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University of Michigan – famous alumni notes

It always strikes me that the University of Michigan does a great job of promoting more distant famous alumni, but not always the more recent famous alumni.  (I was an undergraduate there, so I’m interested in this.)

Advertising / Google

One thing that most people don’t know is that the two largest online advertising companies were both founded by University of Michigan graduates.  And not only that, they were both UofM College of Engineering students!  Who am I speaking of?

Larry Page – CEO/co-founder, Google

Kevin O’Connor – co-founder/ex-CEO, Doubleclick

And of course, Doubleclick was purchased by Google for ~$3billion back in 2008.  I’m curious how much the two of them spoke during/after the negotiations about their common history back in Ann Arbor!

Groupon – a story

I’m not a big fan of Groupon… at all.  I signed up in London for a while, but the offers were crap, and it took me ages to get off of all their different lists they had added me to.  It’s not the daily deal format I hate; I like Keynoir which is a similar site here in London because they tend to have offers that I actually want to buy.

Another reason I don’t like Groupon is the way they run their business.  Despite the fact they’re still not profitable, the founders got massive cash payments last year.  So while Groupon was raising close to $1billion to keep the business going (because it wasn’t profitable), the founders were taking hundreds of millions of dollars of the funding investors were giving them.  This is just WRONG, even if the investors were greedy enough for a part of Groupon that they didn’t argue.  If you haven’t built a business to profitability, you should be able to cash out anything more than a token amount… ever.

I recently learned that one of the founders of Groupon (Eric Lefkofsky) was behind one of the worst student activism campaigns ever at the University of Michigan: trying to adopt a cute, cuddly mascot for the Michigan Wolverine sports teams.  Michigan had previously toyed with mascots; back in the 1920’s the University brought a live wolverine in a cage to football games.  But since wolverines are actually mean, vicious creatures, that only lasted a year or two.

But in the late 1980’s Eric Lefkofsky was part of a trio of students that came close to adopting “Willy the Wolverine” as a University mascot.  Luckily they managed to piss the University off by infringing on official trademarks and doing similar stupid stuff that after they graduated the effort lost momentum.  But this was the final nail in the Groupon coffin for me; even if they grow into the biggest company on earth, I’ll never have respect for them.

(If you want to learn more about the Michigan mascot (that rarely existed), check out the Alumni Association story “The Wolverine that wasn’t.”)

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Google+

If you haven’t heard, Google+ has launched.  It’s the start of Google’s social projects, and it looks like it’s already the start of something big.  (>10million users in <2 weeks!)

If you’re interested, you can follow me on Google+ here.

EDIT:  I’ve also done some magic so you can go to my Google+ profile by going to http://jedchristiansen.com/+

Awesome video on startups, entrepreneurship, business

This has absolutely nothing to do with Google+, but if you’ve got an hour, I highly recommend watching the video below.  It’s Kevin Rose (founder of Digg) interviewing Chris Sacca, one of the most interesting investors in Silicon Valley today.  (He was one of the first investors in Twitter, for example.)

Chris has long had a great reputation amongst entrepreneurs, and from this video I can completely understand why.

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Startup accelerators in 2011

RenaultF1Wheel

[UPDATE] –

Please see the Seed Accelerator Knowledge Base for the most up-to-date information on seed accelerators world-wide, and the startups that have graduated from them.

 

I’ve long been interested in the seed accelerator model, as started by Y Combinator.  I wrote my master’s thesis on it, and wrote a follow-up post this spring.  Recently, two things have happened that I wanted to write about.  First, I restructured the spreadsheet where I maintained a list of all companies to come out of seed accelerators.  And second, NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, a UK investment and research body) recently undertook a significant piece of research into seed accelerators.

Update to Seed Accelerator company list spreadsheet

As a part of my original paper on seed accelerators, I compiled a list of all the companies that have come out of seed accelerators like Y Combinator, TechStars, Seedcamp, et cetera.  Each accelerator had its own tab, with the details of all their companies.  I kept edit rights, mainly so that I could be sure of the details for my paper and follow-up work.

As seed accelerators have exploded in number world-wide, it’s become nearly impossible to keep this working.  There were too many tabs for different accelerators to be found properly, and it really is best if the people that run the different programs can edit the details for their companies.

So there are now individual documents for each seed accelerator program, and the original document now has links to each individual program sheet.  If you run a seed accelerator, please e-mail me and I’ll be sure that 1) I have a separate spreadsheet for your accelerator and 2) you get full edit rights for your program’s spreadsheet.  (jed.christiansen@gmail.com)

Please check the new seed accelerator company directory here.

NESTA research

Kirsten Bound and Paul Miller recently undertook a significant piece of work to define, describe, and analyze seed accelerators on a global basis.  The result of which can be found on the NESTA page: “The Startup Factories“.  [Direct link to their PDF paper.]  I spoke to Kirsten a couple of times prior to and during their research, and they developed a real sense of the opportunities and challenges of startup accelerators.

While I didn’t have time to make NESETA’s half-day conference on seed accelerators last week, a friend of mine (Mark Littlewood of the BLN) did and wrote about it here: “Do we need startup factories?“.  The key element can be found at the bottom of his post, where Mark echo’s something I’ve been saying since my very first paper.  Only the best, top-tier seed accelerators will truly be of value to entrepreneurs. And the followers, the “me-too” seed accelerators that are starting to pop up everywhere, will be of little to negative value.  While in the long run it will be easy to tell between the two, in the short term I am afraid that startup founders may get fleeced.  Startup accelerators need to clearly understand their unique advantages that can allow them to recruit some of the best startups away from the Y Combinators and TechStars of the world.  If they can’t offer that level of value, it might not be worth it for them to exist.

The NESTA report is quite well written and clear.  Some of the data is a little dodgy; in particular I’m not a fan of the Tech cocktail rankings at all, since they have yet to mention what data they’re using to create the rankings.  (I personally believe that it overly weights the accelerators that more freely share data.)  But overall, it’s a great resource.

If you do have comments, please share them with the writers.  The discussion paper is currently in draft form, but they hope to finalize it soon.

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Paul Simon – a true master

Whether or not you like Paul Simon’s music, I think everyone can agree he’s a hugely accomplished musician, songwriter, and performer.  I still can’t believe it’s been 25 years since his legendary album “Graceland” was completed.

But what made him a real legend in my eyes was the news about a concert last month in Canada.  In between a couple of songs, some people in the audience cried out asking him to play “Duncan”, a song from an album he released in 1972.  He agreed to, even though he was throwing his setlist out the window.  But then the most amazing thing happened.

A woman right up front yelled out that she had learned to play guitar by playing “Duncan.”  Paul Simon motioned for her to come up on stage.  The next thing you know, he was not only throwing his setlist out the window, but putting his guitar in her hands!  She played the entire song, right up front, on Paul Simon’s guitar.  And of course, it was all caught on YouTube:

Paul Simon has to be a true legend and gentleman to stand back and give a completely unknown fan the spotlight.  A real heartwarming experience, and I’m just glad it was caught on video so the rest of us could enjoy it, too!

[more on the CBC, which has an interview with Rayna, the woman in the video]