Monthly Archives: July 2003

Back in the dark ages,

Back in the dark ages, when I was on a college faculty, we were all under pressure to �publish or perish.� This dictum meant that we would spend countless hours not only putting our thoughts on paper, but mailing manuscripts and query letters to the publishers and publications that were deemed important in our disciplines or profession. It was like kneeling at the alter of publication, and we were powerless supplicants.

Rejection letters from publishers and media outlets were more than just a common occurrence; they were the norm. Some arbiter in the ozone would decide our work wasn�t suitable, or good enough, or whatever, and it would be returned to us (or not) in a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

Fast forward to the magnificent, decadent twenty-first century. No one rejects me now. I won�t give them that power. When an idea flits through my mind, I save it as a Word document. Then I take my choice of how I want to publish it. There are dozens of alternatives.

I can enter the poetry contest at Poetry.com (www.poetry.com).

I can email it to my readers using Yahoo groups. I can post it to my blog at http://blog.stealthmode.com, by using Blogger pro (www.blogger.com)
where it will be indexed by Google and perhaps found by anyone searching for me or my content.

I can even get paid to blog if anyone wants to read what I write. A new site called BloggingNetwork (www.bloggingnetwork.com) pays its bloggers a small sum every time they are read.

When I finished my screenplay, I posed it to a service that matches people looking for screenplays with writers. (www.inktip.com) So far, it has been downloaded by half a dozen agents and producers � the same ones who would have written me those rejection letters in the last century. It turns out they are actually always looking for good material, and they browse the site anonymously on their own terms.

Today I also found out about a piece of software called Movable Type, a free download for personal use from http://www.movabletype.org , that makes it simple to update web logs and other content on a site. Six Apart, the company that developed Movable Type, is also beta testing something called Typepad, which they call a hosted personal publishing tool. We are now in the era of �personal publishing.� It�s the successor to �vanity publishing,� which was regarded as failure. Personal publishing, on the other hand, is considered cool.

And let me not forget my next alternative: Netomat. (www.netomat.com). Netomat is my current favorite because it began not as a �software play,� but as an art project. Netomat was originally conceived as a network-based art project by artist/programmer Maciej Wisniewski. Frustrated with the limitations of HTML as the de facto language of the internet, Maciej set out to build a more effective language for communication over networks.
In creating the language, Maciej recognized that computer and information systems can embody values. He committed to designing a language from the ground up that would be open and extensible, work with existing formats and protocols and make it easy for people to be at the center of their own communication network.
By studying the history of robust networks (e.g. aqueducts, ant colonies, immune systems, human communities) and then applying this research to the rapidly evolving internet, Maciej developed the netomatic mark-up language (nml).
nml was first introduced at the Postmasters Gallery in New York City as an art project called “netomat”. The piece, which was downloaded by close to a million people in over 80 countries, clearly touched a nerve. It also showed that art could not only drive technological innovation, but that it had the potential to create its own self-sustaining business model.
Maciej then partnered with the curator and co-owner of Postmasters to expand the vision of the art project and productize the powerful technology. In the fall of 2000, they partnered with two software veterans to found netomat, Inc. and to build a creative, innovative, profitable and responsible software company.
Netomat�s software, which is also still in beta, lets the user drag and drop photos, text, and even voice into a �document� that can be a saved as either a web page or an email. It works on both PC and Mac, and can be updated and change by you or your recipient. So not only can you publish, but you can publish collaboratively.
Damn, that�s good.
The writing�s on the wall: it�s the (traditional) publishers who will be the next to perish.

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There really is a difference

There really is a difference between a product and a company, although many entrepreneurs refuse to acknowledge this. Often they come to us with a product, a piece of software or a gizmo, and they want to build a company around it. Sometimes they come to us with an idea, and no product, and they want to build a company around that as well. I much prefer the latter, because a company takes much more than a single product: it�s an amalgam of products, markets, and personalities that takes years to mesh.

A real company is a difficult thing to build. Ask Anil Srivastava, the co-founder of Acrossworld. In 1999, I met the principals of what was then called Acrossworld Communications through Guy Kawasaki�s Rules for Revolutionaries listserv.

Anil and his partner Anat Bernstein-Reich were former Apple emerging markets people, and they were convinced that network technology could connect the poor to the wealthy, creating global opportunity. They started Acrossworld with a very strong mission: to connect emerging markets with the wealth of the developed world using the new communications technologies.

At first, they were going to build a reliable network from India to the United States,. Their customers would be Fortune 500 companies that did business around the world and Indian entrepreneurs who wished to serve as outsourced resources to American companies.

Building such a network required quite a bit of funding, so while Acrossworld was waiting to get funded, it began hosting the web sites of Indian not-for-profits. It was also trying to build a data center in Pakistan. It got involved in a Turkey data center proposal as well. It put together all kinds of relationships between Silicon Valley and emerging markets.

Teams of employees came and went while trying to define the product that Acrossworld would offer, consistent with both its large global mission and its obvious funding limitations. Would the first customer be the entrepreneur from a developing market who needed world class connectivity to compete, or the multinational corporation that needed to connect to its outlying sites?

And then the bottom fell out of the telecommunications start-up market. Funding of any kind was out of the question.

Acrossworld began looking for a faster way to revenue. It decided that it couldn�t build a network, and it couldn�t even assemble a network. So it decided to be a managed network services provider, helping companies manage their networks to emerging markets. Another team of talented people, this time working for pure equity, set out down this road. Many meetings later, most of the people went on to other opportunities, leaving the principals almost alone in a cavernous office. The landlord never kicked them out, largely because he believed in the mission, and didn�t have another tenant for the space.

Three years passed without revenue, save what the principals were able to generate in consulting fees based on their specialized knowledge of emerging markets. People began to call Acrossworld for information about emerging markets, and it developed a deep relationship to the World Bank.

The company maintained its mission-driven focus, using its resources and dollars to sponsor Stanford�s Emerging Markets Forum, a new magazine devoted to the Asian Subcontinent , and even an Indian Film Festival. It developed partners in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, although it wasn�t quite sure how to use them.

Fast forward to the present. (Although I�m sure this was agonizingly slow to the principals). Through its videoconferences for the World Bank, Acrossworld finds another team � now all volunteers � who are finally able to unearth the company�s real product, which turns out not to be technology at all, but expertise. Expertise about emerging markets, how to educate them, innovate in them, and contribute to their economic development.

So in the next few months, Acrossworld will drop the �Communications� part of the company name. Instead, it will offer three specific services to emerging markets: incubation, education, and economic development. The incubation phase is already under way, with a hosted call center solution that is already getting customers in emerging markets. The education phase kicks off August 6, with a videoconference on nanotechnology offered through the World Bank�s Global Development Learning Network. And the economic development services are offered through Acrossworld Development Partners, a �think tank� of Silicon Valley experts who offer themselves to developing countries through Acrossworld.

So four years later, is Acrossworld the same company it was when it was founded? O One might say �of course not; it no longer attempts to build networks.� But I beg to differ. Of course it is. It is still building networks.

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Everything’s up to date in

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City, as they say in the old song. The city is beautiful — at least the part around Country Club Plaza, which is full of upscale shopping, familiar restaurants, and spewing fountains (lots of water gushing from the noses and mouths of bronze horses),– is beautiful. To get from the historic hotel where I’m staying to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s offices, I walk along a lovely canal (known to the locals as a creek) lined with trees and home to several water taxis. Who knew? It’s about 95 degrees at noon, and those same locals are complaining, but I’m ecstatic. People are actually walking in the streets. In Phoenix, that never happens.

The training: I’m taking two days of training to facilitate the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac program to grow businesses, and a third day to take the responsibility of becoming the administrator for Arizona and New Mexico. The bad news: I already know how to faciliate, and the facilitation training is excruciatingly slow. The good news: the content material I’m bringing back is awesome.

The Foundation conducts research into what makes for successful companies, and this research is translated into the materials for the FastTrac program. Ewing Marion Kauffman founded Marion Labs, and he believed in treating employees as associates, and in creating self-sufficiency for communities through entrepreneurship. This has been my economic development philosophy for twenty years, and I sure wish I had come across the Foundation earlier.

The FastTrac program itself is divided into three tracks: New Venture, Planning (for established businesses, and Tech. Tech companies seem to go through the EMK processes automatically, because most of them are trained to seek outside funding, and outside funders require many of the processes outlined in the FastTrac programs. These processes get the company to a feasibility study (new venture) or a business plan (established business).. One interesting distinction that the Foundation materials make is that a true business plain contains operational details that can�t be known by a new venture, and thus a new venture can�t write a business plan.

Instead, the new venture track drives the participant toward a feasibility study, which then drives him/her to a true go/no go decision to start the business. Interestingly, there�s a new track, FastTrac Tech, which recognizes that a tech company can be in business for years and still be pre-revenue. FastTrac Tech is logically the most appropriate for Stealthmode to offer.

However, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking while in the training, and I believe what our community lacks is not startups. It’s businesses that are conceptually healthy enough to grow to the next level. Most of the business plans I see are actually feasibility studies, and aren’t written by existing businesses. How many small business owners have time to construct a real business plan? More than likely, they are managing by crisis, hanging on without the intellectual capital to grow properly. And that may be why Arizona does not have more home grown successes.

The long and short of it is that I think when I come back to Phoenix in August, Stealthmode will seek partners to offer the FastTrac Planning program to businesses that wish to grow to the next level. Later, we will get on to offering the FastTrac Tech program for technology businesses.

What do I mean by partners? First, we need community resources to help us market the program. This would be government agencies and media outlets. We also need money for scholarships for the participants if they can�t afford the fees.

We need business counselors to whom we will refer the participants for help. SBDCs usually fulfill this function..

And we need guest speakers to tell the �real stories� of entrepreneurship that enliven the sessions (ten).

I think we have a real chance here to accelerate the growth of local companies that may already exist. If we choose the right companies as participants, we can cause the growth that diversifies the economy and creates jobs. I�m willing to stay involved with the Foundation�s work because I really admire what they�re doing, and to be the link to national research they are going to do on entrepreneurship and what makes it tick.

Stealthmode will need all the help it can get. If you know someone in a position to help, please forward this to them.

BTW, from here I am going on my annual pilgrimage to worship at the Mecca of innovation, Silicon Valley. San Francisco, the city everyone is leaving to live in Gilbert, Arizona, should be nice and empty by the time I get there on Friday.

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It’s been a while since

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these optimistic and excited “the market’s coming back” pieces, but this appears to be the week I’m destined to do it. Despite the fact that it’s July in Phoenix, and the current temperature is 114F, there’s a sense of excitement (or is it investment?) in the air. The meetings are getting to be fun again, and our entrepreneurs seem to be more able to pay the rent. Some are even speaking to venture capitalists (keep your fingers crossed) and strategic investors. It’s as if the Zoloft finally kicked in, and the depression’s under control.

The techie mailing lists are once again talking about job opportunities. Networking has risen from the ashes. Social software is all the rage.

And I just received the list of my fellow attendees at the Kauffman Foundation�s FastTrac certification program, for which I leave on Monday. (Definitely overloaded with people from Pittsburgh and Florida. One person from San Francisco, another from Colorado.) There are forty-four attendees, mostly from Small Business Development Centers and women�s centers. These are the facilitators and helpers for small businesses in the cities and towns they come from.
The administrator at the Foundation thinks this is the best certification class she has ever seen, largely because of the geographical distribution. This tells me that almost every state is trying to help its entrepreneurs succeed, connecting them to resources even if they’re located outside a specific geography. Since business is global today anyway, this is a good strategy.

But it underscores the complexity of starting a business in the current climate. Although talent is underutilized and plentiful, resources are still scarce. Getting from “here to there,” where “there” equals customers and revenues, can take years when bootstrapping is the only available financing scheme.

When I meet my co-conspirators I will want to find out whether all these people who are in training to be facilitators have ever personally started or run businesses. I will be mightily disappointed if it’s a room full of bureaucrats, who are always the last to get on any bandwagon. Stay tuned for what I learn next week. If it’s all public sector types, I’ll know for sure that the market’s turned. They always get on when the rest of us are getting off.

Why might the climate have turned around? Unfortunately, I think it’s once again because of the stock market. I don’t know if you have been courageous enough to read your 401k statements lately, but the market has gone up about 20% this quarter. The NASDAQ, always the high flier, is soaring at about 30% above its previous level. I’m pretty hunkered down in an index fund, but I’ve still been covering my daily expenses from my stock market profits for the first time in three years.

How can I think this is unfortunate? Because I think we are about to go into another up cycle without much in the way of fundamentals. Yes, the deal flow is better — there have been some big mergers lately and a couple of IPOs — but I wouldn’t say there is real liquidity. The flow of money isn’t into information technology, it’s into biotechnology, nannotechnology, and other long-term risky companies. If you look at what securities have gone up the most, it’s microcap funds and the stocks inside them. These are little, illiquid companies whose stocks are thinly traded, often manipulated by insiders, not followed by analysts, and not held by institutions. At any moment, the economy could all come down around us again, brought down by things like structural changes in the retail sector (Wal-Mart is the largest employer in many cities, virtually wiping out the supermarket industry,and online shopping is increasing steadily) and the looming crisis in health care costs.

But the public is eager for an upturn, and — most important — next year is an election year. Whatever *can* be done to manipulate the economy so George Bush doesn’t suffer the defeats of his father *will* be done. It may not make long term sense, but for the next eighteen months, expect to see the worst of the economy’s symptoms abate.

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I don�t have colon cancer.

I don�t have colon cancer. I know this because this week I had a colonoscopy, a procedure I had been putting off for many years (you�re supposed to have one when you reach fifty). I had been putting it off because I�m not a fan of taking laxatives, giving myself an enema, having someone stick a probe up my butt and watch it on TV, and being out of it the whole day from the anaesthesia. That�s why everyone procrastinates, and some people end up dying of (preventable) cancer.

I like to think I�m too smart to do that, so I finally made the appointment. I�m sharing my experience, not because I�m a pervert, but because I learned so much. I minimized my own discomfort, maximized my learning, and confronted the entire health care system in the process.

I made the appointment for a Monday, because I generally just chill on Sundays anyway. This made it possible for me to meditate on the experience of colon cleansing, rather than try to integrate it into my otherwise busy life. Yes, I had to travel further to reach the facility where my doctor did these procedures on Monday, but it was worth it.

Next, I read up on colon cleansing on the Internet, and found out that many people do it for pleasure, and that it can make you feel really energetic and good. Previously, I had thought these people were nuts. Before the procedure I still thought they were nuts. But I decided to try to get into it.

When the doctor gave me the prep instructions, my heart sank. I was to take a laxative before bed on Saturday night, eat nothing but clear liquids all day Sunday, and consume two more doses of laxative (phosphosoda) at 2 PM Sunday and 4 AM Monday. Oh well, at least no enema.

After an eventful Saturday night, at Sunday morning at yoga class I thought I was going to have trouble, because power yoga�s a sweaty workout. But I drank Vitamin Water (the Revive kind) with electrolytes, and I had no problems. That is, no more problems than I usually have doing stuff like standing on my head, balancing on my arms, and lifting my dense body into a backbend.

The prep regime allows coffee, so I had some, along with some apple juice. Then I had another bottle of vitamin water (Energy). I also was drinking as much plain water as usual � ten glasses.

I violated the doctor�s orders by taking the phosphosoda before 2 PM, because I wanted to go to a movie at 5 PM. By 4:30, I knew I was clean. I went to the movies, drinking my usual diet coke. I felt fine.

When I came out of the movies, it was 110 degrees, and I realized that 1)phosphosoda is full of sodium and works by making you retain fluid 2)this isn�t good for your blood pressure 3)when you sweat or excrete, you lose potassium
4)this is why you often feel bad when you fast.

So I went to the supermarket, looking for Gatorade to replace electrolytes. I read every sport drink label in the place, and none of them had more than 1% of the daily requirement of potassium. What else was on the doctor�s list? Chicken buillion.

Sure enough, when I looked at the salt free chicken buillion, it was high in potassium (13%MDR), so I drank two cups for dinner. By this time, I felt clean and great. I drank some more apple juice and went to bed.

I was supposed to take another dose of phosphosoda with apple juice at 4 AM. But I made an executive decision. I could see that I was clean, so I skipped it. I just drank the four ounces of apple juice.

One of the side effects of the colonoscopy process is the sedation. They make you bring someone to drive you home. I brought a friend who is a retired physician (just in case). A nurse friend of mine told me that she had been very dehydrated and had barfed from the anaesthetic after the procedure, so I decided to head that off as well. I told the outpatient surgery nurse up front that I barfed from Demerol and Versed, even though I had no idea whether I did or did not.

The outpatient nurse (who happened to be my former sister-in-law) told me there was a substitute, so they gave me something else.

The procedure itself was pretty interesting, as I watched it on the monitor in my semi-drowsy state. It does not hurt. Period. Not at all. By the end, the gastroenterologist knew there was nothing in there, and he was chatting with me.

In the recovery room, I read email on my cell phone and chatted with my doctor friend, who then took me to Starbucks, followed by lunch. I am still very energetic a day later, and I�m a convert to the routine of the colon cleanse. So if you have been putting it off�

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