Pablo's Blog

A bit of this, a bit of that, a lot about computers.
I have a problem: 3 or 5 stars?

I have a problem: 3 or 5 stars?

I’m an avid reader and I review every single book I read. I force myself to write at least two paragraphs. This is useful to me because sometimes I forget I have read something; seeing and reading back my own reviews answers the ‘did I already read that’ question but also refreshes my memory on what I thought of it. I do this in Goodreads, where I’m asked to provide a star quality rating of the book, and that’s where the problem starts.

Normally, I rate them for myself and my rating is this:

  • 5: Amazing book, humanity is better off because this book exists and everyone should read it.
  • 4: Great book, will recommend it to most people.
  • 3: Good book, I enjoyed reading it.
  • 2: Bad book, I didn’t enjoy reading it.
  • 1: Terrible book, this is actively harmful for humanity and should not have been written.

This naturally means most of my books get 3 stars, some 4 and 2 and even less 5 and 1. It’s a bell curve! Which should surprise no one. Actually, I think there are way more books in the 1-star category out there for consumption, it’s just very rare I accidentally read one. 

But this is not how most people use star ratings. And it is also not how we are encouraged to use them either. Take Uber: in the event you did not give five stars, it specifically requests you to answer what was wrong with the trip. If the trip was perfectly adequate, it is expected that this be rated five stars. The upshot of this is that there is no way to reflect service that went above and beyond, or was otherwise better than ‘fine.’

So most people give 5 stars unless there’s something wrong, in which case they start removing stars. 1 thing wrong? 4 stars. 2 things wrong? 3 stars. I think this is a bad way of rating things because, as mentioned above, it means you have no way of differentiating good, great and amazing: they all get the same 5 stars. For a service like Uber this is not such a problem, but for artistic works and for books it doesn’t fit. 

I used to just do the rating for myself so I didn’t care I was using a different system to the rest. But when publishing on Goodreads and interacting with other people it became rather controversial: I have received both praise and criticism for this. Some people caught on and they know that when I give 4 and 5 stars, it’s a rarity and worth taking a look. Some people asked me why a book that I enjoyed, and recommended to them, is getting only 3 stars.

What’s really bothering me with my discrepant system is that an author gets a (small) penalty for me being interested in them. Granted, this is tiny and unlikely to be noticed in the grand scheme of readers, but it still bothers me. Their average will go down, which negatively affects public perception, even though it really shouldn’t be perceived that way (to my mind). It also bothers me that an author might see 3 or 4 stars and be hurt and then confused by my positive review.

Should I give up and remap my review system to what everyone else is doing? I dislike losing a way to signal “This book is amazing” By all means send your suggestions.

Self-driving cars will kill the cities, and it’s a good thing

Self-driving cars will kill the cities, and it’s a good thing

I believe self-driving cars will change humanity. 

I don’t know what car ownership will look like; some say individual ownership will be unnecessary, when you can just summon a shared car whenever you need it, like an Uber. For me personally I will always prefer my own vehicle as my car is a second home. But this post is not about car ownership. But a feedback loop in scaling down might mean car ownership might end up like horse ownership: rare, for the rich.

But that’s not the most important aspect of course, because self-driving cars have the potential to change the landscape of humanity in other ways. Self-driving cars will make cities obsolete. Living in a city is expensive and uncomfortable. It’s expensive because people are competing for the space to live there with prices reflecting this demand. It’s uncomfortable because this high value means smaller houses are more profitable than bigger ones and so it has become a race to the bottom of what’s the smallest livable shoebox, while the countryside experiences depopulation. There are plenty of better analyses of this process out there that I shan’t repeat here, however I have some thoughts on a couple of the main reasons for this. 

I think there are two reasons people put themselves through the increasingly dystopian city lifestyle: financial and social opportunity. Financial opportunity in the fact that there are more and high paying jobs in the cities than in the countryside. The social opportunity is the fact that you can find your tribe: you don’t have to be the odd one out in your town, because when you live in a city there’s a plenty of odd people like you. This is why, in my opinion, cities are more liberal and attract the people in the fringes: the weirdos, the geeks, the alternatives and progressives. I’m one of them but I digress. 

Look what happened during the pandemic. People couldn’t socialize, so the value of being in a major metropolis dropped close to zero. Furthermore, working from home meant the sacrifice of living in cramped conditions was no longer worth it. Suddenly people started moving away from cities in droves not previously seen. As the pandemic comes to a close, there may be some reversal of this, however as remote and flexible working continues many people are not coming back. I still see the social aspect as a big pull for many people: you want to go out with your like minded friends in the evening to a pub or a movie or the theater; or you want to date; or go to a museum. The pop up culture, easy transport, late night resources, remain predominantly large city based. 

Having established this: now imagine you have access to a self driving car. You get out of your house, step in it, and then do nothing until it drops you at your destination and takes itself away until needed again. You don’t have to worry about parking. You don’t have to worry about catching the last train home. Are you too tired? Are you a bit tipsy? Not a problem because the car is driving. How far away from the big city would you live if that was the case? You could be working while driving into the city, you could be sleeping while driving out of the city. When you get home, you just drag yourself to bed and continue sleeping. You could live 3 hours away from London or New York and have easy low effort access to them 24/7.

Suddenly the bubble of people accessing the city is enormous. Real estate outside the smoke is cheaper; houses are bigger, farther apart; life is simply better. With easy access many more people can take advantage of this. Subsequently cities will change from the current mix of residential/commercial, to mostly commercial, to purely commercial. Cities become just offices and entertainment. No one lives in boxy apartments anymore. 

This begets the question as to whether cities survive at all. At the point where everybody is jumping on a self-driving car to get to the destination, the location of the destination matters much less. Why would someone rent a theater in Broadway or the West End, when they can rent it in the middle of nowhere, 3 hours from London or New York, and yet get the same attendance and more profit? So if then the commercial users of the city start to leave… Who’s left?

Famous chefs will open their restaurants where they please; great directors will run their plays in the grander and larger venues of the countryside; pubs and bars won’t be limited; Soho can be anywhere. The communities around interest will be spread out and attract city-size populations even in small places, because the bubble of attraction of any activity will be much bigger once getting there is as simple as hop-in-sleep-hop-off.

I think self-driving cars will kill cities the same way streaming killed the video store. Movies no longer compete for shelf space and we all get more access to more movies. Humanity can spread out to smaller towns, but this time without the isolation associated with them. 

I think there will be some issues though. The collapse of real estate in cities could mess up the economy. A city that loses enough revenue to not be able to support itself can turn into an anarchic hell hole. Look at what happened to Detroit as an example. I do hope we can avoid that.

Another possible issue would be if the towns are formed around different grouping traits, for example a town of geeks, a town of liberals, a town of pro-gun people. Despite the lack of isolation and the ready access, humanity could choose to sequester itself into individual echo chambers. Follow this pathway long enough and you reach a rather territorial feudal state of affairs. 

Despite the risks and the potential upheaval, I’m personally looking forward to the future of self-driving cars. Doubtless there will be some growing pains, but in the end, I do believe we’ll be better off.

Picture by smoothgroover22

Movie or Film?

Movie or Film?

For MoviePal, one of the questions was whether these things are called movies or films. One of the arguments I heard was that “movie” is American and “film” is British, the other argument was that “film” is an older term, which makes sense, since movies are not distributed as film anymore. Film is still used to make some movies, but that’s an entirely different and super interesting rabbit hole.

So, I did my “research”, and you know which one won, but I found the charts still interesting enough to share:

There’s obviously a big bias here since there are more uses for the word “film” that is not related to movies and I don’t know the break down. The two curves seem quite correlated except that “movies” has an offset that went up and down. Looking at the map:

It looks like a lot of English speaking countries… all of them… call them “movies”. Including good old United Kingdom. I was surprised by “film” winning the popularity contest over so many countries in Europe. I wonder if this is because “film” exists in other languages.

I could zoom in into the US, but let me save you some time: nobody says film anymore. End of story. Now in the UK the story is a bit different:

There was a lot of truth to the UK using “film” more than the Americans. Not only that, but in relative terms, “film” is rising and since April 2018, both “film” and “movie” are extremely correlated, but not before. I wonder why that is.

As of today, England is split 50/50, Wales is strongly on the “film” camp and Scotland and Northern Ireland on the “movie” side:

I’ll keep watching this trend, I wondering if the UK will jump to “film” side soon.

Twitter should implement rolling tweets.

Twitter should implement rolling tweets.

It’s really exciting to see Twitter innovating (again). I have an idea for a feature that might be very valuable: rolling tweets.

A rolling tweet goes to a certain amount of users, like 10% or 1000 and then when you press a button, to another 10% and so on. You get to decide the percentages. This is similar to how rolling releases of software operate.

The goal is for people to test the waters. With so many things becoming controversial overnight, I’m sure some some high profile Twitter users would like to see the reaction of a small cohort of users before unleashing their ideas to the whole world.

I would also add the feature of filtering who is in that 10%, so it’s not random. For example, you might want to start with the 10% that is bellow the median of follower count for your account. That way you may be avoiding exposing your controversial idea to a reporter or high profile person that would spread it around more than you intend at that point.

Ultimately, once something is out on the internet, it’s out, and there’s no way back, but this could do some damage control.

An app to help you chose what movie to watch with friends

An app to help you chose what movie to watch with friends

I love movies, and most of my friends do as well, so when we are having a movie night, it always takes forever to chose a movie. It always goes like this:

John: Shall we watch Star Wars.
Sally: Nah, I’ve seen it a million times.
Roger: What about 2001: Space Odyssey.
Jess: Oh, I’ve seen it, but so long ago, I’d be up for watching it again.
Bob: I’d be ok with 2001, but I’m feeling like watching a superhero movie, anyone else up for that?
John: As long as it’s not DC, yeah.

And it goes on and on for hours. I want to solve this problem, so I started to work on an app where you connect with friends and select what movies you want to watch, what movies you’ve seen, what movies you want to watch again, the genres you are not a fan of, your mood of the day, and it creates a single watch list for that particular group of friends, selecting the movies you all want to watch and maybe recommended a few extra you haven’t thought of.

I call it MoviePal.

What do you think? Would you use it? Please, head over to moviepal.tech to join the waitlist to be invited to the app as soon as it’s ready. I’m trying to figure it out if it’s worth pouring my money and time into it, so it helps a lot of you share to see if anyone else cares about movies as much as I do.

Thank you.

A odd numbering system I invented when I was a kid

A odd numbering system I invented when I was a kid

When I was a kid, my dad and I had a (friendly) argument. I said that digital displays were better and I wanted them everywhere, for example, as the speedometer of a car. My dad said that dials were better and he made his point:

Dials are faster to read and remember and if the needle is oscillating, you can still read it and now what the average is.

— My Dad

He was right. If your speed was rapidly oscillating between 98km/h and 102km/h on a dial, it was trivial to read, on a digital display, it would be a blur that looks like 199km/h. You could solve it by dampening oscillations, but that creates other problems (lags) and it’s a boring solution.

My dad was right, so I decided to solve the problem. I spent years thinking about and came up with a solution when I was 13 or so. A numbering system where only one digit changes at a time. Let me demonstrate. 0 through 9 is the same: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. But the next number can’t be 10, because that’s changing two digits at the same time, so it’s 19… now what? Now you go down until you hit 10 and then you can go to 20, because between 10 and 20 there’s only one digit difference. Here’s from 1 to 30, highlighting the ones that are different:

Normal PSDC
0 0
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5
6 6
7 7
8 8
9 9
10 19
11 18
12 17
13 16
14 15
15 14
16 13
17 12
18 11
19 10
20 20
21 21
22 22
23 23
24 24
25 25
26 26
27 27
28 28
29 29
30 39
31 38
32 37
33 36
34 35
35 34
36 33
37 32
38 31
39 30

The way it works is that when a digit is odd in the original normal decimal number, the next digit is PSDC is inverted. This is the Python code to convert numbers to PSDC representation:

def convert_to_psdc(number):
  digits = [int(n) for n in list(str(number))]
  new_digits = []
  for i, digit in enumerate(digits):
    if i == 0 or digits[i - 1] % 2 == 0:
      new_digits.append(digit)
    else:
      new_digits.append(9 - digit)
  return int("".join([str(d) for d in new_digits]))

Here are a few interesting PSDC numbers:

Normal PSDC
0 0
1 1
9 9
10 19
11 18
18 11
19 10
20 20
21 21
99 90
100 190
101 191
189 119
190 109
191 108
999 900
1000 1900
1001 1901
1900 1090
1901 1091
9999 9000
10000 19000
10001 19001
99999 90000
100000 190000
100001 190001
999999 900000
1000000 1900000
1000001 1900001
9999999 9000000
10000000 19000000
10000001 19000001

Problem solved! Not really, this is useless… but for some reason 13 year old me started to be obsessed with this and I still think about it frequently.

If you want to see all the PSDC numbers up to 10k, I published a table on this site.

Making NFTs valuable and real

Making NFTs valuable and real

city skyline across body of water during night time

If you don’t know what an NFT is, here’s a wrong explanation: they are an entry in a database saying that something, belongs to you (or more precise, to an account you have control over). It’s impossible to hack or fake…

…but it’s also meaningless. You see, you don’t really own the thing, you just have control over what essentially is a link. You can pass it on, sell it, but you can’t prevent someone else from creating a similar or the same link (you could claim you have the oldest one).

If you buy the NFT of a picture, you can’t do anything with it, while the original copyright holder can do everything they want. They can make more NFTs, license it for commercial use, print copies. If you want to stop, and end in court, your NFT is meaningless. This is the realm of intellectual property and by now it’s understood quite well. NFTs are not playing on the realm of intellectual property… not yet.

I think this would make NFTs very valuable and also real (they are sort of fake at the moment).

Make the NFT assignment also carry the contract that makes the assignment of copyright or transfers a trademark or patent. Now NFTs are wrapping the intellectual property that the courts will back up. Now it’s interesting.

One interesting bit of NFTs is the fact that the original creator could get 5% of every sale afterwards. If NFTs are being used to transfer copyright, it should be impossible to transfer copyright without transferring the NFT otherwise there wouldn’t be further transactions for the artist to get paid out of. Can a contract be made so that the IP assignment cannot be separated from the NFT. That is a technically and legal challenge that I find interesting and if it’s possible, that could change everything.

My notes on This Week in Startups E1080: Arlan Hamilton on launching Backstage Crowd, disrupting VC with syndicates & more

My notes on This Week in Startups E1080: Arlan Hamilton on launching Backstage Crowd, disrupting VC with syndicates & more

Top Insights

  • She’s a black female gay, grew up in the south raised by a single mother.
  • She became a VC, very underrepresented, very underestimated.
  • Her firm is Backstage Crowd, open to accredited and non-accredited investors.
  • She published a book: It’s About Damn Time, about her experience becoming a VC.
  • Has a podcast: Your First Million.
  • Made a course: How to Raise Capital for your Company from Scratch.
  • She believes and preaches: Acknowledging privilege doesn’t take it away.
  • She raised $7m over 7 years.
  • On larger investors for her fund: They are invited to come back to her found but she doesn’t want to be beholden to them.
  • Prefers small like-minded investors to big LPs: it’s more fun.
  • She believes 80% of the companies could do without any funding and bootstrapping.

It’s been pushing a boulder up a mountain.

Arlan Hamilton

Intro

  • Arlan Hamilton is black, female and a lesbian. She’s from the south, and was raised by a single mom.
  • She has a podcast called Your First Million. There’s another unrelated episode with the same name.
  • She’s happy to talk about race unlike others.
  • She published a book It’s About Damn Time.
    • She read the whole book for Audible.
    • She got rejected a lot.
    • She describes how hard it was to break in and how she did it.
  • There’s a lot of scrambling of people reaching it out to her that previously rejected her.
    • Some people are guilty because of Black Lives Matter, and George Floyd’s death.
    • Some people now have more leverage so they can work with her.
  • Arlan doesn’t accept any and all money she is offered.
    • Integrity is very important for her.
    • She’s very protective: 
      • Of her companies.
      • Of her brand
      • Of her people.
    • She doesn’t want to be someone’s saviour, the token black person that shows the caught up with the times.
    • She treats everybody as though they are good at first, but quotes Rihanna: “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness
    • There’s a difference between someone that finally got that black lives matter and someone that just doesn’t want to look bad.
    • She doesn’t respect people that are just giving crumbs of what they actually have to the unrepresented crowd, that’s insulting.
    • Even if you were on her bad side, you can get on her good side, but it can take work.

On Privilege

  • Acknowledging privilege doesn’t take it away.
    • She can acknowledge it’s harder for someone to get on an airplane when they are in a will chair without feeling bad about about her ability to walk.
    • Recognizing a privilege doesn’t put someone down.
    • Life being harder for a black person to get to the same level doesn’t mean a white person didn’t work as hard.
  • She wants everybody to have the same opportunity, not necessarily the same outcome.
    • She says “What I would love to be able to do, and all black founders and other founders would love to be able to do, is to wake up and start working on their thing and not spend 80% time defending myself.”
  • She raised $7m over 7 years.
    • The whole Backstage Capital experiment is a drop in the bucket, barely a series A round.
    • People that don’t want her on the industry are nervous.
  • Arlan and Jason had a lot of conflict at the beginning because she thought Jason was advocating lowering the standard to let women in.

That was the worst tweet I ever did

— Jason

Backstage Crowd

  • We’ve had multiple investors that promised the world and backed out last minute.
  • Invested in 100+ different companies.
  • Invests pre-seed, usually 25k to 100k. Starting off with small checks.
  • The impact is starting to bear with companies starting to raise series A.
  • On larger investors for her fund: They are invited to come back to her found but she doesn’t want to be beholden to them.
  • She prefers to have like-minded people as her investors
    • Operators, big tech employees, etc.
    • Started 100k only last year.
    • Half the people that signed up are accredited, half are not.
    • 1200 people.
    • Now we can start putting $250k to $1m.
  • She doesn’t like to say that underrepresented founders have lower valuation to same performance, but that white men tend to be overvalued while underrepresented founders are correctly priced. Otherwise she believes people will think something is wrong with the underrepresented founders.
  • She has great deal flow, even white men pitching her, who are doing well: high quality and quantity.

If I didn’t want to, I would never have to source a deal for the rest of my life.

On NOT investing

  • Gives appreciation to companies she doesn’t invest on:
    • She built a lot of content:
      • Podcast
      • Meetups
      • Investor weeks, in and outside her portfolio.
      • Office hours
    • Slack for top 100 of the accelerator even if she couldn’t accept them.
  • Accelerator in 2019
    • 1900 applications in 5 weeks
    • Selected 24, in 4 cities, 2 countries, invested $100k
    • Top 100 got to be part of the Slack even if not invested on.

On joining the crowd

  • She thinks it wasn’t necessary to be in Silicon Valley to be a great investor even before the pandemic.
    • ⅔ of her companies are not in Silicon Valley.
  • She wouldn’t consider investing in white men, her deal flow is too good.
    • She made exceptions, but they are very rare.
    • Underrepresented founders want her on their cap table.
  • What was it meeting by the big LP?
    • They are mostly guys.
    • They ask questions that make no sense.
    • They want explanations on startups that went to 0, when 80% will.
    • She feels her clothes get ripped and they point at each part of her body asking why it is fat.
    • Jason’s description of the experience of talking to the big LPs was triggering to her.
    • They don’t want to take a chance on the new.
  • Silicon Valley is a place of favours, she has a chapter on her book about how nobody is self-made.

Go to Atlanta and hang out for a couple of weeks. […] It’s happening, you are missing it.

Fleeting, a good example of her investments

  • Backstage Crowd has two lanes: accredited and non-accredited.
  • Fleeting: trucking company.
    • On the non-accredited track.
    • Raising fast on Republic.co, crowdfunding.
    • Founder wanted to be a doctor, he got to drop out of school, ended up working as a trucker.
    • He got taken advantage by a web developer company.
    • He knew what he was talking about, a perfect match for Backstage Crowd.
    • More than $1m in revenue.
    • Thousands of matches.
    • Her mother and brother invested in it, their first investment.

All of these founders are going to make me so incredibly wealthy that I can’t stand it

The future

  • She tried to raise a $100m fund, it’s impossible. She can do the same model with a syndicate and have a great relationship with investors downstream.
    • It’s more fun with the syndicate than with giant LPs.
    • She says “I don’t think anything could have been more tailor made for us at this moment than syndicates.”
  • She is going to try to get one or two deals a month. What makes sense organically.
  • She’s doing an online course: How to Raise Capital for your Company From Scratch.
    • 80% of the companies could do without any funding and bootstrapping
    • You want to have the investors chasing you and not the other way around.
  • She doesn’t like the idea of being seen as “having broken in”
    • She’s an outlier.
    • She has a way of thinking that most people don’t have.
    • It shouldn’t be this hard.
    • The first four years she didn’t feel she broke in.
    • If everybody has to do this, it’s not worth it.
    • There’s more work to do.

If I didn’t felt hopeful I wouldn’t be able to wake up in the morning and do this.

Arlan Hamilton
When raising prices is easier than lowering them

When raising prices is easier than lowering them

When you are building a B2B SaaS product it’s very hard to know what the appropriate price for your product is. Even if you magically found the correct one, it might not be the correct one next month when you made the product better and you are providing new values. That’s why you need to be constant experimenting with prices on your app.

When I started my career I was afraid of raising prices, of having to justify why they went up (I wasn’t even aware of grandfathering). When I started to learn that most entrepreneurs set their prices too low, my partner and I decided to set the price too high and then lower it if it was necessary. Without realizing we painted ourselves to a corner.

We didn’t want to just lower prices, we wanted to experiment with prices (switching from per-user to 3 plans, things like that). The problem was that anything we would come would cost a different amount for each customer. For some customers it would go up, and that wasn’t a problem, because we would grandfather them in. But for some customers it would plummet.

There were two options for those customers:

  • Lower their prices according to the new plans and lose the revenue.
  • Don’t lower their prices and risk them being very angry about overpaying.

Because we were a bootstrapped startup living month to month, every time we discussed this we would get stuck in a cycle of what-ifs one or the other situation. Eventually one day we made a rule of forbidding talking about pricing (trying to get some work done, because we would spend days and days discussing pricing).

Eventually I found myself wishing that instead of starting with a high price and lowering it for experimentation, that we started with a low price and raising it for experimentation. We would have experimented much more. There’s another obvious solution which is not depend on the sweet revenue of those high prices. But even though it’s simple, I don’t think it’s easy… like sitting in front a pizza and not having a slide. Yeah… right!

Next time I want to increment prices over time and even then try to give myself room for experimentation.

Why I think Dashman failed

Why I think Dashman failed

Dashman

Almost every time I tell someone what Dashman, one of my startups, was, their response is: “Oh, I really needed that back in 20somethingteen”. Yet I didn’t manage to make Dashman a commercial success.

I collected several hundreds of email addresses over years of people interested in Dashman. Yet it failed, nobody bought it.

How can a product show that much demand and have no sales?

I’m purposely not telling you what Dashman was, because it doesn’t matter.

I think the problem is that Dashman had a demand curve with a shape I didn’t predict. People would find themselves needing Dashman to solve a problem and would happy become a subscribing customer if Dashman was right in front of them… but… and this is the important part…. if Dashman wasn’t, they would find a workaround and not need it anymore. If I came a year later with Dashman they would buy because the workaround was working and switching was not worth the effort because their current pain around this issue was 0.

Dashman solved a pain that generally stayed around for a couple of weeks and then disappeared. It didn’t matter if the pain was intense or not, it went away. You know what market behaves like that? Weddings. If you have a great idea for a product for Weddings and you spend 5 years collecting people that want to use it, once you release it, how many would start using it? Maybe the last couple of months of interested people. Everyone before that is already married and your product is worthless to them.

I have heard weddings being a bad industry to work at but in all the books about building products in which they tell you to find the customer first I never read “make sure your demand doesn’t dissipate with time“.

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Currently working on:



MoviePal

Spend less time choosing, and more time watching movies.

MoviePal helps you and your partner or your friends choose what movies to watch. It’s a social network that lets you connect with friends, rate movies, get recommendations, run watch parties, keep your list of movies to watch, etc.




Bestie

Don’t ask for help,
get help.

It’s an app to help friends check in on each other. Periodically it will ask: Are you okay? If there’s no response it will alert your friends to reach out to you. When you are down, all you need to do is nothing.




I'm writting a book...


Building and Managing Distributed Teams

Building and Managing
Distributed Teams


In this book I distill the techniques and methods that I’ve been using and advising others to use to successfully run distributed teams and whole companies. This book will be short, to the point, tactical, and have tool recommendations.

learn more