Category

Universe

This One Thing in The Last Jedi Really Ruined It For Me

By | Universe

I just saw Solo. I want a sequel.  But what I really want is rant about The Last Jedi right now.

There’s a saying I heard somewhere about that the only thing Star Wars fans hate more than Star Wars’ critics is Star Wars itself. Might be true for me as I reflect on The Last Jedi.

The more distance I get from The Last Jedi the more I am pissed off about the resolution of the Finn/Rose/Poe conspiracy. To be fair to the movie, I really enjoyed the Rey/Kylo/Luke story arc. But the more distance I get from The Last Jedi, the more this one thing really grinds my gears.

Let’s summarize:

  • Poe asks for information from his commanding officer
  • She deems it unwise to share with him, given his reckless behavior
  • Pissed off by the slight, he proves his recklessness by defying orders in two huge ways:
  1. He sends two people, a mechanic and an ex-Stormtrooper, on a crazy one-in-a-million-shot mission
  2. He mutinies and captures his commanding officers

Let’s pause here

The one-in-a-million mission was a failure. That’s fine. It’s actually pretty good and it’s nice to have some realism (for lack of a better word) play out, as opposed to a non-stop barrage of one-in-a-million things panning out all in the same movie.

I don’t have a problem with the mission itself. Even the entire casino planet being a pointless diversion except to maybe play out a freedom-from-oppression allegory and introduce us to the new character, DJ. That’s fine. Whatever.

And the plans fail. That’s great. Better yet, they get betrayed by the morally-absent new character, DJ. That was fantastic. In your heart of hearts, you were secretly excited for a “new Han.”  A scruffy, stuttering, hacking genius was there to tease us and to make us think we had a new Solo who was going to join up and save the rebels, flying out of the sun to blast the baddie at the last minute. Admit it, you thought it, you hoped it. I did.  But no, the tables turned on him and he turned on his new friends. That was a great twist.

Not only does DJ turn on the two misfits he brought on the ship, but he turns on the entire rebellion by helping The First Order track the loadlifter ships that were fleeing in secret. The First Order otherwise would have never noticed. That’s Crait salt in the blaster wound right there.

Fast forward a bit

  • Leia wakes up from her near-death and blaster-stuns Poe
  • The rebels begin their evacuation on the loadlifter ships
  • Holdo stays behind
  • First Order starts shooting down the evacuation ships
  • Holdo sacrifices herself to shred the mega-class Star Destroyer (fucking amazing BTW)
  • Finn, Rose & BB8 escape to join the rest of the rebels on Crait

It’s at this point that I’m starting to become the True Star Wars Fan. My transformation is nearly complete.

Poe, along with Finn & Rose are put right back into the rebel troops. And Poe still holds his position as an officer.

In what universe would a mutiny leader be left in a commanding role? Shouldn’t he have been spaced? (I’m crossing universes with that jargon, but you know what I mean.)

Not only did Poe lead a mutiny, but his actions along with those of Finn, Rose and BB8 led directly to the deaths of hundreds of the (already severely diminished) rebel fleet. The escape to Crait would have gone of perfectly smoothly, without the First Order ever noticing if Poe had just followed orders of a commander who was wiser and less self-absorbed. There would have never been a Battle of Crait, and there would be hundreds more alive, ready to continue the rebellion another day.

I’m not saying this because I think there shouldn’t have been a Battle of Crait. Quite the opposite.  The battle was awesome. Nor am I saying the plot line was bad. It wasn’t; it was fantastic. Everything coming together in the rebel’s last stand.

Missed opportunity

I’m saying this because there was an opportunity to enrich the plot by holding Poe, Finn, Rose, and even BB8 accountable for mutiny, treason, and the deaths of a hundred or more fellow rebels. Instead, they’re back in the ranks like nothing ever happened.

The character arc of “Poe learns his lesson” and decides at the last minute to call off the frontal assault against the battering cannon is pathetic. He mutinied! He was responsible for hundreds of deaths! That doesn’t phase him or anyone else, at all. Anywhere.

There’s a great chance to add some distention to the ranks, for the rebel alliance to have internal divisions to overcome. There’s an opportunity to turn from black/white characters and add some layers of complexity. Is BB8 a fun party droid, or a mutiny conspirator partially responsible for hundreds of deaths. Is Finn a reformed Stormtrooper, or mutiny conspirator partially responsible for hundreds of deaths. They are both. And that would make them better characters.

Instead, it’s brushed under the rug, and we all escape in the Falcon singing kumbaya without acknowledging that major mistakes were made, that a mutiny—no matter how well-intentioned—led directly to the deaths of hundreds of fellow rebels.
None of that got addressed. At least for now. Maybe it will get addressed in the next film. Maybe.

Until then, my transformation to True Star Wars Fan is complete.

11,428 Startups

By | Universe

Everyone talks about the dollars of investment that goes to the Big Three markets (Bay Area, NYC, Boston). According to the PwC/CB Insights MoneyTree™ Report of 2017, 67% of all investment dollars went to those three locations. Every week I read about another fund that is focused almost exclusively on the Big Three. Even in Jason Calacanis’ book Angel, the title of Chapter 5 is “Do You Really Need To Be In Silicon Valley To Be A Great Angel Investor?” The entire chapter consists of one word: “YES!!”

Everyone talks about that percent of dollars. But I find another number more fascinating: 11,428. That is the number of startups that received funding in 2017 not located in the Big Three. That’s 45% of the funded startups last year.

11,428 startups funded outside of the big three.

The corollary to that number is 15,124 — the number of startups funded in the Big Three. Corporations and VCs alike look at that and think, “I can reach 55% of the market by having offices in three cities.” And so they focus their efforts, and either ignore the Rest, or wait for the Rest to come to them. Frankly, many startups do, and I don’t begrudge either strategy. This concentration of efforts creates opportunity.

In what business can you ignore 45% of the market and hope to have a competitive edge?

All of the other markets — “the rest” — go largely ignored because reaching the other 45% is hard. Reaching a concentrated 55% is easier than a widely distributed 45%. Great businesses are built on solving hard problems. And so was Engage Here.

Imagine having scouts give you access to the best startups — the dark dealflow — from two dozen markets around the US. Imagine having access to that amazing robotics startup in Pittsburgh, the manufacturing systems startup in Charlotte, and the hottest blockchain startup in Austin. Yet, it goes beyond access. Sifting through 1,000 startups is hard, sifting through 11,000 is ridiculous.

Engage Here is a distributed scout network based on local relationships. Our secret sauce is the local community leader in each market. We partner with the boots-on-the-ground community builder who is out every day meeting startups. They see everything in their community because they’re the organizer and the consummate connector. If you were to move to their town, they would be the person that four other people would say, “have you met ______?” They are on our team, scouting startups, and sending the best our way.

Let’s be clear: Engage Here isn’t a technology platform; it isn’t a social network, it doesn’t require you to authenticate through your Google account and spam your contacts. Engage Here is built on the fundamental belief that relationships are the foundation of business. Relationships are at the core of everything we do.

To be competitive in this increasingly noisy and crowded space, you need an edge. You need to be able to reach down into the corners of the country, into the pockets of entrepreneurship rising up, and find the absolute best among from the crowd. We are a force-multiplier for your start efforts. We offer curated, dark dealflow from all pockets of the country.

The best part is that everyone stands to gain from your involvement:

  • Startups get access to the people and companies across geographies
  • Corporations get strategically-fitting introductions
  • VC’s get scouts in two dozen markets

Join us and tap the 45% of the market you’re missing.

Here’s a freebie: the Daily Dealflow newsletter, featuring one startup each workday sourced from our network, from every corner of the country. Sign up here: https://engagehere.co/daily-dealflow/

Are you a corporation or VC that wants access to dealflow? Drop us a note.

Are you a startup that wants to be featured: share your information here.

St. Patrick’s Day and Prejudice in America

By | Universe

Ah, Saint Paddy’s day. In my wilder days, I will admit to throwing some great parties to celebrate. I vaguely recall nearly missing a Black 47 concert due too many car bombs (the drink, not the act of violence) the night before. I was living in New York City, the home of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and I’m Irish, after all. I had to represent my heritage with some pride! What I didn’t realize until later, was the history of the Irish in America, and the blatant racism my great grandparents faced. Or even that the St. Patrick’s Day parade was originally a show of solidarity by a repressed people.

As the waves of Irish immigrants landed on America’s shores from the Great Potato Famine, they were looked upon as a drunk, ignorant, and violent people, and ranked lower on the social scale than freed slaves. At a time when an entire race was being subjugated and oppressed through the horrors of slavery, the Irish were thought to be nearly as low.

This idea that the Irish were more than a lower class, that they were a separate race, has deep roots in England, and continued for decades in America. An Irish-Italian union was even considered an interracial marriage up until the mid-20th century.

NINA

No Irish Need Apply (NINA) signs were so common that there was popular Irish folk song of the same name. They were so prevalent, that recently even an eighth-grader could find detailed accounts of NINA postings, and published a research paper documenting their widespread use throughout America for decades.

The American Civil War was raging while the Irish were still fleeing their homeland, and they were recruited heavily into the Union ranks, mostly because they couldn’t get jobs elsewhere. In the army, they were often treated as cannon fodder.

The history of the anti-Irish sentiment stems from Medieval England, and is largely due to religious differences. The Irish held fast to their Roman Catholic beliefs while England turned towards Protestantism. This carried over into America, manifesting in everything from extreme prejudice to acts of violence such as burning down convents.

Modern Ties

The ties of the Irish plight to modern America are uncanny.

Can you imagine an entire country of immigrants being discriminated against so blatantly? Of course you can.

Can you imagine discriminating against people just based on religion? Of course you can.

The story of immigration in America is filled with stories like the Irish. Just ask African-Americans. Or Chinese. Or Polish. Or Indians. Or Mexicans. Or Muslims. Or any non-settler people who emigrated to the US.

Personal Ties

My wife is half Mexican, and so our son is one quarter Mexican, half Irish, and one quarter “American mutt.” I suppose that makes him 100% American Mutt. But some people don’t see their fellow Americans that way — they see differences instead of similarities.

What will his future be like? Will he be discriminated against because of his Irish heritage? I doubt that, as we’ve moved past that prejudice. Will he be discriminated against because of his Mexican heritage? Maybe. I certainly hope that as a country we can move on from that prejudice, as well as all others.

My incredible Grandmother, who turns 97 next month, used to say to me all the time, “we Irish need to stick together.” She was referring to the lingering bias she saw growing up, and a desire to unite Irish descendants under a common banner. When a group of people are being actively discriminated against, it makes sense to stick together based on those bonds. The original St. Patrick’s Day Parade in NYC was an example of this: a show of solidarity, showcasing the Irish presence in New York as a positive thing, not a negative.

Now that we no longer have to fight blatant prejudice and NINA posters, we Irish should stick together to welcome other ethnic groups, religions, and races. We should never promote prejudice, but instead reflect on what it felt like for our forefathers, and banish hatred from future generations. We should open our hearts to people who are different, so that we can “stick together” as one amazing, eclectic, and colorful mass of Americans.

 

Analysis of Two Years of Investing on Kickfurther

By | Universe
I originally wrote this as a review of Kickfurther for the site, Trustpilot. I’m sharing here for posterity’s sake. Kickfurther is a crowdsourced, inventory-backed investment marketplace. Non-accredited investors can put money into co-ops to support small businesses who need cash to order, produce, or manufacture products for their business. 
After reading all of the mixed reviews here, it’s time for someone to step up and share actual numbers, preferably from a depth of experience across multiple consignments. Being a former finance guy, a lifelong spreadsheet jockey, and an investor on Kickfurther since 2015, I suppose that falls on me.
I stepped into Kickfurther with the idea of taking a portfolio approach. I knew that some deals would go better than others, and so set aside money in my budget to begin investing as broadly on the platform as possible. One of the early mistakes I made was tying up too much capital in any one consignment. After that, I committed to invest smaller amounts, preferably around $100, in multiple campaigns.
I have invested in 17 consignments total. Five in 2015, ten in 2016, and two so far in 2017. What follows is my annual report.

2015

In 2015, I invested $850 which returned $917 for a 7.9% return. The APR’s on individual investments varied from 27.9% to 6.6%. The weighted average APR across all five was 15.3%.
One investment was refunded in whole by Kickfurther after they discovered fraud by the consignee. On another consignment, Kickfurther took possession of the inventory, and I opted to receive one item of inventory as partial repayment. The value of that inventory (at cost) is included in these calculations.

2016

In 2016 I invested in 10 consignments, putting in a total of $948. When I am repaid on all ten consignments it will net an 11% return.

Three consignments have completed, returning $332 on $300 invested. The APR’s for these were: 12.9%, 17.8%, 65.5%. Or a weighted average APR of 32%.

Seven consignments are still outstanding. Two are significantly behind in repayment, but both are communicating and repaying, even small amounts, as quickly as they are able. Four have begun repayments. Of those, three are on track, and one came up short on their first payment. The final one is not scheduled to start repaying until May.
I have $837 in active investments from 2016 & 2017 combined, of which $215 has been repaid, leaving $622 in outstanding inventory.

Projections

Let’s assume four are delayed in 2016, that they are all delayed significantly (i.e., 540 days or more), and that the others deliver as promised. Even with delays, I’m looking at a 17.1% APR equivalent.

Analysis

The hardest part of this is the fear of losing everything you put into a consignment. This has yet to happen to me after 17 consignments, including two that did actually go belly-up.
By diversifying and being patient, investing in Kickfurther has been excellent.
I certainly can’t say I pick great consignments. But I can say I will continue to invest on Kickfurther, and continue to diversify my portfolio through numerous, small investments. I like beating the stock market and supporting good businesses with my money.

Spreadsheet & Disclaimer

Supporting documentation in a Google Sheet. This review is not investment advice. Investing in anything, including Kickfurther, is risky and you should evaluate the risks yourself before taking any action to invest.

A Letter to City Council, and Dealing with Difficult Situations

By | Universe

 

Quickleft brewfest - Courtesy of 23rd Studios

On Sunday—a day I promised myself I’d do no work—I opened up Twitter and came across a link to an article, “A necessary education on Boulder’s startup community” written by Nicole Glaros, Rajat Bhargava and Jason Mendelson. I was shocked and appalled, and quite frankly, felt something must be done about it. I retweeted it. That didn’t feel like enough. I emailed the article to some fellow Boulder startup leaders & feeders. That didn’t feel like enough either. I needed to take another step.

I’m a big believer in confronting difficult situations head on. Two of the more common phrases around this idea are, “take the bull by the horns,” or “eat a frog first thing in the morning.” The one I prefer is, “lean into the pain.”

Lean into the pain.

I first heard it as attributed to Coach CEO, Lew Frankfurt, and it resonates with me. I don’t like conflict, and I think that’s a good thing, but I don’t shy away from it. The people I’ve met who seem to enjoy conflict are among the worst people I know in this world. For me, conflict is difficult (maybe painful), but necessary at times. I lean into the pain. I like the phrase because it reflects a certain necessary reluctance, while acknowledging that a challenge must be overcome.

That was forefront in my mind as I began writing an email to Macon Cowles and the Boulder City Council. I felt a personal obligation to say something on behalf of myself and the community I love. It was a “lean into the pain” situation. Did I want to put myself on the line in such a direct and forthright manner? Maybe. Is it scary to do so? Yes. But I  knew it was something I had to do. I felt if I didn’t say something, I would be letting myself down. I took the time to tweet it, then to email it out to friends and colleagues, I should take the time to express my thoughts directly to the person who started this chain of events.

I hovered my mouse over the Send button. I reread my email. I made minor modifications. I hesitated. Putting myself on the line, putting my thoughts out there, confronting someone directly: it’s all scary stuff. I leaned into the pain, and hit Send. And felt really good about it.

Within a few minutes, I received a response from Macon, apologizing for his statement, forwarding his note to Jason, and taking me up on my offer to meet me and get to know the startup community. I thanked him for this and we set a time to meet for coffee in a few weeks.

I feel good about taking a step to bridge a divide, and extending an invitation to someone to learn and participate. This is one of the core missions of Engage Colorado, the group Tim O’Shea and I formed to build bridges between entrepreneurial communities.  I leaned into the pain (hesitation, and fear in this case), took a step, and will look to bridge a divide.

When you find yourself at a difficult crossroads, lean into the pain. Take the difficult step that you don’t want to, but know in your heart is the right course. Look to make a difference, and you will.

Photos courtesy of 23rd Studios


 

What follows is the email I just sent to Macon Cowles and the Boulder City Council in response to Mr. Cowles remarks about the Boulder startup Community, and his response to me.

Dear, Mr. Cowles & the Boulder City Council,

I was disgusted, embarrassed, and upset to read the comments characterizing the startup community as a group of highly paid white men, and then putting the burden of increased housing costs squarely on our community’s shoulders. This is a terrible stereotype for a community that is actively inclusive.

I fully support the response from Nicole, Rajat, Jason, and others in their Daily Camera article.

The majority of members of this community are hard-working, middle class Americans who believe that they can have a positive impact on the world through their efforts. And I would venture to say most of whom would align with you on working to make housing more affordable in Boulder.

I challenge you to compare the Boulder startup community to the Boulder community at large. I wonder, are your stereotypes reflective of the city population as a whole? We, as a city, certainly suffer from a lack diversity, but it’s not from a lack of invitation or openness that the startup community here exemplifies.

By making such off-hand, unsupported comments you tear down what thousands have worked so hard, for decades, to achieve. We stand out as an icon for cities around the world. I have personally been contacted by startup leaders from Canada, Denmark, Tel Aviv, Singapore, Hong Kong, as well as dozens of cities throughout the US, all of whom look to Boulder when building their own startup communities.

What Boulder has built is a model that cities—around the world, large and small—look to for guidance. For a city council member to stereotype it, and tear it down, is embarrassing and counter-productive.

I would like to invite you to get involved in the startup community, to attend events, and meet the people who make this community the global icon that it is.

Personally, I am working with a friend to bring two new events to Boulder this year. The first one, NewCo will shine a spotlight on entrepreneurship and innovation in the city. I would like to personally extend an invitation to the entire city council to attend. If you are interested in getting to know the startup community, please reach out to me and I will give you a ticket, and do what I can to introduce you to the diverse, hard-working Americans who make our community amazing.


 

Dear Rich:

I apologize to you and agree that it unfairly stereotyped the startup community.

I offered my apology to the writers of the OpEd in the Camera, in the following email that I sent to them this morning:

“Jason, I am sorry for what I said and the offense it caused to you and the people you referenced in your OpEd this morning. My comment gave short shrift to contributions and energy that startups and other high tech entrepreneurs have brought to our community.

“I would appreciate it if you would forward this email to Nicole Glaros and Rajat Bhargava, as I do not have their email addresses.

“Not reported in the Camera was the context of my comments, which was the diversity of Boulder, and the recent release of Google’s numbers with respect to the demographics employees. http://tinyurl.com/kcbkelg

“I would like to find a time to meet with you, offer my apology in person, and get acquainted. I respect your accomplishments and would appreciate a chance to get our relationship on a different footing. Would you be interested in this?

“Thanks very much. And again, I offer my apology to you.”

Also, I accept your invitation to get involved in the startup community and would welcome to get the opportunity to get to know you and the startup community better.

Thanks very much for writing. The best number to contact me at is the -3062 number below.