Archive for February, 2010

Improv Lessons for Business

February 27th, 2010

I read the book Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madison in one sitting.  And no, it wasn’t just because one of the chapter titles is Just Show Up which is a bit of a family motto.  And no, it wasn’t because it is a guide to the specific techniques of improvisational theater (if you want that check out the classic book Impro).

Rather, I was intrigued by a theme I’ve sensed in my own life that she articulated well.  In college I was in an improv troupe Just Add Water (would you believe me if I said I auditioned on a whim?) and in high school was a founding member of another group called Under the Bed.  Jumping into business right from college felt connected to me.  Now I understand better why.

Improvisational skills and the Yes And approach to life applies well to business (and many other areas of life).   She explicitly calls out entrepreneurship as a place where a willingness to pay attention, show up and react to the facts as they are serves you well.  And I agree.  Maybe people get too busy planning their business or their life that they forget to live their dreams.

Admittedly, you can overdue spontaneity.  And I definitely do my fair share of planning (maybe more than I should).

That said, I still advise entrepreneurs to Act Now.  Get some forward motion.  And figure out the exact direction later.  It is much easier to adjust than it is to get started at all.  Take the first step.

Food and Water

February 18th, 2010

I admit I’ve read a few books about the unthinkable emergency.  What happens in survival situations – when the s*** hits the fan and people are pushed beyond their endurance?  I even read one or two that I wish I hadn’t.  Can you imagine that some of them are even boring?

I have also been through CERT and EMT training.  (Not sure I remember all of it…)

When shopping for the 72 hour supplies, you can buy pre-made bags with first aid kits and hatchets.  But where is the food and water?  Not all of us can feed ourselves in an urban or suburban environment armed only with a hatchet.

It is probably assumed that stocking food and water is a simple task that may happen naturally in the modern home.  Maybe that’s how it should work.  But in talking with my 20 and 30-something friends, I’ve come away with the impression that many have not stocked food and water.

So, I’ve been kicking around this idea of having an event (maybe through TGWNN) where we’d have some preparedness talk and sell 72 hour kits of food and water for around $20.  (Could we figure out how to do it for cheaper?)

What I’ve done so far:

  • Rick Fontana at the City of New Haven Emergency Operations Center has agreed to speak
  • Janna of TGWNN has agreed to publicize the event
  • Done a trial run with my brother of purchasing marine-quality survival bars that are compact and will last practically forever.

What’s left:

  • Make sure there is interest more broadly
  • Pick a location
  • Pick a date/time

And I can’t help thinking – could we make this a replicatable event?  Could we make it fun for others to hold their own events in other towns?  Could this spread and help us all sleep better at night?

What do you think?

Brain Science Podcast #66

February 15th, 2010

Mitch Gervis mentioned he was a fan of the Brain Science Podcast.  So, I took it for a spin on a recent drive through the snow.  I happened to start with Episode #66 in which she interviews Randy Gallistel, PhD, Co-Director of the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science and author of Memory and the Computational Brain.

The basic argument that he makes is that:

  1. The brain does computations (at least for Dead Reckoning aka navigation which ants, birds and people do)
  2. Something that does computing is a computing device
  3. An important component of a computing device is read/write memory
  4. Therefore an important component of the brain is read/write memory.

And so those that study the brain better get on with the task of finding where this read/write memory is and how it works.  And it can’t be in the synapses as something at that level stores kilobytes.  It is more likely closer to the moleclor level so that a cell could hold gigabytes of info.

As someone with a computer science degree, that seems pretty straightforward.  Who disagrees with this and why?

I’m a new listener so I’m hoping someone could fill me in on a few things:

  • Information Theory.  Did Dr. Gallistel really say that neuroscientist don’t understand/focus on Information Theory?  How does one study the brain (which is an organ for processing information) without keeping in mind the theoretical foundation of the nature of information.  Sorry, if I may use the expression, that does not compute.  (Get the corny joke?  I’m talking about theories of the mind and saying that something doesn’t make sense to my mind by saying it doesn’t compute… OK, yes, silly but a sign that even layman often consider the brain a computer.)
  • What’s the Signal?  If an important tasks for brain science is to figure out where memory is stored and how it is accessed, I’m also wondering about the signals.  During the podcast they talk about the “spike train” which I understand to be the rhythmic pattern of neurons firing.  Does that contain enough data to be the whole story?  Maybe I have to read the book Spikes that he recommends to understand this.  If you know, please help me understand.

YouRenew is Going Places

February 14th, 2010

As we all know, success has many fathers, and I won’t claim to be one in this case.  That said, I am excited by the progress that YouRenew (aka TwigTek) is making.  They appear to be going places.  Literally.

In the past week or so they’ve completed their move into 25 Science Park on the same floor as some of Higher One’s offices.  I haven’t had a chance to poke my head inside yet, but I’m looking forward to it.  Nice to have a start-up as a neighbor.  (Just wish that we had more space to grow for Higher One in the building.  That’s a story for another time.)

When I first heard about the venture, I have to admit, I was not immediately excited about the business opportunity.  Although it was a big market and an important change needed to reuse/recycle, there are/were lots of competitors and potential competitors.  Given the business model, I thought that capital tied-up in inventory might be more of an issue than projected and more than many technology investors want these days.  (There isn’t much inventory in a software company, for example…)

I was impressed with Rich and Bob.  They built relationships with investors over time.  They worked hard, followed through and figured out how to get it done with less capital.  They were goal-oriented yet flexible enough to hear feedback from customers, prospects and potential investors and change.  And their strategy has evolved which is great to see.

Along the way, Top Floor invested (and others did, too, like Launch Capital).  Plus, they’ve gotten lots of good press which has been a great marketing tool. Good national press like Business Week Online (America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs) and local press from New Haven Register, or New Haven Independent.  And lots of other press mentions including featured in a Yale Alumni Magazine cover article.

Exciting to see a team outgrew the YEI incubator space.  And look forward to seeing what comes next.

(While writing this post, I also noticed that Launch Capital has a few other joint-portfolio companies with Top Floor like PaperG and Continuity Engine.  Maybe a post for another time.)