Friday, September 19, 2014

Tech Specs of a Paper Book:

Readable with any form of light

Very high contrast display

Requires no battery power

Depending on model, lasts anywhere from five to five thousand years or more

Immersive and non-distracting user interface

Offers a spatial layout for immediate access to random information

Conforms to the standardized “page number” spec for easy reference

Supports direct interaction via pen or highlighter

DRM-free for easy lending and resale

Standards-based system not controlled by any single corporation or entity

Crash-proof and immune to viruses (though vulnerable to some worms)

Easy to learn user-interface consistent across most manufacturers

Supports very large number of colors and also black and white images

Compatible with a wide variety of note taking systems

The tech specs of a paper book.

Technology that is new is not inherently better. Technology that is old and still widely used has by definition survived a healthy Darwinian process, to the benefit of all.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Secondary Technologies and “Why Now?”

After spending a good amount of time in VC, its only natural that you’ll hear the same idea pitched again years later.  Or, in its extreme, you’ll hear an idea pitched in a market that is littered with the cracked hulls of failed startups in the past.  When this happens, the skeptical mind asks “Why Now?” Why will this work today when so many others have failed in the past?

Sometimes the answer is as simple as “We are better.” Team matters… at the earliest stage of investing I’d argue it matters above all else.  And so as an investor you have to decide whether you think this is the team to crack the code in a historically difficult market.

But sometimes, you can come up with an answer to “Why Now?” that’s far more rational and intellectually satisfying. In one of my favorite startup talks ever, Jawad Karim (the third co-founder of YouTube that people usually forget to include in crediting YouTube’s genesis story) explains the “Why Now?” of YouTube quite rationally.  He uses an argument around secondary technology and how they were the necessary foundation for YouTube’s success where previously so many other companies had failed.  The talk is long, so I’ve cued it up in YouTube directly to the part where he explains “Why Now?” and secondary technologies.  If you have more time, I *highly* recommend you watch the whole video because it contains countless gems of internet lore and nostalgia, along with a good analysis of the commonalities of hypergrowth companies.

Also, Liz Gannes did a tl;dr of the video back in 2006, which is a nice summary… though her link to the video in her article is broken so use mine instead.

This talk is 8 years old so I consider this my #tbt for the day even if I wasn’t there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
You have a gift… the willingness to entertain absurd ideas. It is a habit that is highly prized among my peers.

Paraphrased from Ajax Penumbra 1969.

I strive to build this habit regularly. It’s a real challenge, one well worth enduring.

Friday, September 12, 2014
There are schemes that don’t respect and honor the payment networks,” said James Anderson, the senior vice president for mobile product development at MasterCard. “We want to invest in programs that respect our role in the ecosystem.

A quote from an NYT article on Apple Pay.

"Respect and Honor…" I will remember that phrase for a long time. It’s a death knell.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Q: So, unrelated question, but I’m just curious—- What was your reaction to THE SOCIAL NETWORK movie?

A:The zero-sum world it portrayed has nothing in common with the Silicon Valley I know, but I suspect it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the dysfunctional relationships that dominate Hollywood.

from Peter Thiel’s AMA on Reddit.

That’s the single most unintuitive thing about startups: they are almost never zero-sum. Which means you have to stop thinking about competition and instead focus internally on your own strengths and weaknesses. It’s unlike nearly all games, simulations, and learning lessons we all play growing up.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"When Are We Gonna Have To Use This?"

Upworthy has a beautiful video featuring an algebra class working together to on a sticky math question. It’s inspiring to watch; it features the best aspects of problem solving and challenging yourself. My favorite part is the teacher’s refutation to the question: “When am I ever going to use this?”

Q: Why do you do this exercise with your students?

"Every year I get the question in class, ‘When are we gonna have to use this?’ And my answer to that question is, ‘You’re not.’ That’s not the point. By doing math, we are carving neural pathways that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. Grappling with problems like this makes us better problem solvers, and by extension, better human beings.

This response reminded me one of my favorite blogs post of the past few years, written by my friend Ben Stein. He wrote a refutation to Jeff Atwood plea to stop encouraging everyone to become programmers.

Jeff’s point was: very few people who learn to program become great programmers, and why does the world need more mediocre programmers? Just like not everyone needs to learn to be a plumber, not everyone needs to learn to program.

Ben’s response was terrific. It’s all great, but the money paragraph is:

Do I want my son to become a computer programmer? I don’t care. Up to him. Do I want him to understand how to think critically and logically and in a structured & methodical way when approaching problems? Absolutely. And computer programming teaches these skills better than anything else I’ve ever done.

Similarly, I recently finished a Coursera course on Cryptography. Outside of this class, I will never again implement a crypto cipher, or even use crypto library code in an app I write. No one will ever rely on me to handle their encryption/decryption matters. Like plumbing, it’s nearly always cleanly abstracted away from me. But it was so worth my time because of the way in which it challenged me an expanded my thinking.  Like after reading a good book, it changed the way I think about a set of problems, and by extension, makes me a better human being.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
From YC company Helion, this is one gram of heavy water (D2O), which has the potential to generate as much energy as 10k tons of coal.

From YC company Helion, this is one gram of heavy water (D2O), which has the potential to generate as much energy as 10k tons of coal.

Monday, August 18, 2014

According to Pew Research Center, these are the list of jobs that are most susceptible and least susceptible to being automated away by robots.

I find the “least susceptible” list kinda funny. The first two line items are Sports Athletes and Firefighters. I would totally watch a version of the NFL that had only robots. :) maybe I’m alone with that opinion.

And firefighters is funny too because drones are likely more well-suited to putting out fires on high floors of apartment buildings than men with trucks and ladders.

Sunday, August 17, 2014
The Challenge in VC
Over four years ago I wrote this old post about the spawn of craigslist. It hit a nerve in the zeitgeist and tends to go re-viral about once a year. That happened again this morning as someone emailed me a usage of this image in a post calling for YouTube to be similarly fragmented.
Looking at the image this morning, I’m struck by the arc of the companies on this list.  Some of them have IPO’d. Others are out of business. If you could have made investments in all of these companies back in 2010, you’d have a portfolio of 34 companies with roughly 6-8 billion dollar outcomes, which would likely be one of the best venture funds of the decade.
The lesson here is that venture capital is less about identifying great investment opportunities and is far more about getting access to those opportunities.  Knowing that this handful of companies would become interesting in 2010 is not what makes a great VC. It’s convincing the entrepreneurs in all these companies to partner with you on their journey; that’s the battle.

The Challenge in VC

Over four years ago I wrote this old post about the spawn of craigslist. It hit a nerve in the zeitgeist and tends to go re-viral about once a year. That happened again this morning as someone emailed me a usage of this image in a post calling for YouTube to be similarly fragmented.

Looking at the image this morning, I’m struck by the arc of the companies on this list.  Some of them have IPO’d. Others are out of business. If you could have made investments in all of these companies back in 2010, you’d have a portfolio of 34 companies with roughly 6-8 billion dollar outcomes, which would likely be one of the best venture funds of the decade.

The lesson here is that venture capital is less about identifying great investment opportunities and is far more about getting access to those opportunities.  Knowing that this handful of companies would become interesting in 2010 is not what makes a great VC. It’s convincing the entrepreneurs in all these companies to partner with you on their journey; that’s the battle.