Innovation

Will the Next Unicorn be a Distributed Autonomous Organization?

With the recent talk of reddit being cannibalized by bitcoin technology, I thought it a good time to post something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Could a completely decentralized startup one day rival the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon?

Within the bitcoin world there’s a common understanding that the most valuable thing about bitcoin is not the monetary currency but the underlying “blockchain” technology that the bitcoin currency runs on. For those unfamiliar, you can check out three heavily-funded ventures creating infrastructure that would enable anyone to program applications on the blockchain that go way beyond monetary currencies: Ethereum,Swarm and Blockstream.

One such application is what’s known as a “Distributed Autonomous Organization,” which is an organization like a corporation, government or NGO, but which has no central leadership and uses internet technologies to organize and function. Examples of DAOs that you are familiar with include open-source software systems like Linux; terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda; communities like Anonymous; and …

Your Pitch Sucks

I have yet to meet a founder who knows how to pitch their company so that it immediately resonates with investors.

[ I’ve moved this post to Crowdfunder, and Google dings you on SEO if you have the content in both places. ]

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25 Important Facts About the Startup Economy

  1. Startups add an average of 3 million jobs in their first year, while older companies lose 1 million jobs annually. (ref)
  2. Without startups, job growth in the US would be negative 1.2 percent. (ref)
  3. Angel investments created 370,000 U.S. jobs in 2010, nearly half of the private sector jobs created that year. (ref)
  4. 265,400 individuals provided $20.1B in angel investment capital to a total of 61,900 entrepreneurial ventures in 2010. (ref)
  5. In contrast, the private equity industry invested $180B in 2010. (ref)
  6. Historically, angels invest $50B per year into 50,000 companies, representing 70% of capital for new ventures; 11 times more than the amount provided by Venture Capitalists. (ref)
  7. The long-term historical return of the U.S. Angel market is 27% annually, three times higher than the public stock market. (ref)
  8. Warren Buffett’s historical return is 24% annually. (ref)
  9. Venture Capital historical returns are around 20%, but over the

How is Social Enterprise?

A friend recently commented to me that he was really excited about a new business he was about to undertake, but then added almost apologetically, “I know it’s not much of a social enterprise.” This seemed odd to me because in my experience Jason is as socially/environmentally/interpersonally conscious a person as I know. To me it was obvious: as long as Jason didn’t stray from his own values and ways of being, whatever ventures he undertook would by definition be social enterprise. As always, he would find a way to make sure nobody he interacted with was worse off for it. And if successful, at least a few groups of people (including himself and his investors) would be better off.

I then remembered another colleague who was universally praised by the media and others as being a one-man savior in Haiti after the earthquake. He had quite admirably hit the ground running, on his own initiative, with incredible resources, to set up a refugee camp. …

Education 2.0

In what turned out to be the most popular TED talk of all time, Ken Robinson asked us to wake up and smell the coffee: our system of education is stuck in the Industrial Revolution where it was invented.  Moreover, it’s killing creativity, crushing spirits, and preparing students, not for success and wellbeing, but rather unemployment and dysfunction.  Waiting for Superman confirmed this this, adding that the public schools in the U.S. are bankrupt, both financially and morally.

Yet, all around the world, there are signs that the Berlin Wall of education reform is crumbling. Here are a few shining lights:

TEDucation

No single institution or movement has done more to spark educational change than TED.com.  Hundreds of millions of people are watching their videos and learning from inspiring individuals sharing ideas and experiences that cannot be learned in a traditional school environment.  And there’s an acceleration effect because many of the talks are about education and the transformation that’s going on in …

Investing in Superstars, part 4

[NOTE: I updated this post with more detailed examples]

Background: part 3part 2 and part 1.

In the interview with Jon Gunn in Part 3, I mention that I’ve been thinking of what “version 2” of the Personal Investment Contract might look like.  Here’s the model:

  1. Investment Amount – Same as before, intended to give the individual some time to pursue their passion (or figure out what that is) without having to worry about how to support themselves.
  2. Maximum Return – The cumulative total amount that the investor can receive as return on their investment.  If and when this amount is reached, the contract is over.
  3. Annual Exclusion – The amount of annual income the entrepreneur can make without having to share any of it with the investor.
  4. Minimum Revenue Share – The minimum percentage of gross income the entrepreneur returns to the investor after deducting the Annual Exclusion.

Following are some examples of various different career paths and uses for a …

Investing in Superstars, part 3

For the background to this post, start with part 2 and part 1.  The follow up is part 4.

I get a lot of questions from folks who are interested in learning more about Personal Investment Contracts and so I felt it was time to synthesize some of the most common ones and give you some answers.

Who is the first person you invested in?

A film maker named Jon Gunn.

What is your relationship with Jon outside of this investment?

He is my brother-in-law, and a former business partner of mine in an instructional DVD company we co-founded with Phil Gordon.  I’ve also invested in a couple of his independent films.

Why did you invest in Jon directly?

I have been a big believer in his talent for a long time.  None of the ventures I just mentioned though have made me any return on my investment.  Phil had been suggesting for a while that if we simply invested directly in …

Innovation as Moral Leverage

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  (Margaret Mead)

“Be the change you want to see in this world” (Gandhi)

There is an idea virus within American culture that has the power to destroy.  The idea is that technology and innovation are fundamentally good.  Whether you consider yourself a technologist, an entrepreneur or a scientist (all labels I use to identify myself at times) I’d like to propose an alternative to to this idea and an inoculation against the virus.

Observation #1: Innovation amplifies whatever values and beliefs are held by the innovator.

For instance, if I value my time, I might invent the first clock, or start a business to create time-management products, or devote my life to unlocking deep mysteries of the physics of time.  And if I believe clean drinking water is a fundamental human right, I might invent a new method of water purification, or …

Mutual Disclosure Agreement

When I was in Silicon Valley in the 90’s the joke was that you couldn’t go on a first date without having your love-interest sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement; after all, they might be working on a competitive venture.

These days when I’m hit with the “I’d love to talk to you about my startup, will you first sign this NDA?” my first reaction is to laugh in their face.  I know instantly that they don’t get it and are doomed to failure.  While the NDA may once have been a necessary tool, in today’s environment (and increasingly so) it’s a hinderance to ultimate business success.  If you don’t get this, I’m not going to waste your time trying to convince you otherwise.  You’ll either learn the hard way or prove me wrong.  Either outcome is fine by me.

But if you do get it, and you also encounter this old-school naiveté, I invite you to do what I do, which is to thank the person …

$100,000 Reward: Y Prize

Inspired by the X Prize, Y Combinator’s “Startup Ideas We’d Like to Fund” and Kickstarter, I am offering a $100K prize in three parts:

$10K for Crowdsourced X Prizes Platform

  • Allows anyone to offer a cash prize for achieving a goal they want achieved
  • Allows anyone to pledge additional dollars to someone else’s already-offered prize
  • Uses crowdsourcing to vet which goals are worthy of public prize offer and which get top billing
  • Uses crowdsourcing to determine if/when a prize gets awarded
  • Has been used to award at least five prizes of one thousand dollars or more
  • Does not have any pending lawsuits alleging that the platform violates U.S. federal or state laws
  • Has an opinion letter from a U.S. law firm that the system does not violate U.S. federal or state laws

Note that this is different from Kickstarter in that (a) it’s the donors who set the goal not the recipient; (b) Kickstarter does not use crowdsourcing in its vetting …

Investing in Superstars

This is the first in a four part series.  The other are here:  part 2, part 3part 4.

Imagine you are in your early twenties, out of college several years and your best friend, who recently came into an inheritance of $300K cash told you they could think of no better way to invest the money than to invest it in you.  Not the company you started, not as a loan, but invest it in YOU, as if you were a startup.  In return your friend said all they wanted was 3% of your gross income for the rest of your life.  Do you think you would take it?

Now what if your friend said that they didn’t care what you did with the money or how much you made each year.  If you wanted to sit on a beach in Nicaragua learning to surf, go work in the Peace Corps, stay at home and do your art projects, …