Category Archives: Longform Reflections

Longform Reflections

How to strengthen your startup idea with design thinking.

Korakati, a remote village in India became the spot for a location of the ‘School in the Cloud’, an idea led by 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra.

His thesis was simple- “If you give a group of children a set of questions and a computer with an internet connection, they will be able to find answers — whatever the difficulty level. Interestingly, the more random the group, the better”.

What has to be borne in mind is that the computers were not known in the community where this was started. These children worked in English, a language they had never properly learned, nor had they ever encountered a computer before. In a matter of a few days, through just plain tinkering, they had taught themselves how to navigate the machine and find answers to whatever questions they had.

Design Thinking with code(love)

Design Thinking with code(love)

What can you learn from this?

If you have been around long enough to see the past decade and half pass by, you will have noticed that the presence of manuals with products has almost died out as a practice. We have ever more complex products that are sold that come without any manual and yet we are up and running within a few hours, sending tweets about how excited we are about the new phone and ‘Instagramming’ our dinner that night.

How  do we learn about all the myriad things that the product has to offer without going through almost any documentation ?

We can take a cue from how children learn in the early stages of life. A child is never given a manual about life detailing how things are done. The learning process happens through the basic mechanisms of learning by doing and emulating the behaviour of others. The same analogy can now be applied to the adoption of services and products that we consume.

We have all heard enough stories about how young children unpack the latest iPhone, change wallpapers, customize the settings and play around with apps while parents are struggling to wrap their heads around how to send emails on the new device.

This demonstrates a fundamental difference in the way technology is being adopted by younger vs. older demographics. Your idea should cater to the way that the audience will adopt the new technology.

It also demonstrates how design has evolved to the point where it is easy and intuitive for all groups to grasp new concepts.

Design principles tailored to the target age-group would dramatically increase the effectiveness of how quickly the entrepreneur can achieve successful adoption. From varying font sizes to the structure of menus to reflect the trends that the demographic is used to, the approaches to do this are extremely varied. A thing that is not often looked at or ignored is the importance of having small bite-sized blog posts that would detail how a product works and how to make the most effective use of the features that it offers. This would be a very useful strategy for some of the adopters who fall outside of the Millennial generation.

Design thinking is critical. You have to make it as simple and as alluring as possible for your users to use your product, and for them to teach others to use it. This is the essence behind how an idea is spread—thinking about your user, why they’re using your product—and how to convince them to convince their friends to get on board as well.

AirBnB flatlined at $200 a week in revenue until they determined that taking professional pictures of their spaces sharpened the value proposition of what they were offering to the degree that more people were renting out AirBNB spaces—now that they knew exactly what they were getting.

Good design is crucial now.

Thinking about how a user goes through your product will determine your success or failure.

Nicholas Negroponte, in the 7 years of having run the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, came to similar conclusions as Sugata Mitra. After having dropped computers in remote parts of Africa, children were teaching each other how to use the computer, something that they had themselves learned just a few hours ago. They understood how this new product would help them—and they understood very easily how to use it, and more importantly how to teach using this new tool.

You should aim to foster the same mentality with your own startup. It will mean the difference between stagnation, and explosive growth.

Longform Reflections

Three essential questions entrepreneurs have to ask themselves

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Do you want to do good, or do well?

I went to a Startup Weekend where one of the judges asked this question point-blank to a team. They were doing what they claimed to be an e-commerce platform for social good. While that was all well and good—the problem was that it is hard to do both.

As human beings, I think we are all inclined to create as much social impact as possible, and to do as much as good as we can. To me, that’s the basis of human decency.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves though. It’s hard to do either good or well, nevermind both. So many ideas that I have seen fail seem confused on what they are there for.

That creates a host of issues. A team that is trying to get money and create social impact will always face the conflict between how much they charge, and how much they want society to benefit. The team will split between people motivated by creating good, and those motivated by creating wealth.

A startup wins on a simple idea that it can communicate well. Complicating it by trying to do things that conflict will help nobody. The idea will die and be unable to do good or well.

If you want to do good, consider building a non-for-profit idea that supported by a foundation like Khan Academy is. Be explicit that you are not looking for wealth. If you want to do well, build the idea you want, and make it clear everybody is in it for wealth.

There are ideas that can straddle both, but it takes a skilled executioner to work on those. It’s important here to be honest with oneself before muddying the waters. There are some that can prove me wrong and build ideas that do good, and well—but those will be the exception, and not the rule.

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Doing good or doing well with code(love)

Is your idea a community or a commodity?

This is an important question. Is what you’re producing something that will get people coming back, and feeling at home? Or is it something people can use over and over again because they need it, with no emotions attached?

The former has loads of potential. Many of the most successful ideas of our time have come because they assemble communities of like-minded individuals to create beautiful things. Yet it is incredibly hard to make money off of a community because it takes time to build it. This is time that is not well-reflected with return on investment until your constituents fully assemble.

A commodity, meanwhile, can make money for you immediately—but it’ll never have the magic of a fully formed community.

Make sure you know what you’re building. Different paths will have different implications on your business strategy, your need for financing, and your ultimate goal. If you’re building a community, get ready for the long haul. If you’re building a commodity, make sure you sell as much as you can.

View More: http://deathtothestockphoto.pass.us/brick-and-mortar

Community or commodity with code(love)

Build or buy?

This is a decision that you will face at every turn. There are so many ready-made solutions that you can buy rather than build yourself for startups. Each one will accelerate your progress exponentially.

Google Analytics can do your data analytics for you. Zendesk can help do your customer service for you. Stripe can help you deal with payments.

Building takes time. No matter what, nothing is free. You have to determine what your startup is built to do, and what you should build and what you should buy.

A startup that buys everything is not disruptive in the slightest. A startup that builds everything will die under the weight of the time it wastes.

This will be a constant question, something that will follow you all the way to the time where you have to decide whether or not to acquire your first startup.

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Entrepreneurship with code(love)

Entrepreneurship is a set of questions. Every minute brings new ones that you have to ask yourself. Part of the thrill of it all is not knowing where the hell you’re going at any given time: in many ways, building a startup is about answering one question at a time in an endless stream.

I’ve been through it enough times to know that these are the important questions for me. What are the important ones for you?

 

Longform Reflections

How Startups Can Truly Change The World

In the Amazonian forests, wildlife presenter Charlie Hamilton Jones was looking to make a statement. He went and bought a patch of Amazonian wildlife, looking to protect it for generations. Instead, he wound up buying a cocaine plantation. The most dangerous one in the area, owned by the “most dangerous family”.

When he went to confront the drug dealers, he was in for a surprise. Far from being gun-toting murderers, they were desperately powerless. Charlie had always demonized those who had spoiled his precious forests: now he saw that they were merely doing what they had to do to survive.

They implored him to “pay them so they wouldn’t do it”.

The story of the 20th century has been the elevation of private incentives to a quasi-religion. Capitalism won the battle of isms, and reigns supreme to this day. Credited with lifting billions out of poverty, the march of private capital seemed to be a matter of destiny.

Now that the story has flipped to the next chapter, we can clearly see that there are numerous issues with rising private incentives above social needs. From climate change to political and economic chaos, the world seems to lurch from crisis to crisis, with no end in sight.

There is a sense that many systems are broken, and that there needs to be change. But where does it begin?

What can be done starts with the digital communities building the future. These startups have achieved such an impact that even in the material economy of the past, they are worth billions of dollars. They can, and should be a force for change.

Change with code(love)

Change with code(love)

 

What does it take for startups to change rather than adapt to society? 

Tweet: What it takes for startups to change rather than adapt to society by @Rogerh1991 http://ctt.ec/ITWA0+ #startup #tech

1-Define new metrics.

GDP rewards everything from traffic jams to oil spills. It is the crudest way to account for innovation: it only captures the benefits that can be captured privately from social good.

This leads to entire companies shutting off access to social goods in order to reap private benefit: LinkedIn has built an entire empire on restricting valuable information away from those that need it, for example.

Sales or users are the easiest way to measure growth, but for forward-thinking startups, a measure of social impact should be implemented as a key performance indicator: from the number of people who are able to learn something new on an edtech platform, to the number of trees saved on a communications platform.

Socially-oriented investors like the Omidyar Network and the non-profit arm of Y Combinator will notice. Ultimately, social value will spread as a key metric not only for intrinsic reasons, but for extrinsic ones as well.

Society grows great with code(love) from Reddit

Society grows great with code(love) from Reddit

Technology that helps empower and enable others is immensely powerful, for all of the right reasons. Communities that grow from that technology can generate advances so powerful that huge amounts of money will flow regardless: we saw this with Linux spawning the $10 billion+ Red Hat corporation.

2-Think long-term.

Startups can’t just think of short-term growth curves. In order to create a sustainable society, startups must think of the long-term future.

Instead of just focusing on short-term profit, Salman Khan of Khan Academy has put himself on record as to saying that the profit motive actually harms his mission of creating sustainable long-term value.

Salman Khan of Khan Academy with code(love)

This is why Khan Academy has been created with a non-for-profit model: in order to create the social value it needs to, unhindered by shareholders constantly demanding the company sacrifice itself to get some numbers now.

The great startups of the future will be able to pursue their social goals without much thought to private goals.

They will build for centuries rather than building for fiscal years.

3-Strive to change behavior—not adapt to it

Respected venture capitalist Chris Dixon has argued persuasively that the best startup ideas are not the freshest ones: they are the old ideas left around that were pursued with ambition by new startups that looked to control all facets of the value chain.

From Uber, to Tesla, to Warby Parker, these startups embedded their digital culture into every facet of the value chain. They challenged entrenched traditional incumbents head-on by fundamentally changing user behavior patterns.

People who use Uber or AirBnB would find it difficult to come back to the traditional way of hailing a cab, or taking a hotel out.  That is because these full-stack startups chose to change their user’s behavior rather than adapt to it.

Uber with code(love)

Uber with code(love)

 

Rather than creating an application to make it easier to book a hotel, AirBnB redefined the hospitality industry by making it a part of the sharing economy. It allowed you and I to rent out each other’s unoccupied guest rooms, and to be hosted by those with extra space from city-to-city, creating game-changing disruption of user behavior.

AirBnB is now worth $10 billion.

Digital startups that strive to control all facets of the value chain achieve material success. They are at the forefront of changing the way humans interact with one another, and changing the world around them.

4-Embrace open data and open source

I gave a talk once on the importance of adopting software principles to a capital-intensive biotechnology industry. Because of the rules of the new knowledge economy, the largest cost for companies expanding are the minds of skilled builders.

One of the cardinal rules of software engineering is “DRY”—don’t repeat yourself. Taken on an aggregate level, this means that if somebody has built it already, you shouldn’t build it again.

Embrace open source with code(love)

Embrace open source with code(love)

The lean philosophy that forms the basis of the modern startup demands it. Lean means not to waste—and developing something in a proprietary silo when others are doing the same thing is waste.

When your most expensive cost is that of bright minds, you cannot afford to waste them working on solutions that have already been built.

The data-driven side of startups demands the best data available. Embracing open data sources ensures that everybody can get the data they need to inform the choices they must make.

Startups looking to change the world should embrace open source and open data as powerful leverage points in their David v. Goliath sagas, following Elon Musk’s example. In doing so, they build the health of the open movement, and reinforce sharing as the default of the digital economy.

5-Nurture a culture of building

Brian Chesky, AirBnB’s founder, made a really good observation on the importance of culture: it cuts out the need for corporate process if everybody on the team has a sense of what exactly they need to do. Instead of being high-touch, and micro-managed, a team with a good culture would automatically organize themselves to deliver the expected results.

Process is a proxy for making sure your people are aligned. If, however, you build a culture of building, you won’t need as much process, and your brightest minds will be free to solve every problem they see. If all of them are aligned with long-term thinking, social impact, ambition to change behavior, and open principles, there is no need for you to manage a team to create positive private and social impact: all you have to do is provide the end vision.

I heard of some of the guys behind Google Ventures talk about what propelled Google’s success: allowing bright young minds the latitude to fuck up without worrying about it too much. The culture was set to help these young kids experiment and grow, infusing Google with a set of new ideas day-by-day, and the room to see where those ideas went.

Nurturing a culture where tinkering with good ideas to watch them become great projects is the norm—this can only help a startup grow stronger. It will change the way it perceives itself—and more importantly how the startup shapes others.

How AirBnB was built by Anna Vital with code(love)

How AirBnB was built by Anna Vital with code(love)

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The challenges that surround society seem numerous, sometimes too many to surmount. We shouldn’t despair. Locked within each startup is the potential to truly change the world.for the better.

By defining new metrics, thinking long-term, striving to change user behavior, embracing openess, and building a culture around these values, startups will be the change they want to see in the world.

Longform Reflections

How to Build A Startup Community

I’m a passionate believer that startups around the world are trying to address a very real problem: how to build the future.

I’m also passionate about how startups should unite to collaborate and create something greater than their individual parts.

The obstacles startups have to surmount are numerous. They are facing old problems and old mentalities, which requires new rules, and new ideas. Brad Feld did a masterful job at enumerating what worked for Boulder—but after seeing what is happening in Montreal, I am convinced that there can be more rules fleshed out to build successful startup communities. I think there are some more ingredients I’ve spotted, some a mixture of what Brad saw in Boulder, but others that are distinctly different.

I hope this is something you and I can both learn from as we work to build the community around us. I don’t want this to be a monopoly, but a spark for you and I.

In the comment section below, add in what you think would be more principles that make up a successful startup community. In the meanwhile, here are my thoughts.

Is it time to cross the bridge with code(love)?

Is it time to cross the bridge with code(love)?

1-Be open.

A community is built on openness. The Montreal startup community works because its members trust each other, and trust those that are trying to come in. This means honesty and trust within each layer of the community. It means a commitment to share with one another, and to support each other through good—and bad.

It means taking coffees with newcomers and guiding them in, being open with your time and network. It’s about trusting that they’ll pay it forward, so that your learner becomes a mentor in a couple of years.

2-We are not Silicon Valley—and neither do we need to become it.

Silicon Valley is a once-in-a-era occurrence. A startup community doesn’t have to be Silicon Valley: every city has its own destiny. The only community anybody has to be better than is the community they were yesterday. Planning the future out shouldn’t have to be about what is missing between your city and Silicon Valley: it should be about how to best construct startups in your city, even if it looks nothing like Silicon Valley.

Montreal has a social entrepreneurial edge to it, to the point where many social startups such as E-180, a platform where people connect with one another to have coffee, and learn from one another, have emerged. They don’t necessarily focus as much on the technology as the good that can come from it. This isn’t something to be shunned: it should be celebrated.

Every city has a different character, and technology will enable that distinctiveness to shine.

Every city has a different character, and technology will enable that distinctiveness to shine. 

3-It shouldn’t matter who you are, it matters what you build.

A successful startup community should be inclusive, and embrace diversity as a key value. Builders can come from anywhere. It shouldn’t matter what you wear, who you love, or what language you speak. It doesn’t matter who you are. All that matters is what you build.

4-Break echo chambers.

We have a tendency as startup people to talk a lot amongst ourselves. A great startup community will try to reach out both to startup people in other cities, and to non-startup people in their own. Echo chambers are flattering, but in order to truly build, one must reach out to people beyond their usual networks.

5-Embrace collaboration.

Startups have succeeded because they have embraced a high degree of collaboration.  Open source principles and the lean philosophy have combined together to minimize waste by sharing what has already been built: a builder no longer has to repeat the efforts of others.

A community truly succeeds when it adheres to open source and open data approaches to constructing itself: making sharing the default rather than the alternative, and being as open about the information gathered as possible, so that everybody can make informed decisions.

By building and sharing collectively, the community grows stronger together. Instead of splitting into proprietary silos, the norm becomes building on each other’s work, rather than splitting it apart.

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Startups have so much potential in them. A collective of them can be unstoppable, and a force for good throughout the city they are based in. Communities grow strong when they reflect the values they are built on, and when they are the change they want to see.

This is what sparked my belief in Montreal. What has sparked your belief in your community?

Longform Reflections

Why startup founders should learn code

This post was originally featured on The Coder Factory by Dan Siepan. They’re about evangelizing code just like we are, and they’re awesome.

If this inspires you, join our mailing list to get resources to code.

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It has been evident after building my own startup and reading so many resources that learning to code is an important skill to learn. Many people learn programming as a means of becoming a programmer, but I am going to tell you that learning to code isn’t just important for any web developer, but should be learnt by any person who wants to run a successful business.

Here are the three main reasons why learning code is vital for any business venture.

1. Save Money, Save Time

How much work is required to change the whole template of the website?

How much will it cost to re-do the men’s clothing page of the site?

These are all too common questions when someone wants to run a business. Such a big part of any success is the ability to have a great website application. Often startups hire a contractor in the aim to save time for the entrepreneur and say, ‘someone is covering all my technological bases’. This is a trend that needs to be re-evaluated. The power of being able to make any adjustments from slight to a big re-development of the site, costs big time and big money, for which you would need to pay your developer. And soon you will realise you have very little capital for anything else. Learning code, won’t just save you time and money, but will help you better understand your product or service.

Learn code with code(love)

Learn code with code(love)

2. Better problem solving skills and approaches

“The Programmers of Tomorrow are the Wizards of the Future” – Gabe Newell (Valve)

Whilst learning to program is very similar to learning a foreign language for the first time, it will soon become a universal language. Knowing how to code will not only enhance your skills but will make yourself the problem solver of tomorrow. It will put you ahead of the game.

I have come such a long way in learning to code. This was done through the process of building a social network for DJs (my startup) and loving every bit of learning and being in control of doing it. It’s so exciting to know that this little thing could go on to potentially change the world of DJs booking gigs and growing a fan base.

I have already been faced with a few challenges but knowing code helped immensely. I have implemented some changes, and do you know what the best part is? I didn’t pay anyone to solve the problem. The skills that you gain are yours. I will most certainly keep you guys updated with my startup and coding progress.

Learn code with code(love)

Learn code with code(love)

3. The ease and increased chance of raising capital

You won’t believe the amount of startup accelerator programs or investors asking whether or not you have programmers as co-founders of the business. If you don’t believe me, look up any startup accelerator programs or even network investors and they will most likely raise the question whether or not you know how to program.

Now that you’re thinking that you should learn code, or at least give it a shot, you should try out free online resources like CodeAcademy.

Whilst CodeAcademy is a great platform, to run a successful startup business you need to enrol in either a bootcamp or code intensive course.

Keep calm and learn code with code(love)

Keep calm and learn code with code(love)

You should enquire at The Coder Factory where we run part-time courses, 6 hours a week, where it can fit around your schedule at any time, where you don’t have to put your social life or startup on hold just to learn code.

Until next time my rad viewers, Peace ☺

Longform Reflections

How to found a startup when you don’t know a line of code

As a non-technical founder, I did the worst thing possible. I created a founding team composed of other non-technical founders.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the death knell for my startup. It wasn’t because we got into arguments or we essentially had overlapping roles: no, it was simply the fact that none of us knew what we were doing.

It’s a problem that resonates often with people who are struggling to get into the startup scene as I once was. I’ve seen so many startups drift because their founders had no clue of what to do. All of these drifters tend to search relentlessly for the programmer of their dreams, as if in one fell swoop their inability to understand technology will be okay because, from the first grunt they hire, a team of grunts will be able to replicate out and do all of the work for them—forever until some imagined IPO for their technology startup.

It’s a problem. 90% of all small businesses fail in the first two years, and I’d wager the high failure rate with technology startups is based on the fact that so many who start these companies don’t properly appreciate their role in building out their idea.

Having lived through the experience myself, I’ve managed to snag some insights that can  change the situation for the better.

1– There is no programmer who will save you from ignorance.

The wunderkind who will take on your idea and do everything for you? You’re never going to be able to attract that type if you have no idea what you’re talking about. Engineers are highly attuned to the sort of “let’s change the fields for the registration process, it should only take ten seconds!” talk that implies you know little about technology.

Even if you do somehow find somebody who is good enough to understand your idea figments and is able to translate them into crisp, actionable code, your work process will be affected because you won’t really know how to communicate efficiently with them and vice versa. You’ll never get exactly what you wanted if you don’t understand the rudiments of what your engineer is working with.

You don’t have to become an expert overnight, but there’s no excuse for not trying to cover the basics. Here’s a list of 31 free resources to get you started, and a newsletter focused on learning code. Start now, it’ll help!

Learn code with code(love)

No, he’s not coming to save you.

2-You don’t even need a programmer to start testing your idea.

Surprise surprise! People get hung up on this notion that they need a bells-and-whistle online platform with all of the amenities for them to test their idea. That’s totally false. Lean and agile development have smashed that notion, and entrepreneurs have been testing their ideas out shoestring even before all that. Netflix started as a mailing service for DVDs that shipped your content physically—they only started to get on the Internet because they knew it was coming, but by then, they had already garnered a huge amount of subscriptions, so they knew their original hypothesis was correct: people would be willing to pay to access content on-demand and avoid dealing with video shops.

They didn’t need a web platform to do that. Figure out what your idea is actually testing, and test it yourself. Do you think people need an easier way to order dog food? Find forums where dog owners congregate, and ask them.

You don’t even have to mail them goods by mail. You can use a service like Unbounce: create a great landing page, and then collect emails to show that people care about what you’re selling.

A mailing list of thousands of people will help you spread your idea that much faster, and convince the star programmers you want to work with that you are their man. It will be the first sign of social proof and traction that your idea works. You’ll be the business man that can convince people to buy into an idea online, an invaluable trait engineers will be looking for.

An Unbounce-made landing page with code(love)

An Unbounce-made landing page with code(love)

3-Get involved with the startup scene. Read, connect, and collaborate.

While you work on how to get a digital following, you should also increase your value as a startup founder by devouring as much as you can about startups and technology. Read through The Next Web and similar outlets, follow tech influencers such as Tim O’Reilly, read through Startup CommunitiesLean Startup and Lean Analytics and other books on startups, just swallow it all up, and immerse yourself in this world. Go to the next meetup, meet the people in your startup community, and start building out a network.

The startup community works on the principle of “pay it forward”, so don’t be shy asking for help, and coffees from established influencers: more likely than not, they’ll say yes, in the hopes that you’ll do the same when you are faced with someone seeking advice. This is how a community grows strong: through collaboration. Embrace it.

Startup community with code(love)

Startup community with code(love)

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Founding a startup is already difficult. You can make it easier for yourself by learning what I have struggled through failure to appreciate. We all have the capacity to build something meaningful, with or without technical knowledge: now it’s up to you to step up, and prove you can build, while embracing the new knowledge and people who will form an integral part of your new venture.

If this inspired you to learn code, and build something great, join our mailing list.

Longform Reflections

Building Gender Inclusiveness into Startups

If there was a Godwin’s law for technology, it would go something like this: go to a startup event. Hear or be the person pitching a dating application. Stop—you’ve lost.

Entrepreneurs are trained to solve real pain points—their own, especially. The truth of the matter is that when you’re with a bunch of single, young men, this is one of the first problems they will encounter: the lack of single, young women. The solution that comes to mind? Yet another application. If it can solve the broken hospitality, and taxi industries, surely it can solve the lack of gender inclusiveness in the startup scene.

The Internet is being shaped by males to be comfortable for other males. For those of us fighting for an open, and inclusive web, this is something that should change, and it’ll certainly take more than a new application.

Only about 5 to 10 percent of the venture capital devoted to early-stage ventures goes to females. This isn’t through blind luck, or through lack of trying. A double-blind study delivered the exact same startup pitch with both a male and female voice, and found that the pitch delivered by the male voice was preferred 68% of the time by investors, with no change other than the voice delivering the words.

Three out of ten entrepreneurs starting their own business are female. It gets even worse in Silicon Valley, where only one out of ten people starting technology startups are women.

Part of this has to do with factors external to the community itself. The ratio of women studying in computer science, one of the most valuable traits to have in a technology startup, has decreased from 37% of degree holders in 1985 to 14% in 2010. This is a societal issue, and there are no silver bullets.

Nevertheless, there is a feedback loop that links the startups that hire computer science majors with those who choose to major in the field. Women can and should feel comfortable working with technology, and carving out space in the Internet.

Building Gender Inclusiveness into Startups with code(love)

Building Gender Inclusiveness into Startups with code(love)

They should because women are very successful with technology. While there is selection bias (to be a female founder in Silicon Valley is to be an extraordinary person), the fact that women-led technology companies have achieved 35 percent higher return, and bring in 12 percent more revenue when venture-backed, all while running their companies on two-thirds of the funds allocated to their male counterparts—all of this adds up to data that can only seek to encourage the inclusion of women in the startup world because it makes economic sense to do so.

It also makes intuitive sense. Successful communities are built on being open, and diverse. Everybody suffers when a perspective that could enhance the community goes under-represented or ignored.

The goal of technologists should be to build their technologies to be open and accessible to all: how can that goal be achieved when the community it is built with doesn’t reflect those values?

This isn’t just an existential problem for the startup community, it is one for society at large. With median real wages constantly decreasing, and investment in startups constantly increasing, the reality is that those who are able to run their own business will be the ones who thrive in this new digital age.

All of the work achieving gender inclusiveness in the material economy of the past may fall by the wayside in the digital economy of the future.

There are ways to reduce this risk. Here are some:

1-Build an inclusive community

Easily said, hardly done: thus the crucible of the problem.

Etsy is a uniquely female-led internet community, an enclave for a group of mostly women selling to a group of other women. The problem Etsy faced is that the engineers responsible for fleshing out this community was, like most startups, dominated by males.

It was only by switching  from poaching male senior engineers to training female junior engineers, that Etsy was able to change its internal culture. Etsy encouraged women to join its’ ranks, and created a sense of belonging for female engineers. In doing so, the company was able to attract high-level engineering talent, both male and female, who were inspired by the initiative.

There are no silver bullets, but change only comes when people move towards it.

Building an Inclusive Tech Community with code(love)

Building an Inclusive Tech Community with code(love)

2-Highlight the leaders that emerge

The role of female leaders that emerge from an inclusive community cannot be understated in a world where storytelling wields immense power. Sheryl Sandberg is able to inspire a generation of women to consider technology, and future leaders that step into her shoes will have a powerful narrative for which they will be contributors: the narrative that anybody that deserves to be a leader can become a leader in Silicon Valley.

The next generation will need leaders to look up to in the future, and it is up to technologists in the present to ensure that those leaders have the right platforms to tell their stories.

Highlight leaders in technology with code(love)

Highlight leaders in technology with code(love)

3-Reach out to the next generation

The next generation will need more than female leaders in technology. Technology needs to be relevant and cool for girls for there to be significant change going forward. Stressing how technology is a means to an end can help immensely: the applications of code in fields ranging as far as fashion to film-making can help girls realize that code is interweaved with every aspect of their lives.

Initiatives like Girls Learning Code and the Chic Geek which seek to educate girls about how they can build the future will help immensely. We need them to succeed, and for there to be further initiatives in order to break the loop that prevents women from entering technology because they don’t feel like they belong in the field.

Reaching out to the Next Generation with code(love)

Reaching out to the Next Generation with code(love)

A startup is built upon a viewpoint that is different: that it alone can succeed where so many others have failed. This is the birth of innovation: the belief that we must think differently to build differently. Silicon Valley was built on thinking differently—it was built on the premise that it doesn’t matter who you are—what matters is what you do.

In order to fully live out that promise, technologists should strive to include as many people as possible and judge them on the fruits of their labour. They should embrace inclusiveness as a key value, and see to it that they mean what they say. Change only comes when people move towards it.  It can start with women, but it will never end. There is no end to the iteration of the products the Valley builds: why should there be any when it comes to its community of builders?

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Kylie Toh of the Chic Geek for giving suggestions, reading this over, and providing pictures from Ladies Learning Code, and Girls Learning Code

Research Sources

VC money tilting towards males: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/03/22/292467848/need-money-for-your-startup-being-an-attractive-male-may-help

1 in 10 of those starting businesses in the Valley are women. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232090

Decline in women holding CS degrees: http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/legacy/pdf/BytheNumbers09.pdf

How women-led startups have impressive economic metrics: http://www.eweek.com/it-management/google-encouraging-more-women-led-startups.html

How real wages are declining: http://www.businessinsider.com/real-wages-decline-literally-no-one-notices-2013-6

How Etsy Attracted 500% more female engineers: http://www.fastcolabs.com/3005681/how-hack-broken-gender-dynamics-workplace

For more:

Check out http://geekfeminism.org/

Julie Ann Horvath’s departure from Github

Julie Pagano’s blog

Shanley’s post on how to work towards solving systematic sexism

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Longform Reflections

I rejected a top law school for tech entrepreneurship—here’s why.

I have thought about this long and hard, and law school isn’t for me.

I have a firm belief that in our new digital economy, those who are able to scale their ideas most effectively will triumph. Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape once said: “Software is eating the world”. My corollary to this statement is that “the geek shall inherit the Earth.”

The geek shall inherit the Earth.

From hospitality, to transportation, we live in a world where minute connections of individuals can actually change the world for the better—within a span of months, rather than decades.

Technology has accelerated both the potential for good, and for bad, but as a catalyst the effects are undeniable. From sidestepping the conventional financial system, to underpinning the democratic aspirations of a people, the ability to communicate frictionlessly has fundamentally changed what we view as possible.

Download / By Namphuong Van

Changing the possible with code(love)

While I appreciate the value a law school education holds for those who want to learn and practice law, I no longer think that is my true calling. Having talked with multiple lawyers, I have come to the conclusion that the impact I can have is best served by scaling my aspirations, and those of others throughout the digital realm, rather than through slogging it out one jurisdiction at a time.

I hold a high amount of respect for those who fight the good fight throughout legal and political channels: society has a need for this. I just don’t see myself being as effective at that as I can be with digital engagement.

My feeling in the startup scene is one akin to coming home.

I have advised on several ventures that have the potential to grow into something beautiful and meaningful not only from a monetary sense, but from a societal one as well.

When I sit down to talk with people, it’s about creating a secure communications platform for doctors and underserved patients in rural Bangladesh, or about tackling urban homelessness through a crowdfunding solution—these are not only realizable, but people are working on these right now. It is liberating to be able to talk about these issues, and see action straight away that helps chip away at some of the biggest problems this world faces—all of this in a matter of days, rather than years.

This isn’t only a passion-borne argument. Fundamentally, I believe working in technology is a more rational decision for me than working in law.

Fundamentally, I believe working in technology is a more rational decision for me than working in law.

Download / By Marco sama

Rejecting Law School with code(love)

I am motivated by three things in life: knowledge, impact, and love. It is only in technology that I have found all three—and it is only in technology where my passion can be translated into tangible, and material well-being. While I believe the current valuation bubble will burst, leaving true technologists behind to pick up the pieces, the truth is Silicon Valley is on the upswing, while Wall Street and Main Street is on the downswing.

With the doubtful legal market in Canada and the United States, and the overwhelming need for engineers across both sides of the border, I think I am better suited to learn outside of school, or to pursue a formalized degree in computer science (an option I have not precluded) for the age we live in.

I’d rather fight it out getting paid to gain experience rather than taking on debt for experience for a field I’d rather not be in. I have always been more of a kinetic learner, someone who learns by doing. I cannot afford either the time nor the money that would be invested in learning less efficiently otherwise, and this has been made even clearer in the last few weeks than all of the preceding year.

I’d rather fight it out getting paid to gain experience rather than taking on debt for experience for a field I’d rather not be in.

I love what I do, and I know what I am fighting for. The next following days will determine where I will head, but I feel that I can preclude law school, even though I recognize it is a great opportunity.

This is not a choice I made lightly, but it is something I have to do to move towards the love, knowledge, and impact I believe I can have. I hope you can understand.

Longform Reflections

Sarah Explains Ladies Learning Code

This is a post from Sarah Cundiff. Visit her blog at http://www.sarahcundiff.com/!

At code(love), we’re all about sharing great content like this that encourages people to learn about the future, and work towards building it. Email us at info@code-love.com if you think you have content that fits that bill.

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Unless you’ve been living under a stone, I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzz recently about how important it is to learn how to code.  Just check out the US Bureau of Statistics info on the job outlook for software developers to see why.  There’s even a campaign in the US for all school children to learn coding called “The Hour of Code.”  I regret not pursuing computer science as a major when I was in college!  But, as I proved starting my MBA at the age of 32, it’s never too late to learn something, and, it turns out you don’t even need a “degree” to learn how to code.

Itching to learn something new, I recently signed up to take some coding workshops through a non-profit called “Ladies Learning Code.”  It’s based out of Toronto, with chapters all over Canada, and is run completely by women.  The Montreal chapter is led by Nancy Naluz.

HTML

I felt so “empowered” after the Intro to HTML & CSS workshop, where we created a simple website from scratch.

So far, I’ve taken three workshops:

  • Intro to HTML & CSS
  • Intro to JavaScript
  • Intro to Mobile Web

The courses cost about $60 each and run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a Saturday.  The Montreal chapter doesn’t have a dedicated space for it’s workshops (unlike Toronto), but many different tech companies in Montreal have offered to host the workshops.  I actually found the uniqueness of each location to add to the wonderful atmosphere of each workshop. The HTML workshop was held at RPM Startup Centre in the Griffintown area of Montreal, the JavaScript workshop was held at the Microsoftoffices in downtown Montreal, and the Mobile Web workshop was held at the Busbud offices in the Mile End area of Montreal.  (Busbud is a start-up that provides an easy way to book bus travel all over the world, and won my vote for “coolest office” with it’s ping-pong table and amazing panoramic views of downtown Montreal!)

I felt so “empowered” after the Intro to HTML & CSS workshop, where we created a simple website from scratch.

What makes the Ladies Learning Code workshops so special is that they cater primarily to women (men are welcome to attend but must be accompanied by a female friend as the whole point is to introduce women to coding).  Local software developers and coding experts volunteer their time to “mentor” at the workshops.  The ratio of student to mentor I found was about 3 or 4 students per mentor.

javascript

At the Intro to JavaScript workshop, I learned how setup a website’s shopping cart.

In advance of each workshop, attendees are emailed a simple list of to-do’s to prepare, which basically consists of making sure you have the necessary free software downloaded in advance.  If for some reason you have trouble with the download, I would recommend showing up a little early and just asking one of the mentors for assistance.  Keep in mind that you need to bring your own laptop (and don’t forget your power cord!).  The workshop leader provides a very detailed package of slides that you can use to follow along with throughout the day, and keep for future reference.  One of the best parts is that you don’t have to come with any particular content – the workshop organizer provides all text and imagery for the coding exercises.  But, if you do have your own content, you’re also welcome to use it instead.

mobile

I learned how to add code to a website to make it mobile friendly at the Intro to Mobile Web workshop.

Each workshop usually starts with an intro to the software being used and an explanation of the reasoning behind the coding being taught, and then you’re led through a bunch of exercises.  At any point, you can raise your hand and a mentor will come over to help you trouble shoot.  The workshops are tailored to women who have never coded before and have just basic computer skills. But, if you’re a fast learner (like me), I found that the mentors are always willing to teach you some extra shortcuts and coding tricks here and there, while for the slower learners they’re willing to sit with you until you get it and are ready to move onto the next exercise. Basically, there’s no need to ever feel intimidated at a Ladies Learning Code workshop!

The workshops are also very social.  I met some lovely ladies at each of them, and even recognized some repeat attendees like myself, so by the third workshop I felt like I was entering a room of friends instead of strangers.  A healthy lunch is provided during the day, and plenty of time to socialize during the lunch hour.  I enjoyed getting to know some of the mentors and learning about their career paths and why they were inspired to volunteer their time.  The best was hearing some of the male mentors say that they just wish there more women were in their industry because they value women’s input and feel that the computer software and gaming industries would only be enhanced if more women learned to code!

pingpong

Showing off my ping-pong skills during the lunch break of the workshop held at Busbud.

When I left the first workshop, the word that popped into my mind to explain how I felt was “empowered!”

When I left the first workshop, the word that popped into my mind to explain how I felt was “empowered!” Not only did I learn code, a skill that I can continue to build on, but I also gained confidence.   The workshops are void of competitiveness, and are really about women coming together to support each other in a comfortable and collaborative environment, learning a topic that hardly any of us were comfortable with upon walking in the room.  Having recently finished my MBA, where only 30% of my classmates were women, the Ladies Learning Code workshops were such a breath of fresh air!If you live in Canada, check out the Ladies Learning Code website for a list of upcoming events and workshops in major cities across the country.A lot of organizations offering coding workshops I find cater to kids, but Ladies Learning Code is for adults.  I met attendees and mentors alike who ranged in age probably from 18 to 80!  I’ve heard of similar organizations in the US focusing on girls in high school.  If you know of coding workshops for adult women in the US, or other countries, please share info in the comments!  Or, if you already know how to code, why not organize an event in your area to pass it forward?  I’d be happy to help with event planning and/or with writing content to promote any women-focused coding/tech events.

ladies

A friend was so inspired by my learning to code that she joined me at my 3rd workshop. Friends learning how to code together, looking particularly “geeky” in our glasses.

Most of my career in marketing has been focused on the user-facing content side, but learning the back-side of the technology that powers digital marketing tools has given me a better understanding of the capabilities that I can then advocate for on a user interface.  It has also inspired me to focus my career on a technologically innovative industry, and perhaps even dabble in freelance website development.  If you run a small business and have an outdated website or no website at all, please feel free to contact me, and I’d be happy to offer my digital marketing consulting services and/or build you a new website.

And be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to follow along on my adventures in coding!

Longform Reflections

An Open Email to the NSA (CC Supreme Court)

Dear NSA,

Twenty years ago, you would have had the pleasure of receiving this in a nice white envelope, but now we know worse. I’m sending this to you virtually, as many of us will, because it only me one click of a button to do so.

We know worse: a large number of us have chosen to sacrifice privacy for convenience or vanity, and I am no exception. I post everything from the most banal to the most profound about myself online. If someone were so inclined, they could build a pretty complete sketch of who I am from the different digital portraits I have constructed over the ages.

I have also connected with more people than ever online. Studies will show that this probably makes me more stressed, and more narcissistic. I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that the number of connections I and everyone around me have make it increasingly likely that our digital metadata will be snagged into your watching eyes.

Using a nifty digital application, also one click of a button away, I’ve ascertained that if anybody in my network of 22 million friends of friends…of friends is up to something potentially nefarious, you could come knocking. That’s if I was American. As a Canadian, I don’t even get this courtesy before you share the data with my domestic security agency.

It’s a funny thing when you make laws that protect only domestic citizens, because everybody is a foreigner somewhere. I wonder if the GCHQ in Britain, with which you are closely collaborating with, have the same respect for the privacy of Americans as you espouse when they are rifling through Gmail for you.

Five Eyes with code(love)

Five Eyes with code(love)

Perhaps, however, your intent is benign. After all, you are balanced by law that binds you only to search for metadata: the fact that you can’t rifle through the actual data should count for something right?

I work in technology. I’m keenly aware of how metadata can be used to trace connections between people, their location, and their habits. It’s perhaps why you and a million other companies are finding it valuable to scoop out this data.

The same technology that allows us to hail cabs at the push of a button, can also be used to track us within meters. If I were to go to an abortion clinic, or a therapist, my parents might not know, but you will.

The connections between me the peers I choose to connect with most frequently can also be equally revelatory. They can reveal the organization I work for, but also my political affiliation or sexual orientation, even if I have not revealed them to anybody.

NSA Listens with code(love)

NSA listens with code(love)

You may ask why we care less if Google has our data but not you.

Until Google gets the robot army they are seeking to build, and has the power to imprison me by force, me and many others will care, but care less that Google has that information about us.

Google buys robot firm Boston Dynamics. ruh roh

You may ask why we should care about this metadata being revealed about ourselves.

The first reason would be because as we relax privacy constraints around all of our information, it is highly possible that financial information, and health information will fall into your hands as well: this has already happened to a certain degree.

The second reason is because you have a history of tracking notable political and business figures for reasons that do not correlate well with national security. In fact, your sister agency, the FBI, often still tracks people for their political beliefs.

The third reason is because, with lax oversight, your propensity to lie to elected representatives, and consequently to the American people, makes you a hard agency to trust with anything.

These are harsh truths, but the American nation was built on these truths. And one overriding truth is the following: absolute power corrupts absolutely. While it is far from me to suggest that you have absolute power at the moment, it is certain that your agency could help somebody obtain it, and it is certain that right now, you are playing around the lines of a balance of powers that has served the American people well for centuries.

“[If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.

-Senator Church of the Church Committee

You may ask why it matters if you are authorized by elected representatives to do what you do, even barring how unclear that is given how legislation has been warped to fit your needs.

On this, we do have an agreement of sorts. I do think it sad that security has come to override every other concern, and perhaps it is right that America needs a change in her elected officials if they have allowed you to get away with this. However, I also do know that you are being sly on this point. Consider your interpretation of Patriot Act Section 215 and how you have overstepped it.

So I write this in the open spirit you have abandoned for the American people: please consider reining yourself in. We live in a new age, and there should be new rules.

We live in a new age, and there should be new rules.

If you ignore this advice, I have kindly CCed your friends at the Supreme Court. I am sure they have much more to say on this than I do.

Sincerely yours,

(Well, you can probably figure out who)

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For a look at how the Supreme Court might respond, click here.