I had heard like many of you probably of Aaron Swartz who committed suicide in January 2013 at age 26 after being prosecuted for computer fraud. So when I was advised to read The Idealist, I did not hesitate much before buying it.
The book is divided in two parts: a short history of copyright in the USA since the beginning of the nineteenth century and the story of Aaron Swartz himself. In the first part, the author, Justin Peters, shows the complexity of one of the pillars of intellectual property. You may have a look at my previous posts on the topic with tag #intellectual-property and particularly the profound work of Boldrin and Levine Against Intellectual Monopoly. I will only mention a short paragraph, page 46, of Peters’ book: But in nineteenth-century America, the concept of intellectual property was not yet sacrosanct – and the interests of the readers were not inextrically bound to those of authors. In congressional chambers, lawmakers openly wondered whether international copyright constituted a tax on knowledge and compared literary property to industrial monopoly.
As for Aaron Swartz, Three years after [he] died, his story is still on many people’s minds. A large street-art mural of his face, set next to the words RIP AARON SWARTZ, adorns the side of a building in Brooklyn. […] Every year around his birthday , Swartz’s friends and admirers worldwide organize a series of weekend-long “hackatons” intended to stimulate the sorts of social projects Swartz cherished. [Page 14]
It took me a while to read Bock’s book. It is dense, ambitious, convincing, despite the fact that “Google sounds too good to be true” [Page 318]. There would be so much to say and the diversity of topics addressed by Bock is so broad. If you deal with people, if you manage teams, I think you should read it (I do not manage people and still I think it will be immensely useful to me!).
Another example after my four posts: Bock mentions of of McKinsey values: “uphold the obligation to dissent” [Page 319]. And an example follows on the same page: I was serving a client whose merger was yet to prove disastrous. The client asked for a recommendation on how best to set up a venture capital business. The data were pretty clear. Aside from a few notable examples, like Intel Capital,most corporate venture-capital efforts were failures. they lacked the expertise, clarity of purpose, and physical proximity to where the most lucrative deals were being hatched. I told the senior partner it was a bad idea. I showed him the data. I explained that there were almost no examples of these kinds of efforts being successful, and none that I could find that were thousands of miles outside of Silicon Valley and run by people who lacked any engineering background.
He told me that the client was asking how to set it up, not whether to to set it up, and that I should focus on answering the client’s question.
Perhaps he was right. Or perhaps he had some superior insight into the issue that trumped my data, Maybe he’d already made that argument to the client, and they’d rejected it.
But to me it felt like I’d failed.I thought the obligation to dissent required me to speak up, so it was all the more gut-wrenching to see my concern brushed aside.
Again Google might sound too good to be true, but this is the 5th or 6th book I read about Google from insiders and from outsiders, and the messages are quite consistent. A final quote from page 339: In the introduction I posited that there are two extreme models of how organizations should be run. The heart of this book is my belief that you can choose what type of organizations you want to create, and I’d be shown you some of the tools to do so. The “low-freedom” extreme is the command-and-control organization, where employees are managed tightly, worked intensely, and discarded.The “high-freedom” extreme is based on liberty, where employees are treated with dignity and given a voice in how the company evolves.
Both models can be very profitable, but this book presumes that the most talented people on the planet will want to be part of a freedom-driven company. And freedom-driven companies, because they benefit form the best insight and passion of all their employees are more resilient and better sustain success.
It’s a famous story for Silicon Valley and Steve Jobs fans. But I had never seen it told by the founder of Apple himself. It shows not only what an entrepreneur is but also the openness of the region at the time and probably still today… It’s nice and short… Watch it.
“I never found anybody that did not want to help me if I asked them for help”
I promised more about Straight Talk for Startups in my previous post which was describing the book first part. After Mastering the Fundamentals, which is indeed a fundamental must-read, his part II about Selecting the Right Investors is as good.
But before describing these 13 new rules, let me jump directly to rule #100: Learn the rules by heart so you know when to break them.
“Apprentices work furiously to learn the rules; journeymen proudly perfect the rules; but masters forget the rules. So it’s been since the Middle Ages, and venture capital and entrepreneurship are no different. The venture capital world is minting more and more apprentices, while the masters, like Tom perkins, are few and far between.
The rules in this book are battled-tested. Acquainting yourself with them will help you spot issues before they arise. Intuition is not just fast thinking from the gut; it is good judgement informed by knowledge.
Most rules are made for the average situation; they are meant to be broken when circumstances require. Our rules are no diffeent. Let these rules serve as touchstones to guide you own difficult decisions along the way, not millstones to bug you down. Only you can decide which rules to apply, bend, or ignore as you face your own novel problems and opportunities.
You may well find a rule or two that you adamantly disagree with. If we have encouraged you to examine your own experience and arrive at a considered but contraditocry conclusion, then we have done our job. Just don’t mistake an exceptional event for a guiding principle.
We are seldom able to achieve exactly what we want in business. Compromise is not a dirty word. But you will do better in the end if you acquaint yourself with what others have done before. You know best, so be fearless, trust your intuition, and make you own rules ocne you’ve mastered these.”
And here are rules 29 to 41:
#29: Don’t accept money from strangers
#30: Incubators are good for finding investors, nor for developing businesses
#31: Avoid venture capital unless you absolutely need it
#32: If you choose venture capital, pick the right type of investors
#33: Conduct detailed due diligence on your investors
#34: Personal wealth ≠ good investing
#35: Choose investors who think like operators
#36: Deal directly with the decision makers
#37: Find stable investors
#38: Select investors who can help future financings
#39: Investor syndicates need to be managed
#40: Capital-intensive venture require deep financial pockets
#41: Strategic investors pose unique challenges
I do not know if I will add a post about this book but these two should have been enough to convince you of the quality of Straight Talk for Startups.
With subtitle 100 Insider Rules for Beating the Odds–From Mastering the Fundamentals to Selecting Investors, Fundraising, Managing Boards, and Achieving Liquidity, Randy Komisar has an ambitious goal in writing his new book Straight Talk for Startups and he executes!
Komisar is a Silicon Valley veteran (and brilliant) investor. I have already mentioned here his previous books The Monk and The Riddle and Getting to Plan B, as well as many of his advice. In his new book, he is trying to give precious advice because “entrepreneurs today don’t have the luxury of learning by trail and error.” [page xix of the introduction]. The Times They Are A-Changin’ and the stakes are just too high…So Komisar gives “the crucial things, like creating two financial plans, not one; hiring part-time epxerts rather than full-time trainees; knowing what to measure and the pitfalls of doing it too early: and the criticality of unit economics and working capital.” [Page 1]. I have to admit I was a little surprised with reading the previous sentence, but after discovering the next first rules, Komisar convinced me again.
If you do not have any time for reading the book, which would be a real pity, at least have a look at his 100 rules. Here are the first 28 form his Part 1 – Mastering the fundamentals:
#1: starting a venture has never been easier, succeeding has never been harder
#2: try to act normal
#3: aim for an order-of-magnitude improvement
#4: start small, but be ambitious
#5: most failures result from poor execution, not unsuccessful innovation
#6: the best ideas originate with founders who are users
#7: don’t scale your technology until it works
#8: manage with maniacal focus
#9: target fast-growing, dynamic markets
#10: never hire the second best
#11: conduct your hiring as if you were an airline pilot
#12: a part-time expert is preferable to a full-time seat filler
#13: maage your team like a jazz band
#14: instead of a free lunch, provide meaningful work
#15: teams of professionals with a common mission make the most attractive investments
#16: use your financials to tell your story
#17: create two business plans: an execution élan and an aspirational plan
#18: know your financial numbers and their interdependencies by heart
#19: net income is an opinion,, but cash flow is a fact
#20: unit economics tell you whether you have a business
#21: manage working capital as if it were your only source of funds
#22: exercise the strictest financial discipline
#23: always be frugal!
#24: to get where you are going, you need to know where you are going
#25: measurements comes with pitfalls
#26: operational setbacks require swift and deep cutbacks
#27: save surprises for birthdays, not for you stakeholders
#28: strategic pivots offer silver linings
It is a great complement to Measure What Matters and the proof (if what was needed) of how great great venture capitalists are…!
My Part II should have been about Komisar’s Straight Talk for Startups, but it will be my Part III. I just finished Measure what Matters, the topic of my Part I, and I must admit I was impressed to the point I needed to have a Part II dedicated to it again.
I was impressed by the last chapter dedicated to “Coach” Bill Campbell. It is a very moving portrait of one of the least known celebrities of Silicon Valley. The Coach, the coach of Steve Jobs and the Google triumvirate, Page, Brin and Schmidt and of so many others.
I was also impressed by the subtlety of the message about OKRs. So difficult to explain as it may take a life to digest them. But the book is really enlightening. OKRs have four ingredients, focus, transparency, accountability and ambition (the BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal). It is scary and at the same time generous. I think any leader should read that book…
Kleiner Perkins is a, not to say the VC brand name – but there is also Sequoia. When their partners write something, it is often worth reading. And this month two of them publish a book! I begin here with John Doerr and his Measure What Matters (though this is the paperback publication – the hardcover was published in 2017). In my next post I will write about Komisar’s Straight Talk for Startups
Ideas are Easy. Implementation is Everything.
Doerr is a Silicon Valley legend. He owes a lot to the pioneers of Silicon Valley, such as Noyce and Moore and particularly to Andy Grove, whom he mentions a lot: he calls him one of the father of OKRs. Chapter 2 is about Grove who said “there are so many people working so hard and achieving so little”. It reminds me of The Innovation Illusion: How So Little is Created by So Many Working So Hard. And many owe to him, beginning with the Google founders. Indeed Larry Page is the author of a short, 2-page and powerful foreword about OKRs: “OKRs are a simple process that helps drive varied organizations forward… OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over.”
And Doerr begins with a tribute to Google and its two founders (page 4): Sergey was exuberant, mercurial, strongly opinionated, and able to leap intellectual chasms in a single bound. A Soviet-born immigrant, he was a canny, creative negotiator and a principled leader. Sergey was restless, always pushing for more; he might drop to the floor in the middle of a meeting for a set of push-ups.
Larry was an engineer’s engineer, the son of a computer science pioneer. He was a soft-spoken nonconformist, a rebel with a 10x cause: to make the internet exponentially relevant. While Sergey crafted the commerce of technology, Larry toiled on the product and imagined the impossible. He was a blue-sky thinker with his feet on the ground.
So what are these OKRs? It’s an acronym for Objective and Key Results. “An objective is simply WHAT is to be achieved. Key Results benchmark and monitor HOW to get to the objective.” (Page 7) But there is no recipe. Each company or organization should have its own. “By definition, start-ups wrestle with ambiguity… You’re not going to get the system just right the first time around. It’s not going to be perfect the second or third time, either. But don’t get discouraged. Persevere. You need to adapt it and make it your own.” (Page 75)
Now if you need that kind of advice, read Doerr’s book…
While reading Hammer And Tickle: A History Of Communism Told Through Communist Jokes by Ben Lewis, I began to wonder why a colleague would offer me such a book. Because I would be a stalinist? Because on the contrary, I should be careful about being too critical? Or more simply because big institutions would always have a tendency to become bureaucracies. Well i do not know and it does not matter as much as the fact I enjoyed reading these jokes despite the terrible background which explains their existence…
In a similar style, I would also encourage you to watch Une exécution ordinaire (in French) [see the IMDB link here], a beautiful and terrible movie. Here is the trailer.
The jokes mentioned below from the book might push you to read more.
What is colder in Romania than the cold water? The hot water. [Page 3]
‘There was another joke that was almost true – true to life. Ceaușescu is very angry because he is not hearing any jokes about him. So he orders a huge mass meeting, and announces, ‘from now on you are going to work without pay.’ And nobody says anything. ‘Okay,’ he continues, ‘and from now on you are all going to work for me.’ Nobody says anything. ‘Tomorrow everybody is condemned to death by hanging,’ he adds. Nobody says anything. ‘hey,’ he says ‘are you crazy? Don’t people have anything to say? Aren’t you going to protest?’ there’s is only one tiny guy who says, ‘Mr President, I have a question: do we bring our own rope or is the trade union going to give it to us?’ [Page 3 again]
After the October Revolution, God send three observers to Russia: St Marc, St Peter and St Matthew. They send him three telegrams.
‘I’ve fallen into the hands of the Cheka – St Marc.’
‘I’ve fallen into the hands of the Cheka – St Peter.’
‘All’s well. Doing fine. Cheka Superintendant Matthias.’
Anti-Semitism is unfortunately never very far, but as the Jews themselves are often the authors … I allow myself to quote two:
A Jew talking to his friend: ‘My son Moses and I are doing very fine. Moisha works in the Comintern as a black African Communist, while I sit in the Kremlin, at the top of Ivan the Great Bell Tower, waiting to ring the bell for the World Revolution.
‘Well it must be a rather dull job to wait for the World Revolution,’ his friend says.
‘Oh yes, but it is a job for life.’
A stagecoach full of passengers is travelling from Zhitomir to Kiev when a band of robbers attacks. Their leader commands, ‘Halt. Nobody move. Hands up!’ All the passengers obediently climb out of the stagecoach and put their hands up. One of them turns to the bandits’ leader and says, ‘Mr Chief, you’re gonna take everything from us in a couple of minutes. Let me go into my pocket with one hand for a moment. I have to give something to the guy standing next to me.’
‘Hurry it up!’ he points the barrel of his revolver at the traveller.
The passenger goes into his back pocket, takes out one hundred roubles and, turning to his neighbour, says, ‘Solomon! Didn’t I owe you a hundred roubles? Here, take it. And keep in mind that we’re even now.’
A classic: What were Mayakovsky’ last words before he committed suicide? ‘Comrades, don’t shoot!’ [Page 50]
Humour in Absurdistan: A flock of sheep are stopped by frontier guards at the Russo-Finnish border. ‘Why do you wish to leave Russia?’ the guards ask them.
‘It’s the NKVD,’ reply the terrified sheep. ‘Beria’s ordered them to arrest all elephants.’
‘But you aren’t elephants!’ the guards point out.
‘Try telling that to the NKVD!’
About progess and innovation [Page 66] – Who discovered the electric razor?
It was discovered by Ivan Petrovich Sidorov … in the dustbin behind the American Embassy.
– There were two portraits on the museum wall, one of the scientist Ivanov who invented the locomotive, the steamship and the aeroplane, and the other of scientist Petrov, who invented the scientist Ivanov.
A teacher asks his class ‘Who is your mother and who is your father?’
A pupil replies: ‘My mother is Russia and my father is Stalin.’
‘Very good,’ says the teacher. ‘And what would you like to be when you grow up?’
More to come… and here it is (on June 15)
One housewife to another: ‘I hear there’ll be snow tomorrow!’
‘Well I’m not queuing for that.’ [Page 132]
A man dies and goes to Hell. THere he discovers that he has a choice: he can go to Capitalist Hell or Communist Hell. Naturally, he wants to compare the two, so he goes over to Capitalist Hell. There outside the door is the devil, who looks a but like Ronald Reagan. ‘What’s it like in there?’ asks the visitor.
‘Well,’ the devil replies, ‘in Capitalist Hell they flay you alive, then they boil you in oil and then they cut you up into small pieces with sharp knives.’
‘That’s terrible!’ he gasps. ‘I’m going to check out Communist Hell!’
He goes over to Communist Hell, where he discovers a huge queue of people waiting to get in. He waits in line. Eventually he gets to the front and there at the door to Communist Hell is a little old man who looks a bit like Karl Marx.
‘I’m still in the free world, Karl,’ he says, ‘and before I come in, I want to know what’s it like in there.’
‘In Communist Hell,’ says Marx impatiently, ‘they flay you alive, then they boil you in oil and then they cut you up into small pieces with sharp knives.’
‘But…but that’s the same as Capitalist Hell!’ protest the visitor. ‘Why such a long queue?’
‘Well,’ sighs Marx, ‘sometimes we’re out of oil, sometimes we don’t have knives, sometimes no hot water…’ [Page 133]
Why is it not possible to control the birth rate in Soviet Bloc countries?
Because the means of production remain in private hands. [Page 145]
Is Marxism-Leninism a science?
No. If it was, they would have tested it on animals first. [Page 145]
Khrutshchev is walking through the Kremlin, getting worked up about the Soviet Union’s problems, and spits on the carpet in a gesture of disgust.
‘Behave yourself, Nikita Sergeyevich,’ admonishes his aide. ‘remember that the great Lenin walked through these halls!’
‘Shut up’, responds Khrushchev. ‘I can spit all I like here; the Queen of England gave me permission!’
‘The Queen of England?’
‘Yes! I spat on her carpet in Buckingham Palace too, and hes said, “Mr Khrushchev, you can do that in the Kremlin if you wish, but you can’t behave like this here…”‘ [Page 154]
Why do Vopos always travel in three?
One who can read, one who can write, and one to keep his eye on these two intellectuals. [Page 158]
‘Hmm’, he says opening the letter, ‘he told me if things were going badly out there, he’d write to me in red ink.’ The letter is in blue ink. He reads it: ‘Dear Ivan, I am having a wonderful time in Kazakhstan. The weather is warm, I have a big apartment and plenty to eat…’
He interrupts the letter, turns to his son and says ‘you see, we are progressing along the road to Socialism…’ The he reads the last line of the letter: ‘There is only on e problem – I can’t find any red ink.’ [Page 164]
Libero Zuppiroli tackles the issue from the perspective of utopias and dystopias, using in the beginning of his book ancient authors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that show that excessive optimism has always existed and that its realistic, even pessimistic, counterpart has also always accompanied it. Flora Tristan in 1840 mirrors Sadi Carnot’s benefits of the machine in 1824, Marat in 1774 is paralleled to Adam Smith’s economic liberalism in 1776, and Francis Bacon, in 1627, dreamed of never ending scientific and technological progress. The utopian promises are not new!
It is a book that must be read and I will let you discover the analyses of the promises in the fields of information technology, robotics, defense, 3D printers and nanotechnologies, the city and energy, health, and big data. A simple illustration: around 2005, nanotechnologies were seen as an extremely promising market, which would reach 3’000 billion dollars in 10 years. More than 10 years later, the market is around $100 millions…
I fear, however, that Libero Zuppiroli does not have much illusions about the impact of his analyzes. In a note on critical authors (note 119, page 293), he writes, “He is one of these famous intellectual critics whom American society not only tolerates, but also encouraged the birth of. Their critic of the American system is harsh and based on remarkable analyzes, but those who possess the power know that, despite their international reputation, the audience of these intellectuals is limited to a small fraction of people already convinced. Whatever their talent, their influence on the masses of electors will always be much lower than that of teleevangelists.”
But I knew Libero Zuppiroli was playful and his conclusion confirms this to me: this Empire will collapse as previously collapsed the Roman, Napoleonic and Soviet Empires. When? Nobody knows … but it will collapse victim of its Hubris …
Progress in science depends on new techniques, new discoveries and new ideas, probably in that order – Sydney Brenner All science is either physics or stamp collecting – Ernest Rutherford
I did not know much about genetics, except my data here and there about biotechnology startups. But thanks to his book The Gene, Siddhartha Mukherjee makes me feel I know much more. His brilliant storytelling is like a symphony, describing the early days of genetics, with Darwin and Mendel and the latest developments of this fascinating science. There are brilliant quotes like the two above, respectively page 202 and 221. And there are marvelous portraits.
I will only give a few of them, the pictures I mean, as a quiz…
But before letting you discover the names below, here is a short extract from The Gene, a famous anecdote about how Genentech was born…
And a great analysis of what science, technology and biology are:
“Do not be lulled by that description. Do not, gentle reader, be tempted to think – “My goodness, what a complicated recipe!” – and then rest assured that someone will not learn to understand or hack or manipulate that recipe in some deliberate manner.
“When scientists underestimate complexity, they fall prey to the perils of unintended consequences. The parables of such scientific overreach are well-known: foreign animals, introduced to control pests, become pests in their own right; the raising of smokestacks, meant to alleviate urban pollution, releases particulate effluents higher in the air and exacerbates pollution; stimulating blood formation, meant to prevent heart attacks, thickens the blood and results in an increased risk of blood clots to the heart.
“But when non-scientists overestimate complexity – “No one can possibly crack this code” – they fall into the trap of unanticipated consequences. In the early 1950s, a common trope among some biologists was that the genetic code would be so context dependent – so utterly determined by a particular cell in a particular organism and so horribly convoluted – that deciphering it would prove impossible. The truth turned out to be quite the opposite: just one molecule carries the code, and just one code pervades the biological world. If we know the code, we can intentionally alter it in organisms, and ultimately in humans. Similarly, in the 1960s, many doubted that gene-cloning technologies could so easily shuttle genes between species. By 1980, making a mammalian protein in a bacterial cell, or a bacterial protein in a mammalian cell, was not just feasible; it was, in berg’s words, rather “ridiculously simple”. Species were specious. “Being natural” was “often just a pose”. [Page 408] […]
“Technology, I said before, is most powerful when it enables transitions – between linear and circular motion (the wheel), or between real and virtual space (the Internet). Science, in contrast, is most powerful when it elucidates rules of organization – laws – that act as lenses through which to view and organize the world. Technologies seek to liberate us from the constraints of our current realities through those transitions. Science defines those constraints, drawing the outer limits of the boundaries of possibility. Our greatest technological innovations thus carry names that claim our prowess over the world: the engine (from ingenium, or “ingenuity”) or the computer (from computare, or “reckoning together”). Our deepest scientific laws, in contrast, are often named after the limits of human knowledge: uncertainty, relativity, incompleteness, impossibility.
“Of all the sciences, biology is the most lawless; there are few rules to begin with, and even fewer rules that are universal. Living beings must, of course, obey the fundamental rules of physics and chemistry, but life often exists on the margins and interstices of these laws, bending them to their near-breaking limits. The universe seeks equilibriums; it prefers to disperse energy, disrupt organization, and maximize chaos. Life is designed to combat these forces. We slow down reactions, concentrate matter, and organize chemicals into compartments, “It sometimes seems as if curbing entropy is our quixotic purpose in the universe,” James Gleick wrote.” [Page 409]