Google Launches Made With Code Initiative

I am super-proud of my friends at Google and their new push to help get more girls into coding: “The things you love are #MadewithCode“! From : “Fewer than one percent of high school girls express interest in majoring in computer science….hits home for me.” Along with several partners, Google is launching Made with Code, an initiative to inspire girls to code.” Including a “commitment of $50 million to support programs that can help get more females into computer science.”

“Nowadays, coding isn’t just a skill useful for working at a tech company; engineering isn’t just for engineers.” “No matter what a girl dreams of doing, learning how to code will help her get there. Their future — our future — is made with code.”

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Source Tweets: 1,2,3,4,5,6

Intellectual Generosity In Silicon Valley

One of the special things about our industry is how intellectually generous many of the leading participants are (no, I don’t mean me.) When I arrived in Silicon Valley in Jan 1994, I sought out all of the written material I could on startups and venture capital. I found exactly two books. An excellent but dry financial analysis of startup returns, and an excellent but dated book by Gordon Bell. So then I looked for magazines, and found exactly one: Red Herring. Which for several years was the best magazine about startups.

Red Herring Magazine Cover

Red Herring Magazine Cover

But, in 1994, Red Herring was ~8 (?) memographed pages, cost $12 (?), published every 2 months (?), and available at only a few newsstands. That was it. I knew there was more material at Stanford and Harvard business schools but I couldn’t get to it. There was nothing else. Today, 20 years later, the difference is *profound*. Many of the leading theorists and practitioners share *huge* amounts of info for free. That’s a big difference in Silicon Valley, but what I hear every day from people all over the world is what a big difference it’s making everywhere else.

A 14-year-old kid in Indonesia w/smartphone has access to 10,000x more info on tech and startups today than I did in Palo Alto 20 years ago and the cycle is closing: there is startlingly profound new thinking happening all over the world and coming right back to Silicon Valley. In our industry, it’s hard to underestimate the consequences of a positive feedback loop and this is a positive feedback loop.

Assumption *must* be: Tech entrepreneurship all over the world is going to expand a thousand fold in the next 20 years. How could it not?

Source Tweets: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12

One-Bit Communication

YoLogoLots of mirth over “Yo” today but actually there’s a fascinating aspect lots of people are missing. Yo is an instance of “one-bit communication”, a message with no content other than the fact that it exists. Yes or no. Yo or no yo. Other instances of one-bit communication are: Police siren, flashing stop light, “Open” sign, light turned on, and taxicab roof indicator light. But the most interesting instance of one-bit communication is the global “missed call” phenomenon.

Missed call on a mobile phone is used as one-bit communication: “Used in South Asia/Philippines/Africa to communicate pre-agreed messages for free.” Aided by the fact that missed calls cost nothing to send/receive. “In Bangladesh, missed calls are 70% of mobile traffic at any given time.” So the hilarity around Yo includes two problematic biases: Bias that one-bit communication isn’t useful, and bias that all markets are like the US.

I’m not saying Yo will be the next $100B social media powerhouse. But instant dismissal makes little sense; let’s learn and keep our minds open. Excellent followup reading: Jeremy Wagstaff on missed calls.

Source Tweets: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9

As Software Eats The World

Tech people like me can sometimes come across as presumptuous/arrogant regarding the disruption of other peoples’ industries. It is possible this is an understatement. I am sure that some of my Twitter friends will expand on this for me.

From this side of the aisle, though, it’s less smugness, It’s more the result of hard experience and learning from our own lives and careers. In tech, our *own* businesses are disrupted by technology changes and new competitive entrants at whiplash-inducing rates. It’s shocking how quickly you can go from the hot disruptive upstart to the stodgy disrupted incumbent in tech frequently within 5 years.

I’ve probably been on the receiving end of disruption 30 times in the last 20 years, almost as many times as I’ve been on the giving end. Now, on the one hand, you might say, “How can people live like that? What’s wrong with a little stability?” But, what we see is: Frequent disruption is the handmaiden of rapid progress and it’s a blast to create and work amid rapid progress.

It’s not just the rapid progress of tech. It’s also the rapid growth of companies, and even better, rapid development of *people* and their talents. It’s hard to stay in tech for any period of time and not get good at rapid adaptation, skill acquisition, and new product creation. As software eats the world, the same disruption dynamics always present in tech are now applying to many more industries, fields, and professions. Rather than superiority/contempt, what a lot of us feel is deep sympathy/understanding, even if that’s not always how it comes across! Now we all have the opportunity to learn together, to make many parts of industry/life more innovative/dynamic, which is better for everyone.

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Source Tweets: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13

Questioning Christensen’s Theory Of Disruption

A fascinating question around Christensen’s theory of disruption: “OK, smart guy, why haven’t Apple iPhone/iPad been disrupted by Android?” I count five possible answers, there may be more.

  1. The theory of disruption is hucksterish management consultant fraud. (This one I do not agree with.)
  2. Right now Apple *is* the disruptor–iPhones/iPads vs Windows PCs. Many are surprised by the rapid rise of direct substitution, including me.
  3. Apple *is* getting disrupted right now: Android phones are outselling iPhones somewhere between 5:1 and 10:1 worldwide right now.
  4. Apple isn’t getting disrupted *yet*, but will be soon. This is what many in Silicon Valley believe, but Apple does not.
  5. The most interesting one: The current theory of disruption is incomplete and does not have a broad enough concept of end-user quality.

In this line of argument, disruption theory was born in the Microsoft/Intel era, when everyone expected computers to have, um, certain issues. Apple brilliantly redefined the conception of what was possible from an end-user quality and integration standpoint, against prevailing assumptions. We have attempted to generalize *this* concept into “full stack” thinking, which many of today’s best startups are also pursuing. It’s possible disruption theory needs to be evolved to accommodate these newer patterns and knowledge. But it’s also possible all such “full stack” patterns are just integrated approaches that themselves will be disrupted in the future.

Time will tell. In Silicon Valley, these topics are central and being debated both in actions and words by ultra-smart people every day.

References: Full Stack Startups, Disruptive Innovation

Source Tweets: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14

A Few Thoughts On Timing and Staging Of Capital Into Modern Tech Startups

A few thoughts on timing and staging of capital into modern tech startups. Start with the fact that 2003-20011 seed rounds were ~$500K-1M. As points out, now you see more startups raising $2-3-4M or even more in “seed” financing, often in multiple tranches. So then, think about the startup that’s raised $3-4M or even $5-6M in “seed” funding that goes to raise a “Series A” from VC firms.

Venture capitalist looks back across the table: “You’re not raising a Series A, you’re raising a Series B. You already raised your Series A [in seed $]”. This can take the startup by surprise, because it really affects how VCs think about progress and milestones, is key to raising new round. VC’s assume Series A is to build, product and get first beta customers; Series B is to build the business around the product and get to revenue.

So a startup that raised as much cash as a Series A in seed funds, but hasn’t achieved actual Series A milestones, can be in real trouble. VC says: “You said you’re raising A but you’re actually raising B, and you haven’t accomplished enough to merit a B. Thank you, but pass.” So the risk of calling $3-4-5-6M “seed” raises “seed” is that the founder can fool himself/herself heading into the first real VC raise.

The rise of the “New Series A” by firms like A Capital is intended to address this issue head on. In effect, a $3-5M seed round or a $3-5M “New Series A” is a recreation of the original conception of an A round from historical VC. Takeaway for founders? Think very hard about timing and staging of capital versus progress and milestones. This matters a lot for raising A/B/C.

Source Tweets: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12

BusinessWeek Illustrates Who’s Coming To Silicon Valley

Have to post this again because it’s just too good not to. A graphic illustration from BusinessWeek showing who’s coming to Silicon Valley.

Image originally published on <a title="" href="">BusinessWeek</a>

Image originally published on BusinessWeek

One third of Silicon Valley startups are founded by Indian-Americans. As of 2010, Asian-Americans are the majority of Silicon Valley tech workforce: 50% vs 40% for Caucasians. Possibly eye-opening sources of talent in quantity: Japan, Middle East, Vietnam, France, Pacific Islands, Africa, Caribbean.

Silicon Valley is a powerful successful example of the “melting pot” theory: ignore origin and ethnicity, come together to do big things.

It’s why we must continue to push to expand access/openness/inclusion to all origins/ethnicities/genders/religions: there are huge opportunities ahead.

Source Tweets: 1,2,3,4,5,6

The Importance Of Communication Technology To Maintain and Subvert State Control

How important is new communication technology both to maintenance of state control and subversion of state control?

Forty years into the era of xerography, the Soviet Union is getting ready to move its photocopiers from their guarded, double-locked, steel-covered doors as the country tries to catch up with the worldwide explosion of information.


The Soviet Ministry of Interior Affairs announced Wednesday that it wants to “relinquish control over the acquisition, storage and operation of copying equipment,” admitting that photocopiers are now standard office equipment and not really the grave threat to state security they were once perceived to be.


The ministry’s Second Department of the Main Directorate of Protecting Public Order acknowledged that the recent spread to more than 60,000 different Soviet organizations of kseroks machines, as all photocopiers are called in Russian, had made its task of supervising their operation virtually impossible.

Soviets Free the Dreaded Photocopier via The Los Angeles Times

Source Tweets: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12

Technology as Superpowers

New technologies can be thought of as giving people superpowers, superhuman abilities that humans did not have before. First, let’s think about historical technologies through this lens.

  • Man-made fire: superpower to heat and cook things.
  • Electric lighting = superpower to be active and productive even when the sun is down.
  • AC = superpower to act/produce when too hot.
  • Steam power and mechanical engines = superpower to exert physical effort in the world way beyond human or animal muscles.
  • Planes, trains, and automobiles = superpower to travel far faster than feet, animals, or wind could previously carry us.
  • Telegraph and telephone = superpower to communicate faster and cheaper than messages could be physically carried.
  • Threshing machines, combines, and tractors = superpower to grow far more food than we could by hand.

Of course there are destructive superpowers: guns and bombs enable killing far more people than we could by hand. For 500+ years, we’ve collectively been radically enhancing capabilities of ordinary humans through technology superpowers.

New Superpowers Just In The Last 10 Years

  • Google, Wikipedia = superpower to ask any question, get any answer, as many as you want, for free — from the world’s total knowledge base.
  • Facebook = superpower to always be connected with everyone important in your life, regardless of geography, all the time, for free.
  • eBay, Etsy, Alibaba = superpower to take goods you make or want to resell to a global market of buyers, with transparent and fair pricing.
  • GPS + Google Maps + smartphones = superpower to never be lost, always be able to find anything, and always know where your kids are.
  • Spotify, Beats = superpower to listen to the entirety of recorded music in human culture as much as you want, anytime you want.
  • Lyft, Uber, AirBNB, HotelTonight = superpower to be able to easily move around and then stay in places with transparency and safety
  • Skype, Slack, Asana = superpower to form into teams and collaborate on projects with people all over the world regardless of geography.
  • Github = superpower as a programmer to build new software with unprecedented ease and power, on top of a global base of existing code.
  • AWS = superpower as a programmer to access a global supercomputer with miraculous power on demand for mere dollars.

These are only a few examples. There are probably 100 more new tech superpowers just in the last 10 years of similar magnitude. I am firmly convinced many people are fundamentally underestimating the power and potential of these new superpowers in the years ahead. We are only at the very beginning of understanding what people all over the world are going to be able to create and build from here.

New Superpowers Coming In The Next 10 Years

This is a difficult list to make as there are hundreds if not thousands of candidate superpowers on deck that could hit it big within the next 10 years.

  • Crowdfunding = superpower to instantly raise money from global customers and investors for millions of new ideas, products, businesses.
  • Quantified self = superpower to understand one’s own body continuously in real time, optimize health & wellness with high precision.
  • 3D printing = superpower to design and instantly manufacture physical objects with zero inventory, supply chain, or transportation.
  • Combine modern bio, 3D printing, & computing–>prosthetics and exoskeletons; superpower: paralyzed to walk, disabled to abled, bilnd to see.
  • Bitcoin & blockchain = superpower to instantly & safely transact, do business, engage in commerce & trade with everyone in the world.
  • Virtual reality = superpower to experience other places and times, real and created, serious and fun; telepresence replaces transportation.
  • Augmented reality = superpower to know a million times more about the world around you and everything in it; step function increase in IQ.
  • Self-driving cars = superpower to dramatically reduce the number of cars on the road, turn parking lots into parks, while saving millions of lives.
  • Drones = superpower to easily function in the air just like we do on the ground; see from the sky, deliver in the air, and fly in virtual reality.

Implications Of The Growth Of Tech Superpowers

First, some tech superpowers help us as consumers, but many upgrade us as creators, builders, inventors, designers, artists: *producers*. While it is true that tech superpowers can replace the need for prior manual labor, it’s also true that they enhance our ability to produce.

Both sides of the equation are critical, otherwise one collapses into the Luddite fallacy and holds back progress that benefits everyone. This is also why I think we need an ongoing vigorous social safety net, to help people bridge gaps in their lives as tech leaps forward.

Second, tech superpowers at this point are being applied more or less equally to individuals, governments, and businesses. In Orwell’s vision, government has all the tech superpowers. In our world, everyone seems to be getting them all at the same time. The same tech advances that enable NSA surveillance also enabled Edward Snowden to walk out of NSA with 1.7 million classified documents. The ability to use a web crawler and a thumb drive would have been the fantasy of all time for Kim Philby. Times have changed.

The impact of tech superpower upgrading of individuals, businesses, and governments radically shifts power balances between the three. The politics of the next 30 years will be in large part defined by the shifting impact of tech superpowers across individuals, businesses, and government.

Prior conflicts like Snowden, SOPA, the Arab Spring, and cybercrime are only open gambits — the real drama is yet to come.

Source Tweets Part 1: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10

Source Tweets Part 2: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12

Source Tweets Part 3: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10

Source Tweets Part 4: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12

The Productivity Puzzle Of Robots Eating All The Jobs (Or Not)

Progressive and smart economist Jared Bernstein on the productivity puzzle of robots eating all the jobs (or not):

Productivity growth was up 1% last year and has averaged 0.8% since 2011, a smooth trend through the numbers. The trend suggests that the pace of productivity growth has decelerated since the first half of the 2000s which begs an important question.


I keep hearing about ‘the end of work‘ based on the assumption that the pace of labor-saving technology such as robots and artificial intelligence has accelerated. Maybe it has. There’s lots of good anecdotes to that effect, most recently that geeky-looking Google self-driving car.


But the robots-are-coming advocates need to explain why a phenomenon that should be associated with accelerating productivity is allegedly occurring over a fairly protracted period where the [productivity] trend in output per hour is going the other way.


A shave with Occam’s razor [explanation] would be weak demand and its corollary, weak capital investment [nothing to do with robots]. Until someone can convince me what’s wrong with the above argument, I don’t want to hear that automation is precluding full employment.


My own take: We’re still coming out of a severe macroeconomic down cycle, credit crisis, deleveraging, liquidity trap. The prevailing pessimistic economic theories (death of innovation, robots eating all the jobs, crisis of inequality) will fade with recovery.

For bonus points, identify the other tech-driven economic force that could explain low productivity at a time of great tech advancement. My nomination: Tech-driven price deflation; lowers prices, reduces measured GDP and productivity, while boosting consumer welfare.

Source Tweets: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12