I just got off the phone with a bank that I work with on a number of companies we have an investment in. They are in the category of banks that aren’t really impacted (at least not yet) by the current incarnation of the credit crisis because of where in the banking layer they play.
One of the things that came up was how I feel the macroeconomic issues impact things with certain companies. I told them I have no real clue and am paying attention to sales trends, but that I’m not getting worked up about it. As I saw the Q3 performance numbers roll in for our portfolio companies they looked how I generally expected them to; some of our companies blew away their numbers on the upside (hard to do in Q3 since it’s later in the yearly budget cycle), some missed, and some came in around where we expected them to. There weren’t any huge surprises either direction since we are deeply involved in our companies and tend to have significant granularity on how they are doing.
In our call, I told the folks I was talking to that I think they are generally, along with several of their peers, in a great position in the current environment. When they asked me what I thought they should do differently, or what they should be careful not to do, I strongly suggested that they behave in the way they always have to their clients and VC partners – stay steady, transparent, clear, and direct.
I have a deep philosophy that the time to build trust is during turbulent, confusing, and uncertain times (aka "now"). If the bank stays steady and rational, they’ll earn a lot of trust and goodwill from me, their clients, and others that will pay dividends for a long time. If they start doing erratic things, like jacking companies around with harsh credit terms just because of fear on everyone’s part (and greed on theirs) they will trample good relationships and destroy long term goodwill.
I lived through this during the dotcom bubble. There are some VCs and bankers that I’ll never work with again due to their totally irrational behavior when the chips were down. Consistency of behavior and clarity of thought and purpose matters a lot all the time, but especially when things are confusing.
As we got off the phone, we all hypothesized that the root driver of all the noise (not the root cause of the problem, but the amplification of everything) is tightly coupled to the current US election cycle. I’ve heard this hypothesis from others and wonder how much truth there is to it. I’m not a political historian so I don’t have a long term view on this, but I sure do remember the "It’s the economy, stupid" for Bush vs. Clinton. Hmmm.
Of all the macro events happening in the world, there are two occurring in the US right now that seem to be dominating most people’s thinking: (1) the US election and (2) the credit crisis (or whatever it’s being called today).
While I don’t watch TV news (and therefore get to miss out on all the talking heads on CNBC and CNN) I do read extensively online, especially about startups, software / Internet technology, and venture capital. Most of my general business news is either via headlines (once a day in the morning when I scan several newspapers), alerts (whatever WSJ, CNN, and NYT alerts send out during the day or tidbits my friends put on twitter), and business magazines (Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek). The business magazines are usually already two weeks old by the time I get to them (in the bathroom) and they lag the actual events by another week or two.
So – I get a nice mix of current sentiment (via headlines and alerts), two to four week old stories (via magazines), useful industry information, and a small mix of random stuff, without getting sucked into the day by day, play by play endless noise, chatter, and punditry. While this isn’t a pure or organized stream of information, I’ve found the tempo enables me to stay "informed enough" without being distracted.
Since I returned from my Q3 vacation two weeks ago, each day seems to bring more bad news and overall negative sentiment. In the last week I’ve started to notice a bunch of doom and gloom among entrepreneurs, especially high profile ones. In most cases, these aren’t cautious warnings, or suggestions of behavior modification, or real analysis of what’s going on. Rather, it’s an emotional response which is starting to creep into the zeitgeist of an otherwise typically optimistic set of people.
If you remember that Fear Is The Mindkiller you’ll quickly realize the correlation between the general commentary (the sky is falling, the world financial markets are collapsing, all your money will disappear, things will never be the same) and the notion of "killing your mind."
My recommendation to all of you entrepreneurs out there is to get off the negative sentiment treadmill, step up, and lead. The people working for your company are likely confused, concerned, and overwhelmed with all the noise in the system. In the near term, building your business will likely be more challenging on a number of dimensions. So what – that’s the normal cycle of business. You don’t need to be a blind optimist and spout happy talk, but you do need to have a clear sense of purpose and goals for your company. Leadership 101.
When I look back at the dotcom apocalypse that was 2000 – 2002, I realize some of the best companies I’ve ever been involved in were created during that time. In the midst of this, I remember the endless stream of "the Internet is over" and "the information technology business in now a mature business and there will never be innovation again." Yeah – whatever.
Get some exercise, take a shower, eat a good breakfast, and get out there and build a great business.
As part of Automattic’s acquisition of Intense Debate, I committed to convert all of my blogs over to WordPress. The process has begun and should be done soon. In the mean time, I’m on a quest for all the great WordPress plugins. I’ve already got the Lijit Search, FeedBurner, and MyBloglog plugins queued up. If you’ve got other recommendations, please leave them in the comments.
I love charts like the following – so many pretty colors and funny names.
Matt Galligan, the co-founder of SocialThing (now part of AOL) is giving a talk on Social Networking: Using Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn at the ATLAS Institute (on the CU Boulder campus) on October 13th from 6pm to 8pm. This event is co-sponsored by my friends at The Van Heyst Group and Silicon Flatirons. Matt’s an entertaining speaker who was part of the inaugural TechStars program in 2007 – he’s got plenty of great stories and has been living in the social networking world for the past few years.
If none of that means anything to you, that’s ok. Shane Pearson, Gnip’s new VP of Products translates it into "more English" in his post titled What we are up to at Gnip.
If you are a developer, wander over to the Gnip API v2.0 spec and take a look.
Thanks to Micah Baldwin, a bunch of Colorado bloggers (including me) are putting up DonorsChoose widgets on their blogs. Our goal in Colorado is to displace Fred Wilson as king of last years DonorsChoose technology blog category.
We’ve already got a bunch of great Colorado projects up on the DonorsChoose website. To start things off on my blog, I just gave $200 to the Return To Technology project for Ms. E’s Classroom. Look for the sidebar on the right of my main page or click through on the DonorsChoose website link. Any amount helps – give up Starbucks for a week and join in with $25.
My mom must be cleaning out her attic. She just sent me a pile of "old stuff" including a bunch of photos, my bar mitzvah speech, and some more stamps from my never ending stamp collection.
Me at age 8.75. Note the excellent glasses (probably the same size as the ones I wear today) and my lack of tie.
Age 12. I was an SVAA basketball star. Man – that basketball is bigger than my head. I was wearing contact lens (which I’ve since abandoned) by this point in time in my effort to look more sexy. Pretty hard for a 12 year old.
The CSIA’s annual event – DEMOgala – is happening tomorrow (10/2) all day at the Grand Hyatt, Denver (1750 Welton Street). There is a long list of companies involved, including the 20 DEMOgala Innovation Showcase companies.
If you are in town, go check it out.
Congrats to the everyone involved in LeftHand Networks – it was announced today that HP is buying them for $360 Million in cash. LeftHand was born and raised in Boulder and is a large company (and acquisition) for this region. HP is clearly in a buying mood having just completed their acquisition of EDS a few weeks ago.