Tell Rick That Carmine Says Hello..

Rick Steves is a guy that makes a living traveling the world, and writing very helpful travel books. Back in 2000, My wife (GF during this time) and I were on a month-long back-packing trip through Italy and after a very active first half of the trip, we had decided to R&R on the Amalfi Coast in the South. Much of the North was fairly simple navigation, but the further south you go, the more rustic- particularly as you wiggle through Naples.

We arrived at Amalfi through Sorrento. Sorrento is a nifty beach town, a bit smoggy, with lots of scooters and high energy. For the first time of the trip, I decided to grab a cab to get through the winding mountains, as I just simply could not make out the bus schedules. A small white cab was sitting in the bus lot. I make my way to him, negotiate a bit, and we hop in.

No sooner we get moving, he asks me where we are from. “USA… San Francisco”- I say. “Ah”, he says, “do you know of Rick Steves?” he questions. I tell him of course, and in fact his guidebook is in my backpack. Our driver than grabs a copy of the same book that was sitting on his dash, and hands it over to me. A large paperclip was on the page for quick access. “I’m in Rick Steves book, me and my father, see? My name is Carmine”. Sure enough, there in Ricks book, it says something to the order of ‘if you ever need a ride from Sorrento to Amalfi, find Carmine and his fathers taxi business for a pleasant ride through the hills’. Carmine then says, “if you ever run into Rick Steves in America, please tell him Carmine says hello”. My wife and I both chuckle, and oblige Carmine with ‘Sure, sure we will”.

Well about a year later, Rick Steves is on public television promoting his travel guides. It’s a rainy day in San Francisco, and my wife and I are watching his marathon fundraising promotion on KQED. About lunchtime that day, we stroll to North Beach to grab a bite at Francis Ford Coppolla’s wine & sandwich shop at the base of his Zoetrope film headquarters at the foot of Columbus Ave.

As I’m wolfing down a panini sandwich with a glass of chardonnay, I see what I think is a guy that looks like Rick Steves- walking on the sidewalk, and right past the sandwich shop. I tell my wife, I think I just saw Rick Steves, and after a quizzical look, she says, you know its possible because he is in town at KQED doing his show. Then she looks slightly to her right and her eyes peer upward, and I take notice of her frozen disposition. I flip my head around, and there about a foot away is Rick Steves and his wife, scoping out the place looking for a table.

Instantly, I wind up to say hello, but my wife, a very shy wife, steps on my foot and give me a ‘please don’t say anything’ look. I reel myself in, think twice, and then impulsively flip my head around and bark out “Rick.. Hey Rick”, to which he and his wife instantly respond and Rick kindly says, “yes” and “hello”. I then inform him that “Carmine from Sorrento said if I ever run into you in the states to say hello, so, I’m saying hello to you on behalf of Carmine”, I finish.

I see the reference go off in Ricks mind pretty quickly, and he bounces back with “Ahh yes, Carmine the cab driver from Sorrento, ok yeah, nice guy, him and his father. Thank you”. I wave, he waves, and after a few more seconds, they turn around and vacate the place. I figured he probably just wanted a a few moments of anonymity with his wife and I just destroyed that notion for him.

In any case, the world got very small for everyone involved on that day.

 

Gullivers Travels goes Green

Boris Kana, a leading expert on carbon footprint and large scale ecosystems today, taking a page almost from Gulliver’s Travels where Lilliputians abound, announced his human-biological initiative to green the planet by downsizing the human race into dwarfs.

Studies at Mr. Kana’s institute for eco-health in San Mateo, CA have conclusively found that the most effective method to preserve our natural resources and to control both the ecosystem, pollution, and global warming effect is through less consumption, but with a caveat that humans must shrink to make the process truly functional. “It is likely that only a small percent of waste can result though behavioral consumption modification, however by minimizing the actual size of humans, materials consumption, both raw and finished, and the overall carbon footprint of each individual human being on our planet can be reduced by greater than 50%”, said Mr. Kana at his home in San Mateo.

When asked how he planned to do this, Mr. Kana responded, “By shrinking the human footprint through a persistent cross breeding of human dwarfs with standard humans, we can slowly scale down the size of the human body and the consumption required both for nutritional sustenance and consumables required during the course of one’s lifetime.” Mr. Kana’s studies have shown that at minimum the reduction can average 50%, and can be as high as 80% depending on how small we can minimize the human body size.

He went on to say that extraterrestrial species, such as space travelers from Mars, otherwise known as martians, have been depicted in most observations as generally diminutive in size, based on the fact that they have had many more millions or billions of years to model their body scale to their planets consumption rate and available natural resources.

Mr. Kana went on to say, “Consider this, if you were 1/8 the size that you are now, how large would the water bottles you drink from need to be, the notebook computer you use, and the car you drive? How much less carbon fuel would it take to fly or transport human beings from point A to point B? How much further would an acre of farmland go to sustain the population?.” Simply put as Mr. Kana points out, there really is no better way to ensure a reduction in consumption other than through a programmatic dwarfing of the human body through modern science.

Mr Kana has said in previous reports that his institute is considering accepting private funding from several local venture capital firms, however he has yet to disclose the levels of investment nor the firms that are considering participating.

Mr. Kana also has his critics. At a recent Harvard symposium, Mr. Kana was challenged with the how would humanity deal with the fact that even our most basic house pet could be lethal if Humans were scaled to the lilliputian proportions as he suggests. In response, Mr. Kana recognizes this particular issue, which he calls the ‘Big Cat Problem’, and said that there are several antidotes including shrinking the animal community alongside those of humans, as well as arming most humans with non-lethal weaponry such as tazers that would counter any attack by an unsavory pet or wild animal, but also suggests that even in the wild today this problem exists even at our current scale. “How well would you fare against a Grizzly in the wild even at your normal size”, Kana quipped.

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Now THAT is private..

In 1995, prior to the presidential election of 1996, a group of my very best friends which included husband and wife Lucy and Bill, were all having a nice BBQ in their beautiful Los Gatos, CA backyard.

Months prior to that BBQ, I was in hot and heavy training for the Napa Valley Sutter Home Marathon, a 26 mile run leading from Calistoga, through the twisty Silverado Trail, and ending in the town of Napa.

During the training, I had discovered this sticky-powdered energy drink mix called Choline Cocktail (as in Acetylcholine), which gave a boost of energy probably due to the caffeine I had figured they likely added, and also supposedly stimulated some chemicals which provide higher neurological brain activity. Of course, none of this probably worked, but it was a good placebo to drink prior to an 18 to 21 mile training run.

I had turned my good friend Lucy onto the drink mix, and both her and her husband started drinking it regularly. She was also an avid runner, and we shared the same reasons why we loved to drink a pint of the concoction before we skipped out to do our road labor.

So here we are having a wonderful BBQ at Lucys a few months after I had my personal triumph of running my first marathon, and the subject of politics rears its head. Back in ’95 it was Clinton the incumbent and Dole vying for the highest seat in the nation.

So between the chicken and the Cobb, I had ever so casually asked Lucy and Bill who they intended to vote for in the election. Now, I’ve known these two for about 10 years by now, and somehow apparently, the subject of politics had never come up thus I had no idea what their political interests were, however we were close enough of friends I figured I could ask.

Terrible idea.

Lucy looks back at Bill, licks her lips, then looks to me and says most pointedly and with great conviction, “You know, both Bill and I are very private people when it comes to politics. It’s not anyone’s business but ours and we consider that a very private topic”.

Then it got silent. Very, very silent.

The moment was so awkward it created a momentary vacuum all around us. So, quickly I decided to change the subject to avert the social catastrophe, so I pivot the discussion to our common passion for running and casually ask Lucy if she was still drinking the Choline Cocktail I had turned her on to months back.

She responded in a very matter of fact way, “No, actually- I stopped taking it because it made my pussy stink”.

Incredulously, I looked at her in shock and said “What?, What did you just say?”. She went on, “Really, I stopped taking it because it made my pussy stink”, as she pointed to her private area.

I retracted my head to almost behind my shoulder line in amazement to her comment, looked around at each of the six of us in the backyard, then looked at her and said pointedly, “Uh, for the record honey, now…THAT’S private!!”

 

Sweating Like Nixon

During the 1960 Presidential debates between then Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy, it’s a widely held opinion that Kennedy’s marginal victory was due to Nixon’s profuse sweating in front of the cameras and the American Public. Even Nixon admitted he tended to sweat, and asked Don Hewitt the then producer of the Debate if the cameras would move away if he needed to dab his lips. It didn’t help that day that Nixon was just recovering from the flu, and that he refused makeup just prior to the start of the debate.

Back in the late ‘1990s, and knee deep in dot com maddness, our COO at the time was invited onto CNBC to discuss our company Onsale.com, which at the time was going through the merger of Egghead.com. Jeff is a very tall and confident fellow with a strong presence, he’s very well spoken, commands a bounding voice and has good public speaking skills.

On that particular day, the company could have used every bit of Jeff’s confidence and story spinning, as the company was going through many changes and pulling it all off was expected to be tricky. The questions could be difficult on this day, and back during that time, stock prices could swing one way or the other depending on how your eyebrows moved.

That early morning, Jeff is in the green room at the studio in San Francisco, and he makes a call to chat with a mutual associate Merle, while he is waiting his turn to get in front of the live camera.

I happen to run into Merle later that morning at the office, and Merle joked that Jeff was complaining that the green room was very hot with very poor ventilation and that he couldn’t stop sweating. Jeff then went on to remind Merle somewhat jokingly that Nixon lost the 1960 debate due to the sweating issue. A few nervous laughs were likely exchanged and the call ended. Jeff by the way had no idea that Merle shared his Nixon comments with me.

I got a late start that morning so I could see the interview from home and as expected the interview went just fine, and Jeff did great.

About noon that same day, both Jeff and I bumped into each other in the hallway and we exchanged a quick greeting. I made mention that I saw him that morning on CNBC and he quickly asked back how I thought the interview went.

Without skipping a beat I said, “Jeff, you did great- but you were sweating like Nixon”.

If I only had a camera to capture the look on Jeff’s face that very moment…

 

Fake it til you make it…

The best of the best know that anything great doesn’t happen overnight and you will be handed a series of gauntlets to run through, many of them able to deliver great harm or threat to the very existence of the business. One of the most inspiring lectures I’ve seen is from Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber on his former business experience. If you notice he is faced with blow after blow, test after test, yet he manages his way out of each with brute force and determination.

Watch the video below from the Failcon 2011 conference and you will see what I mean. Make sure to watch til the very end so see how things ended up.

 

The law of presumptive closure

I’m convinced there is an invisible energy in the universe that affects the outcome of events based on how presumptively you treat their probability of closure.

At the moment of conception for an activity that can have a significant outcome on your life or business, an neutral instance of an energy is set up, similar to the declaration of a global variable, but in the space of life. How you respect that instance will determine the outcome.

Let me explain. A few months ago at the tail end of an angel financing round, one of our company officers who happens to also manage our cash, had a recent acquaintance whom was interested in investing. About a week later this gentlemen makes a visit, we do our standard pitch, he wraps up with ‘Yes- I’m very interested, let me liberate some cash to make this investment.”

Whereas our company officer, was assuredly optimistic that the investment would happen, both my business partner and I, both a bit older and with quite a few more years of business experience, would not count on the investment until we saw the cash hit the bank. In fact, our officer went as far as to say that it was ‘Done’.

The moment the word ‘Done’ was uttered, my business partner and I shrieked in agony, and we both put our hands up to deflect the bad energy it caused, and push it away. It was like garlic to a vampire. Literally, at that very moment the word ‘Done’ leaked its way onto the space canvass, the energy turned negative (around the office, we use the term ‘the energy balls leaking’).

For each subsequent positive mention of the deals imminence, more negative energy is tacked on.

To prove us wrong, our officer called the investor and he re-iterated that the funds would come the following Monday. At that point we figured the energy was already so polarized toward the negative that we hardly expected it, but the real deal killer was when the cash from the anticipated investment was put into our company cash flow projections. That was the end. The negative energy was just so hot that the outcome was already set.

As far as the investment, Monday comes and goes, and no word. Our officer is still convinced the deal is going to happen.

Friday comes, and the investor calls us to tell us he had suffered a heart attack.

As my business partner and I concluded somewhat humorously, the moment that investment amount was included in our cash flow projection, was the same moment the investor likely started feeling chest pain.

It’s not a deal until the money is in the bank. Period.

Both my business partner and I broke our rule during the same funding round, and we paid the price.

We were in our company war room doing our standard investor presentation to a new angel candidate. At the same time we had been expecting a check from my business partners cousin, who happened to be a fairly successful Hollywood actress. After a few false starts, she calls us while in the war room doing our pitch, and says she is at the post office and is about to overnight the check. My business partner and I high-five, and we go on to tell the new investor candidate that a new investor was ‘in the deal’, and she was a Hollywood actress with lots of Hollywood contacts. She was at the post office for Gods sake, isn’t that enough to say the deal was as good as done? Next day, no money arrives. We figured it was sent second day air. Next day, nothing still. OK we figured, it was mailed standard postage. The finally calls us later that week to breaks the bad news that her accountant advised her to put her money in an annuity instead of a startup. Deal is dead.

As far as the new investor candidate, he invested, but not after first asking us ‘what every happened to that Hollywood girl? With sheepish look, we had to disclose that deal didn’t happen. Rule #1 – don’t break your own rules.

You might be thinking by now that we are possessed or jinxed, or just two guys with bad luck. Not the case. It’s just the law.

About a month ago, a manager advised us excitedly that a key staff position was filled. The interview went well, the candidate communicated a high degree of interest from the start, and verbally accepted the job. As far as filling this staff position, everyone had already moved on. It was done and she had a start date.

Now secretly, I knew better, and I’ve seen this movie before. Until the person shows up to work, it’s not done.

As it turns out, the candidate calls our office on start day, deciding instead to take another job elsewhere. Many were confused by this, including myself. Based on the initial enthusiasm, none of the staff members that had interviewed the candidate could figure out what went wrong.

It took a week to solve the mystery. My business partner and I had been preparing company power-point slides and we had asked one of our managers for the latest company org chart. Guess who was on it? The candidate. We both did a high-five, relieved that we solved the case. The law of presumptive closure was at work! The moment she was put on the org chart without having first showed up for work was the moment she probably saw a competing ad on Craig’s list that she liked better.

My final example just happened the day before I write this, which actually prompted me to put this to paper.

We were expecting a very sizable order from a new customer on the last business day of the month. Since we didn’t have a track record with the customer, we asked for the majority of the payment to be made in cash via wire transfer. That order would’ve clearly marked a new sales record in the companies history and the timing was right since my business partner and I were about to embark on a new financing round in the coming weeks.

The sales staff members working on the deal were gushing about the size of the order and on several occasions had used the dreaded words that the deal was done. To make matters worse, so high was the state of optimism, that the sales order amount was already forecast into the company sales forecast that the finance folks were preparing for us to take on the road. I could hear the deal whizzing south, sort of like that ‘sucking sound’ that Ross Perot used to speak of during his presidential campaign as he referred to the loss of U.S. jobs. At this point, I had already written the deal off as dead. The moment the sales order was presumptively added to our financial forecasts, the customer probably found it cheaper elsewhere.

To my surprise, the wire arrived as promised and the deal closed for month end. My business partner and I were mystified how a deal that had so much negative polarity could’ve closed without a hitch.

Later that day, we figured it out. Without our asking, our chief financial officer voluntarily had removed the sum from the month’s sales forecast. Once that number was removed from the spreadsheet, the customer probably started making his way to his bank.

That’s just the way it works.

 

Sir, this is the Four Seasons..

In Punta Mita Mexico, about 26 miles north from Puerta Vallarta, is a sprawling Four Seasons Resort that is about the closest thing to heaven that you can find on earth.

I cashed in my American Express points for a 7 day stay in paradise.

Poolside, It sort of goes like this. You walk toward the pool area, you are approached by a Four Seasons service staff who asks where you would like to sit, and they follow you with plush towels, and a fitted terri cloth cover for your lounge chair.

I happen to like the far end of the pool, which attracts the Iguanas that hang around in packs behind the jacuzzi area – and they tend to wander off and sun their big heads in the oddest places.

So- after my service staff finishes with covering the lounge chair, and also after he has brought me my beer and tecquilla, he parks himself back about 30 yards away in await for the next guest.

I happen to wander away for a second, when all of a sudden a bird lands on my lounge chair, and takes the tiniest poop you could imagine. Enough to just barely fit on my pinky nail.

Don’t ask me how, but within an instant, my service guy comes darting over to me with another fitted towel, and without ever looking down at my chair asks, ‘Sir, do you mind if I change your towel?’.

At this point, I am amazed. I hardly noticed the bird and his poop, yet this guy seemed to have noticed it from almost 30 yards away. So- just to make sure he ‘did in fact’ see what I saw, I asked him why he needed to change it. With a slightly embarrassed look, he responds- ‘Sir, a bird has had an accident on your towel’.

How did you know that?, I said. There is no way you could’ve seen that.

His response: ‘Sir, this is the Four Seasons’

 

Verisign Won’t Go Out of Business

Years back during the start of one of my new business ventures, I had asked our sole engineer Peter, a very bright lad, and a merit scholar, to check into the expiration date of our Verisign security certificate on our website so we wouldn’t get caught by surprise, otherwise it will greet customers with a nasty security warning when they browse the site. Peter was still pretty fresh out of college and was not up to speed in the ways of startups, but he was very good at technology.

For those who don’t know, Verisign is a leader in providing a sort of Security ‘Seal of Approval’ on many ecommerce websites. Verisign is a publicly traded leader in this area, and is run by a very competent management team and CEO. They are a household name in the ecommerce business, and a mainstay in Silicon Valley. My company at the time was about 8 months old, and it consisted of 4 monkeys (of which I was one) in an inferior office space with a mission.

About an hour after my request, I get a call from Peter’s phone extension. Peter informs me that we have an option to purchase either a 1 year certificate, a 3 or 5 year. Naturally I ask the price discounts for the longer commitments- and so I determine the 3 year is the best option for us.

“Take the 3 year option Peter” I say.

(Peter goes silent)

“Peter- you there? Take the 3 year option” I reiterate into the phone.

Peter then very quietly asks “..are you sure you want the 3 year option?”

“Yes, it’s perfect. What do you have against it?” I ask.

Peter retorts, “What if the company goes out of business?”

Now I’m wholly confused. Here is a public company, the leader in the security certificate industry, with probably a half to a billion dollar plus market capitalization at the time, and Peter is asking me about their longevity.

“Peter, are you crazy, Verisign isn’t going to go out of business!”.

Little did I know that Peter was referring to OUR company biting the dust, which was the absolute last thing in my mind. Truth is I really believed that Verisign would deep six before we ever would, even though our company was barely out of the gates.

New companies need the people equivalent of solid rocket boosters to push off the pad. It’s that sort of dogged belief system that gets a startup into the atmosphere versus those that crash and burn on the launchpad.

 

In a Van Down by the River..

I’d probably just turned 18. It was a humid Long Island summer night, back in the very late 70’s and I was sharing a cold six pack with my pal Rob. We were out in the open on a typically uneventful street, but on this night, a speeding white van clearly looking for trouble, whips around the corner, speeds up fast towards us, pulls right up to the curb and stops.

There is a grumbly roar as the white side van door slides open, and like a trojan horse, a dozen drunken lunatics run out and involuntarily carry me into the dark, beer soaked insides of the vehicle, itself one big beer can on wheels.

There I was- kidnapped, still clutching my Budweiser, and held hostage by a group of the neighborhood’s best know hoodlums, otherwise know as my ‘friends’. It was a victory for them. A heist of none other than myself, worthy of a few high fives and cheers. My poor friend Rob, who knew none of these guys was probably wondering if he would ever see me again.

The van was now speeding through town, metal music was blasting from the stereo system, and you could see the pale adams apples on the necks of all these kids moving up and down to the beat of all the beer that was being guzzled.

By now the group had been out for a few hours already and was trashed. They were looking for one last adventure. They decided to go to the house of the craziest guy in town and ransack the exterior of the house of which he lived, only I didn’t know it yet.

The van heads off on what feels like a kill mission. The van finds its destination, the door roars open again, and a dozen crazed drunks, with me included in the throng, pour out of the van and instantly the group begins to rip apart this poor guys house.

I’d never met the guy before, but stories of him beating the crap out of people in town were legendary. Back in those days, usually scores were settled with a crowbar. Why these guys decided to pick on this guy was not clear me, but it mattered little now. There was a flame orange color muscle car parked in the driveway. It certainly appeared to me that this guy was home, and I was now awkwardly standing on his front lawn. There is a porcelain statue of a jockey holding a lamp at the base of the driveway and suddenly all eyes set on it. About half the group starts towards it, tackles it, and it breaks into pieces. Another kid runs up to the front door and kicks it hard enough for the glass to shatter. If any sleeping souls in that home were going to be awaken, it was going to be now. The lights on the house turn on. Confrontation is imminent.

In a panic, the van starts off again with half the crew back on board and the rest running for it as it became clear it was time to get out of there as fast as possible or risk having a meeting with this guys fury. Some of the kids are running parallel to the van, with their feet dragging while they are being pulled in. I’m running as fast as I can, but the van is faster.

The van is now gone, and I’m the only one left behind. I’m less than 50 yards away from the house- and Godzilla.

I can hear noise now coming from behind me. Someone was stark raving mad. I hear the doors of the muscle car open and close, and the engine explode with rage. I can visualize the car reversing out of the driveway, and It’s coming speeding toward me.

How the heck am I going to get out of this one. It’s midnight, I’m on a street I have no business to be walking on, I have branches sticking out of my hair, grass and dirt stains on my pants and I’m sweating like I just walked off a soccer field. Yet, I’d better think fast because now he was pulling up right beside me.

He is here now. I feel his presence. I feel the heat.

Insanity is the mark of this mans face right now. He is unquestionably livid and he impatiently questions me. One wrong word and he’s going to run me over 5 times in reverse, and then beat me with a crowbar.

My hands were in my pockets and I was walking slow. “Dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just walking home”.

As suspicious as I must have appeared, with all the damage to this poor guys house, certainly one person couldn’t be capable of that entire mess. This poor guy now was caught in the struggle of spending more time asking me questions, but at the risk of losing the trail to the real animals that tore up this guys property.

Then in the distance the white van appeared speeding by on a cross street. He gives me one last crazy look, steps down on the gas and heads toward the van. I was saved.

He never did catch the van, and the poor jockey laid broken for a month.