Week 20

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The rise of no-stack solopreneurship

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TechCrunch asked this week if it is possible to predict which startups will turn out to be unicorns and offered this reasonable if, ironically, somewhat predictable guidance:

“to predict the unicorns, we need to make some bets on what trends will take us by surprise over the next decade and what will get real big real fast.”

Rather than any specific technology trend such as 3D printing, machine learning or robotics, they chose to focus on the rise of the “solopreneur” as their primary megatrend:

never before in history has it been so easy for anyone to run a seemingly huge looking company or reliably valuable service just from their home or by themselves. Even a non-technical person can start their own company pretty easily and be selling their product, service or skill without investing thousands of dollars or months of risk and fit out.

HBR expanded on this theme and identified three other megatrends. They suggested that the extent to which you are exploiting these three can be used to predict the future of your business:

  • Machine Learning – will increasingly be incorporated into the fabric of business, driven in part by efforts by the likes of AWS to democratize access to the underlying technology.
  • New Urban Infrastructure – the importance of the city as the primary built environment for human habitation and interaction.
  • Scalable Niches – the shrink wrapping of critical business functionality behind web scale service APIs.

Of the three arguably the last has the most profound implications for solopreneurs everywhere seeking to build the next unicorn. “Scalable niches” enable small agile outfits to dramatically level the playing field against more slow-moving corporate behemoths by allowing them to more efficiently and rapidly ingest the innovation of others:

Companies like Twilio, Box, Zipments, Sendgrid, Stripe, BigML, and hundreds more have invested thousands of years’ worth of developer time in standardizing the basic services that cloud software vendors require. And what’s more, unlike a world of developing for client based systems, these vendors continued to invest an insane amount in simplifying integration, deployment, and the adoption of new innovation for their customers. The end result is now, when you build a new piece of software, you can concentrate on what’s truly critical to your differentiation.

It’s a theme echoed in this companion piece proclaiming the rise of the “no stack” startup:

Thanks to companies like Stripe and Twilio, which offer robust, well-documented APIs that are either free or affordable to get started with, developers have access to more core functionality than ever at their disposal. Infrastructure and back-end services that previously would have required a large investment of time and money to replicate are now available with integrations that can take as little as a few hours or days.

No stack adherents need to be acutely aware that their approach incurs platform risk.   Nevertheless, the combination of speed and global scale will prove irresistible to many and when considered in tandem with paradigm-shifting combinatorial advances across a range of technologies, there’s probably never been a better to time to be a tech solopreneur.

Manufacturers and Devices

“if big American corporations and European politicians had any imagination, they could probably engineer a bailout for the nearly bankrupt country on terms that would benefit everyone.  … Greece, for its part, would get debt relief, plus the companies’ European headquarters.”

  • According to a well-regarded analyst, Apple may extend their foray into super luxury tech products from the Apple Edition Gold Watch to a rose gold iPhone 6s variant later this year. However, it’s not entirely clear if the rose gold in question refers to simply a colour or the actual material.

On average, across Europe’s big five countries during the first quarter, 32.4% of Apple’s new customers switched to iOS from Android

the 20nm Helio X20 is actually more about its “Tri-Cluster” architecture that consists of two 2.5GHz Cortex-A72 cores, four 2GHz Cortex-A53 cores and four 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 cores.

“[YotaPhone] announced a revamped version of its second-generation handset that promises improved performance, significant software tweaks and a new black on white design.  The ‘limited edition’ white handset … introduces the second-generation of the company’s custom YETI UI for the ‘Always On’ rear display.”



  • TechCrunch consider the implications of Microsoft’s announcement that it is going to shift from a shrink-wrapped software approach with Windows 10 to a service approach with continuous delivery of features and fixes:

“Putting Windows into that bundle of services would be a strong move toward upping the overall value proposition of the whole. And moving to a more gradually iterative model would probably have benefits in terms of engineering resource allocation and keeping pace with the increasingly rapid adoption curves of new tech.”

  • Windows Phone remains squeezed between iOS and Android. Microsoft presumably hope that by renaming it “Windows 10 Mobile” some of the Windows 10 cross-platform hype will rub off.  However Charles Arthur of the Guardian argues that Microsoft’s announcement that Windows 10 will support iOS and Android apps won’t help prospects.  It’s a “white flag to rivals and a red flag to developers“:

Microsoft had to do something, and people who like clever technical solutions are delighted by this clever technical solution to the fact of developer indifference and incompatible software. But it doesn’t change the fundamental truth: Windows Phone (v10 or whatever) is too small to matter in platform terms on mobile.

Apps and Services

“All of us who passionately believe in the value of content, who grew up with newspapers and magazines as essential to our knowledge-base and worldview, and who understood the value and recall print being a superior advertising and circulation conduit for advertising and paid subscriptions, should be very concerned and dismayed by AOL’s sale to Verizon.”

  • AOL was once a giant in the OTT messaging space with AIM.  This excellent article provides lots of fascinating insights into the cat and mouse war of attrition that went on between the AOL AIM and Microsoft MSN Messenger engineering teams in the late 90s. They fought each other to a veritable standstill with a variety of devious hacks and countermeasures to retain market dominance including apparently the injection of buffer overrun exploits within protocol messages.
  • HBR on what the rise of OTT Messaging means for brands. Among other things it will force them to address some very difficult problems such as how to consolidate a variety of data sources (in many cases unstructured) to present a unified customer view and how to dismantle rigid cross-functional organisational silos.

Top Gear Live


“app users would do well to unlink their credit card, then change the account password before relinking it. Or maybe just pay with cash next time.”

A paper coffee cup was left outside a Starbucks coffee house


“Both the brands were losing sales to online-only smartphone brands at a time when e-commerce already contributes 15% of smartphone sales in India and expected to double this year”

Software Development

  • Rust 1.0 has been released.  The language is touted as “a drop-in replacement for C” which “combines low-level control over performance with high-level convenience and safety guarantees.
fn main() {
    println!("Hello, world! Rust here.");

“Because requests excels at grabbing HTML/XML/JSON a tool like pyQuery can help coerce, analyze, and query those responses from a different angle. pyQuery behaves a lot like jQuery in the browser, allowing CSS-based selectors to find HTML elements within an xmltree.”

  • Good post from a US context on why learning to code at school is a vital responsibility of the educational establishment with much improvement required:

“creating a future army of coders is not the sole purpose of the classes. These kids are going to be surrounded by computers—in their pockets, in their offices, in their homes—for the rest of their lives.  The younger they learn how computers think, how to coax the machine into producing what they want—the earlier they learn that they have the power to do that—the better.”

Web, Cloud and Devops

1. Write the following to 'swapme.sh':
dd of=$file if=/dev/zero bs=1M count=1024
mkswap $file
swapon $file
fstab="$file swap swap defaults 0 0"
echo $fstab >> /etc/fstab

2. Run it and change permissions on swap:
$ chmod u+x swapme.sh
$ sudo ./swapme.sh
$ sudo chmod 600 /var/swap.1

3. Build matplotlib
$ sudo yum install libpng-devel
$ sudo yum install freetype-devel
$ pip install matplotlib
  • SplunkLive! took place in London this week.  It was even bigger than last year’s event, testament to the growing reach of Splunk as an operational intelligence platform.   A particular highlight was the keynote from PaddyPower CIO Fin Goulding on how they integrate Splunk within a broader DevOps culture at the company.  Another highlight was sitting through a hands-on class going through the Splunk Enterprise 6.2 feature set courtesy of some cloud based instances that disappeared at midnight.

“a set of practices, tools and policies that lead to improved quality and Automated Delivery (AD). In many ways, rapid and frequent deployment to production reduces risk, as any release contains fewer changes.”

“With this approach, trust is moved from the network level to the device level. Employees can only access corporate applications with a device that is procured and actively managed by the company. In this setup, Google requires a device inventory database that keeps track of computers and mobile devices issued to employees as well as changes made to those devices.”

If we have learned anything over the last 18 months from Sony, Target, Anthem, JPMorgan, et. al.; it’s that there’s no safety behind the firewall anymore.

Wearables and the Internet of Things

  • The LG Watch Urbane generated some interest when it was first announced earlier this year.   It’s an Android Wear accessory with premium aspirations.  This Engadget review suggests it falls short mainly on account of a “clumsy, ostentatious design“:

LG Watch Urbane review: a premium watch that falls short of greatness

The Activité is a touch pricey ($400), but it’s a fine looking watch that has an old-school feel while still offering functionality you’ve come to expect out of an activity tracker.

“the FR225 is basically a FR220 running watch with an optical HR sensor stuffed inside and then the Garmin Vivo lineup of activity tracking functionality (i.e. steps) added to it as well.”

  • The Jawbone Up3 has undergone a troubled gestation with many exasperated by a lack of communication from the company on various delays in getting the product to market.  Engadget finally secured a unit for review and found it a “feature-packed disappointment”.  They suggested it was too expensive for a wearable without a display:


Machine Learning and Data Visualisation

“If you have ever built a classification model yourself, you know that you should carefully choose your model type based on your specific use case. What I found very powerful in AWS Machine Learning is that you don’t need to care about that, since it automatically trains and tests a lot of complex models, tuned with different parameters, so that the best one will be chosen for the final evaluation.”

  • This Tableau white paper outlines which graph you should use based on the input context and what you’re trying to cover. Gannt charts to bubble charts to column, bar, pie and scatter charts are all covered.
  • Another link to a post outlining the best chart to use to visualise your data:


  • FiftyThree’s popular award-winning Pencil and Paper calligraphy apps for the iPad have been enhanced with a set of tools called Think Kit aimed at disrupting Powerpoint.  Here’s a compelling video of Think Kit in action with Paper and Pencil:

Artificial Intelligence, Robots and Lego

  • This inside view on Google’s self-driving car program written by its director Chris Urmson, highlights their overarching focus on safety.   Progress to date has been impressive and has been centred on the continuous integration of telemetry from laser rangefinder, conventional radar and GPS sensors within the context of SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping).  Stats highlight the relative safety:

“Over the 6 years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during those 1.7 million miles of autonomous and manual driving with our safety drivers behind the wheel, and not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.”

  • However it’s not just human error autonomous vehicles have to contend with.  Localisation requires comparison against a known map which is fine in sunny California but can present problems in climates subject to extreme weather changes.  The current state of the art can apparently cope with rain but not snow.

What changed is the amount of computing power we have at our disposal. We can now run these systems across dozens, hundreds, even thousands of high-powered processors.

Give the Wolfram Language Image Identify Project a picture, and it uses the language's ImageIdentify function to identify it

  • Quartz profile the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford which is headed up by Nick Bostrom and focusses on the study of “existential risk”.   The scientists and researchers who work there are billed as “the people trying to prevent humanity from destroying itself“, a task sufficiently grand that it constitutes arguably a modern-day Manhattan Project.

Startups and Unicorns

  • How to build a unicorn from scratch and walk away with nothing. A cautionary tale of venture capital, dilution, ratchets and above all terms from an inside perspective.  The moral of the story is to focus on terms and not on inflated valuation.  The former will determine what share of proceeds a founder will be eligible for in different circumstances.
  • An Asymco post simply entitled “Unicornia” attempts to analyse the core characteristics of unicorn companies.   His main conclusion looking at a range of corporate indicators is that Unicorns should be “characterized as having negligible revenue or profit but significant growth.”  He also picks apart the commonly-held view that a fixed value per user can be used to drive overall market valuation of a Unicorn.  In reality this figure is subject to huge variation across different companies with Apple having the most valuable users by far:

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 5-15-2.47.16 PM

  • Interesting post from one of the founders of Gamevy on how a strict adherence to the Lean Startup mantra almost killed their company.   An important point the author makes is that the minimum viable product (MVP) is NOT necessarily the same as the minimum desirable product (MDP) and that the latter is more important for a startup because of the severity of the competition and the difficulty of breaking through.
  • James Altucher in TechCrunch suggests asking the following nine questions before accepting an offer of employment from a startup:
    1. Has the CEO built a business before?
    2. Does the company have good funding?
    3. Do you believe in the vision?
    4. Do you believe in their latest round valuation?
    5. What can you learn?
    6. How do the partners get along?
    7. What are the current demographic trends?
    8. When will they IPO?
    9. Do you see the path to profitability?

Work and Culture

“Delivering great customer experiences requires marketers to touch every aspect of an enterprise, from sales and products all the way fulfillment. This is unchartered territory for marketers which may explain why CEOs currently don’t see enough CMOs stepping out of the marketing bunker and putting on their business hat.”

“Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to … well … save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation”

  • Internet forums and social media provide a fertile combination of anonymity and distance to allow trolling to thrive.  Being righteous about it won’t help:

“The internet will always reward extreme views with extreme attention. … Use your brain – but don’t let yourself be manipulated into wasting energy shoving back against something that’s just meant to get your goat.”

“Responding to a troll just gives them evidence of their success for others to enjoy, and powerful incentive to try it again to get a rise out of the next sucker and satiate their perverse desire for opinion bloodsport. Someone has to break the chain.”


  • The Reinvigorated Programmer offers his assessment of why the UK election result went the way it did counter to all the polling. In short, many people upon being faced with a number of uninspiring alternatives chose the least worst one from the perspective of self-interest.  It doesn’t seem to be a recipe for inspiring politics.
  • This NYT opinion piece extends the theme of parochial self-interest further to a national level within Britain and suggests that the real “winners” from the election were actually those who champion the identity politics of England and Scotland.

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