If you don’t live in San Francisco, spending some time there can put you in a different sort of mood, as it often does for me. I just got back from a trip to SF last week, and I’m still thinking about it.
When you’re there, it feels like you’re always behind on the next big thing when it comes to technology. That maybe everyone is working on something great (this is leaving aside whether you yourself are working on something great). Everyone seems smarter, and further ahead of you. Sure, you know the hot buzzwords as well as they do, and maybe you can see through them too: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
But of course, with an industry like tech, there is always bound to be something new and exciting going on which can make you feel left behind. You think that maybe you are not reading the right things, that maybe you’re not up-to-speed on the latest, that actually you’ve already been left behind.
A few days after leaving SF, I wondered if everyone out west was playing some game to keep ahead of everyone else. Maybe they themselves feel like I do, like they’re in danger of being left behind. Maybe they feel a certain pressure to work on the things they work on, to talk the way they talk, to make it feel like they are doing something interesting themselves, to keep up with the next guy.
When I feel this way, I try to bring the focus back to what I’m working on, to the teams I work with and to the people that rely on me. There’s so much more still to be done. You haven’t been left behind. You are not too late. There will always be new ideas, new problems to solve, even new ways to think about what you are currently working on.
I’m reminded of a Kevin Kelly essay, three years old now, but still great words, wise as ever: “You Are Not Late”.
It feels like everyone in a certain corner of the tech world is talking about cryptokitties. Perhaps the game is talked about so much because it is one of the few user-facing applications that has been built on top of the blockchain. Maybe it is exciting because it reveals itself as a fun use case on top of Ethereum (not everything has to be serious). This too seems right: after all, games are the things that have traditionally pushed the boundaries of hardware and software design (the need to get faster CPUs, graphics chips, displays; the need to write better software to take advantage of all that). The timing of the game also feels right: it asks hard questions about the scalability and design of underlying decentralized systems.
The thing that really stood out for me is that the game is built off cats as the collectibles. Of course, it had to be cats. It has to be some sort of internet law: at some point, everything on the internet can be reduced to or is forced to be reduced to cats: people posting them, clicking on them, watching them, sharing them. It reminded me of an excellent talk @slavin gave at Eyeo a few years ago drawing a line between toxoplasmosis (a parasitic disease carried by cats and that affects human brain chemistry), obsessive behavior and cats in art (and cats finding themselves online, posted, looked at, clicked on, sent to one another.)
I never really noticed it the last time I was in Portugal about five years ago, but Autumn makes for some really incredible light (and sunsets) in Lisbon. Here are a few photos from a short trip a couple of weeks ago – wandering Praça do Comércio, Castelo, Cacilhas.
On Saturday, I spoke on stage at the New York Product Conference about how we design products and what we’ve learned the last few years working on the studio, as well as learnings from the last ~15 years of working at various startups. It was organized by Brent Tworetsky, EVP Product at XO Group. I try to hit only about two events a year, and it was refreshing to go to a conference filled with all sort of product people that just love to build things. It was at the new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island: always fun to take the tram over!
In one part of the conversation we got to talking about email newsletters (not necessarily ones you send your users off your platform, but ones by good writers we like for ideas and analyses). They were pretty great about ten years ago, then maybe fell out of favor with the rise of platforms like Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter and other apps on our phones: the destinations and, therefore, discovery changed.
But I think they’re making a big comeback now because all those other channels are too noisy. If you have a decent-enough personal brand, why wouldn’t you just use a tool like TinyLetter or Revue to get stuff out under your own name? There’s far less noise and no chance of getting mixed up with other people’s voices. You get to be at top of everyone’s inbox first thing each morning: no need to compete with a platform’s news feed algorithms, no need to compete to be one of the few apps on a home screen, no need to compete with ads. (And, in some cases like with Stratechery, you can charge your readers directly.)
Here are my current favorites, some of which I mentioned on stage, and what I like about each one:
- Om Malik’s Om Says – a great writer who always has great perspective on technology and empathy and products. I also like that he’s got three decades of experience in tech: there’s a certain lens he can bring that no one else can. (As an example, have a look at his post on the iPhone X – whereas everyone else is concerned with the notch and other noise, he takes a deep look at the hardware, the supply chains and how Apple might be setting up for the future.)
- Stratechery – One meaty, timely post every morning about some tech topic. The analysis is always interesting and gets you thinking about something in a new light. I also love how he threads certain companies and topics together into themes, e.g., aggregation theory, to show that across industries, it’s very often the same things that companies get right or get wrong.
- Ben Evans – good summary of links missed each week.
- Axios Login – coverage of tech and the intersection with DC.
- Strictly VC
- The Information – great dives into certain topics and just a great overview of the week in the Valley.
- Bloomberg Fully Charged
- Reilly Brennan’s Future of Transportation – love the focus and catch-up on all things great about software, hardware and transport.
- Hiten Shah’s Product Habits – always love his insights on product and growth.
- Social Capital’s Snippets – settle in for a “long read” on these; a favorite because I love how they tie different learnings together, and it feels as though by writing, they are “learning in public” along with the reader.