What is the Business Value of Big Data? – The Three Things Series

*** The 3 Things Series aims to simplify – sometimes even oversimplify – technology concepts so that you learn 3 things about a topic ***. Opinions are my own.

Organizations embark in Big Data projects typically with 3 goals in mind: cost reductions, improved decision making and the ability to create new products and services.

big data business value

1- Cost Reduction 

As the quantities and complexity of data in organizations increase, so does the cost of storing and processing this data. Decisions about how much data to keep available for analysis, and how much “historic” data to move to tape or other less expensive resources, are then made. The problem with this strategy is that by limiting the data that can be analyzed, the insight that can be derived from this data is also limited.

In recent years, technology developments especially in Open Source, have made cost reduction a reality through the use of inexpensive technology such as Hadoop clusters (Hadoop is a unified storage and processing environment that allows for data and data processing to be distributed across multiple computers). Hadoop clusters give organizations the ability to keep more data available for analysis at a lower cost, and to easily add complex data types (images, sound, etc) to the pool of data to be analyzed

2- Improved Decision Making

Data analysis can be significantly improved by adding new data sources and new data types to traditional data. For example a data-driven retailer may see significant benefits in their inventory planning processes, if a new data source like weather data is added to the model to better predict sales and inventory requirements. An enriched model may be able to predict shortages of winter clothing by incorporating temperature into the existing models. Additional benefits can also be achieved, if more complex data is analyzed. For example, this same retailer may better target their ads in social media, if they evaluate not only their clients purchasing history, but also the actions they take in social media to interact with their brands and those of their competitors.

3-  Development of New Products and Services

The most strategic and innovative business benefits will probably be achieved by the ability to use new data or new sources of data to create new products and services. Let’s think for a minute about the data our cars generate (yes, we don’t necessarily see it, but more and more cars are equipped with sensors that collect a lot of data about our driving history). Using this data, insurance companies can offer policies that are dynamically priced based on an individual’s driving history (which is good news to you only if you are a safe driver of course).   Integrating weather data can also bring tremendous savings to an insurance company. Some insurance companies have been able to achieve significant savings per claim by letting their clients know that a storm is coming and recommending they don’t leave their cars exposed to the elements. (Again, assuming that as a client you listen to your insurance company recommendations).

In summary, when thinking of the business value of Big Data, think of  three areas of value:

  • Cost reductions
  • Improved decision making
  • Ability to create new products and services


What is Big Data? (The 3 Things Series)

*** The 3 Things Series aims to simplify – sometimes even oversimplify – technology concepts so that you learn 3 things about a topic ***. Opinions are my own.

The technology industry is full of “buzzwords”, with Big Data being one of the most used in recent years. Organizations have always dealt with data and have stored that data in databases, but we can see in the chart below how searches on Google have changed throughout the years comparing searches for “Databases” to searches for “Big Data”.


databases vs big data searches


Big Data in general refers to the ability to gather, store, manage, manipulate, and – the most important one – get insights out of vast amounts of data. And the typical question is “how big does data need to be so it is considered Big?” And the answer is…. it depends. When it comes to size, an organization’s Big Data may be another organization’s small data.

There are 3 things to remember that define “Big Data”:

  • Volume. It refers to size. So if you are capturing vast amounts of information, you probably have Big Data in your hands
  • Velocity. Are you working with data at rest? Or data in motion? For example if you are analyzing sales figures for the past year, that data is at rest (it is not changing constantly). But if on the other hand you are analyzing tweets to understand how your clients are reacting to a product announcement, this is data in motion as it is continuously changing. It may not be necessarily big if you are looking at daily data, but the fact that it is data in motion is relevant to the definition of Big Data
  • Variety. As the ability to capture, store and analyze more data has increased, so has the interest in analyzing data that is more complex in nature. For example, an insurance company may want to analyze the recordings of customer service calls to determine what characteristics of the conversation led to a policy sale, a retailer may want to analyze videos to determine how people navigate the store and how that impacts sales, or a hospital may want to analyze x-rays to find patterns and correlations between common symptoms in patients.

So when it comes to the definition of Big Data, remember 3 things, or the 3 Vs:

  •  Volume (size)
  • Velocity (Frequency of data update during analysis)
  • Variety (complexity of data to analyze – images, videos, texts, log files, etc)




Enterprise Business Intelligence Platforms – At a Glance

Industry analysis reports are always packed with great information, lots of it.  Data visualization however helps better understand the conclusions reached by Forrester in their The Forrester Wave™: Enterprise Business Intelligence Platforms, Q1 2015 report.  11 vendors in this industry are included.

Table 1 shows the summary scorecard, and details are presented below the table.

Table 1 - Enterprise Business Intelligence Scorecard

Table 1 – Enterprise Business Intelligence Scorecard

The top level comparisons involve 3 categories: Current Offering, Strategy, and Market Presence.

The Forrester Wave™: Enterprise Business Intelligence Platforms, Q1 2015

Vendors with above-average scores

Current Offering: IBM, Information Builders, Microsoft, Opentext, SAP, SAS

Strategy: IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and SAS

Market Presence: IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and SAS

We can also look at the scores that went into every one of these categories and see how vendors compare at a more granular level.

Current Offering Details

Forrester Evaluation Business Intelligence Current Offerings

Vendors with above-average scores for Current Offering

Architecture: Information Builders, Microstrategy, Opentext, SAP, SAS

Development Environment: Microsoft, Opentext, and SAS

Functional Capabilities: IBM, Information Builders, Microsoft, SAP and SAS

Operational Capabilities: IBM, Information Builders, Microstrategy, Opentext

Strategy Details

Forrester Enterprise Business Intelligence Strategy Comparisons

Vendors with above-average scores for Strategy

Commitment: IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, SAS

Pricing: IBM, Information Builders, Microsoft, Opentext, Qlik and TIBCO

Transparency: Tableau

Product Direction: IBM, Information Builders, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and SAS

Market Presence Details

Forrester Enterprise Business Intelligence - market presence evaluation

Vendors with above-average scores for Market Presence

Company Financials: IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Qlik, SAP, SAS

Global Presence Base: IBM, Microsoft, Microstrategy, Oracle, SAP, and SAS

Partnership Ecosystem: IBM, Microsfoft, Oracle, SAP, and SAS

Functional Applications: IBM, Oracle, SAP, and SAS

What Data Science Tool Have you used in the past 12 months?

The results of the 16th annual KDnuggets Software Poll were recently published. This poll asks “What Predictive Analytics, Data Mining, Data Science Software/Tools have you used in the past 12 months?”.  This poll attracted 2,800 voters, and it is also worth mentioning that it sometimes attracts controversy due to excessive voting by some vendors.

93 different tools were included in the poll. To determine which tools are included, they start with the companies in Gartner Magic Quadrant(tm) for Advanced Analytics and Forrester Wave(tm) for Big Data Predictive Analytics, and add companies/tools from last year poll, and relevant new ones in the market.

R is the tool most frequently used tool in this community of data scientists, but other tools are growing rapidly (Spark, KNIME, Python).

Top 10 data mining tools


In terms of programming languages, Python is the clear leader.



And Hadoop is the clear leader in the Big Data Tools space.

big data tools


Women in Software Engineering – Data Visualizations

Tracy Chou, Software Engineer at Pinterest has become a leading voice for women in the tech industry by using data to call attention to how few of them are employed as engineers. She has uploaded a spreadsheet (https://github.com/triketora/women-in-software-eng), that companies can use to make public the number of female engineers in their ranks. The goal: to identify the scope of the problem as a first step toward making a stronger commitment to address it.

I used the data to create some visualizations.

Quantifying Silicon Valley’s Diversity Issue

Tableau’s New Features – Summary from Tableau Conference’s Keynote (2014)

Did you miss Tableau’s Conference this year? Here is a summary of the main new features coming up in future versions of Tableau products. The new features were presented by different speakers so they vary in level of detail. (Download available at the end of the post).

Future Investment in Tableau will be focused in seven areas:

  1. Visual Analytics
  2. Performance
  3. Data Preparation
  4. Storytelling
  5. Enterprise
  6. Cloud
  7. Mobile

Tableau's New Features Summary - 2014.001

I- Visual Analytics.

1-Type-in Shelves.

In addition to dragging fields to the shelves, you will also be able to type-in fields. Autocomplete alternatives will be presented.


Type-in Shelves - Tableau

Type-in Shelves



2- Freeform Calculations

You will be able to type calculations directly in the Columns or Rows shelves without having to create a new field. Autocomplete alternatives will be presented.

Free Form Calculations - Tableau

Free Form Calculations



3- Drag and Drop Calculations

This new feature also includes the ability to drag and drop fields directly into the calculation on the shelf.

Drag and Drop Calculations - Tableau

Drag and Drop Calculations


Once you are done creating your calculation on the shelf, you can take the newly created calculation and drag it into the Measures shelf so it becomes a permanent field in the data model.

New Field

New Field


4-New Calculations Editor

It looks much simpler than the old editor, but it is actually more powerful.  One of the things it allows you to do is to interact with the data while using the editor. It provides auto complete and as formulas are changed, visualizations are updated.

New Calculations Editor

New Calculations Editor

The editor also supports drag and drop, so fields can be dropped directly on the editor.

New Calculations Editor - Drag and Drop

New Calculations Editor – Drag and Drop


5-Drag and Drop Analytics

There is a new Analytics Pane. It contains the objects used to summarize, model and forecast data.

New Analytics Pane

New Analytics Pane


6- Instant Reference and Trend Lines

You can now drag and drop reference and trend lines.  Also forecasts, medians, quantiles, box plots and more.

Drag and Drop Trend Lines

Drag and Drop Trend Lines

Drag and Drop Forecasts

Drag and Drop Forecasts

Trend Lines and Forecast

Trend Lines and Forecast

7- Interactive table calculation editing

As powerful as table calculations are, they are sometimes confusing. Table across? table down? The new editor highlights how the data is being calculated once an option has been chosen on the editor. In the image below, there are three bars highlighted indicating how data points are being used in the calculation (Table Down).

Interactive Table Calculation Editing

Interactive Table Calculation Editing

8- Improved geographic search

You can type in any geographic data point and the view will focus on it.  Typing Greece zooms in to Greece on the map. And Country is not even part of the data. The geographical knowledge has been built into tableau.


Improved Geographic Search

Improved Geographic Search


9- Radial and Lasso Selections

Radial Selection

You will be able to select marks around a specific point.

Radial Selection

Radial Selection

Lasso Selections

You will be able to select exactly the marks you need (irregular shapes).

Lasso Selections

Lasso Selections

II. Performance

1- Multi-core query execution and vector operations support

The ability to leverage multi-core query execution increases the speed of the data engine. In demo systems queries are running 3 to 4 times faster.

2- Parallel queries

To improve performance on connections to live databases, tableau is working on sending multiple queries to these systems in parallel which reduces overall execution time building a dashboard. This also allows the database itself to share computations between related queries.

Dashboard - Multiple Queries

Dashboard – Multiple Queries

To build a dashboard like the one above, execution may look like this (Each bar is one query and tableau will run them one after the other).

Query Execution

Query Execution


By overlapping these queries and running them in parallel the overall time to build the dashboard will be reduced.

Query Execution in Parallel

Query Execution in Parallel


3- Continuous Tooltips

Currently, tooltips are displayed as you are interacting with a data point. As you move the mouse, the tooltip disappears and reappears once the mouse is over a new point.  Future tooltips will be continuously shown to reflect the new point you are interacting with without opening and closing.


Continuous Tooltips

Continuous Tooltips

4- Responsive Pan and Zoom

Currently as you focus on specific areas of your maps, the image disappears and reappears as you pan. In the future, as you pan to focus on specific areas of your maps, information will be immediately displayed on the screen so you can keep focus on your data.

Responsive Pan and Zoom

Responsive Pan and Zoom

5- Persisted Query Cache

To scale the speed across all the organization, this feature will allow tableau to share query results among multiple users so they won’t have to be recalculated for each user (i.e. A user calculates the median for a large dataset, and if another user also needs the same calculation, it will be shared with that user). The next time someone opens the workbook, the calculation will be available instantly as it will have be already calculated. Persisted query caches will be shared among all processes on all nodes of the cluster, so that all users can benefit from the cache equally.

III. Data Preparation

1- Automatic Split of a data field

The visual connector is being improved so that we can automatically split a data field. Take a look at the table below, where the data field “Loan Info” has 3 pieces of information. Tableau will be able to automatically detect this and split the data into the 3 corresponding fields.

Automatic Split of a Data Field

Automatic Split of a Data Field

After selecting the split option, Tableau will take the Loan Info field and split it into 3 fields that you can rename accordingly.

Split Data

Split Data

The option to split a data field  can be also be selected right on a viz:

Data Split on a Viz

Data Split on a Viz

2- Pre-processing of Excel data

Sometimes the data we get in an excel format is not ready for use in Tableau. We have to remove extra headers, empty lines and columns, and sometimes reshape it. Tableau will in the future automatically preprocess the data so that this work doesn’t have to be done manually.

Excel Data

Excel Data

We will see something like this when connecting to an excel file:

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 9.48.20 AM


In this example, we don’t want each year to be in a separate column, so the data can be further preprocessed by selecting the “Unpivot” option to reshape the data. And the resulting reshaped data will be ready for Tableau.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 9.59.03 AM


Another interesting example is the pre-processing of survey data:

Survey Data

Survey Data

After loading and un-pivoting, data will be ready for analysis

Preprocessed Survey Data

Preprocessed Survey Data

3- Web Data Connector.

There will now be an option to connect Tableau to internal web services, Rest APIs, and JSON data.  You will need to write a script in Javascript and HTML, and then use the Web Data Connect option to point to the script. The data will then be loaded into Tableau.

Web Data Connector

Web Data Connector


A script example:

Script Example

Script Example

IV. Storytelling

1- View Thumbnails

In worksheets with multiple worksheets and dashboards, it is sometimes difficult to find which charts to add to the story. To facilitate this process, thumbnails are being added.

Storytelling Thumbnails

Storytelling Thumbnails

2- Format Options

Control over fonts and colors will be given to the user. Stories won’t have to be just gray.

Format Options

Format Options

3- Linear Navigator 

There will be an option to add a navigator appropriate for linear story telling. (Small boxes with numbers encouraging people to step through the story).


Linear Navigator

4- Custom Navigator

You will be able to change the navigator size and position.

Custom Navigator

Custom Navigator


V. Enterprise

1- High Availability Management (Ease of Use)

High availability will be easier to manage, with faster failover detection and unlimited active data engine nodes.

2- Kerberos Support

Tableau will support Kerberos (a user authentication standard used across enterprises to provide single sign on authentication from the client all the way to the database).

3- Smartcard Support

If your organization uses smartcards, you will now be able to login directly from Tableau desktop.

4- APIs

APIs have been created to enable new extensibility, automation, and integration of your tableau deployments. Right now there are 3 APIs available: Javascript, Data Extract, and REST. In the next versions, features will be added to include the most requested functions for these APIs such as publishing content and assigning permissions programmatically.


For each view on Tableau Server, information on where this view comes from will be provided (which workbook, which project). This way you will be able to navigate server more easily.



6- Workbook Pages

Every workbook will have a page with a workbook description, and details on all the views on the workbook, its data sources and permissions.





Data Sources 

Data Sources





VI- Cloud

Tableau considers that 4 things are required to have a true cloud offering:

1- Ability to connect to cloud sources

Tableau already offers live cloud to cloud connection for data that lives on the cloud so you can see data updated up to the minute. (Google analytics, Google Big Query). More data sources will be added as they are important sources of business data.

2- Ability to connect to business applications in the cloud (Salesforce – Oauth)

You can keep salesforce data up to date via oauth.



3- Ability to connect to on premise data sources

Currently the top two data sources used with with Tableau Online are Excel and sql server. The challenge is how to keep on premise data fresh. A new capability called Tableau Data Sync is being added, and it will help you publish on premise data to tableau online. Your machine will act as a secure agent to push local data up to the cloud on a schedule that you define.

4- Getting analytics to where you do your work

It is important to provide the ability to push dashboards to wherever they are needed.  Recently the ability to embed interactive dashboards into salesforce was added. Now an add-in has been released that works with heroku and the salesforce canvas toolkit. All visualizations embedded in salesforce will be updated automatically.

Embedded in SalesForce

Embedded in SalesForce


Tableau Mobile will have a new native User Interface. It has been fully rewritten to be faster and to show information coming live from the server fast.

1- Calculations are being brought to mobile

You will be able to tap on the measure, select “Create Calculated Field” and the calculation editor will open up. All new drag and drop capabilities will be added to mobile. Products are being designed to be web, mobile and desktop ready at the same time.

Mobile Calculations

Mobile Calculations

2- Favorites

Favorites will be displayed front and center.



3- ability to swipe through worksheets

4- Offline Access to Favorite Worksheets

You will be able to view your favorite dashboards even when you are offline.   You can select how often you want your worksheets to be fetched, and Tableau Mobile will fetch them when you are on the network.

Offline Access

Offline Access

5- New Visualization Mobile App (Elastic)

What do you do if you have just a tablet and you get an email with a table in it. You want to understand and see your data, but don’t have Tableau or a Server.  Tableau is building a new app that will provide a new experience to explore your data, as easy as using a pencil. It will be fun and fast. And it will stretch the definition of mobile analytics.  This project is called elastic and you can sign up to receive updates on this project at http://www.tableausoftware.com/be-elastic.

Open File with Elastic

Open File with Elastic

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 5.05.13 PM

Interact with the Data



I hope you find this information useful. You can download a file with this summary: Tableau’s New Features – Keynote 2014

If you want to listen to the whole keynote, it is posted at http://tcc14.tableauconference.com/keynote.

Homeless Coder releases app: Trees for Cars

Read Leo’s story, and support him by buying the app: Trees for Cars for $0.99.

About 3 months ago, Patrick McConlogue decided to help a homeless man: Leo “Journeyman” Grand by offering either $100 in cash, or three Javascript books, a basic laptop, and personal tutoring so he could learn to code.  Leo chose to code.

There were many skeptics and even haters who felt there was no point to the whole effort. Well..  Leo just released a mobile app called “Trees for Cars.” It is available on iOS and Android for 99 cents, and he gets about 70 cents for every download. He is looking forward to using that money to be able to afford a home, find a job, and/or pay for school.

Trees for Cars is a mobile carpooling app that connects drivers and riders. But even if you don’t carpool, wouldn’t it be great to spend less that you spend for a cup of coffee to support Leo and the effort to get more people to learn how to code?

The Case for B2B Startups: Profits #tech #startups #b2b

b2bIt seems all the “cool” start-ups these days are in the B2C space. List after list of the startups to follow includes mobile apps that you and your friends have got to have.  You read about what they are doing and some of them are absolutely cool and have the potential to change the world. A lot of them also have no monetization strategy.

Which brings us to the “uncool”, “unsexy” world of the B2B startups.  Those of us working on creating a business to solve a business pain often get overlooked as we probably lack the cool factor. We are also highly focused on solving a business pain that we have personally experienced, so only people who have experienced that specific pain in their business can fully understand what is the value we bring to the table.  But the real advantage in the B2B space is the ability to monetize and to monetize early.

So if you are thinking about starting a startup, here are some thoughts on why you should give a B2B idea a chance…

  1. You can get to market validation faster than in the B2C space. In the B2C space,  you require a massive amount of users. In the B2B space you can validate the value of what you are building early and pivot if necessary
  2. You may not need investors. In the B2C space the revenue models are uncertain, and revenue is a long-term strategy.  In the B2B space you can become self-sufficient early. Revenue is a short-term strategy.
  3. 80% of the US tech startups most likely to go public are B2B companies (Source: CB Insights tech IPO pipeline report)
  4. Estimated amount businesses will spend on enterprise software in 2013 (Source: Gartner)

In addition, if you already have experience in the B2B space, you may have two things that are critical to the success of a B2B business:

  1. Relevant business experience.  You have lived a pain and in the process of addressing it you have come up with an idea or a way to solve it. You will be able to understand what your clients go through. You will be able to talk the talk.
  2. You have a network. You have built a network of connections that can be either potential clients or that can help you connect with other potential clients.

What is Startup School? My experience attending @startupschool 2013

Startup School 2013 SpeakersWhat is Startup School?

Startup School is an annual event created by YCombinator’s Paul Graham. It is also a must attend event for any aspiring technology entrepreneur.

The best part? attending the event is free.  However, if you want to attend, there is a lot of competition for limited seats. You will have to fill out an application and provide information about your education, work, developer tools, and “the coolest thing you’ve built”.  So you better have something interesting to say as not everyone that applies gets to attend.  Graham has stated: “Many founders have told us that this event was what finally made them take the leap”. It’s also probably a very good first step to applying to YCombinator if you want to get into the world’s most prestigious accelerator program.

I was one of the lucky attendees selected this year and it was a life changing experience.  If you are starting a startup, or even thinking about it, you must try to attend. Every speaker provides a different perspective into their story and their learnings, but the one thing that is common to all of them is their passion for what they are doing, and for how they are potentially changing the world. Also, spending a day surrounded by energetic like-minded individuals is extremely inspiring.

Some of my notes from the event:

Phil Libin. Evernote Founder

The most important thing to do as young in age as possible is to cultivate a group of brilliant, high energy, willing to work for free best friends for life. I would go so far as to say…You shouldn’t even make friends with people who you don’t see starting a company with. You only have so many best friends in life, and you should imagine them as co-founders…

Evernote is his third startup. He has worked with the same team of friends throughout the 3 businesses and he has learned some important lessons

First lesson: don’t be consultants. His first company was an ecommerce consulting business and he felt that although the rewards of building something for someone else were immediate, they were really not building anything lasting.

Second lesson: build a product.  After the consulting business he felt he wanted to build a product.  He established a partnership with a brilliant individual but the problem was….. not one of them was in love with the product.

Third lesson: build a product that you love. You should not build any product.  Investors kept telling him to think about what the market wanted and reminded him that “he was not the target audience”. Which is important advice in the B2B space but not necessarily in the consumer space. In the consumer space you need to build something you love, and make it something that lasts as a company. To build something lasting as a company, you must not have an exit strategy, only a liquidity strategy.

As they built Evernote, they were running out of funds and as he was making the decision to shut down, he got an email from a random guy in Sweden who said: “I love Evernote. I have used it for 2 months and it has changed my life. Do you by any chance need investment?”. They spent 20 minutes on Skype and the random guy wired him half a million dollars which was enough  for the company to survive for 6 months. They received additional investment from international investors, but not Silicon Valley, and every investor was a fan of the product. Don’t be in this business if you want easy! It gets better but harder. In some sense more fun. It is not fun day to day. It is fun month to month. The only reason he can do this for the rest of his life is because he is doing something he loves, not just making some money.

So remember to build something for you, something that you love, as that way you will know when it is great. Make something epic and you will know when you have achieved greatness.

Dan Siroker. Optimizely Founder.

As you build your product, get feedback. Learn the value of the feedback loop. Focus on continuous improvement to build a lasting product.

Dan shared what he would have wanted to hear when he originally attended startup school. His first approach into entrepreneurship started after doing research on machine learning and sentiment classification. He tried to apply it to the stock market, but never made a profit. Time from launch to first paying customer: infinity. He then decided to work for Google as he wanted to learn the skills that would make him successful as an entrepreneur. The most important thing he learned was the value of the feedback loop. (In his first startup he had no customers, so he never had feedback and could not turn that product into a successful one).  In 2007 he heard Obama speak about how to bring data to government. He quit his job at Google and signed up as a volunteer. He joined the new media team to run A/B tests and became Director of Analytics for the campaign. His job was figuring out how to use data to help make better decisions. He used Adobe and Google products and got a ton of value out of those products.

His second business was Carrot Sticks, an online game to teach math. His clients were teachers, parents, and kids. They were neither and had a difficult time prioritizing what to do next. Then they founded Spreadly, a platform to monetize social sharing. This time it took them a month to get their first paying customer.

His current venture is Optimizely.  The inspiration came from the time spent at the political campaign.  He was running A/B tests but always required the use of a developer. He created a visual interface, and this gave clients the ability to do one time implementations without needing technical resources. It took him one day to get his first paying customer. It was also very easy to build this product because it is something he would have wanted for himself.

Ron Conway, SV Angel Partner

When looking for investors, look for those that add value to your business. Do not focus exclusively on valuation

Ron is an investor on Google, twitter, and snapshot among others.  40% of their startups go out of business.  So they invest in human quality, sometimes not even caring about what the product is. What they look for….

Promising signs of successful founders

  • Product focus.
  • Decisiveness.  They need to make decisions and keep momentum in growing their company.
  • They need to hire fast and fire fast. If there is dead wood in the organization, everybody else knows it. Morale can actually increase by making that decision even if it’s a co-founder.
  • Clear vision
  • Are other people going to work for her/him? Are they a team builder ? are they leaders? can they manage 1000 people? or can they grow into it?

Chris Dixon, Andreessen Horowitz Partner.

The best idea is a good idea that looks like a bad idea. Good ideas that look like good ideas are already being worked on by academics, government, and large companies.

A simple example of a good idea that looked like a bad idea is Google. When search engines started they were portals and the main objective was to get people to stick.  Google’s innovation was to get people to leave. Other examples are airbnb disrupting the hotel business, and ebay (why would you want to sell junk?)

How do you develop a good idea that looks like a bad idea? You need to know a secret. Something you believe that most other people don’t believe. How do you develop it?

  1. Know technical tools better than anyone else. Know technology better than other people. Dropbox is an example. File sharing needed to feel like a local drive. A brilliant MIT engineer cracked it.
  2. Know a problem better than anyone else. An example is Kickstarter. They spent 10 years trying to get funding.
  3. Draw from your unique life experience. An example is companies that specialized in protecting computers from spyware.  Virus companies felt that wasn’t important because it wasn’t technical enough.

What are the characteristics of a good idea that looks like a bad idea?

  1. Powerful people dismiss them as toys.  Telephone inventions vs. telegraphs.  Skype (could not work because people did not have microphones).  Broadband (who could possibly want it?)
  2. They unbundle functions done by others. Look at newspapers.  They have a brand (NY Times) and they have a curatorial function.  They tell you what matters on the front page. They have classified ads. These functions over time have been picked off one by one by technologies like craiglist, social media, and blogs. Now, individual reporters are the main attraction (for example Nate Silver). Let’s look at education.  Universities have a social role, educational role (coursework) and they act as credentials. Now let’s look at Udacity, coursera, all MOOCS.  They do not completely replace the university, but they replace pieces of the bundle.
  3. They start as hobbies. Business people vote by putting money into things they love. Engineers vote with their time. They work on what they think is cool usually during nights and weekends. Blogs started as hobbies, as well as web pages, browsers, open source, bitcoin, 3d printing, drones, big data frameworks, and github
  4. Does it challenge social norms? Examples would be ebay or airbnb

Chase Adam. Watsi Founder

Find something to work on that you care more about than yourself.

Watsi was the first nonprofit that made it into Y Combinator. Chase delivered a very emotional presentation describing how while in the Peace Corps sitting at a bus in Central America, he saw a woman get on the bus and collect money from strangers to pay for a health treatment for her child. She showed them medical records and inspired Chase to create Watsi, a portal to match donors with people needing health treatments throughout the world.  He described how difficult it had been to get investors, as most people would pat him on the back, tell him how great it was that he was doing this, but did not invest.  He described all the difficulties to get the business off the ground, and inspired the audience to look within for that “one thing” that we consider to be more important than ourselves. “This work is so hard, that it is only worth doing if it is that relevant to you”.  His presentation was met with a standing ovation.

Diane Greene, VMware Founder

Startups are one lucky break after another and you have to put yourself in the position to take advantage of the lucky breaks

Diane founded VMware, one of the most important enterprise software companies in the industry.  She described how they started, and how one of the initial priorities was to get rock solid patents.  Her conclusion: that did not help at all.  The success of the company was defined by establishing partnerships with hardware vendors.  She found a way for those vendors to make money, worked on building credibility, created a hardware partner program, and  gave all vendors a deadline to sign up.  (Piece of advice: always setup deadlines. Having a deadline helps in almost everything).

Jack Dorsey, Twitter and Square Founder

Build what you want to see in the world. That will resonate with other people. Sometimes you will win the bet. Sometimes you will lose. Put the loss on the shelf and bring it back another day.

Jack’s presentation was unique.  He did not deliver a presentation. Instead he chose to read paragraphs from books that have influenced him positively. He focused on two books:

The art spirit by Robert Henri. He describes an interesting parallel between artists and software creators. The end product is not the only important thing, the craft of making the product is important also. Doing, inventing within the work. Few have stamina to do it. “we are not here to do what is already been done”. Do not follow other footsteps. Do not copy others. Find your own path. A student must be a master. It is not enough to have thought great things before doing the work. We all have many ideas. What really matters is the work to implement those ideas. Don’t worry about rejections. Everyone that is good has gone through them.  Don’t let it matter if your works are not accepted at once. The more personal they are, the more chance of them being rejected. You are painting for yourself. We work hard to get positive feedback. But it takes years and patience.  There is a time and place for all things. What is difficult is to use them only in the proper time and place.  You cannot do anything without common shared purpose. Without common purpose you won’t do anything that is timeless.  Use fewer words, copy fewer things. Be short in words, long in meaning.

The score takes care of itself by Bill Walsh. Bill coached the San Francisco 49ers. He took a team at the bottom and brought them to the top. He did it by focusing on the details. He said.. clean your lockers, tuck in your shirts. You start with an idea, a mission and go and find people to help you implement it.  Establish a new standard of performance, specific attitudes and actions. Be clear communicating expectations of performance. Let everyone know you expect the highest level of expertise in their area. Teach beliefs. Teach connection. Measure.

Habits to be a leader

  1. Be yourself
  2. Be committed to excellence
  3. Be positive. (It is hard to do building a tech company)
  4. Be prepared. Good luck is a product of good planning. Lucky people are not lucky, they are prepared to recognize fortunate situations and act immediately when they occur
  5. Be detailed oriented. Pay attention to what other people don’t
  6. Be organized
  7. Be accountable
  8. Be near-sighted and far-sighted. Far is not easy
  9. Be fair
  10. Be firm
  11. Be flexible
  12. Believe in yourself
  13. Be a leader. Show, not tell.

What not to do:

  1. Exhibit patience. Paralyzing patience
  2. Massive or too little delegating
  3. Acting tedious
  4. Becoming best buddies with a few employees. Playing Favoritism
  5. Spend excessive amount of time socializing with superiors or subordinates
  6. Fail to continue tough evaluations of long time employees
  7. Fail to actively participate in efforts to get new hires
  8. Trust others to carry out your fundamental duties
  9. Find ways to get out from under the responsibilities, or to move accountability from yourself to others
  10. Promote a too relaxed work environment free of urgency. Aim for fun and tension balance

What happens to an organization when you start winning?

  1. Formally celebrate achievements
  2. Allow pats on the back for a limited time only
  3. Be apprehensive about applause
  4. Develop a plan for staff to go back into operation for success
  5. Address specific situations, mistakes, etc
  6. Be demanding.
  7. Don’t fall prey to overconfidence
  8. Use the time following success as an opportunity to make hard decisions
  9. Never fall prey to the belief that things get easy after success

Jack Dorsey’s personal list


  1. Stay present
  2. Be vulnerable. Show people your mistakes and fears because they can relate
  3. Drink only lemon water and red wine
  4. Do 6 sets of 20 squats and push ups through the day
  5. Do 6 sets of 30 sec planks
  6. Run for 3 miles
  7. Meditate on this list 🙂
  8. Stand up straight
  9. Say hello to everyone
  10. Create a video journal
  11. Get 7 hours of sleep


  1. Drink hard liquor or beer on weekdays
  2. Avoid eye contact
  3. Be late
  4. Set expectations and not meet them
  5. Eat sugar
  6. Eat wheat, lentils or dairy

Balaji Srinivasan, Counsyl Founder

Four cities used to run the US: Boston (Higher Education), New York (Advertising, Newspapers, Wall Street, Books), LA (Movies, Music), DC (Laws and Regulation).  Silicon Valley is becoming more important than all of them together.

paper belt

Balaji introduced us to the concept of Voice or Exit which is fundamental in Political Science.  He established an interesting parallel between politics and technology, and how when something is not working, you can choose “Voice”  and change the system from within” or “Exit” and leave to star something new.  The US is a nation of immigrants and a nation of emigrants. It is shaped by both Voice and Exit. Silicon Valley is also shaped by Exit. Exit is about alternatives, and Silicon valley is the ultimate exit. Technology has disrupted the main industries in the country, it has reduced costs, and it is allowing people to opt out of the world and into a digital world.

Nate Blecharczyk,Aairbnb Founder.

It is better to find a few customers that love you, than a lot of customers that like you.

Airbnb took 4 years to serve the first 4 million guests.  And only one year to serve the next 5 million.  Nate shared the story of how airbnb started and mentioned the importance of developing confidence. “You are going to fail more times than you succeed. So confidence is needed to persevere”.

Early in his career he took a corporate job and left it because he wasn’t learning.  Every experience in your life should be additive.  If not… Leave!!. After that he joined a startup and learned everything that should NOT be done. But every experience he had helped him be successful now.

On the topic of co-founders he mentioned his belief that the most important quality in a partner is work ethic. But it is also important to have complementary skills.  Choosing your co-founders is one of the most important decisions.  You can change your idea, but it is hard to change partners. Do not rush into a relationship as they need to last years.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder

Why was Facebook successful vs. other companies in the space? Because we cared more than everybody else. They had more engineering power, more money, servers, and time. So other companies could have done it, but the fact that we cared so much made a difference.

As a kid he built tons of software that he wanted for himself. Games he wanted to play. Music players he wanted. In college he started building things to connect with people around him. He wrote Class match as he was trying to figure out what classes to take, or what his friends had taken. He wrote a script to scrape the school catalog so that people could comment on the courses. He always felt people were missing from the internet and got 2,000 users out of 6,000 in Harvard . By the time he started Facebook he knew people would be willing to connect and register. He has always been very focused on the idea of channeling the community’s energy. He started Facebook during a 3-week reading period at Harvard. What did it have that competing businesses didn’t? focus on real identity and connections. Before FB, there was information and content, but the one thing we care most about – people – wasn’t there. “Friending” was the key to the success of Facebook. Competitors had the nodes but not the connecting arcs. They also had less emphasis on identity and community.

A lot of the reason why great stuff gets built is because it is kind of  irrational at the time. But the people who care the most end up doing it. He considers “determination” to be the most important quality contributing to his success. So many things go wrong that you need that. You will make tons of mistakes. The important thing is to learn quickly from them. And not give up. Keep running through the walls.

How do you learn how to manage people? Through lots of mistakes. No one is naturally good at hiring out of the box. You throw yourself in.  He has also developed a heuristic:

Hire someone you would work for in an alternate universe.

The definition of a good team is a group of people that makes better decisions as a whole than they would individually as the sum of the parts. Smart people like learning. One of the thrills of staring a company is the learning curve.  If you setup a team dynamic where you are constantly learning from the people around you. What is better?

What do you care about the most? Connecting everyone. Communities of people can channel energy to create wonderful things.


Some people have asked me which of the speakers was my favorite and although I got value from every one of them, Chase Adam’s presentation was probably the one I loved the most. His passion, and how emotional he was about his story, coupled with the reflection of “do only what is more important to you than yourself” truly made a difference in how I am approaching entrepreneurship now.

If you want to see any of the videos, they are all posted on the Ycombinator Youtube Channel.