Monthly Archives: April 2016

Bots

I want to share my thoughts on bots this morning. As you’re reading this, please keep in mind that I’m not an expert on bots and we haven’t made any investments in the space. However, I’m still going to share my current thinking as I think that it may provide a good framework for how to think about the potential of bots in different areas.

The hype around bots has been ongoing for quite some time, and it hit a new peak with Facebook launching bots on Messenger last week. Bot enthusiasts claim that bots are going to be a new way for people to interface with online content. Rather than perform an action inside an app or a website, you’re going to do so by messaging a bot.

However, for this to actually take place, it needs to be easier to perform the action by messaging a bot than it is to do so yourself in an app or on a website. This is why it’s useful to evaluate the specific types of actions which bots could potentially help us perform to identify which, if any, of them meet this criteria.

Tom Tunguz from Redpoint Ventures wrote a great post about the different use cases for bots. Basically, the four use cases currently possible for bots are alerts, search/inputs, support, and bookings. Tom describes the use cases as follows:

“Alerts are notifications of news, events, account updates. Search means searching for movie showtimes or finding a customer record; input could be updating a CRM record. Support is talking to a vendor’s support team by chat. Bookings bots enable customers to buy products or services through chat.”

Let’s take each of these in turn.

I think that alerts are already very well-served by push (mobile and more recently web) notifications. I can’t imagine bots making these notifications any easier to consume.

The same is true for search and inputs. If I’m looking for something on the web or in an online database, doing so directly on that platform is pretty efficient. I have a tough time imagining how bots could improve it.

Bookings are a similar story. If I know what I want, it’s pretty straightforward to go to the website or app that delivers that product or service and buy it.

The only area where I believe that bots will improve the status quo is in support. Specifically, if I’m looking to perform a transaction but don’t know exactly what I want (pre-transaction support), or if I’ve already performed the transaction and am looking for post-transaction support, a bot could serve as a faster way to help me identify exactly what I’m looking for or get my questions answered about a specific transaction. It would achieve the former by quickly summarizing the alternatives available and grading each of them according to my stated preferences. This is something that the web and apps currently don’t do well. And it would achieve the latter by giving me faster answers to my questions than those that I could get from a customer service call center.

The reason why I see support as the most suitable use case for bots is because it requires two-way communication. All of the other use cases are examples of one-way communication, and the existing web and apps serve that need just fine. When there’s only one human involved in getting something done, it’s easy to take action and there are no communication problems. But when getting something done requires two-way communication, interacting with an intelligent bot could get that thing done faster and more accurately than if you were to interact with a human.

Other use cases where messaging a bot is more effective than directly performing the action yourself may emerge over time. But right now support looks like the best candidate.

Cooperation in startup ecosystems

We were recently working on a fundraising round for one of our startups. We had commitments for the majority of the round and were looking for a small ticket to fill the remainder.

One evening, I received a text message from our founder who shared that he was talking with an investor for the final ticket, and that, if I knew the investor, he would appreciate it if I reached out to them and put in a good word for the startup. I did know the investor, but hadn’t thought of reaching out to them until now because they usually write larger tickets. Prompted by our founder, I reached out. The next day, the investor informed our founder that they would be glad to take the final ticket in the round, and the round was therefore complete.

I later discovered that the original connection between our founder and the investor taking the final ticket was made by another investor. And this is where things gets interesting. Although they liked the startup, the investor performing the introduction wasn’t able to invest in its last funding round because of their existing investment in an indirect competitor. But despite this, they made the introduction. They made a conscious decision to support a startup which they believe in even though they don’t have any financial upside in the company, rather than to protect their own investment from indirect competition.

This is just one example. But I believe that cooperative behavior occurs more frequently in the startup ecosystem than business at large. And this makes me grateful to be a part of this ecosystem.

Systems thinking

I was recently speaking with one of our entrepreneurs. One of the strongest performers on his team requested a salary raise and he wants to keep the employee. He shared that he plans to accept the employee’s request, but wanted to run it by me before doing so.

At the surface, it seems like a simple problem with a simple solution. The problem is that there’s a mismatch between the employee’s performance and their salary, so the solution should be to correct this mismatch by raising their salary.

If we think of the employee in isolation, this is the correct solution. However, I don’t think that this is the correct way of looking at the problem. The employee doesn’t exist in isolation, but as part of a system. There are tens of other employees in the company, each with a specific performance level and salary.

If the founder accepts the employee’s request, there’s a strong chance that other employees will find out. Although companies encourage their employees to keep compensation information private, this rarely works. People want to know what others are earning in order to benchmark their own compensation, and the only way to do this is to share your own compensation. So most people in a company find out what most other people in the company are earning.

Looking at the problem this way, it’s clear that accepting the raise request of one employee is likely to encourage other employees who find out about this to also request raises. As a result, you should only grant a raise to an employee if you want to encourage raise requesting behavior among other employees, and if you’re ready to give a raise to all of the employees that deserve one.

Thinking about the problem this way is an example of performing systems thinking. Systems thinking evaluates actions in terms of the impact which they have not only in isolation, but also on other parts of the system. And performing systems thinking may direct you to choose a different solution to a problem than that which you had originally considered.

For example, in this case, you may not want to accept the employee’s raise request on a one-off basis. Instead, you may want to announce a company-wide policy whereby you evaluate the performance and corresponding salary of each employee on an annual basis without accepting raise requests outside of the established cycle.

Istanbul Modest Fashion Week

Our portfolio company Modanisa is hosting the Istanbul Modest Fashion Week on the 13th and 14th of May in Istanbul.

The event is going to be held at the historic Haydarpasa train station, and it will bring together the modest fashion industry, its women followers, designers, and the media for a series of fashion shows, workshops, and live performances.

Here’s a short preview of the event.

30

I recently turned 30.

I usually think of birthdays just like any other day of the year. Like all things in life, birthdays are only more valuable than the other days of the year because of the meaning we choose to ascribe to them. We could just as easily imagine a world where we celebrate every day, never celebrate, or celebrate every X days rather than every 365.

But unlike other birthdays, hitting 30 was different for me. I think the reason has to do with the significance which I ascribe to the age. There’s only a day of difference between the last day when you’re 29 and the first day when you’re 30. However, when you’re 29, you’re still experiencing the same decade of your life as when you were 20. And when I was 20, I was in college doing irresponsible things. And since 29 is part of the same decade, psychologically I felt like I still had a license to do irresponsible things. I know it’s irrational, but that’s how I felt.

Now that I’m 30, I feel as though that license to be irresponsible is no longer there. I can no longer do what I was doing when I was 20. Unlike the first day of my twenties, in the first day of my thirties I’m married with a responsibility towards my wife, and have a job with a responsibility towards our entrepreneurs. I also foresee a future where, still in my thirties, I have responsibilities which extend to a larger family and society.

Fortunately, I’m glad to have these responsibilities. When you lose one license, it’s only to gain another one. I may no longer have the license to be irresponsible, but I now have the license to be conscientious and live a life that’s meaningful to those around me. And that’s a license I prefer.

The Score Takes Care of Itself

I just finished reading the book The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh. Bill Walsh was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, where he won three Super Bowls, and the Stanford football team.

The book is a mix of Bill sharing his leadership principles and the people around him, including his coaching staff and his players, sharing their experiences working with Bill. Although the examples outlined in the book are drawn from football, the leadership principles which emerge as a result of these examples are equally valid for leadership in other areas like business and government.

The gist of the book is that, rather than focus on external measures of achievement, successful leaders focus on internal measures of success. They do the right thing by, among others, working hard, planning, paying attention to detail, setting up a meritocracy, rewarding substance over style, and attracting people with the same values. Once this system, which Bill refers to as his Standard of Performance, is in place, external measures of achievement follow.

Bill’s core observation that you succeed by identifying and continually improving your fundamentals, rather than trying to get to an externally valued destination, resonates with my experiences. I’ve done well when I’ve done the former, and not done well when I’ve done the latter.

I strongly recommend the book to people in all walks of life who want to be their best self at what they’re doing.

Sharing information in investor pitches

I was recently meeting with an entrepreneur pitching his startup. During the first few minutes of the meeting, the entrepreneur shared the problem that his startup was solving and what differentiated the company from competitors. All was going well.

I then asked the entrepreneur for some traction metrics, and that’s when the tone of the discussion changed. The entrepreneur shared that he wasn’t comfortable sharing traction metrics during our first meeting and that he would do so if we advanced into further discussions.

There are two reasons why an entrepreneur may not want to share a certain piece of information in an investor meeting. The first is if that information carries negative value. In this specific example, the startup may not have much traction.

The second reason is that the entrepreneur doesn’t trust the investor. While understandable, sending this signal kills the discussion. The reason is that an entrepreneur and investor need to trust each other in order to partner. So if one side essentially sends the message that they don’t trust the other side that’s a step backward, not forward, in achieving that goal. And when this message is sent in the first meeting where building trust is of vital importance, it can be a lethal step backward.

In this case it was the entrepreneur’s unwillingness to share traction information that killed the discussion. Sometimes it’s their unwillingness to share something else. I’ve witnessed entrepreneurs who, in later meetings, are unwilling to have you interact with their team, conduct personal reference checks, or call their customers.

In each case, they’re signaling that they either have something to hide or don’t trust the investor. Neither signal is good.

Wamda Capital’s podcast

Wamda Capital is a leading VC fund in the Middle East and our co-investor in ride sharing app Volt.

As part of its efforts to develop the Middle East’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Wamda recently launched its podcast series. Creating and distributing knowledge of entrepreneurship and venture capital is critical to developing healthy startup ecosystems and podcasts are a great medium through which to do this. I commend the Wamda team for taking this initiative.

You can listen to the first podcast between Fadi Ghandour, Khaled Talhouni, and Fares Ghandour, three of Wamda Capital’s partners, below. In the podcast, you’ll learn about Wamda’s investment thesis, some of their portfolio companies, and their tips for entrepreneurs in areas like fundraising and valuation.

Cross-posting to Medium

This blog is currently built on WordPress. After writing on WordPress, I also share a link to each day’s post on Twitter for distribution.

Starting today, I’m going to experiment with cross-posting each post on Medium. Medium has recently emerged as an easy-to-use and visually appealing platform for writers to publish their content and be discovered by readers. Unlike WordPress which serves primarily as a publishing tool and Twitter which serves primarily as a discovery tool, Medium seeks to address both needs.

Depending on my experiences using Medium as a publishing tool, and how it impacts the number of people that this blog reaches, I’m going to decide whether to stick to publishing on WordPress or move over to Medium.

You can see the Medium version of this blog post here.

And if you’re a blogger who currently uses WordPress but would also like to cross-post to Medium, you can set that up by following the instructions here.

Sinemia Sosyal

Sinemia, where we’re investors, is a membership club that lets you watch a movie a day at theaters across Turkey for a monthly fee starting at 59 TL. I covered the reasons behind our original investment in an earlier post.

Although Sinemia’s core innovation is its all-you-can-eat subscription pricing model, it’s steadily developing other creative platforms to better serve movie goers. These platforms are simultaneously standalone businesses and complements to Sinemia’s membership club.

Sinemia Sosyal (“Sinemia Social” in Turkish) is a great example of such a platform. Sinemia Sosyal is a content site where you can read Buzzfeed-like editorial pieces about movies and perform a smart lookup for current movie screenings.

The editorial pieces on Sinemia Sosyal have helped Sinemia’s website visits increase fourfold over the last 3 months.

And the current screening lookup feature is much more versatile than that which I’ve seen at other websites that display movie screening times. Whereas other websites display all the movies showing at a specific theater, Sinemia Sosyal’s smart lookup feature lets you search for movies based on the exact parameters that you’re looking for. In practice, this means letting you search for the exact combination of city, movie theater, day, time interval, and/or movie that you want.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 8.22.40 PM

Sinemia Sosyal’s engaging content and its smart lookup feature are great examples of the strategic thinking and meticulous execution of the Sinemia team. Together, they make me very excited for the company’s future.