Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My new book - Business Writing to Remember

This blog has always served dual purposes through the time I've written it, to be both a compilation of links to great writing and body of work with my grouping together the links under subjects, summarizing them and noting why particular pieces of writing so good and resonated with me. The books I've written from the blog, with my prior one detailed in this post, have been a continuation of this body of work idea, with my wanting to put a bit more permanence behind the effort in the form of you know... books.

To that same end, I've compiled another book with Business Writing to Remember, something that pulls out the very best of the business writing I've read and posted on while writing this this blog, with the further inclusion criteria that the pieces still timely even if aged a bit and currently available for reading without a subscription. The book is currently available as a Kindle eBook through Amazon and as a download through Scribd and as I started compiling it by looking back at past stories read, linked to and written about, categories of business writing began to emerge and are separated out in Business Writing to Remember:

Business segments - best pieces on each:
Health care
Venture capital
Manufacturing & resource utilization
Power generation & management

Companies - best pieces on each:
Tesla Motors

Companies - single best piece on each:

My reviews of great business books

There’s been a lot of reading done to suss out the writing found to be interesting enough (usually a combination of great writing on a fascinating topic) to include in the blog and I've enjoyed the process of the reading, then writing on and making connections between the various pieces. Hopefully the result of the effort is something with a bit of permanence (there's that word I love to use in relation to writing), both in the form of links to great business writing by others and my own body of work about the writing.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson was an amazing biography of sorts from the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama and professor at NYU Law School. Stevenson has argued multiple times before the Supreme Court and won the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and his work initially focused on representing death row prisoners and since has included the cause of helping youth imprisoned as adults and serving life sentences.

Stevenson in 1983 was a Harvard Law student working in Georgia on an internship and he notes in the book visiting a death row inmate and how many of those on death row didn't have anyone that would represent them in appeals, and in some cases they wound up there after convictions that included uninterested defense council. In 1989, Stevenson opened a law center dedicated to providing free legal service to those on death row in Alabama and a quote of his at the end of the introduction was "the true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."

Much of the story is around the case of Walter McMillian, a black man in Alabama sent to death row after being convicted of the 1986 murder of an 18 year old woman, even though he was at a family gathering of dozens during the time of the murder. McMillian was arrested based on the testimony of someone implicated in another murder and who agreed to testify against McMillian in exchange for a reduced sentence. When that person recanted his story prior to trial, he was sent to death row, again, prior to any conviction, and then moved back to a more standard prison once he again agreed to testify against McMillian. Stevenson began representing McMillian after his conviction and sentence of death and the first effort Stevenson made to get him freed came when someone came forward with evidence that made the states corroborating accomplice witness testimony impossible, and that person was immediately arrested for perjury in an attempt to intimidate them. Eventually, McMillian was completely exonerated in 1993, five years after being sentenced to die in prison.

Stevenson later in the book wrote of death sentences being handed down to the mentally ill and mothers wrongly convicted of murder after having a stillborn baby, along with children being tried as adults and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Covered towards the end was how Stevenson argued before the Supreme Court on this question of children serving life sentences, especially as a result of crimes committed at 13-14 years old or non-homicide crimes, and in May 2010 the Court ruled that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children convicted of non-homicide crimes is cruel and unusual and not permitted.

It was a well-written book from Stevenson and really a sobering read on cases of extremely unjust punishment.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, Declara & Tankchair

With this the final post I've got planned around my favorite business writing linked to so far, organized by category into various posts with the last on great writing about security, I wanted to cover a bit of a grab bag of great writing I've seen on fascinating companies that I haven't written about yet as part of this project... Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, Declara and Tankchair (absolutely worth reading the piece to learn about the company):

"The Incredible Stair-Climbing, Self-Parking, Amphibious Wheelchair" by Joshua Green for Businessweek in June 2014 – on the company Tankchair LLC. Really a great story about Brad Soden and the company that came out of his desire to improve quality of life for his paralyzed wife and now helps many seriously injured veterans.

"The Hidden Technology That Makes Twitter Huge" by Paul Ford for Businessweek in Nov 2013 – on the amount of detail that each and every tweet contains, and how that detail can then be sliced, diced, categorized and segmented.

"Declara Co-Founder Ramona Pierson's Comeback Odyssey" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2013 – on an absolutely remarkable person and as Vance wrote, Pierson out of college was in the U.S. Marines (who paid for her final years at U.C. Berkeley) and "worked with algorithms to help calculate the position of Russia’s nuclear silos and guide F-18 fighter missions" until she in 1984 was hit by a drunk driver and spent 18 months in a coma. About this cataclysmic injury, Vance wrote "Passersby saved her life. One massaged her heart to keep it beating; another used pens to open her windpipe and vent her collapsed lung so she could breathe. The crude handiwork kept Pierson alive long enough to get her to a hospital." Next in the story Vance wrote of Pierson's rehabilitation, including the equally fascinating time she spent in a senior citizens center with the residents helping her get better. Vance then covered how Pierson became an accomplished blind rock climber, cross-country skier, and cyclist. Additionally, she after leaving the senior citizens center studied psychology and received a master’s degree in education and then PhD in neuroscience. In terms of her Pierson's work efforts, Vance covered in the piece how she served as CTO of Seattle public schools and developed database software around the students and their learning. Still utilized today, this software led Pierson to forming and then selling the educational company SynapticMash prior to starting last year in Palo Alto, CA her current company, Declara. Geared towards both education and businesses, Vance notes how Declara "a type of social network that links everyone in a company or an organization. With the help of algorithms developed by Pierson and others, Declara’s system learns how people interact, what types of questions they’re looking to answer, and who can best answer them." 

"Netflix, Reed Hastings Survive Missteps to Join Silicon Valley's Elite" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in May 2013 – a piece that starts off with the sentence from Vance that "on a normal weeknight, Netflix accounts for almost a third of all Internet traffic entering North American homes." 

"Facebook: The Making of 1 Billion Users" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Oct 2012 – on engineering at the company and how it basically launches a new site version with tweaks each and every day.

Favorite business writing linked to - on security

While the last few posts to my series of favorite business writing I've seen have been on technology companies (with the most recent about great writing on Apple), this post on the subject of security, both cyber and physical security, hearkens back to those I wrote a few weeks ago with links grouped under the subjects of writing on health care, venture capital, manufacturing and/or resource utilization & power generation and management:

"Now at the Sands Casino: An Iranian Hacker in Every Server" by Ben Elgin and Michael Riley for Businessweek in Dec 2014 – on an almost certainly government sponsored cyber-attack on the casinos of vocal Israeli supporter and Iranian critic Sheldon Adelson.

"This Stealth Attack Boat May Be Too Innovative for the Pentagon" by Caroline Winter for Businessweek in Aug 2014 – on entrepreneur Gregory Sancoff and his company Juliet Marine, maker of the invisible to radar small winged boat, Ghost.

"How Russian Hackers Stole the Nasdaq" by Michael Riley for Businessweek in July 2014 – on what appears to be a government-sponsored break-in to NASDAQ, done for reasons unknown.

"Somali Pirates' Rich Returns" by Robert Young Pelton for Businessweek in May 2011 – One of the points of this blog is to highlight cases of excellent writing on a topic of note and this piece definitely qualifies. I was struck even more by the story after realizing it was written by the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places, an excellent book that I read years ago.

"Hacker vs. Hacker" by Brad Stone and Michael Riley for Businessweek in Mar 2011 – about the shenanigans at and against a top exec of Computing Security firm HBGary Federal. The hubris of this guy Aaron Barr is pretty remarkable, just as is the zeal on the part of the Anonymous hackers taking him down piece by piece. Quite the entertaining read.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on Apple

Following up on my most recent post in my "favorite business writing" series, that one about writing on Amazon, below are the best pieces of writing I've come across in recent years (and can be read without a subscription) about Apple:

"Tim Cook Speaks Up" by Tim Cook for Businessweek in Oct 2014.

"Tim Cook Interview: The iPhone 6, the Apple Watch, and Remaking a Company's Culture" by Brad Stone and Adam Satariano for Businessweek in Sept 2014.

"As Software and Hardware Advance Together, the Next Innovation Wave Rises" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2014 – on the great advantage held by companies like Apple, Tesla Motors and Nest (now part of Google).

"Runner-Up: Tim Cook, the Technologist" by Lev Grossman for Time Magazine in Dec 2012 – from the Person of the Year edition of Time and on the Apple CEO. While the entire piece an interesting one, what stood out to me was mention of the hours put into his job. Remarkable anecdote from Grossman on Cook with "He wakes up at 3:45 every morning (‘Yes, every morning’), does e-mail for an hour, stealing a march on those lazy East Coasters three time zones ahead of him, then goes to the gym, then Starbucks (for more e-mail), then work."

"iPad: The PC Killer" by Peter Burrows and Jim Aley for Businessweek in Mar 2012 – covers Apple's dominance with the iPad and Burrows and Aley offered up some ideas that seem to make a lot of sense... with the first two being around why the iPad has done so well and third around business conditions it created. In terms of product success, the authors note both how Apple able to take a longer view approach to a market given fewer product offerings and that the iPad helped by being a follow-on product to the iPhone (a positive both in terms of consumer familiarity with the concept and Apple utilization of the iOS software and App Store). Most interesting to me from the piece was the idea put forth by Burrows and Aley that the iPad so dominates the market that competitors can't expect to simply offer up a comparable alternative and expect it to sell. If a product offering in the same pricing or performance ballpark as the iPad, customers will simply pick what they already know to be good. There is still success that can be had by other companies, but it either through breakthrough competing technology (which nobody has brought yet) or slicing off a piece of the market and going after that.

"Apple's Supply-Chain Secret? Hoard Lasers" by Adam Satariano and Peter Burrows for Businessweek in Nov 2011 – on Apple combining great consumer experience with supply-chain competitive advantage.

"Apple, with or Without Steve Jobs" by Brad Stone and Peter Burrows for Businessweek Jan 2011.

"Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere" by Farhad Manjoo for Fast Company in July 2010 – lots of interesting things in list format from the company Manjoo notes as being now the largest technology company in the world.

"Commencement Address to Stanford University" by Steve Jobs in June 2005.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on Amazon (including Zappos)

With my having done half a dozen posts over the past few weeks on favorite business writing I've linked to, with each post containing links grouped under the subjects of writing on health care, venture capitalmanufacturing and/or resource utilizationpower generation and managementTesla Motors / electric carsGoogle (including Nest), this post is on great writing come across about another influential company in Amazon (including Zappos, which Amazon acquired in 2009):

"The Everything Book: Reading in the Age of Amazon" by Casey Newton for The Verge in Dec 2014 – on the company, it’s Lab126 in Northern California, the Kindle and Amazon’s influence on reading and books. Really a fascinating story that echoed points from the 2013 Brad Stone book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, in particular that Amazon still begins meetings by having someone read a six-page narrative of what the meeting to discuss. Just such an interesting concept utilized at Amazon.

"Amazon's Drone Fleet Delivers What Bezos Wants: An Image of Ingenuity" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Dec 2013.

"The Secrets of Bezos: How Amazon Became the Everything Store" by Brad Stone by Businessweek in Oct 2013 – excerpted from his book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

"Amazonfresh is Jeff Bezos' Last Mile Quest for Total Retail Domination" by J.J. McCorvey for Fast Company in Aug 2013 – on the company and its efforts around the connected areas of same-day delivery and groceries. As McCorvey wrote in the piece, "it's the so-called last-mile problem--you can ship trucks' worth of packages from a warehouse easily enough, but getting an individual package to wind its way through a single neighborhood and arrive at a single consumer's door isn't easy. The volume of freight and frequency of delivery must outweigh the costs of fuel and time, or else this last mile is wildly expensive." Amazon has already been moving forward in this effort, with huge investments in warehouses (and willingness to no longer fight state sales taxes that typically get incurred with warehouse presence a state) as well as local delivery options that complete with existing carriers. As I read the piece by McCorvey, it looks as if Amazon building a hyper-efficient network around fulfillment of goods, just as they built networks around the cloud and running the websites of other companies with Amazon Web Services and networks around self-publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing.

"Why the Amazon Naysayers Should Be Scared" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Apr 2012 – looks at the recent excellent financial results from the retailer, with improving margins while at the same time making large investments in infrastructure (facilities and people). Pretty interesting stuff from Stone that also makes reference to Amazon focusing efforts on publishing and the Kindle with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently saying that "16 of our top 100 bestselling titles are exclusive to our store."

"Amazon vs. Publishers: The Book Battle Continues" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Apr 2012 – on Amazon wanting to move towards print-on-demand publishing and the traditional publishing houses fighting them.

"Las Vegas: Startup City" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Feb 2012 – on Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and his backing of development efforts in the area around headquarters for the Amazon division. It’s an interesting look at personal for-profit efforts that also have an altruistic bent.

"Amazon's Hit Man" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Jan 2012 – details the new in-house publishing imprint at the web retail giant, with the concept having Amazon hold tighter control over book pricing and distribution by cutting out traditional publishing houses and signing agreements with the authors themselves. It’s an interesting approach led within Amazon by Larry Kirshbaum, the former head of Time Warner Book Group and has already resulted in agreements with Tim Ferriss, James Franco and Penny Marshall.

"Amazon, the Company That Ate the World" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Sept 2011 – on the company's tablet entry, the Kindle Fire. The company as a whole has done a lot right over the years and early indications are that they've created a compelling offering.

"Why I Sold Zappos" by Tony Hsieh for Inc. in June 2010 – excerpted from his book Delivering Happiness and contains some fascinating info about the requirements of investors. This idea of running a company for shareholders brought to mind two different posts that I wrote which were less about stories I came across and more about my views, one I wrote in 2010 about running a public company (and which links to this piece by Hsieh) and one I wrote in 2012 about stock valuation.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on Google (including Nest)

With the last post made in this series on my favorite business writing linked to having been on Tesla Motors, below is a listing of my favorite business writing come across about another hugely influential company, Google, with several of the stories on the company Nest, which Google acquired in Jan 2014:

"Google's Larry Page: The Most Ambitious CEO in the Universe" by Miguel Helft for Fortune in Nov 2014.

"The $3.2 Billion Man: Can Google's Newest Star Outsmart Apple?" by Austin Carr for Fast Company in Sept 2014 – on Tony Fadell and the company Nest.

"As Software and Hardware Advance Together, the Next Innovation Wave Rises" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2014 – on the great advantage held by companies like Apple, Tesla Motors and Nest (now part of Google).

"The Truth About Google X: An Exclusive Look Behind the Secretive Lab's Closed Doors" by Jon Gertner for Fast Company in Apr 2014.

"Google: The Celebrity Profile" by Tom Junod for Esquire in Sept 2013 – on the company, its power, and the potential for abuse of that power. Junod also wrote in the piece about Google X and offerings like Google Glass and not current, but also not out of the question, things like storing of biological data.

"Inside Google's Secret Lab" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in May 2013. Fascinating stuff on the Google X division within the company that's devoted to "moonshot" ideas or problems that Lab Director Astro Teller says about which "over some long but not unreasonable period of time we can make that problem go away."

"Tony Fadell’s Newest Invention is the iPod of Thermostats" for Fast Company in Nov 2011 – on a fascinating product designed with user experience in mind from former Apple exec Tony Fadell.

"And Google Begat..." by Kimberly Weisul and Spencer E. Ante for Businessweek in Feb 2010 – on the angel investing done by current and former Google employees. Pretty interesting stuff about the next generation impact Google wealth is having by helping fund tech startups such as Twitter, Tesla Motors and a host of smaller unknown (but, probably not always) ventures.

Favorite business writing linked to - on Tesla Motors / electric cars

With the last post made in this series on my favorite business writing linked to having been on solid writing about power generation and management, it's a natural segue to now write on my favorite business writing come across about Tesla Motors and electric cars:

“Tesla’s Electric Man” for The Economist in Dec 2014 – an interesting piece I hadn't previously written about on production of battery packs at the forthcoming Reno gigafactory along with corresponding technological improvements in energy storage. Really interesting piece that features the following from Tesla Motors co-founder and CTO JB Straubel, “I see us more as an energy-innovation company. If we can reduce energy-storage prices, it’s the most important thing we can do to make electric vehicles more prevalent. Add in renewable power and I have a direct line of sight towards an entire economy that doesn't need fossil fuels and doesn't need to pay more to do it.” Reference is also made in the story to home energy storage options from the company SolarCity and information from the piece is echoed in and reinforced by the Dec 2014 Bloomberg story “Why Elon Musk's Batteries Scare the Hell Out of the Electric Company,” which notes how the gigafactory along with batteries for Tesla cars will “also churn out stationary battery packs that can be paired with rooftop solar panels to store power.”

"Inside Elon Musk's $1.4 Billion Score" by Peter Elkind for Fortune in Nov 2014 – on how Tesla Motors went about deciding on Reno as the location for the forthcoming electric car battery gigafactory.

"Tesla Grabs a New (Old) Spokesman From Square" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Nov 2014 – on Ricardo Reyes returning to head Communications at Tesla. The background that Reyes has is fascinating, particularly in relation to the idea of narrative and storytelling within business communication.

"As Software and Hardware Advance Together, the Next Innovation Wave Rises" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2014 – on the great advantage held by companies like Apple, Tesla Motors and Nest (now part of Google).

"Why Everybody Loves Tesla" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in July 2013.

"Triumph of His Will" by Tom Junod for Esquire in Nov 2012 – on Elon Must and really well done writing about a fascinating individual. Junod starts off the profile with a great hook alluding to Musk's audaciousness and then in the piece shows his drive in looking forward, and often past what others want from him, and having a remarkable willingness to place huge bets.

"Elon Musk, the 21st Century Industrialist" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2012.

"Why Tesla Motors Is Betting On The Model S" by Jon Gertner for Fast Company in Mar 2012 – on the much anticipated and planned for July 2012 launch of its sedan. Tesla’s CEO Musk is a fascinating guy and the thing that stood out from this piece was his mention of needing iterations (three progressive car models) to reach his ultimate goal of a low priced mass market vehicle. This translates to the Model S sedan as the mid-point between the high priced roadster and the planned for the future third model.

"Electric Cars Get Charged for Battle" by Eric Pooley for Businessweek Dec 2010 – focuses on entries to the field from Nissan and General Motors. The Leaf from Nissan has a higher green credential being all electric, but the electric/gasoline hybrid Volt from GM follows in the already proven to be successful footprints of the Toyota Prius. Reading the piece, it seemed to me that Nissan will have a tougher road to success (pardon the pun) with its higher reliance on the availability of public charging stations. Even if the places to charge are available, consumers have to feel comfortable enough that they won't get stuck or the car purchase will never happen.

Favorite business writing linked to - on power generation and management

As the follow-on to my prior post "Favorite business writing linked to - on manufacturing and/or resource utilization," which had preceding posts on favorite business writing linked to about other topics, below are the stories that struck me over the past few years (and are available for reading without subscription) on power generation and management:

"Meet the Radical Berkeley Artist Whose Company is Turning Trash into Electricity" by Josh Dean for Fast Company in Mar 2014 – on Jim Mason whose company All Power Labs makes the Power Pallet that works through a process called gasification.

"Why the U.S. Power Grid's Days Are Numbered" by Chris Martin, Mark Chediak, and Ken Wells for Businessweek in Aug 2013 – on the increased usage by individuals and companies of power generated outside the grid. This usage of power is known as distributed generation and most commonly includes solar and wind power. Also cited in the piece is how one of the technological advances moving forward distributed generation is an advance in microgrids, the systems that enable switching between different power sources, both generated within and outside the utility company run grid.

"The Plutonium Gang: CH2M Hill Dismantles the Hanford Nuclear Site" by Steve Featherstone for Businessweek in Aug 2013. One really interesting detail from Featherstone about this dangerous task was the $33,000 per day cost of protective gear for cleanup workers at the Plutonium Finishing Plant and the story made it feel fortunate there hasn't been a larger nuclear disaster (accidental or intentional) than we've seen.

"Beyond the Grid" by Anya Kamenetz for Fast Company in Jul 2009 – looks in great detail at the concept of small-scale household or business power generation and its potential. Not surprisingly, this idea of a "micro-grid" is being fought by large power utilities looking to prevent competition by either installing and controlling it themselves or by simply making it go away.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on manufacturing and/or resource utilization

As part of the aggregation project I've been working on around my favorite and most impactful business writing, including past posts done in the areas of writing about health care and writing about venture capital, below are the stories that struck me (and are available for reading without subscription) on manufacturing and/or resource utilization:

"Materials That Will Change the World: Graphene" by Peter Diamandis for Medium in Oct 2014 – Diamandis is founder of the X Prize awarded for private spacecraft development and author of the book Abundance: The Future is Brighter Than You Think. In this story, he did a fascinating piece on Graphene as a material noted as having potential applications in the many areas of energy storage, flexible screens, desalinization and filtration of water, medical applications and sensors, photovoltaics and solar cells, computing and electronics and material composites.

"The Road to Resilience: How Unscientific Innovation Saved Marlin Steel" by Charles Fishman for Fast Company in June 2013 – on a company that used to solely make bagel baskets and has grown tremendously with now the large majority of products being much more expensive baskets for industrial and manufacturing environments. Noted in the piece was an interesting quote from owner Drew Greenblatt with "what I realized is that the customers who are a pain in the neck are really the great customers."

"Is Origami the Future of Tech?" by Drake Bennett for Businessweek in May 2012 – on the topic of DNA fold origami manufacturing. It's an amazing idea that departs completely from manufacturing paradigms based on sculpture (take a block and chisel away what's not needed) or piece-together assembly. Instead, Bennett describes a process of manufacturing for objects (both large and nano-sized) based at least in part on the work of mathematician and computer scientist Erik Demaine. "Fold-and-cut allowed you to make any shape in the world, any collection of shapes, even, as long as they had straight sides. One could, in an angular font, create the entire text of this page with the right folds and the right cut. In a paper published two years later, Demaine expanded on this idea, extending it into three dimensions: Any faceted solid, he showed, no matter how complex or irregular, could be folded from a single uncut sheet of paper. Start with a piece of paper big enough, and you could model Notre Dame down to the last gargoyle." The idea seems outlandish, but is actually based on objects in the natural world like flowers or snowflakes (with the idea of folding illustrated by paper snowflakes usually made in school). It was a remarkable concept that seems to me likely the type of innovation Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Perlman had in mind when he said the following from an April 2011 Businessweek story "Facebook is not the kind of technology that will stop us from having dropped cell phone calls, and neither is Groupon or any of these advertising things," he says. "We need them. O.K., great. But they are building on top of old technology, and at some point you exhaust the fuel of the underpinnings." It's not to find fault with communication platforms like Facebook or Twitter, but rather to highlight this case of what could be real true breakthrough innovation in the field of manufacturing.

"TechShop: Paradise for Tinkerers" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in May 2012 – on the facility chain where members have access to expensive equipment to build things from plastic, wood, metal or other materials for a $100/month membership cost.

"MakerBot's 3-D Printers Let Consumers Dream up Prototypes of Pretty Much Anything. But Do We Need More Plastic?" by Rob Walker for Fast Company in Jan 2012.

"Alaska’s Billion Dollar Mountain" by Daniel Grushkin for Businessweek in Oct 2011 – on entrepreneur Jim McKenzie and his mining company, UCore. Focus is on Bokan Mountain near Ketchikan, Alaska and the large support of valuable rare earth metals held deep underground. It's an interesting story in the efforts of McKenzie to gain mining access and in how the land reached its current valuation. Previous attempts to mine Bokan were unsuccessful at trying to find and extract uranium and this is exactly what McKenzie was initially interested in and hoping to convince the old prospector (Bob Dotson) who owned the mineral rights to allow him access to. Through spending time with Dotson, McKenzie learned of the rare earth metal potential in the mine and then brokered a deal with Dotson and his estranged children (to whom who he had granted shared rights) to be able to mine Bokan. In 2010, China as the world's largest producer of rare earth metals then made the decision to dramatically cut its exports of these minerals (that go into complicated electronics, jet engines and missiles) and as a result made prices skyrocket and dramatically increased the value of Bokan. It still remains to be seen whether the cost of deep underground extraction will make the investment pay off, but the potential is very much there.

"The Siberian Energy Rush" by Joshua Hammer for Fast Company in Nov 2010 – about Russia pushing natural gas exploration further and further into the Arctic Circle. Written by Joshua Hammer it's a pretty amazing look at a country staking a claim to new territory.

"I Have Just One Word for You: Bioplastics" by Mar Der Hovanesian for Businessweek in Aug 2008 – on biodegradable plastics and the biotech company Metabolix.

"China Invades Africa" by Richard Behar for Fast Company in June 2008 – a special report on the ongoing private / public efforts of China to stake claim to needed resources that are and will be taken out of the continent of Africa.

Favorite business writing linked to - on venture capital

I made reference to the concept in a post just done on great business-related health care writing and the second category of great business writing I've come across and posted on in the past is venture capital... with the following being those stories (or in one case my notes on a video interview) that struck me as excellent:

"The Zen Master of Silicon Valley Chatter" by Max Chafkin for Fast Company in Jan 2013 – on Kevin Rose, the Digg founder and now internet investor as part of Google Ventures.

"Social+Capital, the League of Extraordinarily Rich Gentlemen" by Drake Bennett for Businessweek in July 2012 – profiles the Venture Capital Fund led by former Facebook employee Chamath Palihapitiya and backed in part by Silicon Valley heavyweights Kevin Rose and Peter Thiel. Solid piece on an interesting fund build on the idea of backing companies trying to accomplishing something good.

"8 Visionaries on How They Spot the Future" by Joanna Pearlstein for Wired in Apr 2012 – written as a wisdom compilation story and the following are the people and their insights that struck me the most. Paul Saffo (Technology Forecaster) - looks for things that seem out of place as an indicator of events to come. Chris Sacca (Venture Capital investor) - you don't need to be a seer, prophet, soothsayer, diviner, or clairvoyant to spot and potentially invest in the companies that could be poised for success. Barriers to entry are low enough in many technology realms that evaluation decisions can be made based on the actual product or service experience (or at least an early stage iteration of it).

"How to Get Started as a Business Leader" by Mitch Joel for the Twist Image blog in Feb 2012 – contains an embedded video interview with investor Chris Sacca, head of the venture capital fund Lowercase Capital. I first heard of Sacca from a Feb 2010 Businessweek piece "And Google Begat..." on investing by Google alums and have since come across a number of interesting things noted and linked to by Sacca on his Twitter feed. The recent interview, though, particularly stood out as it's an hour-long conversation between Sacca and Kevin Rose (who founded Digg and hosts for another of his companies, Revision3, an interview series with business leaders). The interview with Sacca has a short introduction by Twist Image President Mitch Joel and my notes (which of course may differ from what someone else gleams) from the actual Rose-Sacca interview are as follows.


Sacca went to the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown and then started down the road of graduate school. However, rather than completing grad school at the time, he received the school loan checks and used the money to start a business with the intention of aggregating class action lawsuit information. The business didn’t do much, but the story probably serves as an early indicator of his entrepreneurial bent. He then began day trading online and during this heyday period went to being up $12M, but then found himself down $4M in the market crash around 2000. With this roller coaster ride in his background, he proceeded to get his law degree and came to Silicon Valley. While having a day job as a lawyer, Sacca did lots of outside of work business hustling and attended all the networking events and worked hard to build a network. He was at the law firm for 13 months before getting laid off and then created a company that didn’t do a heck of a lot, but having that company helped him land a job at Spedera and from there got hired into Google. Sacca was brought into Google to buy data centers for server housing and negotiated with local officials on the space Google was looking to take. This role was part of the core engineering function at the company and exposed him to some of the brilliant people working there. He then became Head of Special Projects and worked on initiatives such as free WIFI for Mountain View and the $4.7B bid by Google for wireless spectrum. Sacca came to Google too late to get insanely wealthy, but did do well enough to pay off his day trading debt and return to even by Feb 2005. He then saw Google becoming more territorial and a harder place to get into new areas so left the company in 2007.

Twitter investment

He then started writing small angel investor checks to startups with Photobucket his first investment and Twitter his second. This initial investment in Twitter was done with founder Evan Williams while Sacca still at Google and his relationships there run deep and included other key leaders Jack Dorsey and Dick Costello. While out on his own after Google, Sacca started accumulating additional stake in Twitter (speculated, but not confirmed to now be around 10% of the company). This obviously makes the guy look brilliant in hindsight, but the important thing is the reasons Sacca notes for believing in Twitter as a business. Along with his firm belief in the brilliance of Evan Williams is the appreciation of how things there monetize with ads able to be sold based on actual math and ad conversion rates rather than conjecture of what the ad buy is worth. Additional value offerings noted were the component of mobile that Twitter provides and ability to work within Social Networks and promoted tweets / promoted trends.

Other investments

Sacca put together his Lowercase Capital LLC fund and other investments have included FanBridge (which he found from sending out a tweet asking about entrepreneurs working late on a Friday night), Instagram, turntable and Kickstarter. He notes doing less startup investing now due to the high valuations and focuses on companies and areas where he can be helpful. It’s also noted that VC investing not an exact science and there being a number of now successful companies that he could have invested in, but didn’t due to a lack of familiarity with the space in which they operated. Also brought up in the interview is how VCs make their money when they reinvest in companies already involved with.


Sacca describes himself as someone who grew up tenacious and determined, but along with that notes the import of building yourself through being helpful to others. To this point, he brings up that you often don't know where you're going to be able to contribute the most until you get in there doing things. The phrase used by Sacca was “create value before you ask for value back” and at this point, his interviewer, Kevin Rose, related his own story of wanting into Square so producing a demo video of how the product works and Sacca told of Ryan Graves, current GM at Uber who hustled and demonstrated helpfulness to get himself into foursquare. In terms of people he looks to work with, these ideas of contribution and hustling definitely come up as valued traits. Additionally, Sacca extols the idea of people who have had crappy jobs they had to grind at as well as those who are rounded enough that they have things outside of work. This last point being about working with people that he wants to spend time around as well as invest with.

Overall, it was a terribly interesting interview with someone who seems to have combined together the elements of skill/intelligence, hard work and good fortune. I say good fortune because the concept of "in the right place at the right time" often part of many success stories... but, Sacca's story from the interview shows effort getting him to the places where good decisions and solid work would pay off. In short, you gotta make your own luck.

"The Logged Out User (continued)" by Fred Wilson for his venture capital focused site AVC in Sept 2011 – on Twitter usage and how the service is used in different ways by different people, and what a great thing that is for the company.

"Ten Rules for Web Startups" from Twitter founder Evan Williams on his blog in Nov 2005. Williams’ track record is remarkable in that he co-founded both Pyra Labs (parent company that created Blogger) and Twitter. The rules as laid out in the blog post from Williams were all interesting, but what really stood out to me was number one... "Be Narrow" with the first few sentences "Focus on the smallest possible problem you could solve that would potentially be useful. Most companies start out trying to do too many things, which makes life difficult and turns you into a me-too. Focusing on a small niche has so many advantages: With much less work, you can be the best at what you do." This brought to mind the excellent Ken Jennings book Maphead, in which a collector was quoted saying "if you're going to specialize, specialize as much as possible." It's a tremendously interesting (and logical) concept that applies to map collecting, business creating and I'm sure many other ventures.

Favorite business writing linked to - on health care

One thing I've been thinking about lately in relation to my writing here has been how to best aggregate what I've written... with that output very much including the great writing from others that I've linked to. I've been happy with the consistent work I've done on this site over the past six plus years and to this point the aggregation has been in the form of books I've compiled and published via Amazon for both the Kindle and in print. Those books have been by category (business, sports, writing on writing, book reviews, etc.) and what I decided recently to take a stab at was going back through my past posts to this site and do new writing on a few particular categories of stories.

The area I've started with is business and over the past week or so I've gone through all of my business-related writing to this site and pulled out particular story links that resonated with me. In looking at the best business writing I've posted on, there's been a handful of topics I've found both to be of import as a subject and to have great writing on that subject I've written about previously. The first to post on here is health care (with at least somewhat a business-leaning angle to the story) and below are the health care stories I've seen that resonated the most with me and which are available online without a subscription:

"Illumina's new low-cost genome machine will change health care forever" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Jan 2014 – on people gaining affordable access to information about the genetic traits that they carry.

"Patient Zero" by Tom Junod and Mark Warren for Esquire in Dec 2013 – on cancer patient Stephanie Lee and noted scientist and researcher Eric Schadt.

"States of Health" by Atul Gawande for the New Yorker in Oct 2013 – on the Affordable Care Act by the noted physician and excellent writer.

"Has Carl June Found a Key to Fighting Cancer?" by Jason Fagone for Philadelphia Magazine in July 2013.

"Is Concierge Medicine the Future of Health Care?" by Devin Leonard for Businessweek in Nov 2012 – on doctors taking on patients on a monthly fee basis rather than billing insurance carriers for exams and basic services. It’s an interesting notion with lots of different service derivations and costs ranging from extremely high to quite affordable.

"Craig Venter’s Bugs Might Save the World" by Wil Hylton for the New York Times in May 2012.

"Adventures in Extreme Science" by Tom Junod for Esquire in Mar 2011 – on scientist Eric Schadt and his "emperor has no clothes" approach to conventional wisdom in the field of molecular biology. Schadt makes for an interesting topic with his proselytizing about the vast networks and cause-effect relationships within the body... and how that runs counter to the previous belief that things within ran independently enough that successful mapping of human DNA would start us on the road to disease cure. In terms of this new viewpoint, the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is cited as one of Schadt's early influences and which led to him breaking away from conventional belief. Junod details not just the intelligence and contrarian viewpoint of Schadt, but also his propensity to get out in front of his ideas and advocate loudly for him. Lest that statement make him appear a simple self-promoter, also noted in the profile is Schadt's collaborative approach to solving problems and curing disease... regardless of whether it's he or his company getting the credit and subsequent revenue. It was really interesting reading on Schadt and also striking to me from the piece was an anecdote about how he "likes to do his supercomputing on planes" via Amazon servers.