Weekly Review #46: CMO job tips, competitive jump roping, and meal replacements

Check out the new tab up top – Startup Ideas is the list of problem/opportunities I’ve noticed. Who knows what’ll happen to them in public.

I grabbed lunch with Jascha Kaykas-Wolff (author of Growing Up Fast, CMO at Bittorrent, and preeminent agile marketer) this week and picked his mind on how best to approach my current job hunt. He had plenty of advice worth sharing:

  • The question of big or small company for first gig is irrelevant. More important is the resources they offer you – what their track record of new grads is, if there is mentorship in place. Ask how they’ve contributed to past employee successes. (For Jascha as an executive, he will not take a job until the CEO has met his wife. How they treat family is the most important thing to him)
  • Think like a salesman when networking. Find someone at the desired company, find someone to introduce you, then grab coffee and ask them for everything except the job. “How’d you get here, do you like it, why would someone join”. Trick is to not be smarmy – care about the person and connect through the shared career opportunity.
  • Don’t look for ‘hot companies’. Look for the intersection between a problem you’re passionate about and something the company is doing. Use your domain knowledge of stuff you like (ie your hobbies, the products you use every day). Look for products you love that do things you don’t like.
  • Then tell a story about yourself as the perfect candidate. Jascha helped his mother run concerts – so he had years of entrepreneurial experience and a whatever-it-takes mentality by the time of his first real gig.
  • New grads are perfect for making sense of an existing data set – come to the table saying ‘I know you have this data, let me make it actionable for you’. Alternatively, account managers are low level but interact with all parts of the company which is good learning.
  • He thinks push notifications could be improved today – many are non-relevant and annoying even as they have all the data to be targeted.
  • And lastly, almost every hire he’s ever seen was done without a job position advertised. It’s about marketing yourself to the right company and making yourself sound indispensable, not searching online listings.

In terms of fun this week, I learned that Competitive jump roping is a serious sport this week, and after seeing some of these freestyle and double dutch routines, I respect it greatly! Also, this Polish guy dressed his small dog up in a spider costume and scared the bejeezus out of pedestrians – hilarious.

Happn is a clever idea that’s apparently big in Europe – it’s basically Tinder but only for people you’ve brushed into in real life (as determined by checking your phone’s GPS coordinates). So you could open with (I’m the guy in green who was checking you out at Starbucks. Clever. I feel like there are more startup opportunities within the ‘use phone GPS data’ space.

The story behind all those .io URLs is pretty interesting – it was the country code for the British Indian Ocean territory, which has since been totally evacuated in order to make room for US military bases. Now all the startups use it for their names because nobody has the specific rights for it anymore….

Remember Soylent, that food substitute protein shake that I subsisted off of at Burning Man and still drink regularly? Now there’s another contender: Mealsquares. They taste like little cupcakes, and are just as nutritionally complete. I’m intrigued – it’s probably more filling that a liquid, too.

Justin Mares shares  9 clever ways to repurpose existing content in order to 3x output and several tools to help you do so – saving this for later.

Traveller Ron Robbins is turning his around-the-world sailboat trip into a reality show for 18-35 year olds, with a crack team and guests like bloggers and internet personalities. He makes a compelling case for why there is a niche for this – it certainly is a good way to monetize your travels.

3 Reasons Why You Should Give This Harry Potter Fanfiction A Chance

I recently finished the current build of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, by Eliezer Yudowsky. It’s an HP fanfiction written by one of the guys behind the Machine Intellegence Research Institute (aka a very, very smart guy). I’ve never given fanfiction a chance before, but the fact that the author is one of the foremost minds in artificial intelligence (and a talented writer to boot) convinced me that it was a worthy read rather than a teenage fantasy. Now it’s one of my favorite works of all time. Here’s three reasons to give it a try:

Watch a Scientist Wreak Havoc with Rowling’s World

HPMOR (as it’s called) is a parallel universe where Harry was raised by an Oxford biochemist, and thus by the time he enters Hogwarts is a  child prodigy well-schooled in the scientific method and rational thinking. As a result, he ditches the oafish Ron Weasley in favor of fellow scientist Hermoine Granger (duh) and Draco Malfoy, with whom he shares a keen intellect due to fatherly pressure. . He ends up in Ravenclaw, pledges himself to decode the fundamental science behind magic however possible, and does a whole lot of crazy stuff from the later books all in his first year.

As the only fanfiction I’ve ever read, I found it fascinating to see a familiar world get manipulated by talented hands, instead of the male pregnancy fantasies I understand to be the standard of the genre. Eliezer takes Rowling’s setting and rules of magic seriously, but he is unmerciful with its flaws. Harry dismisses Quidditch outright upon learning of the Snitch’s exorbitant value, and utilizes his Time Turner to the fullest (as any self respecting hero with a friggin time machine should) It’s fascinating to watch the author attempt to make Magical Britain believable through these methods and by tying it in with our modern Muggle world as well.

It also opens up the fundamental question behind fanfiction : should a talented writer choose to work in another’s imagination? Eliezer undoubtedly has the writing chops to write a compelling story on his own- he doesn’t need to play in somebody else’s sandbox to do so. Yet it was probably the right call in this case, because it makes the tale more readable with familiar characters, and because

It Combines Education and Entertainment

This new Harry has an encyclopedic knowledge of modern science, so you’ll find him referencing famous psychological experiments before a decision or shooting down logical fallacies in his fellow characters’ arguments. As a result, the book transcends simple entertainment and becomes educational, as it teaches you the basics of skepticism and rational thought. You could certainly learn all that Harry knows at Eliezer’s other project, the rational database Less Wrong, but the writing there is technical and unforgiving. In HPMOR it is presented as the sidenotes to a compelling yarn, along with characters you already know, with the end result that I’ll likely remember the concepts far better than I would through the nonlinear and non-narrative Sequences.

Thus as a result of reading I found myself pondering the world of rationalism, weighing options and ethics just like back in undergraduate philosophy classes. Harry divides his thought processes into mental personalities who take on the voices of people he’s encountered, and so there’s a Hufflepuff in his head preaching loyalty, a Ravenclaw preaching truth, a Gryffindor preaching heroism, and a Slytherin preaching cunning. The houses are much more balanced in this version, with Gryffindors as heroic fools, and Slytherins representing ambition and politics, rather than just evil. The reclaiming of Slytherin House is a theme in the book, with Harry trying to turn Draco by teaching him the scientific method and pointing out that a hatred of Mudbloods makes their cause weaker through attracting un-intelligent blood purists rather than worthy comrades.

The way in which Harry methodically convinces Draco is a perfect example of how the author combines entertainment (a new take on familiar fiction) with education (in presenting step by step a persuasive, logical argument that’s fair to both sides). Some readers complain that Eliezer’s writing pushes the rationalist angle too strong as Author Tract ( it is overpowering at times), but it’s hard to argue with, well, rational thought.

It Forces You To Confront Rationality

The chunk of Voldemort’s spirit stuck in Harry’s scar helps him think more rationally, too, since Voldie was always cunningly Machiavellian in getting what he wanted, even if it meant sacrificing health or minions. But since such thinking places importance only on results, rather than what other people’s thoughts and feeling, it is Dark in the purest sense of the word. Thus the struggle inside Harry between his rational Dark side and his empathetic light side (he’ll even go so far as to label the slower characters as NPCs [computer controlled units in online computer games] and completely disregard their presence due to them being unable to comprehend what he’s doing )becomes not just a Rowling parallel, but an examination of rationality as well. It made me question whether strict rational thought has room for empathy within it, based as it is on objective science rather than subjective feelings.

Many rationalists I’ve spoken to would choose results over feelings. Phrased as a strict dichotomy, with leaving a positive life legacy at the cost of love on one end (like, say, Alan Turing) or leading a happy caring life without anyone caring after you die on the other (like any well-loved grandparent who worked their whole life as an industrial worker, perhaps). As someone who prizes long term results over short term pleasure myself, I found this a difficult decision. Without emotions, humans are but robots -indeed, you could say caring is what makes us human. But that same precious ‘human condition’ is nothing but a romantic name bestowed on an advanced version of ape group dynamics, evolved to keep us safe from savannah predators. Without objective results, we’d fall prey to our cognitive biases and petty wants for sex, food, and shelter. There has to be a way to live an ambitious life with room in it for emotions.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, to me, was a powerful parable exploring that duality of rationality and empathy, populated with upgraded versions of the familiar Rowling characters we know and love. And it is one of the most gripping stories I’ve ever read, fanfiction or not. If you thought Atlas Shrugged was a worthy treatise weighed down by wooden writing, you’ve got to give HPMOR a try. But if you’re not into science or it’s forays into effective thought, you’re probably going to hate it. Prevailing sentiment is to try it till Chapter 5 and then give up then if you still don’t like it.

Weekly Review #45: Phubbing, rational careers, and digital clones

GIFYoutube turns youtube videos into GIFs with a few clicks, and Forest grows digital trees for every 30 minutes you don’t use your phone. ASETNIOP is a keyboard layout with only 8 keys; you type by using button combinations.

Stopphubbing.com is a hilarious and well designed site aimed at keeping you off your phone during social situations (and has no mobile version!)

This guy pranked his roommate with eerily targeted facebook ads – clever and spooky.

Teleport compares the cost of living around the world – reminds me of NomadList.

Alexei at LessWrong wants to donate a ton of money to MIRI, so he set out to make as much money as possible programming. Here’s how he carried out his job hunt, in a super rational manner (duh).

Eric Wang at Tint preaches on how to get a startup job – basically, spam the founder until he says yes.

80,000 hours teaches you which careers will make the biggest difference in the world, based off of your talents.

The folks at Eternime want to make a digital clone of you that surfs how you surf, online shops like you shop, and chats like you chat. Think about how surprisingly feasible that is! Now you’ve just gotta find uses – like Alzheimers patients.

Oh, and I watched the Lego movie with my little brother – it was the most entertaining and spot on movie I’ve seen in ages, kids or no. Worth a view, if not just for the incredible special effects of everything in lego.

Who are you paying with your attention?


image from http://knowtechie.com/smartphone-toilet-use/

In business, it’s been a foregone truth that companies want your money. Multiple competitors fighting over each other in order to win your purchase of their slightly different product has been the standard since the time of the robber barons. Whether it’s Microsoft vs Apple, Smirnoff vs Captain Morgan, or Tide vs Clorox, consumers look to fulfill a specific need and companies fight to win that dollar from their competitors.

These may still be true in certain industries, but on your smartphone today, it is no longer the case. Rather, all the successful app companies are now competing for an even more valuable resource – your attention. Instead of identifying consumers with a buy order and fighting to win it, apps identify anyone with a smartphone as user and fight to win a slice of their day, knowing thats their best bet towards monetization later on. “Paying attention” has become a literal phrase.

It began in earnest with Angry Birds, that harmless time wasting juggernaut which has since partnered with behemoths like Lucasfilm and Hasbro and expanded into every corner of the entertainment business. Rovio may not have had such domination mapped out at the beginning, but they knew that if they could consistently draw eyeballs to their app on a regular basis, things would happen. People would become addicted, and possibly willing to spend another 99 cents on in app purchases, an expansion pack, or a Red Bird plushie. All they had to do was make sure that Angry Birds was the app you would tap first when you found yourself with a few extra minutes at the bus stop.

It is these times that are now the bread and butter of any app company. When you’re waiting in line, bored in class, stuck in a vehicle, or just need a quick break from work. It’s the bits and piece of our day where we have nothing to do, but not so much time that we can start a whole new activity.

Out comes the smartphone, as we reach for something interesting, but not so interesting that we can’t put it down once the bus arrives. You could play a game like Angry Birds or Clash of Clans; check up on Facebook or Instagram; mindlessly swipe some dates in Tinder or OkCupid, or send a Snapchat to let others know how bored you are. (I spoke with an associate recently who proudly defended his impressive number of hours logged on Clash of Clans as harmless “I only play it on the toilet”)

That’s what the next big app will be – not the one that is the best at monetizing or providing the wow factor, but the one that you reach for first when you sit down in the bathroom.

Then comes the backlash about how these mindless moments have been rewiring our brains for instant gratification, leaving us unable to focus or hold a conversation anymore. They’re absolutely right, and we should make sure that we still find time for ourselves to enjoy non digital past times. But that point has already been made – instead here I wish to illuminate the connection between toilet time and the bottom line. Mindfulness rather than abstention.

Think about which apps you reflexively reach for first when you’re bored. Now think about who is on the other side of the screen, reaping the benefits of you attention. Today it is your time that is prized, rather than your dollar, and thus you should be aware of where your most valuable resource is going. Is it a business or value that you’d like to see flourish? Vote with your taps.

With this in mind, I have scaled back my use of Tinder in favor of Okcupid’s mobile app, because it does a better job of delivering the desired end result. I have moved from Spotify to Soundcloud, in order to receive the same commodity but for free. And I have phased out all games from my phone, preferring to spend my down time moments logging my daily thoughts and actions in the Notes app.

Most importantly, I have disabled all push notifications except the actionable ones like texts or Maps instructions. Otherwise my days turn into never ending requests from faceless companies pleading for me to open them again, with sticky sweet temptations like “New match found”, “New friend added”, or the worst – time sensitive deadlines urging me to “check now or miss out on today’s deal”!

These decisions all favor the service which does a better job of delivering what I want, so I cannot say that I evaluated the companies’ mission statement or recent campaign donations to determine the winner. But I did take a step back and notice which mindless app would distract me best at that moment, and purposefully chose to give my attention towards the contender leading to a more worthy outcome.

I suggest for you to do the same, and be mindful of who you are supporting with your moments of downtime. Be as stringent with your attention as you are with your dollars. You are paying somebody with it, after all.

Also posted on Linkedin

Weekly Review #44: Stranger gatherings, NewCo festival, and LA ostentation

I went to a lot of socializing with strangers events this week (I suppose you could call it networking, but it wasn’t specifically job related). First was the Stanford Salon, a casual and intimate affair on Stanford campus every Monday facilitated by a few CS graduates who have taken it upon themselves to present their lifehacking knowledge to others. Accordingly, we played some theatre improv games and listened to a management consultant talk about influence.

Next up was a Tea With Strangers Open House, that service started by a Penn grad who just wanted to meet more  interesting people. Both this event and the Salon were very effective at curating exclusively high achieving intellectual clientele while being technically open to the public, which is no easy feat. I theorize it is because both are based around the social networks on one key person, who started the event, told their friends, who then told their friends. Thus while everyone is indeed strangers, they are only a few connections away from one another, which means they’re all similar open minded, tech savvy, and curious. Plus anyone who is interested in meeting strangers is going to like others interested in meeting strangers.

Last up was the SF NewCo Conference, where the city’s startups open their office doors to attendees and talk about what they’ve done, their strategy, and roadblocks surmounted. I learned about how mountain lion sighting drive user engagement at Nextdoor (and how they would mail expensive postcards at the behest of neighbors in order to get non tech savvy households on the site), how Betabrand uses patently ridiculous marketing schemes to drive virality (like only using women PhDs as models), and saw both Pinterest and Soundcloud’s sweet SF digs (Pinterest has big TVs displaying Pins in real time with themed days like Mondays are men, Tuesdays as UK pinners, etc). Great opportunity to see the faces behind the product.

Then it was off to LA for the weekend to visit high school friends. I learned that the visible horizon is only 3 miles away on flat land, (I know, right?) built sand castles on Manhattan Beach with a diverse array of toddlers, and visited the preposterously ornate USC student apartments known as The Lorenzo. They’ve got 3 rooftop pools, a colorful fountain, arcade, and sand volleyball courts, all styled like Caeser’s Palace in a rather sketchy neighborhood near Downtown. Really highlights the disparity between white privileged USC kids and the surrounding denizens.

Not much on the online front, except for Bootstrappers.io, a nascent site along the lines of Hacker News, Growthhackers.com, and Product Hunt. Then there’s Gawker theorizing that Aspergers is an essential part of Silicon Valley, and some solid learning resources, namely: