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Grammar and Entrepreneurship

I usually start every entrepreneurship class or seminar I teach by asking each of the participant to quickly give me, by turns, a synonym of entrepreneurship. The idea, until now, was to get a feeling of how much the students knew about entrepreneurship (and entrepreneurs) by analyzing the meanings of the words they gave me, and use that as a starting point for my “demystification”.

Last week, I was giving a 3 hours seminar to Supélec last year engineering students and of course I asked my synonym question as the beginning. But while I was writing down the words on the board I realized that some of them were nouns, some were adjectives and some were verbs. So instead of looking at the words’ meaning, I decided to do a little statistic on the word’s class.

Out of 11 participants in the classroom:

  • 7 of them gave me nouns (like “adventure”, “risk” or “financing”);
  • 2 of them gave me adjectives (like “energetic”);
  • and 2 of them gave me verbs (like “innovate”).

As crazy as it sounds, it made me realize that the words’ classes were even more representative of what students feel about entrepreneurship than their meanings.

Why? Well, as you know, nouns are usually used to describe concepts and since 60% of the class used nouns as synonyms of entrepreneurship, it seems that entrepreneurship is still very conceptual to them. Adjectives are used to describe a particular quality so for 20% of the class, entrepreneurship describes a behaviour (most probably of someone they know or how they imagine entrepreneurs). And since verbs typically express action, for just 20% of the class, entrepreneurship is about action.

For all you entrepreneurs that read me, you surely have realized by now what my point was: entrepreneurship is first and foremost about action, not about concepts and not about behaviour (perhaps a little though). Well, at least, this is how I started my seminar :)


Focus on the road, not the wall

I’m almost done with Ben Horowitz’s book, the hard thing about the hard things, but before posting a full book review I just wanted to share what I consider the best quote from the book:

Focus on the road, not the wall. When someone learns to drive a race car, one of the first lessons taught is that when you are going around a curve at 200 mph, do not focus on the wall; focus on the road. If you focus on the wall, you will drive right into it. If you focus on the road, you will follow the road. Running a company is like that.


Rethinking programming with EVE

Light Table co-founder Chris Granger has announced last week a $2,5M seed funding for a new project called EVE. In a nutshell, EVE wants to bring the power of computation to everyone, not by making everyone a programmer but by finding a better way to interact with computers.

On the surface, Eve will be an environment a little like Excel that allows you to “program” simply by moving columns and rows around in tables. Under the covers it’s supposed to be a powerful database, a temporal logic language, and a flexible IDE that allows users to build anything from a simple website to complex algorithms.

Several big-name investors have gotten behind EVE: Y Combinator president Sam Altman, Sep Kamvar and Andreessen Horowitz have participated to the round. It’s very interesting to see A16Z as an investor of EVE. This makes perfect sense with their previous investment in IFTTT which allows users to create “recipes” in which an action on one service can trigger an action on another entirely different service.

I’m absolutely amazed by these new projects (check out also Stamplay) aiming at making the power of computer programming accessible to (almost) everyone. With software being omnipresent in our lives, I was worried that just one type of people (computer programmers) had to power to shape how we interact with connected devices. Now, people with diverse backgrounds will be able to program computers. I think it’s good for diversity.

On a side note, the geek inside me is a bit sad to see the level of abstraction going up with programming. I’m part of generation who learned programming with assembly and C and really got to the bottom of it. All the new languages and IDEs will still leverage these low-level languages but I fear that less and less CS engineers will master them, driving scarcity with engineers who do.

Paul Graham – How to start a startup

Paul Graham, Y Combinator founder (and former boss) recently gave a guest lecture in Sam Altman’s startup class at Stanford. It’s intended for college students, but much of it is applicable to potential founders at other ages. The video of the lecture can be found here but PG also summarized it in an essay.

For those who don’t have the time to watch/read the whole thing, my favorite quotes are below:

Startups are very counterintuitive. It’s like skiing in that way. When you first try skiing and you want to slow down, your instinct is to lean back. But if you lean back on skis you fly down the hill out of control.

The way to succeed in a startup is not to be an expert on startups, but to be an expert on your users and the problem you’re solving for them.

If you start a startup, it will take over your life to a degree you cannot imagine. And if your startup succeeds, it will take over your life for a long time: for several years at the very least, maybe for a decade, maybe for the rest of your working life. So there is a real opportunity cost here.

Do not start a startup in college […]. You can do things in your early 20s that you can’t do as well before or after, like plunge deeply into projects on a whim and travel super cheaply with no sense of a deadline.

At its best, starting a startup is merely an ulterior motive for curiosity. And you’ll do it best if you introduce the ulterior motive toward the end of the process.

Programming finally making sense for the masses

An Internet of Things startup, IFTTT (If This Then That), announced last week it had raised $30 million in funding, its largest round yet, from the venture capital firms Norwest Venture Partners and Andreessen Horowitz. Yet another IoT startup? Well, basically IFTT is more or less a giant switchboard to connect disparate services, anything from Facebook to text messages to telephone calls. Users can create “recipes” in which an action on one service can trigger an action on another entirely different service.

You can, for example, connect your Instagram and Dropbox accounts to IFTTT and make a recipe that uploads any new Instagram photo to your Dropbox online storage account. More interesting, IFTTT supports a list of connected objects which you can also include in recipes. Like connecting your Jawbone UP to Belkin’s WeMo to turn on space heater when you wake up.

Of course, anyone with a background in technology understands this is simple programming. You get two APIs and write a very simple program to trigger an action (If This Then That). What I find wonderfully clever with IFTTT is that it makes this simple programming not only understandable by the masses but also easily actionable.

This, for me, is the highest programming abstraction I have ever seen and and I can’t wait to see more and more similar applications.

The advent of new super-villains?

I recently watched back to back videos from Larry and Sergey (interviewed by Vinod Kohsla) and from Mark Zuckerberg (interviewed by Paul Graham). While I can’t recommend you enough to watch these videos as they offer rare insights from the leaders of the most powerful tech companies out there, I couldn’t help notice how brilliant these guys are.

Throughout history, successful leaders have always derived their power from strength, ruthlessness and sometimes birth right. But very rarely from intelligence. It seems to me that it’s the first time ever that more and more powerful leaders are emerging because of their intelligence. This makes me wonder: what happens when super intelligent people are super powerful?


Inspiration of the day #8

David Heinemeier Hansson on stage at RailsConf 2010 in Baltimore MD.Unlearn your MBA

In this great video from Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship corner, David Heineimeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and partner at Basecamp (formerly 37signals), says that planning is guessing, and for a start-up, the focus must be on today and not on tomorrow.

He argues that constraints–fiscal, temporal, or otherwise–drive innovation and effective problem-solving.

The most important thing, Hansson believes, is to make a dent in the universe with your company.

Inspiration of the day #7

The Other Side of InnovationThe Other Side of Innovation

Companies can’t survive without innovating. But most put far more emphasis on generating Big Ideas than on executing them—turning ideas into actual breakthrough products, services, and process improvements.

That’s because “ideating” is energising and glamorous. By contrast, execution seems like humdrum, behind-the-scenes dirty work. But without execution, Big Ideas go nowhere.

In The Other Side of Innovation, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble reveal how to execute an innovation initiative—whether a simple project or a grand, gutsy gamble..

Practical and provocative, this book takes you step-by-step through the innovation execution process—so your Big Ideas deliver their full promise.

Inspiration of the day #6

Elon MuskElon Musk, the real-life Tony Stark.

This great interview of Elon Musk by Google Ventures’ Kevin Rose, as part of the Foundation series, disclose some of Musk’s ambitions and goals in his two current ventures SpaceX and Tesla. Great watch.