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I come from a world of project deadlines. Until two years ago, I swore by them.
When you're in business school, you're taught that every project needs a deadline to even have a chance of being successful.
But what I've learned in my time out here in the Valley is that the reality of the situation is much more nuanced than that. Deadlines often hinder the achievement of objectives much more than the help. I'm going to try to explain why.
In a nutshell, the issue revolves around the arbitrary nature of deadlines. None of us can predict the future, and so by setting a deadline out in the future, we've put an arbitrary stake an the ground indicating that a certain result has to be achieved by a specific date.
I recently got an email from a friend that said simply "I am getting too many e-mails. How do I organize them? Sometimes I need to research an answer, but then forget for whom it was and I totally forget about it as they get buried. How do you manage your e mails?"
Here's how I do it:
No software email client: I used to use an email client like Outlook or Thunderbird, but I found that by switching to a web interface for email I have much more control over it. I have multiple inbound email addresses -- two work addresses, a gmail address, an Apple email address, an alumni address, etc. I have all my mail forward into my personal email account, which is a Google Apps-hosted address. Here's what that looks like:
Using the web-based email interface also lets me leverage all sorts of great advanced stuff, like using Rapportive, Boomerang, and many other email tools that I rely on. Also, using the Google Apps interface for my email allows me to use Google's powerful "important and unread" feature which prioritizes emails from people I know or that Google otherwise thinks I should see first.
2009 Nat Geo article about The Hadza
The article provides an amazing contrast between that lifestyle and the "modern" lifestyle the rest of us lead. One passage got me really interested in how the change happened. The author wrote about how the Hadza lifestyle is one that's free of disease epidemics, war, famines, social stratification and more.
And even more intriguing was that for over 2 million years, humans' forefathers lived as hunter-gatherers. But then 10,000 years ago, something changed, and we started to domesticate plants and animals. As the article points out, that means for 99% of our existence we were hunter-gatherers, and only very recently did things change.
I did some research to try to figure out what caused this change, dubbed the Neolithic Revolution. Was it one tribe that figured it out? Was it an environmental factor such as an ice age? Why did humans (and those that came before them) life a nomadic lifestyle for many millennia, and then abruptly switch?
There's a great article by Robert Strauss in Stanford magazine describing how his startup failed.
Kudos to him for writing the article. It's a golden opportunity for us to highlight some of the things he did wrong.
I'd love to hear your comments -- if you decided to go into the exact same business he did (selling a condom on a keychain), what would you have done differently?
The most glaring immediate error I see is that he pursued large quantity orders without fully testing the market. He was so focused on buying units in quantities of 10,000 that he didn't gauge demand and define success by making just a few prototype units first.
Audible.com has a very mature customer acquisition and retention strategy. I originally signed up for Audible after they sponsored of one of my favorite podcasts, This American Life. Audible was offering a free audio book, just to try the service. I decided to try it.
Little did I know that I was entering the Hotel California of software subscription services. I'm not upset with them -- it's more that I'm in awe of their ability to keep me as a customer for a year longer than I expected.
The reality is that Audible is expensive -- around $15/month to be able to purchase one audio book per month. After using up my free month, and then paying for two additional months, I realized I wasn't going to use it enough to justify the cost since I'd only listened to one audio book in a three-month span, and I went to cancel it.
Audible then offered me a deal: Just $5 for me to keep my existing credits for the next year. Since I had two audio books I hadn't read, I took the bait. But I never used those credits so when the renewal came up, I knew I really wanted to cancel.
Here's what the process was like when I just tried to cancel the account:
Recently, one of our investors asked me to make a short video & screencast introducing myself and my company to a group of foreign entrepreneurs that wanted to peek under the covers and see what the life of a US startup CEO is like.
Since I believe in capturing content for knowledge sharing, I decided to go a step further and write this full post about how I work, so this investor would not only have the video he requested, but also have a URL to send to these foreign entrepreneurs with specific tips.
About me & how I work:
I've written passionately about Scrum before, and how it's a great way to create an agile development environment in a startup. I've adapted a flavor of Scrum for my personal daily routine. (This isn't full-on Scrum since it's something I just use personally, but it adheres to the most important principle: At any given point in time. You should be focused on whatever is most important, regardless of any arbitrary deadlines).
Here's a great 16 minute audio clip from NPR's Planet Money blog around negotiating techniques the pros use, including:
this post about what I know to be true
In this past election, I did something I now really regret: I voted 'yes' to Proposition 30.
Uber, a San Francisco startup, is ruffling lots of regulatory feathers, as reported recently in the New York Times. I also wrote about my experience with Uber back in 2010.
I'll be the first to agree that car sharing services like Uber and Lyft present difficult problems for regulators. But that's not what this post is about.
My problem is with a statement made by Matthew Daus, the former chairman of NYC's taxi & limousine commission. He said, "New Yorkers deserve an apology from Uber for price-gouging them during the hurricane." Besides having a hopeless conflict of interest as the former commissioner, he's throwing out the bully phrase "price-gouging" as if basic supply & demand economics didn't apply to him or his industry.
If Uber doubling its rates (or more) after hurricane Sandy to adjust supply with demand is price-gouging, then I'd like to coin an equally demeaning term: "time-gouging."
Henry Blodget of BusinessInsider gave an excellent presentation titled The Future of Digital at a recent Ignition conference.
As you can see from the trendlines in the graphs below, the promise of smartphones is rapidly coming to fruition, with over 50% penetration in the US, and an especially-significant stat that by 2015 the number of broadband connections coming from mobile devices will be over 300% the number coming from fixed (i.e., desktop computer) devices. Translated, that means the promise of blazing-fast broadband on your phone is already here with 4G LTE on many new smartphones, and it's about to become ubiquitious. And that means that people will just reach for their phone instead of walking over to a desktop computer whenever they want to do anything online. I wrote about this phenomenon in a post about how the iPhone 5's connectivity has been growing exponentially since its introduction.
Another significant stat shown below is that the time smartphone users spend in apps is 600% greater than mobile web. As TechCrunch reported last October, mobile app downloads are skyrocketing from 2 billion in 2010 to 98 billion in 2015 -- an increase of almost 50x. And as Localytics reports, 26% of users only open an app once after downloading. Already, engagement is a problem in mobile, and as the number of downloads skyrockets fifty fold, the problem is going to get much worse. Just think about your own phone: How many apps are on it that you downloaded, but never use.
Fred Wilson coined the term "30/10/10" to refer to 30% of the download base being MAUs (Monthly Active Users) and 10% of the download base being daily actives. I believe the engagement stats for many apps are often even worse than that. Oftentimes, as the Localytics data illustrates, 25% to 50% of users don't even open the app once after downloading it. In a presentation from PinchMedia (now several years old), the active user rate 90 days after install was well under 5% of the download base.