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 →

Endowment effect in business

We value things we own much more than the things we don’t own. It’s called the endowment effect. This goes well with our intuition that other people don’t value our things as much as we do. But it isn’t just that other people devalue what we have. Experiments show that if we reverse the roles, our willingness to pay is much less for the same product that we were earlier owning (and were demanding a high price for).

How does this disparity in selling price and purchase price occur? It occurs because buyers don’t have perfect information about a product and cognitively what “jumps” in the mind of a seller is benefits of the product or service (while seller focuses on costs). ...  Read the entire post →

Nobody likes using technology

If you are an engineer, the title of this article may shock (or even offend) you. But if I rephrase, I’ll merely state what’s immediately obvious: people are motivated towards achieving their goals and technology is simply the means towards that end (and not an end in itself). This holds true even for engineers. When they get excited about new technology (say, a new programming language), they’re responding to their intrinsic motivations of exploration, competence, social acceptance (or even aesthetic appreciation).  ...  Read the entire post →

How to avoid cognitive biases when you get paid to think

One of the major findings in last 50 years has been what people had suspected all along: human thinking and judgment often isn’t rational. By this, I mean given a situation where someone has to make a decision, she will often take a decision that “leaps” to her immediately rather taking than a decision that incorporates the structure of the problem, data available immediately and the data that should be collected. In many cases, intuition and reasoning arrive at the same decision so it isn’t an issue. But, stating the obvious, in many other cases, intuition leads to a worse decision in retrospect. How often have you said to yourself: why did I NOT think of it earlier...  Read the entire post →

Why people jump red lights and what it says about startup failure

One of the many things that used to baffle me was people’s behavior that’s evidently harmful to themselves. Take the case of Pune (a city in India where I live). It has simultaneously the lowest rate of helmet adoption and the highest number of two-wheeler casualties. How do you explain that?

Obviously, my confusion was a cognitive bias that impacts many people. It’s the mind projection fallacy: how I think is how other people must also be thinking. It’s an understandable bias as we know no other mind better than ourselves. We have direct access to our thoughts, but for others we can only guess why they’re behaving a certain way. My mistake was that I assumed that if I understand the tradeoff between the cost of wearing a helmet and benefits of avoiding a potential accident (conditioned on how frequently I use a two-wheeler * probability of an accident each time I use it), I’d be foolish not to wear a helmet.  ...  Read the entire post →