Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Technology

Beeple’s $69M NFT Sale – A Story of Consistency

Beeple’s massive NFT sale is a lesson in consistency and getting better everyday.

The graphic artist Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, just sold an NFT (Non-Fungible Token) for $69,000,000 dollars at a Christie’s auction.

An NFT is a piece of digital artwork that is minted on a blockchain to prove ownership. Google the term and you’ll find a ton of information about NFTs because they are super hot right now.

As a crypto guy, I can go into a diatribe about why NFTs are valuable and how they are changing the game for artists and creators. I won’t.

I think there’s another lesson to be learned here – one about consistency and getting better everyday.

The NFT that Beeple sold is called “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS” and is a compilation of all of the digital art pieces he has created over 5,000 consecutive days of work. That’s nearly 14 years of working every single day!

Beeple’s “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS”

This resurfaced a lingering suspicion I’ve been thinking about – that the path to success isn’t necessarily dependent on talent, skill, or smarts.

I think success is much more about consistency and practice.

Certainly, having some natural talent plays a role.

But you can have a high level of talent and poor work ethic, and your skills would be wasted without consistent practice.

You can read all the books, go to school for years and years, watch YouTube videos, and get wicked smart on some topic. But if you don’t put all of this knowledge to use, and do so frequently and consistently, you’re just not going to realize your potential.

Quality comes from quantity.

Now, do as I say, not as I do. I have a long way to go to achieve consistency.

Take a look at this sad, sorry blog. My last post was in May 2020, almost one year ago.

And take a look at my Twitter feed. I struggle to tweet just once a day.

Granted, I have been very busy with my crypto consulting clients, my family, and other projects. I am learning and getting better everyday, just not necessarily via posting to my personal blog or Twitter.

There was one time where I blogged for 40 days straight. I wasn’t writing anything ridiculously substantial or high-quality (I rarely do, ha). I was just spitballing about my startup, family, and anything else that crossed my mind. Within those 40 days, I was motivated, excited to write, and probably got more blog traffic than any other period of time I’ve been blogging.

Consistency compounds on itself. You get into a rhythm, and eventually you don’t want to disappoint yourself by breaking the streak. I really felt that motivation when I blogged for 40 days straight.

Now back to Beeple.

I had never heard of Beeple before this recent NFT craze. He has done a lot of work for musicians and big brands, so I’m sure he was doing just fine financially before his big NFT scores. But not $69M fine.

My guess is that at some point during his EVERYDAYS streak, it became second nature for Beeple to create everyday. There may have been days where he was lazy and unmotivated, but powered through to keep the streak alive.

That consistency has paid off for him in a big way.

The fact that Beeple’s biggest win was not a new piece of work, but a culmination of all his work from producing and getting better every day, is an amazing lesson in how important consistency is to success.

Maybe in another 14 years, he’ll create “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 10000 DAYS” and sell it for much more. I certainly hope so.

How Crypto Marketing is Different than Other Industries

Changing rules and regulations, the presence of scams, a larger number of target segments, and many other reasons make crypto marketing very different. 

Over the course of my 20-year career (yup, I’m getting old), I’ve done all kinds of marketing in many different industries. 

I have experience with content marketing, traditional and online advertising, event marketing, branding, analytics, market research, and many more. I’ve worked in software development, cloud computing, sports, consulting, government contracting, and a bunch of other industries. 

I’ve recently started marketing and growth consulting for a couple of cryptocurrency companies, Meter and Hydro Labs

And I’ve learned very quickly how different marketing for these companies is, compared to the other industries I’ve worked with. It’s like night and day. 

Here are the primary differences I’ve identified and will dig into:

  1. There’s more of a focus on community
  2. The rules are always changing
  3. Scams are abound
  4. There are many more target segments to engage with
  5. Current users have a strong focus on privacy, pseudo-anonymity, and security
  6. We have no direct control over token price
  7. Understanding the tech is more important 

Let’s go!

1) There’s more of a focus on community

Because we’re so early, there aren’t clear business and revenue models in crypto, nor are there definitive, proven ways to market these products. 

That’s why building a strong, engaged community is so important in crypto. 

Community is absolutely important in other industries to build brand loyalty. Brands like Harley Davidson, LEGO, and Sephora have garnered passion and loyalty by cultivating strong communities. 

But they are even more critical in crypto. 

While Bitcoin and Ethereum are very innovative technical products, their passionate communities are what separate them from the rest of the cryptocurrencies. 

A cryptocurrency’s value can be driven solely by the strength of its community and memes that come out of it. Founder of Scalar Capital Linda Xie wrote a great article on how memes can help build passionate followings and highlighted the Dogecoin case study. 

Dogecoin is a cryptocurrency that started out as a joke and has absolutely no real-world use. But it has a market cap of over $200 million primarily because of a fucking Shiba Inu. 

Dogecoin meme
Dogecoin is a great meme. Image courtesy of CoinNewsSpan

Building and consistently engaging communities on Twitter, Discord, Telegram, and other social networks allow you to converse with your members, communicate the benefits of your platform,  and garner feedback consistently.

Community reigns in crypto!

2) The rules are always changing

It’s early days in cryptoland. No one really knows what the rules are, which makes marketing really difficult. 

Let’s start with the laws that are set by the SEC and CFTC. While some countries like South Korea and India have clarified their crypto regulations, the US’ laws have massive gray areas that make crypto companies unsure about how to operate. 

Are cryptocurrencies commodities or securities? What makes them one or the other? Can they start as one then evolve to become the other? 

Too many questions and not enough answers. 

The lack of clarity on the legal front leads to opacity on many marketing platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google have all banned crypto ads at some point, and many other smaller ad platforms follow suit. 

The rules about posting crypto-related content keeps changing as well. One day you can post as many videos about cryptocurrency on YouTube, the next day you’re banned

Again, that’s why building a strong community is so important. No one can take your community away from you. 

While many of us marketers pride ourselves on being agile and flexible, the constantly changing rules and regulations make doing our jobs really tough. 

3) Scams are abound

One of the reasons the rules and regulations are always changing is because of the myriad of scams that occur in the crypto space. 

ICOs introduced an innovative, democratized way for companies to raise funds outside of traditional venture capital and banking channels. And thousands of crypto companies took advantage of this during the ICO boom of 2017. 

While many of these projects are still alive and kicking, the vast majority of them were scams that made their founders rich and fleeced their investors. 

Everyone knows about Bitconnect, the massive exit scam that promised earnings of 1% daily and up to 40% each month. 

Hey hey heeeeeyyyyy! Bitconnnneeeeccccctt!

More recently, the PlusToken scam attracted investment of more than 200,000 bitcoin, 1% of outstanding supply.

The presence of scams like these makes marketers’ jobs tough in a number of ways. 

First, if you’re marketing a crypto protocol, you may face skepticism that your platform might be a scam. 

The abundance of scam ICOs have given people token PTSD. Thus investors, potential users, and the broader industry may harshly criticize your pre-sale tactics, token economics, and many other aspects of your platform and deem your project a scam, when it’s really not. 

Next, many service providers may not allow you to use their products, or make it more difficult to do so, simply because you work in the crypto industry. 

I mentioned earlier that ad platforms like Facebook and Google have changed their crypto marketing rules many times.

Currently, I am going through an onboarding process where an email service provider is asking questions about one of the companies I consult with. They want to make sure we’re not using their email platform to run a scam, and they want to maintain their high email deliverability rate. While I can’t blame the company for doing this, it’s annoying. 

Finally, partnerships are important for growth in crypto. And because it can be difficult to identify a crypto scam, we have to be super careful in doing due diligence of companies we partner with. 

In traditional industries, it’s much easier to identify bad actors. If a traditional financial institution is registered in Malta or the Cayman Islands, that raises a red flag. In crypto, that’s the norm!

The Cayman Islands has very crypto-friendly regulations as opposed to larger, more established economies. And the majority of crypto trading volume takes place on Malta-based exchanges.

It’s definitely tougher to identify scams in crypto, which makes in-depth research and due diligence for partnerships much more important. 

4) There are many more target segments to engage with

If you’re marketing a product in sectors such as consumer packaged goods, financial services, or other more traditional industries, you typically have a clear end user you’re targeting. 

For example, if I’m marketing wealth management services for Morgan Stanley, I’m likely targeting upper-middle to upper class people with stable incomes and a solid net worth. In general, most of these customers will have similar life goals and respond comparably to my marketing message. 

If you’re marketing a crypto/blockchain protocol, you have many different types of end users you need to reach. 

You may need to recruit developers to build on top of your protocol. 

You may need to engage miners or validators (depending on whether your protocol uses Proof of Work, Proof of Stake, or other consensus mechanisms) to help secure your network. 

You’ll have to interact with investors, whether they are venture capitalists looking to fund your project in exchange for equity, or retail investors who want to trade your coins for profit. 

You’ll need to work with exchanges to get listed so retail investors can buy, sell, and trade your coin. 

You may need to build mobile or desktop apps for your cryptocurrency, so you’ll have to work with end users to ensure that you build a great product experience. 

If you’re building the next iteration of money, you may have to work with merchants and retailers to get your cryptocurrency adopted for payments. 

Even within these segments, you have to understand where on the educational spectrum they lie. Are they crypto newbies or experts? Are they learning how to build on blockchain for the first time, or have they been creating advanced smart contracts for a while?

There are so many more audiences you need to engage and many different levels of knowledge, which makes crypto marketing very different and more difficult. 

5) Current users have a strong focus on privacy, pseudo-anonymity, and security

Bitcoin was built in large part in response to the economic bailouts received by big banks after 2008’s economic crisis. The OG of cryptocurrencies aimed to circumvent the centralized control and poor monetary policies set forth by governments. 

Bitcoin’s genesis block alludes to the 2008 financial crisis. Source: Bitcoin.com


As such, censorship resistance, privacy, pseudo-anonymity, and security are core tenets of the cryptocurrency industry and are paramount for much of the current user base.

These are certainly admirable principles but they don’t make a marketer’s job any easier. 

The data we collect on user behaviors helps us understand how our products are being used and how we can improve them. Tools like Google Analytics, Mixpanel, and Amplitude, allow us to gather data on product usage and unearth user insights. 

In crypto, it’s much more difficult to track and analyze user behavior due to the focus on anonymity and security. 

I recently spoke with a founder who is building a decentralized marketplace about how he measures activity on his platform. He said that it’s tough to call the merchants who run stores on his platform “users” because he knows very little about them and who they are. Rather, he has to resort to the more literal, technical term “nodes” (each merchant runs a node), and he has very limited data about these nodes. 

It’s very difficult to perform feedback surveys and user interviews because many times you have no idea who your users are! That’s why building a strong community is so important. 

There is an opportunity for crypto marketers here though. If you are willing to put in the effort to discover who your customers are, interact with them one-on-one, and really get to know them, you’ll be ahead of the game. 

6) We have no direct control over token price

Pump it! To the moon! 

Token price is such a big part of the success of a crypto protocol. When the price of the token goes up, community engagement and sentiment increase, and more investment money flows in, causing a virtuous cycle. 

And we, as marketers, have such little control over that. 

Yes, if we build great protocols and products, market them well, and gain lots of users and revenue, theoretically the price and market cap of our token should go up. 

But at this early stage of the industry, there’s no way to really guarantee that. 

In traditional markets, the correlation between company performance and an increase in stock price is much higher for publicly-traded companies. Investors have tried-and-true ways of valuing companies, such as Discounted Cash Flow, asset valuation, and comparable company analysis models, so they have a pretty clear understanding of how to correlate certain factors to company success and a rising stock price.

Even non-crypto startups are easier to value because there is much more historical data to analyze. Chamath Palihapitiya’s VC firm Social Capital is famous for using a data-driven approach to assess potential investments by comparing the growth rate of those startups to that of its portfolio companies. And tools like Crunchbase and CB Insights allow investors to access tons of data to analyze and value startups.

Data tools that help investors analyze the quality of a crypto project are getting much better. Companies like Messari, Nomics, Kaiko, and many others aim to provide reliable, enterprise-grade market data. But we’re still early. 

And as crypto marketers, all we can do is put our head down, ignore the noise, and not try to look at the price too often (unless it’s going to the moon, of course). 

7) Understanding the tech is more important

If you’re marketing a customer relationship management platform, you don’t really need to communicate that the software is built with ReactJS on the front end, Python on the backend, and is powered by AWS EC2, RDS, and S3 cloud technologies. 

If you’re marketing a blockchain protocol, you will need to know what consensus mechanism your protocol uses, how the network’s security is maintained, and many other technical aspects. 

Even if you’re building products that aren’t protocols, such as a crypto wallet, a decentralized finance application, or a blockchain video game, the emphasis on security forces you to be knowledgeable about how your application will protect users’ funds and identities.

And all of this technical knowledge is no joke.

Conclusion

Marketing in cryptoland is very different from marketing in more traditional industries. 

Changing regulations, the presence of scams, a larger number of target segments, and many other reasons make crypto marketing a different beast. 

I believe that marketing crypto is much more challenging. But it also provides us with an opportunity to be innovative and lay the groundwork for best practices. 

And it’s super fun!

What are your thoughts on the differences between crypto and traditional marketing? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear from you!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. 

Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates.

Big thanks to fellow crypto marketers Jordan SpenceAlex Masmej, and Emily Coleman for contributing to this article. 

3 Reasons Why Bitcoin is Important and Valuable

Books have been written about why Bitcoin is valuable, and I can certainly write many blog posts about this topic. 

But I’d like to boil this down to a few primary reasons why Bitcoin is important to me, and why it may be important to you as well.

If you haven’t read my blog post that provides an overview of how blockchain technology works, here’s the link. It gives a pseudo-technical overview of how blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, functions. 

Anyway, let’s move on to why Bitcoin is important. 

Censorship Resistance

Most of the benefits of Bitcoin is derived from the fact that there is no central party – whether it be a bank or government – that controls how it works. Rather, the network is maintained by a network of nodes that help verify transactions and manage the distributed ledger. Because Bitcoin is an open, permissionless network, you or I can run nodes to help maintain the network. 

Because of this decentralization, no one can censor how we use our Bitcoin. 

Take a look at the debacle that is happening in Argentina right now. The country is limiting US dollar purchases by its citizens to just $200 per month in order to maintain their international reserves. Basically, no one wants to hold on to their Argentinian pesos, but the government is forcing them to do so.

Uncoincidentally, Bitcoin is huge in Argentina, and the government is trying to control citizens’ purchasing of Bitcoin as well.

We don’t truly feel this kind of pain in America. But can you imagine if the US government told us how we can and can’t spend our money? You’d be pissed, I’m sure. Bitcoin solves this.

21 Million Supply Cap 

The US Federal Reserve has massive printing presses, and they’ve recently printed over $200 billion dollars to inject into the economy. 

Do you know what happens to the value of the dollar when the Fed does this? It goes down. This is simple supply and demand – the more of something you have, the less valuable it is. 

Here’s an interesting article of how the worth of the US Dollar has decreased. In 1913, the supply of dollars was only $13 billion, and $100 was worth $100. Now, with the money supply at $13,000 billion (a trillion, with a “t”!), $100 is worth only $3.87! 

And who is to stop the Fed from continuing to print more money and devaluing our currency?

Bitcoin’s monetary policy states that only 21 million bitcoins will be created, EVER. And this policy is written in code and cannot be changed unless the community agrees to do so (which is highly unlikely). Because the supply is set, the demand for Bitcoin is likely to go up, which will increase its value in the long run.

This makes Bitcoin a great store of value, similar to gold or Amazon stock. 

Sovereignty

Because Bitcoin is decentralized, you can have full control over the Bitcoins that you own. 

You don’t need banks to hold your money. And it’s not like banks actually hold your money for you. If you have $1000 in your bank account, that money isn’t actually there; your bank is using your money to make money for themselves, and that “$1000” printed on your statement is basically an IOU. 

When you own Bitcoin, you have the ability to store it yourself using non-custodial hardware wallets like Trezor or Ledger. This means you are in full control of your Bitcoin (or any other cryptocurrency that you own). Sure, you’ll have to trust yourself to not lose this hardware wallet, because if you do, your Bitcoin is gone. But you control your money, not some bank. And that’s powerful.

Conclusion

There are many other reasons why Bitcoin is important. There are drawbacks to Bitcoin as well.

Regardless of what you think of it, Bitcoin might be one of the most important social, economic, and technological developments we’ll ever see in our lifetimes, and I recommend at least learning more about it!

If you’re interested, here are some great resources to get you started:

  1. The Bullish Case for Bitcoin
  2. Bitcoin is Not Backed by Nothing
  3. The Bitcoin Whitepaper (PDF download)

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. 

Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. 

Introduction to Blockchain and Cryptocurrency

Wow, I haven’t blogged here in over 6 months. Sorry about that! I missed you all.

Well, I’m back!

Anyway, some of you know that I’ve been a fan of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Although they may be overhyped, I’m going to hype it some more. 🙂

I think blockchain is one of the most important technologies since the internet was invented (seriously) and has the potential to change so many industries and people’s lives. 

On a personal level, blockchain and crypto has the potential to provide us with more financial freedom and control over our money. We have been too dependent on and trusting of government and banks regarding our personal financial matters. With blockchain and crypto, we can be our own banks. 

If you work in industries such as supply chain, finance, politics, and many others, blockchain can provide more transparency and speed than what’s available today. 

Blockchain and crypto is the future. It’s still extremely early, and the more you learn now, the more prepared you will be to take advantage of this future.

If you want to read an in-depth primer of how blockchain technology works, the benefits it brings, and how it can be applied, read this blog post I wrote for Coinifide (a blockchain education project I’m working with). 

I’m still learning everyday (there’s so much to learn!), and I’m excited to share my knowledge with you on this blog. Stay tuned for future posts on this transformative technology, the amazing things you can do with it, and how you can benefit.

Talk soon!  

Is the startup you’re building big or cool enough?

I think about this a lot.

Is WinOptix is a big enough idea? Is my target market big enough? Is the concept interesting or impactful enough?

A lot of this “big enough” doubt comes from reading a lot of tech and startup news.

“Startup X raises $50 million dollars and now is worth $2 billion.”

“Startup Y has $100 million in revenue with no marketing.”

“Startup Z goes public, the stock pops, and the company is now worth $5 billion.”

I need to stop reading all of crap.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t know if WinOptix is big enough yet.

Yeah, the government contracting market is really big, like trillions of dollars big. But at the moment, I’m only targeting IT service providers, which is much smaller.

Can the product be eventually sold to other types of government contractors, or additional markets outside of govcon, so that the market gets much larger? Maybe. But I don’t know. I’m not there yet.

Here’s a post from Rob Go of NextView Ventures that talks about the “market size fallacy” for seed stage startups. That post makes me feel better every time I read it. It basically says, “you don’t know until you find out.”

And the product is in such an early phase that I don’t know if it will be cool or impactful enough.

There’s been a good amount of interest from prospective customers and partners. Industry experts believe in the concept and like what they see in the product. But I won’t really know how impactful the product will be until I get more paying customers.

There’s a lot of things I don’t know. But that’s OK.

So if you’re not sure how big your market is or how impactful your product is, that’s OK too.

Maybe your company isn’t venture scale. Maybe it is. So what?

Maybe your product is in a boring industry. Or maybe it’s in a hot sector like AI or blockchain. So what?

It’s tough to stop having FOMO, but it’s necessary. It’s hard not to think about chasing the shiny object. I think about cooler technologies and products all the time. But it just takes my focus away from what’s important.

So is the startup you’re building big or cool enough? Don’t worry about it, it probably doesn’t matter.

Is your business model minimizing financial risk for your customers?

I’ve written in the past about business model innovation, and how companies can not only innovate with their product, but also with the way they charge their customers and garner revenue.

A business model innovation that I like and have been noticing recently is one that that minimizes the financial risk for its customers. While the free trial and freemium models do this to a certain extent, some companies go even further.

There are two models that I highlight in this post:

  1. When companies provide a service first, and get paid later when a certain event occurs
  2. When companies have you pay first but then refund money if you don’t use the product in a given time frame

Here are three companies that do a great job of minimizing financial risk for their customers.

Lambda School

Studies from Georgetown University and Pew Research Center have shown that college graduates make significantly more per year, and over a lifetime, than their counterparts with no four-year college degree. That’s a comforting statistic for college grads, current students, and those thinking about attending.

But there is a lot of risk in attending college.

First of all, the cost of attending college has become astronomical.

Tuition and fees at ranked private schools average over $41,000, with some of the top schools charging over $55,000 per year. Yucky to the bank account.

Growth of college tuition

Growth of college tuition – graph courtesy of US News

So unless you have rich parents who can pay for your education (lucky you), or you ace all of your high school classes and entrance exams and get a full scholarship (smart you), you’re likely going to have to take out student loans. And these loans will follow you around forever, even if you declare bankruptcy.

Second, even if you graduate college, you might not get a job upon graduation, or months or even years after. That’s pretty terrible.

Because of this increased risk of attending college, there’s been a growth in popularity of vocational programs and coding bootcamps like General Assembly, Flatiron School, and many others that have come and gone. These programs can either be in-person or online and teach you tech-related skills like web development and digital marketing. Classes typically last a few months, depending on whether you’re a full- or part-time student.

The problem is that these programs are still pretty expensive (full-time, in-person coding bootcamps can cost up to $20,000) and you’re still not guaranteed a job after you graduate. So are these programs really solving the problem?

Lambda School has a really innovative business model that aims to minimize their students’ risk of gaining a useful education.

Lambda School provides computer science and data science courses taught live and online by instructors who have worked for the largest tech companies like Google and Apple.

The big differentiator is that you don’t pay a cent for this education until you graduate and make more than $50,000 per year in salary. At that point, you pay 17% of your salary for two years. 

So let’s say you graduate from Lambda School and get a job as a Data Scientist making $75,000 per year. 17% of $75,000 is $12,750; assuming you don’t get a raise within your first two years, you would pay $25,500 to Lambda School.

That’s less than one semester’s worth of tuition and fees at some universities.

With no upfront monetary investment.

And you already have a high-paying job before you pay anything.

That’s pretty amazing.

I’m not sure how innovative their curriculum is; live online education has certainly been tried before. It’s the de-risking of the cost of the education that’s really innovative.

I learned about Lambda School from this episode of This Week in Startups.  The founder, Austin Allred, shares a ton of info about why college tuitions have soared and why he started Lambda School.

Education is one of the most important sectors of our economy and it’s clearly broken. I’m rooting hard for Austin and Lambda School to succeed so this huge problem can be fixed.

MaxSalePrice

Selling a home is a stressful task and a lot of work.

You need to make your home look nice, work with agents, price it correctly, give tours, and much more, in a short amount of time.

In the end, you want to maximize the sales price of your home. And one way to do this is to do home improvement projects before you put your house on the market. A remodeling of your kitchen, new hardwood floors, and a fresh coat of paint can significantly increase the value of your home.

These projects aren’t cheap, though. A kitchen remodel can cost over $40,000, a full paint job can cost $10,000, and installing hardwood floors can be many thousands as well.

And you have to find trustworthy contractors and pay them upfront to do this work.

MaxSalePriceMaxSalePrice logo is flipping this model on its head.

The company will work with you and your real estate agent to figure out what improvements are needed to maximize your sale price. Then their contractors will execute these projects, and you don’t pay until you close the sale of your home, regardless of how long it takes to sell it.

Everyone wins here. You maximize your revenue from your home, your agent gets her cut of a bigger pie, and MaxSalePrice gets paid for its work.

I know the company’s CEO, Rick Rudman, pretty well. He started and sold his PR software company Vocus for nearly $500 million and was the CEO of social media software Tracx. The more he told me about MaxSalePrice, the more interesting it sounded. I think it’s a really great business model and I’m sure MaxSalePrice will be really successful with Rick at the helm.

Slack

Workplace communication provider Slack does many things really well, and their business model is one of them.

Slack has a pretty amazing free plan. You get unlimited public and private channels, 10,000 searchable messages, up to 10 apps, and much more. It’s very compelling for small teams.

Slack logoOnce you grow out of that plan, Slack can cost up to $15 per user per month.

The innovative aspect of their business model is what they call “Fair Billing Policy”, where your company will only get billed for the people who use it each month. So if an employee you’ve already paid for becomes inactive, Slack will add a prorated credit to your account for the unused time.

There are very few enterprise apps that get used by every employee every single day. Even though Slack is likely to be one of these apps, they still minimize financial risk for their customers by providing refunds for inactive users.

That’s a characteristic of a truly customer-centric company. It’s no wonder why they’re valued at more than $5 billion.

Conclusion

I really love it when companies innovate with their business models, and these three companies are doing a great job of taking care of their customers’ wallets.

It has really made me think of how to structure pricing for my startup, WinOptix, and how I can de-risk this process for my customers.

Have you seen other companies whose business models help minimize financial risk for their customers? Are you doing so for your customers?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

What I love and hate about learning to code

Since I became an entrepreneur nearly six years ago, I’ve attempted to learn to code a few times but never really stuck with it. I took some online courses learning Ruby on Rails and Javascript (Meteor and Node), but all that knowledge just faded away over time because I failed to continue to work at it.

I think it was because I wasn’t building projects that were that interesting or helpful to me. Now I’m learning Python and have stuck with it longer than anytime in the past because I’m working on things that directly impact my life.

I’ve written a small script that automates some of the reporting that I do for my day job (and I continue to improve it) and am working on a program that syncs my Amazon Alexa shopping list to Trello, which my wife and I use to organize our shopping list. You can read more about these projects in this Quora answer.

There are great and terrible things about learning to code. Here are my thoughts on what I love and hate about my journey.

What I love about learning to code

Thinking deeply

I enjoy thinking deeply through the problems that I face when learning to code.

When I’m learning something new, especially something as difficult as software development, I have to really concentrate to understand what I’m doing and what’s happening.

Still, most of the time I have no idea what’s going on.

But I do enjoy getting really deep in thought and pretending that I understand what I’m learning. 🙂

Logical thinking

Regardless of the programming language that you’re learning, you have to apply a lot of logic. I really enjoy thinking through what is the best logic I should use.

For loops, if/then statements, different ways to format your data – you have to be able to apply these techniques, and many more, in various situations. There’s always more than one way to do something with code, and the logic you apply will determine what’s the best solution.

Researching

I truly enjoy researching solutions to specific problems that I’m facing. I spend A LOT of time on Stack Overflow searching for solutions, and I really enjoy doing this research. I obviously don’t always know what I’m researching, but I like the process of researching and implementing a solution.

It’s an amazing feeling when something works

It’s an amazing feeling when, after a lot of thinking deeply, applying logic, and researching, the script you wrote actually does what you want it to do.

It’s actually my third favorite feeling in the world (the top two are bodily functions that I won’t get into, haha).

The Challenge

Learning to code is hard. And I like the challenge that it offers. It’s invigorating.

What I hate about learning to code

It’s really time consuming and fucking hard

I like the feeling of getting things done. And often I’m not getting anything done when I code.

There are times I just sit there and stare at the blinking cursor with no idea what to type next.

It takes FOREVER for me to write code. I’ve been working on some of these scripts for months and sometimes it seems like I’m going backwards.

It’s literally like learning a new language.

I do enjoy the challenge…most of the time. But there are times when learning to code just seems too hard.

I feel like I’ll never amount to anything

I don’t think I want to become a full-time software developer, but even if I did, I can’t imagine getting good enough at programming to become one.

I feel so far behind and don’t believe that I can really ever catch up to developers who have years or decades more experience.

When I get stuck on a problem and can’t figure it out, feelings of inability and stupidity pop up. It’s tough.

Conclusion

Learning to code is fun and shitty at the same time.

One minute I’m pumping my fist because something worked, the next minute I’m smashing my head against my desk because I broke something and have no idea what.

Hopefully the pros will outweigh the cons and I’ll just keep cranking away at it.

 

The plight of the non-technical startup founder

Tech startups are hard.

You need all kinds of people to make a startup successful.

Depending on the type of product you’re building. who your customer is (consumer vs. enterprise), what stage you’re in, and other factors, you’ll need product leaders, software developers, sales reps, marketers, designers, operators, recruiters, administrators, and many other roles.

But in the very early days of your startup, if you’re a non-technical founder, by far the most important member of your team is the software developer. If you can find one.

No matter how much you know about the industry, the user, the product features, and everything else, the software developer will be the one who can actually ship a product.

You can do all the research in the world. You can talk to scores of potential customers to learn their pain points. You can create mockups and wireframes.

But all of that doesn’t mean much if you can’t ship a product.

That’s why software developers are the rock stars in the tech startup world. They can bring ideas to fruition.

As a non-technical founder, I know that I’m at a disadvantage. My coding skills, while improving little by little, are not even close to the point where I can build an app.

I need to be able to recruit software developers to help me build my product, and I’m competing against every other non-technical founder to do so. Not easy.

Once I successfully recruit them, I need to be able to communicate my vision of the app so they can build it. And a lot can get lost in translation.

Such is the plight of the non-technical founder.

Startups are hard. And if you’re a non-technical founder, they can be damn near impossible.

Rant over.

The three technologies I’m most excited about in 2018 (aka my favorite buzzwords)

I’ve always been excited about how technology can change our lives, and there’s been a lot of new, almost Star-Trekky changes recently. But I’m most excited about the future of these three technologies and how they’ll gain widespread adoption in 2018.

Artificial intelligence

AI and machine learning were huge buzzwords the past few years, almost to the point of annoyance.

Every startup said that they were an AI company in some way.

Google identified that the world was transforming from mobile-first to AI-first, and they’re doing everything they can to usher in this world (Note: I believe Google more than the other startups).

Sales of the Amazon Echo broke records. 

AI products are getting better and smarter everyday. And in 2018, I think we as consumers will get more comfortable with AI handling more important aspects of our lives such as our calendars, emails, and shopping lists. I think we’ll get over the privacy concerns and the notion that AI robots will take over the world (they’ll just do backflips).

AI will be extremely prevalent in the enterprise, too, which will be evident in the ways we interact with these companies.

Enterprises will continue to use machine learning to have a deeper understanding of our habits, and thus the messages they send us will be more relevant (as creepy as that may be). Bots will automate many of our conversations, and they’ll be so accurate that we’ll think it’s a real person while accusing them that it’s a bot. There may be other times when AI is used and you won’t even know it.

AI has been hot, but I think it’s only going to get hotter and more widespread.

Voice recognition

As AI improves, voice recognition is going to get better in lockstep.

Siri sucks, but Alexa and Google’s voice assistant (who really needs a proper name) are pretty amazing. These are just previews of how voice will change how we interact with our devices.

I believe the existence of remote controls for our TVs, speakers, and ceiling fans is trending toward 0.

I think typing, like I’m doing now, will eventually go the way of the dodo.

I think we’ll interact with our devices with our voices so often that humans in the room will be confused whether we’re talking to them.

The enterprise will certainly be impacted as well. AWS recently announced Alexa for Business, where companies can build Alexa skills to pull up lead information, turn off conference room lights, or schedule a meeting.

We’re going to use our voices way more often in 2018.

Blockchain

I can feel your eyes rolling already. Bitcoin this, blockchain that. Blockchain was going to be the first section of this blog post, but I thought that many of you would get sick of hearing about it and stop reading.

Yes, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the hundreds of other cryptocurrencies are overhyped. Yes, it’s very early in the life cycle of the technology, and lot of it is speculative. Yes, you might have fomo for not buying Bitcoin earlier (half kidding).

All that Bitcoin stuff aside, the actual blockchain technology is going to change the way the internet and the entire world runs.

I won’t get too deep into the details of the technology; you can read this article for a great overview of how blockchain works.

Just imagine not having to trust Equifax with all of your credit history. That trust was breached. Instead, your credit history will be distributed across thousands of nodes all over the world, encrypted and immutable.

Blockchain can be used to track the source of every resource in the supply chain, so you can find out where your T-shirt was sourced from and feel better that some 9-year old Vietnamese kid didn’t produce your shirt in a sweatshop.

While it might take a while to pan out, blockchain is going to be one of the most transformative technologies we’ve ever seen.

Conclusion

Buzzwords, buzzwords, buzzwords. I’m not breaking any ground here, as these technologies have been hyped and touted as the next big thing for a little while now. But these are the three tech developments that I’ll be tracking closely in 2018, and I think they’ll dramatically alter the way we live.

Slack, distractions, and Twist

If you read this blog, you know that I’m all about finding ways to increase productivity and minimize distractions.

And the more and more I use Slack, the more I hate it because it’s a constant stream of distractions.

I’m not alone. See here, here, and here.

Don’t get me wrong – Slack is an extremely well-designed, well-built platform. The integrations are great and the ability to build tools and bots on top of it is pretty awesome. It’s a valuable messaging tool, which is why the company is the fastest growing business app ever.

The underlying philosophy of Slack and many business communication apps – a stream of messages with little organization – is what’s bothersome to me.

My problems with Slack

Imagine you work on a remote team and you’re 12 hours ahead of most of your team members. While they’re in the middle of their work day, you’re deep asleep. Not only will you be bombarded with notifications, but you’ll also wake up to a cacophony of messages with very little idea of what subject was started where and by whom.

Another example is going on vacation. I was on a two-week trek to Thailand and got pinged with many messages that had nothing to do with me. The messages that were relevant to me were buried deep in multiple channels. I actually didn’t realize I missed messages until one of my co-workers asked me if I saw the message he sent to me.

And I know that I’ve sent many messages that were missed or unread.

At the core of the problem is notifications.

Yes, you can set certain your notification preferences – such as seeing all notifications, only those messages that mention your name, or no notifications for a channel. Those aren’t granular enough, and I find that I still miss a lot of stuff no matter which option I choose. And all you hear all day is that knock brush sound.

Another issue is that Slack doesn’t provide you with email notifications, so it forces you to use its tool to check notifications and messages, which again leads to missed messages. This is great for their engagement metrics, but not great for productivity.

Twist – a more thoughtful communication tool

I’ve been using a relatively new messaging tool called Twist, which is built by the same company who created the popular Todoist productivity app.

The philosophy and benefits of the tool are laid out nicely in this Medium post written by Twist’s creator.

We use Twist for WinOptix. Our team is pretty small (only 3 of us, all part-time), so our message volume isn’t very high. But we’ve already seen benefits from the different approach Twist has taken to messaging.

Channels and Threads

Like Slack, Twist has channels that you can denote subjects for, such as “Design”, “Development”, “Marketing”, and more. But Twist goes one level deeper with threads within each of these channels. So under “Development”, we have a thread for “Development Task Organization”, where our developer and I discussed the best way to organize development tasks, and “FPDS data – GitLab Repo” where we talk about how to access troves of government contracting data.

These threads portray the messages in a more granular fashion so you have a better idea of what the conversation is about.

Twist's channels and threads

Twist’s channels and threads

Sender can choose who receives notifications

The next big feature is the ability for the sender to select who receives notifications. This is HUGE.

Let’s say that I just want to ask our developer a direct question. I’ll just select his name in the “Notify” field and ask away. He’ll be the only one who receives a notification. Everyone else who is part of that channel will be left alone but will still be able to view that message at any time.

This is the best of both worlds. This gives the sender the power to minimize distractions for his or her team, not just the receiver to minimize distractions for herself.

In Slack, you can type “@username” to specifically mention someone in a message, but if other employees in that channel have selected to receive notifications for all messages, they’ll still get pinged with this message.

(BTW, as I’m writing this, I just got pinged with a Slack notification that had nothing to do with me. Ugh.)

Email notifications

Everyone hates email, but I don’t think it’s that bad. I used to receive 200 emails a day, but I’ve pruned that down to less than half. Maybe I’ve just gotten less popular. :/

I might be old-fashioned, but my email inboxes are the center of my work life.

Anyway, I love how Twist sends me email notifications about messages that have been recently posted. This allows me to see if I missed anything important without having to check all of the messages in the app itself. And the asynchronous nature of email lets me review messages whenever I please.

Conclusion

This may seem like I’m hating on Slack, but I’m not. It’s a really great piece of software, but it just doesn’t work all that well with the way that I work.

And I’m not getting paid by Twist to write this post. I just think it’s a very well thought-out tool that focuses more on productivity as opposed to just communication.

The caveat here is that we don’t yet have a high volume of messages, but I think that the way Twist is set up, ramping up the volume won’t be as distracting.

Anyway, if you’re frustrated with the constant pinging and missed messages, I’d suggest giving Twist a shot. If you do, let me know what you think!