How to do great work
This month 👾 Software ate all the easy shit | All you can eat design | The internet is fake | validation tech stack + loads more…
🆕 Personal Updates
We are just almost 60% of the way through 2023 and my super busy summer is flying by. My yearly goals are only ~34% complete and anxiety is beginning to creep in. What happened to my lofty yearly ambitions? last time I checked I had all the time in the world, yet I’m sitting here and time seems to be eroding at breakneck speed. This might be the first time I’ve eagerly awaited winter to set in so I can lock myself away and get on with some of my projects.
Speaking of yearly goals, I set out to grow the newsletter this year, and just by chance, Substack has finally introduced a referral programme. So starting today I have launched the Creator Club referral programme. This is a free newsletter and if you like reading it each month consider sharing a link with someone you know and get something in return from me. Check it out.
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Right, let’s get to it - time for this month’s roundup 👇
🔥 Top post last month: Build a No-Code AI App in Minutes
How to do great work
Alas, the oracle of tech startups has risen from his 8-month slumber and published his latest essay and as expected it’s crammed full of wisdom to unpack. Paul Graham’s essays are getting fewer by the year, but arguably better. This particular one took him almost two years of writing, refining and editing into a clear guide which articulates an approach to doing great work in any field.
This essay covers the four steps to do great work in any field: 1. decide what to work on, 2. learn enough to get to the frontier, 3. notice gaps, and 4. explore promising ideas. One lesson which really resonated for me was - if you write every day, you can write a book per year. The compounding effect creates exponential growth, but the problem with exponential growth is it feels flat in the beginning, therefore, we typically give up before we discover the wonders of exponential growth.
Another quote that came to mind when reading this essay was one from Naval Ravikant which is another principle I try to consider when deciding what to work on next.
What feels like play to you, but looks like work to others?
🎁 Bonus content: Check out the May 23 issue which features a resource of summaries of 200+ Paul Graham’s essays.
Software Ate All the Easy Shit
Software has advanced significantly over the last decade, which in turn has lowered the barrier to entry and made it easier and cheaper to create software. As Nathan Baschez (founder of Every) put it “The cost of building software is going down. We’re going to continue to see this macro trend accelerate throughout this decade, and it seems likely that software will not be a defensible moat by the end of it.” You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the correlation between making something easier and attracting more competition.
I’ve become somewhat of a cynic in recent years due to being exposed to countless startups and founders, in fact, I’m convinced this eventually happens to most folks who build, advise or invest in software. My tendency is to tilt towards scepticism and in all honesty, I’m super risk averse, hence my slight reluctance in being a full-time founder myself. But don’t my scepticism pull you down.
In this post,shared his thesis that to stand out, software companies should focus on solving 'unsexy' problems and competing in 'unsexy' industries, rather than chasing high-status or low-hanging fruit opportunities. Many problems remain unsolved and there are still plenty of opportunities in software, including at the frontier of technology.
However, this message isn’t new, in fact, the era of building '“boring businesses” is being popularised by countless well-known online entrepreneurs who tout “Rather than pursuing high-status, cool ideas, more founders should start companies that solve unsexy problems and compete in unsexy industries”.
Lessons from Keith Rabois
Being a contrarian thinker in tech is so hot right now. If Peter Theil is at the helm of this outspoken club then Keith Rabois is his second in command. In fact, they studied together at university and Keith now works with Peter at Founders Fund. Keith is a two-time founder, and investor and has been an early hire in PayPal, Square, Yelp, and has even been involved with Apple, Tesla and SpaceX. I’ve listened to a few podcasts with him and he has a lot of fascinating advice and opinions to offer. Mo Golshan curated a database of lessons from Keith Rabois in Notion, gathered from podcasts, Youtube interviews and presentations, blogs and countless other sources.
Talking of contrarian opinions, here are some of my favourites of his:
He doesn’t invest in remote-first companies
Believes timing is never a good excuse for founders
The Lean startup is like a poison and capital doesn’t necessarily sequence behind evidence of product market fit
Mess and chaos are the nature of startups and by definition too many processes are bad
Initially throw humans at problems and gradually build an engine, systems, and processes that can be run by idiots
🎁 Bonus content: Great podcast episode with Logan Bartlett interviewing Keith Rabois.
All-you-can-eat design for a flat fee
Is it just me or is there an influx of productised design as a service cropping up recently? I’ve been noticing a bunch of designers productising their skills and moving to Netflix-type model.
They go something like this. You're looking for design services, say web design, branding, marketing, illustrations etc and you don't want the hassle of worrying about fees going up and down based on your needs tied to an hourly rate like an agency works. So instead you pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited services. Yeah, you heard right, unlimited. So it got me thinking, how is this possible? and how can one person like the OG of this model Bret of Designjoy manage unlimited design services for multiple customers paying monthly? At closer look the constraint to limit the amount of work is based on the number of design requests you can make at a given time. As it states in Designjoy, turn around time for each request is typically 48 hours. If you want the ability to submit two requests at a time you can upgrade to the monthly plan. This constraint allows improved scalability.
Let’s jump back to Bret and how he built and runs Designjoy. He runs this business entirely himself and uses a pretty basic tech stack, including Webflow, Figma, Trello, Airtable and Adobe Suite. It’s a $1.3m a year business (making him one of the highest-paid solopreneurs), with extremely low overheads and only took him 12 hours to design and launch his landing page, costing him $29.
What’s fascinating about this somewhat new pricing strategy and business model is the super low cost to create such a business. What skills could you productise into this pricing strategy? Niche down in your industry > build a package > create a process > find your first customer.
The internet is fake
Ok, it sounds pretty clickbaity as a title but hear me out, this is a fascinating theory. Studies suggest that year after year, less than 60% of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bots. When there are more bots than humans creating and interacting with content this is what some call the "The Inversion. A great example of this happening was back in 2013 when the team at YouTube noticed that half of the traffic was "bots masquerading as people," a portion so high they worried an inflection point after which YouTube's systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake (it never happened). What’s more concerning about this theory is the recent rise in generative AI and its ability to easily generate content at scale which is almost impossible to determine if it was created by a human or bot.
The internet is ever-changing, but over the past couple of years, things have started to change. The proportion of bots is increasing exponentially. A theory dubbed “The Dead Internet Theory” states that most of the internet is in fact AI bots. These bots have been unleashed to control the populous and rake in profits. But is it true? And if so, how much of it is true? Check out this great YouTube clip to find out.
A stunning Mac and iPhone app created by Krivoblotsky which is devoted to friendly jokes and stories about anything and anyone involved in making the original Apple computers happen. It provides relatively short anecdotes rather than a longer, monolithic narrative because anecdotes are inherently modular and extensible, so the story can be elaborated indefinitely by multiple authors, without compromising their individual voices. Interlinked anecdotes also leverage the definitive characteristic of the web, the link, to form little webs of their own, and be stitched into the greater tapestry of the web itself, in a fashion that's not possible on the printed page.
This is an absolute treasure trove of curated content packed into a stunning Mac, iPad or iPhone app. You can try the iOS in beta on Testflight here or download the Mac app using the link below.
This month’s products are centred around product validation. In fact, each of the tools below could form a great tech stack to help you with market research, test early signs of desirability, gather user feedback and scope your product.
I've been looking for an out-the-box solution to run smoke tests for years. Something that allows me to knock up a landing page quickly, add email capture, analyse insights, take payment and add feedback widgets. This is perhaps the closest solution I’ve found from what I can see.
Enter your problem and proposed solution and receive a complete product scope with user journeys, roles, stories, app features and more. I personally wouldn’t fully rely on it, especially if you are a Product Manager given it’s basically just a form hooked up to Open AIs GPT 4 and passing some prompts, however, it seems like a great way to get started and build from.
Strap yourself in for this one. I’ll give you a clue, it’s a survey tool. It’s not a survey recruitment tool, it’s not a survey builder like TypeForm…. You will never get it, trust me.
Roundtable is a survey simulation tool. What the f&*k is that? Well according to their website, they use AI to instantly simulate surveys of your customers. They basically train AI models on your data to build models of your customer base. You can use these models to simulate surveys of your customers and see the results in seconds. If you don’t have your own data to train the model you can use their General Purpose Model which is trained on the General Social Survey dataset. If anyone tries this please reach out and let me know what’s it like.
👾 Community Submissions
Understanding the psychology behind product decisions - Submitted by Bora
Notion templates to build and operate better products faster - Submitted by Nino
Beta Directory | Discover the latest tech products
This month’s latest early access beta products brought to you by Beta Directory are:
Playbit: Future operating system for software creatives.
Kubo: Create Magical Products with AI.
Impel: always-on AI companion for your Mac.
🐽 Other links to consume
This month I’m going to leave you with some outrageous Apple memorabilia and a huge hole in your wallet. These authentic Apple sneakers are from the mid-’90s. These were for Apple employees to wear and provide as a one-time giveaway at a National Sales Conference. But for an absolute bargain, these sneakers can be yours for just $50k via Sotheby’s.
Additionally, if you are flush and want some more Apple memorabilia you can pick up a sealed original 2007 iPhone for $190k. Someone just got themselves a 300x return over 16 years. Might be worth considering purchasing a Vision Pro and keeping it sealed for a few decades.
That’s it for this month!
If you made it this far, hit reply or jump into the comments and tell me what you thought of this edition. Was this 🔥 or 🗑. I read every response 👀
Until next the next issue,
Sam | @thisdickie 👨💻
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