Saturday, November 9, 2013

It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood

DSC01217 (1300x948)The skies were blue and the sun shone brightly over the Old city centre today.  It’s the first day that really felt like autumn, the right colours, the crisp feel to the air, a scent of leaves and spices in the air.


DSC01186 (1300x954)I was up early to move the car and take a walk across town; thesun was just rising over the Maas at 7 am.  It will likely be a late night tonight as PopRonde hosts music venues  in bars all night. And taxes to look forward to on Sunday…

It was a perfect day for taking new cover shots for the blog’s Facebook Page north from on the High Bridge.

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I’m pleased that the page has reached a critical mass of Followers and is behaving like a “real” site now: please join if you’d like push notifications in place of the RSS feed. (I’m also on Google+, but at a much lower level of activity).  

And if you’ve already subscribed, many thanks!  I genuinely appreciate your interest and comments.

But, I digress.  Back to Herfst.

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The trees are finally showing colour, as the river swells due to  runoff draining from the Ardennes. The barges are laboring upstream, engines vibrating against the current, as they thread the Sint Servaasbrug.  Everyone above is bundled and huddled against the wind,intent on their errands and warmth.

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The Christmas lights have re-appeared at the Mosae Centerand the Vrouwplein; the touring boats have closed down for the winter (joining the shuttered drug barges). The streets glisten in the evening with a coating of fresh rain.

It’s a familiar rhythm,comfortably repeated year after year through the city and along the waterfront, .

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It’s nice to have my kitchen back, and I dug into making a variation of British Kedgeree with spiced lamb filling in for eggs and haddock.  Although I followed the recipe to the letter, the rice overcooked (or was overwatered) and the lentils undercooked; the dish seemed under-spiced and needed more sultanas.  I’m split on whether to give it another chance.

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My Mandarin Orange Coulis was excellent, though.

An appetite for risk?

DSC01160 (1300x975)It could be argued that struggle is at the heart of enterprise: in a free market: Resilience in an entrepreneur is more important than brilliance.

On certain days business can feel like a war of attrition.  Luke Johnson, the FT

Two days ago, I described how I returned from a few days with family in the US to a storm of problems in the UK.  ‘not things to go into in a public space, but a dense tangle of technical, operational, and political issues beloved of Ben Horowitz in his entrepreneurial stories of “The Struggle”.

DSC01158 (1300x975)Jet lagged and discouraged, I rolled into Poole Central Station just past (missed) dinner.  The wind was blowing and the waves crashing as another storm grazed the coast.  It fit my mood.

Wednesday, though, an improvement.  The weather warmed and the winds subsided: I shut the office door, opened a window, and worked on the business plan and pitch.  Most of it was routine,  rewriting the summary and slides and revising against comments.  The hardest part, though, was a request that we estimate the “odds of success”.

We are raising 650K gbp to get a return of 20M gbp in 18 months. What are the odds that the bet will pay off (eg: 1:3, 1:10,1:100?)

Its a very difficult question.  The key success factor is our product’s performance in decreasing the rate of infection.  We broadly agree that we need to do better than 10%, and know we have an 80% reduction in surface bacteria in the lab and a 35% correlation between colonization and infection. 

Is (100%-80%) * 30% < 10%?

Yes (6%), but would anyone understand the tenuous logic?

In the end, I could only say that my team and I had enough confidence to put 4 years of work into this, and we all still had firm confidence that we could deliver.

DSC01166 (1300x1075)I went for coffee with a successful plant/project manager who lives up the road in Sandbanks on Wednesday evening.  We talked about how to manage groups for success, even (and especially) university groups.  I see professional respect, aligned interests, and a light-touch management. She argued that we don’t have the same risks or motivations and it was time to crack the whip.

Today, Thursday, my drive up from Poole to London was filled with calls to assess data,  discuss alternatives, finalize plans. I pulled over to scribble on slides spread across my lap.

DSC01162 (974x1300)The pitch event started at 3 in the City.  11 minutes to make my case, I mumbled my opening lines as incantations over the first few slides: a good start assures a good pitch.  4:15, the first company starts, showing a new idea for tidal power generation.  Their CEO was really good!  I took a few pointers and went out to practice differently.  40 minutes to go: the 100 investors took a break and I found a quiet corner to relax and focus.

DSC01165 (1300x975)5 pm.  I stepped to the podium and smiled.  … Founder and CEO of CamStent…improving patient outcomes… my 3rd presentation and, significantly, my last to this group, as this will bring us to revenue in 18 months…

Afterward, folks said it was my best pitch all year.  Our table was busy with interest.  We stayed past the 8 pm deadline talking with interested people.  The event leader stopped to congratulate us: he said that for all the time he’d known me, he’d never seen me as beaten down as I was on Tuesday morning, and he recounted how he took a tough line to get me “back onto the field”.

You never know where help, or success, is coming from.

DSC01168 (1300x950)It’s such a roller coaster, I reflected to the w.wezen later, from a hotel room where the bed is the chair for the desk and dinner is a waitrose sandwith and a glass of Merlot. 

Monday the issues, Tuesday the disaster, Wednesday the turnaround, Thursday a win.  In January I might look like a genius, or could be out of business.  It’s a funny, stressy, day-at-a-time life.

'‘betting that 6% will be shown to be less than 10%.

With public gravitas and confidence.

And a private wish for “Soon”.

But if business can sometimes be a catalogue of grief, there are sublime moments too – when you feel you are on the winning side and building something enduring. Then all the worry can seem a price worth paying for an independent and adventurous life lived boldly.

Luke Johnson, the FT

Friday, November 8, 2013

Back across the Channel

DSC01170I would have hit the floor rolling out of bed at 5:30, had the room been larger than the bed.  ‘sometimes I do miss the corporate perks…

And this was a $100 per night room, the cheapest 4-star Hotwire room in London (with parking for $80 overnight nearby).

I’m actually feeling good today, though, despite the ‘shoebox living arrangements.  The ship feels righted, the sails filled, and the notes from the Board suggest that I’ve been successful as casting our issues as ‘problems to be solved’ rather than ‘confidence hits’.  We’ve got a good shot at making this go.

‘and time for me to head east across the Channel for a week in Maastricht, the car full of books and disassembled furniture, the appointment book filling with tax returns and Dutch lessons.

‘Morning and evening, Calais and Maastricht.

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‘much nicer than Kensington.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wednesday’s views

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A warm, blustery day along the coast: it doesn’t show up well in pictures, which look grey and static.  The reality is rolling surf, waving trees, racing windsurfers, and spitting rain.

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The reality is actually quite delightful.

I’ve got to get into a dinghy group…

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Back across the pond

DSC01125 (1300x974)I had an uneventful run back to to London, hard on the heels of a windstorm along the West Coast that took down our power for a full day.  Bookended with the storm that pushed me out of England the week before, I’m feel like the weather is following my  travels back and forth this week.

It was a busy week, lots of good things happening (seeing family, getting good physical exam results, cooking a decent fondant, voting progressive, experimenting with spices from the Jerusalem cookbook, sharing drinks and stories with close friends, and making deconstructed risotto dishes), and catching up with long-overdue  tasks (finalizing taxes, fixing the routers, raking leaves).  I got the Dutch-boy page-cut reshaped into a more traditional layered haircut.  I ate a slab-o-beef with good red wine and bought jeans that fit my revisioned 30-inch waist.

Unfortunately I ran into (as Ms. Merkel says) a shitstorm on arrival back in Europe.  A single missed deadline, an isolated event, began to have wider impacts across the business.  Arriving in London, then weaving my way south, calls and emails began to arrive urgently, following up to defer tasks and reschedule meetings.

DSC01127 (1300x950)My convoluted route, via the Southwest trains transfer at Clapham Junction made it hard t keep up as the phones grow more insistent.  Finally, I pulled into a coffee shop with WiFi at West Brompton to sort things out.

It’s always important to have a plan, to communicate well, and to project confidence, even as everyone’s mood drops from worried to sour to angry.  I spent the afternoon in the corner of the coffee shop sending group emails and leading conference calls, distinguishing the issues that simply impact plans from the issues that insidiously sap people.

By evening, on very little sleep, I was back in Sandbanks and felt back on top of things.  I’d managed to remember enough of my resolutions to take a time-out before engaging on knotty issues and after difficult calls. I reached out to friends when I started feeling overwhelmed.  I kept the stresses in check.

And even took a walk along the waterfront at twilight, just because it’s nice to be back.