Mental toughness vs flawed genius

Interestingly, I thought the most successful South American country at the world cup played more like a European team than a South American team. 

This post by The Economist could as well have been about the Australian cricket team comeor about startups which go onto be market leaders. The actual idea/genius is such a small part and the execution is such a big part of what differentiates the winners from the losers in the startup community. 

My App with all my quirks

I use a bunch of apps and web products, and with almost each one of them, I’m left wishing for one feature or another that they don’t have. Quite often I (we?) end up using multiple apps/tools because we like some features in one and some in another. 

For instance, every morning, I use Twitter to catch up on everything from my personalized sources, Inside to quickly skim through my personalized news feeds, Pocket to save articles I want to read later to my personalized list, Mightybell to share content with my personalized communities (like coworkers, partners etc.) and Buffer to blast content through my personalized channels (Twitter, FB, Linkedin). 

I’ve spent time personalizing each of these tools for my quirks, and yet I crave for more features that are personalized for my liking. It’d be even better if I didn’t have to use so many tools to satisfy all my quirks. 

Several tech companies are unbundling their product features into multiple products/apps. I think it’s great that companies want to create apps that focus on one single function and execute really well on that. There are only that many apps that any of us can use. I already use about five apps for my morning information consumption and sharing, and with unbundling this might end up becoming ten apps in the near future. At what point will this become unmanageable?

I’ve always wished there was an open platform for apps, so a user can pick and choose features from different apps, and have his/her own personalized app. I’m sure my way of consuming content is different from the next person, and why shouldn’t my tools cater to this personalization? After all, ‘personalized’ is probably the most overused word in the tech industry (or atleast up there with disrupt and minimalist). I hope app stores and mobile OS create a framework for users to be able to make their own little bundles of unbundled apps. 

Now go ahead and share this with your own personalized sharing app. 

Mapping the digital to the physical

Yancey Strickler, one of the Founders of Kickstarter, spoke at the MOMA recently on “Objects that are born in the digital realm and are then transposed to the physical world”. You can read what he shared here

image source: jamesprescott.co.uk

This is a topic that deeply resonates with us at Haggle. We are building a platform to help every person transpose the most important object born in the digital realm into the physical world - himself/herself.

With most of us having a smart phone in our hands, we use apps for almost everything from the time we wake up (even to wake up) till the time we sleep (and even to sleep). Every one of these apps has useful data about us, our preferences and our habits. Haggle is really a clearing house where data from all of these apps can be used by you to get value - whether it is value in getting a cheaper flight, or a table at the hot restaurant or that new dress from your favorite online boutique. 

It is relatively easy to take data from all your apps (that allow access) and compute some score, any score for you, but it is very hard to translate that score into metrics that really represent you, your habits and your preferences in a meaningful way that both you and the business can understand. Do you like eating sushi, do you fly on a particular airline from NY to San Francisco, do you go out in West Village on Fridays? Metrics that can help you prove your value to these kinds of questions in real time.

The most common question we get is - why don’t you just share the users’ data with advertisers and businesses, instead of having a platform where users can haggle with their own data? 

It’s because we care deeply about privacy and control. If the digital portrait is yours, then you should control how you represent it in the physical world. You know how and when to use it best, than to just have marketers flood you with what they think is good for you. We just want to empower every app through our API so you can show your value to any business in any transaction using any app.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

People always ask me if we have a ‘dev shop’ for Haggle in India. We don’t.  We have Haggle operations in India (in Bangalore), but it is not a dev shop. It is called BeaglesLoft and it has some Haggle employees, as well as doubling up as a center for entrepreneurs, designers and developers to hang out, and work on cool and important things. 

Everyone talks about ‘The World is Flat’. I think the world has pockets of smart people who have special skills in certain areas, honed and influeced by the culture of the little pocket. The design, the EDM craze was hugely influential in Spotify being born in Sweden. Companies innovating in last mile delivery are in India and China. The fashion startups and e-commerce companies out of NY are because of the culture of the city. Silicon Valley is of course, king of the jungle.

When we started Haggle, we wanted to have small teams in distributed geographies to tap into these pockets and the specialists there. BeaglesLoft in Bangalore is the first one. The one in NY is coming this summer, to be followed by San Francisco and Sweden/Germany in the next twelve months. We want to have no more than ten people in each of these offices (which will mostly be lofts/studios), with each having a special focus. We strongly believe that in such a setup, the whole (the company) will be greater than the sum of all of these committed, creative, skilled people working in these distributed lofts. 

And here’s why…

1. Specialization in platforms, technologies, design areas

2. Different cultural outlooks to the same problem that the product is trying to address

3. Building a startup is hard. After intense release cycles or periods of adversity, people need new energy or they risk burnout. We want to have a program for our team to travel to these different cities and work with the teams there and get a fresh outlook.

4. Small teams - each being like a little startup with its own ways of managing tasks and timelines - makes the overall management much easier.

Good things come in small packages, distributed geographically and connected through smart people. Atleast we think so. 

The importance of Thesis - Value Investor Vs Venture Capitalist

image

image

There is much in common between Venture Capital and Value Investing, more than probably any two other forms of investing. There is probably more in common between Andreessen Horowitz and Berkshire Hathaway than between most VC firms or between most public equity investment funds (although don’t try to get them to agree on Bitcoin :))

Here is a series of tweets by Marc Andreessen on VC and VI. 

Most investment firms have a thesis. At Latticework fund, we think a VC firm’s thesis should be broad, much like a VI. Buffett and Munger’s thesis really is “stick to what we can understand”. Given the collective intellect between these two young guns, they can understand a heck of a lot. Andreessen and Horowitz’s thesis is “software eats the world”. 

But given a broad thesis, a good VC and a good VI both have a set of filters to vet opportunities, and are very disciplined about only seriously considering opportunities that clear all the filters. This means being ok with mistakes of omission but taking mistakes of co-mission (where an opportunity clears all the filters and yet one doesn’t invest in it) very seriously. 

On the contrary, we see several VC and VI firms with a narrow thesis, which results in fewer opportunities and the increased temptation to not be disciplined about the filters, since the deal flow fits the narrower thesis. We also see several firms which try to invest out of spots of competence under the pretext of a broader thesis. These are the firms that don’t perform as well. 

I will publish our thesis and investment filters for Latticework Fund soon.

Chicken and egg? The egg came first.

So atleast one theory says that the egg came first. 

The classic chicken and egg problem for a lot of startups is what to chase first - the supply side (businesses) or the demand side (users). 

When you go to businesses and tell them to partner with you, the first question you’re asked is how many users you have. At the same time without a critical number of partner businesses with whom the user can use the product/service, it is hard to sign up users. 

The supply side is the egg in this case and it has to be solved first. There are several ways to go about this and here are a few examples. 

1. Industry expertise

It is no surprise that several startups have an industry expert as one of the founders or atleast one of the early employees. The industry expert brings contacts, and a precise understanding of the pain points of the target businesses. This can get the first couple of referencable businesses to the table.

Egs: Hailo (taxi hailing app had one of the founders who came from the industry) 

2. Straight up hustle

Egs: Grubhub

3. Give away something for free

In addition to the core product, you give something that the business needs, and that you’re good at as a free service to the business. This gets the business more incentive to work with you, and further, it gives you leverage over the business and thus reduces churn rate of businesses. 

Egs: Uber, Seamless

We’ve come up with a really unique way to use #3 in our sales approach at Haggle. I’ll write a post about it once we have some success with it. 

So chasing the egg first is not laying an egg, after all.

More about the demand side in a post in the coming days.

The thin line between investing and building

I have a lot of respect for the betaworks guys. They build beautiful web products, they invest in really compelling web products, and they go about their business at the intersection between a startup, a studio and a VC firm with a lot of grace. 

John Borthwick the Founder explains what makes him tick in the video below. Betaworks is a great example that it is not investing or building, but about being excited about products. Some you build, and some you see other building and you contribute to.

Learning in groups

I recently started using Mightybell to organize a few interests I have and learn more about these interest areas with others who are also interested in them. I’m vey impressed with Mightybell - it’s built by Gina Bianchini and team. Gina previously built Ning - which also was a great platform for groups to work together. We used it at a non-profit I was on the Board of.

Sometimes you start using a tool with a specific framework of thought, and sometimes the tool shapes your framework. I think community based learning is going to be a huge phenomenon.

1. Online learning tools are great. I use Khan Academy, Coursera and Udemy. I also look at material on MIT Opencourseware and other sources on a regular basis. When I’ve used these tools I’ve always felt it’d be great to have others as a sounding board to discuss ideas or ask questions.

2. I’ve attended Skillshare sessions where one with a skill/expertise shares them with others who want to learn the skill. But in this too I’ve always felt that it’d be great if the group of people who learn can have an ongoing dialogue of some sorts so the group can share new learning material, interact and even grab a drink once in a while and continue to learn more of the skill. 

3. We’ve all been to Meetups. While they’re great to meet up, I’ve never felt that their UX is engaging enough to have discussions with the people in a meetup group to continue conversing. 

I think community based learning is great because you’re not just learning from a teacher or an online video, but you’re learning and discussing with each other - and not just in one session but over an extended period of time. I started tinkering with Mightybell with a few ideas on how I wanted to use it, and it totally expanded my thinking on how a group can organize and learn together. 

In high school my english teacher and I had a conversation about the pace of the classroom moving moving at the pace of learning of the slowest student. I think community based learning changes this age old problem with classrooms. Everyone learns at their own pace, has more conversations with others of a similar pace, and most importantly its fun. Give it a try.