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.
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.
About a month ago, Adam and I were on the phone discussing the lifetime value of each user. Adam had made an argument on the day before that the value of the users are measured by how much time they spend in the app, because that is how the industry measures value - which is loosely summarised as more time equals more attention equals more marketing dollars.
"We don't want users to spend hours in VIVA. That isn't the point at all. We want them to get in, find what they want, get out, do the thing they want to do."
Adam suggested measuring stickiness some other way, maybe through looking at the daily active user metric. Again, that is a time measurement - which is loosely summarised as higher frequency equals greater attention equals more marketing dollars.
"I want to give Uber as an example. You might use Uber twice a week in a good week, but the app is highly valuable because they deliver something valuable - they meet your demand. That's what I want VIVA to be."
Eventually, everyone asks me about monetarisation
I think people are missing the point when they laser focus on revenue. Yes - this is a business; but we should not wear the "this is a business" mantra as an excuse to act like less than decent human beings.
I stumbled across an article online about pushing back against the ugly practices in the tech and design industries:
If you’re designing sticky features that are meant to maximize the time people spend using your product instead of doing something else in their life, is that helpful?
VIVA isn't about keeping users in the app all the time. We are trying to achieve the opposite - find the thing that makes you happy, get out of the app, and get out into the real world.
Our core mission is in our name - LIVE!
I had thought I was a dispassionate data-driven decision maker until I started working with Adam.
After working with Adam for the last few months, I realised how much I am influenced by my intuition and how often I extrapolated out from what Adam calls "early signs". I might try to solve an imaginary problem at the first whiff of a trend... and that is a terrible thing sometimes because I am not giving the data sufficient time to speak for itself.
The core issue, I think, is that I feel unnecessarily much. Sometimes, I want to hide from the data, regardless of whether they are good or bad. Every action of every user feels all too personal, you see. When someone installs VIVA, it feels like a personal victory; and when someone uninstalls VIVA, it feels like a personal defeat. I feel better to know nothing at all, so the curtain of personal achievement can continue to hang obscuring the reality outside.
My brain knows the right thing to do - open Pandora's Box, face my fears, and battle each monster one at a time. Also, try not to mix metaphors.
My heart feels differently to my brain.
I uninstalled Snapchat within an hour of downloading it. I wondered if Evan Spiegel felt a ping of disappointment when he saw that statistic.
I remind myself on a daily basis, "It's OK. VIVA isn't for everyone. The goal is to make the world a happier place, and if someone is happier not having VIVA in their life, then it is a good thing. Stay on the path."