Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bickel Cabin - Frank & Mary

After my Great Grandfather Lou established our family cabin, My Grandma and Grandpa (born in 1900), Frank and Mary inherited it. They also lived in West Virginia and would make the long trip up in the summer with their children Bob (my Dad) and Barbara (my Aunt, who has since passed away at a way too early age).

Grandpa, Dad, Grandma, Barbara

My Dad took my Mom up when they were dating in high school.
Mom & Dad
My Mom and Dad would take us up as kids. This was a very important influence on me.  The anticipation of going to Canada each summer - making the two day trip - my parents letting me out of the car a couple hundred meters before the cabin so I could run ahead of the car - helping Grandma pick blueberries and make pies - helping Grandpa fill the generators to pump water or light the house each night - family fishing/picnic trips "down the lake" - quiet hours doing nothing but waiting for the fish to be ready with my line in the water next to my Grandpa - borrowing my Grandpa's worn pocket knife (still a cherished treasure) to whittle some wood or scape off some birch bark to write a letter home. I was so lucky.  

Mary Ellen and me on the "MaryFrank" big white wood boat with the 18 horse Johnson
Mary Ellen and me with a "string" of bass in front of an old wood boat my Grandma would plant flowers in each summer.
We were good fishers!

Gotta clean those fish if Grandma is making dinner...

I learned patience in waiting for the marshmallow to brown perfectly and evenly on all sides...
One year we overlapped with our cousins - Barbara and Woody's kids - Brian and Marianne

Unconditional love for and from a Hillbilly
My favorite picture. I would always sit next to Grandpa and he would teach me everything.
While we were fishing, Grandpa had ideas to keep Mom and Dad busy building a boat house...
Dad had hipster glasses before they were hipster...

I always hated this time. I was usually crying. We were leaving Canada for a whole year...
When I was in high school I got to go up just with my Grandparents to help them open up and do some running.
This is how I remember Grandpa. Guiding the big white boat down the lake with a pipe in his mouth and a smile on his face.
Here's another great one by the fish cleaning rack.
Grandma loved staying in the kitchen. That is the old wood stove where she used to make breakfast and dinner every day.

In 1979 the cabin was struck by lightning in the early spring and burned down to the ground. We lost all the old stuff like that wood stove. The real "ice box" that my Dad filled with blocks of ice when he was a kid (we had an ice house in the early days where Canadians would cut blocks of ice out of the lake during the winter and drag them up with horses to the ice house). An old long two handled wood saw used to cut down the old wood forrest that created the town of Blind River. And many more.

My Grandpa was determined to build the house exactly like it was. I graduated in June of 1979 and went up to Canada to help for a week.
Grandma and Grandpa outside the rebuilt cabin.

"Deed" Latarout rebuilt the cabin. He was a good friend of my Dad.
Our dock with the Beaver House on the far side of Bickel Bay.
While I was growing up, my Grandma and Grandpa spent their whole summers in Canada. While they did not have much money, they were happy...

Grandma and Grandpa

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bickel Canada Cabin Beginnings

Bickel cabin in the fall
My parents are in the process of handing the family cabin over to my sister and me this summer. We went up this past week to plan an addition and some updates. I took a bunch of pictures of the pictures that were hanging in the cabin, and wanted to post them in phases. This is Post 1. You can also see Post 2.

My Dad wrote up this history of the Bickel (now Bickel-Cross) Cabin:

"My father, Frank, and his father Louis P. Bickel, went up in 1937, for a stag party organized by Glen Law, a wrestling coach at Marietta H.S. and Illinois. He was at Marietta when Al Rupp senior was the principal. My father and granddad had a connection to Glen thru Glen's relatives in the Oil and Gas business in WV. Granddad was starting to retire, loved the area, walked around the bay, chose our little bay, and bought the land from Al.

Bickel Land Purchase
Al went there in 1930 to visit friends from Ohio Wesleyan in the town north of Columbus. The Ohio Wesleyan people started an enclave on Dubourne about 1900, and they are still there. Descendants actually. I think they call it Battle Point because of supposed Indian battles in the area. Probably found a lot of arrow heads.

Al liked the area, went around looking, and came upon what is now Rupp Bay. All of the land was owned by the Spooner family, and Al bought all of the area from Spooner including the land on the western side of Little Lake.

Granddad cut in in current road and built the cabin in 1938, and we were there that summer when I was four. The rest is history.

Cabin and Powerhouse/Pumphouse from Water Tank Cliff
Lou cleaning fish
Lou with my Dad
Dad on right, Aunt Barbara (his sister) on left

Lou with my Dad on right

Lou was in the oil business

Grandpa Fishing in Bickel Bay

Grandpa (Frank) and Al Rupp Senior
Walleye were the fish on Lake Lauzon in those days

Glen Law, Frank
Bickel Bay

Larry, Ivan, Evan and Verna Shanahan from left

The old fireplace
Grandpa on the left and Lou next to him.
This boat was built by John Emil Carlson

Glen Law and Grandpa
Grandpa on left and Al Rupp on right
Lou Bickel
Knew how to pick a site for a cabin...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Continuous Delivery and Jenkins 2.0

There are some exciting things happening in the Jenkins community and at CloudBees.

The first thing is that Kohsuke Kawaguchi has announced the start of the Jenkins 2.0 Roadmap
"Jenkins is over 10 years old, and it came quite a long way. I still remember the first few plugins that I wrote by myself, and now we have close to 1100 plugins. What's started as a hobby project that had run under my desk today boasts more than 100K installations driving half a million-ish build machines.
. . .
So I propose we do Jenkins 2.0 to fix this.

There are three important goals that I see in Jenkins 2.0.
  1. We need to claim our rightful place in Continuous Delivery. We have lots of pieces that address these modern needs, but we are not communicating this very well.
  2. We need to revisit out of the box experience, so that Jenkins itself speaks that story and makes it clear what we are aiming for. Our software needs to speak for itself and tell people where we are going, so that the community can better focus efforts on the important parts.
  3. And we need to do this while keeping what makes Jenkins great in the first place, which are the ecosystem, the community, and the extensibility that recognizes that one size does not fit all and let people do what they want to do."
The second important thing is that the advent of Docker and containers is making this transition MUCH easier. CloudBees has contributed significant efforts to the open source community with the release of Docker plug-ins that make Docker and Jenkins work together very nicely to make Continuous Delivery real.

And I love this animated GIF:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Patrimonial Capitalism

This notion has been stewing in me for quite a while, and yesterday Paul Krugman wrote an article about this topic of Patrimonial Capitalism.

"...the political spectrum now instinctively accords much more respect to capital than to labor, at a time when capital income is growing ever more concentrated in a few hands — and is surely on its way to being concentrated largely in the hands of people who inherited their wealth."

This is somewhat related to my earlier post of how I wish things were - with a balance between owners, employees and customers - called Capitalism and the Three Legged Stool.

In Krugman's article, the basic premise is that since wealth and income are concentrated increasingly in fewer people's hands, the society at large is dependent on the patrimony, or direction, of the 1% (or maybe the .1%).  Decisions like Citizens United help to reconfirm this, as those with large wealth can now invest to shape the government.

These topics have been beaten to death, but I wanted to expand on my own experience of how this plays out in helping to determine the probability of financial success.  I want to point out two examples of how the tax system is set up in a way to help people with wealth.

Capital Gains as a Tax Break for the Wealthy.
This is the primary issue that Warren Buffet is referring to when he talks about income inequality.

I am lucky to have been a small part of several companies that either went public or were sold. The primary way I have made money over the past 15 years is via capital gains, which were taxed at either 20 or 15% rather than the marginal tax rate of 35-39%.

In two ways, that seems fair. I chose to be paid in stock rather than income, therefore taking the risk these companies would not become valuable.  Second, I was part of teams that created something out of nothing and created jobs, which is what the American Dream is all about.

However, it bothers me that people that chose to work at these companies did not have a similar choice.  First, because only the top people are offered this type of incentive. But also because they did not have enough money to forgo a salary.

Also, most of the venture money came from either wealthy individuals or from non-profit funds like private and public pension plans and University endowments.  Obviously the non-profits would have invested no matter the tax rate. And the wealthy individuals were looking for those big 10X returns as the reason they funded these companies, so tax rate was a relatively minor part of their investment thesis.

My point is that this capital would have been available to fund these companies even with a higher or non-existent capital gains rate.

Capital Gains Treatment Does Not Encourage Building Businesses for the Long Term
Although the Capital Gains tax is designed to encourage long term investing, there are a number of ways it does not.  This is seen today in venture capital backed companies.  The VC backed companies are mostly designed to grow fast and be attractive to a buyer so that the principles can cash out with low tax rates.

Let's take it from my view as the founder of RunSignUp.  Unlike my other companies, this one is not venture backed, and was funded solely by me (another advantage of having money).  We have grown fast and are now a profitable company.  Since I own it, that profit is now taxed at the marginal tax rate of 39.6%.  For me, that is fine and I am happy to pay that given the fact that the company would not exist without the wonderful infrastructure, people and wealth of our amazing nation.  I also happen to really enjoy the work we are doing and want to continue for hopefully a couple of decades.

But we have already been approached about being acquired.  Think about the advantage of the 20% Capital Gain rate.  Greatly simplified, it would allow me to keep an extra $20 out of every $100 of value of the company to sell it.  And if I were the type of person to maximize my profit, I would try to grow the business unnaturally for today and leave future investments until someone else had to worry about it to maximize the sale price.

That does not sound like the basic idea of building long term businesses via a capitalistic system to me.  It sounds like a system that maximizes the wealth of the wealthy.

To bring this back to the topic of Patrimonial Capitalism, the wealthy who are looking after the interests of the country have seriously stacked the deck in their own favor.  I see this personally, and like Warren Buffet, it bothers me.  And I just wanted to get that out of my system...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

WhatsApp Valuation Model

I finally had a moment to figure out the Whatsapp business model. First year is free and then $0.99 per year thereafter. With 400 Million users, that is about $400M in revenue per year (or per next year). 

They do 18 Billion messages per day. Using Amazon AWS SQS or SNS pricing of $0.50 per Million, that is $9,000 per day of approximate cost, or about $4M of costs per year. I know that is probably a bit light because I am not including data transfer costs of about a Nickel/GB. 

For employee costs, they had about 60 people at an average fully burdened load of $200K is about $11M.

The big cost for WhatsApp are the Apple and Android Store transaction fees of 30% - about $120M.

So, a net income (next) year of ~$260M. 

Put that net at a 73X P/E ratio and it gets you to the $19B valuation.  Comparatively:

  • IBM has a PE of 12
  • Red Hat has a PE of 64
  • Facebook has a PE of 112
  • Amazon has a PE of 580.

Of course it positions Facebook well to address some challenges it has.  The two big ones that come to mind is that the Facebook app is too big now and therefore they need some other brands and apps to get to market if they want to continue to grow.  The second one is that they have set Facebook up to be an advertising driven model (although there are some huge opportunities still to do things like payments and identification). The WhatsApp subscription pricing gives them some diversity in their revenue model moving forward.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure Zuckerberg did not make a huge mistake here.  And I think Facebook will continue to bring new brands to market thru development or acquisition just as Google has.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Capitalism vs. the Three Legged Stool

Wikipedia defines: "Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry and the means of production are controlled by private owners with the goal of making profits in a market economy."

This definition has always bothered me. I prefer a different model where there is equal recognition of the three primary drivers behind the success of a company:

  • Owners
  • Employees
  • Customers
I like to think of it as a three legged stool, where each leg is as important as the other.  One gets too large or small and the stool tips over.

The free market is supposed to take care of Employees and Customers.  Employees because the Owners will create so many jobs that due to supply and demand, employees will receive competitive pay.  Customers because if the owners are not building the right thing, then they can go elsewhere.

As someone who has helped to build about 10 startup companies now, I have seen the power in making these three stakeholders equal partners. 

Employees who are true stakeholders - both financially and in shaping the company - are much more valuable to the other two stakeholders since they have high motivation. In addition, employees who take true responsibility make better decisions and work harder.

Making customers true stakeholders is similarly productive. I have seen Customer Advisory Boards have real and meaningful impact on companies. Customers know their needs the best - employees still have to listen and interpret and make bets on where the customer will be in the future. Being able to have honest dialogs is important, because new ideas stem from these interactions when there is true collaboration. Companies need to charge a fair price to their customers and deliver true value for that price.

There is a requirement from all parties to share the power and have empathy for each other.  That means customers must understand an employee's need to earn a good living, and an owner's need to get a return on invested capital (and time).

As owners, employees and customers, we all share the individual responsibility to make the organizations more equal across these stakeholders. I like the recent commercial on TV about the employer who gives 20-30% of profits to employees

We work hard at RunSignUp to make this true, and it is certainly a competitive weapon that helps elevate our business above the typical pure capitalistic companies in our little market. Hopefully it is an approach more and more businesses take to heart.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Alex McCaw wrote an excellent blog explaining stock options - http://blog.alexmaccaw.com/an-engineers-guide-to-stock-options.  Everyone getting options (an engineer or not) should read this - especially the tax implications of converting your options.

I thought there were several common issues that could use some further explanation using an example.

For our example, lets say a VC investment made of $10 M at a valuation of $50M.

Pre Money and Post Money Valuation.  Since people like big numbers, so this is usually expressed as post-money. So the company was valued at $40M before the investment, but now that they have another $10M in the bank, they are now worth $50M.

Dilution.  Before the investment there were 4,000 shares/options, each worth $10, and each representing 1/4,000th of the company.  For the investment another 1,000 shares were created and sold to the investors at $10 each.  Each share/option each employee had was worth $10 before and $10 after - so there was no economic dilution.  Each share/option is no representing 1/5,000th of the company - so there is a % ownership dilution.

Dilution can be an emotional topic.  For founders as they go thru rounds they drop from 60% ownership to 30% to 15% and feel a loss of control of the company. But this is the deal for getting those financial resources into the company. Dilution for most employees does not impact "control", but a feeling of "worth".  They may start with 1% but at the end be at .2%. The fact that each round was needed and valued "fairly" means it was just part of growing the company. Just like adding another superstar developer or VP of Sales. 

The point I would like to make is that company leadership should explain this during the growth stages and when new investment comes in.  It is a simple fact and should be treated as such. Don't wait to sell the company and people think they have 1% and they actually have .2% - too much heartache when there should be celebrations.

Option Valuation. In our example the valuation is $50M, but that valuation is for Preferred Shares. The reality is that Common shares (which options are tied to) are NOT worth that much. The reason is covered in Alex' blog. Boards will try to get a valuation done for the company at the lowest possible price.  These days that is about 20% (and it seems to have gone up over the past 10 years and continuing to head upward). Boards have a reason to try to get the minimum valuation because it is an incentive to hiring people, so in this case boards are definitely on the side of the employees!

So that means if you are issued options around the time of this funding, your options will be priced at $10 * .2 = $2. So, if the next week the company is sold at $50M, you are in luck because your options will be worth almost $10 a piece! (it is "almost" because some preferences may wind up giving some of that first $50M to the preferred shareholders).  Of course if the company sells for $10M in a year, then the preferred shareholders get all $10M and you get nothing - hence the reason for the decreased value of your options.

Who Deserves How Much? This is one thing I have learned - no one gets what they feel they deserve. At some very successful IPO's and Exits I have been a part of I have seen unhappy people from the founder to the CEO to the Exec team to developers to sales people - well, everyone. It seems some people always have a high opinion of themselves! 

The fact is that there are four key things that determine how much you get:
  • When you join. The earlier the better.
  • How much appreciation to the value of the company happens after you join.
  • Accepted Market Practices. All the VC's will have a chart for what % each type of job function gets they will share with their CEO's. That provides ranges, like .7-1.5% for a VP Marketing. The interesting thing about most that I have seen really focus on the people that report to the CEO, so the typical % going to a developer will be much below 0.1%.
  • How critical the open spot is and how good you are. 
So negotiate the best you can, but the big wins come from being part of a company that grows really fast and increases their valuation 10X while you are part of the team. Good luck on finding that opportunity. 

In the mean time, enjoy your job and live within your existing compensation!