Category Archives: Must watch or read

Apple and its first investors : hilarious!

This morning, I was participating to a workshop about startups and one question came about the relationships with investors entrepeneurs are trying to attract and invest in their company. I told them it could be frustrating for many reasons, often because VCs never say no but decline too often to invest too. The best illustration comes from Something Ventured, a documentary movie I never stop celebrating. The Apple case is close to being hilarious. You find the extract beginning around minute 51 in the video:


and here is the text: [Narrator] In 1976, the computer was about to get personal. […] For venture capitalists, this represented the opportunity of a lifetime.

[Perkins Chuckles] We turned down Apple Computer. We didn’t – We didn’t even turn it down. We didn’t agree to meet with Jobs and Wozniak.
[Reid Dennis] Oh, that would have been a fabulous investment if we had made it, but we didn’t. We said, “Oh, no, we’re not really in that business.”

[Pitch Johnson] “How can you use a computer at home? You’re gonna put recipes on it?”

[Bill Draper] I sent my partner down to look at Apple. He came back and he said “Guy kept me waiting for an hour, and he’s very arrogant.” And, of course, that’s Steve Jobs! I said, “Well, let’s let it go.” That was a big mistake.

[Narrator] In 1976, the only people who believed in the personal computer… were the geeks and nerds who gathered at Homebrew Computer Clubs.

[Bushnell, founder & CEO of Atari] They needed an investment, and, uh, they offered me a third of Apple Computer for $50,000… and I said, “Gee, I don’t think so.” I could have owned a third of Apple Computer for $50’000. [Sighs] A big mistake. But I said, “Call Don Valentine.”

[Valentine] So we had our meeting. I went to Steve’s house. And we talked, and I was convinced it was a big market… just embryonically beginning. Steve was in his Fu Manchu look, and his question for me- “Tell me what I have to do to have you finance me.” I said, “We have to have someone in the company… who has some sense of management and marketing and channels of distribution.” He said, “Fine. Send me three people.” I sent him three candidates. One he didn’t like. One didn’t like him. And the third one was Mike Markkula. Mike Markkula worked for me at Fairchild before he went to Intel.

[Markkula] I said, “Okay.” ‘Cause that’s what I did on Mondays. I was retired. [Chuckles] I think I was 32 when I retired from Intel. But one day a week, I would help people start companies and write business plans. I did it for free, just for the interaction with bright, uh, people… So I went over and talked to the boys. [Laughs] The two of them did not make a good impression on people. They were bearded. They didn’t smell good. They dressed funny. Young, naive. But Woz had designed a really wonderful, wonderful computer. […] And I came to the conclusion that we could build a Fortune 500 company in less than five years. I said I’d put up the money that was needed.

[Narrator] Mike Markkula came out of retirement, becoming the president and C.E.O. of Apple. And the first call he made was to Arthur Rock. Arthur would have missed Apple if it weren’t for Mike Markkula.

[Rock] Jobs and Wozniak came up to see me, and they were very unappealing. Goatee, long hair [Muttering] Markkula said, “Well, before you make up your mind, there’s a computer show. You ought to come down and see what’s going on.” And he did. He thought somethin’ was happenin’. He wasn’t quite sure what. And there was this booth with everybody around it. I couldn’t even get next to it. And it was the Apple booth.
Then I got a call from Don Valentine. [Chuckles] “I want to put some money in that company” I said, “Okay, you gotta come on the board then.”
You know in the venture capital business, if you look at 200 deals, and you, you might do 10 of’em, and you will think they’re all great, and if one of’em is great, then you’re in the hall of fame.

Just in case, a little more about something ventured from my blog in 2012: https://www.startup-book.com/2012/02/08/something-ventured-a-great-movie/.

Finally, let me remind you of other “missed deals” in another recent post: The amazing challenge of finding great startups.

The Microchip Revolution (Appendix) – Intersil

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was a little desperate to find specific information about Intersil that would allow me to illustrate its shareholding when it went public.

You can skip this very anecdotal narrative which is probably above all an archive for me, but which also shows that you always have to persevere. Note that each country has a register of companies, more or less rich in information, sometimes for a fee, sometimes free. In the USA, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC – www.sec.gov) provides access to all documents about public companies (i.e. listed on a stock exchange). In contrast, private companies (not listed on a stock exchange) are not obliged to publish any information, especially financial. (And I would add that Private Equity – of which venture capital is a part – only finances private companies, i.e. unlisted).

The SEC provides a service – EDGAR – free of charge for all documents published up to the mid-1990s, 1996 to be precise, I think. The SEC sold the pre-1996 documents for around $40-60 and then handed the service over to Thomson Reuters (then Refinitiv) a few years later – a privatization of “public service” and the price rose to $80 then $120-140 per document…

On October 4, I contacted Thomson Reuters asking for the IPO prospectuses of IDT, Lam Research and Intersil.

While I got the first two almost immediately, on October 7 I got a question as an answer for Intersil that asked me to choose a document from the following table:

The question was unsettling because Intersil was not Harris and I wanted a document dated 1972. There should not have been earlier documents.

Intersil was founded in 1967, went public in 1972 and was reportedly acquired in 1981 by General Electric (GE) and in 1988 by Harris (that’s it!) which combined Intersil with units from RCA and GE. In 1999, Harris made Intersil a spin-off which went public again in 2000… In 2017, Japanese company Renesas bought Intersil.

In explaining this situation to the SEC, a second research led them to offer me these documents:

Buying 2 documents at that price made me hesitant. So I needed more information. I contacted individuals:
– Christophe Lecuyer, author of Making Silicon Valley, Innovation and the Growth of High Tech, 1930-1970
– David Fullagar, formerly at Intersil,
– Michelle Lowry at Drexel University,
– Josh Lerner and Paul Gompers at Harvard University,
– Jay Ritter at University of Florida,
as well as institutions:
– The Computer History Museum in San Jose, CA (https://computerhistory.org/)
– The libraries of Stanford University, Harvard University
– The WRDS service at Wharton (Wharton Research Data Services), the business school of the university of Pennsylvania

Most answered even if they had no information. This is the American culture: people try to help, often by giving new names or leads. I must in particular thank Jay Ritter who wrote back immediately: “My records have Intersil going public on Jan 20, 1972 at $14 per share. The first market close may have been $12.00. But I have less information about this company than most IPOs from 1972.” then later “In another file I found that it had ticker ISIL, listed on Nasdaq, might have been a General Electric spinoff, but was VC-financed with Diebold Venture Capital Corp., RCA Corp., Sutter Hill Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Mayfield II, Citicorp Venture Capital, and Small Business Enterprises (Bank America) as investors, Bache was the lead underwriter, and sold 360,000 shares at $14 per share (352,000 newly issued, with 8,000 from selling shareholders).”

Interestingly there are mixed information about 2 different IPOs not to say companies. But I had my date! January 20, 1972.

On October 11, I could contact again Refinitiv and my contact answered “Please allow at least 2-3 hours for this process.” The next day, “They need to scan the microfiche for the document of Intersil. [But] it seems that they are having trouble on finding it.” And the next day, I finally had it which made possible the next table:

Remember Bauer and Wilder have dedicated their book to Jean Hoerni : “This book is dedicated to Jean Hoerni, the inventor of the planar process; without which none of this would have been possible. Hoerni became an entrepreneur and owned about a quarter of Intersil IPO. This is uncommon and huge for a founder. You my not know the investors, this was the sixties. But Arthur Rock is a legend (an investor in Intel, Apple – see my next post!) and Fred Adler is also famous, though to a lesser extent. These were the early days of startups and venture capital, but fundamentally, everything was being invented then and the rules are pretty much the same today.

The Microchip Revolution (Final Part)

I just finished reading The Microchip Revolution about which I wrote for posts here, there and there. This is a beautiful recollection of what Silicon Valley brought to the world. The revolution began with the Traitorous Eight who looked like this when young

and like that a few years later (from the New York Times Julius Blank, Who Built First Chip Maker, Dies at 86)

Fairchild Semiconductor’s founders in 1988. Victor Grinich (left), Jay Last, Jean Hoerni, Julius Blank, Eugene Kleiner, Sheldon Roberts, Robert N. Noyce (seated, left,) and Gordon E. Moore. Credit: Terrence McCarthy

I could not finish this history witout some cap. tables, the ones of companies mentioned here, that I could build: Intel, AMD, Cypress, IDT, Lam Research. I desesperately looked for data about Intersil, but neither the SEC nor Thomson Reuters could help me. Will you?





and as a postcript on Oct 13. 2020, Micron Technology, which had every unusual local investors from Idaho with a convertible loan structure:

The Microchip revolution (part III) : the maturity

You will find part I here and part II there. If the 60s were the early days which ended with the oil crisis in 73, the maturity came in the 80s with a second crisis coming from Japanese competition.

There was still a lot of uncertainty as the authors show in the chapters dedicated to Cypress, IDT, Micron. For example:

Another example about the uncertainty around which technology was superior for memory products at the time is that in 1986, when I was a founder of a semiconductor startup company with a business plan predicated on making bipolar RAM products. This was Synergy Semiconductor. We were funded by two premier Sand Hill Road venture capital firms, Sequoia Capital and Mayfield Funds. Even these supposedly smart VC partners couldn’t predict the superiority of the MOS technology in the memory chip business. Rodgers and Cypress made the correct bet on CMOS. It is also interesting that Sequoia Capital invested in Synergy with bipolar technology and Cypress with CMOS technology, thereby covering their bets. (Synergy never went public, struggled for 10 years and was eventually bought by Micrel.)

Intel didn’t believe that they needed CMOS for their memory or processor products for years. They knew that CMOS was a more complex process, and therefore more expensive, and they were not yet dealing with the high-power limitations of their process. Intel did not switch to CMOS for memory products until 1986. [Page 260]

Entrepreneurship is the ability to face these uncertainties and also to act by taking risks:

I already knew that [Rodgers] was a special guy, very smart, in great shape, from running every day and probably a risk taker, but this was nuts [diving in a dangerous place in Hawaii]. What if the timing was wrong and he gets sucked into the tube? How will I get help, it is a 15-minute walk over lava. But he did it. And then he jumped it. He did it twice! This event defines Rodgers. He is self-assured, even egotistical, but able to back up his decisions with actions and willing to take risks even if the parameters are not totally known. Shortly after the lava leaping escapade, he quit AMD and started Cypress Semiconductors. [Page 252]

While he was still at AMD, [Rodgers] got a call from a venture capitalist who was doing reference checks on an executive and inventor while at Fairchild and who also trying to raise money to start a new business. This got Rodgers thinking: “If this guy can raise money and start a new business, why can’t I do it?” And he began exploring the possibility of doing just that. [Page 253]

This reminds one of my favorite quotes ever, from Tom Perkins the famous P in KPCB (Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers): The difference is in psychology: everybody in Silicon Valley knows somebody that is doing very well in high-tech small companies, start-ups; so they say to themselves “I am smarter than Joe. If he could make millions, I can make a billion”. So they do and they think they will succeed and by thinking they can succeed, they have a good shot at succeeding. That psychology does not exist so much elsewhere.

The Microchip revolution (part II) : the very early days

If you missed Part I, it’s here. All the culture of Silicon Valley was born in these early years. Here are a few examples.

In the early days of the semiconductor, it was mainly about high-quality research: With an absentee boss, Sherman Fairchild, on the East Coast, the group could focus mainly on doing pure research, with no boss to bug them. Their main direction came from intense competition between each other. No VC or corporation would finance anything like this now! [Page 14] The authors are right. Only Google maybe is doing it with or without VC or boss approval and peer pressure is similar.

They finally make and ship their first product in 1958, 100 transistors to IBM. [Page 17]

Jack Kilby was awarded the Nobel prize in physics in 2000 for the invention of the integrated circuit. Unfortunately Bob Noyce had died 10 years earlier and Jean Hoerni passed away 3 years earlier. The Nobel prize is never awarded posthumously. The scientific community informally agreed that both Kilby and Noyce had invented the chip and that they both deserved credit. [Page 21]

Chapter 2 is about a non-startup, Hughes Research Labs, based in Los Angeles.

We did not have stock options; few of us even knew what they were. [Page 48]

Having dynamic leaders who gave free rein to ambitious young engineers and scientists meant that the engineers and researchers were stimulated by competition among themselves rather than by management layers above, which helped create an explosion of papers and patents. However, in both cases [at Fairchild and Hughes RL], the transfer of technologies from R&D to production was not easy. Although they were distinctly different organizations, both were very large corporate structures. But in the case of HRL, having R&D and production in the same physical location meant that discussions between the two groups were quite frequent.

Another difficulty was the lack of stock option program at HRL. This definitely caused significant personal turnover, especially among the non-attached young scientists who were hearing about the new utopic world, and its lucrative stock option packages, up in Silicon Valley. [Page 67]

Chapter 3: Intersil, a lost opportunity.

Another genealogy of Silicon Valley and extracted, the impact of Jean Hoerni.

Intersil was founded by Jean Hoerni, one of the eight traitors. The early days are best described as a mix of genius and chaos. The two most versatile personalities were Jean Hoerni and Don Rodgers, the VP Sales and also ex-Fairchild. Hoerni with 2 PhDs in physics was a shy genius quite the introvert but given to unpredictable mood swings. Rodgers was an extrovert. He came from the rough and tumble, hard-drinking, hard-living Fairchild sales team of the 1960s. One of the early frustrations was the ineffectiveness of the marketing department. [Page 71]

Hoerni’s contentious and rebellious personality often appealed to the young managers and engineers who were also looking for the next opportunity and also rejected conformism and authority, in part to the traumatism of the Vietnam war.

When I [Luc Bauer] started working with Hoerni, he strongly advised me not to be blindly loyal to any company, but only to my own ambition and goals. He said that if your employer doesn’t help you reach them, then you better change companies or start your own because life is too short.
[Page 74]

But Bauer talks about a missed opportunity and the reason follows: just have a look at the revenue growth of Intersil (founded in 67, IPO 72) and Intel (founded in 68, IPO 71):

Joe Rizzi, one of Intersil founders summarized his seven years at Intersil with two words: Lost opportunity. He said that all, or most of the seven product categories could have become sizeable businesses on their own, given enough care and focus to nurture their growth.
At the time, uncertainty in the market pushed to diversity of products. Intel’s narrow product focus was a risky gamble.
[Page 102]. Intersil had $572M in sales in 2014 and was acquired by Renesas in 2017. Intel is now a $71.9B business…

Guy Kawasaki – Make Meaning in Your Company

This morning I was participating to a workshop when a debate started about why making a startup. The best answer I know is from Guy kawasaki:


A presentation by Guy Kawasaki for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program Educators Corner in the School of Engineering at Stanford University. October 20, 2004.

Guy Kawasaki is among other things the author of a great book, the Art of Start

An example of his greate advice below is how to make a 10-slide great presentation of a company pitch:
Art of Start – Kawasaki

The Microchip Revolution by Bauer and Wilder (part I)

I felt a but of nostalgia when I received the following email : “The idea of doing a book on semiconductor startup had been teasing me for a while, I finally found a longtime buddy who has been okay with doing this book over the past 2 years. We were greatly assisted in this mission by the Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, CA. The book focuses on the period from the late 1950s to the late 1990s, about the development history of MOS and CMOS industrial processes mainly but not only from the point of view of managers, but also workers in fab and fab managers that we were at the time. We describe the development of 9 companies that we knew well and that had developed original technologies: Fairchild, Hughes, Intersil, Eurosil, Intel, AMD, IDT, Cypress, and Micron. The title is The Microchip Revolution – A Brief History.” [1]

I met Luc Bauer in the early 2000s when investing in a startup he was a business angel in and a mentor. I remember how he lectured me saying that Kleiner Perkins was much more professional than we were! Luc is a gentleman which does not mean he cannot be tough when he is frustrated; when people have been working hard in Silicon valley like he did, they can be really tough! But we stayed in touch and I was so happy to begin reading his book a few days ago.

SiliconValleyGenealogy-All

This is a poster about the Silicon Valley Genealogy of semiconductor startups from the mid 50s to the mid 80s. This is what Luc is writing about through 9 companies which I am pretty sure are on this poster. By the way, Luc is there too.

His book begins with Fairchild and the Traitorous Eight and it makes sense as it is at the beginning of the genealogy. By the way the book is dedicated to one of the eight traitors, Jean Hoerni, A Swiss national and one of the rare people I have heard about with 2 PhDs. Luc has the same double culture and double education (BS, EPFL Lausanne and MS, PhD Caltech)

So here are a few excerpts: “A good part of our motivation [for writing the book] was to relive the intensity in our lives when we started in this industry: the endless and stressful hours of looking for yield crash factors, the great excitement and shouts of joy when you see a brand new integrated circuit product coming alive and functioning perfectly when the “hot out of the furnace” processed wafer is put for the first time on the electrical test prober. Another great motivator for us was to propagate an important story to younger generations, that working in high technology fields is hard and exhausting, but also a source of joy and pride as it is easy to see the impact of your hard work on the company you work for and possibly on the workd you live in.”

Let me put this again below, in bold this time:

Another great motivator for us was to propagate an important story to younger generations, that working in high technology fields is hard and exhausting, but also a source of joy and pride as it is easy to see the impact of your hard work on the company you work for and possibly on the workd you live in.

More to come I am sure!

[1] The real email was in French: “L’idée de faire un livre sur le démarrage des semi-conducteurs me taquinait depuis un moment, j’ai finalement trouvé un copain de longue date qui a été d’accord de faire ce livre avec mois ces 2 dernières années. On été beaucoup aidé dans cette mission par le Computer History Museum (CHM) de Mountain View, CA. Le livre se concentre sur la période entre la fin des années 50 jusqu’à la fin des années 90, sur l’histoire de développement des processus industriels MOS et CMOS principalement mais pas seulement du point de vue des chefs, mais aussi des travailleurs de fab et managers de fab que nous étions à ce moment. On décrit le développement de 9 compagnies que nous connaissions bien et qui avaient développé des technologies originales: Fairchild, Hughes, Intersil, Eurosil, Intel, AMD, IDT, Cypress, et Micron. Le titre est The Microchip Revolution – A Brief History.”

Grothendieck, a genius

I’ve written about Grothendieck here before, through two books about this mathematical genius published shortly after his death: Alexandre Grothendieck, 1928 – 2014. Summer is an opportunity for listening to radio broadcasts and I had the pleasure to rediscover this extraordinary character, first of all through Alexandre Grothendieck : un mathématicien qui prit la tangente initially broadcasted in La conversation scientifique in 2016 on French radio, France Culture,

and then by listening (while writing this post) to Alexandre Grothendieck ou le silence du génie first broadcasted in 2015 in Une vie, une œuvre, on the same radio.

From one thing to another, I downloaded Récoltes et semailles, a 929-page document written between 1983 and 1986 by the mathematician. You can download the pdf in French. Just as Perelman, Gödel or Erdős, for us, simple mortals, we can believe that genius rubs shoulders with madness and the journey, the life of these creators will undoubtedly remain mysteries forever.

I read a few dozen pages of this book and Chapter 2.20 fascinated me. I suggest you read it. I find this extract quite admirable and translated it with my limited means…

2.20 A shot look at the neighbors across the street

The situation seems to me very close to the one which arose at the beginning of this century, with the emergence of Einstein’s theory of relativity. There was a conceptual dead end, even more blatant, materializing in a sudden contradiction, which seemed irresolvable. Of course, the new idea that would bring order to the chaos was one of childish simplicity. The remarkable thing (and conforms to a most repetitive scenario…) is that among all these brilliant, eminent, prestigious people who were suddenly on their teeth, trying to “save what there was to be saved”, no one thought about this idea. It had to be an unknown young man, fresh from the benches of student lecture halls (maybe), who came (a little embarrassed perhaps at his own audacity…) to explain to his illustrious elders what had to be done to “save the phenomena”: one just had to separate space from time [68]! Technically, everything was gathered then for this idea to hatch and be welcomed. And it is to the honor of Einstein’s elders that they were indeed able to welcome the new idea, without resisting too much. This is a sign that these were still a great time…
From a mathematical point of view, Einstein’s new idea was trivial. From the point of view of our conception of physical space, however, it was a profound change, and a sudden “change of scenery”. The first mutation of its kind, since the mathematical model of physical space released by Euclid 2400 years ago, and taken up as is for the needs of mechanics by all physicists and astronomers since antiquity (including Newton), to describe terrestrial and stellar mechanical phenomena.
This initial idea of Einstein was subsequently much developed, embodied in a more subtle, richer and more flexible mathematical model, using the rich arsenal of already existing mathematical notions [69]. With the “generalized theory of relativity”, this idea broadened into a vast vision of the physical world, embracing in one look the subatomic world of the infinitely small, the solar system, the Milky Way and distant galaxies, and the path of electromagnetic waves in a space-time curved at each point by the matter which is there [70]. This is the second and last time in the history of cosmology and physics (following Newton’s first great synthesis three centuries ago) that a broad unifying vision has emerged, in the language of a mathematical model, of all the physical phenomena in the Universe.
This Einsteinian vision of the physical universe was in turn overwhelmed by events. The “set of physical phenomena” which it is a question of reporting has had time to expand since the beginning of the century! There have emerged a multitude of physical theories, each to account, with varying degrees of success, for a limited set of facts, in the immense mess of all “observed facts”. And we are still waiting for the daring kid, who will find by playing the new key (if there is one…), The dreamed “cake model”, who wants to “work” to save all phenomena at once… [71]
The comparison between my contribution to the mathematics of my time, and that of Einstein to physics, was imposed on me for two reasons: both work was accomplished through a mutation of our conception of “space” (in the mathematical sense in one case, in the physical sense in the other); and both take the form of a unifying vision, embracing a vast multitude of phenomena and situations which heretofore appeared to be separate from one another. I see there an obvious kinship between his work [72] and mine.
This relationship does not seem to me to be contradicted by an obvious difference in “substance”. As I hinted earlier, the Einsteinian mutation concerns the notion of physical space, while Einstein draws from the arsenal of already known mathematical notions, without ever needing to expand it, or even upset it. His contribution consisted in identifying, among the mathematical structures known of his time, those which were best suited to [73] serve as “models” for the world of physical phenomena, instead of the dying model bequeathed by his predecessors. In this sense, his work was indeed that of a physicist, and beyond that, that of a “philosophy of nature”, in the sense in which Newton and his contemporaries understood it. This “philosophical” dimension is absent from my mathematical work, where I have never been led to ask myself questions about the possible relations between the “ideal” conceptual constructions, taking place in the Universe of mathematical things, and phenomena that take place in the physical Universe (or even, lived events taking place in the psyche). My work has been that of a mathematician, deliberately turning away from the question of “applications” (to other sciences), or “motivations” and psychic roots of my work. Of a mathematician, moreover, driven by his very particular genius to constantly expand the arsenal of notions at the very basis of his art. This is how I was led, without even noticing it and as if playing, to upset the most fundamental notion of all for the surveyor: that of space (and that of “variety”), that is our conception of the very “place” where geometric beings live.
The new notion of space (like a kind of “generalized space”, but where the points which are supposed to form the “space” have more or less disappeared) does not resemble in any way, in its substance, the notion brought by Einstein in physics (not at all confusing for the mathematician). The comparison is necessary on the other hand with quantum mechanics discovered by Schrödinger [74]. In this new mechanism, the traditional “material point” disappears, to be replaced by a kind of “probabilistic cloud”, more or less dense from one region of ambient space to another, depending on the “probability” that the point is in this region. We feel, in this new perspective, a “mutation” even more profound in our ways of conceiving mechanical phenomena, than in that embodied by Einstein’s model – a mutation which does not consist in simply replacing a somewhat mathematical model, narrow at the armatures, by another similar one but cut wider or better adjusted. This time, the new model resembles so little the good old traditional models, that even the mathematician who is a great specialist in mechanics must have felt suddenly disoriented, even lost (or outraged…). Going from Newton’s mechanics to Einstein’s must be, for the mathematician, a bit like going from the good old Provencal dialect to the latest Parisian slang. On the other hand, to switch to quantum mechanics, I imagine, is to switch from French to Chinese. And these “probabilistic clouds”, replacing the reassuring material particles of yesteryear, strangely remind me of the elusive “open neighborhoods” that populate the topos, like evanescent ghosts, to surround imaginary “points”, which still continue to cling to and against all a recalcitrant imagination…

Notes :

[68] This is a bit short, of course, as a description of Einstein’s idea. At the technical level, it was necessary to highlight what structure to put on the new space-time (it was already “in the air”, with Maxwell’s theory and Lorenz’s ideas). The essential step here was not of a technical nature, but rather “philosophical”: to realize that the notion of simultaneity for distant events had no experimental reality. This is the “childish observation”, the “but the Emperor is naked!”, which made cross this famous “imperious and invisible circle which limits a Universe”…

[69] These are mainly the notion of “Riemannian manifold”, and the tensor calculus on such a manifold.

[70] One of the most striking features which distinguishes this model from the Euclidean (or Newtonian) model of space and time, and also from Einstein’s very first model (“special relativity”), is that the global topological form of space-time remains indeterminate, instead of being prescribed imperatively by the very nature of the model. The question of what this global form is strikes me (as a mathematician) as one of the most fascinating in cosmology.

[71] One called “unitary theory” such a hypothetical theory, which would manage to “unify” and to reconcile the multitude of partial theories of which it was question. I have the feeling that the fundamental thinking that awaits to be undertaken, will have to be placed on two different levels.
1_) A reflection of a “philosophical” nature, on the very notion of a “mathematical model” for a portion of reality. Since the successes of Newtonian theory, it has become an unspoken axiom of the physicist that there exists a mathematical model (or even a single model, or “the” model) to express physical reality perfectly, without “detachment” no burr. This consensus, which has been law for more than two centuries, is like a sort of fossil vestige of a living Pythagorean vision that “Everything is number”. Perhaps this is the new “invisible circle”, which replaced the old metaphysical circles to limit the Universe of the physicist (while the race of the “philosophers of nature” seems definitively extinct, supplanted handily by that of computers…). As long as one likes to dwell on it for a moment, it is quite clear, however, that the validity [of] this consensus is by no means obvious. There are even very serious philosophical reasons which lead to questioning it a priori, or at least to providing very strict limits to its validity. It would be the moment or never to submit this axiom to a tight criticism, and perhaps even, to “demonstrate”, beyond any possible doubt, that it is not founded: that there does not exist a unique rigorous mathematical model, accounting for all the so-called “physical” phenomena listed so far.
Once the very notion of “mathematical model” has been satisfactorily identified, and that of the “validity” of such a model (within the limits of such “margins of error” admitted in the measurements made), the question of a “unitary theory” or at least that of an “optimum model” (in a sense to be specified) will finally be clearly stated. At the same time, one will probably also have a clearer idea of the degree of arbitrariness which is attached (by necessity, perhaps) to the choice of such a model.
2_) It is only after such reflection, it seems to me, that the “technical” question of identifying an explicit model, more satisfactory than its predecessors, takes on its full meaning. It would then be the moment, perhaps, to break free from a second tacit axiom of the physicist, going back to antiquity, and deeply rooted in our very way of perceiving space: it is that of continuous nature of space and time (or space-time), of the “place” therefore where “physical phenomena” take place.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, leafing through the modest volume constituting Riemann’s complete work, I was struck by a remark from him “by the way”. He observes that it could well be that the ultimate structure of space is “discrete”, and that the “continuous” representations which we make of it perhaps constitute a simplification (excessive perhaps, in the long run…) of a more complex reality; that for the human mind, “the continuous” was easier to grasp than “the discontinuous”, and that it serves us, therefore, as an “approximation” for understanding the discontinuous. This is a remark surprisingly penetrating into the mouth of a mathematician, at a time when the Euclidean model of physical space had never before been questioned; in the strictly logical sense, it is rather the discontinuous which, traditionally, has served as a technical method of approach to the continuous.
Developments in mathematics in recent decades have, moreover, shown a much more intimate symbiosis between continuous and discontinuous structures than was previously imagined in the first half of this century. Still, to find a “satisfactory” model (or, if necessary, a set of such models, “connecting” as satisfactorily as possible..), that this one be “continuous”, “discrete” “or of a” mixed “nature – such work will undoubtedly involve a great conceptual imagination, and a consummate flair for apprehending and updating mathematical structures of a new type. This kind of imagination or “flair” seems rare to me, not only among physicists (where Einstein and Schrödinger seem to have been among the rare exceptions), but even among mathematicians (and here I speak with full knowledge of the facts).
To sum up, I predict that the expected renewal (if it has yet to come…) will come more from a mathematician at heart, knowledgeable about the great problems of physics, than from a physicist. But above all, it will take a man with “philosophical openness” to grasp the crux of the matter. This is by no means technical in nature, but a fundamental problem of “philosophy of nature”.

[72] I make no claim to be familiar with Einstein’s work. In fact, I haven’t read any of his work, and only know his ideas through hearsay and very roughly. Yet I feel like I can make out “the forest”, even though I’ve never had to make the effort to scrutinize any of its trees. . .

[73] For comments on the qualifier “moribund”, see a previous footnote (note page 55).

[74] I think I understand (by echoes that have come back to me from various sides) that we generally consider that in this century there have been three “revolutions” or great upheavals in physics: Einstein’s theory, the discovery of radioactivity by the Curies, and the introduction of quantum mechanics by Schrödinger.

Researchers and entrepreneurs: it’s possible! (part 2)

A second post about this enlightening book after this one. A multitude of quotes that make this book really fascinating. The importance of the human component; entrepreneurship is not a science after all. The experience of the field probably counts as much as the academic knowledge, the adventures are unique in spite of their common features. Here are some new examples:



“The first meetings with investors are dialogues between human beings: they will see in you the person who takes risks, who has the ability to develop a strategy and execute plans. Three major criteria are of interest to investors: the team, in particular the CEO [Chief Executive Officer] who creates and inspires the company on a daily basis, and then the product and size of the potential market.”
Pascale Vicat-Blanc.

“It is essential to open your idea, your project as soon as possible. The upstream contacts are very rich and can be quite simple”. Stéphane Deveaux. [Page 43]

“The creation of a company is first and foremost a work of definition and development of an offer and the positioning of this offer in the market”, explains Éric Simon. “I met a company that was immediately very enthusiastic. We had to solve many technical challenges that we had not encountered in the world of research. [But this first big client] led us into a dead end. […] I stood firm and remembered that even if you have an important client, you must immediately diversify so as not to be at his mercy.” [Page 55]

While market research and marketing training are often present in incubators, know-how is sometimes difficult to transfer. Researchers-entrepreneurs insist on the importance of the field. “So we did a lot of interviews, visits to customers, prospecting to really know our market. This is the best market research compared to buying ready-made studies.” Benoit Georis, Keeno [Page 61]

There arethen discussions about the relative importance of public and private investors, a phenomenon so specific to France. Yes an exciting book!

Researchers and entrepreneurs: it’s possible!

Here is a book that I just discovered about stories of startups in the French digital field, those from Inria, the national institute (for research in computer science and automation) dedicated to digital sciences. It’s written in French ans is entitled Chercheurs et entrepreneurs : c’est possible !

I have read only a few pages so far but the quotes I read are so meaningful that I cannot help but extract some examples:

“Our friends were creating their business in Silicon Valley, like Bob Metcalfe with 3Com or Bill Joy with Sun. I had toured groups I knew on the other side of the Atlantic, at MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, explaining our project to them, their positive reaction reinforced the idea of getting started.” Silicon Valley was often a source of inspiration …

“What interested me was not doing research in itself, it was advancing technology to solve real problems. We had more and more funding; we have made satellite configurators for aerospace, ports, buildings and a strategic simulator for nuclear submarines” says Pierre Haren, the founder of Ilog. The product yes, but above all for customers …

“By definition, [we were] a high-tech company. [… but] As in any creation, at the beginning, we do everything even cleaning the floor! We took care of the commercial approach, of the optimization of the offer, and even of the premises. When we take care of a society, we are never quiet, we never take it easy. Whether we are ten or ten thousand people, the person in charge is always in the mine,” according to Christian Saguez, founder of Simulog and he further adds “My first advice to hesitant researchers is to take the step of creating without seeking comfort at all costs. You learn life and it’s all the beauty of doing business. With Simulog we had to invent everything and the model worked.”

There are many great lessons: I will certainly finish it soon. Thanks to Laurent for the gift 🙂

PS: I use that post about Inria entrepreneurs to mention Entrepreneurship Support at and around Inria as of October 2019