Monthly Archives: October 2008

I am not an American

Dave Winer wrote a post about not being a liberal.

I’m going further than Dave. I’m not an American.

I believe that those who have a different idea than I do are not only American but have a right to have a different idea than I do because of our Constitution. But what do I know, I’m not an American.
I believe that SOME wealth should be redistributed from rich people to other places to improve our society. Like paying for schools, building roads, or even helping all people get access to health care. To me that seems fair because it’s our system that enabled people to build wealth. I’m not an American.
I believe that science, technology, and education should win over religion. I’m not an American.
I believe that government should treat everyone the same, no matter who we sleep with or what our gender is or what the color of our skin. Or even what religion we are. I’m not an American.
I believe that informed citizens should vote for candidates not whether they are pro or anti-Abortion, but whether they actually are smart and whether they have enough life experiences to do the job well. I’m not an American.
When I married I married a Muslim woman. I’m not an American.
Even worse, I converted to Islam so that we could be married in an Islamic ceremony. I’m not an American.
My mom was born in Germany. We all know how much terror THEY brought on the world over the past 100 years. I’m not an American.
I believe that we should use our weapons of war far more carefully than we’ve used them in the past eight years. I’m not an American.
I believe that community organizers are cool. I’m not an American.
I believe that government should regulate industry to keep it from getting overheated, er, greedy and rapacious. I’m not an American.
I believe that anyone who watches, and worse, believes ONLY Rush Limbaugh or FOX on one side OR ONLY super-liberal media (DailyKos) on the other side isn’t an informed citizen. I’m not an American.
I believe that our borders should be more open to new immigrants because most of the people who I know had parents or grandparents who came from somewhere else and we’ve done just fine. I’m not an American.
I believe in stem cell research because those jobs will build more value than Joe the Plumber will bring to all of our lives. I’m not an American.
I believe that one R&D worker creates more jobs than one plumber does (and I note that a lot of the best researchers aren’t from the USA, even those I’ve met in Redmond or Silicon Valley). I’m not an American.
I believe that nuclear power is better than coal power. I’m not an American.
I believe that “socialist” is not an epithet (after all, President Bush nationalized our banking system) but is an economic system. When I visit Europe they seem to be doing pretty well. Speaking of which, those “socialists” have better public transportation, are now paying German homeowners to put solar panels on their houses, and have health care for every citizen. Yes, they have problems too, but hey, seems we could learn a bit from socialists. But what do I know, I’m not an American.
I believe that drilling for more oil is not a good answer to our energy problems. I’m not an American.
I believe in strong government action to keep our economy from crashing and burning. I’m not an American.

I could keep going on why I’m not an American, but you get the idea. It’s enough to make me want to move to Australia. Maybe they have the right idea! :-)

Oh, and who is this Colin Powell dude? He doesn’t sound like an American either.

Just my thoughts after hanging out with lots of non-Americans this past week in Greensboro, North Carolina. You can tell them, can’t you? They wear Obama buttons and have Obama stickers on their cars.

I really am tired of all this stuff, aren’t you?

Front lines in the political Ground War

Front-yard campaigning in Greensboro

This morning I hung out with Congressman Brad Miller (D-NC) and State Representative Pricey Harrison. They were walking a neighborhood getting voters out in Greensboro, North Carolina, which is one of those few states that are in play in the election for President.

I write about it here to tell other bloggers that if you get this chance in the future it’s a lot better way to get to know someone and their views than if you go to Washington DC and get a 15-minute interview.

It also showed me the hard work of campaigning. Pricey won her last race (she’s running unopposed this time) she told me because she hit almost every house in her district and people hadn’t seen her opponent in years because he had such a strongly-Republican district.

As we walked through a quiet neighborhood people stopped in the street to talk with them (the neighbors recognized them from TV ads).

We talked about policies, what Congress will be like next year (his legislative aide was along for the walk too and she said that Congress is backed up and a ton of legislation will get written next year), and the effect of the Internet on campaigns. Of course we talked about the economy and about the bailout bill. He said that was a tough vote (he voted for it) but it wasn’t popular with people calling and emailing his office. Says that sometimes he needs to not listen to his constituency and do what he thinks is the right thing to do. Says that’s a key to our form of representative democracy.

On how technology affects politics, Miller told me that when he started running for office back in the early 1990s that was before the Web. He told me when the Web first came along he derided it as a toy. Said that was a mistake and now uses the Web and other technologies to get the word out (he was watching polling information coming in on blogs like Daily Kos on his Blackberry as we walked around).

We visited a few dozen houses. When people were home they said hi, handed out literature, urged them to get to the polls (which are already open in North Carolina), and answered questions.

This seemed to be the least likely thing a technology blogger like me would be doing on a Saturday morning, but even here you could see the effect of technology. We had maps printed out from a database and Pricey had information on each home. Whether they were Democratic or Republican. Of course a lot of the houses had yard signs for either McCain or Obama, so it was pretty easy to figure out who was a strong supporter already.

The mood among Democrats is confident, but nervous. Piercy and Miller talked with each other about some of their experiences with racism on this campaign cycle. Miller told me he’s encountered lots of independent voters who tell him they are “uneasy” with Barack Obama. He says that if you get to know them they’ll cop to not being sure about voting for a black man. He told me about talking with Union organizers who notice that if they have someone with a noticeably African American voice that they’ll get different results than if someone who sounds white will call.

That talk depresses me, but he noted that North Carolina will probably go to Barack Obama, which is surprising everyone because it is a state that’s been solidly Republican in the past. Greensboro is famous for the student sit-ins during the civil rights struggles. On Thursday, I got a tour of the town and stood in the separate “white” and “colored” waiting room in the train station. Just a little reminder of how far we’ve come in this country in just a generation, but this talk reminded me we still have a ways to go.

Anyway, thanks to Sue Polinsky, the founder of Converge South, who introduced me to the campaign and set this up. I have a new respect for politicians. I sure wouldn’t want to do this.

Layoffs and, um, funding?

TechCrunch started a page to keep track of layoffs in the startup world.

Me? I’m seeing tons of depressing news hitting our economy. That’s what I get for watching CNBC and reading TechMeme.

But, there were a group of companies funded this week too and there are plenty of jobs open. It sure is an interesting time to watch the startup community right now.

How would you report this ongoing story? Several over on FriendFeed want bloggers to avoid overcovering the bad news and, instead, focus on the positive news. What do you think?

Who is doing the best at covering the economic times hitting startups? My top vote is for VentureBeat.

Win a private jet flight to CES

This will probably start another conversation about being tone deaf in an increasingly tough economic climate, but my friend Steve Broback and team is doing a variety of things at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that I’m working with him on. We’re doing a party (Gary Vaynerchuk of WineLibrary.tv is coming) but we’ll focus on lower cost wines.

They also got a private jet sponsored from Seattle to San Francisco to Las Vegas. He gave me a seat in that jet, which I’ll be giving away to one of you soon (I’ve decided not to go on the plane, instead wanted to give it away to one of my readers), but they are giving away seats on their own.

Anyway, they also got their CO2 emissions covered by a sponsor now too. That’s smart.

More to come on this and other CES happenings coming soon.

Recession Proof Your Startup

Today on Techmeme there are a bunch of stories encouraging entrepreneurs to startup companies right now. Here’s a couple that caught my eye.

Paul Graham talks about why to start a startup up in a bad economy.

Don Dodge urges entrepreneurs to go for it.

OK, rah, rah, rah, we all know some startups will take off in the recession. Microsoft and Google both either got started in, or accelerated through downturns early in their lives.

But I think some of the advice I’ve been seeing out there it a little too optimistic.

Last night on Donny Deutsch’s show an entrepreneur called up and was crying. He had started a business that was selling promotional cookies and swag to corporations and his business has dried up. Clearly not EVERY startup will do well. Why? People change their behavior in recessions, but that behavior does NOT change equally. In this case companies had stopped buying non-essential items, which means that promotional items get cut first.

So, the question to me is “how do you recession proof your startup?”

That’s the conversation I’m hoping to see happen. Already VentureBeat is putting together an event to discuss how to manage through a downturn. I’m attending that and will bring any good idea I hear.

Some ideas I’ve already heard though:

1. Make sure your startup is aimed at a real pain point of other companies. I was speaking at Cisco a week ago and saw that lots of people really are struggling with email, for instance.
2. Have a startup who’s customers and users are recession proof. For instance, education is probably not going to cut back a lot, so if your customers are teachers and educational IT people, you’re probably a lot safer than if you sell to small businesses like restaurants like my brother has.
3. Have a business that helps people or companies save money. Both Dodge and Graham pointed this out. I’m starting to use services like Mint, for instance, which look at my behavior and try to find me ways to save.
4. Look for upturns due to change in behaviors. For instance, if you can’t afford to go on long trips anymore, you’re more likely to stay home. That might mean more people will work on home projects or try things like crafts or games. Make Magazine might be well positioned here.
5. Diversify your customer base. Are you only reaching customers in USA? What about going international? Often times, one country’s economy will do better than another, or might be more open to new approaches.
6. Have enough cash on hand to last at least a year without any revenues. Who told us to do that? Microsoft’s Bill Gates.
7. Look for new opportunities that happen because of the downturn. Banks might start paying money to maintain houses that have been foreclosed on, for instance.
8. Look for new distribution channels. TurnHere, for instance, told me about landing YellowPages.com and that’s meant that their business is taking off. If yours can land similar distribution deals that might really help you accelerate through the downturn.
9. Be innovative with marketing and advertising your startup. For instance, if you do a Google Search for “Recession Proof Business” and you’ll find an ad that says “start your own economy.” That took me to CircleDog, which is a customer relationship management software package. Hey, if the economy is falling apart, I want to start my own! Not to mention it caught my eye among the ads because it was different. Now, let’s say you’re going to CES or SXSW or the Web 2.0 Summit next week. How can you find new customers without spending much money?

How about you? What are you doing to recession-proof your business? Would love to see some ideas.

Apeer brings collaboration to multimedia files

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I visited today Apeer, which has just released a P2P system that lets you share and collaborate on files. It’s aimed at enterprises and companies like advertising agencies. Unfortunately it’s not free (something I think we’ll be seeing more of in this economy) but it shows innovation in helping people work together on files in a new way that gets out of just putting the files up on a Sharepoint server or emailing them back and forth. In this video Bob Goldstein, CEO, gives me a demo of how the system works.