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
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?”
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
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
PS: It’s quite likely that investing more time/effort on your career/startup will yield bigger returns than stocks/mutual funds etc.
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).
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.
I am a huge fan of Shane Parrish’s podcast and one of best episodes from it was with Naval Ravikant. Naval shared a lot of awesomeness in it and one of the things that stood out for me was the thought of looking at life as a ‘Single-Player’ Game
Life: A Single-Player Game
The reality is life is a single-player game. You’re born alone. You’re going to die alone. All of your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. You’re gone in three generations and nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player. – Naval Ravikant
While talking about transitioning from anger/anxiety to calmness and how to control one’s responses or mental-state, Naval mentions how most people are conditioned to live life in a multi-player mode wherein the things that we chase are the visible social status and other such indicators.
Subsequently, the key to being happy is to get rid of yearnings for visible status indicators and focus on your internal state.
Socially, we’re told, “Go work out. Go look good.” That’s a multi-player competitive game. Other people can see if I’m doing a good job or not. We’re told, “Go make money. Go buy a big house.” Again, external monkey-player competitive game. When it comes to learn to be happy, train yourself to be happy, completely internal, no external progress, no external validation, 100% you’re competing against yourself, single-player game – Naval Ravikant
Naval drives home the point really well. Instead of chasing external progress, we’d be better of chasing internal progress.
Life in Single-Player Mode
While, the points mentioned above, are mostly about taking care of your mental state, focusing on being happy and such, I’d like to extend the idea of life as a ‘Single-Player Game’ to living life in a ‘Single-Player Mode’
A single-player game is usually a game that can only be played by one person, while “single-player mode” is usually a game mode designed to be played by a single-player, though the game also contains multi-player modes – Wikipedia
Approaching life in a Single-Player Mode in essence means leading life in a way that assumes complete responsibility of own’s actions and their effects, and also encourages proactive self-improvement sans any dependancy on others.
What does Single-Player Mode Look Like?
Let me illustrate the point by taking some examples Sports/Fitness: Say you want to become better at a sport. There are two ways to go about it
1. Multi-Player Mode. In a multi-player mode, you’d try to find someone to play/work out with (or find a coach) and practice with them to improve your game. 2. Single-Player Mode. In a single-player mode, you’d not limit your practice and improvement to finding & playing/working out with others. Either-ways, you’d find ways to practice and thereby improve your game/fitness.
Work/Skills: Say you want to become better at your job or pick up a new skill. Again, there are two ways to go about it.
1. Multi-Player Mode. In a multi-player mode, you’d try to find someone to learn from/with and depend on them for your learnings 2. Single-Player Mode. In a single-player mode, you’d not wait to find someone and instead try to learn and pick up skills on your own.
More often than not, whenever I’ve become good at something it’s because I approached it with a ‘Single-Player Mode’. Letting go of dependency on others for your learnings removes a lot of friction. Not only that, it shortens the feedback loop (and their-by improving the pace of learning) and lets you decide your own goals and metrics.
To top it all, Operating in a Single-Player mode requires that one figures out ‘Learning How To Learn’. Finding out how to learn different stuff on your own is quite transformational or should I say life-changing.
Another way to live in ‘Single-Player Mode’ is to compete against yourself. Here again you have to look internally to get better. It might take a while to get this engine started but once it starts, it works marvellously
If you look around, almost all super successful people operate in Single-Player Mode. They don’t really depend on others for motivation, inspiration or figuring out how to learn/get things done.
To conclude I’d say, if there’s something you’ve been trying to learn (coding, foreign language etc) or start doing (running, gymming, diet control) you’d be better off if you approach it in a Single-Player Mode
“D-Mart managed to grow when the industry was collapsing, unscathed by the first wave of e-commerce. Now, as online players eye India’s brick and mortar space and partner with domestic players, what’s D-Mart up to?” Read more here #paywall
The Ultimate Learning Guide via Shane Parrish: A nice curation of some of the best learnings from Farnam Street blog. Find them here
Indian FMCG space is seeing a lot of startup action. It’s not just that the consumer preferences are changing, traditional FMCG companies have also started picking stakes in snazzy upstarts. I’ve shared some thoughts here
The Broken Window Theory In Product Design. Read here
Rewind (Best of newsletter #71) ‘A mile wide, an inch deep’ by Evan Williams. Read here
‘The days are long but the decades are short’ by Sam Altman. Read here
Lessons learned from scaling a product team from Intercom. Read here
Podcast Episode of the Week: When India’s Cash Disappeared, Part One & Two (Planet Money) A deep dive into how India’s Demonetisation came to be. The background story of Anil Bokil, who originally came up with the idea and convinced PM Modi to make this happen. Also, has the original Arthkranti PPT.
Startup Trivia of the Week: PolicyBazaar In 2008, Yashish Dahiya pitched to Sanjeev Bikhchandani with a powerpoint and a prototype of PolicyBazaar. During the demo, he proved to Sanjeev that he was paying around 60% more for his Car Insurance than what he should be. That demo convinced Sanjeev and team, upon which they invested 20Cr in their Series A for a whopping 49% stake. Ten Years later, Info Edge is still participating in all their funding rounds and PolicyBazaar is currently valued at around $1Bn and Info Edge owns around 13% stake.
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I’ve often tried to think what makes certain people tick while others struggle to get even basic professional standing or success.
I think a lens to look at various folks is in terms of ‘Skills and Street Smarts’. Skills can be further divided into two types (Shallow & Deep) and by Street Smarts, I mean the basic sense/temperament of business, people handling, ability to optimise money decisions and leverage ‘arbitrage opportunities’.
There’s another dimension relevant to this discussion, that dimension is of ‘Opportunities’. Opportunities are those super forces that can help one in changing their life/career trajectory.
Needless to say, one has to latch on to the right opportunities and you’ll find for most successful people (in business or elsewhere) that they found great opportunities somewhere in their journey and capitalised well on them.
In contrast with Opportunities, Skills are something which are much more in people’s control. One can decide which skills to develop and how deep to go in them. Street Smarts, I believe is a way of dealing with day-to-day life situations and people and becomes a part of ones nature during their teens or early 20’s. In most cases, people continue to operate within their circle of street-smartness with small changes for remainder of their lives.
Empirically speaking, I think people who struggle to scrap by in life (not able to settle professionally, earn a reasonable salary etc) are more often than not in the ‘Shallow Skills’ and ‘Low Street Smarts’ quadrant. Highly successful entrepreneurs (with massive outcomes/impact) tend to lie in ‘Deep Skills’ and ‘High Street Smart’s quadrant.
Your neighbourhood slacker (Jugaadu as we call them sometimes), the one who doesn’t really have any professionally important skill but knows enough people and/or has enough business sense to find small arbitrage or similar opportunities to make a reasonable living.
With different combinations of Deep/Shallow Skills and Street Smarts, various outcomes happen. The folks who concern me the most, the ones who are not able to stand on their feet and get about growing in their lives invariably happen in the ‘Shallow Skills’ and ‘Low Street Smarts’ quadrant.
An easy way for them to come out of that quicksand is to pick up some skills and if possible team up with someone who has more street smarts than them (and can be trusted with).
Also, I believe a good majority lies in the low deep skills and low-to-mid ‘Street Smarts’ range. While, the prevalent tendency is to optimise for becoming more street smart (penny negotiations etc) I believe most people would be much better off if they instead try to optimise for going deep in their skills of choice.
In a 2013 piece, Ben Thompson outlined the following ‘Jobs TV Does’
Keep us informed
Give a live view of sporting events
Enlighten and story-tell
Subsequently he makes a call for “Unbundling of TV” whereby a different category/product will come about offering a better way to get each of the above mentioned jobs done.
Thing started changing well before Ben wrote that piece and some of those changes seem solidified, at least for now.
Migration from TV to OTT
As per a recent survey by BARC India, 197 Mn homes in India have TV with a total TV penetration of 66%. The survey also shares that over 835 Mn individuals have access to TV. The advertising spend for the medium estimated to be Rs 31,596 Cr ($4.5 Billion).
While TV is enjoying it’s last phase of penetration growth (like print media) there is a big migration from TV underway in India with Gen-Z & Millennials leading the wave.
The first phase saw a move from ‘Traditional TV’ to ‘Cable TV’ with a huge portion of country installing set top boxes to get access to niche programming, round the clock at a reasonable price. The second phase is seeing the move from ‘Cable TV’ to ‘OTT/On-Demand Video’.
I believe currently this transition is at play with users gradually moving from one stage of the funnel to the next. However, over the next few years most users will skip the set-top box stage and jump straight from TV to OTT platforms.
OTT is High Growth Market
India has been a huge market for Films, TV Shows and Sports. Increasing high-speed internet penetration, falling data prices, entry of big players with huge budgets along with original content aimed (mostly) at youth has over the years set the ball rolling for OTT (Over-The-Top) consumption in India.
The current Indian streaming market is roughly pegged at $300 million with 30 OTT players with Hotstar being the most popular service.
As of today, OTT is one of the hottest markets in India with everyone scrambling to get a piece of the pie. OTT viewers are growing by 35% Y-O-Y and projected to grow to 355 Mn by 2020. OTT video revenue is expected to reach Rs 5,595 Cr (~$800Mn) by 2022. With projections like these the current gold rush starts to make sense.
OTT Market Players:
With over three dozen players, OTT is becoming a crowded market with players trying to attack it from all sides. From small digital content studios to giant media/production houses, everyone’s got their eyes on the prize.
The types of players can be divided into the following categories
Media Groups ( Star, Sony, Zee etc)
Production Houses (Eros, Balaji Telefilms etc)
OTT Platforms, International & Local (Netflix, Viu etc)
Internet Companies (Amazon etc)
Digital Content Platforms/Studios (Arre etc)
Others (Aditya Birla Group etc)
A fast growth market with a lot of headroom to grow, voila. However, similar to what I mentioned in ‘The Transportation Layer Protocol of Business‘, while everyone is free to compete, not everyone stands a fair chance at winning. Moreover, even if one is able to create value, in absence of a sound business model, they just might be not to capture it.
Will come back to explore this topic in a later post
Over the course of years, lots of startups have tried to leverage their content/community to sell stuff to users but have seen limited success. So much so that one has to try really hard to find some examples of content or community platforms across the world that have managed the crossover at a reasonable scale.
Can you name a startup (content or community) that is able to successfully sell stuff at a reasonable scale to their users?
Just so we are clear, here by commerce I mean transactions (visitors/user of a content or community platform buying stuff on the platform itself). While monetisation via ads and as affiliates have been proven models for long, commerce has been successful in rare exceptional cases. Through the course of a series of posts I’ll try to explore why some platforms could get the commerce play working while others languished.
What exactly are the 3Cs:
The Three Cs go long back in Time
How to Think about 3Cs If you think about it, there are two broad ways for the 3Cs to come together.
One way to look at Content and/or Community to commerce journey is like a funnel. Content/Community in that case will be Top of the funnel (TOFU) and Commerce, the final transaction will be Bottom of the funnel (BOFU).
That is, more people will engage with the content and/or community (TOFU) and some of them will end up purchasing goods aka commerce (BOFU).
Majority of popular consumer startups fall in two quadrants (Started as Commerce or Started as Content/Community). It is difficult to recall any startups that had both Content/Community and Commerce play from start.
Empirically speaking, it looks like the journey from Commerce to Content/Community (Case 2) is well within the reach. Amazon has been doing it for ages in multiple ways (UGC and Content Acquisitions), in India I think Nykaa is doing a reasonable job. If one spends more time I’m confident a lot of successful examples of this category will come out.
However, the journey from Content/Community to Commerce (Case 1) seems extremely arduous with only a handful successes.
Challenges in Leveraging a Content/Community Platform for Commerce
Low Captive User Base: Most users of content platforms are actually non logged-in visitors (Organic/Social Traffic over Direct Traffic). How will you monetise a user base that isn’t regular/loyal.
Positioning: While it’s much easier to trust a content/community platform, when it comes to making purchases, the bar is fairly high. People prefer to go to experts. Who would you trust to deliver your order without any nonsense, Amazon or some upcoming content/community site?. Increasingly the mindshare in various commerce categories is already taken (Think Amazon, Swiggy, Zomato, Goibibo, Bookmyshow, Paytm, Myntra). Given the low switching cost on Internet, this challenge is particularly hard to cross.
Expertise: E-commerce, however easy it might appear from outside requires significant operational expertise. Most folks continue to underestimate it, resulting in bad user experience and dissatisfied users that will never buy from you again. Since people underestimate what goes in getting e-commerce experience right, they are perennially underinvested (also, in most cases it is structurally difficult for a content company to invest a lot of resources in such endeavours). Lastly, in each category you are competing with the best in the game (product and/or resources wise)
User Experience (for commerce): This one is particularly true for hosted community platforms. Imagine a community of food lovers, sports lovers on Facebook/Whatsapp etc. As mentioned in #1, the users in such cases are captive to the platform in question not to your group and to make things worse at one end, the platform experience doesn’t facilitate smooth e-commerce (Imagine buying something from a FB/WA group) and on the end hand, you can’t possibly migrate these users to your own site/app which might have a better commerce experience.
Because of the reasons mentioned above I believe it is extremely tough to upgrade from content/community to commerce. I’ll also go to the extent of saying in most cases the platforms in question are better of monetising via traditional channels ads, affiliates, events etc than to start their own e-commerce.
As of the exceptions to the rule like Houzz, we’ll try to figure out what makes them tick in the next post in this series.
3) Your Life in Weeks by Tim Urban(Waitbutwhy). Read here
Video of the Week: The Incredible Story of The PayPal Mafia. Watch here
Startup Trivia of the Week: OYO In 2015, OYO was delisted from Makemytrip, Goibibo and Yatra. Around that time Goibibo also launched GoStays, a competitor to OYO. Back then OYO claimed only 10% of their business came from these aggregators. The status quo continued till Oct-2017 when Yatra decided to re-list OYO.In Feb-2018, MMT (and Goibibo) also re-listed OYO. Source
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