Current Affairs

More Is Good

Mar 06, 2014

If you have been reading FoG for a while you know that I firmly believe that density matters. Denisty is extremely important for startup communities. And with all its sprawl Atlanta has a startup density issue.

The reason I bring this up is that Urvaksh Karkaria set off an Atlanta startup firestorm on Twitter last Friday with his article on how the downtown Flatiron Building could be redeveloped into an entrepreneurship hub. Urvaksh followed up on that article today. Evidently real estate in the technology section creates page views.

My initial take, inspired by a NPR interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson on the new Cosmos series and the gravitational forces acting on Europa, was this. Potential energy is decreased by the distance between gravitational masses. It's just a scientific fact.

Having startup hubs located in Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead is not optimal. They are too far away from each other to create the kind of density Atlanta technology startups need now. I say this from a somewhat unique viewpoint.

These days I spend about a third of my time in Tech Square working out of the offices of BLH Ventures/KontrolFreek. I took Kyle Porter up on his offer and also spend about a third of my time working out of the SaleLoft space in Atlanta Tech Village. I don't mix Tech Square and Village days. At six miles they are just too far apart. But there are great things going on in both places. It is interesting to see a startup start out in one location and then end up in another. It happens quite often. But once a startup gets settled in one of these places it is seldom that I see it at another. The Atlanta startup hubs are fairly distinct in population.

While on a micro level Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead are too far apart, on a macro level something very different is happening. A stronger gravitational mass across the city of Atlanta has the ability to increase the pull of other startup resources in the direction of the city when taken as a whole. Resources from other industries. Resources from other parts of the country. The Atlanta technology community is becoming more interesting to those that are currently not involved in it. It is creating more gravitational pull.

Sometimes more is more. In this case more is good. 

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Posted in Accelerators , Current Affairs

Mergers of Equals

Jul 29, 2013

So two of the largest advertising giants, Omnicom and Publicis are getting together to form a company with $23 billion in revenue to fight off the inroads from digital competition. Might be a losing battle, data based marketing is growing fast.

But beyond that the deal is being billed as a "merger of equals" for a variety of reasons. The Wall Street Journal has a nice take on how merger of equals are a tough balancing act. True that.

A long time ago I was involved with a merger of equals. EarthLink and MindSpring. A guy named Stan worked for me at MindSpring. He led our retail distribution effort. Shortly after the deal closed Stan got on a plane to meet his EarthLink counterpart. After his meeting he called me from LAX. "Lance, I'm outta here, I resign." Stan then proceeded to tell me this, and I am of course paraphrasing.

"I was involved with the merger of Babbage's Inc. and Software Etc. Never again. One merger of equals is all anyone should go through in their lifetime. What you guys should do is go to a football stadium, get all the EarthLink employees on one side and all the MindSpring employees on the other side, and get your leaders at the center of the field. Flip a coin. Winners stay and run the company, losers go home." 

Stan quit. Could not talk him out of it.

As for my experience in a merger of equals I have to say that perhaps Stan and The WSJ are right. Mergers of equals have a unique set of challenges. In my mind it's better when one company acquires the other. At least that way everyone knows who is in charge. 

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Posted in Business, Current Affairs, Deals, Management

Does Father Know Best?

Jun 17, 2013

When your former public relations agency of record reaches out to you with an infographic sponsored by a former consulting client on a recent FoG subject how can a dad say no?

Most interesting stat to me. 74% of Americans want to work from home at least part-time.

Does Father Know Best

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Posted in Current Affairs, Management

Gaps At Grady

Mar 04, 2013

Last Thursday night Atlanta Public Schools had a meeting at Grady High School to discuss the shooting incident that took place on its campus Wedensday morning. I attended the meeting. My opinion is Atlanta Public Schools is not acting urgently enough, is not being vigilant enough, and is not communicating with the community enough on how it intends to make schools safe.

Students are in harm's way. I am compelled to voice my opinion to raise awareness of the issues at hand so that the Atlanta Public Schools will rapidly take action to correct their policies and procedures. If what is transpiring at Grady were widely known the public might come to the conclusion that given the circumstances there has been a failure to exercise reasonable care by the school administration. My intent is to motivate Atlanta Public Schools to act with more urgency to protect students.

Before I go on I must add that what I am about to say is not reflective of the quality students, teachers, and parents that make Grady one of the top public high schools not only in the city of Atlanta but the state of Georgia. Its debate, journalism, and robotics programs are renowned. These people deserve more than what they are getting from the Atlanta Public Schools system.

I also want to commend the teachers for their reaction the day of the shooting. They acted swiftly. They let students use cell phones (counter to official Atlanta Public School policy). Because I was able to speak with my daughter via cell phone I knew what she was unharmed. She was also able to search news sites to learn what was going on, and I was able to communicate to her that she was safe. It seems that most teachers made the decision to let students use their mobile phones to contact their parents. Bravo.

Back to the Thursday night town hall type meeting. It was called by Atlanta Public Schools and held at the Grady High School auditorium. Associate superintendent Steve Smith led the meeting. Grady principal Vincent Murray, Atlanta Public Schools security chief Marquenta Sands, and regional K-12 executive director David White made opening statements that lasted for about 30 minutes. Student body president Lauren Alford was also on the dais.

I was initially extremely impressed with what these administrators were saying. "The safety of our students" is of utmost importance. "What happened yesterday was unacceptable." "We are not here to sweep anything under the rug." Ms. Sands talked a lot about "gaps" in the security process. Then she made a statement that they were not going to talk about plans to fix the security issues at the school. The sole reason why over 100 people showed up was to learn what Atlanta Public Schools was going to do to keep students safe and they were not going to address it. That is one big rug and broom.

Fortunately anyone that is smart enough to make it through at least nine years of schooling is smart enough to see the gaps in Atlanta Public Schools security policy at Grady High School. And it was time for the Grady community to speak. This is what I took away from that conversation.

Gap 1: Grady is an open campus.

Grady High School is an open campus. It is not a monolithic building but five buildings linked together by walkways and courtyards. The ability to secure the entire campus is challenging if not impossible. If someone wanted to go on campus to do harm they could do so with relative ease.

Gap 2: Security measures only in main building.

If you are a non bus-riding student (bus riders have to enter via the main building) with a class that is not in the main building (technically buildings C & E which are connected internally) there are no security measures. Students with first period classes in the auditorium, Black Box Theatre, music hall, new gym, old gym, or god forbid a trailer, do not have to go through any security measures. To use an analogy it is somewhat akin to having security only at the main terminal at Hartsfield airport but leaving the access to terminal T unsecured.

Much has been made about the shooter skirting school security because two students opened a gym door for her. It is my understanding that she could have just walked in the gym unaided at anytime via an unlocked door with no metal detector on it. There is nothing to stop anyone from bringing a weapon to school if they have classes in a remote building. When directly asked if a metal detector had been installed in the gym since the incident Ms. Sands replied "no." When asked when one would be she did not respond. When asked if any charges would be brought against the two students that aided the shooter she did not respond. Makes you question her "the time table is now" statement.

Update 3/5/13: Students were required to go through the main building today to enter auditorium and music hall.

Update 3/6/13: Turned first period into home room to force most students through main building.

Gap 3: Security measures stop when school starts.

The teachers are responsible for implementing morning security. Once they do this they go to teach class. If a student has a first period class in a remote building by the time that class is over security has been turned off. If such a student were so inclined they would be free to roam the entire campus with a weapon.

Gap 4: Backpacks and purses do not go through security.

Students are required to go through metal detectors. Their backpacks and purses are not scanned. These bags are supposed to be properly hand searched, but many parents, including this one, are being told by their offspring that this is not happening. Mr. White made a comment that unbeknownst to him the school must not be following proper procedure. Grady High School is not following proper procedure and according to the students that I interact with on a regular basis "nothing has changed" since the shooting.

Update 3/4/13: I learned today that a change was made where bags are currently being properly searched. ROTC leader is currently overseeing bag searches.

Gap 5: Teachers are not trained security professionals.

Good grief, what would they even do if they found a weapon? Teachers need to be preparing for the school day. They need to be teaching. They are currently arriving to first period classes as much as 30 minutes after class starts. Trained professionals are needed during security check in. Superintendent Davis has stated that he would rather have school resource officers elsewhere. I honestly don't understand what they could possibly be doing that is more important then ensuring a student does not bring a weapon on campus.

Gap 6: Education.

There seemed to be a lot of emphasis on this at the meeting. Providing methods for students to contact authorities. Maybe things have changed since I was in high school but it was pretty uncommon back then to report illegal activity to the school administration or police. But I will play along in good faith. Students can report potential illegal activity to the Atlanta Public Schools tip line at 877-801-7754 or to Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477.

Gap 7: Holes in lockdown procedures.

My daughter had a substitute teacher the day of the shooting. The sub did not have a key to the door of the trailer. They were locked down without a lock. Anyone could have opened the door and walked right in. During a hard lock down. Imagine if something evil instead of careless was taking place. Imagine that you are a kid in a trailer with an unlocked door during a hard lock down because a gun had been shot on your school campus. Imagine that you are so afraid that you are trying to hide under a desk. Unacceptable indeed.

Gap 8: Communications

A number of parents at the meeting indicated that they did not receive any communication about the incident even though they received normal communications from Atlanta Public Schools. Neither my wife nor myself received any communications from Atlanta Public Schools on the day of the incident. We have not received any communications from Atlanta Public Schools since the day of the incident.

With all that said the highlight of the night for me came from a student toward the end of a meeting. A female freshman pleading for the administration and teachers to address the emotional trauma this whole affair has brought on the student body.

"This is a real life problem, that is a grown up problem that we are dealing with as kids."

This is our problem. Our communities deserve safe schools. The shooting incidents at Price Middle School and Grady High School (there have been two shootings within a month) demonstrate that Atlanta Public Schools is failing to provide safe schools.

Atlanta Public Schools needs to communicate what it plans to do to keep our schools safe and not hide behind the cloak of not going into details for safety reasons. If some outsider wants to do harm at a school it cannot be prevented. What can be prevented are students carrying weapons on campus. The community deserves to know what is being done to prevent this before the next incident fatally harms an innocent.

I urge you to spread the word on what is transpiring at Grady High School and Atlanta Public Schools in any manner you see fit. I urge you to demand accountability and action by Atlanta Public Schools. They are not doing everything they can to protect our children. This must change.

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Posted in Current Affairs, Personal

Shooting At Grady High School

Feb 28, 2013

My daughter is a freshman at Grady High School in Atlanta. Grady is an intown public school that is a part of the Atlanta Public Schools system, about a mile from the center of Midtown Atlanta. We leave about a mile from the school. We live in the city and send our kids to public schools. We believe experiencing diversity while young better prepares you for the rest of your life. But we could be wrong. 

On Wednesday morning at about 10:20am I got a call from my wife. "Kate texted me" she said, "there's been a shooting at Grady". The fact Kate was texting was good. I called her, she answered, something that does not happen all the time with a 14 year old. It certainly does not happen with a 14 year old during the school day. She was shaken but laughing. The school was on hard lock down but she was in a trailer with a sub who did not have the key to lock the door. Students were hiding under desks. Fearing for their lives. Why she was laughing I knew not, her own nervous fear I suspect.

Students were using their smart phones to figure out what was going on. Seems a girl shot herself in the leg. My daughter was in lock down in a trailer with no lock and a sub that had no idea what was going on. Just after noon I got a text from my daughter. "Pick me up please." "Be there" was the response.

Walking onto the Grady campus where some student just shot themselves was a little surreal. It actually seemed too normal. Lots of kids were in the parking lot deciding where they were going to gather for lunch and the rest of the day. I went to the main courtyard darn close to where the gun went off, waiting for my daughter. As I did so I was serenaded by the sound of metal detectors as students went into the cafeteria. Detectors singing out warning to which no one took heed.

She came out. "What happened" I asked. This is what she said, more or less.

"Big Morgan was changing classes. Her first class is PE and you do not have to go through security to go to your first class. She had a gun in her purse and the safety was off. She shot herself in the leg, threw the gun in the bushes, and went to the nurses station."

"So how would she get from her first class to her second class with a gun?" I innocently asked. "Well when you go through the metal detectors you but your purse and backpacks on a table, the teachers give them a pat or two but they really do not look at what is in the bag" she replied. "Somebody told a friend of mine that they knew of at least five people that were carrying guns to school on a daily basis."

Let that sink in for a moment.

Students are packing heat at high school. And the reaction from the Atlanta Public Schools administration is that schools are "not designed to be fortresses” and that Big Morgan did not “did not follow protocol to check in.” The girl is 17, packing a gun to school, and has already been to court this week for some other matter. She is committing a felony along with all those other students on campus carrying weapons. I suspect that she, and the others carrying weapons that are smart enough not to shoot themselves, do not really care about protocol. I suspect that she and other students know how to get weapons into the school. They are free roaming convictable felons.

According to one student interviewed by The Atlanta Journal “It’s not that hard to get anything into Grady.”

And that has to change.

And the only way that is going to happen is for the Atlanta Public School system to lift their head out of the sand and admit they have a big problem. If not only one, but two student shooting incidents within a month is not enough to do it I am just going to have to nudge them along a bit.

First condoned cheating and now condoned violence. Geez-o-pete.

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Posted in Current Affairs, Personal, Politics

We Interrupt This Program For An Atlanta Public Schools Shooting

Feb 27, 2013

I mostly write about the Internet, management, marketing, and startups on FoG. But every so often something happens that makes me change the focus here. A few years ago it was a change in Georgia law that limited the mobility of workers.

Today it was a student at Grady High School shooting herself in the leg. Seems she was packing a pistol. Which I have discovered in the past 12 hours is not a practice that the Atlanta Public Schools system (with its 2008 website copyright date) believes it needs to concern itself with on more than a sound bite basis.

I disagree with the Atlanta Public Schools system and its leadership. I think as a society and species that we must protect our young until they are old enough to protect themselves. I think we all can agree, with the exception of Atlanta Public Schools leadership, that no one should be allowed or enabled to hurt a child.

I am going to be writing about this for a little while until the Atlanta Public Schools system takes action to protect our youth. I urge you to join me in this mission and to tell everyone that you know to do the same.

For those of you that follow FoG for its normal content I beg your patience. My kids are in a school system where the leadership does not believe it is their responsibility to keep them safe from harm. Some things are just too important to remain silent on.

This is one of them.

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Posted in Current Affairs, Personal, Politics

They'll Ruin It

Apr 10, 2012

So the big news is that Facebook acquired Instagram for a cool $1 billion dollars (I can't even type that without thinking about Dr. Evil). A billion dollars is a lot. It's big. To put it in context here is how it stacks up with other photo acquisitions over the years.

Chart-of-the-day-exits-by-photo-sharing-start-ups-april-2012

I mean it is big. And it is big because the future of social is mobile and the essence of Facebook is sharing pictures. Regardless of the price I can see why they did the deal.

Insta was becoming a threat to Facebook. I first noticed this during a trip to my nieces Bat Matzvah two months ago. Insta was becoming the social network of choice among the 13 year old crowd. My 12 year old picked it up. My 13 year old declared "Facebook is boring." 

And it was moving up the age stream real fast. Abby, my wife of a certain age, was using Insta. It is actually the first social network that she ever actively used. Insta moved her beyond the necessity of LinkedIn and her voyeurism on Facebook to actually engaging and posting on a social network. Upon learning about the deal via a Facebook post by me she actually made a rare Facebook comment "Say it isn't true! They'll ruin it."

I don't know if they will ruin it or not. I hope not, as Insta is one of my two favorite social networks at the moment (the other being Foursquare).

I do know this. A billion is a big. I hope Facebook makes it work for itself and for the Insta users.

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Posted in Current Affairs, Social

Groupon IPO

Nov 16, 2011

I get the question every week, perhaps at least once a day. "What do you think of the Groupon IPO? That's good for you guys, right?"

To which I reply a hearty "maybe."

For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about Groupon, the biggest competitor to Half Off Depot where I currently work, went public on November 4. Groupon raised $700 million at a $12 billion valuation. That sandwiches it right between Google and Webvan as the largest IPOs in term of valuation. Interesting company to keep. I considered the Groupon IPO pricing to be a little expensive. Unlike Amazon, a much lower initial value company where I made a nice penny, I wouldn't touch it.

Tech IPO Valuations

What do I know. The stock was priced at $20, and rose 31% on it's first day. Since then it's been in a slow drift downward. I expect that trend to continue for some time until it gets below the offer price. None of that will stop a bunch of 20 somethings celebrating the end of the lockup period at Kincade's, Sheffield's or wherever 20 somethings go to party in Chicago these days.

But back to the question is it good for Half Off Depot.

One of the things about running through the IPO process is that it generates a lot of general mass media attention. Most of the attention about Groupon was negative. Merchants don't like deals, there is no way Groupon makes money, management is blundering the IPO process. This created a generally negative sentiment around the deal space, one that is going to take a little time to overcome. We have time. And money. A lot of companies do not. They are going to go away soon. Less competition is good for Half Off Depot.

The Groupon IPO also demonstrated that investors see value in the deal space. The mishandling of the IPO process is a little problematic. Groupon got through it, they got out. But along the way questions were asked by investors that have yet to be answered. Until those questions are answered it is going to be difficult for other companies in the space to raise additional capital. Those that do are going to have to be able to clearly articulate why they are different and have a demonstrable money making model with some leverage. If Half Off Depot can do the former and show the latter, and I think we can, the Groupon IPO validated a market where we can play. Having a validated market to participate is good for Half Off Depot.

So the short answer is the Groupon IPO is good for Half Off Depot as it will make it harder for smaller underfunded companies to remain viable and they validated the market in which we participate.

All we have to do is execute on that different money making part. That will keep us busy for awhile.

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Posted in Business, Current Affairs, Deals, Half Off Depot

Reached That Goal

Nov 08, 2011

When I joined Half Off Depot back in May I started looking around for a competitive target. Not the 800 pound gorilla Groupon LivingSocial type of competitive target. A smaller yet significant company that we could set our sights on. That company was BuyWithMe.

As best as I could tell BuyWithMe was the number three player at the time. Founded in Boston, based out of NYC, BuyWithMe was actviely operating in a dozen or so major markets. They had raised $21.5 million from Matrix Capital and Bain Capital. The kind of number that makes our $7 million seem small.

And BuyWithMe was on a tear. The online deal market is going to consolidate and BuyWithMe was playing the role of consolidator, something that I would like to do. In 2011 they acquired six competitors, the most recent being in September. Then the wheels fell off.

Just six weeks after its last acquistion BuyWithMe choked on them. BuyWithMe laid off half its workforce after reportedly failing to close a new round at a $500 million valuation. It was reported to be looking for a buyer.

That buyer was Gilt Groupe, who purchased the assets of BuyWithMe. Asset purchases are rarely good for the selling entity. Gilt did not hire many of the BuyWithMe staff. The purchase price was about $5 million in cash and stock. Somebody pulled the plug.

Bang.

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Posted in Business, Current Affairs, Deals, Half Off Depot, Venture Capital

Think Different

Oct 05, 2011

Steve Job 1955-2011

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Posted in Angels, Business, Computing, Current Affairs, Customer Focus, Deals, E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship, Film, Fun, Games, Internet, Management, Marketing, Mobile, Music, Networking, Personal, Photography, Presentations, Science, Social, Startups, Stocks, Web/Tech
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