Thursday, May 29, 2008

Guterman Goes to Sloan

Brookline jouno Jimmy Guterman, who has lately been blogging for O'Reilly Radar, editing Esther Dyson's old Release 2.0 newsletter, and consulting for Harvard Business Publishing, is jumping over to edit the MIT Sloan Management Review, whose existence has been forgotten by nearly everyone.

Good luck with the overhaul, James....! One hopes there's more of a financial commitment to improving that publication than there has been to the increasingly anorexic Technology Review.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Boston's Biotech Tycoon

If you want to understand the story behind one of Boston's biggest biotech success stories, Genzyme Corp., Boston Magazine offers this great profile of CEO Henri Termeer, by Geoff Gagnon.

A few months ago, I was talking with some biotech execs who observed that there has never been an obvious #2 executive at Genzyme to succeed Termeer, who is 62. (Several possible successors have come and gone.)

But Gagnon's article contains an interesting detail: Termeer's mom is still alive, in Holland, at age 93, offering him advice. So succession may not exactly be a near-term issue for Genzyme.

Gagnon writes:

    At 93, [Mrs. Termeer] still keeps a close eye on her son, and on his company. (She's become a frequent visitor and a sort of mascot at Genzyme's plant in Belgium, not far from where she lives.) The two speak at least once a week and the conversation is rarely laden with idle pleasantries. Mrs. Termeer has a point when she calls, and she tends to get right to it. The impulse is the same when the family gathers for its annual fall reunion along the Dutch coast, in the province of Zeeland. Tradition dictates that the Termeers each rise at the table to regale the clan with a little speech. Without fail, the matriarch's chats are the most, well, weighty. "We all cringe a little when she speaks," Termeer says. "There's usually a big moral angle to it. She's quite serious."

    So Termeer wasn't terribly surprised by the call he received a few years back. His mom sounded agitated. She had read about Dutch patients who were relying on free infusions of an experimental precursor to Myozyme to treat their Pompe disease, a rare disorder that shrinks sufferers' muscles, eventually crippling their heart and lungs. The news suggested that Genzyme had plans to stop the program. These were Termeer's countrymen, and such apparent callousness was red meat for the Dutch politicians who denounced him in parliament. "She wanted answers. She wanted to know what I was going to do," Termeer says.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Which Boston Companies Do New MBAs Want to Work For?

Fortune has a list of the top 25 employers new MBAs say they want to work for.

On the list are lots of "usual suspects" -- every big-name investment bank and consulting firm, plus Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.

The only two Boston companies to make the list? (I'll save you some clicking.) Boston Consulting Group (#5) and Bain (#6).

Fortune also publishes a longer list of 100 companies that appeal to MBA recipients... which includes two more Boston companies: Fidelity Investments, at #45, and Monitor Group, at #87.

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Let's Brainstorm About How to Stop the Student Exodus

Sunday's Globe column focused on why Massachusetts needs more initiatives to retain the students who come here to get smarter. From the piece:

    Convincing more newly minted grads to build their careers here isn't just about helping Massachusetts add more taxpayers and end a pathetic streak of losing population in the 25-to-34 age bracket. It's about bringing new ideas and energy to our established business giants (think Raytheon, Fidelity, and Biogen Idec) and supporting young entrepreneurs who want to start businesses of their own.

    The West Coast, unfortunately, has done a much better job of taking new entrepreneurs seriously over the past two decades. Google, Yahoo, and Facebook were all founded by sharp-but-unproven whippersnappers. Here, iRobot Corp. is the only significantly sized company to have been started and run by recent grads.

I offered up seven ideas, free for the taking (or the adapting), which I think could move the needle. But I'm sure there are at least 70 other good ones.

I've been getting lots of e-mail about yesterday's column ... some of it explaining that Massachusetts high cost of living drives students away (um, have you ever tried to rent an apartment in Palo Alto?) ... some of it explaining that the state's anti-business attitude does it ... some blaming too much traffic. But what if we stopping trying to find things to blame and simply started reaching out to students, helping get them connected to the business community?

Here's the video that accompanies the column -- an interview with Harvard student Travis May about his company,, and student entrepreneurship in general:

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xkcd, live from Somerville

Chris Herot points us to an article from yesterday's NY Times about the online comic xkcd, which (who knew?) originates from Somerville, Mass. It's drawn by Randall Munroe and Derek Radtke.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Founders Club Comes to Boston

It's cool that Boston will soon be home to a chapter of the Founders Club, a tech networking group that originated in New York. The first gathering happens next month, at a private residence downtown. It's invite-only... and among the organizers are:

- Ric Fulop, A123 Systems
- Marina Hatsopoulos, Z Corp.
- Jeffrey Binder, Broadbus
- Ted Morgan, Skyhook Wireless
- Joe Chung, ATG
- Scott Friend, Profitlogic
- Dan Roth, Voice Signal
- Mick Mountz, Kiva Systems

Dina Kaplan of, one of the founders of the New York chapter, will be there, too.

While the New York chapter is very much oriented toward Web 2.0 and digital media, it looks like the Boston branch will be a diverse mix of hardware, wireless, software, energy, and even robotics companies. Founders Club Boston, the invitation explains, is "a group of entrepreneurs promoting the start-up spirit in Boston." No Web site yet.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

How Can We Attract An Additional $1 Billion in CleanTech Funding?

The New England Clean Energy Council has just put out its first major report, which makes the case that building a strong clean energy cluster in New England can bring as much as $1 billion in incremental investments to our region between now and 2012.

The study, produced by Topline Strategy and NECEC, makes the case that Silicon Valley is the only obvious concentration of clean energy companies so far, with about 26 percent of all venture-backed companies located there. New England is now #2, but only by a hair. We've got 9.7 percent of all the VC-funded clean energy companies, and the LA area has 8.9 percent.

One way to support the creation of more companies here, the study suggests, is to do a better job pairing up scientists and researchers with the entrepreneurs and managers that can help build big companies (possibly by pulling in leaders from other sectors of the economy.)

I'd also suggest that marketing, conferences, and networking events are also going to be key to letting folks know that this part of the world is conducive to building cleantech companies.

You can read the study here.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Baby Biz Getting Big on the South Shore

I went down to Campanelli Stadium in Brockton (home of the Rox) this afternoon for the Metro South Chamber of Commerce's Tech Expo.

They seem to be breeding baby entrepreneurs down there... the winner of the small business award was Bob Monahan of UppaBaby, based in Rockland. (I'd written about them here.) And after my talk, I met Philip Smith and Rheanon Romero, whose company RT Kid Works makes crib bumpers; Rheanon is a recent grad of Bridgewater State.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

WSJ on Harvard's Budding Start-Up Culture

The Journal has an interesting piece today about the interest in start-ups engendered by Facebook's success. From the story:

    [Trip] Adler is just one of the Harvard students who have caught start-up fever since Facebook, founded when Mr. Zuckerberg was at Harvard in 2004, exploded in popularity. Other recent Harvard-born start-ups include Internet companies Kirkland North Inc., Inc. and Labmeeting Inc. And Facebook has become a model for these start-ups on many fronts, from the look of company Web sites to their corporate strategies.

    "I would not hesitate for a second to say Facebook's a motivator," says Paul Bottino, director of Harvard's Technology & Entrepreneurship Center. "Facebook creates would-be Facebooks." He says a start-up contest this year attracted 55 entries, up from 10 to 18 for past contests.

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From the Globe 100 Breakfast

I'm off coffee these days, so it was especially challenging to get over to the Westin Waterfront hotel early this morning for the annual Globe 100 Breakfast, honoring the best-performing public companies in Massachusetts. On the way in, ran into Emily Green from Yankee Group, Michael Gilman from Stromedix, John Lacey from Sirtris, and Scott Griffith from Zipcar. I sat next to William Leighton, CEO of Soapstone Networks (formerly Avici), whose company was #3 on this year's list.

Some notes from the proceedings:

- Five companies have been on the list each year for two decades: Eaton Vance, Raytheon, State Street, TJX, and UniFirst.

- The original list, in 1989, included no biotech companies.

- The morning's keynote speaker was Christoph Westphal, CEO of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals. This was something of a victory lap for Christoph ( as he's universally known in biotech circles ), and he was in fine promotional form. The three major events of the past year in biotech, he said, were the annual BIO trade show coming to Boston last May.... Takeda's purchase of Millennium...and Glaxo's recent purchase of Sirtris for $720 million. He mentioned the companies he'd previously helped found -- Alnylam and Momenta...and also noted that his two biggest investors at Sirtris were John Henry (of the Red Sox) and Peter Lynch. He told a charming story about asking John Henry for $50 million, and Henry offering $20 million. Henry's version of the story is that he showed up wanting to invest $100 million, but after he met Christoph, he decided on $20 mil. Both Henry and Lynch did pretty well after the Glaxo purchase...

- Globe business editor Shirley Leung showed a great video of a visit to the marshmallow Fluff factory in Lynn.

- You can find all of the other videos, stories, and interactive charts relatd to today's Globe 100 section here. I contributed two pieces .... a roundtable conversation with CEOs Henri Termeer (Genzyme), Paul Sagan (Akamai) and Emily Nagle Green (Yankee Group), and a look at five emerging sectors that could drive the Massachuetts economy over the next two decades.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

June 19th: Discussion About Non-Competes at Harvard Law

Bijan Sabet at Spark Capital has been trying for a while to assemble an open discussion about the impact of non-compete agreements on the economy here in Massachusetts... and it looks like it has finally come together for June 19th, at Harvard Law School. An RSVP is required.

Here's the description:

    The use of employee non-compete agreements by Massachusetts companies is routine, with employers mandating that employees steer clear of any business of a competitive nature once they leave their present jobs, typically for a year or more. Many believe these agreements are critical to guarding a company’s hard-earned intellectual property — protecting legitimate business interests, and thus our region’s economy. Others, however, believe that non-competes are nothing more than handcuffs that prevent talented entrepreneurs from bringing new innovations to market and, in some cases, even driving entrepreneurs to leave the region to pursue their innovations elsewhere. In this session, we’ll bring together some of the area’s best known venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and executives to explore the issue of non-competes and weigh the pros and cons of their use here in the Commonwealth. Are non-competes protecting innovation and economic growth in Massachusetts? Or stifling it?

    Panelists will include:

    - Jeremy Allaire, founder & CEO, Brightcove
    - Melanie Haratunian, general counsel, Akamai
    - Paul Maeder, general partner, Highland Capital Partners
    - Lee Fleming, associate professor of business administration, Harvard University
    - Bijan Sabet, general partner, Spark Capital
    - Moderator: John Palfrey, Clinical Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School

Akamai CEO Paul Sagan was definitively for non-competes when I asked him about the issue last fall... not sure where Jeremy Allaire stands... but having someone from EMC, the most active enforcer of non-competes in our state, would be good. Perhaps they'll at least attend, and contribute from the audience...

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Interviewing Craig Newmark at TieCon East

The nice folks at TIE have invited me to conduct an on-stage interview next Friday with Craig Newmark of Craigslist, at their big annual conclave.

I hope you can make it...and if you want to post some questions here for Craig, I'll consider them for inclusion in our chat.

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Sunday's Globe column: Trying to Best Bose

Yesterday's Globe column focused on Chestnut Hill Sound, a small Newton start-up that is competing head-to-head with more established players like Bose, Boston Acoustics, and Tivoli in the market for iPod-compatible music systems.

Here's the opening:

    Only a few weeks after launching his first product, Steve Krampf realized his tiny Newton company had shown up as a blip on the radar screens of two of the biggest players in home audio: Bose Corp. and Boston Acoustics.

    Two orders trickled in, one each from the two rivals, for the $499 iPod-compatible music system that Krampf's company, Chestnut Hill Sound Inc., launched last year.

    Krampf wasn't surprised that other audio companies were doing some intelligence-gathering; he'd been doing the same with their products, analyzing their acoustical qualities, ease of use, and electronic innards.

And here's the video, with Chestnut Hill CEO Steve Krampf demoing his system:

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Mark Horan on Building Big Hometown Companies

Mark Horan, president of the Massachusetts Network Communications Council, has an op-ed in the Globe today headlined 'Tech should begin at home.' The gist is that its good news that Google now has a big presence in our state, but that we're not doing enough to cultivate home-grown innovators. As an example, he writes:

    Take a simple Google-centric example. A New York Times article last year described two MIT PhD students, Sanjit Biswas and John Bicket, who a few years back helped to build Roofnet, a wireless mesh network that offered free broadband service to an area covering about one-third of Cambridge.

    According to the Times, the pair showed their technology to Google executives, who were impressed enough that they joined with California-based Sequoia Capital to invest in a new company founded by the students. Today, Meraki Networks is up and running - in Mountain View, Calif.

    Too many of our brightest young entrepreneurs flock to Silicon Valley, whose giant companies help to seed their growth.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wired Mag on the iRobot/Robotic FX Lawsuit

Noah Shachtman has a piece in the current issue of Wired about the rivalry and legal wrangling between iRobot and Robotic FX, a Chicago company founded by a one-time iRobot employee. It's a great weekend read.

Here's the opening:

    Jameel Ahed says he didn't really read the email. He was preoccupied with trying to solve a few electrical problems on the robots he hoped his company would sell to the US Army for as much as $300 million, one of the largest robot orders in history. So he didn't pay much attention to the fact that iRobot, his former employer and chief competitor for the Army contract, was suing him for stealing their designs. And he didn't read the attachment ordering him to preserve any evidence related to the case.

    Nevertheless, a few hours later that evening, Ahed began cleaning out his suburban Chicago office. He gathered up circuit boards and electronic components and threw them into a box marked "iRobot" — maker of the cute little Roomba vacuum cleaner and sophisticated military robots. He stuffed the box into a green duffel bag, carried it outside, and put it in the trunk of a white Saturn registered to the parents of Kimberly Hill, his girlfriend and the chief operating officer of his company, Robotic FX.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

The Thursday Night Party Report

Went out last night to two events: the opening of Prism VentureWorks' new office in Needham, and PopSignal (formerly TechCocktail) on Landsdowne Street. Prism's new space is across the hall from the US offices of Microsoft's FAST search division, and it looks like it was designed by Ari Gold of Entourage -- very sleek, very white, very LA.

I ran into blogger and Celtics fan Michael Feinstein of Sempre Management. John Landry was also there, sheepishly acknowledging that he'd been caught doing the Funky Chicken on the Jumbotron at Wednesday night's Celtics game. I-banker Paul Deninger was there... and just so's you realize how powerful he is, he pulls people aside every five minutes to whisper something in their ear.

Neil Creighton, CEO of Prism portfolio company RatePoint was there, and he explained why consumers might want to post ratings on a vendor's Web site (it gives the vendor a chance to address any complaints .... very different from posting a negative comment on Yelp or Epinions.) There was also a big contingent from LogMeIn, another Prism portfolio company that filed to go public back in January.

Out in the parking lot, Roy Hirshland mentioned that his firm, T3 Advisors, had been involved in Adobe's deal to buy a 108,000 square foot building in Waltham for its East Coast outpost. That suggests a long-term commitment on the part of the San Jose company, which had been leasing in Newton ever since it bought Macromedia (which bought Allaire Corp., oh so long ago).

At Tequila Rain on Landsdowne, I miraculously scored a parking space right out front... inside, I ran into Matt Lauzon of Paragon Lake, a Highland Capital-incubated company (they participated in the summer program last year) that's out raising its first round. Sounds like the money will likely come from a mix of East Coast and West Coast investors. Lauzon,a recent Babson grad, said he'd listed himself in the PowerPoint presentation as "Acting CEO." On the East Coast, he found, that made investors comfortable: we can bring in some adult supervision. But on the West Coast, people said, "Why just acting?"

Aaron White from the animation site was in the back room ... Michael Kreppein and Dave Dupre from Inquisix were there ... as were PR mavens Maura Fitzgerald and Jean Serra from Version 2.0 communications. Eric Hellweg was in attendance with a posse from Harvard Business School Publishing, and he mentioned that his band Andromeda Taxi has some big gigs this summer, opening up for Phil Lesh and the Allman Brothers. On the way out, I ran into a pair of venture capital PR folks, Matthew Burke and Karen Bonmart, both of whom were toting freebie t-shirts from TripAdvisor, which now proclaims itself the biggest Web 2.0 company in the East.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Inside Google's Cambridge, MA Offices

Google held an open house this morning at their three-month old Kendall Square offices (they moved to 5 Cambridge Center from the Cambridge Innovation Center earlier this year.) There wasn't much news... but it was a chance to meet some of the Googlers, watch Governor Deval Patrick play ping pong with Stephen Vinter, the Cambridge site director, and see demos of projects the Cambridge outpost has contributed to, like the Android mobile operating system.

Some data points about what's happening at the Cambridge office, followed by a video interview with Vinter, who talked about how Google hires for this office.

    - Cambridge has 175 employees, split roughly evenly between ad sales and engineering.

    - Google opened a Boston sales office in 2002; engineering began here in 2005.

    - Among the projects Cambridge Googlers contribute to are YouTube, Blogger, Friend Connect/Open Social, book search, Android, infrastructure, Web crawl, and networking -- which seems like a pretty broad range.

    - I asked Vinter whether any new projects were indigenous to Cambridge... that is, they'd sprang out of the local office, rather than been delegated by someone at the Googleplex in Mountain View. He said that Friend Connect, a toolbox for easily adding social networking to Web sites, is an example of one. (It was overseen by Norris Boyd, who was demoing it today in Cambridge.)

    - Neither Larry Page or Sergey Brin, Google's founders, have visited the Cambridge office, but Google CEO Eric Schmidt has.

In my video chat with Vinter, I asked him about Google's hiring and interview process, and how the culture in Cambridge differs from Mountain View.

And here's some more coverage of today's open house: New England Cable News ... Mass High Tech ... Cambridge Chronicle ... BostonGlobe

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Sunday's Globe column: Peddling healthy fast food

Sunday's column focused on a fledgling Newton-based fast food chain, UFood Grill. The CEO is George Naddaff, who helped take Boston Chicken national. (I should note that Naddaff wasn't the founder; the original Boston Chicken was started by Kip Kolow and Arthur Cores.)

From the piece:

    At age 78, Naddaff is wrestling with one of the toughest challenges of the fast food industry: how to turn healthy eating into a big business. "You can't build a business on the 20 percent of the population that are marathon runners, that eat organic, that work out at Curves," he acknowledges.

    He needs to reach a more mainstream diner, in the same way that Whole Foods Market has attracted loyal shoppers who aren't all yoga instructors on a macrobiotic diet. So far, Naddaff's progress has been slower than he initially expected...

Here's the video:

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Mass. VCs Looking Further Afield for Deals

(I'm slow to post the link to last Sunday's column, since last Saturday afternoon there was a new addition to the Kirsner family. Babies and blog posting are not so compatible, I'm finding...)

The column was headlined, 'Investing Further Afield'. From the opening:

    Massachusetts venture capitalists are starting to rack up more frequent flier miles. A business that was once exclusively local - a decade ago, most venture capitalists adhered to the adage that they'd never invest in a company they couldn't drive to - is becoming global, fast.

    Battery Ventures of Waltham is planning to open an office in Mumbai, India, this fall, and shipping one of its senior partners to Israel to help build a small team there. Earlier this year, Matrix Partners of Waltham raised $275 million from investors for its first fund dedicated to start-ups in China. Billionaire publishing entrepreneur Patrick McGovern, founder of the Boston company International Data Group, is planning to announce a $150 million fund for Eastern European investments soon - but he no longer is putting new money into New England companies.

    There's also been a tilt toward California at some local venture capital firms, like Greylock and Charles River Ventures, where the center of gravity had once been Massachusetts.

After the column ran, the PR rep for Kodiak Venture Partners wrote to remind me that Dave Furneaux at that Waltham firm has been investing in China for a while now, and that Kodiak has a partnership with Dragonvest Partners in Shanghai to co-invest in Chinese companies.

And as I was wrapping up the column, Carl Stjernfeldt at Castile Ventures had mentioned that his firm has three deals at the term sheet stage, all of them in California.

Here's the video that accompanied the column, which features Charlie Lax of Grand Banks Capital and Vinit Nijhawan, a VC and entrepreneur now working at Boston University.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Westphal to Keynote Globe 100 Breakfast

This year's Globe 100 Breakfast, on May 20th, seems like it has become quite the hot ticket. Keynoting is Christoph Westphal, CEO of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, who started his company, took it public and sold it for $720 million in just four years.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Globe 100, which honors the best-performing Massachusetts companies.

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Go Camping in Cambridge, This Weekend and Next

Two really cool "unconference" events are on the way in Cambridge...

The first is MacCamp, on Saturday May 10th in Central Square. This is the first time MacCamp is being held here... There's also a pre-camp event at betahouse on May 9th.

And next weekend is the third edition of BarCampBoston -- also in Cambridge.

Props to Mike Walsh, who's helping to organize both events.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Thinking About Design on Nantucket

Sim Simeonov from Polaris Venture Partners posts about one of the workshop sessions held at the Nantucket Conference yesterday, focused on "design thinking for entrepreneurs," which featured Devorah Klein and Eric Saperstein from the Cambridge office (though IDEO's CEO, Tim Brown, was in the back of the room, chiming in.)

    The presenters left the group with the following five suggestions:

    1. Spend time with customers. Really push yourself to think about unusual but relevant people you should talk to.
    2. Be visual and tangible. Build a prototype of something. Paper is OK.
    3. Try it yourself. This is the classing dogfooding principle.
    4. Get out of your category for inspiration. You won’t know what you don’t know until you see something that inspires you.
    5. Test-drive ideas. Do it all the time.

Sim's post includes two cool video interviews, too.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Now, for some good news...

The Massachusetts economy grew at 3.6 percent during the first quarter, according to the Globe. From Robert Gavin's blog post:

    Massachusetts, after lagging behind the US through the economic recovery of the past few years, is weathering the recent national downturn because of the strength of its technology, science and healthcare sectors, according to UMass. State exports of technology and pharmaceutical products are strong and so is hiring in those sectors. Employment in professional, scientific and technical services, for example, grew nearly 4 percent over the past year, compared to less than 1 percent for the state as a whole, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

Also, we didn't build a lot of spec housing in the last decade.

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