Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category
To my knowledge, in the United States it is illegal to record conversations unless you have permission of the parties you’re recording. I believe the rules are more lax in some jurisdictions, but those exceptions are not that helpful if one wants to record a phone conversation with a company representative, because call centers are so dispersed over the planet. A representative could be anywhere.
I think United States Federal law should be changed to specifically permit consumers to record conversations they have with employees and other representatives of companies. Nothing stops me from asking for permission today, but I have never been granted permission when I have asked, so that’s why the law should be changed.
Companies routinely give themselves the right to record calls, so they should understand why a consumer would also want to have that ability.
I came to my recommendation January 29, 2013, after I had a frustrating conversation that day with Brian G., a supervisor at Godaddy, the Internet domain name giant. Brian’s email address is email@example.com. Brian refused to give me his last name, citing a Godaddy security policy.
On or around December 14, 2012, I learned a domain I’ve been wanting for a dozen plus years was in ‘redemption.’ This means the prior owner didn’t pay to renew it, so the registrar placed the name into redemption, a kind of holding place for domain names before they are eventually released to the public for purchase.
My heart raced. I was going to finally be able to reacquire the Hotpaper.com domain. I sold the name in 2000. My first reaction was to write to my friend Dan Luis and ask if I could pay the redemption fee to Purple, the company I sold the name to a dozen years ago, so they could retrieve the name from redemption status. This would then give Purple the right to transfer the name to me.
But after I composed the email to Luis, who I have been in touch with as recently as 2012, I decided to run this idea past GoDaddy, which was the registrar for Hotpaper.com.
I told the representative about my connection with Purple and proposed doing what I just outlined. The representative then advised me to not bother, and just sign up for GoDaddy’s Domain Name Backorder service, which cost about USD $20.00 and included a full year of registration. This made the cost for getting the domain about $8.00, which is just 1/10th what it would have cost me to pay Purple to get the domain out of redemption status.
The representative told me that since GoDaddy was the registrar for Hotpaper.com that they would be able to get the domain name for me through their backorder service. He said that if Hotpaper.com had been with another registrar then they would have had to fight to try to get the name. The representative assured me multiple times that in this situation their backorder service was a sure thing. Not once did he even hint that I would be rolling the dice. Had he alerted me that I was speculating, I would have hung up and pursued the sure thing of contacting Luis.
Either Luis would have redeemed the name for Purple to hold on to, or he would have allowed me to redeem it through Purple. Luis would not have ignored me and let the name hit the open market — he’s my friend, and even though we haven’t seen each other in ages, we share a bond, for we both sold our companies to the company that is now Purple. Why am I so sure of this? Luis is the one that keeps our association alive by saying hello to me from time to time, not the other way around. I believe Luis respects me and does not want to upset me, so he would not take an adverse position, especially on something like this that is of no consequence to Purple, since they retired the Hotpaper name around a decade ago.
I would have been fine had Luis redeemed the name and had Purple hold on to it for decades to come. My desire is for the name to not fall into third party hands, so it was great that Purple paid the registration on the name for so long after they stopped using it. I saved over USD $100 over the last decade thanks to the kindness of Purple. Thank you.
I have explained to GoDaddy that their representative promised to get me the Hotpaper.com domain and failed, and to fix this failure they need to buy the domain and give it to me for the backorder fee I paid. This is a case of an employee being insufficiently skilled and trained, and their failure led to this sad result. GoDaddy the company is at fault, I believe. Yes, there may be some fine print somewhere on the GoDaddy website explaining the backorder process is akin to gambling, but GoDaddy’s sales representative negated that fine print.
I believe I was behaving reasonably when I took the word of the GoDaddy representative.
I figured that GoDaddy would have an advantage in ‘catching’ domain names dropping from their registry in the same way that high speed Wall Street traders benefit from extremely close proximity to stock exchange computers, so much so that high speed traders rent space in premium Wall Street colocation space to get faster connection times, since the speed of electricity is only so fast.
I have never bought a domain through a name catching service, so I was not an expert when I placed the order. But I felt the representative I ordered through knew what he was talking about, because he was so articulate, well spoken and because his explanation of why GoDaddy would definitely get the name sounded technically and practically believable.
If I had recorded that conversation, I believe GoDaddy would buy Hotpaper.com on the open market and give it to me for the backorder fee I have already paid. The conversation was so crystal clear and frankly damning that GoDaddy would not want to risk the recording and this story hitting the front page of Reddit, where I predict GoDaddy would have taken a beating from the readers of that news site.
This domain issue is of little importance. I survived a dozen years without the domain, and I’ll be fine without it for the next dozen or three dozen years. I have Hotpaper.net if I ever want to do anything Hotpaper related in the future.
The right for consumers to record calls with businesses, without notice, however, is a right US residents should have. There are so many business that will only correspond with customers over the phone. All banks I know are like this, and will simply not engage a customer by writing emails or letters back and forth. If you try to send a letter, often you’ll get a letter back asking you to phone. Banks I am sure force business to be conducted by phone because they know there will not be a record the customer can keep and refer to or publicize if the customer is mistreated.
Customers need to be able to believe what they’re told by company representatives, which, sadly, is a bigger and more difficult issue. I appreciate and recognize that I should have independently verified by reading the fine print on the GoDaddy website what the representative told me. I didn’t do it because the representative was so confident and self assured, and because the stakes were not material. Frankly, I’ll save hundreds of dollars over the years by not having to pay to keep the Hotpaper.com domain for myself, so you can even say GoDaddy did me a favor by the failure of their representative to explain how their backorder service works.
Companies should do the right thing by their customers when their representative makes such an obvious and glaring error. If a car dealer sells you a lemon, they’ll have to buy it back from you. If a doctor amputates the wrong limb, they’ll pay you plenty. If a lawyer drops the ball and forgets a filing deadline and you lose your case as a result, she’ll pay you.
Here we have a salesperson that sold me a product by misinforming me about its most important workings — whether intentional or not is irrelevant. This strikes me as fraud, though I am not a lawyer. GoDaddy should fix this apparent fraud by buying the domain and delivering it to me.
While researching this story, I found the website Anti GoDaddy, which collects GoDaddy horror stories from consumers. I posted a screen shot of this site’s home page at the top of this article. Notice the reach of GoDaddy — the embedded advertisement near the top of the page is for GoDaddy.
If this domain had been really important to me, I would have not handled the matter so casually. On a scale of 1 to 10, the Hotpaper.com domain ranks a 0.1. Note that I have not linked to the domain so as to not give traffic to the domain name speculator that ended up acquiring the name. The last time I checked, which was just once, there was a generic page offering to sell the domain.
The US Federal government should allow recording of conversations by consumers with businesses to reduce the harm that comes from currently insufficiently documented conversations. I suspect there are thousands of people that lost their homes in recent years because a bank told them verbally not to worry about their loan modification delays, but then foreclosed anyway. Had those promises been recorded by the consumers, the banks may have not been so quick to make promises they couldn’t respect, and homeowners could have pursued other options with more awareness of their true situations. The ramifications of only the business being able to record conversations are likely widespread and quite substantial, in every field, with every size business. It’s simply not fair to let only one party avail themselves of voice recording technology. Society would not stand for lopsided court reporting during trials, where the transcription was for the benefit of only the defendant or only the plaintiff. Why does society permit injustice with documentation outside the courtroom?
Laws need to change. I don’t know about the laws outside the United States, but I suspect this post applies to most of the planet.
Letter by Kevin Warnock to Jayne Salinger of the San Francisco Bar Association concerning the San Francisco Mock Trial
Dear Jayne Salinger,
We have never met.
You wrote the following brief statement to me via a Facebook message on February 27, 2012:
I am the director of the mock trial program you attended last week. Thank you for taking such wonderful photos. Unfortunately these photos cannot be made public as the students are minors. And including their names is also not advisable. Can you plesae cease in posting these photos and remove where applicable?
The Bar Association of San Francisco”
You wrote to me because I wrote on February 24, 2012 this article about the 2012 public finals competition for the San Francisco Mock Trial program. I illustrated the article with photographs that I took at the mock trial, including those shown here. You said that because the students are minors that my photographs cannot be made public. This blog is public.
When I first read your message, I wondered if I had done something wrong by posting the pictures. So, I did some searching and found around 89 pictures of the 2011 San Francisco Mock Trial finals, on that program’s Facebook page. Presumably most of these photographs are of minors, since the Mock Trial program is for high school students. I presume you are aware of the contents of the Facebook page for the mock trial program that you direct.
I also thought back to my four years as a staff photographer for the newspapers at the high schools I attended — Lab School at the University of Chicago and McAteer High School in San Francisco. The photograph captions typically identified the subjects by first and last name, so I knew that at least back then the practice was permitted.
Today, February 25, 2013, I discovered that student journalists still name students fully, in stories and and captions accompanying photographs, because I found via Google the article Case closed – Mock trial dominates in the high school newspaper published by Lowell High School. This Lowell newspaper article is publicly accessible on the Internet.
Lowell High School won the 2012 San Francisco Mock Trial championship, and later won sixth place in the California competition.
Since my research I conducted after receiving your message indicated I was most likely allowed to post student pictures to my blog, I put aside your message.
I did not reply to you at the time, but I always intended to address your concern.
My plan was to speak with you in person about this matter, at the San Francisco Mock Trials final this year — 2013. My reasoning for meeting you in person was so that you would be able to hopefully directly assess my character.
Last year, as I wrote on my blog, I discovered the Facebook page for the Mock Trial program in San Francisco. I ‘liked’ the page back then, so I have been getting status updates ever since. Today, I got a status update saying that Round III is coming up. Sadly, unlike last year, dates and times are no longer listed. Last year the page listed the time and date in the following status update before the trial:
“Congratulations to Lowell and School of the Arts for making it to the final round of the 2012 Mock Trial Tournament! Final round is TONIGHT at Golden Gate University Law School, 536 Mission, Room 2203. Teams from Lowell and SOTA may arrive at 5:45 to set up; guests/spectators may arrive at 6 p.m. to get a seat. The round will start at 6:30. Good luck to both teams!”
I could not find any information anywhere on the Internet about when the finals are to be held this year, which meant I could not meet you in person as I planned to do.
I believe strongly that the Mock Trial finals should be public, and to encourage that, I wrote this post.
Had the finals been public this year, I would have attended again, and I would have found you there and spoken with you at some length, which would have obviated my need to write this post.
My blog post last year was good press, and you should have welcomed the post, and you should further have linked to it from the Mock Trial Facebook page and from the San Francisco Bar Association page for the Mock Trial Program.
Getting press is difficult.
Getting press is important to success in life.
I see that Mock Trial has received almost no press, outside of student newspapers. Student newspapers count, of course, but coverage by unrelated journalists like me is far more credible.
Chuck Rasnikof, a political science teacher at Lowell, sat next to me while I was covering and photographing the 2012 Mock Trial finals. We spoke for twenty minutes, and had a good conversation.
I told Rasnikof how I was invited to the Mock Trial finals by Devon Ivie, an exceptionally impressive high school senior I had met February 22nd. Ivie struck up a conversation with me on the MUNI Metro while she was on her way home after the final practice session for the trial. McAteer High School used to be in the same building where she was attending high school at the time, School of the Arts (SOTA), so we had something in common. She shared with me her plans after high school. She told me about her affection for playing the flute. She told me about Mock Trial, and sold me on the wisdom of personally attending the finals. Finally, she told me her name, which made it easy for me to ‘friend’ her on Facebook. She accepted my friend request the next morning, before the finals that evening.
After the finals were over, I said hello to Ivie and her real-life lawyer mentor. I asked Ivie to find her teammate Havel Weidner so that I could meet him.
Weidner was a key participant in the trial, and to my ear, played the most significant role in the outcome. I wanted to interview Weidner to confirm my understanding of his closing remarks.
That night I edited the pictures and wrote the blog post, since I knew there would be interest in the pictures. After four hours of concentrated writing and Photoshop editing work, around 3am the next morning I published the post, which I intended to be the first of two posts.
I also posted the pictures to my Facebook account.
Ivie and some of her friends discovered the pictures I posted to Facebook, and there was a flurry of sharing and her friends asking my permission to tag themselves, which I granted.
I suspect that you discovered my blog post through Facebook, since I link to my blog from my Facebook account.
I even got a Facebook friend request from Ivie’s friend Christina Rey. I had not met Rey, but I remembered her speaking during the trial. I accepted her request.
Then, about the time you sent your message above asking me to take down my pictures and remove the names, both Ivie and Rey defriended me.
I have not been in touch with Ivie, Rey or any of the other mock trial students since then.
It’s extremely rare for people I know that I have met in person to defriend me, and since it happened around the time you wrote to me, that makes me think you or other trial organizers had a hand in that. There was no independent reason I can think of for Ivie and Rey to defriend me, as I had just portrayed them well in front of all their friends and made them ‘famous.’
Here is my guess as to what happened:
You saw my Facebook pictures of the trial and the rapid sharing and tagging going on. You found out that I am not connected to the competition. You concluded my picture postings were undesirable. You persuaded Ivie and Rey to question their decisions to share and publicize the pictures, which they probably perceived as ‘getting in trouble.’ You may have even told them to defriend me, but even if you didn’t order them to defriend me, you probably made them feel like they did something wrong and that it was smart to distance themselves from me.
I meet dozens of impressive university students per year, and I end up helping and mentoring a small percentage of them.
I was so impressed with Devon Ivie that I was planning to help her, though I never got an opportunity to offer my help. Thus, it was sad and it remains sad that I have lost contact with her before I was able to speak with her for more than half an hour. I did determine that she warrants my assistance, from my conversation on the metro and from watching her perform very admirably during the trial. She is articulate and impressive.
If my guess as to what happened is true, then I ask that you handle future similar situations much differently.
Students about to graduate from high school are not young children that should not appear on the Internet. Instead, they are nearly adults, probably just months away from adulthood. These particular students are among the most legally savvy minors I have ever encountered. They argued their case exceptionally well.
These students did not and do not need ‘protection’ from the modern press, of which I am a part. To the contrary, they should be encouraged to solicit press coverage when appropriate.
There were unfilled seats in the auditorium at Golden Gate University where the 2012 finals took place. Those seats should be filled, when possible, with reporters, bloggers and other journalists. I suggest that during Mock Trial you train students to interact with the press. Real lawyers have to contend with the press, since cases sometimes are partly ‘tried in the press.’
But even leaving out high profile cases that are partly tried in the press, there is legitimate value in having students try to get bloggers and reporters to attend the finals. For example, consider these benefits:
- Learning how to contact and form a relationship with journalists
- Learning how to pitch a story
- Learning how a published story can help or damage a mission
- Publicizing accomplishments for the benefit of university admissions officers, employers and others who will be searching for information on the students for the rest of their lives
- Helping schools fund raise from alumni and others by giving schools stories they can point to that demonstrate success of school programs
High school students don’t get many opportunities to be featured in the press. When seniors in high school go on to become freshmen in college, the likelihood of coverage in the press temporarily goes down, I fear. Only as university students establish themselves are they likely to be featured in the press. Years pass. Lessons about nurturing the press are not typically taught in university, and time is money, so teach students about the power of the press now, which you still have a chance.
I have been a journalist for years — since I was 13 if you go back to when I joined the newspaper staff for the Midway at Lab School.
Ms. Salinger, your Facebook post to me is the first and only attempt somebody has made to stifle my efforts.
I was and remain shocked.
Thankfully I kept my blog post from February 24, 2012 on my blog, which gets hundreds of viewers everyday.
While preparing this post, I discovered that you named SOTA student Havel Weidner in your Internet post Mock Trial Coaches Help Students Increase Diversity Pipeline from May 2012, after your message to me.
I find it curious that you feel it is alright for you to name a presumably minor student, but an actual journalist cannot.
Note that I never wrote the second post I said above that I had intended to write. I was planning to write up the actual case, and comment in detail on the performances by the many student participants. That post would have easily taken eight hours to write, but after your discouraging February 27, 2012 Facebook message, I chose to not write the post, as I didn’t want to be criticized a second time for my writing. I also didn’t want to irritate a bunch of smart lawyers, so I censored myself, for which I am embarrassed. I should have written that post. I cannot write it now because I have forgotten too many details to write a quality article.
I acknowledge that I make a lot of guesses in this post. I apologize if I have guessed incorrectly. But even if I missed the mark on exactly what happened and when, my advice that you should encourage press coverage of the Mock Trial finals stands.
The performances I observed at the 2012 Mock Trial finals were the most impressive performances I have ever seen by a group of high school students. That what used to be McAteer High School is now churning out students so impressive gives me hope for humanity. McAteer was a dreadful and simply awful school, and it’s only through my attendance at Lab School earlier that I am able to write this blog.
The San Francisco Unified School District should be promoting Mock Trial as well. The district gets beat up in the press, and Mock Trial is so good that it should be featured prominently in the district’s public relations efforts.
According to Facebook, Devon Ivie is friends with Jasmine Lee Lee, a freshman at University of California Berkeley. Lee also graduated from School of the Arts. I met Lee in January, as she is the co-founder of an Internet startup headed by my friend Iskander Rakhmanberdiyev. I mentor Rakhmanberdiyev, and Lee has watched me advise Rakhmanberdiyev and others. I mention this news, which I only discovered today while writing this post, to give you a sense as to who I mentor and about what subjects I can advise.
If you or anyone organizing the mock trial did not praise Devon Ivie for her outstanding work in getting me to cover the 2012 San Francisco Mock Trial finals, then please contact her and heap some praise upon her – in writing and by phone if you can spare a moment.
From where I sit, Ivie is a rising star, and her outgoing nature that led her to strike up a conversation with me should be strongly and repeatedly encouraged, for that nature will bring many successes to her in life.
Thank you for reading this and please appreciate I am a huge fan of the success that is Mock Trial. That evening a year ago was one of the highlights of 2012.
PS – My advice for Jayne Salinger applies everywhere impressive adolescents are found. It is wrong for society to try to ‘protect’ people like these students by keeping their names and pictures off of the Internet until they become adults. For better or worse, the Internet is like a credit report, only more important. People perform searches on other people, and they always will. If new adults have no report because they have no presence on the Internet the day they turn 18, that harms society. Of course, young people need to be educated about the perils of the Internet as well. People should not post material that reflects poorly, since such material has a tendency to last forever. These students at Mock Trial were likely putting their very, very best foot forward, which makes my blog posts about them ideal early installments for their Internet ‘reports.’
I write this blog post today, January 31, 2013, with sadness.
Jody Sherman, a rambunctious, ambitious and complex entrepreneur, husband, investor and mentor, died Monday, January 27, 2013. I learned about Sherman’s passing on Tuesday, the day after, and I had trouble sleeping that night.
Jody Sherman’s death moved me.
I learned about Sherman’s death from my friends on Facebook.
Much has been written about Jody Sherman this week, and I understand why.
Jody Sherman was simply a character — a very memorable and lovable character.
My association with Sherman was brief yet meaningful and intense.
In late 1998 or early 1999, I was gearing up to raise money for Document Automation Systems, LLC, my startup at the time. I later renamed it Hotpaper.com, Inc.
I met Jody Sherman by chance.
Jody Sherman was the seller.
At the time he worked at BuyDirect, an earlier e-commerce pioneer that would later be sold for USD $140M. Sherman’s office was on the waterfront near Pier 39 in San Francisco, California, USA.
My Internet company was tiny, but I had an impressive customer list — Coca Cola, Intel and the US Marine Corps, among dozens of similarly well known organizations. My company’s revenue was tiny, but I had big plans for growth.
I was sitting in Sherman’s office getting ready to hand him the cash for the stylish stereo deck, shown above.
In his office, Sherman appeared to be working at an energetic pace, doing deals for his employer, where he was vice president of business development.
Sherman asked me what I did, and that query prompted me to give my well oiled elevator pitch. At the time, I had no idea who Sherman was — I had not typed his name into Alta Vista, the dominate search engine of the day.
While I was still pitching, Sherman tapped his keyboard and visited my company’s website and drafted a document from a template. Hotpaper was the first LegalZoom or RocketLawyer. Hotpaper created legal documents by asking users questions to then build a custom document on the server, in Microsoft Word format.
Talk about my company quickly dominated the rest of my few minutes with Sherman that day, yet I did pay for and collect the Bang and Olufsen deck for Lin.
Later, Sherman offered to help me raise financing to expand my company. He suggested I raise USD $500,000, which he said he would help me raise by getting ten of his friends to put in $50,000 each.
Sherman drove a BMW Z3 at the time, and I vividly remember him picking me up at my office at The Russ Building in San Francisco so I could introduce him to my lawyer Eric Jensen, in Palo Alto. I had never been in a Z3 and I was impressed — Sherman had a flair about him to be sure.
I concluded that Sherman was likely correct when he confidently said he could round up ten of his friends to allow my company to close a $500K angel round.
I never closed that round, because Sherman asked for a finder’s fee that I found objectionable — he asked for ‘non diluting’ stock among other things. I was shocked when he fell silent for several long seconds, got up and walked out of my office without a word when I asked him about the non diluting stock he was asking for. Sherman was the first and only person to walk out of a meeting with me. It rattled me.
Even though no transaction happened, I am still grateful to have met Jody Sherman, for he spurred me to greater accomplishment.
This agitation I felt in retrospect was fantastic for me.
I was mad Sherman had walked out on my deal.
I wanted to show Sherman that I was a talented entrepreneur. I wanted to show my (now late) friend Stan Pasternak, who rented my company an office in his suite, and who saw Sherman walk out on me, that I was a talented entrepreneur.
In June, 1999, my company closed a $2M round from two venture capital firms and some angels. The only fee I paid was to attend a ‘meet an venture capitalist’ event put on in part by my friend Tom Cervantez, which cost me $75. I met Redleaf Venture Management venture capitalist Robert von Goeben there, and he introduced me to Bob Bozeman, the partner at Angel Investors LP that agreed to put in 5% of the round.
Sherman deserved to profit from his advice and expertise. Had he asked for common stock with standard vesting terms, instead of what he asked for, I probably would have brought him on board as an advisor, since he represented the best chance I had at the time to get my company funded.
I still don’t know why Sherman didn’t negotiate with me instead of walking out, and sadly, now, I will never know.
I should point out that Sherman did well by walking out, because the investors I ultimately raised money from lost most of their money they invested in Hotpaper in the aftermath of the Internet bust in 2000, after I sold Hotpaper.
I wrote this post to give Jody Sherman credit for his small but important role in my life.
I knew him perhaps a month, from start to finish, yet Jody Sherman moved me to write this post a dozen years later.
It has been reported that Jody Sherman took his own life. I feel so bad for Sherman and his wife, family, employees and friends.
Life as a startup CEO is extremely challenging. There are unbelievable highs and lows, far more dramatic than what I experienced as an employee, and I’ve had some interesting experiences as an employee, including getting suspended for insubordination and laid off because my job was eliminated.
Sherman raised millions of dollars for his latest Internet company EcoMom. The pressure must have been intense, particularly because it appears lots of the money came from his wealthy and connected friends. I know nothing of the details of the pressures Sherman was under at work or elsewhere.
Depression is an insidious illness, because it can cripple.
One could argue that I suffer from depression, and that’s why I am not running a company or doing anything substantial in life right now, despite my having days of tremendous enthusiasm to change the world. Overall, I am happy and optimistic, but when I consider my age and that I haven’t started a family yet, I am sad. I worry my time for a family has already irrevocably passed.
Don’t worry though, I am not going to kill myself.
I have been close to people that suffer from depression, and in one case, I had to cut ties so as not to risk substantive harm to myself, the situation got so intense. Sherman’s widow Kerri must be feeling crushing pain, and my heart goes out to her, even though I have never met her.
When I learn of a suicide by someone I knew, even if only in passing, like Ilya Zhitomirskiy, I get emotional and have trouble sleeping. I battle with myself over what, if anything, I should do about the people I know that are depressed. Should I tell their parents? Should I tell their close friends? Should I mind my own business? Should I speak to the people themselves, even those I cut contact with? I have cut contact with many people, especially in the last six months, as I continue to recreate myself into a more vibrant contributing citizen, but by doing so, my burden over what to do increases.
Mark Suster, a partner at the venture capital firm GRP Partners knew Jody Sherman well, and two days ago, on January 29, 2013, Suster wrote on his great blog an amazing goodbye to Sherman. Suster colorfully describes Sherman just how I remember him — as shown here from Suster’s goodby post:
“I remember when we met years ago. I think Michael Kantor introduced us. You were pitching me an online business selling other people’s baby food. I told you what a dumb idea it was.
You came back. You had a new plan. You had renegotiated your way out of that agreement. Now you wanted to merge with a broader-based business and sell all products. You got to keep the name of the new company – ecomom. You were so proud of that name and what it stood for. You wanted good in the world.
And in turn the world wanted good for you. But the world made you fight for it. And I did, too.
I told you to go away again, you crazy, wiry, non-stop pitching fool.
What? You back again? Who let you in here? Oh, you want to tell me about how your business is now scaling? You have repeat orders and high gross margins? Go away, I say! It’s mom stuff. We didn’t do so well in that category in the past.
Review your deck? Ok, Jody. You sure do push the envelope. But I kinda like your chutzpah. Sure, bro. Come on in. But … could you button up the shirt a couple more notches when you come to my office? I think you might have scared a few folks last time. Ha, just kidding. No, seriously. Just one more button.
Wow. Your deck looks great. Are those growth numbers real? Impressive. No. No I can’t meet for breakfast. I don’t think we can fund in that category, Jody.
Ok. I’ll have the egg-white burrito. I have to eat something healthy around you or I’ll feel guilty. Is it true that you have 3% body fat? I know, I know. I shouldn’t eat the carbs. But this is Lemon Moon – at least we know it’s healthy.
Fine. Fine. I’ll write you an angel check, then. As long as you promise to stop pitching me! Yes, Jody. I really believe in you. I always did. But when I got home and I told my wife that I had just committed $25,000 that she should just consider it a mitzvah. I didn’t so much want to see a baby products company make money as I wanted to see you succeed. You had some magic dust.
Ok, Jody. We have to have a heart-to-heart. You gotta stop pitching Sand Hill Road VCs. Look at their entrepreneurs – they are 28, computer programmers and they went to Harvard or Stanford. Now go look in a mirror. You have “weird hair.” Yes. weird hair. My cousin calls it JewFro. And you have it. And instead of hiding it you wear it Kramer style just to scare people. I think you like looking at them looking at you. Don’t you? Focus on raising money from outsiders. From people eschewed by the typical system. Raise money from underdogs like you.
You told me that was some of the most honest and best advice you had ever gotten. That most people were too scared to say that to you. And raise money you did. Millions of it.”
Suster simply brought Jody Sherman to life with this above passage, so much so that tears came to my eyes as I write this.
Jody Sherman was a hustler and a good soul. I can only imagine how many thousands of entrepreneurs he helped over his 47 years of exciting life. I pray that he rests in peace, and that his loved ones find comfort in the outpouring of sweet thoughts that have been expressed since his too early death.
Life is so precious and short.
Please do not take your own life, dear readers.
I got a ‘free’ flu shot today that I wasn’t expecting to be free, courtesy of my high deductable Anthem Blue Cross health insurance
I have the Smart Sense 5000 health insurance plan from Anthem Blue Cross of California. This plan has a USD $5,000 deductible, which I chose as the most cost effective way for me to get comprehensive health care should I get sick. Since I am so healthy, I benefit from agreeing to such a high deductible.
I was shocked and pleasantly surprised today when I went to Walgreens to purchase a flu shot and learned that I get a free flu shot because I have this Blue Cross policy. I thought having a high deductible meant I didn’t get anything for ‘free.’ I didn’t even ask for a free shot, and only because the clerk thought to type my name into her computer did she learn I qualify for a free shot.
I normally consider Walgreens to be an over priced store best patronized only for incidentals when Target is too far away, but today I am pleased with Walgreens.
The flu kills hundreds of thousands of people per year, far more than guns and terrorists. Most everyone should get a flu shot. If you have insurance, the shot may be at no additional cost to you. Go get one!
Three days ago, on December 14, 2012, a human being apparently shot and killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut USA. Since that time there has been an intense focus in the media on this shooting, with thousands of articles written, and thousands of hours of television and radio coverage around the world, most of it by commercial entities that make more money the more viewers, listeners and readers they attract.
This media coverage probably incites others to commit mass murder, because one can easily see that mass murder is a sure fire way to get famous overnight.
The media outlets I presume secretly love mass killings, for they attract lots of interest from their customers, and the media outlets just have to be making a killing doing these stories about killing.
Every time there is a mass killing, the calls for gun control become temporarily louder.
I like the idea of requiring all firearms to be registered and insured, like vehicles are. All drivers must take and pass competency tests to get a driver license.
There should be a more stringent process to obtain a firearm license.
The license should be valid for just a limited number of years, and if it expires, the holder should have to sell or turn in all their registered firearms. When the firearm owner dies, the firearms should have to be turned in or sold by the owner’s estate.
This would help eliminate the dangerous situation I just saw first hand. A friend of mine saw her husband pass away. He left her four guns, two of which were loaded with bullets. My friend didn’t know how to unload the weapons or even how to determine that they were loaded. Thankfully, she recognized the danger and turned them in at a gun buy back on Saturday. I accompanied her, and I had to tell the police the guns may be loaded or not, that neither my friend or I knew. I wasn’t going to inspect the weapons, and I don’t know how to operate a firearm, and I don’t want to know. The police took the weapons away and came back to report two were loaded. They unloaded the weapons for my friend, who is a senior citizen.
I mentioned gun insurance above. How much do I recommend? USD $1,000,000 per gun owner, adjusted annually for inflation or deflation. I would still allow unlimited guns per owner, but since the insurance would probably be sold per gun, that will naturally limit gun ownership, like car insurance costs today keep people from amassing lots of vehicles.
I think the right to bear arms is a good right, as it serves as a check on the government becoming overbearing. It also will make it more difficult for an invading power to conquer the United States. I have never shot a gun, and I do not intend to. I did shoot a squirt gun as a child, and I wish I had not.
I approve of the second amendment to the United States Constitution.
If we are to allow gun ownership, how can we cut down on these mass shootings?
I suggest we outlaw the intense media coverage that accompanies mass killings.
The media makes money from mass killing.
As a result, the media industry has blood on its hands.
What I propose is not far out. Apparently some jurisdictions have so-called Son of Sam laws in effect. According to WikiPediA, some such laws extend to the friends and family members of the criminal. So all that’s needed is to extend the laws to apply to anyone.
For my readers not familiar with the phrase Son of Sam Law, ‘A Son of Sam Law is any American law designed to keep criminals from profiting from the publicity of their crimes, often by selling their stories to publishers,’ per WikiPediA. That same article goes on to say ‘In certain cases a Son of Sam law can be extended beyond the criminals themselves to include friends, neighbors, and family members of the lawbreaker who seek to profit by telling publishers and filmmakers of their relation to the criminal. In other cases, a person may not financially benefit from the sale of a story or any other mementos pertaining to the crime—if the criminal was convicted after the date lawmakers passed the law in the states where the crime was committed.’
I propose to make it illegal to profit from mass murder.
Once the money is taken out of the intense media coverage, I predict that the coverage would naturally, and without additional laws, dwindle by 90% or more, and then future killers won’t be as motivated to kill, because they will know that they will not get famous.
I am not suggesting the crimes be covered up and not reported at all. But I am suggesting that the proper amount of coverage should be a non dramatic story relegated to the inside of the paper, or its equivalent for online, radio and television coverage. Once reported, that should mostly be it for coverage. I don’t own a television or watch a television, but I can guess that the news channels in particular have been devoting a huge amount of time to this story. Instead, I suggest perhaps a five minute story the day of the event, and perhaps five more minutes a week later to follow up on what was learned in the interim.
To really strengthen these proposals, I would even make it illegal for everyone and every entity to print the names of mass murderers. This is an important feature of my proposals, because people are fascinated by such stories, and if they can’t get their ‘fix’ of information in the formal press, then bloggers and multitudes of regular people will take over and fill their Status Updates, Tweets and blogs with enough information to make the perpetrator famous, negating some of the benefit of my limit on conventional news reporting.
To those that say prohibiting publishing the names of future killers would violate the US Constitution’s first amendment right of free speech, I would point out that free speech has limits already. For example, one may not shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. I think that society’s interest to not permit a mass murderer to become famous warrants this tiny additional exception to freedom of speech. As you consider my bold proposals, please ask yourself the name of the shooters in some of the recent killings. I bet most people can name at least one mass murderer, and that far fewer can name any of those killed.
Note that many news outlets already don’t report the names of victims of sexual assault, so not reporting the names of mass murders should be easy to accept once the evils of doing so are explained.
If the radio and television outlets insist on wall to wall coverage like they do now, then the outlets should be criminally prosecuted and forced out of business, which is easy to do by revoking their FCC licenses. This may sound harsh, but people are literally dying now, by the dozens per year, so shutting down a few media outlets should be viewed as quite reasonable compared to the current situation.
Media outlets are routinely fined for allowing swearing on air, or for allowing the female nipple to be shown. Oh, the horrors of a female nipple! We won’t allow that, even though everyone has nipples and probably nourished themselves at a female nipple for months after birth.
However, we let the whole world consume dozens of hours of coverage about mass killings, which I think does make some people want to repeat the killings to boost their own fame.
As my hero Robert Reich likes to point out, we are not protecting our children from many dangers, including the danger posed by guns. We are allowing them to fall into ill health. We allow too many children to live in poverty.
Look at this great status update Robert Reich posted to Facebook today, around 5pm Pacific Time, December 17, 2012:
“Additional thoughts. Not only are we failing to protect our children from deranged people wielding semi-automatic guns.
We’re not protecting them from poverty. The rate of child poverty keeps rising – even faster than the rate of adult poverty. We now have the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world.
And we’re not protecting their health. Rates of child diabetes and asthma continue to climb. America has the third-worst rate of infant mortality among 30 industrialized nations and the second-highest rate of teenage pregnancy, after Mexico.
If we go over the “fiscal cliff” without a budget deal, several programs focused on the well-being of children will be axed — education, child nutrition, school lunches, children’s health, Head Start. Even if we avoid the cliff, any “grand bargain” to tame to deficit is likely to jeopardize them.
The Urban Institute projects the share of federal spending on children (outlays and tax expenditures) will drop from 15 percent last year to 12 percent in 2022.
At the same time, states and localities have been slashing preschool and after-school programs, child care, family services, recreation, and mental-health services.
Conservatives want to blame parents for not doing their job. But this ignores politics.
The NRA, for example, is one of the most powerful lobbies in America – so powerful, in fact, that our leaders rarely have the courage even to utter the words gun control.
A few come forth after a massacre such as occurred in Connecticut to suggest that maybe we could make it slightly more difficult for the mentally ill to obtain assault weapons. But the gun lobby and gun manufacturers routinely count on America’s (and media’s) short attention span to prevent even modest reform.
The AARP is also among the most powerful lobbies, especially when it comes to preserving programs that benefit seniors.
We shouldn’t have to choose between our seniors and children — I’d rather focus on jobs and growth rather deficit reduction, and sooner cut corporate welfare and defense spending than anything else. But the brute fact is America’s seniors have political clout that matters when spending is being cut, while children don’t.
At the same time, big corporations and the wealthy know how to get and keep tax cuts that are starving federal and state budgets of revenues needed to finance what our children need. Corporations systematically play off one state or city against another for tax concessions and subsidies to stay or move elsewhere, further shrinking revenues available for education, recreation, mental health, and family services.
Meanwhile, advertisers and marketers of junk foods and violent video games have the political heft to ward off regulations designed to protect children from their depredations. The result is an epidemic of childhood diabetes, as well as video mayhem that may harm young minds.
Most parents can’t protect their children from all this. They have all they can do to pay the bills. The median wage keeps falling (adjusted for inflation), benefits are evaporating, job security has disappeared, and even work hours are less predictable.
It seems as if every major interest has political clout – except children. They can’t vote. They don’t make major campaign donations. They can’t hire fleets of lobbyists.
Yet they’re America’s future.
Their parents and grandparents care, of course, as do many other private citizens. But we’re no match for the entrenched interests that dominate American politics.
Whether it’s fighting for reasonable gun regulation, child health and safety overall, or good schools and family services – we can’t have a fair fight as long as special-interest money continues to poison our politics.”
Reich posts frequently to Facebook, and he’s an impressive thinker.
Once we get the guns registered and insured with generous automobile style liability policies that pay victims for accidental or intentional harm, society should outlaw violent games including violent video games. It is imprudent to allow people to practice mass shootings. We don’t allow child pornography because of the harm it causes, so society can enforce draconian penalties for violent games as well. I would outlaw paintball games and even squirt gun fights, as those games are also training for shooting people.
I was appalled in 2011 when I attended the Intel Developer Forum at Moscone Center in San Francisco. To show off how fast their computer chips are, Intel had set up a large booth in a central location where one could play an exceptionally violent game where one would fire full size physical ‘toy’ assault rifles at the large screen monitors, with the goal to kill the zombies on screen. I was so upset that I harshly criticized the Intel employees staffing the booth. They defended Intel by saying they characters were zombies. That the crazed somewhat human characters were zombies is not relevant. If the targets had been invading Martians, plague infected rats or malaria infected mosquitoes, I would still object. Intel was arming its customers with physical guns that they held and fired as if they were real full size guns. When they pulled the trigger and hit a zombie, blood-like fluid sprayed everywhere, just like with people.
It was revolting and shocking, and more shocking that Intel would associate its name with mass killing even of zombies.
I am happy to report that Intel apparently had no such booth at the Intel Developer Forum this year, based on my quick walk through. Whether it was my comment that nixed the booth I don’t know, but I applaud Intel for cancelling the violence.
I suspect that per capita gun ownership in the US was once much higher, and a century ago I don’t think there were multiple mass school shootings each year, though I have done no research to find out if my guess is true.
There are so many ways to conduct mass killings, and there are so many guns, that I don’t think trying to take away all the guns will eliminate the killings, which I predict will continue for decades.
Society needs to take away the impetus to conduct mass killings.
The first thing to stop is the circus style media frenzy of reporting. The second thing to stop is the training of killers by getting rid of the sophisticated killing simulators that we improperly characterize as games.
In the interest of brevity and because I don’t know much about the subject, I will not delve into other possible causes of mass murder. I agree there are many contributing factors and issues, including prescription drug use, illegal drug use, bullying, low self esteem, romantic relationship problems, job loss and many, many more.
If the National Rifle Association (NRA) uses its considerable influence to stand in the way of my proposals, I suggest that the association be purchased by the US Federal Government for fair market value using eminent domain powers, or new powers created by legislation if eminent domain powers are judged insufficiently potent. Once the government owns the NRA, I suggest it be disbanded, and the sale proceeds be distributed equitably to the many leaders and volunteers in that association. This will compensate the organization and its contributors for its tireless years of hard work. This payment is critical, to soothe their hurt feelings from loosing their important and powerful voice. When the purchase price is calculated, I suggest the opening offer start in the billions of dollars, since the NRA has perhaps the highest profile of any US lobbying organization, and such power took over a century of hard work to amass.
To prevent the NRA 2 from forming, I suggest that Federal law be enacted prohibiting the formation of lobbying groups for firearms and similar lethal devices. While law makers are at it, lobbying for firearms should itself be made illegal, to prevent each gun manufacturer from lobbying for their own benefit or for the benefit of the gun industry as a whole.
If representatives of the NRA discover this post, I want to emphasize that I support the 2nd amendment, and I hope that amendment lives on forever. I approve of responsible citizens owning even hundreds of guns if they wish, provided they are licensed as a driver would be to operate them, and provided the owner is insured in case of disaster.
It would be far better for the NRA to adopt and advance the proposals I suggest in this post. By doing so they would elevate their cause in the eye of the public, and they would not have to endure the taunts of the public after every mass murder spree carried out with a firearm.
If my proposals come to pass, now, or in a century or two, I would like to be remembered for this post.
Thank you for reading, and please share this post widely, while keeping in mind that I am not a historian and I am not particularly well informed about what I write about above. I wrote from the heart, and if there are errors, I invite my readers to share their opinions and knowledge so that I may form even more well reasoned opinions about this subject matter.
My heart goes out to those that have lost a loved one at the hands of a mass murderer.
Kevin Laurence Warnock
San Francisco, California USA
December 17, 2012
PS — This post was inspired by a widely circulated Facebook post published soon after the December 14, 2012 school shooting that was incorrectly attributed to actor Morgan Freeman. It was that text that opened my eyes to the media helping to incite mass killings, and I thank the anonymous author. See this Snopes article for details on this hoax.
Grandma’s House Restaurant in Yreka California threatened to call the police because my waitress wrote down my order incorrectly
Two days ago, on Thursday, December 13, 2012, I visited Yreka, California, USA.
I like Yreka.
I avoid chain restaurants much of the time, and that’s one reason I like to stop in Yreka (population in 2010 of 7,765) when I happen to be driving on United States Interstate 5, which passes through the town.
I drove around a bit after taking one of the three exits for Yreka. I wanted to dine in the most charming place I could find. I thought I had found a gem when I discovered a restaurant named Grandma’s House. I thought this was particularly fitting, since I had left my actual grandmother’s house earlier in the day and was on my way to my home in San Francisco, California. According to the Facebook page of Grandma’s House, the restaurant opened on July 22, 1977.
I arrived around 7:10pm, and there was only one other diner on this Thursday evening. The weather was clear, and the temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit — a nice night.
I looked over the menu and selected the spaghetti with the full meal add on. The spaghetti alone was USD $9.75, but for $2.00 more the menu said I would get soup, salad bar and desert — the full meal.
The only employee I saw took my order. Her name is Kathy, according to the receipt, which does not specify her last name.
I told Kathy “I would like the spaghetti with the full meal.”
Part way through the meal, which featured an ample and tasty salad, substantially overcooked pasta, soggy garlic toast and a wilted slice of lettuce as decoration, Kathy reminded me to leave room for desert, which didn’t sound like a presumptuous sales pitch since I had already ordered desert with my full meal.
When I was done eating the spaghetti and salad, Kathy asked which desert I wanted, since the menu didn’t specify the desert included. I asked what my options were, and she named four flavors of pie. I selected Boysenberry pie. Kathy asked if I’d like ice cream with that, and I said yes, figuring ‘why not?’ since she didn’t say there was an extra charge, and I never dreamed she would try to charge me extra without disclosing that fact.
When the bill arrived, I was dismayed to see that my order was not correctly printed on the computer printed check. Instead of the spaghetti and meal, I was charged separately for the spaghetti ($9.75), the slice of pie ($2.75), and the ice cream ($1.85). Instead of $11.75 ($9.75 + $2.00), the bill was for $14.35, or $2.60 more.
All prices are noted without sales tax.
I was and remain 100% certain I asked for the spaghetti plus the meal, because I had just calculated what a good deal it was compared to the individual prices. I have an eye for this kind of detail, and I like to save money.
When I mentioned my concern about the total, I expected Kathy to apologize for her error and quickly take the bill away to be reprinted.
Instead, Kathy became irate and told me I had not read the menu correctly. She went and got the menu, and I pointed at exactly what I ordered, and told her in a kind voice that I was 100% certain I had specified the full meal.
Kathy then pointed out that below the text for the full meal offer there was language that said the dishes without the full meal came with soup or salad, and that I should have picked up on that and confronted her when she carried me a prepared salad and didn’t bring me soup. I knew I was entitled to more than one salad and to more elaborate salads, but I didn’t care, as I was trying to not eat too much since I planned to drive for hours directly after dinner. I was irritated Kathy argued with me in such a way. Shortly before I departed, I gently informed Kathy that I was very sweet to not insist on the salad bar when she brought me a salad. She ignored me.
I didn’t memorize the menu parts I was not interested in, and I should not be expected to. I should further not be expected to continue reading the menu after I have selected my dinner. To be clear, the full menu description was first on the menu, and what Kathy repeatedly called the à la carte description was second, lower on the menu.
Kathy told me point blank that I had ordered à la carte and that on that basis she was compelled to charge me as she did. Kathy told me that the restaurant’s à la carte selection of spaghetti included soup or salad.
I respectfully suggest that Kathy and the restaurant managers consult with WikiPediA to learn their definition of à la carte. I copied the definition and present it here:
- A reference to a menu of items priced and ordered separately, i.e. the usual operation of restaurants (In contrast to a table d’hôte, at which a menu with limited or no choice is served at a fixed price.)
- To order an item from the menu on its own, e.g. a steak without the potatoes and vegetables is steak a la carte
What the menu really offers is a small meal and a large meal. The menu designer did a poor job, as the small meal should be offered first, to help avoid this kind of confusion.
I am nearly certain Kathy has gotten into numerous arguments similar to the one I had with her — she had her arguments so lined up that they appeared well practiced. Kathy seemed to relish arguing with me, and the arguing started in mere seconds once I sweetly alerted her to the problem I perceived with the check.
Kathy at this point was clearly upset and not thinking rationally, since the food she delivered to me probably cost less than what I could have eaten had I availed myself of the unlimited salad bar and consumed a serving of soup as well.
She should have quickly and graciously adjusted the bill at this point.
But there was no reasoning with Kathy, so I asked that she ask the manager to come speak with me.
Kathy informed me the manager had just left for the evening.
I asked that she call him and allow me to speak with him by phone. Kathy refused.
Kathy then stated that she would call the police if I did not pay the bill she gave me.
This is the first time anyone has threatened to call the police on me, and I was and remain shocked.
I then asked Kathy to phone the manager and ask that he return to the store to meet with me, as I was quite interested in telling the manager about Kathy’s threat to call the police. She said the manager had gone to a basketball game. Kathy never called the manager while I was there.
I handed Kathy a twenty dollar bill, even though she specifically and exclusively asked me to pay by card. I didn’t want her to have access to my card.
I walked with her to the cash register and collected my change. I did not leave a gratuity, as it was unwarranted given the above. I asked for the manager’s card, and she said she would give it to me. She did give me a generic card, which I didn’t examine thoroughly until in my car. I had hoped to get the full name of the manager along with the email address of the restaurant. Sadly, Kathy only hand wrote the first name of a person on the front of the receipt. I think it says Kem, but I presume she meant to write Ken but put one too many humps in the last letter, which she wrote in cursive.
To Kathy’s credit, she apologized while I was paying her. But she never backed down from her position that she was correct and I was not. Her apology thus seemed insincere and designed to dissuade me from contacting her boss. I suspect Kathy is friends with her boss and the police, and counts on them believing her when such disputes arise.
That’s one of the reasons I am writing such a long and detailed blog post about this incident. I want this incident on the record so that if a future customer of Grandma’s House gets charged with a crime if they stand their ground, I want their attorney to be able to learn of my experience with Grandma’s House.
If I had any doubt in my mind, I would not write this post. But I am 100% certain I asked for the full meal. If this is so, then all of Kathy’s arguments fail. It makes no difference if I didn’t pick up on inconsistencies that happened after I ordered. I am not a lawyer litigating a case where finding and calling out inconsistencies is required. I was a customer — a customer ordering moderately priced food in a mom and pop restaurant.
I am writing this as a caution to everyone that deals with the public. You never know who might write about you, so be careful, responsible and thoughtful. Do not lose your cool, and do not threaten to call the police over trivial matters like this one.
Kathy appeared to be between 50 and 60 years old, so she should know better than to treat me as she did.
I have no idea what the police would do in a situation where I was disputing fewer than $3 including tax, and where my side of the story was so easy and reasonable to believe.
I was well dressed in a sports jacket and dress shoes. My shiny BMW 5 Series was the only car in the customer lot. I had plenty of cash with me. I think the police would have taken my side, but I have no experience with police in such a situation, and I hope never to acquire any. I did not and do not feel this is a situation worthy of police involvement. The person that needed to learn of my displeasure was her boss, not the police.
In my opinion, Kathy should never be permitted to interact with the public in a business setting. If I were her employer, I would probably fire her over this incident, if legally permissible in the jurisdiction where I employed her, and after careful consultation with my employment attorney.
Grandma’s House is not a chain, according to Kathy. I wanted to love this restaurant. It’s adorable, as you can see from the picture above, which I posted to my Facebook Wall before my food arrived. I don’t criticize businesses frequently, but Grandma’s House earned this negative review.
December 17, 2012: I telephoned Grandma’s House Restaurant this afternoon and asked to speak with the owner. The person that answered said his name is Tom and that he is the owner. I described my poor dining experience I had that I describe above. Tom apologized several times, and said that he would speak with Kathy. He said Kathy works a full time job during the day and works at his restaurant in the evening. Tom said the menu is being reprinted and that the new version will be more clear. Tom several times said that he was sorry but nothing could be done to remedy the situation at this point. I did not point out to him that he could send me a check for $2.60, as I was hoping that by the end of our 12 minute conversation that he would realize that was a good start to a remedy. Tom never offered to refund my overpayment. I didn’t ask because I don’t need the money, among other reasons.
If you’d like to see the original receipt and the business card from my visit, click the link below to bring up the PDF scan I made today.
It’s so easy to send a check to someone thanks to the free check writing and mailing services from banks and credit unions. I used the service today to send a check to Taco Bell in Willows, California. I don’t normally eat at Taco Bell, but I was in a rush Friday morning to get to Berkeley, California to a PhD completion party for a friend that completed her advanced studies. I ordered a breakfast burrito and hash browned potatoes at the drive up window. By the time I found they had given me two burritos with my potatoes, I had driven away, and I didn’t have time to go wait in line to explain and return the extra and unpaid for burrito. So, I eventually ate the second burrito and paid for it by check today. The huge advantage to bill pay is they pay the $.45 postage and there is no way to overdraw your account by bouncing a check, because they take the money out before they send the check.
My birthday was yesterday, October 6, 2012.
I will long remember this birthday because I attended the memorial service for Lee Frederic Benton, held at Holy Trinity Church, 330 Ravenswood Avenue, Menlo Park, California, USA.
Benton was born February 18, 1944 and passed away unexpectedly August 24, 2012.
I did not know Mr. Benton well, but he played a major part in my life. I was able in 2007 to tell him the facts that lead to this conclusion, but, sadly, I don’t believe I thanked him for his pivotal contribution to my success in life. Thank you Lee Benton.
In about 1991 I went to the offices of Analytic Legal Programs, Inc., founded by Eric Little. Analytic Legal Programs made a document assembly software program called WorkForm. At the time, I worked at Cooley, LLP, then named Cooley Godward Castro Huddleson & Tatum. Cooley had purchased a firm wide license for WorkForm, and had asked me to lead the project. Associate attorney Jeff Zimman was to program the first set of documents, a set of 17 documents to incorporate a company in California.
Since neither of us knew the WorkForm software, we both attended a several day training session at the offices of Analytic Legal Programs in Palo Alto, California USA.
Zimman left a voice mail for Benton during our training, and the subject was Zimman’s compensation at Cooley. From that I have guessed Benton supervised Zimman, and gave Zimman his assignments. I have further guessed that Benton authorized Zimman to spend the hundreds of non-billable hours that he would eventually dedicate to the document assembly project. Without Zimman, there would have been no document assembly project, because Zimman was the only attorney at Cooley that showed any interest in document assembly back then. Without Benton letting Zimman stop billing hours to clients for a time, there also would have been no document assembly at Cooley. As a result, without Benton, I would have never become an expert at document assembly, and I would thus have not started Hotpaper.com, Inc., the first Internet document assembly platform, in 1995. Had I not started Hotpaper, I would not have sold it in 2000, and I would not have been able to buy the house I am typing this post in, or to live my life I treasure so much that I write about on this blog.
Starting an Internet company that gets acquired is very difficult. I needed every advantage along the way to get to where I am today, and Lee Benton gave me a huge advantage. He freed up hundreds of hours of time of a rising star attorney, which ended up launching my career in high technology. I simply don’t think I would have gotten into the Internet business had it not been for Lee Benton and Jeff Zimman.
When I was at Cooley, Benton had not yet led the entire firm, but I knew that he would, because Helen Gaffney, since passed, told me so. Gaffney ran the firm’s Information Technology infrastructure at the time she said this, about half a decade before Benton became Managing Partner, the title the firm then used for its top leader. The firm now uses the title CEO for its top leader, and I learned yesterday that Cooley’s current CEO Joe Conroy, joined Cooley while Benton was Managing Partner, and that Conroy greatly admired Benton. Conroy attended Benton’s memorial yesterday, but I did not see him.
Lee Benton’s memorial service was very touching to me. I recognized some of the attorneys that were at Cooley when I left in 1994, including Frederick Baron, Pam Martinson, Alan Mendelson, Gordon Atkinson, Kenn Geurnsey, Paul Renne, James Gaither, Craig Dauchy and my own current attorney Eric Jensen. That this group attended was amazing to me, because I actually received material help on my project in the 1990s from Baron, Martinson, Mendelson, Guernsey, Renne and Jensen. I hadn’t seen Martinson, Dauchy, Atkinson or Gaither since 1994, but I recognized all of them, and they appeared to recognize and remember me when I greeted them. Sadly, Martinson and Mendelson left before I got to say hello to them. I most recently saw Mendelson by chance at Nordstrom in 2008 when I was trying on tuxedos for my wedding.
My friend Tom Kintner was also there, and I learned Kintner worked with Benton and others on the USD $621 book Venture Capital & Public Offering Negotiation. ‘This book is the leading authority on the legal aspects of venture capital funds and of private financing and initial public offerings for technology companies,’ per Cooley’s website. I have known Kintner for over a decade, and I never knew he knew Lee Benton until yesterday.
When I said hello to Paul Renne, I had the great pleasure of meeting his wife, former San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne.
Benton was revered when I was at Cooley, and although I only spoke with him perhaps half a dozen times in the five years I worked at Cooley, I always knew he was extremely influential. I once had to modify the California Incorporation document set to incorporate his changes, and I vividly remember thinking at the time that they were the most impressive set of edits I had yet seen from any attorney. Even though I am not and have never been an attorney, I had by then developed an ability to identify precise and impressive edits, and Benton’s were outstanding. His dozens of edits made the documents more conclusive without being stern.
Frederick Baron spoke at the memorial. His written remarks were poignant and lovely — so much so that I suggested he post them online for posterity. If he finds this post and thinks this is a suitable place for his remarks to live on, I invite him to forward them to me for incorporation into this post, which I am happy to revise.
One of the stories Baron relayed was so sweet that I am going to relay it here.
Baron told the story of how he arrived at Cooley. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and knew of Lee Benton’s stature. He heard Cooley had just opened an office in Palo Alto, its first branch office. The firm was founded in San Francisco. Lee Benton was part of the first group of Cooley attorneys that opened the Palo Alto office. Baron applied to Cooley and got an interview with Benton himself. The story takes a charming turn when Baron told us yesterday that his son, age 4 at the time, rode in a car pool to school starting the day before Baron’s interview with Benton. Using more descriptive language than I will here, Baron described his 4 year old son as a boisterous handful. Baron was alarmed when he learned the night before his big interview with Benton that the driver of his child’s car pool was Lee Benton himself.
As you can guess, the interview went well and Baron was hired despite his fears that his rambunctious son might have harmed his chances. Frederick Baron went on to lead a department for decades.
Baron and Benton and their wives all became dear friends.
One of Lee Benton’s clients, Bob Plaschke, also spoke. He told a series of stories that elicited hearty laughs from the audience. He also spoke affectionately about Benton’s laugh, which he described as infectious, distinctive and highly memorable. I never heard Benton laugh because in total I probably spent no more than 30 minutes speaking with him, the most recent 10 minutes at a party at Cooley in 2007, when I got to have a very nice conversation with him despite the absence of laughing.
Plaschke told a great story about when one of his companies was doing a closing for a transaction. The closing happened on a weekend, and Benton dropped by the Cooley office where other attorneys were completing the work. However, Benton wanted to pitch in and help, and he asked a young associate how he could contribute. Plaschke said this young female associate tried meekly to decline Benton’s offer, but Benton persisted. Finally, using her hands that were trembling with fear, she handed a document she had written to Benton and asked him if he would review it for her. Benton enthusiastically attacked the document with his red pen, and when complete, there was red ink on every line of the four pages. Plaschke said Benton was so pleased to be able to help, and that he saw Benton commend the young associate on how well she had handled the delicate representations and warranties section.
This is such touching story for me, so much that it brought tears to my eyes as I wrote it. Benton clearly didn’t even need to be at the office for the closing, since there were others there already handing things. But Benton cared for his client’s interests, and wanted to make sure things were OK. He insisted on helping, and used the opportunity to do well for his client and to help train a young attorney, who no doubt remembers that weekend encounter with Benton.
We are all here on Earth for such a short time. How well we treat others defines how we will be remembered. How we treat those far below us in rank particularly defines how we will be remembered. All of the speakers yesterday conveyed that Lee Benton was an exceptionally kind, humble and conscientious man. He got a lot done in life while warming the hearts of those around him. Many others get a lot done while trampling over people without remorse. I consider Lee’s approach by far to be the gold standard for how to live.
Thank you Lee Benton for all that you accomplished and all the love that you extended during your exceptional time on Earth.
Here is the obituary for Lee Frederic Benton, as published in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper on September 9, 2012:
Lee Frederic Benton
Lee Benton passed away in Palo Alto on August 24, 2012 at the age of 68 due to complications following surgery.
Born on February 18, 1944 in Springfield, Ohio, Lee was the son of the late Robert and Candice Collins Benton. He was a graduate of Oberlin College and received his J.D. from The University of Chicago, where he served as the Executive Editor of The University of Chicago Law Review. Lee was a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School before joining the San Francisco office of Cooley, LLP in 1970.
Lee was a founder of Cooley’s Palo Alto office in 1980 and was managing partner from 1996 to 2001. He was a partner at the firm from 1975 until 2006 and then served as senior counsel. During his distinguished legal career he focused on the formation, financing and growth of high technology companies. While at Cooley he also served as general counsel and a member of the senior management teams of two publicly traded technology companies.
In addition to being an accomplished practitioner, he was a dedicated mentor to a generation of lawyers who value his legacy. Reflecting on what Lee stood for in his life and work, one colleague wrote, “success does not have to come at the expense of decency and humanity or be coupled with the sacrifice of principle or soul.”
Lee was a deeply thoughtful, kind, and caring man. In recent years he faced several health challenges with an indomitable spirit. Drawing from these experiences and the expertise he acquired, he was tireless in extending his help to individuals and institutions. He served on the Board of Directors of the National Headache Foundation, as a Strategic Advisor to the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3).
He took great pleasure in his unique array of hobbies. Some of his extensive collections and research included commercial aviation, single malt scotch, classical music, and country music. He was, as well, an avid and vocal follower of sports and politics.
Lee was a loving husband and father and is survived by his wife Susan, sons Timothy and Matthew, brothers Marc (wife Trish) and Bruce (wife Andrea), and brother-in-law David Wann.
On Saturday, October 6 at 1:00 pm, a memorial service to celebrate Lee’s life will be held at Trinity Church, 330 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park. For contributions in his memory, the family suggests the National Headache Foundation, 820 N. Orleans, Suite 411, Chicago, IL 60610.
Here is the August 27, 2012 press release from Cooley’s website:
We are saddened to announce that Cooley former Managing Partner and long-time colleague Lee F. Benton passed away last week.
Lee began his career at Cooley in 1970, and was a partner of the firm for more than 30 years. He served as Chair of the Business Department from 1994 to 1996, and was the Managing Partner of Cooley from 1996 to 2001. At the time of his death, Lee was Senior Counsel to the firm.
In addition to his formal leadership roles, Lee played a significant part in establishing Cooley as one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and important law firms. Lee was among the first of our lawyers to move from San Francisco to Palo Alto to open our first office there in 1980.
Lee was a brilliant practitioner and a highly regarded speaker on the topics of securities law, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions and strategic partnering. He took immense pride in his work and was a great teacher of generations of Cooley lawyers. He devoted himself to the success of his clients, even serving as general counsel and a member of the senior management teams of two publicly traded technology companies. Lee also served on a volunteer basis as Strategic Advisor to the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) and on the Boards of Directors of Sonim Technologies, Inc. and the National Headache Foundation.
Lee was truly instrumental in building the firm we are today. His legacy will be a lasting one and he will be deeply missed.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Susan and their family during this difficult time.
Here is Lee Benton’s biography from Cooley’s website, as of October 7, 2012
Lee F. Benton was a partner in the firm from 1975 until 2006, and then served as senior counsel in the Securities Regulation group until his death in 2012. He was the managing partner of the firm from 1996 to 2001 and chair of the firm’s business department from 1994 to 1996. He commenced his career in Cooley’s San Francisco office in 1970 and founded the firm’s Palo Alto office in 1980. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, in “The Best Lawyers in Silicon Valley” in San Jose Magazine, in Marquis Who’s Who in America and in Madison Who’s Who in the World.
Mr. Benton’s practice encompassed a broad spectrum of fields related to the formation, financing and growth of high technology companies. He represented high technology firms from their inception through maturity as publicly-traded corporations. Mr. Benton also represented a large number of venture capital firms. His particular areas of expertise included strategic partnerships, equity incentives, initial public offerings, securities law, mergers and acquisitions, and cross-border transactions.
While at the Firm, Mr. Benton also served as general counsel and a member of the senior management teams of two publicly-traded technology companies.
Mr. Benton was the executive editor of The University of Chicago Law Review from 1968 to 1969 and a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School from 1969 to 1970. Mr. Benton authored numerous articles and lectured extensively for the Practicing Law Institute, California Continuing Education of the Bar and Aspen Law and Business Inc. His topics included securities law, venture capital, M&A and strategic partnering. He is a co-editor and co-author of Venture Capital and Public Offering Negotiation (Aspen Law and Business, Inc., 2002). This book is the leading authority on the legal aspects of venture capital funds and of private financing and initial public offerings for technology companies.
Mr. Benton served on a volunteer basis as a strategic advisor to the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) and on the boards of directors of Sonim Technologies, Inc. and the National Headache Foundation.
- University of Chicago Law School
JD, 1969, Order of the Coif
- Oberlin College
BA Government, 1966, magna cum laude
- American Bar Association
Here is Lee Benton’s obituary published August 28, 2012 in The Recorder newspaper (link):
Benton had been with the firm for more than 30 years and held several top leadership positions. He chaired Cooley’s business department from 1994 to 1996 and served as managing partner from 1996 to 2001. He was senior counsel at the time of his death.
Benton was a dedicated, meticulous and well-respected attorney who played a key role in establishing and building Cooley’s presence and reputation in Silicon Valley, long-time colleagues said. He was among the first group of lawyers who relocated from San Francisco to open the firm’s first Palo Alto office in 1980.
“He really is one of a handful of people who reshaped our firm into what it is today,” said Frederick Muto, chair of Cooley’s business department who’s been with the firm since 1980. “He helped establish us as one of the Valley’s most important law firms. And he was just a great lawyer and a terrific mentor.”
Benton, who helped take Genentech Inc. public in 1980, was considered an expert on securities law, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions and strategic partnering. Thirty years ago, he co-authored a groundbreaking treatise on the legal framework for venture capital financing that’s still used today, colleagues said.
“He was regarded as truly a lawyer’s lawyer,” said Cooley litigation partner Frederick Baron. “He was puckish and brilliant. He was a person of tremendous attention to detail, and clients loved the fact that he turned over every stone to identify and minimize every conceivable risk.”
He was also fiercely committed to helping Cooley grow. As head of the business department and managing partner of the firm, Benton not only helped it become a major player in Silicon Valley. His leadership also helped the firm weather the tough times after the dot-com bubble burst and several high-profile attorneys departed, said James Fulton Jr., co-chair of Cooley’s clean energy and technologies group.
Benton was devoted to both clients and colleagues alike, Fulton said. He was one of the first lawyers at Cooley to take a leave of absence to serve as a general counsel to his clients, such as Santa Clara-based Ungermann-Bass, one of the earliest large computer networking companies.
“He was a beloved counselor,” Fulton said. “People didn’t come to Lee time and again just because he was a good lawyer. So many people who worked with him were personally touched by him. There was his willingness and ability to mentor, on nights, weekends.”
And Benton always made time to help young lawyers, said Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr corporate partner Daniel Zimmermann. Benton began mentoring Zimmerman when he was a young associate at Cooley, and they’ve been friends ever since, he said, sharing practical jokes and conversations over breakfast whenever possible.
“He was someone who always took a difficult situation and turned it into a lesson,” Zimmermann said. “He was just a very kind person who was incredibly meticulous about his work and his relationships.”
A memorial service for Benton will be held Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. at Trinity Church in Menlo Park.
Editorial note: Normally I place many hyperlinks in my posts. I have chosen not to do that for this post, except that I did link the The Recorder article, where I encourage you read the text I copied to this post. I copied the obituaries so that they will be readable for decades, even if the original sources disappear. I hope that the authors of the text I copied do not object. My goal is for this post to endure in its entirety.
I am dismayed with how the United States responded to four plane crashes 11 years ago this day, September 11, 2012.
Wars were started that still continue. Trillions of US dollars have been wasted destroying much more than just property and life.
Osama bin Laden still could have been found and brought to trial to determine his guilt or innocence, and we wouldn’t have wrecked our good will like we have with these needless and counter productive wars that are a drain on the world. Constant war is a drain on the mental energy of everyone in the world, I fear.
President Bill Clinton handled the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing as a police matter, and I recall that some of the perpetrators were located, tried in civilian courts, convicted and punished. That’s the way to handle both daily criminal and infrequent catastrophic criminal events.
I believe the people behind the 9/11/01 attacks were upset with how the United States conducts itself on the world stage. I think a sane and proper response would have been to admit to the world that the United States does overstep its place more than it cares to admit. We should have attempted to open a rich and ongoing dialog with those who attacked us to solicit their advice on how the United States could tone things down in the future so that others wouldn’t be so hopping mad that they attack us.
Would such a polite and measured response have worked? I don’t know. But I think it would have cost less in every measure.
If a prestigious entity with world visibility were created where we would yearly sit with our attackers and those who think of attacking, we would have taken the wind out of the sails of our attackers to a substantial degree. The entity would need to have power, prestige and money for it to be seen as more than window dressing by those who might attack us. It would need to make sure action was taken after meetings so all those watching would know their voice was being heard and acted upon. This would be one heck of an organization, and I don’t know how to pull it off, but it needs to be built. We know how to build huge, costly organizations that can cause action. The US military is one such huge costly organization, for example. The organization for good I propose might need to rival the US military in size, scope, power and budget. That might sound crazy, but what really are we getting for our military expenditures now? I would argue a lot less than nothing. We are building negative equity like at no time in the history of the United States. We could fund the organization I propose by reallocating half the budget of the US military as a start. With just half its budget intact, the United States would still have a huge military, but we would also immediately have the largest organization for world change on the planet, and just by having made that commitment, I predict more than half our ‘need’ for a military at all would evaporate. Half of our military is still a lot, and think of the new friends we would make with the new organization for change I propose. Far fewer people would wish us harm if we were doing good on such an intense global scale.
Now prepare yourself for the most provocative text I’ve written in my life…
Soon after the September 11, 2001 plane crashes, United States of America President George W. Bush should have said something like this:
“The United States is profoundly sorry and embarrassed.
Without an invitation, the United States has been acting like the policeman of the world.
We recognize that there are other valid points of view on how to live life. We don’t want to be attacked like this again, so I ask those of you who wish us harm to please share with us how we can avoid such attacks. We are willing to make big changes, and we’re willing to spend a lot of money to be a nicer world citizen. To demonstrate our resolve to change and see the point of view of others, the United States today is contributing USD $100,000,000,000 to get the ball rolling towards a more fair and sane planet. We will spend to improve the lot of the people that attacked us.
On behalf of the United States of America, I am sorry that this country has acted such that you believe you had to attack it. While this country may not agree with your points of view, it does recognize that you view your points of view as valid and worth advancing. Clearly, we need to talk, and we will talk. I personally will talk face to face with your representatives.
The United States feels so strongly that it will learn to play nice on the world stage that beyond the USD $100 billion I just spoke of, I am committed to working with the US House and Senate to gain approval to spend up to USD $3,000,000,000,000 over the next decade to fix what’s wrong with the world.
The United States is not a vindictive nation.
The United States could respond by starting wars and destroying entire countries, but we’re bigger than that, and we will show our attackers that the people of the United States are your friends, not your enemies. War is terrible. Peace is golden. The United States stands for peace, not war.
On behalf of everyone in the United States, including the families of those who lost loved ones today, I appologize for our actions, attitudes and positions that led others to believe that they had to attack the United States so violently to get our attention.
With hard work and determination, today will be the last time that any people of the world should feel that they have to attack us to get us to change our overstepping ways.
The United States in fact is ashamed that it has come to this, that we have upset other people so dramatically and profoundly that they have responded by flying airplanes into our landmarks, ending the lives of so many earnest people in the process.
Let us spend the following ten minutes in silence to reflect on the enormity of the events of today. Let us imagine a world filled with peace, happiness and enough to eat and drink. Let us cast aside our revengeful impulses so that we can come together at a meeting table to plan how the people of the world shall overcome the horror of today in favor of the brightness of a more promising future for all of humanity.
To the friends and family of those who lost their lives today, if you want to be upset with somebody, be upset with me and the past Presidents of The United States of America. What happened today was a reaction to this country overstepping its place in the world. It simply is not nice to tell other people how to live while we consume such a disproportionate percentage of the resources of the planet. In the decades ahead, we will need to learn to share our bounty with others more than we have done so far. Look on this redistribution of wealth as your insurance payment for the future safety of you, your property and your loved ones, not as a handout. The United States has been acting like a rich, spoiled kid on the playground eating the finest candy and laughing while others nearby starve and have little. We can remain a wealthy and prosperous and happy nation while at the same time leveling the playing field. We are a nation of thoughtful and ingenious innovators, and if we put forth our full effort, perhaps 100 times greater than what was required to place a man on the moon, we can solve the really big problems the world today faces.
Three trillion dollars is a lot of money. We can spend that amount building peace, love and goodwill. We can also spend three trillion dollars killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying countries.
I am certain that three trillion dollars of peace, love and goodwill is more valuable than three trillion dollars of rubble, hate and death.
May September 11, 2001 be viewed by history as the first day of the most kind and peaceful period the world has yet known.
For those of you that worship a higher power, may that higher power give you comfort on this historic day of new beginnings. Let us rejoice in the saved lives of the hundreds of thousands of people this nation will not kill in response to the events of today. Let us rejoice in the new lives of the hundreds of thousands of babies by coincidence born this historic day. It is tragic that the United States lost thousands of its residents today, but keep in mind more babies were born in the United States today than lives were lost in these four plane crashes.
The United States is your friend, not your enemy. The United States wants peace, prosperity and fairness for all the people of the world.
Tomorrow will be better.
I love you.”
Instead, President Bush said something genuinely and dramatically stupid:
“You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.”
This is such an unwise thing to say it sounds like something out of the mouth of a high school student at a third rate institution. Yet his short statement formed the basis for spending of even more trillions of dollars than I proposed the United States spend in my mock speech above.
The United States ruined itself by its unwise response to four plane crashes.
I don’t spend a lot of time delving into the deep details of world politics. I am not a historian. I am not particularly well informed about what I write about here. I admire Noam Chomsky and Dennis Kucinich. I think Chomsky and Kucinich would like what I have written here today. I hope to meet both men one day, perhaps in response to this post if I am really lucky.
I believe I possess a very fine and properly working moral compass. I am proud of and guard my moral compass. I’ve made profound and life altering changes in my life when needed to protect and guard and respect my moral compass, even when it would have been so easy for many others to compromise. Perhaps the above makes me look childish and unrealistic. Perhaps I will lose a friend or three by what I’ve written. But what I’ve written has been on my mind for ten years now, and today I decided to just say what I first thought starting about 2 seconds after I first heard about the first plane striking one of the towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City, New York, USA.
The United States has ruined itself by its response to four plane crashes.
PS – I am sorry for the loss of the family and friends of those who lost their lives in the events of and following September 11, 2001. By writing this post, I do not intend to upset anyone who lost a loved one. My heart also goes out to friends and family of those who have been killed or injured in the response to the events of 9/11, including those serving in military forces on all sides. I love the United States, and I love people generally, from all countries. I am so sad that all this death and suffering and hate has happened. It’s all so unnecessary and wasteful. Thank you for reading. I love you.
Kevin Laurence Warnock
San Francisco, California USA September 11, 2012
Note: I published this post on September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Today, September 11, 2012, I published this post again, changing the first sentence from “I am dismayed with how the United States responded to four plane crashes 10 years ago this day” to “I am dismayed with how the United States responded to four plane crashes 11 years ago this day, September 11, 2012.”
I am proud of this post, and I plan to republish it annually on September 11th.
Have an MBA and an idea? Looking for a technical co-founder to build it and join your unfunded startup for equity alone?
One of my highlights each month is serving as a mentor for the Haas Founders group.
Haas Founders is a group for Haas School of Business graduates from the University of California at Berkeley. It’s an invitation only group, but if you graduated from Haas you are quite likely to receive an invitation if you are a founder or co-founder of a startup company.
Another way in is to have a meaningful connection to the Haas School. That’s how I became a member. I have been a judge for the Berkeley Startup Competition from about 2004 through 2011.
Finally, all Haas graduates can buy their way in by agreeing to pay for the food and drinks. This allows service providers like bankers, investors and accountants to attend. Such service providers can meet ambitious startup founders that sometimes turn into clients.
I write the above to introduce you to the Haas Founders meeting. There is a Facebook page and a Twitter account for Haas Founders. Michael Berolzheimer moderates and organizes the Haas Founders meetings. Berolzheimer runs the genesis-stage venture firm Bee Partners which, according to his firm’s web site, pollinates visionary entrepreneurs with financial, human and social capital. Kishore Lakshminarayanan helps Berolzheimer set up the meetings, which take place at different venues each month, in the East Bay, South Bay and San Francisco, California USA. I met Berolzheimer in 2007, before he took on the responsibility for Haas Founders from the previous organizer, Mat Fogarty, CEO of Crowdcast.
Haas Founders has established a group on the professional social networking site Linked In. As of this morning there are 86 members. I believe the group is seeking new members, so if you fit the requirements, please introduce yourself to Michael Berolzheimer.
Haas Founders can be thought of as a board of directors like support group for startup founders, where no issues are off limits for discussion. That makes Haas Founders one of the most compelling meetings I’ve had the good fortune to attend.
I have attended the Haas Founders meetings since about 2005. Individual meetings are limited to 20 attendees.
This open forum for frank talk is made possible because attendees are asked to keep the the conversations confidential. To my knowledge, there has never been a meaningful breach of this rule. I think that’s a reflection of the trustworthiness and integrity of Haas students and graduates.
Given this secrecy, how can I write a blog post about Haas Founders?
Well, I am not going to discuss confidential information. The advice I am going to give is my own. I gave this advice to a participant at the most recent meeting March 6, 2012 in San Francisco.
I am not breaking confidentiality by repeating what I said that day because I have given this same advice many times without any restriction of confidentiality. It’s already public information. Problem averted. I ran this post by Berolzheimer before publishing it, as I want to be extra careful so as to not be uninvited to future meetings.
I decided to write this post because the issue I am going to talk about comes up so frequently that I have spent hours and hours answering this question over the years.
The question and answer are as follows:
Q: I am a non-technical founder and I have thought of a business idea that requires something technical be built. How do I find a talented technical co-founder to join my company for equity only to build my vision for me?
A: Forget it!
You can’t find a talented technical co-founder to join your unfunded idea stage company for equity only.
There are rare exceptions, but you can not count on them and should not consider counting on them.
One solution is to think of and pursue a business idea that you can implement with only the skills you have already. Here are three companies that I suspect began with little computer programming, for example:
- Become a mushroom farmer.
- Start a fair trade import company.
- Start a men’s fashion manufacturing company.
The smart people I suggest this answer to don’t quickly embrace my advice. That’s understandable. They are in love with their vision and they want to pursue that vision right now. They don’t want to hunt for a technically simpler business idea. They don’t want to learn the technical skills necessary to develop their original idea. They want a savior, a Steve Wozniak, to fall from the sky to do the real work of making a viable product. Usually such non-technical founders also want to reserve more of the company equity for themselves than for this savior, because they thought of the idea. If there is to be an equity disparity, I suggest it be weighted toward the technical contributors who make the product happen, not the non-technical people who think up the idea.
What non technical founders fail to appreciate is that talented technical individuals with the grit to want to start a company are in high demand. They are like supermodels in their desireability. A lot of people are asking them for dates. A lot of these suitors have lots of money to woo them with.
Why would a supermodel date a founder with no money when there is a line of suitors with six, seven or eight figure stacks of money at their side ready to spend?
The answer is supermodels don’t date broke founders.
Supermodels don’t hook up with unfunded MBAs that have a cool idea.
The perhaps sad truth is that MBAs are not held in high regard by many technical experts. This is not a comment on Berkeley MBAs, but on all MBAs. Of course, technical experts desperately need business experts at some point, as exits are rare for companies filled with only technical experts. I am not taking a stand on which type of person is more valuable because they are both vital. What I am saying is the technical people generally perceive that MBAs are not that important. If that’s the perception, then how can an MBA recruit a technical person without money?
There are millions of cool ideas to pursue at any moment. That’s always been the case and that will always be the case.
Talented technical people know they are in demand. They have recruiters calling them telling them so all the time. They read TechCrunch, VentureBeat and GigaOm. They know the technology world is in the middle of a full fledged boom right now. So only 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th rate technical people will agree to an equity only founder position with a non-technical sole co-founder.
The only practical exception is if you’ve already been friends with the person for years and they know your work and respect it. So classmates graduating together can get together and start a company, with some founders being non technical and some being technical.
But if you’re looking for a stranger to drop out of the sky to build your vision, you should forget it and focus on finding a simpler idea or on learning the technical skills yourself so you can build the first version of the product by yourself.
Yes, the product won’t likely have to polish of one created by a more seasoned expert, but it can be good enough. You only need it to be good enough to raise money that you can then use to pay a more skilled technical person to make an improved version.
I am not spouting off advice I read somewhere or heard somewhere — I know what I am talking about. Pardon me while I now go into extreme detail to convince you that I do know what I am talking about. What follows may seem like too much, but I have spent dozens and dozens of hours trying to beat this lesson into the heads of very smart non-technical company founders. I feel I need to pull out all the stops here to convince the skeptical that I am right.
I know it’s smart to learn to program because this is what I did to take my startup Hotpaper.com, Inc. from a USD $10,000 investment when I had almost no applicable skills through to a USD $10,000,000+ sale to a public company just six years later.
This is news I’ve written about more than once. But I haven’t described the grueling early work I put in that made this ‘quick success’ possible.
When I started Hotpaper, I was a minicomputer programmer. A Digital Equipment Coporation VAX minicomputer running Open VMS. There was nothing miniature about this computer. It filled an entire raised-floor water-cooled computer room and served 1,000 users in five offices in two US states. I believe it cost more than USD $12,000,000. Back then a 9 gigabyte disk drive cost USD $250,000. I saw the invoices and recall calculating the price per gigabyte.
When I started Hotpaper my only experience programming a PC was writing rudimentary DOS batch files. One can still write these for Windows, to run at a command window prompt. You can do amazing things with batch files, but you can’t write serious client-server or web applications with them. I had to learn to program graphical Microsoft Windows applications, and I had only used DOS on a PC up until that point. I had played for a few hours with a copy of Windows 3.1, but that was the extent of my experience with Windows. The one machine my employer had that ran Windows was so slow (Intel 386 with perhaps 1 megabyte of memory) that when you pressed a letter in a word processor (Ami Pro), there was a lag of about 1 full second before the character would show up on screen. It was pathetic.
I immediately bought a Hewlett Packard Pentium 60 Mhz computer with 4 megabytes of RAM and Windows 3.1 for Workgroups. I added Microsoft Office, which came on 30+ 3 1/2″ floppy disks, not a CD-ROM. This was a Pentium, not a Pentium II, III or IV. In fact, it was the slowest Pentium chip ever sold. But this was the fastest computer I had ever used. I still have it, in storage.
I all but shut myself off from the world for two years with hundreds of dollars of technical books, a 28.8K modem and a telephone. I taught myself to be an event driven computer programmer. Event driven programming is much different from the procedural programming I had done to program the huge VAX system run by my employer at the time, Cooley LLP. Yes, I knew how to program a little bit on a VAX, but Windows is so different that it’s almost as if I was learning to program from scratch.
Thankfully, Microsoft was not yet the market leader in word processing in 1994 since WordPerfect for DOS still dominated, so Microsoft tried very hard to persuade developers to embrace their Word word processing software. They offered free telephone technical support for programming problems, provided you paid for the phone call. There were no unlimited business phone lines back then, so my office phone bill was perhaps USD $100 a month due to all my calls to Microsoft — hours and hours of calls per month. I owe Microsoft so much for those calls, as they helped me to solve every problem I ever encountered. Thank you Microsoft.
Eventually Microsoft overnight switched from free technical support calls to USD $55.00 per incident technical support calls, and I had to stop calling them. But that was a couple of years later, and I had already gotten to be proficient by then, and I could get my questions answered for free on their well run newsgroups. By that point, Word and Office were the market leaders, and they didn’t need to try so hard to make developers embrace their tools.
I worked hard — really, really hard. I worked from about 10am to 10pm Monday through Saturday. On Sunday I wouldn’t come into the office until the mid afternoon, but I would still stay until 10pm or so. I did this from January 1995 through the end of 1996 or so, I believe. It took me that long to learn Windows programming reasonably well.
I didn’t know other software developers. There were no popular coworking spaces. Meetup didn’t exist. I was shy. But I was driven… really, powerfully and passionately driven. I had so little money I was living in a tiny studio apartment on Mason Street near Bush Street in San Francisco, California USA. My rent was USD $625 a month including utilities. I only owned one computer, so I could not work at home. I was at the office a lot, and it was just a seven minute walk to get there. I became really good friends with my office mates the late Stan Pasternak and patent attorney Robert Hill. I have such fond memories of that time.
Was the code I produced great? No. Was it awful? No. Was it reliable? Yes. Was it understandable to others? Yes. Did it get used by others for meaningful projects? Yes. Did I raise money with it? Yes. Did I sell the company successfully by following this model? Yes. Can you do the same? I think so.
At Hotpaper, I had a customer from the day I bought a computer. I told them I could build what they asked for. I actually had never done so on Windows. I had to figure out how to program Windows because I had a paying customer that demanded a Windows client-server based solution. They were paying me thousands so I had to deliver. I didn’t study for two years and then start to look for a client. I got the client based on my past reputation as a VAX programmer and then faked it until I made it.
It turns out that first project failed and the client never used my work or the work of any custom software developer.
They just bought an off the shelf application and conformed to its way of doing things.
But that’s irrelevant in the end. I got paid USD $30,000. I worked hard. The client made the best decision, for they should never have hired me or any developer when an off the shelf package was available for much less than having custom software written. I learned a lot, kept the rights to what I had built but did not get used, and I used that for the basis for what I then turned around and sold to Coca-Cola and the United States Department of Commerce, where it did get used on an enterprise scale.
Today it’s easier than ever to become a programmer. There are so many online tutorials like those from Codecademy. There are so many hacker co-working spaces like Hacker Dojo where you can base your new venture. You can work there as many hours as you can keep your eyes open, and there are smart people around much of the time to get help from.
Today all the software you need to do almost any project is free. That wasn’t the case in 1995, when now standard building blocks like MySQL hadn’t been popularized yet.
I have seen smart graduates spin their wheels for months or years trying to recruit a magical co-founder to build their product. How much better it would be for these people to sit down at Hacker Dojo and focus their considerable brain power on learning to program software directly. Even if the entire result is eventually rewritten later by someone more skilled, they would be better off than if they somehow found the mythical co-founder.
For once you know how to program in any language, you will be able to talk about and think about technical problems far more effectively than you can as a non programmer. It will be far more difficult for people to confuse, mislead or bamboozle you. You will be able to hire better programmers who will respect you more. You will be able to tell programmers what to attempt with more clarity and conviction because you know at least something about their world.
You will have insight into a world that’s richly diverse and totally fascinating. Your life will improve even if you never make a penny from your venture.
Programming is not easy. It can be absurdly complicated and exasperating at times. That’s why new college graduates who know little about the real world of programming can still command pay approaching USD $100,000 to start.
I am just one modestly successful entrepreneur.
Before you become a programmer, ask some technical startup founders you trust and see if they agree with what I’ve written here. Remember, Steve Jobs got lucky with Steve Wozniak. Silicon Valley was a sleepy place back then compared to today. Go make your own luck by developing your technical skills. If you have an MBA, you presumably spent four years to get an undergraduate degree and two years to get a business degree. Spend two more years to become a programmer. Doctors spend more time studying before they complete their education, so view eight years of study as normal, not crazy or silly.
I love programming, and I am extremely grateful I spent those grueling early years just powering through the books and road blocks to learn to program.
I feel I can do nearly anything I can dream up.
That’s a powerful feeling I wouldn’t give up for anything.
I have been thinking about the life of musicians. I just finished writing a post about the band Peligro.
Peligro always had gorgeous models or model types around. I was a painfully shy photography student that hoped to become a fashion photographer so I could hang out with beautiful women. I was envious.
I imagined that rock stars got a lot of sex while on tour. I still imagine that.
Thus, it was with surprise that I learned touring is not a sex fest — at least not for female rock musicians.
Ellen Campesinos! of the indie-pop collection Los Campesinos! (sic) wrote a powerful piece for Nerve magazine that shattered my illusion about the sex life of traveling musicians. Before I get into what Ellen wrote about road sex, have a look at what WikiPediA has to say about her band, for context:
“Los Campesinos! are a seven piece indie pop band from Cardiff, Wales, formed in early 2006 at Cardiff University. Although the band formed in Wales, none of its members are Welsh. They released their debut album, Hold on Now, Youngster…, in February 2008 and followed this up by releasing a record titled We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, in October that year. Whilst many consider it to be an album due to its length, the band have always referred to it as a ‘record’ or EEP (Extended EP) due to contractual and artistic reasons. Their second official album, entitled Romance Is Boring, was released on 1 February 2010. Their fourth full-length release, Hello Sadness was released on 14 November 2011. The band has announced US & UK tour dates for 2012.“
All of the members use the word ‘Campesinos!’ as their surname, even though the members are not related. The exclamation mark is part of the last name. The real name of Ellen Campesinos! is Ellen Waddell, and I will refer to her as Ellen in this blog post, even though I usually refer to people by their last names once I first identify them by first and last name. It’s too confusing to use Ellen’s last name when all her band mates use the same last name.
Ellen quickly catches the reader’s attention in her Nerve article with this eye opening paragraph:
“Neko Case recently claimed via Twitter that “Ladies in bands don’t get ANY action,” and as a female musician with a frustrated libido, I can sympathize. I’ve been playing bass in a touring band for five years, and I’ve had intimate relations on the road four times. (I class intimate relations as third-base-plus, but even if I counted kissing and over-the-clothes fumbling, it would still be a pretty low number.) I’m lucky enough to be in a job where I get to tour the world and meet interesting people, but in my experience, musicians — especially females — get a lot less then you’d imagine.”
Ellen colorfully boils sex on the road down to these four points:
- Time and space are limited on tour since tour vans and buses are cramped and really are there for the band mates to work in, not play in.
- It is awkward and unsatisfying to seduce a fan from the audience because fans put musicians on uncomfortable pedestals.
- It creates workplace stress to seduce the musicians from bands touring with your band.
- Friends of fans that are attending the show out of their support for their friend rather than their knowledge of the band make the best targets for lustful connections.
Why am I writing about Ellen’s provocative story?
Ellen is an actual rock star. Ellen is beautiful. Ellen is young. Ellen writes well (she studied journalism). Ellen is a founding member of a well regarded band that tours the world. I would not expect that she would have any trouble in the sex on tour department. I would expect that she could point out to a roadie a guy that she is interested in, and that roadie could do the tough work of approaching the guy and explaining a deal of quick sex with Ellen in exchange for not stalking her or trying to attach long strings to her. I would estimate the success rate of such an approach would be around 90% or greater.
But Ellen is shy, like I am. And shyness just sucks. It has messed up a good part of my life. I am absolutely determined to not let it mess up the rest of my life, and by writing about sex and Ellen, I am drawing your specific attention to a subject dear to my heart these days.
When you really get down to it, I left UCLA for Brooks Institute because I was shy. UCLA is a big school, and the second year, when I did not get a slot to live in the dormatories, I had to live about a mile off campus in a soulless apartment building without any other students. Most of my classes had 500 people in them. There were no cell phones or texting. It was difficult to ever see the same students even twice.
Friendships were difficult to form.
Brooks at the time seemed so much better. Classes were small, at around 20 students, and I made and kept a lot of friends.
Trading the opportunity at UCLA for friendship at Brooks is not a trade I should have made.
I deeply regret leaving UCLA.
I regret it so much that I am seriously considering returning, especially since I recently learned I do not have to go through the admissions process of a new student, because I properly withdrew and I have the original stamped paperwork in my fire proof safe. I have learned that all I need to do is fill out a one page form, send in my Brooks transcripts and I am in.
I have lost most of my shyness, but not all of it.
I still am hesitant approaching women for dates. I can approach them painlessly for anything else, including to model for me. I can handle a roomful of women. I can direct one or more women in front of the camera with confidence and authority.
But when I ask a woman on a date, I feel vulnerable because I am signaling to her that I find her sexually desirable. I am in effect telling her that I want to have sex with her, even if I am a perfect gentleman asking her for coffee with her grandmother. I should not feel awkward. I feel less awkward about asking women for dates now than at any point in my life, so I am making progress. But for me to be most effective, I should dispatch all fear and nervousness, for I fear that women pick up on that and are less likely to accept an invitation.
I thank my lucky stars that I have taken care of myself and am only 10 pounds heavier than I was at age 16 when I got my driver license (155 then and 165 this morning, in pounds). I feel attractive and sexy which I think women are also good at decoding.
I will conclude with a crazy story from my youth.
I used to love DNA Lounge. It’s still there, and it’s still cool, from what I can tell from afar. It’s open late. When I was a regular, it closed at 4am.
I had been there dancing by myself at about 3am, and found myself dancing with a solo woman, as often happened. We danced together until closing, but didn’t exchange numbers or keep in touch. It was fun but she was one of many women that I had ‘met’ and danced with late at night. She did tell me a bit about herself, including that she worked at Levi Strauss.
About two months later I was at DNA for a concert. The bar was in the center of the main room, about 15 feet from the stage. I was standing facing the stage and leaning against the bar. It was extremely loud because the band was playing.
A woman slid in next to me at the packed bar, to my left. I glanced briefly at her and it was the woman from the 3am dancing the other month. We hadn’t kissed or anything when we met, but I thought she was very attractive. At the bar at the concert, I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and she immediately, within five seconds, leaned in towards me as if we were a couple. We watched the show like this for at least ten minutes, not speaking, as that was essentially impossible since the huge speaker columns were just 15 feet away.
Live music at DNA is much louder than the recorded music the DJ plays.
At this point, it was around midnight. Without worrying about anything, I leaned to the left and kissed this woman. She kissed back. Soon, we were upstairs on one of the couches making out. This is before the days of bottle service where the nightclubs charge big dollars to sit down.
After about an hour of making out, still comparatively early, I asked her if she still worked at Levi Strauss. She replied that she didn’t and had never worked there! This woman was a complete stranger, and I had not danced with her for an hour some two months earlier!
She was a student at UC Berkeley.
I still wonder what she thought of me being so bold with her that I put my arm around her and start kissing her without even saying hello or asking her name.
I have never done that again, but I sometimes wish I could. No, I don’t want to kiss women I don’t know, but I would like to be able to be so confident that I can attract a woman so powerfully that she would agree to kiss me, even if we never did so in such haste.
Ellen of Los Campesinos!, talk to strangers after your rock shows. Don’t wait for them to get up the courage to say something. You’ll be waiting a long time most of the time, as a guy alone at the bar upon seeing a hot band member is extremely unlikely to approach you because he’ll assume your boyfriend is going to be by your side any moment. You don’t look like the type to want to have casual flings either, which particularly works against you.
I am not interested in picking up women in nightclubs or bars, and I haven’t been out dancing by myself since 2005. The woman I am looking for is not likely in a nightclub or bar in any event, so I don’t feel that I am missing anything. But I did want to share this outlandish story from my past as I think there is much to be learned from it.
You might be wondering why I write this blog. I don’t make money from it. It costs me a lot of time and a little bit of money.
What I am doing here is making my own luck.
The women I want to meet are much more likely to be reading this blog than to be looking for me in some dark nightclub at 3am.
By sharing my life, dreams, secrets, ambitions and ideas, I am also setting the stage for my next marriage and starting a family with children, since I am single now.
Stay posted to learn how my life progresses.
You may subscribe by leaving your email address in the upper right corner. I also encourage you to friend me on Facebook, where I post status updates for each blog post.
And if you’re a woman you think I might like after you’ve read a dozen or more of my blog posts, please introduce yourself to me, OK? Remember, I’m still a little shy.