Testament or Testimony ? Lessing, Reich, Grothendieck, Jobs, Arles

August is a good time to look back at things. It’s when I was thinking of this, that I wondered if there was a common etymology to Testament & Testimony. Apparently, there is not. Whatever… 1370 posts since July 2007 (in fact close to 700 as the blog is bilingual French-English, that’s about one per week), about 600 comments (ah ah!) and a lot of lessons.

August was also special on different sides, particularly cultural… I’ve been reading The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, a remarkable novel. Here is an extract: The Communist Party, like any other institution, continues to exist by a process of absorbing its critics into itself. It either absorbs them or destroys them. I think: I’ve always seen society, societies, organized like this: a ruling section or government with other sections in opposition; the stronger section either ultimately being changed by the opposing section or being supplanted by it. But it’s not like that at all: suddenly I see it differently. No, there’s a group of hardened, fossilized men opposed by fresh young revolutionaries as John Butte once was, forming between them a whole, a balance. And then a group of fossilized hardened men like John Butte, opposed by a group of fresh and lively-minded and critical people. But the core of deadness, of dry thought, could not exist without lively shoots of fresh life, to be turned so fast, in their turn, into dead sapless wood. In other words, I, ‘Comrade Anna’ — and the ironical tone of Comrade Butte’s voice now frightens me when I remember it — keep Comrade Butte in existence, feed him, and in due course will become him. And as I think this, that there is no right, no wrong, simply a process, a wheel turning, I become frightened, because everything in me cries out against such a view of life

This reminded me another post dated May 2009 about innovation and revolution which I found a little similar. “Entrepreneurs are the revolutionaries of our time.” And he had added: “Democracy works best when there is this kind of turbulence in the society, when those not well-off have a chance to climb the economic ladder by using brains, energy and skills to create new markets or serve existing markets better then their old competitors” You’ll find it here, Entrepreneurs and Revolution. And also a quote from the autobiography of Malcolm Little , which I had copied in my book. “When he was still at school, he wrote, his teacher asked him what he would like to become as an adult. A lawyer, he answered. Uncomfortable with his answer, she told him he’d rather think about becoming a carpenter thanks to his manual skills, but also because of his status. From that day on, he decided not to listen to such advice”.

August was also the opportunity to see some of the Rencontre photographiques in Arles.

A few exhibitions, from left to right and top to bottom: Masculinities, Pieter Hugo, Jazz Power!, Sabine Weiss, The New Black Vanguard, Thawra! ثورة Revolution!, Desideration (Anamanda Sîn)

Street artists have also been active in August. Just have a look at Banksy or Invader. Artists show the world as it is, the crises, more and more of its diversity, its uncertainties too. Transmission, accepting to disappear have been recurrent topics here, a rather darwinian view of the world. And that’s why I would just like to mention again a few other important quotes to me:

Reich_Listen_little_man

“I want to tell you something, Little Man; you lost the meaning of what is best inside yourself. You strangled it. You kill it wherever you find it inside others, inside your children, inside your wife, inside your husband, inside your father and inside your mother. You are little and you want to remain little.” The Little Man, it’s you, it’s me. The Little Man is afraid, he only dreams of normality; it is inside all of us. We hide under the umbrella of authority and do not see our freedom anymore. Nothing comes without effort, without risk, without failure sometimes. “You look for happiness, but you prefer security, even at the cost of your spinal cord, even at the cost of your life”. Wilhelm Reich already posted in March 2010.

sjobs

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs already posted in July 2007.

Finally, not a quote but an extract from a text about how Alexandre Grothendieck also discovered this painful passage from youth to future disappearance: In May 1968, the machine goes wrong. Shourik, as his relatives call him, goes to Orsay to dialogue with the “protesters”. The anar is scolded by the “enraged”. The outcast discovers he is a Mandarin. “After that, he was not the same” […] “It was a terrible slap, it was incredibly violent”. I spoke about this math genius in March 2016 and August 2020.

I finish this post which may look a little gloomy with a link to a very good article about trusting science: How to make the future more rational. It is optimitic, enthusiastic and shows that we can be realistic about the world, and our limits and still be positive and happy. Just a testimony or small, fragile testament.

Updated data in equity of 800 (former) startups

As you might know, I regularly compile capitalization tables from companies which filed to go public or were acquired with shareholder data. The last time I published posts about it was in April 2020 with 600+ such tables. I have now more than 800.

I just posted two articles using these updated data:
– The age of founders and non-founding CEOs on August 4,
https://www.startup-book.com/2021/08/04/the-age-of-founders-and-non-founding-ceos/.
– Employee ownership in startups – The stock option millionaire on August 6, https://www.startup-book.com/2021/08/06/employee-ownership-in-startups-the-stock-option-millionaire/.

The content is as follows:
– Individual cap tables: pages 8-834.
– Updated statistics: pages 835-850.
– Table of content: pages 851-860.

I do not plan to do a new analysis. The one with 600 was rich enough I think. Still the individual cap table are available here:
Equity List 800 Startups – Lebret – Aug2021

or on Scribd but you might need an account to fully benefit from them.

Here is the link to the document or to more similar ones on my Scribd account.

Employee ownership in startups – The stock option millionaire

August is a good month to look back at data and previous posts. I just published one about the age of founders. Here is a quick look again about what employees may gain in startups when succesful. In addition to hopefully what they do with more pleasure than in big established companies, they usually have access to stock options and one of the myths of Silicon Valley is that in the most succesful startups, everyone becomes a millionaire.

A few years ago, I published some data about employee onwernship based on 600 startups. Have a look here. I also commented a guide about stock options in Rewarding Talent – A guide to stock options for European entrepreneurs by Index Ventures.

So how much ownership an employee have in a startup. I looked at my 800-startup database, and built the following tables. Please go to the end of the post for another analysis.

The three tables show some nuances depending upon the field, geography and period but with an ownership around 0.1%, yes employees are close to being millionaires. Now as the next table show, the situation might be different depending who you are in the company from a manager to a junior.

This last table is an extended version from the one used in the presentation I make about equity sharing in startups:

The age of founders and non-founding CEOs

The age of founders has been a recurrent topic here as you might see from tag #age. In my analysis about hundreds of startups (822 at this time, and 600 lately), I just thought it would be interesting to check the correlation, if any, there might be between the age of founders and a CEO among these founders or not. Intuitively, one might think that the less experimented founders may induce a non-founding CEO. So here are the results:

The numbers speak and may seem counterintuitive. A majority (and often an overwhelming majority in the digital world) of startups have a founding CEO and the average age of founders is lower in this case. Question of dynamism, of envy of the team, I do not know …. Do not hesitate to react and comment.

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – final episode

Here is my last article on the excellent Entrepreneurship in action of which you will find the 5 previous articles with the tag #entrepreneurship-in-action. Here are some final notes:

The ingredients of success

But, those who fund this project are not doing it just for the skills and experience of the three entrepreneurs. They show other qualities that convince to follow them: their passion, their motivation, their ambition. Investors know that these qualities will allow the team to stay focused and better deal with the many uncertainties that lie ahead. To a student who asked a venture capitalist what are the three most important qualities that a project must have to be financed; he replied: the first is the team, the second is the team, the third is the team. Another joke, common in this industry, says that investors prefer to finance a good team with a bad project rather than the other way round (because a good idea carried by a team whose skills do not match those necessary to developing it is unlikely to go far; while a good team will always be able to modify, transform or change an initial idea of ​​low quality). The rest of the story shows that these statements, usually made in the tone of a joke, apply particularly well to Criteo and that those who make them, the venture capitalists, will have to believe in them and hold onto them firmly for several years. [Page 220]

Some criteria explaining success (according to one of the co-founders of Criteo):
– Have been able to focus on a single product
– Aim for excellence in all areas of the company
– Find the right cursor between managing daily problems and anticipating the future
– The ability to make difficult decisions
– Trust in technology

And finally Mustar returns to this process of innovation which looks like anything but a mechanical process:
– A long and winding process, made of many transformations
– An emerging process
– An experimental process
– A process filled with uncertainties, choices to be made, decisions to be made
– A collective process and a distributed action
– A social process

What is an entrepreneur? Are you born an entrepreneur or do you become one?

Mustar addresses in his conclusion a topic as old as startups with all the humility and caution, because it seems like we don’t really know (even if many claim they do know). Apart from the tautological definition, the entrepreneur is the one who creates (and builds) a business, it seems very difficult to find common traits and qualities specifically for entrepreneurs. Still, I am less confortable with his reminder of Peter Drucker’s claim. “Most of what you hear about entrepreneurship is all wrong. It’s not magic; it’s not mysterious; and it has nothing to do with genes. It’s a discipline and, like any discipline, it can be learned.” [Page 287]

I’m a little more comfortable with Komisar’s point of view in How Do You Teach High-Tech Entrepreneurship according to Randy Komisar.

There is no such thing as a monolithic entrepreneurial condition. Even among the very small number of first-time entrepreneurs I interviewed, there is a very diverse range of relationships with entrepreneurship. What characterizes them, beyond the great diversity of their profiles, their temperament, their way of behaving, is more a desire to do, to learn, to succeed, a great capacity for work, listening to others, ambition… but this is by no means specific to entrepreneurs. We find these same desires or aptitudes among employees, executives of large companies, philanthropic activities, athletes, artists, etc. [Page 289]

This journey with these young engineers allowed me to get rid of a conception of entrepreneurship that separates on the one hand an entrepreneur or a team, and on the other an activity of creating a new product and a company. The entrepreneur and the company are built together, in the same movement. [Page 290]

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 5

This new episode of Philippe Mustar’s book relates to the history of Criteo, a startup already mentioned on this blog here and there.

For once, I disagree slightly with a quote from the book (which is not from the author): “The profile of the team formed by the three creators of Criteo is a perfect example of the one described theoretically by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt (Professor of Management at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program) as “the best it can be.” Kathleen Eisenhardt, based on a lot of research on the subject, defines (somewhat mechanically she herself admits) what a great team is:
– it initially consists of three, four or five people. If there are only two, it is not enough because there are so many things to do in a start-up and above all, being two does not offer a wide enough diversity of opinions, of points of view. If there are six, seven or eight, it is no longer a team, it is a group whose management and coordination take too much time.
– it is multidisciplinary and transversal, that is to say it combines skills in engineering, marketing, finance. But, these skills must be real, that is to say not based only on a diploma, but on actual experience.
– it includes people who have already worked together, this is an important asset because the creation of a start-up is made up of stressful situations, which are easier to share with people you know.
– finally, and this is more surprising, the “best teams” are those which have people of various ages, not only young people in their twenties but also others who have more experience. This often allows you to see different aspects of the same problem.
For Kathleen Eisenhardt, teams that meet these criteria are the ones that perform best. ”
[Page 199]

As much as I can agree if we talk about the management team, I believe that at the time of creation, the founders have different pedigrees. As I wrote in my own book in 2008, “A start-up is a baby created by its parents – the founders. They are responsible for its development and to help it adapt to an evolving world. It does not mean that a founder has to give up control of his start-up. Would a parent give up his child just because he has no experience in feeding and educating? Is the analogy of little value? There is also a responsibility in succeeding in the development. Experts will be used, medical doctors, teachers for the child, professionals, and consultants for the start-up. The Google founders kept such “ownership” during the company’s growth. Eric Schmidt has become CEO but he is more a partner of the two founders. Start-ups seldom develop that well and investors sometimes have to make tough decisions when they take away the “parent” power from the founders. Investors do not like to do this in general and only do it when they consider it absolutely necessary. This is an ideal world but everyone knows reality is more complex”. And I could add, two parents is probably the ideal model.

On the other hand, I fully agree with the sources of innovation: The sociology of innovation has shown that the sources of innovation, like those of the Nile, are multiple and sometimes difficult to identify. It also pointed out that ideas for new products or services are the most common things in the world, and even that they are always bad, always poorly framed and approximate at the origin. As Bruno Latour says: “All important discoveries are born ineffective: they are hopeful monsters,“ promising monsters ”. [Page 251] and the French text by Latour http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-92-PROTEE.pdf . [A short parenthesis about Hopeful Monsters, a term I knew only from one of my favorite novels, and I blogged about it here.]

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 4

Following two previous articles here and there and there again about this very interesting book, here are a few more lessons.

About selling a product

Expliseat is as rich as DNAScript in lessons especially about the description of how 3 young people with no experience in the field will find and bring together the skills to design, produce and sell. We also see one of the founders leaving the ship without the adventure stopping and finally page 186: During these years, Benjamin also learned that the only economic argument (“we make you earn money”), and more broadly those which are purely rational, are not sufficient to convince the customer:

“If you come up with a purely rational product, it’s not a good product, because the buying process isn’t one hundred percent rational. It was important for us to understand this. With the […] then the […], we said: “this is the best […] on the market”, but for the customer, the best […] is also a [product] which is beautiful, which one desires, which inspires confidence … It requires commercial work on the product to make it attractive. The end goal is that people no longer just buy a [product], they buy [our product], something that is beyond the product, they buy a brand, an industrial experience, a purchasing experience, a customer experience, an after-sales service… This is typically what you do when you buy an iPhone, you don’t buy a phone, you buy an Apple, you buy an experience, well it’s the same thing in industry and B2B ”. [Pages 194-5]

The “process of innovation”

What surprises about this story is the apparent mix of genres: the [product] is not yet certified, nor realized and entrepreneurs are already selling it. We are witnessing a real whirlwind in which the team experiments, manufactures, sells, tests, collaborates with various actors, negotiates certification, modifies the project, transforms the [product], changes alliances, partners and market, goes back, takes a detour to a research laboratory abroad, develops a new prototype… We are far from the classic model of innovation, a linear model where distinct stages follow one another: research, then experimental development, prototyping, industrialization and, last step, commercialization. In such a process, the customer or user is passive, she or he enters at the end and the only room for maneuver is to accept or refuse the innovation.

This linear process is a kind of relay race where the end of one stage marks the start of the next stage; and, within the company, each of these steps is the result of a different department: research department, design office, production department, then marketing and commercialization … This sequential vision has been widely criticized by literature, whether it is evolutionary economic theories, the sociology of innovation or the management of technology.

About the market

Expliseat seems to be coming at the right time in their [market]. Often companies with their innovation arrive too late or too early in the market they are targeting. The Greek word kairos [1] qualifies this moment, it is the time of the right moment, the instant of the opportunity. [Pages 195]

[1] The Greek god Kairos is the winged god of opportunity, to be seized when it passes. He is represented by a young man who has only a tuft of hair on his head. As he passes nearby, either you don’t see him, or you see him and do nothing, or you reach out and grab his hair, thus seizing the possibility, the opportunity.

I’ll let you explore the author’s use of the Scrabble metaphor to show you that there is no real innovation process out there, nor opportunity there, but permanent construction from next to nothing.

About decision making under uncertainty

The founders’ ability to act is found in particular in the multiple choices they are faced with, and in the variety of options available to them. For what type of aircraft can this ultralight seat be produced? What form should this take? What materials to use? Which shareholders to bring into the capital? Where to install the company? Should we do it or have it done/outsourced? Which subcontractor to work with? Which research laboratory should be mobilized to solve a specific problem? Which engineer to recruit? What modifications should be made to the structure of the seat? With which industrial partner to enter into an alliance? Which business strategy to choose? Which business model to adopt? At what price to sell the seat? How to organize the business? Etc.

Along with the diversity of actors that we have highlighted, the process I am studying is also populated with a multitude of choices. These are many options that entrepreneurs explore. Here too, they are as much technical as they are economic, organizational or social. The story of Expliseat is the story of an expedition, its actors engage in unknown territory: which options to choose, which to close, which to open or re-open? “To govern is to choose”, says the maxim of the Duke of Lévis. Many options explored in this story lead to dead ends, others that will be exploited lead to failures, and finally others lead to success – and one could say, after the fact, but only after the fact, that “it was the right choice”. [Pages 203-4]

23andMe goes public (IPO) through a SPAC

DNA testing 23andMe, Anne Wojcicki‘s startup, just went public through a SPAC, Virgin Group Acquisition Company (VGAC) of Richard Branson.

So what is a SPAC? It took me some time to understand and I am still not sure about the details… If you are interested about general information, you may want to read the Wikipedia link below or the following articles:
OK, What’s a SPAC? from the New York Times, Feb. 2021 or
The Pied Piper of SPACs from the New Yorker, June 2021.

A standard IPO is a process where a private company becomes public by offering its existing shares for sale to the public with the possibility of creating new shares bought by the public at the IPO.

A SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company as explained on Wikipedia) is a process where an empty shell or “blank check” company is created by raising money on a public stock exchange, it becomes a public company with no activity and just new shareholders. Then it may acquire an existing private company by a negociation where the existing shareholders of the SPAC and of the private company agree on a balanced value between the two companies. By this reverse merger company, the private company becomes the public company and the SPAC name disappears.

So 23andMe followed such a process and I understood the following to build the cap. table of the new public company. VGAC, the SAPC, had raised $509M at IPO in October 2020. Then Richard Branson proposed to Anne Wojcicki to acquire 23andMe. It worked and they agreed on a price per share of $10, so that the $509M would give 50.9M shares to the VGAC shareholders.

23andMe had its own shareholders, including Anne Wojcicki (about 100M shares), Sequoia (24M shares), Glaxo (39M shares). There were shares detained by managers and board memebers and about 28M stock options too. (The two other cofounders are not mentioned in the IPO document.)

What makes it a little more complex is the additional fact that there was an “private placement” at the IPO of $250M at $10 per share, i. e. 25 new shares in the cap. table.

I am not full sure about all this. It could be that I am mixing the Private Placement, the SPAC shareholders and the 23andMe shareholders, but in a way this is a detail. Where I am confused is that the press annouces a value of $3.9B and I obtain $4.9B which the stock options are not sufficient to explain… Please react if you see a good explanation!

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 3

Here is episode 3 of my reading Entrepreneurship in Action by Mustar after episode 1 and episode 2.

I would like to mention what I consider an amazing coincidence in comparing two pages of Mustar’s book and the Google following short video.


There Larry page gives tips including:
Tip 2: There is a benefit from being real experts. Experience pays off.
Tip 3: Have a healthy disregard for the impossible. Stretch your goals.

About tip 2: “We worked on Google for many years at Stanford before we started the company. And that was a pretty nice position to be and we understood sort of all aspects in search. We talked about the search companies for many years. We really knew a lot about what’s going on. They can do that pretty cheaply, right? It’s just your labor, right? You can invest a year or two or three years and really learn something very, very well before you start having hundreds of people working on the problem.”

About tip 3: “I went to a leadership seminar once in Michigan where I came from and they have this great slogan which is, “Have a Healthy Disregard for the Impossible.” What this means is that, you really stretch goals that you’re not sure you can achieve but are sort of reasonable. You don’t want completely outlandish goals either. In fact one thing that I didn’t quite realize when I was starting Google is that it’s often easier to have aggressive goals. Now what that means is, a lot of time people take very specific things they want to do because they think they’ll be easier to attain. What happens if you’re being more specific, smaller markets and that kind of thing, you also get less resources.”

which I compare to pages 120-21:

About expertise: “To respond to these multiple questions, the trio meets many actors: “It was also important to speak very quickly to customers and experts in the field.” […] The team conducts a competitive watch to understand the positioning of the three major producers, but also the smallest that share the remaining 20% of the market. “I did all the fairs to understand how the sector works, how prices are fixed, what are the innovations in progress”. The objective for the trio is to differentiate its offer as much as possible from that of its future competitors.”

About the impossible: “During this period, as in the years that followed, many voices tell them that what they plan to do is not possible, that if we could […] the large companies that dominate the market would have already done it, that the development of industrial equipment is long and expensive and that they are subject to a tatillon certification process that the composite materials they hope to use will never pass. Last But Not Least, how young inexperienced and totally ignorant engineers of the sector could succeed in the giants of the sector, their tens of thousands of employees and their armies of experienced engineers.”

A final message from the founders of Expliseat which I find also very interesting: Unlike the entrepreneurship manuals which advise teams of founders to divide up the functions very early on, at Expliseat, during the first year of the project, the three entrepreneurs play all the roles at the same time. “Everyone does everything”. This is the formula they liked to repeat then.

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 2

Entrepreneurship in Action by Philippe Mustar is a really good book, as I had hinted in my previous post.

I just finished reading the analysis about DNA Script which I found very convincing. More than 70 pages describing an adventure which is built by moving forward often blindly, and with a lot of uncertainties. You learn by doing very often. Here is the concluding page which will hopefully make you want to read the full chapter.

Through discussions with them, the creators of DNA Script never gave the feeling or expressed the fact that they took any risks. Sylvain only sees risk as an opportunity cost for the entrepreneur: “the cost of time spent working on a project that may not work when we could have spent this time on another job or another project that would have worked better”. Thomas distinguishes between two types of risk. The first is linked to the psychological perception of failure, particularly by the entrepreneur’s entourage, which still exists in France but is declining. This type of risk was not very present for him. The second is the material risk.

“Normally, if you do things right, the material risk to each individual’s assets is well protected – even if sometimes entrepreneurs do stupid things. The material risk for people like us was having to find a job. That is all”.

Which wouldn’t have been difficult for the three engineers.

Becoming an entrepreneur, always according Thomas, is not so much taking risks as “getting out of your comfort zone”, and this in at least three areas: the need to learn, the responsibilities to be assumed and the amount of work to be done.

First of all, the first-time entrepreneur will have to learn a lot of things in a wide variety of fields. “You have to want to learn, to feel that your day is completed when you say to yourself that you have really learned things.”

Then, you must face strong responsibilities.

“In large companies, executives who hold important positions remain very protected by the organization; some have cost their companies huge amounts of money without real consequences. Conversely, Sylvain, Xavier and I, if the business goes badly, we are directly responsible for the job of the employees of the company, as well as for the money of our investors. Both have trusted us. This is a big responsibility. The company is a legal person, which has an interest that may be different from the interest of the manager or that of any of the employees. We are responsible for this legal person because today, without us, it cannot be autonomous. You have to constantly ask yourself: what is the best interest for the company?”

Finally, the entrepreneur must step out of his comfort zone, especially on the amount of work he has to accomplish. “There’s a monumental amount of work, all the time, at every moment, on very different things, it’s a huge mental load. They say success is 10% talent and 90% transpiration, that’s right.”