The Death of Wake Forest

In U.S. in particular, it’s becoming especially clear that the cost of college is growing unsustainably. From the surprise closing of Sweet Briar College, to world renown academic Noam Chomsky denouncing the American University, you know things are getting bad when institutions of academic success are waving flags for help. I am a senior in college who is graduating from Wake Forest in a few weeks, and I promise you that this distinguished school in the American South is hardly an exception. Let me explain:

Over my time at Wake Forest, the annual cost of attendance has risen at a compounded rate of 3.7%. Standard inflation is about 2%.

Over just the four years since I started here, the excessive cost is noticeable. Below is a chart comparing annual cost increases at the Wake Forest compounded rate, 3.7%, versus standard inflation, 2%, during the four years following the academic year of 2009-10, which cost $49,032:

As the graph indicates, excessive cost increases have caused the annual cost last year (2013-2014) to be about $3,668 more than the cost would’ve been at standard inflation rates. This trend has been underway for decades, and there are no signs that the cost increases will slow down.

The average person may say, “Oh, well Wake Forest must be increasing the quality and variety of their academic programs to stay competitive.”. Sadly, according to the Instructional Expenses per Student report published in 2014, the number of dollars spent per student has actually gone down over the past four years!

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 9.27.02 PMWhat is happening, in my opinion, is an arms race to build the most attractive facilities and amenities before the education bubble bursts. College’s in the U.S. have essentially become an amorphous packaged goods product, and the desire to pick a school with a really shiny package of goods is stronger than ever before. No longer are students on campus for the lectures on Keynesian economics; they are attracted to and stick around for the sports, farm-to-table food, and lavish gyms.

Not surprisingly, amenities such as newly built dorms are equally over-priced. Consider that the cost of a coveted ~150 square foot Single in the Dogwood and Magnolia dorms next year, 2015-16, cost a total of $10,116, about $1,124 each month (9-month academic year). This equates to a $89.92 per square foot rental price.

To put this in perspective, the average Rental Price per Square Foot in Manhattan is currently $55 (Elliman), with the Luxury market topping out at $79/Sq Ft. Thus, the Wake Forest dorms, which offer “generous” amenities such as “free” laundry, utilities, and 24/7 security, are over 60% more expensive than New York apartments, one of the most expensive real-estate markets in the world.



In the end, I think the hope of most students is a valuable credential that’s helpful towards getting a job. But when the average starting salary for Wake Forest grad’s is $53,300 (Payscale) and the average debt per Wake Forest student is $35,902 (Princeton Review), that student debt could burden many graduates into their thirties.

By the way, Wake Forest scores the highest student debt burden among the Princeton Review’s 150 “Best Value” colleges for 2014. It’s no wonder that students have been increasingly responsive to “microaggressions” occurring around campus in recent years.

So, what’s an senior in high school supposed to do? That answer depends on their financial situation. If their parent’s aren’t paying for the cost of college and they aren’t selected for merit aid, then they might be able to get a decent deal at certain community colleges and state universities.

I think that within five to ten years, the cost of private higher education will reach a tipping point and demand will swing towards alternatives. However, for now I’ve got some walking to do.


04 2015


One month since TEDxWakeForestU “Hearts & Minds”, and I have found myself continually discovering new innovations in the healthcare sector. Whether it’s investigating the specs on Apple Watch, learning about the serious medication adherence problems, or keeping up to date on my favorite startups, 2015 is becoming the renaissance year of health technology.

One startup in particular, Amino, is building a product at the intersection of routine healthcare decisions and big data. For example, a common problem for heavy computer users, carpal tunnel surgery, is highlighted as an example in their recent update. I personalized the Amino recommendations to myself, a 21 year old male.

Amino breaks down the three parts of a medical procedure: diagnosis, repair, and recovery. Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.09.13 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.09.33 PM

Then Amino explains common risks and complications associated with the procedure:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.09.53 PM

Finally, Amino shows you a map of doctors near you that can help.

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This is a classic 0-1-2-3 product design, meaning that Amino is simple and provides simple but meaningful results in just seconds.

I suspect they are tracking this data from the millions of publicly available health records that are tied to Medicare claims. As my Mom (a computer systems manager at Johnson & Johnson) advised me, this is part of an industry-wide trend of health companies incorporating real-world-evidence into new products.

IMSHealth, a popular provider of anonymized healthcare data, mentions that RWE is “…becoming the new currency in healthcare”. Amino is off to the races to turn anonymized patient-level data into their own small fortune, and thus more informed healthcare decisions for all.

The team behind Amino explains it all. They are lead by David Vivero, former founder of RentJuice (software that helped real estate agents market their listings) who sold his product for $40MM to Zillow. And thanks to funding from RockHealth (source: tweet from Partner Halle Tecco), their bank account is most likely ready-for-hiring as they build “the digital doctor“. With an A-list design team to compliment Vivero’s leadership, Amino is on track towards building a landmark healthcare web property.

Keep checking back at as they add more medical treatments and conditions.


03 2015


Every now and then I come across a place in my travels where I can feel future coming alive, with new energy continuously brewing. That was the feeling that I had in the Wynwood section of Miami this past week.

Despite having visited Miami about a dozen times in the past few years, I had never been to Wynwood. Perhaps this is because Wynwood still has an “insiders-only” type of vibe, where the outer appearances only scratch the surface of what is truly happening.

Tony Goldman, a visionary real estate developer, was the driving force behind the revitalization of Wynwood beginnig in 2009. The neighborhood is situated in what was once a neglected warehouse district, in the backdrop of waterfront skyscrapers; the classic storyline of dozens of industrial neighborhoods around the world. Goldman brought over two decades of Miami real estate redevelopment experience to the table, having already having been a key figure in the preservation efforts of the architecturally significant buildings in Miami beach, such as the Park Central Hotel on Ocean Drive.

He combined his real estate knowledge with that of Jeffery Deitch, a prominent art dealer and early advocate of street art in New York, to create an exhibit for the newly popular Art Basel Miami beach in 2009. (Fun fact: Art Basel Miami drew over 75,000 visitors in 2014 and more than 1,000 private jets, according to Bloomberg.) The result was stunning: The Wynwood Walls.

In a 2012 interview with Art Business News, Goldman noted: “The vision behind Wynwood Walls has always been to create an international outdoor street/mural exhibition showcasing the world’s greatest artists working in the genre, …the project has truly evolved into what my friend Jeffrey Deitch calls ‘a Museum of the Streets.’”

In subsequent years Goldman recruited even more international and domestic artists who are drawn to make their mark on the buildings of Wynwood during Art Basel Miami. Today, gallery openings are booming, and both residential and commercial real estate is in high demand. Goldman Properties says it best on their website:

Today, when you are in Wynwood, you know you are in Wynwood. It is like nowhere else. It has a “sense of place.”

Wynwood is a welcoming home for anyone willing to embrace it. Even more importantly, it is especially attractive to creative entrepreneurs who subscribe to Goldman’s vision and want to push it forward with their own investments. Thus, what was once just a few colorful murals is now a self-perpetuating economic engine, rooted in a neighborhood with the arts at its core.

I’m excited to track the development of Wynwood, and I encourage you to check it out on your next trip to Miami.

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03 2015


The “world’s economy” is a confusing term often described in terms such as “globalized”, “interconnected” or “free”. Stepping one level lower, economists often compare economies based on “Gross Domestic Product”, in order to determine the two “P’s” and the two “D’s”: profitable versus poor and developed versus developing. But underneath all of the economic activity and the invisible market forces, there are “institutions”, which stand to measure, regulate, and facilitate economic growth.

In the book Institutions and the Economy, Francesco Duina explains the seemingly ambiguous term “institution”, and he explores the various functions of economic institutions in the world’s economy. Duina explains institutions as they are understood from a sociological perspective, the impact of institutions on individuals and larger groups of people, and the challenges that institutions faces from the outside and within.

What are institutions?

Institutions have been around for centuries and are a fundamental asset to civilized life. However, the word “institution” was rarely used beyond the most recent two hundred years. During the Renaissance as the academic world began to open up and explore various new disciplines such as Economics, Political Science, and Sociology, the term became increasingly useful.

“Institution” is used to describe a wide variety of functions depending on the person you ask, but Duina explains that “…virtually all scholars agree on at least two aspects of institutions: institutions are fairly stable entities (i.e., if they change at all they typically do so slowly), and institutions exert some sort of influence on actors in society…”(22). To summarize, institutions are stable and exert influence.

Duina notes the important distinction, stability, amongst institutions because, “They stand in contrast to other spaces in society, such as networks of friends”(22). And perhaps the most surprising and important variance in Duina’s theory is the following distinguishment: organizations in the economy are entities that are heavily influenced by the rules and traditions set forth by institutions, but they are not institutions themselves (22).

He provides numerous specific examples of institutions, such as the notion of property rights (49) and the failure of Enron (88), but all the while repeating that the impact of institutions “…is multifold and varied. Sometimes they are intimately and causally connected to the economic reality we observe. At other times, they provide the broader context in which economic activity unfolds”(60). This overarching influence of institutions is especially present at the nation-state level. Both formal institutions, such as intimately written laws, and informal institutions, such as the tradition of a 9AM to 5PM work-day, significantly dictate day-to-day life.


Laws and traditions exist, but so what? Why do participants in society follow them? Interestingly, Duina goes as far as to comment on the reasoning for which institutions are created and then perpetuated into infinity: isomorphism. The idea of isomorphism “…refers to the fact that widespread conformity to certain models and myths produces organizations that look and behave alike”(88).

Through coercion, entities are forced by dominating institutions to follow a certain code of behavior or face penalties. For example, city governments impose parking fines if you park a vehicle in the wrong spot.

In moments when rules are not clear and uncertainty weighs heavily into decision-making, mimetic desire applies. Rene Girard believes this is why Christianity remains the world’s most popular religion.

Finally, normative isomorphism simply describes a continuation of the status quo; meaning that some entities in society take certain actions not necessarily because they are required, but instead because they are motivated out of  habit and social acceptance. Peter Thiel believes this is the root cause for a widespread belief in college education in America.

Thus, the power of institutions is conformity. An organization’s decision to conform depends on how vulnerable it is to issues of legitimacy.

Organizations that produce products or services that are vaguely defined (such as the college that I attend, Wake Forest) may need to do more to establish their legitimacy compared to those that produce more recognized outputs. Hence the abundant evidence of this type of behavior on the homepage of the Wake Forest website, where the school is described as “…consistently ranked among the top 30 universities in the nation.”. This description exists to reassure uneasy visitors of Wake Forest’s legitimacy.

Expanding Thoughts

Despite a continuous dominance of institutions in all facets of life, they are especially vulnerable to change. The interconnected nature of the economy is such that almost any change in institutions at the nation-state level is bound to have a far-reaching rippling effect. For example, the idea of the Western nation-state, one that has an “…education system which is secular and universal, offering instruction in scientific, humanistic, and artistic disciplines” is constantly under fire from religious radicals. Furthermore, an increasing homogenization of cultures throughout the world provides an efficient basis for grouping and organizing economic activity, but also threatens to preserve centuries-old institutions that cannot compete on an economic basis.

Finally, I am personally most looking forward to tracking the challenges that are faced by institutions which stand to exist independently of other institutions, such as the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Is it right that all money has to be legitimized by some sort of governing agency? Or can economic activity sustain and thrive outside of formal institutions? Will experiments in alternatives to college and alternative currencies offer a path to reconsider the role of institutions? I am interested to find out.


02 2015

Mass Culture Versus Popular Culture

Culture” is one of the more vague and confusing words in the English language. For example, is Chinese culture Chinese food or Chinese films? The word “China” is confusing in and of itself.

What scholars know is that the vocabulary of culture is increasing. From a term that was limited to high culture versus folk culture and mass culture versus popular culture, now exists a term that is appended onto an array of terms that describe sub-cultures and counter-cultures, such as sports culture and gay culture. There are now entire college departments designed to promote multiculturalism and diversity of all kinds. “Culture”, whatever that means, is on the rise.

Mentions of the word “culture” via the Google Books Ngram Viewer:

Are we experiencing a culture shock? Probably, but that’s not news. The first Portuguese and Spanish explorers that sailed around the world were likely surprised to meet indigenous people with vastly different beliefs and behavior.

What is rapidly changing, however, is the methods for which mass culture is produced, and popular culture is consumed. That’s the difference right there. Mass culture is something that is produced and popular culture that is consumed.

Governments, multinational corporations, and individual people have the ability to influence people more quickly than ever before with web technology such as blogs, YouTube, and Twitter. And each individual citizen now has more influence in choosing popular culture in the form of text message votes for American Idol, Instagram likes, and Reddit Upvotes.

I am interested to track how popular culture evolves. Mass culture is unlikely to change much beyond its primary mediums, because it is rooted in maintaining ignorance, oppression, and passiveness. Meanwhile the latter, “culture”, signifies a chance to grow, develop, and to change the present.

The U.S. in particular has a variety of institutions that are strong producers of popular culture, such as Disney, Universal Studios, and Warner Music Group. But these institutions are facing troubling times. Substantial markers of change include the YouTube Music Services Agreement and also what Y Combinator calls “Hollywood 2.0“:

In 2014, movies had their worst summer since 1997. Just like future celebrities are unlikely to get their start with talent agencies, future content consumers will watch content online instead of at the theater, and probably in very different ways.

Celebrities now have direct relationships with their fans. They can also distribute content in new ways.

There are almost certainly huge new businesses that will get built as part of this shift.

I agree. The businesses of entertainment and popular culture are not going away but they are already shifting in who has control. My hope is that this shift will further empower the producers of great content and the fans that adore them.



01 2015

Flight Hacking

2014 was a big year for me in terms of moving the dial in my coursework and getting on track to move past college. I enrolled in over fifty credits at Wake Forest, and this correspondingly high amount of classwork took a toll on me at many points. I prioritized travel in my few weeks off because through travel I was able to refresh myself and unlock new perspectives on the world.

I traveled to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco (2x), Seattle, Miami, London, Dublin, Shanghai, Xi’an, Beijing, New York City, Washington D.C., Asheville, and ~42 weeks in Winston-Salem. Some of this travel was completely subsidized by big companies for interviews and by my parents for family travel, but most of my other plans were made possible due to finding special flight deals. Luckily I’ve been successful with finding the deals due to various communities on the Internet, but finding the deals before they expire is the tougher challenge. Often the unbelievably low fares are mistakes in the airlines’ reservation system or promotions on new routes. Neither of these types of deals last long.

Since I believe that travel will play an important role in my life for many years to come, I’ve added a couple of simple habits to my daily routine that will hopefully help me fly cheaply for as long as necessary:

My discovery process:

  • Visit The Flight Deal blog
    • I’m not sure who’s behind this operation, but its very active and the best source for deals I’ve ever seen.



  • Visit
    • Great place to discover newly announced routes and their associate promotions.


  • IFFT
    • Get automated updates from The Flight Deal and FlyerTalk sent to your email or phone.



The only other tool I need is a place to actually purchase the fares: I can do that by just going to the airline’s website, or sometimes I use the intuitive and friendly Google Flights search tool. If I feel like making more advanced searches, I explore the ITA Matrix Airfare Search, which is also owned by Google.

With the right discovery routine and the right resources, the world can be yours! For example, this week I booked a round-trip flight in March from New York – Abu Dhabi for a total of just $178! I discovered this deal on Etihad airlines by doing the things I just outlined for less than five minutes every day. Good luck!


12 2014

Product Hunt

Rarely these days does a new online community or news site enter my daily direct search routine (meaning that I directly navigate to the site daily on instinct). The bar for producing consistently high quality content is usually too high for any small group of people, thus a strong founding community is necessary. Product Hunt has that passionate group.

Product Hunt is a curated list of the best new products discovered on the web, every day. They have a strong community of early adopters who submit new products that are then curated by the Product Hunt team. I believe they are going to be a big deal.

Andreessen Horowitz recently lead their $6 million series A funding round at a $22 million valuation. But this is just the beginning… I could easily see Product Hunt growing into a $100 million company. Why? Seemingly overnight, they are now consistently ranking as a top two thousand website in the U.S..

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 8.50.16 PM

The climb to acquire new loyal fans beyond investors, founders, and other early adopters will be more difficult. But each new Product Hunt user is far more valuable than a new user on a purely social site such as Reddit or Facebook. Regular users on Product Hunt are using the site with their wallets open; they are ready to test and buy.

Ryan Hoover, founder and CEO of Product Hunt, recently stated in a Forbes interview:

In the short term, we’re going to see more and more products being launched and being scooped on Product Hunt because there are so many users and products and their motivation will be the first one to submit them.

Typically in the past, startup founders building technology products have often introduced their work to the world via a “TechCrunch of Initiation” or “Show Hacker News“, both of which contain the early adopter audience but are not particularly optimized for showcasing products. Product Hunt provides the community interaction through comments but does one better — they segment new submissions by day and curate the content.

Product Hunt is product filtering, not product search. They are providing a classic synaptic web improvement. They are “…making connections between the content and conversations in your daily life and your current interests and future intents” by adding a little “…machine learning, human teaching and user experience improvements.”. This has lead to a phenomenally simple and reliable service for curious minds.

Overall the first year of Product Hunt has been an impressive one. I’ll be tracking this company closely.


11 2014

Uber in Winston-Salem

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The on-demand ride service, Uber, has been operating in Winston-Salem for over four months, with fast growing popularity amongst Wake Forest students. Uber has become a more convenient alternative to taxis in major cities around the world, but the change doesn’t stop there:

Uber customers request a ride on their smartphone, and then a pre-screened driver arrives in minutes ready to drive you wherever you need to go. 


Uber currently offers its budget UberX service in Winston-Salem, which is provided by drivers who pick up customers in their own cars. For safe measure, each customer is required to provide feedback on their ride experience, 1-5 stars.

2014-10-26 14.46.13

We decided to take a trip to one of Winston-Salem’s popular coffee shops, Camino Bakery. From Wake we rode in a taxi and we returned in an Uber. Here are the highlights from our discussion with key stakeholders affected by Uber’s introduction: 




     Uber Driver – Hamad



How did you hear about Uber?

I heard about Uber through a friend who drives full-time in D.C.. I applied and passed their background check. Then I had to show them my car, which had to be from 2005 or later.

How long have you been driving?

I’ve been with Uber for two months. I really like it.

What differentiates Uber from other part-time or full-time jobs?

I’m my own boss. I set my own hours, it’s perfect for my free time on weekends.

Where are most of your customers?

I’m from Greensboro but I mostly drive in Winston-Salem.

How long do you work?

I usually work a few hours during the day on Saturday and Sunday.

 About how much do you make?

Uber drivers take home 80% of the trip total.

How is the competition amongst Uber drivers and taxis in Winston-Salem? 

The taxi drivers seem to be upset that Uber is taking over a lot of business. 

Any last thoughts?

I believe Uber is going to be something huge. We are just at the tip of the iceberg.


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     Student –  Chris Ditta



How did you hear about Uber?

I first heard about Uber from my older brother, who lives in New York City.

How often do you use it?

I use Uber about once a month, because even though I have my own car, it’s a great supplement for going downtown.

 Why do you choose to use Uber?

Regular cabs are too much of a hassle, booking a ride via Uber’s app is just too convenient.

What’s your favorite thing about Uber?

My favorite thing about uber is that its cash free; it goes right to your card so you don’t have to worry about fares and tips. I’ve yet to have a negative experience using Uber.



     City Taxi Commissioner – Rod Ring



Have you heard of Uber?

 Yes, I’ve heard they have been operating here for several months. 

How do you you feel about Uber?

As a regulator, I don’t have an opinion on them. There’s a new North Carolina state law that prohibits the regulation of services with digital dispatch. I believe Uber falls under this category.

Is Uber violating any city laws?

Typical vehicles for hire in Winston-Salem require a franchise application (3 years), driver background check, and vehicle inspection. Uber has not completed any of these items through our office, but under North Carolina state law they are not required to.





     Traditional Taxi Driver – Juan Bugg



Have you heard of Uber?

Yeah, I’ve heard of it, a lot of other drivers have been talking about it.

Have you noticed a decrease in fares from Wake students?

It hasn’t impacted me personally, most of my customers are local Winston residents. I haven’t noticed it, I don’t feel any difference.

 Have you seen people using Uber?

 Not really, most of what I’ve heard has come from complaints from other taxi drivers.

How would you feel about driving your own car?

 Personally, I’m happy to drive a cab. A lot of our customers don’t even have smartphones, so there will always be business for me.

 How much do you pay the cab company to lease a car?

I have to pay to lease the cab from Classic Cabs, and I pay for my own gas.

 . . .

A comparison of our trip to and from Camino Bakery:

Taxi Uber
Time to pick up                                   11 minutes 12 minutes
Type of car   Ford Minivan_____ Toyota Camry
Comfort level Excellent Excellent
Driver knowledge & friendliness Excellent Excellent
Cost $10.50 + tip $10.43


Overall we were happy with both our taxi and Uber experience. Uber is certainly facing growing pains that come with any radical change in consumer preferences. However, they are quickly establishing themselves as a competitive and accessible competitor in the taxi market in North Carolina and around the world.


10 2014

The Swadesh List

Have you ever traveled to a place where you don’t know the language? The feeling of being surrounded by people you can’t communicate with is overwhelming and isolating.

I recently learned about a technique that linguists use when they are translating a newly discovered language in a community where no bilingual speakers exist. One common technique is to establish the “Swadesh List” — A list of “100 words for things that were fairly concrete, could be pointed at or demonstrated, and were presumably universal (not culture-specific).”

Essentially these linguists are saying that all you need to know are these 100 words to survive your trip anywhere!

This list appears below:


So, it appears that there is some truth to the international language of pointing and making signs with your hands! If you can point and memorize just these 100 words, you’ll be able to communicate almost anything!

The theory is rooted in a well-known idea in linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This hypothesis states that language highly influences a human’s thoughts and behavior. Put differently, the way your language works also determines how you think. Additional reading material on Sapir-Whorf and the Swadesh List can be found here.


10 2014

The Contrarian Question

The question from chapter two of Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One:

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

…is a difficult question to answer, Thiel acknowledges. He goes on to say:

This is a question that sounds easy because it’s straightforward. Actually, it’s very hard to answer. It’s intellectually difficult because the knowledge that everyone is taught in school is by definition agreed upon. And it’s psychologically difficult because anyone trying to answer must say something she knows to be unpopular. Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

Most commonly, I hear answers like the following:

“Our educational system is broken and urgently needs to be fixed.”

“America is exceptional.”

“There is no God.”

These are bad answers. The first and the second statements might be true, but many people already agree with them. The third statement simply takes one side in a familiar debate. A good answer takes the following form: “Most people believe in x, but the truth is the opposite of x.”

When we can escape thinking of the past and present and formulate a good answer, that’s as close as we can get to seeing the future.

So, what is the future? And how can we begin to formulate a good answer?

The future is time and events that have yet to come. Most importantly, the future is a time when things in the world are different from how they are currently. When a person or place acts or behaves the same as the past, the future has not yet arrived; what is being experienced in the present is merely a similar version of the past.

Thiel advises that in order to pursue the future, we may benefit from starting with a more simple question:

It may be easier to start with a preliminary: what does everybody agree on?

Once we understand what is commonly accepted, we can begin questioning what we know about the past and present. And then we will be on our way towards making the future.

. . . 

I bring this question up because recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be contrary to accepted societal ideals. The easiest example most of us experience daily is observing people who dress “weirdly”. People who dress fashionably fall into this category of thought too. Is counter-culture a culture itself? And are fashionable people really unique?

I think it’s important to consider these questions every so often because it helps me to reexamine exactly what I believe is true. Professionally, it helps me identify opportunities:

Most people believe its great to work for x, but the truth is the opposite of x.

Most people believe the next great technology is x, but the truth is the opposite of x.

Or personally:

Most people believe its great to spend their free time doing x, but the truth is the opposite of x.

Most people believe its great to be good friends with x, but the truth is the opposite of x.

Remember, these are difficult questions because societal norms are by definition agreed upon, and an authentic answer is sharing something that is known to be unpopular. Would you have been comfortable turning down a high paying job at Google to work at the lowly startup Airbnb in 2007? Or a better consideration: What company started just recently that will become the Google of 2002 or the Uber of today?

I first attempted to answer this question in late 2010. Since then, whether I’ve found myself trying to make change at home, in the local community, recruiting TEDx speakers, or any other venue, I’ve found the contrarian question to be a useful starting point.


09 2014