Pure Entrepreneurs

Boston Globe has an article by Scott Kirsner:

Pure entrepreneurs are loopy and obsessed. They have a vision of the future, and while others are casting their lines into the water to see what will bite, pure entrepreneurs are jumping over the gunwales and swimming after the white whale.

Pure entrepreneurship, by my definition, is often driven by a belief that a major shift is coming — and thus it’s hard to find customers who already understand that they need the product a pure entrepreneur is developing.

Pure entrepreneurship is often a solo enterprise, funded by credit cards, consulting projects, and second mortgages. It sparks revolutions and spawns big companies.

”Something just clicks, and you say, ‘This is worth doing, and I think other people will be interested,’ ” Dan Bricklin says. ”It hits you that there’s a need, and that pursuing it is worth the risk.”

Learning How To Think

Atanu Dey writes:

I think that at a minimum, an educational system must teach people how to think. How to fast and how to wait would be good but perhaps it is too much to ask for right now. Does such a system exist anywhere in the world? I don’t know for sure but I doubt it very sincerely. I realize of course that there are people who have gone through the current educational systems and they are also able to think. But I would be wary of ascribing that result to the present setup. It is more likely that despite the present system, those people have learnt how to think.

I believe that learning how to think may be something alike to learning a language. It appears that we have a language learning sub-system in our brains which shuts down sometime around age 12 or so. Before reaching that age, you can very easily learn languages; after that, learning languages is extremely hard. So also, I believe that if you catch a kid early enough, you can teach him or her to think. It is as if the brain circuits are just a lot of firmware in early childhood and then as one grows up, the firmware hardens and become hardware that cannot be re-programmed.

Here is my prescription for a good education. Focus primarily on teaching how to think and on teaching people how to learn. Teaching how to think is like giving kids a very high powered CPU. Teaching them how to learn gives them control of a very broadband channel through which they can have access to content that the CPU can process. Alternative analogy: good thinking skills is like have a good operating system. And good learning skills is like having a great set of applications.

Tejas’ Hot-Box Model

Business Week’s blog has a post about Tejas raising $15 million in funding:

Before raising the round, Tejas, which was founded in 2000, had already sold products for four years, shipped three product lines, hired 160 employees, and signed global distribution agreements–all on $14 million in funding.

How did Tejas do it? Not just by using inexpensive labor. The company’s model relies on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)–that is, big companies that slap their brand names on its products, sell them all over the world, and share the spoils with Tejas. The OEM partners sell mainly to customers in Asia, where demand for telecom equipment is stronger than in the U.S. This way, Tejas doesn’t have to build a costly worldwide sales and distribution network. However, the company sells directly to customers in its home market, India, where telecom carriers are rapidly expanding their networks.

Business Week calls this model Hot Box 2.0.

Anonymous P2P

Krzysztof Kowalczyk writes:

Napster had a flaw of being centrialized. It was a matter of winning one case to shut them down forever.

BitTorrent, Kazaa and other decentralized networks cannot be killed that way but they make it trivial to track down people who upload files. That allows RIAA and MPAA to sue individuals. Thats a very expensive way to fight p2p file sharing but I hear they still make lots of money. And they can always compensate by showing more ads in theaters or inserting ads in the middle of songs. Besides, this is more of a scare tactic: they dont have to sue everyone who uses p2p because in the end MPAA execs would be the only ones not being sued. They just have to convince public at large that downloading songs or movies is too dangerous, not worth the risk of being sued.

Creating an anonymous p2p network that will make pin-pointing individual file shares impossible on a practical level isnt that hard. And I predict that in 2005 an anonymous p2p network will rise in popularity rivaling current popular p2p networks.

This might happen as an anonymous overlay network like Tor or as a new, specialized networked protocol.

Cool Apple

The New York Times writes: ” Microsoft has a near-monopoly on the basic software used on the hardware owned by most people, enabling the company to extract what is basically a head tax. Google has a near-monopoly in the digital library business, which enables it to do very well with advertising that monetizes eyeballs. But Apple has an absolute monopoly on the asset that is the most difficult for competitors to copy: cool.”

Another message: Interface matters.

Mr. Saffo points out that the iPod and its competitors use identical hardware components. What permits one to so outdistance the others, he says, is “how they are put together” – in Apple’s case, with yet-to-be-matched software and essential cool. Playing at the top of his game, Mr. Jobs can lead the way to ubiquitous, headache-free, plug-and-play computing, including every definition of “play” and taking a variety of forms.

Apple is well positioned for the future. When consumers open their wallets to buy things that have machine intelligence, or provide digital entertainment, or link to the Internet – that is, just about everything in a household that is not edible – they are likely to be drawn to the company with cachet, offering the best-designed, best-engineered, easiest-to-use products, priced affordably thanks to Mr. Moore’s old law and Mr. Jobs’s new pragmatism. They’ll turn to the company that best knows how to meld hardware and software, the company embodied in the ecstatically happy hipster silhouette. The company that is, in a word, cool.

TECH TALK: The Best of 2004: Simplicity

The Economist survey and David Gelernters article capture what is the single biggest challenge facing the computer industry how to make things simpler. This is especially important for what we are doing because we want to target the next set of users. This is where I believe we have a lot to learn from the telecom industry both in its devices and the way it offers the services.

11. Economist Survey on IT, focusing on conquering complexity (October)

Steven Milunovich, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, offers a further reason why simplicity is only now becoming a big issue. He argues that the IT industry progresses in 15-year waves. In the first wave, during the 1970s and early 1980s, companies installed big mainframe computers; in the second wave, they put in PCs that were hooked up to server computers in the basement; and in the third wave, which is breaking now, they are beginning to connect every gadget that employees might use, from hand-held computers to mobile phones, to the internet.

The mainframe era, says Mr Milunovich, was dominated by proprietary technology (above all, IBM’s), used mostly to automate the back offices of companies, so the number of people actually working with it was small. In the PC era, de facto standards (ie, Microsoft’s) ruled, and technology was used for word processors and spreadsheets to make companies’ front offices more productive, so the number of people using technology multiplied tenfold. And in the internet era, Mr Milunovich says, de jure standards (those agreed on by industry consortia) are taking over, and every single employee will be expected to use technology, resulting in another tenfold increase in numbers.

Moreover, the boundaries between office, car and home will become increasingly blurred and will eventually disappear altogether. In rich countries, virtually the entire population will be expected to be permanently connected to the internet, both as employees and as consumers. This will at last make IT pervasive and ubiquitous, like electricity or telephones before it, so the emphasis will shift towards making gadgets and networks simple to use.

UBS’s Mr [Pip] Coburn adds a demographic observation. Today, he says, some 70% of the world’s population are analogues, who are terrified by technology, and for whom the pain of technology is not just the time it takes to figure out new gadgets but the pain of feeling stupid at each moment along the way. Another 15% are digital immigrants, typically thirty-somethings who adopted technology as young adults; and the other 15% are digital natives, teenagers and young adults who have never known and cannot imagine life without IM (instant messaging, in case you are an analogue). But a decade from now, Mr Coburn says, virtually the entire population will be digital natives or immigrants, as the ageing analogues convert to avoid social isolation. Once again, the needs of these converts point to a hugely increased demand for simplicity.

12. Gelernter on how to build a better PC (December)

What’s wrong with today’s PC? Plenty. All sorts of functions that ought to be built-in are available only as add-ons or not at all.

Like many people, I have several PCs in my life–and I constantly need to ask such ridiculous questions as, “Where did I leave the latest version of that file? By what clumsy method should I move it from where it is to where it’s needed?” Such questions are like asking “Where did I leave the starter crank for my Huppmobile?” If you have to ask, your (formerly) hot-shot machine is ready for the folk-art museum.

IBM might have done well selling PCs with built-in “transparent information sharing.” As soon as you connected such a machine to the Internet, all your electronic documents would immediately be available–no matter where you created or last worked on them. If all your computers had transparent information-sharing, you could start composing an e-mail at work, touch it up during your drive home (using a–theoretical–in-car, audio-interface IBM PC) and finish it up on a laptop in your backyard. Lots of businesses and people would have shelled out for such PCs.

Many computer users are overwhelmed by e-mail. Whenever you start work on a computer, you ought to find a one-page e-mail summary ready and waiting. It would tell you at a glance (even if you haven’t touched a computer in weeks) which new e-mails look important, which look like junk, and which have been acknowledged but not yet answered.

There are dozens more possibilities. Why should anyone waste time throwing out e-mail (or any electronic document) when data storage is dirt cheap? Why are we wedded to a windows-menus-mouse interface that is flat, as if it were stuck to the back of the screen, when computers are easily powerful enough to turn the screen into a viewport that lets us “peer through it” into an imaginary 3-D landscape? (Information can be more clearly and effectively arranged in a 3-D space than on a restricted flat surface.) Large-screen and projection technology is cheaper all the time; why aren’t large-screen computers (and living-room computers) a growing (high profit!) segment of the industry? Why doesn’t every computer I use show me the exact same desktop, with the same layout of the same icons?–or (at any rate) the same picture, no matter what interface I use? I could go on.

Know this for sure: Some company will build all this and more into a radically more powerful, radically simpler PC.

Tomorrow: Entrepreneur Q&A

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