Startups 4 Good Podcast

February 20th, 2015 View Comments »

The podcast that I mentioned earlier, is off and running!  We’ve had 5 episodes published and plan to record 3 more in the next few days.  It’s been fun and a learning experience for me on many levels.

You can subscribe now or listen at Startups4Good.com.

If you have feedback or thoughts on future guests, would love to hear them.

The Lasater Entrepreneurship Fellowship

February 20th, 2015 View Comments »

Want to work with me?

I’ve announced the The Lasater Entrepreneurship Fellowship.  A 12+ month hands-on experience starting and running a real business with me!

Please check it out and let me know if you or someone you know is interested.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Poems on Startups

January 30th, 2015 View Comments »

I was asked to write a short submission for a Yale entrepreneurship book. Curious if you think this would be interesting or too silly? I can write more like these.

Outlook (a haiku)

Within a startup
Team have future optimism
pessimism re: now

For Want of a Customer

Grow users! More cashflow! ‘s my creed.
And to get it, a product I need.
Employees want salary, to build.
To pay, I must woo VC guild.
But investors seek traction indeed!

The Benefit of Co-Founders

With a cofounder,
highs and low in startup land
hit each off cycle.

Begin Now

A startup like a
sailboat can only rightly
steer when moving. Start!

Launching a Podcast on High Growth High Values

January 22nd, 2015 View Comments »
I’m launching a new regular podcast.  No, it is not going to be as thrilling as investigating a murder or the location of (perhaps nonexistent) pay-phones, but I do hope you’ll enjoy it.

There is plenty of good content available on high-growth entrepreneurship.  Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders is a classic.  Or a newer and more hands-on podcast would be Sam Altman’s How to Start a Startup.  Many VCs, incubators or accelerators have good blogs or podcasts about the dynamics of high-growth for-profit entrepreneurship.

Separately, there is plenty of content on social entrepreneurship (although not always of the high-growth kind), impact investing, socially responsible investing or creating a mission or purpose-driven organization.  People like to talk about blended value or social finance.  When they talk about these things, they aren’t always thinking in a high-growth, high scale way.

I think the intersection of these two worlds is fascinating and does not get enough attention.  These are the are the high-growth, high-value ventures.  They are scalable, financially sustainable, often for-profit mission-driven ventures.  For example, take a look at the B Corp movement with VC-backed companies like:
  • Etsy
  • Warby Parker
  • Rally Software (NYSE:RALY and the B Corp IPO perhaps?)
  • The Honest Company
  • Method Products
  • Altschool
  • Revolution Foods
And there are organizations that pursue a large vision, high-growth mindset with some earned revenue that may or may not choose to be for profit:
  • One Acre Fund
  • Venture for America
  • Namaste Solar
  • Bridge International Academies
Now, I agree, not everything one does needs to be high-growth.  Hey, some things that grow fast are weeds.  And I am not on a high horse (get it?) about every venture being high values.  That said, I do think there is much to be learned and celebrated here.

The podcast will be primarily an interview format with those in this high-growth, high-values world.  They will include entrepreneurs, investors, executives, thinkers and doers.  I’ve got my first few interviews scheduled and just have to get my whole publishing system set-up and then we’ll be off to the races!

Subscribe to the email list to get further updates and a launch notification.  Current working title is High Growth High Values.   (If you have any ideas on names, I’m all ears.)

I look forward to hearing any feedback or ideas and to sharing the first episodes with you.

Yale SOM Class Management of Software Development

January 5th, 2015 View Comments »

Starting in just a few short days, we will be officially kicking off what I think is a first at Yale University: a class on managing software development.

While MGT 656 is housed at the Yale School of Management (the business school), it is open to students from across the university.
Kyle pointed me to the a NY Times article about business schools embracing and teaching technology skills.  While not mentioned, we hope our course is very much in this trend.
The course is designed in a “flipped” model.  That means that students watch video lectures and do reading between classes.  They also complete a short quiz online and summit questions.  In our class, since Kyle developed the software for it, each student gets the opportunity to vote up or down each question submitted by their piers.  During class time, us as instructors address the highest ranked questions and engage in a live dialogue with students about the material.  Significant class time is devoted to activities and what would traditionally be called “homework” where the students work in teams to build software.  The TAs and professors are there to lead these activities and help with the hands on projects.
One of the exciting things about structuring the Q&A process this way is that it gives a measurable way to grade class participation and allows for an unbiased/anonymized interaction between students and instructor.  Rather than have only certain people ask questions or be called on in class based on social dynamics, the online system allows everyone to be comfortable participating in asking questions.  The thoughtful ones will be uprooted and addressed by us as instructors.
If you’re curious for a bit more about the flipped model and the academic research about its benefits, please check out this article.
I welcome your thoughts or reactions to the class format or content.  You can review much of the content online at the course website (some is still in draft as not totally complete).  Each module/class contains links to the reading and the video lectures.  The website is also used to submit homework and to ask questions.  Some of the material is still in draft form (and is marked as such) so please do continue to check back.
We have 40 business school students already enrolled in the course and will have ~30 students join from other schools.  I’m really pumped to work with and learn from the students who have expressed excitement and been in contact already.  Kyle makes great co-instructor as he has the technical skills and experience that compliment my own in this subject area.  I’m grateful to be working with him and have learned a lot already!

SMART Recovery in New Haven

January 2nd, 2015 View Comments »
It’s that time of year that many people are thinking about making changes and improvements in their lives.  And for too many of us, learning to overcome addictive behaviors are one of the most important improvements we wish we could make.

I know many people who have benefited from the 12-step programs.  If something works to help you change your life in such a profound way, that should be respected.

That said, some scientific research has called into question the population-level effectiveness of 12-step systems.  But in too many places there was not a secular alternative available. If you’re ready to make a change in your addictive behavior but not interested in connecting with or accepting a “higher power”, then SMART Recovery may be right for you.

The SMART Recovery program is a proven system designed with scientific principles that has been used by 1000s of people for decades.  A trained facilitator leads groups through their own recovery process to identify and change the negative habits being addressed. While alcohol addiction is one of the most common behaviors addressed, the program works for other drugs or things like overeating.

I am proud that Yale Humanist Community has been hosting (one of?) Connecticut’s first SMART Recovery chapters.  If you’re interested in seeing that it is like in action, you can join every Monday at 6:30pm.  More information on the YHC website.

Book: A History of The Future in 100 Objects

December 29th, 2014 View Comments »

After hearing Adrian Hon’s talk on The Long Now Foundation’s Seminar About Long Term Thinking podcast, I followed up by buying his book.  I was not disappointed!

Inspired by the popular book A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil Macgregor,  A History of the Future in 100 Objects by Adrian Hon tells the story of the near future in a series of 100 vignettes centered around objects.  As he puts it: “a hundred slices of the future of everything, spanning politics, technology, art, religion, and entertainment. Some of the objects are described by future historians; others through found materials, short stories, or dialogues.”  They all blend together seamlessly in a coherent universe.  Like the best science fiction, not everything is explained on its face immediately, but you are clued in at the right time.

Book Cover A History of the Future in 100 Objects

To get a flavor for it before buying the book, you can read about number of the objects for free on the 100 Object website.  Here are a few of the ones that stuck with me:

#10 Deliverbots – Autonomous wheeled drones make deliveries around major cities.  No need to wait for the FAA to clear commercial autonomous flying drones that Amazon has hyped.  More local regulation would control something closer to an RC car.  Perhaps very little regulation?  BTW, why does this business already exist?  If you want to work on it or are working on this, please let me know.  Or is this where InstaCart, Google Express and Uber deliveries are headed?

#11 Conversation Brokers – With almost everyone wearing a microphone, the swarm of sensors can record formerly private conversations.  With the network, those recordings can be sold to the highest bidder and used for blackmail, market intelligence or fighting corruption or crime.  Transcription and voice print matching technology may already be good enough to allow this to happen. Amazing implications of wearables and smartphones that I had not thought through myself.  Seems plausible to me!

#26 Amplified Teams – The concept here is that groups use information technology along with bio-hacking (drugs or wetware?) and intense training to create a strong and better team.  The humans amplified by technology and cooperating together are able to accomplish much more than every thought possible.  These types of teams are especially relevant in fast-moving environments perhaps a hedge fund, combat command or gaming situation.

#70 Fourth Great Awakening – What if you could use technology to alter your beliefs and personality?  In this future scenario, you can employ “eyedrops, take the pills, and enroll in their induction course of targeted viruses and magstim” to become a true Christian.  Questions of free will, “credit” for good deeds, and the overall societal effects all swirl in my head when thinking about these types of scenarios.  I do not know if this is a realistic option in the next 100 years to reprogram the brain like this although there will definitely be attempts.

#72 The Downvoted – I have definitely thought about this type of scenario before.  There are a lot of advantages to online reputation systems.  Although, for those that are social ostracized for trivial or poor reasons, the network can reinforce some of our worst social instincts.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

What I’m Reading: On Work

October 4th, 2014 View Comments »

I’ve been making time for more reading over the past few months.  One of the themes I’ve been reading about is work: the why and how of professional careers and teams.


Work on Purpose by Lara Galinsky

A quick and inspiring read is the book Work on Purpose from Echoing Green’s Senior Vice President.  I’ve known Lara for years, although I sorry to say, this I have not made the time to read her book until now.  After meeting with her to discuss the Work on Purpose project that she is leading, I definitely wanted to check it out.

The book illustrates the Heart + Head = Hustle theory of meaningful work (particularly social entrepreneurship or changemaking).  It tells the stories of a handful of Echoing Green fellows came to discover and commit to their purpose.  If you’re looking for inspiration for your personal journey, this is a place for example stories.  If you enjoy the book, you may also be interested in the sample curriculum that Echoing Green has published including an exercise in finding your Head and Heart focus for your personal purpose.

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon

While a bit broader in its scope than merely about career, the book How Will You Measure Your Life is written by a business school professor and does use career as a focus in the book.  While I personally found the style a bit dry, I think it might be more accessible to those that may not immediately feel comfortable reading a book about “softer” topics.  One of the successes of the book is the way it connects your day-to-day choices with your long-term path in life.

The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh

I find great pleasure is learning a new concept that immediately makes sense and draws me to want to adopt it.  The Alliance, like many business books, could probably even be shorter, although the framework and core concepts are insightful.  I would be interested in connecting with those that have experience implementing it fully in a medium to large company.

Here is how the authors summarize the book:

The employer-employee relationship is broken. Managers face a seemingly impossible dilemma: You can’t afford to offer lifetime employment. But you can’t build a lasting, innovative business when everyone acts like a free agent.
The solution: Stop thinking of employees as family or free agents, and start thinking of them as allies on a tour of duty.

When managers and employees can have a frank discussion about the length and depth of an employees commitment, as well as personal goals, there is an opportunity to create more value.  The power comes from constructing the role for the next X years to meet the company’s as well as the employee’s goals in this explicit way.   I have known individual managers to have these discussions with most although not always all their employees.  I have had these conversations, as well, although seems that it would be powerful to use explicitly throughout an organization much more systematically.

There are some other related ideas and more explanation in the book.  I recommend it.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Structured primarily as a business novel, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team makes for enjoyable read.  The book makes the point that to succeed in business (and most human endeavors) it takes the combined efforts of a team working well together.  How do you create a team that truly works together?  The storyline illustrates the framework that the author proposes for how to build teams and avoid common mistakes.  In the final part of the book, he lays out the framework more explicitly and offers some exercises that can get you started.  Like many other business books, while it provides value, the book appears designed to draw you in for consulting, more books or other purchases.  Even with that sense of holding something back, there was definitely some food for thought for me.

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust
The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team.
Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict
The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict.
Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment
The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to.
Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability
The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.
Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results
The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.

Visiting Detroit Startups with VFA

September 22nd, 2014 View Comments »

As a new board member of Venture for America, I wanted to meet more fellows and explore one of the destination cities. I recently had a chance to visit Detroit where VFA has the most fellows at ~40.

It was my first trip to Detroit so I was looking forward to getting a sense for the city and the startup environment. I was thankful that VFA fellow Max Nussenbaum picked me up from the airport and gave me a tour to start out.

A key part of the tour was Rebirth Realty. Max and some other fellows are “transforming an abandoned house in Detroit into a communal living and working space for Venture for America Fellows.” The house still a work in progress although you can see the potential. They got the house in a tax auction for something like $8,000 which sounds like quite the deal. Then you learn that the place was missing windows and needed a full gut rehab. Like I said, a lot of work.

I also got to hear about Castle, the SaaS business for landlords that Max started with Tim and Scott. They are early stage although looking for landlords that want in on the private beta. As they put it “We’re making land-lording simple and stress-free, starting with automatic rent payment.” One tip I picked up from Max is that he has the following in his email signature so it looks like a PS on every email he sends. “By the way—I’m working on a real estate startup and trying to talk to as many landlords as possible. If you know one, I’d really appreciate an intro!” What a way to get leads!

The next day, Brian Bosche, founder and CEO of TernPro, was good enough to lead me and some folks from VFA on a tour of a bunch of startup spaces. We got to see some great incubator, co-working, and startup spaces like Grand Circus, Bizdom and Detroit Labs (loved the two story kitchen/breakroom – I think you can see pictures on their website). And I’m sure there were other spots but we went so many it is hard to remember them all.

Alas, I did not meet the founders of the other VFA Detroit startup: Banza as they were traveling on business. They offer first pasta made from chickpeas. Since I’m a recovering pasta addict, I am totally excited for the product. I’ve tried many of the other alternatives to wheat and it is definitely better than black bean pasta, rice pasta, etc.

I had the privilege of dinner two nights with a whole mass of fellows. I must have met 20+. The passion and intelligence of the fellows I met was impressive. It was an amazing group of people and so welcoming of a visitor like me. Without a doubt, it increased my commitment to mission of VFA and I hope you get a chance to meet some fellows, too, some day.

Never Been Better for Student Hackers at Yale

September 18th, 2014 View Comments »

Times have never been better at Yale for student coders and those that aspire to be hackers. Want proof? Here are four examples:

One, the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute recently completed another summer of the Tech Boot camp. “The YEI Tech Bootcamp is a 10-week immersive full-stack programming bootcamp for Yale students who want to learn to code. Over the course of the summer, students with little or no experience in programming are given the skills to become capable and knowledgeable programmers who can create their own minimum viable products. By the end of the program, students will have a solid foundation to continue their programming knowledge independently.” More on their website.

Two, YHack is gearing up for a second year of the 36-hour hackathon held in West Campus. The student organizers have done an impressive job in turning out 100s of students from many other colleges and mobilizing $10,000s of corporate sponsorship.  If you’re not otherwise engaged on Halloween this year, you can still join in.

Third, HackYale is in it’s fourth year and just completed its application cycle for the fall semester. As you may recall, HackYale is a student led and taught non-credit set of courses in programming including web front end and advanced JavaScript. The effort started without administration support and now has taken root such that the student-teachers are paid a stipend by Yale Engineering. Kudos to Bay Gross, Will Gaybrick and the the original founding team and the leadership that is taking it forward.  HackYale was a real inspiration for many other efforts on campus.

Forth, if you’re really into coding and want to get some on-campus job experience, you can work for the university.  ~30 student-employees in the Yale Developer and Mentorship Program building web and mobile apps (Rails, iOS and Android, etc.) for use by other students. The team is led by Casey Watts who is also helping with the  Yale SOM software development course Kyle and I have planned for the spring. (How does Casey have the time?!)

And I should mention, these extra-circular efforts in in addition to the for-credit courses I have mentioned before.