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.

 

Resume Writing Tips

A resume and cover letter are the most important parts of the job search process. This blog post is a starting point for thinking about Format, Length and Content of a resume.

I. Format: Should be simple and straightforward

  • Use a basic, clean font like Times New Roman or Arial (10-12pt) to make the resume look professional
  • Pay attention to margins, eliminate white spaces and do not justify
  • Save as .pdf, so the formatting won’t get messed up in the reader’s view
  • Properly name your resume (Ali Nawab – Resume, not just Resume)

II. Length: 1 page or 2 max (see resume sample here)

Resume Sample

III. Content: see below for 4 tips

1 – Follow the CAR framework. Based on the Context – Action – Result principle, where:

Context – why was this needed / background

Action – what things did you specifically do

Result – what was the outcome (preferably quantified)

2 – Make it One Line / Skill. Each line of the CV should show a unique skill e.g. analytics, team work, product/platform expertise, problem solving.

3 – Align Resume bullet points to Job Description. Try to figure out what the job description is asking for, and then tailor your resume accordingly. Each line of the resume should align to each line of the job description of the desired role.

Hiring managers regularly spot such things as it shows structured thinking and makes it easy for them to match your skills to the requirements. So if job description says skills required:

  • Technical fluency in IBM Websphere BI
  • Strong communication skills
  • Strong team work
  • Strong problem solving skills

Then resume lines for your last role (at least) should follow the same format

  • Line showing IBM Websphere BI technical skill using CAR (Context, Action, Result)
  • Line showing strong communication skills using CAR
  • Line showing strong teamwork using CAR
  • Line showing strong problem solving skills using CAR

4 – Linkedin, Github and other relevant profiles updated

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Include working links to updated LinkedIn, Github, and/or any other profiles a hiring manager can find on the web, especially in this day and age where most resumes are being submitted electronically through email or ATS’s (Lever, Greenhouse, etc.). A 1 to 2-paged resume isn’t enough cover everything you can offer so having these supplements can help hiring managers see if you are a good fit.

Cover letter

A one-page (yup, keep it to one page only) letter that is very important in making your application stand out from the candidate pile. In a cover letter, you can explain certain parts of your resume that you want the hiring managers to focus on. Here’s a sample cover letter I used in 2013.

Sample Cover Letter

It also allows you to address a specific individual in the company (the hiring manager or Head of HR, perhaps? and not the generic “To Whom it may Concern”) can show how much you are committed to getting the job because you clearly did your research. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the cover letter as an opportunity to tie yourself to the company — learn about their goals, mission and vision, etc. and connect it to your experiences. It should answer questions like: Why this field? ~ why consulting / marketing / engineering? Why this company?

What’s important in writing this letter is that you make it simpler to read. You have to assume the reader is an idiot, so don’t leave anything for readers to make connections / speculations on their own. In other words, don’t make them think at all, just do the thinking for them and spell it out. You don’t have to spill everything, just highlight a few relevant details to make them interested and want to learn more about you to give you an interview.

Alternatively, you can send an email to someone with a potential opportunity.

Sending out your resume

Before you send out your perfectly formatted CVs, don’t forget to:

  1. Proofread
  2. Proofread
  3. Proofread

While spell check and grammar check tools are helpful, don’t rely 100% on them, have your family and friends to look at your resume and cover letter for you for a fresh set of eyes.

And another quick tip: whenever you send in your resume to someone, try to write an email 2 to 4-sentence summary of your application, as it helps them understand your profile without opening any attachments. The summary can briefly include: what you did, where you went to school, what kind of roles you would be great at, what type of person you want to work for. It is similar to a cover letter, but much much shorter, aim for the highest number of insights with the least number of words.

How to time the market as a startup founder – a thread on some hard truths

Photo by zoe pappas from Pexels
  1. Optionality killed many startups in good times, and will impact more in unprecedented times like now.
  2. We will hear a lot of bad news about tech startups doing layoffs or shuttering down.
  3. Remember that no-decisions is also a decision, and usually not a good one.
  4. The world has come to a standstill. It has never happened before in our lives.
  5. If you have 36 months of runway, consider yourself lucky and sit tight.
  6. If you can get to profitability, do it now whatever it takes.
  7. If you need to raise money, remember you are not in a position to negotiate terms.
  8. If you need to downsize, cut once and cut deeper.
  9. Don’t listen to the gambler in your mind, spending that extra month to get ahead of the competition when this is all over is not a good idea.
  10. To be ahead of your competitors by 1-2 years, you just need to keep standing when this is all over.
  11. Once your risk of ruin is reduced to near zero (as close to 36 months of cash as possible), take the opportunity for the smallest possible bet on a validated opportunity that will deliver outsized returns on your business, or you will learn about the fatal flaw as quickly as possible.
  12. This is the time to work on it since the world is going through an unprecedented pause.
  13. Again, secure survival before making any opportunistic bets.
  14. As you make your bet(s), remember that 20% of your efforts will yield 80% of the results so really push your thinking to find your blindspots and increase chances of success.
  15. The return to normal will not be rapid, it will be slow. The pandemic doubled every few days, the return will take months and years.
  16. It will be a new normal anyway, so time to re-think all your strongly held assumptions.
  17. We’re entering a new world of practical digitization focused on needs over wants, where teachers become influencers, and learning goes online in a rush.
  18. If you want to work on something new, make sure it’s a knife worth falling on.
  19. The job of the founder is to make better decisions than others, its a tough job and I wish you the best.
  20. Health, family and friends are most important, so take the time to be there for them. But first take care of yourself.