Entrepreneurship

Self-castration was such a popular path to a high-flying advisory career in China’s imperial court that the Ming dynasty ended up having to employ lots of eunuchs it could not afford.

I am sitting in a packed conference room, somewhere in the heart of London’s financial centre, in an office I have sworn not to identify. It is quiet for a midweek lunchtime. In fact, it is silent. Along with the ex-chairman of a blue-chip company, a handful of executives and board members, a former senior central banker, a Buddhist software engineer, a Benedictine monk and 60 others, I am meditating. Or trying to.

Denigrate, imitate, eliminate are the three steps that incumbents typically take to see off challengers using an unconventional business model. But there is a fourth – regulate.

Ravi Mattu

Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat (AP)

Few technology companies are hotter than Snapchat, the photo sharing app founded just under three years ago that turned down a $3bn bid from Facebook. An article about the company in Forbes calls it “the greatest existential threat yet to the Facebook juggernaut”, highlighting that “droves” of teens (the median age of a Snapchat user is 18) are turning to the social network founded almost three years ago that allows users to send videos, pictures, text or drawings that disappear after a set period of time.

But one unexpected detail in the piece stuck out for me. When twentysomething co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy first met Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder tried to dig for information on their plans. He also outlined his own plans for Poke, Facebook’s own app for sharing photos and making them disappear. According to Mr Spiegel: “‘It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you’.” Here’s the surprising detail: the Snapchat founders then bought a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for each of their six employees.

In choosing that particular military-treatise-cum-strategy-guide, Spiegel and Murphy punctured two myths about tech entrepreneurs. Read more

Andrew Hill

(Photo: Bloomberg)

The unfolding Co-op bank fiasco is a brutal reminder that choosing a particular business form – co-operative, mutual, limited partnership, listed company – is no proof against management or governance disaster. But more businesses should look at the variety of business forms available – and consider switching if their purpose changes. Read more

Ravi Mattu

Googlers: Vince Vaughn, left, and Owen Wilson in the film 'The Internship'

OK, this isn’t actually my question but one posted on Quora, the question-and-answer website. Helpfully, Sam Schillace offers an answer. And he ought to know: in 2006, he and his co-founders sold Upstartle, the maker of Writely, a word processor that worked in a web browser, to the technology company and it became the basis of Google Docs. Read more

Ravi Mattu

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that tech entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. Andrew Mason, ousted chief executive of online deals site Groupon, may have taken the comparison to heart.

On Monday, Mr Mason, who was sacked from the company he co-founded in February, released Hardly Workin’. The album, he writes on his blog, is “of music to help people get ahead in the workplace” and “pulls some of the most important learnings from my years at the helm of one of the fastest growing businesses in history, and packages them as music”.

While Mr Mason’s effort may be post-Groupon, there is a long (and dubious) history of employees taking to song to express their love for stakeholders, customers and the company they work for. Read more

Ravi Mattu

Spend one-and-a-half days at a Founders Forum event and it’s impossible not to get infected by the techie-enthusiast bug. The day after last week’s big get-together I found myself beginning a Bob the Builder story with my two-year-old: “It was a busy time in Silicon Valley.”*

The Financial Times is media partner with the event, and this year sponsored two prizes. Founder of the year was won by Ilkka Paananen, chief executive and co-founder of Supercell, the Finnish gaming company behind Clash of the Clans and Hay Day, while Eben Upton, founder of Raspberry Pi, the credit card-sized microcomputer, was awarded the One to Watch prize. Read more