Unsafe at any speed?

One of the miracles that technology has brought us is more up to date news. Whether that speed is a blessing or a curse hasn’t been settled yet, for me anyway.

Listening to the people who attract the cameras most these days, I wonder whether the media believe that they have no responsibility to educate the consumers of their product. Why is it OK for Trump to make promises that no president can legally deliver, promises that no rational (I’m tempted to say ‘sane’) president would want to deliver? Why does no one with access to the media stand up and call BS? Why is it that the only rational rebuttal to the Bundys’ crazy interpretation of the constitution is an editorial on a site that covers local news in Billings, Montana?

As they like to say over on Popehat, the proper response to words you don’t like is more words. Why aren’t we all trying to make this country stronger by using words to disseminate facts to educate people instead of letting ignorant people dumb us down with the blessing of the media? These are my words. If you agree, where are yours?

An approach that can be used in parallel to great effect would be to stop giving so much attention to people who have lost the thread.

Fair and Balanced
They’re not the only guilty ones.

Everything is entertainment, even (especially?) the shows that are not labeled as education. ‘Reality TV’ has no reality in it, buffoons get more airtime than serious people talking about serious issues, and people who present wacky interpretations of the constitution are not presented with an opposing viewpoint while people giving us facts are countered with baseless opinions in the name of balance and fairness.

Just turn off the TV. Maybe take one of your strongly held beliefs and try to find facts that support the other side. At least consider it. What’s the worst that could happen?

Thanks to Scott Sakamoto for telling me to stop ranting and blog. I feel much better now.

Coworking Options vs How I Work

Coworking Options,, Kurt Sussman, Portland, Oregon

While evaluating coworking options here in Portland, Oregon, I have discovered that the coworking pricing shows an expectation of a certain momentum that I don’t have. Yeah, that’s pretty vague. I’ll explain how I work, and then how the pricing models clash with that. (Photo: Tyler Ingram)

Most of my work is pretty self-contained. Setting up a server and some software for a specific purpose, writing code as necessary. Implementing reliable operations so those servers don’t surprise anyone with downtime or excessive resource usage. Evaluating business plans and investment pitches and reporting the relevant facts and opinions. For all of these tasks, I can stare at a screen, read a little and type a little, and the work is done.

Flexible, Coworking Options,, Kurt Sussman, Portland, OregonSometimes, though, I need to build a team for a particular task, normally because the window of opportunity is shorter than I can manage alone, or the work has a broad scope and some of tasks require results of a quality that I can’t provide myself. So I hire contractors, explain the goals and give them their assignments. Sometimes they can work alone, just syncing up at a few milestones along the way. Sometimes we need to be in the same place to get the work done properly, without wasted time waiting for replies or interruptions like a ringing phone. I turn my ringer off when I need to concentrate, which prevents both interruptions and quick communication. Wouldn’t it be great if we could work in the same room‽ (Photo: Emdot)

Let’s say that I have an office with a door at Ye Olde Coworking Place. Let’s say that I share that with some people I work with occasionally, people who also want a place with a door. We either pay for the space (number of people is constrained by the space, bunk-desks not being a thing that exists, as far as I know) or we pay per person. Some places have a per-person ‘initiation fee’. How does this work when I need one more person in my space for a project that may last a couple weeks or a couple months? What if one of my ‘permanent’ office-mates is going to be travelling, freeing up the space for a different person to work in his space?

Fortunately most coworking spaces in Portland are local, and local usually means adaptable. We will be testing that soon!

Coworking Options,, Kurt Sussman, Portland, Oregon, Downton Portland, Pearl District

Shared Spaces Kickoff

Dan Morris started with a philosophical post (Working Spaces in a Knowledge Economy: Part 1) on shared spaces. I’m going to start in the trenches and work my way up.

I’m restarting my search for a mildly social workplace, one that doesn’t require me to submit to a manufactured ‘company culture’ or keep specific hours or write TPS reports. One that stimulates, challenges and gently corrects me as necessary.

When I realized that I was not suited to my (any?) job about 17 years ago, I had a fully equipped home office but did most of my work in clients’ offices. That worked well; I was in the Silicon Valley then and my clients had great amenities for employees and contractors alike. For example, Intuit’s culture encouraged everyone to join the Friday beer parties and most groups included contractors in their ship parties. I really enjoyed the breakfast burritos from the cafeteria too, and Fiesta Del Mar was right around the corner when I felt like eating some amazing mole poblano for lunch with a coworker or two. Many of my clients made working from their offices similarly attractive.

As I started working for distant companies as a remote worker, I did more of my work in my home office. With a new baby in the house, I was never completely ‘at work’. And with the computer just down the hall, I was rarely completely ‘at home’. It all worked out OK, but I didn’t feel as engaged in either role.

pdx-bike-train-signWhen we moved to Portland, Oregon in 2002, I separated work and home. My office was a small unit in the same high-rise where we lived, and we didn’t even have internet service at home. That was a great change, mostly. We moved out of that building in 2012 but I kept the office, commuting 20 minutes by streetcar each day. That really felt like ‘going to work’. But something was still missing.

What was missing from both my home office and my small remote office? Other people, aka coworkers.

In about 2008 I started making a concerted effort to meet the people around me who were doing similar or related work. Fortunately Portland is full of interesting and competent people! We’d meet groups of 2 to 12, in coffee shops and brewpubs and at the seemingly endless unconferences at CubeSpace to work or plan or just to have company while focusing on a task with our headphones on. Over time, some of those people have gotten jobs, some have started companies, and some of those have sold their companies so they can do it again. That core group of 15-20 people has fragmented, though I can safely say that we have all retained our high regard of each other.

Bureaucracy_is_a_Challenge_(4669115193)So I’m restarting my search for a mildly social workplace, one that doesn’t require me to submit to a manufactured ‘company culture’ or keep specific hours or write TPS reports. One that stimulates, challenges and gently corrects me as necessary. I don’t expect to get subsidized breakfast burritos again, but I do expect to find a great group of coworkers.

Startup Fundraising

Kurt Sussman, Neophiliac, cacpa, Mark Straub, Steve Goveia, Benson Yeung, Abram Kottmeier

2015 California Society of CPAs
Startup Business Conference

I recently moderated a panel on fundraising for startups. The panel was part of a California Society of CPAs conference which was a CPE event for CPAs. The panelists were:

  • Mark Straub, San Francisco, California Venture Capital & Private Equity
  • Steve Goveia, Global Head of Strategy and Business Development for NCORD Healthcare
  • Benson Yeung, Lifetime Entrepreneur & Non-Linear Thinker, San Francisco , Information Technology and Services
  • Abram Kottmeier, CEO at Grow Huge Inc., San Francisco Bay Area Internet


Kurt and Abram debriefingA couple things really stood out to me. First, in an email discussion a few days before the event Abram told me that he is always pitching. The result of this is that when he’s ready for funding he already knows who is a good fit to fund a particular type of business, and how to approach them to streamline the process. Abram is a little more outgoing than I am (this is an understatement), but the advantages of his approach are clear.

If you’re pitching and the questions are very broad, you’re at the less-fundable end of the stack ranking

The second gold nugget was a deeper description of a process smart investors use when evaluating a new and popular startup concept. When several startups approach a fund with similar but cutting-edge (and therefore relatively unknown) businesses, the investors research the teams and their approaches for the purpose of stack ranking them. They claim to be very good at this, rarely getting the companies out of order. Then they invite the companies to pitch in order from least fundable to most fundable. The less-fundable teams educate the investors so that by the time they get to the more-fundable teams, they understand the industry, market, and technology and can ask deeper questions. If you’re pitching and the questions are very broad, you’re at the less-fundable end of the stack ranking.

Fiction v.s. Reality

KurtWe also talked about the difference between what you see on Shark Tank and the reality of startup fundraising, the importance of telling a compelling story, and how VC has changed since the mid-90s. The panelists were all very knowledgeable and I enjoyed talking with them.

Les ordinateurs ne marchent pas

The computers aren’t working. This is a recurring theme at the bank, where our account is not fully open after more than 5 weeks. We also see reboots of the Metro once in a while (every few weeks).

One of the things that amazed me when we first arrived was that it seems like there’s an app for everything; every mall has an app so you can see events and sales and a map of the mall. The city of Lyon has an app that covers events, holidays, and parks, and has an alarm feature that will wake you up with a list of cool things that are happening today. TCL, the operator of the rail and bus system in this region has an app that is really useful. The app for our bank is really fantastic; Simple isn’t really needed here. It seems like everyone has a smartphone app, and they’re usually well-crafted and generally worth installing.

However, things break.
Continue reading “Les ordinateurs ne marchent pas”

Avec Fromage?

Unless you are in a McDonald’s, you won’t hear this question asked. For better or worse, the answer defaults to yes. Do you want cheese in your nan at the Indian restaurant? Too bad, you’re getting cheese. In nan. Never mind that there isn’t any cheese in Indian cuisine (ignoring paneer, because it’s not identified as a western-style cheese by anyone I know); it’s France, therefore you must have that avec fromage!

Dirt vs. Varietal

In the US, people choose their wine first by the varietal (grape), then the winemaker, then the region where the grapes were grown. In France, the region is most important. The winemaker is important too. Looking at the varietal at all (as a consumer) is a relatively recent development.

I lived in Sonoma County (one of California’s prime wine-growing regions) for 9 years, and discovered wine there. My company is named for my favorite varietal. I’m a varietal-first drinker. The French way feels less likely to consistently result in a wine I’ll enjoy.
Continue reading “Dirt vs. Varietal”


PANO_20130821_144224I arrived in Lyon, France with my family 10 days ago. The first thing I discovered is that the things I thought I knew were often wrong. Wow, was I that wrong in Portland too? Either way, fixing that bug will be a big win. The next thing I noticed is that France subsidizes very different things than I’m used to.

In the US, we subsidize big industries. Corn, oil, automobiles. Sure, there are smaller subsidies, but they aren’t as obvious. We have cheap gas, and HFCS in everything. Everyone has a car and many people have multiple cars.

Here in France, bread is subsidized. A French friend told me once “if bread was priced near its cost, there would be riots.” Dairy seems to be subsidized. There is a ridiculous amount of smoking so I have to guess that cigarettes are subsidized. The French auto industry is subsidized but they have always seemed like the Special Olympics of automobile design to me, an opinion I developed when working as a mechanic in spite of the fact that French engineers have often come up with automobile features that are way ahead of their time.

So based on my cherry-picked examples, the US gives money to corporations and France supports people (rich or not). I will verify and elaborate as I have time.

Cellular suckage

In the early days of the US mobile phone industry, the carriers wanted to ensure that they could recover their investment in building out the cellular network as quickly as possible. Faced with a chicken/egg problem, they chose to build the network, make the handsets cheap through subsidies to drive customers to try the service, and take their profits later. It worked, except that now we expect handsets to be cheap even as we expect more features than ever  in our handsets.

I was fortunate enough to play with a Nexus One just after Christmas, and as I tweeted then, “#wantwantwant”.  But reading through the Google Terms of Sale and talking to the contracts department at TMO, I realize that this adventure is far more screwed up than the usual handset subsidy. Continue reading “Cellular suckage”