Nick organised a Christmas party for us to sail around Sydney Harbour on a luxury yacht... and it was amazing!
I was not a fan of boat parties because they meant we were stuck together without any means of escape (I was never the strongest of swimmers - there is a long and embarrassing story about how I learnt to swim at the age of 14, but I think that is best saved for if and when we are having a beer) - what if it is terrible? What do we do? Of course, the answer is you do everything to turn the situation around so that everyone is having a good time.
I am a fan now. I think we are going to make all of our future Christmas parties boat parties.
In other news...
Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a “hard break” from social media.
It gives me a great deal of hope that people are increasing turning away from social media. That is a really long story, and I am not in the right head space to go into that idea for now.
Would you believe that I used to be great at writing blog posts and stories a few years ago? ... me neither.
This blog post is about equilibriums.
Sometimes, words go missing from my mind. Ideas try to hook into words to make themselves tangible, but fail to grip onto anything, and instead send the letters clashing around my mind like in a pinball machine. Those are good days. My mind feels alive, and I start to believe again perhaps I am not as stupid as some evidence might suggest.
The thoughts sometimes lead to actions... but only sometimes.
We took a day off yesterday. We spent the afternoon seeing New Breed by Sydney Dance Company, and the evening at Kat's birthday barbecue. It was probably one of the most relaxed days both of us have had in the past months.
A year ago, I started working on VIVA full time believing that I would visit one venue or one event every day, and then spending the rest of my time working on the business. On average, I think I have visited two venues or attended two events every week... which is on par to when I was a lawyer. Spending a lot of hours working seems to have become a habit. This led to an interesting (and very recent) observation:
We each have an innate and immutable level of sociability.
There is a body of psychology research about the effect of winning the lottery on human happiness. The research showed that the external stimuli pushed and pulled on our level of happiness in the short term, but with the passing of time, we return to something like an innate level of happiness.
I think sociability behaves in a similar framework where each of us has an innate level of desire for being social. We may change our behaviour in the short term, our longer term behaviours return to a natural equilibrium.
If this is right, then this is very interesting... one of the hypothesis we used when we built VIVA was that happiness is directly proportional to sociability. Our goal was to make the world a happier place, and so if we increased sociability, then we increased happiness. BUT, if sociability returns to an equilibrium the same way that happiness returns to an equilibrium, then it would be foolish to expect that VIVA can change the behaviour of users to increase the quantum of social interactions permanently.
So, how will VIVA improve user happiness?
I wrote to Sam earlier today, "Hey man! Let me know if you want a break and come to the boat trip tomorrow. The offer is open, if you feel like it, alright?"
If we can take VIVA to the level of knowing when someone can benefit from being social, then even though we may not be able to permanently increase their happiness, we can help give them a temporary and necessary uptick in their happiness... and maybe that is the best we can hope to do.
"So you went to the Christmas party on Monday?"
"I thought you wrote that on the blog."
"That's next Monday. Oh, it's probably my bad writing."
"I might not have read it right. I read pretty quickly."
"Nah, it's probably my writing. I tend to write all of these things in bed. Tap, tap, tap. Go."
I should spend more time on these blog posts, and write about more insightful things. The trouble with trying to write insightful things is that I don't want to pretend to be a subject matter expert - on what? Marketing? Technology? Startups? I have formed some ideas on those subjects, but writing about them in the abstract seems like an entitlement that has to be earned through hard work. Or, I could write about business sensitive topics like partnerships and growth strategies, but I don't want to share those topics on a public forum until afterwards.
A faster version is coming!
Syed called me just before Andrea arrived for our catch-up drinks. He and Hassan have changed some of the code from CakePHP to something else... and the load time is now 2 seconds.
I missed what this magical code is when he told me on the phone, so I will have to follow up later.
A few months ago, Dalibor and a few others told me how notoriously slow CakePHP is. Unfortunately, I am not a techie (#notatechie), so I don't know the reasons why one language would be slower than another language. The use of the slower code is a legacy issue from the start of the build. We have been working out way out of this, but it hasn't been completed yet. I met an ex-Google engineer a few weeks ago, Francois, who is working on a project that may solve that coding problem. I hope he succeeds.
The Webhaus boys invited us to join them on their Christmas cruise next Monday, so I extended the invitation to Tom as well. I was hesitant to take the Monday afternoon off to celebrate Christmas, but it seemed that almost all of our business customers are either taking a holiday break or facing major Christmas ache, and so I feel like I can take some time off too.
Our business is on track for this quarter, despite the changed market landscape causing us to duck and dodge. I am trying to shift the VIVA-mobile into the next gear, but this car did not come with an instruction manual, so I keep - what's the phrase - missing the clutch? Grinding the clutch? The positive news are that the ride still runs, and it is looking like it will be smoother.
How to better capture our minds...
A tangential thought has been nagging at me for a few days.
A few days ago, I woke from a dream, a fully scripted eight episode series about someone solving a puzzle that spans 50 years and across wealthy American aristocrats, and promptly forgot all the character names, the nuances of the plot, dialogue, and almost everything that made the idea worthwhile, and it occurred to me that we need a better way to capture thoughts, experiences. I have been so obsessed with using VIVA to create experiences, I forgot an equally important part of the equation - capturing and remembering experiences.
I spent a few hours this afternoon sketching a product outline of what something would have to do - and it is much more than Facebook or Pinterest. I don't have the solution yet, not even close, but I know it isn't VR and AR... whatever the solution is, it is going to have to replace the notebook, and be much faster and effective. Maybe it is just a notebook, but I am still thinking through it.
There must be a better way... and I must figure out how.
Syed, Ian and Adam should form a human barricade to keep me from touching our system settings. Better yet, they should take the passwords off my incapable hands.
We switched our email server over to G Suite earlier this morning - for those in the know, this should only require a change to our MX records on the DNS, but I ended up changing everything... and this stuffed up where our app needed to be pointing as well. Oh dear... so for a couple of hours, all of our apps were confused and not quite sure where to go to find the information. Hopefully, this will be fixed shortly.
Strictly speaking, our apps should have never referred to the domain name, but instead should have pointed directly to the right IP address... but there have been some legacy issues in our codebases which we are fixing one bit at a time (pun intended). Syed and Hassan have been going through, and bringing the source code up to best practice, but we haven't quite gotten through the full volume of work.
While Syed and Hassan are going through to fix the source code one line at a time, I am out having meetings with people, like Ryan, trying to make sure that there continues to be growing business prospects for VIVA.
I think I have the easier end of the stick.
It is only 9:30pm, and I am so sleepy...
There are still four things on my to-do list for VIVA, and three other things to on my to-do list for non-VIVA related stuff... scratch that... two other things on my to-do list.
It feels like I am already full, but people keep stacking my plate with more and more food, and none of it is bite sized. In most other circumstances, I would be really happy that people keep wanting to feed me - but the simile with eating is a misdirection since none of the tasks on my to-do list are edible, even in the metaphorical sense.
I spent about an hour on the phone earlier today with Leon Huxtable and Oskar Santos of Ducere Business School. Jess introduced Leon to me a few weeks ago. We spoke today about whether VIVA could serve as one of their case studies for the next trimester of MBA students... I have some reservation about whether VIVA would be a good example - the whole business of VIVA is rather unstructured and at the mercy of the weather Gods. One day the winds may blow us one way and the next we are spiraling in a dazed confusion. The end goal is very clear - which aligns with my personal goal - to make the world a happier place, but the steps are not exactly predictable very far in advance.
"Like any startup," I said on the phone.
The idea would be to work with a group of six to eight students on a 14-week project of our choosing. Allow the students to work on a project that has a real impact for the business. Leon and Oskar seemed most concerned about whether I could commit to giving the students at least an hour a week for 14 weeks, whereas I was most concerned about the inability for us to give a clear project outline to the students in the first place. To me, 14 weeks seems like too long to aim for a micro outcome and too short to aim for a macro outcome... it feels like trying to take a photo on an awkward 40.5mm prime lens - leading to my standing at some middle distance, too close for a zoom lens and too far for a wide-angle.
I would end up apologising for the awkwardness.
Sam is still in Sydney. I am grateful for that. I feel like I don't see the little guy enough.
Making time to see Sam is not on my to-do list, though it really should be.
That reminds me. I met a startup guy at the AWS event a few weeks ago who created a to-do list app... I feel guilty that I don't remember the name of his app. Maybe that's what's happening when someone tries to remember VIVA... I really must come up with a snappier sales pitch too.
When I was growing up in Hong Kong, there were often blackouts at night. I had never thought of them as problematic. Blackouts were the perfect opportunities to take our eyes of the television or other distractions, and focus instead on spending time with mum and dad. I remember doing homework by a single candlelight, scribbling maths answers in HB pencil, the smell of wax vapours - a hot invisible fume like shower steam - watched by mum and dad.
I think very few people are experiencing the romanticised moments, and that is a real pity.
The rain always makes feel reflective.
WeWork bought out Meetup this week, so they can create more offline communities. It is a really beautiful goal. There is something sweetly nostalgic about communities of people spending time together - people who enjoy similar things, speak the same language and share ideas.
Are we trying to trigger this warm nostalgia?
Liam, from the law firm in Brisbane, moved to Sydney about a year ago, and we only just caught up on Friday. He told me about what he is doing in Sydney, who he is working for, and the latest happenings in his life.
I have been thinking a lot about how to create a platform where people can have lots of fun and also feel nostalgia. Short of artificially creating blackouts and forcing people to live by candlelight... but even if we can force the circumstances, fun and nostalgia are not necessarily compatible feelings.
It is a puzzle that we will mull over for a little while... maybe with a wine watching the rain.
No time for a proper blog post. Here is a photo from my birthday night.
I will make up for it later.
(Seems I say that too often)
My friends Paul and Lisa are big into futurology, and have been for years.
Futurology (noun): systematic forecasting of the future, especially from present trends in society.
(but you knew that)
A lot of people have hopped on the "futurology" bandwagon. It is becoming as much a buzzword as "blockchain", "artificial intelligence" or "mindfulness".
I spend a lot of my time thinking about the future of Facebook, Google and the other tech giants. The latest trends seem to suggest that more people are turning off social media, and this is foreshadowing the eventual downfall of these giants. I am not so certain that will happen, but I also don't fancy myself a magical creature with the gift of foresight. The whole exercise seems like slinging mud on a wall - throw enough of it and eventually something will stick.
Yes, it’s true that we’ve heard this all before—that people are abandoning social media, that the platforms are doomed. The New York Times has written variations on that story so many times over, it could have been a standing column in the business section of the paper. But I do believe that this time is different, the beginning of a massive shift, and I believe it’s the fault of these social networks.
I think about how VIVA can be different to the existing players - how do we build trust with our users, how do we give them what they want?
Adam sent me a link to a podcast earlier today about the creators behind Twitch.
I have some creative ideas for us to play with - I really think we can do a lot better, but we've got a really really solid base.
We are always trying to remain relevant and useful, and so are Facebook, Google, and everyone else. I don't believe for a second that the big tech players will let someone creep up unnoticed and snatch away their precious relevance.
Nick did not look amused that Jess and I would take a selfie halfway through breakfast, before the caffeine had a chance to work through his system.
I wasn't even meant to be party to their breakfast. I just barged in, "do you losers ever do any work?"
I have been out of our Pyrmont office for two weeks, perched like a canary at cafes and bars, occasionally working out of my home office in my pyjamas (the Qantas battle gear, for the long time readers). My productivity has not declined as a result - but let's face it, we were looking at a pretty low threshold.
Do I have my mojo back?
I have been thinking a lot about the famous startup mantra - "move fast and break things". I understand the desire to move fast, but I have been questioning the necessity to break things.
Break what things? Whose things? Why?
It causes me enormous discomfort to be intentionally destructive. It causes me moderate discomfort to cause even collateral damage in the process of progress... so to adopt such a callous mantra runs against who I want to be.
The mantra came from one of Mark Zuckerberg's interviews on Facebook's development, and was used as the title of a 2017 book by Jonathan Taplin. It has been used both to support and ridicule the tech startup ideology for growth, but even Zuckerberg has stepped back from the extremist view of what breakage he is willing to tolerate for speed:
"We used to have this famous mantra ... and the idea here is that as developers, moving quickly is so important that we were even willing to tolerate a few bugs in order to do it," Zuckerberg said. "What we realized over time is that it wasn't helping us to move faster because we had to slow down to fix these bugs and it wasn't improving our speed." - Mashable, 30 April 2014
Like all quotes, it seems like it has been taken out of context too many times, and started to have a life of its own.
We should not want to break anything, I think... but I still haven't solved the question - what is the best way to grow a company?