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#75 Gauge if you’re powered by steam or wind
Lessons for product, startup and building the right culture
James Clear had shared a snippet from Paul Graham’s essay Hackers & Painters in his latest post. Here I quote it as is.
"Let's start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?
If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence?
Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think whatever you're told.”
Building a point of view, and holding on to it for its merit - that’s a remarkable trait. I respect people who are able to do it. It tells a lot about what they have seen, absorbed and cared to synthesize. If they are able to build their confidence in this, their conviction will reflect. If they have strong awareness and curiosity, they will be open to get challenged & stand corrected. It’s always a learning experience to work with such folks.
I’m super excited to share today’s discoveries. Let’s start..
1. Learnings from Classpass journey
Payal Kadakia’s post for First Round Review covers her learnings from building Classpass and taking it towards PMF. There are some usual lessons that every startup founder goes through. However, I loved her post for the way she has articulated those. Here, I share a couple of them:
2. Gauge if you’re powered by steam or wind.
Kadakia started to ignore outward measures of success — what she calls false signals like capital raised, press, social media followers — in favor of a more meaningful signal: customer behavior. “If you focus on all those other things, you’re not fueling your company. You’re just gliding on tailwinds supplied by other sources. You’re reliant on energy that you’re not creating,” says Kadakia.
4. Honor the transaction above all — and let it break you.
Kadakia emerged from those difficult early years with a new mantra: if you can't get the transaction to happen, the technology isn't going to solve it.
9. You’re still launching.
“One of the things I've learned is that every customer matters. Every time they have a first experience with your product, it's really important. You launch to customers every single day.”
Thinking of launch as a continual process also ensures that your product doesn’t become stale.
It is a short (by First Round standards) yet great read.
(via First Round)
2. Right for Wrong
Like his newsletter, Lenny is attracting the best of product & growth thinkers to share their learning. They focus their conversation on actionable learning. In a recent episode with Kristen Berman, they discussed how to use behavioral science to improve your product.
It’s a great introduction to the topic and covered many interesting examples. However one concept that really stood out to me was “Right for wrong”. Here’s a snapshot from the show notes covering this topic.
At some level, it’s about using incentives to drive the desired behavior. Your end goal is in the user’s favor, she just may not recognize it as yet.
(via Lenny’s newsletter)
3. Indistinguishable from Magic
Packy’s post Indistinguishable from Magic is a good commentary on the way our experience with technology & product evolve. It starts with a magic-like feeling, going on to become “the usual” and finally retire as a “buggy” and “old world”. He has done a beautiful articulation of it in the theme of his title.
Incremental improvements feel slow and commonplace. Magic is in those step jumps, sometimes on a totally new ladder.
(via Not Boring)
4. Don’t bring me silence
Biswadeep Banerjee’s post titled “Don’t bring me silence, bring me problems” takes a critical take on a commonly used management phrase - “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”.
He used some interesting examples from Margaret Thatcher to BP’s Deep Water Horizon incident to set the context and make his point. His direction is fairly good with these examples. However, the attribution of issues to this culture of “bring me a solution” is a stretch without the detailing of culture in these places.
This snippet from the article shares really good summary of the idea & possible approach around it:
Global CEO coach and TEDx speaker Sabina Nawaz in one of her Harvard articles wrote,
“The “bring me a solution” approach can also cause employees to shut down in fear, breed a culture of intimidation, and prevent some problems from surfacing until they’re full-blown crises”.
According to Wharton professor & organizational psychologist Adam Grant, Solution-only thinking creates “a culture of advocacy instead of one of inquiry,” where each person comes into the situation locked into their way of solving the problem and lobbies hard for that particular solution rather than considering multiple perspectives.
(via Luca Sartoni)
5. Lineage matters
Prof Ethan Mollick shares insightful observations & learnings from academic research papers. In a recent post, he covered - “Two genealogies shape a lot of tech world: The Traitorous Eight, who left Fairchild Semiconductor to start Silicon Valley, and the PayPal Mafia.”
We’ve all heard of PayPal Mafia, or even the Flipkart Mafia. So, you get the gist of the topic. The following observation that really struck the chord with me: “Lineage matters because startups carry over culture, practices & approaches from their “parents,” where founders used to work.”
He further quotes & summarizes some research that shares perspective on why & how it happens.
I find it highly relatable. Great institutions and Org with strong cultures have the potential to do this. Leaders & early employees who build these can really carry the ethos with them. What do you think?
6. To the right, hold on tight
Have you ever played Super Mario Bros? If not, I highly recommend playing it for a bit. This essay from Anna Anthropy explores the way this game used its first two screens to support the player learning. Here’s a brief snippet from the post:
The first question of level design is how to communicate these interactions to the player. As a teacher, I often see students rely solely on an instructions screen to explain their game, and not consider how level design can support the player’s learning.
The first two screens of Super Mario Bros., designed by Takashi Tezuka and Shigeru Miyamoto, are designed to communicate the most critical rules of the game to new players. Consider that Mario is the game that popularized the “platformer” as a genre, and most of its players at the time of its release would be encountering these ideas for the first time. That requires thoughtful design!
The problem space sounds familiar for most product creators. And we’ve all toyed up with tutorials, coach marks and what not to solve for the onboarding. Mario did it without all of that jazz, and did it beautifully. The post does a superb job decoding it for us laymen. A great lesson. No wonder this post has been used as a reference in teaching level design in many gaming courses.
I found this in David Cole’s personal canon. Check it out as well, a lot of timeless classics in one place.
7. Everything else
Some random goodness from the internet:
How to get things delivered faster than their promised delivery date? Some theoretical and some practical tips worth trying out. (via LessWrong)
Julia Vaihicheva draws beautiful fairy tree houses. (via Instagram)
Sean Blanda’s rules for online sanity (via Storythings)
We are a picturesque small town and we refuse to be the setting for your romantic comedy - another good one from McSweeney’s.
"And per se, and" eventually evolved into ampersand, the word we know and love today. & the rest is history. (via Joost Plattel)
Indore is the cleanest city in India, for the 6th year in the row. If that’s not inviting enough, check out this thread giving you a visually appetising itinerary once you’re here. (via Twitter)
Boston Dynamic’s overnight success has been 30 years in making (via Twitter)
Before we sign off, let’s hear from the little dino.
That's all for this week, folks!
If you enjoyed this post, show your love by commenting and liking it. I write this newsletter to share what I learnt from others. If you learnt something from this today, why not share it with a couple of your friends to continue this chain?