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Transcendence: Admiration, Envy, and Effort

Last week, two friends and I and delved into one of our many deep existentialist conversations during lunch in a French Bakery. We really enjoy these talks, and it gets us firing the intellectual pistons at full speed, because we challenge each other’s thoughts at extremes.

This time we were talking about why people keep going, especially the entrepreneurs and very driven humans that we all admire. Why people that have “made it” already for the history books, put everything at risk to start all over again. Why is there no end to the discovery of human intellect? Why do we continue our journey in the pursuit of happiness not as an accident, but instead in self-awareness and consciousness? We talked Ghandy, Leonidas, Newton, Jobs, Hitler and Edison.

Food, Sex and Social Recognition were the “Crepe of the Day”, our answer to everything. This is not the first time we approach these subjects, but somewhat everytime takes a slightly different direction and new information surfaces. Food, Sex and Social Recognition turns out to be the only three things that cause human pleasure and happiness, and therefore the things we live for. We are not geniuses, nor the very first to arrive here, and we do get validation from Frankl, Nietzsche, and even Dale Carnegie. The food and sex part are easy, and almost everyone gets it… they put primal animal instincts at play when we are truly hungry and we eat, and when we have sex and feel aroused. There is no thinking, only enjoyment.

But what about social recognition? That one sounds out of the left field, with so many other “obvious” things to go for. Where do you leave the money? How about “making the world a better place”? Or family first? How come you can say social recognition if you only care about your children? Some people are not media friendly, how can they care for any recognition? How about the selfless acts of Gandhi, Mandela, or MLK? There’s your counter argument!

All self-driven individuals are so because they seek social immortality

The only way to prove that social recognition is the only leg self-driven individuals stand on, and what drives our human nature (and more prominently the entrepreneurship nature), we need to use a thought experiment. We’ll call this one thought experiment #1:


Place yourself in a world where you are all along. You are the only human alive in the whole world (and therefore, there’s lack of social context).

The great thing is, you can have all the pleasures you can imagine, there is magically new movies that come out on theaters everyday. There are stores full of the most exquisite and exotic foods you want and love. Unlimited forms of entertainment, technology, and power in your control. You have at your disposal all the cars, yachts, planes, and every single toy you may imagine. Robots that fulfill your every need all around you, waiting for your command.

Would you still be a driven person? Would you still want to make the world a better place? Would you still seek purpose, passion, mastery, want more of X?

If you feel that world is paradise, you are already NOT a self-driven person. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with that (although I secretly want to fix you), you are just not seeking alpha, and maybe you have a god.

For the rest of us, that world is hell.

What are you talking about Michel? That sounds like paradise! If you think so, you are either not ready to consider the proposition in a serious way, OR you are already broken and you are already a social parasite.

And what about the money? Well… if you have money, you have a lot more meta-freedom, which gives you influence and power, and that gives you the opportunity to change the world in meaningful ways (for better or worse)… aaaand that’s social recognition.

I’m a contributor to OSS, I do it because I love it, and I make no money from it. But contributing to it increases your craft, which increases your mastery, which increases your public profile as a master of the subject, which gives you social recognition, because you are making the world a better place. Would you still be a contributor to OSS in that world where you are alone ? (I’ll let you ponder the question — for what?)

Thought experiment #2 will help us further consolidate the cases that money, love and mastery are nothing more than avenues to Social Recognition, and it goes something like this:


Let's assume you have a Magic Banker, from “Magic Bank Inc”, and this Magic Banker is ready to serve you (and nobody else in the world) with UNLIMITED cash anytime you want. You have the absolute freedom to ask for any amount of money you want and he will give it to you and to you only. But there are two rules:
1. Every other person in the world knows you have effortless access to unlimited money. In other words, everyone understands that you didn't earn it, and that was given to you with no effort.
2. You can not do any action for yourself or anybody else if you think may elicit admiration from your effort in other people. 
In other words, you cannot donate your time in humanitarian causes, or help other people in any way, unless the act itself results in these people having a SOLID understanding that doing so required no EFFORT from your side, and therefore you will never receive any ADMIRATION, because you really didn’t give a flying fuck.

Would you still want to live in that world?

An interesting realization after thought experiment #2 is that people may still admire you for your wealth, but never for your efforts, which looks more like a source of envy. The other observation is that getting recognized for effort is key in the attainment of social recognition… and effort is something very personal, and you cannot trick yourself into believing you stretched yourself in achieving something, when you didn’t.

Social recognition is almost a recipe with some ingredients that come from you, like how much EFFORT was required from you, and some ingredients like ADMIRATION or ENVY (or disdain) that come from how society perceives your efforts. That’s why:

  • Self-made millionaires, entrepreneurs: admired from overcoming adversity (effort)
  • Leaders, Heroes: admired for leading others overcome adversity (effort)
  • Inventors, Artists, Athletes: admired for their talent and skill (effort)
  • Lottery winners: envied for their luck (no-effort)
  • Son of a Billionaire: envied for their family’s wealth (no-effort)

It doesn’t matter if you are Hitler, Jobs or Gandhi, had it not been for your efforts and some form of admiration or hate from others, you would’ve not ended in the history books.

Admiration can come from different sources, not only the popular vote. A father whose life has been devoted to the growth and success of his children, is admired by his family, and that may be enough for him. Many people receive a huge source of their happiness from the recognition they get from a handful of close people, or even one other person. That’s still social recognition, and they feel immortal because of it. It transcend life, because you exist through someone else’s perception of you.

Immortality. That’s the fuel that keeps us going.

We had coffee and french pastries, and left with more clarity around what makes people tick, and keep going, and it looks something like this:

Conscious Effort + Social Recognition = Happiness

Everything worthwhile in life, looks like a battle that is worth fighting, is never an easy one. No effort, no story. No people, no transcendence. No conscious decision, no admiration. Without effort and admiration, there is no happiness… unless you are having sex or eating out of pure animal pleasure… which is also amazing!

PS: Thanks to Leo and Christian for helping craft the ideas on this post; and for their unwavering desire to explore human nature.

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A Class on "Employee Equity" [Video]

This is a class given by Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures. Very insightful as to how the VC world works and how to structure employee equity for your startup. Fred's blog is http://www.avc.com. There is a section titled MBA Mondays where he usually gives quite interesting talks and publishes posts to help in the money matters and transparency for startups and VCs.

This particular class I found it on the SkillShare's LiveStream. You can watch the full video by clicking on the image below

Click to Play

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Facebook S1 - Love

After reading Facebook's S1 registration statement with the SEC for their IPO,  I gotta say, this is one inspiring piece of document, guaranteed to become a cult for selling a culture and a motive for existence from any entrepreneur and company. In Twitter Dave McClure (@davemcclure), from 500 Startups, wrote:

Dear @FacebookS1: if I pressed my body next 2 ur disclaimer, would u hold it against me?

.... I thought it was pretty funny, and I feel the same. I've read this SEC S1 filing a few times already and it is not only brilliant and detailed, but also inspiring and a public eye opener to the culture Mark Zuckerberg has created in Facebook. Many pieces of this document sit right next to the Think Different commercial, and Steve Job's Stanford Commencement Address.

Some of my favorite quotes in the text:

Done is better than perfect

The riskiest thing is to take no risks

There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: “Code wins arguments

Inspiring, humble, amazing, ambitious, quality, values, and many other words come to mind when reading the text.

Time will tell, but I bet this document will be remembered for decades to come. The bar was raised.

Read on an excerpt of Mark's remarks:

 

"Simply put: we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.

And we think this is a good way to build something. These days I think more and more people want to use services from companies that believe in something beyond simply maximizing profits.

By focusing on our mission and building great services, we believe we will create the most value for our shareholders and partners over the long term — and this in turn will enable us to keep attracting the best people and building more great services. We don’t wake up in the morning with the primary goal of making money, but we understand that the best way to achieve our mission is to build a strong and valuable company.

This is how we think about our IPO as well. We’re going public for our employees and our investors. We made a commitment to them when we gave them equity that we’d work hard to make it worth a lot and make it liquid, and this IPO is fulfilling our commitment. As we become a public company, we’re making a similar commitment to our new investors and we will work just as hard to fulfill it.

The Hacker Way

As part of building a strong company, we work hard at making Facebook the best place for great people to have a big impact on the world and learn from other great people. We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way.

The word “hacker” has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.

The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.

Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.

Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works. There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: “Code wins arguments.”

Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win — not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.

To encourage this approach, every few months we have a hackathon, where everyone builds prototypes for new ideas they have. At the end, the whole team gets together and looks at everything that has been built. Many of our most successful products came out of hackathons, including Timeline, chat, video, our mobile development framework and some of our most important infrastructure like the HipHop compiler.

To make sure all our engineers share this approach, we require all new engineers — even managers whose primary job will not be to write code — to go through a program called Bootcamp where they learn our codebase, our tools and our approach. There are a lot of folks in the industry who manage engineers and don’t want to code themselves, but the type of hands-on people we’re looking for are willing and able to go through Bootcamp.

The examples above all relate to engineering, but we have distilled these principles into five core values for how we run Facebook:

Focus on Impact

If we want to have the biggest impact, the best way to do this is to make sure we always focus on solving the most important problems. It sounds simple, but we think most companies do this poorly and waste a lot of time. We expect everyone at Facebook to be good at finding the biggest problems to work on.

Move Fast

Moving fast enables us to build more things and learn faster. However, as most companies grow, they slow down too much because they’re more afraid of making mistakes than they are of losing opportunities by moving too slowly. We have a saying: “Move fast and break things.” The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.

Be Bold

Building great things means taking risks. This can be scary and prevents most companies from doing the bold things they should. However, in a world that’s changing so quickly, you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t take any risks. We have another saying: “The riskiest thing is to take no risks.” We encourage everyone to make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time.

Be Open

We believe that a more open world is a better world because people with more information can make better decisions and have a greater impact. That goes for running our company as well. We work hard to make sure everyone at Facebook has access to as much information as possible about every part of the company so they can make the best decisions and have the greatest impact.

Build Social Value

Once again, Facebook exists to make the world more open and connected, and not just to build a company. We expect everyone at Facebook to focus every day on how to build real value for the world in everything they do.

Thanks for taking the time to read this letter. We believe that we have an opportunity to have an important impact on the world and build a lasting company in the process. I look forward to building something great together."

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One word WOW.

 

 

 

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Happy Hour for Entrepreneurs: World Hot Spots

This is where we hang out in the world. From the creators at Gist:

In this infographic, we examine the world’s up-and-coming tech communities – from Germany to Mexico to Indonesia and more – and compare them on a number of different factors, including entrepreneurial mindset, access to capital and general strengths and weaknesses

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2011 Quick Personal Re-cap

A quick re-cap to my 2011 year, where I :
  • Finished a SharePoint Masters program (my good wife reminds me I finished in Jan 2010, not 2011)
  • Moved back to Florida (from NY)
  • Moved houses/apartments 3 times (Port Washington, NY -> Pompano Beach, FL -> Fort Lauderdale, FL).
  • Found a great place to live (Las Olas Blvd in Fort Lauderdale, FL)
  • Changed jobs 3 times
  • Co-founded Advise.me
  • Went to TechCrunch Disrupt and launched Advise.me
  • Went back to school again in FL (Barry University)
  • Visited Austin Texas for the first time, and reconnected with some good old friends.
  • Founded Ninut
  • Started working on an exciting new product with the Ninut Team.
  • Visited Peru for the first time, my wife's homeland. I got to visit one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, Machu Picchu, and got to know all of Vanessa's family and friends.

A wild year, but I wouldn't change it one bit. Every experience was learning fuel to keep me going and do it better on the next round. I'm ready for a 2012 full of challenges. I'm very excited about the future of Ninut, the product and the team. I can feel it; 2012 will be an awesome year!

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Entrepreneurial Talks: Lean Startup

At the very fabric of Ninut and the products we build, the Lean Startup mentality is the practice we embrace. Transparent, user-validated experiences that allow us to build only the things you really want, and have very quick turnarounds. Joe has been super active in his blogging lately and I have some catch up to do :P

The team is building, we are in the zone, and the public may have the opportunity to play around in our backyard very very soon.

In the meantime, here is a complementary video to THIS POST on Joe's blog (super funny), continuing with the theme of our experience as entrepreneurs trying to 'put a ding in the universe'.

The video is about a conference Eric Ries gave where he's evangelizing the Lean Startup Movement (#leanstartup) at Stanford University, what it is and why Lean is so AWESOME. Check it out!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGXAVw3vF9A&w=420&h=315]

Here is a more recent one:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tYhotTwkjU&w=560&h=315]

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