A Warning From 1792

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From Alexander Hamilton to George Washington in 1792:

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy—not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”

This warning might be more relevant today than ever before.

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Deep Thinking

By Posted on 1 min read 34 views

A bit of all-too-human deviousness was also involved in Deep Blue’s win. IBM’s coders, it was later revealed, programmed the computer to display erratic behavior — delaying certain moves, for instance, and rushing others — in an attempt to unsettle Kasparov. Computers may be innocents, but that doesn’t mean their programmers are.

From Nick Carr’s review of Garry Kasparov’s new book Deep Thinking which is about Kasparov’s historic chess match against the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue.

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Required Reading for Startup Founders

By Posted on 2 min read 40 views

I’m always on the lookout for great articles, talks, slides, and content related to starting and running new businesses. Whenever I come across a really good piece, I add it to the required reading list that I periodically share with the founders and managers I am working with.

I’m going to start posting that list here on the blog so it can reach a wider audience.  If you are founding or running a startup, go read/listen to these ten pieces now.

Seriously, these should all be required reading for anyone working in a management position at a startup. The wisdom below is real and will save you a lot of heartache, time and capital.

  1. 12 Things about Product Market Fit –   Finding product market fit should always be your true north. Without it, you are going to get lost, run out of water and die crossing the desert. If you can only focus on getting one thing right, this is it.
  2. Product Marketing for Startups – This is a great talk by Adam Gross, former VP of Marketing at Dropbox. Dropbox had one of most disruptive user acquisition models seen at the time. His comments on PR APIs are very poignant. I personally think a lot of startups waste a ton of time trying to use PR APIs that simply don’t exist.
  3. Don’t hire a VP of Sales too soon – Couldn’t agree with this more. Hiring a VP of Sales prematurely just hides your product market fit issues and creates a ton of distractions. Dial in your product market fit before you ramp up the sales organization.
  4. 100 Questions to Ask a VP Sales Hire – Ok, but when you are ready to ramp up… here are some great tips if you are not used to hiring sales people.
  5. Will You Make It Past being a Founder? – This one is for founders who are trying to make the difficult switch to being the CEO.
  6. How to hire a VP of Engineering. Don’t chase the unicorn.
  7. Radical Candor – As a manger, one of the most important things you can do is give your team candid feedback. Beating around the bush doesn’t help anyone (including you).
  8. How to Do PR and Launches – Don’t hire a PR firm to launch your new product/business. I have personally made this mistake more than once. Instead, put your energy into cultivate influencers directly.
  9. Sales Productivity Model – Two huge levers for scaling revenue are: 1) how long it takes a new sales person to become productive and 2) how long it takes a sales person to sell your product. Start obsessing about both.
  10. A Better Offer Letter – Now this is how you make an offer to a new employee! Clarity in the employment relationship is king.

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The Grand Opposition Party

By Posted on 3 min read 37 views

Perhaps the most telling tidbit from last week’s decision to pull the American Healthcare Act of 2017 from the House floor was this comment from Speaker Paul Ryan:

We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do,” a clearly disappointed Ryan said Friday. “And now, in three months’ time, we’ve tried to go to a governing party, where we have to actually get … people to agree with each other in how we do things.

As a party, Republicans had ten years to develop a real alternative to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare/ACA). Years later, all they could come up with was a patchwork quilt of tweaks to the ACA that reduced coverage and did nothing to change the trajectory of costs or premiums.

No wonder nobody wanted to vote for it.

With control of both houses of Congress, Republicans could have passed a law that moved healthcare in this country forward. Instead they chose opposition politics and tried to score political points with a symbolic “repeal and replace” of the ACA.

Instead of remaining the opposition party, the Republicans could have become the “healthcare party” and unveiled a plan to get us out of the awkward middle ground that the ACA put us in.

Sadly that’s not going to happen. Here’s the President’s reaction:

“The good news is they (the Democrats) now own health care. They now own Obamacare.”

And:

“The best thing that can happen is that we let the Democrats, that we let Obamacare continue, they’ll have increases from 50 to 100 percent,” he said. “And when it explodes, they’ll come to me to make a deal. And I’m open to that.”

What I think he means by “best” is the best thing politically for himself. A truly “best” outcome would have been an actual plan to fix healthcare. Instead we see the President pushing legislative failure onto the minority party so that Republicans can still play the opposition game instead of governing.

This said by Republican Kevin Cramer of North Dakota:

We have to do some soul-searching internally to determine whether or not we are even capable of functioning as a governing body,” […] “If ‘no’ is your goal, it’s the easiest goal in the world to reach.”

 

Do we have the right people?

When building a business you constantly ask yourself if you have the right people in place to accomplish the goal. Do we need to hire someone who can build this piece of the product or business, etc.

However, when it comes to government, we don’t ask the same critical questions.

Why? I believe it’s  because the two parties can’t articulate what it is that they stand for beyond opposing the other party.  Yes they both have written platforms but those read like a patchwork-quilt of aspirational ideas and  skirt the hard changes that need to be made (voting reform, single payer healthcare, etc.). It’s hard to find a coherent vision for the county inside either of these parties.

If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s next to impossible to elect the right people to lead you there.

Last week’s fiasco with healthcare was another missed opportunity and a giant waste of our country’s time, money and resources. We pay (in more ways than one) when politicians play these political games. It’s past time to start electing people that know how to build and fix broken systems like healthcare, job displacement, and education.

Sadly, we aren’t going to see many builder and fixer candidates because they don’t have a party that they can relate to…. yet.

 

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Polar Opposites In Congress

By Posted on 1 min read 34 views

This wonderful visualization from a 2015 study on the of rise of partisanship in the U.S. House of Representatives is a wonderful reminder that once upon a time Congress did in fact function without gridlock.

The study’s authors created a series of linked graphs that demonstrate how members of Congress voted together (or not). See that whitespace between the blue and red clusters in recent years?

That’s where we need a new centrist party.

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The Party’s Over

By Posted on 3 min read 34 views

I’ve been feeling it for a while now —  Republicans and Democrats are locked into a viscous cycle of obstructionism and the defacto two party system is failing us when it comes to creating progressive political outcomes.

 

What we’ve got here is the failure to communicate…

The politics of obstructionism has a long political history in this country but we can look to the “Gingrich Revolution” during the Clinton presidency to see its modern roots.  As Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich pretty much started the escalation of obstruction that we are stuck with today. For example, it was during his time in power that shutting down the government became a viable political tool.

Fast forward to the Obama years and we saw obstruction taken to a whole other level with the rise of the Tea Party and a Republican platform centered around being against anything proposed by the Obama administration. If it sounds like I’m picking on the Republicans, I’m not. The Democrats, having just lost the Presidency, are now actively defining themselves as the “Party of No”. Taking a page out of the obstructionism textbook is a whole lot easier than actually standing for something. Newt would be proud.

 

The Big Loser…

So who wins and who loses in the politics of obstructionism? Politically speaking both parties win.

The obstructors halt progress and generally make things so bad that they have a reform story to campaign on in the next election. Not wanting to waste their time in power, the “obstructees” expand whatever powers they have and then campaign on having their hands tied by the other party. Recent Presidents have been masters at this.

However, the big loser is the American people. While both parties play the game, very little happens to move the country forward. In fact, a disproportionate amount of time is spent trying un-do the acts of the prior President or Congress. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, our country’s infrastructure ages, the healthcare crisis deepens, and the American dream slips further out of sight in our collective rearview mirror.

 

Return to Compromise…

The “all or nothing” politics of obstruction are not what the framers of our Constitution had in mind. I’ll go as far as to say that it has introduced a “bug” into our system that has lead to a vicious loop — which continues to consume our precious time and resources with each iteration.

To break the loop we need to break the two party system. As long as there is no viable third party to choose, we will keep rewarding the politics of obstruction by re-electing politicians who perpetuate the cycle. However, with a viable third party in the mix, Republicans and Democrats would both be forced to return to compromise as the framers intended because obstruction by the numbers in Congress would no longer be possible (more on this soon in another post).

With the obstruction cycle broken, Candidates of all parties would have to stand for something instead of simply against the other party. Imagine that.

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Perpetual Protest

By Posted on 2 min read 34 views

I’m loving all the peaceful protests that are happening right now.  Last week, I photographed the local Women’s March in Ventura, California where hundreds of people flooded the downtown streets after the Presidential inauguration.

The country is getting a much needed civics lesson. I think people are finally realizing that we must remain active participants in this democracy or else we risk waking up one day without it. In a sense, it is our civic duty to remain in a state of perpetual protest.

This doesn’t mean we have to rally and march all the time. It means that we need to stay tuned in, make our opinions heard, and  hold our elected officials accountable for their decisions.  Elected officials are essentially our employees, and like all employees, they require constant feedback and management.  Yes, this takes time away from other things in our busy lives, but if we don’t do it, bad things will undoubtably happen when we are not looking. Right now lots of us are looking. I truly hope it remains that way.

Speaking of elected officials, it’s time we learn from our recent history and push hard to reform the root issues that contributed to this mess of a Presidential election in the first place.

Specifically, I want to see real voting reform.

We can’t elect great leaders if they aren’t on the ballot. Such is why we’re often stuck casting votes for a candidate that feels like the “lesser of two evils”.  Our defacto two party system actually prevents great leaders from running for office. Sometimes this is because they can’t identify with either party’s platform. Other times, great candidates simply can’t get on the ballot when the time comes (think Bernie Sanders).

Maybe it’s time for a new political party? Yes, I certainly think so… but this route is not easy thanks to the byzantine barriers enacted by election laws in each state – passed by, you guessed it… Democrats and Republicans.

We need to make it easy for great leaders to run for office and get elected. Right now the system is full of friction. Only our active engagement and non-stop peaceful demand of change is going to fix it.

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Jet.com Insiders

By Posted on 1 min read 36 views

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Perhaps the most interesting thing about Walmart’s recent $3 Billion acquisition of Jet.com is seeing how the startup eCommerce company’s referral-for-equity launch program, Jet.com Insiders, played out.

Maybe That should read “paid out”.

The top Jet.com insider is set to make $20M on the stock options that he earned after investing $18,000 of his own money to drive the most pre-launch referrals. Nine other participants in the program will make around $2M each on their stock options.

So The question I have to ask is has Jet.com redefined the sweet equity model? It sure feels like it.

This kind of windfall is sure to attract the attention of savvy founders who are looking for an edge when launching their startups.

And rightly so. As a cash strapped startup the potential value of your equity is your secret weapon. It’s one of your super powers. When wielded correctly, it can unlock doors, attract high value employees, and as Jet.com has proven, even create a built-in fan base for your product that might have taken millions of dollars or years to establish.

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The Goverment Needs Product Managers

By Posted on 1 min read 27 views

  
Straight talk from Mickey Dickerson about the healthcare.gov meltdown and the creation of U.S. Digital Service.

I’m glad to see that someone is addressing the organizational issues that led to dozens of contractors pocketing millions of dollars while no one was in charge or accountable.

It’s amazes me that there was no one in charge of a major product launch like healthcare.gov. Just furthers my suspicion that the government has no repeatable product delivery capability. 

So what should be done? After the meltdown I heard a lot of  calls for having the government do more IT outsourcing but I think the answer is the exact opposite.

What the Goverment needs to do is hire real product managers.

More specifically, hire awesome, experienced PMs and put them in charge of the government’s core web products and services. 

A good PM would never let a situation like healthcare.gov happen. Yes we have a U.S. CTO, but if we want to have real product delivery in government we need a product management corps run by a Chief Product Officer.

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