Monday, October 01, 2012

Photos from DukeForward Gala

I posted my photos (and some quotes) of the DukeForward Gala at Cameron Indoor Stadium on imgur.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Thoughts on Wolfram Alpha's Facebook Report

A few thoughts on Wolfram Alpha's Facebook Report

Screenshot of my report is below (click for full-size).

1) Surprised that the sample sizes for almost all the data was so small.  I'm assuming this was a function of the privacy settings for each of the users. But given that the samples are probably not representative, I expect it's hard for me to draw meaningful conclusions

2) I wonder if a future feature might be to compare my stats with people who are similar to me.  It'd be interesting to know - do I post more/less photos than average?  Not sure if they are able to get these statistics since they report that after one hour, they delete the information from their cache.  Are they keep track of information anonymously/aggregated?

3) The user interface was really nicely done.  And the system was, perhaps not surprisingly, very fast. The process of getting my results seemed to take only a minute or two.  It was impressive.

4) Overall, I really liked the concept behind the report.  I'm not sure I learned anything that useful, partly as a function of the small sample sizes, but I would imagine a trained eye might be able to tease out something interesting.  Also, I wonder if in future iterations they will have comparative statistics.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thoughts on LinkedIn InMaps (Social Network Analysis / Mapping)

I updated my LinkedIn InMap

Great visualization.  I love this feature of LinkedIn.

Some analysis on why it looks the way it does.
1) MIT - light network - my hunch is this is probably a result of timing - and true for most people that went to school in the mid-1990s.
I would imagine that if LinkedIn were around then (and it was in the form of MIT startup PlanetAll, acquired by Amazon), then this would be much denser. 

Just too many connections fall by the wayside over the years.  And so a lot of effort to reconnect with them all. Perhaps social awkward (and maybe takes a lot of work) to reconnect with people you haven't spoken to in 15-20 years.

2) Fuqua 2002-2004
This is when I was in business school, and part of the value of business school, is the network you create.
LinkedIn became somewhat popular in spring 2004 (competed with Plaxo), and I remember making a bet on LinkedIn...and inviting practically all of my classmates to connect.

3) North Carolina 2004-current
My first job out of business school was essentially to network, make good things happen, and get help to startups.
I loved this job. Definitely a fit for my personality, and a great way to build a network (say contrasted with being a service provider, where people's defenses go up).
Not surprisingly, a fairly dense network. 

4) Fuqua classes 2007 and up
Started working at Fuqua in 2007.
I think it's interesting to note that each Fuqua class is a fairly tight ball of connections.
Perhaps this is not surprising.  Within a class (size of about 450), everyone kinda knows each other.
And then between classes, the connections are much fewer (an order of magnitude. two orders?)
So there's a progression.  I haven't looked two closely, but I believe each ball (orange, blue, blue, purple) corresponds to a class.
- Orange is 2008-2009 (class of 2008, class of 2009)
- Blue is 2010
- Blue is 2011
- Purple is 2012

5) Duke connections 2007-current
The light orange section is interesting, it is a mix of Duke administrators and Duke students at other schools (other than Fuqua).
Interesting to see that, yes, they have connections into the various Fuqua classes from 2007-current.
And yes, some of them have connections into North Carolina.

Some interesting thoughts that social network analysis brings to my mind.

1) What can students and aspiring entrepreneurs take from social network analysis?
I think back to Monica Rogati's talk about a DNA of Entrepreneurs. 

And she ends her talking saying something like this (my rough transcription)
"-Quit banking
- Move to california
- Then go to stanford business school and study entrepreneurship
- Then convince IIT graduate co-founder to quit yahoo
- Then go to linkedin and connect to VCs and bloggers."

And it strikes me that, yes, if you did this, you'd probably have 
1) A strong Silicon Valley network (one phone call away from Google, Apple, partners, suppliers, customers, competitors, talent, etc...)
2) A strong Business School generates entrepreneurs, investors, and people at large companies (partners, suppliers, customers, etc...)
3) A strong technical co-founder brings a separate skillset, obviously, but also a separate network for solving problems
4) Working at a large tech company (like Yahoo), that spawns entrepreneurs builds the network of people who are doing what you are doing.
5) All the while, keep expanding your connections to investors, bloggers, talent.

I believe in academia this is captured in the concept of "Complementary Capabilities (Assets)".

I'd be interested in seeing an example (couldn't find one with a quick google search).  Someone that went to Stanford for business school (roughly in 2004), and stayed in Silicon Valley.

2) Why can't you replicate Silicon Valley in other regions?
I remember a talk by Tom Perkins (of Kleiner Perkins) at Duke from Fall 2007.
(Interestingly, he disagreed with the prevailing notion that "teams win", and said that if there was a great idea, he could form a team around the idea to execute)

Someone asked him why North Carolina/Research Triangle (RTP) didn't have the startup success that Silicon Valley did. 
He thought North Carolina had all the assets needed, but that is was a difference in "psychology".

Looking at the InMap, and thinking about how quickly culture spreads (and is reinforcing) it is interesting to reflect on his comments.

Specifically, if the giant blue network of densely connected nodes that represents some of the North Carolina startup community, then it seems reasonable to think "we all know each other".  By extension, can we then say that, there is probably a "shared psychology" for those of us in the region?  Probably.  Not that everyone has to share the same psychology, but that we all probably fit on the distribution curve of not being too far from the psychology of the average person in RTP.

Which leads to the question (asked often and by many people) "how does one change culture to be more entrepreneurial"?  I've thought about this for a long time. I have some thoughts here (and several of those I've executed on the past eight years).

But overall, I think the strategy to change the culture needs to be to reach a tipping point where the culture turns.  Whether that means a highly visible IPO where lots of people get rich, or a very active incubator/accelerator, or a super connected set of investors/mentors, or great events and conferences, or some combination of all of those things (and more), is a subject of debate.

3) What should an MBA (or any) student do to best prepare themselves to be an entrepreneur?

I think my blog posts holds up fairly well on a specific strategy for what to do.  It's targeted at Winter Break, but can be thought of more generally:

But a few additional ideas come to mind for preparing oneself:
a) It's possible to think of entrepreneurship as a "career" and to prepare for it. You can use Monica Rogati's plan above, or the plan I suggest in my Winter Break blog post.  But the important concept is that, over the years, you can do things which will make it easier (i.e. enhance your chances of success) for you to be an entrepreneur.

b) Geography matters.  In two ways
i) As Rogati suggests, being in a startup friendly environment, like Silicon Valley, is important.

ii) In addition, you develop your network in a geography over time.  I recently saw an article (can't find it) that suggested that an 2nd time entrepreneur from Silicon Valley that moves to Boston, will have a probability of success similar to someone that is a 1st time entrepreneur that starts in Boston.

And perhaps social network analysis helps us understand this.  That a large number of the people you know tend to be connected to a region. And if you move to another region, you lose a lot of those "people you can call".  Now, if you have a great idea, and can execute without needing those other people (or being able to pull those other people from other geographies) you can overcome this barrier.

c) The quality of your school matters
i) In terms of the quality of people you can access in your network (assuming that better schools tend to mean better networks).  Because a lot of those people will be people you may need to tap into for various reasons.  An investor to fund you.  A business to partner with.  A potential customer.  A former competitor to get advice from.  Another entrepeneur to get mentored by.

ii) And possibly with respect to tapping into other networks.  That there is a sort of "status" associated with the quality of your school.  (It's important to note this can be trumped by the quality of your experience, or of your abilities).  But that, a pairing of people from two high quality schools bring together two potentially strong networks.  And that this pairing can also be, perhaps, better able to access the network (again, investors, partners, customers, competitors, mentors)

So, tl;dr for point 3)
"Entrepreneurship is a career (multiple companies), choose a geography wisely and develop deep roots; get into the strongest school possible (all else being equal on the quality of education, skills, fit). "

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A couple of startup ideas

I came up with these ideas recently. I don't believe I've seen them elsewhere.

1) Stolen Item Recover Startup
(Came up with this when a friend's house was broken into)

User enters all serial numbers into one site.  When items are stolen, they activate an alerts system that scours craigslist, ebay, etc... for the stolen items.  They alert the owner when the item has been found.

2) Synonym Email Generator to Prevent Corporate Leaks
(Came up with this when I saw many corporate leaks)

When a sensitive corporate memo is sent out, this synonym generator inserts synonyms into the email, with a unique set of synonyms for each email.  When a leaked memo is identified, the memo can be traced back to a particular user.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thoughts on Google+ vs. Facebook

I was reading this Technology Review interview with Google Plus founder Bradley Horowitz

He says that Facebook suffers from conversation targeted at least common denominator (true-ish), so you end up saying drivel (seems false).

It is true there is drivel on Facebook. But, the incentive is to post "high signal" things like "Baby Born" or "Getting Married" or "Moving"

Horowitz may be right on the "least common denominator", but it's not obvious the conclusion to be drawn is "It becomes drivel".

And the immediate counterargument to Google Plus interface's too complex. Two-clicks + mouseover to Follow. Circles labor intensive.

And frankly, Facebook Groups is a decent alternative to Circles.  I was able to create a business school classmates group ( in a very short time (10 minutes) that included about 100 classmates.  And others piled in and grew it to 200.  The mechanism for adding people is quite simple and fast.  And I like that it's "crowdsourced".

And frankly, it's easy to understand Facebook Groups.  I "get" that if I want to post something for my classmates, that's a good place to go. Somehow that seems more satisfying than the Circles, which may or may not be updated or complete.

In contrast, imagine that each of us tried to create our classmates list in our own Circles. Labor intensive and hard.

Two thoughts:
1) It seems to me that a "single-stream" is easier to understand or grok. Multiple streams or circles just feels (way) too complex.

2) Gut reaction is that Google Plus isn't "non-consumer" enough, compared to it's other innovations.  I'm reading Christenson's Innovator's Solution, and he talks about how new products can disrupt by targeting non-consumers.  Transistors targeting non-consumers of Vacuum Tubes.  Angioplasty targeting non-consumers of Heart Surgery.

Google Plus, to me, just seems incrementally better than Facebook.  I don't think non-consumers of Facebook/Twitter are going to Google Plus in droves.

Whereas, in contrast, I think other Google innovations were more for non-consumers.
- Search, for those that found Altavista was just a bunch of junk links. Key features: Found what you're looking for!

- GMail, for those who preferred Outlook over Hotmail.  Key features: Fast interface, Threading, Labels, Archive
Pre-Gmail, I was a diehard Outlook person.  I couldn't imagine using Hotmail as my primary mail client.  And now, I love GMail.

- Chrome, so much faster than Internet Explorer (IE).  Not so much for "non-consumers".  But man was it faster.  And I think just this week it passed IE in usage.  Who knew IE could be disrupted?  When IE won the initial browser wars over Netscape, it seemed they were just good to go for a long time.

Friday, May 18, 2012

10 Books I've Read, and Thoughts on How They Apply to Entrepreneurs

(still a draft blog post - 5/18/2012)

Thinking, Fast and Slow - Wow, a really dense book, but well written.  So many concepts mostly centered around behavioral economics. Many concepts apply to startups, but one of my personal favorites is that people make up causal stories to explain things.  Overall framework of three main concepts: System 1 vs System 2, Econs vs. People; Experiencing Self vs. Remembering Self. Concepts include: Anchors, Availability Bias, Regression to the Mean, Errors with Small Sample Sizes, Prospect Theory, Endowment Effect, Broad Framing vs. Narrow framing, Fallibility of Intution. 

Entrepreneur Takeaway: It seems to me this is the kind of book an entrepreneur (or any person) could read multiple times, at different times of their lives, and draw big (and different) insights from with each reading.  The right concept, at the right time, could lead to an important insight that is relevant to your own business.

Steve Jobs - Commited to what he loved.  He saw the future, including the rise of tablet computers, well in advance.  He was very contrarian for his focus on simplicity.  I wonder if he would have won the PC wars had he been able to price the Apple as he wanted (instead of the $500 more for marketing budget that the CEO wanted).

Entrepreneur Takeaway:  I hope the takeaway is not "I can act like Steve Jobs and succeed (sometimes he didn't treat people that well)" but rather focused more on the commitment to simplicity ("Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication") and being tenacious. 

Einstein: His World and Universe - Amazing what he did by 24 years old.  Reminds me that geniuses can be very effective early in life.  He didn't view being an entrepreneur favorably. Didn't want to be focused on "the pursuit of capital".

Entrepreneur Takeaway: He was so tenacious (like Jobs) about finding truth, finding a unified theory.  He was still scribbling possible unified theories while on his deathbed. He was also willing (again like Jobs) to come up with his own way of thinking about things, and forego the conventional wisdom. 

Nudge - Introduces the concept of Choice Architecture and Libertarian Paternalism.  The basic idea is that, design matters.  Reminds me a bit of user interface design and Edward Tufte.  For example, a default option can make a huge difference, like in the number of donors in a country. One country defaulted "Yes, I'm a donor" and had x% sign up as donors.  Another country defaulted "No, I'm not a donor" and had y% sign up as donors.  What a difference! Entrepreneurs should know about this to know that their design decisions can make huge impact.  It's not just "yeah, the customers will click the box on the sign-up form for receiving email updates".  But rather, the default makes a really big difference.  Talks about Medicare Part D, which illustrates so much of why government initiatives fail (no competition for designing the system). Like, imagine if Facebook were a government initiative - painful, slow, obtuse, rarely updated. 

Entrepreneur Takeaway: So many possible takeaways, but the concept of Choice Architecture and it's influence on the results you achieve, is important.  I think Choice Architecture is an important toolkit to use while designing your products, but also one to look at when you are trying to figure out what's going wrong.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life - A newspaper entrepreneur (and writer and publisher), then, after a partnership deal that provided income but relieve him of day-to-day duties, an experimenter (what color cloth makes snow melt? What is electricity?). Then, later in life a statesman.  Then, much later in life a key figure and voice in the founding of our country.  And finally, a wise voice the creation of the constitution.

Entrepreneur Takeaway: He secured early success in newspapers and parlayed that into publishing (Almanac).  I think the economics concept of "complementary capabilities" and "absorptive capacity" were evident in his ability to write, his understanding of the publishing business, and his ability to take advantage of needs in the marketplace.   He parlayed that success into "retiring" and then transitioned into "politics". 

Talent is Overrated - You can do it! As long as you deliberately practice for 10,000 hours! Interesting thesis that may explain some of Einstein's success (focus on understanding the world that started at a young age, and a relentless focus on continuing to focus); Steve Jobs (years and years running companies, working in technology); and Franklin (years of analyzing how people worked, how to run a newspaper.

Drunkard's Walk - Randomness is everywhere.  And people make up causal stories to explain it (See Thinking, Fast and Slow above). But really, so much is just random.  Like the movie producer who has a string of hits ("what skill!"), followed by a string of failures ("out of touch!"), and then after being fired, the movies that he selected end up being successful ("maybe he knew what he was doing after all?").   So, I think about how that applies to entrepreneurs. The entrepreneur succeeds ("what a genius!"), and then fails ("out of touch").  We assign causality, but what if it's just a coin flip?  The book ends with "Appreciate the absence of bad luck", and that message resonates with me.

SuperCrunchers - Data!  Lots of data!  Expert opinions can be outperformed by supercrunching lots of data. We don't want to admit it, but our experts may be fallible. In the future, data will provide a ton of insight.  There is power in data, and the ability to analyze it for insights.

Entrepreneurs will be wise to recognize the tidal waves that supercrunching will probably produce for insights.  And the advantage it gives to incumbent companies with a lot of data like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Square.

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman - Richard Feynman was an independent thinker and a deep insightful thinker.  He didn't care about doing things the "right way", like math problems.  Instead, he figure out his own way to come up with the solution.  He crushed his high school math competition. He could fix radios just by thinking through the problems. As part of the Manhattan project, he made early parallel computers out of people, working in teams, figuring out problems on color coded cards, passing them around.  He challenged a NASA computer to figure out where a rocket would land (Atlantic Ocean) and did it faster than the computer.   Rather than just read the solution to problems and accept that as "the way to solve this", he would read just enough about how someone solved a problem to know, generally, what they did, then try to solve the problem on his own, in order to truly understand how to solve the problem. 

The Lean Startup - Eric Ries is about putting in a process and culture of doing experiments and learning from those experiments ("Build, Measure, Learn", "Validated Learning").   The book attempts to validate itself for a broad audience (not just entrepreneurs) with examples of large corporations (Intuit) and government using it (gives a nice example of how it could work in government, but a stark contrast to Nudge's Medicare Part D rollout).   [still finishing this book as of 5/18/2012]

Information spreading on Facebook vs. Twitter, as # of people I follow increases

I found the following Facebook Data post:

As I read this Facebook Data team post on information spreading in a social network, I worry a little about Twitter.

Because, even though I'm not a huge fan of this, Facebook can optimize what shows up in my feed and when it shows up. It can increase the probability that I view a share from a weak tie, even if that share happened at 4am.

Whereas Twitter, as much as I like the chronological stream, cannot (currently) optimize my stream. So the weak tie share at 4am is missed.

Gut reaction. Facebook signal/noise ratio improves with # of people I follow. Twitter signal/noise ratio worsens with # of people I follow.

Put another way, if I follow 100K people on Facebook, the timeline has strong signal (good content). If I follow 100K on Twitter, noise.

On the flip side, I like the control with Twitter. I see all the tweets, in order. Something reassuring about that. Data density is better.

Jeff Stern brings up a good point that Facebook has too much noise.  Upon further reflection, I agree. Facebook has too much noise. Theoretically they shouldn't. But in practice they do.  Games, Music, Shares.  I think they are probably trying to reduce this noise over time (and they let users control this pretty well by "hiding things)

As I think about this more, I wonder if Facebook is can be disrupted from a new entrant w/ high signal. i.e. No apps, games.

Path and Everyme are taking a shot at this.  The strength of the Facebook network seems like a lot (too much?) to overcome, at least in the short run (i.e. network size, market awareness, cash in bank, revenue model works).  And, if it's true that higher signal leads to user happiness/retention, I think that Facebook can figure that out and adjust.

They have already offered a "Close Friends" option, which kinda mirrors Path/Everyme.