How not to be a Waitlist-ware

A few days back upon submitting my email for an interesting looking upcoming product’s waitlist, I had a feeling of deja-vu. I felt I have done this at least 5-7 times over the last few months but if I were to try I can’t recall even a single name out of all those products I signed up to be in the waitlist for.

One of the most recent products I signed up to try for.

Herein lies the problem and that’s what bugged me.

What’s the point of signing up for a waitlist if it’d take you forever to release your product or approve my request?

What’s worse, you’ll have to keep guessing what happened to your invite or the product you signed up for.

Did the startup shut up before releasing or were they just collecting email ids?

I guess we’ve all been there. Now, let’s try to think what’s an ideal way to approach this.

What would the user be interested in?

As a user, my main concerns in this context (with varying priority as time goes on) would be

  1. What is happening with my invite?
  2. What is happening with the product while I wait for my invite?
  3. Why should I still bother about your product ?

How could these concerns be handled?

Let’s divide this into two parts:

Invites are being released to users in waitlist – If uses on the waitlist have started getting invites for the product, you can share the details on invites being sent out (how many per day/week/month) and basis my waitlist rank, when should I expect to get an invite and if there’s something I can do to expedite this process.

Just to keep up the excitement, you could also add some reviews by users who’ve gotten access or any great PR/product reviews you are getting.

Invites haven’t started going out to users in the waitlist – This means, the product is not ready to be released to the waitlist yet, which means either you didn’t plan this properly or ran into unexpected delays.

Either ways, the odds of users losing interest on your product at this stage are really high (unless of course if you are building hey.com, or will launch a stellar product that people will be more than happy to get to use the product and nothing else would matter.

The first thing in this case that needs to happen is trying to get a handle on expected date on which you can release the invites. Depending on how far into the future, this date is, you can plan a cadence of communication. Communication plan for 1 month will be very different from one for 6 months.

Few things you can keep in mind while designing a communication plan for users in waitlist for delayed product release.

  1. Product Release Date and Communication Cadence – How often will you send the communication.
  2. Product Progress – Updates on how the product is shaping up. Details on this process (technical challenges or product decisions etc can resonate with users with appreciation for these things).
  3. User Involvement – If you are up for it, you can actually have deeper engagement with the waitlist by having them part of user research interviews or beta testing programs


Closing Thoughts:

  1. Start accepting waitlist when product is nearing the launch date.
  2. Whether you are rolling out the invites or not, keep updating users on waitlist regularly (waitlist updates or product progress).
  3. Give option to users to change the frequency of your updates or unsubscribe.
  4. If possible, engage with users and build deeper relationships with them.


Twitter’s Fleets and How Stories Ate The World

Earlier this week, Twitter rolled out their stories feature (called Fleets) in India. While Twitter first rolled out Fleets in Brazil in March-2020, India is the third market (Italy being the second) where the feature is now available.

What are Fleets and how do they work?

  • Fleets, as they are called are text/picture/video updates that last for 24 hours.
  • Available only on mobile clients for now, they show up rather on top of home feed rater inconspicuously. 
  • Fleets can be replied by mutual followers (friends as they are called) or if the creator has their Direct Messages open.
  • Fleets can‘t be retweeted, won’t show up in search and can’t be embedded on external sites.

Stories are the new Feed

While they might seem like a not so old addition to the world of Social Networks, Stories were first introduced by Snapchat in late 2013
For Snapchat, stories was a dream feature which was off to terrific start and became their most popular feature eclipsing snaps within 8 months of its launch. In April 2014, 500 million stories were viewed in a day and that number doubled to a billion stories viewed per day by June 2014. Snapchat DAUs grew from less than 40 million in Oct’13 (when stories launched) to 153 million by Oct’16.

Below is a short video by Evan Spiegel explaining Snapchat, it also covers briefly what stories are, ‘They are a collection of snaps from a day, in chronological order, this is different from a feed in most social media networks which are in reverse chronological order’

What is Snapchat? – Classic Explainer Video by Evan Spiegel from 2015

While Snapchat had a clean runway for almost 3 years with stories, its success caught attention of their biggest competitor Instagram which blatantly (but rightly so) copied and launched stories in Aug 2016

Instagram Stories became a massive success. Just two months after its launch, it had 100 million daily active users, a number that doubled to 200 million by April 2017 and 250 million by June 2017, figures that dwarfed Snapchat’s 166 million daily active users. — Wired (2018)

The power and future potential of stories (and desire to stall Snapchat’s growth) was not lost on Zuckerberg, who launched an all out attack against Snap by integrating stories on all their products starting with Instagram (Aug’16), followed by Facebook Messenger (Sep’16), Facebook App (Jan’17) & Whatsapp (Feb’17).

After trying at least half a dozen times to steal Snapchat’s thunder, stories did the trick. By Early 2018, each of facebook’s products had more DAUs than Snapchat

https://www.statista.com/chart/10558/daus-instagram-stories-whatsapp-status-snapchat/

Stories are Eating the World

For the first 2.5 years or so since they first appeared, Stories went largely unnoticed but that changed after Facebook integrated them in their portfolio apps. 

  1. Proliferation of stories across the web: Soon after the success of Snapchat & Facebook, every social media/content/messenger was trying to integrate stories. 
https://www.addthis.com/academy/growth-of-instagram-and-amp-stories/

Like most things in life, blindly copying doesn’t always work. Skype rolled back it and Youtube stories never really took off. The reasons for it not working could be vastly different in both these cases

2. Stories Everywhere: While more and and platforms were trying to incorporate stories format for themselves to increase content creation and more user engagement. Snapchat decided in Apr’19 to allow stories to go beyond their walled garden by launching ‘Stories everywhere’. They later enhanced it further by having ‘App Stories’, powered by Snapkit, to be posted to over 3rd party apps such as Hily, Triller & Squad.

Perhaps, this could be a trend which Facebook and others also follow

As of today, Stories are a primary way in which users share, consume and engage with content across different apps. There’d would be around 1.5 billion users around the world that create or engage with stories.

The Beauty of Stories

As of today, Stories are a mainstay in the online ecosystem with varying degrees of success. Let’s take a look at what makes stories tick.

The stripped-down format of Stories offers users the ability to share what’s happening or what they are thinking in the moment in a raw, authentic way . This gives users an opportunity to move away from the need to carefully curate their posts.

  1. Low Bar  — The amount of content a user shares on social networks is primarily dependent on its quality and if they’d want it to be there on their profile/feed permanently. The quality of content determines the engagement (validation) which puts some pressure. By having posts that get deleted in 24 hours and don’t show engagement stats publicly rids the users of any pressure and lowers the bar on what content get shared.
  2. Shift to Photos & Video — A picture is not only worth a thousand words but also easy to take and consume. With the proliferation of smart phones and mobile internet, more people across demographies got access to internet. Also, the preferred type of content for consumption moved away from Text to Photos & Videos. Apparently, videos consumption is nearing 45% of overall consumption. Stories are a great way to build upon and leverage this trend.
  3. Ease of Creation & Added Effects  — Whether it’s Instagram or Whatsapp, creating stories is really easy and most apps support additional features such as filters, gifs & polls to enhance the appeal of stories by making them look fresh and interactive.
  4. Access: In most apps, stories appear on top of users feed making it easy to access without compromising their feed. While by design feed users would be lower than app users, this pull based approach ensures higher engagement among stories users as they more motivated. This also ensures, that users don’t have to worry about spamming their friends feed by posting 7 updates in 30 minutes.
  5. User Experience: The experience of scrolling through multiple user stories is extremely neat. You can skim through the stories in a go, skip some, resume them later and engage with them. The fact, that the responses to users inbox ensures privacy that further removes friction. With stories (unlike post on feed), no one knows who is responding to whom. Given the lightweight and low bar on creation, stories ensures the variability in rewards (what would come next?) which leads to habit creation.
https://www.theverge.com/2017/3/28/15081398/facebook-stories-snapchat-camera-direct

Twitter & Fleets: 

As covered briefly here, For the longest time despite all the buzz, Twitter has struggled with the growth

Twitter vs Facebook Stock Performance

But, this seems to be changing now. During Q1’20, Twitter registered highest increase in their DAUs in the last 5 years.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4353621-twitter-land-of-opportunity

While user growth is great, a core problem for Twitter is monetizing its users. During Q4’20, their revenue growth was only 11% against user growth of 21%. While Twitter has been actively trying to fix this, with the release of Fleets there’s a good chance of this happening.

Better Ad Monetization via Fleets

For all the (small but) premium audience Twitter attracts, it’s ability to monetize them isn’t even half as good as Facebook. 

I spend 5X the time on Twitter as compared to all other social media sites combined but I can hardly remember being targeted by a relevant ad. It’s that scarce. Similarly, when it comes to running campaigns, Twitter never got to the consideration set in most app install I’ve done, seen/heard about.

(Big Audience -> Data Collection -> User Profiling -> Ad Targeting -> UX to drive installs/transactions) * Repeat 

All of this has been a challenge but Fleets could just be light at the end of this tough path to better monetization. 

The Opportunity:

  • Increased Surface Area  — By having updates that get deleted in 24 hours and don’t appear by default in your followers timeline, Fleets increase the surface are of their users social media postings. While earlier, If I had to post picture of my meal or new purchase I had no option but to go to Instagram, Snapchat etc to post as I felt that pic didn’t belong to Twitter. But with Fleets, that changes. Like my, for many users their share of social media time is likely to tilt towards Twitter.
  • Higher Engagement — Over time once it picks, users should post same or more fleets than tweets which implies more time spent, data collected & engagement among other users.
  • Shift to Videos & Images — This is really interesting, away from the land of majority text updates in a feed, stories offer a more visual and focused experience, which is better suited and contextual for advertising (esp. App Installs or even commerce)

While I’m quite bullish of Fleets being a great addition to Twitter and wait to see how things unfold, I’d love to know what do you think. 

Getting through Covid-19

India has 341 confirmed cases of the Corona virus infection (344 as per this) as I write this, we are having a Junta Curfew across India and even had a 5 Baje 5 Min Clapping and Banging Thali session.

In 10 days since I wrote “Covid-19 Outbreak – Do You See The Risk?” the number of cases has increased more than 5 fold.

It took 17 days for cases to reach first 100 confirmed cases, 5 days for the next 100 and under 3 days for the next 100. Digest that for a second.

Was this unanticipated? Not really. Given the rate of spread of virus across the world especially China, Italy, Iran & USA this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

While authorities might not have been that pro-active at taking measures to control the spread and planning to prepare for the pandemic they are still a bit early (if you go by number of confirmed reported cases) to act.

Countrywide Shutdown Status

Source: Hindustan Times. Not sure why Delhi is missing from this though

As you can see in the infographic above states across the country have shut down education institutes, cinema halls/malls, religious gatherings, restaurants, weddings and parks.

While the developments above have been unfolding over the last few days, just today the following major developments were announced

Today’s Announcements

  1. Interstate Passenger Transport Suspended till 31st March (Train and Buses)
  2. All Metro & Mumbai Local Trains to be Suspended till 31st March
  3. 75 Districts (including Delhi) across the country to have a lockdown
Update: J&K is also under a lockdown

These enforcements are unprecedented but absolutely essential to control the spread of virus.

I’m not an expert by any means but IMHO there are the following aspects to the corona pandemic

  1. Data: Sharing detailed information to create awareness and dispel myths.
  2. Prevention: Controlling the spread or ‘Flattening the curve’ as now it’s called.
  3. Treatment: Upgrading and Scaling up Healthcare Infrastructure to ensure the best possible facilities for treatment.
  4. Rebuilding: Trying to mitigate damage to economy and taking measures to rebuild it.
  5. Preparation: Ensure that all learnings from this pandemic are built upon for such calamity in future.

Data: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched a section on their portal for Corona Data and some advisories issued by the government.

Snapshot of Corona Data from the MOHFW portal

While the data is good, it’d be great to have more details around the same and most importantly around testing. Singapore for example shares patient level data which enables creating detailed dashboards like this one

This not only helps in analysis but also tracing and creating awareness about spread of virus across demographics/regions. Sharing data around tests being done across cities would clear up a lot of things. Perhaps the criteria for testing could have been relaxed and private sector roped in a bit earlier.

Prevention: I support all the initiatives taken to prevent ‘community spread’. The sooner we take drastic steps, the better. Now that we are officially under lockdown, it should run for at least 6-8 weeks (April end) given that there’s a months gap between lockdown and peak in confirmed cases. In parallel, we must continue to spread awareness on hygiene, social distancing etc, test aggressively and ensure strong quarantine measures for confirmed cases.

Treatment: This is the part where currently there’s as much information out there as should be. While we limited confirmed cases, this is the best time to learn from other countries and scale up our healthcare infrastructure to accommodate a spike in patients. From adding more hospital beds, converting buildings to hospitals, providing protective gear for healthcare professionals, expediting research & development, inducting more people in the medical workforce, arranging medicine, ICU beds and ventilators. A lot needs to be done across states in this departments. This should be done on priority and information shared with publick

This interview by Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan with Karan Thapar is quite informative

Rebuilding: While the impact on lives will be massive, a lot of effort will have to be put on the economic front. The entire machinery has come to a grinding halt. Some industries like Airlines, Hospitality, Entertainment are seeing never before drop in business activity. Those along with the people at the bottom of the pyramid and micro business owners will need a lot more help in getting by till normalcy returns and some support after things normalize (France suspended utility bills, rent for struggling SMBs)

A lot many concrete steps should be announced asap to avoid cascading events of the drop in the economic activity.

In addition to this, a lot of initiatives should be taken to ensure minimal disruption in supply chain for critical good.

Preparation: While we were caught by surprise this time and given that viral outbreaks aren’t going to go anywhere soon, it’d be wise to learn from this experience and prepare for future outbreaks once we are able to contain Covid-19. Setting up dedicated departments/teams supported with funding and other assistance to enable them to gear up for coming years.

At an individual level, you only have one job, Stay the *** home.


Hope over the coming weeks we make progress on above mentioned lines, minimize the damage and get past this disaster.

Corona Virus (Covid-19) is now a Pandemic.

I first shared my apprehensions about the breakout of Corona Virus today morning in a post and the past 12 hours have been quite eventful already.

Global

  1. Covid-19 is now a Pandemic

India

  1. India has suspended all existing visas except diplomatic, official, UN/International Organizations, employment, project visas till 15th April 2020.
    
  2. All incoming travelers (to India), including Indians, arriving from or having visited China,Italy,Iran,Republic of Korea, France, Spain & Germany after 15th Feb, 2020 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.

Rest of The World

1) Italy’s confirmed cases count has crossed 12,500 (2313 cases in a single day) and 800 deaths (196 deaths in a single day)

2) 1000 Confirmed Cases in the US.

Covid-19 Outbreak – Do You See The Risk?

During the SARS outbreak (2002-03) I was in engineering college and have no memories of it. Also, TBH I don’t remember much about the deadly Swine Flu which killed over 200,000 people worldwide.

If I think about it, I guess having not to read/think about critical events like these isn’t all good as it could lead you to underestimate their severity. 

As I write this post, Coronavirus cases worldwide have crossed 115000 and has killed over 4200 people. As per WHO, Covid-19 is close to a pandemic

World map showing countries with COVID-19 cases
Countries with confirmed cases of Covid-19

The count of confirmed cases in India stands at 62 as of 10:20 AM today. (2 deaths?)

Total Confirmed Cases of Corona Virus in India by Date

It is anybody’s guess on how this graph would look from here. 

PS: It would be fair to assume the actual numbers are significantly higher

Flattening The Curve

The gif above conveys that bulk of the damage from COVID-19 can be avoided if we are able to spread out the occurrence of confirmed cases just around the capacity of our healthcare systems to handle. Anywhere in the world where that hasn’t happened has lead to massive damage to human life (Earlier Wuhan and now Italy).

No one would argue that health care infrastructure of India is capable to handle a massive outbreak like Wuhan (or Italy) and knowing the innumerable inefficiencies in our systems it is super scary to think how easily things can turn out of hand.

Some of the steps the government is taking to prevent an outbreak

  1. Increasing Testing Labs (52 as of now) 
  2. Closing Schools, and Colleges (Kerala has also ordered restrictions on Public Events Cinemas too, so has J&K)
  3. Increasing Screening at Airports, Advising on Self Quarantine and Suspending Visas to affected countries (8 countries so far)
  4. Having Awareness Messages as Ringtones
  5. Kerala Govt is working on Increasing bandwidth and Improving internet connectivity.

While government is doing it’s bit (and we can debate how effective they are at it), what might be more important for us is what we do to stay safe.

This hold true, whether it is investing or life in general

Why Worry?

  1. 20% of confirmed cases have severe infections, 10% require ICU admission and up to 4% can die. Read here
  2. With SARS and MERS survivors are reported to have had long term respiratory issues. Read here
  3. Each new case infected 2.5 other people on average in the early stages of the epidemic. Read here
  4. No Vaccines for the disease and are likely to be available by early 2021.
  5. Re-occurence is possible. There are reports of people treated getting infected again

“Individual precaution does not scale to collective precaution…. Hence one must panic individually in order to avoid systemic problems.” – Nassim Taleb.

I feel super anxious these days, maybe because I have old parents and a young kid, or maybe it’s just me being me.

I guess the standard bell curve distribution holds true in this case too. While a smaller percentage would either be operating with minimal concerns/precautions as if nothing has changed (Holi toh khelenge hi) or taking extreme measures to stay safe, the majority would be split between worrying about the spread of virus and trying to make a living/lead normal life.

At a personal level, I’m trying to make a switch from B to C to the extent possible.
(Avoiding malls/gym/metros to begin with) and desperately trying to convince rest of my family.

Things we can and must do

  1. Convince ourselves that the risk is real. Read this
  2. Avoid crowded places
  3. Ensure personal hygiene
  4. Try to reduce exposure to unknown people. places
  5. Wear Masks, Use Santizers
  6. Stock up essentials?

While this might appear as fear mongering or unnecessary panic to some, the way I’d like to think here would be in terms of Unforeseen Risks.

Risk is complicated, which is why we’re not great at dealing with it. It’s more than just something bad happening. How risky something is depends on whether its target is prepared for it.

“Risk is what’s left over when you think you’ve thought of everything.”

Additional Reads (Will keep updating this list)

Short Reads

  1. Corona is not your usual flu.
  2. Iran might have 250 times more cases of Corona

Long Reads

  1. Systematic Risk of Pandemic
  2. Why Does Soap Work So Well on Viruses
  3. Understanding pandemics: What they mean, don’t mean, and what comes next with the coronavirus
  4. FAQ’s by Harvard Health

Videos & Podcasts (Will Update Soon)

Thinking about Product Engagement and Retention

The trigger for this post was this interesting tweet

How are Engagement and Retention related?

An inquiry into this question leads to a perspective on how to view engagement for your product. This perspective will help you decide your engagement and retention strategy effectively.

To dig deeper, let’s start by classifying various products into categories

  1. Utility/Productivity
  2. News & Entertainment (Video, Audio, Text)
  3. Messaging, Social Media & Gaming
  4. Transactional/E-commerce & Payments

I’ve tried to club all apps into these four broad categories for simplification. Now you have to identify in which category does your product fall under.

Let’s consider some examples mentioned in the discussion on the tweet above and map them to categories

By virtue of the category to which your product belongs there will be a potential engagement frequency for it.

Potential Engagement Frequency: Number of times a product can be used over a period of time.

* This frequency is for usage of the core product functionality, the same can be increased by adding more features.

Is High Engagement a necessary but not sufficient condition for Retention?

Not really. While Engagement is strongly correlated with Retention, neither is it necessary for nor does it guarantee Retention.

To understand why that’s the case let’s try to list down other Influencing Factors that impact engagement and retention across products

  1. Needs – Jobs to be done
  2. Trends – Shiny new things
  3. Incentives – Offers, rewards and such
  4. Distribution advantage – Availability of good alternatives, network effects

If you look at any product from these two lenses (categories and influencing factors) you would be able to understand if/where does engagement results in retention and where it doesn’t.

Note: Retention is significantly dependent on the products ability to reliably deliver on the core needs and its stickiness

  1. Utility/Productivity – For this category engagement could be a function of frequency of the need and retention would be a function of how much stickiness can the product build (through data, learning curve etc).

    Some apps I use are Evernote, Myfitnesspal and Shazam. I’ve been using these three apps (with varying levels of engagement) for at least three years. While I use Evernote almost daily, I use Myfitness pal weekly when I’m tracking my weight and it’ll sit unused for months when I don’t track my weight.

    In many such cases retention comes because the effort to learn how a new app isn’t worth the marginal improvement you’ll get.

    Evernote's Smile Shaped Retention

    However, in some cases where the the single player mode isn’t that strong, you’ll have to build engagement around other features to ensure top of mind recall and retention

  2. News & Entertainment (Video, Audio, Text) – For this category engagement could be a good indicator of retention as users one used to a platform don’t tend to change as much as long as content quality is maintained and new content (user generated or otherwise) keeps getting added.

    The exceptions could be some paradigm shifts (like storage to streaming or desktop to mobile) or loosening of distribution advantage (people might be engaging actively with proprietary apps on an OS but that could change quickly if other apps surface) but the shift would be gradual so it can be picked

  3. Messaging, Social Media & Gaming – For this category engagement could be a function of trends and retention could be a function of trends, needs (vs wants) and distribution advantage. Games have the highest 30 day retention among all categories (so definitely more engagement). While Games are particularly prone to change of trend cycles, everyone is familiar about how network effects if working in other direction (or Eflactem’s Law as it’s called) can sink a social media company. More on this here.

    One of the biggest examples was a viral apps called Yo. For those who don’t know about Yo, it was a one tap, one messaging app through which users could send a ‘Yo’ to their friends, who could then reply back with a guess what? (Yo). It had great engagement (over 1.2 mn DAUs at one time) for a few days/weeks that people used it but that engagement never translated into retention.

    The task at hand for games is translate high engagement into stickiness by means such as virtual goods, avatars and such to avoid change of seasons churn and for social networks it is to improve engagement and try to convert that into network effects (while improving the product and increasing its scope for potential users)
The Rise and Fall of “Yo”

4. Transactional/E-commerce & Payments – For this category engagement could be a
function of frequency of need and incentives and retention could be a function of
consistency of experience. Here figuring out the ‘Potential Engagement Frequency
and % adoption from that is a good measure. For ex: Uber measures and tries to
improve their share of airport rides (to departure airport and subsequently from the
arrival airport).

For a flight or a hotel booking site say the average user does a transaction after every
3-6 months or more. One way to approach retention for such cases is to see
what’s the average usage frequency of the user and if that’s increased or maintained.
A drop in previous levels of engagement could be a sign of churn. Also, an drop in
funnel conversion rates for a user should be worrying (For ex: Uber on basis of my
rides data might think I take cabs once a week only but if I check for a ride more often
but book only once a week, perhaps my potential engagement frequency is higher and
they should try to improve my engagement per week.

Here an engagement (non incentive driven) is a good indicator of retention.

Another product that I like but use once a year or so is Cashify. The app does the job
well but it’s not a frequent use case so they have to look at retention over a slightly
long period as compared to say an Ecommerce store. They can however try to get their
users who’ve finished a transaction to refer more users.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Identify your product’s category its potential engagement frequency (PEF).
  2. Understand which factors can influence engagement for your product.
    External (trends, wants, temporary distribution edge) or internal (needs, network effect, stickiness)
  3. For Engagement: First focus on internal influencing factors (strengthening core use case experience, data moats, network effects etc) and build on them. In case of low PEF try to increase referrals.
  4. For Retention: Divide users into cohorts basis their engagement wrt the PEF, monitor and encourage their engagement accordingly.
    Try to understand reasons for drop in engagement and fix them through the product as much as possible (product improvement over incentives)

This Point of view (categories and influencing factors) would help us in figuring out how to look at engagement and retention better. Would love to know what do you think?

Credits: Thanks to Navneet Singh for reading the draft and sharing feedback

I run a weekly newsletter in which I share curated articles, podcasts, videos and books I came across and loved. You can subscribe to it here

15 Most Read Articles of 2019

Continuing last editions list of most read articles. Sharing Top 15 Most Read Articles of 2019 read on my weekly newsletter “Best of the Web”.  

Most Read Articles:
15) PG’s awesome essay on ‘What makes a genius’
14) How can a non-tech guy become the go-to advisor to some of the world’s most powerful tech companies? Great profile of a fascinating person, Bill Campbell – The Secret Coach.
13) The Gross Margin Problem: Lessons for Tech-Enabled Startups. Read here
12) Hanlon’s Razor (and why people are nicer than you think). Read here.
11) How India’s Growth Bubble Fizzled Out. Read here
10) Morgan Housel’s post, ‘Betting on things that never change
9) Beautiful essay by Paul Graham on what it means to have kids. Read here
8) A light breezy read on “Rich People’s Problems”. Read here 7) How to build optionality into your life. Read here
6) Peter Thiel’s Contrarian Strategy. Read here
5) Capital ROI of various Indian Startups. Read here
4) Tiny networking tip by Ben Horowitz. Read ‘Strike when the Iron is hot‘ 
3) Paul Graham’s classic 2004 essay, ‘How to make Wealth
2) Maria Montessori and 10 famous graduates from her schools. Read here
1) My new goal in life is to avoid a mid-life crisis. Read here

Best of the Web: Most Read Articles of 2019 (Top 16-30)


Most Read Articles:
30) Your Life in Weeks: Are you making the most of your weeks? 
29) A solid deep dive into Uber’s recent rebranding exercise. Read here.
28) Why China is the most fascinating tech market in the world. Read here
27) Is India’s smartphone revolution stalling? Read here
26) To solve problems caused by sitting learn to squat. Read here
25) Why Amazon is eating the world. Read here
24) Stratechery’s Classic Post “The aggregation theory
23) Should we take a few long holidays, or lots of short ones? – Read here.  
22) Career Advice by Scott Adams. Read here
21) Making Smart Decisions – Farnam Street. Read here
20) Content, Community and All that Jazz. Read here 
19) Luck vs Hard Work – James Clear. Read here
18) An engaging deep dive on How T-Series started, became a success (Music + Distribution), stayed relevant (World’s biggest Youtube Channel) and its future plans. Read here.
17) This is why people leave your company. Read here
16) Amidst Alphabet’s existential challenges, its co-founder is exercising his right to be forgotten. Read “Where in the World Is Larry Page?” 

2019: Looking back at the year that went by

Tis the Season of Reflection.

As the year draws to an end it is the perfect time to reflect on the learnings and share them. Here are my key learnings turned guiding principles from the year that went by

Guiding Principles of 2019

  • Live in the present
  • Become Better Everyday
  • Make Concentrated Bets
  • Increase Optionality

Live in the Present

A friend once told me “Unhappiness comes from Conflict“, simply put, when you desire X but are stuck with Y. While we all want multiple things to happen/get better simultaneously, the only way to stay peaceful is to accept your present situation and adjust your life around it.

Our lives are made up of multiple phases across dimensions of family & friends, career and personal life that are ever changing. Each phase would have a few key events that would lead to highs/lows across different dimensions.

All phases of life give you an opportunity to focus on some aspect/dimension of your life and it’s best if we use that time to do just that, focus on what’s right in front of us (and not fret too much about the rest).

A good question to often ask yourself, “What should I be optimizing for?”

I cut down on reading, movies, travel, socializing etc and 2019 for me was about mostly focusing on the new baby and the new job.

Become Better Everyday

Successfully Implemented by Dave Brailsford & popularized by James Clear, the idea that tiny changes sustained over a period of time compound massively.

The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together – Dave Brailsford

The power of compounding married with the fact that there’s as much (if not more) life ahead of us as is behind builds a really strong case to become a much better version of yourself. Bonus, being better improves lives of others around you.

I tried to follow this rule and ensure that I make almost every day count by exercising (Cult, Ahoy!) / writing / learning something new.

Make Concentrated Bets

While conventional wisdom says that diversification is the key to investing success, some of the best investors, like Warren Buffett & George Soros have spoken about the virtues of making concentrated bets.

Wide diversification is only required when investors do not understand what they are doing – Charlie Munger

Be it investing, career or relationships, most gains are to be made by focusing on few things and giving them all the effort (think Power Law). I’ve seen quite a few people trying to spread out too thin and not achieving anything substantial. I feel it makes sense to focus your energies on limited ideas & people and double down on them

Caveat: Avoid Ruin

PS: It’s quite likely that investing more time/effort on your career/startup will yield bigger returns than stocks/mutual funds etc.

Increase Optionality

Optionality in investments refers to the right to do something, but not necessarily the obligation to do so. Just like in investing you can build optionality into your life and exercise them for better outcomes. Collecting high-quality options is the equivalent of unlocking doors that open up to new possibilities.

While on the surface this might look conflicting to the above mentioned point of being concentrated, in reality they work best together. Optionality in asymmetric bets (limited downside, high potential upside) across domains can be built with just small % of resources (time/money etc).

Naval Ravikant on building Asymmetry

Few things I did to increase optionality

  • Meet New People & reconnect with old acquaintances – Increases Serendipity that opens up opportunities
  • Take up chances to expose myself to new ideas & experiences – Gives you new perspectives that might have a big impact
  • Watch my Spends & Avoid Debt – Better personal financial management enables risk taking/bigger bets
  • Being conscious about & working on my health/fitness – Better health allows you more freedom of choices in certain areas of life.

Wishing you all a wonderful and enriching 2020 🙂

Capital ROI of various Indian Startups

The tide has been trying to change for sometime now, from Growth at all costs to Profitability & Sustainability. Recent Tech IPOs in US reflected the same and made things pretty clear.

While Uber & Lyft’s abysmal IPO sustained the push to margins and profitability, explosion of WeWork was the final nail on the coffin.

Since the relatively nascent Indian startup ecosystem is a reflection of US & China (in some aspects), one can expect to see a stronger push for Margins/Profitability in India as well.

I tried to collate a view from all publicly available data on revenue and losses for various Indian Startups to get a view of what’s happening. Hope you’ll find it useful too.

Source: Paper VC, Entracker, Mint, ET etc


As more Indian Startups file their earnings for Financial Year 2019, more data will emerge. I’ll try to update this view.