I Could Die Tomorrow, so I Plan to live to 100

February 6, 2010 in Essays, Fuck The Recession

Yesterday was my last day as a product manager for Vodafone Ireland. After almost 5 years I’m moving on to start up my own company. Although my reasons are ultimately the same as others who make the switch, I’ve written this post to explain my personal thought process that led to the decision.

I Could Get Hit By A Bus Tomorrow

In many ways this first part needs very little explanation. One day I’ll die. Between now and that day I have a finite amount of living to do, so I had best fill it with the things I love doing. I don’t want to labour this point because plenty of people have said it much better than I can.

I will, however, share one video that made a stronger impact on me than all the rest – Steve Jobs’ speech on how to live before you die. If you haven’t already watched it it’s well worth the 15 mins (or you can read the transcript here.)

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

75 More Years Of Blogging

The second major philosophy that underpinned my thinking was also inspired by a great video. Dan Buettner’s Ted Talk “How to Live to be 100+” is another worthwhile investment of 15 minutes.

There are lots of great little tips in this video from cultures that live longer and healthier lives than our own – eat less meat, eat small meals, incorporate regular, low intensity, physical activity into your lifestyle etc.

More important than the specifics of how to live longer and healthier is the fact that you plan to. This is the lifestyle equivalent of Warren Buffett’s approach to investing (one of my favourite Buffet quotes is “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”)

This attitude isn’t easy to maintain because it’s a constant inner struggle. There is a part of your brain – often called the Lizard Brain (see diagram) – that controls what many people would call instinct. It controls some of your most powerful emotions and it’s only concerned with the present. It makes you crave the taste of a cigarette, but it can’t make you feel the devastation of hearing you have lung cancer. It feels the fear of leaving a stable job tomorrow but can’t imagine the elation of having lived a life doing what you love. Emotions feel much weaker in the future tense.

That’s what you and I are up against and that’s why I’ve made the big move. Just because I could die tomorrow doesn’t mean I need to achieve all my goals today, but it does mean each day should be a step in the right direction.

So I quit yesterday, I start working for myself today and I intend to still be here blogging come 2085!

Is Facebook Taking Inspiration From Apple’s App Store?

January 31, 2010 in Essays, Technology & Science

In the coming weeks Facebook will be launching a new “Dashboard” screen for their Applications. At first glance it has many similarities to the iTunes app store, but looking a bit deeper there also seems to be quite a few lessons that Apple could learn from Facebook’s plans:

The Dashboard

As you can see from the screenshot (click for full size) the new dashboard will have a much better layout than the existing list format. Links to the dashboard will sit on the left side of your home page and when clicked will replace your news feed with the new dashboard – like switching between live feed and news feed.

Facebook hope to encourage “discovery and re-engagement with games and other applications” and this is definitely a step in the right direction.

With a little luck it might also help clear up the news feed which can often become clogged with torrents of game notifications.

Applications vs. Games

This is one area in which Facebook seem to be leapfrogging Apple. The iTunes App Store has Games as just another category of apps (the most heavily promoted category) but Facebook is going one step further and dividing it’s applications directory in half, with users now having an Applications Dashboard and a Games Dashboard.

This is a great move by Facebook. Although there’s no technical difference between the two (a Game is just another type of app) from the average user’s point of view the distinction is useful. It also allows the Games Dashboard to include more game-specific features such as high scores and leader boards.

Integrating Social

This is where Facebook’s new dashboards should move into a league of their own. For the initial launch the social integration isn’t anything we haven’t seen before but it’s still a great demonstration of how any simple service can be greatly enhanced by integrating a social web. Here’s Facebook’s list of features they expect in the new dashboards from day 1:

  • Recently used applications and games
  • News items: Examples given by Facebook include “It’s your turn in a game against Jared” or “The leader board was reset 6 hours ago, come play!”
  • Your Friends’ Recent Activity
  • Your Friends Play
  • Directory, Including an “Applications You May Like” section
  • Suggestions/Sponsored on the right hand side, based on a combination of paid placement and the applications they and their friends are using.
  • Counters and home page placement: Bookmarked applications will also have prominence on the home page, and can be accompanied by Counters that you can set to let users know there are actions for them to take within your applications.

It’s A Numbers Game

The motivations behind this move are pretty obvious once you understand the numbers behind app usage. Apple should have an advantage in this area because applications sit on the home screen of iPhones and are harder to ignore, yet some figures show that as little as 20% of all iPhone applications are ever used more than once. Data for Facebook apps appears to be quite similar, with the Top 100 apps having only 10%-20% of users being “active” in any given month.

Try Them Out

Before the official launch you can test them out to see what your dashboards will look like using these demo links:

What do you think? Will this help you get the most out of Facebook Applications or is just more intrusions into your home page? Will it make Facebook games an even more lucrative industry?

Advertising Is The Last Straw

January 26, 2010 in Essays, Marketing

Advertising is buying customers. Advertising is spending money to talk at strangers. 9 times out of 10 it should be your last resort.

Try this – If your business has a marketing budget to spend ask yourself two questions:

1. What do I want to achieve by spending this money? Earning more revenue? Keeping customers? Getting new customers?

2. Where in my business do bottlenecks occur that stop me from achieving these goals?

Imagine your budget in a pile of single euro coins on a table. Slide each euro across the table one by one and place it in one of several pots, with a pot for each activity you’ll spend it on. As you lift each euro ask yourself some more questions:

If you want to earn more revenue what is the most effective use of that euro right now? Taking care of existing customers? Could it be spent developing new products or services they’d like to buy from you? Or improving customer experience?

If you need more customers you could spend the euro on making your sign-up process easier, or converting more casual visitors into paying users. You could make it easier for customers to tell their friends about you or improve your service so that they’ll want to tell their friends about you.

If you get to the end of that thought process and have no money in the advertising pot it’s not a bad thing!

If you can’t see any room for improvement in these other areas then it might make more sense to advertise. Only when you have your sign up process running smoothly does it make sense to spend money getting people to visit your site.

The problem is that many businesses decide on an advertising budget at the start of the year and then wonder how they can effectively spend it. A better approach is to ask how effectively they can use their marketing budget, realising that advertising is only one of the many possible answers.

Or am I being too hard on advertising?