Saturday, May 28, 2011

To the Beer Fest (UK-Style)

   Over 35000 of you came - 3000 more than our previous record. You apparently drank 90000 pints of various things.  cambeerfest@twitter

The day was stormy or sunny in alternating phases, sometimes light, sometimes dark.  In many ways, that mirrored the choice of brews on tap in the Big White Tent over the annual Cambridge Beer Festival.  This event covers a big patch of Jesus Green every spring, as local artisan brewers offer their wares for about 1.50 pert half-pint.

The quality is uniformly high, the alcohol content clearly marked and highly correlated with price (although the cider has the highest hit by far at over 7% alcohol), and the crowds are red-faced and easy-going.  The only thing missing is a music stage; they kept promising that a band would start, but the only striking noise was a jet engine that someone kept demonstrating for the kids.

There were food booths and a small selection of local wines and desserts, along with a few oddities at the “Foreign Bier Bar” (mostly Belgian) and the “Mead Bar” (mostly hard stuff).  The kegs seemed to be running dry by 5:30 at the more popular brewers, but I really enjoyed the variety of dark ales and clever signage.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Relative rudeness

DSC04221One of the most consistent complaints that I hear about the Dutch from other Europeans is their blunt rudeness in everyday conversation.  For me, the relative clarity is refreshing compared to British politeness or German opacity.  If a Dutch colleague has a problem or issue, they were much more likely to bring it up in a straightforward way, and to be open to a clear debate about the merits of a solution.

There was sometimes an issue in returning to the US: I would tend to speak more simply and directly after months of expat life, and this would be perceived as rude and abrupt on my return.  I’ve learned to tone it down.

The BBC weighted in yesterday with an article comparing British and German manners, citing new research on "phatic" conversation – empty words that nonetheless perform important social functions. For example, on meeting,  British (and Americans) tend to open conversations with some observations about the weather, the weekend, or a mutual friend, establishing rapport and engagement. Germans, in contrast, don’t do “small talk” (they apparently don’t even have a word for it).  To Anglic ears, it all sounds a bit rude.

DSC04141Recent “rudeness” surveys of hotel and restaurant staffs also show national patterns.  French and Americans, for example,were both  singled out, but for different reasons.  The French tend to have a high quality of product at home, so complain when local rooms and foods fall short when they travel (indeed, 85% of French stay in France when they vacation).  Americans, in contrast, are used to a much higher standard of service, and are quicker to complain when attendants are slow or indifferent.

I find that it has a lot to do with the attitude that I carry.  Slow restaurant service is most likely an invitation to relax and savor a well-prepared meal, relaxing with wine and conversation, rather than purposeful sloth.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


DSC04360We’re securing the last bits of money for CamStent, meeting with investors, listening to their concerns, and adapting our governance to protect everyone’s rights.  These debates about promises and covenants are the most difficult ongoing discussions ongoing: what is right, what is fair, what is legal, what is moral?  Two cases illustrate the dilemmas.

Small investors worry about dilution: the impact that larger investors can have on their percentage ownership of the company.  We limit the size of funding rounds to fix their percentage, and put in strong pre-emptive rights to assure that they can maintain their percentage stake despite subsequent fundraising rounds.

Sometimes, that is difficult.  With a third of our round left to go,  an investor appeared to offer double the amount remaining, significantly oversubscribing the round.  Its real money, hard to obtain and extremely valuable to us at this stage.  However, that oversubscription dilutes every other shareholder’s percentage by 10%.  There’s no legal barrier, but is it right to take everything offered when we said we’d stop well short of that?

I consulted with my Board- they unanimously said ‘go ahead’.  They did recommend that we revise the budget to assure that the additional investment generated true asset value by achieving some tangible milestones.  They also recommended that we notify all investors, offering the opportunity to ‘top up’ to their expected percentage.

Not perfect, but good enough: I took the decision to accept (if available) the oversubscription.

Large investors worry about control: they want to be able to veto management significant actions that they disagree with, including:

  • Any allotment or granting of rights to subscribe for shares other than as permitted under the Articles;
  • Any alterations to the provisions of the Articles;
  • Any reduction, subdivision, consolidation, redenomination, purchase or redemption by the Company of its own shares or other alteration in the share capital of the Company or any of the rights attaching to any share capital;
  • Any entry into a transaction where any director of the Company has an interest including without limitation the payment of fees or other remuneration or the alteration of the terms of service or remuneration of any director except where such fees or remuneration are in the ordinary course and are reasonable; and
  • Agree to the sale or disposal of any substantial part of the business, assets or undertaking of the Company including without limitation the licensing or disposal of any of its intellectual property.

It’s a balance: I need operational freedom to run the company, they want Board-level control of major decisions.  It comes down to trust: Neither doubts the other and promises not to interfere, but want their authority ‘just in case’.

In practice, we grant rights to major investors, subject to their continuing to have significant stake in the company and to putting their veto to a general vote of the minority shareholders if the Board determines that a veto is needlessly obstructive.

It’s all part of the Sisyphean task of securing and protecting resources, a universal issue that recurs throughout nature.  In that spirit,  I close with a video that I took of two Dung Beetles struggling with the task that all.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back from a blog-break

I decided to take a week away to freshen my thoughts and to clear out some dead wood on my to-do list.  ‘All very effective in its own way (and, combined with a bit of travel, liberating in the end), but I’m ready to dive back in on a host of issues.

I hope everyone’s doing well; I’m catching up with what the other expats have been writing and will return to the scene tomorrow.