Weekly Review #71: Paywalling your inbox, how Apple monopolized Android, and Black Hole focus

Heavy on Tech this week:

Some startupsHipcamp is Airbnb for camping, Zirtual supplies cheap-ish US college grad virtual assistants, Shipadick.com does exactly what you’d think it does, and wrte.io will charge anybody who cold-emails you actual money and only lets it into your inbox if they pony up.

Venture Hacks has a handy guide for negotiating with startup investors, this crowdsourced growth hacking cookbook is full of goodies, and the story of how Tim Cook beat Android by establishing monopolies on phone supplies is an interesting read in biz strategy.

You should know that most iPhone apps mine your contacts list without asking, which is super lame and worrying.

The Shelf identifies the proper online influencers for your brand to partner with, which is a good tool to map a domain space with.


The Zami stool encourages ‘active sitting’ – instead of those pesky yoga balls that force you to balance, it’s designed so that you move around it rather than vice versa.

I just finished Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Can Create A Purpose For Their Lives by Isaiah Hankel and it’s my new favorite work of nonfiction, as well as the most inspiring and actionable book I’ve ever read. Hankel distills the best self-development learnings,and tactics from dozens of sources into one lean recipe for a successful life explicitly defined by you, not by anyone else. All without that self-help woo woo stuff. Go read it, go read it, for serious! Expect a blog post summary soon.

Facebook Today: The Party is Still Packed, But Nobody’s Talking


I met a delightful guy at a house party a few weeks ago. We chatted animatedly about a few things we agreed on, and at the end of the conversation took the next logical step:, we became Facebook friends. Invites were sent and accepted, and that was that.

I never saw him again.

No, he didn’t die or anything, but he might as well have. Despite our FB connection, I never saw his posts, since the all-powerful News Feed algorithm eschews his content in favor of other friends it knows I enjoy, based on our FB interactions. To Facebook, this was just another of the few hundred Acquaintances on the platform whose Friendships show nothing more than an Added date. Our ‘connection’ accomplished nothing.

After a few weeks I realized this and took drastic steps. I FB messenged him and asked for a phone number, thereby simultaneously adding a new avenue of communication and informing the FB algorithm that this was someone I wanted to see in my newsfeed. Now we’re in touch, but I can’t say the same for the other few dozen people I’ve friended on Facebook recently. ‘Friend and Message’ is the new ‘Friend’, at least in functional terms, and not everyone I Friend is important enough for me to remind Zuck that I care they exist.

Everyone Has Facebook But Nobody Posts to It

The whole debacle reminded me of the odd spot Facebook is in nowadays. Amidst all the tech services, it remains the one platform that everyone has. Outside of a few iconoclasts, everyone assumes you have an account. It’s not “Do you have Facebook?” but “What’s your Facebook?” – no matter your age or country of origin.

Indeed, asking for your Facebook isn’t even a big deal. Nobody says no to that. Somehow it conveys less personal interest than the potentially risky ask of ‘What’s your number?’, plus here there’s no chance of her giving her a fake profile. I’ve friended plenty of people who I would hesitate giving my number to – at first I added them to a ‘Restricted viewing’ list, but now it doesn’t matter anymore. From parents to relatives to business contacts to lovers, they’re all in my Facebook friends. Facebook has saturated the Western market, which is best understood best by the fact that my mother and her mom friends may be more active on it than me and my friends.

She does far more than log in and tick off the notifications like I do. Before, she was the one amazed at the random funny videos I’d find online, but now it’s me whose impressed at the stuff she finds through obscure Internet mom grape vines. Throughout history this was the demographic who shared the most, and now they’re doing it on Facebook. (To such a degree that Upworthy, the company that scientifically formulates its posts to go viral, targets its headlines at middle aged women

That’s fine that the moms are sharing on Facebook, but it’s the young hip demographic that any platform needs to stay relevant, and those people aren’t sharing on Facebook anymore. Everyone has it but they barely use it, as this 19 year old undergraduate puts it:

In short, many have nailed this on the head. It’s dead to us. Facebook is something we all got in middle school because it was cool but now is seen as an awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave. It’s weird and can even be annoying to have Facebook at times. That being said, if you don’t have Facebook, that’s even more weird and annoying. Weird because of the social pressure behind the question, “Everyone has Facebook, why don’t you?” and annoying because you’ll have to answer that to just about everyone in classes you meet who makes an attempt to friend you or find you on there.

Perhaps this is the downside of Facebook’s pervasiveness. Since everyone has it, it’s less polite to post incessantly throughout the day, whereas on the other platforms encourage it by their very nature.  Elsewhere, there is no complicated friend algorithm determining what you see – instead it depends on whether you logged in around the same time the content was posted.

Yet the fact remains that everyone is still on Facebook. If you want to get the most Likes, views, or awareness, Facebook remains the best way to do it. (In marketer terms – low engagement, but high reach – although Facebook’s lack of organic reach means it’s also the worst platform for marketers.) So what the heck is everyone doing there, if they’re not posting?!

Messenging and Events Only

If they’re anything like my social circle, they’re using it to send messages and to fill their social calendar. I’ve noticed those are just about the only things I do in Zuckerberg’s world anymore. My notification list has become a bloated list of irrelevancies and my News Feed falters after the second scroll, but Facebook remains the best place to find out where my friends are going IRL before it happens. Some of my friends even check their Facebook inbox more often than others like email, or even SMS. It sounds sacrilegious at first, but if you think about it, it makes sense – you can even message all those Acquaintances you friended and forgot, because you’re Facebook friends! And this was no accident.

When Facebook spun off  its Messenger into a distinct app, it seemed odd, but now I see why they did it. If they spun off  Events as well, I’d have little reason to click on the blue F at all. The only reason I log in nowadays is to message those friends whose numbers I lack (often for their number), and to check for events on my Fun calendar (as opposed to my Apple business calendar). Facebook is great at fulfilling those needs, but not so much at giving me interesting content. Partly due to its maddening algorithm that prioritizes ads and the people I’ve messaged recently, but also because Twitter and other platforms do it so much better.

 What Does That Mean for Zuck’s Future?

So as I say, it’s this weird paradigm that everyone has and checks daily, but nobody puts serious time into. And somehow because of that everyone keeps adding Friends on it, because it’s not a truly personal platform anymore and there’s seen to be less risk than that of a phone number of Snapchat. Yet paradoxically, many new services auto-populate using your FB friends list, and some people prefer FB Messenger to SMS, which brings things back into Facebook once more. It’s like Facebook is the infrastructure holding the social Web together, but without participating in the fun. Everyone goes to Zuckerberg’s parties because they know everyone else will be there, but nobody talks to him.  

Snapchat, Instagram, and the rest continue chipping away at Facebook’s core strengths, most recently the will of brands to pay and market there, as as the Snapchat Discover feature proves. Where will Facebook be in ten years? It’s still strong enough to ward off contenders like Ello with a network effect of 1.35 billion people, which isn’t going to change in this generation. As long as teenagers think Facebook is something they need to sign up for, it will remain a juggernaut – no matter how much they eschew posting on it in favor of others.

Zuckerberg has combated this so far by buying up the competition. But that’s not always going to work, especially with Snapchat as a poster child of Zuck-less success. They’re going to have to figure out another way to convince people to come back – or somehow capitalize on this packed party that people always show up to without talking.

Maybe it will evolve into something like a friendlier Linkedin, a platform where I only seldom post meticulously worded posts calculated towards vague ulterior motives like ‘career capital’ and ‘personal brand’. A personal PR firm of sorts, rather than yesterday’s stream of consciousness.  That’s no way to conduct a friendship, but it might be what Facebook Friendship becomes.

Weekly Review #70: Fasting on water, fragmented apps, and travel startups


8 tips for higher ranking in the App Store is a handy reference.

Message Apps are fragmenting into many apps centered around a single feature each – just look at Facebook and Messenger. Interesting to see where this leads.

Some cool travel startupsRemote Year brings together remote workers, StartupTravels helps you find entrepreneurs on the road, and Workaway combines NOLS with TED.

SparkPages is an all-in-one automated on-boarding service combining email, push, and SMS.


Nate Liason consumed nothing but water for 5 days, and logged the experience. Makes me want to try.

Ryan Holiday got married, and the story of how is as good of a piece as he’s ever written.

ActionAlly is a tool to help you get the important stuff done – kind of like an anti-todo list.


China built a 57 story skyscraper in 19 days, which is utterly insane.

Slam Ball is a ridiculous full contact basketball variant played on trampolines.


Everything I Learned from SXSW 2015

Just got back from my all-time favorite event, South by Southwest Interactive. Similar to my 2014 roundup, here’s an attempt to categorize and share all the best stuff I took in:

Biz Stone on Creativity

  •  ”If you find yourself laughing in the office while making something, you’re doing something right”
  • We give VC money to philanthropies and write it off as a marketing expense. The future of marketing is charity, if you do it right.

Jack Welch and Gary Vaynerchuk on Being CEOs

  • Work life balance laws are messed up -You can’t impose work-life balance without individual context
  • Does your boss get empowered when you do well? The best bosses have generosity baked into their personality.
  • Jack admits he was a cowardly entrepreneur within GE because he didn’t have to hustle to get paid. He envies the bootstrappers.
  • Fire the bums you hire as fast as possible. Swallow you mistake and get rid of them
  • Self-actualize yourself so you don’t have to actualize your kids
  • Beat your last week, not the competition
  • Self awareness and empathy are the most important traits towards success

Conversation with the Yik Yak Founders

  • Idea for Yik Yak came from Twitter – they wanted to make it without usernames, so that you could be successful as a new user without massive existing followings
  • Gained traction at first through email marketing – they looked up the emails of officers in clubs and campus organizations and manually blasted out emails to them asking to use Yik Yak. Also played off of rivalries “Everyone across town is using it, why aren’t you?”
  • When it hit high schoolers they started bullying each other – so they geofenced every high school in America and made Yik Yak inaccessible(!)
  • Started in Atlanta and spread across US from there, hit Silicon Valley last. Thinks that helped because Stanford kids are tired of new apps
  • Notes that campus news spreads faster on Yik Yak then the campus alert system. EX: school shooting reported nine minutes earlier than official alert
  • Biggest learning: Ship it fast, ship it simple, do it now

Everything Eric Ries has Learned since 2011

  • Lean teachings work for big companies, but it’s difficult, because in most places if you innovate you’ll get fired
  • Tells entrepreneurs: If you hate big companies why are you trying to make one?
  • Company departments may be agile internally but when work gets passed to new department it becomes bureaucratic 
  • Say what you will about the VCs on Sand Hill Road, but they never ask for their money back. If you ask for more, you better have some validated learnings to show from the last round.
  • Book: Stake in The Outcome: Building a Culture of Ownership
  • Internally, Toyota doesn’t refer to its car models as ‘Camry’, they literally call it ‘So and so-san’s car’. This convery massive ownership and spurs leaders to work harder 
  • A productive failure is one that lets you do something you couldn’t do before
  • When enough people ask you the same questions and you start knowing the answers, its time to write a new book
  • Fundamental attribution error - people are a product of the system around them. If systems give rise to errors, shame on you for not surrounding yourself with good systems
  • Entrepreneurs only really quit when they run out of money
  • Instead of  deadlines, look at the past and say “What evidence is there that our strategy is taking us closer to our vision?”
  • Three engines of growth: viral, sticky, and paid

Secrets of Fundraising with VCs

  • Don’t let VCs dictate the timing of investment, they can afford to wait way longer than you can
  • A soft 2 to 4 week deadline is best
  • VCs look for founders who are forces of nature, have a headstart, a good team, and network effects. A product, a vision, and a great market.
  • Don’t start asking with a specific number.  Let the market speak first about the price it thinks.
  • One word that describes VC operations: pattern-recognition

Assorted other takeaways:

  • Austin is experiencing a rise in housing prices due to a tech boom – in response, the local government rewrote the zoning laws  to make mixed use high density housing easier to develop. Good on them, SF could take a cue from this.
  • Buy like crazy in down markets, when the market is up everyone wins except the last buyer, and nobody knows who that will be
  • Startup: Squirl.co  – shows you IRL locations from books
  • Techstars loves to tell the story of Sendgrid – they did ten failed startups before settling on email, because they noticed that every other startup they did had trouble with doing email
  • Book: Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld
  • Astro Teller of GoogleX – If you aren’t failing, you could be learning faster. They’re kind of sad when prototypes don’t fail because then they weren’t bold enough.
  • Website: Shipadick.com is a real thing – send a large 28″ cardboard penis to whoever you want
  • Espree Devora, ‘the girl who gets it done’ – LA based hustler who backpacked through Europe interviewing startups, founder of WeareLAtech podcast
  • Paul Foley – founder of Augur and impressively networked hustler (with a suspiciously glowing Wikipedia page, hahaha) who became an entrepreneur after his dream job at Deloitte ended up being terrible.
  • Two awesome local multiplayer games: Push Me Pull You, with two teams of two working to corral a ball using bizarre sports-monsters, and SpeedRunners, a 4 player sidescrolling platformer that has you racing to throw your opponents behind you towards the deadly edge of screen

All in all it was a great Southby, although I do think the speakers weren’t quite as impressive as last year. The best Southby attendee continues to be one without a badge – the main value here is in the many intelligent, un-orthodoxically accomplished people who attend the conference, and the best places to speak to them are anywhere but the badge-locked rooms.

Hang out outside, sneak into the meetups, do anything but sit at a talk live tweeting it from your smartphone and you’ll get great mileage. It has definitely become one of those events that’s too big for it’s own good, though – there are other conferences better suited to meet-ups and specific niches than the ‘one size fits all techie’ brand of SXSW.

Weekly Review #69: Launch Festival, 5 elements of great products, and Chinese growth hacks

I attended Jason Calancanis’ LAUNCH festival this week and met a lot of interesting companies. You can click through to their websites through the Launch link, but some that spring to mind are Unoceros (get paid for the data you don’t use), Quotadeck (gamifies professional networking), YouDare, (makes your bucket list social), Huckle (public location based chat rooms), and Fiskkit (fact checks the news).

The speakers were more prestigious than interesting IMHO, but I enjoyed Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner‘s take on the 5 necessary components of a good product. He also noted that Linkedin’s current mission is essentially ‘appifying the site’ in order to make it more mobile-friendly, because he notices that our phones are quickly becoming the control panel for life.

  • It does one thing really well, instead of many things kind of well. (ex Headspace with meditation)
  • It’s simple, intuitive, and anticipates customer’s needs (ex Waze with knowing where you’re trying to go)
  • It exceeds your expectations. (ex stellar customer experience that you remember for years) If you exceed expectations, then customers will forgive you more easily when you fail to meet some expectations due to mistakes or accidents. (Just like they forgive friends!)
  • It resonates emotionally. (ex Tesla is known as ‘driving the future’, even though they never marketed that, that’s just what it feels like)
  • It changes your life for the better. (Think about the world before Lyft and Uber. Prehistoric!)

The only other talk that stands out other than Gil Penchina‘s dynamite answer to why he’s an angel rather than a VC “I prefer young people breaking things to old people preventing things“ was Tucker Max‘s, who talked about entering tech as a famous person.

  • He tries to write about things he knows uniquely that are valuable, which isn’t tech stuff because other people know that stuff better than he does – ‘Why write a crappy version of what Paul Graham already covered?’
  • Nobody finishes bestsellers – as statistics show, being a bestselling author doesn’t mean everyone reads your books. Tucker’s books were unique in that people finished them, because they are episodal entertainment rather than narratives or nonfiction
  • There’s a difference between being a writer, and saying things people care about. He shoots for the latter.

Back online, the story of how Russian billionaire Yuri Milner entered Silicon Valley is a great read, as is this Techcrunch article worried that tech mainstream is embracing mavericks in name only, while the true dissidents are forgotten. Speaking of dissidents, here’s 8 ways the US crushed youth resistance, which explains why the 60s ended, basically. (TL;DR – college debt and the internet)

The story of how an offhand tweet ruined Justine Secco’s life is a scary anecdote about net bullying, and Gary Vaynerchuk reaffirms the obvious – in networking, you eventually want something from them. So start by giving as much as possible.

Lastly, the story of how Wechat and Alipay piggybacked a Chinese tradition to gain millions of users is one of the cleverest growth hacks I’ve ever seen. On Chinese New Year you give loved ones red letters filled with money. These services let you do the same with virtual red letters filled with real digital money – but the people who ‘open’ the message first get more than those who open it later. So it’s essentially a huge racket to get users more hooked on the app and using it more often, all on their dime. That’s an evil genius move if I ever saw one.