Spinning the Globe

As many of you know I’m a pretty prolific travel and adventure junkie, especially since leaving Akamai late last year. In less than 12 months I’ve made it to Spain, Japan, Greece, Iceland, Greenland, Hawaii (twice), France (twice), Obama Inauguration, Australia, Portugal, Cape Verde, Senegal. Good times, great friends, epic adventures.

One of the most interesting trips is an annual pilgrimage I make with The Random Travelers Society. The Random Travelers Society is a 3 year old organization made up of 12 technology entrepreneurs from around the world who love adventure travel. Here’s the big idea:

Location Selection

At each year’s destination, one of the members throws up an inflatable globe. Another member catches the globe, and yet another, with his eyes closed, points on the globe with a marker.

Wherever that marker lands, we go to the nearest point of civilization that has a pub or bar. So far we’ve gone to the Chatham Islands, New Zealand, Tasiilak, Greenland, Antarctica, and Sal, Cape Verde. Next year’s locale: Mar Del Plata, Argentina.

The location selection algorithm above is biased toward unpopulated areas in general, and strongly tilted toward isolated, unpopulated islands. Think about it: densely populated areas take up a very small land area on the globe (as opposed to non-densely populated areas) and any water landing – water making up 70% of the earth’s surface—will go to the nearest land mass—i.e., an island.

Finding a date

Finding a date has to happen early. We try to lock in a date a year in advance so that we don’t have crazy conflicts with the 12 society members to coordinate. We basically look at weather, events going on locally, members’ availability, etc.

Staging Location

When you’re going to far flung places around the globe, there is typically 1 or 2 cities that are suitable “jump-off” points. We call them staging locations, and we usually spend a few days to a week at a staging location. Staging points can be great to get to know the region better, and can also be a great half-way-house as you go in and out of some far-off remote location. For our most recent trip to Cape Verde, we had two staging locations: Lisbon, Portugal, and Dakar, Senegal. I met up with fellow RTS member Paul Bragiel in Lisbon beforehand and closed out the trip with a group of RTS’ers in Dakar, Senegal after the main event in Cape Verde. Lisbon was a great last piece of civilization on our way in, and Dakar greatly enriched the trip as it allowed us to dive deeper into Africa on our way out. Last year we all went to Reykjavik, Iceland before wandering off into the wilderness of Tasiilaq, Greenland

So, you go to a crazy random locale… AND??

The purpose of RTS is to visit truly random locations.. locations that are likely on NOBODY’s must-go-to-list. But once we get there, we look to connect with high profile local dignitaries, entrepreneurs, professors, artists and the like. Yes, this is a vacation, but it is also a cultural and entrepreneurial exchange of sorts.

The idea is that from the moment you hit the ground (even in the staging areas), you want to dive into the region’s culture, its business community and its education and government leadership. What better way than this to meet really interesting locals and dive into the local scene? Doing this right takes SERIOUS prep work (a HUGE shout out to Paul who is an international business networking PHENOM)

  • You’ve got to dig deep into LinkedIn for your connections in a region
  • Google searching to find out who’s who in that country.
  • Prolific email networking and follow-up
  • SNAIL MAIL. Yes, get your envelopes and stamps out. A personal letter to your ambassador or a business leader can make a huge difference. And once you’ve got them in the loop, use their know how to help you spread further.

Ultimately, you should have a dinner scheduled for every evening you’re in town. Here’s a list of a few of the amazing folks we met up with (i.e. lots of drinks and dinners) on our West African trip:

  • U.S. Ambassador to Portugal
  • U.S. Ambassador to Cape Verde
  • Foreign Minister of Cape Verde

  • Former Communications Secretary of Cape Verde
  • Spoke to professors and students at Praia University
  • Several famous Cape Verdean artists & musicians
  • Managing Director of Senegal’s largest bank

Adventures Galore & Turning the dial up

At the end of the day RTS is about travel adventures with other like-minded people, in our case technology entrepreneurs. We make sure to take some down time and hang out, talking shop, jamming on new ideas and life. But at the end of the day we’re constantly looking out for adventurous times. We like to ask ourselves the question, “How do we turn the dial up?” The answer has ranged from creating a flashmob Reykjavik house party to attending an inspiring music concert with diplomats and dignitaries in Cape Verde’s congressional hall, to virtual anarchy on the street markets of Dakar (and a whole lot in between).

For me RTS has been about making the Flat World my world, and living life as an experience. The more stories I come home with, the better the trip. And taking a week or two a year to change your environment in an extreme way to see the world differently… that’s living. The great thing is anybody can create their own Random Traveler’s Society. Giddy up!! Get your globes out. We’ll see you in Argentina next year! :)

African Tricks & Myths

As many of my Twitter followers know, I made it out to West Africa at the beginning of June and just returned last week. I spent most of my time in Cape Verde and Senegal and loved every minute of it. While there I met with diplomats (including 2 U.S. Ambassadors), dozens of entrepreneurs, spoke at a university and saw the sites. Not a bad way to go (definitely have to come up with some goal for number of U.S. ambassadors I can have a drink and fist bump with). Below are some fun anecdotes and tips from the lighter side of my West Africa travels.

#1 Fist Bump Origination

No matter what Wikipedia says, the fist bump DID NOT originate in the United States. EVERYBODY in West Africa does the fist bump, from casual gatherings to business functions. They even do a Sammy Sosa-like bash to the chest/heart after bashing with their “brother” (brother is used generally to describe a friend or someone you are aligned with in some way). The stylish West African fist-bump is WAY too widespread and natural for this to have been brought from the just-getting-on-board-the-fist-bump-wagon-U.S.A. I’ll make sure to forward this to Michael Arrington as Africa may be a good place for him to do *ALL* of his business meetings.

#2 Fittest City in the World

Every day in Dakar, at about 5pm the rush hour starts, and it doesn’t end until about 8pm. But this is not your typical car-induced traffic jam. Dakar sits along the coast and has its own Pacific Coast Highway. The difference w/ this traffic jam is that during rush hour there are more people along the side of that highway than cars in some stretches. This 20 mile long crowd isn’t leisurely walking home from work. They aren’t even briskly walking to do their daily grocery shopping. No, this group looks like they just jumped out of a Nike ad in their workout gear and their insanely toned ripped bodies and are all getting in their daily jog in 90-100 degree heat. I’d estimate that there are 10’s of thousands of runners along the highway on any given afternoon. Along some stretches on the beach, you’ll see a mass of maybe 500-1000 runners tightly huddled together running in unison. Also dotted along Dakar’s coastline are mini-gyms with simple equipment on the side of the highway. It’s normal to see pushup/pullup contests, bench press & weights (they use tires instead of iron plates). I’m not sure if researchers include Dakar in their surveys of fittest cities in the world, but I am 100% positive Dakar wins against all comers.

#3 Surfing is epic

Why doesn’t anybody talk about Africa surf? It’s all there. For the kitesurfers and windsurfers, there are steady wind havens all over the place. I personally spent my time at a windsurfing world tour site in Cabo Verde (aka Cape Verde) about 300 miles off of the west coast of Africa. The weather is some of the most consistent you’ll see anywhere. As it sits off of the Saharan coast, it has Saharan desert characteristics with archipelago ocean moderation. Cabo Verde brings consistent year-round temperatures at 80-85 F with low humidity. In fact, one of the locals told me they had seen it rain only a couple times in the last 2-3 years. Beautiful waves that range from the tame 3 footer to the much larger. And of course the host of a Surf World Championship Event at Ponto Preta (pics here. Can you say year-round surf-athon??

#4 Marketplace madness

Do we have any garage sale aficionados (umm @garyvee where you at)? Any flea market fans? Any gnarly negotiation fiends? You’re not going to like what I’m about to say, but you all definitely need to hear it. You are all AMATEURS. Can you be an All-American basketball player if you’ve never been to March Madness? Can you call yourself a real pro-golfer if you’ve only seen the Master’s on TV? The answer is a resounding ‘NO’ and that’s why all you street market fiends are still in the bush leagues. Because, as far as I can tell, Dakar is the Mecca of Street Market Madness and if you haven’t been there, well… you just need to. I’ll provide you with a couple anecdotes in case you make the pilgrimage:

Boo-Boo Extravaganza (warning: not for the timid or faint of heart)—When you first arrive at the downtown street market (ideally with a few travel buddies—i.e. more fresh meat for the vendors), walk down one of the streets and loudly announce to all that can hear you that you are in the market to buy a Boo-Boo. Now for those of you that don’t know, a boo-boo is the traditional African dress for men . It’s the ideal African tourist high-margin product. You should be walking as you say this—this will get you more coverage, and your movement will make the vendors nervous that you’re going to leave. Quickly several boo-boo vendors, ad-hoc brokers for boo-boos, sisters and brothers who know someone who sells boo-boos—they’ll all come out of nowhere to meet your every Boo-Boo desire. Now slow down and stop and let the rush of people settle down a bit, and then ask for the best price of a Boo-Boo, and then start walking again. Get really animated when you get your first price and tell them that they’re crazy and wave your arms, etc. Next, yell out a low-ball price (at least 1/5 of their ask), and start walking away. At this point you should have at least 20 people chasing you down the street. These guys will be yelling at you to visit their “factory” (i.e. their small shop), and b/c things are so competitive, they’ll also start yelling at and pushing each other. Eventually people will start grabbing you and try to physically restrain you, and that’s when you start running down the street.

Dakar Markets in style – take the coolest guy in the crowd that you just ran away from, and offer to hire him for $5 to take you around the markets for a few hours. Tell him his job is to:

a) show you all the awesome stuff in the Dakar street markets

b) help you negotiate on various transactions (a local can get the negotiations started much lower and you waste less time bluffing, calling bluffs as you get down to the best price

c) keep crazy vendors away from you.

Startup Seed Raising Skilzzz

A bunch of companies I’m involved in have gone for seed funding in the last few months. After one of them asked for the ultra-warrior-l33t-skillz, I thought I’d put this post up and break it down.

If any of you are raising your first startup or seed money, this is a must read. Would love to hear any of your stories/feedback in the comments on this post…

Priming the pump: How do you get started with rounding up some angels for a seed round? It’s pretty simple. Go to angel gatherings, industry conferences, any and all networking events. Meet people who are angels or who know angels. Give ‘em the elevator pitch. KEEP IT SHORT. Set up Intro meetings. Also, if you’re not located in a startup hotspot, then find/make a friend in Silicon Valley and stay on his/her couch for a month and make sure you’re meeting with somebody new EVERY DAY.

Intro meetings: Informal discussion where you pitch the company over a lunch/coffee/etc., and expand potential angel network through referrals. Get your pitch down to 5-10 minutes, and prepare a tight FAQ in your head so that you have tight answers to the top 20 questions. Let them pay. Be proud of your scrappiness.

ABC’s – Always Be Closing: At the end of every meeting, get a clear understanding of where they stand on your deal opportunity. Shoot for getting an amount they would be interested in investing. You won’t usually get a commitment on the first meeting but do not accept vagueness. Get a clear idea of where they stand, and what next steps might be to move them through the pipeline. Hypotheticals are also useful: When I lock on my lead investor, how much would you be interested in investing?

Referrals are key: “Glad you’re pumped… any thoughts on who else I should meet with?” If your pitch is kicking ass, then most angels will immediately offer up a couple folks they can hook you up with. Regardless, always ask for more folks you can connect with.

Advisors: Turn a couple of these potential angels into advisors. Having a few top-notch people in your corner can make all the difference in turning the tide in an angel round. Everybody’s going to want to help and everybody will want a piece. Be selective, don’t settle. An average advisor is worth 1/10 the amount of an awesome advisor. Make it known that you expect your advisors to invest in the round. No exceptions—an advisor that doesn’t invest in the round will have significantly less influence in helping you close a round.

Thought Partner: Pick one advisor, co-founder, or mentor who will be your thought partner in managing the process. There is a lot of activity as you go to get your first term sheet, all the way through the close. Strange shit you cannot predict WILL go down. Big personalities, money, valuation, ego, all that makes a nice recipe for some crazy shenanigans. Nailing your messaging, managing the big personalities, keeping momentum going, takes a certain amount of magic, and making that happen is not accidental. It’s hard work, hustle, credibility, and preparation, and you’ll be much better at it with a partner in crime who can help you think through the issues, and craziness that inevitably will go down as you get to closing.

TheList: Keep a list (aka pipeline) of the people you’re meeting with, the referrals that they provide you, and the level of their interest in the seed round. Stay on the ball…Always follow up…be the pro that impresses all those investors that interact with you.

Passion/Charisma: This is the X-factor. It separates the men from the boys in fundraising. If you’re doing a startup, you’re trying to change the world, you’ve kicked your cushy job to the curb, you’ve had Ramen noodles for breakfast lunch and dinner as far as you can remember, and maybe you’ve moved back in with the ‘rents. You’ve definitely got the passion…why else would you be doing this? Don’t be afraid to show it. Every pitch could be your last one (i.e. the dude across the table writes you a check!), know that… give it your all… listen to some music that pumps you up before you get into the meeting, think about all of the great shit you’re doing and could do. Focus on the positive, have confidence, be amped, bring passion to your game, and share the love with the person across from you… bring extreme positivity into the potential investor’s otherwise boring pedestrian day. Watch some of @garyvee to see this in its purest form.

Credibility: DO NOT FIGHT THE TRUTH. If you do, you will become road kill. Do not try to spin out of what your weak points are. Do not try to make something certain that is not. Do not pretend to know something that you don’t. Credibility is the name of the game in fundraising. Every startup investor knows there are uncertainties. We all know there are risks. Accept them for what they are, BUT have a SMART answer for them. How are you addressing the uncertainties? How are you dealing with the risks? Show them you have thought 2 or 3 steps ahead. Be frank and to the point about negative concerns, and always try to focus negative concerns toward your strengths and your positives.

Momentum and Urgency: Investors are fickle creatures, they are motivated by fear and greed, and without it they will take their time and hem and haw at every turn. They will turn a 3 week process into a 6 month process. Time IS NOT YOUR FRIEND! The longer the process drags out, the more it seems that nobody is interested in your deal, and the less likely you are to actually get one… AND even if you do, with every day you will be sinking more time and energy into the process and less into your company. Every communication you have with prospective investors must include a sense of momentum and urgency in the deal process. “Things are moving quickly.” “My day is packed with meetings.” “Many parties are interested.” “This deal could come together quickly.” You back this up with hard work and serious hustle. Keep your update conversations short. Make the Urgency a reality by working your ass off. It will become a self-fufilling prophecy and your deal will get done.

Getting the Lead: You can get all of the investors in the world amped on your deal, but until you have a lead, you don’t have a deal. What is a lead? The lead in a deal is the investor, usually one of the largest, who negotiates the T’s and C’s and essentially sets the terms for the round of funding… essentially providing you with a term sheet. The way to get a lead is to spur one of the larger, most interested investors into making an offer. Ask him what it’s going to take to make a deal happen, what kind of terms he had in mind, what would make this an exciting deal. You can make momentum moves with this request, by making it clear that you’re going to other investors and having the same conversation with them. Make it a matter of “shit or get off the pot” (but in a polite way).

The Competitive Deal – The Need for Speed: The second you have a single term sheet, you need to move *very* quickly to get a second one. You don’t have a lot of time, because momentum at this point is crucial to closing and your first lead does not want to feel like he’s being dicked around. Your second term sheet will be easier to get than your first, but it will make a HUGE impact on your deal. Without a second termsheet, you will be in a position to take whatever crappy terms the original lead provided, and it’s quite possible that the terms could get worse (or even go away!) as the one-termsheet deal drags out. Figure out who those 2 or 3 potential other leads are and hustle the hell out of them. Here’s a voicemail I left on a 2nd termsheet prospect on a recent *competitive* deal I was involved in. The recipient of this voicemail called back in 5 minutes, AND ended up being the lead on the deal (notice the urgency while staying true and credible):

Hey , wanted to check in with you regarding . . .things are heating up with a couple other parties and it looks like things could get done pretty quickly from here… wanted to check in with you, see where you’re head’s at on the deal, and see if we there’s a shot we can work together on this one… give me a call back as soon as you can… talk to you soon

Herding the cattle: Once you start working the competitive leads, you need to start getting word out to ALL of the interested parties, that this deal is getting hot, and that you could start moving to close in very short order. This is key to continue momentum with the deal and keep your potential leads hot. If they know you have $200-300k following their investment, then they feel even better about your company knowing all the other folks are interested too. This makes them anxious about the competitive situation you’ve created b/c now your deal has been validated. On the other side, the small investors that were interested in following, now feel that this is a real deal that they can really follow, and since there are big guys involved putting in real money, they’ll essentially commit to an amount w/o necessarily having all the final terms. Nail those follow-on investors to an amount. Make sure those competitive leads know that you’re bringing a lot of extra money to the table.

Anti-Collusion: Once you lock on your lead investor, there are a lot of terms still left to fill out. The heavyweights in your deal will have the inclination to collude to make the terms better. They know they’re in the deal and the delays that happen when final docs are getting fully locked makes them rambunctious. Keep it short and sweet with each potential colluder, and draw a very straight firm line that the material terms are not changing. That kind of leadership will keep you from having what I call an investor revolt before you even get the deal done.

Sprint through the close: The best entrepreneurs *never* stop selling. The finish line is in their sites, and it’s pretty clear they’re going to make it across, but they don’t let up… they sprint even harder through that finish line. I like to say that until the deal is closed, you have at best a 50/50 shot of it happening. Keep working new seed investors, keep the competitive leads warm, get your deal oversubscribed, because until your deal is done, it’s just a nice fantasy in your head. The best sprinters sprint through the finish line, and the best entrepreneurs sprint through the close.

Expense Reports that DON’T SUCK!

WooHoo! It’s launch time for Expensify and the world will be better off for it. Disclaimer: I’m an advisor and I like to say, the inspiration for Expensify. I’m amped…. I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, and waving the expensify flag. . .I F&%KING HATE EXPENSE REPORTS!!… and Expensify makes expense report pain go away. They like to say “Expense reports that don’t suck”

Techcrunch covered their launch today and here’s the company’s post . I’ve provided a quick breakdown of how they make expense reports easy:

  • Go about making your business or other purchases as you did before.
  • Expensify auto-imports your credit card info to make sure your Expense report is filled out. You can also use Expensify’s MasterCard solution to better filter expenses. It’s a proxy card. All charges go to your normal card so that you keep your points!
  • Upload/email photos of your receipts directly from your phone (auto- upload w/ iPhone app coming soon )
  • IRS-ready e-receipts for all purchases $75 and under
  • One-click expense reports – Expensify already has transaction info and receipt images
  • Submit digital expense reports and get your reimbursements ONLINE

How they make my/your life better:

  • Expense reports take only a few minutes to get done
  • Your boss will be impressed with timely, organized, clean expense reports
  • Lost receipts are a thing of the past
  • Faster reimbursements.
  • Bigger reimbursements with fewer “problem” expenses.
  • No more paper!!

Certainly there are other providers out there, but I just don’t think they get close to matching up. They’ve pulled a couple examples to show how Expensify blows away the competition for insanely easy expense reports.

What does this all mean?

If you’re like me and losing receipts, procrastinating on doing expense reports, losing money b/c you’re just not the organized process-oriented kind of guy or gal, you need to SIGN-UP IMMEDIATELY.

If you’re a consultant, free-lancer, office administrator, or a sales rep this solution is a NO-BRAINER.

If you’re a small business owner and want happier employees that spend more time working and less time taping receipts to paper or filling out the monthly expense report, Expensify is a SLAM DUNK!

Give em a try on this month’s expense report. They’re free. Tell us how things go.

Happy Expense Reporting!

Twitter LeadGen and the coming wave of @reply SPAM

I love Twitter Search. I can see everything everybody is saying, what it is they’re doing, what they are thinking, what they are buying, what they love and what they hate. I like to call it a GodScope (okay I just made that up, but I’m using it from now on). Twitter’s GodScope lets me see everything that the world is saying in real time. Everything. Who’s buying dog food, who’s working out, who’s hating doing their expense reports, who’s going to a party, where the party’s at, who’s talking about my company’s product, what people are saying about competitors, you name it!

Sure, a little curiosity and TwitterSearch can easily make you wonder what happened to the last 3 hours. But the real power of TwitterSearch lays in its potential. I see straight forward ways for Twitter to unleash that potential, and for Twitter to gain a business model while they’re at it. The whole journey is a bit complicated, so let’s take a couple baby steps first.

Manual Lead-Gen: I suggested to a company I’m involved with – Expensify – to try experimenting with Twitter as a lead-gen tool. Expensify has a great product that makes expense report pain GO AWAY. David Barrett, Expensify’s CEO searches the tweet stream for “expenses”, “expense reports”, “receipts”, etc. and @reply’s to those users with information on how to get started with Expensify. Here’s what he does:

  1. search for expense report related terms,
  2. personally @reply’s to people who seem to be complaining about doing their expense reports
  3. in @reply, make a call to action—in this case Expensify is inviting user to sign up for private beta
  4. follow @reply’d users and follow-up on further @reply conversations that ensue.
  5. track conversions to beta program by linking invites to twitter usernames on signup.

We’ve only done a very small experiment but here are the results so far:

  • 75 search leads that Expensify @reply’d
  • 68 of 75 leads clicked on Beta invite link in @reply – 90% click conversion!!
  • 12 of those leads @reply’d back—16% @reply back to Expensify
  • The response to these efforts from the Twitter community has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, we have not gotten a single negative response back from our targeted messages.

Though the experiment is small, these numbers are breakthrough!! It speaks to the trust that the users have for the Twitter medium. Is there another place on the Internet you can send a targeted blind message and get a 90% click through??

Expensify will definitely expand their efforts with lead-gen on Twitter in the near term. They’ll streamline their Twitter lead-gen efforts as much as possible (but not too much) and turn it into a near-zero-cost lead-gen platform. But I expect there will be serious issues with using @replies for marketing in the mid-to-long-term.

Twitter’s SPAM-HOLE – Spam-infested @replies:
Expensify’s numbers are too good not to be copy-catted by direct marketers and spammers. It’s really only a matter of time before thousands of companies and marketers start using blind @replies to reach the Twitter audience at large. And the bottom line is that the initial use of Twitter as a lead-gen platform will turn @replies into a very nasty spam-infested medium.

The outcome of this of course, will be that Twitter cracks down on what I’m calling the “@reply spam hole.” I would suggest they ultimately will use one or more of the following techniques:

  1. restricting the number of @reply’s by any account
  2. restricting the number of initiated @reply’s by any account
  3. creating an @reply filter w/ spam folder for each person’s account.
  4. Utilizing community flagging/filtering measures.

Yes, once implemented, companies will still be able to market to users with @reply’s but only those companies/individuals with tweets viewed as valuable that don’t get flagged as spam by users/filter/other restrictions.

It will surely be interesting to watch the @reply spam-hole get filled and then closed over the next 6-12 months. Of course, Twitter will close the @reply spam hole, but the imposed restrictions will actually open up a huge revenue opportunity for Twitter. Stay tuned for Part II on this topic which proposes a Lead-Gen business model for Twitter once Twitter closes the @reply spam hole.

Living History

I’m going to the inauguration!! An awesome chance to be a part of history in the making. Here’s how I got in, a look at the logistics and a little preview of what’s to come this week…also, I’m twittering the inauguration here: http://twitter.com/konatbone

Making it rain.
I got a call from my buddy Chris Sacca asking me to contribute to the Presidential Inauguration Committee and to live history instead of watching it on TV. So I donated a chunk of change to the PIC — they say the donation is for funding the inaugural events (which get little to none federal funding) and for the parties (okay its about the parties). I put in enough for 2 tix for some great access to the events going on in DC. Up-front for the swearing in, big bashes with politicos all week, VIP tix to the big balls, policy discussions, the works. Big shout out to Sacca, my BBF (best bundler forever!)

House hunting.
There was a lot of hype about the gouging that was going on with hotels and apartment rentals. That all calmed down (at least in the inauguration rentals market). In december, nice apartments that were close to the action were going at $2-4k per night. But with some patience (and sweating it out) I ended up at $400-500/bedroom/night for a killer place right next to the White House on Logan Circle …niiiice, high five (insert Barat voice)..at inauguration prices, it’s a DEAL…

Planes, trains, and automobiles.
This was an interesting one. Flights into DC were going for over $1k round trip for coach. Why give to American Airlines when your political contributions can go so much further ;) I got a $250 roundtrip flight to NYC, spending a couple days there doing some meetings, and am on the Amtrak train ride ($100) right now going straight into DC city center. Much better way to go.

Tails.
Like it or not, the big balls (I’m talking about events not anatomy) require the black tie. Being from San Francisco, we just don’t wear this kind of stuff. . .even at weddings. I do own a tux that has been my trusty go-to for the rare upscale event…unfortunately it is my prom rental from the 90’s (note: I’m not a thief, my prom tux rental shop went out of business over prom weekend), and those stainless steel metal clips to adjust waist size on the side just don’t cut it when you’re going to be in the presence of “That One”…if you catch my drift. So I went tuxedo shopping in NYC before getting to DC. What a melee. Getting a tux that fits, that’s respectable, that isn’t a total ripoff (Ralph Lauren sells their tuxes at $5K. .. with a STRAIGHT FACE!!), and that is ready to go (altered, etc.) in less than 12 hours was quite an ordeal. Let’s just say I got familiar with NYC’s Madison Ave. I’ll save intricate tuxedo shopping details for another post…ummm, maybe not.

Hanging with the homies.
I split the 2 tix with my good friend Garrett Camp , founder of StumbleUpon, yes, we’re going stag to the inauguration, you got a problem with that?? Also, Chris Sacca got a pretty killer techie crew hanging together: the Zappos guys (Tony and Alfred), a few Google peeps (Sacca and company), VC-dudes and Twitter home slices (what up Ev and Sara), … a truly solid crew of great people is the icing on the cake. When you’ve got the kind of crew we’ve got, the party is wherever we are.

History in the making.
Parties, bacchanalian balls, and political patronage aside. . . I’m here for one reason, I want to see history in the making. I want to live this history,…breathe it, and when my grandkids read about it in their history books, I want to sit them on my lap, tell them the stories and show them the pictures. It is a rare event in one’s life to witness something that moves so many, and brings out the best in all those who touch it. I’m on the train into DC, quiet, calm anticipation of our piece of history about an hour from our first touch of inaugural electricity.

BusinessWeek killing my New Year’s buzz

Magazines, technology journals, blogs often do year-end summaries of the tech and startup world. They love putting together their lists, “The top tech companies of 2008″, or “the best startups of the year.”

Often these lists are a bunch of horse manure. For some reason, the journalists tasked with writing the story come up with inane or lazy criteria to pick their companies only to spend 10’s of hours of hard work putting together the collection of profiles for the magazine (company descriptions, interviews, photographs, etc.).

So then I run into Arrington’s undressing of BusinessWeek’s “Most successful startups of 2008.” John Tozzi, Stacy Perman and Nick Leiber, the writers on the story pull a list of companies with the Most Funding to actually determine their list of the “2008’s Most Successful”. To make their selection even more useless, they then exclude companies like Ning that BW thinks are further along in achieving that success (they call it “later stage”??).

Without getting too deep into the gory details, a review of the companies they chose shows that their list has little to do with success, and even their own flawed criteria seems to be disregarded for a number of the companies on the list. Several aren’t startups at all–in some cases, they were spun out of already successful public companies, others were started a decade ago and are on a downward spiral, and 80%+ of the companies have little to none revenue whatsoever. And the only IT company they picked — Cuil — had a disastrous launch earlier this year, with zero traffic to speak of today. Is that what startup success is made of?

This kind of stuff gets under my skin because a good percentage of any entrepreneur’s time is spent unwinding the useless confusion, hype, and vapor that media outlets produce. Even worse is that it is the startup/small business entrepreneur that BW is targeting in this new section of coverage.

My P2P experience is particularly poignant here. Do you know how many P2P companies have been hyped as the next big thing while simultaneously they were actually crashing and burning?? Kontiki raised $40MM+ into the hype while creating little of any value. How about those stories about Bittorrent, Inc as the next big IPO. . . but we knew what was really going on

Tozzi at BW will respond that his criteria was clear from the get-go, that he stated he was using funding in the last 12 months to determine most successful startups. Admitting he used a poor criteria does not suddenly redeem his list or validate a seemingly poor editorial decision.

It’s almost comical, and it’s the reason why the industry insiders who really get it know certain writers are easily manipulated or are simply lazy and aren’t worth reading. It’s the reason Arrington goes after Tozzi, because these types of articles continue to show the readers why BW isn’t worth their time, and why techcrunch is. I mean, honestly, how much credibility is lost when BW puts out stuff like this? Do you think Gates, Jobs, Sergei, or other tech elites spent the time to read up on this BW best startups of 2008 list?

They would if the folks at BW actually had been thoughtful on this one and not wasted their credibility/trust with such poor editorial.

Update: In a twitter exchange, Tozzi (@newentrepreneur) asks me (@konatbone) for advice on what he should have done to get a list of the most successful startups.

Maybe I’ll to a short post but here’s the quick and dirty:
– Go to the top 15-20 VC’s out there.
– Tell them you’re doing a most successful startup list and ask them what their top 3 most successful startups are in their active portfolio.
– Ask them why those companies are the most successful
– Have detailed conversations with the VCs to vet the “nominees”

Now you’ve got VC’s who are on the boards of these companies vouching for their success. In addition, you have some back and forth to cut through any hyping/promotion that VCs might be doing for their pet companies. Instead of a hard and fast rule-set/criteria, you rather have a stronger process for getting to some great answers in a practical amount of time.