Tuesday, April 14, 2015

George R. R. Martin—the Entrepreneur Who Created “Game of Thrones”

George R. R. Martin—the Entrepreneur Who Created “Game of Thrones”
The Lannisters, the Night’s Watch, and the Red Wedding—does this sound familiar to you? In case you’ve been living in a cave, Season 5 of "Game of Thrones" recently premiered with the launch of HBONow and I could not wait for the season premiere this past Sunday.
As many of you know, the show is captivating in every respect. The music, the characters, the scenery, and the costumes—how can you not get caught up in the world of the Seven Kingdoms?! Even though “Game of Thrones” is now a world-wide phenomenon, it wasn’t an easy path for George R. R. Martin, the author of A Song of Ice and Fire, to become the success he is today.
Martin started his career by writing science fiction short stories and books. His fourth book, The Armageddon Rag, wasn’t a commercial success. This led Martin to seek a career in television. Martin then worked as a writer for “The Twilight Zone” and “Beauty and the Beast.” During this time, Martin continued to write movie scripts and science fiction books. In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, Martin shared that, while he received praise for several scripts he had written, producers thought the scripts were not feasible from a business perspective. If you’re an avid “Game of Thrones” viewer, you know that Martin invents intensely detailed fictional worlds that would be costly to create. Martin decided to memorialize these fictional worlds in books. This way, no one could limit his imagination or how extensively he described these fictional worlds. 
A few lessons to be learned from Martin’s path: 
  • Determine what is essential and non-essential to your product or service. Understand what you are willing to give up for financing or greater commercial success.
  • Stay true to yourself and continue to differentiate your product or service. If Martin had modified his scripts, his fictional worlds would be less unique and less likely to stand out in the saturated commercial book and television market. As they say on “Shark Tank,” is your product or service disruptive to the marketplace?
  • Trust your gut and be prudent about what advice you take from others.
As “Game of Thrones” has been so successful, the series will outpace Martin’s production of the books. HBO has stated that nothing will stop the series from finishing its version of A Song of Ice and Fire. While HBO’s concern is focused on the bottom line, avid fans (like myself) care more about maintaining the authenticity of Martin’s vision.
It is always a challenge to balance the uniqueness of a product or service and keeping costs low. You should endeavor, like HBO, to maintaining control, authenticity, and the artistry of your product without giving up its differentiating factors due to financial constraints.
That’s why you know where I will be next Sunday at 8 p.m….


Thursday, April 9, 2015


Trademark owners will be thrilled to know that for a short time (until May 29) they have a priority right to register their brands with the generic top-level domain (gTLD) “.sucks.”

Top level domains are the suffixes added to a domain name/address.  Generic gTLDs  were intended to be available for general registration by any person or organization within a particular group (“restricted”) and included the very well-known gTLDs “.com,” “.org,” “.net,” etc.  As the qualification restrictions were never enforced, these gTLDs have been accepted as unrestricted, and I believe are currently officially recognized as such.

So should you register your brands with the “.sucks” gTLD before someone else does?

Certainly a lot of companies will do so, and probably famous entertainers, politicians, and athletes.  Some of these brand buyers have suggested that they want to host their own site welcoming criticism of their products or services.  (News flash— “.sucks” doesn’t exactly engender a thoughtful or serious discussion.  Stick to a “critics’ corner” or “tell us what you think” page on Facebook.  “.sucks” just seems to be asking for the worst. ) Most “owner” registrants simply want to keep the offensive domain name out of the hands of others who might provide an easy forum for bad behavior.  

The price is high—at least for a domain name registration—and will warrant some cost-benefit analysis for most average businesses and individuals.  “.sucks” is pretty much a dead giveaway that the site is not complimentary, and it should not confuse anyone into thinking that the brand owner is trashing itself, or its business or products.  At the same time, if anyone truly wants to debase, degrade, defame, embarrass or humiliate me, or post unauthorized photographs, or rant about what a terrible person I am, they can still register loriparkssucks.com (or .net, .org, or .info), or blast me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the other social media sites—probably at a much lower cost.

Many will register their brands because they can.  Not surprisingly, early registrations came in for Yahoo, several of the major Apple marks, a handful of banks and financial institutions…and Kevin Spacey.  (Who would say bad things about Kevin Spacey?)  I would have expected to see a boatload of politicians, particularly those running for president, but maybe they haven’t yet done enough fundraising.

The timing and pricing of the options for “.sucks” are complicated, but Sheldon Klein, one of our Washington, D.C., partners, has done all the hard work and explained it in this IP Alert published March 20.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Minnesota Cup’s 11th Annual Competition Is Now Underway

For those of you who didn’t hear, the Minnesota Cup (cool new logo and all) recently kicked off its Applications are now being accepted. Frequent entreVIEW readers know that the Entrepreneurial Services Group at Gray Plant Mooty has been a supporter and sponsor of the Minnesota Cup since its early days.  
2015 competition.  

If you don’t already know, the Minnesota Cup is a statewide business plan competition that offers a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to further develop and refine their business plan, gain access to investors, executives, entrepreneurs (and even entrepreneurial lawyers), and others involved in Minnesota’s entrepreneurial community.  To gain access to this great opportunity, you need to submit an application through their website, which you can access  here.  The application period closes on May 8, 2015.

We have also posted many times about the Minnesota Cup and its value to Minnesota’s entrepreneurial community, including hereherehere and here, so I won’t belabor the point any further.  However, if you’re at all curious about the competition or want additional support for your aspiring business or idea, I highly recommend that you consider participating this year.

I’m looking forward to another great season of Minnesota Cup events and learning about all the exciting entrepreneurial activity of this year’s participants.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Last week, I was privileged to hear Glenn Greenwald give a passionate speech about his experiences revealing the astonishing evidence of government surveillance and collection of personal information as disclosed to him by Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old NSA contractor and traitor/hero.  Greenwald was the keynote speaker at the Global Privacy Summit, which was attended by over 3,000 privacy professionals in Washington, D.C. Citizenfour, a compelling film documentary, tells the Greenwald/ Snowden story in real time.

Upon returning to Minnesota, I learned that Target is offering to settle a class action lawsuit related to their 2013 data beach with a $10 million pot of money set aside for Target customers harmed by the breach. 

So what do Edward Snowden and the Target breach have in common?  They both cause me to think about how much we as individuals value our privacy and what value society places on our right to be left alone.

If your telephone and email records were accessed and collected by the government without your knowledge, what harm or damage was caused? Creepy, yes.  But did you suffer any monetary loss or other injury? Can you demonstrate any damage to your name or reputation? What loss have you suffered as a result of such an alleged invasion of privacy?

If you were one of over 110 million customers who shopped at Target between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013, you may now be able to submit a claim with a potential $10,000 payout, but it may be difficult for anyone to get much money from this settlement offer.  As with other privacy litigation and related settlements, it is difficult to prove actual damages.

In Boring v Google, a Pennsylvania couple sued Google for posting pictures of their home on Google’s street view claiming an invasion of privacy. The court dismissed the case, finding no facts to support the torts of intrusion upon seclusion and publicity given to private life. The court found nothing to support any shame, humiliation, or offense to a reasonable person.  This case is just one example of how difficult it is to prove actual damages in a privacy claim. 

In the case of Target, an individual seeking payment under this settlement program may have to demonstrate actual harm in the form of unauthorized and unreimbursed charges or other actual loss or damages. In most cases, fraudulent charges are caught before they are charged to the consumer and, if the credit card company is notified in time, the charges are reversed. Emotional duress or angst suffered as a result of a data breach and potential identity theft is not generally considered sufficient harm and is very difficult to quantify in monetary terms. No money has been set aside in the Target settlement pot to cover such anguish suffered by a consumer as a result of the data breach. 

So what is the real value of individual privacy, and at what cost should we allow our privacy to be compromised? Can we assign a monetary value to such rights? 

I do not know the answer to this philosophical question and am not sure the courts are equipped to resolve this issue.  This is not a new issue; it was first articulated by Louis Brandeis is 1890, over 125 years ago.  And now Snowden has elevated the individual’s right to privacy and the right to be let alone to a global discussion taking place  both within government agencies and corporate boardrooms.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The 500 Hats of Entrepreneurship

I’ll be honest. After working with entrepreneurs for the last 25 years, I didn’t need any scientific study to tell me that there is a difference (or really many differences) between entrepreneurs and employees. Nonetheless, these recent studies did reveal some interesting insights about some of the key personality traits of successful entrepreneurs.

The new study expanded on the conclusions of existing research (completed at Stanford University), which concluded that an individual with a broader portfolio of experiences (a “jack-of-all-trades”) has a stronger disposition toward entrepreneurship than one who is a specialist. The new study showed that those with a diverse network of relationships (both personal and professional), coupled with diverse experiences, were actually the ones likely to become entrepreneurs.

Apparently, it isn’t enough to have either a lot of different experiences or many different relationships. Essentially, the conclusion is that having both a diversity of experiences and a diversity of contacts (so called “double-diversity”) is likely to lead someone to entrepreneurship. 

Given my interaction with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I’m not surprised by this conclusion. My clients often wear so many hats that they rival Bartholomew Cubbins. It also seems that those who are able to effectively juggle all of the different roles (cheerleader, coach, connector, founder, 
fundraiser, manager, marketer, etc.) are more likely to be successful.

The studies also concluded that successful entrepreneurs are:

  • Conscientious—something that I’ve consistently seen in my practice
  • “Outrageously” self-confident—this isn’t surprising. Given the risks of entrepreneurship and the failure rate for small businesses, it would be hard to start a new enterprise if you didn’t think you were the one who had the traits needed to succeed.  Interestingly, other data shows that:
                  o Entrepreneurs think they can prevent things from going wrong with 
                        their businesses
                  o Over a third of entrepreneurs believe they have guaranteed success 
                  o They even think they will live longer than everyone else!  (I hope this is also 
                        true about the entrepreneurial lawyers who represent them…)

The one surprise to me was learning that research shows successful entrepreneurs are “disagreeable.” Honestly, I’ve seen more success among the entrepreneurs who are collaborative, affable, and have high EQ than those I’d label as disagreeable. Given all the other challenges to success, I think it helps to have others pulling for you, rather than secretly (or openly) hoping for your failure.

Friday, March 13, 2015

What: Stephen Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 (Simon & Schuster, 2000)

Why: The story of the men whose entrepreneurial dreams and competitive spirit created the coast-to-coast economy.

As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War comes to a close (you were aware of this, right?), the observance of another 150th anniversary has just begun.

Maybe I’m more in tune to this anniversary than your average Joe. I come from a railroad family; my grandfather was gainfully employed by the Great Northern Railway for his entire life, a position that shielded his family from the ravages of the Great Depression. Then there’s my civil engineer father, whose greatest joy in life was simply to build things.

I’m speaking, of course, of the sesquicentennial of the building of the transcontinental railroad. Stephen Ambrose calls this “the greatest achievement of the American people in the nineteenth century,” and it’s hard to argue with this assessment. Before the Union Pacific drove west to meet the Central Pacific building toward the east at a lonely place in Utah called Promontory Summit, before the golden spike completed the first direct railroad line from New York to San Francisco, it took eight months and cost $1,000 or more to travel between those two cities. Afterward, anyone with a week at their disposal and $65 in their pocket could make the trip.

The effect on the economy—and, indeed, on the everyday lives of Americans—was nothing short of miraculous. “Things that could not be imagined before the Civil War now became common.” A national market for goods and financial instruments emerged, leading to the creation of a national culture.

And all of it came about because of a few entrepreneurs. Take, for example, the principals of the Central Pacific, the “Big Four:” Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Collis Huntington, and Mark Hopkins. Living in California in the early 1980s, I couldn’t escape the legacies of these men: I was a student at Stanford University, I kept what little money I had in the Crocker National Bank (soon thereafter acquired by Wells Fargo), and I had drinks with friends at the Top of the Mark (the rooftop bar at the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco).

I only wish I’d known more about how their entrepreneurial dreams in a very real sense built this country.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Recap of the ACG BOLD Awards

Recently, I attended the third annual ACG BOLD Awards. Some background: ACG is the Association for Corporate Growth, and ACG Minnesota is the area’s premier mergers and acquisitions organization. Its membership includes corporate executives, private equity investors, investment bankers, and other mergers and acquisitions intermediaries.

The BOLD Awards recognize “Minnesota organizations and individuals who demonstrate innovative and imaginative efforts to positively impact the community and grow Minnesota.” There are four award categories—Small Corporate, Middle-Market Corporate, Large Corporate, and Non-Profit—and nominees must have demonstrated innovative approaches and BOLD ways to address challenges in their respective market.

Nominees are judged on criteria including Innovation, Talent Management, Growth, Collaboration, and “Daring BOLD.” More than 60 companies were nominated for the 2015 BOLD Awards, and the winners are….

  • Small Corporate: Surgical Science. Established in 1999, Surgical Science is a developer of virtual reality surgical simulation training systems for medical professionals. The company’s first product, LapSim, provides best-in-class procedural simulation for appendectomy, advanced suturing, gynecology, bariatrics, and more. Recently, the company unveiled its TeamSim creation, the industry’s first interprofessional simulation trainer. 
  • Middle-Market Corporate: Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop. Founded in southern Minnesota by Dan and Angie Bastian, Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop is one of the country’s fastest growing natural popcorn brands. Angie’s popcorn and puffs are certified gluten-free, made with non-genetically modified ingredients (with no effect on taste!), and come in some pretty fun packaging. The products can be found in natural food, grocery, club, and mass retail stores nationwide. Angie’s was also the winner of the overall grand prize, the “Boldest of the BOLD” Award.  
  • Large Corporate: ABRA Auto Body & Glass. Founded in Fridley in 1984 and currently headquartered in Brooklyn Park, ABRA is a nationally-recognized leader in collision repair, paintless dent removal, and auto glass repair and replacement. ABRA has exhibited impressive growth in recent years, fueled primarily by the acquisition of existing facilities and the continued construction of new locations. Currently, ABRA has over 270 company-owned or franchised centers in 20 states. 
  • Non-Profit: Pinky Swear Foundation. Formerly the Miracles of Mitch Foundation, the Pinky Swear Foundation recently rebranded itself to honor the pinky-swear promise made between a father and son. Founded by Steve and Becky Chepokas in 2003 in memory of their son Mitch, the Pinky Swear Foundation helps children with cancer and their families by providing support for basic needs. For the past 12 years, the Pinky Swear Foundation has hosted the largest children’s fundraising triathlon in the U.S., and has provided more than $4.5 million in financial assistance and quality of life support. The Pinky Swear Foundation is currently undergoing expansion into 11 new markets across the country. 

These four BOLD Award winners showcase entrepreneurship and inspiration at their best, and it was enjoyable to spend an evening hearing their stories. For more information on ACG Minnesota, see here, and mark your calendar for next year’s ACG BOLD Awards on February 23, 2016.