Author Archives: Hervé Lebret

The Rainforest by Hwang and Horowitt (Part IV) – Venture Capital

After my initial notes (part I), the importance of culture (part II), the recipe (part III) in the Rainforest by Hwang and Horowitt, here are my final notes about venture capital. It may indeed be their best chapter, even if the topic has produced probably hundreds of books and thousands of articles… Their (apparent) bias as venture capitalists is only apparent. Their description is close to what I experienced but I may be biased too!

The subtitle of the chapter is “Big V, Little C” and their quote to begin the chapter is “if you want to make money, do private equity. If you want to have fun, do venture capital”. They then borrow to AnnaLee Saxenian: “In Boston it was the entrepreneurs who dressed nicely and showed up on time to impress the investors. In Silicon Valley it was the opposite.” […] “In other words, the venture – that is the startup – is always more important than the capital, with a Big V and a Little C.” [Pages 218-21]

They explain why investing in the seed and early stage is costly for venture capitalists. “It’s better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price. […] Investing earlier in a deal must be counter-balanced by a strong potential of a massively disproportionate payout at the end. Otherwise, it is simply not worth the risk. […] Lowered transaction costs due to trust and social norms make high-risk seed-stage and early-stage venture capital more profitable [in Silicon Valley].” [Pages 228-29]

In other areas, subsidized capital plays a role. But it does not mean VC should not be understood: “There are two ways to build a venture fund. One takes as little as thirty minutes to learn. The other can take twenty years or more. The short course is to learn the formal legal structuring and financial processes of a typical venture fund. […] the more difficult and time-consuming course is to learn the human behavioral dynamics that happen in and around venture funds. […] Questions such as:
– how do you treat others in situations where mistakes and failures happen almost daily?
– how to build a reputation for trust, candor and integrity when millions of dollars are at stake?
– what type of value can you provide an entrepreneur who probably knows far more about the business than you do?
– how do you actively listen to an entrepreneur, and then see beyond their words to the true prospects of a company?
– how do you know when a CEO is not fit to run a company anymore?
– how do you help a tiny company build life-or-death relationships with huge, powerful customers or strategic partners?”

It reminds me what I learnt 20 years ago: it takes 5 years and $10M to make an investor.

The authors conclude their chapter with marvelous documentary SomethingVentured: “[VCs]’re working really hard, they’re very bright, they’re working together, and they’re collaborating. And there’s a lot of fun involved in achieving things together as a group. So I don’t think you can underestimate how much fun the people… had doing what they did. I think they’re extremely proud, but when they talk about these stories, they’re laughing, they’re smiling. There’s just this excitement and energy about building something.” [Page 242]

The Rainforest by Hwang and Horowitt (Part III) – the Recipe

After my initial notes (part I) and the importance of culture (part II) in the Rainforest by Hwang and Horowitt, here are my new notes about their recipe to build efficient ecosystems for entrepreneurial innovation. I will finish with a part IV about venture capital.

Again the authors remind us that “innovation is chaotic, serendipitous and uncontrollable, so processes that are linear and controlled are rarely self-sustaining. In contrast, what we strive for in a Rainforest is a system that yields immense impact, is low-cost, and generates internal sustainability. The only possible way to achieve these goals is to build a community of innovators where transaction costs have been reduced through the creation of trust, social norms, connectivity and diversity.” [Page 183]

So their recipe is not so much a recipe as a cure. In fact they say “rather than thinking like macroeconomists, to change behavior, we must think like psychiatrists […] We build rainforests by shaping the outward behavior of innovators. Over time, those behaviors can create changes in attitude, and eventually, the changes in attitude can lead to change in beliefs”. [Page 200-1]

In the recipe [pages 194-200], there is Hardware made of 4 “P”s: People, Professional, (i.e. institutions), Physical (i.e. infrastructure) and Policy. Hardware is necessary but not sufficient. There is also Software, with 5 pillars, Diversity, Extra-Rational Motivations, Social Trust, Rules (see my previous post) and Interpretation of the Rules. The Keystones will make all this possible.

The Rainforest canvas may be a helpful tool to assess the situation of an ecosystem in its physical and cultural components:

About Role Models, they have the interesting Porsche principle. “This principle holds that one of the greatest motivators for professors or graduate students on campus to start new companies is when one of their colleagues drives up in a new Porsche after selling their startup”. [Page 210] To be honest, today, at EPFL and probably elsewhere, I would call it the Tesla principle… (see my previous post…The University-based Startup Porsche Principle. Or is it the Tesla Principle?)

In their epilogue, the authors explain that “Perhaps, instead of fighting the chaos, we need to become more comfortable with it. Perhaps we just need a better map. The Rules of the Rainforest provide a useful map – one that shows the way to balance the freedom of chaos with the beauty of collaboration. […] It requires a ‘joyful participation’ in the ups and downs, the mistakes and the failures that are inevitable. Thus, love is like a solution to chaos. ” [page 280] They use a magnificent quotation from Richard Feynman to whom a student asked to write a message to his mother so that she would be interested in science. Here it is: “Tell your son to stop trying to fill your head with science – for to fill your hear with love is enough. Richard Feynman (the man you watched on BBC ‘Horizon'”.

Here is a slideshare presentation by the authors, which beautifully summarizes their vision.

The University-based Startup Porsche Principle. Or is it the Tesla Principle?

In the book The Rainforest that I am currently reading, the authors write about Role Models that “a common phenomenon of university-based startup companies in the United States is what is sometimes jokingly called the Porsche principle. This principle holds that one of the greatest motivators for professors or graduate students on campus to start new companies is when one of their colleagues drives up in a new Porsche after selling their startup. Confidence is contagious”. [Page 210]

It reminds me a Famous quote by Tom Perkins: “The difference is in psychology: everybody in Silicon Valley knows somebody that is doing very well in high-tech small companies, start-ups; so they say to themselves “I am smarter than Joe. If he could make millions, I can make a billion”. So they do and they think they will succeed and by thinking they can succeed, they have a good shot at succeeding. That psychology does not exist so much elsewhere.”

I’ve seen it in Europe too, but to be honest, today, at EPFL and probably elsewhere, I would call it the Tesla principle… I biked quickly on campus today and here is what I found, although I know of at least 4-5 Teslas close-by… Don’t take all this too seriously. Launching a start-up is not motivated by money. It is mostly about passion…

The Rainforest by Hwang and Horowitt. Part 2: the Importance of Culture

After my introductory post about The Rainforest – The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt, which focused on the importance of trust, here is a second piece about culture. The final part will describe how the authors claim they know the recipe to build rainforests. What is remarkable with the Rainforest is the ambition to explain that innovation is mostly cultural so that at the micro-level it cannot really be engineered, but at the macro-level rainforests can be built. I am not sure the authors are right, but the effort is really to be recognized.

One lesson of the Rainforest is that outcomes cannot be engineered. […] Serendipity itself cannot be engineered but an environment that is conducive to serendipity can be. [Page 65]

In their chapter 3 about People, they begin with Keystones, not Entrepreneurs. “What defines a Keystone? Over the years, we have observed certain individuals practicing a unique manner of human interaction that is critical to the growth of entrepreneurial innovation. […] These people are usually missing, or at least too scarce, in almost all regions that have failed at generating significant amounts of entrepreneurial innovation.” [Page 71]

These people are integrative, influential and impactful, they are brokers of social trust (by contrast to entrepreneurs who are people who absorb information, learn from practice and seek opportunities). “The San Francisco Bay Area has a vastly higher percentage of people who are involved in multiple firms. 4.5% of the actors counted in the Bay Area were involved in three or more startups, compared to 2.9% in Boston, 2% in San Diego, […] 1.2% in Austin […] 0.7% in Portland. […] The bay Area has a significantly higher share of individuals who are extremely connected and contribute to the growth of multiple startup ventures”. [Page 74]

The authors also show the diversity of psychologies, the diversity of backgrounds in people which are still connected and work together. “We see these unconscious behaviors at work with innovators everywhere in the world. Scientists versus entrepreneurs. Startups versus large corporations. Investors versus investees. These tribal conflicts can be obstacles to the development of Rainforests.” [Page 109] All the more that: “Similarly the process of building a startup company is one in which people must often rely on gut-level decision-making. Entrepreneurial innovation, by its nature, is virtually a never-ending series of educated guesses. Almost every decision is based substantially incomplete information.” [Page 106]

America is the building of a society not burdened by historical tribes. […] They are less chained to the past. Instead Americans tend to be identified by self-reliance. […] People still run to California today. It is commonly regarded as the land of pioneers, nonconformists, artists, and rebels. [Page 116] Culture is critical to the way economic systems function because it provides the rules of engagement between people that hopefully can maximize their collective well-being. [Page 118] The authors are not naïve but claim that all these people need to find the right balance. A venture capitalist is caught between trying to own as much of a company as possible and trying to leave enough equity in the hands of the entrepreneurial team to keep them fully incentivized. […] A VC wants to preserve a reputation. [Page 119] Innovative behavior is not driven by rational maximization. There are in fact other forces, which can be called extra-rational: competition, altruism, adventure, discovery, creativity, meaning, concern.

Here I cannot avoid mentioning the great (counter-)example of Orson Welles about the Scorpio and the Turtle… Hopefully nature is not everything, culture matters.

One mistake of policy makers is to underestimate these extra-rational motivations. “Governments and corporations often try to incentivize innovation by focusing on financial mechanisms, such as tax breaks, subsidies, grants and loans. But overall, this strategy has been poor. They cannot be only the ends in themselves.” [Page 127]

Traditional incentives, benefits and costs: [Page 124]
Some possibility of making more money
Sacrifice a stable income and career perhaps forever
Risk social disapproval from family, friends, potential spouses
Difficulty and fear of working with strangers outside conventional circles of trust, culture, ethnicity, language
Difficulty and extra effort in communicating effectively
Huge investment of time, effort, stress
Possibility of losing everything (depending on laws, regarding bankruptcy, partnerships, etc.)

Rainforest incentives, benefits and costs: [Page 126]
Perceived and possibly real opportunity of making more money (following role models that have validated the path already)
Joy of discovery, novelty, adventure, creativity, passion
Social approval (as a peer member of a community of innovators)
Joy of friendship, sharing, love working on a team, building new trust, common values and goals
Fulfillment from the possibility of making a difference in society, leaving a legacy for future generations
Thrill of competition
Freedom and independence
Little social punishment, often encouragement, from family and friends for taking a worthwhile risk
Some anxiety from meeting new people, but offset by the joy of making new friendships
Huge investment of time, effort, and stress, but viewed in a neutral or even positive light because pursuing a personal passion
Little risk of losing everything because new opportunities emerge in the process of experimentation
Much lower probability of failure from a broad community of fellow innovators.

And the authors claim what are needed are 7 rules [Page 156]:
– Break the rules and dream
– Open doors and listen
– Trust and be trusted
– Experiment and iterate together
– Seek fairness, not advantage.
– Err, fail and persist.
– Pay it forward.

People usually think of Silicon Valley as an anomaly in the otherwise “normal” history of the world, but what if we reversed that proposition? What if we envisioned Silicon Valley as the natural endpoint of a 50,000-year story? Perhaps it could be the latest stage in the evolution of human society, from a culture based on tribes to a culture based on pragmatic individuals. [page 152]

Look at Harari again if you have not not already…

Notes on the Rainforest by Hwang and Horowitt

I must thank here first Bogdan Ceobanu from the European Commission. After spending a few hours discussing the challenges (and opportunities) of innovation in Europe, he sent me his copy of The Rainforest – The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt. Bogdan is one of the leading voices behind Startup Europe. Thanks 🙂

There may be nothing really new in this book about ecosystems, but the messages are strong and clear. You may need an infrastructure, but without culture, nothing will happen, no innovation will emerge. I might write a few posts about this book as I just began reading it recently. And as usual, here are my notes / extracts.

Despite hundreds of books and thousands of papers on the subject, real-world innovation is little understood. […] Having the right ingredients will not necessarily result in successful innovation. You need to prepare those raw ingredients, combining them in just the right way. […] We argue that the two pillars of innovation’s conventional wisdom – free markets and clusters – are unable to provide comprehensive answers to the mystery of systemic innovation. [Pages 18-20]

Funnily enough, I gave my own recipe in 2007: “Two main ingredients are needed, rich people and nerds; this has been said already. Do not add any bureaucracy, do not add concrete. In order to attract and keep enough nerds, there is a need for a large and nice plate. A university is a good choice. But it must not be a university like any other; it must be a superb university. There are some; a few are being built from scratch. It needs a unique personality, and it needs to be creative. Not only on its campus, but also in its surroundings, so that the ingredients feel comfortable in the plate. They should be fresh, i.e. they should be young and dynamic. Young and dynamic people are the founders of start-ups. Graham also mentions liberal environments, which, he claims, tolerate strange and brilliant individuals. Then the ingredients have to be put in the oven for a very long time. Silicon Valley began in 1957, Silicon Fen in 1960. It took ten years, maybe even twenty years, to make these two regions successful; it is about the time it takes to grow infants into adults. The oven should not be too hot, so that the desire is not killed, then the temperature should be increased to maintain the enthusiasm. A temperate, pleasant climate is therefore necessary. If all the conditions are in place, the result will probably be interesting”. [Page 176. Start-Up: What We May Still Learn From Silicon Valley]

The world of innovation does not happen at the macro-level. Innovation is a “body contact sport.” It is a micro-level phenomenon. When applied to innovation, rational choice theory might make sense if you’re a theorist thinking abstractly about the way the world should work. It does not accurately describe the way the world actually works. [Page 37] You cannot understand the macro without understanding the micro. […] the world is far more complicated – one must deal with a range of complex social and psychological factors, personal networks, and information flows. [Page 48]

Free market proponents sometimes support investments in scientific research as a way to stimulate new innovation. […] Scientific research, however, does not always lead to economic growth. Each $1 increase in scientific research does not necessarily result in a $1 increase in economic activity in the overall system. The research alone is not sufficient. […] In the real world, the path from discovery to commercial product is so long, tortuous, and serendipitous that the vast majority of world-changing technologies never see the light of day. Society has a surprisingly huge backlog of scientific discoveries that are “stuck in the pipeline”, stalled by the human barriers that prevent them from reaching the marketplace. [Page 40]

For instance, the state of Kansas actively invested in its high-tech entrepreneurs. The University of Kansas provided research grants to develop products for commercial application. The university promoted regional collaboration, entrepreneurial training and even direct assistance. The results of these endeavors, however, were nothing like those of Silicon Valley. And the vast majority of the world looks a lot more like Kansas than California. [Page 41] A cluster is a description of a phenomenon, not a prescription for policy. [Page 42]

Whereas a company is a group of individuals working together, a cluster is a region of individuals or companies working together. In both cases, these relationships result in lower transaction costs. And in both cases, those savings are derived from the fact that people are closer together, can communicate more easily, and trust each other more. [Page 46]

And again let me give you an extract from my book, now quoting Richard Newton: “The Bay Area is the Corporation. […When people change jobs here in the BayArea], they’re actually just moving among the various divisions of the Bay Area Corporation.” [Page 102 – Start-up]

I am not sure anyone has “The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley”, but I will post more when I am more advanced in reading the Rainforest!

“How I survived the coolitude of startups” by Mathilde Ramadier

The start-up world is so fashionable that a few clouds should gather above it. The thing is not new. In the past, I mentioned Silicon Valley Fever. There was also the recent Disrupted – My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons But, more worrying, the criticisms are more numerous and more serious. For example, the article The evidence is piling up – Silicon Valley is being destroyed about the Juicero and Theranos scandals. Without forgetting the more fundamental transhumanist / apolitical fever

Here is a new book, fun and serious…In French: Bienvenue dans le nouveau monde Comment j’ai survécu à la coolitude des startups (Welcome in the new world – How I survived the coolitude of startups) by Mathilde Ramadier. Mockery uses language. The “novlangue”, the “coolitude”. But this hides more unacceptable behaviors. Discounted wages, ridiculous working conditions. All this in the tone of humor, or more of chilling irony. Excessive? A little bit in the sense that not all start-ups act as the author describes, but revealing a reality that should not be underestimated … Here are some examples:

“We’re a start-up, so please bring your own laptop.” [Page 24]

“During the end-of-test interview, my CEO tells me that instead of the 1500 euros agreed upon at the start, I will finally be hired with a payroll three times lower. [… He] knows very well what he does and delivers a perfectly honed speech to sweep away my disappointment. […] So I refused a job paid 500 euros because I lacked motivation, belief and ambition. I did not deserve to participate in the adventure.” [Page 26-7] The CEO had previously added that “if I want to make a career, I will have to accept to bend down and give everything. Just like in “the Voice’.”

“But doen’t disruption also mean an acceleration imposed too suddenly on society? […] The sharing economy allows the connection of a client who has a need and a service provider (let’s say a small hand that needs money.)” [Page 28] And then she quotes Bernard Stiegler. How right she is!

“But this tendency, pushed to the extreme, has become the watchword of a despotic regime which does not admit ‘the weakest’, that is to say the refractory, and which relegates them to the bottom of the social pyramid. Because if everyone can, in theory, become a superstar, there is little talk of those for whom “siliconization” does not embody a dream… nor a sinecure.” [Page 36]

“As Orwell has taught us, the manipulation of language is the starting point of any totalitarian discourse. […] The disappearance of the ability to think for oneself can even be the core competence of a company.” [Pages 41-2]

“In many cases, these are bullshit jobs, these new ‘jobs’ in the service sector that pride themselves abotu contributing to the rational organization of the company, but which cannot be described easily because even the first concerned fail to explain clearly what they do neither can they find a real utility. […] Wages were evidently free from all egalitarian considerations and remained confidential.” [Pages 44-5]

“I’ve seen people say ‘never again’ and had to start over again. They had promised that they would not step back behind the counter of a bar after their first internships and still return, for lack of finding a job in their branch. I have seen young women and young men becoming financially dependent on their partner, sublet their car or room to live in their living room (since all aspects of life are now marketable), and knocking at the door of their parents at thirty. Pregnant women put money aside because their maternity leave did not allow them to live decently. These are the people I saw accept a precarious contract with a ridiculous paycheck in a startup because they were promised many things, and offered ‘evolution prospects’ if they agreed to ‘give everything’.” [Page 70]

The author also has interesting definitions. “One of the definitions of start-up might be this: it is a young company with high potential but still not profitable. The objective, from the beginning, is therefore rapid growth.” (Page 94) Mathilde Ramadier even has her own glossary (pages 151-5), often funny… For example:
Disruption: super-powerful innovation that breaks the codes of a whole market. An earthquake, the disruption puts everything flat and does not generally worry about the consequences of the chaos it induces.
Entrepreneur: courageous person with rare talent, who has an idea of genius before everyone, is working to achieve it and succeeds – or not.
Innovation: introduction of a new product or process on the market. A startup is necessarily innovative (for those who launch it anyway).

“During these four years in the startups, I was trapped in an infernal loop, tossed from one absurdity to another, finding here and there the same folklore … Paradoxically, we push the rational to the irrational, originality to conformism, thirst for the new to regression […] The solutions that the startupsphere promises us – to the crisis, unemployment, boredom, repetition of the same and even disuse, old age and ugliness, etc. – are also a deception: one can not pretend to live in the new world before having truly built it.” [Page 143]

How to Start a Business That Doesn’t Suck (and Will Actually Turn a Profit)

How to Start a Business That Doesn’t Suck (and Will Actually Turn a Profit).
A Modestly Simple Guide to Starting a Business

by Michael R. Clarke

I have not read many books about “how to” for start-ups and usually I am bored very quickly, not to say angry. The worst was probably best-selling, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, and the best was his mentor, Steve Blank .

I just finished “How To Start a Business That Doesn’t Suck” and I liked it very much. And it is funny (not the way Komisar mentions putting back the “fun” in in his great The Monk and the Riddle). It is funny because it is fun to read and it is (really) informative.

If there is one thing I missed with his advice, it is how you price a product or a service. But there is so much good stuff. He begins simply with “Why You Should Definitely NOT (Under Any Circumstances) Start a Business.” [Pages 2-7]. And he is right in warning entrepreneurship is not for everyoneone. You should be passionate, crazy…

But if you are still interested, buy his book. Here are just a few good examples:
Emphasize Learning Over Results [Page 9]
Realize, It’s All About Value (Not Effort) [Page 11]
– [Have] A Willingness to Move FAST! (and Look Stupid) [Page 13]
Don’t Listen to Anybody You Don’t Want (Including Me) [Page 19]

I liked very much his chapter 2 about finding an idea (not ideation!). Focus on things you know a lot about [page 26], you have strengths, and it doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. And Focus on things you are passionate about [page 29].

And then be sure to be specific enough about customer group [page 46] and do not waste time with those “that DIDN’T want a result bad enough” [Page 49]. You cannot open a donut shop, but maybe one for vegans with allergies [Page 54] (though my former, wise boss told me not to focus on Chinese food for dogs…)

I had the feeling of being a guinea pig when I read “Writers are a hidden goldmine of promotional potential. They’re also vain. (Trust me.) So email a writer/columnist in your industry and let ‘em know you liked something they wrote in that obscure trade magazine or blog. Then six months later tell ‘em about your new product. You might get some seriously awesome free promotion out of it!” [Page 71]

About products (chapter 5), I loved that customers do not care about products. They care about feelings… “I’d like to begin this chapter about “creating products and services…” …by telling you how unimportant they are. […]The only thing people care about is the result (and/or feeling) your product or service gives THEM.” [Page 84]

I was curious about his chapter 6, on business plans. I hate business plans but I liked his chapter. “Non-Sucky Business Plan Step No.1: Nail Your Elevator Pitch.” […] “Trust me: if you make a point of pitching 2-3 people a day, for the next 30 days, you will QUICKLY get a sense of what parts of your business idea people like (and don’t like).” [Page 105] And yes Clarke is right and I am wrong: “Just remember…it’s good to know the rules before you break them. And unless you have a compelling reason why ya gotta deviate from the pack, stick to the basics.”

I was also curious about what he has to say about funding, as many people hate investors. And he begins with: “Don’t read this chapter.” [Page 133] “But if I could go back and change just ONE THING in my business-building life, besides NOT fill my garage with Nascar™ fishing lures, it would be to have boot-strapped as many of my business ventures as possible and keep them lean, mean and debt-free clean.” OK right again…Still “But if I can give you one piece of advice, when it comes to prototypes, it’s this: make it LOOK good.” [Page 141]So be lean and beautiful…

I though he forgot covering teams and co-founders, but he did too! “These are not fun topics to discuss. (As a co-dependent, people-pleaser I like to avoid these types of conversations at all costs.) And it cost me thousands of dollars. (And three months of Kaiser therapy co-pays.) Because I entered into partnerships in which we had not established a clear plan for how we’d make decisions in the business. We didn’t establish who owned what when things went to crap. And we didn’t establish clearly how people would be paid if roles changed. (Yikes!) Please, if you bring on partners (even ones you’re related to) take the time to go over this uncomfortable territory.” [Page 162] and later “The key to hiring is not to hire your friends, but to “hire your weakness.” That means your staff should be:
• Hungry
• Supportive (without being a sycophant)
• And good at what you’re not.”
[Page 177]

You must also read his chapter 10, about stupid mistakes he made, and you not make… Sometimes Clarke says too much he is not an expert in finance, legal, manufacturing, marketing. He may not be. But he gives damn good advice!

As a conclusion, he gives the final good advice: “the only way to find out if your business — and you as a business owner — has the potential to succeed is to let go of the trapeze you’re holding on to, and reach out for the one right in front of you. […]You learn what your strengths are. (Fast!) And you learn what your weaknesses are. (Even faster!)” [Pages 187-8]

A really beautiful and good book…

The Beauty of Mathematics

Every year I try to convey what I believe to be the beauty of mathematics when I teach convex optimization at EPFL. I have already mentioned on this blog some beautiful books, popularizing the subject. Some recent readings have convinced me even more so let me try to convince you (again)…

Alain Badiou is a rather surprising choice to talk about mathematics but I love what he has recently written: “This quasi aesthetic feeling of mathematics struck me very early. […] I think of Euler’s line. It was shown that the three altitudes of a triangle are concurrent in a point H, it was already beautiful. Then that the three vertices were also concurrent, at a point O, better and better! Finally, that the three medians were equally so, at a point G! Terrific. But then, with a mysterious air, the professor told us that we could demonstrate, as the brilliant mathematician Euler had done, that these points H, O, G were in addition all three on the same line, which evidently was called Euler’s line! It was so unexpected, so elegant, this alignment of three fundamental points, as behavior of the characteristics of a triangle! […] There is this idea of a real discovery, a surprising result at the cost of a journey sometimes a little difficult to follow, but where one is rewarded. I often compared mathematics later to walking in the mountain: the approaching walk is long and painful, with a lot of turning, slopes; we think we have arrived, but there is still a turning point … We sweat, we struggle. But when we arrive at the pass, the reward is unequaled, truly: this gratification, this final beauty of mathematics, this surely conquered, absolutely singular beauty.” [Pages 11-12]

Another source of inspiration is Proofs from THE BOOK. Written in homage to Paul Erdös, the book begins with the two pages shown above. “Paul Erdös liked to talk about The Book, in which God maintains the perfect proofs for mathematical theorems, following the dictum of G. H. Hardy that there is no permanent place for ugly mathematics. Erdös also said that you need not believe in God but, as a mathematician, you should believe in The Book. […] We have no definition or characterization of what constitutes a proof from The Book: all we offer here is the examples that we have selected, hoping that our readers will share our enthusiasm about brilliant ideas, clever insights and wonderful observations.”

Sometimes I try to remember the most beautiful demonstrations I have “felt” since my high school years.

– The most luminous, the proof of the sum of the n first integers by Gauss

– Two demonstrations of the Pythagorean theorem,

– There would be many others like the infinity of prime numbers, the development in series of Π (), the beautiful concept of duality for convex sets (you can look at a set through its “internal” points or through the dual “external” envelope made of its tangents).

– But the most fascinating for me, remains the use of Cantor’s Diagonal:

[From Wikipedia:]

In his 1891 article, Cantor considered the set T of all infinite sequences of binary digits (i.e. each digit is zero or one). He begins with a constructive proof of the following theorem:

If s1, s2, … , sn, … is any enumeration of elements from T, then there is always an element s of T which corresponds to no sn in the enumeration.

To prove this, given an enumeration of elements from T, like e.g.

s1 = (0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, …)
s2 = (1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, …)
s3 = (0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, …)
s4 = (1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, …)
s5 = (1, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 1, …)
s6 = (0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 1, 1, …)
s7 = (1, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, …)

he constructs the sequence s by choosing the 1st digit as complementary to the 1st digit of s1 (swapping 0s for 1s and vice versa), the 2nd digit as complementary to the 2nd digit of s2, the 3rd digit as complementary to the 3rd digit of s3, and generally for every n, the nth digit as complementary to the nth digit of sn. In the example, this yields:

s1 = (0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, …)
s2 = (1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, …)
s3 = (0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, …)
s4 = (1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, …)
s5 = (1, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 1, …)
s6 = (0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 1, 1, …)
s7 = (1, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, …)
s = (1, 0, 1, 1, 1, 0, 1, …)

By construction, s differs from each sn, since their nth digits differ (highlighted in the example). Hence, s cannot occur in the enumeration.Based on this theorem, Cantor then uses a proof by contradictionto show that:The set T is uncountable.

But let me add another extract from Badiou (page 82): “I call truths (always in the plural, there is no “truth”) singular creations of universal value: works of art, scientific theories, policies of emancipation, love passions. Let us say to cut short: scientific theories are truths concerning the being itself (mathematics) or the “natural” laws of the worlds of which we can have an experimental knowledge (physics and biology). Political truths concern the organization of societies, the laws of collective life and its reorganization, all in the light of universal principles, such as freedom, and today, principally, equality. The artistic truths relate to the formal consistency of finite works that sublimate what our senses can receive: music for hearing, painting and sculpture for vision, poetry for speech … Finally, the love truths concern the dialectical power contained in the experience of the world not from the One, from the individual singularity, but from the Two, and thus from a radical acceptance of the other. These truths are not, of course, of philosophical origin or nature. But my goal is to save the (philosophical) category of truth that distinguishes and names them, legitimizing that a truth can be:
– absolute, while being a localized construction,
– eternal, while resulting from a process which begins in a certain world and therefore belongs to the time of this world.”

The Paris Innovation Review about Start-ups

Once again the Paris Innovation Review (formerly ParisTech Review) publishes a series of excellent articles, this time dedicated to start-ups. These are:
– Companies like others? A sociological survey of French startup.
– Startups Employees Perks & Incentives – 1 – Wages.
– Startups Employees Perks & Incentives – 2 – Equity.

The article about the sociology of start-ups shows (in fact confirms) interesting things. I will let you read and jump directly to some of their concluding points: “Some of these results can provide pause for thought for public policies aimed at fostering startup creations. The survival of these businesses seems relatively unpredictable, both for the people involved (entrepreneurs, employees, support bodies) and for analysts who observe them from the outside. We have interpreted this unpredictability as the result of two causes. The first is the selection operated by the support agencies, a selection that has largely guided ours, since a claim of technical innovation, which was our main criterion for inclusion in our survey, is generally associated with subsequent monitoring and aid by these agencies. One might think that a number of projects considered very unrealistic could have been excluded by these services, which in fact limits the variety of the companies we studied. The second, more fundamental cause is the very variety of factors that make or break businesses: outlets that emerge and disappear along with the flow of global economic changes, strategies of major industrial groups and initiatives by competitors, internal conflicts, resources which become abundant or scarce depending on the context, financial problems which are difficult to anticipate, etc. This may encourage governments and public agencies to foster a much greater number of projects and not merely be satisfied with those that they consider to be the most promising. Watering a whole field is often more efficient than dumping all the available water on but a few square meters… Securing solid support by authorities, companies that are deemed innovative are doing better than the others if one considers their survival rate. Perhaps it would not be absurd to offer an equivalent support to businesses in other economic circles.”

The incentive topic is one I have covered at length as you may see with my Slideshare link below. On the salary side, I fully agree with their claim: Be as objective as possible: this ensures fairness and acknowledges a basic truth: people talk. On the equity side, know the rules of vesting and cliffs, and build a granting mechanism based on experience of employees and layers of early and late comers, i.e. the same number of stock options could be granted per year (so more shares to early employees as there are more employees per year when the company grows. If it does not, stock options are probably worthless…)