Friday, December 30, 2005
I give advice to a lot of entrepreneurs. This probably doesn't have much to do with any special wisdom, but more to my approach.
You see, I never ask entrepreneurs to sign any agreements or make any firm commitments up front. When I was starting my first company, a lot of people tried to get me to sign agreements granting them shares in exchange for providing advice, as a down payment on raising money, and any number of other things.
I did a lot of dumb things back then, but one of the smart things I did was to not sign any of those agreements.
Maybe they could have helped me. But I managed to start the company and raise $6 million on my own without them.
The reason that they missed out was that they forgot the cardinal rule of startups: First, kick ass.
Actually, you could also say, "First, create value," but that wouldn't be quite so punchy.
First kick ass. Then figure out how to claim the value you've created.
If you contribute to a successful company, there will be plenty of money and accolades to go around--in the Valley, success is usually binary--either you do or you don't. There isn't a lot of in between.
So what I tell people is, "I'll help you because I like you and I think your company has promise. And when we've been working together for a while, we'll figure out a way for me to be rewarded if you succeed."
Things have a way of working out.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
I've decided to create a new buzzword: Part-Ups.
A part-up is a startup which the principals are pursuing part-time as part of a deliberate strategy, rather than as simple moonlighting.
Increasingly, I'm meeting people who are pursuing a portfolio career where they spend some of their time on cash cows, and some of their time on part-ups.
Take my friend Auren Hoffman, for example, who uses cash businesses like the Stonebrick Group to fund his real work of founding technology companies.
Or how about my buddy Ramit Sethi, who is the co-founder of PBWiki, but is also a part-time consultant for VCs, and has a popular personal finance blog.
I know more part-up founders, but since some of them have day jobs, I won't name names....
Of course, a part-up really isn't the ideal solution. As Ramit and I discussed at lunch today, the issue is paying the bills while waiting for a liquidity event.
That's why I dusted off an old concept of mine from the 90s: the personal IPO. Except in this context, I think it should be termed a personal VC investment.
Let's take a bright guy like Ramit, who can generate ideas and companies on a weekly basis. The problem is that he faces the choice of either taking a job to pay the bills (which would suck up all of his time), or finding enough freelance work to do the same (which sucks up all one's time in a different way). What he needs is his $50,000 per year.
Now imagine a rich investor who believes in Ramit. He can't invest in a company like a VC, because not all of Ramit's value creation methods involve companies.
What he needs is a way to invest money with a claim on Ramit's future value stream.
Enter the personal VC investment. For $50,000, he purchases a claim on 5% of Ramit's future value creation, up to, say, 10X his investment. If he believes that Ramit will find a way to create $10,000,000 in value for himself, he, the investor, can make $500,000.
Is this a good deal for Ramit? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on if he can convince someone to loan him the $50K on better terms (or just find a rich sugar mama). But it's certainly food for thought.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Increasingly, I believe that people will apply portfolio strategy to their careers. Rather than investing 100% of their human capital into a single job, they'll diversify. A classic example is the artist who works a day job to pay the rent, but works on her art as well. In the old days, this was seen as unusual. Hopefully in 20 years, it will be the norm.
For today's youth, there is a new social contract of work--it's all based on mutual benefits, not "loyalty."
While we aren't quite to Dan Pink's "Free Agent Nation," it sure seems like more people are looking at freelancing.
All my readers know that I'm a big proponent of virtual worlds, one of the key megatrends for this century.
The following headlines support my contention that virtual worlds will continue to take on more and more importance in the real one.
Now anyone can make their own virtual world with Multiverse--and it's free for non-commercial use.
For the next generation, virtual worlds are the norm. But don't worry, they're still pretty savvy. Here's my favorite quote from the article:
"Knode, a North Hagerstown High School graduate, said he's not afraid to meet people online.
"I could see why people would be," Knode said. "That's why you talk to them awhile to make sure they're not a freak."
And because kids are so receptive, expect the use of online games to reach that audience to continue. First it was the U.S. Army. Now it's the accountants who are trying to recruit the young with games:
As usual, the folks at Linden Lab are ahead of the curve. Second Life now has a version just for teens, with "residents" from over 13 countries. Like many people, I've mused about how online worlds might teach the next generations tolerance by exposing them to people with different locations, beliefs, and lifestyles. I'll be curious to see what happens.
Ever hear of the expression, "development hell?" Check out this tale of the shennanigans behind bringing Superman back to the silver screen. It's all comic gold, but I think this is the best excerpt:
"And this is where things got REALLY ugly. First off, Smith [Clerk's director Kevin Smith] was taken aback when Peters [super producer Jon Peters] asked him, in all sincerity, "‘Kal-El’? Who’s this ‘Kal-El’ guy you keep mentioning in the script?" Then the insanity really started to take over. Peters demanded that Superman be stripped of his red and blue suit, arguing that the suit was "too pink, too f@ggy." WB also demanded that Superman undergo a costume change, even ordering Smith to describe the soon-to-be-trashed red and blue duds as being "‘90s-style." So Smith was forced to have Superman ditch his red and blues (which he grudgingly deemed "‘90s-style") early on in the script and switch over to the black and silver suit from the "death of" story as his permanent gear (ironically mirroring Poirier’s earlier script). Peters also hated the FX in the 1978 Superman film with Chris Reeve, so he wanted to get rid of Superman’s ability to fly. So Smith tried to get around this by portraying Superman as a red blur while in flight, creating a sonic boom every time he took off (he took this from The Dark Knight Returns). Peters then told Smith to have Brainiac fight polar bears at the Fortress of Solitude, demanding that the film be wall-to-wall action. Smith thought it was a stupid idea, so Peters said, "Then have Brainiac fight Superman’s bodyguards!" Smith responded, "Why the hell would Superman need bodyguards?" Peters wouldn’t let up, so Smith caved in and had Brainiac fight the polar bears. Then Peters demanded that Brainiac give Luthor a hostile space dog as a gift, arguing that the movie needed a cuddly Chewbacca character that could be turned into a toy. Then, after watching Chasing Amy, Peters liked the gay black character in the film so much that he ordered Smith to make Brainiac’s robot servant L-Ron gay, asserting that the film needed a gay R2-D2 with attitude. Then Peters demanded that Superman fight a huge spider at the end of the film, which Smith refused to do—he used a "Thanagarian Snare Beast" instead. (However, Peters did manage to recycle his spider idea and use it in Wild Wild West.)"
You just can't make this stuff up.
People have told me that I speak in aphorisms. Maybe it's a compliment, or maybe it means that, like a VC, I speak in cliches.
That's why I found this article so entertaining--The Smithsonian tackles classic business cliches that involve the animal kingdom, and show why they're dead wrong.
Here's a good excerpt to whet your appetite:
"You don't want to be an 800-pound gorilla. No such animal has ever existed. The average big daddy silverback tops out at about half that weight. And gorillas are not predators, but vegans, with an almost unlimited appetite for fruit and bamboo shoots. I once worked on a TV documentary about lowland gorillas; on an average day the dramatic episodes consisted of the alpha male passing gas, picking his nose and yawning. Then he did the same things, the other way around. Over and over. This is probably not the image a hard-charging executive wants to present to the public."
I believe in fun. Fun tells us when we're on the right track. It tells us when we're following our true passions. And it just feels good.
This year, people have been emphasizing the tremendous value of having fun in our lives. Let's hope it continues in 2006.
Kathy Sierra reminds us that fun is the killer app. If you love your work, balance isn't as big an issue.
Douglas Rushkoff also picks up on the theme of fun:
"Instead of relentlessly pursuing survival even after our survival needs are met, we must learn how to do things because they fulfill us— because they are, in a word, fun. Fun is not a distraction from work or a drain on our revenue; it is the very source of both our inspiration and our value. A genuine sense of play ignites our creativity, eases communication, promotes goodwill and engenders loyalty, yet we tend to shun it as detrimental to the seriousness with which we think we need to approach our businesses and careers."
I've been telling folks for a while that time poverty is the new yuppie disease.
Dickens once wrote, that misery occurred when expenses exceeded income, while happiness was when income exceeded expenses.
Today, the same holds true, except for time instead of money.
We all have choice in how we spend our time. And we should have the guts to spend it the way that we want, not the way that others want.
I'm glad that the media is starting to pick up on this trend and highlight stories of people who reclaim their lives from their busy schedules:
Fortune tells the story of top executives who use job sharing and other reforms to reclaim their lives.
A good story on the tension between Gen X/Y and the baby boomers, with quotes from a number of young 20 and 30-somethings who emphasize the desire for a life beyond the fast track.
Side note #1: Early this year, some friends of mine (I think they were drunk at the time), called me up because they wanted to collaborate on writing a book about the baby boomers. The title? "The Worst Generation." I still think it would be a good idea.
Side note #2: Marcos Najera, who is quoted extensively in the article, is an old acquaintance from Stanford. I'm glad to see that he hasn't sold out to the man!
Back in November, scientists at Manchester University managed to derive a formula to explain the "beer goggle" effect.
The formula, which takes into account the amount of alcohol consumed, the lighting in the room, your vision, and the distance between you and the person you're looking at, can predict the degree to which your judgment of attractiveness is likely to be impaired.
At 100, Kathy Bates will look like Jessica Alba...which explains some of the "girls" my pal Kelso hooked up with in college.
Friday, December 23, 2005
A while ago, I read Honey, Mud, Maggots, and Other Medical Marvels, a fascinating book that details how some folk remedies actually work. One of the points it makes is that remedies that cross cultures and withstand the test of time are often quite effective.
I'm curious about how this principle applies to Internet marketing. If you're like me, you've probably run across what I call the cheezy Internet marketing guru newsletter sites--Web sites that consist of a single, extremely long Web page, full of bold-faced type, different colors, and lots of exclamation marks.
I've always looked at those sites and just shaken my head.
But if we apply the folk remedy analogy, maybe there is something to them. After all, the same thing applies to stuff like spam, porn, and telemarketing. If it didn't work, why would people do it?
So here's my challenge to you: Is there any way that "legitimate" Silicon Valley marketers can learn something from the newsletter/ebook crowd?
Paul Graham has posted one of the essays from his book, "Hackers and Painters" to PaulGraham.com.
I'm a bit torn on this one, because I think it has some great points, but I also think it could be much shorter. Therefore, allow me to offer you my bullet-point summary of the essay:
1. Money is not wealth. Money is just a shorthand. Making wealth consists of doing what people want.
2. Thinking of money as wealth leads people to believe that wealth is a zero-sum game of dividing a fixed pie of money. In fact, the best way to make money is to expand the pie by creating wealth (which can then be converted into money).
3. Great programmers (and other top performers) can be orders of magnitude more productive than average. Big companies and regular jobs tend to average everyone out. Therein lies the problem with big companies.
4. Startups offer a better deal for top people. You can be measured on your output (because the company is small enough to act as a proxy for your own productivity), and technology provides tremendous leverage.
5. In fact, because startups are so productive, a good strategy is to "run upstairs" by seeking out the hard problems (that offer commensurate rewards). The harder the problem, the less likely a big company can tackle it as quickly as a startup.
6. Of course, keep in mind that startups offer a better deal on average. Startups are mosquitoes that either succeed or get squashed, unlike a lumbering corporate bear, which can take a lot of hits without going down (just look at General Motors).
7. Because wealth consists of doing what people want, the best measure of success is the number of users you have. Get out there as quickly as possible, because without users, you're optimizing based on guesses.
8. Capitalism works because it lets the people who create the wealth keep most of it. When government doesn't let you keep what you create, the incentive to create goes away.
Ultimately, I agree with every one of Paul's points; I just think he could have said it in fewer words. What do you think? Did I do a good job of summarizing the gist?
Thursday, December 22, 2005
On a recent day at work, I ended up getting into a discussion of whether or not I'd pay extra for a quick death versus a painful death (the topic came up over the PRC's practice of charging executed criminals for the bullets required to kill them, and how you could save a few RMB by only paying for a single bullet).
I maintained that if I was going to die anyway, whether it was painful or painless was irrelevant. This was, to put it mildly, the minority opinion.
When I told my wife about my position, she commented, "I'm going to remember this when you're old and dying. When the doctors go to give you painkillers, I'm going to tell them, 'No drugs for my husband; he doesn't want to spend the extra money.'"
What do you think?
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Back during pre-crash 2000, I used to joke to my friends that it seemed like a new business model crawled out of the primordial ooze each day--the implication being that natural selection would eventually kill abominations like advertising-supported cars.
As I try to plow through hundreds of blog posts a day, and run across things like ScanR (boy, my advice to buy eiantstr.com is looking better and better each day), I can't shake the feeling that I've seen this movie before.
If you've got a buyout offer, in cash, I suggest you take it.
In the long run, I am incredibly bullish, but I think we may be at a short term peak, making it a good time to sell....
Saturday, December 17, 2005
It's been over a week since I was last able to post, so I figured I'd better make it good this time.
I have over 60 different items saved up in my del.icio.us folder (check for the tag: yehblog) that I can talk about, but tonight I want to focus on an important topic: the meaning of life.
And yes, I'm being serious.
Like most people, I have searched for meaning throughout my life. I've studied many different philosophies and religions, without ever finding "the meaning of life."
I have two young children whom I love incredibly, but while the survival of the species may be the biological meaning of life, it's not philosophically satisfying.
Now that I'm an old man of 31, however, I think that I'm finally coming to some important realizations.
First of all, it's clear to me that the meaning of life differs for every person. So many great thinkers, far wiser than me, have disagreed on the one meaning of life; clearly there are many different meanings.
Second, to find the meaning of your life, you have to be willing to listen to your fundamental instincts, regardless of whether you like what they have to say.
It would be nice if the meaning of my life had some lofty goal, like "the greatest good for the greatest number," or "love thy neighbor," but guess what? Those particular principles don't resonate with me. They may resonate with you, in which case, they might be the meaning of your life, but they aren't the meaning of mine.
Third, if you're not sure if you've found the meaning of your life, you haven't found it. The point of something as large as "the meaning of life" is that there should be no doubt in your mind. Thus, if you haven't found what you're looking for yet, keep looking. And look in as many places as possible--because the meaning of life is so personal and individual, you may not find your meaning in the place you'd expect.
You're probably asking, so Chris, what's the meaning of your life?
Bear in mind, of course, that knowing the meaning of my life won't necessarily help you find yours. If what I write sounds dull, strange, or even insane, that just means you need to look elsewhere. (Conversely, if you find your meaning, and you tell someone else, and they look at you funny, just ignore them. There's no reason to expect that they'll share your meaning.)
There are two key insights that I've come to in the past month or so that have made a huge impact.
First, thanks to Don Yates, I read Edward Deci's "Why We Do What We Do." It is well worth reading for its many insights into self-motivation, but that's not what grabbed me.
In the book, Deci talks about a study which discovered that humans have six basic aspirations. The first three, the extrinsic aspirations, are to be rich, famous, and good-looking. (Actually, rich/powerful and famous/well-liked, but why ruin a euphonious phrase?) Sound familiar?
The second three, the intrinsic aspirations, are to have good relationships with the ones you care about, to achieve personal growth, and to feel like you contribute to your community.
Deci's work showed that people who focused on extrinsic aspirations (regardless of whether or not they achieved them) tended to display narcissism, anxiety, and depression, while the people who focused on instrinsic aspirations displayed a strong sense of well-being.
This hit me like a thunderbolt.
I'm fond of saying, "I have everything that money can't buy. Now I need is the money." What Deci's work does is prove the old saw that money can't buy happiness. Actually, the meaning is more subtle than that. Clearly, money is helpful. But believing that money can buy happiness is actually associated with anxiety and depression.
In fact, Silicon Valley as a whole is overwhelmingly focused on extrinsic aspirations. I'd often find myself sighing on weekends, as I felt the pangs of not being rich and famous (I'm pretty happy with how I look...).
After reading Deci, the sighs are gone. Once I could identify the problem with focusing on external aspirations, my desire for those things drained away.
It was a near-religious experience (and that's saying something, since I'm not religious). The closest analogy I can draw comes from C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. In "The Silver Chair," Aslan warns a child that when she leaves his country, her thoughts will lose their clarity (very much like Plato's allegory of the cave). I feel like reading Deci brought me a moment of clarity, and whenever I find myself backsliding into my old extrinsic habits, I give myself a quick refresher course by re-reading Deci's work.
Second, after 10 years, I feel like I've experienced enough in my career to realize what I want to do with my life. I know where I want to be, and how to get there, and thanks to Deci, I can go after what I want with a sense of detachment. I know that no matter what happens, I can achieve my intrinsic aspirations. And curiously enough, that detachment makes it more likely that I'll achieve my extrinsic goals, since I'm pursuing them out of innate interest, rather than as a means to a materialistic end.
I've seen this in the business ideas I've come up with; in the old days, I focused first on the market sizing and the business model. Now, I focus on creating products that will deliver value to their users, and fill in the rest from that first principle.
And with that (and the fact that Stanford's men's basketball team just finished a narrow loss to Virginia Tech), I will bid you all a good night. Good luck finding your own meaning of life!
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
! Begin Shameless Plug
For those of you who haven't been living under a rock, this week will mark the premiere of the big-budget movie version of C. S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."
As my own humble contribution to the hype, I've used my precious spare time to create a Narnia wiki, so that new fans brought in by the movie, and old fans who (like me) want a refresher course on the various characters and events can have a searchable online database of Narnia facts and information.
If you're a fan, show the link love!
P.S. Yes, I know I'm crazy to have spent something like 10 precious hours of my time on this. But I think a timeless children's classic deserves it. Like it's any worse than watching American Idol.
My friend Ben Casnocha and I spend a lot of time talking, emailing, and commenting back and forth about non-tech, non-business issues.
I often griped that I didn't get the chance exercise the intellectual muscles we used back in college. Normally, that's where things would have stopped.
Ben, however, had different ideas.
With the vigor of youth, he has created the Silicon Valley Junto, a discussion group based on Ben Franklin's famous Junto of colonial America.
The credit is all his, and I'll be proud and honored to participate. I encourage anyone who is interested to visit the Silicon Valley Junto web site and sign up.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
There's an interesting post from Joe Kraus of JotSpot about the importance of pricing. Instead of charging the standard per-user fee for their wiki service, JotSpot is charging based on pages:
"When figuring out the business model, I thought a lot about what happened at Excite vs. let's say Overture. Excite had a business model in CPM, or cost-per-thousand, advertising that was divorced from value. The advertisers took all the risk: They might get five click-throughs; they might get a thousand—it's hard to know. What we got trounced by is the CPC model, which basically correlated much more closely to value.
With this in mind, I spent a lot of time interviewing users about what made JotSpot valuable to them. Their answer boiled down to pages: If there were a lot of pages in there, JotSpot's value increased. So we're moving to a model where you get 50 pages for free, and then at 200 pages, you pay $10 a month; at 750 pages, you pay $20 a month; and at 2,000 pages you pay $50 a month, and you can have unlimited users. The person who pays is the person who signed up."
I find this area of innovation fascinating. The other great example that Bill Sahlman used back when I was at HBS is RE/MAX, which offered a different deal to real-estate brokers. Their structure allowed top brokers to make more money, which led to their attracting the most successful practitioners.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Speaking of Google, when I saw the headline, "Google extends searching offline," I hoped that they had finally launched my dream service, Google House, which will let me search the contents of my house and tell me instantly where my son left his toy dinosaur when he's looking for it.
Alas, it's about kiosks that Google is installing in airports.
I really like this new blog from ex-Google marketing guy Doug Edwards. He's an ex-journalist who writes well, is very concrete, and tells good stories.
I always wish that I had gone to Google's launch party in 1999 and joined the company. One of my old buddies was employee #2 (now retired, and living in Tahoe), and I had an invitation to attend. Perhaps if I had gone, I would have realized that they were up to something special and joined up.
While doing so would certainly have been lucrative, another, ultimately more interesting reason is to take part in something special.
Make no mistake, I would love to have a ton of Google money. It would make life a lot easier. But I also regret missing on on the feeling one gets when everything is coming together, and you truly feel like you're changing the world.
There are only a few companies that have been able to provide that feeling. You can count them on one hand: Microsoft, Apple, Netscape, Google. Those who were there at the beginning are fortunate in more ways than one.
Friday, November 25, 2005
I realized today that blog comments represent a significant percentage of my writing output, yet there's no way for you, my loyal readers, to see them unless I create a special blog entry.
That led me to conduct the following thought experiment:
What if I tagged every one of my blog comments, then created a feed out of those tags?
It seems like it would be pretty easy to do.
So why haven't I seen anyone else doing it?
Ben Casnocha turned me onto this discussion about how both Paul Graham and Jason Fried place great importance on the ability to write well.
Being a writer, it warms my heart to see such importance being placed on writing. But I think that there is another, often overlooked reason why writing is such a necessary skill.
Good writers also understand their audience. Good writing doesn't exist in a vacuum. It is a product of understanding both your subject and your audience.
To write well, you must listen well and understand other points of view. That may be just as important as the ability to organize one's thoughts.
The ability to both read/listen and write/speak lets you close the communication loop, and persuade your audience of your point of view.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
After meeting Mike Arrington of TechCrunch and Archimedes Ventures, I was inspired to do a little further digging (as opposed to Digg-ing).
A quick Google search turned up this roundup of the new breed of incubators. I'm particularly interested in Curious Office Partners, who seem to be trying the micro-investment route ($10-250K).
If incubators have more reasonable expectations this time, I think they may be well-positioned to succeed in this world of smaller, cheaper startups.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Startup Names Suck!
Now this is getting silly.
The use of i and e I disliked, but could live with.
I thought that the iants and ients were bad.
I thought that we had scraped bottom when we got the sters.
Now we have Flickr to thank for the latest trend in stupid trendy names:
Maybe I should register the domain name eiantstr now!
Sunday, November 20, 2005
I'm firmly of the opinion that just as other activities are becoming more like business, I think business is becoming more like other activities.
For example, what if you ran your business like Disneyland? The book, "If Disney Ran Your Hospital" looks at this question...I haven't read the book, but it sounds fascinating. This tidbit particularly intrigued me:
"Disney doesn't measure customer satisfaction in a traditional way. The only number that matters to them is the number of people who rate them five on a five-point scale without any pressure being put on them. That is the only number that truly captures loyalty; those people are Disney promoters. On patient satisfaction surveys, hospitals have traditionally averaged promoters with other satisfied people, which diluted their score."
This gets to what Kathy Sierra is always talking about--the key to success is to create a group of insanely loyal users.
Or how about this story about an entrepreneur who closed his retail store to sell solely via the Internet? The interesting thing is why he did it: He's not making more money, but he has more time to do the things that he really enjoys.
Or how about this list of activities that a group of UK specialists used to boost the happiness of a particular town? Why not use them on your employees? Or your customers?
* Plant something and nurture it
* Count your blessings - at least five - at the end of each day
* Take time to talk - have an hour-long conversation with a loved one each week
* Phone a friend whom you have not spoken to for a while and arrange to meet up
* Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it
* Have a good laugh at least once a day
* Get physical - exercise for half an hour three times a week
* Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once each day
* Cut your TV viewing by half
* Spread some kindness - do a good turn for someone every day
Remember text-based games? They still exist. I think they're ripe for a comeback as SMS games.
The brilliant Raph Koster on online games. This may be the best use of slides I've ever seen. Well worth checking out just for that.
The unbundling of work
The Merc recently covered LiveOps, a new startup that provides the infrastructure for running virtual call centers. The operators are moms with young children, who like having a job that requres no commute, and can fit into their schedules.
The operators make $.25/minute, with bonuses for upselling. LiveOps already has over 5,000 operators handling calls for Jack LaLanne's Power Juicer and the Ronco Rotisserie Oven.
While columnist Mike Cassidy laments the death of the traditional job, I think the move to unbundle work will have tremendous positive effects. Work should become more flexible and efficient.
I also predict that the rise of the true Free Agent Nation will also create an enormous business opportunity for helping people to construct custom bundles of job, office space, health benefits, and so on.
Where have all the computer scientists gone?
What's wrong with this picture?
"The U.S. Bureau of Labor Standards says software development and engineering are among the Top 10 fastest-growing occupations through 2012."
"The nationwide percentage of incoming college freshmen who want to major in computer sciences declined by more than 60 percent from 2000 to 2004, and is now 70 percent lower than peak levels in the early 1980s."I'm mystified myself. I often wish that I had studied CS when I was at Stanford, and can't imagine why its popularity has fallen to such low levels.
Of course, one alternate explanation, advanced by Paul Graham, is that one doesn't need a CS degree to be a great hacker.
The editorial I pulled these stats from hints at this point:
"Computers, video games and iPods, among other devices, give today's students a familiarity with technology not possible by earlier generations. We need to channel the enthusiasm of early adopters of the latest video games into a transferable technical skill they will pursue for the rest of their lives."
It would be interesting to measure how the percentage of those who describe themselves as hackers, or can write code, has changed over the years.
And, as I've mentioned before, I think that educational games are one of the most promising areas for the next 25 years.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Too interesting to delete...too minor for their own post...it's time for some more miscellaneous links!
The Web desktop takes another step closer to reality.
6 Apart shows you how to apologize to your customers for a screw-up. Hint: Make them feel like they're in control:
Increased bullying of Asian teens...I've often said that Asian gangs are key to getting street respect. Otherwise, other races will just watch our movies, get our words tattooed on their bodies, and still beat us up.
I've always put off backing up my files. Too much trouble. Too much hassle. Thus far, I've dodged the bullet of hard-drive death.
But now that there's Mozy, I have no excuse.
Mozy is a free back-up service that lets up remotely back up 2 GB of files. It's easy to use. And did I mention that it's free?
I downloaded Mozy and had 1.7 GB of files backed up shortly thereafter, with ongoing nightly backups.
I hope I never have to use it, but it sure helps me sleep better at night.
What is greatness? Two different portraits of two different successful men (basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and Star Trek: The Next Generation mastermind Michael Piller) show some surprising similarities:
The great have an uncanny degree of self-confidence, a willingness to ignore the conventional wisdom and what others think in order to pursue their own path. I've noticed the same thing in many of the CEOs and entrepreneurs that I've worked with.
Of course self-confidence without justification is arrogance and hubris. The trick is knowing whether or not your belief in yourself is rational. Ultimately, that has to come from within--the outside world will call you a dreamer and a fool up to the point where you succeed, at which point you'll be hailed as a visionary.
It's official, we're back into bubble territory.
The Merc reports that 4INFO just raised $8 million from Draper Fisher and USVP on a $20 million premoney, based on the concept of a search engine for mobile phones.
$8 million for a cocktail napkin idea? Now I'm scared.
Either that, or it's time for me to raise some money!
Saturday, November 12, 2005
I spent this morning reading Agent to the Stars, a novel by John Scalzi, who may be best known as one of the main contributors to the Uncle John's Bathroom Readers series of trivia books. I myself am the proud owner of the 14th book in the series, which holds a place of honor in the bathroom frequented by visitors to our house.
The novel itself was great fun, especially for someone like me who grew up in LA and knows the peculiar nature of the movie industry. I'm a big fan of what may be the smallest genre in fiction: Satirical novels about the business implications of humanity coming into contact with alien life forms (Greg Costikyan's "First Contract" is the only other book I'm aware of in this genre, also highly recommended).
But what stuck in my mind, besides such memorable lines as, "I made her grovel like the she-dog she is," is John's introduction to the novel, which he makes available online for free:
"In the summer of 1997, I was 28 years old, and I decided that after years of thinking about writing a novel, I was simply going to go ahead and write one. There were two motivations for doing so. First, I was simply curious if I could; I'd had up to that time a reasonably successful life as a writer, but I'd never written anything longer than ten pages in my life outside of a classroom setting. Two, my ten-year high school reunion was coming up, and I wanted to be able to say I'd finished a novel just in case anyone asked (they didn't, the bastards).
In sitting down to write the novel, I decided to make it easy on myself. I decided first that I wasn't going to try to write something near and dear to my heart, just a fun story. That way, if I screwed it up (which was a real possibility), it wasn't like I was screwing up the One Story That Mattered To Me. I decided also that the goal of writing the novel was the actual writing of it -- not the selling of it, which is usually the goal of a novelist. I didn't want to worry about whether it was good enough to sell; I just wanted to have the experience of writing a story over the length of a novel, and see what I thought about it. Not every writer is a novelist; I wanted to see if I was.
Making these two decisions freed me from a lot of the usual angst and pain that comes from writing a first novel. This was in all respects a "practice" novel -- a setting for me to play with the form to see what worked, and what didn't, and what I'd need to do to make the next novel worth selling.
It worked. I picked a fun, humorous story -- aliens from another world decide to get an agent -- and I just let it take me where it wanted to go. I banged out the chapters on the weekends, using the weekdays to let my mind figure out what to do next. The writing was fun, and for the most part it was easy, and in three months, the whole thing was done (and just in time for my high-school reunion).
Once the novel was finished, I decided, what the heck, I might as well try to sell it. This was not particularly successful. The agents I shopped it to liked the writing, but said humorous SF was hard place; the publishers liked the writing but said humorous SF was hard to sell. I wasn't terribly put out about this; this was a practice novel, after all. But on the other hand I thought it was good enough to let other people see it.
So in early 1999, I decided to put it online as a "shareware novel." The premise was simple: People could read it, and if they liked it, they could send me a dollar, or whatever sum they liked (even if that sum was zero). If they didn't like it, well, clearly, they wouldn't have to send me anything. It was a no-risk proposition for the reader. I didn't expect to see a dime from it, but as it turns out, over five years I made about $4,000 (well, I think it was about that much. I stopped counting after a while. I know I made enough to buy a laptop and lots of pizzas. More than enough)."
I think that John's experience should be inspiring, not just to aspiring novelists, but to entrepreneurs as well. If you want to write a novel or start a company, just do it. Don't worry about writing "Ulysses" or starting Google on your first try. Just see if you can do it, and more importantly, if you have a taste for it.
If it flows, it will probably be pretty good, and you may even make some money off of it. Heck, $4,000 is a lot more than a lot of folks see for their first novel!
I only wish that I had read this back when I was in college. Rather than wasting my time in summer school, I could have banged out a couple of novels! Or companies....
The often thought-provoking Fred Wilson posted an essay on how VCs need to realize that their customers are the entrepreneurs in whom they invest, not the LPs from whom they raise money.
Whether you view this as insightful or a clever entrepreneur relations play (comments are pretty evenly split), it definitely makes you go hmmmm.
I've been on the receiving end of the many infamous VC tactics that entrepreneurs hate so much--always having to wait for the VC to arrive at the first meeting, never getting a clear "No," the tendency for VCs to reach for the axe whenever something goes wrong--and I never thought to myself, "You know what? I'm their customer. And if I don't like what they're doing, I can fire them."
While I have a mental list of VCs I never want to work with (please don't bother asking me for the list--I'm not suicidal, you know!), it never occurred to me that I should consider that list from a position of power, rather than weakness.
To paraphrase Tolkien, the "Ent"repreneurs are waking up, and discovering that they are strong.
I wonder what will happen if the majority of entrepreneurs come to the same realization? Fred may have started more than he bargained for....but if such a revolution comes, then the VCs who have been careful to cultivate an entrepreneur-friendly mindset will be well-positioned to make a killing.
On Thursday, Michael Sessions, an 18-year-old high school senior who lost when he ran for Vice President of the Student Council, was elected the Mayor of Hillsdale, Michigan.
Sessions, a write-in candidate, beat the incumbent by 2 votes.
And they say that one vote never counts.
While this may just be a bit of offbeat news, I think it shows that people are more willing than ever to embrace change. Here's what one respectable citizen had to say:
"Here's this kid talking about how there are grants to help towns like ours attract biotech companies," said shop owner John Spiteri, 49. "I'm friends with Doug [the former mayor and owner of the town's ice skating rink]. He's taught my kid to skate. But people here are hungry for anyone who can pump life back into this town. I had to vote for Mike."
I see this as part of an overall trend where people are increasingly willing to ignore the inner voices that say, "that's not how things are done," and just go for it. And I like it.
I only wish that I had realized this at an earlier age, like Hizzoner, Mayor Sessions.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Happiness Is Good, Less Government Spending Means More Happiness, Therefore Less Government Spending is Good.
Dennis Prager makes a very effective argument that evil is rarely associated with happy people:
"When you think about a Muslim suicide terrorist, is "happy" the first word you think of to describe him?
When you think about Nazis or Communists or Klansmen or child molesters, do you immediately think, "Now there are some happy people"?
Of course not.
It only takes a moment's thought to realize that while most unhappy people don't engage in evil, most evil is done by unhappy people."
All too true. Alas, rather than focusing on Gross National Happiness, most governments seem intent on the opposite. It often seems to me that happiness is one of the last things on the agenda of either the left (who wallow in guilt and self-righteousness) or the right (who revel in ignorance and self-righteousness).
In fact, there is even research that shows that life satisfaction decreases with higher government spending.
Not to go all Libertarian on you or anything, but if life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness really are unalienable rights, it seems like we should try to maximize them, rather that stamp them out. When the government tries to legislate morality or behavior (by banning breast implants or abortion), when it takes away our resources to give them to someone else (be they the poor or big business), it interferes with the greatest goods it should be providing to its citizens.
Guess what politicians, you don't know what I want, and you don't know what's better for me. So stop trying to tell me what to do and start focusing on giving people the kind of environment they need to pursue those American ideals.
It's hot, it definitely changes user behavior, and it's like to result in huge winners and big losers.
For example, I'm amazed by how Digg managed to escape my notice until the recent announcement of its first round of VC. Now they're in BusinessWeek! I definitely plan on investigating further.
I also read about the unveiling of TagWorld in an article by one of my favorite journalists, Susan Kuchinskas (thanks again for the great article on my company!).
It seems like only yesterday that I was hearing about some newfangled service named Del.icio.us...
Of course, content isn't the only thing amenable to tagging. The whole space of online reputation management is simply another way of tagging people.
I think that tagging will be big because of the way it taps into free brainpower and collective wisdom, but no one really knows what its most important uses will be...yet.
The Guardian writes about the concept of having a "portfolio life."
"Portfolio life was a term coined by the business guru Charles Handy in his book The Age of Unreason in 1989. Mr Handy explained the concept as "a portfolio of activities - some we do for money, some for interest, some for pleasure, some for a cause... the different bits fit together to form a balanced whole greater than the parts"."
I totally buy into the concept. To say that one lives for a single thing, whether it be work, children, or pleasure, is a gross simplification.
However, living a portfolio life also means that you have to spend the time managing that portfolio, which includes trimming your losing positions. Alas, I think that may be the hardest part--I know I have a hard time letting go.
Back when I was a sophomore at Stanford, I actually woke up my roommate by screaming in my sleep, "I resign, I resign" as the strain of my many volunteer activities began to get to me.
I took that as a clear sign to cut back, which I did, but it's a little harder when some of your activities are your kids, or are the job you need to pay the rent.
Monday, November 07, 2005
What should the rest of us be doing?
"I feel totally safe playing polo on a field full of pros," says 58-year-old Tom Barrack. "But when amateurs are all over the field, someone can get killed. They have more guts than brains. They charge after every ball and don't know when to hold back." It's the same with the U.S. real estate market right now: "There's too much money chasing too few good deals, with too much debt and too few brains." The amateurs are going to get trampled, he explains, taking seasoned horsemen, who should get off the turf, down with them. Says Barrack: "That's why I'm getting out."
What's also very interesting is how Barrack made his money:
"If a potential deal is complicated or politically sensitive, so much the better. Barrack cherishes thorny situations because they scare off most other bidders. Auctions aren't for him. "How do you congratulate yourself when you've outbid eight of the smartest people in the world?" he marvels."
Or how about how his willingness to take risks paid off immediately:
"Over the next four years he bought package after package. It turned out even better than American Savings had. Owners who were eager to keep their properties bought back their debt for 70 cents or so on the dollar. Any loans Barrack couldn't unload he bundled together and sold on the public markets as mortgage-backed securities."
And how the bubble will end:
"The slump will show up first in speculative hot spots like Miami and Las Vegas, he says, where condo developers are preselling their projects for what look like big profits. When they actually build the units over the next year or two, he predicts, they will end up spending more than the units are now selling for. At that point, says Barrack, the developers will try to raise prices. "But most of these buyers are speculators," he says. "They will either sue the developers to get the original prices or get their deposits back and walk away." The developers will then put the units back on the market, and the glut of vacant condos will drive prices down. "It's the busted deals caused by construction costs that will cause a turn in the market," he predicts. "
Forget WiMax, now there's xMax. Run a wireless network for years on a watch battery! Tres cool if it actually works.
Amazon creates a marketplace for Web labor. I think this may be a little too granular; I'd prefer such a marketplace for slightly larger projects.
Words fail me when it comes to the wall of breasts.
Now this is more like it--a quiz that rates your life on a 1-10 scale. I scored an 8.5; the average person scores a 6.3. Of course, does that mean that my life is actually better, or does it mean that I'm just more optimistic? I encourage you to take the quiz and share your results!
Online Karaoke which allows other people to rate your performance...brilliant.
Why women leave top jobs behind....I think that they're just smart enough to realize that there is more to life than work! I wish more men did the same.
Beware our gleaming, metallic overlords! Finally, someone who tells you how to fight back against the robot rebellion. And you think I'm joking, but I'm not.
Extremely useful tools. But this should be a wiki!
When it comes to consumer-generated media, a few people do the heavy lifting. Even the Wikipedia only has 3,000 people working on it any given day.
This may fall into the stating the obvious category, but I was amazed by how stark the gender differences are.
When offered a choice between competitive and non-competitive options, 73% of men chose to fight it out, versus just 35% of the women.
Perhaps this is because 75% of men thought that they were in the top quartile, and only 43% of women felt the same way.
Of course, the $64,000 question is, what should we do about it? I'll be keeping a close eye on my daughter's competitiveness as she gets older!
I was delighted to read this article about senior citizen bloggers. I'm planning to read as many of them as I can, both to learn more about people of that age, as well as to find some role models for when I become even more dinosaurian than I am now.
I think that you miss out on a lot if you spend time solely with people your own age!
Sunday, November 06, 2005
This Schwarzenegger/Sesame Street mashup has been making the rounds.
While at first I was pleased to see a mainstream politician (in this case, California Treasurer Phil Angelides) making use of new technologies and viral marketing, I was dismayed that the actual Web site was an exercise in the kind of mindless hate that now seems to characterize both major political parties.
Schwarzenegger Street could have attacked the Gubernator on substantive lines, such as his willingness to accept donations from big corporate donors despite his supposed stance as an outsider, his failure to fix California's fiscal issues, or even questioning whether he's taken the job seriously enough (given his other job as editor-in-chief of a bodybuilding magazine).
Instead, it simply paints Schwarzenegger as being in cahoots with the other Evil Republicans (TM), including George Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Bill O'Reilly.
This may very well be a winning strategy--California is heavily Democratic, and energizing the base a la Karl Rove may be enough to secure victory.
Yet I can't help but feel that stooping to smear campaigns and character assassination will simply increase the distaste that most voters feel towards all politicians.
Just because Rove's evil genius has been successful in previous campaigns doesn't mean that the Democrats should adopt the same tactics.
Monday, October 31, 2005
Software by Rob posted today about another variation on the Ycombinator concept:
"What if someone put a bunch of development teams together who had complementary ideas but not enough money to start companies? In other words, pair the advantages of a startup with the size and capital of a larger organization.
Imagine if Google's development teams were a handful of smaller startups with bits of seed money and the potential to work together to make stacks of cash? Teams of 2-20 developers that are nearly autonomous, but linked together under a funding umbrella and a collective name, with motivation to work together for mutual benefit (based on the monetary structure of the deal), but also motivated to work their butts off because they're allowed to keep a huge chunk of the profit their little company generates. Something between an incubator and present-day Google.
It would land somewhere between anarchy and chaos, but would be amazing to watch."
I like the idea, but I'd go one further--why not create a VC fund that did nothing but make $25,000 investments. One price fits all--$25K for 5%. It's like the VC equivalent of a dollar store.
Once you get past all the crap involved in negotiating a VC deal, you could probably do a ton of deals. And the transparency would probably appeal to founders as well.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
I am currently reading "On Fire", the memoir of a writer and his life as a fireman.
In it, Larry Brown writes of many things, but a common thread is his story of how he became a writer.
Brown didn't go to a creative writing program, or attend workshops.
He wrote. Lots.
He spent years and years writing. Several novels. A hundred short stories. Each and every one of them rejected. But he kept at it, because he thought, "If I just do this enough, maybe I'll get good at it."
And really, that's how any creative endeavor works. Do it, and keep on doing it. Learn from your mistakes and grow.
Sometimes, I hear folks making fun of entrepreneurs who weren't able to match their first success. Marc Andreessen. Sameer Bhatia. The bottom line is that starting companies is hard. The guys who successfully do it over and over again are pretty damn remarkable.
But for those of us who aren't that smart and/or lucky, the key to success is to keep trying and learning.
A few things I noticed in the past couple of weeks....
Edgar Allen Seuss
40 greatest magazine covers
When faced with new technologies, there are two possible choices: embrace the new possibilities, or hunker down and hope they go away.
Some of our schools realize that blogs and other consumer-generated media hold the promise of re-engaging today's school children.
Others, alas, believe in the Spanish Inquisition approach.
I'm curious, can anyone think of a technology that has been permanently blocked by such tactics?
With George W. Bush's popularity sinking to new lows, the thoughts of many political operatives turn to 2008. Will it be Hillary? McCain? Or perhaps two other qualified candidates who have recently thrown their hats into the ring, General Zod and Christopher Walken?
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
If you've been in the Bay Area so long that you think million-dollar starter homes are normal, just read this article from the New York Times on America's cheapest housing markets.
I dare you to contemplate buying a 2,600 sf house on 1/2 an acre for $100,000 without breaking into tears.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Perhaps this is the future of cinema. Now, for your viewing pleasure, "The Empire Strikes Back" as a single animated GIF.
One of my main regrets about not being phenomenally wealthy is that I can't just buy whatever books I want to read.
Today's episode of booklust centers around Command at Sea, which focuses on how naval commanders have led their forces in the past 500 years.
Alas, I guess I'll have to wait for it to hit the local library.
Monday, October 24, 2005
An absolutely fascinating story in the LA Times about how the famous Nigerian 419 scams actually work.
I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at the image of armies of scammers at work behind closed bars, while one of Nigeria's top pop hits, "I Go Chop Your Dollars" plays on the stereo:
"419 is just a game, you are the losers, we are the winners.
White people are greedy, I can say they are greedy
White men, I will eat your dollars, will take your money and disappear.
419 is just a game, we are the masters, you are the losers."
The story also includes this from an officer in the American Consulate in Nigeria:
"Kovacsics says he is awakened several nights a week by Americans pleading for help with an emergency, such as a fiancee (whom they have only met in an online chat room) locked up in a Nigerian jail. He has to tell them that there is probably no fiancee, no emergency."
Like I always say, don't make the mistake of thinking that you can understand American based on New York, Boston, LA, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Right or wrong, you should try to understand what people actually believe.
One of the things I actually dislike about the Valley is how clique-y it is. It's definitely the case that some groups think of themselves as the "cool kids" in our virtual high school, and act accordingly.
Or have you never wondered why there's always so much press about members of the old Apple mafia?
Anyways, attending the mini Web 2.0 conference that my friends over at PCOW set up this weekend has inspired me. Instead of complaining about the antics of the "A-List", people should make their own damn lists.
Which is why I'm announcing YehCon 1.0, my own personal entrepreneurship conference.
Save the date on your calendar: Wednesday, November 16, from 12-2 PM in Palo Alto.
The goal is to bring together interesting entrepreneurs and thinkers in a way that gives us the good stuff of conferences (hanging with thought-provoking folk) and none of the bad (boring speeches and YAP--yet another panel).
And rather than charging you hundreds of dollars to attend, all you need to do is pay the cost of lunch.
Depending on how many people are interested, I'll find an unsuspecting restaurant that will give us a private room.
As for what we'll do with our time (besides eating and mingling), you're all entrepreneurs--you figure it out.
Post your thoughts on topics and format on the official YehCon wiki:
The password is "joy".
If you think you can make it, add your contact info to the wiki, and I'll eventually get around to setting up an Evite. See you on the 16th!
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Paul Graham is back with another essay, this time with some thoughts on why a great idea is only a small part of building a successful startup.
Paul has some great insights, like how expressing your idea as a question helps you explore your idea, or how great companies usually require at least two founders, who discuss ideas together, come up with insights on their own, and then come back together to refine those concepts.
Of course, if you need an idea for a startup, I have 18 pages worth, and I'd be happy to let you have one for the right price!
I commented before that only one person could pull off the "million-dollar page" trick of selling pixel advertisements.
I guess I was wrong.
Are million-pixel advertising pages a Web 2.0 bubble too?
Saturday, October 22, 2005
In the poem "Richard Cory," Edward Arlington Robinson describes how a man who seems to have everything may still be just as dissatisfied and alone as the less fortunate.
"Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace;
In fine we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head."
When I was younger, I thought that the poem was just some BS that the schools had us read to lessen our dissatisfaction with our lot in life. After all, who can be that unhappy if they have money, looks, and fame.
Now that I'm older, I've come to appreciate how getting what one desires doesn't necessarily bring happiness.
Of course being rich is better than being poor. I'm not sympathetic to the "poor little rich girl" act. But beyond a certain basic level of comfort, happiness comes from within.
Dickens famously said, "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result: Happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result: Misery."
Or, if you prefer, I'll quote Sheryl Crow who said, "It's not having what you want/It's wanting what you've got."
Alas, it seems like we seldom remember the lessons of Robinson, Dickens, and Crow as we try to consume our way to happiness.
Happiness is like a stock price--increasing it above its current level depends on beating expectations. And yet, each time you beat expectations, it makes it that much harder to beat the numbers the next time out.
I remember when I was still in college, I often said to myself that I would be happy if I had a laptop and a cell phone. Yep, I thought, once I have those two things, I'll have it made. I'll be able to write and talk from wherever I want.
Flash forward 15 years, and I have that laptop and cell phone. In fact, I have three laptops scattered around the house, a high-speed wireless network, a minivan with a DVD player, and enough children's toys to supply a small African nation.
And there is no doubt that I am happy. But am I happier than I was 15 years ago?
Having can't buy happiness. Once we get beyond meeting our basic needs, the additional luxuries may provide a temporary boost, but our expectations inevitably rachet up to make what you only dreamed of yesterday what you take for granted today.
A year after their big win, lottery winners are no happier than they were when they were poor. Unless of course they are millionaire US Senators.
It just doesn't seem fair.
Of course, maybe there's a reason behind our dissatisfaction.
Remember, the goal of evolution is to perpetuate the species, not make individual members happy.
Dissatisfaction drives us onwards.
In the middle ages, the Chinese decided that civilization had advanced enough, thank you, and that things were just fine. Despite a technological lead that could be measured in centuries, they stagnated, and China was forced to open up by the gunboats of the British Empire during the Opium Wars.
If happiness were an evolutionary advantage, we would all be euphoric. Instead, the level of human happiness seems relatively constant.
Just as the relentless drive to beat the numbers pushes our economy forward, our relentless drive towards an unattainable and illusory goal pushes our civilization forward.
So when you feel dissatisfied with your life, you can feel satisfaction that your dissatisfaction is helping to make the world a better place.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Of course, if the Parents Television Council objects to Fox's primetime programming, they can always turn to ABC, which has essentially told Hollywood that it is open to airing just about anything on Saturday night, as long as it costs less than $500,000 per episode.
I'm sure you could make some family-friendly programming for less than $500,000 per episode. Heck, I've got a great idea for a new reality show called "The Yehs," where television cameras follow a normal American family as it tries to find a way to spend $500,000 in less than an hour.
Before the beginning of many television shows, I often see the "TV MA" label, followed by a warning about sex, violence, and language.
I've commented before to my wife, "They might as well just put that in front of every Fox show."
As it turns out, the Parents Television Council agrees, with 60% of their list of "worst prime-time shows for family viewing" coming from Fox.
Leading the way was Fox's Sunday night lineup of "The War At Home," "Family Guy," and "American Dad," with the latter two highlighted for being cartoons:
"Families should not be deceived," he said. "The top three worst shows all contain crude and raunchy dialogue with sex-themed jokes and foul language. Even worse is the fact that Hollywood is peddling its filth to families with cartoons."
Of course, my little three year old actually asks for "Family Guy" by name, although my wife made me cut off his access after he started repeating Stewie Griffin's exclamation of "Dammit!" over and over.
An Oklahoma city man who was being sentenced to 30 years in prison for a shooting actually asked prosecutors to lengthen his prison term to 33 years to match Larry Bird's jersey number.
That, my friends, is a true fan.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Is there any doubt now that the housing bubble is starting to deflate?
Of course while we've hit the top of the market, we'll only start heading towards the bottom when all those interest-only ARMs start demanding higher monthly payments. Then, expect a major squeeze.
Monday, October 17, 2005
The Merc has a story in today's paper about the increasing practice of using offshore tutors in India to help American school children with their math and science homework.
I happen to think it's a great idea. I even wrote it down as a possible business concept after I finished reading Friedman's "The World is Flat."
But what I'm really waiting for is online tutoring in a virtual world setting. I've been on the record for some time that education is going to be huge for virtual worlds.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
It's not that complicated. This Money article, about retirement makes the point, "the key to a dream retirement is to pare life down to what you enjoy and to discard all that is dutiful and dull."
I simply ask, why wait until retirement?
All right folks, I'm tired and need to go to bed, so here's a week's worth of interesting or though-provoking links:
The actual value of star power--apparently, it does pay to sign Tom Hanks to star in your movie...but most of the excess returns actually go to the star.
Google's dentist? Alas, just a clever prank. But admit it, you believe it to be possible.
Secrets to being a good boss. Wish I'd read this article when I started my first company.
Take field trips. No, not the school kind--just make sure that you have actual contact with the customer and your business' frontline activity. It's always amazed me how out of touch senior management can be, even at relatively small startups. If JetBlue's CEO can do it, you can too.
Jumbo shrimp marketing. If you want to stand out, overdeliver on a smaller set of requirements. Professor Youngme Moon of HBS has done some great academic research in this area.
Great marketing by Deutsch. A totally viral way to show that they get it. And damned funny.
Teens to us old fogies: Skype who? Amazing that folks talk about investing in companies that attack this space without understanding how the kids actually act.
Envy is an interesting emotion...when I have time, I'll write about my own struggles with the green-eyed monster--compounded by the fact that so many people I know are centimillionaires.
10 words that supposedly help you get into the university of your choice. I'd feel better if so many weren't so, well, BS-y.
The bad words are more honest, though overly negative:
Cool article from microISV on CDBaby. The company started with 10 CDs, and when someone placed an order, the order details were emailed to the founder, a professional musician. Today, the indie music service has sold over 1.7 million CDs.
"When I started CD Baby in 1998, I didn’t mean to start a business. It was just a little website I through together as a favor to some friends. I hardly knew HTML.
As it grew, I realized I needed to create a server-side database-driven website, but couldn’t afford a programmer.
So - I went down to the bookstore, got some books on PHP and MySQL, and threw myself into it."
Like writers, entrepreneurs sometimes feel daunted by the seeming impossibility of reaching one's ultimate goals. But every big company started as a small one, with founders that probably weren't any smarter than you.
To borrow a phrase from basketball, my favorite sport, you miss 100% of the shots that you don't take. Take your shot. If a musician with no training could end up coding a massive e-commerce site, you should be able to overcome your own obstacles.
A fantastic quote from the folks at Worthwhile:
The secret of life is to have a task, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is: It must be something you cannot possibly do.
~ Henry Moore
Remember to dream big. Figure out the life you want, and go after it, rather than simply doing what everyone thinks you should do.
Another cool link from Seth Godin. NameBoy takes two functions, name generation and domain name lookup, and combines them together. No more fiddling around to generate names, then look them up.
It's so simple, yet it's so right. Plus you gotta love the $15 cartoon logo.
A fascinating observation by the redoubtable Joel Spolsky on how tough competitors get into certain businesses in order to take away their enemies' ability to compete.
Spolsky's point is that low-cost players like Dell and JetBlue can respond to attacks from competitors like IBM, HP, and Delta by going after their cash cows. In Dell's case, by entering the server market, it was able to trigger a price war that prevented IBM and HP from using the profits they made on servers to offset selling PCs as loss leaders.
Similarly, Spolsky believes that JetBlue's entrance into the lucrative Boston/New York shuttle market represents a direct attack on one of the main sources of profits for Delta and USAirways. (I can testify to this, having spent all too much money and time flying on those shuttles. Many of us kept an extra shuttle ticket of each type on hand for last-minute trips.)
This strategy is a more subtle and refined version of the famous Microsoft cashectomy. Can your business benefit by finding a way to destroy your competitors' margins?
I guess today is a banner day for cross-posted commentary on Web 2.0!
Peter Rip at Leapfrog Ventures wrote a very insightful post on how Web 2.0 is an entrepreneurship bubble--too many similar companies thanks to a lack of barriers to entry.
To some extent, I agree, but I also feel that lowering the barriers to entry is ultimately a positive for entrepreneurs and the world as a whole. Here is what I wrote:
Your post is extremely insightful--it does an excellent job of highlighting the differences between the current bubble and the last one. However, one thing which I think it doesn't take into account (and I can understand how difficult it is to stuff more than one thought into a post and keep it coherent--a problem I face all the time) is the fact that lowering the barriers to entry and cost to serve actually increases the size of the pie.
When product development becomes dramatically cheaper, it becomes possible to serve new markets that the older, more expensive approach could not. There are certainly more AJAX calendars being developed than the market could ever support, but that's a case of entrepreneurs who lack imagination.
If entrepreneurs avoid the pitfall of the last bubble (pile into whatever is hot and hope to get bought--see the Webmail wars of Web 1.0), they will see that the entrepreneurship bubble allows them to profitably serve niches that a venture-funded organization could never target, due to the need for a larger liquidity event.
This to me is the true power of another hideously overused cliche, the long tail. That is, instead of launching yet more broad social networking applications, entrepreneurs find specific niches that are completely unserved and cure those pains.
It may not build billion-dollar companies, but if you don't need VCs, you don't need a billion-dollar exit.
Anil Dash of SixApart has posted a provocative observation:
Why are all the attendees of Web 2.0 white males?
The result has been considerable commentary:
I couldn't resist adding a few of my own scattered thoughts, and, hopefully, insights.
1. While a conference is worse off for representing a monoculture, some topics draw an inherently homogenous audience. If I were to attend a slightly different kind of conference, say, a science fiction fan conference, I would also expect to find an audience composed primarily of white males.
If a conference organizer can't come up with a more interesting bunch of people to invite, that just means that there may be an opportunity for an alternate sort of conference (take BlogHer, for example).
2. I agree that the whole Web 2.0 enterprise feels insular, self-referential, and excessively consumer-oriented. But wasn't that also the case with Web 1.0 during its early days? Again, a lack of diversity means opportunity for those who recognize it. Just as with Web 1.0, I would expect the technologies being developed to eventually seep into B2B and other uses.
3. When I was a design student at Stanford, our instructors warned us against the classic fallacy of assuming that we represented the target market. There's a reason there are so many designer mountain bikes and accessories--it's because many designers love mountain biking! Too many of today's new services represent things designed for the designers' own use.
Not only are these matters of race, they are matters of culture as well. I would hazard a guess that only a small percentage of residents of major metros like the Bay Area and NYC vote Republican or consider themselves born-again. Yet a majority of this country re-elected George W. Bush precisely for these reasons.
To believe that our little Valley is a good proxy for the rest of the world is highest folly.
4. Ultimately, the appeal of the Internet has been its ability to, for lack of a better word, empower the traditionally less powerful.
Think of how many businesses are now started by women, or non-white immigrants. The beauty of the combination of the Long Tail and Web 2.0 is that you can successfully serve much smaller niches with products that meet their particular needs. Sometimes, the combination of two cliches can produce something of value.
At any rate, we should all thank Anil for writing about the elephant in the room, and facilitating all of this discussion!
Friday, October 14, 2005
Paul Graham returns, this time with a write-up of his Summer Founders Program for hackers.
I've admired the SFP before, but based on Paul's write-up, it appears to have been even more successful than could possibly be hoped.
Out of eight groups, Paul thinks that three or four will make it--a remarkable success rate for venture-funded companies, let along companies that took in less than $20K.
There are also some important lessons:
"A researcher who studied the SFP startups said the one thing they had in common was that they all worked ridiculously hard. People this age are commonly seen as lazy. I think in some cases it's not so much that they lack the appetite for work, but that the work they're offered is unappetizing.The experience of the SFP suggests that if you let motivated people do real work, they work hard, whatever their age."
I completely agree. I work with a number of entrepreneurs, ranging in age from 17 to 26, and none of them could possibly considered lazy. More importantly, all of them are doing what they love. I wish I had the exposure, experience, and cojones to start my own company when I was 18--alas, I had to wait until I was a relatively ancient 24.
"Here's a handy rule for startups: competitors are rarely as dangerous as they seem. Most will self-destruct before you can destroy them. And it certainly doesn't matter how many of them there are, any more than it matters to the winner of a marathon how many runners are behind him."
Another important truth, and one which even the very experienced forget. Yes, there are competitors everywhere, but the most important thing is whether or not your users love your product. Time and again, companies have triumphed against oceans of competitors. Just look at Google, which I scoffed at as "another search engine" when it came out. My bad.
"Power is shifting from the people who deal with money to the people who create technology, and if our experience this summer is any guide, this will be a good thing."
It is definitely getting cheaper to start a company, which is always a good thing. When people ask me why I like startups, I always say this: Microsoft is a 100,000 person company. What do you think would generate more innovation? Microsoft, or 10,000 10-person startups?
In this case, at least, a Doberman's weight in chihuahuas beats a Doberman.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
During the 1960s, Richard Nixon spoke of a silent majority, who far outnumbered the 60s counterculture.
Today, most folks think of American teens as cynical, jaded, and steeped in sex. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth.
The folks at Ypulse pointed out this Harris Interactive survey of teens:
70% of teens believe in God
78% believe in Heaven, 68% in Hell
47% think abortion should be illegal, versus 37% who think it should be legal
43% think religion has too little influence in America
If you base your impressions on what you see on TV and on the lives of kids on the two coasts, you're not getting the whole story.
For better or worse, we should focus on what people actually believe, not what we think they believe.
What makes the Web so exciting these days is participation.
For a while, I've wanted to write about why I blog. When it comes down to it, blogging (and participating in the ongoing conversation that is the blogosphere) is the closest thing I've found to the days when I was back at Stanford, studying the greatest works of history, philosophy, and literature in SLE.
When I started working, I stopped thinking about small things and spent most of my time thinking about business and money.
I wasn't exercising my thinking muscles.
The blogosphere exercises those long unused muscles.
And the heart of SLE (and HBS for that matter) isn't simply reading and passively taking in information--it's participating and making your own meaning.
That's what stories like this one in BusinessWeek illustrate.
Who needs salons when you have the entire Web?