Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Partnership for Freedom– Rethinking Supply Chains Challenge Grant Awarding $500,000 to Entrepreneurs

I am excited to join in announcing the launch of Rethink Supply Chains: The Tech Challenge to Fight Labor Trafficking from the Partnership for Freedom, for which I will be serving as one of the judges.

The Rethink Supply Chains Challenge is a call to action to a wide range of communities – developers, designers, social entrepreneurs, advocates, and innovators – to apply their talents to a critical cause: ending forced labor and modern slavery in the global supply chain.

In today’s global economy, forced labor remains a critical problem across a range of industries, including manufacturing, fishing, agriculture, and mining. Due to the complex nature of supply chains for goods and services, however, it’s often difficult for businesses, workers, NGOs, and governments to understand where forced labor is occurring and how to take action to remedy it.

In response to this problem, the Challenge is seeking creative tech tools and solutions that target key problems in how we prevent, identify, and address forced labor. From finding new ways for companies to connect directly with workers to improving the traceability of products in high-risk supply chains, the Challenge seeks innovative approaches that leverage technology to provide better results. It will be supporting the best of the ideas through a $500,000 prize pool for finalists and winners.

The first round of the challenge is open until December 13th. I hope you’ll visit the Partnership for Freedom website and spread the word.


Israeli Red Wines: Some Vintners are Releasing Promising Wines Too Early

We tasted too many 2012’s and 2013’s that our group felt were prematurely available for retail purchase— not because they are not excellent wines, but because they need an additional 12-18 months of bottle aging before reaching the consumer. Selling wines too soon, when they are not approachable, can leave you with too much tannin on the finish, closed or muted fruit aromas, and an overall flatness on the palate that hides the complexity of what can evolve to be a great wine in another year.  Professionals, who have the benefit of knowing the full spectrum of how a wine tastes at various stages of its maturity, can evaluate a wine’s promise when it is in the barrel years before its release.  For regular consumers, especially in a nascent domestic wine appreciation culture such as Israel, the result of offering a wine to the public too early may be poor customer experience.

Moving into the red zone, one of the more colorful winemakers we met is Shuki Yashuv of Agur, a boutique winery producing about 10,000 bottles a year. Shuki learned how to make wine from the founder of Tzora winery, Ronnie James, and he holds strong opinions about everything. While his approach is representative of the Israeli New Wave, he could be the father of several of the other leading edge winemakers.

Agur is hard to find but hard to forget once you’ve found it. The 2011 Agur Special Reserve, aged in French barrels (50% new oak) for 18 months, is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 24% Cabernet Franc. This wine is black velvet, with wonderful fruit on the palate, and a tobacco finish. The 2013 Agur Layam Syrah blends 50% Syrah with 50% Mourvédre, with each varietal aged separately in second year barrels until blending at the time of bottling. The oldest vines used for this wine are 19 years old.


Shuki Yashuv with Inbal Baum of Delicious Israel

The terroir from these Israeli wines brings black olive, tobacco, and spice box into your palate—the Bordeaux blends, like the 2012 Agur Kessem (40 percent cabernet, 30% merlot, 25 percent cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot), don’t even try to emulate Bordeaux- they stand apart as distinctively Israeli.

We then visited Tzora in the Judean Hills for a delicious lunch and a tasting of some of their finest wines. Eran Pick, winemaker and our gracious host, has a UC Davis/California Bachelors in Oenology and Viticulture and is among a prestigious group of Israeli winemakers with UC Davis credentials including Israel Flam (former chief winemaker at Carmel), Gil Shatsberg of Recanati, Lewis Pasco (formerly of Tishbi & Recanati and now the Lewis Pasco Project) and Dr. Yair Margalit. He works closely with Jean-Claude Berrouet (Pétrus, Dominus). We expect to be hearing in the near future that Eran has joined the exalted and rarefied Masters of Wine (MW).

We were also fortunate to have wine maker Ari Erle and well-known foodie Inbal Baum of Delicious Israel as our guides during different parts of our journey. Ari is a UC Davis trained Napa Valley veteran (former assistant winemaker at O’Shaughnessy and Elizabeth Spencer) who is emblematic of the leading edge of wine making in Israel. He is the general manager and winemaker for Bat Shlomo vineyards. Founded in 2010, Bat Shlomo winery is located in a village that was established in 1889 as a daughter-settlement of Zichron Ya’akov, funded by Baron Edmund James de Rothschild, and was named after Betty Salomon , the daughter of Salomon Mayer von Rothschild (the Baron’s uncle and grandfather). Bat Shlomo is undergoing a complete renovation and wine program expansion under Ari’s guidance. Among other projects, Ari is also working with Napa Valley’s Jeff Morgan of Covenant wines to make Jeff’s first Israeli wine, kosher, of course.

We concluded our journey to Israel with a stay in Tel Aviv, whose highlight was a spectacular dinner at what may be the best restaurant in the country, Catit. Chef Meir Adoni spoiled us with an extraordinary menu rivaling Thomas Keller’s French Laundry.  Before dinner we enjoyed a walking  tour of Jaffa and the open air market in Tel Aviv, sampling amazing street foods with Inbal Baum.  This was truly a memorable trip that Yitz Applbaum and I were delighted to host for the benefit of the charities supported by the Napa Valley Vintners.

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Israeli White Wines of Note: Sphera and Jezreel

Winemaker Doron Rav Hon of Sphera White Concepts has pioneered an Israeli winery that makes only white wine—the portfolio includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, the First Page blend, and the White Signature blend. Doron believes in minimal intervention with the grape in making the wine, from the moment that the juice is expressed from the berries, its cold fermentation process in steel tanks, to the bottling. Most of his wines are un-oaked, fermented in steel tanks for 7-8 months, and bottle aged until release. The result is a smooth, refreshing, low alcohol (12.5%-13.0%) low PH (approximately 3.5)  feast for your palate. Paired with artisan cheeses, I believe this wine will confound experts in blind tastings. The 2014 Sphera White Concepts chardonnay, to be released in May, is redolent of watermelon and has mineral notes that I can’t wait to taste against several White Burgundies. At 95 shekels retail, (about US $25) with only 4,500 bottles produced, Sphera is entering the market with a splash!



Doron Rav Hon hosts a tasting…










Another extraordinary white that we tasted is the 2014 Jezreel Levanim Gewurtzraminer Blend—imagine a blend of Gewurtzraminer, Chardonnay, and Colombard—have you ever had that anywhere else or even heard of such a blend?



What Defines the “New Wave” of Israeli Winemakers?

A key thing to keep in mind is that the New Wave of Israeli wine really is new, with some of the more interesting wineries no more than five years old. Many of them currently have no estate fruit, though they are developing estate vineyards. While these new vineyards mature, wineries buy grapes from selected established vineyards. Visiting the wineries, it is easy to sum up several of the crushing, fermenting, and bottling operations as Garagistes who are going to the next level. The results of their early efforts, however, are surprisingly outstanding!

We tasted a wide range of wines on the trip, from both newer and well-established wineries, ranging from Benhaim, Dalton, Pelter, Teperberg, Clos de Gat, Montefiore, Galil Mountain Winery, Golan Heights Yarden, Sphera White Concepts, Agur, Tzora Vineyards, Jezreel Valley Winery, Bat Shlomo Vineyards, Flam, Yatir, Amphorae, and Lewinsohn. Among these the Sphera, Tzora, Agur, Bat Shlomo, Lewinsohn, and Jezreel wineries were exceptional.

One of the distinctive elements that characterizes the New Wave of Israeli wine making is that the younger up-and-comers have chosen to innovate through the blending of varietals that emphasize the craftsmanship of their wine making and show off the terroir of their appellations. What does that mean? Have you ever tasted a white wine that is a blend of 60% Pinot Gris, 30% Semillon, and 10% Riesling (2013 Sphera White Concepts First Page)? How about a red wine that is a fusion of Carignan, Syrah, and Argaman (2013 Adumim from Jezreel Valley Winery); or the 2014 Levanim from Jezreel, which is composed of a blend of Chardonnay, Colombard, and Gewurtzraminer?

These wines are excellent!



Governance Models That Don’t Scale: The World According to Charles T. Munger and Jean Jacques Rousseau

JJRMungerCan you name five benign dictators who have ruled successfully for any meaningful period of time (non-fiction)? Can you name five successful, long serving CEO’s (excluding Warren Buffett) whose governance histories are free of the “high-beta” associated with outliers such as Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs?

It’s not easy. Why? Because enlightened dictators and their corporate CEO equivalents are very, very rare; maintaining immunity to the intoxicating effects of power challenges basic human nature.

It is in this context that I found “Corporate Governance According to Charles T. Munger”, a brief article from the Stanford Closer Look Series, thought provoking if not practical. The article was written by David Larker, Director of the Corporate Governance Research Program at the Stanford Graduate School of business, and Brian Tayan, a researcher with Stanford’s Corporate Governance Research Program.

The authors summarize and explain Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charles T. Munger’s unorthodox view of a model for corporate governance.    According to the article, Munger believes that corporations and their boards should empower their CEO’s more, not less. Munger’s effective CEO, modeled, of course, on Warren Buffet, should be unencumbered by rigid process and freed of unnecessary, excessive checks and balances. Why? So that the CEO can lead effectively. How? In Munger’s construct, CEO’s police themselves, holding themselves accountable to their loosely overseeing directors by binding themselves to a trust based system. And corporate directors should reward these CEO’s for creating shareholder value, while deliberately underpaying them in terms of their annual salary-based cash compensation. According to Munger, and as quoted in the article:

“Good character is very efficient. If you can trust people, your system can be way simpler. There’s enormous efficiency in good character and dis-efficiency in bad character … We want very good leaders who have a lot of power, and we want to delegate a lot of power to those leaders…The highest form that civilization can reach is a seamless web of deserved trust—not much procedure, just totally reliable people correctly trusting one another.”

I agree with Mr. Munger completely, while asking the same questions raised by the authors at the end of this article:

“The trust-based systems that Munger refers to tend to be founder-led organizations. How much of their success is attributed to the managerial and leadership ability of the founder, and how much to the culture that he or she has created? Can these be separated? How can such a company ensure that the culture will continue after the founder’s eventual succession?”

Unfortunately, and founders notwithstanding, the collective global capitalist experience since private property rights were invented and enforced has shown that there aren’t enough of those people on this planet.

kozlowskimug1For a specific cautionary example, I am reminded of Tyco International and its former CEO, Dennis Kozlowski. Kozlowski was recently paroled, almost twelve years after his indictment, ultimate conviction, and after serving over eight years in Attica, for a $134 million corporate fraud (this amount represents a small fraction of the losses suffered by public shareholders). The disgraced former directors of Tyco International (vintage 1999), seemingly highly trustworthy and accomplished men and women, also come to mind. This group, along with the enterprise builders at Enron, Worldcom, and Adelphia, to name just a few, are at the top of my list of examples of poor corporate stewardship and help explain why Mr. Munger’s model for corporate governance is still-born.

But I did say the article was thought provoking, as Charles Munger’s corporate governance philosophy, in my view, evokes Jean Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the Lawgiver.  Author Alex Scott summarizes Rousseau’s core thesis from the Social contract succinctly in this excerpt from his book, The Conditions of Knowledge: Reviews of 100 Great Works of Philosophy :

“The general will always desires the common good, says Rousseau, but it may not always choose correctly between what is advantageous or disadvantageous for promoting social harmony and cooperation, because it may be influenced by particular groups of individuals who are concerned with promoting their own private interests. Thus, the general will may need to be guided by the judgment of an individual who is concerned only with the public interest and who can explain to the body politic how to promote justice and equal citizenship. This individual is the “lawgiver” (le législateur). The lawgiver is guided by sublime reason and by a concern for the common good, and he is an individual whose enlightened judgment can determine the principles of justice and utility which are best suited to society.”

I agree! Let’s find that individual and give him (or her) the keys to the public policy car! Munger’s corporate lawgiver, the enlightened CEO, is also an admirable model worth aspiring to emulate.

As with Rousseau’s 1762 treatise, history has sadly shown us that we lack sufficient incorruptible raw material across the entire history of mankind to render the “lawgiver” experiment successfully scalable, be it in public government or corporate governance.

The unbridled exercise of power is the ultimate intoxicant, and very few humans can responsibly limit the flow of that drug, especially not when they have are given the opportunity to administer it to themselves.



Returning to East Jerusalem…



April 7, 2013      East Jerusalem

Local time: 4:00 AM

The wailing chant of the muezzin woke me up.  As an outsider, this unfamiliar daily call to prayer for muslims reminds me that I am not just 7,397 miles away from my home in Napa, California; I am centuries removed from the familiar frames of reference that define my daily existence.  But there is also a familiarity to all of this for me…

I started this blog in early 2005 because of a chance encounter I had with an elderly Palestinian man in East Jerusalem on November 3, 2004.  Almost nine years later, I am back…

On the surface, East Jerusalem seems cleaner and quieter to me today than it did in 2004.  I’ve been here about 14 times since my first business trip to Israel in 2002.  This Spring the weather is dry, clear, and cool.  Walking through the Old City, things feel calm, not riddled with the tension of active conflict and imbalance that I have felt on many other visits.  I’ve been asking local friends for an update on the most pressing issues in Jerusalem and, so far, I’ve been told me that one social issue of increasing concern is the degree to which gender segregation has become more pronounced, even though the public buses are no longer segregated.  At the same time, the struggle for the recognition of reform and conservative in Israel continues unabated. Some progress has been made, but it remains painfully slow due to the entrenched political power in the Knesset of the ultra-orthodox minority.  I asked one friend what the “top of mind” political issue in Israel is likely to be in the short term this year, and she said “elimination of the exemption from military service for the ultra orthodox”.  Security and Iran were not on the top three list…

This is my first time back in Israel since December 2009.   I remember vividly my first visit to East Jerusalem in 2003, when I was introduced by Rabbi David Saperstein to Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Center and founder of Women of the Wall.  We met at the Jerusalem Hotel, and this led to a random meeting with a Palestinian man who spoke fluent Spanish outside of the Interior Ministry in East Jerusalem, an encounter that started this blog.

Much has happened in my life since then- professional successes, professional failures, the death of close friends, my own divorce.  And today I look ahead with renewed vigor as I open a new book, not just a new chapter, in both my family and professional lives: remarriage, personal renewal, new business ventures, and revitalized new and old friendships.

I feel fortunate to be back in Jerusalem this week as part of a trip with the Philanthropy Workshop West.  This extraordinary group has chosen to come to Israel this year for their international workshop for a series of meetings with thought leaders and experts on the region in order to better understand the complex social fabric that defines is at the center of the conflict that defines Israel. It is a privilege for me to join them.


New From OpenView Venture Partners: Two Podcasts on Emerging Company Board Governance Best Practices

Firas Raouf of OpenView Venture Partners, a Boston-based venture capital firm, recently interviewed me for two podcasts on the topic of  optimizing the contributions that a board of directors can make to a startup.  Seasoned venture capitalists are well aware of the challenges that emerging companies face in the boardroom due to conflicts of interest and misalignments.  Entrepreneurs must be equally aware and enter the boardroom with their eyes open as to these critical issues because they can undermine the success of a promising venture.

While some boards of directors are effective, many boards perform well below their potential, and some boards are dysfunctional.  This is particularly the case for emerging companies, largely for two reasons: (1) startup boards omit necessary processes because they feel it is “too early”; and (2) inexperienced entrepreneurs and first-time CEO’s are often not aware of best practices in this area.

These two podcasts provide useful practical advice for early stage company boards of directors:

OpenView Leadership Lab Podcast I:  Building a High Performance Board

OpenView Leadership Lab Podcast II: How to Run an Effective Board Meeting




Book Review: The Founder’s Dilemmas, by Noam Wasserman

Founder DilemmaWhile every company founder makes trade-offs in building a company, few entrepreneurs appreciate the far-reaching implications of several critical decisions they will be required to make at the outset of a startup’s evolution.  Noam Wasserman, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School, classifies this sequence of inevitable decisions as “The Founder’s Dilemmas”, which is the title of his important new book on this topic.  A refreshing contribution to the business literature on startups, Founder’s Dilemmas is engaging without sacrificing substance and statistically sound without being turgid.  One of the core differentiating strengths of the book lies in that it weaves seven highly relevant case studies of entrepreneurs throughout its 11 chapters, providing concrete anecdotes and illustrations to back up the author’s general observations and recommendations.  “The Founder’s Dilemmas” is required reading for entrepreneurs and for the professionals who work with them, particularly venture capitalists.

Wasserman notes that venture capitalists attribute 65% of the failures in their portfolio companies to problems with the startups’ management teams.  Focusing on the critical decisions that founders have to make, he observes that entrepreneurs who are company founders are naturally inclined to be passionate, optimistic, and to prefer to avoid conflict with their co-founding team members; these tendencies lead to short-sighted decisions.  Most founders tend to make decisions with no process, based on their gut instincts. Wasserman concludes, backed up by a data set of 10,000 companies compiled over 9 years, that the entrepreneur’s most common choices are the wrong ones, particularly co-founding with friends and splitting equity equally among co-founders at the outset of the new venture.

In The Founder’s Dilemmas Wasserman revisits his most well developed dilemma, Rich vs. King. He convincingly argues that, while the passionate desire among entrepreneurs for both wealth and control seem complementary, as entrepreneurial motivations they turn out to exist in perpetual tension with one another.  Why?  Because founders are resource constrained and need to attract three key outside resources: people, information, and money.  Consequently, Wasserman concludes that “wealth and power are decoupled for entrepreneurs and, indeed, in active conflict.  As a result, few founders of high-potential startups can achieve both wealth and power; most choose between one or the other and often end up with neither.”

These sobering words are backed up with specific examples and recommendations.  Among the most useful, Wasserman points out that the most durable business teams are formed between people who have had prior working relationships and that, though these may “be less endearing”, they are “more enduring.” In determining how to split equity among co-founders, Wasserman prescribes a “dynamic allocation model”, complete with charts, as he points out that founders, from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at Apple to Evan Williams at Blogger/Odeo, rarely correctly identify the future contributions that will actually be made between each other at the outset of the venture.

Turning to the critical issue of raising capital, Wasserman cogently describes the trade-offs associated with taking venture capital, focusing on critical issues such as board composition, understanding the implications of liquidation preferences, vesting of equity stakes among co-founders, and the phenomenon of creeping dilution—both of economic interests and of management control.  Many of these issues come to the foreground once entrepreneurs have raised money from VC’s.  The book makes a great contribution to practitioners on both sides of the table by shining a light on the difficult conversations that entrepreneurs need to have with their colleagues and with their investors.

The Founder’s Dilemmas is effective because of its plainspoken, common sense conclusions: “…core founders are often missing skills, connections, and financial resources to build the most valuable startup possible.  They can make up for this by attracting complementary cofounders or by hiring talented nonfounders.  A third possibility is to add investors to the team, but founders must first think carefully about the often-hidden implications for themselves, for the startup, and for the board of directors.  For a founder-CEO, losing control of the board is only the first step on the way to losing control of the major decisions in the startup…”

This book is a useful tool to facilitate important dialogue between VC’s and entrepreneurs before they decide to make an investment in each other.

I’m Back!

DSCN2594After a one-year hiatus, I am back.  Stay tuned for new posts on venture capital, corporate governance trends, and current public policy issues that impact investors and entrepreneurs. I have also done a lot of hiking throughout America and Europe in the last year and will share highlights from my hiking experiences as a new topic.

Over the past year I’ve made meaningful personal and professional changes. Today I am healthier, happier, and more energized than ever. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with readers and welcome all constructive comments.

IPO Market for Sub $500 million Cap Companies: Hot or Not?

Dan Primack posted an article in Term Sheet last week titled Yelp This: IPO Market Is Killing It. Several well informed observers of the capital markets, including me, strongly disagree with the assertions in that post that lead to the following conclusion: “What we’re seeing in terms of IPO ebbs and flows is about momentum, not structure.”

In my view, it is all about structure– the U.S. equity capital markets for emerging growth companies with market capitalizations below $500 million are structurally broken and systemically dysfunctional.

Responding to these comments in a new post on Monday November 14, IPO Worries Put to the Test This Week, Dan reasserts “my belief that the death of small company IPOs has been greatly exaggerated.” Several readers, including me, again took Dan to task on this because we believe his facts are erroneous.

Dan’s second post did make it clear that there is considerable confusion over the relevant metrics to determine the health of the IPO market for small cap companies.  To wit, Dan used the following examples to make the argument that all id well in the land of underwriting IPO’s:

‘Well, this week may put that complaint to the test. Clovis Oncology is set to price a $160 million offering, despite having a whopping $0 in revenue. Also on the docket is Lashou Group, which only reports $16 million in revenue for the first nine months of 2011. And InterMolecular, with $26 million through the first nine months of 2011. And, just to be sure this isn’t a one-week trend, pre-revenue BioAmber today filed for a $160 million offering. Maybe this week’s low-rev companies don’t price. Or maybe they do so, but only with massive insider support. But, on the other hand, what if they do price with outsider support. In that case, what say you dissenters?’

While I commented again on Dan’s article on Term Sheet, below is a more extensive response with additional facts:

To be very clear, the central issues behind the systemic dysfunction in the U.S. equity capital markets for emerging growth companies are not the current revenues of companies filing to go public or their current profitability levels—the core problems for U.S. securities regulators, investors, and entrepreneurs are (1) the steadily increasing absolute size of the offerings itself; and (2) whether or not the companies raising the public market capital are U.S. companies that will create new jobs in the U.S.

The small growth company is widely recognized as creating new jobs, and, in America, over the past eleven years we’ve witnessed the capital markets death of one of the great job-creation mechanisms in the United States, the sub-$50 million IPO. Between 1991 and 200 80% of IPO’s raised $50mm or less.  Today, the threshold for liquidity demanded by institutional investors requires $100mm plus for an IPO.  And this isn’t just a venture capital problem—this is a major problem for the American entrepreneur—since 1991, 47% of all U.S. IPOs were neither VC nor PE backed.

Why should you care? Because the following list of companies, which were all venture-backed, went public raising less than $50 million at various times between 1971 and 1996: Adobe, Applied Materials, BMC Softare, Computer Associates, Dell, Electronic Arts, Fiserv, Intel, Paychex, Symantec, Intuit, NetApp, Oracle, Western Digital, Xilinx, and Yahoo! These companies raised just $367 million in the public markets, and they account for 470,000 U.S. jobs today. Adjusted for inflation and measured in 2009 dollars, the $367mm in total dollars raised by this group equals $670mm, and only 2 of these 17 companies’ IPOs (EMC $80mm and Oracle $70mm) exceed $55mm in 2009 dollars. While todaythese companies are household names, let’s not forget that they were unknown small cap growth companies when they first went public. How many companies that represent the next generation of household names will be still-born or acquired into obscurity because they cannot access the public capital markets today?

Your sample of companies is perfect in illustrating these points:

Lashou           Chinese company raising ADR’s in U.S. $70mm offering.  No U.S. jobs here.

Clovis Oncology       $130mm offering from latest news report- and note that Life Sciences companies have a completely different business model from IT companies as the public round is typically another “interim R&D” type of financing on the long road to commercialization.

InterMolecular        $120mm -$140 million, reduced from original offering size based on latest news report.

BioAmber                 $150 million offering

To summarize:  actions need to be taken by securities regulators in the U.S. to restore sufficient post-IPO market liquidity and ongoing research coverage for U.S. based companies to be able to successfully raise less than $50 million in an IPO at a market capitalization of $500mm or less.  That will not happen unless it becomes economically sensible for market makers and research analysts to be involved with such companies.

For more background and facts on this topic, please refer to :

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