Investor Stories 94: The Strange & Unusual (Ramanujam, Turner, Leitersdorf)

  On this special segment of The Full Ratchet, the following investors are featured: Madhavan Ramanujam Guy Turner Yoav Leitersdorf   Each investor describes the most unusual situation or pitch that they’ve encountered as an investor.

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Serendipity & Summer Doldrums

Did you notice that I had gone missing for a few days? Exactly 10 days to be specific! In case you were wondering, I decided to take some downtime to work on a specific problem — a continuous sleep disorder related problems that were making me get up at ungodly hours and leaving me exhausted for much of the day. As a result, I was unable to think and walked through the day like a zombie.  Continue reading "Serendipity & Summer Doldrums"

Deleting Facebook

Yup. I’m done with Facebook. However, it’s tough to delete your account. Read the message above. I exited out of this screen, suspended my account instead, but then went back 15 minutes later and actually deleted it. Well – I started the deletion process. I don’t know what day I’m on, but I think I’m close to 14 days. So, I’m still “deleting” apparently.

The only inconvenience I’ve noticed so far are all the sites where I used Facebook as the sign-on authenticator (rather than setting up a separate email/password combo.) I think I’m through most of that – at least the sites I use on a regular basis. For the first few days, I accidentally ended up on the Facebook login screen which was pleasantly filled out with my login beckoning me to log back in. I resisted the siren song of restarting my Facebook account before the 14

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When Is Teamwork Really Necessary?

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Most leaders assume that they need to foster teamwork among the people whom directly and indirectly report to them. Teaming is now seen as the workplace equivalent of motherhood and apple pie — invariably good. The problem is when leaders try to drive the wrong kind of collaboration on their particular teams. The result: wasted time and unnecessary frustration.

Consider the example of Nicolas, a regional sales vice president at a medical devices company. When promoted to his new role, he inherited a group of district sales managers responsible for selling to hospital systems in their respective geographies. Although his one-on-one meetings with these reports, which involved progress reviews, motivation, and coaching, were highly productive, his monthly team meetings weren’t. While the group liked getting together and engaging in some joint activities — such as goal setting, best-practice sharing, and talent development — people often wondered why they

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Boost Your Emotional Intelligence with These 3 Questions

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As the concept of emotional intelligence has gone global, we’ve watched professionals founder as they try to improve their emotional intelligence (or EI) because they either don’t know where to focus their efforts or they haven’t understood how to improve these skills on a practical level.

In our work consulting with companies and coaching leaders, we have found that if you’re looking to develop particular EI strengths, it helps to consider areas for improvement others have identified along with the goals you want to achieve — and then to actively build habits in those areas rather than simply relying on understanding them conceptually.

To that end, start by asking yourself three questions:

What are the differences between how you see yourself and how others see you?

The first step, as with all learning, is to get a sense of how your self-perception (how you see yourself)

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A Nice Fire

Living in the city, I miss having a fireplace.  We never had one when I was growing up.  In our first house we bought, we had one.  When we built a house we had two and I wanted to figure out how to do more.  Something about humans and fire. Mesmerizing.

In our Geneva house, I would roast ducks occasionally over the fire. I imagine the copper tubing I put to hang the ducks over the fire is still there. You could smell the duck fat coming up the chimney.  It was heavenly.

Canadian air started to creep into our cabin this morning so I made a fire to take the chill off.


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RSS: The Persistent Protocol

One of our themes is Protocol. We’ve been investing in companies built around technology protocols since 1994. One of my first investments, when I moved to Boulder in 1995, was in a company called Email Publishing, which was the very first email service provider. SMTP has been very good to me.

We made some of the early investments in companies built around RSS, including FeedBurner and NewsGator. RSS is a brilliant, and very durable, protocol. The original creators of the protocol had great vision, but the history and evolution of RSS were filled with challenges and controversy. Like religious conflict, the emotion ran higher than it needed to and the ad-hominem attacks drove some great people away from engaging with the community around the protocol.

And then Facebook and Twitter took over. RSS Feed Readers mostly vanished, and the feed became the “Twitter feed.” After a while, Facebook realized this

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How to Avoid Loneliness When You Work Entirely from Home

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Working from home can be a coveted perk, allowing you to opt out of rush-hour traffic and eliminate the tedious banalities of office life. But it can also cut you off from the spontaneous interactions that can spark new insights (part of the reason Marissa Mayer famously rescinded Yahoo’s telecommuting policies). And, at times, the solitude may lead to isolation or the feeling that you’re left out at work.

How can you combat loneliness and create positive relationships with colleagues when you work from home full-time? I’ve worked from home since 2006, when I launched my consulting and speaking business. Here are three principles I’ve found to be effective in staving off isolation, maintaining productivity, and surrounding oneself with a stimulating cadre of colleagues.

First, since you’re not physically interacting with coworkers, it’s important to seek out an online community of like-minded practitioners. The technology changes over time

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What Data Scientists Really Do, According to 35 Data Scientists

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Modern data science emerged in tech, from optimizing Google search rankings and LinkedIn recommendations to influencing the headlines Buzzfeed editors run. But it’s poised to transform all sectors, from retail, telecommunications, and agriculture to health, trucking, and the penal system. Yet the terms “data science” and “data scientist” aren’t always easily understood, and are used to describe a wide range of data-related work.

What, exactly, is it that data scientists do? As the host of the DataCamp podcast DataFramed, I have had the pleasure of speaking with over 30 data scientists across a wide array of industries and academic disciplines. Among other things, I’ve asked them about what their jobs entail.

Insight Center

  • Adopting AI
    Sponsored by SAS
    How companies are using artificial intelligence in their business operations.

It’s true that data science is a varied field. The data scientists I’ve interviewed approach our conversations from many

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Are Companies Responsible for Employees?

Senator Elizabeth Warren doesn’t think they are and she’s proposing a new bill to put in regulations that would make sure they are.  She wants to establish a new “federal corporate charter” for companies larger than $1B.

Clearly, she detests and abhors Milton Friedman.  I wish Friedman were alive to debate her. He would do so and relish the opportunity.  He would eviscerate her points one by one with logic, smiling all the way.

Here are her points:

In the four decades after World War II, shareholders on net contributed more than $250 billion to U.S. companies. But since 1985 they have extracted almost $7 trillion. That’s trillions of dollars in profits that might otherwise have been reinvested in the workers who helped produce them.

Before “shareholder value maximization” ideology took hold, wages and productivity grew at roughly the same rate. But since the early 1980s, real wages have Continue reading "Are Companies Responsible for Employees?"

Research: To Get People to Embrace Change, Emphasize What Will Stay the Same

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Common wisdom in management science and practice has it that to build support for a change project, visionary leadership is needed to outline what is wrong with the current situation. By explaining how the envisioned change will result in a better and more appealing future, leaders can overcome resistance to change. But our research, recently published in the Academy of Management Journal, leads us to add a very important caveat to this.

A root cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care for their organizations. People fear that after the change, the organization will no longer be the organization they value and identify with — and the higher the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate such threats to the organizational identity they hold dear. Change leadership that emphasizes what is good about the envisioned change and bad about the current

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Whether a Husband Identifies as a Breadwinner Depends on Whether He Respects His Wife’s Career — Not on How Much She Earns

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Professional careers are notorious for demanding that people be single-mindedly devoted to work. It’s a demand that is often especially acute for men, who face rigid expectations that being a successful man requires having a successful career, and that “success” means power and money.

Men have traditionally satisfied these expectations by taking on the role of a work-devoted breadwinner, supported by a wife who does not work or who places his career first. But many heterosexual men today are married to women who pursue demanding careers of their own; moreover, many women expect that their husbands will support their careers and be more engaged in family life than previous generations of men have been.

The contradiction between the traditional image of the successful man and the reality of men’s lives creates a conundrum: How do men make sense of who they are in relation to their work,

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Networking Myths Dispelled

David Burkus, a professor at Oral Roberts University and author of the book Friend of a Friend, explains common misconceptions about networking. First, trading business cards at a networking event doesn’t mean you’re a phony. Second, your most valuable contacts are actually the people you already know. Burkus says some of the most useful networking you can do involves strengthening your ties with old friends and current coworkers.

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Managers Think They’re Good at Coaching. They’re Not.

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Are you successful at coaching your employees? In our years studying and working with companies on this topic, we’ve observed that when many executives say “yes,” they’re ill-equipped to answer the question. Why? For one thing, managers tend to think they’re coaching when they’re actually just telling their employees what to do.

According to Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in executive coaching, the definition of coaching is “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” When done right, coaching can also help with employee engagement; it is often more motivating to bring your expertise to a situation than to be told what to do.

Recently, my colleagues and I conducted a study that shows that most managers don’t understand what coaching really is — and that also sheds light on how to fix the

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Every Generation Learns The Same Lessons

While it’s easy to tell people things, it’s much more powerful to learn things. And, as I get older, I see the same lessons being learned by subsequent generations. While this isn’t a post that says “everything is the same as it was before”, there are foundational lessons in life that play out over and over again.

I spent the weekend with a friend from the last 1990s who was the lead banker on the Interliant IPO (I was a co-founder and co-chairman.) Last night, at the Aspen Entrepreneurs event, I was asked to describe several failures and I rolled out my story about Interliant, which, for a period of time (1999 – 2000) appeared to be hugely successful before going bankrupt in 2002. If you like to read IPO prospectuses, here’s the final S-1 filing after INIT went effective and started trading on July 8, 1999.

A few

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To Make Self-Driving Cars Safe, We Also Need Better Roads and Infrastructure

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The big question around self-driving cars, for many people, is: When will the technology be ready? In other words, when will autonomous vehicles be safe enough to operate on their own? But there has been far less attention paid to two equally important questions: When will the driving environment be ready to accommodate self-driving cars? And where will this technology work best?

Self-driving cars are the most challenging automation project ever undertaken. Driving requires a great deal of processing and decision making, which must be automated. On top of that, there are many unpredictable external factors that must be accounted for, and therefore many ways in which the driving environment must change.

Cars are heavy, fast-moving objects, operating in public spaces. Safety is largely the responsibility of the driver, who must continuously observe, analyze, decide, and act. Not only do drivers have to follow the rules of the

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It’s Not Just Paying Rent, It’s Forced Confiscation

Yesterday was chatting with a friend who lives in Lakeview.  It’s a neighborhood north of the Loop in Chicago.  Wrigley Field is in Lakeview.  They just got their new property tax bill.  

They bought the place four years ago.  The tax bill was $11,000, which isn’t cheap.  It’s a condominium.  It was just re-assessed and the new tax bill is $33,000.  

Table shows CPS’ property tax revenues from FY1991 through FY2019:— The Civic Federation (@CivicFederation) August 13, 2018

Uh, no one’s income went up by that and the rate of inflation was pretty tame during that time.  

My friend Mark Glennon at Wirepoints has been all over this for a while.  I think most Chicagoans are okay paying a bit more in tax than most people.  We live in a city.  Cities have more needs than rural areas.  The tax bite Continue reading "It’s Not Just Paying Rent, It’s Forced Confiscation"

Why Western Digital Firms Have Failed in China

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Many leading American digital firms, including Google, Amazon, eBay, and Uber, have successfully expanded internationally by introducing their products, services, and platforms in other countries. However, they have all failed in China, the world’s largest digital market.

The widely touted reasons for these failures include censorship by the Chinese government and cultural differences between China and the West. While these factors undoubtedly have played a role, such explanations are overly simplistic. Google, for example, has succeeded in dominating many foreign markets that have radically different political systems and cultures (including Indonesia, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia). And these factors have not stopped Western multinationals from succeeding in China in car manufacturing, fast-moving consumer goods, and even sectors where culture plays a key role, such as beer, coffee shops, fast food, and the film industry. There are deeper reasons behind the systematic failure of Western digital firms in

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