One simple idea

Ideas are powerful. Simple ideas are contagious. Branding/communications/advertising is all about repeating (and playing with) one simple idea over and over again. Marketers didn't invent this. Beethoven knew this. Sticking to one powerful idea for a whole symphony was considered mastery. One simple idea (dum dum dum dummmm) is the kernel of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. The idea is repeated in various form over the course of ~35 minutes. It is disarmingly simple. And extremely effective. Enjoy this analysis by Gerard Schwarz of @allstarorchestr

Uploaded by All-Star Orchestra on 2014-06-11.


I’m not a climber. I’m a snowboarder. I like going downhill. But I got down the climbing rabbit hole on YouTube and found 3 incredible stories. Thanks to GoPro cameras, it’s now much easier to have a feeling of what it’s like to climb the highest summits in the world. I’m amazed at how prepared these athletes are. And how meticulous they are about their gear and the weather. There are a lot of unpredictable variables. And they do everything they can to minimize risks. But most importantly they are driven, almost blindly, by one simple goal : getting to the top.

Obsession has a cost too. And of course, to balance all of that hype, a video about Everest Inc. : the deadly business of bringing unprepared tourists to the tope of Mount Everest.

Planning too much

I find it interesting to see how other professions think about planning. Planning is not a marketing or business discipline. It’s been around for much longer than we thought. It has implications in a broad set of disciplines. Here’s two Navy SEALs explaining why you should not overplan to the point of not even executing your idea because you’re spending too much time thinking. Focus on 1-3 contingency plans and make actual progress on your project.

Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin explain why it's important to plan, but not overplan. In their book "The Dichotomy of Leadership," Willink and Babin describe what it takes to be a good leader, both in the military and in business.

Bitcoin Mining

There’s a lot of hype regarding cryptocurrencies and its underlying technology, blockchain. When you try to explain the technology to someone else, you usually lose them when you explain the mining part. I thought this video did a good job of showing how it actually works, without getting lost in the details.

The virtual goldrush to mine Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies leads us to Central Washington state where a Bitcoin mine generates roughly $70,000 a day mining bitcoin. A warehouse full of ASIC Bitcoin miners run 24/7 to manufacture Bitcoin. The location of this Bitcoin Mine is one of the world's epicenters for mining.

Waking Up Early

It feels every video or article is about a yogi teacher or a wall street executive who wake up at 4AM to do stuff. And I like to meme about the social pressure of waking up early.

Anyways, here’s a cool video by Casey Neistat about waking up early. I actually like his routine, which feel a lot like mine, except a good 2h in advance. The guy doesn’t wake up at 3AM to eat raw cabbage and run 25 miles. He just setup his day to feel great. That’s what matters.

Is Starbucks Undervalued?

I like coffee. And it seems that a lot of people like coffee too. Pershing Square thinks Starbucks is one of the world’s best businesses and that it’s undervalued. Here’s their analysis.

Key takeaways are:

  • Dominant brand in a growing category

  • Exceptional returns on each new store built (1$ —> 10$)

  • Huge margins for new stores (30%) – no kitchen needed, lucky them!

  • Mobile order is actually a big thing for them – not just a gimmick

  • China loves Starbucks – they’ve been there for 20 years

Overlapping Skills

Good marketing

Marketing is a lot of things. Sometimes, it can be about promoting your business or product. That’s the advertising part. But that should not represent a big part of your focus as a marketer. Most of the time, marketing is about figuring out what people need, and how to build and deliver that at a reasonable price, so you stay in business and people get value from whatever you offer. That part is much less fun because it requires much more empathy and humbleness than the other part.

Charles Schwab, the discount-investing giant, has been focusing that part of marketing in past decade to turn around its business. You can read all about it in this great Bloomberg profile.

Here are two quotes that stand out from the article:

“We will survive if we do the right thing for people,” Schwab says. “We will collapse if we ever deviate from that mission.”
The company, he says, operates essentially by the “do unto others” Golden Rule. He tells you about a “virtuous cycle.” Lure new clients with low fees and easy-to-use services. Strong financial results and shareholder value follow. Repeat.
He recalls a board meeting at which he joined Schwab to pitch the turnaround strategy. “The board said, ‘We’ve just lost 40 percent of revenue, and now you’re suggesting we give up 15 or 20 percent. How are we going to make it up?’ ” Bettinger recalls. “We said, ‘The goodness of human nature.’ We sit here 14 years later with evidence that that’s exactly what works.”

I know this sounds like a lot of corporate cool aid. It might be. But it’s a good reminder to simply focus on your clients, and build around their needs and frustrations. You’re smart. But not to the point of being able to read into people’s mind. Get out of the office, talk to people who buy your stuff, and find ways to make your stuff even better. It’s not that complicated.

Learnings from the Concorde

The Concorde could cross the Atlantic in 3.5 hours. It was more than twice as fast than other options. It was beautifully designed. The food was good. People seemed to love it. But it was expensive, both for passengers and for airlines. The Concorde failed – even if it was a good idea well executed – because its business model didn’t make sense for anyone.

Minimum Wage

I never thought about Bernie Sanders or the 15$ minimum wage. I don't have a formed opinion. But there's a quote in this video that is disarmingly simple: "If you're working 40 hours / week, you should not be living in poverty."

What Clients Want (And How Planners Can Help)

If you work for (or with) a marketing agency or consulting firm, this deck of fifty or so slides is a required reading. My top 5 quotes:

"Any sane marketer knows that the question is not" what will change in 10 years "but" what will not change in 10 years? "

"Do not say that you have a mindset startup, when you're wearing the same heavy astronaut clothing you used the last two decades."

"Gone are the days of customer briefing, scheduler writes internal brief, waiting for a new creative review, another two weeks for revisions, and more.

"There 's a switch to asking for assets and activations - things with a finite shelf life - to systems and ecosystems - things that will be updated and tinkered with."

"It's not that simple that you do not have to do it." In this way, it's not that simple. That kind of rigid thinking, based on engineering practices, does not apply to marketing. "

H/T Julian Cole

Building the Panama Canal

I like to read about big construction projects (see the Brooklyn Bridge here). When you’re stuck in your daily work it makes you think bigger and broader. It revives your imagination. It makes your to-do seems relatively small compared to those big projects. And it’s always a delight to see how inventive, ingenious and in some case, ill-intentioned, our predecessors were. Here’s a short video about the Panama Canal.

Letting the best ideas win

This is Ray Dalio. He has some ideas on how to create a culture where the best ideas win. Because the best ideas should win, right? Surprisingly, he is not a Creative Director in an advertising agency. Shocker. He founded a hedge fund that grew to be one of the biggest on the planet. Wait, he is not a creative guy, he is a finance guy? Yep. I know. Some say he made a bit of money along the way. But this is not important. His biggest claim to fame is that he has a system to let the best ideas win.

Having fun with spam email

Hopefully this will make you laugh. It is a good reminder of how much spam goes into our inboxes. And to stay vigilant. If it seems too good to be true — probably it isn’t true.

Building a digital product

And thanks to Peter Grillet, we’ve got a TL;DR version!

Michael's business worked because:

  • We kept costs low

  • We had a highly technical team

  • Passionate about the product

Ask yourself

  • How serious is your problem?

  • How specifically are you solving the problem for first?

  • Solve a problem people need to solve regularly

  • How easy are your customers to find?

  • Does your MVP actually solve the problem?

  • - Get users on your product early (you are not an artist)

  • Who are the most desperate customers, sell to them first. If it takes 10 months, they aren't desperate

  • Who's business is going to go out of business, without your software?

  • Be weary of 'customers' who are taking the piss and avoid them

  • Be cautious with your discounts. Use discounts for urgency but don't devalue your product / service


  • Super important: ensure your stats are part of the build process

  • Should be a sources of ideas for features and solutions

  • Google Analytics is not optimal, you need an events based analytics solution (Mixpanel...) as well

  • Pick 5-6 simple stats to track, don't overload yourself

  • Ensure you are tracking if people are using product or not

  • Maintain a clear spec that you are building that all team members can refer to

Dev cycles

  • Keep them short

  • Have a single KPI that reflects how you are doing (Money if you charge / Usage if you don't)

  • Ensure everyone in the company knows what the KPI is and was

  • Brainstorm solutions (with metrics to support / destroy ideas)

  • Categorise: New Features & Optimisations / Bug Features / Tests

  • Prioritise: Easy / Medium / Hard - Decide

  • which hard item with impact the KPI the most - Which Medium item... - Which Easy item...

  • Create the spec for each item

  • Distribute tasks

  • Meet once a week or bi-weekly, enough time to get shit done

Pivot or iterate

  • Give your product time be properly validated

  • Pivot: Changing problem or Customer

  • Iterate: Changing the solution

  • Identifying the problem is the genius

  • Don't be fake Steve Jobs; iterate and talk to customers

  • Ask a specific customer what they want and make it (if it makes sense for your KPI)