Monthly Archives: February 2017

Twitter product features inspired by the Oscars

Yesterday morning, I saw a stream of tweets in my feed from different people all sharing a mishap that occurred at the Oscars. I couldn’t grasp what had happened at first but as I read more tweets I eventually discovered that La La Land had mistakenly been given the Oscar for Best Picture in place of its actual recipient Moonlight.

Naturally, what I wanted to do next is to see video footage of how the mishap took place and how it was corrected. I imagine that many Twitter users wanted to do the same. And that’s when I went off Twitter.

After searching for a few minutes on the web, I eventually came across the footage.

However, I’m sure that the same footage had been shared by some accounts on Twitter. I just didn’t happen to follow them. If Twitter had presented me with that video footage together with the tweets I was reading, I wouldn’t have left Twitter and I would have had a much better Twitter experience.

Twitter actually does have a feature to show such video footage to you. It’s in a separate tab called Moments. However, users want to see relevant video footage juxtaposed with the textual tweets they’re reading. Going to a separate tab is a behavior with as much friction as going to a separate website for the user and, partly because of this reason, Moments usage hasn’t taken off.

If the clearly relevant curated video content within Moments were presented at the right position in the main feed of users who follow several people who share a burst of tweets about a specific topic, the experience of the main feed would improve and Twitter wouldn’t need to be two products lumped into one (or at the very least, if Twitter chooses to keep Moments, the Moments experience wouldn’t be any worse).


The simplicity on either side of complexity

When you first start to think about a tough problem, it seems very simple. You have yet to discover what you don’t know, and thinking that you know all that’s to be known tempts you to arrive at an immediate simple solution. This is the simplicity before the complexity.

While this solution might be correct, if this is the case, it’s just because you got lucky. Any tough problem worth its salt doesn’t have an immediate solution.

Instead, it requires that you wade deep into the problem to discover its inherent complexity before eventually isolating the few elements that truly matter and emerging with clarity on the other side. This is easier said than done.

Once you’ve done this, you once again arrive at a simple solution. But this time you’ve discovered and addressed what you don’t know. Your solution is not only simple but also deeply researched and thought out. This makes it much more likely to be correct for reasons other than luck. This is simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Conventional wisdom is that this simplicity on the other side of complexity is more valuable than the simplicity before the complexity. And if you’re an individual trying to see something for what it really is, this is indeed the case. However, this isn’t necessarily true for groups of people.

The problem arises because seeing something for what it really is requires wading deep into the problem. And although you may be willing to do this as an individual, sometimes individual action isn’t enough. Sometimes you need a group’s collective action. And others in the group may be less willing to wade through the problem. Others may just want to see the simplicity before the complexity. Although this may not reflect what really is, it requires no effort. And a lack of effort appeals to our comfort-seeking nature as humans.

In other words, there are times when groups of people trade away what really is for comfort.

When this is the case, trying to show people the simplicity on the other side of complexity doesn’t get you far. People don’t want to see what really is. They want comfort.

Since you need collective action to progress, and since people aren’t willing to wade sufficiently deep into the problem to reach the simplicity on the other side of complexity, you need to give them the simplicity before the complexity. It may not be what really is, but it aligns with what people want to believe is. And this is what’s necessary for them to act.

Part of the simplicity on the other side of complexity is knowing when to use the simplicity before the complexity.

The bundling and unbundling of media

In a recent talk and interview at the Code Media conference, Stratechery‘s Ben Thompson shared his analysis and thoughts on the bundling and unbundling of text, audio, and video content.

I strongly recommend subscribing to Stratechery to access Ben’s insightful analysis of the strategic moves made by large tech companies. At $10 per month or $100 per year, the 4 article-per-week subscription is great value-for-money.

You can watch Ben’s talk and interview below.

The Bosphorus

We recently moved homes in Istanbul. We used to live on the European side and we now live on the Asian side.

Although our home has changed, what hasn’t is our view of the Bosphorus.

I had shared the view from our previous home in an earlier post from back in 2015. And here’s the view from our current home.

No matter what might happen when you’re going about your daily life in the city, knowing that you can wake up to this view each morning and say goodnight to it each evening is one of the best parts of living in Istanbul.

What you want to talk about

I get a lot of meeting requests that don’t mention what the person requesting the meeting wants to talk about. In these cases, I used to look up the sender’s profile on LinkedIn to see if they’re interesting. I would then decide whether to meet or not. I’ve discovered that this isn’t a good strategy.

When someone requests a meeting without telling you what it’s about, it almost always ends up being a waste of time. This happens for many reasons. Sometimes the exchange could have simply been resolved over email. At other times the sender knows that they wouldn’t get what they want if they asked over email so they want to make it harder for you to say no by meeting in person. And sometimes the sender has no specific agenda and simply wants to meet you. I don’t understand the motivation behind this but I think it’s because they see you as someone important and meeting you makes them feel good.

In each of these cases, I end up wasting 30 minutes that I could have spent productively. We live in an increasingly connected world where the speed of information sharing allows us to achieve progress at a much faster pace than we could in the past. This makes time an increasingly valuable resource for each of us. We need to respect each others’ time to ensure that we use this resource most effectively.

As a result, I no longer accept any meetings where the person requesting the meeting doesn’t share what they want to talk about. If they don’t mention it in their meeting request, I ask them to do so. I know that this can be perceived as arrogance because the underlying message is that I may or may not agree to meet depending on the agenda. But it’s actually not. By understanding what you want to talk about, I can evaluate whether our meeting has a chance of producing a valuable outcome for both of us. If I know this isn’t possible, declining is a way of respecting your time and mine.

InOne by Insider

Insider, a predictive segmentation and real-time marketing tool for companies where we’re investors, yesterday launched its new marketing technology platform InOne.

In the words of Insider’s CEO Hande Cilingir, “InOne brings together all the technologies marketers need to deliver personalized experiences under a single, highly usable platform.”

And in the words of Insider’s CTO Sinan Toktay, “InOne powers personalized experiences with new and enhanced predictive modeling and segmentation technologies. Segments are only as good as the data behind them. Allowing marketers to act on ready-to-use segments based on the future behaviors of their visitors, we have transformed the way they deliver personalized experiences.”

In addition to bringing Insider’s predictive modeling and segmentation technologies under a single platform, InOne also introduces the Ad Audiences module to bridge the gap between marketing tech and ad tech. Specifically, Ad Audiences lets marketers optimize their advertising spend by pushing their highest value predictive segments into third party ad platforms like Facebook and Google AdWords.

You can watch InOne’s launch video below.

Necessary marination

Most people procrastinate. I’m the reverse. I have a tendency to want to get things done quickly.

However, while excessive procrastination isn’t a good habit, neither is excessively rapid action (unless you’re being chased by a lion).

The reason is that as humans, our minds have a single processor. We can only think of one thing at a time. And the thing that we’re thinking about at that moment in time lets us evaluate just a single fact or perspective. In order to access other facts or perspectives, we need to give our mind the time to work through the first one before moving onto the second and if necessary additional ones. And this takes time.

That’s why it’s useful to let your thoughts marinate in your mind before taking action. Your intuition will tell you when you’ve crossed the line from necessary marination to lazy procrastination.

Teams and markets

“When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.

When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.

When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.”

This quote is by Andy Rachleff, a co-founder of Benchmark Capital in 1995 and Wealthfront in 2008. Basically, Andy takes a contrarian stance to common startup wisdom by claiming that a startup’s market is a more important predictor of success than a startup’s team.

Let’s look at Andy’s claims one by one.

I agree with Andy’s first claim. If you’re not attacking an attractive market in the right way, or trying to create a new market for something that people actually want, it doesn’t matter how good your team is. Even the best team won’t be able to pull it off.

However, while the development of some markets is difficult to predict in advance, most markets are easier to evaluate. Great teams therefore usually find great markets, so this case doesn’t occur that often. But when it does, Andy is right that market wins.

To evaluate the second claim, we need to define what a lousy team is. If we define lousy teams as the bottom third, average teams as the middle third, good teams as in the top third but below the top 10%, and great teams as the top 10% of all teams, I believe that you need to be at least a good team in order to have any chance of success. I’ve seen many good teams perform very well in a great market. However, lousy, or even average teams just don’t cut it. Maybe Andy’s definition of lousy is different but this claim seems a bit too extreme.

The last claim is less debatable. Most people will agree that great teams attacking great markets are necessary to create something special (or win a market) ahead of the less great teams attacking the same market.

Since great teams usually don’t go after lousy markets, and since lousy teams just don’t cut it, I think that Andy’s emphasis on great markets is a bit extreme. However, Andy’s excellent track record at Benchmark and Wealthfront suggests that he didn’t pay attention to the first two claims anyways. He simply looked for great teams going after great markets. Rather than debate about which matters more, why not take both?

Recalling overarching learnings

Each morning, I wake up thinking about what to write about for this blog. Sometimes it’s a personal learning, sometimes it’s a development at one of our portfolio companies, sometimes it’s a piece relevant to the tech sector globally, and sometimes it’s just some good old fun.

What I’ve come to realize about the personal learnings I share is that, the more you learn, the more important it becomes to recall your existing learnings rather than to continually come up with new learnings.

I don’t think that there’s an end to personal learning. There’s always more that you can learn. And our capacity to learn grows as humans evolve. Future generations of humans will likely have a greater capacity to learn than current ones.

However, there any many overarching learnings that apply across most of the domains of your life. And these don’t change that often, if at all.

Once you’ve discovered these overarching learnings, there’s greater value in recalling the relevant learning at the relevant time than in trying to force the creation of new overarching learnings.

The best person to take on the opportunity

If something is a good idea, someone is going to do it. Someone is going to capture the opportunity.

You might feel uncertain about whether you’re ready for the task. But everyone feels the same way.

Some will back down because of the uncertainty, and others will pursue the opportunity. And among those that pursue the opportunity, in the long run the best person will have the greatest positive impact. Sometimes our lives are too short to see the long run play out, but it does exist.

The question is therefore not whether you’re ready for the task. No one is. Everyone makes it up and learns as they go along.

The question is whether you’d produce better results than others if you were to take on the same opportunity. If so, you have a responsibility to do so, not just for yourself but, more importantly, for the group of humans that the opportunity impacts.