Certainty

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In life the things that you do depend on the degree of certainty.

A few days back Salma mailed this image and asked me which company seems to have the best revenue split.

Revenue Split

The instinctive answer was to say – Microsoft. They seem to the most diversified. They are not dependent on any one stream of revenue for their survival. Facebook seems the most skewed; If anything was to disrupt advertising altogether, their business would be in turmoil.

Yesterday, I was reading Zero to One by Peter Theil and he made a very pertinent point in there. If you had the opportunity to do something that you knew would not fail, would you put all of your efforts behind it or would you diversify and pursue multiple opportunities. Most successes are a result of determined people acting with belief and putting all of their efforts behind it to make it a success.

He defined the category of people as:

  • Definitely Optimistic – Is certain of a great future and works towards it
  • Definitely Pessimistic – Is certain of failure waiting around the corner and is always bracing for it
  • Indefinitely Optimistic – Is unsure of the future but thinks it will all work out fine
  • Indefinitely Pessimistic – Is unsure of the future but thinks there is a surprise waiting around the corner

Now using this categorisation when you look at the above graphs, the one thing that becomes clear is Facebook is Definitely Optimistic – They are certain about their plans and they think they know what is about to come and are ready for it.

At the same time Microsoft is a clear example of confusion. Given that it is an American company I would say that they are Indefinitely Optimistic. The graph is a clear representation of the fact that they do not know which segment is going to be their cash cow. They are doing everything and  hoping something will go on to become big. At the same time they lack the conviction to say which one and focus more on it. If you make a graph for Microsoft of the early 2000’s, I am sure it would not resemble this. Windows and Office were the flag bearers for Microsoft and they put all of their efforts behind it.

Google and Amazon still have a high skew towards one of their revenue channels because they are Definite about it. Apple looks diversified but a large portion of their services revenue is all thanks to the iPhone that their users use every day. If you look at it from that perspective in all the three cases almost three quarters of their revenue comes from one thing that they do very well.

As a startup it is even more important not to diversify into too many revenue streams since it is very hard to be great at too many things. Be great at one thing and expand that revenue stream as rapidly as you can. You may undertake support activities but a majority of your income will come out of one or two things you do really well. This is also referred to as Pareto Principle – 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the cause. In business 80% of the income comes from 20% of the clients

Would you put all the wood behind one sharp arrow or many blunt ones?

What would our grand children consider classics?

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It is safe to say that; content is in a state of 911.

I find very few sources where I can get content, where a great deal of though and analysis has been put in. Interestingly, I find many more sources where I can get cat videos and snarky two liners. Truth be told, not too many people are reading thoughtfully written stuff.

Why?

Quantity is opposed to Quality

The advent of digital mediums has meant that it is possible for everyone to create content. If you wanted to write a piece like the one I am writing and distribute it in 1900, you needed a newspaper editor to feel that your article was going to be interesting to the readers. With blogs, today pretty much anyone is able to put out their thought for public consumption. But the problem is much worse that anyone being able to write a blog.

This is statistics that the IBM Watson team put out; In 1900 the content available to mankind was doubling roughly every 100 years. By 2020 it will double every 11 hours. This is insane. The amount of content that would be at our disposal is being estimated at 44 Zetabytes. All of us have limited time available to us and the amount of content at our disposal is fast accelerating.

The consequence of limited time at our disposal is limited attention span. We want content that can be consumed quickly and without extending too much effort. Reading a well thought out piece forces us to think and understand; this is not primed for fast consumption.

How many of us have read the Iliad or Plato? How many of us have seen the latest trending video?

When you think of content that can be consumed without much effort, video ends up on top of the charts. Youtube is making money hand over fist, not by accident. Over the next 20 years, ‘text’ is going to move to the lowest rungs as far as content format go. Video is already moving up and this trend will gather pace in the coming years with formats such as Vine finding more and more traction.

Read the responses to this one… People know.

 

Advertising – A Boon or a Bane?

The other thing that is simultaneously destroying content is the fact that most of the income for content comes out of advertising. This implies – firstly, you need to make sure people arrive at the content (click-bait headline); secondly, you need to make the content super easy to consume (so they keep coming back and/or spend the next century clicking though the rest of the stuff). The more time they spend on the site, higher are the odds that they will click on an ad, at least by mistake. Most of what qualifies for this in entertainment and not analysis.

Given a choice between an 8000 word essay on a subject which would take 20 minutes to consumer; and a sequence of 15 videos of guys getting hit in their nuts; which would garner me more clicks and therefore more advertising revenue? The choice for the content creators is clear.

Advertising as a business model has done everything to destroy the quality of content. Thanks Google. Thanks Facebook.

 

Thanks to all this Music has gone to dogs

Songs have been a means though which emotions and stories were communicated. What makes a song beautiful is the poetry and the metaphors, which make several interpretations possible. It automatically implies that you must give it time to grow on you, for the interpretations to set in and for the songs to get internalised.

With the lack of time and attention, musicians are forced to produce music that is catchy and will hook you up soon. This also means that most songs do not have a soul. Most songs use a particular word repeatedly to get you to like the song.

Count the number of time the word ‘Hello’ is used by Adele in her song ‘Hello’.

Taylor Swift is popular not because a lot of college girls sit around listening to her, although that may be true. She is popular because she makes an attempt to tell a story. At the end of the day a song will stay with you if it connects with your soul. The issue with most of the songs written today is that they have no shelf-life, they are meant to grab attention.

Often I go back and listen to some of the songs I had been listening to a couple of years back because of their popularity and I am genuinely ashamed that I had considered them good. If you do not understand what I am talking about, check this link.

The low shelf life means nobody wants to own any music. Hence Streaming.

Take a great song from 20 years ago, you can still enjoy it. Not the same with a song which is 3 years old.

 

Everything is about Entertainment

The proliferation of content and the ad economy has resulted in what can be best described as the attention economy. In fact this article beautifully lays out, how scarcity has evolved from food, to land, to labor, to information, and now to attention.

Consequentially, the only thing anybody is vying for is attention. News reporting is going down the drain. The world has a lot of real problems to deal with, inequality, poverty, terrorism, climate change, etc. but all the news is about things that will be entertaining.

Why?

Ads.

The news has been a part of the entertainment industry for a fairly long time now. Look at what praying at the alter of entertainment has brought us – Donald Trump might be nominated to fight for presidency.

 

If this trend were to persist, and I have no reason to believe it would not, 100 years from now the classics that our great grand children will be reading would be some shit Kim Kardashian wrote (Or worse shot in her bedroom)!

Apple showed me how it cares

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Today, I had to transfer the contents on my old laptop to a new one. Fortunately both the laptops were Macs. About 5 years, back when all of my computing was still being done on windows; if such a situation had arisen, I would get a sinking feeling in my stomach because I was near certain to spend a good part of an entire day involved in the activity.

The typical work flow would involve the following:
Backing up all the existing files onto a drive (plus spring cleaning)
Install the OS (If it was not pre-installed)
Find and install all of the drivers the system requires
Setup all of the peripherals
Reconfigure all of the mails IDs and other such configurable things
Re-install all of the applications that you had
Copy the data back onto the system
Most importantly – Pray that it all works out as imagined!
I had developed a level of expertise in doing this, not because I used to buy a new system every now and then, but since Windows would never fail when it came to crashing. My last Windows laptop which I used must have been formatted 2 dozen times in 4 years.
So, safe to say, I was not really looking forward to learning this exercise with the Mac. In the past 3 years, I had never had any reason to screw around with the Operating System. The Mac just works!
Migration_Assistant
But I had to migrate my data to a new laptop since I had acquired a new Mac. Enter Migration Assistant. I had to backup my Mac using Time Machine and then just connect the new system to the backup and point the Application towards the correct backup. Voila! An hour later, I had my new Mac restored with all of the files, setting, applications, mailing configurations et al. It was ready to roll and took no effort from my part.
In fact today morning when I connected the system to the printer, the print window prompted me that some the print could not be processes because the printer software was missing. The system asked me if I wanted it to find and install the software and when I asked the system to go ahead, it went ahead found the drivers and installed it all by itself in a matter of seconds.
A month back I had to negotiate a Windows 8.1 system and the few moments that I did spend with it were not the happiest part of my day. It still made me jump through hoops finding various drivers and software needed to get the little things done.
This is a fine example of showing your customers, you care. Taking the pains out of a process that is known to inflict a lot of pain. The point here is not whether it is difficult or easy to device this, or if the Apple eco-system enables this to be done (Hardware + Software); the point is that someone cared enough to make it work. To take the friction out of the task so that I as the user could have a better experience.
When you care, it shows.

Why Apple is in a different league to Samsung

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Apple launched the new iPhone 6 in larger screen sizes. The moment the launch event ended, the entire web was abuzz with jokes about how Apple had done exactly what Samsung had done years ago. There were comparative picture, which were circulating all over the web.

Samsung just could not withhold their exuberance! They even released a TV ad within a matter of days.

As the dust settles on the event one things is obvious; Apple can sell 10 times as many (profitable) phones as Samsung can ever manage to.

In fact it is high time that Samsung should shut up and watch how Apple sells its larger phone like gangbusters, at a price much higher than itself and in quantities that it can only dream of. Apple keeps serving them a masterclass in marketing and they keep ignoring it.

Well how does Apple do this time and time again? It is called community building.

Apple has a loyal community

Apple has a loyal community that supports it. Community building is a long drawn process and it takes years of hard work and commitment to build one. Apple probably has one of the biggest communities in the planet. The sales reflect that!

Why can’t Samsung build a community? In order to build a community, you need to stand for something. Take an argument between an Apple fanboy and a Samsung user, each will favour the brand that they own, but let us twist this a bit. Let us say the argument was between a Samsung user and a Nexus or Moto user, things get a little more muddled. A Samsung user might concede.

“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

Samsung is the kind of company that does not have a plan. They have no stand. Look at what they are doing with their wearable line up. There is one running Tizen and one running Android. Standing for something?

They spend their considerable Billions on marketing talking about Apple products in the hope that people might buy their story about the inferiority of Apple products, instead of highlighting the strength of their own. I would suppose that it is a sad state of affairs, when you need to necessarily compare yourself with your biggest competitor to even be able to remotely highlight the superiority of your product.

Care and find customers who care

Build a product that 100 people can love, really love. That is the advice given by Sam Altman, the founder of Y Combinator to startups. When you get people to love your products, they go out and sell it for you. The effort that needs to be extended towards marketing is lower, they get more involved and are willing to forgive you when you make mistakes.

Well, Apple did that when they started; and, they never stopped. This is the precise reason why, they have a massive loyal user community who would stand up and even promote the brand whenever the need arises. Apple was the reason, the term fanboy came into existence. You may have heard Apple fanboy a lot, have you heard Samsung fanboy as much? Android fanboy perhaps, but not Samsung fanboy.

So how did Apple build this community of lovers? It has taken decades over which many of these pillars have been established.

The Pillars of Apple Community

Platform – Platforms make it possible for people to build on top of it. People perceive the benefits and shortcomings of a platform in the way that they treat them. By the time Steve Jobs came back in 1997 to Apple, he was clear that Apple had lost the platform war to Windows and acknowledged the same publicly. This did not necessarily mean that he had given up owning a platform. He knew that the Platform is the only place for a company to take a stand, all hardware could be copied. Even his entry back into Apple was facilitated by the platform that he sold to Apple.

OS X & iOS – The Mac ran the Mac OS till version 9 (Mac OS 9). OS X was actually the rebirth of NEXTStep as a the Mac OS. OS X was Steve Jobs bringing his cumulative work done at NEXT to Apple, which was launched in 2001. OS X was modified to iOS for mobile devices. Since both the operating systems are closed platforms which Apple owns, they have been able to provide a set of features that “Only Apple” can provide.

You can argue about the merits and demerits of iOS and Android or Windows, Linux and OS X; but one thing that you cannot take away is that these platforms tend to polarise people. This polarisation is what leads to love for a particular platform against others.

There are two quotes from Steve Jobs that comes to mind.

People who love their software build their own hardware ~ Alan Kay (which Steve often repeated)

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Picture of one of the first buyer of Windows 95                     Picture of one of the first buyer of iPhone

 

For me the only difference between the two pictures is how the software was being distributed. Apple kept Alan Kay’s quote in mind and decided to distribute their software through their own devices which is at the heart of spurring all of the profits. Microsoft stuck to making money by selling the software directly to customers and OEM.

The Second quote from Steve Jobs came at one of the ‘All Things D’ conferences. He said “ The  iPod exists and Apple is in that market place because these really big Japanese consumer electric companies, which created and owned the portable music player market; could not write the appropriate software. They couldn’t conceive of and implement the software and if you look at the iPod, it is just software, software in the iPod itself, software in the PC/Mac, software for storage in the cloud and it is in a beautiful box but it is just software.” He said Apple views itself as a software company.

But the secret he did not let out was that it was still all about the Platform.

Apple Stores – Apple has arguably redefined electronics retail in every way possible. Back when Apple was planning to start its retail stores many said that they would fail without question; sighting the Gateway retail failure. The one thing that nobody had foreseen was that for Apple, the store was going to serve as an alter of worship for all things Apple. Apple Stores were never going to fail because the ultimate goal of the Apple Store was not to sell products!

Apple did not open their retail stores to sell Apple products, although that was a welcome consequence. The Apple stores were meant to be, for the lack of a better way to put it, a university. You came to an Apple store and learnt about all things Apple. You got to try out all of the products that Apple had, get rid of your inhibitions and got really comfortable. Windows was the dominant platform of the time and there were several inhibitions against switching.

For those who loved Apple, there was a place they could drag their ambivalent friends to, to show them how great Apple was. They themselves could come every now and then to learn about the newest and coolest things Apple was doing. They could just come and hang out when they felt like they needed to be close to what they loved.

Second lesson in community building; once you give your users a reason to love you, give them a place they can meet others like themselves. Give them a place where they can get people who do not love you; to sow them why you are awesome.

Music – The next pillar which brought a much larger following was their entry into the music business. People love music. Music inspires a range of emotions, whatever your taste might be, there would be a particular type of music that you really love.

iPod was a device through which you could carry your music anywhere you wanted and enjoy it.  The biggest achievement of iPod was to put your entire music library in your pocket. This was a huge breakthrough at a time when most mp3 players could hold only a couple of dozen songs. But more than the device itself, it was the platform which enabled the device that won them legions of followers

Few realise, but Apple actually built an entire platform for their music strategy which is called iTunes. iTunes made it possible to manage all of the music you had, buy music that you loved and manage the device on which you loved to listen to your music. It was a platform that offered ‘Music’. Not only users, even musicians loved the platform, which resulted in many of the musicians loving and supporting the platform.

For several Millions of people, including myself, iPod was the first Apple device that they ever bought. I am pretty certain that for almost as many, including myself, iTunes was the first platform on which they ‘bought’ digital music.

People who really loved music, which is a large group of people, eventually started gravitating towards iTunes and the iPod which brought more and more people into Apple stores and made them discover all the other things that Apple did.

iTunes is viewed as just a software, an app and many have been recently complaining that it has got too bloated and heavy. True, iTunes was meant for music; Apple has been lazily using it for all kinds of content; movies, TV shows and even book distribution. They need to go back to the basics.

iTunes (music) sales seems to be declining though, I do not think Apple would give up on Music that easy. They will most certainly take another swipe at it, because it is important to ensure that the artists who are creating quality content are rewarded for their efforts.

Fitness – There are so many people across the world who are either into fitness or require help with fitness. Fitness affects people more personally than anything else. Apple is slowly courting this segment and seeking to make a dent. Most importantly it is a little difficult to look at fitness in a isolated way, it involves the food you eat, the doctor you consult, the activities that you perform, etc. Seems like an excellent segment to build a community around.

Apple has not done much in this area as yet. Though looking at the roster of people that it has been recruiting over the past year, it is very clear that they are focused on building a compelling offering in this area. You can rest assured that they will build a platform. The Apple Watch, Health app and such are just ingredients which are getting tested in the real world before they bring out a more well-rounded offering to the market.

 

At the end of the day, people love what you are doing when you care about something that they care about. If you care enough about something, it shows.

Look at what Google does, does it seem like it cares about its customers; well yes, but its customers are advertisers, not you and me.

As long as Apple cares about the things that it works on, there is nothing that can stop their community from growing.

The only way to compete is by caring more. Do you see any company caring more?

Trolling – Who Benefits?

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Flipkart Vs Snapdeal

There is a lot of discussion currently about the BigBillionDay campaign which Flipkart had run. Flipkart decided to make a splash about certain sale/discount/offers being available on their website on the day in order to generate shopper interest and therefore sales. Given the numbers that the company has ben publishing, we can only conclude that the campaign was a glorious success. They seem to have pulled of a $100 Million worth of sales in 10 hours, which translates to Rs. 1 Crores worth of goods sold each minute. I am not sure what you think, but I think its a big deal!

On the day of this sale, Snapdeal and Amazon were quick to jump on Flipkart’s heels to effectively try and piss on their parade. Both companies by the looks of it seem to have effectively trolled Flipkart, but who got the mileage at the end of the day?

We live in a world where marketing is about eye-balls. It does not matter how those eye-balls arrive. Look at Buzzfeed; crap journalism, but who cares?

Trolling is all about poking fun at your competitors weakness and exaggerating it. Its more like an ambush; wherever you seem to go, you come up against the same jokes. The trolls forget the basic human instinct. When somebody is getting beaten everyone likes to stand around and watch.

Have you ever been in a situation where some team is giving another a drubbing; even if you have no particular interest in the sport, you just tune in to see how the drubbing is taking place? (I have watched a lot of 8-0 football matches and almost none which ended 0-0) How many of you watched or talked about the Germany Vs Brazil match in the World Cup while not having watched all of the WC matches? Same psychology at play.

When you start trolling and poking fun, people want to see the action first hand.

We live in a digital world where every business has a web presence; 50 years ago trolling might have been useful since it was hard to check the veracity. In the digital world we live in today, any such story results in a hit to the website of the company being trolled.

It gives the trolled an additional opportunity to convert the skeptic into a follower. In the world where eye-balls are all that matter, any publicity is good publicity. Trolls are also part of the publicity.

The problem is not when people talk bad of you, but when people stop talking about you.

I, for certain believe that Snapdeal put in considerable resources to make sure that the Flipkart #BigBillionDay was a raging success.

Even Internationally in a similar vein, Samsung keeps trolling Apple all the time. Things have come to a point where I feel Samsung cannot make an ad without mentioned Apple. In fact, when the bendgate broke out; Samsung, LG and others could not hold themselves back from trolling Apple, the moment the whiff of the story came out. iPhone 6 Plus seems to be selling like gangbusters. (4 Weeks+ wait list)

iPhone6

Apple cannot seem to produce enough iDevices to meet the demand; Samsung published their expectation for last quarter yesterday; 60% down on profits does not look very pretty.

So we arrives at the question, who is helped by all of the trolling. I think if we are to go by numbers, the end results are clear.

May the Trolls rest in peace.

What I learnt from Beats

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beats_by_dre_logo

Beats, the company that is famous for their headphones and who also have a fledgling music business recently got acquired by Apple. I have been absorbing all of the commentary surrounding this right from the time that the deal was still a rumour. I really do not know if this acquisition is a good thing for Apple or not. But I do have a few thought about Beats which might be useful for most people to keep in mind.

These thoughts came to me while I was having a recent conversation about career planning and job-hunting, but the same applies for any startup that is looking to develop themselves.

 

Be Focussed – First and foremost; the eventual goal that you wish to achieve through what you are doing is extremely important.  Our performance is extremely dependent on the degree of focus that we maintain on the goal that we seek to achieve. If you are focussed on achieving a goal, all of your efforts, all of the connections that you make are towards ensuring the goal is achieved. Find the one goal that you wish to achieve and chase it.

Persevere – Success does not come easy to all. Also, you never know when success arrives at your door. If you believe in something and have the passion to pursue it, you need to persevere. It is important not to give up the moment challenges seem insurmountable. If you lack the knowledge, learn; if you lack the ability, prepare; keep cracking at the problem.

Keep seeking opportunity – While you focus and persevere, keep looking for opportunities. Keep seeking ways by which you can get in the track you want to drive on. If you wis to get into a particular industry or if you are seeking out a particular kind of partner, keep your eyes open at all times. Keep meeting people, keep asking for opinions, keep seeking.

Don’t stop doing what you are good at – While doing all this, it is very easy to think; ‘Let me finish learning and them I will get to work on this’. When it comes to focus, perseverance or seeking opportunity; there is no finish line. It is a life long job of an entrepreneurs to do these things. If you have a skill or a passion, pursue it even though you may be learning, preparing or seeking out opportunities. There is never a better time to do what you love, that time is now!

 

Ramblings on Perseverance

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SJ
Steve Jobs is considered one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our times. He was involved in three ventures, Apple, Next and Pixar; of which two can be considered bonafide successes. Next was more of an acqui-hire and we really do not know if it would have been a hit, stand-alone.
But if we were to consider the other two enterprises; Pixar was eventually acquired by Disney making Steve Jobs the largest shareholders in Disney. Apple, well I do not think that I need to detail that out.
Pixar was one of the biggest bets which Steve Jobs made post Apple. For those who love to study pivoting, Pixar made the mother of all pivots going from being a high end computer maker to being a animated movie studio. The value that they were able to unlock through the pivot was extraordinary.
Roll back to 1994, all of the three ventures that I have mentioned above seemed to be on the verge of failure. Apple had not delivered a single hit in a long time (agreed Steve himself was not a part of the company). Pixar had successfully chewed through $50 Million and there was little to show expect for a Disney deal to distribute the movies it made, and it is said that Steve Jobs himself was looking to sell the venture. Next had faced failure upon failure and the entire tech world was certain that the latest operating system which the company had been developing was not going to be any match to Windows.
It was sheer perseverance which pulled these ventures out of the abyss that they had got themselves into. The patience to wait and see through the release of Toy Story in 1995 changed the fortunes of Pixar. Next was bought by Apple and Steve Jobs embarked on a slow an painful march towards revitalising Apple and putting out products that the consumers would love to use and admire.
I write about Steve Jobs because I have read plenty about him; although the same argument can be made for some of the biggest successes in business including Richard Branson, Thomas Edison, Sam Walton, Bill Marriott, and many more… More than anything else, it is pure perseverance that has resulted in these successes.
I feel creating a business is like preparing a dish whose recipe you do not know. So if you add a thought like “Fail Fast” to the mix what is going to be the likely outcome? The idea is to iterate with the absolute minimum ingredients to be able to realise whether a model works or not; ‘Fail Fast’ is by far the worst term coined to describe this. ‘Iterate fast and learn from failure’ should be the actual term that should be used.
Persevere.
Don’t put everything that you have at risk, the first time around.
Develop a business on the basis of firmly grounded insights.
Don’t give up if you fail. If you had to give up, might as well have not started in the first place.
It is not wrong to fall, it is wrong to not get up after the fall. It breaks the human spirit.