Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

In The Air

Flying Is Inspiring
For whatever reason when I find myself on a plane far above nowhere, I feel like the creative impulses become more uninhibited.

It might simply be the fact that sitting in one place for so long allows the kind of self-reflection necessary for creativity, but I think instead it has something to do with the unfettered reality of being in the air – literally off the ground.

Going through the process of trying to figure out my first post-grad-school career move in the midst of the biggest market downturn in a generation has been a very intense process to date.

Even though failure is a necessary part of life and an even more understandable part of such trying times, having desired outcomes eliminated by others is never fun.

That this happens both in our personal relationships and in our careers is not a surprise – both are simply the interface of our hopes and expressions of commitment and the outside world.

Challenges Show True Colors
An interesting phenomena in the current environment is that peoples’ true character is being shown, for better or for worse.

Arguably an opportunistically minded employer should see today as a great time to find talent – even those with the most options are having this opportunity set constrained by the reality of a market downturn.

However, instead, many of these previously-shrewd types are hunkering for cover like the rest of the masses.

This might mark capitulation, but instead I think it highlights the danger of a human-driven economy: it is driven by psychology as much as any “reality of the matter”.

What I mean is that today even the even-keeled in the crowd have become part of the collective pessimism that is currently gripping our markets and economy.

That it has become the status quo is reflected in the experiences of my fellow graduates of Harvard Business and Law Schools, who arguably have a unique snapshot into the corporate psychology across our economy as we are welcomed into organizations for interviews, meetings and other gatherings.

The mood across these organizations is one of fear-of-failure at worst to wait-and-see for most.

Entrepreneurs Remain Optimistic
Thankfully, this is not a uniform experience, and unsurprisingly it is the entrepreneur-set that retains the most optimism. I have spoken to a number of venture capitalists as well as aspiring and current entrepreneurs over the last several months, and the outlook for this group remains upbeat.

Sure there is a sense of “cash-preservation” typified by the now infamous “Sequoia book” on the economy; however, this group also recognizes that there are likely an infinite number of problems waiting to be solved and a lot of really smart and creative people out there solving them.

This sense of innovation and optimism is what our nation thrives on, and it is what will ultimately inspire and drive the rest of the crowd out of the shadows and back into the eye-squinting light.

Social media, communications technologies, renewable energy, biotechnology, music, film…all of these areas continue to feature brilliant minds doing wicked-cool stuff.

Innovation Needed: Personal Finance
One area where innovation has only moderately occurred is in the area of personal financial management. Sites like Mint.com help people to manage their personal finances, but as too-many people are experiencing the current state of financial advisors is inadequate.

I think there is room for someone to create a service to help moderate-income people manage their personal finances and retirement accounts. With the out-flux of talent from the failed financial-services industry, a would-be entrepreneur has a legion of people to help with execution.

The cool thing about our country is that someone will solve this problem. And they will be another entrepreneur in a series of creative folks who have helped built our country and its ever-persistent economy. (Update: I met a guy from MIT last night who is working on a very similar idea…beautiful thing).

Landing
The plane is banking left and my batteries are low…until next time, be careful of the continuing-to-fall shoes and try to keep an eye on the sun.

Walking The Walk

That one can accomplish entrepreneurial pursuits appears before us on an almost daily basis, but it is always cool when those materializations happen close to home.

This morning, my eye was caught by a TechCrunch article about an innovative company, EyeView, that just so happens to have been launched by a buddy of mine from HBS. (Here’s the article: EyeView Raises Seed Round For Flash Tutorials That Convert).

I first saw the presentation for EyeView last year at the HBS business plan competition, and it was clear from the second their video started that these guys knew what they were doing.

After getting to know the founder better, I can tell you that he has the drive and the passion to make this thing a success. It is a fun thing to watch, and I have no doubt that success will continue.

Check out the below video, highlighting their product which is helpful in navigating users through the sometimes-confusing introduction to a web-based product or service.

Creating The Future. Not Predicting It.

I have often said that I like to try to predict the future. This materializes most concretely in the area of investing – I think the core being an investor is literally attempting to predict how the world will look in the future. If your view is different from other people, and you are correct, then you win.

However, lately as the markets have played out like a broken record the results of a too-levered too-risk agnostic system, my thoughts have turned from future predicting to future creating…and this brings my thoughts to entrepreneurship.

The world today has many problems:

  • A challenged financial system driven by a falling real estate market and a slowing economy.
  • A massive and growing national debt.
  • Homeowners with too much mortgage debt.
  • Middle class families that are being squeezed by expenses ranging from health care to consumer credit.
  • An educational system that does an inadequate job for many – especially minority urban youth.
  • Environmental challenges.
  • A dependence on foreign oil.
  • Global poverty and illness.
  • A health care system that does not serve the poor.

However, the only way these problems will be solved is if *we* fix them. Thus, the inspiration for entrepreneurship emerges.

Rather than standing by and watching these problems and “predicting” their continuation, instead I think we should try to envision a future where these problems are solved. And further, I think coming up entrepreneurial solutions to these problems is crucial.

And so lately my mind has shifted to this mode of thinking.

I don’t think I could stop the “future predicting” part of me if I tried. But I feel like trying to think about trying to solve these other problems for the next period of time.

Please share any ideas you might have, and I will do the same.

HBS Centennial: Social Entrepreneurship In Education

Below are my notes from a panel during this week’s HBS Centennial Celebration.

The Panel, hosted by HBS Professor Stacey Childress, featured 4 of the leading entrepreneurs making changes in education nationwide.

Steve Barr - Founder of Green Dot; Kevin Johnson – Founder of St. Hope and Sacramental Mayoral candidate;  Michelle Rhee - Washington D.C. Schools superintendent, and Wendy Kopp founder of Teach For America.

Introduction

The definition of Social Entrpreneurship: pursuing social change, regardless of the resources you currently control.

Some stats about our educational system:  3 million teachers and 50 million students. 40 percent of poor are in largest 100. We spend $450 billion annually. This has doubled over 30 years but the outcomes have declined.

Our students are tops in the world in math and science in the 4th grade,  but by high school they fall to 25th in math (out of 30).

There are 4 general areas we need to address:

1) Achievement gap.

2) People problems.

3) Performance tools.

4) Institutions.

Steve Barr – founder of Green Dot

Founded it himself (with his Chocolate lab) after a death in the family. When you lose your family, you get bolder.

In the old days – high school was enough. His, brother dropped out. He was jock.

Looking back on his experience he decided he wanted to create schools where everyone gets attention – not just the cool kids and the jocks.

Most schools are very undemocratic – centralized. In contrast, small private schools have: high expectations, college acceptance, no big office downtown, accountability, call back, connected.

He wanted to replicate this private school environment. So he started with one school…built from there. Now at 19 schools. Now he wants to create political will to change current system.

Kevin Johnson- St. Hope

Grew up in Oak Park Sacremento. After high school he got a scholarship to Berkeley. Realized he was totally unprepared. Played for Suns in NBA – visited cities nationwide. Started St. Hope after school program for kids while playing for the Suns…but the schools were so bad, he realized that is not enough.

All poor places were the same – kids were told they weren’t allowed to have same opportunities just because of where they were born.

3rd graders that are behind 80 percent never caught up. We build prison systems based on these reading scores.

Finally decided to create new schools.

Wants to revitalize a community. Public schools, economic development, return and the arts. Focused on one area in a community. Pre-k through twelve. Need a continuum. Runs Sacramento High School -2nd oldest high school in the country. Took college acceptance rate from 20-30 percent to 80 percent.

Michelle Rhee – Washington D.C. Schools

50k students. Highest risk school in the entire country. 70 percentage point achievement gap. 12th percentile in reading and 8 percentile in math. Kindergartners start close close to their peers…by 3rd grade they are far behind. Schools are so bad they make kids worse off the longer they stay.

Money was not the issue: they spent a lot of money per pupil, but had bad results.

Transformational focus 2 areas:

Accountability. The Adult has responsibility and stake in success. Pay based on performance. Red tier or green tier. Green tier – 40 percent raise + upside possibilities…up to 131k in salary. People backlashed. You have to give up tenure.

Leadership. No school board. Just mayor. She hates boards. Change will take different kind of leadership. Must reject compromise. Need decisive change…she received advice from someone who said “soften your message.” She said, “I totally disagree…we spend too much time softening our message. We don’t do a good enough job calling out the issues.”

Wendy Kopp - Teach For America

Problem of educational iniquity is so big, we need to channel future leaders into they system.

The program: commit 2 years to high poverty communities. Both helps kids and shapes leaders.

This is a solvable problem. Kids do have the potential. She rejects silver bullet theories. It will take hard work. 2/3rds of her people end up staying in education, but some leave. And that is good too.

Goal is to keep growing. Last year 25,000 applicants. 7,000 teachers next year. We are seeing reasons for hope – schools are improving…snowball is rolling. New Orleans is changing.

General Thoughts

Warren Buffett: if you want to fix public schools, make private schools illegal.

We need political will.

Change is necessary.

Need reform from within plus political will. Takeaway from Aspen Ideas Festival. Someone needs to be a chancellor, someone needs to be a mayor.

Michelle has a billion dollar budget, showing that big institutions can help to make change because of their resources if organized properly.

Leaders are putting kids first.

Cities are incubators for nationwide change (i.e. a one-sized fits all approach might not work).

Political will is absolutely crucial: Michelle *needs* Fenti (mayor) to make it work. Closed 15 restructured 27 fired 1/3 of principals. Most politicians fold under the pressure.

We need unrelenting leaders like Kevin.

Ms. Rhee’s compensation system is being funded by foundations…charter schools are worried, but ultimately public school competition is necessary.

The end goal: we are so far from where we need to go. We need systems of schools to have systems like what we have in GE. We need much better efficiency.

Limit is not the kids: it is the getting the right adults.

Leadership is important. Adrian Fenti saw Klein in New York did it…followed him. We need a different kind of leadership. Elect Kevin.

How can graduate schools of ed help? People are taking watered down approach. We need the systems themselves to retain, attract, train best talent. Need more research.

We have not embraced the technological revolution enough. Someone needs to pioneer the technology revolution in schools.

We have a crisis. We need to make people realize the implications: Economic development, public safety etc.

How are we going to save the economy? Education.