On scaling, thoughts, and life

I don’t really have an excuse for the amount of updates that this blog has. From trying to follow a consistent schedule in the beginning, to the eventual forfeit and writing purely based on “guilt and obligation,” it’s always been pretty difficult to determine what to write and submit.

It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. Donny and I had concluded long ago that the lethargy was a result of wanting to write something to scale. This blog, being our platform to the public, was both a pedastle and a broadcast. A spot where we internalized as a place to only put our best and brightest ideas: thoughts and philosophies that we could be proud of and establish ourselves as thinkers and the experienced.

Which is ironic, seeing that we’re also painfully aware of our inexperience from the mere fact of our age and still pre-double digit tenure in the professional world.

As a result of that, under the few posts that are already on the blog, there lies a graveyard of posts never submitted. Just browsing through a few of mine: there are topics ranging from content filtering, trust in distrust, and some other concepts that at ideation seemed solid and elegant enough until put onto paper. The thought is as always thought, as Silicon Valley is oft to repeat: What’s the value-add?

And that’s when we feel that quiet inner voice answer: “There is none.”

Of course, the answer is to just… not think that way. But once established, it’s hard to do away with. We are trying though. We’ve created PocketDial: a podcast where we’ve designed from the get-go to be much more grounded. It’s still topics, but we’ve forced ourselves to go into a medium where there’s nothing but uncensored and spontaneity. The podcast itself took about 6 months to finally get going: most of it spent between procrastination and convincing each other that it was the right move after answering questions like:

1- But can a podcast scale?
2- How can we protect ourselves?
3- What would we talk about?

As you can tell, this was leading to the same dilemma as the blog. And so before the first episode, we had to establish some ground rules:

1- No more than 10 minutes of editing
2- Talk about whatever we want
3- Talk. Do it. Schedule the episode and no matter how bad it is, release it
4- Don’t care about numbers

So far we only have about 4 episodes. But it feels like a weight has been lifted off the shoulders. For one, outside of adding random topics to a shared Notes app time to time and scheduling the calls, there is no work. We free-form our conversation and let it flow. When one of our recent episodes had a major audio syncing problem— causing lag between our two tracks that made for awful hearing— we still went ahead and released it.

And that in itself I think is inspiring. To me at least. I think if we didn’t, if we hid that track, then the future would just be like the graveyard of blog posts we have now. Instead we got ahead of it: willfully and consciously deciding to show an embarassing/“lack of quality” side and now feel much more free.

This long talk about our decision to start a Podcast (note: this blog will still keep going, though again— with hopefully more updates) points to the idea on scaling. Presenting the best side so that it can be replicated ad infinitem. And how utterly paralyzing it is.

And from this. From Donny and my’s hand at our college startup. To even our two current separate jobs as product managers, I think show again and again how difficult and actually counter-productive it is. In the tech space, we are told to scale to make money. In finances, the version is passive income. In marketing— viral marketing. And let’s not forget about automation.

There’s a time and place for it. And our professional lives always have us thinking about it. How to best create a machine that once placed will generate value across millions of users almost as if on auto-pilot.

But people, life, and even products are not like that. Not at least in the beginning. In the beginning it’s all about change. Learning. Testing. How can we possibly only show a good side when we know nothing? Products are likewise in the beginning as well. So how could our thoughts, blogs, and perspectives be any different?

To expect otherwise is insanity.

If we don’t use money, what do we use?

Sorry to everyone for the delay. Though it’s not unusual for this blog to have long pauses between articles— it’s definitely never been the intention to have this sort of gap for what should be a follow-up/sequel. The trade wars that have played out so intensely over the past few months have had quite a bit of relevance on this topic, and so it was put on hold until now. Without further ado…

Without reaching into the bucket for motivations like civic duty, I’d like to simply companies as basic widget work units. Some sort of simple black box that takes costs, resources, and opportunity to churn out an output (perhaps represented by stock price or some other form of validation).

Costs would be external imposed necessities: taxes, regulation, tariffs(cough)

Resources would be materials for production: physical and intellectual

Opportunity is well… opportunity: Market, timing, trends and user behavior

So far, governments have by an almost absolute margin only thought of incentives in terms of monetary costs. The country-wide deal hunting spree set off by Amazon was an example of it in play— come and we’ll increase your bottomline. The current threat of tariffs to move companies back to the US is the reverse— come back or we’ll destroy it.

Continue reading “If we don’t use money, what do we use?”

Offer It, and They [Still Won’t] Come: Should governments use money to lure companies?

Ever since Amazon’s country-wide fishing expedition, the question has drawn incredible vigor and debate. Even after the selection and their withdrawal from New York City however, the discussions seem to have died down but the answers are no closer. Those in favor argue for the long-term benefits, and worship it almost as a surefire way for economic growth. Those against are not much better— regarding any offer as a deal with the devil hellbent on gentrification and socioeconomic inequity.

To step away from the extremes of both ends, I want to restart the argument from ground-up. Or as the now turned-corporate-buzzword would be “from first principles.”

To start off, we need to make some basic assumptions on what the goals of the deal are. Though not exhaustive, I will think of them as:

  1. Introduce a new stream of future tax revenue
  2. Encourage the local/regional entrepreneurial and technological economy by employing locals to the new high paying tech jobs
  3. Help transform the existing infrastructure towards a forward looking culture and system to make it more resilient and strong against future economic and technological/social shocks
  4. The company investing in the area has such positive effects on points 2 and 3 that it brings in more companies that themselves have positive feedback effects for all points

Though it’s easy to quantify point 1 (as it is often the number thrown around within the arguments for the deals), it’s much harder to define or even make concrete goals for the others. I think it fair to say however, that the point of the latter three are to create an almost second Silicon Valley— as defined as a central tech hub associated with job and quality of life growth.

Photo Credits to Carles Rabada

With the goals in place, let’s have a brief examination on possible outcomes. For simplicity’s sake, I have but two outcomes in mind: success and failure. Success means that the company takes the deal offered. Failure means they don’t.

The big issue is that failure is very real. Take Amazon’s bid, a tale of but 2 winners for a country of 50 states. The biggest problem with failure (and success arguably) is a question of moral hazard. Winners suffer less as they reap the presumed rewards, but losers have shown to the world their soft underbelly: “This is how much I will beg you to come to me. Do not otherwise.”

But what about success?

Continue reading “Offer It, and They [Still Won’t] Come: Should governments use money to lure companies?”

Generational Cultures in Apps: Tools vs Modes

The scene may be familiar to many of you. A chat in your family’s app of choice— LINE, WeChat, etc— is created to get everyone in one centralized communication channel. It was meant for logistics and updates. Was.

Now it’s full of clickbait links and the “um”s and “ah”s of audio messages. A 1254 notifications badge scares away any hope for a visit.

Why does it seem like there’s such a wide disparity in how chat apps are used? It seems like on one hand there are the young— with curt and succinct responses, punctuated by heavily contextual content like memes— and on the other, are the older— superfluous and verbose, preferring audio, and seeming to replicate real life conversation directly onto chat.

We know different users use services differently, but for something like communication— which is so basic and foundational to our species— how is it so reliably different? Is it just an issue of age?

Continue reading “Generational Cultures in Apps: Tools vs Modes”

Airbnb vs Amazon: A Dualistic Approach to the Future of Employment

It’s no secret that the giant minds of the world are thinking themselves silly over what to do about the future of employment. Will AI replace all humans in their jobs? Will new industries and services rise up to create new jobs uniquely manageable by humans only?

Steve Jobs spoke about the computer and technology as a “bicycle of the mind,” that they are nothing but tools to allow humankind to reach greater heights and achieve more. But try telling that to people in sectors long supplanted by machinery. They’d probably tell you to keep the bike. Continue reading “Airbnb vs Amazon: A Dualistic Approach to the Future of Employment”