Book Review: “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen”

This is a short and to the point book on marketing. It defines a process to help you craft an engaging brand message. The approach is based on scripting your message according to the general pattern of what a story is:

A hero has a problem and meets a guide that gives them a plan and calls them to action that helps them avoid failure and end in a success.

Note that in this story, your company is NOT the hero, you are the GUIDE.

Movies (the good ones) follow this pattern. (Try it out on movies you like, it works!). According to the author, using this approach gets customers engaged and excited about your company.

The book deconstructs the formula and breaks it down in seven steps:

  • A hero
  • has a problem
  • And meets a guide
  • That gives them a plan
  • And calls them to action
  • That helps them avoid failure
  • And ends in success

Each step gets its own chapter, and at the end of the chapter, you should have clear actionable outputs that ultimately allow you to craft a meaningful brand story. Note that this is not a silver bullet. You need to put in time and effort and probably should see it as an ongoing process of constant improvements.

Ultimately, the story that comes out should allow you to review your mission statement, your website, your business literature, pretty much everything associated with your company.

For me, it was well worth time and effort. I’m unsure if it’s going to improve my sales or allow me to grow my client base but it certainly allowed me to better understand what is lacking in my message. It also gave me an inkling as to what I should do to fix things.

Book Review: Don’t make me think

When I picked this book up, I thought it would be a silver bullet for some of the UX problems I was facing at the time. It wasn’t… but what it is is a very high-level set of rules and principles that can help you when developing a UX.

Most of the stuff in this book is common sense but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of the guiding principles.

I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter on testing… which describes an approach to testing on a budget.

Here are some of my notes:

Chapter 1

  • The most important thing you can do is to understand the basic principle of eliminating question marks.
  • the main reason why it’s important not to make me think is that most people are going to spend far less time looking at the pages we design that we’d like to imagine. As a result, if Web pages are going to be effective, they have to work most of their magic at a glance. And the best way to do this is to create pages that are self-evident, or at least self-explanatory.

Chapter 3

  • If you’re not going to use an existing Web convention, you need to be sure that what you’re replacing it with either (a) is so clear and self-explanatory that there’s no learning curve—so it’s as good as the convention, or (b) adds so much value that it’s worth a small learning curve.
  • CLARITY TRUMPS CONSISTENCY
  • A good visual hierarchy saves us work by preprocessing the page for us, organizing and prioritizing its contents in a way that we can grasp almost instantly.

Chapter 4

  • When you can’t avoid giving me a difficult choice, you need to go out of your way to give me as much guidance as I need—but no more. This guidance works best when it’s Brief: The smallest amount of information that will help me Timely: Placed so I encounter it exactly when I need it Unavoidable: Formatted in a way that ensures that I’ll notice it

Chapter 5

  • Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
  • Getting rid of all those words that no one is going to read has several beneficial effects: It reduces the noise level of the page. It makes the useful content more prominent. It makes the pages shorter, allowing users to see more of each page at a glance without scrolling.
  • Your objective should always be to eliminate instructions entirely by making everything self-explanatory, or as close to it as possible. When instructions are absolutely necessary, cut them back to the bare minimum.

Chapter 6

  • Too-subtle visual cues are actually a very common problem. Designers love subtle cues because subtlety is one of the traits of sophisticated design. But Web users are generally in such a hurry that they routinely miss subtle cues. In general, if you’re a designer and you think a visual cue is sticking out like a sore thumb, it probably means you need to make it twice as prominent.

Chapter 7

  • The one thing you can’t afford to lose in the shuffle—and the thing that most often gets lost—is conveying the big picture.
  • Don’t use a mission statement as a Welcome blurb.
  • Taglines are a very efficient way to get your message across because they’re the one place on the page where users most expect to find a concise statement of the site’s purpose.
  • tagline conveys a value proposition.
  • Good taglines are personable, lively, and sometimes clever.

Chapter 9

  • Testing one user is 100 percent better than testing none.
  • Testing one user early in the project is better than testing 50 near the end.
  • Do-it-yourself tests are a qualitative method whose purpose is to improve what you’re building by identifying and fixing usability problems. The process isn’t rigorous at all: You give them tasks to do, you observe, and you learn. The result is actionable insights, not proof.
  • Even before you begin designing your site, for instance, it’s a good idea to do a test of competitive sites.
  • For each round of testing, you need to come up with tasks: the things the participants will try to do.
  • start by making a list of the tasks people need to be able to do with whatever you’re testing.
  • Choose enough tasks to fill the available time (about 35 minutes in a one-hour test), keeping in mind that some people will finish them faster than you expect.
  • Then word each task carefully, so the participants will understand exactly what you want them to do. Include any information that they’ll need but won’t have, like login information if you’re having them use a demo account.
  • your job is to make sure the participant stays focused on the tasks and keeps thinking aloud.
  • During this part of the test, it’s crucial that you let them work on their own and don’t do or say anything to influence them. Don’t ask them leading questions, and don’t give them any clues or assistance unless they’re hopelessly stuck or extremely frustrated. If they ask for help, just say something like “What would you do if I wasn’t here?”
  • After each round of tests, you should make time as soon as possible for the team to share their observations and decide which problems to fix and what you’re going to do to fix them.
  • FOCUS RUTHLESSLY ON FIXING THE MOST SERIOUS PROBLEMS FIRST

Chapter 10

  • Having something pinned down can have a focusing effect, where a blank canvas with its unlimited options—while it sounds liberating—can have a paralyzing effect.
  • One approach was Mobile First. Instead of designing a full-featured (and perhaps bloated) version of your Web site first and then paring it down to create the mobile version, you design the mobile version first based on the features and content that are most important to your users. Then you add on more features and content to create the desktop/full version.
  • In some cases, the lack of space on each screen means that mobile sites become much deeper than their full-size cousins, so you might have to tap down three, four, or five “levels” to get to some features or content. This means that people will be tapping more, but that’s OK. With small screens it’s inevitable: To see the same amount of information, you’re going to be either tapping or scrolling a lot more. As long as the user continues to feel confident that what they want is further down the screen or behind that link or button, they’ll keep going. Here’s the main thing to remember, though:
  • MANAGING REAL ESTATE CHALLENGES SHOULDN’T BE DONE AT THE COST OF USABILITY
  • Always provide a link to the “full” Web site. No matter how fabulous and complete your mobile site is, you do need to give users the option of viewing the non-mobile version, especially if it has features and information that aren’t available in your mobile version. (The current convention is to put a Mobile Site/Full Site toggle at the bottom of every page.)
  • Affordances are visual clues in an object’s design that suggest how we can use it.
  • For affordances to work, they need to be noticeable, and some characteristics of mobile devices have made them less noticeable or, worse, invisible. And by definition, affordances are the last thing you should hide.
  • Flat design has a tendency to take along with it not just the potentially distracting decoration but also the useful information that the more textured elements were conveying.

Chapter 11

  • I’ve always found it useful to imagine that every time we enter a Web site, we start out with a reservoir of goodwill. Each problem we encounter on the site lowers the level of that reservoir.

Chapter 12

  • About i18n… It’s the right thing to do. And not just the right thing; it’s profoundly the right thing to do because the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. Personally, I don’t think anyone should need more than this one example: Blind people with access to a computer can now read almost any newspaper or magazine on their own. Imagine that.
  • And for those of you who don’t find this argument compelling, be aware that even if you haven’t already encountered it, there will be a legislative stick coming sooner or later. Count on it.
  • “Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work with Screen Readers.”

Book Review: “Grit, The power of passion and perseverance”

What a nice surprise! A friend of mine told me “You have to read this book!!!” Indeed, he was right. I loved it, and recommend reading it. The premise is simple “Not everything is decided by one’s IQ. Successful people usually work hard, practice constantly and are relentless about the quality of their work.”

The book is well written, you can read it in a few days. The author (Angela Duckworth) definitively knows this topic inside out as she’s been studying it for years. She’s looked at “Westpointers” (cadets from the Westpoint military school), KIPP students, the Seattle Seahawks, etc. From all of these examples of grit, she distilled her work in this rare book.

Some of my notes follow…

Grit Scale

The book defines a grit test that you can self-administer. Doing the test gives you a score (from 1 to 5) which tells you how gritty you are (1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest). This is interesting but is actually the weakest part of the book in my opinion.

I did the test and found the questions to be extremely subjective. The result obtained is based on how you characterize yourself at that particular time and place. In my case, it was quite easy to go from a 2 to a 4 for any given question, depending on which project or which period of my life I think about. (e.g. “I worked really hard on project X for 3 years, doing on average 70 hours per week, that’s pretty gritty, I think” but then you may also have “I worked on project Y, 3 months, hated everything about it and couldn’t leave it soon enough”… so depending on your mindset when you do the test, your results may vary.

Furthermore, I think that your environment (i.e. who you associate with will also affect your perception quite a bit). If you are surrounded by gritty people who work very hard, you might not feel very gritty… but if you are put with underachievers, suddenly you might feel quite gritty. Basically, the test is so subjective that I wouldn’t put too much thought in it. That being said, the author admits that the test is fakeable but that it was also found to be accurate in some contexts where she ran it. So it might be valid when there is no consequence associated with the test but not as valid when there is something of importance tied to the result (e.g. job interview).

Note that I still believe in the concept of grit and all the information found in the book is extremely valuable.

From talent to achievement

Talent is not the greatest indicator of success. It helps, but it’s far from everything that matters. Angela Duckworth suggests that hard work and perseverance are actually a better indicator of the success of a person.

The author comes up with the following two equations to illustrate how you go from talent to achievement:

talent x effort = skill
skill x effort = achievement

Her point is that for somebody to accomplish something meaningful, effort counts twice (or at least, is very substantial when it comes to somebody’s accomplishments).

Growth Mindset

Somebody who has a growth mindset believes that it is possible to become more intelligent given the right opportunities, support and effort (i.e. use deliberate practice).

Examples of growth mindset talk:

  • Say: “You’re a learner, I love that”
    Don’t say: “You’re a natural! I love that.”
  • Say: “Great job! What’s the one thing that could have been even better?”
    Don’t say: “Great job! You’re so talented.”

Basically, you need to emphasize hard work over natural intelligence. I found this quite interesting and will (hopefully) remember this whenever I’m dealing with my kids.

About deliberate practice

One of the best things in the book is that I finally found the best description of the characteristics of deliberate practice. In short, deliberate practice must have the following four characteristics:

  • A clearly defined stretch goal
  • Full concentration and effort
  • Immediate and informative feedback
  • Repetition with reflection and refinement

So basically, you do deliberate practice, day after day, month after month, year after year and you’ll be good… Though not stated directly, the use of a coach or mentor is highly recommended (how would you get the necessary feedback without it?).

I would love to find a way to apply this to software engineering (e.g. new framework, languages or concepts).

The Hard Thing Rule

Grit can be encouraged, grown in a family. The author suggests the “hard thing rule”, which she applies to her family’s life. It goes like this:

Everybody in the family does at least one “hard thing”

You cannot quit the hard thing before the season is over

You choose your own hard thing (usually something you like).

I would love to apply this to my own family. We’ll see how they feel about it when they grow up 🙂

“Grit” applied to software teams

This is not in the book… just some of my musing about it…

I found the example of the Seahawks (NFL team) to be quite interesting The Seahawks staff has cultivated consciously a culture of grit. I was wondering if the same concepts could be applied to a software team. Can you, in a software group, or a software-based company create a “culture” of grit? If so, how would you do it? Just by recruiting well? Or is there some other elements that can bring out the grit in a team? A book on this (by a great team lead or software manager would be awesome)… there’s probably something around, just need to find it.

Reading the book confirmed some stuff I have seen over the years when interviewing people for software jobs… that is, GPA tells very little about a person’s whole story…

When hiring for a junior position, I would look for grit through the following:

  • I would look at courses where the potential hire excelled and then query them about that particular course. Why did they like it? Was it passion? Can this be brought forward to my company? (See one of Angela’s YouTube video, she recommends something similar)
  • School projects and personal projects are amazingly important. It’s not only that they have projects but also how long have they been working on those projects.
  • Open source work. Wow, GitHub, what an amazing trove of information on a person. You can see passion and interest right there, through their commits, and through the discussions on issues.
  • I would have them tag along one of my senior designers and work on a problem for a short period of time and see how this problem. Are they curious? Do they care more about learning than being let go?

When hiring for a senior position, things are a little bit different. Senior software people may be married, may have kids and will generally have a lot less time to have side projects or contribute to open source… So I think that I would look for passion for the craft. Are they keeping up with technology? Do still get excited about it? What are the best projects they worked on in their careers? I don’t think I would ask them about the crappy projects, everybody goes through bad projects… the more you have worked, the more likely you’ll have been on some of those.

An issue with looking for grit in a senior’s resume is that it’s difficult to judge grit by looking at an amount of time spent on a given project or company. A long period might mean grit but it could also mean just being comfortable in a given position.

More information

If you are unsure about buying the book, I would recommend checking out the following presentations by Angela:

Book Review: “The Effective Executive”

Peter Drucker (1909-2005) wrote close to 40 books in his very long career. Most of them focus on organization management, some though focus on the individual within the organization. This book is one of them.

The premise of the book is that some executives are more effective than others. Drucker’s contention is that this effectiveness is not the product of intelligence, hard work or even imagination. Effectiveness is due to a set of practices used by the effective executive.

Drucker goes over these practices in this book. He does so with great clarity and with ample examples of how these are implemented. Due to Peter Drucker’s reach and longevity, he has ample executives to choose from.

The result is an amazing book that may change how you see your position within an organization. If you are like me and want to improve your productivity, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

After reading “The effective executive”, I added two more books into my book buffer:

Notes

I took a lot of notes while reading the book. Here are some of those:

Chapter 1 Effectiveness can be learned

  • Effectiveness is not intelligence, imagination or knowledge. It is a set of practices that can be learned.
  • Five practices of effective executives:
    • Know how you spend your time
    • Focus on results, not work
    • Build on strength, not weaknesses
    • Concentrate on areas where superior performance brings the greatest results
    • Make effective decisions
  • Knowledge workers are executive in that they are responsible for contributions that affect an organization’s result.
  • Realities of executives:
    • Their time belongs to others
    • They are forced to keep on operating unless they change things themselves
    • They are within an organization and depend on people above and below
    • They are within an organization and get their data filtered.

Chapter 2 Know thy time

  • To do anything, you first need time. Money is elastic, time isn’t. It’s your most precious resource. Manage it wisely.
  • We’re bad at keeping track of how we spend our time. Keep a log.
  • After having measure time do the following:
    • Eliminate things that should not be done (“What would happen if I wouldn’t do this?”)
    • Delegate (“Which of these activities could be done by somebody else?”)
    • Stop wasting other people’s time yourself.
    • You cannot do all the work in small blocks. You need some uninterrupted time:
    • Block 0.5 day or day(s) from your calendar
    • Work from home

Chapter 3 What can I contribute?

  • It’s not the effort, it’s the contribution. Ask yourself: “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?”
  • Effective executives will focus outwards. He will focus on the relationships (organization, clients, etc)
  • Organizations need performance in three areas:
    • direct results (e.g. sales)
    • the building of values and reaffirmation
    • building/developing people for tomorrow
  • If you focus on contributions, good meaningful human relationships will follow.
  • A few notes on meetings:
  • Always know the purpose (“Why are we having this meeting?”)
  • In a meeting, you do one of these two (NEVER BOTH):
    • Direct and listen
    • Take an active part in discussions

Chapter 4 Making strength productive

  • Effective Executives make strength productive.
  • The purpose of an organization is to make strength productive. You should, therefore, staff to MAXIMIZE strength, NOT to minimize weaknesses
  • The idea of a “well rounded” person is a prescription for mediocrity.
  • DON’T ASK “How does he get along with me?” ASK “What does he contribute?”
  • DON’T ASK “What can a man do?” ASK “What can he do uncommonly well?”
  • To focus on strength is to make demands for performance.
  • Staffing is difficult. Executives tend to fill jobs by looking for best fit (i.e. least misfit). This leads to mediocrity.
  • If you redesign a job to fit a person, you are restructuring the company. It also leads to favoritism.
  • How do you staff for strength without building job to suit personality:
    • A job must be well designed (if 3 people were defeated by the job, it needs to be redesigned)
    • Make sure the job is demanding. It should challenge the man.
    • Start with what a man can do
      • What has he done well
      • What, therefore, is he likely to do well
      • What does he need to acquire to best use his strength
      • If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person?
  • To get strengths, one has to put up with weaknesses
  • ASK “Does this man have strength in one major area? And is this strength relevant to the task? If he achieves excellence in this one area, will it make a significant difference? And if the answer is yes, he will go ahead and appoint the man.”
  • General Marshall is a good example of how to make strength productive.

Chapter 5 First thing first

  • The secret of effectiveness is concentration:
    • Do first thing first
    • Do one thing at a time
  • The executive requires fairly big chunks of time. This is difficult to get when you are interrupt driven. Learn to say no.
  • It is difficult to do one thing at a time, let alone two. The people who can do two things at a time make sure they allocate enough time the minimum allowed to get something meaningful done.
  • Ask “If we did not already do this, would we go into it now?” If the answer is not an unconditional yes then drop it.
  • There’s always a lot of decisions to be made. Either the executive or pressures will make them.
  • If pressures make them, important tasks will be dropped
  • No task is completed until it becomes part of organizational action and behavior. In other words, no task is done unless somebody else has taken it has their own.
  • Rules to decide on priorities:
    • Pick future against past
    • Focus on opportunities rather than problems
    • Choose your own direction
    • Aim high, make a difference
  • “Concentration – that is, the courage to impose on time and events his own decision as to what matters and comes first – is the executive’s only hope of becoming the master of time and events instead of their whipping boy.”

Chapter 6 The elements of decision making

  • Effective executives make decisions through a systematic process with clearly defined elements and in a distinct sequence of steps.
  • Effective executives do not make many decisions. The concentrate on the important ones (be strategic and generic).
  • Decision process:
    • Find out if the problem is generic or exceptional
    • Specify what the decision has to accomplish (define boundary conditions)
    • Find out the right solution (don’t compromise at the start)
    • Convert the decision to actions:
      • Who has to know about the decision?
      • What actions need to be taken?
      • Who takes given action?
      • What does the action look like so that it is truly actionable?
    • Feedback is required to ensure continuous testing of decision.

Chapter 7 Effective decisions

  • A decision is a judgement.
  • You don’t start with facts, you start with opinions. (opinions == untested hypotheses)
  • An opinion is worthless unless tested against reality
  • The effective executive expects that traditional measurement is not correct. If it was, there would be no need for a decision. Traditional measurements reflect yesterday’s decision.
  • You should have alternatives for measurements.
  • Decisions are made from clash of opinions and ideas. When discussing problems and possible decisions, insist on disagreement. Here’s why:
    • Prevents decision make becoming prisoner of organization
    • Provides alternatives
    • Stimulates imagination
  • The effective executive encourages opinions but will ask for experiments to validate.
  • A decision is like surgery. It carries risks. Make a decision when:
    • current condition is likely to degenerate if nothing is done.
    • opportunity is important and will vanish if not acted upon
  • When deciding:
    • Act if on balance the benefits greatly outweighs cost and risk
    • Act or do not act, no compromise.

Book Review: “A guide to the good life”

I forget where and when I first heard about this book. It might be through the “Tim Ferriss Show” or it could have been a recommendation from my brother. Whatever or whomever the source, all I can say is that this book is definitively worth reading.

“A guide to the good life” talks about everything surrounding Stoicism. It discusses its history; from its Greek origin to its Roman adoption. It goes over its major “influencers”; Musonius, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius amongst others. Mainly though, it’s a practical guide as to how best apply Stoicism in modern times…

“A guide to the good life” goes over various Stoic techniques to improve your “tranquility”. Examples include:

  • Negative visualization
  • Practiced poverty
  • Dealing with insults
  • Daily meditation
  • etc.

I’m always been wary of books on philosophy. I usually find them too “meta” for me. This one though is highly practical. Reading it will, in the worst case, educate you about a popular approach to view the world. In the best case though, it might change your life for the better.

The book is filled with tons of interesting ideas. I took many notes and will only reprint a portion of those here. Get the book, it’s worth it.

  • Many ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, for example, not only thought philosophies of life were worth contemplating but thought the raison d’être of philosophy was to develop them.
  • The Stoic philosophy of life may be old, but it merits the attention of any modern individual who wishes to have a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling—who wishes, that is, to have a good life.
  • The Stoics realized that a life plagued with negative emotions—including anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy—will not be a good life.
  • Stoic tranquility was a psychological state marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy.
  • We, humans, are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires.
  • One key to happiness, then, is to forestall the adaptation process: We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from taking for granted, once we get them, the things we worked so hard to get.
  • Negative visualization, in other words, teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it. But it simultaneously teaches us to prepare ourselves for changes that will deprive us of the things that delight us. It teaches us, in other words, to enjoy what we have without clinging to it.
  • A practicing Stoic will keep the trichotomy of control firmly in mind as he goes about his daily affairs. He will perform a kind of triage in which he sorts the elements of his life into three categories: those over which he has complete control, those over which he has no control at all, and those over which he has some but not complete control.
  • In particular, instead of merely thinking about what it would be like to lose our wealth, we should periodically “practice poverty”: We should, that is, content ourselves with “the scantiest and cheapest fare” and with “coarse and rough dress.”
  • TO HELP US ADVANCE our practice of Stoicism, Seneca advises that we periodically meditate on the events of daily living, how we responded to these events, and how, in accordance with Stoic principles, we should have responded to them.
  • Besides reflecting on the day’s events, we can devote part of our meditations to going through a kind of mental checklist. Are we practicing the psychological techniques recommended by the Stoics? Do we, for example, periodically engage in negative visualization? Do we take time to distinguish between those things over which we have complete control, those things over which we have no control at all, and those things over which we have some but not complete control? Are we careful to internalize our goals? Have we refrained from dwelling on the past and instead focused our attention on the future? Have we consciously practiced acts of self-denial? We can also use our Stoic meditations as an opportunity to ask whether, in our daily affairs, we are following the advice offered by the Stoics.
  • “fellowship is the purpose behind our creation.” Thus, a person who performs well the function of man will be both rational and social.
  • The Stoics, therefore, recommend that we avoid befriending people whose values have been corrupted, for fear that their values will contaminate ours. We should instead seek, as friends, people who share our (proper Stoic) values and in particular, people who are doing a better job than we are of living in accordance with these values.
  • He counsels us, for example, not to waste time speculating about what our neighbors are doing, saying, thinking, or scheming. Nor should we allow our mind to be filled with “sensual imaginings, jealousies, envies, suspicions, or any other sentiments” about them that we would blush to admit.
  • He adds that if we detect anger and hatred within us and wish to seek revenge, one of the best forms of revenge on another person is to refuse to be like him.
  • keep in mind, when insulted, that we ourselves are the source of any sting that accompanies the insult.
  • something external harms me, it is my own fault: I should have adopted different values.
  • in retrospective negative visualization, we imagine never having had something that we have lost.
  • Reason is our best weapon against grief, he maintains, because “unless reason puts an end to our tears, fortune will not do so.”
  • Anger, says Seneca, is “brief insanity,” and the damage done by anger is enormous: “No plague has cost the human race more.”
  • We should, he says, fight our tendency to believe the worst about others and our tendency to jump to conclusions about their motivations.
  • we should also keep in mind that the things that anger us generally don’t do us any real harm;
  • humor can be used to prevent ourselves from becoming angry:
  • when we feel ourselves getting angry about something, we should pause to consider its cosmic (in)significance. Doing this might enable us to nip our anger in the bud.
  • Stoics value their freedom, and they are therefore reluctant to do anything that will give others power over them.
  • Epictetus, therefore, advises us not to seek social status, since if we make it our goal to please others, we will no longer be free to please ourselves.
  • If we wish to retain our freedom, says Epictetus, we must be careful, while dealing with other people, to be indifferent to what they think of us.
  • Our goal should, therefore, be to become indifferent to other people’s opinions of us.
  • She must keep firmly in mind that her wealth can be snatched from her; indeed, she should spend time preparing herself for the loss of it—by, for example, periodically practicing poverty.
  • It is therefore unlikely that a Stoic will bask in any fame that comes her way. At the same time, she will not hesitate to use this fame as a tool in the performance of what she takes to be her social duty.
  • Thus, the proximity of death, rather than depressing us, can be turned to our advantage. In our youth, because we assumed that we would live forever, we took our days for granted and as a result wasted many of them. In our old age, however, waking up each morning can be a cause for celebration.
  • The most important reason for adopting a philosophy of life, though, is that if we lack one, there is a danger that we will mislive—that we will spend our lives pursuing goals that aren’t worth attaining or will pursue worthwhile goals in a foolish manner and will, therefore, fail to attain them.
  • the first step in transforming a society into one in which people live a good life is to teach people how to make their happiness depend as little as possible on their external circumstances. The second step in transforming a society is to change people’s external circumstances.
  • Parents do lots of things for their children, but Stoic parents—and, I suspect, good parents in general—don’t think of parenting as a burdensome task requiring endless sacrifice; instead, they think about how wonderful it is that they have children and can make a positive difference in the lives of these children.
  • Stoicism, understood properly, is a cure for a disease. The disease in question is the anxiety, grief, fear, and various other negative emotions that plague humans and prevent them from experiencing a joyful existence. By practicing Stoic techniques, we can cure the disease and thereby gain tranquility. What I am suggesting is that although the ancient Stoics found a “cure” for negative emotions, they were mistaken about why the cure works.
  • The Stoics regarded the principles of Stoicism not as being chiseled into stone but as being molded into clay that could, within limits, be remolded into a form of Stoicism that people would find useful.
  • MY NEXT PIECE OF ADVICE for would-be Stoics is not to try to master all the Stoic techniques at once but to start with one technique and, having become proficient in it, go on to another. And a good technique to start with, I think, is negative visualization. At spare moments in the day, make it a point to contemplate the loss of whatever you value in life.
  • AFTER MASTERING negative visualization, a novice Stoic should move on to become proficient in applying the trichotomy of control, described in chapter 5. According to the Stoics, we should perform a kind of triage in which we distinguish between things we have no control over, things we have complete control over, and things we have some but not complete control over; and having made this distinction, we should focus our attention on the last two categories. In particular, we waste our time and cause ourselves needless anxiety if we concern ourselves with things over which we have no control.
  • “Nothing is worth doing pointlessly.”)

Book Review: “How to build a billion dollar app”

A really great book. I found most of the advice in it to be highly practical. If I had had this book a few years ago, I probably would have made fewer mistakes in my selection of startups to work for and on my own startups. A couple of years ago, I read “The lean startup” from Eric Ries. I find that this book is a “practical” companion to Ries’ book. Where the Lean Startup is more on the theoretical side, this book is quite practical.

The book is divided into 5 parts (the million dollar app, the 10 million dollar app, the 100 million dollar app, the 500 million dollar app, and the billion dollar app). Each section covers the problems and solutions associated with that particular size. I have to admit to having being riveted for the first few parts but lost interest a little bit towards the end. The initial parts cover more of the mechanics of creating the app while the followup parts cover more the mechanics of running a large company. At the present time, I’m pretty far from having a billion dollar app but could see myself having a 1 million dollar app (rightly or wrongly) so it’s understandable that section 1 and 2 hold more interest to me.

The most enlightening part of the book is the importance of analytics. Obviously, it’s important but I never realized how important it is. Get Google analytics, get Mixpanel, and possibly others. You can have more than one analytics solutions. Mixpanel and Google analytics appear to be quite complimentary so start with those. Make sure you have a plan as to how you want to use analytics.

That being said, awesome book. Highly recommend it (4.5/5)

Here are some of my notes:

Part 1: The million dollar app

The first part of the book is about getting an idea, a proof of concept app, and a founding team in place. It also talks a little bit about getting some seed money.

  • You need to define which business model applies to your business. The author defines 5 of them:
    • Gaming
    • E-commerce
    • Consumer/Advertising
    • Software as a service
    • Enterprise
  • I am unsure as to the way the business models are broken up. It seems a little bit contrived but there’s no doubt that as an entrepreneur you should know where your revenues will come from.
  • It is possible to start a company by yourself but having a co-founder is a good idea to deal with complementary skill sets. The author recommends a number of ways to meet somebody (e.g. Developer meetups, startup weekends) and a number of online resources (meetup.com and angellist.com).
  • Online resources to find domain/company names:
    • Namestation.com
    • Sedo.com
    • Domainnamesoup.com
    • Instantdomainsearch.com
  • You should build an iOS version and an Android version but do one at a time. Though the author does not state which one you should start with, all of the examples seem to point to iOS.
  • The author recommends doing MVP (minimum viable product) from Lean startup approach.
  • Metrics are immensely important. Make sure you have some.
  • The author divides metrics into 5 categories:
    • Acquisition
    • Activation
    • Retention
    • Referral
    • Revenue
  • You should understand these categories and understand how they map to actions and goals.

Part 2: The 10 million dollar app

This part of the book covers product-market fit (PMF) and series A funding.

  • It’s pretty simple, you need to build something that people like, or rather love. It’s easy to say, quite hard to do.
  • Analytics should help. Make sure they are present from the start. (Look into using more than one of them e.g. Google Analytics and Mixpanel)
  • Having analytics is key to finding Best PMF but also to get proper funding. If I have good analytics number concerning acquisition and retention, getting money is a lot easier.
  • Agile and continuous development recommended
  • CrunchBase is a free site that allows you to find valuation of companies that may be comparable to yours.
  • It takes time to get money. On average, in 2013, it took close to 600 days. This is awfully long when you have a team living on the initial seed money.
  • VCs will normally look for three things, the ability to maintain their ratio in the company, the ability to sell before anybody, sit on the board.

Part 3: The 100 million dollar app

Here we work on improving the business model. Fine tune revenues, start working on growth

  • Find head of marketing, get a marketing team in place
  • Look at Fiksu for marketing, seems interesting
  • Analytics still play a huge role here
  • On page 282, there’s an interesting equation to measure virality
  • User retention is important. Fred Wilson has this ratio (30:10:10). I am intrigued by these numbers. Need to find out more. Here’s the breakdown:
    • 30% use the app each month
    • 10% use the app daily
    • 10% of daily users represent a maximum number of users present at any time.
  • OKR (Object Key Results) method is a good way to focus a company. Every quarter goals are set, measure metrics are defined and results are obtained at the end of the quarter. Used by Google. Created at Intel.

Part 4: The 500 million dollar app

Hire well, might be time to find somebody who is used to managing/guiding a business of this size. Might want to take a backseat. (Paraphrasing here).

Part 5: The 1 billion dollar app

It’s all about people. Hire well.

Book Review: “Show your work: 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered”

Loved it! It’s a short book that can be summarized as “a manifesto for creative types”. The “be good enough, that they can’t ignore you” is simply not enough. You can’t stay in the consciousness of people if you only show the result of the creative process. You need to show how things get done. As the book states, people do care “how the sausage is made”. You need to participate!!

Highly recommend the book (4.5/5 stars)

Notes and comments:

  • Scenius: Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals—artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers—who make up an “ecology of talent.”
  • Creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds. (Take Leonardo, he was a great creator but never forget that he was in apprenticeship for years before striking out on his own).
  • The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.
  • Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.
  • The only way to find your voice is to use it.
  • One day you’ll be dead. (I highlighted this, because first, it’s true, second start acting now!)
  • Become a documentarian of what you do. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process. Shoot video of you working. This isn’t about making art, it’s about simply keeping track of what’s going on around you. Take advantage of all the cheap, easy tools at your disposal—these days, most of us carry a fully functional multimedia studio around in our smartphones.
  • “Stock and flow” is an economic concept that writer Robin Sloan has adapted into a metaphor for media: “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.” (I love the idea of stock and flow)
  • A blog is an ideal machine for turning flow into stock: One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work.
  • Your website doesn’t have to look pretty; it just has to exist.
  • Whether you’re telling a finished or unfinished story, always keep your audience in mind. Speak to them directly in plain language. Value their time. Be brief. Learn to speak. Learn to write. Use spell-check. You’re never “keeping it real” with your lack of proofreading and punctuation, you’re keeping it unintelligible.