We spent Christmas Eve at her aunt/uncle's house, which was filled to the brim with family, food, and song. The Martin clan (Katie's mother's side) definitely has a much more musical orientation than I grew up with but they seem willing to accept me anyway. :-) I won the coin toss and the other boyfriend (Katie's sister's) had to don the Santa outfit and bring presents for all the kids. He was a good sport about it and hammed up the role.
Katie and I spent this Christmas with her family in Minnesota. I have been there several times since we started dating, but always during the summer. Both my parents earned their PhDs at the University of Minnesota so I grew up with plenty of warnings about the Minnesota winters; this was my first time experiencing one first hand!
We spent Christmas Eve at her aunt/uncle's house, which was filled to the brim with family, food, and song. The Martin clan (Katie's mother's side) definitely has a much more musical orientation than I grew up with but they seem willing to accept me anyway. :-) I won the coin toss and the other boyfriend (Katie's sister's) had to don the Santa outfit and bring presents for all the kids. He was a good sport about it and hammed up the role.
On the flight up we had the fortune to sit next to Michael Skelly, whom I voted for in the 2008 congressional election. It turns out that 20 years ago he and his wife-to-be were celebrating their Christmas and engagement with her family in Minnesota as well. They are still together and doing well so hopefully that is a good omen for us!
We arrived late morning on the 24th and were less-than-thrilled that our economy car rental had been "up" graded to a minivan. Is this how it works? As soon as you are engaged they start automatically putting you in soccer mom vehicles? Oh well, it got us where we needed to go and had plenty of room for transporting around others. My mom had arrived the night before so was already situated and ready to party.
We spent the afternoon at Katie's parents' house, where it was truly a winter wonderland. Minnesota is on pace to obliterate previous December snowfall records and there were feet of the white stuff everywhere. As Katie and I were already suffering from Max withdrawal (He was being very well tended by good friends of ours in Houston.), it was helpful that her parents have a golden retriever too.
We spent Christmas Eve at her aunt/uncle's house, which was filled to the brim with family, food, and song. The Martin clan (Katie's mother's side) definitely has a much more musical orientation than I grew up with but they seem willing to accept me anyway. :-) I won the coin toss and the other boyfriend (Katie's sister's) had to don the Santa outfit and bring presents for all the kids. He was a good sport about it and hammed up the role.
Christmas Day was spent at Katie's parents house. We had a tremendous Christmas breakfast, opened presents, and then spent awhile playing in the snow. Snowball fights, snow angels, snow fort construction--even a snow scavenger hunt for hidden tins of Katie's mother's famous dark chocolate waffle cookies! It was a blast and our four-year-old nephew who loves pirates was particularly excited when we began firing snow cannon balls from our snow pirate ships!
The evening was spent at the new house of Katie's brother and his family. When I first met him 10 years ago, he was still in middle school. Now he is married, expecting a second child in March, owns a house, and has already served his country with a foreign tour of duty. I've seen many middle school "good kids" somehow lose their ways as they grew older so it is heart warming to see it the other way around: good kids growing into good adults with good lives. And it helps that their first son is frickin' adorable. :-)
Katie's family threw an engagement party for us on Sunday, which was really fun. There were family members, friends, and--of course--lots of food! It was fun meeting some new folks, catching up with some whom I hadn't seen since the very first time I came to Minnesota, and just generally feeling incredibly welcomed into a big, awesome family. Katie's family catered the entire affair, which I know was a real undertaking, but the end result was just marvelous! We capped off the evening with a bonfire to celebrate Katie's aunt's birthday--a big old bonfire in the middle of the snow!
We returned on Monday after a wonderful trip that was too short. I don't understand all of these complaints I had heard about Minnesota winters. Sure there was a lot of snow, but that was very welcome to this snowball fighter. Sure it was cold, but there was so much warmth from family and friends that you could hardly notice. So, while I am currently enjoying the 70-degree weather back in Houston, my first Minnesota winter experience was pretty darned good.
Wow. One year ago today we incorporated Smart Office Energy Solutions. As impatient as I am, it is never moving along quite quickly enough for me, but it is still important to look back at all we have already accomplished in a relatively brief time.
When we incorporated last December, we had completed tremendous analysis of the building energy efficiency industry. We had identified a very specific market gap, a large segment of potential clients that were being under- or unserved, and we had sketched out a rough solution that we thought could fulfill that pent-up need. In short, we had the makings of a business. At the time, our business was built on hypotheses and analyses, but instinct told us that we were onto something.
The year since incorporation has been focused largely on customer development. We have been using prototype products to validate our hypotheses, challenge our assumptions, and test our business model with paying customers. We raised a seed round of funding to finance these efforts and we have now developed a strong emerging brand. All of our close work with clients has also yielded new insights into generating maximum energy savings--insights which we have developed into intellectual property.
So here we are at the precipice of a new year. In some ways, very little has changed. For example, we are setting out to raise a new round of investment--exactly as we were doing this time last year. In many ways, however, our world is totally different. As we look to the future, we have a business plan rooted in proven facts rather than hypotheses. We have an extended team of contributors many times larger and more effective than the original set of founders. We have a growing set of stakeholders (clients, investors, policy makers, resellers, suppliers, policy makers, and cleantech pundits) who believe in what we are doing and provide daily encouragement. Moreover, through our modest efforts thus far, we have eliminated almost a full megawatt-hour of energy use, saving more than 10,000 tons of CO2, the equivalent to having planted more than 200 trees. Relative to our grand ambitions, that isn't much--but it's a great start!
As I have blogged about before, this path hasn't been easy. There is great uncertainty as we develop a market that doesn't exist yet with an approach that hasn't existed before. I must always give credit to my secure bases, my business and personal relationships who provide the support I need to keep going; without them I would be lost.
So happy birthday, Smart Office Energy Solutions . . . many happy returns!
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to d0 my civic duty of jury service and it got me thinking about all the costs involved in this process. Previously my experience with jury service had been quite limited. Each time I was called in I sat around for 30 - 180 minutes and then was ultimately dismissed without any need for my service. This time I still didn't wind up sitting on a jury but I did come close, which gave me my greatest insight into the entire process to date.
I showed up at the courthouse at 8:30 AM and waited around with about 100 other potential jurors until the judge showed up to brief us at 9. We spent about an hour going through jury orientation/training and then we waited around for our names to be called for a specific courtroom. Waiting was not onerous at all; the seats were comfortable and the courthouse offered free WiFi.
Meanwhile upstairs each courtroom held 30 - 50 accused citizens. Each defendant talked to the judge and plead "guilty," "not guilty", or "no contest." For those who plead "guilty" or "no contest" they settled immediately there with court administrators. Those who plead "not guilty" had the right to a fair and speedy trial--which is where the jurors come in.
Once a courtroom processed all of the non-trial defendants, they began the jury selection process for the trials. Down in the jury room the administrator periodically called out 14 random names of potential jurors; these formed a single group which was then marched upstairs to a single courtroom. There a jury of six jurors was selected for each case and the trials were held. Because this was municipal court (traffic tickets and such), all trials were guaranteed to end the same day.
I spent the morning working on my laptop and my name was never called. There was a lunch break and then my name was called in the early afternoon--how exciting! In the courtroom, each juror introduced himself out loud (name, profession, area of town inhabited) and then underwent voir dire. There wasn't too much biting examination, just general questions about prejudices, biases, and understanding of the judicial process. Frankly I don't think the lawyers were as concerned about selecting a jury as they were about pre-seeding all of the potential jurors with the main arguments of their cases. I was not one of the six selected for that jury so I returned to the jury room downstairs. After another hour or so I was paid $6 for my time and released. $6--jury service sure pays better than cleantech entrepreneurship!
While I was in the courtroom for the jury selection process, I was struck by how much the whole ordeal was costing. Following is a very crude back-of-the-envelope estimate of the costs involved for a single day:
Building: $10,000 to rent a building that size for a day, another $10,000 for utilities, insurance and other assorted operations costs == $20,000
Personnel: 100 county employees averaging $50,000/year (~$200/workday) == $20,000
Juror missed work: 100 jurors averaging $50,000/year == $20,000
Juror pay: 100 jurors at $6 == $600
Transportation: $10 per employee/juror/defendant (let's say there were 1,000 defendants) == $12,000
There were maybe 10 cases that went to trial all day so that's $7,360 per case! Wow, more than $7k to try a $100 traffic ticket! At first blush that seems incredible--but on closer inspection it actually makes sense.
This goes back to something we studied at IMD: a group's decision-making process can be evaluated on two criteria: efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency measures how quickly the group arrives at a decision while effectiveness measures the quality of the decision the group produces. Generally the more efficient the process, the less effective it is (E.g. a quick straw poll with no discussion for an immediate decision) and vice versa. More effective decision-making processes (E.g. long debates, careful evaluation of all options, striving for consensus, etc.) come at the cost of efficiency.
Our judicial system is set up to be WAY out on the "effective" end. At the other end of the spectrum would be a single judge autonomously pronouncing judgement on each case without even hearing any arguments. $7k per trial buys us the guarantee of due process and an impartial jury of our peers. It is, literally, the price of freedom, the price of fairness. Put in context like this, I'll pay it gladly!
I'm running way behind on blogging but here is a belated entry for Thanksgiving, which was a real joy. Katie and I drove up to Hot Springs, Arkansas, as we usually do for Thanksgiving but this time there was a major difference: we had Max in the back seat!
He is very good in the car, mostly snoozing and occasionally poking his head up front for a few ear scratches. We stopped every two hours or so to give him a chance to stretch his legs, do his business, etc. However, when we did so, he was always very nervous and desperately tried to get back to the car if we weren't both with him. We hypothesize that he was abandoned once by someone just dropping him off out of a car and then driving off--heart-breaking!
When we arrived in Hot Springs, Max went crazy. He's used to being a city dog, couped up in a house most of the day and only going outside on a leash. We turned him loose at my aunt's house out in the country and at first he just ran laps around the house he was so excited to be free out in the open. My aunt and uncle have their own dog too and she got along very well with Max. The two of them were regular Tom Sawyer/Huck Finns, exploring the woods together, chasing after animals, and wrestling around.
Wednesday evening another aunt of mine threw Katie and me a little engagement party, which was a lovely affair. We wined and dined and celebrated with our family and some close friends. It must have been a great ordeal to organize and execute but it was a really wonderful way to start off the long Thanksgiving weekend!
Thursday we attended two different Thanksgivings meals, both of which were absolutely excellent. Friday we spent all day cooking, lazing around, and watching football - what a great way to spend time! Saturday there was one final Thanksgiving get-together and then we hit the road back to Houston. Max's hips were so sore from all the running around that he actually needed some help getting into the car. Needless to say, he slept allllll the way home, tuckered out from his great country adventure.
Sunday we headed over to a Houston friend's house for yet another Thanksgiving dinner and yet more football - I wish this could go on forever! It was a fantastic holiday weekend but it was also a time for reflection. Katie and I both are so very thankful for so many things in our lives, but most especially for the people. For loving, supportive families, for fun, interesting friends, for capable, driven colleagues, for good neighbors...for all of these we are incredibly thankful. We try our best to give back and be as positive a force in others' lives.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Last Friday I had the privilege to attend the dedication event of the new Rice Center for Engineering Leadership. What an exciting new center, dedicated to helping engineering students identify and solve the world's most pressing problems. How I wish something like this had existed back when I was a Rice engineering student! The event was an excellent opportunity to reconnect with the engineering school, former professors, and other alumni.
Perhaps most exciting was the address by legendary venture capitalist John Doerr. After beginning his talk by asking the audience what we wanted him to address (a tactic I love), he used that feedback to focus 45 minutes on his thoughts regarding Rice, engineering, careers, the environment, and technology.
At several points during his talk, I couldn't help but feel like Doerr's words were meant specifically for me. To start with, the talk took place in the McMurtry Auditorium of Duncan Hall, the very room in which Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley's "Be a Scientist; Save the World" talk inspired me to quest for ways to use IT entrepreneurship to work toward a better energy future. Also, Doerr was an Electrical Engineering major from Lovett College, just as I was. After a brief stint as an engineer, Doerr branched into sales, finance, and other aspects of business, just as I did. These similarities combined to create a feeling of connection for me.
Doerr addressed emphatic evidence of man-made climate change and warned of the massive gap between the developed and population-booming developing world. He talked of healthcare, water, and democracy but he contended that ultimately energy is the keystone that must be addressed. I agree.
He challenged the audience--especially the students--to come up with innovative ways to produce, transmit, and use energy. Again, I agree--I have devoted my professional career to it. He espoused the Silicon Valley mantra of "shots on goal," an admission that many such ventures will probably fail to induce massive change but we have to take those shots to ensure that eventually some of them score.
This mentality is part of what motivates me every morning: even if Smart Office Energy Solutions were to fail spectacularly, we would have helped advance the state of the art such that the next shot has an even greater chance of reaching its mark. Of course I believe that Smart OES will succeed, rather than fail, spectacularly but it is encouraging to hear words of encouragement from someone older, cleverer, and much more successful than I. More pointedly it is encouraging when such words come from a really "big deal" investor while we are in the midst of our new capital raise!
Of course Doerr's words weren't meant for me per se, but everything in them seemed to say to me, "Keep at it; you're on the right track!" Being an entrepreneur can sometimes be a lonely, frustrating exercise--especially when you are as extroverted and impatient as I am! "Success," however you define it, always seems to be just an inch further than you can reach or just a step further on the path than is illuminated. As such, Doerr's words fell on receptive, re-encouraged ears.
This weekend I had the honor of talking to my former high school football team before their Homecoming game. Three years ago I was asked to come in and do the same and it turned out to be the only game they won all season. As the mighty Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Colonials were winless so far this season, we all hoped that my talk this year would have the same effect.
There are so many things I know now that I wish I had known back then, but I only had a few minutes with them before the game so I just focused on the two themes that I thought would be most worthwhile for them. Following is a rough transcript of how the pre-game talk went (subject to my memory, which isn't getting any younger!):
"Gentlemen, I am truly honored to be back here in front of you today. As Coach said, I was TJ Class of 1997. I played football for four years at TJ, three years as a two-way starter on varsity, and one year as Captain. After TJ I studied computer science and electrical engineering at Rice University, where I played fullback for the Owls. Professionally I have spent my career starting up and leading clean technology companies. It has been 14 years since I sat where you're sitting right now and it is clear to me that, even though I got a lot out of TJ football during the four years I played, I've gotten so much more out of it in the 14 years since. I'm hoping that, by sharing some of that with you today, you'll be able to get even more out of your own TJ football experience.
So what do you get out of TJ football? Lifelong friendships, certainly. Matt and I (Note: my classmate and TJ quarterback, Matt Young, came too, reinforcing this point very well.) are at the age when everyone's getting married and it's amazing how, when a TJ football player gets married, there are invariably many other TJ football players there at the wedding--and often some standing up there beside the groom. We went to different colleges, took different jobs, and are now scattered around the globe . . . but there is a bond that is forged when you stand together on the field of battle, united against a common foe, and that bond is not easily broken. So look at the player on your left, look at the player on your right, and understand that, for better or for worse, you'll be stuck with each other for quite some time!
But you get so much more from TJ football than just relationships. You see, what happens up there on the football field is really a manifestation of that which happens to you in real life. Think about it: every day billions of people and organizations and businesses and teams set out to achieve some goal or overcome some obstacle or conquer some foe--just as you do on the football field. And, just as happens on the football field, it's not the team with the most resources that wins. It's not the business with the most capital or the athletes with the most physical prowess. No, it's the team that executes on the field of play when it counts. It's the team that demonstrates the greatest teamwork, leadership, discipline, and heart when it matters most. This is why startups are able to go up against Microsoft and win. This is why PhDs from schools you've never heard of are able to win the Nobel prize. It's not about what you have; it's about what you do.
Teamwork, leadership, discipline, heart . . . these aren't subjects you can learn in a classroom. These aren't traits you can read about in a book. These are intrinsic characteristics that you develop up there on the football field. So you think you're out there playing a game but you're really training yourself for the rest of your adult lives. I certainly didn't realize that when I was playing football here but it is so abundantly clear to me now.
The greatest lesson that I learned from this TJ football training ground is how to deal with failure. The world's greatest leaders are defined not by how they deal with success, rather how they respond to failure. This is because the path to success invariably winds its way through many failures first. Some people--most people--accept these and give up. Others learn from their failures, growing stronger, better prepared and even more motivated for success. These are the people who become truly great.
Sounds easy, right? But failure is hard. When you really set your heart on something and then fail to achieve it, it hurts--it hurts bad. I know. Lord knows we experienced plenty of failure in my TJ football days. And I know you guys have had your share of failure so far this season too, so I can imagine how you guys must be hurting right now--maybe a little frustrated, maybe a little downhearted.
A natural response to repeated failure is to stop caring. If you don't yearn so much for victory, it doesn't hurt so much when you don't achieve it. If that's how you feel right now about tonight's game against Marshall, I won't think any less of you. As I said, it is a very natural defense mechanism that saves a lot of people a lot of pain. But, if that's how you feel right now about tonight's game against Marshall, then don't you dare set foot on our football field. Decades of players before you have shed blood, sweat, and tears on that field--often against very long odds--so, if you're out there with anything less than 100% commitment to and belief in victory, it's a dishonor to yourself, to your team, and to everyone who's ever worn the uniform.
There is so much I'd like to share with you through the benefit of 14 years of 20/20 hindsight, but I just have these few minutes. I hope you will at least take away from this that what happens out there tonight will be more meaningful for the rest of your lives than you can possibly realize right now. The question is: are you going to let it be just some silly pastime? Or are you going to take it, own it, and ensure that is a source of strength and pride for you that pays dividends throughout your professional and personal lives?
I can't answer that question; only you can. I would give just about anything to be out there fighting alongside you tonight, but I can't. My time is passed; now it is your time. I will be cheering hard for you and sending you every ounce of strength and energy I have but, at the end of the night, it's you guys who have to get it done on the field.
Seniors, I'm especially talking to you. You have less than three hours of game time left in your TJ football careers. Three hours! That's a blink of the eye in your lives. Every play, every minute, every moment counts; you'll never get a second chance. So get out there tonight and get it done. Don't let up for even a second and leave it all on the field. Do it for TJ, do it for the fans, do it for your coaches. Hell, do it for me; I flew halfway across the country because I want to see you win! But most of all, do it for yourselves. You are Thomas Jefferson Colonial football players and you deserve victory. Go out there and take what's yours."
Wow, written out like that it seems really long but I don't remember it taking more than a few minutes. Regardless, the team fought a hard battle and won the game at the last moment. I don't know if my words "reached" anyone but I hope those young men found them beneficial.
The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying Fall weather and catching up with family and friends in Northern Virginia. Now I'm back in 90-degree Houston but still glowing from a wonderful weekend.
Last weekend Katie and I went to Phoenix to visit her sister. When we planned the trip, we had an ulterior motive too: get our canine fix with Kelly's newly adopted dog, Kona! Now, due to the timing of our own adoption of Max, we no longer needed the fix but we new it would be a wonderful trip anyway.
After having Max just one week, we dropped him off at Pet Paradise to be reunited with his buddies for the weekend and then we headed to the airport. I pulled a really dunce move and left my driver's license at home. I had scans of both my driver's license and my passport on my laptop but that was obviously insufficient. Just when it was looking like I would have to return home (in rush hour) to retrieve my license and then take a later flight, we received a very welcome surprise: TSA offered to help.
They took me into an isolated area and grilled me with questions about my identity, verifying my answers against a database of everywhere I had lived, which cars I had registered, etc. Then they gave my luggage the full treatment, checking every nook and cranny of it for sketchy stuff. Finally they gave me the full treatment, patting me down--well, up, down, and every other which way too! I passed all the tests so, after 20 minutes or so, they let me through. I was incredibly impressed with the professionalism and courtesy they showed me throughout the process. I know it's not easy to keep millions of travelers safe every day but they did it with aplomb. Seriously, well done, TSA!
Kelly and her boyfriend, Mike, picked us up and took us immediately to The Vig, a bar/restaurant. We ate, drank, watched college football, and met up with their friends there; it was great weather for outdoor merrymaking! Then we went back to their house to meet Kona. We had another pleasant surprise, though: they were sitting two other dogs for the weekend! All the dogs were sweet and fun and it was clear that it was going to be a good couple of days.
Saturday we went to the dog park, had some breakfast, and then hiked Camelback Mountain. Mike and Kelly had made the hike many times but this was Katie's and my first time hiking anything in awhile--and we decided to make the attempt in our Vibram FiveFingers barefoot "shoes." The terrain was very desert-rocky so it put our Vibrams to the test, but we scrambled up OK. Coming down was a little slower as we focused on ensuring we had enough grip and tried to avoid stepping hard on jagged rock surfaces. It was hot and tiring but a very rewarding experience.
Afterward we treated ourselves to Thai food at Fresh Mint. The food was excellent, the oldies playing in the background were great, and the Joe Montana memorabilia on the walls (The owners are from San Francisco.) was very welcome. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing by the pool, cooking dinner, and watching 300.
Sunday we played some beach volleyball then had brunch at a vegan restaurant that offered many raw food options. I put together an entire meal made of raw dessert items: black cherry cheesecake, blueberry acai pie, chocolate donut, chocolate walnut brownie, chocolate macaroon--all raw! It was delicious and very filling.
We stopped by a microbrewery to watch some football before being dropped off at the airport for the ride home. A friend of mine had very kindly overnighted my driver's license to me so I managed to avoid extra TSA attention on the way back. Max was elated to see us again when we picked him up.
Now, after nearly two weeks with him, he seems really to have adjusted to our house and life. We were sorry to leave him for a weekend but it certainly was a wonderful 48 hours!
After reading Falan Mouton's article laying out her rationale for not donating to Rice ("Rice just a business; donations are purely optional for graduates," October 8, 2010), I was tempted to write a response pointing out flaws in her logic--e.g. contending that the Rice "product" ceases creating value for its "consumers" the moment they graduate--and her apparent misunderstanding of how businesses work--e.g. most businesses with the aim of having "no upper limit" will need to raise capital too.
Instead, though, I would rather focus my words on why I *do* donate to my alma mater: because I love Rice. I loved Rice as an undergrad. I loved Rice as a grad student. And I have *really* loved Rice as an alum. The cost of educating one undergrad is roughly twice what Rice takes in as tuition. Rice isn't just trying to meet its costs, though; it has grand ambitions to be better each year, but such ambitions aren't realized for free. When I donate to Rice I know my money is going to make a positive difference for the entire Rice community.
I'm not selfless either; some of those funds come back to me directly via alumni activities. The Association of Rice Alumni is an incredible network of interesting, diverse, successful alumni and, unlike at our peer institutions, there is no fee to join and there never will be.
In the nine years since I've graduated I've learned that you get out of Rice what you put into it. So donate time if you can. Donate money if you can. But don't do it because you think you "owe" it to anyone. Do it because you love Rice.
Happy Rice Day!
Bryan Guido Hassin
Lovett College 2001
Master of Computer Science 2002
Katie and I took a big step this weekend by adopting a golden retriever from Golden Retriever Rescue of Houston. We both grew up with goldens so we were sure that we understood what we were getting into in terms of temperament, activity level, size--and volume of hair! We also felt that this was the right time in our lives to move forward with this kind of commitment. Even as recently as a couple of years ago it would have been unthinkable but now we have settled into enough of a routine and committed to a future together such that we know we can handle this new responsibility.
After spending some time on the GRRH website, we filled out an application which had a primary purpose of verifying that we understood the cost, time, and discipline commitments involved as well as screening for any signs of abuse.
After GRRH approved our initial application, we received a call from their coordinator to discuss in greater detail our lifestyles, home environment, and preferences. We were hoping for a young (1-3 years) but already trained golden that would socialize easily with other dogs and people. Katie and I are both very social so a dog that we could take to the dog park and to friends' houses would fit best with us. We were targeting youth so that its joints would be OK with all the stairs in our three-story townhome. Katie and I both grew up with female goldens so we had a natural bias toward getting a girl but we also knew we would love a boy just as much.
Based on the profiles on the GRRH website and on our phone conversations with them, we identified 5 candidates for potential adoption. The next step was to talk with the trainers and foster parents of each dog. The first trainer we contacted was actually training two of the dogs on our list. One of the dogs was incredibly sweet but apparently had a really hard time being around other dogs and the trainer just wasn't sure that was addressable. The more we talked with the trainer, though, the more we fell in love with her other dog, a three-year-old boy named Max.
On Thursday we made the decision to meet Max in person Saturday morning. He came in with his foster mom to Pet Paradise, where he had been boarded. We met them both there and had a chance to play with Max a bit, witness him showing off his tricks/training, and chat with the foster mom about her experience with him.
In short, it was love at first sight. He was incredibly sweet and very gentle but still with great enthusiasm and energy. He was quite smart and had been picking up his training very quickly. Unlike any golden I had seen before, Max was a very light cream color, almost white; apparently this is the British style of golden retriever.
At the end of our session, Katie and I said our polite goodbyes and let them know we'd come back to them with our reactions shortly. We made it maybe four steps out the door, though, when we looked at each other and, without words, we both knew that this was the dog. We decided to skip the formal decision process, turned right around, and said we'd take him if they would let us. By the time we reached our car in the parking lot, we had a call from the coordinator saying that the trainer and foster mom enthusiastically approved of our adopting Max so we could sign the adoption contract and pick him up as soon as we liked.
As we didn't have any dog supplies at home we delayed pick-up until the afternoon. In the meantime I picked my brother up at the airport and we worked out together for the first time in three months (Consequently I can barely move now out of soreness.) while Katie went to PetSmart for our first stock-up.
After lunch all three of us went to Pet Paradise to pick up our new boy. He was very excited to see us again and super easy to manage on a leash, in the car, etc. We introduced him to his new home, which he took to immediately, and spent awhile showing him around, taking him for walks, and just getting to know him a bit.
His first night was a rough one. While boarded (presumably) he had contracted kennel cough, the canine equivalent of the flu. This meant he was up all night with a hacking, productive cough (worse than Smuckers, on Seinfeld!) and, hence, we were up all night as well. Around 5 AM we finally took him to the vet just to make sure it wasn't something more serious but they put him on some antibiotics and confirmed that we would just have to wait it out for several days. No problem, as long as he's OK!
Sunday was a lovely day for all of us, lazing around the main floor, watching football, and introducing Max to the housemates. His cough is already getting better and he loves all the people around him showering him with attention. He still needs some training around where and when to do is business and not jumping up on people/things but, again, he's a smart boy and learning quickly. We have all the patience in the world to work with him because he is such a wonderful addition to our family and we just love him so much!
The last two weeks have been full of "B"s--business schools and Jimmy Buffett!
September 16th was the 8th annual Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship Energy and Clean Technology Forum. We won an award at the elevator pitch competition last year and we were excited to be asked back to compete again this year. I love these forums as there is so much energy, so many good ideas, and so many great people throughout them. Anyone who knows me knows how competitive I am, though, so I don't consider such events successful unless I come away with an award. Some people go into such events casually and speaking extemporaneously. I do not. I come to win and prepare obsessively for it.
I spent the plane ride back from Italy refining our message down to just the bare minimum and rehearsing it to ensure that it could be delivered in less than 90 seconds. In my IMD marketing course, we learned that branding is about sacrifice; people can only absorb a few messages. Nothing could be truer about elevator pitches; they are like branding statements for your company or idea. There were many things I would have liked to have included in the pitch but there just wasn't enough time. In many ways, this is similar to the "How do I spend my time?" challenge with which the entrepreneur is faced every day: distilling the top 3 most important things from the top 30 really incredibly important things from the top 300 really very important things. For this reason alone, I think periodic pitch preparation is a helpful exercise in prioritization.
If you would care to see the fruits of my labor, a video of it is available at The BusinessMakers Radio Show's review of their favorite pitches from the event. Looking back at it, I clearly rushed delivery a bit and didn't pause to "plant" my points as much as I would have liked. I welcome additional feedback as well!
Long story short: we won an award again--2010 Rising Venture! I am once again supremely humbled, honored, and thrilled to have won. There were some great pitches and it was exciting just to have been counted among them. As was the case last year, the whole event was a very good one and we made several new very interesting contacts.
The following Sunday I had to shift out of Rice business school mode and into IMD business school mode as we hosted the very first event of IMD's new Houston Alumni Club. It turns out that there are 500+ IMD alumni in Houston so I and a few other "enthusiasts" thought it was criminal not to have some kind of organization to bring us together.
Our first event was a simple networking and brief talk event. IMD professors Don Marchand and Michael Wade were in town for a Shell program so they came and talked with us about their research. The rest of the evening we sipped wine, networked, and discussed the future direction of our nascent organization--it was a great first step!
Then last weekend Katie, I, and my favorite wingman made a very quick (~48 hours) trip to Paris for the Jimmy Buffett concert. It was marvelous and exactly what I had hoped it would be. We spent most of our time walking around Paris, eating, dropping into museums, and drinking great wine. Friday night we tailgated with 96-point Bordeaux (Chateau Pontet-Canet 2005, way too young but still delicious) then made our way to the concert. The total attendance was maybe 1,000 people and, because everyone there was a big fan, it was basically one long, glorious sing-along. It was so much fun, as was the after-party at O'Sullivan's!
Now we're back in Houston with no travels abroad planned until our wedding in May. We came back just in time too; the weather is gorgeous! As Jimmy Buffett would say, the weather is here; wish you were beautiful!
No, not my wedding! Last week Katie and I attended an IMD friend's wedding in Italy, which was absolutely marvelous.
The day before we departed we attended the Rice-UT football game at Reliant Stadium. There was just a splotch of Rice blue in the very UT burnt orange crowd but we cheered disproportionately loudly. The Owls gave us something to cheer for too, scoring first and outscoring UT in both the first and fourth quarters. A few key mistakes led to a 34-17 loss but overall we felt pretty good about our performance against one of the top teams in the nation--this should bode well for the season to come!
Sunday we departed for Bari in Puglia (the "heel" of Italy's "boot") via Milan via Newark. Both our Houston-Newark and Newark-Milan flights were on older Boeing 767 planes with two significant disadvantages: 1. Their entertainment systems are fixed, offering just a few movies at regular times and 2. They have special power ports that require a special adapter to use. I had become so spoiled by the 777s flying back and forth to Geneva (offering hundreds of on-demand movies and normal power outlets) that I was already in a sour mood when I realized that I would only have a few hours of laptop time and that I wasn't interested in any of the movies. Shame on me for not checking on this in advance, though.
On the international leg, Continental forgot my vegetarian meal request (At least they remembered Katie's.) so that left me with an even worse impression from the flight. Then Milan Malpensa airport lost Katie's luggage so that she arrived in Bari without any toiletries or changes of clothes. All-in-all, not one of our best flight experiences.
No matter, though, we were determined not to let it affect our trip. We swung by a clothing store outlet near Bari and picked her up some essentials then drove North to Lucera, where the Italian side of my family lives. We spent two days with my Italian cousins and it was a grand time. Touring around Lucera (which is older than Rome and has tremendous ruins of a castle and anamphitheater), eating, clothes shopping for Katie, eating some more, and just catching up with family. Oh, and eating even more! No matter how short it is, it is always a special experience to spend time with this distant family. These are my humble roots and it is important to stay connected.
Wednesday we drove further North to Tuscany to check out a venue we are considering for our own wedding. It was everything we hoped it would be and it had a few surprises for us--like a ping pong table and volleyball net on the premises! We spent the night there just to be sure but it is clearly the right choice.
Thursday we turned back around and drove South to Fermo, where we met up with dear friends from IMD. They weren't going to be able to make it to the IMD wedding so we were very excited to be able to see them regardless. We spent the night with them and their family and, once again, ate very, very well. It was our first time in that region (Le Marche) and we were very impressed. Mountains on one side, the Adriatic Sea on the other, rolling green hills in between . . . Le Marche has it all!
Friday we returned to Bari, where we were informed that Katie's bag had finally arrived--better late than never! We settled into a villa we were sharing with other IMD friends, including GIVEWATTS founder Jesper Hornberg. Friday night there was a dinner hosted by the bride's family but we turned in early, knowing that we would need our rest for the late, late festa the next night.
Saturday was unfortunately rainy. The wedding was supposed to be on the beach so the bride and groom audibled to a nearby indoor venue which was quite lovely. The ceremony was nontraditional and featured two IMD friends as officiants. After the ceremony we relocated to a beach club for the reception. This place was awesome! Course after course after course of food was served and the music had all been requested in advance by the bride, groom, and guests. Nourished by great food and buoyed by great music, we danced well into the morning.
I had been asked to be the Master of Ceremonies so my job was to ensure that the program of the reception was followed ontime (at least within the bounds of Italian standards of punctuality!) and to make announcements in English and Italian throughout event. It was a real honor to be asked to serve and I hope my performance was sufficient for their special day!
Finally, after a resounding chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody (a promise I had made to the groom), Katie and I departed around 4 AM. We heard that many people stayed until 6 but we needed to be up for a flight relatively early. Our return flight wasn't much better (again a forgotten meal request and we were passed over for upgrades for some reason that Continental still can't explain) but at least both of our bags arrived. All-in-all it was a really, really excellent trip!
Today isn't quite the one-year anniversary of me beginning my full-time focus on Smart Office Energy Solutions but it is about the one-year anniversary of my departure from Poken, and that gives me pause to think about what has--and hasn't--been accomplished since then. When I look back at it, the clear conclusion is that starting a company is hard even for a well resourced team and even harder for a bootstrapping lone warrior.
To be clear, this isn't my first rodeo. Smart Office Energy Solutions is the fourth company I've founded or joined very early. This experience combined with the many skills I developed in business school provides me with many tools with which to start up a company. While these tools make the startup process more effective, they don't make it any easier. 10 years ago I might have thought that, by the time I started my fourth company, I would be able to do it with my eyes closed--but I would have been wrong!
Looking briefly at the history of my current venture, it is clear that constant change is the foundation of this--and possibly any--startup. This time last year we were building a business plan around being a joint venture "sister company" to an existing European business in the smart energy space. We analyzed the North American market and put together a very detailed plan to develop it but, after four months, we still hadn't arrived at a deal with our would-be partner. We considered many different models: JV, subsidiary, holding company, etc. but time and again the other party failed to consider our interests.
Despite this, I became more convinced every day that our market opportunity was valid so, finally, at the end of last year, we incorporated Smart OES LLC, a completely separate company from the European "partner," which we engaged purely as a supplier of hardware and software products. If we were going to do this, it would be on our own.
This year began with fundraising, a process which I had never led before. Because it was new to me I was somewhat apprehensive about it, but by the end of the first quarter we had raised 50% more than was our original goal. I remain humbled and honored that so many friends, family, colleagues, and classmates had the confidence in us to put their own capital at risk.
This spring was incredibly productive as we deployed pilot installations at several clients in Houston and Austin. These validated the market for us and were a source of proprietary expertise we developed in eliciting energy savings 50% greater than anything that had been demonstrated by our European suppliers.
At the same time, though, it became clear that our suppliers simply weren't the long-term partners we needed. We still hadn't been able to work out a mutually beneficial partnership arrangement and there was no telling when we would ever be supplied with products that were electrically certified for North America. Thus, less than a year after launching a business built around partnering with them, we formally ended our relationship and began searching for other ways to serve the sizable market that was simply waiting for us to be able to sell.
This whole process has required weekly updates to our business plan, which is part of what makes starting the company so hard. If we had a clearly defined, unchanging path, it would be easy to know what to do--and to do it--every day. But with the ground constantly shifting under our feet, we are engaged in constant realignment and adjustment--it's like tap dancing during an earth quake!
That's OK; it is extremely important for a company at our stage to remain agile and to be able to evolve our business plan as we experiment with what actually works in the market. At the same time, though, we have to be careful not to lose focus--I've seen many companies fail because they have opportunistically leaped from one idea to another to another and, at the end of the day, they never saw anything through enough to build a business around. It is a fine line between strategic agility and lack of focus. The key to success here is to stay true to a clear and well defined vision while constantly adapting our tactics to realize that vision. Returning to the "path" metaphor, we must keep the end destination in sight while constantly adapting our path as we meet different road blocks and forks in the road along the way.
The other hardest aspect of this startup is one I have mentioned before: it is really lonely. Right now there are just two of us fully engaged. We have deliberately followed a "lean" approach to starting this company, outsourcing everything we can to reduce fixed overheads. This dramatically reduced the amount of capital we needed to raise to get started, a great thing for us and our investors. Some people thrive in an isolated work environment; I do not. I'm a team player through and through and, until we reach the milestone that enables the growth of our small team, I will be challenged. In the meantime I am taking extra care to ensure that I am maintaining constant contact with investors, clients, and business partners to feel like I am part of a larger extended team.
There is nothing I would rather be doing than starting up Smart Office Energy Solutions right now. Every day we move closer to our goal of making a very, very significant difference in the global energy landscape. It is hard work to be sure, but I have never shied away from hard work for a worthy cause. I finish each day with more energy than I had when the day started and that, more than anything, tells me that we are really on the right path!
This morning I dropped Katie off at the airport and it wasn't nearly as tearful a goodbye as our previous Swiss partings have been. This time I will be seeing her in a few days rather than a few months and that feels much better! Now that I am a lonely bachelor again, I have a chance to review my progress on the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Just past the halfway point, how have I done so far?
So far I have been keeping pace with each of my goals for maintaining personal relationships. Starting up a company is very time-consuming but I have been able to maintain a balance with family and friends--both near and far. Katie and I have been getting our date nights in and I have been reconnecting in person in the US while still skyping with my friends abroad. This summer trip to Switzerland has really helped keep those latter connections alive too. If you feel that I have been neglecting my relationship with you, kindly let me know!
I'm not burning as many calories as I'd like (3,163/day vs. 3,250 target) and I'm consuming more than intended (3,141/day vs. 3,000 target). I am hitting most of my exercise goals, though, and the net result is pretty positive: I've added about a pound of lean muscle mass and dropped four pounds of fat--not exceptional, but heading in the right direction. When I head back to the US next week I'm going to try working at a standing desk instead of sitting. I'm hoping this will help me keep moving about and widen the caloric deficit.
Early in the year I accomplished my running goals and in May I met my swimming target; now I must concentrate on beach volleyball. There are several tournaments left in the year and I hope to win one--especially now that my favorite men's partner is back in town.
I have been powering through one book per week on leadership, economics, strategy, green business, marketing, and just about everything else I can get my hands on. If I keep up this pace, I will meet my yearly goal. While I have been pretty diligent about reaching out to mentors, I have not been quite so systematic about helping out others. Last week at IMD I had the opportunity to share some experience and guidance with this year's MBA class (Check out the presentation that instigated these conversations.) and it reminded me how much I'm missing out on when I'm not paying it forward. In the second half of this year I must do better.
The goals I set for Smart Office Energy Solutions at the beginning of this year aren't terribly relevant anymore as our plan has evolved several times since then. At this point we have hit some major milestones: closed our first fundraising round, begun generating revenue with high profile clients in multiple cities, advanced our own intellectual property to increase the energy savings we provide by 50%, and several more. I'm not a patient person, though, and I yearn to pick up the pace during the second half of this year--for personal reasons, for our shareholders, and for the very significant global energy challenge we are trying to address.
If you haven't yet voted for us, please support us at GE's Ecomagination Challenge. We are currently the #65 idea out of 1,089 submissions and every increases our visibility significantly!
I'm close to achieving my twitter and LinkedIn goals but my blog hasn't gained too much additional viewership. That's probably just as well as I am now considering leaving this blog focused on my personal life and starting a more professional blog on the Smart Office Energy Solutions website.
I evaluate my progress so far this year as good but not great. There are no huge holes and there have been some early successes, but several major goals need significant work to be achieved. Now it is time to refocus, buckle down, and ensure that H2 2010 is even more productive than H1!
Last weekend was very much centered around IMD. It began when two awesome classmates rolled into town--one from the Netherlands, the other from Zurich--with their partners. We had dinner at Le Pinnochio, an IMD standard, and then spent the night just talking and catching up back at our place, where both couples were staying with us. For one of my classmates, it was his first time back in Lausanne since graduation!
Saturday was a glorious weather day--typical for Lausanne in the summer. While most of the household had a lazy morning, one of my classmates and I got up early and headed into IMD. Saturday was Mock Interview Day, during which alumni return to campus to give the current MBA students experience interviewing with real hiring managers. It is also a great chance for us to get to know some of the students, reconnect with the school, and partake in the famous IMD lunch!
In addition to the mock interviews, I gave a presentation to the class on using social media for their own professional branding. We live in an ever more connected digital world and your online presence can either help or hurt your career--but you have the power to control which! The presentation went very well and I have posted the slides on SlideShare. Take a look and I welcome any feedback!
Saturday night we had some of my IMD classmates over to the house for a pool party. Hmm, summer, pool, good friends . . . sounds like the perfect recipe for . . . SANGRIA! We made up a big batch of French-Swiss sangria (using French wine instead of Spanish, and using Kirsch instead of Triple Sec - and all local, organic fruit, of course!) and served it along with mojitos, bellinis, beer, and wine all night. It turns out that Katie and the rest of the gang weren't idle while we were at IMD all day. By the time the party started they had whipped up tables and tables of delicious, healthy, and mostly vegetarian food.
The party was a lot of fun! We had about 30 people over the course of the night and we didn't turn out the lights until about 3 AM. Several little groups formed and people just kept switching between them, talking, and catching up. Another IMD couple stayed with us Saturday night as well, so Sunday morning we had a four-couple breakfast reunion.
It would appear too that my sangria hasn't lost its touch: as one of my classmates came down the stairs Sunday morning, another one said to him, "Oh wow, you look how I feel." Mission accomplished!
Monday Katie and I trained into Zurich, where I had lunch with the sponsor of my IMD ICP. Here again it was great to catch up with someone from the IMD world. It was excellent chatting with him and he still contends that our supply chain strategy project helped them through the difficult financial times of the last two years.
It has been a great, IMD-filled four days. This is why I came back for the summer! (OK, also for the perfect weather and gorgeous lake/mountain views!)
Nearly 9.5 years ago, Katie and I took our first steps down the long (and not always straight or clear!) path that has brought us to where we are today. Where the path is ultimately leading we still don't know, but last Wednesday we took a major step and committed to continuing the journey together.
Several people have asked for details about the proposal and I must disappoint; there really wasn't anything clever or creative or exciting about it per se. That's something I love about being with Katie, though. When we are together I don't feel the need to be "on" or performing; everything is just very natural and easy. Accordingly, so was the proposal. Perhaps I can make the story a little more exciting, though, by filling in some of the history leading up to the proposal:
March 21, 2009: after more than a year of living on separate continents, Katie was visiting me in Lausanne again. Because her flight left before my actual birthday, we did an early birthday dinner at La Suite, which we chose explicitly for their very underpriced 2003 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino. We were a bit chagrined to learn upon our arrival that they were actually out of that bottle--and then we were elated when the waiter returned to our table having found their last bottle of it hidden away somewhere. It was way too young, of course, but we took our time and it really opened up. The evening blossomed into wonderful discussion about wine, food, nutrition, healthcare, careers, the future, and everything else. I blogged about that evening shortly thereafter. At some point I distinctly remember looking over at Katie and thinking to myself, "Who am I kidding; my future is sitting across the table from me," if she would have me ,of course!
April 14, 2009: While on the Amalfi Coast with my mom, we broke away from the group and spent a day on our own in Capri. The weather was gorgeous and we found a little hillside restaurant along the sea to have some local wine, insalata caprese, and seafood (which I blogged about shortly thereafter). During that meal I first announced my intentions to propose to Katie, which thrilled my mom.
June 1, 2009: On another visit to Lausanne, Katie capitalized on a gorgeous summer day by taking me out for a picnic in the park of the Palais de Justice, which offers amazing views of the lake and mountains (also blogged about). Perfect weather, wonderful food, champagne, a lazy afternoon . . . I was sorely tempted to propose to her then and there but I wanted the chance to talk with her parents about it first.
July 12, 2009: On a visit to spend some time with Katie's family in Minnesota I faked a conference call to weasel out of a lunch obligation that Katie had planned. Instead I spent time with her parents talking with them about my intentions over Swedish pancakes with fresh berries out on their deck. Again the weather was gorgeous and we were accompanied by an awesome golden retriever. After initially giving me a hard time, they offered their blessing and encouragement. The next day I submitted my resignation to Poken (blogged about) and began planning for a life with Katie, not thousands of miles away from her.
So finally I had lined up all the right elements; now I just had to find the right place and time! I wanted it to be somewhere special for both of us and somewhere really nice that we would remember (and to which we could return) indefinitely. While we were wine touring in Tuscany, there were many opportunities, but I lived in Tuscany for half a year before I ever even met Katie so it wasn't as much "our" place.
There were some other opportunities in London, Sedona, San Francisco, and even in Houston, but nothing that ever felt just right. After nine years of dating I figured waiting until it just felt right would be OK.
Despite the fact that Katie didn't live with me in Lausanne, I still very much consider it "our" place as our relationship grew much stronger while I was here. My favorite memories of Lausanne by far are when Katie was here with me and it certainly has its share of picturesque locations! So when Katie came out to join me in Lausanne for this trip, I had an eye toward making the move.
Unfortunately she brought lots of rain with her! July 23 would have been a good date for a proposal as it is Katie's half birthday, but the weather gods had other plans. Finally last Wednesday, July 28, there was a break in the clouds and I suggested that we celebrate with a picnic back at the park of the Palais de Justice. Again we packed a picnic lunch and again we brought some champagne--Dom Perignon 2000 this time. I thought that might have tipped her off but she claims that it didn't raise any flags for her. Fair enough; it's not the first time I've gone a bit overboard with wine!
Again we spent the afternoon lounging on the grass, talking about the future, and agreeing that life was not so bad--especially not when we are together. At around 2:23 PM, I got on one knee and asked her to marry me. After some initial shock she enthusiastically said yes and we spent the rest of the day, week, month (and it's still ongoing) in a sort of euphoric bliss.
People ask how it is being engaged and I jokingly respond that, "Oh wow, it's so different!" as if it has somehow radically changed our 9.5-year relationship. It actually is different, though. In the business world we would call this a "credible threat." We've made a move that says this is where we're going and we are no longer considering other options. We no longer hedge discussion about the future with, "If we got married..." or "If we stay together..." or other conditionals. Now we are officially committed to that vision and that feels really, really . . . right.
I'm not sure how exactly I managed to persuade someone like Katie to spend her life with a scoundrel like me, but I'm definitely not complaining! Many thanks to everyone for the tremendous outpouring of support we have received since announcing our engagement. It really means the world to us and we love you all!
This weekend was a fabulous trip to Luzern, where neither Katie nor I had ever been. More than just a quick trip, though, this was also our first experience traveling together with a dog--especially someone else's dog! I was a little anxious that something might go wrong and we would be far away from home but, as it turns out, Acacia is an amazing traveler.
Saturday morning we hopped on the train to Luzern and she was a perfect angel. I love being in a country where dogs are just considered part of the family and are let in basically everywhere. They ride trains and buses as easily and naturally as humans; you just buy a half-price ticket for them. Acacia just plopped down next to us and snoozed for most of the train ride.
When we arrived in Luzern we met up with Katie's mom and two aunts, who had just come in from Heidelberg, where one of them lives. We spent the afternoon catching up then went out to an early dinner at Schuetzengarten, a "vegetarian restaurant . . . with meat!" Their food was great with many vegetarian and vegan options--plus plenty of meat and fish options for those in our group who were not so inclined. However, all the recent factoids Katie recently unearthed about the energy and water chains in the [US] meat industry (e.g. eliminating 1 lb of meat from your diet reduces your water consumption more than not showering for an entire year!) motivated me to go the veggie route.
We were joined by two IMD classmates from Zurich/Zug at dinner and it was a real pleasure catching up with them. After dinner they dropped us off at the KKL concert hall for a Morcheeba concert. I discovered Morcheeba almost 10 years ago while I was living in Florence but had never seen them live. For the last several years I haven't had much interest in seeing them live without Skye Edwards, their original vocalist. However, they reunited for their most recent album so the timing was just perfect.
After a really subpar warmup act (One redeeming factor: he led a Bohemian Rhapsody sing-a-long before finishing.), Morcheeba took the stage and ROCKED OUT! Their live songs bear enough resemblance to the studio originals that they are still awesome, but their showmanship definitely adds a significant "can't get this on the album" element too. They played a great mix of of their older favorites and new additions; Skye Edwards has just as an awesome voice live as she does on recordings so I'm so glad she's back.
The one downside was that the crowd was very . . . Swiss. Almost no one was dancing or singing and it was tough for the rest of us to get down without bumping into people. Oh well, the music got Katie and me so pumped up that we just had to let loose anyway. When the concert finally ended we were sweaty and satisfied after a great performance.
Sunday we spent just walking around Luzern, including a traipse around the lake to Wagner's house. We met up with another IMD classmate and his wife for a late lunch and had dinner along the river with Katie's family. No agenda, just walking around a beautiful place and enjoying good food with good people.
Acacia caused a stir wherever she went. She's a very big girl (Not sure exactly how big--maybe 100 pounds?) and tourists are either scared by her or enchanted by her. Many tourists, especially Asians, timidly requested to have their picture taken with her. She's so sweet and good natured that this was no problem at all. And each restaurant we frequented brought her out a bowl of water--again, it's so nice to be in a place that supports dogs and their owners!
Monday morning we ascended Mount Pilatus, which offered gorgeous 360-degree views of . . . mostly clouds since there was a lot of cloud cover that day. Oh well, it was still a fun trip and there was some good mini-hiking at the top. Again, Acacia was so good on multiple modes of transportation: train, funicular, cable car, and bus. It was a nice excursion to wrap up a quick-but-excellent weekend with family and friends in a new place.
Now we are back in Lutry! Katie is on vacation and I'm trying to sneak in work during her naps and reading sessions. As I've known since her first visit during my IMD year, Switzerland is so, so much better with her here!
The IMD MBA Class of 2008 reunion in Bodrum, Turkey was awesome! My Turkish classmate organized a trip to his homeland and invited the rest of us. As I was already on this side of the Atlantic I couldn't pass up such an opportunity!
My journey began very inauspiciously. I had planned down to the minute my Thursday morning schedule: drop Acacia off at the kennel, pack, walk to the Lutry train station, take the train to Geneva airport, and wait patiently/comfortably for my flight--very Swiss! However, it was not meant to be. There was construction on the one road into the tiny town where the kennel was located and my GPS had a hard time finding an alternative route. After an hour of driving around in concentric circles, the GPS finally locked onto a new route and we were in business--but the damage was done.
I raced back home, grabbed my suitcase, hoping that it had enough toiletries and clothes to sustain me for four days, and then realized that I was too late to catch the train from Lutry. My next chance was the train from Lausanne, so I hopped in the car and proceeded apace, intending to park the car at the Lausanne train station. Unfortunately I arrived about two minutes too late, leaving me with one final option: driving to the airport and parking there--very American!
Driving to the airport is slower than taking the fast train, though, so I would be cutting it close. And the Swiss have HUGE penalties for speeding (They take a percentage of your salary instead of a fixed fee.) so I wouldn't be able to make up time that way. It was my only option, though, so I moved ahead. And then I hit major traffic due to construction--doh! Finally I arrived at the airport, figured out how/where to park, and ran into the checkin line about 40 minutes before the flight was due to depart.
This is where the Swiss really showed their quality. It took me minutes to check in and then I was expedited through security. After a very friendly exchange at Passport Control, I made it to the gate with 25 minutes to spare. Well done, well run GVA airport!
Turkish Airlines was another story altogether. Aside from the flight that left from Geneva, all of my Turkish Airlines flights were delayed. They also kept strange things like passenger meals and newspapers in the overhead bins, a practice I had never seen before. But the food was good, even the turkey sandwich (Was that supposed to be a joke?) on my second leg. At long last, we eventually made it to Bodrum airport several hours late. After a bus and a taxi ride I finally caught up with the rest of the group for dinner at a nice hotel along the ocean. Fresh, local seafood, mmm!
I shared a room on the trip with my Danish classmate, Peter, whom I usually call "The Great Dane." Our room was small but it had enough air conditioning for us to sleep. He's super nice and very athletic so we were looking forward to playing a lot of beach volleyball together during the trip. I brought my Wilson AVP ball to be used in its 5th country.
Friday we woke up early and went for a swim in the ocean, which was cool, clear, and still. This was followed by a monstrous breakfast as we waited for others to wake up. Turkish food features many cool foods with high water content, e.g. tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelon, which work well in the hot, dry climate. These foods plus lots of cheese, bread, and honey comprised our breakfast each morning and were omnipresent throughout the rest of our days.
We spent the rest of Friday at a private hotel beach. "Beach" may not be accurate as there wasn't any sand but they had wooden docks with shade and lounge chairs all along the coast line plus a private swimming area and great bar/kitchen. It was a very, very nice way to spend a long day in the sun.
Turkish women are beautiful, by the way. Everywhere you look there are Princess Jasmine lookalikes. This was not what I expected out of Turkey but it certainly isn't the first time I've shown myself to be culturally ignorant.
Saturday we rented a boat and motored around the Aegean, dropping anchor here and there to swim and eat freshly caught, grilled fish and Turkish pastries. What a life! That evening we were treated to a veritable feast at a local restaurant where we had an "in" with the owners. We began the meal already full and by the end we were positively stuffed. To digest we added Raki (Turkish liqueur) too and then rolled ourselves home.
Sunday we spent the day eating and lounging around the beach at our Turkish classmate's parents' house. We hadn't been able to find any beach volleyball the entire trip (Go figure with no "beaches" available!) but this place at least had a ping pong table. So finally we got some land sport in on top of the swimming we had been doing. By that evening all of our classmates had already departed so Peter and I walked along the coast, found a nice place for fresh seafood and had one final meal.
My return trip went about as well as my first one. The taxi got me to the airport with plenty of time but my flight was delayed 80 minutes. We arrived in Istanbul's Ataturk airport after my connection should have departed but, fortunately for me, Turkish Airlines is consistent and my flight to Geneva was also delayed--just long enough for me to sprint across the airport and run down the jetway before they closed the hatch.
Waiting for me at GVA was a friend from Rice who will stay here for a few days. It's good to be back in Switzerland but my few days in Turkey definitely generated positive memories that will last a lifetime! More than the eating, swimming, and boating, I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to catch up with my classmates and make some new Turkish friends.
Now that I am settling into my routine here in Switzerland, I'm becoming very productive! When not meeting with previous connections or networking with new connections, I've been spending most of my time powering through major objectives at the Smart Office Energy Solutions EMEA HQ. Sometimes this is by myself but I have also had the fortune to work with some local experts on designing some revolutionary new product features. As I am very extroverted, working with others like this makes me even more energized and productive.
I have also been pursuing a new type of workout regimen: one with no gym whatsoever! This is a first for me so I enlisted the help of noted expert Drew Skaggs in putting together a program that would continue to meet my fitness goals without requiring specialized equipment. You can see the initial results at Drew's THE SHOP blog. This first week won't be quite complete due to scheduling constraints but, as of next week, I should be into the routine.
My time here hasn't been all diligent work and working out, though; there has been plenty of time to play as well! On Tuesday I attended a concert at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival for the first time. Buddy Guy was in town and I just couldn't resist the opportunity to see him. The event was fantastic: a bunch of people packed into a small venue and Buddy playing to the crowd. The concert was basically a nonstop medley of his original songs mixed in with blues standards ("Hoochie Coochie Man," "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "Five Long Years," "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," "Strange Brew," and "Sunshine of Your Love," to name a few). He adopted a "point-counter point" style, singing softly and slowly then answering with blistering electric guitar riffs. As is his trademark, he used a wireless pickup and came out into the audience to play a couple of songs. I was 20-40 feet away from him all night; it was a grand experience!
The following night a French classmate and his family hosted a party for Bastille Day! There were 15 of us in all (including a family from a different IMD class year) so this was my best chance to date to catch up with those whom I haven't seen in awhile. Even though I had to get up very early this morning to check everything off before departing for Turkey, I stayed at the party very late because it was so, so nice.
And on that note, I had better get moving in order to make it to the airport on time!
After my first week back in Switzerland I'm starting to feel plugged back in to a "normal life." Although it's not routine per se, it is beginning to feel just like business as usual--a good thing.
Even though I have a car at my disposal here it is amazing how much more active I am just from walking/taking public transportation everywhere! Since my arrival, I've burned an average of 3,415 calories per day vs. an average of 3,054 per day in Houston. The fact that much of the walking is uphill probably contributes as well!
Friday night I attended an apartment party for a former Poken coworker who is leaving to join the staff of . . . IMD! I know from personal experience that it can be hard to make the decision to depart from Poken but I am very, very excited for her new opportunity--and for IMD's great new team member!. The party was a lot of fun and ridiculously international--exactly what I remember about my Swiss social life.
Saturday one of my best friends from IMD and his family came to visit so we organized a small dinner gathering with other local classmates. It was so nice to see everyone and impressive how easily and naturally we fell back into catch-up discourse. IMD is more than a name on our diplomas; it is a unique, trying, wonderful experience that binds us all together and--I suspect--always will.
Sunday was the finals of the World Cup. As I did Tuesday night for the semifinals, I attended a major outdoor viewing party in Ouchy with an enormous screen. The place was packed to the hilt with fans for Spain but we were cheering for Holland (supporting Margot, one of my French classmates's Dutch wife, who organized the get-together). It was a tough, close match but, in the end, Spain won and we had to sneak out before the mob turned on us.
Soccer really frustrates me to watch. It does have potential and I can see why so many people worldwide get excited about it whenever there's a run toward goal that makes you hold your breath. However, more of it seems to be about baiting the ref for some wimpy foul instead of just playing the game and that just totally ruins it for me. Still, it was fun to be amidst a throng of people who were very, very excited about the game.
This will be a short week as I have much to do before heading to Turkey for an IMD class mini-reunion!
Slowly but surely I am settling into life in Lutry. It is very different than living in Lausanne--or even Ouchy--where I lived for one year each. Although Lausanne is only a city of 150,000 people, it is a bustling metropolis relative to the sleepy town of Lutry. I definitely feel less "connected" here--which is not a bad thing! It does reinforce my preference for living in the heart of a major city while choosing more "out there" settings to get away.
I've always found Switzerland to be a very magical place and the further out you go the more fairy tale-like it becomes. Villages like Lutry are interspersed with old forests full of tall trees--very much how I would imagine the "dark forest" although not nearly as sinister. There are also spiders everywhere! Each morning when I wake up there are new cobwebs along the paths outside. Although I have no great love for spiders, I do appreciate the work they do on keeping the "mosquito" (not real mosquitoes because they don't bite!) population small. The most surreal aspect of the Swiss environs, though, is the false twilight. Because we are surrounded by mountains, the sun "sets" out of sight at 8 or 9. However, it still provides plenty of ambient light until it actually slips below the horizon around 10. This leaves 1-2 hours with the sky a soft, mystical blue. The street lights are already on, but it isn't quite dark yet. It's fantastic.
Despite this I have been doing more than frolicking in fairy tale land. Every day (after taking Acacia on a morning walk through the nearby vineyards) I have had meetings in town with IMD faculty, staff, friends, and other connections. It feels great to be back in touch with this crowd!
Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights have all featured meet-ups with classmates. Tuesday's was to cheer on the Dutch (on behalf of the Dutch wife of a French classmate) at the huge outdoor viewing party in Ouchy. While I'm still not in love with soccer--World Cup or no--it is fun to be around lots of people who are!
Wednesday evening I had to pass on social activities in order to give my first investor pitch on this side of the Atlantic. There is a budding Angel network here that has just started a small sustainable investment subgroup. The gathering was tiny and informal but it was very nice to be around others in the cleantech space. Because I was a last-minute addition to the program I just gave a five-minute "quick pitch" but it stimulated a great deal of Q&A. This group may not be a great fit for us right now but I'm very excited to have made the contacts.
The rest of the week and weekend is still up in the air but I will report in soon!
To beat the Houston summer heat I'm officing from Switzlerand for much of July and August. One of my favorite IMD professors is out of town for the summer and was looking for someone to watch his place, take care of his dog, water his plants, etc. Katie and I were looking for an opportunity to escape the Houston summer. Voila, a match made in heaven!
Narrowly escaping Hurricane Alex, my delayed flight made it out of Houston and arrived in Frankfurt too late for me to make my connection. That was no problem, though; Frankfurt's Star Alliance lounge was nice and World Cup soccer was on. As most of my readers will know, I'm no big fan of soccer but I do enjoy the cultural experience of watching momentous games in places where people take it very seriously. The game that was on during my layover in Frankfurt was Germany-Argentina so the entire airport was abuzz with excitement. In the lounge, they were offering both German and Argentinian cuisine--very festive. Germany scored early and often so most of the travelers around me were quite pleased.
Eventually I made it into Switzerland and was surprised by a few things. First, it didn't feel nostalgic at all. I suppose I haven't been gone long enough for that. It really just felt like I was coming back to a second home. Second, nothing has changed about Geneva Airport. In the nine months that I've been gone, so much has changed in my life and my business, but even the watch advertisements along the moving walkway in Geneva are the exact same as those from before I left.
Finally, this was my first time being picked up at the airport in a car. Previously I had always just taken the fast train back to Lausanne. This time, though, I am living in Lutry, about 5km outside of Lausanne. The distance isn't that great, but the dependence on an extra travel leg of bus or train adds significant time to travels and makes a car much more useful.
I spent most of the weekend catching up with my professor and familiarizing myself with the house. It is very, very nice and is going to be a wonderful place to spend the next several weeks. It features a pool, a great view of the lake, and--most importantly--it comes with a three-and-a-half-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog named Acacia! She's a big girl with lots of energy and she seems to like me. :-)
Sunday night we had an impromptu 4th of July dinner at my Singaporean classmate's house, joined by a French classmate, his wife, and an American/Swedish/Mexican classmate. It was so great to see people for the first time in months and we very naturally fell back into old patterns of career discussions and IMD gossip.
People are complaining about how unseasonably hot the weather is here right now but I will take the moderate, dry heat over Houston's oppressive heat/humidity any day! This isn't a vacation; I'm just taking advantage of the fact that right now it doesn't really matter where in the world I work. Still, it feels great to be back, especially at this time of year!
I can't believe that June is almost over already; it has really flown by! It began with (although technically this was the end of May) dogsitting our friend's awesome chocolate lab. We took her on long walks around the neighborhood and frequent visits to Houston's many dog parks. Some couples are described as "baby crazy." Katie and I are definitely "dog crazy" and we intend to rescue one of our own this Fall.
The next weekend was a beach volleyball tournament in Galveston. My favorite men's 2s partner and I reunited for the first time in three years and had a great time. We lost two games by a little and won two games by a lot but that wasn't enough to advance to the playoffs. We played well, though, and one of our wins handed the top team in our bracket their only loss so we felt good about the day. Leaving early afforded us the opportunity to listen to Rice baseball win on the way back from Galveston, take a nap, and then Katie and I enjoyed dinner and a movie in the evening.
Rice baseball unfortunately did not advance out of the regional tournament hosted by UT. It was a really weird year for Rice; we lost many more games than usual and just didn't seem to have the dominant pitching for which we are known. The upside is that our offense was pretty awesome this season. Led by player of the year Anthony Rendon, we won several games by mercy rule. Offense comes and goes, though, so you can't rely on it alone in the post season. Oh well, at least football season is now right around the corner!
The following weekend Katie and I went to St. Louis for the first time for the wedding of a middle/high school classmate of mine. He had been another captain on the football team so many of our old teammates were there for the occasion. It was great fun to catch up with all the old guys; we tried not to spend too much time reliving the glory days and Katie was a great sport about it.
Last week I was up in Chicago (also for the first time) on business, which presented a great chance to catch up with some Rice folks I hadn't seen in some time. I made it back on Saturday, just in time to prep for The Dude Imbibes, a Big Lebowski trivia night. Katie's sister, Kelly, was in town with her boyfriend, Mike, who had never seen The Big Lebowski before. So, in order to prepare our team, we watched the movie with some white russians. Watching it again reminded me why it is still my favorite movie; every time I watch it I notice some new, subtle nuance.
The pub quiz was held at Little Woodrow's in the Rice Village. Although there were only nine teams (many fewer than we had had for the Seinfeld pub quiz a few months ago), the competition was spirited and we had a great time. Geeks Who Drink, the organizers, put on a really good event.
We aced most of the rounds of questions, although we fared poorly in the audio round, in which we had to identify obscure artists of music heard throughout the movie. Fortunately, everyone else fared poorly on that round too so we spent most of the event in second place. Some rounds featured bonus questions for which free beers were awarded to the individual who presented the first correct answer. We won all but one of those and the team next to us insisted that my speedy writing be tested for doping. :-)
We outperformed the top team in the final round to secure a tie for first place. This meant we had to settle it with sudden death overtime. The DJ played "The Final Countdown" to get us in the spirit and then we won by correctly answering the next question while the other team did not--amateurs! The DJ played "You're The Best" and the Quiz Master gave us our winnings. It was a good night! We paid $20 to enter, $20 for beer, and $40 for food. We won $70 plus four free beers so I think it worked out pretty well. To celebrate, we went home and watched Tombstone, which also features Sam Elliott.
Sunday we arose early and traveled out to JD Organic Farms to pick blueberries. If you're a blueberry lover (I add them to my cereal whenever possible.), it's a great deal. You pay $2.50/lb for whatever you pick. They're organic, local, cheap, not wastefully packaged, and easily frozen for future use. Between the four of us we picked 17 lbs in about an hour--AND the proprietors had a six-week-old golden lab puppy who was worth the price of admission all by herself.
After blueberry pie, scones, and pancakes, we froze the rest and participated in a vegan cooking class at Indika. As always, the results were delicious and it was so cool to cook in the kitchen of a major restaurant with the chef and sous chefs flitting about to help and advise.
It was a great weekend and a great month! Now I need to buckle down before heading off to Switzerland!
As some of you may know, I recently joined the Board of Directors of GIVEWATTS, a global nonprofit providing clean, free light to schools and clinics in the developing world. Following is a guest blog post I wrote on the GIVEWATTS website, the full post of which can be found here.
This is a truly worthy cause and I hope that you will join me in giving watts where they are needed.
Why I Give Watts
Energy represents the greatest challenge of our generation. Whether you are concerned with the dwindling supply of conventional energy sources, the environmental effects of those sources, or the social effects of global energy inequities, the story is the same: our status quo issimply unsustainable. During my first trip to Kenya I also recognized just how much the future of energy will be shaped by the developing world, whose demand for energy is growing at an extraordinary rate. If developing countries make the same mistakes that we (the most developed countries) have made, dark and terrible times are ahead.
GIVEWATTS is addressing this problem. 2.5 BILLION people–nearly half the world’s population–don’t have reliable access to electricity so rely on wood, kerosene, or other forms of CO2-producing “conventional biomass” for light and heat. Much of Africa falls into this category. Many African villages either operate with no light at night–meaning they cannot be educated or productive at night, furthering the wealth gap between them and the more developed world–or they burn fuels such as kerosene for their heat and light. The fumes from the kerosene not only damage the environment; they also cause respiratory illness in those nearby, reducing life expectancy and increasing healthcare costs. Furthermore, because fuel is expensive, it keeps the population in poverty.
Conventional efforts to address this issue have been largely ineffective. Creating the infrastructure for a modern electric power grid requires significant resources–and time–and too often corruption stands in the way of any real benefit. The GIVEWATTS solution empowers the people directly. By providing solar powered lamps and flashlights (solar powered heating and power generation coming in the future) to African schools and clinics, we help them break the cycle of poverty, illness, and environmental damage. The lamps charge all day then provide clean, free light as late as they are needed into the night.
The economics of this approach are extremely compelling. GIVEWATTS charges $25 (€20) to donate 1 watt of power to an African village. The watts produce light in renewable energy solutions, are used every day and has a life expectancy of 10 years (if solar; it also might require new batteries after 2-3 years) so the $25 donation provides 3,652 days of clean, free light to students, teachers, clinical staff, and patients, depending on which project is chosen. By contrast, it costs $0.21 per day, $775 per 10 years, for light from a dirty kerosene lamp (assuming current prices of about $1 per liter of kerosene and a consumption of 1,5 liters per week). Much of the African population lives on less than $1 per day per person, so paying 20% of that for dirty energy is a big deal.
This is what I love about the GIVEWATTS solution: by donating only $25 from the US, you reduce $775 of cost in Africa! This is INTELLIGENT wealth transfer from one part of the world to the other–a far cry from the ineffective, inefficient, corrupt transfer that we have been trying for decades. What’s more, each watt that is donated reduces CO2 emissions, alleviates a major healthcare epidemic (significantly reducing healthcare costs), and closes the development gap.
Another reason I support GIVEWATTS is their commitment to transparency. When you donate a watt of power, it is tangible and you understand the precise effect it will have. At givewatts.org we publish ongoing updates about the specific installations we have done so you can see your watts in action.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support GIVEWATTS because of its people. I have known Jesper Hornberg, the founder, for years. I know him to be a man of highest quality and integrity. I have looked in his eyes and seen the true will to do good in the world and I know he has the talent to realize such a vision. It was one of the greatest honors of my life when he invited me to join the GIVEWATTS Board of Directors with a specific focus on developing US operations and I accepted it without hesitation.
So there you have it: a problem that must be solved, the best solution I have ever seen to that problem, and a great team to see it through. I hope you will join me in supporting GIVEWATTS. Together we will change the world–one light at a time!