Monthly Archives: January 2007

it is opposite day

random thought: you should throw out any piece of postal mail that says “open immediately. Contains time-sensitive documents.”

if you really want to get someone to read your mail, the envelop should say something like:
“do not read. this is not important enough for you. throw in the trash immediately.”
— i bet that letter would have a 90% rate of being read…

Even google makes mistakes

Last night the (Germany) domain name expired and it was automatically acquired by an random person. So for a few hours was down and was pointed to a random placeholder web page.

Google managed to fix the problem but was down for many hours. It is comforting to know that even Google (an extremely well-known company) makes mistakes too.

Two lessons from my first entrepreneurial ventures

I did my first two start-ups when I was 7 and 8. One was an economic failure. The second was an ethical failure.

LemonadestandWhen I was seven, I launched a lemonade stand. Auren’s Lemonade was a big hit with the neighbors. I set up the stand in the corner of the street and it sold like hot-cakes. I was rich. At least I felt rich. I probably only made a few dollars after a long day, but I felt really wealthy.

The next week, it was really hot out … so I decided to do lemonade sequel. But this time my dad charged my for the lemonade can (the Tropicana frozen kind), the plastic cups, the ice, the poster-board for the sign, and made me rent the table and chair for the stand. Luckily he did not ask me to pay parent taxes.

Needless to say, I lost a lot of money that day and Auren’s Lemonade officially filed for bankruptcy. But it was problem the best lesson I ever learned.

The next year, my friend Blaine and I decided that we were going to become multimillionaires selling cigarettes to kids. This was the unethical business. We figured that neighborhood kids would gladly pay $0.25 for a cigarette so we only had to sell 4,000,000 of them to become the first kid business tycoons. We had already decided what car we would buy our parents. We were eight years old going on Rikers Island.

CigarettesBeside for the problem of selling toxins to other kids (for some reason, this did not bother us at all), there was the big issue that we did not have access to cigarettes. And even if we could buy them, they were expensive and would really cut into our margins.

So Blaine has the brilliant idea of collecting cigarette butts on the ground (there were thousands of them in the park) and then manufacturing new cigarettes. We gathered our product, created an assembly line of white paper, scissors, shredded dried leaves, and scotch tape. Soon we had a few hundred cigarettes and were hawking our wares to all the other kids. And for the first time in my life, I was really popular. No wonder people become drug dealers.

All was peachy until one of our customer’s parents called up Blaine’s dad. We were in big trouble. We were forced to destroy our entire supply, and write apology notes and reimburse all the kids. And I think I was grounded for nine months.

I learned my lesson.

Glad it happened to me when I was eight … otherwise I might have grown up to be Andy Fastow.

meebo raises Series B

Today Meebo announced it raised its Series B from Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Elaine, Sandy, and Seth deserve a huge round of applause — they have built a very impressive company that has revolutionized messaging.

I’m an angel investor in Meebo and I continued to participate in this latest round because I really believe in the vision and the team. (special thank you to Zaw Thet who introduced me to Seth Sternberg at Meebo in early 2005)

My First $1000

I made my first $1000 in eighth grade selling baseball cards.

I seventh grade I decided I was going to start a business selling baseball cards. The problem was, I didn’t yet know anything about baseball. So I started learning everything I could. Luckily, it is a sport with a lot of statistics and perfect for a math geek like me.

In shop class I made a rubber stamp to stamp out my business cards (I used to cut up small index cards). It said:

A. Baseball
[street address]
Mamaroneck, NY 10543

So I set about buying low and selling high. At the time (1987), baseball cards were an extremely inefficient market and there was a bit of a bubble going on.

I used to buy an eight foot table at the local baseball card show. Prices were initially $150 for the table. I split the table with my friend Alex — each taking 4 feet for $75. And sold a lot of baseball cards.

But I quickly realized that the organizer of the baseball card show was giving all the favorable floor spots to his buddies and we were stuck in the bleachers (sometimes literally — as these shows were often done on a Saturday in a high school gym). So while I might make $200, after paying for the table, price tags, card holders, and the cards themselves, I wasn’t making much money. Especially not when considering my time (though my alternative at the time was making $3.75/hour minimum wage job).

So instead of selling baseball cards, I tried to entertain people.
First, I noticed a lot of cards were mis-priced. If you got a 1984 Topps Don Mattingly Rookie card, it might list for $32 but it rarely sold for $20. and you could buy a near-mint condition card for $10. and dealers were stuck with thousands of these cards that hard a hard time selling for their full “value.” (of course, today prices have fallen by more than a third)

So I acquired a ton of these cards and created a grab bag. For the first show I created 150 grab bags with cards in them where the person who picks the bags could win the cool cards. Each grab bag (actually an envelop stuffed with cards) cost a dollar. I sold out in 45 minutes. The next show I had 300. sold out. I soon was selling over 400 a show.

Then I had copycats at the shows … so I added fortunes and other fun stuff in the grab bags. Everyone had to buy at least one.

And then I created a dice game. Cost $0.50 to roll dice and depending on what you rolled, you won something. If you rolled doubles you had the option of taking your card or rolling again. It was fun. And you never could sell out. After about a dozen shows I finally made $1000 in a show. I felt really rich. But more importantly … I felt empowered. The average age of the sellers at the show was about 40. I was 14. and they were coming to me asking for advice.

I’m a big believer that more kids should try to be entrepreneurs. It is really empowering. For me personally, I went from being a relatively shy kid to one with extreme confidence (maybe too much confidence).

for other bloggers out there (like Chris Yeh, Mark Pincus, Hunter Walk, Andy Choy, Ben Casnocha, Noah Kagan, Christine Herron, Pete Caputa, Dave McClure, Fabrice Grinda, Keith Teare, Chris Alden, Jeremy Dann, Bambi Francisco, Barney Pell, Andrew Boer, Aydin Senkut, James Hong, Jeff Clavier, Niall Kennedy, Zaw Thet, Pascal Levensohn, Angie Schiavoni, Sonia Arrison, etc.), I’d be interested in hearing your stories of how you made your first $1000.

Book: God Delusion

The God Delusion
By Richard Dawkins

this is a fascinating book by one of my favorite authors. it is also very controversial as the objective of the book is to convince the user that God does not exist and that one should be an atheist.

i found the book interesting and worth reading. and while i still believe in God after finishing the book, I enjoyed reading it nevertheless and encourage others to do so (especially since it is available on Audible).

Dawkins’ goal is to attack God. instead he attacks religion. And while God and religion are very intertwined, they are not the same thing. Dawkins actually talks about many people that believe in religion but not in God. but he fails to mention the millions of people that believe in God but not religion.

summation: this is a very thought provoking book and it will certainly make you think.

social phishing … be very scared

i had lunch with Aaron Emigh today and he reminded me about a fascinating study from the Informatics department at Indiana University (they are doing great work there):

Social Phishing

this is an incredible paper which details a study where they sent a general phishing email to 94 students and 15 of them (or 16%) fell for the attack and entered their login and password in an obviously fake site. 16% is an extremely high number.

but it gets worse.

the research sent the same phishing email to an additional 487 students … but the email had one twist … is was sent from someone they knew (they got the information from mining Facebook). this time 349 people — or a staggering 72% — were victims of the phishing attack.

summation: i highly recommend reading the paper on Social Phishing by Tom Jagatic, Nathaniel Johnson, Markus Jakobsson, and Filippo Menczer … thanks Aaron!

benefits of being a mile wide

Fabrice Grinda pointed me to a great article in FORTUNE:
Cross-train your brain: The pursuit of excellence need not be single-minded. That serious hobby of yours? It can, believe it or not, make you better in everything you do

essentially — there is a huge advantage to being a mile wide (with a few deep sink-holes too). this gives you the opportunity to spot trends and look for patterns. it might also prolong your life.

Thomas Friedman makes this analogy in foreign policy. while there are a great deal of specialists, the generalists like Friedman who know lots (but is not an expect) about lots of countries (and he also understands technology, trends, economies, politics, environment, financial instruments, and more) can build pathways between random pieces of data that others wouldn’t see. Peter Thiel is a good example of a business person who does that.

Fabrice sums up:

To some extent, this is counter-intuitive – you might expect to perform best by putting 100% of our efforts into a single pursuit. However, recent evidence suggests that is not the case. Your behavior shapes your brain and the benefits of practicing one skill are not limited to that skill alone, they can be transferred, and the more things you know something about the more there is to transfer. As Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School says: “If you practice multiple things you actually get better at any one of those things.”

Honesty — being forthright is good for business

I used to clean houses when I was in high school.

In high school, I ran a little company called H+M Services that did household chores. I’d employ my high school friends for many of the jobs (I took a 10% fee of what they made) and I took the really high paying jobs for myself. Those were often the housecleaning and lawn-mowing jobs (they pay really well).

When is was 16, I cleaned one guy’s house in Harrison NY. He had a condo and he was a really nice guy. He bought and sold Hollywood scripts and gave me a lot of business advice. He trusted me … gave me the keys to his home, and would usually leave a $20 tip — big money for a high school student.

One day I was his condo cleaning while I was tossing one of his paperweights in the air and catching it. Then … all of a sudden … I missed the paperweight and it went crashing through the dry-wall. I was shocked. There was a big hole in the wall.

Rather than leaving a note for the owner telling him what I had done (this was before the ubiquity of cell phones and email), I rearranged his furniture to cover up the hole thinking he might not notice. When he called me later that night asking for an explanation, I pretended that I did not see the hole and that it must have already been there. It was a horribly lame lie.

While I did not lose the customer, he never trusted me anymore. And I never got the tip anymore. And I never got the business advice or career help. I devolved to hired help … that was all.

This is one of the many incidents that I regret. If I had to do it all over again, I wish I had left a note, left the money from that job, and proactively calling the homeowner to see if I can help more.

book: The Great Influenza

Amazon_great_influenzaThe Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History
By: John M. Barry

This is a fascinating book (available on Audible — 19 hour audio) about the formation of the U.S. medical community, the founding of Johns Hopkins and Rockefeller Institute, and the struggle and battle against the biggest and fastest murderer is history — the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu.

The book is fascinating … dissecting how bad the medical community was in the late 1800s and how a few people were able to radically transform it in a short time. And it has some parallels to today — could we do better today against a virulent outbreak?

If you can stomach this long book, I highly recommend it. I will be thinking about it for years.