Archive for October, 2009

Real Life Games

October 31st, 2009

I’m a fan of real-life games.  You know, something like the movie The Game but a little less intense. If you know of any more I should try, please let me know.  Some examples I like:

  • To celebrate my birthday, my wife arranged for us to do the New York interactive theater experience Accomplice. I  recommend it for sure.  Takes about 3 hours as you walk through the city interacting with actors and accomplishing certain assignments.  Lots of fun and opens you up to seeing the world around you.  Wonder pours back in.  Great stuff.
  • 2009 was the first year I played Cluefest, New Haven’s city-wide scavenger hunt.  I helped create it a few years back and have helped organize it almost every year.  It’s hard to properly have fun solving the clues if you’ve the one that wrote the riddles.  Loved it this year.
  • I bought some of the Akoha card packs, but haven’t yet tried it.  Have you done it?  What’s it like?

There are amazing opportunities for more of these kind of experiences with better technology like GPS and handheld computers/mobile phones.  For example, SCVNGR lets you build your own scavenger hunts or as they call it “sophisticated interactive location-based mobile games.”

I know there has got to me more out there.

Full Week at the ACIR

October 31st, 2009

It has been a full week on the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility.  While there are limits to how much Yale wants me to write about publicly, I think it should be OK to point to documents that are already public.  And I certainly can hear from you.  I view that part of the role of the ACIR is to represent the Yale community.  So, please let me know your opinion.

Monday the student newspaper published a letter by three undergraduates criticizing the work of the ACIR. I think these were some of the students who had met with the ACIR as part of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.  The article drew 16 or so comments.  Quite a lot of disagreement and not necessarily civil conversation.

After discussion among the members of the ACIR, the Chair responded with a letter to the newspaper and included an attached copy of an older letter to the UOC.  The YDN published the cover letter, but not the attached letter.  You can read the previously unpublished attached letter on the ACIR website here [PDF].

Look forward to hearing from you.

Change VC Don’t Make it Smaller

October 18th, 2009

Some say that the venture capital is broken.  The argument usually contains reference to (a) lower costs of starting a technology-based business, (b) the growth in VC/PE capital committed in US funds and (c) asymmetrical risks of VCs compared to entrepreneurs, (d) increased opportunities for small to mid-range sized acquisitions of start-ups rather than big IPOs, and (e) improved sophistication of angel groups and funds.

Recent VC return data seems to drive this point home.

(found on Redeye VC from a Kaufmann report written by Paul Kedrosky).

The conclusion often drawn is that there should be less money invested in start-ups.  Or that VC funds will die off and/or reduced in size.   While I agree the dynamics are changing and if investors do not innovate some will go the way of the buggy whip, I think these arguments miss a bigger picture.

I see it differently.

We don’t have too much VC money.  Rather it could be used better.

First, on the amount: a little internet research reveals that something like $25 billion a year has been invested by VCs into companies the.  R&D budgets for large companies have declined in many cases.   “From 1980-2005, firms less than five years old accounted for all net job growth in the United States” (from Kaufmann research).   Many established companies recognize how hard it is to innovative within a given organization structure and have largely outsourced their R&D to start-ups (see Cisco for example, briefly the world’s most valuable company.)   To put that all together that’s about 0.19% of US annual GDP used for investment in creating the opportunities, technology and jobs of tomorrow.  I don’t think that is too much.

Second, on the use of investment capital, let’s get innovative.   We shouldn’t take money out of the VC and startup sector, instead we should improve it.

  • Focused Too Narrowly.  We have tremendous challenges that face us and the rate of change seems to be increasing.  How do we address global warming and generate the energy of tomorrow?  How do we meet the needs and desires of the next billion people joining the middle class or the 4 billion people at the bottom of the pyramid?  How do we improve happiness and health which can take a hit with affluence?  How do we govern ourselves in a connected and real-time world?  The number of opportunities is awe-inspiring and should challenge us to tackle them.  Too many VCs focus narrowly on existing developed world markets, competing with each other for the same deals.
  • Better Business Model.  Many VCs funds run on a 1970s model.  Could you get away with that in your industry?  I’m talking about things like insisting on warm intros, evaluating people by gut, talking about the importance of people and systematically focusing on financial models, etc.  There have been some changes to this system like VCs opening up their process by blogging and accepting cold intros.  Websites like TheFunded are a way for entrepreneurs to rate and understand investors and for them to be held accountable.  Also, founders funds where entrepreneurs swap stock to share risk after getting VC funding are good innovations although there aren’t enough of them.  I wonder is there an opportunity for passive ETF or index style system that does not rely on active management?  There has got to be room for a lot more innovation.
  • Too Few Entrepreneurs?  Maybe it’s too strong to say their aren’t enough entrepreneurs.  Yet, my personal experience is that too few people who have an interest take the leap.  With better mentoring or training infrastructure, we could have more entrepreneurs.  We’ve been working on this at YES and YEI.  I know there is more opportunity here.

Business Solves Real and Important Problems

October 14th, 2009

I’m excited by various forms of social entrepreneurship.  That’s part of the reason that I wanted Yale’s business plan competition to have a social enterprise category and why I support Echoing Green.

I was recently reminded of my visit to the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference in 2007.  I wrote a guest blog post about it on the Next Billion blog.

In that blog post, I asked a question “As the day wore on, despite my excitement, I kept wondering – what’s really new here?” By which, I meant: what is new about the nature of international development, capitalism and entrepreneurship?  Are there new concepts or just new words like social entrepreneur and bottom of the pyramid?

Well, after reading the book Capitalism at the Crossroads: The Unlimited Business Opportunities in Solving the World’s Most Difficult Problems, my answer is that there is something new.

Hart writes that “sustainable global enterprise holds the key to reducing poverty, reversing environmental destruction, and even counteracting terrorism” and “This book takes the contrarian’s view that business–more than either government or civil society–is uniquely equipped, at this point in history, to lead us toward a sustainable world in the years ahead… Properly focused, the profit motive can accelerate (not inhibit) the transformation toward global sustainability, with nonprofits, governments, and multilateral agencies all playing crucial roles as collaborators.”

If you’re interested in this area, I recommend reading the book. And then let’s discuss.

Alibi-Archive Android App – Who Wants One?

October 11th, 2009

For those of us who have read Database Nation, we have heard a lot about the downsides of personal details being filed away in a computer we don’t control.

Have you heard the other side of the story?  I just read “Privacy: Who Needs It?” and was intrigued. (I know it’s from 2002, but I think it was recently mentioned in Crypto-Gram.)  Sawyer argues that there are real benefits to society and individuals to having an offsite, irrefutable, location-encoded, time-stamped, audio-visual record of your life.  (Is this like book Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything by the MyLifeBits guy although more intrusive?)

Such a device or service is presented as science fiction that is far in the future.  Yet, I remember reading an article (in Wired Magazine?) about an art professor who was doing this.  His personal life details were constantly being uploaded to his website.  His goal was to be able to prove that he wasn’t a terrorist (this was after being questions by the FBI or similar.)  And he wanted to make a point about the nature of private vs. public.

A GPS-enabled audio-video recorder that constantly uploads is definitely within reach of current technology.  To me the questions are more around market demand, pricing and cost.  If a 3G phone can cost $300, then it seems like you could get started for similar price point plus monthly fee.

I bet you could technically build this as an Android app that took a picture and GPS snapshot every 30 seconds.  The problem would be that your phone would run out of batteries too fast and isn’t always pointed at what’s relevant.  Maybe you could add headgear?  Would you want one?

As for me, I’m not sure I’m ready for it yet.  I do know that I’m looking forward to reading Saywer’s book Hominids to learn more about his thoughts on the topic.