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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Seven years hence, things are unfolding as Marc had prophesied. Industry after Industry, software is re-writing the rules of how the game is played.
Transportation has been one of the few industries that have already seen a lot of Schumpeterian “Creative Destruction”.
From being ‘Limo service for wealthy people in SF’ to ‘Ride sharing for commoners in Bangladesh’, Uber and many other software based transportation services have come a long way. Goldman Sachs estimates the ride-hailing industry ballooning to $285 billion by 2030.
A host of startups around the world are working in the transportation space with Uber, Lyft and Didi being the bigger players. The Indian Market is also seeing a lot of action in this space.
While the pure transportation market is huge, there’s an sizeable adjacent market (roughly 1/3rd the size in terms of orders) growing at a faster pace. The market in question is ‘Food Delivery’
Apart from Swiggy and Zomato, there’s Foodpanda, Uber Eats and two more big players starting Food Delivery over the next 3-6 months.
Challenges for Ride-Sharing & Food Delivery Startups
Both Ride-sharing and Food Delivery startups are the epitomes of gig economy and have unlocked huge markets that were previously untapped. However, to make some economic sense for both types of companies have to make sure that their delivery staff runs at highest utilisation possible.
But, because of the inherent nature of both ride-sharing and food delivery markets, the orders are concentrated at certain peak hours of the day.
This cyclicality in demand means there are upper limits to optimisation during peak hours and there are long windows of low demand
These long windows of low demand are a huge problem as they lead to
1. Poor Unit Economics (To cover fixed costs the delivery boy should be utilised fully) 2. Weaker Driver Retention (Part time gig workers will gravitate towards a service that guarantees opportunities to earn more) 3. Scaling Challenges (Uneven/Skewed demand during certain hours makes it difficult to scale delivery ops in an optimised way)
These problems are pronounced for and particularly hurt the food delivery services, that’s also one reason why most of the ‘stand-alone food delivery’ startups found it difficult to get off the ground and ended up folding. While most startups offering logistics services in Hyperlocal/Food-Delivery space trying defeating gravity and failed, Delhivery (with benefit of hindsight) was able to identify the challenges well in-advance and did a pivot into e-commerce deliveries that offered better fleet utilisation opportunity among other benefits.
The Case for a Transportation Layer Protocol
Both Ride-Sharing and Food-Delivery startups not only share common challenges around fleet capacity utilisation, they also to varying degree share some strengths
Huge Captive Customer Base
Network of Drivers across cities
Scalable Technology Stack for Managing Logistics
Proprietary Data about People, Businesses, Routes, Traffic etc
Protocol: A set of rules and guidelines for communicating data
The Internet Protocol Stack enabled various web applications to be built on top of it and a handful of them grew up to become today’s Internet Giants (Facebook, Google, Amazon).
Just like the internet protocol layer enabled various apps to be built for the web, we can see a bunch of startups trying to build what can be called ‘Transportation Layer Protocol’ or ‘Transportation Layer’
The Transportation Layer implies having a base infrastructure to build various consumer (B2C) or business (B2B) offerings on.
Most companies in this space end up building different variants of Transportation Layer Infra for internal consumption. But to leverage it and attain a dominant market position (with a sustainable business model) the startups should/would try to become the ‘Transportation Layer’ for the country.
Ekart Way*: Just like Flipkart’s logistics arm also handles logistics for other companies such as Adidas, in future some of the B2C companies discussed here might also start doing deliveries for other restaurants (managing the delivery orders a restaurant gets directly).
A startup can run multiple lines of businesses on top of the common infrastructure & generate adequate customer demand for their offerings
— A Successful Transportation Layer at Play
Becoming the default app for any transportation related services is the ‘Holy Grail’ as you get both more transactions and revenue per user and it costs you less to service each request. Also, the bigger you become the network effects ensure that less likely you are to get displaced.
This, I believe is what’s unfolding in India and startups from both sides (ride-sharing and food-delivery) are vying to become the ‘Transportation Layer’ to services various consumer offerings.
Expansion to Adjacent Markets:
Ride sharing Startups – Both Uber and Ola (Foodpanda) have been doing food delivery for around an year now.
Food Delivery Startups – Swiggy has shared their plans of expanding into Grocery and Medicine Delivery.
Grocery & Medicine Delivery Startups – I Don’t think the grocery delivery startups have shared any plans for other categories.
Concierge Startups – Dunzo, has started doing bike taxis, food delivery and grocery
The image above you should give you some sense of what the fruits of becoming the default transportation/logistics layer would look like with different B2C/B2B offerings stacking up atop shared demand and infra.
However, while getting there might be possible it’s gonna be incredibly difficult. Moreover, despite the number of startups aiming, only a few market players are strongly positioned to get a good crack at it. I’ll try to explore more in another post
While its counterparts (FB, Instagram etc) have been able to ride the growth waves to the fullest, the ride for Twitter hasn’t been exactly a breeze.
As visible from the image above, Twitter’s Net New Active User Growth (New Active Users – Lost Users) was “-One Million MAUs”. Amidst, the fake account cleaning activity underway, the company expects this -ve growth trend in MAU to continue and the MAUs to drop further by ‘mid-single-digit millions’ in the next quarter.
While the MAU growth has been rather Flatish, the DAUs and Revenue numbers show some signs of growth
For now Twitter claims to be prioritising ‘Health’ over ‘Growth’ by undergoing a massive cleanup (Apparently, the company’s health problem also costed them an acquisition offer from Disney).
However, in middle of all this Jack Dorsey announced last week a new functionality, the ability to change the user feed aka timeline.
A lot of Power users felt a collective sigh of relief. A few features have been on the wish list of a lot of users namely
Abuse control (Stopping accounts that spread hate/harass others, bots)
Ability to Edit a Tweet
Reverse Chronological Timeline (Raw user feed)
Not sure about others, but I found this update rather interesting. Though I initially (and to some extent later) felt how the Twitter timeline experience had sorta deteriorated, but it never bothered me that much.
In fact, I think for most people the value Twitter provides in terms of ‘staying in the know’ (along with one’s network) is much more than any bad changes to timeline.
A quick look at Twitter’s Timeline/User feed
Starting 2015 (Jack’s Return), Twitter started making changes to the user timeline to offer a better experience (and better monetisation?). Prior to this the timeline was simply in reverse chronological order.
‘Ranked Tweets’ are tweets recommended for each user by Twitter’s algo on the basis of
Apart from ‘Ranked Tweets’ and ‘In Case You Missed It’, Twitter also started ‘Seeding Tweets by accounts they don’t follow’ into users timeline
While this last move definitely annoyed a lot of users from both timeline intrusive and also their own privacy POV, it apparently worked wonderfully well for Twitter.
As for me, I was finding more interesting tweets and new people to follow due to the ‘A, B and C liked this’ feature. I remember stumbling upon new content and users regularly and thus ended up interacting with that content and also following up more people.
It’s been a week since I reverted back to original timeline, while there is no meaningful difference in the quality of my timeline, the discoverability of new content/people have definitely gone down. I don’t remember starting to follow anyone in the last week or so.
Twitter for as long as I can remember has had a concentration of power users.
As Felix Salmon writes in Wired, “Twitter is becoming increasingly concentrated on a tiny core of power users. It’s less and less a distributed mode of many-to-many communication, and more and more a broadcasting hub for the elite—a highly unequal place where their least-considered, Ambien-addled opinions get amplified to a global audience of millions.”
Power users are at core of every product and one must count them lucky to have lots of them, however defining your product roadmap on the basis of what power users want isn’t necessarily the best thing. Given the tricky spot in which Twitter finds itself in (chasing profits via monetising eyeballs and keeping power users happy) they have to make changes to the product that makes their revenue targets met without compromising the user experience much and without bloating the product with hundreds of settings.
PS: Snapchat is another example of challenges a company faces on being the other side of Power User dynamics.
Arc of Company, Understanding Uber’s Rebranding, Pitching Airbnb, Kleiner Perkins, Apple & More
Every day hundreds of Angels & VCs pitch their portfolio companies to other investors but surprisingly none of those conversations ever become public. In a rare exception to this, Paul Graham shared the 2009 conversation between him and Fred Wilson over Airbnb. Read it here
Investor Semil Shah shares ‘Reflections On The Big Shake-Up At Kleiner Perkins’. Read here
A solid deep dive into Uber’s recent rebranding exercise. Read here
Could China find itself at the centre of the next financial crisis because of its mounting debt?. Read here
Horace Dediu shares his observation from recent iPhone launch event on how ‘Fundamentally, Apple is betting on having customers not selling them products.’ Read more in ‘Lasts Longer’
Rewind (Best of newsletter #69)
‘Betting on Things That Never Change’ by Morgan Housel. Read here
The Arc of Company Life – and How to Prolong It. Read here
Twitter CFO Anthony Noto privately analyzes Facebook. Read here
Book Recommendation of the Week
The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage (The Victorian Internet tells the colorful story of the telegraph’s creation and remarkable impact, and of the visionaries, oddballs, and eccentrics who pioneered it, from the eighteenth-century French scientist Jean-Antoine Nollet to Samuel F. B. Morse and Thomas Edison. The electric telegraph nullified distance and shrank the world quicker and further than ever before or since, and its story mirrors and predicts that of the Internet in numerous ways.)
Startup Trivia of the Week: Instagram In 2010, Kevin Systrom started ‘Burbn’, a multi-faceted app that allowed users to check in, post plans and share photos. He quickly raised $500k from Baseline Ventures & Andreessen Horowitz but Burbn was unable to get traction. Later, upon observing usage data they found that the ‘Photo Sharing’ feature was getting most traction among existing users. Next, they quickly stripped down the app to ‘Photo Sharing, likes & comments’ and rest as they say is history.
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