Blake Borgeson, in blog form

suspected facts. validated opinions.

Archive for May 2008

bush administration climate report says no more skiing in the rockies

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visit nytimes articleIn case you didn’t catch this, there was an article today in the New York Times outlining the major points in a Bush Administration climate change report, commissioned in 2003 and released today, signed by 3 cabinet members. On the map you can see the projected increase and decrease in annual rainfall for different areas of the country, and the journalist also pulled out the following interesting conclusion:

The West will not only face a dearth of water, but also large shifts in when it is available. Water supplies there will be transformed by midcentury, with mountain snows that provided a steady flow of runoff for irrigation and reservoirs dwindling. That flow will be replaced by rainfall that comes at times and in amounts that make it hard to manage, the report and authors said.

Also, to put this into context, “the report’s emphasis [is] on the next 25 to 50 years, when shifts in emissions are unlikely to make much of a difference in climate trends.” So there’s not much we can do about it, in the authors’ view.

So it’s understandable but important that not only will the amount of precipitation be changing a lot, but the type and timing of that precipitation is likely to change dramatically, so much so that I’d guess skiing in the rockies will be dramatically affected. And keep in mind that this conclusion comes from a review of recent climate change studies, summarized and signed off on by the Bush Administration. We’ve come a long way in a few years.

This is of course not to say that a good chance of not being able to ski in the continental US within a few decades is up there with the biggest ramifications of climate change. It just drives the point home that life is going to be measurably different a few decades from now in many ways we may not yet realize–we won’t just be able to crank up the a/c a bit in the summer and enjoy the milder winter and be done with it. And it seems it’s already too late to stop some of those significant changes.

[Source: New Climate Report Foresees Big Changes in Water Supplies and Agriculture –]

Written by blakeweb

May 27, 2008 at 8:38 pm

marc andreessen’s greatest blog hits

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I started following a few months back after it kept getting referenced by venturehacks. I knew of Marc Andreessen–he designed mosaic, the first mass web browser, which sort of turned into netscape when he cofounded that company in his early 20s. Since then, he sold netscape to aol, started opsware in 99 and sold it to hp in 2007 for $1.6B, and most recently cofounded ning, which it so happens is also doing quite well.

Anyway, after reading this particular post, where Andreessen discusses a personal meeting he had with Barack Obama about a year ago, I realized he had a lot to say that I wanted to read. He only really started blogging in July of last year, but in the first 3 months he was extremely prolific. I thought it would do me good to go back through his archives, and the posts were so good I started summarizing them for future reference, and then I thought, why not post the summaries. Perhaps it will give you easier access to his great thoughts.

This is only the first 3 months of archives, but it hits the high points of most of his bigger essay-style advice posts. I’m crossing my fingers that this kind of summary is seen as helpful rather than plagiaristic in the blogging community. If I don’t have the plagiarism police knocking on my door after this, I’m thinking about doing the same thing with some of Paul Graham’s ‘essays’–I’ve gotten a lot out of those as well, but I imagine few people take the time to read such long posts.

I didn’t provide links directly to the posts, but they’re in chronological order, so you should be able to find them at And I’m sorry the formatting didn’t come out well, but unless I get a lot more readers here, there’s no way I’m reformatting all this. =)

⁃ Get adium ⁃ blogging: marsedit ⁃ for php, use zend ⁃ delicious: cocoalicious or delibar ⁃ flicker: 1001 ⁃ twitter: twitteriffic ⁃ parallels with xp, never vista

⁃ don’t keep a schedule: allows you to do whatever’s most important and maximize FLOW ⁃ 3 lists: todo, watch, and later ⁃ each night make a todo list of 3-5 items on a 3×5 card for the next day, keep it, write down anything you get done ⁃ structured procrastination – get stuff done while avoiding something you hate ⁃ strategic incompetence to get out of being responsible for stupid crap ⁃ email twice a day ⁃ don’t answer the phone. give a second number to all but the most important people (top friends, family, boss) ⁃ hide with headphones ⁃ not enough time to do everything – focus on what you love and turn the rest down ⁃ do what you love! that’s the point of all these tricks anyway

⁃ what defines success is a compelling product

⁃ what are you looking for
⁃ drive – what have they done to show it, and can you see it in their eyes ⁃ curiosity – love of learning, discovering ⁃ ethics
⁃ the process
⁃ write the process down! ⁃ test basic skills ⁃ plan out interview questions ⁃ pay attention in the interview to the little personality things ⁃ pay attention in the reference calls (do reference calls!) ⁃ fix bad hires fast, but not too fast

⁃ who should get funded:
⁃ vc’s invest in 10: 7 strikeouts, 2 base hits, 1 home run if they’re good: they need you to be the home run ⁃ their investment horizon is 4-6 years, and they need a good chance of a 10x return, meaning you need a hockey stick growth model within 4-6 years and be ready to ipo or sell in that time ⁃ if you fit the bill, you should go for it – grow as quickly as you can ⁃ if they turn you down, it’s usually 1 of 3 reasons, and if they tell you which, thank them
⁃ don’t see the 10x leverage ⁃ idea doesn’t look proven enough ⁃ your team doesn’t look solid (usually either the tech lead or the ceo)
⁃ vc’s investors are largely institutions, largely nonprofits ⁃ assume you’re just getting the money ⁃ you should ask for any help, not assume they’ll give it without asking

⁃ read rainbows end now ⁃ true names is vinge’s earlier one from 93 or so about today ⁃ also put accelerando – best singularity picture – in my amazon list and on my reading list

⁃ quote: I’m going to recommend a lot of books here on, but this is one of the most important you’ll ever read: Philip Tetlock’s Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?.

⁃ infernal affairs – the departed was a remake of this hong kong film 4 years later

⁃ you need at least 1 business person capable of running the company and one technologist, the genius ⁃ saying you can make lots of money by getting 2% of your huge target market is naive – if you’re saying the big guys will have 98%, then they’ll kill you ⁃ marketing – make sure you’ll get more in each customer’s revenue than sales and marketing will cost per customer acquisition (“especially true in small business market”)

⁃ pick the right ones – investigate their focus, and only choose the right ones ⁃ pitch 3, if they say no, then 3 more…after 8 if they’ve all said no, something’s wrong. 3 saying no means nothing possibly ⁃ read vc blogs ⁃ blog

⁃ being in a great market trumps everything else ⁃ product/market fit is THE cause of success or failure ⁃ focus exclusively on that–you can basically ignore every other aspect

⁃ don’t do a startup that requires a deal with a big company – there’s almost no way to know what they’ll do ⁃ if you’ve got an opportunity, by all means take a stab at it, but don’t count on it–see first note

⁃ as much as you can, just like venturehacks says, without screwing the liquidation preference ⁃ you want a lot because
⁃ you don’t know for sure what will stick ⁃ bad times might hit
⁃ if you get a lot
⁃ don’t fall into just hiring mode and get bloated and lazy ⁃ do tell everyone in the company that getting funding isn’t an accomplishment: you have to get a product/market fit ⁃ splurge on monitors and chairs ⁃ scrimp on everything else ⁃ don’t hire too many people (super-important); don’t pay people too much (not as important) ⁃ act like you have a lot less ⁃ stick to progress deadlines

⁃ people want to stay at a winning company, so start winning ⁃ lead like you mean it – here’s a good quote: You don’t need to be certain of all the answers! Colin Powell says, “You know you’re a good leader when people follow you, if only out of curiosity.” So project boldness, and have that glint in your eye where people know you’re up to something big. ⁃ don’t create a new ‘innovation division’ or ‘growth team’ maybe — that tells everyone else they’re not supposed to innovate, and they’re on the b-team – spread innovation everywhere ⁃ don’t give huge spot equity or bonuses – makes the rest feel like the b-team, and angry if they half-deserved it ⁃ 5 main causes of retention: strong coworkers, interesting work, learning and growing, winning, and a high stock price

⁃ the four steps to the epiphany – steve blank – on reading list

⁃ thanks lots of people.

⁃ a couple of studies quoted indicating that people come up with more and better ideas separately than together

⁃ no battle plan survives contact with the enemy
⁃ microsoft: software->os ⁃ oracle: cia consultancy->productize database ⁃ intel: memory chips->cpu
⁃ the product/market combo that will work is really really hard to know, and you usually don’t when you start

⁃ read this a while ago, and skimming again, picked up most i think ⁃ overall output value correlates strongly with quantity of output -> more quantity doesn’t mean less quality – productivity and creativity go together ⁃ the earlier you start, your lifetime creative output is correspondingly higher ⁃ intelligence beyond a pretty low bar (120) seems to be irrelevant ⁃ the peak of creative output varies with the field between late 20s and 50s ⁃ poetry, pure math, theoretical physics: late 20s – early 30s ⁃ writing, history, philosophy – 40s-50s

⁃ read a while ago as well ⁃ pmarca summarizes and reworks a main point about luck and discovery taken from a book he recommends called chase, chance, and creativity, which is in my reading list ⁃ 4 types of lucky discoveries
⁃ 1 – uncontrolled, but still favors movement over stagnation ⁃ 2 – brought about through something not directly intended to bring it out, but favors curiosity and experimentation ⁃ 3 – like 2, but also requires understanding, memory, and synthesis to put the pieces together – observation is not as simple ⁃ 4 – favored by a purposeful lifestyle, eccentric hobbies, etc

[update: I added in the links to the posts.  In looking through this list again, I should say again this wasn’t meant to be all-inclusive in picking out useful information from pmarca’s blog–just notes I made for myself to reference that I then decided to post.]

Written by blakeweb

May 17, 2008 at 1:48 pm

paul graham and umair haque: be good

with one comment

Being good as a company is something I think about a lot. And since I just read these two interesting perspectives, I thought it was time to pull thoughts together.

Disclaimer: I want to make the point that I don’t agree with every single argument the authors make. I think it’s understood in the blogging world that when I link to someone else’s post, I’m not saying I agree with it 100%, but I just want to make sure. I’m just pointing to something you should read and digest for yourself. Hopefully soon I’ll be comfortable leaving this disclaimer out most of the time.

First is Paul Graham‘s most recent essay, entitled ‘be good‘. I guess he likes to write long blog posts, so he calls them essays so you won’t be turned off by how long it is–except that now it’s called an essay, which is equally off-putting to the people who avoid long blog posts. Anyway, I’m not familiar enough with YCombinator to say much as to what Paul Graham’s investment record is like with YC, but this essay (calling it that at least makes it sound more serious and sophisticated I guess) is very well written.

Overall Paul’s essay captures a lot of my own opinions on how valuable it is, to both companies and individuals, to be in the business of making the world a better place for everyone.

There’s a lot of external evidence that benevolence works. But how does it work? One advantage of investing in a large number of startups is that you get a lot of data about how they work. From what we’ve seen, being good seems to help startups in three ways: it improves their morale, it makes other people want to help them, and above all, it helps them be decisive.

He comes in at the end to reiterate that he isn’t just pushing the ‘be good’ mantra because he thinks it’s morally superior, and therefore the right thing to do in and of itself.

When you write something telling people to be good, you seem to be claiming to be good yourself. So I want to say explicitly that I am not a particularly good person. When I was a kid I was firmly in the camp of bad. The way adults used the word good, it seemed to be synonymous with quiet, so I grew up very suspicious of it.

You know how there are some people whose names come up in conversation and everyone says “He’s such a great guy?” People never say that about me. The best I get is “he means well.” I am not claiming to be good. At best I speak good as a second language.

So I’m not suggesting you be good in the usual sanctimonious way. I’m suggesting it because it works. It will work not just as a statement of “values,” but as a guide to strategy, and even a design spec for software. Don’t just not be evil. Be good.

Next, I’ve been reading Umair Haque’s blogs, bubblegen and his new hbs-located blog, for some time, and he is one of the most insightful writers I’ve found. He sometimes goes way beyond what he really means with sweeping statements and broad generalizations, but you get used to that and you realize he’s usually just in a hurry, which is why he’s often the first (I hear of) to make very original observations. In his most recent post on creating real value, he states very specifically that most of the ‘revolutionary’ innovation coming out of startups and venture capital these days is still focused on adding on useless features and providing new ways for people to waste time, despite some big problems in the global ecology and the global economy. As usual, he’s got some pretty harsh criticisms for the world at large.

The self-indulgence of today’s so-called revolutionaries in a darkening economic twilight is a recipe for strategic suicide.

So here’s my challenge. If you’re a revolutionary, then be one: put your money where your mouth is, and fix a big problem that changes the world for the better – if you really have the courage, the purpose, and the vision, that is.

At the bottom of it, both of these authors are talking about generating real value. The capitalism ingrained in the anglo-american core, at least for nearly everyone in the business world, tells us that the profit you make is the real measure of the value you’re creating. If enough people are willing to pay you more for something than it costs you to provide them with it, then congratulations, that’s value right there. You earned it, and now you get to buy stuff with it.

I definitely agree with that, as stated, but it leaves out at least a couple of considerations:

  • If the rules of the game (capitalism; the market) are drawn incorrectly (e.g., apportioning the costs of pollution or other environmental damage), and in such a way that you can profit more by taking advantage of that error or omission, are you really creating as much value as your profit says?
  • If you manufacture a sub-par or overpriced product, but you’re able to convince people to buy from you versus your competitors through manipulation (not presenting the whole truth), are you really creating value?

In the first situation, people look to experts and the government to set the rules correctly and adjust them as needed to keep value creation aligned with profit creation. Ideally that’s great, but is that a reasonable expectation, especially when people are saying that the government is owned by the companies, not by its citizens? In the second, you can always argue that your customers are responsible for their own buying decisions, and that obviously they’d rather have your product than the money they gave you–that’s why they made the purchase. In a world where full and complete information on companies and their products, sources, and practices is freely available and easy to use, I’d agree.

I think my main point is that, while it’s easier, in my opinion, to use profit as the judge of value in business, it can very often lead you to the wrong decisions. I think a better compass is impact, and by that I mean the change for the better you make in the world. And since that’s very difficult to quantify in full and think about in day-to-day business decisions, I think most of it is wrapped up in doing better than anyone else can for your customers and future customers and adding to their lives in a way you feel is really meaningful.

Written by blakeweb

May 2, 2008 at 7:06 pm

Posted in startups

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