Yalies, Law, and Technology: Personal Stories – by “Joseph Y – YLT2012”

Check out our new website, Yalies, Law, and Technology: Personal Stories. The goal of the project was twofold: First, we wanted to bring the course material beyond the confines of our own classroom and see how what we studied in class applied to the lives of our friends and classmates. Second, we hoped to see how the stories of our classmates built on top of class material and forced us to think about what stories of individual lives can tell us about legal and cultural institutions.

We hope you enjoy hearing these stories and can send in your own!

~MH and JY

Final Project–Advice for Seniors Interested in Entrepreneurship – by “George O – YLT2012”

Our final projected consisted of interviewing four professionals, two in the start-up industry and two in Venture Capital. We interviewed them over Skype and recorded our interviews to get some answers to the top questions seniors ask about startups. We wanted to get some great advice from people who have been in our shoes and see how they would respond to the job market today. We compiled these valuable interviews into one youtube video that will be made public once we obtain permission to release the footage from all four interviewees. For now though, we leave you with a summary of our findings, a brief overview of the venture capital industry, and some biography entries on our interviewees.

—George Ortega, Sharon Ji, and Eric Li


1. What advice do you have for seniors who are interested in startups?


Seniors should join startups if they’re committed to learning in a small and challenging environment. Christiaan Vorkink urges seniors to join startups that are working to address a problem that means a lot to them given the intensity of work they could expect in a small startup environment that is constrained with few labor and financial resources.


As for seniors interested in venture capital, Yanev Suissa from NEA says there are three main ways to get into the industry: 1) work for a technology investment bank or technology investment banking group, 2) work for a buyer of startups, like Google or Amazon, or 3) work in a startup either as the entrepreneur or early-stage employee.



2. What if these seniors do not have the technical skills?


Joining startups without technical skills was unanimously judged to be difficult but certainly possible according to our interviewees. Stuart Wall urges non-technical entrepreneurs to find a technical co-founder and divide the equity stake equally since the technical aspects of a business are just as important as the marketing and product design elements a non-technical person would be in charge of. Christiaan suggests that seniors look for startups that need what you have to offer. If you’re non-technical, for example, a small startup that is seeking to build a prototype may not be the best option. If there is a product already created, as in a more developed startup, there is likely to be a need for your skillset as a liberal arts major. You can handle business development or become responsible for maintaining relationships with investors and customers. As Yanev Suissa sums it up, technical entrepreneurs are great and important, but they often don’t know how to build products and companies. That’s where you can come in to help.



3. Does consulting or banking prepare you for startups or venture capital?


While Ka Mo Lau didn’t think consulting or banking prepared entrepreneurs to become adaptive, Stuart Wall said his consulting experience had some transferrable skills, like a strong work ethic and sharp analytical skills. Yanev Suissa recognizes the importance of these two career paths but does point out that consulting and banking usually involve busywork, as younger associates are often “cogs in a machine.” Christiaan thinks that people should follow their main passions, whether that is consulting or starting a company. You should not postpone your plans because you want to get experience first. As both the venture capitalists and entrepreneurs attest to, the best preparatory experience for being a successful entrepreneur is being a failed entrepreneur before that and learning from your past mistakes.



4.  What are common characteristics of young entrepreneurs?


The main common characteristics mentioned were persistence, action-oriented, passionate, adaptive, and tenacious. Entrepreneurs need to be completely committed to their companies and never take no for an answer. As Stuart Wall says, obstacles like getting no investor money or having an employee quit make the journey more difficult, but entrepreneurs need to have the crazy idea and faith that their business will still become successful. Having said that, having faith is not the same as leading blind when your idea no longer makes sense. Yanev Suissa stresses that the best entrepreneurs can pivot quickly to a dynamic environment in order to maximize their opportunities and grow their businesses the most possible.



5.   What’s the next big idea?


The next big idea is what’s on everyone’s mind right now. Answers ranged from data analytics to education technology to payment processing to healthcare technologies. The most common answer was healthcare technology given that disruption in this area has been limited due to new legislation that has steered some innovators away. Christiaan Vorkink explains soon we will hopefully see a new healthcare system where a world of applications, services, and products will be designed to help people recover more quickly and live better and longer.



Here are some facts to put things in perspective in the VC industry. Below are information from a HBS case study on venture capital: 

–       Venture capital investing is a “hits” business, with a majority of the reward coming from a relative small number of spectacular success

Payoff Count Total Cost % of Cost Value % of Value Average Payoff







1X to 3X







3X to 6X







6X to 10X





















Source: HBS Case study on risk and rewards in VC      


–       Returns on venture capital investments (individual deals with funds) are highest when market “over-value” individual companies over sectors, with the best examples being the Internet-stock bubble in 1999-earliy 2000

–       Through returns to VCs have been low, the industry has been disproportionately responsible for creating some of the most important companies

  • E.g. Federal Express, Google, Genentech and Apple

–       The industry is very cyclical. Sometime it’s easier to start an internet company than others. It was great in 2000, as shown below.

  • Source: HBS case study, NVCA 2010

–       We are back in a internet investment height again right now. Should you be an entrepreneur and join the ride?




Ka Mo Lau, Paper G, CFO and Co-Founder

Ka Mo Lau is the cofounder and Chief Financial Officer of PaperG, an advertising technology company recently named one of Forbes’ 100 Most Promising Companies in America. Prior to PaperG, he spent time as an investment banker at Credit Suisse, as a consultant at IBM. He holds a BA in Economics from Yale University, and is a fellow of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. During his time as an undergraduate, he also served as the Executive Director of the Elmseed Enterprise Fund, the oldest student-run microlending organization in America.

(Source: Taken from YEI Institute)


Stuart Wall, SignPost, CEO and Founder

Stuart Wall is the founder and CEO of Signpost, a local advertising platform funded by Spark Capital and Google Ventures. Signpost is working to create the AdSense of local commerce and currently powers monetization campaigns for over 1,200 publishers. Stuart developed the concept while in business school at Harvard University and led the company through bootstrapped product development and initial fund raising. Stuart was previously a consultant in the Private Equity Group at Bain & Company where he provided strategic advice for large buyout funds.

(Source: Taken from Huffington Post)


Yanev Suissa, Venture Capital Investor, NEA

Yanev joined NEA officially in 2010, having worked with the firm since 2009. He currently works with the boards of Solidfire, Bridge International Academies, Bandgap Engineering, and Boulder Wind Power for NEA.  In the tech space, Yanev focuses on earlier stage investments, including enterprise and cloud solutions, digital media, and consumer technologies. In the energy space, Yanev focuses on both supply and demand side solutions across all renewable technologies while simultaneously providing regular advice to energy companies within NEA’s portfolio.

Prior to joining NEA, Yanev was a Senior Investment Officer with the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program, where he helped form the group back in 2007. At the Department of Energy, Yanev was engaged in the underwriting of billions of dollars of debt for issuance to companies spanning all sectors within the energy technology industry. Prior to joining the DOE, Yanev served as a consultant working with a range of leading financial industry clients to assess growth opportunities. He also worked as an advisor to several successful startups around the world.
Yanev serves on the board of NYCVC, a group dedicated to building relationships and facilitating interaction among the next generation of New York venture capitalists.   He is also the recipient of a series of fellowships, including the Kauffman Fellowship, the Presidential Management Fellowship, the Heymann Fellowship, the Kennedy Fellowship, and the Cravath Fellowship.

Yanev earned an MBA with distinction from the Oxford Said School of Business (Christ Church), a JD from Harvard Law School, and a Master’s degree  from Sydney Law School.  He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University, receiving his BA in Ethics, Politics & Economics and Sociology.

(Source: Taken from NEA)


Christiaan Vorkink,

Christiaan joined True Ventures in 2008 after spending eight years working in and around early stage technology companies. His first foray into entrepreneurship came in elementary school when he and his best friend managed the largest downtown newspaper delivery service in the small town in New Hampshire where they grew up. After graduating college, he taught history for two years in suburban New York before moving to Boston to work in a variety of roles in support of local startups and in finance. Prior to joining True, Christiaan was a senior analyst in the venture capital research group at Cambridge Associates and worked in network development at BrightRoll, a True portfolio company.


Outside the office, Christiaan is an enthusiastic consumer of Mexican food, an aspiring urban gardener and an avid supporter of all but one of Boston’s four major professional sports teams. He is a graduate of Yale and MIT. Christiaan also serves on the board of directors of YMCA Camp Belknap, a summer camp for boys that he attended and worked at for a dozen years as a child and young adult.


(Source: Taken from True Ventures)

Levels – by “Clay G – YLT2012”

Here is our final project, a short film of our freshman year antics, edited together in the spirit of vidding. In addition to creating a nostalgic montage of youthful naivety, we hoped to create a video that shed light upon fair use.



The video used the original works “Shots,” by LMFAO and “Levels” by Avicii. We felt that these songs were necessary to use in the background because they help to bring us back to freshman year.  Many memories from our first semester here were accompanied by Avicii’s song. However, these songs are copyrighted works. If it were not for the fair use statute, it would be illegal for us to use these songs in our video.

Fair use exists as the lone, strong legal defense against copyright infringement, and allows for reproduction of an original work for such uses as criticism, comment, reporting, and education. This project was educational, as it was made for the Law, Technology, and Culture course; but even if we made the video in our free time, this derivative work would be fair use.


Section 107 of the Copyright Law of 1976 defines four factors that help courts to determine if a work is fair use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for the value of the copyrighted work


Our video is a transformative use of the songs. The clips are edited to have a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Just like many freshman year night, the film begins with drinks, is filled with dancing and play violence, and ends with passing out. We edited the songs together to make a smooth transition between “Shots” and “Levels.” Some of the video footage is sped up to match the tempo of the music. We cut the clips such that important events landed on the beat. (Look at the swipes at the camera, or Jacob slapping the sink). Since the derivative use is transformative, this is a sign that it is fair use.

In theory, the strength of a copyright suit should be proportional to the amount of the original work used in the derivative work. Only the chorus of “Shots” is used, but most of “Levels” is playing during the video. But given other fair use considerations, this one does not play an important role in determining if our video is copyright infringement.

Lastly, our use does not interfere with the utilitarian basis of copyright law. Our Youtube video does not take away or hurt the market for either song because, let’s get real, it’s not going to get a lot of views, and anyone who wanted to hear the entirety of the original songs would not watch our creation.

Clearly, our montage is not copyright infringement, and addresses many aspects of the fair use statute. In addition, it brought Jacob and I back to all the stupid shit we did as freshman, and reminded us that we should continue to film ourselves when things get cray.

Porn in the Closet: A Tribute to CPSC 183 – by “Jennifer S – YLT2012”

Say you wake up in the morning, after a hard night of partying, surrounded by empty bottles, your hungover girlfriend, and your laptop—with windows open to kiddie porn. How the hell did that get there? What the hell is wrong with you? And what legal conundrum will you find yourself in should the police discover your hoards of mysteriously downloaded child pornography? And if, by chance, you like making fannish vids of The Land Before Time set to Prince music, can you legally claim fair use? Yes.

This is the situation that our hero faces in our magnum opus, “Porn in the Closet,” a musical tribute to the great lyrical prodigy R. Kelly. Check out the original R. Kelly song here. “Porn in the Closet” is a scandalous synthesis of modern legal code and case law governing the legality of internet activity, privacy, and free speech in the United States today.

Allow us to explain the twisted tale of our “Porn in the Closet” protagonist. Poor P. Kelly (the “P” of course stands for “Porn”) wakes up to discover child pornography–for decency’s sake, here represented by Sesame Street characters with censored chests. Police officers who thermo-scanned the house, thinking P.Kelly had a marijuana growing operation, enter P. Kelly’s place with a warrant. Their warrant was unlawfully obtained, however, according to the 2001 Supreme Court Ruling in Kyllo v. United States, which found that thermo-scanning violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful search and seizure. P. Kelly lets the officers in, and they discover the laptop full of kiddie porn hidden in the closet. The laptop was given away by the sound of a Skype call, which we may legally use in our video because this is created for educational purposes and is therefore not a copyright violation, but rather fair use!

While the officers, P. Kelly, and his girlfriend Polly ponder what do about the kiddie porn situation, two DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) Agents walk in. While DMCA agents typically issue take-down requests online, the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince is particularly vengeful with protecting his music online. P. Kelly had created fannish vids, splicing footage from The Land Before Time movies with Prince songs. Thankfully, Judge Pierre Leval is on hand to clear up any confusion about transformative work and fair use. Judge Leval is in midget form, an homage to Chapter 9 of the original “Trapped in the Closet.” Our song is, of course, a parody and therefore fair use. Fannish vids are also, in fact, fair use, according to Section 107 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

Another knock comes on the door. P. Kelly questions what else he could have possibly done… Did they eat Roger Whitmore, the cannibalized cave explorer in The Speluncean Explorers? Did they hack into SendMail and create a virus, like the worm that wrought havoc in 1990, created by bored college student Robert Tappan Morris? No, we will never know what other internet crimes or gaffes P. Kelly has committed, because our favorite deus ex machina saves the day. Brad Rosen, in all of his glory, brings our tale to a close.
Follow along with our lyrics:
Seven o’clock in the morning
And the rays from the sun wakes me
I’m stretchin’ and yawnin’
My laptop is there right beside me
And I hear her retching from the bathroom
Then along comes Polly, she kisses me
And unsurprisingly she’s hungover, skank.

Now I’ve got this dumb look on my face
Like, what have we done?
How could I be so stupid to have downloaded all this kiddie porn?
Must have blacked out last night
Oh, what was on my mind?
Met on 4chan, took her home
Didn’t plan to sing this song
Knock on the door hearin, “Police, open up!”
My girlfag looks at me
Tells me to delete the kiddie porn
Keep trying to close windows
“Kiddie porn move out my way”
Police said “We have a warrant”
“Open up sometime today!”
“Shit think, shit think,  shit quick: put it in the closet.”

“Smelled weed last night,
Got a warrant to search your place.
Thermo-scanned your house,
Think you have a growing space.”
“Grow weed? What, we don’t do that.
That was just my tanning bed.”

You’re not gonna believe it, but things get deeper as the story goes on
Next thing you know they hear my laptop with the kiddie porn

“This is child pornography
We’re going to have to take you in”
“Whoa, this isn’t our kiddie porn
Someone else must have put that there.
We’re not into that
We only watch porn between legally-consenting, and unionized disease-free adults”

I’m telling you now, I wish this was the worst part of my day
But then another knock
In walks an agent of the DMCA
We’re by the closet, like man, what the fuck is happenin’?
“We have a takedown request”
From the artist formerly known as Prince
Is this about my fannish vids?  Those were transformative
Land Before Time needed a bit of Prince
Fair use from section 107 of Title 17 of the US Code
A midget said, “Vidding is fair use.”
“Oh I didn’t watch it”
And I’m like, “God it’s Judge Pierre Leval from the second circuit!”

“Why is he a midget?”
“We needed a midget.”
She says, “Baby, we’re in deep shit.”
Another knock on the door.
We stop, all look at each other
Like, Who the hell is that
We say, “What else did we do?”
We need a jailbreak IRL
Did we eat Roger Whitmore?
Did we hack into mail?
The knocking gets louder
I pull out my Baretta
They pull out their Tasers
Said “Don’t tase me bro!”
Midget opens the door
I can’t believe it’s Brad Rosen…

Apple and Google Go Head to Head Over a Few Apps – by “Trevor D – YLT2012”

Many of this week’s readings express concern about the degree of control Apple possesses over the development and distribution of apps for iOS platforms.   Some articles, like Business Insider’s “Apple’s 10 Dumbest iPhone App Rejections” are characterized by a sense of humorous frustration at what seem like arbitrary or misguided reasons for disapproving apps.  At times, these rejections are more than just a simple oversight.  As a 2009 investigation by the Federal Communications Commission hints at, Apple perhaps had ulterior economic motives for rejecting Google Voice as an app.

But in this post I would like to turn to some more recent tensions between Google and Apple.  Firstly, there is the case in which the Youtube app dropped off the homescreen of the iPhone and had to be resubmitted.   In some sense, this wasn’t such a tragedy.  The modified Youtube app was able to expand its selected offerings by tens of thousands of videos once it freed itself from the restrictive advertising policy Apple had hitherto subjected it to. (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/losing-its-place-on-the-iphone-youtube-introduces-a-new-iphone-app/)  But nevertheless, it demonstrates a growing realization on the part of Apple that it can control the way applications are distributed on its platforms.


The second development I would like to bring up concerns the ongoing competition between Google Maps and Apple’s own map application.  As most of you know, Apple has long ago switched over from Google Maps on the iPhone to its own markedly inferior app, and even today Google periodically voices complaints on the subject.  In an article appearing this past November in the Guardian, Google has expressed concerns that when they complete their Google Maps app for the iPhone it will be rejected by Apple.  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/nov/05/google-maps-doubt-iphone) Sometimes, it is hard to know how seriously to take these comments.  But while this smacks of sensationalism, Google points out that Apple does not currently include any mapping App that uses the Google Maps’ APIs, even when it comes to well known apps like Maps+.  Even in this week’s readings, it was shown that Google Latitude has similarly encountered rejection by Apple.  So the situation already seems to be rather problematic.

Still, in most cases Apple has the right to exclude or the control apps it sells even though it might seem unfair.  Apple is making it increasingly less convenient to use non-Apple software, but even then, one must remember that app users and developers still have the option of turning to other channels of obtaining and distributing apps.  Although I sympathize with some of the concerns discussed in this week’s readings, for the time being, Google will just have to be content with complaining.

“The Times” It Is a-Changin’ – by “Pamela M – YLT2012”

As we turn to the web for more and more of our news, the reliability (or lack thereof) of online sources becomes an increasing concern. In some ways, the advent of new media is a good thing in that it can diversify our news sources and increase coverage by engaging citizens as journalists but in other ways, it serves to weaken facts or strengthen falsehoods.

My biggest issue with the debate on online journalism. It seems to be predicated on three axioms about print journalism before the Internet that aren’t true: (1) newspapers were unbiased, (2) newspapers were accurate; and (3) journalists were honest, educated individuals. The Internet can both repair and exacerbate the problems of traditional media on these points.


Newspapers have long printed what they thought the most interesting articles would be on the front page under big headlines to grab readers’ attention. This practice is not exclusive to the dime-Tabloids, even the big and mighty The New York Times has a euro-centric front page, and attention-grabbing human interest stories below the fold. An article about a nanny-stabbing two children on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was the lead story a few weeks ago, not the countless deaths of children in Afghanistan. The Internet (combined with a few violations of privacy) allows the process of determining which stories will be most interesting to you to be democratized based on what your friends are posting about thus giving any story the potential to grab your attention.

By choosing what and how to report, papers allow for hidden bias to enter their stories. Journalists are human and we can’t pretend that their individual values don’t at times affect their reporting. In addition, placing an editorial on an issue one page after coverage of the issue undoubtedly influences a reader’s view on said issue. The Internet allows for many sources to have a voice, ideally averaging out each voice’s individual bias. Alternatively, by potentially limiting your news sources to your friends, the Internet has the potential to amplify bias based on preexisting social identifiers.


It wasn’t only simple misquotes and incorrect facts that were common before the Internet. I still have the election on my mind, so we’ll stick with the classic example of “Dewey Defeats Truman.” The Chicago Tribune’s deadline for its issue the Wednesday after Election Day fell before results from the 1948 Presidential Campaign were in, so, using polls conducted before Election Day they went to press with the story of Dewey’s triumph. Truman ended up winning, and the now infamous picture was taken the next day. By making corrections immediate and sources more numerous and diverse the Internet has the potential to improve accuracy in reporting. On the other hand the web also allows for lies to take hold and spread like wild fire.


To find a case of a fake journalist one need only look as far as Jayson Blair of the New York Times.

All of this is not to suggest that we’re better off allowing anyone to report a story in 140 characters or less, but rather that the advent of new media presents the opportunity to erect a new, better journalism in place of the old one. Journalism 2.0 will take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Internet while preserving the ethics of traditional journalism. The most important change brought by new media is that the journalist and the audience can be the same, reporting is increasingly becoming a collaborative process.

Indeed, as Karl Rove demonstrated on Election Day, sometimes, even news reported by one’s own professional legacy media network can be open to debate (if only by you), and that open debate does not always increase reliability.

Despite exceptions like Rove, traditional media has evolved to allow for an accepted hierarchy of veracity between sources. Newspapers and network news have long aspired to be accurate and unbiased, seeking a broad audience. With print media, readers can gauge the dependability of a publication based on its look, feel, and price, even if one knows nothing about it. On television, networks fight to provide the most trustworthy face to deliver the news. Our goal should be to prevent in Journalism 2.0 what happened on cable news as the channels proliferated – Networks sought out a niche audience by serving to their biases (of course, some channels take this a step further than others, cough Fox News cough, amen MSNBC amen). We need to come up with a way to maintain news-neutrality – and ideally improve accuracy – in spite of proliferating sources.

The promise of new media is that the quantity of sources will be so great that it will drown out each individual-biased voice and allow a neutral and accurate report to rise up in popularity. In this scenario however we become more susceptible to the biases of our contacts as certainly specific social groups will be more susceptible to particular leanings. The question then becomes whether we need some sort of moderator (say, a traditional journalist — or a journalistic version of Google’s page rank) to sort through the noise and identify the most important. The news is not as black and white as an Amazon review; we can’t simply average the facts to get rid of partiality. When 140 characters is enough to amplify a falsehood and even “traditional journalists” can’t control themselves on Twitter, how do we ensure that the right facts are averaged?

Society needs news and investigations more than it needs profitable newspapers. Just like newspapers evolved an accepted hierarchy of truthfulness (or, truthiness) so too do I have faith that both the Internet and users of the internet will evolve to build a new and improved hierarchy. The good thing about the internet as it currently stands is no one has “great power” and thus no one is trusted with “great responsibility.” I don’t know how to save newspaper’s profit margins, but I have faith that with the openness of the internet — information will come out — initially most likely from either biased sources with axes to grind, or from wholesale release of information via ‘wikileaks’ — and that some combination of blogs, Wikis, sharing and ratings will result in identifying the stories and curators that are the most accurate and most important.

Trafficking in Consumer Data – by “Andres F – YLT2012”

When you navigate to a website, you’re usually going there to get information. Maybe the news, whether it’s political, sports, cultural, or whatever else it might be. However, something that we don’t often consider is the price at which that supposedly free information comes.

As the title of the author suggests, “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.” Simply put, you may think you’re accessing an Internet site for free. However, in reality, those websites might actually be selling access to you, the consumer, the average reader. What exactly are you selling though?

When you’re accessing these websites, you’re selling your search history, your personal information, your tendencies, your preferences, your approach to the internet as a whole. As a result, the companies who place advertisements on the ESPN’s, New York Times’, Facebook’s of the world are paying millions of dollars to gain access to our subconscious, to place their ads strategically to make the most of our attention.


Now, this might be a bit outrageous, but should the companies who aggregate our data, and monitor our Internet traffic actually pay us to monitor our activity? It might seem absurd, but sites such as Google sell advertisements to other companies, making millions of dollars of our shopping tendencies, observing and monitoring the sites we visit.

If they’re profiting from our browsing the Internet, why shouldn’t we? I’ve got some concerns about what I perceive as certain websites trafficking in personal information, which is a very real and pressing problem. It’s one thing to sell access to data traffic, and the websites consumers are accessing. It’s quite another to trade in, and gain from the personal information of your consumers. There might be some fine print in Google’s numerous user agreements that make it “technically legal” for them to disseminate one’s personal data. But how can they actually rationalize it…

Could you be an entrepreneur? – by “Alexander I – YLT2012”

Yalies are career-oriented, ambitious people and while I find it heartening that a growing number of students are deciding not to sell their souls to investment banks, it could be problematic that more and more people have decided they have what it takes to be entrepreneurs. As a form of guidance to these people (many of whom are my friends), I have created a flowchart to give them a good idea of what their career goals should really be if they are considering becoming entrepreneurs.


If people end up being well-suited to be entrepreneurs as indicated by the flowchart–or are convinced that I’m a moron (not exactly a crazy assertion)–and they have an idea they believe solves an important problem, then they should apply to a variety of accelerators, incubators, and seed venture groups in order to launch their products. To be of assistance, I have compiled another flowchart to let them know which programs to apply to; if they find a statement true, then they should apply to the corresponding program.

Simplified: Why and How to be an Entrepreneur – by “Nicholas G – YLT2012”

The movie The Social Network chronicled the creation of the social media site we are all familiar with today, Facebook. Although I believe the intended purpose of the movie was to tell the dramatic story behind the creation of the website, including the back-stabbings, lawsuits, and flaws in the founders’ characters, the movie had a much more redeeming and influential effect in the long run: The Social Network sparked an increase in interest in entrepreneurship, with young people especially, as viewers were exposed to the journey that a typical startup venture follows and come to feel that they can start a venture themselves. Furthermore, The Social Network shows viewers just how possible (and easy) it is to be an entrepreneur on the Internet today.  But why would anyone want to be an entrepreneur?

A Poster for The Social Network
The Social Network sparked interest in entrepreneurship among young people especially.

The Perks

What exactly are the perks of becoming an entrepreneur, especially when you have to take on a large amount of risk? Well, for one, being an entrepreneur means that you won’t have to take orders from an annoying boss. You and your friends (if you choose to start something with your friends) will be in charge of all of the business decisions. You will be your own boss, which means you set your own deadlines, decide what your work environment is going to be like, create your own product, find capital to fund your own business, and learn from your everyday experiences. (Sounds almost like college, but as a job). Already sounds enticing, right?

You also have the chance of solving “the money problem” for yourself. By “solving the money problem,” I mean never having to worry about living expenses or retirement ever again…I mean getting rich fast. By completely devoting yourself to your startup for a short span of time, assuming your venture is successful, you can avoid the situation of taking a drab job that doesn’t suit your interests because you want/need to cover your own expenses and save for the future.

Outside of the possibility of big money and the ability to tailor your workspace and work patterns, the true perk of being an entrepreneur is that you get to work on what you are truly passionate about. You get to build a business around your own idea. You are the creator (just like in The Sims or in Minecraft, but in real life!). Just think about how cool this is. Let’s say you’re a “hacker” (aka a computer programmer) and you code this new social media website that millions of people flock to daily. Or, let’s say you love ice cream, and there’s no acceptable ice cream parlor in your area, so you decide to start a new ice cream parlor that makes its own homemade, delicious ice cream and offers a friendly, sitting environment.

Coney's Cones Logo

Coney’s Cones brings a new type of ice cream parlor to Coney Island”

No matter whether your idea is a new invention or just an improvement on an existing product or even just business practices, it all spawns from you.  You get to see your idea grow from a tiny company made up of just a few people, to a company that is profitable and that could very possibly change the way business in the market conducted for years to come. All of the greatest entrepreneurs and inventors agree: the keys to being a successful entrepreneur are enjoying what you are working on and always striving to improve your product/vision. In case you don’t believe me:

“You have to be very diligent…Know in your heart that you are a good person with good goals…Always seek excellence.” -Steve Wozniak [3]

“Good ideas are out there for anyone with the wit and the will to find them.” -Malcolm Gladwell [2]

So as a quick refresh, the perks are:

  1. You are your own boss
  2. You can get rich fast
  3. You can work on what you are passionate about, and
  4. You can even change the way society works

The Drawbacks

There aren’t many drawbacks to being an entrepreneur. The first and main drawback is that there is always the chance of failure. Even if you work tirelessly, and you have an amazing idea, your company always has the potential to fail. Why? Well business depends on the market, and if consumers do not buy your product/service, or if some competitor sneaks from under you and captures your market, then its kaput.

Another drawback to entrepreneurship is that your work becomes your life for matter of time. This is because startups are usually created by a small team, and since there are only a small number of people to do a tremendous amount of work, this leads to extra long hours, and sometimes even a life of “work, work, work.” The unfortunate implications of this are that you might have to put your social life and even relationships with friends and family on hold.

“Instead of working at an ordinary rate for 40 years, you will work like hell for four. And maybe end up with nothing…During this time you’ll do little but work, because when you’re not working, your competitors will be. [Over 3 years] I went to visit my family twice. Otherwise I just worked.”  -Paul Graham [4]

Despite this, I think the benefits outweigh the costs. An intense work routine only lasts for a few years max, and even if you do fail, you still learn a lot from the experience. In fact, in Silicon Valley, failing is a badge of honor since it teaches you how to be more successful the next time around. Furthermore, once you do succeed, you have created something (you have created something) awesome.

How to Innovate

There are many ways to innovate and come up with ideas for potentially successful ventures, but in this section I will briefly discuss a few of the more common ways that some of the best entrepreneurs utilize.

Improving Something

The easiest way to come up with ideas for ventures is to look at the world around you, think of things you use often, and then to think of ways to improve upon them. I’m sure you have those moments when you say,

“I wish this were like this, now that would be great.”

Write down what you think of, these moments provide precisely the types of ideas you want to build off of. With this in mind, it is easy to see that there are countless things that need improvement. Paul Graham claims that by reading the newspaper one can find many ideas. The newspaper itself is something that needs to be enhanced; it is a dying medium! [4]

Improvement ideas don’t even need to be dramatic, profound, or even visible to the common consumer. Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple, designed and built the Apple II (the best selling computer at the time that it was on the market), a computer that was, among other things, innovative in its simplistic internal design and in its minimization number of chips. Such simplicity guaranteed that fewer bugs could ever be in the software (and hardware), and also minimized the costs for producing the cutting-edge computer, helping Apple generate profits more easily than its competitors because it had to spend less on producing its computers. Another example of an innovative startup that stemmed from improving an already existing product is Flickr, the online photo-sharing gallery. Although there were already many similar products online, Flickr improved upon them by adding a cleaner user interface, adding tagging of photos, and, most importantly, by moving away from pushing prints and giving more value to just sharing photos online. One last example is the Swiffer, which drastically improved upon the idea of the mop by creating a “mop” that uses disposable sheets, rather than old, smelly, disgusting reusable sponges/rags like older mops. (Of course, there’s also Facebook, which enhanced the social network idea of MySpace by creating a more organized, uniformly designed site with a better user interface.)

Startups Built Off of Improvement


Looking for the Obvious

Another way to find an idea for a successful venture is to look for things that are “obvious,” but that we cannot immediately see because we look at them with the wrong perspective. Although this may at times tie in with improving a product, past “obvious” products are usually those that draw the thought:

“Wow, I could have invented that, that’s so obvious!” or “It’s not that special, anyone could have invented that.”

Ideas similar to these are fairly difficult to see without pondering upon something for a while. It is usually something that can be improved upon or that is missing that we overlook everyday. One way to more easily discover these types of “obvious” ideas is to look at something you do not know very much about (or know well), to come understand it in a new way with what you do know well, and then to use your new, different perspective/understanding to examine what needs to be added or changed. An example would be to design special software for small businesses. Another example that I’m sure a lot of us overlook are the twist-ties that are used to keep breads and other foods fresh for longer. One last, brief example discussed in Malcom Gladwell’s article, “In the Air: Who says big ideas are rare?” is a filter that captures cancer cells, which actually circulate through the body thousands of times (a fact that had been overlooked for years until a physicist realized this by doing easy calculations), stopping them from settling in a new place (metastasizing).

Twist Ties
Obvious, right?

Inventing Something New

You can also come up with an idea that is completely revolutionary. This form of innovation usually ties in with both improving something that exists and/or finding something obvious that is missing from society. A few examples are telephones, the Internet, personal computers, cars, etc. These are the most notable inventions, and most come from combining a new perspective, going against the opinion that something is “impossible,” and finding how to drastically improve some part of society.

Finally, entrepreneurs must always keep a few things in mind when considering ideas. For one, ideas should not be so narrow that if the market shifts, the company fails. Two, entrepreneurs should cater to and listen to users, because consumers decide which businesses survive. If you do not listen to them, or understand what they want, then your company will be doomed to fail.


In sum, to really stress these points, in order to be and to become a successful entrepreneur, you must be passionate about your goals and visions, you must want to create something, and you must truly understand what consumers want.


Extended Reading and Sources:

  1. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs
  2. Entrepreneurship Corner: Stanford, Explore
  3. Malcolm Gladwell, In the Air: Who Says Big Ideas Are Rare?
  4. Jessica Livingston, Founders at Work, Interview With Steve Wozniak
  5. Paul Graham, How to Start a Startup

Wikipedia and Network Effects – by “Michael H – YLT2012”

Who among us hasn’t observed a teacher sneer at the thought of a student referencing Wikipedia over traditional, non-digital sources? These teachers laud the immutability and consistency of books over time; however, this great strength of books can also be a significant drawback: they lack the generativity and adaptability to incorporate changing historiographical opinions, cutting-edge scientific research, and innovative discoveries that a more flexible medium provides. Indeed, while a biology textbook from the 1940’s or an NBA records almanac from the 1980’s is certainly “consistent,” each fails to incorporate new information as it becomes available.

Generativity and informational accuracy don’t have to be mutually exclusive though. Indeed, a study by Nature in 2005 found that in a representative set of 42 scientific articles Wikipedia contained 162 factual errors or misleading remarks, while Encyclopedia Britannica contained 123. (1) To realize just how remarkable it is that a website that relies on a decentralized, peer-production process could rival an information source with 100 paid, full-time editors and 4,400 contributors, it is necessary to look at the underlying framework of Wikipedia. (2)


Using money earned from his humble beginnings in “erotic photography,” Jimbo Wales sought to create a free, online encyclopedia. In 2000 he conceived of Nupedia, which in the vein of traditional encyclopedias hired experts to write articles. Over the course of 3 years, Nupedia managed to churn out 25 articles. At this juncture, Jimbo Wales sought relief in Postel’s Law (“Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others”) and created a revamped version of Nupedia called Wikipedia, which allowed the general public to create and edit articles using wiki software. The rest is history. Today, Wikipedia contains 23 million articles, spans 285 languages, and appeals to 365 million readers around the globe. Currently, Wikipedia is the most widely used general reference website with 2.7 billion page views monthly. (3) The triumph of Wikipedia over traditional, pay-for-use encyclopedias can be partly attributed to Gresham’s law, which can summarized colloquially as cheap and convenient drives out expensive and high quality.

Wikipedia Model

Encouragement that the Wikipedia model—a model that relies on the collective wisdom of a large number of unpaid volunteers—could be viable was provided by the NASA ClickWorkers experiment, which ran from November 2000 to September 2001. In the experiment by NASA, unpaid volunteers visited NASA’s website to mark and classify craters and “honeycomb” terrain on Mars. (4) The study produced two surprising and interesting results. First, people are willing to engage in an unpaid, novel, and productive experience merely for the fun of it.  Second, an amalgamation of data contributed by many unskilled volunteers can be virtually indistinguishable from the output of a trained worker. Thus, large groups of people are capable of producing high-quality work for free.

funny gifs

A Counterintuitive Proposition

It seems hard to fathom that a website that allows users cloaked in a veil of anonymity to edit the content of articles could rival the quality of Encyclopedia Britannica.  In an attempt to understand the success of Wikipedia, it is interesting to observe a city in the Netherlands, Drachten. The city has chosen to forgo basic traffic regulations in an attempt to increase safety on the roads. The experiment in Drachten initially has shown promise. Some attribute this to the difference between the effects of rules and standards. While a rule is a regulation that stipulates precise boundaries and is either followed or broken, a standard is more ambiguous and up to interpretation, calling for people to exercise sound judgment. While people might try to circumvent rules that they perceive to be imposed by arbitrary, external forces, they can become more considerate of others when their personal judgment is called upon. As a result, relaxing rules can have the paradoxical effect of causing people to adhere to the desired behavior more closely. (5)

Putting It All Together

So what do NASA and traffic regulations in the Netherlands have to do with Wikipedia, you might ask? These two anecdotes lend credence to the basic assumptions of the Wikipedia model—that the general public is capable of yielding nearly scholarly work with minimal regulation. While the notion of many small contributions forming a remarkable finished product seems strange with respect to encyclopedia articles, consider the analogy of evolution: slight genetic mutations over time in individual agents within a population lead to the betterment of the species as a whole.  A similar model is used in scientific research: major breakthroughs rest on the small contributions of many scientists. While this model may seem strange for information compilation, it is certainly not novel.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It is unsurprising that many of the flaws that arise concerning Wikipedia are quickly ameliorated; indeed, Wikipedia relies on the procrastination principle—rather than trying to forecast potential problems, it waits for a particular problem to arise and then fixes it. For example, immediately following initial reports of Michael Jackson’s death, “edit wars” ensued on Wikipedia regarding the veracity of these claims. In response to such edit wars, Wikipedia adopted the three-revert rule, which stipulates that an editor should not make the same correction to an article more than three times in one day. Another example of Wikipedia’s remarkable ability to adapt lies in its response to criticism by a former editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica, Robert McHenry. When McHenry pointed out that Wikipedia failed to note the ambiguity associated with Alexander Hamilton’s birth year, a mistake of which Columbia and Encarta were also guilty, users on Wikipedia corrected the error in under a week, a testament to how dynamic the website can be. These are just a couple of the controversies that Wikipedia has responded to effectively and expediently. (For more see Essjay Controversy and Wikipedia Biography Controversy)

My Take

When passing judgment on Wikipedia, I think it is important for us to view it in its proper context. Wikipedia is not meant to be a compilation of flawlessly written, perfectly crafted articles. When such a high threshold for quality is set for content, a bottleneck ensues, leading to an inability to cover certain relevant topics of interest. The three pillars that make Wikipedia so desirable—it’s free, convenient, and unparalleled in the breadth of its information—necessarily lead to a softening of stringent requirements for content quality and review. (You can’t have your cake and eat it too…) As an anecdote in support of the incredible amount of interconnected information on Wikipedia, consider a game that I’m sure most people are familiar with: given topic X and topic Y, start at topic X on Wikipedia and get to a page about topic Y in Z clicks or less. As an example, starting at Harvard Law School I was able to get to Lady Gaga in 4 clicks. (Harvard Law School-> United States->American music->American pop music-> Lady Gaga. Can you beat me?)

I do not understand Wikipedia “hata’s.” I think it is a losing battle to try to argue that due to a small number of factual errors (3.86 per article as determined by Nature), (1) Wikipedia  is completely without redeeming value. At a bare minimum, I think one must concede that Wikipedia is beneficial for obtaining background information on a topic. To return to my initial anecdote, this rationale should at least preclude a teacher from scoffing at a student who includes Wikipedia in his or her works cited page. (Note that I have almost exclusively adhered to citing Wikipedia articles for this blog post.) If you are personally unsatisfied with the content of Wikipedia articles, you can ignore them entirely, contribute towards improving the articles, or pursue litigation against Wikipedia (although you almost certainly will be unsuccessful…).

Personally, one of my favorite qualities of Wikipedia is that it provides a consistent format across articles that are (at least to a degree) targeted towards the general public. As a student interested in technology and the natural sciences, I often have to read about scientific discoveries that occurred in the last couple of years: frequently, I only have two sources to turn to: the original research paper and Wikipedia (a testament to Wikipedia’s generativity). Bearing in mind the complexity of the topics, I seek to wrap my brain around the concepts by skimming Wikipedia before delving into the highly esoteric research papers. I believe that using Wikipedia in this manner is an appropriate use of the website. While many people possess a take it or leave it mentality when it comes to Wikipedia, I believe that it is important to apply basic common sense and reasoning when deciding whether to use the website—if you can tolerate 3.86 errors in your reading on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, then have it; if not, put your laptop up and embark in the direction of the nearest university library.

(1) http://news.cnet.com/2100-1038_3-5997332.html
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia
(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clickworkers
(5) http://futureoftheinternet.org/static/ZittrainTheFutureoftheInternet.pdf