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.