The Entrepreneurial Engineer

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Koen philosophy of engineering lecture on video

Billy Koen's recent talk at the University of Illinois, An Engineer's Quest for Universal Method, is available at the ETSI/ETC site in synched powerpoint, plain video, or ppt in pdf format (here).

More Nextumi/share2me at DEMO 07

Some pretty good action listed at google blog search (here) and technorati (here).

Problems in VC paradise?

A mail list I subscribe to ( forwarded a whitepaper (here) that discusses some of the special problems (?) of VC-backed boards of directors. The whitepaper was prefaced in the email by the following comment:
The paper's basic premise is that VC-backed boards are particularly prone to dysfunction, due to: (1) Conflicting interests; (2) The regular addition of new board members following financing rounds; and (3) The likely presence of inexperienced members like first-time entrepreneurs, junior VCs or independent directors with strong domain knowledge but no background on VC-backed boards. Moreover, what happens if one high-profile VC is on a board with a bunch of lower-profile VCs. Does the high-profile guy always get his way, because the others don't want to lose out on the opportunity to continue co-investing?
This does not actually appear to be a very accurate description of the whitepaper, which tried to lay out some groundrules to help VC-backed boards be more effective. The author of the above statement seems not to like VC boards very much and to think that their problems are in some sense special. Personally, I've enjoyed my experience in a VC-backed company to this point, but I can imagine that the wrong chemistry could be particularly disastrous for a new company. Certainly some part of the problems described in the paragraph above must be related to "smartest guy in the room syndrome" (SGIRS). All academics think they are SGIRs and VCs are generally successful people who think likewise, but unlike academics, VCs have reasons to learn to play well with others. I think of VCs as social bees that go out seeking nectar for the hive (where nectar = money, personnel, contacts, influence, etc.), and indeed when things are working well, this is how it should be.

What is troubling about the paragraph is that it seems to assume some Platonic ideal of a board of directors that would exist if the company were not sponsored by VCs. Are non-VC boards heaven on earth? Oftentimes, small startup boards are dominated by an individual who may be technically competent, but is not particularly business savvy. Is this a better state of affairs than that of the random VC board?

In the real world, boards are composed of real flesh and blood people, and they are all likely to have their positive and negative points. That VC-backed boards have special systemic problems is a hypothesis not accompanied by any data. Many of the suggestions in the whitepaper are reasonable and could be applied to the selection of any board, but it is not clear that board selection and operation is any trickier in VC-backed companies versus those with alternative composition.

Nextumi a "must have" application

SiliconValley Watcher quotes DemoWire here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Today's engineers must be entrepreneurial

Venture capitalist and Stanford engineering faculty member, Donna Novitsky, says that today's engineers have to be entrepreneurial. See the full article in the Stanford Daily (here).

MoneyTree venture stats

The PriceWaterhouse MoneyTree report has cool stats about venture funding here. Overall in 2006, $25.5 B was invested US companies in 3416 deals ($7.6M/deal), down from a high of $105.0 B invested in 7913 deals ($13.3M/deal) in 2000 (for full table go here).

In Q4 2006, Illinois ranked 13th among the 50 states (table here), with 14 deals totaling $95M going to Illinois ventures ($6.8M/deal). Illinois is the top state in the midwest, but VC activity in IL pales by comparison with California with 354 deals total $2.93B ($8.28M/deal).

More on Nextumi-share2me launch

Read the press release here. Read the GigaOm article here. Read the DEMO 07 press release here. My favorite quote comes from Chris Shipley, executive producer of DEMO:
"Share is a must-have application," said Chris Shipley, executive producer of DEMO. "Share2Me is an easy to use, one step browser button that takes the hassle out of sharing content with others. This is why I selected Share2Me to launch at the DEMO 07 conference."
Still time to hop on a plane and see us demo at DEMO. Or sign up for the private beta at the share2me site

Friday, January 26, 2007

Nextumi launching share2me at DEMO 2007

DEMO 07 released it's list of companies launching new products next week, and Nextumi, Inc., a 2-year old company I co-founded is on the list (see here). At the conference, Nextumi's CEO, Mike Blackwell will launch share2me, a ubiquitous sharing product to permit crossplatform, multimedia sharing, anytime, anywhere, with anyone.

Still the master of happy

I just finished a (nother) book-by-book tour of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics aided by the video lecture commentary of Father Koterski and his lovely Teaching Company course (here). I am a big fan of the positive psychology movement (here) and its emphasis on human happiness, and indeed applying the methods of social science to human happiness is a recent phenomenon; however, the conclusions of the movement are largely Aristotle's, so why not read it from the source?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A billion bits or bust

IlliGAL Blogging has coverage of the recent breaking of the billion-variable barrier with genetic optimization Check it out here.

TEE and CMTV courses online

I'm teaching two TEE related courses this semester, The Entrepreneurial Engineer (see here), and Creative Modeling for Technology Visionaries (see here). Both are available online. I taught TEE for the first time last fall and it went swimmingly. CMTV is a new course, but I'm quite psyched about it. Check out the courses. They're one hour a week for 15 weeks with a proportionate work load, and they can be taken online or in person.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Life after Google

There is a terrific SF Chronicle article about early employees of Google leaving the company (here). It is estimated that the Google IPO created 900 millionaires, many of them in their 20s and 30s. It must be fairly disorienting to have an adequate nest egg at such a young age. The stories are as diverse as they are engaging.

Monday, January 08, 2007

More Teaching Company gems

I've blogged repeatedly about the Teaching Company but they continue to knock my socks off with great courses. I just finished Natural Law and Human Nature by Joseph Koterski of Fordham University in DVD (see here) and I'm half way through Philosophy of Science (Audio CD) with Jeffrey L. Kasser of NC State (see here). I'm revisiting Koterski's lectures on Ethics of Aristotle (see here) in connection with his natural law course.

I watch the videos while doing my morning cardio, and I do audio versions riding around town in my car. I only live 2 miles from campus, but it is amazing to me how much extra course material I squeeze in by listening to the lectures on CD in place of listening to talk radio or music.

One tip is to look for the current sales. The discounts are fabulous, and the catalogs say that each lecture goes on sale at least once each year. Take a look at the current sale courses here.

Reflecting on the nature of engineering

My logical positivist colleagues never met a qualitative approach they couldn't dismiss. Nonetheless, my colleague Michael Loui and I have been organizing an activity at Illinois called Engineering and Technology Studies at Illinois or ETSI (see here). This all started with some of my TEE blogging about the philosophy of engineering (see here), but we now have 30 people in engineering and across campus interested in the activity.

The web site has more information, including a whitepaper (here) and a presentation (here), but the key set of activities revolves around a lecture series (here). We hope to record and post these lectures for viewing on the web. Stay tuned for further developments.