Just a short one today. It is already quite late, and despite all the stories I can tell about today, my mind is not on VIVA at the moment.
Elliott and I decided over drinks at Uncle Ming's that we will explore a new business I am calling Project Dumbo.
This is Elliott (quality of photos do not matter on this blog).
I feel alive after our chat. That isn't the alcohol talking.
Project Dumbo is just as exciting and full of potential, much like Project Holmes and Project Hey Big Spender. I want Elliott to lead Project Dumbo for the foreseeable future. I still have lots to do for VIVA.
This long weekend looks like it will be another busy one!
Lurnea's graduation presentation was on tonight at Academy Xi, where she showcased her work alongside her six classmates, Vienna Chen, Roger Saxby Heath, Wharton Law, Amanda Maykot, Mark Potter and Tobias Robinson.
I wished I stayed longer to chat to everyone.
There is a sort of exhaustion you feel only after travelling. I imagine this is what time travel feels like... (ignoring that time travel in the conventional fictional sense isn't possible based on our modern understanding of science, but pretending time travel is possible, then this is what I imagine it must feel like)
Time is a big, huge, enormous topic, and a theme I return to contemplating almost every day.
Time is the only objective constant between people. We all have the same amount of time (an aside, even though we each have the same amount of time, we do not all experience time in the same way, and that is where things become really interesting, but more on this when I am not exhausted).
This equality is why time is the one thing that we try to measure with impeccable precision using VIVA. Rather than measuring social networks, spending habits or search terms, we measure time. This is how VIVA will provide reliable information... because we remove everything from the equation that has nothing to do with time. We measure two fundamental and comparable things - our propensity for what we want to do with our time, and the value we give to our time - and then we build personalisation algorithms on top of those foundation principles.
Or, maybe I am exhausted because I caught a cold in Melbourne.
This philosophical drivel will have to wait for another day.
Sam joined Mark and I for today's coffee. It has been many years since Mark left the law firm to run Seagull Technologies, and about a year since we saw each other. When we talked shop, he used to tell me how slow things moved in the "real world". I heard him, but I did not truly appreciate the wisdom of his words until recently.
He had twins about a year ago. I only met the twins today. I felt that was my failing as a friend. Looking at the twins and how Mark juggled bottles, food, toys and our conversation, I was simultaneously impressed and baffled how he manages to run a company and raise two babies. VIVA is my only baby, and I can barely manage to keep this little one alive.
"Geez! Good one, Mark," I wanted to say, but didn't.
A new documentary was released on YouTube today about three of Sydney's most stellar startups - Canva, Vinofomo and SafetyCulture - I have only watched six minutes of it so far, but it feels like an accurate snapshot of how life is running a startup company.
The latest marketing campaign idea hits on a nerve that causes anxiety for some of us - are we getting the most out of life?
The idea was to ask the audience, "hey, your time is precious, what are you doing with it?" We did some research on this about two years ago when we first started creating VIVA. It took about an hour to find those old research notes - based on a 2006 ABS report, the average Australian has about 30 hours of "spare time" every week, and half of that time is spent on watching TV shows and listening to music. It seemed obvious that we should ask people to get off the couch and do something more fulfilling with their lives... but, that would be a silly strategy. We dug a little deeper, and we found that despite the amount of actual "free time" that we have, most of us felt the opposite - we felt rushed or pressed for time.
Australians do not have a "free time" problem. We have a "busy, busy" problem. For example, Sam and I have spent all day working together, and neither of us feel like we have achieved very much in all our time, and we certainly do not feel like we have any "free time".
The question isn't to ask "how much free time do you have", but "don't you wish you can save time looking for things to do with [insert the relevant loved ones]?" Fortunately, we have built VIVA to solve both of those problems.
Now, we just have to shape our marketing message speak to the cure for the bigger pain - the feeling that we are always rushed or pressed for time.
McCarter (not his real name) has veiled himself in a shroud of mystery for as long as anyone has known him. His commitment to the art has been whole. We have joked for years that no one even knows how old he is, and he still has not revealed that to any of us.
I tried to steal his wallet once - "steal" is too strong a word - peek inside his wallet, but he caught me and so my attempt to enlighten the world was foiled.
"What does this have to do with the price of fish?" comes the collective cry of the three people who read this blog.
McCarter (he won't let me use his real name) was one of the few people who staunchly refused to download VIVA, accusing me of building an app just so I can find out his personal details, like his birth date.
"Come on, McCarter. If I wanted to find out your age, I would just steal your wallet."
"Where is my wallet? Give me back my wallet, you thief!"
I have always found it strange that people are happy to give all of their information to Google and Facebook, but baulk at the request from VIVA for their email, birth date and gender. We did try once upon a time to insert word bubbles to explain why we asked for that information, but we found users did not want to read the explanations. Designing for users like McCarter is so hard!
McCarter responded afterwards, "Ha! Yes, designing for me is hard. Facebook has my birth date because they require it and they are indispensable. Just make VIVA indispensable!"
Nicola always tells me that it is good to switch off work so I can have a mental break.
Nicola and Greg have been friends of mine for years. While I see Nicola and the kids on an weekly basis because of our work on VIVA, Greg and I haven't seen each other in many weeks. The demands of grown up life pull us into different directions, and give us fewer and fewer opportunity to hang out and muse about life. I think the last time I saw Greg was when he invited me to watch Tosca at the Opera House. I was late that day as well, and enjoyed the first third of the opera in the entrance hall with a couple of beers. Sydney Opera House probably did not intend to reward the late arrivees like me for tardiness.
Today's lunch was one of those "switch off" times. Talking about VIVA was banned from the yum cha table.
I really, really wanted to float our new marketing campaign with them: "You only have two hours of spare time a day. How are you spending yours?" I nearly died from bottling up the desire to talk about VIVA and the reason for our celebration.
Work talk will now have to wait till the morning.
It is 11am, and I have just finished a coffee with Taryn Williams. We have met before through Beau, but I had not appreciated the magnitude of how incredible she is!
I was operating on a suite of preconceived notions about Taryn because she sounds and looks a lot like my friend Maria. I had to blank slate the idea that Taryn shared Maria's personality and values. Readjusting my preconceived notions was shamefully slow - I didn't tell Taryn this, but it took almost an hour to click that Taryn was good at maths - because my head was mentally anchored to the idea that Maria cannot do maths (sorry Maria - I don't know why I think that - but it's true, right).
We chatted about our businesses and our journeys. Taryn told me about the end-to-end models platform she built before The.Right.Fit, and I told her stories about on the time I spent in Nepal.
We snapped a photo outside the cafe - for blog content, I told Taryn. I think she understood about the need for content generation. She is developing something content heavy now, but I cannot share that here because maybe it is confidential.
I wished I could talk about design, maths and business with people like Taryn all the time!
As if answering a prayer, Syed rang after the coffee with news that MySQL version 5.0 onwards have a way of storing geospatial data in a single column that can potentially double the speed of those calculations in VIVA. Loading time, refreshing time and map scrolling may double in speed (or more)! He sent a test version of the app to me, and the loading time on starting up has reduced from 17 seconds for 500 events to 3 seconds!
Oh man, what a good morning this is!!!
Lurnea had left by the time I finished chatting with Joyce and Oliver. She had spent the morning with Ian and I discussing VIVA as a product and the most critical on-boarding requirements. I didn't get the chance to say thanks for the eleventh time - because it needed to go up to 11. I had thought she would stay in the office longer, so I spent 27 minutes talking to Joyce and Oliver about marketing graphics and emails.
No one in the office told me when Lurnea left. None of them!
One of the outcomes of Lurnea's user testing was that it would be beneficial to create a quiz when onboarding users. I understood Lurnea's point that users want to feel in control and respected. We thought about including a questionnaire when we first started designing VIVA, but I chose to not include any because I liked the idea of creating an impact with the magic of VIVA learning invisibly. Also, it was really difficult to create a quiz that did not feel contrived.
How do you create a quiz that wasn't too short to feel false, too long to feel boring, too deep to feel intrusive, too shallow to be useful, etc? Then what sorts of information do we try to extract from the answers. Are we extracting more information than the superficial, and if so, what sort of information is reliable? Does the quiz fit the brand, style, and tone of VIVA? The spiral continues almost indefinitely, and then starts again every time a decision is made.
The latest incarnation of the idea is to run the quiz over only three screens - a briefing screen that sets the expectations, a question screen that tests the user, and a results screen that gives the user a sense of achievement. One, two, three. Go.
Lurnea offered to test these screens with users before we start development. I will have to thank her the eleventh time then.
In the last few days, I have started describing VIVA to customers as "Netflix for the real world".
We have tried for months to reduce the description of VIVA into a single sentence - something that tells our audience what VIVA is, what VIVA does and who VIVA serves. You might have seen I described this problem before, and I am repeating it here because we still have not solved the problem in a satisfactory way.
For quite a while, I have disliked this sort of analogous marketing - "we are the Uber of x" or "we are the AirBnB of y" - because it erases the identity of the product, and reduces it to be nothing more than a parallel of something else. There is something positive about using analogies though. Marketing is like a journey to travel from not knowing to knowing to buying to advocating - from Point A to Points B, C and D. You can walk with your customer, you can hop in a car with them or you can catch public transport with them. Using analogies is like catching public transport from Point A to Point B - it will get you close to the destination faster than walking, but it will stop short of Point B.
The feedback from the team and our contributors so far has been mixed on "Netflix for the real world". Adam thinks it is catchy, but people perceive Netflix more as an on-demand platform than an AI recommender engine, so we might confused people. Allan replied with "not sure about it man. Netflix and chill? Netflix has connotations of staying in and staying put." Andrea was more positive, but she also appreciated the perspectives of the others.
Corkie - now, Corkie is a man that deserves an introduction - we worked together years ago at the law firm. He was an avid music lover and a great property lawyer. Our interactions of late have been isolated to a few Facebook likes and a handful of messages. We had fallen out of touch in the real world... to the point, he changed his career to become a strategic adviser to the law firm and I didn't know about it for the last two years! It is an atrocity!
Corkie and I finally caught up for a coffee today!
About the Netflix line, Corkie said, "I don't know, man. What is it? Like Netflix subscription? What about it is like Netflix recommendations for the real world? Is that too long?"
The longer I spend in the startup space, the more it feels like an exercise of appreciating modern art. Someone inevitably and invariably will says, "Is that all? I could have done that!"
"Yes! That is absolutely true. But you didn't."
Hindsight is one of those beautifully empowering things - everyone has it, and everyone uses it freely and abundantly.
VIVA has not been subject to that sentiment recently, but I have heard it said about others. It bothers me because it disrespects the hard work that someone commits to create something. The process of creation is something that is beautiful and sacred.
The Uber driver en route to aMBUSH Gallery asked me how I was.
"Today is great day! Except I haven't been very productive."
"What does productive mean to you?"
He had me stumped. I have never sought to define "productivity" before. Productivity simply was. I told him a little bit of what I had to do, and then it occurred to me what productive meant to me - solving puzzles and creating solutions.
Just before catching the Uber, I was chatting to Shaun, who also left his corporate job to run a startup - Course Couch. Shaun was telling me about "pirate metrics" and the idea of setting one singular metrics for our entire team to pursue. We had been pursuing a cocktail of outcomes because we thought there were so many elements that needed to be satisfied in order for VIVA to work as intended - winning event organisers, winning users, advancing the technology, ensuring stability, improving speed, winning more event organisers, winning more users, enticing them to engage with each other, and so on. If we could mix it just right, then we would create a delicious martini.
But maybe there can be a singular metrics... maybe it isn't about the martini... or maybe, as our friend Steve Torso suggested, we don't have to mix our own martini.