Sunday, August 28, 2011


     It's with very mixed feelings that I'm notifying all of you at the college  that Charles Jones is leaving Tribeca Flashpoint Academy after 4 long and dedicated years to develop  his own business with his good friend Kevin.

     I think some of you have seen the plans and\or already visited the new Sanctuary on Michigan and it's certainly an exciting and novel venture - although not really a new direction for Charles.

     As I learned during our time together at Kendall College, and more recently with our own esteemed Alderman Brendan Reilly, if anyone is a good bet to succeed in the rough-and-tumble, cut-throat world of great wines and fine cigars, I'd certainly put my money on Mr. Jones. It a tough job - no doubt - but someone's got to do it.

     Charles has been here at TFA virtually from Day One in several crucial roles and, of course, he has worked with me in various start-up businesses and in many different positions for about 30 years. He's been a source of constant support and an example of unswerving loyalty throughout these many years and someone willing to undertake any task and do whatever was asked of him to further the mission.

    This kind of "take no prisoners" attitude and deep commitment is especially critical in the early days of new businesses.  As time passes and businesses grow and mature, other and different skills are required and Charles was always able to adjust and adapt to those changing demands as well. 


     But eventually all the ranting and raving that we do here about the joy of being an entrepreneur and taking your future into your own hands overwhelms even the most well-adjusted and conservative of us and then you just decide to take the big leap; leave the safety and security of your job behind; and roll the dice.

     I'm proud that Charles is taking his shot now - especially given how old and slow he is (and his shockingly suspect choice in dogs) - and we all wish him and Kevin the very best in their new adventure.

      And, as we used to say at Northwestern: "A toast to the past, a toast to the future, and let there be no sorrow. For remember when the sun goes down, it returns with a bright tomorrow."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

One More Thing…

One More Thing…

I sat down last night to write about Steve Jobs’ resignation as Apple CEO and something funny happened: I had nothing to say. This is not normal for me. I don’t get writer’s block. I often write thousands of words about what many would consider the minutia of tech. And yet, when it came to writing about one of the biggest stories we’re ever likely to see in this space, a story that far transcends tech, I was quite literally at a loss for words.

So instead I read what everyone else had to say. Some articles were excellent, many were very good, others read far too much like obituaries. More came today. I kept reading. Slowly, two things struck me. First, I’ve never seen anything quite like the outpouring of emotion that people are showing in response to this news. Second, what we’re witnessing right now is Jobs’ final masterstroke.

In tech hubs like the San Francisco Bay Area, it can be easy to get wrapped up in companies, services, and stories that no one in the larger world really cares much about. It’s what some refer to as the “bubble”. But this “bubble” works both ways. It can also be easy to forget that there are many people out there who care just as much about technology as we do. The reaction to Jobs’ resignation is a great reminder of this.

Yesterday, TechCrunch saw record traffic thanks to a few stories on Jobs. These posts brought in more readers than any scoop we’ve ever had, any major product review we’ve ever posted, even more than any Apple keynote we’ve ever covered. And our stories were just a few of the thousands upon thousands out there. People could not get enough.

Why is that? Again, this is a CEO stepping down. When Eric Schmidt did the same thing earlier this year at Google, it got a lot of press. But it was nothing like this. When Bill Gates left Microsoft, a lot of people took notice. And many wrote tributes. But it was nothing like this.

Yes, Steve Jobs is sick. He has technically been on medical leave since January — his third such leave. And it does not sound good when he himself writes, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

But he is staying on as Chairman of the Board, and as an Apple employee. And sympathy for sickness alone does not come anywhere close to explaining the reaction we’re seeing to the news. This goes much deeper.

The root of this lies in the emotional ties that people have with Apple products. And that fact that we’re shifting towards a world where having contact with at least one Apple product on a daily basis is the norm. It may be an iPod, it may be a Mac, it may be an iPhone, it may be an iPad. It may even be an Apple TV.

Apple is no longer a small player in the personal computer space, they’re a massive player in the consumer electronics space. In fact, you might say they’re the massive player in the consumer electronics space. And they’ve built this empire not by going after the lower-common-denominator with cheap products. They’ve brought the markets to them. They’ve created new markets. But they have never sacrificed on quality.

Apple is a testament to the idea that “little things matter”. Users may not consciously notice all the tiny bits of attention to detail they encounter in Apple products throughout a day, but it is what endears them to these products. It’s why when you pick up a competing product, it just doesn’t feel right even though the specs may be the same, and it may even look the same.

It’s also why people who don’t use Apple products don’t understand what all the fuss is about. The fuss is about all of the fuss put into making sure every pixel is exactly where it should be on every screen, in every program, all the time.

And Steve Jobs is a personification of all of this. He is a personification of Apple products. Ultimately, that’s why we’re seeing the reaction we’re seeing to his resignation.

And it’s an even stronger bond because it goes both ways. Jobs has poured all of his heart and soul into Apple and these products — each and every one of them.

I truly believe that passion, while unseen, also translates. It’s like when you meet a good kid and you just know that he has good parents. We appreciate Jobs because he has been such a good parent of these products.

He’s a good father in the same way that Walt Disney and Jim Henson were good fathers. Both of those men instilled passion and emotion in people through their products as well.

Jobs is also the best salesman of his own products. Apple keynotes without him on stage are still good because the products are usually great. But no one would argue those keynotes are anywhere near as good as the ones in which Jobs is in command.

It’s his mixture of charisma, enthusiasm, and authenticity. We want to see Jobs on stage showing off the new products because we know that if he feels good enough about them to present them, that they’re going to be good. As a salesman, no one comes close to the track record Jobs has. We trust his judgement as a result. We’re going to miss that.

And we appreciate how stubborn Jobs was in building Apple. It’s a quality that normally carries negative connotations, but it has served Apple well. Jobs’ unwillingness to compromise on his vision and his demand of nothing less than the best has given us the Apple we know and love today.

Most companies would never survive such rigidness. And most leaders, no matter how strong, do not either. Somewhere along the line they compromise. They realize they have to when their neck is on the line. And if they don’t compromise, they often get tossed.

In fact, this happened to Jobs.

In mid-1980s, after a fast start, sales of the original Mac were dwindling. Jobs wanted to hold firm. In fact, most accounts from the time suggest that the thought of doing anything else never even crossed his mind. The Mac was the future. You can’t stop the future from happening.

The board saw things another way. Jobs was booted from Apple. Maybe it was arrogance, or maybe it was simply bad timing. Either way, Jobs was never going to compromise.

The years that followed made Apple’s maneuver look foolish. Without Jobs, the people in charge nearly destroyed the company that Jobs had built. Maybe the same would have been true if Jobs had remained, but what happened next certainly suggests otherwise.

At the 25th hour, Jobs returned. He quickly re-installed his vision. And this time, the timing was exactly right. His vision seemed perfectly in line with the world at large. The result was a 14-year run that took Apple from near-death to the most valuable company on the planet. It wasn’t just hit after hit after hit. It was homerun after homerun after homerun.

That’s another thing that hurts about Jobs stepping back. While his age and health suggest that his time running Apple should be near an end or over, his track record in recent years suggests the opposite. Jobs is retiring in his prime.

Apple just had its best quarter ever. The iPhone, released just four years ago, is now their most important product. The iPad, released just last year, is a bigger business than the Mac. Earlier this month, Apple pushed past Exxon as the most valuable company in the world. This is Sandy Koufax retiring. This is Barry Sanders retiring. This is John Elway hanging it up after winning two Super Bowls in a row. This is Rocky Marciano walking away undefeated.

In his resignation letter, Jobs says that he believes “Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it.” And maybe that will indeed be true. But if it is true, it will be in spite of his departure.

But those words are also why I think this resignation may be Jobs’ final masterstroke.

First of all, when the news hit, the only thing about it that I couldn’t make sense of was the timing. Nearly everything Apple does is meticulously calculated. A late afternoon resignation on a seemingly random Wednesday in August doesn’t seem to fit that mold.

But as Peter Burrows and Josh Tyrangiel reported for Bloomberg Businessweek this morning, Jobs spent yesterday at work and attended Apple’s board meeting. It would seem that the timing of this resignation may simply be based around this regularly scheduled board meeting. Jobs undoubtedly wanted to resign in person, and ensure that Tim Cook was installed as the next CEO of Apple. And he did both.

Other reports have him being no more or less sick than he has been in recent months. Maybe Jobs picked this seemingly random board meeting in August to formally step down because, why not? Remember, Tim Cook has been serving as CEO for the past eight months. In that time, Apple has remained the hottest company on the planet. In fact, they’ve gotten even hotter.

The truth is that from a pure logistical standpoint, Jobs doesn’t need to come back to the CEO role. Perhaps his letter is a simple acknowledgement of that.

Or perhaps it’s part of a broader plan. We’re approaching the fall. All indications are that it’s going to be a massive one for Apple. Maybe Jobs wanted to make this move — a formality given the past several months, really — in the relative calm before the storm.

The market rewarded this decision. For years, all we’ve heard is about how when Steve Jobs was no longer head of Apple, the stock would be destroyed. The actual result? A 0.65 percent loss for the day. The broader Nasdaq index actually did much worse: a 1.95 percent loss. Had the market risen today, Apple probably would have closed up.

Think about that for a second: the day after Steve Jobs steps down as CEO of Apple, Apple’s stock could have easily risen.

With the appointment of Cook out of the way, perhaps now it’s on to phase two of Jobs’ last plan: that killer fall.

We’ve been hearing since early this year that Apple was planning something special this fall. Until recently, that seemed to be another new iPad. However, the latest talk indicates that component shortages may have pushed that product to early next year. And the truth is that Apple really may not need it.

We know the iOS 5 is coming, and very likely alongside the iPhone 5. There will also likely be a cheaper “iPhone 4S”, perhaps sold contract-free. Apple will also undoubtedly refresh the iPod lineup as they always do around this time. And there is talk of the company having some tricks up its sleeve when it comes to new content for iTunes.

Oh, and there are also whispers of Apple completely re-doing iTunes itself. Not just the 64-bit re-write we got with iTunes 10. But a total re-working.

This fall is shaping up to be a great first act for Cook. All set up by the timing of Jobs’ resignation. The only real question is: is it Cook or Jobs that takes the stage at their event next month to announce these things? Will it be a “hello” or a “goodbye”?

But only thinking about the fall is thinking small. It’s the longer roadmap that should really be the grand finale in the Jobs’ fireworks show.

Talking to sources in recent months, there has been one common refrain: that the things Apple is working on right now are the best things the company has ever done. These are things that will “blow your mind”, I’ve been told.

What type of things? That I don’t know. There is a lot of talk about the entire Mac brand itself being completely re-imagined. We’ll see. What about Apple televisions? We’ll see.

The fact that Apple has big plans for the post-Jobs future shouldn’t be too surprising. Product roadmaps are set years in advance. Internally, Apple is undoubtedly already starting to test what will become the iPhone 6. And they probably have the beginnings of the iPhone 7 ready to go too. That’s just how these things work.

It’s a bit odd to think about the day after Steve Jobs retires as CEO of Apple, but what if when he says “Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it”, it’s not just a platitude? What if he’s saying it because, like other Apple employees, he knows what’s coming?

And what’s coming is Jobs’ final “one more thing…”, as it were. It may not be him on stage to present these things, but I have faith that the products won’t be any less great. We’ll just have to see for ourselves instead of instinctively trusting Jobs’ sales pitch.

Yesterday, John Gruber wrote that “Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.” I’d like to believe the timing and execution of this resignation is meant to showcase exactly that. Jobs has spent decades shaping Apple into what it has become. He’s spent years training Apple’s employees on how to sustain the system in his absence. Now the training wheels come off (with Jobs behind the bicycle just in case, for now).

Steve Jobs is a remarkable person. He’ll go down as perhaps the greatest business leader and one of the greatest innovators of not just our time, but of any time. But he is just a man. What he’s built in Apple is much bigger. We’re emotionally tied to Jobs because of the belief that Apple is tied to him. His last act is to show us that it’s not. That would be truly amazing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Software Is Eating The World

Why Software Is Eating The World


This week, Hewlett-Packard (where I am on the board) announced that it is exploring jettisoning its struggling PC business in favor of investing more heavily in software, where it sees better potential for growth. Meanwhile, Google plans to buy up the cellphone handset maker Motorola Mobility. Both moves surprised the tech world. But both moves are also in line with a trend I've observed, one that makes me optimistic about the future growth of the American and world economies, despite the recent turmoil in the stock market.

In an interview with WSJ's Kevin Delaney, Groupon and LinkedIn investor Marc Andreessen insists that the recent popularity of tech companies does not constitute a bubble. He also stressed that both Apple and Google are undervalued and that "the market doesn't like tech."

In short, software is eating the world.

More than 10 years after the peak of the 1990s dot-com bubble, a dozen or so new Internet companies like Facebook and Twitter are sparking controversy in Silicon Valley, due to their rapidly growing private market valuations, and even the occasional successful IPO. With scars from the heyday of Webvan and still fresh in the investor psyche, people are asking, "Isn't this just a dangerous new bubble?"

I, along with others, have been arguing the other side of the case. (I am co-founder and general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen-Horowitz, which has invested in Facebook, Groupon, Skype, Twitter, Zynga, and Foursquare, among others. I am also personally an investor in LinkedIn.) We believe that many of the prominent new Internet companies are building real, high-growth, high-margin, highly defensible businesses.

Today's stock market actually hates technology, as shown by all-time low price/earnings ratios for major public technology companies. Apple, for example, has a P/E ratio of around 15.2—about the same as the broader stock market, despite Apple's immense profitability and dominant market position (Apple in the last couple weeks became the biggest company in America, judged by market capitalization, surpassing Exxon Mobil). And, perhaps most telling, you can't have a bubble when people are constantly screaming "Bubble!"

But too much of the debate is still around financial valuation, as opposed to the underlying intrinsic value of the best of Silicon Valley's new companies. My own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.

More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.

Why is this happening now?

Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.

Over two billion people now use the broadband Internet, up from perhaps 50 million a decade ago, when I was at Netscape, the company I co-founded. In the next 10 years, I expect at least five billion people worldwide to own smartphones, giving every individual with such a phone instant access to the full power of the Internet, every moment of every day.

On the back end, software programming tools and Internet-based services make it easy to launch new global software-powered start-ups in many industries—without the need to invest in new infrastructure and train new employees. In 2000, when my partner Ben Horowitz was CEO of the first cloud computing company, Loudcloud, the cost of a customer running a basic Internet application was approximately $150,000 a month. Running that same application today in Amazon's cloud costs about $1,500 a month.

With lower start-up costs and a vastly expanded market for online services, the result is a global economy that for the first time will be fully digitally wired—the dream of every cyber-visionary of the early 1990s, finally delivered, a full generation later.

Perhaps the single most dramatic example of this phenomenon of software eating a traditional business is the suicide of Borders and corresponding rise of Amazon. In 2001, Borders agreed to hand over its online business to Amazon under the theory that online book sales were non-strategic and unimportant.


Today, the world's largest bookseller, Amazon, is a software company—its core capability is its amazing software engine for selling virtually everything online, no retail stores necessary. On top of that, while Borders was thrashing in the throes of impending bankruptcy, Amazon rearranged its web site to promote its Kindle digital books over physical books for the first time. Now even the books themselves are software.

Today's largest video service by number of subscribers is a software company: Netflix. How Netflix eviscerated Blockbuster is an old story, but now other traditional entertainment providers are facing the same threat. Comcast, Time Warner and others are responding by transforming themselves into software companies with efforts such as TV Everywhere, which liberates content from the physical cable and connects it to smartphones and tablets.

Today's dominant music companies are software companies, too: Apple's iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. Traditional record labels increasingly exist only to provide those software companies with content. Industry revenue from digital channels totaled $4.6 billion in 2010, growing to 29% of total revenue from 2% in 2004.

Today's fastest growing entertainment companies are videogame makers—again, software—with the industry growing to $60 billion from $30 billion five years ago. And the fastest growing major videogame company is Zynga (maker of games including FarmVille), which delivers its games entirely online. Zynga's first-quarter revenues grew to $235 million this year, more than double revenues from a year earlier. Rovio, maker of Angry Birds, is expected to clear $100 million in revenue this year (the company was nearly bankrupt when it debuted the popular game on the iPhone in late 2009). Meanwhile, traditional videogame powerhouses like Electronic Arts and Nintendo have seen revenues stagnate and fall.

The best new movie production company in many decades, Pixar, was a software company. Disney—Disney!—had to buy Pixar, a software company, to remain relevant in animated movies.

Photography, of course, was eaten by software long ago. It's virtually impossible to buy a mobile phone that doesn't include a software-powered camera, and photos are uploaded automatically to the Internet for permanent archiving and global sharing. Companies like Shutterfly, Snapfish and Flickr have stepped into Kodak's place.

Today's largest direct marketing platform is a software company—Google. Now it's been joined by Groupon, Living Social, Foursquare and others, which are using software to eat the retail marketing industry. Groupon generated over $700 million in revenue in 2010, after being in business for only two years.

Today's fastest growing telecom company is Skype, a software company that was just bought by Microsoft for $8.5 billion. CenturyLink, the third largest telecom company in the U.S., with a $20 billion market cap, had 15 million access lines at the end of June 30—declining at an annual rate of about 7%. Excluding the revenue from its Qwest acquisition, CenturyLink's revenue from these legacy services declined by more than 11%. Meanwhile, the two biggest telecom companies, AT&T and Verizon, have survived by transforming themselves into software companies, partnering with Apple and other smartphone makers.

LinkedIn is today's fastest growing recruiting company. For the first time ever, on LinkedIn, employees can maintain their own resumes for recruiters to search in real time—giving LinkedIn the opportunity to eat the lucrative $400 billion recruiting industry.

Software is also eating much of the value chain of industries that are widely viewed as primarily existing in the physical world. In today's cars, software runs the engines, controls safety features, entertains passengers, guides drivers to destinations and connects each car to mobile, satellite and GPS networks. The days when a car aficionado could repair his or her own car are long past, due primarily to the high software content. The trend toward hybrid and electric vehicles will only accelerate the software shift—electric cars are completely computer controlled. And the creation of software-powered driverless cars is already under way at Google and the major car companies.

Today's leading real-world retailer, Wal-Mart, uses software to power its logistics and distribution capabilities, which it has used to crush its competition. Likewise for FedEx, which is best thought of as a software network that happens to have trucks, planes and distribution hubs attached. And the success or failure of airlines today and in the future hinges on their ability to price tickets and optimize routes and yields correctly—with software.

Oil and gas companies were early innovators in supercomputing and data visualization and analysis, which are crucial to today's oil and gas exploration efforts. Agriculture is increasingly powered by software as well, including satellite analysis of soils linked to per-acre seed selection software algorithms.

The financial services industry has been visibly transformed by software over the last 30 years. Practically every financial transaction, from someone buying a cup of coffee to someone trading a trillion dollars of credit default derivatives, is done in software. And many of the leading innovators in financial services are software companies, such as Square, which allows anyone to accept credit card payments with a mobile phone, and PayPal, which generated more than $1 billion in revenue in the second quarter of this year, up 31% over the previous year.

Health care and education, in my view, are next up for fundamental software-based transformation. My venture capital firm is backing aggressive start-ups in both of these gigantic and critical industries. We believe both of these industries, which historically have been highly resistant to entrepreneurial change, are primed for tipping by great new software-centric entrepreneurs.

Even national defense is increasingly software-based. The modern combat soldier is embedded in a web of software that provides intelligence, communications, logistics and weapons guidance. Software-powered drones launch airstrikes without putting human pilots at risk. Intelligence agencies do large-scale data mining with software to uncover and track potential terrorist plots.

Companies in every industry need to assume that a software revolution is coming. This includes even industries that are software-based today. Great incumbent software companies like Oracle and Microsoft are increasingly threatened with irrelevance by new software offerings like and Android (especially in a world where Google owns a major handset maker).

In some industries, particularly those with a heavy real-world component such as oil and gas, the software revolution is primarily an opportunity for incumbents. But in many industries, new software ideas will result in the rise of new Silicon Valley-style start-ups that invade existing industries with impunity. Over the next 10 years, the battles between incumbents and software-powered insurgents will be epic. Joseph Schumpeter, the economist who coined the term "creative destruction," would be proud.

And while people watching the values of their 401(k)s bounce up and down the last few weeks might doubt it, this is a profoundly positive story for the American economy, in particular. It's not an accident that many of the biggest recent technology companies—including Google, Amazon, eBay and more—are American companies. Our combination of great research universities, a pro-risk business culture, deep pools of innovation-seeking equity capital and reliable business and contract law is unprecedented and unparalleled in the world.

Still, we face several challenges.

First of all, every new company today is being built in the face of massive economic headwinds, making the challenge far greater than it was in the relatively benign '90s. The good news about building a company during times like this is that the companies that do succeed are going to be extremely strong and resilient. And when the economy finally stabilizes, look out—the best of the new companies will grow even faster.

Secondly, many people in the U.S. and around the world lack the education and skills required to participate in the great new companies coming out of the software revolution. This is a tragedy since every company I work with is absolutely starved for talent. Qualified software engineers, managers, marketers and salespeople in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want, while national unemployment and underemployment is sky high. This problem is even worse than it looks because many workers in existing industries will be stranded on the wrong side of software-based disruption and may never be able to work in their fields again. There's no way through this problem other than education, and we have a long way to go.

Finally, the new companies need to prove their worth. They need to build strong cultures, delight their customers, establish their own competitive advantages and, yes, justify their rising valuations. No one should expect building a new high-growth, software-powered company in an established industry to be easy. It's brutally difficult.

I'm privileged to work with some of the best of the new breed of software companies, and I can tell you they're really good at what they do. If they perform to my and others' expectations, they are going to be highly valuable cornerstone companies in the global economy, eating markets far larger than the technology industry has historically been able to pursue.

Instead of constantly questioning their valuations, let's seek to understand how the new generation of technology companies are doing what they do, what the broader consequences are for businesses and the economy and what we can collectively do to expand the number of innovative new software companies created in the U.S. and around the world.

That's the big opportunity. I know where I'm putting my money.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011



What's it like to have your film flop at the box office?

Don't they know how bad it is before it comes out?

Sean Hood, Professional screenwriter and director

When you work "above the line" on a movie (writer, director, actor, producer, etc.) watching it flop at the box office is devastating. I had such an experience during the opening weekend of Conan the Barbarian 3D.
A movie's opening day is analogous to a political election night. Although I've never worked in politics, I remember having similar feelings of disappointment and disillusionment when my candidate lost a presidential bid, so I imagine that working as a speechwriter or a fundraiser for the losing campaign would feel about the same as working on an unsuccessful film.

One joins a movie production, the same way one might join a campaign, years before the actual release/election, and in the beginning one is filled with hope, enthusiasm and belief. I joined the Conan team, having loved the character in comic books and the stories of Robert E. Howard, filled with the same kind of raw energy and drive that one needs in politics.

Any film production, like a long grueling campaign over months and years, is filled with crisis, compromise, exhaustion, conflict, elation, and blind faith that if one just works harder, the results will turn out all right in the end. During that process whatever anger, frustration, or disagreement you have with the candidate/film you keep to yourself. Privately you may oppose various decisions, strategies, or compromises; you may learn things about the candidate that cloud your resolve and shake your confidence, but you soldier on, committed to the end. You rationalize it along the way by imagining that the struggle will be worth it when the candidate wins.

A few months before release, "tracking numbers" play the role in movies that polls play in politics. It's easy to get caught up in this excitement, like a college volunteer handing out fliers for Howard Dean. (Months before Conan was released many close to the production believed it would open like last year's The Expendables.) As the release date approaches and the the tracking numbers start to fall, you start adjusting expectations, but always with a kind of desperate optimism. "I don't believe the polls," say the smiling candidates.
You hope that advertising and word of mouth will improve the numbers, and even as the numbers get tighter and the omens get darker, you keep telling yourself that things will turn around, that your guy will surprise the experts and pollsters. You stay optimistic. You begin selectively ignoring bad news and highlighting the good. You make the best of it. You believe.

In the days before the release, you get all sorts of enthusiastic congratulations from friends and family. Everyone seems to believe it will go well, and everyone has something positive to say, so you allow yourself to get swept up in it.

You tell yourself to just enjoy the process. That whether you succeed or fail, win or lose, it will be fine. You pretend to be Zen. You adopt detachment, and ironic humor, while secretly praying for a miracle.

The Friday night of the release is like the Tuesday night of an election. "Exit polls"are taken of people leaving the theater, and estimated box office numbers start leaking out in the afternoon, like early ballot returns. You are glued to your computer, clicking wildly over websites, chatting nonstop with peers, and calling anyone and everyone to find out what they've heard. Have any numbers come back yet? That's when your stomach starts to drop.

By about 9 PM its clear when your "candidate" has lost by a startlingly wide margin, more than you or even the most pessimistic political observers could have predicted. With a movie its much the same: trade magazines like Variety and Hollywood Reporter call the weekend winners and losers based on projections. That's when the reality of the loss sinks in, and you don't sleep the rest of the night.

For the next couple of days, you walk in a daze, and your friends and family offer kind words, but mostly avoid the subject. Since you had planned (ardently believed, despite it all) that success would propel you to new appointments and opportunities, you find yourself at a loss about what to do next. It can all seem very grim.

You make light of it, of course. You joke and shrug. But the blow to your ego and reputation can't be brushed off. Reviewers, even when they were positive, mocked Conan The Barbarian for its lack of story, lack of characterization, and lack of wit. This doesn't speak well of the screenwriting - and any filmmaker who tells you s/he "doesn't read reviews" just doesn't want to admit how much they sting.

Unfortunately, the work I do as a script doctor is hard to defend if the movie flops. I know that those who have read my Conan shooting script agree that much of the work I did on story and character never made it to screen. I myself know that given the difficulties of rewriting a script in the middle of production, I made vast improvements on the draft that came before me. But its still much like doing great work on a losing campaign. All anyone in the general public knows, all anyone in the industry remembers, is the flop. A loss is a loss.

But one thought this morning has lightened my mood:

My father is a retired trumpet player. I remember, when I was a boy, watching him spend months preparing for an audition with a famous philharmonic. Trumpet positions in major orchestras only become available once every few years. Hundreds of world class players will fly in to try out for these positions from all over the world. I remember my dad coming home from this competition, one that he desperately wanted to win, one that he desperately needed to win because work was so hard to come by. Out of hundreds of candidates and days of auditions and callbacks, my father came in....second.

It was devastating for him. He looked completely numb. To come that close and lose tore out his heart. But the next morning, at 6:00 AM, the same way he had done every morning since the age of 12, he did his mouthpiece drills. He did his warm ups. He practiced his usual routines, the same ones he tells his students they need to play every single day. He didn't take the morning off. He just went on. He was and is a trumpet player and that's what trumpet players do, come success or failure.

Less than a year later, he went on to win a position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he played for three decades. Good thing he kept practicing.

So with my father's example in mind, here I sit, coffee cup steaming in its mug and dog asleep at my feet, starting my work for the day, revising yet another script, working out yet another pitch, thinking of the future (the next project, the next election) because I'm a screenwriter, and that's just what screenwriters do.

In the words of Ed Wood, "My next one will be BETTER!"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011



Question 1: Being a successful artist is no different than being a successful businessperson. You are first and foremost an entrepreneur. What are some of the essential qualities necessary to navigate a successful career throughout your lifetime and do they change and/or evolve over time?

I'd say 3 things:

First, there are things you can't teach anyone - especially someone who wants to be in charge of their own life and future - which is how I'd basically define an entrepreneur. Either you have these traits and talents or you don't. If you don't, I'd suggest getting a real job. The short list includes:

Chutzpah - "If You Don't Ask, You Don't Get". Or as Michael Jordan used to say: "You Miss 100% of the Shots You Don't Take".

Work Ethic & Energy - "If You Can't Outsmart Everyone, at least You Can Always Outwork Them". You've got to love the process and the journey - not just the outcome.

A Refusal to Settle - "The Minute You Accept Less than You Deserve, You Get Less than You Settled For." Don't allow yourself to be defined by others' limitations.

Obsessive Perseverance - "It's Done When It's Done". "Over Every Hill, Another Hill". "There's Always Enough Time to do Things the Right Way".

A Really Thick Skin - "Expecting the World to Treat You Fairly Because You are a Good Person is Like Expecting a Lion not to Eat You because You are a Vegetarian".

No Choice - "It's not about People Who Want to Do It, It's about People Who Have to Do It". "No Retreat, No Surrender".

Second, there are concepts, skills and tools that can contribute to your success - I call them The Perspiration Principles ("You Get What You Work For, Not What You Wish For").

1. Tell A Simple Story - Who are You? Where are You Going? Why?

2. Keep Raising the Bar - What's the Best We Can Possibly Be?

3. Start with What You Have - The Time Will Never Be "Just Right". "It's Easier to Ask for Forgiveness than Permission".

4. Make “Cheap” Mistakes and Make Mistakes O.K. - "The Name of the Game is to Win, Not to be Right All the Time".

5. Make Room for People - Highly-Trained, Motivated People are the Only Sustainable Competitive Advantage . They Come in All Sizes, Shapes and Colors.

6. You Can’t Add Value without Values - "You Can't Win a Race with Your Mouth" - Talk is cheap - Authentic actions matter much more. "You Can't "Ape" Your Way to Success".

7. Run Like the Wind and Don’t Look Back - Speed and Execution are Everything Today

8. Don’t Think for a Minute that You’re Doing It for Someone Else

Finally, things do change. Your basic values shouldn't change, but they do need to be material and relevant to the size, type and age of the business or enterprise you're trying to build. Frankly, start-ups and small business don't always have the luxury of grand mission statements and apple pie value sets - they're just trying to survive.

As an example, here is our current set of values: (1) Unstinting Effort (2) Pride of Craft (3) Courage of Our Convictions (4) Loyalty (5) Excellence .

On the other hand, a Fortune 500 corporation might say that these were their values: (1) Fairness (2) Respect (3) Opportunity (4) Security (5) Inclusion.

Neither is right or wrong and each organization would certainly aspire as well to the other's values, but you can only focus on a few important things at a time. If you chase too many chickens at the same time, you end up hungry with a handful of feathers.

Question 2: There is a popular misconception, in the art business, that people must “pay their dues” before they actually claim their voice and begin to act like real business people. Can you give a business perspective as to why this can be so devastating to a career over time?

I don't think for a minute that the idea of people expecting that you have "paid your dues" is unique to the art business. And I think that it's not a bad idea at all. The trick is to understand that there are two kinds of dues that people allude to when they say things like this and it doesn't matter whether they are gallery owners, movie producers, or venture capitalists who are speaking.

The first kind of "dues" - which we should all subscribe to - has to do with craft and substantive experience. Too many young people today think that there are shortcuts and "tricks of the trade" that let you avoid the sheer amount of time, hard work and practice/learning that are critical to becoming a "professional" anything. Whether it's measured in hours (10,000 hours per Gladwell) or years or successfully completed projects or pieces doesn't really matter - you've got to make the commitment, put in the time and pay these dues.

The second kind of "dues" are the total bullshit commitments which venture capitalists and other "grown-ups" try to extract from young entrepreneurs, beginning artists and other amateurs with a variety of euphemisms like "skin in the game". They describe and attempt to require levels of sacrifice and risk that are: (a) excessive, unseemly and unrelated to the actual commitments of the players and (b) are undertakings that they themselves not only have never made, but ones as well that they wouldn't make personally if their lives depended on it.

I often tell young entrepreneurs that they are making a more than sufficient commitment in giving up their day jobs and a regular paycheck and benefits; taking the risks inherent in starting any new venture; and working inhuman hours for peanuts and that it's not necessary that they also mortgage their homes, borrow the last possible dollar from their friends and family and otherwise bury themselves in debt. This is what bankers, venture capitalists and gallerists are for…presumably it's why they receive such a disproportionate return on their investments.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Join us for a total immersion into the exciting world of angel investing!

Investing in start-ups can be inspiring and exhilarating, but also a little scary. Have you ever considered angel investing, but did not feel fully equipped? You are not alone. Where do I find great start-ups? How do I evaluate their investment potential? What’s the right amount to invest? How do I set the terms and structure the investment?
Angel Excelerator has invited top local and national investors to provide some answers, including:
David Hornik
David Hornik
August Capital
Howard Tullman
Howard Tullman
President & CEO 
Flashpoint Academy
Brad Feld
Brad Feld (via Skype)
Managing Director
Foundry Group

Matt McCall
Matt McCall
New World Ventures
Jim Dugan
Jim Dugan
CEO/Co-Founder/Managing Partner
OCA Ventures
Steve Miller
Steve Miller
Principal & Co-Founder
Origin Ventures
Matt Downs
Matt Downs
Managing Partner 
Sandbox Industries, BCBS Fund

John Sabl
John Sabl
Sidley Austin LLP
Troy Henikoff
Troy Henikoff
Co-Founder & CEO 
Excelerate Labs
Brian Hand
Brian Hand
Bob Geras
Bob Geras
LaSalle Investments

Ira Weiss
Ira Weiss
Managing Director
Hyde Park Angels
Armando Pauker
Armando Pauker
General Partner
Apex Venture Partners
Karin O'Connor

Karin O'Connor

Perimeter Advisors
Sam Guren
Sam Guren
Managing Director
Hyde Park Angels


  • 11:30 - 12:00:  Hors d'oeuvres & Networking
  • 12:00 - 12:05:  Kick-off & Welcome
  • 12:05 - 12:30:  Howard Tullman
  • 12:30 - 12:45:  Brad Feld (via Skype)
  • 12:45 - 1:30:    7-minute presentations from local expert angels
  • 1:30 - 1:45:      Break
  • 1:45 - 2:35:      Panel of VC's: Positioning an angel investment for later VC funding.
  • 2:35 - 3:00:      David Hornik

Venture Showcase

After the Angel Excelerator, the Venture Showcase will highlight some of the city's most successful tech companies and discuss some of the benefits and challenges of building great technology companies in Chicago. 

August 30, 2011, 3:00pm - 7:30pm 

  • 3:00 - 3:15:  Introduction / keynote
  • 3:15 - 4:30:  Ten minute company overviews from a sample of Chicago's best technology companies
  • 4:30 - 4:45:  Break
  • 4:45 - 6:00:  Roundtable discussion of the present and future of the Chicago tech scene
  • 6:00 - 7:30:  Networking with cocktails and buffet style dinner foods
  • Speakers
    Kevin Willer
    Kevin Willer (Moderator) President & CEO Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center
    Paul Lee
    Paul Lee Partner Lightbank
    Lon Chow
    Lon Chow General Partner Apex Venture Partners
    Matt Moog
    Matt Moog Founder & CEO Viewpoints Network
    Bret Maxwell
    Bret Maxwell Managing General Partner MK Capital

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