The religious among us may have an altar at home. An altar is a special place for the highest in our lives; the presence of an altar is a continuous reminder that there is a higher meaning, a higher power that takes precedence over the mundanity of everyday life, a mundanity that can suck us into its relentless ratrace. Altars powerfully orient us to a reality beyond the visible.
"Startup" may be thought of as an organization, a company in its formative stages, and the term these days calls to mind Silicon Valley and its wellspring of innovators. Yet "Startup" is also a state of mind, a way of being to create something out of nothing, a mode of creation that requires us to abandon the creature comforts of everydayness, of procrastination and conformity, of luxuriating in the beauty of an idea-in-potentia. If the mundanity of "looking good" and "being right" are more important to us than "creating the future", then we abandon the "Startup" state of mind, and get sucked into the mundanity of "I coulda been a contendah.”
So I have built an altar to Startup in my home, and it is simply a Business Model Canvas posted to the wall. Every time I catch a glance of it, it reminds me of the “Startup” state of mind, that I could be testing, that I could be doing, that I could be facing the moments of truth of proving whether the future I envision is a vision or an illusion. The “Startup” state of mind stands above and beyond everydayness, and this altar serves as an inescapable monument to what could be.
You can get a copy of the business model canvas here, and go here to get a large print version.
“Don’t think you are going to win in business with a better product, more capital, or a bigger team. You can’t just throw resources at a market and expect to win. The winner in a market most often has the best strategy and exectutes it well.”—Fred (via brycedotvc)
That’s him on the foreground, rewiring the brains of hundreds of hackers, entrepreneurs and government officials as to what was possible on the island, and perhaps more importantly, who would make it possible. Who that “who” is was vastly expanded one week earlier at the Parranda Summit:
During 39 years in public life and a few months in the private sector and academia, I’d never seen a plan to focus on all Puerto Ricans, on the mainland, Puerto Rico and countries throughout the hemisphere or the world, develop as quickly and effectively as parranda.org appears to be doing, and rarely have I seen such an eclectic group of Puerto Ricans propose so many ideas as were floated at the summit.
that he co-organized just a couple weeks earlier to build the community which will expand into the Parranda who will combine with the hackers to recreate the economy. Of course, a constellation of collaborators made all this possible, yet it is also fair to say that Ricardo Burgos is Killing It.
The TechSummit in Puerto Rico was a historical event that overturned the relationship between the People of Puerto Rico and its government.
Americans in the United States think of themselves as citizens but also as taxpayers…the nature of free market trade has seeped into the American consciousness so deeply, that US citizens naturally think of their relationship with the government as a commercial exchange: I am a taxpayer, and therefore I deserve X, Y and Z. This is assumed to be true.
In Puerto Rico, this is far from the case…in Spanish, “uno tributa,” meaning that you literally pay tribute to the government just as you would have to a monarch or to a Roman emperor. It is seen as a fact of life, as certain as death, but one that does not confer any rights on the individual to question or expect anything based on that payment. It’s just tribute. This is assumed to the true.
Perhaps to someone raised in the Anglo Saxon context, it was just another day at the farm. But to us, to me, it was literally the first time that I ever saw the government pay tribute to its people, opening itself up, sharing what it had and inviting the citizenry rip, mix and burn its vision of what is possible. The hackers did not disappoint!
The genie is out of the bottle, never to return.
A round of applause to the collaborators in making this moment possible.
It’s not everyday someone thinks to themselves “Fuck it, I’m doing this”, quits their job, risks everything and starts working on something they truly believe in, embracing failure every step of the way. Since Startup of Puerto Rico and events like Startup After Hours, Founder Institute, Startup Weekend, and others started I’ve slowly but surely seen it happening. The most recent person I know that decided to do this is Giselle Zeno. I’ve known her for a while and was very intrigued to know what finally triggered that mindset in her. Hopefully this is the first of a series of interviews to awesome people that have recently reached that mindset switch or are almost there.
Scientists’ work follows a consistent pattern. They apply for grants, perform their research, and publish the results in a journal. The process is so routine it almost seems inevitable. But what if it’s not the best way to do science?
The heroes of our age are technology entrepreneurs…Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Where are the women? And where are the latinas? In this panel discussion, we dig into the opportunities for women to pursue technology entrepreneurship, and the necesary tools to move forward.
"What would I have liked to know about entrepreneurship if I were were a member of the MIT Class of 2013?"
In short, it was relentless barrage of awesome. Gianpaolo Pietri waxed on his reality of waking up wishing the workday never ended given his passion for building Yasta.PR. Jason Borschow spoke about how to leverage whatever endowments you have. I (Marcos Polanco) shared several of the innovations I have worked on in Puerto Rico, including the launching of a startup community in collaboration with Ramphis Castro, also a speaker, and many other talents. Gaby Hernandez of BDO explained the incentives he is using to migrate wealth to the island. Jon Borschow of Foundation for Puerto Rico exhorting Puerto Rico to focus on the export and visitor economies, Francisco Uriarte detailed how to access capital…Manuel Calderon, Jose Cordero, Carlos Cobian (who firestarted the whole conference), Christine Nieves, Deepak Lambda, Eugenio Torres, Fernando Albertorio, Jorge Ferrer, all describing how they started and made it anywhere they live. You can catch videos of the presentations or grab links from the conference Twitter account. Here we are:
Then came the moment when it all crystallized for me…when I tweeted:
In that moment I realized that we were not inviting the Boston students in the audience to come to some island, to some beaches or even to their families. Ultimately, fairly all of us speakers knew each other and collaborated with each other and were all pursuing our passions and profits in global markets…we were inviting those Boston students, from MIT to Harvard to BU, to join us, a network of innovators creating a brand new community based in Puerto Rico which simply did not exist even two years ago. That is an idea worth spreading and news worth writing about. "We help each other." was not part of the old lexicon, yet it was the implicit message all day long, because we are having fun conquering the world, together.
I just came back from a trip to Los Angeles, my first time there in 23 years, and not only did I enjoy the LA vibe from Rancho Palos Verdes to Venice Beach…I was amazed at the ease with with I traversed it. Let’s not underestimate the power of the times we live in…
…a visit to Kayak to book a flight, then a visit to Airbnb to coordinate my stay. (Hi Neal!) I arrive, and given a notification on Facebook, one of my local friends picks me up at the airport. Thanks!
Whip out my 4G’d iPhone…Kayak again to get a great deal on a rental car, Yelp over to the best chorizo scramble I’ve had in years, navigate Google Maps to the local Planet Fitness (600 locations), and then zip over to Regus Business Lounge (1,200 worldwide) on Sunset Boulevard to crank some work out, iMac Air in tow. Close shop and head over to an LA Founder Institute event (40 cities), where I am instantly networked into the local startup scene.
I spend a couple days at a conference, and they distribute a mobile app with profiles of each attendee, which allows us acclimate to each other and remain connected over social media…
…the point is we are now locals everywhere, so why live anywhere? When mobility meets globality, we can pursue our work without bounds of time & place.
So, the world didn’t end on December 21, 2012 as many believed would happen and the year is quickly coming to a close. This year has been truly and absolutely awesome. For the past couple of years I haven’t really reflected or looked back on things, so today I set out to do exactly that.
In the last couple months, I’ve met up with old colleagues who are curious about getting plugged into the startup/investing scene. They’re currently employed by big tech companies and haven’t actively been on the job hunt, but they’re intrigued by startups. Everyone’s motivations vary, but…
Here's what San Juan's Startup Coworking Space Will Look Like
Like it? It takes a village to raise a coworking space, and Adriana Vega rose to the task of sharing with us a vision of what our space could look like. That was the first floor…here is the second:
…plenty of space for public interaction and a conference room in the back. So wanna join in? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the information listed here to get in the queue. We are working on the repairs, raising sponsors and the ground rules for our collaboration. Want to help? Tweet the word, and share your thoughts in the comments below.
Ideas seduce…so luscious, shiny & beautiful! Thinking back to my first startup back in 1995, the idea of a personalizing the web struck me like cupid’s arrow, compelled me to valiantly resign to a paycheck and pursue its siren call..what a great solution! Looking for a problem…without rhyme or reason…for the next three years.
Magic mirror on the wall, Who’s the fairest of them all?
Oh to have had a Validation Board, the tool of the trade in Lean Startup Machine Miami, held last week at The Launchpad and attended by 50 earnest unlearners. Starting Friday at 6:00pm, attendees pitched their ideas and formed into team from 2-5 people each. Then each team documented the customer they were addressing and the problem they were solving for them. I mean, if the customer does not have the problem you purport to solve, why even talk about the solution? With a team of four, we started with the concept of “Total Prime”, a dynamically generated news video channel for technology executives…
The Validation Board helped us unpack the logic of our thinking and test our riskiest assumptions through simple experiments. The Board is ruthlessly truthful, dashing our hopes and dreams with the cold steel of real data from actual customers. The idea was…err…not the fairest of them all. So time to pivot into a new problem for a new customer…the data barely confirmed our vision this time, so we could now persevere and keep learning with new field data until the 54 hours were over, and it was time to choose a victor among teams, the one who had learned the most in the course of the event…that honor would go to Shpot…congratulations!
"If your Blank & Ries are still in as-new condition, don’t walk…run to the next Lean Startup Machine.”
Lean Startup Machine brilliantly boils down the practice of lean customer development into a repeatable experimental & experiential process, and yes, you’ll have it in your bones by the end of the weekend. Which reminds me that…
Thanks as well to @ManuelRdgz (left) who compelled me (right) to pursue the idea. By the end, we were the only ones left standing in the team. I could not have asked for better company all weekend long.
So, what happened to that first startup? We finally identified an earlyvangelist customer, but one that would soon go bankrupt as the internet bubble burst, leaving our team scattered to the four winds. Perhaps we were doomed from the start, but no more dreamy fantasy startups for me.
They don't pay you for what you know (Book Review)
As I enter my third decade in the talent force, it becomes more obvious than ever that winning is about excellent everyday execution on the fundamentals. Writing software? It’s about each line of code. Counting beans? It’s about accounting for each entry. Hustling sales? It’s about systematic followup. So what are the fundamentals of generating the future, the profession of entrepreneurs? The act of reinventing reality is to step into the vision within and manifesting it through word and action. Yet how does that translate into the day-to-day of business?
Just as Toy Story must work for both adults and children, Joaquín Rodriguez Kierce's "No te pagan por lo que sabes" (They don’t pay you for what you know) (Spanish Edition) covers the fundamentals of generating the future for new entrants into the talent force…yet you adult professionals would do well to brush up with this quick read, because there’s a lot of sloppy execution out there, including by yours truly.
The book is a reminder that the point of showing up to work is to make valuable things happen. To bring ideas to life. To ship! And that attitude of execution is reflected in the way you run meetings, in the way you write emails, in the way you present, in the way you make promises, and in how you embrace deadlines…day in and day out. These routine events are how you keep an organization inescapably awakened to its purpose for being. Each of these present an opportunity to move the ball forward, or not. Ballers move the ball forward, and Rodriguez Kierce has written a manual for ballers in control of their professional careers.
It is not possible to practice this book’s suggestions without being noticed…there is very little competition for professionals that invite responsibility and are intolerant of indecision: people know when they are coasting, and respect even a 22-year old who embodies excellence. Because this attitude reflects the values of owners, it is a rocket fuel for career advancement.
Looking back at the past two decades, I realize that all I ever wanted was the opportunity to work, to demonstrate what I could accomplish. Practitioners of Rodriguez Kierce’s advice will have no shortage of this opportunity.
Angels - Startup founders do not easily appreciate that Silicon Valley represents
the marriage of technological virtuosity and financial wizardry. Founders who could change the world during the Internet Bubble of 1999 became no more than restaurant waiters during the Nuclear Winter of 2001. The imagination of local startup founders is constrained by the utter non-existence of seed capital. Enter the angels. If the community wants to grow, it needs to do whatever it takes to ignite angel investor participation.
Coworking - Sure, it is wonderful to work in your underwear, yet are you being maximally productive? Coworking spaces are booming all over as a community-fueled alternative to traditional offices, home offices and old-school incubators. If the community cares about doing more faster, an urban coworking space in San Juan is a must.
Mastermind - Being a CEO is a dream for many, yet in reality it is the loneliest job in the world. Startup founders need a forum to exchange ideas and keep each other accountable, which is the point of a Mastermind Group.
Speaker Series - As much as startup founders are traveling to and living in Silicon Valley, it is imperative to regularly bring the global startup ecosystem to us, and a way to accomplish that is a speaker series…what about a great Thursday afternoon talk and Friday workshop by @Jason, @Ev, or boricua @DavidCancel? The community would certainly learn more faster and accelerate island’s connection to the world.
EIR - Let’s take that concept even further…what about getting hackers to live in Puerto Rico for a couple months at a time as Entrepreneurs-in-Residence? They would inject credible, outside perspective to founders, investors and policymakers while networking the community into the EIRs startup hub of origin in the Valley, Austin, New York or London.
All that could be accomplished with about $250,000 and a lot of collaboration. What would be the result? A startup community that can operate at a totally different scale through funding (angels), intensity (coworking & mastermind) and connectivity (speakers & EIR), all built organically.
Did you know that (customer category) experience (massive pain)? This is a (market size) billion dollar opportunity in the US alone. (Product name) is a (product category) that (value proposition.) Unlike other alternatives we, (key differentiator). The team includes (credible team bios) and we make money by (business model). In essence, we are the (well know analogue) for (analogue product category) and our vision is to (how will the world be different? Why do you care?) We have already (executed milestones) and you are must be involved because (invite!)
Do we get points for originality? No, actually we are blatantly lifting from the excellent Pitching Hacks and throwing in some elevator pitch wisdom from Crossing the Chasm. Rather than explain in detail all that happened there, let’s illustrate the formula with examples:
Startups on Global Stage - We have met dozens and dozens of aspiring entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico who are unable to realize get their companies onto the world stage given the lack of ecosystem of partners, investors and talented collaborators. Startups on a Global Stage is an event series that enables local entrepreneurs to pitch successful angels, venture capitalists and mentors from around the world. Unlike other alternatives, we utilize two-way video streaming technology to habitually expose entrepreneurs to industry-leading resources. Our founding team includes Marcos Polanco, a former Silicon Valley startup founder and former successful economic development policymaker, and Ramphis Castro, former software entrepreneur and now attorney with an intellectual property focus. In essence, Startups on a Global Stage is an American Idol for entrepreneurs, and our vision is to liberate the business aspirations of our best, young talent. We have already organized two events, and you venture capitalists should participate because we are enabling you to access a new source of dealflow.
Let’s take a look at another:
Clearshore - Did you realize that aerospace engineers are retiring at twice the rate that new engineers are entering the field? According to analysts the lack of clearable talent is causing the United States to slip in its competitiveness and is threatening our technological edge, a key federal priority. Clearshore is an nearshore R&D outsourced based in Puerto Rico that delivers a 40% cost advantage while bringing to the aerospace industry the talents of the #15 and #17th largest engineering schools in the country. Unlike Indians, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and are clearable. Our team includes Marcos Polanco, who as a policymaker negotiated the creation of 1,700 aerospace jobs in Puerto Rico, Chris Stahl, who has won $3B in federal contracts as a contract capture consultant, and Tito Montilla, who has raised over $100M in capital with a 5X return to investors. Clearshore generates revenue from fees and additionally from the sale of R&D tax credits unique to Puerto Rico. In essence, we are positioning Puerto Rico as the India for the $60B federal R&D market, and aim to establish Puerto Rico as a recognized innovation hub. We are currently negotiating R&D outsourcing agreements with local universities and you, Mr. Investor, must be involved because of your expertise in the financing of federal contracts.
Using this template, you will cover all your bases. Importantly, you will demonstrate, based on the team bios, that you are the right team to pursue the opportunity. You will assure your listener that you are moving fast, based on the milestones. You will give them a shorthand way of remembering the pitch (e.g. American Idol for startups), and you will close with a personalized touch that specifically invites the listener to be part of the vision…whereas no one likes to be sold, everyone loves to be invited.
There you have it, founders. Use your minute wisely.
Having participating in the flurry of excitement of Silicon Valley in 1999 through the bubble bursting in 2000 through the funding desert in my native Puerto Rico, it becomes much easier to appreciate how the investing environment dictates the entrepreneurial opportunities. Christopher Mirabile, Managing Director of Launchpad Venture Group, explains exactly why startup founders should focus ruthlessly on the capital efficiency of their business model: you can make more mistakes and still come out alive!
Angel investing is plain hard: pay-to-play rounds by unappreciative venture capitalists, entrepreneurs getting fat & happy rather than creating an exit for their investors, getting stuck with rosy, outdated valuations, and the list goes on an on. Frank Peters interviewed veteran investor Charlie Hobbs to get at his observations, recommendations and conclusions. Great listening for entrepreneurs seeking to understand why they see provisions for redemption rights and board control…it is the job of these terms to align the long-term interests of founders and funders, and thus generate the promised outcomes. Glad to see Hobbs echo Clayton Christensen’s dictum for innovation capitalists to be “impatient for profits, patient for scale” though Clayton was more motivated by the information-carrying capacity of profits rather than gaining protection from downstream venture capitalists.
This audio recording by Steve Blank should be required reading for economic developers. This week I have had the opportunity to speak about the development of technological entrepreneurship with the state government, an academic institution and a large corporate player. All had a vision and all were investing in what in production assets, such as training software developers, building facilities and purchasing equipment. That’s great yet presupposes that “the capability precedes the market”.
Facebook’s incredible success demonstrates and accelerates the opposite: compelling yet relatively simple (Facebook is not fundamentally rocket science other than its scalability) technology square aimed at the globalized market wins the day today. Given the accelerants of the Apple App Store, Facebook’s 900M users and the collapsing cost of starting up, laboratories should be experimenting on markets, not on mice.
Why aren't there more Phds granted in Puerto Rico? How much R&D spend would be required to create a market for an R&D support services market?
Hmm. Fascinating question. My gut says that Puerto Ricans are career and income oriented…thus they complete their undergraduate degrees and immediately, or even before immediately, go off to print cash. Assume for a moment that awesome graduate research opportunities existed in Puerto Rico. Do you really think folks would forsake their Boeing and Raytheon offers? I don’t think so.
That’s the demand side…what about the supply? Up until recently the R&D enterprise was the UPR enterprise, and researchers there estimate their productivity is just 33% of what it would be elsewhere due to bureaucratic hassles. UPR also has a business model reliant on its constitutionally mandated 9% slice of the general fund, so it is generally too lazy to cultivate alumni networks, donors and high-impact research.
I don’t know specifically about R&D support services, but my estimate is that the graduate research enterprise in Puerto Rico is one order of magnitude off its natural size, pressured by the forces above. Thus, it should be a $1B per annum across all disciplines. That’d be my target.
As I have continued to tour my country, preaching the gospel of entrepreneurship and the Founder Institute’s role in it, I keep seeing how our senses can be our own worst enemies:
You work at a company, and are wondering whether you are willing to take the “risk” of taking the “plunge” into founding a startup. Guess what: it is a real question whether startups are actually safer than jobs. The fact is that the world is changing so fast that I’d rather count on my own wits and wiles than those of an employer who could well be asleep at the wheel. Reid Hoffman has more ato say about this in the start-up of YOU.
You live in Puerto Rico and figure than the best opportunity is to capture consulting gigs writing code for some local business. Guess what: Amazon EC2 + Apple AppStore + Facebook means that you can reach a global audience reaching in the millions at low cost while sipping piña coladas on a Caribbean island. Not that it is Silicon Valley, but as I’ve repeated since 2009, Puerto Rico is No Longer An Island.
That is why Startup Weekend is so important: it demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt that with the right techniques startups can accomplish more in 54 hours than governments can in 54 years. That is why Founder Institute matters: it is placing at the disposal of global changemakers the know-who and the know-how to realize their world-changing dreams…it may not all be obvious, if you wake up and read the local newspaper…just don’t, and commit instead to seeing how far you can see if you just close your eyes.
"Honored followers of Zen, long accustomed to groping for the elephant, please do not be suspicious of the true dragon.” - Dōgen
Through its Innovators’ Patent Agreement, Twitter has effectively licensed its patents to every company on the planet with a single condition: that they don’t themselves assert their patent rights by initiating litigation. What are the network effects of having a large numbers adopt the IPA? The result is that initiating a patent lawsuit would suddenly de-license a corporation from a massive number of IPA patents, thus significantly increasing the business risks of retaliatory lawsuits. Yahoo would not just have Facebook retaliating…it would be the whole of Silicon Valley. I can read Dick Costolo’s mind and see that this is the true agenda behind the IPA, and the moves by Union Square and TechStars to adopt the agreement for their portfolio companies are now realizing this vision.
“Be ready when opportunity comes…Luck is the time when preparation and opportunity meet. - Roy D. Chapin Jr.”—
Attention all developers: what you sell in the market are not your coding skills.
Let’s use an extreme example to illustrate: it is 2004, you are Mark Zuckerberg, you are working on something called "The Facebook", and I offer you $250K a year to code up some software. You must choose. Should you take it? In hindsight, of course not. Not because $250K per year would not have been an amazing compensation package for a kid still in college…you will not take the offer because it would preclude you of pursuing a multi-billion dollar opportunity. There is an opportunity cost to those $250K, no matter how sweet they look.
It is now 2012 and you could have been at Instagram, instead of grabbing that nice Kodak salary. You could have been at OMGPOP instead of on the Electronic Arts payroll. If you are a software developer in the startup scene it is your professional duty to find those bats out of hell and grab on for dear life. If an employer puts a ring on your finger, they are compensating you for the opportunities you are forsaking to do something else. Your coding skills are simply the price of admission. Even if you are pursuing the flat-out best opportunity you can conceive, you could still be doing something else…you are selling the fact you are closing off other options…that is what employers are buying, and you’d better charge for it.