11 Aug 2016

English as an efficiency tool

english-as-an-efficiency-tool

I’m writing a longer article right now for the blog and I kept asking myself why I write in English and not in Romanian, my native language. It would be a lot easier to express ideas, after all, right?

Well, it might be easier, but I think that English forces me to be more efficient when I communicate. If you don’t think it’s efficient, think what it would be like in Romanian :)

The truth is that I don’t have such an extensive vocabulary in English. It forces me to express ideas in simpler words. I need to use less words, as well. It is a pain in the ass (watch that language, mister!), but I feel it’s easier for me to communicate ideas this way.

Of course, there is also the arrogance of believing that a global audience has nothing better to do than reading what I write. But that’s not me, no, no! I am just doing this as an exercise in efficiency.

9 Aug 2016

Missing curiosity

bobby-voicu-radiolynx

I’ve been a curious kid. As most children are, I’m sure. The thing is I managed to continue being curious throughout adulthood. And I don’t mean being curious about my job or my personal hobbies and interests. I was always genuinely curious about what other people considered interesting, how they overcame difficulties, how they built their success. I remember reading somewhere that everyone is interesting because they managed to survive this long. I’m not THAT curious to talk to everybody, but still, I think we all have something interesting to say, for the right person.

I think this is what made me start a radio show about IT entrepreneurship 10 years ago for what was the first online radio in Romania, RadioLynx. They took a chance on me and I need to thank them for it. You can find an incomplete list of the shows here, all of them in Romanian (there were 2 or 3 in English, but I didn’t find them online).

The radio shows, 6 years of them, about 20-30 per year, opened my eyes to a lot of things. From someone talking to us about internet related laws in Romania to a TV news anchor discovering the fun of writing on his own blog, from lifestyle business to VC-supported startups, from multi-million international companies to local ones, I’ve had a lot of guests on the show. And I learned so much from them and from our audience.

Back to the present, though :)

Right now I am on a much needed longer vacation, so I had a little bit of time to think about things while Cristi and Elvis work hard. Yeah, driving around Europe, as I am doing now, gives you a lot of time for reflection.

I understood that in the last 4-5 years I focused a lot on being curious about what I was doing, mainly building games and growing MavenHut. This meant that I wasn’t that curious about other people’s projects and ideas unless they were directly related to what I was doing. I feel that I am missing a lot because the best ideas I’ve ever had were interdisciplinary, coming from areas I wouldn’t expect. After all, one of the good ideas implemented at MavenHut, the Solitaire tournaments, came from me and Cristi’s playing poker online in Multi Table Tournaments.

I just found out that I miss talking to people that do different things than I do. If you didn’t listen to Tom Ferriss’s podcast, give it a try. He talks to guests from actors like Jamie Foxx to entrepreneurs like Matt Mullenweg or special forces people and the interviews are really insightful. These interviews are, probably, one of the reasons I realized I was missing being curious and asking questions about things I had no ideas, where I felt I could learn a lot.

There’s no conclusion to this article.

Just that, if you get an email from me to meet and you think we have nothing to talk about, you might be right. On the other hand, I have some stories to tell, as well…

18 May 2016

Games to play

Just a list of games I want to play when I’ll have the time, so I don’t forget about them:

Life is Strange
Her Story (played)
Adr1ft
Heavy Rain Remastered
No Man’s Sky
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter: review
Stardew Valley
Dwarf Fortress
Coloratura
Planescape: Torment
Offworld Trading Company: review
Stellaris: review

Search for them if you want links :)

2 Jan 2016

On Quantity vs. Quality

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

From Art and Fear, via Stratchery -> Why BuzzFeed is the Most Important News Organization in the World

9 Sep 2015

Don’t Waste My Time!

Know Your Stuff

Due to MavenHut’s success, there are people that think I know stuff and they want to meet me to talk about their business. And, time permitting, since I travel a lot these days, I actually love to meet the entrepreneurs.

And why shouldn’t I? I love talking to smart people (who doesn’t?), I am interested in how they see what they do and it helps me broaden my horizons. And, of course, it sometimes helps me see solutions for my problems just because I am forced into looking at the issues from a different angle.

One thing I have a difficult time explaining, though, without sounding rude, is that before meeting with someone, that person needs to do something about their idea/project. I will never meet with someone just because they have an idea and want to pick my brain on it. If that were the case, I wouldn’t have time for MavenHut anymore from all the meetings with people “with ideas of an online project” (that usually will change the world). Investors might take these type of meetings sometimes, since they need to be in contact with entrepreneurs for the deal flow, but I am not an investor.

In order to trim the number of meetings and understand who exactly can use my help, I use 2 elements.

First one: I ask in an email for 2 paragraphs about the idea and the stage it’s in. If the person I am writing to is unable to express their idea in 2 paragraphs, I don’t really think they actually understand what they’re doing just yet. Their focus should be on understanding what they do before meeting me (if YOU don’t know what you want to do, how the hell should I know or be able to help you?)

The other thing I want to see is an MVP. If you don’t have any type of Minimum Viable Product (a site, an app, a distribution channel, some users/customers), any advice I would give would be so general that it would make no sense for a meeting.

If these two conditions come together then I am more than happy to meet people (of course, based on my schedule, as well). After all, a lot of people helped and still help us in building MavenHut. But I never went to them with “you know, I have an idea for a Solitaire game”. I went with something on the lines of “I am looking for an investment for my company that does a Solitaire multiplayer game. We already have 1000 users that spend about 35 minutes per day in the game, on Facebook, I don’t know, though, how to put these things in an investment pitch. I know you’ve gone through this process already, do you have one hour to meet and explain these to me?”

The line above explains what I’m doing, what I need and shows why I contacted this specific person.

So, how’s your MVP doing? :)

P.S.: I also don’t drink coffee, just so you know :D

Photo credit: Know Your Stuff

2 Jan 2015

Book Review: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

Amazon is one of the most interesting companies I’ve read about. Not especially Jeff Bezos, but Amazon. Obviously, you can’t really separate the two, but I’ve been always interested in how Amazon, a company that started on the internet by selling books, then became a retailer, then became again a technology company, single handedly starting the “cloud” revolution.

the-everything-store-jeff-bezos

The latest book I’ve read about the company (I just finished it about 20 minutes ago) is The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. I’ve heard about it some time ago, but only recently had the time to read it. More, I’ve become even more interested when I’ve heard about the review that MacKenzie Bezos (the wife of Jeff) wrote on Amazon (you can read it here), awarding one star to the book for the fact that it underlines the sensationalist aspects of Amazon’s evolution, while also having big factual errors.

The thing is, though, I found the book really interesting. Obviously, I do not know about the factual errors (especially strictly related to the founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos) and I don’t care about it, anyway, but it’s a good read if you want to follow and understand the evolution of Amazon starting almost 20 years ago. From what I know about the company and what I’ve read in the last 10 years about it, I think that those aspects are pretty accurate.

Amazon is, in my opinion, one of the companies that wasn’t afraid to test things, to go outside their default area of expertise, and try (and succeed) in reinventing itself. I mean, 10 years ago, the biggest issue they faced was the chaos in the deposits, now it’s the fact the their phone, the Fire phone, was a flop. How do you go from getting packages to customers in overnight delivery to starting the startup/cloud revolution?

You need to read the book to find out more, but I will add some quotes I found interesting.

“It is far better to cannibalise yourself than have someone else do it,”. I totally agree with this.

I didn’t know that Kodak actually had the digital cameras technology available since the ’70s and didn’t want to use it so that they do not lose on the profits from normal cameras. The quote above also was related to this: The reference was to the century-old photography giant whose engineers had invented digital cameras in the 1970s but whose profit margins were so healthy that its executives couldn’t bear to risk it all on an unproven venture in a less profitable frontier.

Another interesting quote about focus: “If you are running both businesses you will never go after the digital opportunity with tenacity,” he said. It regards the move of the person responsible with the books at Amazon (one of the most influential positions in the company) to Kindle only books. The reason Bezos didn’t want to let that guy handle both businesses was the aforementioned quote.

People always feel the need to understand the context a CEO/manager takes decisions. But what do you do if the context is not that easy to understand? This is what Bezos told the designers of Kindle when he told them to include space for the cellular/wifi module in the first device so that anybody could download the books instantly, free of charge. The designers fought back saying that this wasn’t possible, that it would cost too much. The answer? “I’ll figure this out and it is not going to be a business model you understand. You are the designers, I want you to design this and I’ll think about the business model.”

One of the companies I enjoyed reading about and visiting while in Las Vegas was Zappos. The thing is I always thought of the company being a fast mover, achieving success and growing fast. Well. apparently it wasn’t like this and this is the reason they sold to Amazon. Here is what Mike Moritz, investor and board member at Zappos, had to say about it: “We just didn’t move quickly enough,” Moritz says. “You could sense it was going to be much harder to achieve, and we were squandering the opportunity. The hiring was too slow, the engineering department was not good enough, and the software was inferior to Amazon’s. It was very frustrating, and the Las Vegas location, plus an unwillingness to pay competitively, made it even harder to recruit talented people. We were starting to compete with the very best in the business and they had a lot of arrows in their quiver to make life painful. The last thing we wanted to do was to sell. It was mortifying.”. It’s interesting for me because we always thought MavenHut is moving really fast. Well, we might need to move a lot faster, or else Amazon might buy us :)

And, finally, I didn’t know, but Bezos may not get ferried to work in a black sedan, but Amazon still spends $1.6 million per year on personal security for him and his family, according to the company’s financial reports. It’s not that simple being a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company.

I’ve highlighted a lot more content, but I think you need to read the book to make sense of it :)

Finally, go buy it (or borrow it from a friend). By the way, all these links are affiliate links, just so you know.

Oh and, finally, if you are interested, you can see the interview Bezos gave to the Business Insider recently (or read the main ideas):

1 Jan 2015

Business Ideas: Heaven and Hell Lounge/Club

Business Ideas: Heave/Hell Lounge/Club

Ideas are a dime a dozen. We all have them, all the time. So I decided to share some of my business ideas (some that I had a while ago, some that I think would work now). Who knows, maybe someone can do something interesting about them. It’s gonna be a series of articles, so just one idea today, ok? Don’t get greedy!

First idea came to me about 15 years ago, while managing a night club (duh!): Heaven/Hell.

It was supposed to be a two levels location:

Below (in Hell) a night club that would only work after 9pm (or later). A lot of black & red, with waiters serving you in Devil suits (lots of latex involved, probably, as some designer said at some point). Of course, both men and women, to cater to all tastes :D

Above (in Heaven) should be a lounge with a lot of light colors (variations of white) and, obviously, waiters serving you would be dressed in… Angels, with the circle above the head and everything: wings, white clothes, feathers. This part of the business would be open during the day and serve lounge type of drinks (even light food, maybe?)

Obviously, I didn’t start it but, if you ever do, let me know about it so I can visit.

Later Update: I’ve found out (from the comments [in Romanian]) that there is a similar idea club in the game Hitman Blood Money (see it here, on YouTube). Since I had the idea before the game appeared, all I can think is that one of the level creators came to the club I managed then and heard me :D Or, the truth, everybody has ideas. It’s only natural that, at some point, someone has a similar idea with you. Thanks for the heads up!

Disclaimer: I am not interested in any financial returns, ownership or something similar regarding this idea :)) Ideas are not really relevant, execution is. So if you like something I thought of, run with it and do something cool. If you want to tell me about it, I’d love to know, but it’s not necessary. I also assume that my idea will just spark ideas in someone’s mind, so I would also like to know about these, if possible :)

Image: Woman must choose between the devil or angel from ShutterStock

1 Jan 2015

Book Review: The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day is a well known movie based on a book. I have to say I didn’t see the movie, but I read the book during the winter holidays, after finding out it was the book Jeff Bezos from Amazon considered one of the best (and mistakenly considered the reason he started Amazon as a bookstore).

the-remains-of-the-dayThe thing is… I don’t have too much to say about it. The subject is quite simple: a 50-60 years old butler remembers his life while driving across UK to meet a co-worker from 20 years earlier. He reminisces the history (he was the butler of a British Lord that was involved in negotiations with Ribbentrop during the years before the start of the Second World War) and looks over the decisions he took in his personal life that lead to that particular moment.

I enjoyed parts of the book, but I didn’t really enjoy the entire book. I probably don’t have the feeling of something big missing in my life – I’m not 60, you know – to be able to make a connection with the character, I really don’t know. Also, the rhythm of the book is quite slow and deliberately paced.

Another thing I found weird initially is the way the book is written. The language used is very protocolar, which is the exact way I would think a butler like Stevens would use, but it was really difficult to read for the initial 20 pages or so.

Finally, would I recommend the book? I enjoyed the 4-5 hours it took me reading it, but it took me a conscious effort, from time to time, to continue reading it and not choose something else in my Kindle library. I actually enjoyed the understanding of the management skills necessary for a butler (it felt like a COO combined with the HR person), but I don’t think it makes the book more enjoyable if you don’t really like the style.

Some quotes:

Indeed, I can say I am in agreement with those who say that the ability to draw up a good staff plan is the cornerstone of any decent butler’s skills. – as I was saying :)

Indeed, the more one considers it, the more obvious it seems: association with a truly distinguished household is a prerequisite of ‘greatness’. – I was thinking of ways to grow as a startup (partnerships with better known companies and similar things)

An interesting thing: the book is written by a Japanese born person (Kazuo Ishiguro), which was really confusing initially. After that I found out that he moved early in life to UK, so it made more sense.

3 Nov 2014

Open Finder in Other Folder than All My Files

For the Mac OSX users out there: It’s not that complicated, you can find it in Preferences for the app, but I just want to be sure I will not forget, so here :))

Found the solution on this page, after becoming frustrated by the “speed” of this action.

2 Nov 2014

Facebook’s Mobile Apps

AppAnnie_facebook_ios

Top 3 most downloaded apps on iOS, in US, are from Facebook. So, it should not come as a surprise when their mobile revenues grow at a high pace.

And this without even thinking about What’s App.

Screenshot from AppAnnie