Why time seems to pass faster as we age

1/ I’ve been mega-obsessed with this feeling.

A year as a 36-year-old seems so much shorter as compared to when I was a kid or even as a teen.

It seems cosmically unfair – we have fewer years to live, and each year flies by faster.

2/ But, why is that happening?

My tentative conclusion is that it’s an unfortunate outcome of how evolution shaped our brain to be an efficient storage device. 

3/ Our brain is a prediction device.

Its top job is to construct a model of the world so that we get a survival and reproductive edge.  ...  Read the entire post →

Don’t sell your soul to the algorithm

The danger of pleasing the algorithm to go viral is that gradually you end up selling yourself to big tech companies.

This is how it works:

  • Algorithms optimize for time spent on platform, because more time spent = more time for showing ads
  • Algorithms promote content that sucks in more people (i.e. content that can go viral)
  • Certain types of content is inherently more viral (rage inducing, hot takes, lowest common denominator, etc.)
  • Creators maximizing reach prioritize creating such kind of content
  • Since creation shapes thinking (as much as the other way around), gradually they become what they tweet

    This loop has two sinister effects:

    • For the non-creator, it appears that the world is falling apart as they see extreme, hot takes all around them as nuanced, well-balanced content is seldom promoted by the algorithm
    • Creators with promise end up losing their soul in the process

    All this to make the richest companies and their shareholders even richer.

    This is why we must refuse to be dictated by the algorithm.

    It’s hard, very hard.

    But what is more important than likes and retweets is having an authentic voice (irrespective of whether it’s reaching to the masses or not).

    PS: It’s also worth noting that the algorithm forces dull sameness of content because machines optimize for a singular metric: time-spent. While what we need to become better thinkers (and also to save the democratic process) is diversity. ...  Read the entire post →

Is the world becoming better?

This essay is inspired by the book Factfulness where the key idea explored is that the world has witnessed significant progress over the last few decades, but most people are unaware of that fact because they hold distorted views.

Talking of distorted views, to get a sense of how much do you know about the world, I highly recommend taking this quiz. Hans Rosling, the author of the book, had been quizzing thousands of people across the world and most of them (including Nobel laureates) performed worse than random chance on such questions. ...  Read the entire post →

How to think about risk

1/ The most common mistake with risk is NOT differentiating:

personal, unique risk


collective, average risk

2/ Personal, unique risk arises from things that are unique to you.

For example, personal financial risk is what incurs to you because of your peculiar investments. Maybe you picked certain stocks or invested in a “hot” property

3/ Contrast this to the collective and average risk of the entire nation’s economy tanking or a bank tanking and wiping savings of millions of people like you.

4/ Usually we end up conflating these two types of risks in our minds.

Many people don’t invest in equities because it’s too risky.

Yes, it’s risky but in a collective and average way, not a personal and unique way

5/ Protecting against collective risks is an exercise in vain because the collective risk is never eliminated, it’s simply gets shifted somewhere else

6/ Collective risks are less worrisome because collectives of people want status quo

So on the realization of such risks, you can take comfort in the fact that there are millions of other concerned folks who will protect the negative impacts of risk for you

7/ Case in point: the 2008 financial crash in the US.

At that time, everyone thought the world economy was in ruts and that people lost money.

Fast forward to today and thanks to bailouts, after the dip, here’s the US stock market performance. ...  Read the entire post →

On the strangeness of giving advice

Calvin never gives free advice! (Credits: Bill Watterson)

1/ Giving advice is a strange thing.

2/ First of all, let’s get this right off the bat: the advice-giver accrues MORE benefit from giving advice than the one who’s receiving it.

3/ When we give advice, our half-formed thoughts crystallize and tell us clearly and reinforce what we believe in.

The receiver, on the other hand, has the tough job of figuring out what we mean and then making changes to his/her life based on the few bits of info we give out.

4/ Giving advice also helps us find our tribe. People who give similar advice band together. This is why SF/VC culture is a cult.

5/ Giving advice legitimizes our weirdness.

If enough people give advice about saving time by drinking your meals, it’s no longer weird.

6/ Our rate of giving unsolicited advice >> rate of giving solicited advice.

Why do we poke people and ask them to change? It’s mainly driven by FOMO. By giving advice to others to live their life like we live, we want to ensure that they’re not living a superior life.

7/ Thanks to Twitter, our rate of giving unsolicited advice to complete strangers >> rate of giving advice to near and dear ones.

It’s as if by tweeting, we’re telling things to ourselves and hoping a fellow tribalist finds us so that we both can reinforce our views.

8/ Giving unsolicited advice to strangers was a job once limited to sages or madmen.

Now, it’s everybody’s business.

9/ It’s also interesting that we often give advice and move on. Unless we’re personally attached to someone, we rarely have skin the game to ensure the advice receiver changes.

The GIVE ADVICE -> MOVE ON -> GIVE ADVICE pattern helps us feel smart and helpful.

10/ That’s it.

Of course, this essay WAS unsolicited and I expect to benefit from it, one way or another. You’ll most likely forget about it in an hour and move on, but that’s OK.

Remember: giving advice benefits oneself more than it benefits the other 🙂 ...  Read the entire post →

Twyman’s law

Twyman’s law states that any data or figure that looks interesting or different is usually wrong.

Sounds unbelievable, isn’t it? 

But, it’s true. I saw this in action recently and wanted to share that story with you.

In June, we ran a test on our homepage and while I was looking at conversion rate by segments, I noticed that users from Windows had a 400% higher signup rate for VWO free trial as compared to users using Mac OS X.  

Now, that’s baffling and our team spent a good deal of time trying to understand why was that happening. Someone in marketing hypothesized that perhaps Mac OS X users have a better design aesthetic and our homepage wasn’t appealing to them. Was it true? ...  Read the entire post →

The three levels of Hindu philosophy

1/ The first level related to the metaphysical and spiritual domain.

It says that Brahman is all that exists and our material world (Maya) comes from ignorance.

The Brahman is not a God. It is beyond any quality – it isn’t intelligent, good or bad. It just is.

2/ It also suggests that if we strip away all ignorance, we will discover that the self – the atman – is one and the same thing as the Brahman.

At its core, this level denies the duality of subject and object and says they both are the same. ...  Read the entire post →

Welcome to India: a land where passion comes to die

I’ve lived in India all my life, and I’m not proud of my people. But I’m not giving up.

Here’s why.

Reality check for 1/7th of the world’s population

We Indians are 1.2 billion people on Earth. Yes, many of us are still extremely poor. But a lot of us in that fat middle and upper class have means beyond survival. Hundreds of millions of us have disposable incomes, we have weekends for ourselves when we go to movies and eat expensive popcorn. Yes, we have cars and ACs. Heck, now we even have Netflix, iPhones and Macbooks.  ...  Read the entire post →

What is money?

Being a CEO and founder of a startup, I’ve been concerned with money in a variety of contexts. A company exists to make money and indeed that was one of the drivers in the days of starting Wingify.  Money is equivalent to freedom for me.

I wanted to make money by myself and was pretty happy when people paid for the first version of VWO. I remember my goal was to make roughly USD 1000 (equivalent of the last monthly salary I had drawn at my employer). VWO ended up making me multiple times my initial goal.

Last month at Wingify, we hit a million dollars of recurring revenue. I’m very happy that the team has been able to achieve this milestone, especially because we’re entirely bootstrapped and haven’t raised any outside investment. There has been a lot of enthusiasm about the million-dollar-a-month figure, and all Wingifighters are pumped up to convert the ‘m’ into a ‘b’. Amidst all this, I want to take a moment to reflect on what really is money.

Is billion dollars enough money? How about a trillion dollars?

This question sounds strange because common sense immediately tells us: ‘of course, a trillion dollars is a big amount’. Imagine all the things one could buy with a trillion dollars – islands, space ships and perhaps even Switzerland. It’s indeed a lot of money.

Money, lots of it
Money, lots of it. Photo by Tom Simpson

Let’s pause for a moment and think how fascinating it is that the world will let you buy stuff and anything else you want just because your conversion rate optimization platform and website push notifications system exist. I realize that I’m stretching the point a bit, but hang on with me for a moment.

What amazes me is this: if you had a billion dollars, you’d most probably never have a physical sensation of that money. You can’t keep it in your drawer, you can’t hold it, you can’t physically posses it. In fact, it is very likely that your billion dollars don’t even exist. Nobody has it. US Fed (as of 2016) says $1.46 trillion of cash is in circulation, while debt in US is more than $19 trillion (as of 2016). If everyone in US decides to physically possess the money they have, they will fall short of more than $17 trillion.

What’s happening here?


Money is a promise that in future you will be able to claim the equivalent of value that you’ve created today

Who makes this promise? The government (but any mutually trusted 3rd party can do that; like in case of bitcoins where people put trust in blockchain).

Why we need a future promise in terms of money?

We require the idea of money because of two reasons:

  • Simple barter works where I make shoes and you make wheat. We exchange those objects and each one of us is happy. However, money is needed because a single individual is typically able to create far more value than s/he can consume personally. Larry Page and Sergey Brin created far more value in the world with the PageRank algorithm than their personal lifetime wheat and food requirements. Money is required for a fair exchange of value.
  • Simple barter may also work when I have a need for shoes right now and I’m willing to give you wheat. But what if I had a blockbuster wheat production this season, but don’t really want equivalent-value 10 pairs of shoes? In such cases, money is needed to store the value so the possessor is able to utilize it in future for something else.

Where does money derive its worth? Why is 1 dollar same for everyone?

One way to answer this question is to ask: ‘when does the other person decide to give you one dollar’. You get one dollar from others when you provide one dollar of value to them. Seems cyclical, but it isn’t. Imagine that you have a roadside stand with a banner that says: ‘Stuff for $1’. First, you put out a piece of crumbled paper on that stand and wait for customers. People come and go, they notice, but nobody buys. You wonder why is that so. After all, $1 is not a lot of money. You get frustrated and are just about to throw the crumbled paper into the trash before you spot an art collector running towards you with a $100 bill. She begs you to sell this piece of art to her and you, amazed, say why not. Being generous, you ask her if he wants 2 more crumbled papers free with that and he immediately backs off and asks you to sign an agreement that you will never make any more crumbled papers.

All this amazes you. Nobody wanted to pay $1 for a crumbled paper, but before you almost gave up, someone came up and bought it for $100. Not just that, she said she won’t buy it unless you promise not to create any more crumbled papers.

1921 Rolls Royce for $1. Any takers? Photo from FrankDale
1921 Rolls Royce for $1. Any takers? Photo from FrankDale

You then put out your second item for the $1 sale – this is your vintage 1921 model Rolls Royce. It’s the only one remaining in the world as the company has stopped making them. The minute you put keys + car’s photo on the stand, you see a rush of people, each with a dollar bill in hand trying to buy the car from you. Such a huge rush of people makes you anxious and you decide to go inside and catch a breath (and drink some lemonade). By the time you come back, you see someone offering you $10,000 for something you wanted to sell for $1. Before you knew, BBC covers this and you get an offer of $1 million from an unknown source. You had a thing for lots of zeros, so you immediately take the offer and hand over the keys.

What just happened? Why did someone gave you a million dollars when you actually wanted to just sell it for $1?

Why did the world make Wingify a million-dollars-a-month company when all I wanted to make was $1000?

The answer lies in this: money is a proxy for how much value you create for other humans

Money, be it a dollar, a million, billion or trillion dollars, is ultimately a proxy for amount of value you are creating in the world.

Someone decides to hand you X units of money because you provide them with X units of value. It’s as simple as that.

Watch the video on how economic machine works. I promise it’ll be the best 30 minutes you will spend today

How is additional money created?

In most cases, economies are zero-sum games. You get $100 for doing a job, you spend $90 on pizzas, video games and movies and put $10 in your bank. The $90 that you spent is someone else’s income (which they further spent, so no new money is created in a transaction), and $10 that you put in your bank is lent to someone who must give back $11 to the bank. If the economy was just limited to $100, where does this extra $1 in the come from?

What I’m talking about here is not money-as-cash (which is easy to create – just print additional money). Here, I’m talking about money-as-value. If most economic transactions are just exchange of value, where does additional value come from? The answer lies in the question: the additional money-as-value is created in the world when additional value is created in the world.

Economic growth happens when more of human needs are satisfied
Economic growth happens when more of human needs are satisfied. Chart from Economist

Let me give you an example. Suppose that in pre-Industrial age, you are in a sweater manufacturing business, making sweaters by hand and are the only one selling sweaters in the town. The maximum you are able to make are 10 sweaters a day, putting in $5 worth of wool and sell them for $10 each, making your daily profit of $50. Your limited capacity means that you are able to sell sweaters only to a limited number of people in your town. Some of them are able to buy, the others are left wanting. This inability to serve more people frustrates you because your money making potential is limited and you really want to see more people wearing your sweaters. So you set out to invent a machine to make sweaters.

After years of toiling on the part time, you see success – finally a machine that can make 100 sweaters in a day. You take a loan to get more wool and start producing sweaters. You are cautious first and only make 20 sweaters on day 1. Much to your surprise, even though you have 20 sweaters to sell, you are still only able to sell 10. People who didn’t buy tell you that while they’d love to buy sweaters, they have already spent all their savings on stuff they are used to paying for. They simply don’t have additional money to buy your sweaters. Next day you figure out that if you sell sweaters at a cheaper price, say $8, selling 20 of them will still make you a total of $60 daily profit – more than what you made before.

You slash your price to $8 and this is when value is created. People who had $10 budgets for your sweaters buy it for $8 and spend the remaining $2 on stuff that other people are selling. After buying all the stuff that they are used to buying, the other people now have an additional $2 to spend and in 4 days each one of them is able to buy your sweater. You give some part of $60 daily profit as interest to the loan you took but are still left with more daily profit than what you had before ($50). You have more money, your people in town are able to afford more sweaters. When everybody wins, it’s not a zero sum game and additional money-as-value is created in the world.

Money is created when you are able to satisfy more (or equivalent) of human needs while using equivalent (or less) resources and time. The freed up resources and time is then used to do other stuff that people value.

In other words, productivity drives economic growth. People value a lot of things – efficiency, leisure time, finding mates, being engrossed, mastering a skill. Satisfying all those needs using lesser resources than before (through technology, innovative policies, newly discovered resources) is how additional value is created.

Startups are in the business of creating value for others

Today’s startups are a world apart from the simple theoretical barter system of economy. The dot com hype of 1999 sent startups to stratosphere, where many of them IPOed and made lots of money for their founders and investors. Then they came crashing down and destroyed $5 trillion of value.

So, what does it mean to destroy $5 trillion? Didn’t that money go somewhere? Even if a founder got rich before her company crashed, she must have gained the money to spend somewhere – real estate, vacations, champagnes and so on. If money went back in the system, how exactly did value get destroyed? As Warren Buffet explains in this article, “value is destroyed by any business that makes losses in its lifetime”. Taking to the extreme, for example, if I start a business where the whole proposition is to pay employees for sitting idle, I’m destroying value. That’s because if my business didn’t exist, those employees would have been employed elsewhere, would have still gotten paid (so they can buy stuff) AND would have been creating something of value for other people. By not making people create something of value, I’m destroying value. They’re consuming but not giving back. This means inefficient businesses destroy value. Flop movies destroy value. Bad plans destroy value. Irrational exuberance destroys value.

In other words, a startup is in the business of creating value. Full stop.

If you are an entrepreneur and all that reading about exotic business models (aka Zenefits) or loss-making growth (aka most public SaaS companies) or hoped-for-advertising profits (aka Twitter) overwhelms and confuses you, take a deep breath and simply think about the fundamentals: are those startups better at creating value for a group of humans than anyone else in the world? How large is the group of humans who benefit? And by value, you clarify: are they in a business of creating something that other people want.

To reiterate, I’ll quote Paul Graham from his essay “How to make wealth“:

‘Wealth (value) is not the same thing as money. Wealth is the fundamental thing. Wealth is stuff we want: food, clothes, houses, cars, gadgets, travel to interesting places, and so on. (To create wealth), you just have to do something people want.’ ~ Paul Graham

Closing thoughts: on future

I’ve been thinking about future of startups or economy in general. If we fast forward a 1000 years, how will our economy look like? Will we have the concept of money? There are two points worth exploring. The first one is that all the technological progress means that poverty is reducing everywhere and because of increased automation and productivity,

people’s needs are increasingly fulfilled using less cost and resources ...  Read the entire post →

What Philosophy should be about?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading two books recently. ‘How much is enough‘, the first one, is a sensible attack on money for money’s sake and the absurdity of it. The second one, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance‘ is a classic that I read for the second time. This time it became clear to me that the book on many levels was talking about the an ugly outcome of single-minded urbanization. It also questions the apparent superiority of intellect over aesthetics. Of course, the two books are about much more than what I’m describing here but the underlying thread was common – both books urged considering mankind’s total quality of experience, rather than just material wealth or technological / scientific progress.

The idea of rationality holding supreme power to describe the universe is a very strong one and has actually lead to a lot of progress in recent centuries in terms of increased lifespan and other comforts. However, does this mean that in terms of stacking order Science is the end answer to everything? The two books inspired me to try approaching this from a first principles perspective.

So I asked myself where should all human inquiry begin?

In other words.

What philosophy should be about?

We now know that humans are a type of mammal, organisms evolved just like any other we find on Earth. Every now and then since the recorded history, man (a human) has gradually dethroned himself from being the centre of the universe to now a collection of biological cells capable of thought. Every time a Copernican revolution happened in Science, humans got closer to their primate family.

It’s both scientifically proven and commonly observed that much of our behaviour is animal-like. We eat, we reproduce, we play, we take care of young ones. We do pretty much that all biological creatures exist for – passing on genetic information to the next generation.

Since the biological nature of humans is an undeniable fact and impacts us in a very personal way, I believe that is what all philosophies should take as a given. Biological nature of humans should be an axiom. No matter how much theorising is done in Philosophy, one can’t wish away the biologicalness of humans. A lot of our wants, drives and even what’s right and what’s wrong comes from our biologically derived behaviour. So a student of Philosophy should have a very good grasp of subjects such as evolution, animal behaviour, psychology, and even genetics. Without a thorough understanding of how evolution and nature has shaped humans and their wants, all the talks about morals, values, aesthetics and politics would be wishful thinking. Biology is to philosophy what physics is to chemistry. If an experiment shows that humans tend to make irrational choices, one can’t theorise the supremacy of rational choices over what choices actually get made. In other words, in terms of usefulness – which is what Philosophy should be bothered with – intellectual truth is subordinate to human nature and that is what all Philosophies should take as a given.

However, human nature can be shaped.

The fantastic unique ability of humans for elaborate communication and exchange of thoughts makes us different from the rest of biological creatures. Avoidance of suffering is programmed into us (and all other creatures) through evolution. The drive for survival and food lead a creature into suffering-minimizing mode. The drive for reproduction and sex lead it to happiness-maximizing mode. All creatures including humans are programmed to minimise suffering and maximize happiness.

The only way for all biological creatures apart from humans to maximize survival and reproduction is through unconscious, programmed genetic evolution over generations. Humans are special in that regard. In addition to genetic record, we can record our experiences in oral and written form and teach the same generation on how to minimize suffering and maximize happiness — the drives that evolution wants us to optimize for.

I think this basic drive towards well being (where suffering is minimal and happiness is maximized) is what Pirsig refers to as Quality in his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. We can pass our experiences, experiments and thoughts to others in order to collectively achieve a high Quality life.

I believe that’s what human inquiry should be about – provided that we’re a biological creature, what should we do in order to lead a good life, a life with maximum well-being, a happy and satisfactory life.

The nature of goodness needs elaboration. Goodness for biological creatures relates to their survival and reproduction. Sure, evolution had made our brain seek goodness and rewards it with dopamine whenever it is achieved and punishes it with pain whenever it’s not. However, an argument could be made that if humans succeed in isolating pure consciousness that is unencumbered from biological constraints, what would that consciousness do (or seek)? What would a Philosophy for pure consciousness look like. I doubt we can ever isolate pure consciousness or that it exists but let’s assume it as a thought experiment. This is akin to making a computer which exhibits signs of consciousness. What would such a pure consciousness do?

Suppose there are then multiple such pure consciousness, multiple metaphysical entities. Since we don’t know what such pure consciousness would be bothered about let’s assume that different entities exhibit different behaviours. Some randomly drift. Some dissipate. Some replicate and spread. Interestingly, given multiple varieties of entities, eventually only the entities that replicate and spread will remain and dominate others in the population. In other words, we can hazard a guess that another evolution may kickstart for this hypothetical scenario and that evolution will also lead the dominating consciousness to seek some sort of goodness. The nature of that goodness is uncertain, but in my opinion there’s a tantalising possibility of a universal state that is preferable than other states. In the world of pure consciousness, such metaphysical entities will philosophize on how to achieve that good state.

Hence, given the underlying nature of the beings or entities, Philosophy should really be concerned about maximizing well-being, goodness or whatever else it is called in respective contexts.

Why is there anything at all?

We humans have cognizance of the universe and unlike other creatures we can’t help but wonder why is there a universe in the first place. Why anything exists at all? The fact that there is something rather than nothing and we don’t know why proves that there is a gap in our understanding and experience. Science and rationality cannot be expected to answer the why question. They answer what and how.

No matter how much scientists say that the question of why anything exists is meaningless or impractical, the void always nags and points to limitations of science. Perhaps that void can only be filled with a direct (spiritual?) experience and not through intellectual understanding?

Since the void nags and reduces well being for many (including me), Philosophy should also aim at taking a stab at how such a void can be filled. Perhaps the answer is arts, poetry, morality or beauty. I’m not sure what it is but any valid Philosophy should attempt to provide a total satisfaction – including these nagging questions.

In summary, if you have to begin an inquiry, here’s where you could begin:

Given that human is a biological creature, a product of evolution, what can we do to maximize well being. Bonus points for answering why anything exists at all?

You can then derive answers as to why you sometimes feel enslaved by modern urban life, what is the nature of morality, how much money is enough, is democracy the right form of government and many such questions like that from time to time.