Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Do you think the wife and I drink much mate?

That's not even our peak. A few weeks ago we probably had two or three more bags.

Monday, April 26, 2010

2 year anniversary

A few days ago was my 2 year anniversary of arriving in Buenos Aires. Crazy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

3:10 to Yuma review

The wife and I watched 3:10 to Yuma tonight. Rarely does a movie build me up as much and then leave me feeling so unsatisfied. Despite being a bit over 2 hours, the movie flashed by quickly. It starts a little slow but after that it does a good job hitting you with suspense every few minutes. It doesn't overdo it, there's just enough action.

With all that said, you'd think I would agree with the very high 88% rating that the film received on Rotten Tomatoes. But...I don't. If you pushed me into making a binary decision, I guess I'd give it a thumbsup, I guess...but just barely. The story was just too surreal. This is a movie about real life! It turns on the moral dimension of one of the main have to give me something, anything to make me believe! I want to believe! But I couldn't. I didn't feel it when the scene happened, I just sat there saying, "that's so Hollywood." And analyzing the movie later, I see where the filmmakers tried to stick things in to make us believe it was possible. But not only did I viscerally reject it, intellectually I still think they didn't make their case.

I did spend a few minutes wondering if that was Gretchen Mol in the movie, and finally decided that if the actress wasn't Gretchen Mol 10 years after Rounders, it looked exactly like she would look.

How I Spent My Afternoon

Our house is extremely well-shaded. This is great in summer, but not so great in winter. Our house is cool year-round, which means that as we head into autumn it gets cold inside. So I wrapped myself in a blanket and headed to the sun.

And of course, you can tell why I came inside. Even wrapped in a blanket, it was kinda chilly once the shade crept up upon me. Even the mate stopped keeping me warm enough.

It was a fabulous afternoon; very peaceful. Reading about MBS/CDO/CDS for the CFA could not have happened in a better environment. Most of it isn't new to me, from reading stuff in the news over the past year, but it's still interesting. While reading, it re-occurred to me that most of the pundits' opinions that I read about the SEC's Goldman Sachs case is pretty puerile.

A couple other notes:

* It's amazing how many bugs there are. Within 5 minutes I had mosquitos, flies, locusts, spiders etc. It seemed to go away after a bit, but maybe I just got used to it.

* Not many people pass by, but since I am hidden inside my hedges it's hard not to overhear conversations. I heard a mother yelling at her kid as they walked down my street and an older married couple discussing their kid rather frankly.

* I was pretty immersed in my reading, but at one point I looked up and there was a cat about 10 yard from me in full-on hunting mode. Since there was nothing else around, he was clearly stalking me. It was mildly unnerving.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Writing up thoughts on an entrepreneurial failure

Applying for the VC analyst job has been bringing back memories of my own little startup: USV's operating thesis is that the internet is a paradigm changer in every facet of life. I agree. Take real estate, for example: as Americans -- and then the world -- fully migrate to the internet, real estate agents will probably become an endangered species. That was my epiphany in 2004 while doing real estate school online. So I decided to try and make it happen.

My landlord in Austin was from Madison, WI, and he suggested that we start an Austin version of And so was born fsboMadison is a site that had started to sell the owner's house for sale by owner (FSBO) and then just kept growing organically because it had traffic, cost $200 and could save buyers and sellers thousands. It made six figures on Madison alone with a website that even its developer was ashamed of (he couldn't convince the owners to upgrade). The owners liked the idea of people using their idea, and we figured Austin was as similar to Madison as possible: state capitol, university town, crunchy liberals, high internet usage, etc. Downside was that some nationwide fsbo sites had started and there was already an attempt at a local FSBO site.

After we did a little bit of research, we weren't too concerned about the competition. The nationwide sites were non-starters who had no local presence and would never get the search engine traffic. The local site was non impressive.

We knew we'd have a problem with unrealistic prices. For reasons I do not understand, most FSBO "sellers" set the price way above market value. Here's an example of madeup but realistic numbers: the Smiths have a $200,000 house, which they try to sell FSBO at $220,000. After a couple months where it doesn't sell (duh!), they put it on the market for $205,000, and it eventually sells for $200,000. The owner and seller in this case each pay $6000 (3%) to real estate agents, making the effective house price 206,000, but the seller receives only 194,000. So they tried to sell FSBO at $26k more than they would actually take, when they might have been able to sell the house for $205k, made 11k more while the buyer would have paid $1k less. irrational!

That is the background, here is my quick list of successes and failures.

- Search engine rankings in competitive keywords. I taught myself search engine optimization and got the site into the first page of 'austin real estate' within 6 months, while ranking 1st in the niche keyword terms in the meantime. The frustrating part of this is that my business partner did not value this at all. I, on the other hand, view search engine rankings as absolutely vital for a business like this.

- The signs. One of the big reasons people still pay money to real estate agents is a recognizable sign. We made big, recognizable awesome signs and put them in yards. Getting brand recognition through your signs is almost as important as being able to get good search engine traffic.

-Launching. Hey, we dealt with our developer and got the sucker built. We pulled off some press (if I recall correctly), and at one point had a pretty full site in terms of listings. If it worked, it was very scaleable and we kept costs very low.

- A real estate agent tried to get us shut down for violating the law. He lost. My research kept us on 100% safe legal ground.


- Not waiting enough time. In truth, this happened largely for personal reasons, because I broke up with the girl I was dating and wanted to get out of Austin. However, the next two reasons are why I didn't it wasn't just the girl...

- Team. Who you work with really matters. Executing poorly will ruin even the best strategy. As indicated above, my biz partner and I just didn't agree on some things that I never would have foreseen. Some of this was a fault of planning, certainly. But the team has to really be in synch in order to make it worth it.

- Never solved the overpricing problem. I still haven't really: I think the answer is just to establish the brand name, let the signs establish themselves, get some press and eventually let word of mouth take over. It is tough though, because in the beginning if homebuyers come to the site and see overpriced (and thus eventually stale) listings, they won't return. This is why it is so important to be hyper-local, with someone managing the signs and making sure the listings don't become stale in the local metro area.

- We were overanxious. To get listings on the site, we found existing FSBO sellers and let them list for free. But we still kept the list price of $200 on the site. That was a big mistake: we should have gambled on getting more users and more listings by offering it for free. Now, we got some advice from folks doing similar sites that this was the way to go, but I think we should have established the site as a big community resource and then started charging. After all, if we could have proved the site worked in getting a house in front of prospective buyers, $200 would be totally reasonable.


Today has zero listings. The site isn't even as good as when I was doing it, and it is 5 or 6 years later. If I go to Texas for an MBA (my planned safe school), I might try and buy the site and give it another go.

Would I ever do this idea again? As I indicated above, yes. I still think the basic idea has merit. While in some ways Craigslist fills this niche, it isn't local enough. I still think that someone could do this nationwide, but with hyper-local sites in each market. And in fact, I think that eventually something like this will happen, but it might be a long time.

It was fun trying to launch and build something. I'll probably do it again in my life, although temperamentally I am probably more built to be a venture capitalist: I would much prefer to take small company risks in a bunch of different companies (although the Dot Com bubble burst shows that there is always systemic risk) than take one big massive company risk that is a startup.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Applying for a VC analyst job

So I applied to for the analyst role at Union Square Ventures, an NYC venture fund made famous by A VC. It's been three days since they posted it, and already over 400 applications have come in for the two jobs combined. It's so crazy because 4 years ago when they did this only 30 people or so applied. If anything highlights how much the web has changed in those 4 years, this would be one of them. I'm assuming that most are not serious applications, but I'm still kicking myself for not applying when I read the post 4 years ago -- I just didn't want to go to New York. Now, moving to Manhattan for a couple of years sounds fun.

Even though it was like throwing a Hail Mary, I think it was a rewarding process. It forced me to think about what they want, what I want, where I'm going. I spent hours thinking about my application, which I think I'll be able to recycle into my business school applications assuming I don't get the job. Still I'm not going to give up hope yet, as I think I would be a good fit. They want someone who can do the due diligence, research and financial analysis required, but also someone who gets their investment theses and can provoke good discussions and add value to the decision making process.

I think my letter made a pretty good case that I can do that. Assuming that they read it, because they will probably filter a good percent of applicants based on the initial screen they get from LinkedIn (USV asked for LinkedIn profile and cover letter showing your web presence) that just shows your education and work experience. I guess we'll see how respected Rice is in the Northeast! Hmm, maybe I should be worried...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Might have to start on my (oft-discussed, much-neglected) novel again

I ended up reading Crichton's _Disclosure_ in about a 4 hour period and it almost makes me want to devote my life to being a novelist. Why? Because I'm shocked by how many discussions that book sparked. So many conversations and scenarios come nearly word-for-word from that book. Discussions from the teenage roundtable I did for the News Journal back in the day to Criminal Law in law school. As a novel, it was incredibly influential on pop culture. Reading it made me feel like I was surrounded by these sexual harassment discussions all over again.

The book is no literature masterpiece. But it consistently trickled down time-and-time again into pop culture discussions. Now that's impact.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reading Disclosure

Reading Michael Crichton's Disclosure today and enjoying it so far. I never got around to reading this or seeing the movie. After I read it, I think I'll get the movie to show the wife.

It will be a good discussion point for political correctness in the US. So I can cross something off the cultural disconnect list. I sometimes want to tell a story and then realize that I can't tell the story because there is too much cultural backstory that I have to explain.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Today's afternoon jog

Took the camera out with me for a jog today. It was a pretty day.

The area around me is a military complex. Now, I've already heard a story or two about foreigners who went to jail for taking pictures of the military during the dictatorship. But that's not gonna stop me! There were a ton of soldiers out today doing strategical/tactical exercises. I put my shoe up on the wall, tied my shoe, and snapped a picture from the camera next to the shoe.

This picture was not supposed to be up in the air, but I put it in here anyway.

I liked the statue.

The wife saw these photos and said, "you can't put these photos up with the trash there!" I explained to her that the reason I took the camera along for a jog was to take a picture of the burned out cars that seemed like they'd been here for years. She explained to me that these were stolen cars that get taken to chop shops, stripped of their parts, and then the thieves take the car to the side of the road and burn them. It didn't matter anyway, because they had taken all the cars away.

Something about this says "Houston" to me everytime I see it. Although this isn't a good example, there are lots of very interesting houses in my neighborhood. There's about 200 I think I'd like to take pictures of.

It was a pretty day.

The Rotary Club is everywhere.

You can't really see that there's an airforce base out in the distance.

I am currently listening to Michael Lewis' "The Big Short"

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's always been true

I tend to mimick the language of the people who I am around. It's been true all my life.

So now, because I speak Spanish to my wife all day, I mimick her Spanish. She has a much larger outside influence AND an incredibly vaster vocabulary, so her discretionary use of phrases changes more frequently than mine does, and thus affects mine greatly. It's a very weird feeling to be dependent on someone for all your language.

Pero bueno, anda a freir churro.

River se va la B?

In Argentina, soccer teams are relegated based on the average of the last 3 years, which is six seasons. Of the 20 teams in the first division, two are relegated to the second division. 17th and 18th place play 'la promoción' against the 4th and 3rd teams from the second division. Those playoffs are a two game home and home series on aggregate goals. If there is a tie, then the team that was in the first division stays in the first division.

River is in danger of being relegated in May 2011. Here is the listing:

Clausura 2010 12 points in 13 games (17.5)
Apertura 2009 21 points
Clausura 2009 27 points
Apertura 2008 14 points
Clausura 2008 43 points
Apertura 2007 23 points

In 108 games, they have 140 points. That comes out to an average 1.296 points per game. That means they are safe from relegation at the end of this season (through a historical quirk, the closing of the season is in May). That leaves them tied with Huracan for 14th, which is pretty safe. Even if they get zero points for the rest of the year (if they continue at their current pace, they will get 17.5 points), that means they would still be at 1.22 this year which would avoid even the relegation playoffs unless all the bottom clubs suddenly win a bunch of games.

However, in May 2011 they lose the points from Clausura 2008 (when they were champions) and Apertura 2007. Excluding those points right now means that River has 74 points in 70 games, or 1.057 points per game. Right now, that puts them in 18th place, but just barely above Chacarita and Atletico Tucuman, who will be relegated. So, in other words, if River continues at the pace of the last two years over the next two years, they will almost definitely be relegated.

That's crazy. The funny thing is that while your average Boca fan would love it, you have to wonder if Boca management feels the same way: the Superclasico is big business.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I never did put up pictures

I realized I never put up pictures of where I live now.

Where I'm sitting now, mate in hand. It's a beautiful autumn day outside.

Notice the self-referential nature of this picture?

Not sure why I decided two pictures was necessary.

Kitchen. I think my mother in law made the curtains the color of River on purpose. At least there's no diagonal slash across them. Actually, yesterday she was making fun of me and telling me that she thought about making them that way to see how I would react.

Where I was sitting up until about 5 minutes ago watching Barcelona play. That Leo Messi is something, isn't he? Hold your breath every time he starts dribbling.

I liked this photo because of the refracted reflection in the window. This is out our front window to the street...pretty much blocked off by green.

We have a pretty odd shaped yard. And yeah, the lawn is something less than manicured. I cut the lawn with a weedwacker (thanks Dad!). That's pretty common here, since big lawns are definitely not the norm.

The bush off in the left of the photo above.

Standing at the bush looking back at the house. I purpose put the flower in the frame. We'll call that my moment of artistry, since all the rest of these pictures were point and shoot.

Standing in the middle of the yard looking towards the garage.