It's never too early to learn about yak shaving: What Russian folk tales can teach about life and technology
Toddlers love to read the same book over and over again: it helps them learn language and gives them a small sense of security, comfort, predictability, and mastery over even a small part of the confusing world around them. While helpful for them, it can drive parents crazy (or lead them to come up with ridiculous premises for blog posts).
Yesterday my toddler insisted on my reading for the fifth time (that day) the Russian folk tale "Петушок и бобовое зёрнышко," or "The Rooster and the Bean." (Click those links to read the tale in the respective language.)
The gist of the story is that this poor rooster who is always rushing chokes on a bean, and in order to save his life, a chicken needs to solve one problem after another in an endless cascade of sub-tasks which finally allow her to save the rooster's life in the end.
The story teaches (at least) three obvious lessons. First, don't rush while eating (or in general). Second, accomplishing things in life (or getting anything non-trivial like a "project" done for that matter) is going to be much more complicated and involve a lot more dependent steps completed first. And third, often many other people will be involved whose help you will need in order to get what you want done.
But for me personally, I secretly got a kick out of reading the story because it also teaches a valuable lesson about technology development. When I was at Google, there were many times I tried to do something seemingly quite simple ("just change the color over here" or "just move this piece of code from here to here"), and it required 5+ steps of dependent work (refactoring, renaming, moving, etc.) to be completed in series before the final trivial change/fix could be made. I learned from a teammate that this is generally called "yak shaving," which refers to the seemingly endless series of useless activities which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allow you to solve a larger problem [Sources: 1, 2, 3].
And I've experienced the same thing in life and house projects as well: "I just want to install a camera here" devolves into "I need to run power here" which devolves into "I need to rewire, order, and set up a thousand other things first."
I guess it's never too early to learn the lesson that projects are complicated, and getting a big thing done requires patience with lots of steps, which is why this Russian folk tale about the rooster seem to teach this lesson so early on.
If you want to waste any more of your precious life, you can watch the pointless video below of the Ren & Stimpy Show episode about the (pointless) "Yak Shaving Day" that apparently inspired the term "yak shaving."
(I'm finally getting around to posting abbreviated deal memos for the investments I've made so far. I'm following Jason's advice from Angel about posting these online as blog posts. I'm doing this more for my own benefit of analyzing how I make investment decisions and tracking that over time. This also keeps me accountable and allows me to give a small shout out to the team I'm supporting. Below is the first such abbreviated deal memo post of several to come soon.)
I’m really excited to have been able to invest in Cafe X. Based in San Francisco, Cafe X designs, manufactures, and operates Robotic Coffee Bars that serve specialty coffee from local roasters.
The company was started by a founder who loves good coffee but hates waiting in line for it and inefficiency in general. He dropped out of college and sold his car to buy his first robot and start working towards what Cafe X would become. Since that time, he and his team have launched three live locations in SF that have awesome customer reviews. I’m proud to have invested alongside Jason Calacanis, LAUNCH, Khosla Ventures, Social Capital, Felicis Ventures, The Thiel Foundation, Innospring, and Base Ventures.
I’m personally excited about the company because I believe in the potential of robotics to automate work and produce a high-end experience for more people at lower cost. I like that the founder has been able to execute and bring to market a product that has been bringing joy to many repeat customers. It’s not that I believe that a robot is always better than a barista or that I don’t appreciate the craftsmanship of an amazing, handmade product; I just believe that there is great value in the technology that Cafe X is developing and that it can be a great fit in many situations.
Here is recent press coverage on the company:
Curbed, CBS SF, Fast Co. Design, ABC7 News, Barrons, SF Chronicle, MIT Technology Review
What I love:
Here is a video of the Robotic Coffee Bar 2.0 machine that Cafe X launched last week:
One of my favorite books from last year was Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups--Timeless Advice from an Angel Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000 by Jason Calacanis. It was actionable, no-nonsense, and really informative. I loved the crisp and clear framework and suggestions; the reader can agree with them or not, but at least it's practical and direct.
I just started getting my feet wet in angel investing last year, and I plan on spending the next 6 months doing a deep dive into it as a personal experiment for myself to see if I like the process and the work (Jason's motto in the book is "do the work").
Below are my main takeaways and notes on the book. (One telltale sign I liked a book is when my notes Google Doc is 15+ pages long, as it is for this book.)