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Archive for the ‘Theories’ Category


Record Labels are gone.

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

I was thinking about how YouTube has rocked music videos to their core along with many other thoughts about record labels and I was all geared up to write a delightful diatribe on how screwed record labels are, or maybe more to the point how musicians don’t need record labels. I cannot think of a single reason that is so compelling that a person should get a record label. That is just a fact.

Having said that, I promptly found a well-written article that I thought did the subject justice. Without further ado:

Go Read This.

Optimizing Amazon Accounts

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Huge problem with Amazon: Sharing accounts between people on a Kindle. For example, if a husband and wife want to share a book, that is basically a non-starter.

The answer: You have to roll with a joint Kindle account and keep Whispersync turned off.


Questions? Comments? Would love to learn more best practices here.

I judge you by how you play basketball

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

It sucks, but it is true. When I play basketball, I watch how you play and I judge what kind of person you are. Unfortunate but true, because I relate how I play basketball to how I live my life.

I don’t care about dunks. A dunk is fun, but it is, generally speaking, a pure gift of genetics. It is the athletic equivalent of being born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

A great assist is so much more. To make an incredible pass that allows someone else to score requires you to empathize with what your teammates are doing. It requires you to completely understand what is happening in the game, both for your teammates and your opponents. It requires preparation and thoughtfulness. And it is an act of kindness, a mitzvah. You not only made a great play for yourself and your team, you made a great play for the other player. A great passer makes other players play better. A great scorer does not make his team better, he just scores.

Anyone can be a great passer. But when you watch that video, you think, “I could not make that pass.” That is because you have not worked on your game enough. These are the greatest players in history. You have to spend time in the lab. You have to work on your game to be great. If you work, you can make that pass. If you don’t, you can’t. You can always get better at passing if you are willing to put in the time.

Don’t tell me about your 30 point game. Tell me about your triple double. You got 15 points and made 10 great passes and got 10 rebounds? Man, you were working. You got 30 points? Sounds like you shot a lot. I don’t need shooters, I need great players. If we have great players, the points will come. If we have a bunch of guys that love their own game, this is going to suck. Team-first is the only way to play and the only way to live and work.

In life and in basketball, you need to look to make a great pass.

(Keep watching that video, they slow roll you and save the top 10 passes for very late in the video.)

Is this blog an inefficient use of scarce resources?

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

I think it is a fair question to ask my readers: Would you prefer tweets to blog posts? Is the long form format consuming too much of your attention without delivering value? It certainly takes me a lot longer, even though I try to be a good writer (“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time!”)

As I have been working on some particularly lengthy blog posts, I wondered: Maybe I should be posting this slide show to slideshare and tweeting a link and be done with it?

Please take a moment and let me know how you would like to consume my content.

Your First Day

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

walrusNot enough companies work hard to make an employee’s first day at work special. Frankly, I include myself in that category. But I am a big believer in first days. The old saying is true: “You never get another chance to make a first impression.”

An employee’s first day is that chance to make an impression. A chance to establish tone and culture. For the employee, it would be nice if it was a mix of unboxing an apple product and a trip to Disneyland – a thoughtful experience that shows that you are thinking about them, that they are going to have a great, great time, and that they will never be happier.

I am a big believer in getting people right to work. On the first day, an employee will never think more highly of a new organization, be more eager to make a great first impression, and more excited to show the kinds of contributions that they are capable of. Don’t waste a new employees excitement with filling out HR forms – help them show you what they are eager to demonstrate: how incredibly productive and useful they can be as a member of your team.

Most companies screw this up because it is hard. Usually it takes time to figure out how to get someone productive in your work environment. Hey, if great on-boarding was easy, everyone would do it.

Night School

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

If an employee at your company announces their intention to go to night school, what does that mean for the organization?

Caveat: I have never gone to night school. I barely finished college. Also, I am talking about technology professionals that already have an undergraduate degree and are getting an MBA or something.

Generally I would say that people that decide to go to night school fall into a few buckets:

  • People looking to make a career shift.
  • People that believe that upward mobility in their chosen profession is restricted by their lack of degrees.
  • People are bored.

Frankly, to me, when an employee tells me that they have decided to go to night school, that is a red flag. Are they not challenged enough? Do they think that their upward mobility at our company is limited? My objective as an employer is to capture as much of my employees mindshare as possible. I recognize that people have personal lives and I want employees to have a healthy work-life balance, but to me, this is “work” and I want “work” to be focused on work. Why are you spending your nights thinking about problems that other people assigned to you besides your colleagues?

Incidentally, if I was interviewing someone and they were doing night school, that would not be a huge negative. That just means they aren’t challenged at work today. Good for them to not settle.

Best Hacker News Posts of 2012

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013


In many ways, I am annoyed by Hacker News and trust me, my forthcoming post: “All the popular posts on Hacker News are posts I wrote poorly re-written” will be a doozy, but I wanted to do an end of year wrap-up post and decided that, for lack of a better idea, I would feature my favorite posts from Hacker News. These tended to be topics that were not rehashes of topics I have already covered, so in that respect, they are interesting. Here they are:

Couple of comments to add some value: You know my topics if you follow this blog, so not many of these should come as a shock. The single hardest part of most start-ups is user acquisition, so there are lots of articles about user acquisition across a broad spectrum here: Book authors acquiring users, inbound marketing, bands acquiring users, growth hackers. Quick comment on growth hacking – I love it. I love the idea. I love the original conceit at Facebook for growth hacking. I totally buy in. Having said that, growth hacking is similar to Gangnam Style in that the moment it came into existence it simultaneously jumped the shark. 99.9% of the time, people are simply intellectually dishonest with themselves about what they are doing if they think they are growth hacking.

The UserVoice article is kind of lame, but there you go. Something product management-ish.

How to Nap is probably the single most important piece of news from 2012.

Finally, as everyone knows by now, smart drugs are my obsession. They will change the world.

Questions to ask at a parent teacher conference

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

I have a first grader and I took my parent teacher conference fairly seriously. After reading many, many sites on questions to ask, this was my list. I wanted to record it for the permanent record in case I need it again or it can help other parents.

  • How is my child doing academically in your class?
  • How is my child doing in relation to the rest of the class? (Is my child performing in the top 25 percent? Top 10 percent?
  • What grade level is my student working on?  Is my student at grade level in reading and math?  How about the other subjects?
  • Is my student in different classes or groups for different subjects? Which ones? How are the groups determined?
  • What do you see as my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What subject does my student like most? Least?
  • Is my student working to the best of his ability?
  • Does my child exhibit a good attitude toward learning? Does my child make a good effort on assignments and turn in completed assignments?
  • Do you feel my child is breezing through class assignments with little or no effort?
  • Could you make class assignments that are more challenging for my child?
  • Does my child stay on task well or need frequent reminders? Has my child been developing good work habits?  Does my child finish what he starts? If she asks to make a project, does she complete it or become bored easily? What is his attention span? Can my child follow complex instructions (two or more steps…first this, then that)? Sometimes, children need additional explanation or prefer a certain learning style.
  • How do you view my child’s emotional and social skills?
  • How does my child do with working in groups and working independently?
  • Does my child participate in class? Does my child behave in class?
  • How Does My Child Interact With Other Children? This question is somewhat vague, so you may want to build on it based on the initial answer received. What you really want to know is if and how your child socializes with others. If your child is shy or does more self-play than group-play, follow up with questions about whether this is normal for your child’s age or if there are any special concerns.
  • Who Are My Child’s Friends? Ask about your child’s friend preferences. The information may prove valuable for play dates or parties, but also helps to give parents a better idea of a child’s sociability.
  • Have you noticed any issues that need to be addressed or interests to be encouraged?
  • Have you noticed changes in the way my student acts? For example, have you noticed squinting, tiredness, or moodiness that might be a sign of physical or other problems?

Why You Can’t Have It All.

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

On the other side of the gender divide, there is a conversation that has been going on for decades but has grown louder in the last decade: Can women have it all? People like Sheryl Sandberg talks about how she can have it all by leaving at 5:30 every day. Anne-Marie Slaughter takes the other side of the debate by explaining how she found she could not in a widely read article in The Atlantic.

I want to wade into this debate myself. Let’s start with a simple statement:

I can’t have it all.

These articles all talk about women, but they could be about the human race. The evolution of technology has changed the way we work to a point where work life and home life are a blur. This is not a female problem, it is a people problem. When people can work any time, the expectation becomes one where people are expected to work all the time.

In the 1950’s, when it snowed, people couldn’t go to work and kids couldn’t go to school and the world stopped: There was sledding and snowmen and snowball fights and that was it. In the Snowpocalypse a few years ago, with three feet of snow on my front lawn, my wife and I desperately juggled schedules as the power of the Internet moved every meeting to a conference call and the email became, if anything, even more unrelenting.

I have my kids in day care and picking them up by 6pm is the law of the land. We don’t have a nanny and we joke all the time that this is a key part of our work-life balance. If we had a nanny, we might forget about our children entirely.

The best jobs are fun. That means work is fun. It engages the brain. So people with jobs like Sheryl’s love to work.

But she knows a fundamental truth. As I always tell my wife: “I will never regret skipping that meeting. There will always be another meeting. But going swimming with my kids. If I don’t go swimming with them, I will regret it.”

Every time I go swimming with my kids, they want me to get into the pool. They love to play swim tag – a game that involves them swimming near me and then racing back to “base”, while I hopelessly try to lure them off base far enough for me to get them. I don’t love to play swim tag. I frequently would rather they play in the pool with each other while I read a book. But every time they ask me, I remember how, when I was very young, I wanted my mother and father to play with me in the pool and how frequently they did not – for the exact same reasons I had: it’s boring, I have better things to do, I was planning to leave in 20 minutes, whatever. But I really wish they had. So more often than not, I get in the pool. I will never forget the time I spent with them in the pool. They love it so much. And seeing them happy makes me happy.

I want more of that. I agree with Paul Graham: School is prison. It is a place we send our children when we have to work because we need a place to send them. I would prefer to home school my children. But I am unwilling, due to my own selfishness and materialism, to give up all the things that I would have to surrender to do so. I live in a nice house, I go out to eat at nice places, I buy local, organic food at the farmers market, I go on nice vacations from time to time, and on a day-to-day basis, I feel like I never need more money. And I think all of this benefits my children and in the big picture is a somewhat reasonable trade-off. Of course, in the macro, I could use a lot more money. My car is a piece. We write a huge check for our mortgage every month. I have a day care bill that is unsettling. I can’t retire. I have friends who have start-ups and I would love to give them money but I can’t afford to.

But I have no illusions: My kids would rather be at home than at school. And I drop them off early for school before care. And they stay late at school for after care. And they would rather be with me. And I would rather be with them. But we can’t be.

Why? Because I value my job. I like my job. I want to do a good job at my place of employment. And I work hard at my job. Working hard takes time.

When people talk about the compromises one makes to accomodate work-life balance, that is what they mean. Time taken with children is time taken away from work. In the kind of white collar, knowledge worker jobs that I have – that my peers have – there is always more work. In the time I took to write this blog post, I could have written a deck. So the time we take to raise our children is time that is not invested in work. In modern day parlance, it is time we are performing poorly at our job. Because there are no boundaries. Time we take at work is time I am taking to do something I enjoy (“work”), that makes my children suffer (generally speaking, they spend most of that time in school/prison), albeit the money from my vocation helps them too – it pays for swimming/pool membership, it pays for gummy bears, it pays for…. uh, I think that is all my kids appreciate that money buys.

And I want more. I would say that work is far more about all the things that I want that are not even on this list. Most of them include my kids: Scuba lessons. Fishing trips. I want to take my kids on a trip to the Far East. I want to take my family to France for three months. I want things that there is no possibility I can afford in the near term. I would say that is the real reason that I work. My kids suffer today so that I may strive to make their lives better.

This is the essence of the trade-offs we make. We do things today that we like, hoping it does not screw up our kids in the future. We do things now we don’t like because we hope to make our kids lives better.

The worst part about spending time with kids is when you are thinking of all the other things you should be doing. If I could get rid of all of that and simply live in the moment, every time I successfully do that, I find that I am incredibly happy. But then, that is also true of things I do at work, or when I play basketball.

Live in the moment. Flow.

But remember, you will never regret not working another 15 minutes and going to leave and spend it with your kids.

(This was written very quickly. Excuse the nonsense.)

Smart Drugs: Coming To Start-ups Near You

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

The New York Times had an excellent article on July 10th entitled “Taking Stimulants Not for a High, but for a Higher SAT Score”. As you probably know, here at CogCentral, we are big followers of the brain drug ecosystem and this was an excellent overview of the creep of brain drugs from college down to high school.

A high school senior said, “These are academic steroids.”

My favorite quote was from a freshman at an Ivy League school talking about her use during high school:

“Do I want only four hours of sleep and be a mess, then underperform on the test and then in field hockey? Or make the teachers happy and the coach happy and get good grades, get into a good college and make my parents happy?”

This is the trick with brain drugs: They make you smarter. This is a trait valued by third parties, so they make you better. This is particular compelling at a young age: A pill that makes people like you more. And not “fake like” like cocaine where you think they like you and then you realize that wasn’t true. Smart pills equal true like. Better performance. Powerful stuff.

I am surprised I have not yet heard stories of widespread abuse of these drugs in the start-up community. It seems like they would be a slam dunk. What engineer doesn’t want to sit down and just churn out code for hours?

A spokesman for a school district made the following naive statement:

“It’s time for a serious wake-up call. Straight A’s and high SAT scores look great on paper, but they aren’t reflective measures of a student’s health and well-being.”

Well h0-ho-ho, Mr. School District. Let me know when Harvard starts admitting kids based on exceptional health. He must really be kicking himself for sounding so dumb in the New York Times. So there is a pill that gives you straight A’s and high SAT scores, but you think it detracts from student health so high school kids shouldn’t take it.

High School was a long time ago, but as I recollect it, jeopardizing one’s health was pretty much par for the course.

How will people resist the call of brain doping? In a world of high performers, what is left for the people that don’t dope?