The Three Drivers of Contentment & Motivation at Work

What motivates us to perform and drives contentment at work? Most entrepreneurs struggle with this question. You want success, want to have drive and yet rely too heavily on fear-based or external motivators which often leave a negative residue. The research shows that the most effective motivators are intrinsic and positive.

A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning.
~ Pat Riley, six-time NBA championship coach (Lakers/Heat)

This post comes from the first part of a lunch & learn session I recently did at one of my former portfolio companies, Graphiq.

What truly motivates us? Three words: Mastery, Autonomy & Purpose. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, reviewed the sea of research around motivation at work. While factors like money, prestige, punishment or fear can drive us, these pale in comparison to MAP. This video does a great job expanding on this work (worth the 10 min watch):

Mastery: the urge to improve, to have a sense of forward progress. In my Flow framework, this is at the heart of “thriving in the entrepreneurial journey”…defining the core elements of your identity (and focus) and then applying the habits and discipline to master the key skills critical to them. For example, in a work context, this could be “becoming the best salesperson possible” and developing the skills around prospecting, objection handling, relationship management and negotiations. On a personal level, it can be self-mastery and developing a greater sense of equanimity & patience in your daily interactions, better self-care practices (sleep, working out) and becoming less reactive to ups and downs of daily life. As you get better at something, the more rewarding it becomes.

Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives. As we master our core responsibilities, everyone in the organization or those around us feel more confident in giving us more freedom: when we work, how we work, what we work on, who we work with. Said another way, we experience less micro-management and enjoy more degrees of freedom.

Purpose: The service to something larger than ourselves. When we do something for our own gain, it can motivate us but it is short-lived and often requires another hit (like an addict). Service can be defined in a host of different ways ranging from providing superior care to customers to mentoring junior reports to helping those less fortunate to being a role model for others. The key is that it is not focused on your own gain.

So, to reiterate…three words: Mastery, Autonomy & Purpose.

Contentment
That said, none of us want to win the battle and lose the war.  Too often, we drive ourselves hard only to feel empty or drained at the end. Contentment comes from when we progress towards something better/greater versus escaping from our fears and inadequacies. Let me repeat this as IT IS CORE…focus on motivation around progressing Towards something versus the anxietal default approach of motivation through Escaping our Fears & inadequacies (e.g. the inner voice that says “look asshole, if you don’t do this right, you’ll be a failure or you’ll get fired or you’ll be embarrassed or…).

In Which Wolf Do You Feed?, I discussed the importance of Intrinsic versus Extrinsic motivations.  In his book, Pink argues that effective human motivation is largely intrinsic around mastery, autonomy and purpose. He argues against old models of motivation driven by rewards and fear of punishment, dominated by extrinsic factors such as money.

My challenge: see how you can integrate more positive, intrinsic motivators into your daily work. Define your core role at the firm, laying out the key responsibilities and outputs for this and then commit to building the skills and obtaining the knowledge to be your highest version of this (vs just getting by). Focus on the input(s) versus the output. Start with just one area or skill and go from there. Additionally, write down 2-3 ways in which your work is in service to others. Put these out where you can see them. Focus your motivation on this versus simply gaining recognition or earning more money/bonus.

Which Wolf Do You Feed?

Question: If you lose your fear, do you lose your drive?  It’s a question many entrepreneurs ask themselves.  They seem to have bought into the idea that you can either be content or you can be driven, but those two states cannot coexist. But that idea is flawed.

In reality, we are the stories we tell ourselves, becoming the characters (hero or villain, creator or victim, etc) that we believe and repeat. Once set, these identities and these stories rule our lives. For the same conditions or situation, they determine whether we are thriving or surviving, growing or just getting by, content or disatisfied.  And yet, we often make this selection sub-consciously.

One of the leading experts on peak performance, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, coined the term “Flow” in his seminal research on top performers. We sometimes call it being “in the zone,” performing at the top of our game and enjoying a sense of mastery and ease rather than enduring the “fear and angst” that can accompany performance.

Mihaly defines Flow as:

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.“

How do we get into it and why do we fall out of it? It’s all about what’s driving you.  Is your motivation internal/intrinsic or external/extrinsic motivation? This is the heart of my blog and my framework below.

At a high level summary, the key to enjoying sustainable success rests on Arete.  This is the Greek concept around striving to become the “highest version” of ourselves as defined by us (intrinsic) and not as defined by others (extrinsic). This is motivation driven by moving towards something aspirational versus moving away from fear.

IDENTITY is at the heart of all of this. If we define our core Identity in empowering ways, we set ourselves up for Flow. If we define ourselves in ego-centric, inflexible ways, we set ourselves up for terrible suffering. Identity has a host of components ranging from core values, narratives, identity statements, behaviors, life segments, etc. We have a core identity and then layers that we use to define ourselves i.e. Mother, wife, boss, coach, athlete, daughter, friend. 

EXPECTATIONS flow from the Identities we choose. These are often subconscious but dictate our lives. When reality shows up differently from our expectations, we begin to feel anxious and suffer. Being conscious around the Identities we chose and understanding the Expectations that arise from this is half the game.

There is a Cherokee story of a chief talking to his grandson. He describes that he has Two Wolves battling inside of him. One is full of ego, greed, anger and pride. The Other is full of truth, hope, empathy and service. When the boy asks “which wolf wins?”, the chief responds “The one that you feed.”

In selecting our identities and in embracing specific narratives about our lives, we feed one of the wolves. Do you work for personal glory or in service to something greater? How critical is external validation to your happiness? Is your inner voice on fire or can you find windows of inner calm?

For example, belieiving that life is a zero sum game and defining yourself as a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t fail can set you up for misery. Things won’t go your way on a daily basis. Setbacks confirm the harshness of your reality and this identity will light up your ego and your fear. Anxiety sets in. “This shouldn’t or can’t be happening.”  “What will people think?”  You might project negative scenarios causing the voice of your inner critic to get louder.  Why? Because you defined yourself and your Identity in a way that plays to ego, requires external validation and has limited flexibility.

However, if you view experience as driving growth, then challenges/setbacks become a means to grow and improve. If you identify as “a resilient & creative entrepreneur who uses persistence in confronting challenges “, your expectations and your interpretations change. In a perfect world, you would welcome these challenges to sharpen your craft and skills. Your value isn’t reflected in what others think of you but rather how you grow and improve your mastery. This is a simplistic example but it shows you the importance of answering: Which wolf do you feed?

 

Challenge: What is your current Identity and Narrative and how can you define what a “Higher Version” looks like to incorporate more intrinsic motivation and Flow?

VC Confidential Is Now Something Ventured

Something Ventured is pretty fully operational! Back in 2005 when I was on the FeedBurner board (Twitter 1.0), I started VC Confidential with two goals: 1) to help entrepreneurs see behind the VC curtain on how we thought/made decisions and 2) to see how the FeedBurner RSS service worked in practice. Dick Costolo (CEO), Brad Feld and Fred Wilson (fellow investors) were great mentors and helped build my base. Over the years, however, I have felt a different calling with my blogging. So much so that I stopped for 2 years while I worked things through.

There are a lot of great blogs out there now around the tactical and practical elements of entrepreneurship and venture. However, what I have seen lacking is a deeper focus on the Entrepreneurial Journey from a more holistic perspective. This became the focus of Something Ventured (.net). Too many people (both entrepreneurs and everyday people) win the battle and loose the war. They survive the day, the month, the start-up, the next financing versus thriving and finding purpose/energy in the Journey. Jerry Colonna has built out Reboot.io around this (highly recommend it for all entrepreneurs). The Life Coach industry is booming for a reason. Why just “survive” when you can “thrive”?  Why hit the finish line burned out when you can have sustainable success?  When does “just getting by for the next three years” end? If I “lose my fear, do I lose my drive”? (No, BTW, just lose less sleep). These are the core questions I’m focused on.

So, there will be a broad array of tactical and practical (how to draft a value proposition, how to layout fundraising narrative, how to build culture, etc) but there will also be a lot on determining North stars & values, embracing radical self-inquiry, setting goals and establishing disciplines/habits to stay in alignment with these. Building skills not just for business for living the “good life”.

So, all of my old post (450+) still sit over at VC Confidential but all future posts will be here on Something Ventured. Tell your friends and share. Thanks!

— Matt

My Venture Covenant With Entrepreneurs

There is a false dogma around the VC/Entrepreneurship relationship…supported by bad behaviors on both sides. You feel a need to manage your investors & board, to not show weakness and present to us. We fail to fully listen, dictate desires or fears and financially optimize our investments. Trust and open communication are our most precious assets which we squander away as a result. In reality, we are on the journey together with a common enemy (Darwin). We must hang to together or “surely, we will all hang separately.” We need to optimize our chances for success, row together, remove unnecessary drama and minimize self-inflicted wounds (the majority cause of pre-mature death). Over the years, I’ve seen both the good and the awful with this relationship. So, here is my rough draft of a Covenant with My Entrepreneurs

MY PROMISE
MY EXPECTATION
Be committed to your personal & the company’s success Be self-aware and embrace your blind spots
Respect that this is your company but provide guardrails & accelerants Don’t self-optimize. Your employees and I depend on you
Show up rationally, empathetically and, “first, do no harm” Don’t let fear or ego dictate how you manage and lead
Be open and frank in my communication Be open and honest in your communications
Seek homework from you to knock down barriers & accelerate growth Say “no thanks” when I’m not helpful
Respect your boundaries Acknowledge when you need help or don’t know
Honor confidentiality Embrace this as a partnership, not as a necessary Evil
Encourage experimentation, quick iterations and respect failure Don’t feel obligated to carry the world on your shoulders

Multiples vs IRR

One of my most popular posts from VC Confidential…

“You Can’t Eat IRR.” — anonymous

I was at a business school today helping judge several business plans. As group after group presented, I saw each make the same mistake as the previous. When they tried to justify the investment from the perspective of the VC, they kept telling us that this was a 40% IRR deal or a 25% IRR as if we had magical IRR thresholds.

The reality is that the venture world is all about multiples and the IRR’s are the results. I don’t know what the original legacy behind this was, but from a practical perspective, it is driven mostly by the fact that we live in a boolean world. Some is also based upon the high net worth legacy of our business. Originally, because pension law did not permit the large institutional investors in, our business was funded by family offices, endowments and foundations. Multi-generational families, while they want high IRR’s, are really looking to double or triple their invested capital.

From a portfolio perspective, if we invest in 10 deals, 4 are tube shots, 2 we fight to get our money back on, 2-3 we get 2-5x on and the 10th deal drives the return (hopefully north of 10x). If we doubled our money in 1 year (100% IRR) but lost all our money on the next deal over 6 years, we aren’t happy (net gain is $0). We don’t care that we made 2x in 1 versus 3 years or lost all of our money over 6 years versus 4 years (this impacts IRR), because we earned 1x on the capital.

We often see complex financial models with discounted cash flows, hurdle rates and such. These are useless. I have never seen a set of financials in an early stage company that ever reflect what Darwin will allow to happen in reality. So, you start your modeling with unreliable numbers. Secondly, what is the beta for an early stage biotech deal, a semi-conductor start-up, etc? Can you assess the risk associated with a given management team? How about a new market space?

Perhaps we are too lazy to try and figure this out, but after decades of effort, the only method that seems to work in the venture world is to target 10x on each early stage deal (3-5x on later stage plays). They all look like the next Microsoft, but eventually, the portfolio of these settles down to the profile above. In the early stage world, if you target, say a 40% IRR, through assuming a number of 5x wins in a compressed period of time, you will likely be out of the business. Your 5x wins, while possibly generating high IRR’s, don’t return enough multiple to pay for the 4 tube shots and 2 break-even deals. Your winners need to deliver 10x.

So, next time you are trying to convince a VC about the merits of your firm, show them how they can make 10x capital on a realistic exit scenario (not how to get a 40% IRR).

Real Is Mandatory

Real Is Mandatory

“Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.”
 — Bob Dylan

The venture markets are a-changin’ with investors and public markets demanding rational business models, visibility to profitable growth and inherently sound economics. Companies like Homejoy and Sidecar have gone under while stars like Uber have raised capital at flat valuations from a year ago. Companies going public are now being valued off of EBITDA multiples (what is this?). The old is new again as greed has swung to concern, heading to fear in the venture business as the IPO markets and multiples have compressed.

Historically, this has been when the true breakout companies shine. They are maniacally focused on customer needs, efficient capital use and culture as their less disciplined brethren are swept away in the tides. Trial by fire as they say. Real is mandatory in Darwin’s eyes.

An example of this has been our company, SMS, who crossed a major milestone this week, raising $150m from Goldman Sachs and continues to grow at 50–100% a year while having been increasingly profitable for each of the past 7 years. Few companies have pipelines like theirs approaching several billion dollars. Our journey with SMS Assist has been exceptionally rewarding as we’ve rolled up our sleeves next to an extraordinary team and founder. They have built one of the fastest growing enterprise companies in the country, in one of the grittiest industries through technology…facilities management. SMS’s story is both inspirational and instructional in a world of increasing headwinds and fading unicorns.

The power of the SMS platform is simple. The ONE platform controls over 500,000 sub-contractor technicians performing over 1 million services across 46 services like HVAC repair, landscaping, floor strip & wax to over 100,000 locations. Store managers and home owners simply drop a service request into their residential or corporate portal and ONE’s cloud systems pre-qualifies (e.g. for HVAC, did the circuit breaker trip or is it a real problem), identifies the most qualified sub-contractor based on over 420 tracked metrics, dispatches, manages the service, confirms & rates the service, pays the provider and delivers reporting for over 70 levels at the corporation…all automated without a man in the loop other than an occasional escalation to the call center. While traditional firms or in-sourced solutions rely on call centers and owned/operated fleets with few people on their tech teams, SMS delivers most of this on an automated basis with a 140+ person global technology team. The company has been profitable almost since inception. They run weekly scrums to codify best practices and process learnings into their business logic in the cloud.

One of the greatest barrier to entry/competitive advantage in venture is that rare entrepreneur who has exceptionally deep domain knowledge and strong technology chops going after a gritty industry with a technology and elegance. They are rare. Flawed competitors fall into two major categories. One is the star technology team which doesn’t appreciate the traditions, relationships or behaviors of the industry. The other is the industry team with deep domain expertise that simply automates existing processes with complex, uncompelling technology. Mike Rothman is a true “unicorn” and visionary along with his star lieutenant, Marc Shiffman. Mike has a brilliance to see things that others simply can’t. They are exceptionally detailed oriented, highly complimentary to each other and able to translate complex business needs to technical requirement with tenacious speed while also seeing a larger strategic vision for the future. They also have a palpable sense of inevitability in their belief and have fused talent from industry, the Valley and the Midwest.

While SMS has a lot of hard work ahead of it to realize its full potential, it has done a number of things right:

  • conviction…when you talk with Mike Rothman, he has a Steve Jobs like inevitability about him. When there is setback, he figures out alternative plans A, B & C. He redefines tenacity. Jim Clark (founder WebMD, Netscape, etc) used to say “Great companies are built. They are willed into existence”
  • know your core advantage…early on, they realized their “tip of the spear” was technology and focused heavy resources on it, ramping the tech team from 10 to 140+. They are continuously automating and building business logic into the cloud which allows them to handle more locations & services with existing infrastructure. More locations/services gives greater density and lower operating costs, leading to lower pricing with strong profitability.
  • hire strong…Mike has hired strong management around him. Many founders under-hire, feeling intimidated. Mike has brought on stars like Shiffman from Ron Perlman, Matt Renner (top Oracle sales head), Mike Travalini (top RE ops manager from Starwood) and others.
  • focus…while the SMS platform could expand into Industrial or other sectors, they have stayed focused on where they can compound advantage/density in retail and now residential. Too often, firms grab opportunity wherever they can and do nothing well.
  • rapid execution…this team moves from concept/opportunity to implementation and test with significant speed. They rolled out a corporate portal for retail store managers to trigger/manage services in only 6 weeks. Many would over design this and take 6–8 months. Simplicity is king.

SMS has been a great partnership with Pritzker. They quickly follow-up on resources and opportunities we bring them (or promptly say “no thanks”). We introduced a top technologist and operator to them and they engaged him, pivoted their platform to the cloud, rolled out mobile and expanded their team. We introduced a major institutional REIT to them (SMS was only in retail at the time) and they rolled out a major residential offering, staffed up a residential team and ramped business to nine figures in less than a year. We introduced a top enterprise sales advisor to them and they re-engineered their sales organization, hired a top SRO from Oracle and brought on 10 “chairman club” calibre sales people from industry and the Valley. This is how culture, vision, execution and responsiveness all meet.

We love our companies that bring next generation solutions with real business models to real customers. Whether it is companies bringing new technology to old industries like Fleetmatics (NYSE: FLTX), TicketsNow (acquired by Ticketmaster), Eved or technology firms bringing innovation to emerging fields (Viv and x.ai in AI; Mapbox and Airmap in GeoSpatial/Drones; Augury in IoT; SpaceX in transport or Facebook in Social). Real is Mandatory and Substance is King.

These times are a-changin’. Business models and fundamentals will increasingly be tested. Many in this market have not been through a down turn nor can fully appreciate the magnitude of its implications. Whether you have a month or two years, take this time to pressure test your business and assess if you’ll be the benefactor or the victim in the coming cycle. Also, look around and see if you have the people around you (team, advisors, investors, board members, partners, etc) that will help you thrive during these times. As Warren Buffett always says, “when the tide pulls out, you see who is wearing a bathing suit”.

The 15 Year Tech Cycle: Reloading for Another Tour

“If you can see it, it isn’t the revolution.” — Steve Jurvetson

I wrote the following post in Nov, 2008. It demonstrated two things. 1) Tech and the stock market have a little dance they do…tech has roughly a 15 year cycle and the stock market has roughly a 7-8 year one and 2) tech is non-linear…just as FB/social was about to take off, many thought cleantech was going to be the next bellweather sector. If you can see it, it isn’t the revolution. It is possible that we are going to skip through this current cycle into a second one that goes to 2021 or 2022 due to the continuing decline in interest rates.

The markets in 2008 were very different. The banks were overexposed with bad real estate debt. Their current balance sheets are relatively clean. It is only when the banks get into trouble that the economy truly contracts as they pull in credit.  I wrote in June 2008 that I thought the venture/market cycle was coming to an end and this one in Nov 2008. Today, lot of people are going to cash and getting nervous about the market this year. Fortune 500’s are cutting ad spending for Q1 (some significantly) and I recently spoke to two elder ladies in a hotel lobby who were “short the market”. Also, more VC money was invested in 2014 than any year since 2000. So, while I believe in the 15 year tech cycle (e.g. things go boom in the night in the coming year), with this many people looking for it, it seldom hits. That said, probably not a good time to aggressively put money out and a good time to get your house in order. I’ll revisit as the year progresses…the IPO market vs. last private round valuations is a key metric to monitor.

From Nov, 2008:

“As the bad news keeps pouring in, a lot of people are wondering what we can expect in the coming years. Additionally, everyone is trying to figure out what hope exists. Well, I’ll give two thoughts on this (briefly).

First, the world of technology is driven by two factors: the laws of exponentials and the Black Swan. Progress does not occur linearly but exponentially. We can expect to see changes the magnitude of the past 100 years in just the next 20 years. This means a lot of people are going to a) be really busy and b) be dramatically better off. These changes will come from places you can’t predict (Black Swans). Market crashes and negative developments are not the only unexpected six sigma events.

Second, markets run in roughly 7 years cycles and technology in 15 year waves. Vacuum tubes to main frames to mini-computers (DEC) to PC’s (Apple/Microsoft) to the Internet. The next wave, then, should start in 2010-11 and hit full force in 2015-16. Many in the business (us, Kleiner, etc) feel this will be in Cleantech. The energy market is 10-20x the IT market. We are not talking about billion dollar markets but trillion dollar ones. There will be a lot of casualties but some enormous wins.

So, there us no doubt that life is really brutal today. But, prepare and get ready for enormous, explosive market opportunities. It’s going to be mindblowing.

So, I stick my neck out again typing on my small iPhone. I declared the old venture cycle dead last June. I am declaring the the next cycle, even bigger than the former, will kick in during 2010 with foundations forming by the end of next year. I also believe we will see 30-40% of remaining venture firms will not survive to see this through (food for another post)…

The Key Israeli Story: StartUp Nation

Larger Post coming…without appreciating the context (yesterday’s post), it is hard to fully grasp the origin nor significance of the tech renaissance that is taking place in Israel.  One has to see it to fully appreciate it. Much like Boston and Silicon Valley had its origins in military R&D and culture, Israel’s tech ecosystem also comes out of this. It has had innovation after innovation emerge from its advanced defense work. For example, ICQ (not AOL messenger) launched instant messaging onto the world and originally came from te Israeli Defense Force’s internal uses. Same with voicemail and many other innovations. Israel has some of the world’s best minds in Big Data, IT security software, messenging, telecom infrastructure, etc.  A lot of this is described in the book, Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Some of the numbers are eye-popping…one start-up per 2,000 people in the country for example. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Equally important is the Israeli resilience & tolerance for risk.  This is at the heart of the entrepreneurship.  When living in the charged environment discussed yesterday, you can’t help but to grow up with a DNA that accepts risk/change’s role in life and embraces the necessity of innovation.

I have to run to Tel Aviv’s accelerator, SOSA (their equivalent to Chicago’s 1871). More to come.

Up Close & Personal with Middle East Conflict

Today was one of the most memorable days of my life. Things in the Middle East got very real today. We spent the entire day on copters flying South to Gaza with the Israeli Defense Force and then North to Golan/Syria and Lebanon with Israel's "Wolf Blitzer".  We were 10 seconds away from Gaza's Hamas mortar batteries as well as 200 yards from Hezbollah's missile arsenals in Lebanon. We also looked out over Syria's massive civil war from the Golan Heights.
 
Region on Fire: My summary takeaway is that there is seismic change going on in the Middle East across nearly every country. Most of the countries in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, etc) were created arbitrarily by the British and French who took nomad (and warring) tribes and drew nation-state boundries around them (a concept foreign to them).  Each is now in the process of splintering apart into its Shiite, Sunni, Christian, etc sub-factions. The only thing that held these entities together were brutal dictators who used force/terror to bottle the 1700 year old genie (when Sunni & Shiites first split). Syria is splintering, Lebanon is getting bold, Gaza re-arms, Iraq is fracturing, the Palastinians are slow rolling and Iran races to go nuclear (while funding many of Shiite terrorist activities around). Israel sits in the middle, growing more resolute to take action while Europe prepares to impose its will on Israel and the US sits bewildered. It feels like something is going to go bang in the night coming up.
 
Breakfast w/the General: We started the day with bfast with Major General Amos Yadlin, the former head of the Israeli intelligence operations. He commented that much of the conflict is being driven by Sunnis vs Shiites vs secularists, especially their extreme branches. As a result, unnatural alliances are forming. Arabs vs Arabs, Arabs vs Israelis, Arabs with the west and against the west. Billionaires in Saudi Arabia funded initial ISIS activities but now, as ISIS has grown more radical, they have pulled back as ISIS condemns the Saudi secular rule. Hamas is in Gaza and Egypt is at war with fellow Arabs and allied with Israel. Hezbollah fights ISIS in Syria (terror organization vs terror organization). 
 
He commented that the region is struggling to find a form of government that both is consistent with its history/culture and yet brings it economic strength & political stability. It has tried monarchies, dictatorships, socialism, capitalism and now, the extreme factions are pulling it towards religious Islamic rule (unfortunately back into the dark ages).
 
Iron Dome Command Visit: We drove down to Palmachim military air base & the Iron Dome battery to see what few get to: inside the Cube which controls and launches the anti-missile systems (Iron Dome, David, Arrow, etc) protecting Israel from the South. We sat 20 ft from the control room in the bunker.
 
Israel has three levels of defense:
Iron Dome for short range…2-10 sec to respond to rockets usually from Gaza
   – this summer: 7,000 rockets fired, 7 casualties, 1-3 shelter trips per day in Tel Aviv
Arrow 2: 10-60 sec to respond, midrange missiles from Iran, Syria, etc
Arrow 3/Patriot: long range ballistic missiles with 2-10 min warning
 
Gaza/Hamas Mortars in the South: Egypt and Israel are allied in fighting Hamas both in Gaza and the Egyptian border. Our copters landed outside Ashood which is 10 secs from Gaza mortar and rocket launches. This is where the underground tunnels under the security border from Gaza emerged into Israel that were destroyed over the summer. Hamas spent $50-100m building these 32 cement encased tunnels. Weapons came through these which were up to 90 feet down. They took two years to build, some 2 miles long and up to $3m each. In the Eqyptian side, Egypt claims it destroyed over 600 smuggling tunnels into Gaza. Some are so large that vehicles can drive through.
 
Gaza is a tragedy.  It has the potential to become a key economic center for the Palastinians…it has a port, sits on both the Egyptian and Israeli borders and had plans to build a regional airport. However, it lacks a middle class, with almost 2m fifth generation Palastinian refugees there. As a result, it suffers economically and Hamas has stepped in (funded by Iran & others) to provide key resources like schools, shelters, food, etc.  In exchange, Hamas uses these same homes & schools as origination for tunnels into Israel.  Additionally, it fires its rockets & mortars from these urban centers.  As you can see from this photo, Israel sits with its Security wall (upper right) and much of the border & parts of the interior Gaza lay in rubble from counter strikes (left).
DSC_1833
 
Jerusalem the current flash point given the Palestinian driver attack and his subsequent killing by the police. When the security wall left 300,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side and milliins economically shut off from Israel on the other side. I found out today that the Palestinian's funeral was the night we were in Jerusalem and many were watching to see if anything erupted. Today, there are clashes as Palestinians on the Temple Mount throw rocks down at the Wailing wall attendees.
 
New Canvas: We then flew North by copter to the Golan Heights/Syria and Lebenon border). I had the good fortune to sit next to Alon Ben-David, Israel's "Wolf Blitzer". He had a surprising optimism for the potential of the region. He pointed out that every 100 years, you have a chance at a new canvas. With Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Kurds/Turkey and such all in flux, there was opportunity to bring parties to the table. The Palastinian issue seems to be a distant second to the Shiite/Sunni conflict across all countries.  The hope would be that with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Eqypt, PLA all united by the Shiite/ISIS threat, they combined with the US/Europe could be a force of positive redesign of Middle East. That said, with the Egyptian peace talks likely stalled, Hamas rebuilds its tunnels, Israel digs in and Arab/Israeli relations in Jerusalem grow more tense.
Me with Alon (Wolf) on the copter:
IMG_1028
 
 
Syria Is Splintering up North: Looking down from the Golan Heights, we could see the battle lines of the massive civil war in Syria (could drag out for 10 more years). The Asad regime has surpressed the Sunni/Shiite tensions underneath a brutal dictatorship. There are a dizzing array of factors battling each other in Syria..Shiite Hezbollah (Iran supported), Syrian Shiites and minority groups like Christians support Asad. Meanwhile, Sunni forces take various forms, ranging from Free Syria Army (supposedly a moderate consortia),  Jabhat al-Nustra (Syria's Al-Queda…middle) and ISIS (extreme Sunni) and 10 various rebel Sunni groups.  These extreme groups feel empowered with the overthrow of Mubarak & Huseein. Here is the Syrian panorama from Golan:
IMG_1041
 
Let Syria Burn…for many in the Middle East, Syria at war works well for them. Hezbollah is dragged into this, Syria is not a unified threat to Israel and ISIS shows itself to be barbaric. 
 
Lebanon Waking Dragon: In the last two weeks, Lebanon has begun to stir after 7 years of quiet. After the 2006/7 war where Israel drove all the way to Beruit and destroyed Hezbollah's buildings, it has kept its head relatively low. However, recently, it blew up an Israeli jeep using an IAD.  This renewed confidence is troubling. Hezbollah is backed by Iran through Syria. In the picture below (only 200 yards away), there are large houses built by Hezbollah for civilians.  There are over 100,000+ missiles, all larger, more accurate than those from Hamas, stored or even have built in firing silos. Iran has armed Lebanon as a deterent to Israel bombing its nuclear bomb efforts. Syria is critical to Lebanon as it is the direct route to Iran for weapons. If these missiles launch, they will do significant damage to Israel. 
IMG_1043
 
We returned back to Tel Aviv for dinner with the IDF 8200 Elite Intelligence unit…the best of the best. Quite a day.

Stunning Day in Jerusalem…Day 1

Quite the first day…cultural day in Jerusalem (minus our guide saying “all schools have cancelled trips to Jerusalem given events this week…”).   Landed at 8:30am and off to the races. We visited the Old City where we walked through the four quarters, touched the marble Jesus was supposedly laid on (post Cross) and the cave he was supposedly laid, all encompassed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. While being in the heart of all the unrest you see on CNN, you feel amazingly safe…more so than parts of many major US cities.  Crossing streets being the most risky times 🙂
 
Intriguing dinner with two of Israel’s top journalists who gave us their take on the region & country while we stared out the patio at the old City. The context was almost surreal as we spoke and I was literally looking out at the infamous Security Wall and the intersection of four cultures in the Old City. You could feel the energy of all this history and intersection. Pretty wild.
 
After dinner blew me away. We went to see the City of David's tunnels…wasn’t certain what to expect. I assumed this would be the minor part of the trip and looked forward to the Wailing Wall.  I was wrong.  We toured the excavations of the City of David that were just discovered in the past 5 years (used to be under a parking garage of all places).  Sitting underneath parked cars had sat 3,800 years worth of layered remains from 18 different civilizations stacked on top of each other (Persian, Roman, Jewish, etc).  They also found letters with seals from actual messengers mentioned in the Old Testament (Jeremiah). This is significant because it foots with the Bible, indicating that the Israeli’s did live in Palestine first (however, doubt will solve the Mideast crisis 🙂   They then took us down to tunnels from 560 bc that ran up from the City to the “Temple Mount” at the top of the Hill.  It still had pottery and ash marks from when the Romans drove the last Israelis out in 70 AD and people literally took their belongings and fled. Romans smoked the tunnels as they tried to escape.
 
We ended the night at the Wailing Wall. I have one of these in my office when dealing with portfolio companies!
 
The Former "Parking Garage"…3,800 years/18 different civilizations stacked on top of each other…!
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