Transitioning from Developer to CEO

I used to find it really easy to write. I didn’t know very much about business and wrote about startups constantly – so I probably suffered from Dunning Kruger effect. Don’t laugh, my blog posts back then consistently ended up on Hacker News’s front page.

These days I find blogging about business very hard. I work with a team of people who are smart and have experience and areas of expertise far outside my own. So my first thought as I try to dispense advice to other company founders is “Oh shit, so-and-so is going to read this and know what an idiot I am.”

I think most of my team may already  know how ignorant I am so I probably shouldn’t worry as much.

Anyway, to the point. I used to be a developer  – part of a two person founder team that for over a decade tried to create a business out of thin air, ambition and whatever capital we could scrounge up. At some point the engine actually sprang to life and started running and then quite quickly sped up.

These days we have a going concern with a growing team and whatdyaknow! An actual business on our hands.

Around early 2015 I made a hard transition into beginning to be a CEO as we hired our first team members. The team grew rapidly and today it ranges between 25 to 30 people. The business is busy, we have more than one business ‘division’, three execs, tons of financial throughput and lots going on.

Speaking

The transition from developer to executive or CEO can be quite challenging I think. To be a developer you need to disappear into your head for around 40+ hours a week and do that for years if you want to be a good developer.

When I’ve been coding for several days, I have found that my ability to communicate verbally suffers. I stutter more – I don’t actually have a stutter, but I have more verbal hesitation. When I’m “on my game” and have had plenty of phone calls and in-person conversations, I find communication easy and I have the ability to make it flow if it gets a bit stuck. I think this is one of the challenges devs face when becoming execs – they need to learn how to communicate and how to make it flow.

As a chief executive, you need to talk to teams or groups of people frequently. The conversation tends to be one sided because you are describing a vision, a goal, a challenge. Even when it is collaborative, you tend to be the one doing most of the talking in a room. You’re the facilitator. Being in many meetings a week where you have to play that role is an acquired skill, but I’ve gotten better at it over time and I’ve also gotten more comfortable with it.

When I started out and our team was just 5 to 10 people, I found our Monday team meetings and Wednesday product meetings quite tiring. We would have them at 10:30am and an hour or two later once the call wrapped, I was just finished. I didn’t have much energy left for a couple of hours until I recovered. As I did more and more of them, I found that they became easier, and then much easier. Now they energize me. It took about 2 years to get there.

Writing

Writing is one of the most valuable skills I think any exec needs. The ability to clearly articulate your ideas in individual or group emails, blog posts and documents is absolutely critical. I happen to enjoy writing. I don’t do much personal writing anymore – obviously trying to get back into it with this post. But blogging is, I think, what really helped me become a better writer.

Writing is also an acquired skill and a muscle that you have to keep fit. When I have written several blog posts over a period of weeks, I find things flow when I need to write another. When I’m rusty, the page is an abyss and the abyss stares back.

Writing is probably what connected me with the amazing early investors we had in Defiant (called Feedjit back then). It also served as a source of early marketing, gave me the ability to write compelling copy on our first website and today, writing is how I communicate with our team.

Leadership

I think leadership and power are often confused. Power is something desired by many. It is seductive and TV and film dramas are filled with scenes of people ‘flexing’ in some way. The fantasy of having someone bend to your will is irresistible if the ratings are anything to go by.

I think when it comes to inspirational leadership, power, a desire for power, the exercising of power and the confusion between power and leadership can be incredibly destructive and toxic for an organization. History has shown that accumulating power and using power devices and structures to manipulate people and groups can get things done. But I choose not to live that way and I don’t want to work for or be part of an organization that conducts itself that way.

My leadership style is still evolving. I’m relatively new to leading a team. I’ve only been doing it for about 3 years now. Perhaps that’s why I’m so willing to write about it – I don’t yet know how little I know. But I would describe my style as follows:

  • Know that there is much that you don’t know and many skills you don’t have and will never acquire. Get really comfortable with that. You’re a hilarious ass. Get over yourself!
  • Assemble a team of talented people who you trust and who are equally realistic about their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Trust your team. In other words, collaborate, and then give them the space they need to exercise their talents and to an amazing job.
  • Collaborate with the team to gather data and then come up with a shared vision for the organization. I find that having many conversations with no whiteboard helps because you are forced to clearly visualize in your minds eye the vision and path forward. That helps you and the team remember it.
  • Once the vision is clear, as CEO you are the custodian and keeper of that vision. It is your job to repeat it to the team when the opportunity arises. The way I do that is to describe where we are headed, why we are going there, how we will get there and what it will look like on Monday morning once we have arrived. [Kudos to my father who was a brilliant CEO and is a great strategic planner for some of that. Dankie Pa!]
  • I generally treat others the way I would like to be treated and the way I want my team to treat each other. I think that requires empathy because everyone has a bad day.
  • I try to create space in conversations so that others can fill that space with their intellectual contribution. I think this may have resulted in others in the organization taking the same approach to running meetings and collaborating.

I no longer code

These days I no longer write code. As with speaking and writing, code is a muscle and if you don’t exercise it, you lose it. If I look at code – usually when I’m evaluating a job applicant or understanding a new vulnerability or exploit – it takes me a few minutes to switch modes and get into the right head-space.

If you are a developer and become an executive or chief exec, I think that it comes with that sacrifice. You may not be the incredibly productive and talented developer that you used to be as you start using different intellectual muscles.

Delegating

I started my career in operations and did that for about a decade. Then switched to being a full-time developer. So I’m an ops and dev guy. I think that one of the things that is very challenging for technical founders who transition into being a CEO is that you have to step back and trust someone to do a job that is equal to or better than the job that you did.

Stepping back takes a leap of faith. It takes trust. To be completely honest, when Matt B  joined our organization as our first dev hire and I completely stepped back from being the only dev on the product, I actually could not believe the incredibly job he did from day one. I thought “Holy crap, the guy can code and I think he may code better than I do. And he works for us? What is a guy this good doing working for us?”

I think I had a touch of imposter syndrome. I felt like we weren’t a real company even though we were making quite a lot of money and that cash flow was rapidly growing. On a side-note, I suspect this may be why many founders go and raise money – they too suffer from imposter syndrome and by raising money from an investor it makes you a ‘real’ business.

Once Matt and Tim, our first two team members joined, I found that I had to delegate an increasing number of tasks as we hired more people and each time it’s a new leap of faith. You trust that the person you’re hiring is going to do a great job, take your hands off the wheel and every time I was surprised for some inexplicable reason that they did an amazing job.

These days I carefully monitor myself to make sure that I am giving our team the space they need. A day ago I was having a conversation with the team about something technical. It required the developers to discuss whether going a certain technical route was good for the organization, strategically. I initially started leading the meeting and I realized that I was creating an imbalance in the conversation. Because I’m CEO, I was dominating the room and even if someone held a strong opinion they might not voice it if it disagreed with something that I said. Or perhaps they would voice it but my opinion might carry the day by default. So I recused myself from the conversation and asked our lead developer to facilitate the meeting going forward and let me know what the team decides. I also explained why I was recusing myself.

Scaling

As we scale, leaders are beginning to emerge in the organization. This isn’t the kind of awkward “leadership ability” they teach in high-school where the noisiest or brashest or biggest kid is described as having leadership abilities. Because of the mutual respect we have for each other and the intellectual space we provide for each other in conversations, our leaders are emerging organically and in a very comfortable way. They tend to be the people that simply take on a particular role through passion or necessity or both and the rest of the team acknowledge them as the person to turn to when they have certain kinds of questions or need guidance.

I’m beginning to notice that as we scale, our team is in some cases having to go through the same kind of “stepping back” process that I went through. When we were just a handful of people, we all had many roles. As we grow, some of us are going to have to acknowledge that someone else needs to do a job that we used to do – and perhaps enjoyed very much. That process will be a challenge and we’re just beginning to see that emerge.

Going forward

I’m confident in my ability to continue to grow as a CEO and to grow with the team. We are not a public company working to goose a stock price and we are not a private company that has a high pressure board with a risk of executives being changed out if targets are not met.

One of the benefits of this is that it has created a culture within the company of knowing that it is safe to fail. Kerry (my wife and co-founder) and I failed many times for more than a decade before we created our current successful business. As executives, we are in an environment where we can do risky experiments using large chunks of our cashflow and we know that no board is going to fire us for failing.

Our team knows the same thing. We just started building a completely new department in the company and one of our team members has stepped up to lead that effort. She knows that she can take a risk, step out of her comfort zone and give it her absolute best shot and it’s OK to get it wrong. We’re all in the experiment together and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll just try a different way.

That’s it

If you are a technical startup founder or aspiring founder, I hope you have found this useful. You are welcome to comment here or shoot me an email at mmaunder@gmail.com and I will do my best to respond to any questions.

Cash vs Flow

If you have a startup and have never been an executive in a business with significant revenue, I’d like to bring something to your attention. The difference between having cash and having cashflow.

In the world of startups, raising a round of funding is a celebrated event. Cocktails, good vibes, something positive was achieved. And make no mistake, having someone(s) back you, believe in you, give you money and say out loud to the rest of the world “This guy/girl/team rocks and is going to kick ass!” actually helps. The support you may receive from the investor can help too.

Funding as a positive event is not a scarce narrative. There are a ton of investors, many with good and pure intentions, who blog about startups, provide advice, data, inspiration – but the business they’re in and their world-view is based on the assumption that startups should raise money and the good ones should raise money from them.

What may be undervalued – and this is why I’m putting keyboard to screen – is cashflow. If you’re a finance newbie, cashflow is the simple concept of a business bringing in some cash every month, minus expenses with a running total of cash-on-hand.

Cashflow is a funny thing. Firstly, it happens over time and so you can’t measure it as a single pile or event. Cashflow isn’t “we just raised $200,000”. Cashflow is more boring. It is “we’re making $10,000 a month, projected out over 24 months in a spreadsheet, minus our burn rate which gives us net income discounted into todays dollars if-you-really-want-a-number-right-now”.

It’s less spectacular, less champagne, less positive reinforcement from a famous investor, but the one thing that makes cashflow different to a round of funding is that it is the flow that keeps on giving. It’s the spring that never runs dry. Cashflow will be there 2, 3, 5 years from now and unless you screw it up, it’ll have increased.

Create a basic spreadsheet. Make the columns your months. Create rows for cash on hand, revenue, expenses, net income.

An initial investment of 500k with burn rate of 30k and you run out of money in 18 months. That’s with no big capital expenditures, and you will have those.

Add just 15k of revenue and by month 24 you still have $155k cash on hand with runway for about 33 months total.

Consider that with $15k in revenue from month 1 you only have to raise half the amount of cash to have the same runway. That means, assuming you’re a good negotiator and deals scale linearly (which they don’t) you could end up only giving away half the equity and control you otherwise would have to.

But this is all basic arithmetic and not really that impactful until you consider that when your cashflow reaches breakeven – and I mean not just ramen breakeven but where you can pay your team market rate salaries, your runway just got extended to infinity.

You don’t have to find some buyer to hopefully purchase your unprofitable team in a talent acquisition which is really just a signing bonus for everyone.

You don’t have to raise any money, ever again. Unless… you raised a round when you started out and your investor has invested in 20, 30, 100 startups and one of them needs to become the next Google or the investor fails.

If you can achieve cashflow and reach breakeven without raising money, you are a golden business god in charge of your own destiny with infinite runway and total freedom. Breathe deeply, you just won whatever that fancy Quiddich prize was in Harry Potter or some similar metaphor.

If you raised money and your investors need a big exit, well, it doesn’t matter that you’re making some cash and are breakeven because you’re going to have to go big or go home and so go out there and raise another round because without it, you are a breakeven business with infinite runway and very unhappy investors.

So where am I going with this? If you raise money from investors who want HUGE, know that you’re on the wheel: The hamster wheel of growth and funding. You have a finite cash pile, you can extend it with cashflow but even if you reach breakeven, you may still be considered a miserable failure. You have to go huge or go home.

If you are somehow able to self-fund by, say, not eating for 2 years and living under a toadstool, and you are able to generate cashflow and reach breakeven…. the world becomes your oyster because you now have a business that you control and all pressure to sell, raise money or do anything you don’t want to do is completely removed. You are in a new world that few actually get to experience. You are in the world of infinite runway, infinite possibility and total freedom to choose your own destiny. It’s… amazing.

There is something about being in this place, this condition, this state of zen and breakeven cashflow, that I think is very good for businesses and may empower them to actually become big businesses. Firstly, you had to get there which is one hell of an education. It’s as real as it gets. You just created breakeven cashflow without a ridiculous initial cash infusion. You and (if you have one) your team did that. They don’t let you do that in business school. In business school they just try to emulate that happening and give you a degree and hope you’ll figure it out on your own.

Secondly, with all that learning, new knowledge and business instinct that has been forged in the fires of Mount Doom (The Mount Doom of negative cashflow), you are now in a state of infinite runway, relaxation, zen and infinite possibilities.

Someone wants to buy you? “No thanks. We’re just chillin, building the next Facebook.”

Got a project that will take a few months? You’re no longer a girl or guy who jumped off a cliff and is trying to assemble a glider before you hit the bottom.

Since you’re actually generating cash, you clearly know a thing or two about making money. Going from zero to breakeven (market rate salary breakeven) is insanely hard. Going from there to 20%, 50%, 100% or more increase in revenue is a lot less hard. Just do more of the same thing with more customers, more efficiently and…. hey look! You’re self funding now! In fact your growth trajectory that took you from zero to breakeven may just naturally continue past breakeven and onward.

I remember how hard it was for Kerry and I. We raised $450K and that seemed like a lot of money back then. We took tiny salaries and then tinier salaries and then salaries you could measure in planck lengths. Then we burnt through all our savings, and that was just the beginning of the negative cashflow free-diving experiment we did. Think you’re good at holding your breath? Try running a money-losing startup for years. We managed to create revenue spikes, but they would go away quickly.

Then eventually we were able to generate growing cashflow and everything changed. We both had post traumatic stress and I think it took a few months to sink in that we had a growing business on our hands and it wasn’t going away. Then we started hiring with our new cashflow and kept growing. The learning trajectory was steep too. Every now and and then we would look back to just 2 years previously and laugh at our ignorant selves back then.

When we raised back in 2008, we had a rather unique conversation with our investors about organically growing the business with it’s own cashflow and we structured a deal that accommodates that. So we’re not in a position where there is tremendous and urgent pressure to become very big very quickly or risk the board firing us. And yet, strangely, the business is growing and is now approaching 30 people with no ceiling in sight. We can breathe, we can see clearly over the horizon and we have plotted a course to become a much larger business using our existing strong cashflow.

Breakeven and beyond is a different world, it is very hard to get to and if you are a founder and are just starting out, I truly hope you will get there too, because once you have a business with breakeven and then positive cashflow, you will begin to truly enjoy being a founder, innovator and entrepreneur.

Evolution of Bass Frequencies in Rock Mixing and Mastering

Just for fun I’ve been looking at how producers treat bass frequencies since the late 80’s in rock in particular. I ran iTunes through Ableton Live 9 and used a spectrum analyzer to look at frequencies from 0 to 200hz.

Mastering engineers will generally roll off bass frequencies on the EQ so that the very low frequencies don’t mess with a speaker’s ability to reproduce higher frequencies accurately. I was curious how the cutoff has changed and how it changes by genre.

I picked tracks that have some bass and kick in them that span from the 70s until now. I used Voxengo Span with averaging and slow update to monitor EQ at a bassy section in each song. This is completely unscientific and each song has its own instruments that produce totally different frequencies, but its a fun general idea of how things have changed over the years. Here are a few screenshots:

Led Zep, Kashmir (1975)

There’s a gradual increase in bass eq starting around 40hz. The rolloff of bass frequencies if very shallow. The tape used to record probably contributed with its own frequency response.

Guns n Roses, Paradise City (1987)

More even response with GnR.Rolloff starts at around 50hz. They probably also used tape but quality improved as did the frequency response of the desk and other equipment.

Alice in Chains, Would (1992)

Rolloff for AIC also starts at around 50hz and a solid EQ from then up the spectrum.

Breaking Benjamin, Diary of Jane (2006)

14 years later Breaking Ben sees the rolloff only really starting around 45hz in earnest.

Five Finger Death Punch, Wash it all Away (2015)

With FFDP 11 years later you’re seeing the rolloff start at about 40hz and it’s very steep with a solid response after 40hz.

And then just for fun, switching from rock to dubstep, Skrillex’s Bangarang (2011)

Rolloff starts at 40hz for Sonny’s Bangarang but is quite shallow. It’s not unusual to see some sub 10hz action in his tracks. If you compare him to Deadmau5 for example, Deadmau5 keeps things fairly tight with very little action below 10hz but Skrillex keeps some of the really low stuff in there but it doesn’t leave the track sounding woofy at all. It’s still fairly tight IMHO.

Failure Is Not An Option

If you raise money and fail, you need to consider the opportunity cost of another entrepreneur not having had access to the investment capital you lost. If you fail, you need to be sad about your failure and also be sad about the opportunity cost of your failure.

But it’s “risk capital” you say – money that investment funds allocated to very high-risk/high-return investments. So the thinking is that it’s OK for that capital to go away because it’s expected to either succeed big and likely to fail. But what about the 1 or 10 or 50 other businesses that lost access to that capital once it was invested? Could one of them have been the next Google?

Try Buying your Hardware

We took a lot of heat from the startup community when we bought $40,000 of Dell servers, a switch and a KVM and racked them ourselves in 2008. Seriously, Kerry (my wife and co-founder) and I hand-racked about 10 Dell 2950’s and a couple of 1950’s in the rack we leased at our data center. We didn’t realize the DC team could rack them for us and were so excited when the servers arrived we just dove right in.

Do you have any idea how much a DELL 2950 loaded with disks weighs? They’re heavy.

At that time the “cloud” was all the rage. Amazon services were really spinning up, Linode and SliceHost were the new ‘it’ companies, and we were derided as idiots for actually buying physical hardware: Ew!

Well turns out our business scaled very quickly and in a few short months we were pushing well over 100 megabits of bandwidth average. We were paying around $2,500 a month for that which included power to the rack, a team supporting our hardware 24/7/365 and that included the bandwidth and 5 very high quality upstream connections. We’d discovered the magic of 95th percentile billing. Most of our peers were paying by the terrabyte and getting absolutely screwed. Our business would never have survived if we didn’t use colocation.

Today we’re busy decomissioning our old Dell 1950’s and 2950’s and replacing them with amazing new Dell R630’s. Back then we were paying about $3500 per server. I just bought 4 Dell R630’s at $9250 each out the door. We’re happy to spend that kind of cash because we know these machines will pay for themselves a hundred times over (or more) by the time we’re done with them. We have a little inside joke: “Good servers go to small business heaven. Bad servers end up working for us.” We literally put our servers through hell by running them at very high CPU and IO loads. To date we haven’t had a single failure besides hard drives and redundant power supplies, all of which are hot-swappable and no big deal. No memory, chassis or controller issues. (We use PERC hardware RAID 1 or 10 usually)

So I guess I’d like to say a big Kudos to Dell for producing some kick-ass enterprise class hardware that could withstand the worst kinds of loads we could come up with. And seriously: If you’re a startup and can afford it, consider making a capital investment in your own hardware and using colocation rather than abstracting away the problem and paying more – and in some cases, a hell of a lot more.

Besides: What could be more fun that spending your Saturday night in the data center.

Installing Ubuntu 14.10 on a Dell R630 with PERC H730 hardware RAID 10

If you arrived here, you’re probably spending your weekend doing this too, so perhaps I can save some of your weekend for you. Here’s how I did it. FYI, I’m using a PERC H730 hardware RAID controller with a 1.1TB virtual disk made up of 8 physical disks in RAID10 config. As the title says, this is a fresh DELL R630 and it has single processor and 128G of memory. See my notes below about using a 100g boot partition and creating a larger partition once you have the system up and running with grub installed in the MBR.

  • Switch the BIOS boot mode from UEFI to BIOS.
  • If you’re booting from a USB thumb drive, set that to your first boot device.
  • Boot and hit CTRL-R to go into your raid controllers bios and blow away the virtual disk. Recreate a new identical one. You’re doing this to get rid of the GPT partition.
  • Boot into ubuntu 14.10 server 64 bit.
  • Go through installation and make sure you install openssh server because you won’t be able to access the console when you first boot.
  • Also make sure that when you partition your disk, you don’t create one huge partition larger than a terabyte. Instead, you probably want to create a boot partition and then a larger partition. I use 100G boot partition and 1TB big partition which I create once I have the system up and running. When I tried to create a 1.1TB partition it has trouble installing grub into the MBR. Using UEFI or a GPT partition table might fix this but I haven’t gone down that rabbit hole and don’t really want to.
  • The grub installation onto the MBR will fail. This is because if you’re installing from thumb USB, ubuntu switches the /dev/sda and /dev/sdb devices and tries to install grub onto your thumb drive instead of your hard drive. To fix this hit CTRL-ALT-F2 open a console, then run the following:
  • chroot /target
  • grub-install /dev/sdb
  • update-grub
  • Then hit CTRL-ALT-F1 and go back to your installation.
  • Continue without installing a boot loader (because that’s what you just did).
  • Once done, when you reboot, go back into the bios and disable booting from your thumb drive (or just unplug it if you’re not doing this remotely like I am).
  • Boot into linux, except that all you’ll see is a blank screen at this point.
  • SSH into the server.
  • Edit /etc/default/grub
  • Change the value of GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT to be “vga=normal nofb nomodeset video=vesafb:off i915.modeset=0”.
  • Run update-grub2
  • Reboot and your console should now work and also won’t freeze up.

Congrats, I just saved you a few hours. Go enjoy them.

OS X 10.10 Yosemite WiFi Problems Analyzed with Wireshark

I never realized how often I google and how much I rely on sub-second response times until I upgraded my Macbook Pro to OS X Yosemite. After muddling through issues like upgrading VMWare and a few other items and fixing my terminal emulation, I couldn’t figure out why I was in such a bad mood.

Then it hit me. My Google searches while I had been doing that had been slow. I would type something in and Google’s search results page either would not appear for about 3 to 6 seconds, or it would half-appear and then the search results would only show up after 3 to 6 seconds.

There is so much garbage SEO bait out there about “what to do about Yosemite wifi problems” so I’m not going to bore you with the details of my investigation and I’m just going to cut straight to the chase:

I put a network analyzer on my wifi. It turns out that the problem appears to be duplicate packets arriving on the WiFi network card. I switched to Ethernet via the Thunderbolt adapter and the problems instantly went away.

Here’s what it looks like in Wireshark….

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.21.31 PM

What happens is the network card transmits an acknowledgement. Then there’s a 2.7 second freeze where nothing happens. And then a few packets arrive followed by a flood of duplicate packets.

The duplicates are both duplicate application data packets along with duplicate TCP acknowledgements.

Scrolling further down you can see the duplicates increase and Wireshark starts labeling them “TCP Spurious Retransmission”, implying an issue with a network interface on the network.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.23.50 PM

Another test shows exactly the same thing. A 3.1 second delay where I’ve highlighted in blue and then a few good packets and the duplicates start.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.30.26 PM

And then the frequency increases…

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.31.38 PM

Deleting and re-adding your wifi network or network card device does not fix this. Neither does some of the other suggestions out there like turning off bluetooth, joining a 2.4 Ghz network instead of 5Ghz, etc…etc..

To me this seems to be a driver issue where the network card freezes and when it comes out of the freeze it’s sending the OS large numbers of duplicate packets. It’s curious that the freeze is around 3 seconds each time.

This test was done on a: MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Early 2013). The only other software running while this test was being done was Chrome, Excel, X11, Wireshark, Terminal and Keyboard Maestro (a keyboard macro utility).

Writing this post after the test was done on ethernet and I can feel my sanity already returning.

Apple please fix. Thanks.

 

Startups that Move the Needle

Something that I’m becoming more cognizant of and that I see in my friends as we all get a little older is the question about whether what we’re doing is actually moving the needle for the rest of humanity. If it’s making positive change by enabling our species or improving quality of life for others.

My business is cybersecurity and the biggest positive impact I see is when we help mom and pop or small businesses keep their websites and businesses secure. But I question whether we can do more. I think Elon’s SpaceX and Tesla moves things forward for our species as a whole.

An old friend arrived in Seattle this weekend. He has a really exciting startup based in Europe and is one of the most persuasive and energetic guys I know. It’s his second or third time in Seattle, ever – he doesn’t even live in this country – and  we show up at the Black Keys concert, sold out show on Saturday night at Key Arena, he walks up to security and talks us into a sold out show without any bribes or cash changing hands.

So in between rocking out to Black Keys and then hitting a Bollywood party in Freemont, I learned about what he’s been doing for the last few years.

Oradian creates software for banks in developing countries to do what banks do. Most of their target market is either using paper or using antiquated systems that are cobbled together and run on an old PC or laptop. Oradian provides a cloud based core banking system that gives banks a way to drop in an IT solution and get up and running fast.

My first thought was skepticism that a bank in a developing country would have access to the Net. But Antonio has been on the ground selling directly into these organizations and markets for a few years (he was previously in micro-finance) and because of the heavy reliance on cellphones in these markets, the Internet is more reliable than the power grid.

They’re currently raising series A in the USA and Europe and it’s interesting hearing his perspective and seeing other companies that are raising in Seattle and the Valley. I think there are other exciting businesses out there that are moving things forward, but there are so many that are spending precious energy on attracting a few more clicks or a few more eyeballs and I’m not sure how they help make the World a better place.

It’s gotten me thinking about how we measure success and gauge whether something is a great idea or not. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a startup appear on the West Coast that has a for-profit model that has the potential to make positive change in developing countries. I grew up in South Africa (as did Antonio, Oradian’s CEO) and we’ve seen and continue to see first hand how important it is to create a strong middle class in developing countries that is empowered with commercial opportunities and the services that surround them in the form of banking.

I’d like to see more smart people thinking about this space and if Oradian is anything to go by, my sense is that there are opportunities in the developing World that can be both profitable for investors and make significant positive change.

Edit: Found this video which gives you a better idea of what Oradian does…

4th of July Post

Posted this on Facebook today and felt like cross posting it here.

I feel obliged to post this after seen all the posts in my timeline connecting patriotism with the US military. There are ways to express love for your country without expressing a love for war or the machine that wages war.

Omitting an expression of support for your country’s military is not unpatriotic. Neither is criticizing it. The last three decades have seen the US at war in Libya, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq (again) and Libya (again). On what’s left of this independence day weekend, consider that citizens of other countries are patriotic too. Try to remember that we’re part of a global whole and every citizen of Earth has fears, hopes and dreams and they too are proud of their history and would prefer that it remain intact.

Consider that the idea that we keep American families working on peaceful private enterprise on US soil instead of dividing them through military deployment is also a patriotic goal.

Remember that a quarter of world military spending is what we spend on our own war machine.

There will always be evil in the world and fighting evil will always create jobs and new wealth and those jobs and that wealth are missed when they’re gone. But at what cost do we go looking for new wars? At what cost do we glorify the military industrial complex as part of what makes us American?

On what remains of this fourth of July weekend, remember that old maxim: That you should treat others the way you want to be treated. And lets instead celebrate our open culture, our freedom of speech and our freedom to choose who governs us, whether they wage war and how they treat others on our behalf.

Liars and Geniuses – Thoughts on Live Jazz

There’s something about Jazz live performance that has bothers me and I think it’s the audience. It’s the beatific smiles on many of the faces that last through the entire performance – smiles that remind me of a congregation in a church that know that it’s the wanting to believe that matters most, not whether it’s true.

It’s the guy in the front row with his index finger at shoulder height pointed at the roof bouncing it back and forth to a rhythm all his own.

Jazz performance appreciation – to truly understand live jazz greatness when you see it in the flesh – is the epitome of musical achievement. To understand how a group of musicians anticipate each other’s switching from one complex time signature to another, move fluidly and rapidly between keys and throw in a little used mode to add some humor or a chromatic run which morphs into another key – or to understand when the musicians are reverting to a jazz standard or improvising something new and truly great – to understand all of this, you have to be an accomplished musician. Someone who has spent thousands of hours either studying or performing or listening.

I think those that claim live jazz appreciation are either liars or geniuses.

I listen to Rock.