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  • Michael Krakovskiy 7:40 am on December 15, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Governor, , Private equity, serial entrepreneur, Silicon Alley, , , Y Combinator   

    Startups and Other Problems 

    I cringe a little bit when I hear the word “startup”. This word has several different meanings in modern newspeak. In Silicon Alley (this is what New York’s startup scene was called in 2000) it appears in several typical phrases such as: “well, we can’t afford that – we are a startup” and “we are a startup, but we are very well funded”. This word is basically used either as an excuse for wanting below-market labour or an excuse to flaunt investor-supplied riches. In the first phrase it means that the company has been burning dumb money for at least a few years, in the second – it’s just starting. One “startup” that I worked for (and have fond memories of) began in 1997 and gave up ghost in 2012. UGO was truly the Dick Clark of companies (except not as successful).

    Recently I was researching an engineer who designed the Wright 2600 keypunch. An article about him on Tripod (another blast from the past) has a very interesting quote: “After retiring from US Gov., he volunteered for SCORE, the retired executives helping businesses with start up and other problems.” Startup is not a type of a business! It’s a problem that businesses have!

    The term “serial entrepreneur” has also acquired a thick patina of sleaze. The thing is, entrepreneurs are not really like flying aces (I think I read somewhere that most military pilots are either aces who shoot down 5 or more planes or the ones who are shot down). No. You only need to take a look at Jerry Kaplan, who wrote “Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure” and probably set some kind of a record in running companies that don’t make it. A large percentage of startup money is made through sales to larger, lumbering companies. Was broadcast.com a great deal? Nobody remembers it when watching its founder wearing relaxed fit shoes. There certainly a lot of money out there chasing some not very viable ideas. Unfortunately the startups of yesterday and today are either huge failures or huge successes. Or both (but not for everybody).

    Luckily these days startup costs are at all time lows. To create a huge failure of a company you need a lot of money. On the other hand, to barely succeed all you need is some pocket change. Forget about Y Combinator. The Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud will “barely invest” and try to help you to “barely succeed” – in other words to encourage you to build a business that realistically aims to be profitable. Forget “go big or go home”. Just try to honestly to build a business. Screw freemium. Forget about “incubators”. All you need is $37. And The Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud will maybe give it to you. If you’ll get a rejection – dig deep.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 3:39 am on October 10, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anthropologist, Article, Beverly Hills High School, , , , , , Edmund 'Pat' Brown, Governor, journalism teacher, Kenneth L. Peters, , Lead paragraph, Lede, Margaret Mead, Observation, , , Robert Maynard Hutchins, Sacramento, , ,   

    Burying the Lead 

    Every time I reread my blog posts, the same thought comes to my mind – “man, I buried the lead again”.

    I learned about leads from “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip and Dan Heath. It is a short book, but one that influenced me deeply. Every blogger out there should read it.

    Burying a lead“, in the jargon of journalists means boring the reader before getting to the juicy part. A “lead” or “lede” is the first sentence of the story.

    In the book, there’s an anecdote about a journalism teacher giving his students an assignment:

    ” … They would write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Amnong the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown. ”

    Apparently, most students produced a lead that lumped all these facts into a single sentence. The teacher read all the submissions and then announced:

    “The lead to the story is ‘There will be no school next Thursday’ ”

    I am having a huge problem with writing in “inverted pyramid” style. The juicy parts of my posts are usually at the bottom.

    Think about it, most blog readers, especially the ones that matter suffer from add, and often do not get to the bottom of the article. This means they won’t link to it, won’t digg it.

    I am trying to improve, but writing is a difficult art to master. I just wish I took more writing classes.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 12:11 pm on November 25, 2004 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , British Guiana, , , diet food, du Pont, exotic sugar products, Governor, high-tech brown sugar, island of Mauritius, isle of Mauritius, Joseph Osmond Barnard, Mauritius, Natural brown sugar, Olympic wrestler, , Post Office, , , , , , stamp dealer, Sugar, Sugarcane, Sweeteners, , Vernon Vaughan   

    Of Sugar and Stamps 

    Sugar producers must be reeling from the effects of low carbohydrate diets: how else you’d explained this shining example of sugar marketing that I found recently in my hotel room?

    That’s right – only 15 calories per serving! It’s a diet food!

    I found another example of sugar marketing innovation in a grocery store where I shop – Dominos Sugar seems to have a wide variety of exotic sugar products, like Organic Sugar, Brownulated® Sugar (a perfectly cromulent word for high-tech brown sugar) and these ultracool sugar stick packets that upon closer examination turned out to be even more exotic:

    “Available in two varieties: pure cane granulated and Demerara – a golden brown crunchy sugar grown and harvested on the island of Mauritius, off the African Coast.”

    Ahhh, that set off a whole bunch of childhood memories for me. First of all, growing up in the Soviet Union where most sugar was made out of beets, upon reading about cane sugar in Mayne Reid’s books I thought it to be something super exotic, like the books themselves. Because of that I always associated it with America and adventure, and found the common explanation that cane sugar tasted exactly like beet sugar, except a bit less sweet, (which is indeed the cast) inadequate.

    Mayne Reid, by the way is one of that breed of writers that are extremely obscure in America, but famous in the former USSR. There Reid was considered to be on par with Jack London, just like Robert Sheckley enjoys popularity equal to that of Ray Bradbury. I mean, come on, Sheckly basically invented the concept of reality television, but this seems like a topic for a whole different post.

    Back to our exotic sugar. “Grown and harvested on the island of Mauritius”, huh? Generally horribly ignorant of geography I immediately recognized the isle of Mauritius as the location that produced two of the most famous rare stamps known as “Post Office Mauritius” stamps.

    The highly romantisized story goes something like this: the governor of the tiny British colony wanted to issue some of those newly invented “postal stamp” thingies and ordered a batch from local engraver Joseph Osmond Barnard. The engraver allegedly forgot what copy needed to go on the left side of the stamp and went looking for the postmaster. When he was approaching the post office, he suddenly remembered – “Post Office”, went back and put that on the stamp. The postmaster was massively pissed off – it should have said “Postage Paid”. Most of the stamps from the “error” batch went onto the governor’s wife’s fancy dinner invitations.

    There is a lot of controversy (read further down) weather “Post Office” was actually a mistake, but mistake or not, the story captured collectors’ imaginations and the invitation envelopes sell in multimillion dollar range today.

    The postmaster of nearby Mauritius used handstamps to “cancel” postage, but back in those days stamps were sometimes “cancelled” by hand, with a strike of a pen or sometimes with a signature. For instance, the postmaster of nearby colony of British Guiana placed his autograph on every single stamp along with a stamped “cancel”.

    His autograph on the famous “Penny Magenta” was sold for just under 1 million dollars in the nineties. What makes the story more interesting is that the original owner, Vernon Vaughan, 12, of Demerara (aha!), British Guiana sold the ugly, dirty stamp that had its corners clipped by somebody probably out of boredom, for an equivalent of a couple of bucks to a stamp dealer.

    I remember reading about the last sale in the philatelist magazine and wondering who the anonymous buyer was. Only now I learned that it was the crazy du Pont heir that was convicted of killing an Olympic wrestler.

    In this age of book superstores and computer processed mail, recently I was pleasantly surprised to see a real pen “cancel” on an USPS parcel containing shipment of books from a small bookshop. Maybe there is no automatic sorting machine at that remote little town and the postmaster could not locate a handstamp :)

     
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