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Book review: Total rethink

August 13, 2019

Entrepreneurs disrupt the status quo! David McCourt embraces entrepreneurial revolution that results beneficial change for the majority and disrupts the status quo for the incumbent players.

Technology allows for everyone to become new revolutionaries yet few realises and acts upon this realisation. As in history, it’s very likely that the biggest innovators come from the have-nots that have very little to lose and a higher tolerance for risk taking.

Historically this was the case with European immigrants coming to America and escaping dire conditions back at home. This time it’s the 5 billion people who are not as well off as the 2.5 billion enjoying the best lifestyle the planet has to offer.

McCourt describes his story coming from a large family and finding his way into entrepreneurial adventures from early age up to this day. During those years he have managed to be part of the cable television as well as fiber optics industry disruption and providing cheaper services for consumers at the expense of the oligopolistic competitors.

The book is full of colourful stories and mission impossibles where McCourt jumps to the water first and figures out later how to swim. This results him to learn quickly and unearth large opportunities that have enabled him to publicly list and sell many companies.

Berkshire Hathaway’s board member Walter Scott is McCourt’s mentor and he shares some of his wisdom and philosophies. For example, “never mistake a fad for a trend” and “take care of your people and your equipment”. The latter means that you can ruin your capex investment by not having the right people taking care of your equipment.

McCourt is a big believer in fair and honest relationships where business is made for the long term and this is reflected in the partnership deals as well.

As a curiosity McCourt mentions that he managed to raise $6.1 billion for his RCN Corp making that the world record for a start-up funding into any single project. He also managed to raise $1.65 billion from a single individual (i.e. Paul Allen).

Tellingly New York magazine ranked Allen’s investment the “best deal of the millennium” and the “worst deal of the millennium” in the same issue. The dot com bubble crashed capital markets and resulted Allen to take a deep hair cut in his investment.

One of the persisting messages of the book is how to provide solutions and value for the less connected and powerful (and quoted in the book):

”Those capable of channeling the power of the crowd must turn their energies to something more fundamental: redesigning society’s systems and structures to meaningfully include and empower more people. The greatest test for the conductors of new power will be their willingness to engage with the challenges of the least powerful”

The future is all about cooperation, win-win solutions, peer-to-peer and crowdsourcing. Corporations, nations and incumbent structures have too much to lose and therefore they are most of the time unable to renew adequately leading them to be disrupted and replaced. Entrepreneurs the world is yours!

Book reviews: Blockchain, Ethereum and Cryptocurrency Investing for dummies

August 9, 2019

Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics. Crypto field is getting too large to follow it all by any single person. In the early years it was easy to have an overview of the most significant ventures but those days are long gone. There’s simply too much happening.

Blockchain for dummies (2nd edition) is a good intro for the basics and general overview. It explains the essential structures and concepts in an easily digestible format. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Waves, Factom and EOS are used as special cases that each have their own chapter.

The book works as a hands-on guide that allows you to actually do things as well. Some of the examples are simple and easy for everyone to follow and others require a bit more prior IT knowledge.

Industry impacts section provides examples in various industries and recent developments that are emerging within private and public sector initiatives.

If your main concern is to understand the basics of Blockchain this is the book for you.

Ethereum for dummies focuses purely on the Ethereum and its ecosystem. You can even build your own simple smart contract following the step-by-step instructions and screen captures.

The detailed format of actually doing concrete exercises helps to keep the narrative in enough detailed level to provide useful information. Sometimes the devil is in the details and this may be missed in more theoretical treatments.

Cryptocurrency Investing for dummies dedicates almost half of the book to explaining the Blockchain concepts and how to acquire some tokens in your wallet. The other half is divided between regular trading and hedging strategies and giving some considerations for acting in a volatile new environment. If you expect to find some good analysis and evaluation of different cryptocurrencies or practical insights how to find the ones to trade out of thousands of cryptos this book may not be for you. Maybe that’s why the title says investing and not trading.

Overall I liked the Blockchain for dummies the most but each book has their own audience and niche. I’m too biased to give them a fair treatment since my days of discovering the wonders of Blockchain and cryptos for the first time are way behind me. The last time I had some more profound excitement of the field may have been when helping Tim Swanson to write his book in 2013-2014.

Book review: Secrets of Sand Hill Road

August 7, 2019

Over the years VC industry has become more developed and accessible. The mysteries of first decades are gone and most of the industry practices are already common knowledge.

Yet, they may still not be evenly distributed among entrepreneurs.

Scott Kupor’s new book belongs to the must-read category for every founder who needs venture funding. Secrets of Sand Hill Road complements John Nesheim’s classic High tech start up together with a more recent Venture Deals by Brad Feld & Jason Mendelson and The Hard thing about hard things by Ben Horowitz.

The book walks through the funding process step-by-step and explains the logic and pitfalls along the way. The topic is broad so there are only so many things one can tell in a chapter or two.

Kupor manages to explain the basics and still keep it interesting for more advanced readers. Andreessen Horowitz is in the exact epicentre of venture funding and over the course of ten years they have become one if not the leading VC company in the world.

This provides some insights and views to the thinking and processes for non-Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs. If the fundraising is already bread-and-butter for many the latter part of the process is something that may interest industry players: discussion about exits. Most of them are acquisitions, and IPOs can be put off for 10-15 years if not forever thanks to regulations and large later stage funds.

Kupor puts his legal background in good use by explaining some legal cases that have direct impact on practical startup life and company governance. Board member rights and especially duties are something seldom thought about before the actual circumstances are already in motion. There may not be perfect solutions for conflict of interest situations but certainly one can be prepared and acknowledge the risks in advance.

VC industry is very much ruled by power law results. The best performing funds reap most of the industry profits and it is more or less self-perpetuating force in action. The best deal flow and investors flock together making diversification a bad idea among VC funds.

A very small industry by numbers have a disproportionally large impact on society. VC-backed companies shine in net jobs created and money invested in R&D among all companies, and especially vis-à-vis publicly listed ones in the States.

The role of the entrepreneur is not something to be too envious about. Secrets of Sand Hill Road shine some light on the minefields waiting for entrepreneurs before their glorious exit event in 7-15 years ahead. The gold pot may be there at the end of the rainbow together with unicorns but who gets most of it is the billion-dollar question.

Book review: The art of making sh!t up

August 5, 2019

Probably one of the hardest things to do is to stand in front of an audience and do live improv. You never know whether it will work this time and the feedback loop is imminent.

It’s an excellent platform to learn and get better with practice: if you have the guts to fail, and the courage to come back and try again. And again. The biggest secret is not to give up and grow a thicker skin. You cannot please everyone and you’re not as important as you think. Swallow your pride and own your performance. Even the best comedians suck at times.

Norm Laviolette shares his wisdom and some industry knowledge that is useful in business but also in regular life. If improv is hard so is his message as well. Not because the topic is difficult to understand but because the things sound so obvious and simple, yet so hard to carry out in practice.

How many of us are free from the fear of judgement of others and ourselves? Creative freedom flourishes when we are not hitting the internal breaks. Imagine yourself on stage on a spotlight and you only not have to perform but to entertain the audience as well.

How do you come up with something funny? The technique is very simple and useful. You just listen to what has been said to you (by the audience or if you’re performing with someone else on stage). Don’t think something clever to say but listen and understand what has been said to you.

In a word: respond and continue the dialogue. Appreciate what has been said and embrace the offered ideas even though they are not yours. Build something new from what has been said to you.

You don’t need to come up with new topics or clever ideas while the other person is talking. Nor should you drift away in thoughts or assume what has been said to you while you are still listening.

Sounds familiar? These are the things that happen everyday in meetings. People are having separate monologues and nobody is really having a genuine dialogue and trying to understand the wisdom in other people’s messages.

Yet, this is how successful improv, and negotiators, work. You actively focus and keep an eye contact to other person. Unexpected creative sparks happen when you just respond to the situation rather than try to push your pre-thought out agenda.

Another hard thing to do is to allow other people to modify your ideas. Everybody loves their ideas and it’s no fun to see them changed or even improved. Letting go allows something better to be created and the story to move on.

Improv sounds a lot like teamwork and day-to-day business life sans the stage fright, and the explicit comedy.