Friday, July 31, 2009

What You've Been Missing

A couple quick headlines to remind you about the *new location* of the Innovation Economy blog (the new RSS feed is here, and if you are signed up for e-mail updates [see the box at right], you shouldn't have to do anything.)

See you over there...the URL is pretty simple, too:

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Moving Notice: Please Update Your Feeds

I started this blog in the summer of 2007, when I moved back to Cambridge from San Francisco, and started the "Innovation Economy" column on Sundays in the Globe.

Five hundred posts and two years later, I'm moving it over to

Why? I started the blog on my own because I wanted to get it up-and-running quickly. A really wonderful, smart, and supportive community has developed around it.

I'm moving it to first because it makes sense for the blog and my Sunday Boston Globe column to live in the same place, and second, because I think it'll attract some additional traffic there. I was also part of the founding crew of back in 1995, so it feels like a natural place to be.

The RSS feed for the new blog is here. The URL is pretty easy to remember:

I won't abandon this blog, though it may get quiet. I'll keep it active because the blogroll is a pretty comprehensive list of who is blogging locally (the blog pares that down to just seven "must-reads"), and also, I may need a more independent place to talk about community causes, events, and stuff that may be inappropriate for the address.

My Twitter feed stays the same.

Hope to see you on feedback is always welcome here, via e-mail (sk at, or in the comments section on the new blog.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Latest on the Non-Compete Bill in Massachusetts

I don't intend to turn this into the "all non-compete, all-the-time" blog -- but there's a lot of action on that front right now...

Next week is the Symposium on Bills Affecting Employee Non-Compete Agreements at the Boston Bar Association. (I'll be there.) State Rep. Will Brownsberger will be talking about the latest version of the bill on non-competes -- essentially, his proposal to eliminate non-competes entirely has been combined with another State Rep's proposal to simply limit the way they are used.

Here's his summary of what's in the new, combined bill (you can find the complete language of the bill here.):

    Overview of current working draft of non-compete legislation
    (combining House 1794 and House 1799, bills filed by Rep's. Brownsberger and Ehrlich)


    To protect employees from unfair non-competition agreements while preserving protections for legitimate risks to business assets.

    Basic Approach:

    Prohibit non-compete agreements for lower level employees; for others, allow non-compete agreements but clarify guidelines and give employers strong incentives to require only moderate and reasonable agreements.

    Key Elements:

    - Create procedural protections for all employees
      - Agreements must be in writing
      - Employers making job offers must give early notice that a non-competition agreement will be required, in time for a prospective employee to assess his or her options and decline the job offer before resigning their present job.

    - Clarify common law rules that, to be enforceable, non-competition agreements must be necessary to protect trade secrets, confidential information or good will and must be consonant with public policy and reasonable in duration, geographic scope and proscription of activities

    - Limit term of agreements to one year (unless garden leave payments of at least 50% of total compensation are made, in which case agreements may last two years).

    - Make non-compete agreements unenforceable against employees making under $50,000 and enforceable only to protect trade secrets or confidential information (but not for goodwill) for employees between $50,000 and $100,000.

    - Create safe harbors for very moderate agreements -- giving employers incentives to choose agreements meeting those terms:
      - Six month agreements prohibiting activities of the type the employee was actually engaged in within the geographic area that they were working in.
      - Garden leave agreements supported by adequate compensation (greater of $50,000 or 50% of total compensation).

    - Punish overreaching by employers by awarding attorneys fees to the employee whenever an agreement is reformed or found unenforceable and was not within one of the safe harbors.

    - Otherwise preserving existing law
      - Preserve existing common law defenses for employees facing enforcement actions
      - Not applying new rules to business purchases, covenants not to solicit employers' customers, etc.

    - Effective as to agreements entered on or after January 1, 2010

Welcoming your thoughts...

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Founders Collective: The Newest VC Firm in Town

I've been working this week to find out more about Founders Collective, the newest VC firm in Boston.

They don't yet have a Web site, though there is a bit about them on LinkedIn, and they've been covered lightly by Mass High Tech, PEHub, and Xconomy in June, when they filed SEC documents stating that they'd raised $24.4 million for a planned $50 million fund.

Here's what I've been able to find out so far...

- The three central founders of Founders Collective are Eric Paley, previously co-founder of Brontes Technologies; Chris Dixon, co-founder of SiteAdvisor; and David Frankel, a South African currently ensconced at the Mandarin Oriental. Frankel co-founded Internet Solutions, the biggest ISP on the African continent. There are four other founders spread across Boston, New York and California, but they haven't been named yet. They won't be working full time on the fund, but rather will help source deals.

- FC has been shacked up at the Boston offices of Flybridge Capital Partners, but will soon move out into their own digs, likely in Cambridge. Flybridge (formerly known as IDG Ventures Boston) made a ton of money when Brontes was sold to 3M, and in 2007, Paley joined IDG (now Flybridge) as a senior advisor. David Frankel, incidentally, was the very first investor in Brontes, which developed 3-D imaging technology for use in dentistry, and originally spun out of MIT research.

- What helped them raise $30 million thus far, on their way to $50 million, was a solid track record as angel investors. They've backed about 25 companies over the last five years, including TrialPay, Canopy Financial, Positive Energy, SiteAdvisor (acquired by McAfee for $70 million), Magazine Radar, Link Medicine, and Hunch.

- Chris Dixon is one of the co-founders of NYC-based Hunch, so he'll split his time between that start-up and Founders Collective. (Working alongside Dixon at Hunch is Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr.)

- FC has already made a few investments out of its new fund, and they're closing another next week. They'll typically invest under $1 million, and won't necessarily keep participating in later rounds. They'll aim to get enough equity with the seed investment that they won't be wiped out in later rounds.

- Michael Greeley of Flybridge has only good things to say about FC. "They'll get to $50 million quite comfortably, and that could translate into 60 or 80 companies. Our $300 million fund, in contrast, will be 20 to 24 companies. Their goal is velocity, and I think they'll be a real talent magnet." Already, he says, "they're bringing a lot of volume through the office." Greeley says that the fund will be pretty wide-ranging in its investments: "I think they'll have a highly-diversified seed fund." (Link Medicine, for instance, one of the team's investments that precedes the creation of FC, is a biotech company.) Given FC's strategy of investing early (and not necessarily paying to play in later rounds), Greeley said they will "gravitate to businesses that can get to proof points or break-even with $10 million or $15 million."

- The other VCs and entrepreneurs who provided me info with Founders Collective (and who asked not to be named) all had good things to say about the team. None of the usual VC competitiveness...

- Reached in a cab in Manhattan earlier this morning, Eric Paley didn't want to chat about what they're up to right now, at least until the Web site goes up in a month or so. All he would say was that "information technology has generally been our sweet spot" and "capital efficiency tends to be one of the core rules for us." He sees FC helping to fill the early-stage funding gap in the Boston and New York markets.

We'll keep an eye on them. And of course, do post a comment if you know more...

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Quick Report from WebInno 22

Web Innovators Group has turned into not just a great place to see demos from early-stage companies, but also a bit of a see-and-be-seen schmooze-fest among developers, entrepreneurs, attorneys, investors, and PR folks. The 22nd edition of WebInno tonight was especially good -- people enjoy opportunities to get out in July, when the event calendar is rather barren.

Here's a quick list of some of the people I bumped into:

HubSpot co-founder and angel investor Dharmesh Shah... Eric Hjerpe, Jo Tango's new kemosabe at Kepha Partners...Michael Gaiss from Highland Capital Partners...PR guru and Emerson College instructor David Gerzof...MyPunchbowl founder Matt Douglas...TechStars Boston kingpin Shawn Broderick, who was wearing a gentlemanly blazer and was gracious enough not to use the 'f' word around me... Akamai co-founder and Globespan managing director Jonathan Seelig... Tom Lewis from Bostonist... UI genius Karen Donoghue...Andreas Randow from the photography start-up Aggarwal from Localytics - a TechStar company that was one of the demo'ers tonight...Wade Roush, who is apparently involved in launching a new social network for recently-released prisoners called Ex-conomy... Evan Morikawa from Alight Learning, an Olin College student currently on HubSpot employee Ryann Price... her beau, Paragon Lake co-founder Matt plate and Tourfilter founder Chris Marstall...WaySavvy Travel founder Michael Raybman...Wellesley High School entrepreneur Mark Bao (aka Steven Bao)...PR dude Chuck Tanowitz...Daniel Weinreb from CommonAngels, who was bragging that he brings more deals to the angel group than just about anyone else...and WebInno organizer David Beisel, hanging out by the side of the stage and talking to all comers for a good hour after the demos ended.

Jeff Yolen, formerly an exec at Sphere and Real Networks, was wearing a nametag that said Vulcan Capital Managament, which of course is Paul Allen's Seattle investment firm. He explicitly told me that I am not allowed to tell you that he is working for Vulcan Capital Management until they issue a press release. So you didn't hear it here... but rather from his public LinkedIn profile, which lists him as a venture partner at... Vulcan Capital Management.

And Alex Lindahl of Acquia told me the best story of the night. While still a student at BC, he was pitching a start-up, TextWorks, to Highland Capital Partners. On the slide presenting the founders' bios, each founder had added a personal detail. Lindahl's was that he could bench-press 370. Highland partner Peter Bell said that part of the VC's job is to validate what the entrepreneur says. And, by the way, there's a gym downstairs. After the pitch, Bell and a few other Highland partners accompanied Lindahl to said gym -- and watched as he added weights up to about 345, before Bell told him he could stop: "I don't want you to hurt yourself."

Highland passed on the deal.

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Crimson Hexagon: Tracking Online Conversations

Checked in this morning with Mike Troiano, a former ad agency and tech company exec who linked up with Crimson Hexagon back in April as an advisor -- mainly to help the company secure new funding. Crimson Hexagon, based on technology developed at Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science, is a Cambridge start-up that digs into all kinds of online conversations to figure out what people are saying about a given product or service. The company got going in 2007, has been funded by angel investors and angel groups, and officially launched last fall.

Lots of companies, Troiano says, are good at searching for keywords (like "Ben & Jerry's") across the Web and assessing how much buzz a given brand is getting. Crimson Hexagon, he says, has "the ability to find patterns in the dots of online conversation, across blogs, Twitter, bulletin boards, and forums. It's not just about the volume of buzz, but what people are saying." An example: the firm recently explored the positive and negative reactions on Twitter to Microsoft's Bing search site.

As for a new round of funding, Troiano told me to expect an announcement from Crimson Hexagon within a few weeks. It likely will come from angels, rather than VC firms. "I've never seen a [fundraising] market like this," Troiano said. "VCs are protecting their cash to allocate it to current portfolio companies." (Though Troiano admits that some VCs may simply think that Crimson Hexagon is still too young a company for them to fund.) "If we got paid by the meeting, we'd be sitting pretty," he quipped, referring to investors' willingness to take a meeting -- even if they're not doing much active investing.

Another company in the "social media monitoring" space, New York-based Techrigy, was just acquired today for an undisclosed sum. That could bode well for Crimson Hexagon.

Crimson Hexagon is part of what I think of as the "metrics and measurement" cluster here in Massachusetts -- a cluster that includes firms like Visible Measures (video measurement), Compete (Web traffic), and Localytics, a mobile measurement company that's now participating in the TechStars Boston summer program.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TED Comes to Boston: Are You on the List?

A group of folks at Fidelity Investments are organizing a satellite edition of the famed TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Boston this month. TEDxBOSTON happens July 28th at Fidelity's conference center near South Station.

The idea of TEDx is that it's a TED-like gathering focused on high-quality speakers, but it's independently organized by local "friends of TED." TEDx is just a half-day long, while TED, held in California, runs for four days. And unlike the main TED event, which costs $6000 to attend (you must apply and be accepted), TEDx is free.

Sean Belka is the catalyst behind bringing TEDx to town; he's a senior vice president at Fidelity Investments who runs the Fidelity Center for Applied Technologies, where the financial services giant explores new ripples in tech. A regular attendee at TED, he tells me that "when they announced TEDx this past February, I was inspired by the TED mission of spreading ideas, since my role here is innovation. I basically thought that Boston would be a great venue, given all of the great ideas happening in Boston." Assisting Belka with TEDxBoston are Danielle Duplin, another Fidelity exec, and Matt Saiia, a one-time consultant at Fidelity who is now CEO at Collective Next.

Speaking at the event will be folks like Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander, Harvard chemist George Whitesides, and jazz educator Philippe Crettien. They'll also show a couple videos recorded at the "mother ship" TED, featuring people like Pattie Maes from MIT's Media Lab and Bennington College president Elizabeth Coleman.

"We haven't done a lot of promotion of TEDx," Belka says. They've reached out to past TED attendees in the Boston area, and also invited some other "people we thought would find this of interest." But word started to leak out about TEDxBoston on Twitter last week.

The event will top out at about 250 people. They're still accepting invitation requests on the site, and Belka told me today (Tuesday) that they "haven't yet gotten to a point where we've had to make hard choices," implying that the event isn't yet completely full.

While Fidelity is providing the venue, they're not an official sponsor of the event; Belka says the only sponsors, really, will be food and beverage companies that will be supplying refreshments.

And if one TEDx isn't enough for this town, it looks like a second TEDx -- this one in Cambridge -- is in the works for this fall.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shut-downs, RunMyErrand, Healthcare IT cluster: Three recent Globe columns

I've been remiss about posting my last three Globe columns. Here they are:

1. On what happens to start-ups when they become shut-downs

    It’s suddenly a buyer’s market for all kinds of assets belonging to once-promising companies, from office furniture to patents to laboratory equipment.

    “We’re seeing anywhere from a doubling to a tripling in volume, compared to this time last year,’’ says Myron Kassaraba, a Belmont-based partner at Pluritas LLC, a firm that helps sell patents and other intellectual property. Barry Kallander, a Bolton consultant who helps wind down companies that have run out of cash, predicts: “We still may see the deluge.’’

Gregg Favalora, founder of Actuality Systems, mentioned in the article, wrote this blog post after it ran, and this one just before.

2. On RunMyErrand, a Cambridge company started by a former IBM programmer, Leah Busque

    Last June, Leah Busque quit her job at IBM. It was the first job she’d had since graduating from college in 2001, and she was a software developer on the fast track there.

    But ever since she and her husband had run out of dog food a few months earlier, Busque had become obsessed with a start-up idea: creating a network of “runners’’ around Boston who would take care of errands for busy people for a small fee.

    “I was just passionate about the idea,’’ Busque says, “and so even though the economy was already in a downturn, I was really excited to take the leap.’’

Here's Busque's blog entry elaborating on the piece.

3. On the Massachusetts people and companies that are involved with helping Obama reach his goal of a digital medical record for every American (and also spending $20 billion in stimulus money)

    Almost 50 years ago, a Harvard-educated president gave voice to a lofty ambition: to send men to the moon before the end of the 1960s. A collection of brainiacs at MIT and Raytheon designed and built the electronic navigation system that safely guided six Apollo spacecraft to the lunar surface.

    Earlier this year, another Harvard-educated president laid down another big challenge: By 2014, every American will have an electronic medical record, with the goal of cutting the cost - and improving the quality - of healthcare.

    While having your healthcare history digitized may not be as inspirational as seeing Neil Armstrong step off that ladder, it’s likely to affect your life much more directly over the next decade.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Let's Organize Some Innovation Open Houses for Students ... Are You In?

If you're interested in how we can connect the smart students who come to Massachusetts to get educated with the cool companies that exist here, and perhaps even help them lay the foundation for cool companies of their own, I want your help. More on that at the bottom of this e-mail.

I'd like to try an experiment during the upcoming academic year. Here's the rough outline, though it should definitely be refined:

1. Let's line up at least six (and possibly more) Innovation Open Houses at cool local companies.

2. The goal of an Innovation Open House (and that's merely a place-holder name) is to give students currently enrolled at any local school a chance to visit cool local companies.

3. An Innovation House would last about 90 minutes. It might consist of a lunch or snack in a conference room, a talk from the CEO or a company founder about what the company does, a Q&A session with the students, and a tour of the office. It could take place at lunch time, in the afternoon, or at the end of the day on a weekday (but probably not during the student-unfriendly morning hours.)

4. An Innovation Open House should be able to accommodate at least 15 (and ideally more) students. Students would RSVP to hold their spot in advance; there'd need to be some dis-incentive for students who didn't show up.

5. Companies could use IOH's for their own devious purposes: they might pitch their internship program, entry level jobs, use the visiting students as a focus group, ask them to play with a demo product, or present a challenge the company is currently dealing with.

6. Students could use IOH's for their own devious purposes: they might ask about job or internship opportunities, or ask questions related to their research/coursework.

7. But the goal of an IOH is simply to expose students to the company, what it does, how it got started, etc. There's no obligation on the part of the company to do anything aside from spending 90 minutes with a group of students. And there's no obligation on the part of the students to do anything aside from spending 90 minutes at a company. (But students will be encouraged to continue the conversation among themselves at a nearby coffee shop/inexpensive restaurant to build connections.)

8. Snacks, lunch, or beverages should be supplied by the company -- or paid for by a generous sponsor of the IOH series.

9. IOH's should be very low-effort to organize, low-effort for companies to participate in, and low-effort for students to RSVP for and come to. (Though if they prove popular it may be necessary to ask students to "compete" a bit to get in.)

10. After the 2009-2010 academic year, we should evaluate how well IOHs are working, and think about ways that they might be "open sourced" so that other cities in New England could replicate them (OK, and the rest of the world, too).

If you want to help make this happen, drop me a note at sk - at sign -, and let me know if you're available for a 5:30 - 8 PM brainstorming session in Cambridge on Aug 3, 4, 5, 6, or 10. (I need to hear from you by July 13th.) This will be a very distributed effort, ideally, that doesn't turn into a giant time sink for anybody. My goal is to simply have one meeting now to design the series, do everything else by e-mail or conference call, and meet again next summer to review. Please do not come if you just want to lob ideas and are not available to be hands-on when it comes to actually running these.

Among the questions we'll address: what companies would be most interesting to students... how will students RSVP... how do we reach out to get a good mix of students... can students attend more than one of the events in the series...should we include companies that aren't accessible via public transportation. Another question, more for the long-term, is how do we track the impact of this effort, and the careers of the people who've participated. (Perhaps a Facebook or LinkedIn group?)

I'm open to students, entrepreneurs, profs, VCs, anyone being involved in making this happen. If you are willing to help, you'll be considered one of the Esteemed Most Trustworthy Trustees of the IOH Series, which should do wonders for your résumé.

Please forward this blog post to anyone you think may be interested...and of course, feel free to comment if you have feedback/ideas/criticism/words of warning...

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July 22nd Event on Non-Competes... New Blog... And Some Advice

- Attorney Stephen Chow has put together what looks to be a really solid evening about the pending Massachusetts legislation that could change the status quo here with regard to non-compete agreements. It's free, it takes place on July 22nd in Boston, and I'm attending in the hopes that at least some of it will be comprehensible to non-lawyers. Perhaps you will, too?

Find out more or register for the event here.

Speakers will include:

  • State Rep. William N. Brownsberger, Esq., Sponsor of H. 1794 (bill to eliminate non-competes)
  • Russell Beck, Esq., Foley & Lardner, LLP, Drafter of H. 1799 (bill to restrict non-competes)
  • Stephen Y. Chow, Esq., Burns & Levinson LLP, Massachusetts Uniform Law Commission, Drafter of H. 87, Symposium organizer
  • Michael L. Rosen, Esq., Foley Hoag LLP, Author of the Massachusetts Noncompete Law Blog, Speaking for the status quo
  • Hon. Gordon L. Doerfer (Ret.), JAMS, Moderator
  • Dr. Matthew Marx, MIT Sloan School, Investigator on longitudinal study of electrical engineer parties to non-compete agreements

- Foley & Lardner's Russell Beck, one of the speakers at the July 22nd event, has just launched a new blog dedicated to trade secret and non-compete issues.

- I was talking to an attorney last week who offered some good advice. Non-competes, unfortunately, are enforceable even if you are part of a lay-off at your company. This attorney said he has been involved in negotiating severance deals with several employees to make sure they're not targeted by their former employer if they want to go and work or start a company in the same field. In these negotiations, he has found that employees can often get released from their non-competes by giving up about 25 percent of their severance payment. Interesting...

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Friday, July 3, 2009

How Awesome Is This? There's a New Foundation in Town

There's a new foundation in town: The Awesome Foundation is doling out month-long $1000 grants, plus office space at betahouse in Cambridge, to "people doing awesome things in the world."

Founder Tim Hwang, a researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard and founder of the excellent ROFLcon series of events exploring Internet memes, describes the new foundation as "a fast-paced micro-MacArthur Foundation for your flashes of fast-paced micro-genius."

Hwang started hunting for micro-trustees in early June, and within a few weeks had assembled a group of 11 people willing to pony up $100 per month to support the idea. (More trustees are still joining...)

They announced the foundation, and started looking for grantees, yesterday. I'm curious what kind of projects will make the cut...

There is of course a Facebook group and Twitter feed.

Really nifty news to start the Fourth of July weekend with...

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 1st: You May Now Stop Innovating

First, thanks to everyone who helped out with New England Innovation Month in June...

We started the grassroots project as a way to reboot the conversation, moving it away from the lousy economy and toward the things we can control: new ideas and new ventures and new connections. There were about 25 events on the official calendar, and those I went to were really well-attended and had great energy.

What was especially cool was to have two Left Coast publications take note of what we were doing out here in the colonies: VentureBeat and the San Jose Mercury News, which ran a piece headlined 'Boston tech scene on the rebound.'

I am *sure* this is only the beginning of some great new thinking about how to turbo-charge innovation around our region...

...And there are already some great signs that good things will continue in July:

- The Secretary of Housing & Economic Development in Massachusetts, Greg Bialecki, has just launched his blog with a great "Declaration of Innovation."

- TechStars Boston is going strong, and will present a whole crop of new companies to investors in early September.

- There's been some really constructive talk around how we can connect students to cool companies in our region.

- There are some great events happening in July and August, including WebInno, PodCamp Boston, Mass Innovation Night (hoping to finally get to that next week), CloudCamp, and a Forrester Tweetup (expecting to see Tweeter-in-Chief George Colony there, who purports to be a CEO who understands social technologies)...

Again, big thanks to all of you who supported this idea and came out to the events.

(And yes, I'm joking with the headline of this post. Please continue your innovating -- though feel free to take a short vacation in July or August.)

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Update on Zipcar's Forthcoming iPhone App

Zipcar showed off a new iPhone app last month at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference that got me salivating (I'm a Zipcar member): it offers GPS help finding cars that are available, and can even honk the car's horn to help you locate it in a parking lot. See the video demo below...

Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith told me today that he has already been testing the beta version on his iPhone, with a few of the company's cars here in Boston. "We're finishing the app now, and then we have to do a complete new software download to our whole car network, so that iPhones will have the ability to honk the horn and unlock the car for you," Griffith said. The app will be free. Griffith estimates that it'll be available in about four weeks. Future versions of the Zipcar app, he added, might give Zipcar members discounts on music, or deals on iPhone navigation apps or other travel-related apps.

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Two Great VC Posts from Rob Go and Larry Cheng

Just calling your attention to two VC posts worth reading -- one on how to handle your first meeting, and one on how to tell if you piqued the investor's interest at that meeting:

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