My Misfit Shine has mysteriously stopped lighting up, so for the first time in a while, I’m Unquantified. I’ve been wearing a tracker of one sort or another for a couple of years now, and so it’s a little weird not to have one now. (I guess my phone is still doing it, and Argus can tell me.)
Not sure yet if I miss it.
On the upside, I put Automatic into my car, so now my driving is quantified, so there’s that. Now I’ve got driving data that I’m not sure how to make actionable, too!
Data, data, everywhere….
Cups of Water
[reposting here from my Medium post.]
My partner Reid has a fun metaphor he uses when he’s describing how companies think about their core strategies (which don’t change very much). He says that he thinks about a company’s strategy as a cup of water they’re holding, trying to keep as much water in the cup as possible at all times (and sometimes increasing it), while navigating the landscape around them. Trying not to lose a drop.
Competitors, partners, and other companies are doing the same thing, tending to their own cups of water, navigating their own landscape. Sometimes near where you are, sometimes not in the same zip code.
And added to this, every once in a while as you pass by a competitor, you might want to give a nudge, or a hard push — to make them lose a little of the water in their cup.
So overall you’ve got 3 types of actors here: companies protecting their cups of water; companies trying to knock other companies’ cups of water over; and the landscape that everyone’s navigating.
I love this metaphor, and it’s useful to think about in all sorts of ways.
This week I got to spend some time with Benedict Evans and Ben Bajarin, courtesy of Semil Shah, two extremely sharp, thoughtful & knowledgable analysts of what’s happening today with computing, and that was followed up by Apple’s marketing event the next day, where Apple notably reduced the pricing of OS X Mavericks, iLife and iWork to effectively zero.
Lots of gnashing of teeth, pontificating, blogging about it. Lots of misunderstanding, too. A few folks commented this week that Apple & Google (not to mention Microsoft, Samsung & Amazon) are all highly transparent in their strategies, but not everyone seems to understand them.
Here’s the frame that I use: Apple sells systems. Google sells services. Amazon sells content. Microsoft, in general, sells software, although that’s changing now.
Sometimes people call Apple a hardware company, but that’s not quite right. Others have said they’re a software company, pointing out that it’s the quality of the software experience that really sets them apart, but that’s not quite right either. Having watched Apple for nearly 30 years now, and having worked at 1 Infinite Loop, I really think they think of themselves as a personal computing systems company and always have. They sell systems that work. Samsung, by contrast, sells hardware — they’re not as complete in their systems ambitions as Apple.
Google sells services that help you do things, find things, buy things, learn things. They pay for them, in general, not by charging the consumer but by charging the advertiser. But they sell services.
Amazon, naturally, sells content. Microsoft has always sold software, but they’re clearly exploring each of these models: services (Azure, Office 360, Bing), hardware (Nokia), systems (Xbox, Surface).
So now back to Apple and this week’s price reductions. Pretty easy to see, in your mind’s eye, Apple taking care of their systems business, their cup of water — and thinking that getting people on the most modern versions of their software both increases the quality of the systems they sell and sort of pushes on Microsoft’s software-oriented cup of water. To be crystal clear: I think mostly this move was about Apple’s own cup of water - making their own systems better. But a nice feature, too, that it maybe made other cups wobble a teensy bit.
You can see this dynamic everywhere. In how Google pushes Android & Chrome — not as systems, but as service front ends. In how Amazon sells Kindle at break-even or a loss — to make their content cup of water more stable.
The thing that’s most confusing is that they’re all walking around, with their different cups of water, but in the same landscape (consumer mobile), at a time when human beings’ expectations of that landscape are changing very quickly.
Not Always Up & To the Right
There’s a fascinating piece in the New York Times today by Nick Bilton — it’s an excerpt of his upcoming book chronicling the history of Twitter. It’s about Jack, Biz, Ev, and on and on. For the record: all amazing, smart, talented people who’ve very clearly changed our world in many ways over the past few years.
It’s a story of intrigue: lots of twists & turns, betrayals. It’ll be great material for the movie, too, no doubt.
But having seen my fair share of the creation of new companies, I wonder if the lessons here will get a little bit lost in all the drama. From my point of view, here’s the main thing: travels of startups are never purely up & to the right. They’re never a straight line from idea to world changing (and in this case to IPO). They’re never simple stories. They’re never really very clear. They’re never really understandable from any one point of view.
What they are is a lot of work. Hand wringing over whether people will love or even understand what you’re doing. Hustling to find the very best people you can find to build it with you.
What they are is lots of engineers staring at screens & screens of code, on epic hunts to kill their own fail whales. Designers sweating the details of how the things work, how to make it as useful as possible, how to help people grok this new thing at all.
The status quo is the status quo for some set of reasons. By starting up, or joining one, you’re engaging in a creative rebellion. To change the way things are; to upset people who have a vested interest in that status quo. But you’re joyfully jumping into the breach. It’s messy, unclear, hard to see your way through.
The parts of what Nick wrote that spoke most powerfully to me are the ones about the principals not being sure of what they were doing. Of circling around an idea again and again until it had just the right form & context to maybe, sort of, just barely have a shot at working.
But in addition to understanding the huge contributions of the founders, I truly hope that in loving the glitzy spy story, people don’t lose sight of the many, many, many people not named Jack or Biz or Ev who sweated & bled for Twitter, who worked days and nights and weekends and more, who put up this ridiculous little toy (or so everyone thought) that’s changing so much of how we live and communicate and learn today.
Timehop surfaces all sorts of amazing things for me nearly every day, from pictures of fun stuff we did with our kids to SMS convos about companies to hater tweets from Jim Lanzone about how bad Stanford football will be, soon, I guess? Dunno!
But a couple of days ago it resurfaced a tweet from Naval along the lines of “Every time I start to think startups are easy, reality smacks me in the head.”
That’s truth. We start to think they’re easy, because we have massive survivor bias in the press, in the products we use, among our friends. We live & breathe things once they’ve worked, once they’ve become.
It makes us forget that the making is always, always messy. That it’s through a glass, darkly. That you never really know how far you are from home, or how to get back there. That nearly every day, you’re heading off into the unknown, with a plan, but no certainty.
I’ve been blown away this week by a few founders I know as they find their way home, without a map. So much unknown, so much uncharted space, so much TBD. Here be dragons.
But they go. They think and build and try and fail and build some more and win and fail and win. And they keep going. Such determination, such grace.
And that’s the thing. The best founders, they keep sight of what they think the world should be — what they know it can be. And they keep moving.
Such a privilege to be part of that.