Monthly Archives: November 2004

Swiss Exchange Student Comes and Goes

A couple months ago I started a sister-blog to chronicle my experiences and post pictures from an exchange program I am involved in in which a junior in high school from Switzerland stays with my family for three weeks and then I go to Zurich for three weeks.

Patrice, the student from Zurich, arrived three weeks ago and left this evening after celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. Img_0340More details and pictures are at my Zurich Exchange blog, but I learned some interesting things during his stay.

1. Switzerland is not very different from America. Other than the four official languages, much involving politics, culture, and adolescence is the same. This is not to say there are no differences or to try to homogenize two distinct peoples, but I never expected my mindset, opinions, or questions about life to be so similar.

2. Their approach to education is much different. They have longer school days and virtually no homework. This is compared to the US private high school education of shorter school days and hours and hours of homework.

3. The Swiss kids knew more about American culture than I did. They knew more movie stars, more music bands, and the like.

4. Europeans close the door to bathrooms even when no one is in there!?

5. I will generalize and say most European teens like heavy metal, punk music. Yuck.

In the New Year I will start thinking about my trip to Zurich in the beginning of June. I’ll be taking classes in English at their school but I’d like to travel a bit to the surrounding countries of Italy, Germany, or France. If you have any ideas or experiences please share.

Belt Out Those Christmas Carols

The day has arrived. My family’s tradition is that you can only listen to Christmas carols from the day after Thanksgiving till New Year’s. I have a wonderful collection of Christmas MP3s and I’ll be adding some more soon. Some sleeper picks: “So This Is Christmas” by John Lennon, “Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney and the Wings, “Christmas Shoes” the soundtrack from the movie, “What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder, “Little Drummer Boy” by The Nylons, and of course anything from the Charlie Brown soundtrack.

Some SF radio stations have been playing x-mas songs for a couple weeks which really annoyed me. No more. The holidays are coming!

A Book a Day This Long Weekend

If Brad thinks he’s the only one reading a book a day this Thanksgiving weekend, he’s dead wrong.

Well, let’s say I’m finishing at least a book a day and starting several more.

Yesterday I finished The Business of Software which is a comprehensive review of various software company business models. Despite a positive review from someone (can’t remember now) this book let me down. Same old, same old.

I then finished Disgrace, a novel from my English class “Big Payback: Literature of Revenge”. It was pretty good, but I can see why it’s assigned for school reading. A college professor in South Africa has affairs with his students (“not quite rape, but undesired to the core”) and then the tables turn. It’s deep stuff but wonderful prose. If you’re interested in South Africa, their apartheid, race relations, and sexual scandals, you may enjoy this.

I’m in the process of reading Millenials Rising, a relentless upbeat portrait of my generation which they coin “Millenials” and not “Generation Y.” It juxtaposes the negative press and stereotypes of today’s young people with contrasting research which shows we will all be incredible leaders and are the brightest hope this country has had. Gotta have pride in your generation!

Finally, I’m almost done with The MouseDriver Chronicles. It’s fantastic, fun, and has taught me a few things as well. Any entrepreneur should read this book. The MouseDriver guys were getting their first press right when my first company was getting off the ground. There was one TV segment which profiled them – these bright, charismatic, Wharton MBAs with a super-clever product, and then me, a 12-year-old kid who was trying to track and resolve government complaints for free for citizens. Ouch.

Re-Defining the Entrepreneurial Lifestyle

The current stereotypes of entrepreneurs usually are 70-80 hour weeks, cold pizza and Coke every day for meals, caffeine, no sleep, and the sacrifice of family, friends, and personal time in the name of business. I am disheartened when I speak with young people who are either a) scared to start a business because they think that’s what it takes, or b) are super pumped to start a business because that kind of lifestyle fires them up.

It is our responsibility, entrepreneurs or people interested in/work with entrepreneurs, to re-define what a successful and sustainable entrepreneurial lifestyle is. Both these aspects are important. You can be successful for 4 or 5 years but be burnt out afterwards.

The Power of Full Engagement has been a good resource for me in this area, with its emphasis on managing energy, not time. Here’s my partial list of components to a successful, sustainable lifestyle. (By the way, I often size people up based on their attention to these areas.)

1. Sleep – At least 7-8 hours a day. The most amazing thing I see on a regular basis is people who routinely ignore study after study which report that anything less than this and your decision making ability goes way down. Your alertness goes way down. Your retention of key information goes way down. If getting 4-5 of sleep a day is the norm for you, then you may say “I do fine on these hours.” My challenge to you: go three weeks with 7-8 hours a sleep a day and let me know if you feel a difference. You won’t know unless you try.

2. Nutrition – There’s nothing worse than running to a meeting feeling hungry, or worse yet, trying to catch a flight when you are starving and no time for dinner. Any entrepreneur who doesn’t travel with a healthy supply of Cliff Bars is nuts. Also, eating breakfast has been proven time after time to be essential to be able to give 100% all day long.

3. Exercise – I work out two hours a day, six days a week. I immediately feel the difference when I go a few days with no treadmill, basketball court, or weights. Many decently successful, moderately interesting entrepreneurs work long hours and swear they have no time to get to a gym. But the very best people in the business world I see always find time to get their one hour in. If they can find time for it, so can you.

I Believe In Tomorrow

In 8th grade I gave the graduation speech for my class and I read the following poem which has been really inspirational for me but that I did not write and in fact do not know the original source. Even if you’re not young in age, you can always be young in heart. Perhaps people who were speechless after Nov 2 (Andy Sack, for one) can find solace in this.

I believe in tomorrow. I believe in it because it has not yet come. And I am young, and youth always believes that tomorrow will be better than today. I believe that I will do tomorrow what I failed to do today, and be then what I have not yet been.

I trust the future. Youth is always glorious because it trusts the future. Youth will attempt the impossible, scale the mountain that is supposed to be inaccessible, and dare the thing that age will fear.

I believe in tomorrow because it is unspoiled. I have, nor has anyone, yet written on it with grimy finger or insanity or selfishness or sin. No wars have been fought in tomorrow. No lie has been told, or dishonest deed done in tomorrow. No man has treacherously failed a friend in tomorrow.

Tomorrow is one clean, beautiful day, the day on which dreams come true, on which the impossible things will yet be done, on which I shall have the nerve and the will to be and to do that which was too much for me in the grim battle of today.

I believe in tomorrow.

Study Skills My Ass

That’s the latest from my advisor at school. Do the reading better = get better grades. Makes sense. But it’s not why I have a C in the class. “I’m sure you’re really busy with your business thing and your other interests but…” It’s impossible for me to try to explain the amount of emotional and intellectual energy that goes to other things, and many times it seems like I can’t control it when my mind wanders. I’m just so god damn fidgety when reading page after page of 400-page textbook after 400-page textbook that I’d rather sit back and watch Cornel West engage in rhetorical wizardry and ponder the implications of moving away from an examined, Socratic society and into a materialistic, anti-intellectual one.

I felt pretty abandoned after that advisor meeting. I wish they would stop taking the same cookie cutter model and trying to mold me around that…I want to be different. I think different. I am different. My philosophies may not always be right, but they’re different.

National Center for Women and Info Tech

On Monday night I went to a reception in Palo Alto hosted by the National Center for Women and Information Technology. My friend Brad Feld is chairman of this non-profit which seeks to ensure that women are fully represented in the creation and application of information technology. This is something that I’ve always wondered as I go around meeting folks and 99% of the time it is men.

I saw some old friends (most from the extended Mobius family) and met a couple interesting people. The point I hammered home to folks was that outreach to women in IT needs to start at the grammar and high school level. For example, in my electronic music class at school 1 out of 24 of the students is a woman, and in the Computer Science AP class I hear there is just one or two. If technology is a “guy’s thing” all throughout school, we can’t be surprised that so few women choose to focus on things other than technology in college and in life.

This is just one of the non-profits I’m monitoring. Check them out. I’ll be posting later on my thoughts on integrating blogs and philanthropy…as the holiday season approaches.

Friends of Ben: Michael Simmons

Network: Ben Casnocha > It’s, like, Ben’s Blog > Michael Simmons

Google: Michael Simmons + Entrepreneur

So far I’ve profiled two friends – an accomplished software company CEO and a VC from Cupertino. Today, I am profiling someone much younger. In fact, Michael Simmons (blog) is just finishing up NYU. But he is a name you don’t want to forget.

I first met Michael this past summer when I was in New York City. He found out about me through my blog. Michael had just finished giving a speech to some youth on entrepreneurship when he came outside and we met and chatted in a park near NYU. Within the first 5 minutes I realized I really liked Michael and what he was doing – he was kind, determined, and not the least bit self-centered despite all the speaking and writing he has done. (He published a book, available on Amazon, called The Student Success Manifesto.)

Michael has started Extreme Entrepreneurship: An Education Corporation as the follow up to his book. They’re all about empowering young people to start companies, come up with ideas, obtain support and mentoring from older people, and the like. His focus is about nuturing the entrepreneurial lifestyle. That’s really cool and something I’ll blog about later. Their three guiding principles are:

“Be the change you want to see…” – Gandhi Empowerment is a young adult’s ability to make the best decisions to available in each moment regardless of background, environment, or other external factors.

“All education is self-education.” – Isaac Asimov
Parents, mentors, friends, administrators are all crucial to development, but most important and core is each young adult’s ability to empower him or herself.

We are all naturally visionary and productive. For us to not to be, something must have gone wrong. The best way for young adults to rediscover their innate curiosity and passion is by empowering themselves to LEAP.

If you peruse Michael’s blog you’ll find it rich in deep insights that touch on not just entrepreneurship but the total life picture with stuff on philosophy, religion, spirituality, fear, and the like. His post 3 Life Transforming Vuja Daze Strategies is good, and I also reccomend Our Deepest Fear.

Michael is a leader of today and will be a leader of tomorrow because he so well versed in various disciplines of social thought. I believe that succesful entrepreneurs and people are those who are interesting. And you’re only interesting if you know at least a little about a lot of different things. Michael is a good example of someone anchored in entrepreneurship but a deep thinker in other areas.

Basketball Season: Real-World Application of Business-Sports Analogies

I always love talking to adults who played high school sports and listen to them reminince about Friday night games, the big crowds, the close games that went the other way, the ref who blew the call in the 4th quarter. I love it because I know am I living those experiences right now and to hear people talk about their memories it helps me think about what kind of memories do I want to create right now.

Last year, I was the only sophomore on the varsity basketball team who started and got big minutes. I also was chosen to the 2nd Team All League group. These two things prompted the coach to name me co-captain of the team along with another senior this year. This is a very unusual move as juniors are rarely captains if there are other seniors on the team. But, I know I earned it, and I know that I will be able to be a strong leader on the team.

It is great to get back into the daily basketball world after being immersed in the business world since March. In the business world, people say “Let’s punt on this point and bring it up in the next presentation” or “We need a score here or else this deal will go into overtime.” It seems like every business situation could be compared to a game of ‘hoops or football or soccer. I like when people use a sports analogy – hey, people understand things better when you talk in a lingo that they appreciate…a basic tenet of oral anthropology.

My co-captain position on this year’s team will also allow me to apply some of the leadership lessons I’ve accumulated over the years. Beacuse of the nature of my company and my current role in it, it is not always easy for me to read a great leadership article and then apply it the very next day. Over the next four months, I will be able to do that.

Like in any business environment, there are substantial interpersonal issues which need to be flushed out. Egos getting in the way. People pissed about playing time. One person is pissed that I was named captain and is trying to systematically undermine my credibility. Over the past week I’ve been meeting with the coaches and my co-captain to finalize the rosters. Today, with the team set, we will be doing a goal-setting exercise.

I do need to be cautious not to be toooo business like in my approach this year for the team. Occassionally friends from school will say “Jeeze Ben, stop taking such a business-like attitude.” My automatic reaction to anything is to make sure everyone is really organized, everyone is communicating, milestones, goals, progress, etc etc. This approach is not always congruent to how people in school approach projects which is usually: First, procrastinate. Second, procrastinate. Third, and most important, procrastinate.

Over the next four months I may share some of my experiences as I work to create a close-knit team and a team that achieves excellence on the court.

The Recovering Secularist

I came across a good March 2003 article in the Atlantic by David Brooks on the "Recovering Secularist" – a six step program. This really got at how I’m feeling now a days, out here in the San Francisco bubble (or as some of my San Franciscans call it, the United States of Canada with the rest of the US "Jesusland"). The first step:

There are six steps in the recovery process. First you have to accept the fact that you are not the norm. Western foundations and universities send out squads of researchers to study and explain religious movements. But as the sociologist Peter Berger has pointed out, the phenomenon that really needs explaining is the habits of the American professoriat: religious groups should be sending out researchers to try to understand why there are pockets of people in the world who do not feel the constant presence of God in their lives, who do not fill their days with rituals and prayers and garments that bring them into contact with the divine, and who do not believe that God’s will should shape their public lives.