Quit Pursuing Small Problems

During my undergrad years I developed an infatuation for Silicon Valley.  In my mind, SV was the place my heroes called home. If you have read Atlas Shrugged then consider Galt’s Gulch my idea of the valley – Musk, Paige, and Bezos were synonymous to Galt, D’Anconia, and Danneskjöld.

These legends certainly do exist but what distinguishes them from today’s startup founders is the scale of the problems they are solving. Just as important, they went in with the mindset to start a business, not a startup. It’s a shame that so many startups are concerned about solving small problems when others are pushing the limits for what’s possible here on Earth and in rare cases, outer space.  Not all, but most founders quickly get entangled chasing down investment deals or planning their big payout from an acquisition.

Being able to snap a picture of your buddies and quickly doodle them into a pale, red headed version of themselves certainly makes for a good laugh. But is it a problem that the world actually needs solved? That’s of course open for debate, but I lean on the side of irrelevancy. Countless man-hours spent engineering, designing and hustling their way to a bitter end with little to no profit to show. Why all this work? Because chasing down investment deals and planning for that big payout from an acquisition is often times easier than solving a real problem that a business model can be wrapped around. The first two being telltale signs of riding a bubble.

I hold hope for companies like The Founder’s Found and the businesses in their portfolio. Their philosophy sums it up quite nicely: “We wanted flying cars, and we got 140 characters.”  If you can do without turning your friends’ hair red and are far more enticed by companies solving real problems, take a look at Palantir – they are connecting the world’s data to foresee terrorist attacks (amongst many other services). If they would have been around in 2001 there’s a good chance that those terrorists would have been apprehended before they even walked into the airport terminal.

Maybe one day “starting a business” will have the same sex appeal as “starting a startup.”  But I hope it doesn’t, for it’s a good barrier between those offering a valuable service or product to the world and those who are chasing the glitz and glam of today’s startup scene.

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Excel Holy Grails – The Backbone of Enterprise Operations

At any enterprise organization I have spent time at, one peculiar trend continues to persist. The people out there working on the nuts and bolts of a company – whether they be database architects, engineers, or HR folks, rely on rather interesting excel worksheets to complete their daily repetitive taks. I’m often surprised to see how many dependencies are present for an Excel workbook that has been around for many years – and continues to deliver value and save employees’ time. I consider these the ‘Holy Grails’ of Excel.

This fall I found myself in a position where I needed to map out entire network drives of a Fortune 500 organization, ultimately discovering the overall size and quantity of files for each folder. These network drives were accessed by thousands of people every day and contained gobs of data (think 10+ terabytes). The end goal was to itemize them into individual folders, organize the results, and analyze them for another task at hand (this part I won’t go into).

The first idea that came to mind was to build a crawler from scratch and let it loose on the network – probably not the best idea. Instead, a helpful network engineer introduced me to one of his ‘Holy Grails’ of Excel.  And in a matter of minutes I was on my way to mapping out the entire network.

I evaded several headaches, racking my brain on code for several hours, and more importantly I didn’t waste any of my time on this somewhat daunting task.  All of this was due to the helpful engineer that was willing to share one of his prized tools.

I’m interested in what other ‘Holy Grails’ of Excel are out there.  Tools like these are rare but I’ve seen these nuggets of gold play an integral part of many companies’ daily operations. Shoot me an email at dy.herman5@gmail.com if you would like to try out the workbook (I will be sure to include instructions) – I hope it can be as useful to you as it was for me.