Friday, June 30, 2006

SuperGangsta

One of my favorite movie reviewers is Omar, the gangsta film reviewer for SLAM Magazine. Here is his pithy, pitch-perfect take on the absurdity of Superman's ability to pass as Clark Kent:

"Now, my thing is, how can Clark Kent and Superman return on the same exact day and no one put two and two together? That’s still my beef. I mean given, Clark Kent is this clumsy and nerdy guy, but come on, dunn. Can anyone really be that stupid? See, that’s how I know Superman couldn’t lamp in the hood. I mean, if someone gets arrested on the block, then they get back to the block a half hour later, and 4 other people get arrested a half hour later, we pretty much know you snitching. So if the bird of the block disappears whenever Superman appears, you can trust we gonna show up to son’s door with a big bag of BBQ charcoal like “Aight son! Ice us out! No no no, don’t play stupid, Clark. We know why washed those blue spandex at the Laundromat, and it sure as hell wasn’t for aerobics class.” Na’mean?"

On a side note, "Ice me out" is going to be my new catchphrase with the VCs....

A High Five for HiveLive

My old classmate John Kembel is a really smart guy. He and twin brother George (who now runs the D-School at Stanford) were great designers, combining passion, artistry, and hardcore engineering smarts.

Since I knew I couldn't compete with that kind of talent, I turned my attention to the easier path of being a marketing weasel and entrepreneur.

Since then, we've all gotten a lot older and fatter, but John is still a brilliant guy. His latest venture is HiveLive, a new kind of social network that pulls together many of the best features out there (networking, posting, sharing) and incorporates them into a single whole.

To get a better idea of how it works, take a look at John's public "hive":
http://www.hivelive.com/people/john/hives/public/posts

HiveLive is really moving in the direction of one of my own predictions, which is that in the future, all of us will have a universal feed that our friends and family can consume. I'll be keeping my eye on this one!

To sign up, follow this link:
http://hivelive.com/join/beta2-yeh

It should be good for 50 signups, and if it runs out, just let me know, and I'll get John to give us more.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Action Is The Killer App

"Show me a guy who's afraid to look bad, and I'll show you a guy you can beat every time."
--Lou Brock, Hall of Fame baseball player

Action is the killer app that will bring you success in business and in life.

A few days ago, Ian Ybarra posted a tribute to Jessica Pierce, a bright young high school student and lifeguard who drowned while trying to save her classmates from a treacherous current during a school trip to Costa Rica.

After the tragedy, Ian wrote about what made Jessica special:

"Her name was Jessica Pierce. And she had something special. Call it initiative, call it courage, call it whatever you want, but she was going to use it to make great things happen. She wasn't about to live by default like most people I run across."

Jessica met Ian when he spoke to her English class. Of all the students, she was the only one who reached out to Ian and followed up with him. She was the only one who applied to the leadership camp he recommended. She was the only one who asked him for advice about getting into college, and when he recommended that she visit the schools before the application cycle began, she arranged her first visit within two weeks.

The point is that she was willing to act. Greatness comes to those who act, not those who wait.

There are always many reasons why we wait or hesitate. Fear of failure. Fear of looking silly. Fear of being different. Fear of rejection. And perhaps most insidious of all, fear of making the wrong choice.

You can go through life without ever really taking a step off the beaten path. You can go to a good college, get good grades, get a good job, and have a good career without ever risking failure, rejection, being different, or make a "wrong" choice.

But that will never lead you to greatness.

Whatever your age, you can act.

If you're a student, try to find your passion (and ignore what others think). Talk, really talk with your teachers and professors, and let them know how they can help you.

If you're in the workplace, don't do something you know is silly or wrong just because it's how it's always been done. Don't settle for good enough--push to make things better until you are actually satisfied.

Find things you love and do them. Find people you care about and be with them.

None of us knows how much time we'll be given. What is certain is that when a day ends, you'll never get a chance to go back. Don't kill time, savor it.

The one thing you can always control is how you spend your time. Invest wisely. Act.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Silicon Valley, Warts and All

Fascinating discussion on Tom Coates' blog about reactions to Paul Graham's talk on "How American Are Startups?"

What makes it interesting is the fact that most of the commentors live in the UK, rather than the US, and thus have a completely different perspective.

To me, Graham's essay was an interesting explanation of why America has been such a good environment for startups.

To some of the people who listened to his keynote, it was:
"A Thatcherite screed about why businesses should be able to get away with doing anything they want and treat employees like slaves."

Clearly, we're approaching this from different starting points.

Even Tom (who works for Yahoo) wrote:
"Paul's piece felt extraordinarily American, in a semi-utopian libertarian free-market kind of way, and I have to admit it felt alien and strange and fairly abrasive."

The most frightening quote (for me) was this one from Laurens Holst:
"Also, I don’t see why governments aren’t trusted with financial decisions. Clever investment decision-makers with good knowledge of the field and experience can’t/don’t work for the government? I don’t buy that."

I ended up commenting with this little mini-piece on the strengths (and weaknesses) of the Silicon Valley model. You can decide for yourself if you agree or disagree. As always, Scott Adams' BOCTAOE (But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions) principle applies!

***

Full disclosure: I am an American who has lived his entire life in the USA (aside from brief trips to Europe and Asia). Furthermore, I have spent most of my adult life in Silicon Valley, and all of my adult life working for startups.

Given the passion of the discussion, I think it's worthwhile to try to lay out in a single comment the pros and cons of the American, and more specifically the Silicon Valley model.

As you'll see, whether or not you believe that this model is superior or inferior to other models is largely dependent on the importance you assign to these pros and cons.

PROS:
1) Freedom.
By freedom, I mean the availability of many different options, with few (if any) governmental restrictions on your actions. Of course, freedom is a double-edged sword--freedom can be used or abused. That brings us to our next pro...

2) A willingness to accept variance, including bad results.
Here in Silicon Valley, we accept an astonishing amount of variance without blinking an eye. It's perfectly acceptable to start a venture with a 60% chance of failure, 30% chance of muddling along, 9% chance of mild success, and 1% chance of striking it rich. In fact those figures closely match the success rate of venture-backed firms, which in turn are far more likely to succeed than companies that do not receive funding. This kind of variance would be completely unacceptable to a society which valued equality of outcome (e.g. safety nets and high wages for all).

3) Optimism and openness.
Many have commented on Cory Doctorow's "kicking ass" comment, but it is very true and telling. The culture is Silicon Valley is neophilic--we love the new, and we're all searching for the next big thing. The fact is, most of us won't find it, but our optimism allows us to keep looking no matter what in a triumph of hope over experience.

CONS:

1) Unhealthy obssession and tunnel vision.
People in Silicon Valley tend to forget about the outside world. We live in a little bubble where we talk about companies like Flickr and del.icio.us, and read TechCrunch daily, and believe that the rest of the world does the same. We tend to ignore things like politics, literature, and the arts, focusing instead on product launches and liquidity events.

2) Minimal compassion.
This is all you need to read:
http://www.valleywag.com/tech/charity/internet-millionaires-to-african-aids-babies-drop-dead-181899.php

Bill Gates is giving away his fortune. Larry Ellison is defaulting on a $100 million commitment to Harvard, is only giving his own foundation $100 million because he's being forced to by an SEC settlement. Meanwhile, he spent $194 million on a new yacht.

3) Dizzying pace of change.
Everything is always changing. You can go from hero to goat in a matter of months. Take a look at guys like Mark Andreesen, who went from the next Bill Gates to, well, some guy. Or more recently, how about how Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams went from lionization to vilification in less than 6 months.

If you need stability, this isn't the place. Future shock is a way of life.

Ultimately, whether you like Silicon Valley depends on what you consider important. If you believe that life should be fair, and that you like things the way they are, you should steer clear.

On the other hand, despite all its flaws and room for improvement, I don't believe there's a better place in the world to start a company. The world would be better off with more Silicon Valleys.

Quote of the Day: Talent and Character

A great quote from Lord Acton, explained by Paul Graham:

"Lord Acton said we should judge talent at its best and character at its worst. For example, if you write one great book and ten bad ones, you still count as a great writer-- or at least, a better writer than someone who wrote eleven that were merely good. Whereas if you're a quiet, law-abiding citizen most of the time but occasionally cut someone up and bury them in your backyard, you're a bad guy."

I couldn't agree more. I'd rather attempt big things and fail most of the the time. If you attempt small things and always succeed, you'll also succeed at eliminating the possibility of greatness.