Beginnings and Endings

Last Wednesday Katie and I went to dinner with an old friend and classmate, Nate, and his lovely wife. Nate and I were two of three Rice computer science 2001 graduates who started up companies at about the same time so we shared a special bond of cutting our teeth together. He is founder and CEO of Entrance Software, a top notch custom software company that is one of Houston's fastest growing. It was bootstrapped since the beginning and has grown organically based on smart talent and fastidious attention to customer satisfaction. As I know most of the team, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the company to anyone looking for IT solutions.

Dinner was at Sorrento, less than a mile from my house. I pass it every day and every day I say to myself, "Hmm, that looks good; we should give it a try." At last we did give it a try and it was well worth the wait. From the anchovy-cheese bread to the risotto served from a parmigiano wheel, from the tender, succulent fillet with foie gras to the delicious salads, the experience was sublime. By the time we ordered dessert it was too late to order the chocolate-Gran Marnier souffle', which bummed us out a bit. But our waiter surprised us by bringing us a snifter of Gran Marnier with gorgeous chocolate truffles. Well played, sir, well played.

Friday Katie and I celebrated a special date at Capital Grille uptown. It has plenty of redeeming qualities--many of which we tasted--but number one hands down is LOBSTER MACARONI & CHEESE. Words can't describe how rich and delicious this is so I won't even try. The citrus-glazed salmon, green salad, parmesan truffle fries, and everything else merit praise but the lobster mac & cheese clearly takes the cake. Mmmm!

Last week I was also pleased to host Angela, a Ugandan woman in search of a US university. Due to discriminatory practices in her own country she has been forced to look elsewhere for higher education. She found me through an Irish IMD classmate of mine, who had worked for several years in Rwanda--now that's a global network! When she expressed an interest in Rice University, I offered to put her up at my house and do whatever I could to facilitate her application. Although I didn't have as much time to spend with her as I would have liked, it was a real pleasure getting to know her. She is smart, capable, and would be a real asset to the next Rice class; I really hope she gains admission!

The week wasn't all sunshine and roses, though. I dropped my tablet (laptop) in a parking garage and it understandably began behaving very unreliably. It turns out that my hard drive was damaged and needs to be replaced. The computer itself is pretty worn but can be salvaged. In the meantime, I bought a new tablet, the HP TouchSmart tx2z. It is about the same size as my previous one but the mult-touch screen is much more functional: I can control everything with my fingers instead of just the attached stylus. It also runs Windows 7, with which I am very impressed. It is fast, clean, and quite functional.

Last week I also caught up with two friends with dying fathers. Obviously the subject is a pretty poignant one for me and I'm sad that others are having to deal with it. However, I'm glad to be a resource for them. If I can ease their burden at all or help out in any way, then at least there is some silver lining to my own experience. I remind myself that death is just as natural as life and that none of us are getting any younger. The best we can do is live life to the fullest and enjoy the blessing of the time we do have with those we love.

While I'm on morose topics, what a terrible, terrible football season to be a fan of the Rice Owls or the Washington Redskins--not to mention being a fan of both! My Owls are winless on the season, giving up 46 points per game! The Skins aren't doing much better with two wins and a dramariffic front office. Oh well, at least the Texans are doing well, as are Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, my two favorite active QBs.

It was a busy week for Enistic too. We have almost finalized the deal with our UK partners and will soon be ready to raise some money and get started. As many of you know, I'm not a patient person so I'm very, very eager to move this venture forward!



What a week! On Tuesday I drove to Austin for the Clean Energy Venture Summit.This was my first road trip in the Smart car and it left me with several impressions. First, it is very comfortable to be and drive in. Second, because it is a city car, it has no cruise control, which makes it understandably poorly suited for long trips. Third, you can definitely feel the low power on the highway when it slows down on inclines--that never happened in my 270-horse power SLK! Fourth, the gas mileage is great; I got well over 40 MPG on the highway. And finally, it really does open up parking options that would be out of the question in most other cars!

It was great to be back in Austin for the first time in awhile. The city feels so different than Houston. Where Houston is huge and full of multinational corporations, Austin feels smaller, younger, and definitely more outdoorsy. People seem more casual there and the live music culture is thriving. I stayed with a friend of mine from Rice. She has a great little house in the middle of the city, which was very convenient for me. She also has a very sweet dog, which was an unexpected bonus!

Wednesday morning I met with a journalist from Greentech Media, a publication I have followed for many months. It was a thrill to be interviewed by Jeff St. John, their Smart Grid specialist. As expected, he was extremely knowledgeable and had great insight into the entire space in which Enistic is playing. It was a great conversation, after which I felt even more energized about what we are doing--a good way to start off the two-day summit.

The rest of the day was spent learning about current Smart Grid trends, opportunities, and potential future scenarios--exciting stuff! In the evening there was a reception at City Hall hosted by the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Although I thought I wouldn't know anyone there, that turned out not to be the case at all. Immediately upon arrival I bumped into a classmate of mine from university who now works for an Austin-based VC. Shortly after that a classmate of mine from high school came over to say hi--he now works for a Bay area VC and would even be on the VC panel for the following day's pitch competition! Small world! I also met many other people there as it was a pretty friendly bunch.

Afterward, instead of going out, I stayed in and rehearsed my pitch. Although I consider myself a pretty good extemporaneous speaker, especially when I'm as passionate about something as I am about Enistic, IMD taught me that I am all that much better at presenting when I am well prepared. The next day I would have only five minutes to present a compelling vision of our company, why what we're doing is worthwhile, and how investors will realize major returns--both economic and "green" returns. Therefore I needed to be dead on about making each and every point, holding it just long enough for emphasis, and then moving on to ensure I stayed within time limits.

Thursday morning began early! I arrived at the UT McCombs School of Business AT&T Conference Center at 6 AM to run through my pitch. It may have been a bit overkill but I really wanted to ensure that they had the right version of my powerpoint and that everything showed up/transitioned well on the large projection screen. My pre-run went flawlessly so I felt kind of sheepish being there so early, but I would much rather that than the sheepish feeling of beginning my pitch only to realize that the powerpoint is the wrong version, as happened to one of the other presenters later in the day.

The morning was great and the company pitches were quite compelling. It felt wonderful to be surrounded by so many passionate, knowledgeable people who had similar goals of creating great businesses that do a lot of good for the world. I had an opportunity throughout the day to meet most of the presenters too and my impression is that they are all top notch individuals.

Lunch came and went but I didn't have much appetite as I grew a little nervous before my afternoon pitch. This always happens: I know the presentation backward and forward but I get butterflies in advance. The butterflies build to a crescendo right before I start and I can literally feel my heart in my throat. Then, all of a sudden, BAM, I'm in the zone and it usually comes off really well. The same pattern has emerged before every performance I've ever given--including performances on the football field--and I absolutely revel in it. I love the feeling of nervous anticipation beforehand, the zen in the moment, and the feeling of triumph afterward.

Long story short: the pitch went really well. There were 400+ attendees out there and it felt great to share with them the grand vision for Enistic. After the pitch we had 10 minutes of Q&A from the VC panel and I was excited that the VCs had many questions for me and that their questions indicated significant interest. After the pitch, several people took me aside to compliment me on the pitch, which felt great. In the end, we didn't win the pitch competition, which I consider a failure. It was definitely one of my goals. However, we did receive a great deal of follow-up from potential investors, business partners, and employees, so I still think it was a strong net positive.

With the Summit over, I celebrated by meeting several friends from Rice at Chuy's, a tex mex institution. The Texas Martini, stuffed/fried avocado, and creamy jalapeno sauce reminded me how much I missed this cuisine while I was in Switzerland! Afterward we went to a wine bar in a beat-up shack nearby. Austin is definitely weird--and I love it!

Friday morning I woke up and was thrilled to see two pieces of news: first, the Greentech Media article on us had been published. Second, IMD was ranked #2 in the world by The Economist. Bolstered by the good start, I breezed back to Houston, where I met with an interested investor. All-in-all I'd say it was a great week for Enistic!

The weekend was much more laid back. Katie's sister and cousin were in town so we spent most of our time with them. The weather was cool and gorgeous, perfect for walking around outside and watching football inside. It was also my nephew's birthday AND I learned that my mother received a major award, so reasons to celebrate abounded! Next week will be very hectic as we kick Enistic into high gear. In the meantime, though, I am absolutely loving life!

Pictures are in my facebook album.


Domestic Hippies

I have completed my first week of life back in the US and what a productive week it has been! The time that I have not spent on enistic has been spent on very domestic activities. After unpacking my bags, Katie and I had to spend many evenings sorting through our stuff, deciding what to keep and organizing furniture for space efficiency. We made major progress and now there is a huge pile of stuff on the dining room table that we simply don't need. If anyone is looking for a microwave, a toaster, a coffee maker, a George Foreman Grill, a TV/VCR, a dumbbell set, or any number of kitchenware items, don't hesitate to let me know!

It wasn't all work this week, though. Friday evening we had dinner with Katie's coworkers at Indika, which was so, so good. The Indian food with a new kick is excellent, but the real standout is the cocktail menu--I recommend the Madras Mojito, although the chili dusted glass rim offers little solace from the spicy food.

Saturday began with a new gym membership. I'd like to join the new Rice Rec Center, but alumni can't join until 2010 so I joined 24 Hour Fitness in the meantime. My first workout there felt great! My membership costs 1/4 of that of a Swiss gym and the equipment is ~1,000% better. Nothing against Swiss gyms--I certainly enjoyed my time there--but it is really nice to be back in a place where they take this seriously.

After the gym, it was time for more domestic activities. Whole Foods, Central Market, the farmer's market, the recycling center--Katie and I are such hippies! We picked up lots of delicious, natural food--at least enough to last us the weekend! I was pleased that my little Smart Car got us around fine; I think it's going to serve its purpose very well.

Saturday afternoon we went to the Rice football game. This started off very well with a Rice Engineering Alumni tailgate but quickly went downhill with a 63-14 loss to the US Naval Academy. After such a great 2008 season, this year's slow start is tough to handle.

Sunday I reveled in two things: 1. more football all day and 2. stores that are open on Sundays!!!! I haven't had the possibility to go to the store on Sunday for two years and boy did I miss it! After brunch at Mango's, where I had jalapeno-cheese-stuffed french toast, we filled Sunday with more domestic hippie activities and some relaxation at home.

This will be another big week for enistic as I am pitching at the Austin Clean Energy Venture Summit. Wish me luck as I'm hoping for a big win!

Pics are in my facebook album.


Smart Start

For the last two years while I was in Switzerland, I took it upon myself to describe the culture, food, landscape, and people to my faithful readers back home in the US. Now that I am back in the US, I feel the impulse to do the same for the European readers I have developed. There is nothing too crazy to report yet, except that the sky is just so big here in Houston. Having spent most of my time in Lausanne, where much of the sky was obscured by [beautiful] mountains, it is now refreshing to look up and see so much blue all around me. I never appreciated it before, but it seems that Houston's flatness has advantages above and beyond being good for running.

And speaking of moving around, one of my first steps here was to procure a means of transportation. No more Mercedes convertible for me; I needed something greener! I thought about a Prius or other hybrid but they all were much larger than I needed. My basic needs are driving 2 miles back and forth to work every day and sometimes transporting another person to lunch. The ideal car would have been a plug-in electric, but it seems that they won't be commercially ready for another 1-2 years. So I settled on a car that is ubiquitous in Europe but only just gaining traction here in the US: the Smart ForTwo.

It meets all of my criteria and leaves so much additional space in the garage that it may have preemptively solved any space-sharing issues Katie and I might have. Is it as fun to drive as my SLK(s)? Certainly not! But I only miss the fun for a few minutes worth of commute each day and I feel great about the 40 mpg. This is a good first step for me in a policy of just buying what I need.

Although I am already working hard on enistic, I am also spending a great deal of time getting settled back into my house. My friends from all over the world are welcome to come visit me here in Houston. It's hot and it's humid, but it's home and I love it!

Pics are in my facebook album.


Amsterdam Day 3/Europe Day 639

My last full day in Europe was great. Miraculously the sun came out and the day was just beautiful. After a lazy morning we went to my classmate, Joonwon's, birthday party, where we also were able to catch up with another classmate, Ziad. That was great fun and Sujin served up some excellent (and spicy!) Korean food.

This was followed by an IMD alumni event at a local hotel. John Wells, the IMD president, was in town so he hosted a gathering of 30+ alumni in the greater Amsterdam area. Here we all met up with another classmate, Frank, as well as with many older alumni.

I came here with the intention of getting to know Amsterdam but the highlight of this trip by far was catching up with friends/classmates. After a full day of IMD activities, we repaired back to the apartment and had another great meal--fajitas, in celebration of my return to Texas! There were more philosophical discussions--this time regarding blogging and online identity!

Now I am about to board my flight to Houston. This was a great weekend in Amsterdam and the last two years in Europe have been wonderful. A part of me will always reside here and I definitely hope to return often.


Amsterdam Day 2

In an unexpected twist, I woke up this morning feeling really nauseous. I didn't throw up but I was tired and definitely not hungry. Boo, bad start! Tomas, Albert, and I enjoyed some male bonding by walking over to the local farmer's market. This took us past Amsterdam's 1924 Olympic Stadium, which was pretty cool. Oh how far we've come since then!

Despite feeling pretty poor, I bucked up enough to check out the Red Light District. Tomas and I walked around, said hi to the ladies, and even visited the Sex Museum. I may have had more zeal for this tour if I hadn't been so nauseous but I found the whole scene to be pretty underwhelming. Still, I'm glad to have checked it off my list.

On the way back to the apartment I bumped into Joy Roth, a Rice alum and former ARA Board member--again, what a small world! I spent the evening resting up a bit. As I hadn't eaten all day, I was pretty tired. Lucia is such a good mother that she was able to take care of not only one boy, but two. She established that I had a fever and helped me treat the symptoms. The #1 treatment method was shooting Borovička, a Slovak dry gin. Oh yeah, that'll cure what ales you!

Lucia and Tomas are also great cooks. We decided to stay in for the evening so they prepared a wonderful meal of fish, potatoes, and spinach with garlic. Under normal circumstances, I would have shown them how much I appreciated their culinary skills by devouring everything they put in front of me. This night was different, though, and the smell of the garlic almost made me lose my stomach. Yikes, something was clearly wrong!

However, I knew I had to eat, so I joined them for dinner and had some cereal. I managed to eat it all and immediately felt better. My fever was gone by the end of dinner and I was beginning to feel like a new man. We spent the rest of the evening just sitting around chatting and discussing deep philosophical questions.

At one point Lucia brought out some mango and berliners (the doughnuts mentioned in my blog about Berlin) and I ensured that there were none left. Ah yes, there's that appetite I know. I'm back, baby! Still, I'm heading to bed to ensure that I'm rested and ready for my last day here.


Amsterdam Day 1

Today was a lot of fun in a very new environment. Tomas had to work so I amused myself by heading into town and just walking around all day. My first impression of Amsterdam when waking up and looking out the window was: green! Tomas et al live in an apartment overlooking one of the canals in the southwest part of the city. There are vibrant green grass and bushy green trees all along the banks of the canal, which give the canal water itself a green hue. Waking up to the shining sun on such a view was like looking into one of the impressionist paintings I saw last weekend.

I set off along the canal and turned left on Beethovenstraat, where I formed my second impression of Amsterdam: bikes! Everyone travels by bicycle here. There are dedicated bike lanes everywhere and bike racks are full of tens and tens of bikes at each corner. They're pretty simple bikes too, most with only one gear and no hand breaks, but they seem to get people around very well without creating pollution or traffic. Nice! The bicyclists are pretty remorseless with their forward momentum, though, and I've seen more than one dumbstruck tourist walk into a bike lane only to be mowed down by a hurrying Dutchman.

I made my way to the Museumplein, where I grabbed a sandwich and people-watched for a while. Next impression: tall! According to wikipedia, the average male height here is 6' and the average for females is 5'7"--I believe it! They also seem to be pretty sporty, with many people engaged in individual and organized physical activities. This was verified as I then walked around the Vondelpark.

OK, enough "soaking up" the local feel; it was time to do something touristy. So I walked up the Anne Frank House, stood in line for a while, and then walked through the secret rooms where she and her family hid from Nazi persecutors. I haven't read the Diary of Anne Frank since middle school, but I remembered enough of it to be moved by the physical site where such a betrayal took place.

Not wanting to lighten the mood too much, I then went to the Van Gogh Museum. While waiting to purchase my ticket, I bumped into Rice alum, prof, and Lovett College Associate George Hirasaki--what a small world! He happened to be in town for a conference. This once again proves my assertion that the Rice network is small but high-value and very global.

Inside the museum I met Sujin, the partner of another of my IMD classmates, Joonwon. Sujin is a painter herself so she was a great tour guide. After viewing the paintings and writings of Van Gogh, we went downstairs to view an exhibition on Alfred Stevens. I had never heard of Stevens before but I found his works to be quite remarkable. Specifically his ability to capture the texture of fabrics and upholstery was unlike anything I had before seen.

On my way back to the apartment I saw a line of painted elephants, part of a city-wide elephant art show in support of save-the-elephants charities. I stopped to take a picture and was immediately accosted by a man, raving at me in several languages. When he worked out that English was my best language (certainly better than my Dutch!) he informed me that he had been in my picture of the elephants and that he did NOT want to be in any pictures. I assured him that there was no problem and let him watch as I deleted the picture but, now that I reflect on it, I wish I had pressed him more to understand why he didn't want to be in any pictures!

Back at the apartment I relaxed a bit with Tomas, Lucia, and Albert. Albert is very well behaved and has a very pleasant disposition. Tomas and Lucia seem to have taken to parenthood very naturally and it is inspiring to see this young family doing so well.

In the evening I went out for dinner with some other friends from Amsterdam. For the second time in as many weeks I went to a Jamie Oliver restaurant--this one was Fifteen Amsterdam. The food was, once again, delicious. we each ordered the four-course prix fixe menu. I began with the antipasti sampler, after which I was basically full. Next was a sweet gorgonzola risotto--mmmm! The main course was certified sustainably caught salmon--good thing we had plenty of wine to help me make room in my stomach! Finally there was cinnamon panna cotta with a dark chocolate mousse. How indulgent!

After all that I am stuffed and am heading to bed. Who knows what Day 2 will hold, but I bet it will be fun!

Pics are in my facebook album.


The End of an Era

This evening I took a one-way train from Lausanne to Geneve-Aeroport, boarded a plane with two heavy bags, and left Switzerland indefinitely. Last night some of my Poken friends and IMD classmates came out to celebrate my last night on the town. We had cocktails at Kai Zen, followed by La Berlinoise at Bavaria. It was a very fun evening and I was glad to have the chance to say goodbye before I left.

I spent most of today cleaning as the Swiss have very, very strict standards regarding the state of an apartment when it is handed over. Unfortunately I was informed at the handover that I had still missed a few spots in the kitchen but there was nothing catastrophic.

Packing up my stuff required, as it always does, some decisions about what to keep/pack and what to toss. Some casualties of this move include my old, huge laptop (nicknamed "the aircraft carrier" by some clients of my previous company), my favorite shoes (that are large and very worn), and several bottles of wine (but I know they will bring happiness to the Poken staff). Eventually I managed to squeeze everything into my two suitcases and lug them down to the station.

Instead of heading directly to the US, though, I'm taking a detour through Amsterdam, where I have never been before. Here I am staying with my IMD classmate Tomas, his wife, Lucia, and their son, Albert, who was born during our school year. Unfortunately the cost of checking my heavy luggage on EasyJet was three times the cost of the ticket but, oh well, these are the costs of moving.

When I stepped off the plane this evening, the moon was bright and the air was crisp and cool. It felt like the first step toward an uncertain, exciting future. It felt like the right step.