Master Life Faster: Newsletter

Insights from Singularity University

Posted in Newsletter by Paul Lem, M.D. on August 3, 2009

Volume 2, Issue 8
WEALTHY: How to improve your odds as an entrepreneur
HEALTHY: Why raw food helps you lose weight
SMART: Insights from Singularity University

“If there was a simple formula for success and it was easy to follow, everybody would be doing it.”
-Edward C. Johnson III

How to Improve Your Odds as an Entrepreneur

startupHow hard is it to build your own business? What can you do to improve your odds of success?

Hard Work
To answer these questions, Paul Reynolds at Florida International University and Richard Curtin at the University of Michigan launched a project called the “Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics II” (PSED II). In 2005, they contacted 31,845 adults and identified 1,214 nascent entrepreneurs. Twelve months later, they conducted follow-up interviews.

Reynolds and Curtin found that the average time involved in creating a new company was between 1,200 and 1,600 hours of work (30–40 weeks of full-time work). The average amount of startup funding was about $15,000, with 1-in-6 involving $50,000 or more.

High Growth
As part of the study, the researchers analyzed the new companies and attempted to forecast which ones would attain $4 million in sales and/or create 50 jobs within 5 years. Only 6 percent of the startups were judged to be capable of this rapid growth.

These high-growth startups shared the following characteristics:

  • Multi-person teams. Average startup team size was 2.5 people, compared to 1.5 people for low-growth firms.
  • Industry experience. Seventy-five percent of founders reported 6 or more years of same industry experience, compared to less than 50 percent for low-growth firms.
  • Business-to-Business (B2B). About 50 percent focused on providing a product or service to other businesses versus 25 percent of low-growth firms.
  • Exports. Almost half of customers were national or international, compared to less than 20 percent for low-growth firms.
  • New customers and new markets. High-growth companies were more likely to introduce new goods and services into the market.

There are always exceptions to statistics. For example, J.K. Rowling was a first-time author and single mom when she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1995.
In July 2000, her fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, sold 3 million copies in its first 48 hours. By 2008, Rowling’s fortune was estimated at almost $800 million.

Nevertheless, the findings from PSED II are useful for understanding how to improve your probability of success. As Damon Runyon said, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”

Reynolds PD, Curtin RT. (2008). Business creation in the United States: Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics II initial assessment. Foundations and Trends in Entrepreneurship. 4(3): 155–307. Full Article.

“In general, mankind, since the improvement in cookery, eats twice as much as nature requires.”
-Benjamin Franklin

Why Raw Food Helps You Lose Weight

raw foodRichard Wrangham is an anthropologist at Harvard University. He believes that cooking was the “killer app” for human evolution—the invention that enabled early humans to evolve bigger brains. What’s Wrangham’s reasoning?

Your Hungry Brain
Your brain has a big appetite. It consumes about 20–25 percent of your body’s energy. A million years ago, early humans were subsisting on a diet consisting mainly of raw fruits and vegetables. This type of diet did not provide enough calories to support the development of a big, hungry brain. Then, several hundred thousand years ago, humans discovered how to cook with fire. All of a sudden, humans were able to get a lot more calories out of their existing food.

For example, researchers have studied digestion in patients fitted with collection bags at the ends of their small intestines. Cooking increases the proportion of food digested in the stomach and small intestine from 50 percent to 90 percent. In other words, cooking almost doubles the calories you absorb from food.

The Miracle of Cooking
How does it work? Cooking transforms food. It breaks down starch molecules into more digestible sugars. It denatures protein molecules into amino acids chains that are easier to digest. Heat also physically softens food, which means your digestive system requires less energy to digest it. All of this extra energy fueled the evolution of our big brains.

Fast forward to modern times. In the developed world, we no longer have a problem getting enough to eat. Instead, we’re eating too much and suffering from obesity. Reflecting on Wrangham’s research, what would happen if we cooked less?

Thin and Raw
Researchers in Germany conducted a cross-sectional survey of people who had been eating a strict raw food diet (70–100 percent of food intake) for an average of almost 4 years. Results showed that men experienced an average weight loss of 9.9 kg compared to 12 kg for women. In fact, 15 percent of men and 25 percent of women had a Body Mass Index (BMI) that was abnormally low (< 18.5 kg/m2). About 30 percent of the women under 45 years of age stopped menstruating, either partially or completely.

In another study, researchers observed that about 50 percent of vegans were deficient in vitamin B12. Typically, this deficiency developed after 2 years on a strict raw food diet.

When it comes to raw food, balance is the key. Too much leads to vitamin deficiencies and excessive weight loss. But the majority of us would do well by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Wrangham RW et al. (1999). The raw and the stolen: cooking and the ecology of human origins. Current Anthroplogy. 40(5): 567–594. Abstract.

American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2009). What’s cooking? The Economist. February 19. Full Article.

Koebnick C et al. (1999). Consequences of a long-term raw food diet on body weight and menstruation: results of a questionnaire survey. Ann Nutr Metab. 43: 69–79. Abstract.

Donaldson MS. (2000). Metabolic vitamin B12 status on a mostly raw vegan diet with follow-up using tablets, nutritional yeast, or probiotic supplements. Ann Nutr Metab. 44: 229–234. Abstract.

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.
-H.G. Wells

Insights from Singularity University

Singularity UniversityI’m currently attending a 9-week program called Singularity University (SU) at the NASA Ames Campus in Mountain View, California. The purpose of the program is: “To assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

Accelerating Change
Phew, what a mouthful! I’ve been here for a month, and I’m happy to say that the program is better than the mission statement. We’ve had lectures and workshops from some of the world’s top scientists, entrepreneurs, and thinkers.

They’ve shared their thoughts on the future for 10 fields experiencing accelerating technological change:

  • Finance & Entrepreneurship
  • Medicine, Neuroscience & Human Enhancement
  • Artificial Intelligence & Robotics
  • Space & Physical Sciences
  • Nanotechnology
  • Networks & Computing Systems
  • Energy & Ecological Systems
  • Policy, Law & Ethics
  • Future Studies & Forecasting
  • Biotechnology & Bioinformatics

Voices of Experience
But the most valuable things I’ve learned so far have nothing to do with technology.
Instead, it’s insights into human nature and psychology.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • peterPeter Diamandis has founded ventures such as the X PRIZE, Zero Gravity Corporation, International Space University, and now Singularity University. Peter says that the key to success is launching a new venture in the zone of “supercredibility.” For example, if your venture aims to achieve faster-than-light travel, this is not credible, and you’re doomed to fail. But if your venture aims to offer commercial spaceflights, it’s credible if you’re Burt Rutan, winner of the Ansari X Prize. And your venture becomes supercredible when you sign up partners such as Virgin Galactic, and land paying customers such as Captain James T. Kirk.
  • Vint Cerf receives hundreds of e-mails every day. He can’t go through them all in detail. So he triages them quickly. Of course, this means he misses things. But Vint has learned that if something is important, the sender will follow up with him. But the issue often resolves itself without Vint having to get involved.
  • George Smoot joined SU because he believes in the vision, and he’s known Peter Diamandis for many years. The lesson is you can sign up Nobel Prize winners if you’re doing something worthwhile. And it helps if you’re already friends.
  • Ray Kurzweil says that the reason most startups fail is not due to poor execution or failure of the technology. Rather, it is bad timing—the product or service is too early or too late for the market.
  • David S. Rose says that the most important quality for an entrepreneur is integrity. If David doesn’t trust you, he won’t invest no matter how attractive the opportunity.
  • At Yahoo Brickhouse, Salim Ismail observed that for any good business idea, there were at least 20 groups working on it around the world. Therefore, success is determined by the best execution mixed with a bit of luck.
  • Yossi Vardi has developed a network of the smartest young people around the world. When I asked him how he did it, he replied, “What’s the best way to find the smartest kid in a class? Ask the other kids!”

I wonder what new things I’ll learn at Singularity University in the next 30 days? Read my newsletter next month and find out.

Copyright 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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