"Stop trying to be interesting and start trying to be interested."
Friday, November 30, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
First, though, I'd like to say why I think these two traits define the people I grew up around. PREPARATION. We have been preparing for (or more appropriately have had a plan for) our lives since the day we were born, and this is one thing that is definitively a result of nuture (vs. nature). Our parents were the first generation to live in the suburbs. Most of my peers grew up in fairly well-off neighborhoods. At Kellogg, during my orientation, one speaker asked how many members of my class had attended an urban high school. I believe 4 hands were raised. That is less than 1% of my class. Our parents also had less children than previous generations, so there was greater incentive for them to invest in us (i.e. plan our future). We were raised by parents who defined a much larger percentage of our childhood activities than previous generations.
Thus, the second defining characteristic of my peers, ACTION, was born. Our parents had plans for us, and then they pushed us to implement them into our actions. Our parents were not content letting us play in the yard all afternoon. We had to participate in youth soccer, music lessons, and community service. We had to aim for leadership positions in clubs. And as much as my generation likes to believe our parents didn't dictate our actions, it's very hard to find evidence to the contrary.
So picture my generation entering the college setting. We have had a great part of our lives planned out for us, and now for the first time, we have some discretionary control. So what do we do? We play out the plans that we know so well from high school. We get involved on campus. We engage in community service. And this is excellent because we feel good that the world is better because of our actions.
College graduation. The "real" world, or something like it. Our previous framework of plans and actions don't translate so well. Where are the clubs to join? Is there a community service group in my company? It's no fun when I can't be elected president of my group. And thus my peers fall into a mentality of discontent and confusion. So what is the best thing for us to do? Go back to a setting where we can live our lives the way we know how. A place where clubs are ways to stay active and community service groups help us feel good about ourselves. Ohhh...that is a place called business school (or law school, or grad school).
We can all see where this is now heading...we have been planning and acting in such a rote way for so long, it is very difficult for us to break out of this mold. Our goals in the end are to be happy and successful, but it is unclear how to get there from here. The best way we see how is to move forward with everyone else. Our thoughts are subliminally, "These people around me have been successful in the same ways I have been. So as long as we are all moving in the same direction, we will all end up in the golden land of happiness and wealth."
Yet in these best laid plans of mice and men, something goes awry. I am not sure how things will progress, but seeing how we as a group move in mass, something will pass us by. My fear is that something is our passions. I fear that we, who have so much to offer, are putting aside our passions for our pre-planned futures. A plan which our parents created for us, but one that we don't understand. A plan which dictates that we do the "safe" things, but has no real meaning behind it. I liken this future to a diamond. It looks good, feels good, and everyone else says it is great. But when you really think about it, is it really worth anything if the only value in it is defined by others?
So an update on CoNotes...things have progressed slower than I would have liked. Since launch, I have had little time to work on the site, which has been frustrating. That is not to say I have not been doing anything productive. Just more that I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day.
I expect to launch some minor revisions to the site in the near future. I would like to thank all of you who have given me feedback on the site. It has been tremendously helpful and valuable. Please continue to email me and be on the look out for future enhancements...
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
I haven't really say anything in my previous posts about my startup, so I guess now is the time. CoNotes aims to solve a huge problem for most job seekers: lack of accurate and relevant information about companies. How do I know this is a problem? Well think about the job that you have now. How different was your impression of the company before and after you started working. My guess is that a) either you didn't know enough to even have much of an impression to begin with; or b) it has changed a lot.
I want to change that because we spend 1/3 of our lives working, so it critical that we know what we are getting ourselves into when we take a job. I want provide you with company information that is both accurate and relevant to you. How is this possible? Well as a product, think of CoNotes as a "Wikipedia + Yelp" for companies. But it is very different in one critical way: the information is guaranteed to be sourced from peers. Unlike other players in this area such as Vault or Wetfeet, where you have no idea where the information is coming from (it could be some 10 year old kid across the street), CoNotes limits its network of contributors and readers to peers. The first network of peers that I am piloting with is my own, the MBA student network. For MBA students, you can count on the information coming from other MBA students at peer schools.
So that is the concept in a nutshell. Currently, the site can be considered in a very early release state. The feature set is going to be built up gradually over time, but a lot of the most critical features are there right now.
If you are a student at one of the following schools, you should have access to the site.
- Columbia Graduate School of Business
- Cornell University
- Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
- Fuqua School of Business , Duke University
- Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley
- Harvard Business School
- IMD Business School
- Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
- London Business School
- MIT Sloan School of Management
- Stanford Graduate School of Business
- Stern School of Business, NYU
- Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon
- Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth University
- UCLA Anderson School of Management
- University of Chicago Graduate School of Business
- University of Michigan
- Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
- Yale School of Management
And definitely let me know what you think. I love feedback. But right now I need to sleep. Coding is fine and often times very interesting, but IT stuff just hurts. It's never fun setting up a server. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
I'm going to give you my take on why our economy is about to tank, and please let me know if I am crazy. So the past few years of economic growth have been driven by easy credit. Not just for homeowners, but for corporations too. Hedge funds have been doing well by buying securitized debt and things seemed to be going well. Except we have this problem where the debt underlying a lot of these securities had underrated risk (i.e. they are riskier than they were sold at). In top of that, several hedge funds have been levering up the wazoo so that their initial capital makes up only a small percentage of their actual investments. It was as if debt were crack cocaine. They got a taste of it and only wanted more and more, so it could feed their addiction to use that money. But that means if their investors start asking for some of their money back (which all the smart ones are doing now), then they have a serious problem. The debt is like cocaine, remember! It's in their blood and they've already used that loaned money to make some investments. The expectations are that those investments will pay off much better than their debt rates. But to secure the necessary returns, these funds need time to implement their investment strategy. Well they don't have time with their investors demanding their money back. So their investments are not paying off at high enough rates to cover their debt. Now these hedge funds have no time, no money, and pretty much don't have anything besides an addiction.
How does this all lead to an economic downturn? Well this is not a small problem. It's a HUGE problem at EVERY bank on Wall Street. Everyone on Wall Street is sitting around with a finger on their nose hoping it will all go away. These announcements about hedge fund stalls and bankruptcies are an early indicator of what the real problem is. Well if you remember that all that debt was riskier than it actually was...the big trigger will be when all that debt gets re-rated at its true risk value (i.e. higher interest rates and lower value). The current run on hedge fund money by investors asking for their money back is just people who are trying to get something back before this huge debt-rating correction happens. Once that happens, the value of a lot of money will suddenly drop. So imagine if you were living a lifestyle with an income of $100K. Maybe you weren't too thrifty and spent everything you made. Well then one day someone comes along and tells you that you now will be making $50K. Now you are going to have trouble paying down your car lease, your mortgage payments, and that totally unnecessary habit of buying items out of the Sharper Image catalog. That's pretty much what is going to happen when all that debt gets re-rated, but at a much larger scale. No more car, no house, and definitely no more $500 Ionic Sonic Breeze air purifiers. The pains will be felt everywhere. The people to feel it first will be the banks. Then corporations who were expecting to get easy loans will be hit hard. These corporations will get tight with their spending, so service firms will have no business. And pretty much it ripples through the economy.
I'm pretty worried about recruiting for my classmates in business school. It looks like it is going to be a pretty craptastic recruiting year.
What can do you about this? Probably nothing, unless if your name is Bernard Bernanke. I definitely would take a look at any of your investment allocations. Move them out of any companies that are highly-levered and issuing junk bonds (e.g. GM). You might want to look at putting the money in a corporate bond mutual fund that focuses on high-quality corporate bonds.
I hope I'm wrong about the economy. But the more I think about it, the more I realize we are headed for a couple years of a tough economy. That might just be the nail in the coffin for the Republicans in the 2008 elections.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
10-11am: Wake up at 10-11am and eat some breakfast in my boxers.
12pm: Check my email and look at where I left off coding from yesterday (still in my boxers). Figure out what I am going to do today.
1pm: Make some lunch and watch SportsCenter (boxers).
2pm: Head over to Cafe Ambrosia (no longer in boxers...but usually in a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals). Order a medium iced mocha. Plop down and start my daily code marathon. I prefer to sit facing the window, which gives my eyes something to look at while I figure out how I want to code something.
9pm: Cafe Ambrosia closes. Pick up some take out and head back to apartment.
10pm: Watch something recorded on my DVR (Man vs. Wild has been my recent obsession).
12am: Return to code monkey state.
4-5am: Get tired. Read a chapter from a book (currently reading Founders at Work). Sleep.
Rinse and repeat.
Mix in some meetings, gym time, and errands, and that's pretty much been my life every day this summer, including weekends. I definitely don't think it is the life for everyone. But I wake up every morning pretty excited to get something done. I have little idea how things will turn out, but I am optimistic there is an opportunity. I also am pretty damn scared. Every morning, one of the first thoughts in my head is, "Crap! I only have x weeks of summer left! I need to have something to show or else people will think I just sat on my ass all summer." Of course I have pretty much sat on my ass all summer, but I was coding at the same time.
Nerd Alert below...do not cross unless a geek.
During the first part of the summer, I focused on learning Ruby on Rails, which is a new web development language created by the guys at 37signals in Chicago. It is probably the best web development language I have used...from the developer's perspective. I now know why people love using it. But the biggest concern for me is scaling. I have done a lot of research on scaling systems that were built on Rails, and people have made a lot of progress with it. Obviously the guys at Twitter have been able to work around its limitations, but not before they hit their own well-published obstacles. I choose to use Rails because I needed a rapid development environment. The initial version of the site is a proof of concept that hopefully will gain traction. If scaling becomes an issue, then that is a problem I'd rather have than a ghost town of a website. Nonetheless, I am keeping the issue in the back of my mind and will definitely be watching for bottlenecks after rollout.
To get to know Rails a little better, I actually began my summer coding a project website, BSchoolCool (http://www.bschoolcool.com). Nothing fancy, but just a way to test out what Rails could and could not do. I am going to soon post the source code for the website on SourceForge and hopefully have others help build out features for it. I guess the end goal will be to create an open-source version of eVite that any organization could use. Thus I will make my second contribution to the open source community...the first being the initial version of ShuttleTrack (http://shuttletrack.mit.edu), which was a low-cost system I developed to track vehicles over the web. Definitely not the prettiest website, but it worked (at least when the drivers didn't tamper with the CPDP modems so that people didn't know they were actually making a 10-minute pit stop at Dunkin' Donuts). It ended up being fairly successful, where a large percentage of the MIT student body used it and relied on it to let them know if and when the shuttle would arrive at their stop. It was written about in several publications like CNET. The lesson I learned from that project was that you have to solve a need to make any technology successful. Pretty obvious, but there are so many projects out there which are just about being technically cool; but with those projects, the user potential is pretty much limited to other tech geeks (i.e. very small).
Anyhow, I'd like to end this post saying that the tech community is very cool. That's not to say it is not geeky, but more that it is geek chic. Haha...if that term has any validity. The community is a microcosm of the greater capitalistic economy and society. You have your open-source developers who you can liken to people that like to bake for others. They do it for free because it's hobby. Then you have the mom-and-pop bakeries that try to make do (early start ups), the franchised stores that try to appear like mom-and-pop-bakeries like Panera and Cosi (Facebook), and the mega food companies like Nabisco (Microsoft and IBM).
Yet it is a bizzaro microcosm because the winds change so fast and the small guys can have a huge impact on the big guys. A company like Google is what Microsoft was 10 years ago, which is what IBM was 20 years ago. Facebook is looking like the next Google. It is where Google was 5 years go. If you think back 5 years to 2002, Google was at a crossroads. It was well known among the tech community, but still a relative unknown among mainstream America. Google was projected to pass Yahoo! as the #1 search engine soon, but search engines such as AltaVista and Teoma were big looming threats. It was pre-IPO and many questioned whether or not Google had a sustainable business model. But that same year, Google launched its PPC (pay per click) advertising model and signed an agreement with Yahoo! to serve as its primary search engine. Facebook is closing in on MySpace as the #1 social network, is pre-IPO, and most analysts question if Facebook can generate a sustainable business model. I believe the people behind Facebook are smart enough to figure out how to make Facebook a successful public company. But the only question in my mind is how successful. IBM, Microsoft, and Google all serviced a basic computing need: IBM (hardware), Microsoft (operating system), Google (information retrieval). Facebook is in a different situation where at its core, it is not solving a computing need, but a social need. We are all getting busier and busier. Our family and friends are scattered around the country and around the world. How are going to have the time to stay in touch with everyone? Facebook aims to simplify all your social interactions and responsibilities. Why call your friends to know what they are doing? You can just read their News Feed. You don't need to join a gossip circle to know who is dating whom. I am certain Facebook will soon add an IM component, as that is the big missing piece in their website. Thus, my question is actually, "Is there a big enough social need?" Or is this something people just grow out of?
Friday, July 27, 2007
New "Last Supper" theory crashes Leonardo Web sites
Fri Jul 27, 2007 1:58PM EDT
MILAN (Reuters) - A new theory that Leonardo's "Last Supper" might hide within it a depiction of Christ blessing the bread and wine has triggered so much interest that Web sites connected to the picture have crashed.
The famous fresco is already the focus of mythical speculation after author Dan Brown based his "The Da Vinci Code" book around the painting, arguing in the novel that Jesus married his follower, Mary Magdelene, and fathered a child.
Now Slavisa Pesci, an information technologist and amateur scholar, says superimposing the "Last Supper" with its mirror-image throws up another picture containing a figure who looks like a Templar knight and another holding a small baby.
"I came across it by accident, from some of the details you can infer that we are not talking about chance but about a precise calculation," Pesci told journalists when he unveiled the theory earlier this week.
Websites www.leonardodavinci.tv, www.codicedavinci.tv, www.cenacolo.biz and www.leonardo2007.com had 15 million hits on Thursday morning alone, organizers said, adding they were trying to provide a more powerful server for the sites.
In the superimposed version, a figure on Christ's left appears to be cradling a baby in its arms, Pesci said, but he made no suggestion this could be Christ's child.
Judas, whose imminent betrayal of Christ is the force breaking the right-hand line of the original fresco, appears in an empty space on the left in the reverse image version.
And Pesci also suggests that the superimposed version shows a goblet before Christ and illustrates when Christ blessed bread and wine at a supper with his disciples for the first Eucharist.
The original Da Vinci depicts Christ when he predicts that one among them will betray him.
Since all the linked sites were down, I decided to try and make these mirrored images myself. I used a few versions of The Last Supper that I could find using Google Image Search. They all showed pretty much the same patterns with different levels of clarity. Below is the one I think came out the best. The original image is here, which is from a website titled The Truth Decoded. Kind of ironic that I am using their hosted picture, as the website's mission is to arm Catholics with information to dissuade believers in any theories presented in The Da Vinci Code. Anyhow. the top picture is the original image and below it is the overlayed mirror image. Now the real question is...is there something really there?
Thursday, July 5, 2007
It is pretty amazing what growing up in a certain situation affords people in terms of opportunities. In the US, we take for granted how readily available money is. We could be knee-deep in credit card debt and most likely still be able to convince yet another credit card company to give us a new card. Then I think about what it would take to get someone to loan me the money to start a company in an underdeveloped country, and it becomes virtually impossible.
Today I returned to Kiva's website just to check it out again. I was obviously skeptical about where my money would actually go, if I were to loan it, so I did some research. Although I couldn't fly out to places like Cambodia and Azerbaijan, Nicholas Kristof with the New York Times did just that and reported back (http://video.on.nytimes.com/?fr_story=FEEDROOM186917).
I decided that I would loan a small amount ($25) and see where it goes. In retrospect, the path I chose in picking which entrepreneur to support was pretty ridiculous. I like to eat, so I filtered the list of entrepreneurs to those who are trying to grow a food-related enterprise. Then I clicked through about 20 of their profiles and picked the one that had the most amusing picture. This is who I decided on:
Jeoffery Ogbvo who runs Jeoffery's Provision Store in Asaba, Nigeria.
"I have a business that is presently worth about US$ 1500 (Nigerian Naira 200, 000)," says Mr. Jeoffery Ogbvo, "and I hope to expand my inventory with a Kiva loan." Jeoffery is 53 years old and father of six children. He is requesting a loan of $625.(Click on the picture or here for more information or to loan to Jeoffery.)
I really liked Jeoffery's picture for some reason. I can't tell if he is confused, frightened, or pissed off. For some reason his expression makes me chuckle and thus we became friends...business friends. I also liked the fact that his store was named a provision store. It sounds old school. I think one of the most absurd things I did was to Google for "Jeoffrey's Provision Store Asaba Nigeria" in hopes of determining some legitimacy of his enterprise. 0 hits.
Well I encourage you all to take a look at Kiva and make a microloan. I even more strongly encourage you to support my friend, Jeoffery. Do your own research and hopefully you'll come to the same conclusion as me.
Friday, June 1, 2007
When I first decided to attend Kellogg, I knew that the school was not known for entrepreneurship. Reputation wise, it was a school known to have a strong marketing department, and known to produced a lot of consultants. Those two reputations have definitely held up. But it is also very misleading to place most Kellogg students into these buckets. As with most other business schools, the diversity of the student body -- in terms of interests, backgrounds, work experiences, talents, and personalities -- is simply amazing. That is what has caught me off guard the most. It would take me forever to describe how varied my classmates are, but suffice it to say that if you are interested in anything in the world, there is someone at Kellogg who shares that same passion.
So back to entrepreneurship...I knowingly came here expecting to do a lot of pushing forward on my own. But I actually have not had to do as much trailblazing as I had expected. There is a group of entrepreneurial students at Kellogg (and at Northwestern...which I will talk about in a bit) that share the same dreams. To start something, be our own boss, and take full responsibility for our own successes and failures. Having these students alongside me has opened a lot of doors, taught me a lot about what I will need to do, and most importantly inspired me.
As I hinted at earlier, the community of entrepreneurs extends far past Kellogg and into the Northwestern community. And this larger community of students with law, medical, engineering, and other backgrounds have been an even better resource for me. I have been very active in InNUvation, which is the university-wide entrepreneurship organization, and have been grateful to have found them. I would encourage anyone who is looking to come to Northwestern and is interested in entrepreneurship to get involved with InNUvation.
Looking back at the past nine months, I am definitely glad I chose to come here. Now what is in store in the future...
Well once I finish up with my class-related items, I am going to dive into The Summer of Code. I haven't done full-time coding for a few years, but that will be my main job responsibility this summer. Although creating a Ruby on Rails website is not what I came to business school for, it is something that I just have to do to get this web company off the ground. I could outsource most of the coding, but I actually do like programming. Plus for some reason I have some twisted notion that it wouldn't be a real startup unless I grunged it out for the summer. Maybe its my old MIT masochistic nature coming back -- where we prided ourselves on how much work we had to do -- but I am somewhat proud to be truly bootstrapping this company.
I won't be working in a garage, but I will be a nomadic coder visiting libraries, study rooms, and coffee shops. I am actually looking forward to seeing what other strange people frequent these places in the summer. But that's just because I'm weird like that.
Beyond this coding, I will be pushing forward with Biotic Laboratories. We have a game plan but need to iron out some details such as hiring lawyers and raising a few hundred K in angel to finance the first phase of the company. The goal by the end of summer will be to be in discussions with medical device companies about opportunities for technology licensing. Balancing my time between coding and keeping BL's discussions alive will be tough. But what else do I really have to do this summer?
So join me in a toast to my Summer of Code.
while (code < finished)
int whatIsAndrewDoing = Math.rand(0,2);
summerOfCode = ["eating", "sleeping", "coding"];
print "Andrew is " + summerOfCode[whatIsAndrewDoing];
Friday, April 20, 2007
You probably think I am crazy and an idiot, but I spent a long time thinking about my decision. It came down to what I really wanted to do. I started this blog as my statement to the (virtual) world that I was going to push forward with a dream to create my own company. To not pursue that dream would be a lie to myself. So that is what I am doing.
I will be particularly broke this summer, so any donations would be wonderful. I like sushi, steaks, and lobster. Unfortunately, my $0/hr wage will not support such fine dining. Yet despite what my mom and dad considered "risky behavior," I am very happy with my decision. I am doing what I want to do.
On the front of the business that I am helping start with my friends, Dean and Ed, things have been going particularly well. I forgot to mention a couple other teammates: my roommate, Craig, and Dean's postdoc, Erik. Apparently the idea has been getting some kind of buzz among the engineering school at Northwestern and Dean has been approached by several groups offering their assistance. I have just been trying to setup meeting with possible advisors, and we have had a few meetings with great people. Tomorrow is the semi-finals of the NU Venture Challenge (http://nuvc.innuvation.org), and I will be pitching our biotech idea to a panel of judges. 3 minutes to sell them, 3 minutes to win them over. I think I can do that.
I'll let you know how everything goes.
One reflection I've had recently: the sooner you decide where you want to go, the sooner you realize you're not sure how to get there.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
The other idea is a web idea. I've been able to get some people on board to help me refine the idea. Most importantly, a programmer. Next I'm working on finding advisors who can help me think through the business model.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Originally, my plan was to work on a business idea full-time for the summer. But I've been getting advice from experienced entrepreneurs to start something on the side while I make some pay (and hopefully build my network). I guess it makes sense, unless my idea really requires my undevoted attention for the entire summer. Luckily, as I draw out my business plans, it does not.
I also would like to make a plug for Northwestern's student entrepreneurship organization, InNUvation. I am part of the leadership team that is putting together the university's first entrepreneurship competition: the 2007 NU Venture Challenge. Things are coming along really great and I have a feeling there will be some great ideas coming out of the competition (like mine).