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.
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.
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.
Why we build for students -
Technology in education has historically been a story of control and limited access.
The main sources of information for students were their textbooks and their teachers. Both were limited: either in content, or in time. Research happened in libraries, closed after school. Lab computers… [read more]
Socratic’s Shreyans Bhansali has a terrific post on the future of education technology. Here’s my favorite paragraph:
[I]t makes little sense for any institution to push poor technology choices on students. The textbook’s website is clunky? Wikipedia and Google are clean and fast. YouTube is blocked in the lab? It works on their phones.
The phone as a subversive vector by which student will work around systems of control in schools is a major trend to watch in ed tech going forward. Check out the rest of Shreyans’s post, it’s well worth the time.
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.
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.
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.
When you hear someone say, “I was using the Google yesterday, and I found this great recipe.” It rings like the speaker is a novice or trailing adopter.
When you hear someone say, “I was using the Facebook yesterday, and I saw this cute kitten photo.” I have this conflicting internal monologue: “Wait, did they say it wrong, or are they being retro?”
Graffiti at 11 Spring Street
I use Graffiti frequently to explain thought leadership to entrepreneurs.
I tell a simple story: at 11 Spring St (depicted above), the Wooster Collective created an a three-day expo of graffiti featuring some of the best graffiti artists in the world. How was that location chosen? Well, for many years it had been a primer location to tag, and it was about to be torn down to build condos, so the expo was a celebration of the many years in which this wall had served as a graffiti nexus point.
If you were a graffiti artist, tagging the wall across the street was not good enough, it was this one building at 11 Spring that was the wall that mattered. This is thought leadership. Be the wall that matters. This phenomenon describes the success of Stack Overflow, Wikipedia, and other crowdsourced resources of top quality. There are countless places to ask and answer tech Q&A, and the internet is littered with forks/clones of Wikipedia… but, the key difference is these two properties have thought leadership. They are the walls that matter.
(Fred had a concise blog post this morning expressing his interest in Graffiti. I left a comment that turned into a blog post, so this post is a cross-post of my comment there.)