How does it feel to run a startup?

Running a startup feels like mystery

Warning! If your heart and mind are immune to poetry, and its ability to communicate complex ideas and feeling, please stop reading and come back later!

Silence yourself, really..whatever it is you are doing now, just let it all go. Done? Okay, here is a little poem that gives a hint of how it feels to launch a startup and create a product. As I said, if you have never felt poetry hit your heart, this might not work. Anyway, pay attention and read it now.

How to build an Owl

Decide you must.

Develop deep respect

for feather, bone, claw.

Place your trembling thumb

where the heart will be:

for one hundred hours watch

so you will know

where to put the first feather.

Stay awake forever.

When the bird takes shape

gently pry open its beak

and whisper into it: mouse.

Let it go.

That gentlemen is how it is. There is indeed a science and reasoning behind everything but a large part of it feels like a mystery. You could have been an Oracle in a temple of Delphi trying to figure out what the spirits are trying to say!

If there is just one aspect I have to highlight as most terrifying, then it would be figuring out what to build. That single question is like every imaginary evil figure come together just to mess with you. You think that is easy? Ah, I thought the same too. Let me clarify. This is like the Mule, Zombies, Satan, Voldemort and..and Sauron coming together..they all shake hands just to mess with you..exclusively. That said, it is an amazing ride and sure beats playing politics and putting up with mediocrity.

Credits: Poem by Kathleen Lynch, discovered via Jack Cheng.Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel via Compfight

Org Charts – Truth as strange as fiction

Am sure you all have seen Valve’s Employee Handbook that floated around online last week. Read the whole thing its worth your time. What drew my attention was the org chart, as envisioned by Valve’s employees.

Valve OrgChart - Envisioned by Employees

Funny as it is, read through the handbook to see how this seeming chaos is actually implemented. The audacity of Valve’s leadership to conceive, and attempt to realize, such a culture is commendable. This reminded me of another series of mock/humorous Org Charts that was on the Internet few months ago.

Apple Google Org Charts Manu

See the irony? The above picture is an external observer’s humorous take on how these companies(Microsoft, Apple, Amazon etc.) are structured. And the Valve example has a similar clustering/connectedness profile. Truth, gentlemen, is at least as strange as fiction!

To Exist Digitally

Lonely Tree

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: sant.o via Compfight

If you cannot point to something digitally, does it really exist? Craig Mod asks this somewhat rhetorical but pertinent question. The specific context was an interview with Haruki Murakami and the desire to point to interesting quotes therein.

Craig goes on to answer the question, saying:

To not exist means in part to be offline…To not exist digitally means to be walled off. Silo’d. Unpointable…Unnetworked (even if it’s on the network). It’s means to not be part of that growing corpus.

What I find interesting is the notion of Unpointable and Unnetworked, the former easy to understand and the latter difficult to follow through properly.

Unnetworked is the baby step taken by the real-world towards a digital world, where the information is present online but not part of a corpus.

Unnetworked is Unfindable, which effectively renders the artifact invisible.

Unnetworked is Unpointable, not amenable to be linked to.

For example every digital document produced by tools of the PC world, like Word/Excel/PDF is unlinkable. Or take proprietary professional content sets sold with a sprinkling of metadata thrown in. All unlinkable.

Am willing to bet that an ecosystem that survives on being unlinkable will slowly diminish in relevance and business value. Whether it is a corporate strategy that relies on exclusive access to proprietary information, or document formats of the PC world engineered for being printed on paper, or any tool that produces information that cannot be linked to will and should go away.

What is your take, is Unlinkable as big a deal as I think it is?

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Taste and Specification

Taste in product creation overlaps a lot with design: doing it well requires it to be valued, rewarded, and embedded in the company’s culture and upper leadership.

That is a quote from Marco Arment‘s post titled Time and Taste. An excellent post as usual from Marco, and I would like to elaborate on the taste aspect.

Specification is not the Product

Any product is always built to a specification. A 4-inch touch-sensitive screen, 1GB RAM, 8GB memory, expansion via SD card slots and so on. Yet the result, when one considers an Android phone, feels like something a one-eyed drunkard put together, after pondering nuances with co-drunkards in a noisy section of a 3rd world bazaar.

Yes it is manufactured to specification but the thing functions in a way that makes you feel disappointed every damn time. That experience betrays lack of taste at every point from, and between, producer to consumer. Of course there will be a market for poorly designed products/services. You could argue about affordability, demographic needs, wider price points and so on. But a producer of such tasteless goods is only a slightly refined version of crooks who steal from children.

Aesthetic Escapes Specification

What is taste? Hard to describe but taste can be i) an aesthetic sensibility ii) an outcome of a specific world-view or iii) result of a reasoned belief. Taste, like reasoning, is a skill of mental cognition. Everything needs to be actively thought about, critiqued and most important savored for what it is beyond its functionality .

Put simply, if specification is prose then taste would be poetry. A specification can never capture beauty and feeling.

Why should you care? Tasteful products have competitive differentiation built-in. Of course it requires an audience with taste. The challenge will be to identify this audience, if not to work towards educating and building up an audience with taste. That done, you don’t have to play the “price drop” game anymore. And taste is hard to copy too. Your competitor can steal a feature or your style but they can seldom be you or your product.

Where does taste stand in your scheme of things? Does your organization have it, encourage it?

How Would a Billion Dollars Sit on You?

instagram logo

Mike Krieger, co-Founder of Instagram, shares how their photo-sharing service was scaled to 30million users in under 2 years. The slide is at the bottom of this post too. What caught my eye though was the below quote on TechCrunch:

Considering his company was just bought for $1 billion, it’s a pretty remarkable effort, 185 slides in all.

Then it struck me, Instagram was acquired for a billion dollars less than a week back. And here is a co-founder sharing technical details of how the technical infrastructure was scaled. Not sure if it sank in for you but I spaced out for a few moments!

Imagine, you have many hundred million dollars on you, acquired by the largest social network on the planet, built the current hottest photo-sharing product and you talk technology to a bunch of geeks!

And no, the slide preparation might not have been delegated to a minion, there are only 13 employees!

Gentlemen, this is behavior worth emulating. Much much dollars have barely registered on Mike Krieger. And guess what I have seen people who fall for silly labels, who play power games for a tag worth nothing beyond corporate walls, or see themselves on pedestals for relatively small reasons. To be candid, I have fallen prey to this sometimes too, though I take care to remember where I started and come back to normalcy.

So, now to you. How would a billion dollars sit on you? Where does building things of lasting value sit in your priorities?

And yes, awesome tech details in the presentation, do not miss it.

(My colleague Jeethu brought this to my attention, a big thanks to him!)

Affiliation and Accomplishment

The shoe does not run

Runners run. Shoes dont.

Affiliation and Accomplishment, two entirely different concepts yet easy to confuse one for another.

An affiliation is a label, a marker of sorts. Usually granted to mark an accomplishment but not often as one would want.

The ones seeking shortcuts look for the affiliation first, accomplishment can be done later they think.

The wannabe runner who wears a Nike, does not magically become a runner who endures through physical and mental limits.

The one born into a priestly class, does not automatically become a man of luminous knowledge.

The professional desiring labels(Manager, AVP, VP, ‘anything pompous’), will realize gods of technology or strategy have not taken over his being.

The one who covets the label falls for the dumbest trick, a semantic sleight of hand.

Affiliation is sexy, it flaunts its labels like a super model would.

Accomplishment is work, it is sleepless nights, grease or ink tainted hands, aching wrists and bleary eyes.

Accomplishment is hard. It requires learning, thinking and doing. Over and over again.

Accomplishment is enduring. It survives opinions of lesser men, builds a lasting edifice.

How you are aligned now, whether to accomplishment or affiliation is not permanent either.

One has to choose to stay accomplished. One can choose to become accomplished.

Mere Affiliation is a bad place to be. Once you choose to fall for make believe you will fall for anything.

Photo Credit: lululemon athletica via Compfight

You Are Not A Genius..

Socrates

Socrates

..not at everything anyway.

But guess what, it really does not matter. Average, even below average, skills will do. What matters is if your immediate circle is smarter than you, especially in the areas that you are weak.

Stop whatever you are doing now and think how many people above, around and below you will call a spade a spade, call bullshit when it seems to be so. If that sounds abstract, here are some specific attributes that you could look for.

Objective

Does the person present facts to support their views? Is there a reasonable correlation between views held and the facts presented? Are the facts true? Or at least does it feel intuitively right to you? It takes time to assess if someone is objective or not. But trust me, its worth your time to judge everyone carefully. Of course not everyone remains objective 100% of time, circumstances make it difficult. But it is sufficient to know overall trend, there would be some benchmark to judge what is happening in a given context.

Confident

Objectivity will not be present unless the person around you is confident in their ideas, opinions and especially in themselves. The most useless or obvious feedback from someone is a good sign, you have something at least. Of course, based on their motivations, the feedback might be beneficial or irrelevant, but it is a sign nevertheless that the person is willing to deliver some message to you. From there, you will have to dig in, gain increasing trust to see if the feedback is genuine, not a repetition of what you already know, not being delivered to curry short-term favor with you and so on.

Humble

Humility is that which accepts its shortcoming. Allows better and other possibilities. Nodding to every suggestion or thought is not humility, it is slavery. Humility knows its limits, knows it has not all the answers. It is not contradictory to confidence. At the same time it should not be a politically correct acceptance of another view. The world is crafty enough to pretend when required, so do not fall for immediate praise or blame..always think through the context in which the opinion is coming from. Shades of grey permeate everything, learn to recognize it better.

Does this line of thought make sense? Do you agree or disagree? And yes, do share tweet and share this widely. I would love your help in understanding what you and your friends think.

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Five Anti-Patterns That Harm Careers

Work ends up influencing who we are as a person. A career is more than a way to make a living, it is a framework to live well, to re-mould ourselves into something better. In this post I cover 5 anti-patterns that harm careers, check if the traits are familiar. Perhaps it can help you or someone you know.

[Read more…]

Redefiners – For Media Firms Who Wish To Disrupt Markets, Relevant For All Content Players

Redefiners is a presentation by Activate that provides a ‘lay of the land’ view of how media firms can capture growth dollars. It is a stunning presentation and very relevant for any content player who uses technology to deliver content and related experiences to their users.

Just read through the deck, it is time well spent. I will summarize this later for my own understanding and share it here.

via Anil Dash.

Windows 8: Awesome UX, Not So Much Underneath

Big news coming from the D9 conference around Microsoft. Its flagship OS gets a rethink with the tentatively codenamed Windows 8. Take a look.

Simply love the concepts here. The tiles, ability to compose windows, IE 10.0 and more.

But all the rush vanished when they showed Excel and Windows Explorer. You got to the same old Windows, the junk was brushed under the carpet and nothing more.

John Gruber does a fantastic job enumerating why this is a flawed approach.

I quite understand Microsoft’s predicament. How could you not provide backward compatibility?! There would be a virtual revolt from consumers, especially the corporates, if their favorite apps did not work. So the internals with its 20 odd years of legacy will have to remain. What about the Office suite? Imagine all the corporate drones who live in Office, who raised a ruckus when the Ribbon menu interface was introduced! Whilst it would be possible for the Office team to reinvent the UI for a touch based environment, they would have a PR disaster on their hands if they attempted anything on those lines.

Microsoft is doomed by its past successes. Whilst it might have the intellectual mettle to re-invent itself for the post-PC world, it is chained to its legacy and thus doomed for irrelevance. Apple has craftily maneuvered itself out of its niche status in the PC world by using its low market penetration to invent iOS and related services to define a new field and own it.

Interesting times.