Sunday, October 21, 2012

startup advising

One of my favorite career experiences is mentoring. It is so exciting to catch people in liminal moments, whether they are considering a career move, learning a new technology, or starting to build and run a team. Since I started Quantopian, I've connected with more startups, and I'm starting to meet more people who want entrepreneurship and startup advice. Learning how to make product, build a team, and open a market is hard won experience, which makes it all the sweeter to share with new entrepreneurs. It takes me back to the first time I made a pitch deck, or (less fondly) to my first sales pitch. I utterly bombed. My boss at the time asked me if I could sell a thirsty man a glass of water in the desert (answer: most likely not).

With sales, I had mentors over the years who let me keep trying, who gave me advice on how to be better, and pointed out the rare times when I did something right (actually the hardest part of improving I think).  After years of coaching and practice, I still have loads to learn, but just this year I've started to think of myself as a competent salesman. So much of the early days of a startup is selling to employees, investors, users, and partners - the last year has been intense practice selling.

And that's why I'd like to mentor more people. Not just because it is fun to recount the stories where I learned, but because I'd like to pay forward the encouragement I received from the people I worked with and for over the years. To make any headway, people have to bet on you and trust you to deliver. I developed the confidence to ask people to trust me because of heaps of coaching and encouragement.

If you're starting a company, feel like you need a little of those two things, let me know. I'd love to help!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Quantopian's Mission

Inspiration struck last weekend, and I started writing about Quantopian's mission. It was one of the more satisfying writing experiences I've had in a long time - I felt myself gaining clarity on why I wanted to create Quantopian, and what I hope it will become. With ample editing from the famous Dan Dunn, the result is the Quantopian Manifesto.

Most of all I want Quantopian to be something I don't regret loving. Something I look back on and cherish pouring my heart into. I know that to accomplish that, Quantopian needs to do something good, something that improves society.

Quant trading and social good? Come on,  right?

Quantopian isn't just about trading. Quantopian is about leveling a playing field. Quantopian is about enabling creativity, and sharing the results. I really believe that's something worth doing.

Let me know if you think I'm nuts :).

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Quantopian Update

I've been working for almost a year on Quantopian! The year passed very quickly, but the exuberance I felt embarking on a new venture hasn't faded one bit. One of my best friends (JB) joined as co-founder in January, we hired a stellar python engineer in early February (the world famous RealDiehl), and lately an ML specialist. The four of us have been heads down on a from-scratch build of the Quantopian backtesting engine and IDE. Working with my teammates has been exhilarating and humbling - the code they cut is beautiful stuff, and the breadth of their combined expertise is overwhelming. 

We are still sprinting to roll the latest and greatest to private alpha but we need more help! Please check out the Quantopian jobs page and pass it to your nerd/geek/hacker/supercool friends and anyone who wants to come hack Wall Street with us.

Another big announcement: Quantopian will soon have a permanent office right in town Boston. We debated heavily where we should base ourselves: NYC, Boston, or San Francisco. I had Caitie and the kids ready to roll west, but one of our board members made an impassioned pitch for Boston. He got us to fall in love with the Hub all over again. In Boston, a startup stands out against the backdrop of established businesses, the staid medical profession, and academia. In a way, you feel a bit more respect for the risks you're taking with a new venture. You also feel just a tad crazy trying to start something brand new while you watch friends in other industries enjoy the country club living. That is good, because you have to be a little crazy to try starting a company. If you forget that, you might lull yourself into thinking this startup life is a safe bet, which would likely be the last thing to cross your mind before you flame out. 

On the more practical side, Boston is where JB and I have the strongest network. After we made the decision to stay in Boston, JB found a great article describing the quantitative analysis of startups done at Google Ventures. Here's the best snippet: 
Kraus says that analysts have discovered research that overturns some of Silicon Valley's most cherished bits of lore. Take that old idea that it pays to fail in the Valley: Wrong! Google Ventures' analysts found that first-time entrepreneurs with VC backing have a 15% chance of creating a successful company, while second-timers who had an auspicious debut see a 29% chance of repeating their achievement. By contrast, second-time entrepreneurs who failed the first time? They have only a 16% chance of success, in effect returning them to square one. "Failure doesn't teach you much," Kraus says with a shrug.
Location, in fact, plays a larger role in determining an entrepreneur's odds than failure, according to the Google Ventures data team. A guy who founded a successful company in Boston but is planning to start his next firm in San Francisco isn't a sure bet. "He'll revert back to that 15% rate," Kraus says, "because he's out of his personal network and that limits how quickly he can scale up." 
Nice to have a little statistical rationale, but it was really the speech in the board room that got us.

If you want to read more about Quantopian, please also check out the inaugural Quantopian blog post

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Owning versus Earning

There are two ways to make jingle: own something, or earn money.

Our tax code favors ownership. I'm not an economist, so I can't begin to explain why that would or wouldn't be justified for the health of our economy (there's already plenty of economists doing that, here's a liberal leaning one talking about a right leaning one). I'm not a historian, so I can't tell you why it is the way it is, although my intuition is it is a vestigial policy of agrarian society where preservation of property was essential. But that's just a total guess.

What I do know is this - most people are not owners. Most people are debtors. The only two things debtors have going for them are: inflation and their income. As a person who's spent a good deal of time and effort trying to jump from the bottom 25% to the top 25% of economic classes, I can also tell you that the biggest hurdle is income tax. Government sponsored loans and grants, individual generosity, and a healthy portion of good luck, gave me my education, which transformed my life in every possible way (met nearly all my business partners in school, including my wife!). So, I can't really complain about paying my taxes. If you're old enough some of your taxes put me through prep school and college (thanks btw).

So, I'm not complaining. It is perfectly just for the society that aided me to expect me to pay taxes to do good for the other members of society. Nope, I'm not complaining, I'm just saying the tax code is flagrantly unfair and completely boneheaded.

The American dream, or at least my version of it, is everyone gets a fair shot at making it to the top of the economic strata, while enjoying generous freedoms along the way. The only rule is you will not be stopped based on color, creed, disability, gender, or other immutable personal traits. The problem is ownership, and the favorable taxes in bestows, is inherited. You don't have much control over what you own at birth. So, by favoring ownership with taxes, I think we've basically legalized a bias against an immutable personal trait: the economic circumstances into which you were born.

I'm not saying you need to disallow the transfer of property between generations. You earned it, go ahead and give it to the kids. But do we need to throw a huge headwind in front of everyone who wasn't born with it? Income tax is the largest barrier to accumulating property. It directly inhibits people from enjoying the same right of bestowing property on their own kids. By taxing income from labor twice as much as property, we block the only avenue to generating new wealth for those born without it. How can that be good for society?

My career has ended up being about startups. Very luckily, startups are all about creating new property to own as a founder. I happen to think creating new property from practically nothing is a very good thing for society, and if you have the gumption, I think you should go for it yourself. It may be the only realistic (not necessarily easy) way to make the leap from the bottom to the top. Maybe there is something to be said for encouraging that. But, I just don't think anyone understands the effects of taxes on the economy nearly well enough to justify social engineering with tax policy. So, in the absence of a more perfect understanding of the way taxes affect society, I think we have to default to the most simple model that would provide a level playing field: everyone pays the same tax rate.

Given the huge concentration in wealth and ownership, and hence the higher portion of tax receipts from the wealthy, we could probably maintain our tax revenues by making a small increase in cap gains, and a huge reduction in income tax. How about we make them both 20%? That seems fair to me. And if federal lawmakers can't find a budget that allows for the defense of the country, dignified retirement years, healthcare for everyone, and adequate national infrastructure investments with 20% of what we all produce then... can we just fire them? please?

Oh, speaking of lawmakers - and I mean you Congress - everyone knows you only use taxes to do favors. It is codified patronage. Tax policy is a joke, and frankly I don't think you guys should be able to make it evermore byzantine. Instead of the flash bomb politics at play debating whether the constitution should be amended to define marriage (for the record, my definition is: willing submission of your personal decisions to the will of one other person. Free advice - if by some miracle you find someone with whom you can mutually do that, marry them.), how about we do something practical and change the constitution to stipulate a flat tax rate and a limit on the national debt. Congress still gets to decide how to spend the receipts, but we stop pretending they can do good for anyone but themselves with tax policy. If they want to raise the tax rate, then amend the constitution again and raise it (see my notes above regarding firing, I wouldn't expect you folks to fair well in an election following a constitutional amendment to raise taxes).

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Ruby 1.9.3-p0 with Rails 3.2.0 on Ubuntu 10.4

For the last 8 months I've been learning ruby on rails. My only work has been on a mac and in deployment heroku. Recently we decided to set up a jenkins server to run continuous integration against our commits, and we chose ubuntu for the host. As with any new configuration, there were lots of wrinkles, particularly since we are using the latest of ruby and rails.

The ruby-debug-base19 gem has been particularly tricky. I think it is because the issues around it are fairly new, so google debugging isn't as effective as it will be in a few weeks as more and more people run into the problems with installing this destined-to-be-common configuration.

So, I was really thrilled when I ran across this gist. It is one of those discoveries that, even after all these years, makes you just love the internet :). But, the experience is so much better because of github. Github is one of the very few new applications that promotes individual creativity and collaboration. Because the code I found from a fellow sufferer was a gist, I was tempted to fork it and tidy it up a bit more. I'm not the only one, half a dozen visitors did the same in different directions. The ease of use for github dramatically increases the velocity of creative collaboration. Hopefully more and more applications will learn to do the same, so we're using the internet for production in addition to consumption. Here is my final script, hth: 

Monday, January 16, 2012

things i look up way too often

to be updated from time to time...

  • easy_install places egg files in this directory: /Library/Python/x.y/site-packages
    • where x.y is the python version.
  • easy_install can control the current version of a package with:
    • easy_install PackageName==1.11
  • calling a python parent class' init method:
    • BaseClass.__init__(self, args...)