The Future That We Create

A financial instrument can be designed in the mind of a man that enslaves 10,000.  A weapons system can be designed in the mind of man that kills as many, if not many more.  As well, today’s productivity enhancements have the possibility of going two ways.  One of these directions can further separate and enslave people at a level that’s never been imagined before… or to liberate people from the world of work in a way never imaged before.  The question is what mental models are we operating in?  What mental models are we opening up that make it possible that our next technology moves end up liberating versus enslaving?  What part of our present simple historical economic understanding and the labels of the past (e.g. Socialism, Capitalism, Communism) must we break apart to develop a new, deeper understanding of the future that we can build together?  Its time to look beyond the past, to realize that we’re in a new world, and this new world is coming at an ever increasing rate.  Models of old don’t work here anymore.  Its time to wake up, and build anew the world that we want with the technology this is coming.

Inspired by the thinking of Buckminister Fuller

What Blocks Creativity and Innovativeness?

How do you help an entrepreneur (or anyone for that matter) be more innovative and creative?  You teach them to be vulnerable- vulnerable to failure by having them take risks.  Yet what blocks them from taking risks?  Dr. Brené Brown of the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work says that it is shame that blocks individuals from being vulnerable, whether in personal relationships, or in the actions that they take- many times not risking “failure” because of these views.  In the following TED talk, she speaks of “the power of vulnerability“, explaining that although the emotion guilt produces the internal response in a person “I did a bad thing” versus shame producing the internal response “I am a bad person”.  The reason that this is so key is because in the shame example, the individual has no way to redress the situation, therefore feeling trapped, many times having the individual squelch their abilities in trying to compensate for being incomplete.  As well I could imagine this also has the opposite effect, of having individuals go too far in trying to compensate as well- going to the point of unhealthy results that we see associated with many startup companies as well.

Here’s a link to the video:

For a quicker synopsis, and a personal snapshot, online performer Ze Frank  produced a very personal snapshot of how shame blocks his own creativity.  Here’s a personal snapshot, a bit shorter, that shares similar insight:

In my work with entrepreneurs (and myself) what this says for how to help them overcome the internal blocks that block many times block the individual entrepreneur (and therefore the startup).  I would posit to say that most “failures” at the early stage in startup development are not for some external set of circumstances- but internal ones.  Entrepreneurs can pivot their startups to success around roadblocks… but they have to be internally prepared for  doing so as much as being prepared with external resources (e.g. technology and funding).

The Arduino Open Source Hardware Revolution is Coming!

Around the Tech Ranch, we have recently had our first team launch a commercial startup based around the Arduino microcontroller.  What  is the Arduino?  Simply put, it is a microcontroller- a simple set of computer chips that are easy to program and configure for small projects- that either stand alone (e.g. like a robot) or are tied into other computers (e.g. like some external system tied to a computer).  The team that has launched the startup around Tech Ranch has not yet publicized their work… so I can’t tell you about that just yet… but it is exciting… for the “revolution” in this is that new hardware products can be made by entrepreneurs very inexpensively… allowing an ever increasing amount of innovation.

The following documentary gives a little bit of overview about the Arduino, including many projects that give you a flavor for the scope of this new technology platform.  Enjoy and imagine what you can build!  :-) (and go build it!)

Arduino the Documentary

Notes from Quantified Self 2012 Conference

I have spent the last few days at the Quantified Self Conference in Palo Alto, California. Quantified Self is an emerging movement that’s focused on opportunities at the intersection of low cost sensor technology plus health information, with big data analysis. What’s key is through having real time health information in the hands of the user, great strides in better health are possible. The areas strongest impact is that most of the leaders in this field are citizen-scientists versus being academic researchers, for the technology that are emerging are inexpensive and accessible.

This is an area that I invested in 1999, and started a startup in in 2001, although this was way before the maturity of the area. At the conference, where Austin was represented by myself with the Tech Ranch, as well as Kevin Callahan, founder and CTO of MapMyFitness, UT professor Neal Burns, and Skyler Thomas of IBM, you could feel the excitement of a fiend that is emerging into maturity. Although this conference had only 300 attendees, Google, Intel, Fujitsu, and several investment firms were represented, as well as many veteran Bay Area entrepreneurs.

It is my belief that Austin is well positioned for being a strong player in this emerging industry because of Austin’s historical capabilities in software and hardware engineering, its health conscious citizenry, startups that are leading the way like Map My Fitness, not to mention the coming UT Medical School. At the Tech Ranch, we’re paying particular attention to this area for future development, given the exiting promise of entrepreneurs that inexpensively provide to customers personalized health insight.

98% of the jobs available for students

Startups at Tech Ranch were in the news on KXAN tonight. 98% of the jobs that are available for graduating students are actually coming from startups and small business, not the Google’s of the world. In this segment from KXAN you’ll hear me talking about the job creation engine that startups represent to the community. Tech Ranch startup 5×5 is profiled, and Campus2Careers, who helps students find a pathway to startups and small business are profiled. One of our very talented interns Kathleen Hetrick (who has done great things for the startups around Tech Ranch also shares her insight about what it has meant to learn in a startup environment.  This reminds me when I was still a student when I joined NeXT Computer while a junior at the University of Texas at Austin. Great to have the video exposure of the great work being done by entrepreneurs around the Tech Ranch.

Watch the video here:

Small companies want college grads

Bleached Bones and Jumbled Residue

My reading tonight reminded me through the wise words of MLK Jr:

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilization are written the words, “Too late.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Beyond Vietnam- A Time to Break Silence

New York City, April 4, 1967

Coalescing a Community to take on World Challenges

This afternoon I’ve been allowing myself to look back at some of the ideas that I think most revolutionary for dealing with some of the problems/opportunities that the world faces right now.  It was while reading about halophytes, plants that can deal with salt water, that I came across a project that sheer audacity had me think to go deeper.  The Sahara Forest Project, yes, that is “Sahara Forest” not “Sahara Desert”, is a great example of how a small group of empowered individuals are using their intelligence and vision to take back the desert and turn it green again… a truly audacious vision.

The question, as I ponder the work that we’re doing at Tech Ranch Austin, is how to go further in supporting entrepreneurs to take on some of the most pressing needs. What’s needed to cultivate a community of entrepreneurs that not only take on building innovative startups, but they are empowered to take on the greatest challenges that face the earth… and through using their intelligence, vision, drive, whit, and passion, build the businesses that tackle these challenges?

We’ve stated seeing results from around the Ranch, with startups like OmniWater- with a technology that can purify water from the most harshest of conditions.  Wayne Wolf’s vision is a device, on the back of a 18 wheeler truck, that could be dropped into any area of the world to provide drinking water in disaster situations. Wayne’s company was an early startup at the Tech Ranch, and has recently gotten funded preparing them to go to the next level of growth and opportunity.

Secondly, Erine Grey, Founder and CEO of Aunt Bertha has been building a website that makes it easy to find food, health, housing, and employment programs for those in need.. .but instead of this being the non-profit model of the past, he’s building a business that makes it profitable to help those in need.

The Tech Ranch Community is emerging with entrepreneurs that are taking on audacious problems…. and I ask myself and our community- how do we go farther faster with greater impact?

I am proud that Tech Ranch and its community finds and supports these entrepreneurs that are pushing the boundaries for real world solutions. Starting a company isn’t easy. Every entrepreneur deserves support in the work that he/she is doing to better the world.  Its time to go beyond the loss of vision that has plagued the United States too long due to political strife and focus our attention to cultivating a community of entrepreneurs with the mutual support and the audacity to change the world for the better. Its time, this year, this day, this moment to go to the next level, and challenge ourselves further.  I ask for your contribution to this challenge. Time to build a greater future together.

Health, Juicing, and Vegetables

Over the last few years I have lost several family members and good friends to cancer.
As an entrepreneur that believes that almost anything is possible, I have used this time
to decide to explore possible preventatives or cures for cancer and diabetes… or at
least look perhaps to the fringe for solutions.

In my research, an interesting picture has emerged about the use of a (nearly) vegan
diet, and at times just pure vegetable juice as a tonic that lowers the susceptibility to
these ailments.

So today, I am just off a four day pure vegetable juice fast. For the last four days I have
had only vegetable juices four times a day, made out of some assortment of carrots,
beats, celery, wheat grass, kale, and spinach. I did not try to be exact in my choosing of
what was in each juice, nor did I try to time them exactly. The first one I made at home,
but subsequent ones I went to the Juice Spot, Whole Foods North, and Whole Foods

So here is my results: I felt great. I only had hunger pains on the second day, although I
think most of that was because of a very small amount of organic chocolate that I snuck
from a coworker. I went from 206.4 pounds to 198.8 pounds. I felt energized, and I
slept pretty well (which historically doesn’t always happen for me).

The surprising upside: I noticed that in a very short period of time, not only did I lose the
weight, but the athlete’s foot that I usually had disappeared. Moreover, with the medita-
tion classes that I take, I noticed (not sure if it is related or not) that I was able to medi-
tate deeper than I had been. The only downside, other than some hunger pains was
just the natural implication of not having any solid food in my system meant that visits to
the bathroom were different.

All in all, though, I have found a new practice that I will do again, and probably next time
for more time than I did this time.

So here’s some of the background material that might be of interest to watch and read
before embarking on this experiment:

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead (video)
In this documentary, Joe Cross, the show’s host, takes 60 days across the US, juicing
all of the way. He and several of the persons profiled in the movie lose significant
weight and stop having to take medication for the health conditions that they have.

The Gerson Method (video)
Dr Max Gerson, a doctor that was practicing in the 1930s is profiled with the method
used to save countless lives. The video is definitely dated, and will be somewhat wonky
for a modern audience, but still for a curious mind looking into diet, this method is inter-
esting enough to consider.

The China Study (book)
In the China Study author Dr. T. Colin Campbell states in a fairly rigorous, verifiable
method how the percentage of animal protein in one’s diet directly affects susceptibility
to cancer. One study shows that a 5% milk protein diet for laboratory mice is cancer
resistant, while 20% or more milk protein in the diet is cancer susceptible. Furthermore,
Dr. Campbell shows data that he was able to collect in conjunction with the Chinese
government in 19YY that this trend is shown in humans as well across a variety of dis-

Forks Versus Knives (movie)
In this documentary, Dr. T. Colin Campbell from the China Study and Dr. Caldwell B. Es-
selstyn, Jr,team up to show how both of their practices (one as a researcher, the other as
a heart surgeon) line up on the incidents of heart disease and other diseases… sug-
gesting a diet that is mainly vegetables with a little bit of meat (significantly less than
what is normal in the American diet) is the best bet for long term good health.

All in all, this little experiment that I have done over that few days has been an interest-
ing delve into fasting with a juice diet. Certainly I’ll try it again, if for only the significant
decrease in athlete’s foot, if not also the weight loss. Perhaps as well, given that I be-
lieve a lot of what I heard in the book and documentaries above, there will also be an
entrepreneurial opportunity that I’ll find in this self research as well.

LIfe’s an experiment… I’ll keep on experimenting. Let me know if you do as well. Here’s to our health!

More thoughts about Steve

There’s been a lot of conversation about Steve Jobs passing on the ex-NeXT email list (the former employees of NeXT Computer, Inc.).  I shared the following perspective in response to Steve sometimes being a harsh person to deal with. I think that in some ways, this harsh background was part of my training ground for being an entrepreneur.  Given that this perspective has been helpful for me, I repost this set of thoughts here to thank my teachers, whether they were on the martial arts mat, or in the office.


I’d like to share a whole different perspective- maybe that will be useful.

In 20+ years of studying Japanese martial arts, I’ve had a handful of sensei’s.  Sensei is an informal term of appreciation of “teacher” (in my translation and understanding).  The way that I interpret “sensei” does not mean “guru”.  In some of the training situations that I’ve been in, I’ve gotten physically hurt in the interaction (broken nose, broken foot, separated shoulder, ripped up wrist, and others over 20 years of practice).  Why, if I was getting hurt, would I ever go back?  Its because the training was yielding something deeper for me in my development and accomplishment.  In fact, I feel lucky, for the one time that my training was called upon in real life on the street, I made it out ok… but that was probably because of the pounding of preparation that I had in all of that time on the mat.
The key item, though, is that there was respect. I can’t tell you that I “liked” my sensei’s…. but in the midst of the punishment of the intensity of the situation, there was always respect.
When I think of my time at NeXT, which has shaped my life in a major way, I think to this notion- that there was at some level a type of respect that was always present.  In striving for a greater goal, this was present (both on the mat, and in this case at NeXT).  Certainly, I was farther away from the fire being in the field as an SE for NeXT… (although I can tell you of a few customer visits that were not the most pleasant of experiences… I’ll never forget the time that we were demoing to the Minister of Education of Mexico and Steve walks into the room and drops a hand grenade….)
I guess to sum it up, the reason that I feel gratitude for the experience of working with all of y’all, even in the crappy shitty times was this mutual development, mutual growth experience.  What brought “color” to my experience there was not that I liked the experience… but that pushing that I’ve only felt the likes of on the martial arts mat (mainly the Aikido mat) was meaningful because it was so developmental…. a heady experience getting to “change the world” for a kid straight out of college… and to believe that it was possible then, enables me in my work to this day to daily make that charge yet again in my present day work.
Looking forward to connecting with y’all, and raising a glass to remember Steve together,

Will there be another Steve Jobs?

A handful of us that worked for Steve Jobs in the past were quoted in this article at

I have great gratitude for the opportunity to work with Steve and everyone else at NeXT Computer from 1989-1993.  Thank you Steve for instilling in me the belief that a small group of us can change the world for the better.

Returning to Chile- moving forward with projects

You might know of the work that I started in Chile in 2003 – which was to become the basis of Tech Ranch Austin- the “Enterprise Teaming” (trademark!) framework that I originally took to Chile so many years ago.  Well the Tech Ranch Austin has been growing, and we’re starting to duplicate this framework and our more polished insight back to Chile. Last year, I was in Antofagasta, Chile for the launch of Region Fertil- a project that has been started to invigorate innovation and entrepreneurship in Antofagasta.  I’ll be working with my colleagues from G&L and Gulliver- and am looking forward to seeing many of my friends in Chile.

Given as we’ve been unpacking at the new Tech Ranch Austin (we moved a few weeks ago) and we launched the Austin Startup Bazaar with 30 startups presenting, and over 350 people in attendance, I am getting this info out late about my travel plans, so I’d figure I’d share it directly here – for coordination purposes.  Here’s generally my schedule- let me know via twitter, email, or US phone or Chilean phone at + to coordinate getting together while I am in Chile.

Sep 25th: Sunday Austin – Santiago

Sep 26th: Monday Meetings in Santiago

Sep 27th: Tuesday Santiago – Antofagasta- Meetings in Antofagasta

Sep 28th: Wednesday Antofagasta

Sep 29th: Thursday Antofagasta – Santiago

Sep 30th: Friday Meetings in Santiago

Oct 1st: Saturday Fun around Santiago

Oct 2nd: Santiago flying out in the evening

Oct 3rd: return to Austin in the morning

What are we working on? We’ll be following up on building teaming opportunities between networks of entrepreneurs both in Antofagasta, Santiago, and Austin.  (We’ll be showing off some of our results at SXSW2012 by the way).  Here’s to strengthening entrepreneurship by working together.  I’m excited to return to Chile, for that’s where this whole process began for me.

Conformity vs Discipline

In the workplace as in many parts of life, I have found that there’s a simple distinction that guides what I tell many a new entrepreneur into their first startup.  This distinction is conformity versus discipline.  Being an employee requires that the individual conforms to someone else’s directions. Day by day activities are directed by someone else.  Results are beget from following structures set up by someone else… and at the end of the day, or a 40 hour workweek, many times the employee may step away from work, leaving behind whatever results have been achieved, and thinking about other things.

The entrepreneur has a different scenario.  Many times there are no structures that have been set up by anyone else, requiring the entrepreneur to set them up.  It takes discipline to set the directions that a startup will go. It takes discipline to get up in the morning, especially when demotivated because of present results, to go at it again. It takes discipline at the end of the day to somehow quiet the voices of undone task, doing one’s best to mentally walk away from work that needs to be completed for that day’s rest. It takes discipline to not allow success to go to one’s head, but instead, maintain a humble approach that keeps the entrepreneur’s eyes open for the next opportunity, or the next threat.

Either way, choosing the path of conformity or discipline, there is a choice that must be made, and a willingness to pay the price of that choice.

Lemons, meet lemonade

One of the biggest issue that every entrepreneur must face is dealing with the “down” times… times when something (possibly) negative has happened, that distracts him/her from the key objective that they were focused on, to dealing with the unexpected.

The recent Tech Ranch Move, which was unexpected, is exactly that.

Yes, we had a year extension on our lease. We’d negotiated so that it was possible to keep our present location (which was not perfect for us by any means, because of many limitations) for at least a year longer.  Then we were told that the group that we were subleasing from had their lease terminated.

It was “tragic” and “distracting” and many other words.  It was ill timed. Not what I wanted to focus on. Yet now, on the eve of signing a new lease, I see it as a gift.  Perhaps some greater consciousness (or whatever) telling me to “grow the Tech Ranch Austin” up.  It was time.

The present location that we’re at was not working for the Tech Ranch Austin for quite a while. We’d have Campfires of 65 people that just did not work at our present location.  The AC didn’t work good enough.  Everyone was cramped.  And it was  a hard location to find.

But at this point, before I announce the new location, I can tell you, the process of being forced to focus on something that I really was not ready to focus on has been a net positive.  We’re moving, and no matter which of the locations that we pick to move to, we’re going to be moving to a better place.  A place that we’re going to be able to handle our mission so much better than before.  Each location that is on the top 3 locations is massively better than where we’re at now.  What’s so interesting is how blind to how much better it could be that I was.

So as I write this, I say “Lemons, meet lemonade”.  Life’s lessons in entrepreneurship have taught me that “change” is not so simple as “good” or “bad”.  I am thankful for the help that you’ve all given to me as I’ve looked to finding the next Ranch location.  All I can say at this point is that I am excited, for it is looking very good.

It is through the community that the faithless have become the faithful. Thank you for your support! (and thanks for continuing to make our mission possible!)

People Over 35 Have Recently Launched 80% Of Startups

Interesting to read the following article- given that so many young entrepreneurs get press for high flying Internet startups- but quietly in the background older entrepreneurs are building high growth, heavy innovation startups.  See the following for details:

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, people over the age of 35 made up 80 percent of the total entrepreneurship activity in 2009. That same year, the Kauffman Foundation conducted a survey of 549 startups operating in “high-growth” industries — including aerospace, defense, health care, and computer and electronics — and found that people over 55 are nearly twice as likely to launch startups in these industries.

via People Over 35 Have Recently Launched 80% Of Startups.

Why Some People Have More Luck Than Others

The following article talks about how certain entrepreneurs affect how “lucky” they are in business success.  Its a really interesting read, with a simple meditation (see the quote below).

They are the people who say to themselves: I am humble enough to say I don't know how to make better/perfect happen on my own; I am curious and courageous enough to ask questions that might help make something closer to perfect; and finally I embrace the “glass half-full” optimism that the end result can always be improved, so let me act towards that objective.

via Why Some People Have More Luck Than Others.

May we all learn to create luck in our startups.

Doug Erwin’s Wisdom

Doug Erwin, Former Chairman and CEO of The Planet gave the closing keynote today at today’s Rice Alliance 8th Annual Information Technology / Web Venture Forum.  He’s been very successful across multiple ventures over the last 35 years. I felt so compelled by his wisdom that I wanted to share it here. Here’s his 12 points:
  • Solve a Customer’s Real Problem: one that actually exist:  ”If you can’t see what John Brown needs through John Brown’s eyes, you can’t sell what John Brown buys”.
  • Constantly Question and Modify Plans
  • Hire the Best. one can never have too much talent.  you can only make 10-15 decisions a day. hire the right people to make more.
  • Hire an Experienced Management Team. There’s no time for “learning on the job”.
  • Stay Focused. It’s too easy to stray.
  • Learn Something New Every Day….. your competitor is…  What did you learn today?
  • Ultimately, You Must Make a Dollar.  Sooner is better than later.
  • Build and Protect your Reputation…  you will be considered for many opportunities and never know it. Executive intelligence: cultivate it.
  • Good Communications Skills: this will raise your chances of success. Listening is as important as talking (its not just about speaking). Get out of your office… and do “Walkabouts”.  Manager meetings on Monday 7:30 am. What happened last week? What happens this week? Now go communicate this to the rest of the company?  Listen to the unspoken.
  • Great Company Culture.  This will solve attrition and retention issues. You can not create it, you must have it evolve.  Create risk compensation plans for all. Develop your own “bell” [e.g. for ringing when there's a sale].  Create an opportunity where people get to contribute beyond their direct responsibilities.
  • Leadership…. the glue that holds it together.  Camelot Rules: “we’re in this together”. Situational Leadership Rules- don’t treat people all the same- they’re all different.
  • Being Lucky Helps. Where opportunity means preparation.
  • Successful business leaders recognize opportunities, pursue the right ones, overcome obstacles, manage potential risk.  People don’t trip on mountains, they trip on small rocks.

Great event today, and great closing keynote, with great wisdom.  Glad to get to participate today.

Opportunities Connecting Worlds

Many have asked me what’s brought me to Chile this time.  As I sit here in Antofagasta, Chile, I wanted to share this recent New York Times article that frames in the discussion.  Power in the 21st century is about networks. Over the next 10 years.  The individuals, companies, and nations that have the strongest networks will define the age.  Its critical to continually build these networks. I am in Chile to assist entrepreneurs in Austin, Antofagasta, and Santiago to connect, create strong relationships, and do business with each other… and through this, transform each location.

Opportunities come from all over the world.  In my business, I’ve known this since I started my first company, for my “first dollar earned” was actually a peso from Mexico.  As we forge and create into the future, the world we’re building as entrepreneurs will be about being connected together. Its not just a naive vision of the future, its good business, especially given that $40 billion will be invested in Antofagasta over the next 10 years.

The Travis County Court System is Broken

Over the last few days I have come to believe that the system is broken.

Some of you know that I was assaulted last February 2009. The last year and a half has been a healing experience for me. Its also taught me to be patient as I thought the court system would move forward with bringing my attackers to justice. Today, and over the last few days, I’ve come to realize, though, how the court system is broken.

Here’s the story:  on June 21, 2010, one year and four months later, I was witness to a car wreck. A young girl ran her Honda into the back of a truck at the intersection of Andersen and Mopac.  I was the first on the scene; called 911, and spent some time with her, trying to calm her nerves as well as help stop some of the bleeding.  It was a graphic situation, so much so that I wrote a thought about it here, not knowing what else to do to express what had happened. Other than the girl’s injuries, no one else was injured.

Its four months later, and the Travis County Courthouse has called me in with a subpoena requesting that I be present at her court case as a witness to what happened.  Here’s the rub: how is it that the courts can get to a DWI case so quickly, when there’s a criminal assault case, with four attackers, including one that’s already been detained by the police that’s now over one year eight months old?  How is it that our Travis County Court can pursue the DWI case on a young woman (that I don’t know if she was intoxicated or not, but I see no previous criminal intent on her part) yet the system has not aggressively pursued the gang that had criminal intent?

Some photos that you might not want to see for they are graphic.

Self photo after the attack.

Photo after surgery.

APD knows who the attackers are; they stopped one of them, yet let him go.

(The attending physician at Breckenridge said that the cut and bone fracture on my nose happened because I was hit with a piece of metal- brass knuckles or a ring).  Its important to share as well- I’ve not been reimbursed yet for my medical expenses, and I am still chasing this down as well through a very slow State of Texas system. (By law, criminal victims are entitled to be reimbursed for medical expenses while the Court pursues the criminals).

Thankfully I was able to walk away from the attack. With the lack of the Court’s actions, though, you have to ask yourself who this gang has since attacked, and why is it that the Court has not aggressively pursued criminals while it has time to pursue a young woman that didn’t have criminal intent.

Without justice, there can be no peace. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Friday Evening Experiments” fetch Nobel Prize

It doesn’t take much time to profoundly impact science and the world.  Dr. Konstantin Novoselov devoted 10% of his time to “crazy things that probably won’t pan out”. One of these experiments did… that he’s now being recognized with the Nobel Prize.

The style of Geims lab which Im keeping and supporting up to now is that we devote ten percent of our time to so-called “Friday evening” experiments. I just do all kinds of crazy things that probably won’t pan out at all, but if they do, it would be really surprising. Geim did frog levitation as one of these experiments, and then we did gecko tape together.

via Konstantin Novoselov Interview – Special Topic of Graphene –

Reconnecting with Chile

Its hard to ever know how seeds once planted will grow.

This and next week represent an exciting reconnection of my work with Chile.  For context, in 2003, I took an early version of what was to become the blueprint of Tech Ranch Austin to Chile.  I was convinced that I needed to open the next door of my life, in not just starting yet another tech startup, but instead, starting a platform, some might say a revolution :-), of startups working together.

Its exciting to see how these seeds have grown. Two really quick areas that I’ll mention here.  This next Thursday, Paige Brown, Founder and CEO of Tripeezy heads to Chile, as one of the winners of Startup Chile.  Startup Chile is a program where the government of Chile is investing money in her startup.

Secondly, three executives are coming from Chile- two from Antofagasta- where the major copper mines of the world area, and another long term colleague and friend coming from Santiago.  We’ll be talking about specific technologies that the executives from Antofagasta are looking for.  Moreover, we will explore ways to shape the innovation culture of Antofagasta in specific, and Chile more generally.

I am excited because the work that originally took me to Chile, including perhaps the simple concepts, and my naive understanding of these concepts and my work has now blossomed into a much bigger opportunity that includes many businesses and early stage entrepreneurs.  Feeling like a proto-entrepreneur for the Startup Chile program (before there was a program years ago) its exciting to see doors open where there were once walls and a bunch of dreams.

Entrepreneur: your light, and your responsibility

Entrepreneurs…. this is a call as a reminder… there’s no small game to play with regard to being an entrepreneur.  I’ve often been told of the following quote from Marianne Williamson (often attributed to Nelson Mandela) where Marianne tells us flat out to stop playing a small game.  In the words of a spiritual butt-kicking, here’s her quote.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Now there’s another side to this… and anyone that’s been a successful, reflective entrepreneur knows that this is true.  There’s no place to hide when it comes to not playing small.  Whether or not you get the spiritual side to this quote above, there’s the cold hard facts, in a business context, that if its to be, its up to you, the entrepreneur.

Building a business, or a socially focused non-profit, or whatever your venture might be… there’s no place to hide whether or not you get there.  I’ve often thought that this could be a perceived downside to the quote above.  Marianne is calling us to a higher level… yet, if an entrepreneur doesn’t make it to his / her goals, there’s a litany of reasons that they did not make it… but the buck stops with the entrepreneur.

Listen to Marianne. Reach for the skies.  Pull out all of the stops.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  And realize that if you make it, or not, is your responsibility.  Show your light. Don’t hide it. Be willing to risk not making it.  Be willing to be responsible for whatever happens, good, bad, or ugly.  Once you’ve felt the power of the stretch feeling of going for it, then and only then will you understand as well the power of being responsible for making things happen. And once you’ve felt this feeling, you’ll be drawn to turn your light on even brighter.

Keep your eye on the Prize

A recent discussion around the Bootstrap Austin Network is worthy of sharing here, for it rings true for every entrepreneur trying to make a difference through his/her venture.  An entrepreneur was contemplating legal action on an issue that was not core to his business.  Several entrepreneurs got into the discussion. Barry Thorton, founder of Clear Cube and several other successful companies, admonished though to “keep your eye on the Prize”.  Be true to the core of the business you’re building, and blow off all other issues that are not core to the business (especially in the case of considering legal action on something that did not protect the core of the business).  Here’s a small excerpt from his statement:

This story of yours suggests that you have guided yourself far afield from your business.

I always push the MLK saying  “Keep your eye on the Prize”.

I would suggest that you have drifted far from that Prize and you are now asking others time to join you in that pursuit.

You know what your Prize is, you have been pursuing it for years.

Does this seriously threaten that Prize?

How much time have you spent on this and how has it gotten you closer to the Prize?

Relax, tend your field, it is your Prize.  Don’t get distracted, it will only cause pain.

Good luck, Barry

I think that many of us as entrepreneurs, as we are passionately slaving towards a goal, loose sight of the prize that we’re working towards.  As an example, around the Tech Ranch Austin, recently I recognized that one of our entrepreneurs, who is passionate about serving persons that have diabetes, was talking about how to go get investors here, and investors there… yet had yet to just serve the constituency that he is passionate about.  He’s now has the first 10 diabetics that he is serving… and the business has taken on a whole new tone of possibilities.  It does not matter what the distraction is… anything that is not core to the business can distract you from the Prize (as it has me too). Keep your eye on the prize.  Build your business.  Create success for yourself, and those that you serve. And through doing this, you’ll be making the world a better place.

Getting your startup out of Starbucks

There’s a recent article that several people have forwarded to me given that it rings true to what I am talking about around the Tech Ranch Austin all of the time…  Called Getting your startup out of Starbucks, James Reinhart has a point that he’s singing to the choir (me) about.

The whole point here about this idea is that although certain entrepreneurs might be able to be successful in working out of coffee shops 100% of the time, I’ve seen a need that for tech entrepreneurs that are building companies (not just freelancer businesses) need a dojo / community of practice / incubator to really make things happen fast in their businesses. Working in at a coffee shop alone (or just working out of their houses) limits what’s possible for the company.

I am going to take my own spin at James’ list of four points, and add three that I see a specific spin at around the Tech Ranch Austin.

1.  Not as productive.  Distractions abound in a coffeeshop or at home.  Either way, if you are constantly being distracted, you’re not going to be able to get into the deep concentration that you need for thinking and cranking in building your startup

2. Virtual tools are poor substitutes to the office. Humans have been getting together working around specific physical locations since the beginning of history.  Humans have evolved to work together. As James points out, virtual tools are poor substitutes for face to face interaction. Use virtual tools as supplements, not substitutes to having a real office.

3. Separate work from play. I love my work around the Tech Ranch (and many of the startiups that I’ve been a part of over the years)…. Yet, I’ve learned the hard way that its critical to separate work-play from just the play of being at my home or being at a coffee shop for just having a cup of coffee with a friend.  Make sure to separate your workspaces from your pure playspaces, and your brain will have more capability to produce.

4.  Cheaper than a $4 latte. So anyone that reads my twitter feed knows that I love mochas.  Yet in trying to work at a coffee shop, buying a bunch of lattes or mochas, you’re going to spend more money than you will for having an office or access to one of the new type of incubator or co-working spaces that are developing around Austin or around the world.  And if you are at the Tech Ranch, you’re sure to get caught up in some strong biases towards even higher quality coffee than you’ll get at many coffeeshops!

5.  Leverage the community. Heard of the “water cooler effect”?  That is, at a larger company how stuff happens around the water cooler where two people randomly run into each other and then some new idea comes out of that interaction?  These types of interactions can happen anywhere… but in an environment like at Tech Ranch, we’ve wired the place to produce daily random productive interactions.  Community members around the Ranch know that creating the water cooler effect is one of the reasons that they are there…. and so its natural that we see interactions every day that are producing results that would not have happened any other way.

6.  Leverage experts. Around many of the accelerators like YCombinator or Tech Ranch we’ve collected experts that have a lot of scar tissue… who’ve been there, done that, and perhaps they’ve learned the hard way… An environment like Tech Ranch might just create the right conversation with the person that’s been there and screwed it up before so that you, in building your startup, can avoid the pitfalls, and learn from their mistakes without having to make your own mistakes. (and I say this as an entrepreneur that’s been screwing up things since 1994.  Let me tell you- I can help keep your startup out of some of the screwups that I’ve done).

7. Leverage both. Ok, so as I write this, I am sitting in a coffee shop, having a mocha, and enjoying having a slight different change of pace.  There’s no reason to have a strick either or decision concerning being in an incubator / accelerator and enjoying a coffee every once in a while for a change of pace.

The real challenge is moving as quickly as possible with as few resources as possible in building out your company.  Come try out the Tech Ranch and see how it effects your progress on your startup. Or, if you have one of these places in Central Texas or around the world, initiate a conversation with us.  We’re putting together the playbook that shows how to take these interactions to the next level. As well, for the entrepreneur at the Tech Ranch Austin we’re fairly liberal about making the risk and barrier for entry low (we ask for 30 days notice).  In 30 days at one of these locations, you’ll notice a major positive difference.  That’s my commitment to you at the Tech Ranch.  Building a company alone and isolated is hard.  Come crank on it with others to really make things happen fast on your startup.

The First Shot Fired in the Next American Revolution

One of the great things about being a connector is that I get to listen in across many different people- what they are saying, what they are finding interesting, and if there is any correlation among these topics of conversation.

Recently, there’s been one meme that has gotten tweeted and talked about by quite a few people, that till now, I did not think had any connection to each other.

And what this meme represents is what I believe is the first shot in the next American Revolution.

No, I am not talking about some group trying to send someone to some new political office.  As you might know, I was (and still am) in support of the choice I made in supporting President Obama…. yet, there’s something much more fundamental happening… and this represents the start of something revolutionary.

To steal a phrase from John Robb: “an aware citizenry can defend itself.  Up to this time, every time some issue has come up, there’s been a question of turning to the government for a solution.  Yet, given what’s happened in the Congress for so many years, whether a Republican or a Democrat in the Oval Office, the citizenry I believe has now come to learn that the government is in itself fundamentally broken.

And by broken, what do I mean?  From John Robb’s article:

  • Median male incomes today are the same as they were in 1974 in the US (and likely all over the western world).  No progress has been made despite a doubling of productivity and massive top line GDP growth. Worse, given that female incomes aren’t on par with male incomes yet, the typical American family makes much less per hour worked than in 1974.
  • All of the requirements for entry into the middle class are now private expenses.  From health care to a college education, if you can’t afford the minimum (let alone high quality versions), you aren’t allowed entry.  Worse, those expenses are spiraling out of control at rates many times the rate of inflation.  Nothing is being done to address this.
  • The system is geared to make us fail.  Not only has outsourcing/off-shoring just started (everything that can be moved offshore to take advantage of the arbitrage opportunity in wage disparities between western and workers in developing countries will be) we are being laden with un-repayable debt. To wit: there’s been NO job growth in the last decade (despite tens of millions in population growth) and total debt from all sources is still near ALL time historical highs.

Whethere the  mishandling of healthcare reform,  security theater in the airports, or spending billions on companies that shouldn’t be bailed out, or trillions on a war that should have never been started, Americans are starting to speak out in a way that we’ve not done for a long while.  And recognize its the aware populace that’s been taking care of business. The genie is out of the bottle.

Although I might not be happy about the waste by our government, as an entrepreneur, and an American, I’m excited that some of my fellow Americans are waking up and starting the process that will reform, dare I say revolutionize this country again.   It is time to take up web browser, account ledger, and social network and remake our country.  There’s too much at stake, for “every revolution begins with the power of an idea” and this is an idea who’s time has come.