Favorite Books of 2018 (and early 2019)

Here are some books I’ve enjoyed more than others in the last 14 months or so. I’ve included some notable quotes but not all are equally representative of the book contents.

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

“What is progress? You might think that the question is so subjective and culturally relative as to be forever unanswerable. In fact, it’s one of the easier questions to answer. Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Abundance is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony. All these things can be measured. If they have increased over time, that is progress.”

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Harari

“Homo sapiens is just not built for satisfaction. Human happiness depends less on objective condition and more on our own expectations. Expectations, however, tend to adapt to conditions, including to the condition of other people. When things improve, expectations balloon, and consequently even dramatic improvement in conditions might leave us as dissatisfied as before.”

Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

“Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they’ll find a way to screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a good team, and they’ll find a way to make it better. The goal needs to be to get the team right, get them moving in the right direction, and get them to see where they are making mistakes and where they are succeeding.”

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Monthly newsletter: technology, startups, business growth and marketing

Monthly Newsletter: Issue 6

Hi, this is an issue of my monthly newsletter. I’ve picked a few interesting articles on technology, startups, growth, marketing and other topics for you.

I hope you enjoy the read with your morning cup of coffee. Let me know what you think! ~Max

Technology and Startups

Growth and Marketing

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Do You Need to Be Technical to Do Marketing in Tech?

I am sometimes asked if one needs to be technical to be successful at marketing of technology products. This question is particularly relevant to product marketing.

The short answer is “it depends”.

It depends on how you define “technical”. Let me explain.

Sometimes when people use the word, they talk about functional technical skills, i.e. being able to use marketing tools. And sometimes they talk about product-related knowledge and skills, i.e. knowing how tech products work.

So let’s break this down into two parts.

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Monthly newsletter: technology, startups, business growth and marketing

Monthly Newsletter: Issue 5

Hi, this is an issue of my monthly newsletter. I’ve picked a few interesting articles on technology, startups, growth, marketing and other topics for you.

I hope you enjoy the read with your morning cup of coffee. Let me know what you think! ~Max


Technology and Startups

Growth and Marketing

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Monthly newsletter: technology, startups, business growth and marketing

Monthly Newsletter: Issue 3

This is an issue of my monthly newsletter. Main topics: technology, startups, business growth, and marketing. See other issues on my blog or subscribe. ~Max


Now, get a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Technology and Startups

Growth and Marketing

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Monthly newsletter: technology, startups, business growth and marketing

Monthly Newsletter: Issue 2

This is an issue of my monthly newsletter. Main topics: technology, startups, business growth, and marketing. See other issues on my blog or subscribe. ~Max


Now, get a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Technology and Startups

Growth and Marketing

  • Intercom on Marketing (ebook). A good intro to marketing and, in particular, product marketing that will be interesting to those who are relatively inexperienced.
  • How to Design Marketing Campaigns. Basics of marketing segmentation, messaging hierarchy, and campaign management – this article will be useful to those who’re new to marketing or looking for a refresher.
  • HubSpot’s Pricing Page Redesign → MQL Conversions 165%↑ & Free Sign-Ups 89%↑. How: research first – usability testing, internal feedback, and customer intelligence; then design based on insights and A/B test.
  • What’s next in growth?” (video) talk by Andrew Chen who leads the rider growth at Uber. Andrew recommends you ignore “growth hacks” and focus on fundamentals that worked for decades. E.g. user referrals, shareable content, and using discounts to jumpstart demand for new products.

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Monthly Newsletter: Issue 1

This is an issue of my monthly newsletter. Main topics: technology, startups, business growth, and marketing. See other issues on my blog or subscribe. ~Max

Technology and Startups

  • Ten-year Futures – a presentation by A16z. New technologies enable new use cases. Seeing them, as well as non-obvious “second order” effects, is key. E.g. mobile enabled Instagram, Instacart, and ride-sharing.
  • Decrypting Crypto – another presentation by A16z. Bitcoin is a combination of three old technologies: hashcash, public key cryptography, and distributed ledger. Value of cryptocurrencies goes beyond the traditional store of value and medium of exchange. E.g. tokens can help bootstrap new protocol-level innovation and incentivize developers, customers, and investors to contribute.
  • AlphaGo Zero masters the game of Go from scratch. The ML algorithm learned the game without any pre-existing understanding of rules or strategies. Building a general or at least a-little-bit-less-narrow AI appears to be a big priority for DeepMind. Perhaps this can count as a small step in this direction?
  • Delivering blood with drones in Rwanda – a TED talk by the founder of Zipline. What an amazing application of new technology and a case study in social entrepreneurship.
  • Tacotron 2 is a new text-to-speech technology by Google that is (almost?) indistinguishable from a human voice. If Google manages to make it less computationally demanding and ship it as part of the Android OS, all kinds of interesting use cases will be made possible. I personally will listen to more of my Pocket articles in audio.
  • Magic Leap is launching its SDK, shipping in 2018. AR/VR is already quite a saturated market. It’s not entirely clear yet how hyped Magic Leap technology will compare to Microsoft HoloLens, as well as to VR headsets: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

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Key Growth Metrics, Part 2: CLV/LTV, and CAC (SaaS)

I wrote this blog post as part of blog series on growth and marketing. See more here: Growth Map: The Missing Guide That Connects Marketing Strategy, Research, and Campaigns.

Managing a business is a little bit like flying an airplane. Keep your eyes on the speed, altitude, drag, and fuel and you’ll get to your destination fast. Try flying blind and you’ll crash and burn.

Who Should Read This

Startup founders, marketing managers, and growth hackers who are new to the growth game. Anyone who’d like to understand basic business metrics tech startups use. Here is why you might care:

  • You’d like to grow your business faster and understand the highest-leverage areas to focus on
  • You’d like to evaluate performance of your marketing
  • You’re raising a new round and want to be ready for the questions VCs are going to ask

So, let’s dive right in.

What We’ll Cover

Last time we focused on user growth. We looked into acquisition, retention, and virality metrics, as well as interactions among these three. Today, we’ll assess the dollar impact one user has on our business. To do it, we’ll learn to calculate and use another metric: customer lifetime value.

Summary (TL;DR)

  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) = dollar value a company can earn from serving one customer.
  • Retention ↑ => CLV ↑
  • Price ↑ => CLV ↑
  • Discount rate ↑ => CLV↓

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Key Growth Metrics, Part 1: Churn/Retention, and Virality (SaaS)

I wrote this blog post as part of blog series on growth and marketing. See more here: Growth Map: The Missing Guide That Connects Marketing Strategy, Research, and Campaigns.

Managing a business is a little bit like flying an airplane. Keep your eyes on the speed, altitude, drag, and fuel and you’ll get to your destination fast. Try flying blind and you’ll crash and burn.

Who Should Read This

Startup founders, marketing managers, and growth hackers who are new to the growth game. Anyone who’d like to understand basic business metrics tech startups use. Here is why you might care:

  • You’d like to grow your business faster and understand the highest-leverage areas to focus on
  • You’d like to evaluate performance of your marketing
  • You’re raising a new round and want to be ready for the questions VCs are going to ask

So, let’s dive right in.

What We’ll Cover

First, we’ll focus on user growth. Here we’ll look into acquisition, retention, and virality metrics, as well as interactions among these three.

Second, we’ll focus on the monetary value associated with users. Here we’ll look into customer lifetime value and customer acquisition cost.

Summary (TL;DR)

  • There are multiple variables that will define business growth dynamics
  • Main ones are acquisition rate, retention rate, and virality coefficient
  • At any given time you might choose to prioritize some of these metrics over others
  • This decision will depend on the business strategy, available resources, customer feedback, stage of the product lifecycle, and hundreds of other factors
  • Models like the one shown here can assist you in making better decisions by letting you see where your business will be at in the future under different scenarios

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New KPCB Report and My Takeaways

In case you’ve missed the new (well, 1.5 months old) 2017 KPCB Internet Trends report, here it is. As always, it’s a fascinating 355-slide deck of charts and graphs that cover everything from advertising to macroeconomics.

Here are some less than obvious insights I noted. What did you find interesting?

  • Ads
    • Ads vary significantly in how much they annoy customers: mobile pop-ups are the worst
  • Social Media
    • Unexpected popularity of weird YouTube channels, e.g. people who record themselves unboxing stuff
  • Delivery / On-Demand Economy
    • Trending up across the board: from Amazon to Doordash
    • Amazon eating the world with Amazon Basics brand
  • Gaming and VR
    • Gamer’s average age: 35
    • More weird entertainment: the # of people watching other people play games keeps growing
    • Games have higher engagement in minutes/day than Facebook (per active user)
    • VR and gamification of the real world: Stanford Football, Peloton and all kinds of mobile apps
    • Virtual world simulations: Improbable
    • eSports growth
  • Media
    • Continued growth of the subscription model and personalization: Spotify and Netflix dominate
  • Enterprise Software
    • Interfaces become more humane as reflected in growing designer/developer ratios
  • China
    • On-demand bike sharing
    • AliPay + WeChat
  • Macro Trends
    • US Deficit
    • 60% of most valued companies started by 1st or 2nd generation immigrants
    • 50% of most valued companies started by 1st generation immigrants

Some screenshots:

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