Turning a putz into a mensch

How do you make chut-ney out of chut-zpah. One shouldn’t. Sticky things have sticky ends. How do you make money out of your flamboyant savoir faire. You should not. One simply does not allow the flamboyance of the founder overtake the necessity of keeping up the reputation of the brand and the product.

Some of you are confused? What’s with the big words, little fellow.

What is chutney ? Chutney is a side dish in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent that can vary from a tomato relish to a ground peanut garnish or a yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip

What is chutzpah? It  is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. The Yiddish word derives from the Hebrew word ḥutspâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning “insolence”, “cheek” or “audacity”. So Barack Obama should have written the book as ” The Chutzpah of Hope”. But Obama does not like Yiddish humour much.

What is a putz ? Schmuck is a name for someone who is mean, foolish, or inept. Putz is more offensive.  It means a stupid or worthless person. Actually it means phallus. What is a Phallus.  In India, we worship it every Monday. See Jimmypedia.

Who is a mensch?  It is a person of integrity and honour, someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being ‘a real mensch‘ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.

Are you a putz or are you a mensch? How does one train the alpha monkey on top of the organisational ladder. By definition, the alpha is the one with the 800 pound gorilla smile and the right swing. How do you make sure your company’s King Kong does not climb a tall building and chase air ambulances.

The tech world is full of two kinds of closed communities. Jewish people and East Indian people.  They have similarities and contrasts galore. One of their biggest similarity is the focus on knowledge, on argument, on education and of course on music and culture to relax. One of the biggest contrasts is how they treat people outside their community. The boundaries of who is a Hindu and who is not are much more permeable than other equally old Eastern religions. And that is the end of that !

Phew! That was a close call. Why am I talking culture. Because culture eats strategy for lunch. Your startup is the sum of its people’s talents and hopes and energies. Trust me, you lose people because of culture more quickly than you lose it due to strategy. How do you divert and keep focus the energy of your people to ship code ship code ship code than focus on stock options, missed opportunities, slights and fights.

I don’t know. Yesterday I talked to a database called Mongo. Today I talked to it and it’s behaviour is still the same. People change though. Yesterday I talked to Alice and she was happy doing what she was supposed to do. This morning Alice turned into malice and started singing a Dickensian Carol on where she wants to be and the places she wants to see and the code she wants to own and the bugs she wants to disown.

Irrational predictability is one of the joys of people watching. How do you use the psychology of your team to make them more productive is your startup’s Human Resource strategy.

Are you creating a team of putzs or a you creating a team of mensches? Time will tell. Grace may save you but your team will never forget it if you break your promises to them. Are you fighting with the man in the mirror or are you trying to work with him on his right jab.





Data Science is just like rocket science

Rocket Science runs of simple principles that we are taught in high school. The attraction between two bodies is due to gravitation and given by

F = M1 M2 / R ^ 2 where M 1, M2 are the masses of the bodies and R is the distance between the two.

Since the weight of the Earth is pretty well fixed and the size is pretty well fixed, scientists concluded that the Earth must be a female. Men dont care about weight that  much unless it’s about the weight of the Higgs Boson particle. That makes attraction to this planet at approx 10 m / sec2. That’s right the planet attracts you at that rate, unless you are George Carlin watching, environmentalist . For those the attraction is different.

If you don’t know the law of gravity , well it was created by a British guy Isaac, who fell asleep under an apple tree. Once woken up by the apple bonking on his head, instead of cursing the apple, he actually started asking weird questions like why did apple have to fall down and how fast did the apple have to fall.

The British do have a great though subtle sense of humor. I am just happy Isaac did not take a nap under a coconut tree. Of course most of Isaac stays relevant today except for the really really important physics like nuclear or quantum where a German immigrant to the USA called Al Bert Einstein kind of demolished Newtonian legacy quite nicely.

Well then Rockets actually took off thanks to Chinese much before Isaac the Apple Man took a nap. The Chinese however failed to file sanctions against the West for stealing intellectual property on mere things like gunpowder, paper, silk and compass. Now Karma demands that the Chinese steal some intellectual property back from the Western hemisphere.

Rocket Science then got a fillup with the German man Van Braun , subtly captured by the CIA in Operation Paper Clip. They used to call the CIA , the OSS then. I would stick to the lucky wild name that won me a World War, but then the West likes to keep changing names and keep shifting blame.

Von Braun, devoted German Nazi implemented rocket science and NASA for the USA. The Russians , who were so crazy as to actually steal the atomic secret from USA but invent their rockets themselves put Sputnik to ogle at the Earth and that kicked off the science age for the baby boomer generation. The Americans won that race though when Von Braun’s mad men put a man on the moon, an important moment which REM needed to sing a song for Andy Kaufman.

There was no Sputnik and no Moon shot moment for my generation ( X) or for Millenials. Sergey Brin taking a company for a few billion dollars more, Zuk making social networks cool , Elon Musk making money from cars- these are the heros my students, brothers and my generation was born with.

My generation did not dream of rocket science. We dream of data science and algorithms to get the cars to take us to the clubs where we sit in the VIP to sip champagne with the models ( no I mean fashion models and not regression models). We are data scientists because capitalism won the cold war, and we lost our hearts, minds and souls to capitalism.

Data science is quite easy if you get the right kind of beer to data scientists. Most of it is old fashioned MDM ( or data quality) coupled with EDA ( invented by Tukey who coined the term Software). Then  it is a question of tools (pick a few from Python,  Clojure, R, Julia, Scala) and techniques ( LDA, Regression, Clustering, the brand known as Machine Learning)

Tufte may be the king of data visualization and Few may be the Prince, but they wont plot the Iraq War like the ones who plotted the March of Napoleon. Why take up elbows with the military industrial complex. There is so much money to sell ads, and then you and I can take a secret court to give us a secret order to sell the data to government so they can come up with the algorithms that boys in NSA cooked up to find out who is going to threaten world peace and the free world the next Wednesday.

Science used to be cool and nerdy. Now it is just about the money, the honey and presentation that makes bald men give you a million dollars so you can be the next unicorn.

Rocket science is just science to a rocket scientist. Data science is just commerce to a data scientist. It is simple and it is just tools and techniques and common sense and left brain and right brain thinking and left jab and right jab marketing.

So I have algorithm to sell you today. But its stuck in an account in Nigeria and send me some money, and I swear its not an email scam though I am going to use gmail after all.

And if you dont like my algorithm but you need an algorithm pretty fast before the guys on the other side of the street, then I have a few video lectures to sell you that can make you  data scientist in six flat weeks. And if you dont like anything I said, but we know an investor who has money to burn because he has a few billions under his chest and needs to invest in a few startups every few months , lets play the data science game. California created gold rush and the data science rush is now staring you in your nose.

There was really no man on the moon. There is really no science in data science.

It is simpler than calculus . Its more complicated than making chutney out of chutzpah.


Whom to trust in the startup world

Everyone is a ninja in technology. Ninjas are silent assassins. In the tech startup world, we have loud ninjas. Those Japanese cartoons sure distorted reality for our engineers when they were children.Everyone knows someone. Or they pretend they know someone. It’s like being a producer in the music world. Everyone is a producer in the music business.


In Sanskrit there is a framework called Sach -Thit -Anand .Say something only if it is true, if it is necessary and only if it brings joy.

What does the confused kid in the tech startup world say to the grey haired enthusiastic positive energy exuding friend who is meeting him for coffee.

  • Can you help me code? No
  • Can you help me sell? Uhmm
  • Can you help me with your time and money? Sure. I will just take 7.5 % of your soul.

I see many tech startup founders. They all tell me of meetings that could have gone better if people just got up and said Fuck You. Fuck you is the abracadabra of the tech startup world.  It cuts the bullshit much faster. okay, maybe it is too rude for canada and japan.

The default instinct in humans is to survive. We survived dinosaurs and mammoths and ice ages by not trusting our environment.  Zuckerberg made it big by not trusting his advisors who told him to sell for a cool billion dollars to Yahoo. He ruined the whole trust people things for the rest of us though. Now everyone thinks they are the next Zuck even though the laws of probability give you a clear indication you are not even a Musk or Theil or a Brin.

“buyer’s remorse,” a feeling of regret after a substantial purchase, but sellers can also get cold feet. When this happens, the seller panics and decides not to sell when a prospective buyer makes an offer.  https://goo.gl/YTdpFl

Risk aversion- thats what the shrinks call it. In economics and finance, risk aversion is the behavior of humans (especially consumers and investors), when exposed to uncertainty, to attempt to reduce that uncertainty. That’s the copy and paste from Jimmy Wales startup. Artists steal. Bloggers are artists.

Seller’s remorse breaks more deals in the tech startup world. Maybe they can make a Viagra or a Prozac to normalize your paranoia to deal with seller’s remorse.

So whom should you really really trust?

Trust the data. Dont depend on the dog to do the homework. How did the previous startup founders feel about the new advisor / investor. What is the maximum HAPPINESS and ANGUISH he brings in a deal. Dont go for deal size. Go for pain size he brings.

Trust your instincts. Its your startup and Zuck said it- You are the CEO, Bitch.

Trust in the ecosystem, but lock up your stock options with research and cunning and stalling and voting and non voting shares.

Trust in God, Lock Your Algorithm. Unless you want to commit suicide like the founder of Victoria’s secret. Unless you want to be fired by your Board like Steve Jobs 1985. Unless you the money bags and the no so shy locks to walk away with your baby on their arms while you drive you car back to the sub urb of middle class mediocricity.

The paranoid survive in the tech world. BE paranoid of technology not of people. They are just doing their jobs, and everyone has a kid to feed.

When the shouting and the negotiating is over, be a gentleman, and buy people a chocolate cookie. Trust me, cookie sharing gives you a high ROI. Trust people to help you and watch the amazing magic hand of Adam Smith’s capitalism blow you away. There is no charge on awesomeness.