Look, see, notice

There are many great stories about genius musicians playing on street corners, unrecognized.

My takeaway from these stories is that many look, few see and fewer take notice.

There’s a section of those who’re walking who don’t even realize their presence. Many look in that direction but their eyes likely glaze over. A few see that something is going on – maybe they even realize it is something good. But, the choice few dig deeper and take notice.

Great talent scouts learn to notice talent. Great leaders notice leadership and remember to call it out. Happy people learn to notice things they are grateful for.

We can, of course, be all these things. But, first, we must learn to see. And, once we learn to see, we must then learn to take notice.

From Daimler to Didi

The Daimler internal combustion engine first made its appearance in a 1902 race for horseless vehicles in Paris and looked like this.

It won. It also went on to change the world.

But, it’s time has come. I predict that we’ll see roads dominated by electric vehicles in a decade. And, we’re likely to see roads dominated by global autonomous car fleets owned by leading ride sharing companies after that. Of course, we’re all going to be touched by all this change in ways we can hardly imagine. How we own and drive cars has shaped how we live and how our cities have been built.

That’s the topic of my bi-weekly essay on the car revolution. More on Medium or LinkedIn.

Always on is always unhappy

There’s a lot of talk about how our current generation of human beings is “always on.” We’re always connected, always checking our feeds and emails and always texting.

The price we pay is an overwhelming sense of unhappiness. We seek to get rid of tension, postpone thought and shun solitude by looking into our phones.

But, it is precisely those things that help develop self awareness, help us grow and get better. And, there’s no happiness without such awareness, love and growth.

It may be hard, depending on what you do, to consider a life that embraces the opposite. But, it is possible for us to find middle ground. Less checking, more switching off, more depth and quitting any social media that isn’t making us better.

Always on is a recipe for always unhappy. Happiness (the state, not the feeling of pleasure) rarely accompanies more time with our devices.

Always on isn’t a necessity.

We have a choice.

How should I feel about this?

Our daughter has been attempting to alternate between turning, crawling and sitting over the past few weeks. That means she often loses control and, occasionally, “falls” – i.e. hits her head on the floor with more force than she might expect.

While it likely hurts a bit, we’ve noticed that her first reaction is not to cry. Instead, it is to look at us. She generally has a shocked look that seems to say – “Something weird just happened. How am I supposed to feel about this?”

On our part, we’ve made it a point to smile, cheer and clap every time she falls.

So, when this happened a few days back, we did the same even though we muttered to each other – “Man, that must have hurt her.” But, voila, she saw our smiles and claps and had a thrilled look on her face too.

It was a powerful moment for me as two important lessons hit me. First, so much of early parenting is about the interaction effect between the parents and the child. It is like an improv act with very little dialog as we all play off each other.

Of course, this principle doesn’t just apply to parents but to the teams we work in as well.

And, second, so much of how we react to situations is based on subconscious assumptions of how we’re supposed to feel. The moment we let go of that and give ourselves the time to respond, magic happens.

Much to learn from kids, we have.

Practicing appreciation

There are two steps to practicing appreciation –

  1. Noticing something that deserves appreciation
  2. Appreciating it

We’re not taught how to appreciate things. We generally pick it up from someone around us who does it. It is not that we don’t want to appreciate things. Many of us, at some level, understand that appreciation matters, But, the act of doing so feels awkward. We are stopped by questions like – “Will this make this situation awkward?,” “Will I sound unauthentic?”

Here’s the issue – most people go through their lives feeling little appreciation. We live in an age with a lot of material wealth but little mental well being. It would be foolish to blame it all on a lack of appreciation but a few consistent good words go a long way in lifting people’s minds and spirits. Appreciation is the grease that helps families and teams function better. It has the potential to make days and change life.

The biggest challenge with practicing it is simply doing it. Appreciate something today. Then, do it again tomorrow. As you keep doing it, you’ll notice a lot more that deserves appreciation. And, suddenly, you’ll realize that virtually everything around you deserves a word of genuine appreciation.

The best part about this practice is that there are two beautiful side effects. First, as you learn to genuinely appreciate others, you learn to appreciate yourself. The act of doing so builds our humanity and, somehow, makes us feel better about ourselves.

And, second, the act of doing so fills us with gratitude because it helps us not take things for granted. Trading expectations with appreciation is one of the surest signs of the presence of happiness.

Growth – Getting those users | Thinking Product

It has never been easier to start a company today. This is thanks to the suite of tools that are provided by the likes of AWS/Azure/Google Cloud, Stripe and many other companies who help with getting the basic infrastructure in place.

It has also never been easier to create a product that has the potential to be used by millions of users. Just use the above services to build a mobile app and put it on the iOS or Android app stores. And, in theory, you have a shot at superstardom.

But, it is also harder than ever to generate traction. The top 10 smartphone apps of 2016 were from Google (5), Facebook (3), Apple (1) and Amazon (1).

We often think about this as a recent issue. So, let’s look at the equivalent chart from 2013.


Twitter and Yahoo Stocks were the only “outsiders” that made the list along with Apple Maps. But, the giants were still dominant.

What does all of this mean? If you aren’t an app born out of the family of giant tech firms, user acquisition is going to be hard. This, of course, benefits Facebook since a natural paid acquisition source is Facebook ads.

This all seems rather depressing since it looks like mass market growth isn’t really an option. What does all of this mean for you and me?

Well, if you’re building a mobile app, I think it has become more important than ever before to nail the answers to 3 questions –

  1. Who are my users?
  2. Where can I reach them? (/Where do they spend their time?)
  3. How do I attract their interest?

The good news is that these questions work wonderfully regardless of the nature of your product. And, that’s because they hit at the essence of 3 important pieces of the marketing funnel – segmentation, targeting and positioning.

And, there’s an age old story about dog food (thanks Prof Moran Cerf) that helps explain the magic of the 3 of these in action.

When Paul Iams visited a mink ranch in 1946, he noticed that the dogs at the ranch, who also ate food made for minks, seemed exceptionally healthy and beautiful. So, he developed Iams 999, a superior quality high-protein variety of dog food. But, he didn’t have a good distribution system in place to sell these and, soon, sales stagnated after the first 100,000 dollars. Iams looked in trouble.

Enter Clay Mathile, a new manager, who asked the question – what is a segment that would love what is great about Iams (superior quality => shiny coats, healthy dogs) and not mind what isn’t great about Iams (high cost, limited distribution)?

The answer? Show dog owners!

So, he went on to focus all his advertising on his segment – show dog owners. For example, this meant advertising in magazines that show dog owners read. These show dog owners, in turn, were more than happy to buy premium dog food and go through the difficult sourcing process so they had a competitive advantage.

Iams nailed the market.

Soon, they were ready to expand again and their prices were beginning to come down thanks to their scale. Next, they focused on breeders who cared about having healthy, shiny dogs to sell to future owners. Breeders also didn’t mind the extra expense. Given their excellent product, they won over breeders over time, too.

This new segment had a positive effect because breeders naturally recommended that the new dog owners continue feeding their dogs Iams.

By 1999, Iams had 900 million dollars in sales and was acquired by P&G. Iams now had a place in supermarket stores all over.

This is a classic story because it is applicable to every product. And, as far as building technology products goes, this story almost feels custom built for app builders all over.

Don’t worry about attacking that large market. Focus on a niche and nail that segment. Then, build from there.

(PS: HT Andrew Chen for shaping my perspective on growth)

Differentiating measurement errors and management issues

Corporations report measurement errors to their customers all the time. Here’s a simple two step test to determine the difference between measurement errors and management issues –

  1. If the number of times you’ve unearthed measurement errors in your business is <=2, they are likely just errors.
  2. If you’ve found more than 2 errors and if the errors repeatedly favor you over the customer, then they aren’t measurement errors. We are looking at management issues that are likely manifesting themselves in everything you do.

For example, I’ve been a Comcast subscriber for 13 months now. I’ve called or live chatted with customer service to report measurement errors 9 times in 6 of the 13 months. And, each time, the error involved Comcast charging me more than they should have. Hence, not a measurement error but a management issue.

As a customer, keep a lookout for repeated measurement errors that count against you. Such businesses have management issues that are going to pop up in the future as well.

And, as a builder of products and services, if you find yourself dealing with repeated measurement errors, take a long, hard look at the incentives and culture you’ve created.