Referees & Fairness

I don’t know what this football season is going to look like. But I’ve seen hundreds of memes about how bad 2020 is turning out to be. It makes me think that the universe owes us some payback in 2021. Which got me to thinking about what happens when referees make bad calls on the field. There is always an expectation of fairness that at some point they will make an offsetting call for the other team to even things out.

It’s not always exactly equal. A missed PI call on a 45 yard passing play that would have been a touchdown, cannot be balanced by a an overly generous encroachment call on 1st and 10. A player that takes a dive inside the 18 drawing a PK, can’t be offset by a generous yellow card on an open field tackle. Missing the catcher tag the runner as he slides into home, can’t be offset by a larger strike zone the following inning.

We have come to expect fairness. Balance. We know that people make mistakes. You can’t fix something that happened; History can’t be rewritten. But we have come to expect that there will be inevitable balance. That’s what we want in sports. A level playing field that gives every team the opportunity to succeed. If something tilts the balance, we expect it to tilt the opposite way with equivalence.

And so I turn to the recent public discourse about Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, Systemic Racism, the relative inequities in society for people who happen to have skin with a little more color than me. Just before George Floyd’s murder, I started listening to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas. I figured if the President didn’t know who he was, I needed to educate myself. I remember listening to the first chapter and the description of a whipping of a woman. “The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped. And where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream and whip her to make her hush.” I listened to that section and a lot more description about this person’s inhumane treatment of humans. I remember exactly where I was on my run when this part came up. I had to stop the Audible player. I stopped running. I choked up and my heart beat faster than it should for running that pace.

I couldn’t come back to the book for a few weeks. But after George Floyd’s death, I knew that I had to subject myself to the reality of what this country I love, had done and continues to do to its citizens.

I imagine what it must have been like to be a New Orleans Saints fan on Jan 20, 2019. A blown call that seems to have no recourse. Even the defender admitted he did it to save a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game. How could the refs equal that out? It’s a game, not even real life, and we don’t have an answer.

But I can’t possibly imagine what it is like to be Black in America. Racism is still real. I don’t agree with the idea of direct reparations payments because it would seem to only balance the scale for descendants of slaves and not the vast majority of people today that are subject to racism and an unfair playing field because of the color of their skin. I do agree with programs that specifically tilt the scales back in the favor of Blacks who are unfairly burdened with playing the game of life with the debt of 200 years of slavery and continued systemic racism. Low income housing grants, a few years of Affirmative Action and other relatively small programs, don’t seem to even come close to balancing that equation. We need more of them.

In the last minute of the Saints game or even overtime, if the refs tried to offset the missed call by penalizing the Rams, there is almost no scenario that could make the team or fans feel compensated. Let’s say they tried. After Brees is hit and throws the pick, a late flag for something like illegal hands to the face on a D-Lineman is intended to make up for the missed call, giving the Saints the ball back. How would that individual lineman feel for a blown call against him? That moment is not fair. Would it feel fair for the Rams in the totality of the game? Does that call balance the missed PI?

These things never exactly equate. For Black America, this country has made efforts since the 60’s to offset hundreds of years of inequity. But we’re not even close. And sure, at an individual level, some white person might feel that extra funding for an inner city mostly black school or neighborhood might seem a little unfair. But stop for a second and try to envision that program in the larger arc of history. Can you still make that argument? Does it feel ‘right’?

I love sports metaphors and applying them to life. Those of us who enjoy sports know how critical it is to have a level playing field, rules and fairness. We should expect no less in life. We should expect no less from businesses, schools and government. Yes, I think rewarding someone with lesser skills goes against the fabric of competition and basic economic theory that I hold dear. But I will advocate strongly for increased and enhanced education, community programs and spending, small business financing and access to capital to build the skills and economic stature of Black America to get to the point where there never has to be a question about fairness at an individual level.

I don’t like the idea of penalizing players on the field to try to create balance. Nothing is solved in the moment. The solution always works better when it is systemic rather than anecdotal. Like better instant replay. Or in this case, creating systems that enhance a ‘team’s’ ability to play within the rules. Does that seem fair to a team not getting that same benefit right now? Yes. The TEAM is more than the players on the field right now. It takes with it the history of the franchise and all the years of competition by players who came before them. We take that legacy with us. Own it, own up to it. Make it a better legacy for the franchise.

Go Team.

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Yes I Like Musicals

I was watching the Penn & Teller Masterclass on magic and it made me start to think about musicals. Yes musicals.

There are only two musicals that are good. The first is The Blues Brothers. The plot is completely ridiculous but… Cab Calloway, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Ray Charles. Nothing else needs to be said

The second is The Music Man because… Robert Preston. Who was also great in The Last Starfighter (you should see it).

What I love about the Harold Hill character is that he is a total conn man, swindler, grifter and he knows it. To himself he knows he is a cheat. And he uses misdirection like the magicians Penn & Teller to keep people from realizing the breadth of his conn as he steals their money from them while looking them straight in the face.

Along comes Marion Paroo and even though she knows he is a fake, she sees something in him, she convinces him that he is actually doing good for the town. Down deep he actually is a good person, and he is transformed. It’s a happy story of love and a tight knit town that is naïve enough to follow the Pied Piper right off a cliff.

Misdirection is his tool of choice, and when people start to question and challenge what is going on, he points them in other directions. But that immigrant pool table has invaded our town. You got trouble, and it starts with a capital “T” thats for trouble and it starts with Trump. We can all MAGA with the Think System,and just like magic, come April that darn pool table will disappear. It didn’t happen? What’s that, the stock market rides in on The Wells Fargo Wagon. Do you hear it coming?

Hillary’s emails,”Obamagate”, The Invisible Enemy, “I take no responsibility”, Impeachment, Witch Hunt, The Chinese, Democrat Governors, Sanctuary Cities, scientists. All evil, look at THEM. Misdirection while the conn-man steals the town’s money and moves the ball under the cup. What does it say about the town that no Marion the Librarian will speak up. And if one does, they’re personally insulted for being a “RINO” or “LibTard” or “Fake News” or some other version of a distraction to discredit their legitimacy. It’s not magic folks, it’s a trick. You are being conned. You just bought a shiny new horn. We all thought he might ‘transform’ into someone decent. Nope.

And the music keeps playing Beethoven’s Minuet in G, while we stare at the conn-man hearing 76 Trombones.

Ladi dadi dadi dadi da, ladi da, ladi da….

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The 3 Gotcha’s

clinton-lewinskyThe other day I saw something that got me to thinking about “gotcha journalism.” I’ll summarize the definition as I understand it, and I did a few searches that confirm this general sentiment. This is the traditional definition of the term. The idea is that you interview someone and ask a question that you know the answer to, often having proof of that answer. The interviewer baits the interviewee into answering the question with a falsehood to avoid something embarrassing. The interviewer, presupposing that this will happen, waits with proof to discredit the response. It exposes the interviewee as a liar and in a poor light. The practice started in the 80’s and was perfected in the 90’s.

The True Use

The best example would be asking Bill Clinton if he had sex with Monica Lewinsky. As soon as he says “no” he sets himself up for failure. This is a classic scenario and only someone with a supreme ego would think they could get away with it when there is sure to be evidence. Better to avoid or duck the question. The problem is especially acute with a yes or no question. There is evidence. Questions about something one has said when there are recordings are particularly challenging (e.g. Nixon’s tapes).

The Dodge

Recently, the term has been used incorrectly and turned into a ‘get out of jail free’ card to not answer a fair question. Asking about your opinion is not a gotcha question to excuse not answering it, like Scott Walker tried in 2015. It’s also not a gotcha question to avoid a question you don’t like or know, like Sarah Palin tried in 2008 with Katie Couric. Donald-Trump-Coronavirus-Press-Conference-March-29

If you have already said something and then are asked about it, by definition that can’t be a ‘gotcha’ question. The interviewer is asking for clarification, in general, that is what journalists are supposed to do. It is impossible to set a trap because all the evidence already exists in the public sphere.

The other day, the president took this to a whole new level of misuse of the term. He said to Hannity on FoxNews,

I think that a lot of things are being said that are more, I don’t think certain things will materialize, a lot of equipment is being asked for but I don’t think they’ll need.

The following day, Yamiche Alcindor asked,

you’ve said repeatedly that you think that some of the equipment that governors are requesting they don’t actually need. You said New York might not need 30,000-

To which Trump cut her off and replied, “I didn’t say that.” And added later “Get you, get you, and you know what? That’s why nobody trusts the media anymore.”

This is not gotcha journalism. Asking to clarify something you said, is exactly why we trust journalists to do their job and do it well. Hannity should have asked it (if he was a journalist). I for one, wanted more clarity on this one. Being too scared to answer a question about something you already said, doesn’t give you the right to avoid the question and label it as something it is not. The funny thing is that if it actually was a ‘gotcha’ moment, then Alcindor would have (and Trump would know existed) some bit of evidence that proves he was lying or did something unfavorable to his reputation. Now I know, he is too stupid to realize that by using that euphemism, he actually is pointing out that he said something that if he elaborates now, makes him a liar. But that’s no surprise.

Trump’s perpetual misuse of words does a disservice to the country, our language and his supporters. The job of president is to provide leadership (I’ll leave this failure for another time) and then communicate clearly to get the country behind an effort…like Covid19. Not taking questions, labeling them as something they aren’t, is bad communication.

Take the term “Fake News” which is a great example of his perversion. Regardless of who was creating this crap and then sharing it through social channels, a “Fake News” story is literally a made up and false account of something that happened. Harsh, critical or unflattering news, is not “Fake.” Labeling it as fake is a shorthand cheat to allow your supporters to blindly ignore it, but that doesn’t mean it should be excused from examination. Somehow we let this linguistically challenged dotard alter the English language, bigly.

The Context-Challenged

This last one came up the other day. And at first, it suckered me in too. A friend shared this link from a right-leaning ‘news’ site.gotcha image

As I read the article, I thought it might be click-bait and not the real story. But sure enough, it was. And I started to get mad. Come on Cuomo, are you really that dumb that you are publicly asking for something you aren’t even using? You are asking for something you don’t need?

And then I read some other commentary and the critical context-creating 2 missing words made this whole true story, into some new kind of gotcha journalism. “Right Now.” You see, NY is ok on ventilators “right now”, but they know the peak is coming in 2 weeks, so they need to gear up for that effort. This is how you prepare, this is leadership. If the moment comes and you are short ventilators and someone dies because equipment is not in your warehouse; You Failed. I am glad that Cuomo is having the foresight to get his inventory – his logistics – in place before it is needed.

If a platoon sergeant is told the troops are shipping out for a mission in 2 weeks, do you REALLY think he/she isn’t immediately filling out requisition forms for ammunition, transportation, night vision, terrain appropriate rigging, etc? We all know that you go to battle with the Army you have, not the Army you wish you had. But it is the job of the Army to put itself in the best position to win the battle. It is leadership’s job to make sure they have the resources to get that job done when the time comes. You prepare early. You check and double check. Two is one, one is none.

Cuomo doesn’t want to risk that he is going to be late in attaining supplies when there are shortages, so he is getting that equipment early. That is not a one-time event. It will take multiple shipments and requests to pull it all together. Especially when he is competing with other states, as we are woefully low on inventory and the federal government is doing nothing to assist a 50 state uncoordinated effort. Cuomo is doing it right, starting early. Yes he is sitting on equipment for a few days waiting to use it. That is not a gotcha news story. That would be like reporting that our pre-deployed soldier requested ammunition and has extra magazines full of ammunition that he isn’t using… right now. Is that really a gotcha moment?

I’d rather that soldier return home with unused ammo, alive. I’d rather some ventilators sit in storage and NYC citizens of the United States still be alive. I wish the president would focus on what really needs to be done to solve this crisis rather than how many ventilators his troops requested to fight this war. If you want to challenge the request from Cuomo on a 1:1 call, fine. If he has a model that backs it up, shut up and get off the podium and back up your troops. Trust the soldiers that are in the fight.

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Over vs Under Reactions

Corona KidThere are lots of examples of different styles of reacting to situations. We surely have numerous stories from our own lives of over-reacting vs under-reacting, and how things played out over time as we think about the effects of our actions. The same is true of society as a whole and governments.

We over-reacted against Saddam when we thought there were WMD in Iraq. Given what had happened with 9-11 and our complacency to those known threats, this seemed prudent at the time.  If you see a potential threat, attack rather than risk being attacked.  The strategy was sound, though the execution (Paul Bremmer) was flawed.

With Corona we drastically under-reacted.  Trump’s entire life has been a bet and pray strategy.  He bets huge on one of his gut feelings. This might be a hoax, or overblown in its seriousness since the flu is more deadly and we do nothing. And then pray that he is right. He was right that xenophobia, Russian fueled fake news, America-first, Hillary hating misogyny, and a reality TV host was the winning formula for his election. He was also right to close the border to China when this problem flared up (bad execution and follow-up).

Thus far, his bets haven’t had any lasting effect on his finances (4 bankruptcies where he wrote off debt) or his reputation (steaks, schools, a fake charity, airlines, employing illegal immigrants, marrying an illegal immigrant, Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, Putin). But now we are dealing with a bet that affects lives. And if changing life means an effect on the stock market, he pays attention. But only until those around him give him the confirmation bias he needs to go where his gut tells him, He is reactionary to the loudest chicken-little in the room at the time. That is not leadership. And thus it by definition is under-reactionary, since he can never get ahead of a problem. He finds it easy to get ahead of a solution, like goosing a hot economy with tax cuts. A no brainer since the ‘problem’ of our out of control deficit and debt haven’t become a problem for him…yet.

So which is better? Assuming that we could have rebuilt Iraq without disbanding the government, military and the Ba’ath party, that could have worked out well. The homeland has largely been safe from terrorist attack. This seems an expensive, but effective strategy if the objective was to save American civilian lives. Over-reacting actually worked in the way we wanted (security).

The jury is still out on Corona. If the reports that 50% of the UK have the virus already and their death rates are tiny, then my theory that good health and civility/respect for others (quintessential quality of Brits) is definitely a winning strategy for society to isolate enough to stay safe. In which case, under-reacting and caution seem to be the stronger play.

But I think the decision is out of our hands. America is too fat, lazy and stupid to take care and put herself in a position to weather such a storm. We have been bred to be entitled and coddled so that we are weak when it comes to real-world threats, epidemics and pandemics. There is always someone else to handle it for us, and we can pay someone (health care workers, scientists) to solve our problems rather than taking menial steps to universally contribute to the solution (climate change, pollution). For Covid19; vapers, fat diabetics, smokers, drug addicts, McDonalds-cholesterol-infused-heart-disease sufferers, couch addicted Netflix/YouTube/video game shut-ins, party-hardy millennials on spring break in Florida, the out-of-shape elderly, etc present a cohort that is a majority of the population particularly susceptible to this disease. It is stronger than the flu, lasts longer, has no vaccine shot, and requires treatment that we are fundamentally unable to support in the kind of numbers we see in China/Korea/ Italy/Spain.

In general, I am a strong believer in over-reacting. If I hear a noise in the middle of the night, the first thing I do is grab my .45 from the safe and check out the house, inside and out. My personal belief is that Corona is one that needed over-reaction. Government needed to protect us from ourselves and our ego that “If I get Corona, I get Corona” because someone will save me. Isn’t that why I pay taxes?

President Oompa Loompa’s luck might finally run out. But just like everything else he fucks up, he won’t pay the price, we will.

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Being Too Early

Logos

There are a number of reasons that companies fail. One of which is being too early. Palm couldn’t get the smartphone to work, same with Blackberry.  Newton is the best example of a tablet that was too early. Chevy Volt. There are many.

Today I learned of my third ‘too early’ idea, to make it big.

  1. In 2006, Joe and Guy built MUT (the Manual Uploader Tool) within Fidelity based on my design for a structured approach to manual data. It was a way to get Excel based data into relational structures so that it could be shared, dimensionalized, standardized, reported and analyzed in a more production stable environment. Joe and I talked all the time of building the same thing outside of Fidelity. We never did. Domo is probably the closest to our approach, did their seed round in 2010 and did rounds of $10M, $100M, $125M in 2011, 2014, 2017 respectively. Granted they took the analytics and integration one step further. Ironically, I heard they have a presence at Fidelity today.
  2.  In 2015 when blockchain started to become a reality, I pitched a Healthcare Transaction Clearninghouse using a public crypto approach to shrink the time for collection and payment of claims and to democratize the data for efficacy research. It was a play to get MM funds to back up book-keeping entries for Fidelity. I originally submitted it through one of those silly idea sourcing internal sites. But I also was able to present at a crypto pitch-athon to the advanced technology team.  I got good feedback, but no action. A year later, this story came out about Capital One doing the same thing. I remember lots of emails that day, including one that admitted they heard my pitch a year earlier and missed the opportunity.
  3. In early 2016, Joe, Sara and, I plus some others within Fidelity, participated in a 2 day hackathon. We mocked up my idea for a social trading platform that would let you invest in stocks recommended by influential people you follow: Minority owned, Women owned, environmentally friendly, etc. I thought it was a great way to do ESG before that acronym became a cliche. I pitched the advanced tech team (nope), multiple senior leaders (cool, go see…) and even the head of brokerage. Who referred me as ‘an interesting idea’ to a marketing person, who quashed it. Today a company out of NY, announced a $15M A-round to build essentially the same thing.

I know that we only reward people who do things, and not just the idea. I have never had resources and so I tried to pitch or build prototypes the best way I could (I SUCK at coding). My objective was to gain support. Build a groundswell. Find partners. Get help.

Seeing the announcement by Public.com today really hurt. I loved that idea. And being in Fidelity, I was finally in a place to make it happen. I talked endlessly about the Innovator’s Dilemma and how we needed to try new things or we would miss the startups undercutting us. Crickets.

I can’t help but feel that the imminent failure of TheMissionZone is going to be another one of these, “You’re too early Josh” moments. But this idea first came to me in an Operations Management class at Bentley… in 1992. I mean COME ON!!!  Didn’t I wait long enough this time? I am hoping our patent comes through and I am able to at least reap some reward from trying to do this first. But who knows.

What I have learned is that not only can you not do something yourself, even if you build a successful team, you will not succeed until you kiss the ring of those that can get things done, and you bring them into your world. It’s not that life is stacked against you, there is a way to find success. But traveling outside of those norms is impossible. Maybe that’s why they become norms. And to someone who hates following trends like me, that shit just sucks. Hence why I don’t get shit done.

So if there is a lesson I can impart on the reader it is this: Find the people that can help you get something done, and then blow sunshine and flattery until they let you into their world. You’ll never know when you need to ask them for help. For me that is venture capitalists, but it could be professors, researchers, coaches, social media influencers, etc. Go find the ones that can help you, and then kiss the ring.

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When Is Team > Product?

team-learningI had a little discussion/debate on Twitter just now about team formation.  The original poster said that teams now can be all remote and that the tools for maintaining a remote team are at the point where you don’t need to be full-time co-located.

I totally agree.  Working at Fidelity, I spent 15 years of almost never being in the same location as my team.  I was in either BOS or NH and the crew was in BOS, RI, TX, NC, IRE, IND, CHN.  We’ve been used to this for a long time, and in that respect, bigcos have been pioneers way before startups.

Because the team was remote, very often your ‘team’ for each project was assembled on the fly and consistency over time was irrelevant.  Each project was like a new startup where we would build something over the course of 9 -24 months.  During that creation phase, assembling the team for the work and having them come in and out was critical.  They were like ‘pivots’ on the path.  Sometimes this was a tool choice, or changes in functionality for the roadmap, or even realization that we needed to reprioritize based on customer feedback.  During this time, team has to be flexible.  Team is the product.  As the product changes, so must the team.

This would extend to a grand pivot, where a startup might give up on something and move in another direction, necessitating layoffs and new skillsets joining the team.  You figure this would happen at the 18-24 month phase.

So I would say that anything less than 24 months of a company, ‘Team’ is whatever is best for the product, which is what is best for the customer.  Given that drive, does your past history with the team really matter?  With everything so new, are there really that many synergies that can be realized?  How many co-founder arguments are spurred by inability to agree on strategy and how to adapt to the customer?  When does ‘Team’ become more than all about the Product?

Given above, I would postulate that ‘team’ isn’t all that important for the first 24 months, until you prove that your product is right and that you have a business.  I bet that in the vast majority of cases, a few core visionaries just have roles that need to be filled.  Some are specific to one individual.  Sometimes one individual covers multiple.  Sometimes it’s not a full position, so hiring a part timer that is experienced in that area is actually BETTER than having your full-time co-founder fill a role that they aren’t qualified for.  Things like marketing, sales, accounting, finance, legal, project mgmt, scrum master.  If this is true, then why can’t a few roles that are core (idea, plan, strategy) just HIRE all the others and form the ‘Team’ as needed?  Doesn’t this work for the studio model?

After you have a business, things change.  Culture, vision, values all start to become embroiled with the product, and so ‘Team’ is more than the product.  Synergies make sense because the churn of what you are actually building, has slowed down.  There is purpose.

If you are even with me a little up to this point, then don’t you HAVE to challenge the VC notion that team is everything for an early stage company?  Team is just bodies and qualifications filling a role as we project we need them on an FTE basis.  This is the business model and it is WAY more important than the team implementing it.

Maybe I am wrong on a few points here, but I hope it challenges you to think more about this notion that investors are putting their money into a “Team” first.  I would tell them to look at the business model, the roles and time requirements needed to implement the plan, the bodies that are filling those roles and THEN decide if it looks like this thing could come to fruition.

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Out in the Cold

Sara and I saw “Cats” last night.  Special thanks to Haley for the xmas gift tickets.  I admit I was a little lost for the first act, which was mostly about cat personalities and not necessarily a story at all.  Not being a cat person, I think it was interesting and there were a few good jokes, but not all that entertaining.  Looking at Goose this morning I realized, cats make you laugh and shake your head at their antics, dogs make you well up and talk baby-talk and hug them.  The second act was worth 10x the ticket.

We were walking back to the car and it was a pretty cold and windy night in Boston.  We parked in southie so I told Sara to stay in South Station as I walked to get the car to pick her up.  I cut through the building to get a little warmth on my way across the Summer St bridge.

Inside the station, nearest the train platforms I saw two homeless men on the benches with their belongings and two dogs.  At first I admit I was a little miffed about the dogs.  But then I looked back and saw that they were wearing heavy coats, and the guys had brought them into the station to warm up with them.  They were super well behaved.  I walked to the car, picked up Sara and we drove home.  I’ve had the tune of “Memories” stuck in my head since last night.

When the dawn comes

Tonight will be a memory too

I’ve been processing this scene all morning and I had to look up the lyrics to the song so I could really understand what it meant.  Because I admit, I teared up watching it performed last night and I wanted to learn more.  The metaphor of death as expressed through a grumpy old cat who just wants to relive her past and share it with others, is extremely powerful.  It made me think of the homeless men and their dogs.

All alone with the memory

Of my days in the sun

I’m sure they weren’t always homeless.  They probably grew up playing with dogs, throwing sticks and wandering through the forests playing hide-and-go-seek.  I become a blurbling mess when it comes to dogs.  I love them.  Why shouldn’t these guys get to have dogs like me?  Why don’t they get some little piece of reliving their youth?  Why can’t they have unconditional love and affection?  Why did I judge them?

I can dream of the old days

I was beautiful then

I remember the time I knew what happiness was

Let the memory live again

For the past year I’ve been on a journey (with the help of therapy) to get in touch with my emotions and how to incorporate them into my life.  It’s changed a lot for me.  I’m slow to realize it, which is why seeing the homeless men last night bothered me, but it took until this morning to process it.  I still don’t believe in the Liberal construct of a handout, but I REALLY want to help those that are less fortunate.  And I believe more than ever that a combination of basic needs, plus education, mentoring, friendship, understanding, accountability is the way to get there.

For too long I have heard the Conservative mantra of ‘self-reliance’ (which I believe whole-heartedly), without affording a person the knowledge and resources to affect change.  It’s the same problem my company faces.  I’m not asking for a handout, I want to be self-reliant. But I can’t do it without capital, and you best believe I will be accountable to generate a return.  I live in an industry obsessed with funding ‘serial founders’ aka those that have failed.  Investors that won’t get near me because I am outside their network.  In the cold, begging for a ‘warm intro’.

And I think of the homeless guys.  Who we all walk past and try to ignore.  Imagining that they chose to be there because we read some story about how a percentage of homeless people actually want to be that way.  So surely the law of logic by anecdote implies that these guys could be like that.  And we keep them at arms length.

Touch me!

It’s so easy to leave me

I’m not sure what this post is about.  Like I said, I am still struggling to process emotions.  But I know that I am seeing things in a different light.  With empathy and compassion.  That doesn’t make me weak.  The information/computing age is based on the power of network effects.  Interconnectedness.  The power of teams and structured coordination of effort.  Connecting with other humans can only make us stronger, more effective.  Just like a computer network.  Millions of nodes, connected by wires.  Try this metaphor out, the computer gets more powerful when the nodes are closer and the connections have less resistance.

Daylight

I must wait for the sunrise

I must think of a new life

And I mustn’t give in.

Someday soon I will fully awake and figure out what it is that I am meant to do on this earth.  I suppose everyone is searching for that same thing and we have been for our whole life.  Every year I say this will be the year for it.  The other day I heard that 2020 is “The year of good vision”, which I thought was pretty good pun.  Who knows, maybe it will be.

Look, a new day has begun

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Shall Be…

IMG_20191120_075612Given the news of the day, I would be remiss if I didn’t pen some thoughts about impeachment.  Let me state, I don’t think the president should be removed from office for his horrible, imperfect, wrong, and illegal conversations with the president of Ukraine. This may be the first time since John McCain’s death, but I actually agree with Lindsey Graham here, the White House and the president are too incompetent and stupid to know how to do something like this intentionally.  You saw the interview with Stephanopoulos, Trump thinks this is his way of getting “oppo research”, he doesn’t even realize that what he is doing is factually illegal (soliciting a thing of value for political gain from a foreign government). Because he is an idiot, I don’t think that is grounds for removal.

What I would like to see, is some form of impeachment, conviction (because clearly he is guilty, he bragged about it) and probation.  Because when you are too stupid to be trusted to not do something again, the court places you on probation.  In this case, the Senate could impose a verdict of placing someone in the White House, or a recording system, that would document all of his actions, reporting back to the court (Senate) ensuring that he doesn’t do this again. We keep wanting an adult in the room, and then the president fired them all, so now we need to appoint one.  Problem solved.

But I don’t get to make that determination. None of us do. I have written about this before, and I will note it again, we haven’t lived through a system of tyranny. We don’t know what it is like to live in a world where a leader could change the rules or use his/her power to STAY in power (ala Putin). Remember that the founders specifically wanted to prevent against kings or despots that used the military or police or other powers as commander in chief to keep them in power. That is why they created ‘checks and balances’. That is why we have civilian leadership of the military.

The Founders knew that preventing against executive tyranny was so important, that they worded the Constitution to be unequivocal: The President has to be perfect at all times when it comes to his/her abuse of power.  “…shall be removed from office…”  They left no wiggle room.  If the President commits even a Misdemeanor, which are specifically known as ‘lesser offenses’ often punished only with a fine, they shall be removed from office. “Shall be” is a mandate. I don’t get to question if this is a “political process”, no, it is a Constitutional one. And if we are to preserve the rule of law, the very thing that sets us above other nations that are ripe with “corruption” (you remember, the thing that was so important to root out in Ukraine), then we MUST remove the President –  regardless of the political cycle –  when he/she strays from the rule of law, even a little. The arc of history is more important than people cheering at rallies and pointing in other directions, “But Hillary!”, “But Obama!”, “But Hunter Biden!”, “Squirrel!”  I wish it weren’t so, but I don’t get to make that call. The Founders knew better.

However, I cannot get over this passage from pages 327-328 of the Mueller report which somehow Congressional Republicans refuse to acknowledge…

The President then directed Porter to tell McGahn to create a record to make clear that the President never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. 797 Porter thought the matter should be handled by the White House communications office, but the President said he wanted McGahn to write a letter to the file “for our records” and wanted something beyond a press statement to demonstrate that the reporting was inaccurate. 798 The President referred to McGahn as a “lying bastard” and said that he wanted a record from him .799 Porter recalled the President saying something to the effect of, “If he doesn’t write a letter, then maybe I’ll have to get rid of him.” 8oo Later that day, Porter spoke to McGahn to deliver the President’s message .801 Porter told McGahn that he had to write a letter to dispute that he was ever ordered to terminate the Special Counsel. 802 McGahn shrugged off the request, explaining that the media reports were true. 803 McGahn told Porter that the President had been insistent on firing the Special Counsel and that McGahn had planned to resign rather than carry out the order, although he had not personally told the President he intended to quit. 804 Porter told McGahn that the President suggested that McGahn would be fired if he did not write the letter. 805 McGahn dismissed the threat, saying that the optics would be terrible if the President followed through with firing him on that basis. 806 McGahn said he would not write the letter the President had requested

The President of the United States ordered a federal employee to manufacture a false federal document to make him look better, something that would go in the national archives. That is fabrication of evidence. A Class C Felony. And just because someone lower on the chain of command had to break the law (violating an order from the president) by not following through on that order, does not excuse the fact that the president violated the law by ordering a violation of it. Having adults in the room to prevent a 13 year old from doing the wrong thing, does not excuse the behavior of the 13 year old, aka our president.

For THAT, I think that Congressional Republicans have a Constitutional duty to ensure that the violator of law, when convicted, Shall Be removed from office.

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VCs as Justices, MBAs as Clerks

Breyer

I hear people use the metaphor of a “hill to die on” to refer to things they are passionate about.  I don’t like using that because it is based on battle experience and most of us don’t have a military background to truly employ it.

But everyone has their ‘windmill’.  I use this term as an homage to Don Quixotes to signify a quest against some wrong in the world. I may be as delusional in my quest as the ingenious gentleman from la Mancha…so be it. Those that know me have heard me rail against numerous windmills over the years.  My latest is the “warm intro” for VC’s.

Many venture capitalists insist that it is a show of your resourcefulness to get someone in their network to introduce you to them.  They filter their deal-flow based on only accepting these ‘warm introductions’ from people inside their circle. I think this is an incredibly bad idea and practice in the industry.  Some others have written about it.  These are some of my observations.

  • A VC places an unnecessary burden on their portfolio companies by using them as a de facto filter instead of doing their own outreach and funnel management.
  • When I reach out to befriend a portfolio company, I have no interest in a long term relationship.  That might evolve, but at the outset, I am using that person for an intro.  Essentially I am conning them.  The VC is encouraging me to con their portfolio company CEOs.
  • Serendipitous meetings that build your network happen in tech hubs, like SV/NYC/BOS.  This filters out large swaths of the country and talent. Most successful startups are built by experienced entrepreneurs in their 40’s. Do you see my contemporaries spending hours on end in coffee shops?
  • In the middle of building a product and growing, it is not a cost effective use of time to spend hours researching companies and their executives, followed by feeble attempts to woo them over email and Twitter, all for a 20 second ‘warm intro’.
  • Warm intro’s only come from people in your network.  Statistically, this is a bunch of white guys hanging out together in coffee shops or a co-working space.  And then people wonder why there is no diversity with women and minorities?
  • Showing interest in a company, with the intent of meeting someone so that they might eventually give me a ‘warm intro’ is not real networking. It is disingenuous.
  • A good networker is not necessarily a good CEO with a good product. They could very easily be a con-artist. Is that the kind of deal flow you want? While there are con-men/women everywhere in this world that need to be filtered out, why build a process that specifically encourages more of them to flow your way?

As technology has evolved, you would think that the community who funded that evolution would evolve their deal flow funnels. Yet many insist on a 20th century methodology of gladhanding and nepotism (VC’s “marry” their portfolio companies). Shouldn’t you also advocate for disrupting your deal-flow acquisition systems? While some engage on Twitter, I don’t consider this very revolutionary.

Let me be clear on two things. 1) I mean this with a sincere amount of respect for professionals who invests OPM and have a fiduciary responsibility to generate returns. That is a very hard job. 2) If I ever get a term sheet, one of the first things I will say to a VC is that I will not allow them to offload their funnel to me.  Maybe I am being ignorant here (never being a VC) but I think that is inappropriate.  I’ve got enough to do.  If I happen to meet someone building an amazing company, I am not just going to tell my VC, I AM GOING TO TELL THE WORLD!  Hopefully my VC would hear that too.

One of my proudest moments was Sept 29, 2010.  I got to ask a question to Justice Stephen Breyer at a live interview at the JFK center in Boston.  I had seen a CSPAN interview where he talked about the process the Court uses to grant certiorary to appellate cases. It was a very manual process involving all 36 clerks on the court. Being a technologist, the first thing I wanted to do was make this better. So I was dying to ask the question, could you offload that responsibility to more than 36 people so the court could take more cases?  While there were many partisan questions that he politely brushed off that day, Justice Breyer launched into an extensive lecture for me, a snippet below…

Now, the first reaction you will have, most people will have, is why are these clerks doing the job? The judges should do it. It is their job. To which I say, I would rather, with 150, I would rather have a person called a clerk, who is very bright and works for me, reviewing those because occasionally the scrawled, hand-written petition, you don‘t know what in heaven‘s name it is about. It is obviously a lunatic who is locked up somewhere in a prison. That could be right. That lunatic could have a point. That scrawled petition could actually make a point., and we have taken cases like that, occasionally.  And the chance of finding something like that — I would rather have a human being called a clerk review five and find it than to have me, called a judge, pretend to review 150 because that is what it would be. It would be pretending.

Now, in your specific question, there was a committee that was set up under Warren Burger and they recommended that they have a different court trying to decide what the docket would be. That was rejected and I would reject that, too. I don‘t think there is a need for it. I think it is bad.

I was blown away. And I even get choked up now thinking about what he was saying. The diamond in the rough, that is what they are searching for. And justice knows no special treatment. It doesn’t matter if some fancy law firm petitions the court. They want to see them all and have smart people reviewing those petitions, because maybe, just maybe, genius comes in places you never suspect. Like a solo/female/minority founder. People who don’t fit the mold. People outside your normal network of lawyers and paralegals.

But Justices acknowledge that they are not super heros. Granting cert is analogous to a VC granting a pitch meeting. No, they don’t have time to review all. But we can set requirements, like the format of an initial pitch. We can use new technology, like video instead of slides. And who are the clerks of VCs? MBA candidates!!! A whole infrastructure exists already, and we don’t even use it.

So here is what I propose. VC’s should leverage their MBA’s to review 1 minute videos and dive deeper on ones that “actually make a point”. These should be accepted from ANYONE. Do it for an hour a day. Thats 60 companies a day. They could then ask for more info like a longer video, or a pitch deck, before recommending to a VC. You could even pool your MBA’s with other firms to cover more ground or have more reviews of the same videos. Find a new way. Stop complaining about diversity statistics unmoved by feeble attempts to broaden your base by inviting more people to conferences. Do something structurally different to make a change. I hate to steal the line, but we need “big structural change”. 

Do your own work. Find a new system, below is my 1 minute video for your MBA team to peruse while eating lunch. Interested? Email me if you get excited and I will send you more. Want to have a #GiveFirst mentality? Email me back and tell me why you think it sucks. I would really appreciate that. No intro necessary.

 

Sept 29, 2010  JFK Library in Boston

https://www.jfklibrary.org/events-and-awards/forums/past-forums/transcripts/conversation-with-justice-stephen-breyer

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Taking First

Taking First

I am a people pleaser. That’s not usually a problem. For the most part, giving first and paying it forward makes me feel good. I give on things that are easy for me. I have a pretty strong back so I can help people move. I do a lot of house projects so I don’t mind helping out on construction. I turn yardwork into a workout, so I don’t mind digging ditches or post holes.

I’ve always done things that are nice for my friends. I try to make it a point to offer first. I do it because I feel bad asking for help. And sometimes asking for help is hard, so I hope you won’t feel bad. I build relationships with people so they hopefully never feel guilty asking for or accepting my help.

For me, it’s about the relationship. It’s about building an air of trust and congeniality, of teamwork and shared mutual interest that makes it feel like there is no need to keep score. I don’t count chits. I want to know that there is a support group, a village that I am part of that supports one another without judgement.

I offer help so people want to offer me help. I try to go the extra step to further the sincerity of my desire to help. I bring tools; I use a square to cut a 2×4 even when it really doesn’t need to be that perfect. I hope the receiver feels good about offering me help or at the least is not bothered when I ask for it. “Josh needs help? No problem. He’s always there for me.”

Over the years I have come to say “No problem” when people thank me. I really want the receiver to feel it is not a burden to accept my help. I’m not much in the way of emotional support, but doing ‘things’ is my strength. So that’s what I give.

I have always been proud of the fact that while I believe fervently in my convictions, I actually CAN be convinced of an alternative. This morning I worked through something and changed a whole belief structure. I realized an outcome that I never intended. Offering to do things for others can be a form of manipulation. It hurt to realize this. Let me explain.

As I said, I have always hoped that my desire to want to help, would create comfort in a relationship where the other side also WANTS to offer me help. I was searching for balance. But sometimes, offering help creates an atmosphere where someone might feel guilty not offering it back. This directly contradicts my notion of not keeping score. Inherently, people start to feel obligated to help me. My help will eventually become a burden. That just sucks.

What I realized is that this is my own fault on two fronts. First, when I say ‘no problem’, I am discounting the usefulness I provide. There is no closure on that transaction when I make the action seem like nothing. Without closure, there is a layering effect on each act of kindness that builds resentment in accepting help. But if someone says ‘thank you’ and I reply with “You’re welcome, it was my pleasure” I make it ok for them to accept help and not feel the pressure to reciprocate. Second, the notion that someone wants to help me, starts to feel like an expectation for the other party. And my own views pervert my perception on the give and take in that relationship: I am polluting my ability to see the receiving side of ‘help’.

A few weeks ago I met a fellow founder through The Capital Network. He came up to the Zone and we talked for a little over an hour. It was SUPER helpful to me. Part of being a people pleaser is that I wanted to give back. Honestly, I don’t even remember if he said “you’re welcome” when I expressed thanks. I felt such an obligation to be a giver that I felt guilty taking help. I offered him a few local connections where he might be able to expand his business. But I was the taker, and it felt strange.

I don’t think Joel was looking for anything in return. He just wanted to Give First. I have been so stuck in my ways for so long, that I felt like it was my obligation to WANT to give back to him. That is wrong, and it almost cheapens his act of kindness to me. For a long time I have had a need to give. In my personal life, it felt ok to receive because I have always had a way to give back. This incident in the startup world where I have nothing to give, was strange. I felt guilty taking. I guess my big lesson for the day is that for me, I am Taking First, and because I believe in having honor, I will eventually give back. I am Giving Second. As I look back on how I have always thought about giving I realize, for the first time, blindly accepting his help is a good thing and I am ok with it. Thanks again Joel.

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