On Blogging For Optionality’s Sake

June 12, 2015

Which of the following two statements is correct:

1) All bloggers are rich and famous
2) Some bloggers are rich and famous

Blogging doesn’t make you rich and famous but it does expose the author to a rare form of optionality, namely, a positive Black Swam.

Taleb describes the Black Swan as being: unpredictable, high impact, and can be rationally explained after the fact or suffers from the narrative fallacy.

Startups ( read tech startups in a bubble ) are built on the hope of positive Black Swans (pBS) given that employees and owners trade their time and money for pieces of paper ( they aren’t even on paper anymore ) that will make them rich one day. This is the definition of leveraged optionality and in moderation is a great position to hold.

Blogging works the same way.

Each blog post, increases the author’s exposure to a pBS. Maybe someone will post this to Hacker News or Reddit ( maybe I will ) and maybe a book publisher will read it and say, “Wow! Blogging meets the Black Swan, call his agent!”. Ten minutes later my agent’s phone rings ( it’s my phone, I don’t have an agent )

Book Publisher:
Kent! We read your post, we love it. Would you be interested in singing a… five book deal?

Ohhh yessssssss

And just like that, I am rich and famous.

Not really though. Obviously.

Not all bloggers are rich and famous. However, without their blogs, would some of them be rich and famous? I would argue that many wouldn’t be for the reasons above: blog posts increase optionality and given the connected structure of the internet, the chance of a single post spreading to beyond it’s target audience is higher than any other writing medium.

Consider that Naseem Taleb and his book is itself a Black Swan. He talks at length about how book publishing is a winner take all, extremistan world. Take 3 random authors who’s book sales total 1,000,000 copies and ask someone on the street to guess the distribution between them. If you don’t know anything about book publishing you might guess around 333K each = 1M, when in reality it’s likely more like:
Author 1 – 969,000
Author 2 – 20,000
Author 3 – 11, 000

Most people are blind to the extreme nature of book publishing, startup IPOs, and successful bloggers.

Books, movies, and startups are hard to predict. Therefore publishers, studios, and venture capitals need to make a lot of small bets in order to win. You can think of writers the same way. Knowing what you know about writing being a winner take all game, doesn’t it makes sense for authors to write more books? Yes of course it does. Each book they write, increases the chance of being exposed to a pBS. Look at Dan Brown, one of the most read authors in the world. He didn’t find his pBS until his third full novel, The DaVinci Code. Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons are now best sellers, but not when they debuted.

Book publishing is a winner take all game, blogging is a little different because of the long tail. You can write about esoteric topics that only a handful of communities are interested in and find success given the power of Google and their eigenvectors. The reason blogging is such a good investment is that you can write for the niche, and still enjoy the chance of finding a pBS.

So should you blog for optionality’s sake? No. Blog because you love to write, but yes, you are “buying lottery” tickets each time you hit publish ( not really ).

Since we didn’t officially call it, and I hate loose ends, the answer is 2).

90% of Startup Growth Advice is 100% Bullshit

June 7, 2015

Let’s be honest, no one truly knows how Google did it, how Uber did it, how Tilt will do it, but it’s fun to pretend right?

I signed up for GrowthHackers.com today after years of trying to ignore it (I won’t even give them a back link). Being someone immersed in growth for many years, before it was called growth, I figured I should give it a try. The first 10 posts, except one (from a competitor no less) were all self indulgent and 100% crap.

In the tech and startup ecosystem, growth suffers form the narrative fallacy more than any other profession, save maybe venture capital. It is so easy and cheap to look back and explain why something did not work and blame it on events out of our control, or look back at success and paint ourselves the hero, when more than 50% of it could have been blind luck.

Growth marketers are awash with the confirmation bias. How many times do your experiments look to refute a growth hypothesis rather than confirm one? Here’s a great example. I am seriously sick of these kinds of posts. I am not picking on them to be mean or cruel, but it solidifies my view that we are all, for the most part, in some kind of growth circle jerk. Where company X tries something and it works, so then company Y tries the same thing with a little something different and low and behold it works too, and then company Z comes in and changes things ever so slightly… do you see my point? We are not building anything here. There is no real growth, I call this virtual growth, we are counting leaves on a branch that has been divided so many times. There are entire other trees out there, entire new forests, even some desserts that are worth exploring.

So you got a 200% increase, you might have missed a 20000% increase had you tried something bold and failed. Of course adding a pop-up will drive a certain number of signups, of course bugging the shit of your visitors will lead to conversions, I am not saying that we need to not do these from time to time, but do we need to talk about it? Aren’t these axioms by now? Stop telling me how you discovered a new secret to popups, when you just got lucky. If you are looking to confirm a theory you will more often than not find evidence to support it. Start trying to be wrong a lot more.

The best kind of science is done when you are constantly and consistently wrong. Your growth hypotheses should aim to be refuted not confirmed. This point is really important, so it begs to be repeated, your growth hypotheses should aim to be refuted not confirmed. If you are getting more things right than wrong, you are not doing your job. You are likely in a topology that looks something like this:

Growth topologies

It is better to attempt climbing a mountain and failing, then climbing a hill over and over again.

Growth right now is full of hill climbers, we need more mountaineers.

Stop reading all the crap that pervades our industry including this. Leave the circle jerk. Sit down, think about your problems, design experiments to refute your hypotheses, get it wrong 100 times before getting right.