The First Follower Principle in Action

Anyone who has seen the famous TED talk on "first followers" knows the speaker's argument that movements aren't just started by leaders; the first follower is just as - and possibly even more - crucial to the spread of a movement than is the originator of the idea. The first follower shows everyone else A. that it's OK to follow the movement and B. how to join in. Effective leaders embrace their first followers as equals and empower them to help take the movement to the next level.

I recently witnessed this principle in action. When the Rice football team won its last regular season game and earned the right to play in the Conference USA championship game against Marshall, it set the stage for an historic event. To show my support for the team, I changed my facebook profile picture to a scanned image of my old Rice football portrait from 1997. It attracted a few comments but certainly didn't incite any movements.

Later that day, however, one of my teammates noticed and decided to do the same thing. He had been a leader on the team so, when he changed his profile picture to one of his action shots from the glory days, many other former Rice football players took notice. He even went so far as to tag other Rice football alumni on facebook, encouraging them to do the same. With him "on board," I had enough confidence to encourage all of my Rice football alum buddies to join in too, which I did by liking his post and tagging all the rest of them.

One by one, almost every Rice football alum I knew changed his profile picture to an old Rice football picture. Soon, other players from other generations were following suit as well. That day my entire facebook wall was filled with pictures of Rice football alumni showing off the pride in and support for our team. Many of the pictures were action shots which incited story telling and reminiscing about battles out on the field in ages past. It was awesome.

Our society tends to idolize the trailblazing leaders who start big movements. Being a first follower is a form of leadership as well, though, and I witnessed it first hand last week!


Rice Football Wins The Right Way

Yesterday, the Rice football team won its first outright conference championship since 1957! The Owls are now 10-3 on the season with the opportunity to achieve the first 11-win season in school history if they can win in the Liberty Bowl this New Year's Eve. That won't be easy as they will be playing against an SEC opponent, but it's such an exciting opportunity!

More important than Rice's winning record is that they've been winning the "right" way. Rice wins awards every year for the high academic standards it sets for its student-athletes and for its student-athlete graduation rate. Rice players are not in the news for sexual assault or NCAA violations. When David Bailiff
became Head Football Coach six years ago, some of his first initiatives were aimed at engaging the players with the rest of the university and with the community - largely through service (such as helping freshmen move their heavy furniture on move-in day and holding Football 101 clinics for international students).

In short, Rice is winning with smart, good-hearted young men. That isn't wishful thinking from a proud alum; that is empirical evidence from having taught several football players and other student-athletes in my Rice entrepreneurship course over the last couple of years. There are probably exceptions to that generalization and there have been times when they have lost their composure on the field but, by and large, I am proud not so much of the fact that Rice has been winning, but much more so by how they've been winning.

Go Owls!


Enderpreneurship Part 3

This is my third and final post in my series on Entrepreneurship lessons from Ender's Game. For the previous posts, see Part 1 and Part 2.

Lead a startup the way Ender leads Dragon Army.
A startup is very much like Ender's Dragon Army: newly formed, constantly learning, and searching for patterns that work in a complex, rapidly changing environment. Ender's Game provides many examples of poor leadership in this circumstance, most especially that of Bonzo Madrid. Bonzo uses bullying and command-and-control to lead his Salamander Army. Ender senses the suboptimality in this approach immediately, noting that a good commander doesn't need to make stupid threats. Dink reinforces it when he posits that commanders have just as much authority as you let them have. Ultimately Bonzo's "orders are orders; obey or die" style leads to unnecessary losses when Ender is prohibited from firing. His fiery temper not only gets in the way of rational decision-making, it ultimately gets him killed.

Ender's leadership style is much softer and it would be an oversimplification to claim that it is the "right" or "best" style for every situation. However, it clearly works in he novel and I have seen similar styles be very effective in the startup environment. Ender's leadership journey begins before he is ever given formal authority, as soon as he starts the free time practice sessions. In these, Ender leads by example (As founders must - there is no cushy corner office in a startup!) and by inclusion (Founders must be open to ideas from their employees.).

As Ender gets his own army, he exemplifies the leadership skills of trust and empowerment. He trains his teammates, and especially the toon leaders, to think on their own and gives them the authority to make the best decisions in the heat of the moment in the battle room. This is most evident with Bean, whom he trusts to innovate completely new battle tactics. Startup founders who try to hold onto too much control find themselves as bottlenecks stifling innovation and forward progress. The best startup founders hire people whom they believe to be better than they are, co-create clear visions with them, and let them work the way they best see fit. Additionally, Ender shares his vulnerability with Bean; the best startup leaders know how to share not only their confidence and optimism but also their fears sometimes - it makes them more human.

Perhaps most importantly, Ender realizes as he grows from practice session leader to army commander to admiral of the entire IF fleet that a different leadership style is needed in each scenario. It is also true that the same leadership qualities that help a leader get from nothing to a small startup are usually different than those necessary to get from a small startup to a thriving, expanding business. One of a startup leader's greatest assets is adaptability to these changing circumstances - and awareness to know when and how to adapt.

Empathy is a critical skill for entrepreneurs.
Ender's greatest "weapon" by far is his empathy. His empathy for opponents helps him find ways to beat them - and ultimately resurrect them, in the case of the Formics - while his empathy for peers helps him lead them more skillfully. Entrepreneurship is a constant exercise in understanding people so empathy is incredibly valuable for ascertaining client needs, working well with teammates, inspiring people to join your team in the first place, negotiating with business partners, and staying one step ahead of your competition.

Luck plays a strong role in entrepreneurship.
This final lesson is isn't from the content of the book so much as it is from the book itself. Ender's Game is a phenomenal novel so it is easy to assume that Orson Scott Card is an amazing author. However, 30 years after Ender's Game he still hasn't produced anything of remotely that caliber again. The Shadow series was pretty good but all the rest of the Enderverse offerings range from so-so to downright bad.

This happens in entrepreneurship as well: sometimes people are just in the right place at the right time and they succeed in spite of - rather than because of - themselves. Similarly, sometimes people do everything right and it still doesn't work out for them. Orson Scott Card may not be that great of an author; he may have just kind of "lucked out" with Ender's Game. However, he would never have had the chance to luck out that way if he hadn't picked up his [metaphorical] pen and given it a go. And so it is with entrepreneurship: you can't hit it out of the park without stepping up to the plate and taking a swing. Luck plays a strong role in entrepreneurship but you've got to put yourself in positions to take advantage of it.

These were the entrepreneurship messages that resonated with me from Ender's Game. What do you think? Best of luck to all the budding entrepreneurs out there and remember, the enemy's gate is down!


Enderpreneurship Part 2

This is Part 2 of my series on entrepreneurship lessons from the Ender's Game novel. If you haven't already read it, start with Part 1.

The best entrepreneurs don't play the game; they create a new game by playing by different rules

Throughout the novel, Ender turns disadvantageous situations to his advantage by bending, breaking, or completely reinventing the rules of the game - starting near the very beginning in his fight with Stilson. First Ender changes a many-against-one hopeless battle to a one-on-one fight, neutralizing his enemy's strength in numbers. Then he gains the upper hand with a surprise attack and keeps it by explicitly ignoring "the rules of the playground" with a crotch shot. He does the same thing against Bonzo (shaming him into a one-on-one fight then using soap and hot water to thwart his grappling), in the battle room (freezing legs to use as body shields, giving toon leaders autonomy, launching immediately into the room rather than waiting to size up the situation, letting Bean experiment with, e.g., string), against the Formics, and even in the mind game, as he completely transforms the Giant's Drink minigame - previously unwinnable - into one he can win. I explain this game-changing habit of entrepreneurs in greater detail in slides 34-36 of my Entrepreneurship 101 lecture:

Play to your strengths.
The best entrepreneurs don't simply change the rules of the game haphazardly; they change them so as to match up their strengths with their opponents' weaknesses. Ender's most common disadvantage is size - be it his own physical size when confronting a gang of bullies or be it the size of his fleet/army when hopelessly outnumbered. Startups often face similar scenarios, squaring off against large, well established companies with strong brands and loyal customers. Trying to beat such competitors on their own terms, playing by the very rules that have made them successful, is folly. Ender knows he can't win the open war against a bully like Bernard, for example, so he takes the war to the desks, where he is stronger by far. History is full of examples of disruptive startups (like Square, AirBNB, Uber) that have used their small, innovative, agile approaches to disrupt huge industry incumbents.

Seek out weaknesses in clients too.
Playing your strengths to others' weaknesses shouldn't be limited to competition; it is important for clients as well. Bernard kisses up to some launchees but mistreats and bullies others. Ender finds those who are mistreated, like Shen, and begins to form an alliance. Clients in every industry are mistreated by their vendors and business partners, often believing that there are no alternatives. The best entrepreneurs often start by working with the most abused clients, those most motivated to help a startup create a better offering for them. When a startup establishes a reputation as a hero and savior to even a small group of clients, that can be the foundation of a very strong brand!

There are no parents to save you in entrepreneurship.
Graff spends much of his focus cultivating the sense in Ender that there will be no parents to save him in a dire situation - the sense that sometimes it even feels like "God is a Bugger!" Whether fighting Stilson or Bonzo or the Formics, Ender is on his own. This is true in entrepreneurship as well; there is no greater power waiting in the wings to swoop in and save the entrepreneur if things get too tough. And that's OK; hardships and trials lead not only to better IF commanders but also to better entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs aren't totally alone, though; as I've said before, they derive a great deal of strength from their secure bases.

In Part 3 of this series I propose some lessons in startup leadership from Ender's own leadership journey.

Enderpreneurship: What Andrew Wiggin Can Teach Us About Winning the Game of Entrepreneurship

This weekend's release of the cinematic adaptation of Ender's Game (and rereading the novel before going to see the movie) got me thinking about how many of Ender's experiences can be translated into lessons on entrepreneurship. As I stated in my TEDx talk:

we can take MANY lessons on entrepreneurship from popular myths and I even singled out Ender's Game in particular for one of those lessons:

Rereading the novel, I was inspired by many more such lessons; here are some of the first:

The Entrepreneurship "game" is exhausting, exhilarating, and profoundly impactful.

The battle room game, around which most of the novel is centered, is an excellent metaphor for the practice of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial development. There are many aspects to Battle School: classes, combat training, free time, dining, etc. but the games are what the boys live for. Entrepreneurship is itself a game with rewards and payoffs and penalties and skill and chance just like any other game. The best entrepreneurs live for the game and thrive when playing it.

Entrepreneurship must be developed experientially.

As Colonel Graff explains, though, the calculus of what makes someone succeed in the game is very poorly understood: choosing the right launchees is only so good because the tests are only so good; you've got to start putting them through the paces ASAP. And so it is with entrepreneurship, which cannot be taught in classrooms or learned in books; it must be developed experientially.

Strategic agility is crucial to a startup.

As in the battle room game, rapid experimentation, a willingness to fail, and a propensity for learning from failure is key to entrepreneurial success. Through Ender's experimentation in the battle room, he accidentally discovers how to rebound off walls, which turns out to be a crucial tactic. He similarly learns that command-and-execute toon formations are too rigid and inflexible to beat an agile, innovative opponent. So it is with entrepreneurship. As Steve Blank is fond of saying, "Big companies execute known business models," like toons executing formations, "while startups search for unknown business models," like autonomous toons able to learn from their environment (market) and react to it. Ender also finds that he must constantly adapt and innovate his strategy to keep winning games - both in the battle room and against the Formics. So, too, with startups: yesterday's winning strategy is today's losing strategy.

Measure and optimize the right metrics.

Initially Ender's individual battle room metrics are outstanding due to his limited participation. Once he becomes truly engaged in battles, those metrics go down. That's OK because they are vanity metrics - like website hits, facebook likes, or any other metric that conveys a sense of success but doesn't actually move the needle for your startup. The metric that counts for Ender - wins vs losses - keeps going up, up, up!

This is Part 1 of a three-part series. See Part 2 for more thoughts on Enderpreneurship.


The Future of Energy

Last week I was honored to be asked to give a brief talk on the future of energy at 1776, Washington DC's startup incubator. I was in town for less than 24 hours but it felt invigorating to present my ideas back in my home town.

The event was called RebootEnergy, and its purpose was to bring together entrepreneurs, policy makers, and corporate leaders to discuss trends they see in the energy industry and what their organizations are doing to capitalize on them.

After a fireside chat between Evan Burfield (1776 founder), Aneesh Chopra (former CTO of the US government), and Blake Burris (head of the Cleanweb initiative), the evening centered on lightning talks - three-minute mini-presentations given by the rest of us presenters.

I chose to focus specifically on the trend of increasing energy consumer empowerment, which is an area in which my startup is constantly breaking new ground:
The Future of Energy: Engaging the Consumer from Bryan Hassin

My lightning talk was well received (I was even quoted in the follow up press release!) and I met many new, interesting people afterward. Perhaps more interestingly, I was surprised and excited by just how many people I bumped into there whom I already knew:

Evan, the founder of 1776 and a friend from high school
Apoorv and Rob, friends from Rice
Heather, a classmate from IMD
Catherine, whom I met when I was interviewing with OPower (called Positive Energy at the time)
Blake, my collaborator on Rice's Cleanweb Hackathon - the first in Texas
Joseph, a fellow cleanweb entrepreneur whom I met in Houston in August
David, a collaborator on GIVEWATTS
and several more

Even though I was presenting professionally in DC for the first time, it felt more like a homecoming. This was good validation for me that I have been running in the right circles!

It was a great event and I was really impressed with what Evan and the 1776 team have accomplished. In stark contrast to the lack of startup culture when I joined UUNET back in 1996, DC is now bursting with startup energy. And that's a good thing because energy is exactly what my startup is trying to revolutionize!


Economic Inequality in America

Recently I've been seeing many facebook posts about a video describing the very lopsided distribution of wealth and income in the United States. The video is actually a year old but it has been given a new lease on life by upworthy and, at the time of this post, has more than 10,000,000 views.

The basic arguments of the video are:
* The US has very unequal distribution of wealth and income.
* Over time, wealth and income distribution is becoming more unequal.
* Most Americans aren't aware of how unequal and increasingly unequal wealth and income are in the US and they would prefer them to be more equitably distributed.

This has made for some good and spirited discussion among my friends. Many of my socialist-leaning European friends believe that it's a great travesty and that Americans are either ignorant about it happening or wrong in willfully letting it happen. Many of my libertarian-leaning American friends believe that it's a right and natural outcome of a meritocratic free market.

Regardless of the video and the data sources and the definitions it uses, I'm glad it has stimulated this discussion because it's not something I've really thought much about before. It leaves me with several questions:

* Is US wealth and income distribution as inequitable as the video makes it seem?
* How does the US compare with other countries? (The US looks OK in this World Bank data.)
* What should the US wealth and income distribution look like - and why?
* Is this even the right question? I've seen it argued that wealth and income mobility (the ability for someone in one group to move up to another group) is more important than a snaptshot or trend of distribution. This resonates with me as it seems to align with the American dream: that anyone, no matter where he comes from or what he has today, can make it big tomorrow.
* If mobility is the right metric to focus on, how does the US stack up there? (Not too well, it would seem from this Wikipedia article.)
* Or are there other metrics we should look at for an ideal future state and work backward from there?
* If indeed the US is out of whack with regard to the metrics we claim to hold dear, why is that so? And what can or should be done about it? What other approaches exist and what would be their tradeoffs?

What do you think about these issues? I don't have any conclusions of my own yet as I'm just starting to consider them.


Last week Katie and I saw the movie everyone has been raving about: Gravity. Although it wasn't the best sci fi movie ever (as we had heard from some people) - and, in fact, I wouldn't classify it as a sci fi movie at all - it was quite enjoyable.

We saw the movie in IMAX 3D and I'm glad we did. It is visually quite stunning with amazing panoramic shots of the earth during both night and day. The 3D is really well done and actually heightens the flinch-worthiness of the tenser scenes. I would expect nothing less from Alfonso Cuarón, who directed my favorite of the Harry Potter films.

Although people tend to focus on the visual aspects when singing this movie's praises, the audio was quite good as well. The constant tension between the sweeping score and the silence of the vacuum of space, combined with the cinematography, really succeeded in presenting both the beauty and hostility of space.

The film was incredibly immersive and the zero-g effects were extremely believable. This is a testament not only to the production techniques (using robotic attachments to move actors around as if they were in null gravity) but also to the skill of the actors. Decades ago actors acted on real sets and interacted with real objects/people. In this movie, though, actors were in front of green screens and I'm not sure any of them were actually in the studio at the same time. This must take an extra level of skill to act believably in a completely "produced" environment.

All in all, the movie was very good and definitely worth seeing - especially in IMAX 3D. Its themes of rebirth are a bit heavy handed but it is a beautiful, compelling story about the triumph of the persisent human spirit. For those of you have seen it already, what did you think?


IMD MBA 2008 Reunion in Lausanne, Switzerland

Six years ago I first set foot in Switzerland for what would ultimately become a life-changing trip. Shortly after my exhausting, exhilarating day of interviews at IMD, I received my acceptance and decided to attend the intense, transformative one-year MBA program. And shortly after that I made my very first post on this blog! This weekend 56 members of our 90-person class (plus families) reconvened in Lausanne for our 5-year reunion.

My flight over was uneventful but was the first time I've ever flown to Geneva airport from a departure point other than Houston. On the train from the airport to Lausanne I met a delightful Australian couple who had just arrived for their first tour of Switzerland. It was fun sharing their compartment and, upon our arrival, they told me I was an excellent representative of American culture - quite a compliment for this extrovert!

Once settled in my home away from home in Lutry, I became more and more excited for our reunion kickoff dinner at Watergate along the lake. Several other classmates were also keen to get started, so I trained into Lausanne early. Despite my jet lag and lack of sleep, the thought of seeing everyone infused me with so much energy that I chose to run from the train station down to the lake instead of taking the metro.

The first classmate I was able to meet was none other than Sergei, my Belorussian teammate from my very first IMD team. What a joy to reconnect with someone with whom I shared so many significant - and often painful - leadership development experiences! We were both nearly six years older and he had with him his wife and 13-month-old son - and yet it was as if we had only been toiling away in the IMD study rooms yesterday.

Once we arrived at the restaurant it became evident that many other classmates were in a similar situation as well, joining us with partners and recently born children - apparently the IMD MBA is pretty good for fertility! Incidentally, one of the interesting side effects of attending such an international program is witnessing parents speaking baby talk to their children in 20+ different languages! We closed down the restaurant but, exhausted as I was from travel, I opted for bed in lieu of a wild night out.

Friday we spent all day on campus at IMD. It featured presentations from some of our favorite professors as well as IMD management about the status and direction of the institution. The class's four entrepreneurs were also asked to make a brief presentation about our startups so I was pleased to have a chance to catch everyone up on what I've been up to. I was somewhat surprised by how much interest my presentation generated as the rest of the day classmates kept engaging me with their ideas, feedback, offers to make useful introductions, and even a few offers of investment!

The highlights of the day were lunch and dinner, both served at IMD's famous restaurant. The food is just as amazing as I remember it - as is the post-food ping pong with classmates! After dinner several of us went out to a bar in Le Flon and, once we closed it down, then proceeded to a nearby club (L'Atelier Volant, the very first Lausanne club I ever frequented!). It has been a long, long time since I stayed out until 4 AM but, as much fun as I was having catching up with classmates, I could have stayed out indefinitely.

After the late night, morning came much too soon. Once again, though, the collective energy of the class was infectious as we boarded a morning bus for the Parc Aventure in Aigle. The adventure park is a large wooded park with ropes courses of varying difficulties between and among all the trees. We arrived, suited up in our harnesses, and spent the day challenging ourselves to make it through one obstacle course after another many meters above the forest floor (and the most difficult courses even had parts that extended out over a river!).

Much like the IMD MBA itself, it was a LOT of fun in hindsight. While I was out there grappling, tight rope walking, and zip lining, though, it was actually quite stressful - anyone who knows my [lack of] command of balance will understand why!

Saturday night we had dinner at a new restaurant started by an IMD alum from the class of 2007: Eat Me. Although we started early, we still closed the restaurant down after more than seven hours of eating, drinking, and making merry with dear friends we hadn't seen in awhile - some not since graduation.

Sunday there was a soccer match between our class and the current MBAs (which we won, of course) followed by a closing lunch at our favorite class hangout, Le Pinocchio. The weather, which had been gorgeous all weekend, continued to impress, so I took a slow jog along the lake to the park where soccer was being played and then another jog back to Lutry after lunch. Sometimes I wonder if my memory of living in Switzerland - perfect weather, beautiful views of lakes and mountains - is somewhat idealized, but days like Sunday remind me that it really is a fantastic place.

And there you have it: after a three-day sprint, our reunion is over. The reunion itself actually seemed like a microcosm of the IMD experience: late nights, intense days, and much joy in being together. Even as much time as we spent together, though, there are some people with whom I regret not catching up more.

Much has changed since we underwent the MBA journey together five years ago. Jobs have changed, families have grown, and both accomplishments and disappointments have been realized. That which has remained constant throughout the five years, however, is the bond that we all formed first by choosing to undergo (and being selected for) such a unique program and then by traveling that unique journey together.

In fact, that bond is so strong that, even though the reunion is over, those of us still in Lausanne are meeting up every chance that we get. Five years out is a good time to reflect on the IMD experience. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to attend IMD but, as this reunion really drove home, the most tremendous blessing that IMD provided is the addition of all these great people in my life.


Life in Chapel Hill

Having moved into our Chapel Hill home nearly a month ago, I now have some reasonably concrete thoughts about life here. The biggest impression made on me so far is the area's dichotomy between being a large metropolitan area of two million people but having a really small town feel.

Durham may feel a little more like a bustling city and Raleigh surely does, but Chapel Hill feels like a sleepy college town out in the country. There is low enough light pollution that the stars are dazzling at night even when we just step out on our deck. The area is densely forested - so much so that our home feels like a tree house - and everywhere you look is green, green, green. When we take Max for a walk it isn't uncommon for us to encounter deer roaming around the neighborhood. Max really, really wants to volunteer to help keep the deer population in check.

The green feel translates to the people as well. There are farmers markets available every day of the week and they are full of fresh, local, natural foods. Recycling is a big deal here too and it is actually illegal to throw away some recyclable materials. People are very active so I have joined several hiking meetup groups to meet others and explore the natural beauty all around.

Despite this small town, country feel, we are a 20 minute drive away from a major international airport (Raleigh-Durham), 15 minutes away from the largest research park in the country (Research Triangle Park), and very near multiple hubs of startup activity. I've found the people here to be very friendly and welcoming, not just on a personal level but also in providing access to the business community.

The area reminds me of Houston in many ways. Many of the locals seem to be non-natives, having moved here for school or work. This endows the region with a strong diversity of culture, opinion, and industry interest. Like Houston, the area also has incredibly low cost of living, which extends from the low real estate prices to the multitude of inexpensive, healthy, delicious food options.

In some ways, however, Chapel Hill is completely unlike Houston. At least twice since we moved in the temperature has reached down into the 60s F at night - don't they know it's August?? And, although people here complain about traffic, they apparently have no idea what real traffic is. I've been out on the major through-ways during what passes for rush hour here and you almost wouldn't know that you were driving during a peak time.

On the subject of transportation, there is very good public transportation here. The municipal buses run all over the place (with UNC Chapel Hill as the main hub) all day and are completely free. Katie and I are now a single car family (I have left my car in Houston because I am still spending so much time there.) and, even so, her car doesn't get much use. She is able to walk and/or take the bus to school and I can bus around to most places as well.

There are many aspects of the area that we still haven't explored. For example, there is a thriving craft beer scene here that I would love to get to know. A few hours to our west is great mountain hiking and a few hours to our east are some good beaches - hopefully we will have a chance to check those out soon.

In the meantime I'm still spending a great deal of time in Houston, which reduces my bandwidth for North Carolina exploration. I'm teaching two entrepreneurship courses at Rice University this semester and steering my Houston-based startup through a critical ramp up to product launch. Still, the little bit I've experienced of the Triangle so far has me quite impressed.


Rocket City, USA

En route to Chapel Hill, Katie, Max, and I stopped in Huntsville, Alabama, where I spent the first 10 years of my life. It wasn't too far out of the way and it warmed my soul to see some of my old stomping grounds for the first time in many, many years.

Huntsville made a name for itself when it led the rocketry efforts to put a man on the moon. I arrived there almost exactly a decade after the moon landing but there was still a sense of trying to achieve great things which has stuck with me throughout my life.

Over the course of two days I took Katie on a tour of the Huntsville of my past. We visited houses where I had lived - which, of course, looked quite different 20 years later - schools I attended - which had expanded and modernized - and places I used to frequent - many of which were no longer there.

The saying is that you can never go back home, that the home you remember will no longer exist. If you judge by buildings and neighborhoods and landscapes, then that is true. However, I found that it absolutely still existed due to the people we saw while we were there. We stayed with good family friends who used to keep me when my parents were out of town. We had lunch with several other family friends and even caught up with the parents of some of my elementary school friends and classmates.

My mom has a plaque that says:

"A house is made
of brick and stone.
A home is made
of love alone."

I think that applies to towns in addition to houses; it's the people who make it a hometown more than anything physical. While Huntsville is now missing many of the people - one above all - whom I associate with fond childhood memories - there are still plenty of great people there: smart, fun, good-natured, accomplished people. After all, it takes great people to accomplish the great feats for which Huntsville is known.

This brief stroll down memory lane reminded me not only of that put-a-man-on-the-moon spirit but also of how blessed Katie and I are to have such wonderful people in our lives.


Gone To Carolina In My Mind

Katie and I are moving to Chapel Hill, North Carolina! Those closest to us already know but it's time to make this announcement public. Next month Katie will be beginning a PhD program in nutritional anthropology at the University of North Carolina. This process actually began more than four years ago as Katie became very concerned about the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Having worked her entire career in healthcare, she has seen how our current medical intervention approach doesn't seem very effective, so she will be working to advance the state of the art of preventive cultural approaches.

I am incredibly proud of Katie. Once she set her sights on a PhD, she worked hard to maximize her GRE scores, define a compelling value proposition, and perfect her personal statement. She applied to the top programs in her field and was accepted into all but one of them. We then had the enviable problem of having to choose between several great options, each with its own pros and cons. One late night around the kitchen island, it became evident that UNC was rising to the top, not only because of the program, which is top notch and still maintains a strong focus on the development of its students, but also because of the location.

We have some family in the Research Triangle area and we will be close to Northern Virginia, where I grew up. It is a lush, green, wooded area, with lots of hiking trails - for us and for Max! There are lots of farmers markets and we believe we will be able to live the sustainable lifestyle we have cultivated. We are looking forward to being back in a place with four seasons as well - can't wait for the leaves to change color this autumn!

Of course this move creates both challenges and opportunities for me professionally. My startup, Smart Office Energy Solutions, is headquartered in Houston and I teach entrepreneurship at Rice University, so I will be commuting back to Houston for much of the next six months. At the same time, however, the Research Triangle has a great deal of cleantech / smart grid research going on, a thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem, and major corporate support for innovation. Accordingly, I will be opening a new Smart OES office in the Triangle to cultivate opportunities there. The East Coast represents a major client market for us so it will be advantageous for us to begin developing a foothold in the mid-Atlantic.

Katie and I will both miss Houston a lot; we have called it home for more than 1/3 of our lives. It has been a great place to start our professional careers: a burgeoning land of economic growth, excellent arts, and low cost of living. It is the people, though, whom we will miss most. Houston's great people - smart, fun, and friendly - kept us in Houston after we graduated from Rice, attracted me back after my Swiss experience, and may well attract us back again. The week leading up to our departure was filled with warm send-offs and validation that we truly are blessed to have such people in our lives.

Now we are embarking a new adventure. There will be new people and new challenges in our lives - and new opportunities! We have no idea what the future will hold but, as we vowed to each other two years ago, we will face it together. And so the next chapter begins . . . huzzah!


A Family Wedding

Last weekend I had the honor of officiating my sister-in-law's wedding in Tahoe. While the details of the wedding itself are private to the family, I'm glad to retell the story of the weekend, which was a grand affair.

We flew into Reno Wednesday and made our way to Fjeldheim, a Norwegian family lodge up in the mountains of the southeastern shore that had been rented out for the entire weekend. After stockup trips to Costco and Trader Joe's, we arrived at Fjeldheim and were thrilled with what we found. It's a huge multistory, multiacre estate with enough room to sleep 30+ people. Gorgeous lake views, an outdoor hot tub, a massive kitchen, the closest family of the bride and groom - we were ready for an epic weekend!

Thursday morning we woke up early and went hiking up to the summit of Maggies Peak. The high altitude immediately made itself apparent to me, as did the steep inclines of the hike! Huffing and puffing as I was, though, we were all rewarded with gorgeous views of Emerald Bay. After taking some time (and food!) to recover, we then spent the afternoon wine tasting on the California side of the lake.

Friday morning I took the opportunity to do something I can't do very well in Houston: hill sprints! The bride, who is a yogi, then helped me warm down with some light yoga. Friday afternoon then we all headed to the beach for the groom's dinner. Under cloudless skies we grilled out, played on the sand, and engaged in [freezing] water sports. The best part, though, came when the bride and sister of the groom busted out a guitar and began to serenade the groom. The guitar stayed out all night and it turned into hours and hours of sing-a-long - what fun!

The day of the wedding couldn't have been more perfect. We were blessed with our third straight day of awesome weather. The bride started the day by leading us in the full Ashtanga Yoga primary series. I then joined the groom for a trail run along the Lake Tahoe Rim Trail. All this led up to the main event: the wedding itself.

The ceremony was short and sweet and I was privileged to have a front row seat. After the bride and groom were pronounced husband and wife we spent a glorious afternoon sipping on champagne, playing yard games, and dining outside. This, of course, was followed by hours and hours of dancing until the wee hours of the morning - I couldn't have imagined anything better for the happy couple.

Sunday we lazily breakfasted and said sad, fond goodbyes. It had been a wonderful, joyous celebration in an amazing location but eventually it was time to return to reality. For Katie and me, however, reality was delayed by another day. Our flight back to Houston wasn't until Monday so we had to spend the night at a hotel/casino in Reno. Let me tell you, that was one classy place! After an evening of smoky gaming tables, poolside dancers, and comped all-you-can-eat buffets, we finally returned to Houston.

What a weekend! We are so, so happy for Kelly and Mike and we were thrilled to be party of their new union! We were especially thrilled that the way they wanted to celebrate happened to be a LOT of fun!


Rice Named Top University Incubator

Rice University has selected as having the top university business incubator in the world according to a just-released study by UBI. I have been working for more than a year now to support/enhance/catalyze entrepreneurship at Rice by teaching, mentoring, and helping to launch the OwlSpark Accelerator, which received special mention in the announcement. It feels great when hard work is recognized and my hearty congratulations go out to all the others who are helping to propel Rice into the future of being an entrepreneurial university.



Some Memorial Day Thoughts

Memorial Day is always a good day for reflection and gratitude - for grieving the ones we've lost and for celebrating what they did for us in their time on this earth. As I've posted before, it is a particularly poignant time for my family as it was 23 Memorial Days ago that we lost my dad after a 10+year fight with cancer.

This 23rd Memorial Day is especially significant for remembering Dad - and not only because 23 is my favorite number! Dad was born January 23, 1945. When I was born March 23, 1979, Dad was 34 years and two months old. Guess what age I turned a few days ago: 34 years and two months . . .

It's a bit mind blowing to think of myself as the same age as my father when he and my mom brought me into this world. The image of him fixed in my mind is always one of an older/wiser/sterner parent - which is hard to reconcile with the notion of him as a hypothetical peer.I'm spending the day listening to his old records and playing his old pinball machines.

And while I do focus a great deal on him each Memorial Day, I also take plenty of time to reflect on my gratitude to those who have died while putting themselves in harm's way for our country. It is humbling to think of how little I've risked or sacrificed relative to them. It always leaves me with a sense of duty and purpose that I must do everything I can to ensure they didn't die in vain. I must be the best I can be - as a person, as a professional, and as a citizen.

So thank you, fallen patriots; I'm trying to live up to your example.


A Spark of Entrepreneurship at Rice

Although I haven't posted much about it on this blog, many of you know that I have spent the last year and a half helping to foster more/better entrepreneurship at my alma mater, Rice University. Six months ago I officially accepted the role of Entrepreneur in Residence at the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, an organization funded by legendary venture capitalist (and Rice alum) John Doerr.

Since almost the moment I started in 2012, it became evident that Rice was underserved in entrepreneurship. The MBAs had some coursework available to them and a big business plan competition but the undergrads had nothing, academic grad students even less, and faculty were frustrated with the process of IP commercialization.

Around that time I connected with four students who wanted to do something about it. Over the last 18 months we spent a lot of time figuring out the highest-impact initiative we could take, selling it within the university administration, gathering resources for it, and making it happen.

Last Thursday this vision became a reality with the official launch of OwlSpark, the Rice University startup accelerator. Eight teams of Rice undergrads, grad students, MBAs, and alumni are spending the summer working side by side in the Rice BRC to launch their startups. The program provides funding, mentorship, learning, and networking opportunities for the 37 members of these eight teams.

Thursday night's launch event attracted more than 100 attendees and was a really fantastic way to kick off the program. This is such an exciting initiative for Rice but what really makes me proud is that OwlSpark was created entrepreneurially by students, not by a top-down decree.

OwlSpark is itself a startup so it will have to be agile and reactive to feedback from its participants, mentors, investors, etc. It's way too early to tell what we will have accomplished by Demo Day in August  but it's a worthwhile shot and I'm very excited about the possibilities!


My Brother's Wedding

Last weekend Katie and I went to St. Petersburg, Florida for my brother's wedding. It was hot and humid but somehow we didn't mind at all. Katie set us up in a B&B near all the action. It was cute, quaint, and very energy- and water-efficient, which we obviously appreciated. If anyone else is traveling to St. Petersburg, we would recommend La Veranda as a nice alternative to staying in a big hotel. The proprietor was extremely adaptable to Katie's and my nutritional requests for breakfast.

Friday we met my mom, brother, and another groomsman for lunch at The Moon Under Water. Although it offered mostly Britsh pub food (Yuck!), it also offered superb Indian cuisine (Yum!) - combined with a British pub beer list (Yumyumyum!)! Such a great pairing enjoyed al fresco on a sunny afternoon was just the way to kick off the weekend's festivities.

After the rehearsal, we had rehearsal dinner at Bella Brava, an Italian restaurant that Nick has been raving about for years. They kind of screwed up our reservation so I was less impressed with them than I had hoped to be - but it still turned out to be a fine venue for eating, drinking, and roasting on the eve of the wedding.

Saturday Katie and my mom spent the day bouncing around between St. P's surprising number of good museums (surprising given the town's small size). Meanwhile I joined the other groomsmen at Nick's house for a day of outdoor workouts and great food. Once we felt that Nick had been sent off from bachelorhood in appropriate style, we changed and got ready for the big event.

The wedding itself was Hawaiian themed and very informal. With the sun beating down on us, we all appreciated the informality! It was also very meaningful, from the written vows to the sentimental rings to the participation of the flower dog.

As we transitioned to the reception we also added a Top Gun theme. We groomsmen donned aviators as we entered the reception to the Top Gun theme song and later on there was a You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling homage. The Hawaiian theme continued as well as we were treated to a show by dancers from the Pacific Islands. It was an interactive show so attendees were treated (?) to more than they could ever want of me hula dancing!

We danced into the night and then continued the party in downtown St. P. It was a lot of fun: sweaty, sweaty fun!

The next day Katie, Mom, and I spent the morning in the Salvador Dali Museum - what a trip! And then we wrapped up with tapas at Ceviche before heading home. All in all it was a fun weekend and a great way to send Nick and Jess off on their new adventure. I won't try to recount my toasts here as they are private, intended just for the bride, groom, and other wedding attendees. I did quote one poem by Rumi, though, in honor of Nick's and Jess's strong attachment to the sea:

The religion of Love 
is a sea without 
a shore,where the 
Lovers drown 
without a sigh, 
without a cry.

To Nick and Jess, bon voyage on your new life together!


TEDx Talk About Entrepreneurship

Last year I was honored to be asked to speak about entrepreneurship at Rice's "Unconvention" in celebration of its centennial year. Instead of talking about lean startup, customer development, fundraising, or many of the other very well covered topics out there, I chose to focus on framework for entrepreneurship that is, well, unconventional.

My talk, entitled The Entrepreneur's Journey, proposes entrepreneurship lessons embedded in our most popular myths, legends, stories, and fairy tales. Finally this weekend, as a birthday gift to myself, I crossed "Publish my TEDx talk" off my to-do list.

Take a look at the video and the powerpoint slides (synced with audio) and tell me what you think! And please Like and share both links - after all, we need more yoda references in our global discussion of entrepreneurship!


The Dude Ranch

Two weekends ago Katie and I were excited to host our first house guests since remodeling our house. Peter, a good friend from business school, and his girlfriend came into town from New York and it was the first time in Houston for both of them.

They arrived late Friday night so we just went out for dinner at Roost and rested up for a big day Saturday. Saturday began with the Houston Area Women's Center Race Against Violence 5k. Sunny and cool, we each did pretty well and then enjoyed recovery food with a brunch of almond flour pancakes.

Next we met up with the other IMD MBA 2008 Houstonian, Hernan, a recent transplant from Buenos Aires. What do three IMD MBAs do when they meet in a city that isn't native for any of them? Play ping pong, of course! We convened at the Rice Rec Center and held an epic international tournament for the ages.

Saturday afternoon we were pleased to introduce our IMD friends/guests/families to a unique cultural experience: the Houston Rodeo! From bull riding events to the livestock show to lots of Texas BBQ I think it's safe to say that we all enjoyed the experience and that our guests will always remember it!

Saturday night we went to dinner at Beaver's for some more locavore fare and Sunday our guests had to leave too early! The weather was gorgeous Sunday so it's too bad they couldn't stick around; we played beach volleyball all afternoon. Actually, as both of our guests were really, really tall, maybe it's a good thing they couldn't stay and play against us!

The weather here is still absolutely beautiful so now is the right time for us to be cultural ambassadors of Houston. If anyone else would like to visit, COME ON DOOOOOOOOOWN!


Weekend in NYC - Part 2

Last Saturday was a long, wonderful day in NYC. We started with brunch at Rosemary's in Greenwich Village, not a far walk from where we were staying. The weather was wonderful for such a walk: sunny and clear, great for enjoying all the snow of the night before! Rosemary's was excellent too. Apparently much of their food comes from their rooftop garden, but when we went up to check out the garden it was buried under a foot of snow! So I'm assuming they make other arrangements during the winter . . . Regardless we had a blast catching up with friends from college and high school over delicious Italian-inspired breakfast food!

Well nourished, we hopped on the subway (Oh isn't it nice to be in a city with public transportation?!) up to the theater district where we saw a matinee showing of Phantom of the Opera. I was worried that that might be a bit of a cliche tourist trap and that the cast might just kind of mail in the performance but wow, were we ever impressed! Especially the Phantom and Carlotta (for whom it was a Broadway debut) really nailed it - I'm really glad we went!

From there we walked up to Rockefeller Plaza where we paid homage to 30 Rock and popped into a wine bar. After a quick freshening up back at the hotel we ventured out for a long evening. It began with dinner a great high school friend's house. In a city known for night life and fine restaurants, it was encouraging to learn that you could just enjoy dinner at home with some friends as well.

After great food and wine and an introduction to the recent addition to their family, we then made our way over to another high school friend's apartment. He happens to be starting up a new venture related to beer and food pairings so he regaled us with several flights of exotic beers paired perfectly with accompanying cheeses and even desserts!

He then joined us as we walked to our final destination: a bar in Alphabet City where we met up with several old friends from Lovett College at Rice. What a blast from the past - we hadn't seen most of them since college and it was fun to catch up with them until the very wee hours of the morning. It has been a long time since Katie and I stayed out until 3 AM but, if it's going to happen, NYC is probably an appropriate venue!

After our late night, Sunday morning began way too early but we managed to mobilize and make our way to Chinatown for a traditional New Year's celebration. We met friends from elementary school and business school at a dim sum restaurant, where we stuffed ourselves silly for an incredibly low priced meal. The only way to afford living in NYC must be to eat dim sum as often as possible!

As we walked back toward our hotel to pick up our bags and head to the airport we stopped in a Chinatown park where they were setting off fireworks and singing the US National Anthem in celebration - what a great way to ring in the year of the snake!

It was just a short trip to NYC, but I think we did it up right: museums, shows, restaurants, late nights, and - most importantly - friends. We still need to visit the Met and go running in Central Park so I guess we'll just have to return soon!


Weekend in NYC - Part 1

Katie and I had a wonderful weekend in New York City. As much as I travel, both domestically and abroad, I actually haven't been to NYC since before I started blogging - and Katie had never been at all.

One major reason is that I have never really loved NYC. Part of that is just my natural tendency to be a contrarian about "popular" things. I've always been a slow adopter of new popular music, for example, so the more people go on and on about how great "the City" is, the more I usually dig in and claim that you can get the same features elsewhere at a fraction of the price. Moreover, the things NYC is known for - fashion, marketing, [sketchy] finance, and lavish living - all run somewhat counter to the industries and values that I hold dear. Still, I have many great friends there and I always have a great time when I visit.

We flew up Thursday night just before the snow storm hit. We checked into our [tiny] hotel in the East Village and had a good night's sleep followed by a leisurely Friday morning. After breaking our travel fast we headed up to check out some museums, first the Guggenheim and then the MoMA.

The Guggenheim was sort of a bust; part of the museum was shut down due to installation of a new exhibit and the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit about which we were excited turned out to be quite small. The MoMA delivered more although, once again, the Goldfinger and The Scream exhibits we were anticipating were somewhat lackluster - but it made up with lots of impressionism.

The biggest hit by far was our lunch between museums at Candle 79! All organic, all vegan, and with some raw entrees, this restaurant proved emphatically that catering to special dietary needs can still be gourmet and delicious! Plus we were able to catch up with a friend there whom we hadn't in a long time.

After freshening up back at our hotel we had an early dinner at nearby Almond. This definitely satisfied our seafood fix (in a south of France kind of way!) and ensured that we were properly nourished before our evening show. Between the early reservation and people staying in due to the weather, we didn't feel rushed or crowded at all.

Friday evening we attended a performance of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, one of Katie's favorite Tennessee Williams plays. We knew that Scarlett Johansson was headlining but we were pleased to recognize several of the other actors as well, including Ciarán Hinds and Benjamin Walker, as well. We really enjoyed the production and would recommend it to anyone else who is a fan of the play. Point to New York: top notch theater packed with Hollywood's best is not a feature you find anywhere else.

By the time we left the theater, NYC was dead. The snow was falling heavily, the roads were slushy, and there were only a few other people in Times Square. We decided to call it a night and save our strength for Saturday.


Secure Base In the Office and Gym

As I've posted before, I'm a big fan of IMD Professor George Kohlrieser's advocacy of secure base leadership. Quick summary: as children we gain confidence to take risks (like learning to walk) because we have secure bases (like Mom) to pick us up if we fail (like falling down). We carry this pattern with us into our adult lives and Dr. Kohlrieser's contention is that leaders lead more effectively when they act as secure bases for others. In his book, Care to Dare, he argues that this supportive culture/environment is crucial for employees to have the confidence to stretch themselves and take risks - to play to win vs. playing not to lose.

This morning in the gym I was struck by an extremely apt illustration of this exact principle in action. Usually I work out without a spotter (a workout worst practice, by the way) because my main training partner is more than a thousand miles away in Florida. Also I'm never sure exactly how effective skinny Rice kids would be at spotting! This morning, however, there was a big Rice rugby player in the gym who looked like he could handle my weight so I asked him for a spot on bench press.

Anyone who knows my strength training philosophy knows that my metric of success is how much muscle fiber I am able to stimulate. When training without a spotter I am not able to stimulate as much muscle fiber as possible because I lift conservatively, not wanting to fail and drop the bar on my chest! With this spotter behind me I had the confidence to go all out this morning and I took my bench press routine to absolute, complete failure by working with more weight (strict form, of course) and doing more reps. When I finished a rep and was already tired, I still took the risk of doing another rep because I knew the spotter would save me if I failed. The result was that I was actually able to do several more reps! It was such a good workout that now I can barely move my arms.

Because of my spotter I was able to stretch myself and now my gains (with adequate recovery) will be much greater. This is exactly what secure base leadership is all about! I'm thrilled that Dr. Kohlrieser is bringing his top-ranked High Performance Leadership program (much of which centers on the secure base) to the US this year. I wonder how many of our country's private and public leaders playing not to lose instead of playing to win!


ABB Houston 5k Race Report

This morning I set a new 5k PR in the ABB Houston 5k!

I haven't run a race since early last summer but I resolved this year that I would integrate more races into my ongoing workout routine. Instead of training for 5k and 10k races and then running just a couple of them, each time tapering and preparing the week beforehand, this year I'm going to use races AS my 5k and 10k workouts.

This morning was the first of the five or six 5ks I intend to run this year. I'm lighter and I believe my fitness level has improved since my 5k PR around this time last year. However, since I hadn't prepared or tapered for this race, I set pretty conservative goals.

In my 2 5K races last year I set pace goals ~4:12/km and exceeded them early in the race but faded in the stretch. It was important to me in this race to run a consistent pace so I set 4:16 as my goal. With a fast start (1:55 first 500m), 4 km @ 4:16/km, and a fast finish (1:37 for 400m followed by a 17s final 100m sprint), this would make for a 20:54 race - well off my 20:31 PR but, again, the goal was consistency. At a temperature of 70+F and humidity around 100%, the weather certainly wouldn't help!

The first 500m breezed by in 1:47. I was 5 seconds ahead of my goal and feeling fine at a heart rate of 169 BPM. I was feeling so fine, in fact, that I really had to rein it in for the next km, which I still finished in 4:08, putting me 13 seconds ahead of my goal and with a heart rate of 174 BPM. The next three km really settled into pace: 4:12 (178 BPM), 4:14 (180 BPM), and 4:11 (182 BPM). Heading into my "endgame" I was 24 seconds ahead of my goal, which was on target (barely) for a PR.

I picked it up for the next 400m, which took us around a couple of turns. I finished this segment in 1:31 (187 BPM) so was now 30 seconds ahead of my goal. There were several people who had passed me earlier in the race in sight as I rounded the final turn and I could feel someone behind me pressing as I kicked it into gear. One by one I passed all the people between me and the finish line - but the guy behind me overtook me and pulled a few feet ahead. In the final 20m or so I managed to find another gear (189 BPM) and re-overtake him, barely beating him out at the finish. I wonder how much more slowly I would have gone if I hadn't had to fend off his challenge . . . as my football coach used to say, "Competition breeds excellence!"

My final result was 20:21, a new PR by 10 seconds! I finished #44 overall out of 3,183 runners (99th percentile), #41 out of 1,357 male runners (97th percentile), and #9 out of 180 men in the 30-34 age class (95th percentile). I'm very pleased with the results and now I'll try to improve by gradually lowering my goal pace each time. 4:14 was my slowest km in this race so my goal for the next race will be for all kms to come in at 4:13 or faster.


James Bond Songs

Some of my previous James Bond rankings have stirred up a bit of debate and this one is likely to as well: my ranking of James Bond theme songs! As with my other rankings there are broadly three categories: great songs that are still memorable and good today, songs that aren't so great/memorable but are at least coherent with what makes a Bond song a Bond song to me, and then songs that are just straight up bad.

1. James Bond Theme (Monty Norman / John Barry) - There are few more enduring and recognizable riffs than the James Bond theme. Originally the title piece for Dr. No and From Russia With Love, it then took more of a thematic role in subsequent films while individualized songs played during the title sequence.
2. Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey) - the most iconic Bond theme song of all time, this one also set the precedent for a title sequence that features moving female outlines - a hallmark of almost every Bond movie to come.
3. Skyfall (Adele) - My #1 and #2 were the first Bond songs but my #3 is the most recent. I just love the sound of it - classic Bond style in a modern voice.
4. For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton) - So representative of the 80s Bond.
5. Nobody Does It Better (Carly Simon) - This one went along with The Spy Who Loved Me and was the first not to share the same name as the film.
6. Diamonds Are Forever (Shirley Bassey) - Bassey's second Bond song was almost as good/recognizable as her first.
7. Die Another Day (Madonna) - The title song was one of the only good things about this Bond movie.
8. The Man With The Golden Gun (Lulu) - Like Goldfinger on steroids, this song goes even further over the top - but loses points for originality.
9. All Time High (Rita Coolidge) - I don't love this song (Octopussy) but it gets points for being enduringly recognizable.
10. You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra) - Not a great song per se but one that definitely fits the Bond theme.
11. Thunderball (Tom Jones) - Tom Jones being Tom Jones, which makes for a good theme song style.
12. A View To A Kill (Duran Duran) - I imagine that this song was actually awesome in the mid 80s but its style isn't terribly timeless for me.
13. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (John Barry) - I'm not sure why they moved away from vocal theme songs to this purely orchestral piece - possibly to provide a clearer break from the Sean Connery era. That would certainly explain why they went running back to the vocal style (and even re-used Goldfinger's Shirley Bassey) when they brought Connery back for Diamonds Are Forever.
14. Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow) - I love Sheryl Crow and stylistically this is right on but somehow it just doesn't work for me. Her voice sounds weak in the high parts.
15. The World Is Not Enough (Garbage) - This was forgettable enough that I had to refresh my memory about how it sounded on YouTube.
16. Moonraker (Shirley Bassey) - Bassey's third and final Bond song is just kind of slow and blah.
17. Goldeneye (Tina Turner) - They used a Tina Turner Bond song about 10 years too late.
18. Live And Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings) - I know many people will disagree with this but I really loathe just about everything that came out of Paul McCartney after the Beatles - including this song. Now the Guns N Roses version is another story . . .
19. The Living Daylights (A-ha) - Again, this might have fit better in the mid 80s when it came out but today it's just not very good.
20. You Know My Name (Chris Cornell) - Casino Royale's theme song is one of the only underwhelming aspects of an otherwise great film.
21. Another Way To Die (Alicia Keys) - Don't feel bad if you don't remember the Quantum of Solace theme song; you're probably just repressing your memory of it because it isn't very good.
22. License To Kill (Gladys Knight) - If Tina Turner was 10 years too late, Gladys Knight was 20. This song is terrible; they should have just covered Midnight Train to Georgia instead!
23. Never Say Never Again (Lani Hall) - I've been harsh on some of the other 80s songs as having been good but not having endured. Never Say Never Again doesn't have that problem because it was horrible from the very beginning!


James Bond Cars

Today's ranking: James Bond's best cars:

1. Aston Martin DB5 - this beautiful silver sports car was featured in multiple movies (Goldfinger, Thunderball, Skyfall) and cameo'ed in a few more. The original spy car, it had machine guns, rocket launchers, smoke screen, tire slashers, and a rear bullet shield. This was the Batmobile of Bond cars!
2. Lotus Esprit S1 - (The Spy Who Loved Me) this bad boy could not only transform into a submarine, it had [sub]surface-to-air missles to boot.
3. Aston Martin V12 Vanquish - (Die Another Day) any car that can turn invisible wins major points in my book.
4. Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante - (The Living Daylights) this Aston Martin "winterized" the the DB5's features by adding side outriggers, deployable tire spikes, lasers, and rocket propulsion.
5. AMC Matador coupe - (The Man With The Golden Gun) this was Scaramanga's car, not Bond's, but it still wins major points for transforming into a plane.
6. Moon Buggy - (Diamonds Are Forever) no special gadgets here, but come on, it's a lunar rover!
7. Aston Martin DBS - (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)  no gadgets, just a beautiful car.
8. Aston Martin DBS V12 - (Casino Royale) no gadgets (other than some defibrillator equipment), just a beautiful car.
9. Aston Martin DBS V12 - (Quantum of Solace) same as the one in Casino Royale but a little darker.
10. Lotus Esprit Turbo - (For Your Eyes Only) not much action from this one, but still a pretty cool car.
11. BMW Z8 - (The World Is Not Enough) only got to fire one shot before being cut in half by an helicopter-mounted buzz saw.
12. Toyota 2000GT - (You Only Live Twice) quite a departure from the classy European cars throughout the rest of the Bond films.
13. BMW 750iL - (Tomorrow Never Dies) typical weapons but with the added ability to drive the car via smart phone. Lost points for being an ugly boat of a car.
14. Bentley Mark IV - (From Russia With Love) this car didn't have anything special about it except that Bentley never actually made a "Mark IV" model.
15. BMW Z3 - (Goldeneye) in one of the more flagrant instances of product placement during this Bond era, this car served no purpose whatsoever and had less than two minutes of screen time.
16. Mercedes 250SE - (Octopussy) after the tires were blown, Bond mounted this car onto railroad tracks and drove it that way.
17. Chevrolet Impala - (Live And Let Die) nothing special.
18. Ford LTD - (A View To A Kill) nothing special.
19. Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible - (Dr. No) nothing special.


James Bond Henchmen

Often James Bond movies have more compelling henchmen than the villains themselves - and then sometimes the henchman are totally lame. Following is my ranking:

1. Oddjob (Goldfinger): incredibly strong and with a razor-sharp projectile hat!
2. Jaws (Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me): incredibly strong and with razor-sharp metal teeth!
3. Xenia Onatopp (Goldeneye): Former model who uses sex as a weapon? Yes please!
4. Messieurs Kidd and Wint (Diamonds Are Forever): Most people hate these guys but I find their attempts to be sinister to be hilariously entertaining.
5. Tee Hee (Live And Let Die): incredibly strong and with a metal claw for a hand!
6. May Day (A View To A Kill): Grace Jones - enough said.
7. Irma Bunt (On Her Majesty's Secret Service): the inspiration for Frau Farbissina of Austin Powers infamy.
8. Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love): a little old lady is much scarier with a poison dagger in her shoe!
9. Nick Nack (The Man With The Golden Gun): funny little man who proves deadly behind the controls of Scaramanga's Fun House.
10. Fatima Blush (Never Say Never Again): a henchwoman so attractive that you really don't want to see her eliminated!
11. Necros (The Living Daylights): we have now crossed the line from compelling henchmen to forgettable ones.
12. Renard (The World Is Not Enough): Elektra King's lover who can't feel pain - yawn.
13. Miranda Frost (Die Another Day): MI6 double agent and accomplished fencer.
14. Mischka & Grischka (Octopussy): knife-throwing circus twins? We have now crossed the line from the forgettable henchmen to the downright lame.
15. Hans (You Only Live Twice): a tall, strong blonde guy with nothing special about him.
16. Erich Kriegler (For Your Eyes Only): a tall, strong blonde guy - at least this one is a competitive biathlete.
17. Vargas (Thunderball): a tall, strong blonde guy with nothing special about him.
18. Mr. Stamper (Tomorrow Never Dies): a tall, strong blonde guy with nothing special about him.
19. Milton Krest (License To Kill): his sharks are more interesting than he is.
20. Elvis (Quantum of Solace): as if the main villain in this film weren't weird looking enough, this Quentin Tarantino look-a-like henchman takes it to another level!
21. Alex Dimitrios (Casino Royale): who?
22. Professor Dent (Dr. No): remember him? I didn't think so.
23. Skyfall didn't really have any henchmen - lame!


Bond Girls

In celebration of Alabama's decisive national championship win and as a nod in particular to the commentators gushing over the winning QB's girlfriend, today's James Bond film ranking is of the Bond girls!

1. Casino Royale: Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and Solange Dimitrios (Caterina Murino)
2. Goldfinger: Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) and Jill Masterson (Margaret Nolan, who stood in for the title sequences, not Shirley Eaton who acted in the film)
3. Diamonds Are Forever: Tiffany Case (Jill St John) and Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood)
4. The Man With the Golden Gun: Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) and Saida (Carmen du Sautoy)
5. Die Another Day: Jinx (Halle Berry) and Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike)
6. Moonraker: Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry) and Dolly (Blanche Ravalec)
7. Live And Let Die: Solitaire (Jane Seymour) and Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry)
8. For Your Eyes Only: Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) and Lisl von Schlaf (Cassandra Harris)
9. The World Is Not Enough: Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) and Maria Giulietta da Vinci (Maria Grazia Cucinotta)
10. The Spy Who Loved Me: Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) and Naomi (Caroline Munro)
11. The Living Daylights: Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo) and Rubavitch (Virginia Hey)
12. Dr. No: Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) and Freelance (Marguerite LeWars)
13. Never Say Never Again: Domino Petachi (Kim Basinger) and Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera)
14. From Russia With Love: Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) and Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson)
15. Octopussy: Octopussy (Maud Adams) and Magda (Kristina Wayborn)
16. Skyfall: Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe)
17. Goldeneye: Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen)
18. A View To A Kill: Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts) and Pola Ivanova (Fiona Fullerton)
19. You Only Live Twice: Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama) and Helga Brandt (Karin Dor)
20. Thunderball: Domino Derval (Claudine Auger) and Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi)
21. Tomorrow Never Dies: Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) and Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher)
22. License To Kill: Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) and Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto)
23. Quantum of Solace: Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) and Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton)
24. On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg)


James Bond Villains

After yesterday's nod to the CES with my post on the best James Bond gadgets, today's post is a nod to the evil Seattle Seahawks, who knocked my beloved Washington Redskins out of the NFL playoffs. Accordingly, today's Bond ranking is for the best James Bond film villains!

1. Ernst Stavro Blofeld - with five official appearances (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever) plus another implied appearance (For Your Eyes Only), this guy clearly takes the cake. Plus he's the archetype for Dr. Evil.
2. Auric Goldfinger - Audacious name, audacious behaviors, and audacious one-liners! "Do you expect me to talk?" "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"
3. Dr. No - although I don't love this movie, Julius No did set the tone for the series as the original sophisticated genius villain.
4. Raoul Silva - Javier Bardem's Skyfall villain was oh so creepy from his very first minute of screentime.
5. Francisco Scaramanga - The Man With the Golden Gun, played by young Saruman! (OK, Christopher Lee)
6. Karl Stromberg - This acquatic Scandinavian was the best of the "infinitely wealthy man who essentially wants to destroy the world as we know it" villains.
7. Tan-Sun Moon / Gustav Graves - Die Another Day was a terrible movie but the Gustav Graves incarnation of the film's villain certainly had charisma.
8. Le Chiffre - There really wasn't much to this guy: no under-volcano lair, no super powers . . . just a desperate need for cash and a willingness to do anything to get it. It's a testament to how well made Casino Royale was that his character was so compelling.
9. Hugo Drax - Another ultrawealthy genius - not nearly as interesting a character as in the novel version of Moonraker, though.
10. Donald Grant - the anti-Bond in From Russia With Love - again, the novel develops his backstory much more richly.
11. Alec Trevelyan / Janus - 006 turning coat against England in Goldeneye? Well that's payback 220 years too late for Benedict Arnold! At least he is portrayed by Boromir / Ned Stark.
12. Maximillian Largo - The villain in Never Say Never Again sure looked a lot like Phil Collins.
13. Max Zorin - I expected more from an ultrawealthy Christopher Walken villain, but he wasn't helped much by the poor script of A View To A Kill.
14. Emilio Largo - The Thunderball villain (AKA #2) loses out to his remake from Never Say Never Again because of the p a i n f u l l y slow underwater fight scenes.
15. Dr. Kananga / Mr. Big - When the Live And Let Die villain removes his mask, it's one of the most underwhelming "reveals" in movie history.
16. Dominic Greene - Quantum of Solace had very little good about - including a lame villain with weird, bulging eyes.
17. Elliot Carver - Jonathan Pryce is capable of a better performance than what we saw in this "mad media mogul" but he certainly wasn't helped by the script of Tomorrow Never Dies.
18. Franz Sanchez - A South American drug lord killing someone and exacting a vendetta in License to Kill? Yawn, just like 100 other 80s movies / TV shows.
19. Aristotle Kristatos - For Your Eyes Only's villain had nothing remarkable about him other than that he tried to play himself off as a good guy at first.
20. Kamal Khan - When your heroine is named Octopussy, you really need a more interesting counterpoint than this unmemorable villain.
21. Georgi Koskov / Brad Whittaker - The Living Daylights had not one but two lame general villains.
22. Elektra King - Sophie Marceau as the victim-becomes-persecutor villain of The World Is Not Enough was really forgettable. They should have just stuck with Maria Grazia Cucinotta from the opening scene/boat chase!


James Bond Gadgets

In the wake of the Washington Redskins playoff loss (but at least the Houston Texans won!) I will console myself with my list of favorites James Bond movies in terms of the gadgets employed - both by Bond and his adversaries. I have a separate list just for cars but I have still included cars in this list when they included cool gadgets too. I've also given credit to movies for some gadgets that are demonstrated by Q but never actually used in practice - just because they're cool!

1. Thunderball: Aston Martin DB5 (upgraded even from the Goldfinger version), homing pill, re-breather, Bell rocket belt, underwater jet pack, hydrofoil with separable cocoon, electrocution chair
2. The Spy Who Loved Me: Jaws's teeth, Lotus Esprit S1 (with submarine mode!), micro film reader, ski pole gun, telex watch (Seiko), stun gas cigarette, sharp tea tray, in-boat monorail, portable water craft, Atlantis
3. Goldfinger: Aston Martin DB5 (The original spy car! Machine guns, missiles, smoke screen . . . if you ever played Spy Hunter in the 80s, it was basically based on this car - only not as gorgeous.), homing shoe, Oddjob's razor hat
4. A View To A Kill: Polarizing sunglasses, mini-camera ring, Zorin ID system (state of the art for the time!), UV reader checkbook, bug detector shaver, locksmith credit card, snooper robot, dirigible trailer mini-airship, multifunction cane, razor butterflies
5. Moonraker: Jaws's teeth, wrist dart gun, safe cracker, detonator watch (Seiko), weapons coffin, mini-camera, laser gun, exploding bola, amphibious gondola hovercraft, poison pen, perfume flamethrower
6. The Living Daylights: Pipeline cab, multipurpose keychain, mini-binoculars, ghetto blaster, swallowing sofa, Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante (Another badass spy car, this one proved its worth during an epic chase on a frozen lake!) , milk bottle bombs, Whitaker's war room
7. Live And Let Die: Watch (Rolex) with electromagnet and buzz saw, brush communicator, exploding pellet gun, Felix lighter, flute communicator, voodoo figures that shoot poison darts, revolving booth, Tee Hee's claw
8. From Russia With Love: Special briefcase, tape recorder camera, garrote watch (These all seem very tame by comparison but they were the original gadgets, laying the foundation for more and more creative efforts in subsequent movies.)
9. Octopussy: Finder watch (Seiko), trick dice, self-replacing wall poster, acid pen, TV watch, yo-yo circular saw, climbing rope, crocodile boat
10. Diamonds Are Forever: Pocket snap trap, fake fingerprints, electromagnetic RPM controller ring, grappling suspenders, voice changer, trick elevator, water sphere
11. You Only Live Twice: Mini-rocket cigarette, safe cracker, Little Nellie, volcano base, bridge trap door,
12. Die Another Day: Glass-breaking ring, loaded surfboard, detonator/laser watch (Omega), re-breather, virtual combat simulator, Aston Martin V12 Vanquish (with cloaking device, naturally)
13. The World Is Not Enough: Exploding gun, Q's boat (Yes! Bond always gets cool cars; it was about time for another mode of tricked out transportation!), parachute snowmobiles, grappling watch (Omega), lock pick credit card, detonator glasses, x-ray glasses, Zorb ski jacket, flamethrower/gun bagpipe, helicopter-mounted buzz saw
14. Goldeneye: Grappling belt, grenade pen, laser/explosive watch (Omega), laser grappling gun, digital binoculars, x-ray scanner tea tray, phone booth trap, cast missile, door decoder, ejecter office chair
15. Tomorrow Never Dies: Smart phone, detonator watch (Omega), exploding lighter, spike fan, rickshaw defense, dragon flamethrower, lock pick earrings
16. For Your Eyes Only: SS St Georges, communicator watch (Seiko), identigraph, grappling suspenders, Lotus Esprit Turbo, RC helicopter with pilot assassination feature
17. The Man With The Golden Gun: The golden gun, gold bullets, fake nipple, solex agitator, AMC Matador, Scaramanga's Fun Palace
18. Never Say Never Again: Pen gun, laser watch (Rolex), motion-sensing cigarette case bomb
19. License To Kill: Dentonite toothpaste with cigarette detonator, camera rifle, laser camera, exploding alarm clock, radio broom, manta ray disguise
20. Casino Royale: Aston Martin DBS V12 glove compartment, smart phone, biofeedback implant, explosive keychain
21. On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Radioactive lint, safe cracker, mini-camera
22. Skyfall: Palm reader gun, Aston Martin DB5 (Great throwback but it doesn't really use its gadgets much.)
23. Quantum Of Solace: Smart phone, eavesdropping earpiece
24. Dr. No: Self destructor bag


Favorite James Bond Actors

Day 2 of my Bond Blogging Binge! Today I'm focusing on the six actors who have played James Bond in the "official" Eon films. Each one has brought something different to the role - for better or worse!

1. Sean Connery: the original and far and away the best. Connery's Bond interpretation brought a delicate balance between soft and hard, between serious and funny. As a former Mr. Universe he also had a convincing Bond fitness level (by 1960s standards) compared to some of the other pasty Brits. What makes Connery unassailable as the top Bond, though, is the ultimate confidence, poise, and je ne sais quoi he added to the character. Ian Fleming was so compelled by Connery's performance that he began adapting the novel Bond to Connery in the later books. Connery solidified his command over other Bonds with not one but two reprises, first after the George Lazenby debacle and then again 20 years later in the non-Eon Never Say Never Again.

2. Daniel Craig: the icy Bond. Craig's interpretation is much more on the hard side of Bond: gritty, physical, and - for the first time in the film series - fallible. The reboot has not only modernized Bond but humanized him as well. Craig hasn't been helped by great scripts/plots in two out of his three movies so far but he's still been up to the task of carrying the film by himself. A great physical actor who can still pull off a midnight blue dinner jacket with aplomb, Craig is the real deal.

3. Pierce Brosnan: the suave Bond. If Craig is all hard, Brosnan is all soft. The definition of debonair, Brosnan wore the Bond mantle well, especially in Goldeneye. His subsequent three movies became such blatant vehicles for product placement that it distracted from his performance a bit, but he hung in there, adding the little touches that really resonate with me like straightening his tie while taking a boat on a high-speed chase. Brosnan loses points for being unable to convince me that he would ever win a fist fight.

4. Roger Moore: the slapstick Bond. Moore had a significant challenge in reinventing Bond after Connery had so firmly entrenched his interpretation. He created a much more light-hearted Bond: still brimming with confidence but never short of a zany one-liner. Despite occasional flashes of brilliance (e.g. The Spy Who Loved Me), I didn't like this version of Bond as it lost all the gravitas of the role. And, as with Brosnan, Moore never impressed me physically.

5. Timothy Dalton: the brooding Bond. If Moore was all funny, Dalton was all serious. He only had two movies but they were both heavy and dark. While this is well in line with some aspects of the Bond from Fleming's novels, I didn't love it - and I didn't love his butt chin either.

6. George Lazenby: the non-Bond. After re-watching On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Lazenby's only movie, I don't think he was actually that bad per se and he may have had potential if he had continued in the role. But he didn't. So I judge him based on that one movie and I judge him severely.

The story of the Bond actors has been one of pendulum shifts: from Connery the original to Lazenby the new guy desperately back to Connery for one more film to save face to light hearted Moore all the way back to ultra dark Dalton when it was time for a change to soft Brosnan and then all the way back to hard Craig. At the end of the day, Connery created the delicate balance of all of those factors for the best Bond.


James Bond Films

In preparation for last November's new James Bond film, Skyfall, Katie and I watched all of the previous James Bond films in chronological order. Throughout the process I took detailed notes on everything from the wines Bond drank to the women he loved to the title songs that began each movie. Over the next several days I'll release my rankings of the movies for each of the several categories I tracked.

We'll start off the most obvious: my ranking of the films themselves! Some of these are biased by sentiment but here are my picks from best to worst:

1. Goldfinger
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
3. Casino Royale
4. Diamonds Are Forever
5. From Russia With Love
6. Never Say Never Again
7. Goldeneye
8. For Your Eyes Only
9. Thunderball
10. The Living Daylights
11. Skyfall
12. Live And Let Die
13. Tomorrow Never Dies
14. You Only Live Twice
15. Moonraker
16. Dr. No
17. Octopussy
18. A View To A Kill
19. The Man With The Golden Gun
20. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
21. The World Is Not Enough
22. Quantum of Solace
23. Die Another Day
24. License to Kill


Entrepreneurship for Value Creation

This morning I read a blog post about "the problem with Silicon Valley."

The author contends that the pace of innovation in the Valley is amazing but that it is often somewhat insulated from solving problems that "matter." Clearly much debate can be had about what "matters" but the topic resonates with me. Two years ago I even presented at the Academy Of Management my own quest to use entrepreneurship for meaningful value creation.

Reading this article motivated me to post it in the facebook group for Houston entrepreneurs with the following exhortation:

Something to think about, people. As we develop Houston's entrepreneurial community, let's focus our energies and efforts on solving real problems rather than just stuff we think would be sexy/cool. This is one reason I came to Houston to launch my current venture; Houston has real industry and here - and I'll argue that Houston's biggest industries are some of the most impactful ones in the world: energy, healthcare, aerospace, nano/petro/chemical... What's "Made In Houston" runs the world - so let's embrace that and leverage it to foster a unique community for truly value creating, transformational startups. My wish/goal for 2013 - happy venturing everyone!