Monthly Archives: July 2007

Breakfasts in Germany / Austria / Switzerland

Are the best in the world. Period.

Germany: “Goodbye”

Hanging out in Frankfurt airport I was reminded how all the announcements in English end with "Goodbye." Very funny.

Friendships in the Cyber Age

A reader of my post on the networks and connections of today’s grads points me to this brief but highly interesting article on friendship in the cyber-age. It starts by reviewing Aristotle:

In Book VIII of his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle categorizes three different types of friendship: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of the good. Friendships of utility are those where people are on cordial terms primarily because each person benefits from the other in some way. Business partnerships, relationships among co-workers, and classmate connections are examples. Friendships of pleasure are those where individuals seek out each other’s company because of the joy it brings. Passionate love affairs, people associating with each other due to belonging to the same hobby organization, and fishing buddies fall into this category. Most important of all are friendships of the good. These are friendships based upon mutual respect, admiration for each other’s virtues, and a strong desire to aid and assist the other person because one recognizes their essential goodness.

The author goes on to discuss each category and how the web and email play a role in the forming and maintaining of such a relationship. He’s optimistic — people tend to dwell on the negative when it comes to the internet and its effect on friendships, he says, but in the end it is more a force for good.

Off to Russia and Welcome New Readers

I’m taking off today to Ukraine and Russia. I’ll be speaking in Odessa, Ukraine and then onto Kiev, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Blogging and email will be light. I’m looking forward to cracking open The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 by Robert Middlekauff on the flight to Frankfurt — it looks excellent.

If you’re new to this blog, here’s my "Best Of" and welcome page, here’s a link to my book, here’s the RSS feed, here’s my email address.

A New Low for Political Correctness On Campus

We’ve hit a new low for political correctness on campus. The University of Michigan LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered) office has determined that its name offends a boatload of excluded people. Excerpt from post:

And guess what? The name “Office of LGBT Affairs” oppresses straight people too, a.ka. “allies.” So they’re going to change the name. Great! So call a meeting, toss some ideas around, and pick a new name. Easy! Ah, no. That’s not the way it works in the LGBTQIALMNOP community. Everyone has to be included, every voice has to be heard, input welcomed, feelings honored, etc., etc., etc. And a respectful, inclusive process takes time. How much time?

Three years.

That’s not a typo. They devoted three years to getting due input and coming up with a more inclusive name.

And the wheels of higher ed keep spinning…

(hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Questions to Ask Yourself As You Start a Business

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of "doing stuff," randomness, chaos, the risks of long term goal setting, and the connection between the bullshit meter and excessive chatter around "strategy".

I do firmly believe that constantly acting and iterating and making meaning as you go along is important because speed is important. And because experimentation and real time market feedback is super useful. But today I want to counterbalance these points. After all, talking and strategizing without actually doing stuff is useless. But doing stuff without actually thinking is dangerous.

My friend Charles Hudson has a good post today about questions you should ask yourself before starting a business. He smartly suggests to not worry about the format and just focus on grappling with important questions. All entrepreneurs, it seems to me, should be able to think and plan ahead and contextualize some of the day-to-day chaos in a larger framework without resorting to long business plans, outside consultants, or buzzword-filled strategy nonsense. Hudson:

1. What are my top 3 milestones and what’s it going to take to reach each of them? Pick a few milestones that are meaningful. Acquiring a certain number of users, releasing X number of versions, achieving PV/UU metrics all work. Guesstimate what it will take to get there and then (at least) double your estimates for time and cost.

2. How large is the audience today and how am I going to attempt to reach them? It´s always good to do a quick market sizing and figure out how you´re going to get your users. Are you going to go national from day 1? Are you going to mine existing networks/communities? What’s your notion of what user acquisition will cost and how long it will take?

3. What are 3 things that could happen in the market that would make me rethink the wisdom of this idea? I personally think it´s always a good idea to have some sense of the types of signals you could see that would make you rethink whether you´re on the right track. For example, if your strategy is predicated on the belief that Yahoo/Microsoft/Google are too slow to pick up on the market you´re targeting, seeing the 3 of them release products in quick succession would be a good thing to note.

4. What are the most important metrics that will tell me whether I’m on track? Every good company I’ve seen has a few (as in 3-4 tops) metrics that they track on a daily basis. They know where they stand on those metrics at all times and there´s a good story for why those metrics matter.

5. Where am I going to get the first 5/10/15 people I need? I´m always surprised that more people don’t think about this one. If you´re starting a company, chances are you can´t do it alone. Where are you going to get those first few employees?

The Vastly Larger Networks of Today’s Grads

Isn’t it amazing that today’s high school grads will still know the names of all their high school classmates in 20 years? Their former JV soccer buddies, cafeteria archenemies, and long lost heart-throbs will all be a click away in whatever the social network of the day is.

They won’t necessarily be in active contact with each and every compatriot from adolescence, but they’ll most likely be connected as weak ties such that if they wanted to find out what ever happened to so-and-so, they wouldn’t just have to wonder — they could pull up the person’s latest contact and employment info based on a simple search.

Compare this to the average person over age 30 who’s probably connected to just a handful of friends from high school. Yes, he could pull out the yearbook and try re-establish some weak tie via online connection with his classmates, but that’s a pain. High school grads of today are already connected and stay connected over the years. Each day I log into Facebook and see my News Feed which reports on the activities of various old classmates I now have only a marginal interest in. But I nonetheless scan it and stay abreast simply because it’s so easy.

I’m fascinated to see what happens as my age demographic moves into college and then the workforce. Facebook reached the masses when we were in high school. We went to college with at least 200 existing weak ties from high school classmates, and in college we’ll accumulate probably twice as many. By the time I graduate in 2011, I expect my average college friend will have at least 500 connections on a service like Facebook that are legitimate (ie, genuine weak ties that resulted from some shared experience or interaction).

500 connections to people you went to school with. 500 people for whom you remember their name and interests with a little help from a social network. 500 people for whom you have updated contact information, location, and career status. At age 22. Society, in other words, is going to be flooded with the most networked generation ever.

For the grad, that technology has made this possible is only good news, with one exception: the possibility of confusing a weak tie with a strong relationship. Trading emails once a year with an old classmate, or monitoring their Facebook profile from time to time, does not mean you are good friends with the person. It’d be a shame to realize at age 30 that while you “know” a gazillion people who can all help you find jobs or recommend local restaurants (benefits not to be underrated), you actually know no one at the core.

Still, I’m hugely upbeat about growing up in a world where I will stay connected with hundreds of classmates and colleagues who I meet throughout all of my formal schooling. And I’m curious to see how this uber-connectedness will affect our lives over time.

Face of the Day

Pingpongface

Photo from SI.com’s photo gallery of ping pong champions, sent by loyal reader Tim. Through that page I also discovered the movie Balls of Fury coming out August 31st, a comedy about "the unsanctioned, underground, and unhinged world of extreme Ping-Pong."

Ping-Pong may well be the last great sport that remains free of scandal. MLB and steroids, cycling and doping, NBA and refs, NFL and dog fighting….Ping-Pong and pure passion.

For those keeping score at home, I made it to the finals of the First Annual Ben Casnocha Ping Pong Invitational in Boulder, CO last week.

I plan on improving quite a bit in college. Right now I’m all muscle; I need more finesse. I need more spin in my game.

Book Excerpt: Doers vs. Talkers

Below is an excerpt from my book My Start-Up Life. It’s about how entrepreneurs harbor a bias toward action. Please buy the book on Amazon.com or pick it up at Barnes & Noble / Borders!

Given two ambitious, intelligent people, both of whom have some big ideas, why does one start getting things done while the other one stays stuck in the dreaming stage? What’s the difference between two people whose success is premised on executing tasks across a variety of disciplines — as is the case in most start-ups — and one seems to be able to do more quicker, while the other person spends excessive time fretting, planning, dreaming, or consulting people? Here are some differences I see:

* People who get stuff done maintain a high commitment to themselves. They don’t want to let themselves down. The chief motivation to achieve comes from within, not externally. It is easy to not keep promises you make to yourself ("Gee, I think I’m going to stop smoking" or "Gee, I’m going to join the gym this month").

* People who get stuff done strive for "good enough." Good enough is a key principle in entrepreneurship. If your aim is "perfect," the future is so far away it may be hard to get going.

* People who get stuff done think about the short-term future. At the end of meetings, they ask, "So what are the next steps?" It’s easy to analyze the present or dream about the distant future, but actionable tasks over the next 2-4 weeks is most important for keeping the ball moving.

* People who get stuff done "dream" and "talk" as much as the next guy, but they share these dreams and ideas with others. By sharing your intentions with others, you introduce yet another accountability mechanism.

* People who get stuff done begin. Taking that first step can be the hardest. Act now! As Taoism founder Lao Tzu said, "A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."

What mindset allows me to be productive? I’m fortunate not to have many onerous projects that I loathe to work on. Loving what you do is key to getting stuff done and not simply talking about it. If something is difficult, I break it down into parts and organize its related tasks on my computer. When I’m effective and productive, I treat myself by going to the gym, eating a Clif Bar (ha!), or making time to do a blog post.

Do you want to be known as a doer or a talker? Do you want to start businesses or just talk about starting businesses? The answers to these questions—and others like them—are better indicators of your future success in business than the slickness of your b-plan, the extent of your funding, or who you know. Get going!

Summer Movie Roundup

I’m trying to watch more movies this summer. I’ve been consulting friends and family and peeking at the IMDb top 250 list before adding a movie to the Netflix queue. So far I’ve seen:

The Pained Veil — A cholera epidemic hits rural China; idealistic western doctor goes to help; doctor’s wife has an affair. This is a fine movie but the affair plot line seemed a bit old to me, fantastic imagery of China notwithstanding.

The Departed — Awesome. Awesome lines (Alec Baldwin is genius), awesome plot twists, awesome acting. I loved it. I recommend it.

Seven Up — The famous British documentary which tracks a group of British children at age 7, 14, 21, and onwards. I watched the kids at 7 and 14 — fascinating to see how they develop. The group is socio-economically diverse. The interviewer asked the rich seven year old if he’s traveled much and the boy responds with a handful of names of countries. The interviewer asks a poor seven year if he’s traveled much and the boy says he’s been to the museum and local park.

Doctor Zhivago — In anticipation of my trip to Russia, I had to watch this classic. It’s long, but worth it for any traveler to Russia.

Munich — An intense movie about the Israeli olympic athlete hostages in Munich 1972. While there are debates about the accuracy of Spielberg’s efforts, and there always will be in a film such as this, I didn’t find it heavy handed one way or another. I recommend it.

And the Band Played On — An interesting film about the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s, Regan’s inaction, San Francisco’s role as a hub for activism and infection, and some of the colorful scientific personalities trying to understand it all. The acting is sub-par but in terms of delivering the story the movie does a good job. It made me want to learn more about the AIDS situation both then and now (it still ravages many parts of Africa).

Ah, I already feel more hip and informed. Let the Netflix queue roll on….