How ClearBrain’s CEO Used These 7 Lessons to Create a New Product Category

Bilal Mahmood is cofounder and CEO of ClearBrain, a Y Combinator backed predictive analytics company that’s used by firms like Chime Bank. He’s also a good friend of mine and someone I greatly admire for his resourcefulness and resilience (important traits for any founder!)

Bilal’s company recently launched a product called Casual Analytics that uses a new algorithm that can automatically distinguish causation vs correlation, without running an experiment. I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask him about how they identified the need for this product, what problems they faced building it, and what they’ve learned … Read the rest

Why Generalists Beat Hyper Specialists

Book notes on “Range” by David Epstein

I’ve always seen myself as someone with a ton of interests, with a lot of useful skills and knowledge but not a world class expert in anything. And while that’s served me really well, I sometimes wonder if it puts me at a disadvantage.

Fortunately for me, I recently finished Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, a thoughtful and comprehensive read by David Epstein. It made the rounds on VC Twitter this summer, which makes sense because venture capitalists, especially early stage ones, are very much generalists who look across a broad set of industries.

I recommend … Read the rest

Community is just friendship

WeWork, well-being, and who we are

Working in tech, you hear the word “community” a lot. When I was starting my career more than a decade ago, the concept of a community manager was starting to go mainstream.

Today it forms the foundation of our industry’s latest IPO – WeWork. For years they have been crowing about the power of community.

From their mission page:

When we started WeWork in 2010, we wanted to build more than beautiful, shared office spaces. We wanted to build a community. A place you join as an individual, ‘me’, but where you become part of a greater ‘we’. A place

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Conflict Isn’t Always Bad

My natural tendency is to avoid conflict. The few times I fought in school, I was caught and punished for it and it didn’t seem never was worth the trouble.

It’s also the case that needless conflict can be harmful to both parties, because even if you “beat” the other party, now they’re holding a grudge.

But I’ve come to realize the value of productive conflict.

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How to Facilitate

Lessons from master facilitator Piper Anderson

Piper Anderson is no stranger to difficult conversations. As an educator and cultural organizer, she’s spent over 17 years facilitating discussions about some of the most hot-button issues facing U.S. society. In 2016, for example, she gave a TED talk about Mass Story Lab, her storytelling series focused on how the U.S. criminal justice system impacts communities of color. “Yes, I’m the person who brings mass incarceration into polite dinner conversation,” she quipped.

In a time when two black men can be arrested at Starbucks just waiting for a friend, it’s clear that these conversations need to happen. Yet … Read the rest

Ridejoy: Lessons Learned

On April 24th, 2011, I sat down with my friends Kalvin and Randy for an intense 10 minute interview with Paul Graham, Sam Altman, Jessica Livingston and several other partners at Y Combinator (YC). We were hoping to convince the world’s most powerful startup accelerator to accept our Reloveit, our idea for “a Mint.com for photo books”, into their Summer 2011 batch of startups.

YC prides itself on making a day-of decision about whether to accept a startup, so that evening, I found myself pacing back and forth at an outside patio by Kalvin’s childhood home. I was 24 years … Read the rest

Learning from Volkswagen

Takeaways for Engineers, Product Managers, and Executives from a Massive Cheating Scandal

Volkswagen has been eviscerated after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in September that VW had installed “defeat devices” to cheat on their emissions testing.

It turns out least 500,000 diesel cars made by VW were rigged with software that would reduce engine emissions to meet standards, but then turn off to achieve higher fuel mileage. When not in testing mode, the engines released nitrous oxide chemicals at levels up to 38x times greater than allowed by the Clean Air Act.

How It Was Discovered

In an ironic turn of events, the cheating was discovered by an environmental group working with West Virginia University to prove … Read the rest

Why Being Real Matters

Where “fake it till you make it” falls down

There’s a great article on TechCrunch by Danny Crichton called Startups and The Big Lie.

Crichton, who is a former colleague back in my days at The Stanford Daily, has a great line about how startups “run on an alchemy of ignorance and amnesia that is incredibly important to experimentation” and that entrepreneurs essentially have to lie a lot of the time about how things are going.

The Relentless Push to Be Positive

It’s very popular to lament the fact that founders are always saying their startup is “crushing it” and growth is through the roof. But most of … Read the rest

24 Ideas From Scott Berkun About Tech, Leadership, and the Future of Work

Book notes from “A Year WIthout Pants”

One of the few people who can match Paul Graham as writer is Scott Berkun. They have both succeeded as technologists, Graham in Viaweb + YC, and Berkun in Microsoft and Automattic. They both write thoughtful essays on a wide range of topics, like the Cities and Ambition or Street Smarts vs Book Smarts. If anything, Berkun is a bit more personable and relatable as a writer, he’ll refer to himself a bit more than Graham and use more culturally relevant examples.

I recently finished Berkun’s book, A Year Without Pants, about his experience as something like … Read the rest

One Woman’s Incredible Startup Journey in Peru

The other night, while wandering the bustling streets of Barranco, my adopted neighborhood in Lima, Peru, I walked into a Chinese restaurant called Chifa Hong Fu. [1]

I was struggling with the Spanish-only menu and was attempting to ask the waitress what was in the various dishes, when this woman popped out from the back and asked me

Ni hui shou zhong wen ma?” (Can you speak Chinese?) My Mandarin is passable so I said I could.

She started explaining the menu to me and I asked her if this was her restaurant. She said it was. And … Read the rest