Monthly Archives: March 2006

I feel compelled to talk

I feel compelled to talk about “Big Love.” Oh, I know it’s not about technology (although there was an IPod on its way to the Mormon fundamentalists’ compound at the end of the last episode), but it is about life, the other focus of this blog. “Big Love” is the new HBO series about a polygamous family in Utah. It comes at just the right time: Tony Soprano has come out of his coma, but he can’t speak. “Big Love” follows “The Sopranos,” and on this show people speak constantly.
In case you haven’t seen it, or read its ubiquitous publicity, “Big Love” is about an ordinary guy named Bill Henderson, who looks pretty normal, except he happens to have three “sister-wives.” He doesn’t live on a rural religious compound anymore; he owns a couple of large Home Depot-like stores in the city. He’s just like you and me. Except he lives in three contiguous houses in a suburb, all of which share a single backyard full of swingsets and childrens’ toys. It’s a compound– but in a 21st century way.
Inside each home is a wife and a kid or two–Bill is the father of seven (I think). His life is complicated. He has to take Viagra to make the wives happy, there is always a child yelling for dad’s attention, and he has to buy cars the way some of us buy eggs. Bill took the second wife because the first wife had cancer and couldn’t have any more children. He took the third wife because she was the baby sitter, and needed a family to be part of. Family is even more important to Bill than business. He is bound and determined to be a good husband and father. It could be a lot worse for everyone. In fact, the youngest wife just got a brand new car. As Mormons, they are not focussed on material things, but they don’t scorn them either.
Polygamy doesn’t look good on “Big Love,” but it doesn’t look bad either. The wives are sometimes jealous of each other, but are often supportive. They share family chores and help each other with the kids. The only real contentious issue among them is sex: who gets the most. The wives work out the nights of the month and how to share Bill with scrupulous attention to detail.
Let’s leave out the obvious social issues that characterize America’s actual polygamists: forced marriage, pedophelia, brutality, isolation, and misogyny. In “Big Love,” the urban Henderson family has left those behind on the compound. Their family is one created out of free will–everyone in it wishes to be there. (And it’s almost possible to believe them, until you see where they all came from.)
“Big Love” is an interesting take on an era I grew up in– an idealistic time of shared spaces in which no one was married, but everyone shared household responsibilities. That was a common way to live in the hippie ’60s. It’s coming back. Today, seniors are designing communal living spaces in which everyone may sleep separately, but share common areas like kitchens and living rooms. It’s considered a healthy way for older people to remain engaged and socially connected. And after all, since women live longer than men and most retirement communities are heavy on women, in actuality, they probably don�t look that different from “Big Love”�just older. Everyone is looking for family, even if it’s not the one they were born into.
In America, many households are now made up of gay couples, single women with children, and extended families. Adult children are living with their parents; aging parents are moving in with their children. Immigrants live with relatives in whatever space they can afford. The four-person two-parent “Leave it to Beaver” family may never have truly existed in real life, and it certainly is not the norm in the 21st century.
And that’s why “Big Love” hits a nerve. It examines the question of what constitutes a family. It’s too early to tell how the series will end, but I’m in for the journey. As a person who has lived in multiple marriages, been a parent and a foster parent, I have certainly caused my share of unconventional family groupings. Who am I to condemn Bill Henderson?
After all, I’m embarrassed to say it, but I live in a household every bit as strange. Until I saw this show, I thought I was weird. But now I understand: I’m a polycaninist. I have two husbands–a Golden retriever and a chow-chow.

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Such a heavy experience yesterday.

Such a heavy experience yesterday. This blog was read by a reporter in the UK who must cover Emirates Airlines. He said he had not seen the ad I referenced in my previous post. I sent him the electronic copy I had received, and he told me the ad was not real — just a joke, and one that would make Emirates Airlines very unhappy. He advised me to remove it from my blog before Emirates sued me! Good heavens. I used the ad to make a point that was complimentary to Emirates, to commerce, to broader thinking. I have no way of checking further without opening up an even bigger can of worms, so I’m hoping someone with credentials can set this to rest.

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A friend of mine in

A friend of mine in Pakistan sent me an ad for Emirates Airlines this morning. I thought I would share the copy with you, because I thought it was 1)awfully clever, and 2) another example of how commerce goes on while politics blusters. The headline of the ad says,”Every been outsmarted by the Jews?”
The body copy: “Even though we are spending over 100 million pounds to support a third-rate North London football club, they neglected to mention to us that they were signing the Israel Tourism Board as a new sponsor.

Since we are stuck advertising next to the Israelis for the forseeable future, we will probably start flying to Jerusalem, so the Jews who run the Arsenal FC can fly back to the Holy Land in style and comfort.
Shalom. Keep discovering.” Emirates Airlines

I love this ad. It tells how you can take a situation everyone else might think is volatile and defuse it with humor, making money along the way. This airline is way ahead of the United States in how to deal with difficult geopolitical situations.

In the meantime, in Glendale, Arizona, they have just built a football stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, a team that almost never wins. This is in a state known as 50th in education spending and quality, but at the top of the heap for car theft, meth addiction, identity theft, illegal immigration, and high school drop outs. It’s difficult to believe we don’t have better things to do with our money.

Don�t worry, however. Even if the Cards don�t win, the stadium itself has already won a prize: it received an award this week from BusinessWeek as one of the world’s ten best stadiums –the only North American stadium in that rarified class. And it has already been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Extreme Engineering” show, even though it doesn’t even open until this summer.

Among the mind-boggling features of the stadium is a retractable grass field, also the first in North America. The field lives outside the stadium for about 340 days a year, where it can get the right sunlight and water for its optimum growth. The day before each Cardinals’ game, the entire field is rolled inside, under the retractable roof. All this effort is to protect the spectators from the 100+ degree temperatures that characterize the football season in Arizona. It begs the question of whether there SHOULD be a football season in Arizona, because we have the technological fix for both the grass and the people.

The 100,000 square foot roof was assembled inside the stadium’s footprint, and raised hydraulically over a two-day period. It was the heaviest roof lift in North America, 11 million pounds. I guess Arizona thought North America was falling behind in the global stadium competition, and the state had to jump in to help out. While India is known for software, we can be known for rolling grass.

The entire construction period has been marked by this kind of pride, excitement and public relations activities. The air conditioning is bigger and better than ever. The seats are some new design. Everything’s first rate. Never mind that the team sucks. Never mind that the owner is a less than admirable civic leader. He has built a monument to himself and his team, and we have helped him. And all the cities in our Valley fought for the opportunity to host this ingrate.

I’m just stunned by this stadium stuff. This project represents an “investment” of $355 million, only $109m of which is paid for by the Cardinals. The remainder, of course, is paid by us, through a complex series of financial finaglings not worth understanding.

But if I remember correctly, the Arizona education budget was short last year by about $358 million to implement all the No Child Left Behind mandates. (Gee, what if we had chosen another way to use that $355 mill?)

You know the answer. Arizona would have lost its chance to host the Super Bowl, which brings millions in tourism dollars into the community. Well, maybe not $355 million, but perhaps $50 million. And Phoenix would have lost 3500 �high-paying� construction jobs over the past three years � jobs that will now vanish as quickly as they came.

I am usually an ardent supporter of economic development activities, and of investments in the community’s future. I was proud of the citizens of Phoenix last week, voting almost a billion in bonds to support a new downtown campus of ASU, an expansion of the medical school, and several other philanthropic causes. Our own FastTrac program, which generates and retains jobs by helping entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, is funded by CDBG grants.

But a $355 million football stadium for a dozen games a year? That’s an investment? It’s not even a good gamble. And how does it make us look to clever competitors like Emirates Airlines?

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Every once in a while,

Every once in a while, something makes me laugh out loud while I am alone in the house. This week, it was a Fox news story that exposed the habits of some Ambien users who found themselves sleepwalking to the refrigerator in the middle of the night. Or rather, who DIDN’T find themselves doing anything but resting in bed until they got on the scale the next morning. For the five of you on this list who don�t take sleeping pills, Ambien is a �supposedly�non-addicting sleep aid. Me, I have never taken it. All you have to do for me is turn on the TV, or start the airplane engine, or turn on the auto ignition, and I fall asleep. But apparently sleep deprivation is a big problem in the US, and millions of us sleep less than the required seven or eight hours a night.

Once the sleep police catch up with you, it�s likely you will be prescribed Ambien. And then you may find yourself inexplicably gaining weight. According to the Mayo Clinic doctor who first noticed this:

�What happens is the patients get out of bed, walk to the kitchen, prepare food — often sloppily, and often with strange, high-calorie ingredients�.They have microwave food sometimes. They eat in a very sloppy way, either in the kitchen or after taking the food back to bed. And they have no memory of it. They wake to find a mess in the kitchen or crumbs in the bed.”

That is HILARIOUS!!! Or is it? The previous week, I heard another news broadcast about a man who was stopped for drunk driving on his way to work, in broad daylight. It turned out he, too, was sleeping — still under the influence of the previous night’s Ambien. His story flushed out a plethora of other instances in which people had driven their cars to work without awakening in the morning. I�ve never heard of a drug before that worked longer and better than it was supposed to.

Ambien is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the country. No one is willing to alter his or her life to get a natural good night�s sleep (no caffeine after 10 AM, no watching TV in bed, no sleeping with the cell phone). We�d rather pop a pill. But Ambien is now about to join the ranks of Viagra (which has been found to cause strokes), VioXX (cause of heart attacks), Prozac (suicide in teenagers) and many other pharmaceuticals that are marketed as lifestyle drugs �chemicals that enhance our quality of life. Lifestyle drugs are not really necessary (you could always count sheep, walk with a cane, kiss and cuddle), but they’re sure nice. They hide some pretty ugly realities.

So we take these drugs, in search of the perfect life, the perfect erection, the perfect golf swing, until they betray us. And then we turn around and sue the pharmaceutical companies that developed them in answer to market research we sent them. We never see past the joyful present to the future consequences of the choices we make. We are a nation of neo-cortically challenged hedonists who would like to be able to see the future, but refuse to look at it until it hits us in the face.

Americans are just so incurably naive. We seem to have faith in just about anything or anybody. At the end of the 19th century, an almost forgotten novelist named Henry James exposed our follies in a series of books detailing the ignorance and blindness of Americans touring sophisticated Europe. Nothing has changed. We’re still foolish.

Yes, we expect pharmaceuticals to do only what we want them to do. And we expect our government to run the country. We are as stunned when, as a nation, we discover a Dubai Ports Deal as when we discover a side effect from a medicine.

I bet if we looked into it, we would find thousands of smaller Dubai Ports deals, in which the pressures to globalize, the need to borrow money from others to support our need for consumer goods, and a fundamental unwillingness to spend time educating ourselves about the issues have led us in a direction not unlike that of the Ambien sleepwalker � we�re in strange territory and we don�t know how we got here.

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Stowe Boyd is a retired

Stowe Boyd is a retired serial technology entrepreneur who now writes mystery novels. But he also works with startup companies and he is seeing a major change in how startup entrepreneurs manage their finances. No more $10 million A rounds, with fancy office leases and high executive salaries. The chic and fashionable are officing virtually, outsourcing development to the “third” world, and using their own checkbooks to finance their companies.

The newest thing in Silicon Valley is to refuse venture capital. Can you believe that? Five years ago, when we didn’t have any venture capital to speak of in Arizona, I was screaming that we didn’t need it anyway, because it was much healthier to start businesses based on market needs and finance them with customers. I brought the wrath of the politicos down on me, as they were all trying to lure venture capital to the state or get the state to start its own fund, and my rants sounded like sour grapes sometimes even to me.

But the world has come around. Especially in the arena of Internet companies, now known as “Web 2.0” startups, venture capital is not needed. It’s relatively inexpensive to set up a web site, drive traffic to it through Google Ad Words, and finance it internally. You can start a Web 2.0 company for under $50,000. In Silicon Valley, this is pocket change. In Arizona, it’s home equity line money.

So the entrepreneur doesn’t need the money anymore. But he does need advice and help of the kind VCs (the good ones) provide.

That’s where Stowe Boyd’s concept of Advisory Capital comes in. The role of the advisory capitalist is to provide connections, networks, entrepreneurship training, and good suggestions. It’s a deeper, more intense commitment than just “consulting”; the advisory capitalist walks alongside the company for a long period of time, sometimes years. It’s her job to hold out a hand to the entrepreneur when he stumbles, to find the customer for the beta test, to tune the company messages, head off the wrong hires, and source whatever the entrepreneur needs for success.

And how does the Advisory Capitalist get compensated? Boyd is a realist; he knows that the compensation from startups can’t be commensurate with the value received. So here’s his structure for Advisory Capital (http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2006/02/advisory_capita.html):

Like venture capital, advisory capital is about the investment of a critical resource into a startup. It’s not money, however, but the experience, expertise, social capital, and public authority that advisory capitalists invest.
The leverage from advisory capital comes from consistent involvement over strategic scope of time: months and years of frequent interaction. Weekly calls, monthly meetings, quarterly planning sessions. A constant focus on bringing strategic goals into realization.
Advisory boards in principle are a way to involve well-known authorities or business celebrities into the mix of the business, but in practice they have become a PR exercise with flabby results, in general. The minimal levels of involvement — an occasional call, an annual dinner — do not lead to great results, because there is not a deep enough investment being made.
I believe that someone who will be an effective advisory capitalist will view that role as their primary professional purpose. Just like the best venture capitalists are not doing something else on the side, those moving into this new frontier will not be part-timing it.
In order for the AC model to work, other elements of the VC model have to fall into place. The AC has to avoid conflict of interest — if she is affiliated with one company building a product to do X, she cannot do the same with a second company. But this also means that the return on involvement (ROI) for the AC has be be more like a VC than a consultant. For a strategic level of involvement there must be a non-trivial return on involvement.
The historical levels of stock participation for the passive, PRish, list-of-names sort of advisory board membership are inadequate for the degree of involvement contemplated. ACs will have to prove their worth, but my feeling is they will prove to be something on the order of 10 times more effective that the Madame Tussaud wax dummies that most companies populate their advisory boards with. And a company will only need a handful of ACs, rather than a boatload of in-name-only advisory board members.
Advisory board stock participation is often as much as 0.25% to 0.5% ownership in a startup, subject to normal vesting periods of 4 or 5 years. I believe we will see this boosted 5X, 10X, or more, to attract and retain powerful ACs.
Unlike VCs, ACs are not amassing cash from passive investors, and managing it for them. ACs do not have a pool of cash to draw a salary from. (Or at least many of us don’t.) As a result, they will seem like a consultant on some level, since they will charge for their time and expenses. However, at least in my case, I am discounting from my a la carte, short-term consulting rates when moving into an advisory capital situation: when the client is interested in a long-term, high involvement relationship, involving a serious stock share (1% ownership or more).

So I am going to follow Stowe Boyd’s lead, and the next time I reprint my business cards, I will give myself the title “Advisor Capitalist.”

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I don’t wash my car

I don’t wash my car often enough. It’s black, I have two dogs, and it never looks clean. But every once in a while I get embarrassed and take it to the car salon to be washed, brushed, and styled.

The car wash I went to this morning was a new one, the QuicknClean. It has taken the place of an old cheap car wash in my neighborhood and I was attracted to the $3.00 wash sign, even though I knew I would never order the $3.00 wash.

Driving up from the street, I didn’t see the usual car wash attendant/salesperson. Cool. Instead, I drove straight up to a machine that allowed me to choose,order and pay for my wash automatically, without receiving the usual offers of a hand wax, paintless dent repair, or windshield repair that I always have to turn down. I chose the $13.00 wash (because I needed the interior done), put a credit card in, and pulled up to the wash line. I could tell from the screen that if I had had a “wash code,” I could have just entered my wash code. More about that later.

No cashier, no impulse buying toys, candy, and auto accessories I will never use. I liked that. Clean and futuristic-looking. I liked that, too. The car wash business is very labor intensive, and the labor usually doesn�t enjoy the job. So the fewer people I see, the happier I am.

When I got to the front of the wash line, I didn’t get out of the car. Instead, I put it in neutral, took my foot off the brake and my hands off the wheel and accompanied my car through the procedure. If you have ever had an MRI, you will know what it felt like–a little claustrophobic, a little noisy, but on the whole interesting. Once before I�d gone with the car through a car wash, but it was pretty primitive compared to this one.

First the car is flailed by flapping pieces of (I assume) sponge, while soapy water is applied. Then my car and I moved along the moving belt while the wheels and undercarriage were washed, and then on to the rinse. Just when I thought I knew what was coming next, we came to the coolest part: the triple color protectant. I have no clue what it is, but it comes down on the windshield in three colors — red, white, and blue. It’s like a drug-induced hallucination. It may do nothing to the car, but it certainly makes the experience of staying in your vehicle worthwhile.

As you might expect, the last step is the blow dry.

When the car comes to the end of the procedure, you start it up again and you see a sign with two choices: if you have chosen the express wash, you�re done, but you can stay and vacuum your own car in the right lane. If you have chosen full service, you take the left lane, and the interior of the car is cleaned (carefully) for you, which takes about three minutes. It reminded me of 10k runs where I didn�t register and got shunted off to the left a few feet short of the finish line.

I have to say I was in and out of the whole experience in ten minutes, and the car looked great. So I went home and visited http://www.quicknclean.net to find out how to buy the discount card. Because this seemed by its equipment to be a technology-focused company, I wasn’t surprised to find out that I could buy a series of washes online, paying by credit card. This generated my “wash code,” which I type into the screen at the head of the wash line next time.

So QuicknClean met the criteria for good use of automation: faster, better, cheaper. It has only a few sites in Arizona right now, and I couldn�t find out if it�s trying to become a franchise or build itself from scratch by buying and converting old carwash sites. I have written to the company for its investor relations information, just in case I can find a place for it in my portfolio. In the mean time, I hope it succeeds. The world could use a fast $3.00 car wash.

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