The Grand Budapest Hotel is fantastic!

April 20, 2014

It’s amazing how Wes Anderson can create a good story out of any material! The way he films is so different from the way anyone else is making movies, it’s refreshing. I loved everything: his use of color, the offbeat humor, the acting… I was also impressed by the number of famous actor he managed to rope into the movie: Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Owen Wilson…

Go see it!

Recommendations for Craigslist

April 15, 2014

As you can see from my article on The Evolution of Marketplaces, Craigslist is facing a great unbundling. Startups are attacking Craigslist category by category by offering a better user experience in a safer environment. They are successfully taking share from Craigslist despite the fact that they charge and that Craigslist is free. Moreover, by not addressing a few fundamental issues, Craigslist is failing in its stated mission of providing a free public service to the community.

All that said Craigslist has tremendous strengths. The site still has extraordinary liquidity and strong network effects. Despite being out of date, the site has three great things going for it from a product perspective: it’s simple, super-fast and mostly free.

Despite the obvious improvements that Craigslist could do to its user interface, this should actually not be its first priority. First and foremost Craigslist should focus on content quality. Great ads are the lifeblood of the business. Second Craigslist should focus on traffic quality and make sure the buyers are legitimate. Everything else comes after that.

Here are some suggested changes in order of priority:

1. Pre-moderate all the ads:

The number one complaint that potential buyers (and I use the word “buyer” liberally to mean anyone who is looking at ads) have on Craigslist is that there are lots of fake, spam and scam ads. Worse because it takes a bit of time for the ads to be moderated by the community and for the site to remove the ads, the very first ads we see on the site are the ones with the lowest quality or that have been deleted. This creates a terrible user experience.

The solution is to pre-moderate every ad using a combination of tools and experts per category to keep the site clean. The system automatically flags ads that are too cheap for the type of product / city it’s in for instance. It’s a lot of work, but it’s completely worth it from a user experience perspective as the visitors never see bad ads. No ad should go live without manual review.

Many sites in the world get upwards of 1 million ads per day and manage to moderate them within 30 minutes of them being posted. The moderation team also makes sure that the site stays close to its consumer to consumer roots: no ads are allowed Read More →

Fantastic article on how to build trust in modern marketplaces to achieve liquidity

Anand Iyer, the Chief Product Officer of Threadflip, just wrote a thoughtful blog post on how to build liquidity in modern marketplaces.

In short:

  • Create a managed environment
  • Have an actionable rating systems
  • Carefully curate content
  • Have a human touch, but keep learning
  • Focus on supply
  • Invest in your interface, especially focusing on mobile and frictionless payment
  • Provide social proof

Read the full article at: http://firstround.com/article/How-Modern-Marketplaces-Like-Uber-Airbnb-Build-Trust-to-Hit-Liquidity

The Evolution of Marketplaces

April 8, 2014

In the early days of the web Craigslist’s horizontal listing based marketplace was all things to all people as speed, simplicity and liquidity were the key success factors in the market. A few vertical competitors emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, illustrated by sites like Monster, 1stdibs and HomeAway. They typically retained a listing based business model, but offered better content quality and more sophisticated tools and search.

In the mid and late 2000s, vertical sites became transactional, managing the payment process and taking a percentage of the proceeds. By closing the transaction loop their reviews also became accurate. By simplifying the transaction process and improving trust, sites like Etsy and Airbnb not only took share from Craigslist but grew their category dramatically.

Partly spurred by Craigslist inability to innovate, there has been an explosion of vertical sites of late as illustrated by the timeline below. The latest trend in marketplaces is the emergence of what I dubbed “end-to-end” or “e2e” marketplaces. Others have also referred to them as “full-stack” marketplaces. Even though transactional marketplaces simplified the purchase experience somewhat, they still require the seller and the buyer to do a lot of work. The seller has to take pictures, write titles and descriptions, come up with a price, and answer questions from buyers. Once it’s sold the seller also needs to pack and ship the item. For buyers depending on the category the experience can also be traumatic. A car buyer for instance needs to deal with financing, insurance, and registration, not to mention the fear of buying a lemon. To address these issues end-to-end marketplaces absorb the friction typically borne by buyers and sellers and do the work for them. They have emerged for product marketplaces (e.g;. Beepi, Lofty, Suitey, AptDeco, Fobo, Munchery), service marketplaces (e.g.; Uber, HomeJoy) and information marketplaces (e.g.; DoctoronDemand, Clarity, Rise).

These end-to-end marketplaces won’t completely take over the market. By virtue of their structure there is a limit to their potential market share. However, by focusing on high end customers who value their time and the quality of the experience above all else, they may end up capturing a large share of the profits in the market. As a result Read More →

Great presentations on Bitcoin

Bitcoin confuses people. They don’t grasp what it is and how it works. The two presentations below are the best I have seen. They clearly present how Bitcoin works and analyze the opportunities in the Bitcoin ecosystem.

Enjoy!

There is something magical about skiing in powder!

February 24, 2014

It’s hard to describe why, but somehow I find the sensation of gliding in untracked powder quasi-spiritual.

For your viewing pleasure I am attaching video footage from my GoPro on a recent trip to Mica with my brother, dad and one of my best friends.

The Martian is Robinson Crusoe on Mars

February 23, 2014

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Andy Weir’s book gripped me from the start. I typically don’t like books written in the first person, even more so when the entire book is a series log entries without dialogue. Obviously, I was willing to make some allowances given that he’s alone on Mars with no one to talk to. In any case, I need not have worried as his journey was thrilling and the technique surprisingly effective.

The entrepreneur in me really related to his experience. It felt he was running a startup which had taken a wrong turn, leaving him with extremely limited resources and desperate for an exit strategy. I loved how he would take a seemingly insurmountable problem, break it down in pieces to solve each issue one by one using his engineering skills. That’s the entrepreneur way!

The book is very scientific, but easily understandable by lay people. It is also much more humorous than I expected. I loved Mark Watney rants against his fellow astronaut’s music, movie and literary tastes, not to mention Murphy’s Law.

Read The Martian, you won’t regret it!

Command Authority is Tom Clancy’s best book in years

February 22, 2014

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It’s also the best book he co-wrote with Mark Greaney. I suppose the bar is not very high given the quality of their latest books, but I really enjoyed this one. The topic is uncannily timely given the current events in Ukraine. The book cleverly integrates Red Storm Rising-style sequences, like the fantastic opening passage of the book, with the Jack Ryan intelligence analyst sections. I wish there were more of the former. However, given the gimmick of having the story unfold in parallel both in the present day and 30 years ago, I was happy to see Jack Ryan Sr. back in action as his younger more active self.

I have to admit I am not sure how objective this review is. I grew up on Clancy books in the 1980s and 1990s and lamented his passing a few months ago. This book managed to hit all the right touches of nostalgia. All the characters I grew up loving make an appearance. Somehow it also felt very relevant and I was entertained throughout.

If you are an old school Clancy-fan, Command Authority is worth checking out.

Brazil is becoming Argentina, Argentina is becoming Venezuela and Venezuela is becoming Zimbabwe :(

February 15, 2014

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50 reasons why this is the greatest time ever

February 5, 2014

In The Case for Optimism I outlined both why we are better off than we have ever been in history, especially if we live in the West, and why the future is so promising. USA Today, of all places, just published a lot of the statistics underlying the first part of my argument.

Consider that if you make more than $34,000 per year you are in the richest 1% of people in the world and that you have a standard of living unimaginable by the wealthiest people in the world a hundred years ago.

All 50 reasons are very powerful and warrant reading in their own right, you can find them at:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/02/02/greatest-period-in-history/5161935/