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The HBS Blog offers insight on Delaware corporations and LLCs as well as information about entrepreneurship, start-ups and general business topics.

Book Review: Longitude
By Jake Cornelius Friday, April 10, 2009

I haven't been on this planet for a very long time, but I'm astounded by the rate at which technology has advanced. My first 'laptop' weighed 23 lbs, my first mobile phone weighed about the same. In just the last 20 years they have become pocket sized, and 20 years before that, neither were even imaginable! Thinking about technology and history, I recently read Dava Sobel's Longitude, a short, sweet tale of how man finally learned how to navigate the globe.

It's common knowledge that Christopher Columbus 'discovered' America in his quest to find a shorter route to India. Looking at a map one can understand how he thought that was possible: Just sail west. Here's the rub: Columbus didn't really know where India was. At that time, only latitude--the east-west parallel lines that circle a globe--had been somewhat accurately measured using the sun. Lines of longitude, however, were a different story. The globe was easily subdivided into 360 degrees, it is a circle after all, but beyond that, one needed to know a baseline longitude and how far one was from that baseline. The sun was useful, but it too was moving east to west. Two methods for determining longitude finally came about in the mid-1700s: A lunar chart and a timekeeping device.

Royal observatories popped up all over Europe to map the moon and stars: Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Edmond Halley all worked on the astronomical (pun intended) challenge. Fringe discoveries included finding the speeds of sound and light, and the theory of gravity.

Meanwhile, Europe's best clock makers worked on a timekeeping device. Clocks were standard all over the churches and city towers of Europe, but they were way too big to put on a ship; and more importantly, needed constant attention to maintain accuracy. This was impossible to do on a moving ship at sea. Within just a few years of England's Parliament announcing a £20,000 award for the method or device that solved the longitude problem, an Englishman named John Harrison came up with a clock to be used aboard ships.

Harrison's creation was unique and might have proven successful, had it been tested by Parliament's Board of Longitude. In fact, unlike most clocks at the time that were often 5 seconds to 10 minutes off over 24 hours, his clock was off less than one second! He felt he could do better, though. So, he made an even better clock. Again, he didn't put it to the board. He built another better clock. Almost 40 years had passed and in this time, the moon and stars were nearly completely mapped. His device might have proven superfluous. But, two years later, he built his coup de grace: a much smaller, more portable clock that he finally put forth to be tested. However, his clock would now be tested against the lunar maps, and if that weren't enough, the very man who created the lunar maps would test the clock!

I'm not going to tell you the end of the story, not exactly anyway. I want to bring your attention to two important morals of the story, though: The first is that excellence can be the enemy of good enough; the second is that following your own convictions will bring you your own rewards. Harrison's first attempt probably would have won him the prize, hands down. But he had to keep tinkering with it and that set him back while his competitors caught up. He knew he was on the right track, he stuck to his conviction, and thanks in part to his perseverance and genius, our world is accurately mapped, and we have great watches to boot!

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The Weekly Media Trainer: Part 4
By George Merlis Thursday, April 9, 2009

Last week I wrote about formulating an agenda for an interview or news conference.  I suggested that the best approach was to go into one of these sessions with a limited agenda of four, perhaps five major message points. Today, let’s focus on making those points quoteworthy.

As a print reporter and, later, a television news producer, I categorized answers into one of three categories:

Can’t use that.
Could use that.
Gotta use that.

Your mandate is to express your message points in “gotta use that language;” language that makes the reporter think: “I couldn’t say that better myself.”

To that end, it’s important to liven up your message points with what I call Grabbers.  A Grabber is a word device that turns a “can’t use that” or “could use that” response into a “gotta use that” answer.

There are five basic categories of Grabbers:
Word pictures
Startling facts or statistics or “st” words
Famous quotations or paraphrases of famous quotations
Analogies -- either metaphors or similes
Comparisons

Let’s look at examples of each:

Word pictures: A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service on the condition of Bernard Madoff’s government-seized $2.2 million yacht: “This boat was extremely well kept, extremely clean.  It looked like somebody took a bottle of 409 and scrubbed it every day.”  Another example: North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue on South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s refusal to take federal stimulus funds: “As bad a driver as I am, I’ll drive a truck down there to pick up his share.  I know how to put those dollars to good use.”

Startling statistics or “st” words: Dr. Alan Stern, then the principal investigator of the New Horizons NASA mission to Pluto: “New Horizons is the first mission to the last planet.”   Using a “st” word -- first, last, biggest, smallest, best, worst -- tells the media that what you are saying is news. In our media training session, Dr. Stern got two “st” words into a single sentence, and he used that grabber to great effect -- it appeared in dozens of news stories.  A few months later astronomers meeting in the Czech Republic made news by declaring Pluto was not really a planet.  So I sent Dr. Stern an e-mail asking him what he was saying now.  His wrote back, “I have not yet begun to fight.”  He was quoting John Paul Jones, the father of the American Navy who, invited to surrender his burning ship by his British opponent, issued that defiant reply. (And went on to sink the British vessel.)  And that brings us to our third form of grabber:

Quotations or paraphrases: Dr. Stern’s example was a direct quote.  But you see lots of paraphrases of quotations as Grabbers.  Sadam Hussein’s vainglorious boast that the first Gulf War would be the “mother of all battles,” spawned hundred of “mother of all....” examples.  “Mother of all baseball games,” “Mother of all legislative fights,”  “Mother of all boxing matches,” etc.   John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask not....” line from his inaugural address is easily paraphrased to meet any number of situations.  Four years ago I read this one from Professor Paul Lucey of the University of Hawaii about the proposal to return astronauts to the moon: “Ask not what astrobiology can do for the moon.  Ask rather what the moon can do for astrobiology.”  Another great quote I’ve seen used directly in many situations is Einstein’s quip: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Analogies (metaphors or similes): The difference between metaphors and similes is the use of the word “like.”  “Miller, the champagne of bottled beer” is the grievously inaccurate metaphor.  “As bottle beers go, Miller is like champagne,” is the simile for the same delusion.  In a recent interview a Japanese geisha used this simile about foreign tourists who harass her with cameras on Kyoto’s streets: “We are not like a Mickey Mouse in Disneyland.”  And Stephen M. Davis of the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance at Yale got off a good metaphor about a new effort some firms are making to tie executive compensation to corporate performance:  “These are green shoots, to use a gardening analogy.  It remains to be seen whether these are annuals or perennials.”  Not all analogies work.  Brazil’s earthy president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva unleashed this particularly egregious example in an interview about trade talks:  “We are moving forward with real seriousness towards finding the possibility, like the G Spot, of an agreement.”

Comparisons: Last week I cited a noteworthy one from President Obama’s March 24 prime time news conference.  Urging patience in the economic crisis, he said of the U.S. economy: “This is a big ocean liner -- it’s not a speedboat -- it doesn’t turn around immediately.”  That was a particular good Grabber because it was both a comparison (speedboat vs ocean liner) and a word picture.  I suspect, like most good grabbers, it was crafted well in advance of the Q and A session, an arrow placed in the interview quiver that could be fired when the right question came along. (Word picture alert!)

What if the right question doesn’t come along?  How do you deploy your agenda if reporters don’t ask you the “right” questions?   Next week, I’ll deal with the art of transitioning from off-base or even hostile questions to your message points.  How, in other words, to put the interview train on the track to your destination. (Another word picture alert!)

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101 on Hedge Funds
By Brett Melson Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In the news we have heard quite a bit about the hedge fund.  However what really is a hedge fund?  How can someone invest in the hedge fund?  How have the hedge funds been able to provide such large returns in years past?

The term “hedge fund” is generally used to refer to a variety of investment vehicles pursuing an investment strategy. In the United States, hedge funds are generally structured as Delaware limited liability companies or Delaware limited partnerships. Interests in hedge funds are offered and sold in private offerings to sophisticated individuals and entities; hedge fund interests cannot be offered to the general public or advertised through any public means. By carefully structuring their operations, hedge funds are able to operate without publicly disclosing their activities and investments and can employ strategies and take on levels of debt (or “leverage”) that would otherwise be impossible for more highly regulated entities. The fund can avoid regulation by limiting the number of its investors to 100. Each US investor has to be an "accredited investor." An "accredited investor" is either (i) a person with at least $1 million in net worth (including house, cars, boat, etc.) or who has made at least $200,000 a year (or $300,000 jointly with a spouse) for the past two years and expects to make that much in the current year, or (ii) an entity (partnership, corporation, trust, etc.) with $5 million in net worth.

The hedge fund is managed by hedge fund managers. Typically they are compensated through both an asset-based and a performance-based fee or allocation. For example, a hedge fund adviser commonly receives a management fee equal to 2% of all of the fund’s assets each year, as well as 20% of any gain for a year. The managers often have a lot of money in their hedge funds to show that they believe in their strategy and have an incentive to perform, but that is not required. Many investors simply will not invest in the fund if the manager does not have a large portion invested too. Why should someone put a large amount of money into this fund if the manager does not have the confidence to invest in the fund?
For the average American, investing in the hedge fund is simply not possible. Many hedge funds have taken huge hits recently, loosing upwards of 3/4 of the value of the fund! With the volatile market today, even the accredited investors that meet the investment qualifications are simply not investing. The days of record returns on the hedge fund investments are no longer, hopefully that will turn around soon!

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Google Launches a Venture Capital Fund
By Carleigh Lowe Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Google VenturesAfter much speculation, Google has officially announced its new venture capital fund. They expect to invest up to $100 million dollars in it's first year; this is fantastic news for all of you entrepreneurs with great ideas looking for capital. Your idea may very well be "the next big thing" that Google is looking for.

Below is the announcement on the Official Google Blog:

Today we're excited to announce Google Ventures, Google's new venture capital fund. This is Google's effort to take advantage of our resources to support innovation and encourage promising new technology companies. By borrowing the best practices of top-tier, financially focused venture capital firms and bringing to bear Google's unique technical expertise and brand, we think we can find young companies with truly awesome potential and encourage their development into successful businesses.

At its core, Google Ventures is charged with finding and helping to develop exceptional start-ups. We'll be focusing on early stage investments across a diverse range of industries, including consumer Internet, software, clean-tech, bio-tech, health care and, no doubt, other areas we haven't thought of yet. Central to our effort will be our fellow Googlers, whom we view as a critically important resource to help educate us about potential investments areas and evaluate specific companies.

Economically, times are tough, but great ideas come when they will. If anything, we think the current downturn is an ideal time to invest in nascent companies that have the chance to be the "next big thing," and we'll be working hard to find them. If you think you have the next big idea, or if you just want to to learn more, please see our website at www.google.com/ventures.

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Craft Your Story: Technique # 2: Fun with Proust
By Christina Cornelius Monday, April 6, 2009

I admit that fun and Marcel Proust, author of the several thousand page Modernist text Remembrance of Things Past are not always associated. However, the subject of this post, the Proust Questionnaire is surprisingly fun and it could be another way to generate the raw material to craft your story.

Designed by the French author in the late 1800s to amuse himself and his friends, the Proust Questionnaire is widely used as a method of inquiry, most famously, perhaps, on the television show, The Actor’s Studio. In any case, the Proust Questionnaire has been subject to numerous adaptations the most recent of which is for the HBS Community: The Proust Questionnaire for Entrepreneurs.

Like a more traditional interview, the Proust Questionnaire is a useful method for writers and conversationalists, alike. If you are interested in having your answers published on The HBS Blog email your completed questionnaire to our managing editor, carleigh@delawareinc.com.

The Proust Questionnaire for Entrepreneurs :

Your name:
Name of your business:
Your background:
Your chief characteristic:
Your regular reads:
Clients, customers, constituents:
How long have you been in business?
Where do you do business?
Your concrete inspiration:
Your big dreams:
Your first success:
The status of your business:
The future of your business:
Your greatest challenge in business:
Business pet peeve:
Your favorite entrepreneurs, pioneers, mavericks, artists, and heros from real life and history:
The greatest rewards of your entrepreneurship:
Your idea of happiness in business:
Your present state of mind:
Your business advise:
Your favorite motto:
Your favorite business book:
Your one sentence business story:


Below is My Story crafted using The Proust Questionnaire for Entrepreneurs, we can not wait to read yours!

Your name: Christina Cornelius
Name of your business: The Writing Studio, LLC
Your background: BA in English from Emory University
Your chief characteristic: observant
Your regular reads: McSweeney’s, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine
Clients, customers, constituents: Entrepreneurs, Speech Writers, Resume Writers
How long have you been in business? Seven Years
Where do you do business? Lugano, Switzerland, but I work with people from Delaware to Dubai
Your concrete Inspiration: To be honest, not to give it away…
Your big dreams: To own some seriously awesome intellectual property and to contribute to others’ success stories by helping them communicate through writing, public speaking, blogging, or any other viable form of communication. (I haven’t worked with anyone on a text message yet, but I know it will happen.)
Your first success: Technically, getting a Writing Studio email account.
The status of your business: It is now a great platform from which I can offer my natural talents to those who are writing something and want feedback, a co-writer, or a personal editor!
The future of your business: Ummm. See my favorite motto!
Your greatest challenge in business: Delegating.
Business pet peeve: Interns who fall asleep at their desk, or send me emails where ‘ you’ is spelled ‘u’
Your favorite entrepreneurs, pioneers, mavericks, artists, and heros from real life and history: Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King, Jr., Louise Bourgeois
Your greatest rewards: Being able to help my clients clarify and communicate, and make sure they have fun doing it and so do I!
Your idea of happiness: Open windows, warm bread with butter, hot tea, my family around and about and some reading and writing to follow (so, a continental breakfast on a Sunday in May with the tribe, apparently, followed by as Kurt Vonnegut once said, ‘showing off in private’)
Your present state of mind: Relaxed and enthusiastic
Your advise: Ask yourself what you naturally contribute and do what you are.
Your favorite motto: Proceed as the way opens.
Your favorite business book: Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Putting the two together confirms my worldview: apply your energy towards what matters most plus think creatively.
Your business story in one sentence: One sunny, smoggy, sweltering Saturday Morning, in Atlanta, Georgia, I coached a high school friend, an artist and entrepreneur, as she edited her resume, and it was fun and easy for me, but daunting and difficult for her and I decided I needed to create a professional space from which I could offer my talents and skills to those who need them, so I incorporated The Writing Studio, LLC.

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