Video from yesterday’s Hackathon. Thank God for iMovie. Click here for larger resolution version.
Video from yesterday’s Hackathon. Thank God for iMovie. Click here for larger resolution version.
While over two thousand years of philosophical firepower has largely been aimed at explaining the universe, the world and things in the world, very little ammo has been deployed to explore the nature of “being” itself. For many philosophers in the pre-Heideggerian era, the concept of “being” was a given that was not worth exploring. This “question of being” remained largely uncharted territory until Martin Heidegger made it a focal point of his multi-decade career in Germany as an existential and phenomenological philosopher. A foundational pillar of Heidegger’s “question of being” was the notion that time is a critical ingredient in the phenomenon of what he referred to as “dasein” (the German word for existence) or the state of being. For Heidegger, time plays an integral role in what it means to exist, drawing paradoxically from its both infinite and finite nature and the tension that that causes for the temporal beings who experience it. On one hand, we have to come to terms with our own mortality and acknowledge that we will one day die, while on the other acknowledging that time appears to be an infinite phenomenon without a distinct beginning or end, only with a past, present and future.
One aspect of time in particular that Heidegger was interested in was the notion of “public time”. For Heidegger, time is a “sequence of nows which is not arbitrary but whose intrinsic direction is from the future to the past”. In other words, we experience a series of moments in the present—what Heidegger calls ‘nows’—which are experienced in relation to a moment that has already passed—the past— and a moment that we are still anticipating—the future. These three elements are inextricably linked to each other and cannot be pulled apart. Imagine trying to conceptualize the notion of the future without being able to experience what is happening now; or imagine trying to understand what is happening in the present without any memories from the past to inform how you got there, who you are, or where you came from. These three elements constitute the three legs of a stool upon which the notion of “being” can rest.
Time is more than just something we experience; time is also a tool that we use to organize our lives, collaborate with each other and share our sets of “nows” with others. The clock is a mechanical manifestation of this shared sense of time, or “public time”. Heidegger explains that, “time itself does not lie in the clock, we assign time to the clock” with it’s arbitrary values of seconds, minutes and hours. By assigning time to a clock whose outputs can be publicly shared, we unlock the possibility for sharing our nows with others and chronicle-ing them with a standardized method of measurement. Living in a modern society where almost every edifice from our bodies, to our cars, to our buildings are covered in clocks which constantly remind us of our temporality, we tend to take the notion of public time for granted.
But does this mean that time is only truly experienced publicly? I would argue, and I think Heidegger would agree, that time is only fully experienced in the sense that it is experienced publicly. Take, for example, a man who, abandoned at a young age, lives in complete solitude in the middle of the woods. He has no contact with other people, with technology (including clocks) or the outside world and goes about his day hunting for food, building shelter, resting and sleeping. In this scenario, there is no “public time”, no shared “now” for there is no one to share his “nows” with, just a series of nows that are experienced singularly without respect anyone else. For this solitary man, time is not experienced in the way that we experience it; we experience time in a context of simultaneity where our sense of time is constantly interplaying with others’ and where these intersections are governed by the universal standard of world time. For the solitary man alone in the woods, he experiences time without context—he doesn’t have friends to compare his standard of living to, he doesn’t have aging parents who are battling health problems, he doesn’t have children whose future he can fight for. Without the layer of simultaneity that gives our lives much of his context, he is not forced to confront his own temporality and mortality on a daily basis as we are.
For us, this context of simultaneity creates the possibility for things like historicity, to be in a collective moment or to live during an era. Think of the feeling in the country after 9/11. In the wake of the attacked on September 11th, the country collectively and simultaneously experienced a series of nows in which we felt ‘united’; it’s telling that we use numbers, like the date “nine-eleven” to symbolize the shared sense of nows that many Americans experienced during that time. Similarly, the phrase “roaring 20s” evokes imagery of gilded opulence, flapper girls and packed speakeasiess that filled a series of collectively shared moments that came to comprise that particular era. In The Concept of Time, Heidegger says that, “In research into history we find relevant but as yet quite unclarified phenomena, such as that of generations, of the connection between generations, phenomena which are tied in with these phenomena we are dealing with”. The concept that a generation, or, for our purposes, a group of people who cohabitate spacetime and a series of present ‘nows’, is only possible in a world with simultaneous, public time. These concepts provide us with information about where we fit into a larger story that is taking place in the world and thereby inform the very core of our identity and of our being. Just as it is difficult to define time without any reference to myself, it is difficult to define myself without any references to the times in which I live: I was born in 1986. I am part of generation Y which was born between the late 1970s and 2000. I grew up in the 1990s during a time of relative peace and prosperity. I came of age in the 2000s and am now in my mid 20s. If you were somehow able to remove these elements from my identity, then I wouldn’t be much different than the solitary man in the woods. Contextless. Storyless.
The concept of simultaneity illustrated by these two examples is different than that put forth by Sir Isaac Newton in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Newton believed that simultaneity in the physical realm, that is the occurrence of two distinct events in two separate locations at the same time, was absolute, independent of the observer’s perception and could only be explained mathematically. Einstein’s theory of relativity proved Newton’s theory of simultaneity wrong; because space and time are connected and because spacetime makes time relative to the observer, simultaneity is also relative. In The Concept of Time, Heidegger says that, “Space is nothing in itself; there is no absolute space… Time too is nothing. It persists merely as a consequence of events taking place in it”. Heidegger goes on to say that, “There is no absolute time, and no absolute simultaneity either”.
Relative time and relative simultaneity however give the observer a framework for understanding his world. By fixing arbitrary values to now-moments through the clock and the calendar, we can demarcate those events which were earlier than others: the Depression was before World War and II which was before the attacks on September 11th, 2001. What is important is not that the second tower in the World Trader Center fell at 10:28AM at the exact same time as some other event was happening in the world, but that public time gives us a broad consensus about the order in which events especially major historical events, have occurred. This consensus about the order of events allows us to come up with plausible and rational explanations for why things are as they are—even if there isn’t complete agreement about why things are as they are—which can be comforting, on some level, given our need as Dasein to rationalize everything. While our experience of these events may be relatively different for each observer, the importance of relative simultaneity is that it allows us to validate eachothers’ perceptions of reality with a close enough approximation of how things actually happened.
Heidegger’s work underscores the extent to which we often take for granted the role that time, and specifically public time, plays in our perception of reality and our state of being. Simultaneity and the simultaneous experience of our ‘nows’ with others adds a critical layer to our lives that makes it possible to more fully grasp our heritage, our place in the world now and the prospects for our future. As temporal beings, we struggle with the paradoxical nature of our own existence and of our of own mortality. Where did I come from? What is my place in the world? What will happen after I die? Simultaneity doesn’t answer these questions for us, but it gives us a framework and a context through which we can tackle these questions and discuss them with others. To that extent, we can be somewhat grateful for the comfort that public time and simultaneity can give us if we choose to use it to our advantage.
As humans, we are junkies for innovation. It is our drug. We find it fascinating to watch and contagious to be around. We dedicate significant portions of our lives to participating in a continuous, cross-generational struggle to push the envelope without really knowing why. It’s almost as if it’s been programmed into our DNA from the beginning of time: pioneer, go West, press onward into the unknown. The word “innovation” itself conjures up imagery of Henry Ford’s factories cranking out thousands of identical, black Model Ts or a long-haired Steve Jobs tinkering with his co-founder Steve Wozniak in his parents’ garage in Cupertino, California. Here in Silicon Valley we live at the epicenter of innovation—an unrivaled ecosystem where capital, talent, educational institutions, engineers and entrepreneurs have coagulated in a small area between the 101 and 280 freeways in North California. And it’s here in Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Francisco that we build the towering digital skyscrapers of our era—the Googles, Facebooks and Apples.
Where does innovation come from? And how does it get to scale so that millions can reap the benefits? Iterative progress comes in all shapes and sizes and from all corners of the earth, from the smallest street vendor in India to the largest publicly traded corporations in Europe and America. But there’s something magically anomalous about the small, lean, scrappy startup team that facilities the types of big innovations that ultimately matter. The reason? Speed. A small, hungry team of young, Ramen-fueled entrepreneurs (or politicos) can move so much faster than a large corporation (or campaign) that the innovation fight isn’t even a fair one. They can pivot faster from idea to idea to find product-market fit, they can have meetings walking down University Avenue in their flip-flops and they don’t have to send their decision making through a red-tape laden bureaucratic machine moves at a crawl. In the speed game, size is synonymous with slow. Here in the Valley, we use another word for innovation that I think more accurately describes the process we will be talking about in this paper and where it comes from. Disruption. The mental I picture I get when I hear disruption is a little less Henry Ford and a little more like a band of rebels taking on a gigantic market, destroying incumbents and generating inordinate profits.
It is the David vs. Goliath saga that we’ve seen repeated throughout history: a 19 year old Mark Zuckerberg takes on the biggest social networks circa 2004, sends them into the ash heap of history and grows Facebook to nearly a billion users; a small team of 12 developers sells Instagram for $1 Billion dollars in less than two years; a young blogger named Nate Silver turns the political prognostication game on its head by accurately predicting the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections; and a young upstart United States Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama takes on the Clinton Political Machine to win the Democratic Primary and the Presidency, twice. The challenger beats the incumbent. The underdog beats the favorite. The rebel beats the establishment.
What’s interesting about these four stories is that none of these remarkable insurgencies even existed ten years ago. Recently, author Thomas Friedman who wrote The World Is Flat was talking about how much had happened in the world since he first published the book back in 2005. Friedman pointed out that if you flip to the back of the book to the glossary and look under the letters “Fa” there isn’t even a mention of Facebook—because it didn’t exist yet (at least not as we know it today). “In 2005 when The World is Flat was published, Facebook didn’t exist; tweet was a sound; LinkedIn meant in jail; and Skype was a typo”. We live in a world that is changing faster than we can imagine, but we are also living in an age were information spreads so fast that mediocrity is exposed instantaneously and only the best products and candidates can rise above the noise. In a recent blog post called The Age of Excellence, Jason Calacanis, a celebrity entrepreneur in the tech world, wrote, “We’re moving to a world where founders either win it all or win nothing. A world where restaurants like 800 Degrees and Milo Olive have a line out the door while nearby empty restaurants enter death spirals that only Gordon Ramsay can reverse. If your product sucks, it’s over. Transparency is a bitch.”
Having a good product isn’t enough. It has to be great. In the examples mentioned above, great teams, superior technology and raw execution were critical ingredients to victory. But these ingredients are just table stakes for competing in a world of 24/7 innovation; the leaders of all four of these teams also exhibited a level of confidence and contrarian penetrate a barrage of criticism and naysaying with contrarian thinking to disrupt incumbents, get traction with customer and voters and win out the day. In each case, better technology, a superior understanding of the market (or electorate) and aggressive execution in the face of skepticism has catapulted these once small ventures to the forefront of our cultural consciousness and the heights of our political system.
Amazing view from the Tahoe house.
So where can I buy one of these?
There is a serious mustache-off going down on Fox News…
Every four years during the summer we get to witness one of the most over-the-top spectacles that mankind has ever constructed. No, I’m not talking about the Olympic Games. I’m talking about the all important Vice Presidential pick that non-incumbents face after they secure their party’s nomination. It’s the kind of thing that everyone has an opinion on—of one sort or another—over a beer or the water cooler. Maybe its “I hate the Republicans” or “That Christie guy is fat” or “Who the f*** is Joe Biden?”—but an opinion nonetheless.
Now I’m not here to advocate for the Romney-_______ (fill in the blank) ticket. You can make up your own mind on that. But I would like to break down the veepstakes on a purely strategic level based upon what Mitt Romney’s thinking process should be if he wants to win.
The top eight contenders on Mitt Romney’s shortlist for VP according to Intrade.
Vice Presidential picks usually come in two forms: ticket reinforcers and ticket compliments. If you pick a ticket reinforcer, you double down on the strengths at the top of your ticket. For Mitt Romney, picking a ticket reinforcer would be mean picking someone with strong executive and/or business experience, possibly a governor, possibly richer than George Soros. A ticket compliment would be someone who brings a different narrative to the table. Possibly someone with grassroots tea party support and isn’t from the north east.
In choosing the optimal running mate possible, we need to first make several assumptions about who Mitt Romney is as a candidate, and be brutally honest about it.
Based upon these four characteristics of Mitt Romney the Presidential candidate, I believe that he has to choose a running mate that compliments him two ways: 1) someone who offsets his boringness with authenticity and charisma and helps come up with an effective message, which he has yet to do, and 2) someone who has much more grassroots conservative appeal so we can drive up enthusiasm with the base. To clarify, ticket compliments and ticket reinforcement are not always mutually exclusive; you can have a running mate with elements of both. In the thumbnails above, I have isolated out the top eight prospects on Intrade for the veep slot and I am going to rank them in order of who best fits the aforementioned running mate model.
#1 Governor Chris Christie: Chris Christie is by-and-large (no pun intended) a ticket reinforcer. He is the Governor of a northeastern state with strong executive experience who won election in one of the bluest states in the country. But that’s where the similarities end. Christie compliments Romney in two of the best ways possible because they are his two weakest areas: 1) he is the most exciting rising star in the Republican party with a full spectrum of support across the party and 2) he is the best person in the GOP at messaging - period. Some critics of the Christie choice have said they think that Christie would overshadow Romney. I don’t share that concern and think there is very little downside risk with this choice. Christie is a smart guy and a savvy politician; he knows when to make a media spectacle and when to keep quiet. Also, he will remain the Governor of New Jersey if the ticket were to lose and will be in good position to run in 2016 with a broader base of support and more name ID. My last argument is simple: Chris Christie vs. Joe Biden in a VP debate? Sounds like the brawl of the century. I think the odds of Christie being asked are around 50% but the odds of him saying yes are much lower.
#2: Senator Marco Rubio: I think the second best choice is Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio seems to be the name mentioned most often and for good reason. He is in many ways the perfect compliment to Romney. A Senator from the key swing state of Florida, Cuban and a tea party favorite, Rubio ticks a lot of the boxes that you would want to tick in crafting a fairly ideal Vice Presidential candidate. Rubio is already really strong on messaging - not as strong as Chris Christie - but not bad considering how relatively young he is in political terms. I think the main downside with Rubio is obviously his inexperience, but I’m not sure it’s a deal breaker because Romney has enough chops in the competence department for two. Although I think Rubio should be very high on the list, I have a suspicion that the chronically overly-cautious Romney campaign might not pull the trigger, which would be a shame. I think Rubio’s odds of being picked are around 25-30%.
#3 Rep. Paul Ryan: Although I think Paul Ryan is an unlikely pick, he is certainly a dark horse contender, mainly because of his conservative credentials and the fact that Mitt Romney is a big Ryan fan. It’s no surprise really - both are economic policy wonks who can talk you ear off about drivers of our debt, tax rates and entitlement reform. Ryan is also from the crucial swing state of Wisconsin, though given his bold stance on entitlements he doesn’t exactly enjoy broad support amongst Independents and Democrats (though he should). I don’t think this pick is going to happen but my hope is that Romney will embrace the Paul Ryans, Rand Pauls and Allen Wests of the world make them is go-to-guys in the House and Senate. I think the odds of a Ryan pick are below 5%.
#4: Senator John Thune: A name that isn’t mentioned very often but should be is Senator John Thune of South Dakota. He rose to prominence back in 2004 when he beat longterm incumbent Democrat and minority leader Tom Daschle. Back in 2006 when I was an Intern at the White House, I remember meeting him and Jim DeMint at the pizza place next to the Heritage Foundation and chatting for about 30 minutes. He is a very impressive guy, solidly conservative and would appear to be a pretty natural fit for Romney’s personality. South Dakota isn’t exactly a battleground state, so no bonus points there but I think that is a fairly secondary concern at best. Main drawback here is that he is relatively unknown. I think John Thune’s odds of being picked are below 5%.
#5 Governor Bobby Jindal: Bobby Jindal is an interesting character for a lot of reasons. He is an Indian American governor from the deep southern state of Louisiana. He is fairly popular in his state and has helped curb a lot of the states problems; however, it was a shame a few years back when he was slated to give the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech and we watched with horror as he totally botched it. I think Jindal has a bright future in the GOP, but I do not think he is a good choice for Romney this time around. I think the odds of Jindal being chosen are below 5%.
#6 Condoleeza Rice: A name that has recently popped up in the news and is perennially mentioned for both the Presidential and Vice Presidential slots is former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. On the positive side, she is very smart and has a great story. On the negative side, I think she is too closely tied to Former President Bush and the War in Iraq. As my friend Alex Khan pointed out though, it’s not as if President Obama has done anything but continue George Bush’s foreign policy to the letter. I personally think that the recent buzz about Condoleeza on DrudgeReport is nothing more than just part of the media circus the Romney campaign is drumming up to build momentum, but serious people think she really is on the short short-list. Although I think this is a bad choice for Romney, I do think there is about a 15-20% chance that this pick will happen.
#7 Tim Pawlenty: Former Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota is a nice guy with a decent record and is by no means a bad Republican but I think he reinforces Mitt Romney’s negative characteristics as a candidate. 1) He is really boring and 2) he is a white Governor from a north midwestern state. Even the ticket name Romney-Pawlenty sounds like a mouthful. On one hand, we bore Independents and moderates with this choice and get no juice with the base to compensate for it. I see a contraction of the pool of potential voters with a Pawlenty ticket rather than expansion. Now I have a lot of respect for Pawlenty for bowing out of the race early and backing Romney and think he would make a great Cabinet Secretary, but as a Vice Presidential choice, he just doesn’t make any sense. I think there is a 10% chance that Romney will pick Pawlenty, mainly because I don’t think the Romney campaign shares my views above.
#8 Rob Portman: Senator Rob Portman, the junior Senator from Ohio, comes in last place for me. I think Rob Portman is the prototype of the exact wrong decision to make. It’s the decision that so “safe” and “cautious” that it actually has the complete opposite effect of turning people off and turning them away. The first problem with Portman is that he’s been in Government since like 1993 and was inextricably linked to the Bush administration, serving as White House Counsel, the President’s Chief Lobbyist, U.S. Trade Representative and then the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Like Mitt Romney, Portman is also a rather wealthy guy with a net worth of around $75M - which I think is great - but from an optics standpoint won’t look good next to Romney’s $250M+ in wealth. This is a bad choice all around but I fear that there is a 10-15% chance Portman will get a call.
I tend to look at Romney’s VP decision on a Christie-Rubio to Pawlenty-Portman spectrum, with the former being optimal and the latter being highly problematic. The VP choice is an election with one voter - Mitt Romney himself - so at the end of the day it will all come down to what he wants. My fear is that the Romney Campaign’s predisposition towards caution will push them towards the Pawlenty-Portman side of the spectrum, which could doom the campaign before we leave the convention in Tampa. Romney’s advisors need to be direct with him about the four points mentioned above. They need to look him in the eye and say, “Look, you’re boring and moderate. The public see’s you as boring and moderate. But they also see you as wicked smart (smaaht in Bostonian), so if we pick someone to compliment your competence and moderate politics, we can crush Obama”. If no one in the Romney campaign has the courage to face reality, we could end up with a sub-par VP pick in a year where the running mate could make all the difference.
Sometimes impatience can be a virtue in its own right. Simply put, being impatient is one of the best catalysts for taking action that wouldn’t normally be that urgent.
After four plus years of working in the tech space in one form or another (web design, iOS development, enterprise software etc.)—and always being on the biz dev/marketing/sales side of the equation—I’ve gradually moved closer and closer to the conclusion I reached several weeks back: I need to learn to program.
Startup people usually fall into two buckets: builders and sellers. But in the early stages of a startup (read: prospective company), marketing and sales just don’t matter. If you are a non-technical, business-oriented founder, its really easy to convince yourself otherwise. You can spend a lot of time working on the periphery of what actually matters—building decks, designing logos, constructing product positioning. These things are still important and can ultimately make a big difference in how successful your startup is. But you can’t put the cart before the horse until you’ve determined you’re building something people actually want.
Steve Blank defines a startup as “a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model”. In other words, a small group solely dedicated to running back-to-back experiments until they find something that works. In my mind, I picture a team of oil drillers in a dry desert. They pick a square piece of land (a space in the market) and start drilling holes all over kingdom come until they find some evidence that they should stay in that spot and keep drilling. The faster they can fail, the faster they can hit black gold, or in reality product/market fit.
Which brings us full circle: the only way to truly test whether you are building something people actually want is to put it in the hands of real people. Which means you have to build it. You. Have. To. Build. It.
Now this doesn’t mean that you have to set out to become a full-stack software engineer. I know I will never reach that level and that’s not my goal. The goal is to be able to build prototypes that people can touch and experience. I’m a seller by nature and always will be, but to be a better co-founder, I want to be a seller who can build. If you can put a team together of sellers who can build and builders who can sell, I believe you are exponentially increasing the chances that you can run enough experiments in a market to find a reason to keep drilling.
The process of converting yourself into more of a builder may seem really daunting at first. But if you are in the same boat I’m in, I would encourage you to look back at your time on the Internet over the years and you may know more about programming than you think. I remember having a MySpace page a million years ago. I was unsatisfied with how it looked and remember trying to hack those ugly ass themes from one of those generators so it wouldn’t look like complete shit. It was a bunch of trial and error—messing around with widths, divs and switching out images—but it was programming. Then during the web design days, I remember being impatient waiting for programming changes to get done, so I would log into cPanel, open various .html files and figure out how to make the change myself. It wasn’t perfect, but it was programming. See where I am going with this?
I’m only 4 week into this process so I can’t offer any advice as someone who has successfully crossed the coding chasm, but I can tell you what I’ve been doing and maybe you can give it a shot. My strategy has been two fold: 1) to build an actual iOS app using Xcode to get hands on coding experience and 2) read several books to gain a theoretical understanding of programming to anchor my learning.
Two books I’ve been reading are:
Practical Programming: An Introduction To Computer Science Using Python and Head First Programming which also uses Python as a baseline. As far as hands on programming, I’ve been working my way through the Xcode tutorials and Google’s App Engine Tutorial. I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made so far and am hoping to have the app fully built by the end of the summer.
Pic with Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney at Alex Spanos’ house in Stockton, California.
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Almost everyone and their grandmother has weighed in on the Instagram acquisition over the last 24 hours, which demonstrates the extent to which tech startups have made it into the mainstream consciousness of our culture (in part thanks to ‘The Social Network’). There is compelling Aaron Sorkin-esque storyline behind the Instagram acquisition: company sells for $1B with zero revenue in two years flat. It’s impressive to say the least and, of course, controversial. But the real story is the fact that Instragram built and scaled their service to thousands of users with just a dozen people. Do the math on that. $1,000,000,000 / 12 person headcount = approx. $83M per head. That is just fucking nuts.
The Instagram acquisition provides us with yet another proof point for a very big trend in tech. The cost of starting AND scaling startups going down = dramatically more leverage for entrepreneurs.
10 years ago, entrepreneurs with an idea and a Powerpoint presentation had to go to the VCs on Sand Hill road and basically ask for permission (read: $5M) to start their companies and hire the 20 engineers needed to work on a prototype. Today, two twenty something year olds can get free office space, free hosting and start building their prototype on a shoestring Rammen budget—funding the entire venture on their credit cards. The reduced cost in getting started has unleashed a dramatic shift in leverage away from investors and towards entrepreneurs. Sweat, not money, is where the power lies now.
This shift in power represents a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs—a sort of modern day tech gold rush. Unlike the frothiness of the late 1990s, the Internet has matured as a platform and become ubiquitous in every household and on every mobile phone. The catch 22 here is that there will be a dramatic rise in the number of founders (see Naval’s post on why we have a shortage of engineers in the Valley) which will inevitably lead to a lot more companies being created and destroyed—capitalist creative destruction on steroids. This is not a bad thing. The net effect is positive because there will be more product experiments going on simultaneously, more companies achieving product-market fit, more value created, jobs created… you get the picture. However, it does mean that if you are a founder, you are going to have to spend much more time picking your market to avoid the “me too, also ran” syndrome.
As in all things tech, everything I am saying in this post will probably be irrelevant in 6-12 months, but it will be fascinating to watch how this power shift plays out.