Month: September 2004

Sep 21 2004

Welcome A Sack In Seattle

My long time friend Andy Sack has started blogging. Andy is currently CEO of Judy’s Book, a new local search startup funded by Ignition Partners.

Andy is a great entrepreneur. I first met him in Boston in 1995 when we was working with the original team at a new Internet startup called Agents (which turned into Firefly). Shortly after, he started a company called Abuzz and he asked me to join his board. Abuzz was originally considering creating an online auction site (damn) but ended up creating a complex but powerful email-based collaborative filtering product. Abuzz raised venture money from Flatiron Partners (I sat on the board with Jerry Colonna), Softbank Venture Capital, and DFJ. Shortly after releasing the product, NY Times Digital came calling and acquired the company. We had stars in our eyes about the ultimate valuation of NYT Digital (as they planned to go public in 2000) – with the dot com crash that didn’t happen, but Andy had negotiated a clever put in the event that the NYT Digital didn’t go public and we all got a nice big check for our share of the equity in the deal in 2000.

I then managed to rope Andy into helping me start up a company called Body Shop Digital, which was the dot com spinoff of The Body Shop (retail stores). We fell in love with Anita Roddick – the original founder of The Body Shop – and got caught up in the dot com / brick and mortar spinoff that was in fashion at the time. We should have known it was going to be a disaster when it took us six months to negotiate the deal with the UK-based company, including several long negotiating sessions where we struggled with things like their arcane (and very protective) branding strategy. Within three months of closing the deal, we realized it was going to be a disaster – while The Body Shop was a visionary company, they were consumed at the time with internal politics around the ownership and long term leadership of the company and we were merely a pawn in the game. Fortunately, we had negotiated a 31 year exclusive right to the online brand (31 one years because when we got push back on a perpetual licence, I decided that Body Shop Digital should hold the rights until I was 65 – which was 31 more years). At the end of the first year (when we needed to raise more money for the venture), we managed to get The Body Shop to buy our investment back and we recovered half of our capital. Clearly nothing to be proud of (although by the end of 2001 and into 2002, getting back fifty cents on the dollar was better than most of the investments going around.) However, Andy and I had some incredible experiences and learned a tremendous amount on this one (and were happy to get out of town with some of our skin.)

Andy then took a couple of years off as he enjoyed his new child, helped found and coach a few startups (including Quova and Kefta – both companies I invested in), and stewed on what to do next. A year ago, he started cooking on Judy’s Book – which is now up, funded, and in beta.

In addition to being an accomplished entrepreneur, Andy is a deep thinker with a huge emotional IQ. Look for some great entrepreneurial stories and revelations on his blog.

Sep 17 2004

Fire in my backyard

Today was a strange day. At 2:30pm, on our way back from Aspen to Boulder, I got a call from my assistant Wendy saying, “there’s a fire in Eldorado Springs – I’m driving over to your place to see what’s up and check on your dogs.” Apparently, Boulder County was doing a controlled burn just outside of Eldorado Springs and it hopped the fire line and got out of control.

We’re back home and safe as the fire is now under control (after burning 50 acres). This is our third brush with fire in four years – the original Eldorado Springs fire was actually on our land (and came within 200 yards of our house) and the Walker Ranch fire (which burned over 1000 acres in three days) was less than two miles (and – more importantly – one ridge) away. After the Eldorado Springs fire that was on our land several years ago, I went on a “fire reading binge” to learn everything I could. Fire is an amazing, scary, and primal thing – I don’t think I’ll ever get comfortable with it.

Amy and I talked briefly about chucking our mountain life and moving to Cherry Creek. Yes – it was a brief conversation.

Sep 16 2004

NY Times Decides “Freaking” does not equal “Fucking”

The noise about RSS bandwidth jams finally made the NY Times today. However, that’s not what this post is about.

In the article, the NYT quotes blogger Steve Main who writes on his blog. “The whole purpose of an RSS aggregator is so that I don’t have to open my freaking Web browser to 100 different pages. By having the content right there in my aggregator, I can skim an entire article in the time it takes to open up a new Web browser. By not including full content in the RSS feed, you take away some of the productivity gains that RSS offers.”

Steve’s point is right on the money. But why did he say “freaking” instead of “fucking”. And when did “freaking” become an acceptable and uncensored substitute for “fucking” as an adjective? Now, I’m not an editor, nor do I want to be, but when I hear 10 years olds walking around saying “freaking this and freaking that” I’ve just got to wonder. I’m also not a prude – I can use the various forms and usages of the word fuck with the best of them. Freaking is just such a lame substitute for the real thing.

Sep 15 2004

South Park – The Passion of the Jew

I’m an unashamed South Park fan (if Colorado wasn’t a swing state I’d consider writing in Cartman for president.) Amy and I watched South Park – The Passion of the Jew tonight and rolled around on the floor in laughter. The DVD included two bonus tracks – Christian Rock Hard and Red Hot Catholic Love.

If you aren’t a South Park fan, can’t handle “clearly over the reasonableness line” satire and sarcasm, or are easily offended, this is not for you. However, if you are a South Park fan, couldn’t ever figure out what was the big deal about The Passion of the Christ, or just love 90 minutes of non-stop, non-PC satire – this is it. As one would expect from the titles, each episode does actually have a moral at the end.

Sep 15 2004

NewsGator News and Name

NewsGator announced another RSS content relationship yesterday – this time with uclick, the online arm of Universal Press Syndicate (UPS). You can now get Doonesbury, Cathy, FoxTrot, Garfield, Ziggy comics via RSS (god – I loved FoxTrot – I forgot it existed…)

Greg Reinacker (NewsGator’s founder) also put up a post discussing his thoughts about changing the NewsGator name. He’s looking for feedback – go to the post and tell him what you think. As a board member, I can assure you that your opinion will count here as we’re currently pondering what to do.

Sep 10 2004

Bob Roberts

Tim Robbins is a genius.  In 1994, he made a satirical movie called Bob Roberts that documented a fictional right-wing candidate’s (Bob Roberts – played by Tim Robbins) run for senate in Pennsylvania against a 30-year incumbant democrat (played by Gore Vidal) in the 1990 election cycle.  Amy and I saw it in Boston when it came out and both “kind of remembered it.”

We watched it tonight.  We’re both tired from the week and I’m sick, so it was an easy decision to lay on the couch and melt our brains with a movie.  Oops – wrong movie.

Bob Roberts is incredibly handsome, charismatic, a son of hippies who runs away and goes to military school, makes a fortune on Wall Street, and then becomes a folk singer who decides to run for office while trading Nikkei futures (“you can always get information before everyone else – you just have to know how and work for it,”) travelling around in a campaign bus that says “Roberts PRIDE” on it, and starting each day with a fencing match of indeterminate length before hopping on his motorcycle to lead the tour bus to the next campaign stop.

It’s magnificent.  And frightening.  And depressing.  The songs are poetry (in that sick, twisted way) – Robbins performs them all.  As a character, Bob Roberts is incredible and goes to any end to get elected, including faking his own attempted assasination.  Robbins plays him flawlessly, which is deliciously ironic given how liberal Robbins is.

It’s amazing that 10 years later it’s right on the money.  Bob Roberts is a winner when you get sick of watching the CNN or Fox election coverage.

Sep 10 2004

Coffee and Books

I have a close friend – Jenny Lawton – who is a long time, extremely talented, and irrepressible entrepreneur.  For a decade she ran a high-end network integration company that was doing Internet stuff well before Internet stuff was cool.  She sold that company to a public company that was a large application service provider and stayed on for several years, playing a number of different leadership roles in that company. 

She retired (burned out, got tired, decided to move on) and – rather than dive back in to technology – bought a bookstore called Just Books in her home town of Old Greenwich, CT.  Several months later, she decided to expand and opened a second book store (Just Books, Too). 

Today she announced that she is buying the coffee shop next to one of the bookstores.

Viva entrepreneurship – way to go Jenny!  If you are ever near Old Greenwich (or Greenwich where their other store is located), stop in, tell Jenny hi, and buy some books (and coffee) from her. 

Sep 10 2004

Some Books Weren’t Meant to Be Finished

If you follow my Read Recently list, you know that I plowed through a lot of books this summer.  However, I’ve been stuck on What Einstein Told His Cook for two weeks.  It’s not a bad book (in fact, if you are a foodie, it’s a very interesting book.)  However, as I’ve been crushed with work the past two weeks, I haven’t been reading much and the book hasn’t pulled me in to escape from the world.

When I was a teenager (and reading a ton – remember the “bookworm” – ok – that was me) I decided that it was ok to simply stop reading a book when I wasn’t getting through it.  I know a lot of folks that seem to be unable to bail on a book – I’ve never completely understood this as I think it feels liberating to decide that a book wasn’t meant to be finished.

On to the next one – Blue Mountain: Turning Dreams into Reality – Susan Polis’ story of how she, her husband Stephen, and her son Jared created a greeting card giant that spun off – one of the most financially successful Internet bubble-era exits.

Sep 9 2004

Tennis Warriors

I love tennis.  When I was a kid (age 10 – 14) I was a serious junior player until I burned out from too many 10 hour, 100 degree plus days of banging my racquet against the ball (and the fence, and the ground, and my head) in the Texas heat.  I still love to play and – instead of fighting to win – I’m delighted to go for every shot and see my old amazing strokes and ball placement every one out of ten shots.

I came home late tonight after a long day.  Amy had Tivoed the Johansson vs. Roddick US Open Match.  She told me I had to see it (she’d watched the first two sets but was happy to rewind and watch again with me.)  I settled into the couch and within 15 minutes the stresses and challenges of the day were gone.  Johansson’s first two sets were absolutely unbelievable.  Roddick played like the US Open champion that he is, but Johansson just creamed him. 

In the third set, Roddick caught fire and crushed Johansson’s spirit.  You could see Johansson lose it – all the momentum shifted to Roddick.  The NY crowd – which is always great at night – came alive.  The fourth set was more of the same – Roddick won something like 20 service points in a row.  Johansson started making him work for points again, but Roddick looked invincible.

Johansson had never played a fifth set in a major tournament, but he came alive again in the first game of the fifth set.  Suddenly, the damn Tivo recording ended (based on the pre-set time) and we were done.  Grrrrr.  We wandered downstairs to look up the results on the web – both of us were sure that Roddick had won.

We were greeted with the headline “Johansson Stuns Roddick.”  6-4 in the last set.  Outrageous.  Delicious tennis – Federer vs. Henman and Johansson vs. Hewitt for the mens semis. Even if you aren’t into tennis, it’s worth a look tomorrow and over the weekend as these guys are incredible athletes. Oh – and the women are awesome as well – I’d love to see Capriati win this one.

Sep 8 2004

Why Google Should Buy SCO

The famous “Do No Evil”, of course. Given some of the recent negative chatter on Google, I’ve been thinking of what bold move they could do that would cause most of the technology industry to stand up and cheer for them. How about buying SCO?

1. It’s cheap, only $60m or so.
2. Fire everyone (ok – maybe it’s $100m when you get done with all the winddown costs and golden parachutes).
3. Open source / GPL all of the SCO products in exchance for settling all the lawsuits.
4. Be done with all the SCO nonsense.

Disclaimer: I’m not a shareholder of either Google or SCO nor do I have any non-public information about either company.