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As I watch Amy scurry around and put the final touches on our Homer house before we leave to go home to Boulder, I thought I’d stay out of the way and write a quick final book post on The House Advantage. I read a bunch more books the past two weeks but ran out of gas reviewing them all – see my Shelfari bookshelf if you are interested. But The House Advantage was worth mentioning.
My friend Niel Robertson – the CEO of Trada (which we are investors in) introduced me to Jeff Ma (the author) and then also sent me a book. It turns out that I know Jeff and lived next door to his sister when I was at MIT. You also may know Jeff – he’s the main character in Ben Mezrich’s excellent book Bringing Down the House and the inspiration for he main character in the movie 21. It also turns out that Jeff is an accomplished entrepreneur. He’s had several successful companies, the most recent being Citizen Sports which Yahoo recently acquired.
The subtitle of The House Advantage is “Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business”. In it, Jeff takes on a topic that most business people avoid – statistics. He uses his experience with both the MIT blackjack team, sports statistics, and his friends experiences in these areas to explain very important statistics concepts in very clear and straightforward ways. He’s a great writer – rather than resulting in a dull book about business stats, it’s a spicy read full of stories of Vegas, sports, high speed car chases, airplanes exploding, terrorist drug lords, extreme dance parties, and … well – ok – Vegas and sports.
As I was reading it, I kept thinking “every CEO I work with and every investor I’ve ever met should read this book.” After I finished, I thought “every academic researcher who has ever written a paper should read this.” None of the statistics concepts are complex, but they are regularly misused, abused, and confused. Or ignored.
As a bonus, the book includes the Basic Strategy Chart for Blackjack. How many business books can claim that? Seriously, this is an outstanding book – Jeff – well done!
Do you remember the “Let’s Build a Filter” scene from Apollo 13? It remains – at least in my mind – one of the most heroic engineering scenes in the movies. The one minute segment with the meat of the scene follows:
Several times over the past week the BP Gulf Crisis has come up in conversation. The conversations have started in different places (politics, environment, leadership) but in each case quickly cycled toward the concept that the people involved need to try something different. Now, there might be plenty of orthogonal thinking going on in lots of places around the crisis, but I kept thinking about the scene from Apollo 13 whenever we got to this point.
I’ve always felt that MIT undergraduates represent the smartest and most creative independent thinkers on the planet. My friends at Caltech and Stanford will immediately come to defense of their colleagues and I’ll acknowledge that they are also extremely smart, but I’ve always thought the combination of MIT raw material with the four year undergraduate curriculum creates a unique type of thought process.
It’s summertime and classes are out. It would take a day to identify the top two juniors and seniors from each department. Why not immediately constitute a team of 25 amazing students, give them access to 100% of the data surrounding the crisis, show them the above movie clip, and tell them to come up with a solution to the problem. Pay them each $25k for the rest of the summer – this is tiny compared to the amount of money being spent daily on the outside consultants working on solving the problem.
Then, open source all of their thinking. Have them put their ideas on the web as they evolve. Get anyone involved who wants to try to help solve the problem. MIT has long been a leader in using the web for education – most recently with MIT Open Courseware. MIT and BP already have a longstanding relationship – let’s take it up a level.
If nothing else, this will rally a bunch of smart people to engage in understanding and trying to help with the problem. In the upside case, there is a small chance that it can come up with a solution to the problem. And it will have the added benefit of inspiring a new generation of engineers to go after doing heroic things.
In 2005, I wrote a post titled ADPrentice that talked about a weekend event I did with a number of the undergraduates in my MIT fraternity (ADP). In the post I described the entrepreneurship education event I helped put on with Sameer Gandhi (Accel Partners – then at Sequoia Capital) and Mark Siegel (Menlo Ventures). It was an awesome weekend – we held an event modeled after the Apprentice TV show (without the bad hair) that had three challenges: (1) Marketing, (2) Hiring / Interview, and (3) 5-Year Plan & Budget. In between events, Mark gave a talk titled “How Does Venture Capital Work”, Sameer gave a talk titled “Business Plan 101”, and I gave a talk titled “Do You Have The Balls To Start A Company?”
A few months ago I wrote a post titled Startups at 351 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, MA detailing the rich history of startups from ADP that happened around the time I was living there. After some back and forth, a handful of folks decided to mobilize another ADPrentice event for the undergraduates living in the house. Mark, Sameer, and I have committed to participate again and we’ are trying to rope in a few of the other successful MIT ADP entrepreneurs from over the years.
In the mean time Alex Moore, the founder of Baydin (TechStars Boston 2009) who also lived at ADP (although much more recently) sent me a list of the various companies that have come out of folks that were at the ADPrentice event. Not surprisingly, it blew my mind!
- Josh Runge ’07 and Zach Clifford ’08 are working furiously on a task management/task optimization startup called Lazymeter.
- Ruben Rodrigues ’04 and Josh Ouellette ’04 are starting Loci Technologies, a voter targeting system that incorporates real-time, location-aware feedback into campaign calls.
- Patrick Hereford ’05 and Adan Gutierrez ’04 are starting Huddlehub, a fantasy sports aggregator and recommendation site that launched at SXSW and was mentioned on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show.
- Steve Chait ’08 is working on interactive flashcards and learning-based games.
- Xavi Ramirez ’07 and a coworker are starting a company part time and are still defining their first product.
- Alex Moore is am working on Baydin with a partner from Dartmouth, making email clients smarter and more useful.
These are the active companies. Two others were started that didn’t succeed, but that’s part of the entrepreneurial cycle! It’s just awesome to see the outcome of something like this – it reminds me how powerful spending time with college kids is. They are clearly the future – and we want more of them to be entrepreneurs. Congrats to all of you – you make me proud to know you.
A few days ago I wrote about the launch of the MIT Entrepreneurship Review. I neglected however to mention their actual launch party, which is happening on April 7th from 7pm – 10pm at the MIT Media Lab. The MITER (er- MIT Entrepreneurship Review) party will gather together a bunch of folks in the MIT and Boston entrepreneurial ecosystems. It looks like it should be a fun event – email Jen Novak if you want an invitation.
The MIT Entrepreneurship Review is a new online publication about entrepreneurship that is produced and written by MIT students dedicated to analyzing trends in entrepreneurship at MIT and beyond. I’ve been involved with some of the folks behind this and I think they are doing an outstanding job. If you are interested in entrepreneurship, I’d add this to your must read list.