Category Archives: Kevin Fishner

Entrepreneurship and the Value of University Education

Preface: This is written from my own personal perspective, a very limited one in that I only graduated 2 months ago. These opinions will certainly change, but I wanted to capture them in the moment of “recent graduate.” Feel free to comment on your views of entrepreneurship and how university education fits in.

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As I waited for the Sunday 10:00PM Caltrain back home to Mountain View, I experienced an odd deja vu back to days at Duke. Less than 3 months ago, on a similar Sunday evening, I would have been mired in a corner in Perkins (Duke’s library) working on anything from my philosophy thesis to statistics homework. First, I remembered how miserable Sunday evenings were. Perkins LibraryThen, I thought to myself “was it worth it? Has Duke prepared me for my new life in Silicon Valley?”

It’s hard to say. Would I have been able to run a business after my senior year of high school? Absolutely not. But were my 4 years at Duke more valuable than the alternative of dropping out and using those funds towards a self-guided adventure? In this highly hypothetical scenario where I can’t really prove anything — yes, my years at Duke were more valuable (I think).

The term “dropout” takes completely different meaning in Silicon Valley. It is viewed as a badge of honor rather than a mark of shame — a clear gesture towards the traditional ivory towers. The general argument is that university education fails to provide any tangible skills for a working life. This is hard to argue against; certainly my degree in philosophy is abstract in nature. But this argument misses out on the intangibles of university education. Like how I was forced to repeatedly break down arguments, reduce them to their sources, and build them back in the image I constructed. Or how I was forced to use 5 words to express the same sentiment as most do in 10.

So it is almost as if the value in university education is that it forces you to develop skills in fields you otherwise would avoid. If I had pursued other opportunities instead of college, I certainly would have gone down the path of least resistance and continued working on what I was best at. But certainly this aspect of developing new skills is a feature of the workplace as well.

Some argue that college exposes you to experiences you otherwise never would have enjoyed (or not enjoyed). Well, real-life does that too — so I don’t think that justifies the expense.

Clearly I’m conflicted in this argument. It is hard to find something truly unique about university life that could not be provided by life in the workplace. It is just that the majority of your peers go to college, so it makes sense to go to college. It is the perfect insurance plan — a statement of quality. I am forever branded as “Duke” so you have a general idea of my capabilities. But what if these “brands” could be achieved in other ways…ways that don’t require an investment of 4 years and thousands of dollars.

I believe the “expectation” of progressing from high school  to college is an unfair one. It’s not that higher education in the U.S is “broken”, it’s just forced. But until not attending college is an accepted life-choice, this perpetual cycle can’t really be broken. Peter Thiel attempted to break it with the Thiel Fellowship, but we’ll see how successful the program is.

So in conclusion, I feel I must apologize. This post is more an internal polemic than a substantive argument. Would I trade my 4 years at Duke? Absolutely not. But are their suitable alternatives to college that make the question even somewhat plausible? No — so maybe that is the root of the problem. That the current alternatives to university education simply aren’t valuable enough. But times change.

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Impromptu Social Networks

Social, local, mobile…Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest — get all the buzzwords in you can about social networks. But what characteristic are we losing in the hype over the relatively basic concept of people connecting with each other?

I’d argue serendipity, which I’ll come back to later.

The modern craze in the field of social networks is the “interest graph” — the magical underlying qualities that we all distill down into. So if we target all people who love mango smoothies (I love mango smoothies), we believe there’s a 40% greater chance they’ll buy our mango lip balm if we color it orange! But social networks don’t have to be this forced capitalist-infused frenzy. [Disclaimer – I’m an ardent free-market capitalist, just not in this distorted freemium sense]

One issue with these social networking services being free is that the providers have to find creative ways to turn a profit. So since you don’t pay for the product, companies pay for you (really your information). This is why I’m not in favor of the freemium model. If there is market demand, price is the most efficient way to allocate resources.

You pay for the product one way or another — whether that is the increased price of the products you buy because companies have higher advertising overhead, or you increase your overall consumption due to the increase in advertisement. So why not pay directly for the product you use and cut out some of the externality.  (For a pro-freemium perspective, read Fred Wilson)

This personal identity problem of commoditized social networks is why I’d argue that the best social network is one that doesn’t attempt to be a social network at all. A network that serendipitously connects people together—people with diverse backgrounds, inspiring stories, and artificially-enhanced close-quarters.

AirBnB!

I’ve met numerous people through AirBnB beyond the gracious hosts I’ve stayed with. By virtue of being on AirBnB in the first place, these individuals are generous, curious, and overall kind people. Doesn’t that sound like the company you want to keep?

Peg, my current AirBnB host, is quite possibly the most genuine person I’ve ever come across. She is always offering to help in anyway she can, and LOVES to meet new people and experience new things. [And almost all the techies who go through her house end up in 500]. Best of all, there is no way I would have ever met her given my “interest graph.”

So thank you, AirBnB, for being the best social network out there.

tivly demo – Sneak Preview

I’m very excited to share the first-release of the tivly demo! Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONvONrLwDGw.

Hope you enjoy the video, and are excited for the tivly launch in the coming weeks! Feedback on the demo itself and on tivly in general would be greatly appreciated. You can quickly submit a feedback form here.

Don’t forget to signup at www.tivly.com or here to stay updated on all of our product releases. 

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Please send any additional questions or comments to kevin@tivly.com, and I will get back to you right away!

Fear, Nihilism, and Entrepreneurship

Philosopreneurship Series 

Recent entrepreneurship literature has focused on the fear of committing to entrepreneurship—the fear of failure, solitude, unpredictability. (“The Struggle” by Ben Horowitz. Read here or here for more examples.)

I have a job offer at IBM Global Business Services in New York City—quality pay, consistent schedule, and an overall solid job. But last week I made the decision to stay in Silicon Valley to grind, not sleep, and struggle. To approach the fear head on.

Why?

I’ve been asked this question a lot recently, and I can finally explain it with a bit of help from my philosophy background and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nihilism is a complex philosophical doctrine, but in basic terms it argues that life is without purpose. One path to this conclusion is through the perspective of time. In one hundred years it is extremely unlikely that any memory of you or your actions will exist. In one thousand years, even less likely. This contributed to Malcolm Gladwell’s statement that Steve Jobs will not be remembered in 50 years.

We are such small aspects on the universe in terms of both time and space that all of our actions will have minimal effects. This has led some to believe that life is not worth living, which Albert Camus ardently refuted in “The Rebel.”

So in choosing between a corporate gig at a 300,000-person company with structured time frames, hierarchies, and minimal influence versus a 2-person company with fear, anxiety, and the tiny chance to make a difference, the choice was simple.

I’d rather devote my life to the miniscule probability of making a small difference and accepting the fact that I’ll likely fail, than waking up each morning to follow directions.

With one attempt to be remembered by history, why not risk it all? The worst that could happen is that I fail and the sands of time wash away my endeavors—but is that outcome any different than the alternative?

Thus, entrepreneurship is the rational choice if one finds truth in nihilism’s tenets; fear of failure is a ridiculous concept if all is forgotten. With that conclusion, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the 20th centuries’ lost philosophers:

            “Success is my only – – option, failure’s not”

                        -eminem

My Friday 5:00PM Promise

Execution was my goal for this week. I promised to put something out there (I didn’t promise what it would look like). So this week I learned HTML and CSS in order to build a landing page, and the beginning of the tivly dashboard. To see my attempts at web design, you can visit tivly.com.

Am I satisfied with the work? Not really. But I’m happy to make progress in developing technical skills considering that I learned HTML/CSS on Codeacademy (awesome site if you haven’t checked it out) this Monday, and put out a somewhat decent page by Friday. Never did I imagine that I’d be staring at hundreds of lines of code originating from my fingers—or getting a screen-tan. But these skills will vastly help my journey as an entrepreneur.

As I developed these skills, so has the vision for tivly crystalized. This is the path (at least for this week):

tivly is a web-based social discovery platform that integrates with your payment card. The web app is a clean dashboard that lists all the recent venues you’ve been to (restaurants, shopping, entertainment, etc). From the dashboard, you can select the venue, and with one-click recommend it to a friend through facebook, 4sq, twitter, or email. The “secret sauce” is that with the recommendation, comes a 10% discount loaded on your friends credit card. When she pays for her meal (or clothes, or movie ticket), the discount is automatically applied—no barcodes to scan, iPhone apps to bring up, or paper. But not only does she get the discount, but you get discounts, free stuff, and giveaways for recommending the venue. The result is a social discovery network that incentivizes you to share the best places with your friends, and your friends to check out new spots.

If you’re interested in the model and have questions about implementation or long-term plans, please reach out kevin@tivly.com.

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Promise for next week: Video for how tivly’s web-based application works.

128 Years

The story for this post was basically handed to me on a silver platter. On Wednesday I went to the SF Giants game against the Houston Astros, where Matt Cain threw the first perfect game in the Giants’ 128 year history. [Insert obligatory “first time for everything” here]. The stadium was electric, an absolutely incredible experience. 

But it doesn’t end there. Bill Schlough, the CIO of the Giants and a Duke alum, met our group after the game to discuss the technology in AT&T Park. Although there were some interesting tech questions, my focus was on somehow getting on the field.

Watching a perfect game – awesome. Walking on the field after a perfect game – unforgettable memory. I watched a journalist put dirt from the mound into a cup, and I considered putting some in my pocket. (I may or may not have)

So how does this amazing experience fit into the greater context of my technology excursion? That the stars have aligned in my favor in Silicon Valley and everything I touch will be perfect – 27 up, 27 down perfect? Quite the opposite.

Success is about execution. I’m sure Matt Cain had the idea of pitching a perfect game, but clearly that idea is worthless without execution. This was difficult for me to understand at first; if I have a good idea I should be rewarded. But the greatest businessmen, technologists, and visionaries express their ideas in simple, elegant ways to be consumed by the masses. If Rudolf Diesel explained how small explosions in an engine would one day transport the masses, you would struggle to believe. But when he shows you, it’s revolutionary. Execution is revolutionary, ideas are seeds.

So far this summer, my execution has been awful, nonexistent really. To fix this, here before my thousands of daily readers, I promise that by the end of this week I will launch a product. Friday, 5:00PM come back here and test it. I have no clue what it will be, but it will be something. 

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Don’t forget to follow me directly at firstimeforeverything.wordpress.com or on Twitter @KFishner

Flying High

Monday was my first full day of work for tivly at Dogpatch Labs in Palo Alto. It rained that day, to which my gracious AirBnB host commented, “I’ve lived here for 30 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen it rain this time of year.” So it’s only fitting that I dedicate this summer to the mantra “there’s a first time for everything.”

Silicon Valley is an intimidating place—everyone is busy with his or her own grand ideas, unbounded talent, and world-changing ambition. It makes you ask yourself, “where do I fit in?” But that’s the funny thing, that everyone here welcomes newcomers like they just came returned from a brief vacation. More of a welcome back than a first arrival.

At the end of my first week, I can safely say I have greater understanding of the “highs and lows” of entrepreneurship that everyone talks about. We went from belief in our solid business model on Monday, to crippling defeat on Tuesday and Wednesday, and finally an alteration on Thursday that some advisors got giddy about.

Five days, not one even slightly similar to another. Exactly what I signed up for, and I can’t wait for more. I think this is how an addiction starts.

So this summer, and the start of my professional career, is about new things and lessons learned. Welcome to my journey through Silicon Valley, the birthplace of the first time for everything.

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Next week: We’re starting development of the tivly MVP, so look forward to updates on that. Feel free to follow my blog at http://firstimeforeverything.wordpress.com/.