Tag Archives: featured

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)


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.

Defining the Future

Seven things billion-dollar startups do

Here are some ingredients for billion-dollar startups I’ve isolated.

If this inspires you to build, join our mailing list. 


1) Make one button do something magical for the consumer. (Uber)

Uber with code(love) from Uber blog

Uber with code(love) from Uber blog

2) Make technologies enterprise-friendly (Red Hat)

Red Hat with code(love) from linuxjournal.com

Red Hat with code(love) from linuxjournal.com

3) Create a well-balanced marketplace (AirBNB)

AirBnB growth curve from AirBnB with code(love)

AirBnB growth curve from AirBnB with code(love)

4) Aggregate information across several networks (Hootsuite)

Hootsuite with code(love)

Hootsuite with code(love)

5) Create a software solution to a very specific enterprise pain point, helping automate the process (Zendesk)

Zendesk with Arcaris

Zendesk with Arcaris

6) Empower individual consumers to do something magical with a great interface (WordPress)

Wordpress with code(love)

WordPress with code(love)

7) Facilitate a lucrative yet “unsexy” industry (Alibaba)

Alibaba with code(love) from Alibaba

Alibaba with code(love) from Alibaba

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.


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?

Open Stories

How to Start Learning Code

This open story on learning code was originally posted on Code.org’s blog.

It is about Gili Rusak, a girl who developed an Android app to help younger girls learn code. If that inspires you to learn, join our mailing list of coding and entrepreneurship resources.


Earlier in her high school career, Gili developed an Android app called Codester which helps kids learn computer science. This year, the high school junior received NCWIT funding and partnered with Girls Inc. to host coding workshops for elementary- and middle-school girls!

Tell us about your app.

Codester is a level-based game app that aims to teach young students or novice programmers computational thinking and computer science concepts. I ran math outreach programs for several years and one day I thought, “why not computer science too?”

Why computer science?

The first time that I ran a prototype of my app on an actual smartphone was extremely rewarding! When you see the finished product it is sometimes easy to forget the hundreds of lines of code that go into making the app itself work. But when you develop the app yourself, you see the code and the outcome.

Programming is such a useful and empowering tool and I am so happy that I have gotten into it.

Programming is such a useful and empowering tool and I am so happy that I have gotten into it.

What is it like teaching younger girls computer science?

The younger students teach me at the same time as I teach them. I’m amazed when 7-year-olds are utilizing the app that I had made!

I found that at a young age, the gender and race barriers melt. This is a great age to engage girls and get their attention for the subject. They will grow up with the idea that computer science is for them. In my programs, the girls taught the boys, students interacted with one another, and the collaboration was excellent.

Learning with code(love)

Learning with code(love)

Do you have any advice for students who don’t know how to start learning to code?

# 1 – Start simple: take an introductory course first, either through Code.org or other courses on the Internet. Computer science is a lot of fun. It’s very rewarding to get your first program working, even if all it does is read, “Hello World!”.

# 2 – Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you don’t fully understand.

# 3 – Know that computer science is very multidisciplinary. For example, when I first began developing Codester, I did not imagine how much art, creative thought and user consultation I would have to do. No matter what you’re into, understanding of computer science will help.

Technology and Society

It’s time to build a better web.

“Revealing the previously unfathomable reach of U.S. spies has led, for the first time since 9/11, to Americans saying they are more worried about civil liberties abuses than terrorism.

Thank you Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, William Binney, Laura Poitras, Chelsea Manning, and so many others.

The Constitution of the United States begins with the three words that shook the world, and continues to write out its legacy throughout: “We the people”.

Faced with one of the greatest gifts for scientific innovation, and sustainable creation—an open and free web—the governments of the world have collectively failed where the people can succeed.

It’s time to stop venting about outrage after outrage—and time to take action. It starts with one click below. Protect yourself, and declare you belief in the transformative potential of an open, free web dedicated to a better world.

It is time to rebuild the web into what it always should have been: a place where the artist could build with the dissident who could build with the scientist—openly, and freely.

Reset the Net with code(love)

Open Stories

Why learning code is so important—and how I learned.

Learning code is critical to understanding how the digital economy of the future will work. Much as we learn writing to instil in us the ability to relate to the perspectives of others, coding serves as a portal to understanding the logic that dictates the flow of information back and forth between different agents: the underpinning of the 21st century. 

Learn code with code(love)

I began to learn code by working with a technical team at my previous startup ThoughtBasin. I’d say the process began with a natural curiosity towards peering at their screens, and then talks with them about the logic of code, and then applying that into practice with gamified platforms for learning code such as CodeAcademy

The one piece of advice to all of those on the fence looking in I’d give is to start now.  There’s no reason to delay. 

Sign up for my newsletter for entrepreneurship and code resources if this inspired you to learn.

Life Hacking

The key to success: build simply.

When I first built, the first thing that came to mind were the complex machinations of my vision all coming together at once. I saw the intricacies of everything I ever imagined come alive: and it was wonderful.

Wonderfully flawed.

If I were to go back to those neophyte days, the first thing I would’ve told myself would be to build simply.

You don’t need a grand platform to test out your basic business idea. You don’t need a full-service platform that helps your user from A to Z to start helping them out at A.  In fact, the reason why startups in the digital age have succeeded so often is because they will choose the path of least resistance to test their ideas. Way before Netflix became an online behemoth, Reed Hastings was mailing people video cassettes to prove that people did want to rent videos on a monthly-fee basis.


This is what Facebook looked like at the beginning.

This is the basis of the lean philosophy that defines the startup movement: minimalize waste between point A and point B.

Had I known this, I would’ve saved a lot of time and money on my first failed startup. I think it’s a great philosophy to have beyond just startups: keep things simple for yourself and others. Build something out the easiest way possible, so you can learn, and experiment quicker.

A lot of people have commented on the fact that this blog is run on the default WordPress theme, and urged me to change it. I have adamantly refused to do so. I am using this as a platform to learn about how to display content, people are reading the content, and people are signing up to the mailing list. It is a perfectly functional platform that serves a very simple purpose, and serves it well. Why fix what isn’t broken?

You don’t win bonus points for building the most complex system, or for using more words when less would have sufficed. You win when you build something simple, iterate on top of it, and watch as your learning turns your idea from something in your head, to something used by millions.


If this inspired you to build, join our mailing list. 

Open News

How to build a mobile application, through hell and high water.

This is an open story submitted by the founder of Padel Tennis Pro. We’re always looking for stories like this: ping us at [email protected] if you have them.

Join our mailing list to learn how to build as he has.


Padel Tennis Pro was intended to be a cheap, three-month endeavor to build a new mobile game.  With gameplay mechanics not totally dissimilar to the early 2000s classic ‘Curveball’ – how hard could it be?

Padel Tennis Pro with code(love)

Padel Tennis Pro with code(love)

Nineteen months, five fired developers, one rushed Kickstarter campaign, one AppStore rejection, many sleepless nights and an international political crisis later…. and… it’s finally ready.

For the growing number of people who are planning to outsource the development of an app to a freelancer, let this be a warning. It is not as easy as it seems. Companies on freelancing websites such as elance and oDesk regularly tout example portfolios, which in reality they had nothing to do with. They make promises which they certainly don’t intend to keep. My first set of developers did precisely this; laying shoddy foundations that would continue to plague the project almost two years later.

Don’t be put off though. Plan your project carefully and with the right team, it could well become that huge success that you were hoping for. Here are some lessons that should help you along that dangerous path to achieving your grand vision, lessons I have learned the hard way:

#1: Fixed Price Contracts

A fixed price project is not anywhere near as safe as it may seem. In principle this seems like a great deal: you put funds in escrow and only release them when the code reaches certain milestones.

However, there is serious information asymmetry at work here and developers will frequently refuse to continue until you release early milestones. They will insist that they have done work “behind the scenes” that you can’t see yet. They will assure you that it is hidden in existing code. Obviously, the disputed work hasn’t been done, but by the time you find out, it is too late!

As the project continues to progress the power balance swings in their favour as your committed investment increases and their knowledge of the code becomes a unique asset. Developers are aware of this and some will leverage this fact. They will refuse to continue on a fixed price basis, and request that you switch to a pay per hour project— this happened to me three times with three separate developers throughout the course of this project. At this stage, you need to decide if the cost of paying someone else to get up to speed with your existing source code will be less than the additional likely cost of an hourly job. Not an easy decision to make.

#2: Sub-outsourcing

A company says it is based in a certain location, or even has an office in that location, but beware: it does not mean that your work will actually be carried out in that location. Twice during the course of this project, the company that I was paying to complete the app were little more than middlemen. They subsequently outsource the work of actually building your mobile application to freelancers that they don’t actually employ, usually based in other countries where the cost is lower. They take their slice of the fee, the outsourcing website takes a fee and you are left unsure who is actually doing your work, their level of skill and even in what legal jurisdiction they are operating in.

Without delving into exact detail, being subjected to several layers of outsourcing meant that my project crossed the Russian/Ukrainian border at a time of extreme political tension between the two countries. It was an interesting scenario and not one I would wish upon anyone else.

Maidan with code(love)

Maidan with code(love)

#3: Aim for a MVP

A common theme for those planning to outsource an app is to plan out a grand end-product. This is time consuming and expensive. Instead, I would recommend starting out with a clear vision of your minimum viable product (MVP) and aiming for that. This will allow you to get it out to market faster and cheaper, ultimately checking whether this mobile application is something that the market actually wants. If there is demand, you can add features at a later date.

#4: Learn some code

Having already released many apps, some of which I had made entirely myself, I was in a position where I knew about the technical process behind creating a mobile game. With that said, my knowledge of the game engine being used to create Padel Tennis Pro was next to zero. At one point, one freelancer spent three days, at $35/hr, adding a simple animated shark fin to the background of one of the levels. Had I known more code, I would have noticed he was ripping me off. Had I known more, I also would have been able to point out to him that the shark fin would also be moving in the wrong direction without having to wait three days to test the build to find that out.

Learn code with code(love)

Learn code with code(love)


There is no protection offered by the freelancing websites for outsourcers using an hourly pay method. If the developer spends his time badly building your mobile application, that is your problem and you need to foot the bill. You will note that the backwards shark fin did not end up making it into Padel Tennis Pro v1.0 🙂


Overall, while the project clearly had its up and downs and was a great learning experience, it also took a lot more time and resources than I had expected. A rule of thumb that I now advocate is to triple your initial cost expectations and timeline and then halve the number of features that you want when you want to build a mobile application. That will provide a more accurate picture of how the project will likely pan out!

You can find the game here: www.georiot.co/padel

Open News

PrinttoPeer connects 3D Printing to the Web

This is an interview with PrinttoPeer co-founder Tom Bielecki. Support them on Indiegogo! Learn to build like they have by joining our mailing list.


What is the ultimate long-term vision behind PrinttoPeer, the moment where you begin to dominate your field? 

It’s really about accessibility: making it easy for a consumer to use 3D printers, and building the vehicle for software developers to ship objects instantly from their app to any 3D printer.

Can you walk me through what the experience would be like of an average user using PrintToPeer? Do you have any particularly good use cases you’d like to bring up?

I was taking the train home from work one day and forgot my cufflinks, so I pulled out my phone and pressed print. It was sitting on the 3D printer when I got there.

My friend wanted to send me a surprise gift, so I let him share my account, and he started printing something on my 3D printer right away. It was like skype, or teleportation! I couldn’t tell what it was until the print was almost finished, it was an upgraded part for the 3D printer.

Why did the founding team choose this particular project, and what particular insights do they have that they think everybody else is missing?

We have been building 3D printers for three years and the print process has always been challenging. People were building hardware solutions to software problems, like using SD cards to transfer files. Because we’re software developers we knew that 3D printers needed networking ability because then you could print remotely, even from other apps.

What are some of the interesting developments with regards to traction?

People see this as the missing piece of the puzzle for 3D printing, so we’re really excited by all of the support from the community. On Indiegogo we launched a crowdfunding campaign on May 2nd, and we just passed our target of $15,000. Everyone has been asking if we will open source the software so we’ve decided to add this as a stretch goal for continued support.

Sum up why PrintToPeer is so cool—in one line.

It’s magic…science fiction in real life.

Print to Peer with code(love)

Technology and Society

Extreme irony, NSA edition.

“[They] stole sensitive, internal communications that would provide a competitor, or adversary in litigation, with insight into the strategy and vulnerabilities of the American entity.”-The United States Department of Justice indicting five Chinese officials for “cyber-espionage” for economic reasons.


A new report based on leaks by Edward Snowden reveals the National Security Agency played a role in the monitoring of a U.S. law firm that represented the Indonesian government during trade disputes with the United States. The document notes the Australian agency “has been able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested U.S. customers.”