The Big Lebowski

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!


Why I Give Watts

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!



I've been meaning to write this blog entry since the end of March, when Smart Office Energy Solutions closed our seed fundraising round. However, due to the intricacies of international wire transfers, it wasn't until the end of May that we fully received all of the funds that had been committed. Now, with that checked off, I'll share a bit of what I've learned about fundraising.

As most know, this was my first time leading a fundraising round. My first two startups were bootstrapped and, while my most recent startup did raise significant capital, there was another officer who led that process. Accordingly, I didn't know quite what to expect back in January when we announced our intentions to raise $100k by the end of March.

At first I didn't proactively market our offering, relying instead on those who heard about it via my tweeting, blogging, and status updates to approach me. By the end of January we had closed $20k but would clearly need to step it up to meet our goals.

In February I posted the opportunity to participate in my LinkedIn groups, which generated significant response. After several follow-up meetings we closed an additional $35k by the end of the month--over halfway there!

Come March it was time to be aggressive ("Be aggressive, be-be aggressive," as our HS cheerleaders would say.) so I began to target proactively specific individuals who would be good candidates. This generated great interest but only immediately yielded a few small investments. Coming into the last week of March we were still $35k short of our goal and I didn't really know how exactly we were going to bridge that gap.

I published a notice that we would close the round as planned March 31st and an amazing thing happened: all of the interested parties started lining up with commitments! In fact, by the end of March we had offers to purchase twice the number of shares we were offering! Maybe I should have announced the closure of our round back in January . . .

This response was thrilling! Because there were good uses to which we could apply additional capital, we decided to seize the opportunity but we ultimately capped the round at $150k. This had a nominal dilution impact and significantly strengthened our position.

I am very personally gratified that each of our investors chose to take a risk and invest in our venture. I know that, in many cases, this represents as much a bet on me as it does a bet on our business model. As such, I am working tirelessly to ensure that their investment grows in value and that this company realizes its massive potential.

The diversity of our shareholder group is interesting. Outside of the two founders, our shareholders include 6 alumni from Rice University, 2 family members of those alumni, 3 alumni from IMD Business School, 2 IMD professors, 1 alumnus from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and 1 former colleague. The group includes residents of Texas, Rhode Island, Virginia, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Switzerland. I know every one of the investors personally and am proud to count them all among our extended team.

Closure of this investment round represented a very significant milestone for this company. It moved us past the point of no return. This is no longer just about an individual dream to make the world smarter and better; it now bears the support (and risk!) of several other stakeholders as well. We're in it together and I know we will realize our goals!