Head of Product at Disruption Corp. O'Reilly author. Figuring things out in the intersection of code, design and venture capital.

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Gut, data and biases in Venture Capital

A version of this post was originally published at the Disruption Corporation blog and can also be read there.

Since the early days of venture capital, the investment process has been based on a combination of gut, people and deal timing. And while data has always been a part of that equation, it never took center stage.

Recently, however, we’ve seen the emergence of quantitative venture capital. Funds and angels collect data on startups and use that data to guide deal scouting and the decision making process. At Disruption Corporation, we stand on the thesis that data can help investors make better decisions. Over the past year, we’ve been working on tools to support that thesis - one of those tools being Indicate.

During this process, we’ve had some time to think about some of the problems when dealing with data and making data-informed decisions. Here are some of the things we...

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Diminuished substitutes

Most of our communication technologies began as diminished substitutes for an impossible activity. We couldn’t always see one another face to face, so the telephone made it possible to keep in touch at a distance. One is not always home, so the answering machine made a kind of interaction possible without the person being near his phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered, for whatever reasons, too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster, and more mobile, messaging. These inventions were not created to be improvements upon face-to-face communication, but a declension of acceptable, if diminished, substitutes for it.

But then a funny thing happened: we began to prefer the diminished substitutes.

Finally got a chance to read Jonathan Foer’s opinion piece from last week’s New York Times...

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When you go flat

Today Apple announced their new iOS 7, which among other things includes a new strikingly flat UI design. Flat design has been around for a while now, making its way onto smartphone operating systems, desktop apps, and our webpages. And flat UI itself follows a trend that was already obvious in product design - that of hardware slabs, like the iPad, without obviously visible buttons.

Going flat, however, has its consequences. One of the most important consequences of flat design is that it blurs the line between what is content and what is interface. It puts pressure on typography and iconography, forcing them to now carry meaning that they previously might not have had. And because it forces so much onto icons and fonts, it also forces people to adapt to a new visual language, and rethink their usage patterns. This adaptation takes time.


Where you would look for subtle gradients...

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Just a couple of minutes

It would happen on most winter days where the sun was particularly bright. My grandparents would drive up to our place, and stay in the car for a few minutes before joining us inside. I could see them talk. Or they would be quiet sometimes - perhaps listening to the radio. Then they would finally join us.

These days I am the one staying in the car a few extra minutes. Taking in the rare warmth of the sun in the cold days of winter. It gives me peace, and lets me think alone. I wish my grandfather was still around so I could tell him how much I loved their tiny ritual. We all need time to stand still every once in a while.

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Dreams and aspirations

Dustin’s latest post hit home. Hard.

Humans are by default hopeful and optimistic creatures. We usually think about the future as though it will occur for us with absolute certainty, and that makes it hard to imagine death as a motivation for living. But knowing that my friend could potentially never wake up forced me, unexpectedly, to contemplate my personal drive for existence. Why do I do the things I do every day? Am I honestly acting out my dreams and aspirations? What’s my purpose? For a long time, when I was younger, I waited to discover my purpose. It was only very recently that I realized purpose is something you are supposed to create for yourself.

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Goal-oriented design

For a while I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason why Google Reader felt awkward, but earlier today it hit me: for a product called Google Reader, it doesn’t really let me read properly.

When designing a product, the question you should be constantly asking yourself is “what is the user trying to do here, and how does my interface help?”. In the case of Google Reader, I want to consume content I subscribe to - for the most part, that would be text. Suddenly, if having a great reading experience is a priority, everything changes. Line height and horizontal motion matters, background and text colors matter, white space matters. Every feature of the software and interface should be strained through the sieve of user goals.

A goal-oriented Google Reader would look drastically different. A goal-oriented Google Reader would not use 200 pixels of useless interface between the chrome of my...

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The future of discourse

These are interesting times in the world of online discourse. Twitter has been fading as a platform for conversation, as with its growth in popularity came a focus on celebrities, flat discussion and messing with third-party developers. While there are great nuggets of insight being tweeted every once in a while - and despite the fact that you get to make your own feed by following and unfollowing people -, Twitter feels flat these days.

As Twitter almost substituted blogs, I see a return to long-form writing in the future. And others seem to agree, as services like Svbtle, Medium (like Twitter, from Obvious corp) and Branch have been launching recently, showing a rekindled passion for prose.

I am a fan of the way discussion takes place in the blogosphere. You quote someone, you link over to their blog, you add to the conversation by expressing your ideas in your voice and pace -...

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App.net and you

There’s been a ton of discourse on Dalton Caldwell’s App.net lately, and now that its funding goal of $500k has been reached, I thought I’d write a few lines on the reasons why I am a backer, and why I believe it is a necessary product today.

I have to preface this by saying I love Twitter. I joined in the very early days (easy to guess by my username), when it was still called Twttr and was basically a hangout for people I knew from the valley. It didn’t solve any particular problem at the time, but it grew into a way for people to stay in touch, a micropublishing platform, and a backchannel for, well, most things these days.

Twitter is free, yes, but not really. Allow me to explain. Those guys (a great team of people) have been at it for years, and need to make ends meet. Turning their millions of users into paying customers would be a flop, so their customers are instead - you...

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The burning house

At the end of last year, I decided it was time to focus on doing things that were meaningful to me. The Burning House is a project that could easily fit that bill and that I’m envious for not starting myself. Below, one of the many submissions they have up on the site. Beautiful project.


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Craftsmanship and perfection

Jiro Ono is 85 years old, and he’s dedicated his entire life to his craft - he is considered the best sushi chef in the world. What’s amazing about Jiro and many other craftsmen who are at the top of what they do, is that regardless of their status as the best, they still search for perfection. Perfection is a hard thing to define, and more importantly, a hard thing to achieve. But when you make it a part of your ethos; when you aim for it every day, it does not matter if you get there - what matters is what you’ve made and learned along the path.

“Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what he taught me.”

Yoshikazu Ono on “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

If you make things, you sit somewhere on the line between someone who works and a craftsman, and the position you take along that line permeates through everything...

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