Founders’ Dilemmas, Quantified

I picked up The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup by Noam Wasserman after he spoke about it in the ETL speaker series at Stanford back in November (see my study notes of that week here). With all the regular school reading in parallel it took me 2 months and 2 vacation trips to dig through the material, but coming out on the other side it is a highly recommended read for anyone in the tech startup scene. Doesn’t matter if you’re just contemplating bootstrapping your first company or want to take a step-back look at the impact your term sheet demands as an investor can have on entrepreneurs on the receiving end.

Basically, what Noam has done is to take a whole sequence of inevitable dilemmas every founder has no way of escaping while building their startup, gone back to about 3k companies and 10k people and surveyed the hell out of them to quantify both the triggers as well as the indirect results down the road after they have made their choices on these issues so often just considered a “gut feeling thing”. Should I found a company now? Should I do it alone, with friends or strangers? What happens to my likely CEO tenure time if I take external money? What kind of side effects can different outcomes of horse trading over boards seats practically have? What are the hidden costs (and benefits) of hiring youth over experience, and vice versa?

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Weeks 18-20: Innovation Economy, Debate Blunders and Creative Computing

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 8-10 (18-20), Autumn quarter

Not to worry, despite of the three week scope in title this is not a monster-length post. Between a lovely wedding, an unexpected funeral and Thanksgiving break in between my focus has temporarily shifted a bit away from school as this quarter concludes. Do enjoy the little there is to share below – and as special gift to reader A.M., yes there are more videos.

Marc & Bill

A notable off campus educational highlight  last week ago was an event at A16Z where  William Janeway (being interviewed by Marc Andreessen on the photo above) discussed his book Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy: Markets, Speculation and the State. Combining his 40 years in venture capital with a PhD in Economics, Bill has great insights into when, how and where governments should play any role financing tech innovation and where progress should be left for markets. And as a curious subtopic – the need for an occasional bubbles in the latter case.

Covered further in this issue:

  • How to avoid small groups polarizing towards extremes in debate
    • Kõrvalmärkusena Eesti lugejaile: jah, teadus teemal Reformierakond VS Väike Grupp!
  • Centralization VS distribution of control in global organizations
  • More history of Presidential candidates screwing up in public
  • Financial ratios and common size reports in accounting
  • Effective networking tips’n’tricks exchange with Sloan classmates
  • How computing changes human bodies and the definitions of creativity
  • How big internet players have changed hardware IP value chain

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As We Speak: Reading Notes

The below are reading notes of some good old truths, new aha-s and pro tips from a pretty good concise communications guidebook called As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and Make it Stick by Peter Meyers and Shann Nix. Mostly focussed on public speaking, especially to larger audiences – but touches upon other topics as well, such as small meeting settings, managing crisis communications, using comms & presentation technology and structuring 1:1 tough conversations.

The book was assigned as reading for a brief reflection essay in the Generative Leadership class at Stanford, but I would (and have already) recommended it as a no-brainer purchase for any manager to hand out to people on their team who need a little comms help. They’ll get through it in a few hours and be grateful for the few very tangible things they can implement the same day.

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Week 17: Economists Designing Orgs, Ethos of Problem-Making and Sick Bush in Japan

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 7 (17), Autumn quarter

This week will go down in history as the one that finally saw the portfolio of profiles of every single Fellow of the Stanford Sloans class of 2013 hit the public interwebs. Please meet my lovely class in its diversity, internationally and otherwise.

On other news, Americans re-elected Obama for their President (aka POTUS – didn’t know that one before) on Tuesday, which in the fair state of California sounded more like a sign of relief. And I, in turn, spent far too much time on Estonian blogs, chats and Facebook threads, tracking an insane sequence of judgement lapses by some party politics leaders back home. Between these two parallel world, I could not have had a better week to start a new class, Political Communications: How Leaders Become Leaders taught by a very experienced practitioner in the field, David Demarest.

Covered in this issue:

  • Why calling taxes “revenue enhancement” works
  • Why globalization and CxO executive titles should be taken less for granted than people think
  • How the classic forms of political communications, a speech and a debate, are constructed by the best
  • How 20-30 year old experimental art tends to turn into everyday products eventually
  • Necessary evils around good old software development: intangible assets, intellectual property, patents

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Week 14: Confucius, Shrek, Devil’s Advocates and the Board

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 4, Autumn quarter

Covered in this issue:

  • How Confucius helps the Chinese to consume free MP3s
  • How a CEO is stuck between the Board and his team in a complex matrix of conflicting loyalties
  • How a side-effect of managing a few trillion dollars in your funds is the need to do a lot of board voting for your shares
  • How high-profile VCs can keep your loans in the bank and close your hires
  • How startups should tell their story the way seen in Shrek
  • How to make the devil’s advocate a resident part of participatory decision making culture
  • How citizens should break the government monopoly of environmental and pollution mapping

And here on to the full notes: Read the rest of this entry »


Week 12: Discounting the Future, SEC Investigations and Visiting Founders

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 2, Autumn quarter

Covered in this issue:

  • Rational decision making. Why and by how much discount the future?
  • In search for a strategic fit – those sweet moments when stars actually align for a while. Resulting competitive advantage that holds due to the complexity of interdependencies. Cases: CapitalOne (data driven mass-personalisation) and Lincoln Electric (super productive manufacturing).
  • Real-Life Ethics: Guest Michael Marks on being bullied by huge OEMs while Flextronics CEO. And should a SEC-inestigated company throw an innocent CFO over board to settle? Role of the board in backing the CEO.
  • Guest selling their story: Smule co-founders Jeff Smith & Ge Wang. Andrew Mason of Groupon.
  • Peer-organized public company valuation training.
  • Analysis of a persuasive argument: 1 man turning 11 jurors around in the 12 Angry Men movie. The case of Silicon Valley’s most effective networker.
  • Cash flow reporting. And intangible assets, especially software.

And here on to the full notes: Read the rest of this entry »


Week 11: Instant Gratification, In and Out of Orgs and Biases

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 1, Autumn quarter

The gearshift to the fall quarter was quite a big one. Going from 13 to 19 units (full schedule here) means days starting at 8am and running straight to 5pm two days a week, leaving slightly more time for prep reading and writing on others. We have been assigned to new study groups (mostly for Strategy, where we need to pick a company and country none of us are familiar with and devise the plans for their entry to that market) and generally get to hang much less with other Sloans due to differing elective schedules.

Pardon for the longest notes yet below. I guess I should become more selective as the courseload goes up? Or maybe not, if the filter remains “write down interesting stuff and aha moments only”… If there is any comfort – there are videos, again.

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Week 8: Eating Dogs, Price Meddling and Whitegoods

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 8, Summer quarter

Pages assigned for reading: ~135

This was also a week of Strategy Beyond Markets exam (24 hours to answer ~10 questions in “hopefully less than” 3 hours and 16 pages; took me 5h and 10 pages -we’ll see…), a very inspiring guest speaker session with Phil Libin of Evernote (with a surprising amount of cultural parallels to early-days Skype) and series of visiting friends on campus, with Ott actually surviving an entire Microeconomics class (photo courtesy of another guest, Silver):

Usual format of study notes follow, with maybe more than usual further reading / viewing links in the end.

GSBGEN259 – Ethics (prof Krehbiel)

  • Four less-than-adequate, yet popular basic theories for right conduct:
    • Ethical egoism: an act is right when it best promotes the individual’s long-term self-interest
      • Challenge: a murderer and resisting victim are both morally right and neither could be judged
    • Ethical relativism: right and wrong are a function of the moral teachings of a particular society
      • Challenge: based deeply on tolerance (an universal moral value), yet it followed through, would require one to also tolerate a deeply intolerant society militantly enforcing its values on another society. E.g no external judging of genocide if it is considered right by one side?
    • Religious/Revealed Ethics: ethical guidance and instruction derived of a particular religious tradition and sacred texts
      • Challenges: diversity of religious disciplines. Virtually no sacred scripture or teaching is self-explanatory and needs interpretation (independent rational basis of judgement). A statement that a God is “just and loving” is based on… the ordinary human meanings of these terms (infinite loop if right is defined as the “will of God”?)
      • Most religious/revealed ethics are a superset of, and thus largely compatible with secular/rational ethics (e.g most condemn violence, theft, dishonesty, etc)
    • Right as conscience alone: right defined by “internal dictate” alone, with nothing more said
      • Challenge: personal moral judgement should a reflective and reasoned act, seeking to understand and decide weather a course of action is right or wrong. Isolation and lack of dialogue make “conscience” an impenetrable back box anyone can use to justify any conduct.
      • Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Quarter Schedule & Books

Now this post my dear classmates will find quite useless, but some friends outside have noted it should have preceded all those random study notes. Namely: what are the classes we are taking in Summer quarter and what are these textbooks I keep referring to. So here we go, better late than never.

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Fry’ing the Trolls

I’ve been a long time opponent of anonymous, unauthenticated comments fire-hosed into mainstream online media decidedly without editorial review. They are an unfair and easily manipulative tool for beating down anyone who dares to stick their neck out and state their views in a public forum under their own name – either by writing themselves, or getting written about. Healthy societies need intelligent public discussion, contradicting views and debate-driven consensus, or at least educated compromises. I just don’t get how this cowardly bashing gets flagged as free speech while the opinions it suffocates get dismissed as one.
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