March 2016

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I interviewed more than 100 entrepreneurs over the last few months as part of research into how our region can stay ahead of the curve in tech and innovation in the decades ahead.

I started with a simple question — yet heard surprisingly divergent answers.

The lack of uniformity concerns me, now more than ever. After all, there are terrific opportunities for our region when it comes to the application and development of technology. We have proven that we can literally make billions of dollars in this sector. However, to truly succeed in reaching the highest goals, we must first have consensus on what we are building towards.

The variability of answers is instructive. One entrepreneur even quipped, “Why are we even talking about ‘D.C. Tech’? Technology is everywhere. Companies with chief technology officers baffle me. Isn’t that kind of like having a chief electricity officer? It’s meaningless.”

Most of the interview subjects agree that…

 

Read entire column at WashingtonPost.com.

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Yesterday I had a group of my students participate in a group dynamics simulation. It’s a pretty standard one – a group is stranded in the dessert and needs to figure out which items to salvage from the crashed plane.  I am happy to report that my students now have sufficient training to prioritize items and perhaps survive in a desert environment.  And people suggest an undergraduate degree has no value….

Actually, the simulation is a very useful teaching tool, because it reveals important things about how people approach group decision making.  The process of group decision making is particularly relevant to startups, since they tend to have flat, consensus driven decision making structures, particularly in the seed and early stages.  Moreover, the vibe of startup formation, shaped by the hacker culture that spawned Jobs, Gates and the rest, tends towards consensus and inclusiveness.  Therefore, appreciation of the risks in group dynamics is an essential management tool for startup founders.

To understand group dynamics, you need first to appreciate that group behavior is very much shaped by…

Read entire blog post from April 12, 2012.

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ROME — “Déjà vu all over again” is a phrase attributed to Yogi Berra, the Yankee all-time great. He uttered it watching teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit back-to-back home runs repeatedly.

The malapropism was strangely apt as I walked through this Italian capital during a short holiday last week. It is a beautiful city, and one that I recommend highly for a break. Surrounded by the ruins of a 2,500-year-old culture, it got me thinking about our society and our democratic system.

We have a tendency in the United States to see ourselves as unique and exceptional. Different and better than all who came before. Yet spend some time wandering through the ruins of the Roman Forum, or the catacombs below the Coliseum, and you will realize we are not all that unique.

Everywhere in Rome, there are echoes of a highly advanced society similar to our own. Gladiators were backed by entrepreneurs, who trained them to triumph in the Coliseum. Romans lived in apartment buildings, and ate out at restaurants…

Read entire column at WashingtonPost.com.

 

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Last week I had an interesting experience.  I read an opinion piece in Bloomberg that struck a particular chord. The writer took a surprisingly altruistic viewpoint based upon his economic position and stature, and I was very much taken by this – at least more than I usually am by opinion pieces in Bloomberg (read my earlier posts on my feelings on financial punditry).  The writer provided his email address at the bottom of the post.

Knowing myself how a posting of an email address online results in an expediential increase in Viagra, Nigerian Prince and similar emails, I was even more impressed.  So, I wrote a short email, expressing my support for the writer’s position and his willingness to be publicly accountable for a viewpoint on a highly politicized issue.  In a fit of intellectual solidarity (up the policy wonks!), I hit the send button and turned off my computer for the night.

After a restful sleep worrying about the Euro, I went to my email over my morning coffee.  In my inbox was a response from my new friend.  I was pleased to receive it – who knew what other insights he would offer?  What witty response I would receive from my email?  I put off reading about Newt Gingrich’s latest attempt at redefining my reality and opened the email.  And, saw the following (paraphrased slightly):

“Thanks for your email.  I am happy that you read my piece in Bloomberg.  If you liked what I wrote you can buy my book “Everyone is a jerk but me.”   Here’s the link to buy the book on Amazon.  [And, by the way, this email is so obviously generated by an automatic response you shouldn’t expect that I ever read your email to me at all.]

Somehow I felt duped and deflated.  Was I expecting to start a new and wonderful relationship?  No, not really.  But, I was expecting something different from  what I got.  I had read an opinion piece that struck me as being written by someone who was principled.  On reflection, it was clearly…

Read entire blog post from December 11, 2011.

 

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Few topics in the world of entrepreneurship are subject to such meaningless nonsense than the concept of failure. You’ll know what I mean if you have had to sit through a glib TED Talk glorifying failure, or listened to a start-up savant tell entrepreneurs to “fail fast.”

Failure is not something to be sought, nor is it something to be trivialized into some sort of mantra. Failure stinks. Makes you sad. Keeps you up at night. And, is always a possibility when you are an entrepreneur.

Being an entrepreneur is to know that feeling of arriving home at the end of a horrible business day and thinking to yourself, “I cannot feel any more beaten down than I am at this moment.” And then, after a good night’s sleep, returning to the office the next day and realizing that you were wrong the night before. It is…

Read entire column at WashingtonPost.com.

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I read this article this morning in the Atlantic.  It suggested the importance of a founder to a company’s success.  It analogizes the success of Steve Jobs and Apple, as a jumping off point for a stronger correlation.  The underlying argument is that founders worry about the company’s best interest, while “professional” CEOs worry about the interests of the financial investors.  This is not a new trope, and very much plays into worn out saw that VCs grab the company and steal it from the founder.  In my experience, this dynamic is much more nuanced and deserves a clearer approach.

The relationship between the founder and the investor (particularly the lead investor) goes a long way to defining the ultimate success of an investment and the company.  There is not much debate about that – the challenge is…

 

Read entire blog from September 3, 2011.

 

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I am an entrepreneur, constantly working to advance my businesses and consistently supporting those seeking to grow theirs. In this current election cycle, political commentators describe with growing dismay the anger of the American electorate, and I am left wondering whether the pundits truly understand what is at the root of that anger.

Many blame issues of social values, race relations or income distribution. I‘ve got a different explanation.

For most of our history, political scientists have noted the importance of entrepreneurial opportunity to U.S. democracy, for an individual to positively affect his or her life through hard work. And the aspiration of self-determination through the sweat of one’s own brow sits at the heart of …

Read the entire column at WashingtonPost.com.

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Last week I was talking with an entrepreneur who was negotiating his initial financing for his most recent startup. He had a group of Angel investors that appeared ready to go, but he had a problem – a big one – his expectations for the valuation of his business didn’t match up with theirs. He had done all the right things: checked with many entrepreneurs, investors and experienced service providers as to appropriate valuations for businesses like his, proposed a convertible bridge structure and been cooperative in due diligence. I really couldn’t fault his approach.

As I listened to his story, and he told me what the investors were offering, I came away feeling that they were trying to rip him off. I told him…

Read entire blog post from February 7, 2011.

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