Friday, September 10, 2010

Close, close, close


Now that I’m back in Cambridge I’m spending almost every day this week in London.  It’s been up early and down to the station for the early trains to the City, working in transit, angling for off-peak fares.

It’s all for a purpose,  of course.  There are three major funding opportunities in the next two weeks, and this will likely exhaust the short-term prospects among high net worth angel investors.  So, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Fortunately, this has also been an intense week for learning.  We’re going through days of rehearsal and training prior to the upcoming events, and it’s making a difference.  We got a half day of coaching in how to follow-up with investors, negotiate a term sheet, and manage the early stages of the relationship.  There was another half-day of 1-1 work on presentation skills, ruthless Q&A critique, and thorough pitch evaluations.   I feel like the hard questions are coming out early, and am getting comfortable with how to stay poised under fire.  The 12-minute presentation has been groomed and strengthened, I see how to capture audience attention and hold it.  And we worked hard on voice, gestures, and expression: the prosody behind the presentation.  It makes me self-conscious after a while, because there’s so much to think about: the key will be to rehearse to where the coaching notes become second nature.

And, in the end, it will all come down to the close, as my colleagues keep reminding me.   It should be fun.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Squandering city life

DSC00051‘visiting Chicago last week, I ended up with a free weekend and a rental car: a chance to go and do whatever I wanted.  I spun through the suburbs, looked at my old residences, did a little necessity shopping, and dropped through a local Greek festival.  It was empty and cheerless, overpriced food and windswept tables, piped in music and trucked in pastries.

The next day, I turned south to enjoy the crowds at Navy Pier and the lakefront Jazz Festival.  The music and the people were wonderful, and, afterwards, there was time for a dip into one of the ethnic neighborhoods to prowl for a little, authentic restaurant and drinks in a dark and moody bar.

DSC00082Reflecting back, these are things that I seldom did as a student, living on the north side of the city with roommates from New York, all more city-savvy than suburban-me.  Reflecting on the day, I think I probably missed out on a lot of what the city had to offer, preferring to stick to closer, safer wanderings.

I think that living in older, smaller European cities has given my confidence a boost: I certainly see beyond the superficial grime and traffic to the possibilities of city life and the joy of finding little gems tucked away in side streets.  I’ll make time to attend events and to hop a train across town to try a restaurant.  I don’t look over my shoulder at night, and I don’t fear high-brow museum exhibitions by day.


And there’s always the thrill of unexpected discovery: giant blow-up Dutch beer exhibitions, for example.


I do enjoy the country-mouse side of my life as well, but I find that the suburban simulations of ethnic events and culinary venues to be superficial and sterile compared to their urban cousins.  It’s not just that Italian restaurants are only vaguely reminiscent of Italy, it’s that Poppa Pizza is a pale shadow of 40-year old Al’s Italian Kitchen.  

It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t more adventurous when I had the chance, years ago.  Now, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Planes and Trains

Lon Evening Standard - Tube

For the London Evening Standard, it was “Defiant Commuters beating the Tube strike.”  For me, it was squinting through jet lag to say “What do you mean ‘I can’t get to Piccadilly??”

The flight back to the Continent was great, I got bumped up because few fliers travel during the Labor Day weekend – seats that fold flat, decent food, wider movie selection.  The airlines can do it when they want to, they just choose not to for most people.  British customs, in contrast, was overwhelmed by the arrivals and it too 2 hours to get through the queue (while being reassured that “Tougher checks take more time”).

I got a bit of prep done before Tuesday’s meetings, an all-day training session starting at 10 in London.  The trains from Shepreth run every half hour, so I levered out of bed to catch the 7:32, arriving at 8:50.  Plenty of time, on any normal day.

However, transit through the King’s Cross station turned into a cascade of problems.  My phone vanished en-route.  My Oyster card failed at turnstyles.  The Piccadilly Line entry was gated and empty.  A transit worker advised me to go one stop north, backtrack to the south on a parallel line, exit at an adjacent stop, and head overland.  Tube carriages arrived bursting with people, we squeezed on like the old Japanese commuter pictures, riding compressed against walls and doors.

Nonetheless, I arrived at Leicester Square with a half hour to spare, and a lovely sunny day instead of the forecast downpour.  The training sessions turned out to be surprisingly useful, and I was out in time to go to the O2 store to get a replacement for my (fully-insured) phone.  The Oyster card turns out to conflict with the Cambridge card in the same wallet, a flip of the wrist solves the problem.  And there was a delightful new ‘ship in a bottle’ sculpture at Trafalgar Square to appreciate.DSC00106

All in all, the world was set right again by supper, leaving jet lag as the only lingering issue.  And an early night’s sleep is still the best cure for that.