Saturday, March 2, 2013

Catching up Saturday

La Vucciria by Renato GuttusoI’ve been on the road for two weeks, a bit of work in Maastricht (and a touch of Carnival), a couple of mid-week / weekend breaks, a business trip to the US.  All turned into full days and late nights,  leaving many pictures to review and notes to sort.  There was little time for writing or reflection, even as there were lots of things to write and reflect about.

So, I’m going to backfill a few dates with pictures and advice from the road trips: it’s not something I’d usually do since I prefer a more immediate style of writing.  But I also dislike posting excessively long essays or multiple entries on a single date.  Your aggregator may seem to be catching up in the next few days, but only because I am as well.

Comments and thoughts are always welcome and, as always, I appreciate your readership and, for my fellow bloggers your writings.  I do keep up from my Nexus more frequently now, and always enjoy reading your stories, insights, and news.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tijd en geld

Time and moneyA search on the phrase “Time and Money” yields a rich array of aphorisms, graphics, stories, and icons: a lot of people think long and hard about the quantities and their relationship.  It defines  business processes: once the innovative idea and the profitable model are decided, execution reduces to these two quantities.  How much money do you have; how far can it carry you?

The  best laid plans, the most experienced team, can still come up hard against these realities and the past couple of months have seen both of my startups approaching the rocks.

Time and money 3Our coatings company had some curious laboratory results last fall, one measurement inconsistent with the rest that indicated that our coating might be getting masked by an unknown interaction. The culprit has now been identified as a residual manufacturing impurity, otherwise harmless, left in silicone material.  This substance diffuses slowly and settles on the surface, forming a thin layer over our antimicrobial material.  We have a half-dozen approaches that may solve the problem, but lining them up and knocking them off, each with an associated two-week stability test, goes slowly.  Too slowly.

Time and money 2Our surgical monitoring company is concluding it’s development work and is ready to commercialize the product. At meetings last week, three immediate tasks were identified:  recast the LLC as a C-Corp with a formal Board of Directors, appoint a CEO to define and build an organization, and raise 5m$ at the highest achievable valuation.  Plans, candidates, and strategies, respectively, were http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Wag_the_Dogforwarded and discussed over four days, during which both the Florida weather and the participant’s moods darkened.  The business manager was unable to raise additional funds himself, yet unwilling to cede control or decisions to others.  Discussions grew heated,demands grew self-centered.  The conclave dissolved acrimoniously: although our task was “Execution”, it wasn’t supposed to mean that we stood in a circle and aimed at one another.

This is nothingI am confident that both businesses will get back on track: there are still business options, cash in the bank, and talent on board.  As Dustin Hoffman repeated in Wag the Dog, “This is nothing; You think this is a tight spot? This is just Act One…”

But it is, increasingly, a tight spot.  Execution takes time; time  costs money; money is fixed.  As so many others have discovered, it comes down now to focus, cleverness, endurance, and luck.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Vacation pressures…

…writing.

I love travel, going places, new experiences,meeting people, haring idea and conversation.  It’s great to get away from the office, go off-grid from phone and emails, leave the clock at the side of the road.   It’s generative: I scribble notes about cultural differences, ironic juxtapositions, new ideas, exotic history to look up when I get home.  Invariably, I end up filling the lower right corner of my agenda, the area reserved for blog topics, with lots of scribbled notes and impressions.  Some link to pictures, others to people; some to plans, others to memories.

The pressure comes from having no time to organize pictures, to write impressions, or to organize a review until days later when I get home.  Sometimes I can do a little on the airplane or waiting for security or a bus, but it often has to wait until I’m back  in the Netherlands, after the pulse of work emails and phone messages are cleared, after the shopping is done.

DSC06626At the same time, I find that vacations facilitate reading.

The e-reader has been great:  my books, magazines, and newspapers are refreshed and locally available each morning, and I’m happy to flip open the cover and spend a few minutes catching up with comments and essays while idling near an ocean or a mountain.  If I want to look up a bit of history or philosophy, then I connect for a moment and scratch the itch, then leave before email or skype start nagging. 

A few of my better reads from the past week include:

  • An article on the failed potential of Alex Rodriguez, a US Baseball player who should have become much more than he finally turned out to be.  The author asks about the critical decisions in his life that led down the wrong paths.

It begs the question, in retrospect, about what my own moments might have been.

  • A reflection on how the 1% seed their own demise when they channel resources to themselves.  Using Venice colleganza as a historical antecedent, the authors observe that the greatest benefits flowed to society when “ risk-taking entrepreneurs share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages”.  But once La Serrat was established, banning new entrants to the ruling and economic elites, social and economic mobility, then investment and growth, withered.

I’m reminded of the investors who advise me that since they are the ones with ‘skin in the game’, the only ones taking (passive) risks, that they should be the only ones with a governing voice and the ones to receive preferential returns. 

And the deadening consequences of such uneven partnerships will be the same

  • John Fingleton’s story of trying to open a UK bank account for his small business.  He recounts how walk-ins led to call-backs, how appointments were deferred for weeks, how documentation and review requirements became prohibitive.  In the end, he found a small London branch of a US bank who would open a savings / checking / wire transfer account at reasonable cost.

I absolutely struggled with this: Barclays and HSBC refused to consider a UK account for my Dutch business (aren’t we all one happy EU?).  Company’s House gets involved with all sorts of paperwork designed to prevent money laundering and terrorist trafficking.  But how can we become a global, export-driven, skills-acquiring knowledge and innovation economy if our governments are afraid of the world and our financial institutions are averse to supporting commerce? 

Austerity is the alternative.

  • An industry that cares little about consumer health can’t be expected to care about employee health, observes the FT, writing about US restaurant chains.  And the consequences of avoiding paying for health care are that more employees are coming to  work when they should be home, or are ignoring symptoms before they get worse.  Either way, their infections end up on our plates.

‘food for thought.

I really enjoy reading these little vignettes, then closing the tablet and thinking about the truth and implications of the author’s views while advancing to the next stage of my journey.

Then I’ll make a few notes, reminding myself to follow up later, after vacation, in writing, when there’s time.

Vacations pressure writing.  But, often, in good ways as well as bad.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Florida signage

Part of the eternal fun of going to Florida is the  bright colors and cheezy signs.  It’s a vacation mindset, accenting the warm weather and blue skies, too long absent in Europe this winter, with light sayings and breezy ornamentation.

   

Monday, February 25, 2013

Traditional Florida

CaravelleMy first airplane trip was on a family vacation to St. Augustine, Florida, probably in 1960 or so. We flew down on a Carvaelle jet, two engine pods at the back rather than under the wings, a very cool step up from the prop planes of the time.  We stayed right on the beach in a two-story hotel embracing a freshwater swimming pool: I remember a lot of pink and coral colors.

Treasure Island beaches, outside of Tampa, haven’t changed much since those days.

 

The Thunderbird Resort is a funky throwback, 50-ish room deor, a smell of warm molds and cold air conditioning, a kitchenette with hotplate burners and a stainless steel sink.  The two story hotel wraps around a deep blue pool, open at the ends to the ocean.  Miami-Vice pastel colors dominate.  Patrons are a blend of young families and older retirees. (‘Funny that I think of them as ‘older’ now, rather than just ‘old’.)

But it all works in a comfortable / nostalgic sort of way.

Beyond the resort, Treasure Island is lined with low-rise hotels and beach houses on the ocean side of highway A1A, local restaurants and beach shops on the leeward side of the street.  The whole thing is lined with palm trees, ornamented with gardens, and very much on a human scale. It invites walking, exploring, discovering.

 

South, towards Clearwater (Spring Home Of The Phillies), contemporary high-rises crowd the shore, a high wall blocking off the ocean and the sunshine.  Gates and guards are the norm to protect the residents from visitors.  Across A1A, strip malls line the road with chain restaurants and national housewares stores.  Nobody walks the streets: there’s only the comfortably familiar and safe.

 

Deceptively safe.

Artificial intelligence researchers  reduce product selection and purchasing transactions to template scripts that we execute unconsciously from years of practice.  Years of expatriate life have replaced my New World scripts with Old World ones, and this trip I felt wholly out of sync.

The McDonalds breakfast menu was a maze: McMuffin, McBiscuit, McGriddle.  In trying to ask about the differences, I accidently ordered all three.  Two of them were horrible.

I bought a bottle of wine in Target, the clerk asked to see my driver’s license.  I played it straight an handed over the US version.  She inspected the birthdate, then scanned the 2D bar code on the back. All of my personal information into their databases.  “What if I didn’t let you scan the code?”  Then you wouldn’t be allowed to buy alcohol.  ‘Frightening both ways.

So it went: Ruby’s restaurant, a bank deposit, a booking change with Delta.  Each had new steps, unfamiliar checks, a different script.

Some things change in a few years; other’s don’t change for decades.  Americans still fly to Florida in jets.

And they still drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road…