Let me get this out of the way first: I really like Amazon.com:
If you put a gun to my head (please don’t do that) and asked me to guess one technology company that my future grandchildren will be using 50 years from now, I’d pick Amazon.
And I definitely agree with the recent post by the founder of Bonobos, Andy Dunn, that Amazon is *the* bear in building an E-Commerce company. It’s a great read from someone smart who’s in the midst of building a durable business in one of Amazon’s markets from scratch. [Side note: an honest first-person piece like that is an example of why the Internet is awesome]
That said, I was surprised that he didn’t directly touch on what I think is Amazon’s most significant blind spot: taste. More concretely: taste, style, personality, opinion, and emotion.
Clothes. Shoes. Art. Interior design. Furniture. Vehicles. Destinations. Sure, some people make these purchases with function as the only barometer. For most though, these purchase decisions (and the research that goes into them) are driven by personal taste and subjective emotion. There is no right answer to the question, “Which of these should I buy?”
These are the purchases where human beings go to experts for taste and guidance. Where they see something a friend has and they, in turn, desire it. Where they feel a need to brush against the material or view it in the flesh to really experience it. It’s their emotional reaction that drives these decisions. These are the purchases that are in Amazon’s blind spot.
In Dunn’s post, he writes that Proprietary Pricing, Selection, Experience, and Merchandise are the, “four strategies in the marketplace to deal with Amazon’s incumbency.”
I think there’s another strategy (an indirect one) that a few companies are taking: amassing a digital representation of personal taste and, in turn, creating native taste-driven demand.
It’s Pinterest. It’s Wanelo (Want! Need! Love!). It’s Houzz. Environments where self-expression of personal taste is not encouraged, but expected.
The additional beauty of these platforms are that monetization shouldn’t just be a bolt-on part of the service, they must be part of the experience or the experience actually suffers. Because if you’re the platform where I finds things I love and keep track of them, at some point it’s actually a pain in the ass if I can’t buy them with one click.
Think about that for a second: a service where monetization isn’t just a feature, but is actually *the* experience.
I’ve been to two funerals in my life. I’m very lucky to be at the age of 31 having only experienced that twice.
The first was my grandfather’s. In many ways he raised us. He was a brilliant man, small in stature and a giant to me in so many ways. When it was his time, we had a week to prepare ourselves. I cried for months. Silently in public and loudly behind the door of my dorm room. This past September I cried again at his grave. All indications are that I will do that the rest of my life. He lived a full life.
The second was my uncle, who passed suddenly and left behind two beautiful daughters who moved to my parents’ home. It was affecting to me because of his passing, but also because of the pain I witnessed in Angela and Emily, who would have to endure so much.
This weekend I’ll be attending a third. Suddenly. Shockingly. Tragically. And with no reason.
It’ll be the third, but it will be uniquely painful, like all of them are.
It will be the first funeral I attend of a generational peer, of someone who I imagined, or rather (stupidly) ‘expected’, to see in old age.
I never thought twice about it. We would visit with each other until we were 90, trading stories about children and grandchildren. Or stories about how she had accomplished all of the ambitious dreams of her life, that she shared with us so readily. Or the story about the time she designed and made her own bridesmaid dress to walk down the aisle at our wedding. These are stories that will never be shared from her mouth, a strange feeling at our young age.
If it will be hard for me, I shudder when I think about the loss for her family. To bury the youngest person in your family… I can’t imagine…
And, selfishly, I sob when I think about the loss for Ivy, who has lost one of her very best friends. She loses a spirit that she looked to as a model of confidence and passion. A partner-in-crime, to share both Mount Fuji and Comic-Con with. A godmother of a future child of ours. And, maybe most of all, a trusted confidante.
I often listened to them talk, lingering just within earshot at our dining table. They chattered about men, jobs, plans, families, fears, and dreams. It was amazing to hear the plain honesty with which they spoke to each other. No pretense and, like so many things Betty, no holding back. Ivy would emerge from these chats energized about life and full of optimism… for both of their lives. It was so unique. It’s tragic that these end so young.
I feel pain for myself, but so much more for the family and my wife. I cry for the void that I won’t be able to fill in her life, and then I cry because that makes me feel so cowardly.
I know these feelings will pass, but right now… this is hard and this is real.
Rest in peace, Betty Ho. You will be so missed.
The most famous sportswriter of our generation is so popular that, for most males in the U.S., he just goes by his last name: “Did you read Simmons yesterday?”
He doesn’t write stylistically like Grantland Rice (by the way, if you didn’t know where the website name “grantland.com” came from before that, you’re welcome) or his contemporaries wrote, but he’s been equally appropriate for his own generation.
I enjoyed reading Simmons for a long time until the Boston sports surge a few years back (when he turned into an insufferable homer blowhard), but I had forgotten exactly what I liked. His column today reminded me in a hurry:
I believe that Ray Lewis cheated. I believe that to be true based on circumstantial evidence, his age, his overcompetitiveness, the history of that specific injury, and the fact that his “recovery” made my shit detector start vibrating like a chainsaw.
I believe in my right to write the previous paragraph because athletes pushed us to this point. We need better drug testing. We need blood testing. We need biological passports. We need that stuff now. Not in three years. Not in two years. Now. I don’t even know what I am watching anymore.
I believe we need to fix this disconnect between our private conversations and our public ones. Cheating in professional sports is an epidemic. Wondering about the reasons behind a dramatically improved performance, or a dramatically fast recovery time, shouldn’t be considered off-limits for media members. We shouldn’t feel like scumbags bringing this stuff up. It’s part of sports. [espn]
It’s a great, great column on sports in our modern age. Read it here: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8904906/daring-ask-ped-question . I don’t quote that here (just) because I can’t stand Ray Lewis and I’m a huge 49ers fan. I quote that passage because it’s illustrative of his column and it fully represents my own experience in watching sports over the years.
When I was a kid, I woke up every morning (on my own) at 6:30am. I hopped awake, grabbed the SJ Mercury News on our front lawn, and read Section D (Sports) cover-to-cover. Every. Single. Day. No exception.
There’s no way I’m that consumed by sports today - not even close. Part of that is being 31. But part of it is not being able to trust what I’m seeing on the television and in-person. Am I watching the entirety of the career of the single greatest NBA talent in history? Or am I watching a cheat who had the body of a 25-year old at 16, but everyone blindly chose to ignore it (“Wow, he’s 18 and hammer-dunking on high school kids with acne like Vince Carter at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest! That makes sense”)? To be honest, I’m sad that I feel like there’s a 1% chance I would be justified in feeling that way about Lebron.
I’m glad that Simmons wrote a piece this honest and forward. It’s why real sports fans started enjoying his work in the first place.
And I know, in today’s environment, if my future child started getting as consumed by sports as I was as a child, I would cancel my newspaper subscription and explain to her that, “These are not heroes. They are probably cheaters.”
As I’ve spent a lot more time writing code and building web applications, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many PITA technical problems are solved by searching Google and finding a blog post that explains a pithy solution. It’s pretty amazing, so here’s a contribution:
Let’s say you have your site awesomesite.com . It’s an awesome site, so when someone hears about it, you want them to be able to type “awesomesite.com” into their browser and have something happen. You generally want one of two things to happen:
It’s a subtle difference. If you try the major web properties out there, you’ll see a mix. Google (“google.com”) and others 301 redirect to the ‘www’ subdomain. Pinterest, Twitter, and a few others serve their site directly from the root domain (and actually, if you type in your browser “http://www.pinterest.com”, it will 301 redirect to http://pinterest.com .
Consistency in picking one way or the other is both good for users and good for SEO purposes.
It’s not a huge deal if you have a lot of control over your stack, but let’s say you’re using a platform like Heroku. Heroku is a fantastic product that abstracts away much of the complexity of configuring, deploying, and maintaining a web stack. When I wanted to deploy a Flask application for the first time and started using Heroku, it took literally 10-15 minutes to get the app up on the web, doing nothing but following this tutorial. And I didn’t know anything.
But using Heroku caused a challenge for scenario (2), serving from the root domain. That’s because Heroku serves your app at a URL like http://falling-frost-2989.herokuapp.com (the old one for Wisepatch) instead of at an IP address. Heroku does this for really good reasons, but it still makes http://awesomesite.com difficult.
If you want to serve http://www.awesomesite.com from that URL, you just go in your trusty DNS settings and set a CNAME record to point your subdomain ‘www’ to ‘falling-frost-2989.herokuapp.com’.
But at the root domain level, you really can’t be using CNAME records. It’s out of spec and it can apparently cause lots of issues with email delivery, etc. Instead, you’re supposed to use an A record which (wait for it…) means pointing at an IP address, which we just said Heroku doesn’t recommend. In other words:
CNAME record: http://example.com —> falling-frost-2989.herokuapp.com
A record: http://example.com —> 123.456.789.012
And it’s even challenging for scenario (1), just redirecting the naked domain to the right place. So what are the options? Here are the simplest possibilities I found:
(1) Root Domain Redirection
There are several simple options for just pointing the DNS for the root domain to an actual IP address, which then 301 redirects the user to www.awesomesite.com , while continuing to use a product like Heroku to serve your app. The fact that people explicitly went and built something like this probably indicates how prevalent the issue is.
Keep in mind, when you do this, you are actually saying, “Hey, when some dude types in ‘awesomesite.com’ into his browser, I am ceding control of where he goes to whoever runs the server at this IP address. I have to be pretty confident this ‘whoever’ is trustworthy.”
Here are some:
(2) Root Domain Serving
This is more challenging since, as noted before, your DNS service is supposed to take in the request to the root domain and essentially give back an IP address or some kind of redirection.
Setting your root domain to a hard IP address sort of ruins many benefits of using something like Heroku or EC2. Heroku puts it well:
Specifying IP addresses at the DNS level prevents your platform provider from responding to network events and re-routing traffic to your app.
So what are you to do? The simple two options that I ended up settling between (and I’m sure there are others) both do something similar. These DNS services have their own kind of record (an ALIAS) that effectively takes in a root domain request and converts it to an IP address behind closed doors, basically looking like an A record to outside parties:
If you’re using a stack like Heroku and are pretty ambivalent between serving your site on http://awesomesite.com and http://www.awesomesite.com , it’s pretty much a no-brainer to serve your site on the www subdomain and use one of several simple options for redirect root domain traffic to www.awesomesite.com. Just make sure you set up the 301 redirect properly.
If you’re really set on serving your site straight from the root domain (because you’re going to be the next Twitter or Pinterest) and you’re not averse to stepping off the Heroku stack, the most straightforward solution is using the AWS Route 53 + AWS ELB + EC2 combination, since you’ll probably be using AWS anyway.
I’ve been trying to better understand the contentious discussion around guns in the US in the wake of last week’s horrible tragedy. As someone who considers himself fairly free-thinking, I wanted to make sure I was at least attempting to take as balanced a view as possible.
I’ve had a number of people come across my answer to “What did you learn from player poker?” on Quora and ask me about it. The most interested questions were about ‘Risk Tolerance’ and my assertion that the concept of expected value can make a risky-looking decision logical.
This is not an uncommon view among poker players. For example, I just came across a new answer to a question on Quora from a (self-titled) Professional Poker Player. I’ve never met him and I don’t know anything about him, but his response to a clear situation (note that I wrote the same advice to the question) is telling:
You have so many fucking outs it isn’t even funny. I would liquidate my net worth and toss in the keys to my car, the deed to my house, and the birth certificates or [sic] all my children.
Of course he’s joking I think (one can never be sure with poker players) but the sentiment is normal for an experienced no-limit player in this scenario: the odds are strongly in your favor here, so you put all of your chips in the middle of the pot and hope it works out as it should. Nevermind that it may very well turn out very poorly.
It’s simple: the math and numbers lead to logic, which leads to comfort with risk. It’s a type of logic that is rarely demonstrated in such stark terms in the real world.
Every morning as a kid, like clockwork, I woke up at 6:30am to grab the San Jose Mercury News from our front door and read Section D (Sports) cover-to-cover. It was a daily routine. A ritual, really. And it was a reflection of what I spent the rest of my day doing as well. I think because school always came easily to me, I quickly found myself filling my day with sports: playing, trying out, watching, reading, following, talking, coaching.
If Americans are a people obsessed with sports, I guess I would qualify as evidence of that. The son of two immigrants, I somehow found myself at age 10 reading high school sports scores before eating toast in the morning.
When I was at Stanford, some of my friends and I would discuss what the school would be like if it housed a prominent football program. Maybe it was the maturity of older age or the stunning realization that I wouldn’t be a professional athlete, but even at the time, I remember thinking that it would be horrible if Stanford bent its admissions standards, coaching pay grades, or academic reputation to make room in the school’s public image for a team that scored more touchdowns than its opponents. It didn’t even cross my mind that a school would ever cross its own morality to protect a football program.
Enter Penn State, Joe Paterno, and the Freeh Report:
In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university — Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse.
On the list of concerns that a human being has about the horrible Sandusky saga, the reputation of the non-human organization surrounding the crimes is pretty low. Legal and moral crimes were committed by many men against the victims and families - that’s very obviously the worst part about it. And those men should be blamed and held accountable.
When you dig further, this whole saga also starts to look like a commentary on the dangers of handing over the reins of a school’s identity to something as meaningless as a sports team. Would these men have been enabled and motivated in the same way if Penn State’s football program wasn’t the dominant identity of the school? After all, even after the report’s release, some terribly-misguided folks were still supporting Paterno’s legacy.
Luckily there are some Penn State folks asking those types of questions. Michael Weinreb, at Grantland, has a pained piece on this:
It is clear now that the most powerful leaders at my university perverted that cause, and if it takes a temporary shutdown or de-emphasis of the program to right that wrong, those of us whose primary concern is the integrity of this university we held dear will accept that…. The Grand Experiment is a failure, and the entire laboratory is contaminated, and there is no choice but to go back and start all over again.
It is enough to make a proud alumnus of Stanford and football fan wonder if the recent (amazing! unreal! Harbaugh! Andrew Luck!) prominence of the Stanford Football program is a good or bad thing for the school’s identity. Certainly the crimes at Penn State were first and foremost caused by morally-ugly individuals, but it would be foolhardy to believe that they all started that way and behaved that way independent of the football program’s reputation.
The success of the football program enabled it to dominate the identity of the school. And when that identity was threatened with embarrassment, the caretakers of that identity chose horribly. Could that happen in lesser or equal degrees at other schools? Absolutely.
I hope Stanford Football keeps playing and succeeding at its latest levels, but much more than that I hope the identity of the school never becomes dominated by a something as meaningless as football or sports.
So you’re going to leave your safe, cushy job and start a company. Nice!
Well, considering we’ve spent a few months starting Wisepatch, I’m clearly highly qualified to give you amazing advice about starting your specific company. Here goes…
I’m kidding, of course. And by the way, you should probably be weary of anyone who gives you definitive, “you must follow this” advice about your particular startup, especially in the first days. When I played a ton of poker, people would often ask me things like, “should I play a hand like J9 suited?” For anyone who has played much poker, there is only one right answer to that question: ‘It depends.’ For the most important areas of your company (product, technology, monetization), it’s probably the same way. Probably.
That being said, what might be helpful are a few observations that I’ve combed from several months of being a first-time founder. A quick look at three things you will probably experience:
We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details. — From Jeff Bezos. My favorite quote about building products/businesses.
Like a lot of people in my generation, Michael Jordan drew me in to basketball. Watching MJ marked the first time in my life that I was truly inspired by the obvious brilliance of an individual at his chosen craft. That experience triggered my love for basketball. It drove me to practice hard at the game and try out for my junior high school team. It compelled me to get better and make my high school squad. And it motivated me to spend years coaching basketball, trying to teach kids to play the game correctly.
But ultimately for me, as a Taiwanese-American kid living a few miles from Stanford, the lesson from Michael Jordan was always that (1) a human being could select a craft based on sufficient talent and (2) become the best in the world at it given unreal dedication. It was never, ultimately, about basketball.
That’s at some level because Mike just wasn’t like me (physically, culturally, etc.), but also because I never saw anyone like me playing with him. Sure Rex Walters was a Japanese-American NBA player from that era who grew up in San Jose, but I didn’t even know that until years later. And, as Walters said himself, “I consider myself Japanese-American. I just don’t look it.” At some level, it wasn’t really until Yao Ming was playing in the NBA that I actually believed people of Asian descent were even allowed in The League. And while Yao may have broken some kind of barrier, that was always explained by his absurd height, paired with freakish coordination for his size. In other words, he wasn’t *really* like me.
I think that’s why so many Asian-Americans are so taken by Jeremy Lin’s sudden emergence on the NBA scene. I mean, he’s like me! We grew up a few miles away from each other, living in supportive and strict Asian households. We’re both close to six-feet tall and look physically like, well… Asians. We both did well in local public schools and dreamed of attending Stanford down the street. We both loved and immersed ourselves in basketball. We even played in the same high school league, just a few years apart. Many Asian-Americans share at least some portion of those same similarities. At some level, I think they’re then thinking, “Dude is just like me and he’s breaking down Steve Blake, drilling corner threes against the fucking Lakers? What world are we living in where a guy ‘like me’ is actually doing that? See, that could be me!”
Of course that embarrassingly undersells Mr. Lin’s talent and dedication. We really aren’t very alike at all. He’s a 6’2” man who can dunk easily, read a ball-screen effectively, play 45 of 48 minutes in a game against the best athletes in the world, and drill corner NBA-distance threes against the fucking Lakers. All of that is incredibly special. It’s all the result of talents that I wasn’t born with or hard work that I didn’t commit. It would be a shame to demean all of that by saying that he’s “just like us”.
That being said, I hope my future Asian-American children will not just observe from watching the NBA that they can work hard at a craft and become the best in the world at it, but also that that craft could be basketball, no matter how unlikely. And if the best way for that to happen is a 6’2” Asian Jeremy Lin being on TV slinging the ball to Carmelo Anthony at an electric MSG, then so be it.
Ordering my #17 Knicks jersey right now.
p.s. If anyone wants to go halfsies on starting a new series of basketball camps in Cupertino capitalizing on the impending rush of Tiger Moms thinking their children are the next Jeremy Lins, let me know.