Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lessons From My Donald Trump Doll

The two-hour, live finale of the The Celebrity Apprentice airs tonight. I can't wait to see whether Trace or Piers will emerge victorious. I suspect that Donald Trump will pick Piers. Sure, Piers is ruthless, but he's proven time and again that he can raise copious quantities of cash and, really, isn't that what charitable fund raising is all about?

I absolutely loved The Apprentice when it debuted in January 2004. Knowing how crazy I was about the show, my wife bought me a talking Donald Trump doll. Here's a picture of my talking Trump doll (note the right hand raised and in the "cobra" position):

My fifteen-month old son loves it when I make the Trump doll utter one of its seventeen phrases. Listening to the Trump doll provides some real insight into American business culture. Consider the following, straight from the mouth of my Trump doll:

"Remember, the buck starts here." Initiative is paramount in American business culture. This extends beyond its obvious application to entrepreneurs. If you've worked with Americans, have you noticed how they'll step up to draft the document, volunteer to follow up or just generally take the lead in moving things forward?

"Have an ego. There's nothing wrong with ego." This follows from wanting to take the lead. As an American business person, you can't just think that you can get it done, you have to KNOW that you can get it done. And better than anybody else as well.

"Go with your gut instinct." Dithering is not acceptable in American business culture. Sometimes you have to make a decision, even if you would like more facts or time to contemplate. "Paralysis by analysis" isn't a problem in this country.

"Never give up--under any circumstances--never give up." Tenacity is one of the most admired business traits in American business culture. There's nothing quite like achieving victory after a dogged, tireless pursuit.

"Do you really think you're a good leader? I don't." Pride in one's leadership abilities is of paramount importance. Most American business people would rather be considered bad lovers than bad leaders.

"In my businesses you've gotta be tough. You underperformed and you let people walk all over you." Toughness is perhaps the most revered of characteristics that an American business person can have. So what happens if an American business person isn't tenacious enough, a good enough leader or tough enough? Well, he or she will probably hear something like:

"I should fire myself just for having you around. This one's easy for're fired."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Who Will Win? Who Will Lose? Pinkberry vs Yogen Fruz

A recent on-line version of Business Week has an interesting article on Canada-based Yogen Fruz's plans to expand into the United States (check it out at

The gist of the article is that Yogen Fruz plans to work with existing independent frozen yogurt vendors or failing franchisees of other frozen yogurt chains to establish a "beachhead" in the United States. Sounds slow. And painful.

There's another frozen yogurt firm taking New York by storm: Pinkberry. My more trendy friends simply cannot shut up about the place. The lines are so long that they snake out of the stores and down the street. Right now, Pinkberry only has locations in California and New York but a national roll out seems to be in the offing.

Who's my money on? Pinkberry all the way. Check out the Pinkberry website at and compare and contrast it with Yogen Fruz's website at The products and toppings look pretty similar. What really sets Pinkberry apart for me, though, is the design of its stores. Check out the Pinkberry "Shop Concept" here All I can say is GAME OVER. Thank you for playing Yogen Fruz. Pinkberry's decor will absolutely KILL in New York. And what's big in California and New York eventually will become big everywhere else in the United States.

The last confectionery to take New York by storm like Pinkberry was Jamba Juice. It rolled out quickly and went public soon thereafter. Look for a Pinkberry initial public offering in eighteen to twenty-four months.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Dinger Of A Ringer

The popularity of the NCAA men's basketball tournament amazes me. When I moved to the United States, I knew that "March Madness" gripped the nation at this time of year. I just seriously underestimated the strength of that grip!

The productivity lost as a result of people agonizing over their bracket selections must be in the many billions of dollars. At the firm I joined when I first moved to New York, the office betting pool was taken very seriously. There was a "Commissioner" (usually a senior associate) whose job was to oversee things and a group of five or six other people (typically junior associates) who were responsible for collecting the bracket sheets and, most importantly, the money for the pool--$10 per entry.

Shortly after joining the firm, I became great friends with a guy named Peter who was a real college basketball guru. Peter came by his basketball knowledge from the inside--he attended Princeton on a full basketball scholarship before getting his JD at Cornell Law School. While I wallowed in ignorance and finished near the bottom of the pool, in the three years that we worked together, Peter always finished right near the top just out of the money.

My big break came when Peter left the firm and moved to Menlo Park in June 2000. For the next four years, in addition to submitting my own entry, I submitted several more entries in conjunction with Peter, with Peter making the expert picks and me ponying up the bucks. How did we do? Well, my ill-advised "pure guesses" beat Peter's picks every time! Talk about a dinger of a ringer!

In any event, set forth below are my picks for this year:

I know that the print is tiny but it's as big as I can get it. In making my selections, I used the same strategy that I always do: pick the heavy favorites and then randomly choose upsets when two teams are fairly closely ranked. I've picked Duke as the champion, defeating highly-touted North Carolina in the final.

I have no idea who Peter is picking. We just talk about other stuff at this time of the year now....

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ho, No!

OK, I'd like to take credit for the title of this post but I can't. The New York Post ran it as its headline the day that the Eliot Spitzer scandal broke. It really says it all, doesn't it?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should make it clear that I've always hated Eliot Spitzer. There was just something incredibly off putting about his self-righteous, tendentious zealotry when he was Attorney General. I also find his beady eyes very creepy. Here's a picture of Eliot owning up to his dalliance with "Kristen":

From friends of friends that know Eliot Spitzer or used to work with him, I understand that he likes to pepper his conversation with "f-bombs" (he is famously on the record referring to himself as a "f*cking steamroller"). Well, if there was a little thought bubble above Eliot's head, what would it say? I'm betting something like, "F*ck. This is one f*cked up f*cking cluster-f*ck of a f*ck-fest. F*ck, f*ck, f*ckitty f*ck. F*************ck."

It's interesting how so many American politicians get caught up in sex scandals. Idaho Senator Larry Craig and his shenanigans in the men's room at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, Jim McGreevey and the sordid little saga that culminated in his "I am a gay American" declaration and the whole suspicious Gary Condit/Chandra Levy matter all come to mind. And, of course, let's not forget that granddaddy of sexual imbroglios--Bill Clinton's extra-curricular activities with Monica Lewinsky.

I wanted to compare these scandals with some recent sexual misconduct by Canadian politicians. However, all the Canadian scandals that I could think of seemed to involve money. I was thinking of the nefarious dealings between Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber, "Shawinigate" involving dubious real estate dealings by Jean Chretien and the recent "Sponsorgate" controversy. I did a little on-line research and came across an article by Jim Coyle of The Toronto Star confirming the dearth of sex scandals involving Canadian politicians (you can read the article here

How do I explain this? I think it has something to do with the fact that American politicians are either rich before they get into politics (Eliot Spitzer's father is a zillionaire real estate developer) or expect to get rich after they leave the political arena by writing a memoir and lecturing (in the case of presidents, senior senators and governors of big states) or joining a high-priced lobbying firm (in the case of everybody else). With the exception of guys like Paul Martin, Canadian politicians have less money when they get into politics and the relatively small size of the Canadian market and more limited opportunities make it less likely that they'll be able to jump on the gravy train when their political careers are over. Thus, to Canadian politicians, money is a more likely corrupting influence.

Just a theory from the Star-Spangled Canuck.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Hyper-Allergenic Google Dork

Remember that computer engineer/lawyer friend of mine who works as in-house counsel at Google? One thing that I didn't mention is that she's hot. My Hot Friend (hereinafter "HF") has big brown eyes, a major mane of chestnut hair and all the requisite girl curves, in ample abundance, in exactly the right places. HF's appeal isn't limited to the computer nerd crowd, either. I once took her to a party hosted by an I-banker friend and HF caused a veritable feeding frenzy among the overworked, rutting young analyst types in attendance.

In October 2005, my wife and I were in San Francisco and decided to visit HF at the Google campus in Mountain View. My wife and I weren't sure what to make of Google's offices as HF showed us around. There were bean bag chairs, candy stations and scooters that you could ride between buildings. It seemed like a huge camp for young adults rather than a market-leading software company. We ended our tour with dinner at one of the five cafeterias serving free meals to all Google employees, friends and family.

As it started to get dark, HF suggested that we ride back to San Francisco with her on the Google shuttle bus. My wife and I sat together near the back of the bus on the right side, my wife with the window and me on the aisle. HF took the seat next to me across the aisle. Her seatmate was a computer dork straight from Central Casting--a slightly pudgy guy in his late twenties with a pasty complexion, unkempt dark brown hair and unstylish glasses with thick lenses. Like most of the other people on the bus, the Dork was working on a laptop computer, his fingers flashing over the little keyboard.

We hit a random bump on the road and HF accidentally banged into the Dork's computer. "I'm so sorry!" HF exclaimed, "I didn't mean to bump you like that."

The Dork's head snapped up, his glower turning to a smile when he looked at HF. "Heh, heh, heh," he laughed nervously. "No problem."

The Dork continued to stare at HF. "Soooooo," he said, "what group do you work in?"

I could tell by the look on the Dork's face that he was smitten. "Oh sh*t!" I whispered to my wife, "that Dork's got game and he's bringing it on HF!"

Over the course of the next few minutes, the Dork and HF engaged each other in friendly conversation.

"You know," I said, turning to my wife, "HF doesn't seem completely uninterested in this guy."

A moment later, HF pulled out a pack of gum.

"Would you like a piece?" HF asked, motioning the pack towards the Dork.

The Dork beamed. "Is it sugarless?"

"Yes," HF replied with a nod of her head.

"Well, in that case, no thank you," the Dork said, pushing his glasses further up his nose. "I'm allergic to aspartame!"

And the moment was over. HF slowly turned away from the Dork and towards me. HF chatted with my wife and me the rest of the way to San Francisco.

My trip to the Google campus left me with two major "take aways":

1. Google's "aren't we cool" culture of extravagance is a waste of stockholders' money and is unsustainable in the long term; and

2. If you're a computer dork looking to score with a hot chick and said hot chick offers you a piece of gum, TAKE THE GUM! Even if it means having to steal away a few minutes later to jab a syringe into your thigh and inject yourself with an antidote to anaphylactic shock, TAKE THE GUM! For the love of God man, TAKE THE GUM!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Ladies Of Tech

I was a little puzzled by a recent post by Jack Kapica, the resident technology blogger for The Globe & Mail. In the piece entitled "Why Tech Careers Are Less Fun" (which, in case you missed it, you can find at, Kapica talks about how tech is "male dominated."

What perplexes me, though, is that the only two people that I know who actually work in "tech" are both women.

One is a friend from my days practicing law in Toronto. She left the gleaming tower at Bay and King where we both toiled to join Nortel's in-house legal department. Following stints as the general counsel for a tech start-up and several years as a venture capitalist, my friend founded a law firm catering to Toronto's tech and start-up community. Her blog is an absolute "must read" for anybody interested in technology and law. And it's pretty darned funny as well! Check it out at

The other woman is somebody that I worked with at my firm in New York. She received her undergraduate degree in computer engineering before enrolling in the joint JD/MBA program at the University of Toronto. After four years practicing intellectual property law in New York, she moved to Silicon Valley to become an in-house lawyer at--wait for it--Google!

So what's the deal here? Is Jack Kapica talking out of his arse? Does the fact that my friends practice law rather than write code make a difference? Or do I just happen to know some pretty darned extraordinary women?

I know, I know, an unusually serious tone for this blog. Back to the fun next time when I plan to tell the tale of "The Hyper-Allergenic Google Dork." Trust me, you're gonna love it!