Monday, September 11, 2017

The Haiku of Finance for 09/11/17

Nonprofit solar
Scale for wide local impact
Link green site data

How to Scale Social Impact Investing Into Solar Energy

Social impact investing is undeniably becoming a major force in finance. It drives capital into triple bottom line projects that make investors' wallets fatter and ordinary people's lives better. It's time to drive more of this capital into alternative energy, particularly the solar power sector. We can do this right here in San Francisco.

The big hurdle in getting the nonprofit sector into the solar sector's pipeline is its inability to use the tax credits that for-profit companies use to buy solar power. Nonprofits trying to buy a solar installation would need a cost of capital close to zero. There are ways to get this done. RE-volv uses crowdfunded donations to purchase solar equipment for non-profits, enabling donors to realize the tax savings that are denied to non-profits. Angaza offers pay-as-you-go financing for solar installers in emerging markets.

I can think of some additional approaches to move adoption along. Any social impact outreach to emerging markets should include mobile payments, particularly mPeza in Africa. The UNFCCC Secretariat recognizes that vertically integrated solar providers using pay-as-you-go financing have an advantage in building off-grid energy systems.

The federal government does its part to help nonprofits afford solar energy. The NREL community solar policy analysis and downloadable scenario tool are useful for communities weighing their financial options. The DOE SunShot initiative now incorporates community and shared solar resources. The EPA's RE-Powering initiative designates repurposed sites a nonprofit can use for generation, and its Green Power Communities are obvious growth markets for solar power. Linking all of these data sources into a coherent business plan should be an imperative for any nonprofit pushing a solar energy installation.

The nonprofit sector is still a largely untapped market for renewable energy. Creative subsidies that push social capital into this sector expand the potential customer base for utilities and others seeking to build out distributed generation. A more resilient power grid is a very desirable goal for policymakers. Impact investing brings that goal closer.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Haiku of Finance for 08/31/17

Big three trade expo
Sun, silicon, and storage
Glue them together

Alfidi Capital at Intersolar ees SEMICON West 2017

I attended the mighty tripartite conference of Intersolar North America, ees North America, and SEMICON West 2017 at San Francisco's Moscone Center. The south hall of the convention center is undergoing a massive renovation, so the SEMICON folks had to cram into the west building with Intersolar. The reduced expo floor area was tolerable given the action-packed schedule. It's action-packed from my perspective, because I love sitting through long seminars and briefings that lesser mortals lack the fortitude to endure.

The Intersolar opening ceremony is always the first shin-dig on my calendar for this colossal conference. The main Intersolar conference has lots of finance seminars on the first day but I am too cheap to pay. These people had better invite me to speak someday. Anyway, CALSEIA and NREL celebrate their 40th anniversaries this year. I did not see any cake but that's okay, we all need to stick to our diets. Expect to hear more about behind-the-meter consumer-driven storage, because that's the industry term for how building owners are installing their own systems on-site. Everything in capitalism is of course consumer-driven, but the twist in renewable energy is that smaller storage systems give customers a lot more options than utilities have ever provided before. I wanted to hear from California politicians about how the state's proposed Energy Storage Initiative would affect the market but the usual big shots were not on hand. Maybe our mayor and governor had something better to do than promote solar energy, one of the Golden State's biggest growth industries.

It's the Alfidi Capital badge for Intersolar, ees, and SEMICON West 2017.

The opening ceremony left me with more questions than usual. Do solar energy companies really have thin profit margins (compared to, say, fossil fuel energy generators)? If PV costs keep dropping and PV panel volume GW installation keeps rising, why would solar companies have thinner margins than the broader energy sector? Will the solar sector shrink if the federal government cuts spending on solar R+D? If the energy grid evolves past net-metering to accommodate location-based price signals, will this drive demand for beacons and other IoT devices in the grid? Can blockchain tech really enable both on-grid energy trading and PPA investments? I mulled these questions while I was chomping on free food after the opening ceremony. They served roast beef this year, a step up from the usual turkey.

The SEMICON West welcome keynotes and opening ceremonies were next on my hit list. The hits just keep on coming. The assumed CAGR of 5-7% for the semiconductor sector through 2057 is a long forecast, but it seems reasonable if IoT adds to a mature sector. Anyone who thinks IoT won't drive the next wave of semiconductor volume growth needs to read everything I've ever blogged about both IoT and semiconductors. I keep hearing predictions about AI making the singularity either a decade or two away, but there's no consensus among gurus. We all get to learn some new buzz phrases: edge computing (now with IoT and AR/VR) and fog computing (I've heard that one before). The progression goes from edge to fog to cloud, and into your brain at some point once we hit that singularity. One brilliant executive shared his insights into "Neumann and Neuromorphic" innovation to create intelligence that reminded me of Transhumanism.

I came away from SEMICON's opening presentations with a few original insights. I would post them on SemiWiki but I don't work in the sector. I think that when gross payroll grows faster than headcount at semiconductor enterprises funded as public/private partnerships, it shows the creation of high-income, value-added jobs. The semiconductor sector now uses more elements of the periodic table than ever, so materials sourcing will soon become a crucial "table stakes" factor. The entire tech sector needs to take supply chain security seriously, and that means not taking single sources in the developing world for granted, especially if those sources rely upon transportation links that will be at risk during geopolitical instability. Check out the South China Sea tensions for a glimpse of near-term supply chain insecurity.

The ees people gave us a look at their market, regulatory environment, and some business policies. I would like them to explain why they don't capitalize themselves as EES, but I don't run their part of the show. It's their world of batteries and I just live in it. There should be little concern about backsliding if one speaker is correct about state governments doing 80% of the policy work in renewable energy. I just wonder how they measure that impact, and whether the remaining 20% is crucial stuff like the DOE SunShot Initiative. There is no policy initiative imaginable that will force solar power into the baseload category, because it is physically impossible for the sun to shine at night. Policies favoring storage linked to solar and wind power do not change nature. Power grid management with distributed storage will require revisions to the standard installed capacity (ICAP) the ISOs calculate for their markets. Adding BIPV and and other new tech to generation reduces the ICAP demand-related charges, thus adding value to a property owner's business model.

I want to throw some more red meat buzzwords out there to show the ees people that I paid attention. Electric energy storage used for load leveling is "energy arbitrage," using time shifting to make stored energy available during higher demand periods. Its corollary is "peak shaving," encouraging reduced energy consumption during high-demand periods. California and New York are among the states pushing "distributed resource tariffs" that enable utilities to install more generating capacity on their customers' sites. Virtual power plants will aggregate these distributed generation resources into a cloud-based management model. Anyone making or selling distributed generation or storage solutions must know the NERC critical infrastructure protection (CIP) standards and FERC guidance for CIP implementation. The US Midwest's wind corridor is an underserved market for storage solutions and grid connectivity. Cogeneration (CHP) and trigeneration (CCHP) present a wide array of product choices that storage solutions vendors can adapt into sales pitches.

The ees finance and bankability sessions built on the above policy topics. Vendors who get on a project finance company's pre-approved list of trustworthy service providers have a big leg up in getting customer referrals. Refer to my blog articles on previous Intersolar conferences for PACE explanations, and know that PACE applies to both residential (RPACE) and commercial (CPACE) properties. Storage systems with a useful life less than the typical PACE payback period are probably not worth selling. The bottom line from banks authorizing loans and leases for energy products is a provable revenue stream; no stream means the project developer must seek equity investors rather than issuing debt. Energy storage is now considered a "front of meter" function requiring new metrics for assessing charges, compared to "behind the meter" generation's demand charges.

One dude from a leading semiconductor equipment supplier had a free e-book for those of us attending his talk. I didn't sign up for his e-book because I have way too much stuff to read through already. Early concern among SEMI manufacturers that Moore's Law would stop at one micron no longer applies. He shared a few platitudes on good management and organizational culture. The dude needs to go work at Uber where those factors are deficient. SEMI held their annual awards presentation afterwards and someone mentioned the Hybrid Memory Cube Consortium pushing the next big thing in DRAM design. I'll have more to say about that consortium if they have events offering free food.

The SEMICON keynotes tend to be slick sales pitches from major sponsors, but once in a while some worthy tidbits appear. Leading IoT and cloud providers have latched onto autonomous vehicles as their next big cash cow target because those cars generate continuous large data streams. Expect services and advertising focused on consumers sitting passively in self-driving cars for hours. I expect these cars to converge with the sharing economy, whose consumers are too poor to own their own cars. Most ads they will see will probably be for other sharing services, like grocery coupons. You heard it here first at Alfidi Capital.

I went back to the ees stage to see what tech advancements are maximizing ROI. Track the GTM US Energy Storage Monitor for the latest industry developments. I mentioned peak shaving above, and storage capacity determines its flexibility. The industry claims that storage manufacturing costs have fallen in recent years, similar to PV manufacturers' cost trajectories, as delivered units have risen. Utility tariff structures and time of use (TOU) policies determine use cases that demonstrate demand charge management that storage system vendors can offer. Most states allow net metering of solar but not storage, so using storage means time shifting, peak shaving, and load balancing to manage power costs. Residential HVAC activation and EV charging are primary drivers of daily household power use spikes. It is clear to me that distributed generation and storage will severely threaten the business models of utilities that do not rapidly move to adapt. Utilities that survive should evolve to finance, install, and manage residential generation and storage, just to capture part of those revenue streams.

I enjoyed attending the Intersolar Orange Button Software Launch, and not just because they had free coffee. The SunSpec Alliance Open Solar Data Exchange (SunSpec oSDX) sponsored the launch because it is part of DOE's Orange Button initiative for standardizing solar bankability data. Getting Alfidi Capital into this program is a bonanza for name recognition. I don't offer financing or provide any other client services to program participants. My interests include knowing which tools programmers must use to be compatible with Orange Button APIs.

The SEMICON West Bulls and Bears Industry Outlook was something I could not miss. I would be perfectly willing to present my own sector views at this forum someday. I just don't want other analysts stealing my work. Gartner and other research purveyors still forecast semiconductor sector growth. There's a widespread expectation that IoT will be part of that growth; you know, maybe these analysts have been stealing that insight from me since I've blogged it for years. I believe the IoT automotive apps driving chip demand are also enabling other value-adding services like fleet management and stolen vehicle recovery (tied to insurance coverage). The semiconductor content in AI is hard to predict, with analysts uncertain about higher CAGR forecasts, and they have no idea which processing architecture will win AI. Hey analysts, I'll do you a favor and point you in the direction of the Hybrid Memory Cube Consortium I mentioned above. Now that I've said it, I will fight any lazy analysts who try to steal it. Fighting begins at a time and place of my choosing.

The last major conference event for me was the Joint Forces for Solar 16th PV Briefing. I learned a ton of stuff at past events thank to heavy participation from industry association leaders and DOE subject matter experts. This year was disappointing due to their absence. The solar market's dynamics show tons of solar installed here in California, not including municipal utilities. I asked a question about how geospatial analysis tools would be good sales prospect generators for installers, especially when used together with Orange Button financing data. Whoever answered me said that utilities are indeed building such tools to show customers where they can install distributed generation assets. I thus contributed some massive genius to the briefing that day. One final insight I gleaned from a presenter is that good accountants specializing in solar policies and incentives can add value to business customers installing large energy assets through off-balance sheet financing.

I did prowl all of the expo floors but I did not have time to query enough exhibitors on their business pain points. I did score an armload of free reading material, a handful of free candy, and a brain dump of interactive tech experiences. I even met a local steampunk enthusiast working for one of the exhibitors. Those folks must be all over the tech sector. They go into hibernation when they're not at the Maker Faire or big hackathons.

Intersolar and SEMICON West are always winners for me. I also like ees, and I would like them even more if they adopt proper capitalization. I shall return next year to see if that happens.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Alfidi Capital at 4th Annual Rosenman Symposium

I attended the 4th Annual Rosenman Symposium in my ceaseless quest to understand the health care sector. I arrived at the UCSF Mission Bay conference center too late to score the hot lunchtime snacks they laid out. If I had known there would be free food, I would have arrived much earlier for check-in. I had lunch before I got there, so it's not like I was starving, but I do kick myself whenever I miss a free meal. Here comes my bonanza of health care sector investing wisdom.

Alfidi Capital at the Rosenman Symposium 2017.

There are some universally acknowledged good things for health care startups to have. The good stuff includes royalty agreements with Big Pharma and grant support from big name institutes. The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) and UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) are undoubtedly among those big names.

Highway1 and Breakout Labs help incubate startups in biotech. I must inform the startup community that not all incubators are created equal. The ones run by serial entrepreneurs and advised by VCs who have realized returns are very selective but worth the effort to apply.

One conference speaker helpfully identified a 2x2 matrix that health care corporate development executives use to decide whether to develop a project internally or pursue an external acquisition. It reminded me of a similar matrix I saw years ago for corporate development in the telecom sector. Those corporate development types sure do get around. The corporate development approach to strategic M+A varies but does have some big common factors: synergy with existing product lines; de-risking regulatory approval; ways the target can add value or accelerate growth. Difficulty in getting reimbursements from big health care buyers like Medicare leaves incentives for corporate development to pursue startups that reduce costs. IMHO that reimbursement inefficiency is exactly why US health care is so expensive, before we even consider the costs of malpractice insurance and litigation.

The STEM pipeline for the highly skilled people needed to work in health care startups runs through multiple organizations. The ARCS Foundation pays top students to make new tech and the ARCS Foundation Northern California Chapter is their local presence. Research grants can turn a bright idea into something ready for further pre-market funding. Entrepreneurs should max out such non-dilutive investment wherever possible. Startups execs can also get non-financial inspiration from MedtechWomen, and the world certainly needs more women driving change in health care.

Medtech startups should segment their CustDev by patient type, i.e. old/young, male/female, etc. because drugs and devices will affect different sub-populations in different ways. Noting cost of delivery and value recovered by patient type will aid in establishing metrics that matter to large buyers' reimbursement plans, especially as the health care sector completes its transition away from fee-for-service and towards value-based health care. Corporate development people also want patient data that de-risks a potential startup investment even if it has not yet undergone clinical trials, so early CustDev validation really matters.

I don't have a perfect explanation for why medtech investing is trending down. I do not know if the ACA's rules or its tax on medical devices are affecting this trend. Whether federal government spending on health care will decline depends very much on whether the current Administration gets its wish for an ACA overhaul.

Consolidation among big medtech corporations may be one reason why medtech early stage funding for innovation is slowing down. On the other hand, health care is heavily regulated with big entry barriers, thus it's hard to innovate even if there's no consolidation trend. I could not discern a consensus answer on this topic from any of the conference's panelists.

The EU's medical device regulations (MDR) sets a higher bar for medical devices entering the EU market, forcing companies to revise their marketing strategies. Product development will be more costly, especially for startups. Market strategies for product launch are now likely to focus on the US market first thank to the MDR. Hey, I always knew America was number one.

I got to hear pitches from the 2017 Rosenman Innovators, a crop of promising medical device startups. The whole event reminded me to spend more time meeting people at the QB3 life science incubator in San Francisco. I have been there before and they serve decent coffee. I shall return to the Rosenman Institute's future symposiums as well, so don't forget that I was here in the first place.

Alfidi Capital at 8th Annual Mineta National Transportation Finance Summit

I showed up at the Commonwealth Club in June 2017 for the Mineta Transportation Institute's annual National Transportation Finance Summit. It's the eighth annual event but I lost count a couple of years back. Mr. Norman Mineta himself was absent this year so there must have been something more important on his calendar that day. Transportation addicts can get their fix of public policy downloads on the MTI website. You folks did not come to the Alfidi Capital Blog for any verbatim recaps of speaker comments. No way, you came here for my original free-form genius. Brace yourselves.

MTI 8th Annual finance summit 2017 in San Francisco.

The federal gasoline tax has not been raised since the Clinton Administration, so it has not kept up with inflation. The tax's funding for repair of federally-owned roadways has thus not kept pace with road repair needs. The coming onslaught of zero-emission vehicles (like that new model Tesla is rolling out so it can actually make a profit) will further strain roads with their heavier drive trains while their owners avoid paying the gas tax, so California is preparing to assess its own annual fee on these vehicles.

I agree with one of the summit's speakers that municipal bond issues should fund initial road construction (capex) and not regular repair (opex). The Federal Highway Administration has a helpful life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA) guide for road repair. States that spend public money wisely will do the math before asking voters to approve now bond issues. California's DOT has its own LCCA because we are the best state ever.

I wonder what the California state transportation sector thinks of Sacramento's cap-and-trade carbon control regime. It matters because the California EPA Air Resources Board has a slew of programs covering emissions from transportation activities. The transportation sector needs to check out the state's low carbon fuel standards.

One speaker mentioned some Harvard study supporting his idea that spending on transportation connectivity provides access to jobs. I'll guess that he meant this 2015 Harvard study "The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility" because I couldn't find anything else in public sources that fit the description. The larger point is that public spending to promote employment also requires spending to enable people to get to their jobs.

The Federal Transit Administration has committed capital investment grants to help mass transit projects. It's a boon for Bay Area programs like BART that want to extend line service. We still don't know the full details of this Administration's infrastructure plan. If it remains focused on tax incentives for developers, it may change the scope of the federal government's grant programs or bypass them altogether. It will also force local funding programs like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's (MTC) One Bay Area Grant (OBAG) to align with local developers' interests. Aligning public and private interests can be a good thing if transit spending is linked to development planning and job creation.

I went to this summit for the free snacks and stayed for the talks. You all know that I never let free food get in the way of acquiring financial knowledge. The free brochures go into my archives and the free thinking goes into my brain. The bottom line for the financial services sector is that demand for infrastructure, including public transportation linked to private development, is slated for multi-year growth. Bonds and other instruments funding infrastructure are coming down the road.

Alfidi Capital at Google Demo Day 2017

I had to check out Google Demo Day 2017. I'm getting quite accustomed to seeing brand new stuff at Google Developers Launchpad in San Francisco and the Demo Day was right up my alley. I don't need to repeat what the competing startups said in their pitches, because that's not why my readers are here. They're here for my original insights. Yes, I'm talking to you.

Google Launchpad gave out booklets on Demo Day 2017.

I took away some pretty clear lessons for startup founders based on the give and take between the judges and the pitching startups. Target your first vertical aggressively. Know your biggest competitors (how to position yourself, and how they'll counter you). Clearly explain your user experience (UX). Briefly walk through a successful use case from a paying customer. Know your capital requirements and how scaling up will affect both capex and opex. Explain how your solution shortens a customer's procurement decision cycle, which will be longer in some hardware-intensive verticals.

The implied tasking for entrepreneurs who need to forecast capex and opex is to either thoroughly know financial analysis prior to launch or bring on a CFO immediately after raising Series A. I have mentored a few startup founders through the basics of business finance. It is not child's play.

The VC judges picked a winner among the pitching candidates, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was the one I picked as a winner before they voted. See folks, I do think like a VC. The winner was a financial market application, so I admit my natural bias in seeking something in my sector, but a few other startup candidates had some decent ideas. One idea that I thought would go nowhere was too easy for established competitors to duplicate.

Hey Google developers, you're going to see me at the Launchpad a lot more now that I know its location. I really like the shiny, snazzy name badges they sometimes make for attendees. I should get a permanent one since I plan to be there so often.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Alfidi Capital at TiEcon 2017

I scored access to several sessions at TiEcon 2017. The TiE people are some seriously accomplished entrepreneurs and are among the most well-connected people in Silicon Valley. I had to go check out the scene, absorb startup wisdom, and maybe score some free coffee. My readers know I'm all about free stuff. I just can't turn down free access, freebies, and free knowledge.

I check out the action at TiEcon 2017.

The govtech track was a good fit for my background. More techies now know about how the US Digital Service is changing the federal government's cultural approach to deploying tech, but not everyone knows that FITARA is changing how the government's CIOs do business. The entire software sector has tried to move from waterfall development to agile development and Uncle Sam is finally following through. I sometimes wonder whether the entire US government lives in a "cone of uncertainty," but that's what the private sector calls a trial stage for govtech projects developed with lean startup methods. I betcha there's an app for Scrum contractors. Federal government contractors are accustomed to long sales cycles with more predictable revenues. I think the US can look to other countries for examples of successful govtech adoption. Governments most likely to adopt agile govtech, automated documents, knowledge management, mobile stuff, and whatnot will have similar factors. Francis Fukuyama's high-trust cultural traits (like in Scandinavia), a high degree of 4G coverage, and widespread mobile adoption are my picks for those success factors. The Digital 5 effects with e-Estonia are the kind of template the US needs.

The social impact track showcased concepts that are all the rage among business people who want to harmonize themselves with the universe, or something like that. Large banks and wealth management firms are developing their own philanthropic programs and encouraging employees to volunteer in the community. I have no idea whether their salespeople are smart enough to leverage those functions into referrals from donor-advised funds and family foundations. Impact investors are following the herd of VCs into agtech and are using the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Here's the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform if you need to get started. Rich people and corporate big shots can use the SDG Philanthropy Platform to select the SDGs that will most enhance their brand images or social standing. A non-profit executive at TiEcon mentioned that using a "network effect" of social peer pressure validates an impact investment pitch with well-heeled people. Yeah, it's all about elite peer acceptance of the latest cool idea they can brag about at social events.

One social impact expert thinks that four key cycles are out of balance: carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and Gini. Whacked-out cycles imply investors will favor environmental projects that will help the poor. I have no reason to think any of that is made up, because it sounds like it's all super-advanced science and smarty-pants stuff. I have every reason to think that microloans for 3D printers, Arduino boards, and other small assets can enable a tidal wave of artisanal tech for disadvantaged people, just like microloans for aquaponics in urban food deserts. Crowdfunding platforms could support microloans for lots of small-scale impact projects. It will be tough to pull these things off without US support for the UN SDGs and Paris Agreement on climate change. It will be even tougher without USAID programs for development abroad and US HUD programs for people at home. Deconstructing the US government in a nationalist fit of rage has an opportunity cost of foregone future development.

The TiEcon youth track had tons of stuff that even a middle-aged guy like yours truly could use. I thought I heard one guy at TiEcon say that some Indian regional government entity sponsored a hackathon with 900 participants. That is way more people than I've ever seen the biggest US tech conferences attract. India and China have huge populations and lots of students studying STEM. Quantity has a quality all its own. The US urgently needs crash STEM programs so lots of people can handle distributed processing in machine learning and analytics, just to catch up with our major strategic competitors. IMHO scalable models like Rethinking Engineering Design and Execution (REDX) would get mid-career non-STEM experts pushing youth into STEM projects that quickly solve real problems.

One VC addressing the youth track said successful entrepreneurs have five superpowers: passion, charisma, speed, focus, and "flight" (i.e., mental agility and constant pursuit of increased competence). He's Joseph Floyd, and you can check out his amazing comic book at Silicon Heroes. I read the book myself and it rings every bell for tech entrepreneurs striving to make their mark.

Athletes speak the entrepreneur's lingo. Former NFL player Anthony Trucks spoke about how he put tremendous work into the game he loved before he even knew he would be successful, a great lesson in hustling for entrepreneurs. Olympic table tennis player Lily Ann Zhang shared her humility and passion, and wanted us to enjoy our journey to success. Wow, I'm so glad I stuck around for the inspiration. It pays to be young at heart.

Anyone into biotech should check out Open Source Pharma Foundation and Nutrition International (formerly the Micronutrient Initiative). The impact investors pushing these concepts help enable simple innovations like universal iodized salt that become UN-led policies. One cool idea I heard from these advocates was for a "social DARPA" enabling giga-scale open innovation for billions of people.

TiEcon 2017 was well worth my time. I scored all the free stuff I could find so I came out ahead once again. The TiE people still haven't invited me to speak at their conference. They are really missing out because I have plenty to say about innovation. I also like Indian food even though I'm not Indian, so I will eat anything they put in front of me when I'm the star attraction at a future TiEcon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Haiku of Finance for 06/28/17

Automate paper
Sign everything in digits
No more ink in cloud

Alfidi Capital at DocuSign Momentum 2017

I attended DocuSign's annual Momentum conference for the first time ever in 2017. I had never heard of this firm but apparently they are doing really hot things by automating document management in the cloud. I had to see how they connect with their customers at this conference so I could score some knowledge in person.

Keynotes at these types of shindigs are always fun. I won't blindly repeat anyone's claims about how much customers save for every dollar spent on a DocuSign product. I could probably save less than a buck fifty by going completely paperless, but I score all of my paper note-taking products for free at conferences like Momentum. Hey, that means I'm saving money already thanks to DocuSign.

Alfidi Capital owns DocuSign Momentum 2017.

I have known about the US government's FedRAMP cloud product security standard for some time, but I learned at Momentum that a separate FIPS 140-2 standard applies to cryptographic security. Any service provider offering cloud solutions must be compliant with these standards or they will never get into Uncle Sam's procurement pipeline.

DocuSign's "Advisory Councils" sound like CustDev feedback channels for the firm's biggest verticals. I'll bet their data streams on who signs documents, how and when they sign, and the length of time for a transaction to close are a gold mine.

I mentally ran through a list of potential acquirers during the opening keynotes: Workday, Adobe, Google, Microsoft (if they want a SharePoint tie-in) . . . who did I miss? Salesforce? Nah, not them. I think Salesforce would rather acquire Box to build out its document automation and storage portfolio if it were so inclined, but hey, I don't run any of these companies, so I have no idea what they're doing.

Two special Momentum guests were contrasts in demeanor. I will not identify them so I can preserve an air of mystery. One overgrown frat-boy who somehow ended up as a financial service executive had more than one attendee swooning over his good looks and arrogance. He did not strike me as all that competent, so count me in the minority of people who weren't fooled. Another special guest was self-effacing and displayed technical competence on the speaking platform, but somehow came off poorly to the people sitting around me. I get it how physically attractive people, regardless of gender, get a big pass in life but I don't have to like it.

Experts on trust and digital transaction management said that clients now demand trust certifications like ISO 27001 and AICPA SOC. It's not my job to implement those certifications so I'll just trust that some people love doing the work for me. There's also an xDTM standard for digital transaction management and the EU GDPR standard for data protection in Europe. There should be plenty of jobs in document automation for people who know these standards. Real pros also know the difference between Representational State Transfer (REST) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) in an API's JSON response.

People here think they can accelerate your employer's digital adoption. Forrester's white papers will tell you to get buy-in at all levels for change management. I would tell Forrester that they had better not use any of my writing without attribution. Anyone who has more patience than typical Forrester readers can study the SPeRS standards. Prevailing wisdom holds that automated document processing adds value in mergers, because absorbing new business units is easier if forms and checklists are shared digitally.

The future of banking and wealth management is digital. Robo-advisors are coming to steal the jobs of Wall Street's cubicle dwellers and document automation will make the AI systems' data verification easier. I believe fintech's niche is data aggregation from financial service providers. Banks and brokerages say they are willing to "partner" with fintech providers but not necessarily acquire them. Fintech solutions give banks off-shelf added value they can't quickly build in-house. Even real estate is getting into document automation, although the sector's natural conservatism towards newfangled things is a barrier to adoption. Oh yeah, I had to tell the presiding wealth management experts here about how their sector has told me many times that my US military background is a disadvantage in wealth management. One executive advised me to move to Texas where that wouldn't be a problem. I don't think she's heard about how Texans dislike California transplants. Liars make me mad. Here's the truth: Maximizing a firm's Net Promoter Score (NPS) and minimizing "not in good order" (NIGO) data are popular approaches to assessing whether document automation enhances the customer experience.

The closing keynote revealed the litany of tools programmers need to succeed: DocuSign (of course), Python, Django, and Node.js. I was thrilled that a fellow military veteran led one of the winning hackathon teams. The free food at Momentum and its afterparty were good reasons to attend. The free insights into how companies like DocuSign are automating corporate back office processes are good reasons to come back next year.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Alfidi Capital at LAUNCH Festival 2017

The legendary LAUNCH people held their LAUNCH Festival 2017 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. I never pass up a chance to attend a major conference in my town. I attended to check out the latest and greatest tech aspirations. I spent roughly equal amounts of time at the Scale Stage, where scaling and growth hints were hidden inside pitches, and the Main Stage, where startups competed for venture investors' accolades. My adoring readers get to absorb the tons of free wisdom I collected. I emphasize "free" because I was too cheap to pay for a VIP ticket.

Alfidi Capital sees the main stage at LAUNCH Festival 2017.

I have probably seen the Internet slang "TL;DR" before but seeing it at LAUNCH Festival made me want to look it up to refresh my memory. It means "too long, didn't read," alluding to people's short attention spans and their disinterest in reading lots of text. I don't write for those people so they can go away. One tech speaker advised entrepreneurs to buy ads outside their competitors' locations, presumably because their customers will see it and switch to the new product. I guess that works if your competition has brick and mortar stores you can locate. Another guy said that financial partners dislike P2P payment systems due to connotations of illicit activity, but I think that's an illusory pain point that Google Wallet solves.

Here with go again with the KPIs, people. Your KPIs must measure how app engagement leads to conversion; any iterative changes in UX or shopping cart stages to checkout must be justified by conversion improvement and revenue growth.

The pitches that resonated with me were often from people who could cite examples of their GitHub work. GitHub code samples are an emerging example of the future of employment verification and job qualification. IMHO LinkedIn (now a Microsoft property) must catch up by featuring work samples more prominently.

Red Bull was popular at LAUNCH Festival 2017.

I keep hearing way too much about how job candidates and acqui-hires can write their own tickets in negotiations. That might work if you're a legendary coder with an arm's length list of hackathon victories or grey hat penetration tests. I would like to find a respected book or white paper on compensation negotiation that's data-driven and peer-reviewed, not just some business press baloney.

It's interesting how tech subculture recognizes laziness among DevOps engineers as a desirable work trait. The preference acknowledges that techies with a strong interest in gaming and social media will solve business tech problems quickly and effectively, so they have more time to goof off. I would like to see this dynamic in action at a real startup workplace.

Nir Eyal caught my attention at LAUNCH Festival when he discussed lessons from his book Hooked. The hook/trigger, action/reward cycles drive emotional investments people make in their preferred services. Mr. Eyal noted that these habit-forming steps are at the core of business processes that Facebook, YouTube, and Google used to rapidly scale up from startup to huge successes. I believe startup founders can use his behavioral lessons in conjunction with their CustDev case studies to design addictive solutions.

It's never to early to think about exits, according to the gurus on hand. It's no secret that M+A strategies still favor acquisitions over IPOs for venture-backed startups. I always thought it was because the public disclosures and roadshows for IPOs require more involved work than the private market due diligence a buyer performs in an acquisition. One of the LAUNCH speakers opined that startups should think about which phase of their growth qualifies them to be in an acquiring corporation's due diligence pipeline. I thought the speaker was too limiting in stating that a Series B raise with a mature partner ecosystem was the sweet spot. The speaker also thought that a founder's yearlong relationship with the prospective acquirer's CEO builds trust leading to an acquisition. I guess that favors Stanford and Berkeley grads in the Bay Area, since those are the feeder schools for Silicon Valley's hottest startups and the venture firms backing them. I totally grok the admonition to keep startup board members in the lop on exit discussions and finding an acquirer with a matching business development strategy.

I am really convinced that corporate development people are just dumb trend followers after hearing about how "hot product" market validation often triggers a wave of interest in similar rapid acquisitions. It also implies that the work they do may be little more than supporting their CEO's confirmation bias if said CEO already has a favorite founder relationship in mind. I could point these CEOs to academic studies that most M+A deals fail to add value, but that would just upset them if they have their hearts set on deals with college pals running hot startups.

I paid close attention to the Investor Outlook speakers, because I'm an investor and someday I'm going to buy and sell everyone's sorry behinds like they're a bag of cheap candy. Here comes a blast of random commentary. Venture capitalists with operating experience have insights into product rollouts and recruiting scale-ups that matter to early stage growth startups. It occurred to me that I've never seen an ugly-looking VC firm partner; they all seem remarkably handsome. I shake my head hearing VCs wanting to pivot to AR/VR and agtech if they only have software experience; they don't know these verticals! Agriculture scaling is not the same as enterprise software scaling. The latest blockchain baloney is "ICO tokens" for crowdfunding, yet another misapplication of open-source transaction ledgers as nonviable currency. It's good that VCs are more interested in helping startups solve growth problems than in just doing financial engineering. It was interesting to hear one VC liking podcast monetization; IMHO voice and audio content like podcasts and audiobooks are an underutilized stream. The underutilization may be due to the difficulty of searching audio online. Audio needs better search, analytics, meta-tagging, and delivery platforms. I say the podcast revenue model could resemble freemium app revenue, with ads embedded somehow (perhaps with a visual tag on the audio console, similar to YouTube channel ads). Let's get back to the handsome VCs for a moment. They seem to like wearing expensive designer clothes with a casual chic, showing of wealth while implying they can be as informal as startup founders.

The LAUNCH Festival was the perfect opportunity for startups to show their wares at tables, booths, and pitch stages. I picked up literature from people pushing forestry drones and DIY hedge funds. The whole mash-up demonstrated why I have t live in this town and nowhere else. The next bonanza was somewhere on the expo floor. All the festival needed was some gourmet food trucks on site so the lunch lines would not have been so long. I'll be looking for those trucks at next year's LAUNCH Festival.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

More Haiku of Finance for 04/30/17

Bring on the Bluetooth
Future mesh for device spreads
Adding tiny costs

Alfidi Capital Attends Bluetooth World 2017

I have always been curious about this Bluetooth stuff, so I had to check out Bluetooth World 2017 down in Silicon Valley. I did not actually see anyone with blue-colored teeth at the conference but maybe I just didn't look closely enough into people's mouths. There's more to Bluetooth tech than just drinking blueberry juice.

Alfidi Capital got a free pass to Bluetooth World 2017.

Some Cisco guy supposedly predicted that the IoT market would be worth over $14.4T by 2023. It's one of those phantom quotes that gets thrown around at these types of conferences. The Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) aficionados here were all about grabbing that big IoT market. There's no free lunch with this tech, meaning there's a tradeoff between longer range and higher bandwidth forcing developers to choose between optimizing for either speed or power.

The "mesh networking" protocol enthusiasts here think it's some revolutionary leap for power optimization over many IoT devices without recourse to gateways or routers. We hear about revolutionary leaps all the time in this valley. IMHO developers for Bluetooth and others techs are way too enamored with smartphone I.D. authentication. Techies never want to admit that bad people can steal or hack phones. Once again, everyone's pitching convenience over security! The immaturity in this valley is mind-boggling.

Bluetooth dominates the wireless audio market and it will probably rule the beacon market in retail store promotion. Online shopping is decimating retail, so beacons have a closing window of opportunity. The next recession will see this window slam shut, and I predict only a few surviving upscale retailers will truly leverage store beacons.

The big push for Bluetooth Mesh as an IoT architecture is doomed to fail if it relies on end users to implement security. It is also unclear how Bluetooth IoT devices and apps will generate revenue. Bluetooth SIG whitepapers should spell out the Cloudonomics metrics that will guide investment. Beacon data generating contextual information about customers will have commercial value once it is aggregated in clouds.

Let me continue on this money metrics theme. Energy use and data processing throughput are measurable costs for IoT devices. Any value Bluetooth adds must exceed the energy and data costs per device. It's also worth asking whether Bluetooth promoters intend the tech to be a completely open source system like ARM, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi. The choice to keep it moving in that direction will affect how developers build apps.

Bluetooth IoT devices will generate enormous volumes of data and metadata, requiring a greater role for machine learning in analytics. Developers should define where machine learning belongs in the data flow from device to cloud. I suspect only a minuscule amount of AI can reside at gateways due to power and processing limits, especially as Bluetooth Mesh pushes these support functions beyond gateways. Developers should focus their AI efforts on the cloud, where power and processing are theoretically unlimited.

It is unbelievable that some people at Bluetooth world think that blockchain will add value to Bluetooth in IoT. The vast amounts of data flows I mentioned above will quickly overwhelm a blockchain ledger. Imagine the constant forking and multiple layers of ledgers to track the new forks. Just say yes to machine learning and no to blockchain.

I foresee a market opportunity for startups based on scraping, collating, and cleansing data from Bluetooth Mesh networks. Venture investors should ask how these startups translate data from Bluetooth and other tech systems into a single format, as long as Bluetooth has competition. Startup IoT devices are amenable to crowdfunding if they have some consumer hook, like a cute beacon base station that invites in-store selfies. I am certain we will hear a lot more about AI and IoT convergence as startups figure out the combo is a hook to get VC funding.

I keep seeing startups jump on the wearable tech bandwagon and Bluetooth World 2017 had its share of starry-eyed wearable devotees. There is very little chance the wearable train will ever leave the station, folks. Wearables will always be way too expensive for most consumers. Battery life is a major limiting factor. Embedded sensors and processors make the products so fragile that they will need delicate care and frequent replacement. The connectivity path loss by distance from embedded devices to sensors is a challenge for devices hanging on a human body. These things will never be a mass-market product, and any personal data aggregated from wearables would likely pose HIPAA violations if released without a user's permission. Security matters "over the air" for wearables.

I asked one tech expert here about how we can design physical plant for maximum flexibility with future digital architectures. The guy said bandwidth is the bottom line, with physical structures built for the maximum possible access points and transmission capacity. There you go, Bluetooth fans, just develop your devices to fit in every building's joints, corners, and shafts.

Anyone who wants a head start on the next big thing should start adding Bluetooth knowledge to their skill set. The IoT frontier is like a gold rush and vacant land rush combined. Proliferating Bluetooth tech that identifies devices should make QR codes obsolete. Startups building solutions that can flex between Bluetooth and other techs will own the IoT future. You heard it here first from Alfidi Capital, thanks to Bluetooth World 2017.

The Haiku of Finance for 04/30/17

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