A Few Things....Crossing The Chasm, Living Longer and Thinking Exponentially

February 22, 2020

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”

- American biologist E.O. Wilson

A. Crossing The Chasm

Crossing The Chasm is Inc Magazine’s Top 10 Marketing & Sales books of All Time and has sold over a million copies.

I was reminded of it again, while listening to Mike Maples Jr. of Floodgate Capital (Twitter, Digg, Lyft, Chegg….) talk to Geoffrey Moore, the author.

Here’s the big idea, why the book is still relevant today and what you can apply to your life.

The technology adoption life cycle idea itself says, when you introduce a disruptive innovation into any community, it will self-segregate into different adoption strategies.

- Geoffrey Moore

One of the most counterintuitive lessons of building a business is that to get big, you have to start small.

Startup products initially appeal to innovators. These people like to be the first to try the newest thing. They seldom spend a lot of money though. But they are super important because they curate new ideas for everyone else who follows.

Then come the visionaries. These people are the trailblazers who are living in the future and they see an opportunity for a new product to solve a burning problem that's blocking that better future. They're willing to take a leap of faith on a proof of concept.

But then come the pragmatists (the mainstream). No matter how well a product serves their needs, they need social proof to buy. They have to see that other people are getting value from it. In B2B, they're more motivated by not getting fired than by living in the future. And for a consumer product, they start using it when they feel left out because all their other friends are starting to use it.

The CHASM lies between the visionaries and the pragmatists and the gap between them. And this unfortunately is where a lot of startup dreams get stuck and die.

But sometimes in their eagerness to be the next big thing, they attempt to skip the early adopter stage and move straight to the pragmatist buyers.

The problem with skipping the early adopters is that you run into a Catch 22.

The early majority pragmatists won't buy until they see others like them are buying. They will be happy to meet with you, but they will sap you of your energy in meeting after meeting.

Counter-intuitively, the best way to get big in the future is to start small now in the area where you can dominate the most quickly. Look at any startup that achieved scale, the overwhelming odds are that it dominated a niche before going to the broader opportunity.

Facebook started at Harvard and then Ivy League universities, then all universities. For many years, you couldn't even join without a .EDU address.

eBay focused first on collectibles.

LinkedIn targeted VCs in Silicon Valley.

Google Ads initially appealed to startups who didn't have the money to run Yahoo's more expensive banner ads.

Amazon started with books.

You can probably see the pattern here. Each company added functionality and addressed a broader audience over time, not from the very beginning.

So what can you do to nail your early niche?

Here are four ideas:

First, you want to find common desperation. The ideal situation is a set of cross-referenceable customer prospects, all of whom are desperate to solve a particular problem. Ideally they've already tried to solve it, but no solution that lives in the present is good enough.

When they see your product, they should ask, "Where have you been all my life?"

Second, you want to offer tangible results. What do I get if I use your product? The mistake here is to be too high minded and theoretical. For instance, a bad answer is peace of mind or more engaged employees or happy customers. The better answer is grow leads by 500% or double your net promoter score in 90 days.

Third, you need a believable solution. Your product needs to be focused enough to crush the target job to be done. You can't just wave your hands and you can't just have the product perform according to a spec. You have to achieve the outcomes the customers seek. Case studies and word of mouth are specially important to build on this front.

Fourth, you need tangible targets. Don't make the mistake of being abstract here. Rather than stopping at well-defined personas, you want specific names of specific people at specific customers and you want to understand the precise criteria for why they are on your target list.

So what does this mean for your startup, fund, business ?

You're far more likely to succeed when you define a niche to nail in the early days. It's tempting to say yes to a lot of opportunities and go after the biggest market opportunities the quickest, but it's far better for a startup to start out small, doing less but better on the path to expanding.

First, you build a focus product that leverages your unique insight and appeals to a small, passionate audience that is desperate for what you deliver.

Over time, you build a whole product that appeals to an ever broadening audience on your way to greatness.

How can you apply this in your life ?

B. Living Longer

I was a Longevity related presentation two weeks ago, where Sergey Young discussed the 7 signs of a Longevity Revolution, my favorite 3 are:

  1. Safer & Longevity Friendly Environment

  2. Shift Towards Personalized and Preventative Medicine

  3. Classifying Age as a Disease

This is what life expectancy looks across time and continents.

I’m always amazed at this chart.

A century ago, all of us would already be dead !

Most of the gains in life expectancy have come from cutting the left tail - reducing early and accidental deaths.

We have yet to move the right tail in any substantial way - massively increasing our healthy life spans. This is what the next decade will be about.

I’m actively exploring investing in the longevity space and have met a number of companies and funds in the last few months, some of which I will be investing in. Please pass on any ideas you see.

I believe the next few decades will be about humans better understanding the amazing machinery that is the human brain & body and then develop tools that will allow us to enhance, extend and improve our lives from the inside.

What to do today: A 20-year study of more than 111,000 people found that a healthy lifestyle could increase life expectancy by up to 10 years for women and seven years for men.

The key healthy lifestyle traits explored were: never smoking; a healthy diet; a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9; at least 30 minutes’ moderate to vigorous exercise each day; and a moderate alcohol intake – no more than a small glass of wine or pint of beer a day.

C. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:

1. I was geeking out on the history of Sequoia Capital and what makes them great -these two podcasts were helpful in discussing the origin story with Don Valentine (raising their 1st fund - 5mm over 3 years !) and then the next Chapter with Mike Moritz & Doug Leone taking it global.

2. My friend Harry Stebbings had Ashton Kutcher from Sound Ventures on his podcast, a lot of people don’t realize that Ashton was an early investor in Spotify, Alibaba, Skype, Airbnb….(disclaimer: I’m in LP in both Harry & Ashton’s VC funds).

3. A great tweet storm…

4. The most famous person in the world, is probably someone you never heard of. Billions of people from the Indian sub-continent to the Middle East know who Shah Rukh Khan is. Yet he’s relatively unknown in the West. David Letterman hangs out with SRK on Netflix.

5. Great Cambridge Associates paper on the 3 Mega Trends: Disruption, Demographics and Decoupling.

D. Thinking Exponentially

As humans going about our daily lives, we live in very linear space and time. Yet the world is both enormous and infinitesimal. While reading the book: This Will Make You Smarter, one of the essays was on the Powers of 10.

Here’s what I learnt.

Seconds in a Lifetime: 10^9 seconds (a second is an arbitrary time unit and William James speculated that subjective time was measured in novel experiences, which became rarer as you got older)

The GDP of The World: $10^14

Synapses In The Brain: 10^15 (two neurons can communicate with each other at a synapse, which is the computational unit in the brain)

Seconds The Sun Will Shine: 10^17 seconds

All this reminds me of the Pale Blue Dot picture taken by Voyager 1 in February 1990, 3.7 billion miles from Earth. That’s all of us on that tiny dot.

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”

- Carl Sagan

E. Quotes I’m Thinking About:

"The task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees." 

Arthur Schopenhauer

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials."

- The Chinese inventor and author, Lin Yutang, on Focus.

“Sometimes, this world is tough because we shame and diminish ordinary … We chase extraordinary moments instead of being grateful for ordinary moments until hard shit happens. Then, in the face of the really hard stuff—illness, death, loss—the only thing we’re begging for is a normal moment.” 

- Brené Brown on the Tim Ferriss podcast