Focusing Illusion

“Nothing In Life Is As Important As You Think It Is, While You Are Thinking About It”


Education is an important determinant of income — one of the most important — but it is less important than most people think. If everyone had the same education, the inequality of income would be reduced by less than 10%. When you focus on education you neglect the myriad other factors that determine income. The differences of income among people who have the same education are huge.


Recipient, Nobel Prize in Economics, 2002; Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology; Author, Thinking Fast and Slow

Are You a Multiplier or a Diminisher?

Liz Wiseman talks about The Power of Not Knowing . She talks about multipliers and how they work.

Multipliers are different. Some of the common attributes you can find in multipliers are that:

  • They are supportive
  • They trust people
  • They listen a lot
  • They make you feel important
  • They seek help
  • They give appreciation
  • They get out of the way
  • They are demanding and have high expectations of you
  • They challenge you and let you suffer a bit
  • They operate from a place of inquiry
  • They push you out of your comfort zone into  spaces unknown
  • They ask questions that focus the energy and intelligence of the group

Diminishers hire great talent, but do not allow them to operate at their full potential. Here is how to identify them.

  • They micro manage people
  • They adopt a subtle attitude of  “my way or high way”
  • They typically operate in “tell” mode
  • They constantly emphasize their superiority
  • They remind you that you don’t know enough
  • They constantly interrupt
  • They operate from a place of knowledge (their knowledge)
  • They create stress in the teams that work for them

Listening to this talk, made me think, how we have a mixture of the qualities of both multipliers and diminishers. I have noticed that good multipliers are comfortable in their own skin and make great mentors and coaches.

After listening to Liz, I am putting her books on my reading list. I highly recommend listening to this podcast. 

Can Universities Teach Students About Startups?

Can universities teach students about startups? Yes and no. They can teach students about startups, but as I explained before, this is not what you need to know. What you need to learn about are the needs of your own users, and you can’t do that until you actually start the company. So starting a startup is intrinsically something you can only really learn by doing it. And it’s impossible to do that in college.  Startups take over your life. You can’t start a startup for real as a student, because if you start a startup for real you’re not a student anymore. You may be nominally a student for a bit, but you won’t even be that for long.

In yet another amazing essay, Paul Graham talks about the counter intuitive nature of startups. A highly recommended reading.

When You Get 10 Unaffiliated Paying Customers for Your SaaS Product

And the first key, critical moment, of Pre-Success, that no one will appreciate but you — is when you get 10 Unaffiliated, Paying Customers.  I don’t mean friends of your investors, or your old co-workers or boss.  I don’t even mean folks you hustled at some conference or meeting (well done, there, though.  But that’s prospecting, which is something else.).

No, I mean 10 customers that Just Came in Through the Ether.  A raw, unaffiliated, lead, that somehow found you on their own, kicked the tires, and now — is actually paying you.  Every month.

Because here’s the thing.  10 customers may not seem like much.  We called these guys “Beer Money” in the early days at EchoSign.  10 customers was $200 a month. Didn’t really pay the bills on 4 engineers and 3 other guys.

It took us more than a few months to get them. They were not just 10 but 300. We got them because we gave the product away for unlimited use and watched them use it. Once we were convinced that they were using it regularly and heavily, we started asking them to pay. And they did.

Getting unaffiliated customers (without prospecting) is not easy. But it is one of the best validations that your product can do something useful for someone.

Read this great post for more information on the importance of these 10.

Promoting Self Organized Learning

XPrize is offering $15 million to build tablet apps that help kids teach themselves.

The goal is to help the 250 million school-age children in the world who can’t read or write. Contestants will build apps that kids can use on their own — because many of these kids don’t have access to the “unscalable” resources of teachers and schools.

The prize all ties into a philosophy known as self-organized learning — where kids learn autonomously by figuring out technology for themselves — that’s popular with the TED crowd. And of course, the other big idea is that contests are a peculiarly effective way of motivating people.

Keller said he anticipated that the winning app would use an artificial intelligence approach to figure out what an individual kid knows and does not know.

A few thoughts:

  1. The kids (targeted by this effort) cannot read or write. So you need to starting points may be different (speech, images).
  2. Kids should use these apps on their own. This means the apps need to be engaging and evoke curiosity constantly (the game community can contribute a lot).
  3. Since there will be no teachers involved, this would encourage peer based learning (and students playing the role as teachers)
  4. You cannot make any assumptions about what they know or what language they speak.
  5. The app is supposed to use AI approach. So you need to use AI to mimic a teacher or a self learner or a combination of both.
  6. To come up with a reasonable solution, you need to understand how kids learn.  That, in itself, is a fascinating area of exploration.
  7. Kids don’t have access to “unscalable” resources (like teachers and schools). That points to tablets with long battery life, solar chargeable or something that requires hand cranked power. This is not actually the app quality but the need of the underlying platform. This also means, schools cannot the platform for distribution of apps or devices. Hopefully that will be a different challenge.

Rural India and countries in Asia and Africa will certainly benefit from the outcomes. No matter which app wins, we will get a lot of great ideas for self-organized learning. That is bound to change education as we know it.

If You Like Database Technologies… You Will Enjoy This

Dr. Michael Stonebraker is a legend in the database world. He was the architect of Ingres, Postgres, Vertica, Illustra, Cohera, Streambase, H-Store and VoltDB. In this interview, he dives deep into database technologies. He talks about evolution of databases and certainly provokes you to think about the technology, the industry and how application needs are driving development in database technologies. A few nuggets from the interview.

  • The traditional (row oriented) database technology is becoming obsolete
  • The database market is at a tipping point
  • DB market can be viewed as three segments – data warehouse market, OLTP market (both new and old) and a potpourri of other stuff
  • The potpourri consists of various types of NOSQL, Graph databases, Column Stores, In Memory databases
  • Databases currently spend 90% on overheads and only 10% on   value producing work (big Gasp!)
  • The overhead consists of – feeding buffer pool, mapping buffer pools to disk, lock management, logging, multi-threading
  • There are ways to reduce these overheads using shared data structures, removing the record level locking, implementing multi-version concurrency, logging commands instead of data changes, using replication, getting rid of buffer pools, getting rid of expensive multi-threading, optimistic concurrency control etc.
  • He talks about Distributed concurrency vs eventual consistency
  • Most database books cover traditional database architectures. He advocates teaching  – column stores, in memory databases, array databases and graph database architectures.
  • He talks about embarrassingly parallel databases
  • VoltDB evoloved from HStore prototype from MIT
  • Applications are multiplayer games, high speed OLTP
  • Some  examples of NewSQL databases – Hana from SAP, Hekaton from Microsoft, SQLFire by VMWare, NeuroDB, NetSQL
  • Most of the db systems written in the past year are open source

He takes a lot of digs at the closed source sales models.  Deep dive into databases is an intoxicating topic and this was a great interview. Thanks to IEEE Software Engineering Radio folks for their indepth, high quality interview questions.

Here is a link to Dr Michael Stonebraker on Current Developments in Databases


  • I was lucky to spend a lot of time in late 80s and early 90s reading Michael Stonebraker’s papers.
  • I met him twice (once when I attended an RDB seminar at Palo Alto and once when we walked into Illustra offices (we built the ODBC driver for Illustra in my previous startup)
  • I have been following him when I was working on complex event processing and looking at Telegraph (built on top of Postgres) and Streambase
  • I lost touch even though I kept hearing about Vertica and other developments
  • Michael Stonebraker inspires me and lots of other data geeks like me




Recommended Reading: Picking The Right Advisor for Your Startup

Some great tips for startups on How To Survive Your First Year: Picking The Right Advisor

Prepare for your meetings preferably with a list of questions

First, find successful, independent advisors who have achieved what you want to. Whether they have bootstrapped a small business to profitability, scaled a business to serve customers around the world or have been acquired by a conglomerate, they are worth talking to. Instead of asking to ‘pick their brain’, prepare for your meetings like you would prepare for a presentation to potential investors. You will be surprised at the results – advisors are very helpful when you value their time, ask targeted questions and follow up with them.

You may not like what you hear (as advise). Don’t be defensive, listen to the point of view and try to understand the context in which the advice is given.

The ‘right’ advice will make you feel uncomfortable, move you to action and potentially, change the course of your life.

A great advisor helps you focus on understanding what matters most, even when in retrospect, it seems like very simple advice.

Think about the advice before you start acting on it. Understand that:

Not every piece of advice is a pearl of wisdom.