My paper on Mifos was published today in the online journal Open Source Business Resource:
We believe that software and business are two key elements for solving poverty. First, we do not assert that software alone is enough to end poverty – poverty has many factors, and eradicating it will require many innovations. Rather, we assert that any solution to ending poverty will need software in order to reach all poor people in the time given. Second, we assert that business must play a role in the effort to eliminate poverty as an effective social technology for generating wealth. Eliminating poverty for 2 or 3 billion people is something charity cannot do…
Where software and business come together in the service of poverty is in the field of microfinance. Microfinance is the business of providing financial services to poor people.
Ending Poverty With Software article
The December issue of OSBR covers humanitarian Open Source software projects, there are articles about OpenMRS medical records system, Sahana disaster management system, humanitarian open hardware, and others.
Here’s a short guide I wished I would have had when starting out as an entrepreneur. All these could be my #1 item, I’ve made all of them at one point or another or else been a principal in a company where the situation arose to my detriment. If I had to pick a top mistake, it would be:
7. Not having your own attorney.
Don’t expect venture capitalists (VCs) to look after your interests. When your company is ready to raise funds, the fund provider, usually a VC or two, will be represented by legal counsel. The VC will usually insist that the company hire a fancy law firm that has experience with corporate finance and securities. But who is representing the entrepreneur? Often, no one. You need your own independent legal counsel. You may be hesitant to hire an attorney because you do not want to kill the deal or seem like you are getting in the way. But a good attorney will look out for your interests in a way that does not hurt the company. The same is true if the company is going to be bought by another company.
One thing that that Gary doesn’t say about this is that when you are starting a company, and you have a personal attorney, use them. Run every legal agreement by them, even if you don’t think you need to or especially when other people are telling you not to. This practice may save you a lot of time, money, and trouble. See it as a cost of doing business – a personal attorney is your advocate and is there to help you understand the risks of legal situations.
The reason I put this as my #1 is that a good personal attorney can then teach you about the other 9 problems and help you avoid them.
(Top 10 Common Legal Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make – written by my great personal high-tech attorney, Gary Marshall.)
Paul Graham has a new, great short article on what Y Combinator looks for in founders. Here’s the summary:
Note that these are also key characteristics of great teams! All the points are good, but I especially want to quote from the section Naughtiness, since it’s something you don’t see discussed very often:
Though the most successful founders are usually good people, they tend to have a piratical gleam in their eye. They’re not Goody Two-Shoes type good. Morally, they care about getting the big questions right, but not about observing proprieties. That’s why I’d use the word naughty rather than evil. They delight in breaking rules, but not rules that matter. This quality may be redundant though; it may be implied by imagination.
Sam Altman of Loopt is one of the most successful alumni, so we asked him what question we could put on the Y Combinator application that would help us discover more people like him. He said to ask about a time when they’d hacked something to their advantage—hacked in the sense of beating the system, not breaking into computers. It has become one of the questions we pay most attention to when judging applications.
I have written about D.A. Henderson’s Smallpox Eradication Team elsewhere, but want to underscore the naughtiness point here as it relates to teams. In his book Smallpox- the Death of a Disease: The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer Henderson says unequivocally that a willingness to break unhelpful rules was one of the main reasons that his team was able to succeed in its ambitious quest to eliminate the deadly smallpox disease from the Earth.
(Via Hacker News)
I recently posted a new essay on team greatness:
Something is known about how people become individually great. Richard Hamming gave a famous talk on that subject, You and Your Research. While his talk was about the problem of individual greatness, he acknowledged that groups or teams have the potential to become great also. This essay is about how to reliably produce great teams.
Before we dive in, let’s talk about why reliably producing great teams is important. I will mention some problems in the world that are important to solve: ecological devastation, poverty, war, disease, and the meta-problem: the survival of our species. Just working harder is not going to solve these problems – people have been doing that for thousands of years without success.
If you look at the most difficult problems facing humanity, I think it is self-evident that if we would have an abundant number of geniuses working on these problems, they could be solved. If you study the work of applied genius throughout history, you can see this is true.
So why haven’t all the problems been solved already? This is the Problem of Problems.
Read more here: Solving the Problem of Problems.
The Software For Your Head book by Jim and Michele McCarthy is now available on the Live In Greatness website! This is the book that got me started on the Core Protocols. For those that haven’t read it, here’s a bit about it:
At least once in their lives, most people experience the incomparable thrill of being part of a great team effort. Members of successful teams often feel a unity of purpose, powerful passion and inspiration, and a strong sense of accomplishment. People who have been on a great team know that the difference between being on a team with a shared vision and being on a team without one is the the difference between joy and misery.
After successful careers leading software development teams at Microsoft and elsewhere, Jim and Michele McCarthy set out to discover a set of repeatable group behaviors that would always lead to a state of shared vision for any team. The result was a practical, communicable, and reliable process that could be used to create the best possible team every time it was applied.
Software For Your Head is the first publication of the most significant results of the authors’ unprecedented five-year investigation into the dynamics of contemporary teams. this book will give any team the know-how it needs to create its own compelling shared vision.
I also put up the Core Lexicon from the book in HTML format.
Matthew Russell recently interviewed me about Mifos for the PayPal X Developer Network. This came about because Adam Monsen, Van Mittal-Henkle, and I gave a talk called “Ending Poverty with Software” at OSCON 2010.
I don’t believe that only software can end poverty. But if we want to reach the 2-3 billion people in poverty, we definitely need software.
Perry Hung just ported the AsyncLabs WiShield 2.0 (ZG2100) drivers to the Leaf Labs Maple board!
Here’s picture of the two boards running the WiShield WebServer demo. You can see the wireless connection light is on.
Maple is a sweet new Arduino-like physical computing platform. It’s got analog and digital in and out like the 16MHz, 8-bit Arduino, but is based on a faster, 72Mhz, 32-bit ARM Cortex M3 processor from ST Microelectronics. It’s about $50. The WiShield is about $50 too. The ZG2100 is only about $30, so it is probably possible to build a lower-cost combined board.
HTTP is the new device driver! A new age of iPad and iPhone compatible, Arduino-like devices are upon us! Yay!
P.S. If you want to check out the code yourself, see
Perry’s GitHub repository. Check out the wishield-dev branch like this:
git clone -b wishield-dev git://github.com/iperry/maple-library.git
Build from the command line like this:
$ make flash
$ make install
LANL is working on low cost, IEC fusion power reactors. This is Inertial Electrostatic Confinement-based system, otherwise known as the Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor, invented by Philo Farnsworth, who also invented television, back in the day.
Robert Bussard, Eric Lerner’s Focus Fusion, and others have also been working on inexpensive means of fusion. These are important, because unlike the hugely expensive ITER, these types of reactors are small and affordable by cities or companies. Reactors at ITER’s scale require funding from multiple nation-states.
The inexpensive fusion technologies really could usher in a whole new world – with cheap electric power, we can cure many of the world’s problems that are related to scarcity*: water shortages, food shortages, poverty caused by lack of clean industrial development. It means fast and inexpensive space travel, too – possibly enabling us to survive world-size disasters like asteroid impacts.
I’m hopeful that more resources being put into this kind of power generation will yield results faster than ITER, which has been slow and expensive.
* Yes, if we can also stop fighting so much. I’m hopeful that when cheap fusion power is prevalent we will at least stop fighting wars over resources.