Hacking in Energy, Made Easy?

We talk about the energy problem being very complex. Just the other day, a clean web hacker was telling me why many coders miss the mark in disrupting energy: they do NOT understand the complexities of the industry. 

JD Hammerly’s note on Why you should fire your coders (and hire solvers instead) seems to be the vision of SURGE, it takes something complex and simplifies it down into individual parts that can be digested and nailed. But is “it” that simple? Can the BIG CODERS from energy who boast about how many lines they have written be able to pivot their mindset?

A group of incredibly smart entrepreneurs with backgrounds in part of the energy equation are working on bringing the CleanWeb Hackathon TEXAS style down to Houston. If JD is correct, the CleanWeb Hackathon, this time in Boston, is a great entrepreneurial way to disrupt organizations that cannot easily fire their coders and pivot into a new way of thinking about these problems.

Hackers Unite…If interested in Texas, keep posted.

Do you agree with JD?

Valuation Caps on Convertible Notes

Our SURGE companies are spending a lot of time thinking about raising money before our demo day, SURGE Day, to drive momentum, hire more people, write more code and anything else that will help them solve the world’s energy problems…

How? The current trend is to use a convertible note. In a nutshell, the convertible note allows the founder to raise money without spending a lot of time stuck in due diligence in order to come up with a valuation. The convertible note seems easy to understand but no one wants to read the legalese. Well, I sure do not.


I found the best explanation (for an entrepreneur) on how convertible notes work especially when a valuation cap in added. The post also includes an excel template that models different scenarios and shows easy to use graphs.

Founders…worth the read


Royal Dutch Shell CEO, Peter Voser, says energy efficiency technology is a must-have to help feed a world with a growing appetite for energy, but the same can’t be say for alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Voser discussed his thoughts on the future of energy during a Churchill Club event near San Francisco on Wednesday night.

Voser said the world’s energy demand will triple by 2050 instead of double – as some have projected – if people don’t conserve energy and use it more efficiently. He cited China, along with the U.S., as examples of how the government is promoting policies to manage energy demand.

While he also mentioned China’s ambitious plan to increase its use of renewable energy such as wind and solar, he isn’t so bullish about the prospect of alternative sources playing a big role in meeting people’s energy needs. Voser said he hasn’t…

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Nation Building – How to Build a Company

At SURGE, our companies are 3 weeks into the program. I have been using an analogy for years that seems to connect regarding the key stages of company development. Here it goes…

There are 4 key stages that are critical to building a dominant nation state and these apply to you:

  1. Define your Border
  2. Protect your Borders
  3. Diplomacy
  4. Wage War

Step 1: Define your Borders

A country comes together when like-minded people believe in a common and strong purpose. Why would anyone move to your country until you have a purpose? Or why would anyone sign the Magna Carta to challenge the King? You must define who you are (your core purpose, your core values, your business model canvas, your culture and rules) before anyone is willing to pickup and move. And people move for PURPOSE. A core purpose is a 100-year vision that does NOT change. the first document forced onto an English King by a group of his subjectsWhat is your purpose for being a country? It all starts with you: what are you passionate about? What are you talented at delivering that solves a customer need? And it must be unique from everyone else. Or why would someone move to your land? Do you have natural resources (oil, mining), skilled labor, or other assets like a port? If yes, are customers willing to pay for it at the quantity necessary to survive. No undue tax burdens here…(we are for-profit!). Ask yourself these questions amongst your team, are they the same?

Step 2: Protect Your Borders

Now that you have defined your borders, how are you going to protect them? There is an interesting book called, Why Nations Fail, by Acemoglu and Robinson. The authors suggest that prosperity is produced by innovation and investment. To promote a nation to focus on these two key attributes, a government has to become accountable and responsive to citizens (employees) and the great mass of people (other stakeholders). The book discusses Korea. Despite Korea being a homogeneous nation, the people of North Korea are amongst the poorest on earth while the people in South Korea are amongst the richest (and many can play a damn good game of golf…kudos). In essence, how will you become accountable and responsive?

Let me offer a suggestion. Make sure your entire team is on the exact same page. Here are a few questions you can ask your team. Answer: You all need to be consistent.

  • Can most of your team recite the same elevator pitch?
  • Can most of your team clearly articulate the company’s competitive advantage?
  • Does the entire leadership team agree with the company strategy?
  • Does the company values performance from employees above all else?

Step 3: Diplomacy

How are you going to protect your country externally and create an opportunity to trade to gain value from other countries? Look at key agreements in the world like Nato (for military protection), NAFTA (free trade between Mexico, Canada and the US) and the Euro (Europe’s common currency to make trade more efficient). While at Dell, Google, a young company that was known to very few at the time, approached us to distribute their search engine on our desktops. We decided to do this giving google a significant increase in access to customers. Ask yourself, what other help, collaborators, should we enlist to help us and how do we motivate them?

“Theologian John Drescher tells the story about a corn farmer who won blue ribbons for his corn year after year. Yet each year, he shared his best seed corn with all of his neighbors. ‘How do you expect to continue to win blue ribbons,’ someone questioned him, ‘if you give your best seed corn to others?’ ‘You don’t understand said the farmer. ‘If the wind carries the pollen from field to field. If I am to have the best corn, I must see to it that all my neighbors also have the best corn. If they produce poor corn, it will pollinate mine and pull my quality down.” – Dan Miller.

My point, you cannot build a country without partners to trade and help protect from the outside. In my experience as a CMO, the most under focused and utilized strategy of companies (the 4th of the 5 C’s of Marketing: Collaborators) is their failure to acknowledge strategic partnerships that help them scale, grow and deliver on customer promises. What key agreements and partnerships do you need to be successful? Do you need to get your goods from the Pacific to the Atlantic and it takes too much time to sail around Cape Horn? Who is your Panama Canal? Did you know that there are major real estate transactions taking place in the Port of Houston and billions in upgrades because the Panama Canal is being widened to double capacity? Houston is becoming a critical port to serve the middle continental US but this was not economically efficient without the Canal change which is scheduled to be completed in 2014. Keep your eyes open.

4. Wage War

This is where most of us as an entrepreneur and startup want to start. If you have a strong definition of your borders, you are able to defend your borders, and have partners willing to come to your aid, you are now ready to attack and be disruptive. This final step will be discussed in more detail on another note… Mañana!

The Ultra-Running Guide to being an Entrepreneur

As an avid trail runner and entrepreneur, I wanted to pass on a few interesting observations from my experiences. I ran a 50-kilometer trail run in the depths of the Texas rough country in early 2010. The race is known as Bandera, A Trail Run of Rugged and Brutal Beauty where everything Cuts, Stings, or Bites. The winner of the 100k race, Nick Clark, wrote an excellent RACE REPORTabout his experience.  The stakes of this race were high. There were 2 invitations being offered to Bandera’s top two finishers for the Olympics of ultra-running, the Western States 100 mile run. Nick’s explanation of what it took to win the 62-mile race applies very well to what it takes an entrepreneur and management team to win in growing your business.

First, winning does not preclude you from taking it in the chin during the race. As Nick explains, “As I sit here writing this report after a long day of travel, my feet continue to throb from the thousands of pokes, jabs and stabs they took in the hill country of Texas yesterday.” I only ran the 50k and my feet and pride are still beat down. 

Second, there will be times when you need to make a pitstop, to refuel, offload and change tactics. If the competition passes you by, be patient. You will catch back up, but if you go back out too fast, you may crash and burn. In the words of the winner, “I had to stop and unload my early morning coffee, giving up 30-40 seconds on Dan and Chikare. I didn’t bother trying to catch back up, realizing that there was a long, long way to go and the extra effort would be wasteful, so I just sat back and kept on the pace we had been running, getting visuals every now and then to confirm that I wasn’t loosing any more ground.”

Third, when you make a wrong turn, do not forget the ultimate goal (winning the race). Be flexible, patient and Forgive. You might need to change your short-term tactics. “A mile or two down the track, we managed to miss one of the best-marked turns on the whole course … We turned around and headed back the way we had come, thankfully finding the turn sooner rather than later. Dan seemed pretty agitated by the mishap and upped the pace. I let him go, as we still had over 40 miles to race and I just didn’t want to burn energy unnecessarily.” Dan ended up running out of gas and finishing 3rd missing one of the 2 qualifying spots for Western States.

[SIDE NOTE: As I came into the 20 mile aid station beaten up, sore, tired and over-trained from two months of running 5 marathons all too fast, I wanted to quit. Unfortunately, my coach and good friend showed up at the aid station at the exact same time. He looked at me and asked me how I felt. I said, “I feel terrible. I want to F’ing Quit Dammit”. But before I could say it, he told me to get back out on the trail, get out of the aid station and walk it off. The next 2 miles were HELL. Then after catching and stumbling with two other lost souls, my determination and spirit came back (it also might have been the 48 oz. of Coke I chugged 30 minutes prior).  The next 10 miles turned out to be my best. I wanted to QUIT, but I am sure glad I didn’t. This has served as a valuable lesson to me moving forward. When you feel your worst, keep going. There is a rule in ultra-running, “It Almost Never Always Gets Worse”. ]

Finally, good ole solid hard work is critical to victory. In the final few miles of the race, Nick just outran the #2. “And so it was, on Lucky Hill, the gnarliest and steepest climb of the whole course that I finally got a sight of Chikare’s blue singlet. He was working very slowly up the hill, which was all the motivation I needed…I got my hands on my knees, hunched forward and broke out a super-hard power hike…By the bottom of the drop I had a solid lead and continued to push on the flats taking a few quick glances over my shoulder with nothing in sight behind… I came through the finish, throwing out a few high fives, in 9:16 for the win, a new course record and a date at The Big Dance in June. Mission well and truly accomplished.”

Nick’s race report is inspiring to me as a runner and as an entrepreneur. There will always be great runners out there trying to beat you. The marketplace is usually filled with rocks, snakes, cactus, and unforgiveness. The difference between winning and falling behind is about preparing a good strategy, sticking to your plan, being adaptable to change short-term tactics when necessary AND having the patience and faith that you will eventually catch up over the long-haul. And with hard work, you will be able to beat your fellow competitors. Nick did out run the entire field to set a new course record. His strategy was excellent. His execution stuck to the plan. And at the right moment, working harder than the competitors pays off.

Please share your race stories and epic battles?

Leadville 100 Race Report – Looking Back

“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals.” – The Stranger (The Big Lebowski)

What was my key to this race? I was going to run with love no matter how scared, hurt or tired I became. I thought about Khalil Gibran, who wrote what has become the theme of this journey:

“Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine. And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night. All work is empty, save when there is love; and when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.” – The Prophet

Pre-Amble: I write this race report about an epic event that started over a year earlier and “ended” in a celebration that took over a full day to complete.

I will try to stick to the race itself and leave the surrounding pre and post-drama to other episodes of my blog.

The Numbers: By the numbers, my team and I ran the 2010 Leadville Trail 100 in 27 hours, 50 minutes and 35 seconds. WAHOO!!!

The Credits: I say team because if Jason and Ken did not put the Rogue Ultra Team together, I would be ripped, swimming miles every day and look healthy. Unfortunately, I am droopy, sleep deprived and generally insane. My team included the other runners that I spent countless hours with who became my family: Ken, Jason, Dr. David, Carrie, John, Paul and a host of other journey seekers (for a description of each character, read Thursday – The TV Show is Born! and that blog shows my psyche in its more guttural form). I say team because my crew and pacer team were phenomenal and critical to the celebration.My crew spent 24+ hours together waiting for me to stumble through every aid station. I think this is a worthy section to note that even the crew had amazing experiences and were able to see how this event transcends “ultra-running” from a selfish event to an epic journey experienced together. I say team because the infamous triathlon team from Austin, Team T-Rex, sent a delegation of 4 strong eaters to pace me the final 50 miles. I could not have done this without them. Bix, Joe, Matt and Don…If loving you is wrong, I do not want to be right. I say team because I had no idea how to stay alive out there without the true experts like Meredith Terranova and Dr. Patricia Rosen. And finally, there were others out there whose words of wisdom and encouragement kept me going and believing: Ken Chlouber (“What the Hell does that have to do with anything?”), Heidi Armstrong, and the crazy Gordon.
The Quick Backstory: When the running community met me just 15 months ago, there were doubts that I could pace my good friend and coach Jason Lippman the last 50 miles of the 2009 Leadville. Read about that experience…the bottom line is that I have struggled over the past 15+ months with the most important element of ultra-running: attitude.A few of the key words that kept me going: What transpired over 15 months? Well, if you were there, you would have seen a bunch of crying, yeast infections, decommits, expletives, laughter, stories that made the rest of the team try and hang themselves (remember airplane?) and general melodrama. Just the way I like it, uh huh uh huh.
The Start: When we arrived in Colorado a week before the race, I was committed to enjoying anything that would take my mind off the race. If I was not ready now, too late. I did not think about the race (ok, plan for the race), until the day before. I decided to spend the night in the beaver’s tail of the satellite office of Rogue Ultra: Jason’s sofa in Beaver Creek. I fought for covers and comfort with Jason’s dog, Emerson, the entire 4+ hours I was down. At 2am, we headed to Leadville. When we arrived, every one seemed to be alive with energy. I walked to the starting line as if I owned the joint. If you don’t got it, fake it is my motto.I knew something very very comforting and very very scary: There was no excuse. My body felt great. I had no one to blame for my performance except for ME. My greatest fear was getting to the HURT and not having what it takes to keep going. I was not sure if I had it. Time to find out.As I walked to the starting line, I carried my Flip HD video camera to document my attitude and awareness from the start all the way to the finish. I wanted to document the whole experience regardless of the outcome.

As I ran down the red carpet, my video camera was recording and I was looking for my ladies, my coaches, my team, Ken Chlouber, and anyone else that helped me get here. I did it. I felt great. AND, I stayed true to my promise: I worked with love. Thank you for reminding me of this Mike!

“when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God”

Leadville 100 Race Report: May Queen to the Red Carpet: Mile 86.5 to 100

Well, I found my crew who always did an awesome job getting me to our crew chair.

After spending a few minutes in tent getting food and looking for a doctor. NO NO NO, I learned my lesson. I was just going to confirm that every doctor in Leadville had my picture and was notified to mess with me. As I walked out of the aid station officially, i found my chair. What happened? I love aid stations. I sat down and decided to change socks, powder my feet, eat and chill. I know, I had to do it. At this point, the big gun, Don Sansom, a Boston Marathoner, was pacing me home. He had the legs, but Joe informed him that it would take us a long time due to my condition.

This was by far the coldest aid station. I put on an extra top and gloves to get home. Somehow, in the aid station, i begged and found another Tylenol (just 1…they said their very last one…sorry everyone). When I started to talk to the crew (while in the chair relaxing), a woman DOCTOR who was crewing for someone next to us handed me 3 Advil’s and told us that you can mix pain meds. I felt like I was cheating to take pain meds, but my vagisil was not working.

We left May Queen at 7 minutes before 5am. My goal was 28 hours. To do this, I had to leave May Queen a little after 4am. Don and I walked down the road, shot some video and laughed about having a little over 5 hours to make it. As we hit the trail by the lake, a miracle happened. My IT bands were not buckling. I asked Don to open it up and we ran. Did we run? We broke speed records. I am not sure what it is, but when I am getting close to the barn, I haul ass. I also enjoy passing people and saying, “good work” while they look at me in contempt. Maybe this is a guttural reaction to training for a year with people faster than me. Sorry…I enjoyed passing peeps! (NOTE: My last 13 miles ended up being one of the fastest legs of all racers…again, Lippman’s advice to run faster allowed me to end the pain sooner:))

Don and I somehow ran the entire lake section (besides a few uphills) and finally hit the road. I drank enough to stay hydrated and ate, but my consumption had gone down now. The cold and the excitement was fueling me. Don and I ran the entire road to the train track turn off. When we hit that turn, we walked a little and then ran to the uphill climb to a long dirt road. We must have caught 40 people since May Queen.

As we ran this road, the excitement was building. Did you know that this road has more false summits than Sugarloaf. WTF? This road just became the single longest track in history. I wanted to run the entire track (out of fear that the 3 “Advil” that I was slipped in May Queen…OKAY…It had to have been Narcotics…I felt awesome!) but after the 2,300th false summit, we walked some.

As we crested the road and saw the stadium and the finishing road, Don and I began to run. Then we power-walked up the finishing road until we could see the red carpet. When it came into view, I was STOKED. We ran the entire 1-mile finish in. I did it. I was going to beat my original 28-hour goal by 10 minutes!!! We ran from May Queen in less than 3 HOURS!!! Ken, it must be narcotics. Praise you oh DOCTOR crew member in May Queen, I owe you.

Leadville 100 Race Report: Fish Hatchery to May Queen: Mile 76.5 – 85.5

Joe and I left the crew and headed down to road to Sugarloaf. I power-walked again. We were now a few minutes behind schedule, but I was not worried. Joe and I hit the road and were immediately passed by a runner holding onto his pacer. We ended up seeing them again and the runner continued to be dragged up (THIS IS CHEATING) Sugarloaf. BAD FORM! Your pacer can be a mule by carrying objects, but they cannot hold on or be pushed. BULLSHIT!

As Joe and I began to climb Sugarloaf, my IT bands decided to wage war against me on the uphills too. This was the first time this really happened. The ROAD (that #$%^*& road) must have trashed them all over the place. I should have done more clamshells. I had to teach my right leg how to move up hill. The sticks help some but every step my leg would buckle!!! I was laughing and nervous BUT this was not going to beat me. I willed my legs to work and in 2-3 minutes, I began to power walk up the huge mountain. Joe and I made awesome time catching 10’s of people including the two brothers that the pacer dragged the runner up the mountain. When Joe and I hit the 137th false peak, we started to descend. The uphill on Sugarloaf is awesome. My lungs were working well. I was drinking and continuing to eat and salt. As we headed down, my legs began to buckle again. In truth, I was happy to power walk but I really really wanted to run. Everything else on my body was working except for my knees (and the broken toe and blisters but this was table stakes).

After walking 17 miles down a 1-mile stretch from the base of Sugarloaf to the entrance of the Colorado trail, we began to descend. OUCH!!! I could not walk and began to pole vault down the trail. This was the most painful and difficult section of the course for me. From the time I started the race to now, the 1 mile Colorado trail grew to 9 miles, added 3 more bridges, and became much more rocky than I remembered. Joe was awesome to get me through there. We were passed by a few people and all I cared about was getting to May Queen by 4am. We made it there by 4:33am. I had less than 5 ½ hours to get to the red carpet. At the current pace and with my math inability, I was going to skip the aid station.

Leadville 100 Race Report: Tree Line to Fish Hatchery: Mile 72.5 – 76.5

Joe Haus picked up the baton to the disappointment of Bixby and began to pace me. The temperature began to drop here and we were about to hit what I thought last year was DEATH ON A STICK MATE! I decided to practice judo and go with the road this year. I had two strategies. First, I wanted to make it to Fish Hatchery in less than 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Kirk Brand Coburn in Leadville

Walking at a sub 17 minute pace (17 times 4 divided by the square root of pi would be the remainder of…damn, this math is too hard to do at this sleep deprivation). Thank goodness Joe is a numbers guy and told me that our current pace would work. Of course since Jason and I walked last year and were caught by the entire field on that road (not really but it sure felt that way), I was going to run if the headlamps behind us were running too. Well, no one else ran and based on my super-human ability to power walk with the titanium sticks, I chose to walk.  SOMETHING ODD happened here and is something that makes no sense: The 4 miles somehow was longer than I remembered. Our sub 17min/mile pace still took longer than 1 hour 15 minutes.

NOTE: The space/time continuum coming back into Leadville the last 50 miles changes. 50 miles is really 70 miles. I promise.

Well anyway, we made it to Fish Hatchery aid station. I checked in and weighed. I was 3 pounds heavier now than when I started. Oops…too many gu’s! I asked the doctor (well, he acted like one) to help me. Unfortunately every medical person on deck was working on some poor soul having a seizure or something. All I wanted was tape or something for my IT bands (which were killing). When they finally finished, I had the following conversation with the “doctor”:

KIRK – “Can you tape my knees? My IT bands are shot.”

DOCTOR – “That will not work. You are an idiot.”

KIRK – “I am sorry. I am not dying, but it would help me finish this run. What can you do to help me?”

DOCTOR – “What have you done in the past about this?”

KIRK – “I have never had this problem before. What do you recommend?”


KIRK – (WTF look on my face. Is this guy for real?) “Uhhh”


KIRK – “Well 10 years ago, I had an IT issue, but that was when I was fat.”

DOCTOR – “Well, what did you do then?”

KIRK – “I don’t remember.”


KIRK – (this guy will be strangled sometime, but I am in too good of a mood to do it myself)


KIRK – “Ok dammit, can I have a pain killer?”

DOCTOR – “Yes”

KIRK – “And????”

DOCTOR – “Here is ONE”.

KIRK – “C’mon Joe, were are outta here”.

I decided here to keep on my street shoes despite the blisters forming. I was not sure if the blisters were due to the water crossing even though I dried them, added powder and changed shoes in Twin Lakes, due to the street shoes, due to being on my feet all day, and/or a combo on them all. So, I did the best think, nothing.

Leadville 100 Race Report: Half Moon to Tree Line: Mile 69.5 – 72.5

We finally entered Half Moon aid station and it was unfortunately not filled with leprechauns like 2009. However, we did run into Barefoot Ted and the sweet little Paulette who we met climbing up Sugarloaf the first time on the way out. She was talking to the doctor about her fractured foot. He told her that if she wanted to QUIT, she would have to walk down to Tree Line or Fish Hatchery (towards the finish line anyway). Welcome to Leadville. I also asked the doctor about taping my knees or cutting out my tie band. He just laughed and told me that nothing could help me. Thanks!

As Bix and I headed down, I kicked a rock with my street shoes on. I thought that I burst a blister and it was bleeding, but come to find out, I broke my middle toe.

Bix and I decided to leave after downing raw ramen (this is just wrong…they had plenty of time to cook it, but this was obviously a tactic to break the weak mind…not gonna do it!). I noticed that I was drinking less due to the cold but continuing to eat and take my salts. We basically hobbled down to Tree Line.

When we arrived at Tree Line, my fearless crew was sleeping WELL!!! We woke them up and began to change pacers. Bixby got me to Tree Line early. We were back on track to hit 28! Bixby earned his title.