Monday, November 16, 2015

Wary Of The “Next Warby” via @RedGiraffe

"If a product can be sold on Amazon, you can be sure the margin will asymptote toward zero."

-- @micahjay1

After Walmart started uprooting small towns of small stores, Sam Walton suggested that it might be true that it is hard for small stores to compete with Walmart on price, but they could beat Walmart on value add. What can be the value add for products that can be found on Amazon?

Can your product be custom made for individuals? Amazon could not do that. Can your product be made integral to some service only you can provide? Body oil might be cheap on Amazon, but Amazon does not do massages. Or therapy, for that matter. Amazon sells yoga mats, but it does not give yoga lessons.

When manufacturing itself is customized to each individual, Amazon is totally out of the picture. One size does not fit all. Not always. Maybe never, given the chance.

Wary Of The “Next Warby”
I fear that many of the more recent consumer product-oriented startups put too much stock in their ability to build a brand, or — even worse — their ability to hire an agency to build the brand for them. Strong marketing is certainly necessary, but not sufficient for building venture-scale businesses. ..... Slick messaging and innovative industrial design capture consumer attention, but it’s the founder’s focus on outsize profit margins that captures VC interest. ....... Eye care in the U.S., and most of the world, is dominated by a Swiss company called Luxottica. You’ve probably never heard of them, but they control 80 percent of the market for eyeglasses. ...... Like Apple, Luxottica has vertically integrated to such a degree that it’s very difficult for anyone else to compete. ...... The $9 billion U.S. mattress market is essentially controlled by two private equity firms who bought up the most valuable brands in the market. The companies that ran these businesses cost-engineered the products to make them cheaper to produce, for instance, by making mattresses singled-sided — which forces more frequent replacements. ........ Mattresses are big and bulky, and rely on specialty retail locations staffed by salespeople that make used-car salesman look honest. Still, limiting competition and channels meant margins were protected. Until Casper came along. ...... Casper cuts through this knot by shipping a full-sized mattress in a conventional box via UPS or courier. ....... Casper has been able to create a differentiated product at a low cost, figure out a better way to sell and deliver, all while keeping margin along the way. ..... Like the market for glasses and mattresses, the $3 billion U.S. razor market is huge and concentrated, with Gillette and Schick accounting for 70-90 percent of sales. ....... Razors have never been better, but that fanaticism for follicle removal comes with an obscene price tag. ..... Basically, if a product can be sold on Amazon, you can be sure the margin will asymptote toward zero. ..... Founders should bathe themselves in the nuance of an industry by attending trade shows and talking to insiders. .......

VCs and founders can act a bit like lemmings.

...... Mattresses were comfy or cost-effective before Casper, but they were never cool.

Friday, November 13, 2015

25K Becomes $110 Million In 5 Years

Secretive, Sprawling Network of ‘Scouts’ Spreads Money Through Silicon Valley
Sequoia Capital has funneled millions of dollars to scores of well-connected entrepreneurs and academics, who invest and look for ideas
Startup investor Jason

Calacanis took a $25,000 gamble five years ago on a company almost no one had heard of called UberCab. That investment in what is now Uber Technologies Inc. has ballooned to roughly $110 million.

..... Most of Sequoia’s scouts are entrepreneurs whose startups were funded by the firm. That means they know a lot about what Sequoia is looking for and will recommend the firm to other entrepreneurs. ....... Forging tight relationships that generate new deals for venture-capital firms is more important than ever as the cost of creating startups falls. The resulting acceleration in company launches has made it harder for venture-capital firms to identify the best opportunities as startups emerge. And competition is growing as new investors who are flush with capital invade the technology world. ...... Sequoia made early bets on many of today’s tech titans, including Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. ...... It was the only venture firm that backed messaging company WhatsApp, sold to Facebook Inc. last year for $22 billion. Sequoia invested about $60 million for a stake valued at $3.5 billion in the deal. Sequoia now owns stakes in 33 private, venture-capital-backed companies valued at more than $1 billion apiece, more than any other venture-capital firm. ...... If a scout’s investment is successful, the vast majority of gains are shared by the scout and Sequoia’s limited partners, Mr. Botha says. Other scouts and Sequoia partners themselves get a small piece of the gains. ..... Sequoia says it instructs scouts to tell startups in which they invest where the money is coming from. But the firm tries to hide the investments from rivals by making them through limited liability companies with odd names. The names include Dragonsteed LLC, Vermillistock LLC and Rocketbooster LLC. ...... In addition to a small number of professors who are scouts, a separate team of unpaid students at Stanford, Harvard University, Columbia University and other elite colleges is on the lookout for promising ideas and entrepreneurs. ...... “VCs want their brand names on campuses,” says Daniel Liem, who says he was a Sequoia scout while studying computer science at Stanford. “They want to find the next Zuckerberg or Spiegel,” Mr. Liem adds, referring to the founders of Facebook and Snapchat Inc. ...... Sequoia’s scouts usually invest about $30,000 at a time and are given initial access to about $100,000 a year. Mr. Botha says the amount can grow if scouts identify even more hot ideas. ..... For scouts, the appeal is membership in an elite club and free money to make seed investments, which they might not be able to afford. .... Scouts are a “very early warning system, like having a bunch of little satellites installed across the Valley, picking up blips on the radar,” he says.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Emmy Noether

The Mighty Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of
Albert Einstein called her the most “significant” and “creative” female mathematician of all time, and others of her contemporaries were inclined to drop the modification by sex. She invented a theorem that united with magisterial concision two conceptual pillars of physics: symmetry in nature and the universal laws of conservation. Some consider Noether’s theorem, as it is now called, as important as Einstein’s theory of relativity; it undergirds much of today’s vanguard research in physics, including the hunt for the almighty Higgs boson. ....... a brilliant theorist whose unshakable number love and irrationally robust sense of humor helped her overcome severe handicaps — first, being female in Germany at a time when most German universities didn’t accept female students or hire female professors, and then being a Jewish pacifist in the midst of the Nazis’ rise to power. ...... Through it all, Noether was a highly prolific mathematician, publishing groundbreaking papers, sometimes under a man’s name, in rarefied fields of abstract algebra and ring theory. And when she applied her equations to the universe around her, she discovered some of its basic rules,

like how time and energy are related

, and why it is, as the physicist Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute put it, “that riding a bicycle is safe.” ........ “You can make a strong case that her theorem is the backbone on which all of modern physics is built.” .... Noether came from a mathematical family. Her father was a distinguished math professor at the universities of Heidelberg and Erlangen, and her brother Fritz won some renown as an applied mathematician. Emmy, as she was known throughout her life, started out studying English, French and piano — subjects more socially acceptable for a girl — but her interests soon turned to math. Barred from matriculating formally at the University of Erlangen, Emmy simply audited all the courses, and she ended up doing so well on her final exams that she was granted the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. ....... earned her doctorate summa cum laude ..... In 1915 Einstein published his general theory of relativity. The Göttingen math department fell “head over ear” with it, in the words of one observer, and Noether began applying her invariance work to some of the complexities of the theory. That exercise eventually inspired her to formulate what is now called Noether’s theorem, an expression of the deep tie between the underlying geometry of the universe and the behavior of the mass and energy that call the universe home. ........ Wherever you find some sort of symmetry in nature, some predictability or homogeneity of parts, you’ll find lurking in the background a corresponding conservation — of momentum, electric charge, energy or the like. If a bicycle wheel is radially symmetric, if you can spin it on its axis and it still looks the same in all directions, well, then, that symmetric translation must yield a corresponding conservation. By applying the principles and calculations embodied in Noether’s theorem, you’ll see that it is angular momentum, the Newtonian impulse that keeps bicyclists upright and on the move. ..........

Some of the relationships to pop out of the theorem are startling, the most profound one linking time and energy.

Noether’s theorem shows that a symmetry of time — like the fact that whether you throw a ball in the air tomorrow or make the same toss next week will have no effect on the ball’s trajectory — is directly related to the conservation of energy, our old homily that energy can be neither created nor destroyed but merely changes form. ........ “Energy, momentum and other quantities we take for granted gain meaning and even greater value when we understand how these quantities follow from symmetry in time and space.” ...... After meeting the young Czech math star Olga Taussky in 1930, Noether told friends how happy she was that women were finally gaining acceptance in the field, but she herself had so few female students that her many devoted pupils were known around town as Noether’s boys. ...... Noether lived for math and cared nothing for housework or possessions, and if her long, unruly hair began falling from its pins as she talked excitedly about math, she let it fall. She laughed often and in photos is always smiling. .......

When a couple of students started showing up to class wearing Hitler’s brownshirts, she laughed at that, too.

..... In 1933, with the help of Einstein, she was given a job

at Bryn Mawr College, where she said she felt deeply appreciated as she never had been in Germany.

Emmy Noether Google Doodle: Why Einstein called her a ‘creative mathematical genius’
Noether had risen against wall after wall of obstacles to work on such areas as ring theory; now she was counted among those in a most rarefied academic circle...... “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. One seeks the most general ideas of operation which will bring together in simple, logical and unified form the largest possible circle of formal relationships. In this effort toward logical beauty spiritual formulas are discovered necessary for the deeper penetration into the laws of nature.” –A.E. ........ Noether studied French and English as a girl growing up in Bavaria, but upon reaching adulthood, she followed her father (Max Noether) and a brother (Fritz) into math, and it was there she discovered and gave her full expression to the poetry of logical ideas. ........ Einstein called her two years at Pennsylvania’s Bryn Mawr “the happiest and perhaps the most fruitful of her entire career.” ..... “There weren’t any obstacles that would stop Noether from her studies. In this doodle, each circle symbolizes a branch of math or physics that Noether devoted her illustrious career to. From left to right, you can see topology (the donut and coffee mug), ascending/descending chains, Noetherian rings (represented in the doodle by the Lasker-Noether theorem), time, group theory, conservation of angular momentum, and continuous symmetries — and the list keeps going on and on from there! Noether’s advancements not only reflect her brilliance but also her determination in the face of adversity.”
The female mathematician who changed the course of physics—but couldn’t get a job
Noether's Theorem may be the most important theoretical result in modern physics. ...... Göttingen served as the center of mathematics for the Western world by this point, and Hilbert stood as one of its most notorious thinkers. He was a prominent leader for the minority of mathematicians who preferred a symbolic, axiomatic development in contrast to a more concrete style that emphasized the construction of particular solutions. Many of his peers recoiled from these modern methods, one even calling them “theology.” But Hilbert eventually won over most critics through the power and fruitfulness of his research. ......... Her father, Max, was a fairly prominent mathematician, and one of her brothers eventually attained a doctorate in math. In retrospect, perhaps the Noethers may be another historical example of a family with a math gene. ..... she had a facility with languages and was allowed to become certified as a language teacher. But Noether recognized her passion was in mathematics, and she decided to chase her dream and find a way to study the subject at the university level. ...... She also vigorously attacked her own research, forging a personal and original path through abstract algebra. Just a year after her doctorate, Noether's papers and the doctoral research that she was unofficially supervising gained her election to several academic societies, which prompted invitations to speak around Europe. Among those wanting her around, Hilbert reached out to bring Noether to Göttingen in order to tackle Einstein’s theory. ........

Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was undoubtedly beautiful. It was unlike any theory of nature yet imagined by humankind

...... The mass that determined the strength of the gravitational force was the same mass that appeared in Newton’s second law of motion, F = ma; gravitational mass was the same as the “inertial mass.” There was no apparent reason this had to be true, it simply was. ....... but Hilbert could not overcome the resistance of the humanities professors, who simply could not stomach the idea of a female teacher. ...... Noether immediately grasped the problem with Einstein's theory. Over the course of three years, she not only solved it, but in doing so she proved a theorem that simultaneously reached back to the dawn of physics and pushed forward to the physics of today.

Noether’s Theorem

, as it is now called, lies at the heart of modern physics, unifying everything from the orbits of planets to the theories of elementary particles........ the theorem uncovers a hidden relationship between symmetry and conservation, and that relationship is what came to unify all of physics. ....... If the equations that describe the universe changed as time passed, we could never make sense of anything. ..... Physics should be the same no matter where in space we are, if nothing else changes. The equations of motion need to be the same in New York or Göttingen. ....... Noether’s Theorem relates continuous invariants to conservation laws. A conservation law is a rule that says that some quantity remains numerically constant as the system evolves in time. Conservation of energy, momentum, and angular momentum from classical physics are famous examples. ....... conservation of energy was not discovered for almost 200 years after Newton published his laws of motion. ........

Noether’s Theorem proves that for every invariant, there is a corresponding conservation law. She also proved the converse, meaning that for every conservation law there must be an invariant behind it.

...... The theorem shows that conservation of energy is equivalent to time invariance in classical physics. This hard-won yet essential conservation law is directly implied by, and implies, a fundamental symmetry of nature. It shows that momentum conservation is equivalent to spatial invariance. It establishes the equivalence of other symmetries, more mathematical in flavor, with other conservation laws. For example, the conservation of charge is related to a gauge symmetry, a complex mathematical symmetry in the equations of electrodynamics. ...... It is the theorem’s power to derive new conservation laws from abstract symmetries that has guided physical theory up to the present day. Noether’s result is an important tool in contemporary areas like particle physics, and it’s likely to remain so. ........ Noether’s work helped shed light on the fact that Einstein’s gravity behaves as no theory devised before, in that the energy of matter moving in a gravitational field can not be considered separately from the energy of the field itself. There is a conservation law, but it involves taking all of matter and gravity in a region of space as a unified whole .......... Noether showed that Hilbert was correct­—normal local energy conservation did not hold in Einstein’s work. However, she discovered that this was because of the peculiar kind of symmetry in general relativity. In this radically new model of the universe, gravity altered the very geometry of space and time.

In a Euclidean world, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter equals π. But in Einstein’s universe, this ratio depends on where in space you happen to be.

.......... energy conservation in general relativity just could not take the form that it had in all previous physics theories. ..... classroom teaching wasn’t her strength, Noether proved to be a superb leader of small research groups. Her advanced students were devoted to her. .......

One-third of the mathematics professors, and three-fourths of the heads of Göttingen’s mathematics and physics institutes, were Jewish despite less than one percent of the German population identifying that way at the time.

....... Noether’s work seemed to unify the most abstract mathematics with the most basic physical intuition, unifying the earliest successful systems of physics with science yet unborn. The circumstances of her life provide a powerful example of the humanizing influence of science and mathematics. It was the exponents of these fields who were eager to welcome her into their fellowship without regard for her sex or ancestry; the men of philosophy, history, politics, and government sought to exclude her for these very reasons. ....... A street and school in her home town have been named after her, as well as a crater on the moon. And for her birthday on March 23, Google dedicated its coveted Doodle real estate to one of history's most under-appreciated minds.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Larry Page: Alphabet

Larry Page wants to grow Alphabet to a scale never seen before

David Rose's Unicorn