Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

How refreshing, a non-CS Stanford startup

My friend Dean just launched a startup called DC Revolutions, and it’s NOT a website. Crazy, right?

Dean and his co-founders (all recent Stanford grads) are using their awesome Stanford engineering skills to design a vertical wind turbine that integrates into city streetlights and plays nicely with the existing grid. And it’s a treat to look at, which is the whole point—apparently Americans don’t want big scary windmills anywhere near their homes and neighborhoods, and DC’s new design is anything but scary. It actually looks kinda cute.

Big scary windmills.

Now I don’t know if DC Revolutions will actually revolutionize the energy landscape—you know I’m more of a solar guy myself—but I’m happy to support any effort towards that end, and these guys are making a hell of an effort.

You can support their efforts by giving any amount of money at this site. Do it for the future. Do it for the tax deductions. Whatever. Just do it. Dean will personally thank you if you do. And if he doesn’t, feel free to send him an angry email at deanyoung@dcrevolutions.com.

-Joel

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The Future Belongs to You

How evolution actually works.

Here’s some timely insight from NYU prof Clay Shirky. The following excerpt is from his book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations:

In 1501, Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer, published a translation of Virgil’s works. There was nothing particularly unusual about this——by the early 1500s, there were many publishers offering versions of classic texts to an intellectually hungry audience. What was new about Manutius’s Virgil was its dimensions——the so-called octavo size was designed to be small enough to fit in a gentleman’s saddlebags, so as to make important parts of his library transportable. This was a small revolution, literally and figuratively——small in the sense that the book had shrunk in size and cost, and small in that it was less significant than Gutenberg’s original innovation. Yet the octavo size mattered, because it helped spread the written word. By making books cheaper and more portable, Manutius made them more desirable, which in turn meant more copies were produced and more experiments with printing were undertaken. In an echo of the salacious nature of many early experiments with content in other media, another of Manutius’s volumes, Hypnerotomachia, was a contemporary novel with erotic passages, a departure from simply translating the classics——and from the contemporary standards of literary proprietary. Although the material in Hypnerotomachia was certainly less momentous than his editions of Virgil or the Greeks, it helped create a market for new fiction.

Manutius’s principal insight was to assume, rightly, that the printing press was here to stay. Rather than lamenting the influence of the press, or continually marveling at its usefulness, he took it on himself to make improvements that seem obvious in retrospect but which were at the time small revolutions extending the big revolution of movable type.

The lesson from Manutius’s life is that the future belongs to those who take the present for granted. One of the reasons many of the stories in this book seem to be populated with young people is that those of us born before 1980 remember a time before any tools supported group communication well. For us, no matter how deeply we immerse ourselves in new kinds of technology, it will always have a certain provisional quality. Those of us with considerable real-world experience are often at an advantage relative to young people, who are comparative novices in the way the world works. The mistakes that novices make come from a lack of experience. They overestimate mere fads, seeing revolution everywhere, and they make this kind of mistake a thousand times before they learn better. But in terms of revolution, the experienced among us make the opposite mistake. When a real once-in-a-lifetime change comes along, we are at risk of regarding it as a fad.

Like Aldus Manutius, young people are taking better advantage of social tools, extending their capabilities in ways that violate old models not because they know more useful things than we do but because they know fewer useless things than we do. I’m old enough to know a lot of things just from life experience. I know that newspapers are where you get your political news and how you look for a job. I know that music comes from stores. I know that if you want to have a conversation with someone, you call them on the phone. I know that complicated things like software and encyclopedias have to be created by professionals. In the last fifteen years, I’ve had to unlearn every one of those things and a million others, because they have stopped being true. I’ve become like the grown-ups arguing in my local paper about calculators; just as it took them a long time to realize that calculators were never going away, those of us old enough to remember a time before social tools became widely available are constantly playing catch-up. Meanwhile my students, many of whom are fifteen years younger than I am, don’t have to unlearn those things, because they never had to learn them in the first place.

The advantage of youth, however, is relative, not absolute. Just as everyone eventually came to treat the calculator as a ubiquitous and invisible tool, we are all coming to take our social tools for granted as well. Our social tools are dramatically improving our ability to share, cooperate, and act together. As everyone from working biologists to angry air passengers adopts those tools, it is leading to an epochal change.

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A New Way to Fly

Have you ever spent an hour or two (or five?) looking for a flight home or back to school?

Look no further. I just found out about a new web start-up (launched this week) that helps you find the perfect flight without the hassle of Orbitz or Expedia. It’s called Hipmunk, it’s been getting rave reviews from CNN and a bunch of other media outlets, and it’s got the cutest company logo I’ve ever seen.

See?

Hipmunk collects flight information from Orbitz.com and presents it to you in a super-clean interface: Available flights are arranged in an intuitive day scheduler-style array (similar to a Gantt chart), and you can choose to sort them by price, duration, departure/arrival time, or “agony,” which the co-founder Adam Goldstein describes as…

“… a combined function of price, duration, and number of stops––basically the total agony you’ll experience in your butt and your savings.”

The Hipmunk flight search interface.

Once you find the perfect flight, you hit the “Select” button, and Hipmunk directs you to Orbitz to finish the purchase. So you get the innovative search features of Hipmunk and the trustworthy booking system of Orbitz, in a single easy-to-use package… What’s not to like?

-Joel

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The Best Reason to Work at a Start-up

Several weeks ago, I visited Arista Networks with a few other members of Stanford Tau Beta Pi. A start-up founded a couple years back, Arista had the cojones to take on networking giant Cisco in the domain of high-performance 10G Ethernet switches. It sounds arcane… and it is. But those switches and the massive datacenters they support are the bedrock of the Internet and agents of the global connectivity we take for granted today.

It was an amazing opportunity; we got a personal tour of Arista’s Menlo Park offices by Silicon Valley legend Andy Bechtolsheim, who founded Sun Microsystems (Sun = “Stanford University Network”) back in 1982 and wrote a personal check for $100,000 to Larry and Sergey to get Google incorporated (that check is now worth $1.5 billion). And he’s brilliant.

Andy looks and acts the part of the mad scientist, bushy eyebrows, eyes closed, half-muttering with his forehead on his hand even as he spins technical talk into dollars before your eyes. He’s the rare type who can go on for years about the most esoteric of topics, then turn around and tell you––you being a potential investor––in the simplest of terms exactly how his company’s going to enter the market and outperform its competitors. And you can’t help but believe him.

So what’s the best reason to work for a start-up?

Free food. And brilliant people.

I walked away with a profound appreciation for the start-up culture and profound awe at the technical mastery and business acumen of Chairman Andy. The takeaway for all of us undergrads: We’ve still got a lot to learn.

Thanks for reading.

-Joel

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Introduction to ASES

It’s one and half weeks into fall quarter and everything––classes, clubs, research––is starting to pick up steam again. Last Friday, in White Plaza, hordes of bright-eyed freshmen swarmed the booths at Stanford’s annual Activities Fair, where student groups try their best to seduce the frosh with sweet candy and sweeter words. It’s pretty sketchy.

The Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES), as a respectable student organization, of course participated.

Here’s my take on ASES:
ASES is an international network of today’s students and tomorrow’s business and technology leaders. We focus our efforts on a well-rounded entrepreneurship education for our members through in-depth workshops, competitions, speaker events, and international summits (2 each year). That said, our goal isn’t to have every ASES member go on to start a company. We emphasize entrepreneurial qualities––teamwork, self-belief, leadership, passion––simply because we believe these values drive innovation and are the key to success in all walks of life.

The Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES)

The Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES)

Anyway, here’s my contribution, as Director of Marketing for ASES, to the freshman courtship process (all done in Microsoft Word):

(Front) Secret to successful marketing in college: free food

(Front) The secret to successful marketing in college: free food

(Back) Irresistible

(Back) Irresistible

The underlying principles behind this blatant but effective marketing ploy come from basic psychology and a book on advertising I read a few weeks ago, My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising, by Claude Hopkins.

Think about it: instead of asking for attention or compliance from the freshmen, we offer a sample and a service.

No good advertiser demands a purchase in his ads; such a move would be akin to directly asking for the customer’s money, and in most cases, the response would be outright refusal. Instead, he offers a “Free, No-Risk 30-Day Trial!” Similarly, by framing our underlying request for attendance at our info session as an offering of boba, we give our new recruits a risk-free incentive to attend. Even if a freshman walked out of the info session with no intention of ever joining ASES, he still walked out with a free cup of boba in hand. What’s more, by adding on the back of the coupon a checklist of “Things Every Stanford Student Should Do”––a fun and debatably useful service––we gave our flyer value and guaranteed that freshmen and upperclassmen alike wouldn’t toss it in the trash can without first spending a furtive minute seeing how they measured up against a “true Stanford student.”

In part because of that doubled-up marketing tactic, our info session attendance––scientifically gauged by the quantity and rate of boba consumption––went through the roof.

If you’re interested in entrepreneurship, stay tuned: I’ll be writing more about upcoming ASES events as the quarter progresses.

-Joel

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