Changes in asset ownership evolves tech

Reading through Ben Thompson’s What is a Tech Company, one of the most fascinating aspects I’ve found in the evolution of software comes from the changes of ownerships – who (users or companies or 3rd parties) owns what (hardware, software, data, etc.).

(Old) IBM – Sell to you the hardwares (computers/servers) we made, so you can install the softwares we produced. (Heavy operational costs for IBM, like assets maintenance and IT training. But the bill is on customers.)

(Old) Microsoft – You have your own computers/servers; now you need to install the softwares we produced so it can work on your hardware. (Arguably the most effective/lucrative business model because of zero marginal cost for Microsoft – distributing softwares doesn’t cost anything.)

Salesforce – We run the softwares we produced in the servers we own. You don’t need to own your servers or softwares. All you need is to use any browser to access it. (The definition of SaaS. Has fixed cost for running servers etc. but again this is covered by up-front paid customers.)

Atlassian – Sell to companies without even talking to them. Freemium, Easy-to-pay, and Pay-As-You-Go, from anywhere by anyone. (An evolution from SaaS but it gives emphasis on the bottom-up approach and the democratization aspect.)

Software creates ecosystems.
Software has zero marginal costs.
Software improves over time.
Software offers infinite leverage.
Software enables zero transaction costs.

As a separate note shown above, it is also interesting to see what criteria Ben Thompson uses to define a tech company.

Reading books as news feeds

This year I’ve been running an experiment of reading physical books as though they are feeds on Twitter.

It means that, I read 5~10 books in parallel within a given time — read one chapter in a book when I want, then jump to another book without finishing the previous one.

Reading in a bundle helps you connect dots if there are any. Yet a bundle of books are just a small set of consumption of all mediums. Today people have a great mix of diversified types of mediums: podcasts, youtube videos, social media feeds, magazines, favorite news sites, blogs via RSS, subscribed contents distributed via personal emails, subject matter discussions via corp emails, PPT proposals from your colleagues, etc. People might read less physical books, but I believe we actually “read” more today.

Another thing I adopted is to feel less guilty of not finishing a book — I rarely finished any books I recently touched. Instead of reading a book in order to finish it, maybe a valid measurement is how hard you think during the time you read it.

If someone you trust recommends a great book, you may buy it and put in your bookshelf. There’s no need to feel guilty of letting this book idle either. Since you still absorb information from across all other available mediums.

Employee performance metrics

It is common to hear that employees at Facebook get more burnouts compared to those at Google. Facebook does not necessarily have more projects per person – and I agree with what TechLead has said – it’s more about how the systems are set up, particularly when it comes to the criteria of how the companies evaluate their employees.

The performance metrics at Google are Complexity, Impact, and Leadership, while Facebook’s are Impact, Better Engineering, People, and Direction.

I’ll skip Google. But in Facebook, the Impact and Better Engineering sound a bit of a paradox. Because one wants to “break things” to ship as many features as possible in order to make product impact quickly, but could possibly sacrifice the engineering quality.

The People and Direction is more or less a paradox too – employees can be trampling on each others’ works to lead with a new direction of their owns for the same project. But being too aggressive like this could make them lose on the People metrics. So they learn to be passive aggressive.

It’s the constant battle with the paradoxical performance system that can make Facebookers feel more stressful.

Blame game

Reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s episode Blame Game – the 2009 Toyota sudden accelerate scandal was overwhelmingly a matter of human error. In fact, a human factor expert said everything about sudden acceleration looks like a problem with the driver, not the car. We just couldn’t admit it.

Qualities for co-founders and leaders

Paul Graham suggested to look for co-founders that are “animal” – “someone who does what they do so well that they pass right through professional and cross over into obsessive.” Basically “a salesperson who just won’t take no for an answer; a hacker who will stay up till 4:00 AM rather than go to bed leaving code with a bug in it; a PR person who will cold-call New York Times reporters on their cell phones; a graphic designer who feels physical pain when something is two millimeters out of place.”

If he/she is a coder, 1) was the person genuinely smart? If so, 2) could they actually get things done? And finally 3) do they have unbearable personalities that we stand to?

Regarding to spotting the managerial talents. Ben Horowitz thought there are two skills that don’t normally go together. It’s a rare thing.

First, system thinking. Most people are not system thinkers – meaning they cannot think about: ok if I change this here it’s gonna affect things over there.

Second, can you actually see the people in your organization – do you know who they are, as opposed to talking to them like they are you. Do you understand their motivation; what they would think about something if they weren’t in the room, and you are making a decision; can you interpret them well enough so that as though they were there, there. Can you understand the implications through the eyes of people who work for you. You might not be able to articulate something, but they can articulate it for you the way you would have done it better.

Crypto based business

1. Business model innovation is probably more disruptive than technical innovation.

2. There were more innovations from the wave of desktop computing -> web than the one of web app -> mobile apps. The previous brought a lot more of business model innovations while the later mainly strengthened the big players.

3. Similar to the transition from desktop>web, Crypto based business will unleash a huge amount of business model innovations.

4. Specially, a lot of business model innovations can happen in user generated content applications, by awarding creators/users token incentives.

5. It hasn’t happened yet because there wasn’t a mainstream wallet to store the crypto-assets.

6. Libra will change this.

(Notes after reading a Fred Wilson blogpost)

Tech cycles: 5 years, and 25 years

Marc Andreessen在与Stewart Butterfield的谈话中说到的两个科技周期: 5年,和25年。

25年大约是一整代人的更新换代周期。当新科技应用被创造出来时,那些位高权重的前浪,并不想采纳也更不愿改变。需要这整代人退出历史舞台后,那些在这个新科技陪同下长大的后浪才能有机会冒出头来。

而5年是个startup的证明周期。因为25年太长,几乎没有人会有这个时间验证某个idea成不成。但5年的startup runway会有两个问题。一是士气问题,5年后如果startup还不温不火,大伙总会丧失士气,不免分心想追逐其他机会。二是架构问题,你的产品几年前开始的时候可能就搭建在一个前代的技术栈上。试想想在2013年时即使你赌对了移动,并一直熬到了2017年的iPhone诞生,但整个系统从开始就用的Java。

而且如果founders在第一个5年并没成功,还可能会有心理后果 —— 他们会变得bitter或是犬儒。以至于后来的第二代或是第三代的enterpreneurs再尝试这样的idea,他们便可能会冷嘲热讽:这东西我早尝试过了,做不成的,是这样这样的理由。

对于VC来讲也是巨大的矛盾:本应交给这个领域最有经验的VC来做决策,但同时最有经验的也会因为之前的失败过而对这个idea变得先入为主的严苛。这样的机会反而释放给了一批比较天真缺乏经验的VC。