Monthly Archives: September 2017

Power and responsibility

Here’s LeBron James’ take on US President Donald Trump’s reaction to the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry stating earlier this week that he wasn’t going to visit the White House.

Unlike LeBron, I don’t think that he should have called Trump a bum.

Like LeBron, I believe that the US President has the power to guide not only his country, but also the world. And with power comes responsibility.

Group vs self motivation

Even if you’re passionate about something, it’s challenging to sustain your individual motivation level across time. There are times when you feel very motivated, as well as troughs in motivation.

The benefit of being part of a group is that your group members can pick you up when you hit a trough in individual motivation. The combination of support and, depending on the environment, healthy competition that they provide are antidotes to a motivational trough.

The less you like doing something, the greater the positive motivational impact of doing that thing as part of a group.

Exercising is a clear example of this. You exercise harder when there are people around you than when there are not. This effect is particularly pronounced when you’re part of the same training class.

The effect also extends to your personal and professional life.

Middle East Venture Partners’ new fund

Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) yesterday announced their $250M VC fund focused on investing in startups in MENA and Turkey. This makes it the region’s largest non-corporate VC fund and second largest VC fund following¬†Saudi Telecom’s $500M venture fund ST Ventures.

The large fund size is enabled by MEVP’s partnership at the general partner level with Mohammed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties, in May of this year.

Given the large fund size, MEVP is likely to focus on larger transactions beyond the seed and series A stages, and increasingly in the Series B and C stages. In Turkey specifically, the availability of capital in the latter stages is lower than that in the former stages, so this move makes strategic sense for investments in Turkey. I imagine that the same holds true for the MENA region.

I had the opportunity to work with the MEVP team following their co-investments in Turkish female fashion marketplace Modacruz and Istanbul’s inner city ridesharing app Volt, and congratulate the team on their new fund.

Language fluency

Ideally, we should judge our professional interactions based on the merits of the arguments one puts forth.

However, a person’s comfort in speaking or writing in a particular language impacts the merits of the argument they put forth in that language. Even if you’ve studied the language, if you’re not fluent, sometimes you just can’t come up with the words to clearly convey your message in that language.

And this negatively influences your counterpart’s perception of you. It’s difficult to distinguish between someone who doesn’t know and someone who has difficulty communicating what they know.

As a result, being fluent in a language is a big asset to achieving professional success in a country where business is done in that language. The more communication a particular role requires, the greater the value of this asset.

Selling and reality

In an earlier post entitled “The nuance of reality”, I wrote that “Our tendency is to draw conclusions and then look for evidence to support those conclusions. Reality, however, is much more nuanced. Most good things have bad characteristics and most bad things have good characteristics.”

The underlying assumption of that post was that you’re operating in a context where your goal is to understand reality to the greatest extent possible. This calls for evaluating evidence to draw conclusions rather than drawing a conclusion and then looking for evidence to support it.

However, in a different context, the opposite approach is necessary. Specifically, when you’re selling something, your goal is to highlight those pieces of evidence that support the product you’re trying to sell while overlooking or downplaying those pieces of evidence that could be barriers to the sale.

In other words, selling is the practice of constructing reality by carefully selecting and presenting pieces of evidence which, while short of being comprehensive, hopefully remain individually accurate.

Defensibility

Entrepreneurs are doers by nature. They have ideas for what customers want, build teams to execute on these ideas, and execute.

Assuming that the entrepreneur has correctly identified a real customer want, this approach will likely produce a business that makes money in the short term. However, this isn’t enough for the business to survive in the long term.

The reason is that, if the customer want is really there, competition will either already be there or it will soon emerge. The bigger the customer want the entrepreneur identified, the greater the competition.

And for a business to survive in the face of competition, it needs to be defensible. In other words, it needs to have a characteristic, or a combination of characteristics, that stops its customers from moving to the competition.

Defensibility comes in many forms. It could be a very strong brand that has perhaps even given its name to a product category, like Coca Cola. It could be the lowest price provider due to a combination of economies of scale and the leveraging of an intrinsically low cost customer service channel, like Amazon. Or it could be a business with strong network effects that prevents users from having the same experience on an alternative network, like Facebook. Or it could be a combination of these characteristics.

Without a source of defensibility, a business’ initial growth will soon taper off and may even reverse into decline, thereby threatening the company’s survival.

As a result, you need to think about the defensibility of your business before jumping into execution. Your company’s survival, and thereby your return on the years of work that you’re going to put in, depends on it.

Health and happiness

I spent a lot of time with our son over the last 2 days. He’s 5 months old.

As I was playing with him, I found myself hoping that he’d have a healthy and happy life.

I then realized what I didn’t hope for him. I didn’t hope for him to be powerful, wealthy, famous, handsome, or for him to have other externally visible measures of success.

If he also has one or more of these externally visible measures of success, that will be great. But they are only valuable if they’re built on top of a healthy and happy life.

What I know to be true for this person who I care so much about is true for each of us.

Toys R Us’ bankruptcy

I remember how I used to always look forward to going to the local Toys R Us store when I was a child. I was therefore suprised, and disappointed, to read the news that Toys R Us is filing for bankruptcy earlier this week. I imagine that many adults who relied on the retailer for their childhood toys felt the same way.

Most of the stories covering the bankruptcy have focused on Toys R Us’ inability to pay off its debts as the source of the bankruptcy. While that is indeed the final manisfestation of the problem which led to the company’s bankruptcy filing, this final manifestation of the problem is actually the result of the company’s profits not being large enough to cover its debts.

And the shortfall in profit is the result of the primarily offline toy retailer losing sales to two alternatives. The first is online toy retailers and the second is smartphone and tablet apps that offer children an alternative source of entertainment to toys. These are the core problems, and both of these core problems are examples of technological progress.

As tough as it is to see Toys R Us go, the fact that technology is responsible both for the company’s departure and as an alternative to the products it sold, is a small consolation.

Hummingbird Ventures III

My friends Firat Ileri, Barend Van den Brande, and Pamir Gelenbe are partners at Hummingbird Ventures, a VC fund that invested early in companies including restaurant delivery marketplace Deliveroo, cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, and mobile gaming company Peak Games.

Hummingbird recently announced the closing of its $95M third fund, Hummingbird Ventures III, which Barend wrote about here. Having co-invested with the Hummingbird team in female fashion marketplace Modacruz and listened to several of the entrepreneurs they’ve backed share their thoughts on the team, their success is very well deserved.

Congratulations guys.

Execution

I recently went back over the pitch decks of two e-commerce companies from 2013. Fast forward 4 years and one of the companies is doing well while the other has closed shop.

What’s interesting is that the 2013 pitch decks of the two companies are very similar. Among other similar strategies, both companies planned a combination of content building to inform their customers with the goal of driving purchases, the introduction of private label products to increase product margins, offline community building to strengthen their brand, and the development of mobile apps to serve their customers through the medium of their choice.

In other words, both companies knew what to do. One company simply did it well while the other didn’t. In other words, execution was the difference.

So to pick the right company in 2013, looking over their pitch decks wasn’t enough. You had to develop an informed view on the execution capabilities of both teams.