Scribbles from Startup Grind

I was recently at the Melbourne Startup Grind event down at Depo8. Another great example of people who are prepared to get off the couch in the evening to learn something and meet like minds.

The event had technology stalwart and all round good guy Alan Noble from Google in the house. Alan is the Head of Engineering for Google Aust / NZ and has been in and around computers since the early 1980’s.  With serious time in the game he has some interesting stories.  These are mostly not ‘verbatim’, but I took notes and thought some of the random soundbites were worth sharing here:

Alan originally coded in Cobol, C and C++. he says understanding the evolution of computer language is interesting and worth knowing.

Alan spoke about the first multi functional PC remembers is the Xerox Star Workstation – I found this promotional video for it on Youtube. I’m sure most of you already know this, but Steve Jobs was just as good at stealing ideas as Bill Gates was. 

After University Alan moved to Japan for 2 reasons: He could speak the language, and he thought it would be a cool place to live. Sometimes the best advice is fun & functional. 

In 1983 Alan worked on some of the first attempts at creating software which could translate human languages. Back then he thought, how hard can it be? Really hard. So hard it is only now becoming functional 30 years later.

NetMind: Alan was a cofounder of this startup, which he said never really made money. Though he had a successful exit from it. They made a trade sale in late 1999. When asked how one should value a company that doesn’t make any – he said the ‘Cisco Valuation Model’ is best. Which I am assuming is either a reference to them paying too much for acquisitions, or not making money for a long time themselves ?? [feel free to comment on this one]

2 quotes I did get verbatim:

“If you are working with great people that is what keeps you going.”

“The culture of a company is a special thing. You need to design it in the DNA because you can’t reinvent it later, it bubbles at birth.”

Alan also said the keys to what he thinks is a good culture are: Trust, Transparency & Openness. 

Alan was then asked to give some startup advice:

Don’t get caught up in startup hype. None of the philosophical ideas are new. A pivot used to be called adapting.

– Angel investors really look for entrepreneurs who want to build something, more than make money.

– Events can create innovation, but they are not sufficient for an innovative culture.

– Hire people who are innovative and passionate. This passion is usually transferrable. if  person is passionate about one thing, there’s a good chance they’ll be passionate about another. The best ideas come from these people. 

– 20% time is not good for a startup.

– How to value a company at an FFF round? – Keep bumping the value up. (I think it was said in jest)

– His core web mantra: keeping individually identifiable data confidential is a must.

– He believes in a mission. Not so much the statement, but the reason for being. 

– On hiring good people: If you don’t hire well, you can’t leave the fort… go into the market. 

– Valuation is a funny thing: You’ll get 12 different answers from 12 different investors. The truth is that the whole process is mainly bullshit. 

– Think beyond Australia (or your home). if Google only developed products in Mountain View, it would have a very slanted view of the world & warped product output. Sydney has the 10th biggest Google engineering team in the world, yet it is the only the 28th biggest internet population. 

Closing Thought When asked about AI.

Every time we solve a problem in AI, it is no longer AI. It just becomes a normal piece of technology. But most technology around us is in fact AI. So we shouldn’t get hung up on terminology and just solve problems instead.


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