Don't launch with a splash

Posted on Mar 12, 2014:

If you follow tech blogs, you've seen a million of these - startup homepages that are nothing but an email address field and a vague sentence selling a vague idea. The hope is that you'll type in your email so you can be notified if and when the startup launches.

The big issue with the splash launch is we, as humans, simply don't have the luxury to care about everything we see. In a world of continuous partial attention, we jump from product to product, idea to idea, often several times per minute. If all you have is a splash screen and an input field, it is like you're bringing a stick to a sword fight. People will leave, and they will forget.

Your splash page is your pitch

If you're not ready to launch but still need some kind of web presence (and chances are you do), make it meaningful. Instead of passively trying to sell to people just enough for them to give you their email address (an increasingly complicated proposition, given how much stuff we get in our inbox already), sell the idea of the product from day one. If I can't have your product now, what can you do to make mewant to wait?

Your most important pitch, is the pitch to your users. And that is what your splash page should be. It isn't about their email address - it's about you. It's about the problem you solve, and the wrong you are going to right with your app or service. Look at it from that perspective, build it with that in mind, and then ask me for my email address. Chances are I'll be happy to give you that, now that I know I have something exciting to wait for.

Gut, data and bias in VC

Posted on Feb 13, 2014:

Since the early days of venture capital, the investment process has been based on a combination of gut, people and deal timing. And while data has always been a part of that equation, it never took center stage.

Recently, however, we've seen the emergence of quantitative venture capital. Funds and angels collect data on startups and use that data to guide deal scouting and the decision making process. At Disruption Corporation, we stand on the thesis that data can help investors make better decisions. Over the past year, we've been working on tools to support that thesis - one of those tools being Indicate.

During this process, we've had some time to think about some of the problems when dealing with data and making data-informed decisions. Here are some of the things we learned:

  • Be wary of confirmation bias: humans are hard-wired to see patterns everywhere. And we do - often where they don't exist. Keep in mind that any person (and any system) may represent data in a way that makes it hard to see a problem.
  • The right metrics for the right company: no two data points are alike. If a mobile app company sees a ton of traffic to their website but app downloads don't follow a similar trend, that might mean a lack of market fit. Make sure you're paying attention to the right numbers.
  • Public data is limited: pre-investment data sets are often based on public data (Alexa traffic estimates, social media attention numbers, App Store downloads). Consequently, important metrics such as revenue are often omitted. Always evaluate the data you have, but do not ignore the unknown unknowns.
  • Gaming: if there's a financial incentive behind numbers, some people are going to inflate those numbers. Traffic, social media numbers, and app downloads can all be gamed. The same way data supports the investor's gut, the same gut should confirm data.
  • It's a slow process: data-backed decisions need a validation feedback loop to confirm hypotheses. You make a decision based on a set of metrics, wait for the outcome (e.g. an exit), and validate the initial model. Venture capital moves at a slow pace, so this feedback loop is slow too and there isn't a lot of history to work with.
  • Black swans: there are always going to be surprises (both positive and negative) that data can't predict. And as Nassim Taleb describes in The Black Swan, these surprises are often rationalized in hindsight. You should be okay dealing with the unexpected (and frankly, that's one of the requisites of being in venture capital).

These are still the early days of quantitative venture capital, and as an industry we have a lot to learn. Over the next few months, I'll be posting more about how we use data at Disruption Corporation, and how you can use it too, whether you are investing in startups, or running one.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to reach out on Twitter.

Diminuished substitutes

Posted on Jun 14, 2013:

Most of our communication technologies began as diminished substitutes for an impossible activity. We couldn’t always see one another face to face, so the telephone made it possible to keep in touch at a distance. One is not always home, so the answering machine made a kind of interaction possible without the person being near his phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered, for whatever reasons, too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster, and more mobile, messaging. These inventions were not created to be improvements upon face-to-face communication, but a declension of acceptable, if diminished, substitutes for it.

But then a funny thing happened: we began to prefer the diminished substitutes.

Finally got a chance to read Jonathan Foer's opinion piece from last week's New York Times Sunday Review. A subtle reminder that technology is but a thin veneer on top of, well, life. Highly recommended reading.

When you go flat

Posted on Jun 10, 2013:

Today Apple announced their new iOS 7, which among other things includes a new strikingly flat UI design. Flat design has been around for a while now, making its way onto smartphone operating systems, desktop apps, and our webpages. And flat UI itself follows a trend that was already obvious in product design - that of hardware slabs, like the iPad, without obviously visible buttons.

Going flat, however, has its consequences. One of the most important consequences of flat design is that it blurs the line between what is content and what is interface. It puts pressure on typography and iconography, forcing them to now carry meaning that they previously might not have had. And because it forces so much onto icons and fonts, it also forces people to adapt to a new visual language, and rethink their usage patterns. This adaptation takes time.


Where you would look for subtle gradients that called for touch, you now must look for other hints. Perhaps highlights or colored nuances. And a language of flat design - an actual language, based on patterns and our collective learning - must emerge so that consumers can make new sense of things. We're seeing the birth of new ways of showing (and interacting with) information.

With Apple being an inspiration to so many, it is easy to predict that we'll see flat design everywhere soon. So as designers (of products, of hardware and of experiences), we need to be mindful about the issues that go with flat. Removing so many of the cues that represented the design of yesterday, we are forcing people to learn those that represent the design of today. The best designs (and the best designers) will be those that manage to stay up to date with the new trend while still respecting the user and his/her needs. Exciting - perhaps frustrating - times are ahead.

Just a couple of minutes

Posted on Jan 29, 2013:

It would happen on most winter days where the sun was particularly bright. My grandparents would drive up to our place, and stay in the car for a few minutes before joining us inside. I could see them talk. Or they would be quiet sometimes - perhaps listening to the radio. Then they would finally join us.

These days I am the one staying in the car a few extra minutes. Taking in the rare warmth of the sun in the cold days of winter. It gives me peace, and lets me think alone. I wish my grandfather was still around so I could tell him how much I loved their tiny ritual. We all need time to stand still every once in a while.