Posts from March 2018

Video Of The Week: Computer Science Education For All

I heard the news last night that the $6mm that Governor Cuomo was seeking for K12 CS Education was not included in the final NY State budget. I had blogged about this issue at the start of this week.

UPDATE: It appears I heard wrong and that the $6mm did make it into the budget. If that is the case, then it is great news.

In this short (50 sec) video, NYC Mayor de Blasio explains why this is so important. We need more leaders like him who will put themselves out there on this issue, make it a priority, and fight for it.

Tenacity

I saw this tweet in my feed this morning and responded:

If there was one word I would use to describe my secret to success it would be tenacity.

I just put my mind to something and grind on it.

I am not the smartest person in the room.

I am not the most organized person.

I don’t manage people well.

So I have a ton of weaknesses.

But my superpower is that I wake up with a ton of energy and apply it to everything I’m working on and keep doing that until I get an acceptable outcome.

It reminds me of the lesson of Angela Duckworth‘s book Grit that I wrote about last year.

the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.”

It is powerful stuff.

The Jiu-Jitsu Move

When a new technology or a new entrant or some new behavior comes into a market, the initial reaction is often to reject it.

But, as my partner Brad likes to say, the better move is to take that new energy coming at you and use it to your advantage. He calls it the “Jiu-Jitsu Move.”

A good example is the emergence of Wikipedia in schools about fifteen years ago. Most teachers freaked out and told their students not to use it for primary research, citing the “inaccuracy” of the service.

But a few clever teachers started assigning their students Wikipedia entries to fix. That is a Jiu-Jitsu move.

Another example is personal health information. Many in the health care industry see the increasing amount of our health care information in our own hands as a risk to them and their profession. But a couple years ago when I went in for my annual physical, when I was using an iPhone, my doctor asked to see my Health app. He said it was another data point for him to use in my care. That was a Jiu-Jitsu move.

I spent the day yesterday at a real estate industry event and talked to a lot of agents about the fact that their clients are often more informed than they are these days. I encouraged them to embrace that fact and use it to their advantage and not fear it. It is hard when you have grown up in an industry when your advantage was information and you no longer have that working for you.

But I honestly believe the only thing to do with progress is embrace it. Fighting it is futile.

3D Printed Homes

A few years ago I was up at the MIT Media Lab, where I have been on the advisory board, and met a bunch of faculty members. The one that blew me away was a woman who was building a 3D printer that could “print” office buildings. That really stuck with me.

So with that in the back of my mind, the Gotham Gal and I were in a bar in Palm Springs last night and we bumped into a couple people we kind of knew, one of them an AVC reader named Brett Hagler, and we heard the story of a house being 3D printed in Austin Texas during the recent SXSW conference.

Brett’s non-profit New Story (crowdfunding to finance and build homes in the developing world) and a robotics construction company called Icon collaborated to build an inhabitable 800 square foot home in Austin Texas in less than 24 hours.

These two companies think they can get the construction costs below $4,000 for a 3D printed home. That’s kind of amazing and disruptive in a whole bunch of ways.

It is exciting to see 3D printing technology continue to grow and scale into new and important sectors, like construction and real estate.

K12 Computer Science Education In NY State

While NYC is committed, and well on its way, to getting computer science teachers in every school in NYC by 2025, the situation across New York State is bleaker.

Many schools in New York State do not have computer science teachers and do not offer computer science courses to their students.

Governor Cuomo recognized this shortfall in his 2019 budget by proposing $6mm of funding for computer science education across New York State.

But neither the NYS Assembly nor the NYS Senate has followed through and included this $6mm (or a single dollar) in their proposed 2019 budgets for CS education.

The budget process is scheduled to close on April 1st, so this week is the week to get movement on this.

If you live in New York State, please reach out to your Assemblyperson and/or Senator and tell them how important computer science education is to you and why you want them to follow the Governor’s leadership on this issue and put $6mm in the 2019 budget for Computer Science education in New York State schools. If you don’t know how to reach your representatives in Albany, click on the two links in the opening paragraph in this post.

To put that $6mm in context, New York City is spending $8mm a year on training existing teachers (math, science, etc) to teach computer science. And they are doing this every year for ten years in order to get over 5,000 CS teachers in their ~1,700 public schools.

Surely New York State can do the same. Every kid needs the opportunity to learn new ways of learning, making, and earning. Computer Science is the first new subject that has been added to most public schools’ curriculum in the past fifty years. Most states and large urban centers have already committed themselves to this effort. But not New York State. It’s time that changed.

Uncertainty and Risk

This feels like a particularly risky time to me. The macro situation is not great; rising interest rates, trade tensions, saber rattling, etc. In tech we have dominant platforms extracting rents but also attracting scrutiny. Old line industries continue to struggle to adapt to new ways of doing business. And health care continues to eat up more and more of the GDP.

So what is an investor to do?

I think a barbell strategy is best in this environment. You want a healthy amount of low risk investments, like cash and low volatility cash producing assets (like real estate). And you want some risk too. I like venture capital and tech stocks, particularly ones that are not in the regulatory spotlight.

The thing about risk is that it is correlated with return over time. It is very hard to make money without taking risk. And those who tell you that they have a low risk/no risk way to make money are either lying to you or lying to themselves.

So you need to take risk. But you need to take risks you understand and avoid risks you don’t. I think there is a lot more risk in “the markets” than is priced in right now.

I don’t know if all the chickens I listed in the opening paragraph will come home to roost, or when. That is uncertainty. We have to live with the uncertainty. It’s always there.

So the stance you take is important. And I think the best stance in times like this, maybe all times, is one foot in and one foot out.

Audio Of The Week:

If you are curious what the state of play is in the US regulatory stance towards crypto and blockchain, the best place to turn is Coin Center, the crypto industry’s voice in DC.

And in this podcast, Coin Center’s Director of Research Peter Van Valkenburgh gives a fairly clear and concise view of where things are and where they are going.

Profits and Social Responsibility

The relationship between profits and social responsibility is a topic I’ve touched on many times here over the years.

I believe you can be a socially responsible person, investor, or company and also be a high performing one.

I tweeted this yesterday on the news that our friend Shri has launched a new venture capital firm called Spero:

I do believe you can be an impact investor and produce top tier returns.

And then later yesterday, I came across this interview with Josh Silverman, the CEO of Etsy, where I am Chairman, and I love this comment:

The best of Etsy has always been our commitment to social responsibility. It was our execution that was letting us down. And I think we were at risk of confusing those two. So, we continue to hold to our commitment to the broader community. But when you’re a socially responsible company, you’ve got to hold yourself to a higher bar on execution. We’ve defined three areas in particular where we believe we’re especially well positioned to have impact on our community: economic empowerment [for sellers], diversity [of our workforce] and environmental impact.

I agree with Josh that you can do both, but when you are committed to doing both, you have to hold yourself to a higher bar on execution because any mis-steps will be viewed as the cost of the double bottom line. And that is unfortunate.