Defining “entrepreneur”

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.

I love that definition. “Entrepreneur” is an overused term, but there really is nothing else that encapsulates the idea. And I’ve found no definition like the one above that so succinctly explains what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Since starting my own business almost one year ago, I find myself thinking differently. I think ahead—far ahead—and rarely think about the past. I think about my success in terms of not how many clients I have, or how much money I’m making, but what portion of the possible I’m turning into something real. And what is and isn’t possible means something very different than it did, for me, just a few years ago.

That’s what entrepreneurship is about, and that’s what this definition explains so well. What is possible and impossible is not an objective, set-in-stone list of things. Possible is an relative term. Entrepreneurs simply understand this more than do most other people.

I like to use the following illustration: Go back to an ancient Roman city. Survey the town members on the question: “Is it possible to talk with someone on the other side of the world?” I’ll bet the answer is a resounding no. But today, of course, we do this daily with our phones. It is possible, and it was never actually impossible. It was just beyond the limits of ancient people’s imagination. And probably those who did imagine such an ability, or such a technology, were considered insane.

Thank God for entrepreneurs, like Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone), who saw nothing impossible about their ambitions to change the world—who pursued an opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled or available.

For those who care, that definition was coined by Harvard Business School’s Howard Stevenson.

True failure counts

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”

I love that phrase. I really believe it, and it gets me through tough times.

But please, please remember this: When you’re failing—actually, 100%, totally failing—it doesn’t feel good. You don’t believe that you’ll learn from it. You don’t believe you’ll ever get out of it. You may even believe that no one has ever failed as badly as you are failing.

That’s how true failure feels. But that’s also the only type of failure that teaches you to be better.

So when you feel like your world is literally ending, or that nobody has ever failed as badly as you’re failing, that’s when it matters. That’s true failure—the feeling you must (and will) learn to overcome. That’s when you learn. And that’s when you absolutely must make the decision to keep going.

You’ll get over it, I promise. In a few months, you’ll wonder how you ever believed this was going to end your world. You’ll be fine, and you’ll be a more powerful person than you were before. And in so many ways, this present feeling of failure is the surest sign you’re doing something

So press on!

“Don, walking through walls, it isn’t hard for me now; it is impossible.”

“Do you think that maybe if you say impossible over and over again a thousand times that suddenly hard things will come easy for you?”

-Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

A tip on debating healthcare

The debate over repealing Obamacare is not so simple as free markets vs. human lives.

The market principles here are simply fact. Health care is a scarce good – this is why we have a problem in the first place. People can’t get as much as they want. We need a balanced economic solution, not mere demands that “healthcare is a right or people will die.” That gets us nowhere. It does nothing to solve the problem of scarcity, cost and sustainable rationing.

The health care debate ought to be about tradeoffs and maximizing utility beneath an equitable regulatory framework. Not a discussion of moral absolutes (i.e., “By repealing the ACA, you just voted to kill people!”). That’s unhelpful and immature and, frankly, exhibits a gross misunderstanding of how almost anything in life works.

Health care is a scarce good. The laws of economics should confine our thinking about moral absolutes with regard to who “deserves” health care. It’s simply unhelpful to demand healthcare for all without first deciding exactly how that is going to be possible.

How to auto-generate unique Typeform links

I faced a challenge with Google Sheets last week. Took me two hours to resolve and ended up being the simplest solution I could imagine. Thought I’d share here to save other people some time.

The problem

I’m trying to append values to a URL. This is for a client who wants to automatically generate unique links to use in marketing emails to his customers. On the other side of these links is a Typeform survey, and he’d like to be able to match survey responses to names and email addresses while keeping the whole operation in MailChimp (versus, for example, using SurveyGizmo’s built-in mailer). This is possible with Typeform by using Hidden Values.

The solution

To accomplish this, I’m using Zapier to push all new MailChimp subscribers to a Google Sheet (Sheet 1). That’s STEP ONE.

STEP TWO is to push the first four columns (A through D) on Sheet 1 to another Sheet (Sheet 2). I did this by placing the following formula in cell A1:


Easy enough.

STEP THREE is to write a formula in the first blank column on Sheet 2 (column E) that appends values from Sheet 2’s four columns (A through D) onto the end of the Typeform survey URL.

Now, I didn’t want to have to manually drag whatever formula I wrote for one row down to all other rows in that column. In fact, I wanted the appending to be both automatic and to only run if there was data in column A. If column A was empty, then that entire row was empty (just a feature of my particular dataset) and I didn’t want any output into column D. I have particular reasons as to why, but this is a good general rule for keeping spreadsheets clean—especially if you are pushing that data to another application.

To accomplish what I just described, I used the arrayformula function. This function, also explained well here, expands whatever formula follows to all cells in the same column below where you enter the arrayformula operator. For example:


…placed in cell D2 will put B2+C2 in D2, B3+C3 in D3, and so on. This essentially automates the process of clicking-and-dragging cell D2 down to the bottom of your sheets, which just isn’t a smart way to set up such a process on a dynamic sheet.

That’s arrayformula, and it’s easy enough. But I ran into issues when trying to combine arrayformula with with concatenate. And I (thought I) needed to use concatenate to append values to the end of my Typeform URL.

I tried this at first, which did not work:


The catch

The problem here was that mixing concatenate with arrayformula placed all cells in column A2:A into E2 (the cell where I entered this formula). The text in the cell looked  like this:

The same exact text populated in cell E3. I think you can see the problem: It was taking all values in column A, from every filled row, and putting them all into my URL and repeating that same exact URL onto every row in column E.

That’s not what I wanted. I wanted one URL per row that contained information only for the email subscriber in that row. I wanted this:

Anything else would not help me connect survey responses to the relevant email subscriber.

Ultimately, I discovered that concatenate just doesn’t work with arrayformula like I’d expect it to work. Some bug, maybe. Anyways, I Googled for two hours and discovered by accident that the ampersand (&) operator works like a charm! I’d always thought ampersand was just a longwinded way to do what concatenate does, but in Google Sheets, at least, ampersand is slightly more flexible than concatenate.

The formula that finally worked:


With the unique links being created automatically, I now use Zapier to push data from Sheet 2 back to MailChimp, where it automatically updates all records with the new appended URL.


Mises on the limits of science

Two selections from Human Action:

Both principles of cognition—causality and teleology—are, owing to the limitations of human reason, imperfect and do not convey ultimate knowledge. Causality leads to a regressus in infinitum which reason can never exhaust. Teleology is found wanting as soon as the question is raised of what moves the prime mover. Either method stops short at an ultimate given which cannot be analyzed and interpreted. Reasoning and scientific inquiry can never bring full ease of mind, apodictic certainty, and perfect cognition of all things. He who seeks this must apply to faith and try to quiet his conscience by embracing a creed or metaphysical doctrine.

Science does not give us absolute and final certainty. It only gives us assurance within the limits of our mental abilities and the prevailing state of scientific thought. A scientific system is but one station in an endlessly progressing search for knowledge. It is necessarily affected by the insufficiency inherent in every human effort.


Anxiety, peace, zen: RIP Robert Pirsig.

Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenancedied yesterday. He was 88.

The most formative class I took in college was Civilization and Literature, where I spent half the semester writing a paper on Zen. In it, I described Pirsig via Hamlet:

So oft it chances in particular men
That for some vicious mole of nature in them
As in their birth, wherein they are not guilty
(Since nature cannot choose his origin)
By the o’ergrowth of some complexion
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason
Or by some habit that too much o’erleavens
the form of plausive manners—that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature’s livery or fortune’s star,
Their virtues else (be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo)
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault. The dram of evil
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.

I don’t believe Pirsig was “defected,” but his book—a narrator’s cross-country journey to find peace in a world wherein he felt misplaced, forever to wander—is almost certainly autobiographical. Pirsig was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the early 1960s and, like his narrator, was crippled by existential anxiety despite his deep desire to be, foremost, a loving father.

What I’m trying to do here is pull it all together. It’s so big. That’s why I seem to wander sometimes.

This book spoke to me, even saved me, years ago. And it speaks louder now than it did—of anxiety, of peace, of “zen.”

But Pirsig scolds me now, I’m sure. His book wasn’t about anxiety. It was about “quality”—the unutterable center of all things.

Any philosophic explanation of Quality is going to be both false and true precisely because it is a philosophic explanation. The process of philosophic explanation is an analytic process, a process of breaking something down into subjects and predicates. What I mean (and everybody else means) by the word ‘quality’ cannot be broken down into subjects and predicates. This is not because Quality is so mysterious but because Quality is so simple, immediate and direct.

Quality, he argues, was once inseparable from Truth—arete (Greek). Dichotomizing these concepts, he says, is a source of unhappiness and our general and grave misunderstanding of our role as romantics vs. mechanics. Can we find objective truths in our creativity and intuitional outbursts? Can we find zen in the mechanical inner-workings of technology?

We must, he says. At the least, we are better off for trying, as Pirsig tried against circumstances more brutal and anxious, probably, than ours.

You’ve got to live right, too. It’s the way you live that predisposes you to avoid the traps and see the right facts. You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally. That’s the way all the experts do it. The making of a painting or the fixing of a motorcycle isn’t separate from the rest of your existence. If you’re a sloppy thinker the six days of the week you aren’t working on your machine, what trap avoidance, what gimmicks, can make you all of a sudden sharp on the seventh? It all goes together … The real cycle you’re working in is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be “out there” and the person that appears to be “in here” are not two separate things.

RIP Pirsig.

On wisdom

The state of wisdom is when man has no longer any concern about understanding truths and goods, but about willing and living them; for this is to be wise. — Emanuel Swedenborg

He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good. — Solomon

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. — Aristotle