Vitamins Versus Painkillers

During a recent conversation with some folks in the startup world, I heard an entrepreneur call their product a “vitamin” product. Seeing that it was clear to me that this person was not making traditionally edible vitamins, I asked what this person really meant by calling their product a vitamin product. They explained the vitamins versus painkillers metaphor as follows:

A painkiller product solves your important pain immediately. The user experience takes you from having a headache to being perfectly delighted. A vitamin product sets you up for healthy habits over the long term. By using a vitamin product a little bit over many years, you will ensure a healthy lifestyle in all facets of your life, from physical to financial health.

This really struck me as a useful binary heuristic for going about classifying a majority of startups and their corresponding products. Either your product solves an important pain immediately, or the product appeals to the users’ emotions by reinforcing the belief that sustained use will lead to positive outcomes.

I am not able to quickly determine exactly who first coined this metaphor, but Nir Far is commonly referred to one of the authors who has popularized this heuristic. Far writes about vitamins and painkillers in his book Hooked which provides advice on how to build habit-forming products. Check it out:

The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money | Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products


02 2017

Indifference and Reciprocation

As I think about the relationships in my life and the people who have come and gone, I can’t help but think about the feelings of indifference and reciprocation. I believe these two feelings reveal some of the strongest clues into any relationship.


The Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once wrote:

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. 

Wiesel says that emotions such as anger and hate do not describe the opposite of love. Instead, the opposite of love is the absence of any emotion at all. Indifference is complete darkness. Indifference knows our deepest secrets and our deepest desires. Indifference abounds when reciprocity fails.


In a recent New York Times article appropriately titled “Do your friends actually like you?“, the author highlights several studies which consistently conclude that only about half of the people you believe to be your friend actually reciprocate the feeling. In other words, when you think your friendship is mutual, the odds your feeling is right is typically at best the flip of a coin.

It is important to note that reciprocation is not merely participation. It is something more: an act of generosity wherein one gives something of themselves because both parties recognize each other’s essential goodness. The adage “Never show up to a party empty handed.” comes to mind.



01 2017

1,000 True Fans

1,000 True Fans” is an essay that I read years ago and has stuck with me ever since. The core message of the essay is that in order to be successful in life as a creator, such as an artist, designer or software engineer, you only need about 1,000 true fans (I believe 1,000 is meant to be interpreted as within an order of magnitude, meaning >= 1000 and <= 10,000) to support yourself. Importantly, the author describes the characteristics of a true fan:

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

In other words, the author describes that a true fan is someone who is obsessed with your work; they see deep value in your work and they take action to support you.

I find the challenge of attracting 1,000 true fans to be a much more attractive path than swinging for the fences in every at-bat you have in life. As the author describes, “1,000 true fans is an alternative path to success other than stardom.” and “It’s a much saner destiny to hope for.” And through this process, the creator often develops close personal connections with their fans, a much more appealing lifestyle to me than being loosely connected to everyone.

But is that all, should a creator call it a day when they attract 1,000 true fans? Of course not. This is merely a starting point. A creator with 1,000 true fans will likely have many more loosely interested fans. The takeaway I see in this essay relates to a graph that Paul Graham often draws for aspiring startup founders:

utility-graph-ycombinatorThe leadership at Y Combinator often draws this graph to persuade founders that they should initially build something that is extremely useful for a small number of people. This advice typically comes along with a warning that the tar pit of startup ideas includes any idea that is just a little bit useful to a lot of people; the worst path of action for a creator making new things is to build a product that no discernible group of people couldn’t live without.

Once a founder attracts their 1,000 true fans, they have validation of their ideas and can expand horizontally to provide deep utility to a wider group of people. Most of the best companies today started this way, such as Google who originally started with search, and now has expanded into dozens of other product categories.

As I think about making new things in 2017, I hope to keep in mind the critical support that a group of “1,000 True Fans” can provide to creators of any kind.


12 2016

Reverse the Ban on Supersonic Air Travel

With the first hundred days of Trump’s presidency right around the corner, Trump and his close advisors are about to set the pace of their Administration by proclaiming a number of Executive Actions that could become the guide posts of their policymaking over the next four years. One area that is critically important to me is commercial air travel. I believe the US airline industry has brought enormous personal fulfillment and economic benefit to millions of Americans, and I think Trump has a great opportunity to bring even more benefit to Americans by increasing the speed at which we travel.

Specifically, I propose that Trump reverse the ban of supersonic flight over the US. Reversing the ban on supersonic travel over the US would facilitate tremendous investment in the development of new supersonic airplanes, in addition to drastically reducing in-air travel time for American workers and goods. But first, let’s take a look back at why and when the FAA banned commercial supersonic air travel in the first place:

In 1976, amidst technophobe skepticism, the FAA banned civilian aircraft from creating a sonic boom over the US. The ban was due largely because of NIMBY groups such as Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom and the Anti-Concorde project who successfully lobbied the FAA towards creating a ban on civil sonic booms. And despite the baseless fear-mongering, such as claiming the windows in your house will break, the FAA did actually conduct a study with NASA and the U.S. Air Force regarding the effects of sonic booms. The results proved that the effects after 680 sonic booms over one particular testing site caused no significant structural damage. Thus, by sticking the the science, one has to reasonably believe that the effects of sonic booms are overstated, and more broadly, the ban on civil sonic booms is holding back technological progress.

The recently founded aerospace startup, Boom Technology, has recently provided a glimpse of hope as it aims to build a commercially-viable aircraft that is faster and lighter than the Concorde. But what good is this for American travelers if the policy of the FAA does not progress along with the new technology?

For President-elect Trump, whose own campaign was literally and figuratively propelled by a fine American-made jet, reversing the ban on supersonic air travel would be an easy early win towards dismantling needless regulation and bringing America back to the former glory of the Jet Age.


11 2016

Thiel Makes the Case for Trump

For anyone following the U.S. Presidential election campaign over the past two years, it is clear that so many of the events during this cycle are unprecedented and that this country is about to make a vital difficult decision for its leadership next week. Importantly, for the first time in many years, the nominee for one of the two major parties in America is a Washington-outsider, Donald Trump. While Trump’s crude comments and uncouth behavior in his personal life are inexcusable, my beliefs align strongly with Trump and Thiel on the serious issues where government has a large role to play. I agree that, as Thiel puts it, the “happy but misleading consensus about things [in America]” is a dangerous public opinion that will worsen a variety of issues over the next four years. Specifically, the big issues where Trump has spoken truth to the powerful Washington elites include:

  • Questioning the concept of American Exceptionalism.
  • Questioning the force of optimism, “Hope” (e.g. Obama ’08), without hard work.
  • Questioning our foreign trade deals, which have resulted in a $1/2 trillion deficit.
  • Questioning America’s role in fighting five simultaneous wars.
  • Questioning the effectiveness of our immigration policies.
  • Questioning the effectiveness of a government-based healthcare system.
  • Questioning general government bloat and inefficiency.


As Thiel puts it, Trump’s rejection of the misleading rhetoric in American politics over the past 30 years is not crazy, instead it is staring reality in the face and refusing to believe in bubble-thinking. And by questioning conventional beliefs about our biggest problems, we can finally begin to change our government and policies in a way that creates a better life for all Americans, not just the political and social elites.

I understand that the early votes are already being tallied and most of the electorate have made up their mind, but I encourage you to at least listen to Thiel’s voice of reason amidst the chaos in the media:

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10 2016

The Internet Isn’t Free

The VP of Google Display Advertising, Neal Mohen, once commented on the DoubleClick blog in 2014:

Advertising helps fund the digital world we love today — inspiring videos, informative websites, entertaining apps and services that connect us with friends around the world. 

I can’t help but think about this on a regular basis with my project Concorde. I am happy to invest my time in building an informative website for free, but the ongoing operational costs are not insignificant. Each month that the site continues to operate, I owe money to each of the vendors who keep my service humming along. That’s fair  I am happy to pay for the business-critical services, such as web hosting, email marketing, email hosting, SSL certificates, code repositories, and access to flight data. But it’s also nice to be compensated in return for providing a website that thousands of people have now come to find value on a regular basis. So, what option do I have to make money?

The quickest and easiest path to monetization is online advertising. While the online advertising industry has developed an unpopular reputation, Google’s Adsense program is considered the gold standard and deploys a lot of effort to ensure their quality of advertisers and publishers are top notch. The headline on the Adsense homepage says it all:

Turn your passion into profit. AdSense is a free, simple way to earn money by placing ads on your website.

So, that’s what I did. I placed three square banner ads at the bottom of the Concorde homepage and the deals index page:


And that’s it. Now for every 1,000 pageviews of either of the pages mentioned above, I am earning about $10-20 on average, which is effectively $0.01 – $0.02 per view. This is really great news to me because it pays my bills, and it’s great for the Concorde users because it keeps the service free. What’s not to love about tasteful and thoughtful online advertising?


09 2016

Ski Jump Turned Waterslide

If you haven’t heard about the Park City summer Slip N’ Soar, watch this video quickly:

Holy cow! Two weeks ago I had the privilege of being able to slide down the various ski jump ramps at the Utah Olympic Park three times. What an adrenaline-rush of an experience! As I reflect on my experience of staring down the beast-of-a-slide, and the sudden launch 20 feet in the air, I can’t recall the last time I have felt so nervous.

During this past month of Olympic fever in Rio and the onslaught of newspaper editorials complaining about the high cost to build one-time use infrastructure, I think this facility provides a positive example. The Utah Olympic Park is located just outside Park City, Utah, up in the mountains near many of the venues originally built for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. This facility has seen great reuse year-round, every year since the Olympics were held there nearly 15 years ago.

Most of the facility’s use is during the Winter, and the summer-specific facility comprises primarily of the ski jumping pool, which is an official training site for the U.S. Olympic Team. This dual-use type of function had me also thinking about the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, which also serves both recreation users and Olympic athletes in training. What could be better? World class training facilities and world class recreation all in one place. Be sure to check it out next time you are near Park City!


08 2016


Today I completed my first-ever crowdfunding investment. Beyond my excitement for the direct beneficiary, DSTLD, I feel as if this is “one small check for man, and one giant leap for mankind”. With just a couple clicks of a button, I was able to harness my excitement and support DSTLD in the form of a small investment. Moreover, I am taking ownership in their success. This is what crowdfunding is all about: I am not an accredited investor, but I am actively earning an income and I am seeking to invest my savings in young companies who I believe will grow big.

DSTLD is a particular fashion company who I believe will grow big because they’ve focused on providing a great staple product, jeans, at prices that are much more affordable than traditional designer labels. I first became a customer of theirs when they were named “20Jeans” in 2014, as I was drawn by their sleek web design and the promise of high quality jeans for just $30. And when the jeans arrived, it was clear to me this company was the real deal when it comes to quality. From the website to the packaging to the fabric, I was pleased all around. I still wear the items that I purchased over two years ago.

If you’re interested in startup fashion or the possibility of contributing to a promising crowdfunding campaign, I suggest you check out DSTLD before their round closes in the next couple of weeks: DSTLD SeedInvest Campaign

DSTLD Pitch Deck:



07 2016

Caring Deeply About Aesthetic

During my time at Wake Forest, I naturally asked my friends why they decided to attend Wake Forest, often the answer was the following: “When I first visited campus, it felt and looked exactly what I imagined a college should be.” Wake Forest’s campus design is traditional in every sense of the word, with every detail down to the color of the bricks being deliberately designed. The result of Wake Forest’s deliberate effort is a strong sense of place and warm feelings elicited in prospective and current students. But there’s more: Wake’s deliberate design choices run deep beyond the surface. For example, their communications aesthetic is equally strong and aligned exactly with the school’s mission.

Wake’s primary san serif typeface is “Avenir”, which was a humanist font developed by the late Adrian Frutiger. While Frutiger developed Avenir in the late 1980’s he later recalled, “Working on it, I always had human nature in mind.” — The Wake Forest mission “Pro Humanitate” (for humanity) aligns exactly with the intellectual ideas behind the font.

Aesthetic doesn’t mean shiny, new, and without substance. Instead aesthetic embodies beauty; both in an object’s form and function. As I think about building products and organizations in the startup world in SF, I can’t help but admire the companies and people who care deeply about aesthetics. It matters.

One open source project with a mission of beautifying the world, Bootstrap, is an interesting one because it causes an externality. On the one hand, using bootstrap to develop software interfaces is fast, flexible, and usually more beautiful that what you can easily make on your own. On the flip side, Bootstrap is a signal of weakness, a signal to users that the product owners do not care very much about its design; they are willing to outsource aesthetic to a run-of-the-mill open source project. I am curious what other developers and designers think about Bootstrap given its popularity.

As I have been developing Concorde, I have invested considerable thought into its aesthetic. The logo is inspired from a t-shirt I bought in Mykonos. And the font family used on the site is again a work of Adrian Frutiger: “Neue Frutiger”. Since the Frutiger font family is often used on airport signs around the world, I thought that visitors to the site may see design similarities between an airport departures board and Concorde.

I firmly believe that the more intentionality and thoughtfulness a product designer places on aesthetic, the more positive feelings and better user experience the product provides.


06 2016

The Upcoming Eczema Gold Rush

One health issue I have dealt with all of my life is a skin condition known as eczema. To be clear, this skin condition is relatively minor in the grand scheme of health issues, however, it does affect millions of Americans and many millions more around the world. Specifically, eczema is an inflammatory skin reaction, similar to that of an allergy, and can flare up due to poor skin hydration, fragrances in soaps and shampoos, and excessive itching.

To deal with eczema, I’ve applied various recipes of special moisturizing creams and soaps throughout my life that have aimed to suppress inflammation and protect my immune system. Beyond the embarrassing aesthetic of irritated skin, the real danger of eczema is that an inflamed area of the skin is at risk of being infected by all of the bacteria that a city-living person experiences throughout their day. Once an infection begins, the immune system becomes seriously weakened as it fights chronic skin inflammation, in addition to a major infection.

So, with all of the aggravation that eczema causes, it has always been surprising to me that there have been few new treatments available beyond mostly steroidal moisturizing creams, which are not healthy for longterm use. Experimental treatments have been limited to light therapy, and not a single new molecular entity (NME) has been approved in the past 15 years. Not to worry, because this year two new NME’s are expected to receive FDA-approval:

Anacor’s cream, Crisaborole, and Regeneron’s drug, Dupilumab, are positioned to capture the market. It’s unclear yet which drug will receive approval first, and which drug will lead the market, however, Wall Street is already taking notice at multiple-billions of dollars in expected sales. The WSJ reported on eczema treatments again yesterday: New Eczema Treatments Could Be Available Soon (Hint: Pfizer, which announced it will acquire Anacor, and Regeneron, are both rated as strong growth stocks in the Biotech industry.)

Last Fall I visited with Dr. Guttman-Yassky in New York after I learned about her leading role on the Dupilumab clinical trial. While I did not end up applying for the trial, I am excited for the near future of new nonsteroidal eczema treatments that are healthy for longterm use.



05 2016