Monthly Archives: July 2009

best birthday present ever — dina kaplan and how she contacted barry schwartz — and thoughts on gifting

If you know me and you've sat down
with me for over a few hours, inevitably you'll hear about the Paradox of
.  The book, by author Barry Schwartz, was recommended to me a few years
ago by Esther Dyson … it is a great book with many non-obvious thoughts.   I've since read many articles and papers by
Schwartz who I think is one of the most interesting minds I have come
across.   While I don’t always agree with
him, he always makes me think.


Fast forward to April this year when
I got an email from Dina Kaplan.  That,
in itself, isn’t big news … Dina is a dear friend of mine who I talk to
regularly.   But the content was
interesting … Dina had gotten me a unique birthday present … a lunch with Barry Schwartz.  


Before last week, I had never met
Professor Schwartz but constantly talked about his work.   I assumed Dina (who is the most connected
person I know) knew Schwartz and called in a favor to have him go to lunch with
me.   What I only found out later is that
she cold emailed him, told him I was a big fan, and convinced him to have lunch
with me.


Well last week Schwartz and I sat
down for a great lunch.   I was like a
kid in the candy store peppering him with questions, asking him about his
theories (many of which had to do with hiring and motivating employees …
something I am very focused on right now), and hearing his thoughts about


It turns out that it was, by far,
the best birthday present I have ever received.   And it set a new standard for giving


Gifting can be really powerful if it
is super personalized.  And the best gift
isn't a thing, it is an experience.   And
it isn’t the dollar amount you spend on someone (at least it shouldn't be), but
the thought and effort.  


Dina did a few things that earn her
the gold medal in gift giving:


1. she thought a lot about the
recipient.   99.9% of people would not
appreciate a gift of lunch with a random professor from Swarthmore College
… so it was obvious the gift was targeted to me.


2. she did her research.  She dug up Schwartz's email address … she
thought of a clever pitch … and she convinced him to go to lunch with me.


3. she was persistent.   Who knows how many people she
contacted.   Maybe Schwartz was the first
person she contacted but maybe he was the tenth.


If gifting is an art and a science,
then Dina Kaplan wins its Nobel Prize.  
Thank you Dina!



netflix values “we are a professional sports team, not a family”

this is one of my favorite descriptions of a company.   it is from Netflix and came to me via Matthew Monahan (CEO of People Search Media):

We're a high-performance team, not a family.

A strong family is together forever – no matter what. A strong company, on the other hand, is more like a pro sports team: it is built to win. Management at every level has the responsibility that professional coaches have – to recruit the players and forge the teamwork that makes great performance possible.

To accomplish this, we seek to fill every position in our company with exceptional performers. In many companies, adequate performance gets a modest raise. At Netflix, adequate performance gets a generous severance package.

For us, the cost of having adequate in any position is simply too large, when we could have extraordinary. Extraordinary performance means excellence in the nine values described below. Plentiful extraordinary talent makes for a high-functioning company.

The benefit of a high-performance culture is you experience the exhilaration of working with consistently outstanding colleagues. You do your best work, you learn the most, and you achieve the highest professional satisfaction, when you're surrounded by excellence.

A great workplace is not how many perks are offered; it is how stunning are the colleagues.

worst phrase – TMI — Too Much Information

Scott Faber, the founder of Ingenio, likes to say that the worst phrase in the English language is “TMI” (Too Much Information).

often someone is telling a story to a group and one of the group members blurts out “TMI” right when the story is getting good. And, of course, the “TMI” stops the story dead in its tracks … and that is usually the point where everyone is really interested.

The best stories are often ones that are a little over-the-top. So eliminate “TMI” from your vocabulary.

official ban of AT&T mobile from our office

It turns out that AT&T wireless does not work well on Mission St between 2nd and 3rd in San Francisco.

(and … on another note … it does not work in my home in SOMA).

So we at Rapleaf have officially banned new sales and BD employees from having mobile phones on the AT&T network. Yes, that means no iphones.

Why does it really need to come to this? How come Verizon and Sprint have so much better service in SF that AT&T??


Someone who wants an iphone but cant have one because I also need to make calls occasionally