The week rule to prevent failure

Entrepreneurs are always in a hurry. They want the product to be out so that they can get customer feedback sooner.

This hurry is understandable yet misguided because it prioritizes getting the idea out in front of customers over everything else. The initial excitement about an idea can easily lead to months of wasted development effort. Imagine discovering major flaws in pricing, distribution, design, or market after all that effort. Isn’t it much better to flesh out ideas with a few weeks of research than to spend months developing them?

Habits prevent people from switching from the familiar to the new

People have busy lives and they usually don’t think much about the products and services they use in their lives. It’s a myth that people are on a constant lookout to (marginally) improve their lives. The reality is that unless the value delivered by a new product or service is substantially higher, most people will not change how they live their life and by virtue of that, they won’t change what they buy or use.

How we do science determines what we discover

Ever heard of meta-science?

It’s the science of science. In this episode, I interview the meta-scientist James A. Evans who explains how science happens, why smaller teams do big scientific breakthroughs, similarities between startups and scientific endeavors, and what research shows about the path to success.

His research shows how science is not an automatic machine that keeps on generating truth, but is rather a system where social dynamics of how scientists interact with each other determine what they end up discovering. ...  Read the entire post →

Deliver value only on dimensions that customers care about

Most markets are like the car market. Some people like bigger cars, others like efficient cars and then there are some who like premium cars. That is, markets aren’t homogeneous. They consist of different sets of people who value different aspects in a solution.

Because different segments value different aspects, an improvement in one aspect will only be appreciated by that segment and get ignored by everyone else in the market. For example, if the customers in a particular segment are price-insensitive, your discounts won’t work on them. In your mind, a discount should clearly work but for a certain segment of customers, it may actually decrease the appeal of your product for them. But, if a customer segment is price-sensitive, and you give them a clearly higher quality product at slightly higher prices, they may not care enough about the quality to make a switch from what they usually use.

Artificial general intelligence is risky by default

Should we worry about AI?

Connor Leahy is an AI researcher at EleutherAI, a grass-roots collection of open-source AI researchers. Their current ambitious project is GPT-Neo, where they’re replicating currently closed-access GPT-3 to make it available to everyone.

Connor is deeply interested in the dangers posed by AI systems that don’t share human values and goals. I talked to Connor about AI misalignment and why it poses a potential existential risk for humanity.

All sophisticated solutions start extremely simple

There’s always a temptation to launch a fully built product with more features and capabilities than existing competitors. It’s exciting to build the next Google, the next iPhone or the next SpaceX, isn’t it?

This temptation is dangerous because even the most successful products in a market had simple beginnings. No product arrives in the market fully fleshed out. The company behind a successful product has developed its internal capabilities and know-how about various tiny but important details over a long period of time. On day 1, a startup simply cannot match such capabilities.  ...  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.

For example, most people overestimate the percentage of the human population living in extreme poverty (which is defined as having an income of less than $2/mo). It's 10% (as of 2017) but even the most educated people get it wrong.

Reality is an evolved illusion

Do we see reality as it is?

I discuss this question with Donald Hoffman who is professor emeritus at the University of California, Irvine. He studies consciousness and perception from an evolutionary point of view. His research has led him to make a bold claim that while we do not yet know what the underlying reality could be like. Rather, reality as we know it now - including space, time, and objects - is a useful fiction that evolution invented for us.

People don’t like using technology

There’s an inherent tension between how an engineer sees the product under development and how a potential user sees it. Engineers get excited by the technological advances and configurability of the gadget. A user sees all such complexity as overwhelming and off-putting. It's easy for a creator to forget that the user has a life to live and using their product isn’t a highlight of her life. Rather, it’s likely a chore.