I did a ton of reading and drinking banana shakes in Thailand. I also had a funny haircut.
After leaving India and spending an insanely awesome month decompressing on the beaches of Thailand, I’m officially back in New York. The first thing I noticed is that in the two years I was gone, things didn’t really change that much. My family and friends are all still goin’ strong, the same guys are still playin’ ball in the park and the old bars and restaurants I liked are all still crazy expensive. Everyone keeps asking me how India was (“incredible”) and what it’s like being back (“exciting”). Going abroad was one of the better decisions I’ve ever made and now I’ve got a lot of awesome stories to tell at parties (Have I told you about that time I met the Dalai Lama?)
Inevitably people ask me what I’m gonna’ do with my life. I tell the truth, that I’m going to be a scuba diving instructor in Thailand, but until that happens I’m co-founding a web start-up. At first I wasn’t sure if we were “ready” to start a company, but it looks like there’s only one way to find out. We’ve got a concept that everyone seems to love (no it’s not one of these) and a very talented two and a half person team. I’m spending a few hours each day trying to hack together a Rails prototype and the rest of my time meeting with really amazing people to review our mock-ups and product strategy. Although I have a lot of questions and have no idea where this is going to end up, working for myself is awesome. I wake up everyday with new ideas and a hunger for work (and bagels).
Although my blog will be a lot less Indiany, I’ll try to keep writing about what it’s like starting a company and finally being an adult… as soon as I find a place to live and move off my brother’s couch.
I’ve been playing Fantasy Football for the last 8 years and absolutely love it. For those who don’t know how it works: you join a league with your friends, draft real players, and accumulate points based on how the players do in real life. Each week you match up against one of your friends, if your team accumulates more points you win the match.
There’s so much to love about Fantasy Sports:
There’s constant interaction between members of the league through a live draft, trades and sh*t talking. It’s a great way for me to stay connected with my friends from High School and College (I play in two leagues).
It makes me a much bigger sports fan by forcing me to read up and watch games I ordinarily wouldn’t care about. I couldn’t care less about the Houston Texans but if I have Andre Johnson and my opponent that week has Matt Schaub, it makes for a thrilling, must watch game.
It turns out I’m not the only one who loves Fantasy Sports:
A 2006 study showed 22 percent of U.S. adult males 18 to 49 years old, with Internet access, play fantasy sports. Fantasy Sports is estimated to have a $3–$4 Billion annual economic impact across the sports industry. ~ Wikipedia
A few weeks ago two of my friends and I were discussing how Fantasy Cricket in it’s optimal form doesn’t exist and came up with an idea:
CricketFaceoff.com will allow fans and their friends to create virtual cricket leagues and compete against each other. Users can manage their team and get access to live scores, stats, scouting reports, news and expert advice.
Considering that in India, ‘Cricket’ is the largest religion with a billion fanatic followers, Fantasy Cricket in the country has great potential.
Fantasy Cricket is at the hub of three dynamic industry spokes, namely, Internet, Gaming and Cricket. In a country like India, where cricket is almost the only sport, and with industry projections putting Internet penetration at an encouraging $300mn and online gaming at $200mn by 2010, this sector is definitely headed towards growth. [Wikipedia]
There are two main competitors: Dream11 and CricInfo. Both of these sites lack:
An online draft system – Currently you can pick the same players on every team without penalty or restriction
Integration with Facebook/Twitter – Sign in with Facebook, Publish sh*t talking to news feed, Vote on who you think will win published to news feed, etc…
We actually went so far as to buy domains (CricketFaceoff.com and CricketSuperstar.com), get a logo (see above) and create mockups for the site. There are two versions, the first is a full-out draft based fantasy cricket site:
We have thought through a number of monetization strategies and strategic partnerships but in the end we didn’t have the patience to go through with it. I’d still be interested in pursuing this in the future. Get in touch if you are interested in collaborating…
It’s been almost two years since I decided to pack up and move to India. Living here has been amazing and life-changing. I’ve experienced tremendous growth both personally (by meeting a ton of awesome people and traveling around the region) and professionally (by surrounding myself with the incredibly talented folks at Directi). Sadly though all good things must come to an end and I’ll be leaving India in early September. I’m taking a month off to travel around Kenya or Thailand and will be back in NYC by early October.
There are a lot of reasons for moving. When I first arrived in India I was a baby. Everything was new and delightful: getting stuck for hours behind a Ganesh Chaturthi procession – awesome! Taking Bisleri showers ’cause there’s no water in my apartment – its just like camping! Cows roaming the beach – hilarious! But after living here for two years a lot of the novelty has worn off. Routine and real-life have sunk in. Living in India isn’t that easy. In comparison, my life back in the States is much more comfortable and healthy. It’s time for me to get back to my family and friends.
I’m also seeking a change professionally. While I love working at Directi and really believe in the people and the direction of the company, I’d like to work on something much smaller. I’m seriously considering launching my own web product or joining a very early stage startup. I keep reading about how the New York tech scene is exploding and I want in. If anyone has any leads or suggestions on people I should speak with please let me know.
I certainly have a few regrets (never winning a Bombay Basketball Tourney, knowing that there is so much more I can contribute to in my current role), but for me, right now, this feels good.
I just wanted to thank all my friends, co-workers, bballers, maids and roomates for making this experience so memorable and enjoyable. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. You’re all awesome.
Each summer my buddies from college all get together and spend a few days being debaucherous. We unanimously agree on a host and it’s up to them to ensure a good time. Previous trips included such exotic locations as, the Jersey shore, Cape Cod, Vegas, a trailer park in Mexico and Lake of the Ozarks. This year was our sixth “sunbelly” and I was el presidente. I told everyone a year ahead of time that it’s going to be in India and even though we knew the cost and time involved would force a few people to drop out, peeps were pumped.
Sure it would’ve been easy and par for the course to get everyone to party on the beaches of Goa, but I was hoping for something a little different. After discussing a few different options (Kerala or Andaman Islands) we settled in on the Himalayas. The original itinerary (setup by our amazingly fantastic and highly recommended travel agent) involved us taking a driving from Manali to Leh/Ladakh (Kashmir). Unfortunately the day my friends arrived to Mumbai, a freak cloudburst and ensuing floods devastated the region including burying villages, knocking out the airport and blocking all roads in and out of the region.
After some last minute scrambling we settled on an Agra, Manali, Lahul Valley and Dharamsala trip.
We flew to Delhi in the morning and drove down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I received some bad intel pegging the drive at 3 hours (in reality it was more like 5 and a half). Aside from my friends shock and awe by the sights, sounds and smells of India (and monkeys attacking our car), it was a pretty uneventful drive.
The Taj Mahal lives up the to hype:
Early the next morning we hopped on a flight to Kullu and drove to Manali. The flight in was my first real experience in the mountains and absolutely mind blowing. We hung out for a day or two in the old city which is dominated by Israeli backpackers (for better or worse). It was nice, but a little too “heady” for my taste.
Manali really gives you the feeling of “being in the clouds:”
We visited Naggar castle which back in the day was sold to the British for a gun and had crazy intricate woodwork:
Rule #7 of driving in the himalayas: If a man starts cooking and selling corn on the side of the road, you have at least 45 till you get moving again:
I’d received a lot of warnings from friends to make it over the pass quickly. ”Don’t spend too long out out on the pass or you’ll be crawling back to the car.” Despite the consequences we were determined to play the highest altitude game of wiffle ball ever:
In retrospect this turned out to be a bad idea. Death notes to loved ones were written and a few of us couldn’t breathe from altitude sickness:
On the other side of the pass the clouds cleared up, people started feeling better and we got our first real views of the himalayas. Spectacular:
By nightfall we reached our stone cottage near Jispa. The people managing the place cooked us dinner, lit a bonfire and provided us some local “nectar of the gods.” This turned out to be the best place we stayed on the trip. No cell service, no internet, just natural beauty and contemplation.
If you ever find yourself near Jispa, I’d highly recommend Gemur Khar Cottage, Jispa (contact Ramesh Thakur 09418388352).
The next day we hung out in Lahul Valley visiting two villages: Triloknath and Udaipur. Triloknath was on a sheer cliff and had a very authentic monastery. Although definitely Buddhist, there was a lot of Hindu influence:
The views were consistently spectacular throughout the drive:
After two and a half blissful days in Lahul we once again went over the Rohtang pass on our way to Dharamsala. The drive back was a lot easier (no wiffle ball, we’d adjusted to the altitude and we knew what to expect). We also saw a bunch of tourists riding over Rohtang on motorcycles and bicycles, not to mention local grandmas doing it on foot. We were really embarrassed that we could barely do it in a high end SUV.
To break up the drive, we stopped at an off-season The Shining-esque ski resort in Solang Valley.
Dharamsala / McLeod Ganj
The drive to Dharamsala was scary and epic in it’s own way. We kept expecting to see velociraptors hopping down the mountains:
Instead we saw bears, monkeys, sheep and cows in funny places:
We stayed in Mcleod Ganj for 3 days and checked out the local sights. The obvious highlight was the temple of the Dalai Lama:
On our second night my buddy Ben had a dream that we all met the Dalai Lama. The following evening an old Tibetan woman gave us a tip that “his Holiness” was in fact in town and leading morning prayers the next morning. We showed up early and the place was a madhouse. #14 rolled in with a crazy entourage including a bunch of monks, dudes in suits, personal bodyguards and the Indian Army. After a 2 hour morning prayer he walked around the crowd, smiling and dispensing snippets of wisdom. He really radiates, you can tell dude is enlightened.
Our last night was pretty relaxed. We played a bunch of chess:
Mobile, social, real-world games (like Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown) haven’t hit the mainstream because the “games” aren’t all that fun and the right incentives aren’t there. In other words, a mayorship and 10% off my next slurpee ain’t gonna cut it. I want a game with rewards like the NYC Key to the City project, which:
…invests regular New Yorkers or anyone else who happens by with the powers of magnanimity usually reserved for the city’s highest officeholder: to bestow a key to New York on a person of their choice, granting extraordinary access to generally off-limits parts of a no-entry-to-unauthorized-personnel kind of city….
The key… opens locks at two dozen locations in the five boroughs, from the baptistry at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan to a locker at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn to a very private and humble room (no spoilers) at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens.
This is so awesome. I imagine an augmented reality future where life is a game, the world is your board, and the points you accumulate for having fun can be redeemed for new experiences. I’m thinking a mobile web powered version of The Game.
Step 1: You sign up using your Facebook ID and indicate your interest in joining different types of get-togethers: meet up for coffee, watch a movie, listen to live music, go shopping, learn how to dance etc.
Step 2: You browse through a list of awesome things to do in the city around your interests. Like Thrillist.
Step 3: You indicate that you will attend a proposed get-together, or suggest a venue for a proposed get-together, or propose a new get-together. Like Plancast.
Step 4: The system will connect you with [friends and] friends-of-friends who have also expressed an interest in attending similar get-togethers. Like Thread.
Step 5: Once a group has decided to attend a get together, they might get a surprise group deal offer from the venue. Like Living Social.
Step 6: Users can be designated hosts for venues, activities, or even cities. Like Foursquare.
After some debate we both felt that although this app had all the overhyped elements of group purchasing, game mechanics and FB/Foursquare APIs, it wasn’t “the one.”
What do you think? How can we leverage the mobile web to create fun, real world experiences? Do you know of other companies like SCVNGR and Geocaching doing cool stuff in this space?
Editor’s Note: I’m almost embarrassed to say I actually had to play Frontierville and Farmville to write this post. These games send notifications constantly and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with all my friends knowing how my pigs were doing. Therefore, I had to go undercover and create a new FB account under my Indian alter ego: Amit Kumar
Zynga has experienced explosive growth since it’s inception in 2007. They’re absolutely crushing it with:
How did Zynga become such a profit generating, user acquiring, viral monster? Here’s a few strategies that worked for Zynga which you can apply to your business:
1. Build sharing as an integral part of the product
At every point Zynga prompts users to sign up for updates and send notifications (many times crossing the line) through: fan pages/likes, invites, shares, bookmarks, stream publishing, in game messaging, and email notifications. In fact they’re so darn good at notifying ”Facebook had to change their notification policies
Before you even get started playing you’re prompted to:
- Become a Fan/Like (so they can push updates through your news stream)
- Invite your friends (pro tip: make it look like it’s required)
- Share this page on your news stream
- They again remind you right at the start of the game:
Sharing is not an afterthought limited to an invite section, it’s an integral part of the experience. In fact the more you share and interact with others, the more you are rewarded.
2. Create ways to elevate a users status/social capital
One way to think about social capital is we’re all in a certain bucket with each other, and the lowest bucket is maybe you’ll accept a friend request, and the highest bucket is you’ll come over and help me move, or pick me up at the airport,” Pincus told the Wired Business Conference Tuesday. “The question is, is there something we can do to help you move buckets?
While it’s cool (sort of) that I level’d up in Frontierville, I’m not gonna tell my friends about it, but… if I can share with them some of the points I’ve accumulated then that’s a lot more compelling. It no longer feels like spam, but instead that I’m helping them:
Applying this to a web business don’t just give a discount to the user who invites 5 of her friends to the service, let her pass on the discount to her friends (that’s something you really wanna share).
3. Assume you are gonna get it wrong at first
Don’t assume that your product is “the one.” Zynga does a great job of experimenting and making decisions based on data. I love this video of Pincus speaking at Stanford:
Towards the end he is asked if he could go back and share a lesson with himself when he was CEO of Tribes what would it be.
If I could do it all over again, I would have made Tribe a platform to test many ideas of social networking. We tried just one. Oh my god what the hell was I thinking? Just one? At our company we have several hundred tests going on every day and in every game. I would’ve done is made Tribe a platform to test every configuration
This is echo’d by others at Zynga:
Analysis, analysis, analysis. It’s been like that. [In traditional development] It’s just like, “Oh, it’s going to be a great experience,” and this and that. We’ll spend two years down a ship cycle, and, “Oops, I was wrong!”
So now it’s like, “If we do this, I think we can measure that, and here’s how we’re going to measure and tweak it later down the road…” We are an incredibly analytical organization, so we track just about everything. It’s the secret sauce behind all that stuff. There’s a lot of mathematics that go into it
That’s the magic behind what we do. Certain things we do will work, and others won’t. You try new ones, and A, B, C, D, E, F, G testing constant. (Source)
Several hundred A, B, C, D, E, F, G tests going on daily… sweet bejeezus.
4. “Ghetto” test
You don’t actually have to build it to find out if it works.
In the last 5 minutes of the video above Pincus is asked what’s the best way to do market research. His answer – “Ghetto Test”. If someone wants to build, let’s say, a hospital simulator he creates an FB ad that says, “Ever wanted to run your own hospital?” which leads to a survey (or if it’s really ghetto a 404 page).
All Zynga has to do is track CTR and compare it to previous historical rates to get a pretty good idea of demand. I’ve heard a lot of people test demand for a product idea, and A/B test marketing copy using Adwords (you don’t care about the goal, just the intent).
Focusing on products that don’t work funnels attention and energy away from ones that do. Even if you’ve made substantial investments know when it’s time to let go.
We’ve actually made investments into some innovative games that were incredibly hardcore. If you look at Guild of Heroes, for example, we did roll that out. It was a version of Diablo built in Flash, and it wasn’t successful, and we didn’t support it any longer. (Source)
6. Create unexpected moments of delight
Surprise your users through game mechanics, humorous copy, badges, and easter eggs. If you make them smile, they’ll tell they’re much more likely to come back and tell their friends.
One of the really fun and successful features we added is what we call the ‘Lonely Cow’ feature,” said Skaggs. “You can help find it a home, then somebody claims it. You’ll get a brown cow instead of the white cow you had before. Then you milk the brown cow and you get chocolate milk! That’s a ‘moment of delight,’ totally unexpected but cool (Source).
7. Leverage your size to cross promote like crazy
The best customer for one of your new products is an existing customer. If you liked Farmville you’ll looooooooove Frontierville.
They also have a banner at the top of their games calling out the rest of their properties:
Only by leveraging their existing user base were they able to get 100,000 users on Frontierville’s first day.
8. Maximize Trends
Pincus says the web is about repeatable formulas and once you find something that works, it doesn’t break for a long, long time. Think of LOLcats, rickrolling and Google. Nothing that Zynga does is new, but they’ve executed on it tremendously well. They’ve found a formula that works and are bangin’ out hits at an astouning rate.
Last weekend I gave a short talk as part of the inaugural meeting of IgniteMumbai. It was a really fun experience, the organizers did a great job and the crowd was really into it.
The talk was short, but the format made it difficult: 20 slides, 15 seconds apiece, slides automatically rotate. Not much room for fluff. The hardest part for me was picking a topic that would appeal to 70 strangers and fit within 5 minutes. I iterated through a bunch of topics but ended up speaking on happiness. Like everything else I feel I could’ve done a bit better but was pleased with the outcome. The first slide didn’t make the vid:
So it’s 2010 and according to the 80′s movies I was obsessed with as a kid we should have hoverboards, flying cars, sexy robots, and violent but thrilling reality tv gameshows.
I can forgive scientists for failing to deliver on the important stuff, but at the very least, they should’ve come up with a really easy way for me to stay up to date on the music I love.
Here’s my problem: I love music, but downloading it is a pain in the ass. Many times:
It’s not the right version (terrible sounding live album or kung-fu panda in croatian)
The quality sucks (camcorder rip)
It’s not tagged properly
It’s not what you are looking for (self-promoting rappers, porn or just plain weird)
It’s super slow (maybe that’s just cause I’m in India)
So in order to satisfy my cravings for new music without the hassle, I buy albums on iTunes. The issue is most of the time I have no idea what to buy. The only way for me to stay up to date is to manually browsing the iTunes store, explicitly ask my friends for recommendations, listen to internet radio and write down the tracks I like or browsing hype machine, pandora and other music sites and just sampling music. That’s is a lot of work and I’m really lazy (which is why I don’t buy a lot of music).
I don’t want to go out and look for music, movies, games, books and apps I want stuff I like to find me.
Here’s what I’m thinking: create a service that lets you “follow” your favorite digital content: music, movies, games, apps, and books and receive notifications any time new related content is released:
Phase 1 – Music over Twitter:
Put in your favorite artist, band or genre (similar to iLike or Pandora)
Decide how and how often you’d like to receive notifications (as soon as it happens, daily, weekly) and how (tweets, @mentions, direct message)
Link to a summary page which shows an activity feed (new tracks, alubms, remixes, videos, etc…) for the music you have decided you like
Link to iTunes for affiliate sales
Phase 2 – Other content: Movies (Actor, Director, Genre), Games (Game, Genre, Studio), Books (Author, Publisher, Genre) and Apps
Phase 3 – Recommendations: Tie up with services like Netflix and Pandora to start making recommendations on content you may like
Phase 4 – Other Notifications: Email, SMS, Facebook, etc…
Phase 5 – Incentivize users to repost content, by sharing revenue
Great Scott! Music Hack Day is coming to SF in a few weeks. Someone please build this, I’d use it.
We are overloaded with information. During the course of my day I email, tweet, comment, post, chat, message, buzz, check in, call, sms, mms, bbm and sometimes (if I’m really lucky) actually talk to people. We are moving towards an ever increasing flood of content (much of it automated) and it’s only gettin’ worse. One day soon everythingwilltweet.
It’s not the the sheer quantity of information that’s the problem (faster flow of information will only help people achieve more), it’s how we send and receive it:
Sending: How do I send out information so that it reaches it’s intended audience only. In the upcoming era of persistent, public online identity, how do I can still share my green-beer, toga party pictures with my friends and make sure potential clients don’t see it? Additionally, I want to publicize my boring social media posts without spamming my friends who I know really, really don’t care.
Receiving: With all this content around how do I make sure that that important stuff gets to me FAST, while the stuff that matters stays buried (until I get really bored or have lots of time to look through it).
The idea that’s been bouncin’ around my head tries to address the second point… enter: sign.al.
I have a dream… that one day my phone will ring when my buddy is callin’ me up to go grab a beer, while calls from vodafone bill collectors stay silent. That my blackberry will only flash in meetings only when really really important stuff happens (like the Mets scoring a winning run). That one day, we’ll be able to ignore the tens, hundereds or thousands of messages that don’t matter, and focus our attentions on the ones that do. Here’s how sign.al would work
You give it all your account information (gmail, facebook, twitter, etc…)
It starts off like any aggregator (Seesmic for instance), showing you a timeline of emails, facebook messages, tweets, yadda yadda:
Aright, now’s where it starts getting cool… after a little while, it moves away from a timeline view, to a priority view. It starts guessing knowing what you are most likely gonna want to read and respond to and starts moving those to the top. This shift is already happening (FB news feed vs time line, Mozilla Raindrop, Xobni for Bberry)
Sign.al can know what’s important by:
Frequency – How regularly you read and respond to individuals
Speed – Of your read/response
Popularity – The number of comments, retweets, likes, and mentions
Proximity – Number of shared connections
Medium – @mentions more weightage the email cc’s?
Geolocation – Are messages from Mumbai and NYC more important to me?
Time of day – Are certain types of messages more important at a certain time?
Content – Am I more likely to be interested in content about the Jets regardless of where, when, how it’s getting to me? (yes)
Recency – Moving away from this but still a factor
Phase 2 – Phone app
Incorporating voice and SMS into the mix of content to prioritize
Different types of notifications instead of timeline: ring for an important sms, vibrate for a somewhat important @mention, silent for a newsletter.
Phase 3 – Setting status (implicitly?): In a meeting, driving, out to lunch, available – Based on this reduce/amplify notification methods. If I’m sitting at the airport bored and normally my phone vibrates for an important tweet, now ring.
Phase 4 – Anticipate – Based on where I am, the type of message, who I’m connecting with, the medium, the format etc… start anticipating how I may respond to them (in a totally not creepy big brotherish way)
Ideas are a dime a dozen, execution’s what matters. Take this idea, build it, I’ll use it and be happy (just be forewarned you need to legal operations in Albania to actually register the sign.al domain name :p ).