Category Archives: Startups

Why I’m Getting a Second Master’s Degree from HEC Paris

HEC Paris

Why I’m Getting a Second Master’s Degree from HEC Paris

Two months ago, I applied and was accepted to a master’s program at a prestigious business school (ranked #2), HEC Paris. The degree is title Master of Science in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MSIE). It has 10 normal courses, 10 practical project-based courses and one large team project. The master’s program lasts about one year and a half. Thus the program ends in 2020. However the graduation will be in 2021, because HEC has only one graduation ceremony which is held in its beautiful Paris campus.

I finished my first Master’s degree in 2007. It was Master of Science in Information Systems Technology from the University of Northern Virginia. I don’t like traditional universities and degrees. I’m a strong proponent of modern online education like Node University or Udacity. I taught at the Hack Reactor coding academy and I’m a huge fan of vocational schools that teach practical trades as oppose to abstract and theoretical knowledge unnecessary for the real-world jobs. Needless to say, that there are a lot of materials available online via YouTube and blogs. So it might come as a surprise that I’m getting a second masters degree. However, I decided to commit to getting a second Master of Science degree for the following reasons:

  • Motivation: When you pay 10s of thousands of dollars or euros you are more motivated to continue and finish the studies
  • Focus and pre-filter: Someone with a good reputation already did the selection for me. I avoid ads or possible distractions form web surfing when I’m on Coursera.
  • European perspective: Living in San Francisco and Silicon Valley area for the last seven years I understand that we live in a bubble here. SF is not the entire world which has other, bigger and more real, problems. It’s nice to hear and learn another perspective on business and innovation.
  • Content: Things change fast and after 12 years, it’ll be nice to become a student again and get a nice broad overview of current methods and techniques in entrepreneurship in a nice distraction-free format (reading blogs or watching YouTube is a pain!).
  • Experience: the MSIE program is mostly (50%+) project based which gives actual experience instead of just being abstract lectures.
  • Brand and Network: HEC Paris is number 2 business school in Europe with a large and global presence, brand and alumni network. Brand is great because it attracts best student (for peer learning), best coaches (for projects) and best faculty (for lectures).
  • Convenience: The MSIE program is 100% online with weekly live calls, chat rooms, forums and online proctored exams. I don’t like the idea of being confined to one location and a set time for lectures for the next two years. With this format, I can travel often or even more to a new place all together.
  • Relatively cheap: The MSIE, HEC Paris program cost only 20,000 euros comparing to ~$30–40,000 USD for master’s from Harvard Extension or $150,000 USD for Wharton EMBA.

I looked at other Master’s programs. In particular, I researched Wharton Executive MBA (WEMBA) in San Francisco. They fly all the faculty from Pennsylvania ever other week. I even took a few courses form the same program. The requirement of being tied and having to come to SF every other week for two years is too limiting for me. The price is very steel.

I looked at master degrees from Harvard Extension and even took a course from them. I didn’t like their approach. It’s too rigid with the focus on minute details, fact and rote memorization. The requirement for home assignment for some courses are too arcane (must be only in MS Word with certain font size and margins). The fact that they require students to come to every live webinar every week (missing even a single webinar is not allowed) is very depressing and limiting. The platform is clunky (can’t download videos for online viewing).

I like the HEC Paris uses Coursera which is one of the best platforms for online courses. The MSIE content is relatively new and the approach is more practical. I’m in cohort 4 which means that it’s only fourth batch of students. If I’m not mistaken, cohorts 2 and 3 are still studying and haven’t graduated. Being in the 4th cohort means that university and Coursera ironed out all the kicks and perfected the program.

The application process was lengthy but totally doable: few essays, video cover letter, bio, experience and two references (done by email). The Coursera and HEC Paris staff are responsive and all the logistics ran smooth so far. The students have incredible backgrounds and I’m sure we’ll learn a great deal form each other in addition to the lectures and projects.

I’ll try to keep writing about my journey through this innovative and practical Master of Science program.

IT Consolidation

IT Consolidation

I’ve been working on the new edition of my best selling book Full Stack JavaScript. I was updating references, links and names of the services. A lot of libraries are dead and the links are unreachable. A lot of services are dead or being bought by big companies. The list is huge. Compose which was MongoHQ is now part of IBM. StrongLoop is part of IBM. Heroku is part of Salesforce. Parse.com was bought and discontinued. Firebase is part of Google. Joyent is part of Samsung.

It’s kind of depressing. Take a look at this page. Nodejitsu, which was one of the first Node PaaS solutions, says it joins GoDaddy which is just an hiring of the team. They refer to Modulus which you think is another PaaS, but it’s not. It’s a very poorly-done website for what looks like some consulting company in the trading space or like some scam a 14-year old kid put together to get money for video games. The link to the blog post announcing Nodejitsu closure is 404 Not Found.

The previous edition of Full Stack JavaScript was published in 2015. In three years, a lot of companies either sold for scraps or closed or both (sold then closed the projects). It’s very refreshing to see this trend in a long span of several years.

Every market goes through cycles. First there’s an expansion with various offerings and then there’s a retraction with just a few major players dominating. It’s a winner takes all economy. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM are serving major cloud services now. Startups are hard and most of them don’t know how execute. VCs are pushing for startups to spend more to acquire marketshare. The big companies have more leverage and more room for mistakes. They can just buy the best startup in the end.

Is it still worth trying to start your tech startup in 2018? Probably not unless it’s something completely new. You can’t drive forward while looking in a rear view mirror.

All Things Open 2017, Serverless and State of JS

React Quickly book signing at All Things Open 2017

I recorded my conference presentations last week. The conference was All Things Open and had 3200 attendees. Huge!

Watch my serverless talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HMuTVOmX_U.

And watch my State of JS at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay7SlPkENeA.

Also, I brought 50 books of React Quickly and gave them all away. The line of people to get a free copy was huge. I met a few of my fans there. Fun stuff.

Guide to Hiring Your First Developer for Non-Techies

Guide to Hiring Your First Developer for Non-Techies

One of The Foundation members asked in forum, “How do I find a good developer?”. I was glad to help, but then I thought that others might benefit from this advice so I answered it via a post.

The best thing is to work on something small first. This way you’ll test the waters before putting a major project under risk. This might include a test or a real, but small task, (preferably outside of the main project) like writing a bookmarklet or a scrapper.

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The Foundation: Starting from Nothing

The Foundation: Starting from Nothing

Last year, at about this same time, I discovered The Foundation podcast. I was vacationing in Mexico and stumbled on it via Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income—a hyper-popular online infopreneur. I downloaded and listened to many similar podcasts on online business, but The Foundation surprised me in the magnitude of its guests’ success stories. These weren’t the product of a few niche blogs, life coaching and ebooks, but six figures per month (and up) marketing and SaaS companies.

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Why Node Program is Different

Node Program

Node Program is the  fastest and most engaging way  to get started with Node.js, MongoDB and Express.js. It’s an  intensive  weekend-long  live course  taught in the Bay Area by skilled experts who have run Node.js in production  for years!

Node Program is the ultimate way to get up and running with the foundations of Node.js, by learning the required foundational skills to use Node.js! Learn more about our approach and curriculum.

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The Nastiest Little Secret

The nastiest little secret about software engineering job search, in any time and geolocation that I’ve seen: virtually everybody wants senior developers. So there’s very little chase to get into the industry. One theory this catch 22 happens is because senior software engineers are 10-20x more productive with only 10-30% more pay. Or at least that’s what most of the companies think. I’m not sure this is true 100% of the time. Therefore, if you are a junior developer—fake it till you make it. Most of us have been there. Become an expert in one field, and make a name for yourself. Then the companies will fight for you. Networking also helps. You need to be considered for the job before the job opening has been posted to the company’s website.

Intellect as an Impediment to Successful Marketing and Selling

After watching The Foundation video it struck me that an intellect can be an impediment to successful marketing and selling. I’ve heard some variation of this before but the aforementioned video was an aha moment when it all came together.

Have you ever heard about the curse of knowledge? Or cognitive bias? Basically, if a person knows something he/she assumes that everybody else also know that. This leads to omissions, assumptions and messages that don’t reach target audience. And it’s not because the average audience is stupider in general, they’re just not so fluent in this particular narrow topic and your language (The Secret Language Of Millionaires in the video). I have to fight myself tooth and nail with this bias when I’m writing my programming books!

Sharing my musings on Twitter led me to Steve Jobs who no doubt was intelligent and very good at marketing:

I think smart people have to work extremely hard to “dumb” down their marketing messages. A good example is the original Apple iPod ad that used X number of songs instead of Y number of Megabytes.

Original Apple iPod

Original Apple iPod

Another revelation was that all this time many people that I know (startupers) and I were doing it all wrong. Almost always we start with products instead of starting with problems. In the best case, we pick out our own problems to solve (some do it successfully, like Evernote founders). But where are the guarantees that our problems are not just emotionally exaggerated and the market for them is big enough? Instead we should identify the pain points first and try to pre-sell. Yes, pre-selling (before building) can solve this dilemma. Let consumers vote with their wallets (actually debit/credit cards). What if we can’t sell our service or product without it being ready, or without all the fluff like a catchy domain name, fabulous design, beautiful logo and half-a-dozen social media profiles? Then, the problem is not too big for us to work on it anyway. Not all ideas should be executed and not all problems are worth solving. :-)

Last night, I did exactly that. I created a Gumroad page for Introduction to Express.js video course. It took me half an hour, and it already has sales! The conclusion is to go lean early or suffer later.

What is Growth Hacking

The First Day of The New DocuSign Exerience

Growth hacking is such an interesting term. When I first heard of it, either at one of the meetings organized by 500 Startups or on the Jason Calacanis’s show, it made a lot of sense to me. Growth is vital for startups, and hacking is all about finding clever solutions (which are usually temporary but efficient).

When I became a growth hacking team lead at DocuSign, I started reading more about growth hacking. Soon I found out that there’s a ton of confusion on the Internet around the meaning of this phrase.

Some folks, especially ones who’s been doing new media and online marketing for a long time, think that it’s just a fancy trend for good old tools and techniques like:

  • A/B testing
  • Email marketing
  • Referral marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Viral marketing
  • Content and SEO
  • Analytics

It’s true that these kinds of online marketing have been around for the last 5—15 years! What these adepts usually miss is the difference in how growth hacking approaches product by directly influencing and oftentimes even developing it!

Note: Being a programmer hacker is not required to be a growth hacker.

On the contrary, there is little to no input from marketers on product decisions in traditional marketing. For example, imagine, there are a car manufacturer and its marketing department. Most likely, the marketers will have little to no input into the car’s engineering and design.

Another example, a pure marketer might organize an email campaign, but because the funnel hasn’t been optimized, the conversion rate turns out to be dismal. On the other hand, a typical growth hacker will first test the funnel, and only after optimizing it, they launch full-blown campaigns reaping better conversion rates!

In software, and info products (and maybe in services?), the relative low cost of prototyping — vs. increasing cost of advertising and other traditional strategies — lead to the emergence of a hybrid: growth hacking. The distinct boundaries between marketing and product departments become blurred.

The best growth hacking will involve some sort of product engineering, user experience and design work, gathering and analyzing of metrics and events.

Usually there are only two tactics for growth hacking:

  • Push
  • Pull

Push tactics often involve finding temporary “loopholes” and getting a competitive advantage by using them. These are examples we often hear/read about: AirBnB posting on Craigslist, Dropbox using free space for referrals, etc.

That’s all good, but as in our example with an email campaign, if the product is not selling itself — that’s where the most ROI is for a growth hacker: pull tactics. They involve working on a funnel, and making product better to use / easier to know about expired CCs, etc. In the next post, I’ll show how my team and I growth hacked The New DocuSign Experience.

To sum it all up, there is a good quote from TNW post by GAGAN BIYANI:

Growth hackers focus on low-cost and innovative alternatives to traditional marketing, i.e., utilizing social media and viral marketing instead of buying advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper, and television.

PS: I absolutely positively recommend this amazing free ebook The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking by Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor.