Friday, October 14, 2005

More Graham-y Goodness

More Graham-y Goodness
Paul Graham returns, this time with a write-up of his Summer Founders Program for hackers.

I've admired the SFP before, but based on Paul's write-up, it appears to have been even more successful than could possibly be hoped.

Out of eight groups, Paul thinks that three or four will make it--a remarkable success rate for venture-funded companies, let along companies that took in less than $20K.

There are also some important lessons:

"A researcher who studied the SFP startups said the one thing they had in common was that they all worked ridiculously hard. People this age are commonly seen as lazy. I think in some cases it's not so much that they lack the appetite for work, but that the work they're offered is unappetizing.The experience of the SFP suggests that if you let motivated people do real work, they work hard, whatever their age."

I completely agree. I work with a number of entrepreneurs, ranging in age from 17 to 26, and none of them could possibly considered lazy. More importantly, all of them are doing what they love. I wish I had the exposure, experience, and cojones to start my own company when I was 18--alas, I had to wait until I was a relatively ancient 24.

"Here's a handy rule for startups: competitors are rarely as dangerous as they seem. Most will self-destruct before you can destroy them. And it certainly doesn't matter how many of them there are, any more than it matters to the winner of a marathon how many runners are behind him."

Another important truth, and one which even the very experienced forget. Yes, there are competitors everywhere, but the most important thing is whether or not your users love your product. Time and again, companies have triumphed against oceans of competitors. Just look at Google, which I scoffed at as "another search engine" when it came out. My bad.

"Power is shifting from the people who deal with money to the people who create technology, and if our experience this summer is any guide, this will be a good thing."

It is definitely getting cheaper to start a company, which is always a good thing. When people ask me why I like startups, I always say this: Microsoft is a 100,000 person company. What do you think would generate more innovation? Microsoft, or 10,000 10-person startups?

In this case, at least, a Doberman's weight in chihuahuas beats a Doberman.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Silent Majority

The Silent Majority

During the 1960s, Richard Nixon spoke of a silent majority, who far outnumbered the 60s counterculture.

Today, most folks think of American teens as cynical, jaded, and steeped in sex. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth.

The folks at Ypulse pointed out this Harris Interactive survey of teens:

70% of teens believe in God
78% believe in Heaven, 68% in Hell
47% think abortion should be illegal, versus 37% who think it should be legal
43% think religion has too little influence in America

If you base your impressions on what you see on TV and on the lives of kids on the two coasts, you're not getting the whole story.

For better or worse, we should focus on what people actually believe, not what we think they believe.

Class Participation

Class Participation

What makes the Web so exciting these days is participation.

For a while, I've wanted to write about why I blog. When it comes down to it, blogging (and participating in the ongoing conversation that is the blogosphere) is the closest thing I've found to the days when I was back at Stanford, studying the greatest works of history, philosophy, and literature in SLE.

When I started working, I stopped thinking about small things and spent most of my time thinking about business and money.

I wasn't exercising my thinking muscles.

The blogosphere exercises those long unused muscles.

And the heart of SLE (and HBS for that matter) isn't simply reading and passively taking in information--it's participating and making your own meaning.

That's what stories like this one in BusinessWeek illustrate.

Who needs salons when you have the entire Web?

What Do These People Have In Common?

What Do These People Have In Common?
Pro golfer Michelle Wie, former teen idol Luke Perry, NFL hall-of-fame quarterback Steve Young, famed writer of hard-boiled fiction Elmore Leonard, and yours truly.

All of us were born on October 11.

31 isn't a particularly special birthday, but every birthday is worth celebrating.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Rage, rage against the dying of the light
Fred Wilson with a key insight: We are now seeing companies that second derivatives (Skype meets MySpace). The problem is that the first derivatives themselves haven't figured out a business model!

We can train our brains for happiness. Functional MRIs of Buddhist monks show remarkable levels of positive emotion, even when confronted with horrifying images. Their brains actually are different.

This is so incredibly cool--audio files with talks from the long now, including Kurzweil, Diamond, Hillis, and Sterling. Makes me wish I had an MP3 player in my car! Call it "vancasting."

Dylan Thomas reads his famous poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night." Great poem, great reading. Too bad they don't have a recording of his famous last words, (true story) "I've just had seventeen whiskeys, which I think is a record."

Does The Military Skew Rich?

Does The Military Skew Rich?
I found this interesting study via my libertarian buddy at Coyote Blog.

Like most people, I've always thought of the military as an institution that recruited a disproportionate number from the less well-off. If you don't have a lot of economic opportunities, it makes sense to join the meritocratic, stable, and well-respected U.S. military.

It's one of those stories that just seems to ring true.

However, Tim Kane, an economist at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, has used demographic data from the Department of Defense to analyze enlistees based on the relative wealth of their ZIP codes.

What he found was that enlistees were least likely to come from the poorest quintile of ZIP codes. They were most likely to come from the two richest quintiles.

There are some possible explanations, such as that ZIP codes vary in size, but on the whole it seems like a surprising but legitmate overturning of a common belief.

And A Child Shall Lead Them

And A Child Shall Lead Them

I'm always interested in articles on parenting. This one, about making your kids the supervisors around the house caught my eye. I'm firmly of the belief that children need the opportunity to learn how to direct their own lives, rather than simply obeying the nearest authority.

The Singularity Is Nigh!

The Singularity Is Nigh!

More from Kurzweil on the singularity--it's coming folks, you might as well start getting ready now.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

I think that the most important goal in life is to be happy. Of course, different things make different people happy. Ernest Shackleton's idea of happiness involved risking his life to explore the Antarctic wasteland. My idea of happiness involves getting 8 hours of sleep.

Nevertheless, society spends little time on studying happiness. That's why I'm glad that happiness studies seem to be a rising trend.

An article that appeared in the London Times last week had lots of good stuff, including evidence that happiness is strongly correlated with longevity and health (that is, that people who are happy will actually live longer and better).,,2099-1793873_1,00.html

Here are few tidbits to remember:

Be Social

"When two American psychologists studied hundreds of students and focused on the top 10% "very happy" people, they found they spent the least time alone and the most time socialising. Psychologists know that increasing the number of social contacts a miserable person has is the best way of cheering them up."

Getting What You Want Doesn't Make You Happy

"At the Royal Institution, Nettle explained how brain chemistry foils our pursuit of happiness in the modern world: "The things that you desire are not the things that you end up liking. The mechanisms of desire are insatiable. There are things that we really like and tire of less quickly — having good friends, the beauty of the natural world, spirituality. But our economic system plays into the psychology of wanting, and the psychology of liking gets drowned out."

Liking involves different brain chemicals from wanting. Real pleasure is associated with opioids. They are released in the rat brain by sweet tastes. When they are blocked in humans, food tastes less delicious. They also dampen down pain so that pleasure is unadulterated.

Happiness is neither desire nor pleasure alone. It involves a third chemical pathway. Serotonin constantly shifts the balance between negative and positive emotions. It can reduce worry, fear, panic and sleeplessness and increase sociability, co-operation, and happy feelings. Drugs based on serotonin, such as ecstasy, produce a relaxed sense of wellbeing rather than the dopamine pattern of euphoria and craving.

In essence, what the biology lesson tells us is that negative emotions are fundamental to the human condition, and it's no wonder they are difficult to eradicate. At the same time, by a trick of nature, our brains are designed to crave but never really achieve lasting happiness."

Be Happy, Be Healthy

"Has anyone found a causal link between happiness and health?

Nuns may hold the answer. Nuns make a great natural experiment, because they lead the same routine lives with similar diets and activities. None have married or had children. Yet there is huge variation in their health and longevity. In 1932, 180 novices in Milwaukee wrote short sketches of their lives...

Researchers who quantified positive feeling in all 180 sketches discovered that nearly all (90%) of the happiest quarter were still alive at 85. But of the least cheerful quarter, only a third survived to that age."

More catch-up postings

The price of being busy--another blizzard of catchup postings coming right at ya!