Vonage. The VoIP provider scared the living bejesus out of the telco's and a tsunami of patent infringement lawsuits from the telcos quickly followed.

You're also at a disadvantage when it comes to funding for your company (as noted by Jason above) or when you're selling your company (when the buyer adds value to your company because of patents you hold that it can add to it's 'arsenal' when they buy you).

If you do file, you're perpetuating the evil use of patents to quash innovation (and software patents most definitively are used to quash innovation). In our world, an idea is good for a few years (almost always less than the 'life' of a patent). The primary use of a software patent, frankly, is the ability to threaten others to stop innovating (and competing, with you).

And, the cost of getting patents, a drop in the bucket for BigCos, can be huge to a startup.

It's deeply frustrating.

You know the 'right' thing to do is to avoid filing patents for things that are, to you, obvious, but are you doing right by your company and your investors if you don't file? Are you lowering your individual value in the market to do the right thing for the overall market? (sadly: yes, you are).

This is particularly morally sticky if you're building your products on top of opensource code. Yes, you can still do patents, but the reality is, if 1000's of people hadn't donated their time, effort and creativity to put the opensource code you're riding on top of into the market- free to use and build on, you would never have gotten to the point where you'd be able to create the cool patentable feature or function to begin with.

It's a devils choice and one that to this day I struggle with whenever one of our developers shows me a 'wow, that's a way cool feature' I haven't seen before. This is compounded by realizations that we're doing things in completely new ways (process patents!) using technology the BigCos aren't even aware of yet at costs that are orders of magnitude below what it costs them to do business.

To date, I've fought the urge to patent. We filed some provisional patents early in our company's life, but we didn't followup with a full application when the 12 months the provisional patent gives you was up. What we were doing (Podcasting) was so new there wasn't any established business to be threatened (and afraid of).

Our company is moving into a new space now, one with lots of big rich companies that will view what we do as a potential threat. That works to our advantage if we decide we want to sell ourselves to one of them (I would bet we get an offer to be bought in 24 months at the outside, and more likely within 12 months). It limits us at the same time though. The option of going head to head with them in the market (and raising money via an IPO) is a more difficult decision at that point.

Unless, we have a bunch of patents to protect ourselves.


An excellent read from an ex-evangelical.

  As you know, I once was an evangelical megachurch pastor and my pastoral career stretched over many years. Eventually, I could no longer t...