Monthly Archives: July 2017

It’s not the category

Most investors state that a startup’s team is the most important determinant of its success.

Simultaneously, when a few companies in a category run into trouble and/or fail and the category therefore falls out of favor, we are quick to dismiss new companies which emerge in that category.

This happened for mobile gaming companies several years back when Zynga, the at the time leader of the pack, started facing difficulties.

More recently, it’s happening in e-commerce as all but a horizontal approach is falling out of favor.

The first two statements of this post are contradictory. Specifically, if a startup’s team is indeed the most important determinant of its success, it isn’t correct to explain failure by pointing to the category.

And the reality is exactly that. Most startups that don’t succeed are faced with this outcome because of the team’s approach to and decisions within a category, not the category itself.

Outsiders don’t see the inside of a company. As a result, they assign responsibility for the outcome to the category. When, in most cases, insiders know that responsibility lies with the team.

This creates opportunities for great teams in out of favor categories.

The relationship vs what you believe is right

When I was younger, I used to believe in doing what you believe is right at all costs, even if you knew or thought that there was a high probability that it would damage a relationship.

As I grew older, I first began to question whether always doing what you believe is right at all costs is the right approach to life.

And more recently I’ve concluded that it isn’t.

Sometimes the benefit of doing what you believe is right is small. On the other hand, its cost in terms of the damage that it has on a relationship is large. When this is the case, I now believe that it’s worth forgoing what you believe is right to preserve the relationship.

I can think of two reasons for the change in my approach. The first is that I’ve been sufficiently burned by doing what I believe is right to justify the change. The second is that most people have a tendency to value relationships more as they age and therefore face their relationships’ and their own mortality. This is certainly the case for me.

In addition, prioritizing the relationship in the short term often increases your chances of getting to what you believe is right in the long term.

Seeing sound and other changes in air density

Here’s a video on a technique which we can use to see changes in air density that are otherwise invisible to the human eye.

It’s called a Schlieren Flow visualization and, together with a high-speed camera, it lets us see the changes in air density caused by examples like the travel of sound, the natural heat coming from our hands, and sneezes and coughs.

Thinking of what else is actually there but invisible to our eyes because of the types of waves that they can see is a fascinating exercise.

Capital without interference

I was recently speaking with the founder of a very successful tech company. We were talking about the company’s largest investor, which also has a strong brand, when the founder shared that he’s very happy with the investor.

Hoping to learn some of the contributions which a reputable investor makes to their companies, I asked what the investor does that makes the founder so happy. The founder’s answer was that the investor doesn’t do anything. And as a result of not doing anything, they don’t interfere with the business.

Some great founders just want, and only need, an investor’s capital without their interference.

And some great investors don’t add much value. They just make the right investment decisions and don’t subtract value.

London

Following a day trip from Menlo Park to New York yesterday, I’m leaving the US for London today. This marks the beginning of the European leg of my international investor meetings.

While the suburbs of Menlo Park were nice, I’m looking forward to going to an urban city. And London is just that.

Although London is 2 hours behind Istanbul, the time difference is small. This means that I’ll return to publishing blog posts closer to their regular early morning Istanbul time.

Competition in China

I recently sat down with a VC who invests across the US and China. We were talking about the geographic expansion possibilities of a tech company that currently operates successfully in a single geography, Turkey.

I focused on the company’s core value proposition and business model to suggest that there would be greater demand for what the company is doing in China than in the US, and that it would be able to operate with superior unit economics in China. I therefore shared that I was in favor of entering China rather than the US.

My counterpart shared that, while the factors I had pointed out were important, I was overlooking the most important variable that the company needs to consider when deciding which geography to enter. That’s competition, and when it comes to competition, doing business in the US is a walk in the park compared to doing business in China. He therefore recommended that the company expand to the US.

I have yet to do business in China, so, until I experience it for myself, I need to take the investor at his word.

I will, however, be visiting China soon. Although a visit is far from enough to understand the true extent of competition in the country, I look forward to getting my first glimpse.

Worrying

If you look for it, there’s always something to worry about in lıfe.

When you’re in school, you can worry about what grades you’re going to get or whether your classmates will like you. When you’re working, you can worry about whether you’re going to complete a project on time and whether you’re going to be promoted. When you have a family, you can worry about whether you’ll be a good husband or wife, a good father or mother, and whether you’ll be able to provide for your family.

Worrying is, to a certain extent, beneficial. The reason is that it helps you focus to solve a problem and thereby avoid what you’re worring about from materializing.

However, most people, myself included, often worry beyond a beneficial point. This becomes clear when you look back at the things you worried about and realize that most of your worries didn’t materialize while, among those that did, you overcame most of them and time has healed the rest.

Introduction requests and relationship strength on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a useful tool when reaching out to people you don’t know but would like to meet. Specifically, its display of who among your contacts can introduce you to the person you’re looking to meet (a second degree connection in LinkedIn terminology) is very valuable.

However, what’s missing from the tool is a display of the strength of the connection between the person you’re requesting the introduction from and the person you’re looking to meet. As a result, you don’t know whether you’re requesting an introduction from someone who knows the person you’re looking to meet sufficiently well. This often leads to requesting introductions from multiple people which is inefficient for the requester and a hassle for many request recipients.

Since relationships are dynamic and LinkedIn doesn’t have access to the offline developments which impact a relationship, it’s very challenging for LinkedIn to show the real-time strength of the relationship between two people. However, it could still improve on the current approach of not displaying any indication of the strength of the relationship.

One idea is to highlight relationships where people have been part of the same organization, like working at the same company or studying at the same school, during the same period of time. Such people are more likely to have a stronger relationship.

The benefit of this approach is that it doesn’t require any active user input. LinkedIn can generate these insights by simply analyzing the profile data of pairs of users.

Another idea is to establish relationship tiers whereby users can self-declare the strength of their relationship with someone. For example, they can self-declare whether they have a strong, medium, or weak relationship.

The terminology would need to be carefully chosen to not hurt users’ feelings, and the statements of two users who declare that their relationship is of different strengths would need to be reconciled. However, this approach would save time for both requesters and request recipients by making it easier to request introductions from the right people.

Technology and entitlement

On yesterday’s flight from Istanbul to San Francisco, I was hoping to connect to the inflight WiFi to do some work that required internet connectivity. Unfortunately, the inflight WiFi didn’t work for the duration of the 13 hour flight.

At first I was disappointed. Since I had set my mind on what I wanted to be doing during the flight, I was upset when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do what I had planned.

But then I thought to myself how inflight WiFi didn’t even exist until a few years ago. I realized that, over the span of the last few years, I had gained a sense of entitlement to a technology whose absence I didn’t complain about in the past and whose presence is, even if it doesn’t always work, pretty miraculous.

So rather than complain, I simply did the work I could do in the absence of an internet connection.

And I even had time left over to read a book.

Menlo Park

I’m flying from Istanbul to San Francisco today.

I usually stay in the city to visit our portfolio companies which are overwhelmingly based there. However, this time around, I’ll be meeting primarily with other investors. Since most investors are based in the Bay Area, I’ll be staying in Menlo Park.

I enjoy the suburbs more than the city, so that’s an additional reason why I’m looking forward to the trip.

Due to the 10 hour time difference between Istanbul and the Bay Area, my daily blog posts will be published about 10 hours later than usual each day.