Monthly Archives: April 2010

8 Steps to Starting a Start-Up

As good as a list as I've seen from VentureHacks:

  1. Move to Silicon Valley. [BC: Not mandatory]
  2. Pick a great co-founder with complementary skills.
  3. Select people with intelligence, energy and integrity.
  4. Pick a big market.
  5. Develop the minimum viable product to test your hypothesis about what the market needs. Preferably it’s a product that you’re passionate about since you’ll need to stick with it to an irrational point (the Internet especially is efficiently arbitraged).
  6. Iterate like crazy until you find product/market fit. If you don’t find it, do not raise money, do not pass go. Start over.
  7. If you have found product/market fit, raise money from high-quality people that you trust. Keep control.
  8. Scale. Hang on.

The links within the list are good as well.

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  • Interview with Australian teen who had a party when his parents were out of town and refuses to apologize on TV.
  • Clint Eastwood lists three reasons why he will never win an Oscar.
  • Chris Yeh comment on my post on interestingness: "Things are interesting when they are both novel yet strangely familiar. It's like when you meet a new person, yet it seems like you've known them forever."
  • Interesting photo project of strangers touching each other.
  • Mexico's conflicting interests when it comes to the drug trade. Another masterful analysis from Stratfor.

Know Yourself: Principal or Lieutenant?

"Know yourself" includes knowing when you excel as a principal and when you excel as a lieutenant. Many entrepreneurs I know think of themselves as CEO material. Generic ambition points to the top. But not everyone is best suited for the top job all the time, even if they are sufficiently capable.

You are not either a principal or lieutenant. Teams and circumstances vary. Part of being a good team player is knowing your role within the team. Most of the time I find myself a principal / CEO, but there is at least one area where I excel and enjoy more a lieutenant role: basketball.

My sophomore year of high school and the spring league immediately thereafter was the peak of my basketball career. That year I started on the varsity team. I was a key contributor but a senior was the undisputed team leader. He was a talented player. Together, we worked well, and in a supporting role I consistently racked up 10-20 points a game. That spring I played in the Slam N Jam Development League in East Oakland. Our team consisted of a handful mid-major D1 college basketball prospects. I was probably the weakest on the team in terms of athleticism and skill, but I banged around down low, contributed 3-4 buckets each game, played good help defense, moved well without the ball, and helped communicate coach's instructions on-court. I was a solid role player on a thuggish team of athletic stars.

At most other points in my playing career I was the (or one of a couple) go-to guys. My final two years of high school ball I was a co-captain and more responsible for scoring and winning. Yet, I never felt I performed at my peak level, and our team results, despite one regional playoff birth, were mediocre. For example, I thrived offensively when I could get the ball well-positioned on the block for either a back-to-the-basket post move or a face-the-basket shot or spin. For this to work the guard with the rock needs to know how to pass and be well-spaced, the other post players need to be well-spaced, and everyone else needs to move to get open in the case of a double team. If all this happened and I had my shit together, I was effective. Otherwise, I wasn't good enough to make things happen on my own. On the defensive end, I was skilled at rotating and moving and orally coordinating a man-to-man help defense framework. This relies on the whole team moving in concert. But I was not capable of "shutting someone down" or playing intense in-your-face defense on their best player up and down the court. Finally, I didn't care enough about the sport to lead by example on the "killer instinct" front which is what "the guy" is supposed to do on a team.

By the way, this is just one example of a broader life lesson you can learn from playing sports….

Bottom Line: "Know yourself" includes knowing when you excel as a principal and when you excel as a lieutenant. Teams are most effective when each player knows his role.

(thanks to Andy McKenzie for his feedback)

The Mind as a River

Understand: the greatest generals, the most creative strategists, stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment. That is how creativity is sparked and opportunities are seized. Knowledge, experience, and theory have limitations: no amount of thinking in advance can prepare you for the chaos of life, for the infinite possibilities of the moment. The great philosopher of war Carl von Clausewitz called this “friction”: the difference between our plans and what actually happens. Since friction is inevitable, our minds have to be capable of keeping up with change and adapting to the unexpected. The better we can adapt our thoughts to the current circumstances, the more realistic our responses to them will be….

Think of the mind as a river: the faster it flows, the better it keeps up with the present and responds to change. The faster it flows, also the more it refreshes itself and the greater its energy. Obsessional thoughts, past experiences (whether traumas or successes), and preconceived notions are like boulders or mud in this river, settling and hardening there and damming it up. The river stops moving; stagnation sets in. You must wage constant war on this tendency in the mind.

— Robert Greene, 33 Strategies of War, page 22.

Here’s Greene on John Boyd’s OODA loop and why speed is the critical element of winning strategies. Of those who win in ruthless times: “We can think fast, let go of the need to control everything, stay close to the environment in which we operate (the streets, our clients), and experiment.”

So Good It’s Bad

According to the perverse aesthetics of artistic guilty pleasure, certain books and movies are so bad — so crudely conceived, despicably motivated and atrociously executed — that they’re actually rather good. 'Solar,' the new novel by Ian McEwan, is just the opposite: a book so good — so ingeniously designed, irreproachably high-minded and skillfully brought off — that it’s actually quite bad…. The performance is an exquisite bore, with all the overchoreographed dullness of a touring ice ballet cast with off-season Olympic skaters.

That's Walter Kirn reviewing Ian McEwan's new book. There is a whole category of art and people who fall into the "so excellent it's dull" category. "She's too nice," was a complaint Jerry had about one of his girlfriends in Seinfeld.

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In Jeremy Denk's review of Netherland, he referred to "a sentence so stupefyingly boring that I fell asleep three times while typing it into my computer and had to wipe the drool thrice lovingly off my mousepad."

Quote of the Day

"I do stuff. I respond to stuff. That's not a career — it's a life!"

        — Steve Jobs

Do stuff. Respond to stuff.

The Four Chords of Every Pop Song

I had a lot of fun watching this five minute video not only because the underlying point is interesting (pop hits use the same four chords) but also because I knew almost every one:

Other videos:

Optimal Number of Embarrassing Shock Experiences

I remember standing in the parking lot outside the offices of potential client several years ago before a big presentation. I was shaking with nervousness. Palms sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy. I was nervous about how I'd win over a group of skeptical managers. I was nervous about not being taken seriously due to my age (14). Nervous about being mentally outmatched.

I remember arriving at a business networking function in San Francisco. I surveyed the room of strangers standing around small tall circular tables holding drinks and chatting. My muscles tightened as I contemplated having to penetrate seemingly closed circles, insert myself into conversation, and then make small talk with all the formally dressed men and women with many more years of experience.

So I made a bee line to the bathroom, went into a stall, locked the door, put the cover seat down, and sat on the toilet for 30 minutes. Eventually I left my self-imposed bathroom stall imprisonment and chatted with the other attendees at the event, but it was not easy-going. The whole while I asked myself questions like, "Am I saying the right things? Do they think I'm dumb?" This happened at most business social functions I attended.

I remember countless phone call screw-ups. One time I called a guy as part of a sales pitch. He was a big deal and I wanted to nail the call. I reached his voicemail, and started leaving a message, and when I was done with my bit I realized I didn't know how to close. I stumbled through a few "OK well look forward to hearing back from you" lines before saying: "thanks so much again Richard, talk to you soon, take care, thanks, thanks thanks." Then I hung up. I literally said "thanks, thanks thanks" three times in a row before hanging up the phone. Man, did I feel like an idiot and not at all on the level of the guy I was courting.

These were shock experiences. Two reflections:

First, as I experienced these embarrassing moments I did not attribute my missteps to social inexperience or immaturity but I instead concluded that I was less intelligent than the other people at these events. This may explain my drive to keep learning and improving so as to avoid this kind of embarrassment in the future.

Second, there is such a thing as an optimal number of embarrassing / failure experiences. Too many too young and it can destroy foundational self-confidence. Too few, and arrogance reigns.

There is such a thing as an optimal level of insecurity in a person.

“How Are Your Relationships?”

…With your friends, your family, and your spouse / romantic interest?

I don’t think a friend catch-up session is complete without this question.

I support probing directly and following up specifically. The conversation is always enlightening and sometimes brings us closer. As one friend of mine likes to say, “People should pry more.”

Relationships are the lifeblood of happiness. They deserve to be discussed and analyzed!

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Ariel Levy’s review of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new memoir on marriage is decent. I liked this paragraph:

Ultimately, Gilbert is clear about what she, like most people, wants: everything. We want intimacy and autonomy, security and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it. Gilbert understands this, yet she tries to convince herself and her readers that she has found a loophole. She tells herself a familiar story, that her marriage will be different. And she is, of course, right—everyone’s marriage is different. But everyone’s marriage is a compromise.

What Makes Something Interesting?

Justin Wehr summarizes the research on "interest." According to one paper by Paul Silva he dug up, something is interesting if it is: a) new, complex, or unexpected, and b) comprehensible.

Silva's extrapolation for writers:

According to educational research, the largest predictors of a text’s interestingness are (a) a cluster of novelty–complexity variables (the material’s novelty, vividness, complexity, and surprisingness) and (b) a cluster of comprehension variables (coherence, concreteness, and ease of processing). Intuition tells us that we can make writing interesting by "spicing it up"; research reminds us that clarity, structure, and coherence enhance a reader’s interest, too.

Compound interest:

Interest motivates learning about something new and complex; once people understand the thing, it is not interesting anymore. The new knowledge, in turn, enables more things to be interesting. … In a sense, interest is self-propelling: It motivates people to learn, thereby giving them the knowledge needed to be interested.

This would suggest that sometimes you're not going to be interested in something right out of the gate — you first need to acquire some knowledge in the area, some experiences, some expertise. Map this to careers and you arrive at Cal Newport's view that you should try to generate passion at work, not find your passion.

You can be interested in things but not be happy:

Second, interest and happiness connect to different abstract dimensions of personality. Interest connects to openness to experience, a broad trait associated with curiosity, unconventionality, and creativity. Happiness, in contrast, connects to extraversion, a broad trait associated with positive emotions and gregariousness.

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When I think about the people I most enjoy spending time with, they are high on two scales: interestingness and humor.

Here are Andy McKenzie's thoughts on the link between interest and the potential for a reward. Here's Andy on why happiness and sadness on are different dimensions.

The Atacama Desert

Atacama
Last week I spent five nights in the Atacama Desert in the north of Chile. It is beautiful, remote, relaxing, and very much worth visiting during a trip to the southern cone.

Atacama is the driest desert in the world. In some parts, there has been no recorded rainfall since recording began. It looks and feels like a bigger, grander, sandier version of the Grand Canyon and Utah canyons, though grander only by a bit.

The town of San Pedro was erected in the middle of the desert to service tourists. It's not as cheesy a town as it could be, and does a nice job providing basic infrastructure and tours to see the desert, canyons, and sand mountains. The food in San Pedro was surprisingly good. There were many excellent menús to choose from — the set, three course meals is how you eat well and cheaply in Chile (and all of Latin America).

There are three main tours to do in Atacama. Two involve early wake-ups (4 and 6 AM, respectively) which ruled them out for us. That left an afternoon hiking tour through a moon-like landscape followed by a view of the sun setting behind mountains way out in the distance. We watched it perched on a top of a rock formation. Beautiful. The rest of the time we lounged around the hotel pool and enjoyed the still, dry desert air.

The most annoying part of San Pedro is the stray dogs. They sleep by day, and wander the streets by night. They bark and growl and make so much noise that they keep you up at night, even if your hotel is far away. Mostly, it's rape. Male dogs pinning female dogs and trying to have their way. Yelps and barks ensue. I know: I saw this happen more than once up-close. Why don't poor countries more aggressively neuter dogs?

My friend Steve Dodson visited Chile for a couple weeks and we went up there together. After our epic swing through Argentina last summer, a reunion was in order. We had a blast. We chatted for several hours each day, sometimes shooting the shit, sometimes discussing a set topic around which there was structure. About a fourth of the time we discussed relationships (generally), a fourth on business / entrepreneurship / finance, a fourth blogging / information diet, and a fourth other stuff. Thanks to our conversations I must issue a retroactive and prospective hat tip to Steve for helping me think through a handful of blog posts.

I recommend visiting the Atacama Desert on your trip to Chile. A good southern cone trip would involve visiting B.A., Valparaiso, Atacama, Iguazu Falls, and Patagonia if you have time / money. Don't forget little Uruguay, too.