Jiva Technology

Something we never think about.

Amongst all the excitement of developing and rolling out a new product and entering a market, the focus falls squarely on attracting early customers, making them as excited as you are about the product and adding features that will bring in the next wave of enthusiastic early adopters. It’s all about delighting the early advocates and generating the buzz required to build early momentum. As someone once said to me, the first 1,000 users are the hardest.

And it’s true … to a certain extent. Because those early days are hard, you need the energy and commitment to believe the product and market into existence. Caution and concern are not all that helpful. But an outstanding blog post by Sahil Lavingia reminded me of a problem that I see more and more. One that lurks over the horizon ready to trap the unwary.

During that early phase of product release and user traction, you pay very little attention to what happens when you’ve attracted all the users you’re going to attract for your product. What happens when you sign up the 1,501st customer in a core market of 1,501 users? Like a rocket that has insufficient fuel or stages to reach escape velocity, you continue for a while and then slowly start falling back to earth. Lavingia is refreshingly honest about his experience and he performs a service to fellow entrepreneurs in talking about a topic that, well, most entrepreneurs don’t talk about. Loss aversion kicks in, no one wants to let go and some very hard decisions have to be made. It reminds me of all those micro messaging services, like Pownce, that emerged in response to the launch of Twitter. Most gave up early without the traction needed to keep going, but in the back of the mind, there’s always the story of Slack or Paypal to keep you going. Billion dollar successes that rose from failing projects.

It’s something to think about when you’re starting your new project. Being crushingly honest about exactly who will see value in what you’re doing in a detailed way, rather than a vague and generalised fashion. Focusing on the value of how that values delivered helps size the market in an honest way. It’s possible to build decent, profitable companies in small markets. But not in micro markets. Best to know that before you start. Just another thing to consider, alongside technology execution, marketing strategy, funding, competition, recruitment. Who’d be an entrepreneur?


The scramble for a quality education

As education continues its journey from being a good thing in itself to being primarily viewed as the gateway to well paid employment, the scramble for entry to high quality institutions has intensified to the point where bribery and corruption has now become commonplace.

Perhaps its merely one step further in an arms race where parents pour money into camps, tutoring, books, websites and other educational resources. But somehow everyone agrees that the recent allegations of cheating and bribery to gain access to prestige US universities crosses a very important line. It’s not throwing resources at the problem of improving student performance; its accepting poor performance and getting prize anyway.

Parents are stressed and under pressure, worrying that their children will be consigned to the slow lane no matter their capabilities if they don’t get into the right school or the right college. Unsurprisingly, that stress is being transmitted to the kids themselves. The fight for places ends up as a fight being waged by 5 year olds, 7 year olds and 17 year olds.

We cannot allow this situation to continue. We need to find a more flexible approach to reduce the stress levels and frustration that have built up over the last ten years. We cannot allow the best resources to be cornered by those with the most money. And it’s not simply a question of fairness, its a question about economic performance in a knowledge-based economy and the ability to solve the big problems in our societies.

Flexibility inevitably needs to thoughts about technology. It simply has to be the case that with intelligent application, technology can make a major impact on the availability and quality of teaching for people at all ages, not just at school and university. So far, we’ve been making baby steps in that direction. Perhaps it’s time to turn them into giant strides.

On climate protests and school strikes

The school strikes and climate protests in the past ten days have kicked off predictable responses from the media and commentators; ranging from ‘good on ya’ to ‘go back to school’.¬†Originating with a single Swedish school girl, what cannot be denied is that her protest struck a chord and has spread in meme worthy fashion across age groups, geographic boundaries, political and social classes. A conversation has been started, so what should the response be? Close it down or continue in a reasoned way?

A friend who teaches describes it as a classic teachable moment. It’s possible that the protest is a fad, but I suspect not. I think there is a genuine concern (as there should be) that insufficient action from the ‘grown ups’ will leave our planet as a barely lovable remnant of its former self. The balance of evidence overwhelmingly supports the existence of man made climate and in any case, who wants to take the risk?

It seems to me that a proper response is first of all to take the protest seriously, to understand the concerns and use it as a starting point in a much larger dialogue; whether this happens in schools or in wider society. It provides a platform to discuss what steps have been taken so far, not just in a political sphere, but by engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs. It provides a perfect opportunity to talk about the challenges that will be inevitably faced by 15-20 year olds, but also the role they’ll play in providing a solution. Todays’ twenty year old will be 50 by the time the real extent of the damage begins to unfold. We’ll need the best minds with the best skills to mitigate the damage that’s been done.

To my mind, the worst possible thing would be to close down the debate. There’s a reasonable chance that a lot of the current protesters won’t stay engaged in the topic, but that’s bad thing, not a good thing. Talking about the ideas and technology that is already in development, from electric car ‘skateboards‘ to carbon capture, plants¬†that return carbon to the soil, high altitude kites that generate electricity; this is an amazing opportunity to fire young minds with an optimistic outlook on the future, not one filled with doom and gloom. And the ideas are not just limited to the field of technology and science. In the US, proponents of a Green New Deal are making their voices heard and young politicians like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are a signal that times are changing.

There is an energy and enthusiasm around these protests that needs to be harnessed in a productive way; channelled into something that can live beyond a single day of protest into real action and the possibility of positive change.

Can you market a product by telling people not to buy?

About a year ago, I bought some new floor coverings. I would have said ‘carpet’, but it seems that things have moved on a little since I last bought floor coverings and, well let’s just say that there are quite a few more options to choose from. Like about a million different options. Wood floor, carpet, tiles, carpet that comes as tiles, tiles that look like wood. When you actually decide that you want wood floors, you have to decide on the timber and the width and the number of millimetres of actual wood on top of the underlying substrate. Time to go home and lie down.

The experience left me exhausted and was about as much fun as the first time I bought a fridge (no fun). But it did get me thinking about why, when I was clearly ready to buy, that companies made it so hard to buy from them. One company even suggested I hire someone to advise me on the purchase. Really?

What struck me was that in a world where every single product and service category seems to be massively over supplied, companies put the onus on me to make a selection. Which is pretty hard when you don’t do it very often. The onus was very firmly on me to determine the relevant merits of the 450,000 different options. Why is that? Part of the problem is that every product available seems to be marketed as high quality, low price and fabulous for the environment. There seems to be a lack of honesty in the communication. Its a bit like the modern footballer in a post game interview, “it was a good game and I thought we showed a lot of good touches and we’ll be learning from the mistakes we made”. No one said to me, “that won’t work for you”. Or in football parlance, “we lost because they were better”.

In a world where everyone is busy and everyone is being marketed to at all the times, I think the onus should be on companies to identify who they think should buy their products. Which in theory is what marketing is all about, but it seems to have got lost in the mix somehow. About the only people who seem to have got this right are the super cool street brands (and maybe night clubs) who make it abundantly clear that if you aren’t cool, don’t buy their product. Which means I won’t. But I like their thinking. We’ll both be happier knowing that we don’t belong together; it saves time.

Perhaps the best way to identify who should buy your product is to start by identifying who shouldn’t. For Tutorhub, things are relatively easy. Don’t use the service if you aren’t looking for tutoring. Don’t use the service if you find the online experience doesn’t work for you. For us, what we do is somewhat baked into the name and where you find us. Maybe from now on we could start a marketing movement thats focused on identifying who shouldn’t buy. It might work.


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