Cognitive biases that lead to poorly designed products

I have previously written about cognitive biases and how to avoid them. In this post, I want to focus specifically on biases that impact product designers, product managers and startup founders. This post is based on a talk that I gave in Bengaluru at a product conference. So this post will contain slides interspersed with my commentary.

What’s a cognitive bias?

There are multiple definitions floating around the Internet, but I like the following one the most.

Cognitive bias is a systematic error in perception due to the environment that one is embedded into. ...  Read the entire post →

Notes from Founders mentor Founders [SaaS edition] – April 2018

On 13th April 2018, I hosted a panel discussion with Varun Shoor, founder of Kayako and Pallav Nadhani, founder of FusionCharts. It was an experiment to see whether a many-to-many discussion between SaaS founders turns out to be useful for early stage startups.

To ask questions to the SaaS founders panel, I had received 19 applications, out of which 5 were selected. The call was not recorded so that the founders could talk frankly. Here are some generic notes and insights from the one hour call. (We all realized that one hour for five founders isn’t really sufficient.) ...  Read the entire post →

Copying ideas is highly underrated

No man’s an island and, as a corollary, no startup is truly unique. Media oversells us the virtue of breakthrough ideas. Journalists are paid to highlighting what’s new and noteworthy. Imagine the number of clicks an article would get if it was titled: ‘Here’s the nth example of a Chinese firm copying what’s working in the west’.

To catch our attention, publications run stories that celebrate innovations.

Wright brothers got the fame, but someone else made all the money

The invention of the airplane was definitely a breakthrough moment for humanity and the Wright brothers deserve all the fame they got. But economically they didn’t do as well as Boeings and Airbuses of the world. Wright brothers knew it themselves that they’re never going to make money from what they were doing. In a conversation with their biographer, Orville Wright said: ...  Read the entire post →

Mathematicians and startup founders

Throughout history, mathematicians and physicists, like entrepreneurs, have craved for a theory of everything. They’ve been looking for a set of principles that can predict and explain all phenomena that we observe. In case of mathematics, this search led to mathematicians Bertrand Russel and Alferd Whitehead write a three volume (thick book) Principia Mathematica. Among other results in the book, they dedicated several hundred pages to derive 1+1=2 from even more basic “self-evident truths” (called axioms). ...  Read the entire post →

Your cold emails compete with cat pictures for my attention

Unsolicited emails – the cold emails – have notoriously low reply rates. I’ve seen sales people celebrating 1% reply rates as a huge win. Honestly, isn’t that a bit embarrassing? Only 1 reply out of 100 emails and even that one reply is usually “no, thanks” or “don’t email me again“.

Common justifications for this abysmal reply rate is either people are too busy or simply throwing up hands and saying: “who the hell knows”. I think we can do better than this when it comes to understanding why cold emails don’t get replies.  ...  Read the entire post →

Organizations are habit maximization machines

Have you seen this famous video on Youtube where one guy dances and it keeps on attracting other people to join him? Soon enough this one person’s weird dance is a group dancing together. In case you haven’t, check it out (it’s just 3 minutes long):

Organizations grow similarly. Whether the founding team intends to or not, every startup project ends up acquiring cult-like habits. Here’s how that happens.

What makes company cultures different from each other?

Imagine your name is Paras and you’re the founder of a startup project (it could be a company, a non-profit, a religion or even a country). You have a weird habit: you like to come to office by noon and stay late (say until 8pm). You hire your first employee, and on the first day he comes to office at 9am (just like he did in his previous job). The empty office seems odd to him, and it becomes odder still when he sees you stroll by in office during his lunchtime. In the evening, since it’s the first day of his job, he waits for you to leave but the entire time, you are happily busy on your laptop. You leave office by 9pm and a couple of minutes after you, the new hire leaves. Thinking of his first day as a fluke, the new employee comes in early again tomorrow but the same thing repeats.  ...  Read the entire post →

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 →