New Year’s lessons from a random 5 year old

January 3, 2017

While on a delightful New Year’s day run, I heard the following conversation between two 5 year old boys.

“How many people exactly love you?” asked one.

“Five,” responded the other, without hesitation and with absolute certainty.

What a great, certain answer! And the question is not about some lower order relationship like “how many Facebook friends do you have?” or even the more adult “how many people would come to your funeral?” It’s about “love”, which is that mysterious, irrational attachment to another person — the thing that would make someone crawl over broken glass for another or listen to Justin Bieber at that person’s request.

And the answer of “five” works out to one person for every year of life. If all of us maintained that pace, our answer should be quite a bit higher than that. If you’re like me, you’re behind plan.

If you don’t have a New Year’s Resolution to build a few one or two deep attachments this year, perhaps this 5 year old can convince you to add it.

Trump: How to Stop a Narcissist

December 30, 2016

As I said, Trump reminds me of the narcissists of my life. But the number one question you asked me was “what do we do about it”? I have some ideas, and I want some help.

Narcissists generate chaos to keep others on their heels and allows the narcissist to have control.  Every time I hear someone responding to an outrageous Trump tweet or comment, what I really hear is that Trump just won — by creating the chaos he needs.  Restart the nuclear arms race, anyone?  An important issue, but really just a narcissistic act by Trump.  Don’t enable Trump by taking his every burp seriously. President Trump’s budget proposal will not include money for expanding our nuclear arsenal.

Amidst this turmoil, we thankfully have a great filter to pick our battles.  With a President as opposed to a candidate, boss, parent, or spouse, we are going to focus on the Law and whether Trump violates the Law.

It’s about the Law, not the “look at me” narcissism.  I’ve been reading Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography, and watching HBO’s John Adams series.  The foundation of our country rests on the Law (I’m going to keep using the capital “L” to make the point), and the Law does not flow from a King.  It flows from our Constitution and our laws.  These are the things I care about, not whether Kanye West is giving Trump some narcissism advice.  Ignore whether Trump toyed with Mitt Romney’s desire for Secretary of State.  Ignore what Trump thinks of Saturday Night Live.  Pay attention to when he breaks the Law.

Two potential Law transgressions.  As of today, the two violations of the Law that we should fight to investigate are:  1) did the Trump campaign coordinate with Russia on the hacking of the DNC?  If so, that’s not just illegal, that’s treason.  Treason is punishable by a lot more than impeachment, and 2) Bribery is still illegal for a President (the “Emoluments” clause of the Constitution is just an archaic word for “bribe”).  Either the President needs to divest his business holdings or disclose them so we know whether he’s being bribed or driving policy to suit his business needs.  A Russian government conference at the Old Post Office Trump hotel generates personal income that can count as an “emolument”.

Serious things we’ll have to ignore, part 1.  There are already other examples of Trump Law Skirting, and the list will grow.  For instance, nepotism laws explicitly prohibit Ivanka from taking a White House job (which would subject her to conflict of interest and disclosure rules of which Donald is not subjected, which would be fun).  I suspect she will be an unofficial but actually official advisor, trying to get around the Law.  We could fight that too!  But winning that fight would frankly just affect Ivanka, and while important, we will exhaust our efforts focusing on everything. We should leave those fights to others.

Serious things we’ll have to ignore, part 2.  While I care about policy, the winning party and candidate get to set policy.  That category of debate, like whether the EPA should allow offshore drilling near cities, is one that exists within the Law.  They happen every day and after every election.  These debates are how democracies make decisions.  If I disagree with offshore drilling, or the nomination of Rex Tillerson, I pursue that within the Law.  I accept that there is a side of the debate different than mine.  Those are arguments worth having, but most of us aren’t full time policy wonks, so we’re going to leave that to professionals and experts.

Help!  So after 500 words, the next step is to find the best method for mobilizing action on egregious potential violations of Law (and others likely Law violations as they come).  I’ll keep working, thinking, and looking, and you let me know what tools, technologies, and movements you’ve uncovered or have at your disposal.  I’m not looking to the Republican controlled Congress to do their job on these issues unless we fight.

It’s not about the tweets or the man or the party.  It’s about the Law.

I understand Donald Trump

December 14, 2016

I have had too much personal experience with narcissists, but  now that has a silver lining.  It allows me to understand Donald Trump.  Here is a tutorial for narcissistic behavior, in my view, and how it describes our Trumpian future.

  1. Narcissists create chaos around them in order to have control. Narcissists need to manipulate the environment to suit their self narrative.  They often do this by creating chaos, which keeps most rational people off balance, lurching from crisis to crisis, and susceptible to manipulation.  I suspect a Trump presidency will be a long string of small to large crises.  For example, we’ve given up on understanding Trump’s financial holdings, so that when he manipulates the stock market by criticizing a Boeing presidential airplane, we don’t even look into it.  He could have shorted Boeing stock before that statement, and made a quick gain.
  2. Narcissists do not apologize. Because narcissism is a reaction to a weakly formed ego, narcissists can’t admit mistakes – this would crush their soft insides.  Narcissists are not introspective, which is why it is a psychological condition that is not susceptible to therapeutic change.  Trump will make a political misstep, say, telling Theresa May “stop by if you’re in town” in apparent ignorance of how head-of-state protocol works.  Rather than apologize, there will be a four step process of 1) ignore, 2) deny, 3) blame / criticize someone else, 4) change the subject.  This is a similar cycle that spawns the spouse abusing phrase “don’t make me hit you again!”  It will happen over and over again.
  3. Narcissists need to feel like the smartest person in the room. Despite tough talk, narcissists aren’t capable of handling feedback or criticism.  In their own minds the narcissist is the best at everything.  Trump’s refusal to take a morning security briefing is a reaction to his own knowledge gap.  If he feels less smart, he doesn’t study more, he leaves the room to find another one where he’s the smartest.  Studying more is to admit ignorance.  Thus, people around Trump need to be second tier sycophants that need to agree or leave.   Trump is building his cabinet as I write this with more military men than is normal and a rumoured personality type of straight talkers.  This will likely backfire as those egos push against Trump.  Instead, we’ll get people like Omarosa, who said “Every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to Donald Trump” in the creepiest voice I’ve heard.  Alex Baldwin’s SNL lampoons of Trump require Trump to fire back because they make him look stupid.  Nixon had an enemies list, Trump has the Department of Energy environmental scientist list (and probably a lot more lists).
  4. The rules don’t apply to Narcissists. But they do apply to everyone else.  Because the world is a movie with the narcissist as the star, everyone else has to adhere to the script.  This is how Trump can say terrible things about people (e.g., take your pick of insults), yet criticize others for the smallest slight or misstep.  Beyond insults to substantive matters, Trump can accuse Hilary of risking classified information, yet nominate a National Security Advisor that has actually been proven to have shared classified information.  “Doesn’t matter, because that guy is my guy, and I’m always right.  This is my movie.”
  5. I can go on with this. A male narcissist’s relation to women is based on the woman’s ability to reward his ego. A narcissist can often gain weight, because a lack of self-reflection prohibits any thoughts of “I should go on a diet”.  The phrase “give them an inch and they will take a mile” is written for narcissists and describes the challenge for the Republican led Congress.  By accepting things like conflicts of interest and Russian connections, the Congress will enable Trump to run roughshod across whole swaths of acceptability and legality.

The sum of Trump’s narcissism can lead to scary outcomes.  It doesn’t matter if a trade war with China harms the working middle class Trump voters, because that’s not at the heart of a Trump decision.  What is at the heart of a Trump decision is the risk/reward to Trump’s ego.

To people without experience of these personality types, Trump’s internal algorithm seems confusing.  Normal people try to rationalize other’s narcissistic behavior using their own mental frameworks.  It doesn’t work to project ourselves onto Trump in order to understand some secret, brilliant plan.  Nope.  Instead, recognize the pathology.  Quit treating it as normal.  Quit rationalizing.  Quit accepting.  Fight.  I really do believe that democracy is at risk.

What I learned from SnapChat’s Bob Marley face

May 4, 2016

SnapChat took some heat for introducing a feature that would replace someone’s face with Bob Marley’s. Whether it’s a large-scale resurgence of “blackface”, which was the point of much media coverage, is but one shocking thing about this.

The other shocking thing is that we are really only moments away, in tech development time, from being able to completely hide how we look on any video.  This isn’t just airbrushing, where Cindy Crawford’s mole can disappear or Britney Spears can look young and svelte again.

No, this is entirely made-up visuals in everything from home videos and selfies to hollywood movies to VR headsets.  You and your spouse could be Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie when you’re using your VR headsets.  I suspect a baby boom would not be far behind.

You can also be someone else when using any video version of Reddit and the like, where cyberbullying and racism is facilitated by everyone being anonymous.  I see no reason for that to change when we move from text to video with these technologies.  Reality will continue to bend, and social norms will lag technology and contribute to, um, “unusual” and even unfortunate behavior.

Presidential primaries are less democratic than American Idol

April 21, 2016

Presidential primaries are not democracy in action. Presidential primaries are opinion polling. They are convoluted beauty pageants for ugly people.

Remember that the Republican and Democratic parties are not the government, they are private institutions (which are actually conglomerations of a bunch of state or local institutions). They can listen to the voters or not.  Their rules can be whatever they want them to be.  In 1920, for example, only convention delegates that could demonstrate the ownership of a car could vote at convention, delivering the nomination to Calvin Coolidge and his coalition of wealthy supporters and Detroit auto workers.  OK, I just made that up, but the rules committees could have approved that, and any other rule they wanted.  “Only candidates name Steph Curry can be on the ballot?  No problem, we can do that.”

On the Democratic side, while delegates are awarded roughly proportionally to the vote, 15% of the total convention votes go to 719 party members as an insurance policy in a close battle.  That’s similar to letting your children walk through a department store by themselves — except for that funny looking kid leash you’ve attached to them.

s-l1000

You the voter are that kid.  The party is the disembodied hand.

The Republican side is far more complex, with each state having different rules, and different number of human votes adding up to delegates (from 810 votes per delegate in Maine to 95,601 votes per delegate in Illinois.  That’s pretty far from one person, one vote).  There’s enough room for unintended consequences that the rules designed to help insiders like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are helping outsiders like Trump.  It’s like Cupid’s Arrow killing its target, or like this:

unintended-consequences-pic

Squashed by the party’s own rules.

American Idol, despite some controversy, is basically far more democratic.  Sure, they get the occasional ballot stuffing argument or hanging chad like recount.  But it is still a paragon not a pariah of voting rules compared to presidential primaries.  You call the number that corresponds to your candidate, and they record the vote.  If you are super passionate, you can even call more than once and they will record up to 10 votes per voter (that may sound undemocratic, but it is an alternative voting format similar to weighted or ranked choice voting, and some vote scholars think it’s a good idea).  You can’t even write a multi-million dollar check to your favorite finalist.  How novel.

So basically, this would be an upgrade for the American Primary Voter:

american-idol-voting

Alphabet clamps down on GOOG

March 24, 2016

This may be the first time I get to say “I told you so”.  In August, I predicted that the creation of the holding company structure at Google would lead to the eventual shutdown or sale of various high concept pieces of Google.

It’s begun.

Today, Alphabet announced the free spending days are over.  “The fiscal discipline era has now descended upon everything” says Tony Fadell, whose Nest was purchased for over $3 billion in what the company may now refer to as the “drunken sailor era”.

GOOG is also seeking to sell Boston Dynamics, the maker of spooky humanoid robots and even spookier videos of humans beating up said robots.  It makes me fearful of the coming robot apocalypse.  Although not as fearful as the potential Trumpocalypse, now trending at 2 of 4 horsemen at website Slate.

We should expect more from Alphabet in this vein.  Entrepreneurs seeking to sell their companies to Google for 3,000x revenues have probably seen the window close.  The loss of free Odwalla can’t be far behind.

Logic takes a holiday in politics

March 20, 2016

This is a partial list of things I don’t understand that are used for rationale in our current political dialogue:

  1. “The President should not nominate a Supreme Court Justice in an election year”, but the 34 Senators and 438 Congresspeople that are up for re-election this year keep doing their work?  Shouldn’t Chuck Grassley wait until the people have a voice in his reelection before he takes a stand this year?  Do we elect Presidents for 3 years, Senators for 5, and Congresspeople for 1 year?
  2. Constitutional originalism — does that mean that the “right to bear arms” is limited to single shot, muzzle loading muskets?  Are black people only counted as 3/5ths of a human?
  3. Protesters are violating our First Amendment rights to free speech!”  I am baffled that no one points out that the First Amendment only prevents Congress, not individuals or corporations, from limiting speech.  It is uninvolved in various people trying to yell over each other at a campaign rally.  You can even punch protestors, if you want, but you’ve now violated a different law.
  4. Back to the Supreme Court nominating process.   The Constitution doesn’t say the Senate has to vote on nominees, simply that they should “Advise and Consent“.  Does that mean that doing nothing is an implicit consent, similar to a pocket veto being an implicit veto?  Or does it mean that the Senate will devolve into not holding hearings on any vacancies until the President and the Senate are part of the same party?

 

Terrorism, war, or domestic guns the problem?

January 6, 2016

I grew up in a gun-toting part of the US. I went out shooting with my dad when I was a kid. My classmates would go out deer hunting before school during deer season. I get it. It’s part of the fabric of big swaths of US Society. It’s like those bucolic scenes of fly fishing on a lazy river, with trees in the background and butterflies fluttering, but with loud bangs. I am of this tribe.

But i’m also a big believer in looking at data, or as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but your not entitled to your own facts.”

So, some facts:

1) Gun homicide in the US kills more Americans in one year than terrorism has killed in the last 60 years.  And it’s not even close.

gun deaths

2) In the US, firearms have killed more people just since 1968 than were killed in all US wars since the Revolutionary War.  World War II had fewer US casualties than US gun violence since 1999. (More data at the link and description of methodology)

  • All US War Casualties = 1,396,733.
  • Firearm deaths in US since 1968 = 1,516,833
  • WWII US casualties 405,399.
  • Firearm deaths in US 1999-2015 = 519,338

I’m not sure why there isn’t more indignation.  Perhaps it’s because there are safe neighborhoods in the US.  Maybe it doesn’t affect the middle class voter enough, either in terms of a feeling of security or in the pocketbook.  Or the news cycle doesn’t address these issues.  Maybe we’re just numb.

On a per capita basis, we should be putting up memorials at a feverish pace:

  • For every WWII memorial, there would be a gun violence memorial every 15 years.
  • For every Vietnam memorial, there should be a gun violence memorial for deaths in the last 2 1/2 years.  There would be 20 gun violence memorials per Vietnam memorial just since the end of the Vietnam war.

Soldiers die valiantly defending their homeland and way of life.  Gun violence victims die in their living rooms, at work, walking their newborns in strollers, basically living the way of life so protected by soldiers.

 

 

 

Ask a VC

September 14, 2015

Here’s a rough transcript of a call in show I did.  Not just rough, but also long.  If you are a Twitter addict, just read the first 140 characters of each paragraph….

 

VC Fundraising: Real Advice From A Real VC

If you could have a VC’s undivided attention for fifteen minutes, what would you ask? Our Ask The VC webinar was an open forum with Sean Foote, Founder of Co=Creation=Capital. If you missed it, in addition to reading this rundown of the highlights, you can view the presentation deck on SlideShare.

Understanding what VCs are looking for is top of mind for many founders seeking funding. The more you know about their investing mindset, the greater your chances of insuring you’re a match.

How VCs Invest

The central tension between buyers (VCs) and sellers (founders) is this: buyers believe their company’s value exceeds its price. Sellers meanwhile believe the converse.

VCs are rational. They need to generate annual 30% gross returns just to be an average fund. That’s 5x in 5 years. The economics of investing: out of 10 portfolio companies, half will go bankrupt; four will break even. VCs get it wrong a lot. That means VCs need always try for winners that can return 46x — just to be average. With the stakes so high, they look for extraordinarily high growth companies that will make them the most money for the least amount of risk. They also want to invest in “intriguing companies” that have positive momentum, and make for good cocktail party chat. But their bottom-line goal is to make money for their current fund so they can raise another one.

Because of those parameters, VCs don’t want to invest in revolutionary things. They want to invest in companies that generate revolutionary returns. So your job in a pitch is to convince them that you are innovative and doing great things, but that you are not risky. When you’re making your pitch, do whatever’s necessary to reduce your perception of risk. That includes staying away from words like: novel and revolutionary. It also means knowing what your greatest risks are and finding ways to reduce them. This is key to getting funded.

2 thing you don’t know about venture capitalists

VCs are not risk capital. Opportunities that deliver good returns for a low investment is the single most important factor in getting them to invest.

Nothing gets VCs to fund a term sheet faster than knowing that there’s interest from other investors that might shut them out of a deal. Sound analogous to other situations in life?

On seed funding:

It’s a sellers’ (entrepreneur’s) market. There were 20,000+ angel investments in 2014. Seed money is raised on a concept and based on an investor believing in you. Once you get past this “concept play” stage, your revenue and business model should be vetted and investors shift to measuring you on the strength of your execution. You need to be able demonstrate what you will accomplish with investor’s money. This is an important step in the mindset of entrepreneurs.

While Sean and Co=Creation “love single founder teams” and engineering oriented founders,
once you get to the stage where you’re ready to raise VC capital, it’s great to have “at least one person on top of tech and one on top of business” operations.

On meeting startup investors:

VC see anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 companies a year — and invest in 2-3 of them. In order to break through the noise, find a way to get introduced. LinkedIn is one source. For seed investors, try AngelList and incubators.

And do your due diligence. The relationship between VCs and their portfolio companies is similar to marriage, with at least one big difference: the lifespan of an average VC deal is nine to ten years. That’s versus seven years for the average U.S. marriage.

On pitching:

Think of the vetting process during your pitch as similar to being out on a first date. VCs will be scrutinizing your composure and assessing how well you think on your feet. Expect some give and take: for Sean, “intentional interruption is a good test to see how people react.”

Be personable.

Be yourself.

Don’t jump the gun on valuation — “We’ll let the market set the price” is a good answer to give if you’re asked.

Don’t expect feedback at the end of the meeting, but do ask for it.

Don’t join the “race to the bottom” by skipping financials in your pitch deck. Particularly after Seed stage

As we’ve covered in earlier posts, creating a financial model with at least three years of financial projections shows that you’ve thought through your financials and understand your business model. For Sean, five years is the right time horizon. Models that show only one year of projections just don’t fly. That doesn’t mean that investors will believe your projections; “we know it’s not a real number” but your longer-term forecasts (3-5 years out) allow you to “sell some sizzle.” Just make sure your near and intermediate term ones (years 1-2) also have “some steak.” The whole process says you’ve thought about the business model.

Reading the (VC) tea leaves

Anything besides a signed (and ultimately funded) term sheet is a “no.” That’s not to say you should expect to clinch a deal on the basis of one meeting. But at some point, if you find yourself getting requests for more information or being told “let us know when you find a lead investor,” the answer is “no.” On the other hand, if the VCs you’re meeting with are discussing valuation, that is a good signal.

Finally, manage the relationship. Follow up and make sure you stay on investors’ radar. Also keep in mind that a first pitch meeting is a lot like being on an interview or a first date. Don’t burn your bridges. Even a “no” from the person you’re sitting in front of might lead to introductions to other potential investors who are a better fit. Or even a “yes” eventually. Sean’s fund invested in Pandora’s Series A after saying “no” 3 times.

Look at Me! Wait, Don’t Look at Me!

August 24, 2015

I was embarrassed by the outpouring of support for my “impossible” seven day bicycle stage race through the Pyrenees. I’m back, I did finish, and I wasn’t last. I’m declaring victory over my old illness.

The embarrassment comes because I didn’t intend to spotlight me, particularly in this current social world where everyone is their own reality TV star. Exercise-based challenges are fun, but they have far less meaning than the really hard struggles that many of us go through or may even avoid. That’s why people raise money with their exercise — to give it more than simply selfish meaning.

So, I hope we all engage in the process of breaking down our own barriers, and thus help make the world a better place.

=-==-=-=-=-=-=-=

Now, having said that, you may still be curious about how this Haute Route thing went. They do great videos on their Youtube channel.  Just click through.  Super inspirational and artistic.

And here is the first thing I wrote on the plane on the way back.  Not so much a race report as what was going through my mind on the first day I didn’t wake up and get on the bike.

As I reread it now, it seems so self-indulgent, so read ahead at your own risk.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

I remember the pain.  More than I can endure.  Surely.  Pain that makes me want to stop, that whispers that you can make it stop.  And then keeping on.  I remember the world narrowing down to me, the pain, and the few feet of road ahead of me.  And then the next few feet.  And the next few feet.  With groans leaving me against my will.

I remember finishing.  The sweet release. Joy of accomplishing what seemed impossible.  And then the immediate realization that it’s not done.  Now, immediately, my thoughts go to what comes between now and tomorrow.  Preparation, food, water, rest.   Laying out my clothes for tomorrow, my food.   Unpacking and repacking my kit.  Giving a personal pep talk. A few delightful retellings of joy and sorrow and cringing anticipation for tomorrow.   New found friends connected by a bond of experience and hurt.   A tiny, safer echo of war veterans swapping tales.

Waking up is the hardest part.   Surely this can’t happen again. Surely my body can’t feel this badly and still be asked to bicycle up two Mount Everests of altitude this week.   But that’s what we ask.   Put on clothes, leave the hotel forever, and head to a cold starting line.  More logistics, and far too soon I’m straddling my bike, listening to the countdown of minutes.   I place my hands on the hoods, and there’s a physical reminder.  This is the position of past days.  And the position of today.   The pain position.  I realize I’m trapped in a cycle.  I chose it.   And then with the start, so many things fall away.   No fear, no logistics, just the blessed simplicity of a hard task ahead, and the gift of the tools in my possession to do it.   As the pedals turn, I’m suddenly, fundamentally, happy.