Monthly Archives: March 2017

Matt Javitch on Networking in Boston and the Mathematics of Real Estate Investing

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

You know those people that everybody seems to like? They have charisma. They’re affable. Like Jeff Daniels on the Newsroom.

That’s Matt Javitch.

Matt has been taking a barbell-approach to investing in Boston real estate and startups. He’s my go-to resource for investment advice because, unlike some advisors who try to sell me their advice, he makes a living off his investment thesis. Also, he’s never tried to sell me a thing.

I invited Matt on the show to give me a deep dive into real estate investing fundamentals, quitting corporate life for startup investing and more.

We talk about

  • The networking scene in Boston
  • How to quit your job and start a business
  • The real estate investment market
  • How real estate investing is different and complementary to startup investing
  • How to get started in real estate investing
  • How to be successful in real estate investing

Please enjoy this episode of Hacker Practice with Matt Javitch:

Notes

[00:00] How Justus and Matt met

[01:00] Networking in Boston

  • Events are becoming more and more niche-specific
  • You know what you’re getting when the event is very specific

[5:00] Matt’s background in finance

  • Financial advising and real estate investment

[7:00] Why small networking events can be super valuable

  • Most events are really hit or miss
  • Networking is a numbers game

[10:00] What Matt did to prepare to leave

  • Saved capital
  • Built a network
  • Honed a valuable skill set as a real estate investment analyst

[14:45] Specific numbers around how to leave your job and get into real estate investing

  • Matt had 3-4 months of living expenses saved
  • $300-400k pledged from investment partners

[16:30] To be successful in real estate investing

  • Have a long term vision
  • Understand the financial risks
  • Have a safety net or “plan B”

[19:00] What would Matt do different if he started over

  • Would have been more aggressive buying properties while at his job

[20:30] What is Matt doing to mitigate risk of negative macro economic conditions

  • Invest in “primary” markets (cities etc.)
  • Some factors can’t be controlled but should be understood

[23:45] The dumbbell strategy and Matt’s investment in startups

  • Real estate is somewhat predictable compared to startups

[27:00] Angel investing in Boston vs. Silicon Valley

  • Boston has a conservative social and financial culture

[30:00] How to get started real estate investing without any debt

  • It’s challenging.
  • Usually you make more money when you favor debt over equity
  • Start with as little as $150-250k
  • Start in a secondary, suburban market. Matt gets specific in greater Boston area
  • Renovate, then rent or sell
  • Can also experiment in other markets like San Antonio, Texas
  • Southern markets are usually less expensive

[34:00] Different geographic regions have different risk factors

[37:00] Have $250k, bought a property, need to renovate, where do I start?

  • Everything is quantified on a per foot basis
  • Market research is critical. Different locations have different /sq ft costs. Understand the local housing market
  • Look at last 6 months and what prices local homes have sold at vs. your prospective investment
  • Brokers and legal costs often add up to around 5%+ of the cost

[42:30] How much money do you budget for renovation?

  • Again: focus on cost per square foot
  • P = initial cost / sq ft
  • R = cost of renovation / sq ft
  • C = P + R
  • F = price you sell the property at / sq ft
  • PROFIT = F – C

[46:00] Working with many contractors and sub-contractors

[47:15] Selling the property

  • Matt often lists and sells the house himself if it’s local (saves 2.5% commission)
  • Real estate agents have less incentive to negotiate on your behalf than you (Freakonomics)

[50:00] The most challenging part of real estate investing for Matt

  • Inspectors vs contractor drama
  • Local politics often play a role in inspection

[56:00] A big part of Matt’s success can be attributed to his likability and how he incentivizes contractors to do quality work

  • EQ is valuable in this regard

[59:00] Final requests and contact info

  • Do your homework and know your risks
  • Matt is happy to talk to any aspiring investors (startup or real estate)
  • Axilon Capital Partners
  • 973.788.9333

What else?

If you enjoyed this episode subscribe to the show on iTunes and leave us a review 😀

Johnny Boursiquot on building a software agency from scratch, learning Go for Rubyists, and server-less software architectures.

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes today.

Sometimes you start a conversation with one intention, and digress into something completely different.

This happened to me recently, in a conversation with an old friend and mentor, Johnny Boursiquot.

Johnny and I were supposed to do a deep dive into Go Lang and Ruby in this hour long conversation. Instead we spent half an hour talking about Johnny’s experience building a technology agency from scratch.

Then we got around to talking tech XD.

Johnny is well-known as one of the pillars of BostonRB. He also helped to organize the Boston GoLang meetup before moving to Maryland where he founded Baltimore’s GoLang Meetup.

He was listed on New Relic’s list of 18 Go Experts to Follow Online.

In the episode we talk about:

  • Johnny’s lessons learned from founding and building a tech agency, lots of juicy business advice for consulting companies and agencies in the first half of this talk
  • The relative pros and cons of using ruby vs go in different domains
  • How to get started using a new language

  • A quick primer in serverless application architectures

  • How intermediate devs can 10x their workflow

And a lot more.

Enjoy.

Notes

[00:00] What brings Johnny to Maryland after living more than a decade in Boston

  • What brought him to Boston in the first place

[02:30] Major lessons learned from time in Boston running a technology company

  • Running a company means that you’re responsible for other people’s income
  • Many unexpected challenges: biz dev, legal, etc

[05:15] How did Johnny get started in technology business.

  • Started with entrepreneurship in high school

[08:00] Learning how to do business

  • Dealing with clients
  • Managing expectation
  • Touching on the difference between hacking and building a product

[11:00] #1 Lesson? The difference between a service business and product business

  • Agencies do not scale the same way a product scales
  • Most agencies do not end up producing a lot of reusable technology or internal products
  • It’s hard to do internal product development because your staff is busy with revenue generating service activities
  • It’s risky to invest in product development

[20:00] What would Johnny do differently if he could start over?

  • Start a product company: raise money.

[23:00] What about the reverse situation? Making a profitable, successful agency.

  • Protect your margins
  • Be flexible with workflow; Agile doesn’t always work smoothly in an agency environment
  • “They want warez”
  • Your job is to tease out the specifics of what the client actually wants
  • “You’re not in control of your own product roadmap”

[27:30] How to mitigate risk of scope creep

  • Establish a relationship; a partnership to guarantee future work
  • Get a Master Services Agreement

[32:00] Segue to technical discussion. What is Ruby good for vs Golang?

  • Ruby for developing something fast. “Getting a web app out there as fast as possible”
  • GoLang is better for heavy lifting, whenever performance is a consideration

[37:45] What are Johnny’s tips for learning Go (or any language)

  • “Leave baggage at the door…appreciate the differences of Go”
  • There is a “Go Way” of doing things

[41:15] What kind of project should I try using GO in

  • Anything with heavy duty network requirements
  • Microservices (“Something you can throw away”)
  • “Gnarly, performance-critical jobs”
  • Concurrency in Go is super-awesome

[45:00] AWS Lambda and Serverless 101

  • Not actually “serverless”. That’s a marketing term. There is always a server somewhere.
  • Monolithic App > Microservices > Lambda functions
  • Everything is a discrete functional unit
  • Very cost-effective because the server only runs when you call the function

[51:30] What can an intermediate Rails developer to 10-20x their workflow

  • Look past the magic of the language (Ruby) or framework (Rails)
  • Learn the underlying properties of the WYSIWYG
  • Understand how SQL, HTTP, Databases, and CURL — fundamentals of the web — work
  • Learning the underlying complexity enables you to use the higher-level abstractions more rapidly

[59:00] Johnny’s relationship with the command line

  • Used to work in Windows, and mostly everything was a GUI
  • Put together command-line tools to build Flash experiences
  • Started using Ubuntu – understood that there are discrete tools to use and stitch together from the command line
  • Now uses a Mac. Everything can be done from the terminal

[1:05:45] Running swift on the server

[1:07:00] Johnny’s new life hack

  • Modified Pomodoro with a physical twist

[1:10:00] Johnny’s child-rearing hacks

    • Every child is different
    • Reward effort over innate qualities
    • Lots of people squander innate talent. Working hard never fails.

[1:14:00] Johnny’s new job at an education non-profit

  • Serving under-served school districts
  • Exposing diverse groups to the world of technology
  • Bring education equity to the communities that need it most
  • Mostly doing ops work these days
  • The biggest challenge is always dealing with people
  • Johnny loves pairing with more junior members

[1:20:00] Final requests to the audience and where to find Johnny

What now?

Go become a better programmer. And subscribe to the show on iTunes.

Caricature Artist Julia Kelly on Art, Business, and Bookkeeping (e011)

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

Julia Kelly and Justus in the Cayman Islands

Do you know somebody who loves to argue?

I’m one of those people. So is Julia Kelly.

We’re great together.

Julia is the most renowned caricature artist west of the Mississippi. She built her business from scratch and is currently starting business #2.

I guess I caught her at a good time.

When I asked her to do an interview with me. She made an interesting request: “Let’s wing it!”

She’s been on some pretty awesome podcasts including: Entrepreneur on Fire, Double your Freelancing, and Afford Anything. She says: the less scripted the show, the more fun the interview.

My old college buddies would agree: Justus loves “doing it live”. So I agreed to do the episode with ZERO PREPARATION.

Typically I prepare for interviews with rigorous research and outline a list of topics to talk about. In this case I did no such thing. Shoot, I didn’t even take notes until after we recorded the conversation.

The result was a fascinating conversations that covers art, business and everything in between. Enjoy 😀

[00:00] This is an unconventional episode. Julia explains why.

[01:55] How Julia introduces herself as

  • A Bookkeeper
  • A Caricature Artist

[4:30] How to be a success without trying very hard

  • Morning rituals and meditation are for the birds
  • How to be successful without them: Show up, do good work, and keep your word.

Sine qua non noun

  1. an essential condition; a thing that is absolutely necessary.

[07:00] Some ways Julia and Justus are different

[10:00] Why Julia is moving into the bookkeeping business

  • Recurring revenue, predictability, stability
  • Partnership

[13:30] Julia shoots down the concept of “following your passion”

  • It’s a fleeting feeling

[16:00] How Julia developed the craft of caricature art

  • Time on task is the most important aspect of developing artistic ability
  • Got a job at LEGO Land
  • The job had a 6-hour training program where everything was done in a marker
  • No erasing
  • Don’t be a perfectionist (“If it’s 80% good, ship it!”)

[24:00] Julia’s and Justus’ artistic influences

Julia Kelly’s Bust of JRR Tolkien

[32:30] The story of the Captain’s hat and lessons Justus learned from an experiment in fame

  • Fame is cheap
  • Anonymity is priceless

[37:30] Julia’s struggles with identifying her strengths

[40:30] Julia’s friend who knows Tom Cruise

  • Confidence is extremely valuable.
  • Fake it ‘til you make it

[42:30] Julia’s story getting started freelancing

  • Market focus made all the difference

[45:30] Selling to trade show marketers

  • Tracking ROI is important
  • “Connect what you do to the outcomes they want.”
  • Attract traffic
  • Create follow-up opportunities
  • Create the right marketing language and identify with their needs
  • Get one customer and drill them for what sold them
  • Get feedback to improve (Peter Dunbar echoed this in episode 8)

[53:30] What lessons from caricature art transfer to bookkeeping

  • Pricing for bookkeeping is more custom, so don’t advertise fixed prices
  • Longer sales cycle for bookkeeping

[56:30] Successes and failures in bookkeeping

  • 3 client since August
  • Cold email works!

[57:30] How to cold email effectively using LinkedIn

  • Julia sends 70 canned emails a day
  • The 556th email hit!

[1:00:00] Justus tells a story about canned cold emails that worked on him

  • Follow up 4 times!
  • Follow up again!

Yet Another Mail Merge Google Sheets Extension

[1:04:00] Julia’ Bookkeeping goals and differentiating factors

  • 7 figure business
  • Totally remote
  • Flat monthly fees

[1:05:45] Julia’s ideal client is hands-off, casual, comfortable with remote bookkeeping, and wears plaid

  • Rapidly growing startups are a good fit in many cases

[1:08:30] Julia wants everyone to go read Slatestarcodex and talk to her about it.

Check Julia out at

Also, Julia thinks GMO’s are safe. That is all.

What else?

That’s all. Actually, wait, no. Go to iTunes and subscribe to the show. And leave us a review 😀

Industrial Design, Manufacturing Barbells, and B2B Sales with Chris Michaud

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

Building products from scratch is hard. Building a business is at least as difficult. A lot of young founders and entrepreneurs lose their minds trying to grapple with the interwoven complexities of these disciplines.

Chris Michaud has figured them both out.

Chris is a rising phenom in the world of industrial design and manufacturing. In 2015 he left a full-time gig and started First Summit Design, a product consulting group with a focus on industrial design for cool products. He’s since become involved with a number of other design-focused companies that we discuss in some depth.

We had a great conversation about hardware design and manufacturing, serial entrepreneurship and work/life balance.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Hacker Practice with Chris Michaud

Notes

[01:30] Justus and Chris met when they came together to work on an IoT project for a somewhat obscure sport.

[04:30] What is industrial design?

[06:15] Why Chris focuses on the ideas behind design rather than influential design figures.

[07:30] How Chris designed his fiancee’s engagement ring.

  • Research first: materials then user
  • Sketching

[09:15] Is design easier for one person or for a group?

[11:00] How did Chris develop the skill of sketching products

  • Education helped

[12:30] Chris’s first big product and how he went about designing it

[14:00] Good barbells vs GREAT barbells

[16:40] Why kettlebells might be an easier place to start designing for fitness equipment than a barbell

[17:45] Where is materials research important?

[18:45] Discussion on steel quality and impacting variables

  • Tensile strength
  • Yield strength
    • The weight at which steel will permanently
  • Percent elongation

[23:12] Why it’s important to think about manufacturing and assembly concerns during the design phase of a product

  • Design for Manufacturing
  • Design for Assembly

[27:30] Domestic vs international manufacturing

  • It depends on the thing you’re manufacturing
  • Chris likes to design where he manufactures

[31:10] Chris goes to a wedding in China

[33:00] Different regions in China do different kinds of manufacturing

[35:00] How does Chris vet new manufacturing relationships

  • Start with ten vendors
  • Rate each vendor on various aspects (price, social responsibility, etc)

[36:00] How Chris got a local Chinese government to shut down a chrome plating facility for unsafe labor practices

[38:45] Chris is a partner in four businesses

[46:00] How does Chris get big clients

  • Know your stuff
  • Always be meeting people.
  • “Word of mouth should be good enough, if you’re good enough.”

[50:00] Chris describes his sales process

  • Get to know them, ask invasive questions
  • Never tell them what you’re gonna do for them, tell them what you’re about

[52:00] Chris tells a horror story from a pitch that went wrong

[57:30] The future of the cannabis industry in Massachusetts

  • Focus on auxilary market

[1:00:00] Chris reveals a cannabis product idea

[1:01:00] What does serial entrepreneurship mean to Chris

  • Chris has a financial interest in 14 companies
  • Diversity is fun and freeing
  • Learn something new every day

[1:02:00] How does Chris prioritize?

  • Stay organized
  • Have a strong support team.
  • What does that team look like?

[1:03:50] What does Chris’s next hire look like?

  • A controller
  • With culture fit
  • Humility

[1:07:30] What’s the biggest challenge Chris deals with on a daily basis

  • Working too long
  • How the fiancee deals with Chris working late

[1:09:00] Chris’s biggest lesson learned in the last two years building several companies

  • What he does in his free time

[1:11:00] Last requests and contact information

What Now?

If you enjoyed my conversation with Chris subscribe to Hacker Practice on iTunes and leave us a review.

Peter Dunbar: B2B Sales and the Art of Conversation

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes!

Sales is really hard.

Technical people often discount the value of the work done in sales and marketing. They discount the value until they have to sell themselves or their product. Then they learn that sales is hard.

If you’re looking to improve your sales abilities, this is the episode for you.

Peter Dunbar is one the most engaging conversationalists I know. He’s willing to talk at length with just about anybody. He is fearless and determined and brings big contracts into any firm that he works with.

He’s also and avid hacker, but that will have to wait until part two.

Enjoy this episode of Hacker Practice with master salesman, Peter Dunbar.

Links:

known.creative

Core dna

Reach out to Peter:

Email: peter@knowncreative.co

Phone number after the jump*

Notes

[3.30] Peter describes how he has been able to get work through the art of conversation (without presenting a resume)

  • Peter uses conversation as a problem solving tool to “hack” an outcome or a goal

[4.45] What hacking means to Peter

  • Hacking is a “lifestyle”

[9.30] Peter describes how an unforgettable conversation with his thesis advisor changed the course of his career

[11.15] Peter describes the relationship between software and hardware when developing the Pavlok wearable

[15.45] Why resourcing is the biggest challenge in building a new hardware product

[17.30] Why running a crowdfunding campaign to launch a new product without any traction is a big mistake

[18.45] How the art of conversation has allowed Peter to transition from engineering to sales

[21.30] Why it’s important to adopt a sales mindset of helping the customer succeed along with you.

  • How a conversation with a support engineer was the catalyst for Peter being able to close a sales deal for one of the world’s largest e-commerce consumer brands
  • Peter was able to engage the CXO level by pointing out that their marketing strategy was being stonewalled by poor website architecture, preventing them from being able to develop a best practice ecommerce platform.

[27.50] How Peter called into a radio station to pitch to the GM of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) while he was being interviewed on air.

  • This opportunity bias helps Peter take advantage of such situations

[31.30] Why the feedback loop is so important in improving your sales process, especially in the face of rejection

[35.00] Peter discusses known.creative, a digital agency in Boston, Massachusetts where he now heads up sales.

  • How partnering with Core dna – an all-in-one SAAS Digital Platform has allowed known.creative to scale and offer global enterprise offerings to companies, at drastically reduced development and implementation costs

[37.50] Peter shares his thoughts on the marketing agency model

  • Why it is most important to be able to show how your solution will drive a positive ROI for your client. E.g. There is no point “selling” a $50k website if it won’t turn a positive ROI for your client
  • The importance of being frank about business relationships and focusing on making money.
  • Building and sustaining a long term relationship is critical in enabling both parties to make more money

[41.40] Why many ecommerce companies are naive about threats to their online platforms and IP

[46.30] Peter explains why security for the SMB/SME market is going to be a huge growth market

[48.40] How the legalisation of marijuana in Massachusetts is going to drive a new wave of tech/digital opportunities in the commercial landscape (outside of recreation)

[51.00] Why updating your website and making the effort to have a great digital presence, is so important, in building trust and engaging your customer base

[52.00] Why known.creative uses its own brand and website as a testing ground for solutions before engaging customers

[54.50] Reach out to Peter:

Email: peter@knowncreative.co

Cell: +1 (207) 649-5037 – only if you want to have a conversation!

What now?

Give Pete a call. Thank him for his time.

Then subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. And leave us a raving review 😀

Naf Visser – Kindness, The Art of No Thought, and Photography

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

Most of us are not very inspiring.

It’s the truth. Fear, anxiety, anger– these are our afflictions and they prevent us from inspiring others.

And we need to inspire others.

Inspiration sells, persuades, and convinces. Inspiration causes action. As entrepreneurs and founders we want people to act.

My guest today knows how to inspire people. He inspired me to set off on a three month mini-retirement to see the world. He inspired a whole team of engineers to work for two months without pay without even meaning to.

Naphtali “Naf” Visser is one of my closest friends and mentors. I’m honored to have him on the show as a guest. More than that, I’m glad to have the opportunity to introduce you to Naf’s philosophy. It’s a philosophy that has impacted me in a profound way in the last year.

Enjoy this episode of Hacker Practice with Naf Visser:

LINKS:

Humans Working

www.peacepodcast.com

Holocaust Kindness Project

Jayson Gaignard’s Mastermind Dinners

Loyal Nine Restaurant

Humus Bar

Mara Gleason

FIND: naf@humansworking.co

[3.00] Why reading Jayson Gaignard’s Mastermind Dinners spurred Naf started inviting people for dinners.

  • Naf talks about why it’s so important to practice kindness

[4.40] How to practice kindness without expecting anything in return

[6.30] Naf discusses meeting Justus at Loyal Nine Restaurant

[8.45] Why Naf believes you can’t “teach” kindness and that kindness begins with personal thought

[11.30] Naf discusses his prime motivator for doing what he does

  • Naf is driven by helping people

[12.40] Why Naf’s bad experiences in the corporate world lead to him starting an internet consulting agency at age 23

  • Main criteria was to have a place where people (employees) would like to come.
  • Business was successful for more or less 4 years
  • At the 4 year mark the company had a black swan event (major client failed to pay a whole lot of owed money and the economy tanked). This happened around September 2001.

[16.50] Naf describes the meeting where he told his employees the business was closing and how this changed everything

  • Spoiler: No one left, everyone refused to leave. Why? Incredible culture and trust. Because Naf valued his employees as family, and treated them as such, they treated him as family too. Your people are your most important asset.
  • How Naf’s staff worked for nothing over the next two months and why this period was the most transformative of his life
  • How Naf ended up giving one client an 80% discount on a job, in return for upfront payment, so he could help a staff member meet their month’s rent

[20.30] How Naf’s persistence and focus on helping his staff lead to his company landing its biggest contract in its darkest moment

  • Ultimately merged with a design company
    • Naf believes kindness and willingness to help was the key

[23.00] Why giving employees unlimited vacation leave and other tangential work benefits can be a bad idea

  • It starts with the principles behind an initiative. If staff do not inherently understand this it will not work.
  • Naf deconstructs his actions during this challenging period
  • Naf realised that “kindness” and “no thought” were the guiding principles
  • Why resilience is so important in the process of life
  • Naf believes suffering comes from not understanding that you can be resilient

[30.45] Discussion on the three principles: Mind, consciousness and thought

  • “Confidence is going into a situation knowing I will be ok no matter what”
  • “With a clear mind, much more magic can happen”
  • Letting the mind calm down and letting a solution flow in can be very powerful

[37.30] Why “letting go” and allowing yourself to “lose control” can be the best way to handle problems

[39.00] Naf describes the connection between food and kindness. He has a podcast called Peace Photos and Pizza

  • Everyone needs to eat. During peace or during war, everyone stops to eat. This allows the time to reflect.
  • Restaurant in Israel called Humus Bar that gives 50 percent discount on hummus to a table where Arabs and Jews sit together
  • Holocaust kindness project
  • Why food can bridge cultural divides
  • Justus discusses his theory about doner kebabs solving the issue of Islamophobia

[45.00] Naf discusses thought.

  • Everything is invented through thought.
  • Recognise that there is no right or wrong, only “thought”
  • Reality is created through thought, moment to moment

[47.50] Think of thought as spiritual energy

  • Naf describes his theory how thoughts aren’t created by you.
  • Why having a clear mind is the best way to handle bad things

[54.30] Why overthinking leads to inauthentic behaviour

[56.30] Naf describes how to get a clear mind. Spoiler: It is in our natural state. It isn’t something that you seek.

  • Why meditation or other extrinsic influences don’t get you to your natural state

[1.02.00] Naf describes his company Humans Working which he founded as a result of his life experiences

[1.05.00] Naf discusses why everyone has their own unique recipe to follow

  • “When you do the thing that you think you are called to do, you learn so much more about yourself”
  • Naf discusses the concept of happiness and why it’s not something you find
    • “There is no place that will make you happy.”
    • If you aren’t happy there is nowhere you can go that will clear your mind or make you happy. It is an internal state of mind as happiness is simply a state of mind.
    • “Happiness is available at your fingertips.” It doesn’t come from accumulation, relationships, money or external influences. Happiness is being.

[1.08.30] Naf discusses the three principals “prove, please, protect” – Mara Gleason

  • “Kindness and love are a natural state when you aren’t wrapped up in fear”
  • There is no amount of “anything” that can get you to feel a certain way

[1.21.20] Naf gives examples of how personal experiences come from “thinking” not from someone else’s actions

[1.25.10] What makes good photography

  • Everyone has their own experience when they see something and this doesn’t come from the image
  • Light, moment, composition
  • Evoke an emotion and convey an opinion

[1.31.00] Naf describes how to take a great picture

  • Focus on authenticity and emotional connection – Ask if it is a constructed moment? Could this photo be recreated through CGI?
  • It has nothing to do with the camera
  • Learn how to “see” before you photograph – “Take lots of pictures and learn to see”
  • Entry, exit and resting points

What now?

Go take some photos! Psyche. If you enjoyed the interview with Naf, subscribe to Hacker Practice on iTunes and leave us a review. Thanks!

Life at the Bleeding Edge of Technology (AI) and Education (MIT + Nuvu) with David Wang

Listen to Episode 7 of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

I met David Wang at a vegetarian restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was introduced to me by our mutual friend Naf Visser (episode 008). David and I sat outside in the sun. It was hot and I practically shotgunned my ginger turmeric smoothie.

I was working on a project and wanted his feedback. It was an artificial intelligence testing platform. David is one of the leading experts on autonomous systems, so who better to talk to?

The project never materialized, but I made a new friend.

We hit it off. David is a great listener with a kind demeanor. It’s probably apparent in our conversation here; David is as good with people as he is with technology. And he is very good with technology.

He has multiple degrees from MIT including a PhD in autonomous scheduling and planning. He worked on the F-35 fighter jet and his thesis code was used on the Mars Curiosity Rover. He’s worked everywhere from DARPA to Boeing to Pratt and Whitney. He knows as much about computer science and software development as anyone in the world.

Now he’s a co-founder at a school that’s redefining modern educational paradigms (Learn more about NuVu here). I’m so glad he had time for this conversation.

In today’s talk we go over:

  • AI – Past, present, and future.
  • How to learn complex topics quickly
  • Education and how David is fixing it.

Enjoy episode 7 of Hacker Practice with David Wang:


[2.45] David explains how we have come out of “Artificial Intelligence Winter” and why AI is about to take off

[5.10] AI ethics and morality and the end game

[5.45] David discusses how codifying algorithms lead him to forging a career in AI

[7.15] David discusses why following your hobby is a very important step in figuring out what you are on this planet to do:

  • David enjoyed building computers from scratch
  • Built a processor from logic gates in his spare time after studying

[13.30] David describes what it’s like working on research projects with DARPA – Advanced research project agency of the defence department. ARPA is most famous for creating the internet.

[14.45] Learning interesting topics – PHD automated planning and scheduling – AI subcategory

[16.45] David describes AI planning and scheduling in detail!

  • Ask how would we describe the world to a computer with true or false statements E.g. is the coffee cup on the table? True/false
  • We then have a language which we can use to describe the world as is and how we want it to be (known in the AI world as “the goal”)
  • Describe an action with a set of preconditioned statements that create a set of effects. Planning and scheduling involves sequencing these actions to get from your starting point to the goal.

[21.10] David describes planning system projects he worked on at MIT involving decision making algorithms to block malicious hacking tactics.

[23.20] David discusses the two types of hackers that are most dangerous

[25.00] David describes his experiences of working on AI robotics projects for Boeing

  • Why programming frameworks haven’t innovated until now

[34.20] How video gaming was David’s gateway drug to programming. David also describes how we can take learnings from video game construction to the real world and contextual AI applications.

[38.20] David discusses the concept, “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything”

[40.40] David describes personal hacks he has for learning

  • Start by asking why something is the way it is and understand the reasons behind something. Is there an intuition that is extractable that will allow you to remember why something is the way it is.

[42.45] David talks about working on Augmented Reality applications in smart homes

[44.30] Hacks to remember the names of people you meet

[49.00] David gives an example of how AR in the smart home context, could be used to help a non-technical person, solve a technical problem, without the need for a technician

[50.40] David gives his insights on Virtual Reality (VR) applications

[54.00] Discussion on learning and facing adversity

[56.40] David discusses his experiences working on the F-35 jet fighter

  • David would essentially imagine all the different ways the plane could fail and reverse engineer solutions to prevent failure
  • How David used the spiral development cycle to understand how the F-35 worked

[1.04.00] Complexity comes not necessarily from the technology but from the number of moving parts

  • David talks space exploration applications

[1.08.10] How David deals with the isolation of being at the top of a field

[1.10.20] Why it is so important to understand students underlying motivators to learn

[1.13.20] Why it is important to decide if college is the right medium for students. College shouldn’t be used as the only time to decide what you want to do with your life.

[1.16.45] David discusses why he started NuVu and shares his insights on teaching intuition

  • By realising that the projects that really piqued his interest during studies were all based on extracurricular activities, David went out to challenge the existing education model.

[1.20.30] What it’s like to run a school which has no classes, subjects or grades

  • Students need to come up with an idea they are super passionate about. They are then taught how to turn it into a great idea.
  • Students skills are then develop to turn this idea into a solution. The difference from formal learning here, is that they are invested in learning these skills because they are passionate, as opposed to being forced.
  • Encourage students to understand the fundamental concepts of human centred design thinking when ideating and developing their solution

[1.25.20] Justus gets David to deconstruct an idea using his teaching methodology. Spoiler: There is a lot of asking “why”

[1.31.30] How to not avoid losing sight of your original idea in the face of pivoting

[1.34.00] What someone could expect as a new student at NuVu

[1.37.10] How to start a school like NuVu on the cheap

  • NuVu is a private educational business that is not accredited. How important is accreditation? In the case of NuVu, it isn’t.
  • Ask, what does success look like for students leaving your school?
  • NuVu wants to create the innovators of the future. There is a strong emphasis on soft skills.

[1.43.30] The goal of working in a team is to create a giant brain

[1.46.30] David discusses a seasonal effective disorder (SED) project some of his students are working on

[1.48.20] What a parent who wants to send their child to NuVu need to know

[1.49.30] How David plans on scaling by helping existing schools adopt the NuVu education model

  • Use Maker Spaces more effectively

[1.53.20], David asks us to think about what success means to you and is college critical on that path to success?

What’s next?

If you enjoyed today’s episode, subscribe to Hacker Practice on iTunes (and leave a review please :D)

Diana Yuan, COO of Indico: Founding a High Tech Startup, Raising Money, and Courting Technical Partners

Listen to this episode on iTunes.

Diana Yuan is helping to lead the AI revolution. She is the COO of Boston’s scrappiest Machine Learning startup. Her, and her team of Olin Engineering dropouts, are democratizing machine learning tools for hackers all round the world.

Startup founders have an earned reputation for nonsensical over-confidence. Often, they’re impossible to spend time with due to a complete lack of self-awareness and social graces.

Diana is not one of those people.

As far as early-stage executives go, Diana has more self-awareness than most entrepreneurs twice her age. She’s bright and cheerful and a joy to be around. Having her on the show was a no-brainer for me.

This conversation was a lot of fun for me to produce. Thanks Diana :D.

This is the most important episode of Hacker Practice for aspiring non-technical startup founders. Diana Yuan’s role in the Indico origin story is instructive for any MBA-type/non-technical person looking for a technical partner. I have a feeling they’ll be telling her story in Babson business courses before long (if they aren’t already).

Enjoy this discussion on startups, fundraising, politics and technology with Indico’s Diana Yuan.

[4.30] Diana talks about the beginnings of Indico and beginning a machine learning startup

  • Indico aims to revolutionize software through powerful, developer-friendly machine learning

[5.50] How Indico closed contracts before becoming Incorporated

[8.30] How Diana got involved in Indico by accident!

  • Diana met Slater and Alec, Co-Founder of Indico by chance at the Affordable design and entrepreneurship class run by Olin College

[13.30] Being a non-technical co founder, Diana shares tips for joining forces and finding a technical partner

  • Don’t force it
  • Focus on the relationship you have with this person and ensure an aligned set of values and vision before getting caught up on technical capability
  • Why your job as a non technical co founder is to translate

[19.30] Why Indico pivoted from a B2C to B2B (enterprise) model?

[25.00] Diana explains her experience of applying for and getting into TechStars

  • Receiving funding from Rough Draft and having traction were helpful but networking was just as important
  • Diana recommends networking and actively discussing your application with those reviewing it (e.g. Diana hit up the founders of TechStars, including Semyon Dukach, who was also a member of the infamous MIT Blackjack team).

[28.50] Diana shares her biggest challenges of being accepted into TechStars

[31.30] On being the sole college graduate amongst her co-founders

[35.00] Why the world is your classroom

[37.30] Why Diana identifies as an introvert and why it’s important to know yourself in order to avoid burnout

[40.15] Diana discusses the challenges of raising capital and the emotional stakes at play

  • Don’t work with investors purely because they have money but because they will be a good fit for your team and offer a productive skillset

[46.40] Discusses the hiring process in a startup environment.

  • Save employee time by putting technical filters up front in the hiring process to screen potential candidates
  • It’s difficult to avoid hiring to keep up with growth but often startups have realisations and need to scale back. The important thing is to be conscious of it.

[53.50] The challenges of sponsoring candidates on a Visa

[56.50] Discussion on politics, America’s competitive advantage in entertainment and technology being eroded and technological libertarianism.

  • Take away thought – “what happened 250 years ago is what is allowing today’s events to unfold”

[1.01.40] Diana discusses why transfer learning is Indico’s secret sauce

  • Machine learning startups need to apply their expertise to specific market segments
  • Transfer learning is a methodology for taking an approach for a specific problem, adopting it as a standard for a certain type of problem group and being able to apply it to new problems, that fit within that type of problem group.

[1.05.30] On maintaining an IP competitive advantage and staying up to date with cutting edge industry trends

[1.08.15] Diana discusses the kind of money required for cloud based infrastructure in a machine learning startup

  • Diana discusses two innovative products offered by Indico, Crowd Label and Custom Collections, which help their end users label data and build custom models at speed and scale.

[1.14.00] How to protect IP and a business’s “secret sauce” in a highly competitive environment?

[1.16.45] The importance of choosing an investor and not feeling obliged to sign a term sheet just because one is put in front of you.

[1.17.30] What Indico does to prepare for a “black swan” event

  • Risk scales in proportion to number of customers and stakeholders involved

[1.21.10] Why customers should come to Indico for machine learning expertise

  • High quality unstructured text and video analysis. Free for first 10,000 API calls.

[1.22.50] ]How startups have capitalized on Indico’s unique product set at Hackathons to be able to build out MVPs in < 48hrs including a fake news detector

[1.25.00] You can find Diana on the Indico website because she runs the chat!

Now what?

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or leave me feedback as a comment here.

Andrew Dodson: How to build a Nuclear Power Plant in your Backyard (Make America Nuclear Again)(e005)

Listen to Hacker Practice on iTunes

Andrew Dodson is one of the smartest hackers I know. Our conversations typically happen over coffee and Go (the ancient board game). We talk about physics and simulation theory. In fact, he once loaned me Simulations by Jean Baudrillard and I never returned it (sorry Andrew!).

In episode 5 of Hacker Practice, I get started down a line of conversation I’ve been meaning to have for a long time.

I am deeply interested in sustainable technology. At the moment of writing I live on a small organic farm. My hands are literally dirty from playing in the greenhouse. No lie.

That’s why I spent most of this episode talking with Andrew about small-scale nuclear power. How can we do this on a farm or even neighborhood scale? Government regulation be damned!

Disclaimer: Andrew was calling in from a lab at MIT. There is a short interruption early in the episode that gives us a glimpse into a stealth nuclear startup at America’s best engineering school.

Learn the basics of nuclear power and more in today’s episode of Hacker Practice:

[2:45] Extreme Laser Tag – The greatest startup idea ever.

  • Graphene
  • Photodiodes
  • TENS Units
  • Extreme laser tag at low-orbit

[6:45] A welcome interruption from Dodson’s colleague, Matthias the super genius.

  • Postdoc gerbils
  • A brief peek inside a stealth nuclear startup…

[8:20] Andrew discusses boundaries necessary for working in startups

  • “People show who they are in their face”
  • “Startups can be… top heavy”
  • “These faces raise money… to get real people you need to be real people”

[10:30] Molten salt reactors

  • Ionic Compounds
  • Alternative to traditional light water reactors
  • Uranium fuel rods get hot, very hot.
  • How neutrons bouncing around cause nuclear chain reactions in enriched uranium fuel rods

[17:20] Components of a reactor

[18:20] Why higher temperatures are desirable

  • Why higher temperatures can be dangerous
  • “Spray a bunch of people with steam… coming out of a pressurized water reactor…that you can’t see… it’ll cut you in half.”
  • It’s all just a way to spin a pinwheel

[20:00] How to get started with nuclear engineering at home

[26:20] How could we put one of these nuclear reactors in your back yard

  • In the early days, small cores were all the rage
  • Highly enriched uranium is useful here (10-20 cm across)
  • High quality uranium fuel is a “political risk”
  • Where to find 99% enriched uranium
  • Building a vehicle-sized nuclear bomb

[29:20] What about Fukushima? Chernobyl Three Mile Island

  • They are blown out of proportion according to Dodson
  • Fossil fuels kill millions every year. Relatively, nuclear is extremely safe
  • Our generation (Y) needs to pursue this, NOW.

[31:25] Powering a farm with nuclear

  • Security concerns

[34:00] An ideal world where security is not a problem

  • Bury a cargo container with a reactor and turbine on the surface
  • Power my neighborhood for 40 years
  • Small reactors power aircraft carriers
  • Nuclear engineering secrets (hint: they’re military)

[36:30] Sources of fuel-quality Uranium

  • Downblending
  • Different grades of Uranium (civilian, weapons, etc)
  • How much Uranium costs per kilogram and where to get it

[38:30] Got the fuel, now what?

  • Shielding considerations
  • Burying the tank

[39:00] We built the reactor, what are my security precautions?

  • During operation
  • In case of a breach/leak
  • Radioactive worms
  • Basically: keep as much of it underground as you can
  • Worst-case scenario
  • Why you should eat plenty of spinach and fish

[51:15] Where to find Andrew (andrewmdodson@gmail.com)

  • Reach out to Andrew with the project you’re working on, it’s current status, and what your role is on the project.

Now What?

Go and design a miniature nuclear power plant! Then tell me about it!

If you enjoyed this episode of Hacker Practice, subscribe to the show  on iTunes.

Nari Savanorke-Joyce: Zen and the Art of Data Science

Camping on the coast of Maine 2016

I met Nari Savanorke-Joyce while living with 20 other people in a double-wide row home in Boston’s most elite neighborhood. She had just graduated from Wellesley College (Hillary Clinton’s Alma Mater) and was getting started in entry-level corporate America.

Within a year she had become one of her company’s most valuable data scientists.

Nari and I used to go sailing on the Charles River. We’d talk about economics, education, and the future of technology. Those conversations were fascinating to be a part of, so I thought: “Why not bring the genius of Nari on the show?”

As a professional, Nari takes cutting edge predictive models from the dusty shelves of academia and puts them to work on important business cases. She’s a technical expert in data science but more than that, she’s a chameleon who deftly maneuvers the social and political conditions of whatever situation she’s in.

Our conversation in episode 4 of Hacker Practice takes place on Skype, with Nari calling in from a poppin’ lounge in Stockholm. If you’re unfamiliar with data science or are looking for career advice for ambitious millennials, you will certainly enjoy this conversation with Nari Savanorke-Joyce:

[1.10] Why Nari booked a trip to Stockholm, Sweden on a whim

[5.50] How Nari learned about entrepreneurship through her parents

  • The importance of failure in the journey and grit required to bounce back

[6.30] Why Nari uses meditation to stay focused

[9.30] Adapting to the corporate world despite having entrepreneurship
in your blood

  • How to adapt to different environments
  • Parental influence in this domain

[13.50] Why putting yourself in a position where you aren’t in control is important for self-development

[16.10] Discussion on data science

Good data scientists excel in three directions:

  1. Domain expertise
  2. Computer science / programming skills
  3. Statistical modelling skills

DATA SCIENCE = Taking massive quantities of data and turning it into actionable insights

[18.30] Discussion on the methodology of data science (How to Data Science 101)

  1. Find a problem to solve
  2. Find the data
  3. Clean the data
  4.  Apply a model

[22.10] How an insurance company uses data science to stop insurance fraud?

  • Use models to predict low frequency high severity impact events

[30.30] Incentive structures in a data science role

[33.50] Using logistic regression to ask binary questions i.e. is person x likely to commit fraud?

  • Using survivor modelling to understand claim lifespan

[37.30] Why data cleansing is the most time consuming component of data science?

  • Using AI to detect pattern anomalies

[42.20] Discussion on behavioural economics (psychology and economics) and how to derive value in data science

[45.00] Behavioral economics is not classical economics

  • Can behavioral economics be used to improve lives and business?

[45.30] Specific advice for ambitious young people

  • Get out of debt
  • Find community with older people

[47.00] Importance in investing in continuous education

  • Focus on learning as a motivator

[51.50] Diversification vs focus lesson from Nari’s parents – “You have to go all in if you really want to pursue something”  

[55.00] On insurance start-ups attracting corporate talent

  • Begin with the “why” and be more than profit seeking

[58.10] Personal finance and budgeting

  • Awareness via categorisation of spending
  • Automatically save a percentage of your income

[1.03.20] Future of data science

  • Using data to continuously dive deeper and personalise – huge potential in the health sector

[1.05.00] Nari provides podcast interview tactics that she’d like to see adopted by Hacker Practice podcast

[1.06.00] Nari’s Top tier interviewees:

[1.10.10] Nari’s book recommendations

[1.15.10] Travel hacks to save money

  • Grocery stores are a great way to save money instead of eating out but also to learn about local food and culture
  • Walk everywhere, especially if the city or place you are visiting is compact

[1.16.20] Final piece of advice to listeners

  • Try 10 minutes of meditation per day

Conclusion

If you enjoyed the show please subscribe to Hacker Practice on iTunes. Hit me with suggestions of who you’d like to see on the show (@justuseapen). Leave me a review on iTunes. If you do any of these for me I will of course love you long time.

Thank you for listening!