Amateurs are content at some point to let their efforts become bottom-up operations. After about fifty hours of training — whether in skiing or driving — people get to that “good-enough” performance level, where they can go through the motions more or less effortlessly. They no longer feel the need for concentrated practice, but are content to coast on what they’ve learned. No matter how much more they practice in this bottom-up mode, their improvement will be negligible.
The experts, in contrast, keep paying attention top-down, intentionally counteracting the brain’s urge to automatize routines. They concentrate actively on those moves they have yet to perfect, on correcting what’s not working in their game, and on refining their mental models of how to play the game, or focusing on the particulars of feedback from a seasoned coach. Those at the top never stop learning: if at any point they start coasting and stop such smart practice, too much of their game becomes bottom-up and their skills plateau.
A must read - The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship by Jessica Bruder
Choice quote - “It’s like a man riding a lion. People think, ‘This guy’s brave.’ And he’s thinking, ‘How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?”
This article it s a must read. It provides a very real look into entrepreneurship and some really good tips on how to stay healthy and balanced while creating a world-changing company.
Making The Right Calls
Prerequisites and steps to making the right decisions for your startup.
I have unwittingly made some bad decisions in my 28 years on this earth, but everyday I make better decisions. Reflecting on this, it is clear that making the right calls, large and small, requires certain prerequisites and a thoughtful decision-making process. These considerations are especially important in a startup, where you will never have perfect information when making a decision.
The success or failure of your startup results from nothing more than the series of small, medium and large decisions that you act on — make more right decisions than wrong decisions and your startup will succeed. In my experience, the best startup decisions have come when I’ve had certain prerequisites in place and have followed a thoughtful decision-making process.
First, The Prerequisites…
The conditions below must be met before you start the decision-making process. This is imperative as most bad decisions that are made inadvertently are made because some or all of these conditions are not met before starting the decision-making process.
1) Follow Your Passions: For most world-class entrepreneurs, passion does not come primarily from the prospect of financial gain or personal notoriety; it comes from an innate desire to change the world. To make the right decisions for your startup, you must believe that if your startup succeeds, you will change the world in the ways you desire. The more your startup aligns with your passions, the more confident you will feel that you are making the right decisions for the right reasons.
2) Embrace The Reality: You have to be able to properly assess and accept reality. Smart entrepreneurs do not see the glass as half-full or half-empty, they see a glass with a certain amount of water. Then, they decide to drink the water, or fill up the glass with more water. To make the right decisions, you must first see things as they really are.
3) Practice Some Balance: Your mind, body, and soul must be balanced before you can make good decisions. This is perhaps the most important prerequisite, and one that most entrepreneurs brazenly ignore. Startup culture encourages over-work and over-play; to be balanced you must also be mindful of your health and spiritual life, not just stimulating your mind.
Second, The Decision-Making Process…
Only after you know that the above prerequisites hold true, you can move on to the decision-making process. Below is a decision making process that works for me (inspiration), but you may follow a different process.
Let’s setup a scenario and walkthrough a decision-making process. In our sample scenario, we are trying to figure out the primary customer type to market your startup’s solution to.
1) Identify The Decision: Clearly identify the single decision you want to make, do not let extraneous things fog it up. In the sample scenario, a decision you might be making is “Out of my entire market of potential customers, who is my startup’s single highest revenue-generating customer?”
2) Identify Your Options: Lay out the different options you have based on your own knowledge, keeping in mind the values that are important to your startup. In our example, you will now identify the different customer types that can generate revenue for your startup and being realistic, you might eliminate certain customer types at this step as they are not feasible to reach.
3) Gather Information: Collect as much information as is pragmatic about your options. Research different customer segments and talk to the right experts to gain further insight and reduce your blindness. In our setup, you may end up eliminating a certain revenue-generating customer type, because it doesn’t help you make progress towards changing the world in the way you envision.
4) Make & Implement The Decision: Finally the fun part, you get to make a decision and act on it! The decision should incorporate the information you have gathered, your gut instinct and align with your startup’s vision. In our example, you would make a firm decision on what customer segment you will target and start marketing to them (the marketing strategies you use may be a separate decision).
5) Evaluate The Outcomes: Evaluate, objectively, if you made the right decision. Some questions you can ask in our sample scenario include: Is my startup solving a real need for this customer? How much revenue has been generated? Am I convinced that this was the right customer to target or should I target another customer? If you have balance in your life when thinking through such questions (i.e. your mental well-being is not solely dependent on startup success), you can make a proper evaluation. If you conclude you made the wrong decision, assure the prerequisites are really met and start over from step 1.
In a startup, as in life, you will seldom have enough information to conclusively make the right decisions. To a certain extent, you have to rely on your gut instinct, especially as most decisions are interdependent (e.g. picking the highest revenue-generating customer may not lead to the most cost-effective marketing strategy).
When decision-time comes, regardless of if it is a small or a significant decision, you should try and assure that you are passionate for the right reasons, thinking realistically, practicing balance in your life and following a thoughtful decision making process. If you do these things, you will you make the right calls more often than not, and your startup will succeed.
Naveed Lalani is a product and business strategist advising early to mid-stage startups. Previously, Naveed was Chief Strategy Officer at DonorNation.org, and Co-Founder at Rally.org. Naveed gives back by advising the Thiel Fellowship and leading entrepreneurship initiatives at Ismaili Professionals Network. Naveed also dipped his feet in angel investing; investing in Oha.na, whose team was acquired by Facebook.
The consequences of this breakthrough are hard to overstate. What kinds of digital property might be transferred in this way? Think about digital signatures, digital contracts, digital keys (to physical locks, or to online lockers), digital ownership of physical assets such as cars and houses, digital stocks and bonds … and digital money. All these are exchanged through a distributed network of trust that does not require or rely upon a central intermediary like a bank or broker. And all in a way where only the owner of an asset can send it, only the intended recipient can receive it, the asset can only exist in one place at a time, and everyone can validate transactions and ownership of all assets anytime they want.
Reposted from medium.com/@naveed_l
The Naked Startup Founder
In my experience in studying and advising early-stage startups, it has become obvious that startups primarily fail because of inadvertent mistakes made by the founder(s). External forces are seldom the reason for the death of the startup. The success of the startup therefore primarily depends on the success of the founder.
How can you, as the founder, prevent slowly killing your startup? Get naked! Figuratively, of course…
Do not assume anything. Anything you accept as truth must be backed by proof. Analytics should back all major decisions.
Do not be biased. Biases are built into our psyche, so they are especially difficult to strip. Have an inner circle of friends, peers, advisors and mentors that can help you identify and remove biases.
Forget your failures. Learning from failure is overrated. It is often better not to analyze major failures, move on, and let the lessons incubate naturally.
Stripping assumptions, biases and failures may seem obvious, but it is counter to the nature of most founders. Founders are superheroes; they are out to save the world. How can you be a superhero without the costume? The founder must consciously strip layers off of the costume, otherwise the startup will suffer a slow death.
But do not fret, you do not always have to be naked. After some experience, both success and failure, you can start putting layers of your costume back on (i.e. an assumption developed based on experience may prove true in most cases). With time, you will become the superhero you were always meant to be.
Tech companies have become increasingly adept at manufacturing desire, but to what end? Behavior designer Jason Hreha argues that the industry needs to seriously consider the impact of its products. Are we helping our users lead better lives, or are we making them compulsive, impatient and distractible? Read full article.
Entrepreneurship is the life blood of any thriving community; the more entrepreneurs that realize their dream, the better it is for society. According to Entrepreneur magazine, 84 Million Americans are currently or want to become entrepreneurs. This panel will aim to answer the question of how to make entrepreneurship accessible to the masses. While risky, any would-be entrepreneur, regardless of age, has a shot at making her dreams a reality. As more and more individuals have embraced this risk, the market is providing more resources than ever before. This panel will provide an in-depth look at how to leverage the existing frameworks that make entrepreneurship open, and brainstorm future frameworks that are needed to continue to support the dream globally. The panel of experts will provide case studies of entrepreneurs that have found success using these resources, how you can leverage it yourself and what drives the panelists to make entrepreneurship open to all ages and genders.
- How does one determine if entrepreneurship is the right “career path” for him or herself?
- How do you mitigate risk when pursuing a new idea and what are some practical ways to know when to proceed with it full-time?
- My idea has been validated, how do I take advantage of all of the great resources available?
- How do I find and select the best people to work with? What are some examples?
- What future frameworks do you think need to exist to continue making entrepreneurship open to the millions of would-be entrepreneurs globally?
Always great to hear Elon Musk speak. One of my entrepreneur idols. Not much new covered, but he does share some interesting ideas towards the end on other business ideas he finds interesting.
(via Marc Goodman: A vision of crimes in the future)
The world is becoming increasingly open, and that has implications both bright and dangerous. Marc Goodman paints a portrait of a grave future, in which technology’s rapid development could allow crime to take a turn for the worse.
Marc Goodman works to prevent future crimes and acts of terrorism, even those security threats not yet invented.
Scary and informative. Must watch.
Purpose-Driven User Experience
"I think so many of the objects we’re surrounded by seem trivial. And I think that’s because they’re either trying to make a statement or trying to be overtly different. What we were trying to do was have a very honest approach and an exploration of materials and surface treatment. So much of what we try to do is get to a point where the solution seems inevitable: you know, you think 'of course it's that way, why would it be any other way?' It looks so obvious, but that sense of inevitability in the solution is really hard to achieve.”
Jonathan Ive, SVP of Industrial Design, Apple Inc.
The past two years, Apple has assured its claim as the world’s most valuable company and is on track to become the first trillion dollar company. In addition to raw tenacity and the visionary leadership of the late Steve Jobs, much of Apple’s “secret sauce” comes from their focus on user experience and beautiful design, lead by Jonathan Ive (pictured above). User experience is "the way a person feels about using a product, system or service."
What makes Apple’s approach to user experience superior to others? I think the answer is simple - everything Apple does, including how it deals with user experience decisions, is driven by Purpose. Readers of this blog will know that GSD&M’s core focus when engaging with a client is to help them find their Purpose and excel. The Purpose Institute defines Purpose as "… A definitive statement about the difference that [the company] is trying to make in the world."
Note that Jonathan Ive says “of course it’s that way, why would it be any other way” when referring to user experience decisions. How does Apple get to that point, and what is the Purpose that drives it there? Apple’s purpose is To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.
This Purpose assures that Apple is constantly aiming for the highest bar, no exceptions. Apple embraced and pioneered many user experience principals on its way to realize the Purpose - investing in iteration, prototyping, bringing metaphor’s into the user interface, the modality / app model, creating a 3d space, and continuity in experience.
We can learn from Apple that user experience is vital and can lead to a tremendous positive impact on a company’s long-term success. Because of the importance of user experience (especially in the past 5 years due to the Apple App Store), there is constantly buzz around new UX frameworks and subsequent refinements. Lean UX, which is based on finding product/market fit through customer development and iteration, is currently the go to framework. Before that it was Agile, and before that a more Traditional approach (see figure above). These frameworks are helpful, but in the complex world of user experience, the only way to consistently deliver a great user experience is to assure that all user experience decisions are driven by Purpose. Janice Fraser, one of the pioneers of user experience summed it up perfectly when she said, “You can’t A/B test your way to success.” The only way to assure that the correct user experience decisions are made it to know the core Purpose of the company and drive towards that Purpose with each decision.
To dig into the concept of Purpose a bit more, let’s take a look at Instagram. The Purpose Institute details the following key areas relating to Purpose:
- Purpose drives everything.
- Purpose is a path to high performance.
- Purpose fosters visionary ideas and meaningful innovation.
- Purpose moves mountains.
- Purpose will hold you steady in a turbulent marketplace.
- Purpose injects your brand with a healthy dose of reality.
- Purpose recruits passionate people.
- Purpose brings energy and vitality to the work at hand.
- Purpose contributes to a life well lived.
These can be directly applied to user experience decisions.
Instagram entered a very crowded space, yet has been able to attract 15 million+ users and was recently acquired by Facebook for $1 billion dollars. They did this by having a very clear Purpose. In the video interview embedded above with Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, he defines Instagram’s Purpose: To make it easy for everyone to capture and share beautiful photos. This is the difference they want to make in the world and in the lives of their customers. This drives all of their user experience decisions. You can feel the Purpose in every screen of their mobile app. While they ultimately land on the right user experience via testing and iterating, the question they ask before adding or removing a feature is: Will this make it easier for our customers to capture and share beautiful photos? Anything that does not contribute towards realizing that Purpose is ignored.
Referring back to the key points regarding Purpose from The Purpose Institute, let us see how having a defined Purpose helped Instagram.
- Purpose drives everything: It drives all decisions at Instagram, including what features they add or remove.
- Purpose is a path to high performance: Instagram tests new features weekly. They brainstorm new ideas at the beginning of the week, select one to test, code it during the week, and test it over the weekend. If the feature sticks, Instagram implements it across the full user base.
- Purpose fosters visionary ideas and meaningful innovation: Instagram is able to innovate and become the market leader in a very noising and old industry.
- Purpose moves mountains: Instagram did it with around 10 employees.
- Purpose will hold you steady in a turbulent marketplace: All startups go through the valley of death (perhaps multiple times), Instagram did as well and their Purpose helped them keep faith in challenging times.
- Purpose injects your brand with a healthy dose of reality: Instagram chose to focus initially on iPhone only.
- Purpose recruits passionate people: Instagram recruits the most talented people in the Valley.
- Purpose brings energy and vitality to the work at hand: Instagram uses its Purpose as motivation for everyone to work hard and for the community to engage with the company
- Purpose contributes to a life well lived: Instagram enriches the lives of all of their stakeholders - internal and external.
The future of user experience is becoming ever more complex - with new technologies like Google Glass on the horizon - it becomes even more important to know how to ignore the noise, and focus on the signal. Define your Purpose: Why do you need to exist in the world? The rest of the answers will flow. You will just know, because there is no other way.
Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Presumably she’ll have more to come. Also, watch for her personal side project, a science-fiction short called Horizon, to come to a festival near you.
Here is an essay version of my class notes. Errors and omissions are mine. Credit for good stuff is Peter’s. Thanks to Joel Cazares for helping proof this.
I. Traits of the Founder
Founders are important. People recognize this. Founders are often discussed. Many companies end…
Good blog post from one of my favorite illustrators!
Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2011 - Always a must study.
This fact-packed presentation compiled by KPCB partner Mary Meeker explores and examines the significant trends shaping the Internet today. Backed by hard data and decades of technology analysis, Mary posits that the mobile revolution is still in its infancy and poised for tremendous growth. Her presentation also zeroes in on the newest breakout trends driving e-commerce, including the rejuvenating effects of local commerce, the global race to adopt mobile devices and apps, and the latest innovations in online payments. The evolving social space comes under Mary’s scrutiny as well. She observes that social networking is proving to be not just a powerful engagement model, but also a pervasive new wave of opportunity that spans the online experience. View the full presentation for a look at the digital trends that surround us in today’s increasingly mobile, social world.