Past Midway

Ramblings on Business & Life

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4-Plex – Grow Lights, Electricity Theft & Spy Cameras

Part 3 of a 5-part series… This is a continuation of the story about the 4-plex we owned in Austin, TX. The one with the crystal meth (Part 1) and swarming bees (Part 2). Same property. A resident called to tell me his electric bill was running $350/month. That’s way too high for a small 2-bedroom apartment. I agreed. The main source of electricity consumption is the air conditioner. We figured...

4-Plex – Bees

Part 2 of a 5-part series… (read Part 1) This is a continuation of the story about the 4-plex we owned in Austin, TX. The one with the crystal meth. Same property. Different day. Bees I got a call from the tenant in unit A. He said there were a lot of bees outside the main entrance and I should come take care of it because it was dangerous, especially for the kids. Nice of him to...

4-Plex – Crystal Meth

Part 1 of a 5-part series… I stopped to talk to a friend I haven’t seen in a while at the grocery store the other day. As the conversation meandered, he mentioned he was considering buying rental property. I had some limited experience with this and shared a few stories with him, one of which I recount below. 4-Plex On a whim, I purchased a 4-plex apartment building in Austin, TX. This was a dumb...

My Father Knew He was Fallible

For years, my father kept a slip of paper in his wallet, torn from a small 3 x 5 spiral notebook. On it, strangely, was a simple geometric sketch and a calculation of how far a 6-foot person could see before the horizon drops off due to the curvature of the earth. This is a curious thing to keep in one’s wallet. Backstory My dad and my older brother (a teenager at the time) made this calculation...

Mistaking Noise for Signal

Throughout human history, it has been important to be able to make quick decisions, especially if the outcome of a wrong decision might lead to injury or death. Consequently, our brains are pre-wired to be incredibly adept at generating predictive algorithms and generalizations from previous inputs (experiences), even if the data is incomplete. This is a legacy issue with our brains – that we...

Learning from Failure

While visiting family over the holidays, my cousin mentioned he most enjoys my blog posts about my pain, discomfort or failure. I’ve noticed a theme here. When others tell stories about their pain, the normal reaction is sympathy, but when I experience pain or misfortune, my friends and family have a good laugh and quite enjoy it. To keep my readers happy, the stories below highlight at least...

Being the Boss & Making Mistakes

Nothing prepares you for entrepreneurship like being an entrepreneur. As the leader of your company, you are tasked with articulating the mission, setting the overall strategic direction, ensuring successful execution and establishing & shaping the corporate culture. Simple right? But few of us are excellent at leading a company, especially our first company. As leaders and managers, we fail...

Humor as a Business Tool

This is sort of cheating, but I wrote this story on my company blog this past Summer. It’s better suited for PastMidway (but PM didn’t exist at the time).

Since I already published it elsewhere, I will simply provide the link to avoid copyright issues (with myself)…

Using Humor to Help Close M&A Deals

Party Like an Investment Banker

Let’s say you’re an investment banker or work in private equity and you get invited to a cocktail party. While there, you get the dreaded question, “What do you do for a living?” (because very few people outside New York understand what investment bankers do). Although I worked as an investment banker for Bear Stearns in London (back when that was still a firm), I’m pretty sure my own...

Robustness – a Lesson from Acoustics

It’s interesting what we can learn from just playing around in the lab. The thoughts below originate from messing with the equipment in the acoustics lab at Penn State many years ago. If you generate an electronic pulse X times per second and run this signal through a speaker to hear it, so long as X is below 20 Hertz (beats per second), you hear the individual pulses. You can almost count them...

Overthinking a Solution

While working on my Master’s degree in Acoustics at Penn State, our lab professor (we’ll call him “Dr. Dave”) wrote a computer program in C to randomly place students in different teams for each lab throughout the semester. This would prevent us from working with the same people every week. A high-tech solution to completely randomize lab teams for the whole semester at the push of a button...

Productivity

Do a little bit all the time instead of a lot some of the time.

Consistently making incremental progress is the most effective method to longer-term productivity. I have heard it said that we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short-term and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term. True.

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Integrity

One of the great personality traits of my son (Soren) is that he always tells the truth, even to his own detriment at times. Example: We were riding in the van (Soren was 4 years old at the time). I heard some commotion in the back. Then Soren tries to tell on his sister: “Daddy, Svea hit me after I hit her first.” Clearly, he would have benefitted from a slightly shorter sentence. But I like his...

Developing Talent

Your goal, for each member on your team, is to develop them – for them, not for you. Openly communicate that your aim is to provide a fantastic growth experience for your team that boosts their resume to go on and do great things beyond your company. Counterintuitively, actively building peoples’ business acumen and skills with a view to propel their careers, even outside your organization, not...

Simplicity

It’s difficult to keep things simple. Whether starting a new company or launching an additional product or service, aim for the absolute minimum viable product and keep everything as simple as possible. I cannot over-emphasize this point. Strive for stunningly simple. In design. In policies. In procedures. In relationships. Simple means easy-to-use, frictionless and minimalistic. Simple is good...

Hiring Up

Always strive to hire people that overwhelmingly impress you. Perhaps they might even intimidate you a bit with how good they are in certain areas. Maybe they are smarter, faster, more experienced, have better leadership skills, relationship skills or are more articulate. Whatever. Hire people that can outperform you. Your team should not admire you. That’s just feeding your ego. You should...

Being In the Moment

My 16-year old daughter Julia and I were at the grocery store. At one point, she stopped to smell a bag of marshmallows and began to tell me how awesome it smelled. Meanwhile, I was thinking about what to get next on my shopping list. “Smell it Daddy.” I grabbed what I needed from the shelf and, before I walked away, I humored her. I picked up a bag of marshmallow and breathed in. As...

Quality

The investment banking culture expects perfection. Mistakes are unforgivable. The logic – if you make mistakes on small details, the client will wonder if you also make mistakes on important points – like the valuation of their company. Story Time… While working at Bear Stearns, I arrived at my desk one morning to find two pages on my chair, ripped from the previous day’s...

No One Else Is Doing It

If the market you want to enter is wide open, without competition, you might pause to ask yourself why. There may be a legitimate reason. It is possible to be too avant-garde. Completely original ideas without pre-existing competitors are difficult businesses to start. On top of everything a new business must do right to succeed, you really don’t want to add “educate the customer” to your TO DO...

Work-Life Balance

Continuously leading a well-balanced life is a recipe for mediocrity. The key to success, however you measure it, is unbalanced, singular focus at specific points in time with an aim for overall life balance on average, over time. Ambitious people tend to over-invest in their education and careers and under-invest in their most personal relationships. For a lot of us, it is surprisingly easy to...

Past Midway Ramblings on Business & Life

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