Saturday, June 19, 2010

Punting the Cam

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‘Taking a weekend off from pitching the businesses: it’s been a full week and sometimes it’s important to just slow things down a bit.  Cambridge has lots of traditions from earlier times that are made for that, and I always enjoy a push down the Backs.

Punts are flat-bottomed wooden boats that are pushed along the river DSC00583with a 12-foot wooden pole.  They don’t move fast, and they are hell in a headwind, but once you get the hang of balancing on the stern, twisting the pole free of the mud, and dodging the tourists, it’s a relaxing afternoon.  I always enjoy pushing past the iconic colleges and among the flowers and trees that line the shores.

Some folks know exactly what they are doing on the river, but others don’t…

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Usually you can tell when disaster is coming because people in the boats start to point and focus their cameras in anticipation of a collision or a dunking.

Occasional rain made the trip soggy in spots, but the sun was out towards the end.  Wrap things up with a slow cup of coffee and a long exploration of the bookshops, and life feels restored.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Making the pitch; raising the funds

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On the pitch, Barrington

Both of my businesses are in full fundraising mode, making this one of the most exhilarating and frustrating times in my experience.  On the one hand, I’m able to stand in front of accomplished, insightful people and talk with them about my ideas and how to make them real.  On the other hand, I’m there to ask for their money, one at a time, face to face.

I have two propositions up for consideration, one early-stage, one late-stage; one asking 200 thousand dollars, the other asking 3 million dollars.  My expectation at the outset was that it would take longer and require more effort to raise more money.

Funding 1 The reality is more like this:Funding 2

In general, the time to complete the process is independent of the amount raised: it will take six months.  It’s probably a function of diligence and paperwork, but there are no quick raises.

It’s better to ask for lots of money than a little: not only will it last longer, but also that the system is geared towards larger amounts because of the fixed overhead associated with any investment.

Investors specialize, targeting local economies connected to communities, groups, and universities.  Unless the proposition meets the profile, it will be excluded before it is considered.

Angels and seed funds give $50,000-$100,000, so asking for $200,000 means that several need to come on board at once.  There has to be a lead investor before the others will follow (corollary to the old saying “The First Million is the Hardest”)

It’s almost impossible to ask for an amount between 1 million and 10 million: it’s too much for angels and too little for VCs.  Counter-intuitively, it’s better to scale up the proposition to 10 million.

Raising money is a very personal transaction: you have to spend the time, bend with the wind, look people in the eye, and sell the vision.  It’s a hard discussion and an emotional decision on both sides.

It’s not fair.  It just isn’t: so be ready to pick up after each ‘NO” and hop back up on stage for the next pitch as though it were the first.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The view from the other side…

…still includes a lot of voetbal

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I’m a little sorry that I forgot to bring my oranje window flags to flutter along the top of the car as I whiz through the broad green hills of the Dutchy of Barrington.

England – Algeria is tomorrow (the Brits should win), and the Netherlands will play the Japanese the next day.  I won a (Danish) beer from a Nordic friend last week, and am hoping for similar good fortune Saturday (although maybe not for Japanese beer).

Meanwhile, I’m adjusting to the the week in Cambridgeshire, remembering which side of the road to drive, not saying Dank u wel  to clerks, and feigning interest in open garden days and latin bird’s names.  It’s nice to get together with colleagues and catch up on business and technology news, and fun to see what the students have synthesized from their research projects.

We’re preparing for an investor pitch at the Oxford Venturefest next Tuesday.  CamStent was shortlisted among the top 10 startups for the Best of British Innovation Award, and my CFO and I hit the marks during the dry-run for an advisory panel.  They complemented me on being ‘bouncy’; I think it means “likeable and enthusiastic even at 10 am”.  My catheter samples arrived in time for the presentation, and it’s nice to have a tangible object to sell rather than just a drawing in my slides.  ‘Just so I don’t twirl them around too much…

So, this week, I’m trying to hold to Seth Godin’s Simple five step plan for just about everyone and everything

1. Go, make something happen.

2. Do work you're proud of.

3. Treat people with respect.

4. Make big promises and keep them.

5. Ship it out the door.

When in doubt, see #1.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Trying the third ferry choice

DSC00465 Now that I have a footprint in both the UK and the Netherlands, I have to get between them each month.  One alternative is to take the Eindhoven – Stansted RyanAir flight: air fare, train at either end, and the bus connections usually add up to a six hour trip and over 100 euro cost.  For about the same time and fare  (two hours longer) I can drive to northwest France and take one of the cross-channel ferries.  I’ve previously written about the Norfolkline from Dunkerque and  the P&O ferry from Calais.  This time, there was a special on the third major line, SeaFrance, also leaving from Calais.

DSC00469Aside:  Once I pass through the passport check, I pull into a  line for boarding.  Customs agents then search the car for people hidden inside.  It seems to me that if the hidden person simply got out of the car and joined the passengers once past the customs check, nobody would be the wiser?

Anyway…

DSC00471 SeaFrance is usually the most expensive of the three alternatives; their sleek, covered boats and faster crossing times made me think that they were a premium service.  So I was really looking forward to giving them a try, expecting gleaming brass, polished wood, gourmet food, and expansive duty-free shopping.

ummmm, nope.

DSC00474 If anything, SeaFrance was at the opposite end of the spectrum.  The lounge areas were outfitted nicely and I could bring my own food (the other lines limit lounge eating to food purchased on-board), but the area was ill-kept and the windows small and dark.  The duty free was similarly limited, with less selection and a tumbled-together ambience.   Food was limited to a small selection of fried goodies on steam tables.  Outside, deck chairs were only present on top of the boat.  People were allowed car access throughout the voyage, so there was a lot of milling around, rather than the usual pastimes of reading, eating, watching birds and boats, and guessing the nationalities of fellow-passengers.

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So, after trying all three, SeaFrance gets my third-choice nod, Norfolkline as the economic alternative a cut above it, and P&O having the overall best ambience and amenities.  I haven’t tried the overnight ferries from Hoek van Holland yet; that will wait for a trip to Yorkshire.

DSC00460 Finally, remember that its better to book ahead, always have a printout of your reservation when you check-in, arrive at least 45 minutes ahead of the sailing time, and search for deals at aFerry when you make a booking.

Disclaimer: I make my own choices, buy my own tickets, and have not written this review at anyone’s request.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Which is more important?

DSC00449 The Netherlands voetbal team takes the field in South Africa tomorrow evening to play their first match against the Danes in World Cup Group E.   Kesselstrade is awash in orange flags and banners, and it will likely be a lively evening.  A giant-screen TV was set up in the town square in Arnhem each evening two years ago for the European championships; I don’t know whether Maastricht will do the same.  The  The Dutch team seems to be favored (but I expect that locally anyway); a local restaurant is serving Danish food throughout the evening.  (They also promise sushi for next week’s match against Japan).

DSC00439 The nieuwe haring is also flooding Maastricht this month.  There are long lines at the stalls at Markt Square, and even the local Jumbo market (‘Yumbo’, in local pronunciation) is pushing the delicacy.

I always do herring at the start of the season, going to the outdoor stands where they filet it fresh with chopped onions.DSC00447

The store-bought packages just don’t have the same appeal.

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In the beginning, I’d get an orange soda to cut the strong fishy taste, but as the years go by, I like it straight with the bite of onions.  I still don’t dangle it by the tail like the true Dutch do, preferring the plastic fork (sorry).

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Both the fish stands and the beer stands have long lines; I’ve taken to a bit of people counting on warm evenings to see (informally) where the local loyalty lies.