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Role Models: Yuchun Lee

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Two old adages, “don’t waste time reinventing the wheel” and “profit from the mistakes of others, you don’t have time to make them all yourself” gave rise to a new series for 2017. Role Models is my effort to help you adhere to both, always remembering to tweak their ideas to fit your MAP.  

Yuchun LeeYuchun Lee was a member of the famous MIT blackjack team (the basis for the movie 21) and a serial entrepreneur since childhood. Unica, his first “real” startup, which went public in 2005 and sold for around $500 million to IBM in 2010 . He is currently co-founder/CEO of sales training startup Allego.

Lee learned early on that telling, let alone ordering, people to do whatever didn’t work and radically changed his approach.

But then you very soon realize that human beings have free will and you’ve got to persuade them.

He runs his company based on three core philosophies.

The first is the ability of the company to know what is true, what is not true, and what’s real and what’s not real. (…) The foundation is all about truth.

The second is how you behave as a team to solve problems. (…) Everybody’s trying to figure out how to look smart in front of the C.E.O. (…)  it’s actually O.K. if you sit there. If you’ve got nothing to say, don’t say it.

The third is about mistakes. We tell people you’ve got to love your mistake. If you go through a whole day without making a mistake, you just wasted a whole day because you probably haven’t pushed yourself. (…) You need to see mistakes as opportunities to improve.

Image credit: Allego

If the Shoe Fits: The Myth of Meritocracy

Friday, August 30th, 2013

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThose who like to believe that tech is a utopian-like meritocracy need to wake up to reality.

Silicon Valley is indeed a meritocracy for those to whom these criteria are not hurdles. But others—the blacks, women, and Hispanics whom it overlooks—find it an elite private club from which they are excluded. — Vivek Wadhwa (see the entire article series here)

According to Mitch Kapor, who founded Lotus and (for those of you who are too young to remember) sold it to IBM in 1995 for $3.5 billion, the idea that all it takes is hard work and a god product to be a success in the Valley is pure fantasy.

“There’s an admirable belief about the virtues of meritocracy – that the best ideas prove the best results. It’s a wrong and misguided belief by well-intentioned people.”

The idea that merit matters goes further down the drain when you see comments, such as the most recent one from Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame.

One quality that’s a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent. I’m not sure why. It could be that there are a bunch of subtle things entrepreneurs have to communicate and can’t if you have a strong accent. Or, it could be that anyone with half a brain would realize you’re going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven’t gotten rid of their strong accent. I just know it’s a strong pattern we’ve seen.

Or this comment.

I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon. But you’re not allowed to ask prospective employees if they plan to have kids soon…Whereas when you’re starting a company, you can discriminate on any basis you want about who you start it with.

Kapor now runs Kapor Capital, a for-profit venture firm focused on funding minorities whose ideas are focused on improving opportunities for the poor through education, sees the world very differently.

“We have a responsibility to give people opportunities to do what they can do. It’s a fundamental tenet of democratic society. Libertarians who believe in a completely minimalist state, and don’t feel we have that responsibility, are harming humanity.”

Choosing a role model is a private decision. 

Who will you channel? Mitch Kapor or Paul Graham?

Image credit: HikingArtist

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