Handrails in the Tokyo Metro

I spent one week this month traveling in Tokyo, and while my experience was comparable in many ways to other big cities like New York or London, there were notable differences worth mentioning. Tokyo is clean, orderly, and extremely safe. The Japanese people who live there maintain high standards for everything that shapes the human experience, from fast and reliable transit to fresh and delicious food. It’s truly a sight worth seeing — one that made me scratch my head and think “Why aren’t things this way at home in New York City?”. Here’s one easy example:

In the photos above there is an unusual situation for an American: everyday people obediently holding a handrail on a busy escalator in a public metro station. Why is that? The handrail is germ-free. But where’s the soap? As it turns out, the handrail is constantly churning through a UV light at the bottom of the escalator. This light kills 99.9% of germs through a process known as ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI).

Here’s a photo of the product from LG Innotek and ClearWin, which is one of the first to market:

 

Example installation in Seoul.

 

Full product specs from LG: http://www.lginnotek.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Escalator_Handrail_Sterilizer_eng.pdf

As you can tell, LG and ClearWin stick true to their respective names: their product improves health and safety at the same time. Now that’s a public infrastructure improvement I can really get behind.

31

05 2018

Rest in Peace Avicii

Earlier this month the surprise death of Swedish superstar DJ Avicii stunned the world. Longtime fans such as myself asked, “How could it be that one of most talented musical minds of this generation has passed away so soon?” His family, who knows him better by his full name Tim Bergling, released a statement alluding to suicide as the possible cause of death, including:

He could not go on any longer.

He wanted to find peace.

Tim was not made for the business machine he found himself in; he was a sensitive guy who loved his fans but shunned the spotlight.

I could go on about the endless great memories that his music has provided a backdrop to over the last seven years of my life, including incredible shows in NYC, SF, and Miami. However, I want to share one story that speaks to his kind and friendly spirit, and that has also revived my belief that it is possible to succeed at the top of your field while still being “genuinely nice”:

Last July my family and I were traveling in Peru when we happened to bump into Tim and his childhood friends from Stockholm. An otherwise routine bus ride to an aircraft parking stand at the Lima airport turned into shock when I looked behind my right shoulder. I saw what I believed to be an incredibly familiar face. Next, I noticed a hoodie, Yeezy’s, blonde hair, and a sleeve tattoo on the left arm. Tim and his crew did not exactly blend in with their LA attire.

While on the bus, I quickly whispered to my sister that I think Avicii is on our flight to Cuzco, and I asked her to check his Instagram to see if he’s recently posted from Peru. Sure enough, he had been sharing photos from his South American trip, and as we boarded I was able to verify via Google that he did indeed have an intricate tattoo on his left arm.

So, by the time we landed in Cuzco and made our way to the baggage claim, I approached two of Tim’s friends to verify it was him. Yes! They went on to disclose that, like my family, they were making their way to Cuzco as a launching point for their long trek to Machu Picchu, located deep in the Peruvian Andes. We asked Tim for a photo once he caught up with the rest of the group, and he replied, “of course”, in a tone that communicated he was grateful we had even asked. He talked with us about his trip for a couple of minutes with his friends before shuttling off to their hotel.

While this moment was just a spec in the arc of his life, it was a telling one, filled with friendliness and warmth — to complete strangers who could offer nothing more than a smile and a hug in exchange for a few minutes of his time.

Tim, like your family at home in Sweden has remarked, your worldwide family of fans will forever love and sadly miss the person you were. Your music will forever be a tribute to and inspiration of your spirit.

30

04 2018

The Underrated Component of Modern Email Marketing

Back in the Mad Men era of advertising, David Ogilvy once said:

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.

The modern version of Ogilvy’s statement applied to email marketing reads like this:

On the average, five times as many people read the subject line as read the body copy. When you have written your subject line, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.

When you consider that email open rates hover around 20% according to MailChimp, Ogilvy’s adage applies perfectly in the digital age. But the fact that email subject lines disproportionately affect marketing success is no secret. However, what is new, is the increasing importance of using the space that iOS and Android make available for providing a preview of emails in push notifications.

As smartphone screens become larger, more space has been made available on phones to provide a second “hook” right after your subject line. Take a look at this example on my (now outdated) iPhone 6 Plus:

In this example I created at Codecademy, the subject line appeals to the recipients’ curiosity due to the novelty of the new update released. Then right below, there is a call to action with “Come take a look!” and a short summary. This short paragraph below the subject line is not part of the human-readable text of the email but rather part of a machine-readable hidden div at the top of the email’s content.

By creating a hidden div at the top of the email with an abbreviated message that is tailored to the context, this email announcement more effectively draws interest from its intended recipients. And when you’re competing against dozens of others daily for attention on the push notifications screen, every advantage you can get counts. It’s what I like to call a more “cohesive consumption experience”.

Have you seen other examples where the email push notification text is utilized in an effective and tasteful manner? I’m curious to know.

31

03 2018

Is Potcoin Dead?

If the boom of the blockchain and cryptocurrencies leaves you wondering how all of this new technology was seemingly created overnight, then you’re not alone. Let me explain:

When the former NBA star Dennis Rodman pays a visit to his unusual friend, the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, he uses mutual interest in two activities to bond friendship with the infamous dictator: basketball and smoking.

Photo courtesy of The Times (2013)

 

While Kim Jon-un’s love of smoking is no secret (according to Newsweek he started smoking as early as age 12), it is surprising that the typically ultra-conservative dictator tolerates weed usage, according to a report from Vice.* What’s more, Rodman’s most recent trip to North Korea in June 2017 was financed as a marketing stunt by the then little-known alternative (“alt”) coin dedicated to providing financial services to the marijuana industry: Potcoin.

Like many others following the cryptocurrency industry last summer, I was intrigued by Potcoin’s high profile sponsorship. So, I began researching more into what was bringing Potcoin to a new all-time-high.

Unfortunately, the most interesting feature of the Potcoin project is their unlikely alliance between a cryptocurrency upstart, NBA star, and North Korean dictator. While Potcoin’s primary feature makes for an interesting script as a Hollywood comedy movie, it leaves much to be desired from its underlying blockchain technology.

In 2015, as an early adopter of Proof-of-Stake mining on top of a fork of Litecoin, Potcoin could’ve been considered ahead of its time. However, today, like many other altcoins, Potcoin hasn’t seen any development activity on its core blockchain in years. Potcoin, for lack of a better word, is overbaked.

Don’t take my word for it. Potheads on Reddit are asking, “Is this community dead?“, and likewise for developers on GitHub, “Potcoin dead ?“:

This contributor, ashr, put it nicely: “Looks like it ? I mean the network is still active and I see loads of people trading, but no developer activity since 2015 ?” That’s right, trading volume is more than $100k/day in recent days, however, there has been literally zero developer activity on the core technology over the last 2.5 years.

It’s safe to say Potcoin quickly lost my vote of confidence as a promising altcoin. But are there other similar stories out there? Of course. Next, I wondered how I could stay in the know.

Introducing Coin Changelog

Despite an abundance of resources for tracking the price movements of a variety of greenfield altcoins and overbaked coins alike, I found it frustrating that it was a cumbersome process to research and track the development updates of these new projects. Why has no one prioritized tracking the actual development activity on the blockchains themselves? After all, the overwhelming majority of blockchains are open-source.

So, I built Coin Changelog myself. The premise is simple: you follow the coins you find interesting, then you get an email once per day that discloses all of the development activity related to the coins that you follow. If you’re curious how a particular commit, issue, pull request, or release is affecting price movement, then that information is also provided to you in the web user interface as well. Give it a hit, I’m curious to hear what you think:

https://coinchangelog.com/

*Note: a recent article in Business Insider raises questions on this claim.

27

02 2018

Icarus

When I began watching the Oscar-nominated documentary Icarus earlier this month, I did not expect what I would watch unfold over the next hours. Perhaps the same can be said for amateur bicyclist Bryan Fogel who is a primary subject and director of the film:

Fogel, who has an ambition of riding at Lance Armstrong-level speeds, originally intends to document steroid abuse in sports, specifically by using himself to participate in a rigorous steroid-filled training program leading up to the premiere amateur bicyclist race, the Haute Route, in 2015. While Fogel’s training program proves to be an all-to revealing snapshot of just how easy it is to take steroids and test substance-free on race day, the Russian doctor who guides him along the way, Grigory Rodchenkov, quickly becomes the focus of attention.

In a sequence of candid tell-all interviews, Rodchenkov reveals how the doping strategy he prescribed for Fogel’s amateur bike race is nearly identical to the strategy he prescribed for hundreds of Russian Olympic athletes during the Sochi Winter Olympics. These stories, which are eerily interwoven between Orwellian platitudes, describe the unethical behavior you’ve heard about, but a normal person would just hope for it to not be even remotely true. However, the caged bird must sing, and as you can imagine, a worldwide outrage ensues (which is captured in the film). Finally, Rodchenkov flees Russia in order to protect his life with the assistance of U.S. witness protection services.

With the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics about to be thrust into the international spotlight in just a few days, I found this documentary to be a visceral reminder of what some people believe to be just another part of the will to win: the world of cheating. By the end, however, it is clear that the will to win at all costs is rarely acceptable price to pay for any endeavor in life.

Give Icarus two hours of your attention. I think you will be shocked at what you see.

31

01 2018

Navcoin: The Crypto Project to Watch for 2018

As the crypto wave moved into first gear during 2017, I kept coming back to one project that now has me thinking it will gain much wider appeal in the upcoming year due to its fundamental advantages: Navcoin.

The name of the game when it comes to the Navcoin project is efficiency. Over the last year, Bitcoin has achieved usage at scale, with great energy cost: It now takes upwards 215 kilowatt-hours to verify a single Bitcoin transaction, according to a report by Vice — enough energy to run an average American house for a week. By contrast, Navcoin’s algorithm for verifying transactions, known as a “Proof of Stake”, is orders of magnitude more efficient. Take a look at this graphic produced by the Navcoin community:

The benefits for transacting on the Nav network are astounding in terms of energy and time saved: The energy cost of a transaction on the Nav network is approximately 0.08 kilowatt-hours, just 0.037% of the energy required to verify a Bitcoin transaction. Likewise, the average time to verify a block of Nav transactions is about 30 seconds, which is much more speedy than Bitcoin’s recent average times of 100+ minutes.

The beauty of the Nav network is that the coin supply is infinite, with a fixed inflation of 4% per year, and one string attached: A person who holds Navcoins is only entitled to receive the 4% bonus if they hold their coins in a full node wallet that is connected to the network. The full node wallet can be run on a conventional computer, or for maximum efficiency on a specially configured raspberry pi device. One Nav community member put it nicely:

This fundamental reward system is what encourages all Navcoin holders to keep their currency in a full node client which further ensures the network’s integrity and speedy processing of transactions.

One counter-argument to the Nav network is that receiving the fixed inflation rewards requires a user to have a spare laptop running 24/7, or the time and knowledge to set up a raspberry pi. While valid in the short term, I expect over the long term that services offering access to a staking “pool” will pop up, providing easy access to the inflation rewards for a low fee. But don’t take my word for it! Buy Nav on the exchange of your choice and try a transaction for yourself! I’m willing to bet you and many others will be pleasantly surprised in 2018.

Navcoin resources:

 

31

12 2017

HODL

We’re entering a new era of finance with blockchain technologies becoming widely known outside early-adopting tech circles, and Bitcoin surpassing the mark of $10,000 per coin. Along with this massive wave of new investment is, naturally, a new lexicon of words being introduced into everyday conversation.

There is of course, cryptocurrency, which is derived from the two words that lead to its meaning: cryptography and currency. Likewise, blockchain, is self-explanatory: a linked list of records, otherwise known as blocks of information. Then there are playful words, such as mooning, meaning that a coin has reached a new all-time-high. But most fun of all, the word HODL captures the spirit and optimism of the crypto wave. According to some reports, the term first appeared in the context of cryptocurrencies when a user named GameKyuubi in the BitcoinTalk forum declared, “I AM HOLDING” on Dec 18, 2013.

HODLING isn’t tricky: it’s just a play on the word “holding”. In GameKyuubi’s post written during the Bitcoin crash of Dec ’13 (from an all-time-high of ~$1.1k to ~$650), he says he is better off hodling on to his assets, since “I KNOW I AM A BAD TRADER.” and “…traders can only take your money if you sell”. The HODL attitude has captured the spirit of thousands of early-adopting cryptocurrency advocates and speculators: They are aiming to both provide stable support to the total market cap for their coin of choice, and also see solid returns on their investment over time by simply buying and holding. Like GameKyuubi mentions, in zero-sum games like Bitcoin (due to the fixed number of coins), this strategy pays well, especially during massive bull runs such as the last year in Bitcoin’s history.

So, if Warren Buffet is the Oracle of Omaha for being a grandmaster buy and hold trader, does that make GameKyuubi the Oracle of the Moon? I’ll let you decide.

30

11 2017

3P First

I was surfing the web one evening recently when I stumbled upon a tweet about Amazon by the investor Kanyi Maqubela (@km):

The tweet is a screenshot of part of an email Maqubela had sent to a friend a couple of days after Amazon’s massive Q3 2017 earnings call. Amazon’s outlook has never been brighter. While he is correct that Amazon has done well at “venture investing”, he is missing one key piece of information in that is central to Amazon’s business strategy: When Amazon experiments in new markets, particularly in retail, they practice “3P First”.

What is “3P First”?

3P First is when Amazon starts selling a new category of products in their marketplace, but all of the sales are priced, fulfilled, and managed by a third-party seller. By opening up new product categories exclusively to third-party sellers, Amazon gets a bird’s-eye view of market testing at the expense of third-party sellers, thereby absolving themselves from significant upfront capital expenses. When demand proves to be solid for its third-party vendors, Amazon moves forward with its own first-party fulfillment, otherwise known as the friendly words: “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com“. At this point, Amazon exerts maximum control over pricing and negotiates extensively with vendors to reduce their wholesale prices and provide additional sales incentives.

Still not convinced?

Take a look at the 3P First strategy in action: Amazon’s next big retail play is rumored to be the pharmacy business. One year ago, Amazon announced they were testing the waters in Seattle by partnering with the local pharmacy chain, Bartell Drugs. If history has a way of telling the future, Amazon will more than likely partner with an existing pharmacy or pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), such as UnitedHealth’s OptumRx, or the largest PBM in the U.S., Express Scripts. Finally, once Amazon is able to evaluate the third-party pharmacy sales, they will make the decision on whether or not to sell direct, which in this example includes navigating a complex federal and state by state regulatory process.

Know of other companies who practice 3P First? Let me know. I am curious to find other examples.

31

10 2017

Coinhive: A Crypto Miner for your Website

This past month I came across one of the most interesting applications of the blockchain that I’ve seen to date: https://coinhive.com.

The idea is simple: You get access to the CPU of your website’s visitors (in order to mine cryptocurrency) in exchange for providing access to your website’s content. Notably, The Pirate Bay announced that they are testing to see if Coinhive specifically will earn as much revenue per visitor as their display ads:

Miner

As you may have noticed we are testing a Monero javascript miner.

This is only a test. We really want to get rid of all the ads. But we also need enough money to keep the site running.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Do you want ads or do you want to give away a few of your CPU cycles every time you visit the site?

Of course the mining can be blocked by a normal ad-blocker.

https://thepiratebay.org/blog/242

It remains to be seen whether or not the miner will be more profitable than display ads for The Pirate Bay, however, I am certain that website owners will also be considering how a JavaScript miner can be complementary to existing revenue channels, not just as a replacement. As noted on the Coinhive website, the service can also be used for two additional use cases:

  1. Spam protection, in the form of solving a hash, which would be an inconvenience equivalent to a computer attempting to automatically solve a CAPTCHA.
  2. Interstitial advertising, in the form of solving a hash before website content loads, similar to the full-page ads that visitors to Forbes and other prominent publications must view before viewing the content they are seeking.

 

Coinhive makes use of an alternative coin, Monero, which is designed with a mining theory, “Proof of Work”, that rewards miners for the time and energy used to correctly calculate hashes of blocks on the end of an ever growing chain. So, as the miner is left active on sites where users spend significant amounts of time, the miner is able to get to work and complete calculations for more lucrative hashes. Like the Coinhive site mentions, their services won’t make a relatively low traffic blog super valuable overnight, but for other sites with high traffic and extremely high engagement, this could be a welcome reprieve to chronically declining ad revenue. Finally, I believe Coinhive demonstrates that the blokchain is not just another silly over-hyped tech bubble; there can be real value when the technology is applied thoughtfully and tastefully.

30

09 2017

X-Acto Knife Versus Swiss Army Knife Products

 

Recently I watched Des Traynor, co-founder of the popular customer communication tool Intercom, deliver a talk that codifies much of how I have come to think about building new products. He highlights the difference in utility between a scalpel (known as an X-Acto knife in the arts world) and a Swiss Army Knife in order to emphasize the importance of simplicity and “doing one job”. The difference, Traynor explains, is a product that does one thing extremely well versus a bunch of things kind-of well. This difference can mean life or death for your product or feature. Think about it: Do you know anyone who would rather open a bottle of wine with a Swiss Army Kine instead of a wine opener? Both can accomplish the goal, but one is designed specifically for the task.

So, when I am thinking about new products and features, I’m always striving for an X-Acto knife product: A product that does one thing extremely well; a product that is insanely useful to a very specific group of people. A product that isn’t just something new but instead creates new value. Then, once you’ve started simple by doing one thing incredibly well, you can increase complexity with time. Complex systems cannot be built the other way around.

31

08 2017