Elon Musk

I've read a number of very interesting pieces about Elon Musk recently. Taken together, they try to explain who's Musk, why he's doing what he's doing and how he is able to accomplish everything he has. If you have a some (actually, a lot of) time during the week-end, I encourage you to go ahead and read them all!

First is this article by Nathan Kontny, aptly titled "The Scientist":

In 2004 at Burning Man, a yearly gathering in the Nevada desert, someone erected a 30 foot wooden pole with a dancing platform on top. Dozens of people failed to climb the pole. And then there's another who gives it his try. He doesn't look like someone who could climb it. And as he's trying, suspicions are confirmed. He's terrible and looks like he's about to fail. He hugs the pole the whole time as he squirms and inches his way up. With sheer determination he reaches the top of that platform. Who was he? Elon Musk.

Beyond the anecdote, there is a relentlessness to that man which can't help but impress. It is more fully explored in the 4-part articles on Wait But Why? (highly recommended read by the way), that review pretty much all of Elon's projects and how he's able to get them done:

  1. Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man
  2. How Tesla Will Change The World
  3. How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars
  4. The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

For context, here's the introduction of Tim's first post:

Elon Musk, for those unfamiliar, is the world’s raddest man.

I’ll use this post to explore how he became a self-made billionaire and the real-life inspiration for Iron Man’s Tony Stark, but for the moment, I’ll let Richard Branson explain things briefly:

"Whatever skeptics have said can’t be done, Elon has gone out and made real. Remember in the 1990s, when we would call strangers and give them our credit-card numbers? Elon dreamed up a little thing called PayPal. His Tesla Motors and SolarCity companies are making a clean, renewable-energy future a reality…his SpaceX [is] reopening space for exploration…it’s a paradox that Elon is working to improve our planet at the same time he’s building spacecraft to help us leave it."

So no, that was not a phone call I had been expecting.

This guy is inspiring... and probably a bit frightening too :-)

Article: CS183C Session 8: Eric Schmidt

Very interesting interview between Reid Hoffman and Eric Schmidt:

Q: Is there anything you’d tell your younger self?

A: Do things sooner and make fewer mistakes. The question is, what causes me not to make those decisions quickly. Some people are quicker than others, and it’s not clear which actually need to be answered quickly. Hindsight is always that you make the important decisions more quickly.

Another gem:

Q: Talk about when you joined Google.

Almost all small companies are full of energy and no process. My list was straightforward: internationalization plans, sales plans, product plans, accounting, etc. My first meeting at Google was like being at a graduate school full of interesting people with no deadlines or deliverables. Offices at Google had 4 people because Larry and Sergey’s office at Stanford had 4 people.

The SCARF Framework

I recently read an article by David Cummings on building an irresistible organization:

Want to build a great company? Find product/market fit, a repeatable customer acquisition process, and build a simply irresistible organization.

In the article, David refers to a presentation of the same name by Josh Bersin. Josh remarks that:

Engagement still startlingly low: only 13% of employees worldwide are highly engaged (Gallup)

The presentation itself refers to "Your Brain at Work" by David Rock. The book is full of interesting insights about how your brain works and the applications for how you work. Incidentally, it's an interesting companion to "Thinking, Fast and Slow", illustrating many of the concept in Kahneman's book.

In the book, David Rock talks about his "SCARF" framework. The letters stand for:

  • Status: where do you stand in the social ladder relative to your peers?
  • Certainty: do you know what's going to happen?
  • Autonomy: are you in control of what's happening to you?
  • Relatedness: do you feel connected to others?
  • Fairness: is your sense of justice satisfied?

I found the framework simple and interesting. It explains many of the common pitfalls one might face when working in a group. As a manager, I'll try to make sure I meet the SCARF needs of my teammates in the future.

Article: Getting the Right Stuff Done

Steven Sinofsky:

A key role of product management (PM), whether as the product-focused founder (CEO, CTO) or the PM leader, is making sure product development efforts are focused. But what does it mean to be focused? This isn’t always as clear as it could be for a team. While everyone loves focus, there’s an equal love for agility, action, and moving "forward". Keeping the trains running is incredibly important, but just as important and often overlooked is making sure the destination is clear.

It might sound crazy, but it is much easier than one might think for teams to move fast, get stuff done, and break things that might not be helping the overall efforts. In fact, in my experience, this challenge has become even greater in recent years with the availability of data and telemetry. With such, it becomes very easy to find work that needs to be done to improve the app or service — the data is telling you right then and there that something is tripping up customers, performing poorly, or going unused. Taking action makes it easy to feel like the right thing is happening. It feels like moving forward. Everyone loves to get stuff done. Everyone feels focused.

But is the team focused on the right work to achieve the right results?

Very interesting article. The framework he suggests reminded me of the tools outlined in the book "Traction" by Gino Wickman: define your 10 years vision, your 3 years plan, then your yearly priority, then your rocks for the quarter, and in the end your tasks for the week. If you're always making sure that what you're working on right now is aligned with your broader goals, the risk of going astray is very low!

Article: A Leader’s Guide To Deciding: What, When, and How To Decide

Steven Sinofsky:

With that experience, my view is that before deciding something a CEO or exec should be clear how he/she contributes to a project or work, using one of the following:

  • Initiator: kicking off new projects
  • Connector: connecting people to others so the work gets better
  • Amplifier: amplifying the things that are working well or not so there is awareness of success and learning
  • Editor: fixing or changing things while they are being done

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

Very interesting and insightful article. The way you choose spend your time between all types of activity says a lot about you.

Article: The Curse of Knowledge

Harvard Business Review:

When a tapper taps, it is impossible for her to avoid hearing the tune playing along to her taps. Meanwhile, all the listener can hear is a kind of bizarre Morse code. Yet the tappers were flabbergasted by how hard the listeners had to work to pick up the tune.

The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.

In the business world, managers and employees, marketers and customers, corporate headquarters and the front line, all rely on ongoing communication but suffer from enormous information imbalances, just like the tappers and listeners.

This idea is strongly applicable in sales. In order to be successful, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person you'll be meeting with, understand their unique perspective on the world, and only then try and help them assess whether what you have to offer may fit in their picture.

In addition to this, developing a deep understanding of your prospect's needs lets you engage in a very potent sales tool, negative reverse selling, much more effectively:

- You:"I'm not sure whether what I just told you about [your specific solution] may help you fix some of the issues you're experiencing..."
- Prospect: "Well, actually I think it would help us quite a bit with our problems in [area of concern you were discussing earlier]."

When doing this, you help your prospect convince themselves that your solution can and will be valuable to them. You help them build their own case for using your solution, which will also make a rollout easier down the road since they'll be able to clearly explain to other people in their organization why your solution is worth investing in, in their specific context.

Of course, this approach can only work if you're confident that the issue you raised was an actual issue experienced by your prospect... which was the exact point why you needed to get into their shoes.

Location Analysis of Slideshare Viewers Using DSS

I've been using Slideshare quite a bit lately in order to share presentations. While it offers interesting statistics tools, the geographic information it surfaces is a bit light. You get a view count by country, but you can't really dig any deeper:

I was wondering how to get access to more detailed information about my audience. As it turns out, Slideshare allows you to download a CSV list of the last 1000 viewers of your slides, along with a bit of additional information (name of the presentation and, more importantly, city and country the viewer is from):

Once I had access to this, the next item to tackle was to find a way to perform a more detailed analysis. In order to do this, I decided to use Data Science Studio (DSS), a product by French startup Dataiku. They offer a free community edition that you can install locally on your Mac. It works for up to 100,000 rows of data, which was plenty enough for my needs.

After performing a local install, I realised that to do the kind of work I was trying to do, I also needed to install an additional plugin: the Geoadmin plugin. I had to restart DSS after installing it - I could have saved time by installing it before running DSS for the first time. Last but not least, I also needed an API key for a mapping service. You can easily get a free one from MapQuest, which gives you up to 15,000 location lookups - again, plenty enough for my needs.

Once my setup was ready, I launched DSS and headed to http://localhost:11200/ (DSS is a web application, which means lives in your browser). Once there, the first thind I did was to create a new project and import my dataset (Dataiku has several tutorials to help you get started with DSS):

A nice touch about DSS is that it always keeps your original data as is, without modifying it. This means you can always go back in time without fear of altering your data.

I clicked on the "Analyze" button in order to create my first analysis. The analysis tab is the place where you're going to do most of the grunt work of cleaning and improving your data in order to be able to use it. In my case, there were a couple things that needed to be done before I could create the map I was looking for:

  1. First, I had to clean the data in order to remove rows that were lacking geographic data. I did this by clicking on the "Country" column, and using a transformation that removed all the rows with useless data (such as "N/A").
  2. Once I had done this, the next step was to get more accurate data to feed MapQuest. I achieved this by concatenating the "Country" and "City" columns into a new "Address" column.
  3. Once I had the addresses, all I needed to do was to run them through MapQuest using DSS' Geocode function. This gave me the latitude and longitude for each "Address" entry. I proceeded to mark them as their respective data types.
  4. Once I had this, the last thing that was needed was to add a "Create GeoPoint" step that took the latitude and longitude in input and created a... well, you guessed it, a Geopoint based on the coordinates.

Here is the resulting recipe, as well as a sample of its result:

Once I was done processing and enriching my data, I could at last get to the heart fo the subject: creating a map of my viewers! In order to do this, I headed over to the "Charts" tab and followed these steps:

  1. Set the graph type to "World Map".
  2. Put "Geopoint" in the "Break down by..." section and set the granularity level to "8 (city)".
  3. Put "Count of records" in both the "Color" and "Size" of the "Show..." section.
  4. Waited for the map to update with my data.

Here is the final result, centered on the US for better viewability:

Great! I now have access to a visual representation of my audience, city by city, all over the world!

I think I only used the tip of the iceberg when it comes to DSS' feature set, but I was able to quickly create a beautiful map that gave me way more information than what Slideshare has to offer: exactly what I was looking for.

Article: Service sunsets aren’t the least bit pretty

Signal vs Noise:

So Basecamp 3 is not going to sunset anything. Not the current version of Basecamp, not the classic, original version of Basecamp. Either of those work well for you? Awesome! Please keep using them until the end of the internet! We’ll make sure they’re fast, secure, and always available.

But, but, but isn’t that expensive? Isn’t that hard? What about security? What about legacy code bases? Yes, what about it? Taking care of customers – even if they’re not interested in upgrading on our schedule – is what we do here. Cost of business, as they say.

At launch, Basecamp 3 is not going to have all the same features as previous versions, so some existing customers may well just want to continue with whatever version they’re on. That’s great! All the new, exciting features will still be there when (or if) they choose to upgrade.

Very interesting approach. Many services give you a bit of time to adapt (I can think of Google Apps fur Business or Salesforce, which give you a couple months to adopt interface changes), but none that I know goes as far as keeping their old services fully alive and working.

I guess having just one specific line of business makes it easier, though they still have to maintain 3 products in parallel - potentially more in the future. I guess being able to do this is one of the main reasons why 37Signals (their former name) divested all their other properties and decided to focus exclusively on Basecamp.

Article: How we lost (and found) millions by not A/B testing

Over at Signal vs Noise:

We’ve always felt strongly that we should share our lessons in business and technology with the world, and that includes both our successes and our failures. We’ve written about some great successes: how we’ve improved support response time, sped up applications, and improved reliability. Today I want to share an experience that wasn’t a success.

This is the story of how we made a change to the Basecamp.com site that ended up costing us millions of dollars, how we found our way back from that, and what we learned in the process.

Pretty enlightening. The next time you think you don't need A/B testing? Well, think again.

Presentation: Sales & Marketing Tools for B2B SaaS Companies

The goal of this presentation is to present a set of tools that startups can use in order to implement their marketing & sales processes, from initial contact with a prospect all the way to customer service.

For each step of the marketing & sales process, a subset of existing solutions is presented, with a short overview of its features and use cases. If you're looking to build the marketing & sales machine at your company, this presentation is a good place to start!