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. 

Friday, May 04, 2012

3 Thoughts on a Organizational Model for edX

I saw the edX announcement and was really impressed. 

It seems the trendy thing to talk about in entrepreneurship & education is how to disrupt higher ed. For example:
Peter Thiel "Higher Education is a Bubble".
YCombinator "Things We'd like to fund: Online learning"
Minerva and Larry Summers "$25M from Benchmark, Can Minerva Build An Online Ivy?"

So what role do MIT and Harvard play? They are the incumbent "firms", and they need to be part of the disruption or be disrupted themselves by newer firms, or other incumbents (like Duke, where I work).

What are some of the assets they have?
- Brand recognition
- Faculty (and the infrastructure to attract and develop high quality faculty)
- Students (and the infrastructure to attract high quality students)
- Infrastructure to support learning
- Learnings from MIT Open Courseware and MITX (120,000 signed up for their first pilot course on Circuits)
- $60M
and the list goes on...

It seems to me that edX has a really good start. 

edX also strikes me as having the right mission. Harvard Provost Alan Garber said it was "dedicated to improving learning throughout the world". 

And edX seems to have the right posture towards working with other universities. Susan Hockfield said "Harvard & MIT welcome educational institutions to this open source platform, and to help us improve it...fasten your seatbelts".

So, I wonder, what is the right organizational model for edX to engage Duke and other universities?

Not knowing anything about the specific inner workings of edX (or MIT Open Courseware), here are a few thoughts.

1) "Be a network, not a heirarchy"
I recently heard a talk by Brad Feld (who happens to be an MIT alum) and in talking about entrepreneurial communities he said "Be a network, not a heirarchy".

If I overlay this concept onto edX, it strikes me as relevant. 

How is it relevant?  One example, Metcalfe's law:  "A network increases in proportion to the square of the number of nodes in the network".  I think part of the power of edX will come from the number of contributors (nodes). edX President Anant Agarwal said something that makes me think he'd agree: "At the end of the day, the more online educators we have, the better off the whole world is."  I think he was speaking about both edX and non-edX educators, but the statement may also be in support of edX educators itself.

It'd be easy to fall into heirarchy. "Oh, that professor teaches at [prestigious institution] they should have editorial control".  But I think that leaves out the ability for great contributors from lesser-known institutions to contribute (or at least reduces their incentives). 

It reminds me of that chapter from Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers called "The Trouble with Geniuses", where the an analysis of Nobel prize winners showed that they didn't all come from prestigious institutions.  It also reminds me of Ed Weiland's prediction of Jeremy Lin.  Ed Weiland drives for FedEx.  But he seems to have a good mind for stats.  

We want to give incentives to the Ed Weiland's of the teaching world. 

My hunch is that edX should encourage as many nodes "faculty/instructors" as possible to contribute, and structure incentives and heirarchy (or lack of) to optimize their participation.

- Add someone to the board that is an expert at network design, and can overlay those concepts.  What principle of network design should we be thinking of?
- Add faculty members who understand both the value of faculty heirarchies, but are willing to think heretical thoughts about how those work across organizations.

2) Use best practices from Wikipedia
Related to "Be a network, not a heirarchy" is "How best do you utilize the strength of the network to produce great content?"

I assume there are multiple ways to utilize a network effectively, but it strikes me that Wikipedia has figured out how to meld these together to produce, on average, great content.

I'd be curious to know if Open Courseware (or other models) have figured out how to combine sources into one understandable (and hopefully great) course.
For example, can you take Feynman's lectures on physics and add those as an input on current lectures on physics? 

- Add someone to the board from Wikipedia with expertise on how conflicts are resolved between multiple authors.

3) Use best practices from YouTube
One thing Wikipedia doesn't address (to my knowledge) is "How do you have Wikipedia style contributions (combine multiple video authors/sources) in one video?"

I'm not sure that YouTube itself knows how this works, but certainly people seem to use YouTube as the medium for combining multiple authors/sources into one video.

I don't know the research into video learning, but my hunch is that video learning is a powerful method for people to learn.  Probably superior to text-only in many ways.

How do you allow multiple video authors to combine their efforts into one, understandable, well-made video?

Combining sources: If we had video of Feynman, could we combine that with video of Einstein.  (The recent Tupac hologram at Coachella makes this seem like a possibility).

Combining authors: If we had Michael Bay, Bryan Singer, and Peter Jackson decide they want to author one video, how do they work together?  What if Steven Spielberg wants to add in something later, how can we make the video "ever-editable"?  

- Add someone that has figured out the way to combine multiple authors/sources, and do be able to continue to edit it over a long timeframe (multiple years).

In conclusion, I'm pretty excited about edX, and the general progression of online education (or just education in general).  I think the ultimate goal is for anyone, anywhere, to be able to learn anything, for free. Or to put it slightly differently "lifelong personalized education".

---Some additional thoughts

Will edX win? 
It's unclear to me if edX will figure out the right formula for making this work, but they are probably one of the frontrunners (if not the frontrunner) based on their assets and their objectives. 

What is the role of another university in edX?  
My hunch is that universities should embrace edX.  That, or they may risk getting left behind. Maybe not in the next five years, but probably left behind in the next 20-50 years. 

What is the role of a "residential university" once edX (or similar) has succeeded?
Susan Hockfield had a great quote "Online education is not an enemy of residential education, but rather a profoundly liberating and inspiring ally."  It strikes me as the kind of quote that is the tip of the iceberg.  I'd be really interested to know more about any data she has that supports this statement.  It'd be fun to look at.

Let's say she is correct.  Then what does a residential university look like once edX has succeeded (defining success as having a great online course in a majority of topics covered in universities; where the "average student" can watch the course, comprehend the information, and be able to apply it now and hopefully 5-10 years from now; most likely contributed to by multiple authors from multiple universities).

Or put into terms of Duke University, why will students come to Duke?  Why not just stay at home, do all your learning online, and graduate that way?

This is a big, and probably scary, question for most universities. 

I'm not sure.  There is value created by universities outside of academic learning. Is it enough to justify the cost?

For example, non-academic value includes:
1) Being with peers your age, and developing those intellectual relationships (hard to find comparable physicists in your town that are your age, but easier to find a bunch at a university)
  a) Caveat is that you do see some schools taking a "short residential, longer non-residential approach" like "let's spend two weeks together in London and six weeks doing online coursework".  Example is Fuqua's Cross-Continent MBA program.

2) Being able to tap into the alumni network (there are great physicists who have graduated from here, and you can get in touch with them a little more easily)
  a) Caveat is that, if you have something great to offer, being an alumni or not may not make a difference. (The converse is true if you don't have something great to offer)

3) Lifelong learning (You see this with universities offering lectures for alumni with their faculty.  This seems to be threatened as edX develops.  Although informal "chat" or small group discussions seems to continue to be something a university can offer)
  a) Caveat is that, from the perspective of the faculty, they probably just want to have the most intellectually stimulating audience.  So Richard Feynman might not want to talk to a small group of 10 physics newbies who happen to have gone to MIT (his alma mater), but rather would want to talk to 10 physics masters (regardless of school, like a Solvay Conference).

4) Experiences from being on campus (student clubs, events, sports, dating scene)
Youth may be wasted on the young (George Bernard Shaw), but I think those who have undergraduate residential experiences probably waste it in more memorable ways. 
  a) Caveat is that, for $50,000 a year, an undergraduate could probably do pretty well creating memorable experiences that aren't tied to one location.  For example, the Summit Series

Not that the above items are "enough" to justify the cost, but I think those are some of the areas to consider when thinking of justifying the costs of a university separate from the academic learning. 

More thinking will have to be put into this, but my hunch is that Universities will have to think of themselves differently.  They are "destinations" yes, but I think they will need to amp up their value beyond just the destination.  This is done, to some extent, by the Alumni Associations, but I think the scope, depth, and expertise of those groups will probably be expanded.  So it's not just that you are joining the Alumni Association and participate occasionally, but that there is constant value being provided by those Alumni Associations.  So that once you are a part of the university, it provides you a ton of value throughout your life.  

And what about the career center portion of universities?
At least for business schools, this is a big part of the value.  MBA students regularly get jobs at great companies like Apple, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Proctor & Gamble, etc... and I think there is a good argument that this is enabled by being a part of the program.

Is the career portion of universities something which is residential-dependent?  Probably not, but how does a company come "on-campus" as most of this recruiting is done, to meet with students.  There are some economies of scale from the current model.  Can this be replaced by a completely virtual model?  Possibly.  With advances in telepresence (like Cisco) the barriers for simulating face-to-face interactions are declining.

My hunch is that edX should do it's best to forego any sort of monetization, at least in the early stages. I think the mission is so big "education for all, anywhere" that it should be something that can be funded by donors.   Also, MIT and Harvard have huge endowments -- if they aren't willing to take a risk and go for the "no monetization" strategy, then not sure who will.

Wikipedia, as I understand it, has a "no monetization" strategy.  Do they struggle financially?  Yes.  But are they doing something amazing we are (mostly) all behind?  I think so.

edX should, in my opinion, dream big.  Really big.  Free education for all, anywhere in the world.

Maybe at some point monetization gets figured out.  Ads like Facebook/Google?   I could live with that. (Note to wikipedia, I could also live with that for you).  Or some sort of micropayment based on how many pages you used (like a penny a page) that is only for geographies where people can afford it?  Maybe.

But I want to believe, I think many of us want to believe, that MIT and Harvard can be tremendous "forces for good" and that monetization, while it might be important at some point, isn't important right now.

What about those who would argue that "unless it's sustainable, it's not going to be a success?"  I tend to agree with that.  However, I would challenge edX to try out every other option (begging for money/endowment, grants, whatever) before pursuing the monetization strategy, particularly if that monetization somehow raises a barrier for people to learn.  Let's have learning be first, and monetization be after that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Twitter snapshot American Idol Season 11 Top 7

  1. Colton 212,467
  2. Jessica 200,688
  3. Phillip Phillips 193,795
  4. Skylar 82,614
  5. Hollie 65,045
  6. Joshua 59,460
  7. Elise 58,727

Mean 124,685
Std Dev 73,246

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

10 Thoughts on Entrepreneurship after reading SuperCrunchers

I finished SuperCrunchers yesterday. Here are some thoughts on how it applies to entrepreneurs.

First, what is SuperCrunching? Basically it's taking large datasets, running regressions, and coming up with insights about what factors matter.

- Wine scoring - Economist Ashenfelter started predicting wine scores based on a formula he'd created from a regression. Wines were scored before they were even available to drink.
- Book title scoring - Lulu Title Predictions
- Sabermetrics

Thoughts for Startups:

1) Randomized A/B testing is the way to go for understanding what works and doesn’t.  Examples: Offermatica, CapitalOne offers (for optimizing what wording/colors will get you to accept an offer), Brooks Bell Interactive (for optimizing your website conversions)

- Read this great primer on A/B testing on Smashing Magazine

2) Owning data, and putting it together in a powerful connected way seems to be both a short and long-term competitive advantage.  Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google will be hard to unseat, partly for this reason.

  • Acxiom, an example of a company that owns a lot of data and sells it

3) “Watson” like systems like Isabel Healthcare are on the horizon for helping people make informed decisions, and will be disruptive. It strikes me that some combination of FitBit data collection with the power to harness and store data like Google, and natural language processing like Siri, will let some startup really advance this space. Same thing for other fields that have yet to be disrupted by SuperCrunching.

4) SuperCrunching tends to beat expert opinions. Much as chess engines have recently surpassed chess experts in ELO ratings, SuperCrunching will probably surpass human experts on many things.  

5) Can entrepreneurs capitalize on the intersection of SuperCrunching feeding into Choice Architecture (Nudge)? Like Medicare Part D being in a recursively improving Choice Architecture. 

  • "The reason for this low participation rate and the many problems associated with Medicare Part D can be summed up in a single phrase: The plan is far too complicated." - Investopedia

6) The ability to crunch down to a specific number is compelling and easy for people to grasp.  Wine scores and Sabermetrics (cited in the book), but also Apgar Scores and Klout come to mind for me.

7) Saying a politician is favored 52% to 48% with a margin of error of 3% is less compelling and understandable than just saying Politician A has a x% chance of winning, which you can get from the same data. Although even probabilities are not that easy for people to grasp (need reference from Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow")

8) Bayesian probablities (also mentioned in Drunkards Walk) are really important to understand yet poorly understood.  It’s about how one piece of data can give you information about how other probabilities change.  The example cited was how doctors, even with test info on Down’s Syndrome likelihoods in babies in the womb, don’t know how to combine info to come up with a “probability that your baby has Down Syndrome”
9) “Intuition is an input into SuperCrunching” and “Intuition is still important” both struck me as true.  Much as Einstein used intuition to come up with mental leaps. Then, as an example, called on astronomers to test that gravity bends light. Intuition remains important even as SuperCrunching rises.
  • From Walter Isaacson's book "Einstein: His Life and Universe"
    • One day during the 1930s, Einstein invited saint-John Perse to Princeton to find out how the poet worked. "How does the idea of a poem come?" Einstein asked. The poet spoke of the role played by intution and imagination. "It's the same for a man of science," Einstein responded with delight. "It is sudden illumination, almost a rapture. Later, to be sure, intelligence analyzes and experiments confirm or invalidate the intuition. But initially there is a great forward leap of the imagination."

10) I have a hypothesis that SuperCrunching will come down in price and be outsourced, much as Amazon Web Services has driven down the price/complexity of web hosting.  I think smart entrepreneurs will be able to take advantage of this to move more deftly through the fog of entrepreneurship - what’s right/wrong. I think Bob Gilbreath’s Minimum Viable Concept idea is along these lines.

  • Inc Magazine "[The Minimum Viable Concept is] a test that helps identify promising start-ups even before they create that minimum viable product. This saves investors and companies time and money."

Let me know your thoughts: and @howierhee