PSA: Social media does NOT represent reality

The majority of us get our news and along with it, our world view, morality, opinions and daily furies, from scrolling the social feeds across Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, Google, and others. 

There were a couple of recent stories that made me realize how lopsided and low-quality social media is. 

Recently, Eric Adams got nominated for mayor of New York City. If you are on Twitter, you may have not even heard of him because of his nearly absent social media presence and measly sub-100K following. You'd have assumed that Andrew Yang, who ended up fourth in the election with just a fraction of the votes, is going to be the obvious nominee because of the #yanggang fame with 2M fervent followers. 

Another recent study revealed that just 12 people were responsible for the majority of COVID-19 vaccine-related misinformation!

If you are looking to get a balanced and complete picture of the world, social media is not where you will get it. This happens for several reasons, including: 

1. Not all people's views are expressed on social media. Only a portion of the world is on social media and in most user-generated content platforms, <10% of active users actually post content. Most are passive consumers. Some people are overexpressed as they use armies of bots, skilled agencies, paid promotions, or networks to spread their views. 

2. Not all views are equally amplified on social media. There's usually a steep power-law distribution where the top few % of viewed posts get most of the views and there's a long tail of posts that are hardly seen. Social media companies determine what gets amplified with algorithms that optimize for engagement or time spent, as they contribute most with ad revenue and customer retention. 

People and views that are extreme - enraging, shocking, untruthful, and push our buttons (like "Did we really land on the moon?") get more engagement and therefore get prioritized by the algorithms. 

3. Every single one of us has different social feeds and social media realities. Our feed is personalized to show us the posts that engage us the most - usually the ones that pander to our biases. Someone who's conservative will see a news article about how guns are our rights and someone who's liberal will see an article about why guns are causing deaths. We are put in our own bubbles, with different realities, that appeal most to us. 

So what's a better way to stay informed? I'm still figuring it out, but here are a couple of steps that can help. 

Get as little news and opinions from social media as possible. Social media is best used for its original intention - keeping up with friends and some celebrities or other folks you are interested in. Instead, rely on other media that is less reliant on engagement and churn, more tested, and more thoughtful - I prefer the Economist magazine for news and books for knowledge. 

Don't get riled up and amplify nonsense! Pause, think, do your own research on all sides and perspectives. Most things aren't as simple as what the 140 character post of fury makes it seem like.  Ruthlessly unfollow purveyors of outrage. 

The Center of Humane Technology has plenty of other helpful tips

3 types of product improvements

The main role of a product manager to identify and prioritize product investments within your area that'd have the most impact on the overall business goals (aka roadmap). 

Usually, you don't make just one investment. You make a portfolio of bets. You can place bets across multiple core pillars or themes as I have suggested in a previous post on product strategy

It's also helpful to assess your portfolio mix across the type of product improvements: 

1. Ah, finally improvements (bugs, annoyances) 

These are fixes for obvious annoyances or broken parts of the experience. Users know it and product teams usually know it. These experiences can cause casual users to churn immediately and fans to churn eventually. 

Regularly identifying and fixing these before they snowball is a good defense and good for building trust, pride, and quality (reduce broken windows!). 

2. Yeah, that's better improvements (iterative improvements)

Products aren't perfect out of the gate (and if it's perfect, you probably launched too late :)). You need to iterate and keep improving them over time. Initially, these iterations will produce a lot of big wins. But eventually, the yields decline and that's a sign to invest elsewhere. 

3. Oh Wow! improvements (big bets) 


These are step-level changes - completely new products or experiences like when Apple launched the iPhone, or significant improvements to an existing experience like when Google launched instant autocomplete search suggestions

As you can imagine, these are the trickiest kind of investments. They are high-risk and high investment bets. But they are also essential (nothing ventured, nothing gained). As Jeff Bezos puts it, "If the size of your failures isn't growing, you're not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle." 

Depending on the size of your team, you should have one or more big bets brewing at any point in time. But be careful not to spread yourself too thin or rushing in before thoughtful strategizing and validation. 

10 part Mad lib to get crisp on a product or feature idea

Often times products and features are doomed to fail even before you start working on them because the customer, problem, their evaluation criteria, usefulness and usability of the solution, go-to-market and customer acquisition mechanisms, and business model are not understood or well defined. 

This mad lib forces you to research, articulate and iterate on all of those questions before you start implementation. 
  1. People like [specific segments, demographics] 
  2. Who are faced with [specific problems]  
  3. and care about [key criteria]
  4. Will use [solution] 
  5. To do [steps to use solution] 
  6. and it would help them [impact on problem and satisfaction]. 
  7. They'd discover this solution through [acquisition channels] 
  8. And they'd use it whenever [need]
  9. Which happens once every [need frequency] 
  10. And they'd pay [price, payment or revenue model]
As the old adage goes, if you had 1 hour to solve a problem, then spend 40 mins thinking about the problem and 20 mins iterating on various solutions. 

Lessons from death

I recently had to face some unexpected illnesses and deaths in my family. 

Sickness and death are powerful reminders of the impermanence, fragility, and mystery of life - about how little time we all have, how little control we have, how we are a small transient part of a grand timeless machinery, and how little we know. 

They are also powerful reminders of the colorfulness and meaning in every individual life, regardless of how transient or small it is in the grand scheme. 

We fondly remember the departed's endearing and unique traits. We recall and cherish their remarkable or amusing stories. We feel grateful for their kindness, love, and joy. We celebrate their path and accomplishments. We learn from their wisdom and missteps. We mourn missed interactions, their unfulfilled dreams, the void of their absence, and for those who are close to them. 

Death teaches us what we value, gives us the urgency to prioritize meaningful pursuits and interactions, and to live free in our short lives. 

Vacations

I'm currently on a staycation at home, with no plans. I used to take vacations only for certain specific or special purposes like traveling to new places or social events, and there was a certain pressure to make the most of them, so this is a change. 

Thanks to COVID travel restrictions, aging into my 30s, my philosophy on LYWE and peace & joy, I have revisited and expanded my definition of vacations to the following: 

  1. Spending time on self-care and peace-promoting activities. 
  2. Spending time on any joyful activity or hobby.
This expanded definition lets me plan and take time off for a lot more things than to just travel - to write on my blog, think, read, just relax and do nothing, sleep in, catch up on chores, enjoy leisurely coffee, walks, hikes, and hangouts, etc. When I travel, my agenda is more relaxed rather than packed and I even take a day off after travel to do the above. 

Taking time for yourself and doing less or nothing are vastly underrated. It's great for inner peace, reflections, and knowing and doing what you want. Vacations for peace and joy are a step in the right direction. 

Customer retention = Frequency of Need X Fulfillment X Mind share

High customer retention is the holy grail of most businesses. If customers keep coming back to your business, it increases lifetime revenue per customer (LTV) and you earn more per cost and effort of acquisition. 

Customer retention may be hard to execute, but really simple to understand. There are three main factors that impact retention: 

Frequency of Need 

Users use products to satisfy a need. Some needs recur on a daily basis, like the need to eat, sleep, talk to people, hear the news, commute, or shopping. Some needs recur on a monthly or yearly basis, like doctor visits, car maintenance, or vacations. Some needs are episodic and happen a few times per lifetime, like dating, wedding planning, home or car purchase, teeth alignment, or funeral services. 

If you are serving a need that's recurring frequently, you have more potential for retaining customers. If it's less frequent, it's likely that customers will only come back infrequently or just try a different solution next time the need arises. If the need is episodic, then it's likely that the customers never come back. 

It's possible, but very hard to manufacture a need or increase the frequency of a need. So if you are gunning for high retention, serve a frequent need. If you are serving a low-frequency need, then you should charge higher or have a large addressable market. You can try to improve retention by serving more adjacent needs. For e.g. Linkedin's B2C product was serving the need to find jobs, which happens every few years. But they expanded to an adjacent need to learn about the industry and network updates, which is much more frequent. Linkedin also expanded to Sales and Recruiters who have a much more recurring need. Amazon expanded from selling just books to selling everything. 

Fulfillment 

If your business fulfills a customer's need, then they are more likely to come back when the need arises again. There are three dimensions of fulfillment: 

  • Speed: Customers have to experience the fulfillment or "aha" moment as quickly as possible. 
  • Quality: Better the experience compared to their current or any alternative, the more likely customers are to come back
  • Consistency: The need has to be consistently fulfilled every single time. Even better if there's more fulfillment (or lower effort) over time, because customers' expectations only increase over time as they get used to a certain quality of service. 

Mind share

Lastly, you need to stay in touch with customers so they remember to come to you when the need arises again. Dominos advertises new flavors of pizzas not because those flavors sell well, but just to remind customers about pizza. Subscriptions, social media, email newsletters, advertising, notifications, cool launches, seasonal promotions, etc. are all ways of retaining and increasing mindshare. 

Retention is one important aspect of growing your user base and you can read about other aspects of growing your userbase in my previous post

Designing your life for "energized time"

I believe that time is all we have and how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Well...until someone recently introduced me to the concept of "energized time". 

Let's say you want to create more time for a project. So you reduce family dinner time and sleep time by 30 mins. It works well for a couple of days. But after that initial gain, you start feeling less productive or energized during your project time. I think we all intuitively understand and agree with this. 

So it isn't just time that matters. How we feel during that time matters too. 

So now I believe that "energized time" is all we have. 

Understanding Energized Time

Life is a series of activities - things you think and do, and also how, where, and with who. 

Your energy levels - physical, mental, and emotional -  vary because of the activities. Higher energy levels mean you feel present, lucid, sharp, at ease, happy, and ready to run a mile. There are recharging activities that increase your energy and consuming activities that decrease your energy. For most activities, the marginal effect on energy decreases or even reverses over a prolonged length of time.  For e.g.: socializing for 30 mins can be energizing while doing it for 3 hours can be exhausting. 

Let's illustrate with a simple day. 

You wake up with higher energy after sleep, feel fresh after a shower and coffee. Then you get to work, and through the 8-hour workday, your energy levels spike up and down but drop on an average. They pick up again after you do a quick workout and enjoy dinner and entertainment with friends or family. 

The output and quality of any activity is a function of the area under its line (energy X time). Your work output is a function of the area under the work line. Your overall output and quality of life experience are a function of your overall energized time, which is the area under the entire line through the course of your life. 

So higher energy levels boost your output and quality of life, which is a great outcome. Now the question is how to influence it.  

Let's say you are in the middle of a tough project with a hard deadline and you decide to sleep only 5 hours instead of your regular 8 and work extra hours. 

Your work time is longer, but your overall energy and therefore your output is similar or even lower. You also end your day with lower energy, which will cascade onto the next day. If you keep this up over multiple days or weeks, you'd probably fall sick or burn out. Skipping or reducing exercise, social activity, entertainment, etc. will also have a similar effect (this is probably a key reason why a lot of us feel more stressed and blah during this pandemic and lockdown). On the flip side, if you sleep or relax too much (say 10 hours instead of 8 hours of sleep), then our energy levels may not increase proportionally or even decrease and we lose time for other energy-boosting or output-producing activities. If you don't do anything productive or purposeful, your energy level will probably drop as well. 

Simple career advice

I have changed my jobs several times and I have struggled with the decision every time. Am I doing the right thing? Should I stay or try something else? Am I growing quickly enough? There’s a lot of career advice out there, but they can be incompatible, overwhelming, and unhelpful. So I have simplified it for myself here.

As with every life question, the answer starts with the big why. Understand life and decide what you want to do and experience. And then follow it. The best life hack is clarity and intent.  My scorecard and purpose in life are to experience peace and joy for myself and for others. 

Career or profession is “what we do for others”. Career is not a separate or siloed-off section of life - it is embedded and entangled in it, ideally harmoniously. 


A career or profession that is harmonious with my life purpose (1) increases peace and joy for others, (2) while doing something that’s joyful and interesting for myself, and also enabling or not disrupting other peaceful & joyful activities.  I don’t want to trade off my peace and joy for increasing others' as I don’t think that’s necessary* or optimal because I feel and do better when I’m enjoying what I do. 


If I want to grow in my career, then I’d either (1) deliver more peace and joy, or (2) more joy in the activity or enabling other activities, or both. But the maximizer approach - seeking the “best impact” and “best joy” - is never-ending, all-consuming, makes us miserable, and compromises my main goal of experiencing peace and joy. You don’t have to grow - you can just maintain if you are happy. Be a satisficer and focus on making directionally correct moves.

I can grow and maintain by (a) changing the problem I work on (more interesting, needed, underinvested, etc.) , or (b) by changing how I work on the problem (more effective - invention, skills, leverage; more fun, more compatible team and setup, etc.), or both.

You don’t always know where to start or how to grow. You will make mistakes, move backward and sideward. Try not to get sucked into pursuing side outcomes like money (beyond a point), what society thinks is hot or impactful as you will lose yourself, fool yourself, and miss the main goal. Keep it simple, clear, and intentional. Define, explore, try, learn, adjust and repeat. 

[1]A potential exception is when I’m losing my peace because I’m struggling with basic needs.

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it useful?

For the first time ever, I learned the same principle in THREE different contexts on the same day! And it was surprisingly relevant for the mood I have been in over the last couple of weeks. So I'm going to memorialize it here.  

In the morning, a friend shared a scene and a quote from the movie Bridge of Spies, where the character is oddly calm when he's on the verge of being sentenced to the death penalty.  

“You don’t seem alarmed.”
“Would it help?”

“Don’t you ever worry?”
“Would it help?”

“You’re not worried.”
Would it help?”


At noon, during lunch, my workplace hosted a fireside chat with Lori Gottlieb, author of "Maybe you should talk to someone." That was thrilling as I'd read and enjoyed the book just a few months back. She said the person we talk most to in our life is not our spouse, kids, nor parents...it is ourselves! We do a lot of self-talk in our heads, which significantly influences how we feel, act, and think. And unfortunately, we are usually not too kind to ourselves. Her advice is to filter all our thoughts through 3 questions - Is it true? Is it kind? Is it useful?. If they aren't, then dump them. 

And then finally, in the afternoon, at my workplace onboarding, we were discussing a principle of "being super transparent, but also be kind." Let's take this hypothetical situation - a colleague's been rude and annoying to everyone lately, and their manager asks you for feedback. You can lay it all out in the spirit of transparency, or you can simply tell them it has been difficult, but you will rather talk to the colleague first, which is the kind thing to do. Just transparency - saying anything we think to anyone - isn't a virtue. It needs to be kind, true, and useful too. 

10 failure modes

It's sometimes easier to think of what will make you fail at something than what will make you succeed. That's why I like the technique of "inversion" - instead of trying to be successful, just avoid the things that cause failure and you will succeed. I also like the practice of doing "pre-mortems" before starting on any project or team - imagine you failed, think of all the reasons why, and then prioritize and mitigate them. 

Here are some common failure modes that you can try to avoid when you are pursuing anything - personal, career, business, relationships, etc.

1. No burning curiosity, desire, intent, or conviction. Most hard-to-achieve things take a long time and a ton of effort. So if aren't really emotionally, rationally, and intellectually drawn to a pursuit or excited about the process, just pursue something else you actually are drawn to. Seriously, why pursue things you don't want or need?!

2. Lack of deep understanding (and failure to keep learning) of the problem, solutions, and space. You don't have to know everything when you get started. But learning and research is a good place to start. And continue to have a beginner's mind and never stop learning. A good mentor or coach can accelerate your understanding quicker than most books or courses.  

3. Misguided (or missing) strategy or principles. Goal without a strategy or a plan is just a wish. You should have a strategy that includes clear goals, levers to achieve the goal, current position, strengths, weaknesses, threats, etc.

4. Poor planning. Without comprehensive, specific, and actionable plans, strategy is just a theoretical and intellectual exercise. Plans should identify specific whats and hows - metrics, requirements, processes, milestones, resources needed, owners, and timelines. 

5. Poor execution.  This could happen because of a whole bunch of reasons. Not having the right level of skills, standards, effort, or attitude, not being consistent, not working well with a team or having a wrong team, not paying attention to details, doing too many things, etc.  

Mostly peaceful, often joyful, and sometimes upset

An ongoing exploration of my goals and purpose. Inspired by the Naval, Buddha, and Seinfeld.

Background



"How was the first person born? Who will bury the last dead person?"

I was six years old, and out of the blue, I had posed child versions of existential questions to my amused and proud mother. I don't remember any answers, and if there was one, it probably went over my little head.

I grew up in a middle-class family in Chennai, a bustling metropolis in India. My ambitions were driven by my culture's obsession and a necessity for meritocracy. In my world, academic achievement, prestigious jobs, and wealth were universally celebrated and recognized as marks of success. The lack of those was pitifully shunned or quickly shamed as failures. With strong support, encouragement, and occasional chiding from family, teachers, peers, and scorecards, I pursued that purpose with vigor.

The pursuit was an emotional roller coaster. Celebratory milestones and fun activities punctuated blocks of struggles - feeling anxious about failures like when I agonized about my preparations before exams, interviews, or performance reviews; feeling defeated at the troughs like when I didn't land the opportunities I wanted, struggled, or made mistakes; Or feeling hollow at the peaks like when I ranked among the top ten students in the country in a national exam and realized that the elation subsided in days, or when my moves to new places for good jobs made me feel lonely or unfulfilled.

At various points, I revisited similar questions of "Why?" in different ways, sometimes pondering, reading, or discussing it obsessively for weeks. I had no satisfactory answers, but the original programming's strong pull always prevailed and kept me busy on the roller coaster.

Now, at 33, 27 years have passed since I originally posed those questions to my mom. I have achieved academic success, jobs at world-renowned companies, and sufficient wealth. Through the journey, I had also met several close friends, fallen in love and gotten married, traveled and lived around the world, experienced different cultures and schools of thought, and learned a lot about myself, people, and the world at large. I have checked off the original boxes of purpose - academic and career success by most measures.

I continue to ponder the existential question. To a large extent, I feel grateful and pleased with my life and where the winding path has led me. But the original purpose and success that I pursued are even less meaningful now than they were before. They caused avoidable despair, insecurity and focused too much on extrinsic outcomes like status and wealth, which aren't fulfilling beyond a point. Maybe they were necessary to climb up the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy and maybe I had to play and win the game to get over the craving. But it’s clear to me now that they aren't defensible first-order principles or durable and satisfying answers. The original questions of - Why? Am I doing this right? What next? - remain relevant and unanswered. With a quarter-life of experiences, introspection, learning, and the luxury of checked boxes and safety nets, I have made more progress in defining an answer.

This is You

This is you. 

You are the front part of the brain. When you ask yourself "Who am I?", that's the part of the brain that's speaking. When you are feeling lucid, clear-headed, "conscious" or "present", it is this part at work. What you perceive as life, every moment of your reality, is basically the neurons firing in the pre-frontal cortex. Your self-image, memories, personality, emotions, ambitions, and desires are all formed, stored, and derived from the neural circuitry here. 

With regular practice, you will have some degree of control over how these neurons fire and shape the circuitry; a concept scientists refer to as neuroplasticity, and self-help coaches refer to as manifestation, positive thinking, or focusing on your locus of control. That's a big deal because if you can shape your perception, you can shape your life and reality. You can as easily be shaped by many other forces around you, but if you are strong, you can be a gatekeeper and transformer to those forces, and only allow what you want. 

You are a relatively new part of the brain. The rest of the brain, primarily the "reptilian brain", does a bunch of other important and automatic functions like walking or breathing, and flight/fight response. It's incredibly capable and you wouldn't be alive without it. But it is also a worrier - imagining the worst and trying to prolong your life. When you are "lost in thoughts", feeling stressed, or anxious, it's likely because this part of the brain, also called the "default mode network", is firing. This part of the brain quietens when you kick into "presence" and observe it, as you do with meditation. It can be muted even more when you understand and detach from the underlying anxieties and desires. 

The brain is connected to the body. The body is useful. It has mechanical functions to move around and interact with the environment. It has a variety of sensors - audio, visual, thermal, smell, etc. - to get signals from the environment to the brain.  It also sends signals when the body is damaged or in pain.  It can repair itself in some cases and reproduce. With these capabilities, it finds food, extracts nutrients, and feeds and preserves the brain and body. The brain controls some of the body; the body parts also have their own local intelligence. By guiding the body to the right nutrition, training, and environment, you can preserve and strengthen your body. 



The interactions with the outside world, both non-living and living, have an effect on you. A nutrient-rich, supportive, and engaging environment and interactions can enrich the body and brain. You can find, shape, or create an environment where you can thrive. These interactions, in turn, shape you. Many of our pursuits - to learn, discover, cooperate, motivate, create, fight - are all to this end of thriving. Some pursuits are pretty absurd, and some can cause pain and craving.

Over time, the body and brain organically degrade, become less functional, and eventually non-operational. Do you exist after that? Biologically and based on this model, no. The circuit stops firing and you power off. The concept of ceasing to exist may sound sad or scary, but it's okay because you won't even know it. Focus on the living. 

So, this is you. That's also everyone else around you, including your parents, friends, bosses, Obama, Einstein, and Lady Gaga. Why all this exists is still a mystery. But it does. The joy (and pain) of human imagination is that we make it a lot more colorful and dramatic. Don't take it too seriously. Stay present, curious, thoughtful, optimistic, cheerful, healthy, and generous. All of that is in your control to a large extent. Choose and shape your environment and interactions wisely. Filter out the noise. Enjoy the signals. 

Safe writing vs Ninja writing


Safe writing is clear, easy to read, and conveys the message. Typically, it follows a simple structure like introduction, body, and conclusion, or situation, problem, and solution. 

Ninja writing does what safe writing does, but is also more engaging and memorable. It reaches both the heart and the brain. It is fun, playful, surprising, and interesting. While Safe writing is explicit, Ninja writing is a bit more abstract and lets the reader connect the dots. 

Safe writing is closer to prose and science; Ninja writing is more poetry and art. Safe writing is more appropriate in serious situations where clarity and efficiency are paramount, like in a medical report or a supervisor's instructions. In most other situations, Ninja writing works better.  

Someone wisely said, "If you try Ninja moves when you are not a Ninja, you may chop off your own head." That is a good example of Ninja writing. I remember that after many years and it brings a smile each time. The safe version of this is "Ninja writing is more powerful than safe writing, but it is also riskier and requires more advanced skills."  

Safe writing is powered by clear thinking, whereas Ninja writing also needs creativity. My approach is to master Safe writing but to also keep dabbling in Ninja writing to build those creativity muscles, and to eventually fully graduate to Ninja writing. 

Safe and Ninja styles don't apply just to writing. It applies to speaking, product development, sports, or nearly any skill. The highest level of any skill or craft is art. 

The Royal Illusion

Why the hell is there a Queen in a democracy?


Clearly, a lot of people wonder about that too, even more so than the pain in the back of their body parts. I try to avoid opining on topics I barely know about. But the Oprah, Harry, and Meghan interview is juicy drama and there are a couple of interesting societal and psychological concepts here. 

The monarchy has some history to it (duh). I know a bit that I just read on Wikipedia. The very short and probably inaccurate history goes like this. Before the republic, there was a monarchy. The power of monarchy slowly faded, but some king made a deal to keep the titles, palace, and stipend around. A better deal than what the French kings got. It made the entire transition more peaceful and less awkward. 

I think the British Monarchy today is like the steak in the movie Matrix. 


It is elaborate make-believe and a long-running, high production, global reality show. Who doesn't like to be awed by a royal wedding or fawn over a new baby princess? The royal family is the Kim Kardashians of Britain. And like their healthcare, it's publicly funded.  It is good entertainment. a welcome distraction from the tough realities or boredom of day-to-day. 

The monarch is also a brand investment for the British government. It isn't very different from one of those Nike commercials that show famous sportspeople doing sports stuff, but only barely show the shoes. The Royal Family is like Nike's "Just do it" swoosh and America's bald eagle.  It fosters a sense of pride and identity, and love by association, without being all in your face about it. I naively assumed it's an expensive way to keep entertained, but seems like royalty tourism more than covers the costs. Queen Elizabeth runs a cashflow positive institution.  


The allegations of close-mindedness and racism within the institution that surfaced in the Oprah interview are disappointing, but not surprising. The monarchy is a 1000-year-old institution with a history of colonization and which still believes in inherited status - how woke do you expect them to be?! When an organization's main role is preserving a broad public illusion and identity, it is at the mercy of public opinion and historic nonsense rules. Their role is to keep everyone feeling good about themselves and the national identity, not about being a woke social justice warrior who questions or upsets the status quo. They have to take neutral stances, be careful not to ruffle any feathers, and stay conservatively within the Overton window.   If enough people are loudly upset with the organization and continue to be so for a long enough time, then the Overton window shifts and the monarchy follows. That's how change happens. 

I think Harry also raised a fair point that he inherited the risk because of the system and therefore the system should fund his security for the rest of the life. But his statement about how he, his dad, and his brother are "trapped" didn't seem very different from how all of us are trapped into the lives we are born into. It's a different kind of trap and not very foolproof as he seems to have gotten out of it. 

Anyway, that's my tabloid piece for the day. 

Building a Brand

I'm no branding expert or fanboy. Growing up, I preferred the cheaper no-name alternatives and thought the brand loyalists were suckers for paying a premium. As I have grown older, busier, and slightly wealthier, I have gotten to enjoy and appreciate a few brands for their craft, reliability, and familiarity. Apple, Trader Joe's, Starbucks, Costco, Uniqlo, Amazon are my top ones. I'm also a fan of a few "personal brands" like Elon Musk and Naval Ravikant, for what they represent and do.  

As a product professional and an individual creator, I see the immense value and art in building brands.  Here's a very high-level breakdown of brand building. 

3 Levels of Brand 


Level 1. Name recognition: People know who you are and roughly what you do. You can earn name recognition if you are around for long enough, have a large enough customer base, and have a memorable name.  

Level 2. Quality & Trust: People love and trust your products, and are enthusiastic ambassadors. Amazon, Google, Costco, and Starbucks are some good examples. 

Level 3. Inspiration: This is the highest level of brand. This goes beyond business, your product, or other offerings. People understand and are inspired by what you stand for, your purpose, and your values. Very few people or companies reach this level. Nike stands for "Everyone with a body is an athlete" and honors great athletes. Apple stands for creativity and "think different". Elon Musk is one of the rare humans whose life mission is well known and inspiring to millions.

Why brand matters 

1. Love and support: It feels good to be appreciated. It is powerful to be supported by others in your mission. 

2. Preference: People trust, listen to what you have to say, and choose you, and continue to be long-term users. You stand above the competition, have pricing power, and enjoy higher revenues and market cap.  

3. Growth: Your customers and fans become voluntary ambassadors. Employees want to join you and organizations want to partner with you. New product lines also gain quick traction because of your brand. 

Your level of return and investment in brand depends on your situation and what you are optimizing for. If your goal is to run a small, medium, or commodity business, then just name recognition and trust may be sufficient. Most companies or people don't need to be a world-wide brand either - you can aim to be loved by your niche community or target market. A small group of superfans is usually better than a large group of lukewarm supporters. 

How to build a brand