Monthly Archives: December 2016

2017

Today is the last day of 2016.

They say that how you enter the new year impacts how the rest of the year plays out. If you enter happily you’ll have a happy year and if you enter sadly it won’t be a great year.

But I don’t think that’s true. There’s a lot that you can do to turn around a tough start to the year, and if you don’t stay positive and put in the effort a great start to the year could take a negative turn. In both cases, you have to keep moving forward.

So that’s what I wish you for 2017. Just keep moving forward.

Solving difficult problems

I want to share with you a strategy which I use to help make progress on solving difficult problems that don’t have a clear answer. These include making specific investment decisions, deciding how to approach the resolution of important interpersonal conflicts, and identifying common patterns across successful and unsuccessful startups to improve my investment thesis.

I first push my brain to think about the problem as hard as I can for as much time as I can. When I spend a lot of mental capacity to think about a problem, my brain usually starts slowing down after 60 to 90 minutes. Even though I might try thinking about the problem for longer, I realize that I’m no longer making progress towards a solution. The strain which the previous 60 to 90 minutes of concentrated thought produces requires that may brain take a break to recharge. I then lay on a couch and let my thoughts wander. My brain is so tired by this stage that it usually shuts off and I fall into a nap. This nap usually lasts under an hour.

When I wake up, the first thing that comes to my mind is the difficult problem that I was thinking about. The only difference is that, somewhat miraculously, the pieces of the problem are much clearer to me and I’ve either arrived at a solution that I’m comfortable with or made a lot of progress towards the solution.

A critical part of this strategy is that you really need to think hard about the problem. You can’t be thinking about it every once in a while while letting other thoughts interrupt you. The reason for this is that if you’re only thinking lightly, your brain won’t feel the need to recharge. You therefore won’t fall into a nap and experience the post-nap epiphany. This is why the approach works for important problems which your brain naturally wants to think hard about to solve.

I don’t know if this strategy will work as well for you as it does for me. Our brains are all machines in the sense that they process inputs to produce outputs. However each machine is wired differently. But the next time you find yourself thinking hard about a difficult problem, you might just want to give this strategy a shot.

Kapgel’s updated Android app

Kapgel, an on-demand goods delivery startup where we’re investors, recently released an updated version of its Android app.

Most app updates are incremental in nature. There’s a new product feature, a few messaging tweaks, or some color changes.

If you’re a Kapgel Android user, you’ll quickly notice that this isn’t an incremental update. The user experience has been redesigned from the ground up. Here are some of the key changes:

  1. The app features larger and more visible fonts and more vivid images.
  2. The old hamburger menu which, when clicked on, would display menu items on the left hand side of the screen has been replaced with a permanent horizontal menu at the bottom of the screen.
  3. The checkout process is much smoother than before.

I don’t have a screenshot of the old app but here’s a screenshot of the new one.

A better user experience sometimes requires a completely new design rather than incremental improvements. This was one of those cases.

The updated Kapgel Android app certainly delivers.

Exercise

In an earlier post, I wrote about how getting some fresh air by taking a walk outside or opening the windows does wonders for my productivity. Another example of the circumstances under which I perform well is after a late afternoon exercise.

I wake up around 6AM, and start working by 7. As a result my brain has been heavily taxed by 4 or 5 PM in the afternoon. When my mental energy starts to decline, an hour long workout helps boost my performance. I keep this hour long late afternoon slot open in my calendar unless I have an important meeting. This happens maybe once or twice a week. It’s also harder to schedule the workout on those days when I’m traveling.

The physical and mental benefits of exercise are documented at length elsewhere. In addition to these long-term benefits, exercise gives me a short-term mental boost. This helps me get another 2 to 3 hours of productive time out of the rest of the evening. I get a lot more done in one hour of exercise and 3 hours of work than 4 hours of work without exercise.

The right timing, duration, and breakdown of exercises will change from person to person. But I think it’s well worth experimenting with. Once you find what works for you, making it part of your daily routine can produce a step change increase in your productivity.

Investors requesting cash payment for their support

This post is to share my thoughts on investment offers where the investor requests a support fee in the form of cash for the post-investment services that they’ll be providing the startup. I’m writing about it because, although it’s rare, I’ve seen such offers, and entrepreneurs would do well to avoid them.

As investors, we’re motivated to help the startups we invest in because of the resulting appreciation in the value of our investment that will take place following this help. That’s how we’re compensated.

Support fees attempt to extract resources from a startup which is already undercapitalized relative to the bigger companies that it’s competing with. The startup needs to use its limited capital very effectively in order to have a chance of winning, and getting paid for the support you provide as an investor makes it less likely that the startup you back will have the resources necessary to win. This also makes it less likely that you win.

In addition to this argument based on self-interest, it’s also the wrong way to treat an entrepreneur.

We offer advice to our startups and we don’t charge for it. We open our network to our startups and we don’t charge for it. In the past, we offered functional support in the areas of HR, IT, marketing, and finance to our startups, and we didn’t charge for it. The reasons are simple. Our upside comes from the appreciation in the value of our investment, and our startups need to use every dollar that we give them effectively. Paying us for support services isn’t an example of this.

So if you’re an entrepreneur and you receive an investment offer where the investor also requests cash compensation for the support that they should already be providing you as part of their investment, be very skeptical.

Role models

As kids, much of what we do is shaped by what we see others do around us. We’re social beings and, as such, we look for role models to guide our behavior.

Our initial role models as kids are often our parents. Once we start going to school our friends might also become role models. And as we grow older, we acquire domain-specific role models (a businessperson if we’re looking to do business, a politician if we’re looking to go into politics, an athlete if we’re looking to be an athlete, …).

Role models push us forward by setting the standard for what we need to do in order to achieve similar things as our role models.

However, role models also constrain us, and they do so in two ways.

First, with strengths come weaknesses. It can be challenging to see the weaknesses of someone you see as a role model, so it’s tempting to simply mimic all that they do. If we don’t differentiate between their good and bad habits, although we may end up like them, we might not actually like where we end up.

Second, if we do the same things as our role models, at best we will get the same results. There will be a cap on what we can do set by what our role model was able to do by taking the same actions. In order to do better than them, we need to do something different.

This isn’t to say that role models aren’t useful. They are. But there is a better approach.

In addition to having role models to inspire us, we should look to mold our own characters and define our own actions so as to surpass our role models. This is also what’s expected to happen given the arc of human progress, with each successive generation surpassing their prior.

And to do so, we need to ask ourselves what we would do if we were the role model. The answer will likely reflect a lot of what our current role models do. However, it will also add some new characteristics and perhaps subtract some harmful ones which exist in our current role models.

The result will hopefully be a role model that improves on existing ones. So if you eventually do become the role model that you’ve outlined and new generations inevitably start to mimic you, they have something even better to build on.

The human effort behind the technology

What was the most impactful technological advance of 2016?

Some candidates which come to mind are advances in artificial intelligence (an AI beat a human in a complex game like Go), genetic engineering (CRISPR has the potential to allow for human gene editing to prevent disease and enhance humans), and space travel (a reusable rocket landed on a floating barge in the ocean for the first time in human history). Time will show how big an impact each of these technologies has.

However, independent of how impactful each technology turns out to be, the human effort which goes into the development of each is to be applauded.

Here’s a video which shows the emotions experienced by the SpaceX team during the company’s successful earth landing of humanity’s first reusable rocket. The emotion is the direct result of the human effort that went into the technology’s development.

Mobilotoservis

Mobilotoservis, a car repair and maintenance service that comes to you where we’re investors, was recently featured on Turkish TV channel NTV.

In the piece, Mobilotoservis’ co-founder Kaan Sarac talks about what Mobilotoservis does and the value that it creates for consumers.

You can watch the short (less than 2 minutes) video in Turkish below.

Fresh air

I spend most of my days working behind a computer screen or at meetings indoors. After several hours indoors, my brain starts getting tired and I find it increasingly difficult to be productive.

At this time, letting in some fresh air can do wonders for me. If I’m in a meeting with one other person, or if I need to do some deep thinking on my own, I take a walk outside. This produces the best outcome. However taking a walk outside isn’t always possible. First, the weather needs to be good. Second, I may be in a meeting with a lot of people, or I may need to get work done behind a computer screen. In these cases, the simple act of opening the windows helps. Although not as effective as taking a walk outside, it’s enough to get my brain going again.

As you get to know yourself, you begin to observe patterns in the circumstances under which you’re most productive. One example for me is working in a place with fresh air. I’ll share other examples in the future. Discovering the environments that work for you and incorporating them in your daily routine can be an easy way to improve your mood and reach better outcomes.

What’s been done

Early stage tech startups are great platforms to talk about vision. Technology has seeped into every part of our daily lives, from entertainment to shopping to transport, and it will very likely grow more pervasive with time. So just about anything that can be done will likely eventually be done using technology.

But just because something can be done doesn’t mean that it has been done. A lot of people can articulate what can be done, but very few can and will go to the pain of doing it.

Vision is table stakes. Winners are determined by what’s been done.