Here is an essay version of my class notes from Class 14 of CS183: Startup. Errors and omissions are mine. Credit for good stuff is Peter’s.
Class 14 Notes Essay—Seeing Green
I. Thinking About Energy
Alternative energy and cleantech have attracted an enormous amount of investment capital and attention over the last decade. Almost nothing has worked as well as people expected. The cleantech experience can thus be quite instructive. Asking important questions about what went wrong and what can be done better is a very good way to review and apply many of the things we’ve talked about in class.
A. The Right Framework
How should one think about energy as a sector? What’s an appropriate theoretical framework?
Revisiting the 2x2 matrix of determinate/indeterminate and optimistic/pessimistic futures may be useful. To recap, here are examples of those respective quadrants:
Here is an essay version of class notes from Class 13 of CS183: Startup. Errors and omissions are mine. Credit for good stuff is Peter’s entirely.
Class 13 Notes Essay— You Are Not A Lottery Ticket
I. The Question of Luck
A. Nature of the Problem
The biggest philosophical question underlying startups is how much luck is involved when they succeed. As important as the luck vs. skill question is, however, it’s very hard to get a good handle on. Statistical tools are meaningless if you have a sample size of one. It would be great if you could run experiments. Start Facebook 1,000 times under identical conditions. If it works 1,000 out of 1,000 times, you’d conclude it was skill. If it worked just 1 time, you’d conclude it was just luck. But obviously these experiments are impossible.
The first cut at the luck vs. skill question is thus almost just a bias that one can have. Some people gravitate toward explaining things as lucky. Others are inclined to find a greater degree of skill. It depends on which narrative you buy. The internal narrative is that talented people got together, worked hard, and made things work. The external narrative chalks things up to right place, right time. You can change your mind about all this, but it’s tough to have a really principled, well-reasoned view on way or the other.
Here is an essay version of class notes from Class 10 of CS183: Startup. Errors and omissions are mine.
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and Partner at Greylock Partners, joined this class as a guest speaker. Credit for good stuff goes to him and Peter. I have tried to be accurate. But note that this is not a transcript of the conversation.
Class 12 Notes Essay—War and Peace
I. War Without
For better or for worse, we are all very well acquainted with war. The U.S. has been fighting the War on Terror for over a decade. We’ve had less literal wars on cancer, poverty and drugs.
But most of us don’t spend much time thinking about why war happens. When is it justified? When is it not? It’s important to get a handle on these questions in various contexts because the answers often map over to the startup context as well. The underlying question is a constant: how can we tilt away from destructive activity and towards things that are beneficial and productive?
It often starts as theater. People threaten each other. Governments point missiles at each other. Nations become obsessed with copying one another. We end up with things like the space race. There was underlying geopolitical tension when Fischer faced off with Spassky in the Match of the Century in 1972. Then there was the Miracle on Ice where the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviets in 1980. These were thrilling and intense events. But they were theater. Theater never seems all that dangerous at first. It seems cool. In a sense, the entire Cold War was essentially theater—instead of fighting and battles, there was just an incredible state of tension, rivalry, and competition.
Here is an essay version of class notes from Class 11 of CS183: Startup. Errors and omissions are mine. Credit for good stuff is Peter’s.
Class 11 Notes Essay—Secrets
Back in class one, we identified a very key question that you should continually ask yourself: what important truth do very few people agree with you on? To a first approximation, the correct answer is going to be a secret. Secrets are unpopular or unconventional truths. So if you come up with a good answer, that’s your secret.
How many secrets are there in the world? Recall that, reframed in a business context, the key question is: what great company is no one starting? If there are many possible answers, it means that there are many great companies that could be created. If there are no good answers, it’s probably a very bad idea to start a company. From this perspective, the question of how many secrets exist in our world is roughly equivalent to how many startups people should start.