Thursday, December 11, 2008
The VC responded with a whole bunch of excuses like this was against their "corporate" policy and that the next VC could move through the deal faster. However, this entrepreneur had been around the block a few times and called him out on it. Every VC's counsel has all sorts of issues in every supposedly standard document. And IP diligence is completely custom. People embarrassed themselves by quitting then coming back to their jobs because they were assured that diligence was completed and the wire was ready.
At this point the entrepreneur was waiting for a further discussion with the senior partner...
Till next time....
Here's some other related items I will blog about:
- My friend who just did an inside round that washed out founders and previous investors.
- My view on the big business vs entrepreneurial risk
- Why these Preferred terms need to be eliminated
- Some positive outcomes of this recession
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Everything was moving quickly, final papers were in the CEO's mailbox, the money was about to be wired, then Friday at 4 PM....
...the bottom fell out. Apparently "market conditions" was affecting the bigger brand name of the 2 venture firms. They were going to have a meeting on Monday, but they would not be going forward. It was nothing the team did, it was just "market conditions." This was not a term sheet falling apart in diligence. Everything form of diligence was done - management, technology, market, IP, and on and on. This was final paperwork. The deal was going to close on Friday, but the opposing counsel was not available for a couple of days, so Tuesday was the date. Well, at least the CEO thought it was.
Later we find out, the firm has been under incredible disarray for months. It's clear "the denominator effect" was impacting them. That, and the inability of limited partners to cycle funds through hedge funds. This was one of the most powerful and well known funds on Sand Hill Road. A friend of mine who runs a late stage fund told me, "Rajiv, don't believe anything a VC tells you today. When there's no money for the next couple of years, you'll see all kinds of strange behavior. It's going to be ugly."
Luckily, the CEO-to-be and her team are able to get their jobs back. Though they have to deal with the fact that everyone knew they were leaving, but they are needed.
So a fundamental innovation that would improve healthcare and reduce cost is delayed. The uncertain financial market has created even more victims.
Of course, what this VC has done is unforgivable. This will definitely be called out in the TheFunded.com. It's one thing to pull out during term sheet diligence, it's another to bail at the close. Frankly, there should be a financial penalties for bailing out. Trust goes both ways - the more protection you want, the more you should be willing to give. There's no free ride, my friends.
Note: I decided not to name names to prevent unintended consequences - at least for now.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
It helped tremendously that executives cut inordinate bonuses, perks and reduced salaries. It was smart and gutsy for Wagoner and Mullaly to take $1 salaries from their previous millions. That made it easier to swallow getting rid of the senseless job bank, delaying paying into the health trust, and helping in the transition to lower cost workers. Unions should mean protection from potential labor abuse, but it should also mean being an active partner in the success of the firm. Automakers didn't help either - paying large bonuses and option grants while slashing the work force and producing poor vehicles. It was not hard to see why unions would take an antagonistic stance.
I still believe they should do a prepackaged bankruptcy with government financing, as it will allow automakers to truly cleanse their liabilities and start afresh. With the unions and management pitching in maybe this crisis can actually turn out positively.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
How did things go so wrong? The list is long but I will do my best to focus on marketing. In terms of product, GM started taking each model platform and basically changed the grill slightly and then priced based on the brand. The Chevy Cavalier was the same as the Cadillac Cimarron - and it showed - based on the economy J car platform. In fact, GM would advertise the development of its platforms - J, X, A - over its brands. You would think they would hide the underlying platform owner so a Cadillac or Buick owner didn't feel like they were being ripped off with an overpriced Chevy, but GM's market dominance made it arrogant. They had strange justifications like they were simply graduating buyers as they made money. Sometimes the cars were so good like the Corvette that it would succeed in spite of Chevy's family-oriented and economy-priced positioning. But the homogenization continued. I still remember going with my parents to shop for an Oldsmobile Cutlass Wagon. The salesperson offered us a whole list of engines sourced from different GM brands and plants.
Over time, model differentiation improved, but brand communication still fell under the GM umbrella. Note the latest green advertising for E85 compatibility where GM headlines the ad with all 8 subbrand logo fall below. Then there's the bunch of hybrids under different brands and the someday to be released Chevy Volt all advertised under the GM brand. It's unclear why a Saab owner would want to know why their cool Euro sporty car is made by the maker of Pontiac. Or knowing that your import equivalent Saturn is a made by the leading domestic player. One of the reasons I bought a BMW 328i was because even though the Audi A4 was cool, it shared components with its VW equivalent - just look under the hood. I've owned VW Rabbits. Solid cars, but its not a sports luxury car like an Audi.
With its capital and rich heritage combined with the creativity of top ad agencies, it's surprising that GM took this marketing approach. When someone is spending a significant percentage of their take home pay, they are going to do some research. In the Internet age, its easy. Undifferentiated product, false tiers, uniform messaging across disparate brands - a recipe for failure. Reading Taylor's GM article, it makes sense.
Monday, December 01, 2008
Many of us in business have felt it throughout the year even though the press kept discussing endlessly rising markets. Everything seemed fine from all that you read, except for concern about the housing market. People were concerned about rising fuel prices, but airplanes & hotels were full, people were buying more flat screens, and India & China were growing at unbelievable rates. Then things got ugly with banks failing, foreclosures, bailouts and state revenue deficits. Now, market volatility is at an all time high. Check out the VIX, it's double where it normally is. That means people don't really know what is occurring.
Every article about the economy is now negative. Any positive result is couched with concern, reduced expectations or sometimes disbelief. For example when HP announced positive results, it was almost as if the writer did not believe it because it did not fit into the narrative. There was a great Lexus ad recently in the back page of the Wall Street Journal where they crossed out every negative word in a faux front page leaving... well, very few words.
The whole thing smacks of revisionist history. Yeah, there were foreclosures and a credit crunch, but that was before recession. A long and deep recession was coming. Now, everything must be reassessed because those weren't actually good times. We weren't really making money, working at a decent job or having fun the other day. We were actually in a... er... recession.
Tomorrow, I'll write about what my company, Position2, is doing about the recession.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I was sad to learn today about the coordinated attacks on Mumbai today. After just being there a few days ago, I can only hope that none of our team, friends or family were affected. Please let us know if someone we know has been impacted.
Since a number of people were killed or injured, we will look into how we can help our fellow brothers and sisters. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
India has taken a number of hits over the last year. What amazes me is that no matter what happens, India is unbelievably resilient. The beat may skip for a short time, but then it resumes back on schedule. I remember the previous Mumbai rail bombings. In less than a day the rail system was back up and running. People kept on with their lives. When I went there 2 days later, the streets were teeming with people and Mumbai's normal restless energy. The country kept going without the violence of retribution. We hope the same occurs this time.
In the US, we will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, a day in which friends and families get together to feast and give thanks for all of life's gifts. In the spirit of this day, we will take extra time to remember that with all the challenges and difficulties we encounter, there is more to life. We have each other.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Take Citigroup, they have already received $20 billion from taxpayers, now they need another $25 billion. How about AIG, they get $125 billion because the side bets, oh I'm sorry the collateralized debt obligations or CDO, were not truly collateralized by their counterparties. These folks wanted no regulation, got it, but because their system is collapsing, we need to bail them out. Remember, 15 years ago, there was no CDO market, now there are trillons of dollars at risk. That's no mistake my friends, trillions.
People who played conservatively and by the rules have to pay, while overpaid executives take a small hit on their excessive option plans. As an entrepreneur, I've never understood why a Fortune 500 executive gets paid $10, $20, or $100 million a year. These large companies have highly paid staff, brands, customer momentum and during the last 8 years, benefits galore from a bought and paid for government. Anyone that has the luxury to spend millions to hire top firms like McKinsey or Bain to study their company is not really taking personal risk. Oh and if they get fired, there are massive severence packages. The worst of the lot are the Big 3 automakers. They come hat in hand to the taxpayer when they have spent years fighting against fuel economy, safety standards, and legitimate competition. Remember it was not long ago when domestic automakers were able to benefit from voluntary restraints from the Japanese from taking too much market share (remember the 80's). Make crappy cars, get really big, overpay your execs, then come crying to get bailed out.
Unfortunately, these banks and automakers have become too big to fail. It is the government's fault for not breaking them up or regulating them. And the government is made up of the people, so it's all of our fault for allowing our leaders to be corrupted by these companies. It is one thing to let one institution fail, but the whole system collapsing could cause all sorts of unintended consequences.
So if you are going to take government money, then there have to be strings. First, the taxpayers now get to own a piece of the upside. Second, if you are now a piece of the government, then execs should not get more then their government equivalent. Let me repeat this again, if you are part of government, you should not make any more than members of the government. On March 6, 2008 GM CEO Rick Wagoner received a 33% boost in pay to $2.2 million. Given that a US President makes $400,000 and a major Cabinet secretary makes $191,000, the most Rick should make is $200k. I mean running GM is more important, than say, the Department of Defense. Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, gets $2 mil/year. While it's not culpable for years of Ford mismanagement, don't be coming down to Washington unless you cut salary under the President's. AIG's Martin Sullivan received $44 million with a severance of $15 mil. and bonus of $4 mil after writing down $20 bil of losses. Lately, Martin got press for declining severance, but that does leave $20 mil. At least the current AIG CEO, Liddy, is taking $1, but I'd like to see how valuable the equity grants truly are.
There was a time when a business that became too big would go under antitrust review. High incremental tax rates limited excessive salaries. The bottom line is if risk is low, then reward should be low. And getting fired is not a real risk deserving of a high salary (a typical CEO line). If you want a guarantee, go work for the government. And get government pay.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
As a news junkie, it will be quite a respite to have this over with. It's captivating to see the race unfold - watching McCain try to pierce Obama's steadiness. The race has gone from the daily attack/response game to more of a rolling narrative. McCain has thrown all they can, but the economy has made it almost impossible to have impact. Like Bush in 2004, Obama has had a steady message of Change while positioning McCain as a 3rd term of Bush. While it may not have worked in the beginning with a maverick like McCain, over time message consistency + money make all the difference. In 2004, Bush labeled Kerry as a member of the waffling elite. It didn't work at first, but over time it catches on.
Obama has elicited an incredible level of energy and enthusiasm. Turnout is estimated at over 60% of the registered electorate with a massive level of new registrations. With early voting, last minute surprises are diminished. It will be hard to have last minute breaks, so polls are likely to be more accurate vs. previous periods.
Howard Dean is going to be seen as a hero for the Democrats. As the DNC head, he was originally criticized heavily for building an organizational footprint in all 50 states. Augmenting this was the Democratic proportional apportionment system forcing Obama and Clinton to run in all 50 states. Turnout is always higher when you are engaged during the primary.
Now I will be up during the night to see how those 14 odd California propositions fared. I wish we did not have so many of them, but hope most of them are shut down. We need to let our elected officials do their job.
On Wed, November 5th, I'll have no excuses. The race will be over, and I'll have to find something new to obsess over... well at least until 2010.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I will talk about some of the experiences we have seen at Position2 as well. Having talked to both of them already, I can assure you, it will be a great panel.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Some of these were tough, but here goes:
President/Vice President: Obama/Biden
This one was easy especially when McCain picked Palin. I loved him in 2000, but he's a different man in 2008. His desperation has been unnerving.
US Rep, State Rep, other offices: These were fairly obvious as most were performing incumbents against unheard of challengers. I wish our own Rep. Eshoo performed more notably given how she represents the land of incredible innovation. She does have this job locked up for a long time.
So let's start with the Propositions...
Prop 1A - High Speed Rail: Yes. This is one of the most exciting initiatives on the ballot that could radically transform California and hopefully the nation. We are the only major populous industrialized nation without real high speed rail. It is sad that a nation so technologically advanced would be building a system that has been existence for over 20 years in Japan and Europe. Nevertheless, connecting SF to LA with 220 mph rail would be a major competitive advantage for the state. It would reduce greenhouse gases, reduce the need for freeway and airport expansion, and improve the flow of people and goods throughout the state. This would almost literally run through my backyard, so I'm hoping for tunneling the line through the Peninsula. Regardless, it would build grade separations for Caltrain, improving connections and reducing noise. Yes, the projections may be optimistic, but look at the Big Dig in Boston. This is one of those things you just do. Fuel is not going to get cheaper and there's just no room to expand freeways.
Prop 2 - Standards for Confining Farm Animals: Yes. None of the major newspapers are for this, because of the concern for unintended consequences. If California hens get more space, then CA eggs cost more and other states or Mexico will gain share. I hate to say it, but my kids swayed me on this. They want their dinner to come from healthy hens. I love their enthusiasm on this issue. Sometimes taking a leadership position will force others to do the same.
Prop 3 - Children's Hospital Bond Act: Yes. It is a follow-up to a previous bond measure (Prop 61 from 2004) that has not been fully dispersed. However, because of exploding construction costs, more is required. I was swayed the arguments in the SJ Mercury and LA Times. The fact that children are denied care because of the lack of hospital beds is deeply distressing. We should be world class here.
Prop 4 - Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy: NO. This restriction on abortion is absolutely the wrong way to go. I wonder where these supposedly well-meaning initiative petitioners grew up - in a cave? We all know the realities of this age. Kids get into trouble. Making them jump through hoops for this painful and difficult decision would create even greater problems. People should take care of their own family before exerting their values on others.
Prop 5 - Nonviolent Drug Offences: No. This one was difficult to analyze. It was well meaning, but the notion of spending $460 mil/year in this time just did not make sense without having broad consensus from the Legislature, public safety officials or any of the major papers.
Prop 6 - Police and Law Enforcement Funding: No. This one does have support from police chiefs and district attorneys, but the notion of guaranteeing $1 billion with no offsets puts this in the Prop 5 category. In addition both SJ Mercury and LA Times were against. If this was so important, then I'd rather have the Legislature put this through as a bill.
Prop 7 - Renewable Energy Generation: No. After reading Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded, I really wanted to vote for this. However, this was another one that everyone was against - Democrats, Republicans, utilities and environmentalists. That means something is wrong. California is already biased towards renewable energy, so I'd rather have our elected officials figure this out. There's already some momentum with California's renewable energy requirements, upcoming fuel economy standards and Million Solar Roofs Initiative.
Prop 8 - Eliminate Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry: No. This is one of those meant to turn out the conservative base. Times have changed from even 4 years ago. C'mon, this is California.
Prop 9 - Criminal Justice System Victims' Rights: No. Everyone wants victims to have rights. No one wants criminals to get out early on parole or for overcrowding. This one is another that should go through the normal legislative process. Another one that major papers are against because it is not completely thought through.
Prop 10 - Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy Bonds: No. Another alternative energy deal that I'd love to vote for. However, it's not clear why bonds are required for non-infrastructure related expenses. It's well meaning, but another one that does not have widespread support. Let's allow the legislature do its job first.
Prop 11 - Redistricting: Yes. This is Schwarzenegger's second shot at trying to create a less partisan legislature. In California partisanship a special problem because it takes 2/3rd of a vote to pass a budget. If we are going to have reasonable government, we need to stop the gerrymandering silliness. This one has widespread support, except for those who benefit in safe districts.
Here's the local Santa Clara County & Palo Alto stuff:
Measure A - Hospital Seismic Safety and Medical Facilities: Yes. This one is a "no choice" one. Seismic standards will force the closing of half of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center's beds and it's trama and burn center. Without this, people will have to go a long way to get critical services.
Measure B - VTA BART 1/8% Sales Tax: Yes. There are many in Palo Alto against this because of a parochial concern of County allocations, but having BART connect SF to San Jose and Santa Clara via the East Bay is the right thing to do. There's a cost, but mass transit takes cars off the road, reduces the need to build freeways and reduces greenhouse gases. There's the ability for people from wider regions to get to jobs. More importantly, it reduces imported oil. This area is going to grow and having more transit is better than less.
Measure C & D - VTA Advisory stuff: Yes. This one is more procedural. Hopefully, Measure D will take future advisory ballets off cutting the cost for non-essential voter approval.
Measure N - Palo Alto Library Bond: Yes. Years ago, there was a $50 mil. bond to the do the same thing, but it didn't make it by a very small margin. Now the cost is $79 mil due to higher construction costs. Yet, the libaries are as packed and dilapidated as ever. Time to put in facilities that match this world-class city. While Kindles and Sony Readers will have some impact, the space will be put to good use for a long time. It's good for our kids and our community. One side benefit - this one also helps improve our home values.
Check out the following sources for more info:
San Jose Mercury News
Palo Alto Online
Arnold Schwarzenegger site on Prop 11
Monday, October 06, 2008
I tried to put this in as an embed, but it didn't work. So click here.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Americans Expect Companies to Have Social-Media Presence
An overwhelming majority (93%) of online Americans say companies should have a social-media presence, and 85% believe these companies also should be interacting with consumers through social media, according to research from Cone.
The 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study also reveals the depth and breadth of social media interaction with companies. Some 60% of Americans interact with companies using social media, one in four interact more than once per week, and 56% feel both a stronger connection with and better served by companies when they interact via social media.
Asked about specific types of interactions, respondents said:
- Companies should use social networks to solve their problems (43%).
- Companies should solicit feedback on their products and services (41%) via social media.
- Companies should develop new ways for consumers to interact with their brand (37%) through social media.
- Companies should market to consumers (25%) using social media.
“The news here is that Americans are eager to deepen their brand relationships through social media,” said Mike Hollywood, director of new media for Cone. “It isn’t an intrusion into their lives, but rather a welcome channel for discussion.”
- Men are twice as likely than women interact frequently (one or more times per week) with companies via social media (33% vs. 17%).
- One-third of younger, hard-to-reach consumers (age 18-34) believe that companies should actively market to them via social networks.
- The wealthiest households (household income of $75K+) also believe that companies should seek to reach them via social media.
- Two-thirds of the wealthiest households and the largest households ( those with three or more members) feel stronger connections to brands they interact with online.
“All of this is great news for marketers,” Hollywood said. “Men and younger consumers are traditionally the most challenging to reach, while the highest-income households are typically very desirable; here they are saying ‘come market to us and interact with us online.’ This is really a license to put more energy and resources into this medium and do it effectively.”
About the study: The 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study was conducted online, September 11-12, 2008 by Opinion Research Corporation. It surveyed 1,092 adults comprising 525 men and 567 women 18 and older.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The music has stopped and everyone is looking to grab their chair. Unlike when a stock moves, when real estate drops, no one is betting on the other side. Credit movement has halted, causing intense fear in the financial community.
We are now in a very difficult period of deleveraging. It will be painful. Credit access will not be easy. People will not be able to tack on to growing home equity lines to buy whatever they want. Mortgages will have equity requirements. Companies will need strong fundamentals to get access to debt capital. It will not be as easy to hit profitability targets by levering up. Foreign governments are starting to shift away from pumping money in the US (Has anyone noticed that financial plans are completed before the opening of Asian markets?). Confidence has diminished.
The question is will the $700 billion in cost to buy mortgages + the $5 trillion in Fannie/Freddie debt + $120 billion debt in AIG & Bear Sterns + $9 trillion in existing US debt serve as a tipping point?
Or will this begin a period of stabilization?
It is not sustainable to run $500 billion fiscal deficits + $700 billion trade deficits year after year without having an impact. Forget the fact that the fiscal deficit is much higher if you include Medicare and Social Security obligations.
The process of deleveraging is akin to a drug addict quitting cold turkey. It is visceral. It is physical. In the end, it is the best thing that could ever happen.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
This article was published in CNN & International Business Times:
NEW YORK, Sept. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- Viacom (NYSE: VIA and VIA.B) MTVN Entertainment Group’s Atom.com, a digital comedy network and COMEDY CENTRAL’s exclusive partner and anchor brand for original digital comedy content, announced today that it has signed writer-director Sandeep Parikh to an exclusive first look production commitment. The deal follows the success of Parikh’s "Legend of Neil" series (www.legendofneil.atom.com), which has generated 700,000 plays since debuting on Atom.com in August and reached over 400,000 more viewers when it made its television debut on "Atom TV" on COMEDY CENTRAL on September 15.
The production deal gives Atom the first option on new digital content ideas from Parikh and it has committed in advance to developing two of them to pilot stage. In addition, Atom and Parikh are in discussions on future seasons of "Legend of Neil," building on the adventures of a guy who gets sucked into "The Legend of Zelda" after a night of heavy drinking and game playing and must fight his way out or risk perishing in the magical world. The series was a hit among gamers, who also know Parikh from his work as an actor in Felicia Day’s "The Guild," a popular web series set in the world of massively multiplayer online games.
"Working with Megan and the Atom.com team has been an absolute blast," said Parikh. "I couldn’t be more excited about the success of ’The Legend of Neil’ and the new deal we’ve struck."
"Sandeep’s funny and inventive first season of 'Legend of Neil' has resonated with the Atom audience online, on Atom TV and on all of our platforms," said Atom’s VP of Development and Acquisitions, Megan O’Neill. "He really understands the Web and we are thrilled to be creating more content with him."
The Atom.com digital comedy network extends far beyond the Web site, reaching almost every screen that plays video. Elsewhere on the Internet, Atom channels are featured on iTunes (which is currently selling the complete first season of "Legend of Neil"), AOL, AT&T, Bebo, Dailymotion, Veoh, xBox Live, and Parikh’s own Effinfunny.com site. On television, the weekly "Atom TV" series (TV-MA) features original Atom comedy videos and top user videos on COMEDY CENTRAL every Monday night at 2:00 a.m. On mobile phones, Atom has prominent channels on Verizon Wireless’ V CAST as well as AT&T’s CV and AllTel.
Atom.com, a division of Viacom Inc.’s (NYSE: VIA and VIA.B) MTV Networks, is a digital comedy network for young men that reaches millions of consumers each month on the Atom.com Web site and millions more through multiplatform distribution on television, mobile phones, and the Internet. Drawing on a strategic partnership with COMEDY CENTRAL and its own 10-year history of online video innovation and leadership (formerly as AtomFilms), Atom.com delivers Web comedy like nobody else.
SOURCE MTVN Entertainment Group
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
There's a large and fast growing marketing for online advertising. This is a step in the right direction for competitiveness in this sector.
No matter what happens from here on out, this is fun!
Monday, September 22, 2008
Twitter is a powerful tool for staying connected and interacting in a more personal manner. Coverity is one of many clients who are taking using social media to interact with their prospects and customers.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
By Carolyn Johnson
MENLO PARK, CA (KGO) -- A new device that's just received FDA clearance could make the treatment of asthma much more effective, especially in young children. It's technology that was developed in the Bay Area.
Hud Staffield had brutally crippling asthma.
"Felt like I had an anvil on my chest," said Staffield.
Eight-year-old Gillian Coan's symptoms were harder to spot, according to her mom.
"We noticed she was slowing down in daily activities," said Gillian Coan's mom.
But both were diagnosed with a new technology that allowed doctors to give them the precise dosage of steroids to control their attacks.
The machine, developed by a Menlo Park company called Apieron, measures minute particles of gas in the patients breath, known as eNO -- or exhaled nitric oxide.
"It gives us a window into the bronchial tubes without having to stick a bronchoscope into the lungs," said Asthma specialist Dr. James Wolfe.
Dr. Wolfe says nitric oxide passes from the blood supply into the bronchial tubes, when the tissue is inflamed. And being able to measure its concentration gives doctors a far more accurate reading on the severity of the inflammation than older methods that simply calculated the volume of a patient's breath.
"It's a marker of how many cells and how much inflammation is in the lungs" said Dr. Wolfe. "This test tells us about the degree of inflammation. It tells us does the patient have asthma, if they have asthma is controlled, do they more medication, less medication, more steroid more steroids."
The technology was the brainchild of Bhairavi Parikh, who came up with the concept as a graduate student at UMass Medical and whose husband and son have both suffered from asthma.
She says the key is a small cartridge, embedded with protein molecules that change color when they come in contact with the gas.
"You can't see it by the eye, but our machine actually measures the color change and correlates it to a concentration of nitric oxide," said Parikh.
From there, there is the severity of inflammation. In the case of Hud Staffield, the more precise readings allowed doctors to trim back the dosage of the powerful steroids that were giving him nausea.
But for Gillian, it told doctors that while her symptoms were mild, the problem wasn't.
"Measure the eNO levels and they're sky high. And even though she has minimally reduced symptoms she has tremendous inflammation in the airways, so we treated her fairly aggressively," said Dr. Wolfe.
And with the early intervention, Gillian and her family say her symptoms are now completely under control.
"I feel a lot better," said Gillian Coan.
Nitric oxide technology may also have an application as an early warning device. Dr. Wolfe says eNO levels often rise in the days preceding a bad asthma attack. Eventually, patients may be able to monitor their own levels at home, and adjust their medications accordingly.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
If you are going to spend the time and effort to prepare for and speak at an event, you have to show some life. Be passionate about your topic. Tell a funny story. Most of us have heard this stuff before and are sitting on our laptops or Blackberries working. We are looking for something special, something interesting. If you are as bored as we are, do you really think we are going to listen.
Sorry to rant, but I consider it a privilege to sit in front of a crowd and present to them. Even if they are high school kids, I want them to learn something. I want them to remember my talk. I want them to say, "Hey, I learned something." So I'll give them stories, personal experiences, interesting data. I'll vary my voice and solicit their comments.
A lot of these panelists for companies and see this as part of their humdrum job. They go home, have no impact and still get their paycheck.
C'mon, my friend, you can do better!
Back to our story. Oil has quickly fallen from $147 to $115. Traders and pension funds that bought oil to hedge and speculate are dumping their positions. In the face of massive subsidies, demand is actually dropping. US drivers cut miles driven for the first time in 20 years. Each country is investing in alternatives and efficiency.
But Russia has no other exports. It's massive foreign exchange surplus is based completely on oil. Not enough people are buying its vodka to make much of a difference. Now, they do have arms to sell.
So show some naked power. Take on your troublesome neighbor. Tell other neighbors that either align or feel the pain. As the largest oil producer, make sure you raise the price to keep the funds flowing. While showing this power, nationalize oil company and joint ventures. Make sure your pockets are filled because the time to cash in is now. The population is declining, industrialized countries are investing in alternatives, people are using less. I could see the Prime Minister pointing his finger at his general with a stern voice, "Attack now! Get those prices up!"
Oil prices should be dropping to $80/barrel. It's still amazing given it was just $20 a short time ago, however a huge drop from $140. When the cash flows in, the eyes light up. So many things to spend on, so many luxuries to buy. When it drops the whole game changes. You deserved that money, now the market is walking away from you.
So you will see more of these blow-ups and disruptions. It will come from those that like the status quo - those that benefit from high oil. Market spikes eventually turn. This one will if we let it happen. It won't if we decide to get into a tit for tat battle and respond excessively to this provocation. The forces of change are in our favor if we push for energy independence.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Most people with laptops walk around looking for a plug. This guy with a laptop walks toward 2 of us that own our plugs. What is he doing? You can't kick us off.
He pulls out a 3 to 1 extension and asks if he can hook in. Of course, we say yes.
What a clever way to make friends.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Then there's 41 year old American Dana Torres who won 3 silver medals in the 50 meter freestyle and 400 meter relay. Talk about being in incredible shape. Getting a silver by 0.01 seconds is simply incredible.
As much fun it is to watch Michael Phelps win his 8th gold or Usain Bolt blow out the 100 meter race, knowing that age truly doesn't mater is truly inspiring.
We discussed a variety of topics. My focus was to discuss real-life examples of how companies advantage of Social Media whether it be blogs, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. At Position2 we work with clients to drive user engagement and leads with Social Media. There are technology companies like Coverity that connect with their community with Twitter in addition to media sites like Effinfunny that create special micro-sites and Facebook Pages to drive conversations.
Everyone is looking for a silver bullet for which new metric that should look towards. The panel recommended metrics like email forwards, sharing rates, recommendations in addition to click through, lead form fill, webinar sign-up, or time on site vs. bounce rate. Unfortunately, there is no single metric. It all depends on the business or the goal. A B2B firm selling software is going to have different goals than a consumer media site. One thing that is important is the need to dedicate resources to this fast-growing medium. Another is to give time to optimize as there are many ways to make things work. It is a game of applying best practices in a customized and iterative manner.
Thank you Daya at WebGuild for inviting me to speak. Also, thank you to the attendees for your engaging questions and comments.
Monday, August 11, 2008
- Here's a clever banned Pepsi commercial with Ronaldo using Far East customs against his opponents. Apparently, it was too sensitive to show (I don't understand why), but it's hilarious. It is a great way to associate a long running brand like Pepsi with youth, international and hip.
- Next, there's a banned sumo wrestling on that's worth checking out. What's clever is that even if the ad isn't shown on TV, it gets additional mileage on the web. Then again, maybe they were never meant for TV.
- Then, there's this ridiculous flop. As we know certain soccer players are notorious actors. No advertising angle, just funny.
- Most of the time when you are a basketball game, the trampoline dunkers are a side show. Well, this is better than the game.
Then go to Effinfunny and watch the Legend of Neil :)
This Monday, there's swimming, tennis, badminton, judo, water polo, even archery, but we are being shown a sport that you could never see in any high school, college or TV. Yet NBC in its infinite wisdom believes synchronized swimming is a prime time event. We know the Chinese focused its athletes on sports that are not as competitive to drive up the medal count. Does it mean that NBC would feature it.
I've got young kids from 5 to 12 - and no - none of them said, "Oh, I'd like to do that." And yes, I have girls, too.
By the way, wasn't the 100 freestyle relay amazing? Just saw it on the DVR.
Friday, August 08, 2008
Later in the session, I presented Online Marketing: the purchase process, advertising trends, various forms of online marketing like search, email and social media marketing and measurement methods,. We also discussed some real life case examples.
I really enjoyed how engaged the students were and the thoughtfulness of their analysis.
There is definitely hope in the next generation...
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
We'll announce more when we are allowed to go official...
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
This year's summer vacation is in Yellowstone park. It is day 3 and we are having a great time. Except for today, every day we've been hiking in various parts of Yellowstone. As usual, Bhairavi has picked a beautiful house about 30 minutes outside the park. Here's the view outside the back. This pic does not do the view justice.
In addition to our hikes through the geysers and falls, I've been running every morning. Today, I did about 8 miles up and back. The second pic is the direction of the run (pic taken from our house).
The further I went, the more I added to the run. Houses are so far apart and its just interesting to see why one person picked one view over another. After about 4 miles up, I turned around. I was running low on water (the air is thin here) and every time I'd go up another hill, there would be more roads and houses. Also, I did not want the family to think I got lost.
The runs are picturesque. You can see so far into the distance - plateaus, farms, mountains, Yellowstone River. It is remarkably detailed and rich. People live so far apart from each other. I remember this kind of thing in Dunbarton, NH, but you don't see the kind of physical separation you see here.
I can see why T Boone Pickens considers this as part of the "Saudi Arabia of wind." The winds blew so hard that it knocked down the support pole at the house entrance. We had to shut our windows as they were bending on the hinges. Many times, I'd have to take my hat off while running.
We are 30 miles away from the nearest town in either direction. 60 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart - yes they are huge out here. Could you imagine driving 3 miles to get onto the main road, then at least another 30 to get somewhere? The summer season is essentially July and August. It's been over 70 degrees (F) every day and sunny, but we are getting to see the wonderful summertime experience. Out in Montana, they sometimes get snow all the way into June. I still wonder who plows all these gravel roads to houses deep in the mountains.
For us, this is a blast. We are in a beautiful home way up on a hill with incredible views out of every window. Everything is big - the bales of hay, the field, the trucks and the scenery. Just walking down to another house is about a quarter mile minimum. In a short walk to the end of our side road was half a mile. The kids love it. They have not even complained about shutting off the TV for the week. It's actually turned my oldest son into an entrepreneur - more on that later.
Tomorrow we are off to Grand Teton early in the morning....
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Outsell, a market research firm released the article below. From what I've seen the media spend number make sense. It shows that there is a continuing shift to online media:
Spending on total US advertising and marketing will grow 3.9% in 2008 to reach $412.4 billion, with the advertising portion reaching $249.1 billion, according to the third annual ad spending report by Outsell, Inc., which said growth has declined from 2007’s 5.8%.
The report covers five key media types: online, print, events, TV/radio and others. Outsell surveyed 1,088 US advertisers on their spending plans for the year.
Among the significant findings:
- Companies are spending 61.8% of their online ad/marketing budgets - $65.1 billion - on their own sites, siphoning dollars away from other options. As a result, publishers are beginning to offer their own advertising/marketing services to recapture lost revenue.
- The fastest-growing of all ad types is online, which is expected to grow 12.3% in 2008 to $105.3 billion (or $40.2 billion excluding advertisers’ spending on their own sites). As a result, online spending now exceeds TV/radio/movies for the first time ($98.5 billion).
- Advertisers’ spending on traditional media remains significant - with print capturing 35.5% of spending ($147.0 billion) and events at 12.5% of the total ($51.7 billion). 54% of advertisers spread budgets across three or more media types.
- Out of 26 methods measured for effectiveness, advertisers rate their websites as the best for lead generation (75% effective), followed by exhibitions (66%), custom print publications (65%), direct mail marketing (64%), and trade magazines (64%).
- Asked what metrics they would track if they could track only three, advertisers point most frequently to cost per sale (46%), cost per lead (37%), and cost per click (32%).
Friday, July 11, 2008
US and Iranian animosity goes back to the 1980. The desire to get back at Iran has always been there amongst US leaders following the hostage crisis. Iran funds Hezbollah and Hamas as their defense mechanism. Therefore, Iran and Israel are natural enemies. So this creates the never ending cycle. The US funds a massive military presence in the Middle East. Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia buy American weaponry. Oil prices rise enabling Middle East nations to make more and more while increasing costs and inflation for basics like food and fuel.
So why not keep up with the uranium enrichment game, missile tests, military exercises and massive military build-up? Poor countries lose and industrialized nations pay more & while oil economies create dependency between the populace and government subsidies. The same folks run government and bribe their citizens to keep quiet with artificial subsidies like 25 cent/gallon gas.
The US plays a partner to this by continually ratcheting up the pressure to defend its allies and interests. A small, relatively weak country like Iran takes on the dimensions of the old Evil Empire. The cycle continues circle in accelerating bands impacting greater and greater numbers. The world keeps paying more - food prices, iron ore, steel, basic chemicals - while a few countries feed instability in hopes that the fear is felt without having to follow through with their threats.
Why don anything for your people when you can keep growing your income from oil?
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
So in Atlanta, there's a challenge to the airport ban on carrying a concealed weapon. See the NY Times article.
In San Francisco, there's an NRA challenge to the ban on loaded weapons in public housing.
Of course, there's the overturning of the Washington DC law and the challenge in Chicago handgun rules. Notice that the big cities are trying to restrict gun - gee, I wonder why?
I'm sure there are some interesting arguments in the decision about how a handgun is an arm that everyone has the right to have, but a machine gun, howitzer and tank is not.
Well hell, if you can have a concealed weapon in an airport, why not in an airplane or college or a government office. Maybe Congressman should also have the right to have a handgun as should any visitor. As soon as you restrict it, you are restricting a right.
Maybe this is a good thing. If the NRA gets to push these silly argument, maybe there will be a new constitutional amendment that modifies the Second Amendment.
At minimum, everyone should be allowed to carry a handgun at Supreme Court hearings.
Meanwhile read this article on how Tasers are more effective than guns for self-defense.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Then, I put my optimist hat on about super expensive oil. As you know, I'm an entrepreneur and preternaturally positive. The US is a dynamic economy. It's flexibility has accommodated incredible shocks and changes over time whether it be oil shocks in the 70's, the S&L crisis of the 80's, the emerging economy debt shocks of the 90's or the tech crunch of 2000-2002. So here are some thoughts:
- Silicon Valley gets rich: For years VCs have been studying energy markets looking to fund wide varieties of alternative energy projects from solar to biofuels to efficiency software to CO2 eating algae. For example, ompanies like Nanosolar are into commercial production of thin film solar cells with far greater utility and half the cost of alternatives. For all the promise, those businesses need oil to be well over $60/barrel over the long term. Even more than technology, shifts in energy produce wealth over a long period. Remember the Ewings on Dallas - even the kids win.
- Oil nations lose: By allowing oil prices to explode, they create cultures of dependency with their people. Why take any initiative when money is flowing out of pure luck of location? While beautiful cities will be built, super wealthy inheritors have no need to work hard or think out of the box. Governments feed this dependency because they can provide all kinds of benefits in return for a docile population. This breeds corruption and eventually hard times when alternative energy ends the gravy train. Look at Venezuela, Iran and Russia. Right now, things are wonderful, but every time oil prices go up, spending increases. Once you get used to all kinds of subsidies and free stuff, it's hard to let go.
- Manufacturing comes back to the US: Disparate supply chains only work when transportation costs are dirt cheap. With high shipping costs, it does not make sense to make heavy goods far from the end consumer.
- Farmers come back strong: It's just not corn, it's every crop because the return has to be as good as corn to ethanol. Moreover, there are new varieties of biofuels, coming from jatropha, switchgrass and trees. There are bioplastics from genetically engineers crops. With prices for food rising, farmers can go from subsistance to export.
- US automakers get a chance to come back: Most of the time American automakers have shrunk from truly attacking the market with innovation. Instead they used protectionism or hid behind poorly negotiated labor agreements. This is a time of great change - GM is seriously talking about releasing the innovative Chevy Volt, a mass produced plug-in hybrid. Both Ford and GM are releasing a hybrids across their product lines and have access to diesels from their European lines. They could use this time of crisis to fundamentally reset their businesses towards highly fuel efficient product lines and more flexible labor agreements.
- Electric cars every where. Tesla estimates that driving its all electric car cost 2 cents/mile. Large utility plants are far more efficient than millions of gasoline engines. With the possibility of greater renewables powering these plants American can more to energy self-sufficiency. That means fewer troops around the world having to establish energy supply lines for world.
- End of suburban sprawl: It's already occurred in the SF Bay Area in Stockton and Tracy. It just costs too much to drive in from far away. People will be compelled to move closer to where they work. It is likely that cities will be where companies locate as mass transit makes more sense for commuters. It is far more efficient than America's current level of dispersion. Check out this NY Time article on the subject.
- Obesity will drop: I know this sounds like a stretch, but the McD Dollar menu has done more damage to America and the industrialized than any catastrophe in the last 20 years. Look around and you will see people are heavier than ever. Because food prices are half what they were as a proportion of income over the last 30 years, portion sizes are greater and processed food costs less than it ever did. So what do people do? Eat more. Obesity amongst children is at epic proportions. Maybe rather than super-large everything, restaurants will cut back. We can eat less and maybe prevent all those future health problems caused by excessive weight.
OK, so I'd still like to go back to $1.50/gallon gas, but the scarcity of oil can be a great call to action for the world's most entrepreneurial and dynamic economy. If we were self-sufficent with energy, there would be no trade deficit and potentially no fiscal deficit. America would still be a free trading nation, but with greater power than before because $200/barrel means tech-driven energy rather than just drilling under the sand. This can only be good for us in the long term.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Atom.com is allied with Comedy Central and will distribute content across a multi-platform network including the Internet, handheld, gaming platforms, mobile phones and television. With over 1.9 million unique visitors in May there is even more distribution than Funny or Die, Super Deluxe, or The Onion combined.
In separate news, Wyatt Cenac, one of Effinfunny's early comics, is a correspondent on the Daily Show with John Stewart.
Congrats to the creative, development and social media team!
This adds to a big win to be the online media agency of record for Lyris.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
NewTeeVee, a new media blog, also mentioned Effinfunny in how new media players are in the company of tradional media.
Kudos to Effinfunny and the Position2 team that supports them!
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
It seems that every day there's a new way to market to your prospects online. "Use Facebook," one person says. "Try Twitter," says another. But then your CEO is asking, "Why aren't we at the top of Google?"
How do you make sense of it all? Where do you focus your efforts?
As the founder of a search and social media marketing firm with SaaS clients, let me share some experience.
In a typical B2B purchase, as many as 22 people are involved1. One of the most important players is the technical buyer who evaluates different products vs. user pain points. Influencing the technical buyer is critical to success.
Buyers research using search and social media. A recent study indicated that 80% of the time decision makers found the vendor rather than the other way around2. Technical buyers identify search engines among their top 3 most powerful influencers, along with word of mouth and the vendor's website. Information gained from search now is more influential than trade shows, trade publications, and even advice from paid consultants.3 98% of technical buyers use Google search as a major part of their purchase process.4
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts enhance the ability for search engines to find and rank your website. While researching, prospects use search to identify appropriate solutions and leading vendors. Having your website appear in top positions can be a crucial vote of legitimacy. You must identify top keywords that your prospects would use to find you and then add content to your site in an SEO-compatible format to support them. For example, let's imagine a SaaS firm that offers collaborative help-desk capabilities - HelpDeskSaaS.com. Web copy and html tags should emphasize words like "customer support software" and "collaborative customer service, etc."
Google recently integrated videos, blogs & news into search results. This provides an excellent opportunity for nimble companies to jump ahead of their competitors in search ranking.
Pay Per Click
Realizing results from SEO is typically a twelve-month process; paid search (PPC) efforts bring more immediate results. With PPC, your offering is featured only when a user searches for keywords that you have selected. The keyword research process in PPC is much more extensive than in SEO. One must cast a wide net and advertise on thousands of keywords. The beauty of PPC is that it allows one to continually iterate and optimize throughout the duration of the campaign. For our HelpDeskSaaS.com example, we would recommend abbreviations ("cust support sw"), misspellings ("sport softwar") and benefits ("low-cost customer support software"). You can even target competitor keywords. Note that PPC is not "set and forget." PPC requires a systematic approach: thorough and ongoing keyword research, ad creative, focused landing pages, pipeline management, bid management, and analytics.
Social Media Marketing
The emergence of Web 2.0, user-generated content, and online social networks opens avenues to micro-target like never before. This results in a tremendous opportunity to identify members of self-selected communities.
- Social Media Sites - Social networks provide the backbone of peer influenced "soft-sell". When you see that your colleague is attending an event, you are significantly more likely to attend. Position2 clients often see success using Facebook and LinkedIn to generate leads for webinars.
- Blogs - An industry-focused blog is a great way to establish your expertise and maintain a dialog with your prospects and customers. Promoting your blog has the additional SEO benefits of creating a network of links with highly relevant sites.
- Forums - This is an invaluable resource for reputation monitoring. While you cannot edit other posts, you can respond to negative posts quickly.
- Social Bookmarking - Technical buyers (71%) identify whitepapers as a critical facet of their research efforts5. Services such as digg and del.ic.ious can be utilized to promote them to your targets.
At a Glance: Using Search and Social Media
|Use For||HelpDeskSaaS.com Case Example||Helpful Hint|
|SEO||Brand Visibility||Select highly-targeted keywords ||Develop content aligned with your keywords. Only link to and from relevant, quality sites.|
|PPC||Direct Marketing||Thousands of long tail keywords: ||Make sure ads go to customized landing pages - keep testing|
|SMM||Brand Visibility & Direct Marketing|| ||Respond quickly to any negative post|
Business buyers rely heavily upon search and social media for researching products and services. They often have in-depth information about potential vendors and have short-listed them well before the vendors have found them.
It is therefore critical that you not only have relevant and detailed content on your site, but you must be showing up where they are looking for you. To do so you must undertake an integrated and comprehensive search and social media marketing effort.
Rajiv Parikh is the CEO of Position2, a leading search and social media marketing firm. Rajiv has over 20 years of management experience at AltaVista, Sun Microsystems, NCR and AT&T.
1 MarketingSherpa, B2B Marketing Research, June 2007
2 MarketingSherpa, Business Technology Buyers Survey, March 2007
3 Enquiro, Business to Business Survey 2007
4 MarketingSherpa, Business Technology Marketing 2007-08
5 MarketingSherpa, Connecting Through Content Series, 2007
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
If your firm is attending, look forward to seeing you!
We have a Big Three, but they are way too unselfish especially at the end of games. When you are a player like Garnett or Pierce, you have to take control. Early in the game, they were going for it, now they are passing it to the covered player. Nothing gets me more than when a tall player does not take a shot within 4 feet of the basket.
Don't get me wrong, I'm very appreciative of getting to watch the Celtics in the playoffs. We've won so many championships that we take things for granted. I remember watching the Bird Celtics winning by 30 one day, then getting blown out the next. No one questioned Bird, McHale, Parish, Ainge, DJ, Tiny or Walton like they do now.
Yeah, it's the 4th quarter and the Celts will probably win, but I want to see "the man" take control.
But hey, play the fundamentals. Take the high percentage shots - you win most of the time.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
"...for Kenneth Foster, the center's 57-year-old executive director, big-picture thinking is precisely what has distinguished his four-year tenure at an institution that has variously enticed, angered, entertained, frustrated, enlightened and baffled the Bay Area community in its 15 years of shape-shifting existence."
Ken, we're really proud of you. Here it is:
Ken Foster and his Big Ideas forge a new identity for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Sunday, May 25, 2008
In a recent six-day stretch, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts offered programs running the gamut from the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players to a "women in hip-hop" summit, Smuin Ballet's "Dancin' With Gershwin" to an evening of performance art that featured multimedia wrestling and work by an artist known as Devil Bunny in Bondage. A pink-walled installation festooned with photographs of nude men in "The Way We Rhyme: Women, Art & Politics" had visitors buzzing in the gallery. Sergei Parajanov's classic 1964 film, "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors," unspooled in the screening room.
Trying to find some pattern in that fairly typical week at San Francisco's capital of multidisciplinary art might be a fool's errand. But for Kenneth Foster, the center's 57-year-old executive director, big-picture thinking is precisely what has distinguished his four-year tenure at an institution that has variously enticed, angered, entertained, frustrated, enlightened and baffled the Bay Area community in its 15 years of shape-shifting existence.
Foster's widely heralded success in creating a vivid new identity for YBCA springs from his conviction that even the most daringly experimental or politically charged art can speak directly to a wide audience.
"I don't think contemporary art should be available only to this thin slice of the educated elite," he said in one of several long conversations at his office in the center's sleek South of Market facility. "I do think it can be confounding. People say, 'I don't go to a contemporary art museum or dance performance because I don't understand it.' Our job is to help them get past that. I do think people are innately curious. The challenge is to pose the right questions and ideas that help open the door."
Foster's approach is especially clear when it comes to dance, a keen area of interest for him. "There's an audience for whatever you want there to be an audience for," he said. "A lot of presenters say, 'Oh, we have no dance audience.' If you don't have a dance audience in your town it's because you haven't worked at it, you haven't cultivated it, you haven't brought in the right companies and developed it over time."
That could serve as Foster's defining mantra. Not surprisingly, for someone who has thought as carefully as he has about his field, he's written a book on the subject: "Performing Arts Presenting: From Theory to Practice," published in 2006. In it he describes the arts presenter's role as a fusion of mapmaker, educator, storyteller, essayist, explorer and provocateur.
Soft-spoken and self-effacing by temperament, Foster is anything but reticent on the job. In his methodical, quietly purposeful way, he has done one thing after another to find new points of entry for the public into YBCA's programs, without pandering or dumbing down. And he's done it while remaining a largely under-noticed, under-the-radar figure in an arts community with a full complement of thriving egos. Foster may be the least well-known important person in the Bay Area arts scene.
Since taking the center's top job in 2003, Foster has presented an impressive range of performing artists from across the world spectrum, a number with African provenance or roots, who had rarely or never been seen here. The 2007-08 season has featured the Bay Area premieres of works by Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula, Vietnamese choreographer and performer Ea Sola, the Dutch theater company KASSYS, the Ilkhom Theatre of Uzbekistan and a fervent collaboration by the Brooklyn-based Urban Bush Women and Compagnie Jant-Bi of Senegal. Many of the shows have sold well.
A key innovation of Foster's leadership are his "Big Ideas" - broad themes laid out in the center's program books and other publications that invite the public to make connections between the various performances, exhibitions, films and other programs. Foster has also funded and helped facilitate important collaborations between local and international artists. One of them linked a San Francisco dance troupe with a company from Kolkata, India. The resulting production, Margaret Jenkins' embracingly heartfelt "A Slipping Glimpse" (2006), is one of the signal achievements of Foster's regime.
The YBCA director has earned high marks across a broad spectrum in the arts world. "As far as I can see, Ken is succeeding at this better than anyone else before," said Daniel Levenstein, director of Chamber Music San Francisco. "He's presenting very interesting and unified work. Even if he didn't verbalize it, he's conveying a message." Deborah Cullinan, executive director of Intersection for the Arts, called Foster "an extraordinary presenter, one of the best in the country."
Jennifer Bilfield, artistic and executive director of Stanford Lively Arts, described Foster's cross-cultural work is as "a model of programming in the urban environment." Olga Viso, director of Minneapolis' noted Walker Art Center, praised her colleague's determination to escape the "silos" that confine art and artists in their disciplines.
Detractors tend to question Foster's administrative policies, point to his lack of experience in visual art - a charge he freely acknowledges - or belittle the "Big Ideas" as marketing tricked out in pompous art-speak. What they don't doubt, for the most part, is his judgment as a presenter and his ability to connect to artists.
For spoken-word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Foster is "one of those rare presenters - and I've dealt with tons of them all over - who has a feel not just for where we are but for where we're headed." Circo Zero director Keith Hennessy singled out the "excellent work from Africa" that "responds to the contemporary global movement of bodies, culture and capital."
Unlikely career trajectory
A career arts administrator who had spent most of his working life booking performing arts series on college campuses before coming to San Francisco, Foster may be singularly well suited to the protean nature of his job. Blending ideological certainty with a gift for empathic listening and a bedrock faith in art's transformative power, he seems at once keenly attentive to the demands of leading a complex organization with a $8.2 million annual budget and serenely comfortable in his professional skin.
His personal story of self-exploration and revelation is strikingly congruent with his career path. Raised in a Denver suburb, he hewed close to home for a decade after graduating from college. He married his high school sweetheart at 19, fathered two sons and taught drama at the high school he had attended. But there were buried forces at work beneath that conventional crust.
In 1995, while vacationing with his wife of 25 years, Foster came out to her as a gay man. He remained in the house with his family for three more "turbulent" years (they lived in Tucson, at the time). "We'd had a wonderful marriage," Foster said. "I was not having this other secret life on the side. I'd been able to compartmentalize those feelings for a long time. But what was going on inside was, well, it was pulling me apart."
In 1998 Foster moved out and began making a life with the man who has been his partner for the past 10 years. Nayan Shah, 42, teaches history at UC San Diego. It's hard not to view Foster's fascination with multiple narratives and his work in what he calls the "blurring, bending and breaking" of walls between artistic disciplines as subjects deeply grounded in his own experience.
Foster's trajectory was not preordained by precocious beginnings. Born in Connecticut to a pipefitter father and a mother who worked first as a housewife and later became a nursing home activities director, Foster grew up in Littleton, Colo., in a family with five siblings. What he calls a "sheltered suburban life" left him unprepared for Macalester College. He withdrew after his freshman year. Foster graduated from Denver's Metropolitan College in 1972 and took the teaching job back at his high school.
Eventually moved by the "deeply political example" of his father's union activism and his mother's courage in starting her nursing home career in midlife, Foster decided to go back to school. "I didn't want to become the people I was surrounded with," he said of his immovable fellow high school faculty members.
Foster took out some hefty loans and applied to a master's degree program in educational theater offered by New York University. He spent two summers in England and a third in New York, discovering, to his surprise, that "I could hold my own with people I thought would eat me alive." When he heard that Littleton was planning to convert its old town hall into an arts center, he applied and got the job.
"That was the best and worst experience of my life," he recalled. Foster raised money to finish construction, directed shows, warred with the board over programming and finances - and decided after two years that he had to move on. He and his family went first to Decatur, Il., where Foster spent two years as managing director of the fine arts center at Millikin College, and then to State College, Pa., where he had a much larger job of the same kind at Pennsylvania State University. Foster's choices there transformed a staid performing arts program into something more adventurous. Companies such as Alvin Ailey, Urban Bush Women and the Bill T. Jones/Arne Zane troupe made their first appearances at Penn State.
James Moeser, who hired Foster for the Pennsylvania job and is currently chancellor at the University of North Carolina, said in an e-mail that Foster "used the arts to create conversation about difficult issues - AIDS, sexual orientation and identity. He refused to accept NEA grants during the period when conservatives in Washington were attempting to censor controversial projects. He literally put Penn State on the map as a cultural center."
Further challenges and more convulsive changes, both professional and personal, awaited at the next stop - the University of Arizona in Tucson. Once again Foster rebranded a conventional program by bringing in plays such as "Angels in America" and "The Life and Times of Malcolm X." Once again he was a flashpoint of controversy. "Ken raised the bar here in a way that hasn't been met since," said Kathleen Allen, arts editor of the Arizona Star. "He made some very gutsy choices." That was at work. At home, he made the "wrenching but inevitable" decision to come out and leave his wife.
The San Francisco story
The Yerba Buena center was 10 years old when Foster was hired in late 2003. An interim director was in place at the time, following John Killacky's resignation from YBCA's top post earlier that year. Most of the storms over identity politics, multiculturalism and access to local arts groups that dominated the center's early years had died down. What Foster faced, instead, was a financial crisis. Despite a healthy annual subsidy from the city's Redevelopment Agency (now fixed at $3.5 million), the loss of important grants and a post-dot-com economy had the center in a bind. "It was a mess," said Foster. He cut nine staff positions, increased usage fees and made other adjustments to balance the budget.
The new executive also faced the delicate task of reconceiving a popular predecessor's concept of the center as a process-oriented "idea house," brimming with residencies and workshops for many artists. Killacky and Foster are respectful of each other and remain friendly, but their differences are clear. "I chose to build and invest more broadly," said Killacky, a video artist himself who is now program officer for arts and culture at the San Francisco Foundation.
"If Yerba Buena was going to have the impact it should nationally and internationally," Foster argued, "it needed to have a curatorial direction, put a stake in the ground and stand for something."
Foster proceeded cautiously at first, but certain changes alarmed some local artists, who thought he was turning his back on them in favor of those from outside the region. When Foster canceled a modest subsidy program for local performing arts groups, as part of the financial reorganization, one artistic director sent a blistering letter to every member of the YBCA board. Foster is philosophical about the episode. "We'll never be friends," he said of the director. "But we can work together as colleagues." Meanwhile, Foster's record of supporting and commissioning local dance troupes - Joe Goode Performance Group, Robert Moses' Kin, the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company - speaks for itself.
The Big Ideas remain a centerpiece of Foster's leadership. Some find the concept of ideological linkages between programs instructive and expansive. Others think it burdens art with an agenda or dismiss it as mere rhetoric.
Adam Frey, executive director of the Contemporary Music Players, recalled a conversation with Foster about whether YBCA might want to "curate" (or present) one of the group's programs. (Some companies are presented and publicized by the center; others, such as Smuin Ballet, rent the facility.) "It was suggested that if we'd had a piece by a Chinese composer, and the piece was subtly a criticism of the Chinese government, it might have worked," said Frey. "I thought that was so unlikely. There is this divergence of values between being aesthetically motivated and socially motivated. I feel a little left out of the loop."
Anyone who controls access to some of the city's most coveted stage space is bound to come in for his share of knocks. By all appearances Foster handles himself with equanimity and poise in the face of it. Several staff members confirm his measured, unruffled management style. Better as a strategist than a showman himself, he is not the visible, dynamic presence that Killacky was. And yet the center continues to have an arty, place-to-be-seen allure.
At January's opening of a video and documentary exhibition devoted to the revered Bay Area choreographer Anna Halprin, a large crowd roamed through the galleries, watched the slow-motion gyrations of dancers in an interior courtyard aswarm with falling leaves and listened, beers in hand, to live music in the lobby. "This is fantastic," said Teresa O'Rourke, 54, of Los Angeles, who was there with her sons, ages 17 and 12. "It has such a human scale. There's nothing like this in LA."
On "What's the Big Idea Day" in February, the architecturally cool center had the feel of a super-hip urban county fair. In one room, visitors were feeding cell phone photos and text into a multimedia installation called "Making Peace." A long line of people waiting to get into the Bang on a Can marathon of sometimes daunting new music snaked across the lobby. Upstairs, a group of four participants slowly pinwheeled their arms in an interactive performance and movement workshop. "No experience necessary," a sign outside the door promised.
Witnessing Foster in action, whether in preshow remarks to an audience or in a meeting with his young curatorial staff that turns woolly with critical catchphases ("urban inventiveness," "nude activism," "club culture tribalism"), there's a sustained sincerity and lightness of touch. "I don't know," he repeatedly says to staff members 20 and 25 years his junior. "What do you think?" Even those who have crossed swords or parted company with him express admiration for his even-handedness.
Renny Pritikin, the former YBCA visual arts curator, who was laid off by Foster in 2004 and now heads the Richard Nelson Gallery and Fine Arts Collection at UC Davis, was stung by his former boss' moves to curtail an artist-in-residence program and cut the number of gallery shows from four to three a year.
"I know Ken is more invested in being a straight-ahead performing arts presenter," noted Pritikin. "That said, I give him a lot of credit for keeping it going on for four years in tough times."
Pritikin's successor, René de Guzman, left YBCA for the Oakland Museum last year and has not been replaced. Foster, who concedes that he had virtually no visual arts experience when he took the job here, said he's "very close" to naming a new visual arts curator.
Recently, after a Saturday Indian brunch on Valencia Street, Foster and his affable partner, Shah, invited a visitor back to Foster's sun-filled apartment on a quiet corner in the Mission District. Paintings, prints, photographs, fabric wall hangings and other mementos trace the couple's travels to India, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Taiwan and elsewhere. A presumably ironic place of honor goes to a photograph of Foster and Shah at a 49ers game. "For some reason we were invited to sit in the owner's box," said Foster with one of his warm, shrugging smiles. "When else were we going to do that?"
Near the front door, a wall of family photographs features shots of Foster's ex-wife as well as his two sons at their respective weddings. Aaron, 32, works as a waiter; Brandon, 28, is a sous chef. Both live in Denver. Foster's first grandchild, Amelia, was born in July of last year.
Apparently content in both his job and his private life, Foster is growing more publicly assertive as an arts leader. Earlier this year, in the YBCA program book and an impassioned opinion piece in The Chronicle, Foster announced that the center would no longer post warning signs about the potentially disturbing content (nudity, obscenity, violence) of its productions and exhibits. "We think art's purpose is to challenge us," he wrote. "Controversy, like beauty, will be left to the eye of the beholder."
With his attention focused on the search for new visual arts curator, Foster has been asking himself other questions about the YBCA gallery experience of late. Is there a better way to make use of the cavernous main space? What are some new ways of thinking about wall text? How should audio tours support or supplement the art?
"Why do we have security guards standing around who can't actually do anything if someone pulls out a gun or starts ripping stuff off the wall?" he mused. "All they can do is call the police." Foster put his hands together for a moment and glanced at the ceiling. "Wouldn't it be better to have people here who know something about the art and are engaged in it?"
Foster wasn't posing the questions in the hope of clear answers. He was posing them because, in an arts presenter's job, there aren't any clear answers, only better ways of asking questions.
Yerba Buena in their words
First introduced by Executive Director Ken Foster in 2004, Big Ideas at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts connect the performances, exhibitions and film-video programs thematically. "We believe we have a chance, right now, to look carefully and rigorously at the world," writes Foster in YBCA's "Big Idea Book" for 2007-08, "to embrace it in all its contradictions and build, over time, a beautifully rendered, profoundly moving, thoughtfully articulated route to a more enlightened place."
This season's Big Ideas are Reality Check, Making Peace and Identity Shifts. Foster asked staff members to express them in the "Big Idea Book." Here are quotes from the book:
-- Reality Check - "So while quantum physics continues to scientifically prove the multidimensionality of time and space, and biogenetic engineers conjure Frankenstein chasing Gattaca-like visions of the future, art has the potential to serve as the medium of choice through which we can collectively perceive and experience the global impact of these issues." Cicely J. Sweed, Center for Community Life manager.
-- Making Peace - "In some ways, these projects provide a respite or refuge from the pain, suffering and conflict that has seemed to dominate the work of artists in the past few years." Angela Mattox, assistant performing arts curator.
-- Identity Shifts - "For women, a segment of the population that has traditionally been categorized into the narrow dichotomy of either being the Madonna or the whore (of either being the caregiver or the sex object), it is important to try on a plurality of expressions to arrive at a greater multiplicity of choices." Berlin Golonu, associate visual arts curator.
E-mail Steven Winn at email@example.com.