What We Look For In Founders

Paul Graham has a new, great short article on what Y Combinator looks for in founders. Here’s the summary:

  • Determination
  • Flexibility
  • Imagination
  • Naughtiness
  • Friendship

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)


Team Greatness

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.


Software For Your Head book available online

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.


Ending Poverty With Software

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.


uIP TCP/IP stack and ZG2100 wireless drivers for the Leaf Labs Maple!

Maple and WiShield running the WebServer demoPerry 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 working on low-cost fusion reactors

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.


Fearing your idea

Caleb Elston:

A good product is not a bucket of features, a mere bulleted list of
things users can do. A good product is an exercise in exclusion. A
good product is defined as much by what it doesn’t do as by what it
does. This is especially true at the start. At the onset, people don’t
care about you, they don’t know what you do, and they certainly won’t
put up with a confused product. This apathy must be acknowledged and
combated in a product that does one thing extremely well; otherwise it
won’t stick.

(Via Hacker News)


Map of the world’s undersea cables

Cool. (Via Hacker News)


Open Source War on Poverty

One thing that can be said about Julian Assange is that he is effective at radical transparency. Large hierarchical organizations (militaries, corporations) now fear for their secrecy. John Robb has a good article on Assange today:

Julian Assange

…what’s really interesting about Wikileak’s Julian Assange is that he is one of the most important innovators in modern conflict alive today. A true global guerrilla. In other words, he’s a person that has effectively adapted modern methods of warfare/conflict to engage and defeat the biggest nation-states in the world.

Robb uses the language of warfare a lot – which can be offputting. But if you translate “warfare” into “conflict” you are entering the world of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, where conflict is a natural part of human life, and is not good or evil. What matters is how to achieve a victory that can “take whole,” subdue conflict while doing what is right for all people involved:

Therefore, one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful.
Subduing the other’s military without battle is the most skillful.

(The Art Of War, Denma Translation, Chapter 3: Strategy of Attack)

This is very interesting when you consider major human problems as the “enemy”: poverty, warfare, disease, starvation, oppression. Robb says in another article on Open Source Warfare:

Open source warfare is an organizational method by which a large collection of small, violent, superempowered groups can work together to take on much larger foes (usually hierarchies). It is also a method of organization that can be applied to non-violent struggles. It enables:

  • High rates of innovation.
  • Increased survivability among the participant groups.
  • More frequent attacks and an ability to swarm targets.

Here I think Robb is using the word violent to mean “acting with or marked by or resulting from great force or energy or emotional intensity,” not necessarily causing physical harm to anyone.

This has application to the “war on poverty” – following Robb’s ideas, and Assange’s lead, if we actually want to eliminate poverty from the world, we’d start a movement of open-source wealth creation that had the characteristics outlined above, an open source war on poverty. It would be able to innovate quickly, be resilient, centerless, and would quickly swarm around key opportunities, key points where progress can be made quickly and on wide scale.


Your online vote can help end poverty

Your vote on American Express’ website will help us win a $200,000 grant – we’ll use that money in our quest to end world poverty. Vote here (after clicking the link, you need to register the first time you vote).

For more information about why you should vote, one of our interns Fred Graves made this informative and entertaining video!