I'm an entrepreneur, most recently with Lore. Thinking about what's next.

  1. What’s an Entrepreneur?

    I recently dropped in on an excellent seminar by Harrison Metal on 19th Century Entrepreneurship. The whole discussion was fascinating, but I wanted to share a specific document that was handed out. It’s a list of definitions of the word ‘entrepreneur’ since 1734:

    • 1734: Richard Cantillon: Entrepreneurs are non-fixed income earners who pay known costs of production but earn uncertain incomes
    • 1803: Jean-Baptiste Say: An entrepreneur is an economic agent who unites all means of production- land of one, the labour of another and the capital of yet another and thus produces a product. By selling the product in the market he pays rent of land, wages to labour, interest on capital and what remains is his profit. He shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield. 
    • 1934: Schumpeter: Entrepreneurs are innovators who use a process of shattering the status quo of the existing products and services, to set up new products, new services.
    • 1961: David McClelland: An entrepreneur is a person with a high need for achievement [N-Ach]. He is energetic and a moderate risk taker.
    • 1964: Peter Drucker: An entrepreneur searches for change, responds to it and exploits opportunities. Innovation is a specific tool of an entrepreneur hence an effective entrepreneur converts a source into a resource.
    • 1971: Kilby: Emphasizes the role of an imitator entrepreneur who does not innovate but imitates technologies innovated by others. Are very important in developing economies.
    • 1975: Albert Shapero: Entrepreneurs take initiative, accept risk of failure and have an internal locus of control.
    • 1975: Howard Stevenson: Entrepreneurship is “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”
    • 1983: G. Pinchot: Intrapreneur is an entrepreneur within an already established organization.
    • 1985: W.B. Gartner: Entrepreneur is a person who started a new business where there was none before. 
    TAGGED: writing entrepreneurship

  2. Copy and Paste

    The best part of the internet is that no one owns it. It’s not regulated by governments or controlled by large corporations. You don’t need a permit to publish a website or permission to start a business. It remains a frontier.

    Imagine, though, if big media companies in the 70s had a say in the design of copy-and-paste. They’d have freaked out. It’s a tool designed for stealing.

    We take copy and paste for granted. It lives in the same bucket as right-clicking. But it’s such a foundational part of how we use computers. It’s what makes the internet work. Beyond that, it’s shaped our mindset as technologists: we take inspiration, learn from the best, and do it better. We hack.

    It was hackers, mostly anonymous, who invented copy and paste. They forge frontiers.

    This, sadly, may change in the future, as governments get nervous and proprietary platforms like iOS become more dominant. But for now it’s still the Wild West, and that’s why I spend my time on it.

    TAGGED: technology entrepreneurship writing

  3. Thoughts on Entrepreneurship Education

    I got an email in November from a student at Penn looking for some perspective on making entrepreneurship more of a priority at Wharton undergrad. I was a sophomore there last year, and I’ve since left to build Lore. I sent him some thoughts, and looking back I think they’re worth sharing. Edited for polish and anonymity. 

    Hey Joe,

    I’m a sophomore in Wharton. I’m reaching out to you asking for some help with an initiative I’m working on. We’re currently trying to explore entrepreneurship at the undergraduate level at Wharton. To gain a greater perspective, we’re reaching out to students/grads that were entrepreneurs while in school.

    What has your entrepreneurial experience added to your business education?

    It is my business education. The efficacy of a scientific, academic business education is questionable. Business is so broad, it’s different to everyone. Sure, there are some who learn their trade before entering the job market, but that’s a small subset of people in business. I like to think that starting a company has bits and pieces of every aspect of business, and it’s the most comprehensive, engaged way of learning it.

    Does the process of entrepreneurship add academic value (even for a student that doesn’t plan on pursuing entrepreneurship full-time)?

    I don’t think one can “pursue entrepreneurship.” One doesn’t have short stints as an entrepreneur, like one would have a job. It’s a different career path entirely (if he/she is pursuing it in earnest). That said, you do see people try starting a company and then move on to other things.

    It’s hard to make blanket statements about general entrepreneurship because deli-owners and high-tech CEOs alike are entrepreneurs. That said, the concepts in managing a shop, all aspects of it – its finances, product, marketing, hiring, firing, logistics – is incredibly valuable from a learning experience. I can’t say for sure that starting a company would add value to anyone, no matter what profession they pursue, but I’m fairly certain that someone who starts a company would be better at banking or whatever they end up pursuing. 

    What were some resources (ask for extracurricular AND academic) that were helpful?

    I hadn’t taken an entrepreneurship course at Penn. My formal coursework, beyond some design and marketing courses, have had little relevance to my day-to-day job. That said, I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for Penn. A few things:

    • Professors as resources (even ones i didn’t have)
    • WEP programs like VIP, WVA, and EIR
    • Speaker series
    • Meeting people from other schools at Penn
    • Student-created meet ups

    What are some resources (extracurricular and academic) that you wished you’d had? 

    I think there are a lot of mechanical things that are teachable and I wish there was a course taught by a part-time instructor, part-time entrepreneur to walk through the stages of launching a technology-based company. I think that we’re entering a new type of economy and that education in this area requires people who have played in it. I think that it’s not as relevant to hear it from someone who has been a successful founder, say, 20 years ago.

    Regarding the last question, Peter Thiel’s recent course at Stanford is pretty much exactly what I had imagined. I would have killed to take that course. Luckily the notes are online, and they’re using Lore to facilitate it. 

    TAGGED: entrepreneurship education wharton penn writing

  4. On Hiring

    A big part of my job is recruiting, yet we haven’t hired a single engineer at Coursekit. The cry you hear from entrepreneurs, that hiring is impossible, is true. But only partially. 

    You see, we’re looking to hire extraordinary people. The brightest in the world. People who can help us build a company. People who want to devote themselves to something world-changing. They’re motivated, brilliant, and they share our passion. 

    I don’t think there’s a shortage of computer science graduates. Hiring the best people, by definition, will always be a challenge.

    When we speak to a candidate, we want to be blown away. I don’t care about your experience or your degrees. Have you created something incredible? How hungry are you? Would I want to work for you? 

    We’re trying to extend class beyond the lecture hall, to change what education looks like online, to make classes about people again. We want to power every class, school, student, and educator, while building the largest academic network.

    We won’t let the bar drop.

    It’s tough, but I’m confident that we’ll build the team we need. 

    If this speaks to you, and you’re looking to make a difference, email me at joseph (at) coursekit.com. 

    TAGGED: hiring startups entrepreneurship tech writing

  5. Steve

    Tonight, for the first time, I feel that strange, deep sadness for someone I’ve never met. It’s the sadness people feel when their favorite musician passes away, when a captivating president dies. It is a unique sorrow, of both selfishness and altruism. 

    Steve Jobs is not dead. But he has famously said that there is no Apple Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs the Person. They are one. Apple was as much in Steve’s DNA as he was in the company’s. He would only leave Apple if he was leaving this earth altogether. His life is his work.

    I was probably around 8 years old when I discovered Steve Jobs. Steve answered the question of what I want to do with my life. It all made sense. We’re here to make a difference. To create something extraordinary.

    I’m part of the Apple religion. I love their products, yes, but more importantly, I try to look at the world in “The Apple Way.”

    Having a Mac in 2000 was weird, as a third-grader. Everyone had PCs, and gradeschoolers want to be like everyone else. But my dad persisted. “We’re a Mac family,” he said. And then I fell in love with the company. It represented the things that I wanted to be: different, creative, smart. 

    Steve defined that vision. The press speaks of him as a tech mogul and the man who reinvented the music business. But I bet Steve doesn’t think of himself that way. It’s not about the money. It’s about building amazing things and changing the world.

    I’ve dreamt of meeting him, but that doesn’t seem likely. Whatever wisdom of his is available online has inspired and guided me.

    While his story as the leader of Apple is certainly his biography, his influence extends far wider. He personifies startup culture and a generation of innovation. The idea that one person can start something extraordinary. The idea that the entrepreneur is an artist. 

    Whatever happens, he will live on in the millions he’s inspired. Thanks, Steve.

    TAGGED: steve jobs apple tech entrepreneurship writing

  6. Lightening

    Let’s look at three things that happened in technology in the past 8 days:

    1. Facebook introduced Messenger, a potentially game changing communication platform.
    2. Twitter added Activity and a more robust @user tab, adding much-needed transparency to its deep social graph.
    3. Google bought Motorola, a radical move that can have massive implications in the mobile space.

    Each of these can have a profound impact in how millions and millions of people communicate and consume and create. It’s amazing how fast things move in this business.

    TAGGED: startups entrepreneurship tech writing

  7. Here’s to Today’s Thinkers

    Neal Gabler, in Sunday’s New York Times

    Ideas just aren’t what they used to be. Once upon a time, they could ignite fires of debate, stimulate other thoughts, incite revolutions and fundamentally change the ways we look at and think about the world. […]

    If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.

    While this article has an intriguing title, and a nice photo, Gabler misses the mark. First, the article was written in the Sunday Opinion section of the New York Times, a platform for ideas like few others. The medium of the article (a big idea itself) subtly undermines its message. But besides for that, I fundamentally disagree with the premise that ideas are in short supply nowadays. 

    We live in an era of democratized ideation. I haven’t been deemed a “thinker,” nor am I a professor. But I have a blog, and I write my ideas on it. People actually read it. Go back just 15 years, and there’s no way I could’ve meaningfully responded to Gabler’s article. I’m one of millions of bloggers who create new ideas. The best ones bubble up through clever algorithms and social filtering. 

    It is true, as Gabler says, that we consume loads more information than ever before. But we aren’t passive consumers. We respond and we engage. That is the bedrock of social networking platforms. Share and discuss. Maybe these are micro ideas. Maybe 99.99% of them could never touch the intellectual highpoint of Norman Mailer. But why should idea creation be limited to those who have fancy titles? 

    And to say there are no big, groundbreaking ideas is ludicrous. I mean, look at how people interact today. It’s fundamentally different than it was a decade ago. The world is smaller. We can consume the arts from devices that fit in our pockets. Comedians can burst out one-liners to millions of subscribers. 

    But Gabler rejects the notion that entrepreneurs are today’s thinkers: 

    No doubt there will be those who say that the big ideas have migrated to the marketplace, but there is a vast difference between profit-making inventions and intellectually challenging thoughts. Entrepreneurs have plenty of ideas, and some, like Steven P. Jobs of Apple, have come up with some brilliant ideas in the “inventional” sense of the word.

    It’s crazy to discount world-changing technological achievements because people make money off of them. Speak to any of the entrepreneurs behind the most influential tech companies. Not one of them is motivated by his paycheck. They’re our generation’s Einsteins.

    We’re in the middle of the Computer Revolution, and naturally our society’s biggest ideas will come from within it. Technology today is fundamentally rewriting the way we’ve lived for thousands of years. Doesn’t that warrant a new way of thinking?

    And, since when do we look down on people for making their ideas happen? The article is written from an intellectual’s tell-and-don’t-do perspective.

    This said, a trip to the dark world of Twitter’s top-trending list uncovers a world of mostly incoherent, grammatically-incorrect, petty banter.  But here’s the thing: this kind of behavior isn’t new. We’re not getting dumber. It’s just that we’ve never encountered these people, and their thoughts, before. Social networks, and the internet, are a lens into the majority of the world who don’t have thinking jobs. To a seasoned intellectual, this could be frightening. 

    But to suggest that we lack ideas is to say that we aren’t changing as a society. And that’s as far from the truth as it can be. Never in the history of the world have we as a civilization moved so quickly. Our Zuckerbergs have influenced this world many times more than the white-haired “geniuses” of the past.

    TAGGED: big ideas einstein entrepreneurship nytimes neal gabler opinion thoughts startups writing

  8. Deeper Wells

    I recently replaced my no-brand contact lens case with one from Bausch and Lomb. When I used it I noticed that its wells were significantly deeper than those of my old one. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like B&L makes them larger so that people use more solution; chances are, it’s solution that they make. 

    While it’s slightly annoying, it’s certainly clever. I got over it quickly, but it got me thinking about the differences between corporate America — the P&Gs of the world — and the tech economy. 

    Large, publicly traded corporations in the US are all about optimizing. Every little bit. Even the $2.99 contact case. But the most successful tech companies have the exact opposite mantra: give the product away for free, monetize later, lavish employees, perfect the user experience at all costs. 

    It makes sense. We’re still in the early days of the internet and we simply haven’t reached the point of market saturation where squeezing every cent out matters. More important is building huge networks and keeping them engaged. The costs — no matter how expensive they seem – are nominal compared to how they scale. 

    TAGGED: product design tech startups entrepreneurship writing

  9. Lessons from the Trenches: Entrepreneurship Panel at Penn

    I moderated a panel at Penn yesterday with David Tisch, Ben Lerer, and Katia Beauchamp. It was one of the most insightful tech/entrepreneurship sessions I’ve been to on campus. The panelists were candid, the students were highly engaged, and the event had a conversational atmosphere. 

    I recorded the majority of the panel, starting with question: “If you were in school now, what would you spend time on?” Listen here, I recommend it: 

     

    Thanks to everyone for coming, especially to Dave, Ben, and Katia.

    TAGGED: penn entrepreneurship startups writing

  10. We Must Protect This House

    Kevin Plank, the CEO and founder of Under Armour, came to campus this past Thursday. His speech was motivating, passionate, and perfectly articulated. 

    I personally love how he lives and breathes the brand, the spirit. Under Armour is about taking performance up a notch. He runs the company with “No Loser Talk” — he never speaks negatively, never begins a sentence with “despite”. The company’s motto, “We Must Protect This House,” ends with “I Will.” Kevin says “I Will” doesn’t just answer the question, rather it’s a universal message for athletes and entrepreneurs and dreamers: to get stuff done, you have to will it. 

    Plank wants to build “the biggest baddest brand on the planet” — it’s his company’s vision. And he made one thing very clear — it’s a concept that’s echoed by the greatest brands ever — brands aren’t built on products and specifications. They’re built on standing for something, for emotionally connecting customers, for meaning something distict. For Nike, it’s about being the best — they make it a point to have the best athletes in the world wear their product. For Apple, it’s about design-driven, cool, easy-to-use, cutting edge products that make life better. For Under Armour, it seems, its about making yourself better. I’ve written about this before

    On that note, Plank didn’t mention the 900lb-gorilla, Nike, once. It’s clearly the giant they want to beat. His marketing videos bear much resemblance to Nike’s, but they’re definitely going for an edgier, tech-focused approach. He wants to be Nike 2.0. 

    I recommend you listen to the recording:

    TAGGED: kevin plank ceo of under armour marketing entrepreneurship kevin plank at wharton writing

  11. Sam Zell on Being an Entrepreneur

    I saw Sam Zell, the Chicago-based real estate billionaire, speak at Wharton on Monday for what amounted to a few hours. This guy’s a genius. He speaks perfectly: no BS, intelligent, and, honestly, inspiring. 

    He spoke about being an entrepreneur, taking risks, making decisions, energy, and the value of an MBA. He then answered the audience’s questions. I liked the session so much that I followed him to his next appearance at Peter Linneman’s Real Estate Entrepreneurship class. He continued with Q&A. 

    I’ve posted the three clips below. I really, really recommend you listen. 

    Here’s his prepared bit:

     

    This is the first Q&A: 

     

    And, the second:

     

     

    TAGGED: sam zell wharton zell laurie zell laurie real estate wharton real estate wharton speech business startups entrepreneurship writing

  12. Shuffler.fm - Pandora for Music Heads

    Shuffler.fm is essentially Pandora for people who are into music. It scans the hippest blogs in 75 genres — indie, electronic, house — and jumps from song to song. You hit play and it brings you directly to the blog page. Try it. It’s fantastic. 

    One of the service’s clear strengths is it’s simplicity, but there are definitely areas that could use improvement. For instance, if you like a song, there’s no direct link to go and buy it, or even save it. 

    Between this, Pitchfork’s Best New Music, and Sirius XMU, I’m able to get my fill of the indie world’s latest. 

    Fan of the blog Michael Grazi showed me the service last week, and I’ve been obsessed with it since. 

    TAGGED: music tech entrepreneurship shuffler.fm pandora for music heads writing