January 27, 2011

Rabbit Hole Day

Lewis Carroll was born on January 27th. The idea of Rabbit Hole Day is to stop making sense for 24 hours to honor the birthday of the guy who came up with Alice and the white rabbit and Cheshire Cat and all that. I, however, take a different approach. I honor the day not by being inane and insane but by penning a poem that attempts to mimic something. You get to decide what it mimics.

The Mountaintop

"My son, much wisdom have I earned
in years gaflecting through this life,
and leaves both diftly and supimely turned
through happy times, still boredom, and raw strife.

Now to the mountain you must go
and seek yourself the whigid peak,
through thrickened air and white, pernulling snow
to find the wise man there and bid him speak.

Avoid the Anter-Frithing Bear,
with brakish claws and grizing teeth,
and of the black distawling trees beware--
their gnabbish limbs and tangled roots beneath.

And when you reach the mountain's top,
behold the effervizzent view.
You'll find the wise man only when you stop--
for wisdom found is wisdom that finds you."

All this, my father said, and more
and sent me off with heavy pack.
I stand upon the summit, muscles sore,
and look ahead, and left, and right--not back.

Alone, I call out for the man
to see if he will come and speak.
I turn to face the place where I began,
when just a boy I set of for this peak.

So long ago!  So far away!
A lifetime's journey, there to here.
I sit alone in silent, gray dismay
and wonder if the wise man will appear.

I think of what my father taught,
and all the things he said to do.
And then my father's voice floats to my thought:
"Behold, my son, the wise man:  it is you."

January 26, 2011

haiku wednesday - twice a month, by hook or by crook

This week's words are conniption, janky, scooch

You just can't say these three words together without using a southern accent.

Jenny had triplets:
Conniption, Janky, and Scooch.
She don't spell so good.

damn janky tee vee
don't mind mama's conniption
scooch in and smooch me

janky alarm clock
boss' conniption awaits
scooch over, hit snooze

January 12, 2011

haiku wednesday - memorial edition

This week's words are harmless, moist, yelp

Normally I write three haiku, with at least two of them trying to be humorous.  I wrote this one and then thought that writing two humorous ones would just not seem... you know.

yelp, bark, growl, howl, snarl
"harmless" rhetoric bites hard
moist cheeks in Tucson

January 8, 2011

What did we expect?

By now, everyone knows about the terrorist attack in Tucson that killed six and critically wounded a member of the US Congress.  And everyone has been reminded of Sarah Palin's hit list.

At the time the hit list was originally posted, I found it in extremely poor taste and wondered how Palin or her supporters could find it acceptable.  We were in a state of war, for one thing.  We had soldiers dying overseas.  It seemed to border on reckless, but the country took it as just another bit of Palin's over-the-top political rabble rousing.  "It's only Sarah," we said.  We'd come to expect that from her.

Worse, we'd come to expect it from that side of the aisle.  Months before Palin posted her map, a few zealots showed up at a political fundraiser in Phoenix with handguns. One carried an assault rifle.  They weren't breaking any law; they were simply exercising their first and second amendment rights.

At some point, an invisible line was crossed.  Civility, reason, and graciousness were tossed out as unnecessary trappings of the weak.  Intelligence and education were deemed luxuries of the elite.  "Real Americans" no longer needed to respect or listen to people who disagreed with them.  Real Americans were going to take back their country.  Ready, aim...

If I, or anyone I know, had posted a hit list map with gunsight crosshairs on it in March of 2010, we'd be behind bars, under severe interrogation, and charged with serious crimes within days.  Hours, perhaps.  And I don't necessarily disagree with that.

Why, then, did the country shake our heads and shrug when Palin did it?  What did we expect would come of it?

January 6, 2011

My top five strengths: #2, Ideation

About two years ago, I did this thing called Strengths Finder 2.0 at Day Job.  In 2011 I will blog about my top strengths and perhaps about my least strengthful parts of me.

Strength #2:  Ideation
People strong in Ideation are fascinated by ideas and are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

I love having this strength because it allows me to tell people, "Hey, I'm just the idea guy.  You figure out how to make it work."

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the 25 years since I graduated high school and all the different things I've done.  Along the way, I came up with or started several business ideas that never got off the ground.  Some were a bit inane, like during the dot-com boom wanting to build an online store to sell men's underwear and socks.  The only viable exit strategy was to sell to a bigger retailer.  I suppose it could have flown after all.  Cheap commodity items that single men need to buy regularly, easy to ship, no fuss about needing to try them on.  But really, who wants to tell people at cocktail parties, "I sell tightie whities over the internet"?  That idea was scrapped early.

My entrepreneur kick started in college, when I took an entrepreneurship class for engineers with my friend Belinda, who affectionately nicknamed the two teachers "Slick" and "Hick," perhaps the two most appropriate nicknames I've ever encountered.  Anyway, our four-person team came up with Chef EARL (Easy Access Recipe Library), a handheld electronic cookbook with--get this--modules you could plug in.  Like Atari game cartridges.  The year was 1989, and not only were the founders of Google still in diapers, but the World Wide Web hadn't even unveiled its www or http yet, and Windows 3.0 on a 286 PC was soon to be state of the art.

Chef EARL was to be the first in a series of electronic hand-held gadgets for consumers and the home.  This was when people were still agog over handheld spell checkers and handheld dictionaries with a single line of text (similar to calculators).  This was cutting edge stuff.  The picture above is a scan of the cover of our business plan.

Of course, we never pursued it and all got jobs after graduation.

Only a few years later, I came up with the nutty idea that the University of California (where I went to college) should--get this--have a web site for their athletic department!  Crazy, I know.  Only a few schools had begun such a zany idea.  No one knew how to make money with it.  But with a new friend Reza, we put together a business plan and proposal.  This was way fun because we got some free tickets and got to pal around with some folks in the athletic department for a while, but ultimately we had not much to offer.  Meanwhile, another company (I think they were called FansOnly at the time) got some venture funding and had signed a few big name schools.  We ultimately advised the athletic department to go with the funded group, which has turned into a big business.  Below is an actual slide from our initial presentation, outlining some of the features.

A few years later, in 1999, my friend Chris and I, after kicking around some ideas, put together a business plan that was one of the finalists in the Haas School of Business business plan competition.  We presented to a theater full of people as well as to a panel of judges.  This helped us get into meetings with a half dozen venture capital companies, which was a real learning experience.

What was the business?  Keep in mind that, in 1999, gift certificates at stores were paper and generally required a manager's signature.  They were treated like cash and could be very easily forged.  If they were tracked at all, they were tracked in a ledger.  Our idea was to build a platform, not unlike VISA, to process gift certificates in stores and online and on the phone.  Essentially, our idea was what today is the gift card industry.  I think we were pretty close to getting some angel financing and had some promising discussions with venture capitalists, but just as we got going two competitors we were tracking announced multimillion dollar venture rounds.  We only had a plan and a mockup at that point (and a corporation), and we decided we did not want to play catch-up, so we dropped out.  (1999 was also the year my second son was born, so time was tight and money was dear.)

Not long after, Chris and I joined with three other friends to found pledgepage.org, which we launched about nine minutes before the dot-com bust happened.  PledgePage was a site dedicated to helping people do fundraising for walks and runs and rides and such.  I used it to help chronicle and track fundraising and training for the Avon Three-Day walk for breast cancer we did in 2000.  Eventually, we realized we were not going to make any revenue with it, and the build-and-flip market had dried up, so we donated PledgePage to a nonprofit called CharityFocus, who is still running it today.  It's had nearly 8,000 people register pages and raise over $3 million, with over 60 million page hits.  During our run with PledgePage, I managed to get us into Red Herring as a Catch of the Day.

What's really interesting, I think, is that I only resurrected my interest in writing after I got out of the startup entrepreneurship game.  I was in small companies until 2001, when I got my current Day Job.  It was about 2002 that turned my ideation toward plots and characters and poetry and away from business plans.  I think it was a good move, though it has yet to play out in the revenue department.

This time, though, I think I'm on the right track.

January 5, 2011

haiku wednesday - the new year's hangover edition

This week's words are plausible, taint, willingly

There's nothing romantic whatsoever about the word plausible.

they die, willingly
blood and tears taint the desert
threats seemed plausible

plausible future
our histories taint the night
willingly you come

willingly, I fear
don't taint my world view with facts
plausible or not

January 2, 2011

Accelerate your career

A LOT of people ask me for informational interviews at my Day Job.  Most of them are coming out of MBA programs with some sort of emphasis in sustainable or responsible business.  I think it's great, and I love meeting them and telling them about the industry.

But I hate to tell them I think they just wasted $80,000 on their MBA.  So I just keep that to myself.

Honestly, unless you're getting practical education in a specific field of business, I just don't see how an MBA pays for itself.  Most of the people I see went back to school for the degree, not the education.  Most got a "management" or general business MBA.  They did it under the vague impression that having an MBA would get them a better job, make them better dressed... I don't know.  I never understood the appeal beyond being able to put MBA on the resume.  I always thought practical experience trumped classroom theory.

Last week on the train I saw a poster for a night MBA program for working executives.  The tag line was, "Accelerate your career."  And I got it.  People (other than me) have careers.  They view their jobs as a pursuit rather than a means to other ends.  As such, a faster career would be a better career, in the same way a bigger house would be a better house.

And having MBA on your resume could, in theory, accelerate that career.

Back in high school, I took a job at a local drug store.  It actually was the ideal high school job--good hours, cute female coworkers, quality supervisors, low pressure.  But I didn't need money.  Something drove me to have a job.  I didn't know it then, but I think I see it now:  I wanted a job so that some day I could leave it.

A lot of people I know strive for biggerbetterfasterMORE.  An accelerated career means bigger paychecks, which means a bigger house, in a better zip code, with more prestigious friends who wear better clothes, drink fancier wine, and drive faster cars.  And, remarkably, most of them seem happy on that path.

But it's not for me.  As much as I love my Day Job, I can't imagine diving in so deeply as to strive to accelerate my career.  I'm not ambitious in that way (though when opportunity steps in front of me, I'll take it).  So I walk a tightrope with as much balance as I can muster--success at Day Job, but only so much as it supports Real Life.

That's why I quit my second job in high school.  Why I didn't rejoin a company when they offered to bring me back after a layoff.  Why I refused to compromise my integrity at another job, and I got fired for it.  Why I took a 30% pay cut to do something I believe in rather than take a two hour commute for a lot more money.  Why I'm far more likely to get an MFA after I retire than I am to get an MBA.  Ever.

Some people are desperate to accelerate their careers.  Me?  I'd love to slow down real life so I can live more of it.

(By the way, I've never really understood why "executives" go back to school for MBAs.  If you're an executive, shouldn't you already know from experience what they'd teach you in classes?)