Books to get Wet (and sandy)

Summer has always been my favorite reading season.  A good book and a beach chair is my idea of the perfect day. (Perhaps with a Corona in a coolie, but I’m off topic).

I just came off a great vacation visiting some spectacular people at some spectacular beaches – Stone Harbor, New Jersey and Rehobeth, Delaware.   I polished off 3 books in a week. Unfortunately the 3 books were the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy, but once started, I had to finish them. This got me thinking about some of my all-time favorite beach books. Strictly for entertainment purposes only, with the criteria for inclusion being: 1) doesn’t take much concentration to follow the story 2) able to read in less than a week of beach time 3) fun to talk about after 4) not on any school reading list.

 Avalon, New Jersey

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I read this when I was 14 years old in Avalon, New Jersey. All 1000+ pages of  it.  Ashley Wilkes, Rhett Butler, Scarlett O’Hara, Mammy.  When I was finished it my Cousin Jenny dove in.  She got to the last 50 pages and my brother threw the book in the bay.  She went in after it.


The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon

My first truly trash novel. Read when I was about 12 at Arden-on-the-Severn in Maryland.   All I can remember was that there was a lot of sex, betrayal, and a shocking scene involving a coat hanger. That book was read by every girl that visited our beach house that summer.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Maui, Hawaii

The Wildest Heart by Rosemary Rogers

This book had a wonderful purple cover featuring a picture of a red-haired vixen in a white flowing dress displaying her heaving bosom and a guy who looked like Fabio in leather britches.  Basic story …. Lady Rowena falls in love with a cowboy who teaches her how to love and ride bareback.  I read this book first during Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale and then again 20 years later in Maui. “Classics” like this always stand the test of time.


The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

In my opinion, this is one of Anne Rice’s most under-rated books. It’s a fascinating story about a family of witches and introduces a truly scary character called Lasher. The book takes place in the Garden District in New Orleans. The city is one of the main characters. I read this book in Bermuda and had a hard time sleeping because of it.

Bethesda, Maryland

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

This is the definitive vampire story for me. I read it one summer while staying at my grandmother’s in Maryland – not on the beach, but at the Pooks Hill YMCA.  I couldn’t go down in the basement again after reading this book.

Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

My beach tastes are pretty low-brow, but I read my favorite book every year and wonder what Miss Elizabeth Bennett would have thought about today.

Nags Head, North Carolina

Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice

I have to admit that I read this book after seeing the movie with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. It’s a wonderfully entertaining read and probably her best book.

Crane’s Beach, Ipswich, Massachusetts

The Bridges of Madison County  by Robert James Waller

This isn’t quite smutty enough for a beach book, but it’s such a great read I had to mention it. The idea of carrying a torch her whole life for a man she’d spent only 3 days with seems unbelievably romantic. And the idea that she kept this secret to her death equally so.  I read it in one sitting on Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding

Pure, unadulterated junk food told through Bridget’s diary entries made for a great read. I could relate to binging on ice cream,  counting the calories of one Ritz cracker, embarrassing myself at work, and finding the love of my life wearing a reindeer sweater.  The fact that the love interest was called Mark Darcy didn’t hurt either.

Not exactly a reading list to be proud of, but rather, a reading list that brought me hours of pure fun and a good tan. No guilt about either!

What’s on your list? I won’t tell!

In Good Company at LAUNCH EDUCATION!

We had the opportunity to participate in the Launch Education Conference this week. This was  a great event for Ed-Tech entrepreneurs, which started with event lead Jason Calcanis opening with a quote from Pixar’s Ratatouille “Take Care of the New Ones” …. As in the new Start-ups! reviewed 300 different EdTech start-ups to identify 25 to present at this event. I was thrilled that Fingerprint was selected and had the opportunity to share our work with over 400 Teachers, Investors, and Entrepreneurs.   I’m biased towards products that inspire a love of learning AND can be shared between parents and kids.

Here’s some things I’m excited about:

Timbuktu is an Italian based start-up working on an App based magazine for kids. Featuring amazingly beautiful design and content created by renowned authors, this is something wonderful to check out.  I think about it like a modern day Weekly Reader.

Ciufcia (pronounced something like Choo-Choo)  is a start-up from Poland.  They’ve created a web based experience called Duckie Deck. It’s designed for parents or grandparents and kids to play together. They have some very cute games that are designed to create conversations between parents and kids, which I like quite a lot.  Ciufcia stated that ½ of  families in Poland have tried this product. Soon they will be in the App Store here in the US.

Playtell has created a unique app based reading experience that lets Parents and Kids read together. It’s kind of a mash-up of Skype and Interactive books that let’s families read together even when they’re apart. It’s a cool feature!

Start-up Tipitap presented something very fun called HappiTap.  Happitap turns your iPhone into a cuddly stuffed animal.  The phone slips easily into an animal “costume” and becomes the brains of the plush toy.  Happitap is as if Teddy Ruxpin used an iPhone instead of an electronic chip.  Tipitap has created a platform that seems perfect for licensed characters!

Fingerprint wasn’t launching anything new at LAUNCH EDUCATION, but we still had fun and got great feedback from the judges. “You’re Rocking”,  “Love it”, “Very Smart” to name a few!   Here’s a picture of me pitching my heart out.

Great to see so many wonderful companies creating apps that unite families around learning!  It will be fun to watch what happens next.

Thoughts on Books on the Shelf

ImageImageImageEven though I’m the owner of 2 iPads, a Kindle, and a Nook, yesterday I started reading a real book. Not a book from a bookstore, but a book I picked up out of my husband’s grandmother’s house, Frieda Putnam sometime around 1995.   She was about 85 years old, living in a duplex  in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania with a bookshelf filled with dozens of books purchased at used  stores, rummage sales, or handed over from friends.  She was moving into an old-age home and insisted that I take some of her books since I would “appreciate them”.

I remember selecting a handful of books just to humor her.  To make her feel that  these books she had so lovingly collected would actually mean something to me or someone in the future.  I chose five books.  The first was Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Dafoe. I figured that my son Ben, who was then 4 years old would enjoy reading it when he was a teenager.  The second was a Children’s Anthology of Poetry and Nursery Rhymes. My daughter Cate was 2 and I thought I could read it to her at bedtime. The third was a  learn-to-draw book published in the 1940’s. Frieda grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, but she said that her father had been a famous artist / photographer in San Francisco.  He may have been associated with this book somehow.  The fourth was Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Suzanne.  I’d seen the cheesy movie and thought this might be a fun beach read.    The last was a book I really wanted to read, The Drifters by James Michener.  I’m not sure why this book attracted me, but it did. Certainly the cover art wasn’t a big sell!

Fast forward to today. Since that day in Lansdowne, PA in 1995 we’ve lived in Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, and now San Francisco. And the books have followed us,  sadly undisturbed for 15 years, just waiting to be read.

Yesterday was the big day. I wanted a book.  A real book. And there on the shelf was The Drifters.  Based in 1968, it tells the story of 6 diverse teenagers finding themselves exotic locations from Spain to Africa finding the meaning of life.  At page 150, something fluttered out of the book. It was a utility bill from Maine in 1972. This got me wondering about the man William Swadel in Orono, Maine who’d originally bought the book.    By page 300 something else appeared. A folded up American History test. Apparently that Mr. Ahearn was a real toughy.

I know the world has moved on to digital and I’m there, too, but honestly, nothing can beat a real book. The wonder of where the book has been. The joy of imagining everyone who has read it before me. A shared experience – over decades and miles. Only fitting that the book that inspired this was The Drifters.

Attention Grabbing Headline

Yesterday I had the thrill of reading an article about my company, Fingerprint in my local paper, The Marin Independent Journal, affectionately known as the “IJ”. Great article. The reporter told our story well and made me a minor celebrity for a day here in Mill Valley.  I also got to take the physical paper and hang it up on the bulletin board at Fingerprint World Headquarters ….. our first print press coverage. Very exciting!

The crazy thing is that I’ve been stewing over the headline, “Mill Valley woman launches new educational game company”.  Seriously?  If a man had started Fingerprint would the headline have read “Man launches new educational game company”?   My first gaming job was at Broderbund Software. Started right here in Marin, by Doug and Gary Carlson. Somehow I doubt the “IJ”  wrote “Two men launch educational gaming company”.  You get my point.

This comes on the heels of last week’s congressional hearing on whether or  not religious related employers should be required to cover the birth control pill and other forms of contraception in their health insurance plans.  All the people testifying were men. Seriously?  It’s probably not surprising since less than 20% of Congress is women and there are very few  senior level women on Obama’s team.

Aileen Lee from Kleiner Perkins wrote a post on Tech Crunch this week titled “Why your next board member should be a woman”.     She goes on to discuss that while women are 51% of the population, they make up only 15% of Fortune 500 boards of directors and even less of California tech company boards.  Over 50 people posted comments to this article,  most questioning her point of view. Mostly men commenting.

I love that the “IJ” showcased me and Fingerprint, but let’s re-write the headline …  and maybe the future. How about something clever like “Hot Gaming Start-up began in Mill Valley” !

A special thanks to Samantha Mercier and JK Rowling.

So much has been written about Harry Potter.  As millions line up for the final movie, “Deathly Hallows, Part 2”,  I’m reminded of that first book and what that book did for me as a Mom.

My son Ben was in 3rd grade, 9 years old. His teacher at Spofford Pond Elementary School, Samantha Mercier had been to London over spring break and came back with a new book to read the class after lunch. It was called “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”.  She read this book to the class in 15 minute segments every day.

It started simply enough. I’d ask Ben  “How was school?”.  One day he answered “Harry has a scar like a lightning bolt”.  Another day he answered  “Harry can play Quidditch” and “Harry can talk to Snakes”.   Soon he was talking about Harry Potter non-stop. Complete obsession.  Through Ben I learned about a giant named Hagrid, a school named Hogwarts, and He Who Must Not Be Named.  Just what was this Harry Potter?  It seems obvious now, but not in the beginning.

I stopped by the classroom one morning to ask the intrepid Mrs. Mercier about this book  that had so captivated my son. She said the kids begged her to keep reading it beyond the 15 minutes each day and that she had started rewarding good behavior  with additional reading minutes.  Wow … a book that 9-year olds can’t stop reading?

By June the book was done and Harry Potter had emerged as  the “every kid” hero.  On the last day of school Ben came home from Miss Mercier’s class with a package. Taped to his report card was a book,   “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, the UK edition.  This  public school teacher had purchased a copy of the second book for every child in her third grade class.    My son read that book in 3 days straight and proclaimed it the BEST BOOK EVER.  Harry Potter may have been the hero, but the real hero was Samantha Mercier. Maybe the BEST TEACHER EVER for inspiring a love of reading .

I’ll watch the last movie this weekend and will be a little  sad to see the end of this beloved series, but I’m sure that Harry Potter will hold a special place for all the kids who grew up with Harry. And for all the Moms and Dads who got to live the experience of growing up with Harry Potter – both the kid in the book and the kids in our house, say a thank you to JK Rowling for inspiring a life long love of reading and the excitement when the Fedex truck appeared  with 3 copies of the Deathly Hallows so that no one had to wait to read it .

Click still needs Brick. Kind of.

People who know me know that I like to shop. Maybe it’s my early days working in sales and calling on virtually every major retailer from Wal*Mart to ToysRUs,  Office Depot to Best Buy, Target to CompUSA that’s given me an appreciation for smart merchandising, great customer service, and the benefits of being in stock. Or maybe I just like to see the constant innovation that is retail. There’s always something new.

This month I’m outfitting the new world headquarters of Fingerprint Digital. All 1625 glorious square feet of it.  I started my journey where all self-respecting start-ups do …. Online at Ikea.  Choose a couple tables, pick some chairs,  maybe a bookcase, 30 minutes and done, right?  Not so fast.  The pictures looked great. Very stylish and cheap, too. I started ordering.   Until I got to the Galant Birch Veneer conference table.   “This item can’t be ordered online”.  Why not?  No explanation given.  So I was left with a dilemma – order everything else and pay the $100 shipping or go to the store, buy it all in person and have my husband cart it home in his new Ford F-150 pick-up. I opted for the store, navigated the directions “find this item in Aisle 9, Bin 27” and purchased my entire office set-up in less than 30 minutes. Pretty cool, except  I had wanted to buy it online and avoid the whole store thing.  The store visit also saved me from buying a bright orange vinyl sofa that looked amazing online, but was dreadfully tacky in person.

The next task was White Boards.  I figured Staples was the logical place. They have the big red “Easy” button, right? And the free shipping on orders over $100. A quick online search showed me over 200 different White Board related SKUs on ranging in price from $229 to $500 for a 4X6 size, which was way out of my price zone. I then checked Amazon where prices were as low as $100 for virtually the same item.  Since it seemed to good to be true, I went over to Staples to check it out. They had a nice White Board display with a sign that said “ask us about 4×6”  and a price of  $109.  After searching for someone to ask, I went to the self service computer, typed in the SKU number only to have it say “Not Available in Store”.   Interesting. Item not available online. Item not available in store. Just where might this Staples item be available? Office Depot?  Frustrated I found a sales guy with a big red “Easy” button on his shirt. We discussed the White Board.  He didn’t bother looking at the computer. He walked me back into the warehouse and found the item and told me that sometimes the computer system just gets it wrong.  I bought the 2 White Boards and then realized that I’d have my personal delivery guy (aforementioned husband with pick-up truck) come get them. The warehouse guy took down my name on a post-it note and literally stuck it to the register. He said “tell your husband to ask for Bob”.   Bob made the big red “Easy” button a reality – even though multiple processes at Staples had failed.

In the same week I also experienced Home Depot (A+ for customer service, C for stock), Costco (A+ and the coffee maker I bought was 30% less than at Bed Bath and Beyond), Best Buy (ordered online, picked up in store A+ and the whole transaction took less than 10 minutes), and the AT&T Store (don’t get me started).  I had the best experience of all  with Wal* Next time I might start with there!

Undoubtedly I could have bought everything from Amazon, saved a lot of time and maybe money.  But like I said, I like to shop ….. and the reminder I got about creating an amazing customer experience – no matter what the business made the challenges at retail worth the trouble.

The dreaded business review

For anyone who has ever led a Business Review, I feel for you. In my old life …. At LeapFrog, LucasArts, Hasbro, the Business Review was something to be feared by everyone involved.

Back in the day at Hasbro  there was the IBR or Internal Business Review. This was a practice run where you got a lot of “super helpful feedback” from the division leadership in preparation for the big show, otherwise known as the MBR or Management Business Review. At the MBR everyone banded together and hoped the guy from corporate wouldn’t say something like “Nobody will buy toys and games about Pirates”. I did see the toy Bop It ! for the first time at an IBR and knew I was seeing something big.

At Lucas there was a Business Review style meeting whose acronym I have forever blotted from my memory. All I can tell you is that the production values of these power point slides was very high and sometimes, more important than the content.  The entertainment value of the demos was amazing. The room was always standing room only because nearly anyone from a QA lead  to the guy who played the official Chewbacca at events would  attend and be called upon to comment on everything from “what’s the right Macguffin for the Next Indy Game” to the overuse of the phrase “for the first time ever”.

At LeapFrog Business Reviews were a full-contact sport requiring literally hundreds of slides.  The brilliant MBAs we hired were nicknamed Deck-Monkeys because they did so much powerpoint. The Business Reviews did generate some fun future catch-phrases such as : “Discuss the Undiscussable” and “Rip the Bandaid Off”, but every once in a while  one of the teams would give a fantastic musical performance of a new learning song, that would remind everyone why working for a kids company is so special ….. “The A says ahh, the A says ahh, every letter makes a sound the A says ahh” ….

Today was the first Business Review for Fingerprint.  There were slides and there were demos, but mostly, there was great conversation about the product and the business.  There were some moments – like when the investor asked whether we had considered making a boy version of our Fairy Princess game that reminded me of Hasbro, Lucas, and LeapFrog for the sheer hilarity of the comment, but it passed with some laughs. Fun to think about the past, but even more fun to think about the future – a Business “Preview” so to speak.  Eventually we’ll have business results to share, but right now it is fun and energizing just to think about the future!

In touch with reality

Embarrassing revelation ….. I have been watching reality TV.  I’d like to say it’s because of the rainy winter we’ve had here in San Francisco, but that wouldn’t be completely true. Other than American Idol, I’m not actually a “fan” of any reality TV show, but I have been stumbling upon random episodes and finding them kind of intriguing.  I’ve never watched Survivor or Big Brother. I find the very idea of the Bachelor revolting. Dancing with the Stars, America’s Got Talent, America’s Next Top Model are just too contrived to interest me.   But as a marketer, I find the business challenges these shows present  an  experiment in product integration and celebrity promotion that’s just fascinating.

Here’s what I’ll admit to watching at least once !

The Celebrity Apprentice is a great study in  teams and leaders at work. Set the strategy, create a plan, assign tasks, execute.  Watching LaToya Jackson develop a marketing concept for Australian Gold Tanning product and mobilize a team made up of Star Jones and one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta is truly something to see. In real life, co-workers don’t scream at each other and tell the boss you should be fired, but these Apprentices sure do.  My favorite part is watching the executives from the integrated promotional company – usually the CEO and CMO evaluate the challenges and provide feedback to the celebrity contestants.  They’re a lot nicer than bosses in the real world.

The Next Great American Restaurant features my hero Bobby Flay  and the founder of Chipotle helping wannabe entrepreneurs develop a national food concept.  This showcase is a testament to the need for General Management.  Create a brand promise, develop a product, hire a team,  and manage for performance.  Oh, and know how to cook .  It’s interesting to see that in the chain restaurant business the marketing is as important as the food and the contestants that recognize that win.  Clearly the contestant with a concept called “Saucy Balls” doesn’t see that.

The Shark Tank is a show where small business owners pitch a group of  celebrity venture capitalists.  The entrepreneurs tend to be pretty colorful and the products range from the practical  (Ride On, Carry On child seat to get your kid through the airport) to fad  (Vertigo Pogo Sticks).  The “Sharks” are led by Kevin O’Leary,  the guy responsible for $3.2 billion sale of Learning Company to Mattel.  He “helps” the entrepreneur understand valuation, investment, and deal making.  This show is separated into four segments. 1) The Pitch.  The entrepreneurs create a dramatic presentation showing the product 2) The Ask.  How much money do you need and why?  3) The Feedback.  Here’s where it gets fun. Invariably, the “Sharks” disagree and give conflicting feedback to the contestant 4) The Negotiation. An offer is made. Or not.

What are you watching?

Meet for Coffee?

Today I had coffee in  The Depot in Mill Valley next to a guy who looked exactly like his Bull Dog . Actually, he looked exactly like Winston Churchill, who looked kind of like a Bull Dog. The man was conducting a job interview for a personal assistant. My guess is that dog walking was part of the job description.

This got me thinking about all the places I’ve been meeting people.  Here’s some of my more memorable and favorite  spots ….

Crossroads Café. Delancey Street San Francisco. Also a combo bookstore and café. The place doesn’t have Wifi, which is super annoying, but they do have great soup and super comfy couches perfect for meeting the guy who will a) design your website b) write your living will c) sell you Giants tickets off Craig’s List.

Starbucks. Menlo Park. Down the street from Sandhill Road, this place is crawling with entrepreneurs putting finishing touches on their pitches in preparation for VC meetings. They card you at the door to make sure you’ve attended Stanford, Harvard, MIT, or Cal.

Town Hall. Howard Street, San Francisco. This is one of my favorite restaurants. Amazingly good New Orleans style cooking made with California fresh ingredients. In the past 3 months I’ve eaten there 8 times and never had to pay ☺ That’s one benefit to eating with heads of business development, investors, and agents.

Bucks. Woodside. My CTO introduced me to this place. They actually have a lobster quesadilla on the menu, which is amazing plus the hostess’ name is Nancy. Last week I ate there with one of the founder’s of The Learning Company and was super inspired.

The Grove. Mission Street, San Francisco. Love this place. It reminds me of a the cafeteria at Stowe Mountain, Vermont minus the hot chocolate and clomping ski boots. Developers seem to like to meet here. It’s an art trying to do a demo while balancing your bowl of oatmeal and vanilla latte, but business gets done here.

Sears Fine Foods. Powell Street, San Francisco. This place is an historic landmark known for it’s Swedish Pancakes. When people come to town and stay at the Westin St. Francis or Sir Francis Drake, this is where they want to meet. The tables are squeezed really close together. Last time I was there the tourists at the next table listened to my whole pitch and actually took a picture of me demoing.

Honorable mentions to: SFO Airport Marriott (convenient and wifi), Mel’s Diner on Lombard Street (nice booth to demo in + free diet coke refills), Dish in Mill Valley (can walk there from my house), Starbucks Anywhere (obviously).

Where’s your favorite meeting spot?

Number 239,223

Imagine my excitement when I saw Reid Hoffman’s name in my inbox. Reid Hoffman is the founder of LinkedIn and a pretty connected guy. I immediately thought …. Wow, he’s heard about Fingerprint and wants to know more ……

Actually, what he wanted was this:

So this wasn’t as cool as having a well known investor reach out about my start-up, but it was, in it’s own way, pretty awesome. Imagine being the 239223rd person to sign up of over 100MM. Early adopter, baby.

I remember the day I joined LinkedIn. Sitting at my desk at Atari in Beverly, Massachusetts looking outside at the snow. I actually remember the person who invited me – a sales guy from AOL. I remember thinking, ugh, this is probably another Plaxo – useful only for recruiters and sales people.

But very quickly LinkedIn became important. I got excited at every milestone. 50 Connections. 100 Connections. 500 Connections. I had my own journey with LinkedIn. There was a moment one day that I realized the Mike Edwards at CompUSA was the same Mike Edwards I’d gone to Drexel with and thought – this could be pretty useful. And the first time I messaged my network asking for Marketing Director referrals and got 40 resumes in one day (which incidentally was 37 more than the Recruiting Department had generated in three weeks). Or the day I posted CEO, Fingerprint Digital on my profile and got dozens of messages asking what I was up to ( aka can I join you?).

I check LinkedIn everyday. Not quite as addictive as Facebook, but compelling still.  My top 5 uses:

1. Check to see who’s looked at my profile.

2. Check to see who wants to make a connection.

3. Check my Message Box.

4. See what’s new with my Groups.

5. Check to see who LinkedIn thinks I might want to connect with. (Very “Six Degrees Of Separation”)

So I like being number 239223. And kudos for LinkedIn for 100MM users and counting, but it would be cool if Reid Hoffman emailed me about Fingerprint, too.

Find me on linkedin