Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Do Computer Glasses Really Work?

Do Computer Glasses Really Work?:
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Why hiring B players will kill your startup

Why hiring B players will kill your startup:
This is a guest post by investor Jon Soberg
B players and C players are far worse than D’s and F’s. In fact, in my experience, B players are the worst hires you can make.
Before getting into the details, it may be useful to level-set and explain what I mean by these employee stereotypes (although there have been some differences of opinion over the years.)
A player: Fully self-sufficient and takes initiative that positively impacts the company.
B player: Does some things well, but not fully self-sufficient, and not consistently strong.
C player: Just average, and does not excel in any area.
D player: Poor performer, and shouldn’t last long if you are a half-capable manager.
F player: Should be out…like yesterday.

Good Enough is the Enemy of Great

When you have someone on your team that you think is doing well enough, you will likely trust them with mission-critical tasks like hiring or pushing code. This will impact the entire evolution of your company. If you entrust important decisions to someone who is just “good enough,” you will watch the opportunities pass.
This is why hiring B players will kill your company. The work will be good, but not great. They will deliver on time most of the time, and hustle sometimes, but not always.
Let’s say you are in a startup, and you have a B player as your vice president of sales. The person will close a good account, but won’t consistently beat targets. If they go head-to-head against a competitor with better salespeople, this person (and potentially the whole startup) will lose. If you’re an early-stage startup, you are walking dead. Raising the next round will be like selling against a stronger competitor — you won’t ultimately win.
I have built multiple engineering teams from the ground up, and I always started with an anchor rock star.  The engineer that everyone wanted to work with, and whose work was so solid that he or she made everyone else more efficient and effective.  I’ve been asked before how many engineers it would take to replace someone like that, and the correct answer is that there is no way to replace a person like this.  Even if I could hire 10 B player engineers for the same price, I would never do it.  The product quality would suffer and the time-to-market would slow; you simply can’t replace skill with numbers.

Lessons learned

My opinions on hiring and people haven’t come by accident. I’ve got scars from my career (and I’ve seen it from many angles — founder, executive, consultant, investor). I’ve made some pretty bad hires along the way. The really bad hires are the easy ones — it is obvious when someone fails or is clearly the wrong fit. You wonder what you were thinking, but at the end of the day, you can reverse these mistakes quickly and efficiently.
I have needed to fire a fair number of people as well, and I will say this is one learning from my experience — I have never felt that I fired someone too soon.
At one of my startups, I fired my entire QA department and made the engineers do all their own QA. The result: better quality product, released faster. The QA department had become a bottleneck, and they weren’t doing quality work. The engineers weren’t happy, the product management team wasn’t happy, and the product suffered. I saw the release cycles slowing down, and saw some of the tension between the QA and Engineering departments. As I dug in, my conclusion was one I had not originally wanted to see — I had a B player at the top of the QA department, and the rest of the department was B and below. It was killing us. My biggest mistake was not recognizing it sooner.
When I was a little boy, my uncle used to tell me “he who hesitates is lost.” Those are words to live by.
I have plenty of individual examples as well, and the toughest ones are always the ones who are doing fine. Managers often blame themselves. Is the job not well-defined? Does the person have enough support? Maybe they just need more time, and they will improve. It isn’t easy to find great people, so why let the decent person go hoping to find someone better?
There is an opportunity cost to keeping someone when you could do better. At a startup, that opportunity cost may be the difference between success and failure. Do you give less than full effort to make your enterprise a success? As an entrepreneur, you sweat blood to succeed. Shouldn’t you have a team that performs like you do?
Every person you hire who is not a top player is like having a leak in the hull. Eventually you will sink.
Jon with jacketJon Soberg is a Managing Director at Blumberg Capital, where he invests in early stage companies, specializing in FinTech, SaaS, and eCommerce. Prior to joining Blumberg Capital, Jon has been a serial entrepreneur and senior executive in multiple companies including Ditech, Broadband Digital Group and Adforce, which had a highly successful IPO.  
A CFA Charterholder and adjunct faculty in the Wharton Marketing Department, Jon earned a B.S in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College, an M.S. in Engineering from Northwestern University, and an MBA in Entrepreneurial Management and Marketing from the Wharton School, where he is a Palmer Scholar.
Top image via wavebreakmedia // Shutterstock

Filed under: Business, Entrepreneur

Five Coursera classes now approved for college credit

Five Coursera classes now approved for college credit:
online education for the masses
A big step forward for online education: Coursera has announced that students can now apply credit to their college degree for five of its free courses.
Public confidence in massive open online courses (“MOOC’s”) was hit hard this week when Coursera suspended one its online courses due to technical glitches and complaints. A bit ironically, as GigaOm points out, the course in question was intended to teach students how to optimize online education.
Coursera competitor Udacity recently announced a pilot program in conjunction with San Jose State University to offer online courses for college credit. But Coursera claims to be the first to gain a recommendation from American Council on Education (ACE). About 2000 colleges and universities in the U.S. currently accept this form of ACE approved credit.
The five courses approved today are four undergraduate credit courses:
  • Pre-calculus from the University of California, Irvine.
  • Introduction to Genetics and Evolution from Duke University.
  • Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach from Duke University.
  • Calculus: Single Variable from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Algebra from the University of California, Irvine (but only as a vocational credit).
Students that complete one of these classes can request a transcript with credit recommendations. Credit is granted at the discretion of the institution.
“We are excited by this opportunity to experiment with new ways of using our MOOC [massive open online] courses to extend our educational reach and provide credit for students who would not otherwise have access to our faculty,” said Duke Provost Peter Lange in a statement.
The company revealed that it will continue to push for more of its courses to be transferrable as college credit. Daphne Koller, Coursera’s cofounder, said that by adding these credential options, they hope to “increase the rate of degree completion and reduce the burden of college debt.”
Coursera’s founders — former Stanford professors — expect to experience their fair share of ups and downs as the technology evolves. In a recent interview with VentureBeat, Coursera’s founder Andrew Ng said it has been a “slow road”, but the company’s success proves online education is “no passing fad.” Universities like Brown and Duke currently offer free courses on Coursera.
Coursera has raised over $22 million in funding to date from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates, among others.

Filed under: Entrepreneur

There Are Now Six IBM Watsons, Here’s What They’re Doing

There Are Now Six IBM Watsons, Here’s What They’re Doing:

IBM's cognitive supercomputer, called Watson, famously won Jeopardy two years ago. That was just the beginning. IBM has built six Watsons in the last year, deploying them to do what the system was designed for: Give healthcare professionals fast answers to complex medical questions.
Both the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and WellPoint have gotten themselves a Watson, and have been training them in the last year to apply its learning algorithms and vast computing power to helping patients. Similar to Siri, Watson was designed to give useful answers to natural-language questions. Rather than spitting back a series of links like a traditional search engine, Watson tries to find the…
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The Porsche 911: An ode to iteration

The Porsche 911: An ode to iteration:
The Porsche 911 celebrates its 50th anniversary. What an incredible run. The 911 has always served as special inspiration to those who believe in long-term iteration. Excellence takes its time.

Professors Rejecting Classroom Technology

Professors Rejecting Classroom Technology: CowboyRobot writes "The January edition of Science, Technology & Human Values published an article titled, Technological Change and Professional Control in the Professoriate, that details interviews with 42 faculty members at three research-intensive universities. The research concludes that faculty have little interest in the latest IT solutions. 'I went to [a course management software workshop] and came away with the idea that the greatest thing you could do with that is put your syllabus on the Web and that's an awful lot of technology to hand the students a piece of paper at the start of the semester and say keep track of it,' said one. 'What are the gains for students by bringing IT into the class? There isn't any. You could teach all of chemistry with a whiteboard. I really don't think you need IT or anything beyond a pencil and a paper,' said another."

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