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 BLOG >> October 2017

Wine, Music & Nature [Farming
Posted on October 30, 2017 @ 09:56:00 PM by Paul Meagher

I've been busy processing my 2017 grape harvest into wine (vinification). Just 20 more gallons of crushed grapes to process. My garage fermentation room is starting to reach its limit as shown in this video.

Two days ago, I had the opportunity to see a brief free concert with one of my favorite local artists, Matt Mays. NYC Girls appears to be the song that he wants to feature first on his new album, Once Upon A Hell of A Time.

I'm also really liking another new song, Sentimental Sins.

Here is a photo at the farm in the early morning just after harvest time. This time of year these magical morning fogs blanket the forest valleys.

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The Good Life [Books
Posted on October 24, 2017 @ 06:02:00 AM by Paul Meagher

One of the first essays I had to write in my intro philosophy class was to choose a theory of the good life and argue for why it was the right way to live.

Some of our choices included hedonism, stoicism, epicurianism, utilitarianism and other options that I can't remember. I do remember selecting epicurianism as the best route to the good life. I gave some serious thought to hedonism and stoicism as well.

I'm mentioning this because I recently purchased a book that is currently being recommended on David Holmgren's site called The Art of Frugal Hedonism. It is a modern spin on how to live the good life. Frugal Hedonism seems to me very similiar to my concept of epicurianism minus the high cost of entry.

The book consists of 50 short chapters with ideas and strategies you can use to become a frugal hedonist. This approach to living has the benefit of being sustainable and enjoyable at the same time.

Many startups are no stranger to frugal living. Frugal living extends the runway for your business and the length of that runway is often directly related to how frugal you can be while the startup is not generating enough income to live the high life. Be careful about wishing for the high life too soon, because you may not experience the same level of enjoyment from a simple beer with friends, walking or biking to wherever you have to go, or a cheap night with friends. It doesn't take much to make you happy when you are used to just getting by as frugally as you can.

David Holmgren is on record as pursuing a life of voluntary frugality so part of the reason he is recommending the book is probably because it aligns in part with his own approach, and perhaps explains the many unrecognized benefits of this lifestyle beyond simply being a sustainable way to live.

For many, the good life is a house, two cars, and all the consumerist items that the catalogs say we need in order to live the good life. There is little evidence that people are happier compared to people who get by on less but have more time, more interests, more friends and other things of equal or more value than money. Getting off the treadmill and consuming less is likely to lead to more enjoyment with life than trying to keep up with the Jones.

Does this mean that entrepreneurs must give up their pursuit of money because it is an overly consumptive way to live? If it is only about making money so you can get all the toys, then frugal hedonism would predict that you will not be happy - you will adapt to ever higher levels of consumerism to try to achieve a disappearing rainbow of enjoyment. If you recognize that money is just the way we keep score but is not the end goal of living, then I think you have a better chance of leading the good life which could be inspired by frugal hedonism.

Frugal hedonism carries the hopeful message that leading a sustainable existence might also be the surest route to the good life. Whether this is true or not is a question worthy of thinking about and this book is a guide to the options, strategies, and joys associated with living a less consumerist existence. And when you do make a choice to consume, you might be more mindful of why you are consuming and what it means to you.

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The Startup Way [Books
Posted on October 18, 2017 @ 07:14:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Eric Ries wrote what is probably the most popular book ever on starting a business called The Lean Startup (2011). It is therefore worth mentioning when he publishes any new book on startups. I pre-ordered and received my copy of The Startup Way (2017) yesterday.

According to Eric, this book is 5 years in the making. He argues that many of the same lean startup principles (plus some new ones) apply at the enterprise level, to non profits and to government agencies that want to remain innovative and relevant.

I have not yet read beyond the first chapter of the book but what is particularly interesting to me is the issue of whether companies have to manage things differently at different stages of growth to keep on growing or whether similar management principles apply. In my last blog Scale and Complexity I suggested that different principles might apply to manage complexity as a company scales (based on the work by Verne Harnish); however, Eric appears to be making the provocative claim that many of the same lean management principles apply at all scales and for very different types of organizations (i.e., for profit, non profit, government). Eric argues for a unified theory of entrepreneurship that potentially applies at all stages of company growth if the company wants to keep growing. Obviously management of a company earning > 50 million is different in some respects from management in a company earning < 1 million, but what each company might have to do in order to manage ongoing growth and innovation might be similar in many respects. This is one of the issues that interests me and what I will be attending to as I continue reading this book.

For now, however, I just wanted to draw your attention to this book because it looks like it will be another very popular addition to the startup literature. The book launch appears to have been scheduled to coincide with the launch of Eric's new startup The Long-Term Stock Exchange that will be interesting to follow as well.

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Scale and Complexity [Books
Posted on October 12, 2017 @ 07:58:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Yesterday I started reading a new book by Geoffrey West called Scale (2017).

So far I'm learning about how the number of patents filed scales with city population size (superlinear - more patents in more populated cities), how the amount of infrastructure (e.g., length of roads, water pipes, electrical cables, gas stations, etc...) scales with city population size (sublinear - less infrastructure per person in more populated cities), how per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) scales with city population size (superliner - more GDP per person in more populated cities) and many other interesting scaling relationships. The book tries to give a more fundamental account for why such scaling relationships exist; an account that draws upon research in complexity theory. The book is very readable so far and there appears be virtually no math equations on display but appreciating this book will require you to master some basic mathematical concepts like what a linear, logarithmic, exponential, and power law relationship is. If you are rusty on these important mathematical concepts then reading the book to brush up on this stuff would be one reason to read it because he explains them well in the context of lots of examples and interesting discussion. Ultimately, where Geoffrey wants to get to is a "science of cities" that might consist of a fundamental theory that organizes alot of this scaling data.

I'm not that far into the book yet to give any final review.

The book does remind me of a popular business book by Verne Harnish called Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It...and Why the Rest Don't (2014).

Verne argues that companies need to "conquer complexity" (p. 24) in order to scale up and that "complexity generates three fundamental barriers to scaling up a venture" (p. 25):

  • Leadership: The inability to staffgrow enough leaders throughout the organization who have the capabilities to delegate and predict.
  • Scalable Infrastructure: The lack of systems and structures (physical and organizational) to handle the complexities in communication and decisions that come with growth.
  • Marketing: The failure to scaleup an effective marketing function to both attract new relationships (customers, talent, etc.) to the business and address the increased competitive pressures (and eroded margins) as you scale.

Verne argues that you have to keep solving these same problems, often in different ways, at different levels of growth (e.g., < $1 million, > $ 1 million, > $10 million, > $50 million) if you want to keep on growing.

I am looking forward to reading what Geoffrey West has to say about scaling up and the "science of cities" and how that might relate to what Verne Harnish, Toby Hemenway (The Permaculture City, 2015), and Richard T.T. Forman (Urban Ecology: Science of Cities, 2014) have to say about these topics.

Another person who is busy scaling up is the Sweden-based farming entepreneur Richard Perkins who shares alot of useful information in his YouTube channel. He has a recent two part video series on how he intends to use lean thinking to help him double revenue while also reducing his workload. I think they offer a useful case study on the type of planning one might engage in to "conquer complexity" to enable more growth and more free time.

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Wabi-Sabi Renovating [Real Estate
Posted on October 11, 2017 @ 10:03:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I've been enjoying a YouTube video series of a young couple renovating an old farm house. The name of their YouTube channel is Wabi Sab-e. It is a well done, fun and instructive video series. This is the latest installment.

In the past I wrote about the Japanese aesthetic concept of Wabi-Sabi which might help to explain the aesthetic they are trying to achieve in their renovation.

Their process of renovating the old house seems to be driven by taking out walls, flooring, and ceilings to expose the older character of the building. Then they set about trying to improve upon the original character in a direction more consistent with the original style. Some of the blemishes are left to add character.

Me and my wife are also engaged in renovating the upstairs hallway in an old farm house property.

The big improvement here is to level the ceiling by raising it couple of inches halfway down the hallway. Not sure if you want to call the end product Wabi-Sabi but it is a Wabi-Sabi renovation process - semi-planned, opportunistic, and one-off for the most part.

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Blueberry Winemaking [Agriculture
Posted on October 3, 2017 @ 06:09:00 AM by Paul Meagher

A major pre-occupation for me lately is gaining experience with blueberry winemaking.

Over the weekend I crushed six 5 gallon pails of blueberries at my farm property. This yield was added to four 5 gallon pails that were already crushed. Total yield was 45 gallons of blueberry pulp and juice. Plus 5 gallons of plum juice and pulp from a plum tree on the farm property. I will be harvesting grapes from my vineyard in about 3 weeks so this gives me some early winemaking practice.

The video below shows my process for crushing and preparing blueberries for wine making. I do a double crushing of the blueberries because the berries are smaller than a grape berry which the crusher is more adapted to. Small scale winemaking can be a heavy lifting workout as I demonstrate in the video. You might notice that I don't remove leaves and grass from the blueberries (unscreened). It would be alot of extra work and it is mostly leaves (and a small amount of rye grass) which could be considered a herb flavoring.

I expect the 6 pails I crushed to convert to 7 or 8 pails of fermentable wine once I remove some must from each pail so I can add sugar to create a wine or port style.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the small scale winemaking that I am practicing right now. The main advantage is that because I am making small 5 gallon batches of wine I can experiment with different variables to try to figure out an optimal set of conditions for producing a blueberry cooler, wine or port (e.g., add acid blend or not, add oak shavings or not, control the starting specific gravity through sugar addition or not, etc...). The number of possible permutations is exponential. The disadvantage is that with so many different experiments going on at such a small scale it is hard to guarantee consistency of your product. If I dumped all my berries into a great big vat that is temperature controlled with proper air headspace then I might be able to create a consistent offering from year to year.

It is what it is. Each batch will be unique. For now, I've got to make lemonade out of that lemon reality.

The blueberry cooler style (6% alcohol) is something I will approach from two directions to see which one turns out best. The first approach is to not add sugar, or add very little, to the juice and when it is done fermenting backsweeten with a blueberry jam type fruit pack made from the blueberries. The second approach is to dilute a blueberry wine or port that is done fermenting with water and then back sweeten with the fruit pack. Usually when you make a cooler from a kit you back sweeten with a fruit pack so that is why I think this might work. Here is the preparation process for the blueberry fruit pack that I made by simmering the blueberries for a couple of hours and adding some sugar to taste. Willy Wonka this fruitpack has flavor!

I am ramping up again tonight to process more blueberries into cooler, wine and port styles that I will be fermenting in my garage mini-winery. It would have been nice to go to wine school to learn winemaking skills, but I'm hoping that deliberate practice over the long term will eventually make up for this lack of formal instruction. Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool's book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016) offer motivational research on the power of extended deliberate practice to deliver expertise in any skill area.

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