Dividing the Pie

Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t ask me about stock option grants to founders and employees of their startup. The questions range from how much to give to founders and when to vesting schedules and everything in between. This week the following blog post showed up in my Medium thread.

Woodstock 50 Canceled

This morning I awoke to the news that Woodstock 50 has been canceled. It’s probably a good thing, since sequels never are as good as the original. That said, the various anniversaries that have been celebrated this year got me thinking about what life was like for me 50 years ago in Silver Lake, an unincorporated swath of land sandwiched in between Belleville, Bloomfield and Newark, New Jersey.

My 30 Minutes with an American Hero

Thirty years ago as a second-year student at Harvard Business School I had the privilege of interviewing Perot for the school newspaper, The Harbus News. I still have a micro cassette of the interview, but alas no player on which to listen to it. However, the book shelf in my home office sits a large format coffee table book that was gathering dust. In it was every issue of The Harbus published between February 1988 and January 1989. It took a lot of page turning, but I found the interview

#AmendSection230

Lot’s of political spaghetti is being thrown against the walls by 2020 Presidential hopefuls and Congress alike to see what might stick. This week’s hot topic is a call to break up big tech. Senator Elizabeth Warren was the first to call for break up back in March of this year. Now House Intelligence Chair (Yes, Congress is filled with oxymoronic names like this), Adam Schiff chimed in with a group of policymakers calling fro the repeal of protections afforded to tech platforms.

Fred Wilson recently expressed his displeasure with the thought of breaking up big tech in favor of opening up their platforms and treating them as protocols. I must admit it is a clever idea and one that wish I had come up with. However, I’m not sure if it solves the problem that has landed social media companies in the situation in which they find themselves. Privacy, or lack of it, and irresponsibility is the issue at large.

Though I do get a laugh watching Congressional leaders talk about SnapFace and Instabook, it does make me cringe to think that they are the policymakers for the rest of us. And like many issues that plague society today - opioid crisis, asset bubbles, student loan crisis - the roots are often found in misguided policies.

Back in March I wrote about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Which states that,

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

The act went into effect in 1996 when few in the world, let alone policymakers, even understood what the Internet was to become. Section 230 protects social media sites from getting sued for information that users publish on their platform. It basically grants them immunity that other news organizations do not have. There are some who contend that this law has had more to do with innovation and growth of the Internet than any other law. I guess if you feel strongly that giving voice to the banal is innovation then you are in this camp. I not sure that I agree.

So, lawmakers are now threatening to make broad changes to Section 230, but haven’t made any concrete proposals at this point. Other countries that have similar laws to Section 230, are now acting to make providers liable if they fail to take "effective and proportionate measures" to prevent users from uploading certain copyright violations and do not respond immediately to takedown requests.

When this law was enacted a bunch of what are now considered “big tech” social media companies didn’t even exist. So perhaps it was necessary to get the ball rolling. After all what would the average student do with all that time wasted watching their friends have a better time than they do? Read?

As I previously wrote, it will take years and cost millions of dollars to break up any one business. Amending Section 230 puts the onus on media companies to police themselves or face fines. Seems fair and equitable to me, but as always your opinions are welcome.

Engineers Who Answered The Call 75 Years Ago Today

If you have never visited the northern coast of France, I highly recommend doing so before memories begin to fade and a new generation decides to whitewash history. To stand on Omaha Beach and look around is awe inspiring and humbling. From the waterline you can look left, right and center and still see the remnants of Nazi bunkers that contained 80mm cannons and 50 calibre machine gunners. Anyone who landed on the beach that day was greeted by enfilade fire that took the lives of over 12,000 men.

Growth or Profits? Yes.

One question that kept coming up this week was whether investors are more interested in a growth story or a path to profitability. Everyone, especially those from outside the U.S. are baffled by unicorns like Lyft and Uber that state in their respective prospectuses that they may never be profitable. As you can imagine the discussions and opinions on this topic are wide ranging.

The Role of The Board

In an age where hardly a week goes by without learning of another CEO that has misappropriated funds, lied about a product’s status, been accused of sexual harassment, discrimination, or hid a security breach from the public, can we afford to have CEOs and founders with unilateral control over businesses that can influence societies and governments so negatively? This got me thinking about the role of the board of directors in particular at the most nascent stage of company formation.

Free Advice is Worth the Price

I recently turned down a former student of one of my BootCamps who asked me to be on his advisory board. I explained that it was not a statement of how I saw the business opportunity or him as an entrepreneur, but rather that I didn’t think I could be much help given both my location and lack of specific domain knowledge of his industry. Location is an important criteria especially if you need help building a team. Introductions to potential team members, investors, and customers is something an advisor should be able to do. If the proposed advisor’s network is in the northeast and you are located in Texas there is little that advisor can do to be of help.

Rethinking the Higher Ed Business Model

Can free public education in America work? Sure, but are American’s willing to deal with some of the unintended consequences of this shift? First, let’s look at who goes to college in other countries. In Australia only 36% of college age students attend university. In the UK the number hit a peak recently at 49% and in Germany a mere 30% attend university. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 69% of U.S. college age students are enrolled in college! Why does this matter?