Month: September 2006
Pascal Levensohn and his partners at Levensohn Venture Partners have started a new podcast on Venture Capital called VC-Inside Out. The first two episodes are up: (1) Six Early Warning Signs of Trouble in the VC Board Room and (2) Creativity Meets Reality – Understanding the Completeness of your Idea.
Rick Segal is in the middle of a negotiation and is having some frustration with his co-investor – a “US VC” – around settling on a few terms that he thinks are silly. I agree with two of them but struggle with the third.
- Expenses: If the deal doesn’t close, the startup pays. I agree – that’s silly, especially for an early stage company. I can imagine some later stage / VC buyout type deals where this might apply, but it doesn’t make sense in an early stage deal. However, the company should always pay (using their newly raised money) when the deal closes.
- Exclusivity Term: 90 day exclusivity is too long. I agree – if you can’t get the deal done in 45 days from the signing of the term sheet, something is wrong.
- Founder Buy Back: This one isn’t simple – it’s very context specific, personality dependent, and linked to stage, capital structure, roles and responsibilities of the founders, existing and future management team, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I don’t think there’s a general case here – I think you have to address this deal by deal.
Rick – don’t worry about the “US VCs” – if they are offended by the philosophy of Canadians, just offer to take them to a hockey game.
I felt like that wonderful Robin Williams character when I fired up FeedDemon this morning and saw the flood of patent posts from Jim Moore and then bounced around Google Groups for the Irregulars list and saw more commentary on the IBM Patent announcement. Eventually, I noticed that Jim had taken me to task for cheerleading the IBM announcement without providing any critical analysis (I think I got classified by Jim as a “smart liberal” who – when “ultimately IBMs motives and plans will be revealed” – will “look like [a] fool.” Oops – I don’t think my mother will be proud of me when this occurs.)
I like Jim a lot, respect his thinking, and enjoy all of our interactions. I slowly read through his flurry of posts (keep ‘em coming Jim) starting with his bash on the IBM announcement, his history of software patents in context, his short assertion about property rights, and his assertion that an innovator needs to be protected from having his or her ideas stolen during negotiation.
There’s a ton of stuff here that ironically highlights the point I was trying to make in the first place. Our software patent system is completely screwed up. I’m not focused on the first order effect – I’m focused on the second order effect – which is that as a result of the dysfunction, it’s actually a drag on innovation, not a protector of innovation.
Now – I don’t necessarily believe that IBM’s approach is “the right approach.” I’m cheering IBM for being public about trying to create change. I’m not naive about IBM’s motivation for this – they are not altruistic – their goal is improvement in economic value for their shareholders in the long term. However, I also don’t agree with Jim’s viewpoint that the patent system protects “the little guy” against “the big guy” and the reason folks like IBM want change is to gain an advantage over the little guy.
Finally – I want to state the core of my problem with patents. I think the US Patent System is great. I love the notion of property rights for an inventor. My problem is with how this gets applied to software (and – more importantly – what gets classified as non-obvious invention in the context of software.) Unfortunately – in my experience – the vast majority of the software patents I’ve been exposed to simply do not pass the test of “non-obviousness” or are invalidated by prior art (the most annoying and entertaining ones are those that stuff I was involved in creating in my first company in the 1980’s actually invalidate.) I made this point in my original “Abolish Software Patents” post.
I remember a speech from Ted Leonsis in the mid 1990’s where he said “online is going to be Microsoft’s Vietnam.” Patents are becoming the software industry’s Vietman and I expect it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
If you are a Typepad blogger, you’ll be especially interested in this. Now – from within your NewsGator Online subscriber list – you can easily add the subscriber list to your blog as your blogroll. You no longer need to manage a separate blogroll in Typepad.
This all started when Amy asked me if she could do this. I screwed around on my site first and figured it out. I then got it working on Amy’s Typepad blog. I then blogged about how to do it. It was way too hard for a human to do, so I emailed Brian Kellner at NewsGator. He then blogged about our interaction around it. This was about six weeks ago.
Fred Wilson then asked me how to do this. I told him, he did it, and wrote about it. I reminded Brian about this who told me the “make it easier” solution was in the queue. Matt McCall – my fellow board member at FeedBurner – then wrote me and Fred and asked us how we did it. I once again gave him my “too complex for most humans” instructions and reminded Brian (this was last week.) Matt implemented it on his blog.
Yesterday, Brian published a note about a few of the latest NewsGator releases, including the “little Typepad Widget.” It’s now super easy to create your Typepad blogroll from within NewsGator Online and it automatically gets updated whenever you subscribe or unsubscribe to feeds. There are a lot of deeper features (for example, I rename all my feeds to people’s names instead of the Feed name – easier to keep track of; I only publish a subset of my feeds by using the NewsGator “location” feature) – but 90% of getting there is making it trivial to connect between NewsGator on Typepad.
While this is a relatively simple example, it highlights a couple of things, including the power of the Typepad Widget (and other “widget”) approaches, the ease of rolling out new features within an on-demand service, and the dynamics of how an agile development shop (NewsGator is an aggressive practitioner of agile – using Rally’s software) can manage small features in the context of complex release cycles across numerous products. It’s very different – and much more effective – than the historical 18+ month software development cycle that was broadly practiced in the 1990’s (and continues to be used by so many companies today.)
Andy Sack – CEO of Judy’s Book – wrote a nice summary of last week’s “bored” meeting, along with our meeting after in Boulder, and his new found inspiration to eliminate boredom from the lives of his board members. A positive side effect of this meeting is that I did get a nice run in on the treadputer, although Andy took some of my money in poker later that night.
Are your board meetings boring? If so – do something different.
As I’ve written before, I’m a huge critic of the existing patent process, especially as it applies to software patents. Today, the NY Times has an article up describing how IBM will begin putting its patent filings online for public review. This is a huge positive step by IBM and shows real leadership in addressing our completely screwed up patent system.
IBM collaborated over the summer with a group of 50 experts from outside IBM to come up with a new approach to protecting intellectual property. The result of this effort is summarized in the report Building a New IP Marketplace. This is superb and exciting stuff. Since our government can’t seem to make any progress with this, I hope they’ll at least follow the leadership of some major industrial companies that while ultimately acting in their own self-interest (as they should) recognize that they get more economic benefit long term by fixing the underlying dysfunction.
For those of you that share my fascination with the versatility of the word “fuck”, Wikipedia has a comprehensive entry listing the films that most frequently use said word. The 14th on the list is The Big Lebowski, right after Pulp Fiction. Casino – one of my all time favorite movies – weighs in at #3 (398 times.) The FPM rating is also fascinating – a surprising number of these movies have an FPM > 2.
Brad Spirrison has a nice article in the Chicago Sun-Times titled Feedburner’s investors have its technology at their fingertips. Among other things, he highlights that three of the FeedBurner investors – me, Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures, and Matt McCall at Portage Ventures are active bloggers that use FeedBurner’s services regularly.
While the notion of your investors using your product is a tricky one for some companies (say an ERP software company or an optical switch company) , it should be a no brainer for a consumer or Internet company. I just did a quick check and I’m an active user of all but two of the companies I sit on boards of. I’m also a user of many of the other Mobius companies products – even when I potentially have other choices – so that I can provide deep and regular product feedback. While my role isn’t “product manager” or “beta tester”, I can provide much more comprehensive feedback, better understand the product cycle, really have a perspective on competitive products (since presumably I can use them also), and provide insight into other things that I’m seeing that directly relate to the company’s products. Plus – it’s a lot of fun for my inner nerd.
If you have a product that normal humans can use, ask your investor (or potential investor) if they’ve used your product, how they use it, and how frequently they use it the next time you talk to them. At the minimum, the answer will help you frame their level of understanding of what you are creating.