Muhammed Muheisen AP Photo
entrepreneurship, innovation, projects, start up

orianne ledroit: on improving public service by learning from startups

“people need to understand what is happening within the digital culture and use it as inspiration.”

On my current trip I’m exploring some of the innovation trends in France and Italy. While the European Union is still economically morose, I find that the proximity of so many economic and intellectual hubs combined with the current job scarcity is paving the way for an interesting generation of resilient thinkers and doers. Amongst them, I chose to interview Orianne Ledroit who co-founded Les Voyages Apprenants, an interactive tour / workshop using design thinking and other startup-like innovative methods to inspire communities and decision makers.

(photo credit: Muhammad Muheisen, AP Photo)
1. Your full name, age and occupation

Orianne Ledroit, 30, Civic and digital hacktivist – Co-founder Les Voyages Apprenants

2. What was your dream job as a kid?

I always wanted to be a political leader because I want to promote inclusive projects and collective problem solving. Some people could say I was naive, I’d rather see myself as an open-minded optimist.

3. Where do you get your support or motivation from?

I get support from my family and my friends, and get validation from the success of my past projects. But I’m also inspired by my ideological values: to feel true to myself I need my work to align with my principles.

4. What sparked your motivation or need to start your own thing?

A simple observation : communities and political leaders both need to be introduced to the current innovation practices if we want to offer  better public services. They need to understand what is happening within the digital culture and use it as inspiration to implement a better way to produce and deliver public services. Firms and organizations also need to connect with makers, innovators, startups that are disrupting their activities and seize opportunities to improve what they have to offer. That is what we (me and co-founder Marine Ulrich) aim to do with Les Voyages Apprenants.

“I always wanted to be a political leader because I want to promote inclusive projects and collective problem solving.”

5. What were you the most excited about when you started off?

I was mostly excited about building something from scratch and challenging myself. I needed to do something on my own which would bear my mark.

6. What did you wish you knew before starting all this?

A lot of things, of course, but what comes to mind is how to clearly define the commercial value of our project. That being said, I don’t think somebody else’s advice or take on a similar venture is a valuable as getting your hands dirty and trying it out yourself.

7. Describe a day in your life as you’d like it to be in 3 years.

I would love to teach teenagers and students whatever I’ve been fortunate enough to learn since I’ve started working. I’d love to use my experience to help young people think hard about what they really want to do.

8. What would you like to know about other innovators who answer this survey?

I’d like to know why they engage in such projects and what is the deeper meaning driving their pursuits.

9. What would be the one thing you’d like your eulogy to say?

I am going to invest money in transhumanist research so that I don’t need to think about my eulogy or my own death :-)

On a more serious note, I hope people will remember me as just wanting to be happy and to work towards a society that respects people and enables them to succeed based on merit. Hopefully, by the end of my life, I will have contributed to that.

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entrepreneurship, innovation, start up

shaun abramhanson: on changing cities, 500 startups at a time.

“I think curiosity, empathy and resilience are a potent combination, so how can you encourage others to develop these attributes?”

I’d like to thank the International Startup Festival team for letting me help at this year’s amazing event, which allowed me to bring you this interview. 
photo credit: Muhammed Muheisen, AP photo

For all the talk about cities, and how the world is becoming one big connected network, the tech industry is driving a change an increasing amount of cities are trying to catch up with – for more information here’s a good read by the American Think Tank Brookings institution. It’s not everyday that I get to combine my first love – urban planning – and my current interests in the startup world. Both worlds got to happily collide at this year’s city themed StartUp Fest, a 3 day international event with the latest startups rubbing shoulders with Silicon Valley veterans. One of the amazing people I got to meet and talk with was Shaun Abramhanson.

An MIT grad with an MBA in Creative Leadership, he’s a self professed swimmer, but is rather known as an author, entrepreneur and advisor. Interested in how we better design together, he has written about crowdstorming as a way to leverage collective intelligence and blogs notably for the Huffington Post. Last year he founded Urban.Us, a network of investors, advisors and city reps that strives to support startups addressing urban challenges.
Their goal? Help close to 500 companies, with the hopes that 50 of them will have a significant impact in addressing urban challenges by 2020.

If you want to know more about Urban.us, read up on Smart City Startups 2015, next year’s two day event in Miami or check out videos from this year’s event  and some of the themes that were discussed.

I was lucky to catch him while he came to talk at the StartUp Fest, and he was kind enough to respond to my Q&A:

1. Your full name, age and occupation
Shaun Abrahamson, 40, Swimmer

2. What was your dream job as a kid?
I was always sure that I wanted to build, so architecture and engineering came up a lot.

“Friends have always been great sources of encouragement through the ups and downs of startupland”

3. Where do you get your support or motivation from?
My family. And I have a great group of friends from living in different places and attending school on 3 continents :)

Family is most interesting because having kids really forced me to think about what the world will be like for them. Friends have always been great sources of encouragement through the ups and downs of startupland.

4. What sparked your motivation or need to start your own thing?
I’ve never thought about doing my own thing. It sort of materialized out of thinking about different approaches to reaching a goal. I’ve become used to moving quickly and testing ideas and failing a lot. Most existing organizations didn’t have room for this kind of behaviour, though that’s been changing. After working in startups for more than 15 years, its harder to see how to fit into a larger organization.

“Is there a way to test 5,000 high potential ideas? And if a small percent succeed, can we change the viability of cities?”

5. What were you the most excited about when you started off?
For urban.us its always been about the potential impact. Is there a way to test 5,000 high potential ideas? And if a small percent succeed, can we change the viability of cities? My sense is that we need to rethink our entire social and economic system if we dont figure this out. So I am excited about having a tiny role in helping bringing this change about.

6. What did you wish you knew before starting all this?
Oh, lots of things! It takes time and money to learn, but it’s a difficult question because would I have known some things, maybe I wouldn’t have started :)

7. Describe a day in your life as you’d like it to be in 3 years.
I love what I do now. I think I’d do it for free. I think there are always going to be less fun or inspiring or interesting parts to a day, but getting to work with founders who are solving complex, hard problems is perhaps the best way to spend a day. The only downside is the constant struggle to make enough time to do great work and spend quality time with family. I dont know that I will ever get this balance right.

8. What would you like to know about other innovators who answer this survey?
I love to know what motivates people and how they find ways to be great at work and at home.

9. What would be the one thing you’d like your eulogy to say?
If you have read this far, you are quite curious. This is fantastic news. You are also probably empathetic. This excellent too. And you also waded through some other not so good material, so you are resilient. Wonderful. I think curiosity, empathy and resilience are a potent combination, so how can you encourage others to develop these attributes?

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entrepreneurship, fundraising, start up

alistair croll, mover and shaker extraordinaire

“ there’s simply so much to do, see, taste and try that any day spent not discovering or debating something feels like squandering.

Last month I was at a Montreal Girl Geeks for a presentation on open data by Lisa Green, major Creative Commons contributor and current Director of LA-based Common Crawl. After that, some of us went out for drinks to continue the conversations started during the Q&A session. IT  and marketing people, open data champions, keen observers, we had interesting conversations on all sorts of topics related to their backgrounds, but each person I spoke with told me that I HAD to read up on or meet Alistair Croll.

After a couple of misspellings and some basic googling, I quickly found out why. Entrepreneur, author, consultant, blogger, event planner, critical thinker, it looked like he was the kind of guy who thought outside the box, celebrated it, and even got the box people to listen to him.

So I had to see for myself I could get to know him better. By the time I read his somewhat intimidating bio I was pretty sure my email inviting him to respond to my little survey would be swimming somewhere in his inbox, drowned in between internship resumes and  Linkedin connection requests.

To my surprise however I actually got a response, and a very insightful one at that! Ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud to present you my first survey response, by Alistair Croll. If you’d like to know a little more about him the man, take your pick:

For those who think Facebook makes only educated guesses as to what your sponsored feed content should sport, please take a minute to read his post here.

For those of you who are well versed in Analytics and the need for game changing strategies, you’ll find plenty here.

And for those who’d like to know about the inspiration behind the man, I’ll let you read on :)

1. Your full name, age and occupation

Alistair Croll;  43. I’m an author, analyst, entrepreneur, and event organizer.
 

2. What was your dream job as a kid?

I didn’t have one, really. But I loved writing code and watching others use it; I was running a BBS (a precursor to web forums) on my Apple //e computer at 13, and the feedback loops—I’d change something, users would change how they interacted—was fascinating.
 

3. Where do you get your support or motivation from?

My wife is an incredible force in my life, though she’d be the first to deny it. I’m also lucky enough to have a circle of friends and mentors I’ve worked with over the years who point me at interesting things. My biggest motivation is curiosity; we’re here for seventy or so years, and there’s simply so much to do, see, taste and try that any day spent not discovering or debating something feels like squandering.

 

“It’s easy to say, “don’t build something nobody needs.” But people didn’t know they needed a Walkman, or a Dodge Caravan.”

 

4. What sparked your motivation or need to start your own thing?

In the late nineties, my longtime friend and co-conspirator Eric Packman bugged me to launch something (which became Networkshop, an analyst firm.) Then another friend, Thanos Moschopoulos, prodded us into turning it into a managed service provider (MSP) called Coradiant. And Ian Rae cajoled us into turning what Coradiant was doing into an appliance called TrueSight. So what sparked me was other people.
These days, I’m more focused on what the world will be like in ten years. Paul Graham said that founders see the world as it will be and then build what’s missing. That’s the hard part—seeing what’s missing, and how people will use it. It’s simple to look at an iPhone or an Android today and say, “of course that’s how we take pictures, make calls, and manage our calendar.” It wasn’t so obvious ten years ago.
 

5. What were you the most excited about when you started off?

Any new venture has that “first day of school” feeling of clean binders and fresh pens. It’s easy to get swayed by that, and there’s certainly something cathartic about a clean slate. But if you’re starting something you know about, you spend a lot of time trying to separate your own cognitive biases from what the market really needs.
What excites me the most is when I’m talking to people and I start to see patterns emerge. My Lean Analytics co-author Ben Yoskovitz and I are busy working on a workshop about Lean Analytics for Intrapreneurs. The first couple of phone calls with innovators at big companies were interesting—but by the sixth or seventh, I started seeing the “red threads” that tied them all together.
That feeling of the market or problem revealing itself to you if you’re willing to dig, to be various, is thrilling.

“ I’d like to know I added more value to humanity than I took. Not sure what the metric for that is.”

 

6. What did you wish you knew before starting all this?

Well, in Coradiant’s case, the answer is obvious: I’d have built TrueSight first, without the MSP business that got us there. That drained a lot of funding, patience, and energy from us. I have a general aversion to businesses that require humans to deliver services these days; Marc Andreesen says software is eating the world, and I think he’s right.
The big lesson, though, is balance. It’s easy to say, “don’t build something nobody needs.” But people didn’t know they needed a Walkman, or a Dodge Caravan. Those products tested horribly, but met a need people had. It’s tempting to be a nay-sayer, and only build things the world needs today. It’s also uninspiring. On the other hand, it’s reckless to build something on faith—but most great startups began there.
Ultimately, I learned that balancing data-driven tactics and a ruthless honesty with a big vision and a leap of faith is incredibly hard to do well.
 

7. Describe a day in your life as you’d like it to be in 3 years.

That depends. If I’m building something new, which I may well be, I’d like to be talking to customers and diving deep into the minutiae of a product release, and fielding plaintive emails from people I’ve never met begging to try my new product.
On the other hand, if I’m still writing, running conferences, and trying to predict where humanity will intersect with technology, then I’d like to be drinking decent wine with smart people late at night.
Either way, I hope it will include a decent amount of time helping my daughter to find the same skeptical curiosity and awestruck enthusiasm with which I see the world.

8. What would you like to know about other innovators who answer this survey?

I think there is a critical metric or number in every startup that became the most important number in the company. I’d like to know what that was, and how they knew they’d found the mystical “product-market fit” when the market just pulls the product out of you.
 

9. What would be the one thing you’d like your eulogy to say?

That I finally finished something.
Seriously, though: Tim O’Reilly has a great statement about adding more value to a system than you take away. I’d like to know I added more value to humanity than I took. Not sure what the metric for that is.
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