Archives for March 2008


How to Take a Long Vacation in Hawaii

Simple: just fly Aloha.  The last two flights today.



Update (4/3): Now ATA went belly up (again), leaving passengers stranded in Oakland and Hawaii. This is criminal.


SVASE VC Breakfast with Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners

After a long break I’ll be moderating another SVASE VC Breakfast Club meeting next Thursday, April 3rd  in San Francisco.  As usual, it’s an informal round-table where 10 entrepreneurs get to deliver a pitch, then answer questions and get critiqued by a VC Partner. We’ve had VC’s from Draper Fisher,  Kleiner Perkins, Mayfield, Mohr Davidow, Emergence Capital …etc.  This time we”ll have the honor of welcoming Ann Winblad, Partner, co-Founder of the first exclusively software-focused venture firm, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners.

These breakfast meetings are a valuable opportunity for Entrepreneurs, most of whom would probably have a hard time getting through the door to VC Partners. Since I’ve been through quite a few of these sessions, both as Entrepreneur and Moderator, let me share a few thoughts:

  • It’s a pressure-free environment, with no PowerPoint presentations, live demos, Business Plans…etc, just casual conversation; but it does not mean you should come unprepared!
  • Follow a structure, don’t just roam about what you would like to do, or even worse, spend all your time describing the problem, without addressing what your solution is.
  • Don’t forget “small things” like the Team, Product, Market..etc.
  • It would not hurt to mention how much you are looking for, and how you would use the funds…
  • Write down and practice your pitch, and prepare to deliver a compelling story in 2-3 minutes. You will have about 8-10 minutes, the first half of which is your pitch,  but believe me, whatever your practice time was, when you are on the spot, you will likely take twice as long to deliver your story. The second half of your time-slot is Q&A with the VC.
  • Bring an Executive Summary; some VC’s like it, others don’t.
  • Last, but not least, please be on time! I am not kidding… some of you know why I even have to bring this up. Arriving an hour late to a one-and-a-half-hour meeting is NOT acceptable, but we’ve had too many such incidents, so here’s a new rule:  if you’re late by more than 20 minutes, you will not be allowed to join the session.

Here’s the event info page, and remember to register – the previous event with Hummer Winblad sold out in advance. 

See you in San Francisco!


TechCrunch Releases New Zoho Service: Invoice

Yes, the title isn’t a mistake: TechCrunch is no longer just powerful media, Mike now can single-handedly release new products.smile_wink.    Today I spent several hours testing a pre-release product, Zoho Invoice, which was a few weeks from it’s planned launch, when TechCrunch accidentally posted the news. The Zoho Team decided to play along, and instead of disappointing TC readers with a broken link, opted to release the product immediately.

Not exactly an orderly Launch, but not the end of the world either, especially not for Zoho, which has a reputation of updating their web-based products frequently. In my early testing today I found Invoice easy to use, with a soothing, pleasant UI where all the icons are in the right place and support the right information flow.   There are some features that were still under consideration as of this afternoon – so be it, this is a “forced” early release, updates and fixes will no doubt be coming soon (using the Feedback button at the top will help issues get fixed quickly).

So what do we have here? Essentially a billing application, that allows the user to create /import Clients, define items (product/service), generate estimates, convert them to invoice and accept payment against it. The Home screen is a Dashboard, providing a quick financial overview:

Information flows easily from one document to another, and there are a number of predefined (customizable) templates that can generate notification emails to the Customer at any stage. Notice the icons change on these two bars:

The Estimate (emailed or snail-mailed to the Customer) can be converted to an Invoice, but when displaying an Invoice, there’s a new icon there to enable entering a payment received.

There are transactional detail, summary, aging ..etc reports to help keep tight control of your receivables.

Although Zoho is primarily known for being the best Web-based Office / Productivity Suite provider, they are not exactly new to transactional business systems: their longest standing product is Zoho CRM (which is an understated name for a mini-ERP), the recently announced Zoho People, and a more full-featured Accounting system is in the works, too.   Talk about CRM, it already has some Invoice functionality, which will later be replaced by the new module, to be integrated with CRM.   For now, Zoho Invoice is integrated with Projects.

The slideshow below explains the setup, various functions and the workflow between them (click the lower right corner to switch to full-screen):

The new billing application is free up to 5  invoices a months, and there is a pricing scale depending on the number of invoices per month, from $5 incl. 25 invoices to $35 up to 1500 invoices.

The two notable competitors are BlinkSale and FreshBooks.  Zoho will no doubt build on the fact that Invoice is just one piece in the puzzle of 16 or so business applications it has to offer.

(Disclaimer: I am an Advisor to Zoho)

Related posts:, Enterprise Alley, Venture BeatZoho Blogs,


Apple Was Just Testing You All : Lawyers Follow

Oh, this is hilarious.  All the brouhaha about Apple being aggressive / sneaky … trying to install the Safari browser via Apple Update:

Well, now we know thanks to The Register that it was just a test.  They wanted to see if you abide by the legal terms:

Yes, you agree to only use it on Apple computers.  And if you took the bait and installed Safari on your Windows PC, expect the Apple lawyers anytime.  (OK, not reallysmile_tongue).


Update: The Apple Software Update points to this page, a list of all Apple software licences, where, digging a little we find these two documents:

The text in the Update program is clearly taken from the License for Mac, the Windows version of the file uses brand-neutral language, just mentioning “computer owned or controlled by you”.


Related posts: Hardware 2.0, 9 to 5 Mac, Ryan Stewart, CNetArs Technica and Channel Register.


My Very Short GTDInbox Experiment

I wanted to get organized about my ever-growing inbox, so I thought I’d give GTDInbox a try, especially after reading the positive reviews on both WebWorkerDaily and ReadWriteWeb

My experiment has lasted a grand total of two days. Firefox freezes every hour or so, I just can’t stand it anymore.

Of course it doesn’t necessarily prove GTDInbox is the offending party; for all I know it could be any other Firefox extension that was a sleeper until now, yet in combination with all the others it now misbehaves.  But it’s beyond the point: I am a user, not a tester, so I took the easy path out of this nightmare: remove the most recent addition, and the freezes will stop.

I still like the concept, so will look at GTDInbox a few releases later.


The Green Fight: Solar Panels vs. Trees

We’re supposed to save trees – not only because there are laws against cutting them, but it’s the right thing to do. So Sunnyvale couple Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett were doing a good deed by planting a bunch of redwood trees between 1997 and 99.

Their neighbor, Mark Vargas must also be environmentally conscious, as he installed solar panels on his roofs in 2001.  There’s only one small (actually large) problem: solar panels don’t work without exposure to the sun.

The redwood trees grew to be giants, some reaching 400 feet, and they cast a shadow on the solar panels.  The neighbors have been fighting for years and finally Vargas filed a lawsuit.  Last December a judge ordered the couple to remove the trees. They won’t appeal, as after spending $37,000 in legal bills and can’t afford the lawsuit anymore, so they will abide. 

The lawsuit, and decision was based on California’s Solar Shade Control Act, which requires homeowners to keep their trees or shrubs from shading more than 10 percent of a neighbor’s solar panels.

Now, here comes the controversial part:

Existing trees that cast shadows when the panels are installed are exempt, but new growth is subject to the law.

CA state Sen. Joe Simitian (D) of Palo Alto plans to change it.  The bill he introduced this week would protect trees that were planted before the installation of solar panels. Those planted next to already existing solar panels would still be subject to removal.

Here’s the NBC11 video.

Update:  2009-10 will be the perfect time to install solar, as supply is expected to exceed demand.


@BreakingNewsOn – Fast News Source on Twitter


I just read the above on twitter.  The news is nowhere to be found on the major wires.  In the past few days two earthquakes were reported in a similar manner – first on twitter, to be followed by news agencies 20 or so minutes later.

I don’t know how they do it – but they are apparently based in The Netherlands.


Apple Sneaky, Microsoft is No Angel, Either

I’ve been observing an annoying trend on TechMeme for a while now: when a good discussion happens over the weekend, obviously some writers will miss it – then they sleep on it, come back to it a few days later and TechMeme picks it up as a new theme.

That’s what we’re seeing today with ZDNet blogger Ed Bott coming back to the Apple Update brouhaha and trying to place Microsoft on a morel higher ground.

In summary, the issue was that the Apple iTunes update program all of a sudden wanted to install the Safari browser on Windows PC’s and had it as the preselected default. That’s certified bad behavior. Even worse is the fact that it’s not new at all – a fact missed by almost all but yours truly. I pointed out that:

  • the same update program has been trying to install iTunes on a Windows machine where I don’t have it, don’t need it forever, despite unselecting it every single time
  • the update runs because I do have Quicktime installed, and Quicktime itself is as aggressive as it gets, re-installing itself in the XP systray no matter how many times you remove it.

To me this was all about respecting users choice or not. But the discussion went the “wrong way”:

  • Apple fans are a religious cult who came in hordes to defend Holy Apple. (before you chastise me, just look at how often I point to Apple as a better choice, without becoming blindly faithful)
  • Most debate focused on whether Firefox or Safari is the better browser (IE dully ignored) – nice tactics to change the subject…

And now here comes Ed Bott with a provocative title: What Microsoft can teach Apple about software updates:

For the record, I think Apple is dead wrong in the way it’s gone about using its iPod monopoly to expand its share in another market.


Ironically, an excellent model for how this update program should work already exists. It’s called Windows Update, and it embodies all the principles that Apple should follow.

Dead wrong.

I can’t believe anyone in their right mind would quote Windows Update, known for delivering patches that mess up one’s system only to be patched again and again as the ideal model to follow. One does not have to go too far, just look at the reports on systems disabled by the recent Vista SP1 update. The worlds richest company could not put a decent operating system together in five years, and a full year later the best they can deliver is a botched update!

But since Ed takes the opportunity to place Microsoft on the moral high ground in general, let’s not forget about another recent Microsoft update coup:

The windows live installer, released last September while offered an opt-out screen like Apple does now, then proceeded to install Windows Desktop Search, without ever asking for permission or even notifying the user.

Not only this was outrageously bad practice, completely ignoring the users right to decide what they want on their computers, it was also performance degrading, especially on systems that already had another desktop search installed (see system bar above).

So back to Ed Bott: yes, I condemn Apple’s latest move, but please, please, never in a million years would I think of setting Microsoft as the model to follow.


Update:  This window just popped up on my system:

Windows Firewall blocked Foldershare – a Microsoft product, which just got updated a few days ago. Only (?) problem is, I have (I should have) Windows Firewall turned off, since McAfee is installed, too.  WTF is this message?  Or has Win Firewall been turned on by some update, without asking me?   And why is it my job to investigate?


Related posts: Inner Exception, Tom Raftery’s Social Media and ParisLemon


Why I Just Love Executive Recruiters

I don’t. I’ve been on both sides, as hiring authority and as candidate, and I’ve never hidden my opinion that far too many of them have no clue what they are doing. Like this one who sent me an email solicitation today:

The Company is a leading provider of novel posterior non- fusion spinal implant solutions for the global spine market…

Vice President, Finance & Chief Financial Officer

The Vice President, Finance & Chief Financial Officer is a new position. In addition to the normal financial reporting acumen, the ideal candidate will be expected to have experience in capital formation, specifically the Initial Public Offering (“IPO”) process, and mergers and acquisitions (“M&A”).

Well, thank you Mr … I don’t know how I got on your list, but if you had even remotely checked my profile, you’d know there’s zero fit here. You should get a job – outside recruiting.

P.S. Yes, I know there are good firms, and there is a need for them, and I duly respect the good ones. But this profession is overdue for a housecleaning. smile_sad


Earthquake in Japan. Twitter Reports First – Again

A few days ago a 7.2 magnitude Earthquake in China was first reported by several Twitter users, and only got picked up by the news agencies 20 or so minutes later.   Today it’s happening again:

地震!Earthquake in Tokyo!

27 minutes ago from Zooomr Icon_star_empty

Reported by Kristopher Tate on Twitter.  No news agencies reported it yet. Google blog search reveals one post:

March 24
I am sitting her at home in Shimoakatsuka, Itabashi-ku , Tokyo and I just felt an earthquake at about 12:41pm! Did anyone else feel the earthquake?

So it’s twitter and a single blog post.

The USGS site has the precise information: magnitude 5.3 Monday, March 24, 2008 at 03:40:13 UTC Honshu, Japan.

Still nothing on news wires.

Update:  Still nothing on the majors, but the Times of India and the Trend News Agency, Azerbaijan report it now.  Perhaps we need to redefine what a major news agency is smile_sad