Thursday, June 30, 2005

My Job Opportunity Keeps Going Down with the Valuation

As noted previously I have been brought on as a consultant to help a due diligence team in an acquisition. The deal is that if the acquisition goes through, I will be brought on as a full time employee to run the new division.

That's quite a carrot to make the thing go through, but the catch is that I have to make the acquisition work after it's done. In other words, if I don't make the new division live up to the forecast I created for it during due diligence, my job will be short lived.

So the CFO and I have been batting the valuation for the "acquiree" back and forth for the last few days. My number started off high, being the optimistic marketing guy that I am. His number started off low, being the pessimistic bean counter that he is. The problem is that as we went through the differences in our models, he convinced me to take his side a lot more than I convinced him to take mine.

So the valuation keeps going down with each revision (we are now on "E"). That is normally a good thing since this means the price of the company - and thus the acquisition cost - keeps going down, but the problem now is that the latest revision valuates the company lower than the last round put into it by the VCs. In other words, we are at a valuation that is lower than what the investors put into the company.

Now this includes only one aspect of the company: the net present value of future cash flows (NPV). This leaves out of the calculation certain assets on the company's balance sheet that we would jettison, cash on hand, and other items that would actually increase a negotiated sales price.

So maybe it's not a lost cause, but I think the probability of the acquisition going through - and my permanent job prospects with this company - went down with each revision of the spreadsheet.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Is Your High School Reunion a Networking Opportunity?

We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. - Joan Didion

On the advise of the networking book I just read, which says to participate in any organized activity that comes your way, I signed up to be on the steering committee for my high school 20 year reunion. The high school and committee leaders are in Houston. I am in California. But the leaders wanted people outside the state on the team in order to get opinions and inputs for those of us from the class of '86 who no longer live in the fair state of Texas.

So I participated in the first steering committee conference call and it was...strange. I was sitting there talking to people I literally hadn't seen in 19 years, but the weird part is that since there was already a prior relationship, we were talking back and forth like no time had passed at all.

Part of that was that there are several fellow ex-football players in the group, and we spent the first 10 minutes talking about the good old times. The years melted away and it was like we were last in a huddle 19 days ago instead of 19 years ago. Then someone brought up their wife and kids, and it was a strange juxtaposition bridging the two time periods. It forced me to suddenly remember that everyone had doubled their lifetime since we were last in the same room together.

The other thing that was weird is that the people on the other end of the line were joking with each other about who had gone bald or really changed appearance. One guy had to introduce himself to someone he already knew, his appearance had changed so much ("Oh, wow, I didn't recognize you!"). As I sat two time zones away, I realized the picture I had of everyone on the other end of the line no longer matched reality.

And I find that a little strange since I look almost exactly the same as I did 20 years ago (and Mrs. Director would say that I even wear the same style clothes). As to whether I am the same person, however, that's a different story.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Miller's Time Book Meme

Miller's Time started his own book meme, which he thoughtfully passed to me (and anything that gives me a "low hanging" blog entry gets a thanks). So here we go, with some running commentary:

1. What is the last book you read, the book you are currently reading and the next book you plan to read:
Never Eat Alone - Keith Ferrazzi
Chainfire - Terry Goodkind
Not sure what I am reading next...
2. In no particular order, what are your five favorite works of fiction:
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Lord of the Rings (three books, but one story) - J. R. R. Tolkein
Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
Dune - Frank Herbert
??? (maybe Shogun by James Clavel)

3. In no particular order, what are your five favorite non-fiction books:

See my business book list.

4. Who are your five favorite fiction writers:

William Shakespeare (I am not being pedantic, but if you characterize "favorite" as having a lot of stories you like to read over and over again...)
J.R.R. Tolkein
Bernard Cornwell
Nelson DeMille
??? (I'm having trouble with the fifth. It sort of depends when in my life you are referring to since at one point I really liked Asimov, Bradbury, King, Clancy and others, but now I hardly read them at all).

5. Who are your five favorite non-fiction writers:

I can't really answer this one. Non-fiction writers rarely write more than one well-known work, and I don't read that many non-fiction books outside of business.
6. What book[s] (other than Scripture) have you read more than once:
This is too long to list. I have read my favorite books more than once, plus over a dozen novels I really enjoyed that didn't make the top 5 list. There are also a couple of "classics" that are in my top 10, like Paradise Lost and Moby Dick that I really enjoy and reread every few years.
7. What autographed books do you own, and who signed them:

The Naked Empire - Terry Goodkind
Havana - Steven Hunter

I am now passing the meme over to Jim and Dave, and of course anyone else can join and let everyone know in the comment section.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Beverage Review: Coke Zero

Since switching to diet drinks, I have been trying to find Diet Coke with Splenda, but haven't been able to locate it yet. However, I stumbled across Coke Zero and decided to give it a shot.

Like Diet Coke, it also has aspartame, but also adds acesulfame potassium, whatever the hell that is, as a sweetener. I am sure it's good for you.

I have to say that it is much better than Diet Coke - there is hardly any aftertaste at all, and is very close to the taste of a regular Coke, but without the "mouth feel" of the full sugared version. I'll be sticking to this until I can find the Splenda version and do a side-by-side comparison.

Book Review: Never Eat Alone

After seeing a few blog postings on the book (which I can't find now) and a hearty recommendation from a mentor in Houston, I picked up the networking book Never Eat Alone for my plane ride back. It was the perfect book for a 3-4 hour trip: engaging, filled with interesting vignettes, and completed by the time the wheels touched down at the end of the flight.

I don't think the author introduced me to anything that I didn't already know, but what he did is remind me how important it is to network. And he gives some practical advice about making networking a part of everyday life. He also points out some lessons most don't learn until later in their careers. One of the chief ones - one that my mentor hammered me on - was not to keep score; bend over backwards to help others, and never expect anything in return. Networking is about giving and making other people successful, it's not about collecting chips and favors for a payback. By helping others you make yourself known and a valuable part of a network - and that is how you receive your "payback".

I don't think everyone could become as insane a networker as the author is (it's what he does professionally), but I think the book is a valuable reminder of the power of networking and should be something all professionals should put on their summer reading list.

Monday, June 20, 2005

There's Always Complications

Good News: My consulting client wants me full time

Bad News: There are "complications". They are not with the position, the manager, my location, or anything at the micro level, but rather a "high-level corporate issue". I know what it is, but can't say more than that in a public forum.

The good news inside the bad news is that if the bad news works out okay, the resulting position will have a lot more responsibilities than I first thought. The bad news inside the bad news is that the complications could result in them not needing me at all. The issue is supposedly going be worked out by the end of this week.

Die, Liquid Amber, Die!

That's the English die, not the German die. In response to a gardening post by Calblog, who has a Liquid Amber tree causing some interference with a citrus tree, I thought I would relate my bad experiences with these trees so anyone who is even thinking about planting them will reconsider.

As Justene pointed out in an email conversation, they are, indeed, beautiful trees. They are one of the few species in Southern California that will go through the full fall spectrum, giving those who grew up with an actual change of seasons a hint of what they are missing in the constant springtime of Southern Cal.

But the problem with Liquid Ambers is that they originated on the banks of rivers and streams, and developed a root system for that kind of environment. Because of this their roots aggressively seek out water, creating all sorts of hell for homeowners, as I found out first hand.

When I bought my house six years ago, I had four Liquid Ambers in my front yard and one close by in my neighbor's yard. I enjoyed them at first because of the fall colors and the autumn tradition of raking up leaves so the neighborhood kids could jump into them, causing me to start all over again. What is more fall-fun than that?

(there are two on the left and two in the middle, but they are right in front of each other, so you can sort of only see the two front ones)

The problems, however, slowly started manifesting themselves over time, and resulted in lots of money being spent:
o Incoming Water Main - The two trees in the middle sat right on top of the water main, which is buried a good 5-6 feet down. About four years into owning the house I noticed a lot of standing water in the front yard. I called out a plumber, and sure enough, we traced a leak back to the main - right under the trees. One solution was to rip out the trees and fix the line, but I didn't want to get rid of the trees (yet), so I ended up rerouting the water main, which required cutting off and abandoning the current line and putting in a new one through the open yard around the existing trees. Total cost: $1,000.

o Outgoing Sewer Line - The sewer line, which is buried underneath the old main line, started having periodic back-ups almost as soon as we moved in. These are a little easier to control since you can "rotor-router" out the pipe, which requires a plumber to snake a drill down your sewer pipe and drill out anything blocking the way. The line can then be kept clean - in theory - by periodically putting in root-killing chemicals. However, in my experience these either didn't work on Liquid Amnbers, or required a monthly application to keep them out. Total cost: a plumber is $300 for a drill-out, and I had to call about every other year. Chemicals are about $20 a treatment.

o Yard and Hardscape Issues - The trees choke out grass, making parts of the yard bare. In addition, as the roots branch out seeking water sources, they can crack sidewalks since they don't have a very deep slab.

This is one item which I am not planning on fixing until I redo the house's front facade, at which time I will also totally re-landscape the front yard, including the hardscape.
I lived with these for over five years, but it was yet another sewer line problem that pushed me over the edge. I threw up my arms and shouted at my wife "We live in a house that's worth over $800,000 and I have a bathroom that keeps backing up because of roots!" It was time for the trees to die.

I called the landscaper who did my Fabulous Back YardTM and he recommended Ramon, who was very good, and very cheap. The "cheap" got my interest, so I got a quote to remove the trees for the same cost as trimming the trees from the local white contractor.

Before Ramon showed up, however, the neighbors found out about my plans. I don't know how, but word got out I was cutting them down. The morning of the planned cutting I got double-teamed by my two next-door neighbors, who begged me to at least keep one tree for now - at least until I relandscaped and put in a new tree. In the spirit of neighborliness I decided to keep the outer left tree, which would balance the tree on the right side of my house (but in my neighbor's yard), with the caveat that the last tree would come down when I relandscaped.

That little negotiation done, Ramon appeared and got to work, causing me watch my financial future flash before my eyes.

You see, there is a reason Ramon is cheap. Instead of a cherry picker and a large truck, his method consists of tying a Mexican to a rope, giving him a chainsaw, and sending him up the tree. The worker then becomes an acrobat on a line, swinging back and forth in the air, each swooping arc resulting in a branch being cut off by the buzzing chainsaw. If the line broke, the chainsaw hit an extremity, or if a large branch came crashing into my neighbor's roof, there were to be lawsuits in my future.

I was too grim to take a picture of the swinging acrobatic chainsaw juggling, but I did get a picture taken mid-work. The trees are cut off from the top down, leaving a 10' stump - for which they had further plans.

Once the stumps were left, they backed up a large hauling truck to the end of my driveway. They then put chains around the tree and tied it to the truck, put the truck in first gear and gunned it. I covered my eyes at this point, not knowing if the trunk would come out, the axel break, or my driveway come tearing out. Believe it or not, the trunks came out relatively easily, leaving nothing but dirt in the ground which I could then sod over. So while it was a harrowing experience, I have to say that Ramon DID know what he was doing, even if his techniques were a little unorthodox.

So I am down to one Liquid Amber on the far left side of my yard, which keeps it from doing too much damage. It too will go when I redo the out-of-place-Aspen-like facade on my home, but when that day comes I think I will pass on Ramon and pay the extra money for a little piece of mind during the extraction process.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"Get Him On Board"

What the CEO said to the VP after my presentation. So I think it went well.

In the past, getting and taking a job offer wasn't that big deal: Husband got job offer. If he lived in a different area, he sold the house, pulled the kids from school, moved to the new house, and started the new job. As we enter the 21st century, a variety of things have created huge shifts in this model:

  • The Working Spouse - Women are in the work force like never before, earning boat-loads of money and running their own businesses. If hubby gets a job, it is no small thing to move the wife away from a career - especially in the many cases where she earns more than he does.
  • Insane Housing - I live in SoCal, which isn't cheap, but I bought in six years ago. And I am two miles from the ocean. The new job would be in Silicon Valley and there is no way I could afford a comparable house in NoCal that wasn't less than an hour from work and at least that far from the ocean.
  • Schooling - My daughter may be only four years old, but we are shelling out relatively big bucks to send her to a private pre-school. If we were to move, the chances of getting her into a comparable preschool in a decent timeframe are nil. In upwardly mobile, highly populated areas, waiting lists for preschools, elementary schools, or anything outside of the dismal public school systems are unbelievably long.
  • Technology - This is the plus side of the trend: the internet, cheap long distance, and cheap air travel has made working remotely easier than ever before.
So as I enter negotiations in the next day or so, the question isn't whether if I work remotely, it's how many days I work remotely. And this could be a deal killer since I have no plans to spend 4-5 days a week away from my family (and there are plenty of commuting workers that do just that). So let's hope that the manager is reasonable on the number of days each weeks he expects me to be "local".

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Couldn't They Just Extend an Offer?

My GENESIS Consulting gig wraps up tomorrow with a final presentation to a group of people that includes the CEO and one of the Board of Directors (it's a public company). I finished the project last weekend, but yesterday a flurry of last minute changes came in based on what the Board Member is likely to ask, so instead of having a day to relax, I am suddenly in "crunch mode" revising everything. Goes with the territory.

The company asked me to stay over an extra day for a customer meeting, but told me "We want you to attend the meeting, but due to the nature of the discussion, we're not sure how the customer will take a consultant being in the room. Why don't you think about how to solve this problem."

The obvious solution would be to make me a full time employee. And sure enough, I noticed this morning a new req on their web site that wasn't there when I started the project:

Marketing Director - will be responsible for developing and implementing product plans and roadmaps in (my field of expertise) , including identifying target markets and customers, product positioning and messaging, competitive analysis, ROI tracking of portfolios, yada yada...

If they had added that they wanted someone good looking, it would match me exactly.

I suppose the way they're doing this they can see if I am interested first, but I think I would have preferred a hard sell. But with a hard sell they would lose the upper hand in salary negotiations. I'll see where this goes, but it looks like the dance has started.

Friday, June 10, 2005

There Are So Many Good Lines to Choose From

Ah, Office Space, one of the all-time great films about working. Jawa Report is having a "favorite line" contest, thanks to news from Prof Chaos that the movie is entering "real" cult status with midnight showings.

There are tons of lines from that movie that are classic, but one that keeps going through my head recently because of my present job situation:
Peter: What if 30 years from now we are doing the exact same thing?
Simir: It would be nice to have that kind of job security.

What's Your Most Productive Part of the Day?

For the last few months I have been getting up early - around 5:30 or so - and working. Mrs. Director wondered if I was developing a new sleep pattern, but the honest truth is that the early morning is one of the most productive parts of my day. After eating a quick breakfast and grabbing a cup of coffee I am a machine, cranking out all sorts of work, research, slides, you name it. Part of it is that I don't have the distractions of calls and emails at that hour, but part of it is my brain just seems to come "on" at that time. This starts trailing off around 10am, at which time I usually coast until lunch.

After lunch my brain takes a nap, even if I don't. 1~3pm I am sort of blah. I don't care what sort of deadline I might have, my brain just won't function. Even doing routine email is difficult, so it is a good time to read through blogs and other low-level "passive" activities (like blogging how my brain won't work).

Around 4pm I pick up steam, hitting a really good stride around 6pm. This session would go until about 7pm, but 6pm is when family-time starts. I sometime try sneak in work during this time, and have gotten in hot water a few times with Mrs. Director when she comes into the living room to find me on my computer typing away, and Little Miss Director parked in front of the TV. I want to spend quality time with my kid, but sometimes I just have ideas searing through my head and have to get them down.

Around 8pm my brain turns off again, so I have found that burning the midnight oil is really a waste. If I have real work to do, I just plug in a movie and wait until the next morning to get to it.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Easy Calorie Cutting Tricks

I have lost nearly 20 lbs. since starting Tae Kwon Do. I'm happy about it, but at the same time paranoid about putting it back on. That isn't likely to happen as long as I keep up my workout routines, but I have started making a few small changes to my eating habits - not dieting, I am talking permanent changes - to insure that I keep the weight off:

Going to Skim - I like milk and drink a lot of it. I changed from whole to 2% as a young adult, changed from 2% to 1% about 10 years ago, and now made the change to skim. Savings: I drink nearly a gallon and a half of milk a week (I have cereal nearly every morning), so this is mainly a savings of 60 fat grams a week. However since I am a calorie counter, I'll count the 720 calories a week.

No Cream in My Coffee - I am one of those people you see at Starbucks happily pouring a third of my cup with half-and-half, essentially turning my venti coffee into a grande cappuccino. Well, that will not be happening any more since I am now only using skim in my coffee as well. Savings: Half and Half has a whopping 39 calories and 3.5 fat grams per fluid ounce, and people putting it into those venti containers are putting in several fluid ounces. I have to average this one down since I usually have coffee at home and put in 2%. I'll put in an even 100 calories saved per week, which is being conservative.

Cutting Down the Alcohol - When I was in my 20s I didn't drink except when going out or on special occasions, so maybe once a week. When I hit my mid 30s I found myself having one - sometimes two - "unwind after work" drinks nearly every day. I am changing to something closer to my old ways, keeping the weekly drinking down to 3-4 times a week, and when I do, I have low-carb martini instead of a high carb beer. Savings: A martini has about half the calories of a regular beer, and of course no carbs. Neither have any fat. I'll put this down as a calorie savings of 500 a week.

Leaded to Unleaded Colas - The old joke about the guy who gets a double bacon cheeseburger with a supersize fry and a diet coke was the reverse for me: I'd find myself in a restaurant having a sensible lunch with a regular coke, so I thought it was time for a change. But this one is proving to be the hardest. I think aspartame has the same long, bad aftertaste as saccharine, and if I have had a diet drink with Splenda, I haven't noticed any taste difference with that either. I don't mind just drinking water, but I drink a cola for its caffeine in the afternoon and don't want a hot drink (coffee or tea) to get it. Savings: The average coke has 140 calories, and I had one usually four times a week, so I'll put this down as 560 calorie savings a week.

So these changes - which are all in my drinks - don't require going hungry, but rather a change in my tastes. And it amounts to around 1880 calories the week, which is nearly a whole day of not eating every week for someone on a 2000 calorie a day intake. So imagine how much the savings accumulate over the course of a year.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Does This Make Me a Nerd?

Mrs. Director and I saw Star Wars III last night. Again. We just weren't interested in seeing Cinderella Man, and based on all the gray-hairs waiting in line to get in (it was sold out), we're the wrong demographic anyway. I am just not that interested in a Depression-era movie, or Seabiscut on two legs.

Since this was the second viewing, we thought we would look for some of the subtleties and sequel issues in the move (there are whole web sites dedicated to this, so take these as observations from average fans, and not Comic-Book-Store-Guy fanatics). WARNING: Contains Spoilers:

Anakin Created by the Dark Side? - During the chat between Palpatine and Anakin during the opera-dance-swimming-thingy, Palpatine relates the story of (presumably his own) Sith master who could "manipulate mitochlorians to create life", which we learn in SW I is how Anakin was conceived. So was Anakin part of a long-rage plot by the Dark Side?

"Love is Blind" Scene Not That Bad - A lot of criticism has been thrown around about the scene where Anakin and Padme talk about "you're so beautiful", etc., and how audiences laughed. Watching this the second time I thought it was supposed to be funny since the two were bantering; basically joking around with each other by playing with words and using hackneyed phrases. Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship might understand how this sort of stuff really happens. The "I'm pregnant" scene still gets a raspberry, however.

This is Your Father's Lightsaber, Sort Of - After the Obi-wan/Vader fight, Obi-wan picks up Vader's lightsaber. This was necessary since in SW IV, he gives Luke his "father's lightsaber". The only problem here is that when they fought, Vader's blade was (dark side) red, but when Luke turns it on, it is (light-side) blue. I don't know the "official" doctrine on light-sabers, but based on the SW video games I've played, the color is controlled by crystals, so I guess we have to assume Obi-wan changed it out.

Dead and Pregnant? - I didn't notice this, but Mrs. Director says Padme looks pregnant during her funeral, assumingly so any Empire spies in the audience will confirm that the child died with her. I have no idea if this is physiologically accurate or not in real life.

Politics Impossible to Figure Out - Mrs. Director and I tried to figure out the politics over cocktails afterwards, but as Poliblog noted, they just don't make sense. Padme laments "this is how democracies die", but her own husband was born into slavery. Like much of the plot, this is one area where you have to put your brain on hold and go with the flow. This is supposed to be a space opera and not anything with deep political meaning.

My, How You've Aged - This is technically an issue with the actors and not the plot. At the beginning of SW IV, Luke is on the verge of manhood, so around 18 or so. When Obi-wan drops him off at the end of this movie, he (Obi-wan, not Luke) looks like, well, Ewan McGregor (34 this year). In SW IV, Obi-wan looks like Alec Guinness (about 63 when Star Wars was released). Similarly, the actress playing Beru in this movie is a young, attractive woman (played by a 22 year old), but in SW IV she could charitably be described as "middle aged". Maybe that desert sun prematurely ages people?

Were the Wookies Really Necessary? - Not a plot hole, but just a comment that the whole Wookie thing seemed unnecessary. It seemed to be put in there just to put Chewbacca in the story, but that leaves people wondering how he went from being a leader on his planet to an outcast smuggler 18 years later.

I'm sure I'll come up with a few more when the video comes out, but I promise no more postings. If you're that curious there are tons of sites dedicated to this sort of thing.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Does This Make Me a Failure?

Frank was one of my best friends in high school. We were in many of the same AP classes and hung out a lot together in our spare time. When we graduated in the mid 80s, we were both poised for success: we both graduated in the top 10 of our class, were both accepted into top rated schools and thought the sky was the limit. We kept in contact for a few years, but eventually lost touch since we attended schools in different states.

Fast forward 19 years and we run into each other in Silicon Valley. He is a senior VP at one of the top branded tech companies in the world. The brand didn't even exist ten years ago, and he was at the company before it IPO'd, so he is way in the money.

I am technically unemployed.

Yeah, I have a consulting gig that will likely turn into a full time job. And the salary level will put me comfortably in the top 5-10% of wage earners in the U.S. But as I sat there chatting with him, I felt the crushing sting of failure.

We were at the exact same place 19 years ago, and today we are on different levels - mine far below his. But it wasn't skill or intelligence or ability that made the difference. It was luck.

My start-up flamed out in the tech bust in 2002. But we were close to making it. So close. If only a few things had transpired differently I would be sitting in the corner office of a public company with a nice VP title. His start-up made it. Made it big. Chances are you will cross his company's web site today.

So while he sits comfortably in his corner suite managing his new trust fund I am essentially still climbing back from the hole I fell into in 2002. I try to put it into perspective, but it's difficult not to be depressed

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I Forgot - Term Papers Suck

My term paper GENESIS consulting project is now at 40 pages, and I probably have another 15-20 to go (it's due two weeks from tomorrow, so I am in good shape). I forgot how much this sort of thing sucks: sitting down at a computer for hours on end collating information and writing can get pretty boring, even if it is in a topic that is well understood.

The good news is that I had a lot of the information available in other forms, so a lot of it has been cut-paste-edit; cut-paste-edit. The bad news is that instead of just turning the report in and getting a paycheck, I will be "presenting my results" to senior management, so I have to create a companion Powerpoint presentation to go with the report. In my previous consulting projects this happened about 50% of the time, so it's not too surprising.

As expected, however, my consulting for the company has expanded far beyond the report. I get peppered with email questions, brought into customer and partner meetings, and am basically doing general product marketing work. This is all technically outside the scope of the written consulting agreement, but as I am now scheduled to talk about "our next steps" after I give my oral defense presentation, this is a back door way to integrate me into the company as an employee before we sit down to make it official.