I love good propaganda - I really do. I know it may be a bit cheesy, but good propaganda (cough advertising) stirs the soul like no other.

I just wanted to share this in light of the new Patriot Boot Camp program that Tech Stars is putting on. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for veterans to show the tech world that the skills they gained in the service make them great entrepreneurs. I’ve often been frustrated with the lack of mentoring and recognition given to vets, and bravo for Tech Stars to recognize this.

And lest people think it’s just good patriotism, I refute and say it’s good business. If you compare this Inc opinion piece on what makes great leaders and some vet leaders, I would say the skillsets are uncommonly similar. Vets are simply a deep reservoir of leadership talent (West Point and other military academies has been training this for years) that can be tapped, nurtured, and given opportunities - in fact P&G, McKinsey, and other MNCs see vets as an absolutely critical leadership pipeline. And startups are the perfect places for this talent, since the required skillsets are small team leadership, morale management, and mission focus.

I usually like more stats with my posts, so a follow up soon to follow!
Maximum Efficiency Ratio

This week in the startup we were dealing with none other than what type of marketing we could do with our limited budget and resources.  I’m sure most startups deal with this situation as well, and thinking through this situation I came up on an idea for the Maximum Efficiency Ratio (or MER).

MER is a mental model to question every decision based on the maximum efficiency one unit of labor, investment, or something can produce.  For example, in the case of social media marketing, the MER framework would question the efficiency of £1 spent on say, Facebook or Twitter marketing.  So if the objective is to maximize the number of followers on each respective social network, MER would analyze the number of followers gained/£1 investment, and the higher of the ratio would be the course of action advocated.

Some could say that this is simply ROI; well, that’s wrong.  MER is a way of thinking - whether that is labor, investment, or something else.  For example, when packing a suitcase, higher MER products would be prioritized over lower MER products.  This means that an electrical plug with 5 different sockets would be better than a 2 socket plug; instead of bringing a piece of clothing that can only be worn for one occasion, a piece of clothing that can be worn for multiple occasions would be better.

If you read Tim Ferriss’s book and observe his life, you’d find that he lives his life with this model.  Everything is done for the sake of maximizing efficiency, whether it be packing, working, or even dancing.

So take a page out of his book (and my blog :) )- adopt the MER mentality for your startup.

Testing My Luck

Gary Player, a legendary South African golfer with nine major championships on the regular tour and six Champions Tour major championship victories, once remarked “the harder I work, the luckier I get”. I’ve always believed that, but really, what does it mean? That luck is a utility that increases as work increases (in economics terms)? So I ever stop working hard, does luck then run out?

A recent HBR article shed some light. According to Professor Morten Hansen, the number of lucky events (so both good and bad luck events) in a sample of companies are actually roughly the same; what is different is the reaction to these events. The good companies amplified their ROI to good luck events by investment or concentration of resources; the bad companies just had bad ROI to good luck events.

What this means (at least as a gist of the article and counter to the saying) is that luck is arbitrary, but once you are faced with a good luck event, what do you do? Do you take it and run? Double-down? Or do you hesitate? It’s really how you face and work that luck that makes all the difference.

I recently met up with a famous magazine publisher to discuss, among many things, my startup. Well, to be honest, that wasn’t on top of my agenda - it was just a chat about general strategy for an emerging market. But when it came down to discuss my startup, I decided to go for it and “pitch”. Why the hell not, I surmised. Luck had handed me down the opportunity, and I took it. It turns out they really liked the idea, and I’m crossing fingers on it sometime in the future.

My perspective now with luck is this - it happens. It doesn’t necessarily get better or more frequent with more work (though it may seem that way). What matters is how you react to luck - whether you take it and react strongly to it, or run the other way. So when a good luck event happens, test it initially. See the reaction. If it’s a good reaction, then double down and make sure you invest resources.

Treat luck as an test. Would love to hear what others think.

I Know Tai Chi

As I get deeper and deeper into this startup game the more I realize there’s a lot to do with martial arts. Back in the day I did my fair share of martial arts, including tai chi. Now before you think tai chi is only for old people, take a look at this version (chen style for all my young padawans) of the famous art:

So where does tai chi meet startup? Two aspects, as far as I can see for now:

* Minimum effort, maximum effectiveness: Tai chi is all about leverage - using the opponent’s strength as your own, returning it with even greater force than before. Same with a lean startup - resources are few so when things are done it needs to maximize effectiveness. Evaluate all tools for this ratio before selecting it.

* Be connected: this is especially critical with tai chi - this martial art only works when the power of the legs gets transferred to the waist which directs to the arms. Without the proper connection between ligaments and body parts, maximum power cannot be generated. Same thing in a startup - all members need to be connected mentally and physically. Only through proper alignment will maximum power be achieved. Without it power and effectiveness breaks down.

I’m going to end with a song from Kennedy about karate and other cool stuff.

The Power of Purpose

Happy post-Memorial day. As I reflect back on my service with the US Army from across the pond here in London, it gives me some space to reflect and focus.

I was watching this the other day on CNN about a Navy Seal giving a commencement speech to Tufts graduates.

And he quotes

“The more I thought about myself, the weaker I became. The more I recognized that I was serving a purpose larger than myself, the stronger I became”

I joined and served actually at the start of the war - March 2003. I oftentimes wonder why I did serve - I don’t come from a military family, i had a banking background at that time, and I wasn’t even a US citizen!

But the thing that drove me to the Army was the search for purpose. You can disagree with me whether the war was a good purpose, but at the end of the day I served a purpose. I laid down myself and my needs for the greater good.

And that experience - how to define purpose, how to lose myself to it, how to get others to believe in it- has served me well.

In fact I think everyone wants purpose in life. And the leader (startup, military, or any other field) who can provide and bring it out will get the best out of their team.

Mechanics of an alpha launch page

It’s been a while since I last posted - not because I didn’t want to, but it’s really been incredibly busy.  Just last week I posted more than a few investment banking hours.  But you know what - I loved every single minute of it.  There is something great when you try to create something from scratch.  Which leads me to how we created our launch page (and I’m only going to cover our 1st page only!)

We’ve actually heard some comparisons to Wander’s website, which to be honest, we didn’t even look at.  We were more inspired by Fab, and what we could do differently but staying in the same vein - a full scale image that is visually grandiose.

Some suggested that we start with Launchrock or just a WordPress site, which is infinitely that much easier.  However that didn’t appeal to us because of the following:

  • background images don’t always load well when uploaded into Launchrock
  • there are co-branding issues (visually looks more interesting when the landing page is developed in-house)
  • the invite engine, which is absolutely key, needs to be customized to each individual business.  Launchrock doesn’t offer enough customization

First, we looked at best-practices - what worked in the past, and what didn’t.  For this we found one key source

Second, we asked our graphic designer to select a full-scale image that looks both visually amazing and impressive.  We hypothesized that visual stimulation is the true key part of a launch page, and we wanted to stick with our gut.

Next we developed the verbiage for the text box.  What do we say?  How much do we say?  What do we ask for?  Each startup has to judge separately how much information to disclose.  And I don’t think the first time will be the best either, it’s really very much a learning A/B process.  But as our research found, minimalism is best, with differences in text color to highlight key words.  If you take a look at some other landing pages (even Llustre, for example), certain words do appear.

Next was the composition of the picture, and where the text (and text box) fit in.  Here we used the graphic designer’s skill sets to develop mock-ups, but we ultimately had to use our design expertise to judge which versions we liked.  Is there more of the sky?  Does the building need more warmth or more shadows?  How big should the text box be in relation to the picture?  These are all valid questions, and to have someone on the team with an aesthetic sense AND someone who can develop mock-ups is key.  Preferably side-by-side, so you can see the iterations at a much quicker pace.

After that, we had to utilize tech expertise to put the coding together.  What fonts are utilized throughout the page?  How does the landscape picture scale when the windows are re-sized?  How does the email address text box react when something is entered?  All in all, our first landing page probably took as close to as much labor as the design part, simply because we had to figure out the coding and how it would apply to this landing page.

Lastly, we had to figure the process.  What happens when someone enters an email?  What is the response?  How long is the timing?  What information do we release?  And how does it work, technologically?  Again this required a tech expertise side by side so that we could iterate much quicker.

In summary, the things I learned during the process were:

  • Labor: Have both graphic design (to develop mock-ups) and tech (to develop code and tech process)
  • Location: Preferably next to or on the founding team.  Iterations will be that much quicker
  • Process: The best way to get the perfect landing page is to jump in and do one, screw up, and iterate.  There are so many issues that will pop up that you didn’t know existed.  And you won’t know until you try.  If you have full-time labor devoted to this task, it could take up 1-2 weeks if this is the first-time you’re doing this!

Take a look at The Travelst and let me know what you think.  If you have comments - I’ll be a happy camper! Tak (at)