CEOs and Boards of Directors – Friends or Foes?

Jeff Donahue is a good friend and battle-scarred veteran of venture-backed and private equity-backed companies. He has raised over $275M of funding for early and later stage startups and has been CFO of 10 emerging growth businesses. He's worked across the table from leading investors like GRP (now Upfront Ventures), Invesco, ComVentures (now Fuse Capital), Allegis CapitalAlta-BerkeleyInvisionSteamboat Ventures and many more. I'm thrilled that he's offered to write a Venture Financing Series. Without further ado, here's episode four. You can read episode one through three here.

In prior posts I have conveyed the importance of a proven CEO and his or her team in attracting venture capital funding. A “proven” CEO is one who has led one or more start-up companies to bountiful exits in prior incarnations, to the enrichment of VC investors.

A seasoned CEO and the team are way up the list of criteria that make funding easier. As a benchmark, I’ve heard multiple VCs observe they attribute up to 50% of a company’s initial valuation to the CEO and the team. Of course, unproven CEOs and their teams do attract venture capital funding – pervasively so. It’s just a matter of the degree of difficulty of the dive.

I remember attending a program in San Diego some years ago where the featured speaker was a young entrepreneur whose previous company scored a superb exit. He had launched his new company and mentioned he landed $6M of Series A funding on the back of just a 15-slide PowerPoint deck. Because of his prior success, investors believed in him and virtually threw Series A cash at him for his new company.

While nothing makes a VC happier than a big exit, we all know that the vast majority of start-ups fail. Close to them are neo-failures – start-ups that turn into lifestyle companies which are cash flow self-sustaining but cannot achieve the scale and scope that support an IPO or trade sale. [Hence, the VCs are left with no exit opportunities.] The question to ask is, “Why do so many start-ups fail even after securing huge amounts of funding over multiple rounds?”

I maintain the most pervasive reason for failure is a combination of the CEO’s inability to execute and the board’s inability to effectively oversee the CEO. A combination of a CEO who cannot execute and a board that in inept in oversight is especially toxic. I’ll put this mix of the CEO and the board in in the following schematic:


Of course, there are degrees of CEO execution ability and board oversight in the schematic.  It is just a matter of “flow” between the CEO and the board over time.

Also, beneath this schematic is the potentially worst case outcome: one of VCs becomes the CEO, and the VC-CEO brings other members of the firm into the management team. If the VC isn’t an experienced CEO (more about that below), then you can bet it is going to be a hard, painful, expensive and very low-probability road to success, saturated with Sturm und Drang along the way.

The issue of CEO execution ability is one reason why some VC firms maintain “entrepreneurs in residence” (there are variations on that designation) to work with their portfolio companies, particularly ones with younger and/or unproven management teams. Perhaps more VC firms should do that. Another risk-attenuating factor is where the board-member VC has been a successful entrepreneur. Mark Suster at Upfront Ventures comes to mind, who as a successful entrepreneur in multiple incarnations by definition has a leg up in board oversight. However, I come back to my mantra of qualifying VCs and, by extension, qualifying whoever they might designate to work with a CEO.  

What does “execution” (or “performance integrity,” as I also like to call it) mean? It means fulfilling the vision through leadership that dynamically aligns strategy, design, research, development, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, logistics, financing, sales, customer service, marketing and business development and a raft of other things. These are the levers a CEO pushes and pulls in making a company successful. [Software and social media companies have an attenuated array of levers, e.g. no manufacturing, supply chain, logistics and the like, which along with comparatively low funding requirements is why they are so attractive to entrepreneurs and VCs alike.] At the end of the day, the CEO very much is like an orchestra director: under great direction the orchestra produces beautiful music. Without it, the orchestra degrades into producing cacophony.

Another way to look at execution is in the context of a great mission statement. A great mission statement embodies what the company does for a living, where it is going to be in a certain point in time, where it will stand vis-à-vis the competition, and what the quality of the business will be. For example, “Company Alpha will be the number 2 producer of 3D printers in the United States in 5 years with sales in excess of $700M and EBITDA margins above 40%.” This simple sentence captures everything that a CEO needs to accomplish. Mission statements that say things like, “Company Alpha is going to be a leading 3D printer that cares for and is loved by its employees, customers, shareholders and communities” are just tedious bullshit.

Together, CEOs who execute and boards who provide constructive oversight build value beyond expectations.  I will have more to say about honing execution skills in a future guest post. Recommended further reading is Brad Feld’s and Mahendra Ramsinghani’s new book, Startup Boards: Getting the Most out of Your Board of Directors.

Got any regrets? Burn 'em!

Not a bad bonfire
Dust storms rage across an apocalyptic landscape filled with brightly painted bodies writhing to the pulsing rhythm of electro beats highlighted by intricately orchestrated laser light patterns and roaring belches from a dozen military-grade flame throwers. 

Sound like a good place to seek enlightenment? Maybe not, but Burning Man is the frenetic center of the world's creative class and there are a lot of lessons we can all learn from what for many is an annual pilgrimage.

In 1986, Larry Harvey was dumped by his girlfriend. He took it hard and the doom and gloom of a failed relationship soon set in. But then he had an idea. He invited some of his friends to a bonfire on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Then he crafted a wooden figurine and added it to the flames. 

The "Burning Man" was himself. More specifically, it represented all the things he wanted to let go of so that he could turn a new page in life. It wound up being an interesting page to turn: since that first year Burning Man has moved to the desert in Black Rock City, Nevada and evolved into a 60,000+ person event.

There are 10 core values that form the cultural foundation for the event. The seriousness with which participants live by these values really transforms the event. Three of those values in particular shaped our experience every single day :
  • Radical inclusion. Anyone and everyone participates. Whether you're into tap dancing, software development, BDSM, environmental activism or corporate finance, you're invited. Participants set aside judgement and accept each other for who and what they are.
  • Radical self reliance. Everyone is camping in an extremely harsh desert environment. Given the sheer volume of people, large art installations, moving parts, sandstorms and flamethrowers my guess was that approximately thirty five people would die during the event. To our amazement, nobody died. The worst injury we witnessed during the entire week was a bike collision (the riders were naked which didn't help). Everybody has to pack in and out their own shelter, food, water, shade, etc.
  • Gifting. No cash is allowed at Burning Man (the only exceptions are for buying coffee and ice). Instead, participants bring things to give away if they want. We were gifted individually made Vietnamese iced coffees, a ride in bike taxi,  gourmet Montreal meat sandwiches, ceremonial green tea worth more than its weight in gold, a lecture on microeconomics, and much much more.   It reminded me of the potlatch ceremonies of the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest.
The unifying theme of the event is letting go. Whether it's your cultural moors, societal norms, emotional baggage, or clothing, you're encouraged to leave it at the door. The result is an atmosphere of imagination. The air is permeated with possibility (and dust) and thoughts are unleashed beyond their normal boundaries.

You may not want to go camping in the desert, but every one of us could let go more often. We require permission only from ourselves to live the lives we want to live. Burn those regrets, tomorrow's a new day.


Co-posted on www.dreacastillo.com

Can we trust the experts?

Eric Ball is a good friend, former business school academic and Fortune 100 executive who also invests in technology startups. He co-authored the book Unlocking the Ivory Tower: How Management Research Can Transform Your Business, which summarizes cutting-edge research that helps entrepreneurs and business leaders be more effective.

One of the most dynamic areas of psychological research over the past two decades has been decision-making and cognitive bias. Economists like to assume that agents are rational, but researchers have discovered what many non-economists already know, which is that humans are bounded in several ways: in the time they take to make a decision, in their rationality, awareness, and ethics. It turns out that almost none of us accurately assess risk. This has implications for how we manage (and your next Vegas trip).

One example of cognitive bias is the “overconfidence bias” (described by Daniel Kahneman in his wonderful 2012 bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow). For example, what is the annual revenue of Exxon? Okay, maybe you don’t know the exact number but could you estimate a revenue range for Exxon with 90% certainty? You might say, “Well, it’s probably somewhere between $10 billion and $50 billion.” In this example you’d be right: Exxon happens to bring in $41 billion per year. But it turns out that if we ask a large number of people to estimate a range, the true number falls outside their range almost half the time. People think they can be more precise than they can.

What makes this result really interesting is that experts do worse than lay people. Confidence increases faster than skill. Experts give a narrower range (they might say $30 to $40 billion), but the true number falls outside the range they give more often than it does for non-expert responders. Be wary of the certainty of experts!

How do we square this with a body of research, by Gary Klein and others, which demonstrates the amazing intuition that some experts develop? Klein (1998) describes a firefighter who can assess in a second whether the building he has just entered is about to collapse, and he documents several cases where expert intuition saves the day.

In 2009, Kahneman and Klein set out to see if they could reconcile these very different conclusions about whether we can trust experts. Ultimately, they concluded that intuitions are skilled when an expert operates in a predictable environment with frequent feedback. This suggests that we can trust:  physicians, nurses, athletes, firefighters, police, and other professionals who make decisions and learn very quickly if it was a good decision or not. A quarterback discovers quickly whether his decision to throw the short pass during an unexpected blitz was a good idea or not. With frequent feedback, decision-making becomes skilled enough that instant intuition can work very well. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000-hour threshold to hone intuition.

Kahneman and Klein concluded that intuitions are unskilled for those making long-term forecasts, where it takes a long time to learn if a decision is correct or not. This means we should not trust the predictions of:  political pundits, stock market analysts, or (especially) venture capitalists. They have to wait too long to find out if they are good or not, and to distinguish between skilled and lucky outcomes. Unfortunately, they are particularly prone to an accelerating sense of confidence, so they have a tendency to think they have become experts when in fact they have not. The lesson: beware of anyone with a long feedback loop. These are the people you are most likely to see on TV and in newspapers.

I'm getting published!

It's high time for an update on my upcoming novel, Uncommon Stock. Many of you know I've been working on it since last Fall and I've been so involved in the trenches of grinding through the writing process that I've been lax about keeping everyone up-to-date on progress. So here's the deal.

I finished the first draft in July on Maafushi Island in the Maldives. Then I sent the manuscript out to a tiny group of beta readers for an initial round of feedback. They sent me back some extremely useful input and I went to work on a second draft incorporating some of their ideas to help make the story the best it can possibly be.

While I was hard at work on my second draft, I received an unsolicited publishing offer from a new independent publishing company (let's call them Company X) backed by a major venture capital fund. They're still in stealth mode so I won't be able to reveal their identity until their launch in January (stay tuned!). After some back-and-forth I signed a contract with them for Uncommon Stock late last month. In a future post I will discuss all the major terms of the contract in detail for all of you aspiring authors out there.

Those of you who know me well or who know the publishing industry might ask: why not self publish? This is a fantastic question. In fact, I was planning on self publishing all the way up to signing the contract a few weeks ago. The publishing industry is currently undergoing a fundamental transition not dissimilar to the revolution that transformed the movie and music industry a decade ago. Fortunately/unfortunately, the six established companies that dominate the book publishing industry seemed to have learned very little from watching their colleagues in music and film.

The upshot is that anyone with a modicum of project management skill and a network of good freelancers can produce a book of comparable quality to Random House for about $20k (substantially less if you're willing to sacrifice some production values; substantially more if you want a big name PR firm to help you with the launch).

The contracts the traditional publishers offer to first-time fiction authors like myself are, to put it mildly, complete horse shit. They give you a minuscule royalty percentage, draconian terms, no marketing support and a $5k advance (if you're lucky and have a great agent). It's a different ballgame if you're J.K. Rowling and can demand whatever terms you want because you have such a huge audience but for a first-timer like me, no go.

It was an obvious choice: self publish. So I lined up a bunch of freelancers, laid out a production schedule and was about to press the "GO" button when a publishing offer magically appeared in my inbox (look for a detailed post on this once Company X launches). Holy crap. What to do?

The more I talked to the people at Company X, the more excited I got about the prospect of working with them. They're extremely tech savvy and understand the fundamental trends that are reshaping the business of storytelling. Their founders have written books for the big traditional publishers and understand the frustrations that writers face everyday. Their offer included collaborative, author-friendly terms (again look for a detailed post on this soon). I'm able to retain creative control, get royalties that make sense and work with a new indie publisher that will help me share the best stories I can write with the best readers out there (i.e. you guys!). I'm thrilled to partner with them and hope to help subvert the Big Six along the way.

Plus, there's just a certain appeal to a thriller about startups being published by a secret new startup disrupting the dinosaur industry of traditional publishing. That's friggin' cool. Now, back to work on editorial...


P.S. Uncommon Stock will be released in Q1 2014. Get those Kindles ready.

Don’t waste your time with unqualified VCs or pitchfests

Jeff Donahue is a good friend and battle-scarred veteran of venture-backed and private equity-backed companies. He has raised over $275M of funding for early and later stage startups and has been CFO of 10 emerging growth businesses. He's worked across the table from leading investors like GRP (now Upfront Ventures), Invesco, ComVentures (now Fuse Capital), Allegis CapitalAlta-BerkeleyInvisionSteamboat Ventures and many more. I'm thrilled that he's offered to write a Venture Financing Series. Without further ado, here's episode three. You can read episode one and two here.

“Qualification” is a powerful and purposeful word aligned with living a life of least resistance. Consciously or unconsciously, we tend to qualify just about every human being we seek to determine who best can heal our bodies, repair our appliances, represent us in court, style our hair, sell us a car, remodel our homes and myriad other undertakings. We qualify virtually all our activities to determine which provide us the greatest satisfaction, from where to live, to where to dine, to where to shop, to what movie to see, to where to go and what to do on vacation, and so forth.

Qualifying VCs you want to pitch your start-up to is no different. Do not waste your time pitching to unqualified VCs. You want to pitch to VCs who know your space and like it, who have invested successfully in it or are committed to doing so, and who bring deep Rolodexes in it particularly in partnerships and domain expertise. By not having a qualified VC, you will forfeit the synergies that a truly qualified VC brings to the table. Sometimes, money is not all green…

If you secure funding from a relatively unqualified VC – which certainly is better than no funding at all – you will be magnifying the risk of future conflict over key elements of strategy and execution. This is because in 6-12 months your start-up is highly likely to be a great deal different from the business plan you originally teed-up and got funded. Twenty to thirty years ago, startups approached VCs with 100-200 page business plans in hand. Today, an elevator pitch, executive summary and PowerPoint deck is all you need. The process evolved as people realized that those business plans had little utility as such an early stage.

At the same time, there is no more satisfying position to be in than having VCs compete to invest in your company. This will happen only if your investment thesis is pervasively compelling (check out my two prior posts for tips). If you have VCs competing to invest, you will be on the path to pre-determining a successful funding through leverage in the pricing, dilution, investor preferences, calendar to closing and just about everything else that goes into a term sheet.

If you do get multiple VCs competing to invest in your company, go with the biggest and the best. It is that simple. But, do your homework on the shortlist. There are VCs that have good reputations in working with their portfolio companies and there are VCs that have bad ones. As CEO, you will be busy beyond your wildest imagination running a company. You do not need to be busy managing your investors.  I will have more to say about this in a future guest post.

Nothing works like personal introductions from someone who knows the VCs you want to pitch to. Cold-calling and submitting business plans through VC websites are very low-probability methods of getting invited to pitch. Use your networks (develop them if you do not have them), including service providers such as law firms and accounting firms to get introductions. Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures and author of the splendid Both Sides of the Table blog, has written extensively about getting in contact with VCs. [Mark was on the Board of EMN8 (now Tillster) while I was CFO there, and EMN8 was the only 2010 Red Herring North America 100 and Red Herring Global 100 company in Southern California.] Instead of wasting your time with unqualified VCs, get out there and create contacts with qualified ones.

Regarding pitchfests and business plan competitions, I believe the pitchfest process is great for refining a pitch. Unfortunately, that’s where the value typically stops accruing. This principally is because the vast majority of pitchfest and business plan competition panelists are not qualified (including having been successful) in your space. I have seen this across the entrepreneurial spectrum in San Diego from pitchfests at the incubation/acceleration stage to pitchfests hosted by service providers, by professional organizations (e.g. San Diego Software Industry Council – SDSIC), by affinity groups (e.g. the MIT Enterprise Forum), and by VC organizations themselves (e.g. the San Diego Venture Group - SDVG). Pitching to an unqualified panel is just as big a waste of time as pitching to unqualified VCs, and it really pushes the needle into the “you won’t get a prize” zone. If you embrace my mantra of pre-determining outcomes, why bother pitching to an unqualified panel when you’d be better off pitching to a qualified investors to whom you have secured introductions and who are truly interested in listening to you?

This extends deeper because the pitchfest sponsors typically have a screening process whereby an array of applications gets shortlisted to a handful of finalists who will participate in the pitchfest. If those screening committees are not thoroughly populated with qualified individuals in your space, the problem is compounded.

I have attended many pitchfests in San Diego, including some very recent ones, where the panels were embarrassingly unqualified. I truly felt sorry for many of the CEOs who were competing, and I felt that the panelists should have recused themselves from opining on companies, products, technologies, market opportunities and the like that they really had no qualifications in.

MESSAGE TO PITCHFEST/BUSINESS PLAN COMPETITION SPONSORS: please make sure your screening committees and your pitchfest panels are populated with deeply qualified individuals in each of the presenting companies’ domains, and please convey this to your applicants. It is one way of really being a service to the entrepreneurial community.  

With unqualified panelists, typically it is the sizzle rather than the steak that wins the pitchfest prize. If you choose to go the pitchfest/business plan competition route, beef up your sizzle by presenting in a compelling/charismatic manner and by having a media-rich presentation. And, remember that pitchfest preparations tend to be very time consuming. Time spent preparing for a pitchfest is time not spent developing and selling your product and finding qualified investors.

As a final word of caution, if your pitch bombs, you likely have encumbered your profile in the local funding community. [“Encumbered” could be a euphemism for “poisoned the well.”] The word spreads fast around town among angel investors and VCs.  I have heard both say, “Hey, that company didn’t make it through the pitchfest. Why should I want to talk to them?” 

Book Review: Kill Decision

Drone-athon
Once in a while I read a book that makes me very, very worried. Daniel Suarez's Kill Decision is high on that list. It's a thriller that explores the potential impacts of drone technology on defense, governance and privacy. Daniel's a technologist himself and the scenario he's dreamt up is so scary precisely because it's so believable.

Almost everything in Kill Decision is possible with off-the-shelf technology today. This is particularly close to home because San Diego is quickly becoming the hub for drone technology development. I've met with two brand new startups in the past year working specifically on civilian and military applications. 3D Robotics, a San Diego company, just secured a new investment from Foundry Group, one of the major VC placements in the region this year. The FAA is planning to use San Diego as a test case for rolling out new regulations on civilian drone use and momentum is building fast.

This is a prime example of machines taking over the world and it usually pays to get out in front of trends like this. It's much more fun to help shape a future empowered by new technology that be dragged kicking and screaming into a Kill Decision. Read it. And next time you see a hobbyist flying around a toy drone, think twice.

Pitfalls to raising venture capital

Jeff Donahue is a good friend and battle-scarred veteran of venture-backed and private equity-backed companies. He has raised over $275M of funding for early and later stage startups and has been CFO of 10 emerging growth businesses. He's worked across the table from leading investors like GRP (now Upfront Ventures), Invesco, ComVentures (now Fuse Capital), Allegis CapitalAlta-BerkeleyInvisionSteamboat Ventures and many more. I'm thrilled that he's offered to write a Venture Financing Series. Without further ado, here's episode two. You can read episode one here.

Entrepreneurs can get ahead in the fundraising game by paying attention to these twenty three factors that make VC funding easier, but pre-determining a successful raise requires more than that. In this second episode of the Venture Financing Series, I highlight some of the key pitfalls to watch out for.

  • Part-time entrepreneurship. You never will attract funding from a VC if you say, “As soon as we get funding we’ll quit our day jobs and dedicate ourselves to our start-up.”
  • High customer acquisition costs. At the other end of customer acquisition cost spectrum is viral customer adoption, which is close to heaven.
  • Barriers to customer adoption. These can include usability/user experience, complexity, extended time horizons, and disruptive changes to operational models. Why start out behind the 8-ball in the first place? 
  • Long technology development cycle. Investors back products, not technologies. A shorter development cycle is always better, and the VC model has morphed away from intensive development spending.
  • Sequential funding requirements. Optimize for cash flow breakeven as early as you can. Again, this is less problematic as long as VCs signed up to sequential funding rounds in the first place. VCs hate unpleasant surprises and will make you pay for them.
  • Modest market opportunity. Ideally, you do not want to be a small/niche play manifest in little or no scale and scope and underwhelming revenues/non-geometric revenue growth. Fundamentally, you want to ride big horses in big markets. 
  • Elephant hunting business model. This makes you dependent on a small number of very large customers. Be especially careful in the realm of hardware manufacturing and complex software applications. This is ameliorated if you have a long-term lock on at least one elephant.
  • Unproven/inexperienced management team. Funding will be easier if you and key members of your team have made VCs a lot of money in prior incarnations through execution.   
  • Crowded/competitive space. This translates into forfeiture of first or even second mover advantage. Lots of undifferentiated players in an anathema to VCs.
  • Pure execution play with little or no intellectual property. Social media is a great exception because many social media undertakings typically are land grabs where first-mover status is paramount.
  • Complex and/or cost-heavy sales channels. VCs can be turned off by:
    • Heavy reliance on indirect channels and channel partners (channels take a great deal of time and money to structure, educate, motivate, and manage).
    • Heavy reliance on a direct sales force that doesn’t scale.
  • Rigid technology. Be careful if your technology doesn’t have more products/applications beyond what is immediately at hand. VCs like to see extensible technology.  
  • A service provider business model, a consulting-oriented business model, a custom solutions business model, or a government contracting business model. There are a host of reasons these are very difficult to fund, and I will comment further on them in a future guest post. 
  • Complex ecosystems for the product. Watch out if the economic pie is divided many ways among established players and relationships. Mobile is an example – the ecosystem includes technology providers, application developers, carriers/network operators, MVNOs, MVNEs, content providers, content aggregators, integrators, handset manufacturers, chipset manufacturers, SIM card manufacturers, network equipment manufacturers, and last but not least the subscribers/customers who pay.
  • Disproportionate reliance on assumptions that cannot be tested. This also applies when tests provide debatable/questionable results. The opposite would be a business plan that can survive rigorous revenue haircuts and still be viable.
  • Revenues that follow investment. You don’t want revenues to lag behind investment in terms of risk profile and timing regardless of the development cycle.  An example is an investment where a lot of money has to be spent over a long period of time to acquire customers.
  • Hardware, as opposed to software. Hardware is just more complex and capital intensive (see “elephant hunting” above). If hardware is your solution or is part of your solution, you’ve moved the risk needle toward the red zone.
  • Having to build “infrastructure.” Do you need to proselytize your product’s application or your industry? This is akin to having to invest in creating demand in a situation where you believe people want your product for whatever compelling reasons but just don’t know they want it. There are no returns on building infrastructure. Your future competitors will piggy-back on it, and you will have made them successful at your expense.
  • Using more than one of the top ten lies of entrepreneurs (modified with respect and thanks to Guy Kawasaki):
    • “Our projections are conservative.”
    • “McKinsey says our market will be $50 billion by 2010.”
    • “Google and Amazon are likely to partner with us soon.”
    • “Apple and Samsung are likely to buy us in 2 years.”
    • “Key employees are set to join us as soon as we get funded.”
    • “No one is doing what we’re doing.”
    • “No one can do what we’re doing.”
    • “Microsoft is too big/dumb to be a threat.”
    • “Our patents make our product totally defensible.”
    • “All we have to do is get 1% of the market.”
At the end of the day everything boils down to the customer. Your  product is something people want and are willing to pay for because it alleviates their pain, solves their problem, enhances their experience, gives them instant gratification, etc. Beyond that, you simply must make your product easy to adopt and maintain. User experience is so important…

You need to give meticulous attention to the array of customer cost metrics embedded in your product beyond the cost of customer acquisition. These include customer provisioning costs (i.e. getting your product up and running with the customer), customer service costs, customer retention costs, and customer development costs (i.e. costs of upselling your customer). Of course, the flip side of customer service costs is having a product that customers want so intensely they are willing to pay for support.

The pitfall list above is ideal in the context of things that encumber securing venture funding, much as my previous guest post dealt with ideal factors that make raising venture funding easier. In terms of what to avoid, I never have been in or seen a startup that does not have some hairballs. Pitfall-wise, it is just a matter of how high up the hairball index you are. That completes the circle with my favorite subject, risk management.


Read episode one, Taking the pain out of raising venture capital.

Less and longer: a few words of wisdom on traveling right

So you’ve saved and budgeted for your trip and now it’s finally time to plan your itinerary. Six months of travel time stretches out before you like a magic carpet. So many opportunities to explore exotic locales! So much time to explore all those places on your bucket list!

Ahh, your bucket list… How many boxes will you be able to check? You have six months. Why not do the Inca Trail, explore Patagonia, go shark diving in South Africa, eat dumplings in China, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, go to a full moon party in Thailand and find yourself at an Indian ashram? Hell, you should probably throw in an Italian cooking class and a camel riding in Morocco for good measure. It all sounds great. Until, of course, you hit the brick wall of reality.

Inside a hellish bus for a heinous ride through Nepal
Travel can be hard, frustrating and draining. You start to think about that into your second day into a thirty-hour bus ride in Nepal where the space between the seats was apparently designed to be perfect for two-year-olds and there’s a box of meat rotting in the back. Or when you arrive in your fourth Tanzanian town and every single local is trying to cheat you for forty times the proper cost of accommodation. Or maybe when you get violently sick in the middle of the wilderness with no hospital (or road) for days. These are the times when you start to appreciate two magic words: less and longer.

Less really is more. Don’t stack your itinerary. It’s far better to spend two months than two weeks in any given country on your list. And in that country it’s far better to spend two weeks rather than two days in any given city or destination.

By doubling down on particular places you kill two birds with one stone. First, because you’re in one place for a long time you’ll find that perfect beach bungalow owned by the local mayor’s family and get invited to a massive wedding party where you make friends for life. If you were only there for two days you’d probably be at that guesthouse with decent but outdated reviews from Lonely Planet that now has a cockroach infestation.

Second, you minimize your exposure to the bane of all travelers: logistics. You don’t spend half of your time in country on a local bus. You don’t discover that your fourteenth taxi driver rifled through your bags. You don’t loose you luggage on an avoidable regional airline flight. You've taken six months off, use that time wisely: with less and longer you'll interact more with locals, enhance the quality of your experience and maintain very healthy levels of personal relaxation.

Basically, you’ve taken the work out of the travel. By staying longer in each place you actually get a feel for the local life there instead of blazing through in a series of photoflashes. As you get ready to plan your trip, doing a country a month would be a good rule of thumb. You may not check as many boxes but you’ll learn a lot more about yourself, a lot more about the country you’re visiting and a lot more about the true meaning of fun!


Co-posted on www.dreacastillo.com

Taking the pain out of raising venture capital

Jeff Donahue is a good friend and battle-scarred veteran of venture-backed and PE-backed companies. He has raised over $275M of funding for early and later stage startups and has been CFO of 10 emerging growth businesses. He's worked across the table from leading investors like GRP (now Upfront Ventures), Invesco, ComVentures (now Fuse Capital), Allegis Capital, Alta-Berkeley, Invision, Steamboat Ventures and many more. I'm thrilled that he's offered to write a Venture Financing Series. Without further ado, here's episode one. 

Successful entrepreneurship has a rigorous risk management component to it – maximizing the risk of success and minimizing the risk of failure – as the factors below regarding raising venture capital attempt to convey. In managing risk I always recall my three and a half years in Russian telecommunications and what I call “the Russian Rhythm.” By that, I mean doing things so proficiently, including managing risks so thoroughly, that the outcome is predetermined. “Predetermining the outcome” is a mantra for me.

I have never, ever, encountered a startup proposition that satisfies all 23 criteria below.  At the bottom of the list are some separate brief observations about that. In my next guest post, I will enumerate pitfalls to avoid when seeking venture capital.

Things That Make VC Funding Easier…
  • Pre-emptive technology. Your product changes the structure of a market and the way the world works (“disruptive”).
  • Massive market opportunity. You cannot beat a global market opportunity with a well-defined niche of early adopters.
  • Straightforward value proposition. A product that people want and are willing to pay for because it alleviates their pain, solves their problem, enhances their experience, gives them instant gratification, etc.
  • An easily articulated path to revenue and positive cash flow. Your focus as CEO should be revenue and not profitability. Revenue will drive profitability unless you screw up the cost side of the equation. Positive cash flow means you do not need more VC money unless, for example, it is for accelerated commercial expansion such as taking the product international.
  • Something that ramps. Preferably in an uncomplicated manner and a short period of time.
  • Ease of customer adoption, and low customer acquisition, provisioning, support and upsell costs. Barriers to customer adoption and high customer costs are a ball and chain on your business model.    
  • First mover / first to market. Any entity after the first mover requires greater specificity of differentiation, which complicates the dive.
  • Viral product uptake. This typically characterizes network effect plays.
  • Not dependent on sequential capital raises. Sequential capital raises are fine as long as they are expected up front. If not, the founders are going to be in trouble. I’ve been in multiple companies that went beyond Series D or E rounds. In virtually all cases, by that time most of the founders and senior management teams – and sometimes their successors – were long gone and crushed. Extension rounds, or keeping current rounds open for long periods of time, have the same consequences.
  • Tier-1 management team. Ideally including people that have made VCs rich in a prior companies.
    • Deep grasp of the operational and financial metrics, benchmarks and milestones inherent in the business plan, particularly regarding technology, markets, customers and revenues. This often is called “DNA” or “domain expertise.”
    • Strong execution history. A management team that consistently and persistently has hit the numbers in the plan. 
    • Demonstrable knowledge of the competition, their business models, their strengths and weaknesses, their likely responses to what you are doing, and how you are going to spank them.
  • Scalable business model. Unit variable costs go down while revenues increase.
  • Ability to demonstrate pricing power and pricing to value. The hardest thing to do is get prices up. However, you often will encounter intense pressure from VCs to price down in order to land the business. That has consequences.
  • Solid, referenceable customers and partners. Few things are as compelling as great customer testimonials. So much of venture capital these days has turned to growth capital on the back of a product, demo or prototype as opposed to development capital, which is now often the realm of friends and family and of angels.
  • Defendable positioning. You are not going to be pushed aside by competition that can readily replicate/duplicate what you are doing.
  • Virtual or close-to-virtual business model. Tell me that isn’t heaven...
  • A product that addresses the revenue side of your customer’s equation. Cost-side solutions are easy to document in terms of ROI, etc., but they almost always take a back seat to a CEO’s interest in the top line. If you find yourself pitching your product to the CTO of a company, you’ve guaranteed yourself a path of greater resistance.
  • Outsourceable development. It is demonstrably cheaper to develop in India, Croatia, China, Ukraine, Mexico and a lot of other places than in California.
  • Simple distribution models. Heavy reliance on complex distribution channels is a red flag.
  • Simple, facilitative and high-yield partnership opportunities. Think sales, marketing, distribution, technology.  [The value of partnerships tends to be highly firm-specific.]
  • Independent verification. This should validate what you are saying in your business plan, especially around revenue assumptions. That verification can come from potential customers, partners, vendors and other players in your ecosystem, as well as from reputable advisors.  Better yet, it can come from a VC’s other portfolio companies.
  • A bottoms-up customer validation-oriented business plan. This should withstand an arbitrary 50% haircut and still survive the cash burn. Even better, have a business plan that can withstand another arbitrary 50% haircut.
  • Protected intellectual property and/or a strategy for IP protection. The problem is that IP is time consuming and expensive for your team, and also your IP is only as valuable as your ability to litigate its defense. IP in general does not have wide applicability to the early-stage social media space.
  • Expandable technology. You don’t want to be locked into a given application in a defined environment; rather, you want technology that has visible extensions beyond the product or application at hand.
If I encountered a nascent start-up that met all these criteria I would put a second and third mortgage on my home and bet on it. Reality is different from this list of ideal factors. Perhaps the best way to tee up the factors is to delineate those that are most relevant to your technology and product and try to get them “right.” I would note that highest on the list of most VCs I’ve met is the management team.

Your startup doesn’t have to solve all the world’s problems and face a market opportunity in the tens-of-billions of dollars. The landscape is littered with highly successful start-ups with stupendous exits on a small scale.

Notice that I did not say anything about “exit” in the list. I don’t talk to CEOs and VCs about exits. If the CEO executes and the VC adds value, the exit will take care of itself. There is no reason to distract yourself and your team with thinking about how rich an exit will make everyone. I learned that painfully when pitching a company to what is probably the most successful VC firm in history. My CEO blurted out, “Yes, and if we get this right I know Microsoft will buy us in 2-3 years.” The VC partner on the other side of the table proceeded to call several of his senior Microsoft contacts all of who confirmed they knew nothing about the company and were utterly disinterested in the technology. My butt still has the imprint from the door handle hitting it on the way out.



Creating viral content

I met with a friend this week who's in the process of launching a fascinating new art/political campaign. It's still stealth right now but they're trying to lay the groundwork for viral growth once the story goes live. I followed up with some feedback/suggestions and I'll share some the take-aways from that email here.

Virality is impossible to engineer. Many have tried, indeed, the best PR firms try every day, but only a very lucky few succeed. If you think about some of the most popular Youtube videos (Gangam Style, Charlie bit my finger, etc.) or books (Harry Potter, Malcolm Gladwell, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc.) it's very difficult to identify what specifically made them successful. Some are home videos, some are vampire fan fiction, some are thoughtful academic analyses, etc. One thing is clear: the creators didn't know whether they were releasing a hit or a flop.

If you want to create a viral movement around your story, the best you can do is create the best darn story possible. It needs to be good enough that people who have no relationship with you will engage with it so deeply that they feel compelled to share it of their own accord. At the end of the day, this is really the only thing that matters.

Orchestrating and executing a stellar launch plan is the best way to seed the world with your idea. This is how you get the initial word out. If your story is good enough, timely enough and lucky enough then those seeds can grow into a viral movement around your message.

Achieving virality in 'one big push' is particularly difficult. This is why so many popular authors release series of books. If you are releasing successive tranches of amazingly good content then (1) you have more at-bats to get lucky and go viral and (2) you develop a core fan base that become your evangelists to help you achieve said success.

Monetizing virality is equally subtle. It's easy to monetize a movement after it goes viral. You have endless opportunities to up-sell people on something they care deeply about (look how much money George Lucas made with Star Wars merchandise). But it's very difficult to build monetization into the movement early on. That's why Facebook is still free for users. Charging a lot for things reduces rate of uptake and if you truly want a message to go viral, rate of uptake is what it's all about. That's not to say you can't charge at all. Obviously people paid for Harry Potter. But it leads to sometimes counterintuitive approaches: if you give away 20 thousand ebooks (and ~0 marginal cost to you), would that help you achieve an additional 50 thousand in sales? Maybe (bestselling authors such as Guy Kawasaki have used this approach to great effect).

All this goes to show that it's impossible to orchestrate popularity. The best approach is to create a product that's as amazing as it can possibly be and to think outside the box about how to get the word out.

Beer + Coffee = Success.


Come up with great ideas!
I was sipping on a latte at Turquoise Coffee in San Diego today chatting with a friend who's an Australian serial entrepreneur. We were discussing the cultural differences between the startup scenes of San Diego and Silicon Valley and the cultural similarities of artists and entrepreneurs. Then we realized something awesome: beer + coffee = success.

Beer loosens up your mental muscles and lowers you inhibitions to thinking outside the box. It's the perfect beverage to pair with brainstorming. Beer fuels your creativity.

Execute them!
Coffee gets you in the zone and helps you brush away distractions. It's the perfect beverage to pair with execution. Coffee fuels your productivity.

If you combine coffee, beer and smart, action-oriented people, there's nothing that can stand in your way. A guy at the adjacent table in the cafe overheard our conversation. He interrupted to say, "Write a book about that! I'll be your first customer."

A book might take a while but for the meantime, hopefully this post can suffice. 

How to raise money from VCs? Romance.

I was up in Silicon Valley last month at the IBM SmartCamp finals. The finalist companies ranged from neurologic diagnostics, to agricultural data analytics, to office space optimization software (you can read about all six finalists here).

The event included a panel on startup financing and the moderator asked Bill Reichert from Garage Ventures a question that every aspiring entrepreneur in the room was thinking: how do they decide which startups to invest in?

Practice those pick-up lines
Bill's a great guy, a VC thought leader, and he gave a fantastic answer: you've got to make the investor fall in love with you. The dirty secret of early stage tech investing is that there's so little data to base your investment decision on. If you're investing in later stage private companies or public companies you have years of financial performance, market indicators, competitive analysis and historical trends that can inform your bet. That's why later stage investors employ so many algorithms and analysts.

But what if you invest in brand new companies building brand new products based on brand new technologies that create brand new markets? Suddenly all those metrics go out the window. How do you evaluate 'promise' or 'potential' in a quantitative, replicable way? The short answer is "you don't." Early stage VCs make their decisions almost exclusively based on people. They need to trust in their gut that you're smart, scrappy and dedicated enough that you're gong to go to the wall for the opportunity. Good VCs have built up enough intuitive pattern recognition from working with fantastic entrepreneurs that they have a chance at spotting that kind of talent early on.

But more than anything else you need to make your VC fall in love. They need to fall in love with you, your team, your product and your market. They need to fall for you so hard that there isn't even a true investment decision to make, they should feel like there's no choice in the matter. You need to woo them so effectively that they will go the extra mile to bring their partners into the fold. You need to intrigue them to the point that they're dreaming about you in their off time.

The beauty here is that you'll need that same skill with romance in every other aspect of your business. If you want to be a great CEO you need to make your team, your partners and, most of all, your customers fall in love with you. So start stringing your bow and channelling Cupid, because you need the world to be your valentine.

Kevin Spacey on the future of storytelling

Technology continues to shift the tectonic plates underlying the music/book/movie/TV/content industries. I've been learning a lot about the publishing side as I prepare to release my new book. Although the book and TV business may look very different from the outside, the fundamental dynamics of technological change are driving them all in the same direction. At the end of the day people want good stories. If you haven't yet seen House of Cards, it's a great example. But nobody can say it better than the man himself:


Gourmet desert camping in Nevada

Desert camping isn't for everyone. Conditions can be harsh, especially for peak heat times in the middle of summer. Without natural sources of water and shade, dehydration and sun poisoning could easily happen. Extreme self-reliance is the best way to survive and lack of preparation could have devastating consequences.

A very fancy desert (Dubai)
Good thing we're not everyone and we love extremes! For our first week back in the United States of America, we decided to go desert camping for a week, in the middle of the northern Nevada desert. We had actually planned on going there before we left on our 6-month sabbatical and paid $380 each to secure our spot for our tent. Usually, camping is never that expensive. However, this type of camping is as unique as it gets so we had to commit eight months in advance to it.

We're talking, of course, about Burning Man: absolutely, 100%, one of the most epic events we have ever attended in our lives. Burning Man is very hard to explain so it is best to just go see for yourself. The reason it's so hard is because the event becomes what you want it to be. Many people bring their children for a family experience, many people come to do ultramarathons and others, like us, come as foodies, not knowing what to expect but excited about everything.

Our two good friends spent all summer planning for Burning Man. One of them, in particular, planned everything in insane detail and we had everything from 1,000 baby wipes to superglued seals on every single car window to keep the majority of the playa dust out.

All four of us are total foodies so we went on very fun food shopping sprees and prepared meals in advance. We packed the 'obvious' camping food such as canned beans, corn, rice and curries in pouches, but we also packed exciting foodie treats. We were thrilled to find bacon jerky and purchased the Costco size bags of that amazing treasure. We brought two huge logs of goat cheese, a large wedge of Manchego cheese, an entire wooden box stuffed with smoked salmon from Seattle, garlic and jalapeño stuffed olives, a case of V-8 fruit and veggie juices and our home mix of hemp and almond granola with raisins.
Preparing the lasagna sauce

Eliot made a gallon of home-made cold brew coffee and Drea made cinnamon tea soda syrup. We also made two pans of home made lasagna with beef and de-cased Italian sausages (Drea did this by hand), an entire head of garlic and a dash of nutmeg to give it a Bologna twist. Our friends made an amazing summer gazpacho with tons of parsley, lemon, Tunisian olive oil and refreshing cucumbers plus at least two dozen juicy home-made meatballs in an amazing home-made tomato sauce (peeled AND seeded tomatoes!). Oh and let's not forget their tasty garbanzo, parsley, parmesan cheese salad.

We showed up at Burning Man and were in awe for at least 144 hours. The dry heat suppressed our appetites a bit but we still found time to indulge in decadent meals. Thanks to our extremely detail-oriented friend who planned 99% of our journey to the desert, we were able to keep our pre-made meals frozen solid with the 50 pounds of dry ice we stuffed in three coolers.

The Man
De-frosting was super easy: we took out the containers in the morning and by dinner time, they had naturally thawed. We ate the gazpacho and garbanzo salad cold and then heated up the lasagna and the meatballs on the propane camp stove. Our other campmates brought a healthy kale and broccoli salad and we destroyed it our first night. We also indulged in the best home-made grilled cheese sandwiches we've ever had! Part of the secret was toasting the bread on both sides and using three layers of cheese (we're getting hungry just writing this!).

Fire cyclones as the Man burns on Saturday
Burning Man thrives on a gift economy and we were lucky to have delicious treats along the way. At Burning Man, you give. The gifts we received were absolutely fabulous. As far as food goes, we had Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches (think gourmet smoked/corned beef and spicy mustard) served by our Canadian neighbors, fresh ground coffee used to make legit Vietnamese iced coffee (ice is a highly coveted item at Burning Man), emperor's tea from China prepared in front of us at a formal tea ceremony (the tea had to be smuggled into the US because it is worth more than gold by weight!) and cheese fondue straight from a fondue pot!

We will try to make this a yearly event for us and we look forward to the foodie events we missed: bacon bloodys, morning hash browns, home-made pickles, massive barbecues and whatever else we are bound to walk or bike into.

Co-posted on www.eliotpeper.com

Robot Heart Party

Awesome Playa Sunset

Biking around, checking out art exhibitions everywhere

Mango sticky rice in a climbers' paradise

Approaching Tonsai
“For the stone from the top for geologists, the knowledge of the limits of endurance for the doctors, but above all for the spirit of adventure to keep alive the soul of man.” --George Mallory, British mountaineer 

We were really tired of spending Ramadan in Muslim countries. It turned into a real hassle in Maldives and Indonesia so we made a game time decision to seek out the Buddha instead. Luckily Thailand isn't too far from Sumatra so we jumped on a quick flight to Krabi via Kuala Lumpur (KL). This, of course, wasn't part of our budget plan but we decided it would be worth it nonetheless.

Our evening spent in KL was surprisingly fun. We stayed in the budget friendly Chinatown area and explored the local night market for street eats and cheap gear for Burning Man later that month. Then we zipped back to the airport and hopped over to Krabi. 

We stayed in Tonsai, part of a series of three beaches on an isolated peninsula on the Andaman Sea that doesn't have road access. Visitors have to take the traditional long-tail boats from Krabi beach to get out there. We wandered around for a while in the jungle up behind the beach searching out places to stay. Tonsai is the cheapest of the three beaches on the peninsula but we were still surprised at the costs. 

Our guide only climbed barefoot
Lucky for us, the week turned out to be indeed well worth it. We signed up for a three day lead climbing course with Basecamp Tonsai, the most reputable climbing operator in the area (German-managed). Before starting our sabbatical we had spent a year climbing three to four days a week in a climbing gym in San Diego. Climbing in Tonsai blew all of that away.

The rocks in Tonsai are absolutely epic. Spires of limestone jut thousands of feet up from sparkling tropical ocean and verdant jungle. We were there in the 'wet' season and it rained for about three hours total for the whole week were there. There are a lot of overhangs so even if it rains a lot of the rock stays dry. There are tons of bolted routes for sport climbing and literally thousands for trad, which attracts some very serious climbers. Even during this low season, most of the decent places were pretty full and the majority of the best climbers we saw were from Spain, Australia and England. 

Eliot leads a beach route
We had a blast learning how to lead climb. For the uninitiated, lead climbing is when you set up your own safety ropes as you make your way up the rock. It means you often take longer falls than you otherwise which alters the psychology of your climb: you tend to be more risk averse. We climbed all day every day and even tried deep water soloing, climbing without safety but jumping off into the ocean. Unfortunately on the last day of our class Drea took a dangerous fall and hurt her ankle. It could have been a lot worse so we racked that up as a win.

The other rockin' thing about Tonsai is that once you're done scaling rocks, you get to gorge on delicious Thai food and wash it down with Eliot's favorite: Thai iced tea! We gobbled up mountains of mango sticky rice to fuel our climbing adventures and look forward to returning to Tonsai to sharpen our skills some more!

But we had a flight back to California via Singapore scheduled for the next week. Some might say it was the end of our trip but we thought it was just the beginning. We were headed to Burning Man.


Co-posted on www.dreacastillo.com

Drea's about to fall
Drea's awesome belay attitude!

Eliot fends off local mozzies

Not bad, not bad at all

Deep water solo territory

At last, Thai iced tea...

Book Review: Nexus

Ramez Nam spent 13 years building cutting edge communication and artificial intelligence software at Microsoft. He founded Apex NanoTechnologies, which built software for molecular design. He's also a huge adventure fan, climbing mountains, diving reefs, etc.

Along the way he must have learned a thing or two about storytelling because his debut novel, Nexus, is simply awesome. It's an international cocktail of nanotechnology, neuroscience, geopolitics and Buddhism. It touches on everything from the Silicon Valley tech world, to San Francisco rave culture and Thai mountain temples.

Ramez recently released the sequel, Crux, which I can't wait to dive into. If you're into technology, adventure and imagination then don't miss 'em.

Unstoppable appetites in our 48 hour stay on the Little Red Dot

Isn't it amazing that there's such a place on earth that's only about 270 square miles in size (yes, this includes all the reclaimed land), can't really grow much of anything because the whole island is a rock, is home to about 5 million people and has more than 3,000 restaurants? That's approximately 11 restaurants per square mile!
A mighty and flavorful little city

With so many places offering so much food, it's the perfect destination for non-stop eating, drinking, savoring, sampling and tasting. Plus, every type of palate and wallet will find a suitable place: from the lavishly expensive at over $400++ for dinner for one (plus, plus, of course is for all the extra taxes on top of the restaurant price) according to a local blogger, to the deliciously cheap at just a buck fifty for one of the most famous local delicacies.


Ever since Drea first visited this foreign land back in 2005, it has always remained the best hub in the world for food and every time we visit, it never disappoints. Singapore offers just about every type of food and is the foodie's Shangri-La. Which is exactly why, if we can help it, we always try to make Singapore one of our long connections or short-term destinations when traveling throughout Asia.

So, what's the big deal with food in Singapore? Well, let us count the [eight] ways:
  1. Thirsty much? Singapore has an amazing selection of tropical fruits so you can grab any type of exotic fruit juice no matter where you are: soursop, lime, mango or kumquat are extremely refreshing. Tea and coffee are great alternatives if you crave a little energy: grab yourself a kopi-o (black coffee), kopi-c (coffee with milk, "c" was originally for Carnation milk in a can) or Eliot's favorite, tea tarik (pulled tea). On a budget? pop into any 7-eleven and grab an iced milo or an unsweetened green tea.
    Tea Tarik with mushroom and cheese roti paratha and fish curry sauce: Breakfast!

  2. Love fruit? So do we. In Singapore you can find the most amazing selection of tropical fruits including: the local favorite durian, which we still find repulsive and don't even recommend you try unless you're feeling very, very adventurous, the queen of all fruit, mangosteen, juicy rambutans, lychees and longan (or lamyai), jackfruit (tastes like Starbursts!), jambu which looks like an apple but tastes more like a pear, green guava with powdered plum or the magenta dragon fruit among dozens and dozens of others.
  3. Breakfast time? Grab yourself a roti paratha stuffed with cheese, potatoes, mushrooms or bananas and dip it in your pick of chicken or fish curry sauce. Or go local and grab a kaya toast set. Kaya is a coconut based jam and you can eat it on seriously buttered toast and dip it in soft boiled eggs with a drop or two of dark soy sauce.
    Kaya toast with chunks of butter
  4. On a budget? Two words: chicken rice. For less than $5 dollars, you can snack, lunch or dine on a plate of chicken rice: it's just roasted chicken on top of rice cooked in chicken broth. This national dish is sold at nearly every food court and its simplicity (similar to Italian food!) is what makes it so damn irresistible. Make sure you get it with the special spicy sauce!
    Chicken Rice! Don't forget the sauce!
  5. Ready to have your mind blown? Grab yourself a pepper crab! Pepper crab is another national dish: whole crabs are served smothered in an insanely peppery, dark thick sauce that infiltrates every little crevice of the claws, legs and body making the crab meat insanely juicy and flavorful.
    Peppery pepper crab
  6. Ready to have your mind blown again? Three words: Xiao Long Bao (XLB)! Although not a national dish, we were just ecstatic that Singapore hosts Taiwan's famous Din Tai Fung at several locations. For those of you poor souls who have never gone through the XLB experience, make it one of your life's priorities. These dumplings are delicately stuffed with pork and soup. Yes, soup, so that once you bite into them, you experience an explosion of flavor and delight. XLB isn't unique to Singapore by any means but we just really wanted to write about it!
    The XLB experience
  7. In the mood for soup? Grab a Laksa! This one is definitely Singaporean (and Malay) and it consists of a thick coconut broth typically served with shrimp, sliced fish cakes, boiled eggs, thick rice noodles and fresh sprouts. This is a heavy one so it's fun to share if you want to keep on eating.
  8. Want to grab a light snack? Try popiah! This insanely crunchy but non-greasy spring roll is stuffed with fresh veggies, shrimp and dipped in peanut sauce. For a meatier snack, grab some satay. These meat skewers are originally Indonesian but are found everywhere. Enjoy with rice cakes, cucumbers, onions and dip it in spiced peanut sauce. For a more traditional Chinese snack, grab a simple rice bun stuffed with braised, tender juicy pork belly and a lettuce leaf (gotta make it healthy somehow!).
    Popiah
    Pork belly bun
    Satay

Believe it or not, we ate every single thing on our list above (and then some more!) during our 48 hour visit to Singapore. Next time you look at a world map, just remember that there is indeed a small country underneath that red dot capital marker where multitudes of lucky visitors and residents experience some of the best variety of quality food the world has to offer.


Co-posted on www.dreacastillo.com

And then some....

So lucky our visit coincided with Singapore's food festival!

Kwai Tiao - delicious noodles w/oysters

Feasting at Din Tai Fung in addition to our 30 XLB order!

Did we mention Singaporeans are really friendly?

Boiled, soft peanuts

Fancy chicken rice with crispy tofu and braised greens