October 28, 2007
Fiber Optics in Sherborn Massachusetts
I'm visiting with some friends in Sherborn Massachusetts. They previously had dial up internet access, but sometime in the last two years, everyone (3,000) in this town, as well as more surrounding towns, got fiber optic lines put in by Verizon.
They have 5 mbs of downstream service for $35 a month, and if they pay $7 more per month, they can get 15mbs. It's rocket fast, so fast, as my host says, "it's too fast to take advantage of much besides video and VOIP because no one else has a fast connection to talk that fast with you." But it still rocks.
Everywhere I go in the Bay Area, work, home, friends offices, public places.. I wait for every website, video, voip connection, etc that I use. It's just amazing the contrast here. And every window I look through in my host's house has gorgeous forest and fall colors .. it's at least 100 yards to the next house., and all the houses here have that sort of spread. How do they do it when we can't get this in the denseness of Berkeley, San Francisco, Mountain View?
I'm sure the telcos that took $200 billion from the FCC and then didn't install fiber optic service have some excuse, but it's BS. They just need to install it since we paid for it, and then we can all move on.
October 24, 2007
James Cicconi of AT&T On Net Netrality
James Cicconi, Senior Executive VP Legislative and External Affairs for AT&T was at Esme Vos' Muniwireless conference yesterday, spewing what I would kindly call the greatest of spin, and unkindly as BS.
Net Neutrality is not about people telling network providers what to charge for tiered service. That's bull. Net Neutrality says that video packets, no matter where they come from, will get through at the same rates. Same with text or photos or VOIP or anything else. The network can't under Net Neutrality distinguish and discriminate because it doesn't like where something came from or the place the packet came from didn't pay the telco's any money to prioritize the packet.
To quote muniwireless (emphasis is mine):
It's Day 2 of the Muniwireless Silicon Valley Conference and they have an executive from AT&T talking about municipal wireless networks.
AT&T has not changed its tune. It is still against cities using public funds to compete with private enterprise and believes that communications should be left up to private firms like AT&T.
James Cicconi, Senior Executive VP Legislative and External Affairs for AT&T claims that there is no duopoly and there is enough competition in the market for telecommunications services, so cities should stay out.
What is AT&T's position on net neutrality?
Net neutrality is a challenge for all companies. You spend billions to deploy your assets and net neutrality means someone telling you what you can do with your assets - what you can charge, tiers of service, etc.
"All bits should be treated equal" is a problem for network engineers because one bit is porn another bit is heart surgery, another is email, yet another is voice, another is spam. That everything should be moved equally end to end is ludicrous. It's a more costly way to do things. It's not efficient, according to AT&T.
AT&T cannot build and maintain assets quickly enough to meet the demand. They are spending $19 billion this year. Some of the demand is driven by video. What happens when people start delivering high definition film? They can't build networks fast enough! What's the answer? Effective traffic management.
The antitrust laws can deal with the problems of net neutrality (side note: unfortunately these are not being enforced today). Why should AT&T want to degrade traffic? They will go to someone else (side note again: in a duopoly, you've got Comcast which has been blocking Bittorent traffic).
I don't know about you but where I live and work, we have two choices: AT&T for dsl or Comcast for cable internet access. They are both Mid-band services, and not great but better than dialup. And we pay exorbitantly for them compared to other countries.
So of course they want to take their AT&T/Comcast duopoly and spin Net Neutrality as being all about people interfering with their pricing models for tiered service when it's really all about prioritizing packets. They want to divert attention from the reality which is that they want to put their videos through first, their media, their VOIP or media/VOIP from people who've paid them off. Instead of letting users have what they want. The telco's want to own the pipes and the content.
It's wrong and we can't let the telcos win on this.
October 23, 2007
It's Not So Black and White, These Issues of Gender and The Tech Community
Today at She's Geeky, during the session with Jodi Sherman Jahic of Voyager Capital and Patricia Nakache of Trinity Ventures, we talked about a lot of different things.
Patricia and Jodi are really wicked smart, accomplished women, both of whom have engineering degrees and MBA's, who articulated some of the subtle and complex issues we face as women in the tech community, or as technologists starting ventures or as business people trying to figure out what is going to happen next in markets and with funding.
Jodi had a great list of the four things that matter for VCs when assessing an investment:
market adoption risk
And we spent some time on board composition, funding questions, how people become VCs, why they may have different backgrounds than entrepreneurs (they often have MBAs) and why VCs don't necessarily want to fund MBAs (in other words, being different is good because getting an MBA is a risk-averse step and they want to fund risk-takers). I really liked that last one, because I've heard from time to time from other women founders that they can feel intimidated by the pedigrees many VCs have (often Harvard or Stanford or other Ivy League schools) and yet, it's a plus to not be just like them. The answer is to have as much diversity on your team (the founders, the rest of the team, the investors, the advisors and the board).
Another thing I brought up were a couple of stories I'd experience when working through funding issues.
One was about how a year ago, with a VC who has a small fund and targets companies at the stage Dabble was then, who decided not to fund us. About a month ago, I saw him, and asked to tell me why, for real (at the time I got a sort of "non-excuse"). He said that, and I do think he was sort of thinking aloud, that well, he thought at the time I might not stick with it. And I asked why, what did that mean. He said that when a founder is by themselves (no cofounder), he often assesses whether he thinks they'll quit, and he realized as we discussed it more recently that he had a sort of idea in the back of his head that I might quit easier than a man in my position. He knew this was wrong, but he hadn't thought it through until I pressed for feedback, and he'd only been willing to tell me this after the target size and stage of his investments didn't match where we were.
I think this is one of those things that isn't really black and white. I mean, of course I'm angry by the idea that this why he didn't fund us, but at the same time, I really appreciated that he was honest with me, and that it became a learning experience for him as well. That he learned he had a stereotype he didn't see in himself previously. My hope is that he thinks about it and stops himself the next time he finds himself thinking this sort of thing. I don't think he's a bad guy, and in fact, I think the better of him for sharing it and noticing the problem, for agreeing that it was wrong and he should do better.
I think that's all you can ask of someone, because frankly, we all have our stereotypes, our biases, our prejudices. They aren't going to go away unless we can face them, and it's hard to face them if you can't discuss them or bring them out into the open. Women are just as much a problem for other women as men with these issues. And one thing VCs for sure face, as Jodi pointed out, is a lack of upside for being honest. She said one motivation is that a VC will shy away, because they don't want to miss the chance to do a Series B if they pass on a Series A with someone, and tell them why. If they instead hedge on the reasons, they keep their options open. But she encouraged women to ask anyway for feedback, because it does help with what you are doing.
But I have to say, with the man in my story above, if later he wanted to do something with me, I wouldn't say no. Because I believe he's open to change and learn, and to figure out how to do what he does better, with a more diverse crowd than the men that so typically start companies in Silicon Valley.
Anyway, regarding the black and white nature of these issues, or lack thereof, Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News wrote up She's Geeky, with this article, and as many reporters do, wrote up my story in two short sentences causing it to seem more black and white:
A venture capitalist who rejected Mary Hodder's start-up for funding later told her he did so in part because Hodder had no male co-founder, and he thought she would quit because she's a woman. Hodder didn't quit.
And while I appreciate the need for this way of telling it, and it is technically true, I also think the issues are more complex. If we chastise folks for having "bad thoughts", we won't air them and make it better, and they will sit, just under the surface, keeping anyone but the default culture from succeeding.
I believe that Silicon Valley culture is pretty open and accepting of people. I'd suggest that compared to many other industries, it's a better place for a woman to start a company or work again type than most. But the reality is many people in positions of power and authority -- often men but sometimes women -- have some variation on the thought themes that keep people out.
But I also think we need to support our geek sisters, make better networking and figure out how to up the numbers of women VCs, women founders and women engineers. Or our products and companies will suffer, and our ecosystem will remain stilted and in some ways, closed.
October 22, 2007
Lura Dolas at She's Geeky
I've taken two classes with Lura, one at the Berkeley Repertory Theater (2 hours) and one full day at Citizen Space. One thing I noticed was that during the session, as we practiced the exercises for better speaking, I thought what we were doing was a "little bit helpful" in focusing my speaking and helping the audience connect better with what I was saying. But it wasn't until a few weeks later, as I found myself using some of what I learned with her, that I realized she'd brought about a significant change in my speaking effectiveness. She had changed both my small group and large public speaking.
She is a very clear and respectful teacher, and it's obvious from talking with her that she's got years of experience, but I think what is most amazing is her presence. She can speak loudly, but she's not a loud person. Rather, she commands attention as a very small woman in a room full of larger and often louder people. But everyone listens to her and they do this because of her presence and clarity. Her techniques and tools help her students get closer to this sort of presence.
One thing I have high on my list of things to do for the folks who work at Dabble is to bring her in for a day to train folks to communicate and discuss better. I think every company or organization could use her remarkable skills as a teacher to improve what they need to accomplish, even as most of the people in an organization do not speak publicly. It's a matter of achieving clarity and strength, confidence and setting people at ease as a person expresses ideas. No matter the size of the conversation.
Here's the write up on her session (which is free with the conference admission - a great deal considering what speaking coaches charge but she's doing it because she believes in our mission to help women develop further professionally in the tech community):
Why pubic speaking at She's Geeky? Because we know that there is a dearth of women speakers at events and conferences, and we know that there is a kind of feedback loop between women speaking at an event, showing her expertise and experience, and being asked to work in leadership roles. Many women fall into technology development, and into positions that might allow them to progress to positions of power, but good speaking skill is critical for this.
Lura is a renowned speaking trainer and acting coach. She offers a 2 hour session to practice techniques that will help you realize your goals in your career outside and within your workspaces. She has taught one day workshops at Citizen Space and teaches privately. We are lucky to have such a talented speaking trainer and if you have any interest training, I'd highly recommend that you attend her session.
October 21, 2007
She's Geeky Starts Tomorrow
She's Geeky is a unconference organized by Kaliya Hamlin with the help of Deb Roby, Melanie Swan, Susan Mernit, Julia French, Laurie Rae, Mary Trigiani and Heather Vescent among others. I've helped when I could but I think my major contributions have been minor compared to the rest of these women who've worked hard to pull this meeting of the minds together.
The conference will be held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. It's an unconference in the sense that the attendees are going to make the agenda on Tuesday. Monday afternoon will consist of sessions set up ahead of time so that certain topics and speakers could be arranged in advance. The conference fee of $175 covers the cost of the location, insurance and food. And you can get a small discount if you use this page here, for $25 off.
The two sessions I'm organizing include one with Lura Dolas, a professional speaker's trainer. She's phenomenal, and my only regret is that she has to be there during my other session, on VC's and entrepreneurship, which means I can't attend both at the same time.
I have attended Lura's speakers training twice, once for a two hour session that was the taste I needed to know that she was amazing and I needed a lot more help from her. The second was a full day held at Citizen Space, where 20 of us practiced speaking techniques and talked through what's needed for great presence and interaction.
Look for the schedule for Monday here at this link. And here's some information on the VC session:
VCs and Women in Tech: A Brainstorm with Women VCs and Entrepreneurs
Moderator: Mary Hodder
This session will engage in an open discussion between VCs and women entrepreneurs and those thinking about entrepreneurship. We will start with a short information sharing about what VCs are, how people become VCs, how they make their funds, where they get the money, who they are responsible to, and what they think about in their capacity as VCs. We'll hear about why VC's do what they do, what they like and dislike, why they think there are few women in the business, and how it affects funding and the kinds of technologies developed. Next, we'll get to the meat of the problem: addressing what an entrepreneur needs to know about funding when starting a company. And we'll brainstorm with everyone there about how to solve problems, who to go to for information, what elements are needed for a presentation, what gets funded, and how to get a VC over the line to get something funded.