Ernest Grumbles III

Ernest Grumbles III is an IP (intellectual property) and business development attorney at the Minneapolis firm Adams Monahan, where he works with entrepreneurs and early stage, tech-oriented enterprise. He is also Co-Founder of MOJO Minnesota, a collective supporting entrepreneurs and promoting innovation policy and community in Minnesota. He enjoys fresh air and lots of caffeine and is constantly trying new things (instead of sleeping). He may be reached at: egrumbles@adamsmonahan.com.

Posts about Society

MN Radical CEO #3 - Sona Mehring (CaringBridge.org)

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: October 27, 2010 - 10:19 PM

 If you have to ask who Sona Mehring is, you’re missing the big story. Mehring is a leading tech entrepreneur in Minnesota and certainly among the great women tech entrepreneurs in the U.S. Armed with a computer science degree from U.W.-Eau Claire, she has led the creation of a number of Minnesota tech service and consulting companies, with software related to online ordering systems and fantasy sports leagues, among other things. Her vision early in the days of the internet was to how to use this new powerful technology to serve people. 

In 1997, she set up the first CaringBridge site to help a friend with a difficult pregnancy. Built on “compassion technology,” CaringBridge.org has become one of the most successful online healthcare community sites in the world and certainly one of the most successful web properties to come out of Minnesota. It is a standard place around the world for families experiencing medical challenges to share information with their social group and get support and connection. In the last twelve months, the site had more than 42 million unique visitors. All this from a non-profit that was originally a side project! This is true game-changing internet technology. Forget about Zuckerberg and Bezos. We have Mehring!
 
Sona Mehring Facts:
 
  • Mehring graduated with a computer science degree from U.W.-Eau Claire in 1983.
  • She has been a software engineer/consultant for large enterprise, including General Dynamics, Unisys and GMAC ResCap.
  • Mehring has led the creation of several software/tech companies, including Beacon Point Technologies, Plan Analytics, Inc. and Diamond Computer Solutions.
  • She founded CaringBridge in 1997 and incorporated it as a non-profit in 2002.
  • With a tiny marketing budget and supported almost completely by individual donations of $65 or less, the CaringBridge website gets traffic from all 50 states and more than 225 countries and gets monthly unique visitors in the 2-3 million range (2.4 million in Sept. 2010 – compete.com). 
  • The CaringBridge site has 100s of 1000s of individual medical info sharing sites, which are privacy-controlled by users and blocked from indexing by search engines, spiders and bots. 
  • Among Mehring’s awards/recognitions are: 
    • One of 25 Women Industry Leaders in the Twin Cities in 2009 by Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.
    • Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for outstanding service to the community in 2008.
    • Recognition by MSN.com in 2006 as one of the U.S.’s leading Women Working for Change.
    • 2004 Volvo for Life Award Nominee.
Sona Mehring Quotes:
  • “There wasn’t anything where you could just make a few clicks and set up your own webpage [when we started CaringBridge in 1997].”
  • “CaringBridge meets an event-based need… We have to be in that event-awareness bubble.”
  • Families have told CaringBridge that “this type of service helped them the most throughout their [hospital] experience.”
  • “Facebook is all about you. CaringBridge is all about someone else. But Facebook is a great channel for us… to spread awareness.”
  • “The spirit that CaringBridge was founded on was that I always wanted it to be free… and free from obtrusive ads. This is a very sensitive and important conversation that’s going on, and it needs to be protected and sacred.”

 Adapted from a blog post on www.tech.mn.

MN Radical CEO #2 - Ashish Gadnis (Forward Hindsight/Koozala)

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: August 18, 2010 - 8:42 AM

 

Ashish Gadnis, Radical CEO (Forward Hindsight; Koozala)

Ashish Gadnis, Radical CEO (Forward Hindsight; Koozala)

Born in India, Ashish Gadnis moved to Minnesota in the 1990’s where he has since built a successful consulting firm speaking truth to power (Forward Hindsight), recently launched a personal electronic medical portal for consumers (Koozala) and (in his spare time) travels the globe working to end world hunger.  Just another day’s work for this radical CEO who clearly understands the connection between business and social progress.

Ashish Gadnis Facts:

Born in India, moved to Minnesota in 1990s.  Attended college in Bombay and received MBA from Carlson.

  • Co founder and CEO of Forward Hindsight (management consulting firm) and founding CEO of Koozala.
  • Has history with TIES and Fourth Generation Inc., which he left in 2004 to create Forward Hindsight, offering aggressive enterprise tech consulting  to clients like Best Buy, Caribou Coffee and AirTran.
  • Started Koozala in 2009 to let consumers have an easy way to manage and access their personal medical records.  Currently in use, with the University of Minnesota as an initial enterprise partner.
  • He has an express “no ego” philosophy.  If you hire Ashish, expect him to listen carefully and then tell you what needs to change in your organization in unvarnished terms (even if it means firing the CEO).
  • Nominated and selected as one of a few hundred Young Global Leaders for the World Economic Forum in 2009 (the gathering in Davos, Switzerland attended by Bono, Bill Clinton and others).
  • Has a stated goal of retiring by age 45 so he can focus exclusively on solving world hunger and sustainable business in emerging markets.
  • Author of workbook Sustainable Disruption, which shows how the use of sustainable disruption can bring focus into an organization.

Ashish Gadnis Quotes:

  • “There are so many smart people [in Minnesota] buried in large corporations.”
  • 3 Things that will make MN more innovation-friendly are: (a) “CEO’s here need to get balls to take risks”;  (b) “get the local investment money in motion”; (c) “try incubators and innovation zones” to get new businesses started.
  • “My reputation is pretty polarizing.  50% of the people hate my guts.” “One time a CEO introduced me to a group and said I was hired to be an asshole.  I think that’s a compliment.”
  • Minnesota has a “passive, lukewarm business environment” dominated by “an old boys’ network,” but also has “a lot of cool people who can build cool companies” and a “very strong education baseline that absolutely needs to be highlighted.”
  • “Within the next decade, Minnesota could be like Silicon Valley, but it will take a mix of people from outside and inside Minnesota [to make it happen].”

(Adapted from post on Tech.MN)

Memorial Day and the Loss of Gravity

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: May 31, 2010 - 10:22 AM

 

This Memorial Day weekend, did you spend more time thinking about what kind of beer and brats you'd buy for your picnic than about the 1.2 million who have given their lives in uniform? Did the latter even cross your mind?

Yes, the President will be speaking platitudes (truthful) today about the courage and tragedy of those who lost their lives. But, I would wager that most people, while aware that Memorial Day is a federal holiday to commemorate our military dead, are indifferent to the gravitas of this holiday. Setting aside your position on the propriety of more recent armed conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam), one thing you know for certain: many persons, typically young and working-class, have given their life wearing a U.S. uniform.

How to account then for the fact that this very serious holiday has become little more than the official start of summer? There are several forces at work, and I will try to parse them out.

Americans are Uncomfortable with Mortality

For a country remarkably comfortable with violent movie content and a high murder rate, we are uncomfortable with mortality. If we can avoid it, we do. Thus the proliferation of every possible treatment or surgery on the body to avoid signs of aging. If we are 60, we want to look 40. Memorial Day is a day to deal with the fact that our nation has lost 1.2 million soldiers and sailors acting at our direction (yes, we're a democracy). Since we're uncomfortable with this reality, and our own mortality, we have transitioned Memorial Day into a vapid summer launch celebration.

Americans Don't Like Downers

In a similar vein as the previous example, American are relentlessly optimistic and avoid undue analysis of their actions. We are not a moody people and don't like to dwell on the past, much less a bloody past (except when we re-enact Civil War battles - which we'll then ignore on Memorial Day). It probably would've made sense to have memorial periods after major conflicts and wars (like a 10-year period), give the dead their due and then "bury" that particular war in a proper way. Of course, we would not then have a 3-day weekend for decades. In a strange way, this is a strength - we can avoid replaying bloody history (as in Ireland, Rwanda etc...) by simply forgetting it.

Americans Ignore War Dead if They're Poor

While we enjoy violence as entertainment, our middle and upper middle classes have largely left the dirty business of the battlefield to the children of hard-working folks of rural areas and the inner city. With no draft, we have a regressive military - where the tax of death is meted out in greater quantity on the poor. Since the poor are a downer (see above), we tune out their deaths (like the thousands lost in the Middle East in the last nine years). In World War II and Vietnam, when the draft was still in place, everyone knew someone who had served (both my step-dad and father-in-law served in the Navy) and knew someone who died in war. This maintained a sense of community purpose and sacrifice. With the loss of a heterogeneous military, we have less reason to focus on the tragic aspect of Memorial Day.

War Now Polarizes

In recent decades, it has been more difficult to maintain citizen unity around military action (for better or worse). With the internet, we all have access to information (at least pseudo-information) and routinely reach our own conclusions about whether we should go into a certain war. This discernment started in Vietnam, though the average American then was not an anti-war protestor. With our complex political transitions from 1980 to the present day, partisan politics has smothered traditional patriotism. Our government has been challenged to develop common purpose around something as innocuous as a new national park, much less an endeavor of the scope of war. The political rancor over the "War on Terror," albeit justified, has compromised our ability, or willingness, to deal with the very real tragedy of lost lives and broken families.

All Holidays Drift Toward Oblivion of Meaning

Maybe this is too obvious. We can all complain that our particular pet holidays have become compromised through material culture (Turkey Day, Fireworks Day, Present Day, Egg Day... and the list goes on). In some ways, the holidays that still work are ones with little gravity or historical complexity to begin with - Halloween, Valentine's Day, New Year's Day). We can simply enjoy them and not have to worry about ignoring their real purpose (enjoying them is the purpose!). But to see holidays with religious or historical significance drift into "3-day weekends" and occasions to sell products or intoxicating beverages is a little disheartening.

Perhaps the end was near for Memorial Day in 1968 when Congress changed several federal holidays to the certain Monday of a certain week of the month. We would celebrate the holiday, but only if it gave us a long weekend. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a WWII vet, has tried for years without success to move Memorial Day back to its original May 30th date.

Vesting holidays with substance has become a matter of personal choice - not common social purpose or obligation. When you enjoy your Memorial Day picnic with family, and you should, will you remember the 1.2 million? Balance levity with gravity on this Memorial Day and keep in mind the sacrifice others have made for the safety of our Republic.

 

Minnesota Radical CEO #1 - Matt Dornquast - Code 42 Software

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: May 29, 2010 - 4:11 PM

In an earlier post, I raised the question “Who are Minnesota’s Radical CEO’s?”  Why again does this matter? If we want Minnesota to remain a hub of tech innovation and jobs, we need business leaders who get the connection between business, people and place. 

I went searching and found a worthy first Radical CEO: Matt Dornquast of Code 42 Software.  Dornquast has built a dynamic and successful Minnesota tech company even through the downturn. And he has an express purpose to help nurture the Minnesota tech ecosystem. This is not just aspiration. He has turned down multiple VC deals that would've required him to move the company out of Minnesota.  In this era, that’s radical – and that’s true community vision. 

Key Facts:     
 
  • Matt Dornquast, CEO and Co-Founder of Code 42 Software and home of CrashPlan - founded in 2003.
  • Interned at Minnesota innovation pioneer Control Data in high school and coded in assembly language for seven years by the time he got to college. Knows Minnesota’s amazing information tech heritage – but is aimed at new benchmarks.
  • Has built CrashPlan into the #3 online backup provider in the United States (after Mozy and Carbonite) with worldwide distribution. CrashPlan grew 400% during this recent economic downturn period (how many tech companies can say that?)
  • Maintains a collaborative work environment and focus.  Describes people and culture as the most important ingredients for perpetual success.
  • Has created “startups” inside large tech companies – yes, that’s possible. Has worked with pods of very creative people who are pushing innovation from deep inside large enterprise.
  • Has turned down numerous deals from West Coast and local VC’s because he believes firmly that Minnesota tech successes should stay here to enrich and develop the environment.  Not interested in “flipping” companies. Wants Code 42 to be the great Minnesota tech/software company that didn’t leave. 
  • Thinks Minnesota is a “10” as a place to launch new tech enterprise: smart people, great work ethic, access to capital.   Positive attitude always welcome!
  • Actively encourages potential Minnesota entrepreneurs to weigh risk and reward and jump on chances to build something new when they can.  Wants entrepreneurship taught early – by teachers and parents!
  • Mentors other local storage companies (his future competitors?!?) and is involved with local seed-capital efforts for startups (MinneSpark). Wants local money to move more freely.
  • Wants 3 great consumer-facing tech brands based here (the likes of Google, YouTube etc…).  And he means it.

With Radical CEO’s like this, we can maintain and expand our amazing Minnesota innovation culture.  Who's next?

Who are Minnesota's Radical CEO's? And Why We Need Them.

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: April 26, 2010 - 7:38 AM

Does Minnesota have any “radical CEO’s”?  I’ve asked this question many times, and I usually get blank looks or, “I can’t really think of any.”  Why is this a problem?  First, you have to understand what a radical CEO is.  My definition is: a CEO who (a) understands the effect that their company has on the socio-economic, political and cultural circumstances of their workers, customers, investors and partners and (b) is able to articulate and share a credible vision for the company’s role in improving those circumstances (beyond mere foundations and donations).  
 
Radical CEO’s, who are, in larger enterprises, analogous to political figures, understand the clear connection between what their business is trying to sell and its cultural and social impact.  This is obviously a vital business skill in the sense that to be able to sell products and services well, you need to understand the environment that you are trying to sell into.  But I think there is an aspect of how radical CEO’s operate that shows that they are fundamentally concerned with both the economic and social impact of their enterprises.   
 
Here are three random examples:  Steve Jobs (CEO, Apple - no groans); John Chambers (CEO, Cisco); Lynn Elsenhans (CEO, Sunoco).   
 
Why Jobs?  Do I have to answer?  The guy gets the connection between great design and the cultural and social forces it engenders.  Jobs understands the impact of technology on human lives and cares enough about that impact to create things of beauty that provide entertainment and accessibility for millions of people.  I recently read a quote that said that “I would buy tissue paper from Apple if they sold it.”  This is also why my 69-year old non-techno mother told me a few days ago that her relatively new iPhone was “one of the best things she’s ever had.”  Does this mean Jobs is not robustly trying to grow profits and market share?  Of course not.  But in our age of fickle consumers, you don’t get those without connecting company and culture.   
 
 
Why Chambers?  Consumers are demanding accountability and connection in communication with the people that sell the things they buy and radical CEO’s are willing to engage in that conversation.  In fact they encourage it and facilitate it.  Chambers figured out that his company, known for building routers and switches, is really about communication and collaboration.  The networks and systems the company develops and innovates are about connecting people – not machines.  And the philosophy starts at home – with Cisco’s dismantling of traditional corporate hierarchies and information pathways in favor of open innovation and communication.  Chambers is now facilitating the creation of entire wired cities in Asia
 
Why Elsenhans?  This former basketball player and math major from Rice, one of the 15 women CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, is making an oil company an advocate for environmental change.  How many oil companies are advocating for climate change legislation, an increase in federal gas tax and move to all sustainable energy sources?  That Sunoco is out in front on these issues is her doing.  Elsenhans knows that the companies with the greatest influence on energy (the oil companies) need to lead the way – not fight. 
 
It’s too simple to say that these are simply clutching, greedy people who are just manipulating society at large to line their pockets and enrich their investors.  That’s to fundamentally miss the personal passion for changing the world that lies at the heart of anyone pushing innovation, whether at a large or small enterprise.  I firmly believe that CEO’s like Jobs, Chambers and Elsenhans could just as easily have ended up running powerhouse soup kitchens or leading public health efforts in Africa.  Corporations with these kinds of CEO’s have public/private missions that drive the loyalty of employees, investors and customers. 
 
Another important feature of radical CEO’s is the willingness to speak out.  Radical CEO’s recognize the responsibility to govern and lead and talk openly about what revitalizes communities, technology, creativity and new enterprise.  They set an example for other CEO’s and corporations, who are often struggling to figure out what and who they are beyond a purveyor of a particular good or service. 
 
Yes, many CEO’s have big egos and can be brash and arrogant (like some of the folks above).  Name a social enterprise or movement that didn’t have dominant personalities or titanic characters at its heart (think: Samuel Adams; Abby Hoffman; Lucretia Mott; Newt Gingrich; Cesar Chavez; Emma Goldman; the list goes on).  
 
So radical CEO’s are CEO’s who fully understand that a large scale economic enterprise is a large scale cultural and social force movement.  In an age where government and business share hegemony in preserving social stability, businesses and CEO’s that don’t understand and actively cultivate the social impact of their enterprises are leading enterprises that may or may not have relevance in 20 years (how’s that for market impact).  
 
The question then is: who are Minnesota’s radical CEO’s.  Who are the outspoken business leaders that blur the lines between economic, social and cultural leadership while leading energetic and successful enterprises?  Where are the titanic personalities that put Minnesota enterprises on the map as innovation engines?  You should not have to struggle to name names.  
 
Minnesota in fact should be a prime breeding ground for such radical CEO’s.  It’s a populist state with economic might, with strong connections between rural and urban, academic and “real world,” whose citizens give among the greatest percentages of income to charity of any state, a home of radical theater and agricultural cooperatives. 
  
Minnesota CEO’s who get the deep and organic connection between business, society and culture, and are willing to be outspoken community leaders, will be the ones to drive Minnesota innovation and attract investment dollars.  Finding, highlighting and nurturing these radical CEO’s is a critical step for the Minnesota economy.  In a joint effort with Tech.MN, I will be digging into the Minnesota soil looking for Radical CEO's.  If you have names, name them here. 
  
(Adapted from a post on Tech.MN - "Who Are Minnesota's 'Radical Tech CEO's?")

 

Live Theater and Medical Technology, or Why We Should Lose Silicon Valley Envy

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: March 10, 2010 - 1:47 PM

In our evolving post-employment culture, there are vigorous debates about what conditions are needed to promote entrepreneurship – quantity of talent; quality of ideas; access to risk capital; culture of innovation; public-private cooperation – and the list goes on. Inevitably, the conversation turns to “How can we be more like Silicon Valley?” - with its abundant and well-publicized startups, venture funds and innovation cheerleaders (Graham, Andreessen, Kawasaki, Bianchini…). This is true even in places that themselves are widely regarded as innovation hubs, like Boston (supposedly left “in the dust” by the Valley).  

The short answer is, no, you can’t be Silicon Valley. It’s a confluence of great brains, great weather, great money and luck. But rewind the clock back to 1950, and there was no Silicon Valley. So we’re mistaking directional success with inherent virtue and value. If you were alive in 1900, you’d be bemoaning the industrial might of Pittsburgh and Cleveland (which themselves are re-emerging with transforming economies). Nonetheless, this is the trend that we’re stuck with. Some parts of the country are doing better than others. Some are taking better steps to prepare for the next economies. Some have a better street-level entrepreneurial culture than others. It’s a dynamic, but playing out with real consequences for real workers/business owners/investors.
 
Now ignore the previous paragraph and remember that the only garden that you can grow is the one you’re in. So if you want to go west, head west – if you can afford it (and if you can handle mudslides, fires etc…). If you want to stay, look down where your feet are. Then look around. There are no civil wars in the countryside, the police generally keep order, the politicians are generally honest and we’re generally helpful to each other. We have amazing schools, amazing culture and amazing businesses (large and small). On any given day, there are likely more than a billion people around the planet who would be happy to switch places with you. 
 
Assuming then we can be thankful to be here and avoid Silicon Valley envy, we need to regularly recognize what we do have that works here at a world-class level - and learn from, and leverage, that success. Here are just two examples – live theater and medical services/technology.
 
The Twin Cities has the largest amount of live theater per capita after Manhattan (by ticket sales). We have over 100 venues to watch live theater (not including schools/colleges) and in every shade and stripe from repertory to avant-garde to community – urban, suburban and rural. We have the nation’s only real playwright advocacy organizations (the Playwrights’ Center) and perhaps the nation’s best repertory theater (Guthrie). Playwrights move here to get a chance to air their works and find support. This is true for a pursuit that typically yields little money or fame. 
 
In other words, we are the Silicon Valley of live theater. It’s organically successful and people around the country (and world) know it. With all the dramatic engines fired up, we are churning out tons of new works. And frankly, some of it may be crap. But so are many of the startups out of the Valley (remember the Dot-Bomb). Then again, you need this race to get the best stuff out on top. Imagine if we had 100 street-level innovation centers and laboratories just in the Twin Cities, dynamically developing and demoing new technologies, sharing ideas, seeking creative input and criticism and launching startups. 
 
Minnesota’s stature in medical services and technology is a great legacy of care and innovation. We have a world-famous medical clinic that sheiks come to (Mayo), the company that pioneered the battery-powered pacemaker (Medtronic) and the institution that launched open heart surgery (University of Minnesota Medical School). The Mayo and the U of M legacy has spawned a raft of local innovation such that the Twin Cities is a world-class medical service and device hub. Like playwrights, medtech entrepreneurs come to Minnesota to launch new enterprise – because there is a deeply supportive community of financiers, startups and successful companies. 
 
In other words, we have the brainpower, the money, the creativity and the legacy to support and launch world-class innovation. As with the blossoming tech scene in New York, we need to anchor around our strengths (medical, food/grain, information technology, culture) even as we push into new spheres.  And we need to see new business and technology for what they are - inherent and important parts of culture and human life – and keep the juice (and money) flowing. When we’re present to, and nurture, our local innovation, we’ll be too busy and creative to wallow in self-doubt – and that’s a fun spot to be.   

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