Businesses get killed by non-competitors

Entrepreneurs worry about competition all the time. And they’re correct in doing so. I think the “focus on customers, ignore competition” is a terrible business advice. Customers will never ask you to introduce switching costs, yet that’s precisely what businesses should do in order to be profitable for a non-trivial amount of time.

In my last article, I wrote about how an entrepreneur should go about creating a legal monopoly via network effects and economic moats. In this article, I’ll talk about how even legal monopolies get killed.  ...  Read the entire post →

What fidget spinners teach about making hit products

Chances are that you know what fidget spinners are. I’m willing to take the risk of not linking to its Wikipedia page because I know almost everyone on the Internet either had one or seen one. (I had two!)

If you are a regular reader of InvertedPassion, you would know that I like going into rabbit holes. Previously, I wrote about Singapore’s foundation and lessons for entrepreneurs and also analyzed reasons for Facebook’s adoption in 2004 despite Myspace and Friendster having millions of users then. In this article, I’m spinning my way (no fun intended) into learning what made these little toys a global phenomenon and what entrepreneurs can learn to make their products grow like wildfire. ...  Read the entire post →

Deconstructing startup decks: Spext (Google Docs for voice data)

I had tweeted about my willingness to give thoughts and feedback on a startup’s deck. Anup from Spext reached out to me with their deck. I’m deconstructing it below and after that, I’ll answer questions that Spext specifically wanted me to focus on. Note that my understanding of the market is limited to a few hours I spent doing the analysis. This deck is published with Anup’s permission.

The offer for analyzing decks still holds, in case you are interested, email me your deck...  Read the entire post →

Why startups need to be cult-like

Peter Thiel wrote in his book, Zero to One, that startups need to be cult-like. At that time, I didn’t completely appreciate his message, but now I do. By ‘cult’, I mean a group where members have values that are similar to each other, but extremely different from the outside world. Cults, as long as they don’t harm their members or others, are society’s exploration vessels. Because they’re cults, they obsess about arcane stuff that nobody else cares about. Most of the times, they keep it to themselves and rest of the world ignores them. But if they discover something valuable, rest of the world benefits.  ...  Read the entire post →

Why many B2C startups pivot to B2B

In my conversations with other entrepreneurs, I’ve come across tens of startups that started with a B2C angle but eventually succeed as a B2B company. Outside of my experience, famous examples include Slack that started as a gaming company. VWO’s competitor, Optimizely, started as a company that made math teaching apps for children. In my experience, it’s far more common to pivot from B2C to B2B than the reverse. Why does that happen?

On Inverted Passion, I love to get into the details of the structure of success and analyze things beyond surface level impressions. So here are all the reasons why B2B proves to be a better option after failure in B2C. ...  Read the entire post →

Staying relevant in a changing world

Many designers I know started their design practice by first practicing on Photoshop. Almost all marketers I know entered the field by reading articles on content marketing, Adwords, or Facebook Ads (SEO is long gone). Engineers in my day started learning web programming with PHP (apparently these days it’s Javascript / NodeJS).

Most self-made professionals get attracted to the methods and tools because they get immediate results. Want to do content marketing? Sign up on Medium, write an article and spread it. Want to write your first app? Use Bootstrap in the frontend and Mongo/NodeJS on the backend, and you’re up and ready in a couple of hours. Tools enable immediate gratification and that’s what makes them so attractive. ...  Read the entire post →

To get good startup ideas, look for anomalies

Most entrepreneurs are aware of product-market fit. It’s a good advice but I have an issue with the term “product-market fit”. It makes an entrepreneur focus on product first, market second. The words we choose to describe the world ends up shaping the world for us. This means not all “social networks” are the same and words you choose to describe an innovation has a significant influence on how much customers value it.

Repeated usage the term product-market fit, develops a mental model where the entrepreneur’s inclination is to make a product (or get an idea) first and then go out in the market to test it. In fact, that’s what Lean Startup and other methodologies suggest. Quick experiments and fail fast. ...  Read the entire post →

Details and structure matters: lessons from Facebook’s foundation in 2004

Continuing on the same theme as yesterday’s article on the winner-takes-all effect and the structure of network effects, today I dive deeper into the very early days of Facebook. By early, I mean the very week of Facebook’s launch on Harvard campus in Feb 2004. The early history of Facebook is interesting because when it launched Myspace and Friendster already had millions of engaged users.

Any explanation of the success of Facebook as a company that it is today will fall short. There are so many factors that explain Facebook’s current valuation of $500Bn that I’m not sure if a comprehensive account of that is even possible.  ...  Read the entire post →

The winner takes all fallacy and the structure of network effects

The winner-takes-all phenomenon in business is appealing. All entrepreneurs dream of their products being used by everyone in the market. Large tech companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Uber, Amazon, and Netflix derive their massive valuations by dominating their respective markets. How did they achieve this dominance, and do new startups have a chance against them?

The primary cause of this massive growth of large tech companies in a short period is network effects. Many tech products grow more useful as more users use them, so larger the user base gets the more benefit each user is able to derive. This kicks in a positive feedback cycle whereby the tech product’s value increases exponentially (and becomes hard to dislodge by competitors). This increase in benefits with numbers of users is unprecedented in history. In the non-tech products world, if you use a particular brand of toothpaste, you do not make it more likely for a random stranger to pick up that brand of toothpaste. (Yes, word of mouth exists for non-tech products but that’s about it.)  ...  Read the entire post →

Why you shouldn’t set prices based on value created

I was talking to a friend who has subscribed to an online publication called The Ken. This subscription costs him around Rs. 2000 per year and he gets access to hundreds of exclusive in-depth, well-researched articles on Indian startups. I asked him if he’ll renew, and he said probably not as he didn’t think that he got worth his money from the 15-20 articles that he had read. This conversation was happening at a bar where the average bill per person comes to be about Rs. 1500. I pointed this to him and we wondered why he was willing to pay Rs 1500 for a 3-hour sitdown at a bar but doesn’t find it worth Rs 2000 to read 15-20 well research articles.  ...  Read the entire post →