Today I send out the 100th issue of Sunday Reads. It’s a good time to look back.
So I’m compiling some of the most well-received articles I’ve written over the last few years. On startups, business and management, and on mental models that make us more effective at what we do.
Hope you find the articles useful! Don’t read them all at once. Read whatever catches your fancy. You can always come back later ?.[PS. It’s also a good time to subscribe if you haven’t. You’ll get issue #101 next Sunday. I promise you won’t regret it.]
The World of Startups
How to save yourself from a bad startup idea that looks good.
This is an article I wrote in late 2015, a couple of years into my startup and when I was just starting OperatorVC, the angel fund I invest through.
It struck a chord with readers. It still gets 100+ views a week (and ranks in top 3 on Google for “bad startup idea”) despite being not very optimized for search.
We have plenty of startup ideas. Many of them are bad, and we dismiss them right away (or our friends warn us off the idea).
They’re the easy ones.
The dangerous ones are the ideas that look quite good. The ones that give you goosebumps, and then three wasted years.
In this article, I list some of the common patterns that such plausible (but actually bad) ideas have, so that you can spot them early and save your time.
Read on here.
On a related note: Why describing your startup as the “Uber of X” is a bad idea. Yes, despite what Y-Combinator says.
How Uber solved its Chicken and Egg problem (and you can too!).
Some of the most exciting companies of the 2000s are multi-sided networks. Think Uber, or Airbnb, or even ecommerce marketplaces. They’re massive, and they have immense defensibility.
Anyone who wants to compete needs to get both suppliers and consumers, at the same time.
That’s the proverbial chicken and egg problem. How do you get consumers when you don’t have suppliers, and vice versa?
Turns out there are four specific ways you can solve the chicken and egg problem.
Read on here for examples of each of these solutions.
I’ve also captured it as a framework on Slideshare, that you can download.
Your Minimum Viable Product can be more minimum than you think.
Most of us in the startup community understand the concept of a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP. It’s the most basic version of your product that still delivers your core offering.
Aiming for an MVP helps entrepreneurs (especially first-timers) avoid the rookie mistake – building too much product before validating market need. We all want the ten revolutionary features in our first version. But not only will these features take five extra months to build, most users will also not see them.
So that’s the concept of an MVP. Sounds simple, right?
And yet, we slog for 3 months to build the MVP. And congratulate ourselves on finding out it didn’t work, and then spend another 3 months on a pivot.
Three months is way too long! Why does the MVP take so long?
The reason is that we’ve got the notion of an MVP all wrong.
Read on here.
The World of Business and Management
What I learnt from talking toilets in rural Bihar.
My last project in consulting (back in 2012) was to develop a market-based solution to the problem of sanitation in rural Bihar (one of India’s poorest states).
At that time, less than 20% of households in rural Bihar had toilets. And many of those who did have toilets, didn’t use them – they would defecate in the open instead.
Against this intimidating backdrop, we set out to build a private-sector led solution to the problem.
And we were fairly successful. The project helped over 500K rural households construct toilets in their homes. It increased the number of toilets in our focus districts by 10 percentage points.
This article talks about the timeless lessons I learned through the project, on markets, consumers, and how to sell.
On a related note, the job to be done framework. Or, as they say, “You don’t sell saddles. You sell a better way to ride.”
What doesn’t get measured… doesn’t exist?
We’ve all heard the saying “What gets measured, gets managed”.
A simple, yet powerful thought. With a simple corollary – what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get managed.
But in reality, the corollary is far more extreme.
In the eyes of the person responsible, what doesn’t get measured… doesn’t really exist!
Read on here, to see the dark flipside of this common management adage.
On a related note, the Availability heuristic. Or “what you see is all there is”.
How to manage your team LIKE A BOSS (even while working remote).
This is a more recent, and more topical article.
Effective team management (whether in-person or remote) can be distilled into five key axioms.
Call them the Minimum Effective Dose, or the 80:20 of team management.
Read on here .
Hiring Great People.
This links back to the previous article. You can only work with people you end up hiring. So, hiring well has an inordinate influence on your team’s future output.
Hire well, and you have an NFL Dream Team. Hire badly, and at best you get a squabbling dysfunctional family. Not much effective team management you can do there.
In the same vein as the previous article, here are 7 key learnings on hiring.
1. Hire only when you absolutely need to.
2. Don’t be too hard on yourself. 1 in 3 hires don’t work out – if you do it right.
3. False Positives are OK. False Negatives are not.
4. What to look for in candidates: drive and self-motivation, innate curiosity, and ethics.
5. A few tips for running an interview process. Most important one – do reference checks.
6. How to let people go. Decisively, but with sensitivity. It’s your fault – not theirs – that you hired them into a role where they can’t succeed.
7. Diversity will not happen on its own. You’ve got to make it happen.
Read on here.
The World of Mental Models
What are “mental models”?
They are tools that help us understand the world faster and better. Instead of approaching every new problem from scratch.
Simple but powerful concepts, that help us understand situations more clearly, and make quicker yet better decisions.
For example, take this core principle from economics: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch“. It reminds us to look at every wonderful business deal with care. What’s the catch? There’s always a catch.
In a way, mental models help us think in a more “modular” fashion.
Modular programming makes software much faster. In the same way, mental models are the modules that soup up your decision-making engine.
Mental models are the modules that soup up your decision-making engine.
Over the years, I’ve written about a few powerful mental models, that have helped me think faster (and better) about business problems.
Listing a few of them below.
- The Power Law, or why working hard is not enough. And on a related note, Winners don’t do things differently. They do different things.
- Focus can be a competitive advantage. But over time, it can also constrain a startup as it tries to “cross the chasm”.
- Nigerian prince scamsters, and the importance of qualifying the funnel.
- Cognitive Dissonance, or why it’s so hard to persuade people with facts.
- Occam’s Broom, OR “You don’t know what you don’t know”.
- The Red Queen effect. Or why perfect competition is for losers.
Hope you like some of these articles!
Do write back or comment with the articles you liked best, and I’ll share more on those topics in the coming weeks.
And don’t forget to subscribe, so you get issue #101 of Sunday Reads!