The Making of Warren Buffett

One of the most successful, if not THE most successful investors in America, is Warren Buffett. Using only his own money which he started making and collecting at age 6, Buffett became the world’s wealthiest man in 2008. How he started doing business, and how he evolved from an awkward geeky kid to the business magnate today, is worth every aspiring investor/entrepreneur/businessman’s attention. It may be one of the thickest books I’ve ever read, but Alice Schroeder’s “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life” is a must read. Below, I describe some lessons that I have personally learnt from the earlier sections of this book (i.e., his childhood):

1. There are MANY ways of making money. That sounds like a given, but how many of us really make use of this widely known fact? Knowing that there are countless ways of making money, does not necessary lead to us using all the ways we can to make money. Buffett did. Inspired by a book titled “One Thousand Ways to Make $1000”, Buffett went about making his first $1000 (and many subsequent ones) in numerous ways. He sold chewing gum; loaned pinball machines to barbers; washed cars; delivered newspapers; sold second-hand golfballs; stooped race tickets; shorted stocks…. he grabbed every single opportunity to do business. Talk about serial entrepreneurship.

2. One can never be too young to start. Buffett understood the concept of compounding. It struck him as critically important. He saw the value in TIME — the earlier he started compounding, the more years he had to compound, and the more he would end up with many years later. No wonder he started doing business at age 6 and paid his first tax at age 14, when everyone else his age was still trudging through school and teenage. The next time someone says to you “you’re too young, finish school before you think about that”, ignore them. They don’t know the value of time.


3. Inner Scorecards vs Outer Scorecards. There’s wasn’t a clear distinction of which is better, but I resonated strongly with what he described. He says, “… how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard… If the world couldn’t see your results, would you rather be thought of as the world’s greatest investor but in reality have the world’s worst record? Or be thought of as the world’s worst investor when you were actually the best?… Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?… It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard” 

10 Coolest Science TED talks

TED talks is all about inspiring people. And one thing it has, is a whole collection of interesting and mind-blowing science talks. Here are some of my personal all-time favourites:

1. Markus Fischer: A robot that flies like a bird

This is one of my all-time favourites. Seldom has a robot made my hair stand on end. A traditional robot is a big, clumsy, heavy metallic frame with a bundle of wires. It might have a head with shiny eyes, and four limbs that squeak as they move in breaks. Fischer breaks all these stigmas about a robot, and shows a robot that flaps its soft wings and soars through the air in the auditorium, just like a real bird. Talk about technology advancement.

 2. David Blaine: How I held my breathe for 17 minutes

Blaine is one of the few magicians whom I can never quite figure out how he does what he does. Not only how he does his magic, but WHY he actually attempts some of the craziest death-defying stunts ever! Besides getting frozen alive, buried alive and drowned alive, Blaine held his breathe for 17 minutes in 2008 on Oprah’s show. In this highly personal talk, Blaine described how he prepared for this record-breaking stunt (in a scientific manner), as well as the many close shaves with death he experienced during the process.

3. Keith Barry: Brain magic

Human brain hacker shows how the human mind can be easily deceived by making use of its loopholes – even on podcast! He calls himself a technologist, a software engineer of the human brain. And a really good one at that.

4. Brian Greene: Making sense of string theory

String theorist Greene takes an extremely complicated theory, and makes it simple enough for the layman to understand. Awesome usage of visual tools to help the audience visualize the 11 dimensions around us that we cannot usually see.

5. Adam Savage: How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries

Using famous examples in history such as Richard Feynman and Eratosthenes and Armand Fizeau, Savage explains how the simplest questions and simplest tools could bring you right to the edge of scientific discoveries. These people saw the same things, but were just a little bit more curious, and thought a little bit harder. My favorite quote from the talk – People often think of science as a closed black box, when it is actually an open field. We are all explorers!

 6. Beau Lotto: Optical illusions show how we see

Through a few interesting optical illusions – Lotto explains how our eyes and brain actually interact. How we view things do not only depend on our eye sight, but also how our brain perceives what we see.

7. Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth – visualized

Be fascinated when you see science at work. Not at the level that we usually see, but at a microscopic level, or at a time frame slowed down by 1000 times, or accelerated by 10,000 times. Not that we need to modify nature to make it beautiful, but it is our human perception that limits how we perceive beauty, and image maker Tsiaras does this beautifully with regards to the birth of a human life.

8. Stephen Hawking: Questioning the universe

Famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking asks some BIG questions about the universe – how did the universe begin? How did life begin? Are we (humans) alone? What will the future be like? Professor Hawking gives some suggestions as to how we can answer these questions and some warnings, complete with humor and humbleness.

9. David Gallo: Underwater astonishments

In a short 5 minute talk, Gallo shows amazing pictures of underwater creatures that we don’t normally get to see in our everyday life (unless if you’re an underwater explorer or a fish, that is). Watch out for the male cuttlefish that gets aggressive in the presence of other male cuttlefish, but shows only the gentle side to the female.

10. Fabian Oefner: Psychedelic science

What happens when you merge Science and Art? Not as odd a pair if you think about it – nature is beautiful. Oefner’s mission is to bring out the most psychedelic images of Science. The best part is the live demo. Remember to breathe when you watch this. It will also bring a smile to you face, I assure you, as you realize the beauty that is constantly surrounding us. God’s creations.

From Bench to Boardroom

Published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Bassil Dahiyat describes his journey from being a PhD student at California Institute of Technology, to being CEO of a life science startup. He offers the following advice to anyone trying to follow a similar path:

  1. Establish credibility. ‘Nuff said. 
  2. Develop business model for CUSTOMERS, not your product/technology/service. A big tendency for entrepreneurs with academic backgrounds is to have the product ready before even considering the market or the customers. The product is usually their expertise, and was developed from grad school / postdoc and the like, instead of finding a customer and market need first. This reversal of sequence sometimes leads to not having a product-market-fit, which is essential for success. (More about how to develop product-market-fit next time)
  3. Network, network, network!! No matter how well known you are in the academic field where you developed your product, the business will involve many other people — partners, investors, customers, payers etc. Don’t imagine that being well known in academia equates to being well known everywhere else. Attend conferences, join meetups, speed dating, talk to everyone. Some say 80% of the start-up effort should go into marketing. Not only will this network get you investors and customers, it will also bring extremely valuable feedback to make the product better. 
  4. Embrace change. Sometimes, academia trains a person to become very rigid (faithful?) and stubborn. That has to be relaxed a little. Pivoting a start-up is very common, and may often lead to something much better. Be agile and adapt to opportunities. Recognize quickly when something is not going right, and restructure. 

Dahiyat (2012). Stranger in a strange land? Nature Biotechnology. 30(11), 1030-1032.

101 motivational quotes for startups

Being in a startup is tough, especially if you’re the founders and you are struggling to keep the startup alive. But rest assured that you’re not alone. Here are some quotes from people who have been there and know what it feels like. Be it words of advice, or just knowing that you’re not alone, I hope some of these help you get through whatever down times! 🙂

  1. “Chase the vision, not the money, the money will end up following you.” Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos
  2. “I try not to make any decisions that I’m not excited about.” Jake Nickell, Co-founder, Threadless
  3. “Innovation is not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
  4. “The value of an idea lies in the using of it” Thomas Edison, General Electric Co-founder
  5. “Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details to perfect.” Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder
  6. Always choose your investors based on who you want to work with, be friends with, and get advice from. Never, ever, choose your investors based on valuation.” Jason Goldberg, American film and television producer
  7. “Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations” Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Media founder and CEO
  8. “Be undeniably good. No marketing effort or social media buzzword can be a substitute for that” Anthony Volodkin, Hype Machine founder
  9. “Get big quietly, so you don’t tip off potential competitors” Chris Dixon, Andreesen Horowitz investor
  10. “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, Entrepreneur
  11. “It’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower” Paul Graham, YCombinator co-founder
  12. “Entrepreneur is someone who has a vision for something and a want to create” David Karp, Tumblr founder and CEO
  13. “Don’t worry about people stealing your design work. Worry about the day they stop” Jeffrey Zeldman, A List Apart Publisher
  14. “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late” Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder
  15. “When you find an idea that you just can’t stop thinking about, that’s probably a good one to pursue” Josh James, Omniture CEO and co-founder
  16. “I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars — I look for 1-foot bars that I can step over” Warren Buffet, Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO
  17. “Embrace what you don’t know, especially in the beginning, because what you don’t know can become your greatest asset. It ensures that you will absolutely be doing things different from everybody else” Sara Blakely, SPANX founder
  18. “The most dangerous poison is the feeling of achievement. The antidote is to every evening think what can be done better tomorrow” Ingvar Kamprad, Founder of IKEA
  19. “I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one” Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder
  20. “Being too early is worse than being too late for a new product” Don Norman, Author, Design of Everyday Things
  21. “Diligence is the mother of good luck” Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the United States
  22. “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and falling over” Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder
  23. “Sustaining a successful business is a hell of a lot of work, and staying hungry is half the battle” Wendy Tan White, MoonFruit co-founder and CEO
  24. “The day you start your company you are over your budget and behind schedule – Normans Law” Don Norman, Author, Design of Everyday Things
  25. “Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.” Thomas A. Edison, American inventor and businessman
  26. “Always look for the fool in the deal. If you don’t find one, it’s you.” Mark Cuban, AXS TV chairman and entrepreneur
  27. “It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen” Scott Belsky, Behance co-founder
  28. “Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once” Drew Houston, American internet entrepreneur who is best known for being the founder and CEO of Dropbox
  29. “Fail often so you can succeed sooner” Tom Kelley, Ideo partner
  30. “Best startups generally come from somebody needing to scratch an itch” Michael Arrington, TechCrunch founder and co-editor
  31. “The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something” Seth Godin, Squidoo founder, author and blogger
  32. “When I’m old and dying, I plan to look back on my life and say ‘wow, that was an adventure,’ not ‘wow, I sure felt safe” Tom Preston-Werner, Github co-founder
  33. “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” Milton Berle,  comedian and actor
  34. “I doubt I’ll ever go back to corporate work. Once you see the light, there is no turning back” Magnus Jepson, WooThemes co-founder
  35. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” Henry Ford, American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company
  36. “If you define yourself by how you differ from the competition, you’re probably in trouble” Omar Hamoui, AdMob co-founder
  37. “A person who is quietly confident makes the best leader” Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures co-founder
  38. “The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” Nolan Bushnell, American engineer and entrepreneur who founded both Atari, Inc. and the Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza-Time Theaters chain
  39. “I don’t believe that old cliche that good things come to those who wait. I think good things come to those who want something so bad they can’t sit still” Ashton Kutcher, Actor and investor
  40. “The secret to successful hiring is this: look for the people who want to change the world” Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO
  41. “Ideas are commodity. Execution of them is not.” Michael Dell, Dell chairman and CEO
  42. “If you just work on stuff that you like and you’re passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out.”  Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder
  43. “A ‘startup’ is a company that is confused about – 1. What its product is. 2. Who its customers are. 3. How to make money” Dave McClure, 500Startups co-founder
  44. “Energy and persistence conquer all things.” Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, Entrepreneur
  45. “In the end, a vision without the ability to execute it is probably a hallucination” Steve Case, AOL co-founder
  46. “You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.”  George Lorimer, journalist and author
  47. “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder
  48. “Well done is better than well said.” Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, Entrepreneur
  49. “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance” Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur, marketer, and inventor, who was the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc
  50. “Wonder what your customer really wants? Ask. Don’t tell” Lisa Stone, BlogHer co-founder and CEO
  51. “Behold the turtle, he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out” Bruce Levin
  52. “Your reputation is more important than your paycheck, and your integrity is worth more than your career.” Ryan Freitas, About.me co-founder
  53. “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Peter Drucker, Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author
  54. “There is no man living that can not do more than he thinks he can.” Henry Ford, American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company
  55. “Its better to be late than to be early to Market. Late you can catchup.” Don Norman, Author, Design of Everyday Things
  56. “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere” Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist
  57. “You jump off a cliff and you assemble an airplane on the way down” Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder
  58. “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody” Bill Cosby, American comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician and activist
  59. “The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake- you can’t learn anything from being perfect.” Adam Osborne,  Thailand-born British-American author, book and software publisher, computer designer and entrepreneur
  60. “To win without risk is to triumph without glory” Corneille
  61. “To succeed… You need to find something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you.” Tony Dorsett, Former NFL player
  62. “We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” Arianna Huffington, Co-founder, The Huffington Post
  63. “Learn by doing. Theory is nice, but nothing replaces actual experience.” Tony Hsieh, American internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He is the CEO of the online shoe and clothing shop Zappos.com
  64. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
  65. “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” Henry Ford, American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company
  66. “To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.” Thomas Watson, Sr., Former chairman and CEO of International Business Machines
  67. “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin, English naturalist and geologist
  68. “There’s a way to do it better – find it.” Thomas A. Edison, American inventor and businessman
  69. “Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works” Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
  70. “Honesty is the best policy.” Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, Entrepreneur
  71. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Henry Ford, American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company
  72. “User experience is the whole experience, the closest i can think of is a trip to disneyland” Don Norman, Author, Design of Everyday Things
  73. “The golden rule for every business man is this: “Put yourself in your customer’s place.” Orison Swett Marden, Successful hotel owner and spiritual author in the New Thought Movement
  74. “Always deliver more than expected.” Larry Page, Google co-founder
  75. “You’ve got to say, I think that if I keep working at this and want it badly enough I can have it. It’s called perseverance.” Lee Iacocca, Businessman, 18th-greatest American CEO of all time
  76. “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates, American business magnate, investor, programmer, inventor and philanthropist, co-founder Microsoft
  77. “Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me”  Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post Media Group president and EIC
  78. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
  79. “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” Peter F. Drucker, Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author
  80. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison, American inventor and businessman
  81. “Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless.”  James Cash Penney, J.C. Penney founder
  82. “You don’t need to have a 100-person company to develop that idea.” Larry Page, Google co-founder
  83. “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.” Thomas A. Edison, American inventor and businessman
  84. “One today is worth two tomorrows.” Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, Entrepreneur
  85. “The one thing Startups need is Focus” Don Norman, Author, Design of Everyday Things
  86. “It’s better to make a few people really happy than to make a lot of people semi-happy.” Paul Graham, YCombinator co-founder
  87. “Turn a perceived risk into an asset.” Aaron Patzer, Founder, Mint
  88. “Don’t find fault, find a remedy. Anybody can complain.” Henry Ford, American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company
  89. “If you’re going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big.” Donald Trump, American business magnate, investor, television personality and author. He is the chairman and president of The Trump Organization and the founder of Trump Entertainment Resorts
  90. “The important thing is not being afraid to take a chance. Remember, the greatest failure is to not try. Once you find something you love to do, be the best at doing it.” Debbi Fields,  founder and current spokesperson of Mrs. Fields Bakeries
  91. “The second most important thing for entrepreneurs is to build what people need” Don Norman, Author, Design of Everyday Things
  92. “An invention that is quickly accepted will turn out to be a rather trivial alteration of something that has already existed.”  Edwin Land, Polaroid co-founder
  93. “I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.” Jeff Bezos, American Internet entrepreneur and investor. He is a technology entrepreneur who has played a key role in the growth of e-commerce as the founder and CEO of Amazon.com
  94. “There is no substitute for hard work.” Thomas A. Edison, American inventor and businessman
  95. “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Henry Ford, American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company
  96. “Make your team feel respected, empowered, and genuinely excited about the company’s mission.” Tim Westergren, Founder, Pandora
  97. “We try to solve very complicated problems without letting people know how complicated the problem was.” Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President, Apple
  98. “Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details to perfect.”  Jack Dorsey, American web developer and businessman widely known as a co-founder and co-creator of Twitter, and as the founder and CEO of Square
  99. “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
  100. “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.” Henry Ford, American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company
  101. “Make the world a better place one green dot at a time” Don Norman, Author, Design of Everyday Things

Life’s 20 Punchcards — Buffett

Warren Buffett’s “Twenty Punches” approach to investing:

You’d get very rich, if you thought of yourself as having a card with only twenty punches in a lifetime, and every financial decision used up one punch. You’d resist the temptation to dabble. You’d make more good decisions and you’d make more big decisions.”

But this 20-punches rule need not be limited to investing alone. Buffett ran his life on the same rule, with as little change as possible. Same house, same wife, same city, same career. Once he made a decision, he followed through with it. He was extremely focused, and that very focus made him who he is today.

This was Buffett’s principle to life, and also the very principle that let to his success. Once he decided on a company to invest in, he gave it his all. He studied the company’s finances thoroughly, explored its products, and even made changes to its management when necessary. He did this with Berkshire Hathaway, See’s Candies, Coca Cola and more. It also helped that he was a personal fan of many of these products, including candies and coke. Loving the company’s products and believing in it made it more natural and easier to study every single bit of the company.