Computational Social Science

I have recently been intrigued about the evolving science of social network analysis (SNA) and the potential novel yet practical applications of it in growing businesses. So the timing of the 3rd Annual Stanford Conference on Computational Social Science, hosted by IRiSS could not have been better.

Fun day with very cool thoughts, from the keynote of the superstar in the field, Duncan “small worlds” Watts to very practical insights from Facebook and Google scientists to usage of SNA on unusual datasets such as the englightement-era snail mail metadata (who was the bridging node between Voltaire and Ben Franklin?) to the intricacies of linguistic change (“aroma” getting replaced by “smell”) in beer enthusiast forums.

Some assorted notes and further reading links are below.

Read the rest of this entry »


First Decade of #SkypeMafia

skypemafia - full plot - thumbnail

On August 29th Skype is celebrating its birthday. As it did as a small European-rooted startup, so it does as a product in the portfolio of Microsoft. This time it is a round one, too: first 10 years. Sending the best wishes to all the friends who have built and are building Skype over these years, I figured it would be a good time to give in to an idea that has been in the back of my mind for a while: what would it look like if someone somehow visualized the impact of the company Niklas, Janus & a bunch of Estonian engineers started in 2003 to the broader startup ecosystem?

Read the rest of this entry »


Sten @ a16z

August 1st marked the end of my 8+ year journey with Skype, after returning from an academic break at Stanford. As expected, the top incoming question following my departure tweet has been “what’s next” – so let me share a bit more.

Read the rest of this entry »


Confidently Humble

As it happened, pressed publish on today’s post on Medium instead.


Last Sloan Class’ Spring Quarter

The below text was not born as a blog post for broader audiences originally, but as something I wrote for the class yearbook a month ago. Given that my final exam just slipped into a lockbox without looking back, the class is about to gather for getting their yearbooks in beautiful printed form and to properly conclude the quarterly summaries tradition (see Summer, Autumn, Winter here) – I’m posting it anyway.

Not sure if and when I’ll have the energy to attempt a more comprehensive synthesis of this entire year, or should I even attempt, after the 57 blog posts

Read the rest of this entry »


Week 40: The End of Class Notes

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 10 (40), Spring quarter

Chuck Holloway

Our last two days of five classes were almost all about presentations with a few wise final words from each professor. Pictured above is the last of my last moments, with Professor Charles Holloway, co-founder of Stanford’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, and a driving force behind many startup-focused academic initiatives in this school over the decades. My last class co-incidentally was the very last Formation of New Ventures Chuck taught for 16 years together with John Morgridge of Cisco fame.

I am sad this is over, not counting one remaining exam. And glad I made it here in time to be part of so many defining classes like this over the past year. I guess it is up to us now to walk out of this campus in the footsteps of many whom these teachers have personally sent off to change the world over the years.

John’s closing words included “don’t try to do it all by 35”. Relieved to know, having crossed that milestone at Stanford.

Covered in this issue:

  • very brief summary remarks from professors concluding their quarter
  • Last Lecture by JetBlue Chairman Joel Peterson

Read the rest of this entry »


Week 39: R, Regression Discontinuity, Bakeries and Sales VPs

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 9 (39), Spring quarter

The Memorial Day week was the only one compressed to four long days this quarter, with the main theme on finalizing group projects. We submitted an operations case on optimizing pre-season parka ordering from China by a ski-wear fashion brand. And are relatively ready to present in the coming short and very last class week: a lightly market-tested business idea for a social network analytics product, a convincing churn and package upgrade/downgrade prediction model for an APAC telco and a sales organization audit for a Silicon Valley semiconductor manufacturer.

I still need to finish ~170 pages of a book on Shackelton’s Antarctic voyage in 1915 and write an essay on entrepreneurship learnings by Tuesday morning. It is a refreshingly different read of the startup era before smartphones and app stores, but got somewhat derailed yesterday with a classic “oh-so-Stanford” Saturday: an Indian Breakfast, Brazilian churrascaria lunch, meat-sweating run in the +35C weather and Singaporean dinner party well beyond sunset. Priorities, priorities…

As my friend Osamu put it last week: we have more parties than classes left until graduation. Just five of the latter on my calendar this coming Monday-Tuesday…

Covered in this issue:

  • Stepping up the network analysis tooling: R
  • Causal effects and regression discontinuity
  • Sales org building war stories from a startup and a VP panel
  • Building a bakery to Starbucks exit
  • Guests from: TrunkClub, Salesforce, Quantum, LinkedIn, La Boulange/Starbucks, SunRun

Read the rest of this entry »


Week 38: Condi, Internet Ads, Global Warming & Microbreweries

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 8 (38), Spring quarter

This week kicked off with Maker Faire, the ultimate geek fest of robots, drones, noisy machines, 3D printers, lasers and eco-conscious handicraft. I could picture tiny versions of this kind of events as a science faire in many technical universities around the world, but it is quite something to experience the scale of the creativity and crazyness unleashed once the event covers acres and attracts tens of thousands of tinkerers as it does in Silicon Valley. Just as one illustration, I’ll leave you with the Sashimi Choir someone has spent months of their life building for fun:


As a slightly more professional follow-up, we had a study trip to Flextronics this week to hear their story of how to design, develop and produce $30B worth of electronics a year with 200,000 people, and especially how to stay sane with $25B in materials and components travelling in just in time to make the supply chain miracle happen. We did see a solar panel manufacturing line in action, but were carefully kept away from stealth prototyping labs they run for many of their top name Valley clients.

Back on campus we got some face time with Professor Condoleezza Rice. She is more known for her stint as the Secretary of State, of course, but has had a respectable academic career at Stanford since getting her PhD at the age of 26 – and has many intriguing viewpoints on international politics, change management and diversity to share. See the notes below.

Covered in this issue:

  • Social networks in international settings
  • Display & search advertising optimization
  • Climate change
  • More on sales force incentives
  • Colorful range of startup cases: from batteries to microbreweries to lifestyle watches for surfers
  • Entrepreneur’s compass
  • Guests from: Gordon Biersch, Nixon, Carnegie Insitution, Envia

Read the rest of this entry »


Week 37: Small World, Churn, Measuring Sales & Startup HR

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 7 (37), Spring quarter

This week was completely overrun with two homework projects that refused to surrender even when groups of Sloans & MBAs spent hours sitting in the room and cranking through logistic regressions and ROI analysis for marketing channels of a pharma company, or trying to calculate the optimal inventory cost of the supply chain of HP injet printer factory. Also, a real dataset of 90,000 users of mobile phone users came in, which will be a basis for one of our final projects on understanding churn – once we chew ourselves through it.

And in the Town Hall with Madhav Rajan, Associate Dean of Academics we learned that the incoming MSx 2014 class will have quite a few improvements to their class schedule, with even more room for electives in Winter & Spring – congrats! Make sure you’ll fill those slots with quant analysis under the California sun this time next year.

Covered in this issue:

  • Milgram’s Small world problem and its modern developments
  • Recency/Frequency/Monetary Value & Churn analysis
  • Measuring sales force performance and forecasting tricks (and a video sampler for a litmus test for if you should be in sales)
  • Organizational blueprints for startups
  • Guests from: Google, VMWare, Progreso, Ariat

Read the rest of this entry »


Week 36: Cascading Uncertainty, Sales Ethics, Biotech & Design

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 6 (36), Spring quarter

Somehow the notes from this week are lighter – and not for the lack of activities, but rather a different kind. Somehow felt pointless to try to capture heated in-class ethics discussions or hours spent on preparing group work presentations in bullet point form. Instead, I took some time to dump a new load of photos of school life to the Flickr feed, where I had dropped the ball some time back in February.

The biggest project effort went into a “consulting gig” for the Networking class. Given a network relations dataset from a 200 person law firm (across their work, non-work and friendship social relations), their demographic metadata (tenure, education, roles, age…) and some qualitative survey results, we had to build an action plan that would solve for some of their identified personell issues, such as high churn of women. A very interesting mix of social network visualisations and multiple regression approaches, with potential to take far more attention and time than due for “1 homework of 4”.

As an amusing side product we predicted a single associate to become partner next, which the professor confirmed to have actually happened in the last 2 years since the data was gathered. As a teaser, find person #2910 on this picture to see why that is (partners are red, associates blue):

4 - partners (red) hang with partners, analysts (blue) with analysts

On BBLs front, GSB had a group of StartX companies drop by. Without going into the detail of the pitches, the overall quality of the batch of this accelerator program seemed quite impressive ranked agains many I’ve seen. Which is well done, given the affiliation to a single university and their somewhat less-commercial structure (for example they take no equity stake in companies they incubate and even fund).

EDIT: the most regretted lecture that I unfortunately missed this week: Building computers from bacteriophage data, communication, logic within biological cells in EE380 Computer Systems Colloquium.

Covered in this issue:

  • A data scientist’s take on how social graph analysis fits into the uncertain world
  • Calculating the effect of ads and promotions on sales
  • Tough life of a district manager and ethics of sales people
  • Booting up a biotech business
  • Some design thinking references and videos from IDEO
  • Guest speakers from: Jive, NetApps, VMWare, Connectics, IDEO

Read the rest of this entry »