Category Archives: Innovation

Inequality is putting the American Dream in peril

As I am a big fan of both Piketty and Harari in addition to being a start-up fan, I was attracted by this article from the Stanford Magazine: This is Not Your Parents’ Economy – Inequality is putting the American Dream in peril. Here is the most striking message:

According to the “Fading American Dream” paper, 92 percent of people born in 1940 earned more in income at age 30 than their parents did at age 30. Only 50 percent of those born in 1984 did.
[…]
In trying to explain why mobility has fallen so precipitously, Chetty, Grusky and their team considered two “counterfactual” scenarios for those born in the 1980s. The first assumes higher GDP growth, equivalent to that experienced by those born in 1940 but distributed as it has been recently. The second uses the real GDP growth for the 1980s cohort but assumes a “more broadly shared” distribution. As the paper explains, “the first scenario expands the size of the economic pie, dividing it in the proportions by which it is divided today. The second keeps the size of the pie fixed, but divides it more evenly as in the past.”
[…]
The higher GDP growth scenario did increase mobility — to 62 percent from 50 percent. But the more broadly shared growth scenario did even better, increasing mobility to 80 percent. To achieve that higher level of mobility using GDP alone would require growth of 6.4 percent per year. (Recent years have seen growth under 3 percent in the United States.)
[…]
“We were able to say, if you care about upward mobility, aggregate growth wouldn’t be enough to restore it; instead, growth needs to be more equitably distributed.”

Les défis de l’innovation

Sorry – this should have been on the French version of my blog. I keep it there and copy it also on the FR side…

C’est en recevant ce matin un lien d’un article du journal de libération en date du 29 juin 2007 (vous lisez bien, 2007, pas 2017) que j’ai décidé de ce post. L’article s’intitule L’iPhone, sans mobile apparent. Il montre de manière presque hilarante la difficulté de prédire. Alors j’en ai profité aussi pour mettre sur Slideshare une présentation que j’ai faite il y a quelques jours intitulée les défis de l’innovation. Désolé car il n’y a pas l’audio, mais il y a quelques données révélatrices… enfin je crois…

Voici donc quelques extraits de l’article. Sur le marché du mobile tout d’abord: “Apple est modeste. Il ne vise que 1 % du marché du mobile, et ne pense écouler que 10 millions d’iPhones d’ici à la fin de 2008. Le marché du mobile, lui, tourne autour du milliard d’unités écoulées en 2006. […] Un créneau que Nokia a l’intention de solidement occuper. Sur les 350 millions de mobiles Nokia écoulés dans le monde en 2006, 77 millions sont des téléphones baladeurs capables comme l’iPhone de diffuser de la musique. Le finlandais a une bonne longueur d’avance…” Sur les chances d’Apple: “De l’avis des analystes, l’iPhone ne va pas bousculer le jeu.” […] «Apple, en lançant son iPhone, est sur le mode défensif. Il n’avait pas vraiment le choix.» 🙂

Voici donc mes slides. Je vous conseille les slides 6 et 10 de la partie 1, la partie 2 est un recyclage de présentations passées, que j’aime aussi tout particulièrement…

The Tesla Index, the new Innovation metric

There is no doubt about it, and as the summer begins smoothly, I allow myself an article somewhat less serious than usual, which confirms the thesis of my previous article, The University-based Startup Porsche Principle. Or is it the Tesla Principle?

Innovation is a complex topic but this does not prevent the desire to measure it. The Global Innovation Index with its 83 parameters is the best illustration of this. But cann’t we make it simpler? I propose the simpler Tesla Index which measures the number of Tesla linked to the institution which innovation is to be measured. It shows a certain financial success combined with a curiosity for novelty. We can always bring it back to the size of the entity if necessary …

At EPFL, the Tesla index according to my measures is 4 as of June 26, 2017 …


A Tesla, being charged on the EPFL campus on June 26, 2017…


on June 15, 2017


on June 13, 2017


on May 10, 2017


then the index goes up to 5, on July 4, 2017


then the index goes up to 7, on July 14, 2017 (I am not sure the red one is not the one I found first above). Thanks, Aurélien!

When the Inventor of the Microprocessor and Founder of Synaptics Talks

I had never mentioned here Federico Faggin, another European who became a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. He was at EPFL today where he delivered an amazing speech about creativity and courage, the two elements inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs critically need. If you do not know him, just rush to his wikipedia page: “an Italian physicist, inventor and entrepreneur, widely known for designing the first commercial microprocessor. […] He was co-founder, with Ralph Ungermann, and CEO of Zilog, the first company solely dedicated to microprocessors. He was also co-founder and CEO of Cygnet Technologies and of Synaptics.”

I hope his talk will be put online, in which case I will give the reference later. In the mean time, here are just 3 pictures (taken by a colleague, thanks!) about his lessons learned.

– If you see a ‘little’ technical problem you don’t understand, don’t dismiss it: Face it and find its root cause
– Likewise, when you perceive that something is not working with an employee, act promptly: do not let performance or attitude issues fester
– Be open to receive solutions from anywhere: colleagues, literature, intuitions, dreams
– Strike the right balance between freedom and control
– ‘Throw an idea up in the air and leave’
– The power is in in the team: Foster a team spirit with passion for innovation and for quality products


– Always identify the critical issues and pay attention primarily to them
– Business problems are not technical problems
– Logical reasoning is good but watch out for the assumptions
– Intuition is your friend
– Risk cannot be avoided – you need courage
– Never underestimate the competition
– ‘Sensing’ the right product and the right time to market is the most important decision


– Articulate and explain the values, vision, mission, strategy and objectives of the company to all employees
– People watch and copy what you do, not what you say: The company culture is shaped by the actions and not the talk of the CEO
– Teach people how to make decisions based on principles and values
– Push decision making to the lowest possible level in the organization
– Know when it’s time to move on and make a change for yourself

As a conclusion to this post, here is my usual cap. table when I have data about founders. Here is Synaptics.

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 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]
Benefits:
Some possibility of making more money
Costs
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]
Benefits:
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
Costs
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…

Research Exploitation according to Jacques Lewiner

The excellent Paris Innovation Review (formerly known as the ParisTech review) just published an interview of Jacques Lewiner (for the ones not knowing him, you may want to have a look at Jacques Lewiner about Innovation. This new article is entitled Research exploitation: catching up at a quick pace!

It begins with:“Academic research is not only a driver of scientific progress. It is a means to change the world. Many discoveries, including in areas related to basic research, can lead to new processes, products or services.”

Lewiner then explains the complexity of a successful exploitation and biases related to it. “The first [bias] is that, when we think about exploitation, we stick to patents. […] But sticking to patents means ignoring the essential, i.e. the entrepreneurial aspect of exploitation. […] Hence the importance of the entrepreneurial aspect: encouraging researchers to found startups and develop by themselves the economic potential of their discovery. The second bias comes [with …] a strong reluctance to admit that a researcher can make money, or even a fortune. […] A researcher’s brain is government property!”

Then Lewiner adresses the topic of licensing – More about it in How much Equity Universities take in Start-ups from IP Licensing? So here is what he says: “Nothing prevents the institution from taking shares in the company. 5% of shares, for example, is a reasonable figure, close to what most dynamic ecosystems offer. […] Holding golden shares would be equally counterproductive. […] In short, we need a whole new culture of investment.”

Lewiner indeed insists on an adequate culture: “Speed is a real challenge and on this sense, a well-equipped institution with some experience and good contacts […] can offer a real added value. Role models can also play an incentive role for researchers. […] All these ingredients of the “startup culture” require transmission.”

In the end, I only disagree with his final comment: “I dream of the day when French doctoral students will answer to the question of what they will do after their thesis with the same mindset as their counterparts in Stanford or Harvard: ‘I’m still trying to figure out in which of my thesis supervisor’s startups I want to work with.’ ” I think Lewiner is wrong. Ideally, they should do their own start-ups, just like they do at Stanford

PS: thanks a lot to the colleague who mentioned this interview to me 🙂

The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross

The Industries of the Future is not a very good book. Probably because it tries to talk about the future and nobody knows about it. But it has some merits that I will describe in the end…

Even worse, I think it is not as precise an analysis as is The Innovation Illusion by Fredrik Erixon and Bjorn Weigel. Why do I claim such a thing? Let me just mention one example. To show the potential of robots in the future, Ross reminds us Foxconn claim in 2011 that it would have installed one million robots in by 2015. (See for example Foxconn Will Replace Workers With 1 Million Robots in 3 Years). Ross even adds that Foxconn had already installed 300’000 robots. Erixon and Weigel have different views and explain that Foxconn had not even installed 50’000 robots in 2015. So who is right? I did some search and all media mentions 40’000 robots only in 2016… (see Foxconn reaches 40,000 robots of original 1 million robot automation goal). When you want to talk about the future, you need to be precise about the present…

Now his chapter The Geography of Future Markets provides interesting food for thought. Silicon Valley has been the center of high-tech innovation for nearly 50 years. Many regions have tried to copy it, without much success. But many regions have domain expertise such as Boston for biotech, Israel for security, Japan/SouthKorea/Germany for robotics, etc. If these regions leverage the future innovations, they will continue to be leaders. If not, “twentysomething” nerds without any domain expertise but with a lot entrepreneurial drive and technical know-how will take the lead. Ross provides examples but it is sufficient to look at what Elon Musk did to the payment industry (PayPal), automotive industry (Tesla) and aerospace industry (SpaceX). Silicon Valley has extensive experience in “scale-ups” and is not losing any of it…

The State of the European Tech

The recently published The State of the European Tech, co-sponsored by Atomico and Slush is an extremley interesting analysis of the European tech start-up and VC scene. it is a rather long 118-slide document but most (not all) pages provide food for thought.

Here are a couple of comments, in the page order:

– The introduction is too optimistic (slides 5-7). I doubt their title: the future is being invented in Europe. But it has always been Atomico’s founder vision: see Europe and Start-ups : should we worry? Or is there hope? The future will tell us… One interesting point though: London, Berlin and Paris are the 3 hubs main European hubs and Paris was probably underestimated (in the past).

– The entrepreneurial mindset is continuously improving (slides 15-16). Repeat entrepreneurs are more numerous (slide 18). And they mention their importance not so much as future successful entrepreneurs (you may know my doubts – check Serial entrepreneurs: are they better?) but because of the experience and network they bring.

– I love slide 21 with EPFL #4 world wide in Computer Science (though I hate these rankings!). Switzerland is clearly on the map together with the UK. I am honestly less convinced about the impact of business schools in tech (slide 22). Talent exists in Europe but may not be available for tech (slide 23).

– Again the three top hubs are obvious: together London, Paris and Berlin outnumber Silicon Valley. But the ranking from #4 to #20 is mostly linked to city size, not so much any unique positioning. Tech is creating jobs faster than other industries (slide 26). Never too late! But again Europe is fragmented with 153 identified tech hubs (slide 34)

Migrants (slides 27-29). Again the UK is #1. France and Germany follow. And Switzerland is well-ranked (except for non-Europeans).

– Local entrepreneurs want to stay home (slide 37): 60% prefer home to another place in Euope (17%) or Silicon Valley (12%), even if 25% of founders incorporated outside of their home country (slide 38). Clearly Europe exists! Even if slide 39 shows more local migrations inside Europe, with the exception of London and Berlin again and the links between hubs are weak (slide 41)

– The slides about venture capital are the most surprising. Slide 46 shows that the European investments have jumped from less than $5B before 2013 to $13B in 2015-16. (In comparison the US is about $30B). And the growth is consistent from early eseed ($0-2M) to early stage ($2-5M) and later stage ($10-50+M). I assemble here their data about the UK, Germany, France and Switzerland (slides 50-52). A new generation of investors is confirmed, those who were entrepreneurs 1st (slide 60). The early such actors were Atomico, Liautaud/Balderton, Niel/Kima. But many emerge. A new generation of funds also emerge (slide 64), and yes, US funds invest in Europe (slide 65)

atomico_european_vc

– Their section about deep tech is less convincing (to me). Probably I did not fully understand what they meant by that and why it would be so special. Slides 78-9 about US tech giants coming to Europe and about their acquisitions in Europe is worth checking though.

– I was not convinced either about the growing awareness of European corporations of the importance of tech. Their investments and acquisitions are still small compared to their US counterparts (slides 84-86). But slide 83 is the confirmation of a scary situation. This is another illustration of the Darwinian and Lamarckian innovation. Look at next figure.

atomico_european_giants

– The section about scale-ups and exits (slides 89-101) could have been called unicorns & IPOs. I see bubbles and low value creations. Not good enough and not enough tech…

– Finally the lside about perceived risks is worth spending some time. they classify them as Business issues (40%); Economic issues (30%); European issues (22%); International issues (8%). But somehow their classification is subjective. For example if you combine risk aversion (4%), fear (2%), ambition (2%), that is 8%. And talent (4%), innovation (3%) and education (2%) would be another 9%. These elements which I consider as cultural could be considered as quite high…

All these notes were taken while reading so don’t see them as a deep analysis and you should build your own views about this really interesting analysis.

The Nobel Prize for Thomas Piketty?

I have already said here how much I liked Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (see Has the world gone crazy? Maybe…). In finally ending my reading of the French edition of this 970-page book, I could not help thinking that the author would soon have the Nobel Prize in Economics, even though I have no competence to judge.

capital_in_the_twenty-first_century_front_cover

When reading his conclusion, I found in the author’s words one of the reasons for my respect regarding this work: “Let us repeat it: the sources gathered in this book are more extensive than those of the previous authors, but they are imperfect and incomplete. All the conclusions I have reached are inherently fragile and deserve to be challenged and debated. Research in social science is not intended to produce ready-made mathematical certainties and to substitute for public, democratic and contradictory debate” [Page 941].

He adds further on: “I see no other place for the economy but as a sub-discipline of the social sciences. […] I do not much like the expression “economic science”, which seems to me to be terribly arrogant and which could lead one to believe that the economy would have reached a higher scientific specificity, distinct from other social sciences. […] One can, for example, spend a great deal of time demonstrating the indisputable existence of a pure and true causality, by forgetting in passing that the question treated is sometimes of limited interest.” [Page 945-7].

Piketty also summarizes his work in a few lines [Page 942]:

“The general lesson of my inquiry is that the dynamic evolution of a market economy and of private property, left to itself, contains within it important convergent forces, linked in particular to the dissemination of knowledge and qualifications, but also powerful forces of divergence, potentially threatening for our democratic societies and the values ​​of social justice on which they are based.

The main destabilizing force is related to the fact that the private rate of return on capital r can be strongly and permanently higher than the growth rate of income and output. The inequality r > g implies that the heritages of the past recapitalize faster than the rate of increase of production and wages. […] The entrepreneur tends inevitably to become an annuitant. […] The past devours the future.”

And the solution is clear: “The right solution is the progressive annual tax on capital. […] The difficulty is that this solution requires a very high degree of international cooperation and regional political integration” [Pages 943-44].

All is said.

I can not help ending this brief article by recalling a striking example among the multitude of data analyzed:

t12