Jan 082014

Book Short: Faster Than The Blink of an Eye

Book Short: Faster Than The Blink of an Eye

Michael Lewis is one of those authors for whom my general point of view is “read whatever he writes.” Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt  was no exception.  It’s a book about the high-frequency trading business, how a difference in microseconds can make a difference, and how the complexity of trading has led to enough confusion that virtually no one on Wall Street actually understands how it works any more.

I am a capitalist through and through, and I never begrudge Wall Street for making money, even though I do have moments where I doubt the amount of value that finance creates relative to the amount of income they swallow up.  However, that all goes out the window when there is evidence that some pocket of Wall Street isn’t playing by the rules.  I define “the rules” as either the law, or as something more like “a basic sense of morality and fairness.”

Some of what has been going on in the high-frequency trading business, as Lewis describes in this book, may or may not be legal (let’s assume it is), but is almost certainly not following a basic sense of morality and fairness.  It’s worth noting that I am purely going off what Lewis wrote in the book, so to the extent that his research is incomplete or his writing is misleading, I am happy to retract that statement.  But based on what I read, I’d challenge some of the people in the HFT business to defend what they’re doing publicly, to their mothers or to their own clients.  That’s the ultimate test of morality or fairness.

It’s amazing to me that this topic hasn’t gotten more play in the media or with regulators.  Maybe it’s just too complicated for anyone to understand or to articulate.  In any event, even though not strictly a business book, it’s fascinating and worth a read, as I think all Michael Lewis books are.

Jan 142010

Jump Starting Start Ups



As I mentioned in some recent posts, I’ve really enjoyed sharing the Return Path story with the tech start-up community in New York through groups like the NYC Lean Startup Meetup .  


Next week I’m taking the Return Path story on the road to Silicon Valley where I’ll be presenting to Startup2Startup.  Startup2Startup is a group of Silicon Valley geeks, entrepreneurs, and investors dedicated to educating and helping the next generation of Internet startups. They meet monthly over dinner to discuss relevant topics in technology and entrepreneurship, connect with new people and companies, and share our knowledge and experience.


You’ll not only get to hear about Return Path’s 10 years in business but I’ll also be sharing some best practices to diagnose and resolve email deliverability problems.

Interested? Request an invitation here.

Stay tuned for more on this post-event.

Dec 282009

Learning How to Stop

Learning How to Stop

This is my last post about thoughts I had coming out of the NYC Lean Startup Meetup that I spoke at a couple weeks ago.  Being lean, the discussion went at this event, means not doing extraneous things.  While it’s true for startups that it’s important to make great decisions about what to do up front, it’s also true — especially as companies get larger and more important older — that organizations and individuals have to be vigilant about stopping activities that become extraneous over time.

This is HARD.  Once things — product features, business processes, reports, ways of communicating or thinking about things — get ingrained in an organization, there’s never a natural impetus to stop doing them.  Even the smartest and most thoughtful individuals often find themselves doing things that once made sense but no longer do. 

We encourage people at Return Path to create space to work OTB (on the business), not just ITB (in the business).  Take time not just to perfect what you’re doing and do it, but take time to reexamine what you’re doing and ask whether or not it needs to be done.  My staff is going to start doing an exercise at least quarterly around pruning/simplifying activities.  

Focus is not just about saying “no” to new tasks.  It’s also about saying “no longer” to old ones.

Dec 212009

Innovating in New York City

Innovating in New York City

Last week I wrote about speaking at the NYC Lean Startup Meetup.  One of my other key takeaways from this, which I’ve known for a while and have been meaning to blog about, is just how vibrant the tech startup community is here in New York.  I know others have been blogging about this like mad – Fred has some thoughts here, here, and here, and Charlie has some here and here.  Chris Dixon’s seminal post on this is here. (I even blogged a bit about why NYC is a good place to start a business back in 2006 here.)

I’ve had a little more time for networking and speaking in the past year than the prior year, and I’ve been blown away by how many startups there are here.  Like most things, New York City is such a massive and diverse place that it’s easy to “get lost in the crowd,” and there’s a lot going on.  So startups don’t tend to get the same level of social buzz that they do in Silicon Valley.  But Fred’s stat in one of those links above that over 150 startups were founded in NYC this year compared to over 300 in the Valley is interesting when you consider the geographic density here.  There are many more per square mile in New York.

Despite the geographic density to the startups, the New York startup scene is a long way from being a community.  There are some encouraging signs of late.  Charlie’s establishing a physical presence for First Round Capital is one. NextNY, with over 2500 members, is another, along with various Meetups.  I am learning more and more every day about local incubator-type organizations as well (take that term with a grain of salt).  I thought John Borthwick’s Betaworks was the only one until Charlie told me about Sunshine Suites, TechSpace, and the NYU/Poly program.  But something is still missing.  Some glue to hold it all together.

In the Valley, the startup community is  a cultural thing — plus, startups are part and parcel of a larger tech community.  Most of the big acquirers of internet companies are out there, so the ecosystem keeps cycling through companies and talent and investors.  In smaller cities like Denver/Boulder and Boston (and soon to be Seattle), TechStars fills a good void by providing a high profile “lure the talent here” combined with “meet the money” program. Seedcamp does that nicely in London, which, while it’s a big city, has a much smaller and more dispersed startup community than New York.

Since we’re unlikely to suddenly sprout a bunch of Fortune 500 tech companies in NYC, where’s our version of one of those programs in NYC?  Or is there some other “glue” lurking out there to tie it all together?

Jul 092009

Opening Night

Opening Night

My brother Michael, internet marketer by day and a writer by night, had his first play produced last night off-Broadway at the Manhattan Repertory Theater’s SummerFest.  The play is a romantic comedy called Fallout, and it’s my favorite thing he’s written of about 8-10 works I’ve read over the years, both screen and stage plays. 

This is the first time I’ve ever had a bit of a “behind the scenes” look at an Opening Night, and it was fun to be a part of it.  When I think about entrepreneurial pursuits in business, I’m not sure this even compares.  For Michael, it seemed to be the equivalent of a company’s founding, a product launch, and an IPO — all rolled into one.  It was more intense than any individual thing I’ve seen in business over the years. 

And it came out great.  The play was a big success with the audience (and not just among those of us whose last name is Blumberg).  Michael, the director Robin, and the incredibly talented cast did a great job, so much so that the theater company is extending the run to one extra night, this Sunday at 7 p.m., since the three initial nights are sold out.  Anyone interested, the number to call for tickets is 646-329-6588.

Filed under: Current Affairs, New York

Jun 262009

Ah, Summer in New York

This graphic about says it all.


Filed under: New York

Nov 112008

Why Do I Have to Be Frisked to Go to an NFL Game?

Why Do I Have to Be Frisked to Go to an NFL Game?


I am freaked out about terrorism as much as the next person, but our obsession with security has gone too far.  Some of the airport-related security is dumb enough — I can’t hijack a plane with my shampoo any more — but at least there’s some logic to the general premise.


But the major pat-down I got last weekend when I went to see the Chargers beat the Chiefs was just silly.  It certainly didn’t make me feel more secure sitting in the stadium.  It wouldn’t have even occurred to me to feel insecure in the first place. 


The experience reminded me of all the medium-security office buildings in New York City.  What does signing-in really do for the building’s safety?  If you want to x-ray people and their bags on the way in, fine.  But a quick visual scan of my drivers’ license and asking me to write in which floor I’m going to…what does that actually do?


And in the meantime, my understanding is that 95% of cargo containers coming into our ports still go uninspected.  Go figure.

Sep 222008



This past weekend was a weekend of closure for me. As I prepare to leave the city after almost 17 years and the apartment I’ve lived in for almost 15, we had my two original roommates from this apartment in town for the weekend with their families for a bit of a farewell party. Times certainly have changed – from three single guys to three families and 7, almost 8 kids between us. Sitting around and noting that all three couples had either gotten engaged or first started dating within the confines of Apartment 35B, then saying goodbye as everyone left the apartment for the last time, was a little surreal. But overall, having everyone around was great fun and was a fitting way to mark the occasion.

If that wasn’t enough to drive the point home, we were lucky enough to get tickets to the Yankees game last night, which was the last home game the Yanks will play in their 85-year old stadium before moving across the street next season to their fancy new home. The ceremony before the game, which featured a bunch of prominent Yankee greats and their progeny (Babe Ruth’s daughter threw out the opening pitch!), was similarly surreal, but a fitting ending to a long-standing tradition.


Why is closure important? I’m not a psychologist, but for me and my brain anyway, celebrating or formally noting the END of something helps move on to the BEGINNING of the next thing. It helps compartmentalize and define an experience. It provides time to reflect on a change and WHY it’s (inevitably) both good and bad. And I suppose it appeals to the sentimentalist in me.

I think it’s important to create these moments in business as well as in one’s personal life. We and I have done them sporadically at Return Path over the years. Moving offices as we expand. Post-mortems on projects gone well or badly. Retrospectives with employees who didn’t work out, sometimes months after the fact. Whether the moment is an event, a speech at an all-hands meeting, or even just an email to ALL, one of the main jobs of a leader in building and driving a corporate culture is to identify them and mark them.

Sep 152008



Note: Jonathan is a colleague of mine in our Authentic Response research business.

[Me] Hey, I heard you moved back to New York (from Boston)

[Jonathan] Yeah, the travel was getting to be too much. Plus, a buddy of mine was looking for a roommate

[Me] Where’s the place?

[Jonathan] Murray Hill

[Me] Oh – I lived there years ago. Where?

[Jonathan] Near 2nd and 34th

[Me] What building?

[Jonathan] It’s a small walk-up – you wouldn’t know it – 633 Second Avenue

[Me] NO WAY. I used to live there. Which floor?

[Jonathan] Third

[Me] Yup – that was my old apartment – from 15 years ago!

What a weird, weird, weird, thing.

Filed under: Current Affairs, New York

Sep 112008

7 Years On

7 Years On

My last September 11 as a New York City resident. I walked down to the World Trade Center site this morning as I have each of the last six 9/11s and rang The Bell of the Unforgotten, which is the New York City Fire Department’s port-a-memorial that they bring out for the day. As a long-time member of the lower Manhattan community, the day always bring out a lot of reflection for me. Seeing the memorial flood lights on tonight will do the same and bookend the day.

The main thing I was thinking about this morning was why there’s been nothing really built yet on the site. World Trade Center 7 (which is actually adjacent to the main site) went up in a hurry a few years ago (pictured here under construction four years ago), but nothing else.

My general understanding of the situation is that the holdup has not been around clean-up or pre-construction the last several years, but all about legal, political, and insurance issues. And that smacks to me of a leadership problem. I realize there are a lot of parties involved, and a lot at stake, but it’s just embarrassing to America that we haven’t rebuilt the site — and fast. Set an example to the rest of the world that we react swiftly and don’t let the bad guys knock us down…and keep us down.

It feels to me like a President who actually understood leadership would have gotten all the parties in a room together and not let them out until there was agreement on a plan. Don’t just let “the system” play things out laissez faire, but actually play them out in a hurry so the country and city can move forward. It feels like the kind of thing Reagan or Clinton would have done.

As I reflect on this today, the one thing I’m happy about is that no matter who wins the White House, America will be getting a leadership upgrade.