Simplifying Problems

While thinking about a piece of user experience that just wasn’t lending itself to the “right” solution no matter the approaches, I wished, what if I were to just not have to solve it? Following that line of thinking, I finally arrived on an experience that was much better. How? By not having to deal with it. Well, at least not having to deal with it in that stage of the user experience. I still had to solve it but the problem became much easier by moving it elsewhere.

When solving problems, many will often become much simpler if you just question and eliminate the underlying (often misguided) assumptions. Complexity of a problem drops to 0 if you don’t have to solve it 🙂

Why start your own company?

1) To pursue a unique vision of how you, your co-founder(s), and your team think (some) things ought to be in the world and
2) To create a workplace that people like working at more than any other company they previously worked at.

Simple as that.

PS: as I learn more in the process of starting and working on mine, I’ll keep updating this post.

UX + Design

Many decisions and elements go into making a successful technology product/service.

In my opinion, getting the user experience:design equation right in an app or website is quite possibly the most important first step. I’ve discovered that it’s significantly harder than it seems at first.

A great user experience with mediocre design – useful but it might make your users trust your service less. And leaves room for a competitor to do it better. But this is still much better than…

A mediocre user experience but great design – this is the death knell. Shut shop or fix it. It’s only a matter of time before your users call it quits.

An average user experience with average design – eh, why even try?

Which leads me to..

A functional user experience (one that gets the user to accomplish what they came to your app for) paired with an intuitive (clean, no-frills – the frills just take good design over the edge, imho) design. This is the holy grail.

But how do you get there? And how do you know if you have it?

If there was an answer to that question, we’d all be rich and successful. Most of the time (at least in my experience), you have a faint idea that you have something good but won’t find out until the rubber meets the road, i.e., you put it through user testing and get feedback. That is when your approach is reinforced or you go back to the drawing board.

1311

That’s how many working days I’ve spent over the past 5 years and 3 months working at CrunchBase and TechCrunch.

Today is my last day at CrunchBase. It will be the final time I walk in and out of the building (at least to “go to work”).

I came to TechCrunch by a stroke of fate. I was living in San Diego working for a big corp and wanted to move to the valley. It’s a story for another time.

I joined TechCrunch to work on CrunchBase (CB) but ended up developing for the TC blog while advancing CB development. For the first 7 months on the job, I was the sole developer (which led to lots of “pulling my hair out” moments).

Over the next two years, we grew the team and I got to take on challenges and experiences that I’m grateful for. I had a ton of fun and learned a shit ton.

Fast forward to January 2013 when CrunchBase spun into it’s own unit within Aol and I got a chance to lead the engineering team. I’m proud to report that in a span of 14 months, we hired and grew the engineering team from 2 (incl. me) to 8 and launched version 2.0 of CrunchBase from the ground up. Those months couldn’t have been more intense and yet the most fun I’ve had in my work life. The next year and a half at CrunchBase has been just as good and all I can say is this team seriously rocked and I hope some of us can work together again some day.

Today marks the end of an era for me and I’m about to embark on a new venture of my own making. It’s something I’ve envisioned and worked towards and it’s now time to make it a reality.

Like someone said…

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.

Good reads this week

Great advice from First Round Capital’s portfolio companies

Smart chat bots, and how they might be the next big, killer “app”

Fascinating way of looking at time (and the year ahead) and how it’s relative. – I loved this!

Obama/US foreign policy needs to pick a side – Saudi Arabia or Iran? – The article leans to Iran but the arguments presented make sense and it’s a good summary of the issue at hand.

Online Reading

tl;dr – don’t read this (or any on this blog) post.

I’ve always read a ton of general and diverse stuff online – articles, blog posts, opinion pieces etc. I read books too but comparatively less (in time spent). A phenomenon I’ve noticed off late is that the constant barrage of reading material on the web has turned my brain to pulp. There is always something new to read, and the deceptive part is, while it all seems interesting (and important enough) content, it ends up being almost always superficial. Posts about ‘life lessons’ based on limited experiences, 6 ways to do X, How to do Y effectively, a so-called expert’s opinion, a rant here, a rave there, and so on. It is so easily available that it takes no effort to click on yet another link to read yet more fluff. Except the marginal utility of each additional click is diminishing.

Over the years, I’ve been sucked into consuming a ton of this stuff but sadly, I  feel that I haven’t learned (and more importantly, retained) anything (new). It’s like I’ve read a few words of every language but can’t speak a single one. Contrast that with a reading a full book where I almost always walk away with something that stays with me.

Having realized this now, I’ve had enough. I’m swearing off of most online reading. I want to be exceedingly selective about it and mostly do it only when I’m searching for something specific. While at it, I’m also tracking my time on websites now to keep tabs on my behavior.

Civilizations, Uber, and World War III

Civilizations
I was in Mexico over the Thanksgiving break. Between Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Tulum, I saw the ruins of different, distinct civilizations that once upon a time populated Mexico – the Teotihuacans, Mexicas, Aztecs, Zapotecs, and the Mayans. They each had their birth, glory days, and decline. The decline was almost always slow if the civilization collapsed upon itself due to internal conflict and swift when attacked by a foreign power (e.g., the Spanish conquistadors). But one thing was common to them – they all saw a period of decline and eventual death. The longest a civilization or people lasted was a few hundred years. While it is certainly true that some present-day people in these regions descended from these past civilizations, but in the case of others, there are no direct descendants (e.g., the Teotihuacans).

This led me to think that the one constant in human history has been that societies see a birth, peak, and a gradual death (or complete transformation into another). This has been true for over a hundred thousand years. By logical extension, will how we live and our civilization see a gradual decline too? We are probably in year four-five hundred or so (counting down from around the 1500/1600s). While we’ve seen wars, major conflict or invaders have not routed peoples of the world. Yet. But it will happen. There is no knowing if in another two hundred years some of the societies we know of today will be past their prime and probably dying. But if history is any indicator, it will happen.

What does that mean for us? Will some future generation go sightseeing at the site of our ruins?

Uber
While in Mexico City, I also truly came to feel the enormous impact Uber as a company has had in these past few years. Uber was highly prevalent, popular, and the experience was completely seamless – just like in the US. It barely skipped a beat. I tried to read up and learn about how Uber spread so fast and executed so brilliantly in a matter of a few short years. The reason Uber’s execution is prime for a business case study is that no other company has built a technology business that has a huge, real-life logistical component this fast – and in dozens of cities around the world, spanning an equal number of ways of doing business and cultural barriers.

I have to say, Uber is likely the most important company of this decade.

World War III
Reading up on and trying to understand on how incredibly fucked up the situation has become with ISIS/Daesh marauding through towns and countries and display a flavor of brutality not seen since WWII, I am starting to wonder if this is the beginnings of the major war of this century. The Western world is largely to blame for what is happening currently — their attempts to instill democracy in and subjugate rulers and nations that they have no business being in, while simultaneously providing aid and maintaining friendly ties with countries which birth extremists, dictators, and military coups (Saudi Arabia, the Taliban in the fight against the Russians, Pakistan to name a few) are the primary reason the world is in the mess it is in today. The west and allies have quite literally given rise to Islamic extremism.

I hope for all our sake that in this next decade or so, the situation improves but the signs are dim.

185: America

Today is America’s independence day, the day she achieved her liberty from England. There will be fireworks, wishes, and general good cheer. I’ve lived in the United States for over twelve years now. I came here a few days before I turned 22 and have made this my home. Not having grown up here or having an emotional attachment to either the independence day or childhood memories of watching fireworks, I would always struggle with getting into the spirit of the 4th. I’d wonder if it’s because this is not *my* country and I didn’t grow up here?

The real reason I believe is that I was attached to the notion that I need to celebrate America, the country’s independence from her rulers. Recently, while going through a frustrating moment in my battle with the immigration laws here, I questioned why I crossed the great pacific ocean and moved here as a young adult and continued to contribute to this nation’s development and progress vs my birth place. I love India, where I grew up, and do care much about her progress and development. Why then am I here?

I think I’ve found my answer to this tiny existential crisis. America, in my humble opinion, is not simply a nation. It is more than that. It is an idea. It is an ideal. There is no place, no country elsewhere on this planet that, as a whole, carries the spirit that America does. It is the closest version of utopia (to the extent utopia exists) on earth where freedom, justice, and the opportunity to make something worthwhile of yourself are seen as basic requirements, not optional. No other country is home to such a diverse population who have all, in one way or another, positively contributed over generations to America’s progress.

So, on this fourth, raise a glass to the liberty that gave birth to this idea.

Get off the computer if you want to do anything original

Being in front of the computer is detrimental to your thinking. I’ll go as far to say that it kills your creativity. It robs you of your ability to have eureka moments of new ideas.

As someone who writes code but also indulges in a fair bit of big-picture thinking, I’ve seen this happen to me repeatedly. I think most people in professions that require creative problem solving work in two modes.

The wired-in mode is where I’ll work on something for hours at end. For me this usually involves writing code, developing a front-end UI, or solving a problem that requires digging in, understanding new concepts, and coming up with solutions. These are phases of being “in the zone”, the most satisfying periods of work for me. I’d imagine for a writer this is when they are on a roll churning out hundreds of words in a stretch. For a painter, this is probably when it’s just them, the canvas and the long night ahead. However, imho, this is not when original thinking happens, at least not often. This is the mode to be productive, to advance your work. For me though, this is not the mode when I develop new insights and ideas.

The second, dormant mode is where the thing at the top of your mind (the problem, project, or idea) is a running thread, albeit in the background. It’s there and your brain is silently working away at it — unraveling the tangled threads, getting rid of extraneous data, surfacing important information. You are almost unaware this is happening. You are likely engaged in a low-effort activity like driving, showering, pacing your living room, or even dreaming. And boom, once in a rare while, if you’ve been at it long enough in this dormant mode, there is a moment of insight. The eureka moment. The aha thing that escaped your best efforts when you were wracking your brain in frustration trying to come up with a new idea or solution. There is of course, a lot of work ahead of you to validate it, to test it, to develop it. But, you now have a new direction, a path worth exploring. The only requirements — patience, relentless thinking, readiness to spend long spells of what appears as inactivity, and the most important, time away from that glowing screen for when that moment finally presents itself.

I like to think of it as an alternate interpretation of the Zen proverb – When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.