Friday, April 19, 2013


It’s a season for lines and arrows, numbers and graphs, spilling across whiteboards and flip-charts.  For four months, the chemists have been working to stabilize the silicone surface of our substrate.   Progress has been slow, first the problem had to be understood, then alternative methods tried, finally the results validated in 15-day stability tests.  We pushed hard on things that seemed to work, quickly abandoned.

And the clock ticked, and our resources burned lower.

This week was our planned review to take stock.  We have patented materials, good people, laboratory resources, a ready market, waiting investors.  It only remained to connect the dots, how should we deploy resources to give us the maximum chance of success?

At this stage, “Success” becomes a slippery concept.  “Entering the market with a superior product that benefits patients,” is the right answer. But how do we allocate bets among Product A, Plan B, and Option C?

In a tight situation, “Securing funding and staff”  or “Conserving investor cash” become topics as well.  It gets tempting to think only of how to keep a grant, how to close a funding round, how to Keep Going.

But that’s not the purpose of being in business.  Living businesses bring products and services to customers.  Zombie businesses, kept solvent with cash infusions, linger with no hope of becoming viable.

Knowing Right from Wrong means knowing When to Stop  as well as What Next.

Which drives everyone to the whiteboards.

A consensus emerged over the past week, ratified today.  This is what we know; this is what we don’t.  Here are the risks, the associated “right / left” alternatives depending on which way the work breaks.  Tag the decision dates: annotate the deployment of people, the associated costs.  Here’s the plan and budget.  And, in three months, we have the answer. 

Or we are finished looking.

It’s a weird feeling, after the vote is complete: we’re “all--in”.  There are no more plans to be made, the chips are all pushed to the center of the table and the cards are dealt. Now we just execute the very best we can; play the hand as well as possible.

My partners note that some of the greatest stories in business come from companies in exactly this situation.  I know that we can be one of them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

It’s (finally) spring!

Well, the skies cleared, the willows put forth tentative shoots, and the Cam filled with punts today as the temperatures broke double-digits for the first time in months.  People sat out in the sun; the Pimms flowed for the first time this season. 


And if you look closely, you can see the porter from Queens chiding the undergrad attempting the climb the base of the Mathematical Bridge.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Oude tech, nieuwe tech

Two stalwart bits of kit gave out this week: my MP3 player and my mobile telephone.  Finding replacements turned out to be more challenging than expected, but it’s all settling in over the weekend.

My MP3 player cracked open when I dropped it running for an exercise session. It still played, but a hint of water would end that, so I made a  quick backup and hit the online shopping sites. 

Sadly, I discovered that the MP3 player is vanishing from the consumer electronics scene.   Where a dozen manufacturers made units a few years ago, now it’s down to two majors, and both are limiting selection and raising prices.

The tablet and smartphone are likely absorbing the role of music player, although it’s hard to see taking either one to exercise or to bed.  The rise of streaming media may also be a cause, but data connectivity costs too much for me to use 3G as a feed. 

This is, in any case, likely to be my last little player.  At least I’m not left wondering where to store the 8-track cartridges.

My mobile phone was just old, so O2 was willing to give me a straight no-cost upgrade.  A Windows phone seemed to fit best: I negotiated a new rate plan, looked for long battery life, and picked one that was able to make calls rather than run apps.

Setup was not easy.  Nokia’s PC-Suite doesn’t work with new phones, but their new app can’t sync contacts. So we used the SIM to transfer my 150 contacts,  but the new chip got stuck in the old phone.  Once transferred, all  my contacts were overwritten as Windows automagically downloaded my thousand email contacts.

The result was unmanageable.

Two phone resets latter, we solved it by setting up a dummy Hotmail account.  I’m in the settling in phase now, getting settings right, pairing with cars and computers, configuring the access point, and finding the various controls. 

The ‘Live Tiles’ are underwhelming, but I like the way the phone does Skype and Map Navigation.  It’s way easier to set up connections to the Internet, always an issue with the X6.  The acid test be to see if it gets a signal in the grassy wilds of the Cambridgeshire countryside.