Aug 29, 2006

The High Cost of Being Public

Reading the MapInfo SEC filing of a recommendation by one of its major investors for the company to start putting some serious effort into seeking a buyer is rather illuminating.

This particular individual hints at the high cost of regulatory compliance by public firms in the current post-Enron environment, and what a large cost burden, percentage - wise, such an effort is for a small cap stock such as local darling MapInfo.

It always cost a boatload of money to go public; now it takes another boatload to STAY public.

Given this reality, the gentleman goes on to suggest that such a cost would be better absorbed within the financials of an industry giant such as Oracle or IBM, among others -- all of whom would make legitimate suitors.

With such a roadblock being put up in front of successful middle-stage companies looking to get to a new level of financing, the idea of "going public" does not have the appeal it traditionally has enjoyed, especially in the high tech world. At least not via US markets, as evidenced by the sudden emergence of former bit players such as the London and Toronto exchanges in serving these opportunities.

More about this later; on the portal ...

Aug 28, 2006

The Search for What Matters Most

The back room of Guinan’s Store is what a college kid would call a local dive -- a nondescript beer & gin joint short on the fancy decor but long on a tradition of acting as the gathering spot for an extended network of neighborhood characters that, for good or bad, have come to rely on the place as the anchor of their individual social frameworks. In other words, it’s the kind of place that a visitor getting off a train at the Garrison station stop a few steps away might not give a second thought to entering, lest he or she would be walking into a closed circle tribe of longtime regulars that would cast unwelcoming and suspicious glances at any outsider that dared enter through the door.

Wendy Bounds, a Wall Street Journal columnist who was still in the semi-nomadic throes of being chased out of her downtown apartment by bin Laden in the autumn of 2001, nonetheless took that “let’s stop in for just a beer” challenge and ventured into Guinan’s. Ten days later, she found herself moving into this quiet Hudson Valley community located fifty miles north of Manhattan and becoming a regular patron of the bar. She obviously found something completely different from that predicted unwelcoming closed circle.

Ms Bounds, who we met as a panelist at the recent David N Deutsch & Company Saratoga Weekend, chronicles her love affair with this small building and the people within it in a superb book called Little Chapel On the River, now available in paperback. Click the graphic image (below) and proceed to buy this title, then join her in exploring the parallel themes of family, community and friendship, of a sense of place and of the daily struggles of keeping a small business afloat. Finally, exalt as the author “finds her way home” from the 9/11 chaos.

Quite an accomplishment for a small little dive bar next to the train tracks, isn’t it?

When you’re done reading this book, ponder the role that places like Guinan’s play in the quality of life and community fabric equations of a city, town or village. Then realize that these places are rapidly disappearing, being eaten alive by the new masters of the Economy of Scale mantra that are taking their place but failing to fulfill their most valuable contributions to the social network. Sorry, but Applebee’s “Welcome to the Neighborhood” slogan doesn’t quite do it for me. Was it good for you?

Then think about how tax and business policies and the standard economic development programs and incentives ---- which always claim to have as their end goal “an improved quality of life” --- are structured. Then think about who gets, and who doesn't get, the benefits of these tidings. Then draw your conclusion.

Aug 17, 2006

Albany grad hits it big in chip business

Quiz Time...

Question: From the universe of every UAlbany graduate in history, can you name the individual that will personally rake in the biggest bucks for calendar year 2006?

Is it some nanotech researcher? A best selling author? A Wall Street gunslinger? Yours truly? Wrong; especially the last one.

This honor will undoubtedly go to one Jamie Gold, the principal of the JMG talent management and TV production group in scenic Malibu, California. Although he apparently makes a good living in the Hollywood circles, the bulk of Mr Gold's super fat paycheck for the year comes from a rather interesting diversion: poker!

Gold is the recent winner of the World Series of Poker Texas Hold 'Em championship. After coughing up a $10,000 entry fee, this Great Dane honors grad walked away with an astonishing $12Million grand prize -- and a shiny gold bracelet to boot.

To think, we once ran a story on UAlbany kids wasting away their lives --- and tuition money --- playing in online tournaments for hours (and sometimes days) at a time. Maybe we need to publish a correction? Or an apology?

One might now conclude that the promised career opportunities in the chip business for our local students ARE for real. We just assumed they were talking about computer chips all this time; not poker chips!

Late Breaking News: It is being reported that a portion of Mr Gold's winnings have been ordered held, as a supposed financial backer is claiming one-half of the kitty. Maybe our hometown hero was daydreaming during that Business 101 lecture on "make sure you get it in writing?"

Aug 9, 2006

Lean Workshop, Leaner Wallets

A grand old time was enjoyed by all at Friday's annual XONITEK Sytems Day at the Races. After a morning workshop on the "LEAN" school of productivity & efficiency improvements (a XONITEK specialty), the group of two dozen or so was treated to an afternoon of food and drink at the Spa's upper Turf Terrace restaurant by company leader Joe Paris.

As seen in the photo, the ladies in attendance used the occasion to fill the tills at the track's hat shop.

Ms Donna O'Leary (far left in the photo with XONITEK's Victoria Marsh and Lauren Entwistle), was seen scouting the grounds for a lucky spot in anticipation of her Alliance of Technology & Women's upcoming fundraiser slated for the track's At The Rail pavilion on Friday, August 25. A handful off tickets are still available at

Aug 1, 2006

The birth of a catch phrase

I get a kick out of instances where lowbrow pop-culture references make their way into the conservative world of corporate America. I witnessed just such a case yesterday in Manhattan, where I was invited to make a presentation to a group of media industry-types on an idea I've been kicking around, and which they might be interested in being a part of.

After I was done with my dog and pony, the operating officer of this company shared his feelings on where various resources should be deployed within his operation in order to meet those all important financial objectives that had been set by his board at the beginning of the fiscal year. His means of verbally framing his argument was noteworthy:

"Phil needs more cowbell if he is going to have any chance of wrapping up his project in the next three weeks--we have to give him more people," he implored his associates.

I chuckled at the "more cowbell" reference. The others at the table didn't---either they had seen this guy's act before or the phrase has flown over their heads. Given that this particular group of people made their living by keeping themselves attuned to the latest buzz of youth culture, my guess is that they all got it.

A short history of this phrase: In the mid-70's, the Long Island based rock band Blue Oyster Cult hit it big with a smash tune called Don't Fear the Reaper. The royalties alone on this song have likely kept these guys living comfortably ever since. The tune would have been nothing more than a Gretest Hits entry on those late night infomercials if not for a second life it gained with the help of a wacky TV segment.

Saturday Night Live did a sketch, featuring guest host Christoher Walken. In a BEHIND THE MUSIC parody, Walken played the part of a famous producer insisting that "More Cowbell" is the key to making Dont Fear the Reaper a smash. Although hesitant at first, the band eventually gave in and the rest is history. Will Ferrel played the part of fictional cowbell player Gene Frenkle. (Watch it here)

The phrase immediately became an inside joke among those that had viewed the show. But slowly, it gained favor among the wider tragically hip, spawning a cottage industry of tee shirts, bumper stickers, tatoos, and similar products. It also made its way into the everyday lexicon, into the stage play Spamalot and, apparently, into corporate business meetings.

More Cowbell, then, has become a means of asking someone to add certain resources to an effort to make it more attractive, useful or profitable. Just like Mr Walken was arguing for the addition of louder dunk-dunk-dunk to the studio session, these two words might be used to argue for more color being added to a painting, for more effort being devoted to a practice session or, as seen in the case of my NYC friends, for more money and manpower being allocated to a software project. Or a million other creative uses for this valuable addition to the English language.

I'd heard it used before: my neighbor shouted it out it as a way of instructing me to rev his car's engine harder as he was under the hood troubleshooting a carburator problem. You too can find a way to work it into your everyday life! I've noticed somebody sneaking it into our website's FORUM and randomly adding it to various topics. Hey dude, if you're reading this: ring us up and tell us how you got started--and why.

For a jump start education on how to master this phrase, head over to the Empire State Plaza tomorrow (Wednesday) night. It just so happens that the Oyster Boys are in town playing a free show there, in front of the State Museum steps.

I'll lay 10 to 1 odds that you'll hear "More Cowbell" being yelled out a minimum of 50 times. Anyone interested in taking me up on this wager?