Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Start-ups and universities

April 18, 2016

A must-read piece from Paul Graham:

What can CMU do to help Pittsburgh become a startup hub? Be an even better research university. CMU is one of the best universities in the world, but imagine what things would be like if it were the very best, and everyone knew it. There are a lot of ambitious people who must go to the best place, wherever it is—if it’s in Siberia. If CMU were it, they would all come here. There would be kids in Kazakhstan dreaming of one day living in Pittsburgh.

Being that kind of talent magnet is the most important contribution universities can make toward making their city a startup hub. In fact it is practically the only contribution they can make.

But wait, shouldn’t universities be setting up programs with words like “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” in their names? No, they should not. These kind of things almost always turn out to be disappointments. They’re pursuing the wrong targets. The way to get innovation is not to aim for innovation but to aim for something more specific, like better batteries or better 3D printing. And the way to learn about entrepreneurship is to do it, which you can’t in school.

I know it may disappoint some administrators to hear that the best thing a university can do to encourage startups is to be a great university. It’s like telling people who want to lose weight that the way to do it is to eat less.

But if you want to know where startups come from, look at the empirical evidence. Look at the histories of the most successful startups, and you’ll find they grow organically out of a couple of founders building something that starts as an interesting side project. Universities are great at bringing together founders, but beyond that the best thing they can do is get out of the way. For example, by not claiming ownership of “intellectual property” that students and faculty develop, and by having liberal rules about deferred admission and leaves of absence.

A very interesting piece, throughout and a must-read.


Determining fair values of companies and IIT degrees

September 10, 2013

From here:

… my partner Guy Kawasaki at Garage Technology Ventures developed a tongue-in-cheek algorithm for determining the valuation of a startup company:

Entrepreneurs ask us all the time how we figure out the valuation of a startup company. Most VCs suggest that this is a very mysterious art. But actually it’s quite simple: To determine the fair value of a startup company, multiply the number of engineers by $250,000, add $250,000 for each engineer from IIT, and then subtract $500,000 for each MBA.


Via OrgTheory.

A classic mistake: documented

March 21, 2011

Documentation is the key; and, if it is the documentation of a mistake, it is much more educational.

Here is a VC about an opportunity they missed:

We made the classic mistake that all investors make. We focused too much on what they were doing at the time and not enough on what they could do, would do, and did do. I am proud that our portfolio is full of companies where we saw the vision before other investors did and backed a great team. But we don’t always get it right. We missed Airbnb even though we loved the team. Big mistake. The cereal box will remain in our conference room as a warning not to make that mistake again.

Here is a long list of emails exchanged (in what turned out to be the documentation of the mistake); have fun!


A culture statement

August 17, 2009

Here is the NetFlix company culture statement: link via Bruce Eckel who says:

Netflix’ goal of creating an environment where you get to work with exceptional people is very compelling, and it gives me some insight on why my friend Carl left Google to go there.

Do yourself a favor, especially if you’re starting a new company, and go read their culture statement. It’s undoubtedly imperfect and it modifies existing company structure rather than trying to reinvent the company (as I’d like to do) but it is filled with excellent insights and ideas.

Take a look!

Paul Graham tells when it is not good to have a smooth going

July 31, 2009

In his latest piece, here:

Someone riding a motorcycle isn’t working any harder. But because he’s sitting astride it, he seems to be making an effort. When you’re riding a Segway you’re just standing there. And someone who’s being whisked along while seeming to do no work—someone in a sedan chair, for example—can’t help but look smug.

Try this thought experiment and it becomes clear: imagine something that worked like the Segway, but that you rode with one foot in front of the other, like a skateboard. That wouldn’t seem nearly as uncool.

So there may be a way to capture more of the market Segway hoped to reach: make a version that doesn’t look so easy for the rider. It would also be helpful if the styling was in the tradition of skateboards or bicycles rather than medical devices.

Curiously enough, what got Segway into this problem was that the company was itself a kind of Segway. It was too easy for them; they were too successful raising money. If they’d had to grow the company gradually, by iterating through several versions they sold to real users, they’d have learned pretty quickly that people looked stupid riding them. Instead they had enough to work in secret. They had focus groups aplenty, I’m sure, but they didn’t have the people yelling insults out of cars. So they never realized they were zooming confidently down a blind alley.

Take a look!

Links: a movie, a reflection on careers, and “Software is dead: long live the software”

July 20, 2009

[1] Mark at Cosmic Variance recommends a movie:

Projects like this don’t change the world on their own, of course. But as part of a common goal of bringing a passion for science to the public, and allowing them to see that its practitioners and enthusiasts are drawn from all walks of life they play an important role; not only for science, but for our increasingly science-dependent society. It doesn’t hurt that Shaha is young and good-looking, but what shines through is his infectious energy and enthusiasm for science and the important role of skepticism. And that’s what I hope anyone watching this film takes away.

[2] The most recent, and must-read post of Bruce Eckel begins thus:

I’ve taken Robert McKee’s screenwriting workshop a couple of times (didn’t get it all the first time around). One of his maxims is “when you’re stuck, do research.” Mostly that’s meant reading books on management (primarily software management) but also general business books.

While at the library, a book practically fell off the shelves. Never one to ignore signs, I checked out Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb. He was one of the founders of Fast Company, the only magazine I’m still (voluntarily) subscribed to (I keep meaning to resubscribe to Wired, though). The magazine stimulates my thinking and opens my horizons.

Rules of Thumb is subtitled “52 truths for winning at business without losing yourself.” It has that “bathroom reader” appeal, since each point/chapter can be absorbed in a short time and stands alone from the rest of the book.

I got stuck at point #6: If you want to see with fresh eyes, reframe the picture.

[3] Intimation of the death of software:

I was utterly floored when I read this new IEEE article by Tom DeMarco (pdf). See if you can tell why.

My early metrics book, Controlling Software Projects: Management, Measurement, and Estimates [1986], played a role in the way many budding software engineers quantified work and planned their projects. In my reflective mood, I’m wondering, was its advice correct at the time, is it still relevant, and do I still believe that metrics are a must for any successful software development effort? My answers are no, no, and no.I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that software engineering is an idea whose time has come and gone.

Software development is and always will be somewhat experimental. The actual software construction isn’t necessarily experimental, but its conception is. And this is where our focus ought to be. It’s where our focus always ought to have been.

If your head just exploded, don’t be alarmed. Mine did too. To somewhat reduce the migraine headache you might now be experiencing from reading the above summary, I highly recommend scanning the entire two page article pdf.

I guess it is a good reading list for a Monday morning. Have fun!

Google, Microsoft and the virtues of being small

June 17, 2009

Joel, after his recent visits to Google and Microsoft, compares the two and their corporate cultures, but is much happier with his small firm.

The best writer among Silicon Valley CEOs

April 3, 2009

Coming from Paul Graham that is no small compliment:

TJ Rodgers isn’t as famous as Steve Jobs, but he may be the best writer among Silicon Valley CEOs. I’ve probably learned more from him about the startup way of thinking than from anyone else. Not so much from specific things he’s written as by reconstructing the mind that produced them: brutally candid; aggressively garbage-collecting outdated ideas; and yet driven by pragmatism rather than ideology.

The first essay of his that I read was so electrifying that I remember exactly where I was at the time. It was High Technology Innovation: Free Markets or Government Subsidies? and I was downstairs in the Harvard Square T Station. It felt as if someone had flipped on a light switch inside my head.

Take a look — both at Graham’s and Rodgers’ pieces.

The ecology of “Music on Record” — c. 1898-1914

March 26, 2009

That was the title of the talk, delivered by Prof. Vibodh Parthasarathi of CCMG, Jamia Millia Islamia, delivered at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT-Delhi.

Though the visuals (posters/advertisements/photos), the clips of the early recordings from that period, and even a short movie of the record making process are best enjoyed only in being physically present in the talk, for those of you who might be interested in reading about some of the stuff that was discussed, here is a paper from Prof. Parthasarathi titled Not just mad Englishmen and a dog: ‘The colonial tuning of “Music on Record”, 1900-1908 (pdf).

One aspect that I would have loved to hear more about is how the musicians and artists themselves regarded the recording process and why — this is only a minor quibble (and, it got some attention during the discussions that followed the talk anyway).

If you get a chance, you should not miss listening to the presentation — if only for the clippings and the pleasure of looking at the posters from that era. In the meanwhile, the report linked above is a good one too — if you have such inclinations.


[1] It was not very pleasant to learn about Gandhi’s refusal to meet Gauhar Jan (in spite of his Congress accepting her funding).

[2] I also understand that the practice of the singer giving her name towards the end of the records (which Sheila Dhar notes in her book), was, initially, to facilitate the workers at the gramophone manufacturing units in England and elsewhere to be able to label the records correctly — which later on, became a fashion and, to some extent, even a fetish.

Karma theory of angel investing?

March 10, 2009

Paul Graham towards the end of his essay on angel investing:

The other component of being a good angel investor is simply to be a good person. Angel investing is not a business where you make money by screwing people over. Startups create wealth, and creating wealth is not a zero sum game. No one has to lose for you to win. In fact, if you mistreat the founders you invest in, they’ll just get demoralized and the company will do worse. Plus your referrals will dry up. So I recommend being good.

The most successful angel investors I know are all basically good people. Once they invest in a company, all they want to do is help it. And they’ll help people they haven’t invested in too. When they do favors they don’t seem to keep track of them. It’s too much overhead. They just try to help everyone, and assume good things will flow back to them somehow. Empirically that seems to work.

The essay by Graham that follows this one on being relentlessly resourceful to be a successful start-up entrepreneur is very good too. Have fun!