You can only succeed if you know how you can fail

We want to be successful with our decisions. Even though failure is often glamorized, nobody wants it on purpose. Everyone wishes to be successful when they’re starting a company, launching a product, hiring a leader or even while buying a house.

It may sound obvious, but the bedrock of good decisions is defining what good means before you execute on a decision.

Success criteria has to be defined before a project starts, not after it ends

Here’s why it’s important to define a clear, objective and unambiguous criteria before making any decision. First, without a commitment to an objective criterion, your brain will latch onto your how you’re feeling to decide whether the outcome of the project is good or bad. These emotions are influenced by all sorts of subconscious cognitive biases. In the end, you will end up picking data points that support your emotional inclination while ignoring the other data points.  ...  Read the entire post →

Notes from “Ogilvy on Advertising”

This one is a dated book – it describes advertising in the age when digital channels didn’t exist. But that doesn’t make it irrelevant.

Rather, the basic principles that made a great ad in the TV/print era remain the same. Consumer psychology is shaped by a million years of evolution, so while mediums change, what makes people buy stuff doesn’t.

A beautiful book!

My notes from the book

How to work with an agency

  • Leaf through the medium you’re interested in and see which ads strike you the most
  • Find out who made those ads
  • Talk to their head and creative director
  • Ask them to give their best ads
  • Go with the one who appeal you the most

Principles of writing headlines

  • Spend a lot of time getting the headline right (5 times more people read it vs copy)
  • Headline should promise the reader a clear benefit
  • News style headlines work (introducing, amazing, now, suddenly)
  • Include brand name in headline (most people don’t read copy and wouldn’t know what product is being advertised)
  • Personalise. If a product targets certain people, put a word in the headline to address them.
  • Specifics work better than generics.
  • Helpful information work great as headline (e.g. how to do xyz).
  • Don’t put full stops in headlines, as they stop the reader.
  • Use a standard font that everyone can read easily (those that people are accustomed to reading)
  • Drama belongs to what you say, not in the typeface.

Principles of illustrations

  • The job of illustrations is to catch interest while the reader is leafing, though. It should inspire curiosity (what’s going on), that the copy will answer.
  • Photos work better than drawings.
  • Keep illustrations simple (one person)
  • Before and after ads work great
  • People notice advertisements that feature models of their own sex only (men notice men, while women notice women)
  • More people read captions under images than copy, so always put captions under images. The caption should include brand name and promise.

Principles of copy

  • Write in story format (hook people)
  • Write in everyday language (simple words)
  • Don’t use analogies (people don’t understand)
  • Don’t use celebrities (people remember them, not the product)
  • Include the price always (people move on when they don’t know the price)
  • Long copy works better than short copy (as the more facts you tell, the more you sell), but with long copy, the first paragraph should be a grabber (and not generic)
  • A subheadline helps whet the appetite for the copy
  • Limit opening paragraph to 11 words


  • Readers first look at illustration, then at headline, then at copy (so put them in that order)
  • Headlines below illustration are read by 10% more than headlines above illustration
  • Advertisements shouldn’t look like ads (they should look like editorial)


  • Copy what’s working (don’t innovate until you have a better idea)
  • Pretend you’re an editor (not an ad creator) and you’ll get more sign-ups
  • Never set copy in black background over white (they’re hard to read)

Posters ...  Read the entire post →

Startups live and die in a multidimensional landscape

Startups are like heat seeking missiles, except they seek profit and live in a multidimensional world where one mistake means missing the target by a mile.

The startup stack of success

Startups are hard because they require several things to go right simultaneously. It’s not sufficient to get one thing right, an entrepreneur must solve this multidimensional puzzle perfectly.

There are many smaller but important dimensions, but here are the biggest ones that need to be just right for a business to succeed:

  • Is the problem you’re solving a real one, or is it just in your head?
  • Even if the problem is real, are people actively looking to solve it? There are many problems that are merely inconveniences that not many people bother to solve. Is your problem one of that? 
  • Even if the problem has a high enough priority and that people are looking to solve it, are they willing to pay for it? There are many problems which people want a solution for, but they’d not pay anything or much for it because they’re habituated to expect a solution for free. For example, news and information is valuable to people, but people have come to expect to get it for free on the Internet.
  • Even if the problem is real and people are willing to pay for it, do you have the required capabilities to develop a solution? Some problems may have challenging solutions that are not easy to execute.
  • Even if you’re able to solve a problem that people are willing to pay for it, is there a way you can profitably market your offering to them? Marketing costs money, and often potential customers may not be aggregated at one place for you to profitably market to them.
  • Even if you’ve found a distribution channel, does your business have any lasting competitive advantage that will prevent a bigger competitor or another startup from snatching your customers?
  • Lastly, assuming you do everything right, will you deliver positive unit economics? Your business will struggle unless you’re predictably generating cash flow.

Remember: because so many things have to go right, most successful entrepreneurs either get lucky on all these aspects or they have a unique insight or expertise about one of the above aspects that others don’t have. ...  Read the entire post →

Social media of the future will be human-to-AI, not human-to-human

1/ The biggest issue with social media is the bootstrap problem. People with 0 followers get no interactions on their content, so have no incentive to publish. With AI, you have hundreds of personalities ready to give relevant replies to any posted content.

2/ And since AI replies can be made to be super-relevant, and since the majority of people don’t have many followers, it turns out that most people will start deriving a lot of value from feedback they get from AI.

3/ Those who say bots are annoying are missing the point that increasingly it’ll be impossible to distinguish between bot vs humans online.  ...  Read the entire post →