Category Archives: Innovation

Global Entrepreneurship 2016 – Part 2: the microeconomic analysis of the Startup Playbook by Sam Altman

After Part1 about the global vision of Entrepreneurship in 2016, here is a “micro” analysis of what entrepreneurship is. I finished reading this report while on a transcontinental flight, where I watched recent movie The Martian with Matt Damon.

Not only is The Martian describing a story very similar to what being a CEO might be – lonely with a life and death situation (at least for the start-up) after each major decision, but that day, I also learnt the death of David Bowie. In that movie, you can listen to Starman… my humble tribute to a great artist.

Again Ycombinator produces an efficient and compelling document about start-ups and entrepreneurship. After Paul Graham’s blog and Sam Altman’s class at Stanford in 2014, here is his Startup Playbook. A short document “for people new to the world of startups. Most of this will not be new to people who have read a lot of what YC partners have written—the goal is to get it into one place.” Altman explains “So all you need is a great idea, a great team, a great product, and great execution. So easy! 😉 A must read which I summarize my way through shorter extracts:

startup_playbook

Friendly advice first
– Make something users love.
– A word of warning about choosing to start a startup: It sucks!
– On the other hand, starting a startup is not in fact very risky to your career.

A great idea (including a great market)
– Something explained clearly and concisely with a fast-growing potential.
– It’s easier to do something new and hard than something derivative and easy.
– The best ideas sound bad but are in fact good.

A great team
– Mediocre teams do not build great companies.
– A great founder characteristics include unstoppability, determination, formidability, and resourcefulness; intelligence and passion.
– Good founders have a number of seemingly contradictory traits such as rigidity and flexibility.

A great product
– A great product is the only way to grow long-term.
– “Do things that don’t scale” has rightfully become a mantra for startups.
– Iterate and adapt as you go.
PS: By the way, “product” includes all interactions a user has with the company. You need to offer great support, great sales interactions, etc.

A great execution
– You have to do it yourself — the fantasy of hiring an “experienced manager” to do all this work is both extremely prevalent and a graveyard for failed companies. You cannot outsource the work to someone else for a long time.
– Growth (as long as it is not “sell dollar bills for 90 cents” growth) solves all problems, and lack of growth is not solvable by anything but growth.
– Extreme internal transparency around metrics (and financials) is a good thing to do.

Focus and intensity
– The best founders are relentlessly focused on their product and growth. They don’t try to do everything—in fact, they say no a lot.
– While great founders don’t do many big projects, they do whatever they do very intensely. Great founders listen to all of the advice and then quickly make their own decisions.

Being a founder & CEO
– The CEO jobs: 1) set the vision and strategy for the company, 2) evangelize the company to everyone, 3) hire and manage the team, especially in areas where you yourself have gaps 4) raise money and make sure the company does not run out of money, and 5) set the execution quality bar.
– As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s an intense job. If you are successful, it will take over your life to a degree you cannot imagine—the company will be on your mind all the time. Extreme focus and extreme intensity means it’s not the best choice for work-life balance. You can have one other big thing—your family, doing lots of triathlons, whatever—but probably not much more than that.
– No first-time founder knows what he or she is doing. To the degree you understand that, and ask for help, you’ll be better off. It’s worth the time investment to learn to become a good leader and manager. The best way to do this is to find a mentor—reading books doesn’t seem to work as well.
Be persistent. A successful startup CEO is not giving up (although you don’t want to be obstinate beyond all reason either—this is another apparent contradiction, and a hard judgment call to make.)
Be optimistic. Although it’s possible that there is a great pessimistic CEO somewhere out in the world, I haven’t met him or her yet.

Additional advice

– Hiring: Don’t do it. Wait!
– Competition: 99% of startups die from suicide, not murder.
– Fundraising: Investors are looking for companies that are going to be really successful. The “really successful” part is important. If an investor believes you have a 100% chance of creating a $10 million company but almost no chance of building a larger company, he/she will still probably not invest. Always explain why you could be a huge success. . Many of the best companies have struggled with this, because the best companies so often look bad at the beginning (and they nearly always look unfashionable.) And remember that anything but “yes” is a “no”.
– Investors: Good investors really do add a lot of value. Bad investors detract a lot. Most investors fall in the middle and neither add nor detract. Great board members are one of the best outside forcing functions for a company.

All this again was extracted from Sam Altman’s Startup Playbook. Thanks to him for a great job! I must also thank one of my students (he will recognize himself) for mentioning that document to me…

Global Entrepreneurship 2016 – Part 1: the Macroeconomics

I just read two great reports about entrepreneurship. The first one is the Global Entrepreneurship Index 2016 (GEI). The second one is the Startup Playbook by Sam Altman (Ycombinator). Whereas the second one is about the micro features of entrepreneurship, the GEI is a worldwide macro-economic analysis. I will cover the Startup Playbook in the part 2 of these series of posts, so let me focus here in the GEI.

Global-Entrepreneurship-Index

What I found really interesting is that compared to the Global Innovation Index (GII) about which I always have doubts – I think it measures more the inputs necessary for innovation than the outputs – I feel much more comfortable with the criteria and results of the GEI. For example, the USA is number one which makes a lot of sense and Switzerland is #8. Switzerland is #1 in the GII which is some kind of a mystery to me. France and Israel are #10 and #21 in the GEI but #20 and #21 in the GII.

Global-Entrepreneurship-Index-USA-Isr-CH-FR

The 3 As of Entrepreneurship

So how is this measured? The authors define 3 framework conditions entrepreneurship: attitudes, abilities and aspirations.[Pages 26-27 of the document or 49-50 of the pdf]. They also define 14 related pillars [Pages 19-22 of the document or 42-45 of the pdf]

Entrepreneurial attitudes are societies’ attitudes toward entrepreneurship, which we define as a population’s general feelings about recognizing opportunities, knowing entrepreneurs personally, endowing entrepreneurs with high status, accepting the risks associated with business startups, and having the skills to launch a business successfully. The benchmark individuals are those who can recognize valuable business opportunities and have the skills to exploit them; who attach high status to entrepreneurs; who can bear and handle startup risks; who know other entrepreneurs personally (i.e., have a network or role models); and who can generate future entrepreneurial activities.

Moreover, these people can provide the cultural support, financial resources, and networking potential to those who are already entrepreneurs or want to start a business. Entrepreneurial attitudes are important because they express the general feeling of the population toward entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. Countries need people who can recognize valuable business opportunities, and who perceive that they have the required skills to exploit these opportunities. Moreover, if national attitudes toward entrepreneurship are positive, it will generate cultural support, financial support, and networking benefits for those who want to start businesses.

Entrepreneurial abilities refer to the entrepreneurs’ characteristics and those of their businesses. Different types of entrepreneurial abilities can be distinguished within the realm of new business efforts. Creating businesses may vary by industry sector, the legal form of organization, and demographics—age, education, etc. We define entrepreneurial abilities as startups in the medium- or high-technology sectors that are initiated by educated entrepreneurs, and launched because of someone being motivated by an opportunity in an environment that is not overly competitive. In order to calculate the opportunity startup rate, we use the GEM TEA Opportunity Index. TEA captures new startups not only as the creation of new ventures but also as startups within existing businesses, such as a spinoff or other entrepreneurial effort. Differences in the quality of startups are quantified by the entrepreneur’s education level—that is, if they have a postsecondary education—and the uniqueness of the product or service as measured by the level of competition. Moreover, it is generally maintained that opportunity motivation is a sign of better planning, a more sophisticated strategy, and higher growth expectations than “necessity” motivation in startups.

Entrepreneurial aspiration reflects the quality aspects of startups and new businesses. Some people just hate their employer and want to be their own boss, while others want to create the next Microsoft. Entrepreneurial aspiration is defined as the early-stage entrepreneur’s effort to introduce new products and/or services, develop new production processes, penetrate foreign markets, substantially increase their company’s staff, and finance their business with formal and/or informal venture capital. Product and process innovation, internationalization, and high growth are considered the key characteristics of entrepreneurship. Here we added a finance variable to capture the informal and formal venture capital potential that is vital for innovative startups and high-growth firms.

Each of these three building blocks of entrepreneurship influences the other two. For example, entrepreneurial attitudes influence entrepreneurial abilities and entrepreneurial aspirations, while entrepreneurial aspirations and abilities also influence entrepreneurial attitudes.

GEI-Conditions

The 14 Pillars of Entrepreneurship

The pillars of entrepreneurship are many and complex. While a widely accepted definition of
entrepreneurship is lacking, there is general agreement that the concept has numerous dimensions. […] Considering all of these possibilities and limitations, we define entrepreneurship as “the dynamic, institutionally embedded interaction between entrepreneurial attitudes, entrepreneurial abilities, and entrepreneurial aspirations by individuals, which drives the allocation of resources through the creation and operation of new ventures.”

Entrepreneurial Attitudes Pillars

Pillar 1: Opportunity Perception. This pillar captures the potential “opportunity perception” of a population by considering the size of its country’s domestic market and level of urbanization. Within this pillar is the individual variable, Opportunity Recognition, which measures the percentage of the population that can identify good opportunities to start a business in the area where they live. However, the value of these opportunities also depends on the size of the market. The institutional variable Market Agglomeration consists of two smaller variables: the size of the domestic market (Domestic Market) and urbanization (Urbanization). The Urbanization variable is intended to capture which opportunities have better prospects in developed urban areas than they do in poorer rural areas.

Pillar 2: Startup Skills
. Launching a successful venture requires the potential entrepreneur to have the necessary startup skills. Skill Perception measures the percentage of the population who believe they have adequate startup skills. Most people in developing countries think they have the skills needed to start a business, but their skills usually were acquired through workplace trial and error in relatively simple business activities. In developed countries, business formation, operation, management, etc., requires skills that are acquired through formal education and training. Hence education, especially postsecondary education, plays a vital role in teaching and developing entrepreneurial skills.

Pillar 3: Risk Acceptance. Of the personal entrepreneurial traits, fear of failure is one of the most important obstacles to a startup.

Pillar 4: Networking. Networking combines an entrepreneur’s personal knowledge with their ability to use the Internet for business purposes. This combination serves as a proxy for networking, which is also an important ingredient of successful venture creation and entrepreneurship.

Pillar 5: Cultural Support. This pillar is a combined measure of how a country’s inhabitants view entrepreneurs in terms of status and career choice, and how the level of corruption in that country affects this view.

Entrepreneurial Abilities Pillars

Pillar 6: Opportunity Startup. This is a measure of startups by people who are motivated by opportunity but face regulatory constraints. An entrepreneur’s motivation for starting a business is an important signal of quality. Opportunity entrepreneurs are believed to be better prepared, to have superior skills, and to earn more than what we call necessity entrepreneurs.

Pillar 7: Technology Absorption. In the modern knowledge economy, information and communication technologies (ICT) play a crucial role in economic development. Not all sectors provide the same chances for businesses to survive and or their potential for growth. The Technology Level variable is a measure of the businesses that are in technology sectors.

Pillar 8: Human Capital. The prevalence of high-quality human capital is vitally important for ventures that are highly innovative and require an educated, experienced, and healthy workforce to continue to grow.

Pillar 9: Competition. Competition is a measure of a business’s product or market uniqueness, combined with the market power of existing businesses and business groups.

Entrepreneurial Aspirations Pillars

Pillar 10: Product Innovation. New products play a crucial role in the economy of all countries. New Product is a measure of a country’s potential to generate new products and to adopt or imitate existing products.

Pillar 11: Process Innovation. Applying and/or creating new technology is another important feature of businesses with high growth potential. New Tech is defined as the percentage of businesses whose principal underlying technology is less than five years old.

Pillar 12: High Growth. This is a combined measure of the percentage of high-growth businesses that intend to employ at least ten people and plan to grow more than 50 percent in five years (Gazelle variable) with business strategy sophistication (Business Strategy variable).

Pillar 13: Internationalization. Internationalization is believed to be a major determinant of growth. A widely applied proxy for internationalization is exporting.

Pillar 14: Risk Capital. The availability of risk finance, particularly equity rather than debt, is an essential precondition for fulfilling entrepreneurial aspirations that are beyond an individual entrepreneur’s personal financial resources.

The reason I really felt synchronized with the authors (congrats to Zoltán J. Ács, László Szerb, Erkko Autio for the great work!) is a final extract from pages 63-64 (86-87 of the pdf): they explain the challenges and related mistakes and describe better approaches.

Unfortunately, although high-growth entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial ecosystems are high on many policy agendas, there is fairly little understanding of how policy can foster them most effectively. Most entrepreneurship policy playbooks remain stuck with old world policy approaches, which focus on identifying and fixing “market failures” and “structural failures.” Such approaches, while effective in addressing well-specified market and structural failures, are hopelessly inadequate to deal with the complexities of entrepreneurial ecosystems.
A classic example of a market failure is the failure of businesses to invest in R&D. Because R&D is a risky and uncertain activity, many firms are tempted to wait, to let others to take the risk, and then quickly copy successful projects. But if everyone thought this way, no one would invest in R&D, and innovative activities would stagnate. Therefore, governments address this market failure by providing subsidies for R&D—in effect, participating in the downside risk while allowing firms to keep the upside returns.
In contrast to subsidizing specific activities, a structural failure policy would seek to build support services and structures that support new firm creation and growth. Examples of structural failure policies include, for example, the creation of science parks and business incubators to shelter and support startup ventures.
Both of these approaches fail to address the complexities of entrepreneurial ecosystems, which are too complex to allow easy identification of specific clean-cut market failures, such as insufficient investment in R&D. The “product” entrepreneurial ecosystems produce is innovative and high-growth new ventures. Creating high-growth new ventures is a far more complex undertaking than starting an R&D project. If we do not see a sufficient number of high-growth new ventures, where exactly is the market failure supposed to reside? The standard approach by governments, which is consistent with market failure thinking, is that there perhaps is not sufficient support funding available to start new, high-growth firms. However, as much as governments have provided subsidies to support new firm creation, the results have not been very encouraging.
Another major problem with both market failure and structural failure approaches is that they are top-down, where the policy maker analyzes, designs, and implements entrepreneurship policy. Top-down, however, is not a feasible approach in entrepreneurial ecosystems that consist of multiple independent stakeholders. In such situations, a policymaker cannot simply command and control, as you have no formal authority over ecosystem stakeholders. Instead, policymakers need to engage the various stakeholders and co-opt them as active participants and contributors to the policy intervention.
[…]
Entrepreneurial ecosystems are fundamentally interaction systems consisting of multiple, co-specialized, yet hierarchically independent stakeholders, many of which may not even know one another. Here, co-specialization means that different stakeholders play different roles—venture capitalists, research institutions, different supporting institutions, new ventures, established businesses, and so on. They offer complementary skills and services, and normally depend on others to accomplish their goals, which implies that team play is needed.
In the above, hierarchical independence means that there are no formal lines of command, unlike, say, within government agencies or industrial corporations. Everyone makes their own independent decisions and optimizes their own performance. Combined with co-specialization, this creates a mutual dependency dilemma: to accomplish your goals you must depend on others, yet you cannot tell others what to do. Cooperation is therefore required. This limits the usability of traditional top-down policies, which are usually implemented through formal chains of command (e.g., a government department designing a policy, which is then implemented by a government agency overseen by the department).
Also of relevance is the notion of interaction systems, which means that the stakeholders of entrepreneurial ecosystems “co-produce” their outputs, such as innovative high-growth new ventures. These outputs are coproduced through a myriad of usually uncoordinated interactions between hierarchically independent yet interdependent stakeholders. This combination of independence and interdependence makes coordination challenging.
In the GEI model, it is the entrepreneurs who drive the entrepreneurial trial-and-error dynamic. This means that entrepreneurs start new businesses to pursue opportunities that they themselves perceive. An entrepreneurial opportunity is simply a chance to make money through a new venture, such as producing and selling goods and services for profit. However, entrepreneurs can never tell in advance whether a given opportunity is real or not: the only way to validate an opportunity is to pursue it. In other words, entrepreneurs need to take risks: they need to access and mobilize resources (human, financial, physical, technological) before they can verify whether or not a profit can be made. This means, then, that not all entrepreneurial efforts will be successful, as some opportunities turn out to be mere mirages. In such cases, the budding entrepreneur will realize sooner or later that they are never going to make a profit, or that they could make more money doing something else. In such cases, the entrepreneur will abandon the current pursuit and do something else instead.
If, however, an entrepreneurial opportunity turns out to be real, the entrepreneurs will make more money pursuing that opportunity than doing something else, and they will continue to exploit it. The net outcome of this entrepreneurial trial-and-error dynamic, therefore, is the allocation of resources to productive uses. In other words, a healthy entrepreneurial dynamic within a given economy will drive total factor productivity, or the difference between inputs and outputs. The greater the total factor productivity, the greater the economy’s capacity to create new wealth.

The Challenges of Creating a Start-up

January is the month where we publish our start-up statistics at EPFL and when the media contact us to discuss the matter. I had the opportunity to share my views with Danny Baumann, from the AGEFI, and I have the feeling he gave a very good account of our exchange. Here it is:

Agefi

The EPF Lausanne has been creating, during the last ten years, on average fifteen start-ups per year. Hervé Lebret lists a few leads to follow.

DANNY BAUMANN

The numbers fell the day before yesterday (L’Agefi, January 6): Researchers at the Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne and Zurich have created 43 companies in 2015, including 18 in Lausanne. The Innovation Park of EPFL is growing year after year, with as a proof the 700 jobs created since its launch in 1991. Fintech, biotech, medtech are in the mouth of everyone, but how to successfully create and above all to perpetuate a start -up in the world in constant evolution that we know? There is obviously no quick fix, as explained by Hervé Lebret, innovation specialist and teacher at the EPFL.

The success of a start-up depends on countless parameters. These elements must be as the perfect alignment of planets for that success to occur. Random factors, such as chance, are part of this process. The EPFL provides financial support, eight and ten grants per year, the Innogrants. Launched in 2005 with the support of Lombard Odier, these Innogrants consist of a maximum of 100,000 francs in salary. This does not in any way guarantee the success of a start-up but is a great launching pad.

Hervé Lebret lists a few leads to follow. For starters, the overall vision is essential. Having an international goal rather than local. The future of a start-up must immediately be anticipated: it indeed reaches its maturity after five to seven years. “From that moment, either it is acquired by giants such as Google or Apple or it continues to develop via the equity markets. It rarely stays at the stage of SMEs with 20-30 employees”, adds Hervé Lebret. According to him, 90% to 99% of these young companies disappear within ten years.

Another major aspect: not being cautious about the market. “An entrepreneur with a start-up should keep in mind that his company should be constantly growing,” he continues. Being ambitious and trust your potential investors, in order to raise funds, even at the cost of losing some of her company’s control. A must for growth. On average, 100 million Swiss francs are invested annually from private funds in EPFL start-ups. But how to find investors? The award race is a great way to advertise its product. The first two years are rather of survival; it is at this point that the various awards are essential. “The prize is good, but after two years or so, do not forget to pass in growth mode,” he expressed. Many make the mistake of losing sight of the overall objective and thus remain too small in the market while the company development is vital.

A good recruitment is a major asset in the success. Then comes the question of wages to be paid. The newly recruited employees must be aware that the remuneration will be lower than in a large company. The stock options can be a good alternative to compensate for the difference in pay. Still remains the problem of the taxation of stock options which are still seen as an income even if they are paper only. It should be possible to find an agreement on a special status of “start-up” in the law. The issue has been debated for several years.

Other elements are still important for an entrepreneur such as flexibility, creating a dense network, or having mentors, and, this sounds obvious, have a passion for his product.

Macroeconomic factors also make their entrance. To name one, but essential, mainly in Switzerland, migration. Out of the 90 Innogrants distributed by EPFL since 2005, 75% of them have ended up in the hands of foreign entrepreneurs. And it’s not a matter of discrimination. Switzerland needs foreign brains. A long political debate.

For EPFL, creating start-ups, and related jobs, is a major asset. Not so much from a financial standpoint but rather for the image. Economically, revenues come from licenses granted (they receive dividends or royalties in exchange) to the various entities or from the sale of the start-ups, about 1% of the transaction value. [You may check again How much Equity Universities take in Start-ups from IP Licensing?] The image is much more noticeable. Getting the message of constant innovation, to the eyes of the world, is a vital point for EPFL and the country.

The case study of an ambitious start-up at EPFL.

L.E.S.S. Founders - Tissot and Rivier
Yann Tissot and Simon Rivier, co-fouders of L.E.S.S.

The young company L.E.S.S. (Light Efficient Systems) is the perfect example of a fast growing EPFL start-up. The optical fiber of the company helps in generating a new light system that does not leave indifferent the automotive or computer manufacturers. Yann Tissot, co-founder and CEO, received an EPFL Innogrant in 2011. With this investment, the start-up was founded in June 2012. From that time, ambition and passion of the young entrepreneur made the difference. Travelling around the world to make his product known and running the award race such as the Entrepreneurship Prize of the WA de Vigier Foundation, the Strategis Prize competition or the prize for second best Swiss start-up in 2014 [then the best one in 2015!]. Awards that enabled it to survive and to find investors. In April 2015, it raised a vital three million concluded with VI Partners, supervised by Alain Nicod, as well as from various business angels.
Today L.E.S.S. has nine employees and was close to reach one million in sales last year. The estimated income for 2016 will be of the order of several million francs. – (DB)

Ten Ideas to Innovate in Uncertain Times

Following my post yesterday about Invention, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, here is a short presentation I made yesterday about the culture of innovation. I had already mentioned it in a previous post (without the slides) entitled Can the next google come from Europe? An answer by Fathi Derder. Derder, a Swiss politician, has written a book explaining what Switzerland needs to change in the general framework conditions. It is an important book. When I talk to students and young entrepreneurs, I focus more on the importance of culture. Which is what you can read in the slide below. Enjoy!

Invention, Entrepreneurship and Innovation

“Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent.” – Thomas Edison

This article arouse from a discussion with colleagues about what innovation really is. I have to admit the conversation helped me in clarifying and correcting a few misconceptions I had. So let me try to explain how the three concepts of Invention, Entrepreneurship and Innovation differ and how they are related. At least these are my views.

Invention - Entrepreneurship - Innovation

So let me begin with definitions:

Invention: something new, that did not exist previously and that is recognized as the product of some unique intuition or genius. A product of the imagination. Something that has never been made before. “Something new under the sun”. A discovery pre-exists the discoverer, by opposition to the inventor and her/his invention.

Innovation: the successful implementation and adoption by society of something new. So an innovation is the succesful commercialization or use (if non-profit) of an invention.

Entrepreneurship: it is the process of designing a new business (wikipedia). The entrepreneur perceives a (new) business opportunity and gathers the resources to implement it, ideally successfully. When the entrepreneur succeeds in implementing something new, (s)he is an innovator. But (s)he does not need to be an innovator, (s)he can also be an imitator.

So this makes a clear difference between an invention and an innovation. There is always an invention before an innovation, but an innovator does not have to be an inventor. It also shows that an entrepreneur does not have to invent, neither to innovate.

My biggest mistake was to say “big companies do not innovate anymore”. I was wrong, Though most established companies imitate, many do innovate. They rarely invent and not many are entrepreneurial. But in order to innovate, it is better to be established. Let me clarify.

Let me come back to my favorite topic: “A start-up is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” This is the best definition I have found so far and it comes from Steve Blank. This beautifully explains that all companies are not start-ups (for example when they have a clear business model from day one and/or if they do not try to scale). It also explains when a company is not a start-up anymore. Then it can innovate.

Another misconception is to confuse Research and Development (R&D) with innovation. Research deals with inventing or discovering. Development follows. Innovation comes afterwards. Patenting belong more to the invention side than to the innovation side of the equation. All this explains also why I have so many doubts about innovation metrics. They measure inputs (such as inventions or R&D) more than what innovation really is, an output.

Invention - Innovation

So how are these three concepts related? Read again, Edison’s quote above. In the past, large innovative firms such as IBM or Bell Labs were inventing. They had big R&D labs. Xerox was famous for its inventive capability and low innovation output. So Apple “stole” many of its inventions and innovated instead. Today, many established companies go to universities to find inventions they license. Or they collaborate with partners (i.e. “open innovation”). However, the risk and uncertainty linked to inventing as well as finding a market for new things makes innovation difficult without entrepreneurship…

Entrepreneurship - Innovation

Entrepreneurship is a great way to enable innovation. Entrepreneurs see an opportunity and accept the uncertainty and risk taking. When it is done in-house. It is called intrapreneurship. Nespresso is one example (even if Nestle did not initially encourage its intrapreneur – who by the way was also the inventor). (Indeed because of the definition given above) corporations stop being start-ups when they innovate! Indeed they are often acquired (M&A) by big, established companies who know better how to commercialize – innovate.

Invention - Entrepreneurship

I had to add the intersection between invention and entrepreneurship. But does this make sense? I am not sure. There is however one industry which has combined both without a real need for innovation: the biotechnology industry is mostly an entrepreneurial activity which develops invention thanks to clinical trials. Biotechnology firms seldom innovate (Genentech and Amgen were exceptions – with a few other firms which managed to commercialize their molecules) because they are often acquired by large pharmaceutical firms or at best license their products to the bigger players. In fact many start-ups are in the same situation. But the truth is companies very seldom invent. Inventions occur before firms are established, at least in the high-tech field.

The following extract from Science Lessons: What the Business of Biotech Taught Me About Management, by Gorden Binder, former CEO of Amgen is interesting:
Biotech Model

Inventors, Entrepreneurs and Innovators

Inventor - Entrepreneur - Innovator

For the same reasons as explained above, individuals have seldom the three attributes. At Apple, Wozniak was an inventor. Jobs was an entrepreneur and an innovator. But Bill Gates or Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google founders, were rare cases of inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators combined. However Brin and Page invented at Stanford and then created Google to implement succesfully their invention.

So let me finish with a great definition of innovation given in How Google Works [page 206]: “To us, innovation entails both the production and implementation of novel and useful ideas. Since “novel” is often just a fancy synonym for “new”, we should also clarify that for something to be innovative, it needs to offer new functionality, but it also has to be surprising. If your customers are asking for it, you aren’t being innovative when you give them what they want; you are just being responsive. That’s a good thing, but it’s not innovative. Finally “useful” is a rather underwhelming adjective to describe that innovation hottie, so let’s add an adverb and make it radically useful, Voilà: For something to be innovative, it needs to be new, surprising, and radically useful.” […] “But Google also releases over five hundred improvements to its search every year. Is that innovative? Or incremental? They are new and surprising, for sure, but while each one of them, by itself is useful, it may be a stretch to call it radically useful. Put them all together, though, and they are. […] This more inclusive definition – innovation isn’t just about the really new, really big things – matters because it affords everyone the opportunity to innovate, rather than keeping it to the exclusive realm of these few people in that off-campus building [Google[x]] whose job is to innovate.”

Innovation is complex. Do I need to remind you of the challenges that Clayton Christensen – The Innovator’s Dilemma – Geoffrey Moore – Crossing the Chasm – or Steve Blank – The Four Steps to the Epiphany – have brilliantly described to explain why innovation remains somewhat magical…

Innovation Challenges

PS: can you be an entrepreneur without inventing and innovating? Sure! Not just small companies and craftmen who use their know-how for a decent living. You just need to imitate. Telecom operators such as Vodafone or Bouygues Telecom compete without a need to invent or innovate. They copy other telecom operators. (OK sometimes, they innovate, too). In the start-up world, the Samwer brothers have been famous for copy/paste American success stories and adapt them to the European market. You can find many references about this online and the clones they created include Alando (eBay), Zalando (Zappos, EasyTaxi (Uber), Pinspire (Pinterest), StudiVZ (Facebook), CityDeal (acquired by Groupon), Plinga (Zynga), and Wimdu (Airbnb). See also When Samwer was not Samwer yet but was writing a book – way before Rocket Internet and its clones.

Marcel Salathé’s Creating a European Culture of Innovation

Regularly but not often enough I read about people calling Europe to wake up and react. Recently it was Nicolas Colin’s What makes an entrepreneurial ecosystem. But now I also remember Risto Siilasmaa’s Entrepreneurship should be cherished” and I had my own Europe, Wake Up!. The latest of these is Marcel Salathé’s Creating a European Culture of Innovation. Another must read. Thanks Marcel! So let me just quote him.

Salathe-Blog

At stake is the future of Europe. And we, the innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, activists, and artists, need to step up and take ownership of this future. Because if we don’t, Europe will continue its downward trajectory that it’s currently on, and become what it many places it already has transformed into – a museum of history.
[…]
The information and communication technology sector is now the dominant economic driver of growth. Think Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber. Noticed something? Not a single European company. Only 1 out of 4 dollars in this sector are made by European companies, and all the indicators for the future are pointing down. Some numbers are even more dire: when you list the top 20 global leaders of internet companies that are public, you know how many are European? Zero. And among all publicly listed companies in the digital economy, 83% are American, and a mere 2% are European. 2%!
[…]
So where’s the problem? Some say it’s VC funding, which is only partially true. Yes, the culture of VC funding is probably less mature in Europe than it is in the US, especially for stage A, B and C funding. But money will find its way into good ideas and market opportunities one way or another. Others say it’s simply the European market, and European regulation. I think that is an illusion. Look at AirBnB, the US startup that now has a valuation of over 25 Billion dollars. It was started as a three person startup in California’s Y Combinator, but it now gets over half(!) of its revenues from within Europe. And by the way, San Francisco is probably one of the worst regulatory environments you can find yourself in. AirBnB is currently facing huge battles in San Francisco, and a Californian judge recently ruled Uber drivers employees, causing a minor earthquake in the booming sharing economy. Indeed, California is probably one of the most regulated of the American States, and yet it does exceedingly well.
I think that the problem is actually quite simple. But it’s harder to fix. It’s simply us. We, the people. We, the entrepreneurs. We, the consumers. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area for more than three years. What’s remarkable about the area is not its laws, or its regulations, or its market, or its infrastructure. What’s truly remarkable is that almost everyone is building a company in one way or another. Almost everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, or supports them. Almost everyone is busy building the future. Indeed, you can almost physically feel that the environment demands it from you. When someone asks you about what it is you are doing professionally, and you don’t respond by saying that you’re building a company, they look at you funny, as if to say, “then what the hell are you doing here”?

[…]
It’s not a trivial point I think. The other day, I was in Turin in Italy, and I desperately needed a coffee. I walked into the next random coffeeshop, where I was served a heavenly cappuccino, with a chocolate croissant that still makes my mouth wet when I just think about it. Was I just lucky? No – all the coffee shops there are that good. Because the environment demands it. Sure, you can open a low-quality coffee shop in Turin if you want to, but you’ll probably have to file for bankruptcy before you have the time to say buongiorno. The environment will simply not accept bad quality. In another domain, I had the same personal experience when I was a postdoc at Stanford. Looking back, all of my best and most cited papers I wrote there. I don’t think it’s coincidence. Every morning, as I was walking across campus to my office, I could sense the environment demanding that I do the most innovative work – if I didn’t, then what the hell was I doing there?
So this is my message to you. I’m asking you to create those environments, both by doing the best and most innovative you can, but also by demanding the same from everyone else around you. These two things go together; they create a virtuous circle.

[…]
Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness if necessary. If you are waiting for permission, you will wait for the rest of your life. Most rules exist for a simple reason: to protect incumbents. Don’t ask for permission, just go and do it.
[…]
Orson Welles was best at describing why askign for permission is deadly…

[…]
So please, let us all live in the future and build what’s missing – here in Europe. I am worried sick that the easiest way for me to live in the future is to buy a ticket to San Francisco. Just like the easiest way for Americans to relive the past is to buy a ticket to Europe, rich in history. I’m asking you to become even more ambitious, more daring, and more demanding, both of yourself, but most importantly also of your environment.

Salathe talks also about role models. His was the founder of Day Interactive, a Swiss start-up which went public in 2000 before being acquired by Adobe for $250M in 2010. So coming next… its cap. table..

DayInteractiveIPO

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson – part 3: (Silicon) Valley

Innovation is about business models – the Atari case

Innovation in (Silicon) Valley: after the chip, innovation saw the arrival of games, software and the Internet “As they were working on the first Computer Space consoles, Bushnell heard that he had competition. A Stanford grad named Bill Pitts and his buddy Hugh Tuck from California polytechnic had become addicted to Spacewar, and they decided to use a PDP-11 minicomputer to turn it into an arcade game. […] Bushnell was contemptuous of their plan to spend $20,000 on equipment, including a PDP-11 that would be in another room and connected by yards of cable to the console, and then charge ten cents a game. “I was surprised at how clueless they were about the business model,” he said. “Surprised and relieved. As soon as I saw what they were doing, I knew they’d be no competition”.
Galaxy Game by Pitts and Tuck debuted at Stanford’s Tresidder student union coffeehouse in the fall of 1971. Students gathered around each night like cultists in front of a shrine. But no matter how many lined up their coins to play, there was no way the machine could pay for itself, and the venture eventually folded. “Hugh and I were both engineers and we didn’t pay attention to business issues at all,” conceded Pitts. Innovation can be sparked by engineering talent, but it must be combined with business skills to set the world afire.
Bushnell was able to produce his game, Computer Space, for only $1,000. It made its debut a few weeks after Galaxy Game at the Dutch Goose bar in Menlo Park near Palo Alto and went on to sell a respectful 1,500 unites. Bushnell was the consummate entrepreneur: inventive, good at engineering, and savvy about business and consumer demand. He was also a great salesman. […] When he arrived back at Atari’s little rented office in Santa Clara, he described the game to Alcorn [Atari’s co-founder], sketched out some circuits, and asked him to build the arcade version of it. He told Acorn he had signed a contract with GE to make the game, which was untrue. Like many entrepreneurs, Bushnell had no shame about distorting reality in order to motivate people.”
[Pages 209-211]

“Innovation requires having three things: a great idea, the engineering talent to execute it, and the business savvy (plus deal-making moxie) to turn it into a successful product. Nolan Bushnell scored a trifecta when he was twenty-nine, which is why he, rather than Bill Pitts, Hugh Truck, Bill Nutting, or Ralph Baer, goes down in history as the innovator who launched the video game industry.” [page 215]

You may also so listen to Bushnell directly. This is Something Ventured and the Atari story begins at 30’07” until 36’35” (you may go on Youtube directly for the right timing).

The debate about intelligence of machines

Chapter 7 is about the beginnings of the Internet. Isaacson adddresses a topic which has come back has a hot debate these days: will machines and the computer in particular replace humans, with or despite their intelligence, creativity and innovation capabilities? I feel close to Isaacson whom I quote from page 226: “Licklider sided with Norbert Wiener, whose theory of cybernetics was based on humans and machines working closely together, rather than with their MIT colleagues Marvin Minsky and John mcCarthy, whose quest for artificial intelligence involved creating machines that could learn on their own and replace human cognition. As Licklider explained, the sensible goal was to create an environment in which humans and machines “cooperate in making decisions.” In other words,they would augment each other. “Men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the routinizable work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking.”

The Innovator’s dilemma

In the same chapter which tries to describe who were the inventors (more than the innovators) in the case of the Internet – J.C.R. Licklider, Bob Taylor, Larry Roberts, Paul Baran, Donald Davies, or even Leonard Kleinrock – and why it was invented – an unclear motivation between the military objective of protecting communications in case of a nuclear attack or the civilian one of helping researchers in sharing resources – Isaacson shows once again the challenge of convincing established players.

Baran then collided with one of the realities of innovation, which was that entrenched bureaucracies are resistant to change. […] He tried to convince AT&T to supplement its circuit-switched voice network with a packet-switched data network. “they fought it tooth and nail,” he recalled. “They tried all sorts of things to stop it.” [AT&T would go as far as organizing a series of seminars that would involve 94 speakers] “Now do you see why packet switching wouldn’t work?” Baran simply replied, “No”. Once again, AT&T was stymied by the innovator’s dilemma. It balked at considering a whole new type of data network because it was so invested in traditional circuits. [Pages 240-41]

[Davies] came up with a good old English word for them: packets. In trying to convince the general Post office to adopt the system, Davies ran into the same problem that Baran had knocking at the door of AT&T. But they both found a fan in Washington. Larry Roberts not only embraced their ideas; he also adopted the word packet.

The entrepreneur is a rebel (who loves power)

One hard-core hacker, Steve Dompier, told of going down to Alburquerque in person to pry loose a machine from MITS, which was having trouble fulfilling orders. By the time of the third Homebrew meeting in April 1975, he had made an amusing discovery. He had written a program to sort numbers, and while he was running it, he was listening to a weather broadcast on a low-frequency transistor radio. “The radio started going zip-zzziiip-ZZZIIIPP at different pitches », and Dompier said to himself, “Well, what do you know ! My first peripheral device!” So he experimented. “I tried some other programs to see what they sounded like, and after about eight hours of messing around, I had a program that could produce musical tones and actually make music”. [Page 310]

“Dompier published his musical program in the next issue of the People’s Computer Company, which led to a historically noteworthy response from a mystified reader. “Steven Dompier has an article about the musical program that he wrote for the Altair in the People’s Computer Company,” Bill Gates, a Harvard student on leave writing software for MITS in Albuquerque, wrote in the Altair newsletter. “The article gives a listing of his program and the musical data for ‘The Fool on the Hill’ and ‘Daisy.’ He doesn’t explain why it works and I don’t see why. Does anyone know?” the simple answer was that the computer , as it ran the programs, produced frequency interference that could be controlled by the timing loops and picked up as tone pulses by an AM radio.
By the time his query was published, Gates had been thrown into a more fundamental dispute with the Homebrew Computer Club. It became archetypal of the clash between the commercial ethic that believed in keeping information proprietary, represented by Gates [and Jobs], and the hacker ethic of sharing information freely, represented by the Homebrew crowd [and Wozniak].” [Page 311]

Isaacson, through his description of Gates and Jobs, explains what is an entrepreneur.

“Yes, Mom, I’m thinking,” he replied. “Have you ever tried thinking?” [P.314] Gates was a serial obsessor. […] he had a confrontational style [… and he] would escalate the insult to be “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” [P.317] Gates pulled a power play that would define his future relationship with Allen. As Gates describes it, “That’s when I say ‘Okay, but I’m going to be in charge. And I’ll get used to being in charge, and it’ll be hard to deal with me from now on unless I’m in charge. If you put me in charge, I’m in charge of this and anything else we do.’ ” [P.323] Like many innovators, Gates was rebellious just for the hell of it. [P.331] “An innovator is probably a fanatic, somebody who loves what they do, works day and night, may ignore normal things to some degree and therefore be viewed as a bit imbalanced. […] Gates was also a rebel with little respect for authority, another trait of innovators. [P.338]

Allen assumed that his partnership with Gates would be fifty-fifty. […] but Gates had insisted on being in charge. “It’s not right for you to get half. […] I think it should be sixty-forty.” […] Worse yet, Gates insisted on revisiting the split two years later. “I deserve more than 60 percent.” His new demand was that the split be 64-36. Born with a risk-taking gene, Gates would cut loose late at night by driving at terrifying speeds up the mountain roads. “I decided it was his way of letting off steam.” Allen said. [P.339]

gates-arrested
Gates arrested for speeding, 1977. [P.312]

“There is something indefinable in an entrepreneur, and I saw that in Steve,“ Bushnell recalled. “He was interested not just in engineering, but also in the business aspects. I taught him that if you act like you can do something, then it will work. I told him, pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.” [P.348]

The concept of the entrepreneur as a rebel is not new. In 2004, Pitch Johnson, one of the earliest VC in Silicon Valley claimed “Entrepreneurs are the revolutionaries of our time.” Freeman Dyson has written “The Scientist as a Rebel“. And you should read Nicolas Colin’s analysis of entrepreneurial ecosystems: Capital + know-how + rebellion = entrepreneurial economy. Yes rebels who loves power…

What makes an entrepreneurial ecosystem by Nicolas Colin

Great analysis by Nicolas Colin (The Family) in his article What makes an entrepreneurial ecosystem? If the topic interests you, it is a must-read.

Colin-Ecosystems

in a nutshell, the entrepreneurial ecosystems need 3 ingredients – I quote:
– capital: by definition, no new business can be launched without money and relevant infrastructures (which consist of capital tied up in tangible assets);
– know-how: you need engineers, developers, designers, salespeople: all those whose skills are necessary for launching and growing innovative businesses;
– rebellion: an entrepreneur always challenges the status quo. If they wanted to play by the book, they would innovate within big, established companies, where they would be better paid and would have access to more resources.

This reminds me of two “recipes” I often mention. First the “5 needed ingredients of tech. clusters”
1. Universities and research centers of a very high caliber;
2. An industry of venture capital (i.e. financial institutions and private investors);
3. Experienced professionals in high tech;
4. Service providers such as lawyers, head hunters, public relations and marketing specialists, auditors, etc.
5. Last but not least, an intangible yet critical component: a pioneering spirit which encourages an entrepreneurial culture.
in “Understanding Silicon Valley, the Anatomy of an Entrepreneurial Region”, by M. Kenney, more precisely in chapter: “A Flexible Recycling” by S. Evans and H. Bahrami

Second, Paul Graham in How to be Silicon Valley? “Few startups happen in Miami, for example, because although it’s full of rich people, it has few nerds. It’s not the kind of place nerds like. Whereas Pittsburgh has the opposite problem: plenty of nerds, but no rich people.” He also added about failed ecosystems: “I read occasionally about attempts to set up “technology parks” in other places, as if the active ingredient of Silicon Valley were the office space. An article about Sophia Antipolis bragged that companies there included Cisco, Compaq, IBM, NCR, and Nortel. Don’t the French realize these aren’t startups?”

Many toxic friends of entrepreneurial ecosystems have not understood this. But for those who have understood, building lively ecosystems remains a real challenge: bringing the rebellion, the culture, diminishing the fear of risk taking without stigmatizing (not rewarding– here I disagree with Colin) failure remains highly challenging whereas finding know-how and capital is not easy but feasible with some hard work…

Finally, I copy his diagrams which show ideal and less ideal combinations of capital, know-how and rebellion, adding my exercise for Switzerland.

NicolasColin-NationalEcoCompar

Switzerland is probably 80% Germany and 20% France…

SwissNationalEcoCompar

(A short addition on Oct 29, 2015) – The best description of Switzerland was given by Orson Welles. It explains a lot of things…

“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” in The Third Man, said by Holly Martins to Harry Lime.

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson – part 2 : Silicon (Valley)

What I am reading now following my recent post The Complexity and Beauty of Innovation according to Walter Isaacson is probably much better known: Innovation in Silicon Valley at the time of Silicon – Fairchild, Intel and the other Fairchildren. I have my own archive, nice posters from those days, one about the start-up / entrepreneur genealogy, with a zoom on Fairchild and one on Intel and one about the investor genealogy

Entrepreneurs…

SiliconValleyGenealogy-All

SiliconValleyGenealogy-Fairchild

SiliconValleyGenealogy-Intel

“There were internal problems in Palo Alto. Engineers began defecting, thus seeding the valley with what became known as Fairchildren: companies that sprouted from spores emanating from Fairchild.” [Page 184] “The valley’s main artery, a bustling highway named El Camino Real, was once the royal road that connected California’s twenty-one mission churches. By the early 1970s – thanks to Hewlett-Packard, Fred Terman’s Stanford Industrial Park, William Shockley, Fairchild and its Fairchildren – it connected a bustling corridor of tech companies. In 1971, the region got a new moniker. Don Hoefler, a columnist for the weekly trade paper Electronic News, began writing s series of columns entitled “Silicon Valley USA,” and the name stuck.” [Page 198]

… and Investors

WCVCGenealogy-All

WCVCGenealogy-Beginnning

“In the eleven years since he had assembled the deal for the traitorous eight to form Fairchild Semiconductors, Arthur Rock had helped to build something that was destined to be almost as important to the digital age as the microchip: venture capital.” [Page 185] “When he had sought a home for the traitorous eight in 1957, he pulled out a single piece of legal-pad paper, wrote a numbered list of names, and methodically phoned each one, crossing off the names as he went down the list. Eleven years later, he took another sheet of paper and listed people who would be invited to invest and how many of the 500’000 shares available at $5 apiece he would offer to each. […] It took them less than two days to raise the money. […] All I had to tell people was that it was Noyce and Moore. They didn’t need to know much else.” [Pages 187-88]

Rock_List

The Intel culture

“There arose at Intel an innovation that had almost as much of an impact on the digital age as any [other]. It was the invention of a corporate culture and management style that was the antithesis of the hierarchical organization of East Coast companies.” [[Page 189] “The Intel culture, which would permeate the culture of Silicon Valley, was a product of all three men. [Noyce, Moore and Grove]. […] It was devoid of the trappings of hierarchy. There were no reserved parking places. Everyone including Noyce and Moore, worked in similar cubicles. […] “There were no privileges anywhere” recalled Ann Bowers, who was the personnel director and later married Noyce, [she would then become Steve Jobs’ first director of human resources] “we started a form of company culture that was completely different than anything that had been before. It was a culture of meritocracy.
It was also a culture of innovation. Noyce had a theory that he developed after bridling the rigid hierarchy at Philco. The more open and unstructured a workplace, he believed, the faster new ideas would be sparked, disseminated, refined and applied.” [Pages 192-193]

The Complexity and Beauty of Innovation according to Walter Isaacson

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson is a great book because of its balanced description of the role of geniuses or disruptive innovators as much as of teamwork in incremental innovation. “The tale of their teamwork is important because we don’t often focus on how central their skill is to innovation. […] But we have far fewer tales of collaborative creativity, which is actually more important in understanding how today’s technology evolution was fashioned.” [Page 1] He also goes deeper: “I also explore the social and cultural forces that provide the atmosphere for innovation. For the birth of the digital age, this included a research ecosystem that was nurtured by the government spending and managed by a military-industrial collaboration. Intersecting with that was a loose alliance of community organizers, communal-minded hippies, do-it yourself hobbyists, and homebrew hackers, most of whom were suspicious of centralized authority.” [Page 2] ”Finally, I was struck by how the truest creativity of the digital age came from those who were able to connect the arts and sciences.” [Page 5]

the-innovators-9781476708690_lg

The computer

I was a little more cautious with chapter 2 as I have the feeling that the story of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage is well known. I may be wrong. But chapter 3 about the early days of the computer was mostly unknown to me. Who invented the computer? Probably many different people in different locations in the US, the UK and Germany, around WWII. “How did they develop this idea at the same time when war kept their two teams isolated? The answer is partly that advances in technology and theory made the moment ripe. Along with many innovators, Zuse and Stibitz were familiar with the use of relays in phone circuits, and it made sense to tie that to binary operations of math and logic. Likewise, Shannon, who was also very familiar with phone circuits, would be able to perform the logical tasks of Boolean algebra. The idea that digital circuits would be the key to computing was quickly becoming clear to researchers almost everywhere, even in isolated places like central Iowa.” [Page 54]

There would be a patent fight I did not know about. Read pages 82-84. You can also read the following on Wikipedia: “On June 26, 1947, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were the first to file for patent on a digital computing device (ENIAC), much to the surprise of Atanasoff. The ABC [Atanasoff–Berry Computer] had been examined by John Mauchly in June 1941, and Isaac Auerbach, a former student of Mauchly’s, alleged that it influenced his later work on ENIAC, although Mauchly denied this. The ENIAC patent did not issue until 1964, and by 1967 Honeywell sued Sperry Rand in an attempt to break the ENIAC patents, arguing the ABC constituted prior art. The United States District Court for the District of Minnesota released its judgement on October 19, 1973, finding in Honeywell v. Sperry Rand that the ENIAC patent was a derivative of John Atanasoff’s invention.” [The trial had begun in June 1971 and the ENIAC patent was therefore made invalid]

I also liked his short comment about complementary skills. “Eckert and Mauchly served as counterbalances for each other, which made them typical of so many digital-age leadership duos. Eckert drove people with a passion for precision; Mauchly tended to calm them and make them feel loved.” [Pages 74-75]

Women in Technology and Science

It is in chapter 4 about Programming that Isaacson addresses the role of women. “[Grace Hopper] education wasn’t as unusual as you might think. She was the eleventh woman to get a math doctorate from Yale, the first being in 1895. It was not at all uncommon for a woman, especially from a successful family, to get a doctorate in math in the 1930s. In fact, it was more common than it would be a generation later. The number of American women who got doctorates in math during the 1930s was 133, which was 15 percent of the total number of American math doctorates. During the decade of the 1950s, only 106 American women got math doctorates, which was a mere 4 percent of the total. (By the first decade of the 2000 things had more than rebounded and there were 1,600 women who got math doctorates, 30 percent of the total.)” [Page 88]

Not surprisingly, in the early days of computer development, men worked more in hardware whereas women would be in software. “All the engineers who built ENIAC’s hardware were men. Less heralded by history was a group of women, six in particular, who turned out to be almost as important in the development of modern computing.” [Page 95] “Shortly before she died in 2011, Jean Jennings Bartik reflected proudly on the fact that all the programmers who created the first general-purpose computer were women. « Despite our coming of age in an era when women’s career opportunities were generally quite confined, we helped initiate the era of the computer. » It happened because a lot of women back then had studied math and their skills were in demand. There was also an irony involved: the boys with their toys thought that assembling the hardware was the most important task, and thus a man’s job. « American science and engineering was even more sexist than it is today, » Jennings said. « If the ENIAC’s administration had known how crucial programming would be to the functioning of the electronic computer and how complex it would prove to be, they might have been more hesitant to give such an important role to women.” [Pages 99-100]

The sources of innovation

“Hopper’s historical sections focused on personalities. In doing so, her book emphasized the role of individuals. In contrast, shortly after Hopper’s book was completed, the executives at IBM commissioned their own history of the Mark I that gave primary credit to the IBM teams in Endicott, New York, who had constructed the machine. “IBM interests were best served by replacing individual history with organizational history,” the historian Kurt Beyer wrote in a study of Hopper. “The locus of technological innovation, according to IBM was the corporation. The myth of the lone radical inventor working in the laboratory or basement was replaced by the reality of teams of faceless organizational engineers contributing incremental advancements.” In the IBM version of history, the Mark I contained a long list of small innovations, such as the ratchet-type counter and the double-checked card feed, that IBM’s book attributed to a bevy of little-known engineers who worked collaboratively in Endicott.
The difference between Hopper’s version of history and IBM’s ran deeper than a dispute over who should get the most credit. It showed fundamentally contrasting outlooks on the history of innovations. Some studies of technology and science emphasize, as Hopper did, the role of creative inventors who make innovative leaps. Other studies emphasize the role of teams and institutions, such as the collaborative work done at Bell Labs and IBM’s Endicott facility. This latter approach tries to show that what may seem like creative leaps – the Eureka moment – are actually the result of an evolutionary process that occurs when ideas, concepts, technologies, and engineering methods ripen together. Neither way of looking at technological advancement is, on its oqn, completely satisfying. Most of the great innovations of the digital age sprang from an interplay of creative individuals (Mauchly, Turing, von Neumann, Aiken) with teams that knew how to implement their ideas.”
[Pages 91-92]

Google about Disruptive and Incremental Innovation

This is very similar to what I read about Google and posted recently in The Importance and Difficulty of Culture in Start-ups: Google again…: “To us, innovation entails both the production and implementation of novel and useful ideas. Since “novel” is often just a fancy synonym for “new”, we should also clarify that for something to be innovative, it needs to offer new functionality, but it also has to be surprising. If your customers are asking for it, you aren’t being innovative when you give them what they want; you are just being responsive. That’s a good thing, but it’s not innovative. Finally “useful” is a rather underwhelming adjective to describe that innovation hottie, so let’s add an adverb and make it radically useful, Voilà: For something to be innovative, it needs to be new, surprising, and radically useful.” […] “But Google also releases over five hundred improvements to its search every year. Is that innovative? Or incremental? They are new and surprising, for sure, but while each one of them, by itself is useful, it may be a stretch to call it radically useful. Put them all together, though, and they are. […] This more inclusive definition – innovation isn’t just about the really new, really big things – matters because it affords everyone the opportunity to innovate, rather than keeping it to the exclusive realm of these few people in that off-campus building [Google[x]] whose job is to innovate.” [How Google Works – Page 206]

Maybe more about The Innovators soon…