Archive for Personal

Thinking about the coming year

So that was 2008. It was the year in which I was able to see our son grow from a 6 month old baby into a real little boy. It was as well the year that miraculously will grow our little family with another member on its way. And it was the year that I started Strateer with a good friend. So 2008 was about beginnings. And while I could not be more fortunate with a growing family and good friends around me, business wise it has been more challenging than anticipated.

At the end of 2008 our company is not quite there were we wanted it to be. We are not off course – we are just slower than anticipated. The trouble in the financial markets were not unanticipated in the beginning of last year, but they had a bigger impact on us than I would have thought. In fact this recession is the first recession that has a direct personal influence on me. So what is the biggest thing  I learned in 2008?

Being open about your intentions, goals and ambitions opens up the people around you. That holds true for my personal and professional life. Though I was never shy about what I think, by now I am truly convinced that sharing my thoughts and starting a conversation yields a high return. Last year I learned tons of things that way.

Besides that I learned a lot about a new industry (financial markets), the NY startup environment and most important I learned a lot through new friendships that I entered in 2008.

While beginning of last year I had a rough idea on what the year would yield, today I have no clue what will happen in the next 12 months. I am anxious as there are big challenges ahead of me but at the same time there are great things happening this year (starting with the expansion of our family in April – fingers crossed). Very exciting indeed – I am looking forward to face all of that together with friends and family. In that spirit I whish everyone a succesful, satisfying and most important happy year 2009.

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Transitions

Since the beginning of the year, I have been going through a big transition in my professional live. For nearly 8 years I helped to built a successful company (ClickandBuy) against all odds. I transitioned out at the end of last year and since then have been repositioning and refocusing on something completely different. This context switch took much longer than I thought. Only now, after working 10 month on my new idea, I realized that I left my old role behind me and feel 100% immersed by this new company, this new idea and this completely different industry.

We started ClickandBuy in March 2000 before the bubble burst and launched right into the decline of Web 1.0 in the summer that same year. In this negative environment we were able to survive because we believed in our product and the value that our company would bring to the market place. But of course there were times of doubt. In fact it was easy to dismiss what we were trying to do, because of the market sentiment, the competition of incumbents (banks & telcos) and because of the complexity of the industry we were in (we probably were not fully aware of that last point). But we believed in us and made each other believe in the company, creating an interesting dynamic of identification between the founding team and the company. This identification was nurtured over nearly 8 years.

So after transitioning out of ClickandBuy, it took me longer than I thought to leave my role behind. Maybe because I did not take a break but jumped right into this new idea. Finally by now the new idea fits like a glove and going back is unthinkable to me right now.

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My 2 cents on the ‘Bailout’ or ‘Splurge’

Where to start? Yesterday we had the biggest point drop in the Dow Jones since 1987, triggered by a failed attempt by the US government to launch a rescue package to save the credit markets. But the package failed in the House of Representatives. How do you write a short post to sum up my point of view when many things are connected with each other? Let’s try.

First of all, I believe that until now the freezing of the credit markets has not been understood or felt by the population and law makers. It still seems to be very theoretical. The economy is not strong but right now it does not feel like we are in a bad recession. But things are changing:

Last week I got a letter from our bank regarding our home equity line. When we bought our house, this home equity line was ‘forced’ upon us even though we did not want or need it. The bank hoped to upsell, but we did not feel the urge to buy a new TV or car or else (I got a nice check books to pay for stuff with my home equity loan). Anyway, I guess many people use these lines of credits and live of them. Surprise: Now it is gone. The bank informed us that they deemed the value of our house to be too low to support the line and canceled it. If we received such a letter, I bet they were closing down all home equity lines in our area, state or even nation wide. These days banks are not so eager to give credit – cash is king.

This means the credit crunch has arrived – now it starts to get real for the individual consumer after 18 months. I read as well that last week American Express reduced the credit allowance of all its cards on average by 50%. The coming holiday season will be no fun for the retail sector.

But it makes sense: Savings rate have been negative in the US for many years. Why would you build a safety cushion for bad times, if you have $100.000 in credit lines you can always tap into? No more. As credit stops being available to consumers, they will have to cut down on spending even harder – not only have the stop to buy on credit, but they will try replace this safety cushion that is now gone by saving money.

This will kick off this recession people have been talking about. Consumers stop buying, companies stop selling, companies go broke, employees loose jobs and hence stop spending etc.

But not only that, the credit freeze impacts (and has been impacting for a while) businesses. Profitable companies that have financed investments with loans that might come up for renewals can suddenly not find anybody to renew the loan. This leads to bankruptcies, leading to people loosing jobs, reducing their spending etc.

Now: This ‘Bailout’ – who is it bailing out? Not the investment banker on Wall Street. They have been doing fine in the last years (and I am not going into the question who is responsible for all these complex credit products that blew up and lead to the credit freeze – not interesting right now where we are. This will have to wait for later). The ‘Bailout’ is paid by the consumer and eventually for the consumer. Because the average consumer is the person that will suffer from this if we go into full blown meltdown.

So Congress does not serve well its constituency by blocking a package that is aimed to get the credit markets that our economy / society is built on moving again. 5 weeks before elections, many representatives did not want to be seen as ‘bailing out’ the fat cats on Wall Street. So the problem is that the people that do not understand what caused the credit freeze (which I did not comment on in this post) do not understand what this bailout is for.

Having said that, the bail out plan was not perfect. But I agree with Paul Kedrosky: we do not have the time to come up with, discuss and mull about the best probable plan. We need ‘a’ plan. And leadership that can push this plan through.

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Biofuel revolution

Today I had lunch with the CEO of a biofuel company that I invested in. While my professional life so far took place primarily in the Internet Industry, I have been following the biofuel space for a while with great excitement. This is not  only an industry with tremendous potential to generate great returns but given the right technologies being used, it could help controlling global warming and the political turmoils that we see already unraveling as a world hooked on oil is realizing that its demand cannot be fulfilled.

Jatropha plantNow there are many different biofuel crops. A lot of biofuel is made out of food crops (Corn, wheat) which critics say are driving up food prices around the world. Therefore those biofuels are argued to be unethical as they lead to competition between the transportation/energy needs of the developed world versus the primary need of feeding the hungry in the developing world. Other companies generate biofuel out of non-food crops (e.g. sugar cane) that are however planted on soil that would be able to support food crops as well – so not much is gained.

However there are so called 2nd generation fuel crops that grow on ground that would not be suitable for food crops. This means that they do not compete with food crops and will allow farmers to use land that was of little use so far. Castor and Jatropha are the two fuel crops that are being used by this company mentioned above. According to what I heard, it is amazing how much demand there is right now for biofuel made from those two plants. But there are only few companies that are able to deliver this fuel. Luckily  my investment is positioned quite well in that game – it will be exciting to see how well they will be able to leverage that position in the next 12 month.

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Cities to live in

Today I read a blog post from Paul Graham about living in major cities like New York, Paris, SF etc. Though I do not agree with everything he says, I like the way he is pointing to the different messages that a city communicates. I have come to New York 6 years ago primarily because I heard a message when I visited NY the first time in 1996. Since then I knew that I had to live in NY.

Over time I lived in many different neighborhoods and the message still keeps changing and keeps attracting me. I agree with Paul’s assessment that NY is a lot about money. Not only because of the cost of living but as well because of the cities focus on its prime industry: Financial Services. Building a technology startup in this environment is hard as your main currency is inspiration and ideas. Both of which do not translate well – in the short-term – into money.

But then there are many other sides to NY that are not about money: The arts (yes most artists still come to NY, though they might be visiting and not living here anymore), the sense of community in small neighborhoods (maybe not so much in Manhattan) and the search for the newest in nightlife (Food, Performance, etc.). I figure that in the end one will have to move somewhere else to summarize and compare to somewhere else. I am not at this point right now.

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Distraction by uncertanity

This week I am waiting on a transaction to happen with the company that I helped to build for the last 8 years (I left some months ago) and it somehow keeps me constantly distracted. Even though I do not have any influence on how things will work out – so patience is the mantra to follow.

Either way it goes, it does not effect my immediate future plans. But it has of course a big impact on how to approach my new professional projects and it might even have an impact on my personal network. Wrapping something up is very important for me be able to throw myself fully onto something new. As long as there is baggage that I have to carry I am being slowed down and I am being distracted.

So let’s wait those couple of days that are left in this week.

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The challenge to focus

Today Hank Williams wrote on his blog about how the Internet changes the way we process information and focus on individual tasks. He sums up his uneasiness in the following sentence:

‘I just have this sinking feeling that we are losing something important when we pick up the pace of our activity, but reduce the depth of our focus.’

Setting aside that Hanks articles have a worrying undertone in general (aside from the more technology orientated posts) I think he is on to something here – at least I share his perception on the impact on emails, blogs, twitter etc. on my daily activities. However I do not think that those tools are to blame for the struggle to keep on top of all incoming mails, posts and tweets and in addition cover some ground in the days work, it is more me and how I am able to control these tools for my needs. I am not satisfied with my time management but this is not necessarily a new thing.

I do not share Hanks worries that the above mentioned new communication tools will impact negatively us as a society, loosing the ability to focus and analyze complex problems in depth. Those that in past were able to concentrate and focus will continue to be good at that. People like me that have to control their thoughts to prevent them from wandering from one association to the next will continue to struggle – and maybe it will be harder for us will all this information coming from all sides. On the other hand this provides new opportunities for me to generate new ideas and

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