Founder Puzzles

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Growing up, I thought founders were superhumans that walked on water. I was wrong. Here are my notes on Jawwad Farid‘s Founder Puzzles:

1. Becoming a founder showed me why it is the ultimate & misunderstood boss move. Founders survive, learn, and make mistakes. 🧩

2. Jawwad knows being a founder inside out. He writes simply & clearly about ideas like Kelly criterion, which I wish I understood earlier. 📈

3. Most outside-in accounts of founders gloss over the hard parts of the journey, and document quirks about their morning routines, drug habits, ice baths etc as the key to unlocking world-changing companies. 🏃‍♂️💊🛀🏆

4. Jawwad is an insider, who carefully runs through each of the key stages of building a business from nothing. His mental models hit close to home, condensing wisdom into practical tools. 🏗

5. The easiest person a founder fools is themselves, they ignore complex risks in the business to work on things they control e.g. hire a PR + run a big launch. Persistence compounds momentum ~ This is something I had to learn the hard way.👨‍💼

6. In a war against bullsh*t startup advice, Jawwad has thrown the first spear. Jawwad offers a “look-ahead” on reducing avoidable mistakes and making better decisions. 🧐

7. To walk where the water is frozen, read this book → https://financetrainingcourse.com/store/Founder-Puzzles-p219703345

How to name your startup

Your company name will be the first thing that will come out of your mouth, so having a good name helps. While I personally think names are important, I try not to obsess over them.

The first thing people want to know.

Here are 3 things to remember in picking a name for your startup. I’ve used a quick case study on my startup naming journey with Kiwi.

TIP # 1: Pick a name that’s easy to pronounce, spell, and remember, it can be:

  • a word with 1 to 2 syllables e.g. Zoom, Apple, Kiwi
  • a simple word that you can tie to something that’s been around forever
  • the simplest possible term that describes what your product does (hack: ask kids to describe your product)

KIWI

• considered as a super-food because of its health benefits

• people from New Zealand and viewed as a symbol of pride

• is a word with two syllables, easy to remember and to spell

TIP # 2: Run a first impression test (Not amongst friends if possible)

Even before we came up with “Kiwi”, we’ve decided that we were going to call the company something really simple, preferably a word that people already understand without having to translate or google its meaning.

So after shortlisting five names we liked (I wanted to call the company Keenu, which is a mandarin)

Kinnow - Wikipedia
kinnow or keenu == کینو

We set up a google form, surveyed over a thousand people on what they think would be a good company name, without sharing any info about the product that we were building. Overwhelmingly, “Kiwi” won.

Since then its become a good tool to consider when naming a company

Hack: Dont give any more context. Just ask “Which name do you like better?”

Here is an example of what you might get:

sample survey result
From a recent survey for a founder’s new company; still in stealth

TIP # 3: Don’t fall into the short domain name trap

People visiting your website would prefer a name thats easy to read and pronounce.

In comparing these two domains: http://www.threekeywords.com and http://www.ngjk.com, it’s clear that shorter domains are not necessarily better.

It is important to the understand that short can be classified in different ways and not all domains can be measured the same.

.com is still the way to go

According to the data from Domain Name Stat, 37% of all domains have the “.com” extension. While more and more startups are using newer trendy domain extensions like .io, .so, .us, .sh, I’d still recommend using .com

It’s the most familiar and the easiest to remember so when you tell people about your company, they will most likely assume that your website is www.yourcompanyname.com.

But why is Kiwi’s website not kiwi.com?

Good catch. Because kiwi.com was already taken then. We tried kiwiwearables.com but we thought we’d go with something simpler, and shorter => kiwi.ai

A lot of people, when they come across a term that might potentially be a good company name, they just buy the .com domain name (if it’s available) immediately. You can check for domain availability and even generate a business name on https://instantdomainsearch.com/. Enter a keyword that relates to your product, and you’ll be offered all the available domains you can take.

There’s actually no formula in creating a great business name. There will just come a time in your building journey when you realize that this is it, this is what I’m going to call my company, since it represents everything about it.

Everything starts with the name

Presentation Power-ups for Storytellers

Most common “power-up”: Write a memo

What’s true but not obvious? 99.9% of slide decks are terrible.

I’ve been presenting decks for 15 years now (~ that’s approximately 10,000 hours of presentations).

One important thing that I’ve learned: it’s good slides (writing) drive action, bad slides slow things down. Instead of making decisions, people waste their time trying to understand.

Powerpoint is a decent tool to project slides on a big screen, but we miss one point.

Second most common “power-up”: Flip slide order

Bad slides are due to PowerPoint. It’s a ubiquitous tool thanks to Windows/Office. But here’s why I think the Powerpoint team missed a golden opportunity: they prioritized auto content, bullets, clipart & animations instead of enabling users to be better at decision making.

I’d like to share this choice quote about bullets from Richard Feynman:

Then we learned about “bullets”—little black circles in front of phrases that
were supposed to summarize things. There was one after another of these
little goddamn bullets in our briefing books and on slides.

Dr Richard P. Feynman, New York, 1988
Sentences are always better than bullet points, yet PowerPoint defaults to bullets.

Sentences are great.

Concise sentences are better.

That, all I know about good writing

My Process

I have a simple process for making slides: I use a spreadsheet where I write one idea per row to answer my list of the most important questions and I move the rows up and down to prioritize the message (tip: try removing extra words, particularly adjectives)

The concise sentences become the headline of each slide which when combined together form a storyline (a.k.a outline in Powerpoint). Like good writing, each headline should connect to the next one, like someone telling a story around a campfire.

1. Write story line. Here is a sample story line I made in Google Sheets

2. Get feedback. Test it out by asking someone to listen to your story.

3. Design draft slides — do it on paper.

4. Iterate. Improve the look & feel based on where people stop following or lose interest.

Visualization is the key skill, I stopped conflating it with slide development a few years into being an entrepreneur and it made my designs a lot better

A picture is worth a thousand words, otherwise press delete.

Now that you have a storyline and have drafted slides in place, here is how to make them even easier to understand.

Five things I’ve learned: Purpose, Frameworks, Structure, Vertical & Horizontal Logic and Process

Purpose. A deck is a product, it needs to solve a problem. Avoid adding slides + content just for the sake of slides. Less is more, as shown by Warren Buffet:

This version of Warren Buffett - The Reformed Broker
Even at $1,000 per word, this slide is still on the money

Frameworks capture the problem in 3-5 buckets that have no overlap

Frameworks. Thinking in frameworks helps people understand and get into details

Here is one simple illustration of an effective framework.

Structure. There is no single best structure, the structure of your slide will of course depend on the content of your presentation. But here are three of my favorite power-ups when structuring decks:

Situation – Problem – Question – Answer (SPQA)

The rule of three – Thinking in threes seem to work well for me; keep in mind that the order by which you present your 3 most important points matters too because pointless bullets are the worst thing to happen to a presentation

One message per slide with a clear “so-what?” or delete slide. If there are two messages, there should be two slides. Too many slides are a simple dump of the author’s brain instead of actually presenting actionable insights.

Horizontal and Vertical Logic.

  1. With horizontal logic, your audience can just read the headline of each slide to get the whole story of what you want to communicate. One helpful tip for horizontal logic is to have an executive summary up front to give your audience an idea on what to expect from your presentation.

2. Vertical logic is taking the headline, and making sure that everything in the slide pertains to it.

My Slide Development Journey

Here is a brief history of my slide development adventures, every year I make fewer presentations

Kiwi.ai | Founder CEO – made decks for 5 years for VCs, Customers, Partners, Board & Team. Would know straight away when the slides+story didnt work. Moved to memos as default

Booz & Company | Senior Manager – our work product was mainly slides; made 10,000+ slides for big company CEOs, they didnt have time for BS. the best CEOs asked for memos

Ivey Business School | MBA – made lots of bad slides thinking they were good

Deloitte Consulting | Project Manager – built software & made visuals for executive decisions

Visualization is a super important skill, and is a must have for all storytellers. Just dont confuse it with powerpoint development.

If you have any questions, comments feel free to write below or via twitter DM.

 

Do I ❤️ Notion

Just recently, Notion raised $50 million on a $2 billion valuation. I’ve been using this tool for quite a while now so I decided to share my experience with it:

A couple of years ago, I tried using Notion, I didn’t really like it at first so I stopped using it on the same day I signed up.

It was June of last year when I came across it again on Twitter and thought I’d give it another shot, which I’m glad I did.

Now, I use Notion for a lot of things: work, personal goals, and even to keep track of my bills. Before this, I was juggling Trello, Asana, Confluence and quite a number of google docs and sheets to keep track of my tasks and progress until it came to a point when I felt really frustrated having to use all of these tools, when Notion can replace and house almost everything that I want to see (at least to some extent).

I still think that Trello, Asana and all the other productivity tools are very effective, in fact I still use them from time to time, it’s just that Notion, being an all-in-one database, has made me more productive and efficient with my work and personal life.

Here’s the current layout of our command center on Notion.

To explain how I think Notion compares to the other tools I’ve used before, this is what I always say to my friends:

It’s like I was doing this thing, then I discovered this other thing that could help me do the same thing better.

So let me share what I love about Notion, so far:

✔️Interchangeable database views are my favourite. I literally just have to enter data once and Notion can present the information in which ever view I want to see it in — table, board, calendar, list or gallery.

✔️Allows collaboration in a small team. I remember when we first started a project, we kind of dumped everything in a shared iCloud note (spoiler alert: not very effective). All ideas / comms were there, in addition to our WhatsApp convos. Naturally, the note became too overwhelming overtime until it wasn’t effective anymore.

We thought about using Asana / Trello but realised we’re too small of a team to maximise the powers of these tools. Now, with Notion, we get Asana + Trello + (Confluence, Evernote, Airtable, etc) at least to some extent, in one program.

✔️Personalisation of our own workspace. when you first sign up with Notion, you’ll get a blank canvas, and it’s up to you to personalise and/or tweak the available templates to improve and make your workflow better. this made our team feel more involved, as though we actually own the program and we built it to cater to our and only our team’s own needs.

✔️Emojis. they make working with Notion a lot more fun!

✔️The mobile app. I’m always on the go, and may not always have an access to my computer. so whenever I need to delegate a task, or to remind myself to do something, I can easily do it with my phone.

All that said, if I were to be asked to rate my satisfaction with Notion, I’d say the following: I signed up for a paid account.

I know I can do a lot more things with it but I haven’t really gotten the chance to fully dive in and explore. but if there’s one thing that I can think of right now that I want Notion to have is a feature that automatically duplicates recurring tasks (to-dos) — Asana-like.

Now, my Notion workspace is nowhere near perfect and my team and I are constantly improving our ways of using it to maximise what it has to offer. but so far, I’m happy I decided to give Notion another shot.

Is the company worth a billion dollars? 🤷

Is their product worth a monthly subscription? Yes definitely worth a 💰

Remote Work 🕹️ is the New Normal

This blog post has been in my drafts for a year now, so thought it might be a good time to publish it with the edits in place. Just to show how my thinking has changed.

I’ve been a remote worker for one two years now, and here are my notes:

  • The tools are terribleZoom, Slack, Basecamp and that’s about it. New tools include Miro (whiteboards), Notion (collaboration app), Tandem (virtual office) and Around (better video chats), Tuple (pair programming). This space is going to grow faster now that remote work is the new normal, please comment with the best remote work tools you use and I will include them here.
  • The pros are great team options – You can hire anyone anywhere you want, but its a lot harder to hire good people remotely.
  • Focused communication – Less watercooler talk and more specific work. Having said that we've got a watercooler channel now on Slack and its quite active since people are in isolation.
  • People are being trained to write more using less words – Slack is helping people focus on precision
  • It’s tougher if you are not fully remote – HQ still has the in-person conversations which are not good for distributed workers
  • Take time to think – sitting in traffic, or waiting in line for coffee helps your mind decompress ideas, meditating or blocking time to be “bored doing nothing” helps a lot
  • M&A is not a viable option yet – Big companies not equipped to acquire remote teams
  • Requires a different type of leader- Leaders who care about (bonus if they're good at) aligning incentives, resources & outcomes
  • A good setup goes a long way - a good camera and comfortable spot is a lot better than the above mat and rug setup. Logitech Brio 4k, a solid wifi router and a good screen + desk/chair setup goes a long way.
Here’s my March 2020 home office set up

But give anyone the option to work remotely, and they will take it both hands down. The tools are terrible, but they will get better.