Great Reads: The Sense of an Ending

…when you are young, you think you can predict the likely pains and bleak­nesses that age might bring. You imagine yourself being lonely, divorced, widowed; children growing away from you, friends dying. You imagine the loss of status, the loss of desire—and desir­abil­i­ty… What you fail to do is look ahead, and then imagine yourself looking back from that future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings. Discov­er­ing, for example, that as the witnesses to your life dimin­ish, there is less corrob­o­ra­tion, and there­fore less certainty, as to what you are or have been. Even if you have assid­u­ously kept record­s—in words, sound, pictures—you may find that you have attended to the wrong kind of record-keeping.

Sense of an Ending is a short and wonderful book, a slim 180 pages readable in a single sitting. There’s much to savor, though, and like Marilynne Robinson or Alice Munro, Barnes chooses every word carefully and precisely. Highly recommended. Amazon

6 Reasons to Move to New York City

New York City lacks the startup density of Silicon Valley, but there are plenty of reasons to start your next company here:

1. A great (and growing) startup scene. Soho, Union Square and the Flatiron district form the new Silicon Alley, where you’ll have your pick of compa­nies, meetups and events. Great startups are doing great work here across industries—including tumblrfoursquare10genBetaworksturntable.fmEtsy,Skillshare, and Harvest, among others 1. New York also has a sizable angel and VC community 2.

2. Bubble-free. SF often feels like a company town; in contrast, New York is a national hub for publish­ing, adver­tis­ing, fashion, food, and finance, to name a few. Being in the center of all these indus­tries is inspir­ing, and your startup can take advan­tage of this diversity.

3. The singles scene. Some folks might rank this as #1; I’m trying not to assume too much. But if you’re a single straight guy or gal in SF or Mountain View, you (or a friend) have likely complained about the singles scene in the Bay Area.

Forbes ranks New York as the best city for singles, putting it above San Francisco, which clocks in at #7 3. For single guys, the numbers don’t lie—there are 210,820 more single women than men in the New York metropol­itan area, while the Bay Area boasts a surplus of 65,000 men. 4 

Plus, being a hacker/en­tre­pre­neur is more unique in New York—telling someone you make iPhone apps elicits inter­est, not eye-rolls. (Try it.)

4. Official support. Mayor Bloomberg wants to turn New York into a tech hub, and city officials reach out to local entrepreneurs. The NYC Economic Development Corporation offers great resources including info on city incen­tives and discounted office space for startups.

5. The city never sleeps. NYC is much friendlier to the late-night hacker’s sched­ule—­sub­ways and buses run 24/7 and great restau­rants stay open till 2am or 4am. Contrast this with San Francisco, where it’s hard to get good food after 11pm, even on a Saturday night.

6. The upstart startup hub. This one is hard to quantify, but there’s something exciting about being part of the NY startup culture because it is less estab­lished than SF—y­ou’ll find plenty of room (and enthu­si­asm) for starting a new meetup, for example. There’s an energy in the air here, a sense that we are all part of something new and growing and awesome.

If you’re living in SF or elsewhere and looking for a change, come visit NYC and see if it’s right for you.

I’ll even buy you a coffee.


1 See a bigger list of NY-based companies here: Internet Made in New York City.

2 The New York market on AngelList hosts an excel­lent list of NYC-based investors and angels.

3 Source: Forbes

4 Source: Boston Globe

Great reads: Thinking, Fast and Slow

“The tendency to see patterns in randomness is overwhelming…”

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow made many “best of 2011” lists this year, and deservedly so. Plenty of books on the system­atic faults of the human mind have made the rounds, from Ariely’sPredictably Irrational and its followup to Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan.

Fooled by Randomness was a great book marred by the pompous­ness of its author. In fewer words (and with much less ego), Kahneman covers similar terri­tory in more depth and backed by better research:

How many good years should you wait before concluding that an invest­ment adviser is unusu­ally skilled? How many successful acqui­si­tions should be needed for a board of direc­tors to belive that the CEO has extra­or­di­nary flair for such deals? The simple answer to these questions is that if you follow your intuition, you will more often than not err by misclas­si­fying a random event as system­atic. We are far too willing to reject the belief that much of what we see in life is random.

I will do my best to remember the above quote whenever I jump to conclu­sions about a startup, an entre­pre­neur, even an A/B test.

There’s too much in the book that’s applicable to anyone starting a business, or inter­preting analytics from your website, or trying to make rational decisions. Instead of quoting from every chapter, why not just check it out for yourself? (No affil­iate link, I promise.)

Long-term thinking

Steven Levy did a great interview in Wired of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The money quote, for me:

If every­thing you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few compa­nies are willing to do that… At Amazon… [w]e’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.

I know I’ve person­ally been too focussed on the short-term in the past—and any casual browser of the new startups on Angel­List will see plenty of fast-follow startups with little to differ­en­tiate them from the competition.

Bezos is a great CEO, and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Amazon is an amazing company.

Talent is the limiting factor in startup growth

It is much easier to start a web startup in 2011 than it was in 1995, or even 2005.

You don’t need upfront capital to buy racks of machi­nes, miles of CAT-5, routers and load balancers, redun­dant power and backbone connec­tivity — all are avail­able on-demand from Amazon for pennies an hour.

You don’t need to write server-side Web frame­works — you have your pick in nearly any language. In fact, you have your pick for any number of services you might once have had to develop or maintain yourself: email deliv­ery, web analyt­ics, A/B testing, server monitor­ing, file hosting.

Because the infrastruc­ture cost of starting a startup has gone down, the amount of money you need from investors to get your company off the ground has also decreased. You can build a proto­type in a few months (as every YC class demon­strates, twice a year) for less than $20,000.

And there are more people to give you that money — VCs, ex-Googlers and Facebook­ers, other angels, startup accel­er­a­tors and incubators.

But ask any startup around what they really do need right now, and the answer is clear — great technical talent. Startups of all sizes are competing for a small pool of highly skilled candi­dates, and in startup hubs like San Francisco and New York the compe­ti­tion for engineers is fierce. This scarcity has persisted despite consis­tently high national unemployment rates.

And because it has become so easy and cheap to start a startup, convincing great engineers to join an existing startup has gotten much harder.

All of these trends will continue — infrastruc­ture costs will continue to decrease, tools for creating web products will get more sophis­ti­cated, and more people (and more kinds of people) will be investing in startups at all stages.

But those startups who can hire and retain great talent will achieve greater success because they have the capacity to out-execute their peers.