Early one morning in June of 2013, a Panama hat weaver named Simon Espinal sat down to work at a wooden table in his house in Pile, an obscure village hidden in the hills near Montecristi, in Ecuador’s steamy coastal lowlands.
Selecting eight thread-like strands of toquilla straw that he had spent three weeks preparing, he separated them into four matched pairs with which he formed the cruzado—the crossed threads—that is the start of every Panama hat.
And then he began to weave.
Tonight, I would like to talk to you about the Panama hat. This is my one, have a look and pass it around. I’ll be talking about:
its construction; and
how to go about buying one.
When the Spanish arrived in Ecuador in 1526, inhabitants of the coastal areas were already wearing a brimless hat of woven straw. Over the next three centuries, hat weaving and hat wearing grew steadily in the country.
In 1835, Manuel Alfaro emigrated from Spain to Ecuador. He settled in Montecristi and launched himself into the hat business. He developed a large network of weavers and artisans with a singular goal: to export the straw hat from Ecuador around the world.
So, why do we now know this hat as the Panama hat?
Alfaro’s hats were soon leaving the ports of Ecuador, bound for nearby cities, with Panama among them. Before air travel, anyone wanting to cross the North American coast had three choices:
taking a ship around the southern-most tip of South America; or
taking a ship to Panama, cutting across the isthmus, and getting a ship on the other side.
The Californian gold rush in the 1850s dramatically increased traffic in Panama as well as demand for the hats. “Hey, nice hat! Where’s it from?” The answer would almost invariably be, “Panama!” Ecuador’s most famous export is the “Panama” hat. And the people of Ecuador aren’t very happy with that.
The construction of the hat begins with a hike into an Ecuadorian rainforest. The weaver is looking for cogollos, the unopened, central leaf spikes of the Carludovica Palmate, or the Panama hat plant. Each plant is a cluster of three metre tall stalks with palm leaves sprouting from the top. It takes at least 48 cogollos to weave a hat.
Back in the village, the weaver uses his thumbnail to pry open the thick leaf casing to reveal a pale and tender core. The individual strands, now called tallos, are boiled in a pot of water over a wood fire before being left outside to dry. Once dry, the tallos are bleached inside a wooden box using smoke from crumbled sulphur mixed with burning embers.
The weaver selects the best straw, cutting it to the desired length and uses his thumbnail to slice it to the fineness he wants. He takes two straws and places them carefully across the fingertips of one hand. He adds a second, then third, and then finally a fourth pair of straw, arranging them carefully and holding everything in place. This is the cruzado. A few hours of weaving will expand the hat to the size of a twenty cent piece.
Weeks later, when the weaver finishes the hat, they will have 4–6 inches of loose straw around the brim. The hat then passes through a series of specialised craftsman before reaching the blocker who shapes the crown using steam and sews on the sweatband. The hat is complete.
Buying a Hat
So let’s say you want to buy the same classic hat worn by everyone from Winston Churchill to Sean Connery, from Napoleon Bonaparte to Arnold Schwarzenegger. How do you go about it?
There is no standardised grading system for Panama hats. Different sellers often use the same numbers or terms to describe very different hats. A Grade 10 from one seller won’t be the same quality as a Grade 10 from another. One superfino, different from another superfino.
Put another way: there are only 18 master weavers who can weave a true superfino, and it would take months to do so. It is much easier to stick on a superfino label than to actually weave one.
The best way to measure the fineness of a woven hat is to count the rows of weave per inch, first horizontally then vertically. Multiply these numbers together. Three hundred weaves per square inch would not make an especially noteworthy hat. At nine hundred, however, the hat would be a rare treasure.
In addition to fineness of weave, the quality of the weave and the colour of the straw must also be taken into consideration since they affect the overall desirability of the hat.
We now re-join Simon Espinal who started weaving the Panama hat in June of 2013.
Summer segued into autumn; Christmas came and went, as the creamy white fabric continued its spread slowly down the sides of the hat. At the end of every day, the work-in-progress was carefully wrapped in clean muslin cloth to protect it from dust or spills.
Saturdays were spent sorting through the straw that will be used during the coming week, examining each strand in a good light, matching them as closely as possible for color, tone and slenderness.
Finally, near the end of February, he stopped. The hat was finished. It had taken 9 months.
What he will state is that the hat he finished last year, and which required nearly a thousand hours of weaving, is the finest he has ever woven—indeed the finest he has ever seen or even heard of: a creamy-white, silky-fine masterpiece averaging an astounding four thousand weaves per square inch.
Absorb. Look. Speak. Absorb each trigger word, look up and then speak, maximising eye contact with the audience.
Write on one side only.
Write clearly and in capital letters if necessary.
Double space the content with ample whitespace around trigger words.
On each card:
Top left-hand corner: approximate timing.
Top right-hand corner: number each card.
Top: an opening statement (black).
Center: 3–5 supporting trigger words (black) used to jog your memory, as well as
numbers (red), quotations and key facts (green) and names (blue).
Bottom: a trigger word about the next slide.
CC2: The Front Page of the Internet
Here’s a question: “Would you rather one million dollars right now—or a 10% shot at one hundred million dollars?”
A similar question faced the founders of the website Reddit.
Tonight, I would like to tell you the story of Reddit, currently the 31st most trafficked website on the Internet.
It all began in 2001 at the University of Virginia where Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman met for the very first time. Alexis was scared that no-one would play video games at university—that it was something he’d have to leave behind in the transition to adulthood. The first day he moved in, he happened to find Steve playing Gran Turismo 2 across the hall from his new dorm room. They ended up becoming best friends and lived together all four years of university and almost five years afterwards.
Towards the end of university, they worked together on an idea that Steve had dreamt up called MyMobileMenu, which let people order from restaurants using a mobile phone. They opened a bank account, incorporated the business and began talking to restaurant owners in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Meanwhile, Steve had been reading articles by a successful startup founder called Paul Graham who had sold his company, Viaweb, to Yahoo! Paul was about to found a startup incubator called Y Combinator that would advise and nurture early-stage companies, giving them $12,000 in exchange for 7% of the company. It would later be well known for jump-starting companies like Airbnb and Dropbox. But none of these things had happened yet. Paul Graham was just a startup founder who was scheduled to speak in Boston over spring break.
Steve convinced Alexis to take the 10-hour train journey to Boston to hear Paul speak. After the talk they went up to him and said, “Hey Dr. Graham”, telling him that it would totally be worth the cost of buying him a drink if he’d listen to the startup idea. His reply: “You came all the way up from Virginia? Sure.”
The talk went well and Steve and Alexis were asked to interview for Y Combinator, which was in its first year and which no one had heard of at that time. The interview went really well and they went out for celebratory drinks. That night, Paul called Alexis and said, “I’m sorry, we’re not accepting you.” That was a major blow and the celebratory drinks abruptly turned into misery drinks. That night they got pretty drunk.
The next morning they were on the train back to Virginia with a throbbing hangover. Somewhere in the middle of Connecticut, Paul calls again. “I’m sorry, we made a mistake. We don’t like your idea, but we like you guys.” They get off the train, and Alexis manages to sweet-talk the Amtrak inspector into not charging them for the turn around. After the train ride, they met up with Paul and hashed out some ideas. One thing that Paul said stuck: “You guys need to build the front page of the Internet.”
Reddit was built in three weeks. It was Steve and Alexis sitting in a apartment, in the middle of nowhere in Massachusetts, only going outside for Pizza during the day and going to the World of Warcraft for distraction during the the night. The website was simple. It was a ranked list of web links that users could add to, with two clickable buttons underneath each link saying “Interesting” and “Uninteresting”. That was it. The first link ever posted to Reddit was a story about a Downing Street memo that was shared by Alexis, and voted “Uninteresting” by Steve. Paul and Steve both suggested names, but Alexis came up with “Reddit”, as in: “I read it on Reddit.”
In the weeks that followed, Steve and Alexis scraped news sites and posted links to Reddit using fake accounts so it wouldn’t look empty. They also asked friends to post things whenever possible. One day in August, Steve went a whole day without working on Reddit, which was rare. Before going to bed, he decided to check the site and noticed that there was content on there that wasn’t posted by anyone they knew. According to Steve, that was the biggest turning point.
With a steadily increasing stream of traffic, traffic was never the problem again. But everything else was. They frequently had to wake up in the middle of the night to reset the servers, which had crashed while they were sleeping. The next year was a blur.
In the Summer of 2006, less than 16 months after starting Reddit, its founders were faced with a tough question: whether to sell the company for $20 million to Conde Nast.
If you were in that position, what would you do?
Steve and Alexis decided to take the acquisition offer and went to a Halloween party that night to celebrate. Before the party, Alexis called up the Washington Redskins ticket office and upgraded his Dad’s season tickets while also making a sizable donation to his Mum’s favourite charity.
Fast-forward to now. 2015. Reddit has lived up to the vision of being the front page of the Internet. There are 169 million visitors every month, reading links posted to 9,600 categories or subreddits. Stories originating on Reddit are frequently syndicated to newspapers around the world and their Ask Me Anything subreddit has featured Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Edward Snowden.
Reddit is also valued at $500M.
A few years ago, when asked whether he regretted selling Reddit, Alexis replied: “No, I don’t regret selling Reddit. I’m just grateful for having the opportunity to make a decision like whether or not to sell Reddit.”
My first memory is of myself as a five year old. We arrived back at Heathrow after a 13 hour flight from Singapore. The weather in London was freezing. As we pulled up to the driveway of our house in Uxbridge, I was eager to escape the cold and to get inside. I rushed to the bathroom to turn on the tap to warm myself. [September, 1991.]
Now one thing you should know about taps in the UK is that there isn’t a single mixer tap but two separate taps over a sink. One spouts boiling water and the other freezing water. The trick, awkwardly, is to turn on both taps and to move your hands quickly between the two taps mixing the water manually.
I left the hot tap running too long and so my first memory was formed: scalding my hands with boiling water in freezing weather.
It was also around this time that I started to receive elocution lessons. A few years earlier I had been diagnosed with glue ear and had grommets inserted. With glue ear, the Eustachian tube, connecting the middle ear with the nasal cavity is blocked. This means that any liquid in the middle ear is stuck there, resulting in low frequency hearing loss. Because I couldn’t hear very well in my formative years, I had elocution lessons to help with my speech development.
At age 7, I moved to Australia and started at Camberwell Grammar. I had a lot of fun in school, performing well academically but also getting my fair share of detentions—the key to any memorable school life. One less pleasant memory I took away was a sports report I delivered in Year 9 in front of the entire school—all 1,000 students. Although I thought it went fine, I was reminded for the next few years that I couldn’t pronounce the letter “S”. [2000.]
I finished Year 12 here but went back to the UK for university where I read Computer Science at University College London. In 2010, I decided to attend the British Film Festival and bought tickets to a film that sounded promising but which wasn’t yet in wide release. The screening, as it turned out, was the film’s London premiere and I walked past Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush conducting interviews on the red carpet. The film was “The King’s Speech”. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Colin Firth plays King George who, to cope with a stammer, sees Lionel Logue, an Australian speech and language therapist based on Harley Street. Although the film primarily dealt with stuttering, the story resonated with me. I decided to see a Harley Street speech therapist to improve the way I spoke. [21 October, 2010.]
I found Valerie Savage, a speech therapist that not only worked with children but with adults. She had worked with various television presenters and even the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne. I learnt about glottal stops and fricatives and rehearsed nursery rhymes:
What a to-do to die today at a minute or two to two.
I learnt about how to use a bone prop and performed voice exercises.
BB bbb BAH
And for the first time in my life, I was able to pronounce an “S” properly. [June, 2011.]
Throughout my life, I’ve never shied away from speaking in public. But at the same time, it hasn’t been something I’m completely comfortable with either. Although I know how to pronounce an “S” now, it still doesn’t feel natural. I have to be concentrating and I have to speak deliberately. If I don’t, it goes back to how it was before.
The reason why I’ve joined Toastmasters is to be comfortable with speaking—casually and in public.
Oats with apple/banana/blueberries
Toast with avocado or poached/scrambled eggs
Chicken breast with broccoli
Jacket potato with chilli con carne or tuna mayonnaise
Salmon with brown rice
Steak with steamed vegetables
5 × 5 Barbell Row
5 × 5 Bench Press
5 × 5 Pull-ups
3 × 3 × 7 Andriys
1 × 5 Deadlift
5 × 5 Overhead Press
5 × 5 Squat
Cross-trainer, 15 minutes
Rowing, 4 minutes (20s/10s intervals)
Running, 15 minutes
Skipping rope, 4 minutes (20s/10s intervals)
Old Fashioned glass
Fever Tree ginger beer
Fever Tree Indian tonic water
Fever Tree Sicilian lemonade
Fever Tree spring soda water
Canadian Club whisky
Dolin dry vermouth
Don Julio anejo tequila
Gosling’s black seal dark rum
Havana Club anejo 3 anos white rum
Laphroaig quarter cask Scotch whisky
Tanqueray No. 10 gin
Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling
You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
You have to keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not
what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually
about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
Once upon a time there was [blank]. Every day, [blank]. One day
[blank]. Because of that, [blank]. Because of that, [blank]. Until
Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like
you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite
at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously.
Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you
have both, but move on. Do better next time.
When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. Lots of
times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you;
you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a
perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third, fourth,
fifth—get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you
as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
Why must you tell this story? What’s the belief burning within you that
your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty
lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens
if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on—it’ll
come back around to be useful later.
You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and
fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get
them out of it are cheating.
Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you
rearrange them into what you do like?
You have to identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write
“cool”. What would make you act that way?
What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you
know that, you can build out from there.
1 × Henry Poole midnight blue dinner jacket
1 × Turnbull & Asser silk bowtie
1 × Albert Thurston black moire braces
1 × Turnbull & Asser: white Marcella dress shirt
1 × Pantherella black silk socks
1 × John Lobb black Oxford one row stitch cap shoes
2 × Richard James grey/navy suit
10 × Hermes tie
10 × Harvie & Hudson white/blue cotton shirt
10 × Benson & Clegg cuff-links
2 × Dunhill reversible leather belt
1 × John Lobb City II leather Oxford shoes
1 × John Lobb Darby II leather brogue shoes
1 × Aquascutum wool overcoat
1 × Burberry long cotton-gabardine trench coat
1 × Richard James navy wool blazer
2 × Emma Willis linen shirt
1 × Cordings Tattersall shirt
2 × J. Crew Oxford shirt
4 × Sunspel grey/white t-shirt
1 × J. Crew cotton chinos
1 × Levi’s 511 jeans
1 × Pringle of Scotland cashmere crew-neck sweater
1 × John Smedley cashmere v-neck sweater
1 × Baracuta G9 Harrington jacket
1 × Barbour Bedale waxed cotton jacket
1 × Barbour quilted gillet
1 × US Navy military surplus peacoat
1 × Clark’s desert boots
1 × Hunter original tall Wellington boots
1 × R.M. Williams craftsman Chelsea boots
1 × Red Wing 6" Moc Toe boots
1 × Edward Green Malvern leather brogue shoes
1 × John Lobb Darby II leather brogue shoes
1 × Converse Chuck Taylor All Star II canvas sneakers
1 × Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket
1 × Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody
1 × Bates Superfino Panama hat
1 × Burberry cashmere scarf
1 × Dents cashmere-lined leather gloves
1 × Drake’s shoestring linen pocket square
1 × Dunhill barley Rollagas lighter
1 × Ettinger credit card case
1 × Floris No. 89 eau de toilette
1 × Montblanc Meisterstuck ballpoint pen
1 × Persol PO714 sunglasses
1 × Purdey side-by-side shotgun
1 × Randolph Engineering aviator sunglasses
1 × Swaine Adeney Brigg The Peel attache case
1 × Swaine Adeney Brigg Westminster document case
1 × Victorinox Huntsman Swiss army knife
New submissions: on Hacker News, there’s little reason or motivation to
monitor /newest so it’s mostly visited by people being asked to vote up
other people’s posts. Tip: include a few items from /newest at the bottom
of the front page. Also, submitting the same article as someone else counts
as upvoting the first submission.
On a user-voted news site, the links that are easiest to judge will take
over unless you take specific measures to prevent it. To protect against
this “fluff”, Hacker News will ban fluff links as off-topic (links from
domains with too much “fluff” are auto-killed).
Comments: there are two kinds of badness in comments: meanness and
stupidity. Meanness can be controlled by having rules saying that one
shouldn’t be mean and enforcing them. Bad comments have much more of an
effect on new comments than bad submissions have on new submissions.
If someone submits a lame article, the other submissions don’t all become
lame. But if someone posts a stupid comment on a thread, that sets the tone
for the region around it. Tip: maybe the solution is to add a delay before
people can respond to a comment, and make the length of the delay inversely
proportional to some prediction of its quality. Then dumb threads would
grow slower. Xkcd implemented a particularly clever one in its IRC
channel: don’t allow the same thing twice. Once someone has said “fail” no
one can ever say it again. You may not have to kill bad comments to solve
the problem. Comments at the bottom of a long thread are rarely seen, so it
may be enough to incorporate a prediction of quality in the comment sorting
Users: Tried displaying the names of users with the highest average
comment scores in orange, but this was a mistake as the community was
divided into the haves and have-nots. It’s about keeping out bad behaviour
more than bad people. If people are expected to behave well, they tend to;
and vice verse (see: Broken Windows Theory)
Moderators: (i) ban off topic submissions, (ii) rephrase linkbait titles
to be more matter-of-fact, and (iii) mark sites for linkjacking. To keep
moderators honest, their actions should be transparent, so it’s important
to provide a way for users to see what submissions are killed. Initial
moderators are usually enthusiasts. As the tasks becomes more onerous they
often quit, adversely selecting the kind of person who would freely and
voluntarily spend lots of time and energy policing a community: people with
axes to grind as the task, people with no sense of perspective, petty
tyrants, etc. Paying moderators with equity or revenue may be sub-optimal because of the overjustification effect, shifting their mindset from hobby to profession and calculating a low hourly wage.
Verification: It often isn’t easy to check whether someone has bought
that product or visited that restaurant or used that plumber.
Reputation: Reputation takes place within a context. Things can have reputations in multiple contexts simultaneously. For example, a restaurant may have a three-star chef and the best food in town, but woefully inadequate parking. Reputation is information used to make a value judgment about an object or a person. Any of the following types of information might be considered viable reputation statements:
Assertions made about something by a third party.
Factual statistics about something.
Prizes or awards that someone or something has earned in the past.
Actions that a person might take toward something.
All of these reputation statements can be generalized in this way: “A source makes a claim about a target.” Claims can be either explicit (what people say) and implicit (what people do). You may think, “Why would I listen to strangers' opinions about things I don’t yet know how to value?” The answer is simply that a collective opinion is better than ignorance.
Creators: 1% of the user population might start a group (or a thread within a group).
Synthesizers: 10% of the user population might participate actively and actually submit content, whether starting a thread or responding to one.
Consumers: 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of these two groups.
Leaderboards: Items displayed on a leaderboard tend to stay on the leaderboard, because the more people who see those items and click, rate, and comment on them, the more who will follow suit, creating a self-sustaining feedback loop.
Karma: In the case of simple point-based karma systems, which give active users ever more points for activity so that leaders, over years of feverish activity, amass millions of points, making it mathematically impossible for new users to ever catch up.
The key insight to dealing with this problem is to remember the expression, “What did you do for me this week?” When you’re considering how your reputation system will display reputation and use it indirectly to modify the experience of users, remember to account for time value. A common method for compensating for time in reputation values is to apply a decay function: subtract value from the older reputations as time goes on, at a rate that is appropriate to the context. For example, digital camera ratings for resolution should probably lose half their weight every year, whereas restaurant reviews should only lose 10% of their value in the same interval.
Using points as the only motivation for user actions can push out desirable contributions in favor of lower-quality content that users can submit quickly and easily
If you consider any points-as-currency scheme, keep in mind that because the points reflect (and may even be exchangeable for) real money, such schemes place the motivations for using your application further from altruism and more in the range of a commercial driver. Even if you don’t officially offer the points for sale and your application allows users to spend them only on virtual items in the game, a commercial market may still arise for them.
There can be no negative public karma — at least for establishing the trustworthiness of active users. A bad enough public score will simply lead to that user’s abandoning the account and starting a new one, a process we call karma bankruptcy. It’s not a good idea to combine positive and negative inputs in a single public karma score. Say you encounter a user with 75 karma points and another with 69 karma points. Who is more trustworthy? You can’t tell; maybe the first user used to have hundreds of good points but recently accumulated a lot of negative ones, while the second user has never received a negative point at all.
Absuse: Consider a secret abuse reporting reputation that tracks users' past performance at finding and reporting abusive content. Some factors that could contribute to this score:
The reporter’s own past contributions to the site or length of membership.
The reporter’s “success rate” at identifying abusive content: from past reports, how many were legitimate? How many ended up being overturned or denied by qualified staff?
The volume of reports that the user files. (Note that, depending on the context, a high volume of reports can be considered a positive or a negative.)
Alea iacta est: the die is cast, referring to Julius Caesar’s decision to
cross the River Rubicon, sparking a civil war against Pompey.
Carpe diem: seize the day, i.e. do all that one can do today to make the
Caveat emptor: buyer beware, i.e. buyers have less information than
sellers so defects may be hidden from the buyer.
Ceteris paribus: all other things being equal.
Ipso facto: in and of itself.
Memento mori: remember (that you have) to die, a reminder of mortality.
Mens rea: intention to commit the crime (guilty mind).
Post hoc ergo propter hoc: after this therefore because of this, i.e. the
incorrect assumption that since B follows A, that B is caused by A.
Prima facie: at first sight, i.e. evidence that, unless rebutted, would
be sufficient to prove a particular proposition or fact.
Quod erat demonstrandum: that which had to be proven (used at the
end of a mathematical proof which the writer set out to prove).
A Study of Virality
Rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge:
Within 24 hours of being challenged, participants must record a video of
themselves (i) announcing their acceptance of the challenge, (ii) pouring ice
into a bucket of water, (iii) getting the bucket lifted and poured over their
head, and (iv) nominating three other people to participate in the challenge.
In-built virality that sees each person challenging 3 people. The
connectors in the social graph are usually chosen to maximise impact,
bubbling up to reach the top influencers. (These top influencers tend to
get asked multiple times.) Once it reaches the A-listers, the media covers
Usually tied to donations for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) it had
a high conversion rate because (i) it was for a good cause, (ii) it was
easy to do, and (iii) it had high social visibility, appealing to people’s
sense of narcissism and charity guilt.
The infected tend to defend the virus. If you did the challenge, you will
likely defend its usefulness.
Select Kodak Tri-X 400 film preset for black/white photos or Kodak
Portra 400 film preset for colour photos.
Apply the “JPEG Contrast Fixer” toolkit preset.
Apply the “Grain Bigger” toolkit preset if downsizing for the web.
World's Hardest Logic Puzzle
Three gods A, B, and C are called, in no particular order, True,
False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks
falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random
matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking
three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods
understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language, in
which the words for yes and no are da and ja, in some order. You do not
know which word means which.
Design Rules (2003)
Having walls and ceiling the same colour blurs the edges that box the room
Attractive features outside draw the gaze outward, lengthening the view.
Small spaces make us feel closed in. Large spaces make us feel vulnerable.
Rugs absorb light and sound.
Hard or shiny flooring (e.g. timber, laminate, ceramic tiles, marble or
stone) bounces light back (more than twice that of carpet) and maximises
the feeling of space.
Direction of flooring: diagonal lines increase the feeling of width;
vertical lines accentuate depth.
Direction of lines on walls: vertical lines increase the feeling of height
by drawing the eyes upward; horizontal lines (picture rails and blocks of
colour) increase the feeling of width while bringing the height down.
Strong colour on short walls decreases the depth but increases the width of
a room, strong colour on the long walls gives a long thin corridor effect,
dark colour on the floor or ceiling brings the whole space down.
In the Southern Hemisphere, East and North facing rooms get more sunlight.
Busy, family oriented rooms work better with cool colours.
Colours can be: complementary, within the same family or tonal.
High contrast lighting is uncomfortable.
Three layers of lighting: general lighting (down lights and track
lighting), accent lighting (table lights and candles) and task lighting
(desks and reading chairs).
Patterns and textures should be related to each other, e.g. by geography or
Objects should occur in odd numbers, never even numbers.
The layout of the room should follow straight lines and seldom diagonal
Use the rule of thirds or the golden ratio as guidelines.
The personality of a room can be classed as: urban, earthy, classic or
Performance Evaluation at Deloitte
The first two are answered on a five-point scale, from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”; the second two have “yes” or “no” options:
Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus.
Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team.
This person is at risk for low performance.
This person is ready for promotion today.
Marcel Proust's Questionnaire
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What is your greatest fear?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Which living person do you most despise?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
Which talent would you most like to have?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Where would you most like to live?
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
What do you most value in your friends?
Who are your favorite writers?
Who is your hero of fiction?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Who are your heroes in real life?
What are your favorite names?
What is it that you most dislike?
What is your greatest regret?
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?
Lessons from Y Combinator
Better to make a few users love you than a lot like you.
Live in the future, then build what’s missing.
Offer surprisingly good customer service.
Make something people want.
Startups are counter-intuitive.
You make what you measure.
Do things that don’t scale.
Understand your users.
Get ramen profitable.
Let your idea evolve.
Be like James Bond.
Make users happy.
Don’t give up.
Talk to users.
The 30-second pitch should answer three things:
What does your company do? Go for something with zero assumptions and
which requires no further questioning. E.g. “Hey we’re Airbnb and we allow
you to rent out the extra room in your house,” rather than, “We’re Airbnb
and we’re a marketplace for space.”
How big is the market? An investor needs to understand, “Oh wait. If this
company gets really big, it could be worth billions of dollars.” E.g.
Airbnb might say, “How big is the hotel market? How big is the vacation
rental market? How big is the online hotel booking market?” These are
simple numbers to look up on Google.
How much traction do you have? Ideally this sentence is saying something
on the order of, “We launched in January and we’re growing 30 percent month
over month. We have this number of sales. This amount of revenue. This
number of users.”
Buy products that emphasise:
Expertise: only buy from a company’s main product line. Diversification
is often employed as a corporate strategy and the outcome is rarely satisfactory.
The reason for diversification is XXX. And rarely is the process thorough.
Using their brandname.
The product is rarely polished as it cannot tap into the company’s expertise, economies of scale and core customer demographic. E.g. don’t buy Ferrari’s Light Essence perfume.
Functionality: never let form compromise function.
Truth to materials: E.g. if it looks like metal and feels like metal, it should be made
Stability: buy from product lines that have undergone multiple
incremental revisions. Iron out faults and feedback from user returns.
First version of iPhone, device is incredibly hobbled and feature lacking in comparison
CS183B: User Interviews
What are the different groups of people that are critical to the success of
Don’t ask about features but ask about user flow. They’ll be asking for a
faster horse instead of a car. Is there something really wrong about the
existing technique? Any blockers? If not, there may not be a problem.
Never directly ask them whether a feature is good or bad. They will say
it’s good. Unless they hand you over their credit card, which indicates
they’re willing to commit.
User feedback from existing users may mean these are things they are
willing to put up with.
Don’t show people your product, try and get what’s already in their head on
Don’t talk to who’s available, instead, talk to who you should talk to.
Reach out to them through in-site messaging, in-person events and emails.
Before deciding to get press, make sure it’s worth it and be aware that
getting press doesn’t mean you’re successfully and getting press is not a
scalable user acquisition strategy.
Who do you want to reach? Press should have targeted audience and goals
such as investors, customers or the industry.
Types of stories: product launches, fundraising, metrics or milestones,
business overviews, stunts, hiring announcements and contributed articles.
PR firms can only help with contacts (maybe) and follow up. They can’t
generate stories and they are expensive.
Mechanics of a Story
Think of a story.
Get introduced (friends who have been already been featured on TechCrunch).
Set a date (4–7 days in advance).
Reach out (get a commitment to invest time).
Pitch (write out story in bullet points but memorise it).
Launch your news!
CS183B: Doing Things That Don't Scale
Test your hypothesis.
Do things that don’t scale.
Finding Your First Users.
There’s no silver bullet for user acquisition.
Do whatever it takes to bring in your first customers (sending 100
emails a day, cold calls, etc.)
Don’t focus on ROI, focus on growth.
Avoid giving your product away for free.
Turn Users Into Champions
A user who talks abut and advocates your product.
Delight your users with experiences they will remember.
Talk to your users (constantly and for as long as possible).
Feature set you launch won’t be the one you scale with.
Ways to Talk
Run customer service as long as possible.
Pro-actively reach out to current and churned customers.
Use social media and communities.
The product you launch with will not be the product that finds market
Optimise for speed over scability and clean code.
Rule of thumb: only worry about the next order of magnitude
Necessity is the mother of invention: you’ll find a way to make it
Do things that don’t scale as long as you possibly can
The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit
users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come
to you. You have to go out and get them. The usual way to do that is to get
some initial set of users by doing a comparatively untargeted launch, and then
to observe which kind seem most enthusiastic, and seek out more like them.
You should take extraordinary measures not just to acquire users, but also to
make them happy. For as long as they could (which turned out to be surprisingly
long), Wufoo sent each new user a hand-written thank you note. Your first
users should feel that signing up with you was one of the best choices they
Tim Cook doesn’t send you a hand-written note after you buy a laptop. He can’t.
But you can. That’s one advantage of being small: you can provide a level of
service no big company can.
The feedback you get from engaging directly with your earliest users will be
the best you ever get. When you’re so big you have to resort to focus groups,
you’ll wish you could go over to your users' homes and offices and watch them
use your stuff like you did when there were only a handful of them.
One sort of initial tactic that usually doesn’t work: the Big Launch. I
occasionally meet founders who seem to believe startups are projectiles rather
than powered aircraft, and that they’ll make it big if and only if they’re
launched with sufficient initial velocity. They want to launch simultaneously
in 8 different publications, with embargoes. And on a tuesday, of course, since
they read somewhere that’s the optimum day to launch something.
CS183B: Building Products Users Love
Growth is the gap between conversion and churn
New users equals dating, while existing users equals marriage.
First impressions are important: homepage, landing pages, plans and
pricing, login page, signup page, first email, account creation, blank or
starting interface, login link, ad link, first support contact.
Kayak has a red telephone that rings with customer support calls in the
middle of the engineering floor.
In the customer support form, include an “How do you feel?” field so they
have an outlet for their emotion, instead of writing it in the form.
Include a FAQ section.
A “Since You’ve Been Gone” section highlighting new features added since a
user’s last visit.
Get people’s addresses and send thank you notes.
According to Harvard Business School, the three ways of dominating a
market are by having the best price, best product or best overall solution.
Host “King for a Day” instead of hackathons: one person gets to direct all
the resources of the company for one day.
Retention curve (users vs. time). If it asymptotes in parallel with the
x-axis, you have product market fit for some subset of users.
Choose core metric carefully. E.g. Airbnb (nights booked), eBay (gross
merchandise value), Facebook (monthly active users) and Whatsapp
(messages sent per person).
Aha moment for Facebook was seeing your friends. This is what the website
is about. For eBay it was finding that unique Pez dispenser that you
really wanted. For Airbnb it was finding that first listing you wanted to
stay at (or the first time you get paid). The key is to get to the aha
moment as fast as possible.
For notifications, focus on the marginal user, the one who doesn’t get a
notification in a week, month, year.
When building the product, focus on power users. When ramping up growth,
focus on the marginal user.
Know everything about the product and industry.
Obtaining Initial Users
Parents, friends and co-workers.
Online communities, local communitites (mailing lists) and niche
Cold calls and emails.
Support is very important.
Surveys are okay and interviews are better.
Quantitative metrics: retention, ratings and NPS.
Qualitative: ask why, why, why?
Beware of the honesty curve.
If users ask you to build a feature, get to them bottom of why they
want you to build that feature. Their suggestion usually isn’t best.
Types of Growth
Sticky (existing users to use more)
Deliver a good experience.
CLV and retention cohort analysis is important.
Repeat users buy more and more.
Viral (when people talk about you)
Deliver a WOW experience and have good referral programmes.
Have amazing customer touch points (where can they work out they
can refer people, e.g. after you sign up, after they’ve used the
product for a while, when the cleaner is inside the home). but the
link when they are highly engaged and when they’re loving you.
Referal programme mechanics (e.g. $10 for $10).
Referral conversion flow (ensure you optimise, sell in different
manner, upsell them that their friend has used them before).
Paid (using money to buy growth)
SEM and display ads.
CS183B: Before the Startup
Startups are counter-intuitive.
You can trust your interactions with people.
What you need to succeed in startups is not expertise in startups. But,
instead, expertise in your users.
Starting a startup is where the gaming stops working. In a big company, it
may still work, you could send email late at night to fake productivity.
All users care about is whether the product does what they want.
Startups are all consuming.
Starting a startup is hard to predict. You change.
If you make a conscious decision to get startup ideas, you will get bad but
plausible startup ideas and waste a lot of time.
CS183B: Team and Execution
Founders should be relentless resourceful. They need to be tough and calm.
Execution: can you figure out what to do and can you get it done?
A big part of execution is just putting in the effort.
A CEO has five jobs: Set the vision, raise money, evangelise, hire and
manage and make sure the entire company executes.
Can you get it done? Focus and intensity.
Focus: what do you spend your time and money on? What are the two or three
most important things? Focus on maintaining growth and momentum. Choose
the right metrics.
Intensity: relentless operating rhythm, obsession with execution quality,
bias toward action. Quick, do whatever it takes, show up, don’t give up,
Every time you talk to them, they’ve gotten new things done.
Get on planes in marginal situations.
Always keep momentum. Software: always keep growing. Hardware: don’t let
you ship date slip.
Don’t regain momentum with long speeches. Regain using small wins. Sales
fixes everything. Fights start when momentum sags.
Establishing momentum by setting up an operating rhythm: shipping product,
launching new features, reviewing/reporting metrics and milestones.
Competitors making noise in the press is the biggest drain of momentum. PR
releases are easier to write than code.
Plans themselves are useful but the act of planning is also important.
Someday, you need to build a business that is hard to replicate.
It’s important for businesses to be mission-oriented. The company should
feel like an important mission. Otherwise you will probably give up on the
way. People are also more likely to help you.
The best ideas usually like terrible at the beginning.
You want to capture entirely a small market. You can change everything in a
startup except the market. You want a market that seems small today but
will grow very quickly.
The best ideas are very easy to explain and to understand.
Build something that a small numbers of users love than a large number of
If you make something people love, they will tell their friends about it
(word of mouth).
Much easier to make a great product to start with something simple. It
forces you to do one thing extremely well.
It takes some level of fanaticism to create a good company: most founders
hook up their ticketing system so even when they’re asleep, they respond to
a ticket within 1 hour.
Get user feedback: What do they like? What would they pay for? What would
make them recommend it?)
Focus on growth: ignore registrations but concentrate on active users,
activity levels, cohort retention and net promoter scores.
Startups are stressful: you’re always on call, you’re always fundraising,
there’s a lot of responsibility (your team bet the best years of their life
on you), you may get unwanted media attention and as a founder you can’t
The life of most CEOs is reporting to everyone else. If you want to
exercise power and authority over people, join the military or go into
politics. Don’t be an entrepreneur.
Startup founders lack flexibility: you’re always on call, you’re a role
model and you’re always working.
If you want to make a difference, join an existing company:
Brett Taylor (Employee #1500 at Google) created Google Maps.
Justin Rosenstein (Employee #1900 at Google), prototyped chat inside
Jared Morgenstern (Employee #250 at Facebook) led a hackathon for the
Traction is quantitative evidence of customer demand. Traction is powerful.
Technical, market and team risks are easier to address with traction. So are
fundraising, hiring, press, partnerships and acquisitions. In other words,
traction trumps everything.
The bullseye framework—you’re aiming for the bullseye, the one traction
channel that will unlock your next growth stage—is a five-step process:
Brainstorm: come up with reasonable ways you might use each traction
channel. Find out what marketing strategies have worked in your industry,
how similar companies acquired customers over time and how unsuccessful
companies wasted their marketing dollars. For each channel, come up with
multiple ideas, and for each idea, deduce: (i) the expected cost to acquire
a customer through this idea, (ii) the number of customers you can expect
to acquire at that cost before saturation, and (iii) the timeframe needed
to run tests.
Rank: place each of the traction channels into one of three columns, with
each column representing a concentric circle in the Bullseye:
Column A (Inner Circle): which traction channels seem most promising
Column B (Potential): which traction channels seem like they could
Column C (Long-shot): which traction channels seem like long-shots?
Prioritise: reduce the channels in Column A to three channels.
Test: run tests on the three channels in Column A. You are not trying
to get a lot traction with a channel just yet, but determining whether a
channel could work. Ensure that the tests answer:
Roughly how much will it cost to acquire customers through this
How many customers do you think are available through this channel?
Are the customers that you are getting through this channel the ones
that you want right now?
Focus on the ones that work: if all goes well, one of the traction
channels you tested in your inner circle produced promising results. In
that case, start directing your traction efforts and resources towards that
most promising channel. At any stage in a startup’s lifecycle, one traction
channel dominates in terms of customer acquisition.
A company’s traction strategy should always be focused on moving the needle for
your company, i.e. focusing on marketing activities that result in a
measurable, significant impact on your company. After the growth curve
flattens, what moved the needle before usually won’t work at the next level.
Over time, all marketing strategies result in shitty click-through rates. In
other words, all market channels become saturated.
According to Peter Thiel, poor distribution—not product—is the number one
cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work,
you have a great business. If, however, you try several but don’t nail one,
you’re finished. Almost every failed startup has a product. What failed
startups don’t have are enough customers.
Constantly running small traction tests will allow you to stay ahead of
competitors pursuing the same channels. Making A/B testing a habit (even if you
just run 1 test a week) will improve your efficiency in a traction channel by
2–3x. There are some quantitative metrics that are universal across traction
channels. E.g. cost to acquire a customer and lifetime value of a customer.
Always have a traction goal you’re working towards. This could be 1,000 paying
customers, 100 new daily users or 10% of your market.
The path to reaching your traction goal with the fewest number of steps is your
Critical Path. These milestones need not be traction related, but should be
absolutely necessary to reach your goals. E.g. for DuckDuckGo, their traction
goal was to get to 100M searches per month. They believed milestones they
needed to hit included a faster site, a more compelling mobile offering and
more broadcast TV coverage. Good mentors help you stay on your critical path.
The simple act of preparing to meet with your mentor on a regular basis is a
forcing function that compels you to think more critically.
There are nineteen traction channels. Two observations: (i) far too many
startups focus on the same channels and ignore other promising ways to get
traction, and (ii) until you start running tests, it’s difficult to tell which
channel is the best one for you right now. Many founders ignore promising
traction channels due to natural biases (out of their field of vision, negative
views, seems annoying and time-consuming), which may prevent them from getting
traction. Spend your time building product and testing traction channels in
parallel; traction and product development are of equal importance and should
each get half of your attention.
Viral Marketing: the process of getting your existing users to refer
others to your product. Going viral means that every user you acquire
brings in at least one other user: that new user then invites another user,
and so on. This creates true exponential growth.
A viral loop in its most basic form is a three-step process: (i) a user
is exposed to your product, (ii) that user tells a set of potential
users about your product, and (iii) these potential users are exposed
to your product and become users themselves.
K = i × conversion percentage, where K is the viral
coefficient, i is the number of invites sent per user and conversion
percentage is the percentage of users who sign up after receiving an
invitation. Any viral coefficient above 1 means that each new user
brings in more than one additional user, creating true exponential
Viral cycle time is a measure of how long it takes a user to go through
your viral loop. Shortening your viral cycle time drastically increases
the rate at which you go viral, and is one of the first things you
should focus on improving if using this channel.
You need to measure your viral coefficient and viral cycle time from
the start. Map out every aspect of your viral loop. How many steps are
in the loop? What are all the ways people can enter into the loop, e.g.
landing pages, ads, invites, etc. Draw a map of the entire process and
try cutting out unnecessary steps and increase area or mechanisms where
users can send out invitations.
A non-user’s first exposure to a product often occurs when a current
user sends an invitation. The non-user will then have to decide what to
with the invitation or whether it’s worth her time to even open it.
Test: buttons vs. text links, location of your call to actions, size,
colour and contract of your action buttons, page speed, adding images,
headlines, site copy, testimonials, signs of social proof (such as
pictures of happy users, case studies, press mentions and statistics
about product usage) and number of form fields and length of signup
Public Relations: The news has fundamentally changed. Think of New York
Times. When they decide to publish an article about you, they are doing
you a huge favour. There are so many other people they could write about
but there are a finite number of spots in the paper. Blogs, on the other
hand, can publish an infinite number of articles and every article they
publish is a chance for more traffic, so when Business Insider writes
about you, you are doing them a favour.
It’s better to start smaller when targeting big media outlets. Instead of
approaching TechCrunch directly, find the blogs that TechCrunch reads
and get their attention. TechCrunch also picks up stories from smaller
forums like Hacker News and Reddit. While New York Times may pick up
stories from TechCrunch. Also, follow influencers in your industry and
reach out to the blogs they often link to.
When pitching to any media outlet, it’s your job to create an angle that
makes your story compelling. If you can craft a narrative (e.g. how we just
doubled out userbase through x, y and z) and present it well, you
greatly increase your chances of getting a story. A good angle makes people
react emotionally. Other things that get a reporter’s attention are:
milestones, raising money, launching a new product, breaking a usage
barrier, a PR stunt, big partnership or a special industry report.
Amplify a solid story by drawing as much attention to it as you can:
Submit a small story to community sites like Digg, Reddit, Hacker
News, etc, with larger audiences.
Share it on social networks to drive awareness, which you can further
amplify with social ads.
Email it to influencers in your industry for comments. Some of them will
share it with their audience.
Unconventional PR: A publicity stunt is anything that is engineered to
generate a large amount of media coverage. They are often hard to do
consistently well, but just one well-executed stunt can move the needle for
your company. Publicity stunts need to be creative and extraordinary to
succeed. However, some types that have been successful repeatedly are
competitive stunts and viral videos.
Customer appreciation is simply a way of saying “be awesome to your
customers.” Excelling in this area is a more sustainable way to do
unconventional PR over the long-term. Common ways to do customer
appreciation well are through gifts, contents and customer support.
Success in this channel is unpredictable. You should have a defined process
for brainstorming and selecting ideas, but also understand that not every
idea will work and prepare for that reality.
Search Engine Marketing: Click-through Rate (CTR) is the percentage of ad
impressions that result in clicks to your site. Cost per Click (CPC) is the
amount it costs to buy a click on an advertisement. Cost per Acquisition
(CPA) is how much it costs you to acquire a customer.
You can use search engine ads to test product positioning and messaging
(even before you fully build it!) Do not expect your early SEM ad tests to
be profitable. If you can run an ad campaign that gets close to breakeven
after a few weeks, then SEM could be the traction channel to focus on. A
test ad campaign can be as little as four ads used to experiment.
Areas you should be testing with your SEM ad campaigns include keywords,
ad copy, demographic targeting, landing pages and CPC bids. If you measure
conversions effectively, you can test these variables against
Longer keywords (known as long-tail keywords) are often less competitive
because they have lower search volumes. As such, they are cheaper and so
can be more profitable—you just may have to aggregate a lot of them to
get the volume you need to move the needle.
Pay close attention to your ad quality scores. High quality scores gets you
better placement on the page and better pricing on your ads. The biggest
factor in quality scores is CTR.
Social and Display Ads: The difference between search and social ads is
that one harvests demand while the other generates demand. Search engine
ads harvest demand that exists now (as evidenced by search terms). Social
ads help build awareness of products and create demand.
Display ads are the banner ads you see across the Internet. They allow
you to easily reach a very broad audience since those types of ads
appear on most sites on the Internet. Ad networks are the easiest way
to buy display ads. An underutilised strategy in display ads,
especially in Step 1, is to contact small sites directly and ask them
to run your ads for a small fee.
Social ads should aim at building an audience, engaging with that
audience over time and eventually moving them to convert to customers.
This indirect response strategy usually leads to more conversions than
a direct response strategy that tries to get people to convert
Creating compelling content (that people want to share) and/or social
experiences is the best way to build a presence and engage your audience on
Study your competitors' ads to get good ideas for A/B tests to run on your
Offline Ads: There are many types of offline ads—including TV,
infomercial, radio, magazines, newspapers, yellow pages, billboards and
direct mail—and most can work in any product phase. Target audience
demographics can vary widely per advertising medium, so search for
audiences that match your target customers.
Seek out remnant (i.e. left-over) ad inventory for the highest discounts.
You can run cheap tests by first targeting local markets and then scale up
to regional or national if warranted. Use unique codes or web addresses to
track the effectiveness of different offline ad campaigns.
Search Engine Optimisation: Two high-level strategies to approach SEO are
to focus on the fat-head (shorter, more general search terms) or the
long-tail (longer, more specific search terms). These strategies are not
To evaluate SEO you want to first determine if there are search terms that
have enough search volume to move the needle for your company (assuming you
can rank on the first page for such terms). If you identify some terms that
could work, you can further qualify them by running search ads against them
to test if they actually convert customers.
Your product may naturally produce good long-tail content that you can
expose to search engines, or there may be an obvious way to generate
long-tail landing pages by using cheap freelancers.
Whether you pursue a fat-head or long-tail strategy, SEO comes down to two
things: content and links. While link building is often the more
challenging of the two, one way to get quality links is to produce amazing
content. Avoid “black-hat” SEO tactics that violate search engine
guidelines, especially buying links.
Content Marketing: You know more about the industry you’re working in
than your potential customers. This means that you should be able to
provide insight on subjects they care about.
A company blog can take a significant amount of time to start taking off.
We think you should dedicate at least six months when focusing on
this channel once you finish your small-scale tests. It is OK to do things
that don’t scale early on (e.g. reaching out to individuals to share posts)
because you’re building toward a point where your content will spread on
You need to create quality content to succeed in this traction channel.
There is no silver bullet, but a decent approach is to write about problems
your target customers have. Another (not mutually exclusive) approach is to
run experiments tor use data from your company to produce in-depth posts
you can’t find anywhere else.
Reaching out to influential industry leaders (on Twitter, etc), doing guest
posts, writing about recent news events and creating shareable infographics
are all great ways to increase the rate of growth of your audience. It
helps to make a content calendar to make sure you’re posting frequently and
consistently. Keeping a running list of topic ideas can help you avoid
Email Marketing: Email marketing is a personal traction channel. Messages
come into your inbox along with email from your friends and family. As
such, the more personalised your email marketing message, the better they
You can utilise email marketing at any step of your relationship with a
customer, including customer acquisition, activation, retention and revenue
We recommend building an email list of potential customers whether you end
up focusing on this traction channel or not. We also recommend using online
tools to ensure reliable delivery and to help you test and optimise email
A particularly effective email marketing technique is to set up a series of
automated emails (often called lifecycle or drip sequences) to send to
customers or prospective customers. This technique works best when this
series of emails adapts to how people have interacted with your product and
asks them to take specific actions at some point.
Engineering as Marketing: The goal of engineering as marketing should be
creating a low-friction way to engage potential customers that naturally
leads to your main offering.
A cheap test for this traction channel is to develop and push out a small
tool or site. Perhaps you have already started creating one for yourself
that could also be used by potential customers? Another approach is to turn
a popular blog post into a micro-site.
A great way to keep tools low-friction is to make them as simple as
possible. Single-purpose tools that solve obvious pain points are best. Put
them on their own website and make them easy to find, particularly through
The case for spending engineering resources on marketing becomes much
stronger when you think about these marketing tools as long-term assets
that bring in new leads indefinitely after only a small amount of upfront
Targeting Blogs: Targeting blogs is one of the most effective ways to get
your first wave of customers.
There are a variety of tools you can use to uncover relevant blogs
including YouTube, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Twitter, search
engines, Google Alerts and Social Mention.
You can run tests on a variety of smaller blogs to see what type of
blog and blog audience resonates best with your product and
Small blog sponsorships (especially to personal blogs) can be an
effective tactic. Another is providing influential bloggers early
access or offering early access in exchange for spreading the word.
When launching, link-sharing communities can be an effective tool
to generate traffic, feedback and buzz.
Business Development: like sales with one key distinction: it is
primarily focused on exchanging value through partnerships, whereas sales
primarily focuses on exchanging dollars for a product.
Even Google, a company whose early success is often attributed to only a
superior product, got most of their initial traction from two key
partnerships: Netscape, to be their default search engine for Netscape
Navigator, and Yahoo!, to power their online searches.
Types of partnerships:
Standard partnership: two companies work together to make one or
both of their products better by leveraging the unique capabilities of
the other. E.g. Apple/Nike partnership that resulted in the Nike+
Joint venture: two companies work together to create an entirely new
product offering. These types of deals are complex and often require
large investments and long periods of time. E.g. Pepsi/Starbucks
partnership that resulted in bottled Starbucks Frappuccinos.
Licensing: used when one company has a strong brand that a startup
wants to use in a new product/service. E.g. Starbucks lent their
brand to an ice-cream manufacturer that wanted to create
Distribution deals: one party provides a product or service to the
other in return for access to potential customers. E.g. Groupon
worked with restaurants to offer a discount to Groupon’s mailing
Supply partners: help to secure key inputs which are essential for
certain products. Half.com formed several supply partnerships to
ensure they had enough books to sell when they launched their online
Business development process:
Make an exhaustive list of partners, keeping in mind that good business
development deals align with your company and product strategy and are
focused on critical product and distribution milestones.
Shortlist the partners with the most potential, recognising that you
need to understand why a potential partner should want to work with you
and what are their incentives.
Create a business development pipeline as not every partnership will
end up working. Send the list of potential partners to investors,
friends and advisors for warm introductions. Put them into buckets
based on attributes like revenue numbers, distribution reach and
With each introduction, you should provide the mutual contact with an
overview of your proposal that can easily be forwarded. Then, be sure
to follow up and set timelines for next steps.
After the proposal stage comes a negotiation of a terms sheet. The key
terms will usually be the lifetime of the deal, exclusivity, how
payments work, the level of commitment between partners, any guarantees
in the deal, and revenue sharing agreements.
Low-touch business development do not utilise personal interactions, but
use tools like APIs, feeds, crawling technology and embed codes to reach
new distribution channels and grow your influence.
Sales: the process of generating leads, qualifying them, and converting
them into paying customers.
Use Neil Rackham’s four-part question framework when talking to prospects:
Situation questions: these help you learn about a prospect’s buying
situation. E.g. “How many employees do you have?” and “How is your
Problem questions: these clarify the buyer’s pain points. E.g. “Are
you happy with your current solution?” and “What problems do you face
Implication questions: these are meant to make a prospect aware of
the implications that stem from the problem they’re facing. E.g. “Does
this problem hurt your productivity?” and “How many people does this
issue impact, and in what ways?”
Need-payoff questions: these focus attention on your solution and get
buyers to think about the benefits of addressing the problem. E.g.
“How do you feel this solution would help you?” and “What type of
impact would this have on you if we were to implement this within the
next few months?”
The goal of sales is building a repeatable sales model. An effective sales
funnel has prospects enter at the top, qualifies these leads, and closes
them effectively. To close sales effectively, get the buyer to commit to
timelines based on specific actions being taken and met. At each point get
an affirmative that you are on track to close.
Affiliate Programmes: an arrangement where you pay people or companies
for performing certain actions (like making a sale or getting a qualified
Retail affiliate programs facilitate the purchase of tangible products and
account for more than $2bn annually. Affiliates that join these programs
generally fall into these categories: coupon/deal sites, loyalty programs,
aggregators, email lists and vertical sites.
Information products include digital products like books, software, music,
and (increasingly) education. Since it doesn’t cost anything to make
another digital copy, selling info products through affiliate programs is
quite popular. Creators will give large percentages to affiliates that
promote their products.
Lead generation is used by insurance companies, law firms and mortgage
brokers who all pay hefty commissions to get customer leads. Depending on
the industry, a lead may include a working email address, home address, or
a phone number. It may also include more qualifying information like a
Existing Platforms: these are websites, apps or networks with huge
numbers of users that you can potentially leverage to get traction. Major
platforms include the Apple and Android App Stores, Chrome and
Mozilla browser extensions, social platforms like Facebook, Twitter
and Pinterest, as well as newer platforms that are growing rapidly.
Trade Shows: these are a chance for companies to show off their products
in person. These events are often exclusive to industry insiders, and are
designed to foster interactions between vendors and their prospects.
Early on, you can use this traction channel to build interest in (and
demand for) what you’re building. As you get more established, you can use
trade shows as an opportunity to make a major announcement, sell big
clients, seal a partnership or as an integral part of your sales funnel.
To decide whether to attend an event:
Visit as a guest and do a walkthrough the year before.
Set your goals for attending, e.g. are you trying to get press, lure
investors, land major customers, work out significant partnerships or
Write down all events in your industry.
Evaluate each event in the context of your goals. In particular, think
about the type of interactions you want and whether these interaction
take place at each event.
Figure out how much you can spend per year and allocate this budget by
quarter. This allows you to align events on your schedule with your
budget while also giving you flexibility to reallocate in later
quarters if company goals change.
Work backwards to see if attending a particular event makes sense given
your quarterly budget.
Your preparation for a trade show will determine how successful you will
be. To prepare, make a list of key attendees you want to meet at the trade
show. Then, schedule meetings with them before you attend the event. If PR
is one of your goals, reach out to media that will be in attendance.
Offline Events: sponsoring or running offline events—from small meetups
to large conferences—can be a primary way to get traction. Offline events
give you the opportunity to engage directly with potential customers about
their problems. Such events are especially important when your target
customers do not respond well to online advertising or do not have a
natural place to congregate online. Attracting these customers to one
location or going to a place where they meet in person can be the most
effective way to reach them.
Speaking Engagements: to get started, simply start by giving free talks
to small groups of potential customers or partners. You have to get the
attention of event organizers to land speaking engagements. When you start
a talk, the audience is usually thinking about two questions—why are you
important enough to be the one giving a talk? What value can you offer me?
These questions will be burning in their minds until you address them, so
answer them immediately. The more practiced and comfortable you are, the
better your talks will be and the more you can improve them.
Community Building: this involves investing in the connections among your
users, fostering those relationships and helping them bring more people
into your startup’s circle.
You need to have a mission if you want to build an awesome community.
Community members love to hear from other members. But, they would also
love to hear from you. You will want to connect with your evangelists
and let them know you value them.
Being open with your community is the best way to get them to buy into
Focus on quality early on and set standards that can be maintained as
the community grows.
The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build—the thing
customers want and will pay for—as quickly as possible.
A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or
service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.
We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or
what we think they should want.
Do consumers recognise that they have the problem you are trying to solve?
If there was a solution, would they buy it? Would they buy it from us? Can
we build a solution for that problem?
The rate of growth depends primarily on three things: the profitability of
each customer, the cost of acquiring new customers, and the repeat purchase
rate of existing customers. The higher these values are, the faster the
company will grow and the more profitable it will be.
A startup’s job is to: (i) rigorously measure where it is right now,
confronting the hard truths that assessment reveals, and then (ii) devise
experiments to learn how to move the real numbers closer to the ideal
reflected in the business plan.
One of the most dangerous outcomes for a startup is to bumble along in the
land of the living dead. Most products—even the ones that fail—do not
have zero traction. Most products have some customers, some growth, and
some positive results. This is why the myth of perseverance is so
dangerous. We all know stories of epic entrepreneurs who managed to pull
out a victory when things seemed incredibly bleak. Unfortunately, we don’t
hear stories about the countless nameless others who persevered too long,
leading their companies to failure.
It doesn’t matter how fast we can build. It does not matter how fast we can
measure or learn. What matters is how fast we can get through the entire
Validated learning is making a prediction about your product/service
ahead of time and documenting that prediction so you know when you’re off
the mark. Then you can take that result to iterate your product and to test
a new assumption.
A minimum viable product (MVP) is the version of a new product which
allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about
customers with the least effort.
As you consider building your own minimum viable product, remember: remove
any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the
learning you seek.
There are metrics that make you look good (vanity metrics) and metrics that
actually make you good (actionable metrics). E.g. the number of people
viewing a landing page doesn’t give you quantifiable data on how many
people actually want to purchase a product.
4-Hour Work Week
“Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. If
it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually”, just do it and
course-correct along the way.
If it isn’t going to devastate those around you, try it and then justify
it. People—whether parents, partners or bosses—deny things on an
emotional basis that they can learn to accept after the fact. If the
potential damage is moderate, don’t give people the chance to say no.
“I believe success can be measured in the number of uncomfortable
conversations you’re willing to have. Helping students overcome the fear of
rejection with cold-calling and cold-emailing would serve them forever.”
You are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not
underestimate the effects of your pessimist, unambitious or disorganised
friends. If someone isn’t making you stronger, they’re making you weaker.
Learn to ask: “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be
satisfied with my day?”
Remind yourself with a Post-It note on your computer screen: “Are you
inventing things to do to avoid the important?”
Net Promoter Score
By asking one simple question—How likely is it that you would recommend
XXX to a friend or colleague?—you can track these groups and get a clear
measure of your company’s performance through your customers' eyes.
Customers respond on a 0-to-10 point rating scale and are categorised as
Promoters (score 9–10) are loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying
and refer others, fuelling growth.
Passives (score 7–8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who
are vulnerable to competitive offerings.
Detractors (score 0–6) are unhappy customers who can damage your
brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth.
To calculate your company’s Net Promoter Score, take the percentage of
customers who are promoters and subtract the percentage who are
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Self-Actualisation: creativity, lack of prejudice, morality, problem
solving and spontaneity.
Esteem: achievement, confidence, respect by others, respect of others and
Love/Belonging: family, friendship and sexual intimacy.
Safety: employment, family, health, morality, property and security of
Physiological: breathing, execretion, food, homeostasis, sex, sleep and
Technology Adoption Lifecycle
Innovators are technology enthusiasts who appreciate technology for its
They will spend hours trying to get products to work and will forgive
ghastly documentation, horrendously slow performance and ludicrous
omissions in functionality.
access to technically knowledgable people
to be first to get the new stuff
everything to be cheap
Early adopters are visionaries who have the insight to match up an
emerging technology to a strategic opportunity.
They are relatively price insensitive.
Although easy to sell to, they are hard to please.
They are often in a hurry due to imagined closing windows of
The early majority are pragmatists who aim to make percentage
improvements. They seek incremental, measurable, predictable progress.
They will undertake risks when required, but will put in safety nets
and manage the risks closely.
They are hard to win over, but are loyal once won, often enforcing a
company standard that required the purchase of your product, and only
your product, for a given requirement.
Pragmatists won’t buy from you until you are established, yet you can’t
get established until they buy from you.
They are relatively price sensitive.
The late majority are conservatives.
They represent approximately one-third of the total available customers
within the cycle.
When they find something that works for them, they like to stick with
Conservatives fear high tech a little bit and tend to invest only at
the end of a technology life cycle, when products are extremely mature,
market-share competition is driving low prices, and the products
themselves can be treated as commodities.
Conservatives like to buy pre-assembled packages, with everything
bundled, at a heavily discounted price.
Laggards are the skeptics.
They do not participate in the high-tech marketplace, except to block
Thus, the primary function of high-tech marketing in relation to
skeptics is to neutralise their influence.
They argue that disruptive innovations rarely fulfil the promises that
were made at the time of purchase.
The service skeptics provide is to point continually to the
discrepancies between the sales claims and the delivered product.
There is a deep and dividing chasm that separates the early adopters from
the early majority.
The early adopter is buying a change agent (expecting to get a jump on
The early majority want to buy productivity improvement for existing
Trying to cross the chasm without taking a niche market approach is like
trying to light a fire without kindling.
The bunched-up paper represents your promotional budget, and the log, a
major market opportunity.
No matter how much paper you put under that log, if you don’t have any
target market segments to act as kindling, sooner or later, the paper
will be all used up, and the log still won’t be burning.
The fundamental principle for crossing the chasm is to target a specific
niche market as your point of attack and focus all your resources on
achieving the dominant leadership position in that segment as quickly as
Have lined up other market segments into which you can leverage your
initial niche solution.
The post-chasm enterprise is bound by the commitments made by the pre-chasm