It is a marathon and not a sprint

Critics and your startup

Critics and your startup

Seth Godin is one of my favorite bloggers. I read his posts daily. His writing is very concise and eloquently. I wish I could be as good as him in writing down my own thoughts and thinking. Today, he wrote about the trap of early feedback.

He writes:

“If you’ve created something that will delight and astound 10% of the marketplace, there’s a 90% chance that the first person who encounters your work will dislike it. He might even hate it. In fact, if you do the math, you’ll see that there’s more than a 70% chance that the first THREE people will hate it. And if you give up then, you’ve just walked away from serving the people you set out to serve.”

There is a lot of truth in that.

If you are fundraising or trying to sell your product (idea) and talking to your first investors or prospective customers, there is a good chance they will not receptive to your idea. They might even tell you it is the worst idea ever and that it will never work.

You need a thick skin and perseverance to keep going and make your dream come alive. It is good to remember that is normal and it is out of the ordinary when the first people you speak to love your idea. You might have struck gold or it is just an anomaly.

At the same time you ask yourself all the time am I beating a dead horse or is this truly a good idea?

There is no easy answer to this question. The one thing I keep in mind is to set realistic goals on how many people you need to approach before you can get someone to invest or buy your product. Setting realistic and maybe even somewhat ambitious goals early on helps you to manage the expectations.

At the end of the day, you want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you did everything you could to make it come life. It requires perseverance and it is exhausting, you need to set an ambitious pole into the ground to motivate yourself to try again.

It is often a marathon and not a sprint. And remember, first they ignore you.

Never too early to start

Compensation structure in a startup

Compensation structure in a startup

Wages are the primary compensation for work and have a major impact on job satisfaction. Together with culture, opportunity (to grow) and work itself, they are the internal job satisfaction drivers in your organization. There are the drivers you can control. Many external drivers you cannot control and you can only compensate with internal drivers.

You should always assume that everyone talks about their wages inside the company, but at the same time, it is not transparent. Some people talk to some other people about their compensation. Because the sample sizes are small and you do not have your wage structure in perfect order, it can cause major hits to job satisfaction.

Very early in the startups, compensation is often driven more by share options and potential to build something great than anything else. This keeps the burn rate low and allows the company to be build and proof itself in the market. But then things start to change rapidly when a large round of investment is coming in and a lot of people are hired. This is also the time that hiring decisions become distributed and the sheer speed of hiring makes it hard to keep track of compensation offers made to individual employees.

Another aspect is that market-conform compensation for different roles is different. A data scientist with 5 years of experience is in higher demand than a customer service director with the same level of experience.

One thing I picked up at school and I still use and talk about a lot today is what we call in Dutch “house of compensation”. It is the structure on how to compensate people in different roles with different levels of experience.

It is important to apply to this from day one and keep updating it when you grow your organization. It helps assess compensation for new prospective hires plus it forces you and your team to have the conversation about compensation in case you are missing out on hires.
Also, it avoids the problem where particular people or teams are over-compensated while others are under-compensated. It can also help avoid gender and race bias.

You can organize the structure for compensation in any way you like, but this, in general, the rule of thumb I use:

– Level: employee, team lead, manager, director up to c-level executive
– Area: engineering, operations, sales, etc
– Seniority: typical a point scale from junior to senior

Level and area have compensation bandwidths from start to end. Seniority moves you through the salary bandwidth.

Every employee is scored based on those three attributes and the result is appropriate compensation.

It is a very effective way to keep track of wages and make sure your house in order. It also forces to have a conversation in case it does not fit without having to monitor employment offers.

Will it always fit? No, I can guarantee it will not. There will be always exceptions to the rule, but at least you can have the conversation when that happens and decide. You change the model or refit that person on the scale. Your model can be wrong. At the same time, you can up the seniority or level for that person, but that also increases the output expectations and that might actually be a good thing.

If you deploy this model later on or adjust it based on market circumstances, you should adjust the wages of existing people to make them whole.

One of the little things I like to aim for is giving a small increase twice a year instead of a bigger one once a year. It is common knowledge that people are happy with wage increases, but the impact on their job satisfaction fades quite quickly.

Moon selfie

Far side of the moon photographed by volunteers

Far side of the moon photographed by volunteers

The volunteers of the Dwingeloo radio telescope put together a photo of the earth seen from the far side of the moon made by the Longjiang-2 satellite which orbits the moon. You can see it above.

The satellite has an amateur radio transceiver with a camera onboard. Amateur radio enthusiasts can receive telemetry and images from the satellite. I think that is amazing. I love to see more volunteer and enthusiast involvement in space exploration.

Let’s talk about that radio telescope for a moment. The Dwingeloo radio telescope is enormous. I have seen it up close many times on our Sunday walk’s in nature when my dad was based on an army base in the north of The Netherlands. The dish is 25mtr / 82ft in diameter. It was officially decommissioned in 1998, but taken over by volunteers. It was built in 1956. I was always in awe of it. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old at the time.

Bump those cars off the road

Retro gaming: Burnin’ Rubber

Retro gaming: Burnin’ Rubber

This game is also known as Bump ‘n’ Jump but it was called Burnin’ Rubber on the Commodore 64. It is not a category-defining game, but I had lots of fun when I was younger trying to master this game. It’s actually quite hard.

The objective is to keep the car on the road and not run it off the road. You can bump into other cars though but avoid trucks. Sometimes you can save yourself by jumping and preferably land on another car or truck. When you bump another car and it runs off the road or you land on top of it, you get extra points and lives.

Here’s a gameplay video:

Of course, you can play it online. This is the arcade version so you’ve to “insert coins” to play.

Notes:

  • SHIFT (right) = insert coin
  • ENTER = start
  • LEFT / RIGHT = left / right
  • UP / DOWN = faster / slower
  • S = jump

Less options than you would think

Auto-tweet new posts from WordPress

Auto-tweet new posts from WordPress

I wanted to auto-tweet my new posts on a faux-pas Twitter account. I wanted to try it out as an alternative to an RSS feed. This sounds like a simple problem which you would expect is solved by now. Since it is not that important to me either, I did not want to spend too much time on it.

Interestingly enough, it is not a solved problem. When you search for a plugin, I couldn’t find any. There are some, but they are not well maintained. WordPress gives a good warning when a plugin has not been updated for 3 versions or more. The ones I could find fell into this category.

I did find one which was still current, but it needed you to create a Twitter developer’s account. Ever tried recently to open a developer’s account on Twitter? Twitter asks you to substantiate your need for a developer account in – I believe – 150 words. “Auto post my WordPress posts” was the only thing I could come up with so that was a dead-end.

Then I searched for a solution on the web. Surely someone has solved this problem. You find plenty of old articles describing services which no longer exist or are overkill for my purpose.

I tried dlvr.it for a while, but it is not very reliable. It posted hours after I posted my story. It often skipped posts because I hit the limit. Not sure why because the free account allows for 3 posts per day and I only post once.

I gave it one last try and searched again. I stumbled on page 3 on IFTTT. IFTTT! I love IFTTT’s vision and goals but never found a real purpose for it in my life. One search revealed a number of RSS to Twitter applets and I chose the one which was the most popular. I entered my RSS URL and linked the applet to my Twitter account and voila it was working. Easy to set up, quick to check and post and is reliable.

Problem solved. ✅

It’s not just you

Collateral data collection

Collateral data collection

Let me first state that I would never have my DNA tested by companies like 23andme and Ancestry. It is not that I would not want to know what is in my genes, but I simply do not trust these companies to do the right thing with that data. A couple of weeks ago, it became clear that 23andme is selling their data to pharmaceutical companies to help them identify potential candidates for testing of new medicines. Given the response, it was not really clear to people that by opting in for finding relatives you also opt-in for data sharing beyond finding those relatives.

Ultimately though, I am not 100% convinced they are capable of keeping my data secure and not get hacked.

But me not testing myself does not preclude me for not being in their database in the first place. When a close family member does a DNA test, they have my data by proxy. Our DNA is closely related. I have no say in this and it is part of how DNA works. But it is fair to say that I do not have a say in this case.

I got reminded of this when I was thinking about the Facebook and Google “market research” apps which got disabled by Apple. The participants chose to share their information with these companies in return for a small fee. They willingly chose to open up their data and share it. You could argue if they fully understood what was happening, but I digress.

While these people chose to share data, my data could have been shared as well. I could have been in a conversation with them or have my contact details in their phonebook. By proxy, my data gets collected as well even though I never gave my consent nor was I made aware.

This is a real problem. Choices of others affect your own privacy and collection on data of you extends beyond yourself. A good example is where Facebook started recommending to “friend” my cleaning lady because she had shared her text messages with Facebook and our conversations were in there.

We really need regulation around data ownership. GPDR in Europe does a nice try but has too much focus on data collection and transfer. It prohibits some propagation of data, but it does not preclude companies from collecting it in the first place. In actuality, this plays in favor of large data collectors like Facebook and Google but gives me little to none rights to have my data not collected at all – especially when you think about collateral data collection like in this post.

You cannot take my car or house because I own those things, but my data is free for all.

Apple’s ecosystem economy is the size of a large country

Companies rule the world

Companies rule the world

Last week, there was a lot of hoopla around Facebook and Google running market research apps on Apple’s iPhones. These apps were sideloaded onto the iPhone using enterprise certificates. Sideloaded apps using these certificates have more privileges on the iPhone than regular apps and, for instance, can be installed outside of the App Store.

Apple was unhappy and yanked Google’s and Facebook’s enterprise certificates which not only made these marketing research apps stop working, but broke every enterprise app deployed by Google and Facebook. This includes deploying internal alpha and beta versions of their major consumer apps.

Apple was correct in rescinding the certificate. Not only did Google and Facebook violated the terms and conditions of these enterprise certificates, but these certificates were living on the phones of participants of these marketing research programs. The safety of an enterprise certificate is a shared responsibility between the enterprise and Apple. But Apple cannot control the distribution of that certificate and the only option they had was to rescind it.

To give a black-and-white example, a malicious actor within Google and Facebook could deploy a rogue app and trick participants who are not employees of these companies to install that rogue app.

The issue though is how Apple handled it. They could just rescind the original certificate and issue a new one immediately. There was no urgent reason for them to rescind immediately and effectively break many operational processes at these companies.

The only thing what it made clear is that Apple is an untrustworthy partner to Google and Facebook.

It also made it abundantly clear that these large companies have a lot of power. As private entities, they are not under any form of public scrutiny with regard towards their actions other than anything related to their public stock. That is just a financial disclosure.

We have come to a world where companies in some ways are more powerful than governments. Amazon has been fighting with Apple and Google on the listing of their products. Apple has been making life difficult for Amazon by making it impossible to sell their video content through their Prime video app because of the 30% rent extraction on Apple’s App Store sales. Spotify cannot deploy their music app on Apple TV. Google does not want Youtube to be natively supported on Alexa devices. Amazon applies seemingly arbitrary rules towards sellers on their platform with regard to fake product reviews left by competitors.

And this goes beyond the big tech companies. Car companies use DMCA law in the US to prevent low-cost repair shops to exist and force consumers to use “approved” repair shops who pay a premium on spare parts supplied directly from the manufacturer.

You buy something, but you don’t really own it. This has been going on for a decade now. It was PayPal who was the first tech company I know who used these tactics. They routinely disable seller’s accounts in case of problems. This left funds sitting at PayPal beyond the reach of the seller. They use those tactics, for instance, to force the seller to settle a case with a consumer. The problem is that this kind of arbitration happens outside the public eye and without public scrutiny.

The crux of the problem is that as these companies become bigger and more powerful, they suck in economic activity around their ecosystem. Apple controls an economy probably the size of a large country. Just think about that it. Tim Cook is CEO of a company who has the economic power to affect peoples and companies life similar to a government, but much of this happens in the private sphere outside the control of the public. Tim Cook is not democratically chosen nor are any of his decisions public while he controls an economy the size of a large country. And that’s just Apple, but there is also Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

The new normal for generation Z

Virtual money

Virtual money

My 9-year old son asked me this weekend if we could go to the toy store. I asked him why. He told me that he wanted to exchange some gift cards he had for this store. I asked, “what do you want to buy?”. He said, “buy? I want to exchange them for Playstation gift cards.” “Oh”, I said, “what do you want to do with those?”. He said, “I want to load up my Playstation account so I can buy some V-Bucks and get some gear on Fortnite.”

He figured this out on his own. I was impressed.

I tried explaining this to my 72-year old parents and  I lost them at “V-Bucks”. They’ve no idea and they’ll never grasp how a free game like Fornite can earn billions of dollars with selling virtual goods. And that’s ok.

A short film about a world dominated by computers

Merger

Merger
Recently, Keiichi Matsuda released another short film on a future dominated by computers and algorithms. Like in his movie HYPER-REALITY, the main character lives in a world dominated by computers. In the movie, she talks to computer therapist about her life being controlled by computers and software. She complains she has no longer control over her own life and she wants to transcends that.
 
The movie leaves it up to the viewer to imagine what the transcendence means, but it feels much like she is uploading herself into the cloud. I have written about that before. It is a possible end-state for humankind.

I am a big fan of his work. You can view it at dystopian or not. I like to take a more optimistic attitude, but the choice is your own.